Sunday, August 23, 2009

"Respectable" / The Rolling Stones / Some GIrls

This is not the first time I’ve posted about the Stones, but the first time I wrote about them was waaaaaay back on post #1. Not only are they a “pantheon” band for me, which means I don’t skip them as a duplicate, but my posting has changed so much that I need to revisit them anyway.

I recently engaged in a classic “Beatles v Stones” debate on a message board, and here is what I concluded:

I love both bands, but I have to go with the Stones, with the caveat that what we know as "The Stones" ended with Tattoo You in 1980. I prefer dirt and grime over spit and polish in the end.
That string of Stones albums starting in '68: Beggars Banquet, Let it Bleed, Sticky Fingers, and Exile on Main Street are unmatched in rock history.

This song comes in right under what I consider to be “The Stones” cutoff - the Tattoo You album in 1980, which incidentally was the first time I heard of the Stones. When I was in third grade they had a few radio hits off this album, the eternal “Start Me Up", “Hang Fire”, and one of my top three Stones songs, the flawless “Waiting on a Friend”. Some Girls, the album from which this song comes, includes some radio classics like “Shattered”, “Miss You” and “Beast of Burden”, as well as some awesome album cuts like Keith Richard’s fan favorite “Before They Make Me Run” , the country goof “Far Away Eyes”, and the controversial title song in which Jagger analyzes the sexual peculiarities of various ethnicities. Classy, Mick.

After they released “Undercover of the Night”, they all but fell off the map for me (and the less said about stuff like “Harlem Shuffle”, the better). Then in my senior year of high school they came back big for me. There were a coupe of reasons for this: one was they released a critically acclaimed “return to form” Steel Wheels, and my buddy nick bought Exile on Main Street(and made me a taped copy of it, labeling it "The Bible"). Nick, Patrick, Jake and I thought we should go see them on tour that year, when they played at Grant Field in Atlanta, and I recall a very early Saturday morning being picked up in Jake’s brown Ford Tempo, heading to Turtles to get lottery tickets to buy concert seats (remember those days?)

As soon as I got in the car, Jake pushed in the Exile tape and with the opening bars of “Rocks Off”, I knew there was more to this band than I heard growing up, and I was eager to investigate. This followed my foray into the aforementioned quaternity of Stones albums which still hold up strongly today. Beggar’s Banquet remains my favorite, with the Dylan-esque deep cut “Jigsaw Puzzle” also in my top three songs (the third? Exile’s “Torn and Frayed”. Thanks for asking!)

“Respectable” is a bare-bones, bluesy, barroom rave-up. Nothing fancy, just plowing ahead with that nasty guitar sound and other classic Stones tropes like Keith Richard’s high harmonies, Jagger’s lyrics about wooing a sassy young lady, and a classic 1-4-5 chord progression. It sounds like a song they made up on the spot and tossed off in one take in the studio to fill out an album, but in some ways it represents what the Stones are all about.

It appears that those days for the Stones are long gone, but every now an then they have a song that brings back the old magic – like “Mixed Emotions” from Steel Wheels , or even “Streets of Love” from their latest, Bigger Bang. They are obviously never going to have another run like they did from ’67 to ’82, but considering that that might represent the apotheosis of what we call “Rock & Roll”, there’s really no shame in that.

Click here for the official video
, as embedding is not allowed. It’s cool to see Mick strapped with a guitar, and to take a look at the guys when they were much younger and less geriatric.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

"Girlfriend" / Phoenix / Wolfgang Amadaeus Phoenix

This is one of the very latest CDs I've bought, and here it is already making itself known.

It's also the first Phoenix CD I've bought. One of my favorite songs of the last few years is "Too Young" by these Frenchmen, which was memorably featured in a great scene from one of my all-time favorite movies, "Lost in Translation" - the scene where Bill Murray picks up Scarlett Johansson to go to karaoke.

"Lost In Translation" [Phoenix - Too Young] from Captain Cook on Vimeo.

"Lost in Translation" is a movie in which the use of music indelibly adds to its atmosphere. I love Sophia Coppola's movies mainly because its obvious she's a music fan and take care with the soundtrack, making very deliberate choices. I knew after seeing this movie I had to track down that song, so I was very happy to find it on itunes back in 2003. Since then I've gone back to "Too Young" quite often as a mixtape money shot. People find it pretty irresistible and usually end up asking me more about Phoenix. To which I can usually only tell them, "Er....they're French?"

Phoenix released this Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix CD in April of this year, and based on great buzz from some of the music websites I peruse, I decided to give it a shot. I bought it at just the right time too, as it made the prefect accompaniment to sunny Summer days. They don't really break any new ground to their dance / pop sound; if anything it got even poppier.

"Girlfriend", as with most of this CD, sounds like s sonic brother of Of Montreal's (seriously - the singer sounds exactly like Kevin Barnes). I like the staccato, clipped delivery of the lyrics, and the guitar accompaniment which appears in the chorus complements it perfectly. My favorite sound in the song, though, is the keyboard which comes after the choruses and leads into the next verses (see 1:22-1:32). It softens the song and plays really nicely over the surprisingly busy drumbeat.

And again, here's an instance with a band in which I only care about the lyrics in terms of how the words sound as a part of the overall musical effect. Though, I do like the "Not a miracle in years" line which they seem to particularly emphasize.

