Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Cheap Trick review series: All Shook Up (1980)

Review by Mike Kimmel

The '80s were arguably the heyday for that l'il ol' band from Rockford; Cheap Trick. During that decade, the band released six LPs: All Shook Up, One on One, Next Position Please, Standing on the Edge, The Doctor, and Lap of Luxury.

We could try to sneak Dream Police in with them, as it was released on September 21, 1979; just a little bit before the decade we shall refer to as "the '80s", mainly because that's what they were.

Since the Cheap Trick review series here at Faster and Louder has already discussed Next Position Please and One on One, pick number three is in the batter's box and the #4 selection is in the on deck circle.

The album cover was simply, psychotically cool. I can't think of another way to put it. An airborne train some feet above an airborne train track are the initial eye-catchers, but closer inspection reveals a few additional facts.

Rick Nielsen is opening the door that allows the train to enter. The gap implies that the train is emanating from the nose on the face of a woman whose head appears to be about half as tall as our heroes. Robin Zander is straddling the tracks and appears concerned.

Tom Petersson is dressed in a white suit, and Bun E. Carlos is in a hat and hapless detective trenchcoat-type attire. What does this have to do with the content of the album? I'm, ahhh, not sure.

For openers we have "Stop This Game". Again with the relationship stories, eh? ("Eh." That's a hockey term.) His relationship with her was like music. "I changed. You didn't. And I can't stop the music. I could stop it before. Now I don't want to hear it. Don't want to hear it no more."

Track two – wherever he was, he was apparently there for far too long, but now he "Just Got Back". Through the tune “It wasn’t my idea…”
A. Didn't pull the trigger.
B. Didn't point the finger.
C. What the doctor figured.
D. All of the above.

The correct answer is D. It's a really good song. And like many of the Cheap Trick quick-hit rockers, it's short.

Actually, on the original release of All Shook Up, there were 10 tunes and combined they accounted for 33 minutes and 53 seconds of your life. Not near long enough for the quality of the songs you were likely to encounter. Details of the reissue to follow the description of track 10 here!

Robin Zander handles the vocals again, and again he's all over the place. With a range like that, why in the world would he NOT be? Just trying to warn anyone who might object to an occasional screamed lyric (SPOILER ALERT! I'll be talking about that again this time around, too!).

Having just gotten back seems an appropriate time to rediscover the fact that "Baby Loves to Rock". More and more he's thinkin' 'bout love, but love ain't all he's thinkin' of.

"More and more I'm thinkin' bout s-s-s-sex. The more I get, the worse it gets." But then Zander assures us that his baby loves to rock and describes where – and where NOT.

"In the morning, in the evening. In the summer, in the winter. In my car, in the night, in an airplane. Not in Russia!" You might recognize the sound and mention of "airplane" while listening to your balalaikas ringing out and keeping your comrade warm.

"Can't Stop it But I'm Gonna Try" is about him leaving her or her leaving him…or him finding out about her and her new boyfriend; maybe all of them. This tune – from 1980 – uses the phrase "long time comin'". Their 2017 CD We're All Alright not only borrows the title phrase from the ending of "Surrender", it also recycles the "long time comin'" phrase from a mere chorus inclusion to a full-fledged song title on the 2017 release.

Yes, a lot of people think I'm weird for picking out things like that, so go ahead and pile on if you'd like.

"World's Greatest Lover"? Yes, same thing here. Think back to one of the first songs for which Tom Petersson did the vocals – "I Know What I Want" (from the immediately previous album Dream Police). "You're the world's greatest lover…" That just struck me as odd as All Shook Up was the last album on which Petersson appeared before he left the band for his solo effort.

It's the same theme here but different verbiage. He's been on the road, and now he's coming home to the world's greatest lover in his word.

"High Priest of Rhythmic Noise" is really odd. It has the really processed robot voice for most of the vocals, a psychotic keyboard running loose in the background, and some extremely cool lyrics.

"If the song don't change the choir won't sing. Won't sing the same song forever." I think here he's talking about the fact that he's just a singer in a mind choir (I hope Nielsen's mind choir has a psychiatrist traveling with them).

