Retrospective Foresight

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Location: Roxbury, Massachusetts, United States

Trying to bring some light to the past while igniting the future one album and artist at a time. This was previously attempted as EXODUS IN STEREO, but this time, baby, it's for real. ;-)

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Gene Clark NO OTHER (Asylum) 1974

Great art in its purest form, regardless of the medium it presents itself within, transcends the notions of mortal existence as we perceive it and becomes an immortal abstraction defying description, definition, or explanation. Great art also causes a concrete reaction, be it love or hate, adoration or despisement, praise or condemnation. It does not cause indifference or disinterest, and any art that does might as well be worthless as it is essentially useless.

Great paintings are like this, as are great books, films, sculpture, photography, and great music, be it opera, jazz, hip hop, or rock and roll. Great music moves beyond place and time, as well as point and purpose. Great music has the ability to shift moods, alter mindsets, and affect feelings. There exists a small group of rock and roll albums such as this, among them Starsailor by Tim Buckley, The Idiot by Iggy Pop, Rock Bottom by Robert Wyatt, Tonight's The Night and On The Beach by Neil Young, Pink Moon by Nick Drake, Closer by Joy Division, and No Other by former Byrds frontman Gene Clark.

When Gene Clark recorded No Other in 1974, the world at large was not ready for it. Capturing a certain mood in time that is also explored by Iggy Pop's underrated wasted in L.A. collaboration with James Williamson, Kill City (recorded 1975, released 1977), and Tim Buckley's booze soaked postcard from the depth Greetings From L.A. (1973), No Other is positioned from the point of Clark heading directly into the abyss. Endless pages could be filled the mood and textures of the eight songs that make up the record, but one thing is certain: this is a collection of songs that band together as one to paint a picture of someone standing on the edge, resigned to a destiny and surrendering to a fate that they know is ultimately inevitable. Though by all accounts Clark wrote the record during a positive part of his life, the deep cutting reverberations of darkness that underscore the music and production of the songs themselves cannot be denied. Not that the dark power of the record is necessarily negative, but there is something undeniably strong and frankly scary about what Clark, with his producer Thomas Jefferson Kaye, was able to create in 1974 that had a profound affect on the man who made the record and altered his career for the rest of his life. In a word, No Other was Gene Clark's attempt at making a masterpiece, which he most certainly accomplished, but its failure crushed him and sent him spiraling slowly towards his very sad demise in 1991. It was, as if, Clark knew that his was his last go round, and he gave it his very best shot.

The album starts out deceitfully enough with the seemingly innocent "Life's Greatest Fool", though that title alone already lets you know what you are in for. A pleasant acoustic driven western swagger with chirpy pedal steel, Clark begins the tune in his gorgeous, velvet throated tones with:

Some walk out winner of those who've lost
Can it be said at any price this is the cost
Hard is perception easier is blame
Is this the only life for everyone is it the same?
Children laugh and run away
While others look into the darkness of the day
Some streets are easy while some are cruel
Could these be reasons why man is life's greatest fool?

If you shudder reading those, they are even more jolting when sung by Clark plaintively over the gorgeous backing. Suddenly though, the song explodes into a resurrecting chorus of gospel singers and uplifting surges, with

Do you believe when you're all alone
You held the key to your destiny gone
Do you believe deep in your soul
That too much loneliness makes you grow old

You could easily put these words into a Joy Division song and they would fit perfectly. Though the backing has all of the footstomping power of a Southern Baptist revival, the uneasiness in the words lends a feeling akin to Flannery O'Connor's stories of evil in its all its forms and its relation to the human experience. This is where it starts.

"Silver Raven" follows, a song that became a bit of a signature for Clark, that was in part inspired by his wife. The words seem especially Mishima inspired (practically referencing The Temple Of The Golden Pavilion and The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea) with lines such as:

Have you seen the changing rivers now they wait their turn to die
But they turn their tide upon you when the sea begins to cry

Clark's voice takes on some almost Tuvan throat singing like features as he paints the vivid picture of the song. Some CSNY-like backing vocals appear towards the end, for better or for worse, though the processing on them makes them far more interesting and seemingly projected from out of a sinister transistor radio lost on the ocean.

As reasonably positive as the first song is and contemplative as the second one reveals itself to be, the vortex at the centre of this album opens up with all its mite on the third, the title track of "No Other". Sparse electric piano notes emerge and flicker like distant shooting stars, while the rest of the instruments slowly rustle to attention. And suddenly, with no warning, a single, blubbering black synth note is hit and the whirlpool is suddenly sliced open dead centre. The electric piano picks itself up, the energy rises, and then Gene begins:

All alone you say that you don't want no other
So the lord is love and love is like no other

The F#m thrown into an otherwise normal chord run is what seems to throw this song into a sequence slightly different, causing the disturbing undertones of imbalance that belie the song. All the same, though, there are no words that can be written or emotions that can be expressed that can explain or even describe that first minute of the song. The "reverberating darkness" expressed, a sorrow hinted at, and a profound sense of fate are all there. The mood holds throughout, even when the song begins to gallop and groove to a close, with Joe Lala's percussion going wild over the deep throes of bass and synth.

"Strength of Strings" closes the first side on a somber note, soaring soulful female backing vocals and affected electric and acoustic guitars leading the way in pensive figures. Clark sounds like he is already starting to give way, reflecting upon his state of being that proves to be imbalanced in a way, with admissions such as:

On the cosmic range
I am always high
I am always low
There is always change

But despite all of this, the side still ends on an indeterminate note.

