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Looking For Quacks In The Pavement

Month: February 2018

3WA 2018 #7: Public Service Broadcasting – The Race For Space

“Well space is there, and we’re going to climb it.”

What is it?

The Race For Space is Public Service Broadcasting’s second full album release, part of a sequence of records centered on a specific arc of historical events. Over the course of nine songs they hit a number of both high and low points along the path of what’s now called “the space race.”

How does it sound?

Everyone’s tuning in to the bleep bleep of the sampler mix:

Why this pick?

When it comes right down to it, I picked this one because “Gagarin” and “Go!” are the best possible introductions to what this band is about: Great musical grooves and audio clips from archival film footage married together in an unexpected but often entertaining way. Their first full album is titled Inform-Educate-Entertain and they do, in fact, deliver on that mandate here.

Basically, if you like this one? Lucky you! There’s the previous album, there’s the superb War Room EP, and there’s the latest album, Every Valley.

Which songs are the highlights?

“Gagarin” gets you grooving and takes up residence in your head for days afterward. “Go!” is almost as upbeat, though part of what makes it compelling is that it’s basically about the Apollo 11 landing itself. I can’t help but get caught up in that moment, every time. “E.V.A.” is nearly as groove-inducing as “Gagarin,” and “The Other Side” is another nice piece, mellower than the others but still plenty enjoyable.

Which songs don’t work so well?

It seems unfair to say that the title track doesn’t work, as it’s really just the JFK “we choose to go to the moon” speech with some backing music meant to serve as a short lead-in to the album proper. And then there’s “Fire in the Cockpit,” which is a somber piece for a tragic moment in the history of space flight. Neither is bad, but you probably won’t cue them up very often either.

“Valentina” is… nice, I guess? Not my speed or style, really.

Which album did you almost pick in favor of this one?

The clear runner-up is the War Room EP: Four nearly perfect songs followed by one short unmemorable piece. I recommend it most highly if you dig anything you hear from The Race For Space. Heck, though, if you dig this record you should just buy all the rest of their stuff anyway.

Any final thoughts?

I’m amused that one of my longest-running favorite bands and one of my newest favorites share an acronym. It means, among other things, that I can make an “hour of PSB” smart playlist in MediaMonkey and get good songs by two different musicians.

I considered putting this back to back with Fundamental to make a brief PSB-a-thon, but decided against it. There will be plenty enough opportunities for shenanigans later this year…

3WA 2018 #6: David Bowie – Black Tie White Noise

While I’m indulging my underdog-cheering side, let’s take a look at an underappreciated album by one of pop music’s late greats.

What is it?

Black Tie White Noise is David Bowie’s 1993 record and his first step on the return journey toward a steady solo recording career after the Tin Machine project wound down. Technically it’s twelve songs long but most available renditions come with two or more bonus tracks.

How does it sound?

Loading in the sampler, cranking up the mix track:

Why this pick?

Anyone who’s heard me talk about my affection for the Tin Machine records might be surprised I didn’t go for one of them instead, particularly that loud and angry first release. I thought about it, yes indeed!

I picked BTWN instead because it does have some very good songs on it, and because it’s an interesting snapshot of an artist in the throes of figuring out what to do after hitting the big time, recoiling from it, and deciding he wants something else from his career, just not that.

Which songs are the highlights?

The released single, “Jump They Say,” definitely qualifies. It’s a strong pop song but not quite like the “Let’s Dance” type of piece from the ’80s. Following it on the album are a nice cover song (“Nite Flights”) and the odd but compelling “Pallas Athena.”

Turns out, “You’ve Been Around” is what’s left of a holdover from the Tin Machine sessions. No wonder I dig it. “Looking For Lester” seems like a song that might’ve had lyrics if Bowie had gotten around to it. It’s just as well he didn’t, as it makes for a groovy little instrumental piece. Oddly enough, while the lead-off track “The Wedding” didn’t work for me, the almost identical backing track works better with lyrics when it becomes “The Wedding Song” to close out the album proper.

If you get a version of the album which includes it, “Lucy Can’t Dance” is a great little number.

Which songs don’t work so well?

“The Wedding” is five minutes of lyrics-free saxophone-led noodling. The man had just gotten married, I guess he’s allowed this indulgence. Also along the newlywed-bliss thread we get “Miracle Goodnight,” which isn’t bad really, it’s just… there.

His cover of Cream’s “I Feel Free” feels the most like something from the Let’s Dance days, and unfortunately that isn’t in its favor. “Don’t Let Me Down & Down” is the most ’90s-sounding song on the album, and not in a good way. Knowing that “I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday” is a Morrissey song explains so, so much about why I can’t stand it.

