Great Album Retro Review: Great Divide By Semisonic

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Lest you think my musical tastes never advanced past the 1980s, I have a great album from 1996 to discuss. It’s the first full length album by Minneapolis band Semisonic. Formed from the ashes of another influential band from that fabled city of the Upper Midwest, Trip Shakespearse; Semisonic carried on the psychedelic ’60s influenced sound of Trip Shakespeare while giving it a more polished, heavier guitar feel.

The songs of Great Divide are catchy with the warm and welcoming vocals of lead singer and guitarist Dan Wilson. There’s sensuality mixed with bombast on this album. Romantic and grand. The swirling and layered guitars are occasionally accompanied by sound affects to add texture. It’s a pleasure to listen to this one.

The Tracks:

F.N.T. – Standing for Fascinating New Thing, F.N.T. starts of with a great guitar riff and kicks the album off right. It’s a song about that strong attraction one can feel for someone new. It’s an exciting feeling. But the song also take the long view in that this “new thing” will still be fascinating even when no longer new.

If I Run – This is a great road song. It about a guy who feels the need to drive on. It will be alright if he could just leave it all behind. All, that is, except that one person.

Delicious – Seems like this is a bit of a sex song. Dan Wilson’s vocal take on a sensuous nature as he describes the desire he’s feeling for that certain someone. Kinda sexy.

Down In Flames – This song shows that bombastic side of the band. It’s big. It’s grand. It’s pretty good. Starts slow and small, but builds quickly.

Across The Great Divide – Sort of the title track, this is my favorite song on the album. Another love song. This one is about devotion to a loved one despite the distance separating them. It seems autobiographical as Wilson sings of heading far off to a place and a life unknown to him to record this song.

Temptation – Wilson adopts a falsetto for this song about desiring someone that maybe he shouldn’t, but the temptation is too great.

The Prize – Another big song. More bombast. Some nice call and response vocals between Wilson and bassist John Munson. A little plodding in its pace. This is a rerecorded version of a song that appeared on the band’s 1995 EP – Pleasure.

No One Else – Another love song on an album loaded with love songs. This one is low key and quietly played. It’s as if it’s being sung to a lover in bed after a romantic encounter. A bit of pillow talk.

Brand New Baby – Another rerecording of a track from Pleasure, this song is about the brave face one puts on when their ex has a new love interest. They said they wanted their freedom, to be on their own, but there they are with someone else. Hey, that’s great. Good for you. Just keep smiling. Keep smiling.

Falling – Love again. This time the object of Wilson’s desire seems to want to keep things at arm’s length, but something’s brewing. I like the use of the amusement park ride as a metaphor for falling in love.

In Another Life – John Munson takes the lead vocal for this quiet, thoughtful track about a broken relationship that is beyond repairing. Too much time has past. The damage is done. Move on.

I Feel For You – The quietest track on the album closes it out. Guitars, bass, and plenty of whirling and swirling sounds work their way around your head. It’s a trippy lullaby.

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.

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Great Album Retro Review: The Blurred Crusade By The Church

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One of my favorite bands from the 1980s produced this, one of my all-time favorite albums. The album is The Blurred Crusade, released in 1982, and it was recorded by Australia’s guitar-based alt-rock band The Church. It was their second album.

There’s an adage in the music industry that asserts artists have a lifetime to write their first album, but then only a year or two to write their second. The adage is meant to explain why the sophomore efforts of so many recording artists seem to drop off in quality from their freshman work. The adage may have some merit, but not in this case.

The Blurred Crusade is a brilliant album that improves on the band’s first release, Of Skins And Hearts (1981). This album is more focused and cohesive. It’s also more of a full band effort than their first album, which was more influenced by lead singer/bassist/songwriter Steve Kilbey. The guitar work of Peter Koppes and Marty Wilson-Piper is fantastic and flows so well together. And it’s jangly guitar. I love jangly guitar!

This is one of those albums that is best listened to from beginning to end. I strongly suggest that’s how you experience it.

The Tracks:

Almost With You – Holy smokes! What an outstanding opening track. If I were asked to suggest which song of The Church’s early career best defines their sound, this would be the one. Great guitar interplay, great pace, Kilbey’s deep voice, with plenty of that ethereal feel for which the band was (and still is) known. It’s my favorite track.

When You Were Mine – There’s that big 80s drum sound going on throughout the album and it’s quite noticeable here in Richard Ploog’s drumming. This is one of their rockers!

