Smiths Complete - Available at Rhino.coma-ha "Hunting High & Low" and "Scoundrel Days" Deluxe Editions Rhino Handmade raids the vault!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

"...the third time we opened the capsule / everything went..."

A person unfamiliar with Kitchens of Distinction might hear them today and mistake the swirling, moody melodies for Interpol, The Editors or a less synth-y She Wants Revenge. All the bands involved definitely wore their Joy Division/Ian Curtis influences on their collective sleeves, but Kitchens did it earlier and did it well.

Backed by a blast of Cocteau Twins-ish, effects-pedal laden guitars and muted, yet impassioned vocals, Kitchens of Distinction made a minor splash in the UK with their third indie single, the coincidentally titled "The 3rd Time We Opened The Capsule", a song that years later made the NME Writers' 100 Best Indie Singles Ever list. A full album, 1989's sublime Love Is Hell (finally released in the U.S. years later) followed.

Lead singer/bassist Patrick Fitzgerald was one of the precious few openly gay alternative rockers at the time, and while the band's first efforts address this in a more obtuse manner, later songs and several interviews hit the "gay thing" head on, and that may have impeded their success. Or maybe America just wasn't ready for shoegaze, since Catherine Wheel, Swervedriver, Ride, Slowdive, et al didn't make much of a splash Stateside, either. As the man himself says:

"First the band name got in the way, then the gay issue. It became a huge red herring - a pink herring, in fact! The 'gay thing' insinuated the music was different to what it was. At the time, there were no gay men out in rock, and if you were gay, you obviously made dance music. It belittled what we were, which was, basically, drunken men with guitars!"

The band did grab some minor Modern Rock Radio airplay in the early '90s with "Drive That Fast" and "Now It's Time To Say Goodbye", but Kitchens of Distinction were unable to withstand the onslaught of grunge and "alternative" rock and after a much more commercial sounding album, Cowboys and Angels, in 1995, the band called it a day, five years before Interpol made their sound very fashionable. A shame, really.

"The 3rd Time We Opened The Capsule" did not chart.

Get Kitchens of Distinction music at Amazon or on Kitchens of Distinction

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posted by John, 4:37 PM | link |

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

"Come warmer weather / let's get together and do it again"

In 1985, a bunch of my best fag hags and I went to see Adam Ant in concert at the Cleveland Music Hall. It was far from a sold-out show, as Adam was on the downslide, supporting the Vive Le Rock album that was basically DOA in the States (although I dug it). As empty as the 3,000-seat theater was during the headlining act, it was nearly desolate earlier when the opening act took the stage.

It was a quintet dressed all in black, playing equally dark music with strange synth tones, scratchy guitar and sardonic, almost spoken-word vocals. It took a few minutes and a few bars of their current single "Far Side of Crazy" for me to figure out this was the new, Stan Ridgeway-less Wall of Voodoo of "Mexican Radio" fame. Two years earlier, lead singer Ridgeway and two other founding members left the group after tasting mainstream chart success, just after playing the Us Festival. The remaining members soldiered on with new vocalist Andy Prieboy, releasing Seven Days In Sammystown in 1985. This was the moody LP the band was promoting when they were met with complete disinterest on the Adam Ant tour. I think I was the only guy who clapped after "Ring Of Fire" and "Call Box". In fact, I think I was the only guy there. But hey, everyone loved "Mexican Radio"!

Two years later, the band attempted another stab for more mainstream success with Happy Planet and its first single, a remake of the Beach Boys' "Do It Again". The remake begins with a droning synth, like a heart rate monitor, that recalls the same effect the band used for their remake of "Ring of Fire" years earlier. It then turns into a detached, ironic reading of the song, draining the joy and replacing it was cynicism - kind of a neat move, complete with the Brian Wilson stamp of approval, since he appeared in the nightmarish, surrealistic video:

The extended version brightens the proceedings up a bit for the dance floor, but at seven minutes plus, it's a bit too much of a good thing. While "Do It Again" got plenty of play on MTV's "120 Minutes", that second mainstream hit failed to happen for Wall of Voodoo Mark II. This lineup would go on to record a final album in 1988, then dissolve. Skip forward to last year and in the great circle of pop life, Stan Ridgeway fronted a new Wall of Voodoo, opening for, of all people, Cyndi Lauper. I suppose Wall of Voodoo will always get stuck with inappropriate headliners.

