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Thursday, July 14, 2005

Too Old To Rock 'N' Roll...

I-AirSm.jpg 'VE REACHED AN AGE - a settled state of being rather - where my natural inclination, on those rare occasions I find myself situated in a record store, is to head for the "Classical" section or perhaps the "Bluegrass" section, or more likely the "Lost Youth" section wherein are contained the LP's of my once-humungous record collection, presented for renewed consumption in convenient Compact Disc form.

I left a thousand LP's behind, and with them my delicately-cartridged turntable, receiver, equalizer, and laser-designated loudspeakers: product of a highly-competitive youthful obsession with Hi-Fi and music, left them all behind as a gift to whoever purchased the property once I'd gone. I brought my CD's with me though, which is just as well since all my Operas and most of my classicals are on CD, not vinyl. I have forgotten most of the records that inhabited my collection, but some that I do remember I wish I hadn't? Competition was strong in those days to be "into" weird new bands - "new" meaning unknown to or unheard of by our peers, not necessarily New as such. An awful lot of drivel sure enough, but a lot more genuine gold. There were of course certain standards to be maintained in what records one publicly acknowledged possessing. These were the standards of the chosen Tribe - Rock 'n' Roll Hippies in my case, as opposed to Punk or caring Genesites, or despised Mods and New Romantics. Rock, verging on the Metal, although I was never into Metal as much as my pals. Those were the days. My own eclectic interests, when they emerged, were viewed as eccentric, verging on the esoteric: they preferred never to speak of it, to remain silent as though one suddenly came to realize that one's belovèd brother or cousin was that David Icke? How funny, then, that my eldest son is assisting in the regeneration of musical neurons lost to time: he seems intent on reproducing for himself the core of my long-neglected Rock contingent, the acceptable parts of it. I must remark that it is a little bit scary to observe a son buying the same records, wearing the same T-shirts, walling the same posters, and strumming the same bass guitar in the same pal-filled bedroom jammerees as I did. Zep. Zep-zep-zep-zep-ZEP. Led Zeppelin: just about the only two words he can spell. His minor pantheon, his Hendrix, Floyd, Rush, AC-DC, frightening Skynyrd even - all of them once were my own. [A little bit scary that: but not in the same class of scary - or creepy - as Mr Outer Life, who writes so beautifully, but as though he had trained some mind-piercing spycam upon me and my daily doings; who writes with unnatural perception about the things I am up to or the things I am pondering, but at or close-to the same time as me. That just freaks me out, as I've mentioned in mail to some of you, Him included.] Another son, a different son, second-oldest of the five, he at least is forming his own musical tastes, rather more contemporary; but he, even he, he ripped my Aqualung the other night. Then put it back afterwards - totally suspicious - normally he'd just dump it somewhere in his room or the garage and I'd never hear of it again. So what else was he up to that he felt compelled to return it to its proper place?

In any event, browsing record stores happens infrequently, maximizing the serendipity of meeting some former love by accident. After years of abstinence, for example, I am once again buying Dylan. So I was in the local Wherehouse last week - it always seems upon the brink of closure - an off-the-cuff visit sure enough but this time with a definite off-the-cuff purpose: I was looking for something, anything, by the Traveling Wilburys: my Goddess had recently purchased an E.L.O. album out of pure nostalgia, and had expressed a liking for the Wilburys. So I thought I'd look in the store, see if I could surprise her? Nae luck.

Neither E.L.O. nor Wilburys are typical of her musical tastes or gifts - for she does indeed have serious powers, and a shocking degree of street-cred that's always several steps ahead of the kids. Her specialities are the recollection of lyrics, any lyrics enjoyed at any past point in her life; band membership and trivia - who's dead and how, who they all played with, how they interrelate; broadway musicals, "american" punk and R.E.M. She provides the best laughs when our up-and-coming teenagers "discover" some new phenomenon only to have her recite the songs while driving the car. She has similar powers of Movie trivia, but let's not go there today. She is a Goddess, and I clasp my arms about her knees. Way, waaaay cooler than I've ever been.

