Tuesday, January 28, 2020

What's Nick Lowe's Best Album?

I know a few of you got a visit from Santa last month and received Will Birch's excellent read 'Cruel to Be Kind: The Life and Times of Nick Lowe.' I have been wanting to get to the following question since I finished it back in the fall, and I'm hoping fans will want to participate. On page 280, Birch transitions to the chapter that covers the time around 2001 and the release of album 'The Convincer' with this sentence: "[Lowe] was now on his way to making the album that many still consider to be his best."

Does this sound right to you? It's a great album, to be sure, but I have to admit I didn't realize 'The Convincer' was held in such high esteem. I do believe, however, the Brentford Trilogy is his strongest era. Let's put Birch's bold statement to the test with a highly unscientific poll. Tell me your favorite Lowe album in the comments section. You may rant and rave about Brinsley Schwarz, Rockpile, Dave Edmunds' solo albums with Rockpile, Little Village, Carlene Cater's early '80s stuff, Lowe-produced works, whatever you fancy, but let's stick to his solo long players for the poll. Here's the list of candidates to refresh your memory.

Jesus of Cool/Pure Pop For Now People (1978)
Labour of Lust (1979)
Nick the Knife (1982)
The Abominable Showman (1983)
Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit (1984)
The Rose of England (1985)
Pinker and Prouder Than Previous (1988)
Party of One (1990)
The Impossible Bird (1994)
Dig My Mood (1998)
The Convincer (2001)
At My Age (2007)
The Old Magic (2011)
Quality Street: A Seasonal Selection for All the Family (2013)

I'll get the ball rolling with my own pick. The first three albums were hugely important in my youth, and I still pull them off the shelf often. I like a bunch of songs after that, but I didn't fall in love with another album until 'The Impossible Bird.' I have found everything since then to be vital. In the end, it's really a tossup between 'Jesus of Cool'/'Pure Pop For Now People' and 'The Impossible Bird.' The grown-up me says his first crooner, 'The Impossible Bird' is his best album. Just for kicks, I'll tell you I probably like 'The Abominable Showman' the least, but I have some bootlegs from 1983 with the "Noise to Go" band that make me wish for a time machine. OK, what says you?

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Taters, Please... And Don't Forget the Gravy

What can I say? I had a hankerin' tonight and mashed away. And, yes, I listened to these two songs back to back while making them. Let me tell you, folks, the key to a good bowl of mashed potatoes, and this goes for just about everything, is to be liberal with the butter. My rule is one stick for every five potatoes you mash. Apologies to my general practitioner. Perhaps I can tell him I at least got some exercise tonight in the form of dancing the mashed potato in the kitchen with my 13-year-old son.

Kal Mann and Bernie Lowe of Cameo-Parkway Records straight outta Philly signed local gal Dione LaRue as a back-up singer when she was just 15 years old. Her family called her "Dee," and the team of Mann and Lowe dubbed her Dee Dee Sharp. Cameo-Parkway was already well known for dance and novelty-type hits, and local act Chubby Checker had been getting the kids to bust a move... make that do "The Twist"... on Philly TV program American Bandstand. By 1962, acts like James Brown and the Contours had been making a variation on the twist called the mashed potato the latest craze. That same year, Dee Dee, with help from the songwriting team of Mann and Lowe, recorded these two top-10 smashes that made her a regular on Dick Clark's popular after-school show. You'll notice quite quickly that "Mashed Potato Time" is more or less "Please Mr. Postman" by the Marvelettes with new lyrics.

Through the years, references to the mashed potato have popped up in songs all over the place. My two faves are in "Dance This Mess Around" by the B-52's and "Do the Strand" by Roxy Music. Perhaps this is fodder for a future top 10 over at Rol's place.

"Mashed Potato Time"
"Gravy (For My Mashed Potatoes)"

Friday, January 24, 2020

When the Wife's Away, Scritti Politti Will Play

Do you hear that? That's the sound of laptops being slammed shut around the globe. Count yourself lucky. Mrs. LTL got a new job two years ago that requires very little travel. In fact, my collection of Scritti Politti has been gathering dust since the spring of 2018. The past couple of days, however, she has been in Portland. She is home for a day before heading to our old hometown of Chicago on Sunday. So perhaps there will be time for another spin from Green Gartside next week. I'm jealous about her stay in Portland because I want to stop by Jigsaw Records. I'm even more envious about Chicago for the fare. Have a Chicago-style dog from Portillo's for me, won't you?

