The Prentenders, I’m From Barcelona, Pink

The Shotgun is a monthly column of "shotgun" CD reviews by Glide contributor Eric Saeger.

The Pretenders, Break Up the Concrete (Shangri-La Records)

The only whiz-bang epithet for this occasion is The Girl’s Still Got It.  It’s hard to imagine it any other way, though.  Chrissie Hynde got away with an ultimate groupie trip – the time she had the kid with Ray Davies – but no one (no one intelligent, or cool, or humanoid I mean) ever thought of her as a groupie, and that’s power.  We always wanted to know what she was talking about in her lyrics, too, and even at 50-whatever, she embodies the smoldering-hot, unreadable, way-too-smart chick in the corner, people-watching and taking names if you’ve got the guts to ask her for her take.

We’ve known for a long time now that The Pretenders without all the rest of The Pretenders – the dead-from-drugs guys – is still The Chrissie Hynde Band but obsessed with choo-choo-train rockabilly, and the title track here is the essence of this as we witness Hynde morphing into a meowing George Thorogood, sounding out a drum roll with her voice in a “duk duk dukka dukka” that’s the sort of eff-you to everything up to and including rock itself that these whippersnappers nowadays would never dream of attempting for fear of failing some sort of imaginary final exam of rock or whatnot.

And like clockwork we read the lyric sheets because we don’t have the guts to ask her take.  She rants (gently) about how crummy Akron’s become (the title track, again) just like she did in “My City Was Gone.”  She tries to save mankind from greed (“Don’t Cut Your Hair”).  And she tries to save herself from her inner romantic (“Love’s a Mystery”).  But the best thing about this is that it’s a real, actual Pretenders album, here in the flesh, even after 9/11 and New Orleans and Justin Timberlake being elected the white Michael Jackson.  That sort of simple pleasure is way too rare.

I’m From Barcelona, Who Killed Harry Houdini (Mute Records)
One has to assume that there’s some sort of decorum that mandates indie writers be pleasant and gentle to shiny faced wannabes from non-threatening European countries, Sweden being the easily conquerable boondocks under scrutiny here.  Why the Pitchfork writer would trip over his own slobbering tongue over an above-average Arcade Fire clone brings up questions, but the fact that IFB are said to be a spectacular live experience explains it – it’s the free tickets, stupid.

Bless their fishing-village hearts, though, enthusiasm is not going for want here.  A more guarded cynic would Scrooge about how this 20-piece act is a living, singing monument to how great Arcade Fire is, but one needs to understand that immature obeisance can lead to real experimentation and can even, occasionally, pratfall into success.  So tally-ho, then, to the hits and misses: “Paper Planes” is a very hooky song that makes great hay out of the hayloft-Broadway Arcade Fire sound, even if the misfit, nonsensical “Shake It Up”-like “Rufus” shows up later to prove that the band can be great at making bad decisions;  “Andy” just sucks, while “Mingus” fully utilizes the whole cast. 

Pink, Funhouse (La Face Records)

After the snap-dance scheming of her past, fans of Pink were probably a bit disappointed with her tacking more toward straightforward pop in I’m Not Dead.  Or not; I really don’t care and neither should her fans, who’ve been hoodwinked by her self-serving diva ambitions since day one. 

Indie-Jacobin grumblings accomplished, we can now focus on what this album brings to the table in a strictly musical sense, or, more to the point, what singles you guys want to download.  This isn’t man setting foot on Neptune, but the girl has inarguably settled into her skin, a mottle of Melissa Etheridge (“Ave Mary A”) and occasional Joni Mitchell on the ballad side (“Glitter in the Air,” the closeout tune, which inevitably ladles out the senses-shattering revelation that even crazy-mean girls have feelings too).  “So What,” the post-Runaways punk-bopper tune that’s all over radio, lends this very loud album a lot of accessibility even as it belies the rest of the thing, a non-horrible posture-fest embracing throaty ballads (the pretty “I Don’t Believe You”), an overproduced nod to Amy Winehouse (“One Foot Wrong”) and a goofy Hoobastank dork-romp (“Bad Influence”) with equal passion. 