"Don't stand up, shut up, sit down. You're strange – that's what I like."

"Love Comes A-Tumblin' Down" is supposed to be a tribute of sorts to Bon Scott – the frontman of AC/DC up to the Back In Black album, who had recently died. Cause of death is debated, but the lyrics here claim "Not a pretty picture when the body was found".

"I Love You Honey But I Hate Your Friends" has more of that damned Zander screaming stuff in it. Y'know, I find it terribly odd that some complain about that with Zander, but in some of the Cheap Trick tunes (like this one BIG time!), he'll do a screaming sort of vocal and he sounds like some singers who actually built very successful careers on just that type of vocal. Singers like, oh, say… ROD STEWART!

In fact, "I Love You Honey" is really reminiscent of the Stewart tune "Hot Legs", which came out in 1977 – three years before All Shook Up was released.

"I love you, honey, but I hate your friends. I love you, honey, but they'll be the end of me. Oooo yeah! I love you honey, but I hate those friends!"

"Let's see, there's Miss Tique and Miss Informed. General Disaster, Mister Know-it-all. Missus A Lot and Private Stock. Corporal Punishment 'bout to blow his mind. Mister Mock, Mister Completely, Miss de Plot, Miss Story…"

She's got even more friends with odd names, and he hates 'em all.

"Go For The Throat (Use Your Own Imagination)" is, I suppose, as opposed to using someone else's imagination.

Nielsen uses the title of the Stranglers tune "(Get A) Grip (On Yourself)" partway through, and then "I do it alone (you just give me idle conversation)." You'll have to decide what it's about.

For the original release, the last track is the Bun E. Carlos-penned tune "Who D'King". Marching band drums, excited marching band and crowd noises in the background, and the repeated lyric "Who d'king of de whole wide world?" Description does not do the song justice. It's actually a pretty toe-tapping l'il ditty.

In 2006, All Shook Up was reissued with five new songs in the lineup.

First up is "Everything Works if You Let It" from the Roadie soundtrack. Back in the days when vinyl was king, the only way I knew of to get this was on a 12" EP. Yes, of course I had it! Now, it's nice to have it included on a CD so you don't have to juggle things just to listen to one tune.

Cheap Trick also released an entry into the 10" "Nu-Disk" sweepstakes. The Nu-Disk was supposed to be the next big thing because it gave the fans something more than was available on just a 7" 45RPM single, but didn't cost as much as a full 12" LP. At one point as a rabid vinyl collector, I had about 30 different Nu-Disks. But that's all I could find. They never took off like they were supposed to. Of course the arrival of the CD didn't help the 10" marketing maneuver very much, either.

But Cheap Trick and their 1980 release Found All The Parts was a part of my near-10,000 LP collection at one time. It had only four tracks; two slower tunes, one remake, and one that sounded like it might have been a remake.

The live, shorter version of The Beatles' "Day Tripper" appears on Found All The Parts. It's very good, and it's the live version, but it's only 3:41 long. Some of us Cheap Trick purists like the lengthier take better.

"Can't Hold On" is up next. I'm trapped in a conundrum here. One of my all-time favorite bands is, was, and probably always will be Cheap Trick – and that's stood since 1977. From their Nu-Disk, I like one song, sorta like one, and kinda dislike the remaining two. No idea why, but here's the ranking:

I already mentioned that I enjoy their remake of "Day Tripper", so that surprise was spoiled.

I don't care for "Can't Hold On". It's not really bad. It's kinda of a foray into the blues, it's a live track, and you can tell it's Cheap Trick. It's just not a style for which I particularly care.

The fourth track from the Found All The Parts Nu-Disk, "Take Me I'm Yours", is in similar dire straits. Definitely Cheap Trick and definitely talented, but I don't care for the style.

"Such A Good Girl" rounds out the release (actually as track number three), and it's a good tune and very much a Beatle-esque effort.

