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Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Boomtown Rats: The Boomtown Rats

THE BOOMTOWN RATS: THE BOOMTOWN RATS (1977)

1) Lookin' After No. 1; 2) Mary Of The 4th Form; 3) Close As You'll Ever Be; 4) Neon Heart; 5) Joey's On The Streets Again; 6) I Can Make It If You Can; 7) Never Bite The Hand That Feeds; 8) (She's Gonna) Do You In; 9) Kicks; 10*) Doin' It Right; 11*) My Blues Away; 12*) A Second Time; 13*) Fanzine Hero; 14*) Barefootin'.

For a very long time now, most people have remembered Bob Geldof as the «Give Me As Much Of Your Money As I Can Stare Out Of You» («So That Some Bureaucrats And African Dictators Can Get Richer») person who also starred as Pink in The Wall and did at least some good by get­ting the authentic Pink Floyd back together for one last performance. (Okay, seriously enough, much of that money did go to good causes, but it's always healthy to temper free-flowing idea­lism with a sharp cynical pinch). Between all that, his original musical career together with a bunch of ragged Irish punks under the name of «The Boomtown Rats» has pretty much faded out of view, other than an occasional vague reminiscence of ʽI Don't Like Mondaysʼ on the airwaves. There are logical reasons for that, of course — for one thing, it makes much more sense to re­member Bob Geldof as the driving force behind Live Aid than, say, George Harrison as «the guy who organised that Bangla Desh concert» — but still, this is not entirely just.

Although The Boomtown Rats are commonly lumped in together with the «punk» and «New Wave» movements, much of their musical career stood closer to the typical «rock and roll» sound of the early-to-mid-Seventies. On their debut album, notable influences include fellow Irishmen Thin Lizzy (same aura of «working class street toughness» and similar frontman sensitivity, al­though the Rats never had Thin Lizzy's playing chops); American «proto-punkers» and «glam-rockers» like the MC5 and the New York Dolls; Bruce Springsteen (ʽJoey's On The Streets Againʼ); and even Steppenwolf (ʽMary Of The 4th Formʼ directly lifts the gruff biker melody from the verse part of ʽBorn To Be Wildʼ).

As a result, The Boomtown Rats almost seems a bit sonically obsolete for the standards of 1977, and one has to keep in mind that Geldof had already written many of these songs a year or two earlier, when few had heard of The Ramones and nobody had yet heard of The Clash or The Sex Pistols. Not that this would have changed anything — Geldof may have been a «street punk» in the spirit, but not in form: classic rock'n'roll song structures and guitar tablatures suited him all right, and the band's guitarists Garry Roberts and Gerry Cott clearly saw themselves as Sylvain Sylvain and Johnny Thunders rather than chainsaw-buzzers. (In fact, the very fact that there were two of them means they didn't think that much of the typical punk-rock band format).

Nevertheless, despite this traditionalism, The Boomtown Rats is a pretty good rock'n'roll record, and compares very favourably with the New York Dolls or anyone like that. There is not a lot of originality in Geldof's songwriting — only just enough so that you cannot directly accuse him of stealing (only «borrowing» or «quoting», like that ʽBorn To Be Wildʼ riff) — but there is enough charisma, energy, inspiration, and general swagger to make the songs work. We need not pay much attention to the lyrics — right from the start, the lyrics all pursue the all-too-familiar «don't want to be like you» agenda of your typical punker, and Geldof's words, be they sung in a rock'n'roll song or addressed at millions of people from TV screens, have rarely ascended above self-understood banalities (not that millions of people aren't often in serious need of self-under­stood banalities). What matters more are the guitar tones, the drive, and the unsimulated passion in the young man's gruff, rather generic, but intelligent and sincere voice — it is with these in­gredients that they sent ʽLookin' After No. 1ʼ, their first single, straight up the UK charts (never did reach No. 1, though, despite the «lucky title»).