And that is just the first side. The next four songs take us further down into the abyss, with "From A Silver Phial", which was apparently inspired by a very bad night of too much cocaine, leading the way. The 8 minute plus "Some Misunderstanding" sounds like a grand confession of surrender, doubt, and the end of the road. More Joy Division comparisons can arise here, especially with lines such as:

We all need a fix
At a time like this
But doesn't it feel good
To stay alive

Is Clark talking about getting high, or is he talking about not getting what you need? Is Clark asking the question about living, or is he looking for agreement? You can see him being in between, flying high in the Southern California air in the middle of some night, wondering just that. The music flows along in a piano-led determination, never quite resolving itself, though Clark does offer up the following:

If you sell your soul to brighten your role
You might be disappointed in the lights

Man...oh man. Say what you will about success, and how too many folks in the limelight take it for granted or complain about it too bitterly. One must remember, however, that Gene hadn't really had any in a long time.

"The True One" is the most country of the bunch, though the words owe a lot more to Charles Willeford and Jim Thompson than they do Louis L'Amour. Bright pedal steel balances out the question "which one is the true one?" while never quite resolving itself.

The gorgeous and beautifully dynamic "Lady Of The North" closes the album. A love song to be sure, the words describe a love and respect so great that they are near heavenly. Chipper piano plays throughout, and despite the fact that one of the figures quotes "Chariots Of Fire" years before Vangelis actually wrote that theme, the song holds up. Cool wah-wah guitar, cello, and violin all blend in to create a sort of other worldly plethora of sound, with some uneasy synth washes painting the underside in questioning tones. The very end of the tune closes in some further synth figures that would re-quote themselves the next year in "Master Charge" on Iggy Pop and James Williamson's Kill City, the last song on that record. In both instances it gives the visual of the figure at question, driving through the night, perhaps on his way towards destiny, or perhaps on his way towards change, but all the same, the resolution as we see it is ours to decide. All the same, the albums ends in the same take no prisoners way as it begins. It is your choice to decide if you want to be encompassed by the sheer mass of its sound and emotion, but even that can be unavoidable at times. No Other is truly one of the greatest records on the 20th century, bar none.

The Rhino/WSM CD re-issue adds an almost complete second version of the album (the Collector's Choice version, ironically and sadly, does not feature any bonus tracks). Early and very basic versions of six of the eight tracks of the album are offered up, all of which demonstrate the degree of change that Thomas Jefferson Kaye's production gave the songs. In some ways, these versions more closely resemble Clark's previous effort, White Light, than anything else. And while some songs are not quite as different, such as "Life's Greatest Fool", others, such as "No Other" and "Lady Of the North", are radically different in their impact. However, despite the simpler arrangements and production, the songs are still gorgeous if not quite as monumental.

Also included as a bonus is a version of Clark's "Train Leaves Here This Morning", first recorded by Clark with Douglas Dillard as part of Dillard & Clark's 1969 debut The Fantastic Expedition Of Dillard & Clark. Why he chose to re-record the tune is not stated nor known, but all the same it is a beautiful version, and a bit more biting than the original version. It would have fit comfortably on No Other, but for whatever reason it was left just where it was. Maybe Gene just didn't want to look back any further.

Gene Clark – No Other
Originally released: 1974
Rhino/WSM Cd re-issue with bonus tracks released: 2003
Produced by Thomas Jefferson Kaye
Engineered by Tony Reale with Joe Tuzen at The Village Recorder, Los Angeles, CA.
Mixed at Wally Heider Recording, Studio D, San Francisco, CA. Engineer: Mallory Earl.

Side One
1. Life Greatest Fool
2. Silver Raven
3. No Other
4. Strength Of Strings

Side Two
1. From A Silver Phial
2. Some Misunderstanding
3. The True One
4. Lady Of the North

Bonus Tracks (Rhino/WSM CD re-sissue only)
1. Train Leaves Here This Morning (Previously Unreleased Outtake)
2. Life's Greatest Fool (Previously Unreleased Alternate Version)
3. Silver Raven (Previously Unreleased Alternate Version)
4. No Other (Previously Unreleased Alternate Version)
5. From A Silver Phial (Previously Unreleased Alternate Version)
6. Some Misunderstanding (Previously Unreleased Alternate Version)
7. Lady Of The North (Previously Unreleased Alternate Version)

Buy new at and new and used at or

Wednesday, August 23, 2006


Mr. Carly Carioli paid a very kind tribute to RF last week (Friday, August 18) on The in his "On The Download: 10 Things That Are Better Than Kelly Clarkson Singing Guns N Roses" he put us at #6 and declared:

"6. Ex-Takers and In-Out homeslice Nick Blakey's new blog, Retrospective Foresight. <--Knowledge jewels by the crate right here. Now if only we could get him to post some mp3s. (Yes, it's true what Nick says in his first post: we passed on RF as a column in the Phoenix. Not because we don't love close-readings of old American Music Club and John Cale albums, but because ultimately we aren't Mojo.)"

Thanks Carly! Truth of the matter is...I don't know exactly how to post mp3's...but I can learn.

Carly does bring up an interesting point here, however, when he states "...because ultimately we aren't Mojo." True, yes, but I don't feel that RF is going for the Mojo crowd. Most of the time when I look through Mojo I sigh and shake my head, especially at their current music reviews. This sort of homogenization of the underground, a place in which Conor Oberst, Ian Curtis, and Roky Erickson all sit entangled, where Forever Changes is the reference point from which all others will be measured and not Love's 1966 debut (which I find to be a far superior album), and where in issue after issue they proclaim the Willard Grant Conspiracy to be the best American band there is, hand down (look, I like Robert Fisher, and used to know him personally, but the man is not re-writing Biblical history as we know it and simply doing his version of Americana...but of course, the Brits just eat up that shit. Hence their feelings for Mark Eitzel/AMC and [gasp] Ryan Adams).