No, I'm sorry. I wish I could come up with a shorter and less annoying way to reference a Beatles similarity, but I can't. Trust me. I've tried!

If you're interested in adding All Shook Up to your collection, be sure to look for the reissue. That way, you'll kill three birds with one stone: the album, the EP from the Roadie soundtrack, and the Nu-Disk.


-Mike Kimmel

Monday, December 4, 2017

Justine and The Unclean - Get Unclean

It was still the scorching summer when I first teased the debut album from Justine and the Unclean. Now here we are just three weeks from Christmas, and I am happy to report that the album is out on Rum Bar Records. I must say it's every bit as good as I expected! To review: Justine and the Unclean are comprised of major players in Boston's garage/punk/rock n' roll scene. Justine is Justine Covault (Malachite, Grand Theft Auto, Quest For Tuna) on guitar and lead vocals. The rest of the band is Janet Egan King (Malachite, Heidi, Swank, Tulips) on bass/backing vocals, Charles Hansen (Rock Bottom, Tom Baker & the Snakes, Gymnasium, The Handymen) on lead guitar, and the legendary Jim Janota (Upper Crust, The Bags, Rock Bottom) on drums. The story behind this record is that Covault went on a year-long songwriting binge and entered the studio with over 50 songs - many of them love songs of the particularly painful variety. Just nine of them ended up on the album, which was recorded by Dave Minehan at Woolly Mammoth Sound in Watham, Massachusetts and mastered by the illustrious Danny the K. With all of these principles involved, Get Unclean is a true testament to the immense musical talent that Boston rock currently enjoys.

Get Unclean largely follows the blueprint of the previously-heard tracks "Love Got Me Into This Mess" and "Passive Aggressive Baby" (both included on the album). Imagine your favorite Buzzcocks songs with a harder edge and sassier singer! If you like punky pop songs with big hooks and fantastically bitter lyrics, you should be all over this record. But there are a couple of additional things that this band brings to the table. One is Covault's singing voice, which is really unique and tremendously appealing. On top of that, the band has serious rock chops which Minehan wisely played up in his production. Songs like "Bring Me Fire" and "Worry Stone" kick some serious arena rock ass (Joan Jett fans will dig!). Elsewhere those blazing guitars and thundering drums (I mean, come on, it's Jim freaking Janota!) allow the band to put the power in power pop. "Can't Pretend I Don't Know" is the pop/punk/rock track of your dreams, while "I'm In Love With You, Jackass" incorporates some country twang in a most wonderful way.

All in all, Get Unclean is a terrific debut album from a band I hope we haven't heard the last of. Covault is a fine songwriter with smarts and likability to spare. And boy, does her band ever bring the rock! That Rum Bar winning streak remains very much in tact.



-L.R.

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/get-unclean 
https://www.facebook.com/justineandtheunclean 
https://www.facebook.com/RumBarRecords 

Friday, December 1, 2017

First Base - Not That Bad

With exactly one month to go until the end of 2017, my album of the year picture just got way more complicated. I sure am not complaining! Not That Bad is the second LP from First Base, out now on Drunken Sailor Records. And that title is the understatement of the year! You'd have to look far and wide to find an album that's more up my alley than this one. It's the perfect union of pop and punk, emphasizing the former without skimping on the latter. This album is about as pop as it gets - but in an entirely kick-ass way. It's as if the past 35 years never existed and First Base took its cues directly from the almighty Ramones. If you ever wished that Teenage Fanclub had taken copious amounts of speed and decided to be a punk band, Not That Bad is definitely the album for you. The hooks just keep on coming and coming, with no song surpassing three minutes. Tracks like "Crybaby", "Eastchester Avenue", and "Dumber By the Day" are super-satisfying blasts of buzzsaw punk with bubblegum melodies. If the Undertones were the Irish Ramones, "Judy" has me thinking that First Base might be the Canadian Undertones! And when the band slows it down and goes for more of a straight power pop sound ("Sandra", "Not That Bad"), the results are spectacular.

