DVD/CD REVIEW: THE WHO, “Isle Of Wight 2004 Festival”

Only two years after the long-dormant festival was resurrected, one of the bands who left a pretty timeless mark previously at the storied festival, returned to play another blistering set, this time, highlighting their own incredible career.  The Who returned to the U.K. stage for the first time since the death of bass player John “The Ox” Entwistle and took the Isle Of Wight Festival by storm for the first time since 1970.  As expected, their set was a deadly force of power, pop, rock, drama, theatre and downright unstoppable beauty (which 9 times out of ten, you can pretty much expect from a Who performance).  Aided and abetted by the stellar talents of Pete Townshend’s brother, Simon, on second guitar and vocals, session bassist/virtuoso talent Pino Palladino (the only man who could step in for the late and sorely missed Entwistle), thunder drummer Zak Starkey (taught to play by Keith Moon, so it’s only natural) and long time Who keyboardist Rabbit Bundrick (who has since left the band), this line-up constitutes the perfect balance of fleshing out The Who’s highly intricate sound without watering it down or making it less than dynamic.

The hits and concert staples are here, along with a few surprises and it’s a very healthy mix, spanning the band’s decades of being road (and studio) warriors.  Opening with the now-traditional “I Can’t Explain”, they tear into “Substitute” and on to “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere” (which you wouldn’t normally expect – at least, not at that time) – a joy to see and hear them bring back into the fold, as it’s such an often-overlooked track.  High points from Quadrophenia include the triad of “The Punk Meets The Godfather”, “5:15” and “Love Reign O’er Me” (once again reminding you why Roger Daltrey is the greatest rock singer of all time).  A spirited run-through of “You Better You Bet” leads into the all-time anthem, “My Generation” and the Tommy section doesn’t disappoint with the thread of “Pinball Wizard”, “Amazing Journey”, “Sparks” and “See Me, Feel Me”/”Listening To You”.

If you’ve never experienced (and that’s the key word:  experience) seeing The Who live, it is absolutely essential that you do while there’s still time.  Even now – thirteen years after this show was filmed – they’re still out there, doing it.  Some nights may be better than others, but regardless, you will never be disappointed by them for the sheer energy and life they breathe into these songs and into their audiences.  I know – I’ve seen them many times over the years.  And this visual documentary is a perfect reminder of what Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey and those songs can do for the human spirit.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

The Who – Isle Of Wight 2004 Festival is currently available

www.thewho.com/

Album Review: Anathema, “The Optimist”

The Anathema that released A Fine Day To Exit in 2001 is not the same Anathema that has just released The Optimist. Both bands consist largely of the same members, including the Cavanagh Brothers and Lee Douglas, now a full-time member of the group, but in terms of overall philosophy, changes are stark and hard to ignore. The last track of A Fine Day To Exit, “Temporary Peace,” featured a sound collage of someone parking their car by the seaside and entering the waves. The cover art depicted a suicide by drowning, from the cabin of a vehicle. The ephemera in the photo showed vague hints of a horrific regret. The question that lingered over the album, while not a concept record in the strict sense of it was, “Can you live with yourself after a tragedy?” The album’s despairing response seemed to be “no.”

But this isn’t that Anathema, and the opening track of The Optimist, “32.63N 117.14W” returns to that soundscape. The man swims back to shore, gets back in the car and, tellingly, straps his seatbelt on. He gasps for air. Clearly, he’s not ready to shuck off life just yet. Thus, the narrative of the record — that even when faced with living with terrible consequences, living is the key — has already defined itself in a much different way than its predecessor, and the music hasn’t even started yet.

Trading vocal duties with Daniel and Vincent Cavanagh, Lee Douglas asserts herself as a vital and necessary component of the band mix this time out. Not that she didn’t sound terrific on previous outings, but in this album’s context, her voice continually reflects hope, whereas Vincent, who was the primary vocalist on A Fine Day To Exit, embodies doubt and uncertainty and, at times, anger. 

So too, the record moves stylistically through lots of moods and changes, from gentle, piano-driven ballads straight into hard rock territory, to unsettling electronic touches. The instrumental “San Francisco” pulses somewhere between Giorgio Moroder’s “Chase (Theme From Midnight Express)” and Boards of Canada-esque cinematic wooziness. The narrative seems to track this character of The Optimist through ups and downs of reconciliation and relapses of despair, and by the time we get to the final track, “Back To The Start,” it seems like we’ve come back to where we started at the water’s edge, back to questions and matters of life and death. But again, this is a different Anathema than before.

