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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

31. apb: Something To Believe In

Vinyl...if you were old enough to collect music prior to the 1990s you bought it. Many own a box or two of records somewhere...the attic maybe? Perhaps it was in the basement and got soaked thanks to Hurricane Irene just a few weeks ago. Either way, you've loved those records through the years (well, maybe not that Hall and Oates you got when you were eleven). I frequently pull my old records off the shelf and place them on the shiny silver Crosley turntable my wife gave to me one Christmas. I'm a living room dancer (usually right in front of the window), but it's gotta be loud. Inevitably, Chelo gives me the "Marc, turn that down!" (which totally contradicts the meaning of the gift, yes?) And, anyway, it was fun while it lasted. My point is, we loved those records and throughout the years we've probably done the best we could to find good deals to slowly acquire the CD versions of the recordings (thank you Amazon). Thus, we come to APB.

One of my favorites to groove to is APB's Something To Believe In (at least that's what the neighbors say). APB was/is a Scottish band formed in 1979. Something To Believe In (1985) is a wonderful collection of singles that toe the line between the post-punk and dance genres, but remains all alternative. Iain Slater's funky pre-Flea bass carries the music from decade to decade with powerful grace, while the guitars are sharp, siren-like at times (sounds of the day...heard in bands like Haircut 100 as well as modern artists like Bloc Party). The drums are tinny and heavy on the high-hat, setting the tone for the stampede to the dancefloor.

APB was a popular underground band in the NYC area...very underground. After their small record label went out of business, fans in search of Something To Believe In were met with the letters OOP..."Out Of Print". I know this because I was searching the internet for a CD/digital version of the record I'd enjoyed for years. Naturally, my search led me to Amazon whereupon I couldn't help but be astonished at the prices people were paying for the original record...up to $300 (even the 1996 reissue was selling for three digits). My first thought had me wondering just how much I wanted to keep that record, but I shook it off and realized it was a testament to how good the album is. Besides, it wasn't long after that a stateside indie record label re-released Something To Believe In as a 2-CD set with rarities and live tracks...and that's why I can tell you about it today...yay Young American Recordings!

I'm listening to it as I'm typing, and I swear I can't sit still.

The first song, "Shoot You Down" was a staple of The Ferry Club in the 1980s, and remains one of my favorite songs of all time. It's followed by bees-knees funk...one after another as, again, this is a collection of singles from the early to mid 80s...not a studio album with clunkers buried between hits. All of these songs saw the inside of a club in their time. "Talk To Me", "Palace Filled With Love", "Rainy Day", "One Day", and "What Kind Of Girl?" are the other standouts, but every song makes you move. Every track is incredibly catchy.

I say you should listen to every album I've written about, but I also know that some of the albums are widely popular and my readers have already formed opinions about them. This is not widely popular, so if you have not heard it, I urge you to listen...and you'll see what all the OOP fuss was about. Here's the original recording of "Shoot You Down" playing over current video of APB followed by a performance of "Palace Filled With Love" from NYC less than a month ago. Now go find Something To Believe In.




Wednesday, September 7, 2011

30. Warren Zevon: Learning To Flinch

I saw Warren Zevon at a Portland club sometime in the 1990s. I can't remember exactly when. It was a very memorable moment for me, but I just don't know when it happened (that seems odd). Learning To Flinch (1993) had already been released. I know this because Zevon related this story to us that night. He said, "A reporter asked me if the live show would be similar to the disc Learning To Flinch. I said, 'Yeah my live show might be somewhat similar to my live disc.'" Zevon was a funny man. He used his dark sense of humor throughout his decades of entertaining us. Learning To Flinch takes his listeners beyond the cynical humor and deeper into the singer/songwriter/musician himself.

Armed with a guitar, a harmonica, and a piano, Zevon took to the road in 1992 playing small clubs all over the world. The album features recordings from venues in Germany, England, New Zealand, Norway, Australia, and throughout America. Many of his greatest songs are included (there are 17 tracks in all), and every one is stripped down and acoustic. It's wonderful to hear his husky voice when it's not fighting for center-stage with the sounds of a full band. This tour came as a result of Warren's back being against the wall. His albums had not done well and he'd been dropped by both Asylum Records and Virgin Records in the last few years. Being a singer/songwriter in the early 90s was not very fashionable either (unless you wore flannel). Thankfully, Giant Records picked up the somewhat struggling artist and the reduced circumstances that followed led to this "unplugged" solo masterpiece.

Opening the album with "Splendid Isolation", perhaps as a way of telling us he's alright on his own, we hear the terms "Georgia O'Keeffe", "Michael Jackson", and "Goofy" within the first minute. I don't really have much to follow that...I just think it's funny. Learning To Flinch contains outstanding versions of "Lawyers, Guns, And Money", the psychopathic story of "Excitable Boy", "Mr. Bad Example" (waaay better than the original studio version), "Boom Boom Mancini", "Werewolves Of London", over twenty minutes worth of cult faves "Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner" and "Poor Poor Pitiful Me", and the closing anti-anthem "Play It All Night Long". There are certainly some great songs missing (no "Desperados Under The Eaves", "Ain't That Pretty At All", "Mohammed's Radio", "Johnny Strikes Up The Band", or "Accidentally Like A Martyr"), and three new songs are included that don't seem to measure up to his best...making me miss the exclusions that much more. However, overall, the collection should satisfy any Zevon fan. The intimacy of these versions is what makes this album great. It's not necessarily the selections. The songs chosen to represent this tour are played differently and heard differently.

I've included a video from a BBC TV show of "Lawyers, Guns And Money" from the Learning To Flinch time period. Also included is the final public appearance for Zevon... October 30, 2002 on Letterman. He performs Dave's favorite, "Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner". Today marks the eighth anniversary of Warren Zevon's death. His dark humor continued to amaze right up to the end. To Letterman he quipped, "I might have made a tactical error in not going to a physician for twenty years." And when asked if he knew more about life and death, Warren Zevon responded, "Enjoy every sandwich."