FRIDAY 5 ACROSS THE LIPS: Five bands we wish would get back together

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1.  LCD Soundsystem

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Years active: 2001-2011
Number of albums: 9 (including three EPs)

While I try to keep an open mind to all genres, I’m not a fan of what is generally known as “dance music.”  It might be because it seems like there isn’t much of a creative process in making it.  It might be because the lyrics to most dance songs seem vapid at best.  Or it might be because I have no coordination and can’t dance my way out of an open burlap sack with all the sides removed.  Regardless, it’s just not for me…unless that dance music is coming from LCD Soundsystem.

I’ll admit that I haven’t been a long-time fan.  I can’t go into the nuances of their music or tell you the different stages of their decade-long career.  I came to the LCD Soundsystem game late, perhaps two or three years before the breakup.  I became hooked to their clever, humorous approach to dance, which made it more appealing. What’s more fun than moving your hips to “Losing My Edge” while watching frontman James Murphy getting his face slapped repeatedly to the beat for four minutes and 27 seconds?  Or the thought of “Daft Punk is Playing at My House,” where you can “Dance Yrself Clean (with Kermit and the Muppets)” with lots of “Drunk Girls“?

Yep, that was one dance party I wish never ended.

2.  The Smiths

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Years active: 1982-1987
Number of albums: 16 (including 10 compilations and one EP)

For some reason, Morrissey recently declared in a Billboard magazine interview that “I don’t know a single person who wants a Smiths reunion.”

Seriously?

I’m here to declare I’m that single person who really wants a Smiths reunion.  I’ll sit in the audience by myself if I have to.

I first heard the Smiths during my DJ days at the University of Denver’s student-run radio station, KAOS, from 1983-86.  It was a far cry from what I was used to during my high school days in central Michigan, where we were fed a regular diet of Bob Seger, Journey, and Billy Joel.  The most alternative thing we listened to at the time was maybe Cheap Trick (Patti Smith didn’t count because the only tune we heard her sing was actually a Bruce Springsteen song).

There was something off about the Smiths, but I loved it.  Morrissey’s velvety smooth voice interlaced with Johnny Marr’s dirty guitar work created an incredibly complex and gorgeous tapestry of juxtaposing sounds.  Couple that with the irony of Morrissey’s lyrics dripping with sadness, depression, and defeat against a wall of Marr’s joyously upbeat chords and you had something offbeat, fun, and as addictive as heroin-laced Dove chocolates.  I didn’t really know what to make of the Smiths at the time, but I knew I could never go home again.  And I was very good with that proposition.

3.  Das Racist

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Years active: 2008-2011
Number of albums: One studio album, two mixtapes

Remember when hip hop was clever and fun?  Yeah, I barely remember that either.  The likes of Sugar Hill Gang, Beastie Boys, and NWA are long gone and have been replaced by rappers slurring lazy rhymes with no irony, sense of humor, or any purpose.

Then along came Das Racist, three apparent slackers from Brooklyn with degrees from  Wesleyan University who employed humor, academic references, foreign allusions, and unconventional style of rap that hasn’t been heard in years.  Taking their name from the short-lived MTV show  Wonder Showzen in which a character constantly yelled “That’s Racist!” between skits, the trio intentionally or unintentionally set out to make rap fun again, which included songs about trying to find your buddy at the combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, a tribunal led by Michael Jackson, and the finer points of stalking.  Some saw them as a joke, others saw them as an important milestone in modern hip hop.

Incidentally, while the name was meant to be a clever homage to Wonder Showzen and how a serious accusation had become little more than a quip, it backfired as some thought the group was comprised of white supremacists, which is not the case.  All three are men of color who are definately not racists.

4. Sonic Youth

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Years active: 1981-2011
Number of albums: 30 (including four compilations and eight EPs)

I pretty much grew up with Sonic Youth, so I took the news rather hard when I found out they disbanded following the separation and subsequent divorce of guitarist Thurston Moore and his wife/bandmate, bassist Kim Gordon.  It was like losing someone you love who was also taking all her cool stuff with her.  It was devastating.

