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Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Some artists are more than merely great. There are some artists that for a period of years, a period that is finite, consistently produced music that, it can be argued, far exceeded the work of their peers. For that brief period of time they were definitely Masters of the Form.

In the first half of the ‘80s, the Cure (particularly Robert Smith) was the face of alternative music. Pale skin, black eyeliner and blood red lips became the uniform of those who deemed themselves outside of the mainstream, and the Cure? The Cure was the cool band people would say they listened to when they wanted to prove that they themselves were cool. The Head on the Door made the Cure Masters of the Form and expanded this rather myopic opinion of the band. The Head on the Door had been a visceral musical masterpiece that channeled the Cure’s musical energies in an album length wave of accessible energy. It eliminated the idea that the Cure was nothing more than the face of alternative music. The Cure had openly courted the mainstream without ever actually swimming in it or changing the basics of their sound. In essence, the Cure didn’t seem to care about being cool at all and, naturally this made the band that much cooler. They were no longer simply what alternative music looked like; they were what it sounded like as well.


After The Head on the Door, the band found themselves tasked with following up the most successful production of their musical ideas. So in 1987 The Cure released Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me a sprawling double album filled with virtually every musical idea that Robert Smith and the band could think of. With the release of Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me the band that had always seemed too cool for the mainstream, the band that had always been seen as the cool alternative to it, discovered something they’d never experienced before – their first world wide success.


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Friday, May 7, 2010
Call it a childlike naiveté or a disregard for professional musicianship, but Beat Happening’s playful and whimsical approach whisked in a new era of change within the music industry.

Certain events in music history are powerful enough to change the course of the industry for good. Prominent events such as Bob Dylan going electric in 1965, Radiohead’s groundbreaking OK Computer, or, as far as my personal relationship with music is concerned, the emergence of the seminal independent K Records and Beat Happening in Olympia, Washington in 1982.


The man at the center of it all was Calvin Johnson, frontman of Beat Happening and K Records founder, bringing with him his fierce Do It Yourself ethic and lo-fi sensibilities to change the course of the American independent music scene.


Beat Happening was one of those bands that discarded any preconceived notions of what it takes to make music and get it out there. Call it a childlike naiveté or a disregard for professional musicianship, but Beat Happening’s playful and whimsical approach whisked in a new era of change within the industry, a sort-of middle fingered address to the major labels and their tendency to homogenize the playing-field. They weren’t masters of their instruments, they often strayed off-key and out of tune, yet they captured something primitive and organic with their sound that continues to speak to people. The ethos of the trio, Calvin, Heather, and Bret (they dropped their last names in order to strip away all pretense) was one of democracy and fearlessness, swapping instruments and singing duties from song to song.


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Thursday, Apr 29, 2010
You may know Neil Innes’ name, or perhaps some of the seemingly endless list of classic music, film and television pies he’s had his talented fingers in over the decades with Monty Python, the Bonzo Dog Band, and the Rutles, but he’s by no means a celebrity, and that’s perfectly alright with him.

You may know Neil Innes’ name, or perhaps some of the seemingly endless list of classic music, film and television pies he’s had his talented fingers in over the decades. But he’s by no means a celebrity, and that’s perfectly alright with him.


“There’s no hysteria, there’s no Innes-mania out there,” said Innes. “And that’s good, because I can’t stand all that. I’m not really a show business creature. I want it all. I love playing with all the toys, I love filming, I love playing with musicians, but the fame thing I just can’t hack at all.”


Innes was speaking prior to his Tuesday night one-man show at B.B. King in the heart of Times Square, nearly at the midway point of a tour which sees him mixing favorites from his work with the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, Monty Python and the Rutles with new material that shows he’s still got the innate knack for a clever turn of phrase and melody. The performance thrilled a crowd which included Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová of Swell Season, with the former in stitches and the latter bobbing her head while wearing an Innes t-shirt throughout.



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Friday, Apr 23, 2010
Some artists are more than merely great. There are some artists that for a period of years, a period that is finite, consistently produced music that, it can be argued, far exceeded the work of their peers. For that brief period of time they were definitely Masters of the Form.

There was a time before America’s youth was even aware of Seattle’s existence. There was a time when the word “alternative” wasn’t just a marketing term. Alternative music wasn’t always a product of the post-1990 MTV marketing of anger prettily packaged in flannel. In the early ‘80s, alternative music was music that was alternative to the mainstream, music that serenaded university students all over the world—college music played by college radio stations that wasn’t defined as “grunge”. There was a time when alternative music was defined as “The Cure”.


