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 ‘M’.
Who, or what, is Madonna? Is there anything beyond the corporate image to suggest that Madonna actually exists. No, of course not. It’s the reality-illusion of stardom, and a good deal more honest than the portrayal of Bruce Springsteen as Mr Approachable. You’re supposed to find Springbeanbag down at the car plant, slaving away like a good ol’ Working Class Man. Now that’s a lie. That Madonna is more image than reality is no bad thing. Madonna the Immaculate Concept has been through the Material Girl phase, the Wicked Girl phase, and now here comes the Complete Modern Woman phase. Madonna was first a perfect teen dream; a rebel, selfish, sexual. The absolute anti-liberal statement, Madonna was no Mother Earth, and wasn’t gonna get caught without a face full of paint. True Blue could signal the seeds for the dispersion of the corporate seduction, but it mostly makes for entertaining listening. In fact, it’s quite good, for the most part. Danceable rhythms, singable melodies; what more could you want out of music, life, the Universe? ‘Live To Tell’ however, just about blows her cover: the next Laura Branigan, anyone? 5/10
Marching Girls were The Scavengers, one of NZ’s earliest punk groups. They moved to Australia in 1979, changed their name and now two of the original members remain. ‘My Friends’ is good but not great pop: her friends are really not friends at all, but the lyrics ain’t caustic enough by half. ‘The Introduction’ is a heavier side to the group, one that fails to leap positively out of a world which includes New Order and The Bunnymen. The ascending chord line of ‘Plain Jane’ makes it a deadringer for many other similar tunes. ‘Flesh Lies’ is the best thing here. It has momentum, it sounds unfamiliar, it dares to be serious. On the strength of this EP the Marching Girls are not astoundingly different, nor marvellous. Interesting they are, though. Like fingernails, they grow on you, and you don’t take any notice of them until they need cutting. 5/10
Comfortable middle-class angst from Centreville City; incredibly undynamic British ‘progressive’ rock stuck indelibly in ’73 aping obvious heroes like Genesis and Co but unable to emulate even Peter Gabriel’s genuine if detached guilty conscience. If Fish’s bloated voice and pompous lyrics weren’t repellent enough, we’d still have the endless cream cheese guitar and keyboard washes to test our troubled countenance. 3/10
There’s something not quite right about NZ blues. Why listen to Midge when you can play Howlin’ Wolf records any time ya want?
Well, you got your reasons. Midge and crew are real enough for those into the feel enough to want to weave de blooze into the very social fabric of their humble antipodean existences, hence the pub popularity of the Midge and his ilk.
I find this kind of stuff so damn predictable. But then again, I’m the kind of guy that’ll pass up a free ticket to a Sunday ngiht Midge/Sonny Day/Hammond Gamble part at Cricketers just to see the Sunday Horror. What a weirdo, eh?
You? You might find that this here 5-track LP (recorded at the Gluepot) captures just enough live Midge magic to bring back memories of wonderful drunken nights of raging revelry you’ve spent at his gigs.
Token quirk: a certain Johnny Winter album from the early ‘70s contained at least two of these songs, in remarkably similar versions.
Who he, eh? Like Jethro Tull and Led Zeppelin before them, Matt Bianco have a name which is easily interpreted as a singular description. They are a group, though, as is the current fashion, Matt Bianco are essentially duo by nature if not by name. English people Marks Reilly and Fisher (vocals and keyboards respectively) are responsible for upwardly mobile yuppy dance muzak which steadfastly refuses to leave any kind of Mark at all. In fact, these Marks are so clean that they never have to scrub their bathtub. And they’ve got a maid to clean the reptile scales off the shower floor. The record is rococo jazz-pop, synthetic and guaranteed bloodless. Their own, undistinguished song, ‘Dancing In The Street’, is included. They released it, for some reason. 1/10
Music for yuppies and hush puppies perhaps, keyboardist Lyle Mays’ late-night jazz, commonly associated with Manfred Eicher’s ECM label (several ECM stablemates are involved here) and a Los Angeles cocaine-bleached saxophone dribble. The pieces seldom sustain a good idea or resolve a theme, but there are enough creative contrasts to compel the listener to enjoy, if not convince. 5/10
Dave McArtney & the Pink Flamingos, with a lineup of names from such illustrious outfits as Hello Sailor, Dragon, Ticket and Streettalk, appear a supergroup mismatch of the first degree.
