Friday, May 25, 2018

The Languid Wallop

Coming off Pink Floyd's "In The Flesh" Tour which ended with an increasingly agitated Roger Waters spitting at a fan, the usually reclusive David Gilmour had helped secure Kate Bush a record deal and was now ready to make his own statement, a solo album released May 25,  1978. 

 Fans, reading between the lines of songs like "There's No Way Out of Here", could sense Gilmour's state of mind.

 “This album [David Gilmour] was important to me in terms of self respect.," Gilmour told Circus Magazine. "At first I didn’t think my name was big enough to carry it. Being in a group for so long can be a bit claustrophobic, and I needed to step out from behind Pink Floyd’s shadow.” 

Michael Bloom, writing for Rolling Stone, was not all that impressed with the album, which went gold

In his work with Pink Floyd, David Gilmour's exact, blues-based guitar solos function as tense pivotal points that set the stage for the next revelation. On his first solo album, however, Gilmour simply flirts with his own crystalline perfection. Drummer Willie Wilson (from the Sutherland Brothers and Quiver) and bassist Rick Wills (a ubiquitous hack from Frampton's Camel, Roxy Music and the reconstituted Small Faces) are constrained to the sluggish tempos favored by Floyd, and Gilmour dives in like a duck to water. But the alien overview, the philosophical paradoxes that make Pink Floyd's lazy playing so poignant and pregnant, are sorely missed here. Gilmour affects a bland innocence in the face of earthly perversity in lyrics barely worthy of Samuel Beckett's shoeshine boy. 

 One cut stands out: "Short and Sweet," coauthored by muckraker Roy Harper. A longtime Floyd ally -- he sang the biting "Have a Cigar" on Wish You Were Here -- Harper is widely regarded as the most uncompromisingly honest songwriter in England. Here, he articulates the existential riddle of David Gilmour better than Gilmour himself can. 

 There's nothing amiss with David Gilmour as an immaculate guitar sampler, but as far as providing genuine ideas -- forget it.

Future Rolling Stone Album Guides would mostly share the sentiment, although I swear there was a four star review in the second edition.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Fly Her Away

In May of 1978 The Motors released their sophomore album Approved By The Motors, which featured their biggest hit, the U.K. #4 "Airport". Andrew McMaster says he wrote the song while living under the Heathrow flightpath. The follow-up single, "Forget About You", reached number 13 in the U.K. charts. The band would break up before releasing  their third album Tenement Steps in 1980. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Beaten Black, Beaten Blue

In May of 1978 the punk rock band Angelic Upstarts released their debut single "The Murder of Liddle Towers", an anti-police diatribe recounting the death of a 39 year old electrician who was allegedly beaten by police outside a nightclub. He died three weeks later.  An inquest into the death returned a verdict of justifiable homicide. 

The case also inspired Tom Robinson's " Blue Murder" and "Liddle Towers" by the skinhead band The Crux. 

Liddle Towers

Why did he die, or did they lie? 
I think he's dead, so a doctor said 
He was beaten black, He was beaten blue 
But don't be alarmed, it was the right thing to do 
The police have the power, Police have the right
 To kill a man to take away his life 
Drunk and disorderly was his crime 
I think at worst he should be doing time
 But he's dead He was drunk and disorderly and now he's dead 

More than two decades after its release, their debut single, "The Murder Of Liddle Towers", was included in Mojo magazine’s list of the best punk rock singles of all time. With other blue collar punks, the Upstarts became the forefathers of the Oi skinhead movement although they were anti-racism and never flirted with right wing elements.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Suck My Socks

On May 27 a mysterious seven inch from someone named Klark Kent was released on green vinyl, in a green sleeve,  on the Kryptonite label. The press release suggested Kent came from a Welsh fishing village and could only speak a New Orleans patois but we would all soon learn the singer of the U.K. #48 hit "Don't Care" was none other than Stewart Copeland, the drummer of The Police. He'd offred the song to his band but Sting just couldn't relate to lyrics like 

I Am The Hottest Thing You Ever Will See 
You Know I'm Something It Ain't Easy To Be
 I Am The Neatest Thing That Ever Hit Town 
There Isn't Anything The Could Bring Me Down

Monday, May 21, 2018

Functioning Automatic

In May of 1978, Kraftwerk released Die Mensch-Maschine (The Man Machine) ushering in an age of electronic pop music that would inspire everyone from Gary Numan, to The Human League, from Depeche Mode to New Order.  Kraftwerk has always been one of the most mysterious bands of the rock era. Upon first listening to their album, you might think the band has decided to keep its most human qualities as distant as possible from the music they play.

