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 ‘D’.
December 1982/IT Magazine
The Drabs, methinks. This 3-piece Jam sound-by-numbers thinks they’ve gone about as far as they can go without adding keyboards. Look ladies, new personnel won’t make a flat dab of difference to your grey beat. A 3-piece could change the world. You’re so ordinary. You make me scream. 3/10
The Damned are the real thing. This band is responsible for punk rock’s bad reputation. They initiated the disgustingly unhygienic spitting craze and openly encouraged violence. And their music was among the least “musical” of them all. Compared to this lot, the Sex Pistols were angels.
After releasing a couple of disappointing and inept albums, the Damned disintegrated, then reformed with several membership changes as The Doomed, and last year metamorphosed back into The Damned.
Whatever you may think of the group, there is no hedging the fact that Machine Gun Etiquette is a damned impressive album. The sound is big, the performance frenetic/energetic: a rage from start to finish.
Within the very noisy confines they set themselves, the diversity is quite astonishing. For instance, the opening ‘Love Song’, if it weren’t for the huge, beefy, pulverising performance, would make an acceptable pop single, while ‘Just Can’t Be Happy Today’ shows them at their menacing best, with an unexpected songwriting ability to match.
This may well be a oncer for the Damned, but the fact is that this is a very powerful and underrated album, which uses the basic stance of punk (aggression, outrage) in a much more fulfilling musical context than previously.
Yes folks, punk rock has come of age, even if it still has a little growing up to do. 8/10
Post-bop, post the legendary Birth Of The Cool, this segment of the CBS reissue I Love Jazz series features Davis in some astonishing sessions. Recorded between 1955 and 1962, Blue Christmas includes the classic pairing of Davis and then-fledgling saxophonist John Coltrane, and also features Red Garland (piano) and Philly Joe Jones (drums). The surprise is a couple of throwaway novelty numbers with vocals by Bob Dorough. ‘Blue Christmas’ is one of these, and it’s entertaining if nothing else. For the rest, it’s Davis and pals in stunning form. Familiarity with then-radical stylings lessens its impact today, but it still breathes class. 7/10
Dazzband – Hotspot (Motown)
An uneven and insubstantial modern funk record. Whether funking it up, getting silly or getting sentimental, Dazzband never quite manages to supersede its influences. Just listen to the two closing ballads for a solid dose of fake Stevie Wonder. 5/10
DD Smash – Cool Bananas (Mushroom)
May 1982/In Touch
Cool Bananas looks likely to become one of the most successful homegrown releases, and it’s easy to see why: the rock’n’boogie side of their music will appeal to all Australian rock fans, the tunes will make popular radio, the metal will make crock-rock fetishists foam at the mouth, and Dave Dobbyn’s distinctive, powerful vocals are sure to lure fans for whom singing is the thing. For most but me, an obvious winner. Congratulations, Smash. 6/10
I found this record heartening because, despite the fact that it was a limited edition indie release way back in May ’79, it demonstrates germs of exciting, provoking music still exist in so-called blitzed-out, soporific California.
LA has produced little of worth (that we have had a chance to hear, anyway) since The Doors – but that is a hard act to follow. The Decayes are not in the mainstream and I’m not totally convinced, but this album intrigues.
‘Rich People’s Mailboxes’ is a vaguely threatening, jazz-tinged criminal ode which does the standing still for four minutes or so. It contains a classic line, though, in “I got caught once. The police don’t mind.”
‘The Prisoner’ sounds messy and riff-repetitive to these ears. Not that repeated riffs are always bad, as is shown on ‘Melange Malade’, where a hit-you-in-the-guts bass line is showered with sound affecting synth.
Spirt of the most extreme, evil-sounding of all groups, Faust, is conjured in ‘Red Silent’, which ends with a great thud. ‘K-7’ could be likened to Tangerine Dream in its head-expanding synth textures. Throbbing bass of the earth-shaking variety completes the picture.
A long improvisation called ‘Niteclub’ sounds very European and almost ECM-like. At various junctures mournful Fipp-ish Mellotron sounds and clarinets screech, and the shebang comes to an extremely noisy finale.
‘Close Enough For Jazz’ is movie promo take-offs. Zappa-like invention, jazz lightness, clean, lithe guitars and no continuity to speak of but who gives a flying one?
