A bittersweet debut album from 1988.
Articles Origin: I’ll make an impression they can’t forget.
Recently had a request for this one. It was originally hosted on another blog, but my understanding is that the link is long dead. At any rate, this isn’t the first Pop Art product I’ve shared before. I’m still hosting the records that sandwich this one, namely a self-titled ep and their second full length, Long Walk to Nowhere. A Perfect Metal Picture might be their best, filled with wall to wall Anglophile pop homage – only Pop Art hailed from L.A….and had fake Brit accents. This will be pleasant surprise for those of you who are craving the second coming of Aztec Camera, or Postcard Records type bands. Enjoy (or not)
02. The Party
03. The Meeting
04. October Wind
05. Wanted Man
07. Walrus of Love
08. Trapped in a Fire
10. Four Long Days
11. Sunshine Club
12. Anxious Call
13. The Porch
14. In Between
Articles Origin: Pop Art – A Perfect Mental Picture (1985, Stonegarden)
So much has been written and anthologized about Chris Bell that I’m bound to sound redundant regardless of what length I limit myself to, so maybe I’ll keep this on the brief side. For the uninitiated Bell was a Memphis songwriter/musician who made his mark in the local scene in the late ’60s via little known collaborations Icewater and Rock City. By 1971 he hooked up with ex-Box Top Alex Chilton who along with Andy Hummel and Jody Stephens formed the heralded proto-power pop quartet Big Star. Bell factored in prominently on Big Star’s debut, #1 Record, with a co-songwriting roll alongside Chilton, significantly contributing to the overarching tenor of the album, featuring the aching but strenuous “Feel” and the feel-good “In the Street.” Departing the band acrimoniously in 1972, Bell spent the next six years of his life making a name for himself in his own right with little to show for it, – that is while he was still alive. He passed away in late 1978 in a car accident, leaving an unreleased album’s worth of material on the reel. Big Star’s legend posthumously grew in stature in the 1980s and beyond, and with it a series of reissues saw the light of day in 1992, among them Chris Bell’s solo recordings, compiled under the title I Am the Cosmos. This month Omnivore Records have issued an expanded version of the album, along with a vinyl box set featuring his entire solo recorded output and pre-Big Star endeavors.
If Bell’s contributions to the first Big Star album gave us a peephole view into his soul, I Am the Cosmos offers a vast window into the human condition. The title track (released as a single during his lifetime) is a forlorn and wrenching romantic lament revealing the extent of his conflicted psyche. The opposite side of that 45, “You and Your Sister” cuts the tension, but exudes no shortage of Bell laying it all out on the line for a woman who has misgivings about him. “Fight at the Table” is a fun piano driven rocker that shows his capabilities in less angstier realms, while the born-again “Better Save Yourself” makes it’s point without getting preachy. And would you believe I’ve only touched on one third of the album? There’s no doubt that Bell struggle with depression and his inability to further his career in his lifetime factored into the overarching themes on Cosmos, themes that would in fact be adopted by generations of jaded listeners.
You’d be forgiven if you have “reissue fatigue” in regards to I Am the Cosmos. After all, this double disk reissue follows up yet another two CD reassessment of the album, specifically the Rhino Records edition from less than ten years ago. Omnivore’s expansion actually cleaves off a handful of Icewater and Rock City tracks, which in fairness were recently moved over to the Chris Bell pre-Big Star collection, Looking Forward. So what are we getting in exchange? Essentially more of what we love, in the form of copious alternate takes, mixes and backing tracks of the precious few original songs Bell left us. All of the extras might be getting to far in the weeds for more casual fans, but then again, are there really any “casual” Chris Bell fans? See for yourself, straight from Omnivore or Amazon.
Just for the record, in the post-Replacements sweepstakes let it be known that Tommy Stinson’s Bash & Pop debut Friday Night is Killing Me beat Paul Westerberg’s premiere solo juncture 14 Songs to the clock by a good half a year in 1993. I suppose if you want to get really technical, Paul had his two songs on the Singles soundtrack a year prior, and of course their was original Mats drummer Chris Mars who released his first solo disk, Horseshoes and Hand Grenades in 1992, but I digress. All competitiveness aside, The newly reissued and vastly expanded Friday Night.. floored virtually anyone who encountered it. Thing is, this record had a lot going against it at the time – veritably overshadowed in an era of high-stakes grunge, metal and the emerging Brit-pop movement. Secondly, despite his reputation as founding member of the Replacements, he was after all the bassist and a minimally contributing songwriter.
