OTG's Top Ten (and Other Bizarre Commentary) For 1996


HONORABLE MENTIONS:

(Reissue series):

The Who -
Quadrophenia
The Who By Numbers
Who Are You

The Who reissue program continues with the last three albums by the original band. All three are classic Who albums, well worth seeking out.

The Who's second "rock opera", Quadrophenia (from 1973), is in my opinion the best rock 'n' roll album ever recorded. It's lone fault was a mix that buried Roger Daltrey's vocals in some sections. Quadrophenia's story concerns the changes a young mod goes through from being devoted to "mod" to questioning all of his own values and beliefs. The music backing the story is the most powerful (and dense) of The Who's career. The newly remixed version brings Roger Daltrey's vocals to the front and generally cleans up the sound. Some small details are missing, some are added, although only the hard core fan will notice. (Note for those same hard-core fans: the European release (on Polydor) sounds a bit different. Many of the folks on The Who mailing list feel it's far superior. Me, I notice a slight difference).

cover art "I Am The Sea", "The Real Me", "Quadrophenia", "Cut My Hair", "The Punk And The Godfather", "I'm One", "The Dirty Jobs", "Helpless Dancer", "Is It In My Head", "I've Had Enough", "5:15", "Sea And Sand", "Drowned", "Bell Boy", "Doctor Jimmy", "The Rock", "Love, Reign O'er Me"

The Who By Numbers (from 1975) was an odd album for The Who. It's really the first time Pete Townshend looked inwards for his lyrics on most of an album. Songs like "However Much I Booze", "Dreaming From The Waist" and John Entwistle's "Success Story" focus on an aging band. As with the Quadrophenia reissue, the sounds is cleaned up (and slightly altered). In addition, three tracks from the last tour with the original lineup are added.

cover art "Slip Kid", "However Much I Booze", "Squeeze Box", "Dreaming From The Waist", "Imagine A Man", "Success Story", "They Are All In Love", "Blue Red And Grey", "How Many Friends", "In A Hand Or A Face"

Bonus tracks: "Squeeze Box", "Behind Blue Eyes", "Dreaming From The Waist"

Who Are You (from 1978) follows in much the same vein as The Who By Numbers. The lead track, "New Song", spells out Pete's feelings very plainly: "I write the same old song with a few new lines / And everybody wants to cheer it / I write the same old song you heard a good few times / Admit you really want to hear it". On "Music Must Change", a jazzy shuffle unlike anything The Who had tried previously, Townshend raises similar sentiments: "But is this song so different? / Am I doing it all again? / It may have been done before / But then music's an open door". Despite the doubts, Townshend declares his love for his work on "Guitar And Pen", a "Gilbert-and-Sullivanesque" rocker about songwriting. The album closes with the classic title track, a winding, powerful rocker about a drunk Townshend meeting up with Paul Cook and Steve Jones of The Sex Pistols. All-in-all, a wonderful, underrated album. The new reissue adds six bonus tracks, including Pete's demo for "No Road Romance" which The Who never recorded, plus an early work-up of "Empty Glass" with John Entwistle and Keith Moon playing bass and drums over Pete's demo.

cover art "New Song", "Had Enough", "905", "Sister Disco", "Music Must Change", "Trick Of The Light", "Guitar And Pen", "Love Is Coming Down", "Who Are You"

Bonus tracks: "No Road Romance" - Pete Townshend, "Empty Glass", "Guitar And Pen" [Olympic '78 Mix], "Love Is Coming Down" [Work-In-Progress Mix], "Who Are You" [Lost Verse Mix]

John Entwistle -
Anthology
Smash Your Head Against The Wall
Whistle Rymes

Once Pete Townshend started writing involved concept albums and rock operas for The Who, bassist John Entwistle found no outlet for his songs on Who albums. As a result, Entwistle started releasing solo albums, starting with Smash Your Head Against The Wall in 1971 and Whistle Rymes in 1972. All five of Entwistle's 70's and 80's solo albums were long out of print, but a German company called Repetoire Records started reissuing them. They started with a so-so best of album, Anthology. The CD sounds great, I just have some gripes with their song selections. If you're interested in Entwistle's solo career, start with one of the next two albums in this review.

cover art "My Size", "What Are We Doing Here", "I Believe In Everything", "Ten Little Friends", "Apron Strings", "I Feel Better", "I Wonder", "The Window Shopper", "My Wife", "Rollerskate Kate", "Peg Leg Peggy", "Made In Japan", "Drowning", "Mad Dog", "Fallen Angel", "Dancing Master", "Too Late The Hero", "Red Red Robin"

Smash Your Head Against The Wall is an album of bass-heavy rock & roll, and a fine start to John's solo career. The highlight of the album is the pair of songs sung from the devil's point of view, "You're Mine" and "Number 29", which show off Entwistle's dark sense of humor, and John's interpretation of "Heaven And Hell", a Who B-side that became a regular set opener for The Who on the Tommy tour. The new issue adds a bonus track, a heavy (but faithful) cover of Neil Young's "Cinnamon Girl".

cover art "My Size", "Pick Me Up (Big Chicken)", "What Are We Doing Here?", "What Kind Of People Are They?", "Heaven And Hell", "Ted End", "You're Mine", "Number 29 (External Youth)", "I Believe In Everything"

Bonus track:"Cinnamon Girl"

