Rhythm & Views
AUGUST 3, 1998:
ANY ARCHIVAL RELEASE is bound to carry the whiff of nostalgia along in its wake. Vets of the late-'70s and early-'80s New Wave currently comprise some of the most passionate re-tellers of trench-stories, fueled in no small part by the namby-pamby practitioners of retro that infest the '98 scene like so many flowerpot-and-radiation-suit-clad idiots queuing up for entrance at a game show taping: Contestant No. 1, what year did cassette-only label ROIR issue a classic '81 live album from electro punks Suicide...? Those of us in the peanut gallery know the answer, of course (1986)--but more crucially, we also understand why this CD reissue is an epochal document of a never-to-return era.
Alan Vega and Martin Rev, respectively on vox and synths, were half-hybrid and half missing-link, fusing free-jazz aesthetics and prog-rock's technology fetish to punk rock's aggro thuggishness and minimalism's sense of economy. Assorted other bits--the mantra-like repetitiveness of disco and funk, occasional bursts of squalling No Wave dissonance, Vega's S&M lounge-lizard-from-hell persona--helped add to the duo's controversial image...not to mention giving each man quite a set of coattails to hang onto long after Suicide's expiration date. (Recent reviews suggest that the now-portly duo currently isn't long on tedious cabaret, and is painfully short on groove.)
Essayed here are most of the great Suicide "anthems" (only "Cheree" is conspicuous in its absence): the low-end throb and monochromatic Vega moan of "Rocket USA"; the hiccup-rock technobilly of '50s homage "Rock 'n' Roll (Is Killing My Life)"; the shuddering, extemporaneous wall of sound that is "Ghost Rider"; the tragic, hymnal balladry of "Dream Baby Dream." Audiophiles may blanch at the analog-based sonic limitations of the source tape, but as a live recording, this drips venom. And that's not nostalgia speaking (ROIR, 611 Broadway, Suite 411, New York, NY 10012).
The Best Of Paolo Conte
NONESUCH, THE QUEEN of world music labels, may have released this as a result of last year's wave of interest in French streetmutt-singer Serge Gainsbourg. Like the chain-smoking, angst-ridden Parisian, Italy's Conte is a cabaret singer representing jilted lovers, depression-induced alcoholism, seekers of truth and all the other usual existentialist causes. As a plus, he's a hell of a melody writer, conjuring up moods stretching back to the naughty '20s, as on "Boogie." CD racks should feature a section of male menopause music, where brooding songsters like Gainsbourg, Rod McKuen, Jacques Brel and Conte can offer jewel-boxed consolation to the post-40 crowd of sagging romantics. It's a novel category of music these guys offer, and Conte is as good as any of them.
A Long Way Home
MUSIC CRITICS AND feature writers across the land are tugging their forelocks over Dwight Yoakam, trying to reconcile his burgeoning Hollywood career with his status as one of country music's most enduring and innovative talents. Breathless and agitated, they pose the same question over and over again: What does it all mean? With his recently released A Long Way Home, Yoakam counters with a succinct answer: Nothing.
Those seeking proof need only consult "Traveler's Lantern," a bluegrass tune so pure that, by the second verse, it conjures images of mountain folk drinking moonshine while their barefoot children dance with chickens around a campfire. So much for Yoakam going Hollywood. If anything, A Long Way Home is a metaphorical journey about embracing roots, not abandoning them. On his previous collection of originals, 1995's Gone, Yoakam shunned his honky-tonk pedigree in favor of a more mongrel sound incorporating a broad tapestry of influences. Interesting, yes, but hardly memorable. And a subsequent release of cover tunes was downright forgettable.
But now Dwight is back, and once again he's packing a punch. While the masterful songwriting of A Long Way Home evokes such Yoakam classics as "This Time" and "If There Was a Way," it also explores fresh sonic territory, cultivating a working balance between tradition and experimentation.
Ultimately, however, Yoakam is at his finest when twanging his way through such hardcore honky-tonkers as "These Arms" and "That's Okay," or balladeering on the haunting "I'll Just Take These." While the arrangements on A Long Way Home are spare, the sound is fat and crystalline. And Yoakam's voice has perhaps never sounded better.
In a musical genre increasingly populated by sell-outs and popinjays, it's reassuring to know there's an "actor" out there capable of injecting passion and ingenuity into popular country music.
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