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 ‘C’.
Camel – I Can See Your House From Here (Decca)
A creditable enough album from Camel, now minus leader and keyboardist Peter Bardens. On Side 1 they go for commerciality while never losing sight of their pomp-rock roots entirely, while on Side 2 they play laid-back music for late-night listeners.
Unfortunately, this is lacking in Barden’s inspiration and distinctive playing abilities. It’s all very pleasant. Indeed, a quality release, but there’s nothing that jumps out and says “We are Camel!” 6/10
Don Van Vliet’s music has a primitive intelligence. It’s music for the head and the body, truly organic body language music, full of magic rhythms and human psyche insights. A natural melding.
Perhaps Vliet (alias Captain Beefheart) is just too real, too supernatural, among all the trendy clutter comprising our pop world. Is that why he seems so threatening to some, or “hard to get into” to the average rock fan?
There is excuse no longer for commercial failure with the release of his latest, Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller). If people don’t pick up on the Captain at this juncture, then nothing will make them do so, as this is altogether the most consistent, well-balanced and artistically successful work to come from his 18-year-career.
His early albums, though crammed with the most committed, extreme and dauntingly original music to come out of the rock era, had their peaks of brilliance upset by production blights. Besides, most were never released in this country.
It would be easy to eulogise at length on Beefheart’s vocal attributes alone – a gigantic five-and-a-half octaves of gruff powerhouse. But that would merely prove to simplify his art, whereas everything about the Captain’s music matters.
In this incarnation he does the Wolfman to a wildly syncopated ‘Floppy Boot Stomp’ and swoons deliriously on the happy sunset song ‘Tropical Hot Dog Night’: “Like two flamingos in a fruit fight/I don’t want to know about wrong or right/I’m playin’ this music/So the young girls will come out to meet the monster tonight.”
Beefheart has a penchant for taking the childlike (as opposed to childish) worldview, and therefore his lyrics are sometimes shockingly uninhibited. Talk of sex and there’s scarcely a hint of the usual guilt-laden, smothered-in-syrup approach that is such an accepted part of our vocabulary.
The high points for me are ‘Love Lies’, a superb slow blues, and the title track, a hypnotic tape-looped synthesiser backdrop over which Beefheart improvises his stream-of-consciousness poetry.
And you’ll never hear another instrumental quite like ‘Suction Prints’, where Bruce Fowler (trombone) and Beefheart (sax) play the wildest freeform over cutting heavy metal riffs.
Although Shiny Beast was recorded in 1976 and released in America in ’78, it hasn’t reached us until now because of Beefheart’s notorious contract hassles. Definitely a case of better late than never. 9/10
Dream Police, the sixth in a line of albums containing ingeniously assembled 1960s-like Beatles/Move/Who-influenced songs, sees America’s Cheap Trick investigating newer pastures.
Intent on delving into the past they may be – until the cows come home, in fact – but the Cheap Trick cheap trick is to transmogrify these influences into a slick, brash, heavy guitar-dominated version of their nostalgic vision.
And that takes talent. Cheap Trick do so with a sense of humour and a personality all their own.
Image-wise, the crazies in the band are Rick Nielsen (guitar/vocals) and Bun E Carlos (drums), while typical pretty-boy pop star types Robin Zander (vocals, rhythm guitar) and Tom Petersson (bass/vocals) complete the lineup. But not one iota of difference to the music does this make.
Dream Police has its share of hard rockers like ‘Writing On The Wall’ and ‘The House Is Rockin’ (With Domestic Problems)’, and even a soft McCartney-like ‘Voices’, but for the first time extended, heavily orchestrated numbers like the anguished ‘Gonna Raise Hell’ are featured. Whether these attempts at being half-pie serious are totally successful is up to the listener to decide.
There is no great depth to Dream Police, but it is a solid, clever rock and roll album, by any standards. 6/10
Chicago – 13 (CBS)
Chicago Transit Authority in 1970 still stands as this group’s greatest achievement. Here, they play unmemorable, predictable disco and pop, barely utilising their powerful big band sound. 5/5
Obit: CB Bootleg is the last vinyl from Citizen Band, one of New Zealand’s better late ‘70s groups.
