Saturday, 20 October 2012

I'll Be the Judge; when artists are WRONG

It’s nice to be self-deprecating, but although I would never like to tell an artist they aren’t the best judge of their own work, sometimes they just AREN’T THE BEST JUDGES OF THEIR OWN WORK. See below: 

Exhibit A:

Kiss – Unmasked (Casablanca, 1980)
In their authorised biography Behind the Mask, both Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons give Unmasked one star (out of five), but this is largely because they are judging it on entirely foolish criteria (i.e., how ‘heavy’ it isn’t). Aside from perhaps Creatures of the Night, Kiss were never really a heavy band anyway, and their real forte was and is the cheesy rock anthem. On Unmasked (where admittedly they cheated the public by remaining masked), they take the pop-rock sound of Stanley & Simmons’ ’78 solo albums and 79’s disco-inflected Dynasty and make a great collection of songs that compares well with contemporaries like Cheap Trick and New England. Toning down the hard rock posturing a little also allows Gene to give some of his better vocal performances. Plus, the unprecedented three Ace Frehley tracks on here are among his best, showing him once again as the George Harrison of Kiss (kind of).

Exhibit A pt 2:

Kiss – Double Platinum (1978)

On which Kiss remixed a double album’s worth of some of their best early songs, removing the atmosphere and sleazy-glam edge in the process. Anyone who thinks Strutter ’78 is better than Strutter (1974) doesn’t deserve ears.


Exhibit B:

George Lucas – Star Wars (1977 etc)

Have you ever met anyone who didn’t think the original release of Star Wars wasn’t the best version? Nope, it’s just George Lucas - leave it alone George!


Exhibit C:

William Wordsworth: The Prelude (1805 & 1850)

Way to take all of the life out of a poem, William! The original 1805 version of The Prelude (and even more so the 1799 ‘two part Prelude’) is still fresh and moving. The ‘final’ version is Victorian and long-winded. Same goes for his old mate Coleridge’s revisions.


Exhibit D:

The Beach Boys/Brian Wilson: Smile (1967, 2004 etc)               

There are many (until recently mostly bootleg) versions of The Beach Boys’ Smile available and all of them, even the peculiar compromised official 1967 release Smiley Smile are better than Brian Wilson’s technically faultless, but somehow plastic 2004 version. It’s hard to say exactly what is lacking but something is.

 Exhibit F:

Leonardo Da Vinci – Virgin of the Rocks (c. 1486 and c.1508)

The later version of the Virgin of the Rocks shows Leonardo going for a cleaner, harder-edged, more polished effect, but completely changing the atmosphere and, more importantly, losing some of the life and warmth of the original in the process. Details of the angel’s face clearly show the difference; it’s easy to see how the later version is more ‘perfect’, but that doesn’t necessarily make it better.


Exhibit G:
Iron Maiden: Prowler (1980 and 1988)

It’s fairly indisputable that Bruce Dickinson is a ‘better’ singer than Paul Di’Anno, but Prowler ’88 (the B side to the classic Dickinson-led single The Evil That Men Do clearly demonstrates that he is not better at singing Paul Di’Anno’s songs than the man himself. But it’s not just Bruce’s fault; Steve Harris has always criticised the ‘bees in a jar’ guitar sound of the first Iron Maiden album, but it’s all part of the album’s rough, street-metal charm. Prowler, with its atmospheric, edgy, wah-wah tinged tone sounds like the sleazy everyday story of a low-level sex-pest, the ’88 version of Maiden were not capable of anything so undramatic.

Maiden also repeated this folly with the ‘remixed’ artwork of the first album when re-released in the 2000s – who could prefer the overdone ‘red eyes’ version to the classic, not-all-that-metal-looking original Eddie?


Exhibit H:

Frank Zappa/Mothers of Invention: We’re Only In It For The Money (1967 etc)
The original 1967 Mothers album is, needless to say, a bit silly; it is ridiculously eclectic and accomplished and has lots of speeded up vocals and things in the classic Mothers style. The Frank Zappa remastered edition from the 90s has been cleaned up and tweaked and made strangely little toylike and even sillier and has removed any kind of dirt, atmosphere or period charm. Frank preferred it that way but really the only thing superior about it is that it sounds very clear.


More pointless record-based nonsense...

One of the fun things about being an impulsive buyer of cheap second hand records is looking back over the collection and seeing some of the stranger little detours that have occurred over the years. Such as...

