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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Box Tops: Dimensions

THE BOX TOPS: DIMENSIONS (1969)

1) Soul Deep; 2) I Shall Be Released; 3) Midnight Angel; 4) Together; 5) I'll Hold Out My Hand; 6) I Must Be The Devil; 7) Sweet Cream Ladies, Forward March; 8) The Happy Song; 9) Ain't No Way; 10) Rock Me Baby.

The final album by The Box Tops does not have all that much to recommend it. It is formally notable by featuring no less than three Alex Chilton originals — none of which is particularly im­pressive on its own, but collectively they show that the man is trying his hand at several different directions at once: ʽTogetherʼ is blue-eyed soul in the same vein as all those hits that Penn, Old­ham, and Thompson were writing for the band, ʽI Must Be The Devilʼ is dark piano blues remi­niscent of early Animals, and ʽThe Happy Songʼ is a short, fast, upbeat country-rocker. Of these, ʽDevilʼ is the only song that gets occasionally remembered, though, and only because its doom-laden lyrics always bring on associations with Chilton's ill-fated life and career — but in 1969, he probably just wrote all these "I can't bear to see my face, wrong's done I can erase" lines because, well, that's sort of how blues stuff usually gets written, you know.

The primary album single was ʽSoul Deepʼ, another Thompson contribution that earned them the last bit of chart success, but with Van Morrison's Astral Weeks having rewritten the rules on «blue-eyed soul» a few months earlier, you could tell that anything like ʽSoul Deepʼ already sounded a bit behind the times in 1969 — indeed, no melodic or «semantic» progress here, just two and a half minutes more of catchy soulful pop, and furthermore, the song is jubilant rather than mournful, which is not a very good thing for Chilton, to whom «sad» always seemed to come more naturally than «happy» (for that matter, ʽThe Happy Songʼ, despite the title and the lyrics, ends up sounding bitterly ironic the way he does it).

More interesting, if not necessarily better written, is another single, ʽSweet Cream Ladies, For­ward Marchʼ, which has nothing to do with the recently deceased Cream, but is instead a Brit­poppy march (proper brass backing included) dedicated to lovely ladies of the night and the use­ful services they provide to society. It's... uh... ironic, I guess, but I am not sure Chilton himself understood all that well whether it should have been sung with more sneer/irony or more em­pathy/compassion, and his delivery is kinda bland — somebody like Ray Davies, perhaps, would have been able to turn it into one more of his lovable social portraits, but here it just sounds like a novelty number.

In addition to other minor disappointments (such as a completely pointless cover of ʽI Shall Be Releasedʼ, following The Band's arrangement but smoothing out all the pain-stuffed edges that Richard Manuel brought to our attention so expressively), it is clear that the band did not have enough material — so, to bring the record to a proper conclusion, they recorded ʽRock Me Babyʼ once again, this time in a nine-minute (!) version taken at two different tempos (mid- and slow) and featuring extended guitar and piano solos that must have sounded totally amateurish by this time in rock's instrumental journey. For a band that began its career by having session musicians play most of the instruments, this was a rather ironic way to end that career. (Not that it's a bad sound or anything, and I know Gary Talley has a rather high reputation in some circles, but there is nothing in this playing that would strike me as specifically individualistic).

On the whole, though, the worst thing about Dimensions is that, if you play it back to back with the band's debut, you won't hear any significant difference — and no band that sounded the same way in 1969 as it sounded in 1967 was deemed worth to live, or at least to thrive, at the time. So, naturally, as Jesus Christ said, «to conquer death, The Box Tops only had to die», and so The Box Tops went ahead and did the right thing to do, upon which Chilton could finally reboot his career, shake off the «young promising blue-eyed soulman» tag, and put his talents to more efficient use.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The M.G.'s: The M.G.'s

THE M.G.'s: THE M.G.'s (1973)

1) Sugar Cane; 2) Neck Bone; 3) Spare Change; 4) Leaving The Past; 5) Left Overs (Bucaramanga); 6) Black Side; 7) One Of A Kind (Love Affair); 8) Frustration.

Yes, technically this album belongs in its own section or at least in the «special addenda» corner, but we will make a logistic exception and treat it as a regular part of the discography just for the sake of continuity. Not long after the release of Melting Pot, the two main creative guys in the band — Booker T. himself and Steve Cropper — ever more unhappy about being tied up by the new rules at Stax, decided to break the chain and move on to an uncertain, but seemingly more exciting (as it looked to them at the time) future.