Sonic Youth is arguably most influential band of the modern rock era.  They did things with guitars that had never been thought of before, such as alternative tuning and playing the instruments with screwdrivers and drum sticks to create vast walls of dissonant sound.  They championed other indie bands, such as Nirvana, Sleater-Kinney, and Cell, after signing with Geffen’s DCG label.  They came out with 30 great albums in 30 years (not counting singles and bootlegs), nary a clunker among them.  They are the greatest band of all time.

Their fifth album Daydream Nation was enshrined in the Library of Congress National Recording Registry in 2005 for being “…culturally, historically, or aesthetically important, and/or inform or reflect life in the United States.”  The Registry describes the album:

“Pioneer members of New York City’s clangorous early 1980s No Wave scene, Sonic Youth are renowned for a glorious form of noise-based chaos. Guitarists Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo had previously performed with Glenn Branca’s large guitar ensembles, and their alternative guitar tunings and ringing harmonies attest to this apprenticeship. On Daydream Nation, their breakthrough album, the group’s forays into outright noise always return to melodic songs that employ hypnotic arpeggios, driving punk rock rhythmic figures and furious gales of guitar-based noise. Bassist Kim Gordon’s haunting vocals and edgy lyrics add additional depth to the numbers she sings.”

And now they’re no more.  Given three decades of unfettered brilliance, we’re fortunate to have such an in-depth collection of incredible avante-garde musical art from which to draw because they’re gone for good.  The world is worse for it.  One more show wouldn’t deaden the pain, but it might alleviate it a bit.

5.  Cell

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Years active: 1990-1995
Number of albums: 2

Cell had so much potential, but was a victim of being in the right place at the wrong time.  I first heard them when they opened up for Sonic Youth at Tuxedo Junction in Danbury, Conn., on July 2, 1992, to promote their first album, Slo-Blo.  That was about a year into the grunge era which, unfortunately, would only last a few more years as Kurt Cobain’s suicide on April 5, 1994, marked the decline of the genre.  As grunge went, so did Cell.  By 1994 they released their second and final album, Living Room, then they faded into oblivion.  During their short career, they produced some powerful guitar rock that was just as much on their albums as it was live.

FRIDAY 5 ACROSS THE LIPS: Why Kiss isn’t Kiss Without Original Lineup

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Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons are preparing to kick off their 40th year as business partners with a 42-city tour with fellow aging rockers Def Leppard. Billed as the “Heroes 2014″ tour, Stanley and Simmons will again be joined onstage with contractors Tommy Thayer in the Spaceman role and Eric Singer performing as the Catman rather than original band mates Ace Frehley and Peter Criss, respectively.  Granted, I would probably see the show if they were to come to New Orleans (which they’re not) because the live Kiss experience is akin to going to the circus:  you know they’ll bring out trapeze artists, then the monkeys, then the tigers jumping through flaming hoops, and even the little friggin’ dog in a top hat and tutu walking around on a beach ball, then they’ll finish with the grand finale of an elephant train and hideous, evil clowns.  You know what you’re going to get going into “The Greatest Show on Earth” before you ever step foot under the big top.

Kiss Stage

It’s the same with Kiss.  You know the Demon will spit blood and breathe fire.  You know the Spaceman’s guitar will smoke while he’s kicking out a solo.  You know the Catman’s drums will rise a few stories in the air amid columns of fire and clouds of smoke.  And you know Paul Stanley will mince around like a famished fräulein at a sausage festival.

And you will love every second of it.

But you will love every second of it not because it’s something new and exciting.  No.  You will love it because it harkens back to the days when Kiss  and its four original members (Ace Frehley, Peter Criss, Stanley and Simmons) ruled the world.  Once that lineup began to disintegrate by the end of the ’70s/early ’80s, Kiss was never the same despite making hundreds of millions of dollars by selling lots of albums and essentially anything not nailed down (including, among other things, the Kiss Kondom, Kiss Kasket, Kiss Kremation Urn, and lots o’ Kiss Fine Art apparently suitable to hang alongside the Mona Lisa at the Louvre in Paris) .

Without the four original painted freaks, Kiss is just another heavy metal band that would have likely died out in the ’90s.  New Kiss just can’t compare with Old Kiss.  Despite protestations from Simmons and Stanley, most people really don’t care about new Kiss anymore than they cared about New Coke.  They’d drink the New Coke if they absolutely had to get a sugar rush, but it just wasn’t the same as a satisfying swig of the original.

