Monday, July 28, 2008

Black Celebration

Black Celebration-Depeche Mode
Released: March 17, 1986
Mute (UK)/Sire Records (US)

How much do I love this album?  A lot.  Nostalgia reigns supreme when I listen to Black Celebration.  What happens when I hear it?  I remember being blown away with how profound I thought this band was.  How much deeper and relevant than the bubblegum pop of the top 40 charts it was.  Beginning to notice that the British pop charts were better than the US and looking to the Brits to guide me in my music development.  (Golly, they're so lucky.  They have bands like Depeche Mode and The Smiths and we've got Tiffany and Debbie Gibson.)  How this album resonated in my young teenage soul.  These weren't songs that I heard on the radio, by golly.  They were too good for that.  Sure, others knew "People are People", but did anyone know "New Dress"?  No!  Just my friends and me at TSFY!!!!  (One of those friends made a tape of the album for me, which was how I was able to listen to it in the first place.  THANK YOU, WAYNE!!!!!)  Sitting in Miyo Sakashita's bedroom, listening to the very dark (and sexy) lyrics and thinking we were so deep, too.  Exploring the justifications for a God who could allow such horrible things to happen in our world.  Love.  Will anyone ever love me?  Why doesn't Justin see how much I love him and love me back?  You know.  Stuff like that.  Oh yes, profound, my friends.  Absolutely.  

And I still think this is a great album.  For Depeche Mode, fondly dubbed Depressed Mods-- either by me or someone else and I just thought it was me-- this one might just be my favorite.  Oh sure, Catching Up is great fun because it comprises the hits from the first 5 years, but Black Celebration wasn't a hit.  Not then.  It wasn't the same as the others and it is black, my friends.  Bleak, black, dark... a downer you can dance to.  Wonderful stuff.  And, despite one of my favorite songs feeling stuck on at the end and therefore seeming very out of place, it still delivers a very cohesive start to finish journey.  ("But Not Tonight" was, indeed, stuck on at the end for the US release.  It's not on the UK album.)  The choice to end one song and begin the next, almost seamlessly, carrying you from one to the next without interruption creates a very cool effect and, according to something I read, was kind of a new trick back in the mid-80's.  Very melodic and Martin Gore and David Gahan both have solid vocals, never overtaken by the instruments.  They're clear and strong.  And you can sing along real nice.  It's fun that somewhere in the back of my brain I have retained the lyrics.  I bought this CD, I don't know, 8 years ago?  And I still knew all the words.  Maybe they're not as profound, but they're still interesting and relevant.  Not much has changed in the world.  Ugly destruction and greed continues to drive governments, we're still fed lines of crap about how it's all getting better.  And by golly we love to know what our celebrities are up to!  (Or, another interpretation would be that the world's going to pot and Laura Bush just bought an SUV.)

Jet airliner shot from sky
Famine horror, millions die
Earthquake terror figures rise

Princess Di is wearing a new dress

You can't change the world
But you can change the facts
And when you change the facts
You change points of view
If you change points of view
You may change the a vote
And when you change a vote
You may change the world

In black townships fires blaze
Prospects better premier says
Within sight are golden days

Princess Di is wearing a new dress

I mean, really, has anything changed that much?  

Saturday, July 26, 2008

(the best of) New Order (US Version)

(the best of) New Order-New Order
Released: March, 1995 (US Version)

I've been searching on the internet for information related to this album, and it's been fascinating.  Originally released in 1994, in the UK, the track listing is a bit different; but on iTunes, it's different than either the UK or the US releases.  Less tracks and some that aren't on either of the other CDs.  Weird.  Anyway, I have learned a heck of a lot more about New Order than I knew before--which was minimum, though I've liked them for eons, now--and have had moments of "ooooo....well that explains that".  The US version of this compilation features singles and tracks from albums released 1981 through 1993, including new versions/remixes of some.  It's, aside from one or two tracks, a great listen and showcases the evolution of New Order from Joy Division.  My favorite New Order song, "Ceremony", is not included on this album--it was written during the days of Joy Division (Ian Curtis penned the lyrics)--nor are a few of my other favs, but they are on Substance and so it's not as though I don't ever get to listen to them.  Favorites that are on this album are "Age of Consent", "Dreams Never End", "Regret" and "Bizarre Love Triangle".  

"Regret" sounds like older N. O. and isn't.  Originally released in 1993, on the album Republic, it carries this full band sound, so Modern Rock, which by this time was called "alternative", I guess.  I love the guitar, it's rather anthem-like and contrasts with the keyboard electronica so well.  It rides along with the melody during the chorus, boosting the gorgeousness of the song.  Though I like the electronica of "Blue Monday" and the songs that go along with that (Many which are not on this comp.), I do prefer the tunes that include the live instruments and have a, to my ears, distinctly modern music sound.  The songs that we danced to at The Blitz back in high school... "Age of Consent" and the like.  We think we are so unconventional, so wise in our music likes, so different and, I'll say it, superior to all those top 40 and hair band kids.  We know the real depth and talent of musicians and bands.  We have the sophisticated taste.  Good grief, pretentious much?  Well, is it any different now?  Really?  Sure, I have a better appreciation of genres I may have scoffed at in jr. high and high school.  I'm more ready to admit to liking sugary pop songs that aren't necessarily good, but they make me smile.  (Though I have never, and I never will back down from loving Barry Manilow, so don't even try to mock me on that.  It won't work.)  But I still like music that isn't on the top 40 charts (unless it's a fluke) or the commercial "alternative" stations.  I listen to the indie pop, primarily, and believe myself to like better music than the conventional stuff most people hear.  Things haven't changed that much.  Though, I like to think of myself as not getting on the "oh, well, now they've sold out so I don't like them anymore" complainer wagon.  Rather, I am happy they get to make a living as artists and hope they continue to put out great records.  If not, well then I can listen to the older stuff and remember when...

ANYWAY that's all blah blah blah which I'm sure I've already blahed about on this blog.  Boring.

I'm not a big fan of "1963", it's cheesy.  Narrative lyrics, verse, chorus, verse structure, which isn't a bad thing.  I like songs written in that way, however, I find it very Movie of the Week/After School Special.  The tune's fine, but nothing that grabs me and makes my musical heartstrings sing and get all fluttery.  Maybe if they'd chosen a name other than Johnny?  I dont' know, it's just cheese to me.  Apparently, the band had wanted to release it as the single with "True Faith" the B-side, but the smarty pants execs suggested swapping the two.  Well, "True Faith" was a HUGE hit so I guess it was a good move.  Remember the video?  Wow.  That was a cool one.  I think that was the year we got cable so I actually got to watch Mtv and they showed that in regular rotation, not just on 120 Minutes.  I can also do without the UK World Cup football (soccer) team's theme song, "World in Motion".  Call it the "Super Bowl Shuffle" of it's sport.  Eh.  I could do without that one, too.  (My oldest sister, Gina, she bought that single.  I think she was in love with Jim McMahon.)

They wanted to get away from the Joy Division, post-punk sound and they succeeded.  It's great to hear that growth, and I'm glad that it wasn't gone, entirely, since some of my New Order favorites carry that with them.  But "Fine Time"--come on!  Bleeting sheep at the end?  Very cool--and "Blue Monday" are wonderful examples of the handle they had on dance music, and those tunes are six years apart.  I think they are innovative and are also probably why I associate techno with the Brits.  (Well, I'm sure I was told that's where the dance beat came from, but N. O. is one of a few bands that I can name who I like and listened to on a regular basis.)  Good job, guys!

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Best of The Songbooks (Discs 2 & 3)

The Best of the Songbooks (Discs 2 & 3)-Ella Fitzgerald
Released: Polygram
September 24, 1996

Remiss I have been in my entries... and I have nothing to say except I was busy reading.  Now, as the summer marks it's half way point (for me, anyway) I find that I actually have to WORK for two weeks before heading down to Southern Cal to visit Shawn.  I mean, what kind of nonsense is this (she says with a wink and a smile)?!  Phew!  Temp work rocks!

