Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Roxy Music: Mixed Pleasure

Today we're going to have a look at a band that steered away from the well-established glam rock norms of the early 70s to create a sound which would inspire many bands in the following decades. The group kept certain staples of glitter--particularly lyrical content and stage presence--while adding new experimental sounds, techniques and timings. The group arguably pioneered many of the elements of the new wave genre popularized in the 80s with bands like the Cure or the Talking Heads.

Rocker Profile: Roxy Music began its formation in November 1970. The group was a revolving door for several musicians including front man Brian Ferry, the prominent singer/song-writer and keyboardist of the group. The band tasted its first critical success with its self-titled debut in '72. The album single "Virginia Plain" gained the group their first television appearance on the BBC's "Top of the Pops", an appearance which instantly launched the group into the European mainstream. Their second album, "For your Pleasure", saw the group opening up and using their talent and creativity to stand apart from some of the cookie-cutter glam acts of the early seventies. After many critical ups and downs and endless rotations in the band's line-up, Roxy Music disbanded in mid 83.

Glamtastic Review: Roxy Music's "For your Pleasure" is not an easy listen. The band, riding on the critical positivity of it's first release, used their sophmore album to broadcast its darker, musically strange, ideas. Songs like "Grey Lagoons" and "Bogus Man" weave an unstructured and sporatic musical template, sprinkled with short verses of surreality. Many of the songs on the album push the four or five minute mark making them less radio-friendly. Length alone doesn't make the music on "for your pleasure" unworthwhile. In fact, there are several incredibly catchy tracks on this record, one of my favorites "beauty queen" includes incredible, slowly bleated melodies by Ferry. What makes this album hard to grasp as a listener is the consistently inconsistent experimentation throughout the piece. There are far too many ideas compressed into the eight tracks. Many great albums, particularly from this decade, successfully integrate musicianship and experimentation. Pink Floyd's the dark side of the moon for example, was released within a week of "For your Pleasure" and it still impresses with originality today. "For your Pleasure" simply falls flat with bland breakdowns and odd audio tinkering.

What I Like about the Album:

-The album strays from many glam rock norms, it pushes and succeeds largely at standing out from the rest of the glitter scene of the 70s

-The band is really talented. One listen to "Grey Lagoons" is enough to prove to any listener that the group is made up of seasoned veterans.

-A lot of the filler on the album is seemingly improvised with talent. It simply isn't variable enough to keep the interest of the audience.

What I Don't Like about the Album:

-The vocals don't provide anything special. The lead vocalist has a very limited range.

-Many of the songs are needlessly lengthy brimming with out-of-place filler in an attempt to beef up a short track list.

-The record simply isn't fun to listen to in it's entirety. Different musical ideas in “For your Pleasure” bombard the senses.

What makes this album glam?

-Androgynous vocals coupled with shredding guitars.

-Flamboyant, artistic presentation of sound.

Verdict: For your Pleasure places a clear spotlight on the group as talented instrumentalists but it places far too much emphasis on the use of out of place flashy effects. The band certainly pushes for a darker glam sound with eerie lyrics and experimental effects manipulation but this approach isn’t very successful. Though enjoyable in spots, the album simply comes off as overly artsy.

3 bottles of your mother's make-up out of 5

Roxy music: "Do the Strand"

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Try a Little R&R for a Good Time

Nope, no album autopsies today folks. Today we have a look at a film. What’s the name of the film? Well, what do you label a Canadian animated, post-apocalyptic skip through an alternate New York City, sprinkled with over-the-top, drugged-out rat-rockers? “Rock and Rule” of course.

Rock and Rule was Canada’s first feature-length animated movie. It was produced by “Nelvana” and was originally released to Canada in 1983. Though the film gained an underground audience in the years following its release, the film did very poorly in its theatrical debut. Nelvana practically went bankrupt because of the flick which was partially due to the fact that the movie was geared towards an adult audience.

What’s the film about? Well, I think the post-title narration dictates this well:

The War was over...
The only survivors were street animals; dogs, cats and rats. From them, a new race of mutants evolved. That was a long time ago...

MOK, a legendary superocker has retired to OHMTOWN, there his computers work at deciphering an ancient code which would unlock a doorway between this world and another dimension.

Obsessed with his dark experiment, MOK himself searches for the last crucial component--a very special voice.”

A local OHMTOWN rock and roll act holds the key to MOK’s strange plans and the flamboyant antagonist spends the bulk of the film chasing down the female vocalist of the group so that he can use her voice to summon a demon from hell. Confused? Well, yeah, me too.

What I like about this flick:

-The animation is spectacular. Many of the talented artists behind this project went on to have fruitful careers with Disney and Warner Brothers. Many of the techniques used in the film are still extraordinary 25 years later.

-The soundtrack gathered artists from across the music spectrum. Talents like: Debbie Harry, Cheap Trick, Earth Wind and Fire, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed add a musically-filling framing for the great visuals. A lot of the tracks in the film were originally scored specifically for “Rock and Rule”

-Mok, the antagonist character is over-the-top and endlessly entertaining to watch.

-Omar and Angel, the protagonists in the film, sing a love ballad in unison to banish the 80 foot-tall, flaming spawn of satan.

-Great music interludes tossed in here and there, visually tasty.

What I don’t like about this flick:

-The story is ridiculous. If my description of the film is a little hard to wrap your mind around, it really isn’t my fault. A couple of years ago I had the chance to speak with one of the artists that worked on the film and he told me that the constant re-writes and endless staff partying ensured that the storyline became second to the look and feel of the film.

So, what makes this film “glam”?

-Rock and Rule is basically about the musical transition from 70s glam rock to 80s metal. Mok, the evil glam rocker is trying to cling to fame by any means necessary but in the end the world embraces the new music of the protagonists.

-Mok was designed to look like a mixture of Mick Jagger, David Bowie, and Iggy Pop. These three musicians were arguably the evolutionary chain of glam, from rock and roll to punk.

-The storyline, though insane and underdeveloped, is something that could have easily been concocted by the glitter rockers of the mid 70s. The plot is so strange that it’s perfect for glamrock.

Verdict: Rock and Rule is a fun movie. The story line crumbles within minutes of the opening credits but the music and visuals alone make the film a treat.
3.5 bottles of your mother's makeup out of 5

"My name is MOK" by Lou Reed. This is one of my favourite interludes followed by one of my favourite scenes in the movie.