On her sophomore release, Nikki Lane steps up her game with the help of producer (and primary songwriting partner for ALL OR NOTHIN’) Dan Auerbach. The record is filled with plenty of girl power tunes, a couple of “get-even” tunes and even a submissive, “Stand By Your Man” kinda tune; all of them with a sense of fierce urgency that tells you that Ms Lane is not to be trifled with! In short, this ain’t no Taylor Swift fluffy pop country; she’d kick Taylor’s butt! Heck, she’d probably win an over-the-top-rope wrestle royal with Lucinda, Courtney, Miranda, Christina, Neko, Exene, Beyonce and just about any other Diva you could name (except those Blues ladies… nobody messes with them!) That estimation is borne out on the opening track, “Right Time,” a snotty (in a good way) girl power song with a twang and a pedal steel guitar. There’s no doubting who’s in charge with lyrics like, “It’s always the right time/To do the wrong thing.” “Good Man” is a cowgirl group thing, with Spector-ish “Wall of Sound” drumming and glockenspiel a-plenty. It features a more refined vocal twang and restrained pedal steel. The girl group comparison continues with “I Don’t Care.” The song comes off the starting block like “London Calling,” but the vibe quickly coalesces into something closer to the early, angry Elvis (the only Elvis that matters, not the dead fat guy). The organ, acting as more of a percussive instrument, propels the song forward as much as the bass or drums.
“You Can’t Talk To Me Like That” is a languid, plaintive country ballad. Aside from a great vocal from Nikki, the track also features an organ part that reminds me of Al Kooper’s work on Dylan’s HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED. And, there ain’t nothin’ wrong with that. With a PETER GUNN or a private eye movie soundtrack kinda vibe and a cool Tijuana Brass horn chart, “Seein’ Double” is all atmosphere, something rare for that kind of music. On “Love’s On Fire,” producer Auerbach joins Nikki for a real live, honest-to-goodness June and Johnny, Tammy and George, Dolly and Porter country duet. The song begins with minimal accompaniment but, a little over a minute in, it turns into a full blown country barn burner. “All Or Nothin’” is what the First Edition would have sounded like if Thelma Comacho or Mary Arnold sang lead instead of Kenny Rogers. It has a chugging rhythm with great percussion, organ and guitar, particularly the psychedelic solo that plays through to the fade. A driving rock beat and plenty of drawl and twang make “Sleep With a Stranger” a good “get-even” tune, with snark-laced lyrics like, “This would be a good night/To sleep with a stranger.” Lucinda and Neko would definitely approve. The snaky guitar and pedal steel leads add to the snide charm of the track.
Nikki Lane (photo credit: CHUCK GRANT)
“Man Up” is another hard-edged empowerment song: “You better get off your ass/You better man up/Or I’m gonna hafta be/The one that gets tough.” It’s kinda like the traditional country that was making the rounds and gaining popularity in the late ’70s and the early ’80s, but with tougher lyrics and more adventurous instrumentation. Jason Pierce (J Spaceman of Spacemen 3 and Spiritualized) is the co-writer on “Out of My Mind.” The tune has more in common with Pierce’s Spacemen 3 work, but with a solid pedal steel lead and a plaintive vocal from Nikki. Fiddle, piano and acoustic guitar add to the lilting country feel. The next track, “Wild One,” would not sound out of place on the first New Riders of the Purple Sage album, with the pedal steel referencing Jerry Garcia’s playing on that record. The rolling bass and nice organ sound highlight an understated vocal performance… a performance which is almost staid compared to the rest of the record. “Want My Heart Back” is a great update on the early ’60s pop sound, with piano, guitar and echoey drums (requisite tympani included) that are reminiscent of the Cascades’ “Rhythm of the Rain.” While ALL OR NOTHIN’ is an upgrade over her excellent WALK OF SHAME debut, the best material here is the stuff she co-wrote with Dan Auerbach. Hopefully, this is a creative team that will stay together for a while. With Lane and Auerbach together, I’m not sure how much better we can expect record number three to be, but I sure can’t wait to find out!
