Saturday, October 31, 2009

Sicko: My Tribute to the Misfits

(Image courtesy of Crimson Werewolf over at Deviant Art - Sorry!)

For my Halloween trick on you, I'll pause the international punk series, to offer you the first in my intermittent series of Imaginary Singles. Imaginary Singles are album tracks and obscurities, shoulda-been singles, mucked up with badly butchered cover art by yours incompetently. This i-single is a spot-on perfect satire called "My Tribute to the Misfits (Your Sister is a Werewolf Tonight)" by Seattle indie-punks, Sicko. The imaginary B-side is their cover of the Misfits' "Astro Zombies", from a British CD only bonus track from the same album as the A-side, You Are Not the Boss of Me from 1997.

My Tribute to the Misfits i-single

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Die Toten Hosen: Carnival in Rio (Punk Was)

"(Ronnie) Biggs is a fool, a buffoon....if you're going to worship a train robber, why not the one who got the money?"
Johnny Rotten

For decades Die Toten Hosen have ruled the charts of their native Germany by mixing the swagger of glam rock, the aggro of '77 punk and and the sing-along choruses of schlager (a central and Northern European easy listening genre whose name sounds like a portmanteau of schmaltz and lager for good reason). Outside Deutschland, the band, whose name means "The Dead Pants", are best known for the 1991 album Learning English: Lesson 1, in which they covered punk classics by the likes of the Ramones, the Vibrators and MRML favourite Wreckless Eric, each with a guest from the original version. It's an impressive achievement, though no more musically memorable than their albums of schlager songs and Christmas carols done under the pseudonym Die Roten Rosen.

The key to this seemingly backward-looking exercise is in the sole original,"Carnival in Rio". The special guest on this track (and on the two B-sides: the Sex Pistols' '"Everybody is Innocent" and Eddy Grant via the Clash's "Police on My Back") is notorious lowlife and Great Train Robber, Ronnie Biggs. To say Biggs comes off as like your disheveled, creepy old uncle, is sort of an insult to the disheveled, creepy old uncles of the world.

Fortunately, Biggs is used here as a punk prop (watch singer Campino give up on trying to get Biggs to sing at the 34 second mark) just as he was with the very late period Sex Pistols. While Malcolm McLaren used him to hide the fact that the Sex Pistols were dead, Die Toten Hosen use him, and a shit-load of curses, to disguise their song's surprisingly sweet sentiment. "Carnival in Rio (Punk Was)"is where the band lays their guts on the line. The song is both a tribute to their forefathers and a paean to punk's indomitable spirit of defiant optimism, exemplified by those shouts of, "It'll all be coming back!" at the end. Amen. Punk never dies, fuckers.

Carnival in Rio (Punk Was)
CD single

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Shonen Knife: Get the Wow

The deliriously happy, "Get the Wow" was Shone Knife's second single from their best-ever album, the now out-of-print Let's Knife.

(Shonen Knife faithfully kicking the shit out of a Carpenters easy-listening classic, not on this e.p., alas)

Get the Wow CD single

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Shonen Knife: Riding the Rocket

Let's just settle this right up front: yes, Shonen Knife were cute and yes, there was a massive novelty appeal to these Japanese women playing ultra-simple guitar-pop.
Now as for what's sharpest Knife? It's the 1992 album Let's Knife. Yup, the Major Label Debut with 'translated' English lyrics and hi-fi production. To many of their earliest fans that album is seen as watered down but actually it shows off their Shangri-La's-Ramones hybrid to maximum effect. Not unlike the Blue Hearts, Shonen Knife used the Ramones as a basis for their own twisted vision of pop culture, matching outfits and all!. "Riding the Rocket", was the first single from Let's Knife and it's full of vintage sci-fi sounds, Cheap Trick echoes and that unforgettable chorus:
Uka boo, uka boo everybody uka boo
Uka boo, uka boo, space walk, uka boo
Uka boo, uka boo, let’s do the uka boo

The CD single, has a few charming bonuses, including a different version of "Burning Farm" as well as a space-surf instro called "Milky Way".