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Need proof?  Here’s five reasons why Kiss isn’t Kiss without the original lineup:

1.  Criss and Frehley made Kiss relevant again 

Simmons and Stanley made the business decision to take the makeup off and become another run-of-the-mill pop metal act following the departure of Criss and Frehley in the early ’80s.  There was waning interest in the group once the originals were gone and the new personas of Eric Carr and Vinnie Vincent fizzled.  Fortunately for them, there was an appetite for pop metal in the ’80s with acts like Motley Crue, Poison, Cinderella, and other hair bands crowding the landscape.  Unmasked Kiss, now with new guitarist Mark St. John, slogged along with albums ranging from mediocre to mind-boggling awful.  They rode the coat tails of newer metal bands who could pull off the androgynous glam shtick much better. Not only was the music sub-par, but it also came with the horrifying images of Simmons, Stanley, and the rest wearing tight spandex and headbands looking like they’re about to start a Jazzercise class.

kiss2-6058836Holy hell!

Kiss no longer stood out.  They continued to sell albums, but at a much slower pace.  Instead of hitting platinum status in a few weeks, albums now took years to get to gold.  They were on the verge of oblivion when MTV threw them a lifeline by having them on the successful ’90s series Unplugged with one caveat:  the show would only go on if Criss and Frehley were a part of it.  No original Kiss, no spot on the wildly successful music show.  Simmons and Stanley swallowed their pride and brought the two cast-aside members on the show following a set by their current lineup at the time.

People freaked out.  Fan reaction to Criss and Frehley at the Unplugged show was so positive that, in 1996, the original lineup of Kiss reunited, with all four original members together for the first time since 1980. Excitement reached fever pitch with the original lineup appeared with Tupac Shakur at the 38th Annual Grammy Awards:

What followed was the top grossing tour for 1996-1997, and audiences larger than back in their ’70s heyday.  This was only accomplished when the original four put the makeup back on and hit the road.  Thanks to Criss and Frehley, Kiss was relevant again.

2.  Use of the original makeup designs

If latter-day Kiss is new and improved, why are they wearing the classic makeup?  Simply because the personas after the departure of Frehley and Criss just didn’t bring the same draw.  The two less-than-successful roll outs of new makeup, Eric Carr’s “Fox” and Vinnie Vincent’s “Ankh Warrior” (what the hell is that supposed to mean?), are largely forgettable and somewhat laughable.

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Forgettable                                         Laughable

Stanley and Simmons loved Eric Carr, whose untimely death in 1991 of heart cancer and brain hemorrhaging was a tragedy.  Despite how much they loved Carr over Criss, the fans don’t quite reciprocate, which is why Kiss will never bring back Carr’s Fox makeup.  Vincent’s makeup, like his tenure with the band, is just too weird to take seriously.

3.  ’70s Kiss was a completely different act from ’80s Kiss

The original Kiss were superheroes inspiring millions of rebellious teens to pick up guitars.  Subsequent Kiss in the 1980s were super funny inspiring lots of comedians to zing one-liners.  Judge for yourself:

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OH YEAH!
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Oy vey…

4. Play That Funky Music, Painted White Boys

During the most recent tour in 2013, the songs Kiss played the most were:

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

7.

8.

9.

10.

Notice something? Six of the ten songs are from the original days, and one had three of the four originals. Only three of the songs are from the post-Simmons/Stanley/Criss/Frehley years. If New Kiss is better as Simmons and Stanley contend, why are they performing 60 to 70 percent of their top ten songs from the Old Kiss era?  Because Kiss has become a cover band of its former glory days.

5.  The Darren Factor 

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You know an impostor when you see one.  Need we say more?

 

 

FRIDAY 5 ACROSS THE LIPS: 180-Degree Covers

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This week Friday 5 Across the Lips looks at five original songs and the covers of those tunes that took a lot of artistic license.  

1. “Enter Sandman”  

Enter Sandman,” Metallica’s classic wall of sound from their self-titled 1991 album, is a dark, brooding, and slightly disturbing song about the childhood horrors of drifting to slumber; however, it becomes an ebullient big-band extravaganza in the hands of the squeaky clean Pat Boone.  You can almost see Metallica plotting with the monsters under the bed in the original; in the cover, you know Boone is leading them in a big, splashy dance number.

