Sunday, December 31, 2006

BIG END OF YEAR HARD ROCK EXTRAVAGANZA

It being Sunday, the New York Times 'Arts' section contains the usual collection of features which make DD feel like he lives in another galaxy. Their green is my red, their dull, my sharp etc. "If You Won't Play the Album, They'll Sing It From the Top" sells the idea that since CDs and LPs are so passe, all white middle-aged geezer rockers must now perform their best classic rock albums in concert and all the way through. Look, there's Lou Reed in the NY newspaper, looking glum.

"When was the last time you listened to an album without interruption and from beginning to end?" asks whiz-bang Elisabeth Vincentelli. No one listens to albums anymore, was the day's received wisdom, used to justify the coverage of the selected Sunday fad. Single track sales and piracy are where it's at. Mixtapes and shuffleplay. (Nb: I actually get paid to write about single tracks for a Net music publication obsessed only with single downloads.)

Anyway, the final ten days of Tower Record's going-out-of-business sale gave DD the opportunity to buy quite a few albums to listen to in entirety at around $1.25 a pop. It ensured I had no interest in listening to review copies of more current releases the last month of 2006.

I was able to better buying habits from thirty years ago when $4.99 bought vinyl at the Listening Booths in Schuylkill and Berks counties Pennsyltucky rather than stew over whether or not I wanted to part with a twenty for a potential gobbler.

Since they were all hard rock CDs, the kind none of the vultures picking over Tower's dregs wanted, I had surprisingly easy going. As a consequence, the fairly big pile is actually my long "best of" year list.

So here we go:

The Mighty Jeremiahs -- Classic southern rockers, middle-aged men, doing a Christian take on ZZ Top without songs about hookers, whore houses, pool rooms and getting tossed out of the end of a racing pickup truck in a steel cage. Astonishing as it seems, a song called "Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego" is rhythmically and vocally catchy. "Walk With Me Jesus" is also the best Texan-sounding "Jesus Just Left Chicago" rip, ever. "Love your neighbor but not your neighbor's wife" sings Jimmy Hall and backing soul sisters on "Tell the Truth." Hall used to be in Wet Willie. Remember "Keep on Smilin'?" Strong whiff of J. Geils' "Full House" here, too.

Hollywood Hairspray, Vol. 5 -- Los Angeles Eighties Sunset Strip rock from around the world, a collection of bands with kids, most of whom weren't around then, who still love the sound of it. Never saw the first four volumes, this one has a cover shot of a whore in thigh high boots. There's even a band named Hollywood from Sweden. And they're good! They still love LA and Motley Crue in Portugal, too, apparently. Records like "Hollywood Hairspray" make DD sure that while the war on terror might be forever, the United States will assuredly never lose as long as Poison remains an inspiration to people who sing and shout in English with a slightly odd accent.

The Albert Schroeder Experience "Freedom" -- Wouldn't you buy a CD of four white guys doing a tribute to the Jimi Hendrix Experience for $1.25? If you like hard rock like me, you wouldn't hesitate one moment. White guys doing Jimi Hendrix tributes are a necessary part of the lawn furniture in the great backyard of heavy rock. And I know if you're taking this seriously, and I am sure that you are, you also probably have a copy of a Randy Hansen vinyl record, or one by Frank Marino, as proof. However, even Mahogany Rush isn't as keen a name as The Albert Schroeder Experience, or the Stoney Curtis Band, which I bought last year.

Man's Ruin was a late 90's-2000 or so independent label known largely for overinvesting in stoner rock bands. The imprint released so much into the genre it was fair to make the joke that there were more people in stoner rock bands on Man's Ruin than there were fans of stoner rock.

And Tower Records had boxes of them sitting in the warehouse gathering dust.

For the firesale they were all put back into the Pasadena store where, at a little over a buck a piece, they were finally priced right.

Altamont "Our Darling" -- Vanity project of The Melvins' Dale Crover, who switches from drums to guitar and vocals. DD saw Altamont once at a stoner fest in Silver Lake, supporting this particular record, at which point I decided not to buy it. They stank up the place. Second time around, it's a winner for a great Who-like version of "Young Man Blues" and a fair Ted Nugent imitation, "Short Eyes."

Croatan "Violent Passion Surrogate" -- One of the about two hundred reasons Man's Ruin went out of business, Croatan are one of the true flat-tires of this column, even at a buck and a quarter. A duo, consisting of a drummer and a girl who squawks unintelligibly, sings flat and plays Blue Cheer-esque guitar. However, there's no "Summertime Blues" or anything remotely like what's on "Vincebus Eruptum." Instead, you get loud make-it-up-as-you-go-along art. A year or two ago there was another duo that sounded almost exactly like Croatan. They were called Vincebus Eruptum, of all things, and their debut, never surpassed, was amusing for a few listens, just for a song called "Who Farted?" in which the singer querulously answered, "You did." Nothing like that here. Move along now, you don't want to be looking for this.