The Whigs are back! Five albums and three bass players into a twelve year career, the Athens, Georgia trio are showing no signs of slowing down; in fact, they rock as hard (or harder) than they ever have. “You Should Be Able To Feel It” kicks off MODERN CREATION in fine fashion. It is, quite simply, the best kind of power pop/punk with a little dose of twang thrown in for good measure… think Artful Dodger or the Replacements. Julian Dorio’s drumming is powerful and rock steady, while Parker Gispert offers up enough chunky power chords to fill an hour on any Classic Rock radio station. The chugging, percolating “Asking Strangers For Directions” has a more menacing vibe with Clash-like drumming propelling the song forward. The track has a very bottom heavy feel and the guitars are featured more as texture than anything else, until a wicked sounding phased-out solo. Not as radio friendly as the opener, but it’ll definitely show up on plenty of personal playlists. The guitar on “The Particular” has a definite metal tonality, while the whole thing has a rather minimalist, stripped down feel. Timothy Deaux’s bass playing in this setting is particularly intriguing. For comparison’s sake, imagine Tony Bourge-era Budgie filtered through early Everclear (Gispert’s vocals even sound a bit like Art Alexakis).
The Whigs (Julian Dorio, Parker Gispert, Timothy Deaux) (publicity photo)
“Hit Me” is a funky, jangling hybrid of everything that made you love music in the first place. It’s the first single from the album and one listen will tell you why. If handled right, “Hit Me” could become a sleeper radio hit for the summer. In a similar vein, the chiming guitar, vibrant production and elastic bass of “Modern Creation” makes it another radio friendly number. The witty lyrical content is of a type that would make the studious gents from Eve 6 envious. “Friday Night” is a snotty punk song, with vocal nods to Billy Idol and the aforementioned Everclear frontman. Alternating between a plodding drone and a pop metal charge, “She Is Everywhere” has me contemplating a joint writing effort by Pete Townshend and the Oakland, California post-metal tribe, Neurosis. While that may seem like an odd combination, the Whigs pull it off spectacularly.
“Too Much In the Morning” sounds like one of those late ’90s alternative rock songs that may have prompted Dorio and Gispert to say, “Let’s start a band.” It’s a neat ballad with a charging bridge and chorus section that really elevates the song to another level. With a bouncey melodicism, “I Couldn’t Lie” is the kind of gently rocking song that Phil Lynott would sneak onto every Thin Lizzy album, a bit too heavy to be called a ballad and a little too poetic for a hard rock workout. One of the highlights of MODERN CREATION is the literate, well-conceived lyrics. “The Difference Between One and Two” continues the exceptional wordcraft, enhanced by powerful performances from the rhythm section and an almost stately guitar part, which is quite reminiscent of a Link Wray stroll. The band’s schedule has them delivering an album every other year and, while I would certainly like to have more, if the wait between releases continues to yield music of this quality, I’m happy with that. The guys are currently touring in support of MODERN CREATION. Upcoming dates can be viewed at www.thewhigs.com.
Live recordings have been a part of the music industry since day one of the crude technology of the earliest devices. In fact, since there were really no studios available for recording purposes, all of those early “records” were “live recordings” in the strictest sense. However, the live album, as we now know it, is a completely different animal. That animal came into its own in the rock era and exploded with the release of ALIVE, a 1975 album by KISS, (a career making release with an overabundance of what has come to be known as “studio sweetening”), and FRAMPTON COMES ALIVE in 1976 (also hurtling “the face” and former Humble Pie guitarist to superstardom). With the unprecedented success of Peter Frampton’s fifth solo release, everybody and their brothers were releasing these documents of their latest tours (sometimes used as stop gaps between studio albums; sometimes used as a means to gain an artist’s release from a record label contract, commonly referred to as the “contractual obligation” record).
A lot of people don’t like live albums. I’m not one of those. Some of my favorite records were recorded on the road. Here’s a list of 20 live albums that I think are the best. These records are all official releases, not bootlegs… that’s a whole other list (and one you may see somewhere down the line, as well). I had a hard time keeping this list to 20 (it started out as a “Top10”) and, I’m sure that your list would look very different from this one. But, that’s what makes these things so much fun, right? So, starting with number 20, here’s the first in a series of reviews presenting 20 live albums that you should check out:
To say that the original release of WINGS OVER AMERICA was a behemoth may be overstating things… but, just barely! It was a beautiful thing to look at and – in a time before gargantuan box sets were an industry norm – the three record set (enclosed in a true masterpiece of design by Hipgnosis) was one of the biggest (and, at nearly two hours, one of the longest) releases ever.
