Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Here's an aimless ramble for you. It was George Harrison's birthday yesterday. Well, it would've been his 70th if he wasn't dead, but it was his birthday nonetheless. Here's something to churn the ol' stomach: for Christmas last year - that is, the one we experienced roughly 2 months ago - I recieved a copy of the Beatles remastered stereo vinyl box set (it was probably has a fancier or perhaps simpler name than that, but that's what I know it as). Here's the catch: I asked for a copy of the thing, requested it, even! I have always, or at least since the days that I started developing some sort of individual taste w/ a liking for some things and a dislike for others - dug the Beatles. I have a number of friends who hold such a strong disliking for the band that you can't even mention their name without detecting a wince of displeasure on the face of the recipient. It's as if you just offered them a turd on a plate. You can see them being physically repelled at the mere thought of the Fab Four. I understand the idea of being repelled by something one finds incredibly unpleasant. For myself, musically speaking, there's likely a plethora of musical artists who bring me no pleasure whatsoever and they're multiplying by the day, but an example of a band who, for perhaps reasons unknown, truly repel me would be the Pixies. There is perhaps no rational explanation for my loathing of this group. They are, after all, merely a smug, pedestrian college-rock band who wrote and played some ordinary songs, had every music critic under the sun kissing their collective anus for this feat, mercifully split and have come back in recent years to collect their pay cheque. Nothing to get upset about, really. It's just the ass-kissing which gets me. REM received their fair share of butt-reeming back in the day, too, but I'll admit a weakness for some of their earlier songs, so it doesn't upset me. So where am I going with all of this? At this pace, nowhere. This post isn't about the Pixies, so let's switch subjects. Some critics would claim the same offence regarding the Beatles: the overwhelming opinion of clueless dilletantes who hail them as the saviours of Western Music as we know it, or, perhaps worse, the saviours of rock & roll, a claim which boils the blood in some.
My opinion resides elsewhere. I would state first and foremost that the Beatles were one hell of a band - four individuals writing and recording and playing their own material like a unique, semi-hermetic, organic unit - and would also claim that the band didn't so much "save" rock & roll so much as they reinvigorated and redefined it in the same way that many of my favourites did in the mid '70s and early '80s did. Prior to making my way through the vinyl box set I received - a handsome beast containing all of their studio LPs in original UK form, as well as the Beatles Masters 2LP set and a hefty coffee-table book on the band - I was only in possession of four of their LPs: Rubber Soul, Revolver, The White Album and Abbey Road. I sold my CD copy of Sgt. Pepper's about 15 years ago, for the peculiar reason that I decided I "didn't like it". It was, in fact, the Beatles LP I always dismissed as over-rated (it is, but subsequent recent listens to it have me thinking it's still a really good slice of British psychedelic pop). I've made my way through the lot, and I'm not about to bore the piss out of everyone reading this w/ an album-by-album rundown, so don't run just yet. The biggest surprise so far has been how much I really dig Let It Be, the band's last album from 1970 when they were falling apart at the seams, eschewing psychedelia for a rootsier approach and growing atrocious facial hair. The best track is here. It's an excellent record which sees the band ensconced in a pastoral retreat.
I've also been reading Rob Young's weighty tome, Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain's Visionary Music. I'm only about 150 pages into it (it's over 600), but so far it's been a revelatory guide through the world of 19th/20th-century British composition (Arnold Bax, Peter Warlock, Ralph Vaughan Williams, etc.), mid-20th-century Brit-folk (Ewan McColl, Shirley Collins, Davey Graham, Watersons) and now it's drifting into the world of Bert Jansch, Jon Renbourne, Fairports, Pentangle, Incredible String Band, Donovan and will hopefully take me soon to Comus and Jan Dukes De Grey. There's more to the book: the '80s and beyond are represented by Limey fruits such as Kate Bush, Talk Talk and David Sylvian (three fruits I like), the crux of the narrative being one in awe with a particular, eccentric strain of Britishness to be found within various artists of the past 100 years. Late-period Beatles are duly noted in this "pastoral" approach (or bucolic: the repeated use of this previously unknown term to me had me reaching for Wikipedia immediately), particularly Paul McCartney's retreat to the countryside both literally and within his music. Some creedence is given to McCartney's first couple of solo LPs - a stance several friends of mine have similarly taken over the years, and I still can't tell if they're being ironic or not - and whilst this fact may send a shudder down your spine, I will be listening to these albums before I drop dead.
