Power Popgasm: Redd Kross “Researching The Blues”



These guys were lured out of retirement back in 2007 to play some club dates and came up with some new material that leaves oh so many other bands in the dust. Get it NOW!

No clunkers in the bunch here – one guitar-laden multilayered ’60s style garage rock earworm after another, with hooks and melodies evoking the best and most enjoyable candypop that the early Beatles or Cheap Trick ever came up with. I’d missed Redd Kross a lot since their last album, the excellent 1997 CD Show World – this one is less polished production-wise, but the songs are all winners. “Stay Away From Downtown” is the single, although other radio-worthy material (if radio was worthy of decent rock, outside of Rodney Bingenheimer & Little Steven Van Zandt) like the Byrds-esque “Dracula’s Daughter” or Weezer-esque “Winter Blues” is also quite catchy.

Up there with the aforementioned Show World and Third Eye as their best stuff. Highly recommended.

Smithereens 2011

Oh, this is a good album. A very, very good album.

I’ve been a fan of these guys since their 1986 debut Especially For You, and this recent effort of original material (the first from them after a few years of cover CDs) succeeds admirably in getting back to the sound ‘n’ feel of that first great record of theirs from 25 years (gasp!) earlier, also produced by Don Dixon.

They mix up the rock styles very nicely with layers of Rickenbackers, from blues (“Goodnight, Goodbye”) to rockabilly (“All The Same”) to powerpop (“One Look At You” and my fave track on the album, “Sorry”) to mellow (“Bring Back The One I Love”)… and the songwriting is still strong. Pat DiNizio’s vocals & lyrics continue to sing best about disappointment & heartbreak to catchy melodies & hooks just like back when both of us were a lot younger. Outside of Frank Sinatra at his ’50s peak, I can’t think of another act that consistently sings of wistful male loneliness in the wee hours of the morning like these guys do.

Aww…. don’t cry for me, though. I HAZ A KITTY!!!! (Feel free to click on the “Cat Thoughts” category to see)

Big, big thumbs up! Get it!

A New Treasure Trove

I just discovered this site, The Pop History Dig – loaded with interesting articles on all things American pop culture history.

I’ve been exploring it for a while this evening, and it’s loaded with stuff on silent film, sports, advertising… all sorts of cool stuff, well researched, documented & presented. Big thumbs up!

Wagstaff’s Inner Groupie Returns!


My favorite new record is the latest from the Cocktail Slippers :St. Valentines Day Massacre, a wonderfully catchy collection of girlband punk/pop tunes that will remind you of the Go Gos (hooks), Bangles (harmonies), Blondie (sultry vocals) and the Ramones (driving beat & guitars) – all a recipe for GODHEAD!

Who knew there were bands like this coming out of Oslo? Evidently Little Steven Van Zandt did when he signed them up for his Wicked Cool Records & produced this album, as well as wrote the title track and one other. They write most of their own material, and throw in a couple of great covers as well, one of Connie Francis’ “Don’t Ever Leave Me” and Leslie Gore’s “She’s A Fool,” two early ’60s girly numbers that blend seamlessly into the new material. Every now and then, a CD comes along where every song clicks, with no clunkers in the bunch at all, and anything seems possible… this is one of them. Highly recommended!

And top of that, I’M IN LOVE! (I’ve discussed this before….)

Now click on this link and sample the rest!

Joe Jackson

This week I read the excellent A Cure For Gravity, Joe Jackson’s memoir/autobiography of his life and career that leads up to the release of his first album Look Sharp in 1979. What makes the book especially notable (besides its good writing) is how the book is really about the meaning of music in Jackson’s life, and how he listens to it, composes it, and generally reacts to it. It’s as much a book about the place of music within the mind as much as it’s about Jackson’s education, upbringing and experiences playing in various bands before finding and developing his own ever-expanding eclectic styles of music composition and performance. Jackson’s tastes range from classical through jazz to ’70s-era British New Wave. Now while (like many others) my favorite material of Jackson’s comes from his first 2 albums, I also liked his later jazz/crooner influenced Night & Day, and his more recent regrouping of his original band, Volume 4.

