Tuesday, July 22, 2014

ABC: How to be a Zillionarie (1985)

It's clear that the guitar experiment was dead and the dance beats were back big time. Of the first three ABC records, I would rank this one as my least favourite, but I am sure those people who hated the second album were happy that the band came up with a sort of return-to-form effort. That's all I have to say.

ABC: Beauty Stab (1983)

ABC's second album was met with hostile reviews when it was released in 1983, with some reviewers suggesting that the band had sabotaged itself. I think it's fair to say that the public expects more of the same when it finds something it likes. Rather than Lexicon of Love II, they got Beauty Stab, a record that moved away from the synth sound to one that highlighted guitars. The single, That Was Then but This is Now, didn't really suggest that a change was afoot. Listen to the whole album, and you get a far difference sense of what the band hoped to achieve. Very little of what made Lexicon of Love a fan favourite is present on the follow-up.

I wonder how those same reviewers would view the album 30 years on? I think that there is lots to like in this record. It's dark, edgy, but a far cry from the New Romantic sound of the first record. Bite the Hand is a good example. Listen to the whole song.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Alan Parsons Project: The Turn of a Friendly Card (1980)

I know what you are thinking. You are wondering why The Alan Parsons Project is filed in my collection under the letter A? (By the way, I don't believe that I will be able to write these posts in perfect alphabetical order, but that is another story). The Alan Parson Project belongs under A because it is a band name. If the album were simply by Alan Parsons, I would put it under P. (I have noticed that record stores variously file TAPP under both A and P, sometimes in the same store). In the same way, I would file The Steve Miller Band under S, tough I think most record stores have him under M. This problem, of course, leads me to iTunes. Why is Bruce Cockburn filed under B? Why is Leoanrd Cohen under L. Why is John Cale under J. When I first got iTunes, and I started ripping my CDs, I retagged all of my items to fix this. But, then it became too difficult to keep up. Is it too much to as that artists are added lastname, firstname? Please!

The Turn of a Friendly Card is the fifth release from The Alan Parsons Project. Anyone familiar with Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon will recognize the name Alan Parsons. With Eric Woolfson, and a number of session musicians, he created TAPP and a series of records. Wikipedia has lots of details about his work as producer and engineer, and lots of information about the band.
The Turn of a Friendly Card seems to be about a man who loses his shirt in a casino. The most well-known song from this album is probably Games People Play. It's a catchy tune. I think that this band got less interesting along the way and I find the final three albums to be rather boring.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

ABC: That Was Then But This is Now/Vertigo (1983)

I have 12" singles. That Was Then But This is Now was released in advance of the second ABC album, Beauty Stab (1983). The sound is very similar to the first album, so there is really no departures or surprises. The flip side, Vertigo, is a delightful instrumental, which sounds somewhat unlike ABC.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

ABC: The Lexicon of Love (1982)

There's a noticeable R&B feel to ABC's brand of new wave music. The Lexicon of Love is probably most well known for the songs Poison Arrow and The Look of Love (part one). I suppose one could classify this band as a new wave, synthesizer-infused, new romantic, pop, dance band. It's well-crafted, bubbly, happy music, despite the recurring theme of heartache on the record.

I picked this up used, somewhere; hence, the rather worn cover on my copy (pictured at left).

a-ha: Soundrel Days (1986)

Somewhat surprisingly, I have a second a-ha record. Scoundrel Days, released in 1986, does not come close to matching the success of the debut record. I have rarely listened to it, and don't have too much to say about it. Oddly, the Allmusic Guide seems to love the record:
"The opening two songs alone make for one of the best one-two opening punches around: the tense edge of the title track, featuring one of Morten Harket's soaring vocals during the chorus and a crisp, pristine punch in the music, and "The Swing of Things," a moody, elegant number with a beautiful synth/guitar arrangement (plus some fine drumming courtesy of studio pro Michael Sturgis) and utterly lovelorn lyrical sentiments that balance on the edge of being overheated without quite going over." [source]
There is no denying that the production is quite good, and the songs are not terrible. There is just little memorable for me here.  a-ha continued to release records right into the 2000s. I have never heard any of them. Pictured, above left, is my album cover, shot with my phone.

a-ha: Hunting High and Low (1985)

The labels synthpop, new wave, electronic, Euro-pop, and perhaps Top 40, apply to this Norwegian band, popular in the 1980s. Of course, the band is best known for the hit single, Take on Me. Somehow, I acquired a copy on vinyl of the band's first release, Hunting High and Low, containing said song.

By 1985, I think it is safe to say that music videos were still in their infancy, and a good video in many ways meant a great deal more than the song itself. The really catchy video for Take on Me probably helped to make the song more popular that it otherwise should have been. Still, the song probably qualifies as essential New Wave.

For the record, I was never a huge fan of this band, but the aforementioned track became an important song from that decade and my nostalgia for that period favorably disposes me to it. In case you have never seen the video:
The balance of the album, I think, is quite solid, for what it is. Let's not forget the other notable track from the album, The Sun Always Shines on TV.

My vinyl copy of this record is in great shape, and I wish I could remember where I got it, but I haven't a clue.The album jacket photo was taken by me, on my phone.

Friday, July 18, 2014

10cc: The Original Soundtrack (1975)

If the only song you know from this album is I'm not in Love, then you are missing out, though that is a fantastic song and I am sure that your life is better for having that song in it. This album is much more than that song, however.

I can't recall when I obtained a copy of this album on vinyl, but that hardly matters. Side one commences with Une Nuit a Paris, a bizarre mini-operatic piece about Paris, which includes a prostitute and a dead policeman. If your mind recalls Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen while listening to this song, then you are not alone. It seems that Queen may have been influenced by this track, but who knows for sure?

Sex and blackmail and other topics are covered with a mix of parody and comedy. Life is a Minestrone seems to presage Snack Attack, but more on that later. It seems to me that the band took a turn for the worse with the departure of Kevin Godley and Lol Creme.

The poor cover shot (top left) was taken by me, on my phone.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Zydeco Fish is Dead; Long live Zydeco Fish

So, I made my last post here 952 days ago. I thought I should wait until I hit 1000 before posting this, but now seems like a good time. I am not resurrecting this blog. I am finished with blogging in the conventional sense.  However, it occurs to me that I would like to make a few posts every now and again about things that interest me, and currently, that is vinyl.

Some months ago, I bought my last compact disc. I can't believe that the record companies were able to pull the wool over our eyes for so long. I was an early adopter of CDs, feeling that the clean, noise-free sound was a huge advance over the pops and clicks of vinyl. I know I missed the large cover art. I knew I missed watching the needle track across the vinyl. I knew that shopping for CDs was never as enjoyable as digging through record bins. I knew that I hated the idea of downloading music. I have never bought a single song from iTunes. Who are these people who buy one song? I have always been a record buyer. If you are not going to buy an entire album, because there in only one good song on it, you shouldn't be listening to that artist (and I use that term sarcastically).

A few months back, I unboxed my vinyl collection and set up my turntable. I forgot how good vinyl sounds. I am not going to enter the debate about which is better, but I will say that listening to a record through a real sound system (not an iPod and not computer speakers) sounds awesome. I know that CDs can sound amazing too, especially if run through real speakers and a real amplifier. Are vinyl records warmer? I am not sure. Some early CDs sound terrible to my ears, but I recognize that mastering has greatly improved.

With regret, I did the inevitable mental inventory of records I sold when I adopted CDs. My musical tastes have always been wide-ranging. I like Rock, so-called alternative, some classical, some pop, jazz, blues. Sadly, I recalled that I sold my AC/DC records, parted with some Genesis, offloaded XTC, sold some Pink Floyd, Humble Pie, Traffic, and Grand Funk Railroad, among many others. Some of these I would not claim as artists I still like, but, nevertheless, I am now sad that I got rid of them. I am not upset that I sold Goofy Greats (my first piece of full-length vinyl), but even the loss of my Trooper records (a band that I would be embarrassed to have in my CD collection) is palpable.

