Monthly Archives: February 2018

Rocks In The Attic #668: Weezer – ‘Pacific Daydream’ (2017)

RITA#668What the fuck happened to Weezer? I stopped buying their records a long time ago – back when the weirdness of Pinkerton was just so disappointing in comparison to their classic 1994 debut – but I don’t recognise the band coming out of my speakers anymore.

They almost reeled me back in with 2001’s Hash Pipe – a single I might easily have responded with an ‘Ooooff’ when I first heard it – but the other big single from the Green album, Island In The Sun, showed that they were more at home writing pop songs. 2005’s Beverly Hills single sealed this, and now remains the song they’re most well-known for – the Buddy Holly of the 2000s.

By the time we get to 2017’s Pacific Daydream – a horrible title matched only the sheer awfulness of the cover image – it’s clear that Rivers Cuomo is more at home writing melodic pop songs than rocking out. If it came to light that he was behind a dozen Katy Perry and Taylor Swift songs, nobody would bat an eyelid.

The strange thing is that this doesn’t even sound like Weezer anymore – with the album’s production suffering from the same generic fingerprint of every nameless Top 20 pop-rock band of the last decade.

The only reason this bland excuse for a Weezer record sits on my shelves is that I saw it listed on Amoeba Record’s online store, fully autographed by the band (presumably after an in-store signing) and in a lovely red and black splatter vinyl, for a lower price than my local record store. Well, at least it makes for an attractive Frisbee.

Hit: Feels Like Summer

Hidden Gem: Mexican Fender

Advertisements

Rocks In The Attic #667: Various Artists – ’20 Solid Gold Hits Vol. 17’ (1977)

RITA#667The problem with New Zealand’s Solid Gold Hits series is that twenty songs crammed onto two sides of vinyl is just too much. It might have been okay with the first volume in 1972, but as running times got longer and longer throughout the decade, you end up with a very quiet, compressed listening experience.

Still, the series is sought-after by New Zealand record collectors. At the last record fair I attended, not only did I hear one guy continually ask the traders whether they had “any Solid Gold”, but one stall had a designated section set aside for entries in the series.

Not this guy though. I have no interest in collecting a run-of-the-mill compilation series with bad artwork and questionable content. The two standouts from this edition – Steve Miller’s Jet Airliner and 10cc’s Good Morning Judge – both already exist in my collection, on the original records they’re taken from. Aside from this, there’s not much else of interest aside from Bryan Ferry’s This Is Tomorrow and Heatwave’s Boogie Nights. In fact, the appearance of artists like David Soul, Smokie and Pussycat should relegate this to the bargain bin, whether it’s part of a series or not.

It’s a surprise that there isn’t a track on there by Les McQueen’s Crème Brûlée. It’s a shit business.

Hit: Jet Airliner – The Steve Miller Band

Hidden Gem: Good Morning Judge – 10cc

Rocks In The Attic #666: Black Sabbath – ‘Black Sabbath’ (1970)

RITA#666Six hundred and sixty six – the number of the beast. Not to be confused with six hundred and sixty eight – the neighbour of the beast.

Back in 2012, I missed out on a Black Sabbath vinyl box set – the first eight studio albums housed in a lovely black and purple sleeve. I couldn’t afford it at the time – what with buying a house and having children to feed. It quickly went out of print, and now changes hands for silly money online. Another box set collection will be released eventually, I thought. I avoided buying the individual albums – both brand new and second hand – like the black death.

Six years later, and a new Black Sabbath vinyl box set has finally landed. It’s called The Ten Year War box set, presumably named after their militancy against Birmingham barber shops in the 1970s. The set is essentially the same as the 2012 release, featuring the first eight studio records plus a couple of 7” records and some associated stuff (posters, tour programmes, a brochure and a hardback book).

RITA#666bThe strangest thing about this new release though is the addition of a USB stick featuring digital high-definition audio copies of each of the records. The USB drive is shaped as – you guessed it – a black crucifix. This is presumably handy at a midnight black mass, when the ominous sound of chanting gets a bit repetitive. Just halt the proceedings – spare the sacrificial virgin for a couple of extra minutes – while you plug in the USB, tell everybody to wait until you download the correct codec for your media player, and resume to the tune of Vol. 4’s Snowblind.

