Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Hablo Ennui's Top 20 Albums of 2008

1. Portishead – Third: As the year has gone on, this album still sounds as bracing as the first time I listened to it. The classic spy movie meets trip hop sound of the first two Portishead albums is intact. What makes this even better are the challenging dissonant parts that sometimes mesh with the basic foundation, but often clash in the most interesting ways, with Beth Gibbons, all the while, wrapping herself up in anguish and pain.

2. Pas/Cal – I Was Raised By Matthew, Mark, Luke & Laura: This sprawling Detroit band purveys complex pastoral pop in the vein of the classic Kinks by way of more modern folks like Lilys. These songs wind along a convoluted path without ever falling apart, making them inviting journeys not just opaque art rock. I’m still peeling back the layers on these songs.

3. Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago: Justin Vernon didn’t set out to his father’s remote Wisconsin cabin to become a critic’s darling. It just worked out this way. This effort fits in with contemporaries like Midlake and Fleet Foxes, but stands out due to the emotional intimacy that captured on every track of this relaxed yet intense folk-pop.

4. Sparks – Exotic Creatures Of The Deep: The catchiest thing the Brothers Mael have unleashed since 1982’s Angst In My Pants, this manages to sustain the baroque orch-pop themes of the predecessor Lil’ Beethoven and Hello Young Lovers albums, in a more user friendly fashion. Moreover, Ron Mael’s lyrics are sharper than they’ve been in quite a while.

5. Jay Reatard – Matador Singles ’08: This is high energy rock that is speedy, hooky and perpetually teenage. I’ve heard comparisons to the glammy side of early punk (whether it be Radio Stars or Dickies) and the perky side of the Flying Nun brigade, and that provides only a taste of what’s going on here.

6. Steve Wynn – Crossing Dragon Bridge: While Wynn can rock with the best of them, as a recent Chicago show proved in spades, this collection of primarily acoustic songs, many augmented by swooping orchestral parts, shows the depth and breadth of his songwriting. Some of these numbers highlight the Dylan/Reed side of his muse, but this isn’t imitation, as he comes up with music that is, at times, pretty challenging.

7. Silvery – Thunderer And Excelsior: This is frenetic Brit pop from a band that name checks, among others, Sparks and Cardiacs, and you can hear that in song after song. The melodies swoop and careen like a rollercoaster coming off the rails, and the more I suss out the lyrics, the further enamored I become.

8. Alejandro Escovedo – Real Animal: Escovedo again shows the benefits of working with a strong producer. Last time around it was John Cale; this time, it’s Tony Visconti. Escovedo’s songs are a mix of storytelling and wise advice. His roots music is augmented by smart arrangements. He might very well be making his best music now.

9. The Hold Steady – Stay Positive: It’s inspiring to see these guys getting 15,000 indie rock fans to wave their fists like every punter at an arena rock show in the past 30 years or so. Of course, the music demands it, as this band has honed its approach to Ginsu knife sharpness. Meanwhile, Craig Finn is simply one of the most compelling lyricists in rock music.

10. Lindsey Buckingham – Gift Of Screws: I didn’t think he could improve on the blissfully intimate Under The Skin. Some of that gossamer pop magic remains, but the bulk of this album sounds like a teaser from a great lost Fleetwood Mac album, the one where they let their personal disputes go and just had a lot of fun.

11. Gnarls Barkley – The Odd Couple: Unlike the Beck/Danger Mouse collaboration, where the respective strengths of the two talents were somewhat duplicative, the Mouse and Cee-Lo bring out the best in each other. Cee-Lo’s soul chops and Danger Mouse’s creative backing tracks are a perfect blend, retro fitted in short sharp shots and awash in lyrical paranoia. It doesn’t feel like formula yet, so I hope the lack of a megahit doesn’t prevent a third Gnarls album.

12. Liam Finn – I’ll Be Lightning: Finn doesn’t shrink from the legacy of father Neil and Uncle Tim (of Crowded House/Split Enz fame). Indeed, based on this album, one would think that penning killer melodies and hooks was hereditary. Liam takes this pop legacy into contemporary times, having clearly absorbed the texture and prickliness of a lot of the best recent indie pop-rock. And if Liam really takes after his elders, he will only get better.

