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album reviews

Kraftwerk

Radio-Aktivitat

Instead of maintaining an icy detachment from its popularity, which might have been the best attitude to assume, Kraftwerk has attempted to duplicate Autobahn's success with a concept album. Like most concept albums, it's loaded with dead spots. Cuts like "Geiger Counter," "Intermission" and "News" are plain stupid, and no cut on the album comes near the melodic/harmonic sense that pervaded Autobahn or the creative use of electronics on the much earlier album Ralf and Florian, which... | More »

Patti Smith

Horses Arista

Patti Smith is the hottest rock poet to emerge from the fecund wastes of New Jersey since Bruce Springsteen. But Smith is not like Springsteen or anybody else at all. Springsteen is a rocker; Smith is a chanting rock & roll poet. Springsteen's followers thought he was a poet too, at first, because of the apparent primacy of his speedy strings of street-life images. But Springsteen himself quickly set matters right by building up his band and revealing his words to have been what wor... | More »

B.B. King

Lucille Talks Back

B.B. King has built a whole career on the art of ellipsis. To his best work he has always brought an unerring sense of grace, elegance and, above all, economy. Beneath the carefully worked out horn arrangements, the clearly enunciated vocals, the eloquently crafted, always brief, single-string guitar lines, lies an internal tension — a quality that he shares with his early Memphis cohort, vocalist Bobby "Blue" Bland. And it is that tension which gives meaning and power to his urbane, se... | More »

January 29, 1976

Supertramp

Crisis? What Crisis?

Supertramp, whose Crime of the Century was a surprise hit of 1975, are back with a neatly timed followup, Crisis? What Crisis? (with suitably heady cover — a man sunbathing amid rubbish while rain falls and smokestacks blow pollution into already ominously gray skies). The biggest crisis is trying to get through both sides of this record.   Supertramp is led by guitarist Roger Hodgson and keyboard player Richard Davies who are responsible (as in guilty) for all the group's w... | More »

The Band

Northern Lights, Southern Cross Capitol/EMI Records

Cahoots and the oldies LP, Moondog Matinee, weren't exactly auspicious developments in a recording career with beginnings as brilliant as the Band's. Their playing behind Bob Dylan on Planet Waves and Before the Flood as well as on the earlier Basement Tapes has been more accomplished and stirring than any of their own music since The Band, and it is against these efforts as sidemen that their first album of new songs in four years must inevitably be judged. The first few seconds of... | More »

January 15, 1976

Quicksilver Messenger Service

Solid Silver

The reunion of the original Quicksilver Messenger Service (plus Dino Valenti, who didn't appear on their earliest efforts) is one contradiction after another. Though much of the arranging is dull and unvaried, when the inimitable John Cipollina lets loose his stinging, tremoloed guitar, the band is at its finest. Quicksilver still revels in crisp rhythm guitar and the avoidance of distortion. Several of Solid Silver's songs, however, are just a few basic chords played beneath obscu... | More »

Joni Mitchell

The Hissing of Summer Lawns Asylum

With The Hissing of Summer Lawns, Joni Mitchell has moved beyond personal confession into the realm of social philosophy. All the characters are American stereotypes who act out socially determined rituals of power and submission in exquisitely described settings. Mitchell's eye for detail is at once so precise and so panoramic that one feels these characters have very little freedom. They belong to the things they own, wear and observe, to the drugs they take and the people they know as... | More »

January 1, 1976

Frank Zappa

Bongo Fury

Zappa, Beefheart and Co. ask the listener to take the ultimate leap of faith: to accept the validity of their every musical move. And a hearty leap it is. Beefheart's meandering musings usually have all the continuity of a random sample. Though technically stellar, the music isn't much better, segueing in and out of conflicting moods with all the subtlety of a brick wall. The net result is a disjointed, jarring package of seemingly off-the-wall musings that I'm afraid most list... | More »

Roxy Music

Siren

There used to be this ad (in the Fifties, I suppose) for a cigarette: You're Never Alone with a Strand! A guy alone in the street; belted raincoat, turned down hat brim; fog, drizzle, blurred neon lighting; three in the morning and he'd just left a party or come to the end of an affair or arrived off a train; down but cool (cigarette cool) and romantic, weary — a private eye at the end of a case. I always thought it was Frank Sinatra. That was one role Bryan Ferry had figured... | More »

Kiss

Alive! Casablanca

Kiss onstage could possibly be mildly entertaining for about ten minutes, but on record, minus the impact of gaudy painted faces and stage theatrics, the band must be judged solely for its music. It's awful. Criminally repetitive, thuddingly monotonous. And like the legions of equally talentless bands across the country, Kiss attempts to get by on volume and tired riffing. Unlike these other bands, however, they came up with the idea of dragging rock further into the pits of theatrical o... | More »

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Song Stories

“Madame George”

Van Morrison | 1968

One of the first stream-of-consciousness epics to make it onto a Van Morrison record, his drawn-out farewell to the eccentric "Madame George" lasted nearly 10 minutes, combining ingredients from folk, jazz and classical music. The character that gave the song its title provoked speculation that it was about a drag queen, though Morrison denied this in Rolling Stone. "If you see it as a male or a female or whatever, it's your trip," he remarked. "I see it as a ... a Swiss cheese sandwich. Something like that."

More Song Stories entries »
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