Thursday, 3 December 2020

Tom Waits ‎– Foreign Affairs (1977)

Genre: Jazz, Rock, Blues
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Asylum Records, Elektra

A1.   Cinny's Waltz
A2.   Muriel
A3.   I Never Talk To Strangers
A4.   Medley: Jack & Neal / California, Here I Come
A5.   A Sight For Sore Eyes
B1.   Potter's Field
B2.   Burma-Shave
B3.   Barber Shop
B4.   Foreign Affair

Bass – Jim Hughart
Drums – Shelly Manne
Piano – Tom Waits
Saxophone Tenor– Frank Vicari
Trumpet – Jack Sheldon
Vocals – Tom Waits
Written-By – Tom Waits
Producer – Bones Howe

The admiring audience that Tom Waits built up with his early work now worries about him in a way that does his derelict’s persona proud: when is that old boy gonna straighten up? Closing Time was a quiet classic in 1973, but with The Heart of Saturday Night, Small Change and Nighthawks at the Diner, the singer songwriter’s beaten raps, overflowing with pathos and Americana, had turned self-indulgent.

Foreign Affairs, fortunately, shows a resuscitation of Waits’ voice and ability to write moving lyrics. “A Sight for Sore Eyes,” like his earlier “Tom Traubert’s Blues.” reaches through its borrowed melody to grasp you by the shoulder; the speaker is a still-sharp, piano-playing rummy, desperately lonely and trying to sound offhand.

Likewise. “Burma Shave” cannot be ignored. As elsewhere on this spare, unsweetened album (no overdubs or multitracking). Waits plays his own trailing piano accompaniment as he stacks up fresh, filmic images that make you care about this cowboy punk and the small-town girl who hopped into his wreck. His gruff, stolid singing gives us too little, and a bright trumpet coda gives us too much, but the song’s integrity survives.

Waits does repeat some mistakes from his last two albums: the chief sin he can’t shake is an overabundance of the facile, researched-and-rehearsed jive talk that is meant to dazzle but in fact fatigues the listener. “Foreign Affair,” a song of no musical distinction, piles up smart-guy words just coy enough to fall short of a Cole Porter parody. A second puzzling number is “Barber Shop,” which portrays some insufferable Penrod (who talks like Satchmo) bugging two neighborhood barbers.

But at least Waits is, aside from the lengthy “Potter’s Field,” no longer the rag picker of mission-house cliches that we heard on the four live sides of Nighthanks. His fascination with what Allen Ginsberg called the “spontaneous bop prosody” of Jack Kerouac is hammered into a deft road rap called “Jack & Neal.” If “a redhead in a uniform will always get you horny” is not a quote from Dean Moriarty, it deserves to be. The song works as a Keystone Kops montage stitched together with a tenor sax.

It seems that Waits has gotten out from under the seedy scatman’s persona that marred his recent work. His singing again shows traces of that gritty but well-modulated, Fred Neil-like style that made Closing Time so insistent; his duet with Bette Midler on “I Never Talk to Strangers” is ragged but right.

Tom Waits is never less than intent and honest — he pushes to his own slow, heartfelt beat. Uneven though Foreign Affairs may be, it shows that Waits is still the kind of performer who can make us say. “You must be reading my mail.”
Fred Schruers / Rolling Stone

Visage ‎– Visage (1980)

Style: New Wave, Synth-pop
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Polydor, Spectrum Music

01.   Visage
02.   Blocks On Blocks
03.   The Dancer
04.   Tar
05.   Fade To Grey
06.   Malpaso Man
07.   Mind Of A Toy
08.   Moon Over Moscow
09.   Visa-Age
10.   The Steps

Bass – Barry Adamson
Keyboards, Electric Violin – Billy Currie
Keyboards – Dave Formula
Guitar – John McGeoch
Drums – Rusty Egan
Vocals – Steve Strange
Vocals, Guitar, Keyboards – Midge Ure
Computer Programming – Richard Burgess
Producer – Midge Ure
Producer, Arranged By, Design – Visage