The rhythm section, however, as is often the case with rhythm sections around the world, felt that the name of «M.G.'s» was everything they had left in this world, and ultimately they decided to stick to it. After a few tentative detours, Dunn and Jackson teamed up with Stax session guitarist Bobby Manuel and newly-emerged organ sensation Carson Whitsett — and now that once again there were four of them, they thought it sensible to just lop off the «Booker T.» part and bill themselves as «The M.G.'s» for their next record.

Now obviously, one's first basic instinct would be to dismiss the album without giving it a chance: after all, as reliable as the band's rhythm section had always been, most of the time we were really coming back to their tunes in order to hear some classic guitar/organ interplay. And indeed, when you listen to The M.G.'s right after Melting Pot, the initial feeling is almost guaranteed to be underwhelming. The funky backbone is all but gone, not a single song is as catchy as ʽFuquawiʼ, and the whole album seems to be very low-key, almost begging you to accept it as unremarkable background music while you're busy doing your typical 1973-style chores.

However, it is also immediately noticeable that the new band is trying — not merely coasting on the strength of their reputation. Most of the compositions are self-written (with just a couple taken from rather obscure sources), the arrangements and moods are relatively diverse, and there are some relatively long and complex tunes that show a mildly «progressive» spirit. This alone should guarantee a few extra listens, and eventually you might come to realize that the record is not all bad — its biggest disadvantage, perhaps, is that it is really so quiet. Unlike Booker T. and Cropper, the new guitarist and organist sometimes give the odd impression of competing in who of the two can «out-hush» the other one. Yet they are doing it in good taste.

Perhaps the single finest example of this competition comes on the seven-minute long ʽLeaving The Pastʼ, largely an acoustic number with several sections that smoothly flow from simple folk to more «baroque» textures, then eventually make the transition into jazzy and then bluesy terri­tory. Everything is done so quietly that your attention may easily drift away, and yet it is probably the single most complex composition up that was up to that point credited to the name of The M.G.'s. And it is quite likeable — the first half being elegantly romantic and the second more self-consciously «cool», as Manuel's acoustic guitar really roots all of these parts in the «past» (no clear signs of anybody «leaving» it, though). Nobody is going to remember it all that much, no, but accidentally falling upon it somewhere in your collection can trigger some good emotions every once in a while.

Most of the other tracks, while technically «louder», are just as inobtrusive. Typically, they will feature a soft, tasteful, friendly organ melody from Whitsett (ʽSugar Caneʼ, ʽOne Of A Kindʼ), set to a funky rhythm pattern that is so frail and delicate, hearing this kind of take on funk would be like watching Audrey Hepburn in a boxing ring — well, maybe not as gimmicky, but a pretty solid analogy all the same. Very rarely the music packs a bit more muscle, when Al Jackson agrees to pummel rather than caress his skins and Whitsett includes some bombastic honky-tonk piano playing (ʽSpare Changeʼ), or when Duck Dunn decides to play a «threatening» bass line (ʽLeft Oversʼ), but even a track called ʽFrustrationʼ, where you could theoretically expect them to auto-destruct their equipment in the studio or something, is really just one more low-key piece of clean, soft, smooth fusion with perhaps a tiny pinch of psychedelia, provided by the trebley guitar tone and a mind-manipulative overdub strategy.

But give this stuff time, and The M.G.'s might just turn out to be one of those barely noticeable, non-flashy, self-reserved albums that show how good music can be made without pulling rock'n'­roll faces — all the more amusing that it was released at the height of the glam era, when Keith Emerson and Mick Ronson ruled the day and hiding in the shadow to play your instrument was a surefire commercial suicide. And, of course, The M.G.'s was a commercial suicide — none of its singles charted, much less the album itself. It still got some good reviews, though, and continues to be warmly treated even today, but you do have to warm up to it. An outstanding non-triumph of being utterly non-outstanding, it deserves all the thumbs up it can get without getting your hands out of your trouser pockets.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Brenda Holloway: The Artistry Of Brenda Holloway

BRENDA HOLLOWAY: THE ARTISTRY OF BRENDA HOLLOWAY (1968)

