Sunday, February 4, 2018

Porky Post ... Classic Album Review: The Stooges - Fun House (1970)

Another outing for Porky, looking back at a classic album just two years shy of its 50th birthday …

I am a strong believer in music coming to the listener, rather than the individual seeking out the music.

My personal tastes have shipped and shaped over the decades. I’m now at an age that I should be appreciating Dylan, Neil Young, and Fleetwood Mac, but thank Buddha that’s never occurred.

Conversely, I am these days an aficionado of more robust, deranged, and frankly unloveable sounds than in my youth, when tweedom and indie ruled. I listened to Can in my mid-20s but couldn’t stomach them. But, now ... I understand.

Many years ago I bought The Stooges’ second album, Fun House, on CD at the same time as I got (the debut) The Stooges. But the gnarly, snarly nature of Fun House just didn’t resonate with me – the songs were too long and there wasn’t an ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’, so I ended up giving it away. Sacrilege, I know.

I now have this bastard on vinyl and I’ve played it a lot over the past year. It’s got to me.
It kicks into action with ‘Down On The Street’, a blistering, bruising face-off with the devil in which Iggy Pop hollers words that skimp on the thinking and focus on the stinking: “Down on the street where the faces shine/ Floatin' around, I'm a real low mind/ See a pretty thing/ Ain't no wall/ See a pretty thing/ It ain't no wall.”
It’s the riffs that matter here and they are ear-bleedingly brilliant, amounting to a near four-minute battering of the senses.
‘Loose’ is a true rock’n’roll song; a hark back to the debut classic, while retaining a connection to their soul brothers, MC5. It has a brief but memorable chorus: “I’ll stick it deep inside/ I’ll stick it deep inside/ Cause I’m loose.” Make of that what you will.
While the Stooges were releasing this, David Bowie was in a whole different stratosphere. In 1969 the Londoner released his second solo album, the self-titled David Bowie, which included the radio-friendly ‘Space Oddity’. He appeared on course for a career as an intriguing but slightly kooky singer-songwriter. In late 1970 Bowie’s first bona fide hit album The Man Who Sold The World was issued in America (and six months later in the UK). Bowie had beefed up his sound, but his voice remained fey and there were no comparisons between the soon-to-be-superstar and The Stooges. And yet, in 1976, Bowie and Iggy Pop would unite to work on two Iggy albums released in 1977, and in return the American sang backing vocals on Low in the same year. But back in 1970 it would seem inconceivable that such a team-up could be possible.
Not when you had a track like ‘TV Eye’. The third track on Fun House is a dad-fucking rollercoaster of a four-minute ride. Listening now, with punk having bludgeoned its way through the youth consciousness, it’s impossible to comprehend just how out there this would have sounded at the time, and the rest of the album for that matter. Imagine. In the mid-60s there were The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Small Faces and Hendrix, to name just a few. All pushed the envelope in some way or another but musically the bass levels were kept at modest levels. That all changed in 1969 when MC5 thrashed away to ‘Kick Out The Jams’ and The Stooges gifted the world ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’, the ultimate punk song in a non-punk era.
Then there’s ‘Dirt’, which is slow, bluesy and meandering. It’s almost a dirge, almost a pop song; in a way it’s The Stooges lowering the pace, but the grungy, existential guitars and discordant drums take it elsewhere.
Flip over to ‘1970’, a natural successor to ‘1969’ from the debut. Such a shame there was no Stooges album in 1971, what could they have done there? Both songs have a tribal hypnotic rhythm that repeats to the point of mild torture, but the newer track is more frantic.

The opening line is a potent one: “Out of my mind on Saturday night/ Ninteen-seventy rollin' in sight/ Radio burnin' up above/ Beautiful baby, feed my love all night.”

