Monthly Archives: March 2009

Pearl Jam – Ten [reissue]

January 01, 1970




not for a little album called Nevermind,
1991 might have been the year of Pearl Jam (indeed, when opening for Nirvana on
December 31, 1991, guitarist Stone Gossard played a few riffs of “Smells Like
Teen Spirit” between songs and joked, “Remember, we played it first!”). But
while Nirvana has become increasingly mythologized since Kurt Cobain’s
suicide/martyrdom in 1994, Pearl Jam is still standing, and directing their own
reassessment of their history, beginning with their debut album, Ten.


retrospect, it’s strange to think that Ten,
and even Pearl Jam, were lumped into the “alternative rock” category, as their
music so obviously draws on the classic rock tradition; well crafted songs,
topped by the bluesy angst of lead vocalist Eddie Vedder. But it was, of
course, that very angst that became synonymous with “alternative rock” and
“grunge,” and songs like “Jeremy” – written at a time when school shootings
were anomalies instead of the expected, even routine, occurrences they are now
-even more bittersweet than when the album was originally released.
Nonetheless, Pearl Jam had a knack for making ostensibly gloomy material
strangely uplifting, most notably in “Alive,” whose story is rooted in Vedder’s
troubled family life, but which became in concert a bonafide, singalong arena
rock anthem. The band also exudes a heartfelt sincerity that’s noticeably
missing from our ever-more dumbed down American
-ized music world.


sincerity won Pearl Jam the most rabidly devoted following this side of the
Grateful Dead, and the fans are being rewarded with not one, not two, not even
three, but four different editions of Ten.
The standard set features two CDs, one with the complete album, the other with
the album newly remixed by producer Brendan O’Brien. It’s cleaner-sounding, but
was a remix really necessary? After all, the original album suited its 12
million customers just fine. But you also get six bonus tracks, including a
couple of demos recorded when the band was briefly going by the name Mookie
Blaylock. The deluxe edition throws in a DVD with the band’s excellent 1992 MTV
Unplugged performance. There’s also a
vinyl set (de rigueur these days),
and they go all out on the “Super Deluxe Edition,” which has all of the above,
plus a buoyant September 20, 1992 Seattle concert (on vinyl), and a replica of
an early demo on cassette, the
legendary “Momma Son,” demo, with early versions of “Alive,” “Once,” and
“Footsteps,” the very demo that won Vedder a place in the group. Oh, and you
also get reproductions of flyers and other goodies, plus an “Eddie Vedder-style
composition notebook.” Whew.


Ten is also just
the beginning of a two-year campaign of reissues that will culminate with their
20th anniversary in 2011. And after this reissue, they’ve set the
bar pretty high for their subsequent releases.


“Once,” “Alive,” “Jeremy” GILLIAN G. GAAR


Peter, Bjorn and John – Living Thing

January 01, 1970

(Almost Gold/StarTime International)

How does an indie rock band follow up breakout success based largely upon a hit
single that is covered a million times and admired by Kanye West? Peter, Bjorn
and John thought the proper method would be by creating an equally catchy album
that branches out in interesting new directions. For example, the minimal
electronics of the opening track, “The Feeling,” give way to the Graceland-style bass of the title track
and the Justice-mimicking children’s choir of “Nothing to Worry About.”


But the simple pop structure and undeniably infectious vocal
hooks and thumping bass lines that made Writer’s
so likeable are still present on Living
“It Don’t Move Me” and “I’m Losing My Mind” both prove there’s still
a lot of mileage in the band’s simple methodology. And if “Lay It Down” throws
you for a loop with its sweetly sung refrain (“Shut the fuck up, boy, you are
starting to piss me off”), you’re probably thinking about it too much.



Standout Tracks: “The
Feeling,” “Lay It Down” JONAH FLICKER


Johnny Cash – Original Sun Singles ’55 –‘58

January 01, 1970




This is not your NPR’s Johnny
Cash. This is the lean mean amphetamined Johnny cash whose emergence as a light
in the hip hop-isphere (Johnny Cash Remixed) is no surprise to anyone
who saw him or films of him in concert during the years these recordings were



This is the Johnny Cash who so badly needed to get out of
tiny Dyess, Arkansas
that he joined the Air force and went all the way to Korea to do so. This is the Cash
who primed himself in a Flint
Michigan auto factory working up
the kind of grit and resentment that would drive his determination to never go
back to either place even if he often ended up out of his head or deep in the
muck. Sometimes both.



