The Juju Jukebox

January 23, 2015
7 mins read

A new regular column in which freaky Peter Kearns casts a spell on a bunch of new album releases! You’ll wake up screaming!

Marilyn-Manson-Deep-Six-645x370MARILYN MANSON – The Pale Emperor (Alt Rock/USA) (Cooking Vinyl)

In 1993, Brian Warner appeared on the Phil Donoghue talk show, where from behind a force field of pancake enamel, he came across as the picture of intelligence and humility in the face of an audience of angry grown-ups whose knee-jerk reaction was to despise him. This was broadcast two years later in New Zealand, several months before he made his name made from other people’s names down here. Upon seeing the video for ‘The Beautiful People’, I instantly clicked to the theatre of it all. This obvious piece of showbiz was as innocuous as a late-‘70s Alice Cooper ballad, and about as scary. With Alice clearly always being at least a partial influence, Cooperisms prevail on The Pale Emperor, but not in the way we might expect. All talk of grotesquery is redundant. Reflected here is a third-wind Alice circa the new-wave pop of Flush The Fashion and Special Forces, but minus the irony and humour. Brian comes across a tad earnest and empty here, highlighting shakily delivered anti-climactic lines like ‘Kamikaze into your soul’ and ‘She fucks like a comet’ which only present as too little too late. His singing I can take, but when he starts condescending to me in that 21st century narcissistic throat croak on ‘Odds Of Even’, forget about it. Any cutting-edge or innovation is absent, such as it ever was, considering it was Cooper who more or less predicted ‘90s alt-rock anyway in 1971’s ‘Dead Babies’. So though The Pale Emperor is competent and enjoyable on a level, the fuss at least, is more or less over, bar the croaking. The Krueger-esque pantomime from the heyday of the concept that is Marilyn Manson, may’ve been painfully transparent to some, so at least the life of Brian has had some authentic controversy in his very real friendship with Satanist guv’nor Anton LeVay. That, I can also deal with. I’m less freaked out by Brian’s allegiance to the Church of Satan, than by his insistence on hammering those Gary Glitter drum rhythms into my sense of repugnance. B


fallout-boy-american-beauty-american-psycho-2014-billboard-400x400FALL OUT BOY – American Beauty/American Psycho (Rock/Pop/USA) (Island)

Actress Uma Thurman had to grant permission for the use of her name as a song title for the fourth single from American Beauty/American Psycho. Most American states have a law that prohibits the use of a person’s name in products or advertising without the individual’s consent. Some states prohibit the prohibition on the hypotheses that celebrities have no privacy interest to protect, and non-celebrities have personalities of no commercial value. There is now (of course) a growing trend towards the prohibition. Where am I going with this? You may well ask. It’s just that compared to this perfectly performed and quite beautifully sung, shiny over-processed mainstream piece of 2016-bargain-bin fodder, despite its moderately entertaining novelty song ‘Uma Thurman’ with its ability to cause an itch that could only truly be scratched by watching Pulp Fiction again, American law is so much more interesting to contemplate. C-


5y8xhtjxxynscqk5kglmc6tmuu45exdh9t2bxcbrmfp75n4isu2hrylzauo59qptMARK RONSON – Uptown Special (Funk/R&B/England) (Columbia)

Mark Ronson enlists a variety of vocalists on this collection of retro-funk monsters. Producer records always feel like a breath of fresh air to me, like they’re an exercise in re-calibration, minus the over-thinking; a kind of rest between deadlines. Uptown Special is a little experimental but mainly just feels loose and not too aware of itself, as if everyone involved was having a real blast. Bruno Mars always sounds like that, and the 2014 cross-Atlantic hit ‘Uptown Funk’ included here is no exception. ‘I Can’t Lose’ vocalist Keyone Starr brings it big-time after being plucked from obscurity by Ronson and producer Jeff Bhasker. Ronson has admitted to being reduced to utter disbelief whenever he hears ‘Uptown’s First Finale’ which features the harmonica of Stevie Wonder who sent the track back months after Ronson had made a request to Wonder’s management, thinking it was a long shot. So Uptown Special is far more than just another dance record. It hints at a possible comeback of the LA/West Coast session sound of the late ‘70s/early ‘80s. I know many musicians who would celebrate that. I’d certainly pull this album out if I was about to partay. And so should you. A-

bc-camplight-how-to-die-in-the-north-300x300BC CAMPLIGHT – How To Die In The North (Alt-Singer/Songwriter/USA) (Bella Union)

Displaced New Jerseyite and now UK resident Brian Christinzio, operating under the moniker BC Camplight, lets his guiding light of ‘60s/’70s pop shine brightly on this, his third album. Though compared by others to Harry Nilsson, I can’t do the same, due to the sheer level of both lyric craft and vocal dexterity that were hallmarks of Nilsson’s gravitas. Christinzio’s vocals do sparkle at times though, such as in the Stylistics harmonies of ‘Just Because I Love You’. But the consistent falsetto singing throughout much of How To Die In The North becomes a bit much. Thankfully, in places he does break into full voice on high notes, which shows he’s not just lazy or obsessed with Brian Wilson. Well, he is a bit, like on ‘Good Morning Headache’. But it sounds more like he’s arrived at Wilson via Roy Wood and Something/Anything-era Todd Rundgren. An admirable set of audio mentors if ever there was one, there are spots where Christinzio could take their influence further to heart by being a tad more careful about timing and remaining consistently in tune. Nevertheless, commendable. A-