To my knowledge, it’s the first real live rock’n’roll album recorded in New Zealand and therefore something of a victory.
The sound is thankfully better than most unofficial bootlegs, and CB run through many of the better songs from their two studio-recorded LPs, most notably ‘The Ladder Song’, ‘Rus In My Car’, ‘Julia’ and ‘The Office Come Alive’.
It shows the band are no slouches musically, although a weariness can be sensed (the end of the road?) in the playing.
It’s been a sad year so far for local group demises, and this is a fine parting tribute to one of our best. 7/10
Richard Clapton – Hearts On The Nightline (Interfusion)
Australian singer/songwriter (no relation to Eric) of no mean repute shows what success is all about: compromise. He uses a hotch-potch of styles here and plays impressive guitar. 5/5
Don’t shed any tears for the Crocodiles’ Tears. Whether it’s bought or left to rot in deletion sale bins is of no consequence (save the group’s commercial success and future.) The artistic and creative achievements of this, the debut album by Wellington band The Crocs, will stand regardless.
The crying shame is that Tears is as near to the perfect pop album as you’re likely to get, with at least 15 percent of its material worthy of radio play, yet it is unlikely to achieve its commercial aim. Why? The promotion is not there due to understandable record company attitudes: they are unable to recoup their investment in the current climate.
Tears combines the commercial pop sensibilities of ‘60s bands with the technical production values and maturity of group concept demanded by the more discerning ‘80s audience.
Jenny Morris (lead vocals) and Tina Matthews (bass and vocals) come fresh from their first band, the all-girl Wide Mouthed Frogs, while Fane Flaws (lead guitar and vocals), Peter Dasent (keyboards and vocals) and Tony Backhouse (guitar and vocals) formed the nucleus of Spatz. Not to forget Bruno Lawrence (drums), granddad of New Zealand jazz-rock, formerly of (among others) Quincy Conserve and Blerta.
Tears is the best New Zealand-recorded album for some time, and definitely one of the better releases in the first three months of the 1980s.
The musical style owes a little bit to everybody, but thanks to Jenny’s vocal contributions is unmistakably Crocs. It’s best described as melodic pop with the occasional hint of new wave, and a little jazz edging in sideways. Add to this a lyrical wit and a producer with a flair for the odd twist (Glyn Tucker Jnr), and we have an album of unmistakable class.
All the tracks are of a high standard. ‘Tears’ (the title track and should-be number one) has a nostalgic, slightly satirical bent, but Jenny sings so emotively that it has to be taken seriously. ‘In My Suit’ is the most aggressive number, incorporating a James Bond sound-alike riff and ending in loopy mayhem. ‘New Wave Goodbye’ and ‘It’s The Latest’ both aim well-trained barbs at the music industry, cutting surprisingly close to the bone. So much so in fact that you wonder if the Crocs are even lampooning themselves: “It’s the latest/and it’s the greatest/And it’s on the radio/it’s the greatest cause my DJ told me so. Here it comes around/played all over town, but it’s just recycled sound. Here’s another melody/we stole from the Beatles/I forgot the song/if you recognise it/you don’t win any prizes/you’ve been around too long.”
All very astute observations. But what are they doing about it?
‘Any Day Of The Week’ and ‘All Night Long’ could both belong to the 1960s save for the fresh sound the group somehow manage to generate. Is this at last, the missing link between the Beatles, the Move and the Raspberries?
‘Young Ladies In Hot Cars’ was first attempted on Wellington’s Homegrown album last year. Here it’s updated, re-energised, a good rocker, untypical of the Crocs’ sound though containing the classic line: “I’d like to flood her carburettor.”
‘Whatcha Gonna Do’ is good rock but somewhat nondescript in relation to the rest, ‘Ribbons Of Steel’ is an anthemic-type song co-written with their patron, the legendary American Kim Fowley, and ‘Working Girl’ ends the album on a note of social realism.
It’s a fun album of lasting merit. 8/10