Today's selection takes us to the 'Provision' era of 1988. The album was not nearly as successful as previous smash 'Cupid & Psyche 85,' but there were minor hits. Walk-up single "Oh Patti (Don't Feel Sorry For Loverboy)" performed well in the UK, making it to No. 13, and "Boom! There She Was" charted in America, peaking at No. 53. Between those two releases was "First Boy In This Town (Lovesick)." We didn't even get this one over here, but I did manage to find the 7" in the import section. There is a 12" extended mix as well, but I have never seen it. If I happen upon it in a shop, the completist in me would demand a purchase. The song always felt like it could have been one from the 'Cupid & Psyche' era... just not quite good enough to make the cut.

For uber fans, the B-side is considered one of, if not, their best. Non-album track "World Come Back To Life" features the talents of David Gamson's keyboards. His sound is tied closely to Scritti Politti's commercial appeal throughout the '80s, but he got out for a long time after 'Provision.' In 2008, Gamson told bibbly-o-tek, a blog dedicated to the band, "By that point we hated each other's guts and didn't talk to each other for 10 years." Later, he called 'Provision' "the most digital sounding analog record ever made. The most anal sounding record..."

All of these negatives aside, 'Provision' went top 10 in the UK but stalled at No. 113 here in America. Shocking when you consider the success of "Perfect Way" three years earlier. It wouldn't be too much longer before Green would throw up his hands and move to Wales. There wouldn't be another long player from Scritti Politti for more than a decade. By and large, this A-side has been forgotten. It wasn't even included on the 2011 best-of package 'Absolute.'

"First Boy In This Town (Lovesick)"
"World Come Back To Life"

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

The Flatmates Get a New Lease

January always ends up being a month of regret as I realize all of those missed songs and albums on my lists of the previous year's best. One such single is "Shut Up And Kiss Me," released by the Flatmates as a limited edition 7" via indie label Old Bad Habits out of Greece. This year, Martin Whitehead's band is doing something they never even did in the salad days of the Subway Organization. Brace yourselves. They're putting out a long player. The 13-song self-titled album will hit the shelves in March on the resurrected Subway in the UK (the label's first release since 1994) and on the Athens-based Happy Happy Birthday To Me here in America. When you consider the Flatmates released five singles in its original incarnation, a baker's dozen worth of material all at once is like manna from heaven.

You might be asking yourself, just who are these Flatmates? After all, nobody has seen Deb or Sarah since the late '80s. Whitehead and Rocker are still here, and Lisa Bouvier has been fronting the band with her trademark song opening "1-2-3-4" scream since 2013. Maybe you were lucky enough to catch her over here with the reunited band at NYC Popfest 2014. Consider this... Bouvier has been at the mic longer than Deb! There are a slew of guest appearances on the album too, including Wendy Pickles from the Popguns and Thomas Aherne from the Proctors, to name just a couple. With NYC Popfest on hiatus, we here in America will probably just have to dream, but those of you in the UK can expect plenty of dates to support the new album. Lucky!

Here's that single from late last year. This one opens the new album. Whitehead used to say their cover of Ramones' "I Don't Care" on the B-side of the "Happy All the Time" 12" probably came the closest to the way they were live back in the day. Do I hear a little of Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Tommy as this new one opens? This is a hell of a good time.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Snow Days

What a week! Two days of no school or work so far. You know how it is, though. Looks beautiful and is fun for a while, but cabin fever eventually sets in and ruins the mood. This unexpected break has, however, given me time to rip more vinyl from under the tree. I'm going to conclude this brief post-holiday series with a 7" from Postcard Records. The small case above is home to my Postcard singles. Yes, they get their own special spot away from the other seven-inchers. For years now, I have been two short of the original lot from 1980-81. The first one is obvious. I will never own 80 1, "Falling and Laughing" from Orange Juice, but it might surprise you I have never had a physical copy of 80 4, "I Need to Heads" from the Go-Betweens, either. No, I didn't get the new box set for Christmas, but I still got some Go-Betweens. Santa came through this year, didn't she... er, uh, he?

Part of the reason it has taken me so long to grab this single comes down to not being gaga for these two songs. My digital copy always seemed to pacify. Listen, the songs are fine but, c'mon, they aren't in the same league as, say, "Cattle and Cane" or "Man O'Sand To Girl O'Sea" just a few years later. Truth be told, I even prefer the two Able Label singles from 1978 and 1979 to this one from 1980. For me, this is more about being on Postcard, bragging rights and coming one step closer to completing the set. I do like thinking about Robert and Grant hanging around 185 Princes Street while I'm listening too. More snow is in the forecast tonight. Hmm, If there is another snow day tomorrow, I wonder what I should rip tomorrow?

I Need Two Heads
Stop Before You Say It

Saturday, January 11, 2020

More From Under the Tree

Sticking with the Sha La La flexis theme, Reserve had a split 7" with the Siddeleys on the famed fanzine label. At about the same time Matt Haynes made his move from Sha La La and fanzine Are You Scared to Get Happy? to Sarah Records, David Payne was was making the leap from Sha La La and fanzine Troutfishing In Leytonstone to Sombrero Records. Sombrero didn't stick around nearly as long as Sarah, but there were five great releases... two 12" singles and a compilation LP from BOB, one 12" single by the Siddeleys and one 12" single by Reserve.

