Saturday, June 6, 2009

Album Reviews

I already did a review on Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica. I suppose I can use the forum to give more info on good albums.

Here are three to get us started:

The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society, by the Kinks.

This is an album of nostalgia. I found it highly relevant when I was studying modernity and memory, with authors like Fritzsche. If it's a concept album, the theme is on the losses experienced as we grow up.

The first track "The Village Green Preservation Society" is probably the most recognizable track. This album doesn't have "Lola", "You Really Got Me", or "Waterloo Sunset". For a versatile band, this album is sonically thin and reflective: "Waterloo Sunset" would be the closest hit, in terms of a similar sound.

The intro track's lyrics set the tone for the whole piece: "We are the village green preservation society/ God save donald duck, vaudeville and variety". Yet the sarcasm becomes apparent in a later verse: "We are the office block persecution affinity/ God save little shops, china cups and virginity". The quaintness of the past is gently made fun of - in part since by the time the album was made, 1968, it had already disappeared.

Two songs, running on the memory theme, deal with photographs - "Picture Book" (from which Green Day borrowed a riff) and "People Take Pictures of Each Other". Both are fairly disparaging. "Do You Remember Walter?" laments the loss of school friends and presents the most personal and familiar experience of loss and memory:

"If you saw me now you wouldn't even know my name/ I bet you're fat and married and you're always home in bed by half-past eight/ And if I talked about the old times you'd get bored and you'll have nothing more to say/ Yes people often change, but memories of people can remain."

God is questioned in "Big Sky", "Last of the Steam-Powered Trains" is fairly obvious, and childhood is presented in two wonderfully juxtaposed pieces, "Phenomenal Cat" and "Wicked Anabella".

The album was one of the few released that year that didn't delve into psychedelia, but is straight-forward...rock? One definitely doesn't rock out to this. Perhaps it's one of the last examples of what Carlin defined as "roll".

Happy Trails, by Quicksilver Messenger Service.

Primarily a live album QMS were a psychedelic jam band that cropped up in the California scene contemporaneously with the Grateful Dead. The first five tracks, and twenty-three minutes, is an elongated jam of Bo Didley's "Who Do You Love". This jam, rankable amongst the Dead or Allman's at Fillmore East, is one of the most hypnotic, fascinating, and telling examples of a live performance in that day and age. By the fourth section (titled "Which Do You Love", as the other parts were renamed "When", "Where" and "How" so as to avoid royalties) the crowd interaction is frightening, and mesmerizing.

If this performance was a novel it would be Heart of Darkness.

Next comes a live performance of Didley's "Mona" - whipped up to seven minutes. Then we get some 'live' performance that were done in the studio: "Maiden of the Cancer Moon" and "Calvary" checking in at thirteen minutes. These are both instrumentals, and excellent ones at that - not repetitive, or meandering as often is the case. The final track, forty-seven seconds crooning Roy Rodger's farewell, is by far the least fitting and enjoyable track.

All in all the two sides share the extended plays, and fancy guitar work. Yet the feel of the two, in an overall eerie work, is noticeably different, but equally enjoyable.

Odessey and Oracle, by the Zombies.

It has been dubbed 'Baroque Pop' and it was a beautiful thing. Rich harmonies, dark themes, and symphonic orchestration. It's about as far away from the Ramones as you can get.

The Zombies are known for two hits: "She's Not There" and "Time of the Season". The latter, with its familiar echoing verses ("What's your name?/ Who's your daddy?/ Is he rich like me?") makes an appearance as the last track on this album, and the least recognizable in comparison to the other tracks. It reminds me of the inclusion of "Sloop John B" on "Pet Sounds" - not bad, but dissimilar in its presence.

It's not a concept album, but the themes are generally dealing with love and loss (no big surprise - nearly all albums are). Tracks such as "Maybe After He's Gone", "I Want Her She Wants Me" and "This Will Be Our Year" are fairly standard in this vein, if not their execution.

"A Rose for Emily" relates to a work by Faulkner, I believe. "Care of Cell 44" is a letter written to a girlfriend in prison. "Butcher's Tale (Western Front 1914)" relates the horrors of WWI from a soldier's viewpoint. These tracks, and others, break up the love songs.

Not that the listener needs a break. My favorite track, "Changes", is about a girl's transformation once she's left. But all of the songs, regardless of theme, are immaculate constructions. They are pop masterpieces, all only a few minutes long, with a more harmonious wall of sound than Phil Spector could provide.

"Time of the Season" gets the airplay because it reflected the sentiment of the time. The other tracks are more somber, with a careful timelessness.

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