Here’s a clip of Akron Ohio’s Chrissie Hynde, along with drummer Martin Chambers and a new line up of the Pretenders with their most recent cut “Boots of Chinese Plastic” as taken from this year’s Break Up the Concrete.
It’s clear that Hynde is drawing from a deep well here, the same one possibly that Bob Dylan has been drawing from lately, given this song’s quick-fire lyrical bursts and it’s hyper-rockabilly flavour. The song title is a variant on Dylan’s early track “Boots of Spanish Leather”. Yet, Hynde is clearly conscious of the comparison with this song; it’s a parody, albeit an affectionate one. And with a band of younger players behind her, there is something of the original fire on this track that graced the Pretenders’ celebrated first album made with guitarist James Honeyman-Scott and bassist Pete Farndon.
For many years, Chrissie Hynde was an American ex-pat, making her living in London first as a journalist for the NME, and later of course in forming this band at the end of the 1970s. More recently, she returned to her native Akron. And so returns to roots here are on several levels.
Because the stripped down country-inflected rockabilly she employs here is decidedly American, not a million miles away from what Ryan Adams and Jeff Tweedy have done in terms of feel. And this, and for many other reasons, seems to make for something of a return to form too, and a long wait since 2002’s Loose Screw.
Here’s a clip of shouty Swedish rock poseurs the Hives with “Walk Idiot Walk”, as taken from their 2004 Tyrannosaurus Hives album.
In rock music, there is something to be said for presentation. And if it’s one thing that the Hives understand, it’s presentation. With their matching outfits and their onstage personas of identically dressed arrogant rock saviours, they’ve injected some of the theatricality back into the music. And with this, I think there is something of a full-circle effect at work. The Nirvana generation of rock bands taught us that costumes and poses in rock were to be distrusted. But when new rules arise, there are new ways to break them too. The Hives show just how punk rock costuming and theatricality can be in this new paradigm
Of course, none of it would mean anything without the music itself, pulling from 60s garage rock and also from the Detroit proto-punk of the MC5 and, quite obviously, the Stooges’ “Raw Power”. The songs are riff-centric and defiantly raw, boiled down to the bare minimum, and then cranked to eleven for taste. And no song on this album outstays its welcome; they’re all under 3 minutes. As for “Walk Idiot Walk”, this for me is music to tear up the seats by.
The problem which was in place for many years is that rock music had become this heavy, burdensome beast, a lumbering thing which had forgotten that it should be fun, above all. I have to say that the Hives, and other bands with the same kindred spirit such as the Hellacopters, the White Stripes, and the Dirtbombs, have brought rock music back toward where it should be. And as a results, it hits us the fans right where it counts.
Here’s a clip of Antipodean power pop underdogs Hoodoo Gurus with their jangly anthem for the uncool, “What’s My Scene?” as taken from their 1987 disc, Blow Your Cool!. If you’re looking for candidates for the most ironic and self-referential would-be pop smash ever recorded, I’d say this should make anyone’s top five.
The 80s was the decade of the demographic where radio and pop music was concerned. It was during this time when a record release was becoming less about the songs on the album itself, and more about the buzz surrounding it, even before anyone heard a note. And post-MTV and Thriller, visuals and production values ruled the day. In short, 1987 was a poor time to be a goofy, poorly dressed power-pop band, let alone one from Australia.
The odds were against Hoodoo Gurus by the late 80s in the image department – too quirky, too idiosyncratic, too unpolished by half. All of these were cardinal sins in the 80s, at least when it came to mainstream success. So as the band was on a major label (Elektra), it was thought that a production overhaul on this their third album in working with the same producer who oversaw albums by fellow Australian outfits INXS, The Divinyls, and AC/DC – Mark Opitz – might do the trick for North American radio.
Luckily, Opitz merely sharpened up what had been there all along, instead of trying to jam this group into a mold that didn’t suit them. As such, the sound is crisp yet spacious and the songs shine through. And of course, the group’s left-of-centre take on the world still shines. These guys remain proud to never really fit in at the cool kids’ table, during a time when nearly everyone in their position would do nearly anything to do just that. As such, the record is a success.