But while I was travelin' the aisles looking for Wilburys, under "T", I came across the new Tsar album, which in turn made me think of The Mars Volta, but don't ask me how. Both CD's going for a tenner, so I snapped them up.

Tsar stood out because two of my all-time favorite bloggers - Matt Welch and Tony Pierce - both of them rave about Tsar all the bloody time - TP never shuts-up about them. He is their sometime-roadie, their band-aid, their acolyte and he doesn't care who knows it; they are The coming L.A. Band, a krew to be watched. He is to be indulged in his enthusiasms, for it is indeed a wonderful thing to be so enraptured.

So I bought Tsar - Band Girls Money, just to see.

I bought Mars Volta Frances The Mute because when I first heard "The Widow" on radio, and each occasion after that until one of the gormless Deejes finally mentioned their name, when I first heard that song I was convinced it was Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. The tone of the singer, the style of the background guitar - totally Zeppelinesque. So, provided I could remember to, I would have to buy that album when I could. I didn't remember of course - not until I happened across the Tsar CD.

SStrange.jpgI lost interest with Rock bands years ago: I had, and still have, this disease, this mild obsession, that isn't satisfied by regular run-of-the-mill rock music. None of it sounds original to me any more, and most of it is too simplistic. Strummed chords, occasional riff, hash-bash drums, pretentious singer - just doesn't work like it used to. I need depth, or breadth, or whatever dimension you want to choose: I need for all forty-eight or ninety-six tracks to be used on that studio tape, to be playing something different, something more than a bashed-out chord. Those simple tunes have their place, mind - I always liked the Pistols and the Clash and Sabbath - but that was rare: most Punk left me cold, and most Metal left me gagging. Spinal Tap said it all, for me. Most of today's bands - when they play them on the damned radio - most of today's bands leave me cold and colder: meh, or crappy meh, or shitty. Besides, back in the original days those Punks were filthy - british punks I mean, hardcore punks, not pale-shadow american punks, those british punks with all that puking and spittin' on top of regular teenage soapdodging, they were filthier than Hippies and Bikers combined. Then half of them started wearing make-up, which eventually led to the evil that was New Romanticism, about which no more shall be spoken. All these years later I still have to wonder: How did that happen? We'll never know.

Back to Tsar. I'm afraid to say I can't fill myself with the same enthusiasm for this band as my Blogvatern, and though I really do not wish to damn anyone with faint praise, I can't really think how to avoid that and still say something. They are not quite my cup of tea - which is a long way from saying I think they're bad. They're not bad, not at all - just not to my taste. Some of the songs are growing on me, though, and I do like the title track. It is difficult for me to define their style, since I haven't kept-up with the terminology? The lyrics are not bad at all, certainly nothing cringe-worthy (unlike some of my old favorites). The musical style is... well? I can perhaps best describe it as a flat-out rock guitar bound and gagged by repeating chords and beat-keeper drums? Is that wrong, anyone? The guitarist often breaks free of his chains and lets loose with some wild riffs, but when he does that he completely overpowers the rest of the band - it sounds so out-of-place. I'm sorry. I figured the band would be more to my wife's liking, since they remind me of many of the CD's she plays; so I put the disc in the car, let her listen. Curiously the band sounds "too guitary" for her, whereas it's too punky for me and not guitary enough? Jack Spratt, meet Wife. But don't give up: it's still in the car, still being listened to, still growing on us. But that'll only go so far, I'm afraid. I suppose, given all the rave reviews written about this band, some old codger would have to vent cabbage in the cabin eventually? Why'd it have to be meeeeeeeeeeeeee.

But, you will recall, I bought two new discs that day: the other was "Frances The Mute", by The Mars Volta. This album is simply stunning.

