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

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 ‘P’.

 

P

The Alan Parsons Project – Eve (Arista)

1979/The Evening Post

Grotesquely warted, festering female faces peer somberly through black veils on Eve. This is the fourth album by the Alan Parsons Project, following the highly successful Tales Of Mystery And Imagination, I Robot, and last year’s Pyramid.

The Project was born when Parsons, who had been the engineer on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon, teamed up with composer/keyboardist/ideas-man Eric Wooleson.

The concept mercifully has little to do with the Hipgnosis-designed cover. Eve is simply about women and is essentially a selection of ably-played orthodox rock love songs.

Aside from the opening instrumental ‘Lucifer’ and the following ‘You Lie Down With Dogs’, which feature the Project’s trademarked clipped, repetitive electric piano motifs and rich orchestral flavourings, Eve is surprisingly restrained.

The ballads ‘Winding Me Up’ and ‘Secret Garden’, featuring Beach Boy-type harmonies, make for a pleasant change in their work. 6/10

 

Dolly Parton – 9 To 5 And Odd Jobs (RCA)

1981/Evening Post

This is an album of songs about working men and women portrayed as struggling, downtrodden but proud people.

Other artists’ songs are well chosen. Particularly heart-rending is Woody Guthrie’s ballad, ‘Deportee (Plane Wreck At Los Gatos)’, about ill-treatment meted out to immigrants, with tragic results. In the traditional blues song ‘House Of The Rising Sun’, a woman caught in prostitution mourns the sad life, and in Merle Haggard’s ‘Dark As A Dungeon’, he dissuades young men from wasting their lives working in mines.

Parton’s material, while musically safe, realistically and sincerely presents the case for working people. The single ‘9 To 5’ (from the movie of the same name) criticises the lot of working women, and ‘Working Girl’, covers similar ground.

Parton’s music is pop with a background of country. It’s not challenging in the musical sense but neither is it bland or patronising. Parton sings in a little/big, bitter/sweet dolly voice which can pull the heartstrings as much as it can chirp with joy. 7/10

 

The Passions – Michael And Miranda (Stunn/CBS)

1980/In Touch

In the July issue of In Touch, Single Of The Month was a little beauty by an unknown British group, The Passions – ‘Hunted’ b/w ‘Oh, Not It’s You’. Nothing more was heard of the group and at last glance the single was going for a mere 20 cents in one local record shop.

Now, some months on, their debut album quietly slips onto the market. A fitting lack of promotion, perhaps. I’m sure the band would shun bullshit-oriented hype, as they appear as philosophically unassuming as they are musically. The artist and (partial) commercial success of The Cure, it seems, has opened the door to a new consciousness: one which acknowledges the worth of music made by normal talented individuals and encourages the creation of such. The cover rams the point home: small dour portraits of the four, two females, two males. It seems to stress the point that they are normal people, maybe talented in their field but with just as much responsibility to practice their art honestly as we have in our respective roles.

Their lyrics are disarmingly simple, and those of ‘Palava’ explain their position: “Everybody tries to be complicated/Never being quite how they appear to be/Won’t you say what you mean/And mean what you say/Talk to me in a logical way? And why do you try to be so obscure/I don’t find it fascinating/Your double entendres/Your impeccable karma/I’m sick and tired of this palava.”

Sadly, the album really doesn’t quite live up to that first single, which isn’t on the album. Chris Parry’s production fails to flesh out the sound, which is at times drastically less than fully realised.

The spare touch does provide for some interesting moments though, oft times reminding one of the first Cure album, particularly in the economically echoey guitar sound. Michael And Miranda displays a very young Passions with much room for growth, but they already have distinctive traits, as in the super mod pop of ‘Brick Wall’ or ‘Suspicion’, with recognisable reggaefied rhythm and sweetly unaffected vocals by Barbara Gogan and Claire Bidwell. I hate to say this, but The Passions are… promising. 6/10

 

Peking Man – Room That Echoes (CBS single)

1986/Wellington City Magazine

Peking Man on disc are singularly lacking in charm, from Margaret Urlich’s expressionless by-rote vocal stylisms to the band’s ability to merely flesh out a dull dance riff and proclaim it a song of substance. The sound on this single is hi-tech, but the result is no less predictable. Complete with Emulator parts by Bruce Lynch. Wowie. 2/10

 

Peking Man – Peking Man (CBS)

