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Archive for November, 2011

Rock Band Making Ofs

Thursday 24th November 2011 Leave a comment

For Rock Band’s fourth anniversary, Harmonix have uploaded some interesting behind the scenes information about the series’ development.

Here’s an interview about the production of the instrument peripherals, together with a video:

 

There’s also this more general video about the games’ development:

Frank Zappa – Lumpy Gravy and Zoot Allures

Wednesday 23rd November 2011 Leave a comment

“Well, you have to call them something, so why not call them something amusing?”

Frank Zappa, 1993

Frank Zappa is a musician with one of the most daunting discographies in rock music: sixty-two albums during his lifetime by this count, plus a steady stream of posthumous releases.

I haven’t yet made much headway through that list. So far I’ve only heard: Hot Rats (excellent – “the Frank Zappa album for people who don’t like Frank Zappa!”), his 1966 debut double-album Freak Out! (very good), Apostrophe(‘) (okay), and Joe’s Garage Acts I-III (the title track and “Watermelon in Easter Hay” are great, but I’m less keen on the rest); plus the compilation albums The Best of Frank Zappa and Cheap Thrills. Recently I added another two to that tally.

Lumpy Gravy (1968)

2 out of 5

A mixture of musical snippets, conversation fragments and sound effects loops: a little bit like a highly extended, slower-paced, less dense, less unsettling “Revolution 9”.

There are some interesting and pleasant pieces of music, but you can be certain that just as you’re getting into one, it’ll be interrupted by a contextless, not very funny spoken-word bit.

Zoot Allures (1976)

4 out of 5

I’m in two minds about this one. On the one hand, the playing throughout the album is fantastic, and so is the production (love that guitar tone). “Black Napkins” shows how you do a four minute piece of virtuoso fret-wanker-noodle-ry and keep it interesting.

I also really like the other two instrumentals, and the solo on opening track “Wind Up Workin’ in A Gas Station” (although the rest of that song is rather spoilt by irritating chipmunk vocals).

But unfortunately, the album features some of the most tedious, toilet-humour-heavy lyrics of any Zappa album I’ve heard so far, and that’s saying something. The opening words on the album are “This here song might offend you some/If it does, it’s because you’re dumb”, which gives you adequate warning of how it’s going to proceed.

Now, Zappa could be funny: as the quote at the start of this post illustrates, I very much agree with his approach to song-entitling; his delivery of “dried muffin remnants” in the intro to “Muffin Man” is hilarious; and there’s something irresistibly silly about “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow” (especially the cry of “Great googly moogly!”). The toilet humour shouldn’t be a problem either – even songs like “Bobby Brown Goes Down” and “Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?” are fun due to the sheer audacity of how OTT they go (and it helps that they’re set to good tunes).

So yes, humour does belong in music. The problem is that the dick jokes on this album are mostly lazy and not very funny:

Ms. Pinky“:

Her eyes is all shut in an ecstasy face
You can cram it down her throat, people, any old place
Throw the little switch on her battery pack
You can poot it, you can shoot it till your wife gets back

I got a girl with a little rubber head
Rinse her out every night just before I go to bed
She never talk back like a lady might do
An’ she looks like she loves it every time I get through

Wonderful Wino“:

I went to the country
And while I was gone
I lost control of my body functions
On a roller-headed lady’s front lawn
I’m so ashamed, but I’m a wino man
I can’t help myself

Disco Boy“:

“You never go doody!” (That’s what you think)
“You never go doody!” (That’s what you think)
“You never go doody!” (That’s what you think)

Doody
Ah, go doody
Doody
You never go doody

But thank THE LORD
That you still got hands
To help you do that jerkin’ that’ll
Blot out yer Disco Sorrow!

Etc, etc…

As far as wank jokes go, it’s not exactly the surprising, character-based £20 note scene from Peep Show, is it?

But as I said, the musicianship is pretty consistently excellent throughout; it’s just a shame it’s in service of such unfortunate songs. For the most part, though, I think the playing makes up for the words – hence my four-star rating.