I do realize that the line between what Mojo is doing and what RF is trying to do is thin, but I am not presenting histories and sagas, merely albums. Some of the writing in Mojo is certainly worth reading, especially when they cover subjects outside of the usual underground/indie splee (such as a Uriah Heep tour where John Wetton served as bassist or Sly & The Family Stone's drug nightmares), but the idea of tying it all up in one bundle as good music as opposed
to music in general is where I start to get that uneasy feeling. Obsessive Cantabridgian Tom Waits fans, the born again cult of Mission of Burma, and people over 45 who still believe Lou Reed is capable of churning out another Berlin or even Street Hassle ("he just needs some inspiration"...hoo-boy...) are some of the reasons I tried very hard to disengage myself from all of that. I think I was partially successful in the Chunklet Overrated issues (still no death threats-damn!-though this response is pretty amusing) and book, as well as in my initial condemnation of deliberately lo-fi recordings for EQ (one piece of hate mail-yes!), and I am still not apologetic for the things I wrote in either place (though my estranged father would have been horrified and thoroughly disgusted with what I wrote. If he had not already removed me from his life at that point, he most certainly would have after seeing the family name attached to such vile and unmitigated garbage. I have no idea if he has actually seen the pieces or not...but frankly, it doesn't matter at this point.)

RF is me going the other way. Instead of lashing out at the "overrated", again, we are here to discuss "underrated" and "overlooked" (though Henry Owings of Chunklet once told me felt everything was overrated but even more was underrated...think about that for awhile). Nothing to necessarily build a catalogue of "good music" to, but certainly something to catch your interest and take a few moments to note. In some future essay I want to discuss the concept/idea/Zen proposition of letting the music find you as opposed to you going out to deliberately find the music, and how it has made the "graying of the record store" (in more ways than one) a much easier transition to endure. It certainly has made my music consumption a much more interesting and ever changing place.

Stay tuned...

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Cheap Trick ALL SHOOK UP (Epic) 1980

Maybe it was the heat in Montserrat. Maybe it was the easy access to tons great coke. Maybe it was bassist Tom Petersson's drifitng away from the group (he would quit just before the album came out). Maybe it was the fact that the group may have blown its full wad on their previous four classic studio albums and penultimate live album that so many people seem to only remember the group for even to this day. Maybe it was the sudden word of former tour mates AC/DC's main man Bon Scott's death by misadventure. Maybe it was the presence of George Martin and Geoff Emerick behind the control room glass.

Maybe it was just time for Cheap Trick to drop the ball...but not totally, only slightly.

An album doesn't always have to be a great lost classic to make this list, but merely overlooked...and sometimes simply because it wasn't so great. All Shook Up has been routinely dismissed for a variety of reasons, generally because most site it as the place where the band starts to seriously slide (the resulting crash being The Doctor and the trip through hell beginning with Lap Of Luxury). I, too, wouldn't even go near it until John Powhida of The Rudds encouraged me to give it a shot. I'm glad I did because while it certainly is not one Cheap Trick's best albums, if the paralells with fellow Epic band The Stranglers (of which there are many) are to hold true, then certainly All Shook Up lands squarely head to head with The Gospel According To The Men In Black. Both albums hold a certain charm of their time and place and contain some more than decent material hiding amongst the dreck.

I have an image in my head of two Epic record executives sitting in an office, circa late 1979, the obligatory mirror, razor blades (or Amex cards), eight ball of coke, and rolled up hundred dollar bills between them, double breasted grey suits a-twinklin', discussing what to do with that little rock band from Rockford who had done so well so far...though that last one, Dream Police, hadn't done quite as well. Shall we proceed? Let's!

So, ah, what do you think we should do with the boys this time around? the first one asks.

Eh, you know, dey, ah, dey don' wanna woyk wit' Werman again, y'know. Dey say he's too, ah, y'know, pushy. (This gentleman then takes a line of coke and then snorts loudly, rubbing the end of his nose.) Dey say he, ah, don' lissen to what dey 'ave ta say, y'know, as...ah...

Mmmm...well, they have done three albums with him at least. Should we bring back Jack Douglas?

Nah, he fucked himself good wit' dat stupid fuckin' "Go Go Girls" song...I mean, what da fuck was he thinkin', huh? I mean, dat shit don' fly 'round hee-ah, and you know dat. Dat's why we didn' even ba-thah wit' it.

True, true. (This one now takes a line) I say, what about that chap Rundgren?

Mmmmmm...not a bad idea since eye tink two of dem Trickster guys used to, ah, play wit' him or somethin' in dat Spazz.

Oh, right, you mean Nazz I believe. Hmmmmm. Er, um, maybe that is a little too close to nostalgia...or is it? Maybe we should go for something bigger, like my mate Baker, who of course did a marvelous job with that jesse in the leotards.

(Snorts another line) Oh, ah, ya mean Queen? Nah, we don' wanna go dat route...but ya know, I like dat nostalgia trip you was talkin' about. I don' know...what could be even better? Jimmy Millah?

Oh, right, yes, he did the, too much of a liability, you know, carving swatikas into mixing desks and such. I think we could go one bigger. (Helps himself to an even bigger line)

(Starts doing "the drain" while leaning back) Phil Spectah?



Wot? Wot? Whom?


