It was music's biggest week, according to some reports--and indeed it was!
Said reports, of course, were referring to this Sunday's Grammy Awards ceremony, and from what I saw of it, things seemed agreeably ho-hum. Amy Winehouse's performance was groovy, and getting Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard in front of cameras once more with John Fogerty was a nice touch--though probably of interest to about one-billionth of the number of people interested in Kanye West's latest haircut.
But in fact the biggest musical event of last week took place in Los Angeles on Tuesday night, when the legendary Blue Cheer took the stage of the Knitting Factory and played such classics as "Summertime Blues" and "Doctor Please" and, as is their wont, turned the very air to cottage cheese! Having seen them a few times in their original configuration back in the '60s, I must in all candor confess they now look strangely older--but sonically, they were better than ever!
Perhaps if NARAS had dumped that Alicia Keys/Frank Sinatra thing and opened their show Sunday night with a rousing version of Blue Cheer's "Out Of Focus," the record industry's present-day woes would be a thing of the past and we could be a happy nation once more! But, sadly, now we'll never know!
Well, guess I'll get off my soapbox!
Michael Jackson: Thriller (25th Anniversary Edition) (Epic/Legacy) Enough time has passed by now to approach this massive-selling superdisc with a fresh set of ears--which is no small thing--and when we do that, guess what? We decide that Thriller is a pretty fantastic album after all, and that no one--especially Michael Jackson--had ever been able to successfully recapture its magic ever again. Though most of civilized man has by now probably memorized every measure of "Billie Jean" and "Beat It," the freshness of tracks such as "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" and "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)" still makes your hundredth listen a refreshing experience. That said, the extra tracks here--with the exception of the previously unreleased "For All Time" from the original album sessions--are hugely unnecessary. Featuring contemporary artists like Akon, will.i.am, Fergie, and the wearying Kanye West--all of whose music is dwarfed by this record--joining in for "2008" versions of several tracks, we've essentially got a marketing pander-fest going on here that will seem even more laughable in just a few years, when nobody remembers who these clowns were in the first place. But at least they dressed nicely!
Simple Plan: Simple Plan (Lava/Atlantic) Enormously popular and yet fascinatingly dull at the same time--no, wait, make that annoyingly dull--these lovable Canucks now return with their third album, some exciting ringtone news, and associations with "Timbaland associate" Nate "Danjahandz" Hills and Max Martin--whose production and songwriting expertise has made living legends of the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears! Sounds great! Incredibly, on Parallel World A, their Simple Plan will note the irony of their band name, record 10 variations of the Godfathers' late-'80s hit "Birth, School, Work, Death," and garner the best reviews of their life!
British Sea Power: Do You Like Rock Music? (Rough Trade) Back for their third attempt to become the best-selling band in the entire world--hey, let's call a spade a spade--U.K. rock combo BSP, who have always been pretty good, have recorded their best album to date! If you like rock music, prove it by taking the guys up on their daunting challenge and buying this album!
Various Artists: The Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 9: 1969 (Hip-O Select) When all is said and done, it comes down to this: You could've downloaded that new Radiohead album for free, then pocketed the 80 bucks you were planning on spending on the "deluxe" version and putting it toward this fabulous 148-track collection of Motown tracks from the glory years of 1969! Featuring great tracks and B-sides by Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Edwin Starr, Diana Ross, the Jackson 5 and Soupy Sales, it's 6 CDs' worth of golden sunshine, glorious ecstasy, and blue cheer--and a dream-come-true for anal retentives and compulsives alike! Heck, these guys influenced Beyonce!
Various Artists: Droppin' Science: Greatest Samples For The Blue Note Lab (Blue Note) While we're on the subject of great reissues, I'm glad current hipster terminology allows for "new marketing opportunities" for classic jazz back catalog--dudes, you can talk about this stuff in terms of how often it's sampled all you want, I'm just glad that there's demand for old tracks by Lou Donaldson, Grant Green and Lonnie Smith, and you should be, too. Consider this an interesting sampler of the massive and fab Blue Note Records catalog, and if you like what you hear, buy it all and start your own sovereign nation! It's fun!
Idiot Pilot: Wolves (Reprise) Is there anything more rewarding than putting on a CD by a group you're only vaguely aware of, pressing the play button, and deciding, "Hey, this Bellingham, Washington combo is suprisingly appealing--I bet that given enough exposure, a significant number of humans would buy this disc and make them very popular indeed"? Yes! Getting a check from the federal government for 10 million dollars or being at one with all of humanity would be more rewarding! But of course, that rarely happens!
The Puppini Sisters: The Rise & Fall Of Ruby Woo (Universal Jazz) You've got to love London's Puppini Sisters! And I mean that quite literally--the orders have been handed down, and the label means business! Luckily, opportunities to witness a 21st century version of the Andrews Sisters are few and far between--in a manner of speaking--and this colorful trio tosses in familiar ditties like "Spooky" and "Walk Like An Egyptian" to make everything seem respectable in the morning. Though nothing here attains the glory of their last album's cover version of the Smiths' "Panic"--truly the way Morrissey wanted it to sound!--I would rather hear this new album by the Puppini Sisters than, say, shop for a school uniform if I had to wear one. And that's not faint praise!
Flo & Eddie: The Phlorescent Leech & Eddie/Flo & Eddie (FloEdCo/Manifesto) A nice repackaging of the first two albums by Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan--the former Turtles vocalists who became better known as Flo and Eddie after a stint with Frank Zappa--these records hold up better than you might think. Especially if you have any opinion about it in the first place! Featuring a nice bunch of originals and fab covers of the Small Faces and the Kinks, these discs are good-natured, melodic, and capable of hurting someone if thrown toward them with sufficient velocity! I suggest sitting back and listening to them, and perhaps calling your mother if you're so inclined!
Bomp!: Saving The World One Record At A Time by Suzy Shaw and Mick Farren (Ammo Books) Finally got a copy of this book, which came out late last year, and I heartily recommend it to fans of music, magazines, great writers, and popular culture. Lovingly assembled from the pages of the historic Bomp! magazine (ca. 1966-1978) and eye-opening in its breadth of coverage and overall editorial open-mindedness, it's a great testament to the devotion and enthusiasm of founder Greg Shaw and a worthwhile package for any fan of pop music. For additional fun, readers can stare at its cover for several minutes then shift their gaze to any nearby white wall!
Robert Pollard: Superman Was A Rocker (Happy Jack Rock) I'm no conspiracy theorist, but the same week that British Sea Power release Do You Like Rock Music? we've got a new solo album by Guided By Voices dude Pollard titled Superman Was A Rocker. Hmmm. Frankly, Green Lantern always seemed like a rocker. Superman always struck me as more of a couch!