Archive for Tony Visconti

New David Bowie Box Comes With A Brilliant Tony Visconti Remix Of “Lodger,” Bowie’s Greatest Album

Posted in Music with tags , , , on September 29, 2017 by johnbuckley100

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Lodger was the third and final album in what became known as Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy, that series of 43cords released between ’77 and the summer of ’79 that he crafted with Brian Eno.  Only Low and parts of Heroes were actually recorded at Berlin’s Hansa Studios, (though Berlin also was the locale of Bowie’s production of Iggy Pop’s The Idiot and Lust For Life.) Whether or not this period is accurately defined by the Cold War Berlin milieu, the three albums are of a piece, as Bowie turned away from cocaine and pop fame — or perhaps, “Fame” — and created his greatest work.

Low, like Eno’s Another Green World before it, was as notable for instrumentals and song fragments as it was for full-fledged rock songs.  It was, after Station To Station, a sharp left turn, coinciding with the rise of punk without in any way adopting, or even reckoning with it.  It began the process by which Bowie became as much associated with composers like Philip Glass and Steve Reich — and Eno — as he was with pop music.  This was a very controversial repositioning, but looking back on his long and fruitful career, we think this is the moment — the Berlin Trilogy — when Bowie cemented his stature.

Yes, “Heroes” the song, and Heroes the album were hits, and with Robert Fripp joining the party, this was thrilling rock music.  But the first two albums of the Berlin Trilogy were notable, in no small part, for how Bowie went his own way, parallel to punk and what became New Wave, even as, with his ties to and influence over Iggy Pop, he helped shape a reformation of rock that somehow combined avant garde elements of the Velvet Underground, the proto-punk of the Stooges, with the Krautrock of his adopted home.

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When Lodger came out in the summer of ’79, it was, to these ears at least, the culmination of what had come before it.  It had Eno’s trademark synth figures.  Adrian Belew was the poor man’s Robert Fripp, but he was nonetheless a fantastically unconventional guitarist added to the band Bowie had slowly assembled.  And while the Stones, the summer before, had on Some Girls bowed in homage to the punk rock designed to replace them, Bowie’s new record still ignored it, instead presaging World Music which was still really a decade away.  We had only weeks before returned from a post-college, around-the-world trek, and an album-based travelogue with a post card on its cover — and an English rock star depicted as smashed up from his journey; the cover photo, at least, was true to the punk rock ethos — became the perfect soundtrack to our entry to adulthood in a small apartment in Manhattan.

It’s important to note that in ’79, rock’n’roll music was in full ferment, especially in New York.  The CBGB bands were now the new establishment, with Talking Heads putting out Fear of Music, records by bands like Joy Division, Magazine, and Wire’s brilliant 154 washing up on shore, and Manhattan bands like the dBs and Fleshtones coexisting with Eno’s No Wave discoveries and their offshoots like 8 Eyed Spy.  Lodger put Bowie completely in alignment with a wide array of younger artists in New York and Britain, and even as at age 32 — along with Lou Reed and Iggy Pop — he was a revered elder statesman.

We thought Lodger was completely brilliant, and we had been a diehard Bowie fanatic since first hearing The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust in ’72.  Not everyone thought so. Greil Marcus could sniff in Rolling Stone, Lodger might have been an event, if only as a record we would someday look back on as work that mapped the territory between past and future. Instead, it’s just another LP, and one of his weakest at that: scattered, a footnote to Heroes, an act of marking time.”  Freshly minted as a rock critic, our work beginning to be published in New York Rocker, we knew Marcus was a square, not even as hip as the Voice’s Robert Christgau, who seemed uncharacteristically confused when he wrote, “Musically, these fragments of anomie don’t seem felt, and lyrically they don’t seem thought through. But that’s part of their charm–the way they confound categories of sensibility and sophistication is so frustrating it’s satisfying, at least if you have your doubts about the categories. Less satisfying, actually, than the impact of the record as a whole.”  He gave it an A- anyway.

For us, there was just one problem: the album sounded pretty terrible.  Presaging the miseries of ’80s production techniques, in which synthesizers and tinny mastering of the new CD format made the sound of all records suck, Lodger was brittle, claustrophobic. Too many instruments clogged the output.  The album was jarring, but we thought it was supposed to be that way.  We were wrong.