(Snorts an impossibly sized line) Oh my, dear me...well...(long pause)...well, why not then? Do you think we could get Geoffrey Emerick to record it? I mean, the two did do


(Staring at the now empty mirror) Oh yes, yes indeed...I...I think I can see where you're going with all this...

If you take offense to my constant cocaine references, one look at the cover of All Shook Up should give you the answer (and I won't even venture into the "intrepetive" inner sleeve). I mean, just what is going on here? One look at Petersson, in his battleship grey leather boots and an expression of extraordinary indifference on his face, should tell you everything you need to know. I mean, come on, Rick Nielsen's wearing knee pads for crissakes...and what's up with the fucking train? I have also always found it strange that the actual song "All Shook Up" (I'm thinking the Elvis Presley tune here) is nowhere to be found on the album, almost as if they attempted to re-create the 50's cover formula they had with "Ain't That A Shame" (and would do again much later with "Don't Be Cruel") but then decided against it towards the end for whatever reason. Maybe they simply decided that the title All Shook Up best summed up the way they were feeling (being that, amongst other thins, the classic line-up of Cheap Trick had indeed been shakin' up) right then and there...amd they certainly look a little shook up on the cover, that's for sure...well, save for Bun E. Carlos.

The albums gets off to an awesome start with "Stop This Game", hands down the best song on the album despite its obvious lifting from both The Beatles' "A Day In The Life" and The Who's "Underture". A very rough and tumble Robin Zander vocal makes a convincing case for the fact that the madness in the band is being pushed to the extreme ("Well I can't stop the music/I could stop it before/Now I don't want to hear it/Don't want to hear it no more"). The horns might be a bit much, and give early indications as to the troubles of overproduction throughout rest of this album (as if they had finally made the ELO album they had always dreamed of...quite sad for a band that originally owed so much to The Move). "Just Got Back" follows and keeps up the pace with endless drumming from a zillion overdubs and cool hard assed guitar from Nielsen, with Zander barking as if he's doing a reprise of "Gonna Riase Hell" from Dream Police. "Baby Loves To Rock", despite the subversively cheeky delivery of the trying hard to be cute words (an area the band never had to stoop down to before), still makes it with a killer chorus. "Can't Stop It But I'm Gonna Try" concludes this four track round with a bit of AM fodder for the Saturday night cruisin' crowd, but it ends the portion of this record on the upswing.

What follows is an exercise in head scratching, for sure, because while Cheap Trick would do far worse than what follows, it is still baffling how all of this did come together (re-read my second paragraph above).

"World's Greatest Lover", with its watery vocal and Nielsen's truly displaced lyrics (referencing sex and, uh, World War I), drags itself down under the weight of its own confused nature (though it certainly holds up better than say that later slice of pure schmaltz "The Flame"). The just plain bad rock robo-operatics of "High Priest of Rhythmic Noise" emabrrassingly illustrates the dangers of doing too many drugs in a very well equipped studio (and Cheap Trick would nail this sort of song concept much better on their next album One On One with "I Want Be Man"). "Love Comes A-Tumblin' Down", though not the cover of the Monks tune of the same name, nonetheless lifts the proceedings a bit and is good, classic basher with Zander's searing delivery. "I Love You Honey But I Hate Your Friends" ain't too bad neither, though perhaps better suited to Rod Stewart than CT. All the same, great rubbery bass, goofy lyrics, and tongue in cheek vocals keep this one off the shit list.

"Go For The Throat (Use Your Imagination)" doesn't live up to the severity of its title, sounding like something The Who might have left off of Who Are You as produced by Val Garay and arranged by Andrew Lloyd Webber. And nothing, but nothing, can excuse the desperate and utterly out of touch "Who D'King", a very poor attempt by Cheap Trick to create their very own sports anthem (or bar band singalong). Not a great note on which to end the album, but then again I suppose it seemed like a good idea at the time...but white line fever has a tendency to do that to people.

All in all, though, the album has a very dark underpinning that was solidly reinforced by Petersson's departure following the sessions (Powhida thinks that Petersson may have also left during the initial sessions in Montserrat, and that most of the bass parts on the album were played by Nielsen). A good deal of the production on All Shook Up is gimmickry and tricks, a bit of the old smoke and mirrors if you will, something boldly pointed out by Trouser Press...and something that Jack Douglas at least didn't have to do with Cheap Trick.

The 2006 Epic/Legacy CD re-issue adds some tasty previously released bonus cuts but sadly no outtakes. Though "Everything Works If You Let It", done for the soundtrack of Roadie, has some great and seemingly Damned-inspired guitar work, the four cuts that make up the Found All The Parts EP are very much the bottom scrapings of the barrel, save for Nielsen' s copping of Jeff Beck's solo in the Yardbirds' "Shapes Of Things" in the (not live, it turns out, but studio faked) version of "Day Tripper". the re-issue liner notes also give a lot of truths to previous lies that doesn't make All Shook Up that much better in hindsight and only makes Found All The Parts that much worse. Still, though, look at it this way: All Shook Up easily beats out Busted or Woke Up With A Monster just about anyday...