The title track is the longest, at just under eight minutes, but well worth the effort. Steve Mackay’s saxophone adds to the raucous, late-night-jam feel.
But this is tame sat alongside (or chronologically just before) the album closer ‘L.A. Blues’, a totally chaotic blitz that takes some stiff drinks before being listenable for its entirety. It’s registered as an instrumental because Iggy just shouts and screams like some sort of rabid wolf. It has to have been one of the first truly out there sonic cacophonies of noise that today would be described as experimental. It’s like watching a car crash video: you are appalled but can’t take your eyes away.

Which in a way is apt description of the experience of listening to the entire album.
The Stooges crashed and burned thereafter. Drugs and more drugs didn’t do them any favours; there was one more album*, Raw Power, and the live compilation Metallic K.O. which heralded new tracks such as ‘Rich Bitch’, which would have made for a phenomenal mid-70s album, but sadly those tracks only exist only in non-produced form.
(*Two inferior post-millennium albums notwithstanding - Ed)

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Album Review: Various - Heed The Call! Whakarongo, Nga Tamariki (2017)

Growing up in New Zealand as a young child in the 1970s, my memories of local music are pretty limited, but it always felt as though the decade could be split into two clear and very distinctive halves.

In the first half of the decade I can recall television shows such as Happen Inn and New Faces, and it seemed to me that most of the music being produced here was either very saccharine, or mostly derivative of what was happening on the pop charts internationally. In fact, many of the more high profile homegrown artists - Bunny Walters, Craig Scott, Ray Woolf, Suzanne, et al - were covering or copying exactly what was happening overseas, and it was simply being repackaged for the local market by the major record companies. There were exceptions to this “rule”, naturally.
By the second half of the decade, the local pub-rock circuit had started to offer us a number of bands with fiercely original material; the likes of Dragon, Hello Sailor, Th’ Dudes, and Mi-Sex. Right at the end of the decade, the arrival of punk and new wave - see Suburban Reptiles, Spelling Mistakes, the Scavengers, plus others - ensured the game was changing for the better.

My point being … there never seemed to be a lot else beyond those categories. There was nothing in the middle. It was either the covers and crooners of the earliest vintage, or the edgy rockers of later years. And of course, there was the island that was early Split Enz. I can’t ever recall - beyond a couple of Mark Williams hits - there being much in the way of locally-produced disco, soul, or funk. Sure, that stuff was all over the charts in the mid-to-late 1970s, mostly within the “singles” realm, but not a lot of it came from these shores.

At least that was my perception, and if we didn’t see locally-produced disco and funk music charting on any regular basis, that doesn’t necessarily mean it wasn’t being made. It just wasn’t being produced by the majors or distributed in any vast quantity. And if it wasn’t on the charts, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t being played in one or two of the more progressive nightclubs of the era. Not that I’d know, really … I was just as likely eating peanut butter sandwiches out of a plastic Partridge Family lunchbox at the time.

Which is where Heed the Call! (Whakarongo, Nga Tamariki) comes in. A brand new compilation album (released in December 2017) that showcases “17 Prime Soul, Funk and Disco Cuts” specifically from the Aotearoa of my childhood and early teenage years. Not that we called it Aotearoa back then either. It was still plain old New Zealand, mostly white, colonial, and largely rural …

It’s a terrific collection, lovingly compiled by the history-savvy Alan Perrott and John Baker, with my version being the CD (sadly, not vinyl), one that I had to order after the limited initial production run sold out in a matter of days. I don’t think anybody could have realistically anticipated the level of demand for this album. I certainly hadn’t.

One of the album’s highlights arrives right at the very start, with ‘Voodoo Lady’, a Dalvanius and The Fascinations tune that has so much fluoro disco bling oozing from it, you’ll probably need to wear a pair of dark glasses just to listen to it. Preferably a Bootsy-esque gold-framed pair.

Following on from that scene-setter, we’re introduced to Collision, with a James Brown-defying funktastic ‘You Can Dance’. Truth is though, we’re already familiar with these guys; Dalvanius having used the core of this band on the opener, under the Fascinations moniker.

