I Can Take It Or Leave It Each Time

I talk a lot about bands that are either:  defunct, inactive, or on their second, third (or fourth, fifth, etc.) go-round.  This poses the question:  is being in a band a calling, a job, or a hobby?  Let’s frame this in a ‘real world’ perspective.  You go to school, you make some friends.  You don’t carry all of those friends around with you for the rest of your life.  Interests change, situations change, yada yada.  Likewise with jobs.  I worked delivering papers in the town I lived in while I was attending high school.  This was many years ago.  I’ve had a variety of jobs since then, all of which I’ve left of my own volition (layoffs not included).  Now then, at no point have I ever turned around and said “hey, you know, maybe I should go back to that other job.  The one I had (X) years ago.  That’s because a job has to satisfy certain needs at certain times:  money, culture, satisfaction..there are lots of others as well.  Usually people move on to new jobs for better opportunities.

Bands seem to be different.  How many bands do you know of that break up, go inactive for a period of time, and then ultimately ‘reunite’, with said reunions rarely achieving the same artistic or commercial goals as happened the first time around.  The only real exception to this rule would be Aerosmith, who achieved much more commercial acclaim, and had a longer run, the second time around.  The fact that they suck is inconsequential to this argument.  No, most bands that reunite do it for one simple reason:  the money.  If you’re reuniting for money, was that the end goal to starting and/or joining band (X) in the first place?  You’re not reuniting for ‘artistic’ purposes, whatever you might say or whatever high-minded goals you had when you first started/joined band (X).  If you’re reuniting for cash, doesn’t that make a band…a job?  What would it take for me to go back to an old job, even if the culture wasn’t a good fit for me?  It would have to be…boatloads of cash.  Because certainly, if I moved on, the job satisfaction wasn’t there, despite what comrades I might have made during my working tenure.

The only real parallel to reunited bands are the actors that come together for movie sequels or reboots; but again, those are contractual obligations not necessarily mandated by the whims of pop appeal, although pop appeal certainly helps an actor renegotiate a salary fee in contract talks.  Most bands rarely start out with the expectation of becoming millionaires.  There was a brief period, mid-70’s to mid-90’s, when record companies had vast control over their artists, that this was more possible than it is today.  With streaming, pirating, and sales of all mediums (save vinyl) being down across the board, most bands aren’t going to get rich…although most bands didn’t get rich within the system I just described, either.  Many bands survive now through Kickstarters, Pledge Music, in-home live appearances, and merchandise sales.

A good example of this is Electric Six.  They’re one of my favorite bands, with a real new wave-punk-dance aesthetic that is as varied as it is catchy.  They put out albums almost every year, like clockwork – something most bands don’t do anymore (the album-tour-album cycle was most common in the 70’s, which is why all your favorite 70’s bands have a huge back catalog).  However, most E6 albums don’t bother the charts.  They have a core fanbase of 20K or so loyal buyers.  So why do it?  Well, they tour almost all year round.  I’m guessing between album sales and touring, each member might clear 35-70K a year.  They’re not gonna become stinking rich, but they’re making enough to survive – which is all most of us can ask for.  E6 may have found the right balance between artistic calling and job.  Obviously this needs to be a bigger discussion, but for now, how many ‘reunited’ bands can say they’re doing it for the love of music, and not because they’ve been unable to find work outside of music?

Can’t Help But Wish That I Was Virgo

neds

Well, given the image shown above, you’d be correct in assuming I will be speaking about Ned’s Atomic Dustbin today.  Ned’s (or the NADs if you’re feeling cheeky) were a short-lived ‘alternative’ band from the UK.  The UK has an obscenely ridiculous amount of musical genres or scenes, much more so than the US could hope for.  This is, in large part, because, as a much smaller country, scenes centered around certain clubs and towns spring up with great regularity, with many of the bands associated with said scenes sharing stage space.  At least, that’s how it used to be.  This was 25+ years ago, who knows how it operates now.  Anyway, Ned’s, while part of the burgeoning ‘alternative’ scene in the US, were part of the ‘grebo’ scene, which featured bands who played a mix of traditional (guitars, bass, drums) and ‘new’ instruments (samplers, turntables).  Other notable Grebo groups include Pop Will Eat Itself, Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine, EMF, and Jesus Jones.  The Grebo’s had pretentious names, if nothing else.  Even amongst those bands, the sounds were as varied as the bands were.

