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Singles drive the charts and sales of albums – or at one time they did. In the era of the digital download, every song is a single and I wonder about the relevance of the album anymore. As a musician who has been and remains heavily influenced by Pink Floyd, I don't see a good album as a collection of potential singles so much as I see it as the musician taking the listener on a particular journey. But, let's face it: modern listeners don't like to relinquish the driver's seat. Was shuffle play the beginning of the end?

I don't remember when I bought my copy of Starfish, The Church's 1988 splash into the American top 40 via "Under The Milky Way." I do remember that I first heard the band's sole domestic hit during a music video marathon on VH1. The station was playing some sort of "Videos A to Z" special and the one video by The Church that was in their library snuck in there.

"Under The Milky Way" is the second song on Starfish; between it, opener "Destination," and follower, "Blood Money," they are giving off a very Joshua Tree-era (an LP which was released just a year prior) U2 vibe. But the band is more shoegazy than U2 ever was, leaning a bit more towards the Psychedelic Furs or The House of Love.

Despite being titled after the name of an aquatic creature, Starfish for me, evokes driving through a desert in the middle of the night – or perhaps just before daybreak. Side A, in particular, has a very dreamy atmosphere. "Lost" coupled with "Destination" probably perfectly encapsulate that mood.

I suspect a lot of people my age were introduced to this band via the use of "Under The Milky Way" in the 2001 film Donnie Darko (the soundtrack to which is pretty much a treasure trove of 1980s alternative). I also suspect that people bought the film soundtrack rather than the original albums each song came from.

After "North, South, East and West" dreamily closes side A, side B opens with a bit more rock in "Spark." Then a mandolin can be heard on "Antenna," which despite myself, still makes me think of R.EM. even though the song sounds nothing like "Losing My Religion."

The best "rocker" of side B though is "Reptile," one of the four singles culled from the set and the only other song from Starfish to receive the music video treatment. For a while this one was getting heavy rotation at Ceremony, Pittsburgh's longest-running (but now dead and buried) goth/industrial/dark alternative night. The DJ who used to play it quit, and was followed not long after by all of the other DJs who played music I actually wanted to hear. While I was there for the final night, I can't say I shed a tear for its demise. A pity, because they'd brought some people in who might have been able to turn things around and the night had moved to an excellent new venue – maybe it was too little too late? Who knows?

The shortest and weakest song on this set is "A New Season," which is probably because it follows "Reptile." Maybe if it followed "Lost," it wouldn’t sound out of place, but here it does. It doesn't wholly destroy the flow of the album, but it does hiccup ever so slightly. For me it does anyhow.

"Hotel Womb" closes the proceedings by getting things back on track. Nearly as long as opener "Destination," it feels like a mirror to that opener. Is the drive over? Have we reached our destination? Yes, we're finally at our hotel womb.

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Readymades was the last Chumbawamba CD I put on WAIH's playlist. It's follow-up, Un, was released June 8th, 2004; around a year and a half after I moved away from the town I'd grown up in to ultimately settle in Pittsburgh.

Un is a far more subtle effort than WYSIWYG, but no less searing in social commentary, for those willing to listen. Or, of course, you could just be lazy and look up what each song is about on Wikipedia. Someone there has helpfully broken it all down for anyone too lazy to read the booklet included with the CD.

Of course, if you're going to the booklet for accurate lyrics to "Everything You Know Is Wrong," you're going to be sorely disappointed.

Un opens with "The Wizard of Menlo Park," a song which begins with a sample of the Wizard himself, Thomas Edison, reciting "Mary had a little lamb." Personally, I find it interesting that the band chose to celebrate Edison's contribution to recorded media and ingenuity in general while passing over the darker aspects of his life. Edison, while clever, was the consummate capitalist. He was interested in getting things accomplished and pushing the technological envelope, but not when it wouldn't make him money. The vulgar extreme of such a personality was his war on alternating current by way of George Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla. In this conflict, Edison forever overshadowed his accomplishments of bringing light to the darkness with the unenviable distinction of being directly involved in the first execution by electric chair.

I think the band is perfectly back on track though with standout song (and single) "On eBay." Much has been said on the second Iraq War, but Chumbawamba tracked against the grain, as is their habit, and instead of giving us the obvious "Bush sucks," notes that with all of the lives being lost, so is the culture of Iraq. Indeed, as museums and archives were looted, one could actually purchase the stolen items on eBay. The music video is excellent too:

After Un Chumbawamba released three more studio albums before calling it quits in 2012. I'm not sure any other musician or group has as effectively picked up their mantle. If such a creature does exist, I'd be interested in hearing what it has to say.

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"Tubthumping" is really a great song if you come at it as being a brilliant piece of social satire. "Weird Al" Yankovic would often do what he called "genre parodies," where he would write an original song in an attempt to imitate another group's sound. Of "Dare To Be Stupid," a send-up of Devo's sonic palette, Mark Mothersbaugh said, "this is what Devo had been trying to do for years – and 'Weird Al' beat us to it!" So, I can only imagine what Chumbawamba thought when their pub anthem send-up proved to be huge with the very people it was taking the piss out of.

Meanwhile, the suits at Universal were surely thinking, "do it again!" And with What You See Is What You Get (hereafter referred to as WYSIWYG), the band said, "yes and no."

WYSIWYG was released April 4th, 2000. I was at the tail-end of my second year at SUNY Potsdam. After an ill-advised semester as WAIH's chief engineer, I had been elected to become the station's music director starting in the Fall of 2000. The station's current music director had been driving me insane for the past semester because he believed that a college radio station should sound like a modern rock station. Of the albums he passed over during his waning tenure, Chumbawamba's new set was among the rejects.

The summer of 2000 was the first time since I had joined up that WAIH stayed on the air between the Spring and Fall semesters. As such, I began my term as music director earlier than expected and gleefully tore apart my predecessor's playlist and refreshed it with the glorious sound of diversity. Songs from WYSIWYG went into high rotation on my air slot.

While "She's Got All The Friends" was the only single from the album, I opted instead to introduce people to it via "Pass It Along." It was with some amusement when I heard the song used in a GM commercial. It was with further amusement when I found out that Chumbawamba had used the vast majority of the fee they were paid for the song in donations to organisations critical of GM. Of course, there's nothing particularly amusing about General Motors as an organisation. When the question is "where do you want to go today?" the answer usually isn't, "out of control into a ravine with no brakes or steering because the key fell out of the ignition." The current situation with GM is particularly sickening when you consider that their suits did a "cost-benefit analysis" and determined that paying the legal fees for lawsuits stemming from the defective ignition switches would cost less than issuing a recall and fixing the problem before people started getting killed.