To someone only glancing at Jackson’s career, it’s easy to say that he only followed the same path that his contemporary Elvis Costello did – starting out with energetic, often angry pop/rock, experimenting with jazzier styles and crooning, and then returning to his roots – but Jackson is actually more complex than that, and I think the parallels between him and Costello are merely the result of them coming out of the same foundry of British music at the same time. Unlike Costello, however, Jackson has classical training via the Royal Academy, and as much as I’d expect a book by Costello to be as insightful as to the meaning of music, reading Jackson’s book shows you how much of a musicologist and professor he really is, especially in the passages where he describes listening to various pieces by Beethoven, Stravinsky or Mahler and how he interprets them.

Jackson is an excellent writer, and has very definite opinions on various topics associated with music. He was never crazy about making videos for his songs, and elaborated on those thoughts very well in this piece back from the mid 1980s.

Much of my record collection is filled with Jackson and his British contemporaries of the 1970s – Graham Parker, Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds, XTC and so on… all of whom seem to followed similar trajectories in the ways in which the amount of what I can only describe as urgency & aggression in the sound of their music mellowed over the years. Funny, I like a lot of the brand new material from Jackson, Parker & Costello, but Nick Lowe (always a favorite of mine) has lost me with his recent country/mellow/loungue type sound. Ah well.

I saw Jackson live at the small Rhode Island College auditorium way back in 1979 (I was barely out of my crib, really… ) when he was touring for Look Sharp and dropping in a few new tunes that would turn up on I’m The Man. It was a great show to be sure, and here’s a taste of it, a video someone made on that very tour at some other venue, with Jackson & the band performing an early version of “I’m The Man”

Notice how the song’s tempo is slower than on the album or on later live performances. The band was still learning it, I guess!

Good stuff.

Fuzzy Warbles From The Swindon Beatles

The long and bumpy story of XTC, one of my favorite bands, is certainly filled with drama. Most of it hinges on the immense talent and immense self-destructive streak running through Andy Partridge, who suffered a nervous breakdown from overwork in 1982 and refused to tour afterwards. The band confined itself to the studio and continued to turn out great (probably a lot of its best) material, but endless fights with management and their-then Virgin record label ground them down, all without concert gate to make it up. Tensions within the band grew over the lack of commercial recognition, despite a seemingly endless period on the cusp of such a breakthrough around the time of hit singles Dear God and The Mayor Of Simpleton. An EXCELLENT journey through all of this can be found in XTC: Songs & Stories, which gives accounts on the background of every XTC song and also a very revealing look inside the studio battles that Andy always seemed to win – and little by little, we can see almost a subconscious desire by Partridge to sabotage the greater possibilities of success for the band, as if he’s avoiding the same path of quickly rising and mega-touring that led to his 1982 breakdown (which was supposedly also attributable to his then wife throwing out his valium – Partridge’s domestic problems and joys also figure heavily into his music).

In any event, XTC put out a shelf load of material during their time together, all of which is wonderfully catalogued & OCD’d over at the wonderful Chalkhills fan site maintained by John Relph. And in keeping with my own OCD, I have finished listening to the must-have-for-fans Fuzzy Warbles Collection, nine CDs worth of home recordings from Partridge from over the years, including demos of songs eventually recorded, songs eventually given up on & thrown away, and assorted fragments & ephemera.

This collection is a rich & wonderful assortment of the wide gamut of musical stylings that XTC produced over the years – from their rough/industrial/clangy sound through softer, often Brian Wilson-esque material, through their knock-offs of psychadelia and bubblegum, and through an assortment of ear candy from some of the best Brit poprock of the past thirty years.