WINGS OVER AMERICA inner gatefold painting by JEFF CUMMINS
The band (drummer Joe English, guitarists/bassists Jimmy McCulloch and Denny Laine, keyboardist Linda McCartney and her husband… I think his name might have been Lester, but I’m not sure… wonder whatever happened to him?) comes out of the box rocking hard with a medley of “Venus and Mars,” “Rock Show” and “Jet.” Despite the many comments regarding Linda’s musical and vocal abilities, she was – in my humble estimation – just as integral a part of the group as Laine, McCulloch or English… heck, I even like the songs she sang lead on! Anyway, with the aid of a four man horn section, Wings proved from the get-go that they were there to play. Following a great take on “Jet” is another track from BAND ON THE RUN, the bluesy “Let Me Roll It.” Then it’s back to the VENUS AND MARS material with “Spirit of Ancient Egypt” and McCulloch’s “Medicine Jar,” a pair of tunes that had me reevaluating the merits of said album. Side two opens with a stunningly effective version of McCartney’s solo song, “Maybe I’m Amazed,” featuring some awesome, tasty guitar from McCulloch. Another slow blues – and another tune from VENUS AND MARS – follows. “Call Me Back Again” features more solid guitar work and a nice horn chart. When Paul announced this jaunt (as part of the Wings Over the World tour and his first live dates in the States since 1966), the burning question was, “Will he play any of those old songs?” The rabid fans got their answer very early in the set, as a pair of lesser (by comparison) Beatles tunes – “Lady Madonna” and the dreamy “Long and Winding Road” – were given the Wings treatment. The hyper-kinetic theme to 1973’s James Bond flick, LIVE AND LET DIE closes out the second side of the set, with McCartney pulling every cliché from every musical genre he could access at the time he wrote the song.
Wings: Linda and Paul McCartney (photo credit: BOB ELLIS)
The second album (side three, by the way things were figured way back then) starts off slow, melody wise, with one of the gentler tunes from BAND ON THE RUN, the French dancehall vibe of “Picasso’s Last Words (Drink To Me),” coupled here with a nice, lilting cover of Paul Simon’s “Richard Cory,” itself an adaptation of a late nineteenth century poem about a suicide. Vocalist Denny Laine changes the last line of the first chorus to “I wish I could be… John Denver.” The acoustic set continues with another song from BAND… , “Bluebird” before dipping into Paul’s back catalog once more, with a trio of classics: the country-tinged “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” a rather funky “Blackbird,” and what may just be the perfect ballad, “Yesterday.” A record flip (yes, kiddies, to get from side three to side four, you actually had to physically turn the thing over!) and it’s back to the electric stuff and another dose of VENUS AND MARS music, with the ragtimey “You Gave Me the Answer,” which is followed by McCartney’s paean to a few of Marvel Comics’ oddest villains in “Magneto and Titanium Man.” Denny is back on lead vocals reprising his hit with the Moody Blues, “Go Now.” It’s a nice, bluesy number enhanced by the horn section. It’s rather unfortunate that the best song on the RED ROSE SPEEDWAY album was “My Love.” It’s even more unfortunate that McCartney deemed the slow schmaltz worthy enough to perform live. Side four closes out with the rollicking “Listen To What the Man Said,” highlighted by Thadeus Richard’s clarinet.
Wings: Jimmy McCulloch and Paul McCartney (uncredited photo)
Side five introduces the new album, WINGS AT THE SPEED OF SOUND, starting with the goofy pop of “Let ’em In,” one of two big hits from the record. Laine’s sinuous “Time To Hide” kicks up the rock ‘n’ roll again before the other big hit, “Silly Love Songs,” gets an early airing. I know that a lot of people cite this song, in particular, as proof that McCartney’s post-Beatles work was schmaltzy pop crap, but I’ve always liked it. So sue me, ’cause I think this version is pretty darn fun! Rocker Paul returns on “Beware My Love,” one of his more muscular forays into the realm of hard rock. Throughout WINGS OVER AMERICA, Paul, Jimmy and Denny had been switching back and forth between guitar and bass (and, occasionally, piano) but, the imaginative bass work (and the tone) on this side is all Paul and, for that reason alone, is the highlight of the set. Paul continues on bass on the final side with “Letting Go” another VENUS AND MARS rocker. “Letting Go” is followed by what is probably McCartney’s most well-known post-Beatles tune, “Band On the Run.” The bass (McCartney again) is quite prominent and the guitars, drums and Linda’s synthesizer cut through at times, but the song sounds thin somehow. It’s still a great rocker. The encores, “Hi, Hi, Hi” and “Soily,” sound better. The guitar interaction between McCulloch and Laine is possibly the strongest of the entire album, with McCulloch on slide and Laine playing a double neck. Paul McCartney wanted to prove that this wasn’t just his Wings, but a cohesive unit of five very talented musicians. I’d have to say that they definitely proved his point with the Wings Over the World tour and the WINGS OVER AMERICA album, which is why it’s one of the 20 best live albums ever.
