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album reviews

Graham Parker

Heat Treatment

Heat Treatment, Graham Parker's second Mercury album, confirms the promise of his debut, Howlin' Wind, which appeared earlier this year. The rapidity of the followup is not the result of any change of direction; rather it reflects Parker's and the Rumour's abundant energy. The sheer attack on Heat Treatment makes the last album sound suddenly subdued. Parker and his band are firmly anchored in that generation of British musicians who came to artistic age in the mid-Sixtie... | More »

Tom Waits

Small Change Asylum

The people who populate Tom Waits' songs are deeply rooted in 20th-century American mythology. They come from tough-guy novels, pulp magazines, radio serials and film noir. Waits isn't interested in the heroes of this fiction, but with the people who exist on its fringes: cabbies, newsstand dealers, shoeshine boys and all-night waitresses. In the perverted language of American politics, they are known as "the little people," but Waits would agree with writer Joseph Mitchell that "th... | More »

Frank Zappa

Zoot Allures

With regard to poo-poo, snot, vomit, depersonalized sex, booze, zoot suits and the banality of mainstream rock, Frank Zappa, one of rock's original angry young men, remains vehement. And Zoot Allures is his latest blow against the Empire. You do remember the Empire? In other words, there are few moments of musical interest on this album, and nearly all are marred by a lyric text that is alternately mindless and condescending, always unfunny. We do not need to be reminded that for all th... | More »

December 16, 1976

Albert King

Albert

There is much to like in this album, starting with King's cooking guitar, which pops up in almost every groove. "My Babe," an old Willie Dixon tune, benefits from an inventive horn arrangement, appropriate background singing, and the feeling King meant business when he recorded it. "I'm Ready" is treated in like manner, but comes up dull, probably because it adds nothing to existing versions. But most of the album is mundanely organized. Part of the problem is King's longstand... | More »

AC/DC

High Voltage

Those concerned with the future of hard rock may take solace in knowing that with the release of the first U.S. album by these Australian gross-out champions, the genre has unquestionably hit its all-time low. Things can only get better (at least I hope so). A band whose live act features a lead guitarist (Angus Young) leering menacingly while dressed in schoolboy beanie and knickers, AC/DC has nothing to say musically (two guitars, bass and drums all goose-stepping together in mindless three... | More »

Stevie Wonder

Songs In The Key Of Life Motown

Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life, like some big Hollywood studio blockbuster, comes to us already weighted down with words, stabbed with exclamation points and wrapped — or is it shrouded? — in great expectations. Two years in the making, the album's imminent release was announced several times, and each time it was withdrawn to be haggled over, reworked, expanded and gossiped about until its release at the end of September. It is nothing if not ambitious: two re... | More »

Earth, Wind & Fire

Spirit

The songs of Earth, Wind and Fire combine pure urban fantasy with the type of facile brotherhood messages that also crop up in the music of Stevie Wonder and the O'Jays. But Earth, Wind and Fire wraps its sermons on universal love in fashionable mysticism. One has only to look as far as the cover of their current album to see the trappings: cleancut and dressed in white, the group stands, eyes closed, in positions of cosmic significance, while three white pyramids loom in the background.... | More »

Funkadelic

Tales of Kidd Funkadelic

What you see on Funkadelic album covers is what the band is about: "The saber-tooth, slippery tongued & most nastic mau-mau bootybusters of noxious neegrow humpanotical, moldy metal, marching noise music." These guys are no spring chickens — they've been playing psychedelic-tinged black music for almost eight years and were an early source of inspiration for Alice Cooper's stage antics. While the group is on the teetering verge of becoming the Next Big Thing, they aren... | More »

December 8, 1976

Santana

Caravanserai

The Street's the same in New York or Frisco. It leads to heaven or hell, maybe both, and what comes down around you depends on how you travel just as much as where you're coming from. In that sense, Miles Davis from St. Louis by way of jazz and Carlos Santana from San Francisco by way of rock have a great deal more in common than either may realize. These are philosophical albums, if one may be permitted to apply that adjective to musical composition and performance. Both albums ex... | More »

Bee Gees

To Whom It May Concern

"The sweetest music this side of heaven," the epithet misapplied to Guy Lombardo, is the aptest description I can think of to describe the Bee Gees at their best. Beginning with Odessa, a minor masterpiece of jewel-encrusted, late-Sixties psychedelia, they have concentrated chiefly on developing a single musical idea, technologizing the standard Top 40 ballad to achieve unprecedented lushness and sonic depth. The result is headphone mood music that makes no demands beyond a superficial emotio... | More »

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Song Stories

“Love Is the Answer”

Utopia | 1977

The message of the Beatles' "All You Need Is Love" proved to be a universal and long-lasting one, which Utopia revisited 10 years later on this ballad. "From a lyrical standpoint, it's part of a whole class of songs that I write, which are about filial love," Todd Rundgren explained. "I'm not a Christian, but it's called Christian love, the love that people are supposed to naturally feel because we are all of the same species. That may be mythical, but it's still a subject." Though "Love Is the Answer" wasn't a hit, a cover version two years later by England Dan & John Ford Coley peaked at Number Ten on the Billboard singles chart.

More Song Stories entries »
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