In the normal course of events the music marketplace is flooded with new releases
around November and December while the first quarter of the subsequent year sees only a tiny slate of releases by lesser artists. Sniffley old Uncle Covid, however refuses to pass on and keeps tossing his three toed cane into the machinery at the pressing plants causing a delightful spillover of notable releases early in the new year. Let's take a look at just a few.
Reviews by Eric Sandberg
David Bowie ISO/Parlophone
Toy (Box Set) *****
Toy was intended as a record and release quickly project for Bowie, something like what Elvis Costello did years later with Momofuku. It found him in a reflective mood, reworking songs from the earliest parts of his career, when he was David Jones, along with a couple of new tunes. These reworked versions reveal how skilled a songwriter Bowie was, even in his early teens. Not quite as sophisticated as say, "Life On Mars," but worthy of their time.
Alas, by the end of the 90s Bowie was no longer the monstrous unit shifter of yore and his cash strapped record label balked at releasing the album. The glorious new song "Shadow Man" ended up on 2002's Heathen (The Rays) while the title track appeared on the late career 3-disc compilation Nothing Has Changed.
This release offers three discs; the original album as intended, a disc of outtakes including a version of "Liza Jane," not on the album, while the third contains stripped down acoustic performances of the songs. Though a person on my budget might have preferred a single disc release, I am grateful that they released a standalone version from the hopelessly expensive [for me] decade overview box sets, something they did not do for the intriguing rerecording of Bowie's late 80's let down of an album, ironically titled Never Let Me Down.
Flying Dream 1 *****
With every new release elbow seems to lose a little more of the gravitas they achieved during their Mercury Prize winning heyday. The Potter brothers create moody soundscapes and Guy Garvey sets words to them with his gorgeous, expressive voice. Except the words occasionally sound cringe-y [...and a very chatty monkey fast asleep behind me] and the soundscapes lack the dynamics and structure of their earlier albums.
Sadly, the best thing about the prospect of a new elbow album these days is Guy Garvey's hiatus from his Sunday BBC Six Music show to record it. His fill-in guy Cillian Murphy is the best music curator I've heard in my lifetime.
Danny Elfman Anti Records
Big Mess *****
The Celebrated Film Scorer and former Oingo Boingo frontman has released the most accurately titled album since Millie Jackson's Back To The Sh*t.
Elvis Costello & The Imposters Capitol
The Boy Named If *****
To be a loyal Elvis Costello fan over the decades involves a great deal of patience. Elvis sings opera, Elvis sings orchestrated pop, Elvis composes classical music and avant garde Euro pop...not all bad but a far cry from "Pump It Up." Canny Elvis knows he needs to give the people what they want now and then and on The Boy Named If he delivers. Thirteen urgent Costello rockers and ballads pinned down by one of the best drummers who ever lived in Pete Thomas, colored by the great Steve Naive and pumped up by longtime bassist Davey Faragher. With many of our old favorites departing Earth at a depressing clip, new albums from the still breathing greats are a much needed salve.
Tears For Fears Concord
The Tipping Point *****
Tears For Fears are one of the greatest bands to come out of the 80s because their music is timeless and is as fresh today as it was in its time. Their secret was that they were really making concise progressive rock initially disguised as synth pop. As Guitarist/singer Roland Orzabal emerged as the more talented and dominant songwriter, bassist/singer Curt Smith left the band in 1989.
After two fine albums by Orzabal under the name Tears For Fears, the pair patched up their differences and released Everybody Loves A Happy Ending to critical raves but poor sales. The album was perhaps a bit too English prog and whimsical for mainstream audiences. For the better part of seventeen years their manager convinced them that they did not need to make another album and could subsist on touring their substantial catalog of hits.
Ultimately, Roland and Curt fired their manager and set about writing and recording The Tipping point, partly as a way for Orzabal to process his grief over the passing of his longtime wife after years of being her main caregiver.
The Tipping Point is an elegant statement by Tears For Fears that they belong in the top tier of today's music acts. In Charlton Pettus they have chosen a producer with the skills to bring their sound into 2022 to the point that I actually heard a deep track from the album played on KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic radio show just this morning. The opening track which is reminiscent of a late 70's Gilmour/Waters collaboration provides a fitting anthem for our current world with the plaintively sung line ...freedom is no small thing.
Lannie Flowers Big Stir
Flavor Of The Month *****
To quote legendary Spinal Tap manager Ian Faith, "Every song on this album is a hit!" How can I make this bold claim? Because they were all previously released as singles and they were all hits...in that Indie relative way. Imagine an album comprised of songs that were carefully crafted and recorded, one at a time, with the energy and care that only goes into a song that is going to stand alone as an artist' latest musical statement.
This may be a compilation of singles but it sounds like Revolver! From the Beatles via Oasis inflected "Lost In A Daydream" to the Attractions era, venom spitting, Elvis Costello of the title track, this album has fourteen A-sides of relentlessly pleasing power pop and, in it's gorgeous, high quality mini-LP CD package, it is a must-own.
Anton Barbeau Big Stir
Power Pop [3/25] *****
Him again? Look, folks, I don't know Anton Barbeau. I've never met him or seen a show and he's not paying me. I. Just Love. His. Music. He. Is. A. Genius. Yes, he's a bit weird and he may not be for everybody, but his penchant for melody, his batty, whimsical non sequiturs, paired with a dizzying array of retro keyboard sounds, hits the sweet spot for me. The ironically titled Power Pop is the latest in a series of psychedelic pop masterpieces Barbeau has released over the past several years.
Recorded during lockdown on a farm in central California, with the able assistance of his soon to be wife Julia Boorinakis Harper, the album's nineteen songs comprise a mixture of fully formed songs and brief instrumental/vocal links that create an ever accelerating flow down a Willy Wonka river of butterscotch pudding.
"American Road" relates his small town feeling of claustrophobia during Covid after years of living an urbane life in Berlin. "Hillbilly Village" continues this theme of Barbeau as a fish out of water in his own home town. The Pulsing "Free" has inspired me to hire a bodybuilder to follow me around with a boombox on his shoulder, blaring this song, to announce my arrival.
"Fretless Bronze" is a brief instrumental tribute to Soft Boys/Thomas Dolby/Thompson Twins bassist cum human rights lawyer Matthew Seligman who tragically succumbed to complications from Covid in 2020. "Running On The Edge" starts out as a fist pumping homage to Bon Jovi, or maybe Benny Mardones, before devolving into the greatest lyrical bait and switch since "The Lumberjack Song."
The album closes with three beautiful ballads "Whisper In The Wind," "Rain, Rain" [the first single], and "Valerie's Waiting." Power Pop is book ended by two lovely instrumental pieces that suggest Barbeau could have had a parallel career making instrumental albums for the Private Music label.
Eric Sandberg: My true opinion on everything is that it's splunge.