Live finds Mary Prankster offering her sardonic ditties
about the pageantry of love—or, more precisely, the lack thereof—with
an accomplished gang of musicians. It would be easy to say
that she’s always being sarcastic, but there’s an underlying
sincerity (for lack of a better word) to songs like “Mercyfuck.”
Unlike, say, Liz Phair, Prankster’s potty mouth has nothing
to do with flirting. And it’s not about being one of the boys.
Prankster is a potty-mouthed feminist.
The disc is mostly familiar tunes like “Arm’s Length,” “Irresponsible
Woman,” “Rational Bohemian” and the aforementioned “Mercyfuck.”
There are a couple of new tunes too, including the look-back-in-humor
“New Tricks” and instant sing-along fave “Lemonade.”
Now, for the basic questions that come with any live album.
First, has it been dubbed? Lemonade: Live has not undergone
any aural surgery, allowing us to hear the unvarnished performances,
off-key notes and all. Second, does the artist pretend that
the 40-plus minutes of CD is continuous live fun? Again, Prankster
refrains from going the cheeseball route: There are fade-outs
in-between tunes, and between-song patter is strictly limited
to useful information. (Mostly, Prankster introduces guests
with names as punning as her own.) Finally, is there any reason
on earth for the live album’s existence?
In this case, yes. This tour represented Prankster’s first
go-round as a solo act, after an ever-so-slightly acrimonious
breakup with her original bandmates. (On the way out the door
they discovered, to their surprise and chagrin, that “Mary
Prankster” was a person, not a band.) If this put extra pressure
on Prankster, it doesn’t show: She’s as assured and in control
with the hired guns as she was with the old group.
Independence declared, Prankster can now go back into the
studio and whip up another winner like her last disc, Tell
Your Friends. Not that there’s anything wrong with making
a live album. Really.
Action Pact (Koch)
thing I know about the rest of my life,” sings Sloan’s Chris
Murphy on the lead single from his band’s seventh studio album,
“I know that I’ll be living it in Canada.” Sometimes it seems
there is an invisible forcefield that filters out the music
as it comes across the border from Canada. When a Canadian
act does break big in the States, it’s usually a Barenaked
Ladies or an Alanis Morrisette or a (gasp!) Bryan Adams. Meanwhile,
worthy and wonderful acts like Hawksley Workman, Hayden, and
of course, Sloan, toil in near-anonymity here while enjoying
a great deal of success at home.
That said, with Action Pact, Sloan may have finally
made up for Bryan Adams and, at the same time, afforded themselves
a chance at stardom in the United States. Action Pact
is a streamlined slab of big-hair-and-bigger- choruses riff-rock;
it’s some of the band’s most focused work since they reached
their zenith with Navy Blues. They aren’t trying on
as many hats as they used to; instead, they’ve put to wax
their most cohesive collection of songs, sound- and intent-wise,
since their debut (1992’s Smeared), in large part thanks
to the direction of ace producer Tom Rothrock (Elliott Smith,
Beck). While the absence of any songwriting contributions
from drummer Andrew Scott is a surprising first for a Sloan
LP, Murphy, along with guitarists Jay Ferguson and Patrick
Pentland, admirably rounds up the slack.
That” is basically just a big-dumb-rock number, but its snide
backhand at some of Sloan’s more vanilla countrymen (“Take
your nickel back [get it?], I’m gunning for a dime”) is a
welcome dose of lyrical bile, however subtle, from a band
who so often have come off as lyrically vanilla. The Rickenbacker-fueled
“False Alarm” is one of Ferguson’s best yet, while the band
extend their Badfinger on “The Rest of My Life” and extol
the virtues of staying young on “Who Loves Life More?” Pentland’s
contributions are the real revelation here. His propulsive
“Hollow Head,” with its Lennon-worthy refrain (“All that you
know is love must grow or you will lose”) is one of the album’s
surefire winners, while “Backstabbin’” is a gnarly little
hip-shaker that would make Foreigner proud.
For the U.S. release of Action Pact—the album has been
out in Canada for the better part of a year—two bonus tracks
(“Step On It, Jean,” and “Will You Ever Love Me Again?”) have
been added. They’re not in any way essential, but they offer
further proof that the band are firing on all cylinders right
now. With a strong new album and high-profile summer tour
opening for Jet, Sloan might finally be within striking distance
of U.S. gold, whether they’re looking for it or not.
Silver White Light
Terry Reid is an example of the divide between art and commerce.
Success in one doesn’t necessarily lead to success in the
other. Hindsight can blur the fact that in the late ’60s,
Reid appeared to be poised for big things. The young Englishman
toured America with Cream and the Rolling Stones. In 1968
Jimmy Page invited him to become the singer in his new band,
but with his career primed for taking off, Reid declined,
recommending instead Robert Plant for what became Led Zeppelin.
Reid’s debut album appeared when he was 19. His second release
found him maturing as a writer and confidently mixing his
powerful vocals with quieter musical settings. That approach
found full flower on his third, River. Alas, his record
company didn’t know what to do with him or his record.
The same label that thankfully brought forth River
on CD last year has now released this heretofore unissued
live set, recorded at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970.
Fronting a band with David Lindley, bassist Lee Miles and
King Crimson’s Michael Giles as a last minute sub on the drums,
it captures a moment, but underscores the bad deals and missed
opportunities that dogged Reid’s every step. Not recorded
at the time for a release, it suffers from an unfocused mix
(the drums are severely sidelined) and a rough-and-tumble
sort of interplay that doesn’t always capture the focused
power of the corresponding studio versions. The band fares
best on the few numbers that were to appear on River.
A powerful singer, Reid is in fine form throughout, making
it apparent why he seemed headed to big things by anyone who
heard him. This disc makes for a fine chapter for those already
familiar, but for those needing an introduction, start with