Spy - Music To Mauzner By Spy
Music To Mauzner By

OK, I should say right off that Spy's mastermind Joshua Ralph doesn't have the best pipes. Maybe that's why he runs his vocals through all sorts of filters and studio gimmickry. What he does have is a great funky hip-hop pop sense, and Music To Mauzner By is a scintillating pastiche of a wide variety of pop music forms and styles. These songs have everything from disco beats to Beatle-ish guitar solos to rock out riffs to rap drum dubs. Ralph favors the same cut-and-paste studio collage style that Beck has used, which makes these 13 tracks rich in a wide variety of samples and hidden nuggets of sound. But most importantly, most of them are undeniably danceable, from the "Rollercoaster" gravel voiced funk of the opener "Baby" to the disco-synthesizer prowl of party anthem "Fire It Up" to the astronaut sampling "31 Seconds" to the reggae swim of "Won't You Come Down."

"Wanderer" gives the one-man band its name, with a center section that gets into a funky James Bond whisper of "spy."

Ralph really shows the breadth of his talents in the final track, "Untitled 17," a symphonic piece that would be a perfect movie soundtrack with graceful string and brass builds supporting a quietly grand melody (Hollywood, are you listening?). The roots of that song can, no doubt, be traced to the fact that Ralph recorded this album last year in an abandoned movie theater (he suggests that the entire album is like a series of film "scenes" — each one a departure from the last.)

However you view it, as wildly gyrating soundtrack album to a film as yet unmade, or simply as a brash exciting debut from a young (22-year-old) talent, Music To Mauzner By offers a little something for everyone. And it should definitely be sampled for summer party play.


Bruce Springsteen - 18 Tracks Bruce Springsteen
18 Tracks

Bruce Springsteen has released a rare treat for longtime fans: his new Columbia album 18 Tracks is a collection of alternate takes and songs left on the cutting room floor from the entire span of his career. Springsteen has apparently tended to record far more songs than he could put on his albums, and as he describes in the liner notes, "my albums became a series of choices — what to include, what to leave out? I based my decisions on my creative point of view at the moment ... One of the results of working like this was that a lot of music, including some of my favorite things, remained unreleased ... here are some of the ones that got away."

While none of these songs sound like "lost Top 10 hits," there are some solid tracks rescued here, many sounding like the Springsteen of the Darkness On The Edge of Town/The River period. There are some familiar bits here — the E-Street band plays a slow jazz burn on "The Fever," a song which Southside Johnny & The Jukes covered with great results in the '80s. Springsteen's popular single B-side "Pink Cadillac" also appears here (which was also a cover hit for Aretha Franklin) as does the original version of "Born In The U.S.A." The latter song is fascinating to listen to because, instead of the upbeat big anthem rock arrangement that became one of Springsteen's biggest hits, the song is here presented in a bare bones, echo-drenched rendition that mainly features just the singer and his guitar, and sounds far more like a Vietnam War era folk protest song than the rockfest hit Americans embraced in 1984.

While most of the 18 songs here showcase Springsteen amid the broad rock arrangements of the E-Street band, with its pounding piano and Clarence Clemons' honking saxophone, the final song, "The Promise" is a new quiet piano and vocals ballad recorded in February. It's a workingman's hymn with the melancholy feel of "The River."

While it would have been nice if Springsteen would have included some notes in the CD booklet recounting the recording history of these songs, this is a good set for the Springsteen fan who yearns for more of those classic sounding recordings with the E-Street band.


George Thorogood and the Destroyers
Half a Boy/Half a Man

Speaking of longevity, George Thorogood and the Destroyers — who've become a rock household word and sold 15 millions records despite having only scored one Billboard charting hit, 1985's "Willie and the Hand Jive" — have a new disc of classic-sounding blues rock out on CMC Records. It's hard to say much about Half a Boy/Half a Man other than that it sounds like Thorogood has always sounded — beefy Delta slide blues guitars, timeless originals and equally timeless covers. This disc focuses mostly on covers, opening with Eddie Shaw's "I Don't Trust Nobody," and moving to the skating rink organ of The Swinging Medallions' 1966 hit "Double Shot (Of My Baby's Love)." There's a cranked up guitar cruise through Willie Dixon's "99 Days In Jail" and another "roller-rink rock" song in the album title track, Nick Lowe's "Half A Boy/Half A Man." Chuck Berry's "Hellbound Train (Downbound Train)" also gets a Destroyers homage. Thorogood's two original songs are "Just Passin' Thru," a rave up rocker with sax and pounding guitars and an Appalachian porch strummer in the humorous "Not Tonight ( I Have A Heartache)."

If your heart aches for good ol' fashioned bluesy rock 'n' roll from the Chuck Berry school, go out and buy this disc.

You'll feel better.


New on the Shelves

Columbia Records continues to re-release CD versions of classic musicals as part of its "Broadway Masterworks" line.

This month we get CDs featuring Ethel Merman in Gypsy, Julie Andrews in Cinderella, and Ruby Keeler in No, No, Nanette, from the 1970s revival of the musical that gave us "Tea For Two."

Also released are soundtracks to Mame and Sweet Charity. Each disc contains songs and/or interview segments unavailable on the original vinyl releases of these musicals ...

Epic has released Burning London: The Clash Tribute, featuring new versions of Clash songs performed by 311, Rancid, Silverchair, Indigo Girls, No Doubt, Afghan Whigs and more. While many of these are competent covers of songs like "Clampdown" (performed by The Indigo Girls) and "Lost In The Supermarket" (performed by Afghan Whigs), most of these artists do nothing to improve on the originals, and so these versions pale in comparison to the source material. Ice Cube & Mack 10 probably take the most liberties with The Clash's original song — turning "Should I Stay Or Should I Go" into a modern urban rap (and using the same sample that Big Audio Dynamite II used in "The Globe", a post-Clash project by The Clash's Mick Jones).

It's not a horrible tribute album, but I'd stick with the real thing ...

Miles Hunt, former leader of The Wonder Stuff, a U.K. alternative rock act that achieved some minor fame in the late '80s, was in Chicago last month for a live solo show. If you were a fan of The Wonder Stuff and missed that show, you can hear what sort of folky angst-ridden singer-songwriter material Hunt has been working on over the past couple years on his new independent release Hairy on the Inside on Gig Records ...