Original by Metallica (1991)

Cover by Pat Boone (1997)

2. “Black Diamond”

Recent Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees Kiss has built a four-decade career on face paint, pyrotechnics, and straight-forward hard rock songs that has influenced a few generations of rockers worldwide to pick up guitars and follow suit.  The band has had a strong following in Japan since its early days that included a young musician named  Yoshiki Hayashi whom Kiss inspired to start his own metal band, X Japan.  Gene Simmons tapped Yoshiki to cover the song “I” from the universally ridiculed 1981 concept album Music From The Elder for the 1995 Kiss tribute album Kiss My Ass.  Yoshiki wisely distanced himself from that groaner and instead created a hauntingly beautiful classical arrangement of “Black Diamond” from Kiss’ 1974 debut album for the American Symphony Orchestra.  The resulting collaboration has been the only memorable contribution to the otherwise forgotten tribute album.

Original by Kiss (1974)

Cover by Yoshiki Hayashi and the American Symphony Orchestra (1995)

3. “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?”

Blues rocker Rod Stewart was another disco casualty in the late ’70s as the dance genre infected the airwaves with its predictable beats and cliched sexually-charged themes when he released “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” on his 1978 album Blondes Have More Fun. In an effort to salvage Stewart’s rock cred, co-writer Duane Hitchings defended the song by claiming Stewart was actually spoofing the disco lifestyle.  Legions of disco fans might say otherwise as the disco classic hit number one on many dance lists and stayed there for many weeks.  A true spoof of the song’s disco lifestyle came 15 years later when the industrial supergroup Revolting Cocks came up with a much seedier version.  Its ironically blase hardcore delivery of Chris Connelly’s monotone vocals over Al Jorgensen’s grinding synth work sleazed up Stewart’s notion of a one-night stand being sweet, innocent disco fun.

Original by Rod Stewart (1978)

Cover by Revolting Cocks (1993)

4. “Hurt”

Cover songs rarely eclipse the original, but it happened with Johnny Cash’s version of Nine Inch Nails exceptional song “Hurt.”  Cash was nearing the end of his life when he recorded the song and he knew it; his once mighty bass-baritone voice that made us believe he shot a man in Reno just to watch him die now strained with age, uncertainty, and loneliness.  Those he loved and the world he once ruled were gone.  All that was left was a vulnerable elderly man ruminating about a life that went way too fast.

Songwriter and NIN frontman Trent Reznor himself was moved by the cover.  In a 2004 article in Alternative Press, Reznor said, “I pop the video in, and wow… Tears welling, silence, goose-bumps… Wow. [I felt like] I just lost my girlfriend, because that song isn’t mine anymore… It really made me think about how powerful music is as a medium and art form. I wrote some words and music in my bedroom as a way of staying sane, about a bleak and desperate place I was in, totally isolated and alone. [Somehow] that winds up reinterpreted by a music legend from a radically different era/genre and still retains sincerity and meaning — different, but every bit as pure.”

Original by Nine Inch Nails (1994)

Cover by Johnny Cash (2002)

5. “Superstar”

The biggest hit of the Carpenters‘ career was actually itself a cover, which many erroneously believe was originally recorded by the brother/sister duo.  Written in 1969 by Bonnie BramlettLeon Russell and Delaney Bramlett, it was given the working title “The Groupie Song,” before being renamed “Groupie (Superstar)” when recorded by Delaney & Bonnie and Friends Featuring Eric Clapton.  The somewhat creepy story of star obsession didn’t catch on even when it was later covered by acts such as Joe Cocker, Bette Midler, Cher, and Vicki Carr. It wasn’t until Karen Carpenter’s sweet, innocent voice brought to life the tragedy of the naive groupie’s empty, unrequited love.

The Carpenters had a legion of fans for several decades, but the most unlike were the art-noise indie icons Sonic Youth.  They recorded a gripping post-punk dirge for the late-Karen Carpenter, “Tunic (A Song for Karen)” on their 1990 album Goo that caught the attention of producers of the 1994 tribute album If I Were A Carpenter.  Most of the covers in the album featured top alternative rock bands of the day presenting rather straightforward renditions of Carpenters hits; however, the Sonic Youth contribution stood out with the group’s signature feedback guitar work and Thurston Moore’s throaty, whispering vocals that underscored a feeling of defeat and desperation.

