Friday, March 29, 2013

Cover Me Impressed: 'Ghost Town'

I have but 90 seconds of music to give today, but it's a pretty interesting minute and a half... at least if you're a fan of Elvis Costello and the Attractions. This is from Steve Nieve's 1987 solo album, 'Playboy.' It's long out of print, but at one point in the mid-'90s Nieve's first solo album, 'Keyboard Jungle,' was reissued on CD by Demon with "selections" from 'Playboy.' Sadly, that's out of print too, but you can still find copies here.

'Playboy' is a mix of Nieve originals and interpretations of rock songs by David Bowie, X and others performed on a piano. That's it. No band. No vocals. Here is Nieve's take on my favorite song by the Specials. Quite a manic curiosity. This might not be your style, but there should be no debating Nieve's brilliance.

Steve Nieve - Ghost Town (mp3)

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Flip Sides From Strawberry Switchblade

As the pops and cracks on this nearly 30-year-old record will prove, I dug deep into my vinyl for today's selection. The 12" of Strawberry Switchblade's biggest hit, "Since Yesterday," featured two non-album tracks. One is a cover you will know well. The other was also the flip side of the 7". Both are far from the usual B-side fodder. I still can't believe there weren't a slew of successful singles on the gals' self-titled debut. Seems pretty lightweight now, but I have very fond memories of listening to it as a lad.

Strawberry Switchblade - Sunday Morning (mp3)
Strawberry Switchblade - By the Sea (mp3)

Monday, March 25, 2013

Take a 'Journey' With Big Country Song by Song

Heads up! You can preview Big Country's new album,
'The Journey,' one song at a time this week and next on the band's official Web site. If you hurry, you can still catch the opener, 'In a Broken Promise Land,' right now. Prepare yourself for a barrage of stick work from Mark Brzezicki. So far, so good, lads.

Billy MacKenzie's First Solo LP Reissued

I consider myself a pretty big fan of the Associates, but I must admit I have never owned Billy MacKenzie's first solo album, 'Outernational.' For shame. I plan to take care of my shortcoming this week when the 1992 LP gets remastered and re-released on Cherry Red, complete with bonus tracks like the US 60659 Mix of "Colours Will Come," the one song I know from the album. I'm sure there must be followers of the late great MacKenzie out there. If you're familiar with 'Outernational,' please give me your thoughts. What have I been missing all of these years?

For more on the life of this great artist we lost way too soon, you might enjoy 'The Glamour Chase,' either in book form or the documentary below:

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Mainstream Side of the Monochrome Set

When you think of the Monochrome Set, 'The Lost Weekend' is probably not the album that comes to mind. Perhaps it should at least be in the conversation.

By the fourth album, guitarist Lester Square was long gone and, although Bid's trademark wit was still around, a more slickly produced brand of pop had emerged. Yes, the Monochrome Set's '85 album had roots in a much older aesthetic, but it still sounded very '85. As a 15 year old it was (and still is) music to my ears. It undoubtedly turned off veteran fans, but the album should have been commercial enough to garner hordes of new listeners. Unfortunately, poor decisions and bad timing on the label side fated 'The Lost Weekend' to flop status. We wouldn't hear from the Monochrome Set again for many years.

There were two singles from 'The Lost Weekend.' The first, "Jacob's Ladder," got some attention on radio and from the press. This was when the world was tuned in to MTV. Unfortunately, the label didn't decide to make a music video for the song until after it seemed like it was on its way to being a hit. By the time it finally got to our televisions, the momentum was already lost. The video has a cult following and still gets played on VH1 Classic from time to time.

Here is the second single. You can still buy 'The Lost Weekend,' complete with a fantastic 12" version of "Wallflower" as a bonus track. I hope you like it. As I mentioned last week, the Monochrome Set will be playing on American soil this summer. Check the band's official site for all of the dates and the latest personnel changes. Square is back in the band!

