Tag Archives: new wave

Gary Numan show preview

There are one-hit wonders, and then there’s Gary Numan. Sure, “Cars” is just about the only song most people know him for, but Numan’s less a one-hit wonder than a one-note mastermind; the guy has managed to come off as omniscient and a little fascist-creepy for almost 30 years now, and to this day, it still seems like he’s got a bead on the future that nobody else has figured out yet. Between 1978 and 1980 he cranked out four consecutive albums of singularly awesome, top-shelf synthetic amazingness and also managed to exponentially up the ante for over-the-top dramatics in his live show (which, really, is saying something when you’re talking about the ‘80s). More impressive: He’s continued – relatively uninterrupted – right through to today without losing any of his ominous and dystopic view of what lays in store for our overconnected society.

First appeared Oct. 14, 2010 in Orlando Weekly.


‘Urgh! A Music War’ DVD feature review (Orlando Weekly)

It’s been a long time coming, but nearly 30 years after it was released to theaters, Urgh! A Music War is again available for purchase. For music fans of a certain age – especially those who have suffered from years of squinting at grainy VHS dubs and bootleg DVDs – its purchase is mandatory; Urgh! is the ultimate document of the post-punk movement known as “the New Wave” (not to be confused with the later, poppier genre generality of new wave).

Thanks to a pioneering initiative at Warner Bros. Pictures called the Warner Archive, in which films with limited retail appeal are sold on a duplicated-to-order basis, that purchase is just a few clicks away. Although Urgh! can’t be picked up at your local music shop or on Amazon, the archive’s online store (http://www.wbshop.com) offers a direct-to-your-door deal that gets you a DVD-R pressing of the movie made from reasonably clean prints for $20. And it’s official, which means that, hopefully, some of the 30-plus artists featured on the movie will see some of that money.

Urgh! was briefly sold in the ’80s on VHS tape and laserdisc, but neither of those versions stayed in print for long. It’s important to remember that, in the early and mid-’80s, home video libraries weren’t nearly as common as they are now; most videotapes were sold to video stores for rentals, while laserdiscs, though beloved by cinephiles, were never broadly embraced by the general public. So videos frequently fell out of print quickly after their first run. In the case of Urgh!, it probably didn’t help that the USA Network’s excellent Night Flight program seemed to play the film and various clips frequently, thus negating the need for anyone to actually purchase a high-priced former rental tape or track down the hard-to-find laserdisc.

In the 28 years that have passed since Urgh! was originally released, the film has taken on a legendary reputation, due to its content and its rarity. The relative ease with which the music was licensed for the original production was a natural facet of the late-’70s music business; nobody was considering cross-collateralization, digital download residuals or multiplatform hybridization. Producer Miles Copeland (founder of IRS Records, brother of Police drummer Stewart Copeland) presented all of the artists with a fairly straightforward contract that permitted the use of their music and performances in Urgh!’s theatrical presentations and television broadcasts, and allowed for the initial home video versions as well as a double-LP soundtrack – which, sadly, remains out of print. Everything after those initial permissions would require every single artist – all 34 of them – to sign off on any new versions; thus, no CD of the soundtrack and, until now, no DVD of the movie. How Warner Archives got around those contracts is a mystery, but the fact that Urgh! is only available as a bespoke DVD – rather than in a full retail version – is probably reflective of the acres of red tape that have accumulated around it.

All those licensing issues, and all those memories of tracking down nth-generation copies, fades immediately upon popping in the Warner Archives DVD. The film itself hasn’t undergone any remastering process, but the print used for the transfer is suitably crisp, and the difference between this version and the unauthorized versions that have been traded for years is simply remarkable. More importantly, the Dolby stereo audio track provides a powerful and dynamic reproduction of the music.

Of course, the music is the entire point of Urgh! Filmed – not on video, but on film – at a multitude of concerts in various venues around the world in 1980, Urgh! features live performances from ’80s crossover stars Joan Jett, the Police, Devo, the Go-Go’s, Gary Numan (doing “Down in the Park” on an overwhelming stage setup) and Wall of Voodoo – all captured at the moment just before MTV made everyone tired of them. Beyond those marquee names, though, are the stars of the post-punk underground – Echo & the Bunnymen, the Cramps, Magazine, XTC (yes, live), Dead Kennedys, Surf Punks, Oingo Boingo, Chelsea (snarling through “I’m on Fire”), Pere Ubu, Gang of Four. Combine those well-known names with excellent, now-footnoted acts like the Members, Toyah Willcox, Skafish and Athletico Spizz 80 and the variety of music on display here – punk, post-punk, power pop, electro-pop, reggae, quirky new wave, a touch of postmodern weirdness and even spoken word – is simply staggering. There’s not a single performance on Urgh! that’s less than impressive: The Cramps’ blistering take on “Tear It Up,” Echo’s fiery, angsty version of “The Puppet,” Klaus Nomi’s legendarily operatic “Total Eclipse” and the Police’s taut and terrific runthrough of “So Lonely” are essential watching.