Field Of Mars – Wilson-Piper takes lead vocal on this trippy, ethereal track. I’m not sure what the lyrics mean, but so what? Most of The Church’s songs are more about the feel of the lyrics than the literal meaning. I’m sure there’s some meaning in here, but why ask why?

An Interlude – Written by the entire band, we once again get plenty of jangly guitars and trippy, albeit few, lyrics as the song builds in intensity, backs off, and builds again. The intermittent use of the hushed female vocals is a nice touch on this mostly instrumental track.

Secret Corners – A brief track that is a nice little breather to cap off the first half of the album.

Just For You – This track opens with a little theatrics. Kilbey is heard strumming away on an acoustic guitar and humming when he is interrupted by a knock on the door. He responds to the knock and opens the door to the beginning of this song. It’s a great love song, but there’s a better one yet to come.

A Fire Burns – Some good buzz to the jangly guitar on this track. Good riff.

To Be In Your Eyes – This is the better love song I was referring to earlier. It’s really good. “I want the person inside me to be someone I’d recognize, if he was in your eyes…” Nice line.

You Took – An epic track that takes the listener on quite a musical journey. Slowly building at first, but then it rocks threw most of its eight minutes, it culminates with the lyric that became the album’s title. This was always a show-stopper when played in their live sets.

Don’t Look Back – A gentle, mostly acoustic, track to wrap up such an excellent album.

Packing Peanuts!

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.

Great Album Retro Review: This Ain’t No Outerspace Ship By Love Tractor

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I’m going a little hipster here by looking at an album by one of the lesser known bands to come out of Athens, GA in the ’80s. Also, as this series continues, you will probably notice quite a few of my picks are from the ’80s. What can I say? I guess I’m stuck.

It was 1987 and my friend John, who was my cohort in the discovery of music that matters, not that crappy pop and hair metal getting all the radio airtime, found out about this band. They’re called Love Tractor. I hadn’t hear of them before John discovered this their fifth album: This Ain’t No Outerspace Ship.

I have to admit, I don’t know much of anything about their other musical output. I will try to remedy that, but I just love this album.

If you need an example of lilting guitars, this is it! Along with the lilting guitars is plenty of excellent melodies and hooks. This album just feels so good.

The tracks:

Cartoon Kiddies – This is my second favorite track on the album which is an ode to TV cartoons, most particularly Top Cat. Now, Top Cat wasn’t one of my favorites, but this song is a great kick off

Small Town – There’s just something about Mark Richmond’s vocals. There’s an ease to them as well as just the merest hint of snarl. Nothing threatening though. And his frequent forays into falsetto really work for me.

Chili Part Two – This song is more of an instrumental, which touches on the band’s roots as they started out an instrumental band, with a few bits of lyrics thrown in. And I find it so effective when the lyrics come rolling in – “Heeeeeere cooomes that feeeeliiing agaaaaiiin!”

Night Club Scene – The lilting guitars glide over the big ’80s drumbeat as this song opens. It’s a slower song that contains the line that gives the album its title. What does the song mean? I dunno.

Outside With Ma – For me, this is the weakest track on the album. That’s not to say it’s a bad song. It has a darker feel than the rest of the album. It also has a funky feel, which doesn’t quite work.

Rudolf Nureyev – Returning to their roots, this is the album’s first of two fully instrumental tracks. Plenty of lilt and I can almost see the dancer after whom it is named dancing gracefully along.

Beatle BootsHands down, my favorite song on the album! It just feels so good. It’s got a great ’80s dance vibe. The lyrics speak of an emotionally complicated woman who is both a hero and a mess. I love this song!

Amusement Park – This song sounds like Summer. It’s about hanging out and seeking thrills. “Meet me here. Meet me there.” Let’s go downtown, to the record store, and, of course, to that amusement park.

Party Train – A fun, rockin’ yet still funky cover of The Gap Band hit. Love Tractor makes it their own. And it’s pretty good.

We All Loved Each Other So Much – On the original vinyl release, this was the last track of the album. It was also the second fully instrumental track. It’s a quiet contemplative tune and, at just over seven minutes, the longest track on the album. Lilting to the very end.

Got To Give It Up – This bonus track is another funky cover song. This time the band covers the great dance party track by Marvin Gaye. Lots of falsetto and lots of fun. It’s a nice bonus.

Wanna give it a listen? Of course, you do! It’s available on iTunes and Spotify. Check it out!

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If it was Tuesday, I must have been at Club Degenerate. Part two.

