Tuesday, August 22, 2017

NEIL INNES/Off The Record reissue: The Spaz Review!


Available NOW!

     If you aren’t instantly familiar with the name Neil Innes, then you certainly haven’t been paying attention. Here’s a brief history of his career from the intro to my Neil Innes interview from 2014. This leads perfectly into the release I’m reviewing, actually:

     “He’s been a key player in many of the most influential groups in the last half century.  He formed The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band (later shortened to The Bonzo Dog Band) with Vivian Stanshall, appearing in The Beatles’ movie MAGICAL MYSTERY TOURPaul McCartney then produced the Bonzos’ biggest hit single  “I’m The Urban Spaceman,” which hit the Top 5 in 1968.  After the Bonzos split, Innes began working with Monty Python, appearing on their records as well as their TV series and films.  In 1976, he and Python’s Eric Idle conceived the BBC TV series Rutland Weekend Television – Idle wrote the sketches while Innes provided the music.  One particular sketch involved The Rutles, a fake ‘60s Pop group fashioned after The Beatles. When that sketch was broadcast in the U.S. on Saturday Night Live, The Rutles became almost as legendary as the band they parodied.  A Rutles mockumentary entitled All You Need Is Cash was created for NBC television and broadcast in 1978. The rest, as they say, is history.
     While The Rutles may have become larger than life, Innes continued to create some of his best work with the BBC TV series Innes Book Of Records, which debuted in 1979.  On this show, he wrote and recorded an amazingly varied batch of songs and created videos for each of them (which was groundbreaking for its time since music videos were not as common as they would be a few years later).  The series lasted until 1981. However, the music and video clips have become the stuff of legend and have popped up on YouTube over the years.” 

     Now that you are caught up (sort of), let’s talk about OFF THE RECORD, a wonderfully eclectic 1982 album finally available on CD thanks to Gonzo Multimedia. Neil’s previous album, INNES BOOK OF RECORDS (1979) featured songs pulled from the first season of his TV series of the same name. OFF THE RECORD, originally a double LP set, contains songs from the series’ second and third seasons and is chock full of Innes goodness. There are not many artists who can create a musical parody/tribute/homage like Neil Innes can and OFF THE RECORD is chock full of them. The main thing that sets Neil apart from other parodists is his ability to write a great song in the process. Most parodists forget to bring a strong song to the table but not our Neil: he's got loads of great melodies just waiting to become your latest earworms. In most cases, Neil doesn’t force the ‘joke’ down your throat – for the most part, he sings them straight and lets the listener decipher the humor and original influences.

     Like his post-Bonzo/pre-Rutles solo albums, OFF THE RECORD contains some of his best songs. “Time To Kill” is stunning with Neil’s earnest vocals backed by a string quartet. “Rock Of Ages” is a lost Pop nugget that could have been a hit had a then-fashionable New Wave/guitar Pop band released it as a single. “The Worm And The Angel” recalls mid ‘70s Folk/Pop that occupied the Top 40 at the time. “Kincker Elastic King” was later re-recorded as a Rutles track although it is difficult to decide which is the better version! “Not Getting Any Younger” could be a track straight from the ‘Great American Songbook’.  While not intended as such, “Take Away” could have fit on an early ‘70s Ringo album (and everyone knows how fun those albums are). “Stoned On Rock” is almost a playful Neil Young-ish mid-tempo rock song (with great harmony vocals) although the Doors-influenced intro is a bit deceiving. “Godfrey Daniel” is a fab early Elton John-esque piano-led ballad. “Down That Road” is also very Elton-influenced. (BTW, not even Elton sounded like classic Elton in ’82 so Neil’s work was/is quite welcome). “Ungawa” could be the spiritual follow-up to the Bonzos’ ‘50s pastiche (and best-known song) “Death Cab For Cutie”.  And there’s still so much more to OFF THE RECORD that I haven’t touched on! Packed with 20 tracks, this is a must for those who seek something different but also want to bathe in the aura of something vaguely familiar.

     Neil Innes remains one of Rock’s most under-appreciated artists. Don’t let his honest and loving musical homages fool you – he’s much closer to someone like Nick Lowe than he is to Weird Al. He makes you love, laugh, think, ponder, smile and ultimately appreciate the true value of music. Don’t be ashamed if he gives you ‘the feels’. It just means he’s doing it right.

Keep on truckin’,
Stephen SPAZ Schnee

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

OMD/The Punishment Of Luxury album reviewed!



BRONSKI BEAT: An EXCLUSIVE Q&A with Steve Bronski!