Cheap Trick - All Shook Up
Originally released: 1980
Epic/Legacy CD re-issue with bonus tracks released: 2006
Produced by George Martin
Engineered by Geoff Emerick assisted by Tony George (AIR Montserrat) and Nigel Walker (AIR London)

Side One
1. Stop This Game
2. Just Got Back
3. Baby Loves to Rock
4. Can't Stop It But I'm Gonna Try
5. World's Greatest Lover

Side Two
1. High Priest Of Rhythmic Noise
2. Love Comes A-Tumblin' Down
3. I Love You Honey But I Hate Your Friends
4. Go For The Throat (Use Your Imagination)
5. Who D'King

Bonus tracks (CD re-issue only)
1. Everything Works If You Let It (from the Roadie soundtrack)
2. Day Tripper ("Live, Short Version") (Found All The Parts EP)
3. Can't Hold On (Live) (Found All The Parts EP)

4. Such A Good Girl (Found All The Parts EP)
5. Take Me I'm Yours (Found All The Parts EP)

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Thursday, August 17, 2006

American Music Club THE RESTLESS STRANGER (Grifter) 1985

Go ahead and help yourself
If you think you can put me down
You just wanna see a king
Losing his crown
Let's see some justice done
In this dying town
Go ahead and help yourself
If you think you can force one more down

So begins The Restless Stranger, the very first album by what remains to be the truly last great American band, San Francisco's own American Music Club. Obscure even when it was released, the band's debut got lost in the shuffle when AMC became recognized for its later albums [namely Engine (1987), California (1988), and Everclear (1990)], partially because the British and European press, who so revered the group and gave them far more cred than they ever received on their home turf, never really heard the album as it was never issued overseas. A few more folks got to hear it when it made a brief re-appearance on CD when the band were signed to Warner Brothers, but it too soon disappeared. Finding a copy nowadays can be a bit harder than it once was, but though some AMC/Mark Eitzel dismiss the record as a misfire, the good stuff truly rises above the not so good and is well worth seeking out.

The Restless Stranger was released in 1985 after AMC had been around, in varying incarnations, since about 1982. The band at this time included core members Mark Eitzel (vocals/guitar), the truly incredible Vudi (guitar), and Danny Pearson (bass), along with dark star Brad Johnson (keyboards), a key figure in AMC history, and the much underappreciated Matt "Sluggo" Norelli (drums). Produced and engineered by Tom Mallon (who not only also released the album on his own Grifter records, but also would join the band not too much later and continue to produce/record the band through 1989's United Kingdom), the album at times resembles groups such as Translator or even The Motels, but that is merely part of the charm. AMC were still finding their sound at this point, and the politeness exhibited throughout most of the songs is underscored and ghosted by drunken spurts, boiling blood, and exuberant rage. Underneath the slick veneer, shall we say, lies within a most unsteady foundation. Mallon probably knew and saw this, and pushed this particular angle as far as he could.

Parts of this record displays the logical point of sound between evolving out of Eitzel's previous band the Naked Skinnies (whose one single, the impossibly rare "All My Life" b/w "This I The Beautiful Night" [which AMC would play live up until about 1985], is well worth finding and hearing) and AMC's second album Engine. The uneasiness and booze drenched tales displayed on engine aren't in full flower yet, but the evolution is startling. "Room Above The Club" opens the proceedings with a desperate sounding Eitzel singing in his straightest faced voice, yet with an air of unease and displeasure, especially on the chorus "In the room above the club/She cries herself to sleep every night/In the room above the club/Why is it so hard to treat you right?" Images of cheap booze, the wrong kind of people to be hanging out with, and bored Midwest nights abound here. This seeps into the lurching swagger of "$1,000,000 Song", a Jim Beam and Miller High Life two-step taken at half speed but with all intents and purposes intact. Sluggo drops the martial snare rolls and beats wickedly, like Levon Helm with something to prove, as Vudi beats up his guitar with its own whammy bar, oozing Market Street sleaze all the while. "I am the announcer on your favorite show/Why do you try to catch my eye?" Eitzel asks with a leer. There is…no answer to such a question. Following the blurry hangover of "Away Down My Street" (done a bit better as a live bonus track on the WB CD re-issue of Engine), comes "Mr. Lucky", and against some very insistent drumming from Sluggo, Eitzel shouts and spurts, screaming "Hey!/Here is my friend!/I want you to be really nice/'Cause he's an asshole!/Sit down and shut up!" then settles into the slurred first verse of "Mr. Lucky just got my name/Booked me on a flight somewhere…" This preceded on the album, though, by the Simple Minds meets Tom Waits lushness (in more ways than one) of "Yvonne Gets Dumped", candy coated in Johnson's synths but edged along sharply by Vudi's razor guitar.

The next few songs drift by in a haze, as if you're trying to pick yourself up off the floor of a bar after being sucker punched by a drunk with more to prove than you, but then the light shines through again with "When Your Love Is Gone". The disjointed, almost dum-dum, impressionistic lyrics don't foil the gorgeous sounds of the pretty synth washes blending nicely with Vudi and Eitzel's guitars. The kicker of course is when the song breaks down ever so often to highlight Eitzel speak singing, almost at a loss, "When your love is gone/You'll find her in everyone." This is followed by "Heavenly Smile", an older song that precursors the fucked up futuristic country blues of United Kingdom (1989), ushering in the magnificent, monolithic, unheralded, and devastatingly beautiful "Broken Glass".

Mournful keyboards fade up into heavily whammied guitars and desperate bass, all driven strongly by shotgun drums. Eitzel begins, sounding distant and detached:

With an ounce of gold
And an ounce of sand
I'll give you beautiful dreams
I'll give you beautiful dreams

The word at the end of the second line may have been "sand", but it may also have been sage, maybe even sense…Eitzel seemed to change this word every time they played it. No matter, the impact is still the same. These are the transmissions from a desperate soul:

I'll give you the future
I'll give you the past
I'll give you diamonds...

