Which Way EP--PC Music (711 8th Ave. San Diego CA, 92101)
Magnet's debut album Don't Be A Penguin got a decent amount of attention largely due to the fact that legendary Velvet Underground drummer Moe Tucker played drums on the whole thing, but Magnet is singer/songwriter/guitarist Mark Goodman's show. This between-album EP doesn't have Moe on it, instead featuring producer Matt Wilson, and consequently the EP takes on a more Beatlesque vibe as opposed to the album's vaguely VU feel--the title track of the EP especially so. The songwriting of Which Way is slightly improved from the more primitive garage-pop of Penguin, but I'd still have to say that I prefer the sound of the band with Moe to the more studio-bound EP. Never fear, though, Moe is reportedly returning for the upcoming second Magnet LP, and if Goodman can keep the quality of the consistency of the songs consistently high he might really have something really worthwhile.
"Rock Like A Phoenician!"--Dirty Records (PO Box 6869, Glendale, AZ 85312-6869)
This short (9 tracks, about 15 minutes) live CD by Phoenix's Mandingo is recorded in kind of murky sounding lo-fi, contains a fairly common sort of punk rock, a sort of amateurish one at that. So why does "Rock Like A Phoenician!" kick the ass of 99% of punk rock records released this year? Two words: it's real. This is real, raw, and punk as hell. The CD commemorates the huge party that was the setting for the recording, complete with photos from the event and thanks to everybody who helped--they don't even know the name of the girl who did the cover art for them! You can practically smell the beer-soaked environment, and though the sound isn't what you'd get at, say, a U2 concert it's more than adequate to convey the power of the performance and it's got to be relatively close to what you'd have heard as a participant at the party. If you drink a cold one at home and spill it on yourself you'll feel like you're there. Sure, it's not going to change the world, but it can help provide a vicarious good time. What the hell else can you ask of a punk rock record?
Mezzanine--Circa Records Ltd./Virgin Records America, Inc. (338 N. Foothill Rd., Beverly Hills, CA 90210)
Word from behind the scenes of the new Massive Attack album is that the three principals--Grant "Daddy Gee" Marshall, Robert "3D" del Naja, and Andrew "Mushroom" Vowles--recorded their parts separately, never interacting as a unit. This is never a harbinger of good things to come for a band (the final Spacemen 3 album was patched together this way), especially for an act that tours, and signifies a congruent inability to agree on the direction of the music the group is producing. Mezzanine, the Bristol UK-based outfit's third full-lengther, bears the scars from the members' increasingly divergent views in its moody grooves, which often drift along aimlessly for minutes at a time unable to hold the listeners' attention, despite excellent production and warm, intimate sound. The central trio is aided and abetted this time around by Cocteau Twins vocalist Elizabeth Fraser, who adds her voice to several tracks here, as well as several instrumentalists, vocalists, and guests, but the contents of Mezzanine never really seem to coalesce into much of anything. The sparse rhythm loops and keyboard swells are often the only memorable elements in the tracks, and too few of them add up into complete songs--the primary exception being the second track, "Risingson", which features a brief sample from the Velvet Underground classic "I Found A Reason" and stands out head and shoulders above the other tracks in terms of quality. Most of the signs would seem to point to a band on the decline, though, and there's precious little on Mezzanine to contradict that notion.
The Mayflies USA – The Pity List (Yep Roc Records, www.yeproc.com)
Pleasant but familiar-sounding four-guys-two-guitars-bass-drums-loads-of-harmonies pop-rock, basically a lot like recent Teenage Fanclub. Sugary but this shtick is just too old to be very interesting without a few twists. This thread of music has gotten far to watered down after getting passed through the Beatles, Byrds, Badfinger, Big Star, dBs (whose Chris Stamey produced, all the better for the Mayflies to lay claim to the crown) et al ad nauseum. Maybe you’d dig ‘em if they were nearby but amongst the pack they disappear without unique features--like the last couple of Teenage Fanclub albums. I sure liked that band better when they rocked a bit in the Crazy Horse vein. Now they just follow the formula every time out. Guess that spirit left the band without original drummer Brendan what’s-‘is-face. Ah well. --Aaron J. Poehler
MC5 – Human Being Lawnmower: The Baddest & Maddest of the MC5
Total Energy Records
What? You don’t know who the MC5 were? You’d better recognize…the MC5 are the band that set the tone for revolutionary rock music. The MC5 are the band that later groups like the Clash and Rage Against The Machine pretended to be (note for young revolutionary wannabes: when the revolution comes, it’s most likely not going to be distributed by Sony). RageATM even covered the MC5’s “Kick Out the Jams” on Renegades, their swan song covers album.