The Monochrome Set - Wallflower (mp3)

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Big Country's U.S. Tour Takes Shape

Americans are in for a real treat this summer when Big Country hits our shores for the first time since reuniting after the death of frontman Stuart Adamson in 2001. Big Country's lineup isn't quite what it was even a year ago when the band toured to celebrate the 30th anniversary of seminal album 'The Crossing,' but this is still huge news for passionate fans on this side of the pond. These shows are to promote 'The Journey,' Big Country's first new album in 14 years. The record will be available in America on April 30. If you can't wait that long, you could buy it as a UK import a few weeks earlier.

There are 11 U.S. shows listed so far, but there are big holes on the calendar between concerts that could (and should) be filled, including a week between the Napa and Aspen shows. (Why not come up to Seattle?) So, I'll keep an eye on things as the tour continues to develop.

In the meantime, to get us in the mood for the tour, let's listen to one of Big Country's last American hits (No. 5 on Billboard's Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks in 1986). The band played this one as part of their encore when I saw them perform 'The Crossing' in Glasgow last year, and it really had the floor shaking.

Big Country - Look Away (12" Version) (mp3)

Big Country: U.S. Tour Dates
June 6: The Wonder Bar, Asbury Park, N.J.
June 7: Gramercy Theatre, New York
June 8: The Paramount, Huntington, N.Y.
June 19: Belly Up, Solano Beach, Calif.
June 21: Coach House, San Juan Capistrano, Calif.
June 22: Canyon Club, Agoura Hills, Calif.
June 23: Saint Rocke, Redondo Beach, Calif.
June 28: Wein's Family Cellars, Temecula, Calif.
June 29: Uptown Theatre Napa, Calif.
July 9: Belly Up, Aspen, Colo.
July 13: The Belmont, Austin, Texas

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Another New Song From OMD

I'm about to jump out of my skin. My personal countdown to seeing OMD sits at 18 days, and 'English Electric,' the band's new album, will be released just three days later. I don't know about you, but I think each sneak listen has served its purpose well. I really liked the last album, 'History of Modern,' but I'm more impressed with the mix of experimentation and old-school sounds we've heard so far on the new one. The latest is 'Night Café.' It's less 'Dazzle Ships' and more 'Junk Culture' than the other previews, but I'm really digging it. I thought I would go ahead and group everything OMD has released from 'English Electric' to enjoy until the album is out on April 9. Take it all in below. There are two 'Metroland' entries because one is taken from the 12" single.

'English Electric' Tracklist
1. Please Remain Seated
2. Metroland
3. Night Café
4. The Future Will Be Silent
5. Helen of Troy
6. Our System
7. Kissing the Machine
8. Decimal
9. Stay With Me
10. Dresden
11. Atomic Ranch
12. Final Song

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Darling Buds Just Before They Blossomed

Fans of the Darling Buds seem to fall into two camps. Some enjoy the fuzzy C86 sounds of the early singles on Native Records and the first album, 'Pop Said.' Others are smitten with the lush dreamlike sounds found on 'Erotica.' Clearly, Andrea and the fellas were listening to a lot of Cocteau Twins at the time, but I digress. If you visit here often, it will come as no surprise I'm more into the C86 stuff, but I'm proof it's possible to respect both ends of the band's career. If you're about only the Darling Buds circa '92, it's probably because you find 'Pop Said' simple and immature. If I wasn't so simple and immature myself, I would be offended. Enjoy the first single.

The Darling Buds - If I Said (mp3)

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Jangle Pop Dreams

You can have your little sweatfest in the California desert. Go ahead, pitch a tent in Tennessee. Even Austin's soiree is second fiddle. I would take NYC Popfest over Coachella, Bonnaroo or SXSW every time. I could simply end the debate with a "c'mon, it's New York," but I don't need to play that card. It's all about the bands. New York is often thought of as the center of the universe and, at least for four days a year, it really is the jangle capital of the world. If I could curate a festival, this would be it.