1986/Wellington City

Unbearably ordinary, unvaryingly vapid, Peking Man is the dance set’s answer to The Narcs; more malleable product for CBS to test their marketing savvy with. Undeniably successful, they have taken a fair gambit on their debut LP by shifting the emphasis away from their standard formula. Several tracks have the same nagging simplicity that made ‘Room That Echoes’ (included here) so irritating, but ‘Start At The Beginning’ – which attempts a jazz vamp – shows there’s more to Peking Man than constipated funk. But it’s all so dull. And those pseudo-philosophic lyrics – GAWP! 1/10

 

The Pelicans – Eight Duck Treasure (Eelman mini-album)

1983/TOM

Why should I worry? While I’m analysing ‘em and trying to decide whether or not these birds of a feather, in playing their particular thing, manage to rise above the forms they’re playing with, their legions of Wellington fans are shuffling around their living rooms and sunning on their front porches to the rhythms of The Pelicans.

While I’m not sure if these guys add anything remarkable of their own to their chosen genre/s, it’s clear, however, that what they present will be well-appreciated. The Pelicans are talented musicians, with a feel for what they do, and this recording, although slightly too clean (lacking in grit) does the group proud. It’s punchy, with vocals to the fore and spritely, sharp horns.

A lot of the time it sounds like The Pelicans are cruising. And of course, they are, in a sense. It’s cruisy music, after all. Subtle figures permeate the music, which makes repeated listening pleasurable.

The songs themselves are all memorable after a couple of spins. The first track, ‘Shuffleitis’, is the most immediate but also the quickest to lose its charm, being that the Ry Cooder influence borders on the plagiaristic here. ‘Banana Republic’ is the obvious track for all of us with political consciences, and it’s one of the most lyrically articulate and intelligent songs written about NZ.

My only real beef with this record is that it never exceeds itself. It’s full of admirable qualities but could do with an injection of inspiration. And hell, that’s no crime. 6/10

 

Pere Ubu – The Modern Dance (Rough Trade)

1978/1981/In Touch

This is one of my top five favourite albums. And that’s ever, babe. Pere Ubu, Cleveland, Ohio’s own, unleashed The Modern Dance on an unsuspecting America early in ’78 via their independent label Blank. Typically, it was soon deleted and languished in obscurity until Rough Trade re-released the masterpiece this year. Now, EMI have released it in New Zealand.

Pere Ubu, because of this and their early 12-inch EP, Datapanik In The Year Zero, are credited with largely creating the bleak industrial genre which later spawned groups like Throbbing Gristle. This has become something of a millstone around the group’s neck, however, as there is much more to the Ubu’s than that.

Sure, The Modern Dance is bleak, undoubtedly the product of growing up in a place like Cleveland. There is, fortunately, nothing in the least bit robotic about their music: it’s extreme, sure. It’s unhappy, sure. But it’s also full of passion and sadness. It could be called modern expressionist.

What makes this album so important and so necessary is that it’s one of the best rock albums ever released. Listen to the opening ‘Non-Alignment Pact’ or ‘Streetwaves’ or just about any of them (except for the abstract ‘Sentimental Journey’) for proof.

Perhaps it’s what’s not heard that makes it such a powerful statement. There’s nothing else like it. Early Wellington punks were into this band from the word ‘go’. You can hear why: the frustration in the music, the extremity. Time for the whole nation to hear. 10/10

 

Pere Ubu – 390 Degrees Of Simulated Stereo (Rough Trade)

1981/In Touch

This record should have “for Ubu freaks only” stamped on the cover. Thank God I’m one! 390 Degrees… is not the best place for beginners. It is the first volume of a live set – two more volumes should be forthcoming, providing contractual hassles can be sorted out. This volume contains material mostly from the early days, from the first indie singles through the Datapanik EP through The Modern Dance. Though the material itself is early, the recordings vary between the years 1976 to 1978. It goes without saying that the next volumes will contain later material.

390 Degrees… amounts to a well-annotated and stuck together document of the great band as a live unit. The music is awesome, and the performances as extreme as we have come to expect from the band. The versions here go to demonstrate just how ‘live in studio’ their studio records are: very. The only remarkably different version here is the apocalyptic ’30 Seconds Over Tokyo’ and the very early recordings of ‘Laughing’, ‘Over My Head’ and ‘Believe It’.

