Archive for September, 2010

Music Review – Warren Zevon

September 21, 2010

[Bill L]

It is amazing how a certain song can make your mind wander. Late Thursday afternoon as I sat at the bar in the Coat of Arms in Portsmouth, the juke box played a track that I instantly recognized. It was Sentimental Hygiene. Although it is hardly a popular song, the lyrics made me smile at the only man who could have written them. And they caused me to remember that the one thing that a young guy at University should never buy is an obscure European sports sedan. They are like boats, which with good reason are referred to as “a hole in the water into which you pour money” and they will ruin your life with unreliability, expense and frustration. There are reasons why there are so many millions or Hondas, Toyotas and Nissans on  modern roads . . . Having had three such heaps in the 1970s (which were most definitely not Japanese) that bled me so white that even the current crop of TV and film vampires wouldn’t look at me, brings me to the music of Warren Zevon.

On the surface, those cars have nothing whatsoever to do with Zevon. I’m sure you have heard Warren’s music even if you don’t know it. “Werewolves of London” (1976) got him his 15 minutes of fame, but those of us who were alive and listening to the radio when Jimmy Carter was president will more likely recall Linda Ronstandt’s “Poor poor pitiful me” from 1977 that was also written by Zevon, although when performed by him it was a much more suggestive version.

Zevon is, or rather was (for he died in Sept of 2003) arguably the most famous rock musician you’ve never heard of. Which is odd considering the number of famous singers that sang with him on his albums over the years; Jackson Browne, Bruce Springsteen and even David Letterman. Also the sheer volume of songs he wrote is astounding. It is fair to say that his sardonic lyrics endeared him to many who also wrote music and/or had a jaded view of life in America. Perfect for the decades of the 70s and 80s and certainly today. Songs such as “Splendid Isolation” , “Mr. Bad Example,” the unforgettable “Lawyers, guns and money” and the wickedly prescient “The Envoy” are only four of dozens of unheard gems.

His warped and jaded viewpoint certainly manifested itself in his lyrics and earned him the sobriquet of “enfant terrible” of Rock. Dark without being Goth, humorous without being funny, erudite without being pompous, and, always dripping with irony, Zevon was eagerly listened to by those relatively few who enjoyed such writing style. With his raspy cigarette and booze coated throat, his expertly played piano and guitar, one was always ready for a treat from his occasional albums. Sadly fame and fortune eluded him. Two serious bouts with alcoholism and marital problems nearly killed him, but he managed to return, Lazarus like, to write, record and perform right up to the very end when throat cancer from decades of smoking finally did in September 2003. The muse spoke to him, but not in a way to really cash in as so many with so much less talent effortlessly and shamelessly did.

Upon learning that he did have cancer, Zevon began to write one last album to say goodbye to his friends. The hauntingly mortal CD “The Wind,” features many of his friend. Him croaking out Bob Dylan’s “Knocking on Heaven’s door” is heart wrenching but pure Zevon, as is “Numb as a Statue”. Released just before his death, it is a true classic. As is the tribute album “Enjoy every sandwich: The songs of Warren Zevon” by his many friends released just after the first anniversary of his death in Oct 2004. My fav is “The Wind” sung by Billy Bob Thornton. One of the few songs so good that it gives you goose flesh.

In the wired-in, i-everything web world of 2010, it is increasingly difficult to recall a time when the very tempermental 33 1/3 vinyl LP and the Phillips audio cassette were once the highest tech available to the music listener. When battleship sized and weighted loudspeakers filled living and dorm rooms. When hot to the touch FM stereo receivers were anologue and suffered from station signal drift, what would today be called fade-out. I mention this because almost without exception almost everything today works flawlessly and almost every time; cars included. But in 1972 – 1979? Oh God . . . a time and a place not to go . . . and all of that can affect your outlook on life. I know that those cars did affect me and I still carry the scars that they gave me and they helped me to become jaded and sardonic as well. And maybe that is why I love the music of that flawed, tragic and very human being. And so yesterday I silently raised my glass to Warren Zevon.

bill littlefield

Music Reviews – Tear the World Down by We Are the Fallen

September 8, 2010

[Bill L.]

“Tear the World down” by We are the Fallen

Listening to this disc causes me to recall the phrase “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” Fanatical Evanescence fans who quite rightly have been moping [as only Evanescence fans can] for more goth/metal/piano rock pain these last three years will already be aware of this disc, and their thoughts are best left to the darkest regions of their soul. For the rest of us, this disc attempts to recapture the sound of the phenomenal discs “Fallen” and “The Open Door.” This is not at all bad or surprising as band member Ben Moody, who was one half of the original Evanescence duo, is clearly present on “Tear the World Down,”  as is guitarist John LeCompt and drummer Rocky gray, both late of the band . All promise a great listen.

The tracks go through the motions and yet … it is unfulfilling. It is seemingly dark but without the – dare one say genius of Amy Lee’s [the other original half of Evanescence] delicious lyrics with her bottomless pit of pain and despair, to say nothing of her semi-operatic voice and virtuosic piano playing. One finds that with the exception of “Bury me Alive” which is rightly a feast for proto-Goths and its delightful video music, proving no doubt that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, we are left empty. Indeed there is even piano in several songs on this disc — imitation as flattery indeed.

