Artist: Title (label, release date) 1-5 stars
Dead Kennedys: Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables (Manifesto, September 13, 2005) *****
Elton John: Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy [Deluxe Edition] (Island, September 13, 2005) ****
Peter Frampton: Breaking All The Rules (Lemon, September 13, 2005) ***
The Fool: The Fool (Rev-Ola, September 13, 2005) ***
Dead Kennedys: Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables
Dead Kennedys, from San Francisco, were for a very brief time America’s premiere hardcore punk band, and put to rest the always-erroneous notion that San Francisco was only for hippies. They were nothing if not controversial; even many punk fans hated them, let alone mainstream music fans. However, they also had a fervent core audience, and their lone masterpiece, Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables, remains a classic that ultimately influenced a lot of bands in its wake. Formed in 1978 when vocalist Jello Biafra and bassist Klaus Flouride answered an ad placed by guitarist East Bay Ray (drummer Ted joined up shortly after), the band’s debut was Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables, released on I.R.S. in 1980. Fresh Fruit really was unlike any other album before it. Jello Biafra’s strange, almost cartoon vibrato combined with speedy proto-skatepunk to create an unrelenting barrage of left wing polemics, delivered with conviction and a sense of humor. Their targets were sometimes obvious; “Kill The Poor” and “Let’s Lynch The Landlord” were class-warfare anthems, “Chemical Warfare” and “Holiday In Cambodia” were antiwar epics, “Stealing People’s Mail” and “Funland At The Beach” odes to adolescent mischief, “Police Truck” (left off later pressings of the album, including this one) a particularly violent indictment of police brutality, and “Viva Las Vegas”, an ironic tongue-in-cheek Elvis cover as album closer. The lyrics, for the most part, are in-your-face but often display intelligence and wit. The music borrows cues from surf-rock and rockabilly and is consistent and engaging. Biafra’s voice might not be for everyone, the politics are dated in places (although they hold up pretty well, overall), and the production is pretty thin, depriving the bass of some of its power. But it is a landmark album, easily one of the most listenable hardcore punk albums, and probably should be considered one of the essential albums of its era. Dead Kennedys broke up in 1987, after a costly prosecution for obscenity (for an H.R. Giger poster included in the album Frankenchrist) and a feud between Biafra and the band.
Elton John: Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy [Deluxe Edition]
Peter Frampton: Breaking All The Rules
Lemon records digs up this often hard-to-find 1981 effort from Peter Frampton, recorded after he had tumbled all the way from the top of the arena rock mountain to the gutter in little more than two years. It’s hard to figure what killed Frampton’s career so fast; Frampton Comes Alive!, from 1976, was one of the biggest selling albums in history, and while his 1978 appearance with the Bee Gees in the ill-conceived film dud Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was an embarrassment, and his 1978 album I’m In You suffered from weak material and an overly pop approach, one would think that he’d have had enough of a fan base to sustain him for a few more years at least. He didn’t; the album peaked at #43, and Frampton never saw the top-40 again. As the title implies, Frampton was trying to step away from his nice-guy image with this release, and he pursues a grittier, harder-rock sound than he had on previous efforts. The title track is a good hard-rock number, even as it cops its essential lick from the Rolling Stones’ “Bitch”, and there’s nothing really sappy here (although “Lost A Part of You” comes close); it’s all arena-friendly rock. The problem lies in arena rock itself; far from actually breaking rules, Frampton plays it so safe it almost sounds like he was following a recipe from a cookbook (“a little guitar flash here, a dash of anthemic chorus there”). Co-producer David Kershenbaum (who later worked with Tracy Chapman) does get a beefier sound from Frampton, and Frampton himself plays well. Notable is a cover of the Easybeats’ “Friday On My Mind”, an odd change of direction. As Frampton albums go, it’s pretty good, but non-fans will remain utterly unswayed.
The Fool: The Fool
From the obscurities chest, we have an item of some interest to super-hardcore Beatles fans, and super-hardcore fans of vintage hippie whimsy. The Fool were a Dutch group of designers and multimedia artists whose best known work was painting the Beatles’ Apple Boutique on Saville Row in bright psychedelic colors that contrasted with the stolid gray facades that surrounded it. They also painted John Lennon’s famous psychedelic Rolls Royce, designed clothing for George Harrison’s girlfriend and future wife Patti Boyd (later of “Layla” fame) and designed album covers for Incredible String Band, The Move, and The Hollies. In 1969, they recorded their lone album, with Graham Nash (of all people) producing. It’s pure period piece; a shambling, loose, amateurish quasi-folk hippie album, originally released on Mercury. None of it is great music, although it is an interesting curio; “Rainbow Man” sounds like psychedelic Bo Diddley, “Keep On Pushing” gets a nice bagpipe solo, “Reincarnation” has eerie choral vocals, elsewhere there are hints of raga-rock, stoned soul, and trance inducing harmonic hippie-chick singing from Marijke Kooer and Josje Leeger. They never recorded a follow-up, and their name has only stayed alive among Beatles collectors of arcana. So Beatles maniacs, get out your wallets; here is that legendary album you heard about but could never find. It’s likeable, as an artifact of its day.
Also newly reissued:
Martin Denny, Exotica Vol. 1 on Rev-Ola; King Crimson, Beat and Lark’s Tongue In Aspic on Discipline; Ray Manzarek’s 1974 solo album The Whole Thing Started With Rock & Roll Now It’s out of Control on Lemon; Nuns’ Nuns on Get Back Italy; Sonic Youth’s Goo [Deluxe Edition] (with 20 bonus tracks!) on Geffen; and Soup Dragons’ Hang-Ten! and This Is Our Art on Wounded Bird.
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