But the album is really more of an Ubu fan club public service than an album unto itself. As can be expected, the recording quality at times is shocking – no better than the average bootleg quality, and considerations such as these do limit its appeal. Pere Ubu’s music is always vital, but make sure you have the originals before you venture this far. 7/10

 

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – Pack Up The Plantation Live! (MCA)

1986/Evening Post

Another double-live set and simultaneous video release. This is as close as we’ve come to getting the definitive Petty collection, but do we want it live? No. Many of the goodies are here, but the record’s full of audience noise (stadiamania) which detracts from recordings that already don’t match the studio versions. The only real benefit for the Pettyphile is a little onstage patter and lyric improvisation. 5/10

 

Tom Petty – Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough) (MCA)

1987/Evening Post

Nobody can tell me different. American music is where it’s at. For an avowed internationalist to utter these words could be seen as sheer treachery, but sometimes it’s important to blow one’s nose and come clean. A reviewer must sometimes simply notice what’s staring him in the face, observe and report. And I have observed that about 90 percent of the recordings I have listened to this year, too good for using as ashtrays or light fittings, have been by Godfearing, gun-toting, and probably even (urk!) red-blooded Americans.

Now that’s out of the way, it’s important to impress upon the reader that it’s not just the next wave of talent which has been coming up with the Right Stuff, either. Many unbelievers would casually consign Mr Tom Petty and his Heartbreakers to the 1970s scrapheap. Surely his particular brand of American pop was designed for recycling by newer faces in the ‘80s. Couldn’t the industry have come up with something along classic pop lines, but choose someone a little less arrogant, and a little prettier, to do it?

Well, yes and no. God knows they’ve tried, and of course, Petty’s moved on some since those days, anyhow. But it remains that he’s still around, and not just because of his reputation.

The fact of the matter is that anyone else with Petty’s infamous temperament, alleged habits and plain bad luck traumas would have been given short shrift by the industry. This man’s just too damned talented to ignore, and even Dylan, the old sod, knows it.

In 1987, Petty’s not into rewriting his original catalogue of radio-orientated pop. Sure, it injected real teenage angst back into the charts, but people grow up.

The transition was obvious on his comeback album of 1985, Southern Accents. It was an uncomfortable combination of transitions in the end. How can you grow up, discover drum machines, and rediscover your Southern roots on one piece of plastic?

Since then and now, Petty has found a new mentor in Bob Dylan, or at least the faded, jaded remnants thereof. They toured the world together, then Petty guested on the Big D’s 1986 fungal album excursion, and now it’s Dylan’s turn to pass wind on Petty’s new one.

This happens on the opening number, single and video, ‘Jammin’ Me’, a mundane Stones-ish shamble, and the sort of song engineering students put on at parties. Not that engineering students don’t have the right to play whatever they happen to like, as long as they don’t invite ME to any of their parties. Anyway, for the sake of balance if not brevity, I will admit this song goes straight to the aural pleasure centres of certain of my acquaintances. I have still to figure out why.

The album does, despite several other near-catatonic lapses, include more than enough inspired moments to justify immediate begging, borrowing or outright stealing.

The overriding subject matter is relationships, like, between a grownup man and woman. And problems therein and thereof. Now without getting overtly heavy (man) or morose, it’s worth pointing out that Petty does. He gets stuck right into it with the very next song, ‘Runaway Train’, the topic of which is a spent affair about which a sad sense of resignation he sings: “And I’m depending on time/To get you out of my mind.”

The other great moments belong to ‘It’ll All Work Out’, which again resigns and consigns a romance-gone-wrong to the twists of fate, to a very trad, ‘Greensleeves-style folk sound; and ‘My Life/Your World’ and its confused depiction of a confused world, and the havoc it wreaks on the individual.

There are moments on Let Me Up where the Heartbreakers could almost be confused with The Band, and moments of almost unforgivable indulgence, but most of all a surplus of Petty’s natural talent glowing throughout with an innate style that simply defies description. 7/10

Phantom, Rocker And Slick – Phantom, Rocker And Slick (EMI)

1986/Evening Post

A debut album of rock and roll with surprisingly little allure, it would take a thunderbolt to release this material from its inherent mundanity. Despite Slim Jim Phantom and Lee Rocker’s time providing Stray Cats with its rhythm section, this disc ain’t got no rockabilly crack or swing. Guitarist Earl Slick’s guitaring sadly abbreviates forgeries of fondled and forgotten rock histories. Features an appearance by Keith Richards, and may indeed be just the right medicine for bovine Rolling Stones fans. 4/10

Courtney Pine – Journey To The Urge Within (Island)

1987/Evening Post

While most white pop and rock is being swallowed up by its own purposelessness, there are always revivals of other musical forms to indulge in.

