Monday 29 September 2008

The Beasts of Bourbon - The Low Road

Despite being together (on and off) since the 1980s, I only came across the Beasts of Bourbon recently when they were referred to on Glitzinet, where 'McBoy' describes them - and The Low Road - thus:

"No rock n' roll album is more caustic and dangerous as this one (Appetite For Destruction was last seen whimpering back home with its tail between it's legs after being put next to this). Like Nick Cave given the growl and macho bravado of Bon Scott sound tracked to a depraved sleazy swampy Gun Clubbed Rolling Stones. Kills those 4 birds (Nick Cave, AC/DC, Gun Club, Rolling Stones) with one stone making them obsolete and un needed for my island nightmare."

I couldn't help but feel that I'd been missing out all these years, and tracked down The Low Road immediately.

The Low Road opens with 'Chasing The Dragon'; now, an old band of mine had a song called that, but whereas we plundered Metallica's 'Master of Puppets' for lyrics, you get the distinct impression that the Beasts of Bourbon are writing from actual experience. The rest of the album backs up everything McBoy says, and it's even noteworthy that of all the Rolling Stones songs to cover they pick the one that was banned and never officially released (the infamous 'Cocksucker Blues', delivered to Decca as the band's final single of their then soon-to-expire contract before they jumped ship to set up their own label).

As dirty a band you are likely to hear, the Beasts of Bourbon don't strike me as the kind of guys you'd take home to meet your parents. I feel in need of a wash from simply writing about them ...

Tuesday 23 September 2008

Nina Antonia - The New York Dolls: Too Much Too Soon

I would imagine that many readers of this blog have at least one book by Nina Antonia on their shelves. Johnny Thunders was the subject of one of her earlier books, and so it was always likely that she would turn her attention to the story of the New York Dolls.

Too Much Too Soon is the resulting book and quite an eye-opener it is too. Having only picked on the Dolls around 1988 I'd previously taken Johnny Thunders to be the 'main' Doll, what with David Johansen seemingly distancing himself from the band via his Buster Poindexter alter-ago and the other members having largely vanished from sight. One thing this book makes clear is the key role Sylvain Sylvain played in the band - something which was further demonstrated at the Meltdown shows in 2004, with Sylvain virtually conducting the band throughout.

(One thing I found frustrating when the Dolls reformed for Meltdown was the level of disinterest from my friends - the same friends who flocked to see Hanoi Rocks when they returned, and all citing that it wasn't really the New York Dolls. It didn't seem to occur to them that, unlike Hanoi, this was as close to the original line-up as we were ever going to get.)

I was also surprised to read that the Dolls were, for a short while, genuine contenders. There were record labels fighting to sign them until Billy Murcia's death put most of them off - investing in a band that skated so close to the wind suddenly seemed less appealing. With just one deal left on the table - Mercury - the band signed but their new label didn't really know what to do with them. Bad decision followed bad decision. Hooking up with Malcolm McLaren was one bad decision too many.

Well researched and excellently written (Nina Antonia may be a fan but this doesn't cloud her judgement, something she maintains across all her books), Too Much Too Soon, well, the title says it all.

See also:
The New York Dolls - One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This
Johnny Thunders - So Alone
Motorcycle Boy - Popsicle

Thursday 18 September 2008

Bobby Conn - The Golden Age

I came across The Golden Age (and indeed Bobby Conn) by accident. Or rather I got a recommendation email from Amazon on the basis of a past purchase (the first Strokes album). Always keen to hear new music (but either too busy/lazy to read any music magazines or websites) I figured on the basis of the Amazon write-up that it was worth a punt:

"Obsessed with the sounds of the decadent end-days of 70s radio, Bobby Conn creates his own schizoid musical world on The Golden Age, a pick and mix of the styles that dominated the period, with the occasional Prince-style falsetto thrown in for good measure. As a result, at times this sounds like a dirtier, more ambitious version of Beck's Midnite Vultures."

On first listen I quickly decided that I needed to check Amazon's returns policy at the soonest opportunity. For example, the intro to opener 'A Taste Of Luxury' contains some questionable bum notes. The intro to 'You've Come A Long Way' is also virtually unlistenable (a friend once had a tape of this album in his clock radio and when the alarm went off mid-way through that intro he couldn't get up soon enough).

But there was enough in there to lure me back. 'You've Come A Long Way' is a class example of a rock song in several parts (think Meat Loaf if you must - and as the Amazon review states, it's the 70s that Bobby yearns for). Yes, the intro's horrendous, but get past that and the song builds and drops in fantastic style and is a definite highlight on the album.