1) Together 'Til The End Of Time; 2) Every Little Bit Hurts; 3) Where Were You; 4) I've Got To Find It; 5) Un­chained Melody; 6) Hurt A Little Every Day; 7) I'll Be Available; 8) You've Made Me So Very Happy; 9) I've Been Good To You; 10) Too Proud To Cry; 11) I'll Always Love You; 12) Operator; 13) When I'm Gone; 14) You Can Cry On My Shoulder; 15) Just Look What You've Done; 16) Starting The Hurt All Over Again; 17*) Mr Lifeguard (Come And Rescue Me); 18*) My Smile Is Just A Frown Turned Upside Down; 19*) After All That You've Done; 20*) The Love Line; 21*) Can't We Be Strangers Again; 22*) Just Another Lonely Night; 23*) Where There's A Will There's A Way; 24*) It's Love I Need.

As I said, Brenda Holloway's discography is so messy and confused that you will find quite a few sources repeating that The Artistry Of Brenda Holloway was her second and last «regular» LP on the Motown label. That is, however, only true to a certain degree. First, it seems to have had a very limited release — restricted to the UK, for some reason (apparently, somebody calculated that Brenda Holloway was more popular among the British; might that have anything to do with young Stevie Winwood covering ʽEvery Little Bit Hurtsʼ?). Second, in reality it was a compila­tion — singles, B-sides, album tracks, some stuff from the shelved Hurtin' And Cryin', and just three or four songs from the vaults. Not much to write home about.

Now, fourty-five years later, the album unexpectedly gets remembered and re-released by Ace Records — with a whoppin' eight bonus tracks, also culled from the vaults and unavailable else­where, not even on the comprehensive 2-CD Motown Anthology from 2005. Any reason to be interested? Yes. For serious lovers of Motown, these extra tracks, combined with whatever news might be culled from the original album, will be a bit of a blessing. Why the label never cared about releasing or promoting this music in the Sixties is a big question mark — many of these songs are just as good as any brand of lush pop that they were peddling back then. Just one more of these silly «personal conflict issues», I guess, as history tells us.

Anyway, here are some highlights. First, the original album. In addition to the good stuff that was already mentioned in the previous two reviews, we have ʽWhere Were Youʼ, an upbeat, Supre­mes-style single with ecstatic strings, triumphant brass, handclaps, angelic backing vocals, and a party atmosphere that contrasts nicely with the usual lost-love lyrics. Even more fun are the two extra Smokey Robinson tracks — ʽOperatorʼ, where Brenda once again beats Mary Wells in terms of depth and subtlety; and ʽI'll Be Availableʼ, which is just super-catchy-friendly — you know, one of those tunes that should have been covered by the Beatles on the BBC sessions. "When the U.S. mail is no longer mailable, I'll be available" gets me every time.

Two more dang fine Smokey compositions are among the bonuses — ʽMy Smile Is Just A Frown Turned Upside Downʼ, known as a hit for Carolyn Crawford, is also done much more expressive­ly by Brenda, in fact, Smokey's «weeping» ballads are the perfect vehicle for Ms. «Hurtin'-and-Cryin'» to ride altogether; and ʽAfter All That You've Doneʼ, once again more upbeat and playful, castigates the lady's unfaithful friend in a bittersweet manner — finger-poppin', funky bassline, sly vocal hooks ("you had a girl over here, a girl over there"), the works. She also does a good job with Billy Eckstine's ʽLove Lineʼ, and fires all her cannons on ʽIt's Love I Needʼ, although, to be frank, «hystrionic» vocal delivery is not her strongest area — she could compete with Mary Wells in expressiveness, or she could offer an «aristocratic» alternative to the rowdiness of Martha Reeves and the seductive squeakiness of Diana Ross, but when it comes to wailing and howling and bellowing, she was no Aretha.

