The «Two Cents» Page.
For those who have no need of lengthy reviews, here's just one or two quick thoughts and summaries on all the artists I have covered. Do not forget, though, that even Britney Spears cannot be fully described in two sentences, so these should by no means be taken for final and definitive judgements. Build or burn at your own risk.
Note: ☺ Smileys indicate artists well worth getting acquainted with; ○ blank circles are for okay ones who may have reasons to own fan bases but do not rise beyond "decent"; ☻ anti-smileys are just what they are — artists who are only here because of public notoriety and (perhaps) limited historical significance, but they can also be great fodder to make fun of. I'm sure they don't mind — they're supposed to be cool, understanding people in any case.
☺Carl Perkins: The man behind ʽBlue Suede Shoesʼ and ʽHoney Don'tʼ needs little introduction... or does he? Although he is always listed in every list of great early rockers, he'd also always kept a low profile, and his lack of «flash» has always made him lurk somewhere in the background, way behind the huge shoulders of Elvis. But this also makes him a personal favorite for those music lovers who despise «flash», and prefer quiet, subtle charisma instead. Anyway, no collection is complete without a set of great Carl Perkins guitar licks — the man was perhaps the perfect epitome of «rock'n'roll as country-western's naughty kid» — and there might even be a reason to look into Carl's career beyond the obligatory mid-1950s hits: yes, it's been spotty, but not without its hidden charms, such as, e. g., On Top from 1969, where he actually tried to modernize his style with surprisingly fun results.
○ Champion Jack Dupree: Jury still out.
☺Charley Patton: A figure of almost as legendary status as Robert Johnson, but a little less familiar to the general public because, unlike Johnson, Patton has not been nearly as influential on the American and British electric blues and blues-rock scene — at least, not as immediately influential, what with his more archaic and «wild» style of Delta blues guitar playing, and his deep growling vocals being harder to authentically imitate and all. Additionally, most of his recordings suffer from really terrible sound quality. But don't let that stop you from listening: few pre-war artists have the kind of power to really transport you into the depths of the Delta that Patton has. There's just something about that voice... anyway, before I slip into any politically incorrect clichés, just remember that nobody's blues collection is ever complete without the complete (quite minuscule, actually, compared to gazillions of identical recordings by much lesser artists from the same period) output of Charley Patton on the shelf.
○ Carla Thomas: The daughter of Rufus «The Dog» Thomas, she had a pleasant personality, a nice voice, and a bit of songwriting talent, but probably wouldn't have made it far enough without father's protection anyway. Although the industry went as far as to dub her «The Queen Of Soul» at one time (that was before Aretha's arrival), most of her recordings were soft, easy-going, not particularly outstanding R&B pieces — the only exception being ʽGee Whizʼ, an early «teen R&B» ballad that captured the public with its starry-eyed attitude. She never could properly replicate its success, though, and spent most of the Sixties struggling to stay afloat, before finally giving up and sinking in the early Seventies. But she was nice. Possible starting point: No single album can be recommended (let alone the fact that most of them are out of print) — just grab any compilation that has ʽGee Whizʼ, and maybe also ʽB-A-B-Yʼ, on it, and you're all set.
○ Cher: The consummate «give-the-people-what-they-want» entertainer, Cher has always been quite a colorful and intriguing personage even outside of the «Sonny and Cher» combo, from the moment she first established her femme-fatale solo presence in 1965 and all the way into the 21st century, where she remains as a gay rights icon, an obligatory ingredient of the «cockroaches and...» folklore, and a loyal supplier of whatever form of crappy mass-marketed pop music is the most en vogue at the present moment. The thing that really makes it fun to explore her career, though, are her serious artistic inclinations that flash through the veil of pop glitz every once in a while — no matter how corny her public image may look at any given time, she is neither dumb nor untalented, and her legacy contains enough material to fill at least a solid 2-CD compilation that would proudly hold its own next to the best mainstream pop songwriters of the Sixties, Seventies and... well, not the Eighties, but you get my drift. Unfortunately, it was always more important for Cher to be a «celebrity» and a «fashion icon» first, and a serious artist second — so that whenever the second entered into conflict with the first, she knew which aspect to sacrifice without a moment's hesitation. This is why her career is such an odd see-saw of commercial and critical flops and successes — and the relation between her hit records and artistic peaks is far from straightforward. Ever since her re-emergence in the Eighties as the big-haired fishnet queen of generic glam-pop and her conversion to equally generic techno-pop in the Nineties, embarrassments have ousted out successes at a ratio of 99:1, but it didn't always used to be like that, and the most disrespectful thing one can do to Cher is forever remember her for ʽBelieveʼ and ʽIf I Could Hold Back Timeʼ. Possible starting point: 3614 Jackson Highway (1969) is often singled out as a particularly decent record, with a strong rocking / funky sound to it, so this is probably the one that a beginner should first go for in order to form a positive impression; proceed from there with caution in both sides of the chronostream, bracing yourself for widely varying proportions of wheat and chaff.
☻Cactus: This band, formed out of the ashes of Vanilla Fudge and masterminded by the titanic rhythm section of Tim Bogart and Carmine Appice, is pretty much the spiritual predecessor of KISS — except that in their utmost reverence for the second S («stupid») they were known to slightly neglect the first S («simple»), and their brand of sludgy, cumbersome heavy rock can very easily get boring, which, in turn, leads to all their stupidity becoming irritating rather than a guilty pleasure. With no decent songwriting, no serious clues about how to overcome the limitations of 12-bar blues genericity, and a lead vocalist forever locked in the solitary state of «drunk and bawling», most of their studio records consist of one or two fun tracks (usually when they introduce speed into the formula) and heaps of forgettable throwaways. They were quite a kick-ass live band, though, adding lots of extra cheap thrills and musical kerosene when facing a demanding audience. Possible starting point: Fully Unleashed: The Live Gigs (2004) is seriously the only Cactus album worth hearing or owning — it has all their best songs on it, performed with extra energy, and if pure, undiluted brawn is what you're after, then their only competitor from the early Seventies is Slade.
