Yearly Archives: 1999

Big, dumb fun

For all intents and purposes, Guns N’ Roses produced only three albums in its questionably vague lifetime, and it’s only one album that really allows the dysfunctional group any stake in the continuum of pop music history.

Officially, Guns N’ Roses intends to release a new album, titled Chinese Democracy, in 2000. In reality, Guns N’ Roses features only two of its original six members, the remaining members dispersed over various projects. (Slash’s Snakepit is readying a new album.)

Thus, Live Era: ’87-’93 could be considered Guns N’ Roses final album, depending upon which line-up you consider to be the “real” Guns N’ Roses. (The Notebook’s litmus test states GN’R must include Axl and Slash, but since the new album features only the former, the new Guns N’ Roses feels as much like the old as post-Andy Taylor Duran duran feels like early Duran Duran.)

Live Era: ’87-’93 serves as the perfect souvenir for anyone who missed out on a GN’R concert. (They never played in Hawaiʻi.) All the usual suspects are there — even Steve Adler is listed in the credits — and the two discs span the group’s entire career.

The Notebook doesn’t own a copy of GN’R Lies, so it forgot the band even wrote such a song as “Used to Love Her.”

Perhaps the most intriguing moment in the album comes after “Mr. Brownstone” in the form of stage banter. Axl Rose asks people to take a step back to give room to people getting crushed in the front row. He doesn’t like to see people in pain, he says. Wow. He actually cared about performing? This from a guy who stood up a crowd in New York City for two hours? Listen closely, and you’ll hear some guys snicker at Axl’s earnestness.

Live Era: ’87-’93 is dumb, angry and at times sophmoric rock music owing too much to Led Zepplin and Black Sabbath. In short, it’s pretty fucking cool.

Do the math

<!– Link: Magnetic Fields

All the press that’s surrounded the Magnetic Fields’ epic 69 Love Songs is enough to make a perfect movie poster.

The most reviewed album of the year!

A masterpiece!

A ’56 T-Bird convertible in an SUV world!

Then the Village Voice put Magnetic Fields’ ringleader Stephin Merrit on its cover, painting him like some withdrawn artistic hermit.

The Notebook can dig that. So it bought all three volumes of 69 Love Songs.

As of press time, the Notebook still can’t decide whether it likes or loves all three volumes of 69 Love Songs. It can, however, make a list of notes and impressions, which taken together can paint some semblance of a review.

Like: Lyrics. “Acoustic guitar/If you think I play hard/You could’ve been owned by Steve Earle/Or Charo or GWAR/I could sell you tomorrow/If you only bring me back my girl.” Anyone who can work Charo, GWAR and Steve Earle in a song about how an acoustic guitar could be used as a tool of seduction deserves props.

Like: Variety. Stephin Merritt is no John Zorn, but the breadth of moods, styles and genres certainly merits (pun not intended) a comparrison. From piano ballads to ukelele ditties, 69 Love Songs excludes little.

Dislike: Merritt’s voice. His baritone borders on the monotone, and his range is extremely limited.

Like: Merritt’s voice. Because of its limitations, Merritt calls to mind Lou Reed and Bob Dylan — spectacular songwriters who have average or below average (in the case of Dylan) voices.

Like: The writing. Merritt is all over the map, and that’s a good thing.

Dislike: The interpretation. In very many instances, songs on all three volumes could have lent themselves to very lavish interpretations.

Like: The possibiliites. Of course, the fact that Merritt has produced this body of work is enough to allow everyone else a crack at keeping it alive. Hell, Whitney Houston would have to try extremely hard to ruin one of Merritt’s songs. (Although it’s been established she can.)

Perhaps the most astonishing thing about 69 Love Songs is its lack of a real program. Aside from its title, the album is really little more than a songbook. It’s not a grand work on the scale of Nine Inch Nail’s The Fragile or Café Tacuba’s Reves/Yosoy — double albums, both — and it works on that level.

(Café Tacuba’s Reves/Yosoy is really two albums released as one, sort of like Bruce Springsteen’s Lucky Town and Human Touch. Which means it’s still better than The Fragile.)

After a week of listening to 69 Love Songs in various situations — on the road, in the office at home — Vols. 1 and 3 stand out as exceptional. The jury is still out with Vol. 2. Nonetheless, the composite review pretty much arrives at this conclusion: you can’t go wrong with 69 Love Songs.


<!– Link: Metallica

Question: Did the audience really hear the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra when it joined Metallica for a pair of concerts back in April 1999?

If Metallica were playing with “full amplification” that night, did the 100-piece acoustic ensemble even have a chance?

S&M, a recording which documents said concerts, would indicate that the orchestra held its own against the band. Ah, but mixing boards and sound consoles are wonderous pieces of technology.

Whether conductor Michael Kamen’s orchestrations were heard by the audience is something only attendees can attest.