Anyway, while once again this is an odd, ragged release that should probably best be left without any «rating» as such, it is definitely a good thing that the vaults are being cleaned up this way — it does baffle the mind, though, just how many perfectly commercial and perfectly artistically attractive little nuggets Motown had Brenda record for them in the Sixties, only to let them gather shelf dust for decades. My only complaint is that there's way too much overlap with Motown Anthology — most people will probably go for just one or the other. Then again, these days it is becoming obsolete to think even in terms of «compilations», much less cohesive LPs, and the way they treated Brenda, she'd be like the perfect number one candidate to promote futuristic services like Spotify. Just hunt down the songs anyway.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Björk: Vespertine Live

BJÖRK: VESPERTINE LIVE (2001; 2003)

1) Frosti; 2) Overture; 3) All Is Full Of Love; 4) Cocoon; 5) Aurora; 6) Undo; 7) Unravel; 8) I've Seen It All; 9) An Echo, A Stain; 10) Generous Palmstroke; 11) Hidden Place; 12) Pagan Poetry; 13) Harm Of Will; 14) It's Not Up To You; 15) Unison; 16) It's In Our Hands.

The only reason not to own this album is if you own the Live At The Royal Opera House video from 2001 instead. Although these particular performances were taken from different locations on the 2001 tour, and there are some discrepancies in the setlist (somewhat expectedly, the audio album focuses more on new material, whereas the video includes a solid selection of older hits at the end), they are more or less the same thing — and this time around, the emphasis was placed more on accurate reproduction, accompanied with some gorgeous staging, so it really really makes a lot of sense to see the show rather than just hear it.

Because Vespertine was, indeed, a very special album for Björk, and the accompanying tour was a very special tour. In two years time, the lady would be completely going off her rocker, trying out fifty different shades of craziness all at once and, as far as my opinion is concerned, severely crossing the line that separates meaningful art from silly, pompous kitsch. But Vespertine was a deep, thoughtful, far-reaching album, and the accompanying shows somehow managed to be glitzy and «cozy-homely» at the same time. You get just one change of clothing — Björk in a simple white virginal dress for the first half of the show, Björk in a blood-red dress for the second half — a nice chamber orchestra, a couple guys handling the electronics, and an entire female choir from Greenland, in arguably the biggest bout of promotion for lovely Inuit ladies that the world of pop music has ever seen. Then again, it doesn't take much to travel from Iceland to Greenland, so perhaps it was more a question of rehearsal logistics than of generous support for minorities, or of an artistic choice of a group of people from the coldest regions on Earth.

The setlist on the album includes most of Vespertine (all but two tracks) and also makes us re­member Selmasongs (the orchestra introduces the show with ʽOvertureʼ, and later on you get a solo Björk performance of ʽI've Seen It Allʼ — something of a bonus for those of us who find it harder to cope with the vocal philosophy of Thom Yorke than with that of Guthmund's daughter), plus a couple of rarities: ʽGenerous Palmstrokeʼ is a lovely B-side in the form of a heated dialog between Björk and the harp, and ʽIt's In Our Handsʼ was a special new song recorded as a bonus track for Greatest Hits — not all that great in itself, but heavily experimental, with some of the most turbulent and dense layers of electronics on any given Björk song, and it probably belongs in the collection of any serious «glitch music» lover, provided love for «glitch music» can really be called a «serious thing» (really).

The rarities, however, are not as important as the entire experience: both on the video and on the live album, the sound is engineered so as to maximally preserve the «cocoon-like» atmosphere of Vespertine. This was probably not an easy task, but it was accomplished perfectly — and for once, I am not complaining that the live performances are more often than not indistinguishable from studio versions, because the biggest surprise, perhaps, is that you completely forget that these are live ones, until they die down and the stunned audience bursts into applause. For a near-perfect record like Vespertine, this live perfectionism is perhaps the only way to do it justice. In fact, sometimes the live versions are even more perfect — for instance, ʽUnisonʼ, with additional crystal-clear harp parts and more prominent background vocals, sounds as if the necessary final touches to the song were only added in concert.

I mean, it would be one thing if the original arrangements were a piece of easy cake, but they were actually more complex than anything prior to that point — and it is amazing how everything was taken to the stage and even slightly improved upon; and I do understand that only the best live takes were hand-picked from the tour, as far as Björk's own vocals go, but the fact of the mat­ter is that she was consistently in peak form on the video as well. Hardest working lady in the business? In addition to being the most talented? I guess you could say, yes, that 2000-2001 be­longed to Björk, and the current thumbs up will refer not just to the textbook perfection of this live album, but to this album as a symbol of her creative triumph. Too bad the strain was so heavy on her that she went gaga in two years' time, and was never the same after that.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Bon Jovi: What About Now

BON JOVI: WHAT ABOUT NOW (2013)

1) Because We Can; 2) I'm With You; 3) What About Now; 4) Pictures Of You; 5) Amen; 6) That's What The Water Made Me; 7) What's Left Of Me; 8) Army Of One; 9) Thick As Thieves; 10) Beautiful World; 11) Room At The End Of The World; 12) The Fighter; 13*) With These Two Hands; 14*) Not Running Anymore; 15*) Old Habits Die Hard; 16*) Every Road Leads Home To You.

