Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: The Church – Untitled #23

When it comes to music, the inevitable “who’s the greatest” question is an exercise in futility. Beatles or Stones, who cares? They’re both good. So are the Church. An equally strong case could be made that the legendary Australian art-rockers – now in their 29th year – are the greatest rock band of all time. Combining the jangly Rickenbacker guitar clang of the Byrds, the epic grandeur of Pink Floyd, the surreal weirdness of early 70s Bowie and a savagely visionary lyricism akin to Elvis Costello, the Church have released almost three dozen albums (the title of this one was chosen at random) and virtually all of them are worth owning. That’s a staggering achievement, and it surpasses both the Beatles’ and the Stones’ output. Think about that for a moment.

Their latest album, Untitled #23 is typical: enigmatic yet often crushingly straightforward, anthemic yet terse, swirling and psychedelic yet extremely hard-hitting in places. It’s also frontman Steve Kilbey‘s best lyrical effort since the band’s brilliant 1998 “comeback” album Hologram of Baal. Musically, the guitars come at you in waves, in layers, pulsing, roaring, clanging, tinkling, whooshing, each holding down its own peculiar spot in a dizzyingly vast sonic mosaic. It is often extraordinarily beautiful, often disquieting, even disorienting: headphones were made for albums like this. It’s probably the most dreampop-inflected cd the band has ever made, yet at the same time the tersest thing they’ve done this decade. Where does it rank in the pantheon of Church records? With the last three, certainly (the most recent being the towering, artsy Uninvited Like the Clouds, from 2007); otherwise, somewhere a notch below the power and majesty of 1991’s Priest = Aura or 1986’s Heyday, but both of those albums are acknowledged classics, simply two of the best ever.

Cobalt Blue, the opening track, is a masterpiece of guitar orchestration, echoey and otherworldly. The second track, a big rocker built on a catchy descending progression, is an obvious holdover from the days of the Bush regime: “Night comes down with all its implications, something pressing against your face,” Kilbey intones (he’s never sung better than he does here), “with the desert’s burning Bush.” Track three, Pangaea has a playfully vicious sarcasm and a soaring bassline that might belong to either Kilbey or guitarist Marty Willson-Piper – both excel on a four-string.

Happenstance is bitter and brooding:

When the hopeless nights of love have gone
And the spirits are still in the trees
And they’re running back to Albion
I should take some chance
Given Happenstance

On Angel Street paints a bleak tableau against a minimalistic, Stereolab-inflected backdrop, building to a towering, anthemic crescendo. With its catchy post-Velvets melody and surreal lyrics, Sunken Sun could pass for a standout track by the Oxygen Ponies. The most powerful song on the album, Anchorage, has an unleashed fury, Kilbey’s icy imagery possibly a mea culpa for a dissolute life (he’s been disarmingly frank about his own) or the caustic dismissal of someone else’s. The two concluding cuts share a warmly atmospheric vibe. What else is there to say: another masterpiece by maybe the greatest band of all time, and a solid contender for best album of 2009.

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August 16, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Concert Review: Pat Benatar and Blondie at Coney Island 8/13/09

What promised to be a gay old night of high camp turned out to be more like a trip to the supermarket: interminable lines of rude, obnoxious people, pleasantly cool temperatures, pretzels and drinks within easy reach and oldies radio songs playing over the PA. Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, every out-of-town scam luxury housing developer’s best pal, spent a rambling, senile hour and a half on and off the mic before the show, ass-kissing and giving shout-outs to every corporate type he could still recognize who’d showed up. Finally, he was assisted off so that big lesbian faves the Donnas could phone in a small handful of generic bubblegum metal songs.

Long Island’s very own fifty-four year old Pat Benatar was next. It took about three seconds before it was obvious that the poor woman’s voice is completely gone. Like a battered cassette tape from the eighties, she’d waver on and off pitch, then drop unexpectedly out of the mix, then come back in like one of Marge Simpson’s sisters attempting to do karaoke. At this point in Benatar’s career, lipsynching might not be such a bad idea. Meanwhile, her husband Neil Giraldo released his inner fantasy over and over again with an incessant barrage of garish, gratuitous heavy metal guitar licks. Like that Love Camp 7 song goes, he plays a million notes where one would do, and if it fits the song that’s ok too. Not many of them did. Benatar’s set allowed for plenty of time to find the local McDonalds and the urinal – woops, dumpster – adjacent to it. Forty-five minutes after she’d taken the stage, she was still struggling to stay in the mix, one cliched power ballad after another. Benatar is a gay icon – there at least used to be several YMCA’s worth of Chelsea boys who wanted to be her. Not many of them seemed to have made the trip. Perhaps they were on to something the rest of the crowd wasn’t.

Similarly, Deborah Harry has made a career of singing off-key for the better part of 35 years if you count her time in the Stillettos. Be that it what it may, when Blondie were at the top of their game, they were one of the world’s greatest powerpop bands and they were all that Thursday night. What they did was anything but camp. This version of the band sizzled and burned, layering nonchalantly stinging, distorted guitar and playfully oscillating synth over a steady, thumping backbeat. Now in her sixties, Harry carried herself with grace, even gravitas in places, holding back for when she had to go to the top of her range and when she really had to nail the note, she inevitably did. Benatar ought to find out who her vocal coach is. Because this band plays so many of the same songs over and over again, they way they keep them fresh is to reinvent them. Children of the Grave – woops, Call Me – bore a much closer resemblance to the Black Sabbath original that Georgio Moroder ripped off and glued to a disco beat for the soundtrack to the Richard Gere vehicle American Gigolo (anybody ever sit through that one all the way? Yikes!). The best song of the night was a stinging, slightly mariachi-esque version of Maria. The Tide Is High was no better than Johnny Clarke’s cloying  rocksteady original, but Rapture was reinvented as evilly slinky funk with a big guitar break and then a new rap at the end which only offerered further proof that hip-hop is not Harry’s thing. A couple newer numbers were starkly minor-key and equally compelling. After they’d burned through a pleasantly loud, swaying One Way or Another, they left the stage and then it was clear that  Benatar had overdone it in more ways than one, cutting into Blondie’s stage time. The second of the band’s two brief encores was a rocking, organ-driven take of Heart of Glass. If you’re contemplating seeing Blondie on tour this month or next, you won’t be disappointed – especially when they have another charismatic, platinum-tressed siren, Sarah Guild and her amazing band the New Collisions opening for them.

August 16, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Song of the Day 8/16/09

Back from the trip, lying low in the heat, more new stuff coming soon – in the meantime as we do every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Sunday’s song is #346:

Love – The Daily Planet

Arguably the best song on the classic psychedelic orchestrated rock album Forever Changes, 1967. Gorgeous janglerock melody and one of the most savagely dismissive, anti-conformist lyrics ever written. As much acid as Arthur Lee was doing at the time, he still managed to find a rare kind of lucidity. The link here is to a live version from late in Lee’s career.

August 16, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment