Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Paleontology for Dullards: A Consumer's Guide

"Paleontology for Dullards" rates records I've found in used LP bins by assigning them a cash value. For further explanation, please see my original post here.

John Felice and the Lowdowns Nothing Pretty
As some of you may know, John Felice was a member of a very early incarnation of the Modern Lovers and subsequently the leader of the Real Kids who released some rather wonderful records in the late 70s and early 80s. Like Jonathan Richman, Felice has both a love early rock and a romantic streak which informs his songwriting though with a nastier edge than his former bandmate. Felice does not share JoJo's world view of innocence and puritanism. (It's been acknowledged that Felice was the "Hippie Johnny" of "I'm Straight.") While Richman's post-Modern Lovers records display a cloying naiveté that turned off many of the admirers of his first album's raw RnR, Real Kids fans will likely really dig Felice's first solo outing. Nothing Pretty was released in the late 80s on legendary Boston label Ace of Hearts (home to Mission of Burma and the Lyres) after Felice had disappeared from the scene for a while. While not the classic that the Real Kids self-titled long player was, Nothing Pretty more than satisfies as another dose of Felice's exuberant, straight-up rock n roll and world-weary, heart-on-his-sleeve sentimentality. Songs like "Perfect Love" and "Dreams" revel in trashy rock n roll fun but others like "Nowadaze Kids" and "I'll Never Sing That Song Again" (which quotes the Real Kids classic "All Kindsa Girls") exhibit a cynicism that evoke genuine sadness and disappointment. Most stunning of all is the album's title track which sounds like the best ballad the Replacements never wrote. The chorus of "There's nothing pretty in my life anymore" might look like self-pitying mopery on paper but when Felice sings it the effect is heartbreaking. His lack of pretension leaves no doubt to his sincerity. Hard to find for years, Nothing Pretty was reissued by the fine folks at Norton Records not too long ago. I was lucky enough to stumble across this treasure but now that it's readily available I highly recommend you plunk down your cash for this one. That is, of course, unless you don't already own the first Real Kids album.
Price paid: $6 Rating: 100%

Scritti Politti Cupid and Psyche 85
I really like those early Scritti Politti records. Even "The Sweetest Girl" single, their first move towards pop, sounded pretty swell to my ears. But this? I swear to Christ this sounds like Jermaine Stewart or something.

Price paid: $3 Rating: 16.7%

The Skids Scared to Dance
When I first dropped the needle on this 1979 disc and "The Saints are Coming" blasted from my stereo my first thought was "Wow, this sounds like the missing link between the Clash and U2." This notion was only strengthened when I found a fairly terrible collaborative cover of the tune by the very Clash-sounding Green Day and even more U2-sounding U2 mentioned in an Onion AV Club entry about overblown charity songs. If you've ever wondered how the new wave transmorphed into the "big sound" of 80s modern rock ala U2, Echo and the Bunnymen and Big Country (founded by Skids guitarist Stuart Adamson) this as good a place as any to start. At times this mix of punk bluster and stadium bombast is effective such as in the aforementioned cut and "Into the Valley," a top 10 single in the UK. Mostly though, it comes off as very stiff and static, missing the immediacy of most of their new wave contemporaries and not really having the chops to hang with the laser light show contingent. It's not terrible though. Not as good as the Stranglers. Better than the Boomtown Rats. Please enjoy this clip of the Skids miming to "Into the Valley" where singer Richard Jobson moves the mic from his mouth before completion of the lyric for every single line of the song.

Price paid: $4 Rating: 50%

David Peel and the Lower East Side Have a Marijuana
Have you ever thought that the best part about the MC5 was not their incendiary music but their 60s counterculture "rock n roll, dope and fucking in the streets" lyrics? You haven't? Yeah, me neither. But on the off-chance that you're curious as to what their lyrical content might sound like in the context of poorly played folk music, you should check out David Peel. Released on Eletrka in 1968, the same label that put out the earliest LPs by the MC5 and the Stooges, Peel's debut LP in not without it's charm, if you want to call it that. He embraces the role of thorn in the side of the establishment so fervently it almost sounds quaint 40 years later. For all the furor caused by the MC5's use of "motherfucker" in the intro to "Kick Out the Jams," Peel's repeated use of the 12-letter expletive in the chorus of "Up Against the Wall" must have seemed like a vehement act of confrontation and subversion. Today it and other hippe rallying calls like "I Like Marijuana" and "Show Me the Way to Get High" sound rather silly but kind of fun in a hanging out with a bunch of mischievous but ultimately harmless burnouts kind of way. At the very least Peel never encourages you to put flowers in your hair. Note: Rocket From The Crypt seem to have lifted the "Everybody smoke pot" chant from "The Alphabet Song" for the coda of "Take That" from the Circa: Now album. Also note: After stints on Elektra and Apple (at John Lennon's behest) Peel formed his own label, Orange Records, which released some of the early works of Mr GG Allin. How's that for lasting influence?
Price paid: $0.70 Rating: 100%

Bob Marley and the Wailers Catch a Fire
Speaking of marijuana...

I kind of hate Bob Marley. Let me restate that. What I really hate is the sort of jackass who buys a copy of Legend, grows white boy dreads and tries to separate himself from his privileged suburban upbringing by smoking lots of grass, vapidly philosophizing about Rastaman vibrations and generally acting like a douchebag. Meanwhile, the only other thing in their music collection that resembles reggae is probably a Sublime CD. Go choke on a hackysack, you mindless, annoying, petruli-reeking, waste-of-DNA fuckheads!

Anyway, the proliferation of this poor example of humanity is hardly Marley's fault. In fact, his music is not nearly as mellow and/or passive as one might expect. Quite the contrary actually as the first three cuts on Catch a Fire, "Concrete Jungle," "Slave Driver" and the Peter Tosh-sung "400 Years," practically seethe with barely suppressed rage and aggression. It might be hard to hear a song like "Stir It Up" divorced from any sort of cultural context but it you can you'll hear what is undeniably an extremely talented group of musicians creating an potent groove. I'm admittedly a Jamaican music dilettante but stating the Wailers were as good as or better at doing what they did as anyone else seems like a plausible claim. It's definitely good stuff. I'm still not entirely enthralled enough to consider myself a Marley fan but I'm impressed enough to want to listen to more of his work with an open mind.

If case you're wondering my copy isn't the original zippo lighter cover pressing. Now that would've been a find.
Price paid: $0.70 Rating: 100%

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