ʽMary Of The 4th Formʼ was less typical, and showed a sleazier, more disturbing side of the band that would subsequently decrease — you probably couldn't imagine Bob Geldof singing a song about a teacher getting turned on by a sexy schoolgirl at Live Aid, could you? Unlike The Police, though, who would later dress that concept up in an innocently light New Wave-pop arrangement, the Rats make this one into a glammy bravoura performance, with thick guitar riffs sublimating sexual tension and an almost gleefully salivating chanting of the song title in the chorus. Well, whaddaya want, this is an album made for teenage audiences, and teenage audiences want to get laid as much as they want social justice and freedom from authority. (In case you wondered, that last phrase was an intentional idealistic understatement).

Although this is the only genuinely «titillating» song on the record, The Boomtown Rats is still, on the whole, a nasty-sounding piece of work. Geldof wears his heart on his sleeve on only one loud rock ballad in the middle of the album (the clearly Dylan-inspired ʽI Can Make It If You Canʼ), and gets heroically sentimental only on the preceding ʽJoey's On The Streets Againʼ, for which the grand jury of Phil Lynott and Bruce Springsteen should have awarded him top prize at the local Street Anthem competition. Both songs are significantly aided by the competent piano and organ player of Johnnie Fingers, and the grand sax solo by guest player Albie Donnelly mimicks Clarence Clemons so fine it ain't even funny.

Everything else is good old-fashioned rock'n'roll, personal favorites including ʽ(She's Gonna) Do You Inʼ which speeds up ʽMilkcow Calf Bluesʼ and makes it a little more blunt, direct, and punky; and ʽKicksʼ, more in the power-pop department but with an AC/DC-like tone in the rhythm guitar department nevertheless. Also, be sure to get the remastered CD version, which throws on a ton of early demos and live performances from 1975 that are even more rock'n'rollish (ʽFanzine Heroʼ is the fastest of 'em all, and the cover of Robert Parker's ʽBarefootin'ʼ is smouldering).

Of course, all these endless references make it seem as if The Boomtown Rats is merely a sum of all its influences, and in general, it probably is — and that is, in fact, the reason why the band was never able to establish itself as an «institution» (unlike Bob Geldof himself in his «Third World Mentat» emploi). But even as just a combination of all these influences, it feels real enough, and most importantly, it's got spirit — not necessarily «its own spirit», just spirit as such. At the very least, the guys showed a good understanding of what it was that made this kind of music great, instead of simply making us understand that they liked this kind of music. To me, that's reason enough for sincere enjoyment — and a solid thumbs up to go along with it.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Bonnie Raitt: Road Tested

BONNIE RAITT: ROAD TESTED (1995)

1) Thing Called Love; 2) Three Time Loser; 3) Love Letter; 4) Never Make Your Move Too Soon; 5) Something To Talk About; 6) Matters Of The Heart; 7) Shake A Little; 8) Have A Heart; 9) Love Me Like A Man; 10) The Kokomo Medley; 11) Louise; 12) Dimming Of The Day; 13) Longing In Their Hearts; 14) Come To Me; 15) Love Sneakin' Up On You; 16) Burning Down The House; 17) I Can't Make You Love Me; 18) Feeling Of Falling; 19) I Believe I'm In Love With You; 20) Rock Steady; 21) My Opening Farewell; 22) Angel From Montgomery.

From a logical perspective, live Bonnie Raitt should always be better than studio Bonnie Raitt — less gloss, more energy, better opportunities to let herself really go on that slide, in short, every­thing to celebrate the spirit rather than worship the form. Which, of course, begs for the question: why wait so long? Surely a live recording from the old «drunken days» would have captured a little more fire, not to mention a little higher percentage of good songs?..

The answer is that in the 1970s, Bonnie Raitt was not as much «part of the machine» as she be­came with Nick Of Time, and since she did not sell that much, nobody, herself least of all, pro­bably thought that a live album could help raise any serious extra cash. But now, with three commer­cially successful albums in a row under her belt, a live follow-up would seem like the most ob­vious thing. Precautions were taken, however — Bonnie Raitt on her own could hardly have sold as much as Bonnie Raitt and Friends. And if old-timers like Jackson Browne and R&B veterans Ruth and Charles Brown are not necessarily going to cut it, then relatively recent chart toppers like Bruce Hornsby and Bryan Adams sure will.