We actually had no idea just how bad Lodger sounded until this morning, when upon the release of the Bowie box celebrating his output between ’77 and ’82, a new Tony Visconti mix of the album came out.  We’ve been smiling ever since.

Listening to the Visconti mix of Lodger is like seeing the Sistine Chapel after 500 years of smoke and grime has been removed from its ceiling.  It breathes.  The instruments are warm, and his voice hangs upon the songs like a comfortable jacket on a cedar hanger in a capacious closet. There is space between instruments, and like wine properly decanted, fruit at room temperature, its bearing is natural, all flavors easily explored by the tongue.  Visconti has taken a 1979 polyester suit and rendered it in natural fibers.

We have always thought Lodger was Bowie’s greatest album.  Eighteen months after his death, the remix by his longstanding friend and producer Tony Visconti finally proves it. The Bowie estate surely understands what it has here as the only way you can access it is by purchasing the whole box set.  We hate moves like this, but is handing over the dough worth it?  Unquestionably, the answer is yes.

 

Two New Albums By Capsula and Crocodiles Each Extend The Late Summer Rock’n’Roll Party

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 29, 2013 by johnbuckley100

We hadn’t been paying close enough attention to the happenings of one of our favorite bands, Capsula, to have gotten the word that Tony Visconti was producing their new album, Solar Secrets, which came out earlier this week.  What a great pairing!  Visconti, of course, is the producer of several of Bowie’s best albums, including this year’s The Next Day, and Capsula are such Bowie fans, last year they put out a note-perfect replica of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars.  Now, unfortunately, we viewed that homage to Bowie as something of a misstep, an unfortunate career detour, but happily, with the excellent Solar Secrets, they are back on the strong form exhibited in 2011’s In The Land Of The Silver Souls, which we ranked as the #4 best album of the year, and which caused us to ask whether Capsula is the greatest rock’n’roll band in the world.  Based on Solar Secrets, they are still in contention for such an honor, even if it is not as spectacular as 2006’s Songs & Circuits, which we consider perhaps the finest punk rock album of the Aughts.

If you don’t know Capsula, drink deep from this nutshell: An Argentine band that played animalistic punk rock while scratching at the tree of South American psychedelica, they moved to Bilbao a decade ago, viewing Europe as a better staging point for world domination.  Since then, they’ve only put out three of the most thrilling records of our age, which given the albums they put out in Buenos Aires prior to emigration, gives them, by our count, eight excellent long-players.  They’ve gone from singing in Spanish to singing in English, though on Solar Secrets, Visconti has them singing in Spanglish.  But even if you’re bilingual, you don’t listen to Capsula for the words — you listen to hear a band that sounds like the finest Cali punks from the ’80s occasionally dial up the rocket boosters to propel listeners into deep space.  This is not their very best album, but it is a great place to begin, if you’ve yet to get hip to their cross-Atlantic trip.

We’d missed the earlier records by the San Diego band Crocodiles, but oh brother, Crimes Of Passion is so everlasting yummy we are willing to put it up on our current roster of California Hall of Famers including Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall, and Mikal Cronin.  We can understand why there have been comparisons to the Jesus and Mary Chain, but while such references usually refer to a band fuzzing up a Velvets’n’Beach Boys sound, this reference is different: singer Brandon Welchez sounds a fair bit like Jim Reid, and in context, it does harken to JAMC at their most tuneful.

On Crimes of Passion, Crocodiles throw the Jesus and Mary Chain, Between The Buttons-era Stones, and the garage rock of the Fleshtones into a blender and the result is a Big Gulp smoothee of the best rock’n’roll of the year.  If you’re keeping score at home, this is a band to put money on, as the odds are great you’re going to be hearing about them again when the Tulip Frenzy jury goes into deliberations for our 2013 Top Ten List.  They’re that good.  And between Crimes of Passion and Capsula’s Solar Secrets, we’re reaching for our headphones and the SPF 50, hoping to extend the summer for a few more weeks.

Alejandro Escovedo’s “Real Animal” Was Born In The Wild

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , on June 24, 2008 by johnbuckley100

If you did not know how long the road has been for Alejandro Escovedo to be able to release a radio-ready disk as commercially viable and excellent as “Real Animal,” you might think it was easy.  Yet it was just three years ago that we wondered whether Al would live long enough to ever play music again.  That he’s now produced not simply a career restropective, but the album of his career is a testament to persistence, magic, kismet.  You don’t need to be a cynic to doubt such happy endings.  This one’s true.