Where it might have been something of a danger to take an idiosyncratic band and try to market them 80s style, the strength the material makes this as charming and cheeky as anything they’d ever done. This song and the album off of which it comes didn’t set the world on fire. Yet it certainly makes for great, and timeless, power pop which was coming out of an age that didn’t value music this straightforward in the mainstream. And of course it has the best opening line in any song I can immediately think of – “… And another thing”. The subject matter of this song proves that the band had everything in perspective enough to be able to allude to the answer to their own musical question.
Here’s a clip of Athens GA indie wunderkinds REM performing their return-to-roots glam-punk anthem “Star 69” from their much-derided 1995 album Monster.
“Star 69” is a shining example of balls-out playing from REM , clearly in line with the band’s mission statement at the time, which was to return to a more rock-oriented sound from which they’d diverged during their 1988-93 golden period. By the time they recorded it, REM had been riding a wave of hit after hit, when everything they touched seemed to turn to gold. This was quite a contrast to their previous phase, when they’d spent most of the 1980s as a band known to be living off college radio transmissions and dedicated fans supporting them in smaller venues.
From their indie roots, they’d branched out of the typical guitar-bass-drums by the end of the decade, and by 1992, the acoustic textures of Out of Time and Automatic For the People began to define them, and make their sound ubiquitous on mainstream radio, and in shopping mall PA systems all over the world. So perhaps to avoid a creative rut, they wanted to get back to the glam and punk that had given birth to them. Guitarist Peter Buck was quoted at the time as saying that the mandolins had been locked up, and it was time to make a punk record.
But a lot of reviews of the new album were negative, with Buck’s guitar sounding like it was being played while submerged in mud, and with Michael Stipe’s vocals buried even deeper. Now to be fair, there are plenty of great records that sound like this. Exile on Main Street isn’t exactly notable for it’s clarity and pristine production, for instance. And Raw Power isn’t exactly noted for it’s balance. But in looking for an REM smash single right in the middle of 1995, none of that mattered. After the release of Monster, their foothold as a band known for interesting music and widespread popularity too, seemed to slip.
I have my own theories about this trend, and I’m not sure it has to do with one or two uncharacteristic records. I saw REM at the Glastonbury festival when they were touring the Up album, another uncharacteristic record of theirs and the first one not to feature founding member and drummer Bill Berry. It would be easy, simplistic even, to say that the loss of Berry coincided with their uneven output. But, I think it has more to do with how professional they’d become by the late-90s. They could be REM – wait for the pun – in their sleep. The show I saw was spot on – just like the records.
And it made me wonder if their early days as a struggling indie band from the American South produced more interesting records and made them more of an interesting live act because they were still trying to find themselves and their audience. By 1999, the sound had been found, and the audience was everyone as opposed to a few college hipsters standing in a dingy club. Maybe the Monster experience had made them gunshy about making edgy music again; there were too many record buyers to alienate by then.
It’s funny – some bands get better when they find their sound. And others tend to decay, or at least stick to what works. But, I don’t think it’s over for REM. It’s not as if they’re not aware of their own arc as a group. Maybe this awareness will make things a little bit more uncertain, and make it more of a challenge to be the band they are. In my view, that’s just what they need.
For more information about the band, and to hear new material, check out the REM MySpace page.
One of the key challenges with this band is that they’ve made so many radical changes from album to album, that they’re in constant competition with themselves, more so than with most bands. In the opinions of many, this record didn’t quite hold up to Kid A and Amnesiac. Yet, to be fair, very few albums held up in comparison to those, so the point about stiff competition within their own catalogue and without is proven.
But I think that HttT featured some of the band’s best work, this track included, and I think it can be argued that the group managed to synthesize their strengths into a record that still sounds like Radiohead. And they’ve done so without sacrificing one texture over another to an impressive degree here. Love them or hate them, they’ve been able to pull off this trick better than most. And it’s no easy trick.