My friends and I thought WYSIWYG was a great album. Fourteen years later, I still think it's a great album. Twenty-two tracks making up a total of 48 minutes of music make for a fast listen – and more like one musical piece than a collection of separate songs. It goes by very quickly, especially when you note that only five tracks exceed three minutes in length and three don't even make it to the one-minute mark. It's the perfect satirical set-up for the state of the Western World at the end of the century: shallow, glossy, interested only in instant gratification...but beneath the surface lies the rot of paranoia, corruption and oppression. "Pass It Along" perfectly encapsulates this: a soaring chorus with Microsoft's "where do you want to go today" ad campaign stands in contrast to a verse where the line, "shut out the world – it’s getting worse; save yourself, don't leave the house."

"Pass It Along" could almost be a sequel to "The Good Ship Lifestyle," but on WYSIWYG that theme of self-imposed isolation via fear of "the other" is most stridently revisited on "Celebration, Florida." Against a breezy country backdrop are sung the lines, "there's a bake sale at the school house and they're selling innocence. They're keeping out the deviants to protect the residents of Celebration, Florida." Yes, Celebration is the ultimate gated community – a municipality constructed and (at one point) wholly owned by the Disney Corporation. Up until 2010, they could even brag that the experiment was a roaring success – no murders in Celebration ever! It took until 2013 for the number of killings to go up to two. I am reminded of Edgar Allen Poe's "Mask of the Red Death" – try as you might to keep the horror of the "real world" out, it will find a way to get in. Maybe it's a better idea to try and solve real world problems then merely fortifying oneself against them?

I want to say that a lot has changed in the past fourteen years, but I really can't honestly do so. Whenever I compare then to now, all I get back to is a cynical assessment that all changes have been, at best, superficial. In fact, I'd dare entertain the notion that things are really worse. If Bill Clinton's eight years were marked by missed opportunities, then what is to be said of Barack Obama's nearly eight years? Bush II certainly accelerated the downward slide, but at least he was a lightening rod for activism. Put a so-called "democrat" into office and suddenly people fall asleep as if nothing could possibly be going wrong. What you see is what you get but a lot of people simply aren't opening their eyes and taking a good look around.

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Pictures of starving children may not sell records, but a quirky, catchy single will. For what, at the time, was an eight-member band of anarcho-punks, “Tubthumping” was that single. Inescapable in 1997, the song was Chumbawamba’s sole taste of chart success in the United States. Nearly two years ago, at the tail end of 2012, the band quietly called it quits after thirty years of culture jamming.

Being sixteen at the time of it’s release, and not yet fully aware of the greater musical world beyond what was being aired on the radio stations in my rural residence, Tubthumper was the first Chumbawamba CD I acquired. I honestly can’t remember if I purchased it or won it in a contest at a local record store. In either case, it went into regular rotation on my personal playlist.

The first thing that stood out to me when I thumbed through the CD booklet was, nestled among the song lyrics, the following paragraph:

Due to the complexities of USA copyright law, we are not able to print the information intended for this space. At your written request we will supply you with a leaflet containing the information (while supplies last) or you can read it on our website: http://www.chumba.com

In hindsight, I should have written in for the physical pamphlet. However, I opted to visit their website instead. My high school internet was via a T3 connection, the fast lane of the “information superhighway” in the late 1990’s. At home my family was still on a 56k dial-up modem, which, even for the time, was soul-crushingly slow. So, it was during a study hall in the school computer lab that I loaded up Chumbawamba’s website to view for myself the “tubtexts” that United States copyright law would not allow to be printed in the physical booklet.

Chumbawamba’s website in 1997, thanks to archive.org. By today’s standards it is quaint and almost laughably amateurish. However, when you consider that this site actually had content besides a label hawking the group’s latest release, you come to realise that the band’s ideals had put them ahead of their time. The tubtexts, which nearly seventeen years ago I printed out and stapled together, have been archived with the home page: Part 1 and Part 2.

This was eye-opening stuff for me. While I ended up a socialist, not an anarchist, to see these songs put into this type of context made them better for me – and I was already enjoying them just for being a great set of pop songs. But they weren’t just a great set of pop songs; they were ...punk songs?

My mushy, embryonic teenage mind couldn’t quite fathom it. Subversive, yes. Rebellious, yes. But...punk? Wasn’t that Green Day? No, that’s what MTV told us was punk. So...what was punk, really?

I still can’t effectively answer that one. Nor do I really want to. It’s like the question: what is pornography? It’s more fun (and truthful) to answer that it can’t be defined, but one knows it when one sees it.

These days, this text which was supposed to accompany the lyrics to “Amnesia” stick out for me: “A change of Government is no guarantee of getting policies which put people before profit... as proved by the British Labour Party's past record. Short-term solution, long-term procrastination.” Allow me a moment to tip my figurative hat to President Barack Obama and the new, improved neo-liberal Democratic Party of the United States of America. Hope! Change! Bullshit!

I never got a chance to see Chumbawamba live...likely never will now. And while I’ve heard several of their songs and a few of their albums all of the way through, I should dig deeper into their discography. They are a band which I think deserves to have their whole story on my CD rack, from Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records all the way through ABCDEFG. Of course, those studio albums aren’t truly the full story as the band has numerous one-offs, fan-only discs, downloads and early (very rare) cassette-only releases. Don’t hold your breath for a consumer-friendly Chumbawamba rarities boxed set though...and that’s as it should be.

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In a way, I don't particularly want to tackle this album. Christian Death is one of those bands who have amassed so much bullshit over the years – both internally and externally – that getting involved in the fray is not high on my list of priorities. And when I say "bullshit," perhaps I should use the more polite phrase "strong opinions and reactions" save for the fact that I think "bullshit" more appropriate.

Because of the history and mythology surrounding Christian Death, they just aren't easy to write about fairly. Good for me then that Off the Rack isn't so much about in-depth analysis as it is my own word wankery to my record collection.

So, here we are: Only Theatre of Pain, the 1982 debut by Christian Death, hailed by many as the birth of gothic and/or death rock in the United States by way of Los Angeles. The CD version of this LP tacks six additional songs onto the end, which were originally released separately as an EP entitled Deathwish. That makes for thirteen unique songs, as the EP contained versions of "Romeo's Distress," "Spiritual Cramp" and "Cavity" which appeared in different forms on the album.

In June of 2008 (Friday the 13th, to be specific) Illusion of Joy along with The Burning Path opened for Christian Death at the 31st Street Pub. They were touring in support of their most recent release, American Inquisition. I can't compare them live in 2008 to this recording though. What I saw that night is pretty far-removed from Only Theatre of Pain. So far, in fact, that the current incarnation of the group doesn't play any early material.

Fronted by Valor Kand since 1985, some say that I didn't share a stage with the "real" Christian Death. I find arguments like that laughable, given that there are so many bands which have had rotating line-ups. If the argument is legitimacy then Kand being a part of the group since 1983 strengthens his position. Rozz Williams may have founded the group, but he only dedicated himself to it for six years before leaving to pursue other projects. Then there was a lawsuit and a suicide – and with that ultimate expression of "I give up" on Williams' part in 1998, there became only one "legitimate" Christian Death.

