Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Happy anniversary to me

Well! It was six years ago today that I first made my website, Rarebird's Rock and Roll Rarity Reviews, viewable to the public. It was May 31st, 1999, and my site contained reviews of six albums by four artists. Now, it contains about 250 reviews of recordings by over 40 artists. I didn't know how long it would last; many personal websites don't stay up as long as mine. I must say I am proud of my site. I hadn't realized how much I had accomplished until about a year ago, when I updated my entire site so that album titles would appear in bold print instead of quotation marks. I found that there was a lot to update after five years of site building!

The site started small, based on a few little-known albums I wanted to publish info and opinions about on the net (i.e. the post-Morrison Doors albums, Buckingham Nicks, the Velvet Underground's Squeeze), and ideas just kept coming. I had no idea that I would end up with over 35 artist-based pages. Over the last three years, I haven't added that many new artist-based pages, because they are becoming harder to maintain. More albums from these artists end up going out of print, and then I feel I should add reviews of those albums to the page. I once started to create a page about a well-known, long-running band (whose name I won't mention) who then had seven out-of-print albums. Before I was even close to finishing that page, about half-a-dozen more albums from that group were suddenly deleted! I scrapped that page altogether to avoid future headaches.

So, in early 2003, I began to write spotlight reviews of single albums that have interested me. It has made the site easier and less time-consuming to update, and these spotlight reviews are closer to what I originally envisioned the site to consist of.

Anyway, I want to end this self-congratulatory post by saying thank you to everyone who has visited the site, provided input, and supported the site in any way. It's been fun keeping the site up for these last six years, and I hope to keep it up for many more.

Rarebird's Rock and Roll Rarity Reviews
http://rarebird9.net

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

DIG!

I recently watched the documentary DIG! on DVD. It focuses on two relatively unknown rock bands -- the Dandy Warhols and the Brian Jonestown Massacre -- and the volatile friendship/rivalry between their respective frontmen, Courtney Taylor and Anton Newcombe. The Warhols are a band who were signed to a major label (Capitol Records) but never sold many records, at least not in the U.S. Part of the reason for this may have been timing; their major-label debut The Dandy Warhols Come Down was released in 1997, when alternative rock had lost its novelty and was about to be eclipsed by boy bands and pop tarts. By contrast, the Brian Jonestown Massacre were a band who refused to sign a major-label record deal; frontman Newcombe insists that he will never sell out. The BJM prolifically released six indie-label albums between 1995 and 1998, three of them in 1996 alone. The film's director Ondi Timoner filmed much footage (both personal and performance-based) of these two bands in the seven years between 1996 and 2003. DIG! is a 107-minute movie culled from over 1500 hours (!) of her filmed footage.

This movie is loaded with insights about the music industry, indie labels, and the differences among musicians in terms of goals and philosophies. Director Timoner has an exalted view of both of these neo-psychedelic bands' talents and importance; I certainly don't agree with her view that BJM's Newcombe is such a noble musical genius that he deserved to have his life filmed for seven years. But both bands and their stories are useful examples for illustrating the state of the rock music scene in recent years, especially in the years since the '90's alternative revolution faded.

One quote from the movie was amazing to me. Adam Shore, an A&R man from the indie label TVT Records, claims that 9 out of 10 albums released on major labels never recoup their costs, while one out of ten makes enough money to pay for them all. Shore says that major labels are the only businesses in the world he knows of that can have a 90% failure rate and still call themselves successful.

He may be exaggerating the "90% failure rate" part, but if his statement is anywhere near accurate, then it's no wonder so many albums go out of print.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

"Rock & Rule" DVD release

The 1983 animated movie Rock & Rule is going to be released on DVD on June 7th. It will be available in both single-disc and double-disc editions. The double-disc set will contain an alternate version of the movie, a 27-minute animated short, a PDF file of the script, and other extras.

Rock & Rule is a Canadian-made movie that did not receive a wide U.S. theatrical release. It's set in a post-apocalyptic world populated by half-human, half-animal mutants. The bumbling trio of good guys resemble Cheap Trick members Robin Zander, Rick Nielsen, and Bun E. Carlos (Tom Petersson was not in the band at that time, so he didn't get a likeness), and the songs by this heroic rock band were done by Cheap Trick. The singing voice of the heroine (and love interest to the Zander-like character) belongs to Debbie Harry. The villain is an evil rock star named Mok (singing voice by Lou Reed), who wants to use the Blondie-voiced heroine to summon a monster from another dimension. Other songs were provided by Iggy Pop and Earth, Wind & Fire.

Rock & Rule is not a great movie, but it is fun, especially for fans of Cheap Trick and of hip animated feature films. I, for one, will be happy to replace my old VHS copy with the DVD. I'm just having trouble deciding if I want to spend the extra bucks for the 2-DVD edition instead of the single-disc version. Knowing me, I probably will.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Weezer - Make Believe

While we are on the subject of new CDs, I also picked up the new Weezer disc Make Believe. Judging from the customer reviews at Amazon.com, the fifth album from this post-grunge guitar-pop band seems to divide their fans between those who love it and those who hate it. Personally, I like it a lot; it's more reminiscent of their 1996 Pinkerton album (which in my ever-so-humble opinion is their best) than their last two releases. Not to say it's as good as Pinkerton, because the lyrics are much more simple than on that album. This album also is poppier than their previous releases; "This Is Such A Pity" and "Haunt You Every Day" almost sound like they were recorded in the '80's. Some people would call this selling out, but I see it as expanding their range a bit. Rick Rubin did a good job producing. It has a few missteps: the opening track (and first single) "Beverly Hills" is quasi-rap, and some other tracks veer close to today's whiny emo groups. Some of the lyrics are confessional in a none-too-profound way, but if frontman/songwriter Rivers Cuomo needs to get this stuff out of his system, he may as well do it now.