On their first, self-titled Polygram album though, the Flamingos prove the perfect anonymous pro foil for McArtney’s songwriting sass.
Dave McArtney was responsible for some of Hello Sailor’s more distinguished fare, and it’s his craftsmanlike MOR rock songwriting which this essentially solid but undistinctive group is here employed to display.
Many will already be familiar with the two singles lifted from this album, ‘Infatuation’ and ‘Virginia’, with its risqué lyrics.
Most of the songs are up to the same standard, if of a generally slower nature. Personal faves are ‘The Party’ (self-explanatory) and ‘Sometimes’, which vocally echoes both John Lennon and Bob Dylan and musically bathes in that sickly morning after feeling.
Dave McArtney & the Pink Flamingos is no masterwork, but if not for the over-crisp and clean production, it would easily measure up to the majority of overseas commercial releases. 6
Paul McCartney probably wishes he had no name to live up to. Over a decade has passed since The Beatles called it a day, and McCartney has played with Wings for most of the ‘70s, yet he has only now released his second solo album.
McCartney II spotlights Paul playing all instruments and composing all the tunes, and the results quash rumours of his larger-than-life part in The Beatles and Wings. The album was, as is stated on the cover, recorded at home on a 16-track tape machine, bypassing the recording console. And it sounds as much.
‘Coming Up’, the single, matches an almost new wave sound to a theme of naïve idealistic optimism. For example, stick around and the world will be better tomorrow. Throughout the album similar sentiments are repeated.
On mawkish ballads ‘Waterfalls’ and ‘One Of These Days’, he pleads for love and fresh air respectively, while the complete lyrics of ‘Summer’s Day Song’ run as follows: “Someone’s sleeping through a bad dream/Tomorrow it will be over/For the world will soon be waking/To a summer’s day.”
Sly synthesiser-driven rockers ‘Temporary Secretary’ and ‘Darkroom’ have trivial lyrics but along with ‘Coming Up’, they are the most memorable tracks. The blues of ‘On The Way’, the conventional rock of ‘Nobody Knows’, the satirical rockabilly-boogie of ‘Bogey Music’ and the easy listening synth fodder of instrumentals ‘Frozen Jap’ and ‘Front Parlour’ combine to make a slight, craftsman-like, unchallenging album.
On McCartney II, McCartney is a talented but under-inspired tunesmith making the recorded equivalent to a home movie doodling around, making friendly sounds and enjoying himself. 6/10
McFadden & Whitehead – McFadden & Whitehead (PDR)
Distinguished soul duo churns out an album full of substandard disco and ballads. Hit single: ‘Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now’. 5/10
Recorded in Jamaica and mixed in Florida, Across The Border amounts to nothing but a flaccid token gesture. Predictable, political preaching (the title tune, ‘Out Of The Valley’, ‘War Mongers’, ‘Freedom Justice & Equality’), pallid platitudes (‘Love Will Solve The Problems’, ‘High Tension’), crossover compromises (‘Freddie’, ‘Work To Do Today’, ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Mind’) and careless cover versions (‘Guantanamera’) all get mulched onto the one album. Instead of grooving, the rhythms groan to a music mix that’s been left in the blender too long. If that wasn’t enough, this cassette-only release sounds as murky as if it had been recorded directly from a copy of the album instead of a master tape. 3/10
Mice In A Radiogram (Ima Hitt) cassette
Describing themselves as a ‘non-profit band concerned about other species in the gutter’, Mice In A Radiogram release an album-length tape with loads of promise. Fairly experimental in approach, their songs generally, however, have form and (usually) melody. While the band is obviously striving for originality, the music is still essentially the sum of its influences, never finding a continuous thread or distinct voice of its own. But it is interesting.
