Matthew Sweet….how sweet you are.

I hate saying something like “I sure do miss Matthew Sweet”, like the guy is dead.  He’s not.  In fact, he put out an excellent new album called ‘Modern Art’ a few months back.  Getting back to basics, from the sound of it.  I’ve been listening to ‘Girlfriend’ a lot lately.  Takes me back to high school.  The good parts of high school, anyways.  I think ‘Modern Art’ could do for some kid in high school today what ‘Girlfriend’ did for me in 1991.

I miss the earnestness that Matthew Sweet brought to the musical landscape.  I miss the lack of irony he brought to songs like ‘Divine Intervention’, ‘I’ve Been Waiting’, ‘Time Capsule’ ‘Sick of Myself’, ‘Where Do You Get Love’ and one of my favorites, ‘Evangeline’.  There wasn’t any moving of mountains on his records.  You merely stopped on the mountain top and enjoyed the view.

One of the highlights of albums like ‘Girlfriend’, ‘Altered Beast’ and ‘Sick of Myself’ was the genius guitar interplay of Robert Quine and Richard Lloyd.  Two veritable masters of skronky guitar noise.  Quine, most notably, played with Richard Hell and the Voidoids.  If you want an example of his mix of Hendrix fuzz and acid jazz freak out, check out his playing on ‘Blank Generation’.  Just.  Amazing.  Then Mr. Lloyd played second fiddle to Tom Verlaine in Television.  All you need is the ten minute ‘Marquee Moon’ to know the man knows how to play well with others. These two guys were the backbone of Matthew Sweet’s sound.  Sweet wrote the melodies, lyrics and added the soul, while Quine and Lloyd gave the songs street cred.  I don’t hear this kind of guitar fun in any other bands as of late.  Wilco?  BtS?  Maybe.  But there’s that element of freewheelin’ recklessness that is missing from those two excellent bands.  Especially with Quine, it felt like he just woke up from an all-night bender and just picked up his Strat and started wailing.  It was a beautiful thing.

Sadly, Robert Quine took his own life in 2004 after losing his wife the previous year to cancer.  There will never be a ‘Girlfriend’ era reunion.  His Stratocaster skronk is silenced forever.

So why don’t you check out Matthew Sweet’s newest album ‘Modern Art’.  And then listen to ‘Blue Sky On Mars’.  Then ‘Sick of Myself’.  Then ‘Altered Beast’.  And most definitely listen to ‘Girlfriend’.  Hit repeat.

Christmas Time and Vomiting

I’m not sure what’s going on, but the holiday season has brought nothing but the black plague to our house.  Ever since the weekend before Thanksgiving someone, if not half the household, has had some sort of virus, bug, ailment, corruption of the immune system or health defect.  And quite honestly, I”m tired and I want it to stop.  No, I’m serious.  Enough of this shit.  You win, flu season.  I give.  I’m calling uncle.  No more.  Can you please just move on to the next household?  We’ve had our fill.  I’ve spent a fortune on expectorants, antihistamine, Kleenex, acetaminophen, Vicks, Nyquil and lost ample amounts of sleep either by being sick or worrying about someone else in the house that was sick.

Another vomiting child at the house last night.  Another round of anti-bacterial wiping, the cleaning of bedding, the puke bucket sitting within projectile distance.  The constant glances over making sure the small face isn’t contorting, or small hands aren’t grabbing at the belly in an effort to make the cramping go away.  It was a supper of toast and sips of water, in-between more cleaning and bathroom visits. 

I’m blaming moronic parents that never taught their children to cover their mouths when they cough and  sneeze.  I”m blaming them for not teaching their children to wash their hands after they go to the bathroom.  I’m blaming moronic parents that don’t keep their children home when they’re running a fever and are contagious.  Sorry, but school isn’t a daycare, nor is it medi-vac unit.  Take care of your kids.  Don’t make my kids suffer because you’re a complete idiot.

Merry Christmas everyone.

