Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The “Winter Weezerland” Christmas EP

Rarebird’s Rock and Roll Rarity Reviews would like to wish you and yours a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, or whatever you personally call this time of year.

During the Christmas season in 2000, Weezer issued a two-song Christmas CD to members of their official fan club, and also sent the CD to radio stations as a promo item. It was simply titled Christmas CD, and its two tracks ran for a total of five-and-a-half minutes. The same two tracks were sold on iTunes beginning in 2005, under the title Winter Weezerland. The songs have not been offered on iTunes since 2008. (This EP should not be confused with the 2008 digital EP Christmas With Weezer, which does not contain either of these two tracks). Sometime between 2000 and 2005, the tracks were available as free downloads on Weezer’s official web site. Some rabid fans were evidently unhappy that formerly free downloads were later being sold as commercial downloads, and expressed their supposed outrage on Weezer and iTunes related message boards. To my mind, this was as trivial as pay-per-song controversies get. If fans did not care to download the songs when they were free, then it should not have been a major concern when they were being sold for 99 cents each. Anyone who was so disadvantaged as to pay for both mp3s ended up paying all of $1.98. Somehow, I don’t feel their pain.

These two songs were recorded around the same time as Weezer’s self-titled “Green Album” from 2001. The first track, “The Christmas Song”, is stylistically closer to their Pinkerton album from 1996. Not to be confused with the Mel Torme classic, “The Christmas Song” is a melancholy song about a guy who gets stood up by his girlfriend on the holiday. It’s quite good. The other track, “Christmas Celebration”, is more lighthearted and uptempo, sung from the viewpoint of a guy who’s fed up with the usual holiday festivities. It’s a fairly average Weezer song that would have fit into the “Green Album” well enough.

A note on the cover art: The front cover of Christmas CD showed a photo of the four band members wearing Santa suits. The art for the iTunes download was originally the back cover photo for Christmas CD, showing Rivers Cuomo standing on a roof in his Santa outfit.

Weezer - Christmas CD

Weezer “Christmas CD” EP (Geffen INTR-10267-2) 2000

Weezer - Winter Weezerland

Weezer “Winter Weezerland” EP (mp3 download) (Geffen) 2005

Track Listing:

1. The Christmas Song
2. Christmas Celebration

Monday, December 20, 2010

Captain Beefheart's real avant garde masterwork

Don Van Vliet, better known as Captain Beefheart, died on Friday, December 17, 2010, at the age of 69, from complications caused by multiple sclerosis. Beefheart recorded 11 studio albums between 1967 and 1982. On his 1967 debut album Safe As Milk, Beefheart came across as a blues-rocker in the Stones/Animals mold. But his sound became more avant garde on the albums that followed. He and his sometime collaborator Frank Zappa had been friends since boyhood; amazingly, Beefheart’s off-the-wall recordings tended to be more bizarre than Zappa’s. Beefheart has been cited as a major influence on many artists, especially from the alternative rock genre. In 1982, Beefheart quit the music business to focus full-time on painting, and never recorded another album for the remaining 28 years of his life. Some people interpreted his refusal to re-enter the music biz as a telling statement about that industry. Although it is easy to believe that Beefheart disliked the “business” side of the music business, it is likely that his departure from recording and touring also had much to do with his health. At the time his final album (1982’s Ice Cream For Crow) was released, the Captain appeared to be growing weary, physically and otherwise.

As of this writing, Beefheart’s 1970 album titled Lick My Decals Off, Baby is out of print. This was the album which followed Beefheart’s 1969 double album Trout Mask Replica, which is widely regarded as his masterpiece.

Before I discuss the out-of-print album, I want to say a few words about Trout Mask Replica, which is currently available. Trout Mask Replica appears on many lists of the best albums of all time, and seems to be the album most discussed in recent articles about Beefheart’s death. I want to advise anyone who is new to Beefheart’s work that Trout Mask Replica is a very difficult album to understand and appreciate. Even some of the pundits who sing its praises have admitted that it took them more than six listens to finally “get” it. The album’s 28 tracks were recorded over the course of about five hours – after Beefheart and his Magic Band had rehearsed them for eight months! The resulting album completely deconstructs everything we know about music, and consists of mutant blues-rock combined with free-form jazz. At first listen, Trout Mask Replica sounds like an endless cacophony of random noise; in truth, the songs were constructed under the unique vision and rigorous control of Beefheart, who spent several months teaching his band how to play his musical oddities. It is not my intention to trash this album. I am well aware of the album’s importance as Beefheart’s creative turning point, as well as how it paved the way for many other musicians who have defied convention. But I want to make it clear that Trout Mask Replica is not the place to start discovering Beefheart. Where is the best place to start? It’s hard to say, because a musician who is as unconventional as Beefheart can be hard to approach from any angle. My advice is to start with 1967’s Safe As Milk before investigating Beefheart’s more avant garde works.