The most recent release of WINGS OVER AMERICA came in 2013, with standard two CD and three LP versions, a Best Buy version with an extra CD of eight songs recorded at San Francisco’s famed Cow Palace and a sprawling box set featuring all three CDs, as well as a DVD of a television special called WINGS OVER THE WORLD and four books.
(BROTHERS’ INK PRODUCTIONS/ARC ENTERTAINMENT (103 minutes/Rated R); 2014)
LOCKER 13 is good. It’s not the “Greatest Movie Ever Made” (that would be 1985’s RUSTLER’S RHAPSODY starring Tom Berenger… don’t argue… I’m a professional… you know I’m right!) but, it starts with an interesting premise and each of the NIGHT GALLERY style vignettes builds the tension via sharp right turns (and, in some cases, a complete reversal) in the plot (plots?), keeping the viewer guessing and invested in the story (if not the occasionally seedy characters). That’s quite a feat. Add in the creepy, horror/thriller elements that – like all of the best movies of the ilk – are more implied than actually seen (very little blood and mayhem and no creepy-eyed little kids crabwalking on ceilings) and you’ve got a nifty little film. It may not break any box office (limited US release was March 28, 2014) or sales records (DVD releases exactly one month later), but it’s cult status is virtually guaranteed!
LOCKER 13 ( Jon Gries and Jason Spisak) (photo credit: ARC ENTERTAINMENT)
The movie starts with a beautifully shot exterior scene, apparently of an Old West town. As it becomes obvious that we’re actually looking at an Old West theme park, we’re introduced to the principals: Skip, a new nightshift janitor and ex-convict (played by Jason Spisak) and Archie, his philosophical supervisor (Jon Gries). As Archie takes Skip on a tour of the park, he recounts stories regarding various items the two come across on their rounds.
An old pair of boxing gloves are oddly out of place in a church pew and, when Skip asks about them, Archie’s tales begin. “Down and Out” follows a washed-up fighter (Ricky Schroder) who’s looking for one more shot at the big time. He gets his shot, leaving a path of death and destruction in his wake. Is his success (and notoriety) due to those old, borrowed gloves? The always beautiful Tatyana Ali is the girlfriend/moral compass of the story.
LOCKER 13 ( Bart Johnson and David Huddleston) (photo credit: ARC ENTERTAINMENT)
Booger from the REVENGE OF THE NERDS franchise (Curtis Armstrong, who most recently has had a recurring role as the Angel, Metatron, in SUPERNATURAL) presents an acquaintance for initiation into a seemingly innocuous organization, “The Benevolent Byzantine Order of the Nobles of the Enigmatic Oracle.” Death, mayhem and blood sacrifices are all, apparently, part of the ceremony… or is it all a joke and, if so, who is the joke aimed at? The great character actor David Huddleston plays an integral role.
LOCKER 13 ( Alexander Polinsky) (photo credit: ARC ENTERTAINMENT)
In an odd act of the “pay it forward” maxim, a suicidal man (Alexander Polinsky) is coached by a stranger (Jason Marsden, who also produced the fourth segment and may be best remembered for his portrayal of Nelson on FULL HOUSE) who intimates that he prefers a more spectacular ending than the boring dive from a rooftop. Everybody needs help, but what kind of help is this member of “The Suicide Club” offering?
Have you ever wondered how those mystery writers are able to think up such believable stories? In “The Author,” a philandering husband and a contract murder make for a great mystery novel: was it the wife, the girlfriend or the private secretary? The one with the best confession goes free but, like all good murder stories, this one has a twist ending.
Another twist brings us to the final episode, “The Other Side,” in which the janitor Skip takes the lead. It all ties in with Archie’s stories about futures and probabilities and making the right decisions in your life. It may have you asking, “Can you see the real me?”
There are psychological twists and turns throughout the 103 minutes (that’s an hour and 43 minutes for those who are too lazy to do the math) of the film which is very reminiscent of Rod Serling’s TWILIGHT ZONE and previously mentioned NIGHT GALLERY series. I must admit to being suckered by a couple of the twist endings, making the edge-of-your-seat experience that much more enjoyable. A note of interest: The first three stories were actually released as short between 2007-2011 (or there-abouts) but work exceptionally well within the framework of the over-all anthology style of LOCKER 13.