It was a little funny, I must confess, reading lots of irate reviews about how this record is not really «hard rock», is not really «Bon Jovi», represents «the beginning of the end» for the band and other equally sour reactions. Was there ever a period when this band was after anything but mass popularity? The only reason why Jon Bon Jovi has not turned into Nicki Minaj — which, if necessary and possible, he'd do in a jiffy — is because he's got, uh, T&A problems. Also, he's kinda old-fashioned and prefers to stay in that comfort zone where well-built, muscular guys rip the shit out of their guitars, at least visually. And since that kind of music still sells reasonably well today, despite all the attempts to push «classic rock» out of the spotlight, well, why change anything? Just another day, just another dollar.

The album did cause a rift between Jon and his loyal guitarist: Sambora was not seen all that much on the accompanying tour, throughout which he was largely replaced by session guitarist Phil X, and soon afterwards announced his departure from the band. True enough, he is only co-cre­dited for about five out of twelve songs, while on the rest Jon shares credits with such seedy figures as John Shanks and Billy Falcon; has not a single interesting or outstanding riff to contri­bute; and is seriously misused even in the lead guitar department — the absolute majority of these songs depend on nothing but vocal hooks. Oh, sorry, vocal hooks and pomp — as the years go by, Jon Bon Jovi takes himself more and more seriously each day, and on What About Now, he is much more of a preacher than an entertainer.

I will not deny, though, that some of these songs are hooky. The anthemic singalong chorus of ʽBecause We Canʼ, the punchy album opener, is Super Bowl material alright, though I'm pretty sure it must have been lifted wholesale from some earlier roots-rock or country tune. Same with the sentimental ʽPictures Of Youʼ, same with the heroic-romantic confession ʽThat's What The Water Made Meʼ — although I know what the water really made that guy: it made him surrepti­tiously nick the inspiring background guitar/synth melody of David Bowie's ʽHeroesʼ and appro­priate it for his own, much less original and much less subtle purposes. No, I am not being too judgemental, and I have no problems with musicians borrowing and recycling other people's ideas — it's just that this one feels way too blatant. Don't say I didn't warn you if on his next re­cord J.B.J. samples ʽRide Of The Valkyriesʼ in one of his Big Social Statements.

Are we being too cruel? Well then, let me just backtrack a little and redeem myself by saying that somehow, on a certain level I do feel sympathetic to ʽWhat's Left Of Meʼ — as uninteresting as the generic «banjo-rock» arrangement of that song is, its «I'm-still-standing» vibe sounds more sincere than anything else here: the guy does sound like he really means it when he says "God, I miss the smell of paper and the ink on my hands" and when he complains about how "they sold old CBGB's". Not that Bon Jovi ever had much to do with CBGB's in the first place — yet some­how it is true that, as of 2013, Bon Jovi and the old CBGB residents seem to have much more in common than they would have in the mid-1980s.

But that does not change the general attitude. Had ʽWhat's Left Of Meʼ and ʽBecause We Canʼ been the most pretentious songs on the album, with the rest of it given over to regular vocal-hook-based pop rock fare, life would be adequate. As it happens, these are just the tasters for the real «Celine Dion-style» gala prayers — the syrupy, orchestrated ʽAmenʼ was written twenty years too late for the Titanic soundtrack, and the "never give up, never give up!" chorus of ʽArmy Of Oneʼ is more Alicia Keys, or even more Disney, than Bon Jovi. Oops, I think I'm falling into the same trap as all those allegedly cheated fans — let me quickly correct myself: what we have here is Bon Jovi trying to naturally morph their way into a Disney cartoon.