Whether you call it poppy punk or punky pop, Not That Bad is the best album of its kind I've encountered in a damn long time. I will be giving it heavy consideration for album of the year. And label of the year is looking like a stone cold lock for Drunken Sailor!



-L.R.

https://drunkensailorrecords.bandcamp.com/album/not-that-bad-lp 
https://firstbase.bandcamp.com/ 
https://www.facebook.com/DrunkenSailorRecords/ 

Monday, November 27, 2017

Watts - All Done With Rock n Roll

Today we've got a free single from Watts titled "All Done With Rock n Roll". Thankfully, Watts is most definitely not all done with rock n' roll! Here Watts accept that the glory days of rock n' roll bands packing stadiums and selling millions of records have long since passed. Fittingly, the song brings to mind a time when thundering guitars and a big chorus were the perfect recipe for commercial success. This is up there with the catchiest songs Watts has ever written. That hook is so simple, yet impossible to resist. And I love those Queen-like stacked vocals at the end!

If you love classic rock and lament that music like that isn't being made anymore, treat yourself to this free single from Watts and consider checking out the band's full catalog. Rock n' roll didn't die - it just went underground!



-L.R.

https://watts.bandcamp.com/track/all-done-with-rock-n-roll 
https://www.facebook.com/wattsrock 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Criminal Kids - "Outcast"

Oh man, do I ever have a smasher for you today! Criminal Kids are a punk rock band out of the south side of Chicago, and they recently put up a free digital single on Bandcamp featuring songs from their upcoming self-titled release. "Outcast" is nothing short of a sonic kick in the teeth - blending tough & aggressive punk rock with a heavy injection of rock n' roll. Whatever volume you usually set for your digital music needs to be adjusted upward, because this track begs to be cranked loud! With its ripping leads, pummeling riffs, and ferocious vocals, "Outcast" is an absolute monster. And it contains really good lyrics about class differences that rear their head even within a scene of seemingly like-minded individuals. If you pass up a free download on this bad boy, you are nuts! "Night" is a cover of a song by The Exit - a great but largely unknown late '70s Chicago punk group. It's a true tip of the cap to one of the bands that paved the way for Chicago punk rock, and of course it's an absolutely blistering rendition!

If you could imagine what a punk band from Chicago's south side ought to sound like, Criminal Kids are it! If you're like me, this free single will have you excited to hear the entire self-titled release!



-L.R.

https://criminalkids.bandcamp.com/releases 
https://www.facebook.com/CriminalKids/ 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Ray Davies - Americana

Review by Mike Kimmel

There's something I find terribly endearing about Ray Davies. I don’t know if it's something in his attitude that comes across, or something in his lyrics. Maybe it's just the turn of a phrase, the addition of an unexpected vocal presence. I really have no idea, but I do like him enough that I've written a song entitled "I Want to Be Like Ray Davies". It'll be on my first album (yeah, whenever that comes out)!

For instance, in the title track he's talking about "…my baby brother and me in the land of the free…" taking some road somewhere. They have no idea where it goes, but "…it's gonna take us somewhere". The title is "Americana", which he refers to at least once as "Amer-i-nirvana" because he wants to make his "…home where the buffalo roam in that great panorama."

He's got a home in New Orleans, and through Americana he mentions a couple of Americanisms such as "Big Sky" (Montana) and "Moon" (Kentucky) several times. I know. Pretty vague, but the context in which the words are used will help explain a bit more clearly.

I was fortunate enough to see the Kinks years ago with Ray and Dave Davies, Mick Avery with his candy cane striped drumsticks. It was a great show. John Mellencamp opened. Of course, that was years before his bass player wound up wanted on child pornography warrants out of Taiwan (that's not made up – how bad do you have to be if Taiwan issues child porn warrants against you?).

At one point, Ray Davies – obviously the focal point of the band – said that he'd been described recently as a homosexual alcoholic. "Well I'd like to make one thing perfectly clear right now. I haven't had a drink in weeks!", and then brother Dave launched into the title track from the Low Budget release.

Regarding the other point… The man was dating Chrissie Hynde, fercryinoutloud!