☺Cake, The: A short lived girl group from the Summer of Love era, they only lasted for a couple of years that took them all the way from New York to California, but left behind a rather curious legacy — a mix of Motown, Atlantic, psychedelic, and baroque pop elements that ranged from generically obsolete (for 1967) to bizarrely innovative and, occasionally, quite emotionally haunting. With more-than-decent production values, excellent singing voices, and serious songwriting talent (most of their best material was self-penned rather than covered), there is absolutely no telling where this could have ended, had they stuck together — unfortunately, lack of promotion and image problems (it is unlikely that they were superficially perceived as anything other than a curious relic from an already bygone era) crashed the band almost as soon as it took off. Possible starting point: A Slice Of Cake (1968), their second album, fully concentrates on original songwriting and is therefore preferable to the self-titled debut. However, that hardly matters, since both are short enough to fit on one CD, and this is exactly how you are most expected to encounter them (a 2007 compilation under the title of More Of Cake Please).
☺Can: Along with Kraftwerk, Can are probably the most recognizable name on the «Krautrock» scene of the 1970s — and, unlike Kraftwerk, Can may actually be qualified as «rock» without reservations. Both bands started out as alumni of the experimental music scene (Stockhausen, etc.), but where Kraftwerk expanded from this into the music of the future (electronica), Can preferred to merge avantgardism with more «earthly» directions — blues-rock, R&B, and funk, making themselves more easily accessible for fans of guitar-based psychedelic jamming. Few bands in the 1970s could excel in groove-based (rather than free-form) jamming better than Can, but the best thing about the band is that it practiced the «quality check» principle — spontaneity and flight of imagination was valued above everything else, but only the truly inspired bits made it onto the mastertapes, with Holger Czukay splitting and splicing the material in post-production with the utmost craftsmanship. The band's unique approach to «carefully ordered improvisation» and, of course, their unmatched technical skills (all four core members were killer musicians) made them into true giants of the underground music scene — too far out there to achieve big commercial success even at the height of the popularity of progressive rock in the early 1970s, but an undying legend all the same, whose influence is pretty much unmeasurable and whose critical reputation only continues to grow decades after the end. Possible starting point: If you are afraid of too much sonic pressure at once, Soundtracks (1970) is the perfect introduction to the classic Can sound — you get to know both of their early vocalists with each one's individual style of crazy, and you get short catchy «odd-pop» songs and lengthy mind-blowing jams organically integrated with each other. But if you are not afraid of anything, stick to the general critical recommendation of Tago Mago (1971), which is like this band's equivalent of the Missa Solemnis — a multi-part ritual for communication with... the other side.
○ Canned Heat: Self-proclaimed «kings of the boogie», these guys symbolized three things in the late Sixties: (a) the cosmic triumph of John Lee Hooker-type music, when gritty one-chord blues vamps are enhanced with rock'n'roll headbanging; (b) the absoluteness of the ideals of brotherly/motherly peace, love, and understanding; (c) the easiness of slipping from pot to hard drugs, which eventually caused the death of several of the band's key members. With some real talent to burn and a couple of really enjoyable albums behind their belt, they, however, were unable to overcome their B-level status, and after the death of their one most talented member, Alan Wilson, in 1970, began a long and painful process of degeneration, only to re-emerge twenty years later as a get-their-shit-together, competent, but still not very bright retro-blues-rock outfit that simply refuses to go away, no matter what they're offered. Watch Woodstock — their filmed appearance there captures just about everything there is about this band, all three aspects (well, the hard drug thing is only hinted at, but you can sort of see it coming), and if it intrigues you, proceed from there. Possible starting point: Boogie With Canned Heat (1968) probably captures them at their absolute best; the rest of the catalog should rather be compressed into a representative compilation.
☺Captain Beefheart: The epitome — nay, indeed, the acme — of «weird» in popular music, Captain Beefheart is less of a captain and more of a litmus test on the audience. Are you just old plain basic, or are you acidic enough to get carried away and bewildered by the Captain's tireless efforts at reformulating and subverting the rules of music, poetry, and artistry? He may have been a genius, presaging the music of the future in a post-World War III world of superhuman survivors, or an obnoxious madman, irritating our beauty-wired brains for no excusable reason — but one thing is for certain: he was like nobody else, and he did things — and worked very hard for them, too — that nobody else did. I am not going to ever pretend that I «like» the creative evolution of Beefheart, but I am bewildered by it, and that may be enough. Possible starting point: Unless you are already a seasoned pro in many things, don't listen to conventional wisdom and start your Beefheart experience with Safe As Milk (1967) — his first album, already much less safe than milk, actually, but still giving you a perfect balance between avantgarde craziness and more conventional blues-rock and psychedelic pop. A good second choice would be to skip a decade and go for Shiny Beast (1979) — the Captain's «comeback» after a muddled period, and also a good example of balance. Only then will you be properly equipped to tackle Trout Mask Replica in all its alternate-universe glory.
☺Caravan: Jury still out.
☺Camel: Maybe the quintessential «second generation progressive rock» band in all of Britain, Camel pretty much epitomized the genre's evolution around 1973-76: intelligent, inobtrusive, relatively unpretentious, rather quiet and reserved music, equally steeped in blues, folk, and jazz (but not a lot of true symphonic influence). Andy Latimer, the band's heart and soul (although in those early years, keyboardist Pete Bardens played almost as big a role), is a cool blues guitarist with some real juicy tones at his disposal (somewhat derivative of David Gilmour, but much more than just a copycat) and songwriting talent to burn; most of it, unfortunately, had been burnt in less than a decade (1973-1981), after which the band was largely reduced to Latimer solo and turned into a tasteful, but boring New-Age-adult-contemporary-synth-prog. (The last two albums were a pretty decent comeback, though). Anyway, Camel are perfect when you're in that quiet brooding mood — solitary late evenings with the rest of the world completely shut out is a perfect setting for Latimer and company to transport you to an ideal fantasy world of noble loners, unfortunate idealists and that one perfect romance that never comes to be. Possible starting point: The Snow Goose (1975) is typically considered the band's early, completely instrumental, conceptual masterpiece, but I've always been slightly more partial to Nude (1981).