13. British Sea Power – Do You Like Rock Music?: The anthemic power of the band’s first album is melded to the mature songwriting of the second album. Everything comes together on this third effort, with British Sea Power becoming the rare post-punk revivalist to have staying power. Stirring stuff.

14. Santogold – Santogold: A lot of folks are trying to imbue this debut with more depth that it actually has, in some weird attempt to legitimize the album. It doesn’t need any elevating. This isn’t a powerful statement. It’s a made for summer pop album, with a singer with tons of personality trying on a bunch of different styles and having fun with all of them. In a better world, this would be the new She’s So Unusual (Cyndi Lauper’s debut, remember?)

15. David Byrne & Brian Eno – Everything That Happens Will Happen Today: This isn’t so much the sequel to My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, as it is the follow up to Brian Eno’s collaboration with John Cale, Wrong Way Up. Okay, it’s more rhythm oriented than the Cale team up, but otherwise, this is two arty guys making really smart pop music. And David Byrne’s warmth and empathy becomes more inviting as I get older.

16. Hawksley Workman – Between The Beautifuls: While I wish Workman would go back to making more glammy, new wavey music (and he did a bit of that on his other 2008 release, Los Manlicious), I have no complaints about this lovely collection of piano pop. Although Workman will probably never be a direct lyricist, the words and metaphors resonate emotionally in a way his prior music never has. This is due in large part to his classic songwriting and warm vocals, with just enough quirks to keep this from being too slick.

17. For Against – Shade Side, Sunny Side: More like Prickly Side, Pissed Off Side. Instead of shimmering guitar swirls, the guitars and vocals cut through the sonic space with lacerating power. A lot of these songs are about love gone wrong, manipulation, and so forth. The total commitment of the band gives the tunes considerable power. Dream pop that focuses on nightmares.

18. Erykah Badu – New Amerykah, Pt. One: 4th World War: Definitely an album that must be heard all the way through. Badu has always tried to be more than just a throwback, and here, with the help of some able producers, she mixes her neo-soul classicism with a ton of modern beats. Throw in some trenchant social commentary, and you have an album that brings together everything that has been good about hip-hop and R & B in the past 40 years or so.

19. The Dirtbombs – We Have You Surrounded: I came way late to the Dirtbombs party. Yes, the ‘bombs are garage rockers. But garage rock is just a jumping off point for all sort of aggressive music, from neo-glam to new wave homage to techno-disco beats. This is all held together by the aesthetic vision and terminal cool of frontman Mick Collins.

20. Katjonband – Katjonband: This has most of the hallmarks of any recent Jon Langford record: forays into rock, country and folk and lots of pointed political commentary with a dose of good cheer. What elevates this is the collaborator, Katrin Bornfeld of the Dutch avant-garde band The Ex. Bornfeld is a masterful drummer. Her beats swing and she’s pretty darned creative. The songs are rooted in basic structures and the interplay between Langford and Bornfeld, both vocally and instrumentally, make this a total success.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Pitchfork 500

The Pitchfork 500 -- Edited by Scott Plagenhoef and Ryan Schreiber (Fireside)

I'm sure I'm not the only person who, upon hearing that Pitchfork was putting out a book of the top 500 songs since 1977, thought that those Pitchfork boys (and boys is appropriate -- only five women contribute to this tome) had gotten a little big for their collective britches. It's easy to take shots at Pitchfork, since it has become the dominate website for all things indie music. But this book, although flawed, reflects very well on the website.

It turns out that making this a top 500 songs book was a pretty ingenious idea. On the surface, it seemed like this would create more controversy than a list of the top 500 albums. In fact, it is a lot less controversial. This is primarily due to the inherent absurdity of identifying the top 500 songs out of the umpteen million released in the past 30 years. Might as well make the list the top 1000, or 2000, or...you get the point.