Whistle Rymes (the title is a reference to the constant misspelling of "Entwistle" as "Entwhistle" in the media) is John's best solo album, featuring a young Peter Frampton on lead guitar. John's humor is especially strong on "I Feel Better" and "I Wonder", although all the songs are excellent. The sound is a little more varied than Smash Your Head Against The Wall (although the bass is loud in both). If you're interested in John's solo work, start here.

cover art "Ten Little Friends", "Apron Strings", "I Feel Better", "Thinkin' It Over", "Who Cares?", "I Wonder", "I Was Just Being Friendly", "The Window Shopper", "I Found Out", "Nightmare (Please Wake Me Up)"

(Live albums):

Two Letter Words: Live 1994 - Richard Thompson Band

Two Letter Words: Live 1994 is a fan-club only double CD of Richard Thompson's touring band (Richard Thompson - guitar, vocal; Danny Thompson (no relation) - double bass; Dave Mattacks - drums; Pete Zorn - sax, mandolin, guitar, penny whistle, vocals) that showcases one of the best live bands around. Apart from the full band numbers, Richard performs solo on acoustic guitar and in duets with Danny Thompson and Pete Zorn. The album moves from blazing electric guitar work on songs like "The Way That It Shows", "Mascara Tears" and "Read About Love" to intricate acoustic numbers like "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" and a dazzling version of "Beeswing" with Richard on acoustic and Pete Zorn on penny whistle. Richard Thompson should release this set to the general public. It's a powerful performance from top to bottom, and it's a shame that only folks aware of how to special order it will hear it. If you want info on ordering, let me know.

cover art "I Ride In Your Slipstream", "From Galway To Graceland", "Easy There, Steady Now", "Waltzing's For Dreamers", "I Can't Wake Up To Save My Life", "MGB-GT", "The Way That It Shows", "Al Bowlly's In Heaven", "Now Be Thankful", "Mascara Tears", "Tear Stained Letter", "Dimming Of The Day", "1952 Vincent Black Lightning", "Beeswing", "Mingus Eyes", "Killerman Gold Posse", "Shoot Out The Lights", "Valerie", "Wall Of Death", "I Feel So Good", "Hokey Pokey", "Ghosts In The Wind", "Back Street Slide", "Read About Love"

Live At The Isle Of Wight 1970 - The Who

MCA turned down the option to release this album in the US because they felt it was too close to Live At Leeds (recorded earlier in 1970) without being better. As a result, Castle Communications ended up issuing the CD in the US. Well, MCA was partially right. The performance is inferior to the Leeds show, but the show is uncut, which is a big plus. Basically, this is a powerful (if a bit sloppy) performance by The Who at the height of their powers. They roll through a few standard openers, give a brief taste of the abandoned Lifehouse rock opera ("I Don't Even Know Myself" and "Water") before roaring through the complete Tommy and closing down with some more standards before Pete's guitar equipment gives out part way through "Magic Bus". It may not have been the best show The Who ever gave, but for arguably the best live band in rock, an off night is still pretty damn good. Essential for Who fans. For everyone else: borrow it before you buy.

cover art "Heaven And Hell", "I Can't Explain", "Young Man Blues", "I Don't Even Know Myself", "Water", "Overture", "It's A Boy", "1921", "Amazing Journey", "Sparks", "Eyesight To The Blind (The Hawker)", "Christmas", "The Acid Queen", "Pinball Wizard", "Do You Think It's Alright", "Fiddle About", "Tommy Can You Hear Me", "There's A Doctor I've Found", "Go To The Mirror Boy", "Smash The Mirror", "Miracle Cure", "I'm Free", "Tommy's Holiday Camp", "We're Not Gonna Take It", "Summertime Blues", "Shakin' All Over / Spoonful / Twist And Shout", "Substitute", "My Generation", "Naked Eye", "Magic Bus"

(Tribute albums):

Schoolhouse Rock! Rocks - various artists

If you're old enough to remember "Schoolhouse Rock" from Saturday morning TV, you're probably already smiling at the thought of an album of covers. It's as much fun as it should be. The different artists play with the sounds of each song, but the lyrics and the spirit haven't been changed one iota. The highlights are Deluxx Folk Implosion's "I'm Just A Bill" (complete with Bill explaining what's happening to him), "Conjunction Junction" (because it's everyone's favorite, and Better Than Ezra did a good job with it), the punky "Lolly, Lolly, Lolly Get Your Adverbs Here" and "Electricity" and the soulful rap version of "The Tale Of Mr. Morton". If you loved the series, you need to hear this.

cover art "Schoolhouse Rocky" - Bob Dorough & Friends, "I'm Just A Bill" - Deluxx Folk Implosion, "Three Is A Magic Number" - Blind Melon, "Conjunction Junction" - Better Than Ezra, "Electricity, Electricity" - Goodness, "No More Kings" - Pavement, "The Shot Heard 'Round The World" - Ween, "My Hero, Zero" - The Lemonheads, "The Energy Blues" - Biz Markie, "Little Twelvetoes" - Chavez, "Verb: That's What's Happening" - Moby, "Interplanet Janet" - Man Or Astro-Man?, "Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here" - Buffalo Tom, "Unpack Your Adjectives" - Daniel Johnston, "The Tale Of Mr. Morton" - Skee-Lo

(Compilation albums):

