Popdose Exclusive: Jonny Polonsky’s Explosive Record Storegasm

We’re not gonna lie to you, what you’re about to see might terrify your brain space or arouse your nether regions. Whereas bands of other stripes have all but given up on selling good olde gosh durn sparkling platters of aural sex, aka the “record album”, Jonny Polonsky says, “Nay! I will sell my ear hole stimulation devices one unit at a time, the way real people are used to buying real Made in the USA type products — via a dazzling infomercial on late night TV.” (editor’s note: not an actual quote). 

WARNING. The video you’re about to see is NSFW (not save for wussies). While it remains part of this balanced breakfast, it isn’t a good source of soluble fiber. Excessive use might lead to heart palpitations, rug burn, reverse vertigo, music genre dysphoria, acid rock reflux, nerd association or guy hives…

WHO is Jonny Polonsky, you ask? Who ISN’T Jonny Polonsky, we say! As a scrappy youth in Chicago, he recorded demos and handed out cassettes, one landing in the hands of Reeves Gabrels (Tin Machine) who handed it to Frank Black (Frank Black) who produced a stirring demo that got young Jonny singed to American Recordings, a label owned by Rick Rubin (star of the film Krush Groove). Jonny went on tour with Lollapalooza and recorded and/or toured with the likes of a regional prison entertainer, Johnny Cash, a Super Diamond tribute act named Neil Diamond, and perennial Fox News terrorism watchlist darlings, the Dixie Chicks.

For his latest album, Fresh Flesh, Jonny recruited the likes of Mark Lanegan (Mad Season) and Kevin Haskins (Tones on Tail). Popdose just had to know more, so we wrote up some questions and mailed them to the PO Box in Golden Colorado and waited 6-8 weeks for Jonny’s reply.

POPDOSE: How did recording in Malibu influence your record versus where you’ve recorded previously?

JONNY POLONSKY: The aptly named Shangri La Studios is located right in the heart of beautiful downtown Malibu. Boasting a grand sweeping view of the Pacific Ocean, charms of hummingbirds flitting about the palatial grounds, and a grapefruit tree planted by Eminem himself, recording at Shangri La is an experience not soon to be forgotten. An absolute delight for all six senses, from load in to emotional breakdown. Plus it was free (I work there). A world class studio in beautiful surroundings with a relaxed atmosphere, working with friends. Easy peasy.

Is this a record to have sex to, drive cross-country to, tear down the political establishment to? What’s the call to action when people rock out to Fresh Flesh?

Our motto is Make Love AND War. Righteous, non-violent warfare against systemic oppression and spiritual genocide. We trip with the people and for the people, because we are of the people.

If the Infomercial is successful, what other venues are you considering to hawk your album? QVC? Airport kiosk? Learning Annex seminar?

We are currently in talks with Elon Musk, Jim Bakker, Anthony Robbins, and the estate of Jack Kevorkian, about producing a Fresh Flesh Subcutaneous Holographic Implant© and introducing it into their respective business models and/or curricula. We are dedicated to delivering a quality experience that, while certain elements may appear as disparate and orthogonal to the original scalar product, it still maintains a structural integrity in its statistical independence, resulting in a pure linear transformation. No listener left behind!

Did you own any K-tel or Ronco records as a kid?

I’ve always loved compilation records and greatest hits. I can’t remember if I owned any from those specific labels. But I realize in retrospect that comps, TV show themes and commercial jingles had a huge impact on my songwriting. It’s no easy feat to fit a complete musical thought in a minute or less. And greatest hit comps are, of course, comprised only of peak moments. I think it inspired me to be as direct as possible, and to keep the vibe up. If something is not screaming to be there (a chorus, a lyric, a song on the record, etc.), leave it out. Some favs: Green Acres, Good Times, The Jeffersons, The Odd Couple, M.A.S.H., Cheers, Three’s Company, Sanford and Son. Classic songs.

You’ve jammed with some legends on stage and in the studio – which one(s) caused your biggest Chris Farley Show moment of totally geeking out?

So many great memories… performing ‘Mountain Song’ with Perry Farrell outside on the lawn at the Playboy Mansion, tricking Neil Diamond into asking me if I was playing the melody to ‘Springtime for Hitler’ (I wanted to hear him say the word “Hitler”)… a sweet moment I’ll always cherish is playing bass at the Fonda Theatre on ‘Back in the USA’ with Lemmy singing. As he ambled off the stage, he looked in my eyes and gently placed his hand on the side of my face. Lovely.

Are you an honorary 4th Dixie Chick?

Yes?

I saw you play guitar in Hedwig & The Angry Inch, what was it like to go Broadway — since technically, it was in Chicago at Belmont and Broadway from what I recall — ?

That was an absolute blast. Actually I should say it was an Absolut© blast, considering all the drinking we did next door after the shows. I love those songs, and it was so much fun getting dressed up and made up every night. The band was on fire too, after months of playing every night. Great experience.

You have a slew of big name guest stars on this album – if you could form an official supergroup for an album and tour, what would be the dream lineup?

Alex Van Halen on drums, Bootsy on bass, Benmont Tench on B3 and piano, Oneohtrix Point Never on synth, Steve Vai on guitar, Fred Schneider on Fred Schneider. That’s a good start.

Get your hands on Jonny Polonsky’s Fresh Flesh on January 19, 2018. Connect with him via Instagram, facebook, twitter or the soon-to-be-non-neutral big wide world web.