In the past six years, NYC Popfest's participants have included the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, the Drums, Tender Trap, Allo Darlin', Sea Lions, the Pooh Sticks, Cats on Fire, Veronica Falls, the Orchids, the Hermit Crabs, BMX Bandits and Mitch Easter, to name but a few. This is quite an impressive list, but I have never been as tempted to make the 3,000-mile trek from Seattle as I am this year. Here is the complete lineup in all of its glory, and I'm dropping not-so-subtle hints to Mrs. Linear Tracking Lives! that I need some of her frequent flyer miles because of these five rare appearances:

May 30: The School
May 31: The Monochrome Set
June 1: The Bats
June 2: The Wolfhounds, Close Lobsters

How can I not go? It's Close Lobsters on American soil for the first time in a quarter century! This will not be just a trip down memory lane either, as the School's No. 2 appearance on my 2012 best albums list will prove, and that's without even mentioning the likes of the Very Most and Math and Physics Club. All I'm saying is this impending adventure is something to smile about.

Close Lobsters - What Is There to Smile About (mp3)

Oh, and if you're an American fan of the School and can't go to NYC, keep an eye out for a handful of extra show dates. The band promises to be over here for two weeks. I'll pass along that info as soon as I see it.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

12 Inches of Love: 'Invisible'

Alison Moyet's first foray into solo-artist territory was the hugely successful 1984 album 'Alf.' This was quite a departure from Yaz (apologies for being American) and, when I first heard it, I really missed the synthpop styling of Vince Clarke. I suppose 30 years later, with the possible exception of "Love Resurrection," I still feel that way, but it's that voice, man, that voice. It was so soulful that somehow, inexplicably, she was able to cut through all of the schlock and slick production to reach me in a way only she and Tracey Thorn ever could. No, the following isn't a happy song, but I love the passion. This is a six-minute version of Moyet's only U.S. Top 40 hit. Sorry, but my vinyl is a little crackly in the opening few seconds. There is actually another 12" of this song called the Transparent Mix that's also well worth tracking down.

In case you missed the news, Moyet has a new album coming out in May. She has released one song from it so far. You can get a free download of the heavily electronic "Changeling" from her Web site.

Alison Moyet - Invisible (Extended Mix) (mp3)

Friday, March 8, 2013

12 Inches of Love: 'Sign of the Times'

Yikes! A whole week with nothing but Ranking Roger to keep you company. Many apologies. Turns out man cannot live on pop music alone. Well, I suppose he can if the he has no fam, but I'm not willing to put a 30-year old single from the Belle Stars in front of my son's special needs... am I? Um, at any rate, I should make this quick.

Back in 2010 I posted a little piece on the Bodysnatchers that included the band's two standout singles, as well as the single version of "Sign of the Times," the best song (in my opinion) from the Belle Stars, the group several of the gals formed immediately following the demise of the Bodysnatchers. I didn't give up all the goods that day. Today I include the stellar remixed extended 12" version, along with a B-side that sounds a bit like something out of the Bow Wow Wow playbook. I love this take, particularly the intro. If you already know and like "Sign of the Times," I think you will enjoy the extra two-and-a-half minutes.

Indeed, the ska sound of the Bodysnatchers had been snatched on this one. This was completely radio ready, and the UK chart reflected that. "Sign of the Times" peaked at No. 3 in the UK. I never heard it on my radio here in America, but I definitely saw the gaggle of girls dressed in tuxedos on MTV quite a few times. It was '83. The channel played videos like this back then. The result of that exposure was a modest No. 75 on this side of the pond. We would, of course, hear from the Belle Stars one more time when an unlikely single from '82 would be re-released on the 'Rain Man' soundtrack in '89. "Iko Iko" would make it all the way to No. 14 a few years after the group had disbanded.

The Belle Stars - Sign of the Times (12" Version) (mp3)
The Belle Stars - Madness (B-side) (mp3)