Robert Plant - Mighty Rearranger

I recently picked up Mighty Rearranger, the new CD by Robert Plant and the Strange Sensation, which is the same band that backed Plant on his 2002 CD Dreamland. After hearing that dull 2002 album of covers, I had nearly written Plant off as a guy who would be better off resting on his Led Zeppelin laurels (and royalties). Fortunately, this new album of all-original material shows that Plant still has more to offer as a recording artist. As Plant has said in interviews, the album is reminiscent of Led Zep's Physical Graffiti. Many of the songs have a "Kashmir"-like mysticism. It also is fused with the type of experimentalism that marked his earlier solo albums. The 56-year-old Plant is now more of a low-key crooner than the heavy metal wailer he once was, but Mighty Rearranger shows that he is still a creative and interesting musician.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Aimee Mann - The Forgotten Arm

I recently picked up the CD The Forgotten Arm by Aimee Mann. This is the album she described as "Mott the Hoople meets alt-country". You can hear a bit of Mott influence, but only if you listen for it. It does have a sound that is somewhat reminiscent of that mid-'70's era, probably because that is when the story is set. It's a concept album about two lovers named John and Caroline who road-trip across America; John is a boxer who came home from Vietnam with a drug addiction. It's really just a vehicle for Mann's moving songs about drug dependency and love's frustrations. It's not her best work -- Bachelor No. 2 (2000) and the 1988 Til Tuesday album Everything's Different Now are both better -- but it is a good, solid album.

At Amazon.com, you can read Aimee Mann's List of Music You Should Hear . Besides Mott The Hoople, some of the other artists mentioned on her list (Elliot Smith, Neil Young, Badfinger, Keane) have a more noticeable influence on The Forgotten Arm. The album she mentions by her husband Michael Penn is due for release in August.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Festival Express

I recently rented the DVD Festival Express, the documentary released last year about the summer 1970 trio of rock festivals in Canada. That summer, a number of musicians took part in a traveling rock show offering Woodstock-style festivals in three Canadian cities -- Toronto, Winnipeg, and Calgary -- and traveled by train between cities. The train took days at a time to reach each destination, and in between stops, the various musicians jammed on the train. Fortunately for us, a film crew also went along for the ride.

The main acts featured are the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin (three months before her death), the Band, Buddy Guy, and the Flying Burrito Brothers. (The FBB lineup was Chris Hillman, Bernie Leadon, Sneaky Pete Kleinow, and Michael Clarke. No sign of Gram Parsons, or even Rick Roberts). All of those artists get good showcases here. There is even a brief appearance by Sha Na Na; how did they fit into these hippie festivals?

One phenomenon this film shows (which was also evident in Message To Love, a documentary of the Isle Of Wight festival that also took place in summer 1970) was the sense of entitlement that the hippie generation had. At all three stops, hippies demanded to be allowed into the festivals for free, a la Woodstock, and sometimes became violent when they were not given free admission. The so-called "peace and love" movement was clearly on its last legs. Any constituency with an entitlement attitude such as this cannot hope to survive; this is a lesson that contemporary freeloaders ought to heed.

Most of the bonus performances on the DVD are from the lesser-known acts that were on the bill. But the ones by the Grateful Dead feature lead vocal turns by Ron "Pigpen" McKernan, three years before his death from a liver ailment. Janis Joplin also gets two bonus tracks.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

They Might Be Giants - Dial A Song

They Might Be Giants mainly consists of the duo of John Flansburgh and John Linnell, two friends-since-childhood who combine catchy melodies with clever lyrics that have a nerdy, childlike sense of humor. They scored minor alternative hits in the late '80's and early '90's (including "Birdhouse In Your Soul" and "Don't Let's Start"), and more recently composed the theme song from the TV show Malcolm In The Middle, titled "Boss Of Me". This week, Rhino Records has released a single-disc TMBG compilation called A User's Guide To They Might Be Giants. It contains 29 tracks, and is a fairly inexpensive CD for those who just want the TMBG essentials. However, those who want more are advised to splurge for Rhino's 2-CD TMBG compilation Dial A Song: 20 Years Of They Might Be Giants, released in 2002. That contains a whopping 52 tracks, providing a definitive overview of the duo's two-decade career.

The "Dial A Song" in the title refers to the duo's long-running phone service. If you dialed the given phone number (based in Brooklyn, and not toll-free), you would hear a recording of an original song by Flansburgh and Linnell. That phone service seems to have been discontinued; every time I've ever tried to call it in recent months, it just rings and rings. Fortunately, the official Dial A Song website is alive and well, and enables the visitor to hear numerous random songs from the service. That site is here:

http://www.dialasong.com

Not surprisingly, TMBG have recently been recording children's albums, which ought to come naturally to them.

The official TMBG site:
http://www.tmbg.com