All that power and desperation, the panic, the tense fear,
the all out release and salvation is packed into just about each of and every
one of the “A” and “B” sides of Johnny Cash’s Sun Label singles. A big dose
comes right out of the box with Cash’s first single “Cry Cry Cry” which sets
the tone for the spare instrumentation of the Tennessee two, bassist Marshal Grant and
guitarist Luther Perkins. Ostensibly, Cash also
played guitar but at the time the two barely made one real guitar player
between them. But it wasn’t much different from the way Elvis
and Buddy worked it and though Holly and his Crickets were technically much
better musicians than the Two or the Hillbilly Cats, Johnny’s gang benefited
from the unique combination of Cash’s one-of-a-kind voice and style, Grant’s
steady percussive thud and Luther’s simple straightforward rhythm-based leads
and support (“Luther Played The Boogie Woogie). These guys played like working
men who only got to play the music they loved when they had time and they only
had time when they put in a dog’s hours at some soul-cracking job and made time. Which is exactly the kind of guys they were and, essentially, the kind
they remained throughout their lives.



The man singing “I Walk The Line” is a man not so much
incapable of handling the demands of a high-spirited woman but who is spending
so much time just trying to get by in life without flipping out that he’s
worried she just may be the one to bring home that very last straw. If he blows
his top because “everybody’s baby but mine is coming home” (“Train Of Love”) or
because “breaking hearts and telling lies is all you know” (“There You Go”) he just may end up singing the “Folsom Prison Blues.” If he does wise up it’s barely
enough. He’s still the same poor sap chasing her skirt trail in “Big River.”



With the wonders of technology not only do musical genres
not have to die but the original recordings of some of their originators and
early practitioners don’t have to either. It’s a major factor in the general
awakening to the fact that there’s really no such thing as a dead music.



No one has to be told that Johnny Cash is an important part
of the fabric of American pop music. Or that he was a dynamic performer and powerful
personality whose cult was and is as strong and loyal and forgiving as Elvis’
is even if its huge numbers don’t quite match Presley’s. But it does need to be
said that it’s time to stop thinking of music as having a “sell by” date.
Especially in the audio enhanced form of this collection – so far the absolute
best sounding collection of this material available – these songs are vital and
utterly satisfying. There are the ones you’ll never forget – “Line”; “Folsom”;
“Get Rhythm” – the ones you might have needed
reminding of – “I Forgot To Remember To Forget” – and ones like “Train Of Love”
or “Thanks A Lot” that you may be hearing for the first time. If that’s the
case then that alone makes the thing worth your nickel. There are plenty of
other reasons of course. But, again, there are some things no one should need
to be told:



Don’t smoke when you’re gassing up your car. Don’t make
toast when you’re in the bathtub. Get this CD.



Standout Tracks: “You’re The Nearest Thing To Heaven”; “Big River”



Isaac Hayes – Black Moses

January 01, 1970

(Stax Records)



By the time of his death last year, more people were
familiar with Isaac Hayes’ portrayal of the lusty school chef on Comedy
Central’s South Park TV show than were
with his enormous body of music. It’s a shame, of course, one only partially
redeemed by the current drive by the revived Stax Records and the Concord Music
Group to revamp the soul giant’s back catalog for the new millennia.



Isaac Hayes, for those that need smartened up, was more than
“Chef,” more than the dusky-voiced badass that sang the theme song
from the movie Shaft. Hired as the
keyboardist of the Stax Records’ house band in 1964, Hayes performed behind
folks like Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, and blues great Albert King. Hayes
would later form a songwriting partnership with David Porter. Together, the two
wrote over 200 songs, including hits for artists like Sam & Dave, Carla
Thomas, and Johnny Taylor, among many others.



Hayes launched his own solo career in 1967 with Presenting Isaac Hayes, but it would be
the release, two years later, of Hot
Buttered Soul
that would provide his commercial breakthrough. Comprising
four lengthy songs, three of them inspired, reinvented cover tunes, the album
defined the progressive soul movement. Hayes would take another great
commercial and creative step forward in 1971 with the release of his score for
the hit movie Shaft, with its
ubiquitous theme song, as well as with the ambitious, groundbreaking Black Moses double-album.