Like I said at the onset: bullshit. So much bullshit. I think this kind of stuff, more than anything, is why Illusion of Joy only has one member.

That 2008 show was pretty fucking awesome though. A shame it wasn't better attended.

But here I am going off on tangents when I should be focusing on Only Theatre of Pain. What do I think of this album? Honestly...not much. I don't hate it, but I don't particularly like it. Maybe when it debuted in 1982 it was mind-blowing, but I've heard gothic and deathrock albums which I've enjoyed far more and in my opinion are far better. Listening to this, it all kind of blends together. Only "Romeo's Distress" really stands out and would probably have been a great radio single if the first line of the song weren't, "burning crosses on a nigger's lawn." Yikes! Guess we all know where Marilyn Manson stole his shock shtick from. In fact, I'd dare to say that Antichrist Superstar is Only Theatre of Pain re-recorded with louder guitars. We all know that they've all been stealing from Alice Cooper though...

So, take away whatever goth points I have remaining (if any), but this is the only Christian Death album I own and I'm not into it. A couple of friends have told me to give Catastrophe Ballot a listen, telling me that I might enjoy it more. I probably should, but I don't feel any personal push to do so anytime soon. If anything, based on the strength of that live show I went to in 2008, I should grab a copy of American Inquisition. "Narcissus Metamorphosis Of" alone is likely worth the price of admission.

As I listen to the closing song on this CD – the Deathwish version of "Cavity" – I recall where I first actually heard Christian Death. It was either 1998 or 1999 and I had taken over WAIH's morning show. I decided that I wanted to do a Halloween special, which I cheesily dubbed "The Mourning Show." A friend loaned me some goth and deathrock CDs (WAIH's archives at the time being woefully inadequate since I'd yet to become the music director). Among these was Christian Death's 1996 album, Prophecies. I don't remember which track I played off of it – I'm tempted to say "Without" – but I do remember that it got a spin that Halloween morning. I also remember the then music director telling me that my Halloween special wasn't much fun to listen to because, "you can't have fun when you're dead."

I didn't know how to respond to that at the time. My anti-Valentines show several months later received more positive feedback.

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Released January 25th, 2005 Push The Button is The Chemical Brothers' fifth album. While not their last release, it is the final stop of the Chem train in my music collection. I remember that I bought it new – having not heard anything off it yet – from Borders. This was back when money was more plentiful for me and Borders hadn't gone out of business. Even back then I was probably overcharged for the CD, but hey – I had more money to spend. I was also living in an "efficiency" apartment for $400 per month with all utilities included.

These were the good old days?

I love the cover art on this disc and I find it to be a bit of a shame that I'm not holding a 12-inch vinyl sleeve right now. The cover drawing is blue and black against a plain white background – very stark. Pictured is a stone tower with a fist atop it, surrounded by the outline of a human head. Inside of the outline are the three words which make up the LP title in all caps: PUSH THE BUTTON. The visual impact is immediate, much like the prism on Dark Side of the Moon. Illustration Kam Tang must have taken some inspiration from Storm Thorgerson.

So, what have we got here as I put this disc on for a spin? Well, pretty much the same thing we have as with all of the previous Chemical Brothers albums: great dance music with a fair number of collaborations. Opening track and lead single "Galvanize" featuring Q-Tip (from A Tribe Called Quest) on vocals. Rumour has it that Q-Tip recorded his contribution on a golden microphone. I'm not sure what effect, if any, this would have on the sound. I'm certain it looked good though.

"The Boxer" goes Madchester with vocals by Tim Burgess (of The Charlatans UK). Then there's Bloc Party's Kele Okereke singing on "Believe," one of my personal favourites off of this disc. This song segues perfectly into "Hold Tight London," and my DJ instinct generally has me playing these two back-to-back as if they were one song despite the fact that only "Believe" was released as a single.

Staying either diverse of schizophrenic, depending on your opinion, the next collabs are the Anwar Superstar joint, "Left Right" which marches from hip hop into the indie folk-rock of The Magic Numbers on "Close Your Eyes."

Regarding "Left Right," it's a nice protest stomp but it's lyrics are obviously dated now. References to Bush and Saddam, the former now showing he's as bad of a painter as he was a president and the latter being dead, are a surefire way to lock your song into a specific era. This is a bad thing from a long-term marketing perspective, but from an artistic and historical perspective, there's something commendable about it.

And on a personal note, I can't help but think that I'm guilty of the same "time-locking" via songwriting. I recently announced that I intend to reissue Division, Illusion of Joy's second album later this year. That set of songs is now ten years old and three of those songs directly refer to the second Iraq war and the second Bush presidency. Worse yet, I never used Bush's name in any of the lyrics; in the song "Is There Some Way Out Of Here?" I begin with the line, "They put a monkey in the White House..." I now have the – hopefully unfounded – fear that someone will hear that line in that song, not realise what year the song was written and released, think I'm talking about Obama instead of Bush and then accuse me of racism.

Perhaps I wouldn't find the scenario so far-fetched if I hadn't already been accused of racism because I didn't vote for the first (and worst) black President the United States has ever had. So, we shall see...

At exactly 60 minutes, Push The Button is a satisfying album with a perfect running time. Eventually, I'll have to complete my Chem collection and get their debut along with the two studio releases which followed this one. But right now I look at my house and car and can only see money going towards repairs and maintenance.

I think I listen to music to escape from life. Good thing I have Spotify installed.

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Hello and welcome back to yet another installment of "Off the Rack," the weblog series where one can wait well over a year for a new entry to be written. Consistent in scheduled postings OTR is not. In truth, I'm not so consistent in posting at all no matter what the subject may be. However, with both of my little girls blissfully asleep and their mother out with a friend, I decided now would be a good time to occupy myself with something that didn’t involve drooling while pointed more or less towards the television. That Netflix is a gateway drug, kiddies...

I last left off in the middle of The Chemical Brothers' discography, so how the hell are we back in A again? Well, I keep buying CDs, that's why. I'm trying to listen to and write about everything, so some jumping around is to be expected. Truth be told, I haven't jumped as far back as I should have, but I feel at liberty to bend my own rules a bit once I make the initial pass through. This is why I'm listening to Arcade Fire right now instead of one of the other discs filed under A. Reflektor is an awesome album and – damn it – I wanted to hear it all the way through again!

Incidentally, I've decided to post mixes on 8tracks as a companion to the OTR weblog entries. As to be expected, you can start with A.

So, Reflektor - let's say some things about it, eh? Honestly, given my aesthetic preferences, I should probably own all of Arcade Fire's albums, yet somehow this is the first one and, so far, only one I've come to own. The remaining three remain on my Amazon wish list just waiting for me (or someone generous enough, as was the case with my younger brother and this album) to make the purchase. Someday I will have the disposable income to BUY ALL THE CDS...and then OTR will most certainly never be completed as a series.