Popdose Premieres Jonny Polonsky’s Explosive Record Storegasm

We’re not gonna lie to you, what you’re about to see might terrify your brain space or arouse your nether regions. Whereas bands of other stripes have all but given up on selling good olde gosh durn sparkling platters of aural sex, aka the “record album”, Jonny Polonsky says, “Nay! I will sell my ear hole stimulation devices one unit at a time, the way real people are used to buying real Made in the USA type products — via a dazzling infomercial on late night TV.” (editor’s note: not an actual quote). 

WARNING. The video you’re about to see is NSFW (not save for wussies). While it remains part of this balanced breakfast, it isn’t a good source of soluble fiber. Excessive use might lead to heart palpitations, rug burn, reverse vertigo, music genre dysphoria, acid rock reflux, nerd association or guy hives…

WHO is Jonny Polonsky, you ask? Who ISN’T Jonny Polonsky, we say! As a scrappy youth in Chicago, he recorded demos and handed out cassettes, one landing in the hands of Reeves Gabrels (Tin Machine) who handed it to Frank Black (Frank Black) who produced a stirring demo that got young Jonny singed to American Recordings, a label owned by Rick Rubin (star of the film Krush Groove). Jonny went on tour with Lollapalooza and recorded and/or toured with the likes of a regional prison entertainer, Johnny Cash, a Super Diamond tribute act named Neil Diamond, and perennial Fox News terrorism watchlist darlings, the Dixie Chicks.

For his latest album, Fresh Flesh, Jonny recruited the likes of Mark Lanegan (Mad Season) and Kevin Haskins (Tones on Tail). POPDOSE just had to know more, so we wrote up some questions and mailed them to the PO Box in Golden Colorado and waited 6-8 weeks for Jonny’s reply.

POPDOSE: How did recording in Malibu influence your record versus where you’ve recorded previously?

JONNY POLONSKY: The aptly named Shangri La Studios is located right in the heart of beautiful downtown Malibu. Boasting a grand sweeping view of the Pacific Ocean, charms of hummingbirds flitting about the palatial grounds, and a grapefruit tree planted by Eminem himself, recording at Shangri La is an experience not soon to be forgotten. An absolute delight for all six senses, from load in to emotional breakdown. Plus it was free (I work there). A world class studio in beautiful surroundings with a relaxed atmosphere, working with friends. Easy peasy.

Is this a record to have sex to, drive cross-country to, tear down the political establishment to? What’s the call to action when people rock out to Fresh Flesh?

Our motto is Make Love AND War. Righteous, non-violent warfare against systemic oppression and spiritual genocide. We trip with the people and for the people, because we are of the people.

If the Infomercial is successful, what other venues are you considering to hawk your album? QVC? Airport kiosk? Learning Annex seminar?

We are currently in talks with Elon Musk, Jim Bakker, Anthony Robbins, and the estate of Jack Kevorkian, about producing a Fresh Flesh Subcutaneous Holographic Implant© and introducing it into their respective business models and/or curricula. We are dedicated to delivering a quality experience that, while certain elements may appear as disparate and orthogonal to the original scalar product, it still maintains a structural integrity in its statistical independence, resulting in a pure linear transformation. No listener left behind!

Did you own any K-tel or Ronco records as a kid?

I’ve always loved compilation records and greatest hits. I can’t remember if I owned any from those specific labels. But I realize in retrospect that comps, TV show themes and commercial jingles had a huge impact on my songwriting. It’s no easy feat to fit a complete musical thought in a minute or less. And greatest hit comps are, of course, comprised only of peak moments. I think it inspired me to be as direct as possible, and to keep the vibe up. If something is not screaming to be there (a chorus, a lyric, a song on the record, etc.), leave it out. Some favs: Green Acres, Good Times, The Jeffersons, The Odd Couple, M.A.S.H., Cheers, Three’s Company, Sanford and Son. Classic songs.

You’ve jammed with some legends on stage and in the studio – which one(s) caused your biggest Chris Farley Show moment of totally geeking out?

So many great memories… performing ‘Mountain Song’ with Perry Farrell outside on the lawn at the Playboy Mansion, tricking Neil Diamond into asking me if I was playing the melody to ‘Springtime for Hitler’ (I wanted to hear him say the word “Hitler”)… a sweet moment I’ll always cherish is playing bass at the Fonda Theatre on ‘Back in the USA’ with Lemmy singing. As he ambled off the stage, he looked in my eyes and gently placed his hand on the side of my face. Lovely.

Are you an honorary 4th Dixie Chick?

Yes?

I saw you play guitar in Hedwig & The Angry Inch, what was it like to go Broadway — since technically, it was in Chicago at Belmont and Broadway from what I recall — ?

That was an absolute blast. Actually I should say it was an Absolut© blast, considering all the drinking we did next door after the shows. I love those songs, and it was so much fun getting dressed up and made up every night. The band was on fire too, after months of playing every night. Great experience.

You have a slew of big name guest stars on this album – if you could form an official supergroup for an album and tour, what would be the dream lineup?

Alex Van Halen on drums, Bootsy on bass, Benmont Tench on B3 and piano, Oneohtrix Point Never on synth, Steve Vai on guitar, Fred Schneider on Fred Schneider. That’s a good start.

Get your hands on Jonny Polonsky’s Fresh Flesh on January 19, 2018. Connect with him via Instagram, facebook, twitter or the soon-to-be-non-neutral big wide world web.

Book Review: Leo Fender, The Quiet Giant Heard Around the World

Still looking for a holiday present or a good read? Here you go! Leo Fender: The Quiet Giant Heard Around the World.

