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Monday, August 30, 2010


... STILL THERE'S MORE ...

How did Todd Rundgren follow the mainstream success of his Something/Anything? album in 1973? With a curious psychedelic freakout exercise he titled A Wizard A True Star, which is, in my humble opinion, one of the finest albums in the history of rock!

Into this 55-minute long LP (which pushed the boundaries of the vinyl format), Rundgren poured every ounce of his artistry, creativity and humor to produce a memorable sonic buffet that delivered every possible genre and style of the times.

For most of the first half of this surreal album (side A, in the old days), the songs blended into a suite in the fashion of Abbey Road's famous second half. And so broadway ballads collided with proto punk rages, experimental sound collages melted into pure pop ditties and elegant waltz pieces sat next to bizarre instrumentals.

All told, Rundgren squeezed 12 tracks into side A, bookended by International Feel and Le Feel Internationale (slightly varying versions of the same song) - from which I "borrowed" my signature "... still there's more ..." motif. Sheer genius!

Side B is a tad more conventional, setting out his trademarked Laura Nyro-channeling soul-inflected numbers, with an almost incongruously straight medley of classic soul hits viz. I'm So Proud/Ooh Baby Baby/La La Means I Love You, then collapsing into a couple of quirky pieces before finally resolving with the anthemic Just One Victory.



The concept of the album is probably dead but back in the 70s, it made perfect sense and pop masters like Todd Rundgren exploited the format to its fullest and music lovers are all the better for that!




Sunday, August 29, 2010


XTC FOREVER

I have every album ever released by this seminal British POP band but this 1996 compilation collecting their singles from 1977 to 1992 is probably the best introduction a newbie could possible ask for. 

Originally consisting of Andy Partridge (vocals, guitar), Colin Moulding (vocals, bass), Terry Chambers (drums) and Barry Andrews (keyboards), the quartet blitz their way through two LPs during the early post-punk era before Andrews made way for Dave Gregory (guitar, vocals) and significant chart success in their native UK.

However, at the cusp of a major US tour in 1982, Partridge suffered from a nervous breakdown and would never perform live again. In the wake of that disappointment, Chambers soon downed sticks and left for Australia, leaving XTC as a trio for most of the rest of their existence. 

The band struggled to survive in the early 80s but thanks to an improved reception from the USA in the late 80s found renewed acceptance. Sadly, an ongoing dispute with record label Virgin Records, left the band in financial straits in the 90s. 

By the time, XTC regained control of their own recording destiny, even Gregory was gone. The remaining duo of Partridge and Moulding released two more albums before Moulding effectively gave up on music altogether! 

It's criminal that a band as inventive, melodic and radical as XTC never achieved the commercial success their wonderful music merited. But the music lives on... 





Wednesday, August 25, 2010


THE BEACH BOYS TODAY!/SUMMER DAYS AND SUMMER NIGHTS

One CD. 29 songs. If you're a rock scholar, you've probably heard of Pet Sounds and Sunflower as the "go-to" classic Beach Boys albums. For my money, you can't go far wrong with this CD which combines the Beach Boys albums released in 1965. 

Not only do you get these two classic albums which includes seminal tracks like When I Grow Up (To Be A Man), Please Let Me Wonder, She Knows Me Too Well, Help Me Rhonda (Single Version), California Girls, Let Him Run Wild, You So Good To Me, And Your Dreams Come True but also the single The Little Girl I Once Knew (my favorite Beach Boys song bar none!).

I cannot over-emphasize this enough but if you're a songwriter, then this album must be in your collection. The tunes, the vocal and instrumental arrangements - simply breathtaking! Timeless, essential POP music!!


Thursday, August 19, 2010

TODD
Singer? Check. Songwriter? Check. Multi-instrumentalist? Check. Producer? Check. 
Is there anything Todd Rundgren can not do?
Pop? Check. Rock? Check. Prog? Check. Ballad? Check. Soul? Check. Electronica. 
Check check check.
Name the genre, Todd does it well. Well, much better than anyone should be allowed to, anyways.
Seems incredible, eh. Let's look at the evidence shall we?
I Saw The Light, off the Something/Anything? album is a slab of cool Philly soul music. The original recording was performed entirely by Todd himself. The single peaked at #16 but Todd had another single off Something/Anything? that did even better - #5 - Hello, It's Me.