The Miller's Tale: A Tom Verlaine Anthology - Tom Verlaine

The Miller's Tale (Verlaine's real name is Tom Miller) is a double CD set made up of a live disc from a 1982 Verlaine show and a second CD of hits and rarities drawn from both Verlaine's solo career and his seminal albums with Television. The live set's highlights are a hot version of "Always", with a killer Verlaine solo, and a terrific run through the Television classic "Marquee Moon". The second CD touches on Television ("Venus", "Glory" and a few others), samples Verlaine's solo catalog, and throws in about half a dozen rarities, including tracks from an aborted Verlaine album and a rare Television song from a 1992 promo single. Tom Verlaine is one of the finest guitarists in the business, and grossly underappreciated. If you like powerful and unusual electric guitar, pick up this CD.

cover art live disc: "Kingdom Come", "Souvenir From A Dream", "Clear It Away", "Always", "Postcard From Waterloo", "Penetration", "Breakin' In My Heart", "Marquee Moon", "Days On The Mountain", "Prove It"

hits & rarities disc: "Venus" - Television, "Glory" - Television, "The Grip Of Love", "Without A Word", "Words From The Front", "Let Go The Mansion", "Lindi-Lu", "O Foolish Heart", "Five Miles Of You", "Your Finest Hour", "Anna", "Sixteen Tulips", "Call Me The", "At 4 A.M.", "Stalingrad", "Call Mr. Lee" - Television, "No Glamour For Willi" - Television, "The Revolution" - Television

Greatest Hits - Robyn Hitchcock And The Egyptians

Now that Robyn's moved on to Warner Brothers, A&M closes out Robyn's catalog with an odd "greatest hits" album. Despite the title, this is more of a collector's album. Over a third of the album's songs are non-album rarities. However, the rarities are also good songs, and the album is still a fine intro to Robyn's A&M years.

cover art "Balloon Man", "Vibrating", "Flesh Number One (Beatle Dennis)", "A Globe Of Frogs" [Electric Version], "Legalized Murder", "One Long Pair Of Eyes", "Madonna Of The Wasps", "Wax Doll", "More Than This", "Ruling Class", "So You Think You're In Love", "Oceanside", "Ride", "She Doesn't Exist", "Dark Green Energy", "Eight Miles High", "Driving Aloud (Radio Storm)", "The Yip Song", "Alright, Yeah", "Bright Fresh Flower"

Coolwalkingsmoothtalkingstraightsmokingfirestoking: The Best Of Pete Townshend - Pete Townshend

Coolwalkingsmoothtalkingstraightsmokingfirestoking is a solid compilation of Pete's solo career. All the essentials are here, plus an outtake from Psychoderelict and a new, very unusual remake of "Let My Love Open The Door". If you have none of Pete's solo albums, grab this one. It's an excellent starter set.

cover art "Rough Boys", "Let My Love Open The Door", "Misunderstood", "Give Blood", "A Friend Is A Friend", "Sheraton Gibson", "English Boy", "Street In The City", "Pure And Easy", "Slit Skirts", "The Sea Refuses No River", "A Little Is Enough", "Face The Face", "Uneasy Street", "Let My Love Open The Door" [E.Cola Mix]

(Ummm .... "alternative imports"):

Rhamadam - Syd Barrett

A Syd Barrett bootleg with some of the usual Syd stuff (outtakes from his two solo albums and from early Pink Floyd sessions), plus a few extremely rare treats. "Untitled" is a brief outtake from Syd's aborted 1975 comeback sessions. "Singing A Song In The Morning" is a rejected version of a Kevin Ayers track that is Syd's only known collaboration outside of Pink Floyd. Also, two tracks from the very rare single by David Gilmour's pre-Pink Floyd band, Joker's Wild.

cover art "Love You" [fast version], "Love You" [slow version], "Long Gone", "Rhamadam", "Octopus", "Clowns & Jugglers (Octopus)", "Untitled", "Dark Globe", "Singing A Song In The Morning" - Kevin Ayers with Syd Barrett, "Matilda Mother" - Pink Floyd, "Interstellar Overdrive" - Pink Floyd, "Sunshine" - Pink Floyd, "Interstellar Overdrive" - Pink Floyd, "Arnold Layne" - Pink Floyd, "Candy And A Currant Bun" - Pink Floyd, "Interstellar Overdrive" - Pink Floyd, "Don't Ask Me (What I Say)" - Joker's Wild, "Why Do Fools Fall In Love" - Joker's Wild, "Interstellar Overdrive" - Pink Floyd

12 Songs Twice - Randy Newman

It's a crying shame that is a bootleg, because it may very well be the best album of Newman's career. 12 Songs Twice is a recording of a German concert from 1992 that shows off what Newman does best - playing piano, unaccompanied, in a live setting. It lets Newman's songs and wit shine. A wonderful performance.

cover art "Last Night I Had A Dream", "Yellow Man", "Marie", "Birmingham", "Christmas In Cape Town", "Real Emotional Girl", "Short People", "The Girls In My Life (Part 1)", "You Can Leave Your Hat On", "Burn On", "Guilty", "Dixie Flyer", "Roll With The Punches", "Political Science", "I Love L.A.", "In Germany Before The War", "Baltimore", "Rider In The Rain", "My Life Is Good", "I Want You To Hurt Like I Do", "Rednecks", "Sail Away", "Louisiana 1927", "I Think It's Going To Rain Today"