One cannot underestimate the influence of Black Moses on the direction of soul
music during the ’70s. With fourteen songs sprawled across two discs, Black Moses provided four sides of
effervescent funk, passionate soul, and old-school rhythm & blues. Hayes
created Superfly cool a year before
Curtis Mayfield; his lusty spoken-word interludes would inform hip-hop/rap
music a decade later; and his lush, rhythmic orchestration would foreshadow
disco’s rise in popularity during the late-70s (shudder…!).   



It was Hayes’ reinvention of soul music, his penchant for
virtuoso instrumentation, his songwriting skills, and his ability to take
another writer’s song by the throat and make that sucker his bitch that made Black Moses – here now in a deluxe
reissue edition courtesy Stax/Concord – such an important effort. Forget about
Barry White or Al Green, Hayes’ cover of “Never Can Say Goodbye” is
sheer breathless seduction. Displaying the full breadth of Hayes’ vocal abilities,
and backed with on-point harmony vocals and a lush soundtrack, the song’s
romantic overtures take on an entirely different vibe here.



Hayes takes Mayfield’s “Man’s Temptation” and
turns it inside-out, his desperate vocals often accompanied by a lone drumbeat
or shots of keyboard before soaring into passionate washes of backing harmonies
and subdued instrumentation. With “Going In Circles,” Hayes layers
sensuous harmony vocals, shocks of blasting horns, and jagged washes of funky
guitar, his own soulful vocals darting in-and-out of the mix for max effect.



The original “Good Love” comes out of the gate
with some irreverent laughter and a tongue-in-cheek spoken intro before jumping
into a funky romp with squalls of wiry guitarwork and fleet-footed rhythms.
Tackling accomplished country songwriter Kris Kristofferson, Hayes builds upon
other versions of “For The Good Times” with a wonderfully sublime
vocal performance, sparse instrumentation, and understated moxie.



Black Moses would
prove to be an enormous success, hitting 1 on the R&B chart, 2 on the jazz
chart, and rising to 10 on the pop chart while yielding a Top Thirty hit single
with “Never Can Say Goodbye.” The album would win Hayes a GrammyTM Award and would cap off a dominating year for the veteran soul man – Hayes’
soundtrack for Shaft would top all
three album charts, win three GrammyTM Awards, and earn Hayes the first Oscar
won by an African-American composter. More importantly, Black Moses would provide a creative and evolutionary shift that would
have a profound effect on soul and jazz music for a generation to follow.



By the way, the über-cool fold-out cover showing Hayes in
full soul-savior glory that worked so well as a 12″ LP is mostly just a
bother on a 5″ cardboard CD cover; with the two discs crammed into tight
pockets you have to be careful not to tear when you take ’em out. Sure, it’s
groovy and all that, but couldn’t we have had form and functionality? Jus’ sayin’….



Standout Tracks: It’s all good, baby…. REV. KEITH A. GORDON




Winter Gloves – About A Girl

January 01, 1970

(Paper Bag)



A thread of Maroon
5’s upbeat swagger patched with Bloc Party’s melancholy and you’ve knitted
yourself Winter Gloves. Ok, corny metaphor aside, the Montreal quartet has crafted keyboard driven
dance pop for their debut About A Girl. However, after a few listens the songs
begin to sound homogenized; the musical equation applied does not shift
drastically from song to song. Now, this is not to say that About A Girl will bore. It does contain
tracks that will entertain the ears and will surely get you moving… at times it
is to the beat of the same drum. 



The standout tracks below, along with “Party People,” “I Can’t Tell
You,” and “Factories,” are catchy and seeing the band perform these songs live
is indeed a treat. About A Girl offers a positive peek into what Winter
Gloves can produce. Hopefully the followup album will be more eclectic.



“Let Me Drive,”
“Glass Paperweight” APRIL S. ENGRAM



Beth Orton – Trailer Park (Legacy Edition) [reissue]

January 01, 1970




More than a dozen years after it won the Mercury Music
Prize, Beth Orton’s debut still sounds fresh and vibrant. When it arrived in
’96, fresh on the heels of her work with the Chemical Brothers, the blend of
traditionally folk singer/songwriter fare and atmospheric electronic skitter
gave it a groundbreaking imprimatur, but looking back, the power of the songs
seems at least as responsible for the critical genuflection. Though generally
regarded as Orton’s debut, it actually followed a ’93 Japan-only release, SuperPinkyMandy, helmed by
then-boyfriend, William Orbit and featuring an early version of Trailer Park
opening track, “She Cries Your Name.”


