Thursday, June 28, 2007

"Twilight, I only meant to stay awhile"

Okay. Who knew that ELO managed not one not two but three albums after the cocaine-fueled and airbrushed car-wreck that was Xanadu? Not me obviously. In 1981, I was snapping up Devo and Blondie singles and saying "When is the cable company going to get on the stick with this here MTV? That Cars video looked HOT!"

But perhaps there was a reason beyond my own young impatience with the (by then) sodden sound of corporate rock and the desire to try everything (anything!) newer.

According to Wikipedia entry on Time, "Many of the group's fans consider this album to be Jeff Lynne's "forgotten masterpiece," partly due to the perception that Lynne has allowed it to languish (ironically) over the course of time. Lynne has since admitted that Time and the two subsequent ELO albums (Secret Messages and Balance Of Power) were only recorded to satisfy contractual obligations, and while material from every other ELO album was performed during the short-lived Zoom tour in 2001, none of the material from these three albums was included."

As I wander around this wreck of a town
Where people never speak aloud
With its ivory towers and its plastic flowers
I wish I was back in 1981

Wow! Time to see if there's still a Laserium show with Pink Floyd music happening somewhere!

And as for Xanadu, a certain decline of aesthetic standards that heralds an impending midlife crisis has me regarding fondly, if not the vintage movie or upcoming Broadway musical, then at least those devotees who have tended Kira's altars and kept the flame burning all these years. You have to believe we are magic.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Accidental Fan: The Decemberists

There are times where a strange set of circumstances leads me to a new infatuation. So it was with the Decemberists. Back in the day when I used to Google daily on 'Horslips' (in 2004 I was not yet familiar with Google News Alerts), I stumbled across a Boston Globe review of a Portland Oregon indie band that had had the nerve to do a concept EP based on The Tain. The same band was in town that very week at the Great American Music Hall. And so on and so forth.

Inevitably, there could be comparisons between Horslips' own 1973 masterpiece and the Decemberists' 2001 oddity. Both have literary roots: the Horslips album quotes W.B. Yeats introducing Lady Gregory's Cuchulain of Muirthemne (1902), and Colin Meloy is on record crediting Thomas Kinsella's 1969 modernist edition as his inspiration. Found in a Portland bookstore. In the early days of the Bush administration. This cultural distance, in my opinion, is exactly why it is worth a listen with Meloy delivering a strangely unanchored and 'dislocated' take on the saga. Then there's the gap of years and the consciousness of style-experimentation from The Decemberists, who were thoughtfully exploring prog-rock and metal from an almost archaeological perspective at the time, as this review details:

Pitchfork Review: The Tain

"I never was a metal head," remarked Colin Meloy in an Earlash interview last July. "It's something in my later years I've come to regret a little bit just because everybody has their stories of when they were a metal head. And it wasn't until recently that I started listening to Black Sabbath and started appreciating it."

Two albums and a six-song Five Songs EP into their career, The Decemberists' are beginning to seriously define their sound; a sudden plunge into, say, heavy metal, seems unlikely. Yet the first movement of The Tain EP, the band's new 18-minute composition based loosely on the 8th-century Celtic Ulster cycle's central poem "Tain Bo Cuailinge", finds Meloy and the others most immediately concerned with-- am I about to say this?-- serious Ur-metal riffage. Granted, Decemberist metal is not going to weigh down the Dominique Leones of the world, but make no mistake: Never has this band sung a flag so black, a maiden so iron.

The opening of The Tain is indeed jarring, though there's always more than meets the ear with this band, and the disc's dark acoustic guitar opening is not without foil: Pay attention to how Colin overdramatizes the dark line with his heavy plucks, disarming its sense of foreboding. When the rest of the band joins him in unison, what should be enough of a killer riff for friendly genocide is undermined by the organ's funny whir and Rachel Blumberg's gentle cymbal taps. In short, the sound is off-kilter, though not without ample deception, and only hints at the level of sophistication to come in the remaining movements.

More at the link. And that was some time ago. The Decemberists are now signed to a major label, sell out dates in Dublin and San Francisco, have their newest album Crane Wife at the Starbucks counter near you and, once in a very great while, you even hear them on commercial radio.

Decemberists Homepage.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Double Half-Caf, Soy Milk McCartney with Carmel Topping

Yes, it is true that I still owe the world my confused thoughts on Starbucks: the music store that sells coffee. For only this last spring I purchased a CD from the amazing Sounds Eclectic: the KCRW music program hosted by Nic Harcourt.

I bought it to hear Damien Rice cover Radiohead's Creep and I was a bit harsh on ole Damien 'cause he wimped out and wouldn't say a word that Bono (practically an archbishop these days) tosses around like loose change. ( you think Bono is familiar with 'loose change' anymore? He can probably pay Bill Gates to pick up that five dollar bill for him!) Later I realized Damien was probably constrained because it was National Public Radio and all and we don't want our tax money spent on obscenities.

The main point being: I can't throw stones at Starbucks and its music franchise anymore. But with Paul McCartney signing to their label, I might need an extra java jacket to ward off the shudder. Eamon Carr reviews:

Paul McCartney's Full Circle Review

WHILE the world celebrates the fortieth anniversary of Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band, his own concept, Paul McCartney releases a new solo album which explores his 64 years of memory.

But, interestingly, he appears to have forgotten about EMI, the company associated with him and The Beatles since the beginning and, instead, assigned this album to a label that's part-owned by Starbucks.

Is McCartney's music now a side-order to a sandwich? Or is it once again the main course?

While he expertly tapped into the King's Road/ Haight Asbury zeitgeist in 1967, we don't expect McCartney to nail the mood of the times these days.

He playfully acknowledges this by sticking a comfy armchair on the album cover. This is the first sign that this isn't simply a throwaway collection or mere contract filler...

More at link.