I’m not sure if it justifies the NZ$400 price tag though. Even in the recent 20%-off sale at JB HiFi, that brings it down to NZ$320. Eight records at forty bucks a pop – that’s the price of a standard new release. Aren’t bulk purchases supposed to offer a discount to the buyer?

RITA#666cThe box set’s unique selling point, as far as I’m concerned, is that the eight LPs are all pressed onto splatter vinyl. These look fantastic, but not worth that additional cost. I figured out I can buy 2015 reissues of each of the eight records individually – on boring, standard black vinyl – at twenty bucks a pop in the same sale.

So I did. The Sabbath drought is over!

Black Sabbath is about as strong a debut rock record as you could hope for. It’s the most interesting of the Ozzy Osbourne records, if only for the fact that it includes some ‘lighter’ material that would never see the light of day on later records. Due to this, it’s a lot more fun than the band’s output in the latter half of the decade. There’s a touch of blues on this record – a harmonica even makes an appearance! – something they would avoid on subsequent releases to focus more of the heavy metal dirge of doom that made them a household name.

Hit: Black Sabbath

Hidden Gem: The Wizard

RITA#666a

Rocks In The Attic #665: Fastway – ‘Trick Or Treat’ (1986)

RITA#665Watching this film the other night, I was reminded of the decision I made somewhere in my teens that heavy metal was in a really bad place in the mid- to late-1980s.  At school, I was very much like the protagonist of this film – I’d wear double-denim, scrawl things like the AC/DC logo on my schoolbooks, and spend more time laughing than studying. Who knows where that might have ended in a parallel universe?

Thankfully, the appeal of heavy metal stopped where hair metal / glam metal started. I have no interest in listening to music played by musicians who have better hair than the girl next door. I can just about handle Def Leppard and early Ozzy Osbourne, but I avoid pretty everything else from that period. It’s generally very weak-sounding rock and roll, played by men wearing eyeliner and rouge.

When I see people on Facebook posting photos of Mötley Crüe or Poison records, I simply can’t understand the appeal. The cover image of Poison’s Look What The Cat Dragged In should be enough to deter anybody, yet is bandied around as a classic of the period.

I used to work with a guy who liked that sort of music. He was an old-school metalhead, and used to go to Donington’s Monsters Of Rock festival every year in the late ‘80s. I was speaking to him once and the conversation turned to the subject of Nirvana. He couldn’t hide his hatred for the band, seeing them as the reason why hair metal / glam metal had died. I just couldn’t understand this. The logic was that he felt that like he was onto a really good thing with that type of music, and when grunge kicked off, it killed all those bands.

Good riddance.

RITA#665bAs a film, Trick Or Treat owes more than a little to the plots of Halloween III: Season Of The Witch and Christine. The highlight is the appearance of Ozzy Osbourne and Gene Simmons in small cameos, but even this novelty doesn’t save what is ultimately a wishful revenge fantasy with poor dialogue and a weak storyline. Backmasking should never be a plot-device.

The soundtrack features a bunch of dated heavy metal songs from the period by the band Fastway, formed by ex-Motörhead guitarist, ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke. As with anything from the period, it’s very much hard-rock-by-numbers, and probably does sound better played backwards.

Hit: Trick Or Treat

Hidden Gem: After Midnight

Rocks In The Attic #664: Various Artists – ‘White Nights (O.S.T.)’ (1985)

RITA#664In the Spring of 1986, my grandmother took me on holiday. I was seven years old. The trip to North Wales was cemented in my memory by two events – the first was a visit to an arcade, where I played Spy Hunter endlessly; the second was a trip to the cinema.

The last time I had holidayed with my grandmother was in 1983 in Torquay – the jewel of the English Riviera! On that trip, we had seen Octopussy at the cinema – my first experience watching James Bond on the big screen.

Three years later, I remember standing in front of the cinema, begging my grandmother to let me watch a film I vaguely recognised by the poster outside in the lobby. “Are you sure?” I remember her asking. She wanted to take me into a children’s film instead, as the one I was pointing at looking at little too mature for my age, even though it was only a PG certificate. But I held firm. “No, I want to see that one.” The man at the box office smiled at my grandmother. She paid, and we were in the darkness of the cinema.