…but he doesn't even finish his thoughts. Growing more desperate throughout the song, Eitzel begins to come apart at the seems, trying to be nice and kindly, but ending up on his knees and in tears:

I'll give you…
I'll give you…
I'll give you…
For your beautiful face
For your beautiful face
I'll give you…
If you think it will do any good
I'll give you…

The pressured wind up and subsequent total emotional release within the course of a single song would become an AMC hallmark, but "Broken Glass" might have been the first place it came together in all the right ways. Simply put: brilliant.

The somber "Hold On To Your Love" winds up the album on a uplifting, though sad, note. Ambient cello and acoustic guitar back Eitzel's softly singing voice, knowing that beyond all this lies something worth living for…perhaps…

Hold on to your love
Though it's just a railing on a balcony
Hold back my tears
There must be no rain on a sunny day
Please sing for me
Keep out the clouds that sit on my shoulder

More than little reminiscent of later Eitzel songs such as "Jenny" (from California) and "The Song Of The Rats Leaving The Sinking Ship" (from Love Songs For Patriots [2004]), "Hold On To Your Love" was the other half of the AMC blueprint drawn up so earnestly on The Restless Stranger.

The Warner Brothers CD added three songs from around the same period of time. "The Restless Stranger", the unused song for which the album was named, is jaunty pogo dance of desperate measures, with Eitzel trying hard to make his point among the chaos, finally allowing himself to be heard when the song eases into a slow simmer, with bubbling synthesizer oozing just below the surface. Though "How Low" proves the truth of the accusations of Eitzel's Joy Division obsessions, the song claims its own territory through Pearson's thick and driving bass and Vudi's eerie guitar. Even the opening lyrics send a bit of a chill up the spine:

Every smile has a silver lining
Running from the dark like a forest fire
In your lost eyes every surprise falls
Just like a dying fire

The CD closes with an alternate version of the California outtake "I'm In Heaven Now" (a radically different, more acoustic version featuring different lyrics and a cello appeared on the Homestead Human Music compilation and AMC self-released comp 1984-1995). Quite possible AMC's most frightening recording, this song is the sound of a single person drowning amongst onlooking spectators and not giving a single shit about it:

I'm in heaven now
Once more I fucked it up
Once more I fucked it up
But I feel nothing

I'm in heaven now
Watch the scenery rushing by
Turn the key in the lie
And I want nothing

I'm in heaven now
Sometimes it's hard
And sometimes it's not
But either way it's nothing

The music that accompanies is auto destruction. The steady drums only hint at the insanity and possession the instruments are going through, with raucous guitars and anarchic bass pounding, bouncing, wailing, and squealing throughout. Controlled chaos to some extent, but then again, isn't that what the song is really about? Eitzel shouts himself hoarse through the end with repeated strains of "Am I drunk enough yet?"

In a word, truly devastating music…but the band would only take it even further from here.

As an aside, there is a superb live recording of AMC at Graffiti's in San Francisco in 1984 that was originally broadcast on KUSF-FM and features many versions of songs from The Restless Stranger, some in some even more awesome versions (particularly "Yvonne Gets Dumped", "Broken Glass" and "$1,000,000 Song"), plus many unreleased tunes (such as the cool "Beggar in Your World" and "Leave You In Every Way". Eitzel and especially Brad Johnson and Sluggo particularly shine on this recording, but the band on a whole just kicks some serious ass. It makes the round of bootlegs, so seek it out if you can.

These two photographs are of AMC absolutely live at Graffiti's, San Francisco in 1985, taken by Scott Alexander, a one time member of an early version of AMC. More of these cool photos from the same night (plus others) can be found at

American Music Club – The Restless Stranger (Grifter)
Originally released: 1985
Warner Brothers/Grifter CD re-issue with bonus tracks released: 1998
Produced and engineered by Tom Mallon

Side One
1. Room Above The Club
2. $1,000,000 Song
3. Away Down My Street
4. Yvonne Gets Dumped
5. Mr. Lucky
6. Point Of Desire

Side Two
1. Goodbye Reprise #54
2. Tell Yourself
3. When Your Love Is Gone
4. Heavenly Smile
5. Broken Glass
6. Hold On To Your Love

Bonus Tracks (CD re-issue only):
1. The Restless Stranger (Previously Unreleased Outtake)
2. How Low (Previously Unreleased Outtake)
3. I'm In Heaven Now (Previously Unreleased Alternate Version)

Buy new at Yahoo! Shopping or used at

Sunday, August 13, 2006

John Cale VINTAGE VIOLENCE (Columbia) 1970

The last thing anyone would have expected John Cale to do in 1970 was to put out a pop masterpiece. However, that is just what he did with his astonishingly underrated debut solo album Vintage Violence. Cale, fresh from his stint (and unceremonious firing by Lou Reed) in The Velvet Underground at their most raunchiest, as well as production for the first self-titled Stooges (Elektra/1969) album and extensive work on former bandmate Nico's horrifyingly beautiful second album The Marble Index (Elektra/1969), churned out not the cacophonous noise he was probably expected to do (though he would do that with his next album, Church of Anthrax (Columbia/1971), in collaboration with avant-garde titan Terry Riley), but rather a reasonably easy going, occasionally lush, always harmonious, downright lovely, and sometimes funny album in collaboration with the NYC band Grinder's Switch (who aren't credited as such), led by Garland Jeffreys, who also contributed the song "Fairweather Friend".

