Artist: Title (label, release date) 1-5 stars
The Art of Noise: (Who’s Afraid Of?) The Art Of Noise! (ZTT, October 25, 2005) ****
Dave Edmunds: Twangin’ (Wounded Bird, October 25, 2005) ****
Gun Club: Mother Juno (Sympathy for the Record Industry, October 25, 2005) ****
The Meteors: Sewertime Blues (Anagram, October 25, 2005) ****
The Art of Noise: (Who’s Afraid Of?) The Art Of Noise!
A decade before trip-hop, there was The Art of Noise. An offshoot of (ex-Buggles, ex-Yes, ex-Asia) producer Trevor Horn’s studio band, The Art of Noise produced ambient downtempo proto-electronica that earned a lot of club play and significant radio play in the early 1980’s. Their 1984 debut album, (Who’s Afraid Of?) The Art of Noise!, remains their definitive statement. An album chock full of advanced-in-its-day studio trickery, including sampling, tape splicing, programmed beats, and plenty of other weird sounds, it alienated traditional rock fans while becoming a cult item among pop sophisticates. Much of the textures and experiments have since became commonplace in trip-hop and electronica; Prodigy’s big club hit “Firestarter” takes a key sample from the most well-known song here, “(Close To) The Edit”. The title is a challenge; the Art of Noise were deconstructionists, who shattered conventions in pursuit of the now, one of the most self-consciously modern units of the early 1980’s. Many of the textures they created were unsettlingly alien to the typical 1984 listener; herein lies their appeal. “(Close To) The Edit” is a mix of aggressive snippets, loops, and samples atop a fretless bass and cacophony of percussion. The same synthetic orchestral blurt sampled by Yes and Duran Duran in their 1983 hits turns up here; the closest thing to a lyric is Anne Dudley’s intoning of a single line midway through. Most of the rest of this album is similar in spirit and style. “Moments in Love” is built around a synthetic panpipe sample, as accompanying synthetic effects and instrumentation build a slow, ambient downtempo groove. “Beat Box (Diversion One)”, the trio’s biggest hit, is reminiscent of Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit” in a house of mirrors, with the title machine the center attraction. The other six tracks are more variations on the same essential theme. Art of Noise’s essential message was that anything could be a musical instrument, and if it couldn’t, it could be manipulated into one electronically. This, of course, is old news now. But what might be a surprise is that (Who’s Afraid Of?) The Art of Noise! manages to sound extremely crisp and fresh two decades later, long after such music was considered old hat.
Dave Edmunds: Twangin’
Twangin’ was originally released in 1981, when Edmund’s backing group Rockpile was breaking up. Consequently, it isn’t very much of a Rockpile record; the playing is perfunctory and spare, and unnaturally crisp. However, it’s a very-good-to-excellent Edmunds album, reflecting just how good he was in his late 70’s/early 80’s peak. What he delivers is what the Edmunds buyer looks for, strongly played, well constructed traditional roots rock with a punch to the rhythm. Its most vibrant moment is when he has the Stray Cats backing him on a version of the old George Jones classic “The Race Is On”, which is a jaunty rockabilly. His cover of John Fogerty’s “Almost Saturday Night” sticks close to the original but carries a punch; its playing and backing vocals are closest to classic Rockpile. “Cheap Talk, Patter, and Jive” is a great Faces-style hard rocker. “You’ll Never Get Me Up In One Of Those” opens with a chiming hard rock guitar before settling into a Stones-like groove with a rockabilly rhythm underneath. “It’s Been So Long” is a Brinsley Schwarz number given a new wave power-pop updating. Twangin’ marked the end of an era in Edmunds’ career, and while it isn’t the best album of that era, it is good enough to stay with you after you’ve played it. Wounded Bird is also simultaneously releasing his first post-Rockpile disc, D.E. 7th, from 1982.
Gun Club: Mother Juno
Psychobilly legends from L.A., Gun Club was largely a rollercoaster ride of a band, dependant on erratic frontman/wildman Jeffrey Lee Pierce’s moods and whims until he died in 1996. Their 1981 debut Fire of Love remains one of the most essential indie releases of all time; everything was up and down after that. Mother Juno, from 1987, was a surprise when it appeared (to those who noticed it; it wasn’t even released in the U.S. until the 90’s). Following The Las Vegas Story in 1984, Pierce broke up the band and embarked on a reckless solo career. In 1987, he and guitarist Kid Congo Powers unexpectedly put together a new Gun Club. Pierce’s girlfriend Romi Mori took over bass, and Nick Sanderson drums. Mother Juno is no Fire of Love or Las Vegas Story, but it is an excellent album. The choice of producer was a peculiar one; Robin Guthrie, who was best known for producing the ornate dream-pop of the Cocteau Twins. The biggest difference from prior releases is in the diminished role rockabilly plays; “Lupita Screams” is a slab of proto-grunge with big chords and a staggering rhythm, Peirce’s voice almost sounds like The Cult’s Ian Astbury. “Crab Dance”, on the other hand, is jangly pop-punk, somewhat reminiscent of The Replacements. “The Breaking Hands” is Cocteau Twins-style dream pop set apart by Pierce’s buried but anguished vocal. “Bill Bailey”, which leads off the album, is the closest to Gun Club’s traditional psychobilly, and gets one of Pierce’s best wavery, yowling vocals. Kid Congo Powers (who Pierce lured back from The Cramps) deserves special praise for his guitarwork throughout the album, there isn’t a song here that doesn’t feature an immediately arresting guitar solo or chime. Gun Club would have a few more highs and lows before Pierce’s demise in 1996.
The Meteors: Sewertime Blues
On the subject of psychobilly, arguments persist as to its originator. Some champion Gun Club or fellow Angelenos X and the Blasters, others the Cramps. However, one band that might have the strongest claim on the title is the Meteors, who developed their own strain of rockabilly fried punk across the Atlantic in England, far from the American bands who usually come to mind first. “Sewertime Blues” has always been a difficult record to find; released in 1986, it usually turns up as part of a twofer with Big Bang Fruit; here it gets its own release. The title track sounds like a rockabilly T-Rex with real attitude; it’s a menace. ‘Deep Dark Jungle” relies on a jangling guitar before drifting into a bizarre punk-blues; it then breaks into a fast-tempo rockabilly. “Surf City” isn’t the Jan and Dean hit, but an absurdist rant with killer lead guitar and propulsive two-string bass. “So Sad” gets a head of steam brewing fast, and has the momentum of a feight train as it approaches a rave in the middle. “Here’s Johnny” essentially takes the chords of “Jailhouse Rock” and brutalizes them in the service of another rapidfire rockabilly with an intense, screaming vocal from Paul Fenech, who is also responsible for the album’s bevy of great guitar sounds. While the trio on Sewertime Blues isn’t the original trio (Fenech has been the only constant in the band’s 25-year-plus history), it’s from the mid-80’s version of the band, which was equally capable of murderous playing. Fans of Gun Club, the Cramps, or any psychobilly would love this record.
Also out this week: Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks: Mary Lou , a collection on Collectables; The Jam: The Jam at the BBC on Fontana Intl.; Destiny’s Child: #1’s, a best-of on Sony; The Dictators: Bloodbrothers on Wounded Bird; Southside Johnny and the Asbury Dukes: Hearts of Stone on Beat Goes On; D.O.A.: War on 45 on Sudden Death.
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