Even the setlist has been constructed with almost mathematical precision. Four songs from her latest, for promotional reasons. Three songs each from Nick Of Time and Luck Of The Draw — her biggest commercial successes to date. Three more songs from Sweet Forgiveness, the only album from her past that could be called commercially successful, to a degree (odd enough, no ʽRunawayʼ, though). And a small bunch of songs, usually one per album, from her earliest period when she was still interesting as an individual artist, so that nobody could accuse Road Tested of not presenting an accurate chronological portrait of Bonnie Raitt, all the accents dutifully lodged in their right places.

Big surprise of the day involves the band offering a lively take on Talking Heads' ʽBurning Down The Houseʼ, even though none of the Heads is guesting on the recording (which, by the way, was made on July 11-19, 1995, at the Paramount Theater in Oakland). The groove is lifted reasonably well, but Bonnie Raitt replacing David Byrne is a bit like Al Gore replacing Woody Allen — to­tally different personalities, and if you take the vocal atmosphere of irony and paranoia away from the song, the song becomes pointless. And, with all due respect, you couldn't find an artist less capable of playing absurd character roles than the totally straightforward Bonnie Raitt. In all honesty, I'd rather see her doing ʽClose To The Edgeʼ than this.

Anyway, getting right to the bottom of it, the big deal about Road Tested is that you get more spontaneity and more slide guitar solos, with ʽKokomoʼ, for me, being the obvious high point of the show — but honestly, just about every song from these last three albums is enhanced when you don't have your engineer diligently smoothing out all the sharp edges. This is never good enough to make me fall in love with any of these songs (and no spontaneity can save ʽHave A Heartʼ), but good enough to make me forget for an occasional moment or so just how much Bonnie Raitt had become the walking/sliding symbol of adult contemporary. Unfortunately, as soon as Bryan Adams walks out on stage to duet with the lady on their collectively written ʽRock Steadyʼ, that old nasty feeling kicks back with all its might. And just how many songs titled ʽRock Steadyʼ does the world need, I wonder?..

One final moment, though: if you want to try a bite of this anyway, try to lay your hands on the DVD edition rather than the one-disc or two-disc CD edition. Somehow, Bonnie's self-assured strut­ting, mighty red hair, sexy black outfit, and visual slide technique all seem much, much more cool than whatever you get from just the audio channels. Much of that visual image is in common with certain female country music superstars, of course, but she is still on the bluesier side of things, and at least there ain't no flag-waving or anything like that. It's also fascinating how her less-than-stunning looks circa 1972 had paid off so splendidly, as she hardly looks one day older in 1995 than she did more than twenty years earlier. Totally stable mediocrity can be worth some re­spect, too — although in a better world, Bonnie Raitt might have become the female equivalent of a Rory Gallagher, and earn herself much more respect than that. Less money, though. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Booker T. & The M.G.'s: In The Christmas Spirit

BOOKER T. & THE M.G.'s: IN THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT (1966)

1) Jingle Bells; 2) Santa Claus Is Coming To Town; 3) Winter Wonderland; 4) White Christmas; 5) The Christmas Song; 6) Silver Bells; 7) Merry Christmas Baby; 8) Blue Christmas; 9) Sweet Little Jesus; 10) Silent Night; 11) We Three Kings; 12) We Wish You A Merry Christmas.

Okey-dokey. This is an album by Booker T. & The M.G.'s, called In The Christmas Spirit and containing twelve songs whose titles you could probably guess even without looking at the track list. It was issued in time for the Christmas season of 1966 on the Stax label. What else needs to be said? I'm at a loss for words.

