Under an Alien Influence? or The Modern Lovers – Eponymous

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Somewhere between the end days of the Velvet Underground and the start of the B 52’s emerged The Modern Lovers, and their influence would stretch way beyond the world of limited record sales and closed minds. There was always something ‘otherworldly’ about Jonathan Richman and Co.’s take on music. Picture a baby-faced Lou Reed singing songs of optimism and fun while backed by a first rate garage rock band trying their hands at psychedelia and you get the picture. They weren’t just ahead of their time, The Modern Lovers 1976 eponymous record was completely outside of it, and to some extent, still is. Pre-Punk… proto-punk… whatever!!! It is an incredible album with Rolling Stone claiming it to be one of the 500 greatest records of all time.

As for the vinyl, well… like many of the great underground records of the 1970’s, it got great critical reception and sold next to nothing. In fact, The Modern Lovers was out of print on wax for more than 20 years. Of course, you have a few options in the here and now.

The original 1976 pressing can cost you upwards of $150 for a good clean copy in the resale market. You might get it for less, but that will take time and a lot crate digging to find a copy.

The last 20th century printings were in 1986 and 1987 with the German edition being printed on white vinyl. People are usually paying under $40 but resellers are asking upwards of $60 plus shipping.

If you are looking for a new copy, you are in luck. In 2009, 4 Men With Beards released a reissued version on 180 gram vinyl that is still widely available,

However, 2015 has brought two new versions out. The first was another of the Newbury limited editions. One thousand copies were printed on split black/blue vinyl and included a download card. The next version was for general release and printed on black 180 gram vinyl and also included a card for downloading. Both were released in August.

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Definitely worth having in the collection you just need to decide how much and where you want to pick it up.

 

Stadium Dreams Turn To Stadium Sound: Metric – Pagans In Vegas

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Metric has never hidden their overwhelming desire to headline a fan-filled stadium show, and Pagans In Vegas may just be the vehicle that drives them there. More than mere hyperbole, they seem to have found the perfect mix of Cure-like synth, 90’s indie guitar, and electro/dance rhythm. The tunes are catchy enough to get the casual fan singing along and the loyal fan seeking deeper meaning from the lyrics and, dare I say, inspiration.

Opening track “Lie Lie Lie” is a perfect example. My kids are singing along in the back seats of the minivan, unaware of the song’s underlying theme of media’s dehumanization of women. From that point on, Haines sticks mostly to the themes of broken relationships and rising back up after a fall. While this album might seem like a bit of rock ‘n’ roll cliché at times, Metric pulls off the desired impact of connecting us to the music. So when Haines’ vocals demand “the stars above” on early single “The Shade (I Want It All)”, the listener feels entitled to it as well.

Like any great album, this record can boast a number of songs that would be deemed radio-friendly and single-worthy. In addition to the two above-mentioned songs, “The Governess” and “Too Bad, So Sad” also seemed primed for significant airplay.

Pagans in Vegas is packed with all of the right ingredients to get a stadium full of people moshing in the pit and ‘pogo’ing in their seats. Only time will tell if it happens this time round.

Overshadowed or Overlooked? Screaming Trees – Sweet Oblivion

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It had been years since I last played a Screaming Trees record. Once a staple that sat by the CD player and saw pretty regular rotations in the carousel, it had moved to a secondary location for music seldom played. New music, new bands, new sounds had found their way into my imagination and I moved on. Then the other day I saw a post for an advance order of Sweet Oblivion on vinyl and my mind flashed back – “damn, it’s been too long” as I started to type my order.

A few weeks later the gold coloured vinyl is spinning on my turntable and it feels like an old friend has returned from a long trip away. The conversation flows easy as if no time has passed at all, and I’m at ease just listening when I hear the old familiar stories. Not epic like Soundgarden or angry like Nirvana, Screaming Trees were a pretty straight forward gritty rock band with a penchant for great song writing and one of the best vocalists of the era in Mark Lanegan. Unfortunately, like many of the great 90’s rock bands, they didn’t stay together past the turn of the century, and faded from view.