Stone Fox "Totally Burnt" All girl hard rock band from San Francisco with guy drummer who isn't very good. The first half of the CD is from the studio. If you find "Totally Burnt," skip to the halfway mark where the songs come from a night in a dive bar. Fine version of "Cinderella," penned by the Sonics, but performed ala the version of DMZ's Flo & Eddie-produced album from the Seventies. Other ace cut from save dive is "Cruisin'," a number that sounds taken from the songbook of Kim Fowley-penned kids-on-the-Sunset-Strip tunes used for primer in The Runaways and Venus & The Razorblades.

Angel Rot "Unlistenable Hymns of Indulgent Damage" Why did Angel Rot decide to put the equivalent of a "Kick Me" sign on their hindquarters? The Internet does not reveal any secrets on Angel Rot. "Unlistenable" is a doom and death metal record and if Amazon sold all 125,568 such records, and nothing else, Angel Rot would probably come in at #56,233 on the ranking list. They were from New York and featured a member of White Zombie.

Hellstomper "Hillbilly Motherf-----" Terrible name, terrible title and they look bad, too. All is not lost though and a surly sense of humor emerges on "Another Goddamn Drinkin' Song" and "Chicken Truck." Reason to buy: A cover of Charlie Daniels' "The Legend of Wooley Swamp" which improves on the original. Unfortunately, if you can't sing good, you ought to stay away from Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Simple Man." (Note to fans: File under Anti-Seen and Rancid Vat, "sitting naturally between homeless bum Wild Man Fischer and Alice Cooper throwing chickens and feather pillows into the audience.")

Alabama Thunderpussy "Rise Again" Rule of thumb: If a band has "pussy" as part of their name, they're always imitating southern redneck white trash and you should never, under any circumstance, pay full asking price. A dollar is good, however, and this is Alabama Thunderpussy's apex, at the top of the arc if only because every AT record has always sounded exactly the same. Furiously played manly riffs with manly shouting, chug-a-bottle-of-whiskey-and-get-your-stomach-pumped hard rock which would be a lot better if it had some swing, which it mostly never does.

This marks the end of reviews of Man's Ruin overstock, hurled into battle once again, courtesy of Tower's demise.

The Vincent Black Shadow "Fear's In the Water" The Vincent Black Shadow -- great name (!) -- answers the unasked question, "What would Gwen Stefani and No Doubt sound like if they were a pop metal band?" So you get a pack of pretty good-sounding tunes that don't really stick in your head as you think they ought to and occasional annoying ska rhythms that do. As Canadians, it is genuinely remarkable how The Vincent Black Shadows sound like they've lived in Orange County their entire lives.

Joan Jett & the Blackhearts "Sinner" See this entry on how I almost ran out and bought "Sinner" earlier in the year. Sticker shock brought me up short and it's a compelling reason why the record industry has such a hard time selling physical goods. Over twenty dollars to walk out the door at Tower at mid-year, a sinful price for what is actually a pretty good record, one that sounds like it could have fit right in with the best of Jett's catalog from twenty years ago. Jett thanks BestBuy in her liner notes so Joan, if you're Googling for reviews of your LP, let me tell ya BB didn't do you any favors in pricing, either. Parsimony aside, this still sounds like sweaty leather and swingin' bluejeans.

RadioVipers "The Morning Sunburst" French glam metal, I think -- see "Hollywood Hairspray, Vol. 5." The band pledges allegiance to Faster Pussycat, covers Guns 'n' Roses and has a rhythm section named Sarah Stripe and Iggy Street. If you had to pick in a blind test between Vains of Jenna -- who are getting a push because they're Swedish glam rockers peddled by the guy who does the 'Jackass' movies -- and RadioVipers, you'd be challenged. Next time there's a war on terror to declare, keep in mind how inspirational Sunset Strip rockers are overseas as compared to someone -- hmm, like George W. Bush.

Joker Five Speed "Rock 'n' Roll is a Motherf-----" More creative titling would help. Anyway, once these guys were sensitive emo punk rockers. Then they apparently got tired of being taken for the guys in the corner of the school dance with lumps in their throats, fired the punk rock musicians and hired a Ted Nugent. This record, in other words, has a bit of a split personality, one the band tries to conceal by having a photo of the guys surrounded by a platoon of slutty-looking girls in fishnets. Good try, works more often than not.

And that's the end of the end of year hard rock wrap-up, so search those bargain bins in other places because they've turned out the lights at Tower. Sad to see you go, I won't get a shot at listening to so many enjoyable albums, bought in one lump, again.

Now, excuse me, gotta put on The Albert Schroeder Experience. (I just love the way that sounds.) Happy New Year!

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