World Psychedelic Classics 3: Love's a Real Thing
Through most of the '60s, popular music in urban West Africa was more governed by Western styles and tastes than indigenous sounds. That began to change in the early 1970s, when a legion of maverick artists started actively seeking ways to graft in roots flavors. This prompted a period early in the decade that saw a flowering of various bold fusion sounds emanating from places like Nigeria, Ghana, Mali, Senegal, Guinea, Benin and other countries in the region. Love's a Real Thing gathers a dozen vital and obscure songs from this period. The styles cut a broad swath. The 1972 title track, by Gambia's Super Eagles, is the most rock-oriented of the comp, with chunky guitar, Farfisa organ and a hook reminiscent of The Chambers Brothers. Most of the other songs are far more Africanized, be it the long, hypnotic "Porry" by Mali's Sorry Bamba (with its watery keyboard part that would make a perfect hip-hop sample) or the proto-juju of "Ifa" by Tunji Oyelana and the Benders, a heady convergence of naked percussion, voice and saxophone. All the traditional hallmarks of African pop emerge in the set: undulating, layered percussion; interlocking guitars and keyboards; call-and-response vocals, rugged sax and more. A sense of outlaw discovery practically sweats from this CD.
Track to burn: "Porry"
Pretty in Black
On Pretty in Black, The Raveonettes — Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo — strip away the squealing reverb and punk influences of their debut. There's still gobs of atmosphere, though. Producer Richard Gottehrer (Blondie, the Go-Go's), brings an early-1960s vibe to the proceedings. Calling in Velvet Underground drummer Moe Tucker, Suicide man Martin Rev and Ronnie "Be My Baby" Spector for guest appearances adds further hipster cred to The Raveonettes' out-of-time groove. The Kinks-style guitar solo on "Love in a Trashcan" throws a manic British invasion influence into the eclectic mix. Spaghetti Western guitars and a sensually icy undertow that would make Nico proud fuel tunes such as "Somewhere in Texas." A cover of the Angels' proto-punkette anthem "My Boyfriend's Back" completes the scene.
Track to burn: "Here Comes Mary"
THE HOLD STEADY
Eminent philosopher David Lee Roth once noted that music critics fell in love with Elvis Costello because he looked like a music critic. (Perhaps it was a segue into "Hot for Teacher.") Following said logic, the magazine types and Village Voicers now fawning over The Hold Steady have been seduced by a singer who sings like, well, a music critic.
Separation Sunday offers a third-rate version of the E. Street Band backing a singer who sounds like a nasal combination of Lemmy from Motorhead and the Boss on a bender. Lead man Craig Finn offers a speak-and-shout style that becomes annoying within, oh, half a song. The lyrics are an amalgam of pseudo-Catholic insight and God-awful puns ("Stevie Nix"). But any rock band can get past bad lyrics if it has a legitimate singer. (Exhibit A: "Hot for Teacher.") Finn's vocal deficiency, combined with a lack of charisma, forces you to fixate all the more on his too-clever irony. If someone recommends shelling out hard-earned cash on Sunday, Stevie nix the idea as fast as possible.
Track to burn: "How a Resurrection Really Feels"
Better Youth Organization
With a clear mission statement - "We're brown, down and coming to your town" - this crew of Southern California Chicanos has, in the past, skewered classic punk album titles (their version of The Clash's London Calling is Tijuana Calling; The Descendents' Milo Goes to College becomes Mijo Goes to Jr. College); classic punk film titles (The Decline of Western Civilization is The Recline of Mexican Civilization) and Ricky Martin's old pop group (Manic Hispanic's first album was The Menudo Incident). On Grupo Sexo, (a play on the Circle Jerks' Group Sex), the Manics gleefully piss all over 11 more punk songs, offering goofy, Spanglish versions of The Ramones' "Havana Affair" ("Tijuana Affair"), The Descendents' "I'm Not a Loser" ("I'm Just a Cholo"), The Vibrators' "Baby, Baby, Baby" ("Lupe, Lupe, Lupe") and more. The band's hilarious shot at Minor Threat-style straight-edge, "Out of Step (with la Raza)," bemoans embarrassing non-Cholo behavior: "Don't cruise, don't trip, don't bet, and on weekends I play golf." You could write off Manic Hispanic as stupid novelty, but then you'd have your head up your ass. I prefer inspired parody.
Track to burn: "Tijuana Affair"