“Real Animal” is the hardest rocking album Alejandro’s been involved in since that Buick McKane project in the late ’90s.  It actually wallops as hard as that second, inferior True Believers album back in the late ’80s.  Tony Visconti quotes liberally from his past work for David Bowie, and cribs from some of Bowie’s other, lesser producers, to give Alejandro a sheen that serves him well.  It’s the songs, though, and how strong Al’s voice is, that makes the record a career highlight.

“Always A Friend” is a transparent attempt at an FM hit, if there is such a thing these days, and kicks off the album with an homage to Alejandro’s new friend Bruce Springsteen.  I don’t hold this against anyone involved.  Interestingly, “Chelsea Hotel,” which shows him reminiscing for the days of ’78 when Neon Leon stalked West 23rd Street, sounds more like a John Cale song than anything on 2006’s “The Boxing Mirror,” which Cale produced.  

“Sister Lost Soul” is prime Alejandro: melodic, beautiful, a marriage of classic ’70s rock with Austin grit. The sheer improbability of an American artist who combines Rolling Stones riffs with Bowie glam, Detroit guitar rock with Southwestern roots rock, and fills it all out with a small chamber orchestra on top of two-guitars and kicking drums can partly explain why the boy’s defied the easy categorization the music biz demands.

“Smoke,” like “Nuns Song,” is one of the greatest hard rockers from any of Alejandro’s bands or periods — and this is a guy who was in a San Francisco punk band (The Nuns), a Texas hard rock project (True Believers), and the seminal roots rockers Rank and File.  In fact, “Nuns Song,” with its farfisa organ garage undertow, and choogling cellos in the rhythm section, is such a great song he repeats it as an acoustic duo with Dave Pulkingham, and damn if it’s not just as good.

“Sensitive Boys” makes you think of Bowie’s “Young Americans” album and “Golden Bear” takes its production cues from The Thin White Duke — cleverly, without being derivative; it’s a quotation more than an appropriation.

The album has some misses.  The title track’s not great, and some of the softer songs are poor reminders of how poignant Alejandro is at his best.

But did the guy rise to the moment?  Yes, and then some.  His partnership with Chuck Prophet here is remarkably successful, and Visconti was both an inspired choice and a great medium to invoke the spirit of Alejandro’s past.

Rare is the artist who by merely quoting from himself can create an album as diverse and deep as “Real Animal.”  But of course our most important American songwriter of the past fifteen years would come through when it matters.  He’s a real animal.
 

Will Alejandro Escovedo’s “Real Animal” Make Him A Star, Finally?

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , on June 1, 2008 by johnbuckley100

Alejandro Escovedo is about to release a new album, “Real Animal,” and I note that he’s to perform on the set of the “Today Show” on June 24th, the date of release.  That stage is usually reserved for reunions by New Kids on the Block, right? He was interviewed by the great Kid Leo on Little Steven’s Underground Garage. He’s on the road opening for Dave Mathews.  He’s just been signed by a new manager, Jon Landau, who’s other notable client is some guy from New Jersey named Bruce.  Could this, at long bloody last, be it?  Are the portents for the success so cruelly denied one of our greatest songwriters and performers at last showing up, like a comet in the evening sky?  

Consider this: if you go to Alejandro Escovedo.com and play the new “Nuns Song” which previews on it, you’ll get a taste of Al at his hard rock best — Hector walloping the drums, Brian’s cello chugging like a freight train, with this underlying “96 Tears” farfisa reminding us of Al’s garage roots.  It’s about his late ’70s San Francisco band, The Nuns, and it’s a rockin’ gem.  “Sister Lost Soul” is Alejandro at his most melodically beautiful. “Always A Friend” showcases the Tony Visconti production.  Yeah, it could be on a Mott The Hoople album, if Mott the Hoople was the finest band in Austin.  (It actually sounds — and in this context, it’s a compliment — a little like that guy name of Bruce.)

I was disappointed by what John Cale did with Alejandro’s sound on “The Boxing Mirror,” the might-not-have-ever-happened album heralding his return to health and sobriety following a nasty interlude with Interferon in the goal of recovery from Hep C.  But these songs, co-written by Chuck Prophet, are superb.

Is the American musical artist most worthy of success finally about to taste some? Oh man.  Fingers crossed.

 

 

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