Amongst the Grebo, Ned’s were about as close to normal as their much more well-known peers, Jesus Jones.  Jesus Jones talked about, and utilized, technological advancements to help create their music.  Ned’s gimmick was having two bass players in their band.  I always felt that was a concept that could work, with one bass playing the traditional band role and holding down the bottom end, with the second bass acting as counterpoint and playing low-end melodies, a la Peter Hook of New Order.  Bands have had two guitarists, two keyboard players, two drummers, why not two bassists?  I remember reading an interview somewhere with John Taylor of Duran Duran, and his initial idea for the band was two basses and no guitar, as he felt the future of rock music was the bass guitar (given the dancier elements of DD’s music, maybe in his case he was right.)

For whatever reason though, the two-bass attack of Ned’s rarely delivered on that promise.  Maybe it was a record company choice, maybe it was the creativity of Rat (that was his name), the guitarist – his melodies were extremely catchy, maybe it was the times – loud guitar sounds ruled the ‘alternative nation.’  Maybe it was the limitations of the format; and in this regard I speak of compact disc.  There were no US vinyl copies of any Ned’s albums released here, and even the UK issues are fairly expensive.  Maybe the warmer format of vinyl would take out some of the overly-compressed sound of their albums, especially their debut, God Fodder, which really suffers from CD compression.

But a band lives or dies on their tunes, right?  Right.  And Ned’s had some great songs, especially all the material of God Fodder and the accompanying b-sides.  What sets Ned’s apart from a lot of other ‘alternative’ bands is their delivery.  Lots of time-changes, almost like a prog-version of alternative rock.  Think King Crimson with less musicianship, and dated lyrics about young-adult angst.  Seriously catchy tunes like “Kill Your Television”, “Grey Cell Green”, and “Happy” define their first lp.  Their follow-up, Are You Normal? was just as good, if a bit less wildly creative than God Fodder.  It was on the back of Are You Normal? tour that I got a chance to see them play live, headlining at the Moore Theatre.  Great show, and the two-bass concept definitely delivered better in a live setting.  The band took a 3 year break and came back with Brainbloodvolume, which, aside from a couple good tunes, was a terrible attempt to ride the burgeoning industrial-tinged scene.  This last album featured more traditional two-guitar song structures, and synthesizers.  I love synthesizers, but they didn’t sound right within the context of Ned’s tunes.  I’m sure a lot of the change in sound was down to record company dictates – record companies of course being the biggest detriment to a musician’s creativity.

After this the band effectively ended, with the obligatory reunions (missing one bassist and the guitarist), and an odd new single here and there.  Nothing to match the wild, creative early first two lp’s, where Ned’s was trying to sound an alternative to the traditional ‘alternative’ sound (lyrics notwithstanding).  So, go and spin God Fodder, and enjoy a trip back to the very early 90’s.

Love and Deception

It’s Valentine’s Day, so naturally, I was going to write something about the emotion of love from the standpoint of my musical tastes.  Most of the music I listen to doesn’t contain the standard ‘boy-meets-girl-falls-in-love’ type of lyrics.  I’m more Joy Division than Olivia Newton John, or something to that effect.  I’m cynical, curmudgeonly, and not prone to public displays of affection, and my musical tastes follow suit.  I was trying to think of some honestly romantic songs in my collection – not sarcastically romantic, or caustically, or casualty romantic – but actual proclamations of love and devotion.  Sadly, the best one to come to mind was “Love Song” by The Cure, from their Disintegration album, one of my favorite records of all time.  Except for…that song.  Which is horrible, trite, and shmaltzy.  OK, so maybe I’m just not the type of person for whom a romantic song is going to resonate.  That’s fine, I’m not expecting my tastes to change just to fit a made-up holiday.