Actually, if you are on the lookout for a purely instrumental Christmas album, so that you could have thirty-four minutes of background accompaniment while you're doing your Christmas thang (not that thirty-four minutes is such a long time, particularly if your table is well set up), this would be a decent enough choice, I guess. At least we can tell that Booker T. Jones respects his traditional holidays, and is able to transmit feelings of joy, reverence, and even a bit of spiritual mysticism through his organ playing, such as would be required from an understanding musician during the Christmas season.

On second thought, we could also remark that once the main theme of ʽJingle Bellsʼ gives way to the improvisatory section, the song becomes a rather irreverent piece of Chuck Berry-stylized rock'n'roll, with Cropper taking over Booker T. for a while and ruminating on the possibilities of merging ʽJingle Bellsʼ with ʽMemphis Tennesseeʼ. That's a good thing — a bit of experimental Christmas humour has never hurt anybody — but it is somewhat regrettable that they did not apply the same approach to everything else here. Pretty soon, it becomes obvious that Cropper's guitar will consistently be relegated to an auxiliary function: Santa Claus does not approve of too much rocking and rolling while being confined to sleigh duty, but he does enjoy some solemn church organ, or at least an electric simulation. One exception is a Chicago blues-style arrange­ment of ʽMerry Christmas Babyʼ, where Steve gets to be B. B. King for a little while, and which does not sound at all Christmasy, but then what's wrong with adding some classic electric blues to your Christmas experience?

That said, when it is Booker T.'s turn to have a track completely focused on a solo organ perfor­mance, this is as close as the album comes to emanating a bit of magic: ʽWe Three Kingsʼ, played completely straight and stern, at a low, ghostly volume, becomes almost as haunting as ʽSummer­timeʼ from their previous album. Booker T. may not have been a fantastic organ virtuoso, and his playing on the band's more dynamic-aggressive numbers may seem unnecessarily restrained and too overtly disciplined to generate top-level excitement, but he was a fine master of subtle atmo­sphere, and it is a pity that the band's R&B format prevented them from letting him explore that side of his personality more often. Here, though, ʽWe Three Kingsʼ, together with the preceding ʽSweet Little Jesus Boyʼ and ʽSilent Nightʼ, is like a concluding part of a special atmospheric tri­logy that, once you have had your fill of the turkey or the pumpkin pie, initiates you into the mys­tery spirit of the occasion. It's not amazingly amazing — reinventing these all-too familiar melo­dies in some radically new way is a feat of which The M.G.'s would hardly be capable — but it is touching and tasteful. Meaning that the record is not a complete waste of time, as much as the rational mind would suggest that it couldn't be anything but.

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band: The Complete BBC Recordings

THE BONZO DOG DOO-DAH BAND: THE COMPLETE BBC RECORDINGS (1967-1986/2002)

1) Do The Trouser Press; 2) Canyons Of Your Mind; 3) I'm The Urban Spaceman; 4) Hello Mabel; 5) Mr. Apollo; 6) Tent; 7) Monster Mash; 8) Give Booze A Chance; 9) We Were Wrong; 10) Keynsham; 11) I Want To Be With You; 12) Mickey's Son And Daughter; 13) Craig Torso Show; 14) Can Blue Men Sing The Whites; 15) Look At Me I'm Wonderful; 16) Quiet Talks And Summer Walks; 17) We're Going To Bring It On Home; 18) Sofa Head; 19) Can­yons Of Your Mind; 20) I'm The Urban Spaceman.

And another one for completists only — released on the semi-official Strange Fruit label that, among other things, specializes on disclosing radio archives (such as the various John Peel sessions, etc.). I have no idea whether this is really «complete» (most probably not, since there are too few track repetitions for a «complete» package), but it does combine tracks from a variety of performances, mostly recorded for «Top Gear» in 1968 and 1969, and ending with a very brief snippet of ʽUrban Spacemanʼ, performed solo by Neil Innes on vocals and acoustic guitar for «Late Night Lineup» as late, indeed, as 1986.

