The World of the Zombies
To your average human being, the Zombies were a footnote to the British Invasion, a band whose career oldies stations have defined forever by three songs: "She's Not There," "Tell Her No" and "Time of the Season."
But listen up, average human beings--there is more, much more, to the Zombies than that. Before we go any further, don't run screaming for the new Pearl Jam CD just because you're catching whiffs of "yet another tribute album." This is an excavation of long-forgotten pop gems, of, well, I'll give it to you straight--this is a fantastic bunch of songs! And the bands that play them, mainly a crop of the Pacific Northwest's finest--Young Fresh Fellows, Posies, Fastbacks, Zumpano, Flop--aren't messing around. Unlike the recent Carpenters tribute, there's no sense with T.W.O.T.Z. that anybody took the project anything less than seriously.
Chances are you've never heard any of these tunes, anyway, so let's just leapfrog over that pesky, tongue-in-cheek tribute stigma and get to the point:
This is a completely fresh, inspired batch of recordings, despite that the songs were written between 1964 and '67. That was the brief life span of the Zombies, a period that saw the band release several hit singles ("She's Not There" made No. 2 in America; it's the only massive hit included on this collection) and two albums. Two weeks after finishing the second LP, the masterful Odessey and Oracle, the band split up. The album yielded the ethereal No. 1 hit "Time of the Season," but the boys had had it. Even promises of big money failed to reunite the Zombies, though keyboard whiz Rod Argent went on to form Argent, rising to No. 1 with "Hold Your Head Up" in '72.
Yet for its three years on the map, the Zombies produced one heck of a catalogue. Witness the Posies doing the lilting, angst-ridden confessional "Leave Me Be," and the choir-boys-to-power-pop-monsters showstopper "Brief Candles." San Francisco's Sneetches tackle a strange, sprung-from-prison anthem la "Penny Lane" named "Care of Cell 44." Leave it to the Young Fresh Fellows to turn things into a party, even a tribute album to one of the most polite and prim of early Brit bands. "Indication," complete with raga guitar solo breakdown, is as close to garage rock as the snappy 'bies got. Though in England, they probably have a different word for "garage," like shed or something. This World is one worth visiting; kudos to the bands involved and the brain trust at PopLlama for bringing the Zombies back to life.--Peter Gilstrap Sade
The Best of Sade
Jazz purists who dismiss this Nigerian chanteuse as nothing more than a pretty cocktail waitress with a limited vocal range are missing the point--she's a pop singer and a damn fine one.
Unlike Whitney or Mariah, the other reigning pop divas of oversinging, Sade employs a tasty sense of restraint, since it's hard to be seduced by someone intent on whipping out the vocal gymnastics and clobbering you over the head with technique. Face it, Whitney can't even sing 20 seconds in an MCI commercial without showing off. Sade builds a song.
Listen to the tail end of "Pearl" for proof that Sade can belt out a "hallelujah" loud enough to shake the rafters. Plus, she can write, which means we're spared from having to listen to shitty David Foster songs! Add to that she's got a great band that's sympathetic to her vocal style and has been with her since Day One. It might not be a bad idea for them to start passing out "Sade Is a Group" buttons at their next gig.
Those who remember Sade's performance at Live Aid--"Is It a Crime," "Your Love Is King," "Smooth Operator" were highlights--saw her take a huge stadium with worldwide satellite coverage and produce an atmosphere as intimate as a dimly lighted club. Those tunes are here, with just about every other Sade number you can name. Included is a generous helping of her last album, Love Deluxe, which introduced distortion and feedback into her formula. For the obligatory previously unavailable cut, Sade and the boys trot out the blues standard "Please Send Me Someone to Love." Since each of her albums tends to have a unity of sound, this is definitely the one to own. Sade may sing that it's "Never As Good As the First Time," but this is even better than you remember it.--Serene Dominic
For many years now, Ward Dotson has been wandering the unforgiving fringes of the indie rock world, writing peerless songs, snarling lyrics of his pain and loneliness to anyone who will listen. Which, unfortunately, has not exactly been the collective ear of the universe. Though he did stints with L.A. big shots Gun Club and the Pussywillows, Dotson's main claim to sorta-fame was with the Pontiac Brothers.