I really like Frank’s sleazy vocals on “The Torture Never Stops“, but the female shrieks mean I wouldn’t want to play it loud! I prefer the live version on the Cheap Thrills compilation, which has Captain Beefheart singing, a different guitar riff throughout, and lacks the screams. Not sure either version really deserves to be nine minutes, though.

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Red Hot Chili Peppers – The Uplift Mofo Party Plan

Tuesday 22nd November 2011 Leave a comment

The Uplift Mofo Party Plan was one of the first RHCP albums I ever heard. I’m still rather fond of it.

I originally posted this review at Rate Your Music.

The 2003 remastered edition:

If you intend to listen to this album, I urge you to seek out the original CD release rather than the 2003 24-bit digitally remastered version, because in my opinion the re-release is down there with the Chili Peppers’ own Californication as one of the worst victims of the Loudness War I have ever heard. I’m no audiophile (I wish I could afford to be one…) but it’s clear that the 2003 edition suffers from an absurd degree of compression, clipping and lack of dynamic range that makes it extremely fatiguing to the ears.

The 1987 version was perfectly adequately punchy as it was, so get that. True, by buying the older version you’ll miss out on the 2003 edition’s two bonus tracks and the liner notes booklet featuring numerous images and retrospective comments from Flea – but at least the thing will be listenable for more than two minutes at a time!

There are other differences too: for example, on the original release the final guitar lick of “Fight Like A Brave” fades out so that it’s barely audible; on the 2003 remastered version the whole riff is heard, but it concludes by cutting off very abruptly. For someone familiar with the original version, it’s a disconcerting alteration.

The music:

Enough about the remastering; what of the music itself? It’s a decent little album, and probably the best of the Chili Peppers’ pre-Blood Sugar Sex Magik work. It suffers from dated shouted choruses, but the production is a big step up from RHCP’s first two albums, and there’s some great guitar playing from Hillel Slovak, who died shortly after the album’s release.

The two absolute highlights are “Fight Like A Brave” and “Me and My Friends”; the latter has a great guitar solo. (It’s nice to learn that “Me and My Friends” has apparently made a return to the Chili Peppers’ live repertoire in their recent I’m With You album tour.)

“Behind the Sun” is a lovely lazy summer song and one of the most melodic things the band did in the ’80s. “Skinny Sweaty Man” is fun comedy number in which Anthony Kiedis does his best Mel Blanc Looney Tunes voices. “Organic Anti-Beat Box Band” is an energetic party track, and there’s a Bob Dylan cover which is OK (but not as good as the band’s later covers of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire”).

Alas, “Party on Your Pussy” (which was listed as “Special Secret Song Inside” on the 1987 release, for obvious reasons) and “Love Trilogy” represent the Chili Peppers’ unfortunate tendency toward the childish and crude at its worst. The later “Sir Psycho Sexy” on Blood Sugar Sex Magik was just as vulgar, but funnier and set to much better music.

If you’re a fan of later RHCP albums looking to investigate their earlier work, I would recommend getting the What Hits!? compilation before you delve into this album. That compilation contains this LP’s highlights “Fight Like A Brave” and “Me and My Friends”, plus two other decent songs from it (“Backwoods” and “Behind the Sun”), as well as most of the worthwhile songs from the Chili Peppers’ other early releases.

3/5

 01. Fight Like a Brave (3:54)
 02. Funky Crime (3:00)
 03. Me and My Friends (3:09)
 04. Backwoods (3:08)
 05. Skinny Sweaty Man (1:16)
 06. Behind the Sun (4:41)
 07. Subterranean Homesick Blues (2:33)
 08. Party on Your Pussy/Special Secret Song Inside (3:16)
 09. No Chump Love Sucker (2:42)
 10. Walkin' on Down the Road (3:49)
 11. Love Trilogy (2:41)
 12. Organic Anti-Beat Box Band (4:03)

2003 EDITION BONUS TRACKS:
 13. Behind the Sun (instrumental demo) (2:55)
 14. Me and My Friends (instrumental demo) (1:54)
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