Women, Women (Jagjaguwar Records)

Attention-deficit-disorderly buffet of Raveonettes, noise and look-ma-I’m-doing-something-complicated.  Given that an overdriven, blown-engine Everly Brothers/Monkees sound paints the things here that could be considered, you know, songs, this is probably something that pretty-much-one-man-band Chad Van Gaalen intended as a sacrificial offering to Raveonettes, and for that alone it’s worth something.  But again, there’s a lot of funny white noise inserted to kick average listeners to the curb and rope in jaded reviewers and onion-breathed indie geeks who don’t like normal things, and for that it’s worth another something.  But all is not what it seems, it seems; opening song “Cameras” is first a jigger of 50s-revisited pop that lives for only a few bars before segueing into “Lawncare,” a faux-hard industrial/shoegaze thing combining My Bloody Valentine and Big Black (act intrigued for a second, please; it’s actually an interesting idea).  And then a bunch of noise, ghetto-blaster vs feedback-style, then gentle but clattery ambience (“Woodbine”) and then paleo-Kinks from the “Tired of Waiting For You” era.  All this spells indie-critic’s-darling, to be sure, but trust me when I say that that isn’t always a horrible thing.  OK, 99% of the time, yes, but at a minimum, fans who can’t wait for the next Raveonettes record will assuredly get something out of this.
[street date 10/7/08]

Celtic Woman, The Greatest Journey: Essential Collection (Manhattan Records)

Christmas doth approach, and with it the lure of mature, romantic alternatives to Rudolph and Frosty songs, classier stuff that puts one in a buy-at-full-retail mood and hence vulnerable to polishing off the last few pence of the Mastercard with the help of your most overpriced local restaurant.  And why the hell not.

The live Celtic Woman experience – a God-sized Broadway sound made even more colossal with the voices of 5 Sarah Brightmans and the outfit’s Tinkerbell, violinist Mairead – is captured as well as could be hoped, the only thing missing being the smell of blue-haired ladies drenched in rosy perfume. 

Enya is always Christmas-y, and the addition of her “Orinoco Flow,” albeit overly pasteurized, is apropos enough for the setting, a collection of the company’s favorite tunes, among them a haunting but inviting “Ave Maria,” the triumphantly booming “Dulamán,” and a couple of ecstatic violin, er, fiddle vehicles (“Butterfly,” “Shenandoah”).  Fittingly, the set ends with 2 live show-stoppers recorded at Slane Castle, this after the big knuckleball, a thorough beautifying of Rat Pack anthem “Beyond the Sea.”

Dion, Heroes: Giants of Early Guitar Rock (Saguaro Road Records)

One derogatory Saegerism that’s become an official staple of my scribbling is the term “cab driver music,” which I pray people correctly assume describes 50s/60s/70s rock to chain-smoke and act as tragic Everyman by.  In this sphere, the 70s is represented best by Player, the 60s by Moody Blues, and the 50s by Dion.

And so it was with no small amount of chortling what-the-hellness that I came to request the new Dion album, he of “Runaround Sue” and “The Wanderer” (aren’t you suddenly craving a pack of Newports right now?) (and did you know he covered “Purple Haze” in 1968?), figuring I’d save it for an emergency when a piece absolutely positively needed to write itself before deadline.

Turns out the egg’s on my face, not Dion’s.  Since the release of this album – titled perfectly for a late-night K-Tel infomercial – he’s been featured on a snobby NPR show and a bunch of other important stuff I’ve now forgotten, and that’s because this record is, officially, a big deal and I’m a bona fide Johnny Come Lately in telling you so.  The aura of these new recordings is pretty much Stray Cats, ie boomy-twangy 50s Stratocaster, great pains taken in the renditions, “Summertime Blues” done the right way, a la Eddie Cochran, without the paleo-metal foolishness of Blue Cheer or The Who; “Bye Bye Love” with a shot of testosterone; “Runaway” viewed through the prism of a singer who’s always thought of it as a challenging piece.  If nothing else, it’ll get heavy airplay in your 5-year-old’s Spongebob stereo, right?

