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

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 ‘S’.

 

S

Santana – Marathon (CBS)

Marathon proves how the mighty have fallen. 5/10

 

The Sex Pistols – Carri On Sex Pistols (Virgin)

1979/Evening Post

Carri On Sex Pistols, being interviews and banned adverts, is at once the ultimate rip-off in record marketing and an intriguing souvenir. 6/10

 

The Shirts – The Shirts (Harvest)

1979, RIU

Inevitably, rock music is a great stamping ground for bandwagon jumpers. New York band The Shirts have suffered much chastisement from overseas rock press for trying to join the dregs of the New Wave movement and missing the boat in the process.

The Shirts’ background negates this criticism, however. Their music is simply the sum of its influences – most prominently Jefferson Airplane and Lou Reed, plus the genre that man helped spawn.

The crux of the biscuit, so to speak, is that The Shirts’ debut album combines incompatible mutations of New Wave cliches and hippy psychedelia, to awkward and sometimes patently neutered/diluted effect.

The opening three songs, ‘Reduced To A Whisper’, ‘Tell Me Your Plans’ and ‘Empty Ever After’ are solid, memorable pop pieces, but elsewhere the album sinks in the muddy mire of Mike Thorne’s production.

It’s worth noting that this was recorded in April of ’78, though, so The Shirts may well have resolved their problems.

If the real thing was too potent a mixture for you, The Shirts may just appeal. It’s heartening to note that for once the token female vocalist, Annie Golden, certainly wasn’t chosen for pinup value. 5/5

 

The Sinceros – The Sound Of Sunbathing (Epic)

1979/Evening Post

Here’s an album of happy summer songs (a new wave Beach Boys?) by Lene Lovich’s backing band. 6/10

 

Skids – Scared To Dance (Virgin)

1979/RIU

Skids are a young Scottish group whose music transcends the fickle whims of fashion – it’s original, committed, ferocious, inventive, yet mainstream. And you can dance to it.

Vocalist Richard Jobson penned the lyrics to most of the debut album Scared To Dance and depending on your views regarding the compatibility between rock and poetry, these sketches in manic-depressive paranoia will either seem compassionate and illuminating, or downright pretentious.

But it’s the music that matters. William Simpson and Thomas Kellichan on bass and drums respectively, make for a tight, energetic rhythm section, but guitarist Stuart Adamson is the group’s musical force. Most of Skids’ songs are built around Adamson’s biting riffs and distinctive guitar sound, which he attains by open-tuning one string to provide a bagpipe-type drone effect.

All 12 songs cut the mustard, showing considerable maturity for such a young group. ‘Into The Valley’ is the opener and an immediate attention-grabber, but the frightening title track and bizarre ‘Hope And Glory’ are most indicative of the serious nature of Skids’ material.

Skids music is 1979 – cold and paranoiac – but ultimately human. Skis spit tacks. Better first albums are rare indeed. 8/10

 

The Slits – Cut (Island)

1980/In Touch

If the cover sells the record it’s a reflection of the buying public, not the Slits. Without it, this may not sell, but it deserves to be consumed and, if possible, in vast quantities.

The Slits were Britain’s first all-girl punk band back in 1976 – contemporaries of the Pistols, Clash and The Damned – and like several others from that era, they’ve waited a few years to make good on their promise.

The nucleus of the band is Ari Up (vocals), Viv (guitar) and Tessa (bass). Helping out on Cut are drummer Budgie and producer Dennis Bovell. The material on this album was all co-written with ex-member Palmolive.

Bovell carries the weight and influence on Cut. He’s the top British reggae producer and it shows. Cut sounds of a delicious mellow crispness, and the music, though retaining a fragment of punk (similarities with Siouxsie crop-up inevitably) is predominantly reggae-influenced.

Cut is a very tasty, unorthodox yet easy to take album. It’s great as in enjoyable, fun, danceable, listenable and irrelevant in the general scheme of things. It’s an interesting little diversion. 7/10

 

Rex Smith – Sooner Or Later (CBS)

1979/Evening Post

This latest American teenybop idol sings dreadful songs from the motion picture in a dreadful post-pubescent voice. Hit single: ‘You Take My Breath Away’. 2/10

 

The Specials – The Specials (Chrysalis)

1980/In Touch

The Specials live up to their name. They’re like nothing but everything else: special. They make music with the humanity of ska, rocksteady and reggae; and the youthful dynamism of prime punk. And I love it. (And this from one with about as much acquaintance and enthusiasm for roots rock reggae as yer average Pallavi Indian flautist.)

The Specials originate from Coventry, England, forming around mid-’77. They number seven guys, two Jamaican-born, five whities. But they’re all as one, pacifist Rudeboys. Come out of numerous soul bands, they tried mixing punk and reggae ala The Members, but were not satisfied with the result. They ended up doing it anyway on this debut (more or less).

