Friday, October 29, 2010

The Bubblemen Are Coming! (1988)

The Bubblemen were a pseudonymous side project for Love and Rockets, the alternative trio who scored an unlikely smash hit called “So Alive” in 1989. The band’s three members – David J, Daniel Ash, and Kevin Haskins – dressed up in bumblebee costumes for this endeavor. The same costumes were sometimes seen in Love and Rockets videos, during concerts, and in the between-videos segments of their 1991 VHS release The Haunted Fishtank.

Under the Bubblemen name, the trio released one 12” single called “The Bubblemen Are Coming!” in 1988. For your viewing pleasure, I have embedded a creative YouTube video for the song below.

Without the chuckle-inducing visuals, the recorded track is an enjoyably trippy five minutes of inside-joke silliness, with a slow-building whimsical intro that is omitted from the video edit. This novelty song portrays the title characters as friendly aliens from the planet Girl. The B-side track (alternately known as “Bees” and “B Side”) consists of over three minutes of non-musical buzzing bee sounds – because it’s the B side, get it? Belaboring the joke a bit more, “Bubblemen Rap” is a goofy British-accented hip-hop track, rapped from the point of view of the aliens; “Sorted!” seems to be their favorite word. The Dub Version of the “Bubblemen Rap” removes most of the words and emphasizes the track’s techno-trippy soundscapes. Fans of the Bauhaus family tree will get a kick out of this 12” single. For everyone else, the embedded video above will be all the Bubblemen experience they’ll ever need.

Notes: The single was released as a 7” in the U.K. (Beggars Banquet BUB1), containing only the title track and “Bees”, and it came with a comic book, which the above video utilized. The four audio tracks were added as extra features to the 2003 DVD Sorted! The Best of Love and Rockets (Beggars Banquet BB 021 DVD). The comic book can also be viewed on the DVD.

The Bubblemen “The Bubblemen Are Coming!” (RCA 8335-1-HDCB) 1988

Track Listing:

Side A:

1. The Bubblemen Are Coming!
2. Bees (aka “B Side”)

Side B:

1. Bubblemen Rap (Extended Version)
2. Bubblemen Rap (Dub Version)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Def Leppard's pre-1980 recordings

Although Def Leppard will always be remembered as the definitive pop-metal band of the 1980’s, they originally came from the late-‘70’s scene referred to as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, which also gave rise to less melodic metal bands such as Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. Def Leppard’s earliest work showed them in a somewhat different light than their classic mega-selling albums Pyromania (1983) and Hysteria (1987) did. Before they were produced by Mutt Lange, the band’s recordings had a slightly heavier and less polished sound. Joe Elliott’s vocals sounded quite different on these early recordings than they did years later. From the second Def Leppard album (1981’s High ‘n’ Dry) onward, Elliott sounded like he was partially influenced by AC/DC’s Brian Johnson. But these late-‘70’s recordings predate AC/DC’s Back In Black, and if you contrast these early Def Leppard recordings with their later work, it provides telling evidence of that AC/DC album’s impact on heavy metal.

One thing which Def Leppard never lacked is ambition. In 1979, the teenage band from Sheffield, England independently recorded and released their 3-song debut EP, having borrowed money from Elliott’s father to pay for studio time. The first song on the self-titled EP is “Ride Into The Sun”. It’s an energetic rocker that proves that the band did not need to rely on big-budget production to deliver thrills. “Ride Into The Sun” was re-recorded at least twice, first as the B-side to the 1987 “Hysteria” single, and again for the 1993 album Retro Active. The 1987 version has more power, and the Retro Active version received the most refined treatment, but the raw early version on this EP packs its own little punch. The other two tracks on the EP were “Getcha Rocks Off” and “The Overture”, both of which were re-recorded for the band’s 1980 debut album On Through The Night. “Getcha Rocks Off” has an exciting guitar attack, courtesy of original guitarists Steve Clark and Pete Willis, although it comes through clearer on the album version. The seven-and-a-half-minute “Overture” is a more complex prog-rock opus which gave an even larger picture of what these Sheffield teenagers were capable of doing. Although the EP version of the song is not as professional as the album version, the EP version has a more direct, down-to-earth feeling.

3/22/17 Update: In April 2017, a 4,000-copy limited edition vinyl reissue of the EP will be released for Record Store Day 2017.