Leo Fender invented the electric guitar in 1944 and died in 1991. His wife, Phyllis Fender, has published a book about their life together. The book evolved out of conversations that Phyllis had with Randall Bell at Polly’s Pies, a Fullerton-based chain of diners. (Among other things, Phyllis’s father had built the ovens in the building where the restaurant is housed.) The result reads like an oral history, full of trivia and photographs.

Leo was born in Fullerton, California and loved tinkering. After a childhood on a farm, where he lost an eye in an accident, he grew up to own and operate an electronics repair shop. His vision kept him from joining the army in World War II. Instead, he helped produce dances to help sell war bonds. He realized that it was really hard for the guitar sound to be heard among the crowd, and that led him to tinker and develop the first electric guitar.

No surprise for someone from Fullerton, Fender was a fan of Western music (his favorite musician was Glenn Campbell), so he marketed his first guitars to that market. He preferred to work with serious amateurs when he developed his guitars, many of whom worked at the company’s guitar factory. They would perform sets at local clubs to test the instruments live. Leo would visit the shows and get their feedback during their set breaks. “He didn’t necessarily want to work with fancy people,” Phyllis says. “He wanted to work with people who loved to play the guitar.”

Phyllis was Leo’s second wife; they each had been married once before to someone who died. A mutual friend thought that Phyllis might be able to help Leo with his grief, and they ended up getting married about a year after they met.

Neither was a musician, and, in fact, Phyllis knew nothing about Fender Guitars when the two met in 1979. She points out that Leo knew nothing about families (he and his first wife, Esther, did not have children), but that he warmed up to the children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews that Phyllis brought to the marriage.

The book has a lot of interesting insights into Fender. He was a classic entrepreneur of his era. He worked really hard and investment money into the company instead of spending it on himself. Phyllis said that he never took vacations until after they married (and then, he preferred cruises.) He lived in a mobile home for many years after selling Fender Guitars in 1965, because he thought it was more efficient than a regular house. By 1977, he was ready to run a company again and founded G&L Guitars with his friend George Fullerton.

Phyllis tells the story of a man who was very sweet but who really loved working on guitars more than anything else – up to the point of bricking in the window of his home office so that he wouldn’t be distracted. “He never played his stereo equipment, he never played music shows on TV,” Phyllis says. “His music was when he heard his equipment being made. He loved what he did.”

The book includes a driving tour of Fullerton and the surrounding area, with a list of the sites that mattered to Leo Fender and the development of the electric guitar. The Fullerton Museum has a collection of Fender’s memorabilia, and Phyllis volunteers as a docent there.

This is a lovely book for someone who loves music history – and it is on Amazon right now if you need a present for such a person.

Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll #12: Smash

(Archive.)

Friday, December 9, 2016

What happens is this. I’m up early on a Friday, ready to walk the dog before I fix breakfast for my son. It’s the first real cold weather we’ve had so far this winter, and there’s thick new-fallen snow on the lawn. I’m wearing jeans and sneakers without socks, so — genius that I am — I decide to walk the dog in the street so I don’t get snow in my shoes.

Friday is usually the morning after a band practice, but we skipped this week. We had been gearing up for a Roscoe’s Basement show the week before Christmas, but we just got word that the gig fell through. So I’m feeling lonesome and vaguely bummed out as I leash up Katya the neurotic husky and step onto the asphalt. We’ve taken maybe ten steps when suddenly my feet are no longer underneath me. I briefly see my toecaps shooting up into my field of vision; then I am staring at the white sky, flat on my back on the ice of the street.

I get to my feet — somehow I have managed to keep hold of the dog’s leash — and walk shakily toward the sidewalk, trying to get my wind back. Lucky I didn’t bash my skull in, I think. I look at the dog; she’s naturally skittish anyway, and the excitement hasn’t done much for her mood. It takes her a few moments to relax. “It’s okay,” I whisper. “Everything’s okay.”

But everything is not okay. As the dog settles into her morning squat, I realize that my left arm isn’t doing what I want it to do. There’s no pain yet, not exactly; but I am aware of an odd grinding sensation when I move it.

I file this feeling away for later. My brain — perhaps in an effort to spare my body — focuses entirely on completing the morning’s tasks. I clean up after the dog, slipping a plastic bag over my good hand, and go inside to fix Sam’s oatmeal. “Pretty sure I just broke my arm,” I say, rather too jauntily.

When Danielle comes down, I tell her what’s happened. She’s been on vacation all week; now she gets to spend her final day off accompanying me through the whirlwind of urgent care — where I am X-rayed, then fitted with a half-cast and an Ace bandage — and then the orthopedics clinic at the big university hospital, where I am further checked out. A physician’s assistant tells me I’ve fractured the head of my radius, one of the two long bones of the forearm. At the spot where it meets up with the ulna to form the elbow joint, the knobby end has been broken into at least three pieces.

Much like America itself, I find my left wing in disarray.There happens to be a surgeon working the floor while I’m there, and he looks in on my case. Depending on the extent of the damage, he tells me, repairing it will involve either installing a metal plate and screws to hold the damaged bone together as it knits, or replacing the radial head altogether with a titanium appliance. He books me for a PET scan on Monday and a surgical consult the day after that.