The jazz revival is here again, apparently, courtesy of black English saxophonist Courtney Pine. The papers claim this 22-year-old is the only significant jazz player to come out of Britain in two decades, and on the strength of his debut album, this mere youngster in jazz terms has been more featured in music periodicals than any jazzer in recent memory.

Why all the fuss? Well, like the Marsalis brothers, Pine has retreated back to the relative simplicity of vision – if not structure – of modern jazz groundbreakers Miles Davis, Horace Silver, Wayne Shorter, Sonny Rollins and master John Coltrane. Here he can study this Afro-classical music until he finds his goals beyond.

Certainly, the record sounds fresh, even though he’s working almost exclusively with styles thrashed out more than 20 years ago. There’s nothing quite like a bit of highly disciplined improvised instant composition, and his own pieces are well up to the task.

His rendition of Silver’s ‘Lovely Peace’, however, illuminates some shortcomings. Pine is but a fledgling, and it shows on this number, which fails to transcend its technical specifications.

Journey To The Urge Within contains some spectacularly nimble playing, but it suffers through its own hype; there are hundreds of more accomplished jazz musicians out there who probably don’t quite fit the image, so they don’t get the plugs.

More disturbing is the importance that has been attached to a record that is essentially as “nostalgist” as the latest Simple Minds (as it relates to the ‘70s band Yes) or Dr Feelgood or The Shadows or The Hollies.

Pine may be seeking the truth behind the music he’s devoting himself to. But I find it suspect that someone could consider basing their output on a music which was only ever intended to be a revolutionary step towards Something Else.

I guess the problem is that in the 1980s, there are simply too many Something Elses going nowhere at all. 6/10

Martin Plaza – Plaza Suite (CBS)

1986/Evening Post

Mental As Anything, despite their Australian origination, had one of the sweetest pop pulses on record. The same cannot be said of leader and vocalist Martin Plaza on his calculated solo bid for instant idolmania. By presenting himself as a new star for the young female, Plaza has left himself open to criticism. Cute moral tales about funny hippy diets causing infant deaths and a predominance of inane romantic yarns may be the stuff to ignite the imaginations of today’s youth, but it’s a pity he forgot to write songs for Plaza Suite. It’s an entirely predictable, tuneless album. What a waste. 3/10

The Pogues – Poguetry In Motion (Stiff)

1986/Evening Post

Liquor. Now there’s a mood accelerant just tailor-made for The Pogues. Or is it the other way round? A few hearty, heady swigs on a strong ale would do the trick, and remove the nagging doubt that The Pogues are a joke not a jig. Meanwhile, for the captive reviewer, ‘The Body Of An American’ is the only hint on this four-tracker that – despite the unlikely liaison with the credible Elvis Costello – there’s more to this fake Irish blarney than hype and bluster. 5/10

Teddy Prendergrass – Teddy (PD)

1979/Evening Post

TP co-won best soul singer in the American Music Awards, and gets good reviews in rock magazines like Rolling Stone, but he’s just another macho stud with an oafish inexpressive voice and no songs to sing. 3/10

 

Elvis Presley – Guitar Man (RCA)

1981/Evening Post

This record contains previously released material from the ‘60s for which the backing has been re-recorded. The producer has removed overbearing orchestras and backing vocals so that Presley’s singing is heard in all its glory.

In later years, Presley’s music was often the watered-down product of managerial manipulation, but this album is mostly excellent country-oriented material.

Whether it be rock tunes such as Chuck Berry’s ‘Too Much Monkey Business’, shuffling country numbers such as Hank Snow’s ‘I’m Movin’ On’ or country ballads such as ‘She Thinks I Still Care’, Presley further demonstrates why he was one of the greatest popular interpretative vocalists. The backing band also plays with consummate taste. 7/10

The Pretenders – The Singles (WEA)

1987/Evening Post

She was an upstart rock reporter, an American import writing for English rock rag New Musical Express. She allowed herself, in the course of duty, to be photographed in compromising positions with synthesiser primitivist Brian Eno. She claimed of singer-songwriter Tim Buckley, that if a human voice could inspire orgasm, it would be his and no other. I consequently bought the entire Buckley oeuvre, and have remained awestruck for 13 years.

Chrissie Hynde disappeared from those pages shortly thereafter, only to pop up in rock folklore as the girlfriend of controversial hack Nick Kent, the man whose fame rating soared when he was privileged enough to get biffed on the snout by The Sex Pistols’ Sid Vicious.

Lo and behold, by 1979 Hynde was taking the pop world by the short and curlies and ravaging it with her particularly wayward, individualist female approach and perspective.

