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 ‘R’.
Rainbow – Down To Earth (Polydor)
Guitarist Ritchie Blackmore’s post-Deep Purple heavy metal vehicle is joined here by former pop singer Graham Bonnett and former Deep Purple bassist Roger Glover. Purple freaks will appreciate. 6/10
Ever since that remarkable debut in ’76, the Ramones’ career has been a somewhat unsuccessful attempt to match its sharp, minimalist, blitzkrieg attack by diverting into other territories, ending in last year’s muddy mess, End Of The Century. One step forward, two steps back has always been their unfortunate predicament. Realising that they couldn’t keep releasing carbon copies of the first album was one thing. Doing something as good but different was quite another.
The catch-22 hasn’t been resolved on Pleasant Dreams, but it certainly goes some way towards solving the problem. This time they exchange a rusty Phil Spector for a slightly fresher Graham Gouldman in the producer’s swap shop. Surprisingly, he does the boys proud. Gouldman is the ever-so-English writer of some of that country’s best ‘60s pop songs and later a member of witty studio concoction 10cc.
Whether it’s his inspiration that makes this album so fine, or simply the band finding its feet, is an open question. But the fact is that not only is Pleasant Dreams given a big, boomy sound, it’s also a disc full of memorable melodies and strong, funny lyrics. The Ramones can be monotonous; here they’re not.
Naturally, as always, the LP is full of songs lamenting the sad state of modern radio. Even ‘7-11’, though basically a parody of a love song, asks “Whatever happened to the radio?” On this example, they’re like an ‘80s equivalent to The Beach Boys and more than adequate successors to the throne. Pleasant Dreams may not sit comfortably alongside the first album, but sit it will. 7/10
The Records – Shades In Bed (Virgin)
The Records create expertly crafted new wave pop on Shades In Bed. 6/10
If this record was as awful as its title suggests, the task of reviewing it would be made that much easier. As it is, it’s difficult to muster enough enthusiasm to give the anaesthetically mediocre verdict.
REO is the typical American hard-working road band. The story has been told many times about many bands: an average group plays the touring circuit for 10 years or so until it has gathered a substantial following and then gains a handsome record contract and shrewd management.
With the right marketing, its product hits the charts. Hi Infidelity and the single, ‘Keep On Loving You’, have reached number 1 in America. Unfortunately, in the drawn-out way to the top of the heap, the band’s modest talents are compromised and dissipated to fit the commercial format as its inspiration expired long ago.
The result is an album which could be by any one of a number of soulless hopefuls, with nothing to recommend it and nothing to provoke, offend or inspire the listener. 3/10
And it is! Forty one-minute tracks comprise this, the wackiest yet effort from conceptualist invisibles The Residents. On this one, they’re aided and abetted by high-calibre musicians such as guitar master Fred Frith (ex-Henry Cow) and a bevy of others not credited due to conflicting record contracts.
Whether because of this shared workload, or because of the sheer quantity of different snippets, The Commercial Album is noticeably more three-dimensional than the standard Residents platter. Don’t, however, expect the music to attack your sense – rather, your sensibilities. Their music is daunting in its seemingly passive, sometimes irritating harmfulness: it’s not as cute as it seems.
Most of all, this is for those who wish to sample something away from rock, something subtle and cryptic. And remember: “I see the sea, the sea sees me!” 7/10
Ronstadt may be as sensitive as Mohammed Ali singing ‘Vincent’ and with about as much artistic commitment as a can of Dairy Whip, but Mad Love marks a change.
Here, she uses her considerable vocal cords to good effect on a more calculatedly ‘modern’ (as in Elvis C) collection than ever before.
There’s scarcely a ballad here, and that is no bad thing, but better material and a break from The Eagles does not necessarily good music make. Still, she should please the fans with this classy production. 6/10
Roxy Music – Flesh & Blood (Polygram)
Flesh & Blood is a sweet, bloodless Roxy Music, all sloppy Bryan Ferry sentiment; style and little content. Includes, as Phil O’Brien would have it, an “oorful” version of The Byrds’ ‘Eight Miles High’. 5/10
A heroin overdose killed The Ruts’ singer Malcolm Owen last year, leaving the band’s future in jeopardy. Naturally, Owen’s death left the remaining Ruts soul searching whether to continue or not. It was a cruel blow to a modestly successful young band.
What to do? The Ruts became Ruts DC and continued. The first post-Owen album is a qualified success. Naturally, it is full of the doubt, frustration and tension of the months in which it was created – yet it is optimistic. The sole depression-inducing track is ‘Desondency’, in which the group tries to persuade itself to look at the brighter side, but just fails to stop itself falling from the 17th storey.
I would wage a bet that the first song on the album, ‘Mirror Smashed’, was in fact the last track to be written, as it says it all: that the only way is forward.
All the songs have clear messages: getting involved with life’s issues and being honest (‘Different View’), anti-war (‘No Time To Kill’), anti-fools (‘Fools’). They state the uselessness of rebellion as fashion (‘Walk Or Run’) and warn of big business and its wiles (‘Parasites’).
The sentiments are nicely complementary to the music. The tightness of the band as a unit and the members’ obvious rapport with one another has as much to do with the sound: a big, chunky rhythm section, difficult changes in dynamics handled with ease, excellent harmonised, mentholated vocals.
The Ruts were most times denied the status of first division new wavers such as Pil and Gang of Four, but in their own unassuming way they are just as good. 7/10