Yeah, I know, its not much of a title for a
music column, but you probably picked this guide up for free anyway, so quit yer
complainin. Besides, it gives me a reason to start using a ratings system (for all
those who, like me, prefer a user friendly precis option in their media reviews):
^^^^^= Five chips- The salsas great and the chips are eternally
refreshed. Dunk at will and repeatedly. Own this.
^^^^ = Four chips- The chips are a wee tad more stale than you would
prefer. Enjoy the salsa, though, cause its mighty tasty. You might want to own
^^^ = Three chips- Salsas less than perfectly fresh and the chips
are still stale. It adequately mimics the peach salsa experience, but that very
special something is missing. Borrow this at least.
^^ = Two chips- It physically resembles chips and salsa, but it
aint it. Dont feel bad if you miss hearing this.
^ = One chip- It seems to resemble a food stuff, but who knows what it
is anymore? If you must, crane your neck briefly to take notice of this, as you would a
car wreck on the highway.
_ = No chips- Better you eat cow chips than this. Avoid this and warn
your friends to avoid this. Please.
All set? Good. Now for this months reviews.
As I write this, the very last of summer has absconded from
Connecticut, beating a hasty retreat with the warm weather for this year. Ive been
driving around listening to some good music of recent vintage with a head full of peach
salsa and a jar full of ideas that were drivin me insane.
Or was that the other way around in reverse?
Its been almost a year and a half since Morphines
lead singer/ songwriter/ bass guitarist Mark Sandman collapsed from a heart attack onstage
at age 47. Ironically enough, this year has been as prolific for the band as any year in
their history, at least in terms of album releases.
The Night was the first Sandman-posthumous release, and now,
scant months later, comes Bootleg Detroit (Rykodisc, ^^^), a self-confessed
"low-fi" recording of a show from their tour for their second album, Cure for
Pain. The CD will be a must have for fanatics of the band (Sandman was working towards
its release last year, so I hear), and its a good document of their live show,
But couldnt they have culled a live album together from a better
sound source? This albums sound suffers somewhat from its origins (a fan in
the audience taped it). Its o.k. for what it is, but was this little forty minute
album really worth it? Im not sure.
However, if you have not yet been exposed to the low rumbling glory
that was Morphines sound, welcome in. This set is mainly representative of
their 1993 Cure for Pain (seven of the twelve songs), but also features three from
1992s Good, and two rarer songs (including the first song "Come
Along," which comes from a source unknown to me).
Sandman introduces his middle set as ladies of his acquaintance (like
"were going to go visit Candy for a while, then were going to
see Sheila and Claire
) in an effort to make these songs as
personal to you as they obviously are to him. Between his lyrics and musical delivery,
Sandman projected desire and deep longing in his performances.
The best comes last, though, as this short set winds up with the darkly
hopeful tone of "Cure for Pain" (where Sandman swears hell "throw
[his] drugs away" when the titular "Cure" is created), "Thursday"
(a memorably sordid tale of marital infidelity and murder), the jazz-slink of "You
Look Like Rain," and the powerhouse tune, "Buena."
Actually, you non-Morphine fans would probably be better off
picking up Cure for Pain or Like Swimming for a superior introduction to the
band. However, if you want to do yourself a favor, make friends with a Morphine fan
by buying him or her this album, and asking to hear the other albums I mentioned.
There. Dont say I never did you Morphine fans any favors.
You may not realize this, but Bjork (bjorn
35 years ago this November) has been in the music business for 24 years or so, easily half
of which in her native Iceland. Since moving on from the pop group, the Sugarcubes in
1992, she has been batting a thousand creatively with four full studio albums of
impressive inventiveness and range. Shes worked with trip-hop/ techno mavens like
Nellee Hooper, Tricky, Howie B and Talvin Singh, as well as jazz artist Oliver Lake and
even Madonna and Joni Mitchell. She makes the most of her vocal gifts, knowing and
stretching her limits to find new sounds. She continues, in her own way, a fine pop
tradition, represented in recent decades by artists like David Byrne and Laurie Anderson.
Plus shes just so darn cute.
Her latest endeavor is collaboration with Dogma 95 filmmaker Lars Von
Trier, playing (and singing) the lead role in his quasi-musical "Dancer in the
Dark." Bjork (Ms. Gudmundsdottir, if youre nasty
) plays the
beleaguered heroine Selma, who escapes her sad reality as a single mother/immigrant
factory worker, losing her sight (and getting arrested) in 1960s Midwestern America
in her fantasy world of Hollywood musicals. The movie is due out in mid-October (weeks
after this writing), but a word to the wise: you may want to rent a lighter comedy after
this one, like, say, "Angelas Ashes
Thusly, Bjorks soundtrack to this film, Selmasongs
(Elektra, ^^^^ ˝), doesnt quite hit the same quirkily comical high-notes of Post,
so dont look for "Its Oh So Quiet" or "I Miss You" here.
