Friday, January 31, 2020


Well, this is a first, as I have never knowingly sat and listened to anything by this venerable institution of a band, finding the pictures alarming enough. True, I know a little of them, and their behemoth beating heart, Eraserhead outtake, David Thomas. And whilst he being an alumnus of Jackie Leven ought to give me some hope, I also have it on authority that, at their peak, they were well nigh unlistenable. Except to the droogs and dweebs with a penchant for bad haircuts, junk food and buttoned up to the top raincoats, avidly reading Pitchfork and Quietus. But needs must. Maybe I can find some love.

First off and I discover there are twelve tracks, the whole clocking in at barely half an hour. Is this good? Does this mean business: bish, bash, bosh, in, out with an efficiency of attack and melody, mood mooted and met in an instant? We'll see. Looking swiftly back through the back catalogue, of the fifteen earlier, and one later made records, song length seems about average for them, album length a little shorter. Which blows my theories about, I don't know, post-rock and/or post-punk being prone to longer excursions, prolonged proto-prog efforts, if scratchier and with more treble. What I also actually discover is that, Thomas apart, I have heard of some previous members of the band: Anton Fier, Eric Drew Feldman, Wayne Kramer, for chrissakes. Let alone exemplary jazz(ish) crooner and ex-Communard alumnus, Sarah Jane Morris, and british trumpeter Andy Diagram. And, get this, they have had a pedal steel player. Could this be I will like this stuff? And in the current band, although not on this record, is no less than Chris Cutler, arthouse drummer to the, in my prejudice, lauded and leg-endary, if, in my prejudice, equally unlistenable Henry Cow. (But see end of piece.....)

Funk 49

I sense you feel I'm delaying my listening, so I'll hurry along. Track one, Monkey Business, sets up a standard guitar thrash, with Beefhearty yowling and growling. Fab if you like the Captain. Sadly I can't stand the fella. The backing is OK, and I quite like the skronky sax. And I quite like Funk 49, at least as it starts, a pleasant enough Talking Heads vibe, with more skronky sax. I'll bet Mark E. Smith, erstwhile frontman/dictator of the Fall, liked this band, like his own, a tight rhythm section perpetually marred by shocking vocals. Prison of the Senses is better again, a semblance of singing creeping in, but not enough not to annoy me. More of the same with Toe to Toe before, at last, something to get my teeth into. In fact, I really like track five, The Healer, Thomas coming on like a very ill Michael Stipe, a minor chord lament that gradually builds into and bleeds into Swampland, uplifted by the segue, give or take a nanosecond. Goes in a bit, mind, always a flaw in a sub two minute song. Got bored with next two, Plan From Frag 9 and Howl, but Red Eye Blues, very reminiscent of PiL, canters along more agreeably. (As I type, I am realising my issue must be all about vocals.) Walking Again sounds as if it was deliberately sabotaged, the singing once again redolent of illness, psychosis, this time, rather than any physical decay. But, in the same song and following a plea to 'come to Papa' comes some effective if anaemic lycanthropic howling that lifts things. And I Can Still See is nothing short of terrific, a klezmer clarinet and synth tones weaving around Thomas, here sounding almost like Nick Cave, over a military and metronomic beat. In fact this would not be out of place on last years Ghosteen, which is high praise indeed. I'd love to say final track, Cold Sweat, keeps up that momentum, and, had the vocals remained in the same key, perhaps it would. But the higher register had me, instead, laughing, being now reminded of no less than David Essex.

The Healer

I Can Still See

So there you have it. I made it through and out alive. Two tracks I loved, two more, I'll confess, than I expected. The rest veered from OK, to bearable, just about, to just unbearable, the overall tally much as for Unconditionally Guaranteed, the only Beefheart record with anything at all by him I like. (Inevitably the one his fans deride as his nadir....) That is the clearest reference for me, along with, as mentioned, the Fall and PiL. Clearly I am too shallow and mainstream, with insufficient intellect to get this style of music, despite trying. I have stood through performances by each of those two latter. Or for most or some of said performances, if truth be told. If that is the case, I will have to take that on the chin. I'll hope the loyal readership, hi, Mom, of this site won't take too much offence. I guess this music has a right to exist and I am glad it does, just count me out. But, you know, I quite like that Henry Cow clip linked above......

If you must....

