Stereo Review In Review: March 1985

The usual lag between records landing in reviewers’ laps and magazines getting published and stuffed in subscribers’ mailboxes means that this time they’re looking at a number of releases from late in the previous year. Also, it’s our first peek at a feature that turned out to be not terribly long-lived.

Article
The Art of Tape Recording, by Ian G. Masters
My equipment was never good enough (nor were the cassettes) to be that concerned when I put together mix tapes, but, having made a few tapes down at WTLX while it was off the air, I have a definite appreciation for Masters’ advice on back-cueing when transferring from vinyl. Bonus points for including a paragraph on recording from the nascent Compact Disk medium.

Our reviewers this month are Chris Albertson, Phyl Garland, Louis Meredith (see below), Alanna Nash, Mark Peel, Peter Reilly, and Steve Simels.

Best of the Month
–Earl Thomas Conley, Treadin’ Water (AN) “…about as perfect a modern country record as I ever expect to hear…if there were a Record of the Decade award, this one would get my vote.” I’ve listened to (parts of) the three #1 country songs on this album, and I’ll confess this just isn’t my style. What I thought was the best of the bunch is at the end of the post.
–Rickie Lee Jones, The Magazine (MP) “…a return to the kind of mean-street, juke-box world she created on Pirates, but with an important difference. The focus now is not on the denizens of some observed world, but on Rickie Lee Jones herself…” Picked up a cassette of this on the cheap about three years later. Absolutely adore “The Real End,” her last charting song (it peaked unjustly at #83 in October of 1984).

Other Disks Reviewed (* = featured review)
–Ashford and Simpson, Solid (CA) “…it is their best in a long time—and, considering their record, that’s high praise.”
–Philip Bailey, Chinese Wall (CA) “A little falsetto goes a long way with me, and I soon found my attention straying from the vocals to the back-up: faceless stuff that neither offends nor titillates.”
–Rosemary Clooney, The Music of Irving Berlin (CA) “…a graceful, articulate set that brings out the best in the ten Berlin tunes she caresses.”
–Culture Club, Waking Up with the House on Fire (MP) “…while it sports a somewhat richer, more elaborately arranged and polished quality, (it) lacks the strong songwriting and crisp energy of its predecessors.”
Electric Dreams soundtrack (MP) “This music is as false as the boy-girl-computer love triangle that’s the absurd premise of (the movie).”
Give My Regards to Broad Street soundtrack (SS) “To add insult to injury, (McCartney’s) remakes of Beatles tunes…have all the energy, conviction, and authority of a matinee performance of Beatlemania.”
–Al Jarreau, High Crime (PG) “The instrumentation is heavy on metallic synthesizer gimmicks and lean on melody, with no improvisation, and a raucous high-decibel wall of sound is hurled at the listener, so that most of the time Jarreau’s singing seems merely incidental.”
–*The Judds, Why Not Me (AN) “A singer of surprising maturity, (Wynonna) knows how to caress a sculptured melody, arouse a sleepy lyric, and belt one out when the need arises…one of the strongest country albums of the year.”
–Chaka Khan, I Feel for You (CA) “Kahn could be better presented, but (Arif) Mardin at least has her on the right track, especially in the title song…”
–The Kinks, Word of Mouth (SS) “It’s partially redeemed by Davies’s always inimitable singing but not by much else.”
–Anne Murray, Heart over Mind (PR) “Murray has chosen the broad mainstream of pop-vocal music as her performing arena, and within it she is one of its best practitioners.”
–REO Speedwagon, Wheels Are Turnin’ (MP) “REO Speedwagon is to rock what Southern Comfort is to drink—a little too sweet, a little too slick, a little too safe.”
–Romeo Void, Instincts (MP) “Instincts, a Stephen King novel on vinyl, comes as close to finding a musical voice for this macabre generation as any record in recent memory.”
–Sparks, Pulling Rabbits Out of a Hat (SS) “…the tick-tock rhythms and synthesizer textures sound a lot less interesting than they did in the early Seventies when the Maels invented them (to give these guys their due, they’ve been an enormous unacknowledged influence on a lot of the New Wave), and at times the cutesy-poo stuff gets a tad out of hand.”
–Richard Thompson, Small Town Romance and Strict Tempo (SS) “Miss either of these at your peril.”
–UB-40, Geffery Morgan (MP) “…surely the angriest expression of this politically and socially concerned band yet released in this country.”
–Wham!, Make It Big (SS) “…the music here has a certain insincerity to it that undercuts the charm they seem to be striving for. Not a bad album, mind you, but I’d stick with the singles.”
–XTC, The Big Express (SS) “Too often they’re so concerned with getting the right odd sounds, with fragmenting meter and line, and with being ‘surprising’ that the songs—the reason we’re listening, after all—get lost.”
–*Frank Zappa, Boulez Conducts Zappa: The Perfect Stranger and Them or Us (MP) “It may say less about Frank Zappa’s stature as a composer than about the state of modern music, but The Perfect Stranger is as inventive and intelligent a collection of contemporary chamber music as those of any currently active ‘serious’ composer…Them or Us is a vintage Zappa burlesque, a rude variety show during which the dirty old man casts his leering judgments over a rather predictable assortment of cultural icons and institutions…”

Video Reviews
Last year I looked at issues from February 1984 and August 1985, completely bypassing the fifteen-month period SR included a look at the burgeoning home video scene. Louis Meredith was brought on staff and contributed a few reviews each month, abetted by Albertson and Nash.
–Band Aid, Do They Know It’s Christmas? (LM) “This video is a straightforward documentary account of the recording sessions. The results, well intentioned as they may be, are only moderately entertaining. There’s an annoying air of self-congratulation about the whole business, reminiscent of what you used to see on the Jerry Lewis telethons…”
–Jefferson Starship, S/T (LM) “New depths of perfunctoriness are plumbed in the obligatory halfhearted rendering of the former classic ‘Somebody to Love,’ but even the band’s more recent material sounds, overall, either undernourished…or undernourished and petulant.”
–*Rock and Roll, The Early Days (LM) “Put together by some of the people who earlier gave us the Complete Beatles and Girl Groups videos, the program…gives you a real feeling for the sort of bolt-out-of-the-blue excitement that people experienced when rock-and-roll exploded the complacency of the Fifties.”
–The Rolling Stones, Video Rewind (LM) “Jet-set excess and middle age notwithstanding, this is a band not yet past its prime.”

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