○ Candi Staton: She could have been just one more completely forgettable person from the R&B / soul / funk circuit of the early 1970s, but several circumstances make Candi Staton a figure worth remembering. First, she had a strong and complex personality, being endowed with a strong voice, some songwriting talent, and the ability to go from style to style without completely sacrificing personality (which, unfortunately, still did not help her in the disco debauchery of the late 1970s). Second, she had six husbands, all or most of which seem to have seriously abused her, and this pain — as well as a strong hope that one day it will finally be alright — permeates a lot of her output, even when other people wrote her songs for her. Third, some of these husbands, as well as occasional non-husbands, happened to be talented musical people, like Clarence Carter or Dave Crawford, supplying her with good material (including her biggest hit and probably best known song, ʽYoung Hearts Run Freeʼ). Fourth, in the Eighties she abandoned pop completely for the gospel scene — only to embark on a musically successful comeback in the 21st century, with a fully convincing retro sound, which sort of makes her the female counterpart of Al Green. All in all, it's been quite a long, strange trip for Candi, and she's well worth getting to know for any serious fan of classic R&B. Possible starting point: I'm Just A Prisoner (1970), her official debut, is unquestionably her finest hour (the fire, the energy, the full support of Muscle Shoals); the rest of her large catalog is quite spotty.
○ Captain Beyond: A «quasi-super-group», formed in the early 1970s by outcasts from and remnants of various B-level psychedelic conglomerations from the end of the previous decade (Mark I Deep Purple, Iron Butterfly, Johnny Winter's original band, etc.), these guys did not last very long, but still managed to secure themselves a few square inches of burial ground in the pantheon. Theirs was a pretty decent merger of contemporary heavy rock with contemporary progressive influences, all the while retaining the old idealistic hippie spirit, and everything about it was decent — modestly strong songwriting, good musicianship, and a lead singer (Rod Evans) who could sound passionate and serious without succumbing to the inflated pomp that often goes hand in hand with such seriousness. Unfortunately, they arrived on the scene a little too late to capture a special niche for themselves, and their noble, but suicidal refusal to go in the direction of commercial pop pretty much sealed their fate in a few years. Possible starting point: Captain Beyond (1972) is the obvious place to go first — the second album would not rock so hard, and the third «reunion» album from 1977 suffers from the replacement of Evans by a much more pompously awful singer, although it still has a few nice moments.
☺Carole King: You shouldn't even begin to try searching for unexpected psychological depths in Carole King's output — she has always been America's #1 "Keep It Simple, Sentimental" female songwriter, and unpretentiously proud of it. Carole's main asset, apart from, of course, the undeniable melodic gift, is her disarming charisma — few performers succeed in creating such a warm, soothing, trustworthy, believable atmosphere just by cozying down at the piano and singing simple words that do not even pretend to ascend the lower rungs of «rock poetry». Unfortunately, this asset, while extremely helpful at the start of her solo career, eventually turned into a seemingly self-sufficient quality, as King's gift for inventive and catchy melodicity waned over the years and her soft-rock arrangements steadily declined into generic pablum; eventually, she just morphed into that «nice lady around the corner» whose happy smile and conventional life advice every day you treat with the same attention as a piece of furniture. But if you want the ultimate in happy smiles and life advices, nothing still beats those few years in the early 1970s when her pop instincts were still intact, and fertilized the soft-rock singer-songwriting agenda like nothing else could — James Taylor may have been a good friend and all, but he was all in black and white next to Carole's rainbow of colors. Possible starting point: Needless to insist that one should start anywhere else other than the classic Tapestry (1971), but there are some fairly strong records on both chronological sides of it. The important thing is to stop after 1982, since all Carole King albums after that suffer from horrible arrangements and production, and the songwriting is grandmotherly mediocre at best.
○ Cabaret Voltaire: Led by grim Sheffield kids Stephan Mallinder and Richard H. Kirk, these guys began as radical avantgarde experimentators, busily constructing one corner of the industrial scene next to Throbbing Gristle; then, placing themselves somewhere at the meeting point between «radical avantgarde» and «intelligent mainstream», they unleashed a never-ending series of albums that wove industrial, electronic, and minimalist threads into rhythmic patterns, so that young people all over the planet could happily dance their way to the end of the world. The music sometimes compromised with pop values, but never embraced them properly, the same way that dozens of other New Wave-era groups could stake their claim to fame and fortune — on the other hand, the «danceability» of the music could also alienate «serious» crowds, so the Cabaret Voltaire fanbase was always limited. Over two decades of work, they gradually made the transition from a more guitar-based, dreary, cavernous sound to fully electronic textures in the realms of house and techno music, sometimes sounding one step ahead of their competition and sometimes one step behind, but almost never embarrassing themselves (except for some missteps in the late Eighties when the music became «too happy» for its own good). Nevertheless, this is definitely one band I'd rather prefer to quietly «respect» than actively «enjoy». Possible starting point: This one is a real stumper — they have so many albums out of the same comparable quality. The first of those that made more than just an average impression on me was 2x45 (1982), so this is the one I'd probably go along with, but it's so much a matter of taste (if not random luck) that... well, pretty much anything up to Micro-Phonies (1984) represents the «classic» period, and pretty much any of their 1990s albums is in the IDM camp, if you really need guidelines.
☺Camper Van Beethoven: Once a special brand of underground-college-rock heroes of the eccentric Eighties, Camper Van Beethoven have somehow managed to survive (or, more accurately, to resurrect) into the 21st century as one of the smartest (way too smart to have ever enjoyed much commercial success, despite much of their music written in a totally accessible manner) «meta-pop» bands of the last few generations. Where they once used to rethink all the musical genres in the world as ska (or polka, whichever you prefer), they have since applied a nonchalant, irreverent attitude to everything in existence, but without forgetting that it never works without a little bit of soul. From neo-country-western to psychedelic hard rock to a full re-recording of Fleetwood Mac's Tusk, they've been here and they've been there and they have made their mark on everything; a must-know for everyone who likes his pop with a good touch of irony, intellectualism, and musical verve. Possible starting point: Aw hell, just start from the beginning, woncha? Telephone Free Landslide Victory (1985) is a half-visionary, half-jokey classic if there ever was one.
○ Candlemass: Jury still out.