Hynde and her band The Pretenders may have found the necessary momentum in the inspired post-punk environment but her music reached unashamedly back to her roots, when pop had guts and raunch and songs and soul.

Successive years saw The Pretenders trivialised by cart blanche acceptance on commercial radio, and were earmarked by bandmembers falling like flies, the victims of cliched rock and roll excess. It is only now, in retrospect and in the light of the only definitive Pretenders package, The Singles, that it is apparent just how good Hynde and her boys could get.

At their best, Hynde is wrapping her considerable vocal gift – ice cold but smouldering and sensual – around such perfect pop gems as ‘Stop Your Sobbing’, with its alarmingly acute 1960s-style Nick Lowe production.

This 1979 debut may be the crowning achievement to many diehard Pretenders aficionados but I reckon it gets even better, not because the songs become more perfect but because Hynde’s performances become more emotive and downright real. Sure, 1979’s other hits – ‘Kid’ and ‘Brass In Pocket’ – are both certifiable classics. But 1980s’ ‘Talk Of The Town’, ‘Message Of Love’, and especially ‘I Go To Sleep’, are vocal tour de forces.

If only the breast-beating platitudes of the average U2 or Simple Minds anthem was a match for or even a patch on the personal struggle and strength displayed on ‘Brass In Pocket’. But as wonderful as this is, the arrangement is stilted, the lyric squeezed up and awkwardly sung.

‘I Go To Sleep’ may not have as much to say but it’s a near-perfect evocation of a delirious mixture of cosiness and longing; a female ‘In Dreams’. If Hynde found her voice and herself on ‘Brass In Pocket’, she had discovered how to emote and convey more than just pluckiness by the following year.

‘Message Of Love’ is the other bona fide classic, and it comes as close as anything to defining The Pretenders in all their glory and stodge. “When love walks in the door/Everybody stand up!” What an exquisite monologue! And what a horrid, rusty rock and roll stew the band boils up.

As horrible as the backing often was, at least it was a distinctively bad-ass rock and roll sound. You know, like when rock meant things like rebellion and unfashionable things like that. The later material suffers by comparison, the OD’d Pretenders having been replaced by studio automatons. But still, Hynde’s incomparable sound and style shows through as late in the piece as the three songs from 1986.

This silly season release does contain their Christmas single, ‘2000 Miles’, but even that tune is charming and perfectly admissible considering this is a collection of their singles releases.

The only really naff idea was the inclusion of Chrissie’s off beam UB40 duet, ‘I Got You Babe’, a redundant treatment of a song out of time. And although Pretenders albums have generally been surplus junk to the real meat, the singles, there are a few non-single omissions of classic material – notably, the song Grace Jones popularised, ‘Private Lives’. Still, as I said, this collection is unavoidable.

Chrissie Hynde, I salute you.

Prince – Parade (Paisley Park)

1986/Doldrums

Now what are we talkin’ about? Sex. Yee-aah! Now, gimme that one more time, with feeling. Sex! That’s right, brothers and sisters of more or less homosapien persuasion – and you humanoids out there might just as well join the party – what better way to keep warm, to save on power bills and keep the fire throbbing through the veins than the time-honoured bump’n’grind. Huh?

Prince. Prince who? Not Prince Charles, that’s for sure – once suggested a novel way to make the world a happier place. He reckoned that every afternoon in a particular point in space and time, everyone should just drop what they’ve got hold of and grab the body next to them and, well, do you know what with it.

It’s a great idea. Just think of that lovely person you shared a general hour of despondency with last week, waiting at the social welfare. And you didn’t as much as say ‘boo’ to him/her the whole voidish hour. But of course, there’s an immense social taboo involved. I mean, if Sam Respectable masturbated in his own home, nobody would think it particularly wrong. However, if he got the urge in a public place and decided to dangle his dong without prior knowledge of human social mores, he would be named Deviant. Besides, sex at the Social Welfare has a few practical problems. Firstly, you’re likely to lose your place in the queue. Secondly, the geeks behind the counter would inevitably get through the lines even slower, if possible. Thirdly, think of the diseases. Like, that carpet’s bound to have fleas, and if we get a happy hour, then surely they’re entitled too.

But most pressing of all is the simple fact that you MAY NOT BE IN THE MOOD. And going by the new Prince record he, too, is not always in the mood. Sure, he still operates in a sexual zone, but it really sounds like he’s having a hard time getting it up about 80 percent of the time on Parade.