It’s Orton’s personality that grounds the effort, her
bruised resilience offering an island of soul in the stream of burbling
shimmer. Indeed it’s the ambient-inflected watercolors of epic tracks like
“Tangent,” “Touch Me With Your Love” and the closer “Galaxy of Emptiness” that in
retrospect seem most extraneous, a fact Orton may have realized herself
considering her steady move away from overweening electronic textures across
her subsequent three albums. While the otherworldy drift of “Tangent” offers a
nice counterpart to Orton’s choral assertion, “it’s just like coming home,” it
comes off as stilted instead of revolutionary. Better are the subtle touches
like the jungle beat underlying the bright-skied folk jangle of “Someone’s
Daughter,”  or the wavering synth in the
background of “Live As You Dream” and “I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine.”


Though populated with break-up songs, it doesn’t feel
maudlin. While the cover “I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine” perhaps qualifies,
by the time we arrive, Orton’s proved she’s no shrinking violet, making the
sunshine/rain metaphor that much more palatable (abetted in no small part by
Orton’s gorgeous vocals). She’s already confided her faith (on “Don’t Need a
Reason”) that even amidst the pain we cause those that love us, “you’re going
to get all that you deserve, and all that you believe in,” which comes across
as much a challenge as an assurance. “Live as You Dream” offers a similarly
bittersweet hope – “we live as we dream – alone,” before confessing her own
limitations: “If you’ve taken me as someone who cares, well that’s a dream I
know we both have shared.”


The whole album reads like a struggle to steer clear of
cynicism and self-pity even amidst the relational wreckage the surrounds us.
Nowhere is it better expressed than “How Far,” in which she asserts, “with each
and every circumstance, I lose knowledge and gain innocence, you won’t find me


The remastered release sounds wonderful and brings
additional fidelity to the at times string-enriched tone and crisp separation
for the many quieter, more austere tracks. What most will be interested in,
however, is the second disc, which compiles a multitude of non-album tracks
released around that time, including the Best
EP, a handful of terrific tunes salted away on the “She Cries Your Name”
and “Touch Me With Your Love” singles, and a couple covers and unreleased


As good as Trailer
is, it’s difficult to understand the exclusion of “It’s Not the Spotlight,”
a pretty solo acoustic cover of the Rod Stewart track (written by Gerry Goffin
and Barry Goldberg) that attempts to anaesthetize the pain of a breakup by
dismissing the light it once held for her as a fantasy. Previously available on
the 2003 best-of Pass In Time, it’s a poignant bit of
soul-baring that highlights her evocative voice. It’s equaled by the very
different “Best Bit” which delivers a funky rock groove that separates Orton
from her Joni Mitchell-predilections in favor of a more visceral, dynamic
approach. It’s accompanied by a very different and busier early version of the
song whose strong cello presence gives it an odd, arty lilt. A live version of
“Galaxy of Emptiness” shears the original of its electronic excess,
demonstrating Orton’s earthier performance style. The two tracks with Terry
Callier (Fred Neil’s “Dolphins,” “Lean on Me”) showcase her fine duet vocals,
though they possess a lingering ‘70s soft rock ambience that some may find
off-putting. “Skimming Stone” proffers piano jazz on a journey into space,
while her cover of Evie Sands’ “It’s This I am I Find” offers a sterling clinic
on Orton’s use of electronics to embellish and enrich a comely laconic melody.


Though the quality of Orton’s work hasn’t diminished over
the years, it hasn’t seemed as surprising or revelatory since this album. The
reissue is a reminder of her talent and encouragement to revisit her catalog,
particularly her underappreciated last release, Comfort of Strangers, helping pimp anticipation for her fifth
release, due later this year.