Anyway, what's great about the concept is that it lends itself to storytelling in a way that might not be as easy with albums. While this book could be considered a reference, it's really just the tale of punk and its indie aftermath. In choosing the songs, the Pitchfork folks cover a lot of ground as rock music exploded into seemingly hundreds upon hundreds of subgenres. Are there songs that are missing? Well, yes and no. It's silly to quibble over the songs, for the most part, and amongst the songs I knew, there are only a few really head scratching selections.

The book is divided into chapters which chronicle a slice of a few years. The songs are then discussed, but not in a strict chronology. Each chapter tends to group songs by style or genre, winding around a bit (from hip-hop to indie to electronic to reggae to pop to hip hop to death metal and so on). I like how they did this as it emphasizes the variety that became the norm in the post-punk era and is greater than ever today.

Every chapter has a sidebar that focuses on a genre or some other aspect of music (like songs where bands jump the shark or obscure genres). Most of these pieces are worthwhile, though it would have been helpful if the writers didn't presume that a reader would know what every subgenre is. A little description would help. A couple of these pieces try to be funny, and they aren't. Leave that for The Onion.

The writing is inconsistent, but if you read Pitchfork reviews regularly, that shouldn't be a big surprise. One problem is that there is no single approach to the entries. Do you talk about what the song sounds like? Or why it was influential? Or the background of the artist? Or something else? Admittedly, there's probably no one correct way to do this, but some entries certainly fail to explain why the song being written about is special.

That being said, the percentage of well written pieces is fairly high. In many respects, writing about an album is a lot easier than focusing a few hundred words on a song. It's the difference between summarizing twelve songs in a long paragraph, versus really going in depth on one track.

So this isn't the greatest piece of rock writing out there. Nevertheless, I really liked this book. While it's not a classic reference book, it is a great overview. While there may be some folks who know every type of music in this book in depth, for the vast majority of us rock fans, this provides a slew of recommendations to follow up on. After the holiday season is over, I'm going to be checking out a lot of the hip hop, electronic and dance tracks to add to my surface knowledge in those styles.

Any time a music book gets me interested in checking out new (to me) music, it's a success. I can't quite call The Pitchfork 500 essential, but if you want to expand your horizons, it's worth checking out.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Various Artists -- Titan: It's All Pop!

Various artists -- Titan: It’s All Pop! (Numero Group)

Had I written this review after only two spins of this two disc set, it wouldn’t have been very favorable at all. This collection of everything recorded for Titan (i.e., released and unreleased stuff) is four square power pop. Those who are allergic to anything in the vein of The Raspberries are best advised to stay away.

The Titan label achieved cult status. The label heads, Mark Prellberg and Tom Sorrells, mined the talent in Kansas City, Missouri and the surrounding area and put out a succession of flop singles. And a flop compilation, Just Another Pop Album, which kept the flame alive for the tiny label, long after it went under.

The Numero Group, known mostly for its great compilations of obscure soul music, but also for the fab fifth volume of Jordan Oakes’ Yellow Pills series, gives Titan the deluxe treatment -- full liner notes and careful mastering. These sides might not have had top flight engineering and mixing, but they all sound designed for a transistor radio, and the two CDs accentuate that attribute to the fullest.

While a few more plays have made me look more favorably on this collection, I must say that not every song recorded for Titan deserved to be heard again. It’s not so much a matter of the music here not having aged well, as it’s that a fair amount of the songs on Titan were not that good.

Moreover, for the most part, the label’s acts worked a very narrow seam in the power pop mines. I suppose you can hear some Dwight Twilley Band and Pezband in these tracks, along with the aforementioned Raspberries, but the artists here were good craftsman, rather than innovators.

The best of the bunch was Secrets*, whose sole album I snagged in a cut out bin based on a positive Trouser Press review. And as enthusiastic as the scribe was about Secrets*, they weren’t Shoes or The Knack or The Sorrows by any stretch of the imagination.

What they were was solid meat-and-potatoes power pop and the crafters of the strongest hooks on this collection. The whole shebang starts out with the strongest Secrets (I’m dropping the gimmicky asterisk now) song, “It’s Your Heart Tonight”. The song starts with a simple riff, the drums move on in, and then the singer intently gives advice to a buddy, before heading into the chorus, which works a variation on the opening chords. For a song with such pep, the lyrics are cautionary, painting this woman (and perhaps all women) as a maneater. Hmm...

