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Tijuana Time Capsules

By Shawn Stone

Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass

The Herb Alpert Signature Series (Shout Factory)

Whipped Cream & Other Delights: Rewhipped (Shout Factory)

Having most of the original Herb Alpert/Tijuana Brass albums magically reappear on remastered CDs has been a shock. The sound of Alpert’s faux-Mariachi brass—most often his own, doubled trumpet over marimba and a shifting array of brass and reeds—was everywhere in the ’60s, as much the soundtrack of the times as the canonical efforts of rock heavyweights. Pop glory is ephemeral, however: By the late ’70s, the easiest place to find a TJB album was a yard sale. (Alpert himself had gone on to build A&M Records into an industry powerhouse.) But here most of the original Brass albums are again, in their poptastic glory.

Of the nine reissues, there are three key discs, all released in 1965-66: Whipped Cream & Other Delights, Going Places!!! and What Now My Love. Whipped Cream (Alpert’s fourth album) is a showcase for assured pop eclecticism; Going Places!!! is a gooey, rock-flavored explosion; and What is showy, easy listening.

The nearly naked cover girl slathered in shaving cream got all the attention, but Whipped Cream earned its glory in the grooves. >From the indelible kickoff of “A Taste of Honey,” the album moves pleasingly from genre to genre. Moody, atmospheric miniatures like “Tangerine,” one of many big-band hits Alpert would radically rearrange, are set against New Orleans rags (Allan Toussaint’s title cut), playful burlesques (“Love Potion No. 9”) and polkas (“Peanuts”). It also doesn’t outlast its welcome: Like most TJB albums, it clocks in at around 30 minutes.

>From the opening honk of “Tijuana Taxi,” Going Places!!!, my own fave, is goofy. The lounge-on-acid versions of “3rd Man Theme” and the Ventures’ “Walk, Don’t Run” are but the tip of an ice cube floating in a very fruity, tasty musical beverage. The album is, by 1965 standards, “rock”; that is, it has what used to be called the “big beat” and fits comfortably into a musical universe populated by the Supremes, the Beatles and Petula Clark. What Now My Love, however, is the worm in the apple. Alpert conquers Easy Listening, but, however assured, it’s a letdown: The fact that he could squeeze every drop of drama out of “The Shadow of Your Smile” is impressive, but kinda unnecessary.

The TJB were a touring and LP-making machine through 1969. If no other album achieved the coherence of these three, most have something to recommend them. (Not all: Stay away from S.R.O., for example.) The best of the rest is probably 1967’s Sounds Like. Featuring Burt Bacharach’s ecstatic “Casino Royale,” this disc is a rollicking mix of lounge jazz, Tijuana-ized pop hits and originals by Alpert’s usual collaborators, including the great Sol Lake. Lake, more than anyone else, wrote the kind of jaunty miniatures that helped define the TJB sound.

This brings us to the “new” album, Whipped Cream & Other Delights: Rewhipped. The original disc gets the remix treatment from producer Anthony Marinelli and such soundscape artists as Thievery Corporation, Mocean Worker, John King and Medeski, Martin & Wood. The effect is like transforming a margarita happy hour into a stoner afternoon. It works, but it’s disorienting. The fact that Alpert himself lays new trumpet solos over “Whipped Cream” and a few other tracks only adds to the sense of dislocation: To a ’60s kid like me, it’s the equivalent of someone lacing Proust’s cookie with acid—and thorazine. Fun, but the resulting memories are slow-motion and unrecognizably weird.

Slayer

Christ Illusion (Def American)

Slayer are responsible for ruining all the good work I have done in sobriety. One early-morning listen, and all talk about accepting the things you cannot change is jettisoned into the cosmos as if I’d never slept in a baseball dugout in January. The band have been accused of being tactless and exploitative in this release, using the music as a means of provocation over all else, but frankly, I just don’t see it. What makes “Pissing on your faith/Incinerate God’s whore/Perpetual is my reign/I will eat your soul” any more goading and outrageous than “Kill the preacher’s only son/Watch the infant die/Bodily dismemberment/Drink the purest blood,” which was written more than 20 (count ’em—20) years ago? Such detractors seem to expect Slayer to evolve, something they will never do in any empirical sense. Like the Ramones, they long ago perfected the template of their vocation and have won the right to endlessly reinterpret it.

Tom Araya’s Cro-Magnon scream replaces all prayers and ability to meditate as effortlessly as China will replace the United States as the world’s superpower in less than a hundred years if it can get a grip on its flailing banking infrastructure. Similarly, the Hanneman-King hurt reserves are plentiful, and the homecoming of drummer Dave Lombardo reestablishes the more organic pulse the band enjoyed prior to the unwavering robot cannon that was Paul Bostaph. From the blazing cadences of “Jihad” and “Flesh Storm” to the flagellating hurricane “Black Serenade,” the material seethes almost extemporaneously, yet is surely as deliberate as an autopsy. Even better, we get several heavy-hoofed roots salutes to the Show No Mercy era; “Supremacist” in particular recalls the days when metalheads would “Fight Till Death” over lukewarm Pabst while warning onlookers (as if they doubted) that evil, in fact, has no boundaries. Yep, this is just another montage of war, madness and the futility of organized religion, but what else is there really? A well-considered, philosophical aria decrying the Taliban’s destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan? Yeesh.

—Bill Ketzer

 


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