Some songs shine through the murky recording quality better than others. In fact, the first three songs on the tape are the best. ‘Copy IV’, ‘After The Funeral’ and ‘French Testing’ show a punk side to the band that occasionally echoes Public Image heard down a long corridor with added slabs of synth. ‘Disaster At McKechnies’ and ‘A Music’, however, explore the ‘assorted instruments’ and ‘fun with voices’ aspect of music which Zappa and a few others made definitive music with in the ‘60s. That’s not to say that there isn’t potential in these areas, just that I get déjà vu and wish I was listening to those artists when I hear this.
The music gets more primitive as it continues onto Side 2, and it becomes meandering in the process. Nevertheless, this music deserves to be heard. I didn’t appreciate the condom packaging. A rather tasteless ‘novelty’. Mice In A Radiogram’s cassette is available from Ima Hitt, Box 407, New Plymouth. 6/10
An overblown seasonal theme, but one that works with luscious interpretations of time-honoured pop songs sandwiched seamlessly by bits of Vivaldi. Silly, like satin sheets in summer, The Four Seasons is smooth, smoochy cocktail jazz with crystal-clear orchestral arrangements which suit McNeill’s limited voice. We ponder the point of yet more versions of ‘Summertime’, ‘September Song’, et al. But at least it’s all (yawn) organically flowing. Man. 5/10
WEA subsidiary Geffen is taking some laudable gambles on some adventurous releases, and this is one of the most extreme yet.
Guitarist Pat Metheny is inevitably associated with the cruisy modern jazz for which he is famed, but on Song X he teams with and is submerged by the innovative saxophonist Ornette Coleman. Aided and abetted by bassist Charlie Haden, and drummers Jack De Johnette and Denardo Coleman, there is one thing for certain: free jazz is on the menu.
There is little to suggest that this is anything but an interlude for Coleman who, having invented a musical language called harmolodics, seems content to let rip with any free improvisations he feels coming on. Without being pinned to a melodic base, this busy music doesn’t function so much within one’s usual perception of music, but in an environmental mode. In a sense, Coleman and co are communicating to the listener through their instruments in the same way the sound of birds singing together and ground scrunching under boots adds to a forest walk.
That said, Metheny’s muted contributions do add a semblance of conventional melody of tone and colouration. 7/10
Nov 1981/In Touch
This whole semi-credible West Side Story dramatic pose/trip must be dangerous to gullible romantics like me. That said, this street-level sentimentalism is simple and unpretentious and has the upper hand on Springsteen, who forgets that girls are more important than cars, and simple soul songs more effective than brassy cluttered anthems. MDV’s career seemed doomed from the start, but from this unambitious base they may yet make a comfy niche for themselves. The songs here are pleasant and memorable, with the exception of the misconceived mush of ‘End Of The Line’. 6/10
In trying to mirror current futuristic trends in popular music, Mi-Sex have become tiresome and predictable. The contrivances which initially inspired them to create powerful modern rock are now limiting the band’s scope, trapping them in a pose of laughable shallowness.
But of course, Space Race is a chart cert, calculated as it may be.
There is something desperate about this album. The songs themselves are simplistic, superficially grand rockers with the shiny cold glean of the ‘new age’ played to a level of embarrassment by the boys in the band. There’s nothing wrong with simple riffs where memorable, but on songs such as ‘People’, that horrendous single, they could to all intents and purposes be updated Village People singing updated disco nursery rhymes, for all it means.
The sound, where it could be inventive or powerful, is merely ugly, uselessly dominated by Murray Burns’ keyboards, which more often than not sound totally out of line with what the group is trying to express. They are a horrible wash of synthesised cowboy strings.