Let’s assume, for the moment, they didn’t. Well, S&M clues those listeners in on what they missed.

Kamen and the orchestra do a tremendous job keeping up with Metallica’s relentless strum und drang. Kamen’s orchestrations aren’t intrusive to Metallica’s already thick music, nor are they totally drowned by the group’s full-on barrage.

Key word: totally.

Metallica is still the definitive star of this pairing. The band’s sound is, to use the understatement of the century, huge, and the orchestra sound like they could play in only one dynamic — fortissississimo. In English: fucking loud.

Nonetheless, S&M is a great collection for the casual Metallica admirer — read: someone who owns only the self-titled Metallica album, a.k.a. Black. The two-disc affair spans the band’s nearly 20-year career and adds a nice extra — yes, the symphony orchestra — to boot.

Mr. Sparkle is disrespectful to dirt!

<!– Link: The Simpsons

Alf Clausen is the Carl Stalling of the 1990s.

Responsible for creating the music for the irreverant prime-time institution The Simpsons, Clausen pretty much does the same thing Stalling did back in the 1940s for Warner Bros.’ Looney Tunes — commandeer the music of his age to satirize the era of which it was borne.

And Clausen is certainly up to the task.

Go Simpsonic with the Simpsons is the follow-up to an earlier Simpsons soundtrack, 1997’s Songs in the Key of Springfield.

That album collected eight years’ worth of Simpson music moments — an arduous task given the seamlessness with which musical satire is incorporated with the show.

Songs in the Key of Springfield, unfortunately, couldn’t include everything, which made Go Simpsonic with the Simpsons an inevitability.

This new volume includes some real treasures — a spoof on Mary Poppins, Sonic Youth covering the show’s main title, the Ramones serenading Mr. Burns with “Happy Birthday” and Linda Ronstadt singing a commercial jingle for Barney the Barfly.

Personal favorites: An “All in the Family” parody, the “Mr. Sparkle” commercial and “We Put the ‘Spring’ in Springfield.”

The collection’s producers, however, seemed to have run out of steam toward the end of the disc, filling it with outtakes. Wouldn’t have mind seeing the “Kids/Adults” song in the episode where senior citizen pass a curfew for anyone under the age of 70.

Still, the music of The Simpsons is a marvelous feat of accomplishment, and in decades to come, these albums will serve as important documents.

A glossier GBV

<!– Link: Guided By Voices

When Guided by Voices scored an underground hit with 1994’s Bee Thousand, the band seemed destined to be a blip on the radar.

First off, critics were too quick to dub the Ohio band heir apparents to a “movement” — in this case, lo-fi — that wasn’t really much of a movement. Second, band leader Robert Pollard had bigger things in mind.

By 1996, Guided by Voices had nearly abandoned the demo-tape quality of its 1994 watershed. Under the Bushes, Under the Stars was even helmed by Kim Deal of the Breeders.

Had Pollard and Co. recorded more short epics on the scale of Bee Thousand, it would have been fine. Should Pollard and crew continue to record fully polished, professional opuses such as the band’s latest, Do the Collapse, that would be fine as well.

Just hope the band doesn’t go back to its middle ground, where big songs were squashed into lo-fi conventions.

Do the Collapse fully realizes the potential Guided by Voices hinted at with Bee Thousand. Produced by the Cars’ Ric Ocasek, Do the Collapse shows Guided by Voices as the big rock band they always are. Pollard’s voice shines, and the guitars blister in full stereo glory.

If anything, the sheen of Ocasek’s production suits Pollard’s bigger songs better. There’s only so much of a three-minute pop ditty that a lo-fi recording can support. After a while, something gets lost in the delivery.

Hence, the band’s immediate follow-ups to Bee Thousand — 1995’s Alien Lanes and 1996’s Under the Bushes — were good but not great.

Do the Collapse can be safely considered great.

Meet Marilyn, the showman

<!– Link: Marilyn Manson

You got to give Marilyn Manson some credit.

Manson has so successfully blurred the line between rock star theater and reality that adults actually take him seriously.

Granted, his affect on the more cognitively malleable — euphemism alert: kids, specifically, dumb kids — really is a threat, but there’s an easy solution to that.

Parents: enjoy Manson for the theatrics he produces and share it with your Manson-fan offspring.

That’s it. Just show an interest in your 13-year-old’s idol, and they’ll hate it till they’re 27.

Under all that bad press and critical dismissal — uh-huh, Alice Cooper all over again — lies Marilyn Manson, the showman. A very convincing one at that. Manson in concert is textbook rock ‘n’ roll. Dramatic. Extreme. Escapist. And, huh-huh, fucking cool man.

That’s something a non-visual medium such as the compact disc can’t quite relay, which means The Last Show on Earth contain no dramatic reworkings of the band’s song.