33526-thickboxJAZMINE SULLIVAN – Reality Show (R&B/USA) (RCA)

While scanning for information on Jazmine Sullivan, I spied a snippet of a review that compared Reality Show to the ‘old school’ R&B days of 2000. Old school? The year 2000 is yesterday when it comes to this. There are clear ‘60s and ‘70s soul and, oddly enough, white American post-punk influences in this production, that could’ve slipped over my head if I thought the world began at the turn of the millennium. In common with some other current R&B, this music has its fair confusing share of misandry mixed with male adoration, self-empowerment, and bodily glorification. But I’m not here to judge subject matter. That’s for the censors of the world, if it must happen at all. But it’s worth a mention how Jazmine and her crew of collaborators sneak in little lyrical eye-openers. In the ubiquitous rap lyrics we’ve become so hardened to, or those of some of the more rhythmically abstract and sparse hip-hop, a line like ‘My tits give me trips to places I can’t pronounce right’ would slip right by without a second thought, if we noticed it at all. But in the traditional melodic song-craft of Jazmine Sullivan, this line and others like it jolt with their immediacy. But why should they? They’re only words, they can’t hurt you. Maybe they’re designed to surprise to some extent, which to me would render the quality questionable. Intended or not, the integrity prevails, and it’s surely merely the social conditioning of the times that causes me to notice these particular lines and not the equally relevant surrounding ones that contribute as a whole to these well-written songs. A-

image_1393BEARDFISH – +4626-COMFORTZONE (Prog Rock/Sweden) (InsideOut)

Skipping straight to the penultimate number – the tour-de-force ‘Ode To The Rock’n’Roller’, the introductory lyrics explain Beardfish with little further investigation required. ‘It feels like I’ve been doing this for a million years, Every note has been played before in this exact order too…So I just keep on cooking this old familiar stew’. Presuming this is at least semi-autobiographical, I concluded that Beardfish’s obvious channelling of many prominent ‘70s rock/prog bands, is completely without shame. Whether you agree with that aesthetic or not, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone doing this schtick as precisely as Beardfish. The awkwardly titled +4626-COMFORTZONE is a ‘collage of homage’ to which even a cursory listen will bear out my perhaps purple but accurate description. So, I hit play and after a few minutes I’d settled snugly into prog land. The musicianship was superlative, and the perfect 1972 vocal screams suggested the image of a late-period longhair, replete with flares, a Zapata moustache and a Spooky Tooth t-shirt. But I soon began to fidget as riffs and melodies lifted verbatim from pre-existing music were peeled off one by one, indeed ‘…in this exact order too’. Chief among them, Santana’s instantly recognisable guitar melody from ‘Europa (Earth’s Cry Heaven’s Smile)’, here undisguised as ‘Comfort Zone’. A tribute to the bitter end, some token of originality would’ve gone a long way. C

image-FCCB_54B751E8SISKIYOU – Nervous (Indie Folk/Canada) (Constellation)

The general genre description of Siskiyou around the internet traps seems to be ‘indie/folk’. But this Canadian band’s scope for invention reaches beyond that puny designation. On Nervous, their third album, the first thing that hit me was the dramatic bi-tonal introduction of the opening song, ‘Deserter’. Next, ‘Bank Accounts And Dollar Bills’ proved to be a ruggedly seductive slow-moving vehicle intermittently flashing a ‘70s glam headlight at me. This was starting to sound more like the work of an Australian band. The vocal character bore a resemblance to that of The Church vocalist/bassist, Steve Kilbey. More of interest followed, such as the banjo with restless string-section dissonance of ‘Babylonian Proclivities’. But sadly, as the programme progressed, the attractive qualities began to dissipate and I developed the desire to hear vocalist Colin Huebert sing more often in something stronger than a gruff whisper. B+

294397-empENTER SHIKARI – The Mindsweep (Electronicore/England) (Liberator)

The unforgiving attack of this Hertfordshire cyborg quartet combined with front-man Rou Reynolds’ socially/politically aware lyrics, goes for the jugular of the zeitgeist with rapier-like idealism. Admirable. But after a while the insistency all seems like bluster, especially when points are expressed via a version of a black metal growl half the time. As a result, the in-your-face The Mindsweep becomes ho-hum really fast. One exception is the more dynamically balanced, topical and quite brilliant ‘The Bank Of England’, which expresses a paranoid condition of system retreat. Some other songs do show development potential; that is until the growl section returns to over-exert once again, undermining the be-aware-but-don’t-react theme intermittently woven into the often finely-constructed lyrics, causing them to flounder in a dynamic mismatch between objective and energy. C+

vietcongalbumartVIET CONG – Viet Cong (Indie Rock/Post-Punk/Canada) (Flemish Eye)

Suitably matching the album cover, Viet Cong sound like they perform in black and white. I’m fascinated, looking but straining to make out aural objects like I’m viewing an 1800s photograph or something. Maybe the appeal is in the vocals, drenched in plate reverb like a ghost of the ‘60s, or in the audible ‘80s characters skulking around the often unintelligible lyrics that you have to look up to fully appreciate their abstraction. It might be the guilty pleasure aspect since it’s one of the hottest days of summer and it feels like I shouldn’t play Viet Cong unless it’s cold and raining. Perhaps it’s the Pete Townshend party they throw in the middle of the closing song ‘Death’. Whatever it is, it works. B+ PETER KEARNS

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