FLYBAR CD LAUNCH

Singapore band Flybar launch their debut album – Scream Without Raising Your Voice – this Friday at 7.30pm at the Esplanade Recital Studio. Tickets are $5 a pop and available from Flybar’s website

Album review to come.

WEEZER

WEEZER “Red Album” (Geffen)

I once commented that Weezer has not made a bad album. Yet.

Not that the spanking new sixth (third eponymous) album by Cuomo and company is a poor one. What it is – unfortunately – is uneven and inconsistent, not terms one usually associates with Weezer. 

Perhaps this disappointing quality has more to do with Cuomo’s decision to grant his band mates a greater say in the make up of the material here. In fact, the second half of this so-called Red album features guitarist Brian Bell, drummer Pat Wilson and bassist Scott Shriner on lead vocals. Also, Bell and Wilson wrote Thought I Knew and Automatic respectively whilst Shriner receives a co-writing credit on Cold Dark World. 

I’m not entirely convinced that these collaborations necessarily resulted in this dip in form for Weezer or whether Cuomo himself has become jaded of the Weezer concept. 

Still, the first half of the album contains a couple of tracks that live up comfortably to the Weezer legacy and the album does go a little pear-shaped once Dreamin’ makes its appearance. So let’s concentrate on those 1st five songs, shall we?

Troublemaker opens the collection promisingly with its sharp rhythms, incisive chorus and investigative profile of the typical rock star – 

“I’m gonna be a star and people will crane necks to get a glimpse of me and see if I am having sex and studying my moves they try to understand why I am so unlike the singers in the other bands” 

The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn) is what you might call mildly experimental seeing as it jumps from rap to gospel to to acapella to pop-rock in the course of its almost six-minute duration. Combined with a knowing, tongue-in-cheek lyrical intent, Greatest Man is certainly one of Weezer’s more intriguing songs.

Pork and Beans is basically Cuomo’s reaction to being instructed by his record label to write more commercial material for the new album as the cynical chorus declares – 

“I’m-a-do the things that i wanna do/I ain’t got a thing to prove to you/I’ll eat my candy with the pork and beans/Excuse my manners if i make a scene/I ain’t gonna wear the clothes that you like/I’m fine and dandy with the me inside/One look in the mirror and I’m tickled pink/I don’t give a hoot about what you think”

Ironically, the suits may have gotten exactly what they wanted!

Heart Songs is possibly the highlight of the album – a sentimental mid tempo paean to Cuomo’s influences as he namechecks John Lennon, Pat Bentar, Quiet Riot, Bruce Springsteen and Gordon Lightfoot. But Cuomo dedicates an entire verse to the band that kick-started Weezer’s career – 

“Back in 1991 I wasn’t havin’ any fun/’Till my roommate said ‘Come on and put a brand new record on’/Had a baby on it/He was naked on it/Then I heard the chords/That broke the chains I had upon me/Got together with my bros in some rehearsal studios/Then we played our first rock show and watched the fan base start to grow/Signed the deal that gave the dough to make a record of our own/The song come on the radio/Now people go – this is the song” 

No prizes for guessing who Cuomo is referring to…

Everybody Get Dangerous is a catchy little number about teenage rebellion – possibly based on Cuomo’s own life experiences. I expect it will go down well with the Weezer Army live!

Well, that’s all I really want to say about the “Red” album – a great half of a middling album is better than none, eh? Where does Weezer go from here – well, rumor has it that an album is being readied for 2009 even now. Wait and see I guess, until then – 

“Everybody get dangerous/Everybody get dangerous (Boo-ya!)”

The Incredible Hulk

“You wouldn’t like me when I’m … hungry” (in Portuguese).

If you’re a fan of the Hulk TV series starring the late Bill Bixby, then you will enjoy the various nods to the show in this latest film adaptation of everyone’s fave green behemoth (e.g. Courtship of Eddie’s Father turns up on Brazilian TV, Lou Ferrigno’s cameo, the score’s evocation of the TV theme etc). And it does so without sacrificing the authentic flavour of the original Marvel comic and it consigns Ang Lee’s version to irrelevance. 