Like the Siddeleys, the legend of Reserve continues to grow this century. Frontman Torquil Macleod's band has popped up on two of Firestation's compilations ('The Sound of Leamington Spa, Volume 2' and the 'Still Mad At Me?' box) as well as Cherry Red's 'C88' box. Firestation also went all out in 2013 with 'Beneath the London Sky,' a 23-track collection of just about every scrap Reserve recorded in and out of the studio. If you like your '80s jangle as much as I do, there isn't anything here that you wouldn't want, but there is nothing like having the original, and I have wanted the four-track "Two Hearts Beat In A Hole" 12" from Sombrero for years. Thank you for finding it in Spain, Santa, but I think it must have had a tough trip on your sleigh. The vinyl looks perfect, but the surface noise is going to take a bit of work to clean up.

My favorite song from Reserve is one about the tower at All Saints Church in Notting Hill called "The Sun Slid Down the Tower." It first appeared on that split Sha La La flexi, and the song was recorded again with a different lineup as one on the three B-sides on "Two Hearts Beat In A Hole." As excited as I am to finally possess this coveted 12", I have to admit there is something missing from that original recording used on the flexi. It lacks the oomph, somehow. What do you think?

"The Sun Slid Down the Tower" (Sha La La flexi version)
"The Sun Slid Down the Tower" ("Two Hearts Beat In A Hole" 12")

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

One From Under the Tree

Did you get any records for Christmas? Santa was pretty sneaky at my house. I was thinking I might get either that Pooh Sticks 7" box or maybe, just maybe, that mammoth Go-Betweens box. Instead, Jolly Ol' St. Nick somehow got a hold of my long shopping list of hard-to-find titles, most of which have been on there for years, and wrapped up a few of those. It was quite a surprise, especially this one featured today since it came in a giant box that I would have sworn was empty when I gave it a harmless little shake. Why so light? Because it was a flexi all by its lonesome.

I don't have too many flexis in the collection. As an indie-pop fan, however, there were so many great releases in the late '80s on this inferior format that I can't help but want a bunch of them. I have written of my slow hunt for everything on Woosh, and my other obsession is collecting the lot on Sha La La. There were eight split singles on the label, and they all came out around 1987. They were distributed in fanzines like Are You Scared To Get Happy?, Simply Thrilled, Baby Honey and Trout Fishing in Leytonstone. Sha La La is often considered the precursor to Sarah Records because Matt Haynes was one of the guys behind Are you Scared to Get Happy? and these flexis. In fact, there are a few mentions of Sha La La on the Sarah site. Here are a few of my favorite quotes:

"It was important that all the flexis came in proper sleeves; they were throwaway, but weren’t meant to be thrown away."

"Flexidiscs had been around for years, but usually as unsleeved, gimmicky, promo freebies taped to the cover of a magazine. Ours came in proper sleeves because we wanted them to be treated as proper records – albeit records that were the complete antithesis of all the exploitatively expensive 12" singles and emotionally manipulative multi-format 7"s that independent labels had succumbed to in mimicry of the majors (the Sha La La flexis were actually only 6½", just for good measure)."

"And if you’re wondering about the ba ba ba-ba ba catalogue numbers... it's a quote from the coda of Hip Hip by Hurrah!"

A quick look at the bands that appeared on Sha La La are a who's-who of indie-pop legends, including Talulah Gosh, Razorcuts, Reserve, the Siddeleys and future Sarah acts the Sea Urchins and the Orchids. My Christmas present was the very first Sha La La release (ba ba ba-ba ba 001). The one-sided flexi was titled the "Bring Back Throwaway Pop!" EP and was included with fanzines Baby Honey #3, Simply Thrilled #2 and Are You Scared to Get Happy? #3. Mighty Mighty were on Chapter 22 and had already made a name for themselves by being included on NME's 'C86' cassette. They kick off the flexi with an alternative take of their 1986 indie hit "Throwaway." I have wanted this for a long time and even mentioned it on these pages back in 2014. The other band on the flexi is the Clouds. I covered them extensively last summer during my series on the Subway Organization. You can refresh your memory here. More surprises from under the tree a little later.

Mighty Mighty - Throwaway (Throwaway Version)
The Clouds - Jenny Nowhere

Monday, January 6, 2020

Marshall Crenshaw Tinkers With Razor & Tie Era

Marshall Crenshaw has gained ownership of the masters he did for Razor & Tie from 1994 to 2003. This means a mess of reissues on his own Shiny-Tone label and with a twist. Yes, there will be bonus tracks, but Crenshaw has also revised some of the songs. More importantly, this will be the first time these albums have appeared on vinyl.

