We're already halfway into June and we've been listening to a lot of music. Time to catch up!
Andy Partridge ***
My Failed Songwriting Career Vol 2
I stumbled across this reasonably priced and adorably packaged CD/EP at Rhino Records in Claremont, CA. It's the second in a new series of archive releases for the former XTC songsmith and the title says it all. After the demise of XTC, Partridge put himself out there as a songwriter for hire. These volumes collect demos of songs written for other performers but were rejected. As far as I know, the only artist that used any of Partidge's songs on demand were The Monkees who recorded his "You Bring The Summer" for their 2016 album Good Times! and "Unwrap You At Christmas" for their swan song follow up Christmas Party two years later.
Mr. Partridge and friend
The four tracks include a request for something "a bit like Small Faces," ["Seesaw"] an attempt at a jazz pop standard ["Let's Make Everything Love" [I'm guessing Michael Buble' wasn't impressed], The Beatle-y "Come On Back" ["for a big name singer"] and "Love In The Future" ["worked up and shoved into the 'just in case somebody needs an odd piece of angular space jungle pop' box"]. Delightful, but for hard core fans only.
Big Stir Records
I am very grateful to Christina and Rex at Big Stir for sending out this record many weeks before its release was even announced. I needed the head start. My first exposure to this very English band led by Peter Watts was last year's Blow Their Covers which was all interesting cover songs and made our top ten list for 2021. I wondered how they would sound on an album of their own material.
The answer is, they sound amazing. This is an album that is densely arranged terrific pop, sporting wry wordplay ["I Dig Your New Robes, Pierre!"] and tight, locomotive, arrangements. Though I liked it immediately, there is so much packed into these songs it has taken me weeks of listening to really absorb them. I'm tempted to say that the best way to listen to Jobbernowl is one song at a time, each day. Trying to listen to the whole album in one sitting keeps you from focusing on the brilliance of each individual track. If you like The Beatles via Squeeze, XTC and E and the As, this album is highly recommended. bigstirrecords.com/spygenius
Florence + The Machine *****
To quote Alanis Morrisette, "Isn't it ironic" that that the release of Florence Welch's brilliant new opus is currently being overshadowed by the mind-boggling resurgence of one of her heroes and major inspirations, Kate Bush. Welch has faced comparisons to Bush throughout her career because, a) she's a female artist with an extremely powerful, multi-octave voice, and b) her music is highly original and her influences are not so obvious.
Welch's persona, especially on this new record, exudes 'Pre-Raphaelite witch,' with her flowing red hair and lacy gothic dresses. The lyrics on several songs as well as the lead single and video "King" portray her as some kind of regal vampire, while the lyrics for "Back In Town" suggest someone returning to an unhealthy relationship after trying to escape or, perhaps, to exact revenge?.
"Never really been alive before, I always lived in my head,
And sometimes it was easier, Hungover and half-dead,
I'm back in town, why don't we go out?
Let the rats spin around our feet
The full moon shines down on these dirty streets
Back in town, why don't we go out
To that ninth street diner?
And carry on slowly, torturing each other
'Cause it's always the same
I came for the pleasure, but I stayed for the pain."
The Inflorescence *****
Remember What I Look Like
Kill Rock Stars
From Florence to Inflorescence, the San Diego based pop punk outfit fronted by Tuesday Denekas [who just happens to be the daughter of Knock and Knowall favorite, Tamar Berk] with Charlee Berlin, Sasha A'Hearn and Milla Merlini, are ready to take on the world with their energetic debut album Remember What I Look Like from Kill Rock Stars.
As this sort of music is not generally in my bailiwick [though I very much like it] I turned to my daughter Kelly for her expertise. For her, the music evokes a resemblance to Bikini Kill, but closer to pop than punk. She likens their music to the "surf-rockish, punk rock indie sound a-la The Buttertones." For my part, I find the album to be melodic, musically and lyrically confident, with very strong performances from these four musicians who are still quite young. Tell your kids! https://theinflorescence.bandcamp.com/album/remember-what-i-look-like
Ann Wilson ***
Silver Lining Music
Venerable rock band Heart have been on a lengthy hiatus since an unfortunate backstage incident that created a rift between sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson. Though they have since reconciled, the worldwide pandemic has delayed plans for a new Heart record or tour [Bulletin: plans for a 50th anniversary tour have just been announced for 2023]. Both have worked on individual projects with Ann releasing two EPs and and an album of cover songs chosen to highlight her amazing voice. Unfortunately, her producer didn't quite know how best to make it all work, with almost embarrassing results.
With Fierce Bliss, Wilson co-produces with guitarist Tom Bukovac with far better results. The album is a mixture of originals and some well-chosen covers, including the Robin Trower classic "Bridge of Sighs" with Kenny Wayne Shepherd guesting on lead guitar and clearly relishing his task. Another highlight is Vince Gill in a duet with Wilson on Freddie Mercury's beautiful ballad "Love of My Life." Wilson's voice has mellowed with age but has lost none of its power.