The Incredible Hulk assumes the audience is aware of the character’s origin and in fact, is played out in the opening credits, so it jumps straight into the story proper with Bruce Banner (a phlegmatic Ed Norton) on the run from the US Army. The plot line moves quickly enough – setting itself up for the final confrontation between Hulk and the Abomination/Emil Blonsky (played with subtle menace by Tim Roth) – with little sub-plots (the tragic romance of Banner and Betty Ross (Liv Tyler, in usual wooden form)), the megalomania of General Ross (by-the-numbers performance by William Hurt) and the emergence of the Leader (camped up by Tim Blake Nelson) along the way to keep things interesting.

The action sequences are top notch and the CGI manages to keep the suspension of belief factor at a reasonable level. The film is basically everything you’d expect from a Marvel comic book movie with Marvel in total control. Meaning, the many references to the Marvel Universe will have the fanboys salivating in anticipation for that sweet moment when the Marvel Universe is revealed in all its glory in the Avengers movie. Of course, everybody knows by now that Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) has a cameo telling General Ross that he’s putting together a “team” and that sets up the upcoming slate of Marvel films nicely.

PLAINSUNSET ALBUM LAUNCH

Now you may have read me complaining before about how inappropriate Zouk is as a venue for a rock show. And last night’s launch of Plainsunset’s instant classic of a new album was no different, sad to report. Despite all that, Plainsunset really did put on a ROCK SHOW! 

After 12 years together as a band, Plainsunset knows what it takes to entertain their devoted fan base. With Jon’s affable stage presence, flanked by Sham and Nizam’s kinetic energy and of course propelled by the indefatigable Ronny, who pummels the drum set so effortlessly – the powerful modern tuneful pop-punk that radiates from the quartet can get quite irresistible. The new songs were received with enthusiasm – Johari Window, Interference, River Song and Children – all lapped up by their adoring fans. 

But… almost by cue, once the band launched into an extended selection of their earlier old-school punk material, the body-surfing began in earnest! This is what the fans were waiting for and Zouk was converted into a Singapore indie mosh pit – a sight to behold! 

Even as the band closed out its encore with their signature song – Plainsunset – the buzz in the packed crowd was palpable as all agreed that they had witnessed a monumental gig – despite the technical sound glitches along the way – the strong stench of sweaty bodies permeated the club as the throng made its way outdoors. A magical night – made all the more enjoyable by great company – Mike, Song, Fir, Audie, Josh, Jon, Iain and so on. Thanks also to the WakeMeUp guys viz, Esmond, John, Jon, Sameer for making it possible for Power of Pop to be a part of Singapore music history in the making…

Pix by Fir.

PoP CLASSICS

XTC  Wasp Star (Idea)  2000

Two XTC albums in consecutive years (Three if you include Homespun demo collection — I don’t!)! The last time that happened was in 1984! The last couple of years have been strange for fans of the Swindon duo (viz Andy Partridge & Colin Moulding) – the enforced moratorium on new releases lasted a full seven years whilst in the meantime, bootlegs of demos (for various album projects – one orchestral, one guitar oriented and even a bubblegum concept album!) floated around the fan community and a book, Song Stories featuring write-ups of the new material was published.

The heightened anticipation and expectation appeared to be satisfied as Apple Venus Part I was released last year to almost universal acclaim.

With the promised follow-up, Wasp Star, XTC abandons the orchestral/pastoral conceits of Apple Venus Part I and delves into uninhibited, unabashed guitar pop or in Partridge’s own words – “It’s great to get our hands tangled up in electric guitar strings once again…this record has more hooks than a Long John Silver convention…” A humourous quip, which may be said in jest but closer to the truth than one, would dare hope. Twelve fabulous gems in a crown of pop glory that only get shinier with each succeeding play.

First significant factor is the telling contribution of Colin Moulding. The tepid songs on Apple Venus Part I (Frivolous Tonight and Fruit Nut) raised questions about Moulding’s songwriting prowess but glad to report that based on the evidence on Wasp Star, the Colin Moulding XTC fans know and love is still in the saddle. The folky eccentric Boarded Up sounds like an outtake from the Beach Boys’ quirkiest LP, Smiley Smile; In Another Life maintains Moulding’s interest in easy listening music – the recurring horn/harmonica riff accentuates the song’s rather quaint concepts – “I’ll be your Burton/You’ll be my Liz” and Standing In For Joe (originally intended for the bubblegum pop project), a paean to infidelity, comes across like a latter day Genesis/Steely Dan ditty but works nonetheless.

