Music

CD Review Revue

DUKES OF STRATOSPHEAR
Chips From the Chocolate Fireball
(Virgin)
****

Although it's true that whichever XTC album I happen to be listening to at any given moment is my favorite one, it's also true that my favorite thing the band ever did is the Dukes of Stratosphear project. In the mid-'80s the Swindon foursome made two records as the Dukes--the 25 O'Clock EP ('85) and Psonic Psunspot ('87)--which were compiled on the recently remastered and rereleased 1987 collection, Chips From the Chocolate Fireball. Fifteen years later, Chips remains a brilliant psychedelic pop pastiche that lovingly combines morsels of early Pink Floyd, middle Beatles, Electric Prunes, Hollies, Kinks, and dozens of other, like-hearted bands. The record has an absurdly fetishistic vibe, right down to the pseudonyms (Sir John Johns, the Red Curtain, Lord Cornelius Plum, and E. I. E. I. Owen) and surreal between-song nonsense. But because it's XTC, the songs and sounds are more than a celebration of influences. "Braniac's Daughter," "Collideascope," and "The Mole From the Ministry," in particular, take the band's heroes to school, offering up hooks and rhymes every bit as delectable as the genuine articles. Most of the songs, production tricks aside, would sound right at home on a proper XTC record, which is why Chips now reveals itself as a turning point in the band's evolution. Though Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding were never strangers to catchy melody, the XTC records that followed the Dukes (Skylarking, Oranges and Lemons, et al.) rang out with gleeful surrender to the soaring Beatles pop the band was born to create. SEAN NELSON

MONTAGE
Montage

(Sundazed)
***1/2

HEELLLLLLLOOOOO!!!!! Left Banke fans, yes indeed... finally, YOU too can own a copy of this tough-to-find Michael Brown "project," all reissued on the popular Disc of Compactness!! Please, all, if you can, remember Brown was the Left Banke's main mammajamma... hence my reference (jeez!). For those NOT "in the know"... lemme see... how does one properly say "Montage" to prepare the ear? Mmmmmm, they're sweet pop... soft like bunnies... creamy, dreamy... (um, yeah, exactly! HA! And I didn't even say "baroque"!). However, Montage was not quite so involved with writing SINGLES as the Left Banke was. The songs on this LP act as one thang, you know... the songs're put together to act as a cohesive unit! Now, tho' Mr. Brown arranged, produced, and played on this LP, he won't "officially" in the band. Like, at all. DAMN, this is SO MUCH better'n that first fucking Stories LP. MIKE NIPPER

DORKWEED
This Is the New Crap

(Shaky Records)
**1/2

The problem with humor in rock and roll is that most people aren't funny. The Frogs are funny--one of the funniest bands ever, in fact. Dorkweed, on the other hand, is only sort of funny. And the problem with the new Dorkweed EP, This Is the New Crap, is that it sounds so much like the Frogs' Bananimals, it can't escape sounding like a mere approximation of something truly great. Bananimals (like all Frogs albums) is ludicrously over-the-top, with songs about fucking priests in habits, golden showers, the consideration of dentures during anonymous park sex, etc. Dorkweed's New Crap comprises six mildly amusing songs, about being trapped on an airplane next to a drunk cowboy ("Ten Miles High"), and being attracted to small women: "Put your hip in the palm of my hand," go the lyrics to "Really Small." "I like your eyes/I like your ass, too/I'd like to ask you to stand by the window." The LP falters where it aims to be silly, and while This Is the New Crap contains evidence of what makes Dorkweed interesting--this is a pretty clever group of people who know how to write hooks--it's too underwrought to register beyond that. There's also a "punked out" cover of Journey's "Any Way You Want It," but the irony of the act itself is lost in the self-amused translation. JEFF DeROCHE

NEIL HALSTEAD
Sleeping on Roads

(4AD)
**

It's best to be wary of anything you must convince yourself to like. You'll never trust your perception to be legitimate: Is it truly good, or did you just wear yourself down? Slowdive and Mojave 3 are great bands--the latter's 2000 release, Excuses for Travellers, is a quietly stunning album swollen with sorrow and regret. So it would follow that a solo record by Mojave 3 singer Neil Halstead would be just as affecting. But honestly, the songs passed by so unobtrusively that I forgot I was even listening to anything, and had to hit replay four times before I noticed even one lyric. A close, determined listen revealed an album of sweet, sunny songs. Halstead's lazy vocals are lulling, with lines like "Watch for the cars because they can fuck you up" (off the title track), but that's three-quarters of the tracks gone, and I only just noticed. KATHLEEN WILSON

ZACHARY THAKS
Form the Habit

(Sundazed)
****

The Zachary Thaks is Texan garage fellas from the '60s--wait, they're garage NINJAS (!), whippin' and flippin', shakin' till it's all shook loose! Hi-YA!! So generally, this career overview begins all punky then gets down cool like Rundgren's Nazz... this, save for "Weekday Blues," which sounds like 12 bars of tired, tho' maybe I just OD'd on Savoy Brown lately. Anyway, what really made this collection stand out for me is when that boy sang about wantin' his asshole dad to die ("Can You Hear You Daddy's Footsteps")... WHOA! Well, it's that THING he's gettin' across... better than 30 years on, this song sounds so immediate. That anger... so visceral and intense. Yikes. MIKE NIPPER

 

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