Tag Archives: Sgt. Pepper

Top Ten Albums of 2010 – #5

You have to have brass balls to release a double album in an era when the record industry is imploding upon itself. But psych-garage popsters The Grip Weeds decided to go all in with Strange Change Machine, and from the critical and popular response, it’s clear that they made the right decision.

Blessed with multiple singers and songwriters, the Grip Weeds have enjoyed a long career at the forefront of the modern pop movement. The sound from brothers Kurt and Rick Reil (on drums and guitar) with bassist Kristen Pinell and guitarist Michael Kelly is exponential thanks to all of the band members being multi-instrumentalists, but I must single out Kurt’s powerhouse drumming – he should be mentioned alongside Clem Burke and other greats. Many bands are just individuals orbiting each other; The Grip Weeds are truly a four-headed organism.

Based upon the title alone it should come as no surprise that several of the tracks on Strange Change Machine will teleport you to groovier times. “Coming and Going” and “Twister” are Sgt. Pepper-ish while “Don’t You Believe It” and “Truth Is Hard To Take” deserve to be pumping full blast out of jukeboxes and radios. “Close To The Sun” (my favorite) features harmonies that lift you up within the song, while “Be Here Now” is delicate and mesmerizingly melodic.

Although this is not a derivative effort, an artist whose name did pop into my head was Todd Rundgren, mostly for the overall feel and the complexity of the arrangements (“Speed Of Life” and the title track could be slid into a Utopia mix with good results). Ironically the album includes a straight-ahead cover of “Hello It’s Me”, which although well performed seemed an odd choice for mid-album placement. It broke the mood for me; perhaps it would have been better as a hidden bonus track?

Video: “Speed Of Life

I was fortunate enough to see them play two months ago at Pat DiNizio’s annual Halloween Bash; their set was heavily laced with the new cuts. I am pleased to report that these songs are just as dynamic in a live setting, reinforcing my decision that this is one of the best albums of the year and probably their most consistent effort. At twenty-four tracks long it’s not perfect, but the hits vastly outweigh the misses. And for great music contained on one album, the ranking should answer your question.

The album is deep, and repeated listenings only bring out more nuances. This is also one of the best engineered and produced albums I have heard in a long time – the clarity and presence is in audio Technicolor on everything from a car stereo to a full system. I recommend setting aside 80 minutes with a good pair of headphones for maximum bliss…and then repeat as necessary.

Listen to clips on Amazon

The Grip Weeds on MySpace

Outstanding in their field.

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Blast From The Past: Peter Frampton

Yeah, that’s right. I’m going to defend Frampton Comes Alive.

You need to look at art two ways – in the context of it’s time, and in the annals of history. As people’s tastes change, media becomes more sophisticated or societal norms morph into new behavior, but created art is static in its created period. In simpler words, some things are timeless; some are not. Not every album can be Blonde on Blonde. But being the right thing at the right time does have its value, whether you want to admit it or not.

Rockin’ The Fillmore, Humble Pie’s classic live album, was a fixture on my turntable and my radio show. And having watched Humble Pie grow from the ashes of The Small Faces (whose other offshoot, The Faces, are second only to The Kinks in my heart), I hated the split of Peter Frampton and Steve Marriott, although both survived and flourished afterwards.

Long before earbuds, enjoying albums was a much more organically communal experience. Suzie and I spent a lot of time together listening to records and going to concerts; we enjoyed each others’ company and our tastes seemed to align pretty closely. Being young and rootless, that translated into attending a lot of concerts and many long nights sharing our thoughts about favorite bands, songs and lyrics.

I don’t remember which of us dropped the needle on the solo Frampton album first, but Suzie and I were both on board pretty quickly. It wasn’t the lyrics – in fact some of the early solo songs sound pretty silly – but the mood of the albums was intoxicating, almost made for late night decompressing. There were gems galore – “Plain Shame”, “White Sugar”, “Doobie Wah”, “Money”, “Lines on My Face” – and he seemed as comfortable in an acoustic jam as he was making the Marshalls bleed.

He lit “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” on fire. He took a Stevie Wonder tune and reinvented it. We liked Winds of Change and Frampton’s Camel even more, but  I think Something’s Happening is the one that did it for us. “Magic Moon” and “Sail Away”, the two closing tracks, were that perfect combination of rock and trippy jam music that would encourage you to replay side two. And then the simply titled Frampton seemed to reinforce that the AOR steamroller was staring to pick up speed.