However, even those of you familiar with the genius of the MC5 may be shaking your heads over Human Being Lawnmower, saying to yourselves—“Wasn’t there already an MC5 best of? Called The Big Bang!: The Best of the MC5?” You get the gold star: The Big Bang is indeed an absolutely essential overview of the MC5’s regrettably brief recording career, including most of the highlights from their three official albums fleshed out with a few great rarities. Human Being Lawnmower functions as something of a companion to The Big Bang, in that it collects peak points from some of the dozens of posthumous MC5 releases alongside a selection of previously unreleased tracks (to make the disc a must-buy for the MC5 fanatics, natch). While it’s not as front-to-back amazing as The Big Bang by any means, Human Being Lawnmower is highly recommended to all those who have already fully digested the contents of The Big Bang and are eager to check out more, but perhaps find themselves daunted by the plurality of posthumous discs.
Among the treasures Human Being Lawnmower serves up are a variety of studio outtakes, live cuts, and demos, augmented by extensive and comprehensive liner notes by former MC5 manager and guru John Sinclair—yes, the same John Sinclair that John Lennon wrote a song for, exhorting the authorities to “set him free” (Sinclair had ostensibly been arrested and jailed for marijuana possession, though some claim the incarceration had more to do with his then-radical “White Panther” politics than his choice of smoking materials). Sinclair also selected the tracks for the CD, on the whole keeping a good balance and selection of the MC5’s less-available material—the only questionable inclusion is an otherwise unreleased guitar-only demo of Fred “Sonic” Smith’s “Over & Over”, which doesn’t really do the song justice, though it does highlight Smith’s six-string skills and brings out the attractive harmonic structure of the song, somewhat buried in the full-throttle foot-stomping raveup of the final version (which is, yes, on The Big Bang).
Not convinced? Sigh…people today, so cynical. Okay then, check it out for yourself by downloading a free track from Human Being Lawnmower at http://www.alive-totalenergy.com/mc5.html: a live version of “Motor City Is Burning” taken from the October 1968 concerts that were recorded for the MC5’s first album, Kick Out The Jams. If the guitars on this cut don’t rock you, you might be dead. Or deaf, anyway.
self-titled--PC Music (711 8th Ave., San Diego, CA 92101)
Method 51 is a power trio in the Rage Against The Machine vaguely political rap-metal mold; their self-titled debut includes ten tracks in an brief thirty-minute burst, featuring lots of bellowing by vocalist/guitarist Billy Grey while rhythm section Jeff Triece and Kelly Rodgers keeps the beat jumping. Their aims seem as noble as any and they certainly come off as dedicated to this specific (very specific) type of music, but it doesn't help that the funkiest vocalist Grey seems to be familiar with is the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Anthony Kiedis and the riffs get pretty samey very quickly. By the midpoint of the half-hour CD the whole shtick has gotten tiresome--basically it comes across as through the band has one song they play in various arrangements, and they're unable to come up with enough variations to keep the formula interesting. It's hard to see how they're going to make a career out of this when they seem to exhaust the possibilities of this music on an EP--what on Earth are they gonna do for a full-lengther? Adding a wider variety of influences would seem to be the only option, but in the meantime their best bet would be to line up the opening slot on a Rage Against The Machine tour.
The Steve Miller Band
King Biscuit Flower Hour Presents The Steve Miller Band
(King Biscuit Flower Hour Records/Razor & Tie)
For better or worse, Steve Miller is the kind of musical artist whose star rose and fell with his hits: fortunately, those hits were catchy enough to make him a huge seller during his mid-70s heyday, and his greatest hits collection from that time period is still a strong catalog seller even today—though these days, one has to wonder how many kids of a certain age are more familiar with Homer Simpson’s rendition of “The Joker” than the original.
