Cultural Consumption: 3/6/24

Some short reviews of the records I crammed in my earholes today, plus other stuff

Cultural Consumption: 3/6/24
Bitchin' Camaro

Surprise! I will not be whining today about how I didn't have time to find any records worth digging into. The morning was actually very conducive to musical exploration — so much so that instead of only writing about one album, I've got a few I want to discuss.

First up is Love Crimes, the 1980 sophomore outing from Harlequin. I had never heard of these guys prior to today, but they're apparently Canadian rock royalty of a sort, at least if you're willing to expand the definition of "royalty" to include acts who've been enshrined in the Western Canadian Music Hall of Fame. This seems like an oddly specific Hall of Fame, but it's an achievement nonetheless.

Anyway, Harlequin has been around in one form or another since 1975, and although they never really went anywhere in the States, they probably deserved to — at least based on Love Crimes, which, although it certainly has its ups and downs, contains a couple of well above-average cuts that could have balanced some scales of karmic justice at rock radio by elbowing out inferior singles at any point in 1980. I'm thinking specifically of "Innocence," the leadoff track and the band's biggest hit, as well as "Wait for the Night," which is just as much fun for my money.

Also tons of fun is Phew!, the one and only solo album released by Claudia Lennear. If you've ever watched the documentary 20 Feet from Stardom, you'll know Claudia as one of the singers profiled in the film; if you haven't watched 20 Feet, well, I urge you to repent at the earliest opportunity, because it's an effortlessly engaging — and even poignant — watch for anyone who cares about music.

If you've never heard of Claudia Lennear, you've still probably heard her, because her voice has been featured on a bunch of records going back to the '60s — she was an Ikette, for starters, and an extremely prolific background singer for a wide array of acts after that. Phew! showcases her elastic vocal gifts, eclectic taste, and songwriting ability; it's also a tremendously entertaining listen from start to finish. Producer Ian Samwell did a terrific job of keeping things raw and gritty while still applying just enough polish to make everything safe for radio, and the list of players is a murderers' row of ringers, including Allen Toussaint, Jim Keltner, Spooner Oldham, and Ry Cooder. But the most important thing is the songs, which are just about uniformly great. (Bonus for classic rock gossip hounds: Allegedly, Lennear has said she wrote "Not At All" about her affair with Mick Jagger, who is said to have written "Brown Sugar" about the same thing.)

Last and least, we have Royal Flush by Terry Melcher, whose name will be familiar to Beach Boys fans and possibly no one else. My first brush with Melcher's musical gifts came through his co-write on "Kokomo," and the second came through his heavy participation as producer and frequent co-writer throughout the Beach Boys' godawful 1992 album Summer in Paradise; for these reasons, I have always regarded him as a person of suspect taste and minimal talent. (I'm not even going to get into the Manson Family stuff here.)

Time heals all wounds, however, and while writing yesterday's post, I discovered that Royal Flush is apparently adjacently responsible for the coining of the term "city pop" as used to describe a style of music. Suitably intrigued, and also suitably chastened about spending years deriding the man's artistic capabilities without ever actually listening to any of his solo stuff, I resolved to listen to Royal Flush.

Well, now I can say I did that. I can also say that the record sort of sucks — listening to it, you're reminded of the stories about Gram Parsons dismissing the Byrds' 1971 Byrdmaniax LP as "Melcher's Folly" due to the way Melcher, acting in his capacity as co-producer, larded it up with unnecessary overdubs when the band wasn't looking. Royal Flush feels like it might have been intended to be some sort of song cycle, except the story isn't interesting, the songs are generally pedestrian, and the production buries everything in oceans of gelatinous reverb. The overall effect is kind of like imagining what might have happened if Neil Young decided he wanted to pull a Chris Gaines in 1976, and adopted a slightly different (and even worse) singing voice in nominal service of some of his least inspired material. I do not know why I listened to all of this.

Watching: I'm into Season 2 of Northern Exposure, but today, I want to talk about my nighttime viewing, which I share with my wife and younger son. I'm currently leading them through The Bear, which I've already seen, and last night, we made our way up to the "Fishes" episode, which is one whopper of an hour of television even if it doesn't remind you of family holiday dinners to a sweat-inducingly uncomfortable degree. So hard to watch, and yet so, so good. And the best part is that watching "Fishes" last night means we get to watch "Forks" tonight — and that's one of the most emotionally rewarding chunks of TV I can remember ingesting over the last few years. Very much looking forward to taking it in all over again.

Reading: Still making my way through The Complete Stories by Flannery O'Connor. Hoping to finish it in time to start a very highly anticipated book on my flight to or from the West Coast on 3/10 and/or 3/16.