However, as usual, it is the genius of Andy Partridge that makes XTC what it is – one of the finest pop bands of all time. Whilst the emphasis on Wasp Star appears to have been hooks, hooks and even more hooks, this approach has not been at the expense of Partridge’s familiar word play and wit.

Take for example the thoroughly infectious I’m The Man Who Murdered Love, which deserves to be a song played on heavy rotation over the air waves if only to hear lines like – “ He was begging on his bended knee/For me to put him from his misery/He hadn’t worked at all this century/Said ‘I do a service for humanity'” screw up the sensibilities of kids weaned on the blatantly crass sexual imagery of modern day boybands and teen divas.

Giving I’m The Man Who Murdered Love a good run for its money in the sing-a-long stakes:

(1)                The bouncy ‘lovers rock’ inflected My Brown Guitar; about Partridge’s obsession – “You want some lovely, I got some lovely/In my yard, in my yard/There be inchworm, there be football/There be yardstick stir some lovely/Laying waiting naked for you” – um sex.

(2)                The dynamic rhythmically driven We’re All Light where Partridge collects a slew of dead-corny ‘pick-up’ lines and delivers it like poetry – “ Don’t you know/’bout a zillion years ago/Some star sneezed, now they’re paging you in reception/Don’t you know/Jack and Jill-ion years ago/Some dinosaur dropped the pail when it saw our reflection,”

(3)                The dumb monolithic guitar pattern that is Stupidly Happy finds Partridge in dizzy celebratory love mode – “ And if the Devil walks updressed in any disguise/I take him by the collars look him in the eye/I’m stupidly happy/Now you’re my defense/
I’m stupidly happy/It’s all making sense.”

(4)                The semi-autobiographical Playground portrays childhood as a time where you “never stop rehearsing, rehearsing for the big square world” and shares with us Partridge’s darkest moment – “Some sweet girl, playing my wife, runs off with a boy whose bike she’ll ride.”

(5)                The ska-jazz Sting-like You And the Clouds Will Still Be Beautiful is Partridge’s olive branch to his ex-wife – “We see flying saucers, flying cups, and flying plates/And as we trip down lover’s lane we sometimes bump into the gate/And I know thunder in your head can still reverberate/But no matter what the weather, you and the clouds will still be beautiful.” 

Every single one a potential hit single (in a perfect pop world of course)! 

Rather astutely though, Partridge manages to leaven the sugar high with well-placed thoughtful passages on his favourite topic – relationships with the fairer (or opposite) sex.

The rather painful dirge-like Wounded Horse once again concerns his failed marriage – “Well I bit out my own tongue like a wounded horse/When I found out you’d been riding another man.” Whilst on the other extreme, Partridge declares his worship of the female of the species in Church of Women – “Breathe ’em in until my head goes spinning around,” big sigh everyone!

With Wasp Star, XTC have made up for the prolonged hiatus since Nonsuch (if you consider an album every four years as “normal” frequency) both parts of Apple Venus had been completed without the considerable influence of Dave Gregory. Certainly the song arrangements have suffered for this, but speaking generally, Gregory’s absence has not proven fatal to the spirit of XTC. This is down mainly to Andy Partridge’s continuing belief in his art. There may be many “faults” in Wasp Star that detractors may make capital out of but in the circumstances and taking into account what XTC needed to achieve with this album, I would have to say that it is an unqualified success. 

MY ONE & ONLY

I’m proud to say that I get quite a few requests for an MP3 file of My One & Only. So, to satisfy the demand, I’m making the file available for 7 days or 100 downloads whichever comes earlier. (Yeah, it’s at yousendit.com). Click on the link below, enjoy and please let me have your comments. If this service is popular, I might do it for my out-of-print songs. Let me know, boys and girls.

My One & Only (from Democracy)

… still there’s more … 

PEEPSHOW

PEEPSHOW EP (Self-released)

Expect a shedload of EPs coming from young and aspiring Singapore bands in the months to come. Peepshow’s EP is up first. This is an earnest band that like many local bands wear their influences proudly on their collective sleeves. For Zaki, SK, Mikail, Yuk and Edmund, the primary musical inspiration is British pop and rock and as an obsessed Anglophile meself, that in itself is a damn good start! Here’s the blow by blow account.