For those who have been taking this ride with the band, from the epic depths of the previously mentioned album from 2001 and the following A Natural Disaster, to the resurgent and revivified We’re Here Because We’re Here and on, The Optimist acts as a level-headed victory lap of sorts. Strictly from a song perspective, the group has never sounded better, more focused, and more purpose-driven than now. It takes courage to revisit an older album, and let’s be clear. A Fine Day To Exit is a fantastic record, but it is bleak. Its final statement has stood, for nearly a decade and a half, unchallenged. That the band should reengage with this presumed storyline and say, in essence, that a fine day is one where one cheats exits for the promise of forgiveness and further entrances, should give moody, doomy prog rock lovers pause. 

Anathema’s The Optimist isn’t about platitudes and smile emojis. It isn’t about feel-good escapism (and some moments on the record indeed feel like this story could go either way), but it is about hope…which you can only tap into so long as you’re alive. This new(er) Anathema is worth spending your time with.   

REVIEW: Dispatch – “America, Location 12”

Precisely what city or small town or hidden, leafy enclave is mapped in America, Location 12, the recently released sixth LP from indie darlings Dispatch? It’s hard to say for sure, but the album – out now on Bomber/Kobalt and the group’s first since 2012’s Circles Around The Sun – is an eclectic and wonderful thing, and posits its own little stories and theories about what makes the pulse of these United States beat in the first place.

We would forgive a listener for thinking, in the early moments on the disc, that Dispatch was offering its American, somewhat roots-ish brand of indie-rock as a kind of commentary on the nation’s patchwork patterns of immigration, as the first two songs hint at foreign islands – “Be Gone” with a guitar line punching out an energetic Irish jig, “Only The Wild Ones” with its vaguely sun-splashed Caribbean jangliness. From there, though, the album really starts churning and producing steam, presenting a kind of folksy pop-rock hybrid with silkily delivered but quirky lyrics, choruses with lots of hooks, and verses with plenty of texture and dimension. This time out, think Sufjan Stevens by way of Soul Coughing. (The Soul Coughing comparison is particularly appropriate on the excellent groove of “Skin The Rabbit,” which is complete with fun bass slides and a potentially Doughty-inspired vocal turn.)

The trio reaches for the stars and grabs them on “Rice Water,” which starts as a mellow acoustic aside and transforms into a poppy march where the band details, sometimes in falsetto, its need (or lack thereof) for God, guns, water and laughter, among a host of other things. That’s followed by the equally excellent “Water Like,” where the acoustic mix is borderline shimmery and the organ/guitar interplay hints at the trio’s jam-band or jam-band-inspired status. Then, to “Ghost Town” – so much excellence in this stretch of the disc – which, like “Rice Water,” morphs from a spare acoustic shuffle to a more fleshed-out pop offering with hand-claps and multiple backing vocal refrains. The disc ends with the borderline-funky “Atticus Cobain.”

One of the reasons America, Location 12 is so damned enticing is that the trio sounds like it’s having so much fun playing it. There’s a kind of precision to the performances, to be sure, but also a special glow or warmth to the entire recording that goes beyond the faders. These guys are having a good time and – thank you, New England – you should, too. And, theses aside, Dispatch has made an engaging outing here, from the ethnic jaunt of its opener to the almost-urban throb of the verses on “Midnight Lorry” to the bouncy bass and pop perfection of “Painted Yellow Lines,” where guitarist/vocalist Brad Corrigan intones, “America warm my face/ I’ve been trying to turn the page.” Now, don’t turn this page too fast.

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POPDOSE PREMIERE: The Burning Peppermints, “Don’t Try to Lie to Me”

If you’re craving a throwback moment to those early-2000s glory days when punk blended with the post-grunge apocalypse spawning bands like Fuel and bastards like Nickelback, the Burning Peppermints are here for you. The Birmingham, Alabama, natives’ sound blends the buzzing drone of bands like Soundgarden with a touch of Blink-182 in their sneering, snotty vocals.

To say they’re unlike any artist on Top 40 radio today is true; to say they’d be right at home on the 2001 Billboard charts is also true — and that’s a great thing. For a generation just hitting the point of nostalgia for their formative years (meekly raising my hand over here), the familiarity their music evokes is topped only by their adventurousness, pushing the envelope further and further.