○ Carcass: The Foul Four of Liverpool, these guys took extreme metal to new heights when, inspired by the success of Napalm Death, they invented a new variety of grindcore — the morgue variety, painting verbal and visual portraits of utter grossness to go along with the brutal minimalistic riffage, insane tempos, laconic running length, and growling vocals. Although many others followed in their footsteps, trying with verve to upstage their progenitors (and at the same time cloning them so much that many of them even began with the same letter, like Cadaver or Cannibal Corpse), Carcass still managed to remain ahead of the pack — largely because they would significantly shift their image from album to album, until, by the mid-Nineties, they'd almost come close to turning into a «classic rock» band, at which point they thought it wise to stop and just disbanded, leaving behind a relatively small legacy that is worth exploring from top to bottom, unless you happen to be pathologically afraid of words like putrefaction and uterogestation. Possible starting point: This depends on how well you are pre-adapted to this kind of music — Heartwork (1993) is more sparing in terms of melodicity, and does not revolve entirely around cadaverous matters, but for the strong-hearted, the band's debut Reek Of Putrefaction (1988) should be the obvious point of entry, since they would never be more extreme than on this arch-dirty collection of 22 brief bursts of insane macabre energy.
☺Cars, The: Probably the best example of the missing link between «classic» and «modern» pop/rock, at their best these Bostonian guys were more than just a talented pop band with a knack for vocal and instrumental hooks — there's an air of melancholy and world-weariness that permeates most of their career and makes even the most upbeat of their songs soak in a happy/sad, psychologically non-trivial atmosphere. If anything, their main problem was that the first album came out too perfect to allow them to continue a steady journey upwards: pretty much their entire agenda was uncovered in about thirty minutes, and no matter how hard they tried (either by darkening the atmosphere on Panorama, or going synth-pop almost all the way on Heartbeat City), they never really evolved beyond the respectably tasteful, but small niche that they carved out for themselves from the very beginning. Possible starting point: The Cars (1978) unarguably remains their highest point — it's like a greatest hits package all by itself —the rest of the band's catalog deserves further study depending on how much you like the first album.
☺Cheap Trick: These guys from Rockford, Illinois have always suffered from a case of split personality: they wanted to be The Beatles and The Rolling Stones at the same time, combining beautiful pop hooks with nasty attitudes and a dirty guitar sound. As a result of that, they became one of the quintessential «power pop» bands of all time — with vocalist Robin Zander responsible for the good looks and guitarist Ricky Nielsen providing most of the cool hooks, for several years in the late 1970s they provided America and the world with some of the finest, snappiest, smartest guitar-based pop music imaginable. Refusing to fit in with the New Wave standards of the time, they found it hard to deal with the Eighties, quickly plunging in a world of embarrassments along with their older colleagues from the Sixties — eventually recovering enough of a sense of taste to endure into the Nineties and the Noughties with a badly bruised, but breathing reputation; that said, their glory period of 1977–79 will obviously never be repeated if they live to be 99. Possible starting point: In Color (1977) is their catchiest and most ass-kicking collection, and Heaven Tonight (1978) is probably the smartest and darkest one, so it's really impossible to choose between either. And, of course, At Budokan (1979) is often hailed as one of the greatest live albums of all time — although that one might be more of a special phenomenon for its time rather than a lasting testament of the power of rock'n'roll.
○ Cardiacs: One of the craziest, if not the craziest band to appear on British soil in the 1980s — and that is not necessarily a compliment. Specially to describe Tim Smith's music, the critical establishment had to come up with the term «pronk» — «progressive punk» — and the same establishment used to actively put it down for committing atrocious sacrileges against the classic sacred values of punk. In reality, Cardiacs were «mashers»: they would take just about anything urbanistic (pop, blues rock, punk, ska, symphonic rock, etc.), chop it up, mix the ingredients in the most unusual combinations and release the results as convoluted artistic statements that seem like perfect illustrations for the statement «art is what you make of it». In their defense, they truly sound like nobody else (particularly in the Eighties), and the sheer complexity and unpredictability of Smith's approach to the pop music formula can sometimes baffle the mind more than it may be baffled by the likes of Zappa or Beefheart. But personally, I find it very difficult to «mentally visualize» 9 out of 10 of their ideas, or to make them come alive with meaning — admire and respect the form, yes, but failing to perceive (not to mention describe) the substance behind their tonal labyrinths. That said, I would agree that no Big Picture is complete without hearing and trying to digest at least one Cardiacs album; and they do get far more belated recognition these days than they did in their prime, so it's not just some obscure act from out of nowhere that you'd be producing to boost your indie credo. Possible starting point: A Little Man And A House And The Whole World Window (1988) arguably has the deepest and catchiest songs of their career (as well as the closest they ever came to a bona fide commercial pop hit), but on the whole, the band had remained highly consistent over two decades, and aside from the earliest cassette tape-only recordings that suffer from hideous sound quality (but still contain some of their best written material), it really makes no difference where to start. Actually, an even better choice might be Cardiacs Live (1988) from that same year — somehow, all those crazy songs end up sounding much better with doubled energy onstage, not to mention that it also works as a «best-of» package.
☺Cardigans: This Swedish band seems to be pursued by the post-ABBA curse: people are too wary around their brand of soft pop, centered around two male songwriters and (in this case) one female singer, even if the melodic skills of The Cardigans are quite favorably comparable not only to the ABBA songwriters, but to any non-Swedish pop band of the 1990s. With their early records, they pretty much invented a special subgenre, a sweet mix of lounge jazz and folk-pop, seasoned with intelligent and slightly surrealistic melancholia of Nina Persson's vocal delivery — and then they ended up doing Black Sabbath covers in that style! If that alone does not stimulate your curiosity, then how about there being three distinct stages to the Cardigans — the sweet early one (probably the best), the «commercial» dance-oriented middle one, and the «mature», more conventional-adult-pop-tinged one that still has its benefits? At the very least, in retrospect they honestly deserve to be better known and remembered than, say, Oasis. Possible starting point: Emmerdale (1994), their debut, already exposes all of their best sides — raise up some love for this one before moving on to the rest of the catalog.
○ Cat Power: This Georgian renegade with a flair for the mystical and the melancholic has plenty of admirers among the indie crowds, but I am not really one of them: for Chan Marshall, atmosphere always takes precedence over innovative or unusual melodies, and that atmosphere is almost always the same, suggesting some superhuman spiritual experience that most of us mere mortals will always be too coarse and shallow to understand. When she is in the mood, she can be a very talented songwriter and arranger, but that happens far too rarely for my taste; and her favorite hobby, that of taking other people's songs and turning them into completely interchangeable Cat Power broodings that bear no resemblance whatsoever to the original, while entertaining at first, pretty soon gets stale and even irritating. That said, as far as modernistic singer-songwriter patterns are concerned, she is certainly far from the worst out there, and at least she does vary her musical styles — from grunge to folk to country to electronica, she's done it all, refusing to be pigeonholed with any other pigeon than the Cat Power breed. Possible starting point: You Are Free (2003) is probably the one record where she experiments the most with melody, and, overall, the most accessible introduction to her world, although critics tend to prefer Moon Pix (1998).
