Saturday, April 11, 2015

Not What I Expected

I got this CD in the early '90s for the song "Soul to Soul," which was getting airplay on several of the stations I listened to in Dallas at the time. Based on that one song, I was expecting edgy, unpredictable indie rock with a lot of creative modulations -- depending on how generous you are, "Soul to Soul" has six or eight distinct motifs, as compared to the typical pop song's three to five.

So when I put it on for my first listen, I was gravely disappointed that the rest of the CD sounded to me like nothing more than a proficient '80s hair metal band. None of the other tracks had nearly the complexity of "Soul to Soul," and as my disappointment mounted, track 6 came along and served up the ultimate hair band crime: an obligatory ballad with the acoustic guitar-strum lead-in joined by humming and/or whistling on the part of the lead singer.

I tried to give the album several more shots, then wrote it off as the work of a thoroughly indistinctive band that happened to exceed their capabilities for a single, lucky song. Because I'm a pack rat, the CD stayed on the shelf or in a box through four or five moves. I think I tried to sell it to CD Exchange once and they didn't want it.

But I reached the B stretch of my collection for this feature, and I didn't want to go straight into the Beatles, and I was also curious as to why I'd bought "Dancin' on Coals" in the first place, since I couldn't even remember the title of the one song I'd liked. So into the car CD player it went.

And darned if it's not a pretty good album!

This time around, instead of expecting edgy, unpredictable indie rock, I was expecting boring late '80s hair-band music. And the CD turned out to be just as far from that prediction as from my original expectation in 1990. Bang Tango, at least in this incarnation, blends funk-metal, glam-metal, and some alt rock stylings into a highly listenable concoction full of blistering guitars and amazingly inventive bass parts, making it hard to believe that I mistook this for hair metal, which almost always relies on alternating two-tone eighth-note thudding for its bass lines. There are saxaphones and harmonica solos, and even some gospel-ish backing singers on "Midnight Struck" -- the song I mistook for a cliche hair-band ballad -- and none of it's thrown in; every song is carefully and solidly arranged with thoughtful layers and variations from verse to verse. The production values are great without the CD being overproduced or glitzed-up. It's just all-out solid rock and roll, very well put together.

And "Soul to Soul," far from being just a kind of cool song, is downright incredible.

So thanks, CD Exchange, for turning this one down, if I'm remembering that part of the story right!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

This One's Beyond Obscure

So, maybe you know the crazy guitar-organ-flute-yodeling-accordion-Popeye-the-Sailor-vocalization masterpiece "Hocus Pocus" by the Dutch group Focus. Or slightly less likely, you might know their song "Sylvia." But I'm pretty sure you didn't know that their guitarist, Jan Akkerman, recorded an album of classical lute songs interspersed with far-edge eclectic art rock as one of his solo endeavors.

That's Tabernakel. I can't for sure remember what inspired me to buy this CD, but I think it was the unintentionally hilarious set of liner notes in my copy of the digitally remastered Focus 3, wherein the producer of most of Focus's albums waxed Spinal Tap-esque about the genius of the band. Somewhere along the way, he mentioned Akkerman's obsession with lute music and that he thought the guitarist had actually recorded a whole album of lute songs. Like I suspect is the case with most of the stuff in those liner notes, that wasn't quite true; about a third of the album is art rock. But there are a lot of lute songs.

I'm guessing if you like lute music, this is pretty kick-ass stuff. Akkerman is a hell of a musician, and the songs have enough complexity that there are times when I think, surely he overdubbed that with a second lute track -- it can't all be him just playing one lute. But I'm pretty sure it is.

Anyway, if you've got a hankering for lute tunes, check it out.

Random ABBA Thoughts
So I've been terrible about this CD feature so far, but I'm going to try to crank several out over the next few days and get myself in the habit.

Up next is ABBA Gold: Greatest Hits.

I'm not ashamed to say that I love ABBA. I think they're officially the second-highest selling pop group of all time, so I've got company, even if they also personify some of the silly excess of the 1970s. And in my defense, I only love them enough to have their greatest hits. It's not like I've got all their albums, right?

Anyway, I have no unifying thesis for this ABBA fest. Just a potpourri of observations and memories.

First, there are some genuinely poignant and uplifting moments in the music of ABBA. "Chiquitita, you and I cry / but the sun is still in the sky and shining above you." "I believe in angels / something good in everything I see." Maybe the words are a little saccharine on their own, but those voices and the music really make me buy it.

Next, I can't think of ABBA without remembering that there was an ABBA movie, and that I watched it on cable, probably several times, but can only remember one scene from the very end of the film. (Spoiler: I guess the characters in the film spend the whole time trying to see ABBA in concert or meet them or something, and they totally fail, and then in the last few minutes after they've given up, they get on an elevator and ABBA are there. Is this ringing a bell with anybody?)

Finally, there's a snippet in "One of Us" that's pretty much exactly the vocal hook from Ace of Bass's "I Saw the Sign." It was very weird putting this CD in my car player, getting to a track that I'm really quite unfamiliar with, and then hearing this 100% familiar moment that was only familiar because of a different, later song. I'm not accusing Ace of Bass of stealing it, but they totally stole it.