Unliammed - Oasis

Unliammed is a bootleg recording of Oasis' appearance on MTV Unplugged with tracks from a regular Oasis concert at the end of the disc. During rehearsals, lead singer Liam Gallagher begged off with a sore throat, leaving brother Noel to sing all the lead vocals. Liam blew it. The performance makes perfectly clear that Liam really isn't needed in Oasis. Noel writes all the material, and he's got a terrific voice. It may lack Liam's Lennon-ish nasal tone, but Noel is a hell of a singer on his own. The performance is a winner too. The band is on acoustic instruments, augmented by strings, brass and harmonica, giving Noel's songs a gorgeous, lush treatment. MTV needs to release an official CD of the performance. It's a winner. The question is: given the heavy friction between the Gallagher brothers, how long until Noel realizes he should sing lead full time?

cover art "Hello", "Some Might Say", "Live Forever", "The Master Plan", "Don't Look Back In Anger", "Talk Tonight", "Morning Glory", "Round Are Way / Up In The Sky", "Cast No Shadow", "Wonderwall"

Bonus tracks: "Columbia", "Whatever", "Wonderwall", "Acquiesce", "Slide Away"

Live Tommy At The Leeds - The Who

When MCA reissued Live At Leeds they cut out the Tommy portion of the performance for two reasons: they wanted to keep the release to a single CD, and they felt there was too much Tommy available between the Who's album, the movie soundtrack, the Broadway soundtrack, the London Symphony version and the live version on The Who's 1989 live CD Join Together. Fair enough, but the Leeds performance blows 'em all away. It was inevitable: A Japanese company pressed up a bootleg CD of the Tommy portion of the show, as well as a Complete Live At Leeds. Again, for a Who (or Live At Leeds) fanatic this is essential.

cover art "Overture", "It's A Boy", "1921", "Amazing Journey", "Sparks", "Eyesight To The Blind (The Hawker)", "Christmas", "The Acid Queen", "Pinball Wizard", "Do You Think It's Alright", "Fiddle About", "Tommy Can You Hear Me", "There's A Doctor I've Found", "Go To The Mirror Boy", "Smash The Mirror", "Miracle Cure", "Sally Simpson", "I'm Free", "Tommy's Holiday Camp", "We're Not Gonna Take It"

Depression Blues - Neil Young

A very cool bootleg collection of rarer Neil Young performances. "Sixty To Zero" is a powerful, eleven minute track that was dramatically shorted and released as "Crime In The City (Sixty To Zero Part 1)" on Freedom. Depression Blues has both the full eleven minute acoustic version and the eight minute plus electric version, both backed by The Bluenotes. "Ordinary People", "Razor Love" and "Hitch-Hiker" are Young gems that have never seen the light of day. Amazing. This man discards material that is far better than most of his contemporaries release officially.

cover art "Sixty To Zero" [Electric] - Neil Young & The Bluenotes, "Sixty To Zero" [Acoustic] - Neil Young & The Bluenotes, "Ordinary People" - Neil Young & The Bluenotes, "Razor Love", "Hitch-Hiker" - Neil Young & The Restless, "Like A Hurricane" - Neil Young & The Restless, "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues", "All Along The Watchtower", "Journey Through The Past" - Neil Young & Crazy Horse


OTHER NOTEWORTHY RELEASES:

Take That You Bastards! - The Coolies

The Coolies' debut album, 1986's dig..?, was a weird little item. It's a collection of covers of Simon & Garfunkel songs (plus Paul Anka's "Having My Baby") done with in heavy, punky arrangements with some rap thrown in. Odd? Well, yes, but The Coolies weren't done. The 1988 followup, Doug, is a rock opera. The liner notes describe it best. Ira Robbins calls Doug: "a trenchant 'rock opera' about a skinhead who murders a transvestite short-order cook, gets rich by stealing and publishing his victim's recipes, falls into paranoia and substance abuse and ends up in the gutter." Doug hits many of the same musical styles as dig..?, plus throws in pastiches of The Who ("Cook Book"), The Replacements ("Coke Light Ice") and John Lennon ("Poverty"). Take That You Bastards! collects both albums in a 2 CD pack and adds on three bonus tracks. Despite the gimmicky nature of both albums, they're really both quite good. Odd, but catchy as hell.

cover art dig..?: "Scarborough Fair / Canticle", "Bridge Over Troubled Water", "59th St. Bridge Song (Feeling Groovy)", "I Am A Rock", "El Condor Pasa (If I Could)", "Sounds Of Silence", "Cecilia", "Homeward Bound", "The Only Living Boy In New York", "Richard Corey", "Having My Baby"

Doug: "Talkin' 'Bout Doug", "Ice Cold Soul", "Pussy Cook", "Cook Book", "Shirts And Skins", "40 Foot Stretch", "Doug!", "Coke Light Ice", "The Last Supper", "Ain't Gonna Eat No More", "Crack Pipe (Burnin')", "Poverty", "Talkin' 'Bout Doug (Reprise)"

Bonus tracks: "Serious", "Soul Side Of Your Mind", "Done"

The Lost Episodes - Frank Zappa

As far as I know, The Lost Episodes was the last project Frank Zappa oversaw before his death. The album is a collection of unreleased tracks and rarities, mostly from the 60's, with a few pre-Mothers tracks thrown in for good measure. Two of the standout tracks feature monologues by Captain Beefheart ("I'm A Band Leader" and "The Grand Wazoo"). Essential for the hard core Zappa fan. The rest of you will probably wonder what all the fuss is about.

