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Sunday, December 30, 2012



Here are my Top Ten records of 2012, as they appear on my official ballot for this year’s annual Village Voice Pazz & Jop critics’ poll, which I’ve been voting in since 1931. Well, it sure seems like it.


01. The Bryan Ferry OrchestraThe Jazz Age (BMG) :: Bored with the “Beguine”? The Samba isn’t your scene? Then sit down and brace yourself for what is not only the most superlative album of the year, but the most superlative album I’ve heard in, literally, over three decades. It’s a vital album imbued with such note-perfect precision that you’ll swear you’re listening to some arcane outtakes from Duke Ellington’s Brunswick era Jungle Band.

That’s because The Jazz Age is nothing less than a note-perfect flapperesque remake/remodel of the Roxy-Ferry canon, evocatively interpreted for a century-spanning earlier era he never made but nonetheless knows like the back of his band. Even better, the seditious song selection ranges in sage from the commercially predictable (“Avalon” and “Love Is The Drug”) to the downright subversive (“The Bogus Man” and “Virginia Plain”).

But rather than dive head first into the deep end of technology as a lesser man might, Ferry dips his toe into the shallow end of analog pool instead because he realizes that period music deserves period production, which is why every song is presented in mono, with each song length suitable in size for a single 78 side; the only thing missing are the shellac scratches.

The will power it took for Ferry to eliminate the two things he’s best known for—his singing and his lyrics—is not only courageously commendable, it’s aesthetically encouraging.

02. Van HalenA Different Kind Of Truth (Interscope) :: Amazingly, this new one has everything that Diver Down didn’t including, most crucial of all, an over abundance of cheeky trademark cheap asides by Roth which range from the sassily self-congratulatory: “I told ya I was comin’ back. Say you missed me. Say it like you mean it...” to the authoritatively admonitory: “Aw, this next part should really confuse things; everybody, let’s stay focused. A little more volume in the headphones please?”

And speaking of volume, not only is this the loudest Van Halen album ever, it’s the flat out speed freak fastest one in that almost every song is played in an out of control double time style that’s ridiculously relentless. Refreshingly devoid of any keyboards or ballads, some might say that it’s a guy’s album because it doesn’t have a “Jamie’s Crying” on it—but that’s the back to the basics point, as ably evidenced by the overtly overpowering album cover image.

As good as the two last gasp Roth reunion tracks on Best Of Volume 1 were, neither of them gave any indication whatsoever that these guys were still capable of recording an entire long player as dynamically youthful and octave spanning as this one is. It may not be as thoughtfully mature as Fair Warning but it’s easily the exhilarating auditory equivalent of Women And Children First, if not more so, and that’s a musical miracle in itself.

03. Sheesham & Lotus & ’Son1929: The New Kings Of Old Time (Sepiaphone) :: The problem with the past is that it ain’t present no more—just ask Bryan Ferry—which is why this is the kind of bracing monophonic tonic that’ll jostle your overloaded brainpan into fondly remembering how much better yesterday’s music was compared to today’s complex caterwauling.

But don’t you go thinking that 1929 is some kinda misplaced nostalgia act like Tiny Tim warbling “Tiptoe Through The Tulips” or the New Vaudeville Orchestra doing the megaphone bit on “Winchester Cathedral” ’cause it’s as vibrant and vital as a headline torn from last night’s All Star Final or this morning’s Bulldog Edition—and if you don’t believe me, just give a listen Jaybird Coleman’s lust on the loose classic “Giving It Away” with its cautionary lyric: “Well a nickel is a nickel and a dime’s a dime. I got a house fulla chillun; ain’t none of ’em mine!”

04. Andre WilliamsLife (Alive Natural Sound) :: This is the blowsy blooze album that Iggy Pop has always wanted to record and dang near came close to waxing on several occasions—and don’t laugh: just like the Igg at his elucidatory educatin’ best, Mr. Williams’ lyrics dispense minimal jewels of wisdom and are backed up with a slow-drippin’ vocal delivery that’s as thick as molasses and is guaranteed to stick to the roof of your brain twice as long before it comes loose.

