Monday, March 31, 2008

Ministry and Co-Conspirators: Cover Up

Written by Puño Estupendo

April Fool's Day is sure to see many mindless pranks pulled, jokes cracked, and people left scratching their heads and asking what's real and what's the joke. To capitalize on this, Ministry has deemed it appropriate to release an album of covers for the masses to scratch their heads over and smile about, and they've called it Cover Up.

After the release of three blistering Anti-Bush themed albums, Al / Alien / Buck Satan Jourgensen has taken some rock staples from the ‘60s and ‘70s and given them a distorted, programmed sound that their original fans couldn't possibly have imagined while in the back of vans everywhere smoking pot. With their tongues seemingly nail-gunned in cheek, his lineup of musicians, which includes Tommy Victor of Prong, tear through such radio mainstays as “Radar Love,” “Space Truckin’” and “Mississippi Queen.”

Although the opening track (an almost ridiculous version of “Under My Thumb” with fuzzy/whispered vocals and inserted dirty lyrics) had me rolling my eyes as to what the rest of this collection of misfires was going to sound like, I quickly lightened the hell up and went with the joke. Even after half-cringing over the first track, “Bang A Gong” brings it back around and actually works well. Josh Bradford's vocals are nice and sleazy and the guitars are straightforward enough to even have the more sensitive of T. Rex fans having to admit it sounds pretty good.

It may be more of an album for people that are already fans of Jourgensen's discography, but the casual listener should be able to have fun with this record too. Even when you know that most of the tracks are going to be predictably blown out, sped up and double-timed, there's absolutely some fun to be had here.

It does seem to me that this would have been a better fit for another of Al's bands, The Revolting Cocks, but does it really matter where Al decides to be slightly nuts? We should all be thankful it wasn't Al trying to be completely nuts!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Goldfrapp: Seventh Tree

Written by Tío Esqueleto

It’s been three years since Goldfrapp, the British duo of vocalist Alison Goldfrapp, and composer Will Gregory, released their third album, Supernature. It sold over a million copies worldwide and catapulted the duo to superstar status in their native England and Europe, as well as here in the states where its undeniable electro-pop seeped into American pop culture via various commercials, network television bumpers, countless music TV promos, as well as on the dance floor. The natural sister piece to 2003’s electro cabaret Black Cherry, Supernature seemed to be everywhere at once and, before too long, teetered on exhaustion for both fans, and unknowing consumers, alike.

With Seventh Tree, the band’s fourth album, gone is the glam electric of those previous two offerings. Instead, they have returned to the lush, cinematic soundscapes of their first endeavor, 2000’s Felt Mountain, the perfect destination after four good years of disco glitz. Where their debut was mondo Morricone, with a nod to Barry’s Bond, here we are treated to a folky, no less lush, but subtly psychedelic, touch of the cinematic with Goldfrapp herself likening its overall feel to the 1973 British cult film, The Wicker Man, directed by Robin Hardy and scored by Paul Giovanni.

Nowhere is this love letter to The Wicker Man more apparent than in the album’s slower songs. The opening track, “Clowns,” is a gorgeous offering that evokes washed-out images of Scottish countryside, lens flares, and the eerie inhabitants of Summerisle. They’ve spared us any reference to “Corn rigs and Barley rigs” (thank God), and have instead stuck with the more Britt Ekland-inspired, Willow’s songs. Traces of Ekland’s memorable turn as the highly erotic Willow can be found scattered throughout the album on tracks such as “Road to Somewhere” and “Some People,” tracks that while lyrically don’t make much of a connection, musically they seem to be directly inspired by the now-infamous bedroom seduction song, while subconsciously conjuring imagery of a voluptuous Ekland dancing naked against the wall.

The psychedelic really comes into play on the more up tempo numbers, “Little Bird” and “Happiness,” the first of which starts slow, but by song’s end, takes a turn towards one of the deeper cuts on The Yellow Submarine. “Happiness” takes Goldfrapp’s signature swing and forgoes the usual hard-edged, chunky synths for softer synths, various horns, and an array of strings and technique that would impress a young Brian Wilson. The same can be said for most of the album’s composition that, for the first time, finds the band enlisting the help of outside musicians, as well as from U2/Nine Inch Nails/Depeche Mode producer extraordinaire, Flood. Much of the arrangement recalls the previous two albums, only this time they are merely played through a variety of different instruments and musicians. This about-face is a means to an end is most apparent in the aforementioned “Happiness,” as well as in the single “A&E.” You can almost hear the good people at Target putting together their spring campaign to one of these two songs. The hooks are certainly still there.

