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Bullet Lavolta – The Gift

November 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Taang! Records, 1989

Aside from the colorful red and yellow cover that pops out at me, I don’t really have a whole lot to say about why I bought this record (aside from its affordability, that is).  Maybe I thought that Bullet Lavolta was sort of close to ‘John Travolta’ … though why I would list John Travolta as a reason to buy a record is beyond me.  Maybe I thought the flowers were really pretty in the ultra-pale lady’s hands.  Or maybe I was shocked to curiosity when I saw the same woman bound, gagged and getting strangled on the back cover.  Okaaaay Bullet Lavolta, what is your game?

It turns out that Bullet Lavolta were a relatively long-staying hard rock band in Boston back in the late eighties.  If I had opened up the art booklet before purchasing the record, I would have noticed five very gruff-looking dudes in leather and flannel jackets.  These gruff-looking dudes don’t get cute with the music with their rumbling opener of “X Fire”.  It’s got the heavy, blended guitars, the driving drum beat, and what sounds like a repetition of “tapioca” during the chorus.  Well, that can’t be right.  Unless, of course, tapioca is rock ‘n roll pudding to you and Bullet Lavolta.

Like “X Fire”, most of the songs on the record are hard, heavy, and straight forward.  “Chalkdust”, “Over the Shoulder”, and “Off Kilter” are very similar sounding tracks with the same guitar tones and three minutes or less clock time.  Lead vocalist Yukkie Gipe nearly gets drowned out by the band most of the time.  There’s also not much of a chance to pick up any of the lyrics either as Gipe mumbles or screams his way through most songs.  Even when he sounds more coherent on songs like “One Room Down” you can barely hear him.  Whether it was a production gaff or not, the back burner treatment of the vocals proves Bullet Lavolta is all about the maximum rock ‘n roll volume anyway.  I guess take your deep lyrical interpretations and poetic rhythm elsewhere.

However, if you’re looking for a band comparison of Bullet Lavolta, “Mother Messiah” gives off a Dictators impression mainly due to the song’s composition and Yukkie Gipe’s vocals.  It helps that Gipe’s singing voice is actually a speaking/singing hybrid, which essentially means he’s yelling rather loudly.  Something along the lines of the punk side of the Dictators is “Dead Wrong”, which is a really great rousing song after the epically awful ‘faux death metal’ of “Birth of Death”.  Unlike most records these days, “Dead Wrong” proves that some of the better tracks on albums can be found near the end.  It’s the eleventh track of a mostly hard rock collection, so although it came late it leaves the listener with a pretty good impression of Bullet Lavolta’s well-rounded rock out capabilities.

A few articles and Youtube videos can be found to get to know Bullet Lavolta, but at least Last.fm has some songs from them to spin.

Although “The Gift” is rather middle of the road, Bullet Lavolta can give anyone the heavy rock dose they need to pump their fist in the air once in awhile.  Apparently they were big in Boston during their five year existence, so maybe the record doesn’t do the band enough justice for what they could actually do onstage.  (sigh)  I suppose that constitutes some of the painful aspect of reviewing old albums and wishing you could instead be reviewing it at the time of release.  I imagine that if I had been around Boston back when Bullet Lavolta were thrashing about the local clubs, I would have donned my fashionable jean jacket and lumbered on over to see them a few times.

Various Artists – The Rocky Horror Show (Original London Cast 1973)

November 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Rhino Records, 1991

You either saw the title of this review and got a little ill or got a little excited.  To all of you sweet transvestites out there, this here musical is legendary and reminds me of some of those really fun, eclectic people that still go out and see the movie version at midnight in full character.  For me, after years of listening to songs from “The Music Man”, “Phantom of the Opera” and “Guys N Dolls”, this showtune slapped me in the face when I first heard it.  Traditionally showtunes have been wholesome, family shows with the usual love, loss, dance, and ensemble number.  Simply looking at the cover shows you that there’s nothing typical about this production.  Given that this is a recording of the original cast before the show got to be a household name, I couldn’t pass up the chance to hear how it all started.