I first heard the lead single and title cut from Reflektor while driving to and back from Potsdam, New York. I was taking Illusion of Joy up to Hurley's and every time I drive that route, I have a set of college radio stations I usually listen to. I must have heard the song at least half a dozen times. "Reflektor" has got a nice groove to it and when you get to the coda is that...David Bowie? Why yes...yes it is.

At 75 minutes in duration, Reflektor is spread out over two discs. I'm not sure why, as there are CDs manufactured to hold 80 minutes of music. Instead either the band or the label opted to stick with the 74 minute CDs and split the difference. This is kind of annoying because every song runs into the rest and "Joan of Arc" sounds like it was recorded to flow right into "Here Comes the Night Time II," but doesn't (even when listening to MP3s) because of the split. Minor squabbles though...

I've got a lot of favourites on here as this is a really solid album. There are a few misfires – "Flashbulb Eyes" seems subpar surrounded by "We Exist" and "Here Comes the Night Time" and disc two opener "Here Comes the Night Time II" doesn't seem to have much purpose other than to take up disc space (probably should have just been the coda to "Joan of Arc").

After said opener, disc two is where the hits flow uninterrupted – as a record should be. "Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)" right into "It's Never Over (Hey Orpheus)" right into "Porno" right into "Afterlife" right into "Supersymmetry," which closes the set. I read one review which stated the closing track was "too long" seeing as the second half is mostly ambient noise. I'm not so sure. On the radio, yes, I would find such a thing irritating, however I also have a massive collection of Pink Floyd albums. Ambient noise is a musician's way of saying, "put on the headphones and sit for a spell."

Arcade Fire played a concert not long ago in Pittsburgh. I really should have gone and I regret a bit that I didn't. By most accounts the show was awesome...as were the costumes people came up with for the band's request that people "dress up."

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Released a little over eleven years ago on January 29th, 2002 , Come With Us is The Chemical Brothers' fourth album and the first one I reviewed by the group as WAIH's music director. By the time I was at the helm of what sounds were going over the college radio airwaves in Potsdam, New York, this disc had no trouble getting into rotation. And it was a hit too, as the radio station staff was reinvigorated after a group of malcontents who poisoned morale and sabotaged progress had either been ousted or quit in the previous semester. Suffice it to say that it was a frustrating time which I don't feel like writing about now.

The Spring semester of 2002 was supposed to be when I would have graduated had things gone to plan. Instead, faced with issues getting the required credits, trouble with financial aid eventually leading to the mistake of taking out student loans, a million academic frustrations and a creeping sense of existential dread, I ended up going one semester into university overtime. Then I failed out.

Come With Us was one of my favourite albums of 2002. With ten tracks clocking in at 55 minutes, it is an album with doesn't have any filler; and like previous released by the Chems, the party is pretty much non-stop for those 55 minutes. The title cut immediately blasts off into the stratosphere, before grooving right into the syncopated big beats of "It Began In Afrika," the teaser 12" released prior to the album proper. That segues directly into "Galaxy Bounce," which is a groovy funk loop hinting at Chic.

The Jam here is "Star Guitar," which glides and pulses out of the speakers, into the ears and wraps itself around one's brain. If there were one song being played by damn near every DJ at WAIH in the Spring of 2002 (be it on the actual radio or via distracted tapping on the board table during a station meeting), this would be it. A gold star if you can tell me what makes the Michel Gondry directed video for the song similar to the one for "Around The World" by Daft Punk:

The only slow moments on Come With Us are "Hoops," which samples The Association and "The State We're In," which features Beth Orton on vocals. "The Test," which closes this set feature Richard Ashcroft (formerly of The Verve) on vocals which eventually end up being nearly drowned out by what sounds like the love child of disco and psychedelic rock. Epic and trippy is one way to describe it.

Admittedly, this was the disc which got me into this band. Unlike so many CDs in my collection from the early 2000s, this one isn't a spare copy with a "promotional use only" stamp on it. I went to the record store - Strawberry Fields, according to the price tag still on the case - and purchased a copy. Of course, I purchased it used, as then I was a poor college student. Now I'm a poor parent of two; how things change and yet they don't. Looking at the amount I paid, however - $10.79 - is a testament to how much I was enjoying this album at the time. You know, it holds up.


"Off the Rack" or OTR is my attempt to listen to every album in my CD collection and write something - albeit not necessary a review - pertaining to it and my life. Read previous entries in the series.

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In reviews for The Chemical Brothers' third album Surrender (released June 21st, 1999), critics said that the duo was now more focused on house music than big beat. I have to be honest: I can't tell the difference between the two. In fact, if I were to be tasked with sorting and identifying all of the sub-genres of techno or electronic dance music I'd fail spectacularly...mostly because I'd find doing so kind of silly.

It was a single from this album which was my first proper introduction to The Chemical Brothers. "Let Forever Be" had been sent to WAIH as a promo and being this was the Fall of 1999, I wouldn't become the station's music director for nearly another year. If memory serves, the MD at the time was ill-suited for the task. Somewhere along the way he'd gotten the idea that a college radio station should focus on singles and he tried to brand the place as a "modern rock" station. It was an insult to a diverse student body and a violation of the special position one holds on the left side of the dial. During his tenure, "Let Forever Be" was the only thing from The Chemical Brothers to make it into the station - I doubt he even tried for the full-length of Surrender or if he did, it was absorbed into his personal collection with so many other albums which should have been added to WAIH's archives.

Noel Gallagher returned to lay his guest vocals upon "Let Forever Be," however another track on the LP has more interesting vocalists. A sure sign that The Chemical Brothers had moved up in the musical world, Bernard Sumner (New Order) is heard singing on "Out of Control." And when it's not Sumner, you're hearing Bobby Gillespie (Primal Scream). Meanwhile, Hope Sandoval (Mazzy Star) shows up for a turn on "Asleep From Day" (sounding a for a bit lot like something her former group would have recorded) and Jonathan Donahue (Mercury Rev) sings on closing track "Dream On."

For me the most interesting song on this set is "The Sunshine Underground." Sounding like the big brother to "Star Guitar," which would be released on Come With Us in 2002, it begins slowly, gradually building up before exploding into big beat bliss. By comparison, "Star Guitar" starts slowly but doesn't stay slow for very long. If I were to try and describe the song, I'd say listening is akin to taking drive down psychedelic road towards an open stage where house music is being playing. Apropos of nothing, an indie rock band from Leeds named themselves after this song.

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Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons - better known as The Chemical Brothers - released their second album, Dig Your Own Hole on April 7th, 1997. My copy was given to me sometime in 2010 as a "thank you" for my attempt at doing some audio restoration work for a friend.

The duo of Rowlands and Simons got together when both relocated to Manchester, England. The former has noted that he did so mostly because Manchester is the city where the Haçienda nightclub was located. Indeed, while you can hear echoes of New Order and The Happy Mondays in the music, there's also a heavy slab of rock and hip hop piled on. Lead track and single "Block Rockin' Beats" includes a sample from Schooly D's "Gucci Again."