○ Catherine Wheel: One of the innumerable bands to become popular in the wake of the grunge, alt-rock, and post-My Bloody Valentine explosion, these British fellows (with Iron Maiden Bruce Dickinson's cousin Rob at the wheel) began as a pretty respectable provider of psychedelic guitar fireworks and mopey romanticism, molding their shoegaze techniques into something a little more reminiscent of traditional pop structures, but still loyally placing otherworldly texture above pop hooks. Unfortunately, Rob Dickinson rather quickly fell in love with himself as a post-Freudian interpreter of the human spirit, and this led to a steady decrease of interesting elements in the band's music and a steady increase in its ego, until everybody just got bored with them and they did not survive the transition from the Nineties into the Noughties. Possible starting point: Ferment (1992) may not be their catchiest set of tunes, but still probably remains their most musically inspired, so this is one more case where you're probably better off starting at the very beginning and stopping as soon as you feel like it.
○ Charlatans, The: Jury still out.
☺ Camera Obscura: In limited dosage, this band (actually, more of a vehicle for the talents and personal charm of bandleader Tracyanne Campbell) is a kicker — delightful twee-pop and chamber-pop that comes across as a lighter, whiffier, a little less morose (though still pretty icy) version of Belle & Sebastian (no big surprise, since Camera Obscura also come from Glasgow and owe much of their popularity to Stuart Murdoch taking them under their wing). There is one problem, though: neither Tracyanne nor anyone else in the band have a good understanding of what it is that separates a «nice moody tune» from an «unforgettable classic». When they accidentally stumble upon a great hook (ʽLloyd, I'm Ready To Be Heartbrokenʼ or ʽFrench Navyʼ are prime examples), for that one brief moment they become the greatest pop band of the 21st century. Then it's back to pleasant boredom for the rest of the album. Life can be so unjust, but then, maybe God just didn't have it in his masterplan to let Glasgow take over the world in the 21st century. They're not ready. Yet. Possible starting point: No idea. This is one band that really doesn't need the LP as their medium of choice. Just find those songs I mentioned and start from there (although, most likely, you won't find any better ones anyway).
☺ Carbon Based Lifeforms: A couple of Swedes (Johannes Hedberg and Daniel Segerstad)who specialize in, arguably, a kind of electronic music that would be most pleasing to the ears of «old school» fans who'd rather have Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, Vangelis, and Eno over more modern reinventions of the electronic paradigm. Described by the somewhat vague and misleading term «psy-bient», their music does indeed heavily lean into the direction of ambient soundscapes, but it is typically more complex and sonically deep than most ambient, and it can stimulate rather than relax the imagination as well. As well befits their name, the duo constantly strives for realism, painting musical equivalents of the living universe rather than completely imaginary worlds or geometric abstractions, and although they do not always succeed (and sometimes give in to more conventional ways of music-making, as when they add superflous danceable grooves to their compositions), on the whole they produce the impression of one of the more pensive and serious electronic acts of the 21st century. Possible starting point: They hit their stride with Hydroponic Garden (2003) and have not really produced a bad record ever since, although the more recent ones are kind of running out of fresh ideas.
☺ Caribou: A pseudonym for Canadian maverick Dan Snaith (who used to go by the name of Manitoba first, before another Manitoba — lead singer of The Dictators — threatened him with a silly lawsuit). The guy is really talented, with his music largely being a mix of electronica, jazz-pop, and sunny psychedelia; on his best albums, he does a great job combining the spirit of idealistic Sixties' art-pop à la Brian Wilson and Rod Argent with modern digital technologies, although the vibe can sometimes get a tad monotonous — typically of most modern artists, he is more interested in zooming in on one particular area and micro-managing it to exhaustion. That said, when he does try to branch out, the results may be underwhelming: after an initial «jazzy» period and what may have been his «golden years» of merging electronica with art-pop, recently he has gone too far in the direction of generic IDM, losing much of the original appeal in the process. Still, he's definitely not a phony or anything, and it's pretty safe to try him out regardless of whether you're hunting for Sixties nostalgia or live entirely in the 21st century. Possible starting point: Andorra (2007) is my obvious favorite, but it is also the most retro-oriented of his albums, with acoustic instrumentation taking precedence over the electronics and vocal melodies taken almost directly from the Love / Zombies / Beach Boys textbook, so if you want something a little more futuristic, The Milk Of Human Kindness (2005) might be a better place to start.
○ Carly Rae Jepsen: I have only tackled this young Canadian lady because the indie community went crazy over Emotion, insisting that here, at last, was a conventional mainstream pop album with soul and quality songwriting. Indeed, she is better than the average competition when it comes to factory-made teen-oriented dance-pop songs with conventional arrangements, and she's got plenty of reservations that might prevent her from going the way of Britney Spears or Miley Cyrus in the future. But that does not mean that she makes «great» albums — it's more like, a tiny ray of hope if you're one of those sour dudes over 30 (like me) who wants to find at least some common language with those darn kids these days. And I'm sorry, but ʽCall Me Maybeʼ sucks, no matter how many memes it managed to generate back in 2012. Possible starting point: Well, yes, Emotion (2015) is still probably the only album from her (so far) that might be listened to from start to finish, although I do find myself partial to a couple of tunes from her debut, as well (back when she was not so totally into the dance-pop scene yet).
○Cass McCombs: A guy who may have set out to reinvent Californian singer-songwritership for the 21st century, but ended up as just another face in the large indie crowd of today's confused musical landscape. On the positive side, he has a beautiful singing voice, great taste in influences (everything from Brian Wilson to Leonard Cohen and beyond), a solid poetic gift, and genuine ambitions. On the downside, I'd hesitate to call him a musical genius: like Dylan, he relies way too often on the trick of using some simplistic traditional groove as the basis for expressing his own personality, but, unlike Dylan, he just does not have enough quirks in his personality to make such things endurable for the 5-6-7-8 minutes that his songs often go on for. He'd started out very strong, though, but then got progressively more boring as the years went by, and most of his albums seem to have more of an intellectual than emotional appeal. Possible starting point: Unquestionably, one should start at the very beginning — appropriately titled A (2003) — as it probably has the best musical textures (a lush baroque soundscape) of his entire career. In my opinion, he has never been able to top it, but everybody is free to proceed from there chronologically and choose the right moment to jump off (or back on).