This album more closely resembles her Telegram EP in tone, with its colder,
more daring sounds The music recalls classic film music, and its biggest influences
(like the Wagnerian horns of "Overture," which also recalls David Byrnes The
The strongest and best of the songs are "Ive Seen It
All" and "Scatterheart." "Seen It All," recalls classic love
duet/duels in a post-modern take on Cole Porter performed to a lushly orchestrated dirge
beat. She sings the tune with Radioheads Thom Yorke, and between the two they move
from deadpan to desperation, always with a sense of drama and humor.
Some favorite lines:
Bjork: "What about China?/ Have you seen the Great
Thom: "All walls are great if the roof doesnt
Thom: "Youve never been to Niagara Falls"
Bjork: "I have seen water/ Its water. Thats
Bjork and producer Mark Bell looped beats and sounds from the
foley and location sounds used in the film, with help on string arrangements from Victor
Mendoza and Guy Sigsworth. On "Seen," a slow, lumbering beat is fashioned from
train sounds, and the tense string arrangement adds to the songs dramatic punch.
A scratchy records pops folds into the beat for
"Scatterheart," which begins as a lullaby played on celeste, and becomes a more
darkly ambient tone, as the lyrics change from a relaxing, reassuring tone to one of fear
and uncertainty with a spark of hope ("My dearest Scatterheart/ There is comfort in
the eye of the Hurricane"). The latter part of this tune would easily be at home on
her album Homogenic with numbers like "Immature" and "All Is Full of
Love." The tone of the song befits the movies themes and Vincent Mendozas
strings end the tune on a note of tension and dread.
The songs with the lightest tone on the album are "Cvalda"
and "In the Musicals." On "Cvalda," Bjork and Bell take factory
sounds from the film to create a peppy dance number feel. The arrangement is filled out
with orchestral/ big band flourishes, as Bjork throws down vocal onomatopoeia (with vocal
assistant and co-star Catherine Deneuve (!) helping out). "In the Musicals"
continues in that vein, as big, lush, romantic strings fill out the lean dance rhythms.
The tunes flourishes affectionately evoke Hollywood musical hyperbole, and is the
closest this album comes to offering up a number like Posts "Its
Oh So Quiet," with its lyric about a fading, but childlike, faith in the world
of the musicals. The track "107 Steps" is all right, but doesnt seem to do
much but sound interesting without the context of the movie.
The musical themes of the "Overture" return for the
albums finale, "New World." Bjork begins by using solitary word
images to evoke hope, wonder and sadness, meant to resonate in Selmas character.
Most attempted non-animated musicals these days seem to fall flat
(anyone see "Evita?"). This project has a lot going for it, what with Von
Triers and Bjorks collective bodies of work. The casting of Bjork
in the lead role is daring for the movie, but has allowed her, I think, the luxury of
having a new character to center this albums themes on. The format of the film
probably afforded her more musical leeway, too, allowing for Selmas more internal
take on Hollywood glitz, rather than a more accurate and potentially boring reading.
I love the album, but, then again, I love all her music. The true
success of this album, though, will have to be seen (or not) on the big screen, in
anyone watch David Byrnes "True Stories"
Finally, Id like to apologize for not reviewing the late Jeff
Buckleys Mystery White Boy CD (Columbia, ^^^^ ˝) and DVD (^^^^^)
releases sooner. It was out in June and the latest you should have heard about it was in
the guides September/ October issue. Im writing this in late September. Mea
culpa, mea culpa
I first got to know the work of this incredible
singer/songwriter/performer through his masterwork Grace, which, Im sorry to
say, came to me late via his MTV Buzz Bin video for "Last Goodbye." However, in
true Buzz Bin fashion, circa 1995, I saw more of the video in commercials for their Buzz
Bin collection than in actual airplay. Oh, well. That was plenty intriguing to spur my
purchase of the album (used, of course). Grace is an overwhelming barrage of rock,
jazz, folk and world sounds, all in the service of a poetic voice showing all the promise
of his similarly prematurely demised father, Tim.