Here's a little bonus too: A mix of the first song on the CD, "Lisztomania" set to scenes from John Hughes' movies. I actually found this before he passed away recently, but now it makes a beautiful tribute, doesn't it?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

"Down" / The London Suede / Head Music

The London Suede (or, from here on out, Suede, as they had to change their name after their debut because of copyright infringement) is an all-time favorite of mine which I enjoy in isolation. Seriously, I count them among my top ten bands, but absolutely none of my friends have either any knowledge of them or are immediately repelled by them. It's sad, because it's what this band's career is like in a nutshell - unappreciated, overlooked, but rabidly supported by those in the know.

Sudede was one of the forbearers of the 90's Britpop movement upon the release of their eponymous debut album in 1992. Later, Blur and Oasis (and their UK tabloid-fueled rivalry) dominated that scene and Suede was set fighting for crumbs. There were a couple of elements that fueled the huge splash Suede made in England. One was the partnership of singer Brett Anderson and guitarist Bernard Butler as a modern-day Morrissey and Johnny Marr (of the Smiths), and the other was the androgynous nature of Butler himself. Despite the fact that he was a longtime partner of 90's flash in the pan Elastica's Justine Frichmann, he toyed with bisexual lyrics and imagery which, I suppose, were still shocking in the early 90's from a pop singer.

Boy and Girl? Two boys? Two girls? Who cares?

I had only read about this album in Spin or something back in the day, and then during a trip to Boston with my buddy to visit a mutual friend at Brandeis University, I found the above cover staring at me in an indie record store in downtown Boston. I decided to buy it on a whim there; the American music media at the time was reporting on the fawning of the mercurial UK media over these guys and it certainly piqued my interest.

I put the CD on in my friend's dorm room when I got home, and as the first few seconds of opener "So Young" trickled out, I was instantly intrigued. When Anderson hit the chorus at :45 in, and Butler lay down the guitar hook under it...well, it doesn't happen to me often, but I was 100% solid on first listen. Then they follow that with "Animal Nitrate", which was the big UK hit, and there's still not a one-two opening punch that I enjoy more on any of my CDs.

(On a somewhat related note: On that same trip, I met a girl that worked as an intern for a music company. She immediately asked me what kind of music I liked, and her roommates rolled their eyes and said she always asks people that, and that she is always disappointed with people's answers. Feeling the pressure, I told her that I loved Fishbone (which was and is true) and that I just picked up a new CD that day by Suede that I really thought was great. I passed. She got really excited, ran into her room , and got me a Fishbone sticker which I placed on the back of my '85 Buick Regal and never took off. It was one of the first times I realized that being a music geek could get me something from the right women other than derision.)

As special as Suede's debut was, they went epic for their follow up, Dog Man Star (their first as London Suede). According to the fine book Britpop, which is an awesome account of the 90's in British music, Brett Anderson was spooked by the sudden success of his band, especially after Butler quit, incredibly found a 16 year old, Richard Oaks, that was nearly as great as Butler, and holed himself up in a mansion doing herion and writing the bulk of the music that would be the Dog Man Star album.

Whereas Suede was pop/rock, hooky perfection, Dog Man Star was dark, sweeping, orchestral, ambitious, completely over the top, pretentious, and, in my estimation, brilliant.

They followed that with Coming Up in 1996, a full-on, Bowiesque glam CD.
. It turned about to be as big a success as Suede, catapulting them again into the UK spotlight.

Those first three CDs represent an opening trifecta for a band that seems hard to top. All three different, but all three outstanding. Even their B-Sides album contained great stuff. Hell, this might be their best song period, and it wasn't even a proper release!

You can see a formula for sure in their songs: they begin slowly and quietly with Anderson's rich baritone, then usually within a minute hit their wonderful, wonderful choruses - soaring, sticky melodies with Butler or Oaks riffing under it. Formulaic, yes, but exhilarating and memorable.

The band soldiered on even though they had long ago lost mainstream appeal and were selling only to harcore fans. This selection, "Down", comes from Head Music, the CD that followed Coming Up, then they bowed out with a UK only release, New Morning, which I had to order from overseas. In 2002 Butler and Anderson reunited with new musicians to form a band called The Tears. They released a CD, but it didn't have the same impact as Suede, save a song like "Refugees" that recaptured the old Suede magic.

And that seems to be about it for Suede. I know Brett Anderson has released a couple of solo CDs, but I don't have much interest. I'd rather remember them as they used to be at this point. But, hell, if the Mary Jane Girls can reunite, why couldn't Suede? In a few years, 90's nostalgia will be raging, and they might have a shot.

The song "Down" is different from the others I've included here. Most of the stuff I've posted is pop, but these guys can make some epic ballads (including one of the most beautiful love songs I've heard, bar none). "Down" definitely begins differently, with a slow, bubbling keyboard, Andersen's voice, and a very slightly picked guitar in the back. But then at 1:17, here comes one of those patented Suede choruses, at which point a piano kicks in too. Then, after the first chorus, the drumbeat comes in, and the song begins to build some momentum. At four minutes in, Oaks begins his guitar solo which carries on for two minutes, finally reaching the song's crescendo. It's a classic "building" song, where you start slowly and simply, then add on instrumentation and tempo until you feel, as a listener that you've journeyed somewhere (you know, the "Stairway" effect).

I realize I may have gone overboard here with clips and the gushing, but I'm trying to make it a mission to recruit some Suede fans. If you are new to them, tell me what you think in the comments!