But back to George. He released three incredible solo albums early in his career, and then went onto a lifetime of mediocrity (or worse). 1982's Gone Troppo is one of the most staggeringly terrible things he ever laid to tape, if not the worst. You can hear it here. It really does exist as if punk never happened. But still, Harrison released his Wonderwall Music LP in 1968 on Apple when the Beatles were still a going concern. It's the soundtrack to a film no one I know has ever seen (or possibly cared to see), though the music (hear it here: you might thank me this time) is a great mixture of Indian tonalites and freeform instrumental psychedelic rock. His old pal, dickhead Eric Clapton, plays guitar throughout, but that's no reason to dislike it. He also released a particularly fruity experimental electronic LP in 1969 (yes, the Beatles were still going!) by the name of Electronic Sound, two sides of formless moog noodling which is a great bonghit blissout (listen here). In 1970 he released his first album "proper" (well, not really, but others see it that way): All Things Must Pass, an epic 3LP set produced by Phil Spector. I bought the vinyl reissue when Harrison croaked in 2001 and everyone was posthumously singing its praises. I figured I could go wrong, but I took the gamble. It remains, along w/ John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band (Yoko's Plastic Ono Band and Fly remain the greatest Beatles-related records ever, but I've spoken about them before, and last time I checked, Yoko was never actually in the Beatles), the best solo album by any of the members of the Beatles, and I say that without ever having actually heard McCartney's Give My Regards to Broad Street record. Its mixture of the quiet, bucolic (zing!) folk and the Wagnerian Wall Of Sound is, like, quiet/loud 15 years before the fucking Pixies! My favourite song from the album is here. Anyway, apologies for this post - I'll talk about punk records next time - but you really should fucking listen to the Beatles.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Back in the saddle soon... I received the latest issue of The Wire magazine at work today. That's right: my workplace has a subscription to The Wire magazine. Is that fucking crazy or what? Yes, it is, but as I've said in a couple of posts in recent times which you've likely glanced over and ignored, I am enjoying once again reading a paper & glue music magazine, even one w/ its head firmly placed up its rectum. The fanzine has gone the way of the dodo, and for toilet reads, that leaves me w/ MOJO, The Wire and, when a man gets desperate, Uncut. The latest issue features Swedish sax-blower Mats Gustafsson on the cover (I like what he does), and several other goodies scattered throughout - a Little Annie Invisible Jukebox, a piece on Topic Records by the Trembling Bells' [the finest outfit in Limeyland today] Alex Nielson, a piece of fluff on some idiot called Ergo Phizmiz, and more - but what caught my eye was the "primer" on US Hardcore. It had to be done, if only because it had to be done. Penned by Peter Shapiro, a name w/ a recognition factor but not much beyond that (at least to me), it'll give the chin-scratchers a brief diversion into a music form which is set to reach nostalgia overload within the next 12 months, but hey, I'm a nostalgic guy. Whatever the case, I don't hate what he wrote; in fact, I like a great deal of it. He covers most of the essentials (Black Flag, Bad Brains, Minor Threat), gives the DC and Boston scenes a nod and tip of the hat, allows generous space for the leading lights of Texan 'core (Dicks/Big Boys) and the midwest (Fix/Necros/Die Kreuzen/Negative Approach), seems quite dismissive of NYHC in general (a prejudice which I concur w/ wholeheartedly) and more besides (Husker Du, Minutemen). Dead Kennedys and Flipper? Nowhere to be seen. I guess you can't be all things to all people. Why NYC sportswear enthusiasts Judge get an entry remains a curious fact. Whatever. The Wire is on the occasional newsstand, and you could find worse ways to spend a few hours of your life than read it cover to cover.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

What a mighty strange time it's been lately for Black Flag fans. I assume that if you are reading this right now, you count yourself to be one of them. If not, boy, are you in for one uninteresting slog if you pursue reading this post. As many of you know, there's been a series of bizarre developments...
