Saturday, November 03, 2007


Order, Order

by Wayne Robins

I recently reinstated my eMusic membership: 30 tracks for $9.99, (plus a generous re-signing bonus). Legal, playable in all formats and burnable for those of us who still find our comfort zone in compact discs, what eMusic lacks in major label offerings is less a drawback than it is its purpose: It's a specialty online record store on which one can pleasurably spend hours browsing more than 2 million or so indie tracks. My first new purchase was "Soap and Water" (Yep Roc) by my longtime favorite
Chuck Prophet.

Right here I would write about "Soap and Water," and I will later. But a glitch occurred in transferring the songs from the eMusic player to my iTunes library to the blank disc on which I burned the album: Some songs got out of sequence. So the disc I burned and to which I have been listening for the last few days starts with songs 10-12: "Naked Ray," "Downtime" and "Happy Ending." Then the album's intended opening track, "Freckle Song," is up fourth, and the rest of the sequence continues uninterrupted.

This may not be a big deal to those raised or satisfied with the randomness of the iPod shuffle. But those of us who still believe in the sanctity of the album—that is, the album as the primary construction of a recording artist's art—it is a real faux pas. The sequencing of an album is as crucial as the order of chapters in a book. It is unlikely that Prophet randomly chose to begin with "Freckle Song" instead of "Naked Ray," and implausible that concluding "Soap and Water" with a song called "Happy Ending" was not a conscious artistic choice. So now I will go back and re-burn my purchased tracks in the order the artist intended. Otherwise, he could have called the album "Water and Soap."

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Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Nuggets of Goldfrapp


by Wayne Robins

I was channel surfing through the cable TV afternoon dead zone, figuring I would find an offbeat horror film suitable for one who still has his Zacherley-issued Transylvania passport. Instead I found myself amused by a concert film on Showtime's Family Zone, "The Move Music Festival," featuring performances gleaned from a four-day event in Manchester, England in summer 2004.

Each band in the film did a maximum two songs, including the headliner and hometown hero Morrissey ("Irish Blood, English Heart" and "Every Day is Like Sunday"). The attendance seemed sparse for many of the performers (Beta Band, Ordinary Boys, Tim Booth), but for Morrissey, it was people packed to the horizon of a flat earth, a mass of humanity similar to that of photographs I've seen of Shakira performing before zillions in Mexico City's main zocalo.

The concert had some historic resonant moments, as both the reunited Pixies and the reconstituted New York Dolls performed. The Pixies didn't seem sharp at first: During "Here Comes Your Man," they seemed to be having trouble hearing each other, and what they might have heard was Frank Black's guitar sounding way out of tune. "Where is My Mind?" was tighter, augmented by a fog machine that had the effect of putting Manchester into its more familiar frame as dusk approached on an unusually sunny afternoon. The Dolls' ("Jet Boy," "Personality Crisis") ramshackle sons-of-the-Stones sound seemed to the blasé audience a curious museum exhibit. One wondered if they had followed the flatlining shoegazers Elbow in real time, or whether the juxtaposition of the two bands was shock therapy film editing.

The Cure seemed disoriented in the sunlight as well, and though they played "End of the World" and "In Between Days" competently, neither the band nor the cheerful-looking, clean-cut audience seemed to have any great stake in the performance. One did feel some sympathy for Cure leader Robert Smith, after all these decades most likely still requiring hours before the show to render every strand of his assiduously messy mop into the right wrong place.

But the biggest surprise for me was the band that provided the bait for me to keep watching the movie when I first turned it on. The group seemed to have about eight different keyboards of various shapes and design, a bass player with a porkpie hat who looked like a young John Doe of X and two females, one of whom reminded me of a young version of Exene Cervenka of X, L.A.'s greatest band between the Doors and Guns 'N Roses. The main singer was glamorous in that obvious, show-bizzy way, yet showed substance beneath, or rather over, the bloomers she wore. The band also employed an electronic theremin, and maintained a steady groove, combining Sonny & Cher's "The Beat Goes On" and Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky." By the time the band's second song ("Strict Machine") and name flashed on the screen, I was feeling a little bewildered: This is was Goldfrapp but they were much too good to be Goldfrapp. Or had I been misinformed?

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Sunday, October 28, 2007


Summer 2007: Death in Boca, Sounds of Spoon

A Death in Boca, Adventures with Spoon and Other Tales from Summer 2007

by Wayne Robins

It was not the most felicitious of summers in the world of Wayne's Words. But let's start with the good stuff. My book, "A Brief History of Rock, Off the Record," finally came out, published by Routledge. So far, the only review I've seen has been from the influential book industry resource Kirkus Reviews, and it was a rave. You can read the review (and buy the book) at Despite a few glitches caused by our decision to change the title and the cover fairly late in the production process, the modest first print run sold out, and as of the week of Oct. 15, which I am calling the "relaunch," books should be back in the pipeline. Visiting the company's facilities in Boca Raton, Fla., a week or so ago, I had a nice lunch with sales poobah Dennis Weiss and marketing whiz Evelyn Elias. They provided a welcome contrast to the daunting and depressing family issues that have placed this New Yorker for so many weeks in South Florida this year.

My brother David Robins died August 25 at his home in Boca after a long valiant fight against brain cancer. He was 54, my baby brother and only sibling. As recently as May he was chipper and functioning well enough to pick me up when I landed at West Palm Beach airport. By the time of my mid-July visit, however, he had lost his mobility and balance. Around August 12, his wife Marni called and said to come down for what was to be a final visit. I immediately ordered my brother a few collections of Three Stooges DVD boxed sets, which arrived when I did a few days later.

I found myself staying in a nearby hotel for the next 9 days, the toughest part of which was, no music. So I went to a Best Buy and bought a $30 boom box and a copy of Spoon's then-new "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga" (with a second Best Buy-online bonus disc.) Spoon was my psyche-up music for the week and a half before my brother died. "Don't Make Me A Target" kept the adrenaline flowing...of course, since then, it's been difficult to listen to, as does so much music that has powerful associations with my brother. I was also spending time with Spoon's outstanding 2005 album, "Gimme Fiction," with a title song that to me sounds like a refracted mirror image of John Lennon's "Gimme Some Truth." My favorite song from "Gimme Fiction"—in fact, my favorite Spoon song—is "The Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine," an exciting, enigmatic track that I really wanted to play for my brother as he lay in the hospice bed in his bedroom at home in the days before he died. He was already pretty much comatose, and I wondered if it would elicit any kind of response—eye blinks, lip movement, whatever. I never got around to doing it, which actually is a very small regret indeed. And if I had, I would probably have never been able to listen to the song again. As it is, it has been months, and will be many more months, until I even try.

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