After the opening double whammy, the listening experience becomes a knee-buckling trip deep into the heart of what was quite clearly a vibrant, yet mostly underground scene. A journey that doesn’t really let up until we reach the breathy closing moments of the album finale, ‘Total Man’, by er, The Totals. Which is quite possibly that band’s only release.

Other highlights include a couple of Mark Williams’ tunes, ‘Disco Lady’ and ‘House For Sale’, something relatively rare from the bold and brassy 1860 Band, ‘That's The Kind Of Love I've Got For You’, plus Herb McQuay’s ‘Night People’.

Of the more commercially established artists to feature, Prince Tui Teka provides the title track, Tina Cross offers ‘You Can Do It’, and Golden Harvest is on hand with that always familiar Kiwi yacht-rock classic ‘I Need Your Love’, which is one of the few chart-bothering tracks included. Larry Morris shows up, after a spell in the clink, with ‘Who Do We Think We're Fooling’, while Ticket, a band I’ve always more readily associated with the rock genre, feature with ‘Mr Music’.

At the other end of the spectrum, there’s work here from a few artists that I know very little about; the likes of the Johnny Rocco Band, (the) Inbetweens, Sonia & Skee, and the aforementioned Totals. Where the bloody hell have I been? I knew of the wholesome and religious Pink Family, who offer ‘Don't Give Your Life Away’, but I’d never actually heard their music.

Speaking of family, blood links might well be a theme; aside from the Pinks, there’s the Yandall Sisters (Adele, Mary, and Pauline) with ‘Sweet Inspiration’, and brotherly connections within Golden Harvest (the Kaukaus) and Collision (the Morgans). And of course, whanau was at the heart of, and often involved with, just about everything Dalvanius Prime and Prince Tui Teka ever did …

Heed The Call! is a fascinating compilation, and for the most part, a great listen. It’s been a long time coming, but it’s well worth the wait. Sure there’s some material that hasn’t aged all that well, and there’s a few sizable slabs of cheddar to be consumed, plus there’s a few covers or non-originals, but it’s a disco album, pulling the bulk of its content from the decade that taste forgot … so there’s your context right there.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Porky Post ... Album Review: Scotch Bonnet Presents Puffer's Choice (2016)

Welcoming back Porky, in a guest post capacity …

Reggae and Scotland haven’t had a great deal of history together. Thankfully, the Glasgow-based Mungo’s Hi-Fi has been doing its level-best to rectify that anomaly, on its own, and through the Scotch Bonnet label.

The label is largely a vehicle for Mungo’s but has also furnished a slew of choice reggae, dancehall and dub acts. Puffer’s Choice highlights many of those releases.

Being of Scottish stock myself, and a connoisseur of sounds that have originated from Jamaica, this compilation was a natural choice to buy from an Auckland store last year. There was a touch of the pot luck about the purchase; I was only aware of some of the acts, but given the roster it was clearly going to be a stab in the dark that hit the centre of the heart.

It begins with a rather unusual cover, Kraftwerk’s potty electro hit, ‘The Model’, performed by Prince Fatty; it’s the only track that doesn’t credit a sidekick, though Hollie Cook is the one adding the feminine vocals in place of the Teutonic timbre. This radically alters the nature of the original, making it sound more human and reversing the lyrics from “she’s a model” to “I’m a model”. You have to assume it met with the mercurial Germans’ approval, as permission would have needed to be sought from the writers to change the lyrics.

Rolling back the vibes, The Hempolics’ ‘Love To Sing’ is reworked by Mungo’s Hi Fi into a dancefloor heavyweight, with multiple verses from Solo Banton, complete with an early reggae intro.

Parly B’s contribution, with the assistance of Viktorious, ‘What A Ting’, rails against ethnic cleansing, calling out hypocrites and parasites alike, with a very 80s dancehall background.