But what of this album? I found a copy on vinyl in a thrift shop a few years ago which I recently passed along to a friend as a thank you for helping me move. He was completely unaware of the album at all, even though he was a big fan of Cale's Island records. He later said to me "why didn't I know about this album?" Cale for many years only performed a few songs off of it in concert, namely "Amsterdam" (which he also performed with Reed at the VU near-reunion at the Bataclan in Paris in 1972. Reed, much to his own, er, something, had some trouble with the chords) and "Ghost Story". More recently Cale has been including "Hello, There" and "Gideon's Bible" in his sets (though when I saw him give a stellar near two hour performance in 2005 at the Middle East in Cambridge he did not play "Gideon's Bible", though I believe that was due to the fact that someone loudly requested it). However, it seems to have slipped through the cracks a bit, being overshadowed by Paris 1919 (Reprise/1973) (which is, in some ways, almost a West Coast version of Vintage Violence), the Island albums, and even many of the albums that came after.

But what of the album? The "melting face" cover notwithstanding (actually Cale behind a glass mask, the mask itself easily viewed in the back cover photo-note that the front cover is not too dissimiler in layout, proportion, and execution to that of Terry Riley's A Rainbow In Curved Air [Columbia/1968/view right]), there's Mr. Cale himself goofily dressed shirtless in suspenders and bow tie (a comment, perhaps, that the VU didn't even leave him with the shirt on his back?), his soon to be ex-wife Betsey Johnson dressed like nothing so much as a Welsh housewife. Betsey is standing on a dartboard, there appears to be an unused pom-pom in front of them, and an empty champagne glass is in evidence as well. Huh?

But what of this album? The record opens with "Hello, There", a jaunty piano driven full band tune with double tracked vocals (slightly out of sync in what was most definitely what Cale wanted) tells the story of his departure from the VU, albeit in the most obsequious terms. "Hooked up on a fishing line/Looking for the break of day/I've never been here before anyway" establishes time and place of the album from the get go. "I'm sorry but I'm much too young for this/I'll come back again next year." The verse that begins "He came to lend a helping hand" is most certainly about Steve Seznick, the VU's post-Warhol manager who Cale many times in print has referred to as a "snake". After getting all of this out of the way, he continues with the almost light pop-jazz of "Gideon's Bible" (featuring some gorgeous viola work from Cale), the goofy "Adelaide", the lush gospel of "Big White Cloud", the silly but cute "Cleo" and "Please" ("Won't you help me please/I'm growing old/A million years ago/Won't you help me sneeze/I've caught a cold/Another way to go") , the somber country-fied music of which sounds like something from The Byrds' Notorious Byrd Brothers (Columbia/1968) album. The proto-Paris 1919 "Charlemagne", and the funky "Bring It On Up", which features some cool honky-tonk fiddle, follow in kind. This is John Cale? Ah yes, and it's all pretty fabulous, and never not entertaining. "Amsterdam" and "Ghost Story" ("Yesterday she bought a new stomach/A Liverpool, made in Detroit") almost go hand in hand with each other, showing some of the dark sing-a-long bar ballad-like weirdness that would crop up again on his three albums for Island (Fear, Slow Dazzle, Helen Of Troy).

The album closes with the soulful toe-tapper "Fairweather Friend", the aforementioned Garland Jeffreys tune, barreling itself to a close. The Columbia/Legacy CD re-issue/re-master from 2001 adds two tracks: an alternate take (but to these ears, rather an alternate, possibly rough, mix) of "Fairweather Friend" and the previously unreleased "Wall", 6 minutes and 7 seconds of multi-tracked violas playing western-tinged reels. Certainly a nod by Cale to what he was about to do on Church of Anthrax, but in some ways also a tip of the hat to his former Dream Syndicate bandmate Tony Conrad. Overall, though, the album works well as a whole, with the songs all joining hands, fingers embraced, rather than cheek to cheek and toe to toe.

Vintage Violence is certainly an anomaly, being that there is no violence to speak of on the record itself and the striking multi-layered production sooths rather than grates. The treble-leaning sound overall is slightly brittle and chilly, though with some depth, not unlike an Italian ice, if you will, or a baked Alaska. All the same, however, Vintage Violence is a little heralded classic that seduces the listener into repeated listenings and endless sing- a-longs. That's probably just what Cale wanted anyhow.

John Cale - Vintage Violence (Columbia)
Originally released: 1970
Columbia/Legacy CD re-issue/re-master with bonus tracks released: 2001 (previous versions of the album appeared on CD in 1990 and 1995 without the bonus tracks)
Produced by John Cale and Lewis Merenstein

Side One
1. Hello, There
2. Gideon's Bible
3. Adelaide
4. Big White Cloud
5. Cleo
6. Please

Side Two
1. Charlemagne
2. Bring It On Up
3. Amsterdam
4. Ghost Story
5. Fairweather Friend

Bonus Tracks (CD re-issue only)
1. Fairweather Friend (Previously Unreleased Alternate Version)
2. Wall (Previouly Unreleased)

Buy new at or buy used at

Friday, July 28, 2006

Welcome To Retrospective Foresight!

Hello, greetings, and welcome to RETROSPECTIVE FORESIGHT!

This completes the manifestation of an idea that I've had bouncing around my head for several years now. I have proposed this concept as a column twice to The Boston Phoenix (May of 2005 and April of 2006, passed over the first time, no response the second when it reached its second stage), once to The Weekly Dig (it still has yet to be proposed to their online site, so we shall see), and as a reoccurring feature to EQ (where it was accepted in slightly altered format by my then editor, Mr. Eugene Robinson, who then left the magazine several weeks later). Though I oftentimes feel as if online "blogs" are the equivalent of a room full of mirrors (or in my less eloquent moments, of which there are many, as I said to The Weekly Dig's Michael Brodeur "I might as well set up a web cam and jack off"), I have finally broken down and discovered that this will be the only way in which I can get this out there. So thus, here you are, here I am, and we are all together...well, at least I'd like to think so.

