Steel Panther’s LOWER THE BAR
is the Heavy Metal equivalent to
For over fifty years, Golden Earring has been Holland’s greatest Rock band, yet they have only scored two bona-fide hits in the U.S.: “Radar Love” (1973) and “Twilight Zone” (1982). While they’ve managed to maintain their popularity in other European countries, their unique brand of Rock ‘n’ Roll has largely been overlooked by American audiences. Their career trajectory closely followed that of the similarly-fated iconic UK rock band Status Quo: from flowery Psych Rock band in the ‘60s to Rock titans in the ‘70s (and beyond). However, the band has remained virtually intact throughout their entire career, in this way echoing the longevity of The Rolling Stones. These comparisons aside, Golden Earring has always done things their way. Staying largely out of the spotlight in the U.S. has allowed the band to travel their own path and create music without having to cater to the American market like so many other bands have been forced to do. Ironically enough, the music that these four gents create (Barry Hay, George Kooymans, Cesar Ziderwijk and Rinus Gerritsen) has always been exactly what America needs. Pure, honest Rock ‘n’ Roll that acknowledges but never gives in to current trends.
Those that are only familiar with their two American hits will be surprised to find out Golden Earring has released twenty-six studio albums alongside nearly a dozen live albums, as well as several compilations for those who only want to hear the hits. The four members of Golden Earring celebrate their huge catalog by playing all the favorites to their adoring fans, yet they seldom take the time to celebrate the many milestones that have paved their road to success. Although they are currently acknowledging their Silver Anniversary by hitting the road (again) this year, the band did not intend to put together yet another hit collection to commemorate the occasion. Instead, their record company worked behind the scenes and put together the ultimate tribute to the band: a twenty-nine CD box entitled THE COMPLETE STUDIO RECORDINGS, a glorious set that contains all twenty-six studio albums plus three CDs of non-album tracks. An absolutely astounding set, this release is an important part of Rock ‘n’ Roll history. Forget about biographies, Wikipedia entries or magazine articles. This box tells the real story of Golden Earring in the most honest and passionate way – through their music. Listen to it and weep, because it doesn’t get much better than this.
Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to chat with Barry Hay, who graciously took time out of his busy schedule to discuss the release of the box and other things Golden Earring-related…
Colin Hay is a rarity in the world of Rock ‘n’ Roll. He achieved great success out of the gate 35 years ago while leader of Men At Work (“Who Can It Be Now?,” “Down Under,” “Overkill”) but had to pursue a career as a solo artist once the band split in ’86. In 1987, he ventured out as Colin James Hay with the LOOKING FOR JACK album but struggled to maintain success. Next came the Colin Hay Band’s 1990 album WAYFARING SONS, which didn’t fare any better. In 1992, he released PEAKS & VALLEYS, the first in a series of solo albums that would slowly rebuild his career from scratch. Now, three and one-half decades after hitting #1 with Men At Work’s BUSINESS AS USUAL album, Hay is at his peak as a songwriter and vocalist and he shows no signs of slowing down. FIERCE MERCY is proof that he is one of this generation’s finest songwriters. While his hits with Men At Work may have been more ‘immediate’ on first listen, his songwriting is deeper, more passionate and better than ever on this 2017 album. Like his last release, 2015’s NEXT YEAR PEOPLE, this is an album filled with songs that are warm, intimate and emotional. Whether he is singing from experience or as an observer, Hay always connects with the subject matter and it all sounds so personal, which adds to the songs’ power. Lead-in track “Come Tumbling Down” is a sing-a-long that prepares you for the roller-coaster ride of emotions that weave in and out of the rest of the album. “A Thousand Million Reasons,” “The Best In Me,” “The Last To Know” and “Secret Love” are some of the best songs that Hay has ever written or co-written (with Michael Georgiades and others). “Two Friends” (written by Georgiades) features one of Hay’s finest vocal performances to date. Never one to live in his past, Colin Hay has creatively risen above his previous success and recorded what could be his finest musical work to date. Again, Colin Hay has proven that he leaves pretty much all of his contemporaries in the dust. FIERCE MERCY is a lovely, heartfelt album that will stand the test of time. If you stopped listening after the CARGO album, you’ve got a lot of catching up to do!
Right Said Fred may be considered a ‘one hit wonder’ in the U.S., but I’m here to tell you that they are much more than that. Their worldwide hit “I’m Too Sexy” has become a slice of Pop Culture and is still used in advertisements, films and TV shows. The mere mention of the song title will inspire people to spontaneously sing a line or two out loud no matter who else is around. However, as I once wrote over at allmusic.com: “If you’ve never heard anything by Right Said Fred apart from ‘I’m Too Sexy,’ then you are missing out on one of the best dance-pop bands of this generation. To base your opinion of the band on that one song is like judging The Beatles‘ entire catalog on a song like ‘Yellow Submarine.’ Sure, it’s fun and catchy, but there is so much more to the band than that one piece of pop fluff.” In other words, if you haven’t heard anything else by RSF, then it is time to change that.
