A year ago, Poe unveiled her second album, Haunted, with a handy tie-in to the Blair Witch 2 movie. But the 2nd Witch didn't do box office boffo, and neither did Poe's comeback, which went unheard on radio for months. Then, with Internet and lots of book tie-in promotion (her album is the unofficial soundtrack for her brother's, Mark Danielewski, haunted house book, "House of Leaves"), the album finally started to take off this spring, on the basis of its eerily catchy, edgy single, "Hey Pretty." Just a little late for Halloween, Poe will be playing that and other tracks, no doubt including her first big single from 1996, "Angry Johnny," tonight at Chicago's Double Door.
Speaking of concerts, Pete Townshend got together just over 20 years ago with harpist/pianist Raphael Rudd for a series of invitation-only concerts celebrating Persian spiritualist Avatar Meher Baba. Townshend had been working with Rudd at that time on Rudd's first solo album, as well as Townshend's smash solo album Empty Glass, which spawned "Let My Love Open the Door," "A Little Is Enough" and "Rough Boys." Rudd, who also worked with The Who on Quadrophenia and who's been playing with art-rock band Renaissance of late, recently found the tapes from those shows and turned them over to Rhino Records to release. The result is the new/old concert album, Pete Townshend & Raphael Rudd: The Oceanic Concerts. While the original tapes were occasionally oversaturated, resulting in some distortion and tape hiss, since this was not recorded with the intent of a "live album" release, for the most part the sound is pretty good and the overall sense very close and personal. Rudd alternates from harp to piano, backing up Townshend and his guitar on Empty Glass songs like "Let My Love Open the Door," and "A Little Is Enough," and on The Who songs like "The Seeker" and "Bargain." There are also instrumental tracks from Rudd, and a spiritual closing number composed by Townshend, using a Baba prayer called "O'Parvardigar."
I can't get enough of this record.
With the harmonic sense of Jellyfish, Queen and The Rembrandts, and the edgy, studio-savvy flair of Self and ELO, Sugarbomb lays down one perfectly realized pop track after another. There's not a dud on this 11-song disc, nor is there a sleeper. This is crunchy pop-rock drenched in honey and spiked with bite. An unbeatable combination of hook and harmony.
"What a drag how people change/once you really get to know them" the band sings on the deceptively sweet opening track "What a Drag." That kind of cynical flair hides under the day-glo, happy sound of many of the songs on Bully, which consistently mixes introsprective revelations with sing-along melodies. They later complain "Just like a coma/tell me when it's over" in "Mail Order Girlfriend" and then, in "Gone," above a crashing race of guitars they admit, "you're exactly what I needed/but how was I to know/now that I've discovered it/ I have to let it go/exactly what I needed/so tell me what was wrong/something so intangible/ you never really miss it 'til it's gone."
But this is no downer band. You'll find yourself tapping the table, the floor and anything else that's freely accessible through all of those songs — and pretty much every other track on this disc. Sugarbomb lives up to its name in spades. Bully is one of the most ingenious marriages of sweet harmonic pop and cynical lyrics that I've heard since the first albums from Self and Ben Folds Five. It's not until the ninth track that they even slow down the sugarbuzz attack a little, that coming with the McCartney-esque "Posterchild for Tragedy," a warm piano-and-drum driven ballad with strings and bittersweet harmonies that aches for both lost love, and more subliminally, the '70s.
The videogame-flavored sound effects of "Clover" (I'm a slave for you baby and I like it that way) give it a chance to trot out its Weezer synthesizers, and "Waiting" offers the opportunity to jam on a heavy riff and mention the Kama Sutra. It all closes with a blatant Queen homage in the glorious, operatic "After All." Twinging guitar leads, soaring vocals … man, these guys are good.
I've been trying for a month to think of the best ways to describe this album to you. When it all comes down to it, I think the most honest thing I can say about Bully is this: I wish it was twice as long, because, as I said at the beginning:
I can't get enough of this record.