Roman Remains is the electro-industrial pop side project of Leila Moss and Toby Butler of the Duke Spirit. With a sound that draws from the vanguard of the multiple genres that form the basis of their music, Butler and Moss weave an elegant and mysterious veil throughout their eleven track debut, ZEAL. The duo uses an old-school industrial base of such groups as Gravity Kills and God Lives Underwater (both bands that are much-loved and much missed by this scribe), augmenting that with an updated electronic sound that leans heavily on the pop sensibilities of (recent tour mate) Gary Numan and a voice that isn’t too dissimilar to Siouxsie Sioux. Mixing everything together, the result is something new, relevant and distinctly original.
Roman Remains (publicity photo)
The first track, “This Stone Is Starting To Bleed,” has that Gravity Kills vibe, while also reminding me somewhat – and I really hate to make this comparison – of the pop tendencies of Brian Warner, minus his “shock-for-shock’s-sake” lyrics and persona. The song also introduces an Arabic theme to the music, which is repeated throughout the album, adding to the mysterious feel. The poppier side of the music drives “Tachycardia,” a song whose melody wouldn’t seem out of place on a tune by Britney or Shakira, even if the lyrical nuances would be lost on either (well, maybe not Shakira… she seems to be fairly intelligent but, you get my drift). “Nest In Your Room” features an ominous, slightly ghoulish lyric (“Hold a thousand mirrors up to your nose/Comb your hair with the scent of a rose”) as the guitars and synthesizers buzz into a hive-like drone. This one definitely has the underlying menace that has always been present in Numan’s music. A dark, Gothic ballad, “Agrimony,” features uncharacteristically gauzy vocals from Moss amidst a minimalist backdrop, the various parts morphing into a very creepy whole.
“Apoidea” ups the machine quotient, with more bleeps and wheezes and a heavily synthesized percussive track. With everything kind of going off at once, the tune sounds very disjointed but, a closer listen shows it to be a calculated risk amongst the other, more “standard” tracks. The next track, “Thirsty As a Truck,” has a calliope-like rhythm alongside an odd guitar signature and lyrics to match. “Gazebo” is a slow burning, taut ballad. The beautiful vocals and chiming guitar adds to the mesmerizing tension of the track. The Arabic influences are more prominent on “Influence and Atlas,” which features strong Middle Eastern percussion. The guitars and vocals also evoke the sound and feel of the region’s music. The occasional odd (as in, out-of-place) synth bloop actually distracts from the potential power of the track. A minor complaint for an album of such musical and lyrical depth.
Roman Remains (uncredited photo)
There’s a sort of sexy menace that permeates “Animals.” The track is a fairly solid mash-up of Creatures-era Siouxsie vocals (not to mention the Budgie-style berating of several percussion instruments), some “clanging” guitar chords and a strange, modernistic take on traditional Hip-Hop. “Vulture Bird” starts with a serious horror movie minor key introduction and things just get weirder and more violently ominous as it moves along. Along with “Nest In Your Room,” this is probably my favorite (at least, as I’m writing this). A throbbing synthesized bass line and a pumping-heart drum beat, again, takes “It End In Other Ways” to a dark, dark place, a modern equivalent of the Gothic Darkwave music that all the hip young ghouls danced to in the graveyard a few years back. There are a lot of comparisons to be made but, in the end, ZEAL is emphatically, above anything else, a Roman Remains album. I, for one, can’t wait to hear their next progression.
I gotta be honest here, boys and girls: I have not listened to industrial metal since… oh… the late 1990s or there-abouts, when Fear Factory was tearing it up, in the studio and on the road. Having said that, I gotta be honest about something else: I absolutely love Our Last Enemy’s new album! Now, I don’t know how much this has to do with my liking the record so much, but it is produced by former Fear Factory bassist Christian Olde Wolbers. There are FF references and head-nods (head-bangs?) aplenty, alongside healthy dollops of Type O Negative, Black Sabbath, Ministry, Korn, Alice Cooper and Zakk Wylde’s Black Label Society. That, of course, means that aside from the full-throated growls of Oliver Fogwell (how apt a name is that?) and Matt Heywood and the down-tuned guitars of Bizz Bernius (of Genitorturers fame), there is plenty of metal, hard rock and just plain ol’ rock tossed into the mix to make things truly interesting.