○ Chairlift: Jury still out.
Part 1. Before The Rock'n'Roll Band Era (1920-1960)
DANCE ALBUM OF CARL PERKINS (1958)
1) Blue Suede Shoes; 2) Movie Magg; 3) Sure To Fall; 4) Gone, Gone, Gone; 5) Honey Don't; 6) Only You; 7) Tennessee; 8) Right String, Wrong Yo-Yo; 9) Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby; 10) Matchbox; 11) Your True Love; 12) Boppin' The Blues; 13*) All Mama's Children.
Carl Perkins' only «original» LP from his four-year tenure with Sun Records, like most LPs from that period, is really just a chaotic compilation of A-side, B-side, and outtake material. But even in this form, or, actually, because of this form, it still counts as one of the most impressive and fun-filled LPs from the rockabilly era. Influential, too — which other single LP from the era could boast a whole three songs to be officially covered by the Beatles?
The important thing about Carl Perkins is that, of all the notorious rockabilly people of the era, he was the one to most tightly preserve the «simple country boy» essence in his music. Bill Haley probably came close, but Haley didn't have much of an individual personality, and his backing band, The Comets, was at least as important as its frontman, blending a touch of country-western with a Louis Jordan-esque big-band jump-blues entertainment approach. Perkins, on the other hand, wrote his own songs (or radically reinvented traditional ones), sang his own melodies, played his own lead guitar, and, overall, made it so that we rarely ever remember anything about his sidemen during the recording sessions. Quick, name the bass player and the drummer on ʽBlue Suede Shoesʼ without googling! Yeah, right. Not even Google can help that easily.
Thus, Carl is essentially a «loner», and in that status, gets the right to his own influences and no other's — and chief among those influences is The Grand Ole Opry, with Bill Monroe, Gene Autry, and Hank Williams as his major idols. The good news for those who, like me, feel a bit iffy when it comes to «pure» country music, is that Carl obviously preferred his country with a sharper edge, and if anything, his rockabilly style is a direct continuation of Hank's faster-paced, boogie-based material like ʽMove It On Overʼ. Although Carl's own spirit was never as tempestuous or torturous as Hank's (not a single Perkins song shows any signs of acute bitterness), he always had a thing for raw excitement, energy, speed, humor, good-natured irony — anything that would put a smile on your face and an itch in your feet.
Most importantly, Carl's «lonerism» is responsible for making ʽBlue Suede Shoesʼ into one of the coolest songs of its era — and the lyrics had a lot to do with it: "Don't you step on MY blue suede shoes...", sung in a friendly enough tone but with a very clear hint of a threat. This is really where all the Gene Vincents of this world come from: the «rebels» were inspired by the individualistic cockiness of a plain, harmless, friendly «country bumpkin» who inadvertently tapped right into the spinal cord of his era. ʽRock Around The Clockʼ was a good enough count-off for the rock revolution, but it was a general fun party song. ʽBlue Suede Shoesʼ takes us into one particular corner of that party, where one particularly self-consciously hip guy is busy protecting his own particular interests against the whole world, and backing them with sharp bluesy lead guitar licks that sound like a bunch of slaps in the face of whoever has been unlucky enough to step on the protagonist's lucky footwear.
There is a myth going around that Elvis «stole» the song from Carl while the latter was recuperating in the hospital after a car accident, and that this effectively put an end to Carl's career as a pop star. In reality, Carl never had the makings of a star, and the image of a «teen idol» would have probably never sat too well with him in the first place — he was, first and foremost, a songwriter and a guitar player — none of which, however, prevented ʽBlue Suede Shoesʼ from going all the way to the top of the charts, while Presley's version (a classic in its own right, no doubt about that) stuck at No. 20 (admittedly, RCA people agreed to hold back the release until Carl's version lost its original freshness — see, there was a time when record industry people could occasionally show signs of gentlemanly conduct).
Already ʽBoppin' The Bluesʼ, the folow-up to ʽBlue Suede Shoesʼ, did not chart as high (No. 7 was its peak) — and it wasn't Elvis that had anything to do with it, but rather the fact that the song was comparatively toothless in comparison, a fairly formulaic rockabilly creation describing the simple joys of rock'n'roll dancing with little challenge or defiance. In the hot, tense competitive air of early 1956, Carl soon lost the lead, and although the next three years would see him reeling between inspiration and repetition, the record-buying public pretty much wrote him off as a one-hit wonder and focused on Elvis instead. In addition, Carl loyally stuck with Sun Records through those years, meaning that he couldn't even begin to hope for the kind of promotion that Elvis got (on the positive side, Carl never got to have his own Colonel Parker).
It is a doggone shame, though, that such fate also prevented a great tune like ʽMatchboxʼ from charting — without the Beatles' support, it might have altogether sunk into oblivion, but really, few pop songs sounded as harshly serious and deep-reaching in 1957 as that particular reincarnation of an old, old, old blues song by Blind Lemon Jefferson. When those echoing, distant-thunder-like boogie chords start rattling around the room, it's as if you were being prepared for some important social statement, and, in a way, you are, since Carl preserves many of the original lyrics, infusing the song with a blues-based sense of outcast loneliness instead of the usual get-up-and-dance stuff. In a way, «socially conscious rock'n'roll music» starts somewhere around this bend, even if Carl himself probably never intended it to be this way.
On a personal note, I must say that ʽHoney Don'tʼ feels to me as one of the very few rock and pop songs by other artists that the Beatles did not manage to improve upon — and not because Ringo is a worse singer than Carl (he actually did a fine job to preserve the tune's humor), but because George Harrison never really got around to learning all the tricks in Carl's playing bag: as rough as the production is on the original, Perkins compensates for it with a series of improvised «muffled» licks that George did not even try to copy, playing in a «cleaner» style that left less room for rock'n'roll excitement. (On the other hand, George did get the upper hand on ʽEverybody's Trying To Be My Babyʼ by managing to raise the tension on the lengthy second instrumental break, whereas in Carl's version it pretty much stays the same throughout).