"We are playing the machines, the machines play us," Ralf Hütter explained at the time. "It is really the exchange and friendship we have with the machines which make us build a new music."

With time, listeners pick up on Kraftwerk's wicked sense of irony, most apparent at the record launch in Paris where the press were greeted by the Kraftwerk automatons. If the press criticized their music as so cold they could have been written by robots, then the band members would give them real robots.

For many, the highlight of the album is "The Model", a song so ahead of its time it would take five years before it would reach the U.K. Top 40, sounding not at all out of place among the likes of Soft Cell and The Human League. The model may be beautiful but she is just as much of a robot as anyone else, "posing for consumer products now and then".

The Man Machine is the greatest statement Kraftwerk would ever make. In fact, it's so perfect the band would never come close to topping it. They took a three year break before releasing Computer World. Soon Hütter and bandmate Florian Schneider would become obsessed with cycling, riding up to 200 kilometers a day.

The world's greatest technological rock band would be side tracked by something as simple as a bicycle.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Psychic Frequencies

On May 20, Blondie's new single "(I'm Always Touched by Your) Presence, Dear" peaked in the U.K. charts at #10. The music may be straight-forward by the double tracked lyrics are quite complicated, referencing kismet, theosophy, R.E.M, levitation and the stratosphere. Departing bassist Gary Valentine wrote the song about the telepathic experiences he believed he was having with then girlfriend Lisa Jane Persky ( who played the teenage daughter in The Great Santini opposite Robert Duvall).

"During the Iggy {Pop} tour we discovered we were having the same kind of dreams or found we were thinking of each other at the same time.," said  Valentine. "Although we were thousands of miles apart, we were still in touch. Thinking of this one afternoon, it all came together in a song."

The single, from Blondie's second album,  Plastic Letters,  was not released in the United States.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Every Dog Has His Day

On May 19, 1978 The Kinks released Misfits, their follow-up to their Arista debut Sleepwalker. Here, we find Ray Davies contemplating the rock and roll life during the punk revolution with the wistful tone of an older and wiser man who has already seen it all.

To sell the album, The Kinks hit the road with drummer Mick Avory returning into the fold and two newcomers Gordon Edwards (Pretty Things) and Jim Rodford (Argent) . Across the United States The Kinks played with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Blondie, Cheap Trick and The Cars.  The single 'A Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy" peaked at US#30 in September., around the same time Bad Company was recording their last hit single, uh--this is awkward--, "Rock'n'Roll Fantasy". No relation. 

After twenty-odd albums, either you follow the Kinks or you don't. If you don't ("Gently pity those you can't persuade," as Jonathan Swift put it), it's unlikely you'll acquire the habit with Misfits, especially since none of the songs sounds like an immediate hit single. But if you do, this LP can make you cry. Not because Misfits is a bad record — on the contrary, it's the Kinks' best since, at the very least, 1974's underrated Preservation Act 2. No, what makes it heart-rending is its candor bordering on cruelty. And both the victim and the victor are Ray Davies. 

 It's as if the voice that has probably whispered for years inside Ray Davies' head, murmuring, "Come out, come out, wherever you are," has swollen into a scream that can no longer be stifled. No more hide-and-seek with the dramatis personae of the theatrical RCA albums or the metaphors of the last LP, Sleepwalker, the Kinks' first for Arista. No more peek-aboo behind cute ambiguity ("...I'm glad I'm a man/And so is Lola") or the disingenuous exhibitionism of drunkenness. Out of the closet, out of the Kinks even, and into the fire — not of damnation but, what's more excruciating, of irresolution. For sometimes, coming out isn't as difficult as it's cracked up to be: discovering where you are is often the hard part. That's why Davies, rather than answering the scream in kind, responds with a sigh that is desolating but that also speaks of a peace — a sadder but wiser awareness of his own ambivalence — that passeth all under-standing. 