Then we go home, and I spend the rest of the weekend freaking out. I’m perfectly comfortable, so long as my arm is immobilized by the cast and sling; I can still type, albeit slowly, so I can continue to work. But there’s a very real chance I will never play guitar again. It’s unlikely (though possible) that I will suffer nerve damage or partial paralysis during the procedure. But even in a best-case scenario, I will, in all likelihood, lose some range of motion. This is my fretting hand, remember; for proper positioning, the elbow must be flexed sharply, the palm turned fully inward, and the wrist cocked down. My injury isn’t as bad as (say) Bono’s, but it doesn’t have to be. Losing even a few degrees of functional range in any one of these areas might effectively end my career as a guitar player.

I think about this, as I struggle to button my jeans with one hand. And I wait.


Tuesday, December 13, 2016

I drive myself in to meet with my surgeon, my pea coat draped over and my good arm through one sleeve, steering with one hand. (Thank God my little Honda has an automatic transmission.) He looks at my scans and talks me through the surgery. He can’t tell from the scans which procedure he’ll need to do — whether he’ll fix the existing bone together with a plate, or replace it with prosthesis. He and his team will be ready for either, and he’ll make the call once he’s opened my arm up and seen how things look in there.

Now, on one level I understand that this man is tops in his field, and that he’s done this dozens if not hundreds of times, and that he has earned my trust many times over. On another level, though, WOW, THIS GUY TOLD ME STRAIGHT-UP THAT HE’S GOING TO JUST START CUTTING WITHOUT A DEFINITE GAME PLAN. Well, throw out your gold teeth and see how they roll; I sign a stack of consent forms and we book the surgery for a week out.

On the drive home, my brake lines — which have been running a slow leak for weeks — blow out entirely, This is the kind of thing that causes fatal accidents in the movies, but I limp home to the squeal of metal on metal every time I have to slow down.

With the surgery booked, I sit down and write a long, anguished e-mail to the members of Roscoe’s Basement, bringing them up to speed and dumping all my fears on them. They are kind and reassuring, every one. “You’re the Jack of Diamonds,” Deanna tells me. “This will all be in your rearview mirror soon.” I feel like crying — with despair, or with gratitude for having these people in my life, I don’t know. Both, I guess.

A winter storm howls through town on Thursday, and we end up cancelling rehearsal again — but it’s still an eventful week. Craig has some health news of his own, for one thing; he’s been bothered with a hernia for some time, and has finally booked a procedure for January. His postsurgical care will put him out of action for weeks; he will be sharply limited as to what he can lift, which is damned inconvenient for a bass player.

And we get back the completed mixes from our recording sessions at FLCC. They’re a mixed bag. Certainly none of us were expecting pro-quality mixes from a student project, but only half of them are even passable. Craig’s songs are particularly ill-served. The intricate harmonies of “Waiting for World War III” and “Got That Girl” don’t mesh; the vocal blend, which sounded so lush on the playback monitors, seems thin and weedy, and the whole thing sounds like a rush job. I’m disappointed, for my part, in “Down by the Wayside.” Neither Deanna’s lead line nor the cascading harmonies have the definition or pop I’d hoped for.

The rowdiest songs fare better. “Purple Jesus” turns out pretty well, as do Chuck’s two compositions. “Sister Saintly” take a moment to settle into its groove — that damned click track! — but once we’re all locked in, it positively cooks.


“Sister Saintly” studio demo. Music by Michael Mann, words by Jack Feerick, performed by Roscoe’s Basement. Jack Feerick – lead and backing vocals; Deanna Finn – backing vocals; Tom Finn – drums; Craig Hanson – bass guitar, backing vocals; Mike Mann – electric guitars; Chuck Romano – electric guitar. Engineered and mixed by Joe Nauert at Finger Lakes Community College Studio 1, November 2016.

As promised, Joe has given us a hard drive with all the stems — the basic digital files from the sessions — and I have high hopes that a competent producer might be able to “fix it in the mix,” turning these performances into something releasable. But when Chuck runs them past a producer he knows, it becomes plain that I’m a little over-ambitious. The recording conditions, our inexperience in the studio, performance nerves — the source material is simply subpar. Time to suck it up and learn to love what we’ve got.

You know. Like you do.


Thursday, December 22, 2016

Surgery happens on Tuesday morning. They put me out and screw my arm back together, then send me home to sleep for most of the day and night in a blanket of lingering anesthesia. I don’t lose any mobility in my fingers, thank heaven, but at the moment that’s all I know. I’ll be in a full cast for weeks yet, and my long-term recovery is still an open question. My new cast is bulkier and heavier than the presurgical one, reaching from my bicep to my wrist, with a big plaster dome over the elbow. All the positions and props that let me sleep and work in comfort for ten days beforehand — they don’t work anymore, so I’m back to square one. And I’m in actual pain (as opposed to mere discomfort) for the first time in the process, so I’m high-strung and irritable when I’m not foggy from Percocet.

We're a rock 'n' roll band with serious balls, and we've got pictures to prove it.

But I’m not admitting any kind of defeat just yet. So tonight, two days after going under the knife, I have bummed rides from my bandmates and am down in the basement, singing through the glorious din. Not well — my arm is pinned to my chest, squishing my lungs, so my breath control is for beans — and of course I can’t play, not even tambourine. But it feels good.

And so we rehearse, after a fashion, just like normal, one last time before a break for the holidays. Tom and Deanna give us each a gift — a Christmas ornament with the band logo, all done with custom-printed vinyl decals and cunning use of an X-Acto knife — and we ooh and ahh and laugh, and wish each other a happy New Year.

And then we go out into the dark and wait to see what happens.