While some viewers might complain that the Warner Archives version doesn’t allow skipping right to those moments (you can only skip through in 10-minute intervals, not by indexed, single-song chapters), watching Urgh! straight through is how the film has been experienced for most of its 28-year history. If you could go straight to 999 playing “Homicide,” you’d end up skipping past the Alley Cats doing “Nothing Means Nothing Anymore,” and you would probably never even bother watching the masked men of Invisible Sex play their cardboard guitars on “Valium.” (Worth noting: The fifth chapter skip takes you right to the beginning of the Dead Kennedys’ “Bleed for Me,” which, with its segue into Steel Pulse’s “Ku Klux Klan,” is a highlight of the film.)

While this was probably a money-saving (or licensing) consideration, it actually helps preserve the dizzying effect the original had on audiences. And to those who try to make the argument that new wave was the purview of well-coiffed, telegenic pretty boys who couldn’t play their instruments, I highly recommend buying this DVD and preparing for a two-hour lesson in just how great this period in music was.

First appeared Oct. 22, 2009 in Orlando Weekly.

I.R.S. digital reissue campaign (Houston Press ‘Retro Active’ blog post)

As soon as the press release titled “Capitol/EMI to Launch I.R.S. Digital Catalog Campaign” hit my inbox, my eyes immediately began scanning for two words: “Something Wicked.” If it turned out that the worst album by Nuclear Assault was part of this reissue campaign – what were those guys doing on I.R.S. in the first place, anyway? – then surely all of the label’s good moments would be represented.

Retro Active wound up confused. Although Something Wicked was, indeed, on the list, the selection was oddly uneven. Sure, the label’s highest-profile acts – Fleshtones, Wall of Voodoo, Oingo Boingo, General Public – are there, but for the most part, those acts are represented by individual tracks rather than their best albums. (Horror of horrors, Wazmo Nariz’s “Checking Out the Check Out Girl” will be available, but not the Things Aren’t Right album.) Yeah, there are three Wall of Voodoo albums, but they’re the three last WOV records, not the three first ones.

Of course, most of this is due to the labyrinthine licensing deals I.R.S. signed at the peak of its powers, but seriously, they can get the rights seven of the 10 songs from the first Lords of the New Church record, but not the whole thing? Whatever, I just want ’em to keep it up. Though it’s great that forgotten excellence like Caterwaul’s ethereal rock is getting some deserved sunshine, I’m still holding out for some Skafish and Klark Kent and Suburban Lawns and, of course, Urgh! A Music War.

The catalog hits online outlets in waves beginning on Feb. 10. The full rundown of what’s coming back and when is after the jump.

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Duran Duran: The Singles 81-85 CD review (Orlando Weekly)

If you spent the majority of your middle-school allowance on the pricey import 12-inches this collection represents, you’re exactly the same person that would demand accurate recreations of the artwork for “The Reflex” single. And you are the very person this 40-song, 13-disc set is aimed at. Longing for the “Monster Mix” of “Is There Something I Should Know?” Got it. Aching to relive all the “night versions” (read: dance remixes) of tracks like “Planet Earth” and “Hungry Like the Wolf?” Check. Sure, by the time you get to the back of the box and the interminable mixes of “A View to a Kill,” you begin to remember why you abandoned Duran Duran for R.E.M., but while bathing in the New Romanticism of “Faster than Light” or “Khanada,” you can almost feel the zits erupting on your adolescent mug.

First appeared June 12, 2003 in Orlando Weekly.

James Chance: Irresistible Impulse CD review (Orlando Weekly)

James Chance has long been regarded as the ultimate “insider legend.” In other words, everyone who heard him recognized his genius and appreciated the sheer audacity of his music. Problem’s been, not that many people heard of him. As part of New York’s abrasive “No Wave” movement of the late ’70s (a musical assault that saw the already-avant stylings of the downtown rock scene transmogrified into some truly remarkable art-punk noise), Chance was already operating in an insular environment that wasn’t likely to be noticed by the mainstream. And that’s probably appropriate. His music — though certainly rooted in funk, jazz and even disco — was dance music for junkies, and that don’t play in Peoria. But for the relatively few folks who did manage to hear his albums like “Buy the Contortions,” it was a true revelation, and that listener typically became a rabid fan. (Henry Rollins and Rick Rubin founded Infinite Zero to reissue Chance’s records. It was those reissues that established the James Chance legend at my house. So I guess Henry Rollins did do something cool after Black Flag.) Working under several different guises, Chance continually rejiggered his approach in an attempt to befuddle an increasingly jaded audience: James Chance and the Contortions produced spazzy, free-jazz funk; James White and the Blacks dished up four-on-the-floor smack disco; James White’s Flaming Demonics did both, instrumentally. Strutting around Manhattan like the coolest of the cats, he fully embraced the idea that he was an entertainer first and an artist second. Thus, any performance by any of his groups was always uptempo, interactive and occasionally abusive. Though this wonderful four-disc box-set compilation of all seven of Chance’s albums (plus some unreleased sessions) may establish the insider legend among a new generation of hipsters, it’s doubtful that it will go any further toward earning it a place in the rock & roll canon. Chance and his music are too individualistic, too mind-bendingly raw and too inscrutable. However, the very fact that his reputation has maintained itself for over 20 years should tell you that whatever accolades he gets, he deserves.

First appeared in the Feb. 13, 2003 issue of Orlando Weekly.

Buy this CD at Amazon.com.