Friday, December 15, 2017

The End: Surrender

Cheap Trick: Surrender (live)
[purchase the full concert—it’s cheaper than the original version!]

When you Surrender, it is The End, right?

I’m willing to bet that the first time that most of us heard the word “Budokan,” it was because of the release of Cheap Trick’s 1978 album, Cheap Trick at Budokan.” There was a slightly earlier release, Live at the Budokan by the Ian Gillan Band, so if you were a metal head or Deep Purple fan, you might have heard of that one first (John Gustafson, the bass player in the Ian Gillan Band, also played on Roxy Music’s “Both Ends Burning,” the subject of my last piece, which is a total coincidence.)

The Budokan is, according to Wikipedia, “an indoor arena located in Chiyoda, Tokyo, Japan.. . .originally built for the judo competition in the 1964 Summer Olympics, hence its name, which translates in English as Martial Arts Hall.” The Beatles were the first rock band to play there, in 1966. Also according to Wikipedia, a couple of dozen or so live albums have been recorded there, by artists including Bob Dylan, Dream Theater, Quincy Jones, Avril Lavigne, John Hiatt and Sheryl Crow.

But I think that Cheap Trick’s album is the most well-known, and it is the only one that made Rolling Stone’s list of the 50 greatest live albums of all time (#13). Like 1976’s Frampton Comes Alive (Rolling Stone’s #41), the live set helped to break an act that had not really clicked with the public into the big time.

“Surrender” is a great, anthemic song, that appears to be about teenagers discovering that their parents aren’t as “uncool” as they believe—and, in fact, may even be cooler than they are. It is sort of an illustration of that point in your life when you realize that your parents actually are people, with experiences, who might have some wisdom that is worth listening to. What you are supposed to be surrendering to is, I think, unclear, especially since the chorus is:

Surrender, Surrender, but don’t give yourself away.

Away to what?

It really doesn’t matter, does it?

"Surrender" is a song that you can listen to over and over and over, and the live version has that little edge of excitement that the best live performances add to a song.

I remember listening to this with my kids when they were young, and bouncing around and singing at the top of our lungs:

Mommy's all right 
Daddy's all right 
They just seem a little weird 

Are we, though?

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The End: Until the End of the World

U2 - Achtung Baby [purchase]

One blog post does not contrition make. I speak of my dereliction towards U2 over the years. I need to acknowledge and affirm their musical supremacy as part of my pre-New Years absolution (or is that resolution?)

Bono - of course, a major force for many things worldly: active, vocal, often right. U2 as a band: incredibly tight. I recall I "met" U2 at about the 1985 Live Aid event. I had heard of, but not listened much to them before. Then - off and on for 30 years- they've been on the edge of my radar. Bono - always in the news, so it's hard to ignore his [critical, in multiple senses] sound/voice. As for the band as a whole, various albums/outputs have caught my attention as being damn fine, but never enough to "convert" me to being a U2 <fan>.
Always excellent? Yes.
At the top of my list? Rarely.
Respected? Always.

There's an element of intelligence to U2's music [partly stemming from their  respect for the world at large] that over-rides most any faults in personalities or musical composition that touches on their brand/style.

The official video for U2s <Until the End of the World> is such a today-relevant parody. It's  the end of the end [well ... the end of 2017 AD at least]... And the lyrics come from years ago ... well before we were in the position we are in today. My words begin to  sound like the verbage coming out of the White House yesterday. I mean ... say what [junk]?

On another level, if you follow the MSM (need I spell it out: main stream media), you'd be right to think the <end of the world> is right around the corner: from the US > N. Korea; from the Middle East > Jerusalem; from Africa > Boko Haram or other unknowns; from the UK > Brexit. Seems like they are all "off their rockers" - but they won't be paying the price from deep inside their radiation-proof bunkers. The justified/mitigated cost is the 50-300,000 collateral victims  figured into their equations. Or so it seems.

But at least it's not the end of the world - some of us WILL survive. This is the message that U2 returns to time and again.

The end .. it's not over until ...

Sunday, December 10, 2017

THE END: The End Has No End

Purchase The Strokes, The End Has No End

The Strokes. In 2001, their debut, This Is It, was perhaps one of the greatest rock albums of the past 20 years. In retrospect, 15 plus years on, it's still an amazing album, but its greatness is measured against the disappointment of their subsequent albums. And I realize it is utterly subjective and a little unfair to hold The Strokes up to their freshman brilliance. The bar was set so high on This Is It that it would have been impossible for even the most steadfast band, with the deepest talent pool and the best of extracurricular habits, to repeat. And while the Strokes have had scattered and occasional genius on each release, it's been a game of a diminishing ratios.