As if “The Beautiful People” can be rendered unplugged. (Speaking of which, the album’s live-track closer, “The Last Day on Earth,” is delivered effectively on acoustic geetar.)

Hence, The Last Show on Earth is really a souvenir disc for anyone who’s had a chance to see Manson in concert but couldn’t afford a T-shirt.

One criticism, though: audience noise is a must-have on live albums, and some tracks, such as “Sweet Dreams,” have some gaping holes without it.

Only a Beatles song

<!– Link: The Beatles

Isn’t compact disc technology great? Without CDs, record labels couldn’t take a seemingly forgettable era of a successful artist’s storied history and turn into a discographical event.

Take the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine. It was a cartoon that sported limited involvement from the band whose song serves as the film’s catalyst. Yellow Submarine’s recent reissue on home video and DVD — another great format to afford more opportunities to sell more of the same product in different configurations — garnered reluctant criticism.

So the film was dated. Who can really knock off the Beatles, eh?

And yet the newly remastered and expanded Yellow Submarine Songtrack, a repackaging of a repackage, might end up being the only Beatles album I ever own. (I’m partial to the Stones, really.)

Most of it is personal. I watched Yellow Submarine when I was far too impressionable, and the movie and its songs stuck. Beatles songs don’t particular grab me emotionally, but if it appeared on Yellow Submarine, I pay attention.

Part of it is programatic. “Eleanor Rigby,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “Nowhere Man,” “Only a Northern Song” — that’s not a bad selection of songs to have on one disc.

Operative word: one. I’m fully aware of the many multi-disc collections sporting the Fab Four’s hits. Conversely, the disc contains none of the songs I can easily hear on any given elevator or doctor’s office.

In short, Yellow Submarine is the all-in-one disc for a Beatles non-fan.

Fallen Star

<!– Link: Melanie C

The first single off of Spice Girl Melanie C’s solo debut, Northern Star, seemed promising enough. Full of crunching guitars and sporting a distorted Sporty, “Goin’ Down” resembled nothing like her parent group’s synth-driven sacharrine fare.

But rather than take that song’s cue and create an album that could stand in contrast to the Spicey milleu, Northern Star comes across as a jack of all musical trades but a master of none.

From track to track, Melanie Chisolm attempts to tackle a different variation on the same kind of music — unabashed pop. A rap ditty on “Never Be the Same Again.” Torch techno on “I Turn to You.” Third-rate Brian Wilson bounciness on “Suddenly Monday.”

As a result, what could have been a statement of creative independence turns out to be another variation on a dubious commercial act.

Geri Halliwell’s Schizophonic released earlier this year made no attempt to distinguish itself from Spice Power. Melanie C’s tries, but fails.

How unfortunate.

The golden band

<!– Link: Los Fabulosos Cadillacs

Don’t let the first three tracks of La Marcha del Golazo Solitario fool you.

The immediate hooks and the conventional song structures of “La Vida,” “C.J.” and “Los Condenaditos” are just warm-ups for the real meat of Fabulosos Cadillacs’ latest sonic epic.

Unlike the Grammy award-winning Fabulosos Calavera, La Marcha doesn’t hit a listener over the head with the Cadillacs’ deft musical versatility. Instead, the group gives a flavor of its more conventional side before launching full-blown into its usual sonic assault.

From the fourth track, “Cebolla, El Nadador,” on to the rest of the album, it’s pure Cadillacs — jazz, ska, punk, rock, Latin music in all its forms, often within one track.

Where Fabulosos Calavera often employed the quick-cut mayhem of John Zorn’s Naked City or Mike Patton’s early Mr. Bungle work, La Marcha takes a more crafted approach to the same aesthetic. The swift changes are there, but this time, they fit more comfortably from cut-to-cut.

In other words, Los Fabulosos Cadillacs have gotten more polished without sacrificing any of its wild creativity.

A welcome return

The Eurythmics have never really recorded a consistently mind-blowing album. Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) and Savage probably come close, but the group’s prolific output consists mostly of great singles buffered by a lot of filler.

Peace finds the group performing its trademark adult pop — unlike its synthesizer pop which some listeners find more interesting — and actually pull off a very coherent record.

Stewart throws Lennox some curves, draping her voice in strings on one track, then attempting to drown her out with a wall of guitars on others. But Lennox displays her versatility by sounding natural in any context given to her.

The songs on Peace are some of the strongest the group has produced. Not hard to do when Brian Wilson and the Beatles make for very obvious references. Under another group’s hand, such references would be clumsy.

Unlike on her solo work, Lennox sounds alive. Even her so-called “icy alto” sounds incredibly warm.

The charistmatic but celebrity-shy singer, while still scoring hits this decade, has been decidedly frugal with her productivity, and fans of her voice — which would sound good singing a traffic sign — would find Peace a good incentive to take a trip to the record shop.