Stiff Upper Lip
It's been awhile since AC/DC really held my interest, though I would still rank their Back in Black as one of the best hard rock albums of all time. Twenty years after that seminal release, the boys from down under are still cranking out the riffs, and this disc holds some of their best material in a long time.
Opening with the single "Stiff Upper Lip," the band struts through a dozen trademark crash-slash-bang anthems. Somehow, vocalist Brian Johnson is still able to screech as much as ever and Malcolm and Angus Young trade off guitar licks that are always tight and heavy. They offer a sliding strut on "Meltdown," refresh a basic blues riff on "Can't Stand Still," offer a bit of slow guitar menace on "House of Jazz," and open "Hold Me Back" with a "Radar Love"-style throbbing bass.
The one critique of Stiff Upper Lip is that every song seems to devolve into endless repetition of its title. But that's a minor quibble.
Pick this one up for playing in the car — spring is here and it's time to roll down the windows and blast some good ol' fashioned rock 'n' roll. This album was made for it.
I had no idea what I was putting on when I slipped Fuzzatonic Scream into my CD player. From the look of the cover, it could have been beat jazz or retro punk.
It was neither.
The first track is called "Suicide," and features the gravelly-voiced Gaylor speaking matter-of-factly over an easy strumming guitar and piano riff. For the first half of the song, he suggests that humans are lucky because they have the ability to commit suicide, whereas animals don't — but probably would if they could.
He offers some of the good things about suicide: "a job will open/an apartment will become available/there'll be more air for me/they say there are two girls for every guy/if you're a man, there'll be four chicks for me."
But just when you think he's being nastily morbid (though very funny), his list slowly changes to things you'll miss if you decide to snuff it — "the rush of getting your first apartment ... sex ... no more summer nights that seem to go on forever ..."
"Hey, you were born. Finish what was started."
It's a powerful track, but it's not alone. "Suicide" is followed by eight other powerful monologues, each backed by a different musical soundscape tailored perfectly to the mood of the spoken stories, from lite doses of funk to an eerie "Batman" theme style riff.
So who is this guy?
Gaylor is a standup comedian and former "Roseanne" show writer whose vocal delivery here sounds a little like Henry Rollins in his spoken word projects. He originally wrote the words for "Suicide" for a friend who tried to kill himself. But most of the tracks here spotlight a story about Gaylor's childhood in Massachusetts, from the heartwarming "first kiss" story of "One Moment" to the chillingly self-explanatory "Hit A Guy With My Car."
Gaylor talks of warm memories of smelt fishing with his dad and of the chilling misanthropic development a childhood friend whose self-centered parents never paid any attention to him. Gaylor's discovery of the boy's twisted inner life is detailed in "Tommy The Frog Killer."
This isn't really a standard spoken word album and it isn't really a collection of songs. And yet it's both. Gaylor's East Coast-accented voice is instantly charismatic and his stories are hauntingly memorable in the best storyteller tradition.
Fuzzatonic Scream is not for kids — Gaylor deals with subjects that are definitely adult in nature. But if you enjoy listening to a good, sometimes creepily dark story, Gaylor provides funny, scary and just-plain-weird yarns.
New on the Shelves
For those Led Zeppelin fans that don't have every album on CD already, Atlantic has just released Latter Days – The Best of Led Zeppelin: Volume Two. The disc follows 1999's Early Days — The Best Of Led Zeppelin: Volume One, and includes 10 tracks, ranging from "The Song Remains The Same," "No Quarter," and "Kashmir" to "Nobody's Fault But Mine," "All My Love" and "In The Evening." The disc also includes computer-viewable footage of a 1975 performance of "Kashmir."
Wild Colonials are not exactly a household word, but the Canadian folk-pop band has certainly been "behind the scenes" on a lot of cinema projects. The band has collected 15 tracks that it has recorded for movie projects under its own or side project names for Chromatic Records, including an accordion augmented dirgeful reworking of Tom Jones' "It's Not Unusual." Reel Life Vol. 1 includes the band's organic folk-rock takes from the movies "Mr. Wrong," "Unhook the Stars", "Flirting With Disaster," "Brokedown Palace," "Southie," "First Love," "Last Rites," "Dead Man's Curve," "The Last Supper" and more.
The band's singer, Angela McClusky, has had the chance to duet with Dr. John and Cyndi Lauper (both included here). While the band doesn't write instant "pop hit" material, this CD offers a laid back adventurous listening collection somewhere between the quiet leanings of fellow northerners Cowboy Junkies and the organic rock of Alannah Myles.