Their video for their new single, “Don’t Try to Lie to Me” recalls the virality of bands like OK Go and their wacky video concepts. Instead of being completely off-the-wall, however, the Burning Peppermints’ colorful concept featuring buckets of paint on white suits forces the viewer to keep watching (even if frontman Jake Wittig wiping his eyes every other second does make your own eyes ache in sympathy).

For an audio and visual treat, check out the Burning Peppermints’ video for “Don’t Try to Lie to Me” below!

REVIEW: Peter Searcy – “Leave It All Out There”

Sometimes, you want to listen to a straight-forward rock record about broken relationships. And, with Leave It All Out There, singer/songwriter Peter Searcy delivers.

The album, out now on Louisville imprint Eastwood Records, presents the listener with seven tried-and-true musical vignettes about the mechanics of ending a romance. It’s not a song cycle, per se, not in the truest sense of the word, but, instead, a series of windows onto personal calamity. And, autobiographical or not, it happens to rock. Searcy, whose highly familiar means of belting out a tune has led bands like Squirrel Bait and Big Wheel, has a great handle on the material and presentation, peppering songs with great little vocal inflections and pristine pop lines like “She sucks the words off candy hearts/ And leaves them speechless in the dark,” the record’s opening couplet.

The most glowing moment on the record, though, might be the single “Better Lie,” where an addictive-as-candy chorus hook is accented by a high-in-the-mix, wailing guitar line. Searcy uses that guitar-line trick more than a handful of times on the record, the sustained single notes bending out a kind of harmony, and it sounds invigorating rather than predictable. Seven songs? Too short, my friend!

The record will appeal to fans of Frank Black (at his least angular) and Bob Mould, angry young men who morphed into seasoned songwriters during solo outings. (The Mould comparison is particularly apt, as Searcy’s Squirrel Bait got a big boost in the awareness department for its first record back in the mid-80s thanks to a Husker Du shout-out.) Searcy also shares his delivery, in a sense, with another punk-veteran-turned-rock-songwriter: Paul Westerberg. Again, this is capital-R Rock, with distorted, clangy and crunchy guitars and big, big choruses, not the textural punk of Squirrel Bait, but Searcy has been delivering it during a solo record dating back more than 10 years now and he clearly knows the terrain.

But, then there are the lyrics. They’re not poetry, sure sure, but Searcy has a way of playing with plain language and making it work on his behalf. So, we get “I don’t want to pull the Band-Aid any slower” and “There’s a sign that’s says cash for gold/ They can have my time but they can’t take my soul.” It’s more of a functional breed of lyricism than an illuminating one but, in the context of again, a big-R Rock record, it works and works well.

Near the record’s close is another gem, “Liar’s Lullaby,” where organ and punchy guitars line the verse and Searcy, who recently moved to Georgia, occasionally flashes his Louisville credentials. (He sings the word “deemed” as “dimmed” in that warm Lull-ville fashion.) The choruses on that song are big and rafter-shaking but the thing that sells it is the organ and Searcy’s delivery. That delivery is what keeps Leave It All Out There from being a kind of college-rock retread and instead standing out as a release worthy of attention by aficionados of big refrains.

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Nobody’s Favorite Record Reviews, No. 1: Ringo the 4th (1977), by Ringo Starr

Hi- David Allen Jones aka Johnny Bacardi here, and I’m delighted to be back writing stuff n’ junk for you here at Popdose again.  Comics reviews will be forthcoming, but I also want to start a new column, in which I take a look at record releases of days gone by that may not have been received as, well…warmly as the releaser(s) intended, and in which I try (sometimes successfully, I think, and sometimes not so) to make a humble case for your reappraisal, or at least get across why I actually like those mostly scorned albums.

I’d also like to state, and probably not for the last time, that the whole “Nobody’s Favorite” thing is not my original idea; it’s been used by a couple of bloggers of my acquaintance before, most notably David Weiss and “Calamity” Jon Morris. But not for albums, and that’s where I’m planting my little flagpole. So let’s go.

Ringo the 4th is, I think it’s safe to say, nobody’s favorite Ringo album.

