Saturday, September 17, 2011

Alphanumeric: Hello Cruel World

E: Hello Cruel World


Mark Oliver Everett may have wanted to escape the shadow of his father, physicist Hugh Everett III when he began his musical career. Maybe that’s why he decided to simply call himself E. I must say, however, that I doubt that many music fans would have made the connection; I had to look it up. Regardless, E it was, and E it remained when he later formed the band Eels. The music of Eels had a darker sound, but E as a solo artist was a master of pop hooks. Hello Cruel World sounds like it should have been a major hit until you listen to the lyrics. The song sets out a series of somewhat surreal scenarios, connected tenuously at best. The writing contains great imagery, and a slide show goes by in my head whenever I hear the song. I don’t claim to be an expert on the music of Eels, but I have never heard anything of theirs that affects me in the same way.

Alphanumeric: Mesopotamia

The B-52s: Mesopotamia


This seems to be one of those weeks when my fellow Star Makers and I avoid obvious choices in favor of lesser known ones. I can think of several well known groups that would fit our theme, and I really thought someone would have posted them by now. I can’t completely resist the urge to share lesser known music myself, so here is my solution: a lesser known song by one of those obvious bands.

In the early days of this band, Kate Pierson and Cindy Williams wore their hair in a style known as a bouffant, or a b-52, and that is where The B-52s got their name. Of course, the band burst on the scene with one of the first new wave hits, Rock Lobster. Their first two albums continued with that basic sound, but there were no other hits as big as Rock Lobster. So, for their third album, the band changed their sound. I don’t know if they decided to do this themselves or were told to by their record company, but the result was that they found themselves working with David Byrne of Talking Heads as their producer. Mesopotamia was supposed to be a full length album of ten songs, but disagreements arose between the band and Byrne, and what was finally released was a six song EP. It may be telling that Byrne only ever produced one other album for an artist other than himself, Fun Boy 3’s album Waiting. So Mesopotamia, the album and the song, may not be the music The B-52s wanted to make, but I have always found the song irresistible. I hope you will as well.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Alphanumeric: Drivin' Now

J: Drivin' Now


You can't get more succinct (or any harder to Google) than using a single English letter as an artist name. J is the bassist for J-Rock band Luna Sea, a band I will miss seeing by one week during my upcoming trip to Japan. (Not that I had a snowball's chance in hell of getting tickets—Saitama Arena, which seats about 37,000, sold out in five minutes for this charity concert.) As is the way of many Japanese bands, the members of Luna Sea wander off into other group and solo releases without a lot of drama. J released this album, Unstoppable Drive in 2002 during Luna Sea's longest hiatus. It's pretty straightforward hard rock, and you'll enjoy it if you like yours bass-heavy like I sometimes do.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Alphanumeric: Oh Effendi

10cc:Oh Effendi


I remember spiritedly arguing with a high school classmate once that 10cc was a better group than Led Zeppelin. 10cc --named for the average amount of semen in a male ejaculation--was certainly one of the most inventive bands in rock n roll. Literally. Kevin Godley and Lol Creme invented "The Gizmo",  an effects box that could make an electric guitar sound like a strange symphony. Godley and Creme were the art schoolers in 10cc, always pushing the boundaries. Bandmates Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman were the hit-makers. ( Stewart as a member of The Mindbenders and Gouldman as songwriter of The Yardbirds' "For Your Love" and The Hollies' "Bus Stop" among others.) As 10cc they combined forces, often creating powerful pop songs that suddenly shifted into parody. What other group it its right mind would confess they were "The Worst Band in the World"?

From that same 1974 album, Sheet Music, comes "Oh Effendi", a rare Godley-Stewart composition which shows the best sides of both sides of 10cc. Most rock snobs would suggest you start your 10cc collection with Sheet Music. That's fine with me but I confess to having a soft spot for How Dare You!, the last album on which all four original members played.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Alphanumeric: Endless Dark

HIM: Endless Dark


Like many currently alpha-named bands, the letters making up the band name HIM stood for words (in this case, His Infernal Majesty) that were lost early on.

HIM (or H.I.M.) is a Finnish goth-metal band (or, as they describe it, "love metal"). They formed in 1995 behind vocalist Ville Valo, who also pens their songs, apart from some awesome covers (such as Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game," which takes on a more ominous feel in their hands). I posted a Ville Valo cover of the classic duet Summer Wine about a year ago.

This version of 'Endless Dark' is from their 2003 album Love Metal. You can see their trademark "heartagram" from that album cover in the above image.

And I know where I belong
Away from your gods
That heal all wounds
And light this endless dark,
That shine on you and tame your burning heart
That bury my truth right into your arms
That worship the tomb of our forlorn love.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Alphanumeric: Me and the Boys

NRBQ: Me and the Boys

               On one of their good nights NRBQ (New Rhythm and Blues Quartet) was the best bar band in the world--or as their fans would put it, the best band in the world--bar none. For twenty years pianist Terry Adams, guitarist Big Al Anderson, bassist Joey Spampinato and drummer Tom Ardolino toured together, performing everything from jazz, to 12 bar blues to Beatlesque ballads and crunchy power pop like "Me and The Boys". Always in the spirit of good goofy fun.

   The list of famous NRBQ fans reads like a Who's Who of the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame. I caught the band at an obscure club in NYC in '99 and ran into the guys from Del Amitri. There were Posies and Young Fresh Fellows at a Seattle show a year later. Makes me wonder whom I didn't recognize at the New Orleans shows I saw in the 80's.

  Eventually all eyes fall on the shaggy keyboard player who always seemed to be pounding the keyboards with the flats of his hands instead of his fingers. Terry is touring as NRBQ these days with three young musicians. Big Al is sought after country music songwriter and Joey and Tom are still playing around. No, they never sold a million records but they've been featured both on The Simpsons and by Connie Chung.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Vocal Harmonies => Alphanumeric: The Disappointed

XTC: The Disappointed


XTC does not stand for anything. Say the letters out loud, and you get the word ecstasy. I don’t know if the name was intended as a drug reference, but I prefer the older meaning of the word, because the band’s music has always given me intense pleasure. The Disappointed is a sort of negative example of the power of vocal harmony. Almost half way through the song, all you have heard is Andy Partridge singing lead and some oohs, but never at the same time. Suddenly, Dave Gregory comes in with a low note on one word, “disappointed”. From there, the vocal arrangement becomes gradually more complex, and it helps the song build to a great climax. So, by leaving the vocal harmonies out of so much of the song, XTC gives a great demonstration of their power once they arrive.