Stunning, but not without it's difficulties. Anyone who hs heard "The Widow" in its entirety quickly learns that the radio people only play half the song - and that the tail-end is, to be a little circumspect, godawful weird. The whole album is like that: the tracks are all very long, and comprise absolutely wonderful songs wrapped in an envelope of atonal electronic weirdness. The first thing it reminded me of - and this was totally a psychiatric associative response - the first thing the strange parts reminded me of was Tangerine Dream. And what horrorshow album memories that dragged up. Oh how cruel a comparison - and totally wrong. What next it reminded me of - and this is more accurate and in-keeping, I think - was those long strung-out Zeppelin solos: you know, where Jimmy bows his guitar while John-Paul bumbles on bass? But without the continuous Plant wailing. Like that. This whole album, this band, they remind me as I listen of so many other bands: Zeppelin undoubtedly, in the style of play and the voice of the singer; but also Rush, Santana, Floyd (good Floyd and bad Floyd, but never godawful Barrett Floyd.) Indeed it was upon early Floyd - Ummagumma Floyd - that I finally settled on as an explanation for the wrappers. I think - I hope - that this band is still young and still experimenting to find its true feet? And just as those early Floyd albums led to the majesty of Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, and Animals, so this early 'Mars is leading to something new, something wonderful? That's what I think at least. The songs, the music, inside the envelope is brilliant; styled magnificently with - as is my want - all ninety-six tracks of the production deck playing something different, something crafted. There's an on-going fight in my head between various songs from this album, all competing for The song-in-the-head-for-today slot.

What a wonderful feeling. After all these years, finally a band on the cusp of greatness I can rave about again.

11 Comments:

Blogger DarkoV said...

You've got my interest with Frances the Mute...well until I re-read the posting and see way too many references to Led Z, specifically the primal screamer that is Robert Plant. Honestly, how much does the singer do the Plant variations? And. How long does the high-pitched screaming last? All of the other groups you'd mentioned make The Mars Volta worth a listen. It's just all those Led Z references. I thought the full overblown self-delusional weight of that group had finally sunk it from my past's musical view. And now the bombast seems ready to bore, but in the costume of another.

About those 1,000 albums you left behind in your previous house.
1) Were you on the lam and had to beat the retreat in a hurry?
2) Was the house on fire and you had not time to save any precious possession?
3) Were you at that time, or perhaps soon thereafter, under psychiatrical care?

I'm at a loss to understand such abandonment; there has to eb a recording version of Child Services that is still actively pursuing you for such a criminal departure.

5:13 AM  
Anonymous stephenesque said...

Well, even after a thousand years, you still can't beat Gregorian Chants for my money. All this rock music business, they don't have half the passion of the, er, The Monks.

9:04 AM  
Blogger F.C. Bearded said...

"Hey Hey for the Fry-yars!"

Just what kind of opera is that "Gregorian" stuff meant to be, anyway? There are no crashy bits - the orchestra has very little to do; there are no monks riding themselves and their ponies into a burning ring of fire; certainly no decent female parts, hence the Fat Lady can never sing to let us know the damned thing is over, we can all go home at last? P'tuch.

To address some of your fears, DarkoV ZeppelinFeeder, the vocalist and the lead guitarist sound like Plant and Page, but with better lyrics and no phoney orgasms. The album recalls for me the Zeppelin of "Physical Graffiti", the Rush of "Hemispheres", the Floyd of WYWH and Animals, but also of "Ummagumma" and "Atom Heart Mother", the Zappa of "Joe's Garage", the Santana of... well, I don't have any Santana albums, but there's this one song here that...

A very curious and compelling hybrid. But they do need to get past the tiresome synth explorations. Rilly.

As to your second point I am reminded of something once told to me that ancient Hebrew (or was it Aramaic?) could only count so far, and that beyond a certain point there was only "many". A curious mistranslation of the "many" word accounts for the prominence of the number "forty" in english translations of the Bible. Could have been better translated as "twelvty", but set that aside. The point is my translation of sparse memory fragments is similarly impaired: beyond a certain quantity there is only "a thousand". In reality there may have been little more than four or five hundred. Lots of floor space.

