Quick Takes: Black Widow
This outfit from the UK released one of the first “occult-rock” records in 1970. Along with this, they also simulated sacrifices as part of their stage show. Despite the evil-sounding name, they were more like a jazz/folk/prog act along the lines of Traffic or Jethro Tull. In a nutshell, Black Widow managed to be cheesy, pretentious, derivative, uninteresting, and plain outright sucky in ways you can’t imagine, and then the band fell off the face of the earth, thank God, although I have read they have recently reformed. Long time member Clive Jones was also in a late 70’s glam act called Agony Bag.
Sacrifice (1970): Awful lounge/jazz-style music — somehow, the clumsy “Come To The Sabbat” (which is the best song here) made it onto the infamous CBS Records compilation “Fill Your Head With Rock”. All of the songs have severe occult overtones in the lyrics, which makes this one a bit of a collectors’ item.
S/T (1971): The occult content is gone, revealing to the listener a band that barely qualifies as fourth-rate, without the Satanic gimmick. “Poser” has to be one of the worst songs I have ever heard in my life.
III (1972): Suddenly, the band becomes more professional and just…well, better, to sum it up in one word. “The Battle” is one of the more interesting Genesis rip-offs I have heard. Pleasantly mediocre prog rock.
IV (1972/73, 1997): Never saw the light of day until 1997. For good reason, it’s another unmemorable hodge-podge of prog-rock related styles.
Sunday Song Reviews: Air Miami
Air Miami was an indie band from Washington D.C. that was formed out of the demise of a previous D.C. indie band called Unrest. Apparently both are critically acclaimed. That’s about all I know.
“World Cup Fever” (1995): Fun, catchy, under-produced indie rock. Not bad. RECOMMENDED
Thin Lizzy - Johnny The Fox (1976)
Essentially, this is Jailbreak part 2, in the sense that it’s the second album in a row that based on a flimsy concept, even though this time around the concept is actually explicitly referred to in at least three songs here. Really, a brief breakdown of events after the last album need to be recounted, to give this one the proper perspective — the tour for Jailbreak was cut short by Lynott contracting hepatitis (with the assumption that it was caused by drug use), and while resting he started to compose songs for the next album. Once he got better, the band went to the studio — quite contentiously, I might add — and completed Johnny The Fox, which was roughly the story of a drug addict’s trails and tribulations, and had something to do with “Johnny” crossing paths with some underworld-type figures, or something to that effect.
Once again, this is very vague, and pretty much not that important, other than from an expectation standpoint — if you went into this thinking you were going to get at least a minor version of The Wall you will be sorely disappointed. Elsewhere, there’s a change and it’s from an attitude perspective, for unlike the generally confident, devil-may-care rebelliousness of the previous album, Johnny The Fox is darker, more depressing, and dwells a bit more on the consequences of loose behavior. And that, ultimately, is what keeps this one from going above Jailbreak, but there’s merits to this as well, since large chunks of Fighting was in this vein, and by my personal scale I said that album is better than Jailbreak.
The story itself is fleshed out in three tracks — “Johnny”, “Rocky”, and “Johnny The Fox Meets Jimmy The Weed”. All of them are meaty rockers/beasts of the darker variety, and seem to reflect this connection between concept and what was going on in Lynott’s personal life. Otherwise, none of them seem to be all that memorable — if Lynott’s drug dependency seems to be at the core of them, then maybe it’s the same thing that sort of sucks the energy from everyone else in the band, quite unlike earlier epic/evil monsters like “Warriors” or “Emerald”. The other two songs in this vein that have nothing to do with the concept work much better — the rip-fast dark groover “Don’t Believe A Word” (which was a hit in the UK) and the true monster stomp of “Massacre”, which was about the ongoing religious battles between Catholics and Protestants, and therefore, stakes the higher (i.e., more intelligent) ground of normal Lynott song material.
On the other hand, “Fools Gold”, an sap-epic about Irish migration to America during the Potato Famine, seems way overdone, as if sad-sounding guitar lines and a pleading delivery from Lynott is enough to make the deal, but it isn’t, so it’s something like a very minor version of “Cowboy Song”. “Old Flame” and “Sweet Marie” are surface-pretty ballads, run of the mill and nothing more, while the other ballad, “Borderline”, is just painful, in that it feels too depressing to actually enjoy it as a likeable piece of music. Later on, of course, there were entire albums from Lizzy that rested on this sort of thing, and somehow worked better, but they’re not at that point yet with these depression epics. Finally, to play into this running thread about loose concepts, the crunchy but brain-dead “Boogie Woogie Dance” ends the album in the worst way imaginable — after spending a good part of their time trying to convince people of the viability of the “story of Johnny”, it’s like they just decided to leave the thing unfinished, on purpose, for whatever reason.
In the end, I certainly don’t hate this album, but already, it’s a bit distressing that the spark and excitement surrounding the last few albums is disintegrating before our very eyes, taking a dive in favor of half-baked concepts dealing with drug demons, along with all the other structural disadvantages Lynott and his crew already have. Tread carefully.
The Style Council - The Cost Of Loving (1987)
This is an album that, plain and simple, is disappointing, especially when paired next to the two preceding albums, because really, it’s a bad, watered-down echo of everything the group did on those two albums. I’m not even sure you could say this was due to an outright search for a mega-hit, since the overall sound hasn’t changed much, just that Weller and crew seem, well, really tired and uninspired, more than anything else. Whereas before they infused the slick-sounding pop/soul package with lots of political passion and such, here this is just a slick-sounding, 80’s pop-soul album, and that’s it. Of course, that’s the problem — you don’t want slick/run-of-the-mill anything from Weller and Talbot, unless there’s lots of passion and adventure behind it.
There’s really only two sort-of memorable songs to be found on this collection, and to tell you the truth, I’m still having a hard time remembering them, but what can you do? “Walking The Night” is a lazy stroll through R&B, and somewhat shaky compared to earlier, similar exercises, but really, what it is is a less adventurous version of “Paris Match”, with the same kind of reflective “night time” mood to recommend it. Of course, that’s doesn’t mean I wholeheartedly recommend it, but it works in the end. The other sort-of standout would have to be the kick-off single “It Didn’t Matter”, which in that 80’s electro-keyboard vein similar to…you guessed it — “Long Hot Summer”. And yes, it’s essentially an inferior version of that song.
Gosh, it’s moderately stunning how just about every other song is just so…blah. Soul less, to a degree. Suffering from the same sort of malaise that killed off the American R&B scene in the 80’s and 90’s. Surface-pretty ballads and grooves like “Heavens Above” and “Fairy Tales” and “Angel”, where they begin to emphasize Dee C. Lee, the usual “background” singer”, as the front-woman, even though in that capacity she can sound no better than a hundred other generic soul-belters. I find it hard to believe this was the same group that could rip your heartstrings out, and kick ass at the same time, with something like “Walls Come Tumbling Down”, and oh by the way, as you can imagine the political content on this album is about close to zero. There is, of course, one exception, which is another cheesy rap track called “Right To Go”, done with some obscure entity called “The Dynamic Three” who apparently forgot that Run-DMC ever existed, that’s how dated their raps are.
Again, I’m not sure if this was all done with the intent to break the American market — I mean, no offense, but if some no-names like The System and The Jets and Robbie Nevil had hit tunes with crap R&B in 1987, then why not The Style Council and poor Paul Weller, right? Alas, it was not to be, and only ended up being the first signal that the little niche-castle that TSC had carved for themselves, was beginning to crumble, even though by all accounts the Weller-Talbot partnership would get one last good shot across the bow, before it was all said and done.