Steve Wilson. On music.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Thus Continues the Top 25 for 2010 Countdown (with No. 21)

Welcome to the top 25 for 2010 Countdown! Each day we'll countdown, today we continue with number 21, culminating with our (okay, my) numero uno album of the year. When they're handy I'll borrow my earlier reviews from the KC Free Press, as I have in this case. In the event one of my top 25 selections isn't something I've reviewed previously I'll dash off a new review.

I welcome all comments, criticisms, questions and dialog in general.

25. Jon Langford - Old Devils (Bloodshot)
24. Vaselines - Sex with an X (Sub Pop)
23. Drive-By Truckers - The Big To-Do (ATO)
22. Magnetic Fields - Realism (Nonesuch)
21. Dum Dum Girls - I Will Be (Sub Pop)

The Dum Dum Girls’ (the name is an homage to the Vaselines and Iggy Pop) I Will Be reconfigures a Sixties Girl Group ethos with a post-modern distortion palette that’s initially reminiscent of bands like the Jesus and Mary Chain. But the sound that Dee Dee (real name: Kristen Gundred) and fabled producer Richard Gottehrer go for here is an abstractly distortion-driven sound. The loud, fuzzy guitars are not out front in the mix like a typical punk-rock record — instead they hover like ghosts around the edges of Dee Dee’s out-front, heavily reverbed vocals. The effect is as unsettling as it is seductive.
None of this production talk would matter a whit if Dee Dee’s songs didn’t measure up. They do. Her melodies stick with you, and lyrically she ranges from the addled Breeders-meet-Ramones delivery of “Bhang, Bhang, I’m a Burnout” to the Shangri-Las styled narrative of “Jail La La,” and the sweet history-of-our-love confessions of “Yours Alone” (featuring the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Nick Zinner on guitar). Her duet with boy-pal Brandon Welchez from the Crocodiles, ”Blank Girl,” has a charm reminiscent of the Mary Chain’s offshoot Sister Vanilla. You get the feeling that the late Ellie Greenwich would dig Dee Dee’s songs. Greenwich was a Brill Building student, but her confident girl power anthems were rebel songs of a kind. The Dum Dum Girls walk the line between sweet submission and self-assertion keenly.

Richard Gottehrer, the man who wrote “I Want Candy” and “My Boyfriend’s Back,” and who’s produced artists like Blondie, the Go-Gos and Richard Hell, has the perfect ears for the Dum Dum Girls’ vision. Having produced the Raveonettes, who thrive on somewhat similar inspirations, it would have been easy for him to replicate their sound here. Instead, he went for something more dense and ethereal.
Since this recording, Dee Dee, who plays and sings everything on I Will Be except for contributions from three guest guitarists, has assembled a band to take on the road. It will be interesting to see if they can approach the dense, spectral sound achieved on this record. The only song on I Will Be exceeding three minutes is a masterfully dark cover of Sonny Bono’s "Baby Don’t Go,” so they will probably be playing pretty short sets.

I was intrigued by the DDG before I heard a note, having seen the album’s cover photo reproduced for a poster. It’s a 1972 Polaroid of Dee Dee’s mom glancing back as her picture is being taken. She has a pretty, every-girl look of surprise — slack-jawed, but wise to the game. It’s knowing, evocative and suggests the alluring mix of confidence and vulnerability that I Will Be exudes.

Reverberating: 8.2 (original), upgraded to 8.7

Goodnight, Sleep Tight.

A few December 8th thoughts.

Lennon, Lennon everywhere.

He’s on every television news show.
He’s all over satellite radio.
His solo works were recently re-released in re-mastered versions.

And everywhere that song.

“Imagine” became what the “I Have a Dream” speech was to Martin Luther King, Jr. – a glory and an albatross. In each case the provocative depth of the message is undermined by reduction and repetition. And of course both men’s darker, more pressing statements are ignored. Jesus is always easier to tidy up than Marx, I suppose.

And here he is – bigger than Jesus. Okay, maybe not. But anyone watching the endless television coverage of the anniversary of John Lennon’s slaying could be forgiven for thinking so. A December killing, with its proximity to the savior’s birthday (or at least its date of agreed upon sale-a-bration), lends itself to new frontiers in martyr marketing. Would it be better if this wretched event went unobserved? No, the absence would pain those of us who loved his music. Still, much of what passes for the commemoration of his brutal departure chafes.

I can’t presume to think what the man himself would have thought. My guess is that it would bring out his fine sarcasm. So I’d hope. He’d notice that war was not, in fact, over. And maybe he’d have to change the line about ‘imagine no possessions’ to ‘imagine no corporations.’ Who knows?

Ultimately, I just know that the man’s work, image and statements changed how I see the world. Those of us in love with the public Lennon must, no matter how we study his music and manner, accept that this day belongs, in all its loss and horror, to those who truly knew and loved him. So, for Yoko, Sean, Cynthia, Julian, Paul, Ringo, and others this is a day that brings back many memories, some beautiful, some maybe not so beautiful, but certainly vivid, real, personal.

John Lennon understood intuitively that life was about the reconciliation of opposites. All of his flirtations with absolutes, with answers, came gratifyingly to naught. Like all great artists he contained multitudes – peace and aggression, love and indifference, Eros and Thanatos. And his work was the mostly courageous record of his confrontations with this conflicted existence.

My friend Marty and I were watching Monday Night Football and learned of Lennon’s killing from Howard Cossell. Strange, really – we watched television, and sports especially, very rarely in those days. But there we were, instantly devastated and gutted.
A few minutes later my friend James called, looking for a companion in commiseration.
We closed one of our favorite watering holes trying in vain to make sense of it all.

We didn’t. I never have. And I never will.

But the impact of the man and his music - that was about the life force, driving like a son of a bitch through the straitjacket of American Sixties existence. And things were never the same. Thank God.

When my son was born in 1996 my wife Nancy and I selected Lennon as his middle name. Eddie Wilson could be a punk, a hustler. Edward Lennon Wilson could be a poet laureate. We wanted his name to reflect the range of life’s rich possibilities. John Lennon’s life did.

I remain grateful for his life, his work, and its place in this man’s life.