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 ‘O’.
Dennis O’Brien operates in a musical middle ground that appears not to appeal to an obvious market. His music is gimmick-free and difficult to pin labels on.
O’Brien is a singer-songwriter of considerable import in West Germany where it seems the populace and industry is geared to appreciate music that does not need tags. In New Zealand, an artist of O’Brien’s calibre is accepted but the potential for commercial success is inevitably not realised. For what reason, I know not.
Though the title track of his first album, ‘Any Other Face’, is a veritable minor masterpiece as far as anguished ballads go, the standard of material on this, his second album, is generally more even. The first album was recorded in Britain with top session musicians and Still In The Same Dream, recorded at Wellington’s Marmalade studios with local session men, compares favourably. In fact, the production and backing musicians are sympathetic to O’Brien’s art.
This is a varied, worthy work. My favourites are ‘Get Yourself Another Fool’ and ‘The Moon Is Stone’, weep-in-your-wine ballads to which O’Brien’s melancholy voice adds special magic.
Though O’Brien’s music is not nearly extreme enough to suit my tastes, the fact remains that there must be a large audience for his music somewhere. And he shouldn’t have to look to West Germany to find it. 7/10
Hazel O’Connor – Sons & Lovers (Liberation)
Along with The Nolans’ Making Waves and Springsteen’s The River, this is the worst record I’ve heard all year. Hazel’s got a pathetic little voice that conveys nothing at all. Her band sound like the BBC orchestra-go-rock or something. She does a version of ‘Danny Boy’ that rivals both The Bachelors and Gracie Fields for the worst version of the worst song in the history of mankind (or something like that). Burp! (Excuse me!) 1/10
Kai Olsson – Crazy Love (Chrysalis)
Olsson’s Crazy Love is professionally produced but unexciting fare. 4/10
Almost an old-fashioned pop record, with melodies and minor chords and harmonies straight from the magick ‘60s. And a singer who’s the perfect hybrid of whining George Harrison and bleating Feargal Sharkey. Unfortunately, a bit of rubbish is plopped into the mix courtesy producer Mick Ronson (ex-David Bowie’s Spiders From Mars) and an almost heavy metal guitar graunch on several cuts. Really not bad but really not great. Note: Was released over a year ago in England. 5/10
Sharon O’Neill – Maybe (CBS)
Maybe I’ll be honest. Maybe she won’t read it and get upset. Maybe she’ll understand why I hate Maybe. Maybe Sharon realised how banal her lyrics have become and how lazy the melodies are and how uninspired the musicianship is. Maybe Mum and Dad will like it. Maybe I’ll never have to listen to Maybe again. Maybe I’ll live happily ever after… maybe. 5/5
John Lennon’s blood-splattered death glasses have as a background the New York skyline on the cover of Season Of Glass, Yoko Ono’s first album since the murder of her husband last December.
This photograph may well be a heartfelt personal statement but art pales in comparison to tragic reality. It feels like exploitation.
Seasons Of Glass does not go into the political ramifications of Lennon’s death. The FBI recently released a few of the many documents they have on Lennon, which show that he was subjected to harassment and electronic surveillance for his political involvement. The latest allegations have killer Mark Chapman as an FBI-programmed assassin.
Instead, we have 14 songs, some written before Lennon’s death and therefore about their relationship and the others expressing various shades of grief, loss and loneliness. They are mostly quaint, quiet voicings, some affecting, others just twee. Only on ‘I Don’t Know Why’ does her voice rise in rage. “You bastards, hate us, hate me, we had it all, you…”
Ono’s avant-garde vocal stylings (much copies in recent new wave days) are unfortunately too often reduced to caricature in the musical settings which prevail. Session musicians soften the bite of the tragic subject matter, the pain is simply not conveyed in the streamlined musical veneer. Ultimately, this prevents Season Of Glass becoming the important statement it should be. 6/10
Deprive the very wonderful, lustrous ‘60s group Love of their deranged beauty, their innate talent, and the context in which they existed in time and space (you know, like the cosmos, man) and you’re not left with much. You’re left with something like The Orange, who lurk in a quasi-psychedelic nowheresville of strictly impaired vision. An EP that proves the A&R branch of Flying Nun has knots in it after all. 5/10
Rock’n’Roll High School conveniently destroys two views generally held by rock fans and critics alike: that compilation albums featuring various artists need necessarily be TV-promoted market demand-fulfilling mediocrity, and that soundtrack albums contain insubstantial compositions which, when divorced from the movie they are extracted from, inevitably end their days vying for places in the world’s bargain bins.
The movie in question (which hopefully will see New Zealand release soon) stars New York City punk group The Ramones and, appropriately, they dominate the first side of this soundtrack.
The Ramones’ tracks include the title tune and a gloriously dumb, tinny live medley of their ‘hits’, which sport titles like ‘Teenage Lobotomy’ and ‘Pinhead’.
Classic songs about school rebellion by Chuck Berry (‘School Days’), Alice Cooper (‘School’s Out’), Brownsville Station (‘Smokin’ In The Boys’ Room’), and diversions by Eno, Todd Rundgren, Nick Lowe and others make Rock’n’Roll High School one of 1979’s most enjoyable releases.
Phil Spector, famous for his ‘wall of sound’ production on many 1960s hits, remixed this album and is likely responsible for the great sound. 7/10
A 1983 re-release sees the former Black Sabbath front-person veer away from the Satan images of his previous black slabs and attempts a kind of tame take on George Romero’s flesh-eating zombies’ film concept. Lame ghoul-rock for the most part, the really entertaining bit is where Ozzy goes for the jugular of his critics in ‘Rock’n’Roll Rebel’. But the heights of hilarity are truly scaled on ‘Now You See It (Now You Don’t)’, Ozzy’s view on sex, which once and all proves the man’s a mushy mousse (not a moose or a mouse). I guess people like Ozzy because he’s dumb; on “big ballad” ‘So Tired’ he gets jilted and you can’t help feeling sorry for the sop. 5/10
O’Strange, a recent RNZ Unsung Hero, knows the craft of songwriting. It’s a pity the cliched cover version ‘But I Do’ gets a reasonably high-quality selection off to a bad start. Ed Morris (aka O’Strange) has assembled a bunch of respectable sessioners to perform his songs. They’re electric, and not in an entirely complementary way. For instance, Devo would be at home covering ‘Video Dodo’, while ‘Moving Targets’ is more in line with some modern balladeer. Unfortunately, he writes to genres rather than gut feelings. The other problem is O’Strange’s possession of a voice that would put Ringo to shame. But then again, Ringo’s had hit songs and he’s probably half the songwriting talent O’Strange is. Them’s the breaks.