The Cure had been more than just a cult success by the time they released their sixth studio album The Head on the Door in 1985. They had achieved a notoriety that rarely accompanies their modest level of musical and popular success. They had yet to breakthrough commercially like U2, INXS and Depeche Mode had, but before most American high school students could even name a Cure song, they could still identify the Cure as what alternative music looked like. Kids who’d taken a weekend to visit older brothers and sisters at their college campuses, had decided that alternative music had long, teased hair, pale white skin, black-lined eyes and blood red lips. Alternative music might have sounded like U2, INXS and Depeche Mode but it looked like Robert Smith. With the release
The Head on the Door, the Cure became Masters of the Form whose music had finally caught up to its image.


The Head on the Door was an unexpected release from the Cure in 1985. Most fans thought the band was on the verge of breaking up. Robert Smith had spent most of 1983 touring with Siouxsie and the Banshees and releasing an album with the Glove, a side group formed with Banshee’s bassist Steve Severin. That same year saw the release of the successful pop confection “Lovecats”, but Smith’s next release with the Cure, 1984’s The Top did little to encourage the band’s fans. The album was a disparate collage of murky, dirge-like ideas that failed to coalesce into a collection of strong songs. Using The Top as exhibit A, it was easy to argue that the group’s best music was behind it and that the Cure was on its way to being a small footnote in musical history.


The most striking thing about 1985’s The Head on the Door though, is how big and accessible it sounds. This was not a murky album content to stare at the floor and be anybody’s definition of “depressed music”. Compared to the group’s earlier releases, the sound was massive. “In Between Days” doesn’t play from the speakers as much as it echoes through them like an anthem echoing through an empty arena during sound check. There is an echo to the drums and percussive strum of the acoustic guitar that, coupled with the soaring keyboards, makes the track’s opening a visceral experience, a breathless example of a band coming into its own.


The fact that the Cure was a band again played a large role in the album’s success. The Top had largely been a solo project with Smith writing the music and playing most of the parts himself. The Head on the Door was recorded as a full band effort and the presence of a band, particularly guitarist Porl Thompson, seemed to reenergize the concept of what the Cure could be. The Cure was a hungry musical animal, with twin guitar teeth it freely bared on tracks like “The Baby Screams” and “A Night Like This”, that were prepared to devour the musical world, and with The Head on the Door they left the sound of clubs and theaters behind for the large sound of arena rock.


Virtually every song on The Head on the Door is poppy, but this accessibility did nothing to make them sound like any of their contemporaries. “It tastes like nothing on Earth,” Smith sings on “Kyoto Song” and he may as well be singing about the Cure. The radio readiness of the album’s tracks seemed to crystallize it into a decisive musical work, but it was still wholly unique. The hooks were bigger, but they were still the Cure. So, the ear could be seduced by the Spanish guitar of “Blood” and the tongue could sing along with the chant “I am paralyzed” but the song’s catchiness doesn’t change the fact that complete line is “I am paralyzed by the blood of Christ”. “Push” carries on the Cure’s affection for extended guitar intros, but the fact that the song has no vocals for almost two and a half minutes does nothing to diminish its power. The song’s hook isn’t in the vocal at all. The hook is in the guitar; the vocals lend an already great “chorus” accompaniment and punctuation.


The album’s two strongest songs might be its two most overtly pop compositions. “Six Different Ways” is an incredibly underrated pop gem. The song is so sugary sweet that it’s almost difficult for a listener to decide exactly which part to hum along with. The piano bounces between the drums, the keyboards sparkle across the piano until the strings slide through the loops of all the other instruments and tie them together like a sash underneath the bow of Smith’s perfect vocal crackling into falsetto as it approaches the end of each line. The poppiest song on the album, “Close to You”, is also its most simple, a yearning love song that seems to be told from the vantage point of a lovesick Casio keyboard. The song is a few moments of pop magic from Masters of the Form who were finally in a position to create magic with regularity. In two years, the Cure would create more with the release of Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me.


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Thursday, Mar 25, 2010
Some artists are more than merely great. There are some artists that for a period of years, a period that is finite, consistently produced music that, it can be argued, far exceeded the work of their peers. For that brief period of time they were definitely Masters of the Form.

1978 saw the birth of a brand new nation on these shores – a nation of freedom and brotherhood that extolled the virtues of love, sex and the power of open minds and shaking hips. One nation. One nation indivisible. One Nation Under a Groove.


George Clinton and Funkadelic had thrown down the gauntlet with the release of Let’s Take It To the Stage in 1975. This masterpiece of weird, funky guitar madness set the philosophical stage for a war that was to come. A war based on the timeless politics of youth and fought by their alter egos in Parliament. In 1976 Parliament invaded America as “extra-terrestrial brothers, dealers in funky music” when the Masters of Form landed the Mothership Connection. It was the first in a trilogy of albums that included The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein and 1977’s Funkentelechy Vs. the Placebo Syndrome.


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