Another sidebar, which I'm sure someone may have noticed I'm pretty good at. Did you know that while visiting New Orleans, Louisiana in 2004, while Davies and a friend (Suzanne Despies) were walking down a street when a vehicle pulled up beside them, one occupant got out and demanded Despies's purse. She gave him the purse, and the schmuck ran. Davies chased him and got a bullet in the leg for his trouble.

In case you're wondering if justice is alive and well in The Big Easy, it looks a bit dim on that front. Not only was Davies criticized by local gendarmerie, but the aforementioned ‘schmuck’ has admitted his involvement in the crime and the prosecutor’s office has still twice dropped the case. WAY TO KEEP THE BAD GUYS OFF THE STREETS, GENTS! (To be fair, he probably shouldn't have chased the guy.)

OK, back to Americana. It's got an overall cowboy-referenced theme that occasionally pops up, and the songs are generally about what tends to happen as you age. There is inevitably some disillusionment.

That disillusionment can be with regard to personal relationships, your view of other relationships, and your initial beliefs about a person, place, or thing. In the case of Americana, I think Davies addresses all of these things. He begins by chasing The American Dream. And by the time the CD has finished, he realizes that someone somewhere had misunderstood or misrepresented something.

The objective behind the efforts of recording artists is often to "land a deal", and that's what track number two is about. Again, the lyrics show an astute understanding of the situation, which explains the disillusionment there as well.

"Isn't it marvelous, fraudulent, bogus and unreal? Today I'm a bullshit millionaire, feeling really fake. Pretending to be somebody while the credit's good. Go out to LA, strike myself a deal and be part of the American dream."

Vocal ranges approaching tenor have never been Davies's forte, but with his unique interpretations it never really mattered. Higher ranges still seem to be the only area he has any trouble with, and it doesn't seem to have gotten any less apparent with age. Again, it doesn't matter. Any faltering just seems to fit and make the lyrics seem even more like a storyteller as much as a singer. Davies is good at both.

My favorite track – at least for right now – is number three: "Poetry". A relationship just starting out is filled with mystery, excitement, and all kinds of intangibles. Those things are summed up IN "Poetry" AS poetry. He and his significant other spent time reading poetry out loud to each other. Then, she left for a wealthy guy better able to care for her material needs and "…she settled for someone who's not so hard to please; without all the fire and desire and the mystery. But I ask myself ‘Where is the poetry?'"

Keyboardist Karen Grotberg provides backing – and sometimes accompanying – vocals on a few songs. She's got a very good voice, either alone or when played against Davies's voice in their trade-off vocal tunes.

Other tracks and a very brief summary of each (brief, because I don't want to ruin the story, and every track on the CD is incorporated into the story) follows.

In "Message from the Road", the inevitabilities of extended, distant travel and life on the road are discussed, and the message carried in "A Place in Your Heart" is much the same.

"The Mystery Room" is just about life in general: start to (near?) finish. 'Yeah, my heart's still beating. Yeah, there’s no retreating."

A bit of a tip of the hat to an old friend follows in the track "Silent Movie", where the timelessness of music is briefly discussed.

Next up, "Rock 'n' Roll Cowboys on the ol' wagon train. You've had your time but it won't come again." "Your time's passed, now everyone asks for your version of history."

Personally, I think the next tune - "Change for Change" – outlines the progression of do-gooders from the initial phase of honestly wanting to help and trying to help to an eventual phase where they realize the effort is wasted, the point is moot, and now it's about them rather than everyone else.

"The Man Upstairs" is a person who accidentally helped Davies write the song that was rumbling around in his head at 3AM.

Discussed in "I've Heard That Beat Before" is a somewhat soured take on relationships coupled with the fact that no matter where we are or how different we are, we're also all a lot more alike than maybe we want to admit.

"A Long Drive Home to Tarzana" reflects on a drive or a walk or a something we've all participated in that winds up as an uncomfortable companionship – at least for the time being.

Do you have any mistaken ideas about anything? Any dreams you had – impressions of how a thing or a place would be? That's what Davies sorts through in "The Great Highway".