Accidental Music, while in many ways tentative, is a tempting primer for the ’81 Decayes, evidence of which is available as you read in Men Of Larvae, a brand new LP (more or less) flexisoundsheet. 7/10
Ex-patriot Kiwis in London make an EP, shock horror. Jayrem release it, wowie zowie. Ex-Gurlz, Blams, Newmatics and Freudian Slips all appear. There’s a tendency towards choppy, chunky pseudo ska, but it all sounds rushed, and the parts don’t cohere. We’re left with gristle and bone and a few bits of skin. Extra star for good intentions. 5/10
Dec 1981/In Touch
The Decayes are America’s bastard children biting back. Who said middle-class suburban kids couldn’t make relevant music?
Two-chord punk rebellion it’s not. The Decayes have an all-American sound. It’s influenced by Zappa and Euro-jazz. It’s very funny, and rather scary, reflecting as it does the rotten underbelly of our modern world.
The more tuneful, vocal numbers are delightfully off-the-wall drawled perversions, but at the same time very affecting. One tells us that we’re ‘Breeding In Captivity’ (think about it). In ‘Nobody Loves Me’ the character states that “Sometimes I think that I’m too weird for normal women to be my friends.”
In a strange way the songs are quite cathartic, the sadly resigned ‘What More Could You Ask For?’ being a case in point: “I need a woman with a car/When I get drunk she drives me home from the bar/I need a woman that steals/Someone that wants to cook me meals/What more could you ask for?”
Don’t hold Los Angeles against them. horNetZ is one of the most distinctive, real records I’ve heard all year. 7/10
Depeche Mode – The Singles 81-85 (WEA)
From the first trickle of English synthesiser pop, Depeche Mode were always a little limp and insipid. However, their dinky toy modulations gradually decreased as they mastered the art of sound construction. This chronological compilation of singles shows a band evolving from precious beginnings into an outfit with some mettle. Hence the sad stories told in ‘Blasphemous Rumours’, where the conclusion is: “I don’t want to start any blasphemous rumours but I think God’s got a sick sense of humour and when I die, I expect to find him laughing.” 6/10
DeSario covers much ground in this mainstream disco LP, but it’s such horrendously tasteless territory to map out as your own.
The title track sounds like a Shirley Bassey Bond theme gone wrong, while ‘Heart Of Stone suits Gloria Gaynor to a ‘T’. On ‘With Your Love’ she tries to do a Donna Summer, urging her guy to “gratify, satisfy” her with his “love” – but Donna did it so much better.
A ballad comes next (Jeez, these guys really know how to program records). Called ‘Hold On, Hold On’, it’s surprisingly not someone’s self-wish regarding a lone, already occupied toilet, but a dirge in which she raves the words of Albert Hammond, who on this example sounds like some Haight-Ashbury acid casualty: “Ooh and all we need/is hoping and miracles/And to be/just like the birds up in the sky.”
To cap off the side, she mauls the classic ‘Dancing In The Streets’, rendering it in one fell swoop totally devoid of charm. Just horrible.
Side 2 starts off on a comparatively good note with the funk/disco of ‘Sell My Soul To You’. The same goes for ‘You Got What It Takes’, while ‘Goin’ thru The Motions’ is a slow disco number of reasonable quality. But it’s all downhill from here-on-in, ‘Fallin’’ being an appalling ballad tailor-made for Oklahoma (composition courtesy of Carole Bayer Sager), and ‘Yes, I’m Ready’… well, we know about that already.
If DeSario had one thing remotely striking about her thin voice, or if there was one exceptional facet to this thin album, it may be reason enough for critical analyses. As it is, DeSario’s effort is just too easy to write off. Whatever a woman needs to make her a lasting vocalist, DeSario just ain’t got it. 3/10
Desire – Desire (WEA)
Being a four-track EP starring Suzy Divine and Gary Havoc, and featuring one of the most horrible covers these eyes have ever espied. Suzy’s aural contribution is a fetching singing attraction that’s constantly prone to explode into orgasmic shrieks. Unfortunately, her admirable efforts are undermined by Mr Havoc’s prostrate guitarring and a leaden rhythm section. 4/10
Small wonder that Britain’s young soul band Dexy’s Midnight Runners were quick to make enemies; they wave their arrogance like a banner. The opening song on this, their debut album, would have you believe that soul is the only style worth bothering with. The title of the song is ‘Burn It Down’.
