Review: NonStopErotik by Black Francis (2011)

Mr. Francis looking a bit hungover.
Mr. Francis looking a bit hungover.

NonStopErotik is my favourite album by Black Francis. This includes everything he did with the Pixies, as Frank Black or even Frank Black & The Catholics – and some of those albums are my favourite albums in the whole entire world. This record sees Black Francis working with Eric Drew Feldman on keys again (and co-producing with Mr. Francis) which is always a winning combination. It’s also surprisingly sexy.

Not suitable for the kiddies.
Not suitable for the kiddies.

Lake of Sin starts off as all great records do, with drumming.  I’m pretty sure it’s about vaginas. O My Tidy Sum has some really cool synthesised strings and organ and stuff, while Black Francis sings in an impossibly high voice. It’s great!

Rabbits is probably even more difficult to sing along to, which is a shame because it’s the catchiest slow song you’ll ever hear. This one features not only mock-saxomaphone but also mock-harpsichord and is definitely a highlight.

Rabbits?

Wheels is a cover of a Gram Parsons/Flying Burrito Brothers song which is nicely sped-up and rocked-out but still retains some of that good ole country flavour with that dash of Gram Parsons’ own brand of desperation. Unlike most cover songs it fits perfectly on the record alongside the originals and inspired me to check out the original artist properly. Thank you, Black Francis!

You know what totally rocks? Dead Man’s Curve. There’s another version of this available on his earlier live-acoustic record, Christmass, so it’s interesting to hear how it developed in the years between that album and this one. There’s some classic Black Francis screaming in this one too.

Corrina is a nice punky fast little number which is a little overshadowed by the similar-but-better Six Legged Man coming next but I suppose every album has to have at least one participation trophy recipient. Wild Son is where NonStopErotik starts getting sexy again with some slight Sade piano and more difficult singing.

That's a very good try, yeah? Yeah.
That’s a very good try.

The last three songs are probably the best on the record. When I Go Down on You is the sickliest sort of ballad, drenched in honey and reverb. Title track NonStopErotik follows, stripping it all down to sensual piano and synth-strings with a slinky guitar solo thrown in for maximum sex. Both songs are kind of gross and very funny for it, which I believe was intended.

Speaking of which, “I wanna be inside, that’s my intention… inside of yooooooooouuuu” has to be one of the finest lines in the history of songwriting and is reminiscent of Mike Patton’s “Eeeeewww!” in the middle of Faith No More’s Lionel Richie’s Commodores’ Easy.

Cinema Star is a classic rock ‘n’ roll closing song, being enough to close the album in a satisfying way but not so much that you can’t just press play again (which I often do). The players all drop out one by one towards the end, leaving a mental image of everybody putting their instruments down and buggering off for a pint while Eric Drew Feldman tries desperately to finish the song.

For all that’s funny about these songs, there’s also a sincerity in the writing and the performance that helps keep it from descending into the knowing irony that has marred so many wonderful things. Black Francis – keeping it real as always.

NonStopErotik track list:

  1. Lake of Sin
  2. O My Tidy Sum
  3. Rabbits
  4. Wheels
  5. Dead Man’s Curve
  6. Corrina
  7. Six Legged Man
  8. Wild Son
  9. When I Go Down on You
  10. Nonstoperotik
  11. Cinema Star
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Review: Solid State Survivor by Yellow Magic Orchestra (1979)

Second only to Dogs Playing Poker.
“ENJOYING HU-MAN LEISURE ACTIVITIES.”

Solid State Survivor comes straight from the space discotheques we’ll all be frequenting in the future.

Not long now…

On the surface it would be very easy to compare Yellow Magic Orchestra to Kraftwerk, seeing as they’re both electronic pop groups from the 1970s. However, the guys in YMO (Ryuichi Sakamoto, Haruomi Hosono, Yukihirio Takahashi) seem to owe a lot more to the likes of The Beatles than anybody else – even covering Day Tripper on this album. The rest is undoubtedly down to the influence of poet and scientician Chris Mosdell, who wrote most of the English lyrics.