The Album ‘vs’ Collection of Songs

There were quite a few records that came out this year that were on my ‘highly anticipated’ list.  For the sake of this discussion, we’ll use My Morning Jacket as an example.  I haven’t been a fan throughout their entire career.  I didn’t start listening till ‘It Still Moves’ came out.  And even then, I bought it on the endorsement of one Dave Grohl.  He told me I should check it out one night while we were hanging out.  Anyways, what I heard were some truly great songs completely drowned in massive amounts of reverb.  To me, it felt like these guys were completely self-conscious of themselves.  So much so that they hid in this ocean of echo.  So I politely told Dave they were ‘okay’.  A couple years later, on a whim, I bought ‘Z’ at a local Borders.  I had a gift card and could only buy so many copies of the new Clive Cussler thriller.  So going on rave reviews and a weird album cover, I bought it.  I listened to that record 3 times on the way home(okay, so it wasn’t a ‘local’ Borders).  Point is, I was hooked.  This was an amazing step forward in my opinion.  They stepped through the threshold between finding your sound and artistic statement.  This wasn’t a great collection of songs, but a full blown album.  Each song lifted and connected to the next.  ‘Wordless Chorus’ and ‘Dondante’ were bookends.  It was, to these ears, an actual listening experience.  Color me smitten.  So 2008 rolls around, here comes ‘Evil Urges’.  An often neurotic album, on first listen it left me confused, then a little mad.  But the more I listened the greatness began to show.  Here’s the thing, there were some stinkers.  But like before, those stinkers had a purpose.  They were there to move you along to the good stuff.  They may have been lame, but they were part of the experience.  So when My Morning Jacket announced that they were releasing ‘Circuital’, I was excited.  I’d heard they were going back to a more straightforward album.  Recording in an old elementary school gym, live and to analog tape.  First time through, I thought it was a great collection of songs.  And honestly, I think Jim James had written some of his best stuff to date.  ‘Circuital’, ‘The Day Is Coming’, ‘Outta My System’ and ‘You Wanna Freak Out’ were outstanding tracks.  But the more I listened, I found myself skipping around, getting to the good stuff.  The songs in-between just seemed like filler.  They weren’t bad songs.  There isn’t a bad song on it.  But they didn’t hold my attention.  It wasn’t a great album, but a collection of great songs.

So what am I saying?  I’m saying if you don’t have it, get it.  But for these ears, it doesn’t gel from song to song like past albums.  I feel that way about Wilco’s ‘The Whole Love’.  I’m a die hard fan of Wilco.  I’ve argued their greatness amongst talk of ‘dad rock’.  But, like their previous record, I find myself skipping around to the songs I love.  I don’t want to skip.  I want to enjoy the album as a whole.  And it’s not that I don’t want my favorite bands to change or evolve.  I think changing and evolving are good things.  I don’t want to hear ‘Z’ over and over again.  Nor do I want Wilco to release ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’ or ‘Summerteeth’ over and over again.  If it means they release an album of 8 or 9 songs, instead of 14 or 15, in order for that group of songs to come together to create the best listening experience possible, then I’m for it.  Sometimes less is more.

Maybe it just comes down to the changing times.  Folks these days, at least the greater majority of music listeners, don’t really care whether it’s an album or just some songs.  They hear a song they like, download that one song, and they’re happy.  Nothing wrong with that.  But I’ve never been that way.  I grew up listening to side A and side B.  I didn’t stop midway through the side of a record and go back later.  It was an experience.  Enjoying a record the whole way through.  Whether there was a concept behind that record, content-wise, it didn’t matter.  That album as a whole was a statement from a band at one particular time in their music making career.  When the next album came out, they were a little different.  They were somewhere else in their lives and so you caught up with them.  The experience of enjoying that album start to finish was just as much a part of the music.  I’m more long play than single, I guess is what I’m saying.

My Morning Jacket and Wilco put out some great songs this year.  I’m looking forward to their next great albums.

Lou Reed and Metallica-Lulu

First off, let me say that I haven’t listened to this record.  I have heard a thirty second clip of one of the songs.  I think it was called ‘Trainwreck’ or ‘Death of a Career’.  Even in interviews for promotion of this record(which seem to have only been done in Germany for some weird reason) those guys in Metallica come across as being embarrassed as hell to even be involved in this fiasco.  Lars looks like he’d rather be selling some more artwork than talking about how he played with one of rock’s most cantankerous and unamused royalty. 