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross: Episode Forty-Two

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross: Episode Forty Two

Once again, our heroes go right to the task of dissecting (with wry humor and very on-point observations) the political circus/nightmare; the dominoes falling in the latest sexual harassment accusations list; a critique of R.E.M.’s Automatic For The People on the 25th anniversary of its release; a “visit” from a dead president and so much more.

You’ll laugh; you’ll be shocked – you’ll love it.  They say the things you’re afraid to but they do it with intelligence and reasoning.  So come revel in the splendor…

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross: Episode Forty Two

The podcast will be on the site as well as for subscription via iTunes and other podcast aggregators. Subscribe and let people know about Radio City, as well as Popdose’s other great podcasts David Medsker’s Dizzy Heights and In:Sound with Michael Parr and Zack Stiegler.

Album Review: Alex Rose, “Arcadian Pages”

According to the press release, “there are many moments, memories, people, and places stretched across Alex Rose’s Arcadian Pages. The debut album from the Los Angeles-born, Austin-raised
musician is a project four years in the making; an intimate and evocative collection of mental snapshots, born in homes, houses, cars, and hotels spanning from Washington to New York to Texas and California.”  Certainly, for a first album, it’s an adventurous and (at times) daring collection of songs.

Starting with an acapella opening for most of the track “Ty”, you immediately are drawn in by Ms. Rose’s voice – there are no distractions and it’s a warm, embracing and genuinely sweet sound which is infiltrated a little more than halfway through by random (yet fitting) guitar twangs and notes – no chords or “accompaniment”, which – again – is a daring moment.  “Elephant Eyes” is also restrained but has delicious harmonies and stark guitar/bass/percusssion/keyboard accompaniment – the production has very little gate on her voice, leaving it pure and effect-free and the “band” sound is live; “A Gun Called Patience” is haunting, with guitar and (what sounds like) violin scratching-interplay and soundscapes; certainly the most powerful piece on the album and “Howling Wolves” is another spacious piece with intricately quiet guitar, intermittent harmonies and is the other high moment of this collection.

All in all, a fine and ponderous debut effort, which I like.  I always appreciate when you have to think about what you’re listening to, rather than always being automatically presented with an “obvious” lyric, etc.  Her voice is captivating and I would hope that on her next release, she can elevate what she’s done here to even greater effect.

RECOMMENDED

Arcadian Pages is currently available

http://www.alexrosebb.com/

The Popdose Comeback Club: Class of 2017 (Round 2)

There are some comebacks the world doesn’t need: Sean Spicer, Bill Cosby, another Spiderman reboot — and plenty that are long overdue: til Tuesday, Lone Justice, Heathers (imagine Veronica & friends navigating the adult world), and a big budget Buffy & Angel movie.

In the music world, something incredible has been happening since the dawn of the 2010’s; beloved bands from the 70’s, 80’s and now 90’s – you know, the kind who typically milk their aging catalog on the nostalgia circuit – came roaring back with amazing albums that are not only rank among their career best – but are also way better than a lot of the new music that clogs homogenized playlists on conglomerate-owned radio stations worldwide.

Earlier this year, POPDOSE welcomed The Godfathers, Animotion, Modern English and, kid you not, Right Said Fred into the Comeback Club. In previous years, Devo, Duran Duran, The Wild Swans, the Ocean Blue and Thomas Dolby have all been celebrated. As 2017 draws to a close, we further expand the ranks.

POPDOSE Comeback Club Qualifications:

  1. Had to have had an original good run (a string of notable albums or singles)
  2. Followed by either a breakup, one or more greatest hits albums, nostalgia touring, and possibly a few sub par “hey, who want’s to hear a new song?” releases
  3. A reunion with key original members (preferred)
  4. New Music that holds up to, or tops, the classics (mandatory)

Here are this year’s second round of inductions to the Comeback Club:

CHEAP TRICK • We’re All Alright!

We get by with a little help from our friends. Just like Rick Rubin helped bring about a Johnny Cash renaissance near the end of his life, we thank Scott Borchetta for believing that a still in their prime Cheap Trick has WAY more to offer the world than simply being one of the world’s greatest live acts. You might not know the name, but Borchetta runs a bitty little country label, Big Machine, that only has one other pop act on its roster, a young lady with tremendous promise named Taylor Swift. We’re All Alright! is packed with 13 blistering rock tracks that capture the energy of early classic Cheap Trick albums like In Color and Dream Police.

We’re All Alright! (like the Blondie record we discuss below) debuted and peaked at #63 on the Billboard 200 – the only way I can explain such dismal results is because both albums got trampled in a sea of new releases. Thankfully, both acts and albums will hold up to the test of time, so hopefully they can steadily build their fan bases in 2018 and beyond. And speaking of great stocking stuffers, Cheap Trick even more recently dropped Christmas Christmas – one of the rare holiday albums that doesn’t suck and actually rocks.

GOLDFINGER • The Knife

Fun facts you might not know about John Feldmann, lead singer of 90’s ska/punk/pop darlings, Goldfinger – in addition to a kickass Goldfinger catalog, he’s one of the top producers and songwriters in the genre – working with the likes of 5 Seconds of Summer, Blink 182 and The Used. I was obsessed with the band’s first three albums – from their first hit “Here in your Bedroom” through the must-have 4-track 7-inch “gold” single featuring “Car Dog” and “FTN” – a 20-year old song that sounds like a prophecy of the dark age we live in today…

Fuck Ted Nugent he’s a fucking jerk / I wish that he’d be gone / Chauvinistic Republican, kills animals / He forgot how to write a song / He’s a dick! Fuck him! Asshole! Fuck him! / Fuck Ted Nugent, and fuck the NRA / And fuck their attitude / He thinks riding a buffalo and wearing Oakleys / Will make him look real cool…

Goldfinger’s ‘Ted Nugent’ follow-up, an animal rights-centric, Open Your Eyes, was heavy-handed even by Morrissey standards and that’s when I gave up on the band – until now.