In the middle of the 70’s, no solo Fab was hotter on the charts than Richie, not even Sir Paul. 1971’s hit singles “It Don’t Come Easy” and “Back Off Boogaloo” set the table for the triumph that was 1973’s Ringo, a true all-star affair that had not only performances and songs by the other Lads (even 3 at once on “I’m the Greatest”, sparking reunion rumors anew), but guest perfs by Harry Nilsson, Marc Bolan, and members of the Band as well as production by Richard Perry at the peak of his creativity. He had three top 40 hits with the great “Photograph”, “Oh My My”, and “You’re Sixteen”.  The next year, the follow-up Goodnight Vienna (with much of Ringo’s cast returning, including Perry once again at the helm) was almost as good and spawned two more hits, “Only You” and “No No Song”. Then, his Apple contract expired as the whole Apple Records thing evaporated, he was signed by Arif Mardin for Atlantic Records, and despite the hitmaking Mardin producing (Perry apparently believing that guiding the music of the likes of Carly Simon and Leo Sayer was preferable) his first effort for that label, Ringo’s Rotogravure was a spectacular flop. The magic of ’71-’74 had disappeared and the more R&B-flavored album produced no hits, despite (somewhat lackluster) contributions from John, George, Paul, and Eric Clapton. At least it had nice packaging- the gatefold sleeve of that one is more fun than the music.

Undaunted, Ringo went back into the studio the next year, Mardin once more at the helm, and recorded an even more overt R&B-flavored set of songs with a strong Disco flavor, the Disco movement being in its full flower. No guest star cameos this time, no songs from his mates. Many of the songs were covers, but the six originals were co-writes credited to Starr and his partner Vini Poncia (who had co-written “Oh My My”). It was titled the way it was because, despite the fact that it was actually Ringo’s sixth solo record, he decided not to count the first two, the standards album Sentimental Journey and the Nashville-recorded country/western set Beaucoups of Blues, since the weren’t “rock records”. Despite the revisionist history, Ringo the 4th it didn’t sell and was critically drubbed- Robert Christgau, one of the few critics who chose to devote some time to reviewing it, dismissed it with a D grade.

Yep, another Ringo flop album, and he soon was dismissed from his Atlantic contract. In all fairness, this didn’t seem to bother our boy very much- this was at the height of his L.A. party animal phase, and he was always seen out and about and drinking copiously and generally loving life. But a funny thing happened, at least to this still rather ardent Beatle fan…while I took my time picking it up (I really hated Rotogravure) not getting it till sometime late in 1978, when I did get around to giving it a spin, I didn’t hate it, at all. In fact, I found myself kinda liking it.

So, what say we sit back and let me hold forth about this ugliest of ducklings, often cited as the album that killed Ringo’s career? Let’s go.

Side One.

Drowning in the Sea of Love. A Gamble/Huff hit song for Joe Simon in 1971. Backed by a surging, string-heavy, aggressive arrangement with tasteful guitar licks and Disco Dolly backing vocals (Bette Midler and Melissa Manchester were among the vocalists), Richie seems to be hanging on for dear life, bellowing out his vocals drunkenly (height of his boozing period, remember…but he sounds positively sober here compared to some of the other songs, more on that later) as the ladies coo “One time…two times…”. This probably should have been the lead single in the US, but it wasn’t; it was released to radio well after the record’s poor word of mouth had sunk it. A promo clip was filmed, who knows where it aired.

Tango All Night.  Written by Steve Hague and Tom Seufert, whoever they are, it’s pleasant and lighthearted but awfully bland; set at a disco shuffle tempo with a hint of salsa somewhere in the mix. Guess what Richie wants to do in this one.

Wings. The first of six Poncia/Starr originals, and the inexplicable first single release, it’s a plodding mid-tempo track with some chicken scratch guitar by Yoko’s ex-lover and ace session guitarist David Spinozza. Not about one of his former bandmates’ groups. It barely troubled the charts, but it’s not hard to sit through.

Gave It All Up. This one is actually a keeper- a slow-tempo reminisce about love won and lost, punctuated by Don Brooks’ folksy harmonica. Ringo’s woozy vocal is warm and likable, and I’d rank this with his best solo songs, if I was making a very long list.

Out on the Streets. This one’s a full-on disco boogie tune, with horns and more Disco Dolly BVs, in which Ringo tries to sound streetwise or something. It’s fast paced but ultimately boring,  plodding along until it expires. A rather generic track.

Side Two.

Can She Do It Like She Dances?. The album picks up considerably with this one, in my opinion one of the best on the album. It’s definitely set at a hi-hat heavy disco tempo, but the arrangement reminds me a lot of can-can dancing or something, appropriate given the subject matter, in which Ringo drunkenly (and I do mean drunkenly)  seems to slobber all over the mike as he wonders if the object of his affection can “do it” like she dances, knowwhatImean nudge nudge wink wink. I love the way Ringo sings “And she moved so tender-ly“, sounding guttural and horny as hell. Songwriting credit goes to another couple of old pros, Steve Duboff and Gerry Robinson, and no, I have no idea who they are/were either.