On this track, they play pretty close to the sound they established on 1997’s OK Computer. But even on that album, the group added texture by way of electronics to separate them from the sound they created for themselves as a straight-up guitar band, writing songs on their own terms, seemingly in reaction to none. And this track proves that you can do that, and still serve a rock sound without crossing into ‘dance-rock’ territory, which to me would lose the subtlety of the music entirely.
Overall on this track and many others on this same album, Radiohead make the ominous atmospherics and aggressive guitars and drums work together without anyone seeing the seams. It’s easy enough, given the asset of Thom Yorke’s voice, and Jonny Greenwood’s dexterity when it comes to constrasting texture and arrangement. And Phil Selway is a vastly underrated drummer, even in the face of Yorke’s recent tendency to turn to the laptop for beats.
A lot of the criticisms placed against this album were unfair, but a lot weren’t. It’s too long, and the pacing suffers greatly as a result. They corrected this with 2007’s In Rainbows to a larger degree. But, for songs that work on an individual basis such as this one, the record is as undeniable as anything the group has put out.
One thing this band has always believed in is grass roots communications with fans, in place well before the recent “pay what you can” marketing innovation that everyone but the band themselves viewed as revolutionary. As such, it’s worth checking out the official Radiohead website for blog entries, podcasts, and other assorted information.
The band carry the torch for sunshiny Californian pop, with 60s garage-rock overtones. My introduction to the band was their 2000 album Discovery of the World Inside the Moone, which plays to my tastes for fun guitar-pop influenced by 60s British Invasion/Beach Boys with a bit of lyrical weirdness thrown in for good measure. This new song is a continuation of these same 60s pop roots, with a bit of 70s George Harrison-styled slide guitar thrown in too.
There’s something very childlike about the group’s approach to songwriting, particularly on this track which captures the essence of the impetuous restlessness of youth. It sounds like the band put out this record because it was a fun thing to do, more so than to become rock stars (they’ve got the wrong look for that anyway…) or serious artistes. Maybe a lot of groups do things this way. But, with the Apples, the enthusiasm seems to be the glue which holds it all together more so than many others. This is not to say that the band is a slapdash bunch of amateurs – they’ve matched their enthusiasm with craft.
The band is associated with the Elephant 6 collective, along with Olivia Tremor Control, Elf Power, and Neutral Milk Hotel, releasing their full-length debut Fun Trick Noisemaker on that label in 1995 . They recently put out this newest album on actor Elijah Wood’s label Simian records, which is associated with Yep Roc, current home to likeminded songwriter Robyn Hitchcock.
Here’s a clip of severely underrated Manchester melody merchants I Am Kloot with their song “Proof” as taken from their superlative album I Am Klootfrom 2003. And who is that guy staring at you in the video? Why it’s noted British actorChristopher Eccelston!
I Am Kloot have always struck me as the band Oasis could have been if they’d showed some restraint. Maybe it’s not restraint which moves a band beyond cult status and into international superstardom. Still, the fact is when it comes to great tunes, these guys have everything Noel Gallagher has, with a dash of the Lightning Seeds’ Ian Broudie’s knack for a pop hook thrown in. Of course to Gallagher’s credit, he’s a fan too. This song, and indeed the whole album, is practically a monument to the levels of quality coming out of the Northwest of England in the 90s and early 2000s.
For further listening, also check out the band’s debut Natural History, which contains my favourite song of theirs, the wonderful “No Fear of Falling”, which should have been a smash, were it not released in an era that left ballads behind in favour of stadium anthems, with subtlety not exactly at the top of the average fans’ priorities list . This is not to say I Am Kloot are without range of course. With these guys, you still get the balls out delivery of Oasis, the Dylanesque overtones of the Charlatans, and the ambitous arrangements of the Verve all in one. Come to think of it – why aren’t these guys famous?
For further information on I Am Kloot, as well as more music from them, check out the I Am Kloot MySpace page. Their new album Moolah Rouge can be purchased here.
One of my favourite discoveries in the past year was The Draytones, and their song ‘Keep Loving Me’ which demonstrates their love of Nuggets-era 60s garage punk. Check out this clip, and see what I mean.