Riding the Rocket CD single

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Blue Hearts: Train, Train

It may be another catchy pop-punk tune with a repetitive English title and Japanese lyrics like "Linda, Linda" but "Train, Train" is no Nickelback-esque re-write. Instead, as if challenged to top their previous hit, the Blue Hearts (see here) wrote a stunning song that ended up out-selling "Linda, Linda". In 1988's "Train, Train", the chorus is still incessant and staccato but they prettified the intro, amped up the riff and crafted an even stronger, more anthemic melody. Y'know most English-speakers turn a deaf ear to music in another language and that's really to our own detriment.

Train, Train 7"

Supporting the band may be difficult for Westerners but Amazon does stock a few things.

And while the Blue Hearts broke up in the mid-nineties, Hiroto Kōmoto (vocalist) and Masatoshi Mashima (guitarist) have kept at it with great aplomb, as their current band, the more garage-rockin' Cro-Magnons, proves.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Blue Hearts: Linda, Linda

MRML makes no claim of being a world music blog or even an internationalist one. Call us ethnocentric if you must, but we fuss over Britain and its one-time colonies because that's what we know. Sure we've visited Germany and France (with more Euro-punk to come) but it's all been so...Western. Case in point, the only Japanese album I've ever owned was a Shonen Knife CD and I'm guessing that Shonen Knife, like pizza, are not considered an exemplar of the culture from which they originated. After all, while Shonen Knife built up a North American cult following, the Blue Hearts stormed Japan's arenas and pop charts.

(Charming video but scroll down here for a more accurate version of the lyrics).

I'm woefully ignorant of the intricacies of Japanese pop culture, so I'll spare you theories of the Blue Hearts' breaking of cultural taboos or their use traditional melodies etc. Instead, I'll just say that through Western eyes and ears they sound like the Ramones being fronted by Darby Crash - especially with this song's recurring animal imagery. It's hard to believe that this was any nation's idea of what constituted a pop song in the saccharine year that was 1987. The glory of the song, however, is that joyously infectious hook, "Linda!, Linda!" - hear it once and you'll be singing it forever, hell, so will anyone else in the world.

Linda, Linda 7"

(There is a Japanese film about school girls learning the song for a battle of the bands-type event, and yes, to me this version does sound a bit like Shonen Knife, which is only a good thing.)

(Thanks to Bookhouse over on MetaFilter for inspiring this post.)

Supporting the band may be difficult for Westerners but Amazon does stock a few things.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Grant Hart: Intolerance

Well, I'm not sure how well I've convinced the skeptical to reappraise former Hüsker Dü drummer Grant Hart's (see here) accomplishments. However, I have apparently done a number on myself, as yesterday I purchased his long out-of-print 1990 solo album, Intolerance, alongside the Japanese-only, Bob Dylan Live 1961-2000. This pair of purchases forced me to haul out the old Dylan Stick, that crude tool we who feel compelled to write about music so often use to determine just how well any singer who write his own words and music measures up to the mighty Bob.

It's an endlessly fascinating activity, but the outcome is never in doubt. Bob's untouchable, even if he puts out endurance-defying crap (Christmas in the Heart for fuck's sake!) during his cyclical nadirs, he still fascinates more than most artists at their apex. That being said, Grant Hart and Bob Dylan share more in common than you'd think. They're both Minnesota boys, influential underground song-writers who were later branded sell-outs and who, after hitting their greatest commercial successes (assisted by near-lethal doses of narcotics), crashed and had to rebuild their reputations. Of course Dylan never played drums in a hardcore band and Intolerance isn't Hart's Blood on the Tracks. Instead Intolerance is like the mid-way point between the soundtrack for Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid and the almost-comeback album Planet Waves. Listen to the fluttering harmonica on "Now That You Know Me" or the rueful anger in "2541" or that warping of a traditional folk melody (probably "A Pair of Brown Eyes") to devastating effect on "The Main" and judge for yourself how high up on the Dylan Stick he gets.