Sex in the world of Prince can be a fairly, well… carnal experience. But at its best, his music never loses its sensuality, and even contains a residue of mouldy romance. The push and shove is seen as an almost spiritual experience (which it is, of course) although the sheer physicality is never toned down to suggest the two component parts are anything but the yin and the yang. For Prince, the Brief Encounter – which to many is the ultimate in disposability – is PASSIONATE and WORTHWHILE. Not a vavoured viewpoint in these post-liberal times. Prince is entirely non-politic; he’s playing out a sexual fantasy, and of course, that’s what it is. A simple celebration of sexuality.

But where, on Dirty Mind or parts of 1999 and exquisite chunks of Purple Rain his particular vision is at its freshest, on Parade there are approximately three grooves worth getting into, on the dancefloor or in the bed. The best is the single, ‘Kiss’, which is a simply sizzling raison d’etre: “You don’t have to be beautiful/to turn me on/I just need your body baby/from dusk to dawn” and “You don’t have to be rich to be my girl/you don’t have to be cool to rule my world” kinda says it all, really. (Okay, so he uses the words ‘girl’ and ‘baby’ but who gives a fuck).

The other two reasonable takes are ‘Life Can Be So Nice’ which, despite its dumb title, is suitably enormous of sound, and ‘Anotherloverholeinyourhead’, which funks it up but goes on a bit. For the rest, Prince gets a low sperm count. Most of the rest sounds like outtakes from the weedy, nonsense pseudo-psychedelia of the last album, Around The World In A Day, and there’s the usual ballad quota, the best of which is ‘Sometimes It Snows In April’. This heartfelt drama includes the immortal line, “Love isn’t love till it’s past.” Humph.

So, it’s back to death and despondency, and without much of a helping hand from Prince, we’re back to trying to find a way to amuse ourselves. For free, but not for freedom. 6/10

 

The Psychedelic Furs – The Psychedelic Furs (CBS)

1980/Evening Post

The Psychedelic Furs: contemporaries of The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and The Velvet Underground? Not likely. Their name is purposefully 1960s, but the band, as heard on their self-titled debut album, is very much Britain, circa 1980.

The psychedelic connection is evident in the spiralling, metallic guitars of John Ashton and R. Morris and in the serious (some say pretentious) group compositions, but many other influences sway the sound this way and that, usually successfully.

‘India’ begins the album on a soft, melancholy note, before racing ahead in full throttle with a jarring boom sure to send the cat screaming for the cellar. It’s a fast, frenzied dirge, with densely-textured instrumentation which, with its spacey edges, comes off as the album’s immediate all-out winner.

‘Sister Europe’, the second track and single release, comes a close second. Its bleakness is characteristic of much current British music, but unlike contemporaries The Cure, The Furs’ sound is cluttered and larger-than-life.

The bulk of the album doesn’t offer the immediate highlights of those first two songs, but conversely, the standard never falls to mere filler, either. The tone throughout is depressed, with tirades against society’s many hallowed institutions (marriage on ‘The Wedding Song’). They sometimes even stoop to (admittedly well-honed) sarcasm, as on the harmlessly-titled ‘We Love You’: “I’m in love with the factory/I’m in love with the BBC/I’m in love with the old TV/And they’re so in love with you and me.” And that’s only a sample.

My biggest doubts lie in the area of Richard Butler’s hoarse vocals – which tend to disguise lyrics which sound as though they deserve to be heard – and the use of saxophone. Its unfocussed quality tramples all over the sound where a synthesiser, perhaps, could bring some exactitude to proceedings.

Less than fully realise, but essential listening nevertheless. 8/10

 

The Psychedelic Furs – Talk Talk Talk (CBS)

1981/In Touch

Vocals on the Furs’ second album are the same strained monologue style favoured on the first, but in most areas things have changed: gone is the murk and bass drum boom. Gone too is the bitterness, the totally down feeling of the debut.

The sound is a little lighter and a lot cleaner. Horns splice through the top of the mix instead of wallowing and blurting in the mud. The screeching crescendos and angry invectives are still there, but more thoughtfully presented.

I like it a lot, though it is overwhelmingly derivative of 1960s/’70s approaches. The Furs have a particularly English melancholy and sense of melody. ‘Pretty In Pink’ is the stick-in-head number, while the opening ‘Dumb Waiters’ (the single) is the most different – and not altogether satisfactorily so.

