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The Boston Phoenix Oh, The Guilt

My fidelity

By Douglas Wolk

APRIL 24, 2000: 

The Top Five Recent Releases That Made High Fidelity Hit A Little Too Goddamn Close To Home, Thank You Very Much:

1) Gimme Indie Rock Vol. 1 (K-Tel). The K-Tel emo compilation was a cute idea, and so was the Rhino history of industrial music. I laughed -- you laugh until it happens to you. Gimme Indie Rock happened to me. It's a K-Tel two-CD set of the air I breathed in college, plus or minus: independent rock of the '80s, from biggish names like Hüsker Dü and Black Flag to cult items like Scrawl and Death of Samantha. Some observations: (a) It's good -- Scott Becker (of Option magazine) compiled it and sequenced it like a solid mix tape, mostly picking stuff that sounds appropriate in context rather than (cough) "hits"; (b) There are Midwestern teenagers whose only exposure to Mudhoney ever will be the magnificent fuzzy lust howl "Touch Me I'm Sick" on this album, and they won't be missing much; (c) Having my nostalgia packaged and resold to me is a lot more fun than it's chalked up to be; (d) The drum sounds really date a lot of this stuff.

2) Boredoms, Vision*Creation*Newsun (WEA Japan). The Boredoms' previous album, Super æ, is one of my personal Top Five desert-island whatevers, a trance-rock record so intense it knocks the breath out of me every time I put it on. I resolved that I had to hear everything they recorded after that. Which is how I came to buy the cringingly expensive limited-edition boxed-set version of Vision*Creation*Newsun. The real attraction isn't the badly recorded bonus live disc but what happens when you open the box and expose it to light: a photosensitive cell croaks like a bunch of frogs. I find the thought of that beautiful and cheering and worth the ludicrous cost, which means that I am WEA Japan's lawful prey. (As for Vision*Creation*Newsun itself, the album is practically a remake of Super æ -- even revisiting some of the same riffs -- so you'll enjoy it more as an extension than as a separate entity.)

3) The Spinanes, Imp Years EP (Merge). The problem isn't that two of the last great artifacts from the last period where limited-pressing vinyl seven-inch singles had intense subcultural cachet are finally on CD. Sensible people don't want to keep the good stuff to themselves. It isn't even that the two bonus tracks -- a sloppy Crackerbash collaboration and a little throwaway -- aren't as good; why grouse? And "Hawaiian Baby" is one of the most beautiful songs the whole self-adoring scene produced, with Rebecca Gates groping at the edges of her own broken heart, drifting over to thoughts of a Verlaines song that made her feel the same way as her own, and letting Scott Plouf's matchlessly elegant drumming fill in the details. No, the problem is that listening to it now, I hear hints of the flaws -- the too-guarded lyrics that limbo-walk under sense, the singing that never changes tone -- that undermined the final Spinanes record. Maria Callas fans talk about the wobble that eventually destroyed her voice and how you can hear it even in her earliest recordings. It seems despicable to listen so critically that all of the pleasure of this stuff is lost.

4) The Who, The Blues to the Bush/1999 (Musicmaker.com). At a press conference in New York last week, they rolled this out -- yet another accursed live album from a band who haven't had a record of new material in 18 years -- and announced that the Who are going to be dragging themselves back out on the road again this summer. Pete Townshend is incredibly smart and also really mean. When writer Ira Robbins asked how the lads are getting on these days, Townshend leaned forward, smiled, and purred, "We all love each other, but we fucking hate you, Ira." A boilerplate question about how the Net is changing music got the halting, boilerplate answer from Roger Daltrey that he was worried about, uh . . . Napster, yes, Napster, and how artists won't work if they're not getting paid -- and Townshend mouthed, silently, "Yes. They. Will." Townshend is still a tremendous guitarist, but they're just not listening to one another any more -- the album sounds like five showoffs independently noodling to a click track. And the audience is yelling along so loudly, it doesn't seem to be listening either. Of course, if I weren't the kind of person High Fidelity's about, I'd never have bothered with this in the first place.

5) Stevie Wonder, Talking Book (Motown). A test for severe High Fidelity-type damage: what reminds you of That Break-Up, "Maybe Your Baby" or Stevie Wonder's entire early-'70s output? For extra credit: do the newly remastered editions solve the problem?


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