Sneaking Sally Through the Alley. The Allen Toussaint perennial gets a nicely funky disco-fied workout. It’s a great song, and Richie does it justice, I think. It’s a perfect song for his limited vocal range. No patch on Bob Palmer, but fun just the same.

Unfortunately, that’s where the album peaks. The last three songs are all Starr/Vini Poncidearo cowrites, and their most common feature is their utter lack of anything remarkable.

It’s No Secret. Pretty much a love song, punctuated with weird synth & string noises. Not unpleasant, but slick and forgettable, and not unlike a lot of songs that did get airplay at the time.

Gypsies in Flight. This one’s even more laid back and strives for a tropical feel with slide guitar and synthesizer keyboard. The melody is weak and Ringo’s vocal is aimless and drowsy-sounding. Good track to nod off in a hammock on the beach between two palm trees, I guess, but you can say that about a lot of songs.

Simple Love Song attempts to pick up the tempo and close the album on an upbeat note, but unfortunately it isn’t very strong melodically and just kinda disco boogies along until the needle hits the out groove. Ace guitarists and session guys Lon Van Eaton and Danny Kortchmar play on this, but you’d never know it.

After the failure of this record, Ringo wound up signing to a subsidiary of Columbia Records, Portrait, for the mostly-covers followup Bad Boy- but no one was having that one either. In spite of everything, however, Starr continued to record for many years after that, even up to present day, and revived his career at least on stage via his popular and lucrative “All-Starr Band” tours. A few interesting records came and went, most notably 1981’s Stop and Smell the Roses, released in the wake of the murder of John Lennon and an underrated record if ever there was one, and 1991’s multi-producer release Time Takes Time, which squandered the talents of the likes of uber-hot producer Jeff Lynne and Jellyfish’s Andy Sturmer on some very ordinary songs…but was still worth a listen. Of course, there was also the Threetle reunion and Beatles Anthology project; he also got some attention when his tribute song to George Harrison “Never Without You”, made some headlines in the early 00’s after his bandmate’s passing. These days, Starr still tours with the A-SB, bringing along a rotating cast of amazing musicians such as Ian Hunter, Todd Rundgren, and many others, and releases the occasional generic popsong album which a handful of fans dutifully buy. I even own a couple of them, obtained this way and that, but I couldn’t tell you what a single song sounds like on any of them. Ringo is thankfully still with us, and incredibly seems younger than other surviving bandmate McCartney. As he is so fond of saying at every opportunity, Peace and Love to him and to all of you for reading this.

CD Review: Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie, “Buckingham McVie”

It turns out there’s reason enough why the new album by Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie is not credited to Fleetwood Mac. It very well could have been. Both Mick Fleetwood and John McVie contribute. During Buckingham’s “producing mad scientist” years, around Tusk or thereabouts, it’s hard to believe these two founders didn’t find their drums and bass augmented, shall we say? Shiftier moves have been made than considering this a Mac album.

So why isn’t this a proper Mac release? First, that initially was the intention until Stevie Nicks was caught being Stevie Nicks. The momentum to continue recording as a full-blown reunion may have sputtered, but the momentum of the titular artists did not. That’s a good thing.

Good, but not great, is the best description for the record as a whole. Nothing on the album is going to survive nearly as well or as long as the stuff that emerged from Fleetwood Mac to Mirage, but while this disc is on, it is a reminder of how good (there’s that word again) Lindsey and Christine are together.

The source of the emotional confusion lies in the tribute-like nature of the songs herein. “Red Sun” demonstrates the same feel as found on “Think About Me,” and pointedly namedrops the earlier song to cement the connection. “In My World” brings back the computerized sex moans hook of “Big Love.” “Feel About You” wears the DNA of “Hold Me” on its sleeve, and “Carnival Begin” cops the loping rhythm of “I’m So Afraid.” Weirdly, the record’s primary focus seems to find the performers honoring themselves in backhanded fashion.

Yet I defy anyone to feel anything but joy at hearing McVie sing with such devotion through the piano ballad “Game of Pretend,” carrying lyrics — which, on paper, could read as utterly sappy and cringe-inducing — into a sense of purity that smothers any hint of jadedness. Buckingham’s choirs of intricate madness permeate the collection, and his severely underrated guitar chops often have the space to shine.