Seventh Tree is a wonderful step sideways for Goldfrapp. They’ve traded pop-glitz and glam for folk-psychedelia and sun. It is still undeniably Goldfrapp, and with a voice like that, how could it not be? Will Gregory, with the aid of Flood, has done some of his finest work to date. For those of you longing for a taste of the “wonderful electric,” there is always the live show. I, for one, cannot wait to see how this album translates to the stage. With a tour currently underway across the pond, my fingers are crossed that it makes its way to the states, animal heads, Maypoles, ribbons, and all.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Albert Collins: Live At Montreux 1992 (CD/DVD)

Written by Fantasma el Rey

Albert Collins hits the stage not once but twice on this new DVD from the Live At Montreux series. Collins dubbed “The Iceman” shows us why he’s known worldwide as such with every strum, pick, and lick that smokes off his guitar and freezes you in your tracks. Collins and his bands, let loose on eleven cuts presented here, seven songs from the 1992 performance at Montreux while the remaining four are from his 1979 appearance.

Born in Texas in 1932, Albert Collins started out by mimicking his cousin Lightin’ Hopkins, but quickly crafted a style all his own, evident by his first single release an instrumental titled “The Freeze,” which began a theme of song titles and killer instrumentals that included what would become his signature jam “Frosty.” “The Master of the Telecaster” would ride this theme until his final days with songs like “Cold Cold Feeling” and “Iceman.” Sadly Collins’ last days were not long after his 1992 appearance at Montreux. Just a year later, he would lose his long fight with cancer and join other guitar greats in the afterlife.

Collins and the Ice Breakers start off fast with his then most recent release “Iceman” and keep moving with “Honey Hush” showcasing his assertive yet playful blues vocals. Everything Collins is known for is on display in these two opening tunes. Featuring a driving beat, funky bass lines, soaring horns, and his guitar playing, he uses a capo, tunes his guitar to a minor key, and plays with his fingers only; that’s right no pick!

The funk-dripping “Put The Shoe On The Other Foot” has one of the oldest original Ice Breakers, bassist Johnny B. Gayden, chilling the room with groovy solo jam. It also finds Collins jumping into the crowd for his traditional walk in the audience, a move begun years before the cordless era when Collins would use a 150-foot cable to meet and greet his fans. Legend has it that he actually ordered a pizza one time and had the delivery boy follow him back on stage.

Collins shifts gears with ease, cruisin’ slow and low with “Lights Are On (But Nobody’s Home) and “Too Many Dirty Dishes,” providing a cooling-off period before the band starts to smoke again. “Lights Are On” shows Collins’ playful side, scatting along as he picks through the song. Not too be left out “Frosty” closes the show as always and has the band blasting full speed ahead, making this tune stick with you, infecting your brain for weeks. The spotlight is turned on the band as each member gets a chance to strut his stuff.

From 1992 we travel back to 1979 and a show that in Fantasma’s opinion is vastly superior to ’92. Hell, I was amazed that the second set was so stunning. Driven by a cast of seasoned blues vets, this version of the Ice Breakers is street mean and the sound is more solid and menacing. The rhythm section sounds like funky thunder from the gods, Casey Jones hits hard and heavy while keeping time like a jazz master. Larry and Aron Burton, second guitar and bass, sound like funk-filled hammers working together to bang out bass lines and chords that sum up jumpin’ blues perfectly.

This charging blues train doesn’t have a whistle, just one horn and that’s more than enough when that horn is sax legend A.C. Reed. His roaring, honking sax blows hot and cool, proving that he’s a true master sax man and why this kat’s solo album “I’m In The Wrong Business” was a long-time favorite of a teenaged Fantasma. Reed also provides back-up vocals that compliment Collins’ aggressive vocals very well.

Collins is in top form and more animated, moving and grooving while he sings and plays. Even his crowd walk during “Listen Here” is highlighted by his guitar showmanship, sitting in the crowd while picking and pounding out his one-handed hammer on and playing behind his head. All this before skipping back on stage to hit the next powerful jam and keeping the crowd in frenzy.

“This ain’t nothin’ but the blues,” Collins declares before the band creeps into “Snatchin’ It Back.” He is constantly laughing and playing with the band as he “loves” his guitar, and they jump and pound they’re way through the rest of the set which includes the slow “Cold Cold Feeling” and the closing show-stopper “Frosty.” Is it really any surprise that this working of “Frosty” is completely bad-assed and will have you bouncing on your feet. Adding more fuel to the ice fire is a guitar cameo by another Texas blues legend Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown.

Albert Collins - Live At Montreux 1992 is a must for blues fans and the hardcore fans will be pleased to see the bonus set from 1979. The two shows together represent a master guitar slinger, who would inspire many young guns, frozen in time at his best. A CD of just the 1992 set has been released.