The Secrets had some other songs of almost equal caliber, such as “Radio Heart” and “Get Your Radio”, which are appropriate, since they were the Titan act who most deserved to hit the airwaves. The two other artists who shine the most on this comp are Gary Charlson and The Boys.

Charlson kicks off the second disc with the Dwight Twilley composition “Shark”. This song has a bit of a ‘50s rock and roll vibe with great lead guitar accents. The dreamy melodic middle eight takes this song out of the revival context and into classic pop territory. I also really dig the dramatic “Burning In You”, which sports a terrific arrangement. It’s a shame Charlson never got to wax a full LP.

Meanwhile, The Boys sometimes did not sound like men, due to a reliance on high pitched vocals. The band is a bit more hit and miss than Charlson or Secrets, but the good songs are really good. “We’re Too Young” starts off with some killer harmony vocals before moving into a smoother and more anglophilic take on teen angst than The Scruffs. The falsetto is out in full force on “Hold Me”, which sports strong lead guitar work and a breathless quality that exemplifies the longing that this song is all about.

Props must also be given to J.P. McClain & The Intruders, who verge, at times, upon new wave territory (a la Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson) and the one ringer in the bunch, former Raspberry Scott McCarl, whose two numbers are swell, especially the killer “I Think About You”.

My final verdict is that this set is really for ultra rabid power pop fans. Titan found some good local talent, but there aren’t enough great songs here. To think that not too far away, a few years down the road, Fools Face sprang up out of Springfield, and outdid all of these guys. Maybe someone can convince Numero to fund a Fools Face box.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Eagles Of Death Metal -- Heart On

Eagles Of Death Metal -- Heart On (Downtown/Rekords Rekords)

It’s another trip to Boogie Town in the Eagles Of Death Metal’s way back machine. Mustachioed Jesse Hughes and chrome domed Josh Homme have this retro groove fest down to a science. As such, it’s hard to deem any EODM record to be essential. But this is yet another album with its fair share of pleasures.

The song that leapt out immediately to me is the shimmy inducing “(I Used to Couldn’t Dance) Tight Pants”. This song is built on funky shuffle drumming and a typically stupid guitar part. Hughes and Homme know a good groove when they find one and they ride it out with, just adding a falsetto “I don’t want to do what I’m supposed to/I just want someone to be close to” refrain. The best part is that you can dance to it.

Let me use the word “groove” for the third consecutive time in this review, with a purpose. I think what raises the Eagles from just being boogie revivalists (though the Eagles are decidedly boogie revivalists) are the rhythms. Rather than the plodding 4/4 beats that typified the ‘70s music these guys are celebrating, the drum and bass parts are more modern. Hip-hop and funk and dance music and post-punk lurk in the background of the lunkheaded power chords. That’s what makes this so insinuating.

That and other juxtapositions these two come up with. “Solo Flights” mixes a goofy acoustic blues guitar part that sounds oh so Steve Miller band with intense rocking in the chorus, the electric guitar slashing away. It’s a mix of silliness and monolithic hard rock more akin to Homme’s work with Queens Of The Stone Age. I’m sure they realized that as long as the two parts sounded great individually, cramming them together wouldn’t be a problem.

The Eagles may go beyond Queens territory on the scarifying closer, “I’m Your Torpedo” which leaves the boogie behind for a krautrock drone. The song vibes on trainwreck drums and a relentless bass, while Hughes and Homme add goofy guitar effects, which only serve to amplify the doom coming from all other sides. It’s apocalypse with reverbed slide guitar effects.

This is only a change of pace, as the album is dominated by the typical good timey stuff. “Wannabe in L.A.” is trebly and twinkly, with light percussion and hyperdrive blues guitars, moving along at a very quick pace. Hughes breaks out the falsetto on “Prissy Prancin’”, where the sexy sleaze sounds a bit off, in a good way. There’s even a pensive mid-tempo track, “Now I’m a Fool”. This is a macho slow number in the tradition of songs like Alice Cooper’s “Desperado”.