There’s some booming bass and rapid-fire lyrics on Zeb & Scotty’s joint effort with Disrupt on the excellent ‘Jah Run Tings’. The first side wraps up with a remix of ‘Dub Invasion’ by the Led Piperz. Keeping the horn sample lifted from the classic King Tubby/Niney The Observer track, ‘Dubbing With the Observer’ which pilots the original version, this remix strips down the riddim to a simpler shuffle. “I know the kind of music that you want us to play, I know the kind of words you want me say… it’s a dub invasion, don’t take it lightly,” sings Solo Banton.

So far so good.

The second half kicks off with a collaboration between veterans Sugar Minott and Daddy Freddy for the appropriately-titled ‘Raggamuffin Rock’. The boys trade verses and it comes out like a good cop/ bad cop interrogation; Minott’s lighter tones make you feel at home, lying on a comfortable sofa with a glass of Islay single malt to hand (or something a little mellower – Ed), but Freddy drags you out into the rain-soaked alley and hits you where it hurts. Strangely, it works.

‘Golden Rule’ gets together Naram behind the boards and Tenor Youthman on vocal duties. It’s a retro-infused ragga cut with a fat bass, and when Youthman sings “if you trouble trouble, trouble will trouble you,” it invokes the genius of 1970s Jamaican star Linval Thompson, who, to this writer, is up there with a certain Mr Marley.  

Mungo’s Hi Fi feature on one of the undoubted standouts, ‘Give Thanks To Jah’ with Mr Williamz spitting rhyme after rhyme on a song that fuses Smiley Culture with Alexei Sayle: “whether you drive Mitsubishi or you drive Honda, whether you drive Mercedes or you drive dem Beamer, and it don’t really matter you a bus passenger, whether you work 9 to 5 or you an entertainer, whether you a MC or selectah.”

The album winds up with Bim One’s collaboration with Macka B, ‘Don’t Stop The Sound’ which uses a thick, wobbling future roots vibe over frantic, auction-paced toasting, and the eerie ‘Dub Controller’ by OBM, which isn’t for the feint-hearted.

Puffer’s Choice is a neat compilation of great dancehall, dub, ragga, old school reggae: and there’s not a bagpipe or bodhran in earshot.

Want more Porky? ... go here

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Gig Review: Cigarettes After Sex, Powerstation, Auckland, 8 January 2018

Happy 2018. It’s been a while, and things have been a bit slow around here lately. But I’ve been on holiday. I’ve been permanently drunk. And I’ve been growing a beard. I’m prepared to apologise for only one of these things.

I’ve also been up in Auckland. As recently as last week, in fact. Primarily for the Cigarettes After Sex gig at the Powerstation, and to take a sneaky peek at the recently relocated Real Groovy Records. I had intended to write a timely review, but in truth, more than a week later, I’m still not really sure how I feel about the gig.

On one hand it was quite lovely – flawlessly crafted pop tunes, played to an almost full venue by an immaculately presented clad-in-black band at the absolute peak of its powers. Everything was note perfect, intimate, and the dark and rather solemn stage aesthetic – lighting included – generally matched the sparse emo-flecked nature of the music on offer. The band’s set was pretty much its entire discography – twelve songs, plus a one song encore. The whole thing was blissfully unhurried. An exercise in subtle slowly building intensity. Peaking with masterful take on ‘Apocalypse’.

On the other hand, an entire discography, in this instance, amounts to a gig lasting just a few ticks over an hour. One solitary hour. With no support band on offer. With no new tunes unveiled. With barely a word spoken throughout the set. And that post-‘Apocalypse’ encore turned out to be an anti-climactic ‘Dreaming of You’, from the lesser spotted 2012 EP release. Bar some gentle swaying, nobody danced, and it was the sort of night where I kept waiting for something else to happen. A harsher critic might be moved to describe the whole event as being a little sterile and lifeless, even.