I Know

A great opener with crunching guitars and synth undertones basically covering two chords. Very reminiscent of the Britpop era of the mid-90s, with a slight inflection of the post-punk legacies of New Order/Joy Division. In that way, I Know sounds a little like a Great Spy Experiment song. Which is a good thing, believe me. I like how Zaki deftly wraps his larynx around the catchy melody. A hit!

Why

This track begins very promisingly with echoes of the Verve and Oasis evident. But somehow, when the chorus kicks in, something goes terribly wrong and the song falls flat. A pity because the song itself has loads of potential but maybe lack of experience and guidance somewhat lets the band down. Zaki tries his best though…

Funky Song

Hahaha. This is a bit of a risky proposition but Peepshow pulls it off. So it comes across as serious and funny at the same time. Zaki’s camp delivery completes the illusion or picture (depending on your point of view) and the voiceover is hilarious. The instrumentation is spot on. A fine evocation of late 80s Brit-funk. 

Come Back to Me

Ah, twee pop with balls! Zaki is amazingly cool with his vocals – very original – he puts on a slight Brit affectation but with clear Singaporean overtones. Well done. Yet another radio-friendly tune that deserves attention for the way it subverts what we think of Singapore music. Colloquial yet western – a fine balance that works!

Special Someone

This one reminds me of Felt a whole lot (the guitar parts), which isn’t bad of course. At first listen, the laid-back vibe may be a little off-putting but the track gets stronger the longer it plays. It could benefit from a stronger hook though. Still, the fretwork has got me bopping in approval.

Overall, I would recommend that every Singapore music fan get hold of this EP as I believe that Peepshow has edged itself into contention as a local outfit to keep an eye out for. 

ROCK THE SUB 2008

It’s the morning after and my head is still buzzing. Not from alcohol (really…!) but from the excitement of Rock the Sub. Mainly, of course, it was from the sheer fun and enjoyment I experienced from playing with the Groovy People at Timbre – packed with its customary Saturday crowd. But more of that later.

Allura! 

Yes, you know I love them but last night they managed to blow me away all over again with a scintillating set that included a spine-tingling Gamajazillion. This song is a unique proposition with unexpected chorus chord changes and a Beatlesque middle eight. Not your usual Singapore indie fare, I can tell you. Despite my usual reserved nature, I was screaming and hooting when the song was over. 

Inch!

Yeah, you know the girl is one of my favorite Singapore performers but it really seems that she has grown by leaps and bounds (erm, not height-wise of course – heh! sorry, inch, couldn’t resist) and her vocals has really matured into a fine-honed instrument. The band launched its new EP, Wake Up and Smell the Seaweed, at Rock the Sub last night, and I understand that whatever was on sale was entirely sold out! No surprise to me of course. If you haven’t already, go out and get the EP in the stores.

I tried to catch as many bands that I could but as I was also performing it was a tad difficult. In any case I did manage to watch – 

Armchair Critic

This trio really does sound like a local indie band from the 90s! In essence a school band, there is quite a bit of potential in songwriting and performance but still have some way to go in execution. They possess good stage presence and are confident enough to indulge in a few gimmicks and tricks of the trade. If they can improve their songcraft, Armchair Critic will become a band to watch.

You and Whose Army?

With Adam in the army (the SAF that is – look, boys and girls, irony), Leonard subbed on bass and did a good job. The band did their best to deliver a tight set but were weighed down by technical problems. Still, despite all that, the band was good enough to impress me with the increasing ambition of their songs although the performance was a little uneven in parts. The band will be on hiatus with Bonk enlisting soon but expect them to be on their game at Baybeats in two months time.

Heritage

With only Atwell Jansen remaining from the original line-up, Heritage still managed to whip up a robust set of classic 70s rock. With the influences of Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin and the best blues-rock bands resonating, it was a nostalgic for me (Heritage headlined the first rock concert I ever attended) and yet remains relevant in the 2000s. Inspiring.