Three albums in, the Eagles Of Death Metal may be silly at times, but they aren’t a novelty act. Instead, they are a chance for Homme and Hughes to pay tribute to old sounds, while twisting them into new shapes.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Streets -- Everything Is Borrowed

The Streets -- Everything Is Borrowed (Vice/679)

If you didn’t already know that what makes Mike Skinner’s music is the words, not the music, this album only confirms this. Unfortunately, Everything Is Borrowed proves this by being yet another album that plays far away from Skinner’s strengths, with no compelling stories, just dull platitudes and hectoring.

The first two albums from The Streets offered spare grime influenced hip hop with Skinner’s yobbish accounts of a geezer’s life. What made the songs so fascinating was not the intricate wordplay, but how Skinner did such a great job of capturing the little travails and triumphs of real life and looked at the mundane with wit and empathy.

But on The Hardest Way To Make An Easy Living, Skinner’s accounts of the life of stardom were, for the most part, neither that original nor witty. And now Skinner contemplates the larger questions of life, and, for the most part, his answers are a snooze.

The worst part about this is that Skinner set himself up for this. In addition to having live instrumentation throughout, which I‘ll discuss further later, he decided to eliminate all pop culture references in his lyrics. In so doing, he guaranteed that the subject matter would be dealt with in general terms. And Skinner’s skill in his dissection of specifics. But, more importantly, part of what made his specifics so fun was that there were no pretensions attached; Skinner guileless protagonists spoke in such a straightforward manner, that the poetry came from the truths that came out, not from a magical use of language.

At his worst, Skinner is strident. There’s the amateur environmental screed “The Way of the Dodo”, on which has a nagging refrain and Skinner’s biggest attempt at really rapping and establishing flow. Sure, the sentiment (we have to do something about climate change) is nice, but there is zero insight.

Skinner shows that he’s been brushing up on his Richard Dawkins on “Alleged Legends”. After a church organ intro, the backing track is oddly compelling, a weird crawling rhythm. But Skinner’s mumbly delivery makes his arguments against the existence of God seem rote. Granted, this is a tough area to tackle (as Andy Partridge once said, the reason he didn’t want to put “Dear God” on XTC’s Skylarking was because you could do a whole box set on religion and not scratch the surface of the subject), but it just doesn’t make for an inviting song.

The nadir of the album is the breezy and empty headed “Heaven For the Weather”. You see, you go there for the weather and to “hell for the company.” With gospel styled piano part and hand claps, the track is really bouncy. The lyrics are just the pits, as Skinner’s tale of negotiating for his soul with Satan is dunderheaded.

This is a shame, as Skinner is showing growth as a composer. There are some really nice tracks here, some which have a bit of jazzy feel to them, such as “On the Edge Of a Coin”. “The Sherry End” is an off-beat slice of ’70s L.A. funk, falling somewhere between War and Kool and the Gang. And “I Love You More (Than You Like Me)”, which probably would fit better on one of The Streets first two albums, is based on a bopping piano track.

All-in-all, this is a better listen than The Hardest Way, but Skinner need to play to his strengths as a lyricist. Since he has threatened to retire after one more LP, he has one last chance to get it right again.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Kaiser Chiefs -- "Off With Their Heads"

Kaiser Chiefs -- “Off With Their Heads” (Universal Motown)

This Nth generation Britpop band has become big in the U.K. thanks to some killer singles. The band’s debut album had the instant classic “I Predict a Riot”. Then album number two contained “Ruby”, which wasn’t as good, but had a massive hook, allowing fans to pogo along with the band’s energetic frontman, Ricky Wilson.

I’m not sure if this album has a clear cut killer. But it’s a very consistent effort filled with good to great pop songs. Heaven knows we can’t have enough albums like that.

If there is a five-star song on this album, it’s the propulsive “Never Miss a Beat”, which features guest Lily Allen amongst a bevy of back up vocalists (co-producer Mark Ronson must have phoned her up to get in on the fun). The song skips along with one man call-and-response vocals from Wilson, singing over a steady rhythm track with a great tag line: “it’s cool/to know nothing.” The track then opens up into a rousing chorus of fiendish simplicity: “Take a look at the kids on the street/they never miss a beat.” Not Dylan-like poetry, but easy to sing along to.

