Could someone please ex-plain why all the good, old-fashioned
American rock (read: rawk) bands are coming from overseas
these days? Some genius over in the U.K. must have realized
that Americans have had their hands in the wrong musical cookie
jars lately, and they’ve sent a veritable army of new bands
to scold us. While the yanks have been trying to find new
ways to make “Louie, Louie” sound current, the Brits have
been hanging out in some tapestry-and-black-light-adorned
bedroom, pawing through those old Aerosmith and AC/DC records—that’s
where all the good riffs are, after all. Now that the Darkness
have brought their pomp and flash to U.S. shores, it seems
the coast is clear for the next wave of new-old-school rockers—the
ones who take the really good drugs—and Ten Benson are the
prime candidates to carry the torch.
Imagine a world where there are only two bands—Motorhead and
the Butthole Surfers—and you’ll get a pretty good feel for
what Benson Burner sounds like. Ten Benson are a bunch
of trucker-cap- wearing British rednecks who specialize in
hypnotizing, then bludgeoning, all comers. They’re all filth
and disease; snarling monotone vocals (often double-tracked
for a more robotic effect) over meaty, beaty guitar riffs,
big and bouncy programmed beats, and cheesy keyboard flourishes
(including a hilarious synth-banjo on “Nobody’s Wife”). Big
Black meets “Big Bottom” on “Rock Cottage,” the soon-to-be
Christmas classic “Black Snow” is a hell-on-earth fantasy,
and the deliciously vulgar “Tits” is pure AC/DisCo, with an
insistent sixteenth-note dance beat and fist-pumping chants
that just happen to feature the names of various naughty bits.
It quickly becomes clear that they’re completely aware of
just how dumb this stuff is, and that’s why it works so well.
Benson Burner is, very simply, a big, dumb, and extremely
fun rock record.
Love Is Hell pt. 2
a goofball. I’m always changing my mind,” Ryan Adams said
recently. This goes a long way to explain the backstory to
this release and its precursor, Love Is Hell pt. 1. Ryan
Adams’ official album for 2003 was the spontaneous, hooky
gutterpunk of Llor N Ckor. But he made that album only
after scrapping a more contemplative effort he had spent way
too much time on in New Orleans with Smiths and Roxy Music
producer John Porter (who suited Adams’ Anglo, rainy-day intentions).
Ultimately though, Adams decided that the gloomy, polished
Love Is Hell wasn’t the statement he wanted to make
after the sprawling, Stones-aping Gold, so he retreated
to an Alphabet City basement with a producer who is Courtney
Love’s boyfriend and guests like Green Day’s Billie Armstrong
to make the more gleefully rocked-out, Technicolor Llor
N Ckor. Meanwhile, Love Is Hell was served up in
two parts, a sort of split Ryan Adams shadow-self to hover
over his album proper, Llor N Ckor, and fuel the myth
of the boy as prolific, damaged genius.
Both Love Is Hell albums are mediocre at best, with
Part 2 coming up even spottier than its predecessor
(which famously included a folky take on Oasis’ “Wonderwall”).
Adams undersells his talent here with a bunch of navel-gazing
numbers, most offensively the piano-twinkly lounge-hip pose
of “My Blue Manhattan” and the plaintive finger-picked up-his-own-arseness
of “I See Monsters.” “Hotel Chelsea Nights” is an ably bluesy
mock-up of early ‘70s John Lennon, but its overt anxiety of
influence is difficult to get past. But then, out of nowhere,
rises the bittersweet acoustic-rocker “English Girls Approximately,”
one of the best songs Adams has written since 2000’s brilliant
Heartbreaker. (Try to ignore Marianne Faithfull’s murmured,
pitch-problematical backup warbling, which is thankfully mixed
way down.) Adams is a frustrating artist to follow,
his uncanny and immense talent often getting lost among scattered
intentions and influence-of-the-day enthusiasms.
So You Say Rock n’ Roll’s a Sin
Plastic Jesus are a punk trio from historic Waterford via
Long Island who need to stop what they’re doing and take this
thing on the road, already. This stuff deserves to be heard.
Man, right out of the box, too, their first full-length release.
Songs like “Chuck Berry” and “Wolfman” represent a very intelligent
usage of ’50s-style rock hooks, employing them within song
structures that are at times representative of that era and
others from the heyday of American punk. This is a very smart,
star-spangled tribute to all of it. It’s like the Circle Jerks
meet Eddie Cochran—the spirit behind it is exactly such a
You Say Rock n’ Roll’s a Sin offers no real high gloss,
no evidence of gated, ones-and-zeroes polish, but that by
no means implies that it doesn’t pass constitutional luster.
Rather, the CD has a warm, vibrant, analog sound that is just
so much more accurate and honest (nothing against digital).
I can close my eyes and I’m back in my bedroom on McKown Road,
smacking my head against the wall to another good piece of
underground vinyl rather than popping another ho-hum disc
in my PC. Which is as it should be.
Moby Grape’s first album in 1967 stands as one of the finest
debuts by any band, ever. Unfortunately, on the commercial
front it was all downhill from the moment Columbia pressed
the record. They were ensnared by drugs, infighting and, especially,
bad management. The effects of the latter remain such that
the band, who re-form with sporadic regularity, can’t legally
use their name. Hence, the billing on this disc says simply
“Legendary Grape” (they’ve also performed as The Melvilles).
Originally released only on cassette in 1990 (and limited
to a mere 500 copies!), the Legendary Grape CD now
has eight songs added to the original 10. Of the original
quintet, four of them were on board, with Skip Spence missing
in action, though still alive at that time. However, the set
does open with Spence’s “All My Life,” which unmistakably
bears his marks, as he takes simple phrases and imbues them
with giddy, if slightly off-kilter, exuberance. The rest of
the set moves from the riff-driven “Give It Hell” to the bluesy
swagger of “Took It All Away” and the finger-picked gusto
of “On the Dime.” The entwined guitars still make the band
sound unmistakably like themselves, with the contrasting voices
of Bob Mosley, Jerry Miller and Peter Lewis here at full power.
While there are some dated ’80s production sounds (particularly
on the drums), the sheer force of the band transcends.