Friday, February 23, 2018

Review: Vinyl Edition of Veruca Salt's 'Eight Arms to Hold You'

Producer Brad Wood shot Veruca Salt’s American Thighs through an evocative layer of mid-fi indie gauze, and the result was arguably the strongest debut album since Wood’s production of Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville the year before. However, gnarly monsters like “All Hail Me”, “Victrola”, and the definitive hit “Seether” suggested that Veruca Salt might be happier to Rock without the indie part (so did the disc’s AC/DC-referencing title).

Nina Gordon, Louise Post, Steve Lack, and Jim Shapiro made good on that threat with Eight Arms to Hold You, a ROCK album as full throttle as any by the Young Brothers. With A-bomb-force production from Bob Rock—who’d worked with such hairspray enthusiasts as Bon Jovi, Mötley Crüe, David Lee Roth, and Aerosmith—tracks such as “Straight”, “Volcano Girls”, the absolutely killer “Don’t Make Me Prove It”, and “Shutterbug” hit harder than anything on American Thighs. Even poppier numbers such as “With David Bowie” and ballads such as the rapturous “Benjamin” hit harder than the mass of Veruca Salt’s first album. Consequently, Veruca Salt’s recordings lost a good deal of their atmospheric allure, but they gained a lot of power, though in the cases of some of the heavier numbers, that power could get a bit much.

With a refreshingly quiet mastering job, UMe’s new vinyl edition of Eight Arms to Hold You tones down the overwhelming noise a bit, smoothing out Bob Rock’s excesses pleasingly. The vinyl arrives in two formats: 120-gram black and 180-gram gold (which is the one I received for review). Both editions include the bonus track “Good Disaster”, a “B-side” on the original “Volcano Girls” single. Whenever I’d listen to my Eight Arms CD, I’d always picture “Benjamin” as the last track on Side A and “Shutterbug” as the first one on side B (yes, yes—I had a real hard time acclimating to the CD age), but the presence of “Good Disaster” bumps “Shutterbug” to the end of side A for whatever that’s worth. The bonus track serves as a gentle epilogue to the epic “Earthcrosser” in a similar manner to the way “Sleeping Where I Want” followed “25” on American Thighs. The CD booklet is converted to a large insert with band photos on one side and lyrics on the other, though the purple and gold scheme of the booklet lyrics are converted to straight B&W for this vinyl release.

Apparently, this is not the first time Eight Arms to Hold You was available on vinyl, though I’m sure its nineties incarnation was quite a rarity. While issuing the digital recordings of the nineties on vinyl is technically excessive and unnecessary, I still love having those great old CDs are being converted to this more textural format, and I’m glad that Eights Arms to Hold You has been given the opportunity to take part in this fun trend.

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Who's Famed 1968 Fillmore Show to See Official Release Soon

In a bid to capitalize on their formidable reputation as a live band (confirmed and magnified by their recent demolition gig at the Monterey Pop Festival), The Who recorded a set at the Fillmore East in April 1968 with a live album in mind. The set was full of high energy, humor ("Piss hooooole!") and beloved oddities such as "Little Billy", "Relax" (stretched to an epic feedback jam), and "Tattoo". It was also full of mistakes (a missed chord at the start of "Summertime Blues", some ramshackle harmonies in "Fortune Teller"; some cracked vocals from Daltrey in "Tattoo"; some disappearing drums on "My Way";some botched lyrics in "Boris the Spider"), and The Who thought twice about releasing the tapes. The bootleggers didn't think twice, though, and The Who Live at the Fillmore East became a popular unofficial property for decades to follow.

Fifty years later, MCA is finally cashing in on this valuable chunk of Who history. On April 20, the label will release that legendary set as double CD and triple vinyl sets. An official track listing has yet to be announced, but it is likely to include the aforementioned songs as well as "I Can't Explain", "Happy Jack", "A Quick One While He's Away", "Shakin' All Over", "My Generation", and "Young Man Blues".