What’s truly strange is what was going on with KEXP today.  On my way home from the gym, I flipped on KEXP, and they were right in the middle of playing Rick Astley’s ultra-cheesy late-80’s goob-fest “Never Gonna Give You Up.”  When’s the last time you heard this song?  I guarantee you, it hasn’t been long enough.  Now, KEXP is a public radio station and as such, can play anything they damn well like.  But, they tend to play ‘alternative’ and ‘even more alternative than that’.  They’re not trying to be top 40 or even Alternative Nation – they really try to mix it up; however, if I had to make an argument for what you might hear on KEXP during drive-time hours, it would be ‘popular alternative/hipster tunes of today and yesterday’.  This isn’t a bad thing, in fact, it’s a large part of why I love them, and I love that they’re in my hometown as well.  So, when they played a Rick Astley song on Valentine’s Day, it was…a little unusual for them, BUT, they’re allowed to go off-script, so, I didn’t think too much about it.  They followed Rick up with a very serviceable Beck tune “Think I’m In Love”, and then “Gimme All Your Love” by Alabama Shakes.  Then I got home, so I was out of the car and not listening to the radio anymore.  The nice thing about KEXP is they keep their real-time playlists alive for a period of time.  Once inside, I decided to check the list (because I’d forgotten the name of the Beck tune and wanted to listen to it again).  Well, well, well…no mention of Rick Astley on their website playlist for today.  It goes right from REM’s “The One I Love” at 9:54 AM to a mandated air break at 9:57 AM, and then into the Beck tune at 10:02 AM .  Where’s Rick?  Why was he scrubbed from the playlist?  Were they too embarrassed to post that they’d played a Rick Astley tune?  That’s what’s great about KEXP, they can say “screw you, we’re playing Rick Astley, suck it hard”.  But no, Rick’s not there.  Maybe KEXP is Rickrolling everyone who happened to catch that moment of the broadcast.  We can’t prove to anyone that they played his (admittedly terrible) song, because it’s not on the playlist.  Now I see what’s going on.  KEXP, messing with me!  Well played, KEXP…well played.  However, isn’t that more an April Fool’s move than a Valentine’s Day move?

Momma’s Little Jewel

Mott

Glam rock certainly rolls on here at The Fault, doesn’t it?  Good Mott the Hoople albums are hard to come by – by ‘good’, I mean, of course, “All the Young Dudes” (pictured above), as well as the follow-up album, “Mott”.  And…that’s about it.  There are a couple good songs on the “Mott” follow up -appropriately titled “The Hoople”, but that’s it.  Diminishing returns after, and presumptive failures prior.  If you want your money’s worth, pick up Greatest Hits.  While not imaginatively named, it does feature most of the great tracks from Dudes, Mott, and Hoople.  I’ve seen copies of both Mott and The Hoople at local shops and passed on them, waiting for the crown jewel – that being Young Dudes.  I did recently stumble upon the Greatest Hits, and it was a bargain at 5 bucks…although, let’s look at the economics of scale here.  Music is time-sensitive, much more so than cost-sensitive.  Sure, the first LP ever pressed is going to cost an exorbitant amount of money to acquire, that should be a given.  But a CBS Records packaged greatest hits compilation from 1976 (with the majority of the music contained having been released in 1972 and 1973)? And on vinyl – used vinyl at that – shouldn’t be that hard to come by today.  And yet, this is the first time I’d seen a copy of Mott’s Greatest Hits on vinyl in years.  Mott only set the world on fire briefly, for a scant second – and that on the back of a David Bowie penned song (you know it, it’s “All The Young Dudes” – you did know Bowie wrote that, right?), so maybe it’s wrong of me to think there should be tons of used Mott records floating around.  I mean, it’s hard enough to find original Bowie pressings, and they pressed those things in the millions.