Standout Tracks: “She
Calls Your Name,” “Best Bit,” “How Far” CHRIS PARKER


Making of Electric Ladyland

January 01, 1970

(Geffen, 86 minutes)




Are You Experienced and Axis:
Bold As Love
were the albums that established Jimi Hendrix’s genius and
etched his reputation as perhaps the greatest guitar guru of all time.  However, it was his third and final album, Electric Ladyland, that proved his most
profound, and pointed the way to future possibilities Hendrix sadly wouldn’t
live to see to fruition.  Chock full of
signature songs (“Voodoo Chile,” “Rainy Day, Dream Away,” “Crosstown Traffic,”
“All Along the Watchtower”), it branched out into more experimental realms,
including the nearly side long opus “1983… A Merman I Should Turn to Be.”  It also included collaborations with such exceptional
guests as Al Kooper, Jefferson Airplane bassist Jack Cassady, Traffic’s Steve
Winwood and Dave Mason the Stones’ Brian Jones, whose contributions have never
been noted.  Listening now, more than 40
years after its conception, its still awe-inspiring, an exceptional masterpiece
that was never eclipsed, before or since.


Given that assessment, Electric
is an album that still merits closer scrutiny.  Even those who might demur at the notion of
being audio obsessive can happily immerse themselves in its depth and
diversity.  The sonic experimentation
that Hendrix indulged in allowed his freewheeling creativity to reach its
zenith and it continues to offer a certain fascination for both the audiophile
and the casual observer.


As one of the original entries in the superb Classic Albums series back in 1998, this
“making of” DVD probed the genesis of this brilliant creation, through the
dissection of the tracks and the isolation of the vocal and instrumental
overlays.  Now expanded with an additional
forty minutes of rarely seen video, it features intriguing interviews with many
of the principals who were essential to its creation, engineer Eddie Kramer,
the aforementioned individuals and several contributors who are now sadly
deceased – among them, manager Chas Chandler, bassist Noel Redding and drummers
Buddy Miles and Mitch Mitchell.  However,
the more revelatory portions of this updated edition are found in the form of
rare archival footage featuring Hendrix in performance, in the studio, on the
road and in conversation discussing his muse, methods and personal


Several comments stand out. 
“It was well ahead of it time,” Redding
notes of the album early on.  “He was
like a young Mozart,” Miles adds later. “I still miss him,” an emotional
Mitchell adds in the film’s final moments. 
For anyone watching this documentary, those sentiments will be shared.




Outrageous Cherry – Universal Malcontents

January 01, 1970




Cherry’s music recalls simpler times. More than just evocative of the
psychedelic rock’s earliest years, the band’s ninth album brings back the
long-forgotten belief that a band could make a complete statement in 36 minutes
– 10 songs no less. Universal Malcontents#
remembers the days when lyrics make the title of the song obvious by their recurrence,
which was a good thing because that repetition kept the song alive long after
it was over.



Recognized Her” starts the album with a four-on-the-floor beat with some
appropriately rigid tambourine playing that plays up the song’s chunky riff and
ooh-la-la backing vocals. The band bathes everything in natural reverb, which
in an ideal fit for this music, especially the more pensive tracks like
“Horizon,” which has a Walls and Bridges-era
John Lennon feel, due especially to the swirling piano and Matthew Smith’s rich
vocal track. And no modern psych album would be complete without a drone track,
which comes in the form of “Outsider,” which swirls on for eight hypnotic



The only
things missing are bridges. As in middle eights, as in the interlude in the
middle of the songs that offers a respite from lyrics that sometimes rely too
heavily on the same lines. If Smith had fashioned a break in the middle of more
than the last two songs, Universal
would be on the fast track towards teenage symphonies to
you-know-who. But as it is, he’s still come up strong set of material, nary a
bit of filler among them.



Standout Tracks: “Feels Like Shadows,” “This Song Belongs to Everyone” MIKE SHANLEY



Michelle Malone – Debris

January 01, 1970




Whether moanin’ at midnight and howling at the delta moon,
or serving up a steamy blend of Tom Pettyesque twang-pop and Creedence
Clearwater choogle, Michelle Malone’s the sexiest, most swaggering-est gal
rocker on the goddam planet right now. You can credit part of that to her Deep
South roots; in her unvarnished, soulful wail, one hears echoes of the church
choirs and the R&B records she undoubtedly heard growing up as a child in Georgia. Later,
Malone got weaned on ‘70s classic rock and eventually bum-rushed the
college-rock and alternative scenes of the mid ‘80s (among her early musical buddies
were the Indigo Girls), debuting in ’88 in fine style with New Experience. Over the years she’s put in time as a solo acoustic
folkie, as a full-on rock band frontwoman, and as one-half of a hotwired guitar/drums
blooze duo (take that, Jack White) –
in the latter incarnation, she even picked up the nickname “Moanin’ Malone.” So
yeah, with that kind of accumulated musical schooling, Malone’s got all the
bases covered.