Even the true completist might be disappointed, though, because the collection offers no genuine­ly new material. The few songs that had not been included on the original LPs are available these days as bonus tracks (e. g. the mini-spoof of ʽThe Craig Torso Showʼ), and others have been included on Anthropology (ʽSofa Headʼ, ʽGive Booze A Chanceʼ). If I am not mistaken, the only exception is ʽWe're Going To Bring It On Homeʼ, a quirky mix of a flute-led art pop song and a barroom-style roots-rocker that is neither too funny nor too touching (in the same way as quite a few songs on Keynsham) — Strange Fruit have a monopoly on this one, having originally re­leased it in 1990 as part of a small Peel Sessions EP.

Everything else is just the same old stuff, treasurable only for the fact that these are the original young Bonzos playing their material live in the studio, showing off their accomplishment as genuine musicians and offering a rare occasional twist on the studio version. (Actually, I think that the first live version of ʽCanyonsʼ here might predate the studio version, because instead of the rather incoherent "to the ventricles of your heart / I'm in love with you again", Stanshall sings "through the ventricles of your heart / I am pumping you again" — what looks like the probable original lyrics, later censored by the band themselves in order to avoid extreme ambiguity by inadvertently introducing a new meaning of the verb "to pump" in the English language.)

It should probably be added that Stanshall's vocal style on ʽThe Monster Mashʼ leans here to­wards the «comically crazy» rather than the «ironically croony», and that the «trouser pressing» guitar imitation on ʽDo The Trouser Pressʼ, done without the benefit of additional studio effects, is still inventive and funny (the freshly demented Syd Barrett would have probably appreciated it). Other than that, there is nothing to add — except that I am still a little disappointed to learn once more that there are indeed no hidden wonders in the vaults for Britain's greatest comic band of rock music's finest era. Oh well — at the very least, it's not as if the album, loaded with all these wonderful tunes in solid renditions and stable sound quality, were an unpleasant listen or any­thing. Completists won't be disappointed.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Bardo Pond: Refulgo

BARDO POND: REFULGO (2014)

1) Die Easy; 2) Apple Eye; 3) Dragonfly; 4) Blues Tune; 5) Trip Fuck; 6) Hummingbird Mountain; 7) New Drunks; 8) Affa; 9) Tests For New Swords; 10) Good Friday; 11) Jungle Tune; 12) Sangh Seriatim.

Ninety minutes of Bardo Pond! That's just about the right length for these guys, I'd think — the proper way to experience a Bardo Pond song is to be bored silly with it for the first ten minutes, only to find out that for the second ten minutes of it your body has been disintegrated and your mind has melded with the furniture. But even for a full-length album from the world's toughest pack of volcanic psychedelic jammers, ninety minutes would be too much, and indeed, Refulgo is not a brand new Brado Pond record, but rather a cleaned-up, remastered version of several of their singles, EP-only tracks and rarities from circa 1994-96. Released, for the pleasure of the truly delicate audiophile, exclusively on four sides of 140 gram Dutch vinyl — these guys take their vibes damn seriously, even if there is nothing to prevent certain filthy sonic perverts from converting the vibes' sensual beauty into soulless MP3.

In any case, whatever be the format or bitrate, Refulgo still feels like a cohesive album — back in 1994-96, Bardo Pond weren't exactly the epitome of diversity, and these tracks, like Amanita or any other masterpiece from that era, all sound the same way. If you are very careful, there does seem to emerge some sort of evolutionary pattern, though: some of the earliest tracks have a dis­tinct blues sheen — ʽDie Easyʼ is a Bardo Pond-style variation on ʽIn My Time Of Dyingʼ, and one of the tracks, for the lack of a better idea, is simply called ʽBlues Tuneʼ. By the time we get to ʽTrip Fuckʼ and ʽNew Drunksʼ, however, the band has already lost conscious touch with any influences and simply lets itself gets carried away on waves of noise and hallucinatory images wherever their subconscious takes them.