Since this is the original London cast, this recording came out two years before the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” movie in 1975.  Therefore, if you’re used to that polished sound then this version is going to sound seriously stripped down.  The classic opener of “Science Fiction-Double Feature” is still quite charming even if it’s a little less sensual.  Patricia Quinn, who played Magenta/Usherette in the cast, has a very quivery if not feeble voice, so when she sings this song it could come across as endearing, cute, or grating.  Given the quiet nature of the song, one is likely not going to get too critical of it with some of the more active numbers coming up.

“Dammit Janet”, one of my favorites from the show due to its geeky duet, lacks some of the more dramatic elements than what one may be used to.  There’s no breathy, overbearingly passionate Susan Sarandon (Janet) nor the amusingly stiff Barry Bostwick (Brad) as in the movie.  Instead, these parts are sung by two people who sound like an ordinary couple who are prone to wearing polo shirts and sweater vests.  Thankfully Richard O’Brien (Riff Raff) and Tim Curry (Frank-N-Furter) are noticeably and wonderfully in full, recognizable character.  Like the couple, however, Curry is not as pointedly erotic on “Sweet Transvestite” as he is in the movie, but remember that he had two years to get his black corset and fishnet stockings to fit right and tight.  These songs almost sound like a dress rehearsal than an in-your-face production.

This isn’t to say that the songs aren’t nearly as enjoyable.  “Time Warp” still has that rollicking party atmosphere while “Touch-A-Touch-A-Touch-A-Touch Me” effectively reveals the sexual restraint that Janet is now breaking free from.  “Rose Tint My World” features Rayner Bourton’s Rocky Horror who sounds a lot like an early Bob Dylan when reflecting on only being a couple of hours old.  I suppose the laid back choice that Bourton makes seems to fit given that Rocky Horror is already well aware of his Adonis-like features.  One of my favorite songs, “I’m Going Home”, doesn’t carry as much of the drama as on the movie version of the show, but I suppose that is just across the board at this point.

Two songs that are not featured on the original movie soundtrack but are included here are “Sword of Damocles” and “Once in a While”.  “Sword of Damocles” is a fun pop rock song involving the ‘birth’ of Rocky Horror while “Once in a While” is about Brad’s distress at losing a wayward Janet.  The song really doesn’t do very much amidst the crazy atmosphere of the rest of the album, so although it is included here to add completeness to the cast recordings, it likely won’t stand out as anyone’s favorite.  However, for Rocky Horror fans it may be a treat to hear a song that was completely left out of the movie but fits into the storyline of the show.

Why don’t you stay for the night, or, maybe a bite … :

If one can get used to some of the original voices, as well as the more restrained Curry, then this version of “The Rocky Horror Show” will still be a great listen.  Even though one has to look for it more than hear it deliberately from some of the actors, the sexual subject matter is still all over the place.  Given that it was the seventies and that this was truly an original musical of sex, space, and oddities, “The Rocky Horror Show” took off with immense cult popularity during 1973.  Though there are now more modern shows that have broached either serious or comical adult topics (“Rent”, “Avenue Q”, etc), having a copy of “The Rocky Horror Show” to grin during the more campier parts is always nice to have on one’s shelf or database.

Marxy – Kyushu Nostalgia

November 14, 2011 Leave a comment

Beekeeper Records, 2004

Brand new.  Fifty cents.  Giant cat playing the piano.  Either this record was going to be an epically excellent find or a trap for bargain CD hunters.  Man, I’ve fallen into too many traps in my searches so I was really hoping this was going to be a good one.  Since it was wrapped I had nothing to go on aside from the cover and the back cover.  Would you know that the back cover had, ah, two cats playing the piano?  No track listing, no band information … just cats.  Well, when only two quarters stand between me and my curiosity you know what’s going to win out.

Marxy is actually a nickname/moniker for W. David Marx, who is an American musician and writer that happens to reside in Japan.  I have to say, that’s quite a background!  Instead of dragging the rough and tumble American rock Marx opts to infuse all sorts of pop elements into his music.  He also doesn’t wish to stop at straight pop tunes and is prone to be a bit random in his attention.  This can prove to either be a nice, casual listening experience or a head shaking one.