I get the feeling that what was supposed to a humoring session with Lou, turned into a full blown album that none of these guys really wanted to do.  Lou included.  The whole idea sounds like a weird dream.  “I had this dream that my head was a sponge and I was cleaning up confetti on the floor, when I saw the new Loutallica record sitting on the shelf.  Yeah, I said Loutallica.  Lou Reed and Metallica did a record together in my dream.  It was awful!”  If this is a dream, then this is the longest, weirdest dream I’ve had.  Right next to the one where I was harrassed by Dr. Bunsen Honeydew leaving the YMCA with Butch from The Little Rascals. 

Wake up, Mr. Hetfield.  For all our sakes, wake the hell up!!

The War On Drugs-Slave Ambient

There’s a feeling that runs throughout the entirety of The War On Drug’s newest album ‘Slave Ambient’ that has been sorely lacking in new music over the last couple years.  Sincerity.  It’s almost a sin for a band to write something that makes you feel good.  And God forbid you write something catchy.  Adam Granduciel, TWOD’s principal songwriter/singer/guitarist, has gone rogue.  He’s written an album filled with anthemic, grandiose, and quite brilliant rock songs that wouldn’t sound out of place next to Springsteen and Petty on the FM dial back in 1984. 

The best way to describe this record is to say it bridges the gap between Springsteen’s ‘Born In The USA’,  Tom Petty’s ‘Full Moon Fever’, U2’s ‘Joshua Tree’ and My Bloody Valentine’s ‘Loveless’.  There’s moments in ‘Come To The City’ that feel like it could go right into U2’s ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’.  Granduciel’s voice, though at times brings to mind former bandmate Kurt Vile, has a uniqueness all it’s own.  While Kurt Vile’s sleepy time, Robitussin-drawl haunts certain songs(‘Brothers’ comes to mind), Granduciel’s voice has an immediacy Vile lacks.  He wants you to stand up and be counted.  He wants to move you.  He sounds genuinely happy to be singing for you.  ‘Baby Missles’, one of the albums highlights, brings to mind Springsteen’s  ‘Dancing In The Dark’.  It’s a fun, up-tempo song that makes one long for the days when good music was popular and played often on the radio.  If ever there was a radio hit on this record, this is the one.  Instrumental ‘City Reprise #12’ brings to mind My Bloody Valentine’s ‘Touched’ and ‘To Here Knows When’ off of 1991’s ‘Loveless’.  I hear alot of My Bloody Valentine on this record.  Kevin Shields is hiding inside those drones that hover behind these arena-ready tracks.  Album closer ‘Black Water Falls’ is a beautiful tune with a lilting acoustic strumming throughout.  A pleading tone in Granduciel’s voice gives the song an immediacy that makes you want to hit repeat as it closes the book on one of the great records of 2011.

This is an unapologetic, arena-ready rock album that isn’t embarrassed to wear it’s heart on it’s sleeve.  Indie cred?  Who cares?  Turn it up and enjoy.  Adam Granduciel’s glad you came.

1991: The Year of Sir Psycho Sexy

The year was 1991.  It was fall.  And the school day had just ended.  I was a senior at WCHS in Warsaw, In.  It was music release day and Red Hot Chili Pepper’s ‘BloodSugarSexMagik’ was officially out.  So, along with my girlfriend(who is now my wife) and my good friend Jason(who is now tattooed head to toe) hopped in my 1977 Chevy Nova and drove 30 miles north east to the Concord Mall and bought this amazing nugget of music history at Super Sounds record store.  I can’t remember why we actually drove clear to Dunlap to buy it.  We actually had a record store in Warsaw.  Come to think of it, we had two different places to buy music.  Butterfly Records downtown and Video World.  Ehh, this was back when gas was probably $1 a gallon and there was nothing better than a road trip.  So off we went.