Do I know what any of the songs are about? Nope.

Does that matter? Not at all, because it sounds cool.

What the fuck's happening here?
What the fuck’s happening here?

Technopolis opens the album with some moody cyberpunk Blade Runner vibes. It’s upbeat but unsettling at the same time, like being on the run from the Boogie Patrol. I think it’s in English but it’s all processed through a vocoder so I suppose we’ll never know. Absolute Ego Dance brings a quick end to your escape with the bouncy wail of the Boogie Patrol’s sirens as they catch up to you and haul your sorry behind to Robo-Jail.

Rydeen starts off with the clip-clop of a SynthHorse’s Cyber Hooves. Your gang has come to bust you out of Robo-Jail and a thrilling shoot-out ensues, with plenty of chasing! How exciting! This song is the Bullitt car chase of Solid State Survivor. The rest is brilliant, at times better, but why would you talk about anything else?

In Castalia you return to your gang’s hideout only for a bomb to go off just as you near the building. Somebody’s out to get you, and it looks like they’d kill everybody in the world until they got to you. You hide out in a MechaCave to try and figure things out a bit. On your way there you are stopped by a mysterious masked stranger, you see that Behind the Mask it’s your long-lost pal, Jenny, who had joined the rivalling Day Tripper gang.

Together, you infiltrate the Boogie Patrol’s HQ in the wee hours of the night, using your Insomnia to your advantage. You bring down the main generator just as their Elimination Squad is closing in, deactivating your attackers and destroying the Boogie Patrol for good.

Truly, you are a Solid State Survivor. You settle down with Jenny, have a few kids, the credits roll…

You saved the world tonight.

Solid State Survivor track list:

  1. Technopolis
  2. Absolute Ego Dance
  3. Rydeen
  4. Castalia
  5. Behind the Mask
  6. Day Tripper
  7. Insomnia
  8. Solid State Survivor

Review: My Brother the Cow by Mudhoney (1995)

"I'm really feeling that the content of our record is really nicely represented by all of these spaceships and colours. Stellar work."
“I’m definitely feeling that the content of our record is really nicely represented by all of these spaceships and colours.”

My Brother the Cow could be considered an unusual album (not least for the colourful cover art) amongst the other lot from the Seattle scene, seeing as Mudhoney most definitely don’t hate themselves and want to die.

"Hey guys, you mind if I just sit right here? Thanks."
“Hey guys, you mind if I just sit right here? Thanks.”

The album starts off with the sickly slide guitar of Judgement, Rage, Retribution & Thyme. My girlfriend makes me change to the next song every time because it somehow gives her motion sickness or something. I think it’s great, but maybe take your pills beforehand.

Generation Spokesmodel is the first stand-out track, showcasing singer Mark Arm’s horrifically sarcastic, slightly camp delivery (in true Iggy Pop style). The song, along with Into Yer Shtik is an attack on grunge itself and the absolute miserypies associated with it – featuring lines such as “Hey kids, how would I look on the cover of SPIN?”

The dudes bring it down nicely for In My Finest Suit before bringing it the hell up again for F.D.K. (Fearless Doctor Killers). F.D.K. is absolutely my most favourite song on the whole album – besides having a great groove it also features some of the best lyrics on the record, somehow managing to be humorous and accusatory all at once.

Orange Ball-peen Hammer is all about Florida or something and also has slide guitar in the style of the first track, so beware. The album finishes in outdated style with the grungiest song yet, the menacing 1995. Very end-times.

Got to look snazzy for the apocalypse, dudes.

If you’re lucky enough to own the 2003 reissue, next comes six torturous minutes of bonus tracks.

Mudhoney Funky Butt through to Small Animals were featured on a bonus 7″ that came with the original vinyl release of the album. They’re sort of funny for a while but also agonising to listen to and the whole sequence is overlong and I kind of hate it.

Salvation comes in the form of Not Goin’ Down That Road Again, b-side to Generation Spokemodel – if only because it means the album ends on a Real Song. It’s a cool bluesy Captain Beefheart type song. It’s got the slide guitar, it’s got harmonica and it probably should have been on the real album. If nothing else it’s worth suffering through what comes before it.

