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Archive for April, 2015

I FEEL A TINGE of guilt in appreciating two albums I probably shouldn’t even be listening to, by a supergroup whose legacy is untouchable. The contentious albums are by The Doors, released after Jim Morrison died in a bathtub in Paris in July 1971, and featuring the remaining trio of Robbie Krieger, Ray Manzarek and John Densmore. You can appreciate my reservations; both are missing from the remastered boxset containing all the previous albums. And as far as I am aware only one song from the Morrison-less remnant has been included on any Doors compilation.Doors 1

While many of the supergroups of the time – The Beatles, The Faces, Stones, The Who and The Kinks were a gang, comprising massive characters who were all an integral part of the group, The Doors centred around Morrison. This should not detract from the talent of Krieger, Manzarek and Densmore, who were as vital to the group’s success as Morrison, but the Lizard King had a mystique that towered over his colleagues. He had the voice, the looks, the intelligence and the character.

To get a sense how badly these albums fared at the time, they have never been issued on CD in the United States. However, my local library in Wellington contains a German import disk of both albums. Even the compilers didn’t feel the albums merited individual release, or even a double CD. The cover of Other Voices features headshots of the surviving trio and its title is a statement of intent, that being: don’t forget about us. It was released just three months after Morrison’s untimely demise, leading to fans’ speculation about how much was done before Jim checked out of that Paris hotel permanently. The likely scenario is that it was rush-released to cash-in on the death; sex sells the saying goes, but death is a pretty good fund-raiser too.

The vocal duties were mainly performed by keyboardist Manzarek, which was logical as he often sang backing vocals. From the initial bar on In The Eye Of The Sun the thought crosses the mind: how would Jim have done this? And the answer is pretty emphatic, he would have empowered, caressed and whipped the track into a frenzy. Both Manzarek and Krieger are fine singers, but it was too much to expect to fill such X-sized boots

It certainly feels like a Doors album with the blues boogies intermingling with languid sorts like Down On The Farm (an

The full, fold-out sleeve of Full Circle

The full, fold-out sleeve of Full Circle

L.A.Woman outake), and the songwriting can’t be faulted. I’m Horny, I’m Stoned contains all the joie de vivre of any song written from 1966.

A year later, Full Circle appeared with an eccentric, halucinatory cover. It’s a less coherent effort but has some standouts, Hardwood Floor is jump-up-and-down boogie woogie, about “getting married down in Mexico” with a rousing chorus, and the set-closer The Peking King and the New York Queen (about Nixon’s visit to China) is cringeworthy with the use of a faux Asian accent but it’s an energetic, flighty number that I sometimes wanna dance to, and other times I wonder why this is worming its way through my ears.

By 1973, the realisation that the public didn’t have an appetite for a Morrison-less Doors had succumbed and the three went their separate ways. Four decades on, these albums deserve something of a second opinion. I am not in any way going to argue they are on a par with anything recorded between 1967 and early 1971; neither is even on a par with The Soft Parade, generally regarded as the quartet’s poorest effort. The critics panned them both, but how much of that negativity was down to a view that this group should have simply drifted apart? But let’s be mature here, there’s some nice efforts, and there’s a few standouts that would have suggested a great Doors album if Morrison hadn’t died in that bathtub.

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IT’S 1974, you’re a teenager or in your early 20s, and keen to hear new sounds. Well, tough, this time ain’t for you. You should have been born earlier.

It was particularly cruel because the sixties had it all, and now the inevitable comedown was kicking in. If Elton John, The Osmonds, Sweet, The Bay City Rollers and Gary Glitter didn’t tease out those pennies, there wasn’t much else to eye up. By the end of 1974, the Dolls had split up, T.Rex was fading and Bowie was in a transitional phase.

The rut had begun five years before: the era of love, psychedelia, poetry and hippiedom era had come to an end. The Beatles and The Velvet Underground are winding up, The Small Faces are no more, Cream have gone the same way. Before 1971 had even ended, Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix would both be six foot under. Syd Barrett had ‘retired’ and The Kinks would soon become theatrical rock-art dandies. The Who and The Quo were now ripped jeans, badly permed full-on rock stars, and the halcyon days of Motown were now a memory.

That opening year of the decade had, nevertheless, promised so much with several great albums, by The Velvet Underground, The Beatles, The Doors, Nick Drake, Syd Barrett (two), The Kinks, The Stooges and Curtis Mayfield. Edwin Starr was fighting war, and Bob Marley and the Wailers were emerging as bona fide talent.