While indie fans loved this version of the song that was later used in the soundtrack for the 2007 movie Juno, Richard Carpenter didn’t share the enthusiasm.  In a 2009 interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, Carpenter said, “At least when it comes to something like this, I will say I don’t care for it but I don’t understand it. So, I’m not going to say it’s good or it’s bad. I’m just going to say I don’t care for it.”

The Carpenters version (1971)

Cover by Sonic Youth (1994)

FRIDAY 5 ACROSS THE LIPS: Awesome Sub-genres You Never Knew Exsisted

sanford The Friday 5 Across the Lips will showcase a different theme every week, and highlight five songs within that theme. This week: Awesome sub-genres you never knew existed…

1.  Kawaii Metal

Japan does weird much better than we do here in the United States.  For such a disciplined, repressed culture, they have an uncanny ability to take their pop culture to the outer limits.  Kawaii is an aspect of Japanese culture that celebrates the cute, cuddly, and adorable (Hello Kitty and Pikachu didn’t happen by accident).  So only in Japan does it make sense to combine cutesy and death metal.  The result is Babymetal, a band that features three teenage girls bouncing around the stage belting out pop lyrics to dark, grinding heavy metal, (such as the song above, “Gimme Chocolate,” which extols the yumminess of chocolate to pounding death metal riffs).

2.  Crazy Cat Lady Jazz

Some believe there is a place between brilliant and bonkers, and it’s apparently Karen Mantler.  Jazz musician and singer Mantler has built a whole career based on four albums completely dedicated to her cat Arnold, including 1988’s My Cat Arnold; 1990’s Karen Mantler and Her Cat Arnold Get the Flu; 1996’s Farewell (a tribute to Arnold’s death), and finally 1999’s Karen Mantler’s Pet Project. Despite the eccentricities filtered through her bizarre and pervasive sense of humor, Mantler has a keen sense of song structure, and a dark affinity for minor keys.  Regardless, Mantler single-handedly created a meaningful, deeply personal subgenre of music for a misunderstood demographic.

3.  Puppet Hip-Hop

Perhaps the most amazing of all hip hop.  Back in the ’80s, the hip-hop genre was relatively new and everyone was jumping on the bandwagon, including puppets.  Rapping is difficult enough when you have flesh and blood mouth, but puppets busting rhymes with their wooden lips are otherworldly. Biological science tells us flesh and muscles work best for rapping; however, these brilliant puppets must use soft, pliable wood such as pine or balsam.  Regardless, it’s freaking awesome. Many times I’ve tried to mimic Eminem and ended up sounding like Mushmouth from Fat Albert.  This makes Mr. Wood here from MC 900 Ft. Jesus all the more astounding.

4.  Cowpunk

Sometime in the late ’70s I heard a comedy bit about a new genre of music called Punk Country where a cheeky, twangy singer crooned “I wanna do your cow/Show me how/I wanna see her moo/So do you.”  Punk was relatively new at the time, and the prospect of angry music from the working class sections of cities making its way to the sounds of rural America seemed hilariously absurd.  Fast forward a few years when I discovered a psychobilly band calling themselves simply X who mashed up high-energy country music with deliciously ironic punk lyrics.  It wasn’t long before I found other bands blasting cowpunk/psychobilly, such as Mojo Nixon, The Beat Farmers, and The Blasters.  Punk was no longer confined to the industrial sections of major cities as angry, ironic working-class country kids now had a voice.

5.  Math Rock

Math Rock is truly a sub-genre for those who just think too damned much.  Most people believe Math Rock is something they watched on Saturday mornings back in the ’70s, but it’s actually an offshoot of progressive and hardcore music of the late ’80s.  Eschewing the traditional 4/4 meter, Math Rockers usually aim for more asymmetric time signatures such as  7/8, 11/8, or 13/8.  No, I’m not making that up.  I actually researched it and typed what I found.  Being as I’m not a musician, I have no idea what the hell any of that means, but I do know that Math Rock differs from most music in that it uses irregular rhythms, unusual guitar fragments, and exceptionally complex composition.  So nerd-up if you can handle the C8H18 + O2 —>CO2 + H2O, bro.