It’s really more the economics of time than anything related to price.  When you’ve spent as much time shopping for records as I have, you come to realize most pieces of original-pressed wax settle into one of two price points – under 20 dollars, 20-60, and anything over 60.  Much like the X.99 price tag, where marketers eventually realized people though, hey bargain, cause it was under XX dollars, 60 bucks seems to be the cutoff point for most ‘harder to find’ vinyl in decent shape.  And 60 is still too much.  But right now, it’s still partly a sellers market where vinyl is concerned, as any readers (there have to be a few) of this blog will realize from my many, many, probably too many, posts on the subject.  So, this is where the economics of time intersect with the economics of price.  I’m not young, by anyone’s standards – I’m your average middle aged guy, maybe a bit grumpier than most, certainly more bald than most!  So, we have our equation of TIME + PRICE.  Anything else?  Oh yeah, demand.  How many people are looking for Mott the Hoople’s hits on vinyl in the year of our something, 2018?  I suppose regardless of the demand, you still have to factor supply into this somewhere.  Sure, CBS (or whoever owns the rights to Mott’s catalog today) aren’t rolling copies of their Greatest Hits off the assembly line to the tune of thousands a day.  Why would they?  How many people are actually looking – or would actually be willing to pick up a copy, if they stumbled upon one?  This one might be a little tougher.  Sales = (Demand/Supply)*(Time+Price)?

I like data, I love analytics, but I’ve never been the guy who can figure out an equation like this off the top of my head.  These variables are very much of the ‘sliding scale’ variety – in terms of supply (how many copies were pressed, how many still exist, and how many are within a few miles of me – namely, in one of my local record shops), in terms of demand (Led Zeppelin pressings?  Demand.  Mott the Hoople pressings?  Demand, but of a lesser scale).  Time (how long since the record came out?  was it genre specific?  how many people still give enough of a crap to shell out money for it today?  who is it appealing to – middle aged guys, younger people, some odd intersection, or nobody?)  Intersecting with Time is Demand – for the further away from a production point you get, the harder the product is to acquire.  So, if the demand remains high (like with Zeppelin pressings), the time away from pressing (40+ years and counting for some Zeppelin releases) makes acquiring a copy harder, despite the high pressing count.  Add into this the fact that more people ‘want’ Zeppelin than ‘want’ Mott, and that has to, in some exponential way, factor into the equation.  Finally, but not really finally, we have price.  Price is dictated by supply, demand, and also, at least for something like records, time.  Again, Zeppelin is going to cost more than Mott.  But by how much and for how long?  So, I said price was the final element, but not really, because…cultural cache.  Who’s cool?  Is Zeppelin cool?  Still seem to be.  Is Mott cool?  Maybe to a few.

This really could make someone’s head hurt. It makes mine hurt.  I’m going to figure out a way to put all of this into Tableau Software, if I can ever make sense of the equation.  I might be able to get ahold of initial sales figures (minus returns, so again, not a full picture).  Look, here’s the deal…if you want some glam that isn’t Bowie, Eno, Roxy Music, Lou Reed…find some Mott the Hoople, or at least the two albums I mentioned (or their Greatest Hits).  If you want to expand your glam library, you won’t be disappoint.  However, can someone tell me what a Hoople is?