The album ends on a soft acoustic note, with Jon making yet another not-so-subtle reference to some of his heroes: "I am the fighter, though not a boxer by trade". What is it, then, about ʽThe Boxerʼ that will make that song stand the test of time, while ʽThe Fighterʼ is already forgotten? It's not really the melody — it's the attitude. Even at his softest and tenderest, Jon Bon Jovi still sounds like a straightforward, predictable, cocky guy who thinks way too much of himself — and, most importantly, believes that «thinking too much of himself» is already sufficient to write a song about it and offer it to the world. And nobody told him, or nobody was ever able to convince him that such is usually the recipe for a boring song at best — an offensive song at worst. But then again, who the heck could convince him if these sometimes boring, sometimes offensive songs kept selling like hotcakes all around the world? And neither my own thumbs down here, nor anybody else's will really make a difference. For that matter, What About Now hit the top of the charts all right — even though, in the era of predictably dwindling album sales, it sold less than any previous Bon Jovi album. But yes, the guys are still popular.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Boris: The Thing Which Solomon Overlooked

BORIS: THE THING WHICH SOLOMON OVERLOOKED (2004)

1) Scene 2; 2) A Bao A Qu; 3) The Dead Angle Which It Continues Showing.

I guess I have to give props to these guys for releasing their most unlistenable records as «limited editions» — this one originally came out as 500 copies of colored vinyl, and probably cost a fortune, so that 500 lucky souls could reach their own personal Nirvana by subjecting themselves to forty minutes of jarring feedback, and everybody else could just happily ignore this artistic statement, left behind in a state of immature unworthiness. Unfortunately, the digital era came along pretty soon and messed up all the clever configuration.

Not being aware of the exact circumstances surrounding the title of the album, I, like everybody else, assume that «Solomon» here refers to King Shlomo (970-931 B.C.), known mostly for his wisdom and his large number of wives and concubines, and that, consequently, the title prompts us to give a thought as to what exactly was that one thing, that one tiny little thing that the King managed to overlook in his only slightly less than infinite, God-given wisdom. More than enough reason here, I guess, to force yourself to sit patiently through the entire forty minutes of the re­cord — I mean, who knows, maybe the answer is waiting right there in the end, and once it's all over, just think about it, you might actually be wiser than Solomon himself. Who wouldn't wil­fully give up a pair of ears to gain access to a secret that may have been unknown to the wisest man on Earth?..

Too bad I have to spoil this for you, but then, every once in a while this blog finds itself obliged to go out on a salvation mission. The title is just one big hoax — there is really nothing but a huge, endless sea of feedback here. The first and last track merely feed you crude, primal sludge, a ten-minute cauldron for starters and a twenty-minute barrel for the main course. Faint hints of a droning melody can still excuse ʽScene 2ʼ, but ʽThe Dead Angleʼ is probably the most extreme thing these guys came out with so far, beating out Absolutego and everything else — basically just one bass note that takes its time to burn up and fizzle out, only to be replaced by the same thing again, and again, and again.

In this context, ʽA Bao A Quʼ (named after one of J. L. Borges' pseudo-mythical creatures) separates the two sludge monsters like a symphonic phoenix — at least there's some development here, as the track moves from high-pitched guitar whine to hellishly overloud, overdriven howls and roars. Even so, the title is pitifully wasted this time around (fortunately, it would be reused later on for something much more distinctly musical).

In short, this one is «not for everybody», and by «everybody» I mean «everybody who is already a Boris admirer». It does get me to wonder, though — what if Boris did not have access to tech­nology, or even electricity, and still wanted to make this kind of «music»? What would they have done? Rubbed on a double bass with a live crocodile? Raped a tiger with a loosely tuned cello? Set the entire town on fire and walked around playing on a deliberately unstrung guitar? Actually, each of these ideas, now that I think of it, seems more exciting and innovative than what we have just heard here, and I hate being cruel to animals. Thumbs down, unless you're a big fan of limited editions on colored vinyl — they can be so cool to show off to friends, just do not forget that you won't have that many friends if you ever decide to play this for them.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Brainiac: Hissing Prigs In Static Couture

BRAINIAC: HISSING PRIGS IN STATIC COUTURE (1996)

1) Indian Poker (part 3); 2) Pussyfootin'; 3) Vincent Come On Down; 4) This Little Piggy; 5) Strung; 6) Hot Seat Can't Sit Down; 7) The Vulgar Trade; 8) Beekeepers Maxim; 9) Kiss Me, U Jacked Up Jerk; 10) 70 Kg Man; 11) Indian Poker (part 2); 12) Nothing Ever Changes; 13) I Am A Cracked Machine.

