International Pop Overthrow’s David Bash digs into three boffo new pop reissues
Album: Monster: 25th Anniversary Expanded Edition
Label: Craft Recordings
★★★★ 1/2 (4.5/5 stars)
Monster is likely the most polarizing album in R.E.M.’s oeuvre; people either hate it with a passion or love it with a…erm…passion, mostly due to its abundance of loud, distorted guitars and an overall rawness. This 25th Anniversary Expanded Edition showcases the album in many of its forms, i.e. original mix, new mix (by producer Scott Litt), demos, live show, and a DVD containing a surround sound mix and videos of album tracks.
Most of you reading this will have already heard the album, so the new mix will be particularly of interest. There are some stark differences here, as most of the songs are either more stripped down or have revealed instruments and passages not on the original mix. For example, “What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?” is missing the Peter Buck’s staccato guitar licks and moves the rest of the instruments down in the mix, while “Strange Currencies” and “Crush With Eyeliner” has a completely different vocal take. Some of you will prefer this mix as in spots it’s quite revelatory. The demos are a different matter entirely, as most of them are rudimentary instrumental versions of songs which made the album (under different titles here), songs that ended up on subsequent albums, and those which weren’t used at all. Unfortunately the actual working demos aren’t here because the band felt that they were too ephemeral; not the best choice to leave them off this package, guys.
The live show, from Chicago in 1995, which takes up discs 4 and 5, is excellent and a lot of fun, featuring most of the album’s tracks and a few classics like “Welcome To The Occupation”, “Losing My Religion, “So. Central Rain”, etc…and it’s always great to hear Stipe introduce the next track by saying “here’s a song.”
The Road Movie on the DVD is well worth checking out, but unfortunately I can’t speak about the surround mix because, sadly, I don’t have a surround system, but check out forums like Steve Hoffman’s, and you can read all you need to know (and a lot more) about that.
The package would have gotten five stars if not for the poor choice of demos, but that notwithstanding, this 25th Anniversary Expanded edition of Monster is a fine document (pun intended) of an unjustly maligned album.
Artist: Roy Wood
Label: Cherry Red
★★★★ (4/5 stars)
Roy Wood was particularly active in the mid ‘70s, releasing albums in all sorts of guises such as Wizzard, Eddy and The Falcons and, yes, under his own name. Mustard, from 1975, is the second album under his name and, as such, shows a bit more restraint than his alter-egos. Having said that, the quirkiness factor is still high, and the song stylings are quite varied, in particular the opening title track, which could have been written in the 1920s, the absolute lovely straight ahead pop tune, “Any Old Time Will Do”, the heavily Beach Boys-inspired “Why Does Such A Pretty Girl Sing Those Sad Songs”, the ‘40s influenced “You Sure Got It Now”, the delightful “Look Through The Eyes of A Fool”, and others which don’t fit into a particular niche. Unfortunately, “Get On Down Home” is a bit overdone, but Wood does have a tendency to do that at times.
AUDIO: Roy Wood Mustard (full album)
The bonus tracks feature singles released soon after the album, and they range from the Wizzard-esque “Oh What A Shame”, which turned out to be a much bigger hit than anything on the album, the rockabilly, swing infused “Rattlesnake Roll”, and the kinda dancey “Indiana Rainbow”, among others.
If you like your pop with a healthy dose of imagination and cleverness, this expanded version of Mustard is definitely the way to go!
Artist: The Dukes of Stratosphear
Album: Psurroundabout Ride
Label: Ape House Records
★★★★ (5/5 stars)
When the original 25 O’Clock EP was released back in ’85, it created quite a stir because, at first, nobody knew who The Dukes of Stratosphear were (I’ll never forget Rodney Bingenheimer playing “Your Gold Dress” and saying “that was by a secret band!”). Ultimately I ran into Mike Gallo of 20/20 at a record store, who revealed to me that they were none other than XTC! That certainly made sense based upon the sound of the record, but this was a much more melodic XTC than ever before, and the EP was brimming with sounds that screamed “psychedelic” as much as anything from the ‘60s! The brilliant EP was followed up by the poppier but equally psychedelic full-length, Psonic Psunspot, and both discs have definitely wound up in the pantheon of the XTC canon. Psurroundabout Ride is an absolutely wonderful expanded edition of the aforementioned discs, featuring a new mix, demos, instrumental versions, and a long awaited surround sound 5.1.
The new mix, done as usual by Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree, is worth the price of admission (around $25-$30), and is contained on both the CD and Blu-Ray. Here, on almost all the tracks, you’ll hear things you didn’t hear on the original mix, e.g. some extra psychedelic vocals on “Mole From The Ministry” and more psychedelic guitar on “Little Lighthouse”. As for the Blu-Ray, the instrumental versions are captivating, revealing yet more goodies without the vocals getting in the way. The demos are wonderful as well, but are all previously available on the Ape House reissues of the two original discs; still, it’s nice to have them here as well to complete the package. Unfortunately, yet again, I must disclose that I don’t have a surround sound system so I can’t speak to the quality of the surround mix herein, but also again, check out the Dukes’ surround sound thread on the Hoffman group, and you’ll read all you need to know, and then some.
It’s not an overstatement to say that every fan of this music, as well as psychedelic pop in general, needs to own Psurroundabout Ride.
VIDEO: The Dukes of Stratosphear “The Mole from the Ministry”