"The Invaders", on the other hand, takes the listener back to what may have been the first great disillusionment of the musician in love with and searching for the great American dream. Give it a listen. You'll see what I mean.

And finally, the 15th track finishes off the latest story in Ray Davies catalog. "Wings of Fantasy" also caps off the story that the whole CD has just told. It's where the end credits would probably run had this been a movie.

I always stick around till the end credits finish. It drives some people crazy, but I always want to see who did what, and I ALWAYS like to see who was involved in creating the soundtrack that set the tone for the movie I just watched.

Davies is able to tell a story and run the end credits without the listener ever having seen a thing. Some people can do that; tell a story with such imagination, feeling, and imagery that you feel like you've seen a movie.

You haven't. You've just been fortunate enough to have heard Ray Davies just doing his thing again.

-Mike Kimmel

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Crazy Squeeze - Savior of the Streets

Damn you, Crazy Squeeze, for making an album so utterly perfect that I lost sleep over the decision of which tracks I should embed in this review! Savior of the Streets, The Crazy Squeeze's long-awaited sophomore LP, is out now as a digital release with vinyl coming next month on Disconnected Records in the U.S.A. and Wanda Records in Europe. With most albums (even really good ones), I can come up with a pretty good idea of which songs are "the hits". But Savior of the Streets is basically nothing but hits. It's all-killer, no-filler from the opening note to the final strains. And while the "every song's a hit" cliche has been a mainstay of my reviews for years, I will gladly fight anyone who doubts its accuracy in the case of this album!

The Crazy Squeeze is that rare case of a supergroup that's been so good for so long that it no longer feels right to call it a supergroup. These days, we talk less about these guys' other bands and more about the amazing records they've been churning out as The Crazy Squeeze. Comparing Savior of the Streets to the group's self-titled debut from 2012, I hear a band that today has a much more fully developed idea of who it is and what kind of music it wants to make. While the term "pub rock" has definite associations with a specific place and time in music history, The Crazy Squeeze has reinvented the term in a broader sense. Its version of pub rock is the perfect mix of glam-influenced '77 punk and pure old style rock n' roll - with hooks that would be the envy of just about any pop band. Somehow the band sounds both tougher and catchier on this release - a bona fide leading contender for my 2017 album of the year.

With the track selection alternating between Johnny's songs and Frankie's songs, Savior of the Streets is an album that really highlights how well their contrasting styles complement each other. They each bring something a little different to the table, but it all ends up sounding like The Crazy Squeeze. And while this is generally a more cohesive album than the last one, that doesn't mean that every song sounds the same. These 12 tracks cover everything from down and dirty glam rock ("Be Your Dryer") to first rate punky power pop ("Let's Go Down") to raucous barroom rock n' roll ("Blind Truth") to '70s-style arena pop ("Ooh Baby I Love You") to Stonesy street rock ("She's A Runner") to some good, old honky tonk stomp (a robust cover of J Gale Kilgore's cult classic, "Suds"). There's never a dull moment. This, to me, is the kind of rock n' roll your parents always warned you about: oozing with swagger and liable to lead a person towards a life of rule-breaking and unrepentant sinning. Doesn't that sound like tremendous fun?!

I would definitely consider The Crazy Squeeze one of my favorite bands, so I was really looking forward to Savior of the Streets. But even with my high hopes, I must say that I was totally blown away. I wondered if this album would yield any more songs on the level of a "Sexual Activity Girls" or a "To the Lonely Ones". What I got was a whole album on that level! Fellas, you crushed it! This is an instantly classic rock n' roll record! So how did I decide which tracks to embed? Well, you know, I can flip a mean coin.



-L.R.

https://thecrazysqueeze.bandcamp.com/album/savior-of-the-streets 
https://disconnected-records.com/collections/frontpage/products/crazy-squeeze-the-savior-of-the-streets-lp 
https://www.facebook.com/thecrazysqueeze/ 
https://www.facebook.com/DisconnectedRecordsUSA/