The secret weapon, as it has always been, is McVie. Back in those magical days, as that stalwart blues-rock staple was transforming into a textbook study of pop perfection, she had the hardest task of all: being the soft anchor that held down two of rock’s most eccentric personalities. Now, as then, she grounds Lindsey, even as he’s lifting her up. It’s a terrific balance that they have duplicated here.

But this is a duplication, an approximation that, even though it sounds terrific, doesn’t quite get the job done. These two individuals had to top their earlier selves, and maybe that’s an impossible task. Equally impossible would have been for the listener to lower their expectations. Taken for what it is, however, Buckingham McVie neatly strolls you down memory lane without actually trodding the same ground. I wasn’t blown away, but I was not necessarily disappointed. It’s not Fleetwood Mac, but it can be close enough.  

When Yes Comes To Shove

Don’t let the undercurrent of love and peace fool you. In Yes World, things are demonstrably “No.”

The blame, if we absolutely must assign it, falls on bassist Chris Squire’s shoulders for having the temerity to die. Being the keeper of the flame and the name, lo these many years, he had first right to use the intricate logo Roger Dean designed for the band so long ago.

Singer Jon Anderson, second in succession, hadn’t been with the group since the Symphonic Tour, a keyboard-free iteration which was developed after the release of the album Magnification. Other members of Yes’ first wave — Peter Banks, Tony Kaye, Tony O’Reilly –were either deceased or dispossessed. More well-known names to follow like Rick Wakeman, Bill Bruford, and Steve Howe did not have the ability to lay claim to the name unilaterally. Not like Jon Anderson.

Prior to Squire’s death, Yes released two albums. Fly From Here was a reunion of the Drama-era lineup with The Buggles (with Trevor Horn handling production), featuring for the first and last time vocalist Benoit David (not David Benoit, as is often reported. Hard to make this stuff up.) Heaven and Earth found a new, new vocalist in the form of another Jon: Jon Davison. It was produced by Roy Thomas Baker who also produced Anderson’s late-’80s solo record 3 Ships.

Another reunion of sorts occurred when Anderson joined forces with Wakeman and Trevor Rabin, the famed guitarist who brought the band to heights of popularity with Yes’ early-’80s albums, and they went on tour as ARW (or is it AWR).

Then there were the considerably frosty Rock and Roll Hall of Fame acceptance speeches, made memorable only by Wakeman’s wonderfully irreverent “ta’ hell with it” attitude throughout his speech. Apart from that, audiences were treated (?) to simulated camaraderie and injections of pomposity which may or may not have been attempts at humor. Scant days later, Anderson’s publicists announced that his faction would now be co-opting the Yes name, asserting that they were the rightful heirs.

Of course, Yes from Earth One objected.

If this all sounds similar to you — apart from the longstanding Yes pose of members being perpetually at each others’ throats — it does offer parallels to bands with contentious splits and reformations, some of which actually don’t have Steve Howe in them. The Yes/Emerson Lake and Palmer/Buggles/King Crimson supergroup Asia was, for a period of time, toplined by singer John Payne. Prior to that, founding member Howe left, then founding vocalist John Wetton left, leaving Geoff Downes and Carl Palmer as the caretakers of the enterprise. Then the original lineup came back for a reunion tour and Payne was ousted. Briefly Payne took Asia newbies Guthrie Govan and Jay Schellen with him to form GPS. It did not last.

Payne tried to reassert himself as the voice of Asia, seeing as how he actually held the position longer than Wetton did. Nostalgic fans, voting with their wallets, felt otherwise. Suddenly there were two: “Original Asia” and “Asia with John Payne.” The continent was unavailable for comment.

The poster children for internecine dysfunction are Queensryche which split, for a time, between Tate-filled and Tate-free varieties. Geoff Tate, longtime lead singer claimed the name. The rest of the band, now featuring Crimson Glory vocalist Todd LaTorre, said in essence, “We outnumber you.” After a release from the former and two from the latter, a judge gave the final ownership of the brand to the rest of the band. Tate renamed his group Operation: Mindcrime after one of Queensryche’s most popular releases. Both entities continue to struggle to regain the level of recognition they once had and, as perplexing as it may sound, reunion rumors swirl.

This leads us back to our warring proggers of Yes-terday. There is little question that, at some point, the two separatists will reemerge as one, either when it becomes financially beneficial to do so, or more cynically when someone else dies. In the meantime, the bands do damage to the brand that they have cultivated for decades, held aloft on a thin slipstream of high-mindedness, new age positivity, and the goodwill of a most tolerant fanbase. 

ALBUM REVIEW: THE A.V. CLUB, s/t

Something different than you’d find me reviewing is this new release from The A.V. Club, out of Chicago.  Understand, this is a project driven by bassist/composer Andrew Vogt (hence “The A.V. Club”), who understands the nuances of feel and groove as opposed to technical proficiency makes all the difference in the world.

When writing about instrumentals, it’s a bit more of a daunting task as you want to be able to convey a feeling since there isn’t any text to offer as a guide.  On this album, the overriding emotion is that of joy – simple, unabashed good feelings, which is what emerges from the eight tracks.  And, of course, there’s always the argument of style versus substance, which is a whole lot of nothing as with this congregation of very fine musicians do not let their skill overtake the vibe, which makes this such a pleasure to listen to.

“Steveland” gets the proceedings off to an upbeat start; smooth grooves kick in and take you on a breezy joyride; heavy rhythm and slick guitars carry this piece, reminding me of the jazz-funk I listened to as an early teen – keyboards and horns puncture the track and keep the vibe going.  (By the way, “vibe”, “groove” and “feel” will be used a lot here, probably!) “Fat Tuesday” rollicks along with what I immediately interpret as a very New Orleans good-time number; something you would hear as you sip a hurricane in a Chartres Street bar; “Pearofjax” is just tight, smooth jazz-funk that motors with a very ’70’s groove and “Yam Of Lotus” (with its humorous spoken-word opening) is a bit slower but blossoms into a very liquid and laid back – a bit of “space” soul.

All in all, this gathering of songs by Mr. Vogt and his cohorts is very fine; very finessed.  This could be a perfect summer soundtrack – especially since there are no vocals to distract.  Think of this as a musical companion to warm July nights; it isn’t hard to do.

RECOMMENDED

The A.V. Club’s self-titled album is currently available

www.vogtmusic.com

No Concessions: Wonder Women

Crummy. Slummy. Bummy. The Mummy.

Franchise exhaustion continues with a desperate attempt to turn Universal’s beloved Golden Age of Hollywood monsters into supernaturally charged action figures for the less discerning members of the global audience, the same one that keeps turning out for more Resident Evil and Underworld sequels. If it were a January release throwaway cast with a TV star or two, it might be tolerable. But this is playing in the big leagues, with an upscale budget and production, and Tom Cruise in the lead. The studio’s intermittent revivals of its legacy, including Van Helsing (2004) and Dracula Untold (2014), have been woeful, and this is the most baffling of all, a first piece of a planned “Dark Universe” from a superhero-challenged company that is looking gloomy indeed.

Alien: Covenant was awful, but going in I gave it the benefit of the doubt. Watching Ridley Scott dig himself deeper into the Prometheus hole was, however, a miserable experience, and there was no audience for it beyond its first underwhelming weekend. Giving The Mummy a fair shake is difficult. The director, Alex Kurtzman, has penned and/or produced junk like the Transformers movies and The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which lowers the tone. The concept, with a rakish Indiana Jones-type running afoul of the undead, is moldy: The prior Mummy cycle, with Brendan Fraser in just that part, ended not even ten years ago, and the new film simply repeats ideas from that trilogy, like having its villain metamorphose into a CGI sandstorm. And it stars Tom Cruise.

That shouldn’t be a liability. But at 55, Cruise is, as they say, too old for this shit. He gives a certain amount of value: As Nick Morton, a black marketer who hangs out in Mideast war zones waiting for artifacts to pop up, he still has that raffish smile, and he does, for reelz, a perilous zero gravity stunt on a crashing airplane. Because there’s so much CGI surrounding him, though, it looks like CGI, just one of the many ways this movie undercuts the Tom Cruise “brand.” That said, much of the blame for that diminishment is on him. With Jack Reacher stalled, he’s the Mission: Impossible guy, with sequels to Edge of Tomorrow and Top Gun also in the works, and not much else on his plate. This isn’t an interesting career, it’s arrested adolescence, Hollywood-style. He should be chasing after Oscars, not antiquities in the desert and fronting one of the more hopeless “world-building” origins stories. Leave that to, I don’t know, Channing Tatum, Zac Efron, someone else. Maybe the forthcoming Barry Seal biopic American Made, returning him to his 80s heyday, will break him out of this tomb.