With Blink 182’s Travis Barker sitting in on drums, Goldfinger delivers what could be their best-ever album and one of the top platters ever in the pop punk arena, The Knife. Not to be left out, Blink’s Mark Hoppus guests on ‘See You Around’. On ‘Get What I Need’, Feldmann fronts a high-energy horn section all while lamenting “Watch the days, the months, the years turn to rust… watch the memories I made turn to dust.” On ‘Am I Deaf’, he sings “Sometimes I feel so old, yeah am I deaf, or just a little left of what they listen to today?” Thing is, he could still just as easily mop the stage with just about any young punk band on the planet.

GENE LOVES JEZEBEL • Dance Underwater

If you thought the quarreling Gallagher brothers of Oasis fame were a handful, they hold nothing to the dueling Ashtons of Gene Loves Jezebel. I adored the band during their original run – they blew the roof off the Phantasy Theater in Cleveland during a late 80’s tour with Flesh For Lulu – but I gave up on them soon after their album 1993 Heavenly Bodies, which according to Wikipedia, “did well in Portugal.” They were the last band I’d ever guess would make the Comeback Club, primarily because each of the twins fronts their own version of the band. Once again, according to the Wiki page, Jay gets to use the name in the UK and has to tack on “Jay Ashton’s…” in the US; the reverse is true with Michael’s rights to the name. If nothing else,  their parents taught them that sharing is caring…

To muddy the waters, Dance Underwater, Jay’s band’s latest album came out in the states under the name Gene Loves Jezebel, perhaps on a technicality as all available CD pressings appear to be imports. The album, is by far the “brand’s” best since 1990’s The Kiss of Life (which was also a Jay joint). Breathtaking cover art photography by Kaya Fesci under the design direction of Adrian Wear welcomes you back into the world of GLJ (quick aside, here’s an option, why can’t Michael use GLJ as a name?). If you can move past the annoying vocal effects in the otherwise stunning album opener, ‘Charmed Life (Never Give In)’, the band lets loose with signature guitar riffs, waves of dreamy keyboards and haunting vocals. Jay’s Gene marries post punk atmospherics to genuinely great pop songs – highlighted by immediate ear worm ‘Summertime’. ‘How Do You Say Goodbye (To Someone You Love)?’ is the emotional highlight of the record and it’s followed by the truly awesome ‘Izitme’ which brings a little Love-era Cult to the proceedings.

Enthusiasm for this album encouraged me to subsequently pick up the 5-disc box set of Gene Loves Jezebel’s first 5 albums, complete with bonus tracks, which turned out to be more glorious than I imagined. I had most of these albums on cassette so the upgrade takes my appreciation of the band to a whole new level.

BLANCMANGE • Unfurnished Rooms / FADER • First Light

POPDOSE welcomed Neil Arthur into the Comeback Club when his Blancmange album, Semi Detached, topped my overall, retro-heavy Best Albums of 2015 list. But then he had his membership suspended by releasing two interesting, but off brand albums in their wake. The instrumental Nil by Mouth and mostly instrumental Commuter 23 were perfectly fine, weird, minimalist, experimental electronic records – they just didn’t have the wit, tightness or pop ambitions of Blancmange’s seminal work when they were a duo (Happy Families through Blanc Burn) or as an Arthur-fronted solo act (Semi Detached and the inessential remake Happy Families Too). If released as solo records or under different names, they would have been cherished additions to any completist’s Neil Arthur collection.

Well, in 2017 – both Arthur and the Blancmange brand came roaring back in fine form, releasing 11 CDs of essential music between June and September. First up came First Light from Fader, a new partnership between Arthur and electronic music artist, Benge (Ben Edwards). First Light is a tight and stellar post punk record that would satiate fans of The Fall, Joy Division and Interpol. ‘I Prefer Solitude’ is also one of Arthur’s most anthemic vocal performances since ‘Waves’ (see below). Arthur and Benge released a second album a few months later, but under the Blancmange brand. Unfurnished Rooms is the follow-up Semi-Detached truly deserved, with guitarist David Rhodes back in the fold. Rhodes has appeared on just about every Blancmange record plus, when he found the time, I think just about every Peter Gabriel album.

 

In between the two releases, Edsel released The Blanc Tapes, a 9-disc box set spotlighting Arthur’s first three Blancmange albums with Rhodes and keyboardist Stephen Luscombe. Most of the b-sides and rarities were previously released on earlier reissues of Happy Families, Mange Tout and Believe You Me – this set adds fresh liner notes, BBC radio sessions and concert recordings. Each of these albums are also sold separately as 3-disc reissues.

OMD • The Punishment of Luxury

 

One would think with an album title like The Punishment of Luxury, the LAST thing a band would do is hawk a $100 special edition that features a bonus CD of demos, colored vinyl and lavish packaging – but they did, and I bought it (I am such a sucker). While the box set doesn’t provide a return on investment like Debbie Gibson’s mega box set We Could Be Together, the album continues OMD’s comeback streak that began two albums prior with History of Modern in 2010 and continued with English Electric in 2013. The album, a dissection of “first world problems” pushes OMD back towards their stripped down electronics and sciencey nerd themes of their early records.