Now that I’ve said my piece about that much-acclaimed album, I want to discuss its follow-up. Lick My Decals Off, Baby is the logical successor to Trout, because it continues in the same audaciously strange vein, but is a vast improvement over its predecessor. Beefheart produced this album himself, clearly taking a more hands-on approach than Zappa did on Trout, and (understandably) realizing his intentions better than Zappa could. This album’s free-jazz chord progressions are just as illogical as those on Trout, but somehow the surrealism comes through clearer this time. Decals can hardly be described as “no-nonsense”, because the music is the audio equivalent of abstract painting. But Decals takes far less time than Trout does to get where it’s going, and the ride is easier despite its uncompromising unconventionality. Vocally, the Captain alternately growls and moans like a deranged blues singer; on some tracks, such as “Bellerin’ Plain” and “Space-Age Couple”, he talk-sings his strange poetry with delirious vivacity. The instrumental “Japan in a Dishpan”, which closes the first side, is propelled by Beefheart’s wild saxophone playing; the album’s final track, “Flash Gordon’s Ape”, is a no-holds-barred saxophone orgy. Although Lick My Decals Off, Baby probably could not have been made without Trout Mask Replica being made first, Decals is a more finely tuned example of Captain Beefheart’s twisted artistic individuality.

9/6/14 update: Lick My Decals Off, Baby will be one of three Beefheart albums reissued on November 11th, 2014, as part of the box set Sun, Zoom, Spark: 1970 to 1972. Also, the proper Decals album is currently available as an mp3 download.

Captain Beefheart - Lick My Decals Off, Baby

Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band “Lick My Decals Off, Baby” (Straight RS 6420) 1970

Track Listing:

1. Lick My Decals Off, Baby
2. Doctor Dark
3. I Love You, You Big Dummy
4. Peon
5. Bellerin’ Plain
6. Woe-is-uh-Me-Bop
7. Japan in a Dishpan
8. I Wanna Find a Woman That’ll Hold My Big Toe Till I Have To Go
9. Petrified Forest
10. One Red Rose That I Mean
11. The Buggy Boogie Woogie
12. The Smithsonian Institute Blues (or the Big Dig)
13. Space-Age Couple
14. The Clouds Are Full of Wine (not Whiskey or Rye)
15. Flash Gordon’s Ape

Saturday, December 18, 2010

More vinyl creativity by Jack White

Jack White continues to amuse me with his creativity with vinyl records, among other things.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A few insights from Gene Simmons

I just read an interview with Gene Simmons of Kiss at the MSN reality TV site:

I don't always agree with Gene, but it's almost always interesting to hear his insights. When it comes to expressing his opinions, Simmons certainly doesn't bite his famous tongue.

There are two insights from the interview which I felt compelled to share on this blog. Here is the first one:

Interviewer: What motivates you to work as hard as you still do after such a long career?

Simmons: Every day you want to wake up and do something, otherwise what good are you? The simple idea is, if you have enough money for food and stuff, and then you quit working, you're just waiting to die. The hours go by and the years go by and what have you got to show for it? At the end of the day, you've got to be able to look in the mirror and say, "I used this day." When you work hard you get to sleep really hard and food tastes good and you appreciate everything.

Interviewer: But everybody's not like that, right? I imagine plenty of rock stars are content to simply count their gold records and vacation somewhere tropical.

Simmons: That's a short pleasure. Satisfaction only exists in doing something. The word pride doesn't exist in vacation. Work is a privilege in most of the world. And as a point of fact, there are some very populated countries that often sell their children so they can have a job. Even with unemployment being so high, work is a privilege, it's not a birthright.

Gene had this to say about the obstacles that young bands now face:

Interviewer: Is it harder for a young band to get attention nowadays or is it easier?

Simmons: Much harder because of piracy. Because music is being downloaded and file shared and if you're a new band, how do you make a living?

Interviewer: But hasn't technology aided in getting discovered though?

Simmons: It's easier to get discovered because you can be anybody and go on YouTube or MySpace, but so what? When you go on iTunes and you want to find a song, there are 15 million choices. You'd spend weeks and weeks just going down the list. If I burped and farted and put it up on iTunes, it'd be right alongside the Beatles and Led Zeppelin and KISS, so there's no filter.

Not surprisingly, the interviewer's next question had something to do with Simmons being "outspoken".