Lunarin

The gothic style of alt-rock that Lunarin favor is not really my cup of tea but I will say that the band are possess a deft touch at delivering what would otherwise be “doom & gloom” music. Vocalist/bassist Linda Ong catches the eye – not merely for her hot goth-girl appeal – but also for her skillful bass playing. The audience was certainly impressed by the tightness of the band. Pity we will not be seeing Lunarin for the rest of the year.

The Groovy People!

Possibly our best gig so far and with six of us on stage, it was fairly loud. For me, it was a case of “Thundercats Are Go!” the moment I launched into chords of Never Liked the Beatles and never looked back. I’m glad to see that our cover of Hot Burrito #1 received a few appreciative nods. Dream come true, I can tell you. Of course, the songs that were universally enjoyed were the topical ones e.g. High Cost of Living, I Love Singapore and Gum. And of course, My One & Only… Thanks to the Groovy People viz. Benita, James, Bonk, Brian and Thomas for making it all possible.

But of course, the greatest buzz comes from interactions with great people in the scene – so thanks to Terence, Kevin, Seow Yee, Esmond, Poh Choo, Ivan, Thomas, Fir, Song, HQ, Zaki, Aaron, Mark, Inch, Joe & Adele, Kenneth, Florence, Sebastian, Spencer, Ivan (Thomas), Gerald, James (Woo), Pio, Linda, Jonathan, Melissa, Christopher, Syed (and if I omitted to mention anyone, my apologies) for a night of good conversation and of course, great laughs.

… still there’s more …

ROCK THE SUB

12 bands. 2 venues. 8 hours. Something’s gotta give, eh?

I’m pretty honored to be playing alongside 11 other great bands. If I wasn’t performing with the Groovy People, I’d still wouldn’t miss this event for the world. Don’t wanna single out any particular band cos the line-up is simply awesome. 

But… of course, we will be on the Timbre stage at 9.30 p.m. and with six of us jostling for space, it’s gonna be interesting especially as it’s gonna be a primarily Cosmic American Music set come this Saturday. Expect also some interesting and surprising covers. As usual, I hope to see you there and please do come up and say hi!

… and there’s more …

BLURB-O-RAMA 4.08

More belated reviews for overlooked 2007 releases.

SPOKEN Self-Titled (Tooth and Nail)

Y’know, I prize eclecticism in a band – you may have heard me say often. But sometimes things can get out of hand. Take Spoken. Half this eponymous album is pure screamo as the band rips through their Christian manifesto with inaudible lyrics (What’s the point, eh?) and the other half is fairly decent indie rock. Will the real Spoken please stand up? Guess half a reasonably good album is better than none.

FOR AGAINST In the Marshes (Words on Music)

A re-issue of a demos EP released in 1990 of this pioneering American shoegaze band. For Against was plainly ahead of its time maintaining a strange British aesthetic in the pre-grunge era. This eight track EP is highly reminiscent of the Brit-rock epoch of the early to mid-80s e.g. Comsat Angels, Echo & the Bunnymen, early Simple Minds, early New Order et al and is markedly relevant in the context of modern rock scene. 

CY CURNIN The Returning Son (Self-released)

Curnin is of course best known as the lead singer of The Fixx, a British new wave band responsible for massive 80s hit, One Thing Leads to Another. The Returning Son is Curnin’s 2nd solo effort and basically, it does not stray too far from 80s new wave gameplan. Loads of synthesized effects, odd reggae-ska beats and Curnin’s faux Bryan Ferry vox. 80s new wave fans will love this…

PACK A.D. Tintype (Mint)

A female version of Black Keys? Why the heck not, eh? These two “ladies” do earnestly ply their garage-blues-rock with the intensity of early Led Zep. I mean, Becky Black does a good job of channeling both Plant and Page whilst Maya Miller – whilst no Bonham (not even Jason) – provides adequate backbeat. Oh by the way, understand that A.D. stands for “After Death”. Guess girls do really just wanna have fun…

IRON MAN

Iron Man marks Marvel’s first self-developed and self-financed film (in a ten-film deal with Paramount) and the way that this Jon Favreau-directed, Robert Downey-starred blockbuster translates the comic book so successfully onto the big screen augers well for the other Marvel films to come.

Continue reading “IRON MAN”