The album’s got the works: an epic in ‘All Of This And Nothing’, a ballad in ‘She Is Mine’, furious workouts like ‘So Run Down’. My faves are scorchers like ‘It Goes On’ and ‘Into You Like A Train’. Don’t believe the overseas reviews. This is a goodie. 8/10

 

The Psychedelic Furs – Mirror Moves (CBS)

1984/TOM

In bad times brim-full with Flocks Of Silly Budgies and Drain Drains, even a toned-down Psychedelic Furs is reassuring to the by-now aging New Wave palate.

Back in – when was it? – 1980, the Furs burst forth with a powerful, raucous first album which, along with the second record Talk Talk Talk, established the band as a reliable, ‘mature’ alternative to some of the punk dogma around at the time. Richard Butler’s elegantly wasted, embittered vocals sounded experienced, disillusioned but still angry.

We searched a bit deeper and discovered that the Furs were primarily a one-song band with a very basic conception of melody, and fairly unadventurous approach to sound. So they did something in ‘Love My Way’ and the resulting album, which won them a singles audience without proving they were exceptional in their newly-defined role. And they played a pleasant but feeble Sweetwaters show with small string section.

Mirror Moves is their first big crack at the American market. It has a lovely big fat American drum sound and creamy production. It has session musicians to plug the gaps and smooth the way to the land of the big AM dial. It has ballads (‘The Ghost In You’) and P Furs rocking sound-alikes (‘My Time’, my vote for best song, along with ‘Heaven’).

They try a few new things: the urban squawk of ‘Heartbeat’ is the one that comes to mind. Mostly, the songs echo past subjects, as in ‘Here Come Cowboys’, which is like a slightly worn re-tread.

Mirror Moves is potted with deficiencies, but it has its charms. Can you blame a poor boy for wanting to make it in America? 6/10

Public Enemy – Yo! Bum Rush The Show (Def Jam)

1987/Evening Post

Unlike the amoral salivations of label cohorts LL Cool J and The Beastie Boys, these hard rappers are sober fellows with an ingrained sense of social justice and a virtual textbook on black rights history. 8/10

Public Image Ltd – Metal Box/Second Edition (Virgin)

1980/In Touch

I bear a deep grudge against Metal Box. Who would want to ruin years of sweating and saving in 60 minutes and 32 seconds with the pulverisation of their stereo speakers? Who would intend to make life-long enemies of the top flat because they “can’t stand the window frames rattling – the whole house shakes”?

It’s all the more difficult when you realise how addictive this is: a daily habit.

The metal box itself could be a film canister, but more likely a pizza tray. It consists of three 12-inch 45s: an interesting but awkward concept. And at 39 bucks, the locally-pressed second edition is as good an investment. Second Edition is a double album containing the same material, a slightly reshuffled running order, a shorter running time on several tracks (by seconds only), and a minimal loss of sound quality. The package is intact and you even get the lyrics painted on the back cover.

Lack of space prevents a full dissertation. ‘Albatross’ is 10 minutes and 32 seconds of speaker cones moving like muppet mouths. The music can be a joke or deadly serious depending on your purpose and pretence, but for me it’s a lifesaver, the voice not a Rotten nor a Lydon but a sad, deep voice of rebellion echoing repression thru the aeons.

‘Memories’ is almost punk but more Beefheart than Vicious: art. ‘Swanlake’ is ‘Death Disco’ remixed and is representative of true psychedelia 1980s-style, minus all foggy-headed connotations:

“Final in a fade/What her slowly die/Saw it in her eyes/Choking in a bed/Flowers rotting dead/Words cannot express/Words cannot express/Words cannot ex…” (‘Swanlake’).

‘Poptones’ and ‘No Birds’ are both totally alienated/alienating, and therefore unpenetrable musically (at this early stage), but the latter is the most lyrically accessible track on the set.

‘Graveyard’, an instrumental, makes for agonising and concurrently blissful listening, spacious sound and diametrically intense riffing, while ‘Careering’ (we know what that’s about) turns violently in a mutated world of synthesised swirls and random screams. ‘The Suit’ is the nearest we’ll get in this new age to the Rotten of old, sneering and sarci, and is the closest yet to pretentionless avant-garde.

‘Bad Baby’ features Lydon in his inimitable vocal fashion, and ‘Socialist’, while lyrically ambiguous, sees synthesiser used in a totally complementary fashion in the present Pil context. ‘Chant’ is (I think) “mob… war… feel… hate” amongst a wash of phased drums, and the finale, ‘Radio Four’, tries for a pisstake of the awful orchestral bilge the National Programme dishes out all day, but succeeds in that it is an evocative, moving synthetic string (Peyton Place revisited) arrangement with bass (of course!) accompaniment.