Despite that, when I opened the CD booklet for this album, I immediately thought that the design was somewhat reminiscent of the photos and artwork inside of New Order's 1993 LP Republic.

Unlike later releases where most if not all of the songs would have a definite beginning and end, Dig Your Own Hole is like spending an hour at the club. From "Block Rockin' Beats" through "Piku," all of the tracks run together. Unless one is watching the countdown on the CD player, there is no telling when one song has ended and the next one begun.

"Setting Sun," which features Oasis' Noel Gallagher on vocals (sampled from their song "Half the World Away") gets its own little space on the disc. Not surprising as it was released as a single. It is also far more interesting to listen to than anything Oasis ever released. If ever there was a band who didn't know how to quit when they were ahead, it was Oasis; they are one of the few groups where their single edits are better than the album cuts simply by virtue of the fact that they had the bad habit of doubling the length of what could have been tight pop songs into seven or eight minutes of maddening droning, noodling or feedback. Memo to Oasis: you are neither Catherine Wheel nor Sonic Youth; you do not have the artistic aptitude to make feedback and fuzz interesting or appealing. This is why you needed The Chemical Brothers to take anything any of your members had put to tape and make it interesting. Go back to beating the shit out of each other on stage, Gallagher brothers - it's more worth the ticket price than watching your band play - fucking wankers.

Ahem...

After "Setting Sun," with the start of "It Doesn't Matter," we get back into club mode what with the tracks all running together. The last of two tracks of that set, "Don't Stop the Rock" and "Get On Up It Like This" include a sample of a song written by Quincy Jones, "Money Runner," released in 1972. However, the version of "Money Runner" actually sampled is a cover by John Schroeder which was released that same year.

With "Lost in the K-hole," things get big beat sexy for four minutes and then the proceedings become folksy and understated with a looped violin sample marking the beginning of "Where Do I Begin." Beth Orton's vocals then come in, marking her second collaboration with the duo (the first was on "Alive Alone" on Exit Planet Dust). She'd lend her voice to another Chemical Brothers track five years later. Prior to this, she'd worked with William Orbit on four of his song productions, most notably "Water From a Vine Leaf."

Over it's nearly seven minutes one barely notices things becoming less organic and more mechanical in "Where Do I Begin," as the violin loop fades, replaced with a distorted, grinding synth. The song ends on one sustained mechanical synth note with fades as if it had been produced by an acoustic instrument. Then the Chemical Brothers take us from quiet to loud all over again with the closer, "The Private Psychedelic Reel." At nine and a half minutes, featuring a looped sitar sample and one of the few uses of clarinet in popular music that I can recall, the duo is pretty much saying, "we're closing our set in a BIG way." As it should be.

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Thus far the only "hits" compilation for Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds (released on Reprise/Mute in 1998), The Best of is a good introduction for those unfamiliar with the group save for the fact that it is not sequenced chronologically. Apparently the producers felt it necessary to try and make it feel like a proper album, though if that were the goal, this is not how I would have arranged the songs. My guess? They stuck the abrasive avant-garde "From Her To Eternity" (the eponymous cut from their 1984 debut) as the closing track so as not to frighten away potential new fans. It's far better to suck people in with the upbeat, major-key "Deanna" (from Tender Prey - 1988) because most people don't pay close enough attention to lyrics to catch anything aside from "I'm out here for your soul."

I have to admit that I haven't dug into the Nick Cave (with or without the Bad Seeds) discography as I'd like to. The Best of is currently the only LP I own, though I've heard No More Shall We Part (released after this compilation) all of the way through courtesy of WAIH and internet radio stations filled in some of the many other gaps in my listening experience.

The first time I'd ever heard of Nick Cave was in the summer of 1995 when I heard his contribution to the Batman Forever soundtrack: "There is a Light." I thought the music to the song was great, but it struck me as odd and kind of goofy that a singer in the baritone range used the word "daddy-O" in his lyrics. Hindsight makes me suspect that this was a cast-off from Let Love In (1994); it certainly wouldn't have fit on Murder Ballads (1996).

The Best of would end up becoming one of the "sanity CDs" I would bring with me to my data entry temp job I worked at when I first moved to Pittsburgh. The office had streaming services, Flash and JavaScript all blocked, so internet radio was out of the question (along with most of the internet). We drones were allowed to bring in CDs or portable radios so long as we also brought our own set of headphones. Since our seats weren't assigned, all of these items had to be brought home and then back to the job every day. Like so many other aspects of temping, it was somewhat annoying.

Still, it was less annoying to be able to block everyone else out with Nick Cave than to have to listen to whatever else was going on in the office. In the group of temps I was sent to the office with, one of them was an irritating woman with a foghorn mouth. She was apparently unaware that the key word in the phrase "temp job" was the second of the two words as she would barely get any data entry done, attempting instead to try and snag her neighbours in the row into conversation. This particular assignment was during the holiday season and I remember this woman got all of the temps up in the block and led us all to the supervisor's cube. I followed the herd, thinking there was going to be a meeting. Instead, fogmouth presented the supervisor with a Christmas card and a present.

Not that this saved her from being the first person culled from the group once seasonal work began to ebb. Sucking up one day, gone the next - it was beautiful.

In removing myself from the conversational pool, I became quite well acquainted with Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds Best of. I can't say there is a bad song of the bunch of here. There are songs I like somewhat less than the others, but as for anything truly bad, it's not here.

To listen to Nick Cave is to expect stories. Even though only one album had the word "ballads" in the title it would have been accurate for all of them to be titled as such among varying themes. If "Tupelo," "The Carny" and "The Mercy Seat" were on the same original LP, it could have been called Fire and Brimstone Ballads. "The Mercy Seat" (covered hauntingly by Johnny Cash) is possibly Cave's most unsettling song, sung from the perspective of a death row prisoner being electrocuted, it's a gripping narrative of someone who lacks remorse for whatever deed got him into his current predicament yet is resigned to being violently thrust off the mortal coil regardless.

On the other side of coin are the love songs. "Do You Love Me?" is blunt and obsessive while "Into My Arms" is quietly yearning, with Cave singing to an "interventionist God" who he doesn't believe in but if he did he'd pray to direct the object of his affections his way. "The Ship Song" is the most passionate on this set, a rare carpe diem song which doesn't beg for a one night stand but instead offers the following persuasive argument: if you become my lover we will ascend to a higher plane together. While those are not even close to the actual lyrics, that is what is inferred in the way Cave sings it.

After From Her To Eternity, Nick Cave shed much of the in your face abrasiveness of his former band, The Birthday Party. However, he'd revisit some of that with his Grinderman project (which introduced itself to the world with "No Pussy Blues" and introduced the world to Nick Cave's moustache). Most of Nick Cave's work - with or without The Bad Seeds - is more subdued and subversive. Anyone listening to those early records by The Birthday Party may not be too shocked by "The Mercy Seat" or even "Do You Love Me?" but songs like "Nobody's Baby Now" and "The Ship Song" likely would come as a complete surprise.