Here's that official track listing. No "Young Man Blues", but there are a couple of new surprises:

CD 1
  1. Summertime Blues  4.14
  2. Fortune Teller            2.38
  3. Tattoo                           2.58
  4. Little Billy                    3.38
  5. I Can’t Explain            2.28
  6. Happy Jack                  2.18
  7. Relax                             11.57
  8. I’m A Boy                     3.23
  9. A Quick One               11.15
  10. My Way                       3.16
  11. C’mon Everybody     1.55
  12. Shakin’ All Over        6.55
  13. Boris The Spider       2.32
CD 2
  1. My Generation         33.02
In related news, April 13 will also see Pete Townshend's collaborative solo debut Who Came First reissued as a deluxe double CD.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Psychobabble's Ten Greatest Albums of 1998

If there’s any doubt that OK Computer was the most influential album of 1997, just look to the albums of 1998. With a single change of the calendar, artists responsible for some of the most organic music of the nineties suddenly embraced Radiohead’s synthesized, sci-fi textures. As was the case with the post-Pepper’s psychedelia craze thirty years before, all this bandwagon-hopping resulted in some mediocre music but also some really great stuff as well. Yet artists who stayed true to their more organic mission statements—and one defiant artist who turned his back on his own zanier progressive tendencies—made the very best music of 1998.

10. Whitechocolatespaceegg by Liz Phair

With her Girly Sound tapes and Exile in Guyville, Liz Phair exploited the atmospheric possibilities of super lo-fi recording. She and producer Brad Wood polished up her sound significantly for Whip Smart, and the next step in what seemed like a creative evolution (but tuned out to be the beginning of an artistic degeneration), Whitechocolatespaceegg. For the first but hardly the last time on this list, we’ll reference the influence of Radiohead’s electronic spaciness, which is evident in Phair’s title song (an awed tribute to her newborn son), “Headache”, and the album’s best track, the ecstatic mother/daughter dialogue “What Makes You Happy”. Yet Whitechocolatespaceegg basically holds on to organic arrangements for the majority of its 51 minutes. That length, put to such great use on the nearly flawless Exile, is a bit much this time since there are a few songs that could have been pruned. To my ears, the weakest of the bunch may actually be Phair’s first hit single. The sing-songy melody of “Polyester Bride” is trite and her hesitant vocal makes the track sound less polished than most of its disc-mates. The final track, “Girl’s Room”, has similar issues. These subpar tracks are masterpieces compared to the stuff Phair was poised to make in the wake of the success of “Polyester Bride”… and the success of her buddy Sheryl Crow, whose insipid popularity Phair coveted. Phair nearly got what she wanted, and her career arc became the most baffling and disappointing one of the nineties. Considering what was to come, Whitechocolatespaceegg is a farewell album of sorts. Bye, bye, nineties. Bye, bye, Liz. You were great.

9. Gran Turismo by The Cardigans

Monday, February 12, 2018

Review: 'Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice' Blu-ray

Developing The Monkees was the most substantial thing on Paul Mazursky’s behind-the-camera résumé before he made his feature-film directorial debut with Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice in 1969. If nothing else, his TV work indicated he had genuine sympathy with the counterculture even though he was well past the age that hippies could trust him. But these are all elements that make Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice such a fascinating film. The infamous swingers angle is how the movie was marketed, but it’s really about how two almost-middle-aged couples acclimate to a rewritten world in which the sexual mores of their youths have basically been obliterated and things like unfiltered honesty and communication are new to marital relationships. Bob (Robert Culp) and Alice (Natalie Wood) are the privileged pseudo-hipsters of the quartet, attending a sort of Plato-Meets-Janov Retreat to get in touch with their feelings. Ted (Elliot Gould) and Alice (a truly marvelous Dyan Cannon) are that couple’s uptight, old school best friends with whom they end up in bed by the film’s climax. The touchy feely philosophy of the film makes it as dated in its own way as such other counter-culture items as Easy Rider and Midnight Cowboy both also released in 1969 (and the former is also a product of The Monkees’ camp). Yet those grittier films traded in a hip cynicism that appealed to hippies at the time but now reads as a criticism of counter-cultural ideals. Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice never sneers at the idea that “All You Need Is Love” even as it examines that philosophy from a number of angles, some of which are a lot less flattering than others. It is a film that truly believes in love to the point that its unexpectedly transcendent climax finds the characters all but reaching out of the screen to embrace and comfort its audience. Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice is also surprisingly mature for a movie mainly marketed as titillation, as it examines marital relationships with more honesty and openness than any other late-sixties movie I’ve seen. It is certainly refreshing to watch a movie that deals incisively with themes of consent in the bedroom that was made at a time when slobs chasing secretaries around desks was still considered funny.