OMD releases The Punishment of Luxury: B-Sides & Bonus Material in the UK on 12/15 and in the US on 12/22.

BUCKINGHAM MCVIE

Buckingham McVie is much more like a Stevie Nicks-less Fleetwood Mac record and much less like a Stevie Nicks-less Buckingham Nicks. Mick Fleetwood and John McVie are all over this record; it bridges the gap between Mirage and Tango in the Night and is way better than any Mac album from 1990 onward, including their last formal outing, a Christine McVie-free Extended Play EP in 2013 (a release so instantly forgettable they didn’t even bother to name it).

SPARKS • Hippopotamus

If Sparks never released anything except for ‘Cool Places’ with Jane Wiedlin or the Roy Moore survival guide ‘Tips for Teens’, they would forever have a place in my heart. But they’ve been back with a vengeance since teaming with Franz Ferdinand to form the supergroup FFS in 2015. This year, the brothers Ron and Russell Mael returned with Hippopotamus, an utterly ridiculous, giddily joyful, over the top new wave pop opera. ‘Probably Nothing’ begins the show with all the cheeky grandeur of a Broadway opening salvo. ‘Missionary Position’ follows; finally someone has the balls to admit there’s nothing wrong with it: “The tried and true is good enough for me and you…”. The same thought might apply to Sparks brand of pop – there’s nothing else like it and that’s good enough.

At 15 songs in length, taking in this album in a single sitting is like trying to eat a 15 scoop banana split sundae in a single setting. Split it in half and it’s a delicious escape from the dreariness of the real world.

BLONDIE • Pollinator

Blondie used to be one of the world’s sexiest, most dangerous bands. They married new wave synths to edgy guitar post punk, dabbled in reggae and disco, and brought rap to the top of the charts. Just like it took an outsider, Mark Ronson, to plug long the wayward Duran Duran back into their original mojo (2009’s All You Need is Now), it took a village of today’s biggest songwriters to take “safe Blondie” (post 1997-reunion) back to the grit of Warhol-era New York, complete with graffiti-laden subway cars, porn in Times Square and a still-standing CBGBs. Pollinator is an exhilarating ride, a cohesive masterpiece born out of dozens of imaginations.

Joan Jett kicks off the collaborations, and Laurie Anderson (in a hidden track on the CD) ends it. In between, cool kids like Charli XCX, Blood Orange (Dev Hynes), Johnny Marr, Dave Sitek (TV on the Radio), Nick Valensi (The Strokes) and Sia create music on-par with Parallel Lines that also sounds modern or ahead of its time in 2017. Debbie Harry’s voice has never sounded better. Chris Stein and the band play with the vigor of scrappy young upstarts. Blondie is sexier and more dangerous than ever, plus they can use their AARP cards on the road for tremendous savings with gas, food and lodging.

BOB SEGER • I Knew You When

While most members of the Comeback Club are new wave artists, we were thrilled beyond words to induct Bob Seger this year. After watching Steve Miller’s post Rock Hall induction tirade, I was fearful Seger was going to fall into the same old “grumpy old man” trap. My fears were dashed the instant I heard his tribute to the late Glenn Frey. Seger gave away ‘Glenn’s Song’ on the anniversary of the Eagles frontman’s passing – such a fitting tribute since Frey’s passing sort of got lost amidst the monumental deaths of Bowie and Prince.

Long before I ventured left of the dial to discover punk, post punk and new wave via Cleveland’s top college stations WRUW and WCSB, Seger was among my favorite artists and a staple on WMMS, the flame-throwing buzzard. In the 1970’s, Detroit and Cleveland were the epicenters of industry and culture; Seger’s songs were anthems of the people who lived all around me. For most artists, live records were contract fillers; for Seger, Live Bullet and Nine Tonight rank among his most important work and remain on par with fellow classics Cheap Trick At Budokan and Frampton Comes Alive.

I Knew You When (available in a 13 track deluxe powerhouse affair) is a total return to the classic sound of Night Moves, Stranger in Town and The Distance. It’s hard to imagine Seger’s last huge album, Like a Rock, is now 31 years old. You’d never know it from Seger circa 2017, his voice is as resonant as ever, the songs as urgent, the stories are as deep. The track list includes two flawless and very timely covers: Lou Reed’s ‘Busload of Faith’ and Leonard Cohen’s ‘Democracy’. With this album, Seger regains his title as king of Motor City blues infused rock – Jack White held the title for a few years before heading south to Nashville.

I Knew You When debuted and peaked at #25 and in week #3 is close to plummeting off the Billboard 200. The cover art, which depicts a very young Seger, might confuse buyers who might think this album is a reissue of one of his late 1960s records. Hopefully with the prestigious recognition of this Comeback Club induction, the record will catch fire and find the audience it deserves.

And finally, a few HONORABLE MENTIONS

Charter members of the Comeback Club, The Wonder Stuff, were somewhat back in 2017; We Came Here to Work is the latest sideshow from frontman Miles Hunt and violinist Erica Nockalls. Depeche Mode was back with Sprit, but they never stopped releasing awesome records, so they’re (so far) ineligible for the Comeback Club. And finally, it was such a divine honor to hear the late, great, Comeback Club ineligible Chuck Berry end his career on the highest note imaginable with the amazing album, Chuck. More on these records in upcoming year-end recaps.