The Ideal Copy

Wire_-_Mannequin_ad

Speaking of groups that don’t get enough credit or respect, let’s talk about Wire.  Going strong (on and off) since 1977, this band is the band that’s inspired all the bands you love.  Their first album, 1977’s Pink Flag, features a lot of short, sharp ‘punk’ tunes.  They took the pre-formatted punk angst and boiled it down to unique, 90-second snippets of aggression.  By the time of 1978’s Chairs Missing, they’d already tired of the short-song format, and the speed.  They slowed things down some, and brought in some artistic twists to the lyrics.  If you like The Cure’s first two albums, this is the blueprint for that sound.  By the time of 1979’s unheralded classic 154, they slowed things down even more, and brought in elements of dub and a burgeoning electronica influence.  It’s a fantastic album that rewards deep, extended listening.  It also features perhaps their only ‘classic’ song, in Map. Ref. 41N 93W.  They couldn’t even title their most overtly ‘pop’ song in any way people would be able to remember easily.

And then they broke up.  Or so everyone thought.  Wire has always been a band of extremes, and it became the ‘rock’ duo versus the ‘art’ duo.  So they split, and made a bunch of solo-and-collaboration albums that are fine on their own, but for the most part are missing that certain spark that some groups have only when they’re all operating together.  There was a posthumous live release called Document and Eyewitness that was released in 1981, which showed them playing songs that hadn’t been on any of their albums previously – this restless, relentless writing was a quality they would keep for ages.  I’ve seen Wire live 3 times now, and they rarely play ‘recognizable’ songs.  They keep plugging away with newness, forwardness – and that can make for an exasperating concert experience – certainly one different from every other group you’ve ever seen live.

And then they got back together.  The 80’s would see a new Wire as much aware of the decade’s new ideals as they were in the 70’s, with a new sound to match.  Wire returned in 1987 with The Ideal Copy, with a complete shift in the way they composed their songs.  This would continue with 1988’s A Bell Is A Cup…, and 1989’s ‘live’ album It’s Beginning To And Back Again, which, much like Document and Eyewitness, was not so much live songs as reworkings of old material in a live setting.  Then came 1990’s Manscape, a mostly electronic affair – even the ‘played’ instruments were fed through primitive MIDI equipment.  After that came The Drill, live versions of a single track (The Drill), their first song recorded as a group in the 80’s.  Each version is manipulated in such a way that you can’t put them together – you’d certainly have trouble recognizing each of the 8 versions as the same song.  Then their first, and only, drummer, Robert Gotobed, left the band.  They dropped a letter from their name and put out one album as Wir, now a trio.  The album was called The First Letter, because the graphics showed the W in the Wir as the number 3 turned on it’s side.  It’s even more electronic that Manscape, once again reflecting the dominant alternative sounds of the times.

Maybe that was too much, because then they broke up again.  They’d be back, different again, in 2003.  But that’s a discussion for another time…

Slaughter’s Big Rip Off

slaughter

Records these days are a rip off.  I get that anything made in ‘limited’ quantities is going to have some sort of sliding cost structure associated with it, but it’s really about supply and demand.  And the worst example of supply without demand is Ebay.  I’m sure that Ebay has deals on certain things, but…wow, even their cd’s are overpriced.  I’m not sure if anyone realizes this, but you can get most cd’s for pennies on the dollar.  Records are a little harder to come by, but when the average cost on Ebay versus other seller sites (like Discogs) is 30-40% more per title, on average…who are these sellers?  If overhead isn’t a cost concern, then sure, leave your record on there forever, but…where’s the logic in that?  I thought the idea of selling something was to, you know, actually sell product.  One problem I can see is that, since shortly after it’s launch, Discogs became the official ‘price guide’ for record stores and online sellers.  Now, instead of pricing something to sell, nobody wants to go below the Discogs minimum listed price.  And Ebay sellers seem to take that and immediately add 20%.  But hey, if you need something now, this minute, I suppose that’s what Ebay is there for.  Otherwise, if you’re already into the hobby, or just getting into the hobby, be very careful with your dollars.  Here’s a nice post about cost aggregating.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not here to bash on Ebay, but when it comes to their vinyl pricing, yeah, I guess I am.  But that’s not down to the website, it’s down to the sellers operating there.