Reggae came to fruition out of ska via rocksteady, and The Specials have tapped these two earlier sources. Who’d have thought anything as wonderful as this album could have had its roots in Millie Small’s ‘My Boy Lollipop’? Well, for this boy at least, ska and rocksteady are both more danceable and a much more attractive proposition in general than a lot of reggae.

The Specials, it seems, were noticed stealing the show from the likes of The Police and The Pretenders at outdoor fests, and soon after decrepit talent scouts like old Jumpin’ Jack Flash himself became interested in signing the band. But being the sensible individuals they are, they first released a single independently and then secured a unique deal with Chrysalis allowing them an extraordinary amount of freedom.

Line-up: Neville Staples handles most vocal chores with the help of Terry Hall. John ‘Prince Rimshot’ Bradbury drums like three and Horace Panter plays spunky bass. Jerry Dammers contributes tinny, bubbly organ, Roddy Radiation guitars and Lynval Golding guitars rhythmically.

Tracks: ‘Message To You Rudy’ is a single and a cover of a Dandy Livingston or G. Thompson toon, depending on who you believe. (One and the same person, perhaps?) It’s an instantly infectious little number given a blacker than blacker sound. This is seven guys enjoying themselves: exuberant, happy ska with a streetwise, urban bent to it. Farting trombones and all, I swear this is one never to get sick of, possible radio over-exposure included.

‘Do The Dog’ is another cover and a token punky effort. ‘Gangsters’ is the other extracted single release. It’s slightly mysterious, gloriously cluttered, and is a hammy James Bond theme joke.

If ‘It’s Up To You’ is not already another single and top spot candidate, then it should be. What a glorious hybrid of everything good and great and cheap about modern music. Great tune, haunting performance.

‘Nite Klub’ is yet another potential hit single. “What am I doing here/watching the girls go by?” Real energy, not faked aggression. ‘Doesn’t Make It Alright’ hits an altogether more serious note. “Just because you’re a black boy/just because you’re a white/It doesn’t mean you’ve got to hate him/It doesn’t mean you’ve got to fight… It’s the worst excuse in the world.”

The only number written by Roddy Radiation (the remainder penned by Dammers) is an uninspired if workmanlike theme, ‘Concrete Jungle’. No doubt rousing chorus stuff in performance.

To Side 2. ‘Monkey Man’ has crowd noises and group commentary (“This one’s for all the bouncers – big, big monkey man”), segueing into another infectious, bouncy, uptempo number, ‘(Dawning Of A) New Era’: inventive, upbeat rock-ska. ‘Blank Expression’ is an immensely enjoyable joke which goes: “(Where) Where, did you get (get), that blank (blank) expression on your face?”

‘Stupid Marriage’ is social comment: In a court case, a guy defends himself, the judge sentences, the group criticise him for getting into a ‘stupid’ marriage in the first place. Social comment. ‘Too Much Too Young’ is along similar lines, but this accommodates one of the best tunes in this package. Again, it’s not without humour, scathing as it may be. “You’ve done too much, much too young/You’re married with a song when you could be having fun with me.”

Another reggaefied punk thrash is ‘Little Bitch’, and then the last track, ‘You’re Wondering Now’, wonders what the listener is going to do when he finishes listening to The Specials.

The Specials (band and album) have flaws. They’re young, naive, and need in the long run to define their art somewhat, but they’ve got time. It’s to be hoped that they won’t lose the all-important spontaneity in the process. The charm is not strictly musical, though that helps.

The debut album of the year already. (I know this was released last decade in Britain, but remember, we do live right across the other side of the world you know!) 10/10

 

The Specials – The Specials (Chrysalis)

1980/Evening Post

Let us allow The Specials to twist our jaded sensibilities back into shape.

Forget, for a moment, what the music of the 1980s should be (1984 isn’t quite with us yet) – droning synthesisers, interminable throbbing drum machines and soulless singing robots.

The Specials can instil some warmth to a record collection. They demonstrate what it’s like to be nice and youthful, and yet not Donny and Marie mawkish.

The Specials is the debut album from this Coventry sextet, and every one of its 15 songs is a cracker.

The music is an amalgam of ska – a Jamaican predecessor to reggae – and new wave. It’s refreshingly naive, and winningly infectious.

The album and its resulting singles (”Gangsters’ and ‘Message To You Rudy’) have dominated the British pop charts for the last month. And on this showing The Specials warrant every last bit of fame coming their way.

The tracks are too numerous for all to be mentioned, but favourites include the message-rife ‘It’s Up To You, ‘Stupid Marriage and ‘Doesn’t Make It Alright.’