Offering newly worded descriptions for individual tracks is impossible due to severe limitations on my verbal abilities and power of imagination — better just check out my previous review of Amanita once again — but I must repeat that a 20-minute length for ʽSangh Seriatimʼ is com­pletely justified, because listening to that song is like being a participant in an accelerated terra­forming process, where the Gibbons brothers play Supernatural Building Team, transforming their guitars into excavators, drills, and welding machines, and Isobel Sollen­berger plays the Mother Earth Spirit breathing life into creation. There's a magnificent droning riff ruling over most of these 20 minutes, against which everything is taking place, and once the psychedelics grab hold of you, time pretty much ceases to exist anyway.

Although I am not usually in the mood of handling out limitless thumbs up to series of albums that sound the same, Bardo Pond circa 1994-96 were such an unstoppable force of alien nature that just about everything they did in those years is equally treasurable (like Can circa 1969-72), before they started running out of «natural» ideas and shortening their records for no reason. Oh, and, for the record, ʽBlues Tuneʼ pretty much sets up the blueprint for the entire career of that Black Mountain band — big fat heavy stoner blues-rock with a nod to the 1970s, but revved up to production heights of the 1990s and beyond.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Bon Jovi: These Days

BON JOVI: THESE DAYS (1995)

1) Hey God; 2) Something For The Pain; 3) This Ain't A Love Song; 4) These Days; 5) Lie To Me; 6) Damned; 7) My Guitar Lies Bleeding In My Arms; 8) (It's Hard) Letting You Go; 9) Hearts Breaking Even; 10) Something To Believe In; 11) If That's What It Takes; 12) Diamond Ring; 13) All I Want Is Everything; 14) Bitter Wine.

By the mid-1990s, they took it way too far. At least Keep The Faith still retained some features typical of a rock'n'roll album — These Days took its formula of ecstatic power ballads and foam-at-the-mouth social anthems to such a hardcore conclusion that even Richie Sambora's electric guitar sounds like a superfluous addition, used mainly to control the high volume levels rather than melodic potential and rock'n'roll energy. The goddamn thing is long, too — fourteen tracks that go on forever, one demonstrative stab of one's own heart after another until you just can't help but wonder, how much soul can one heart contain, physically?

Every song on this album is soaked in sentimentality of the most blatant order: not even ol' Bruce himself probably could cram that much in 73 minutes. The band did say that they were under heavy influence from old soul and R&B records at the time, but stylistically, they sound as if they were probably just trading influences between themselves and Aerosmith: if Permanent Vaca­tion sounded totally modelled on Slippery When Wet, then These Days takes its lessons from Get A Grip — ʽThis Ain't A Love Songʼ and ʽHearts Breaking Evenʼ in particular sound like carbon copies of ʽCrazyʼ and ʽCryingʼ, even borrowing some of Tyler's vocal moves, let alone the total similarity in arrangement and mood. Consequently, all of this sounds well tested, unimagi­native, and supported only by the sheer physical strength of these guys, as if making music were in the same department as pumping iron.

As always, I make no claim about tracks like ʽHey Godʼ or ʽSomething To Believe Inʼ lacking sincerity. Sincerity is so much in the eye of the beholder that it is useless to speculate on how much Jon Bon Jovi was really worried about all the evil in the world, or on whether it is at all ethical for a millionnaire rock star to sing songs about poverty and social injustice (it is hardly a coincidence though, I guess, that both These Days and Get A Grip begin with such a song: first and foremost, the world must be shown that they really care). It is not the lack of sincerity that bothers me — it is the «overcooking» of these products, whose instrumental melodies never stray away from tattered alt-rock clichés, but whose vocal execution taxes Jon's voice to an extent where he cannot pay these taxes, yet still makes us believe that he can; check out his attempt to «gurgle» and stay in key at the same time on one of the "somethiiiiiing... to believe in!" of the «climactic» chorus — anything goes to show us just how much he cares. Who gives a damn if you're a poor songwriter? Just beat your working class breast like nobody else.