Anyway, for vinyl junkies you have three choices to spin Sweet Oblivion. The original ’92 release had a limited vinyl printing that came with the CD booklet and a sticker on the shrink wrap declaring it the “One Foot In The Grave” version. If you can find it, it will set you back a minimum of $50.00 plus shipping.

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In 2010, Music On Vinyl released a 180 gram version that had fans giving compliments for quality. You can still find it most anywhere.

Finally, Newbury Comics released a limited 1000 copies on 180 gram translucent gold vinyl. In addition to the foil stamped numbering on the cover it included new liner notes written by Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin. They still have copies, so don’t go crazy ordering from resale sights asking for a $100.

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Overshadowed or overlooked, I’m not sure which, but Screaming Trees should have been bigger than they got. Regardless, Sweet Oblivion is sure appreciated and is once again sitting in a spot close to the stereo.

 

Buying New Vinyl (In Canada)… when the economy has gone to shit!

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“Are you sure you really needed that album” asks my wife as she looks at a recent credit card statement. Don’t get me wrong, we NEVER carry a balance from one month to the next, it’s just that the exchange rate has gone through the roof recently. So, what cost a dollar last year is costing a buck thirty plus shipping (which is also far more expensive because of the falling dollar). In other words, “OH WOE IS ME!” if you’re buying new vinyl from south of the border, you can quite easily go broke.

To make matters worse, some of the best music sites have yet to figure out how to ship items at anything near a reasonable cost. For instance, let’s take a look at the recent rerelease of Urge Overkill’s Stull EP on Touch & Go Records. The white vinyl edition of Stull sells for $16.00 USD, a price I’m willing to pay for a ten inch record. However, the shipping is $34.30 through the USPS (United States Postal Service), meaning the record is now triple its retail value. Then if you add the exchange rate the price jumps up to $66.89, making Stull’s cost quadruple the original asking price.

Now, not all sites use USPS to ship, and thank goodness for that. Recently, I ordered two albums from Newbury Comics and it was a better scenario. Paul Simon’s Graceland and the Modern Lovers eponymous record on coloured vinyl had asking prices that, combined, cost me $45.98 and another $16.00 in shipping for both. Newbury uses a courier service that charges only $14.00 for the first item and another $2.00 for each additional item. Of course, now with the current financial crisis sending the Canadian Dollar to an eleven year low, that small fortune I was spending is now an actual fortune and quite a bit more difficult to justify. My $62.97 USD bill shows up as $83.73 CAD on my credit card statement. OUCH!

When I first started ordering stuff from the US, the Canadian dollar was on par or better than USD. Now I’m looking at a huge markup that has made internet ordering direct from US record labels far less desirable.

Still, you do have options. First, if the label is using USPS, fire off a quick note to them expressing interest in their product, but not their shipping method. If they care about customer service, they will investigate alternate shipping methods. If that doesn’t work, go to your local record store to find out if they can order it in. It isn’t likely that you’ll get the “collector’s edition coloured vinyl” available only to fans making advance orders… but it is worth a shot. Finally, if that favorite artist of yours is coming to town, bring along some cash to their merch booth. Chances are, if they didn’t sell out during the advance order stage, it will be on the tour bus waiting for a chance to separate you from your money.

Regardless, even for a hardcore music buyer, the prices are now out of range. If only some entrepreneur with more brains than I could devise a way to distribute exclusive items in Canada, the costs would come down and music fans in the Great White North would be very happy. As it is, my vinyl orders will have to be filed under occasional – if at all. The vinyl revival may end not because of lack of interest, but instead because it is cost prohibitive… at least for us Canadian shoppers!