The songs on the record are primarily sung by Marx, but “Make It Through Today” utilizes the light vocals of Miho Takashima.  This only adds some true Japanese cred to the album even if her voice isn’t particularly strong.  It doesn’t have to be with some of these lightweight tracks, since Marx is definitely going for as soft as possible on hugworthy pop songs like “Let’s Be On Our Way” and “Ashika Love”.  Honestly, with his keyboards and precious composition choices, I would be astounded if Marx hasn’t considered trying out the children’s TV show music circuit over there in Japan.

To highlight the randomness of this pop experience, the third track (written in Japanese … but let’s just title it “Game Over”) is a short bit involving an 8-bit gaming experience that doesn’t end well for the player.  That’s it.  Then there’s the ‘oooooh’ outtake track that doesn’t make it to thirty seconds and “Be In Eleven-Eight, Man”, which is pure nonsense.  Although these have to be better than those skits on hip hop records, they’re not much more than filler.

Check out all the rest of the stuff by W. David Marx on his website, which has his discography as well as a few tunes to listen to.

As cute as Marxy’s music is, I can’t help but feel that this is an incomplete album.  It probably has a lot to do with those short ditties and interludes, because even though there are twelve listed tracks only five of them last past two minutes.  It’s almost as if Marxy couldn’t stand to merely create something that could be listed as an EP, so extra bits were thrown in to technically extend the record into a full album.  Oh please.

I do like the music and approach of Marx’s effort, though, and those Japanese artists (even if they’re from America) always intrigue me with what they’re thinking of next.  Marx has released a few more records past this one but nothing since 2008, but if one goes by the three year rule there is still hope he may have something else in store.  Yes, I’m making up the three year rule, but I have to say that it’s a good point of reference to determine if there’s more to come or the artist is done.  C’mon Marxy, break out some more cats.

Addendum:  I will say that Marxy’s “Cat vs. Mouse” from their most recent release is actually quite good, so go check it out if you want a more electronic pop experience.

Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz – Crunk Juice

November 10, 2011 Leave a comment

TVT Records, 2005

Sometimes I look at an album that I bought some time ago and think “Why did I buy this?”.  I suppose I had wondered if Lil Jon could actually carry an album.  All I know about him is that he likes to yell out “Yeah!”, “What!”, and “Okay!” on the various songs that he cameos on for other artists.  Perhaps that’s all he says on his own songs, so I could have been terribly curious as to how this would go when I picked this record up.  I also saw one heck of a party on that front cover.  Okay, the East Side Boyz look a little pathetic and the girls, well, they give off the air of being bored.  But look at Lil Jon!  That guy is an animal!  He doesn’t even want to finish his crunk juice as he pours it on the stage (Yeeeeaaayuhh!).  It’s coming back to me now.  I want in on this party.

The “Crunk Juice Intro” claims that this is going to be most incredible experience I’ve ever felt in my life.  I should also sit back, smoke a blunt, and turn the volume way up.  With the terribly echoed vocal effects and stumbling production, I had my doubts of whether or not I should believe the East Side Boyz on this one.  “What U Gon’ Do” starts this self-proclaimed incredible experience with those heavy bass thumps that have to sound great with the car windows open.  As for the lyrical content, ah, I have no idea what is going on.  Apparently if my hos are acting up in a club and I step up to them, they don’t do sh*t.  Yeah!   What!  And if the bitches don’t … oh, you get the idea.  Essentially, make sure the ladies and you are on the same page about your feelings for each other otherwise there could be disillusionment.

“Get Crunk” shows that Lil Jon, who happens to also be the producer for this album, likes to constantly repeat words and lyrics in close proximity.  Whoever the drugged up East Side Boy is that begins the song ends up sounding like he has a stutter thanks to the constant mixing and repeating of his words.  The same thing happens on “White Meat”, which again portrays one of the East Side Boyz as a stuttering spliff-dangling amateur that is neither engaging nor revolutionary.  The only noticeable part of the song is Lil Jon’s bludgeoning delivery on the chorus, which has him railing against his fellow club goers.  It’s no wonder he’s more known for his cameos than his rapping, for his voice is atrociously guttural.  If one wanted to frighten children with a voice that sometimes is manipulated to sound even deeper than it is, thus resembling a certain demon, throw some Lil Jon on.  He’s got that charm.

