Archive for October, 2008

Kyrie Eleison: Gods of Landlocked Europe

October 23, 2008


Kyrie EleisonThe Fountain Beyond the Sunrise (1976).

Oddly, this was my first ever symphonic album from Continental Europe, back when it was reissued some fifteen years ago. It’s ironic, considering how this band hailed from Austria, the most musically barren country in all of Europe… barring thumbnails like Luxembourg and Albania, of course.

Anyway, The Fountain Beyond the Sunrise is a masterwork of lengthy, theatrical epics in the vein of Genesis and Ange, and the tuneful intricacy of pieces like “Lenny”, “Mounting the Eternal Spiral” and the title-suite well-compensate for the shoddy recording quality so endemic amongst landlocked bands of that era. Additionally, the album sports one of the foremost classics in Whiteheadian album art:
Kyrie Eleison

And simultaneous to the above…

Welcome Welcome (1976).
Another good one from the relatively quiet landlocked nations was delivered from this Swiss unit:
Welcome

J Geils Band

October 18, 2008

Like Genesis, Hall & Oates, Kool & the Gang and REO Speedwagon, the J Geils Band had been cranking out albums since the wee years of the ’70s, yet only achieved a sustained commercial run at the dawn of the ’80s. Their lengthy ’70s discography can sound rather repetitive, for there’s admittedly only so much one can do with cartoon boogie. The band’s innovation, if any, was to inject more of a ’70s rock dynamic and compositional flexibility into an antiquated rock/pop/soul aesthetic indebted to the sounds of ’60s Detroit, especially Mitch Ryder. Their best studio albums from this period were Ladies Invited (1973), Nightmares…and Other Tales from the Vinyl Jungle (1974) and Monkey Island (1977).

Befittingly, the introduction of goofy New Wave elements into their sound (shades of The Cars and The Boomtown Rats) would usher in their greatest run of chart success, and their amusing videos for such ingratiating hits as “Love Stinks”, “Centerfold” and “Freeze Frame” added to the myriad of wonderful lifelong memories that the golden age of MTV provided for its lucky viewers.

But what took them so long?

It was a common line throughout their first decade that the J Geils Band were ‘the greatest live act’, yet by now this was being leveled with the charge that their live prowess was the only thing they had going for them, and that they’d never mature into a sufficient studio act.

Incidentally, their contract was in jeopardy by the time they commenced with the Monkey Island sessions in 1977, and their fears of impending termination prompted a concerted effort towards creative, exploratory songcraft. And while it didn’t give them their desired commercial breakthrough, this fine album would nonetheless show that they were capable of producing more than just jukebox music for ‘funky retro diners’, and it appeased their coffers well enough to afford the band’s renewal. Intermittently, their 1978 Sanctuary album proved to be a step sideways rather than forward. But the fruits of their redoubled creative focus, in tandem with their unabated stage power, would ultimately sprout to the surface. For as Rolling Stone said in a 1980 article on the band, Love Stinks was making “more noise out of the box than any of their albums in years,” – the last point perhaps being a reference to their only prior (albeit minor) hit, “Must of Got Lost” in 1974.

ABC

October 16, 2008

As other folks discuss how they’re re-acquiring all the wonderful ’80s music that they foolishly ditched during the ’90s, and in-turn discarding all the rank ’90s trash which they now hope never to see, smell or hear again, the topic of lesser-heard ABC albums is raised:

Beauty Stab was a surprise for me back in the ’90s – that time-stain I survived in a rainbow loop of NuRo fashion and ’70s/’80s music – because I’d totally missed it earlier during my video-immersed youth. Seriously, I long thought that How to be a Zillionaire was ABC‘s second album, due to MTV having totally skipped this one. In any case, ABC‘s sophomoric effort comprised a solid set of songs that have grown on these ears with each successive play.

Esquire

October 12, 2008

Someone asked about another red-hot platter from the plentiful land of AOR.

The eponymous 1987 release from Esquire could possibly be the greatest album from the second half of the 1980s! Their sweepingly robust sound stood midway between contemporaneous Yes and Heart, but with better songwriting than either of those bands ever managed on any album after 1983. Esquire should have been huge; but then again, 1987 saw the proliferation of empty, tuneless hair metal and dance pop, against which the anthemic might of Esquire probably sounded too distracting.

Esquire – “To the Rescue”

Stadium Rock

October 4, 2008

Discussions have arisen concerning the renewed appeal of AOR, pomp rock and stadium rock, which has steadily grown as the self-effacing ironies of the misbegotten ’90s fade into the trash can of history, and people re-embrace dynamism and heroism from their performers. A recent thread on this phenomenon aroused the following enthusiasm from yours truly.

AOR/melodic rock and west coast/soft rock have become the areas of Anglophone music spanning the late ’70s through mid ’80s that I’m most enthused about now that I’m in my thirties. Funny enough, I hated this stuff in my teens when I was a full-fledged punk/new waver. Now I’ve mostly lost passion for the latter, save for the divine rarity of ‘pomp wave’ (The Stranglers, Ultravox, Magazine), the distinguished stylists of the NuRo/synthpop movement (John Foxx, Gary Numan, Dalek I) and the lifelong charms of the Second British Invasion. The more abrasive, amateurish and mopey purveyors of punk and post-punk (i.e. hardcore, alt. rock and anything produced by Martin Hannet) tend to really get on my nerves nowadays.

But onto some AOR…

Silver Shoes said: I always liked “Feel It Again” and “What Does It Take” [by the Honeymoon Suite].

Side one of Honeymoon Suite‘s 1985 The Big Prize LP is totally awesome, with “Bad Attitude” and “Lost and Found” lending further exhilarating blasts of Night Ranger-esque pomp rock superpower. Canuck contemporaries Glass Tiger were another great band of like-mind, forging a unique brand of martial-tinged pomp rock on their Thin Red Line LP, which they contrarily plugged with the two most uncharacteristic songs, “Don’t Forget Me (When I’m Gone)” and “Someday”.