cover art "Lost In A Whirlpool", "Ronnie Sings?", "Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance", "Tiger Roach", "Run Home Slow Theme", "Fountain Of Love", "Run Home Cues, #2", "Any Way The Wind Blows", "Run Home Cues, #3", "Charva", "The Wedding Dress Song", "Handsome Cabin Boy", "The Big Squeeze", "I'm A Band Leader", "Alley Cat", "The Grand Wazoo", "Wonderful Wino", "Kung Fu", "RDNZL", "Basement Music #1", "Inca Roads", "Lil' Clanton Shuffle", "I Don't Wanna Get Drafted", "Sharleena"

Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas - Hunter S. Thompson

Celebrating the 25th anniversary of the publishing of Hunter S. Thompson's gonzo classic, Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas is an audio play of the book, starring Harry Dean Stanton as the narrator, Jim Jarmusch as Thompson's alter-ego Raoul Duke, and Maury Chaykin as Duke's lawyer. Fun, but the book is far better, as the play omits some choice scenes, notably Thompson's high-speed chase with his analysis of the "cop heart".

cover art Intro - Hunter S. Thompson, "On The Road To Las Vegas ...", "Strange Medicine In The Desert", "Covering The Story ... Ugliness And Failure", "A Night On The Town ... Drug Frenzy At The Circus-Circus", "Paranoid Terror ... A Flashing Of Knives And Green Water", "A Savage Invitation From The Police", "AAWW, Mama, Can This Really Be The End ... Down And Out In Vegas With Amphetamine Psychosis Again", "Another Day, Another Convertible And Another Hotel Full Of Cops", "Savage Lucy", "A Terrible Experience With Extremely Dangerous Drugs", "Getting Down To Business ... Opening Day Of The Drugs Convention", "Breakdown On Paradise Boulevard". "Heavy Duty At The Airport ...", "End Of The Road ...", Outro - Hunter S. Thompson


THE TOP TWENTY?

This was an unusual year. I wrote up an initial list of 20 for the annual rec.music.misc poll with no problems. Choices seemed obvious. Then I went to narrow down to 10 for my list. Problems. In most years, one or two contenders for the top spot leap right out at me. This year, that wasn't the case. Not to say that I heard nothing worthy, just that three or four albums seemed worthy. I also had trouble narrowing to 10. So I'm including an extra section (in alphabetical order) of the other contenders.

CLOSE, BUT NOT QUITE

Walking On Locusts - John Cale

Walking On Locusts is a change from John Cale's recent output: a straight pop record. It's a fine one at that. The songs are simple, catchy, and Cale's deep voice add an unusual air to the whole album. Excellent.

cover art "Dancing Undercover", "Set Me Free", "So What", "Crazy Egypt", "So Much For Love", "Tell Me Why", "Indistinct Notion Of Cool", "Secret Corrida", "Circus", "Gatorville & Points East", "Some Friends", "Entre Nous"

The Golden Age - Cracker

Cracker's third full-length album is another winner, full of the rock blast and laid back folkiness of the first two albums. "Big Dipper" and "Dixie Babylon" are dramatic ballads, "100 Flower Power Maximum" and "I Hate My Generation" are punky blasts of full-on rock & roll. As always, David Lowery's smart-ass sense of humor is in full force, especially on "How Can I Live Without You".

cover art "I Hate My Generation", "I'm A Little Rocket Ship", "Big Dipper", "Nothing To Believe In", "The Golden Age", "100 Flower Power Maximum", "Dixie Babylon", "I Can't Forget You", "Sweet Thistle Pie", "Useless Stuff", "How Can I Live Without You", "Bicycle Spaniard"

The Fun Sessions: Tortelvis Sings The Classics - Dread Zeppelin

Dread Zeppelin tries a new direction, with far greater success than on the last change, the awful It's Not Unusual, the band's foray into disco parodies. This time out, the band's "usual" Led Zeppelin/Marley/Elvis hybrid is used on some classic rock staples, and this time out it works. As with all Dread Zeppelin projects, you'll probably either love it or hate it. I love it.

cover art "Baba O'Riley", "Sunshine Of Your Love", "Born On The Bayou", "Light My Fire", "Smoke On The Water", "Free Bird", "Feel Like Makin' Love", "BBWAGS", "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes", "Golden Slumbers", "Carry That Weight", "The End"

Monsters, Lullabies ... And The Occasional Flying Saucer - Jad Fair & Phono-Comb

In 1995, Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet teamed up with Jad Fair of Half Japanese and wrote an album's worth of songs. Later, when Jad wanted to record them, the Shadowy Men were on a break, and only bassist Reid Diamond and drummer Don Pyle were interested in working over the break. They added guitarist Dallas Good (from The Sadies) and recorded the album (as well as doing a few live dates). The new backing trio was dubbed Phono-Comb. After the break, the Shadowy Men decided to call it a day, so Phono-Comb became a full-time concern. Monsters, Lullabies ... And The Occasional Flying Saucer is an eccentric little album, melding catchy Shadowy Men-style instrumental rock with Jad's odd lyrics and vocals. Unusual, catchy, and fun.

cover art "Close My Eyes", "To Sweet To Be Forgotten", "The Beast Within", "Object: To Serve Man", "My Astonished Heart", "Just Across The Street", "Life Of The Party", "Evil Eye", "You Will Have It All", "That's Where I Went Right", "Lucinda", "I Feel Good", "Dreamy Eyes", "UFO / IFO", "All For You", "TV Guide", "Nightclub", "Shakin' All Over"

Moss Elixir - Robyn Hitchcock
Mossy Liquor: Outtakes And Prototypes - Robyn Hitchcock