For the rest of these songs, “Lovers & Friends” attempts to be the slow jam except for that very distracting repetitiveness that Lil Jon keeps doing.  Totally ruins whatever mood was attempted.  I was amused at the practicality of the vocalist when, during his portrayal of a love making session, he offers his girl a pillow to bite.  What a conscientious gentleman!  There’s also “Real N*gga Roll Call” which lays out the rules as to who is real and who isn’t real.  What do people do when they listen to this song and determine that they’re one of the unreal ones?  Where do you go?  I wouldn’t go anywhere near Lil Jon and this East Side Boyz, that’s for sure.  I would leave town.  When Ludacris and R. Kelly show up on “In Da Club”, I’m only mildly disappointed that it isn’t a 50 Cent cover.  Well, there goes any possibility of meager redeeming value for this record.

Lil Jon and his crunkin’ can be found on his website and MySpace, but you probably have better things to listen to anyway.

Alright, honestly, why would anyone listen to this crap?  There are so many better crunk artists, never mind hip hop artists, out there.  And forget the lyrics, there are even better drum ‘n bass artists out there!  Who needs Lil Jon and his hack producing skills?  Those weak beats?  Those annoying East Side Boyz?  This album is garbage and a waste of plastic.  To think that Allmusic.com has labeled this record Lil Jon’s best is just unbelievable.  There is absolutely no reason to go listen to his other records if this one is considered one of his best.  Yeesh.  Oh yeah, this is some serious Golden Trash Can material.  What!

The Court of Flippant Reviews Adjourns!

November 7, 2011 Leave a comment

After a long recess the Court of Flippant Reviews makes its final decision!  After the previous two installments I am ready to hang up my robe in the coat room ($2 coat check fee … eye gougers!).  I have cobbled together the last of a few records that I have yet to review after getting them mailed to me unprovoked.  It is time to sentence these albums as I see fit, even if it fits me to see these reviewed quite quickly.  Alright baliff, push ’em all up to the stand will you?  Defend yourselves!

The gavel comes down:

  • The Devil Whale “Teeth” – Mostly soft pop music with a bright element, but rarely is there anything with a kick to shake one out of the comfortable state.  “Magic Numbers” at least has a little zing.
  • The National Rifle “Vanity Press” – Big skull on the cover does not mean scary or heavy music from this duo.  Band has some great rock energy thanks to interesting compositions and dynamic vocalist.  Pretty good!
  • Panic Years “Finally, Today is Tomorrow” – Vocalist sometimes sounds like Cobain at his most pained, though music is mid-range alternarock.  Some nice sounds here and there, but no real lasting impression.
  • Imaginary Cities “Temporary Resident” – Vocalist and band sound a little like Portishead early, but then show they can veer towards rock and light pop.  These guys sound great throughout the record.
  • Moddi “Floriography” – Ultra, ultra soft and peaceful music.  Think Iron and Wine.  Not my thing at all since it bores me to tears.
  • Tic Tic Boom “Reasons & Rhymes EP” – Hey, fun electronic pop rock!  I even like the female vocalist, whose voice doesn’t sound too annoying or cutesy.  Not so sure about the band name, though.
  • The Blue Eyed Shark Experiment “The Fluffer” – Pleasant singer-songwriter stuff that includes a lot of keyboards and sound effects.  Doesn’t sound like he’s trying too hard to pour on the emotion, which is a good thing.

It seems that the verdict for my final (as of now) installment of the Court of Flippant Reviews is that there were a couple of good ones.  This comes as a surprise since the last couple of sessions ended with difficult mixed bags.  I think I’m definitely going to try and follow up on what the National Rifle and Imaginary Cities are up to thanks to the quick gavel of approval.

