Who knew back in the early '90s that Green Day and not Nirvana were the true harbingers of our collective rock-and-roll future? As the already questionable grunge "movement" has devolved into Modern Rock and metal has crawled back to reclaim arenas, it turns out that skate-punk is the most artistically fruitful of the currently commercially viable rock forms. The teenage angst of this music is more ordinary and far less forced than that of its heavier rivals for chart dominance. Ordinary music for ordinary kids, skate-punk doesn't sell teenagers a romantically exaggerated vision of alienation; it reflects their everyday confusion and hormonal commotion back at them in music at least as honest as it is calculated. It also, of course, sounds good, employing the same kind of catchy, backbeat-driven riff aesthetic that locates the roots of both heavy metal and punk in the same place: '50s rock-and-roll. By comparison, most nü metal just sounds like sludge.
But if Green Day were once the niftiest little punk-pop band anyone could imagine (too pop for diehards and avant-gardists, maybe, but just right for radio), their ascendant little brothers Blink-182 are even niftier. With Take Off Your Pants and Jacket, the band has crafted a near-great, teen boy rock-and-roll record -- just a couple of notches below teen classics such as the Who's Meaty, Beaty, Big, and Bouncy, the Replacements' Let It Be, and the Beastie Boys' Licensed To Ill.
Jacket is more youth-centered than the band's 1999 breakthrough Enema of the State (this band loves juvenile album titles -- too bad OU812 was already taken), which marked itself as a college record with the great one-two punch of "Going Away To College" and "What's My Age Again?" Jacket is clearly a high school record, and if this regression feels like commercial calculation (taking dead aim at the TRL demographic that embraced the Enema single "All The Small Things"), it also feels dead-on.
Some tracks go for Big Subjects: "Stay Together For the Kids" is a divorce plaint that never gets too heavy-handed, and the lead-off "Anthem Part II" sets the tone ("Drown the youth with useless warnings/Teenage rules are fucked and boring"). Later, "Give Me One Good Reason" focuses the commiseration with a bit of subcultural solidarity.
But the record succeeds best in limning the everyday sexual terror of teendom. In an era of sexual one-upmanship in pop music, Take Off Your Pants and Jacket makes first dates, first kisses, concert crushes, and other innocent romantic entanglements sound like the big deals that they truly are. They hide the fear in flashes of crude, boyish humor (more dick-centric than a Kevin Smith movie) but lose their cool when faced with actual interaction with the opposite sex: The woe-is-me "I'm too scared to move 'cause I'm a fuckin' boy" is the record's truest lyric.
Blink-182 hooks this treatise on teendom to inexhaustibly simple music that nails the whiplash hormonal highs and lows, and they put the whole thing over with the perfectly anomic, monotone whine that permeates the entire record. Leave your cynicism at the door and you'll be singing along with every song after three listens. -- Chris Herrington
I wish it was better. I mean, somewhere there has to be a tape of an entire James Brown show as astonishing as the seven minutes of "Brother Rapp/Ain't It Funky Now" available on 1991's Star Time boxed set. This re-re-released recording of the James Brown show from June 1967 ain't it. This expanded double CD reshuffles the track order and offers a scant 19 minutes of new material that transforms a pretty swell distillation of pre-P-Funk soul power into a windy, variety-show program complete with filler instrumentals, the JB dancers, and four or five introductions of the star ("James Brown, ladies and gentlemen!"). Not exactly a budget funkateer's dream.
Nevertheless, I'm not really complaining, though the 70-minute-plus Say It Live and Loud from Houston '68 is a superb single-disc option. Whas'ever it is, primo live Godfather is nothing to take lightly, and the contradictions in the complete show are more than apposite for an artist who has always ransomed joy for epic theater and sheer rhythmic momentum. The superior set list makes Volume II more exciting than the first Apollo record, especially if you prefer "Cold Sweat" and "There Was a Time" to world-historic crowd noise; the slow ones, like "I Wanna Be Around" and "That's Life," are ingenious blends of workingman's soul and Rat Pack Vegas, and the band's ballad dynamics augment the rapt audience squeals and portend the rattling swing of the uptempo numbers. The show has turns on a dime, JB chastising the band for missing cues only he can hear, vocals on the edge of collapse, suit-and-tie funk trances, prescient bongo fury, 20 more minutes of "It's a Man's, Man's, Man's World," and reprises that accelerate into hyperspace as JB bursts into encore after encore. It's hard to walk away from once you start playing it. But I wish it was better. -- Addison Engelking
Scottish guitarist Martin Taylor has withdrawn from his more classic approach -- a style worshipful of legends Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian with its shunning of electric effects for more traditional and technical fretting -- to take a dive into more commercial waters with Nitelife, his newest release and first for Columbia. Taylor is considered to be a very important jazz guitarist, a keeper of its doctrines, and by venturing into smooth, less challenging territory, he risks disappointment among fans and critics alike.
Co-produced by Memphis sax man Kirk Whalum, who plays on several tunes, Nitelife is an uneven album that sometimes limns the many reasons a pop sensibility should rarely be allowed to meddle with jazz. Whalum is more of an overproducer on much of the album and renders several tunes so much bubble-gum garbage, such as the Isaac Hayes-penned Dionne Warwick hit "Deja Vu," by stomping all over Taylor's guitar with a lame Casio beat, while others, like "Doctor Spin," are quite strong in their fusion.
Some tunes, though, seem part of a much better project that was scrapped and thrown in the mix. Taylor's version of French songstress Edith Piaf's "Hymne a L'amour" is very nice, with Taylor accompanied only by minimal strings. Also wonderful is Taylor solo on Hoagy Carmichael's "I Get Along Without You Very Well." Taylor's own "Across the Pond" is a Celtic/ambient/jazz piece that does seem to journey from one shore to the other in its course, beginning in old Scotland or thereabouts but sadly ending up in a cheesy New York night club before Taylor jerks it out of there and shows it why he's considered to be one of the best. It is this, Taylor's integrity, skill, and imagination as a guitarist, that ultimately saves Nitelife from drowning in the still waters of smooth jazz. n -- Jeremy Spencer
You can e-mail Chris Herrington at firstname.lastname@example.org.
RECORD REVIEWS CHRIS HERRINGTON, Editor