Our Last Enemy, 2013 (publicity photo)
PARIAH is a loose fitting concept album. The “Pariah” is a poor soul who somehow finds himself reborn at the center of great upheavals throughout history, sometimes as a mere witness, other times as the epicenter of whatever crisis happens to be unfolding. This chaotic theme is played out very well – musically and lyrically – by the apocalyptic Australians. For 13 tracks (and three remixes… of which, more later) the often crushing musical feel compounds the sense of misery (and hope for redemption) related in the lyrics. So, let’s take a look at the high points of a very fulfilling album, shall we? The first few tracks are standard industrial metal, but gain points for a few things. “Devour the Sun” is basic pummel-you-into-submission metal with some very cool “horror movie” keyboard accents. The glass-gargling vocals take some getting used to but, by the end of the track, you can tell that they are a major asset to the ongoing success of this band. By the second tune, “Wolves of Perigord,” the concept emerges, full-blown. This song, in particular, showcases the percussive side of Our Last Enemy. Seemingly every instrument – including the guitars – is used as a percussion instrument. Drummer Zot Cillia thunders his way through the track, as he does throughout the disc. The music kinda takes a back seat as the vocals move the story along on the lyric heavy “10.000 Headless Horses.” A creepy, atmospheric video for the tune has been produced by the Blackley Brothers (check it out below). Some biting guitar jabs open up the instrumentation on “Internus Diablos Verni,” giving the song the feel of a heavier Guns ‘n’ Roses. The whole vibe, however, is sorta reminiscent of Black Sabbath… without sounding anything like them. A kinda stun guitar sound (rather like Zakk Wylde) gives “Low” an odd hair band air to it. As always, the vocals and keyboards (provided by Jeff Ritchie) are exceptionally spot on. “Carrion” has a funky sort of Red Hot Chili Peppers thing happening at the start and introduces a synth pattern that wouldn’t have been out of place in Gary Numan’s “Cars.” The pace, quality, and diversity of the music continues to pick up.
The Fear Factory factor comes into play on “Pariah BC,” which also features a disjointed vocal melody that reminds one of Alice Cooper’s late ’80s/early ’90s work (“Poison,” anyone?). There’s more Fear Factory comparisons on “Don’t Look Now,” as Fogwell vocally channels Burton C Bell. The rest of the band adopt a cool Deftones stance. “Pariah AD” is all Type O Negative/Black Sabbath gloomy, doomy stuff… which is awesome! An added bonus is the guitar solo, with a lot of single, bent notes that sounds a lot like “The Ballad of Dwight Fry” from the Coops. “Decoy” is, quite simply, heavy, abusive and stifling. There’s an awesome groove to “What You Say,” with synched melodies from guitar and voice. It also has that big, chanting monks sound that Sabbath used to great effect on more than one occasion. “Ants In the Farm” starts with a nifty, spongy sounding bass line and evolves (de-evolves?) into another FF-like song, with heavy doses of Korn tossed in. The boys saved the best for last. “Into the Light,” with its atmospheric, mostly whispered lyrics (’til at least mid-song). It also features a great, reverb-drenched guitar coda, adding to the funeral dirge menace. Bizz’ guitar takes an exceptionally cool hard rock turn toward the end of the song, echoing to a great sounding piano outro (as these types of songs often do).
Our Last Enemy, 2014 (publicity photo)
And, there you have it… a feast for metal-heads and industrialists the world over. Well… except for… the three “bonus” tracks. Anybody who has ever read one of my reviews over the last 20 years will know that I am not a fan of remixes. Especially remixes of brand new songs. I’m one of those hard-headed people who thinks that if you liked the original version well enough to release it, why mess with it? Anyway, the remixes are for “Internus Diablos Verni” (by Mortiis… I actually kinda like it), “Devour the Sun” (by Angel from Dope Team Cybergeist… uh… yeah… not so much) and “Pariah AD” (by Divine Heresy’s Travis Neal, it’s called a “Karloff Mix” and plays up the horror movie keyboards… I guess it’s okay but… it’s still a remix, right?). For me, that makes 13 (the originals) up and three down (the remixes) but, I guess, if you are into remixes, then that truly is a bonus for you.