Nick Cave didn't mellow out; he ascended to a higher plane of musical existence.

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On Like Cats and Dogs, Catherine Wheel covered Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here." On Adam and Eve, Catherine Wheel pretty much becomes Pink Floyd circa Wish You Were Here. Like the 1975 Floyd masterpiece, Adam and Eve is a loose concept album; bookended by two untitled tracks at the beginning and end of the disc - which are sometimes referred to as "(intro)" and "(outro)" - this album is best consumed in one sitting from beginning to end. Continuing the perhaps superficial comparisons to Pink Floyd, Bob Ezrin was one of the album's producers (along with GGGarth and Wheel frontman Rob Dickinson). Storm Thorgerson is also back in the amazing pudding designing the cover art: a sensual collection of nude models arranged in boxes. Beyond the surface nods to Pink Floyd, Catherine Wheel created an LP which took the epic sweep, the intelligent rock and the dynamic ebb and flow and brought it in what was contemporary in 1997. Not that one could really guess what year it came out without looking on the back of the CD case.

Adam and Eve would not be Catherine Wheel's last album, but it would be their last great album. Like so many exceptional bands, Catherine Wheel allowed their coda to be a bum note. Wishville was their swan song in 2000. It was also the first Catherine Wheel LP I listened to all of the way through and the only full-length I don't own a copy of. While I was able to pick three songs from it to put into rotation on WAIH, it was the teaser release of the single to "Sparks Are Gonna Fly" which actually got me interested in the band. Included with the two single edits of the band's then newest song was a sampler of what those of us on the outside has been missing: "Black Metallic," "Crank," "Judy Staring at the Sun," "Delicious" and "Waydown" were included so that a college radio music director could scratch the surface of the band's repertoire (and somewhat plug the holes in his or her station's archives).

About a decade ago one could find used CD/record stores damn near everywhere. Most of my Catherine Wheel CDs I ended up purchasing used. Adam and Eve came from CD Warehouse ($7.99 plus tax), Like Cats and Dogs was found at a Half Price Books and Happy Days was purchased from a Record Exchange. I'd probably have used copies of Ferment and Chrome as well if I hadn't received them new as gifts from friends. While Wishville isn't exactly a priority for me to add to my collection, I do like having complete sets of things if at all possible. In the days that I was trawling through dusty record stores I never came across that particular disc. I could likely purchase it online for next to nothing, but like I said - it's not a priority...I also miss the thrill of the hunt.

Printed in the credits of Adam and Eve is the URL www.catherinewheel.com - this now leads to Rob Dickinson's MySpace page. In 2005 Dickinson released Fresh Wine For The Horses which has been his only solo album to date. For all intents and purposes, he seems to have retired from doing music professionally (aside from some remix work with BT in 2010) and is now the creative director for a company which modifies high-performance automobiles: Singer Vehicle Design. Guitarist Brian Futter and and drummer Neil Sims joined forces to form 50 ft Monster, but they seem to be inactive at this point. Original bassist Dave Hawes was replaced with Ben Ellis for Wishville; the former has dropped off the face of the Earth while the latter joined the group Serafin (again replacing a bassist).

Is it sad that Catherine Wheel will likely never release new material? In a way, but reunions are always a very tricky proposition. It just might be best to leave well enough alone; don't live in the past. But for those who don't mind visiting from time to time, Paul McCartney aptly said, "you can always go back and play the old records."

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Catherine Wheel would not release a proper follow up to Happy Days until 1997's Adam and Eve, however in 1996 the very satisfying stop-gap Like Cats and Dogs was released. Like Cats and Dogs is a collection of B-sides with a few outtakes thrown in. Of course, merely getting this with the band's LPs won't satiate those desiring a complete collection of the band's work, as this only includes material from the Chrome era onward. In effect, one still can not easily acquire any of the B-sides from Ferment's singles nor the excruciatingly rare 30 Century Man EP.

As far as I'm concerned Like Cats and Dogs is a better follow-up to Chrome than Happy Days was. The best song from their last album, "Heal" (in single form as "Heal 2" here), opens the proceedings and is appropriately uplifting. The band then immediately dials down the grandeur of that track for introspection with their cover of Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" (originally from the 10-inch version of "Waydown"), which was the song which introduced me to Catherine Wheel when they played it on a Canadian rock radio station I listened to regularly. "Mouthful of Air" (from the "Show Me Mary" 12-inch), "Car" and "Girl Stand Still" (both from version #1 of the single for "Show Me Mary") continue in understated beauty for nearly fifteen minutes.

"Saccharine" is possibly the most haunting recording Catherine Wheel ever set to tape. Half of the song is a lone Hammond Organ droning over a few stabs of guitar feedback held together by a brush on a high hat. Then, somewhere around the four minute mark a few droning chords are played on the guitar with the fuzz and phase pedals turned up to ten. It's unsettling, atmospheric, and perfect. New York City group Calla would manage something similar with their song "Tijerina."

The tempo and volume pick up a bit with "Backwards Guitar" (from "Judy Staring at the Sun." The fuzz and reverb of the group's early days return full-blast with "Tongue Twisted" (originally on version #2 of "Crank"). From there it closes out with "These Four Walls" (from version #2 of "Show Me Mary"), "High Heels" (from the 12-inch release of "Show Me Mary"), "Harder Than I Am" (previously unreleased) and "La La LaLa La" (from "Crank" version #1). Then, not listed on the reverse of the CD case is a hidden track which contains "Something Strange" (also from "Crank" version #1), "Angelo Nero" (from "Judy Staring at the Sun") and a cover of Rush's "The Spirit of Radio."

After Happy Days, this collection is pretty much a welcome relief and fits much better in the group's discography. Thankfully, they would eschew continuing down the path paved by that album, regroup and reach even greater heights with their next LP, Adam and Eve.

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In 1995 Catherine Wheel would release their third and least listenable album, Happy Days. Okay, maybe I am too harsh since most people consider Wishville the Catherine Wheel's least listenable album. Let's call it a draw, eh?

Happy Days takes the fuzz flirtation of Chrome and amplifies it tenfold. Both Storm Thorgerson and Gil Norton have returned, but I'm often left wondering what happened to the band I loved as I listen to this disc. My biggest problem with Happy Days is that the majority of it sounds like any number of mid-1990s generic hard/modern/alternative rock groups. For any band but Catherine Wheel this would be a good album; but the group sold themselves short on this set.

There is gold, if you're willing to dig for it. "Heal" is beautifully grandiose, "Crank" brought up an octave with it's tempo somewhat slowed. "Eat My Dust You Insensitive Fuck" provides some desperately needed, if cruel, quiet on an all too noisy album. Finally "Judy Staring At The Sun," which features Tanya Donelly singing on the chorus is a beautiful slice of indie rock - more of which would have been welcome on Happy Days. Three great songs against eleven mediocre songs is not a good ratio.

