The Drama You've Been Craving
Monday Feb. 5, 2001
'90s Revival, Roxy Music Redux, LiLiPUT Re-Release
Everything old is new, maybe, or maybe not
By Michael Goldberg
Are you ready for an early-'90s "alternative" rock revival? As long as the music's good, I don't mind. Two amazing bands from the late '80s and early '90s, the Blake Babies and the Red House Painters, have re-formed and recorded new albums that will be released in March and April, respectively.
Boston's Blake Babies disbanded in '91, just in time for Juliana Hatfield to go solo and become a grunge-era star fronting the Juliana Hatfield Trio. San Francisco's Red House Painters earned great critical praise for a series of breathtaking albums, but were slightly out of sync with their time and never found a large audience.
When bands get back together it's often a lose/lose proposition. For a fan, their absence has only added to their mystique, meaning that expectations are likely way too high to be met. For the band, recapturing the magic (after you've been around the block and experienced the cynicism of the entertainment business and the fickleness of many music fans) is sometimes impossible. Just try to think of a reunion album that matched the best work of a band the first time around.
I haven't heard the Red House Painters album yet, but for a few days now I've been living with an advance of the new Blake Babies album, God Bless the Blake Babies (with a guest appearance by Evan Dando, who shares lead vocals on "Brain Damage" with Hatfield). While it's not a perfect album, much of it is really good and worth the attention of any Blake Babies and/or Hatfield fan.
Right now the standout is the deceptively simple "When I See His Face," which hearkens back to the early-'60s girl-group sound, only in a minimalistic indie-rocker style. "When I see his face," goes the chorus. "I'll tell you how it feels/ It's just like waking up/ After a million years."
Also back in action is Roxy Music, sorta. Three of that early-'70s British avant-garde rock combo's key members singer Bryan Ferry, sax man Andy McKay and guitarist Phil Manzanera have signed on for a world tour. Brian Eno is not participating, and why should he? Eno split from Roxy Music after the group's second album, Virginia Plain (released in 1973), and has since enjoyed a successful career as a record producer (U2, Talking Heads, etc.) and solo artist. Retracing his steps is not Eno's idea of fun.
While Roxy Music were probably more interesting with Eno in the band certainly the first two albums were their most experimental I thought that it wasn't until Stranded (1973) that things really coalesced, and that the follow-up, Country Life (1974), was their masterpiece.
Usually, when a once-popular band re-forms it's because solo careers haven't panned out, or have been played out, and someone thinks lots of money can be made with a reunion. That is most certainly the case with Roxy Music, who have reportedly agreed to a 50-date tour. No word yet on whether they'll release a new album. All I wanna know is, will they perform "In Every Dream Home A Heartache"?
Sound Of A Revolution
LiLiPUT, the late-'70s-to-early '80s pre-riot-grrrl punk combo whose music has never been particularly easy to find, have not regrouped. But the re-release of their groundbreaking recordings, all collected on the two-CD set, LiLiPUT, by Kill Rock Stars, is due Feb. 20.
Listening to this music can be an overwhelming experience, akin to trying to take in Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band's Trout Mask Replica for the first time. It is a wondrous aural assault by four artists Marlene Marder, bassist Klau Schiff (who is the painter Klaudia Schifferle), vocalist Regula Sing and drummer Lislot Ha (a.k.a. Lislot Hafner) were there in the beginning, but by the end there had been numerous personnel changes who clearly knew how to have fun and make art.
Originally called Kleenex, the group changed their name to LiLiPUT in 1980 after Kimberly-Clark came calling. No matter. Whatever name they happened to be using, whatever the lineup happened to be when a recording was made, the essence remained the same. In his liner notes, Greil Marcus writes of the time when Kleenex formed: "Punk as a certain form of the public attempt to discover one's own voice, let's say, a likely embarrassment protected by anonymous noise was just getting started." And that certainly conveys the sense of discovery, of heading into the unknown, of anything goes and everything goes, that I hear in these recordings.
No one has likely written more articulately and with more understanding about this "group" than Marcus. "As far as anyone had ever heard before, what the group produced was absolutely female noises males would have been ashamed to make then and would likely be ashamed to make now... The feeling of people breaking loose is irresistible: they sound like ten-year-olds maniacally cutting up their Barbie dolls... the band made a music where anything could happen. Schiff could play her bass with a tom-tom mallet; the 'Beep beep!' of the rape-alert whistle that makes up the key rhythm of 'Hitch-Hike' ('I'm afraid,' runs the chorus) is gay and sweet)..." Listen to LiLiPUT and you will hear all of that, and more.
Also worth noting: Kristin Hersh has a fine album, Sunny Border Blue, coming March 6. The album was produced by Throwing Muses co-founder Hersh, who wrote all the songs save one (Cat Stevens' "Trouble"), played all the instruments (except the drums on "Trouble"), and produced the album in a converted horse stable not far from her home in Rhode Island... You will be happily surprised by Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante's third solo album, To Record Only Water for Ten Days, due in February, with a sound that at times mixes elements of garage rock, '60s punk and '60s pop... One of the earliest recordings by Modest Mouse will see the light this April. Sad, Sappy Sucker, which the group recorded in 1994, will be released by the always-cool K Records... And you probably already know that everyone who's heard it (including me) loves Pavement frontman Stephen Malkmus's first solo album, Stephen Malkmus, out Feb. 13; that Guided By Voices' Isolation Drills should be here by the spring; and that Unwound's two-CD Leaves Turn Inside You will be out April 17. But if you didn't, now you do.
Michael Goldberg is the president of insiderone.net. He founded Addicted To Noise in 1994.
© 2000, 2001 Michael Goldberg. All rights reserved.