That’s what comes through loud and clear on Debris, her 10th studio
release and the followup to 2006’s
outstanding Sugarfoot
. In a way,
the record acts as a career summation, touching down in multiple territories
while offering some of her strongest songwriting to date. The title track is a
rich, soulful evocation of sisterhood – or deep, lasting friendships of any
stripe, as lines like “If you’re thirsty come and drink from my cup/ If you get
scared, baby, you know that I’ll back you up/ You don’t have to stand alone”
clearly telegraph – set against an irresistible beat and powered by a memorable
Keith Richards-styled riff. There’s a bit of low-key Bo Diddley shuffle in the
slide guit-fueled “Restraining Order Blues” (you can let your imagination roam
free about that song’s lyrical
concerns), while both the loss-and-loneliness waltz-time reverie “14th Street and Mars” and the gently yearning acoustic ballad “Candle for the
Lonely” hearken directly from Malone’s folk-rock background.


But as noted above, Malone’s still one of those ladies who’s
just gotta rock sometimes, and that she does, in spades, on Debris. Opening cut “Feather in a
Hurricane” lays down the gauntlet right at the get-go: an overdriven slice of electric
guitar boogie, it struts and stomps and churns like vintage George Thorogood
(if GT could muster the soulful vocal chops of a young Bonnie Raitt, that is),
Malone unleashing down ‘n’ dirty slide licks as she chronicles how it feels to
be out of control, overwhelmed by the vicissitudes of life and beset on every
front by loonies and losers. “I feel I’m about to explode,” Malone mutters
darkly at one point, echoing what pretty much everyone else is feeling these
days, essentially making the tune the national anthem for Amerika v.09. The
next song is also a visceral rocker, “Yesterday’s Make Up,” melodically kin to
classic John Mellencamp (back when his middle name was still “Cougar”) and
featuring a meaty riff that’s so shamelessly-but-delightfully copped from
Free’s “All Right Now” that only the most hard-hearted lawyer would be willing
to litigate. In the tune, Malone recovers from her “Hurricane” madness and resolves
to dig herself out of the shit, strapping on the heels and walking out into the
Sunday morning sun still clad in her Saturday night dress: “I look like
Cinderella on her way home/ I feel like Wonder Woman, righteous and strong… I
feel beautiful/ I been saved by love,” sings Malone, in a voice that’s utter
celebration and release. And even if you don’t know that most of the material on
Debris was penned in the aftermath of
a protracted, painful breakup, you sense immediately that this is real-life
stuff she’s singing about, not abstract character studies.


Which has always been Malone’s hallmark: raw, visceral
emotions not so much worn on the sleeve as simply put out there for the rest of
us so we can identify and commiserate. I’ve been a fan for two decades now, and
she just gets better and better each year, like the proverbial fine wine. She’s
never bowed to trend or bent to expectations, and if the one thing we should
demand of all our artists is that they remain true to themselves no matter what
else, then Malone is up there at the top of the list with the greats.


Standout Tracks: “”Yesterday’s
Make Up,” “Debris,” “Marked” FRED MILLS



Swervedriver – Raise + Mezcal Head [reissues]

January 01, 1970

(Hi-Speed Soul/Second Motion)



And onward they came, hurtling into history….


Although the U.K. shoegaze movement is rightly credited with
unleashing upon the world a swathe of gauzy-textured, occasionally over-earnest
(but still vividly tuneful) dreampoppers – including Lush, Chapterhouse,
Slowdive and Ride, sons and daughters, all, of My Bloody Valentine and the
Cocteau Twins  – shoegaze also produced a
handful of anomalies whose stylistic allegiances were definitely of a more
rockist bent. That’s “rockist” in a good way, incidentally, and none hoisted the banner in more memorable manner than
Oxford’s Swervedriver, whose hirsute fusion of skull-denting Stooges/MC5 hard
psych, Hüsker Dü/Dinosaur Jr-styled punk anthemism and classic pop melodicism
set the group apart from The Scene That Celebrates Itself despite being lumped
into said Scene by dint of personal and geographical associations.