The song which works the most poorly out of the whole project, though, is the one with its name on the cover. At first listen “Black Tie White Noise” sounds nicely, if naively, optimistic about the state and future of race relations in Western culture. The closer attention you pay to the lyrics, however, especially from the perspective of the late twenty-teens? The more cringe-inducing it really becomes. It’s very… rich-white-guy trying to make nice. One feels uncomfortable criticizing the song too much because hey, he’d just married the supermodel Iman, but… hmm. Let’s call it “problematic” and leave it at that, I suppose.

Which album did you almost pick in favor of this one?

As noted above, I nearly went with the first Tin Machine album. I love that angry mess of rock-n-roll, I truly do.

Were I to stick with strictly Bowie, though, I’d probably go for Ziggy Stardust. Let’s be honest, though: That’s too obvious a choice. But I don’t have a lot of other options. He may have made better albums from here on out. They may have featured better individual songs here and there. I just never connected with any of the later albums as a whole. I’m a product of the 1980s, musically speaking, and for some reason where Bowie went from here I wasn’t quite able to follow.

I admire the hell out of the guy, I’m just not the best fan to represent his work. Here I am anyway, pushing for a listen to an album that most fans seem to dismiss. I’m just that kind of weirdo.

Any final thoughts?

OK, let’s be honest: This is a stupendously uneven record. Less than half the songs are four-star or better. Some of them are completely off-putting to me. The title track is simultaneously a nice, groovy tune and a hot mess of lyrical concepts & conceits.

Still, there’s enough music on this album I really like that I don’t feel like I’m cheating to recommend you give it a listen. The songs I love here are very, very good. The songs I don’t love here at least include some interesting failures.

3WA 2018 #5: Wang Chung – Mosaic

Nineteen eighty six was a marvelous year. Genesis and Peter Gabriel individually released their biggest pop-culture hit records (Invisible Touch and So, respectively). Depeche Mode’s Black Celebration landed that year. Janet Jackson really arrived as an artist with Control. The Hagar-fronted version of Van Halen released 5150. Metallica gave us the Master of Puppets. Local Portland popsters Nu Shooz released their kind-of-a-hit record, Poolside. This was the year of Queen’s A Kind Of Magic. There’s the only Emerson, Lake & Powell album and the only album released by the erstwhile supergroup, GTR. Paul Simon’s Graceland. Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet. Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors. Beastie Boys’ Licensed To Ill. Duran Duran’s Notorious.

That’s not even nearly anything approaching a complete list. Great Ceasar’s ghost, there’s a lot to like about 1986.

Yet here we are, with this record. Why?

What is it?

Mosaic is Wang Chung’s 1986 album release, weighing in at eight tracks long, four to a side.

How does it sound?

Like everybody having fun tonight, that’s how:

Why this pick?

Choosing Mosaic fits the theme of the project because dammit, this is a largely joyful record. I know everyone hates “that Wang Chung song” but too bad, I still like it and almost the entire rest of the track listing is really solid material.

Choosing Mosaic also fits my personal quirk of rooting for the underdog a bit. Look at that list above. I could’ve picked nearly anything else from 1986’s line-up and people would think, “Ah, yes, a worthy choice.” You know what? So is this. Don’t hate it because you got tired of that one song.

Also, the final track (“The World In Which We Live”) is such an unexpectedly fierce and profane middle finger to Western culture in the 1980s that if the album only consisted of “Let’s Go,” “Everybody Have Fun Tonight,” and that closing song the album would have earned its place on any list of quality records of the decade.

Which songs are the highlights?

As pop songs, the hit singles “Let’s Go” and “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” are quite good, as high a quality of ’80s pop as you’re going to find anywhere. “Hypnotize Me” didn’t get as high up the charts but I like it almost as much as the others. I love “The Flat Horizon” and “Eyes of the Girl” the most, however, out of the songs on the album which aren’t “The World In Which We Live.”

Which songs don’t work so well?

“Betrayal” isn’t bad, but it’s a torch song so it loses my interest. “A Fool And His Money” is bad, and it’s a torch song.

So it’s a 25% failure rate at worst. That’s out of only eight songs, mind you. The album’s still worth your hard-earned money.

Which album did you almost pick in favor of this one?

Points on the Curve features Wang Chung’s first big hit, “Dance Hall Days,” and other nice tunes such as “Wait” and “Don’t Let Go.” The album ends with another decent piece, “Talk It Out.”

Any final thoughts?

The band seems to have petered out after this album. They kicked out a new one a few years ago, though. I haven’t worked up the enthusiasm to grab it and learn if they still have any of the old charm. Some day, maybe.

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