"Do It Again" did not chart.

Get Wall of Voodoo music at Amazon or on Wall of Voodoo

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posted by John, 3:43 PM | link |

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

"Reasons, reasons, we're part of the art"

Like the vast majority of Americans in 1983, I had no idea Spandau Ballet existed before True, much less were funky New Romantics embracing disco and fashion, having paved the way for an entire underground club movement in the UK.

I just thought they were sappy Adult Contemporary crooners.

Now, don't get me wrong. Thanks to my co-worker at Wendy's (hey, I was 15), Brad, I soon came around and became a huge Spandau fan - once you got past "True" the song, the rest of the album was pretty darn good, particularly "Communication" and "Code of Love". Once Brad turned me around there, that's when he blew my mind and let me borrow the band's first two albums, Journeys To Glory and Diamond. Talk about a difference in style.

Where True was calculated for mainstream chart success, the first two Spandau LPs were all about the clubs and I happily jumped on board, instantly loving the groove of "To Cut A Long Story Short" and "The Freeze" and album cuts like "Reformation", which had the same white-boy/fake-funk sensibility as the Human League's Dare. Although they tried to be funky, something was always a little off and that something is what made them unique yet still danceable.  I also recall Rolling Stone's vicious one-star review of Journeys, savaging it as fashion over music.  Don't you have a Mick Jagger solo album somewhere to give five stars, Jann?

While the band did try a half-hearted attempt at a (I think) ballad on their second album Diamond, the majority of the platter was again filled with dancefloor stompers, in particular, "Chant No. 1" and "Instinction", here in its original 12" version. It would later see a single release remixed by none other than Trevor Horn, with a Russell Mulcahy video to match:

Somewhere along the way, Spandau lost all the homosexual undertones ("Tough is the leather that's strapped to my 'til you're musclebound"..."Loving makes the cream taste nice...", etc.) and went from pirate shirt wearing New Romantics:

 suave, shirt & tie, suit-wearing blue-eyed soul boys:

...and most of America was none the wiser. They also got a Top Five hit and a Gold album for their efforts. But I like to think of them as two separate bands, both who released albums I adore. To think of them as the same band is to invite madness.

"The Freeze" peaked at #68 and again at #33 as a b-side of "To Cut A Long Story Short" on the Billboard Club Play Chart in 1981.
"Instinction" did not chart.

Get Spandau Ballet music at Amazon or on Spandau Ballet

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posted by John, 3:42 PM | link |

Thursday, November 01, 2007

"...but the trial separation worked / and ended up / in a divorce case"

Is getting married young a mistake? Do we really know what we want when we're only 17?

Those are questions posed in Fun Boy Three's single, "Tunnel Of Love". After shedding most of The Specials, Terry Hall, Lynval Golding and Neville Staples formed Fun Boy Three in 1981, discovered Bananarama, and had a few UK hits. In 1983 the band teamed with producer David Byrne (yes, that one) to record their second LP, Waiting. You may have heard Waiting's first single, "Our Lips Are Sealed", a song co-written by The Go-Go's Jane Weidlin. Unlike their version, Fun Boy Three's came nowhere near the Top 40 in America.

The young-married-couples-in-turmoil follow-up single stood even less of a chance. That doesn't stop "Tunnel Of Love" from being a classic single, though, with its unique ska-tinged tango beat and darkly humorous lyrics of romantic despair. Hardly the stuff Top Ten hits are made of.

Alas, Waiting would be the final Fun Boy Three project, as Hall disbanded the trio just as they were gaining traction in the U.S. Hall would go on to form the more traditionally pop Colourfield.

And yes, he later married.

Then got divorced.

"Tunnel Of Love" did not chart.

Get Fun Boy Three music at Amazon or on Fun Boy Three & The Specials

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posted by John, 3:25 PM | link |