Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Long-Term Effect

I can't really even listen to Pornography anymore.

I was almost sure that when I grew up, I would outgrow my love of The Cure. I hoped I'd never lose that connection to a bundle of music that I really loved in my youth, but even then, it seemed like something I might grow out of. The older I get, though, the more I find to love about their discography. The strange thing is, though, it's not the same aspects that I'm attracted to, even if it is the same songs.

When I was a teen (let's say 15-18), I was a tried-and-true punk rocker. I loved the Clash and Black Flag, but the Cure were one of my first tentative steps into a different world, a less didactic world. It might have been Jon Savage that said something like, "Punk rock was all about saying 'fuck you', post-punk was about saying 'I'm fucked.'" Few bands did this with as much panache as the Cure, creating their own sonic world that was wonderful and terrifying and haunted and haunting and scary and angry and thrilling. I used to pore over their records, loving both the epic bummed-ness of their "big album statements" like Disintegration and their collections of pop tunes, each one a different flavor of delightful.

The Cure are, without a doubt, a band that is talented at writing songs. I connected to those songs because they gave a bored teenager a window into another world, where it was a little more fun. In hindsight, I had a wonderful setting for adolescence, but in the moment, there is nowhere on earth that is more boring than the suburbs of a mid-sized Midwestern city. The manicured lawns of the outskirts of Cincinnati aren't exactly a breeding ground for vibrancy and culture and the arts. But it was a wonderfully safe setting to start plumbing the depths of my own mind, all to a soundtrack of swirling effects and tumultuous emotional content.

What astounded me in the car on the way to my adult job this morning was that while I will always have a connection to some of the Cure albums I spent most of my youth loving, it's the ones that I didn't spend as much time with that are connecting to me more and more in my adult life. I used to be able to auto-point to 1982's terror-noir Pornography and 1987's pop kaleidoscope Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me as my favorite albums, while qualifying that Disintegration was probably their best work. These days, my music doesn't necessarily need to transport me to somehwere else, and the more I listen to them (especially the lovely remasters that came out a few years ago), the more I find that Seventeen Seconds and Faith are becoming my favorites. They're "normal" music that's going just slightly askew and sinister. I've always LIKED them, but listening to them in the city in the beginning of autumn is like putting on the high-tech Ray-Bans in They Live - it almost reveals a whole new layer of the world that's just slightly out of phase with real life. Sonically, they're far more indebted to Wire or maybe a snappier Joy Division or Comsat Angels than the huge, keyboard-laden songs with 2 minute intros that they'd later develop. Now that I have grown-up things to do, places to go, and a setting that's a little more stimulating than the 'burbs, I don't need to fall backwards into a fantastical sea like I did when I'd stay up all night before school, listening to Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me and writing for hours (although that might not be a terrible idea). And regardless of changing favorites, Disintegration is still a masterpiece, still their greatest singular acheivement.

It's not that I have any less love for the gnarled nightmare of Pornography or tracks like "Shake Dog Shake". As evidence of a person dangerously close to the edge, they're remarkable. I love to play the '84 live album Concert to people who slag off the band as a bunch of made-up pop mopers (it's a dark, terrifying post-punk record by a remarkably tight band), and while The Top might be messy, it's far from the disaster people claim. But I investigated that aspect of my psyche when I was younger - I've tested my limits, and don't need to obsess over an abyss of unrelentingly bleak sonic psychology. There are moments on Pornography that rank among my very favorite recorded moments. But that record was so close to me for so long that it's nice to put it on a shelf and know where it is when I want to get to it. It's such a powerful record for me that it's hard to listen to it with any distance - and without distance, it's just a tar-black ooze that will roll over you. OK, over me. But it's a magnificent album that I almost never have the urge to listen to. Brent, if you're reading this, please add it to your list of albums that can be just downright scary.

But the older I get, the more I appreciate some of the nuances of the post-punk music I listened to years ago, and those early albums are really wonderful. They're the sound of a basic pop songwriter blossoming into something more. Live recordings of the '81-era band sound like punk tunes and speeds bursting at the seams to illustrate something... more. And it's that look at real normal life with something else underneath, something indefineable, that really comes across as thrilling. Short hair, no makeup, touring in a little van, but willing to dig deeper without it being forced - that's why I love the early Cure. Try 'em out... you might like them:

"A Forest", "Three Imaginary Boys", "Killing An Arab" 1979 Paris

"Grinding Halt", 1980 Boston

[Incidentally, when I met my fiancee and future wife, I was at the height of my Cure phase. She was just in her office writing a short biography of how we met for our wedding website. That night, I was wearing my lucky "Wild Mood Swings" t-shirt, and even played a ham-fisted, punky version of "Fascination Street" at the soundcheck. Funny how life works, isn't it?]

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Punky Screams, Robot Rock, And Album-Cover Panties: Spinnerette Crosses The Radar

I used to have a couple of Distillers records, but then my hard drive crashed.