Listmania: What Are Your Ten Favorite Pop/Rock Instrumentals?

The day when an instrumental song could top the pop charts is probably long gone. It wasn’t always the case, and that doesn’t necessarily mean the usefulness of the instrumental track is over. It has, however, severely changed.

You could even say that the instrumental artist is the pillar of the modern pop music machine. You only have to go as far as producer Frank Dukes (a/k/a Canadian-born Adam King Feeney) who creates whole albums of instrumental tracks expressly for the purposes of providing hip-hop artists with pre-made beats to rap over. There’s still a decent instrumental movement in the deepest part of indie rock where Explosions in the Sky, Godspeed You Black Emperor, and Pelican reside. But you will not see something like Harold Faltermeyer’s “Axel F,” otherwise known as the Axel Foley Theme from Beverly Hills Cop, take pride of place on the charts. 

So when the Popdose Staff was recently thrown the question, “What are your ten favorite pop/rock instrumentals,” the answers were revealing in their wide range and their deep-seated nostalgia.

Before we dig into which songs were the most mentioned, it is interesting that three tracks did not make the cut: Mason Williams’ “Classical Gas,” Jan Hammer’s “Theme From Miami Vice,” and Gershon Kingsley’s 1969 song “Popcorn” from the album Music To Moog By. A couple of years later, the group Hot Butter would make a hit of the song. The initial version of the song was one of the first fully-electronic tracks to be recognized and embraced by a large audience, and is often regarded as proto-electronic dance music.

A couple of artists appear on multiple occasions on the list including Rush and The Allman Bros. Many surf-rock bands make appearances as well like The Ventures, The Chantays, Dick Dale, and Surfaris. Even the Beach Boys appear, but hardly in surf-rock mode.

A couple of songs appear in spite of having an occasional chant shout-out in their tunes. The Ventures’ “Walk Don’t Run” stretches the definition in some versions where the title is briefly chanted, and The Bar-Kays’ “Soul Finger” goes even farther. “Hocus Pocus” by Focus is the most controversial of what’s included. Are the yodels singing, and can they be considered lyrics even though they’re more vocalization than verbalization? We leave that for you to decide.

In terms of which songs received multiple votes: Duane Eddy’s “Rebel Rouser”; The Tornadoes’ “Telstar”; Eric Johnson, “Cliffs Of Dover”; The Allman Brothers’ “Jessica”; Booker T. and the MGs’ “Green Onions”; “Wipe Out” by Surfaris; The Beach Boys’ “Let’s Go Away For Awhile”; and the previously mentioned “Axel F” and “Soul Finger” each scored twice.

If there are winners in duplication, it comes down to a tie between Santo & Johnny’s “Sleepwalk” and “Oscillate Wildly” by The Smiths which received three nods each.

Here is the full list in alphabetical order by artist.

808 State – Pacific
Art of Noise – Love
Blur – Intermission
Booker T and the MGs – Green Onions
Booker T. & The MG’s – Time Is Tight
Boston – Foreplay
Camper Van Beethoven – Waka
Colourbox – Sleepwalker
Daft Punk — Da Funk
Dick Dale – Miserlou
Dick Dale – Nitro
Duane Eddy — Rebel Rouser
Duran Duran – Tel Aviv
Eagles – Journey of the Sorcerer
Edgar Winter Group – Frankenstein
Elton John – Funeral for a Friend
Eric Johnson – Cliffs Of Dover
Explosions in the Sky – Your Hand in Mine
Floyd Cramer – Last Date
Focus – Hocus Pocus
Frank Zappa – Didja Get Any Onya?
Frank Zappa – Night School
Harold Faltemeyer – Axel F
Jeff Beck — Beck’s Bolero
Jeff Beck – Freeway Jam
Johnny Thunders – Pipeline
Kai Winding – More
King Crimson – Larks Tongues in Aspic, Pt. 1
Led Zeppelin – Moby Dick
Link Wray — Rumble
Los Straitjackets – Pacifica
Love and Rockets – Saudade
Luther Ingram – Exus Trek
Mason Ruffner – Courage
Michel Polnareff — Voyages
New Order – Elegia
Paul Mauriat & Orchestra – Love Is Blue
Paul McCartney & Wings – Zoo Gang
Pink Floyd – Careful With That Axe, Eugene
Pink Floyd – One of These Days
Prince – Father’s Song
Prince – Alexia de Paris
REM – Endgame
Reverend Horton Heat – Big Sky
Rob D – Clubbed to Death
Roger Webb – Moon Bird
Rush – La Villa Strangiato
Rush – Malignant Narcissism
Rush – YYZ
Santo & Johnny – Sleepwalk
Smiths – Oscillate Wildly
Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble – Scuttle Buttin’
Surfaris – Wipe Out
The Alan Parsons Project – Sirius
The Allman Brothers — In Memory of Elizabeth Reed
The Allman Brothers – Jessica
The Bar Kays – Soul Finger
The Beach Boys — Let’s Go Away For Awhile
The Chantays – Pipeline
The Mar Keys – Last Night
The Shadows – Apache
The Tornadoes – Telstar
The Who — Quadrophenia
Tomoyasu Hotei – Battle Without Honor Or Humanity
UB40 – Nkomo a Go Go
Van Halen — Spanish Fly
Ventures – Walk Don’t Run
War – City, Country, City
Yes – Clap
Yngwie Malmsteen – Icarus Dream Suite Opus #4
Yoko Kanno and the Seat Belts – Tank!

Anything we missed? Let us know in the comments section!