In essence, the prospect of a Tommy Stinson spinoff project didn’t quite garner or match the anticipation of Westerberg’s 14 Songs. Luckily, Tommy had connections to ex-Mats fill-in drummer Steve Foley and Wire Train’s Jeff Trott who not only helped flesh out the ranks, but infused Friday Night with a ferociousness that could rival the latter-era Mats’ live setup. Comparisons to his former meal ticket are inevitable (and I’ll even broach one of my own in a minute), but to my ears it sounds like Tommy had profoundly studied Keith Richards 1988 solo outing Talk is Cheap. In terms of further inspiration antecedents, Stephen Thomas Erlewine’s All Music critique of Bash & Pop entails multiple references to the Faces. A more than valid argument, but much akin to Richards/Stones and the Faces, B&P plays their hand rambunctiously as-all-get-out yet never quite careens off the rails. It takes a certain acumen to balance rough hewn with roughshod, and Stinson and Co. possess just the right skill set to put this kind of magic off. Friday Night is chockablock with rollicking, seemingly tossed-off wonders like “Hang Ups” and “Fast and Hard,” the latter with Paul Westerberg on backing vox. Elsewhere, “One More Time” might have slotted in on the Mat’s Pleased to Meet Me, and the boys strike a more consoling tone on the tamer “Nothing” and “First Steps.”
Between Tommy’s next endeavor, Perfect, a decade-plus stint with a reconstituted Guns N’ Roses, and even a Replacements reunion, it would be another 24 years for Bash & Pop to belly up to the bar with a follow-up (check out this year’s Anything Could Happen). Regardless of the prolonged layover, Friday Night stood as a testament to Stinson’s capabilities as a frontman and song scribe, and remarkably stands up over twenty years later. Omnivore Record’s reissue of the album in question is duly remastered, but the gravy is an 18-song bonus disc that commences with a quartet of solo home demos. These lead into a handful of studio outtakes, some only appearing on hard to find promotional 45s. The majority of the remaining tracks are a bevy of alternate takes, many none-too-discernible from the album versions, though an extra-strummy spin of “Tiny Pieces” stands out. You can buy the whole enchalada straight from Omnivore, Amazon, and hopefully a local brick and mortar record dive near you.
It’s amazing that a relatively “minor” piece of music recorded almost three decades ago made the kind of effect on me this tape did a couple of days ago when I went to play it for the first time. I think I received Our American Cousins demo a few years back in a bundle of cassettes I purchased on Ebay. I went into this with little to no expectations. To my surprise I was treated to a quartet of dazzling mid-fidelity pop tunes from a New Jersey coed troupe who by the sounds of things had their collective gaze fixed upon the Brit indie pop scene of the late ’80s. You know – early Primal Scream, maybe some June Brides, a whiff or two of those early Ride eps. Dabblings into shoegazer and even punk-pop make themselves faintly evident as well. Top it all off with a hint of grainy sonic mystique, and by Jove, we may have picked a winner. Per their Discogs tally, OAC released a bundle of singles, but alas, no full length. The opening cut, “One Wish Too Many” has a pesky audio dropout at around the one minute mark, but it looks like the tune materialized on one of their 45s. As of 2014 it looks like the group reunited.
01. One Wish Too Many
02. Come On, Come On
03. Ice 9
Articles Origin: Our American Cousins – demo (1990)
More Massachusetts tuneage for you, only these lads weren’t from Boston, rather a little further west in Northampton. What few references that exist online regarding The Elevators invariably attach the new wave tag to this quintet, but power pop is more applicable. Adopting the more gimmicky attributes of The Cars and Cheap Trick, it’s pretty clear a few songs into Frontline that the Elevators are not cut from austere cloth. There’s something cheeky afoot on this record, but a more ironic angle would have made this one stick out a little more. Lines like “Love is like wearing a rayon shirt/making me itch and making me sweat” are about as deep as these folks get. Frontline doesn’t offer much in the way of knockouts, but fortunately it’s a record that will capably stimulate fans of Tommy Tutone, The A’s and the Clocks.
02. Girlfriend’s Girlfriend
03. Stop the World
04. Stickball Kids
05. Lie Detector
06. Don’t Let me Die
07. Tropical Fish
11. On the Wire
Articles Origin: The Elevators – Frontline (1980)