So, let's get to it.  We'll finish up with Ella--though she'll be back, I can assure you--and move forward to some New Order.  Later.  Tomorrow.  Probably.

Discs 2 & 3 of the box set have titles: "Love Songs" and "Ballads", not in that order.  What I find amusing about the grouping of love songs, is that they are all love songs.  Were any popular tunes written in the hey day of dinner and dancing not?  Most likely, but it seems that the majority that play on the perpetual juke box of nostalgia are, indeed, about some kind of love.  Happy love.  Sad love.  Mad love.  Silly love.  Old love, new love, every love but true love...  I love it.  We should have more dinner and dancing in this world.  The real kind.  The kind where it's not for a lark and wouldn't it be fun if we got all dressed up like in the old days and pay for a steak dinner, some low lights and some dancing?  But for real.  A regular night on the town.  Wonder what happened?  I'm sure there are books about it, describing the rise and fall of the dining dancers.  We're too busy.  We're too lazy.  We're too strapped for cash.  High heels were shunned.  (though they came back, left came back and now are back and with a vengeance...)  Was it disco?  

Well, if we all listened to Ella (Or Chet, or Dinah, or Etta, or Billie, or Sarah) we'd all be inspired to head out and trip the light fantastic with our lover, cheek to cheek and humming love songs into each others ear/shoulder/hair--where ever you happen to reach when dancing with said lover/date/stranger/friend.  I'd definitely have to be wearing heels to reach Shawn's cheek.  

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Best of the Songbooks (Disc 1)

The Best of the Songbooks (Disc 1)-Ella Fitzgerald
Released: September 24, 1996
Polygram Records

(Now, this is strange... these songs were recorded when Ella was with Verve Records, recorded in the 50's and 60's, primarily; and here the box set is attributed to Polygram... well, not really that important, just something to note.  Moving on...)

Sometime when I was a freshman in high school, my boyfriend, John Moreau, and I fell in love with Ella Fitzgerald.  Maybe he was already enamored with her and he passed it along to me.  Or maybe we discovered her at the same time.  Doesn't signify.  The point is that we loved her.  Did it happen after my mom gave me The Cole Porter Songbook, full of his tunes that I could plunk out on the piano and sing to, because she knew how much I adored Kiss Me Kate?  Or did that happen after the Ella infatuation?  Perhaps it was after buying Red Hot and Blue, a tribute album to Porter with songs sung by the likes of David Byrne, Sinead O'Connor, Iggy Pop and Debbie Harry, whose proceeds went to HIV/AIDS funding?  (That's a fabulous record, by the by.  Annie Lennox's version of "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye" just broke my heart.)  How, when and where is less important than that it happened at all.  No one sings like Ella Fitzgerald.   No one sounds like her.  Her catalog is immense, but the songbooks are my favorite.  The ones dedicated to Cole Porter are my all time favorite, but I'd be happy listening to her sing anything.

I just read that she has a three octave range.  Wow.  I knew it was big, but wow.  Three octaves.  That explains a lot, don't you think?  Isn't the average 2 1/2?  I particularly love her "Miss Otis Regrets" because she brings a true sense of regret and sadness to the song.  I sympathize with Miss Otis, feeling awfully sorry for the poor, wronged woman.  I also read that this was a favorite for many and she often sang this song during her encores.  That darn mob, they should have had more sympathy for her.  How moved she is by Miss Otis' plight.  

With these songs--"standards" I think they call them nowadays--fans have their favorite singers and renditions.  Trying to describe why one is better than another isn't the point of this entry, nor do I feel like I could do so.  I don't have a bunch of versions, I have a few.  I enjoy most of those singers--the old fashioned ones, primarily-- who sang the cannon of great American songwriters of the early part of the first half of the 20th century.  But Ella's voice is velvet and silk.  Her take on the songs is unique and completely intuitive.  I am not an authority; I can't say how much of the arrangements are hers versus the band leader's, but I bet she's very influential.  Listening to her is summer.  It's cocktails and hors d'oeuvres.  Dancing with your love, or falling in love with someone new.  Drifting along on her smooth vocals, you don't even have to be doing anything at all.  Not a thing.  Humming along, swaying a little... whatever makes you feel good.  