All the sadder, then, that Jeff Buckley died in a bizarre swimming
accident on the Mississippi river in Memphis, without getting a chance to create a full
length follow-up to Grace (or the "unplugged" e.p. Live at Sin-E,
for that matter). The sad remains of the My Sweetheart the Drunk filled out a
double disc released posthumously a couple of years ago, a record thats hard to
criticize due to its permanently unfinished nature. It can be said that Sketches
for My Sweetheart the Drunk does grow on you, but, aside from his version of
"Satisfied Mind," its not nearly as satisfying as it might have been.
So this "What If
?" is all that Buckley fans had to chew
on from his official Columbia catalog. Until now.
The sadness in thinking about the Mystery White Boy album comes
from a better source. Its the sadness of having the opportunity to hear the wonders
of Buckleys live shows, and, after thoroughly enjoying it, knowing that there will
be no more.
Like Sketches, Mystery is co-produced by Buckleys
mother Mary Guibert and his
co-guitarist/collaborator Michael Tighe. Unlike Sketches, this
is the whole, undiluted, live Buckley. This is him displaying his vocal range and
emotional depth in wonderful live versions of "Dream Brother," "Mojo
Pin," the Nina Simone cover, "Lilac Wine," "Last Goodbye,"
"Grace" and Leonard Cohens tune "Hallelujah" (all originally
from Grace). And, oh, so much more
There are original tunes here that put Sketches to more than
slight shame. "I Woke Up in a Strange Place" delineates a nightmare mixing sex,
violence and fear ("Love came calling as a counterfeit mistress/ stealing form the
pockets of the sadomasochists
"), and all set to a rocking beat. "What Will
You Say" (co-written by Chris Dowd of Fishbone) seems a plaintive musing on what his
relationship with his late father would have been if hed lived to see him grow up
("Its been such a long time/ and I was just a child then/ What will you say
when you see my face?
/ Its funny now/ I just dont feel like Im a
man/ What will you say when you see my face?"), then seems to become a broader song
about distant parents and loved ones in general. Buckleys incredible voice (a
tremolo, a breathy crooning, a scream, a wail, a moan, a cry
) carries all these
tunes to dramatic new levels, backed more than ably by his incredible band of Tighe, Matt
Johnson (drums) and Mick Grondahl (bass).
The highlight of both CD and DVD (the DVD is one whole live concert,
the CD a collection of different live recordings) is the amazing alternate version of Graces
"Eternal Life." A studio recording of this version has been previously available
as a CD single bonus track, but this live version is my favorite. If you were blown away
by the original, this will make your head explode. Buckley rips into this version
with ruthless energy. The original was a slight tremor. This is a freakin
I am afraid, however, that I will have to recommend the DVD slightly
over the CD. The DVD, of course, has the visual component, but also features:
-A revved up version of the later Sketches tune
"Vancouver" as a companion to the Alex Chilton cover, "Kanga Roo"
(Only "Roo" appears on the CD).
-Extra examples of Buckleys slightly unexpected stage
humor (the CD, alas, only has one such nugget where, in his amazing mimicry of Edith
Piafs nasal tones, he exhorts the French crowd to "Mange mon couer du
fromage" (roughly "Eat my heart of cheese (?!?)"))
-A cover of "Kick Out the Jams" (featuring the mad moshing of
roadie "Brother Angry Dave"), live in-studio recordings of "Grace" and
"Last Goodbye" (like the concert recording, done for Chicago cables
"JBTV"), and the Grace "Press Kit," featuring rarely seen
interview and performance snippets of Buckley live at Sin-E and elsewhere (all in
Also, the DVD lacks the lackluster tracks, "Mood Swing
Whiskey" (another previously unreleased song, which might have fit in very well with
the underdeveloped ideas on Sketches), and the throwaway cover of Harold Arlen and
Ira Gershwins "The Man That Got Away" (which still has its brief
Both the CD and the DVD concert performances end with Cohens
"Hallelujah" combined with an interpolation of the Smiths cover, "I
Know Its Over," performed by Buckley solo, accompanying himself on
guitar. The lyrics to the Smiths tune come off as perhaps more morbid in the present
context ("Oh, Mother/ I can feel/ the dirt falling over my head
"), but it
is a fitting end to this set, and the Smiths air of romantic cynicism matches well
with Cohens own. And, of course, Jeff Buckley put it all across like no one
So thats my Head Full of Peach Salsa for years end. And
remember, a vote for Ralph is a vote taken away from the battle against big oil, but a
vote for Al is a vote for more time wasting political games involving Tipper, Joe, the
PMRC and your first amendment rights.
But what ya gonna do?
Me, Im going to go out and rent "Pump Up the Volume"
See you in the 21st century (I hope).
Copyright©WWUH: November/December Program Guide, 2000