Swervedriver, in fact, made their Stooges allegiance
explicit from the very start, initially forming in ’84 as Shake Appeal, the
moniker taken from a Stooges songtitle. Early on the band comprised Graham
Franklin (vocals), Adam Franklin (guitar), Paddy Pulzer (drums) and Adrian “Adi”
Vynes (bass), but following a protracted series of roster changes, the lineup
settled down with Adam Franklin handling guitar and vocal duties and Vynes on
bass and vocals, plus drummer Graham Bonner and guitarist Jimmy Hartridge. The
far more evocative name Swervedriver was duly adopted, and the stage was set.


After Creation Records’ Alan McGee heard a demo from the
band he quickly offered a contract, and in 1990 Swervedriver debuted with the
“Son of Mustang Ford” EP. That song, with its titular nod to T. Rex and high
velocity lyrics conjuring Hunter S. Thompson, J.G. Ballard and such automobile noir films as Two Lane Blacktop and Christine, and with a hi-octane
melodic assault arc-welding together “Search And Destroy,” “My Generation,”
Spacemen 3’s “Revolution” and Dinosaur Jr’s “Yeah We Know,” was a rock
fetishist’s dream. It immediately caught the attention of critics on both sides
of the Atlantic: yours truly came across the 12″ record in an indie record
store, and to this day I can still recall the looks of jaw-gaping awe among
sundry clerks and customers as it issued forth from the store stereo, very
nearly peeling the paint off the bins while leaving sunburnt streaks across our
stunned faces.


Two EPs later, it was time for a proper full-length, and
thus came 1991’s Raise (issued that
fall in America
on A&M). As revisited on the Second Motion label’s new expanded/remastered
reissue, Raise (9 out of 10 stars) is
every bit as vital in 2009 as it was nearly two decades ago. In addition to the
aforementioned Stooges, its pedal-stamping, toggle-switching ferocity owes a
massive debt to Dinosaur Jr of course, with Franklin’s keening, slurry sneer also
bringing to mind the vocals of J. Mascis.  Opening with “Sci-Flyer,” a massive wall of whorling
riffs and convulsive drumming that sends the listener hurtling off towards
vanishing point territory, that band announces its volume-dealing intentions
from the get-go. Subsequent songtitles telegraph the rest: “Sandblasted,”
“Pile-Up,” “Rave Down,” and of course “Son of Mustang Ford” (which should be a
mainstay of any self-respecting anthology of British music from the era). Only
dreamy album closer “Lead Me Where You Dare…” is overtly shoegazeish; by flaunting
the band’s hard rock and punk roots, Raise at times seems almost defiantly metal, and for sheer visceral
wallop and brain-uncorking sizzle, it remains one of the most kick-out-the-jams
Brit-rock releases ever.


The reissue features a smartly-designed 16-page booklet
boasting photos, reproductions of EP sleeves and new liner notes from Franklin
and Hartridge. Also included are four bonus tracks: “Andalucia,” a jammy number
which, according to Hartridge, has only seen previous release in Japan;
psychedelic guitar showcase “Hands,” remixed some time after the Raise sessions by Alan Moulder; “Kill
the Superheroes,” originally one of the B-sides of “Son of Mustang Ford”; and
“Over,” a skronky composition loosely based (as Hartridge explains) on Sonic
Youth’s “Pacific Coast Highway.”


“[The name Swervedriver] doesn’t mean anything,” observed
Hartridge, in the group’s official A&M biography that accompanied press
copies of the LP. “But it’s got the word ‘drive’ in it,” he added. “And the
notes swerve around, because sometimes we bend them. The name makes more sense
as time goes on.” More prophetic words were never uttered. A few months after
the release of Raise, Swervedriver scorched
through the American heartland to promote the record, and I was on hand to
witness them blast hot sheets of solar wind not just at but through a punk club’s patrons in the most bone-rattling display I’d seen since early
‘70s Black Sabbath. My abiding memory of the group’s unholy vortex of
overdriven guitars, jackhammer drums and woozy, what-drug-am-I-on? vocals is
one of profound disorientation – the good kind that lingered for days afterwards, an afterglow gradually replacing the
telltale ringing in the ears.


