Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Best [Rediscovery] of 2007 (3) "With your head held high and your scarlet lies, you came down to me from the open skies..."


you hear a contrail echo in the sky. A distant flight. Then celestial chords. On heaven's own synthesizer. They are spread apart...even, paced, a majestically slow sequence; as if across a greater space. A void. Remote beauty. Cold. A major key’s inevitable descent down the scale. It could be the soundtrack for the stately elegance of humanity's great things collapsing in slow-motion. The booster rocket drops away, the capsule escapes the bonds of gravity for only a moment and then tragedy's televised burst of flame for eternal replay. Little rills of sequenced notes running alongside this; remoras swimming in a great white's rippling wake.

It's that quaint twentieth-century fear: civilization's eventual decay. That timeless teen-age preoccupation: the adult world is not going to be what I need it to be.

And then: a voice.

“Just on the border of your waking mind,
there lies another time

Where darkness and light are one.
And as you tread the halls of sanity
You feel so glad to be
Unable to go beyond.
I have a message from another time”

What is it about the vocoder? Ensnaring the sound of human speech in some mechanized parody of self? More importantly, what is it about the teenage male and robots? All those Transformers and RoboCops and Terminators and other clanking, lumbering, destructive, unlovable things? But when the robot is of a feminine gender...here's where you'll find the under-the-mattress dreams of pulp and porn: Cherry 2000, Blade Runner, Maria of Metropolis, Tin Lizzy. The design of desire.

Maybe some social psychologist can help me figure this one out.

“I have a message from another time”

1981 is not the year for concept album rock. Sure, Pink Floyd has rolled like a juggernaut into the new decade with their double-disc misogynistic bit of boomer self-pity. But it's the movie holding this one together, along with countless Laserium shows in all those science museums turned party zones for the night. (And what teenager isn't going to buy a song with a chorus in piss-poor grammar stating "We don't need no education?" How long did A&R kick that one around in marketing?)

Canny casting of New Wave lion Bob Geldof as "Pink" doesn't hurt either, and he delivers an exceptionally good performance as a self-involved rock star tortured by phone calls home to the wife who *spoiler alert* has this Alan Rickman sound-alike warming her sheets while our boy Pink passes his time in the States with his own 'dirty woman' complete with her American accent; a particularly dim groupie who seems to be unable to process the startling fact that a musician might own more than one guitar.

It's eerie, actually, how good Geldof does this role.

But a nation's worth of laserium nightshows only goes so far in this brave, new decade and the rock concept album is just another skeletal triceratops in the unlit Hall of Geology next door.

“I have a message from another time”

Also, 1981 is the year that cable television will alter the music industry’s landscape forever because it’s the year that...

“I have a message from another time”

By all standards, Xanadu should have been one of the greats. Starring red-hot Olivia Newton John, looking even better than she did during her term at Rydell High only two summers before. Music from one of the leading stadium/prog-rock bands so well known that all that sufficed to advertise their presence in town was an emblem of a jukebox-hued, chrome-fitted spaceship on the concert poster. Beautiful, bronzed, buff Los Angeles setting. A healthy, athletic cast ready for the 80s. New dance craze touted as disco's latest; disco’s best. Missing only the golden touch of producer Robert Stigwood, who previously defined an earlier decade with a single camera shot tracking John Travolta's hardware store-bound ass. Is that where it went wrong?

But, look, you really need to remember that Stigwood had misfired himself a summer or two before with his own voluptuous cinematic mess of Beatle songs and Bee Gee hairstyles. And if Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was the warning shot across concept rock's bow, Xanadu was the poorly mounted cannon that left its carriage on a long, lethal, careening path across all decks. Dragging broken main mast and tangled rigging on its final pitch overboard. Taking nearly all of the passengers and crew to the bottom with it.

How does a respectable rock band crawl back to shore from that?

“I have a message from another time”





sudden freefall back into gravity's pull, asteroid swiftness, a fiery weight burning off in the thickening atmosphere...and none of this celestial chord business either. You get four solid notes. Three notes climbing and then a jump to the fifth in the sequence. Once. Then Twice. A third time. On the fourth repetition, the open sequence closes with a drop from that fifth to the fourth in the set. Once more on the full five to be sure it has your attention. Somewhere along the way you also get drums. Guitars. Rock and Roll.

The last of the great concept rock albums is underway.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Best of 2007 (2) "You've got no eyelids and sweet Ella loves me so..."

Heathrow Airport, once you've made it past the ticketing counter, baggage check and overturned anthill that is the security gate, has its charms. For one thing: alcohol is sold at several venues, including a passably accurate Irish bar, 24/7. The same cannot be said for the airport in Atlanta, as I discovered to my chagrin this last summer.

But, with hours to spare before the trans-atlantic flight home, a round of impulse buys at that HMV kiosk. Email written shortly after on one of the many little "five-online-minutes-for-one-pound/two-Euro" Internet stations:

I'm certainly in the Heathrow terminal bound for San Francisco. Just across from me a group of college-age kids are sharing an acoustic guitar and singing whatever comes into their mind. One of them with beard and bandanna just did the old Four Non-Blonds anthem from the early nineties "What's Going On" ("Twenty five years and my life is still/Trying to get up that great big hill of hope...")-- which I'll admit to liking even after saturation airplay back in the day.

I can't believe I just described the early nineties as 'back in the day!'

Allowed myself a brief shopping spree in the terminal kiosk of HMV records and here's what I scored

--The Fratellis - Costello Music ("Indecently Rousing" says the Independent on the sticker promo and that's good enough for me!)
--Fields - Everything Last Winter ("2007 will surely be theirs" enthuses NME)

Both of these purchased on instinct based on album artwork that they might be worth checking out

and then:

--Sting - Songs from the Labyrinth featuring the music of Elizabethan songwriter John Dowland

From the moment I saw it, I said "But of COURSE Sting would have to do a John Dowland album!" Not that I'm much of an expert there, but Maddy Prior and the Carneval Band did something with Dowland some time ago and it was such a lugubrious track on the otherwise sprightly CD I had to research further. Read up on him in Wikipedia. And now: perfect. Sting. John Dowland. What more could a publicist want?

Off to grab one last pint. The only nice thing about airports is that all proper times for civilization are abandoned and people can breakfast whenever they want, drink cocktails whenever they want, and sleep whenever they want!

Sting? The Fields? Yeah, I think I listened to those CDs a couple of times.

But the Fratellis? Oh yes...

And it's alright, she'll be sucking fingers all night
Wearing those shoes, oh any excuse to go to the gang fight
And oh she's alright, everybody says she's uptight
Sick in the head, first in the bed
So easy to be Friday's wonder

That's what I'm talking about...