PiL (John Lydon vocals, Keith Levine guitar and drums, Jah Wobble bass, and everyone on synths, effects and electronics) have made a second LP that’s more than admirable, more than simply brilliant. Instead, it’s profound music, of a kind which cancels out all possibility of adequate explanation through its sheer depth.

The difficulty in reviewing LPs such as this which exceed the norm is that words only carry one so far. There are no words for the highs that music can produce (this album evidence of such) and this is good reason why so many reviews are over-literal in content. It is music, after all.

Metal Box or Second Edition (whichever) is definitely un-easy listening, but at the same time as accessible as you want it to be. But unlike much immediate music, this grows and there’s more to discover in each listening experience.

It’d be awful to think that the best album of the ‘80s came out in November (in Britain) 1979, but it’ll take a lot of beating.

Remember tho, the words cannot express, words cannot ex… 10/10

 

Public Image Ltd – The Flowers Of Romance (Virgin)

1981/Evening Post

John Lydon (formerly Johnny Rotten of The Sex Pistols) is the main brain behind Public Image Ltd (Pil). The Sex Pistols were important as symbols of punk rebellion against society and the dead dog that rock music had come to represent for a new generation, but Pil are thought of as genuine innovators, putting their artistic integrity where their mouths are.

Though The Flowers Of Romance fails to eclipse its awesome predecessor, Metal Box, it is a successfully adventurous album on which the group (Lydon and Keith Levene) experiment with a battery of percussion effects. The absence of Jah Wobble’s earth-shaking bass is sorely felt, however.

The album offers no antidote to the depressing times in which we live: its tone compounds the paranoia of the time – and it is very harsh for sensitive ears. But it’s commendable that Levene and Lydon have utilised the recording studio as an instrument itself, rather than thinking of it as a necessary evil. 7/10

 

Public Image Limited – The Flowers Of Romance (Virgin)

1981/In Touch

Poor John Lydon. Perennial punk beast of burden. Forever figurehead of all those minimalist-brain who hail anarchy but only if it fits the three chord Pistols straitjacket.

But the boy looked at Johnny, and Johnny wanted Art. ART not AN-AR-KEE! Presumably a veritable legion of original fans have followed John Lydon’s every move forward – even if only for purposes of idolatry or mimic value, which I suppose is better than staying stuck on swastikas and glue sniffing.

Lydon’s moving forward to art is seen in terms of sound experimentation and lyric-writing. Not that he has lost any of the vitriol, anger and frustration. And, to meet the mood of the times and show that he is more human, cynicism and in particular confusion, rear their ugly heads in spotlit profile.

The Flowers Of Romance can be regarded as a success, but is a disappointment in light of previous moves, with particular reference to the awesome Metal Box. Pil is a different proposition here. Jah Wobble’s earth-shaking bass is sorely missed – such an important ingredient to Pil’s former flavour.

Pil call themselves a corporate. The board of directors numbers two: John Lydon and Keith Levene. Between them they utilise voice, guitars, synthesisers, drums and other random noises and studio sound treatments. They play the mixing desk, so to speak.

The sound is often sparse, powered and dominated by drums. It is a big noise, and as Lydon himself says, those with so little respect for sound as to play the album on cheap’n’nasty record players deserve what they get. (Yeah, let’s have government-issue stereo systems for all – Ed).

Most of these music tracts steer away from complete moodscapes. Exceptions are ‘Hymie’s Hymn’, an instrumental with orchestral overtones, and ‘Go Back’, which has some good old-fashioned Levene fretwork.

Despite the gi-normous drums, the general effect is mono-dimensional, probably because the music serves the function of illustrative back-up for Lydon’s words/vocals. Lydon’s voice dominates. His admittedly masterful vocal technique is here an inescapable oppressive rant and rave.

His voice is more extreme, more sarcastically toned and more plain crazed than previously (check out ‘Banging The Door’, ‘Track 8’ and the title track), but the words themselves lack the consistency and discipline of those on Metal Box. They are confused lyrics, written in kamikaze fashion, a mirror of the album’s generally claustrophobic feel, the feel of musical anguish at the Pil development quarantine; brains so unnaturally divorced from the soaking-up of influences needed for healthy growth.

Come the end of the year, the album will probably seem as brave and commendable a work as Pil supporters could have wished for. But I have so many doubts in this paranoid year, and this scared record simply encourages those doubts to ferment into fatalism. I need hope, not confusion. 7/10

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