Obviously, I don't listen to this disc very much. I bought my copy used and it has a promotional cutout on the bar code with a radio station sticker on the back: "Revolution 104.7." A little Wikipedia digging informs me that at the time Happy Days came out, the station's call letters WXRB. The 1990s apparently weren't a good decade for the station as it changed formats and ownership several times. Today things still suck, as the station is now 24/7 conservative talk radio.

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While Ferment had been missing in action during my tenure at WAIH, Catherine Wheel's second album, Chrome was on the rack in the station archives. Sadly, at the time I never got a chance to listen to it all of way through, despite "Crank" being one of my favourite tunes by the group.

While still shoegazy, Chrome turns down the reverb a notch while simultaneously turning up the fuzz. This isn't a bad thing, as they preserved the dreamy wall of sound which permeated Ferment without getting overbearing with the distortion like they would on their next album, Happy Days.

Back to "Crank," however; while not the labeled as the undisputed epic that "Black Metallic" is, the song does come in a close second. This is even more impressive considering it does in three minutes and forty five seconds what it's sibling stretched over seven minutes (though it does leave this listener wanting more). Also, as far as I'm concerned, "Crank" is the track which perfectly represents the underwater dream of the album's Storm Thorgerson designed artwork. Why the group deigned to make "Chrome" the title cut of the album rather than "Crank" (which was to be the title originally) is a mystery to me.

The music video for "Crank" should be filed under "uses for an elevator more creative than Aerosmith could ever hope to envision."

"Pain" could easily be the sequel to "Black Metallic," though you know what they usually say about sequels...

Not to say that "Pain" is a bad song - I quite enjoy it - but the band does seem to be looking backwards for a moment on an album which was mostly looking forward. Ferment was produced by Tim Friese-Greene, who was most noted for his work with Talk Talk. By contrast, Gil Norton took over production duties on Chrome and while his previous credits include Echo & the Bunnymen, also on his resume is The Pixies, who always seemed to me to be somewhat post-new wave. The Pixies seem to inhabit some sort of weird flux where they are both post-punk and straight up rock - a snottier U2, if you will. Anyway...

"The Nude" is an interesting song. In the version played on Chrome it sounds like a flippant kiss off with its upbeat tempo and fuzzy guitars. There's Rob Dickinson singing against a straightforward 4/4 beat about broken-heartedness, but not sounding too devastated. On the bonus disc which came with Dickinson's solo album Fresh Wine For The Horses, he performs a quiet, largo rendition of "The Nude" on acoustic guitar which sounds truly heartbroken. I'm generally for reverence over reinterpretation, but this gets a pass because a.) the songwriter always gets to do what he or she wants with their work and b.) both moods work really well.

"Ursa Major Space Station" and "Fripp" follow "The Nude" - the former is a muscular song where the lyrics have nothing to do with the title (which is the name of an effects pedal). Interestingly, in support of Chrome, Catherine Wheel toured with Slowdive whose most recent album at the time was Souvlaki, which includes the song "Souvlaki Space Station." The latter song of the two is named for King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp, yet is probably Chrome's softest moment.

Lest one were to think that Chrome was going out on a soft dénouement, "Half Life" dispels that assumption. Though it begins rather quietly, the 3/4 swagger of the song quickly changes dynamics towards forte when the chorus kicks in.

"Show Me Mary" closes the set. It's a strangely upbeat song in contrast to the rest of Chrome. In fact, it's almost happy and the closest Catherine Wheel comes to being - dare I say - jangly. My best comparison: it's what would have happened had Dickenson and company written Pink Floyd's "See Emily Play." How appropriate that Storm Thorgerson was involved with the project then.

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Originally labeled "shoegaze," the Catherine Wheel was one of the finest alternative rock groups of the 1990s. I first heard of them in the mid-90s when I heard their cover of Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" played on Ottawa, Ontario rock station 106.9 "The Bear." As a teenager, I listened to that station near constantly and it was one of the first places I heard some of my favourite bands. These days they play too much Nickelback.

So, back to Ferment, which is the band's 1992 debut LP; though the last disc by them which I acquired. Of the twelve songs on the album, four of them - "Shallow," "I Want To Touch You," "She's My Friend" and "Salt" - were released as singles on an independent label before the release of the album. "Black Metallic" and "Balloon" were released as singles afterwards.

To be blunt: if you hate atmosphere, you will hate this album. I, on the other hand, love atmosphere and I place Ferment up there with anything released by Slowdive or Lush. However, while this album is certainly a monolith if taken whole, the songs don't need to bookend each other to stand strong. The songwriting is not only damn near perfection but so is the sequencing.

"Black Metallic" does deserve special mention though. It is a droning seven minute love song for...a car. But what a car it must have been to inspire such passionate singing and such perfectly timed dynamic changes in the wall of effects pedals the guitars are running through. The music video, while appropriately surreal commits the travesty of cutting the song down to four minutes.

Truncated, but still epic.

I first heard "Black Metallic" when Catherine Wheel's radio promo single for "Sparks Are Gonna Fly" arrived at WAIH. The station's copy of Ferment, if it ever had one, was missing in action. So, for the longest time, "Black Metallic" was all I'd ever heard off the LP. You can bet I played the fuck out of it on my radio show, however.

Had I a copy of the disc at the time, I'm sure my other personal favourite - "Flower To Hide" - would have received similar treatment.

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Last Wednesday at Cannon Coffee's open mic, I saw one of the performers destroying a copy of The Cars' self-titled 1978 debut LP. There is a stack of vinyl at the coffee shop and usually a platter is spinning on the turntable there when there is no live music. It was towards the end of the evening and the vandal was thumbing through the stack of records, picking out The Cars from the mix of LPs. He slid the record out of its sleeve and methodically began bending the disc, giggling to himself as he did so. Once the record was rendered most certainly unplayable, he hung it up on a nail protruding from the wall, pointing his handiwork out to the owner of the establishment. He then went on to tape the LP sleeve below the violated vinyl, finishing his performance with a self-satisfied chuckle.

I have no idea what prompted this strange and destructive spectacle. Moments before, the perpetrator had been playing the piano at the front of the room. He followed that up by distracting from whoever was closing out the night to display what - that he is an utter douche bag? At this point, this is all I can remember about the guy; I found the whole scene sickening. If the proprietor of the venue had any opinion on the matter, he wasn't being forthcoming about it (a necessity, I'm certain, when one owns a business and wishes to keep customers). I, for one, would have liked to have made the individual in question painfully aware of was it felt like to get forcibly warped into a shape wherein he would be unable to perform.

And people wonder why I don't loan out items from my music collection.

The Cars' Complete Greatest Hits does what it says on the tin: this is a collection of 20 songs which charted on the Billboard Top 100 from 1978 through 1987 (had it cut off at the top 40, there would be three fewer songs on this set). Better yet, it is chronologically sequenced, giving the listener a point of reference for the evolution of the group. There's a reason Rhino is the master of the remaster...or reissue or whathaveyou.