After Hitchcock's A&M contract expired, he made some changes. His backing band of the last ten years, The Egyptians, were gone, and Hitchcock started touring either solo, or accompanied only by violinist Deni Bonet. He was eventually signed to Warner Brothers and released a debut, limited-edition vinyl-only album, Mossy Liquor, and followed that up with a regular release for the label, Moss Elixir. When songs occur on both albums, the versions are different. Both albums are very good, but I think some of the "outtake" versions are better than the "regular" release. If Robyn had used the better versions on each, I think he might have had one of the best albums of his career. The albums mix light, acoustic guitar/violin duets to some fuller band songs (backed by a group called Homer) in an effective mix. My advice, buy 'em both and pick your own favorites.

cover art Moss Elixir: "Sinister But She Was Happy", "The Devil's Radio", "Heliotrope", "Alright, Yeah", "Filthy Bird", "The Speed Of Things", "Beautiful Queen", "Man With A Woman's Shadow", "I Am Not Me", "De Chirico Street", "You And Oblivion", "This Is How It Feels"

cover art Mossy Liquor: "Alright, Yeah" [In Swedish], "Beautiful Queen", "Shuffling Over The Flagstones", "Cool Bug Rumble", "Wide Open Star", "Each Of Her Silver Wands", "De Chirico Street", "As Lemons Chop", "Sinister But She Was Happy", "Trilobite", "The Devil's Radio", "Heliotrope"

Moseley Shoals - Ocean Colour Scene

After a disappointing debut album, Ocean Colour Scene revamped their sound along the lines of the current "mod" scene in Britian, and encouraged by their hero Paul Weller, made a second debut of sorts. This time, they got it right. If you're a fan of the current "britpop" scene and/or Paul Weller's post-Style Council albums, you'll probably like this one. "The Day We Caught The Train" is a stellar pop song, "Lining Your Pockets" is an impressive ballad, and "The Riverboat Song" gives the whole album a solid kick off.

cover art "The Riverboat Song", "The Day We Caught The Train", "The Circle", "Lining Your Pockets", "Fleeting Mind", "40 Past Midnight", "One For The Road", "It's My Shadow", "Policemen & Parties", "The Downstream", "You've Got It Bad", "Get Away"

Acid Bubblegum - Graham Parker

Backed only a trio (including former Rumour bassist Andrew Bodnar) Parker rips through his strongest selection of songs in years. The appropriately titled Acid Bubblegum is a welcome return to the style of his classic Squeezing Out Sparks album, merging catchy melodies with bitter, acid lyrics. If you haven't heard GP in a while, check him out again.

cover art "Turn It Into Hate", "Sharpening Axes", "Get Over It And Move On", "Bubblegum Cancer", "Impenetrable", "She Never Let Me Down", "Obsessed With Aretha", "Beancounter", "Girl At The End Of The Pier", "Baggage", "Milk Train", "Character Assassination", "They Got It Wrong (As Usual)"

Gone Again - Patti Smith

Patti Smith's second comeback album is a definite improvement on her first comeback, Dream Of Life. Patti's songwriting gets a solid kick from a backing band including two former members of her 70's Patti Smith Group (Jay Dee Daugherty and Lenny Kaye), plus a few songs with Tom Verlaine. Like her late 70's work, Gone Again couples poetic, emotional lyrics with tough, powerful music. A return to form.

cover art "Gone Again", "Beneath The Southern Cross", "About A Boy", "My Madrigal", "Summer Cannibals", "Dead To The World", "Wing", "Ravens", "Wicked Messenger", "Fireflies", "Farewell Reel"

Broken Arrow - Neil Young & Crazy Horse

In some ways, Broken Arrow seems like two mini-albums spliced togther. The first three are classic Crazy Horse guitar epics, each in the 7-8 minute range. The next four are much looser, good but not great Crazy Horse numbers. The closing number is really odd, it's a bad-bootleg-quality recording of Neil & Crazy Horse covering Jimmy Reed's "Baby What You Me To Do" in a Santa Cruz bar. The first part of the album is classic Young, as great as his recent output. The latter half is still good, but overshadowed by the first half.

cover art "Big Time", "Loose Change", "Slip Away", "Changing Highways", "Scattered (Let's Think About Livin')", "This Town", "Music Arcade", "Baby What You Want Me To Do"

THE TOP TEN FOR 1996

(in my rarely humble opinion)

10) Experiment Zero - Man Or Astro-Man?

Man Or Astro-Man? combine white-hot surf music with snippets of cheezy 50's science fiction movie dialog and sounds effects (plus the "dreaded Tesla coil"). Experiment Zero is catchy, funny, irresistable album full of supercharged guitar instrumentals and the occasional vocal track. Fantastic.

cover art "Stereo Phase Test", "Television Fission", "DNI", "Planet Collision", "Big Trak Attack", "9 Volt", "Evil Plans Of Planet Spectra", "Anoxia", "Maximum Radiation Level", "King Of The Monsters", "Cyborg Control", "Test Driver", "Television Man", "Z-X3", "Principles Unknown"

9) Fresh Gasoline - Phono-Comb

After recording Monsters, Lullabies ... And The Occasional Flying Saucer, Phono-Comb became a full-time band. Reid Diamond switched to guitar and Beverly Breckenridge took over the bass duties. The result is a wonderful album, in the same vein as the Shadowy Men albums, but definitely something new with a great twin guitar sound. A superb debut album. I'm anxiously looking forward to the followup.