Intolerance CD

If you'd like to support the artist check out Hart's first new album in years,(recorded with members of Godspeed You Black Emperor), available here.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Grant Hart: All of My Senses

Another of the sad joys scattered throughout Hart's sketchy discography, is the 1990 single. "All of My Senses". In the A-side, an organ-driven dose of thin wild mercury music, there's a weighted pause after Hart sings "I'm using" which might hint that this is a record about heroin. Then the b-sides, "The Main" (an eerily familiar cross between a Lennon ballad and an old Irish one) and the Love cover, "Signed D.C." will remove any doubts about the role of the junk herein. A mighty, sad and beautiful record

All of My Senses E.P.

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Friday, October 23, 2009

Nova Mob: Shoot Your Way To Freedom

Grant Hart's fall from rock n roll grace was swift and brutal. As we said last time, "it seems that in the divorce settlement that Mould got to keep the cultural cache that Hüsker Dü had built up. Hart's solo career did began with brilliance but he soon stumbled and has never fully re-gained his footing."

While the stories from people I know who've met Hart are usually grisly (it's an eight-hour drive to Minneapolis from Winnipeg but it's still our closest urban neighbour) the comments section here at MRML has been alight with Hart defenders. To those die-hard Hart-ians (I can sympathize despite my Mould fandom) here's one of Hart's other highlights, the glowing, "Shoot Your Way To Freedom". The 1991 CD-EP from his band Nova Mob also contains the fine "Ballad Number 19" and, unfortunately, two more "funky B-sides" which are actually not entirely terrible.

Shoot Your Way To Freedom CD-EP

{Bob and Grant play on Hell's Frozen Lake of Fire, 2o04}

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Undertones: It's Gonna Happen

I was going to say that I could talk about the Undertones for days but MRML readers already know my weakness for obsessing over shoulda-beens and kinda-weres ad nauseum. So before I return to discussing Grant Hart marginalia, I need to remind you of what likely is the last great Undertones single, "It's Going to Happen". The song is from the 1981 album Positive Touch and it's a heart-breaking indication that a great band could have been borne of Feargal's ambitions and the band's growing prowess, a band that could groove like ska and rock like power-pop. But the band instead elected to play an eighties brand of soul; it's a deep loss, one that may bear some obsessing.

Finding this high concept, Buster-Keaton-meets-Ed-Wood video, full of Feargal's high-camp made posting this song a necessity.

It's Going To Happen

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Undertones: Live at Rockaplast

The Undertones never sucked. However, while their last two album contain some fine moments like, "It's Going to Happen" and"The Love Parade" you can forgive fans of those first two buzzsaw pop releases for saying their sudden embrace of a pop-rock-soul, " sucks".

This 1981 concert (sound quality is near-perfect) is a fascinating bridge between Hypnotized and Positive Touch. The early material is slower, and tricked out with touches of both sixties pop and R & B while some, if not all, the newer material is faster and more rocked out. True Undertones fans will find it fascinating.

Live at the Rockaplast CD

(This lovely image is for Crozier)

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Undertones: My Perfect Cousin

Is "Teenage Kicks" really the Undertones' pinnacle? It is an incredible distillation of adolescent longing and lust, I mean listen to Feargal croon as if his heart's being ripped from his chest and shown to him before he dies, while the band kicks up a divine racket. The one knock against that song is how it unfairly overshadows the Undertones greatest unhits; "Get Over You", "Here Comes the Summer" "Hypnotized" and "My Perfect Cousin".

What if the Undertones only recorded one song before being blasted to blood and guts by an I.R.A. pipe bomb? Thank God it didn't happen, but if it had then maybe that one song should have been "My Perfect Cousin". Having explored Lust in "Teenage Kicks" the band continued to cover the Seven Deadly Sins (not a band really), with Envy being the focus here. The lyrics lay out the family rivalry in such exquisite detail that it's like an outline of a film; listen and you can see these perfect set pieces being run in the theater of your skull. Hell, the narrative arc here is more fully realized than the last ten Will Ferrell movies.