Steve Bronski

     It has been 33 years since Bronski Beat arrived on the music scene with their remarkably emotional debut single “Smalltown Boy.” Jimmy Somerville’s soaring falsetto was quite a wonder to behold but the music performed by Steve Bronski and Larry Steinbachek was equally enthralling. Equally enchanting, the band’s debut album THE AGE OF CONSENT was Synthpop at it’s finest. Inspired by classic Disco and the Electronic Music scene that was sweeping the UK, the trio blended their influences into a wondrous brew. Add in their thought-provoking lyrics that focused on gay-related issues and you had a band that not only made you dance but also made you think. Surprisingly, in 1985, at the height of the band’s popularity, Somerville abruptly quit, leaving Bronski and Steinbachek to carry on without him. The following year, the band returned with new vocalist John Foster and released the Pop-errific sophomore album TRUTHDARE DOUBLEDARE. Although “Hit That Perfect Beat” and “C’mon! C’mon!” were hits, the album didn’t fare as well as their debut and the band left their label (London Records).  Foster left the fold and Bronski and Steinbachek’s continued to work together throughout the rest of the ‘80s and into the ‘90s. They released their third album, RAINBOW NATION, with new vocalist Jonathan Hellyer and additional musical assistance from Ian Donaldson. However, the band quietly split in 1995 shortly after that album’s release.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Country Pride:

An EXCLUSIVE interview 
Charley Pride

     For half a century, Charley Pride has been one of Country Music’s hardest working and most beloved entertainers.  Ever since his 1966 debut single on RCA, “The Snakes Crawl At Night,” he has forged a path that has been consistent and rewarding to his fans and those that love traditional Country Music. With over 50 Top Ten Country singles to his credit – 29 of those reaching #1 – Charley is one of the most successful Country vocalists of all time. Against all odds, he has outlasted nearly all his contemporaries from the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s and he shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. MUSIC IN MY HEART, his first album in six years, is an album steeped in Country tradition yet still sounds fresh and invigorating. With this album, Charley has delivered one of the most consistently excellent albums of his career. Now, if only Country radio still celebrated the traditional sounds of artists like Charley Pride…  
     Produced by Billy Yates and featuring songs written by Merle Haggard (“The Way It Was In ‘51”), Bill Anderson (“You Lied To Me”) Ben Peters & Justin Peters (“Natural Feeling For You”) and many others, MUSIC IN MY HEART is an essential listen for those that love Charley’s classic recordings as well as his more recent output on the Music City Records label. Tracks like “It Wasn’t’ That Funny,” “New Patches,” “I Just Can’t Stop Missing You” and the previously mentioned titles will remind you of the days when Country Music was about life, love and loss and less about glamor and gloss. MUSIC IN MY HEART is an instantly lovable and timeless collection of songs that will no doubt be considered a classic in Charley’s catalog.
     Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to catch up with Charley Pride and spend a few minutes chatting about the album and more.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

HOWARD JONES/Best 1983-2017 (3CD) reviewed!


     While he achieved a lot of chart success early in his career (1983 to 1989) and still tours and releases new music, Howard Jones’ musical legacy has been somewhat overlooked since his heyday. While he certainly hasn’t been forgotten, he has become increasingly difficult to categorize… which is both a good and bad thing. He’s been labelled a Synthpop artist, a teen idol, a New Waver and an Electropop pioneer while also being lumped into the Adult Alternative category. Some have even pointed out his Jazz-influenced chord progressions and R&B leanings. In all honesty, Howard Jones is all of this and more.  And thankfully, Cherry Red has just released the three CD BEST 1983-2017, which really showcases Howard’s many talents. A set this comprehensive reminds the listener that Howard Jones is much more than an “’80s relic”. He was never a one-trick pony and this release backs that statement up.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

THE INMATES/The Albums 1979-1982 (3CD set) reviewed!

     In the late ‘70s, the Rock world was being turned on it’s head by Punk and New Wave. The pretentious ‘old guard’ (i.e. Prog rockers, Folk singer/songwriters, Pop stars, etc.) were handed their walking papers by the press, who latched onto the shouty, belligerent Punk kids. By ’79, you were more likely going to read about the exploits of Sex Pistols, The Damned and The Clash before you’d stumble upon a review of ELP’s latest live gig. And by that time, reviews of ELP, Yes and the like were leaning towards scathing.  However, while the press fell over themselves to discover the latest Punk craze, Pub Rock and British Rhythm & Blues was also a happening thing.  Dr. Feelgood were already established and Nine Below Zero were on their way to becoming legendary. While not always recognized as such, The Inmates were certainly one of the best of the Pub/R&B bunch (in fact, they still are!). With Cherry Red’s three CD box set, THE ALBUMS 1979-1982, The Inmates are finally receiving the credit and attention that they deserve. Containing the band’s first three studio albums (plus bonus tracks), this is a long over-due look at the band’s excellent early output.