By Tom Reardon, January 2020 Issue.
Some of you, dear readers, will remember the magical days of the record clubs where you could get 10 records or CDs for $1 and then you promised to buy another 10 records over two or three years, which you never did. I did this a few times, which I’m not proud of, grabbing a few classic records I needed in my collection and then taking a chance on a few things that might be good. This month’s records remind me of this time in my musical life a little bit.
The Who — Who
Full disclosure: I often tell people my favorite band is The Who. As I listen to their new album, Who, I go back and forth between asking myself the question, “Why do you tell people they are your favorite band?” and telling myself, “This record is not the reason you love The Who.” It’s not that it is terrible, but there are many Who songs that can instantly make me feel something. On Who, these moments of being right there with Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend and experiencing the musical empathy their voices and, in the case of Townshend, his guitar work were often so quick to create in the past are just not there. Who is deeply personal lyrically, but the songs don’t grab you musically the way Who fans may have come to expect from this band that is coming close to being a primal force in rock and roll for the last 50 years. Perhaps it is the lack of anthemic guitar hero songs or the biting anger at life in general that Townshend so eloquently portrays in previous offerings, but Who just doesn’t do it for me in a way that promises many more spins in the future for this particular record. Favorite songs on this one: “I’ll Be Back” and “Got Nothing To Prove,” but these are definitely more of the 10 for a buck variety songs than something you’d happily pay full price for if you wanted to fulfill your contract.
No Volcano — Rubber Dagger
Local boys done good. Phoenix’s own No Volcano returns with their fourth full-length and it is a bit of an ass kicker. Fans of good, well-played, well-sung, and big ol’ poppy indie rock hooks will dig Rubber Dagger. Singer Jim Andreas is one of the all-time best lyricists in Phoenix, hands down, and Andreas really shines on his band’s new record. Joined by Lonna Kelley (Cherie Cherie) on “Golden,” No Volcano really sets the tone for the whole of Rubber Dagger as the band blazes through five killer tracks in a row to start things off. “Logged In” follows “Golden” and the song features some nifty guitar work from new guitarist William Goethe in a truly wonderful debut. “Mover” features some Donovan-style bass lines that James Karnes plays with a psychedelic tinge (should that be tingle?) and your brain may melt a little if you leave this one on your tongue for too long. The second half of Rubber Dagger is no slouch, either, with “Morning National” being the standout track with some layered guitar skronk and Andreas leaning into the feeling of things not being “quite right.” This might have been that one record you took a flyer on because of the cool, Beatles-esque record cover back in the day to go along with your Cheap Trick Live At Budokan or Syd Barrett’s The Madcap Laughs selections.
Beck — Hyperspace
Hyperspace, which is the enigmatic Beck’s latest album, is only a must for fans of his more electronic work. The songs are pretty forgettable. Kinda like The Who record above, it’s not terrible, but it’s full of songs that you probably won’t connect with right away and they definitely won’t push any of Beck’s ‘90s or ‘00s work off of your personal 10-best list if you’re a longtime fan. This is the kind of record that if it would have been Beck’s first record, no one would have cared if he was or wasn’t a disciple of L. Ron Hubbard (supposedly Beck is no longer part of the Church of Scientology). Anyway, there are moments here, of course. On the third track, “Saw Lightning,” Beck channels a bit of his early groovy-ness with a little slide guitar mixed in with some electronic sounds that seem to be sampled from a 1970’s pong game, but the best song on the record is “Star.” Short, sweet, and fun. Perfect Beck goodness on “Star.” If you dig on the melancholy Beck, there is some of that here, too. “Die Waiting” sounds like the Pet Shop Boys covering something from Beck’s awesome Sea Change record. Free advice: skip this one unless you are contractually obligated to purchase it through your Columbia House Records club agreement.