Although the raison d’etre of the Kaiser Chiefs is rousing numbers, they keep getting better at the mid-tempo and the slow stuff. Wilson may not be the ultimate vocal talent, but he radiates empathy and good cheer and that goes a long way on tracks like “Good Days Bad Days” and “Always Happens Like That”.

“Good Days” has a great rhythm track, with an oscillating keyboard line, a rubbery bass line and a good dance beat. The song cooks even though it’s not all that fast or anything. While this mildly funky musical mix is taking place, the Chiefs overlay a sing-song melancholy melody, with Wilson championing the little guy. I love the flip lyrics, which verge on telling working class schlubs to stand up for themselves, but conclude with “If you had a different attitude/you’d still have good days and bad days.”

Then there’s the looking back ambience of “Always Happens Like That”. This is a 21st update on the poppier side of Madness, with a jaunty piano and modified ska backbeat. The words here are sketches, or even sketches of sketches, but a mood and feelings come across. It’s kind of a “man, we were so crazy when we were young, look what we got away with” sort of thing. And hey! Lily Allen adds her voice again.

The mood is more subdued on “Tomato in the Rain”, which has a couple superb chord changes that shift the song in new melodic directions. This is a very warm song (with the tag line “yes I do/know about you/shall I come home?”). An equally good track is the whispery closer “Remember You’re a Girl”. It’s gentle and insinuating, although I’m utterly unclear about what the hell Wilson is singing about. The music is good enough (this time) to overcome this.

This album should solidify the Kaiser Chiefs brand. Although Ronson certainly gets good performances out of the band, I would like the Chiefs to aim a bit higher, the way bands like XTC and Blur and The Kinks did. The Chiefs show enough flashes of lyrical acuity and have come up with enough top drawer songs that they should make a great record, not just another good one, like this one.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Jay Retard -- Matador Singles '08

Jay Reatard -- Matador Singles ‘08 (Matador)

If you already are a Jay Reatard fan, then this review won’t do much for you. You are probably telling every fellow rock fan you know to check this guy out. If you haven’t been, you should.

That’s what happened to me. A friend raved about him, convincing me to show up early for his appearance at this year’s Pitchfork Festival. What I saw was 30 minutes of primal rock ‘n’ roll, the songs distilled to a piledriving essence, with Flying Vs and bobbing heads. I could only imagine how that would have come off in a hot, sweaty club, with the sound reverberating off of the walls instead of dissipating in the open air.

But I would have never imagined that the same guy who turned a pile of chords into molten lava before my eyes was also capable of hook filled pop in the vein of Buzzcocks, The Undertones, Wire, Guided By Voices and so on and so forth. This CD collects the fruits of six slabs of vinyl (snapped up by savvy collectors) Reatard unleashed this year. The music here is compulsive and catchy, with songs never outstaying their welcome.

Folks, Jay Reatard is a pop master. He knows melodies. He knows percussive hooks. He’s a clever arranger. And there’s a variety of moods and atmospheres on this disc.

The spookiest track is a cover of Deerhunter’s “Flouresecnt Grey”. I am not familiar with the original, but I intend to check it out. In Reatard’s hands, this is a intense psych-garage work out, made all the more menacing by the vocals. Jay sounds like a chip off of Johnny Rotten’s block. Great tune, great performance.

But so much of the genius of Jay Reatard is the zippy pop sense that is imbedded in his tunes. The guy has a bevy of memorable guitar parts and he pens direct lyrics that stick in the head and make the songs extra catchy.

I can’t think of the last time that an artist reminded me of Hilly Michaels, but in the midst of the speedy “Screaming Hand”, he throws in a chorus of “you are my hero/you are my hero” followed by goofy “Oh no no no no no no...” backing vocals. These sound like they came off of Hilly’s classic “Something’s On Your Mind” from the Caddyshack soundtrack.

