The Ultimate A To Z Of Album Reviews By Gary Steel – F

Gary Steel is slowly compiling all his album reviews in one place. This is a work in progress, or what we call a “live document”. Today is the letter ‘F’.

 

F

Marianne Faithfull – Dangerous Acquaintances (Island)

Not as immediate as Broken English, but the long-awaited newie shows that Faithfull has staying power now that she’s back in the race. Sensibly, DA relies on self-written material which, although not bristling with the classic lines of the covers on BE, do have an effective, affecting melancholy presence. It won’t strike you full in the face, but if you give it the chance it’ll grow with each listening. 6/10

 

The Farmer’s Boys – Muck It Out (EMI)

This 12-inch is kinda nice. As much as I despise the whole pop revival fashion thang dispensed by NME, there are gems in most slag-heaps. ‘Muck It Out’ is an extended version which dubs it up without losing the song’s essentially pop feel. The only qualm is with the vocals which, as good as they are, fall on the wrong side of precious. ‘Funky Combine, John’ reminds me of the whimsical Monochrome Set, only more posey, less prissy. The short version of ‘Much It Out’ offers, appropriately, less than the extended version. 1983 got off to a slow start. Can I detect an improvement? 7/10

 

Fetus Productions – Fetus Product (self-released)

April 1982/In Touch

This oddity out of the blue is heady, heavy stuff. It’s the sort of album that occasionally springs up from nowhere and really turns your head around.

No band details, just a strange monochrome graphic on the cover. White label. It begins with a resounding THUMP and grating. The first song is totally hypnotic and textural in a not dissimilar way to that seminal German group, Faust. Then it’s straight into free-form avant noise. Violins sawing away with a background of earth-shaking bass thumps. A mantra-like voice reciting over synthesised sounds. Distorted, treated voices. The side finishes with weird voices in the runout groove.

The second side has conventional and strange moments. One track is a series of fright-evoking scream-type sounds. Truly exploratory stuff.

What a surprise to find that this brilliant, Sydney-recorded album is by three ex-Features (they being the near-legendary NZ raw nerve anti-rock band) Jed Town, Karl van Bergen and James Pinker, plus Sarah Ward and Mike Brookfield. And word has it they’ll be touring NZ at some stage. Can’t wait! This record stuns. 8/10

 

First XV EP (Ashtray Records)

December 1982/IT Magazine

NZ single of the year, no less! The First XV’s recording debut is as good as the potential suggested by their recent rough’n’ready performances. Superficially, there is a Fall influence at play – listen to the cynical, deadpan vocals, especially. But their attitude reminds me more of The Damned, a group who would never lay a claim to be the world’s greatest virtuosos/’musicians’ per se but display a pleasing aptitude for playing around with music and fun.

In one sense these guys don’t give a fuck. But unlike others who pretend to fit this category, they’re moving forward, they have an appreciation of their own intrinsic worth, and the comparative simplicity and humour in the sound belie an intelligence and slyness in strategy.

The four songs on their EP are representative and well-recorded. ‘Fascist Tango’ comes the closest to a Fall-type approach, and features a typically NZ pleb protagonist and a persistent sense of humour. ‘Ashtray’ and ‘Staff Car’ are my favourites. Both have jumping rhythms (remember Shoes This High?) and ranting lyric lines full of mirth and derision. ‘Boots’ is a hilarious – and monumentally successful – rewrite of the Lee Hazlewood/Nancy Sinatra song.

First XV may never release another (worthwhile) record. (I think they will). But they’re indicative of the current strain of NZ bands which are getting their initial great flashes down on vinyl before they can go stale, break up or move onto something else. This is great stuff. Give it to Aunty Flo. 8/10

 

Fischer Z – Word Salad (United Artists)

1979/Evening Post

Suffering from the same syndrome as 10cc – lots of interesting, quirky ideas melded to pop music does not necessarily great music make – Fischer Z’s album is a clean-sounding, sterile cross between that group and the new wave. Only ‘Lies’ and ‘Remember Russia’ have a certain menacing factor. 5/10

 

Fishschool – Present Time ‘83/Past-Times ’81-’82 (self-released cassette)

1983/TOM

Fishschool, currently back to being three-quarters of Shoes This High (albeit many light years removed in some respects) have promised a single for some time now. No-one, however, prepared me for this 90 unrelenting minutes of Fishphilosophy, much of it totally freeform, and the rest of it heading in that direction.

There’s a considerable diversity here, which makes enforced (ie. deadline-rushed) assimilation impossible. Although I usually prefer hearing experiments with song format attached, most of these bits’n’pieces don’t aspire to obscurity; they are appreciable as expressive and interesting sounds.

This tape is a kind of summary of the group’s explorations since Fishschool was born. Side 1 is recent, while Side 2 covers 1981-’82. Fishschool as represented here are basically Jessica Walker (bass), Kevin Hawkins (guitar) and various friends. Chris Plummer, Shoes This High drummer who rejoined recently, is heard on only a couple of tracks.