 Where, after all, does a misfit belong? To come out of the closet may be to leap into the void. Almost all of the songs on this record are about people who don't belong anywhere: a tax exile in a tropical land, a heterosexual transvestite, "the only honky living on an all black street" and most of all, Ray Davies himself. The title track, addressed to every performer whose time has come and gone, but especially to Davies, is a fitting introduction to the Kinks' most intimate album. Alienated from the dwindling crowd on whom his livelihood depends, Davies sings: 

You had your chance in your day
Yet you threw it all away 
But you know what they say 
Every dog has his day. 

 That "dog," which Davies drops almost casually, without bitterness or self-pity, is devastating. Apart from Johnny Rotten, the only other rock performers capable of such a brutal self-assessment are Pete Townshend and perhaps Neil Young. "Misfits" shows up a song like Jackson Browne's "Running on Empty" for the callow self-romanticization it really is.

 "A Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy" is even more ruthless. It's a twofold fantasy: that of Davies, who'll "break up the band, start a new life, be a new man," and that of a diehard Kinks fan, Dan, who's wrapped up in their records. At its lovely beginning, the song suggests a breathy ballad by the Bee Gees, another veteran group but one that, unlike the Kinks, is now enjoying greater commercial success than ever before. As the lyrics describe Dan's rapt devotion, billowing harmonies deliberately evoke the Beach Boys, a band that seems to have soldiered on only for the sake of nostalgia. Then, as this description reaches its climax, the Kinks burst into an approximation of the sound of Boston's dense, swirling guitars. (If Boston can scarcely get it together to record a second LP, imagine how the Kinks, whose success was equally over-night, feel as they approach their twenty-second or so!) "A Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy" ends with Davies insisting, "Don't want to spend my life, living in a rock 'n' roll fantasy /...Don't want to waste my life, hiding away anymore," but after nearly fifteen years as a rock and  roller, it's clear that any alternative is every bit as much a fantasy. You can't teach an old dog new tricks. 

 Quoted in snatches, the lyrics of these two songs make them sound lacerating, but actually they're extraordinarily tender. Ray Davies sings them gently, almost conversationally, as if the last thing he wanted to do were to melodramatize his dilemma. Indeed, Misfits may be his best-sung — and most subtly sung — record yet. "Misfits" and "A Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy" are arranged as under-stated anthems; each begins on a delicate, confessional note and builds, layer upon layer, to a chaste grandeur that never topples over into pretentiousness. With Andy Pyle replacing John Dalton on bass, the Kinks play immaculately. This is rock and roll with a bitter-sweet restraint.

Only "Trust Your Heart," the first song kid-brother-cum-lead-guitarist Dave Davies has written and recorded in six years, erupts uncontrollably, and the chaos is scarifying. As the track lurches from a love song to a political jeremiad ("What on earth do we need government for?"), guitars whine and wallop in a dark void. Dave squeals and caterwauls like Little Richard until on the last verse, his hysteria becomes incomprehensible without the lyrics sheet. Unlike Ray, he cannot articulate his torment, which makes it all the more violent. How can you trust your heart when it's incoherent?

 Letting it all hang out as the brothers Davies do on Misfits has its limitations. The straightforward "Out of the Wardrobe," a prosaic ode to transvestism, misses the dodgy wit of "Lola." Though "Black Messiah" rightly ridicules the naive enthusiasm of white audiences for the Rastafarianism of reggae (which it travesties musically by adulterating it with Dixieland), the song raises without resolving the issue of Davies' own racism. And "Get Up" is saved from unseemly condescension ("Here's a message for the little guy") only by the excitement of its beat and because it becomes obvious that the exhortation is aimed, above all, at the singer himself. 

 Thanks to Ray Davies, Misfits is very nearly a masterpiece because it anatomizes rather than glorifies Davies' role as "One of the Survivors," as the Kinks sang five years ago. After all, merely to have survived is nothing to crow about: Al Martino is hanging in there, too, and for all we know, Martin Bormann is alive and well and living in Argentina. For an artist (and anyone else, for that matter), the point is not only to survive, but to flourish. The Kinks aren't getting older — they're getting better.

From Robert Christgau's B review:

 Ray Davies hasn't put so many hummable melodies in one place since Everybody's in Showbiz (just to make sure, he's put a couple of them both places), and the lyrics evince renewed thought and craft. All of which makes his congenital parochialism and ressentiment seem surprisingly fresh and vivid. Dismaying: "Black Messiah"--Enoch Powell would be proud.

Rolling Stone critics called both Misfits and the "Rock'n'Roll Fantasy" single Runners Up in Best album and Best Single  categories.