With apologies to Spandau Ballet, Ultravox, and even Duran Duran, this is the music that best represents the short-lived but always underrated new romantic movement. That's fitting, because Visage's frontman, Steve Strange, was the colorfully painted face of the movement, just as this album was its sound. Warming up Kraftwerk's icy Teutonic electronics with a Bowie-esque flair for fashion, Strange and the new romantics created a clubland oasis far removed from the drabness of England's early-'80s reality -- and the brutality of the punk response to it. And no one conjured up that Eurodisco fantasyland better than Visage, whose "Fade to Grey" became the anthem of the outlandishly decked-out Blitz Kids congregated at Strange's club nights. With its evocative French female vocals, distant sirens and pulsing layers of synthesizers, "Fade to Grey" is genuinely haunting, the definite high point for Visage and their followers. But the band's self-titled debut is a consistently fine creation, alternating between tunes that share the eerie ambience of "Fade to Grey" ("Mind of a Toy," "Blocks on Blocks") and others that show off a more muscular brand of dance-rock (the title track, filled with thundering electronic tom-tom fills, and the sax-packed instrumental "The Dancer"). Strange and drummer/nightclub partner Rusty Egan had wisely surrounded themselves with top-level talent, primarily drawn from the bands Ultravox and Magazine, and the excellent playing of contributors like guitarists Midge Ure and John McGeoch, bassist Barry Adamson, synthesist Dave Formula, and, especially, electric violinist Billy Currie, all of whom give the album a depth unmatched by most contemporaneous techno-pop. And despite the group's frequently dramatic pose, Strange and his bandmates were hardly humorless; the first single, "Tar," is a witty anti-smoking advertisement, while the Eastwood homage "Malpaso Man" adds some incongruous cowboy twang to the dance beats. Only the closing track, the instrumental "The Steps," is inconsequential -- the rest of Visage proves the new romantics left a legacy that transcends their costumes and makeup. [Note to collectors: The 1997 One Way reissue of the album adds a bonus track, the longer (and far superior) dance mix of "Fade to Grey." Opening with the tune's arresting synth-bass riff, and featuring a extended fade marked by exploding backbeats, it heightens the song's moody atmosphere, and is the way this club classic was meant to be heard.]
Dan LeRoy / AllMusic

XTC ‎– Drums And Wires (1979)

Style: New Wave, Pop Rock
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Virgin

01.   Making Plans For Nigel
02.   Helicopter
03.   Day In Day Out
04.   When You're Near Me I Have Difficulty
05.   Ten Feet Tall
06.   Roads Girdle The Globe
07.   Real By Reel
08.   Millions
09.   That Is The Way
10.   Outside World
11.   Scissor Man
12.   Complicated Game
13.   Life Begins At The Hop
14.   Chain Of Command
15.   Limelight

Remastered By – Ian Cooper
Tape Op – Georgie Chambers, Nick Cook, Steve Prestage
Written-By – Andrew Partridge, Colin Moulding
Producer – Steve Lillywhite

After years of trying to break into the music industry, it was only when Colin Moulding, Barry Andrews, Terry Chambers and Andy Partridge hitched their collective wagon to the passing punk movement that things started to happen for them. Opting for XTC as a suitably edgy name (edgier it should be said than Helium Kidz), they signed to Virgin Records, released a pair of modestly selling albums which were critically well received. Things were going well. Although they wrote separately, both Partridge and Moulding knew their way around a smart lyric and a memorable tune, and it was only when Andrews started campaigning for his songs to be included that tensions started to show. Oh, and they needed a hit single.

1978’s Go 2 had included a couple of Andrews’ tunes, but no hit single, and was not met with quite the same level of critical enthusiasm as their debut. Andrews jumped ship / was pushed in order to pursue a career path that left him a little creatively fulfilled, and rather than replace him with another keyboard player, Moulding and Partridge sought out someone they had wanted in their band for years. Enter Dave Gregory, ace guitar player and arranger, and apparently one of the most ego-free individuals in rock and roll.

It would be a gross simplification to claim that it was Gregory’s arrival and the musical sophistication that he brought with him that saw XTC achieve the next level of commercial success with Drums and Wires, but that’s overlooking the fact that, after years of primary songwriter Partridge trying, “Making Plans for Nigel” was the band’s first single. It just happened to be a Colin Moulding tune. That must have gone down well.

Forty years after its original release, “Making Plans for Nigel” remains one of the truly evergreen post-punk tunes, and regardless of who wrote it, it saw XTC’s stock rise. It was the obvious opener for Drums and Wires, as it saw the band demonstrate their increased musical chops, while still maintaining the angular sound of their first two albums. In fact the whole of Drums and Wires maintains the band’s instantly recognisable angular sound, despite the fact that they had moved away from the borderline chaotic sound that Andrews’ keyboards had provided on their previous albums.

Drums and Wires has much more to offer than just XTC’s breakthrough hit single. The first side of the old vinyl is one of the greatest runs of guitar pop tunes of the late 70s, while the second half of the album is a touch more experimental, with tunes like “Millions”, “Scissor Man” and “Complicated Game” seeing the band push the sonic envelope of guitar pop, while “That is the Way” slides smoothly between the band’s angular sound to something which is distinctly jazz pop.

Drums and Wires is also the album on which you can hear drummer Terry Chambers hit a new level in his playing. He’d always been a capable kit basher, but on this album, he makes his case to be considered one of the truly great post-punk drummers. The whole band are improved players on Drums and Wires, but no one more than Terry Chambers.

While there is much to enjoy on their first two albums, Drums and Wires is the first XTC album which truly hints at what they could achieve in the future. The next few years would see further hit singles (including a bunch penned by Andy Partridge – hooray!), an upward sales trajectory, before Partridge’s anxiety forced them off the road as a touring concern, leading to Chambers’ quitting the band, and plummeting sales, all while quietly becoming the best band of the 80s.
Jon Bryan / backstreet mafia