The CD comes in a lavish hardboard digipak graced by a florid Roger Dean painting of a parrot surveying one of Dean's patented [unless you're James Cameron, apparently] alien landscapes.
The Fixx *****
Every Five Seconds
As an old guy, there is nothing I like better than when a veteran band decides to show all these young whippersnappers, with their seventeen songwriters and twenty four producers on one track, how it's properly done. The Fixx return with their 80s heyday lineup intact, displaying their unique songwriting chops, inspired, precision musicianship and the kind of swagger that can only be backed by true talent. Buy it!
The Black Heartthrobs *****
Back To Zero
Singer/songwriter/guitarist David Benitez was formerly the bass player for the punk band Osker who were signed to Epitaph Records. But, as a songwriter, David is a disciple of garage pop icons The Plimsouls and The Knack along with their respective songsmiths Peter Case and Berton Averre.
Hailing from Culver City, CA, The Back Heartthrobs don't really sound like either of those bands, though. It's difficult to pin down who they sound like as the most important lesson Benitez seems to have learned is to be yourself, be original and go where your muse takes you without hesitation. The songs range in style from driving venom laced garage rawk with way more street cred than Weezer, to lovely, jangly, indie power pop [a-la Nada Surf] featuring wry, observant lyrics.
Joe Bouchard ****
Rockheart Records/Deko Entertainmant
One of the strengths of the original Blue Öyster Cult was that all five members were great songwriters. While Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser was initially not very prolific, he had a knack for coming up with songs that got played on the radio. Many of the classic album tracks and concert favorites, though, were composed by either bassist Joe Bouchard and/or his brother Albert. This is why any new album released by either of the Bouchard brothers instantly evokes the memory of one of my favorite bands.
Bouchard's latest, American Rocker delivers those memories in spades and honestly provides me with more of those 'BÖC feels' than the most recent Cult album. His distinctive voice, reminiscent of Albert's but easily distinguishable, and his very recognizable, deceptively sophisticated compositional style are combined with lyrics worldly and otherworldly that echo BÖC's early days.
Bouchard plays all the instruments himself, including brass, but leaves the drumming to veteran Mickey Curry and brings in John Jorgenson to play some tasty Buck Dharma style lead guitar on "The Golden Age" a wistful look back at the good old arena days.
Chris Church *****
Prolific purveyor of pulchritudinous power pop, Chris Church makes his long overdue appearance on our humble website with his latest collection of lush, shimmering and melodic tunes. Church, along with label mate Dolph Chaney, are going a long way to help fill the void left by the late, great Tommy Keene. If I had one wish, though, I would hop into a TARDIS, sneak into every one of the mixing sessions for Church's past several albums and nudge the fader up on his lovely vocals, which tend to get drowned out by all the gorgeous guitars.
The Containers *****
The last album of this batch is not new. In fact it's quite old, dating back to both 1979, when it was recorded, to 2017, when it was finally released on vinyl. It is, however, new to me and it is an exciting discovery for a longtime fan of Robyn Hitchcock and his original band The Soft Boys.
There are a lot of names that show up in Robyn Hitchcock lore, such as Telephone Bill and the Operators, Dennis and the Experts, Airborne Alice, Mike Kemp, Mungo Carstairs, original Soft Boys Jim Melton and Alan "Wangbow" Davies, original Egyptian Roger Jackson and James A. ("The Great One") Smith. These names are legendary in certain circles, but they are mostly blokes you can find on Facebook, living their lives, free of the burdon of stardom. Cambridgeshire, UK, is certainly known for eccentric songwriters like Syd Barrett, Hitchcock and Kimberley Rew ["Walking On Sunshine", "Going Down To Liverpool", "Love Shine A Light"], but one such songwriter who never got his due is the aforementioned James A. Smith.
In 1979, Smith and his band The Containers featuring Stella Barker [who went on to fame with The Belle Stars] and Adrian 'Hots' Fisher, recorded an album's worth of Smith's quirky tunes at the legendary Spaceward studios [where The Soft Boys recorded and where a young singer/guitarist Gary Numan first stumbled upon a Minimoog] operated by producer/engineer Mike Kemp. The Containers were abetted in the studio on guitar and drums by Soft Boys Robyn Hitchcock and Morris Windsor.
The songs on the album are easily as unhinged and whimsical as the Soft Boys debut LP A Can of Bees, if not more so, with titles like "I Love To Eat On British Rail." "I couldn't afford to eat on British Rail so I wrote this instead," Smith writes in the liner notes. "Flight 11" was written from a place of "Jealousy. I couldn't afford to go on holiday, so I just imagined having one to make myself feel better." "Swallowed Too Much" is a hangover song while "Rita's Legs" actually scored Smith his first major romantic dalliance with the lovely Rita in question, followed by his first experience with heartbreak.
Just when you think you've heard it all...
Eric Sandberg: My true opinion on everything is that it's splunge.