Of the twelve songs assembled here, only a couple are relative clunkers; ʽTennesseeʼ, in particular, sounds as silly as it is sincere, a heartfelt tribute to Carl's native state with a hillbillyish chorus and somewhat uncomfortable lyrics that, among other things, urge us to give credit to the fact that "they made the first atomic tomb in Tennessee" (a somewhat inaccurate reference to Oak Ridge, but even if it were accurate, I'm not sure I would want to boast about it even at the height of the Cold War). Pompous, vocally demanding ballads are also not one of Carl's fortes (ʽOnly Youʼ), but he can come up with a highly catchy homely, simple country ballad when he puts his heart into it — ʽSure To Fallʼ, with its melody almost completely based on serenading trills, is quite a beautiful little piece.
One of the most interesting things about comparing old rockabilly records from the mid-to-late 1950s is the relative proportion of their ingredients. Some veer closer to R&B, some to electric blues, some to «whitebread» pop, some are jazzier, some vaudevillian. From that point of view, Dance Album Of Carl Perkins is a curious mix of something very highly conservative with an explosive energy that is nevertheless kept under strict control, like a fire burning steady and brightly, but only within a rigidly set limit. Had all rock'n'roll looked like Carl Perkins in the 1950s, it would probably have taken us a much, much longer way to get where we are right now — but, on the other hand, maybe we wouldn't already be wondering where exactly is it possible to go from here. Ah well, enough speculation; here is the expectable thumbs up, and we will be moving on.
THE ESSENTIAL SUN COLLECTION (1999; 1955-1958)
CD I: 1) Movie Magg; 2) Turn Around; 3) Let The Jukebox Keep On Playing; 4) Gone, Gone, Gone; 5) Blue Suede Shoes; 6) Honey Don't; 7) Sure To Fall; 8) Tennessee; 9) Boppin' The Blues; 10) All Mama's Children; 11) Dixie Fried; 12) I'm Sorry I'm Not Sorry; 13) Your True Love; 14) Matchbox; 15) That's Right; 16) Forever Yours; 17) Glad All Over; 18) Lend Me Your Comb.
CD II: 1) Honky Tonk Gal; 2) Perkins Wiggle; 3) You Can't Make Love To Somebody; 4) That Don't Move Me; 5) Lonely Street; 6) Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby; 7) Somebody Tell Me; 8) Sweethearts Or Strangers; 9) Keeper Of The Key; 10) Be Honest With Me; 11) Caldonia; 12) Her Love Rubbed Off; 13) You Can Do No Wrong; 14) Put Your Cat Clothes On; 15) Roll Over Beethoven; 16) Only You; 17) Pink Pedal Pushers; 18) Right String Baby, Wrong Yo-Yo.
Sun Records' limited capacities were only enough to allow one LP record for Carl, right at the end of his tenure — everything else that he did for the label only came out as singles. Fortunately, the CD era has allowed for some convenient packaging: the double-disc Essential Sun Collection puts together approximately 90% of the officially released stuff (and, for that matter, works much better than the deceptively titled single-disc Complete Sun Singles, which actually omits at least three or four essential A-sides). All of Dance Album is here, along with most of the A-sides, B-sides, and some obscurities that never made it onto that LP — essential indeed, and more or less all the Carl Perkins that a regular rockabilly admirer would need to have.
In fact, maybe even a little more than necessary. With just a few exceptions, all of the songs here are fun, but if you rearrange them in approximate chronological order, there is very little development going on once the man hits his peak — never managing to go beyond the golden summit of the ʽBlue Suede Shoes / Honey Don'tʼ single from early 1956. Sam Phillips was a good guy, but once his protegés reached relative perfection with a certain formula, he showed little interest in pushing them to new heights, and thus, there is hardly any wonder in the fact that Carl's records sold less and less after the initial ʽBlue Suede Shoesʼ boom.
At some point, Carl even got stuck with a «songs about clothes» formula: ʽPut Your Cat Clothes Onʼ and ʽPink Pedal Pushersʼ are both thematically related to ʽBlue Suede Shoesʼ (the former even namedrops the shoes in question), but neither manages to hit as hard. ʽPut Your Cat Clothes Onʼ, with an unmistakable Jerry Lee Lewis sitting at the piano, is the fastest Carl ever played, but as fun as the song is, it is just fun — lacking the parent-scary swagger and defiance of ʽShoesʼ. ʽPink Pedal Pushersʼ goes in a completely different direction, trying to be sexy and even a little salacious, but the truth is, Carl Perkins has too much of that «innocent country boy» spirit within him to sound fully believable when singing mid-tempo rockabilly about a girl who "comes strutting down the street in her sophisticated style" and going "ooh woppa doo-dah" as if he himself were one of the cats who "started gazing and called her out". Again — fun stuff, but hardly a genuine knockover of the kind that Elvis or Jerry Lee could do in their sleep.
But do not get me wrong: I am only trying to put the tip of the finger on some of the reasons why Carl's luck ran out so quickly, even way before the first wave of rock'n'roll started getting thin around 1959-60. Other than that, his Sun records are quite consistent, although I am not a big fan of the country ballads like ʽForever Yoursʼ: they are done in Carl's usual «rough» style, with shoddy Sun-style production, but do not have the oddly minimalistic «from-the-bottom-of-a-well» feel of the same type of songs on Elvis' early singles.
Some of the lesser known oddities include ʽHer Love Rubbed Offʼ, an interesting, even somewhat innovative attempt at crossing rockabilly with a mambo beat and seeing what happens (the seams show, but the song still cooks up a voodooistic aura that is quite unusual for our country boy); ʽThat's Rightʼ, co-written with Johnny Cash around a nagging little riff whose repetitive ring works on the brain with an almost drone-style effect; and ʽSomebody Tell Meʼ, a previously unreleased outtake (I think) whose very length is staggering — 4:22! (other than that, it is a conservative piece of blues boogie).