I've got a cousin called Kevin
He's sure to go to heaven
Always spotless, clean and neat
As smooth as you’ll get ‘em

He's got a fur lined sheepskin jacket
My ma said they cost a packet
But she won't even let me explain
That me and Kevin we’re just not the same

Oh, my perfect cousin
What I like to do he doesn't
He's his family's pride and joy

His mother’s little golden boy

He's got a degree in economics
Maths, physics and bionics
He thinks that I'm a cabbage
‘Cause I hate University Challenge
Even at the age of ten
Smart boy Kevin was a smart boy then
He always beat me at Subbuteo
‘Cause he ‘flicked to kick’
And I didn't know

Repeat chorus

His mother bought him a synthesiser
Got the Human League into advise her
Now he's making lots of noise
Playing along with the art school boys
Girls try to attract his attention
But what a shame, it's in vain, total rejection
He will never be left on the shelf
‘Cause Kevin, he's in love with himself

Repeat chorus

Written By: Michael Bradley / Damian O’Neill

While the Undertones obvious strength may be the quavery but powerful vocal stylings of choirboy Feargal Sharkey, it's the song-writing skills of the O'Neil brothers, John and Damien (both later of That Petrol Emotion) that underpins their greatness. Despite having written just one song on their 1979 debut, it's John who wrote or co-wrote half of 1980's Hypnotized, including their possible pinnacle, "My Perfect Cousin".

My Perfect Cousin 7"

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Geza X: Need More Power

Geza X, a key producer, solo artist, inventor and musical theoretician of the early California punk scene, is one odd duck. His notoriety began with his production work for the Dead Kennedys, the Germs, Black Flag, the Avengers and the Weirdos. The of course he pioneered the use of the now-ubiquitous face mikes (a.k.a. head-mounted mikes) and the less-popular Gezatone guitar. Using said guitar he led a band called the Mommymen through a series of singles, e.p.'s. He and the band also appeared on compilations such as Jello Biafra's Let Them Eat Jellybeans where they add the weirdly wonderful, "Isotope Soap" and Rodney Bingenheimer's Rodney on the Roq where they contributed the thundering "We Need More Power."

"We Need More Power", with it's shredded-speaker guitar sound has held me in thrall since I first heard it as a teenager. Geza called their sound, "x-music", a sort of art-school punk but filled with saxes and marimbas as well as slashing power-chords and squiggly leads. It's like an experiment to cross-breed Devo with AC/DC performed in Captain Beefheart's laboratory. If that doesn't sound promising, Geza always does.

Download We Need More Power 7"

Lee Jospeh reminds us that we can now buy Geza X albums at Dionysus Records!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Bowling For Soup: I'm Gay

How uncool are Bowling For Soup? Well, if it's any indication, I first heard one of their songs (one that I can actually remember) while grabbing some lemon hummus from Safeway. That's not even mall-punk - that's deli-section punk. So go ahead and scorn these Texans for their Grammy nomination, their Jive Records contract or their obvious debt to Blink 182 and the Offspring (who both ripped SoCal pop-punk in the first place) if you must but in their chart-aiming, kiddie-punk goofiness they do hearken back to the Dickies.

This song, "I'm Gay" gets points for a killer chorus, a reasonably witty take on the use of the word gay, some post-modern la-la's in the bridge and of course a few dead-clever lines like, "I think rock n' roll is really funny when its serious". Call me indiscriminate but a well-written song is is a well-written song; it doesn't matter about the band's overly wacky image, their less-funny-every-time-you-hear-it name, their token overwrought ballad or even their musical kleptomania. Just enjoy the uncoolness.

To hear the UK single (with extra tracks, including another of one of those dreaded" funky B-sides" - sorry 'bout that) or anything more, please see the links below:


Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Pixies: Dig For Fire

Garychching over at Always Searching for Music recently solicited for readers' favourite Pixies song, Without thinking much I typed out "Monkey Gone to Heaven" and clicked post comment. Then a wiser Longy from Punk Friction chimed in with, 'Today it's "Debaser". Of course, it always shifts, settling on on final favourite Pixies song is like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall. Perhaps today I'll choose a less obvious song.