True to his idiosyncratic manner, Todd performed his hit in glam outfit and makeup! Which served to alienate mainstream audiences - which was probably the point.
Todd followed up the gold success of Something/Anything? by recording two highly "alternative" sounding albums viz. A Wizard, A True Star and Todd.
More later.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010




MERCURY REV


Esplanade Theatre
2nd August 2007 

Not being familiar with the Rev’s live modus operandi, I expected a sedate, chamber pop affair – judging from the recorded work of their last three albums.
I was wrong.
Fifteen minutes after the announcement that the gig had begin, the fairly sizable crowd became restless as video clips accompanied by soundtrack music provided the entertainment.
Then, the band turned up and launched into “Funny Bird” – and I mean like a rocket launch! The lights and sound were jacked to the max and for the rest of the night, the audience was treated to a visual and sonic assault that was sweet and loud, a mix of pleasure and pain that qualified as a memorable concert experience.
Jonathan Donahue was, of course, the focal point as he pranced and preened, alternating between campy mime and theatrical conductor, he was the consummate showman. Donahue was in good voice too, and credit to the sound person who managed to keep his voice distinct above the cacophony.
The band played songs mainly from the last three albums with the highlights for me being, of course, the Deserters Songs. The fragile brilliance of “Tonite It Shows,” “Opus 40” and “Holes” brought tears to my eyes. Simply gorgeous. Also, particularly significant was an apocalyptic “Dark Is Rising” with a final chord that threatened to completely blow out my sinuses! Another cool highlight (and a pleasant surprise) was a cover of Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody” which totally came from left field.
All told, a night of wondrous discovery.
The band had been billed as purveyors of dream-pop but in truth this was more like noise pop as Grasshopper coaxed feedback-laden waves of distortion from his axe, looking ever the cool rock star in his slick shades. The rest of the band was in top form, the cornerstone being Jeff Mercel with his fine keyboard embellishment, which gave the sound colour and flavour.
At the end, the pleased crowd gave the band a standing ovation and the band returned to play out “Goodess On A Hiway” and “Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp” before departing.
Kudos to the Baybeats 2007 organizers for bringing Mercury Rev over to kick off the festival and thanks to Donahue, Grasshopper, Mercel and company for an inspiring night!

(From 2007)



Read the review of Lunarin - Duae here.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


ANDY PARTRIDGE  
Fuzzy Warbles Vol. 1 & Vol. 2 
(APE)  

As any card-carrying XTC fanatic will inform you, the Swindon-based band spent the better part of the 90s on strike from their record label Virgin, finally earning their freedom from a draconian contract sometime in 1998. The band then set up their own label – Idea – and proceeded to release two albums (Apple Venus & Wasp Star) in consecutive years!
So it certainly behooves the band to flood the market with as many XTC-related products as possible just to make up for lost time. So whilst ecstatic fans have been lapping up the demo and instrumental versions of the two latest albums and Virgin was kind enough to issue the Coat of Many Cupboards box set, the duo decided to begin releasing the voluminous demos (subject of legend and lore and much bootlegging) Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding amassed during that seven-year industrial action.
Alas, Moulding changed his mind and so we have volumes one and two of Fuzzy Warbles as Partridge begins an ambitious program to give his fans what they have been waiting for a long time.
And is it all worth the wait and the expense? Why most certainly! Here’s why…
From Volume One, Partridge includes the delightful “Dame Fortune” (inextricably left off Apple Venus One), the bouncy “Don’t Let Us Bug You” (written for Disney’s animated James and the Giant Peach – now that would have been something!), a fiery demo of “That Wave” (off Nonsuch) that surpasses the recorded version for sheer intensity, the folky “Everything” (excluded from Oranges and Lemons), the whimsical “Goosey Goosey” (also for Nonsuch), the chirpy “Summer Hot As This” (circa 1984 – with erstwhile member Dave Gregory on guitar, a bonus!) and the offbeat “Wonder Annual” (another that failed to make the grade for Nonsuch).
Slide in Volume Two and one gets the unusually stripped down and straightforward “I Don’t Want To Be Here” (recorded for a AIDS Charity disc), the domestic tirade “Young Marrieds” – ‘Love and marriage go hand in hand like horse and horse shit’ (meant for Wasp Star), the political “Obscene Procession” – a precursor of “President Kill” perhaps? (for Skylarking apparently), the jaunty “Ra Ra Rehearsal” & “Ra Ra For Red Rocking Horse” (not quite up to the rest ofPsonic Psunspot, I wager), the McCartney-esque “Everything’ll Be Alright” (also for Giant Peach), the frenetic “Chain of Command” (a blast from the past, 1979 in fact!), a gorgeously cod-psychedelic version of Nonsuch’s “Then She Appeared,” the lovely enigmatic “It’s Snowing Angels” (circa 1990) and the vivid “Ship Trapped In the Ice,” written to reflect XTC’s Virgin dilemma.
And there you have it, not meant for the XTC newbie but once you picked up every single fantastic work released by this awesome band, then Fuzzy Warblestend to become fairly indispensable items to have and to hold. For even if the discs did not contain precious XTC artifacts, the professional sound and overall amazing quality of the tracks here make Fuzzy Warbles important albums for any serious-minded music fan to explore and absorb. 
A+ (Vol. 1) & A (Vol. 2)



Monday, August 16, 2010


OASIS
Singapore Indoor Stadium
23rd February 2006 

Are Oasis an ‘oldies’ band now? As the band churned out The Who’s classic “My Generation” to close their first gig in the Lion City, one wonders whether this concert has come about for Singaporeans a decade too late.