By the following year such top-drawer albums were becoming fewer and fewer and as the decade wore on glam rock, prog rock, folk, novelty acts and the big-is-better acts such as Elton and a Diamond-loving Floyd were stifling the airwaves and the likes of John Martyn, Free, Yes, Stevie Wonder and Lynard Skynard seemed to typify the confusion and lack of direction of the music industry. For those who don’t like music, 1974 was a good year.

And yet there were pockets of real inspiration that the future punks and art rockers would be buying up on Saturday afternoons: Bowie, Roxy, T.Rex, the New York Dolls, Patti Smith, The Sparks and roots reggae acts from Jamaica, far too numerous to mention but Gregory Isaacs, Linval Thompson, Johnny Clarke, I Roy and Big Youth are a start.

And beyond the illumination of these groundbreakers was a burgeoning underground that would, in a sub-conscious way perhaps, pave the way for a new era, the hazy, crazy year of punk and the myriad sub-genres it would spawn to fuel the music industry for at least a decade.

Among these were the art school acts, although not all actually tended art school, such as Captain Beefheart, Can, John Cale, Peter Hammill, who’s Nadir’s Big Chance was a big influence on an impressionable John Lydon; pub rock which brought back the energy and interaction that was generally missing at venues, and the crassly-termed Krautrock species that was coming out of the industrial heart of Germany and epitomised by Neu!, Harmonia, Cluster and, of course, Kraftwerk. Their records generally sold in small amounts, but they were sold to the right people. There was nothing quite as impressive as a dandy on a bicycle carrying on his arm into sixth form a copy of Tago Mago.

A plethora of retrospective compilations have highlighted the obscure, the undervalued and the demented of the pre-punk era, as if these were what all the would-be punks and new wavers were listening to. The reality is a little skewed. Take for example, Punk 45: After the Love and Before The Revolution, a highly worthy effort that brings together unreleased and barely released singles and demos from the years prior to punk. The issue with connecting this to punk is that no-one in England would have heard Oklahoma’s Debris and their sole release Static Disposal, despite its 1976 up-and-at-’em sound, nor would anyone have heard the stock of demo tapes by the confrontational, nasty and briefly burning Electric Eels, though judging by the various contemporary issues, they damn well should have.

Our knowledge of the era is being shaped by a new zeal for mining for talent: a documentary called A Band Called Death revisits a pivotal American band who didn’t even get to the barcode stage; Oil City Confidential likewise reveals the Canvey Island sound of Dr Feelgood in pictures, and Dirty Water is the de rigeur double album of the underground sounds of the time (and the decade before it).

By 1976 the world was on the cusp: Ramones’ first was in the shops, dub was in the clubs the few punks around attended, and guitar and bass were being ‘appropriated’ as teenagers discovered they didn’t need to go to rock school to learn the basics.

And let’s not forget The Flamin’ Groovies a band who, in one record, could blend in all the best of rock’n’roll, blues, and r’n’b and make it sound fresh. But don’t just let me lecture you, rake around for Teenage Head, a true classic from 1971.

I write this as I listen to Hawkwind, a band I had dismissed as hippie prog rockers, in fact, you can detect a sense of pushing the boundaries and wanting to make music for yourself. Now, wasn’t that what the punks liked doing?

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IF THERE’S A GAP of 11 years between albums can that actually be regarded as a follow-up? In more than a decade people have moved on, newcomers have arrived, the main protagonists have changed as people, the music industry, not to say society itself has changed. What might have been the driving force in 2004 may be a cul-de-sac in 2015.Trinity Roots

Such thoughts have arisen after a reading about Trinity Roots’ self-released new album Citizen with a reference to their previous album, Home, Land and Sea. All the above applies, one out, one in, two remain. Those being Warren Maxwell and Rio Hemopo.

Citizen was released last month to coincide with their brace of shows at Womad in New Plymouth. Porky saw part of the first set intrigued but not feeling the urge to miss another engagement to hang around till the end.

Trinity Roots are very much a New Zealand band, steeped in Maori culture, spirituality, story-telling and a unique sound that would seem largely alien in other parts of the world. The chugging riffs of the opening track, Bully, and the final offering, Haiku, could well be found on a Queens of the Stone Age album. Bully begins, however, with a waiata tawhito (ancient Maori melody), cuts out in the middle and finishes off with a colossal finale. Haiku is Black Sabbath meets Pink Floyd Piper at the Gates of Dawn era.

These are tracks are worth the admission price alone, but everything else inbetween is ponderous and tame. The title track and Clarity seem stuck in second gear; they aren’t simply slower songs, they just go nowhere.

And while El Kaptain suffers from the same long-form, no exit road, it is a finely written reflection on the direction of the National government using a ship as a metaphor. “El Kaptain. You’ve been heading too far to starboard…. You pull your strings. Use binding words for blinding folk.”

I will leave it there.

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