Thursday, July 24, 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.

Secret Affair Glory Boys
You know what's funny about the mod revival of the late 70s? (Besides the clothes and haircuts, I mean.) Aside from the Jam, who actually predated and catalyzed the movement, I can't think of worthy band the genre produced. Weller and co. may have infused punk recklessness with 60s pop hooks but I'm hard pressed to think of another band that did the same as well, if at all. Case in point: Secret Affair. Probably the movement's second biggest act, SA exhibit none of The Jam's songwriting or playing chops and certainly have nothing on the Who, Small Faces, or Creation. Much of Glory Boys sounds like the most overblown moments of Quadrophenia married to awkward interpretations of 60's soul but without much, you know, soul. Their cover of the Miracles' "Going to a Go Go" might be the whitest thing I've ever heard. Some tunes like "Time for Action" and "Don't Look Down" display a certain bubblegum catchiness but the arrangements, particularly the flatulent horns and ubiquitous bombastic drum sound, undercut any chance of rock n roll fun. And since the disc was produced by the band themselves it's hard to assign blame elsewhere. Misguided and flaccid, Glory Boys is about as explosive as wet match. May have anticipated Dexy's Midnight Runners but that's no huge compliment.
Price paid: $5 Rating: 10%

David Bowie Low
Sometimes life is good. The other day I was looking through my David Bowie LPs, satisfied that I had nearly all of the man's essential work, i.e. pretty much everything from The Man Who Sold the World through Scary Monsters. One record I was missing though was Low. I stumbled across it in used LP bins a few times before but balked at the price, usually in the $15-$20 range. This same day I decided to head over the Staten Island's favorite cult-run cafe/second hand shop, mainly because my home computer was kaput and I could check my e-mail on their computer for the price of a dollar every ten minutes. I decided to take a look through their used LP bin which tends to contain Lionel Richie and Barbara Streisand records. They also price their records using the Goldmine price guide so on the rare occasion that they do have anything worth buying it's usually overpriced. Anyway, yes, they had a copy of Low in their "To be priced" bin. The cute hippie girl behind the counter let me have for three bucks. I didn't get her number or anything but I figured that was enough good luck for one day.

And how is the album anyway? Well, it's quite good. I don't know if it's the best record of the 1970s (actually that's not true, I'm sure it isn't) but if you told me it was Bowie's best album after Hunky Dory, I probably wouldn't debate you.

I also found a copy of Mick Farren's book The Feelies for $3 at the thrift store the same day. I haven't read it yet but if it's half as good as "Let's Loot the Supermarket Again Like We Did Last Summer" it will be well worth the price.
Price paid: $3 Rating: 100%

Pearls Before Swine One Nation Underground
Psych-folk from the legendary ESP-Disk label and apparently their biggest seller. Pearls Before Swine were not as provocative as their labelmates the Fugs or the Godz but where still legitimately an underground outfit. There's no mistaking them for hippie exploitation pop ala Strawberry Alarm Clock. To my ears, they most recall Moby Grape or Hackmore Brick, offering many druggy-sounding, acoustic-based songs but also rocking out on occasion. The quieter tunes are just a bit prosaic for my tastes though are objectively quite lovely. Things do get nicely weird on their rock songs though which sound at times like they're channeling the Thirteenth Floor Elevators. They even offer up Silver Apples-esque skewed keyboards on a few cuts. One Nation Underground is a neat little artyfact from the psychedelic sixties. Lyrics like "Did you follow the Crystal Swan?/Did you see yourself/Deep inside the Velvet Pond?" may be vapid flower-power nonsense but, believe me, I've heard worse.
Price paid: $5 Rating: 80%

Classic Ruins Lassie Eats Chickens
A bar band in the best sense of the word, I first heard the Classic Ruins via the Boston scene volume of Rhino's DIY series (a seminal influence on my taste in music during my teen years.) Their song on that comp "1+1<2" was taken from a 1980 single on the Ace of Hearts label and has long been a favorite in this household. For whatever reason, the Classic Ruins didn't get around to recording their debut album until 6 years later, this time for Chuck Warner's Throbbing Lobster label. Nothing here matches the brilliance of that early single but Lassie Eats Chickens is a lot of fun regardless. Classic Ruins recall other Boston fixtures like the Lyres (who covered the Ruins' "Geraldine, I Need Money"), the Real Kids (whose Billy Borgioli guests of 5 of the 9 songs here) or even the Cars, albeit with a raunchier, rawer version of their sound. Or perhaps they sound like what the E Street Band would sound like if they had a sense of humor instead of bombast. I can't imagine the Boss singing a song with a title like "I Can't Spell Romance." Or if he were to write a song about an alcoholic Canadian mountie like the Ruins did in "Labatt's," it would probably be a portrait of working class struggles and wouldn't contain lines like "He changes his shirt about once a year to take the empties into town." Unpretentious rock n roll played with a knowing smirk, Lassie Eats Chickens will get more than a few spins on my turntable. And I think Chuck might still have a few copies left if you want to pick up one for yourself.
Price paid: $5 Rating: 100%


BestinShowKeith said...

I think Diamond Dogs is the best album but Low is pretty terrific. Speed of Light and Always Crashing in the same Car are two of his more underrated songs.

Miss. Francis said...

I'm sure I'm not the only one wondering which Lionel Richie album you passed up... talk about being a dullard - sheesh!

jerkstore said...

Just FYI, the second biggest mod revival act would probably be the lambrettas, or the merton parkas. I agree that most of these bands aren't worth their weight in dirt, but the lambrettas certainly do have their fun moments. With a lot of those mod revival bands you have to pick and choose the decent from mounds of overproduced/cheesy crap. I don't know if the Vapors qualify as mod revival, but they were certainly awesome.