Artist: Album (label, release date) 1-5 stars
Wire: Pink Flag (EMI, October 11, 2005) *****
The Waterboys: Best of the Waterboys 81-90 (EMI, October 11, 2005) ****
Styx: The Best of Times: The Best of Styx (Universal International, October 11, 2005) **
Tom Verlaine: Warm and Cool (Thrill Jockey, October 11, 2005) ****
Wire: Pink Flag
Any argument about punk’s genesis also has to include the debut album Pink Flag by Wire, released in 1977, the same year Never Mind the Bullocks was released. There’s no denying the album is a punk album, but Wire took a more art-school approach to the concept. One of the first thing that people noticed about the album was the extreme brevity of the songs; fifteen of the album’s original twenty one tracks are under two minutes and six are under one minute. Their artiness is closer to the Pere Ubu school of sculpting noise more than the grad school artiness of the Talking Heads; as Brits, they avoided the overt politics of the Clash and Sex Pistols but nontheless displayed a wry and sardonic wit. The brevity of the songs keeps their focus honed and direct, but somehow doesn’t make them sound like fragments; each works as its own little song. Picking favorites is tough, but on the title track (which clocks in at nearly four minutes, an epic) guitarists Colin Newman and George Gill lay a rough texture underneath as the rhythm section of bassist Graham Lewis and drummer Robert Gotobed builds a tightly-wound tension that is released in a climax of chanting and screeching and collapses into rubble. Colin Newman’s drawled out “loove” on “What Is This Thing Called Love?” displays the right irony, as the band crunches out a Troggs-like backing with Animals-style vocal harmonies. “Dot Dash” could be a toe-tapping pop single. “The Commercial”, and instrumental rides in on a rollicking bass and chiming chords and establishes itself in just 49 seconds. The opener, “Reuters” opens with a slow groove over which Newman intones headlines from an apocalyptic future that sounds more relevant today. And on and on; words cannot do it justice. Wire changed directions with nearly every release (and went on long hiatus twice, rather than release uninspired stuff). One of the few bands punks and art-rockers can agree on.
The Waterboys: Best of the Waterboys 81-90
The Waterboys are more well-known in their native England, but produced some of the best U.K. college rock of the 1980’s. This collection encompasses two distinct phases of the band’s career; the first through the 1985 album This is the Sea with Mike Scott and Anthony Thistlethwaite with drummer Kevin Wilkinson, keyboardist Karl Wallinger and trumpeter Roddy Lorimer. 1986-1990 saw Scott and Thistlethwaite relocate to Ireland and work with a completely new band, fiddler Steve Wickham, drummer Dave Ruffy, keyboardist Guy Chambers, and bassist Marco Weissman, which specialized in a homespun folk mixed with country sound with Celtic touches. In 1991, Scott relocated again, to New York, and pursued a rock sound again. All of these phases fall under the Waterboys moniker; the first two are covered on Best of the Waterboys 1981-1990, originally released in 1991 by Ensign/Chrysalis, now part of the EMI fold. “The Fisherman” is an excellent example of their Irish period, it sounds a lot like the off-kilter zonked c&w Camper Van Beethoven sometimes dabbled in. “All The Things She Gave Me” is a good example of their earlier, indie rock sound which borrows from soul, ska, and new wave more than the folk influence. “The Whole of the Moon” is their best-known hit, a gorgeous song that features shimmering guitar, pounding piano, and Scott’s wildly romantic vocal.
Styx: The Best of Times: The Best of Styx
This compilation originally appeared in 1997 on A&M, and since Styx hasn’t had any hits since then, Universal International must’ve decided it’ll suffice. It doesn’t suffice, really. You get twelve of Styx’ greatest hits, plus three ‘new’ songs, a 1995 re-recording of “Lady” instead of the original, and two 1997 songs. Obviously absent is anything from the three studio albums Styx has released since then, although those three are minus Dennis DeYoung. So this is a best of the DeYoung years, and as such, it still fails, missing “The Grand Illusion” and “Come Sail Away” among other key hits. Come Sail Away: The Styx Anthology on A&M, does a far better job over two discs. If you really couldn’t care less about Styx, and just want a place saver so you can boast completism, this will do. As for the songs that are included, you know most of them. “Renegade” and “Too Much Time on My Hands” are probably the best, and “Babe” and “Mr. Roboto” probably the worst.
Tom Verlaine: Warm and Cool
Tom Verlaine, as founder of Television, gained instant recognition for his creative, idiosyncratic guitar style that set him apart from his New York punk peers. When Television broke up after two albums (the first one of the essential albums of the 1970’s), his cult stayed with him; a notoriously hard-to-please bunch, they’ve often given the impression of being disappointed in Verlaine’s further adventures, largely because they didn’t sound like Television. Verlaine can’t be blamed for this; half of Television was dependent on Richard Lloyd’s guitar too. As a solo artist, he’s had his ups and downs; getting the most acclaim whenever he kinda sounded like Television. Warm and Cool, from 1992, was something of a kiss-off, or a new direction. It’s an instrumental album of cool jazz guitar coupled with a spaciness that recalls Jerry Garcia or Carlos Santana, of all people. “Saucer Crash” is one of the most elegant pieces; stately and spacey, it builds up an intricate latticework of crisp guitar accompanied by cymbals and bass. It demonstrates what a lot of people have claimed all along; Verlaine’s distinctive style had a jazziness to it that could make the most bare-bones structure seem dense and compelling. At its best, Warm and Cool suggests a modernized, stripped In A Silent Way in places. At its worst, it noodles aimlessly, but even the noodles are pretty good. The album was poorly received by his fans, and Verlaine, for whatever reason, hasn’t released a solo album since.
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