We all grow up. Some of us try to live in the past while others are happier living in the here-and-now. Our favorite artists have it far more difficult, though. They grow older and move forward, maturing like the rest of us, yet they have fans that prefer them to stay exactly the same as they were when they first started having hits. British sextet Madness has certainly had their fair share of dealings with these types of expectations from their audience. The young adults that recorded their first two albums in ’79 and ’80 – ONE STEP BEYOND and ABSOLUTELY – began to mature by the mid-‘80s and as soon as that happened, the band’s sound evolved. Their 7 and RISE AND FALL albums signaled their new-found confidence and each of them contained some big hits (most notably, “Our House”), but their audience wanted the band to remain the Ska-influenced nutty boys of old while the band just wanted to experiment and expand upon their sound. They were still selling a lot of records six years into their career but nobody seemed to really accept that the band that recorded “Yesterday’s Men” (a fab single in 1985) was the same gang that gave them “House Of Fun,” “Baggy Trousers,” and “One Step Beyond” just a handful of years before. By 1986, Madness called it quits. Each member had personally outgrown the ‘image’ that people had of the band and they needed to shake those shackles before people could take them seriously… Thankfully, they reunited for live shows in the early ‘90s and have remained together ever since (although there have been solo and side projects released since they’ve been back). Not as prolific as they once were, a studio album from Madness is definitely cause for celebration.
Incredibly, the same six man line-up that recorded ONE STEP BEYOND in 1979 is the same line-up on their latest album, CAN’T TOUCH US NOW. That, in itself, is pretty damn impressive. This is only their fourth all-original album since WONDERFUL – their first studio ‘reunion’ album in 1999 – and their second since the critically acclaimed THE LIBERTY OF NORTON FOLGATE (2009). Like RISE & FALL and NORTON FOLGATE, CAN’T TOUCH US NOW finds the band taking off their rose-colored glasses and revealing the shady underbelly of London (and British life in general). From religion and politics to lost souls in turmoil, CTUN is a trip through the darker side of jaunty. This is a raw look at the real world by middle aged men who still know how to easily craft Pop gems that ‘feel’ like classic Madness songs but reveal different layers with each listen. Lee “El Thommo” Thompson’s sax still blurts and swings; Chris “Chrissy Boy” Foreman’s guitar still twangs and stings; Mike “Monsieur Barso” Barson’s keyboard work is so highly under-rated; Daniel “Woody” Woodgate and Mark “Bedders” Bedford are still one of the most creative rhythm sections in Pop/Rock; and Graham “Suggs” McPherson remains the ultimate front-man – you’ll always get an equal mix of tongue-in-cheek and heart-on-sleeve.
“Mr. Apples” is a worthy first single but the real meat in CTUN reveals itself over repeated spins. “Good Times,” “(Don’t Let Them) Catch You Crying,” “You Are My Everything,” and the title track are the ones that hit you first, slowly giving way to a host of other gems like “Pam The Hawk,” “Blackbird,” and “Soul Denying”. While a slow-burning album may not be welcome in a digital-on-demand world where everyone feels like they are entitled to their instant gratification right now, CTUN ultimately pays off big time for Madness fans and those who love thoughtful, well-crafted albums. If you’re looking for “Our House,” “It Must Be Love,” etc., go buy the old albums. This is an album created by six guys who gratefully acknowledge their past but prefer to move forward. For the record, I kept getting a feeling that this might be the band’s studio swan song… but I hope not!
STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: STITCH OF THE WORLD is just about to be released. How are you feeling about the album and the journey you took to make it?
TIFT MERRITT: I’m feeling really proud of this writing, these performances. I feel really, really lucky to have worked with this cast of characters. Marc Ribot is my favorite musician and one of my favorite human beings. He’s plugged into the sun. And I am forever grateful to Sam Beam for his input and generosity. To be in conversation with him about songwriting gave me a new eye on lyrics, on what to look for in third verses, on countermelody. But honestly, I don’t know that I ever truly have perspective on my work. I just have the sense of having had a creative experience that hopefully opened me more and will inform my next creative experience. I think that is what it is all about.
Making year-end lists is always difficult for me. Since I purposely don’t stream music, I’m limited to listening to the titles I purchase or promos I receive here in the office. Because of this, there are so many releases that I never get a chance to hear. Over the last few weeks, I have read many year-end lists and, again, I realize that I am not in sync with many of my friends and other music journalists. This means that I am either terminally unhip or wholly unique. I’d like to think the latter, but I’m afraid that most people consider me the former.
I interviewed Neil Finn a few years back and told him – off the record – that he and his brother Tim were ‘ordinary men with extraordinary talents.’ He replied with a chuckle, “I’ll take that!” While listening to the Deluxe 2CD Editions of all seven of Crowded House’s studio albums, I’m reminded about just how accurate my description of the Finns was… and is. While Tim and Neil are both exceptional at making music, their paths as artists have pulled them in slightly different directions. Tim has remained the more serious of the two while Neil still retains a playful energy that has been apparent since his days with Split Enz. Tim has always been the one ‘in charge’ (i.e. the big brother) while Neil has played the role of the more sensitive and unpredictable little brother. In a sense, he always seemed to be in awe of his older brother but not fully aware that he is every bit his equal. Regardless of commercial success, the Finn Brothers remain enormously talented and inspiring artists. However, I’ll focus on Neil’s Crowded House output for now (which includes a few significant appearances from Tim)…
So…. what do we have here?
A brand-skankin’-new album from The Beat? No, not Paul Collins and Co. – they are officially known as Paul Collins’ Beat. And no, not Dave Wakeling and Co. – we call them The English Beat over here. This album is actually by Wakeling’s former partner in crime Ranking Roger and his UK-based version of The Beat/English Beat. If you want to get technical about it, this album is by The Beat featuring Ranking Roger.
Are you thoroughly confused already? Sorry ‘bout that…