On the other flank of the love front, the band is now trying out an additional formula: stripped-down acoustic balladry with Jon in weeping troubadour mode (ʽLetting You Goʼ, ʽDiamond Ringʼ). Its effect is exactly the same, though: the songs could pass for inoffensive, unimpressive filler if not for the DRAMA in the singer's voice that immediately converts them into unlistenable crap. Maybe somebody like Willie Nelson could uncover the true potential of ʽLetting You Goʼ, but this rendition carries an instantly lethal overdose of sweetness. Just as a song with a title as pretentious as ʽMy Guitar Lies Bleeding In My Armsʼ (a monster hybrid of ʽWhile My Guitar Gently Weepsʼ and ʽLove Lies Bleeding In My Handsʼ, I suppose) carries an instantly lethal overdose of TRAGEDY GLOOM DESPERATION KILL YOURSELF NOW NOW NOW. Also, "I can't write a love song the way I feel today", he says, but then apparently today turns into tomor­row, because the very next song is a love song. Oh well.

Occasional catchiness is the only redeeming factor for this wreck of a record, but this time it is not enough to get it off the hook — These Days pretends to more seriousness than any other preceding Bon Jovi album without any musical development whatsoever. Give me a straight, no-frills, no-pretense song like ʽBad Medicineʼ over ʽSomething For The Painʼ any time of day: as I already said, New Jersey had the optimal balance between ambition and potential that these guys could ever establish for themselves, and since then it's all been downhill, and These Days is the first Bon Jovi album where I cannot fix myself a positive outlook even on one single song. Total­ly thumbs down to a band that should have never outlived its big hair, really.

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Boo Radleys: Wake Up!

THE BOO RADLEYS: WAKE UP! (1995)

1) Wake Up Boo!; 2) Fairfax Scene; 3) It's Lulu; 4) Joel; 5) Find The Answer Within; 6) Reaching Out From Here; 7) Martin, Doom! It's Seven O'Clock; 8) Stuck On Amber; 9) Charles Bukowski Is Dead; 10) 4AM Conversation; 11) Twinside; 12) Wilder.

The commercial success of this album was largely associated with the rise of «Britpop», even though Carr had gone on record many times claiming that The Boo Radleys had nothing to do with «Britpop» and never tried to jump on anybody's wagon at all. As far as the early Boo Rad­leys sound is concerned, he would be deluding himself and the public, but Wake Up!, indeed, has very little to do with either Blur or Oasis. Instead, it has everything to do with the Beatles: this is as close as the band has ever come to a fanatical show of worship, and even if the results are, as usual, much less than spectacular, the strength of the drive is so ferocious that... well, imagine if the real Beatles would have put out something in 1995... come to think of it, they did, didn't they? well, ʽFree As A Birdʼ got to No. 2 on the UK charts, and ʽWake Up Boo!ʼ got to No. 9, and that's sort of about right, numerically and aesthetically.

For this record, almost every trace of the band's shoegazing past has been carefully removed. While some of the tracks still feature noisy distorted guitars, they are almost never at the center of attention — it is merely to let us know that the band does not have a special intention of «going soft», and besides, it's not as if the Beatles hadn't used any noisy distorted guitars in their life, you know. But the true ambition of these guys is indeed to make you Wake Up! — to offer an album full of beautiful, optimistic, idealistic, life-asserting psychedelic pop songs, recapturing the warm colorful vibe of the 1966-69 period, when it was vibrating all the way from Revolver to Abbey Road (the latter album is even structurally alluded to, either intentionally or subconsciously, on the last track, which cuts away as unexpectedly as ʽI Want Youʼ and is then quickly followed up by an unpredictable-unrelated closing acoustic snippet like ʽHer Majestyʼ).