It says a lot for the quality of My Brother the Cow that it can have no less than six fucking awful songs on it and still be a great record.

My Brother the Cow track list:

  1. Judgement, Rage, Retribution & Thyme
  2. Generation Spokesmodel
  3. What Moves the Heart?
  4. Today, Is a Good Day
  5. Into Yer Shtik
  6. In My Finest Suit
  7. F.D.K. (Fearless Doctor Killers)
  8. Orange Ball-peen Hammer
  9. Crankcase Blues
  10. Execution Style
  11. Dissolve
  12. 1995

Bonus tracks:

  1. Mudhoney Funky Butt
  2. West Seattle Hardcore
  3. Sissy Bar
  4. Carjack ’94
  5. Sailor
  6. Small Animals
  7. Not Goin’ Down That Road Again

Review: Out of the Blue by Electric Light Orchestra (1977)

Jeff Lynne’s actual spaceship.

You probably know a bunch of the songs from this album already. It’s the one that’s got Mr. Blue Sky on it. You DO know that song. Don’t begin to pretend that you don’t.

What makes Out of the Blue a special album is that it manages to be a mostly cohesive record despite having so many well-known songs on it. A song like Jungle, for instance, is just as fantastic as Sweet Talkin’ Woman or the aforementioned Mr. Blue Sky.

All that said, this is not a perfect album. It’s not unlike if you happened to be making yourself some noodles. You start out with the pack, you think to yourself, “I’m just going to have myself a nice and simple noodle meal.” As those are boiling, you start getting some pretty grand ideas. You throw in all sorts of fantastic things, things you’ve never seen before, brilliant combinations of herb and spice that blow your mind.

The problem here is that you’re eventually going to run out of inventive ways to use that star anise in the back of the cupboard. There are definite signs of brilliance throughout the album, despite a relatively plain start (Sweet Talkin’ Woman is where it really picks up), and it all culminates in the original Side Three of the album – the Concerto for a Rainy Day suite – featuring the inevitable Mr. Blue Sky.

Unfortunately, what goes up must come down. The final four songs are by no means bad but they do suffer somewhat for their placement in the album. After you’ve just gone and stuck the best song in the whole world partway through your album, what are you going to do?

Sweet Is the Night is probably the best of the bunch and bears a slight resemblance to the Smashing Pumpkins’ Sweet Sweet (from Siamese Dream). The Whale is a very nice instrumental that helps tuck the album in for bed, with Birmingham Blues and Wild West Hero being the final romp before sleepytime.

Now, I don’t mean to distract from the other songs on the album at all, I just feel there’s not much you can say about such absolutely, undeniably great songs that they don’t already say for themselves.

What does surprise me about the album (and Jeff Lynne’s output as a whole) is that a lot of the material is a bit on the melancholy side, something that is obviously evident in It’s Over, with even Wild West Hero expressing some deep longing.

“My life is pain.”

It’s this that helps to elevate the album from the cheesy pop-prog relic that it could be – it can be a bit of a shock in 2013 to hear music so shamelessly poppy alluding to something far darker in itself.

That’s not to say that Out of the Blue is an Alice in Chains-style dirge-fest, but ELO can often be unfairly dismissed on the basis of what’s heard on classic rock radio. If you don’t already own it then pick up this album (it’s cheap!) and decide for yourself, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.

Out of the Blue track list:

  1. Turn to Stone
  2. It’s Over
  3. Sweet Talkin’ Woman
  4. Across the Border
  5. Night in the City
  6. Starlight
  7. Jungle
  8. Believe Me Now
  9. Steppin’ Out
  10. Concerto for a Rainy Day: Standin’ in the Rain
  11. Concerto for a Rainy Day: Big Wheels
  12. Concerto for a Rainy Day: Summer and Lightning
  13. Concerto for a Rainy Day: Mr. Blue Sky
  14. Sweet Is the Night
  15. The Whale
  16. Birmingham Blues
  17. Wild West Hero