So statistically, 2003's Room on Fire had more great songs on it than 2006's First Impressions of Earth, which is still a relatively cool album, but not nearly as luminous as the two before. 2011's Angles barley deserves a message--it sounds like bad disco, and you have to dig all the way to the end to get that good track ("Life is Simple in the Moonlight"). I don't even know what to say about 2013's Comedown Machine, except that perhaps The Strokes were just having is on, telling a little joke.

Which in the Strokes case, is at least interesting. As in, even bad, they are an interesting band.  They music they create is of its own genre, really. And when it doesn't work, its only disappointing in comparison to their stunning talent for making uncommon commotions. So, need I even say that I don't think anything will ever equal the stellar, stunning brilliance of This Is It? The stand out tracks are the ones that sound most like their first songs, and when the Strokes are good, my god, they're amazing. When they're not, they are oddly, still an interesting band. Just not a very good one.

One of the best songs from Room on Fire is "The End Has No End", a little bit of shaggy pop, with a brilliant sashaying rhythm guitar and a bubbling,  lead line that sounds like a computer from a 1970s cartoon--think Mr. Peabody feeding calculations into his machine. The drums are classic finger taps on thin glass until the whole thing winds out into a lit-up chorus and a dissonant back and forth between the guitars and Julian Casablanca's laconic snarling anger. It comes up, it goes down, it sounds like it comes from a space age that we read about in science fiction novels from the 60s. Like I said, when the Strokes are brilliant, they are nothing shy of first-class rocket ship pilots.

So, why aren't they always brilliant? I don't know, but its OK: we just don't understand.


Been thinking a bit about ends recently, as in end of times rather than the other ends of, well, anyone. That can be depressing thinking, either choice actually, but, let's face it, the world ain't actually being done any great favours by those that have earnt(?) the right to control it. So how best to lift the mood and bring a smile to proceedings? I find a rousing raggedy chorus of purpose to be an apt and welcome remedy. So who better than the never more ragged, vocally anyway, Jayhawks. Short of early 70s Lindisfarne, no-one does it better. Love it, especially when comes the awkward and never more effective collision of Mark Olson and Gary Louris is there, something that real life failed ever to make for a permanent connection. Their 1992 - 95 recordings, 'Hollywood Town Hall' and 'Tomorrow the Green Grass', albums 3 and 4 respectively, are perhaps the best examples of how to 'do' americana, and are certainly my favourite.

This song, however dates earlier than that, and one I first picked up on that green Rykodisc 20th anniversary sampler that you really ought to have. Rykodisc are one of those labels that just guarantee
satisfaction, always a reliable source of good music, in no small part due to the Joe Boyd connection, Ryko having bought his label, Hannibal, and thus granted much wider attention to his roster. A man who can do no wrong, his pedigree is impeccable. (Whaddya mean, you don't know who Joe Boyd is? Until I get round to a post wholly devoted, go here. Or better, read this.) Anyhow, I digress, the song, apart from that inclusion, that comes from the band's somewhat tentative second step, 'Blue Earth', in 1989. Their debut had been a low-key and local production and release, this being an attempt to woo the majors. Unfortunately circumstance allowed it to be little more than slightly enhanced demos, Louris having even left the band through an injury, wooed back to overdub his guitar and vocal parts onto the Olson penned songs. He stayed. Derided as primitive at the time, it is both template and masterclass for what would follow, with a little added rough polish.

The song is a treat, but I can't say I fully understand the lyrics, it may be best that way. But given the frequency with which live versions of it abound on the youtube, including the one I show, I can't help but feel it a metaphor for the on-off relationship between Louris and Olson. After Louris rejoined the band, Olson left in 1995, the band continuing without him. In a hiatus nearly a decade later, the pair hooked up as a duo, 'From the Jayhawks', and toured, ultimately appearing on each other's solo albums and, in 2009, a creditworthy acoustic duo effort, 'Ready for the Flood'. 2011 saw Jayhawks, the band,  reconvene, lasting 3 or so years before Olson again skipped camp, albeit after the excellent 'Mockingbird Time'. The band, helmed by Louris continues sporadically. I don't know (and I don't wish to check) whether the Olson-free band play 'Ain't No End' and hope they don't, as my vision of/for the song is that there ain't no end to the possibility of a Jayhawks band with both of 'em. Whimsy? Maybe. And probably deeply insulting to the exemplary other members, one also that fails to recognise the actual greater commercial success of the band between the Olson memberships. Such is life, I need both in my Jayhawks and it's my piece!

Here's the original.