My friend Kevin is a big fan, and what with my casual interest in the punk rock, he thought I'd like them. So a couple of years ago, I picked up Coral Fang and (I think) the self-titled one, and liked them, more than most things I hear on Hellcat/Epitaph/whatever punk label they're on. I could never believe that it was actually a woman singing those songs, cause those were some gnarly, raspy, whiskey-and-razorblade vocals. But, they sounded good and I liked them, although I got most of my "gutter punk" love out in one concentrated burst in high school, I do enjoy it, and they were a lot more tuneful than their often too-grimy-for-my-ears bred'ren.

Point being, that I heard them, I liked them, and then I rarely bothered to walk over to the corner I kept them in, you know? Which is why I'm as surprised as anyone that Brody Dalle's new project, Spinnerette, just put out a record that's now in the running for my Top Ten of '09, a good year for my listening if there ever was one.

See, I went to Kevin's wedding last weekend, and he set me up with the Distillers discography, to replace the ones I ripped and sold. They came in MUCHO handy on our drive from Warsaw, IN to the Indy airport, because on the way up, we had no CDs in the rental car - just rural Indiana radio. Which is grim. Christian Country and Regular Country grim. "All-Skynyrd Weekend" grim. But listening to those Distillers records again in an isolated environment reminded me of just how (*ahem*) tuneful they are. Kevin had played me a little bit from frontwoman Brody's new project Spinnerette, which is to Queens of the Stone Age as the Distillers were to Rancid. Apparently, Brody's a gal who tends to shapeshift depending on her current beau (not true, but it's an easy analogy to make, and I'm feeling tired and lazy*), and while it's not a WILD departure, it certainly sounds more like current dude Josh Homme's band than her mush-mouthed ex's mohawk brigade.

The opener, "Ghetto Love", sets the tone, with robotic (yeah, I used it again) drums/claps, a fuzzed out Devo bassline, but downtuned, like the Network gone a little sexier and a little more badass. Brody reveals her inner Rachel Nagy, applying her rasp not to a punky yowl, but a snarling croon. I never listened to the Distillers for their sex appeal, but Spinnerette sounds like a sexy, amp-fuzzed assembly line. Brody's probably at her best here, as far as vocals are concerned. As much as I love a crazy-ass Australian punk woman screaming bloody murder at me, this record connects a little more with my hips. The mixing on the record, as well, pushes the Queens comparisions, but they're really comparisons that could be made to any of the projects in that Homme/Goss/Johannes axis - parts appear out of nowhere, set strangely in the stereo field, surprising you with dry, up-front backing vocals, or reverbing a bassline into near-oblivion. Its effect might be a straightforeward hard rock record, but none of the parts tell you that's where it's going... it might as well be a primer for psychedelic production with piledriving guitar riffs as the base, "just because".

The playing and production on this are all top notch, with far more apparent care into the actual sonics of the record than the Distillers (hey, that's not a knock, I just know what it's like to record punk rock), but this is clearly Brody's show. Her vocals go from dangerous to delicate, evidenced on the lovely and hauting "Distorting A Code". She sounds effortless, but clearly a lot of thought went into her musical and vocal performances. Delicate and thoughtful are not two adjectives I would have expected to apply to Dalle's vocals 3 years ago, but it's a very pleasant surprise. It's just as carefully-crafted as anything you've ever heard - the sound of a talented but pigeonholed artist wanting to show what she can do. And she is an artist, despite what some might think of the Distillers punk bashing, and this is her "no, really, I can do all KINDS of stuff" album. It's to her credit that she had a clear vision and knew which sympathetic sidemen to pick to acheive it. Does it belong in the Desert Rock family? Absolutely. But it certainly sounds like an original take on it. My love of punk rock girls and talented artists and bludgeoning riff-rock and robotic pop hooks all tell me I love this record, and I do. So there we go. Spinnerette is now in the running for one of the highly coveted spots on my Top Ten of '09 List.

[*Yeah, it's glib, and I shouldn't feel the need to justify a pithy comment in an otherwise flattering review, but upon review, her intentions certainly seem genuine, and the artists she's quoted as influences seem feasable. Brody deserves better, as a woman in rock, than for some douche like me to make a sexist comment like "she sounds like whatever man-rocker she hangs around", although I might make the same comparision if she were a guy in the bands, not dating the respective frontmen. If the shoe fits, right? But this is more Queens than Rancid.]

Friday, October 9, 2009

Today's Editorial Mistake: Brought To You By The Internet

If you've been here before, you most likely know my contempt for the hyping machinations of, which I won't even do the service of linking to. I've been thinking a lot about my own creative outlets recently, and while I was perusing the internet today, came across their review of former Queens Of The Stone Age bassist Nick Oliveri's solo album, Death Acoustic. I heartily enjoy the Queens (to the surprise of many of my friends), but am certainly no diehard or historian, but today's reviewer states the following:
...when he offers up lines like, "I use crystal methane by the boatload/ I live off straight booze, I just don't fucking care," in "Outlaw Scumfuc", you don't really question the validity of that statement for a second. In some sense, it's effective songwriting, as the listener gets some insight into Oliveri's persona...

Without bothering to reference the fact that the song "Outlaw Scumfuc" (charming title, isn't it?) was originally written and recorded by one G.G. Allin, one of the most disgusting, depraved people to walk the earth. I have no real problem with the song, the cover, or Oliveri's choice, but nobody bothered to check the liner notes? Fuck this noise... I'm out.