Of course, each and every one of these songs features one or more guitar solos from the man, and they are almost always the main point of attraction: instead of fluent, uninterrupted lines, Perkins likes playing these ragged, broken-up series of licks that sound like flurry dialogs or trialogs, never repeating each other — no wonder he became one of Harrison's favorite players, even if George's playing style eventually drifted far away from this approach (not on the early Beatles records, though, where George's «Perkins licks» are easily recognizable even on quite a few non-Perkins covers — something like ʽCan't Buy Me Loveʼ, for instance). To the modern listener's ear, like most guitar solos from the classic rockabilly era, they could sound clumsy and feeble, but they do have that unbeatable advantage of an almost child-like, giddy exploration of the capacities of the instrument — which makes the whole experience far more precious than listening to many a modern player who has already had those capacities presented to him on a platter.
Overall, this is just another hour and a half of Sun Records greatness, with Sam Phillips' echoey, downhome, «lo-fi» production as an added bonus — in a sense, everything sounds like crap, but it's healthy, fresh, nutritious crap straight from the oven, a much better proposition than the glossy, synthetic, orchestrated pop crap of the big studios. And it was, after all, the only environment in which Carl Perkins actually found himself thriving, even if his records did not sell, so thumbs up all the way.
WHOLE LOTTA SHAKIN' (1958)
1) Whole Lotta Shakin'; 2) Tutti Frutti; 3) Shake, Rattle & Roll; 4) Sittin' On Top Of The World; 5) Ready Teddy; 6) Long Tall Sally; 7) That's All Right; 8) Where The Rio De Rosa Flows; 9) Good Rockin' Tonight; 10) I Got A Woman; 11) Hey, Good Lookin'; 12) Jenny Jenny.
Every Sun artist had to leave Sun Records sooner or later, just because that is the way of the world and all, but few Sun artists, upon leaving their alma mater, suffered as ignobly as Carl did. Although they still let him put out original compositions as singles, the one and only LP he cut in the 1950s for Columbia was this openly dreadful collection of covers — take one look at the tracklist and you will see that it consists of almost nothing but big, well-worn-out (already by 1958) rock'n'roll hits for Little Richard, Bill Haley, Elvis, and Jerry Lee Lewis. The last thing the world needed in late 1958 was yet another take on the classics from somebody whose chief asset was songwriting, not impersonating.
I wouldn't dare to say that it all sounds totally forced, and that Carl wasn't having himself a ball with at least some of this stuff — he may not have written these songs, but he obviously had to love them, since they are so right up his alley of interests. The problem is that he does not seem at all to be in real charge of the sessions. Although Columbia's production values are slightly (but only slightly) higher than those of Sun, the actual recordings are not at all beneficial for Carl. The sound is almost completely dominated by session players — a piano guy (Marvin Hughes) and a sax guy (Andrew Goodrich) — who are not bad, per se, but hardly outstanding, and end up drowning out Carl's vocals and guitar to the point that you are no longer exactly sure of who the hell is Carl Perkins and why we should bother with his brand of rockabilly in the first place.
The only curious, and somewhat successful, idea on the entire album was to turn ʽSittin' On Top Of The Worldʼ, formerly played as a slow country-blues piece by everybody from The Mississippi Sheiks to Howlin' Wolf, into a lightning-speed rock'n'roll number — giving it the same treatment that Carl gave to Blind Lemon Jefferson's ʽMatchbox Bluesʼ during his tenure at Sun. Except that ʽMatchboxʼ sounded «gritty», whereas this rendition is just a fun, forgettable frolick with nary a guitar solo in sight — just the sax. If they could get King Curtis at least...
Vocal-wise, Carl is in good form, but he never gives other people's songs the same kind of sly, sexy reading he gives his own — every now and then, he tends to overscream (sometimes getting out of tune in the process), and, worst of all, as long as you remember Little Richard, Elvis, and even Jerry Lee doing the same songs, Carl's relative lack of power and singing technique remains a constant problem. On the cover of Hank Williams' ʽHey, Good Lookin'ʼ, he doesn't even try — the original was all about drawing out those opening notes ("h-e-e-ey, good lookin', wha-a-a-t you got cookin'..."), whereas Carl just swallows them completely; strange, because it didn't used to be that bad, at least on songs like ʽSure To Fallʼ he could show some decent range.
At the end of the day, it does begin to feel suspiciously like a hackjob; I know the details not, but either Carl was pissed off at his new label for demanding that he cover other people's hits, or, if not, then something simply did not work out. Maybe he was uncomfortable with the new session band, or the new recording studio, or something like that, but one thing's for certain: Whole Lotta Shakin' is quite far from being the best possible introduction to the guy and explanation of his genius. In fact, it is one of those albums that sort of explains the beginning of the temporary decline of rock'n'roll in the late 1950s — with lackluster sessions like these coming from established icons, you'd want to think, sure enough, that rock'n'roll had passed his prime, and that it was high time to try out something truly new, like Chubby Checker, or Bobby Darin. Thumbs down; no need to hunt this down, unless you're on an epic quest to collect every single version of ʽReady Teddyʼ and ʽLong Tall Sallyʼ ever recorded.
RESTLESS: THE COLUMBIA RECORDINGS (1958-1969; 1992)
1) Pink Pedal Pushers; 2) Rockin' Record Hop; 3) Jive After Five; 4) Just Thought I'd Call; 5) Where The Rio De Rosa Flows; 6) Because You're Mine; 7) That's All Right Mama; 8) Pop, Let Me Have The Car; 9) Levi Jacket (And A Long Tail Shirt); 10) Honey 'Cause I Love You; 11) Pointed Toe Shoes; 12) L-O-V-E-V-I-L-L-E; 13) Sister Twister; 14) Hambone; 15) All Mama's Children; 16) Just Coastin'; 17) Restless.
For more than a decade, Columbia's degree of interest in Carl was such that they did not let him record even one proper LP (dismayed as they were, perhaps, with the failure of Whole Lotta Shakin', as completely predictable as it was). He did manage to keep on putting out singles, on a rather steady basis in the late 1950s, then dwindling down to a tiny streak in the 1960s, alternating between rockabilly and country, but hardly showing any big interest in all the new exciting developments in music — as this sampler, released in 1992 and containing a highly diagnostic, if far from complete, selection of those singles, amply shows.
«ТРАНСТЕКСТ» себя оправдал. В интересах сохранения в тайне этого успеха коммандер Стратмор немедленно организовал утечку информации о том, что проект завершился полным провалом. Вся деятельность в крыле, где размещалась шифровалка, якобы сводилась к попыткам зализать раны после своего фиаско ценой в два миллиарда долларов.