Read more... )
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If you say the phrase "punk rock poet" to me, I'll usually blurt out, "Patti Smith!" She's an obvious answer, I'll admit, but not the only one; her friend Jim Carroll also qualifies for the descriptor. Released in 1980, two years after The Basketball Diaries was published (and fifteen years before that book was adapted into a film), Catholic Boy was The Jim Carroll Band's debut album. To be fair, it does sound much like a Patti Smith LP, but one can also hear The Clash, The Boomtown Rats and The Jam in there (if those groups hadn't been British, mind you).

Like most people, I first became aware of Jim Carroll's musical offerings via the unforgettable "People Who Died." Perhaps too dark to make it any higher than #73, where it peaked on the Billboard Top 100 in 1981, this song gets into the head of whoever is lucky enough to hear it and never leaves again. I first head the song either on the internet or via Sirius Satellite Radio - either way, Catholic Boy got added to my wishlist and eventually a friend bought me a copy.

While I still enjoy "People Who Died" for how happily morbid it is - being, literally about those who prematurely joined the choir eternal - it's tied for being my favourite with side B opener "City Drops Into The Night." The saxophone on the song dates it immediately, but I really don't think the song would be as effective without it. In fact, I think it's time to bring saxophone back into popular music. This instrument, perhaps the only one which effectively paints a sonic portrait of gritty streets and run-down, drug-soaked apartments, has been unfairly maligned and ignored by 1980s revivalists. The sawtooth synths and drum machines have come back, but where is the sax? It's criminal, I tell you.

Like so many albums of the era, Catholic Boy is a quick listen, it's ten songs having a cumulative duration of only 38 minutes and 26 seconds. It's just so infectious though that once the title cut closes out the set, you just want to flip the record over (or press "play" on the compact disc player) and start again with "Wicked Gravity." That the album is listenable over and over again, to me, is a testament to the strength of the songwriting. While Jim Carroll has credit for penning all ten tracks, seven of those songs have co-writing credits with other members of the group (all four Carroll's bandmates give some sort of input somewhere throughout the course of the album).

The Jim Carroll Band lasted for three albums, fulfilling their contract with Atlantic Records before calling it quits. Carroll himself put out two more records of spoken-word poetry in the mid-1990s before dying of a heart attack at the age of 60 on September 11th, 2009.

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"Oh great," I thought, after typing in 'cardigans.net,' the URL printed on the CD sleeve of Gran Turismo, "another band who has lost control of their domain name." However, a quick jump to the all-knowing Google soon set me on the right track. While The Cardigans' website may have been hosted on a .net domain back in 1998, sometime between then and now they graduated to .com.

In any case, up until [livejournal.com profile] joi_division handed me a spare promo copy of Gran Turismo she had lying around sometime in the past ten years, my only exposure of The Cardigans had been via "Lovefool," a song so overexposed in 1996 thanks to its inclusion on the soundtrack to Romeo + Juliet that any passing interest I had in the band quickly evaporated. As a teenager I wasn't interested in subversive pop songs with dark undertones - I wanted straightforward, in your face darkness. As such, Garbage's "#1 Crush" was far more appealing to me.

Well, you can't always accurately judge a book by its cover nor a band by which songs make the Billboard Charts. When it comes to in your face, straightforward darkness (or at least melancholy), Gran Turismo has it in spades. This disc rarely strays into any tempo which could be considered anything more than moderately upbeat with a sonic palette akin to Garbage meets Everything But The Girl. The intro to "Higher" sounds like they are about to turn into Massive Attack - at least until they get a few bars in.

The Cardigans released a "Best of" compilation in 2008. Of the 22 tracks on the disc, four from Gran Turismo were included: "My Favourite Game," "Erase/Rewind," "Hanging Around" and "Higher." They had a string of hit singles in Europe, but it seems that "Lovefool" damned them in the United States. I guess only Abba and Ace Of Base are the only Swedish bands allowed to have multiple hits on the North American continent.

Then again, what's the point of having a "hit" these days anyhow?

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Kirstin Candy's official website - the one with the URL printed on the back of the CD case - has apparently suffered the same fate as Camera's website. Typing in the address and hitting "Enter" loads a page full of Asian characters and weird links. Typing her name into Google reveals a music career which, it seems, last saw activity in 2007. I think this is the curse of anyone involved with the business of music; even when the peak of one's involvement is gorging on everything your could get your ears on at a college radio station you get to see the massive disparity of how many people end up in obscurity versus the infinitesimal few who "make it."

Kirstin Candy, to date, has released two albums. I have her debut disc, released through Liquid/BMG/Escalator and sent to my college radio station in 2002. Released on August 20th of that year, this was likely one of the first releases of what would be my final semester at school that I would put on the station playlist. The station was finally using a computer to play music when no live DJ was present (and some live DJs had taken to using the computer to play music) and I remember updating the playlist to include three songs from the disc: "Crazy (About You)," "Heaven" and "Count to 10." That final one - "Count to 10" - was my personal favourite, but I'm a sucker for melancholy.

Candy has a full band on this disc and despite being a pianist, there's nary a piano to be heard on the album. Instead the production of the album has placed Candy as the vocalist to a backing band which makes her sound like a melding of Bic Runga and Neko Case. She's a good singer/songwriter, but I do wish I could hear her playing piano...or at least a keyboard - but that's my bias as a keyboardist. Sometimes it seems like everyone wants to be the lead vocalist or the guitarist.

Apparently on her second album, La Vie En Rouge, my wish is granted.

So, in tapping away at what I can remember and digging for nuggets of information online, the CD has come to "Count to 10." Yes, it's still a sad, beautiful listen even though it's been a while since I've put it on. Like I said, I'm a sucker for melancholy; this one paints a portrait of longing for a lost love so perfectly. The lyrics are simple - "I want to feel your breath against my cheek, but you're a precious gift I can't keep" - and perfect in their straightforwardness. When it comes to a song about heartbreak, you play it softly and simply. Pyrotechnics are unbecoming.

It's probably wrong of me to do so, but when a musician no longer has a website, I tend to assume that he or she has given up. This type of thinking is what keeps me maintaining my own website. It is a message to the world that, for better or worse, I'm still trying. And it's not easy to keep trying. During that five year gap between my last two albums I'd keep thinking, "what the fuck am I doing? What is the point?"

I think the point is to avoid becoming ordinary...because ordinary means boring. We're all cogs in one way or another but some cogs are more special than others - and, damnit, I want to be special! But then those doubts start flooding in; I think I'm good, but am I merely deluding myself? Then it's a game of trying to shrug off those thoughts to keep from driving yourself crazy...

But I digress...like so many others, I wonder what happened to Kirstin Candy. I only know as much as Google will reveal. Is she still playing music at least? I hope she is. Because, fame, recognition, "success" - that's all frosting. Make a noise in a world demanding silence and I think you win.

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Seth Warren

May 2017

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