The rest of the playing is uninspired. Hodgkinson’s drumming plods away uneventfully, with Kevin Stanton playing a muted guitar. Steve Gilpin is the only member who really excels, his vocals lending new meaning to the word ‘macho’. But here, more often than not, the voice is inadequately recorded, sounding a million miles from the power of ‘Computer Games’.
‘Space Race’ itself is indicative of what’s to come, while ‘Pages And Matches’, in its schizo freneticism, emerges as one of the better tracks. The only other noteworthy song is ‘It Only Hurts When I’m Laughing’, which begins like a ballad (winsome synthesised strings) and gallops into overdrive to accommodate Gilpin’s maniacal vocal delivery.
The doom-laden ‘Living In September’, the instantly memorable ‘Good Guys Always Win (Satire)’, and raging rocker ‘Burning Up’ keep up the standard set by Graffiti Crimes, but ‘I Don’t Know’, ‘Slippin’ Out’ and ‘Ice Cold Dead’ are definitely substandard fare, though impressive in the bad taste stakes.
If Mi-Sex are New Zealand’s best bet for overseas success, then we’ve got much to worry about. 5/10
December 1982/IT Magazine
Zed’s little effort grows on you, but it’s nothing new, nothing to shake the earth. The A-side is very 1960s: an off-key semi-steal of bits and pieces from tunes like ‘Things We Said Today’. Complete with drum machine. ‘Family’ has a more contemporary theme, but ‘What Do You See’ is unnecessarily amateurish. Winner of the first Inside Out Richard Eriwata Record Sleeve Award. 5/10
A more than considerable improvement on the first single, this disc at once shows potential and clarifies certain deficiencies. Mole Manne pack a gritty, well-defined punch at times, here on ‘Search’, ‘Raid’ and ‘Cot Death’. On the other hand, the best song as such is ‘Now You’ve Found Me’.
Enthusiasm for the sound and one’s ability to relate with the earnest tones, however, is hampered. The problem lies in the area of lyrics and vocals. The singing is consistently off-key, but in a grating rather than a novel way. The lyrics are embarrassing, but then again reading the words, explicitly displayed on the back of the cover, is not obligatory.
The final impression this Wellington group leaves is one of people wanting to make extreme, meaningful music, and not being quite brave enough, or maybe not having enough to say, to quite bring it off. Maybe next time? 6/10
Mondo Rock – Mondo Rock Chemistry (WEA)
Dec 1981/In Touch
Middle-of-the-wave Mondo Rock from Oarstraylia come up with palatable dish of, if not instantly memorable, then at least clever, tasteful rock music. The sounds are standard fodder, but the lyrics are worth a read. Recommended for those who want some Oz-rock minus the sado-machismo of yer Cold Chisels or the reptilian extremity of those Birthday Party people. A less MOR LRB? 5/10
“An unashamed look at their weird lives… their wild loves… in a jazz-haunted, desire-tormented world.”
So reads a statement on the front cover of The Monochrome Set’s second album, Love Zombies. It’s typical of the satirical, cryptic nature of the British group: Lester Square, guitar, Andrew Warren, bass guitar (both former members of Adam And The Ants), John Haney, drums, Bid, vocals, Alvin Clark, keyboards.
Also part of the lineup is filmmaker Tony Potts because the group’s shows incorporate his film visuals.
Love Zombies is a varied, unusual and underrated album. Despite a new wave background on the title track, the set shows no relation to this genre. The group has been harshly criticised for this seeming betrayal. The music on this album is, however, both creative and entrancing, if not a part of the rock or new wave mainstream.
Electrified, celtic influenced folk jigs, which are reminiscent of early 1970s group Gryphon, comprise the substantial part of ‘405 Line’, ‘B.I.D. Spells Bid’ and the title track. ‘Adeste Fidels’ combines pop riffs and religious phraseology, and ‘Apocalypso’ bounces happily along – marimba and all – as Bid sings lines such as: “Sing ho for a-bomb melody/It merrily whistles down on me.”