(COCTEAU DISCS/ESOTERIC RECORDINGS/CHERRY RED RECORDS/PORTRAIT RECORDS; reissue 2013, original release 1986)
I fell in love with Bill Nelson, his songwriting, his voice and his guitar playing in 1977, with LIVE! IN THE AIR AGE, the fantastic live release from his then-current band, Be Bop Deluxe. In the early ’80s, I rediscovered Bill through a pair of commissioned works for the stage – DAS KABINETT (THE CABINET OF DOCTOR CALIGARI) and LA BELLE ET LA BETE (BEAUTY AND THE BEAST), both for the Yorkshire Actors Company – and 1982’s THE LOVE THAT WHIRLS (DIARY OF A THINKING HEART); the second commissioned piece was released as a bonus record with THE LOVE THAT WHIRLS… and stands in stark contrast to the album proper’s poppy New Romanticism. I eventually discovered Nelson’s Red Noise project during a trip to the used record bins at a local shop; I initially passed on those releases as virtually every review I read at the time called it – and I’m paraphrasing here – “A disappointing attempt at electronic dance music.” Anyway, after Red Noise, finding a new Bill Nelson record in the hinterlands of Illinois became an effort in futility; now, nearly thirty years after Red Noise, comes the expanded edition of one of the man’s most well-received records, GETTING ACROSS THE HOLY GHOST (called ON A BLUE WING in North America and Australia). The new edition features a remaster of the original ten-song UK version of the record, as well as a second disc featuring the two EPs culled from the same recording sessions: WILDEST DREAMS and LIVING FOR THE SPANGLED MOMENT.
Bill Nelson (photo credit: SHEILA ROCK)
There seems to be a vague theme running through …HOLY GHOST… , a theme that reminds me of Sunday mornings in a small country town or village. “Suvasini” is a short, introductory ambient piece with a nice jazzy guitar running throughout; it leads into “Contemplation,” which features a snaky kind of guitar, some mid-’80s poppy keyboards and a slinky bass line (courtesy of Iain Denby). Bill’s voice has always been sort of an acquired taste; here, he straddles the stylistic line that falls somewhere between David Bowie and Bryan Ferry. The song itself is very poetic and lyrically dense (as in, a lot of words). The only part I find objectionable is a sax part that tends to ruin the feel of the whole track. “Theology” is closer to the esoteric near-rock of some of Be Bop Deluxe’s more experimental stuff. The number rather reminds me of solo John Foxx or, maybe, a type of Enoesque Ambient rock. Preston Heyman adds an industrial (as in, machinery) percussion thing that is very cool. There’s more of that industrial sound happening on “Wildest Dreams,” a happy kinda tune that also tosses marimba into the percussion mix. You know, I really like Nelson’s more experimental pop stuff but, I gotta say… I really miss his exceptional guitar playing on some of this material; 1980’s style keyboards just don’t do it for me, though there is a great violin solo from Peter Greeves. “Lost In Your Mystery” could have been an outtake from Bowie’s LET’S DANCE sessions. The music has a very Asiatic (in reference to the Continent, not the band) and pre-programmed (it all sounds synthesized) texture and feel; it’s a very laid back song with an equally laid back vocal from Bill.
In its original form, you could listen to those first five songs before being forced to flip the record over to hear the rest of the music. That’s the way I’ve chosen to review the first disc of this reissue, picking up here with the music on Side Two. “Rise Like a Fountain” comes across as an Adrian Belew/King Crimson kind of thing… if Crimson were an ambient band. Iain Denby chimes in with a great (fretless?) bass part, plus… there’s an actual guitar solo (short though it is). There’s an unfortunate BEVERLY HILLS COP/Harold Faltermeyer synth vibe (sorry, folks… great movie, horrible theme song) happening on “Age of Reason.” Nelson’s vocals are pretty good but, I’m not sure they actually save this thing, especially once the Clarence Clemons-like sax bleats (provided by William Gregory and Dick Morrisey) come in. Simply stated, the tune comes off as nothing more than dance music for left-footed mathletes. “The Hidden Flame” continues the dance floor goofiness, though some nifty processed piano and some funky lead guitar somewhat negate the damage. As always, Bill’s vocals are a highlight, as is the stinging guitar solo toward the end. “Because of You” is up next. Now, this is more like it: Great guitar, great lyrics (“Nailed to the cross of love/Because of you”), funky bass; this number could easily have worked as a Power Station song. The album ends with “Pansophia,” a very short (less than a minute) nylon-string guitar solo laced with minimal processed piano and ambient noises. So, in the harsh reflective light of nearly three decades, the first half of GETTING THE HOLY GHOST ACROSS fares much better than the second half, though there’s enough meat on the bones to enjoy this rather dated blast from the past, mostly because… well… Bill Nelson!