The image of Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice Twilight Time’s Blu-ray is good overall, with strong colors and nothing egregious in the way of scratches, dots, or debris. The grain is on the heavy side and you may find it excessive depending on your tolerance. Bonus features include the 18-minute Tales of Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (a stage interview with Mazursky that deals as much with his thoughts on comedy as it deals with our main feature) and the informative and charming commentary with Cannon, Gould, Culp, and Mazursky (the latter two have since died) ported over from the DVD, as well as a new commentary with Twilight Time’s resident historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Review: 'Dragonwyck' Blu-ray

Although he’d starred in such second-tier Universal horrors as The Invisible Man Returns and Tower of London, Vincent Price didn’t really become established as the horror star of his generation until House of Wax in 1953. Yet it was 1946’s Dragonwyck that saw the Vincent Prince archetype coalesce. His ruthless landowner Nicholas van Ryn is posh, snooty, seemingly soulless yet tortured to his soul, and more than a little campy (one might imagine 20-year-old Roger Corman sitting in the cinema, taking notes). Despite some arguments to the contrary, and a couple of spooky scenes that actually imply mental illness more than supernatural doings, Dragonwyck is not a horror movie at all but a Gothic romance in the recently-established Rebecca tradition. Like Hitchcock’s commercial breakthrough, Dragonwyck is based on a piece of neo-Gothic pulp literature and focuses on a naïve young woman (Gene Tierney) who takes up residence in the gloomy mansion of a troubled older man with some nasty secrets (Price). The payoff of Dragonwyck is not as satisfying as its more prestigious predecessor’s, the pace can be sluggish at times, and the whole affair feels a bit slight despite the grandeur of the performances, music, and sets, but it certainly is more fun to watch Vincent Price in this kind of picture than Lawrence Olivier. Gene Tierney’s Miranda Wells is also a stronger heroine than Joan Fontaine’s nameless bride, though Miranda’s pluck wilts by the end of the picture. Price makes up for that by layering on the juiciest slices of ham he can cook up at this early stage of his career.
Twilight Time’s 1080p presentation of Dragonwyck might not knock you out—there’s a little dirt here and there and detail is sometimes weak—but there is no significant damage or debris, grain is organic, and the sound is excellent, really showcasing Alfred Newman’s lush, sometimes baroque, sometimes almost poppy score, as does Twilight Time’s obligatory isolated music track. This disc also ports over some nice bonuses from the 2008 DVD: a featurette called A House of Secrets: Exploring Dragonwyck, which includes some talking heads making that unconvincing “Dragonwyck is a horror movie” argument, a commentary by historian Steve “Dragonwyck is a horror movie” Haberman and filmmaker Constantine Nasr, and a radio drama of the story performed by Price and Tierney in the year of the film’s release. Twilight Time adds an additional radio adaptation from 1947, this one starring Price and Teresa Wright, and best of all, a pair of full-length A&E biographies—one utterly sad, one utterly charming—spotlighting the film’s two stars.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Review: Criterion Edition of 'The Silence of the Lambs'