I seriously dislike the title of this album — sounds like four unrelated words joined together through random selection. If anything, it should have been named after one of its tracks — ʽHot Seat Can't Sit Downʼ is a near-perfect description for its overall sound. Which has not changed all that much since Bonsai Superstar — but now it is even wilder, faster, uglier, and crazier, so if you liked Superstar for all these reasons, you are almost legally bound to develop an even higher appreciation for Hissing Prigs.

Unless you already are an experienced consumer of various sorts of noise, some of the small arch-experimental links may be hard to fathom — if the industrially distorted «pan-fried» electric guitar duo on ʽIndian Poker (part 3)ʼ does not kill you on the spot, just wait until you get to the high-pitched electronic sirens on ʽIndian Poker (part 2)ʼ (boy, am I glad they declined to end the album with ʽIndian Poker (part 1)ʼ — that would probably have been the sonic torture to out­shame all other sorts of sonic torture). Even before that, the already major crazy ʽ70 Kg Manʼ, running along at top speed to the sound of fizzed-out punk guitars and dissonant overdubbed vocal harmonies of the chorus, is interrupted midway through by a «bridge» of electronically treated barking hounds — let me tell you, there's absolutely no fun in hearing this at top volume in headphones, and oh, my name is Peter Townshend, by the way.

But do not make the mistake that it's all about ugliness, either. Brainiac's chief influences are still the same — main cues taken from the Pixies and, through them, from the Ramones and other punkers who value fun, catchiness, and entertainment at least as much as they value rebellious­ness, schizophrenia, and social message. Once the initiation of ʽIndian Pokerʼ has diligently driven out all the «wusses» and «pussies», ʽPussyfootinʼ really turns out to be quite a conserva­tive rock track, oddly adorned only with Tim Taylor's inimitably screechy vocal style and a series of slightly deranged babbling interludes. And no amount of hysterical electronic effects can dis­guise the fact that ʽVincent Come On Downʼ is essentially just a solid slice of classic punk-rock, with nothing particularly «avantgarde» about its basic chord structure.

But do not make the mistake that it's really all so simplistic. The above-mentioned ʽHot Seatʼ, for instance, starts off with quite a tricky guitar riff and an even trickier time signature, well worthy of King Crimson — matters get simplified once Tim starts to sing, but the song switches gears several times and is, on the whole, far more complex than anything ever produced by, say, Nir­vana (not that it automatically makes it better — I am merely making a case here for Brainiac as a «musician's band» rather than a «general public band»). And the guitar melodies on ʽThis Little Piggyʼ, despite the relative simplicity of each, remain ever so slightly, but steadily and intentio­nally out of sync with each other, which means they are taking their clues from the avantgarde artists, after all. There's nothing like mapping craziness through intelligence.

But do not make the mistake that it's really all so esoteric. Once most of this stuff has properly sunken in, the professional headbanger will headbang to it all the way through to ʽNothing Ever Changesʼ, whose combination of galloping rock rhythm with catchy electronic pulse could make it into a ʽRock Lobsterʼ for the 1990s, and the closing ʽI Am A Cracked Machineʼ, which is also a damn good title — the whole song, heck, the whole album, dammit, this whole band has made a career out of portraying the daily routine events in the life of a «cracked machine», one that might be expected to churn out «normal» electronic music, but, due to its being cracked, turns out every­thing but normal — and loves every moment of it.

Even if your mind will not get attached to specific songs, it would be hard not to get involved in Brainiac's rusty robotic carnival as a whole. I hold no illusions for Brainiac's future — there is no guarantee that, had Tim Taylor not perished in an unfortunate auto accident a year later, they would have retained their edginess and freshness. The several songs they still had time to record and put out as an EP (Electro-Shock For President) show that the plan for the next stage was to relinquish guitars altogether and go completely electronic for a while — not the best idea, per­haps, because the songs became completely depersonalized and were unable to capitalize on Tim's eccentric individuality. Still, that's hardly a polite pretext to say that nobody will miss Tim Taylor — over those brief, but eventful several years, he did help out to make the decade a little more colorful and crazy, and Hissing Prigs is arguably the highest point of that color-add-on, so it gets yet another thumbs up from me, and with that, the story of Brainiac is over.