Much has changed of course for the band in a decade – their rags to riches tale endeared them to the ordinary Brit, which resulted in two albums viz. Definitely Maybe & (What’s Your Story) Morning Glory receiving massive critical & commercial acclaim in their homeland with the latter also getting worldwide recognition and sales.

Since then, the love affair with the critics has fallen flat with the poor Be Here Now and the lackluster Standing on the Shoulder of Giants & Heathen Chemistry. Sales have also followed suit somewhat.

However, with the revival of Britpop in 2005, it was only natural for Oasis to make a successful comeback with Don’t Believe the Truth, which placed the band back on the pedestal almost as the elder statesmen of the movement.

Which presumably is the ideal time for Oasis to launch into a world tour, which includes a first time visit to Singapore. I have to say that whilst the almost packed house at the Singapore Indoor Stadium were obviously thrilled to just have the Gallagher brothers and company on stage, it was one of the worst gigs I have had the displeasure to witness.

First off, the sound – which is usually not up to world-class standards at the Indoor Stadium, was a distorted, sludgy, bass-heavy, unlistenable throb throughout.

Next, the band themselves looked like they couldn’t be arsed. With only Zak Starkey showing any passion behind the drums, the guitar players (Gem Archer, Andy Bell and Noel) looked bored and Liam, well, strutted around the best he could, shouting the odd undecipherable Mancunian invective at the adoring masses but generally being in bad (hoarse) voice.

The first half of the set comprised of the lesser-known numbers (with the exception of “Lyla”), heavily concentrated on the new album. Halfway through, the band trotted out their definitive anthem “Live Forever” and proceeded to mess it up royally with Liam totally murdering the vocals. It was painful to watch… and as the set drove inexorably to a faithful rendition of the hits viz. “Rock ‘n’ Roll Star,” “Champagne Supernova” and “Don’t Turn Away In Anger,” the fans were certainly satisfied despite the many flaws and as the sonic assault continued unabated.

One thing I did take away from this concert was a greater appreciation for Noel Gallagher – he is the real creative force in the band – and the highlights for me was when he took over lead vocals for “Mucky Fingers” (extremely powerful live), “The Importance of Being Idle” and “The Masterplan” the subtlety of both sadly lost in the bludgeoning sound mix.

With the sound of Oasis singing “My Generation” ringing in my ears, I was left wondering whether in thirty year’s time, the big hot rock bands of that era will be covering “Live Forever” in similar tribute or would Oasis be confined to a curious footnote in rock history.

After last night, the latter fate seems in store for Oasis…

(From 2006)



PoP10 - ANTON BARBEAU

Why play music?

 'Cos it's easier than playing chess and cheaper than a bad gambling habit. And it's the only reason girls like me. 

Who are your influences?

 Brian Eno, Keith West, Julian Cope, Kenny Jones, Brian Jones, Tom T. Hall, the Rutles, Gary Numan, Meredith Monk, Prefab Sprout and the Bevis Frond. 

What is success?

My idea of success has shifted from grand ideas of major-label funding and billions of records sold to a more pragmatic vision of getting the records out any way possible and selling them one person at a time. Seeing an audience develop for my work is exciting and satisfying. I suppose I'll also mention the fact that in the last six months I've done shows with 4 of my favorite bands (The Loud Family, Solipsistics, The Negro Problem and The Bevis Frond). This feels like success, too.    

Why should people buy your CDs?

'Cos I can't afford to buy them all myself! I dunno... I try to create records that are entertaining, interesting and hopefully challenging. They're fun AND uptight at the same time!   

Who do you love?

Lara Miyazaki, Dickie the Cat, the Beatles and everybody else. 

What do you hope to achieve with this CD?

 I want to become filthy rich. I want these songs to become coffee-table anthems. I want children born in the year 2000 to grow up knowing the words to "Please Sir I've Got A Wooden Leg". And I hope that the record pleases the people who need pleasing. 

Why did the label release your CDs?

 They told me it was a tax write-off, but I think they secretly liked the songs. Seriously though, my record seemed to fit naturally with the other stuff that frigidisk puts out (Solipsistics, Earle Mankey etc). A perfect match! 

Who comes to your gigs?

 Banana throwers, fire-eaters, girls and boys and lots of invisible people. 

What is your favorite album?

 My parents' scratched copy of "Meet the Beatles". 

How did you get here?

I was born nearby so I already knew the way. Plus, I've got friends in high places with HEAVY contacts. They opened a few doors and windows. I walked, actually. Well, I walked from my van. I drove from home. I struggled hard all our lives to get by. I practiced night and day 'til my chops were hot. I worked my way through college, sometimes sleeping 20 hours a day. I dreamt of golden oranges. I followed the sun. I've always been here. Can I go now? 

(From 2005)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

BASEMENT IN MY LOFT


This is 80s indie-alt-rock-post-punk-evoking beautiful and beastly music that simply begs to have its heart ripped out of rib cage blood still pumping… beyond hip and beyond cool, it’s just… right, y’know what I mean?

Read the full review at www.powerofpop.com.