Still, tunes like “Fly Like An Eagle” have retained a certain unique quality over the years, to the degree that even the casual listener might be interested in checking out this archival release, containing two different concerts: a 1973 show from Washington, D.C., and a 1976 concert at New York City’s Beacon Theater. Both concerts were recorded slightly before the peak of Miller’s popularity, so some of his best-known ‘70s hits like “Jet Airliner”, “Take The Money And Run”, and “Rock’N Me” are missing; however, you do get sharp renditions of songs like “Space Cowboy”, “The Joker”, “Living In The USA”, and two versions of “Fly Like An Eagle”, one of which dates from before the song’s recording and features a different arrangement from the final version.
Besides “Eagle”, there’s no overlap in material between the two concerts, so both discs together effectively work as one long listening experience—and the quality is so consistent that if you hadn’t been told you might not even notice that the lineup of Miller’s backing band is completely changed between the two shows. The recording quality is good throughout, especially considering these shows were recorded for radio broadcast over twenty-five years ago. While admittedly it would have been nice to hear all the hits here, that’s what 1983’s Steve Miller Band: Live! is for; plus, with this set, you get new liner notes by Miller, plus endorsements by Paul McCartney and Les Paul—not bad company for a guy who Miles Davis once referred to as a “sorry-ass cat” and a “non-playing mother****er”.
Monks – Five Upstart Americans (Omplatten, PO Box 230712 Ansonia Station NY NY 10023, www.omplatten.com)
Ninety-nine out of a hundred times when I hear some musician say in an interview that some set of demos is better than the album, I tend to believe it, as much as anything because of the lure of the untouchable: I can’t get this, therefore it must be better than what I can get. I think there’s something seriously wrong with me. But anyway, that’s not your problem (unless of course it is), and this is a record review, and the Monks’ demos album Five Upstart Americans rivals their only pukka release Black Monk Time for prepunk insanity and harsh 60’s pop-rock that’s fairly indescribable, but imagine a cross between the Troggs and the Stooges and the Kingsmen and, um, the early Clash, I guess. Now think funnier. I already knew I’d like this since it’s the Monks and Black Monk Time kills, but the pleasing surprise was that the versions of the songs are actually significantly different than the originally released versions, ‘cause often when you actually hear the ‘demos that were supposedly better than the album’ they just sound like lower-fi, unfinished weaker versions. Not the case here: this album actually presents an earlier, alternate version of the Monks, effectively an unreleased first chapter to Black Monk Time, which tells their musical journey from the middle (the original BMT album) to the end (the compromised, half-Monkmusik/half-pop post-LP singles). Here you have the beginning in the Five Torquays’ pre-Monks single and the demos that comprise the bulk of the album, recorded (as most demos are) in an attempt to get a contract. I suppose the reunion live album which I have yet to purchase is the postscript, to stretch this tortured analogy to the limit. I’m pleased this disc won’t just be a collectors’ curiosity on the shelf for research and completism purposes, but is as likely to get stuck in the player as the ‘properly-released’ album. And oh yeah, I paid for this album too, which proves I’m not just a spoiled music critic, right? No, it does nothing of the kind, and it’s patently obvious that musically I’m as spoiled as they come without actually making any money. Anyway, you should buy this album too. --Aaron J. Poehler
MUSHROOMHEAD: XX: CD
Okay, I figured, hey, band named Mushroomhead, maybe they got it from the Can song, right? Guess not. This band looks exactly like Slipknot, masks and all, only they have eight guys instead of nine. Apparently there’s some dispute which band of the two was the first with the image, but I can’t say I give a shit—either way it’s pretty corny. Basically if you’re at all into Slipknot maybe it'd be worthwhile you check this out. I personally have a low tolerance for the kind of thing where guys in the band give themselves dumbass names like “Gravy” and “Shmotz” and “Stitch”, but hey, maybe if you’re a thirteen-year-old goth guy this seems like the coolest shit in the world, I don’t know. It just seems stupid to me. Note: cover of “Empty Spaces” by Pink Floyd scores new high on pointlessness meter. –Aaron J. Poehler (Universal)