The film was a little too mature for me after all. My grandmother had been right. Still I enjoyed it, even though a lot of it went over my head. I raved about some of the sequences when we left the cinema, and she seemed relieved that I wasn’t mentally scarred by any of it.

And herein lies one of the most frustrating little mysteries of my life. For many years afterwards, I didn’t know what the film was that we had seen on that trip. I remembered a couple of key moments, and the tone of the film, but I didn’t know what it was called, or who any of the actors and actresses were.

Life before the internet was hard. You couldn’t just look shit up all the time. So every now and again, when I thought about the film, I would ask friends if they remembered a film about a male Russian ballet dancer, who escapes from somewhere with a black fella. That’s all I could remember. As you can imagine, this didn’t ring any bells with anybody.

If pushed, I could probably describe the film’s first eventful moment. The Russian ballet dancer was on a plane, which was crashing, and in a moment of panic, he fell backwards against the front of the cabin and the drinks trolley rolled into him at force, smashing into his face.

For year and years, I drew blanks whenever I described it to people, but it was always so clear in my mind. Of course, as soon as the internet made such things possible, I looked it up. The whole process took about three minutes. What a time to be alive!

The film, as you have probably guessed it by now, was Taylor Hackford’s White Nights, originally released in 1985 in the USA, but which didn’t see cinemas in the UK until the following March.

I’ve just watched it for the second time, some thirty-two years later. Due to a technical issue, I had to watch the film without any of the Russian dialogue being subtitled. This probably gave me the same level of understanding as I had when I was seven years old.

RITA#664aThe film opens with a world-famous ballet-dancer, Nikolai Rodchenko (Mikhail Baryshnikov), who has defected from the USSR, flying to Japan in a commercial jet. The jet runs into problems over Siberia and is forced to perform an emergency landing. Rodchenko suffers injuries during the crash – which I had remembered surprisingly well – and is picked up by the KGB who brand him a traitor. Unable to escape, he is installed in a Leningrad apartment with a black American tap-dancer, Raymond Greenwood (Gregory Hines) and his wife, Darya (a young Isabella Rossellini in her first credited screen role). Anxious to present the return of their famous son to the rest of the word, the authorities arrange for him to return to the stage with his former dancing partner (Helen Mirren). Rodchenko escapes to the American Embassy, with Darya – in a very tense sequence – while Raymond stays behind to delay the authorities. The film’s finale finds Raymond about to be executed by firing squad, an event which is then revealed to be a prisoner exchange between East and West. He is traded for a political prisoner and walks over the border, to freedom and into the arms of his wife.

The film’s key selling point is the culture clash between East and West, between black and white, and between ballet and tap, as Baryshnikov and Hines’ characters bond over dancing to American pop music. The soundtrack is a typical slice of ‘80s pop and rock, with Phil Collins taking prime position with Separate Lives, a duet with Marilyn Martin (and written by Stephen Bishop of Tootsie fame).

Sadly absent from the soundtrack album is the film’s biggest song – Lionel Richie’s Say You, Say Me. This won the Oscar for Best Song at the 1986 Academy Awards, beating Separate Lives from the same film, as well as competition from Huey Lewis & The News’ The Power Of Love.

Hit: Separate Lives (Love Theme From White Nights)­ – Phil Collins & Marilyn Martin

Hidden Gem: My Love Is Chemical – Lou Reed

Rocks In The Attic #663: Elton John – ‘Rock Of The Westies’ (1975)

RITA#663What is intended as an innocent bit of wordplay from Elton (the title is a play on the phrase ‘west of the Rockies’, referring to the strip of the United States between that mountain range the Pacific seaboard) means a totally different thing in Auckland, New Zealand.

Auckland is split into five areas – the urban central area, the predominantly lower socio-economic South Auckland, the suburban North Shore, the immigrant-populated East Auckland, and the more
rural West Auckland.

There are stereotypes and tropes of each area, but it is the West Auckland residents – or westies – who have the strongest image. Westies are usually defined as working-class, keen for a drink (usually bourbon and coke), and like the sound of loud rock music.

Of course, not all West Aucklanders fit this profile – it’s a stereotype after all, and one which most residents would baulk at the idea of – but this record always seems so apt. Elton has probably never set foot in West Auckland, but you could be forgiven for thinking that in 1975 he recorded a concept album about the people who live there, and their favourite kind of music.