To be fair, the group plays its chosen style with a good deal of conviction and comes up with some strong material, the best of which is last year’s flop single ‘Geno’, the heartfelt ballad ‘I’m Just Looking’ and ‘Tell Me When My Light Turns Green’.
However, much of the second side heads towards the mediocrity of a too-studied assimilation of others’ styles. Worst of all, leader Kevin Rowland’s voice is too adolescent by far to lend this record the credibility it needs to carry it; after all, good vocalists in soul bands are essential.
Since this album was recorded last year, the band has suffered drastic personnel changes. The only remaining members from this album are Kevin Rowland (vocals) and Big Jimmy Patterson (trombone). The new musicians are: Seb Shelton (drums), Micky Billingham (keyboards), Steve Wynne (bass), Paul Speare (tenor sax), Brian Maurice (alto sax) and Billy Adams (guitar).
The new single featuring this lineup, ‘Plan B/Soul Finger’ is due for release here soon. 5/10
Diamond remakes his pop gem ‘I’m A Believer’ on September Morn. And how he’s fallen. The remainder is soundalike, self-indulgent non-tunes fitted out in grandiose orchestral arrangements. Camouflage they don’t the nadir of inspiration/creation. Most tracks are either co-written with other singer-songwriters or complete non-originals, but no difference does it make – he still sounds stuck in the Serenade shallows.
September Morn is strictly for Neil Diamond fans afraid to admit they prefer Barry Manilow. Now you can concentrate on your real career, Neil: films. (The Jazz Singer, indeed. Ha-ha.) 3/10
Barbara Dickson – The Barbara Dickson Album (CBS)
Barbara Dickson, despite her singer-songwriter status, seems unlikely to champion the feminist cause. The Barbara Dickson album tacks her sweet voice to the mediocrity of her own and producer Alan Tarney’s songs. Banal ballads and overworked pop pulp by turn, with this kind of material Dickson is a safe bet for a return season as guest singer in The Two Ronnies. 5/5
You hear it through the grapevine and down the telephone: the group is hot poop! Watch out for dot-dot-dot! You promptly forget. The information gloops into the recesses of your far-out head with all the other mouldy hype of years past. Several months go by, and a record arrives. You think, ‘I’ve heard that name somewhere. They’ve gotta be good’. They’re not. The record is instantly forgettable. It’s got a nice big drum sound but just doesn’t sound right. The vocal line sounds like the only song the guy’s ever heard is that awful early Squeeze thing. Now what was that called? And the b-side, as usual, is slightly better, but not much. And you keep thinking ‘lollipop, lollipop’. Yeah yeah yeah. Dieheards, your number is up. 5/10
Wellington group The Digits is virtually unknown in its hometown, yet here it is with an album, the first in a proposed trilogy. One listen to the album confirms that The Digits are no fashion followers. Out on a limb from peer musicians, they have done their own thing with considerable determination.
The Digits are definitely unfashionable, but not necessarily unlistenable. There appears to be several sides to their music, as the two very different sides of vinyl demonstrate.
Side One presents 10 tracks that generally get their sound from the vaults of ‘60s psychedelia. Garage band equipment and four-track studio (Sausage) plus ambitious musicians equals psychedelic muddle. And that is both good and bad. Any seemingly straightforward rock here is laced with offputting/upsetting/titillating (take your choice) effects such as phased vocals, tonal dissonance, and other weirdness.
This peculiar mix is useful on ‘Mental Blanko’, where a screaming sharp guitar seems to slice through the instrumental web-like searing pain. But limitation is stressed on a track such as ‘A Throwaway’, where the drums are obviously out of sync. I would blame this on poor studio cueing devices.
Folky tunes such as ‘Night Time’ and ‘After Sausage’ remind one of the spacey noodlings of psychedelic space bands like Caravan, Soft Machine or even early Pink Floyd.
The second side is an all-instrumental workout – purportedly many different songs but really one long piece with many changes of emphasis, beat, texture and tempo. Guitar is in the forefront and it goes through its paces from rock-orientated to the sounds of early ‘70s space/progressive bands. The most interesting bits on this side are the Zappa-like experimental snippets.