I’m interested in listening to the demo versions of slickly produced songs Partridge originally recorded in his garden shed, since it provides a window into the actual process of putting a record together, a subject that the Songs & Stories book tackles very well, and can also be glimpsed in the wonderful Chuck Berry documentary Hail Hail Rock & Roll by Taylor Hackford. Sometimes lyrics get changed, bridges get re-arranged, songs are restructured, and so forth. It’s basically the rock and roll version of comparing the early & revised versions of symphonies. But what mystifies me when listening to a lot of this material is just how damn good the songs they threw away are. I remember someone reviewing a previously released collection of forgotten XTC B-sides Rag & Bone Buffet remarked “The songs these guys throw away are better than some bands’ careers.” I heartily concur, especially now that I’ve heard a boatload of material Partridge gave up on for whatever reason and wonder why. Partridge’s commentary on this material can be found here, and while it provides some insight into this, I guess there’s really no way to truly explain artistic temperament, especially with someone as volatile as Partridge.

Listening to all of this material, however, makes me wonder if Andy is done cleaning out his mental closet. There always seems to be news of new recordings in the works (most recently with Robyn Hitchcock) that never seem to materialize. With the present day technologies allowing him to record, mix & distribute his music without the money boys or record company weasels intervening, I’m hoping that someone who has been as prolific in the past as Partridge has been will continue to pump out top-notch material, with the clever lyrics and mix of musical styles to fit the idea behind each song. My eager ears await more!

The Rewards Of Cheapness

Even though today’s local yardsales were few & far between, I managed to find a nice new crop of books at a buck a pop which should provide some entertainment for my spring break. First was Great Wine Made Simple by Andrea Robinson, a very elaborate guide to all things vino. Granted, much of this is stuff I already know, but Master Sommelier Robinson’s ideas are always worth a look, and I have the feeling that it’s a volume I’ll be lending out to people from time to time whenever they want a quick edjuamaction on what Benjamin Franklin called the proof that God wants us to be happy (and this was before internet porn).

A couple of intriguing books on psychological themes: This Is Your Brain On Music by Daniel Levitin, which looks like an interesting examination of the neuroscience dealing with music’s effect on the human brain, and De La Mettrie’s Ghost by Chris Nunn, which examines the notion of “free will” and (from my brief glance-through) seems to have the thesis that many of our decisions in life are guided by stories recorded in our memory. Good God, are we all being guided by television re-runs?? This ought to be a good read.

Now that spring is here, this young man’s thoughts turn to baseball. I found an older edition (2000) of Josh Leventhal’s wonderfully illustrated Take Me Out To The Ballpark, a pictorial history of all the major league stadiums past and present. It even has a short piece on McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, Rhode Island! (“I once knew a stadium from Pawtucket….”)

Finally, a nice collectable, the 1936 movie edition of Romeo & Juliet, containing the play, the screenplay, and some short pieces by some of the actors involved, such as Norma Shearer, John Barrymore & the legendary Irving Thalberg. Did you know that real-life fencing expert Basil Rathbone wins his ONLY screen swordfight in this movie? Yeah, sure you did.

And adding to the rewards of cheapness during the entire morning was the majority of time my new hybrid car spent in all-electric mode as I was driving around. So JAM IT, you Saudi bastards! :p

What I’ll Be Spending Money & Time On Starting In September 2009

I sat through a couple of generic 60 Minutes stories for the first time in months (no bowling for me tonight, alas) in order to see the last segment, their profile of young hotshot Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel, who is slated to become the music director of the LA Philharmonic in 2009, taking over from Esa-Pekka Salonen. (I like Salonen too, though his tastes tend to be a little different than mine when in comes to the programming, which has been very Shostakovich-heavy the past few years.)

Interesting story of a real prodigy and product of “El Sistema,” a Venezuelan program for training young kids in music that is responsible for one of the best youth orchestras in the world – but it was heavier on profile and interviewing Dudamel rather than showing him at work, conducting music.

So, I went looking around, and found this:

It’s Dudamel conducting the finale of Mahler’s Third at La Scala… and it’s just GOD DAMN AMAZING!!!

I’ve slacked off keeping up my LA Phil subscription the past couple of years, a combination of tickets growing more expensive and programming I felt lukewarm about more than often… but I think this guy will light the place up. Go to his website linked above and click on the links to his recordings to hear more. It’s enough to get ME off my wallet… it must be GENIUS!

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