cover art "Enchanté", "I Dreamed I Went To Heaven In My Cross-Your-Heart Bra", "Grip 'n' Grin", "The Crass And The Switchblade", "Pummelled", "The Lyon Game", "Phonebone", "Virgo On Mars", "At The Niteclub", "Marvin", "Burnt Down With Feedback", "In Touch With Stockholm", "Sparkling Agenda", "Clogs From The Crypt", "Cliffhanger", "International Anthem (A Simulation Of Assimilation)", "Here Come The Warm Jets", "It's A Long Way Back", "Beatles Record"

8) Läther - Frank Zappa

Finally, after a nineteen-year delay, Frank Zappa's long-lost Läther has seen the light of day in the format Zappa intended, and the album is a masterpiece, one of the high points in Zappa's career. Läther is a sprawling triple CD, showcasing Zappa's wide range from power rock ("Duck Duck Goose") to jazz-tinged instrumentals ("Re-gyptian Strut", "Flambé", "Revised Music For Guitar And Low Budget Orchestra"), to Zappa's infamous "low-brow" humor ("Titties 'n Beer", "Big Leg Emma"), to bizarre "folklore" (the true "Legend Of The Illinois Enema Bandit"), to the plain silly ("Lemme Take You To The Beach") to a long concluding fairy tale about a gregarious wild swine who works for a company that creates trends ("The Adventures Of Greggary Peccary"). Four bonus tracks have been added to round out the release to an even triple-CD set. The bonus tracks are bounded by tapes of Zappa's intro and outtro to the KROQ broadcast in which Zappa aired a test pressing back in 1977. A nice touch. Läther can be an intimidating listen, but is ultimately worth it. Want more details about the delay? Click here.

cover art "Re-gyptian Strut", "Naval Aviation In Art?", "A Little Green Rosetta", "Duck Duck Goose", "Down In De Dew", "For The Young Sophisticate", "Tryin' To Grow A Chin", "Broken Hearts Are For Assholes", "The Legend Of The Illinois Enema Bandit", "Lemme Take You To The Beach", "Revised Music For Guitar And Low Budget Orchestra", "RDNZL", "Honey, Don't You Want A Man Like Me?", "Black Page #1", "Big Leg Emma", "Punky's Whips", "Flambé", "The Purple Lagoon", "Pedro's Dowry", "Läther", "Spider Of Destiny", "Duke Of Orchestral Prunes", "Filthy Habits", "Titties 'n Beer", "The Ocean Is The Ultimate Solution", "The Adventures Of Greggery Peccary"

Bonus tracks: "Re-gyptian Strut" [1993], "Leather Goods", "Revenge Of The Knick Knack People", "Time Is Money"

7) Songs And Music From The Motion Picture "She's The One" - Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

Tom Petty started out to write a single song for the soundtrack of "She's The One", and ended up writing the whole thing. The end result is an album that sounds like it must have been fun to record. The lyrics are the most playful of Petty's career, and the sound is looser and more casual than usual. Petty's even thown in a cover (Beck's "Asshole"). Oddly enough, Petty's managed a "change of pace" album while still maintaining the classic Heartbreakers sound.

cover art "Walls" [Circus], "Grew Up Fast", "Zero From Outer Space", "Climb That Hill", "Change The Locks", "Angel Dream" [No. 4], "Hope You Never", "Asshole", "Supernatural Radio", "California", "Hope On Board", "Walls" [No. 3], "Angel Dream" [No. 2], "Hung Up And Overdue", "Airport"

6) New Adventures In Hi-Fi - R.E.M.

This is the album no-one thought R.E.M. would make. Recorded largely at soundchecks and rehearsals for the Monster tour, New Adventures In Hi-Fi finds R.E.M. straddling the line between the hard rock of Monster and the acoustics of Out Of Time and Automatic For The People. Amazingly enough, it works. "E-Bow The Letter" is a haunting duet with Patti Smith, "The Wake-Up Bomb" and "Bittersweet Me" would fit on Monster just fine. Given the circumstances of the recording, I suppose it's not surprising that R.E.M. didn't go for a new sound again, but the songwriting is so good it doesn't really matter.

cover art "How The West Was Won And Where It Got Us", "The Wake-Up Bomb", "New Test Leper", "Undertow", "E-Bow The Letter", "Leave", "Departure", "Bittersweet Me", "Be Mine", "Binky The Doormat", "Zither", "So Fast, So Numb", "Low Desert", "Electrolite"

5) You? Me? Us? - Richard Thompson

Richard Thompson is one of the few artists that really shines on both acoustic and electric guitar. Most Thompson albums feature some of both. You? Me? Us? formalizes that split by putting all the electric tracks on the first CD (subtitled Voltage Enhanced) and all the acoustic on the second (Nude). Voltage Enhanced is similar to Thompson's recent work, with a few new sounds tossed in, notably the grungy guitar on "No's Not A Word". Lyrically, Thompson's renowned "gloom and doom" is still there, especially on the four middle songs ("Put It There Pal", "Business On You", "No's Not A Word", "Am I Wasting My Love On You?") which examine obsession from different angles. Nude is more laid back, less experimental, and suffers slightly by comparison to Voltage Enhanced. Overall, Voltage Enhanced is one of Thompson's best, and Nude is solid, if not great.

cover art Voltage Enhanced: "Razor Dance", "She Steers By Lightning", "Dark Hand Over My Heart", "Hide It Away", "Put It There Pal", "Business On You", "No's Not A Word", "Am I Wasting My Love On You?", "Bank Vault In Heaven", "The Ghost Of You Walks"