Not Afraid To Run With The Bulls or Langhorne Slim – The Spirit Moves

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Sometimes it’s just best to drop the whole genre tag and just say: “dude, it’s rock ‘n’ roll at its finest.” Langhorne Slim has elements of country, folk, soul and alt rock flowing through the speakers all at once, and like a good mixed drink, the end result is finer than any individual part. Slim boasts “I’m tough enough to run with the bulls,” and while my use of the metaphor is out of context with the songs, it does describe his song writing.

Slim is a bit of an eclectic master with themes of joy and misery intermingling with equal passion. Essentially, he is fearless in bending songs around multiple influences. Horns play on a number of tracks and in a different way each time. On “Spirit Moves” he uses them as a counter melody similar to Johnny Cash’s classic “Ring Of Fire” and then brings them back later for “Life’s A Bell” as a Memphis Horns/Stax/Otis Redding tool for emotional emphasis. With the ever present acoustic instruments some songs drift towards sounds reminiscent of Nick Drake and Cat Stevens but the album as a whole pulls everything back into that unique Langhorne Slim vision.

The Spirit Moves is filled with moments that seem both intimate and celebratory, resulting in a record that gives inspiring highs and tragic lows. As the needle rises off of side B, you find yourself flipping it back to side A for another listen… and things can’t get much better than that.

You can pick up The Spirit Moves on all the usual mediums or order it direct from Dualtone with extra swag. Unfortunately, the coke bottle green vinyl seems to be sold out.

 

Test Pressing Heaven! or Big Star – Third / Sister Lovers

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If you have the idea of starting your listening day by discovering Big Star for the first time, don’t start with Sister Lovers / Third. Both #1 Record and Radio City are power-pop masterpieces that also serve as great introductions to the “Greatest Band You’ve Never Heard.”

On the other hand, Third is the opposite side of the coin. While definitely a masterpiece in its own right, it is bi-polar in its dramatic swings between happiness and absolute despair. It drops all pretensions and attempts of being a great rock ‘n’ roll album and instead mines the depths of failed relationships in their darkest moments, and then snaps back to honest sentiment and joy. In its own way Third is like Big Star’s version of the White Album requiring a bit of context to appreciate the artistry. It isn’t just the album themes either, Alex Chilton was literally in a mood for self-sabotage.

Ardent Studio creator John Fry who had been very influential in Big Star saw his relationship with Alex Chilton breaking down and things between them had become increasingly antagonistic. It has been reported as so bad that when Fry complimented “Downs” as having “pop potential,” Chilton all but ruined it; using a basketball as a snare drum, some ill timed steel drums and turning it into a “Revolution #9” moment. Whatever Fry heard is completely submerged beneath a sonic ramble and talking as replacement for singing.

Don’t let that idea confuse you, Third may not be a collection of songs filled with anger turned into sonic hooks, like say Fleetwood Mac; instead it becomes either unwavering in its depictions of loneliness and despair or a drunken arm around your shoulder full of sloppy proclamations. It has brutal honesty as its companion which means that things can get a little dicey. One moment can be heartbreakingly beautiful and poppy (“Thank You Friends”) and another can be devastatingly cruel (“Holocaust”). Even the Christmas track “Jesus Christ” has an echoing feel that keeps Chilton separated from his sentiment.

Third isn’t an easy listen. Watching things fall apart never is. Yet, it makes for amazing artistic expression; songs that relate to you on a more personal level, and take you to places of personal tragedy. Hope and comfort are found in the idea that others have also hurt as badly as you have.

Now, as for vinyl, you have some great choices. The first is obviously hitting the resale market where you can find original pressings in great shape. For whatever reason, Big Star fans seem to have taken great pains to care for their records. However, I wish you luck finding them at a decent cost. Not surprisingly, I couldn’t find any of the original 1975 test pressings on the market. There were only around 200 printed and given out as promotional material to record executives and radio stations. The 1978 official release by PVC Records sells well over a hundred dollars, with some resellers fetching over $200.

In 1985 PVC reissued Third with a new cover and title dubbing the album Big Star’s Third: Sister Lovers.