Swervedriver was unable to sustain that level of intensity,
however. The apparently unstable Bonner freaked out and split during the
American tour and Vynes quit the following year. The group had recorded an EP prior
to both musicians’ departure, “Never Lose That Feeling,” so by way of a holding
pattern that was issued while the band quietly regrouped, eventually reemerging
at a trio: Franklin and Hartridge swapping off on bass and guitars, and new
drummer “Jez.”


If 1993’s Alan Moulder-produced Mezcal Head (8 out of
10 stars) doesn’t top its predecessor for sheer psychological impact (few
sophomore platters do), it’s still sonically superior, offering a crispness and
a clarity that comes across even more strikingly now with the remastering job. Where
Raise boasted a thick, all-enveloping
wall of sound, MH stares you directly
in the eye – just like the long-horned, nose-ringed steer confronting you from the
front cover of the album – and dares you to blink even as it applies a series
of blunt objects directly to the sides of your skull. Highlights include the
now-thundering/now-glistening first single “Duel” (so named for a ’71 Stephen
Spielberg car-chase flick, thereby maintaining the group’s automotive fetish);
“Blowin’ Cool,” a true-to-its-title mélange of wah-wahs and jangles, plus some
of the most sweetly tuneful vocals of Franklin’s career; a none-too-subtle
tribute (musically speaking at least) to the grunge scene, “A Change is Gonna
Come”; and the dreamily psychedelic “Girl on a Motorbike,” which may or may not
be a hat-tip to the ’68 cult film Girl on
a Motorcycle
starring Marianne Faithfull.


Oh, and lest we forget: “Last Train to Satansville” – which
with its amped-up neo-choogle, shuddery swipes of whammy bar dripping like dark
chocolate over clanging, twanging, droning riffs, and Franklin unspooling a tale
of betrayal, revenge and regret in classic murder-ballad fashion – is very
nearly the equal of “Mustang Ford.” It’s like a spaghetti western theme recast
for the alterna-generation, the protagonist making his escape at the very end
not on a horse but a Harley (the actual sound of a revving bike is audible in
the song’s closing moments).


Sings Franklin,
in a voice so full of woe and regret you can practically see the tears
streaming down the sides of his face:



“In one dream there’s
this girl I love

And we dance ev’ry
waking breath

And in the other
they’ve thrown me in a cell

And they’re trying me
for her death.

I’m only young and
young in love

As I hold that girl

But I’m old and tired
and in the cell

And I’ve nigh-on
withered away…

She promised me the
world and more –

How could she do this
to me?

And now mine’s
tumbling down around

But at least my eyes
can see –

And those stars in the
sky are for me.”



As with Raise, the
booklet for Mezcal Head is well done,
containing additional liners from Franklin and Hartridge that bring the band’s
story up to date: after the trio finished the recording, they cast around for a
bassist so they could tour behind it, eventually locating Steve George and
landing a U.S.
trek opening for Smashing Pumpkins. Four bonus tracks round out the disc: the
aforementioned “Never Lose that Feeling,” another solid Swervies anthem; plus
obscurities “Planes Over the Skyline” (a zig-zagging, woozy number that’s a
live favorite among fans), “The Hitcher” (yes, more automotive madness, as the
nod to the Rutger Hauer-C. Thomas Howell film suggests), and “Cars Converge on Paris” (a kind of dubby,
blissed-out experimental piece).


“We wanted to make music that was gritty and yet pining at
the same time,” writes Franklin,
in his Raise liners. That
Swervedriver did, and although they only lasted for two more albums, 1995’s Ejector Seat Reservation and 1997’s 99th Dream, before disbanding
in 1999, that gritty/pining quality, as revisited on these two albums, was
profound and enduring. The group reunited in 2008 for some well-received shows
(including an appearance at Coachella), and as Franklin puts in an interview with BLURT,
located elsewhere on this site, “We were all blown away by how well it came


Never lose that feeling, lads.


Standout Tracks: “Son
of Mustang Ford,” “Sci-Flyer” (Raise);
“Last Train to Satansville,” “Never Lose That Feeling” (Mezcal Head) FRED MILLS