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It would be Tuesday night, just after 9:00, I would be waiting in the front room of my parents’ house, watching for John to pull up. Almost like clockwork (he didn’t always arrive at the exact same time) there he was and out the door I went. No honk. No call beforehand. It was just that routine. If one of us couldn’t make it, then there would be a phone call. But we didn’t miss more than a couple Tuesday nights at the legendary Minneapolis nightclub: First Avenue & the 7th Street Entry.

That’s how it was for John and me every Tuesday night beginning in the mid 80s. It was something we felt we were required to do. We just had to get to Club Degenerate.

As I explained last week, Club Degenerate was a night of alternative music, cool videos, and some unusual performance art pieces. But mainly John and I were there to dance to music we liked, not that crap the rubes in the St. Paul “nightclubs” shuffled around to in those days. (Paradise By The Dashboard Light?! Seriously! They would attempt to dance to that dreck.) Besides, the reception of two dudes dancing without chicks in those clubs would not have been very good. But at First Avenue we had that freedom. And, as I said, the music way more betterer. Meatloaf was never played at Club Degenerate!

DJ Kevin Cole would spin tunes from The Smiths, New Order, The Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen, Ministry, Nitzer Ebb, Siouxsie & the Banshees, The Jam, Love & Rockets, Bauhaus, Tones On Tail, Peter Murphy, Buzzcocks, Wire, Sex Pistols, Joy Division, The Pale Fountains, Au Pairs, Killing Joke. As well as local favorites Husker Du, Rifle Sport, The Suburbs, The Replacements. I could go on (goon?) but you get the idea.

When Cole wasn’t playing music videos on the big screens in front and beside the stage, he would have visuals from cult films such as Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and the very bizarre Forbidden Zone featuring a very young Danny Elfman. There would also be obscure old black and white cartoons. It all combined for some pretty entertaining alternative entertainment.

But there was more!

Each Tuesday night, in the 7th Street Entry, there would be half a dozen bands participating in Battle of the Bands. That was a showcase for local bands that were playing First Avenue for their first time. There was no crossover charge, so if things felt as though they were waning in the main room, we’d head into the Entry to see if anyone good was giving it a go.

Two bands stand out in my memory from that free showcase. One was Breaking Circus a tough, angry, post punk Minneapolis band via Chicago. Founded and lead by Steve Bjorklund, Breaking Circus put on a great show, even if they did scare us a little bit. The other band never scared us. They were Trip Shakespeare. I can still picture the three piece band (they would later expand to four members when band leader Matt Wilson’s brother Dan joined) each wearing grey suits and looking like they were having a great time. The tunes they played were damned catchy.

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And Club Degenerate consistently had some of the coolest flyers I’ve ever seen. A fellow named Ron Clark appears to have been the designer of them. I wish I had saved all of them. Not just for the art, but on the back would be the monthly schedule of the musical acts that were flowing through First Avenue’s main room and the Entry. Those would have been important historical documents, but did we save them? Noooo. We made paper airplanes out of them to sail across the dance floor. Oh, well. We just weren’t thinking, I guess.

There is a website that features a few of them. Click here to take a look.

It didn’t take long for John and me to feel like we owned the place. We had our spot at the stage end of the dance floor (stage left). And we’d look disapprovingly at the “tourists” dancing so normally together. “Hey! There’s places in St. Paul for you guys!”

I took to skanking around the dance floor, full or not, when the mood hit. And it hit often. I could get moving pretty impressively around that floor, if I say so myself. I would purposefully dash between a dancing couple, just because.

I’ve been told that a photograph exists of John and me skanking and appearing to converge on some “normal” people. I’m told it’s a great picture, but I’ve never seen it. If only I could find it, but I’ve no idea where to look.

There was one occasion, early in the evening, the dancing mood had not hit most the people in the club yet, so the floor was virtually unoccupied. Well, there were two people on it.  I was skanking gracefully along, but I was getting annoyed at the other person on the floor: A “tourist” who dared to be walking on his hands across my dance floor!

Well, this could not be tolerated. I kept on skanking and made my way over to the inverted fellow and just subtly leaned into him as I swept by, knocking him to the floor. He was immediately on his feet and moving along the floor with me. Just inches from my face. I never broke stride as I put on my most innocent face and gave him a look that said, “What?!”

He took no further action. Whew.

Time moved on and Club Degenerate morphed into Club 2 4 1 and eventually First Avenue gave up DJ nights in the main room altogether.

Boy! How I do miss those days!

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