The tone of the set is far from serious, but the group’s satire contains its share of well-aimed barbs. What, after all, can one say about song titles such as ‘In Love, Cancer?’
Often, otherwise inconsequential songs are fully justified by the group’s intelligent ideas and combinations of sound.
This musically accomplished group has fully utilised the technological capabilities of the modern recording studio to artistic ends. Love Zombies is not for dancing but for listening to. Definitely one for audio buffs. 8/10
I wouldn’t disagree with Mr Moore’s proclamation, but this innocuous, soothing little number doesn’t float happily in the same bucket of slop as Roger Whittaker. In his quiet way, Christy Moore’s doing the same thing for Scottish working man’s folk as Bruce Springsteen for his industrial equivalent. It’s all a bit simple-minded, cosy and cornball, but is nothing if not totally tasteful. You won’t find any sickly strings on this record; it’s a gentle palette of plucked guitars and low-key synthesiser with Moore’s thick stew sung softly on top. And, in small doses, it’s rather nice. 6/10
Everybody’s gotta have a hero, and to me, Lemmy fits the credentials more than most. Way back when in England’s green and pleasant past, Lemmy was a minor-league rebel hanging out with before-their-time punkies The Rockin’ Vicars, acid-heads The Pink Fairies and Mick Farren’s Deviants. His major appearance in the rock’n’roll history books to date is his five-year sojourn in squiggly heavy-metal space-rock one-riff bread-brains Hawkwind.
When this whacked-out straggle-haired and acknowledged speed-freak bassist got the push from those silver machines in ’75, he went right ahead and formed his own brand of heavy metal heaven – Motorhead. The three-piece would go on to create three or even four more riffs as songs than that previous group could never quite rise to.
Motorhead was the monster riff, the total lack of subtlety in any shape, form or size. And if you didn’t like the sound of that, chum, you might as well have cleared off before these destructive louts shaved every hair from your poor tortured ear-drum without so much as a “sorry”.
Where they differ from every other so-called metal act is that they do not try to refine or define their sound. Where they differ from the status quo (or Status Quo for that matter) of heavy bands is that they don’t just tell us to get “down, down”, or “bang your head against another brick in the wall”. They don’t preach phallic worship or stuff things down their pants to make their knobs seem super-sized. Although you don’t hear the words (necessarily), they’re preaching rebellion, however misguided their wrath may be. At least they’re fighting something, not doing the Judas Priest misogynist glorification bit.
We need heavy metal rebels to wipe away the snail trails left by whorey old Led Bombast. Motorhead has more in common with early Sex Pistols than with early Purple. Don’t believe me and it’s nobody’s funeral, but in attitude at least, that’s fact.
Motorhead was formed early on in the punk piece, and while dime-a-dozen renta-punk combos were signing to ludicrous sell-your-soul deals, Motorhead was suffering record company diffidence. They cut an album at Dave Edmund’s Rockfield studios in Wales which was assigned to the vaults. Their second, Motorhead, was the victim of a terrible sound mix that reduced all the venom to a blurred whirr. Their third, Bomber, is by all accounts the classic nobody’s been waiting for.
So they’re now quite big in Britain, and UA’s Rockfile department has dug out the earliest material and put it out, demo-like sound quality and all, as On Parole. And that’s where we come in. On Parole is now on general release at a budget price.
Real Motorhead can be sampled on ‘Motorhead’, ‘Iron Horse – Born To Lose’, ‘Fools’ and ‘Lost Johnny’. At their best, they’re an aural equivalent to monster sonic toothache or, in Lemmy’s head, the rush of speed and a big British bike.