The reason I left it all behind - and I left way more than my LP collection - is that, as I described in one of my earliest posts, I wasn't flouncing or running away from there but rather running towards a new life. By the time my Visa finally arrived I wanted to wait not one second longer than absolutely necessary. All I brought with me were books, CD's, and some glassware/dinnerware. Oh, and a brace of kids. Almost forgot.

9:50 AM  
Blogger -jkg said...

the mars volte are definitely the cats meow right now. much more listenable than At The Drive In, the ban which spawned them.

TMV are on some very curious "progressive metal" type sound that is heavy in melody, something most bands with experimental leanings deem to traditional to exercise in their arty accomplishments.

im glad you like em. rock on.

12:11 PM  
Blogger matt said...

Tsar's first record was a lot more varied, melodic, polished ... many hardcore fans were somewhat disappointed because it didn't rock nearly as hard as their live shows (that rhythm section is a beast) ... and the second record is in some ways a response to those criticisms. Basically, if the straight-ahead punk-pop slam of the new one got tedious for you, and if you like-a yourself some melodies & harmonies, try the first one. If not, don't!

12:17 PM  
Blogger tony said...

sorry youre not feeling the new Tsar - Straight, Wrong, and BGM are my faves.

and speaking of Matt Welch, you know he co-wrote the last track...right?

12:56 PM  
Blogger F.C. Bearded said...

"Startime", "BGM", and "Straight" - in that order. But "Wanna Get Dead" is growing.

-jkg - that's totally scary: a coven of experimental artistes with a grudge against melody? Have they learned nothing from the last century?

9:05 PM  
Blogger DarkoV said...

Mr. FCB, Last Friday I meandered down to the nearest emporium of Large Shiny Things and procured a copy of Frances the Mute. My critical analysis of said work started at the checkout counter since this cd was on sale for $5.99. Yes, under $6. Yes, it was new, not abused.
It's a lovely cover, haunting, scary, intriguing.
I played said cd. Twice.
It's a lovely cd cover, it is.
End of review.

Have you, by chance, listened to Pelican's latest cd, The Fire in our Throats will Beckon the Thaw. That cd starts the reminiscing of early Floyd.

8:08 AM  
Blogger F.C. Bearded said...

Cool cover and only six bucks, right?

I'll play your CD too, if you don't like it. I can't get enough of it.

Never heard of "Pelican", not until now - but now I owe you a CD purchase, so I'll have to reciprocate.

8:15 AM  
Blogger DarkoV said...

Dear Exalted FCB,
I'm sorry. I tried. The Philly Inq has a, IMHO, great little cd review section each Sunday in their A&E section. A month or 6 weeks ago, they reviewed Frances the Mute. Like you, they raved about this cd. I've bought cd's strictly on their recommendations, with only a clunker or two resulting. I held off on buying Frances, though. Then, your exquisitely written review comes along..and off to the store I go.
Honestly, I tried to like it. Just couldn't do it.
Luckily, I'd also picked up a band from just slightly south of your neck of the woods. I've got a few of their other cd's and have lliked them. This is their latest, Un Viaje. The band is Cafe Tacuba.
There are 3 cd's of music and a DVD for a ridiculously low price.(also available here : http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00080Z5W0/qid=1121702206/sr=2-1/ref=pd_bbs_b_2_1/102-7470127-1934503 ).
Definitely not like The Mars Volta. And the cover won't draw you in like Frances..., but the music is high energy and the band is tight.
About Pelican, no need for reciprocity...but I think you'll enjoy it. If not, perhaps your son will. Any ear port in a storm.

By the Bye, how are you faring (physically) these days? Upa nd about in full forward mode?

9:05 AM  
Blogger F.C. Bearded said...

Up and about with a stick; pretty good but tired and sore by nighttime, thanks for asking.

Still can't get down on hands and knees to lay floor tiles and such, but well able to change light fittings and do some paintin'.

Well... I can get down, but rather like Long john Silver, it's a case of "Leave an old salt in distress, wouldya? Won't you give us an 'and up for old times sake?"

9:55 AM  

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