Nevertheless, Carly Smithson’s vocals are powerful and sincere and yet, and yet … We are the Fallen’s attempts at musical pain, loss and regret ought to be more heartfelt and more moving and deeper and ought to delight.  More is needed than the seeming desire for revenge. As the phrase goes, I really wanted to like this disc, I really, really did. But . . .

It is odd that one should spend so much time in a review of one band in commenting on another, but in a larger sense it is/was the same band. And in goth brooding fashion it has generated even more pain and discontent over time. For those who do not know, “evanescence” is a meteorological term describing what happens to nighttime fog as the rising sun, after dawn, scatters and burns away those nighttime mists. As a mental image it is really cool. And to a certain extent, that act of scattering has dogged Evanescence almost since its first disc, “Fallen.” Thus the new band’s name. The implication is that they are the true band.

I await Evanescence’s third studio album which hopefully will be released this fall. Let’s see if that dish too is served cold – or will it be suitably seasoned with the lively passion of Amy Lee and as she has sung, in the darkness before the dawn.

– Bill Littlefield

Music Recommendations by Bill L. – Ladyhawke, White Lies, La Roux

September 2, 2010

[Bill L.]

I don’t know about you but I really love 1980’s style MTV music videos. Maybe it is because I/we were all 25 years younger. Maybe it is because we were all sharing something special and new. Maybe it is/was because of the rebellious nature of the original MTV. And I really believe that that the art form, and so it was, has had a lasting effect on popular culture for good or for bad, although I say mostly very good. Here are three modern groups that make extensive use of 80’s style music videos with great success.

Ladyhawke: Music videos are an art form, whether they are really well done or not. But obviously if they are really well done it’s better, right? Ladyhawke, an Australian group fronting “Pip” Wilson as lead singer, is yet another current 80’s retro band, if not just another retro band. Their debut disc Ladyhawke [not to be confused with Ladyhawk, a Canadian rock band] has well modulated vocals and strong, well written lyrics. But the group is best known for amazing retro videos that are well worth watching. Special listens are “Paris is burning”  [the French version is great too] and “Back of the van”, but “My Delirium” is an absolute delight and one of the best done recently.  Enjoy.

White Lies: White Lies are a guy band from West London. “To Lose My Life” [2009] is not a debut album but it is highly memorable with the eponymous track and the improbably titled song “Death”. They are thus fairly dark for an indie-pop band, but very rewarding listening. The song “Farewell to the fairground” is hard to get out of your head, as are in fact all of these tracks. That music video[for Farewell…] is being shot in what was once thought to be Finland north of the Arctic Circle, but is now said to be in Russia.   One can believe it is the most desolate scenery imaginable, which is why it was chosen.  Excellent lyrics, tunes and vocals – what more can one want?  More music from White Lies.

La Roux: CDs La Roux and Sidetracked.  La Roux are a London/Brixton retro synthpop duo, now a full band, being fronted by the rather self-proclaimed androgynous, although not seemingly so, redheaded Ellie Jackson who sports a soaring ginger “quiff” and purposely dresses in often 80’s Ric Ocasek-like boxy jackets [remember those??] and the never seen producer Ben Langmaid. This group, having leaked tracks for the last year and a half in the UK and toured heavily there, then made a swing thru the US last fall and this winter to massive acclaim. They played the Paradise in Boston in January to thunderous applause and enjoyment. And this spring they appeared on “Ellen” thus receiving the imprimatur of acceptance in  the USA.

La Roux is a rather tongue in cheek twist on the French for “red headed one”. It implies the feminine “La” conflicting with the masculine “Roux”, giving a deliberate sense of identity ambiguity. This is another case of a retro pop/rock band as with Ladyhawke and “Little Boots” being in the right place at the right time, with strong writing, delicious synthesizers, great mixing and a take no prisoners attitude of vocals from Ellie.  The debut album is a rare one in which every song is a winner.  All manage to be different in their own way. Granted her thin falsetto, wailing in and of a world in which everything is [and I do mean everything] cheap and disposable, is not for everyone. But then too was the brilliance of David Bowie, Heaven 17, Annie Lennox and Gary Numan’s Pleasure Principle and Telekon with his deliberate rising and falling out of sync decants and synthesizers designed to shock the unwary, to whom Ellie and La Roux have said that they look for influence.

La Roux have just last month released a compilation of their musical favorites with a genuinely brilliant remix of the single Self Machine by the group I Blame Coco [ Coco being Coco Sumner, one of Sting’s daughters], and an amazing performance by Ellie of Mick Jagger’s “Under My Thumb.” The whole disc is astronishingly easy to listen to [for high energy music] and one thinks several times, ah, that was a nice segue to the next track. Many songs are familiar, if half forgotten, and it is all most enjoyable. And it opens a window into the artist’s mind — who do they really listen to?

Ellie has given many interviews and is a master at them, talking at length about the things the band want to accomplish as far as music goes, as well as music generally, and her often unorthodox views. It is quite refreshing. A google will find all you need. One should mention that the major songs on La Roux [the CD] have been made into delightful music videos which are sure to please. The video of “I’m not your  toy” gives the lie to the assertion that Ellie did/does not smile. She most certainly does.

If it seems that I heap praise upon this group, that is correct. Only once in a very long while is such artistry seen. I really hope it’s not long before La Roux produce more of anything! Please listen, please watch, please enjoy.

Bill Littlefield