Thursday, January 30, 2020

something with 20: Sgt Peppers

purchase[the album ]

The first records for Star Maker Machine in the Wayback Machine date back to 2008. That's less than the 20 years I had been hoping to see (seems like I've been here at least that long!). That said, SMM has racked up close to 2.5 million visits since it began. Further, it is close on to 20 years since Blogger first came on line - even if SMM didn't incorporate at that time.

In some time frames, 20 years is a drop in the bucket. For the Internet, that's half a life-time. The 11 years of SMM's existence is not bad for an Internet life. Many online lives don't last that long. So ... here's wishing that SMM eventually celebrates its 20th in one form or another.
20 years in terms of rock/pop is nothing to snear at either. Or the 20 x 2 years behind this song! Again, many come, many go, but that's a theme for another post (Gone Before 20?).

The Beatles Sgt. Peppers album followed their 1966 Revolver album. In Revolver, you can already hear elements of their transformation to more tech (and less stage/live).

I'm not sure it is "the most important and influential rock-and-roll album ever recorded" as per Kevin Dettmar. But it may be. It certainly took us from AM radio style to ... something different. It's a "concept" album - the band had an idea that encompassed a series of songs about a single theme: an "alter-ego" fictional pseudo-Edwardian experiment.

Maybe you had to have been around at that time to latch on to its importance. The overall/lasting effect has been lost to time with (shortly) later output from the likes of Hendrix and pyschedelia that this album introduces to the main stream , but the Sgt Peppers album should be reconsidered in light of its ground-forging effects on popular music: the Beatles commanded the top lists and so anything they did affected the trajectory of the market.

and another: (real?)

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Something With Twenty: Twenty Years Ago

Magazine: Twenty Years Ago

I’m pretty sure that I first started paying attention to the band Magazine in 1981, when their live album Play was released in the US (It was released in the UK in 1980, which would make it 2x twenty years ago....). I have to assume that we had their earlier albums in the WPRB library, and for all I know, I played them, but Play is the first album of theirs that I remember.

What made me take notice of them was the keyboard part in the recording of the song “Definitive Gaze,” because it sounded like it could have come from any number of prog rock albums, although the band’s vocal, and general sound, were more punk than prog. Understand, that in 1981, we were still in the relatively early days of punk, or maybe more accurately at that point, new wave, and the whole basis of that movement seemed designed to sweep away the excesses of the prog and classic rock world. Nowadays, that seems kind of quaint, in an era of genre mixing, where Elvis Costello could win a Grammy for Best Traditional Pop Vocal, of all things,  but back then it seemed revolutionary.

It took me a little while to figure out that Howard Devoto, the leader and singer of Magazine had been in The Buzzcocks, a band that I discovered after he had left, and which was at that point still pretty punk, and I think that part of the reason that Devoto left was to explore a broader musical palette. Magazine was one of those bands whose popularity and influence in England was much greater than in the U.S., and they broke up in 1981, so I have to admit to losing track of them after I graduated from college, missing their reunion(s) entirely.

Another song on Play, which was originally the b-side of a single (“A Song From Under the Floorboards,” a great song, was the a-side), was “Twenty Years Ago,” which is how we, ultimately, get to our theme. It’s a good song, if not my favorite from the band, but we write to the theme here.

But it did give me the excuse to think about where I was in my life twenty years ago, in 2000, which turned out to be a pretty momentous year for me. I started the year being miserable working at a law firm, and ended it much happier working in-house at a large financial services company. My supervisor was, without a doubt, the best boss that I ever worked for, my work was interesting, and I had colleagues who were, for the most part, smart and pleasant, and I remain in contact with many of them to this day. In fact, my four years there were, overall, the best time that I ever had as a lawyer—I got some great experience, was treated as a professional, was paid reasonably well, and did enough travel to make it interesting but not burdensome.

Sadly, the company sold the business that I worked for to a competitor, and eventually, my job was going to disappear. Which led to a return to a law firm where I was less happy, and ultimately to my life as a solo practitioner.

Lots more happened during the last 20 years, some of it good—like my kids graduating from high school and college and moving on with their lives, my son getting married, and beginning my blogging hobby---and some bad—like the death of my father and father-in-law, 9/11, and Trump.

Looking back makes you realize that it is really impossible to predict the course of one’s life. I’m sure that if you asked me back in 2000 what my life, or the life of my family, would be like—or what the country or world would be like, my guesses would have been terribly wrong, except in the broadest strokes (I’m pretty sure that I would have predicted that I would still be a lawyer and still married to the love of my life, for example). And it makes me wonder where I’ll be in 2040—if I’m still kicking in my late 70’s.