Artist: Album (label, release date) 1-5 stars
Lenny Kravitz: Greatest Hits [Special Edition] (Virgin, November 8, 2005) ****
T. Rex: The Slider [Expanded Edition] (Rhino/WEA, November 8, 2005) ****
John Entwistle: Smash Your Head Against The Wall (Sanctuary, November 8, 2005) ****
Cat Stevens: Chronicles (A&M, November 8, 2005) ****
Lenny Kravitz: Greatest Hits [Special Edition]
This is a very attractive Kravitz package complete with a bonus DVD featuring six tracks. It’s easy to overlook Kravitz sometimes; despite plenty of MTV exposure and an impressive list of hits, he’s never really been considered a heavyweight. Also, his retro early 70’s funk/psychedelic sound is, by its very nature, backward looking; Kravitz is seldom considered an innovator. Still, as evidenced by this collection, he’s not-so-quietly amassed a body of work worthy of an anthology. And he’s managed to keep what is essentially a classic rock format sounding fresh. So, “Let Love Rule”, a novelty when it was new, sounds like the classic it has now become. “Are You Gonna Go My Way” and “Fly Away” also sound like familiar hits from the 70’s, when in fact they are inspired simulations. His career has had its ups and downs; his noisy cover of “American Woman” never made anyone forget the Guess Who, and his most recent album, Baptism, represented by “Where Are We Runnin’,” got panned, although that song’s Rolling Stones vibe works fine. The album’s programming is not chronological, probably a good idea. Can’t really quibble with the song selection; if Kravitz has been among your guilty pleasures, here’s a good guilt-free collection.
T. Rex: The Slider [Expanded Edition]
Rhino/WEA has been busy reissuing the T. Rex catalog; this week, in addition to The Slider, the expanded editions of Dandy in the Underworld, Zinc Alloy and the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow, and T. Rex Wax Co. Singles: A’s & B’s 1972-77, return to the shops as well. The copious amounts of unreleased material appended to these albums in 2002 (Slider received 18 new cuts, compared to 13 on the original album) makes these expanded issues essential for T. Rex maniacs; for normal people, they may be a little much. The Slider is peak period T. Rex, released in 1972. It’s a brash record with glam rock trappings, a big meaty sound, and plenty of production surprises. “Metal Guru” opens things up with a catchy pop number with Beach Boys style backing vocals plus horns and strings. “Telegram Sam” pairs a ragged “Bang a Gong” style riff with one of Marc Bolan’s best leering vocals. The title track is a spare uptempo bass-drums-and-guitar driven little crunch rocker with Bolan alternating between breathy and buzzed, a good string quartet shows up for the bridge. Even the lesser known songs, “Ballrooms of Mars”, “Baby Boomerang”, and “Rock On” sound like hits. Bolan/T. Rex never really got the acclaim in the States they had in the U.K., but the music holds up well; it’s crisp, hook laden, and not just a little funny. And it’s all rock ‘n’ roll.
John Entwistle: Smash Your Head Against The Wall
Entwistle was a good songwriter in a band that had a great one, namely The Who. Consequently, he didn’t get many chances to shine beyond his bass playing. However, some of his compositions, like “Boris The Spider” (written on the spot, when the Who were low on finished numbers) and “My Wife” a highlight of Who’s Next, rank among the Who’s best moments. Most of his songwriting, and singing therefore was relegated to solo albums, of which Entwistle released five between 1971 and 1981 (and another in 1996). Smash Your Head Against The Wall was the first and by far the best, released in 1971, the same year Who’s Next came out. It kicks off with “My Size”, a great heavy hard rock number with a killer riff that sounds like a cross between Black Sabbath and T. Rex; it would have made a great Who record. “I Believe In Everything” is a surprisingly tuneful and sweet pop song, with airy vocals that recall Bob Welch-era Fleetwood Mac; it breaks into a bizarre chorus of “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer” at its end. “Heaven and Hell” and “You’re Mine” demonstrate Entwistle’s darker side, which was always at the edge of his music. A surprise is Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl”, one of nine bonus cuts, which stays fairly close to the original. Entwistle’s voice can be thin sometimes, but it’s servicable, and the album is well-played. A fine album Who fans should own, and 70’s rock fans ought to hear.
Cat Stevens: Chronicles
Chronicles is really a boxed set of three Stevens albums: Mona Bone Jakon (1970), Tea For The Tillerman (1970), and Teaser and the Firecat (197i). While there’s no particularly good reason these three albums should be packaged together, they do shed a little insight on what made Stevens briefly a major star; all three arguably do constitute his best work, as well. Of the three, Mona Bone Jakon is arguably the best and most interesting. It predates Stevens’ first U.S. hits, although he had made a name for himself in the U.K. with his 1967 debut. Mona Bone Jakon was recorded after Stevens, once considered a prodigy, had recovered from a near-fatal bout of tuberculosis; as such, it’s full of subtle intimations of death and loss, like on the acoustic “Maybe You’re Right” and the strings-aided “Lillywhite”; elsewhere he gets progressive with his piano arrangements, almost sounding like a stripped down Yes on the ivories. Tea For The Tillerman was Stevens’ big breakthough; it has the hits “Wild World” and “Hard Headed Woman”. It also displayed a patronizing streak towards women in Stevens’ music that has always been there; “Hard Headed Woman” “Wild World” and “Sad Lisa” are all about women who are punished for essentially standing their own ground. Teaser and the Firecat is usually regarded as Stevens’ maturation; songs like “Morning Has Broken” and “Peace Train” are classics now. Stevens is a frustrating performer. At his best, he was truly unique; a good deal more interesting than many of his singer/songwriter contemporaries. At his worst, he was a pseudo-mystical fool with a misogynist streak. Chronicles is a handy way to judge for yourself; there are enough good moments on all three discs to make it worth it.
Also out this week:
Patti Smith: Horses [30th Anniversary Legacy Edition] on Arista; contains a bonus live in 2005 disc, featuring a lineup with Lenny Kaye and Tom Verlaine. I haven’t heard it yet, but it’s on my buy list, although I do wish they would release the live disc separately.
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