Nude: "Baby Don't Know What To Do With Herself", "She Cut Off Her Long Silken Hair", "Hide It Away", "Burns Supper", "Train Don't Leave", "Cold Kisses", "Sam Jones", "Razor Dance", "Woods Of Darney"

4) Op Zop Too Wah - Adrian Belew

Op Zop Too Wah is Adrian Belew's most eccentric and playful solo album, and is certainly among his best. Op Zop Too Wah has plenty of the off-kilter pop that Belew handles so well, but he's thrown in some experiments here too, like "Word Play Drum Beat" with its free association lyric backed only be a Belew drum solo. A wonderful, eclectic, fun album. Check it out.

cover art "Of Bow And Drum", "Word Play Drum Beat", "Six String", "Conversation Piece", "All Her Love Is Mine", "I Remember How To Forget", "What Do You Know (Part 1)", "Op Zop Too Wah", "A Plate Of Words", "Time Waits", "What Do You Know (Part 2)", "Modern Man Hurricane Blues", "In My Backyard", "A Plate Of Guitar", "Live In A Tree", "Something To Do", "Beautiful", "High Wire Guitar", "Sky Blue Red Bird Green House", "The Ruin After The Rain", "On", "Reprise"

3) Archaeology - The Rutles

When the Rutles breakup hit, they were in the midst of a recording session. The unfinished album was buried in Barry's backyard. Legends spread, and eventually became referred to as the "Archaeology Tapes". Amazingly, after Barry's dog dug up those tapes, three of the four Rutles (Dirk has sadly, tragically, gone into ... well ... comedy) decided to finish off the long-lost project and even add three new tracks to the project. Even after all those years, the Rutles still sound like the same band, the "Pre-Fab Four", the legend that would last a lunchtime ... OK, OK. That's the "official" story. for the real story, click here.

Archaeology is a gem on two separate levels. First off, it's a masterful parody of The Beatles Anthology series, complete with false starts on "We've Arrived! (And To Prove It We're Here)". Archaeology was even released the same day as Anthology 3. The styles of the songs run the gamut of Beatle songs, parodying the early love songs, through Sgt. Pepper and "Hey Jude". If you're interested, I've compiled a list of the references I've found so far. When you forget about the parody element of Archaeology, you'll find it's simply a great pop album. Neil Innes has always been a gifted (if whimsical) songwriter, and Archaeology shows off that talent. Innes' gentle sense of humor is evident on the album, as is his flair for utterly charming pop.

cover art "Major Happy's Up And Coming Once Upon A Good Time Band", "Rendezvous", "Questionnaire", "We've Arrived! (And To Prove It We're Here)", "Lonely-Phobia", "Unfinished Words", "Hey Mister!", "Easy Listening", "Now She's Left You", "The Knicker Elastic King", "I Love You", "Eine Kleine Middle Klasse Musik", "Joe Public", "Shangri-La", "Don't Know Why", "Back In '64"

2) Set The Twilight Reeling - Lou Reed

After three decidedly downbeat albums, Lou Reed returned to the raw, live sound of his early 80's classic, "The Blue Mask". The subject matter is decidedly brighter, with a number of songs seemingly about Reed's new beau, Laurie Anderson. "NYC Man" is a laid-back number about relationships, "Egg Cream" is a rocker about a chocolate drink, "Trade In" is a plea for a fresh start to life, and "HookyWooky" is a poppy song about jealousy for a new love's former loves. The centerpiece of the album, "Sex With Your Parents (Motherfucker) Part II" is a vicious diatribe against the "right wing Republican shit" coupled with a hard rock/funk/rap groove, which reads a bit better than it sounds. Overall, Set The Twilight Reeling sounds looser than the carefully written trilogy he completed with Magic And Loss, and the change of pace works wonderfully. Reed is still proving to be one of the most vital artists of the 90's. Who would have guessed?

cover art "Egg Cream", "NYC Man", "Finish Line", "Trade In", "Hang On To Your Emotions", "Sex With Your Parents (Motherfucker) Part II", "HookyWooky", "The Proposition", "Adventurer", "Riptide", "Set The Twilight Reeling"

1) Bob Mould - Bob Mould

Following the breakups of Hüsker Dü, the "Bob Mould Band" and then Sugar, Bob Mould finally went the true solo route, playing all the instruments on his "second" debut solo album. The result is a stunning mix of his acoustic Workbook sound ("Fort Knox, King Solomon", "Next Time That You Leave"), the poppier Sugar sound ("Deep Karma Canyon"), and a new, snarling, distorted sound ("Egøverride", "Hair Stew") that's unlike anything Mould's done before. In addition, one of the most powerful numbers on the album, "Thumbtack" is played on acoustic guitar with no other backing, but the result is a brooding, intense study of infidelity. Bob Mould manages to pull all the different facets of Mould's songwriting into one cohesive, powerful album, easily his best since his last debut album, Workbook.

cover art "Anymore Time Between", "I Hate Alternative Rock", "Fort Knox, King Solomon", "Next Time That You Leave", "Egøverride", "Thumbtack", "Hair Stew", "Deep Karma Canyon", "Art Crisis", "Roll Over And Die"


PAST YEAR'S BESTS

Just click on the album cover to see that year's reviews.

1995 best of1994 best of1993 best of1992 best of1991 best of1990 best of1989 best of1988 best of1987 best of
Owen Gwilliam

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