And speaking of loose comers, Mr. Williams is backed by a buncha soul-stealin’ Delta-dealin’ young snots who don’t take no sonic shee-it from nobody ’ceptin’ of course Mr. Williams who could kick each one of their collective heinies into the middle of next week without even scuffing the toe of one of his patent-leather shoes.

Then again, what else would you expect from a man who’s got the brass sassafras to rhyme “wanna” with “Obama”? Why, not since George Harrison dared to rhyme “visas” with “Jesus” and Bob Dylan dared to rhyme “stir” with “triple mur-der” have I heard such unrivalled poetry!

05. Bill Nelson And The Gentlemen RocketeersRecorded Live In Concert At Metropolis Studios, London (Convexe) :: Mr. Magnetism himself, everybody’s favorite futurist, that supersonic scourge of the airwaves, Bill “Mr. Deluxe” Nelson is back with this new three disc set of modern music performed in Metropolis—seen the cover to Live! In The Air Age recently?—that clocks in at 95 minutes on the auditory scale and weighs in at a respectable 110 on the visual meter. It’s an eclectic eighteen track time trip that spans his days as a deluxe be-bopper (“Ships In The Night” and “Panic In The World”) to his solo spasms (“Do You Dream In Color” and “Furniture Music”).

But listening to tracks like “Sister Seagull” and “Adventures In A Yorkshire Landscape” is only part of the package; to get the full futurama effect, you have to fire up the video and watch Bill work his axe victim magic ’cause his voice is as distinctively strong as ever and he can still play a guitar just like a rocket blasting off.

06. Jethro Tull’s Ian AndersonTAAB2: Thick As A Brick 2: Whatever Happened To Gerald Bostock? (Chrysalis) :: As Ian explains in the TAAB2 booklet, 2012 marks both the factual 40th anniversary of the original TAAB album and the fictitious 50th birthday of the album’s ten-year-old “lyricist,” precocious prodigy Gerald Bostock. Which is more than reason enough for Anderson to create a new prog rock concept album that dares to posit half a dozen different possible alternate universe scenarios of what Gerald might have done with his life over the past 40 years—with several overt and oblique nods to such past Tullian triumphs as Aqualung and A Passion Play along the way.

Eschewing the unbanded single song cycle that defined both TAAB and APP, the new TAAB2 is divided into 17 separate songs, only one of which—“Gerald Goes Homeless: Adrift And Dumbfounded”—truly sounds as if it had been recorded back in 1972. Which only goes to show that Ian could easily have expertly aped his back catalogue had he wanted to. That he chose not to live in the past and come up instead with something that sounds thoroughly modern while still evoking echoes of the past, is a testament to the man’s continual creativity. Really don’t mind if I sit this one in.

07. Nona HendryxMutatis Mutandis (Righteous Babe) :: When it comes to intelligent singin’ songwritin’ women, there are only two fabulous females with enough brain pan prowess to acquire my unbridled admiration: Grace Slick and Nona Hendryx. And while Grace has long since traded making platters for mixing palettes, just like that great statesman Hubert Horatio Humphrey, I’m pleased as punch to report that Nona is not only back but that she’s stronger than never ever before and still kicking out her distinctive brand of educational activist rock ’n’ soul music.

And while I may not always agree with her politics—hey, it’s a free country—I know where she’s coming from and I’ll defend to the deaf her right to say it; and boy howdy how she ever does say it on this empowering album. Not since Grace cut the incendiary anti-Nixon manifesto “Mexico” as a Jefferson Airplane flip side single has one woman taken such astute commanding control of what’s going on, as torn from today’s headlines.

08. Living In QuestionRecipes And Remedies (Lazy Bones) :: Say hello to hard rock from Hawaii with all of the solid state volume and none of the soul shrinking vapidity that would deep six a lesser disc.

