Tag Archives: Metal

Blue Oyster Cult: Setlist – The Very Best Of

Live tracks from 1974-1981 with one previously unreleased

The Legacy division of Sony continues to explore new ways to keep the CD relevant. Their Playlist series was the first out of the gate with eco-friendly packaging that used 100% recycled cardboard, no plastic, and on-disc PDFs in place of paper booklets. Their new Setlist series follows the same path of a single disc that provides an aficionado’s snapshot of an artist’s catalog. In this case the anthologies turn from the studio to the stage, pulling together tracks from an artist’s live repertoire, generally all previously released, but in a few cases adding previously unreleased items. As with the Playlist collections, the Setlist discs aren’t greatest hits packages; instead, they forgo some obvious catalog highlights to give listeners a chance to hear great, lesser-known songs from the artist’s stage act.

Inexplicably, Blue Oyster Cult’s entry in the series doesn’t include the booklet on disc. Instead, the cardboard slipcase provides a URL from which the booklet (as a PDF) can be viewed and downloaded. Once retrieved it provides liner notes from Lenny Kaye and detailed credits of the tracks’ origins. Many are pulled from the group’s previous live albums, On Your Feet Or On Your Knees, Some Enchanted Evening, Extraterrestrial Live, but the set also includes a promo-only version of “Godzilla” recorded in 1977, a 1981 take of “Flaming Telepaths” that was available on a British 12-inch single, and a previously unreleased 1979 version of “The Vigil” recorded in Berkeley, California. Taken together they provide a good view of the band’s live sound from their key years of 1974 through 1981.

BOC is a classic album-oriented rock band, placing only two singles on the Top 40 while scoring gold albums, minting FM turntable hits and turning itself into a solid arena draw. Their biggest single, “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” is included here in a 1981 performance, but it’s the album tracks and the hard-charging jams that really excite the crowd. Their music reflects a number of improvisational threads, including San Francisco and Southern rock, but with a touch of prog-rock changes and a heavy metallic edge. Fans of the band’s carefully crafted studio albums may find themselves bewildered by these elongated versions (there are some Tap-like moments here), but if the live rock album boom of the 1970s is your cup of tea, this is a good sampler of BOC’s stage charms. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

OST: Hot Tub Time Machine

14 musical icons of the 1980s and a surprise!

The premise of Hot Tub Time Machine, four friends transported back to 1986, provides an opportunity to trot out some of the decade’s popular classics for this soundtrack album. One realization gained from the variety here is that the stultifying affect of MTV at decade’s end wasn’t nearly as overpowering at decade’s start, from which many of these tracks are selected. The tunes include boundary pushing rap, Australian pop, revivalist ska, synthpop, hair metal, post-punk, and alternative rock that dates to a time when there was rock to which one could be an actual alternative. It will remind you that once-upon-a-time MTV was a channel for artists rather than a brand to be worn. One of the film’s actors, Craig Robinson, performs a credible cover of Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl” and transports the Black Eyed Peas’ “Let’s Get it Started” back to the ‘80s where it fits surprisingly well. Caution: these songs are addictive and may lead you to search out the bigger fixes of Hip-O’s I Want My 80’s Box! and Rhino’s even more extensive Like Omigod! The ‘80s Pop Culture Box (Totally). After all, everybody must Wang Chung tonight. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

Rick Rubin: In the Studio

RickRubin_InTheStudioHagiography constructed from existing interviews

Author Jake Brown seems to have synthesized this book almost entirely from other people’s interviews with Rubin, his mentors and partners, and the broad range of musicians with whom he’s worked. The only new interview Brown lists in his extensive bibliography is with Rubin’s early protégé George Drakoulias. The bulk of the book is a series of quotes artfully selected and stitched together from newspapers, music magazines and websites. Brown’s research is extensive, and organized into coherently themed chapters the material paints a broad-brush portrait of Rubin. But with only one original interview, Brown adds few new insights to the record.

Brown neither interviewed Rubin, nor actually watched him work, nor – other than Drakoulias – appears to have spoken with anyone who worked with Rubin. The quotes are all presented at face value, with no dissenting or contrasting opinions, and by sampling from other people’s interviews, Brown robs himself of the opportunity to interact with the sources and ask specific follow-up questions. He cleverly synthesizes conversational back-and-forth between principals (e.g., Rubin and Johnny Cash) by weaving together quotes from multiple sources, but in the end it’s a simulation rather than real-life interplay, and though a nice writing trick, it’s not satisfying.

The existing materials that Brown could find, or his own personal interests, color the depth and breadth of the book’s coverage. Individual chapters on Public Enemy, Mick Jagger and the Dixie Chicks are short and shallow, while multiple chapters on the Red Hot Chili Peppers wander away from Rubin into fetishistic, over-long explorations of guitarist John Frusciante’s equipment. There are a few obvious typos, such as the use of “peak” in place of “pique,” and at least one ill-chosen presumption: the Metallica documentary Some Kind of Monster is mentioned without explaining why it would have made Rubin nervous – those who’ve never seen the film are left in the dark.

Readers are left to synthesize the larger themes from Brown’s reporting. Rubin emerges from the quotes as a transformative figure that brought rap to the mainstream, revitalized rock production, resuscitated moribund and damaged musical careers, and pried mature artists from their ruts. The diligence of his pre-production, particularly his focus on selecting and preparing material, is shown to free musicians to be emotional performers in the studio rather than technical craftsmen. Rubin himself is only rarely glimpsed in the studio, a by-product of both his working method and Brown’s method as a writer, but he’s pictured as listening intently and nudging (or jolting) artists with his ideas.

Drawing views from multiple sources might give readers a chance to triangulate on Rubin, but the vantage points are often too similar to create real dimension. The sampling of quotes doesn’t bring the author, and thus the reader, close enough to really feel Rubin’s character. The numerous in-line citations, laudable for their accuracy in accreditation, leave the reader feeling one step removed from the book’s subject. The breadth of Brown’s research shows a deep passion for Rubin’s work (particularly with the Red Hot Chili Peppers) that would have paid greater dividends via first-person access to the producer. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

Kleveland: Harder

kleveland_harderKick-ass rock from Portland, OR

The melodic cascade of assertive words emanating from Kleveland singer/guitarist Stephanie Smith may remind you of Chrissie Hynde, but the band’s manic guitar attack borrows more from the aggression of metal and punk than the Pretenders much managed after their debut album. There are echoes of other bands with female leads, such as X and the Alley Cats, but Kleveland rocks harder, as if the Runaways’ chops had lived up to their ambitions, The Pandoras’ detour into metal had been more musical, or punk rockers like Civet or the Distillers took a breath once in awhile to decimate the objects of their derision rather than just cuss at them. Smith may not have Pat Benetar’s operatic range, but she’s got the same ballsy Attitude, and unconstrained by the niceties of MTV it’s something of a wash. It’s hard to imagine a VJ introducing the vampire gore of “You’re Not Sorry,” with its stinging rebuke “You’re not sorry you did it, you’re sorry you got caught,” or the acoustic “Sloppy Seconds” with its opening stanza “I’ll admit that I was kind of upset, when I heard that you were out fuckin’ my ex-, and the body wasn’t even cold yet, but that don’t bother you”). Kleveland quiets down on a couple of tracks, including the closing lament “It’s Over,” but it’s loud guitar rock that’s their calling card, combining the sonic punch of 1970s rock with the in-your-face confrontation of punk. Anyone else remember Sue Saad and the Next? Kleveland’s heavier and more lyrically fierce, but the combination of rhythm guitars and assertive female vocals may take you back. [©2008 hyperbolium dot com]