These three are phenomenal musicians, capable of incredibly forceful, physical and rule-breaking musical creation. Unfortunately for me, the more formal side of the group barely gets a look-in, although it is to be found on a few tracks. The one actual gripe I have is with the sound quality: it could be better! You might get it from IMA HITT, Box 407, New Plymouth, or 6 Valley Rd, Mt Eden, Auckland. 7/10

 

Focus – Focus On Focus (EMI)

1980/Evening Post

Dutch band Focus represents all that is good and bad about that dated genre some call ‘techno-rock’ or ‘art-rock’ or ‘classical-rock or…

Virtuoso musicians from classical backgrounds, the group first played together in the Dutch version of Hair in 1969, and subsequently practised their own formula on some six albums before biting the dust in 1977.

Their music was a somewhat polite amalgam of formalist classical, jazz and rock influences. Unfortunately, the jazz content is in this case a ‘style’ rather than the real jazz definition – improvisation. The rock influence is some cutting, repetitious riffs, electrified instruments and little else.

The influences combined produced a sometimes exhilarating blend, but most often sound not a million kilometres away from that awful piped Muzak heard in so many office foyers.

But shame, shame – it’s thoroughly enjoyable. Focus On Focus is an obituary ‘best of’ compilation. Criminally, it’s a Dutch-compiled release with eight of the 14 tracks from the group’s waning days in 1977. Only six tracks are from their height of popularity in ’72-’73. Another grumble is the shoddy packaging, including badly translated liner notes on the back sleeve.

But Focus On Focus makes for enjoyable background music, and your mother will like it, or at least some of it.

The best tracks are the classic novelty ‘Hocus Pocus’ (Euro heavy metal yodelling ditty), the early Jethro Tullish ‘House Of The King’, ‘Tommy’ and ‘Sylvia’, both relaxed, lush pieces with lovely lyrical guitar.

The rest are very pleasant but the novelty quickly wears off. ‘Haren Scarem’ tries to repeat ‘Hocus Pocus’ and fails dismally, while ‘No Hangups’, ‘Focus IV’ and ‘Focus II’ cross the dangerously thin line between good taste and easy listening pap.

The worse moments come on the last-made material. The effete ‘Mother Focus’ can only be described as cheap twaddle, while ‘Brother’ (presumably PJ Proby on vocals) goes for sheerly embarrassing melodrmatics. Cringe.

It’s a shame. How could a group of such exceptional instrumentalists as Thijs Van Leer (keyboards, flute), Jan Akkerman and Philip Catherine (guitar) so so low?

When it worked, the formula worked well, but they failed because their combination of different musical forms was calculated and shallow, and the group had limited feeling for the rock idiom, despite their (mistaken) choice to work within the popular music field. 6/10

 

Ellen Foley – Night Out (Epic)

1979/Evening Post

Ellen Foley does the Phil Spector wall-of-sound technique on Night Out. 5/10

 

Foreigner – Head Games (Atlantic)

1979/Evening Post

Foreigner was contrived to fill the gap left by Bad Company during their years of slumber. This latest finds them wallowing in a stylish production with nothing to sing about, or play. 3/10

 

John Foxx – Metamatic (Virgin/RTC)

1980/Evening Post

John Foxx is no Numan clone. His Metamatic may sound strikingly similar on initial listenings, but repeat plays reveal a depth of vision lacking in Numan’s posturings. Numan acknowledges Foxx, former leader of Ultravox, as a major influence. Try ‘Underpass’ and ‘No-One Driving’ for starters. 8/10

 

Foxy – Hot Numbers (Epic)

1979/Evening Post

Heavily percussive Cuban-influenced disco with weak vocals. 5/10

 

Robert Fripp – The League Of Gentlemen (Editions EG)

1981/In Touch

Fripp’s certainly explored the terrain since those wonderful King Crimson LPs of the early ‘70s. Since his first solo Exposure in ’77, which displayed him as an eclectic musician, he has narrowed his interests down to one area per album.

The League Of Gentleman has no great pretentions. It is simply a document of the touring band of that name Fripp had under his wing for the duration of 1980. The songs are cute, funky little musicianly exercises, fairly mild and definitely listenable. The memorable components of the sound are, predictably enough, Fripp’s own guitar and Barry Andrews’ (ex-XTC) keyboards. The one annoying sound factor is the drumming of Kevin Wilkinson. It could be the mix, or perhaps due to the NZ pressing, but the drum sound is ‘orrible.

So, what we’ve got is none of the heavy riffing or the tape-looped guitaring Fripp is famed for, but rather a selection of pleasantly bizarre little ditties.

Unfortunately, some spoken passages totally ruin sections of the album, and generally taint the whole exercise. Some of the spoken asides are quite humorous on first listening, others are just embarrassing, forcing one to skip tracks.

Frustrating, because Fripp did the same thing on Exposure with far greater success. But he’s just far too British and academic to ever do a believable ‘Zappa’.

Hey, but King Crimson are back together again! Now that’s news! 7/10

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