The more ponderous tracks are the most successful, as they can build on the threatening atmosphere. As the edges of the sound are fuzz, thanks to the dismal sound quality, and the band are hardly virtuosi, the faster songs tend to lack punch, tightness and distinction. This is true of ‘City Kids’ and ‘Leaving Here’, a tribute to the first and best 1965 heavy metal, The Birds’ (no, not The Byrds).
On Parole is generally for those fools enough (me included) to be addicted to their real albums. Here they still have the basic Motorhead barrage of sound, but with Larry Wallis’s guitar, the all-out assault of later outings is slightly depleted.
If you want to try ’em out, get one of the later records, but this is recommended to fans. Lemmy, your raw-throated Burl Ives on mentholated spirits vocals have gotta be the most! 6/10
Heavy metal is a base, distasteful form of rock music. Its practitioners generally live a lifestyle that eschews human responsibility. Its predominantly adolescent audience is actively encouraged to unleash their energy and frustrations to this violent, masochistic music.
Most heavy metal groups foster complete disregard for half the human race – women – except as objects of male sexual conquest. Quite apart from the dangerous attitude-mongering these groups perpetrate upon the naïve, their noise seldom lives up to expectations, most often dredging up the same slow, ponderous riffs time and time again.
Rock music can be and is a valid method by which we can rid ourselves of frustrations of various kinds without taking them out on others: a kind of exorcism. Most heavy metal bands though, with a few exceptions such as that of forerunners The Who, forget that frustration can be caused by political, social, sexual and many other circumstances.
Motorhead is the stronger medicine of today. The group plays music that is within the structural framework of heavy metal, but this trio makes more noise than all the others combined. They are a totally over-the-top, ear bleed-inducing blitzkrieg of sound.
Motorhead is an excellent energy-release holocaust and a vivid but affectionate parody of the heavy metal genre. It takes itself seriously but the whole concept is firmly tongue in cheek: check out titles like ‘Love Me Like A Reptile’ and the album cover, which pictures the band dressed as outlaws in a desert setting.
The band has no message to impart to the listener, save affirmation of outlaw chic (‘Live To Win’ and ‘Bite The Bullet’). Its sledgehammer strength and pneumatic drill attack is further emphasised on this, the group’s fifth album. The songs are short and fast – quite alien to heavy metal – and sound as similar to each other as one would expect of material that was all created while actually recording the album.
A large part of the credit must go to Lemmy, otherwise known as Mr Kilmister. His history stretches back as far as outrageous mid-‘60s band The Rockin’ Vicars and runs on through to the ‘70s when he was resident in space-rock group Hawkwind. He created Motorhead after leaving that group.
Lemmy is a biker, a greaser and a self-confessed speed-freak, not to mention great bass guitarist and bull-moose roar vocalist. The other members are Eddie Clarke (guitar) and Philthy Animal Taylor (drums).
Motorhead are all excess and overkill (the title of one of their albums). Surely appropriate themes for the 1980s? The only groups comparable to Motorhead are (within their self-created genres) Christchurch band The Gordons and San Francisco’s Chrome.
Good for a laugh, a headache and wonderful for waking the neighbours on Sunday mornings. 8/10
British pub-turned punk group The Motors go for something completely different on their third LP. Now down to a duo – Andy McMasters and Nick Garvey – they flourish with a studio style to beat all-comers on Tenement Steps. The album is, if nothing else, a triumph of sheer sound: majestic panoramic sound spectrum. The wall-of-sound is seemingly achieved by regal-sounding keyboard patterns and powerful orchestrations which, for once, actually work in the rock setting. 6/10
Mr Partridge’s Take Away/The Lure Of Salvage is a veritable goldmine for those seeking to broaden their musical horizons, or simply soak up some really new sounds. ‘Mr Partridge’ (Andy Partridge of XTC) has taken much of the group’s latest LP Drums & Wires and, as he states on the cover, electronically processed/shattered and layered the tracks with other sounds or lyrical pieces. An accessible experimental record thankfully bereft of the usual earnestness of such ventures. 10/10