Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ashes of American Flags

Putting all other things aside momentarily, when your favorite band is set to release a new album, a concert DVD and most certainly at least one opportunity to see them perform live sometime this year, things can't be all bad. Early reports on the DVD are good; it's already won an award for cinematography. See the trailer here:


Monday, January 26, 2009

Musings on Bruce

The Boss (does anyone still call him that?) is all over the news lately, with the Inauguration, the upcoming Super Bowl appearance, and a new album hitting stores tomorrow. It’s a good time for me to offer a quick review of the latest 33 1/3 book I’ve read, on Born In The USA. The 33 1/3 titles are small, neat little books for those that need more than liner notes. Born In The USA is not one of my favorite efforts from Bruce Springsteen, so I picked this volume to reacquaint myself. It may have been the complete over saturation of Bruce in the music world when this record came out in 1984, or the heavily commercialized sound, but I rarely play this album. The author, Geoffrey Himes, makes the case that this record, along with Nebraska and the numerous outtakes from this period (many now have been released on Tracks) is Bruce’s finest hour. This is a tough argument for long time fans who revere the trilogy of Born to Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town and The River as his best work, not to mention some of his latest efforts as a mature songwriter.

Himes' main argument is that Bruce refined his songwriting approach from the romantic, symbolic and often complex lyrics of his earlier work to a simplified and ultimately more successful style during this period, culminating in Born In The USA. His other main point is that thematically, Bruce shifted from the youthful rock’n’roll dream mentality to a focus on real characters, and what it means face the harsh realities of life. I agree that the early records were often overwrought, with young Bruce trying to cram in every musical and lyrical idea he had into each song. But I would argue that the critical songwriting shift Himes points to really occurred in 1977-78, with Darkness on the edge of Town. We went from the dreamlike imagery of Jungleland to the realities of Factory in a heartbeat. Darkness paved the way to the stripped down songwriting of Nebraska and Born in the USA, but for me, musically it’s superior.

Going back and listening to Born in the USA, it’s a better record than I gave it credit for, but ultimately sounds a little dated, while Darkness sounds timeless. I’ve always felt that Born In The USA was a calculated effort to propel Bruce from cult status to pop superstar, and perhaps the simplified song style was more about public accessibility than the artist’s own refinement. But that’s the cynic in me. The songs hold up, and tunes like Surrender are certainly more accessible to a mainstream audience than It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City, but guess which one most fans would prefer to hear him perform live?

Whatever your point of view on Bruce’s music, the 33 1/3 book on this album is worth reading, even for the most knowledgeable fan.The book is very well researched and offers many interesting facts about this period in Bruce’s career. It would have benefited from some editing, as it is repetitive and a little tedious in spots.

Also, if you’re a Darkness fan, good news was released today; a 30th anniversary special edition re-release is planned for this year, along the lines of the Born to Run box set a few years ago.

Regarding the new record, I’ll reserve judgment until I hear it all, but early reviews are not impressive. Working On A Dream sounds fairly innocuous, but the Wrestler is superb. Bruce normally takes his time between releases, but this one comes right on the heels of Magic. I don’t want to suggest that the album was rushed to coincide with the Super Bowl performance, but in this era of music and marketing, I’m sure that is exactly what happened. I guess this means we'll hear Workin' On A Dream this Sunday instead of Candy's Room (one of my favorite songs when performed live) or Adam Raised A Cain.

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Transformer Man

Somehow Neil Young manages more than seems humanly possible. As if his outpouring of new music and the releases of his archive material isn't enough, he embarks on one of the coolest projects I've read about recently. Neil drove his 1959 Lincoln across the country to a guy named Jonathan Goodwin, who is transforming the behemoth from a 9 mpg guzzler to something that will ultimately get 80-100 mpg. The technology is intriguing to say the least. Basically, the ethanol fuel in a small engine powers a generator that charges the huge pack of batteries in the trunk, which runs the car's electric motor. The goal is for the ethanol to be used like we now use oil in our cars, creating something close to a vehicle that barely requires refueling. Neil drove to Wichita on Route 66, filmed the trip, and before his winter tour was hanging out in the guy's garage helping out and writing the occasional song. Oh, and when they achieve 100mpg Neil plans to race it cross-country for a $10 million prize. How cool is this guy?! It makes you wonder how much the auto industry (and big oil) is holding back on alternate fuel technology.


The 1959 Lincoln, by the way, is amazing automobile. The Lincoln is a prime example of the excess of the jet age, when cars had fins and chrome to make them look like rockets. The '59 Cadillac Eldorado is considered the epitome of the style, but the Lincoln, with its crazy front and rear grilles, is pretty sweet.