The Pixies we're never 'my' band. The alterna-types a couple of years younger than me (the ones who thought the Church were revolutionary and bought everything on 4AD whether it was the Pixies or Dead Can Dance) adopted them. However, one of the aforementioned altera-types lent me a cassette of Surfer Rosa and I remember listening to it on my Walkman as I walked to her house down the dark streets of North Kildonan. When that voice barked, "You touch my stuff you fuckin' die" I whirled around dead sure someone was gonna knife me. It took a few seconds for me to realize it had been on the tape. But that tape held more such shocking moments not the least of which was "Gigiantic" with it's transfixing juxtaposition of noise and melody in a way that must have pleased Hüsker Dü if not necessarily Peter, Paul and Mary.

Now "Dig For Fire", from 1990's Bossonova, makes up what it lacks in shocking newness with breath-taking intricacy. The song is anchored by a a fascinating central metaphor (for his love of twisted morality tales, Frank Black's the Flannery O'Connor of rock n' roll). Of course what holds us is the finely detailed melodic structure, not just that unforgettable chorus but those huge layers of guitar which are by turns surf-y, distorted and stuttering, which is as resplendent as a Gothic Southern mansion.
(As a bonus here, you get another surf instrumental, a fine cover of Neil Young's "Helpless" and "Santos" which sounds, well, like a Pixies B-side.)

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Friday, October 16, 2009

Grant Hart: 2541

So while Mould's solo debut came after Hart's, it seems that in the divorce settlement that Mould got to keep the cultural cache that Hüsker Dü had built up. Hart's solo career did began with brilliance but he soon stumbled and has never fully re-gained his footing.

Surprisingly, considering how he'd referred to Mould's late period Hüsker Dü work as "square", Hart's debut is even more more sensitive singer-songwriter fodder than Mould's! "2541" is however, a moving song of loss with a fittingly mournful melody. The fine lyrical details and the the swelling chorus make for the perfect eulogy for the Hüskers. It's blatantly autobiographical but unsentimental and it contains many a stinging line like, "It's probably not be the last time I'll have to be out by the first". While "Come, Come" is a respectable, if a bit duff, "Let Go" is the dreaded "funky B-side" which is, as it always must be, a real low point in the entire artist's discography.

{MRML readers leave a comment: Who's first A-side, Mould's or Hart's, was better?}

Download 2541 single

{Thanks to the incredible Hüsker Dü Database for help with this post.}

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Bob Mould: See A Litle Light

When Hüsker Dü split over innuendo about drugs, suicide and selling out, the members found themselves in terra incognita. After all they began the eighties as a hardcore band on indie SST Records before becoming a major label college rock band in the mid-eighties and finally ending the decade as solo artists. (Well Bob Mould and Grant Hart became solo artists, Greg Norton went back to the kitchen.)

Mould sobered up, got a new record label and sequestered himself in a farmhouse to write the gentler-but-not-kinder songs that would become Workbook in 1989 . Workbook's folk-rock sound, with its prominent cello and acoustic guitar, found critical acclaim but no more commercial success than Hüsker Dü. This problem prompted a re-think for Mould's next solo outing (the results of which in turn prompted an even greater re-think; Mould's a re-thinking kinda guy.) Whether you fully embrace this slightly more pastoral album or not (and it's surface calm is deceptive), it's not hard to believe that "See A Little Light" is one of the most gorgeous songs he's ever written.

Besides the luscious pop of the title track, this e.p. contains the more Hüsker Dü-ish, "All These People Know" as well as a rawer live take on the album's "Compositions for the Young and Old" and Mould's blistering live version of Richard Thompson's "Shoot Out the Lights".

{Thanks to the incredible Hüsker Dü Database for help with this post.}

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