First up is the 1996 album 'Miracle of Science,' out Jan. 17. To be honest, I have always been content with my CD copies of these albums, but 'Miracle of Science' is something special and will be purchased a second time by yours truly. After his second album, I lost track of Crenshaw. Thirteen years later, 'Miracle of Science' brought me back in the fold, and I think it's the best thing he has ever done outside of the self-titled debut and 'Field Day.' It wasn't long before I caught up on what I had missed, and I haven't strayed since.

About that tinkering, Crenshaw says, "I got pretty aggressive with 'Only an Hour Ago.' Listening in 2019, it seemed that the original production and arrangement were burying the song. So I changed it, mostly using the original elements. And I did a similar thing on 'There and Back Again.'" If you buy the album on vinyl, the two bonus tracks (never before released) will be on a 7", which is a really nice touch. They are covers of Scottish indie-pop artist Daniel Wylie's "Misty Dreamer" and Michel Pagliaro's "What the Hell I Got," a Canadian hit from 1975.

As you can see above, the artwork went through a big change too. If you have the original, you know that micro booklet with all of the crazy folds would never work as a vinyl album cover. There are elements of the original, particularly the back cover, but the new look is a deliberate take on the old Roulette Records label, circa 1958. Even though the original album cover was nominated for a Grammy, I'm quite taken with the new look.

Expect every one of Crenshaw's Razor & Tie studio releases to get a reissue, as well as the early works and live album comps 'The 9-Volt Years' and 'My Truck Is My Home.' It's a great time to be a Crenshaw fan, isn't it? If you aren't one, climb aboard. There is plenty of room on the bandwagon. Here is a clip of one of the bonus tracks.

Jan. 16 Update: The CD and streaming reissue of 'Miracle of Science is still on for tomorrow, but the coveted vinyl edition has been delayed due to manufacturing issues. Also, Crenshaw was a guest on Josef Arthur's 'Come To Where I'm From' podcast last week. It's 90-plus minutes of bliss and chock full of talk about 'Field Day.' Highly recommended.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Return of the Lobs

Sticking with exciting new releases out of Scotland, Close Lobsters continue their strong comeback with 'Post Neo Anti: Arte Povera in the Forest of Symbols,' their first long player since 'Headache Rhetoric' in 1988. For those of us who have followed the band closely, this news is tempered only slightly by the fact that the entire second side is made up of previously released music from the "Kunstwerk In Spacetime" (2014) and "Desires & Signs" (2016) EPs. That still leaves us with six new songs, and the walk-up digital single and album opener "All Compasses Go Wild" has certainly whetted the appetite of this fanatic.

The official release date is Feb. 28, but pre-orders will be mailed out "immediately after manufacture," and that should be in January. Choose from limited edition transparent orange or grey vinyl, standard black vinyl, CD or digital download. Americans and Canadians should go through Shelflife Records. UK listeners should get their copies through Last Night From Glasgow. Three days into the new year and I already have two albums on the shopping list that are sure to get plenty of year-end accolades on these pages come December.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

January Brings Joy

There's this part in 'Elf' when Santa returns to the North Pole after a hard night of delivering presents. He tells the happy elves, "All right, all right. We've had another very successful year." They cheer. "So, after all that hard work, it's time to start preparations for next Christmas!" More cheering.

That's where we are today, isn't it? We just finished our lists of the best albums/songs/EPs/reissues, and now it's time to start listening for this year's contenders. You can cheer now. There are a slew of interesting new releases on the calendar for January, and the first vital release of 2020 (I almost typed 2019) for me comes out next Friday when 'The Private Memoirs and Confessions of The Just Joans' hits the shelves. If you're already a fan of the Glaswegians (and why wouldn't you be?), you already know what to expect. If you're new to the charms of siblings David and Katie Pope, you need go only as far as the song titles to get a taste of what you're in for:

1. Hey Ho, Let's Not Go
2. Who Does Susan Think She Is?
3. Wee Guys (Bobby's Got a Punctured Lung)
4. Dear Diary, I Died Again Today
5. My Undying Love for You is Starting to Die
6. When Nietzsche Calls
7. The Older I Get, The More I Don't Know
8. The One I Loathe The Least
9. Another Doomed Relationship
10. Holiday
11. People I Once Knew
12. Like Yesterday Again

Put more succinctly by Fika Recordings, the album "is a veritable smorgasbord of misery, longing and unrequited love; stories of small town resentments, half-forgotten school friends, failing relationships and awkward workplace conversations." I don't know about you, but that sounds right up my alley. If it's half as good as 2017 album 'You Might Be Smiling Now​,' we're in for a real treat. Preorder now.

Back next time with another album to mark on your calendar, and this band resides right down the road from the Just Joans.