Lena Lim – Golden Voice of Lena Lim Vol. 6 (Amigo, 1970?)

Bought in a charity shop out of curiosity (and for the sleeve) in the hope that it would be along the lines of Singaporean beat-popster Rita Chao, but sadly not. Lena has a nice (“golden”?) voice but the songs are on the whole slightly forgettable, despite the presence of Singapore’s top Shadows-style backing band, the Stylers. There is, though, a great and strangely enunciated cover of Tom Jones’ immortal Delilah.


Sounds of Judson (Prestige, 1979)

The appeal of this record (another charity shop purchase) is hard to explain; basically it is an aural prospectus for Judson College, Marion, Alabama (the USA’s ‘fifth oldest women’s college’; ) and consists of a virtual tour of the College and its grounds and facilities, with hockey cheers, choir rehearsals, the school song, interviews with staff members etc. According to the sleevenote by Betty L. Campbell of the music department, ‘this record captures sounds of Judson in permanent fashion. It reflects a day, a year [1979], special times and people. Everything recorded was made at an actual event, with nothing rehearsed.’ Which is why it is valuable; or pointlessly boring, depending on your point of view.


Buster – Buster (RCA, 1977)

Basically a too-late cash-in on the Bay City Rollers, this limp glam-pop album sports two good songs, Saturday Night (not the Rollers one) and Sunday. It is also the home of the weakest cover of Born To Be Wild imaginable.


Andres Segovia – Masters of the Guitar (Decca 1956)

Bought (along with King Crimson’s In the Court of the Crimson King, Free’s Tons of Sobs and Pete Sinfield’s Still at a church coffee morning (50p each, near-mint condition!), this ended up being the album of the day that I listened to the most. Segovia plays works by two of the great composers for guitar, fellow Spaniards Fernando Sor and Francisco Tarrega. It’s a beautiful and atmospheric record.


The Indo-British Ensemble - Curried Jazz (EMI 1969)

This excellent album was bought on the strength of the (dubious) name & cover. It is basically a late-60s fusion of modern jazz with traditional Indian instruments (notably the sitar). Lovely music that deserved better than the rather silly, kitsch treatment it received from EMI. Kind of glad it didn’t get it though.


Black Widow – Sacrifice (CBS 1970)

Bought in a second hand shop for a pound because of its notoriety-value, this may be one of the earliest Satanic rock LPs, but it’s also pretty boring semi-progressive, semi-jazzy hippy rock. Even the cartoonish demonic illustration in the inner sleeve is kind of stupid.
Still, Black Widow did make some good music, I would recommend the bonus 10” with their recent See’s The Light Of Day reissue for some excellent late 60s occult nonsense.


Rahul Dev Burman – Yaadon Ki Baaraat OST (Polydor, 1976)

Judging by the sleeve (and the music), this album is the soundtrack to the Bollywood equivalent of a James Bond-meets-rock 'n' roll movie. It’s excellent stuff, very 60s for the 70s, with much reverb-drenched guitar and unearthly high-pitched vocals. Many of the tracks are just some fragmentary, very westernised guitar riffs, mixed with more typically Indian elements. Bought with a lot of other Bollywood soundtracks in a charity shop, this was by far the best of the bunch, with the Mehbooba soundtrack (far less western-inflected) a close second.


Jobriath – Jobriath (Elektra, 1973)

This (and the follow-up Creatures of the Street) turned up for £1 each in my favourite record shop at a time when I had just read (unfavourable things) about Jobriath but really wanted to hear him, this was a few years before the Morrissey-championed reissues of his music were released. I was pleasantly surprised; once you get over the not very easy-on-the-ear Elton John-meets-Mick Jagger twang of Jobriath’s voice this is a good album, with some great campy, flamboyant glam songs. Eddie Kramer produced the album and Peter Frampton is a somewhat unlikely guest star. By contrast, Creatures has two good songs and lots of forgettable stuff.


Bugs Bunny – Bugs Bunny Comes To London (MFP, 1973)

I bought this in the hopes that it would be in some way similar to the all-time classic Spin A Magic Tune, which is full of great funky songs with wah-wah and brass. But sadly not so. There is one semi-decent mod-ish/Carnaby Street/swinging London/beat tune (which makes me wonder if this was actually recorded in the mid-60s) but otherwise a lot of limp forgettable crap. Which is only as it should be.