Like every single attempt to directly «cop the Beatles» that I have ever heard, be it XTC or Ad­rian Belew or Apples In Stereo, Wake Up! is ultimately a failure — predictedly and expectedly a failure, I'd add, for reasons of personal and collective psychology. But like most of these attempts, that does not render the «copies» completely useless or unenjoyable or lacking a sub-identity of their own. Nor am I saying that the «copies» actually rip off any of the Beatles' melodies — that would be much too much of an oversimplification (although there certainly are some direct quo­tations, e. g. the piano chords of ʽThe Long And Winding Roadʼ on ʽWilderʼ). No, the Boos are certainly capable of writing their own songs — and that is where the problem lies: their schooling in songwriting does not agree too well with the Sixties' vibe, or, at the very least, they often have trouble finding the right bits of that vibe to insert in their compositions.

Case in point: ʽFind The Answer Withinʼ is a pretty good upbeat pop song, but for some reason, they find it a good idea to load the last minute and a half with overdubs of backward-recorded vocals. You can almost imagine the studio reasoning: «hey, great tune we get going here, but not enough of that Sixties' flavor!» — «But we've already borrowed everything!» — «Well, you can never borrow everything, really, just give another spin to your copy of Past Masters!» — «Say! What about those backward vocals on ʽRainʼ, did we ever have that?» Honestly, there is no need whatsoever for such a gimmick on this track, not after its encouraging message of "The world is at your feet / Try and make something happen", but no, they had to go out and do it.

Beatlisms are kept to a relative miminum on the album's most commercially successful single, ʽWake Up Boo!ʼ, where they opted for a rousing, almost Eurodance-like, rhythm and a large brass section to complement the impetus of "wake up it's a beautiful morning, the sun shining for your eyes". However, its romantic joy and innocence feels a little too contrived and calculated for me — even despite being lyrically tempered with the less immediately obvious verbal conclusion of "wake up it's so beautiful, for what could be the very last time", it's really a rather silly song, you know, at least for 1995; I feel unable to give in to its mechanical happiness, even if it is very hard to explain why, for instance, ʽGood Day Sunshineʼ feels so natural and easy-going, while this sunny day anthem feels so contrived.

I much prefer ʽMartin, Doom! It's Seven O'Clockʼ, which also stimulates its protagonist to "get out of bed", "the world is waiting just for you", etc., but does that at a slower, more thoughtful tempo and without hammering the repetitive hook into your head. It's a gradual six-minute build-up that could have been better arranged (for one thing, the fake synthesized horns and strings at the end really deserved to be real — as it is, the wall-of-sound approach seems misplaced), but on the symbolic level at least it does a really good job of representing a person's gradual awakening (in all senses of the word), and if any track on the album ever approaches «epic» status, it would be ʽMartinʼ. Also because it is uncluttered with vocal gimmicks: so many tracks here place their complete faith in aah-aah and ooh-ooh overdubs (some of them multi-layered, some of them phased, some of them reversed etc.) that eventually it just becomes boring.

Where they really get their stuff together is the very last song, and even then, not from the begin­ning: for the first few minutes, ʽWilderʼ just rides on a quasi-McCartney piano melody that mimics the form but misses the spirit. However, at around 3:30 into the song, it is transformed into a calm, unhurried, «introspective» jam that unexpectedly reveals a major talent in bassist Tim Brown — ironically, if there is one good thing here that they truly managed to snatch out of the Beatles' backpack and develop further, it is McCartney's bass melodicity, which Brown un­derstands perfectly well and capitalizes upon. Technically and emotionally, the jam is remini­scent of what the Beatles did on ʽDon't Let Me Downʼ — a thoughtful, seriously-playful bass groove against which the guitars and keyboards lay down some stately, economic lines, creating a feel of some sort of «mature serenity» — but here, despite being so derivative, they are also being highly successful.

It is rather weird to talk about an album's existence being essentially justified by its three-minute coda, but that's just the way it is; at least it is a major argument in support of a thumbs up, because otherwise we could get seriously irritated by the inadequacy of the «wake up!» ideology of the album. I mean, it pretends to be giving you a major ʽHey Judeʼ-an kick in the butt, but it just doesn't have enough calories to make it feel like a kick, if you know what I mean. Real admi­rable intention, though, no questions about it.