Momu, Momentum (Loöq Records)

If you have the foggiest familiarity with San Fran DJ duo Jondi & Spesh, you know to expect decent-enough prog-dance from Momu, the JD Moyer (Jondi) and Mark Musselman tag-team.  Momentum sticks to the genre blueprint – lots of layers, not to overanalyze things; 99% of the listening public just calls any danceable music born of synthesizers ‘techno’ anyway – while giving the pair ample opportunity to show off or fall flat.  There’s a lot of both here; bloopy Jimmy Figurine-style sounds find a boring, if not uncomfortable, bedfellow with controlled symphonic blasts in opener “Window,” and then it’s all Daft Punk-vocodered big beat (“Truckin”), wave-modulation-and-breakbeat-wank (the title track), more bloops, more daft Punk, and oops, a pretty song, “Dreamy Days,” let’s say Air half-stabbing at Bjork.  Big fat hairy beat-matching deal, as it turns out.  Normally I’d insert a platitude about there being a lot of potential, but this rushed product is obviously yet another case of quantity over quality in the world of DJs with revolving stage nicks.  Goes for $0.98 on Amazon in 3… 2…  1…

Various Artists, Bedrock Past Present Future (Bedrock Records)

Dance fans do have reason to feign a celebratory mood, what with the new mix from UK super-DJ John Digweed bringing the best sounds of both the label and the party from which the name is derived. All the songs – big-deal joints from the likes of Steve Lawler, Josh Wink and Pindrop – are instrumentals, encompassing varying shades of crunch and bloop but, later into things, mainly steeped in Euro-house heavily flirting with trance.  What most blows the mind and seats Digweed at the same A-list table as Tiesto and Oakenfold is how he sews the songs together, carefully and seamlessly, as though his life depended on turning the wholes of the first 2 discs (a third CD is unmixed) into 45-odd-minute songs – the man is an alchemist, not a dance-up-drinkers jock.  It’s also quite apparent, given the near-total lack of chick-of-the-minute whitebread singers, that his label has a refreshingly inspired vision for the future of the sound itself.

Ryan Adams & The Cardinals, Cardinology (Lost Highway Records)

NC’s Ryan Adams isn’t so totally countrified anymore, or so some of his fans are griping, but he’s been a New Yorker for so long that it’d be pointless to keep up the charade.  And remember that he was raised on Misfits and Ozzy, and that influence adds a certain heaviness to his stuff that makes it bigger-than-life, or at least quashes most of his urges to get all Conway Twitty for a few daddy-fearing music nerds.  What helps to make him a star – and he is the new Neil Young – is an ability, or grace-of-God good luck, that appears genius-like in spots.  Take for example the cannonball guitar bursts in “Magick,” its stoic dino-metal shtick stolen straight from the beginning of Bryan Adams’ “One Night Love Affair,” the joke/accident/genius here being the simple acknowledgment (or not) that he’s heard “You’re who? Bryan Adams?” about 400 billion times.  “Born Into a Light” is poor-boy-rockmetal done the way Young did in his “Ohio” days, while “Go Easy” finds Adams sounding more like Young than ever, this in a song that’s got a lot in common with “After the Garden.” What makes him more dangerous is his natural ability/inclination to shape-shift for the modern age as he myna-birds Radiohead and Tom Petty, sometimes in the same song, with results good enough to be simultaneously mainstream and somewhat alien, a tough trick.

Sammy Hagar, Cosmic Universal Fashion (Roadrunner Records)

Go ahead, yuk it up, but if albums were 3 songs in length this would be the best hard rock album of the decade thus far.  Not to be outdone by whatstheirfaces from his old band, the 60-year-old blockhead/slut still thoroughly enjoys yelling “Everyone havin’ a good time?!” at thousands of people at once (okay, hundreds – hockey stadiums aren’t going to be the default venue for yelly spandex-guys, or anyone else, in this economy), and so he must.  With no Eddie tut-tutting his every facial twitch, Hagar has a lot of fun with this, and sometimes (“24365”) it becomes almost like a mash of every song that ever caught his ear, for example in the chugging, bony, title-track opener, when it sounds for a second as though he’s going to bust into “I’m a Loser.”  “Psycho Vertigo” is an outstanding ripoff of “Dazed and Confused,” while “Peephole” is clear evidence that he’s at least aware of bands like Candlebox.  So anyway, those are the 3 songs I alluded to earlier; the rest of this lovingly crafted scam is sexy grunge-funk from the late 80s, exquisitely moronic hell-yeah-ing, and anything that might fit between the two.

Outraged ranting, indie label release news and spaghetti sauce recipes are always welcome.  Email [email protected]

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