So, what is RETROSPECTIVE FORESIGHT? Besides being the title of a bootleg album by Todd Rundgren's awesome late 1960's band Nazz (a huge influence on Cheap Trick, among others), this will be a weekly reoccurring feature on albums from the past that have slipped through the cracks. By both known and not so well known artists. I suppose, in a way, this will have me acting in sort of the role of the nearly extinct record store clerk, but in a more "hey you should really check this out" way rather than a too-cool-for-you approach.

The used or specialty record store as we know it is rapidly becoming extinct, though my feelings on this have changed from a feeling of dred and loss to one of acceptance. Some of this is due to rapidly changing technology and such, but some of this also has to do with, if you will, enough is enough. You can only be ripped off or underwhelmed for so long before things finally come around and bite you on, or kick you in, the ass. One antiquated used record store in nearby Cambridge, MA, full of dust, overpriced records in less than great shape, a "we don't play requests policy", and a genuine Boston rock relic behind the counter certainly does have some cool stuff from time to time, but the approach is one of something now quickly becoming a memory and sadly it shows in the tiredness of both clerk and the stock, not to mention the lighting. Though I am sure folks also got tired of going through a middleman to sell their precious pieces of vinyl and CD, only to be told they weren't worth shit and then find them pinned to the wall the following week with an enormous price tag. Business is business for sure, but you can only fool some of the people some of the time. While eBay has certainly improved matters in terms of finding out what your stuff might really be worth and certainly eliminating the middleman, it has also caused the value of other things to become grossly inflated, namely anything related to The Beatles.

One of the first downfalls of some used record stores in this area for sure was applying eBay prices to items in stock. Just because a collector in Japan is willing to pay $100 for a certain obscure 45 does not mean that someone from Somerville will go that same route. These shops also seemed to forget that once that collector slaps down his or her $100 for said 45, the next person on the list might only be willing to go as high as $75. Where does that leave the shop then? Severely out of touch and with a lot of items gathering dust. But let's move on...

As for the music itself, I won't be discussing a lot of horribly rare and obscure psych and garage bands, one shot albums by power pop bands that were only pressed in an edition of 23 and sold at one small shop in Schenectady, NY, etc., but albums such as Gene Clark's No Other, John Cale's Vintage Violence, the self-titled DMZ album on Sire produced by Flo & Eddie, the entire catalogues of Thin White Rope and Swell, Bummed by The Happy Mondays, Law of Ruins by Six Finger Satellite, and Starsailor by Tim Buckley, amongst many others to come.

I've wanted to pursue this idea for awhile now, and while I know not all of these albums are still in print, with the advent of such on-line sites as netsounds, GEMM,, Amazon, Yahoo! Shopping, and, of course, eBay, amongst many others, these albums and CD's can be found fairly easily most of the time. No trends, just good music that may have passed a few folks up.

My decision to go live with this idea came two weeks ago when I walked into our local thrift shop (Boomerangs, still one of the best places to find CD's and vinyl, especially by long gone and forgotten local Boston bands of the most forgotten kind) and realized that the circa 20 year semi-hipster behind the counter was blasting not the pathetic thieved bleats (no, that "l" is supposed to be there kiddies) of Erase Errata or trendy only because they used to play with Gang of Four danceable grind of Delta 5 but none other than Linder Sterling's much-underheard Ludus. Linder Sterling is best known in some circles as doing much of the Buzzcocks' early cover art, and in others for being Howard Devoto's (original singer of Buzzcocks and then frontman of the very late, very great Magazine, of whom we will certainly cover at a later date) then girlfriend. How a young kid, obviously in the know, would shun certain modern bands who endlessly ape (and rape) such odd, older stuff while claiming it to be of the here and now, and listen to the real thing only convinced me that I had to start writing about this stuff NOW and not wait a second longer. At the counter I asked him if he had ever heard or heard of Delta 5 (no), Kleenex (yes), or Lilliput (no), to which I encouraged him to seek them out and then rushed home to put some action to my threats.

You (and especially the local music press, of which now there isn't much) cannot tell me that people do not want to know about this stuff. You cannot tell me that kids don't want to know what came before and does influence what comes now and what is still to come.

You cannot tell me that if this younger generation, who know more about and care more about folks such as Howard Devoto and Linder Sterling than my generation really ever did (because we had grunge, man, and Candlebox and Gruntruck rule!) You cannot tell me that there is not a need to discuss where and from whom groups such as !!!, Radio 4, and Erase Errata stole their chops from verbatim (explored a little further by me previously in the Chunklet "Overrated Records" issues and the just released Overrated Book) and let the kids in on the secret.

You cannot tell me that any modern Juan MacLean fan does not want to know what Juan when he was known as John was doing for over ten years as main axe grinder for Six Finger Satellite. You cannot tell me that folks want to know if the Rolling Stones or Queen did any other songs besides the rotating six they play on the radio.

If this all sounds credible to you, and you agree, then welcome to RETROSPECTIVE FORESIGHT. I will be breaking the fourth wall from time to time and talking about my own experiences in relation to things being discussed (kudos and a tip of the hat to Gina Arnold, still not given credit where credit is due), as well as some of the bands I used to play in before "retiring" in 2002 (ha ha), but hey, this is the new frontier, where anything is possible, right? Right! ;-)

Stay tuned...