Ex-members Keith Morris, Chuck Dukowski and Bill Stevenson - and now I'm told Dez Cadena is on board - and Descendents (a band who played here in Melbourne last night for the first time at the shitawful and far-too-big Festival Hall - I passed, despite my love for their '80s works) axeman, Stephen Egerton, have come together under the name "FLAG" to play the songs of, yes, I hope you guessed it, Black Flag, as a good-time/let's-party-the-fuck-down live act. They've been booked to play some high-profile festival shows throughout Europe and Las Vegas in the northern Spring. Given that singer Morris was just this week hospitalised and has apparently fallen into a diabetic coma, I'm assuming that the shows are currently in doubt. I saw Keith sing w/ OFF! just a couple of weeks ago, and, despite some friends of mine grumbling about his incessant ranting in between songs (and his remarks about the Vietnam War - "You guys know about this war? Were you guys involved?" Puh-leeeze!! - was deemed an unforgivable slice of classic Amerikan ignorance on some attendees' behalf), I placed myself front and centre, "pogoed" and even "slammed" and had a very pleasant night indeed.

And then there's Greg Ginn's new "band", Good For You (another terrible project name for the man), featuring himself and pro skater, Mike Vallely (or Mike V.) on vocals. Mike sang for Black Flag's disastrous Ginn-organised LA benefit show 10 years ago. You can hear a track here. The word from some quarters is that it's the most outrageously rockin' thing Ginn has done since the demise of BF in 1986. There's hardly any competition, although I will admit a fondness for the first couple of Gone LPs (when Gone was actually a "band") and that first Jambang disc of his a few years ago, a pretty cool blend of organic, minimal psychedelia complemented by Ginn's torturous guitar outbreaks (reviewed here). Good For You have recorded a debut album, naturally to be released on SST, and will play a number of shows throughout the US during the same period Flag has shows booked in Europe. The track featured in the link, "Blaze Of Glory", sounds more like Bl'ast! than Black Flag to these ears - slightly constipated and not fully rocking w/ the abandon it could - but I don't dislike it either. I'll keep an open ear and mind for the full-lengther.

And then there's... Black Flag. Black Flag 2013. Yes, Ginn is "getting the band back together", Blues Brothers style. Well, sort of. He's collaborating w/ the sole ex-member of the band who'll have anything to do w/ him - Ron Reyes - and going by his old band's name. Two others will be involved, a rhythm section featuring a possible guessing game of contenders - "Dale Nixon" (I'm told that certain clueless music journals even came to the dopey conclusion that Dave Grohl was playing bass, as he jokingly played on a Melvins record over 20 years ago under the Ginn-penned pseudonym. Ergo sum whatever) and possibly legendary skin-hitter, Robo - but probably the most disturbing element of this story is Ginn's promise that there will be a new "Black Flag" album by year's end. I can hardly wait. I haven't been this eager to hear a record since The Weirdness. Why has Ginn taken this unprecedented move? After years of bemoaning punk rock nostalgia and bumming everyone out with decades of unlistenable vanity projects which next to no one on earth has cared about, I can only surmise that it involves spite and money. If I'm wrong, Mr. Ginn, then please correct me. The man has few friends left in the music biz, and few have any good words to say of the man in the 21st century, despite his admirable and indeed Herculian musical achievements in the 1970s/'80s. The prospect of "Flag" playing some high-profile shows and probably pocketing a pretty penny for their efforts didn't upset my sensibilities for a nanosecond; after all, Cadena, Morris, Dukowski, Stevenson and Egerton likely all got royally screwed by Ginn back in the day (and continue to do so), and the first three names mentioned I rate as the coolest mofos who ever passed through the 'Flag door. Am I gonna begrudge their desire to rock it again in '13? No.

So where does all of this lead us? Absolutely nowhere. It leaves us with Hollywood stars like Ryan Gosling strutting around town in Black Flag fashion shirts. That's OK, I think he's a fine actor and actually has a background in "indie rock", so maybe he's a fan for real. There are real issues in this life to be mortally offended by. It just means that no one is immune from nostalgia: certainly not me and not even those who claim to disdain it. Ironically, there's an interesting article here in Forbes(!!) magazine detailing the different Black Flags making headways in 2013. Everything you once loved will be whored out for cash at some point in time, and you just gotta deal with it. The struggles of the '80s are over, and now it's time to make some money. I guess it beats "clocking in" 9 - 5.