Between the recordings of The Def Leppard E.P. and On Through The Night, the band recorded at least seven other studio tracks for a scrapped project. In 1984, after Def Leppard achieved mega-stardom, their former managers Pete Martin and Frank Stuart-Brown released an unauthorized EP called First Strike, which contained seven tracks from these 1979 sessions. Subsequent legal action led to the EP being pulled from distribution. The two ex-managers were credited as the producers. Four of the seven tracks were re-recorded for On Through The Night; the other three never appeared on any official release.

All three of those obscure songs (“Heat Street”, “See The Lights”, and “Glad I’m Alive”) make a fairly good impression, particularly “See The Lights”. Although they sound a bit under-produced, the energetic guitar sound more than compensates, suggesting that these three songs could have been strong ones if they were re-recorded on one of the proper albums. In fact, inferior production is the only thing that keeps the other four tracks from being the equals of their respective versions on On Through The Night. The versions on First Strike are basically demos, but very good ones. “Wasted” does not pack as potent a punch as the better-produced album version, but the song’s unforgettable riff is intact. The leaner version of “Answer to the Master” is a standout on the EP.

Def Leppard “The Def Leppard E.P.” EP (Bludgeon Riffola MSB 001) 1979

Track Listing:

1. Ride Into The Sun
2. Getcha Rocks Off
3. The Overture

Def Leppard “First Strike” EP (Flash 843007) 1984

Track Listing:

1. Heat Street
2. Answer to the Master
3. See the Lights
4. When the Walls Come Tumbling Down
5. Wasted
6. Sorrow Is A Woman
7. Glad I’m Alive

Monday, October 18, 2010

New INXS album with guest vocalists is coming in January

A long-in-the-works album by INXS is finally set for release on January 11th, 2011. The album titled Original Sin will feature remakes of songs which originally were recorded with their late original lead singer Michael Hutchence, recorded with various guest vocalists. Here is the USA Today story:

Here is a key paragraph:

The resulting album, Original Sin, out Jan. 11, features such latter-day artists as Ben Harper (on the first single, Never Tear Us Apart), Rob Thomas, Nikka Costa, Tricky and Train's Pat Monahan providing vocals for songs made famous by original INXS frontman Michael Hutchence, who died in 1997. John Mayer also appears, playing guitar on one track; another features J.D. Fortune, who sang on 2005's Switch album after winning the CBS reality series Rock Star: INXS.

You read that right. J.D. Fortune, who started a ridiculous feud with INXS early last year, has rejoined them. He has been performing live shows with the band, and they are considering recording another full studio album with him. We'll see where it goes.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Distractions "Come Home" EP (2010)

More great news for those lucky few of us who are fans of the Distractions, the unjustly overlooked Manchester band who released only one full-length album called Nobody’s Perfect in 1980. The U.K. music label Occultation, who recently brought us a three-song EP of previously unreleased Distractions recordings from a short-lived mid-‘90’s reunion, are now set to release an EP featuring three songs resulting from another Distractions reunion earlier this year.

The official Occultation site has streaming audio of the three complete songs from the Come Home EP, which the label plans to release on 12” vinyl in early November:

The three songs on the Come Home EP were recorded in June of 2010, by a lineup consisting of original vocalist Mike Finney, original guitarist Steve Perrin, bass player Nick Garside (who was a part of the mid-‘90’s lineup), drummer Stuart Mann, and guitarist Nick Halliwell.

The first two songs, “Lost” and “Nicole”, were both written by Perrin. These songs are no more upbeat than the ones on the recently released Black Velvet EP – which was recorded 15 years earlier – but they are slightly more up-tempo, with a more noticeable guitar sound. Both songs convey complex emotions, but Finney’s touching vocals make the listener feel those emotions as if they were simple to understand. The subtly ringing guitar sound gives those songs an added emotional undercurrent. This guitar sound may be partially attributable to Halliwell, who was on loan from Occultation label-mates Granite Shore. Halliwell is described as a “long-time fan of the band”, and he is the author of the EP’s third and final track “Oil Painting”. “Oil Painting” is a five-minute ballad that is more reminiscent of the Black Velvet EP. Halliwell’s uniquely expressive lyrics are well-matched with Finney’s convincingly emotive vocals, and that gently ringing guitar sound gives the song a fitting foundation. It’s hard to immediately determine if the Come Home EP is in the same class as earlier Distractions recordings, but it certainly does show them in fine form after their second 15-year hiatus, displaying many of the same qualities which made them special in the past. Let’s hope that more new recordings are forthcoming, with less time in between.

The Distractions “Come Home” EP (Occultation YMIR7DA008) 2010

Track Listing:

1. Lost
2. Nicole
3. Oil Painting