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Cream and Sour Grapes

I'm sorry to report only sixteen measly posts this year. I think I did about 100 my first year. It has been difficult to find time to sit down and write here at Wild Mercury. And when I do, it's typically been covered by 20 music blogs already. But you've heard me lament about this before. The answer is to simply sit down and write what's on my mind. The following caught my attention recently:

From the land of the dinosaurs, there was endless comment and speculation on the Led Zeppelin reunion, so much that I ignored it here. Thousands of fans weighed in the pros and cons of Plant vs. no Plant. For me, the bottom line is that I want to see Page, Plant and Jones on play on stage together. It's not Zeppelin without Bonham (John that is) anyway, so I don't care what they name the band. What I do not want to see is Page and Jones playing Zeppelin songs with Steven Tyler or that guy from Wolfmother singing them. That would be sad and pathetic. If it happens, they should play anything but Zeppelin songs.

What you might have missed last month was Cream drummer Jack Bruce ranting about all the Zep hype. Said Jack, “Everybody talks about Led Zeppelin, and they played one fucking gig — one fucking lame gig — while Cream did weeks of gigs,” Bruce said while accepting an award in November. “Fuck off, Zeppelin, you’re crap. You’ve always been crap and you’ll never be anything else. Cream is 10 times the band that Led Zeppelin is.” Bruce is referring to the mini Cream reunion that didn't exactly get rave reviews, as I recall. Admitting that he was having a little fun with the media, he went on to say in an apology, “The thing about Zeppelin is that obviously it’s a little bit of jealousy on my part — or more than a little bit — because the audience was created by Cream and Jimi Hendrix…this sort of very large audience…Then Zeppelin came along and had a very easy ride in that way. We were the pioneers and pioneers don’t always get the recognition they deserve, maybe.” Jeez, talk about sour grapes. If he means that Cream was the first to rip off American blues, I agree. Muddy and Howling Wolf were the pioneers, pal. Where would Clapton or Page be without the blues? I would not agree that Cream paved the way for Zeppelin, who consequently had an 'easy ride.' I could go on for days about this, but clearly Bruce is envious of the royalties amassed from Zeppelin's formidable catalog. Maybe if Cream had stayed together more a few years, they would have a greater legacy. He concluded his rant by saying “Let’s face it: Jimmy Page ain’t no Eric Clapton, no matter what anybody thinks." That's like arguing which is better, apples or oranges, but Jack, you're no John Bonham.

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Friday, November 21, 2008


The latest web music tool I've found is pretty clever. Seeqpod automatically searches websites and allows you to create playlists by searching playable tracks and building playlists. Then you can embed the player in your own site with one simple click. And of course it's free. I'll be playing with this for a while in future posts, so enjoy. It's a great way to discover some new music. Once again, the Internet trumps FM radio. Click on the link at the bottom of the panel to set up an account and build your own playlists. Submitted for your review:

This track by the The National is from the Virginia EP, a disc included with a DVD documentary of the band. I really liked The Boxer, and saw them at Lollapalooza this summer, but everything is starting to sound a bit similar.

Shambala is one of my favorite 70's tunes. How can you not love Three Dog Night?

As I've mentioned before, I used to be an an obsessive XTC fan. Greenman is a great track from one their last studio albums, Apple Venus Vol. 1. An amazing pop band, but without touring, their exposure to a wider audience was doomed.

I threw in a Dinosaur Jr. tune because I love that J Mascis guitar sound.

Finally, the Secret Machines. I was big on these guys a few years ago, but sadly this is the only track on their latest release that I found tolerable.

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

Tell Tale Signs

Dylan’s back, and he’s got everyone running for cover again. It’s true, as Larry Sloman points out in the liner notes for the Bootleg Series Volume 8, that Dylan’s eight ‘bootleg’ cds of ‘extra material’ are enough to make a career for any other performer. Indeed, what Bob leaves on the cutting room floor often surpasses his own official album releases. From Volume 1-3, Blind Willie McTell and Farewell Angelina rank among the best songs he’s ever written, and no one but Bob could explain why he chose to shelve them. The same is true for Volume 8, released on Tuesday and loaded with gems. It’s a combination of alternate versions, early demos, unreleased tracks and blistering live versions of songs from his ‘late period’, 1989-2006. His recent studio albums are astonishing, but Volume 8 gives us a bonus, and sheds some light on his creative process. The alternate versions of Someday Baby and Most of the Time are radically different from what ended up on the albums, but are nonetheless impressive. And the unreleased tracks, Born in Time and Red River Shore in particular, rank right up there in his whole immense catalog. You could buy this release (should buy it, in fact) and not feel like it’s a collection of oddities for hardcore fans only.

But alas, I have a complaint. A rather big one, in fact. I got the 2-cd set for $18.99, which is more than fair. But the limited edition release, priced at over $100, contains a third disc of treasures and a book of all of Bob’s single record picture sleeves. Why must I pay an extra $80 for that? I don’t care much about the book, but that third cd is important. For the majority of music fans, the 2-cd set is enough, but I count myself amongst a small group of fanatics that want that extra disc of material, and I feel like we’re being taken advantage of. Of course the third cd is not available on i-tunes. I noticed this trend with the U2 remastered releases, with a hefty price tag on the premium edition for the fans who just can’t say no. Well I want that third disc, but I’m saying no. Columbia should not be surprised when these tracks start showing up on blogs and torrent sites. For God’s sake, some of Bob’s fans have been buying his records for 45 years, and this is how you treat them? Shame.

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