Bill Nelson (LIVING FOR THE SPANGLED MOMENT)
And, so, we’re on to the second disc of this collection as we ponder the question: What would a “Deluxe Edition” (or reissue of any kind, really) be without “bonus material?” That material usually manifests as a vault-clearing effort to delve into the artist’s psyche at the time of the recording of the feted release. Thankfully, the minutia that practice entails is eschewed for a more slim-lined package that includes the two EP releases associated with the 1986 album… a total of eleven tracks. Even though the sequencing here is kinda wonky, for the purposes of this review, our exploration will begin with the music from the first of these releases, LIVING FOR THE SPANGLED MOMENT. Following the first cut from the later WILDEST DREAMS record, the seven tracks from …SPANGLED MOMENT – five of which were issued as part of the original English cassette version of the …HOLY GHOST,,, record – follow in sequence. It should be noted that this release is more of a “mini-album,” clocking in at a little less than a half hour. “Heart and Soul” is another synthesized, mid-tempo dance tune, featuring sax and clarinet solos from Ian Nelson. This is probably as stuck-in-your-head catchy as you’re likely to hear from Bill Nelson. Nelson’s minimalist approach to guitar-playing is once again the touch point for the title track, which is awash in various keyboard texturing, a slinky bass part from Denby and another Morrisey sax solo; the track is… okay… just not great. Though brighter in tone, “Feast of Lanterns” comes off feeling like an extension of the main album’s “Pansophia.” This longer investigation of that tune’s themes features some backward guitar alongside some well-placed harmonic guitar swells and ambient keyboard for a little added atmosphere. The result is quite a pretty piece of music.
Bill Nelson (publicity photo)
“Illusions of You” has a nice band vibe, very happy and bright. Bill’s guitar is more prominent here than elsewhere, which is a welcome sound; everything seems to come together on this track… except for Ian Nelson’s sax solo, which somehow seems terribly out of place here. With an almost somber kinda Peter Gabriel feel that belies a sprightly Denby bass line and Nelson’s vibrant vocal performance, “Word For Word” is a slow-build non-ballad. A neat Spanish guitar solo gives way to one of Bill’s trademark ambient electric guitar solos. “Finks and Stooges of the Spirit,” besides having one of the greatest titles ever, is quite possibly the best tune from this period of Nelson’s career. It’s an electronic rocker, with a dense instrumental bed menacing just below vocals that border on the dispassionate (think Gary Numan). Since I’ve been a little hard on him, I must compliment Ian Nelson’s woodwinds; they are an integral part of this wall-of-sound production. Bill’s reverb-drenched solo leads into a short duet with Ian’s clarinet, which really adds to the (intentionally) disjointed feel of the number. Like the closer to Side One of the original LIVING FOR THE SPANGLED MOMENT release, “Nightbirds” closed out Side Two – and, indeed, the entire record – in similar fashion: It’s another short ambient soundscape, this time featuring Iain Denby on bass. For pure atmospheric effect, it certainly does a nice job, as it leaves the listener yearning for just a bit more.
Bill Nelson (WILDEST DREAMS)
Now, back to the top, with the “Wild Mix” of the WILDEST DREAMS’ title track. You know how I feel about remixes… don’t like ‘em. However, this one seems to have a little more of that industrial percussion that Preston Heyman brought to the original album version, as well as a more prominent bass line and… wait! Is that an extended violin solo from Peter Greeves? Okay… I may actually prefer this version to the one found on GETTING THE HOLY GHOST ACROSS. “Self Impersonation” (or, “Self Impersonisation,” as it was originally titled), which crops up after “Nightbirds,” is another ambient thing with some heavy percussion aspects (this time, by Bill himself, who plays everything on this cut) and just enough soloing and noodling throughout to remind us that Bill Nelson coulda been a big shot rock star guitarist. Up next is another version of “Wildest Dreams.” The single mix is basically the album track cut by a few seconds and featuring a more vibrant high-end (for airplay, doncha know?). It doesn’t sound too bad, removed, as it is, from the entirety of the album. “The Yo-Yo Dyne” is another keyboard and percussion piece, with a cool pipe organ thing happening. Once more, this is all Bill, all the time. The song has an odd, Reggae feel to it – not that Reggae is odd, just in this setting. A nice way to end the record, I suppose, but a tad too repetitive to be allowed to go on for five minutes. As mentioned above, this may not have been my favorite period in Bill Nelson’s career, but there is enough meat on the bone to intrigue.