Rhythm and Views
DECEMBER 14, 1998:
Taming The Tiger
THESE ARE SAD and millennial times, brothers and sisters. Young people are wearing platform shoes and bell bottoms, apparently unaware that we took that fashion bullet for them a quarter-century ago--and apparently ungrateful for our sacrifice. Marketing hucksters are reissuing long and mercifully forgotten discs by Jobriath and the Bay City Rollers, while Kiss stalks the land anew. Erik Estrada is back on TV. In the face of apocalypse, why should Joni Mitchell not dust off the production logs for Hejira and The Hissing of Summer Lawns? Why should she not revisit the mid-'70s, resort to the sounds of an inarguably great creative period in which she kicked off the folkie traces and donned the guise of full-tilt, irony-drenched jazzmaster? On Taming the Tiger, whose title plays a nice game with a famous little poem of William Blake's, Mitchell retains the sad-liberal-arts-major sensitivity of her earliest albums, but with the edge that 30 years out of college will bring: Her narrators have gone through divorce, hard times, disappointments, and they're more than a little annoyed at the tribulations--just listen to the anger of "Lead Balloon," and be glad you didn't inspire it. Set that tune alongside "Love Puts on a New Face" (an update of sorts to "Free Man in Paris") and "Face Lift," however, and it's clear that Mitchell has not only revisited her past, but also reinvented herself for the present. It's an entirely welcome return.
The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
STRIPPING AWAY THE morass that weighed down 1996's Now I Got Worry, this latest release by the Blues Explosion will both rejuvenate and frustrate longtime fans waiting for another masterpiece on the order of Orange. The spectrum of producers on this album (from Tucsonan Jim Waters to mix maestro The Automater to noise king Steve Albini to cyber-thrasher Alec Empire) seems to signify that the band acknowledges this frustration by trying too hard to appease everyone at once.
How else to explain numbers like "Blue Green Olga" (co-written with the overrated Lucious Jackson's Jill Cunniff), which veers just this side of the butt-wretched Red Hot Chili Peppers; and lyrical curiosities such as "High Gear," with Spencer as 16-wheel trucker seeing Santa in his headlights?
Still, for every clunker there's a Blues Explosion classic such as "Calvin," one of the funkiest tunes they've ever sweated. And you can't help but cheer when Spencer announces, "We don't play no blues," in "Talk About the Blues," a reconsideration of a recent Rolling Stones interview. "We play rock and roll!" With any luck, this is the last time he'll have to remind himself of such a duty.
THE ASTEROID #4
YOU KNOW, THERE'S never enough credit given when bands have really cool names. So since this has turned out to be the year of wildly spinning space rocks in film and in real life, let's take a moment to applaud this Philadelphia quartet: Hooray for the Asteroid #4. Imagine yourself slightly drunk on red wine, watching The Jerry Springer Show on mute, and listening to Introducing.... Okay, so you don't know what it sounds like. But the combination is absolutely appropriate--seeing fucked-up people act fucked-up while being casually removed is not just loony and slightly depressing, but fairly entertaining. It's precisely that combination of emotions that's essential to really good psychedelic music. Introducing will make you feel alienated, intrigued, even morose...but comfortable.
If you ever had an affection for early Pink Floyd, pick up this CD and scan to "Underbelly of a Mushroom." I just know you'll feel good about the experience. After that, skip over to "Egyptians and Druids," and see if that doesn't cause a few memories of Meddle to rise. I played this CD at work, where my co-workers are used to stuff from the '60s and '70s. Their initial reaction was, "Hey, when was this from?" I was happy to grin and reply, "Right now."
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