Somebody quite recently referred to this blog somewhere and called me a ‘tastemaker’. I was rather taken aback…for a few reasons. Firstly I think tucked away in the wilds of rather isolated Sanur, Bali, my days to being a tastemaker are long behind me (although I’m not unaware, and appreciative of the fairly dedicated listenership I had in my years on 95bFm and George FM....I’m quite proud of 19 years on Auckland radio, but that's kinda ancient history now); secondly it puts a burden on my shoulders that I don’t necessarily want to have..hell I’ve just played the music I like..nothing more, nothing less; and finally, as you get older you do tend to find yourself reaching backwards more and more, and it's a tough call to be a tastemaker when you are looking backward.... but I see that as the luck, or joy of having had forty years of musical exploration to delve back into.
With that thought, especially the last bit, in the back of my mind I’m always wary of writing too much about ‘old’ records, or ‘old’ artists.
That of course is stupid and the thought only crosses my mind for a brief insecure moment, but it was accentuated by a comment I read somewhere about those aging Public Address commentators who try and pretend they are still hip!. Perhaps that is me, as I’ve been known to comment on PA from time to time…but once again common sense rears it’s protective head and raises a big finger.
So with that in mind (or cast out of my mind) let me say something about three records that I’m liking quite a lot right now.
My friend Danielle emailed me and said she’d not really much liked the new-ish (we old folk remember when a record was still new 6 months after release, now you have a week’s grace before it’s passé) Elvis Costello album, the oddly named Momofuku (something to do with instant noodles I think). I replied and agreed, but noted that I really liked the first and last tracks, so that at least was something. Then something happened..at the gym of all places. Elvis clicked on the cross-trainer and I feel in love with Momofuku.
I’ve had a strange decade with Elvis Costello. I’ve always been a huge fan, ever since I’d heard Less Than Zero on a Stiff Records sampler many years ago, but since the mid nineties it’s not been easy as he careers around genres, sometimes embarrassingly pretentiously, and sometimes with mixed, rather wooden results. Throughout all that I’ve been quite loyal and there have been moments, such as the alt-countryish The Delivery Man, his last ‘proper’ album, from 2004. But the road for an Costello-phile has not been smooth.
Which is why this album is such a pleasant surprise and even more so when it hit me without warning that morning on that bloody cross-trainer.
As an aging punk, it’s a pleasure to say Momofuku is his most punk album since…well since This Years Model, if you will. What does that mean?…not much to most I guess as the term 'punk' was usurped years ago and he was never totally accepted by the unwashed gobbing masses, but to many of us he encapsulated the ethos of the times more than most latter day three chord wonders. Punk was supposed to raise a finger and be smart at the same time and Elvis was just that.
So unpretentiously for the first time in many years, he snarls and vents his way around songs like the searing American Gangster Time and the mighty opener No Hiding Place.
I’ll handing somebody a box of matches / and carrying the can of kerosene
He hasn’t sounded this brutally convincing or this venomously melodic for decades. And he tosses in cute little throwaways like Harry Worth which work because they hold together the album as a whole
Unlike the Toussaint collaboration or his last ‘rock’ outing, When I was Cruel. His vocals don’t sound strained, they don't sound uncomfortably placed in strange surroundings.
And unlike those earlier albums, this is the sound of a guy who has nothing to prove. On When I Was Cruel, and The Delivery Man he felt like was desperately trying to prove he still mattered, and on The River In Reverse he was trying to prove he could stand next to Allen Toussaint (missing the point: he can, but only on his own terms, as Elvis Costello, not Toussaint, and he shouldn't need to try but I guess part of what he is, is that he does).
And more Paul Weller not trying to sound like a workman rocker and getting his sense of humour, & sense of adventure back again as he seems to have done with 22 Dreams. Whereas Elvis needs to be less pretentious, Paul needs more of it. He was always at his best when being an obnoxious pretentious magpie..like the forever perplexing but always engaging Style Council or the best Jam albums where his influences were obvious but mutated through Paul’s self obsessed lense.
Happily the ever so slightly pretentious Paul Weller is back and the glum rocker of recent years cast aside, and even if he misses ever so often (God is a huge miss) at least he has some edge again.
No-one could ever accuse Dennis Wilson of not having edge but his problem was, like brother Brian, he simply walked too close to it. I bought Pacific Ocean Blue in 1977 when it was first issued. I think I was one of perhaps a dozen who bothered in New Zealand as it sat on the shelf opposite the till in the shop I was working in as i tried to sell it, without luck, to countless folk. The Beach Boys had long since stopped selling beyond the hits collections (even the gig I attended on a sunny afternoon in Auckland’s Western Springs around the same time was only sparsely attended..although the day's aftermath is well documented as a Dennis Wilson burn out, and Brian was so wasted he walked off the stage mid song and didn’t return). The last thing that was going to set New Zealand’s charts on fire was an introverted selection of songs from the drummer, even if his name was Wilson.
I fell in love with POB on release. And eventually quite a few boys did…girls never warm to The Beach Boys post surf, and rarely before, they are mostly a male thing….enough to push it into the lower reaches of the US album chart and guarantee its reputation as a lost masterpiece (since then it’s been largely unavailable for decades with one brief CD issue in 1991, although plentiful bootlegs). But now it’s back, in a beautiful double package (the second album is an unreleased, and also much bootlegged, second solo album..it was unreleased for a reason, so I’m gonna stick to CD1) and thirty years on it still sounds as dark, confused, ragged, hopeful and beautiful as it did back then. And the mood of course is tinted further by the events of the years after and Dennis Wilson’s death…but then The Beach Boys' history is one of the more tragic in the rock’n’roll story-book.
It’s not all wonderful…there are grimace moments, like the ‘save my rock’roll’-isms of What’s Wrong. However that’s The Beach Boys..every album has those moments. But mostly Pacific Ocean Blue stands up as one of the few highpoints in the post 1976 Beach Boys catalogue (non of which appear under the BB name). And it's reputation is justified....if you're a boy.
I know a carpenter who had a dream / Killed the man but you couldn't kill the dream / Who said it was easy