Anyway–here we are with Nick, who with a team of disgruntled military types and his sidekick Chris (Jake Johnson) breaks into the wrong tomb, that of the princess Ahmanet (I’m going with that spelling, as the movie, fuzzy on basic details, gives at least one more). Passed over for tribal leadership once upon a millennium, Ahmanet killed her entire royal family, and was cursed with a heavily bandaged undeath. Freed by Morton’s feckless grave robbing, she finds in his dubious morality a kindred spirit, and possesses him in kind. This allows her to shed her rags for makeup that suggests a trick-or-treater’s interpretation of goth, as the none-too-fascinating central conflict emerges: Will Tom Cruise embrace his good side, or will Tom Cruise embrace his bad side? I’ll give you three guesses–you’ll get it in one.

With nothing much at stake emotionally, The Mummy (co-written by two scribes on Team Cruise, taking one for the boss, and Rachel Getting Married‘s Jenny Lumet of all people), the movie throws up diversionary tactics in the vain hope of holding our attention. (Being a 3D conversion, it should throw out a few, too, but it doesn’t. Not once. There’s no reason to add insult to injury by paying more money to see this thing.) Chris exits the movie early, but Nick can still communicate with him, so we have unfunny scenes modeled on the funny-creepy ones in a more up-to-date Universal classic, 1981’s An American Werewolf in London. 1932’s The Mummy, starring Boris Karloff, is a seriously strange and surprising movie, with an erotic undercurrent. Eighty-five years later, we have Ahmanet tickling Nick’s tummy with her tongue–mostly, though, she’s trussed up like a turkey, in captivity, and when Cruise turns the tables on her with his tongue (don’t ask, it’s a plot point) it gets kind of ugly, not sexy, in a 50 Shades of Mummification way. Guiding Nick on his journey into the unknown is Dr. Henry Jekyll, whose monster-collecting institute is a repository of evil, which he himself can barely contain. (He’s played, straight-facedly, by Russell Crowe, who will presumably be the Nick Fury of the Dark Universe.) In one scene, Nick and the nice, boring girl by his side, Jenny (Annabelle Wallis) swim away from crusader mummies. I can’t even with Tom Cruise swimming away from crusader mummies.

(And did I mention that Ahmanet metamorphoses into a CGI sandstorm? Oh, yeah, a few paragraphs ago–or was it in 1999, when mummy Arnold Vosloo did the same freaking thing? How short do they think our memories are?)

I could go on, but crummy-slummy-bummy is The Mummy in a nutshell. I’ll spare a kind word for Sofia Boutella, who despite the hindrances of the makeup and script and Tom Cruise’s tongue is fetching as Ahmanet. (Who is not the first female mummy to headline a movie–the Hammer horror Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb got there in 1971.) The Algerian-born actress, who has a role in the more promising Atomic Blonde later this summer, gets the one intentionally funny line in the movie. When Nick, trying to break her spell over him, reminds Ahmanet of her legacy of violence, she coos, “They were…different times.” May the movie gods deliver us from The Mummy.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 shows there’s life yet to some franchises, and Wonder Woman successfully reboots a beloved pop culture icon. Gal Gadot’s exciting debut as the character in the dire Batman v Superman was the only element that one had in its favor, and now Diana Prince has her own hit movie. It’s easily the best of the mostly squalid DC Universe pictures, if not quite good enough. Compared with their rivals in the better-ordered MCU these films are second-rate and dingy-looking, with lackluster digital effects. With the excellent Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) as its model, Wonder Woman can’t escape this legacy–the island scenes, which are at least colorful, are also very processed-looking, and the movie peaks with its “No Man’s Land” sequence, well before the main action is resolved in two more exhausting battles against good and evil, which are the norm for superhero movies. There’s a hand-me-down feeling to Wonder Woman.

But the director, Patty Jenkins, doesn’t undervalue her asset. The movie is admiring of Diana’s beauty, intellect, and fighting skills, and she’s probably too kind to the men in the movie, none of whom is sexist or lecherous, especially given the time period. (The storyline is put into motion by a single Great War-era photo–you’d think there would be more of an Amazon in everyone’s midst throughout 20th century history.) Problems of “representation”, the “male gaze,” etc., have crept into the critiques, and I will say the movie might have done more with its suffrage setting than mention the movement in passing. These films, however, aren’t made for special interests; they’re for one and all, and flaws aside I enjoyed the film, which showcases a performer who is well and truly a “wonder” in a degraded era for stars. Weaned on Studio Ghibli’s female-centric animated features, my kids are ready for Wonder Woman, and I’m grateful Jenkins and Co. didn’t bungle the job. What’s needed next is a movie that matches her capabilities.