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This edition is much more reasonably priced in the $40 range at Discogs.

1988 saw yet another cover change and a new record company releasing Third on white vinyl. This German edition from Line Records shows up being priced around $30 dollars but add at least that same price in additional shipping, as it is primarily European resellers offering it.

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Ryko got into the Big Star game in 1992, releasing Third on CD with another cover and a few added bonus tracks. It can still be found used or new at regular prices.

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In 2007 Four Men With Beards released a 180 gram vinyl edition that restored the original cover. It can still be found at around $30 at the usual places.

Then there is the last Omnivore edition released first on Record Store Day in 2011 and then later direct order. This “Test Pressing Edition” was a perfect example of how a treasured record should be treated by a record company for fans. Rather than simply putting out a new printing, they used 180 gram audiophile vinyl, had it remastered by the same people who did the original, in the same studio (Ardent) and packaged it with all kinds of memorabilia. All classic records should be treated this way when possible. Quite simply, the vinyl kills my CD copy. The people at Ardent Studios treated Third like an ancient holy scripture and restored it to something worthy of the heavens. The RSD release was limited to 2000 copies but five lucky people out there got an unexpected gift – an actual 1975 test pressing enclosed in their package signed by Big Star’s Jody Stephens and Ardent Studios head John Fry. I didn’t see any of these for sale. However the RSD edition does sell for over a $100 on the resale market.

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That edition never made it to all fans, so Omnivore offered another 500 copies in 180 gram clear vinyl to those fortunate enough to see the news and order it direct. Prices for this edition are over a hundred dollars with some resellers asking well over $200.

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OK, all cliché and hyperbole aside, it sounds fantastic and is a prize possession within my record collection. The only thing that I would hold in higher esteem is an actual 1975 test pressing, and I’m not expecting to run into any of those.

Sarcastic SOB with Deadly Accurate Aim! or Nick Lowe – Jesus Of Cool

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There was a movement in the late 70’s that played directly to the most cynical of pop fans. It wasn’t punk or new wave, although some fans tried to lump them into that category; it wasn’t power-pop, except the music certainly was reminiscent of the tag. This music was literate and subversive while taking influences from 60’s pop bands like the Beatles, Beach Boys, Motown, Phil Spector and STAX, but lyrically it was far more sarcastic and very willing to bite the so-called “hand that feeds them.”

This is the world where Nick Lowe lived for a while. His single “Cruel To Be Kind” (from Labour Of Lust) could be played on AM radio, but most of his songs were strictly FM bound, or not to be played on radio at all. This was because Labour Of Lust, much like Elvis Costello’s This Year’s Model, featured songs that attacked both radio and the music industry in general. Yet you had to love him for it. He was crafting perfectly awesome pop songs (back when pop wasn’t a word used to describe musical masturbation) without patronizing you with stupidity in the process. It was brilliant!

Unfortunately, the movement didn’t last long enough to forever remain in the hipster consciousness and it all but disappeared for a time. However, some great things have happened since the turn of the century. People who were influenced by these great sounds started singing the praises of these albums and independent record companies started picking up what the big guys had dropped. So here we are with several choices to grab not just a great album, but a substantial one.

If you’re crate digging in North America, finding Jesus Of Cool might be a little difficult as it was re-titled Pure Pop For Now People. Apparently, Columbia Records just had to screw with things for the American audience even exchanging one song (“Shake and Pop”) for another (“They Call It Rock”) and changing the running order entirely. Used copies will cost you under $10.

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It wasn’t until 1989 that a CD (as well as a vinyl re-release) version of the record was released by Demon Records in the UK. The CD had a different cover, while the vinyl returned to the original cover. The CD can be purchased under $10 used but the ’89 vinyl has one reseller asking over a $100 for a new copy.