Y’see, this session is so smart it fools you by starting out sounding like one of those fake Nine Inch Manson albums that bandwagon jumpers like Vanilla Ice and Rob Halford were grinding out in the ’90s—but as soon as it lulls you into thinking that you’re going on a one-way trip to Xeroxland, it abruptly changes course and delivers you straight into the heart of Originalville where powerful ballads and power pop puds pound it out for sonic supremacy with a rock ’n’ roll referee standing by to ensure that things don’t stray too far from bone-pulverizing crunge time during this fifteen round heavyweight throwdown.

09. Todd RundgrenTodd Rundgren’s Utopia: Live at Hammersmith Odeon ’75 (Shout! Factory) :: Although he’s always been the brightest bulb in the box, Todd’s never been one to let his big brain get in the way of an entertaining show and this album is no exception. He begins with the overlooked and underrated “Freedom Fighters” off Todd Rundgren’s Utopia; gets his avantness outta his system on a ten minute “Mister Triscuits” space out; and then settles down to a heaping meat and potatoes helping of songs you all know and love ranging from the power pop “Couldn’t I Just Tell You” and the rave up “Heavy Metal Kids” to the anthemic “Sons Of 1984” and the ballad “The Last Ride” to the toe-tapping trilogy of “When The Shit Hits The Fan” / “Sunset Boulevard” / “Le Feel Internacionale.” Oh, and did I mention that Todd also does the Nazz classic “Open My Eyes” with Luther Vandross? At least that’s what he says...

10. Buffalo Killers & Lee Bains III And The Glory Fires & Brian Olive & Radio Moscow & Left Lane Cruiser & John The  Conqueror & Henry’s Funeral ShoeAlive At The Deep Blues Fest: Recorded Live In Bayport, MN June 29 - July 1 2012 (Alive Natural Sound) :: Not since Woodstock’s most raucously recorded sludgefest moments have I heard such a deliriously raw recitation of down ’n’ dirty skuzztone blooze, the likes of which you hardly hear anymore. That’s why you owe it to yourself to scoff a copy and crank it up until your delicate little shell-like ears remind you why you allowed yourself to get picked up and seduced by this kind of hard rockin’ harlot in the first place.

11. The Rolling Stones – “Doom And Gloom” (UMG) :: That aural albatross the Stones are back treading water with a brand new 50th anniversary single slung around their scrawny necks that’s actually their best rock ’n’ roll recording this century—which, come to think of it, ain’t sayin’ much. The band is at their cowbell bashing best with a surfeit of stereo guitars and a drummer who’s obviously not in control of his skin-smashing anger. Even better, the singer’s in fine frantic fettle and he’s come up with his goofiest set of lyrics since he was heard yelping on “Too Much Blood” about dancing with a one-legged woman for fifty cents. This time around he’s yapping his gums raw about being in a zombie-infested swamp, proving once again that Mick Jagger never met a pop culture trend that he didn’t swipe.

12. Wendy James – “It’s Alright Ma” b/w “You’re So Great” (iTunes Exclusive) :: Well it’s two thousand and twelve, okay, and Wendy James is back across the USA with a sizzling double A side single that’ll stick to your two tympanic membranes like a burst wad of Dubble Bubble. First up to the plate is Wendy’s glass-shattering, speaker-shredding, seven minute long cover of “It’s Alright Ma” which admirably re-defines Bob Dylan for a whole new generation of dissipated denizens.

Even better, Wendy’s eloquently animated vocal delivery is solidly sutured into place by the heavier than heavy and immediately identifiable work of Raw Power and Kill City guitarist James Williamson—but nothing you’ve ever heard from either of these two reprobates in the past will even come close to preparing you for the seven second straight-jacket stretch of supersonics that starts things off.

While you’re going down to Sister James’ infirmary, dig the flip side and get an instant earful education on how versatile this chippy really is with her chirpy power pop remake/remodel of the Sonic’s Rendezvous Band staple “You’re So Great,” which is so ginchily groovy it’ll have you thinking that Fred “Sonic” Smith wrote it exclusively for Wendy—and my friend, after hearing it, can you prove that he didn’t?

Be seeing you!
Sun, December 30, 2012 | link 

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