These boys tell real-life stories. But the music parties.

Bouncy, tinny organ by Jerry Dammers (who writes most of the material) is reminiscent of Elvis Costello, who (coincidentally?) happened to produce this album.

The distinctive, original sound is mainly due to the aforementioned Dammers and his organ, plus John Bradbury’s magnificent drums, and horn men Rico Rodriquez and Dick Cuthell.

The Specials will be one of the most played albums this year. 10/10

 

 

 

Split Enz – True Colours (Polygram)

1980/Evening Post

Those who would have Split Enz as a minor-league intellectual ex-art school band are set to swallow their hasty, ill-considered words, in double time.

For True Colours, the new LP, shows such sacrilegious verbiage vendors that here stands a band not about to give in to the average Kiwi’s anti-New Zealand music apathy.

From the first to the last note, the Enz give us what we want in top-league style.

True Colours was recorded in Melbourne with producer David Tickle at the helm, and represents the turning over of yet another fresh green leaf. A brash, commercial sound, previously partially exploited on ‘I See Red’, is adopted. The songs are essentially infectiously simple (simply infectious) with complex embellishments.

This, the sixth Enz LP disc sees two major changes. One: Split Enz for the first time really sounds like a tight unit – a real group. Two: True Colours is the first Enz LP produced in the hard-headed 1980s fashion of Cheap Trick’s Tom Wermann.

Cheap Trick similarities don’t stop there. Both bands are overwhelmingly influenced by The Beatles. But whereas the Trick are American, and have arrived by way of Chuck Berry, Split Enz are NZ-British, arriving by way of Genesis.

Both are talented tunesmiths with flashes of brilliance, but short of genius.

The songs on True Colours are mostly interchangeable. That is not to suggest they are necessarily “samey”, but that simply the uniformity of sound, the unity of the whole package, results in a certain antipathy after long listening hours.

At the same time, every individual song carries singles potential.

‘Shark Attack’, ‘What’s The Matter With You’, ‘I Wouldn’t Dream Of It’, and ‘Nobody Takes Me Seriously’ are all great pop songs with the power of rock (powerpop? Surely not!)

Neil Finn takes lead vocals on two tracks here, the single ‘I Got You’ and ‘Missing Person’. His voice gives a different perspective to the Enz sound.

‘I Hope I Never’ is the obligatory soft mushy, Manilow-like ballad. I like it, against my better instincts. Tim Finn here sings with such aplomb that you’d hardly recognise the 1975 model against the mature 1980 version.

‘Poor Boy’ is my vote for best track. It doesn’t jump out of the speakers and grab you around the throat. Its charm works subtly, gaining in magic through constant listenings.

‘How Can I Resist Her’ sounds disappointingly trivial standing side by side with the rest of True Colours.

The biggest departure, however, ‘Double Happy’ and ‘The Choral Sea’, are both instrumentals. Keyboardist Eddie Raynor is here tapping the same lucrative vein as Gary Numan: synthesiser used up-front in a commercial context. Both these pieces are nagging, buzzsawing, unforgettable delights.

So that’s it (not in chronological order). A new sound with roots in the old Enz style – but the connections are becoming increasingly nebulous.

True Colours – better than Dream Police, and the first well-produced Enz to be both aesthetically as well as commercially (we hope) successful. 9/10

 

Steel Pulse – Tribute To The Martyrs (Island)

1979/Evening Post

British reggae band Steel Pulse dish up a superb set that praises the likes of Steve Biko and scorns the neo-Nazi National Front on Tribute To The Martyrs. 7/10

 

Jon Stevens – Jezebel (CBS)

1980/In Touch

Unlike stablemate/labelmate Sharon O’Neill’s newest, Jon’s debut lacks any interesting production diversions.

Worst of all, Stevens never reassures us that he even understands, let alone believes, the lyrics he’s singing.

But Stevens has an amazingly versatile voice. If he can inject a modicum of taste and artistic commitment (those words again) into his music, he could go places.

The marketing men can sell you, Jon, but is it worth the price that you will have to pay? 5/5

 

Streetband – London (Logo)

1979/Evening Post

Streetband’s London makes up in professionalism what it lacks in identity. 5/10

 

Stuff – Live (Warner)

1979/Evening Post

Recorded at the Yubincholin Hall in Tokyo, this is a laid-back jazz and funk jam by American session supremos Cornell Dupree (guitar), Gordon Edwards (bass), Steve Gadd (drums), Eric Gale (guitar) and Richard Tee (keyboards). 6/10

 

The Sutherland Brothers – When The Night Comes Down (CBS)

1979/Evening Post

A slick, classy Los Angeles production for British singer/songwriters whose biggest claim to fame is writing the Rod Stewart hit ‘Sailing’. 6/10

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