These guys deserve respect for showing initiative and releasing an album off their own bat. It may not be brilliant – or even very good – but it’s definitely worth investigating. 6/10
The Digits – Dog Wrestled To Ground By Underarm Combat Flea (Sausage)
This is a difficult review to write. It’s not The Digits’ fault. It’s just that their debut record is hard to pin down even to convenient ‘good’ or ‘bad’ categories. Dog Wrestled To Ground… isn’t particularly original, if that’s what you’re after.
The first side consists of 10 songs. ‘Friend Who Sits Beside You’, ‘A Throwaway’ and ‘Modern Viewee’ are basically rock pieces with various weirdness thrown in for good measure. To gain a measure of difference, they add dissonant notes, psychedelic white noise, phased vocals and most of the time come out sounding a little like an out-to-lunch early Pink Floyd, which I guess is no bad thing.
More folky and acoustically inclined is ‘Night Time’, ‘After Sausage’ and ‘Vege Man’. The vocals verge on wimp-rock, but for the slightly spacey music mix I would credit them with a beguiling similarity to Canterbury (UK) bands like Caravan and Soft Machine.
The remains: ‘Sausage’, ‘Perfect Evolution’ and ‘Keith Maniac Music’ are snippets of noise experiment that obviously mean something to those who played. (It is worth noting at this point that the Kevin Hawkins mentioned on this record is not the guitarist who used to play in Shoes This High). ‘Mental Blanko’ approximates punk, and has a great out-to-lunch screechy guitar solo.
Side 2, which lists eight songs but actually consists of one side-long groove (joke, people, joke) will be described in some quarters as one indulgent jerkoff. This is partly true: it is over-indulgent but not necessarily worthless. Needless to say, it shifts through space-rock sounds to rockist McLaughlin-type guitar to Zappa-like experimentation to art-rock pretensions.
Wellington’s own Digits have shown considerable initiative in getting this together, and it’s a worthy enough purchase on those grounds alone. It is an interesting and in places entertaining album. But it flounders somewhat in the face of its own ambition. The sound is peculiar because it’s a garage band with progressive band pretensions playing on garage band equipment in garage band studios (not that I’ve anything against Sausage). Sometimes it works, but occasionally it backfires. At this stage, a 12-inch EP may have been more effective. 6/10
I wonder, why-why-why-why-why… sometimes, people cannot see the wood for the trees. Or in this case, the talent for the trappings. There’s a special reserve in my dwindling wallet for intelligent dabblers, especially those as quirky and perceptive as Mr Dolby. XTC’s Andy Partridge – who incidentally appears on Wireless – is similarly endowed with the ingenuity of a true British craftsman without need to resort to gimmickry. But just as XTC latched onto New Wave because it was timely, Dolby does the same to the new disco fashion thang. Both artists make music which is rewarding without being earth-shaking. Pleasant background and great listening, Golden Age is excellent fare. 7/10
Maligned and misunderstood, Thomas Dolby is not the major model of a synthesizer whizzkid at all. His particular gift is that old-fashioned virtue: quality musicianship.
All the sounds on The Flat Earth are painted with the ability of someone who knows how to play, and how to use the modern recording studio to get a good wash of musical colours and textures. Perhaps the songs are only minor gems, but gems they are, and this album has a consistency that the first one lacked.
If you’re reasonably sure that Dolby is powered solely by technology, then listen to the bizarre ‘Mulu The Rain Forest’ with its well-placed fretless basslines, and ‘I Scare Myself’, which cleverly mixes acoustic piano and cod-flamenco guitar and jazz elements against a modern backdrop.
Always good, sometimes wonderful stuff. 7/10
Dragon – Power Play (CBS)
Dragon become leaden without Mark Hunter on Power Play. 5/10
1986/Wellington City Magazine
The art of reggae record production is a specialised one, and these local Rastas have made an album that highlights none of the noises reggae fans expect. However, a bit of knob-twiddling and the sound starts to get some juice in it, and Dread, Beat & Blood emerge as a competent outfit whose major asset sits in the throats of four of the seven members. The singing is lovely if at times the sentiments are predictable. Song titles include ‘Blair Peach’, ‘Rainbow Warrior’ and ‘Waitangi’, natch. Any wet liberals out there with guilty consciences and dollars to express them with? 6/10
Even before the revitalisation that new wave offered the music world, Dr Feelgood were practising their brand of high energy pub-rock rhythm and blues. Unfortunately, they’ve never achieved their full potential on vinyl, more often than not coming across as a pale imitation of the real thing.