Whatever the case, I left the venue with a sense of needing more. A little bit like how a recovering nicotine addict might feel after having unsatisfactory sex. At the same time, Cigarettes After Sex delivered everything I could realistically expect from an ambient dream-pop outfit specialising in the delicate art of seduction. I knew exactly what the El Paso popsters offered before I bought tickets. I just blindly hoped for something more, so it’s pointless grumbling about it now.

At the very least, it had me thinking about how conditioned I’ve become to expect a more raucous live music experience – be it bold and funky, or in terms of pure raw rock n roll. I guess I just need more energy from a live band, whatever the genre. Or perhaps it’s just that unrealistic expectation is, without question, the mother of all disappointment.

I remain a fan, the band’s self-titled album was one of my stick-on favourites from 2017, and I can scarcely wait for any new recorded material. But that doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll be in any great hurry to buy concert tickets next time they visit this part of the world.   

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Film Review: Into The Void, a documentary by Margaret Gordon

NZ Musician has published my review of Into The Void, Margaret Gordon’s wonderful documentary about the Christchurch band of the same name. The film was a festival hit as long ago as 2014, but was finally released on DVD last week. The documentary has music at its core, but more than anything it’s a study of the human condition, a story about friendship, and a tale of survival against a mountain of odds … check it out (trailer in link):

Quite often, the very best music documentaries are those about artists or bands otherwise ignored by the mainstream. The real grassroots stuff, behind-the-scenes warts ‘n all stories focusing rather more on the flaws and frailties of the human condition. Which is precisely where Margaret Gordon’s oddball and frequently hilarious independent documentary about Christchurch noise merchants Into The Void fits. The film gained festival plaudits back in 2014 but is only now getting a more wide-reaching, deserved, DVD release.

For 25 years, from the late ‘80s through to 2014, Into The Void were mainstays of the Christchurch music scene. If not exactly as heart of the scene, then most definitely as life and soul of the many parties. The first thing we learn about the band is that they all like a drink. Or twelve.

The second is that they’re far more comfortable playing live than they are in the recording studio. Whether on stage at the Dux de Lux or at Lyttelton’s Wunderbar, or within the confines of their now demolished (post-earthquakes) inner-city band practice room.
Across the course of that 25-year period, the band, originally a quartet that morphed into a sextet, released just two albums. An eponymously titled debut on Flying Nun in 1993, and a self-released follow-up some 11 years later. But that part feels almost superfluous to this story, and the really good oil here comes as each band member offers an insight into their lives together.

There’s vocalist Ronnie van Hout, a conceptual artist who now lives in Melbourne. Guitarist Jason Greig, a self-confessed metal tragic, and another artist, whose own unique area of speciality is creating “prints of darkness”. Drummer Mark Whyte, a sculptor and all round funny guy. And then there’s Paul Sutherland, an eccentric “turntablist” who seems perfectly comfortable with the fact that the rest of the band can never really hear what he’s playing. So long as there’s nobs and gadgets to fiddle with, he’s more than happy. That’s the original four, with Galaxy Records owner Dave Imlay (bass), and James Greig (guitar) – cousin of Jason – being later additions.

Gordon makes good use of archive footage of the band at various stages of its existence – from the early ‘90s through to its post-earthquake vintage – and near the end we see the band playing to a small outdoor evening crowd on a vacant lot. But not just any vacant lot, it’s the exact spot their precious band practice room once stood. It’s a special moment as Jason Greig’s final heartfelt solo rings out into the Christchurch night air.

Throughout the 70-minute documentary, we get tidbits of gold from various friends and contemporaries, among them members of bands like the Terminals and the Dead C. More poignantly there’s some classic footage of onetime band manager Celia Mancini (R.I.P.) who tragically passed in 2017.

More than any of that though, Into The Void is a story about a group of mates who just enjoyed each other’s company. For 25 years. Drinking, smoking, falling over, laughing, surviving earthquakes, and playing music as loud as humanly possible.

Margaret Gordon offers just enough on each band member, so we feel as though we might know them by the end. At the very least, we all know someone just like them, and that’s the real triumph of this film.