Before the Poison
Continuing their run as one of the most dependable labels we have, Anti now brings us Before The Poison, the excellent new album from Marianne Faithfull. And Nick Cave. And PJ Harvey. And Damon Albarn. And Jon Brion.
But more on that in a minute. In addition to gravel-gargling icon Faithfull, Anti is also home to people like Merle Haggard, Solomon Burke, Tom Waits, Tricky, and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. No slouches among "em, but all of the above artists, despite their years, had experienced decline, whether in the quality of their backing music or the quality of their promotional backing.
The solution? RickRubin-ize them! Let them make records with their adoring musical progeny. Let them record whatever song it is that moves them, instead of angling for "singles." Let them be themselves, and trust that such honesty will transmit through the speakers.
Faithfull, of course, has lived a lot in the last 58 years, including dalliances with the Stones, movies, stage plays, and a long-term affair with heroin that almost killed her on more than one occasion. There's a lot of "herself" here, in other words. "There is a Ghost" finds Faithfull telling a lover (herself?) "When you remember who I am/Just call." On the title track she laments that "Before the poison/I'd lost my fear/maybe too happy/to even care/safe in my dreams/couldn't see the fall/coming on, coming from nowhere/my name to call." Delivered in her famous raspy drawl, the effect can be devastating; the pairing of flesh and blood positively enthralling.
If there's a fault with Before the Poison it's that every track instantly suggests who wrote the music. When writing this, I quizzed myself, and missed but one of the 10 cuts. Nick Cave's songs: theatrical, dark and brooding. Jon Brion's songs: wistful. PJ Harvey? Piss-ful. Damon Albarn: the one I missed.
Do not miss Before The Poison, however. Its toxicity is a clean high that'll take weeks to get out of your system.
Track to Burn: "No Child of Mine"--Timothy C. Davis
Welcome to Brazzaville
Web of Mimicry
A "debut" of sorts, this surprising collection on ex-Mr. Bungle guitarist Trey Spruance's label is culled from three independently released records spanning the undeservedly obscure seven-year career of Brazzaville.
In fact, the vast majority of these 15 songs reinforce every awful stereotype regarding the music industry's cluelessness; even if Brazzaville's music doesn't personally appeal, it's too well done to have been label-less. The songs of lead singer/songwriter David Brown combine the self-possessed savoir-faire of Mark Sandman, the noir-ish side of Tom Waits (minus the gruff vocals), and a Latin music under-pinning (think Mark Ribot Y Los Cubanos Postizos) that holds up well throughout.
Subtle accents from guitars, pianos, brass and the occasional synth weave gracefully through the Latin beats, but the main seduction comes from Brown's evocative vocals and lyrics, which create a heated atmosphere where love is a fever that renders the sufferer powerless.
There are moments that don't work, almost exclusively from the quartet's sophomore release, 2000's Somnambulista, which opted for a straight-ahead rock sound. But the songs from 2002's Rouge on Pockmarked Cheeks suggest that Brazzaville returned to its international strengths. Maybe now more folks will notice.
Track to Burn: "Foreign Disaster Days"--John Schacht
Three Imaginary Boys
"It's never enough," sang the Cure's Robert Smith, mantra-like, on 1990's Mixed Up disc. The reissue of 1979's Three Imaginary Men, the band's British debut and the first of Rhino's planned upgrades for the entire Cure catalog, is both impressive and excessive -- excluding those Cure fans for whom there is, truly, never enough.
The original release is memorable for its punk sound. Rather than the black-clad moroseness of Disintegration or hit-happy Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, these songs are informed by a palpable paranoia, a nerve-wracking jitteriness redolent of rundown squats, cheap drugs, too much lager and Margaret Thatcher's grayer-than-normal England.
The second disc features 20 rarities from 77-79, most of them worthy inclusions, including "Boys Don't Cry" and "Jumping Someone Else's Train," outtakes that became the centerpiece of their US debut -- Boys Don't Cry -- a year later. The four live tracks (including a gratuitous fourth version of "10:15 Saturday Night") are the weak link, mostly due to their awful sound.
Still, even casual Cure fans can enjoy this, and any band that's been around for almost three decades is going to have their share of diehards. For them, never enough is just like heaven.
Track to Burn: "I Want to Be Old"--John Schacht