Let It Roll, recorded soon after their New Zealand tour, does nothing to right that situation. In fact, it is possibly their worst album to date and proof of the pudding that something is definitely amiss.
The biggest problem is their self-written material, which lacks inspiration or even remotely arresting themes or tunes. This is particularly evident on the opening track, ‘Java Blue’. And when the tunes are less hackneyed, as in ‘Feels Good’, more often than not, unnecessary and cluttered horn arrangements ruin the potential.
At best, the Feelgoods manage to transfer a little of their charm to songs like ‘Put Him Out Of Your Mind’, or the weird debauched ‘Bend Your Ear’. But on Side 2, the worst fears are confirmed, where it sounds as though they are desperately trying to fill up the rest of the album. 5/5
Just when you were thinking that Dr Feelgood were a spent force, and had given up hope of the best-ever pub band cutting it properly on vinyl, they’ve really gone and done it. A Case Of The Shakes as near as hell catches Gypie Mayo’s version in best form, as produced by the master hand of Nick Lowe.
Of course, it could never quite catch the swagger and energy of the performing unit, but here we don’t get to put up with the technical deficiencies of a live situation either.
The first side is notable for its never-lettting-up ragey rock’n’roll, with the exception of the last track, ‘Violent Love’, a swanky acoustic number.
Opening Side 2 is another slow low-down song in ‘No Mo Do Yakamo’, whereupon it launches back into the rage and rock’n’roll. The one dodgy moment in this record of honourable original material is the title track, which would appear to be another variation on the ‘Mona’ riff.
What can you say about the Dr? Not much, except that this is the one to buy. 7/10
Dr Feelgood – On The Job (Liberty)
Another live LP, this one marking Gypie Mayo’s last days with the sweaty Feelgood r’n’b institution. This material is suitably late period – it’s not classic, but neither is it run-of-the-mill. The one quibble is the recording itself, which fails to transmit that boozy, degenerate feel they’re so good at generating. 6/10
1986/Wellington City Magazine
Original providers of a musical foil to Red Mole’s theatrical hybrid, the reconstituted and renamed Drongos transplanted to the streets of New York. Sitting pretty in a comfy niche as an American campus fave rave, busking is now unnecessary. This digitally mastered daylight emission from the sidewalks of Manhattan represents a determined one day backtrack to path and pavement. Friendly, mundane pop/rock with modest musical aspirations, the songs are saved somewhat by lyric wit. Craft, for the most part, of average merit, the entertainment value of which is hopefully confirmed by in-person performance. Perhaps you simply had to be there? A memento. 5/10
Nov 1981/In Touch
Lord Upminster is the first Dury solo. It was recorded at the Bahamas with ‘in’ rhythm section Sly ‘n’ Robbie, and with old musical director/collaborator Chas Jankel. I must admit that to me it’s just another Dury album – which means, of course, that it’s great. LU ain’t as adventous as last year’s Laughter, but is a good fun, funky project that will please the faithful and woo further admirers. 7/10
Glory be and hallelujah! Bob Zimmerman, alias acknowledged 1960s folk legend Bob Dylan, has found the Lord.
His latest waxing, Slow Train Coming, finds this former counter-culture saviour preaching simple sermons at great length about Christ’s return (‘When He Returns’), droning that whatever our profession or disposition, we ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’ (God), urging us to forget materialism, to turn our backs on all life’s worries in pursuit of the Lord (‘When You Gonna Wake Up’).
Want more? Surely not. Bob Dylan now exists in a netherworld of Christian complacency. Slow Train Coming is the Bible regurgitated. Dylan no longer feels compelled to think – just rehash Christian cliches.
To his credit, Dylan has surrounded himself with top musicians. Barry Becket (organ) and Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler (guitar) add greatly to the musical texture, but there are no good melodies on which to demonstrate this fine musicianship. 3/10