Monday, July 07, 2008

Beneath the Country Underdog

Beneath the Country Underdog-Kelly Hogan and the Pine Valley Cosmonauts
Released: April 4, 2000
Bloodshot Records

The first time I listened to this album I thought that many of the songs sounded familiar, but I just couldn't put my finger on where I might have heard them originally.  Except one song.  The song that made me want to borrow the album from the library years ago.  (I don't know why I never looked at the liner notes...) Hogan covers "Papa Was a Rodeo", by Stephen Merritt; the original can be found on one of the greatest albums made at the end of the 20th century, 69 Love Songs.  After much searching around the internet, today, I was able to confirm that all but four songs were written for this album, three by Hogan and guitarist Andy Hopkins, and one by guitarist John Langford.  The best songs are the covers.  

Of the new songs, Langford's is, to my ears, preferable to the other three.  I wanted to like "Crackers Rule" because I liked the tune, and have chuckled trying to figure out what "practicing drunkard's etiquette" could possibly look like.  Many ideas have crossed my mind, all of them ridiculous in a silly way.  But I lose my like at the title and at the refrain "Crackers rule this place, where we hide.  Suckers long for yesterday, just let this day be mine."  Maybe it's a Georgian thing?  Maybe I'm a stick in the mud too proper for my own good gal?  Her slavish devotion to this drunk, depressingly pathetic lover is a bit much for me, as well.  

Enough about that.  What I do like are Hogan's vocals.  They are clean, solid and can be very pretty.  Her versions of "Easy Loving" and "Whispering Pines" (by Freddie Hart and The Band, respectively) show a strength for phrasing and connection to the material.  Her voice slides neatly on a note, lingering for effect when appropriate.  Sort of like the slide guitar (or is it a lap steele?) and the fiddle playing in the background of "Easy Loving".  This in contrast to letting go on "Wild Mountain Berries" (Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn sang this one).  It's cheesy, but fun.  Frolicsome and cute.  Pitchfork called it campy and not in a flattering way.  Sure it's silly, big deal.  Cheese can be very appropriate sometimes.  I like that she lets loose a little more on this song, too.  Growls, yips and whoops it up.  There is still control, however.  And maybe that's why I'm not super wild for Kelly Hogan and she'll just be a singer that I like enough to listen to but I doubt I'll crave her album.  For me, she is missing an edge, which I think is partly what separates her from the likes of Neko Case.  

I don't know much more about the Pine Valley Cosmonauts than I do Hogan, and I'm afraid I haven't much to say about their presence on this album.  They play perfectly nicely, as far as I can tell, but there isn't anything about them that makes me stand up and take notice.  I listen to this album because I like Hogan's singing and her take on the covers.  This may say a lot more about the Cosmonauts talents as a backing band, as they meld well with the singer and it's all one enjoyable sound.  Plenty pleasant to listen to but doesn't leave me with a need to listen to over and over again.  That's a funny side affect of this project.  When I listen to something that I love, it's so easy to sit through it at home, and then on my iPod as I walk around town doing whatever it is that I do.  With a few albums, so far (I'm sooooooooooooooooooooooo barely scratching the surface...) I've been reluctant to get through them.  The first time I tried to listen to Beneath the Country Underdog the day after I got back from Idaho, last week.  I was going to Trader Joe's and Madison Market, which is a lot of time round trip on foot, plenty of time to hear it through a couple of times.  I started it, I thought: Ok.  That's right, this is a fun album.  But by the time I got home I really couldn't imagine listening again, and I put in Pet Sounds for about 18 rotations.  I was excited about that one and I couldn't get enough for three days.  What is it, what is it, what is it?  That thing that makes something so much better than something else?