On the other hand, I have some pieces of vinyl that I am relieved that I held onto. And that is what I might bore you with next. I realize that it is quite likely that no one will read these posts, but that is probably for the best. It might turn out to a sort of High Fidelity series of posts, anyway.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

El Camino

I picked up a copy of El Camino, the new CD from the Black Keys. I do emphasize that I purchased the CD, rather than than the digital tracks. The CD packaging is really fine and you would miss that with the digital version.

My initial impression is that the Keys have lost the blues. It's gone, and it made me think about The Police who abandoned reggae with Ghost in the Machine. That was a tragedy and The Police were never the same again. It heralded a decline into commercial mediocrity, leading to Sting's equally mediocre solo career, though I will allow that Dream of the Blue Turtles is a fabulous record.

I like the energy of El Camino, and on third or fourth listen, it is growing on me. Dan's guitar sounds awesome, I appreciate the more complex arrangements, and the overall sound of the CD is excellent. But, I do miss the blues.

"Just got to Be" From Magic Potion:



"Lonely Boy" from El Camino:

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Scientology

Two guys were just prostrating themselves outside my door in deep prayer to their g-d. On the topic of religion, I defer to Christopher Hitchens: “That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.” Amen, so to speak.

Coincidentally, I am reading Inside Scientology: The Story of America's Most Secretive Religion by Janet Reitman. I already knew that scientology was a huge steaming crock of shit, and possibly a cult, though I will leave that assessment to the experts. What is clear from reading this book is that scientology is less a religion and more a self-help organization.  It is a self-help organization that will help itself to your bank account if you are not careful.  Making scientology a religion had everything to do with tax-free status and zero to do with anything spiritual.

There is nothing new about religions making money. Just look at the obscene wealth of the catholic church. I am not against the accumulation of capital, so long as the accumulators pay taxes, and scientology managed to weasel out of it. Revoking that status would be a good first step to eradicating this nefarious organization. And, if you want to accuse me of having some bias against scientology, I should add that I am in favour of eradicating all religions everywhere.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Cover Songs

As I was listening to Johnny Cash sing Personal Jesus last weekend, I said to C that this song makes more sense in this arrangement. I didn't mind some Depeche Mode songs back in the day, but I was never a huge fan, and I didn't really like Personal Jesus, until I heard Johnny Cash sing it. On the same note, I have to say that Johnny's version of Hurt is fantastic and maybe even better than the original, though I personally do not like the distortion at the end of the song.

This made me think of some other cover songs that are better than the originals. I don't think Dyan would mind me saying that Hendrix does a better version of All Along the Watchtower.  Still, we have to give credit to Dylan for writing such a great song.

And then, I was forced to think of all of the cover versions that are worse than the original, like Knockin' on Heaven's Door. In my humble opinion, Guns n' Roses ruined this song, but I guess it had the benefit of introducing the song to many people who had never heard it before, though now they probably assume that it was written by GnR, which I guess has happened many times with cover versions.

Although I am a huge Bowie fan, I was less than impressed by his cover of Cactus. I don't think it's possible to improve on the Pixies recording. I feel the same way about Bowie's cover of Jonathan Richman's Pablo Picasso. On the other hand, John Cale's cover of that song is awesome. And, speaking of Cale, I just picked up his new EP, which is OK, but I need to give it a few more spins to be sure (yes, spins: I still buy CDs).


Friday, November 25, 2011

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Plumbing

Too bad I didn't go to plumbing school. How is it possible that 10 minutes of work costs a tad over $200? On an hourly rate, that's extortionate. I recall years ago paying $250 for a plumber to replace a two foot length of copper pipe. It took about 15 minutes. Of course, they sometimes have to deal with rats, roaches, and poop, so I guess there's that.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

On Electic Bikes

But, before I get to ebikes, I have to report that I came within inches of being splattered on the asphalt on my morning commute when some numbskull in an SUV made a right turn without shoulder checking. So, I followed him into the parking lot, where he kept driving, clearly aware that I was tailing him. Finally, he had no choice but to stop, and when his passenger opened the door, I explained that he needs to shoulder check before making a right turn, after which she apologized (the driver refused to look at me), and then I said, "well look next time." And, now, ebikes...