There are moments of lo-fi Prince (the marvellous 'Winners' is a prime example) and 'Angels' - the story of a teenage pool-party; 'You've Come A Long Way' touches on similar ground and one can only assume that Bobby's teenage years are his lyrical source) - throws in some funky moments too, but there is also some full-on RAWK influence to be found (parts of 'You've Come A Long Way' and 'Pumper' in particular).

In a major volte-face I now find myself in possession of Bobby Conn's full back catalogue. It's hit & miss (particularly the early albums) but there's always something in there that draws you in ...

Monday 15 September 2008

Motley Crue - The Dirt

A sure sign of a good rock & roll (auto)biography is the number of times you find yourself thinking 'Why aren't you dead?'. True, Nikki Sixx technically did die once of an overdose (hence 'Kickstart My Heart'), and the Crue's lifestyle wasn't without its victims (RIP Razzle).

The Dirt takes the intriguing approach of having each member contribute chapters. Even John Corabi (briefly the singer in the early 90s) gets to put his side across, and you can't help feel that he was a nice bloke who wound up in the wrong band at the wrong time.

Which can't be said for the man whose stack heels he filled. Having initially tried to evade Tommy Lee's attempts to get him in the band, Vince Neil claims that he only eventually joined because they caught him when he was down. Throughout the book he comes across as the least likable member, and even though one major mistake in the earlier editions was probably never written by him and should have been caught at a proofing stage (in reference to Razzle, Neil says how much he missed him, including his 'Finnish accent'. New editions correctly state 'English accent') it's hard not to blame him. The sad story of what happened to his daughter, however, should not be wished on anyone.

Other highlights include contrasts in the contributions. Mick Mars writes that he used to down pints of vodkas on stage but the rest of the band thought it was water; in the following chapter Neil writes that Mick Mars pretended to drink water on stage but they all knew it was vodka.

And then there's the UK tour that never was. I clearly remember the story breaking in Kerrang! that they cancelled the tour - due in the winter months - citing that snow on the roof would weaken the buildings and the venues wouldn't be able to hold their lighting rigs, drum cages etc. It turns out that this came from a phone call made by Mick Mars in response to an extreme crisis in the band - the 'death' of Nikki Sixx.

One name that doesn't come up is that of Matthew Trippe. Circa 1988 he made claims (published by Kerrang!) that he, for a while, was Nikki Sixx. The story went that the original Sixx (Frank Ferrano) was injured in a crash after Too Fast For Love and a lookalike (Trippe) was drafted in. Trippe claimed to have written most of Shout At The Devil and Girls, Girls, Girls. He was then arrested for his part in a robbery and a now fit again Ferrano rejoined. He brought a lawsuit that he eventually dropped in 1993. The original article is most likely on the Internet somewhere - however I did find this:

The Dirt is a fantastic read, and has gone a long way towards promoting Motley Crue to the upper echelons of rock history, a place their musical output doesn't quite justify. As tales of excess go, they don't get much better than this.

Tuesday 9 September 2008

Vain - No Respect

An old schoolfriend loved all-things American (he was a bit like Peter Serafinowicz's character in I'm Alan Partridge) and in particular American rock music. KISS were his first love and he would buy pretty much any album as long as the band had long hair, leather trousers and make-up - and came from the opposite side of the Atlantic. On the odd occasion that I'd rave about an American band, he would dismiss them: LA Guns and Smashed Gladys were two such examples. Likewise he didn't rate Vain's No Respect.*

To be fair, it's a far from perfect album. I never much rated the ploddier songs but Secrets, Beat The Bullet, Who's Watching You (as good an opening trio of songs you could wish for), Aces, No Respect and Down For The Third Time represent a more impressive canon of work on their own than, say, Warrant, Roxx Gang, Lilian Axe and Winger managed between them.

I was fortunate to see Vain when they toured this album (but less fortunate to have to buy a ticket to see Skid Row, the band they were supporting - and Vain's superior performance made me appreciate Seb & co even less).

Arguably Vain's problem was that they were just that little bit too late. Maybe they were also too 'dark' for some (a side-effect of not being from LA perhaps). But No Respect stands the test of time, and almost 20 years on that's no mean feat.

* Actually apparently he did! But as for LA Guns 'they really were arse', so I was right about that. (29/10/08)