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Spending that kind of money on a new copy really isn’t necessary, as some great things happened for the Jesus of Cool on its 30th anniversary. Complete remasters were done in 2008 on both sides of the Atlantic with a companion disc added to a gatefold cover. Yep Rock actually released two versions of the vinyl set. One was in standard black wax and the other came in red and yellow translucent vinyl. You can still find them at your finer record retailers and they shouldn’t set you back more than $30.

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The companion disc also includes an earlier version of “Cruel To Be Kind” that had not previously been released.

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In all, it’s an outstanding record you should give a try… after all, there is nothing quite like a sarcastic SOB with deadly accurate aim. Believe me his shot at fans of the Bay City Rollers is worth the price of admission all by itself.

 

 

” I’m Havin’ a Sheer Heart Attack” or Queen – The Studio Collection (Vinyl Box Set)

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From time to time I’ve been known to ‘rock out’ to the glorious sounds of Queen. Sure they could be way over the top, but they were the very best at it. Well, Queen has given us the opportunity to do it all over again with a new vinyl box set.

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The albums have been completely remastered by Bob Ludwig and pressed on coloured 180 gram vinyl using the half speed lacquered process. Each records colour is designed to match up with its albums original artwork.

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The set will also include a 108 page hard cover book containing hand written lyrics, memorabilia and extensive notes on each album as well as download cards for high quality digital at 320 kps.

Queen The Studio Collection will be released on September 25th and is available for pre-order at all the usual retailers and the Queen online store.

“I Know It Sounds Absurd…” or Supertramp – Breakfast In America

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Selling a million records in Canada is not the easiest thing to do. In a country of only 30 million, it’s a pretty big thing to get Diamond status. In 1979, Breakfast In America pulled it off in the same year of its release. For many people it was and is the equal of all those giant sellers by The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac and yes, even Michael Jackson. Not bad for a band that was considered to be a light weight FM prog band that quite suddenly became everyone’s favorite artists. In those moments before glam-metal and new wave, Supertramp was being played on every radio station on both the AM and FM dial. From the cool kids to the geeks, everyone knew the words to “The Logical Song.”

With those kind of numbers you would have expected that Breakfast In America would have been given the royal treatment. If you’re a fan of CD and audio blu-ray, then sure, you got yourself lots of remastered goodies to play with; but vinyl has been more gimmick than actual special treatment.

You can easily find the original vinyl pressing while crate digging and it will cost you next to nothing. My own copy isn’t showing its age, which is pretty miraculous seeing as how the early teenage version of me must have played it several thousand times.

In 1982, Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab put out a pressing that is still in high demand. Resellers are asking for over a hundred dollars for used copies.

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Mobile Fidelity did a complete remaster in 1990 for a 24 karat gold CD release. It still fetches over $75 for used copies in great shape.

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It wasn’t until 2000 that another remastered vinyl edition was released by Simply Vinyl on 180 gram wax.

Ten years later the box set came out with a bunch of things… but good luck getting a copy for under $150. It contained 2 CD’s, a DVD and a 180 gram vinyl version of the record. Honestly, that price is steep. A single 180 gram vinyl edition was released at the same time.

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2013, saw the last of the more recent releases with two new offerings. The first was a blu-ray copy of the album marked as ultra high audio, no video content.

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At the same time Breakfast in America was also released as a pretty awesome looking vinyl picture disc.

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The disappointing thing in all this is that if they had done a similar treatment to Breakfast In America as they did to Crime Of The Century just last year, a lot of fans would have been extremely happy. Oh well, maybe for the 40th anniversary in 2019 they’ll get it right.

More Splash! … Already!… or The Breeders – Last Splash

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So only one month removed from writing a post on the Breeders biggest selling record, I’m writing a second post on the classic Last Splash. Last night I saw a Facebook post from Runt Records who are also the people behind 4 Men With Beards and Plain Recordings. They are putting out Last Splash on red translucent vinyl. You can pre-order the record now or wait until the September 18th release date… if they have any left by then.