As for you, members of the audience, I ask that if you’re going to learn anything from this Court’s methods, it’s to be open to listening to music from any artist no matter how unknown.  Sure, after a few minutes you’ll know if it’s for you or not.  However, if you find something interesting in 1 out of 5 albums you listen to then consider yourself in happier musical shape than the next guy.

And to all of you still lingering in the aisles making eyes at my stenographer, out with you!  The Court of Flippant Reviews is now adjourned!

Stereophonics – Performance and Cocktails

November 2, 2011 Leave a comment

V2 Records, 1999

I was excited to get this record at a serious discount because I had enjoyed a few strong tracks from the Stereophonics’ 2005 record “Language. Sex. Violence. Other?”.  You know me, I like the rock ‘n roll.  Therefore, with these British lads I figured if they sounded great in 2005, they must’ve sounded either tougher or more freewheeling back in the late nineties.  Plus, that expression on the lady’s face on the cover is quite amusing.  It looks like she’s undead and this guy is about to get a serious face-sucking surprise pretty soon.  The Bon Jovi lookalike in the background has no idea what is about to go down as he laughs at his own joke of “Hey buddy, we’re both wearing jean jackets!”.  In conclusion, so far this album looks like it contains rock, humor, and zombie chicks, so its possession was necessary!

The Stereophonics originate from Britain during that Brit rock era with Oasis, Blur, Pulp and the like.  Thankfully the group doesn’t bother with anything too cheeky as “Roll Up and Shine” blares out with more rock ‘n roll than any of those aforementioned groups.  Kelly Jones’ raspy vocals and the strong presence of guitar and bass make the song a fine introduction for the album.  “The Bartender and the Thief” turns the volume knob even louder to complete a powerful 1-2 rock shot that quickly sets the listener up for what is coming for the rest of the album.  Rock ‘n roll all the way, right?

Nope.  The songs come to a sudden halt with the pensive, soft strummer of “Hurry Up and Wait”.  Now, I understand the switch over to something a little slower because too much of the same thing can sound monotonous, but the song reveals quite a bit about the group.  For one, they aren’t content with one level of music.  As “Hurry Up and Wait” reveals, the Stereophonics also want you to think about love and waiting for the right person it seems.  That’s nice, thanks.

“Pick a Part That’s New” picks up a little bit as a pop ditty, whereas “Just Looking” dabbles with hot and cold flashes of quiet guitar strumming and blasts of repetitive chorus.  Hey, where is this consistent rock ‘n roll that the first two tracks promised?  “Half the Lies You Tell Ain’t True” tries to revive the comatose, but the group just can’t seem to decide on where they want to stick in terms of momentum.  None of the later songs on the disc remedy this confused indecision.

I understand that some people like the variety of tempos, lulls, and emotional moments, but I don’t think the Stereophonics do that well either.  Most of the hooks during the livelier songs aren’t luring enough while the music choices on the slower ones sometimes make the songs feel a little too long.  Jones’ vocals, initially interesting, are limited in their range and creativity, which makes the softer tracks sound a bit thin.  When “She Takes Her Clothes Off” and “Plastic California” meander in, get going, and conclude as usual, it becomes apparent that the Stereophonics fit the rock ‘n roll mold as merely a group that sounds loud at times but doesn’t put a whole lot of effort into being unique.  You’ve heard them before about four to five years earlier, in fact.

The band has plenty to see and do on their website, but as always MySpace and Last.fm have a few tunes you can listen to.

I’m calling this a Bust because I expected more out of the Stereophonics.  I thought the songs would be consistently more edgy or original, but they sound like a slightly more modern version (at the time) of many nineties rock bands.  Perhaps that’s why I just get this feeling that the record, despite its volume and perceived energy level, is ultimately quite dull.  I don’t think I’d ever put this album on over something a lot more interesting with its rock like Dinosaur Jr, Built to Spill, or even the Strokes.  Maybe the group’s record from 2005 was the band’s new sound that interested me, but this album from the early days lacks character and long term draw.  The group is still chugging along so don’t let a disappointed reviewer’s opinion of a decade-old album sway you from checking them out.  Just don’t start with this album.