The horror film had basically been around since the dawn of cinema—Méliès’s still-creepy Le Manoir du diable appearing just a few years after the Lumière Brothers’ earliest experiments—but it remained so disreputable that the fact that a true-blood horror movie such as The Silence of the Lambs could also be a prestige picture was still regarded as something of a novelty a century after Méliès. And Jonathan Demme’s film won all its critical, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and audience plaudits despite being a gory, grisly, transgressive adaptation of a pulp novel. Demme’s pungent Gothic style, Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins’s masterful performances, and a story with a pulpy surface and a pointedly feminist core were all suited to the art houses as well as the multiplexes. That the film’s gigantic artistic and commercial success didn’t actually manage to spark some sort of horror revolution—in fact, the nineties proved to be a really decade of doldrums for the genre—emphasizes how horror hadn't quite gone legit yet and what a lightning-in-a-bottle phenomenon The Silence of the Lambs was.

That doesn’t mean the movie is tragically dated, though the fact that the acronym “LGBQT” has become a household word in the ensuing 27 years means that members of that community will no longer be the only ones who take offense to the stereotypical antics of trans serial killer Buffalo Bill. The film’s legacy does not ignore that unfortunate reality, which is addressed in nearly every supplemental feature in the film’s multitudinous DVD and Blu-ray editions.

The Criterion Collection’s new Blu-ray edition of The Silence of the Lambs gathers every substantial bonus feature from those various discs released by various companies (well, MGM and Criterion, to be precise), while also giving them a 1080p upgrade. Criterion’s latest also adds two significant additions, the most enticing of which will probably be an extra 20 minutes of deleted scenes (this includes eight full minutes with that obnoxious preacher Hannibal Lecter is forced to watch from his cell), though critic Maitland McDonagh’s discussion of serial killers in life and film and the way they pertain to the main feature is the most compelling new perk. She also speaks at length about the Hannibal TV series.

As for that main feature, Criterion’s 4K restoration is one of the best I have ever seen. The film’s muted tones may slightly mute the wow factor, but not by much. You don’t need an eye-full of brilliant colors to appreciate how powerful the definition and depth of this picture are. Some of the exterior scenes practically look 3-D. So those hours and hours of interviews and documentaries are really great, but the real reason to upgrade to this new Criterion blu-ray is the most potent representation of some of the most potent images of nineties cinema.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Big Box of Love's 'Forever Changes' Coming

Rhino missed the mark by several months when naming its upcoming Forever Changes box set the '50th Anniversary Edition', but better late than never I suppose. On April 6th, the label will pay tribute to Love's highly influential and still wonderful 1967 masterpiece with a set containing 4 CDs, 1 DVD, and 1 vinyl LP. 

The CDs feature the newly remastered original stereo mix, the original mono mix, the 2008 alternate mix from Rhino's 40th Anniversary set, and a collection of singles and outtakes on Disc Four. The DVD is mostly audio with a high-resolution version of the new stereo remaster as well as a rare promo video for the "Your Mind and We Belong Together" single. The vinyl features the stereo mix as well.

Each disc adheres to the same track listing of the original album except for Disc Three, which contains "Wonder People (I Do Wonder)" as a bonus track, and Disc Four, which includes:

1. Wonder People (I Do Wonder)
2. Alone Again Or (Single Version) 

 3. A House Is Not A Motel (Single Version) 
 4. Hummingbirds (Demo)
5. A House Is Not A Motel (Backing Track)
6. Andmoreagain (Alternate Electric Backing Track)
7. The Red Telephone (Tracking Sessions Highlights)
8. Wooly Bully (Outtake)
9. Live And Let Live (Backing Track)
10. Wonder People (I Do Wonder) (Outtake, Backing Track) (*)
11. Your Mind And We Belong Together (Tracking Sessions Highlights)
12. Your Mind And We Belong Together 13. Laughing Stock
14. Alone Again Or (Mono Single Remix)

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