I appeal to the lawmakers of this province to review the licensing requirements for ebikes. Currently, the requirements are:
  • No driver's licence is required
  • No written test is required
  • No vehicle registration or plate is required
  • No motor vehicle liability insurance is required
(from: http://www.mto.gov.on.ca/english/dandv/vehicle/emerging/e-bike-faq.shtml#a9)

Having been forced to share the road (and by that I mean bikes lanes) with ebikes, I'd say it's time for a review.  I realize that what I am about to say will strike some as hypocritical.  Or, what's worse is that I might end up appearing as ignorant as Jacob Richler.

If there's one thing I cannot stand it is those who argue that all cyclists are law-breakers and dangerous, and that's simply not true. I know that there are lots of law-abiding cyclists out there who stop at traffic lights and don't ride on sidewalks. And, of course, there are lots of responsible ebike riders, but many of my interactions have left me angry and feeling like I am in danger when riding my bicycle.

The aspect that most concerns me is having to share a bike lane with a motorized vehicle.  According to the website referenced above, ebikes would seem to be welcome in bike lanes:
E-bikes are allowed to travel anywhere bicycles are permitted to travel.  Any municipal by-law prohibiting bicycles from highways under their jurisdiction also apply to e-bikes. Municipalities may also pass by-laws specific to e-bikes that prohibit them from municipal roads, sidewalks, bike paths, bike trails, and bike lanes under their jurisdiction.
And, indeed, the city of Toronto bike lane bylaws state the following: "According to City of Toronto bike lane bylaws, bicycles must be propelled by muscular power."(http://www.toronto.ca/cycling/). So, if you are driving an ebike, please GET OUT OF THE BIKE LANE! You are breaking the law.

I have been honked at, passed very closely at high speeds, and cursed at by ebike riders. Last year, I had an altercation with an ebiker who repeatedly honked at me, and then sped by so close that her useless pedals almost clipped me.  I'm all for sharing the road, but bike lanes in Toronto are reserved for non-motorized vehicles.

Yesterday, on my cycle home, an ebike came screaming up beside me at what must have been the maximum 32 km/h. He cut in front of me and then drove up onto the sidewalk where he continued for about 50 to 75 feet before stopping. I worried that anyone exiting a store would have been hit.

I fail to see why these bikes are exempt from licensing laws. They are motorized. They travel at generally faster speeds that bikes. Someone will be hit and injured by one of these things in the future. That's a given.

Most of these things look like electric scooters, so even the name is perplexing. All riders ought to be required to take a safety course like those for motorcycles. I am opposed to the licensing of bicycles because they are non-polluting. Ebikes are polluting. The electricity most likely comes from coal or nuclear power, neither of which are green.

Accidents Waiting to Happen

So last night I experienced one of those infuriating dreams where the protagonist is unable to complete a task or do something that ought to be simple. In this case, I was sent back to high school (I have no idea why) and I had arrived late to school owing to the fact that my mother drove me in a rather circuitous route.

My mother, I should point out, never ever drove me to school. I should also add that she was probably the world's worst driver. The walk from our house to the high school was one kilometre, so there was no need for a ride anyway. But, we were late, I think because we also stopped to pick up my brother and then we witnessed a strange tire-changing accident near the school.

Once inside the school, I could not manage to find where my classes were, and that was frustrating. So, perhaps the interpretation is that something is frustrating me lately? Who knows?

Anyway, I was cycling to work today, as I have done for years. I see lots of screwed up things during these rides, like people applying makeup and shaving while driving. This morning, I looked to my left and saw a women in a white Smart car eating a bowl of cereal while she was driving. That doesn't seem very smart to me. Between traffic lights, she held the tupperware container in her right hand while she steered with her left. At a traffic light, she dug in, filling her face with Corn Flakes or whatever the hell it was. I once saw a guy eating cereal while walking down Yonge Street, but this was the first time I ever saw someone driving and eating cereal.

Just to review, it is now illegal to use a handheld device (such as a cell phone) while operating a motor vehicle. Someone please tell me that's it's illegal to eat while driving. It has to be. The woman is an accident waiting to happen, just like my mother, though she managed never to have had an accident, but I think she caused lots.