And then all hell broke loose with Frampton Comes Alive.

How the hell did our little secret suddenly create the biggest rock record of the year? Hell, how were there so many people who knew enough of the songs that they could recognize them in three notes and then sing along? We didn’t have Twitter or email; we thought we were alone in our devotion. First radio played this record…constantly. And then more. And then even more. Until even those of us who liked it didn’t want to hear it ever again.

But it’s time to forgive.

Sorry, but there are great songs here. “It’s A Plain Shame” and “Something’s Happening” explode, re-arranged for a huge stage presentation (as were most of the tracks). “All I Want To Be Is By Your Side” and “Winds of Change” were even stronger and rocked harder. Even “Baby I Love Your Way” milked an irresistable hook and an island flavor. “Penny For Your Thoughts” is a spirited acoustic instrumental workout. And yes, even though it’s hard to listen to for the one millionth time, when that talk box punctuated “Do You Feel Like We Do”, you turned the damned thing up as loud as I did.

So with this album he gave it all to you – the early Humble Pie folkiness, the latter-Pie rawk, the introspective stuff from his solo albums and tunes so instantly ear-candy you hate them more for being overplayed than you do for the songs themselves. You knew he was a great guitar player and a good singer, but he trumped that by capturing the electricity of a live show on vinyl.

And then you turned on him. You hated that stupid talk-box guitar effect. You hated that ludicrous cover photo (and limp title track) on I’m In You. You really hated Frampton for participating in Sgt. Pepper. I get it.

But it’s time to let go, people. I’m not saying I want to pull out Frampton Comes Alive at a party in 2010. In fact, were I to pull out some Frampton albums, I’d probably grab those first four solo records rather than this arena-friendly presentation. But to continue to trivialize FCA today is like making fun of your old monochrome XT computer. It was meant for 1976, and in 1976 it delivered in spades.

It set the bar for what live albums would become for a long, long time. It re-legitimized the fact that a live record could be a hit and warrant airplay. And it also taught future musicians a very valuable lesson about how fickle the audience can be, especially when you stop listening to your muse and start trying to create what you think the audience wants.

Go back and give it another spin. And check out those first four albums, one per year, that planted the seeds that suddenly morphed into the mighty oak that defined the year in rock, 1976.

By the way, Frampton is still kicking ass at sixty years young.

Listen to the original version

Listen to the expanded edition.

Frampton’s webpage and Wiki.

FCA at AllMusic.com

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T.G.I.F. – Let It Beatle!

I’ve tipped my sizeable cap to Angelo at Power Pop Criminals before; he is an amazingly creative guy with an encyclopedic knowledge of the genre. He’s gone to great lengths to assemble some intriguing virtual tribute albums over the years. Recently he launched the last of his Tribute To The Fab Four series that he started in 2007 – reassembling the original albums with cover versions of each track. As he says, without the Beatles, there would be no powerpop music.

Of course, there are quite a few Beatle tributes on the market, everything from reggae to bluegrass to avant-garde interpretations to straight-ahead homage (like the recent efforts from The Smithereens). But these truly are a labor of love, and although you might not be a fan of every track, I promise you will be rewarded if you check them out.  I think album-to-album they’re as good or better than the commercially assembled releases.

Sure, some of the bands are extremely obscure, even to powerpop fans who dig deep. But you’ll also find a ton of great Beatle covers from famous artists like The Hollies, The Flamin’ Groovies, Aerosmith and Roger McGuinn, and even a couple from one (or two) hit wonders like Moon Martin and The Cyrkle.

Best of all, you’ll hear from many great bands that aren’t household names but are revered by powerpop fans, and rightfully so:  Cotton Mather, Ross Rice, The Blow Pops, The Quick, Walter Clevenger and The Shazam to name but a few.  (And if and when you do get turned onto some new bands in the process, maybe that album or two you purchase from them – you will, won’t you? – makes their day too.)

You’ll need Windows RAR software to unpack the files, you can download that here. And you’ll need the password, which is listed on each tribute page.

So pay it forward…and Thank God It’s Friday. Here’s a ten-spot, thanks to Angelo:

ppc beatles

Please Please Me

With The Beatles

A Hard Day’s Night

1965 / Beatles For Sale

Revolver

Rubber Soul

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

Abbey Road

The White Album

Let It Be

animbeatles

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