Throughout the late Eighties, the Brothers slogged nobly through tour after tour, released a slew of albums of go-to-hell, straightahead rock 'n' roll (check out Doll Hut or Fiesta en el Biblioteca, if you can find 'em), but never quite reached the mantle of greatness they usually deserved.
Yet Dotson was not discouraged.
Well, maybe he was. But he crawled from the Pontiacs wreckage to form a band of almost unholy bitchin'ness, the Liquor Giants.
Forget about neo-post-alternative-goth-punk-bubblegum-type labels, the Liquor Giants play timeless rock, which, in case you've forgotten, means two guitars, bass, drums and vocals. Here is full of said ingredients, with the exception of "67 East 2nd Street," which borrows the first-measure drum-beat intro of the Beach Boys' "Let Him Run Wild" (complete with Brian's intake of breath), then loops it as the drum track for the entire song.
To bring in the most obvious comparison, Dotson's work is of the Westerberg school, reminiscent both stylistically and vocally. But it never smacks of rip-off (Paul himself is known to be a fan). Dotson, who plays guitar and sings on every cut, has the craft of songwriting down; whether it's pounding, bar-band fodder ("Something's Always on Fire," which contains the immortal line "Everybody says that I need an answer/Well, I got you, you got cancer"), meandering ballad (the Dylanesque "This Paper Cup"), or swaggering anthem ("Now That"), he's got hooks, hooks, hooks. And the Giants are always suitably sloppy.
In short, if you're looking for music that doesn't adhere to any MTV-level categorizing, if you're looking for a CD that can bitch-slap the competition, look no further. Here's to the Giants, may they someday get big.--Peter Gilstrap
The Japanese were wrong. Sometimes, less is not more. Not always, anyway. On occasion, more is more, and sometimes more is better. Take the Washington, D.C., guitar ensemble Tone, for example. Eleven men strong (that's eight guitars, two basses and a percussionist) and wholly instrumental throughout this six-song debut, the ensemble is anything but a chaotic circus of guitar-army noise.
The secret here is in the arrangements. The standout, six-minute-plus "Ramifications," brings the band up to a raging pitch, down to a repetitive, mesmerizing minimum, then into a pure pop groove. Adding a voice to this would only make it dull.
Did I already use the word "mesmerizing"? Well, here it is again, certainly the most appropriate term to describe the album's closer, "Galvanized Mass." This song's more than seven minutes long, and you're not in for a bright, snappy experience. Stick it out, though, and the persistent, almost chantlike quality of the layers of guitar becomes hypnotic. Tone never gets as abrasive as some of multiguitar experimentalist Glenn Branca's work, but it never needs to. In other words, you won't find yourself waiting for the lyrics to come in.--Peter Gilstrap
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If they gave out an award for Most Infectious Single, rapper Lucas would walk away with it hands down for the hypercatchy "Lucas With the Lid Off." Part of the attraction is Lucas' everything-but-the-kitchen-sink sampling methods; he swipes from ragtime, Benny Goodman's "When Buddha Smiles," jazz horns and bass rhythms with reggae chatting in patois. The guy even scat sings. But no child of the ghetto is he. Lucas was born in Copenhagen to a Danish mother and an American father of Russian-Jewish extraction. Throughout Lucacentric, Lucas (who wrote and produced the project) shows heavy traces of his multiculturalism, particularly on "Spin the Globe," which features guest rappers from France, India, Puerto Rico and Uganda, rhyming in four different languages.
But adventurous hip-hop--no matter how slamming the beats are--does not a brilliant album make. The CD is filled with alternative-pop distractions, and Lucas' delivery sounds more like he's talking and flipping words around, rather than actually rapping.
Do we have the Son of Vanilla Ice in our midst?
Lucas is looking through eyes which haven't been affected by the oppression that has inspired countless other hip-hop groups. His father, a former Billboard editor, is the founder of the upscale home furnishings store Pottery Barn and at one time cranked out tunes for the Mills Brothers.
There's no denying that Lucas creates clever, interesting hip-hop, but his street credibility--something that carries a lot of weight in the genre--is nil. If you're looking for rap lite, Lucas is your man.--Danielle Hollomon