Reatard gets into some ping-ponging rockabilly Fall meets Pixies on the barely over a minute “DOA”, which throws in a bonus hook that comes out of nowhere. Fans of early Doleful Lions and Guided By Voices should slobber all over “Always Wanting More”, with it’s twee pop backing and majestic guitar line. Then Reatard gets all “nyaah nyaah nyaah” in Buzzcocks fashion in the chorus. And he’s all put downs on the acoustic bouncer “Painted Shut”, which has a great electric guitar break.

Not many people have waxed 13 songs as good this year. Get this disc and as a bonus, you’ll get to see some manboobs.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Kicks just keep getting harder to find

If I went through my collection and figured how many artists I was introduced to by Jack Rabid's reviews in his brilliant 'zine The Big Takeover, I have no doubt it would be a number in the triple figures. There's so much punk, post-punk, shoegazer and other sounds that the eloquent and tasteful scribe has turned me onto over the years.

Of course, I don't agree with him on everything. And there's one artist in particular who I have now thrown in the towel on (i.e., not going to spend more than a few bucks on). That artist? Paul Revere and the Raiders.

I can think of no greater champion for these Pacific Northwestern rockers than Mr. Rabid (though I'm thinking that someone else, like Gary Pig Gold, has probably waxed eloquent about these guys). I think Jack has them almost up with the upper echelon of '60s rock -- what I like to call the second tier.

The first tier has mostly obvious selections -- The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Kinks, The Sonics, The Beach Boys, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Bee Gees, Sly and the Family Stone, The Byrds (and I'm sure I'm forgetting a few).

The second tier is pretty amazing too. Or should I say my second tier. It would include The Hollies, The Move, The Easybeats, The Equals, The Yardbirds (who many would kick up to the first), The Small Faces, The Pretty Things, The Zombies, and others.

I wouldn't put Paul Revere and the Raiders in the second tier. Now I'm not saying that they suck. Far from it. They had a some great singles and a lot of good ones. But, for the most part, based on the albums I own by them, that's about it.

And what do I own by Paul Revere and the Raiders? The Spirit of '67, Something Happening, Goin' To Memphis, Alias Pink Puzz and Just Like Us!. I picked up Just Like Us! today and wish I hadn't paid $9 for it. While the album includes the awesome "Just Like Me", which is still great garage rock snarl, the LP is undermined by Terry Melcher's timid production.

The bulk of the record is covers of contemporary favorites such as "(I Can't Get No) Satifaction" and "I'll Be Doggone". With a great vocalist like Mark Lindsay and a hot band, things should be cooking, right? Wrong. The studio was a straitjacket for this talented band, and the playing is tepid. And I think this problem comes through on the other studio sets that I own. While the band's own songwriting improved, the band rarely played to its strengths.

Of all of the studio albums I own, I suppose Goin' Back to Memphis is my favorite, as the mix of R & B covers and originals blends better than on the other albums. Still, it's spotty.

Now, I'm not saying these discs are worthless. They all have cuts I enjoy. But not enough to put these guys up there amongst the best the '60s had to offer.

Yet, I do think that Paul Revere and the Raiders were a great rock 'n' roll band. And that was before they became national stars.

This is reflected on the other disc I own by the band, Mojo Workout. This is a two-CD compilation on Sundazed that captures the band before it was polished into a hit machine. Before that happened, Paul Revere and the Raiders were a frat house party band, playing full throttle rock 'n' roll, fitting somewhere between the grooving Wailers and the psycho Sonics.

The first disc of the set was recorded in 1964. It's the Raiders doing a live set. Columbia Records didn't know what to do with the band, so the label decided to capture the guys doing what they did best. The only bad thing about this disc is that this performance wasn't filmed to show the boys in their costumes going wild. The band takes on everything from "Louie Louie" (they had a regional hit with it before The Kingsmen) to "Don't Be Cruel" to "Do You Love Me" and more. This disc simply smokes.

The second disc isn't quite up to that level. It mixes in early singles, outtakes and more live recordings. And the band is still fairly untamed. This collection shows what this band could do.

So don't take this as a hit piece on Paul Revere and the Raiders. I'm just trying to put them in (my) perspective.