Now, I know what you’re thinking.  “RHCP??  Seriously?”  Well, to that I say, “Hell yes the RHCP!”  This was a tight, funky, filthy musical statement.  1991 was dominated by Pearl Jam’s ‘Ten’, Soundgarden’s ‘Badmotorfinger’, and Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’, all of which I played obsessively.  RHCP’s ‘BloodSugarSexMagik’ is included in this group.   Of those four albums, BSSM is the only one I can still listen to.  Of all the musical statements made in those aforementioned albums, the Red Hot Chili Peppers statement was the clearest, and it was this:  “Tube socks are good genitalia warmers.”  Previous releases showed a bunch of horny southern California dudes that loved Parliament, the Minutemen and Gang of Four records.  They also loved their genitalia.  There music was fast, with a ton of slap bass and filled with sexual innuendos ‘rapped’ by some dude that looked like Iggy Pop’s bastard son.  It was novelty music, at least to my ears.  When ‘Mother’s Milk’ was released in 1989,  it sounded like those horny southern California dudes might actually be taking the art of songwriting a bit more seriously.  ‘Knock Me Down’ was damn good.  And their cover of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Higher Ground’ was inspired.  Was I completely sold?  No.  But I was intrigued.  Intrigued enough to dub my brother’s copy of it.  So then in the fall of ’91 MTV debuted a new video from the Chili Peppers upcoming release.  The release was called ‘BloodSugarSexMagik’ and the song was called ‘Give It Away’. I hadn’t seen or heard anything like it.  It was funky as hell.  Catchy as all get out. And the video was completely messed up.  These dudes are out in the desert covered in silver paint,  with weird ass costumes, horns coming out their heads.  Even their instruments were silver.  And the thing was shot in black and white.  But what got me the most was the music.  It made this gawky white boy want to move.  It wasn’t about teen alienation.  It wasn’t about a kid blowing his brains out in the front of his class.  It wasn’t about a Jesus Christ pose.  It was about….what the hell was it about??  You know, that’s the beauty of it.  Who knows what it’s about, and who cares?  It made you feel good.  It made a gawky teen not feel so gawky.  There was no lesson trying to be taught here.  There was no plight of the working man being sung.  There was no declaration of true love.  No pleading to save the environment.  This wasn’t Dylan.  This wasn’t Springsteen.  Nor was it alternative.  This was just raw, loud, funky rock, executed beautifully by 4 guys that finally figured out playing with their instruments can be just as rewarding as playing with their tube sock-covered johnsons.

One of the reasons that made this record so different for me was that I think they let John Frusciante have a much bigger say in the music.  They slowed things down.  They added more melody.  There were even elements of psychedelia(Breaking The Girl).  ‘Under the Bridge’, although completely burnt out and overplayed, is a great example of the step forward these guys took.  The production values improved greatly.  I think that’s what makes this record still very palatable to the ears.  It doesn’t sound dated.  It’s like a classic record from the 70’s.  Recorded dry and raw, with alot of low end punch.  For all the shit Rick Rubin catches as of late, the guy knows how to make a record sound unprocessed and true to the artist(visit Tom Petty’s ‘Wildflowers’ and any of the latter year Johnny Cash recordings for further proof of this).  No reverbed or gated drums.  No over-processed vocals.  No gimmicky guitar sounds.  Just very natural.  Like a band in a rehearsal space at their most sweatiest best.

The lyrics.  Well, what can you say?  This is one of those albums you would strategically turn down at certain points while driving in the car with your parents.  I didn’t really want to have to explain lines like “creamy beaver, hotter than a fever, i’m a givin’ cause she’s the receiver”.  This wasn’t singer/songwriter stuff.  This was just filthy words to go along with the nasty funk.  And it’s perfect.  But not perfect for a drive with the parents.  Kiedes was no poet laureate.  He was just high on heroin and coming up with lyrics in between fixes.  And it works.

Musically they were as tight as they’d ever been.  The rhythm section of Flea and Chad Smith had done their homework.  Emulating seventies funk rhythm section from bands like Parliament, Ohio Players and even ‘Jungle Boogie’ era Commodores, to punk and post punk bands like Gang of Four and the Minutemen.  They didn’t drop a beat, and they found that confounded bridge.  Every time.  John Frusciante gave them the soul they had lacked.  He brought a Hendrix psychedelic-fueled tenacity to the music that wasn’t there before.  That jangly, single coil buzz the permeated every song is what brought those tunes down from the skies to the ground.  Without it, it would have lost an element that made this recording vital.

I’m not kidding myself.  This is a goofy album.  It didn’t change anything in the musical landscape.  And if I’m being honest, it may have even helped to create that godawful genre we call rap-rock, which begat nu-metal, which begat the decline of western civilization as we know it.  But in my mind, this record exists in it’s own little sphere of beauty, lust and arrogance.  It defied the trends of the day.  It didn’t try to hide it’s blatant sexuality and pomposity with a ‘meaning’ or ‘lesson learned’ moment.  It was unadulterated music you felt on a gut level.  Music for the sake of music.

‘Sir Psycho Sexy’ still makes me cringe and blush, as if my parents were still in the front seat.