Rock Of The Westies is Elton’s tenth studio record – and is far from his best work. It has the accolade of being only the second album (at that time) to debut at #1 on the US Billbord 200 chart. The first record to do this was its predecessor by five months, Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy, also released in 1975. As weaker efforts, both records were presumably buoyed by the sales of Elton’s Greatest Hits record, the best-selling album in the USA in that year.

RITA#663aElton recently announced his retirement from touring – after the completion of a three year, 300-date farewell world tour (promoted by a poster image showing his slow transformation into a League Of Gentleman character). I’m debating whether I can muster the energy to catch him and his brilliant sausage fingers while I still have the chance.

Hit: Island Girl

Hidden Gem: Street Kids

Rocks In The Attic #662: Brian Gascoigne – ‘Phase IV (O.S.T.)’ (1974)

RITA#662.jpgIf I walk into my local branch of the Warehouse (a general merchandise superstore chain in New Zealand), I can find practically anything. High-end TVs, underwear, plants, shoes, deodorant, children’s toys – there’s practically no limit to what they range.

In the last decade, they’ve started to stock LPs. I’ve had a few good deals from there over the years, but mostly they deal with common denominator titles. As soon as I approach the racks – usually very poorly displayed – I know what I’m going to see. Brothers In Arms sits next to every AC/DC studio album under the sun, three corner-dinged copies of Dark Side Of The Moon will be there, sat behind the latest overpriced Ed Sheeran record, but if I’m lucky there will be something that takes me completely by surprise (Aerosmith’s awesome 1973 Paul’s Mall bootleg being my greatest find so far).

In fact, I’ve seen so many copies of AC/DC records there, I actually think it might explain why Back In Black is one of the best-selling records of all time – the Warehouse made a stocktake error, and there are still eight million copies sat on their shelves.

It just goes to show that while the big chain stores try to get on the vinyl revival bandwagon, they’ll nearly always miss the needs of the niche record collector.

At the other end of the spectrum exists a boutique record label – Waxwork Records – founded by Kevin Bergeron in New Orleans in 2013. Their primary focus is the preservation and release of horror soundtracks – particularly cult films from the ‘70s and ‘80s – but their output so far has ranged from soundtracks as diverse as Bernard Herrmann’s Taxi Driver, Éric Serra’s Leon: The Professional, and Barry Devorzon’s The Warriors, to original music like PILOTPRIEST’s Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (currently glued to my turntable).

RITA#662aTheir specialty however is sourcing out-of-print soundtracks or, in some cases, music from films that never had a soundtrack release in any format upon release. There’s a detective element to their work then (more information on which can be found here); a level of research that you would usually only see from archivists and historians on the behalf of major-label acts (the nth Beatle Mark Lewisohn, for example).

1974’s Phase IV is one such film that never had a soundtrack commercially released in any format. The score was therefore considered lost until Bergeron and team tracked it down and issued it as catalogue number WW008.

The film is probably best known for being the sole directorial work of legendary graphic designer Saul Bass – the man behind the artwork and title sequences of films by Otto Preminger, Alfred Hitchock, Stanley Kubrick and Martin Scorsese. It’s a little-known science-fiction horror, concerning the work of two scientists as they attempt to prevent the spread of killer ants.

What sets the film apart from other sci-fi and horror films are the sections showing the behaviour of the ants. Filmed in extreme close-up, the shots of these real ants are more natural history documentary than what you’d expect to see from a film in either genre, but the impact is more effective than any special effect could muster. In such close detail, the ants are as terrifying and horrific as any alien or movie monster could be.

The music, from composer Brian Gascoigne, is a synth-laden slice of 1970’s futurism fused with more traditional instruments which give the film a whistful, rustic feel. Split into four tracks, named after each section of the film – Phase I, Phase II, Phase III and Phase IV – the soundtrack feels more like a prog record in its attempt to evoke an eerie tone, rather than the traditional soundtrack approach of individual music cues.

One interesting sidenote is that Phase IV features the first cinematic depiction of a geometric crop circle (built, in this case, by the killer ants). The initial release of the film came a full two years before any news reports of crop circles in the UK, and is therefore seen as a potential influencer on those who started the practice in the late ‘70s.

Hit: Phase I

Hidden Gem: Phase III