1999 Records To Die For Page 10
TOM WAITS: The Heart of Saturday Night
Asylum 1015-2 (CD). 1974. Bones Howe, prod., eng. AAD. TT: 41:27
Tom Waits' second album is a deeply romantic work full of vividly poetic images, drawn in minute detail, of life in the hard lane. It's been too easily described as a Beat Generation takeoff, though it's understandable how that dismissal can be made—Waits' affection and admiration for Bukowski and Kerouac are well documented, and they resonate here. But there's so much more than nostalgia happening on The Heart of Saturday Night. Waits creates song-stories out of elements of jazz, folk, and blues that transport you to his world of barroom loves and regrets, and, more important, take you back to your own good and bad memories, still glowing and burning.
The cult status of this poet makes it difficult for many to separate his music from the legend. Listen again and rediscover why the fiction isn't nearly as interesting as his Heart.
T. REX: Electric Warrior
Reprise 6466-2 (CD). 1971. Tony Visconti, prod.; Rik Pekkonen, Malcom Cecil, Roy T. Baker, Martin Rushert, engs. AAD. TT: 39:31
Marc Bolan wrote two songs in his life. There's the swirling, hypnotically repetitious glam-groove full of whispered, nonsensical lyrics about stars, waves, wind, love, flower children, waves of stars, flower children in love with the wind, and so on. The other is glittering bop driven by stuttering, sugary guitar riffs, handclaps, and lyrics copped from the other song. Fortunately, both of Bolan's numbers were glam dreams come true, as was the angel-faced frontman of T. Rex himself. The two songs are repeated—with slight variations—over and over here, to an excess only those with no musical shame can indulge in.
On Electric Warrior and everything else he ever did, Bolan fashioned music about fashion more than anything else. Shallow? Sure. Pretentious? No doubt. But no one else—not Bowie or the Dolls or anyone—delivered glam with such addictive hooks (if only two), or the radiant decadence that was Bolan. T. Rex's sole US hit, "Bang a Gong (Get It On)"—one of the glitter-bops—is here, but it's outshone by "Jeepster." Best of the slinky grooves: "Planet Queen" and "Girl."
Glitterhouse GRCD 363 (German CD). 1995. Rainer Ptacek, prod.; Clif Eagar, eng. ADD? TT: 49:52
Something profoundly mystical inhabits this disc, its otherworldly nature indelibly etched by the '97 passing of Tucson slide guitar virtuoso Rainer Ptacek. Much of Nocturnes was recorded in a house of worship, and mostly comprises stark, contemplative instrumentals (performed on a vintage National Steel) more akin to some of John Fahey's darker compositions than the jagged, visceral electric blues that earned Rainer the comradeship of such notables as Robert Plant and Billy Gibbons. A cover of the Beatles' "Within You Without You" has a shimmering, ghostlike quality, while an ambient collaboration with Britain's The Grid, "Nod to N2O," utilizes electronic pulses, echoey string samples, and deep-mix textures to protectively cocoon Rainer's eerie, twanging riffs. What resonates throughout is an emotional pungency that's as rich as the sound quality is pristinely intimate—and the knowledge that great art offers its creators genuine immortality.
NEIL YOUNG & CRAZY HORSE: Sleeps with Angels
Reprise 45749-2 (CD). 1994. David Briggs, Neil Young, prods.; John Hanlon, eng. AAD. TT: 62:48
All relationships extract their prices; so it is with a recording that confronts you squarely with the uncertainties of life and the certainty of death. Consider any music that comes to you at your darkest hour offering solace, but that also promises, via association, to revisit the pain in the future. Do you turn away from the music? Hardly.
This album conjures many ghosts, from the title track's unflinching meditation on Kurt Cobain's suicide to the random urban tragedies of "Driveby" to the self-destructive young lovers of "Blue Eden." As dark and brutal as SWA appears, however, the music exerts a hypnotic calming effect, even on a 15-minute, full-on electric jam like "Change Your Mind," indicating that part of Young's artistry lies in his skill as a tightrope walker. "Grow older with me," he seems to suggest, "and together, we'll keep our balance."
Technical note: My copy is PRO-CD-7136, a remastered/remixed radio promo that's significantly "hotter" and more immediate-sounding than its commercially issued counterpart, Reprise 45749-2. (XVII-11)
Thomas J. Norton
TITANIC: Original Soundtrack by James Horner
Sony Classical/Sony Music Soundtrax SK 63213 (CD). 1997. James Horner, prod.; Shawn Murphy, eng. AAD? TT: 72:31
Granted, if you hear Celine Dion's end-title song from Titanic once again, you'll probably run screaming from the room. Overexposure has rendered an otherwise good song (and beautiful melody) about as welcome as a certain little number from Whitney Houston a few years back. But Dion's song is only one cut on this otherwise stunning album of James Horner's Academy Award-winning score. And unless you're one of the small legion of Horner haters (they are out there), you have to admit that his score deserved all the popularity and awards it garnered. Just as important, the incredible sales of this album exposed millions of listeners to full-blooded orchestral music—something that undoubtedly was foreign to many of them—and thus performed a greater service than the inept "music appreciation" courses that have long since disappeared from most of our schools.
While those listeners may not have appreciated it, they also heard what was certainly one of the best-recorded orchestral albums of the year. Sumptuously engineered by Shawn Murphy, Titanic is a prime example of his recording style: clean, atmospheric, deeply three-dimensional, with ear-opening bass. It's a worthy follow-up to his other collaborations with Horner (not to mention John Williams), including Glory, a long-time audiophile favorite just reissued by Classic Records as a 24/96 DAD. (XXI-5)
KUNDUN: Original Soundtrack by Philip Glass
Nonesuch 79460-2 (CD). 1997. Kurt Munkacsi, prod.; Martin Czembor, eng. AAD? TT: 60.25
Composer Philip Glass's score for Kundun is fascinating. While heavily weighted toward the symphony orchestra, it blends in traditional Tibetan instruments, chanting monks, and a wide variety of other effects. Each contributes significantly to director Martin Scorsese's episodic biography of the Dalai Lama, which covers the period from his childhood to his escape to India following China's conquest and occupation of Tibet. In the context of the film, the score for Kundun fits perfectly, though it is definitely a prominent part of the overall mix. (Some critics and filmgoers prefer film music to be less overt.) Heard alone, it takes some getting used to. Glass is not the easiest composer to appreciate—his rambling, free-form style prompted one reviewer to comment on Kundun's "you are getting sleepy" score. Love or hate Glass, no one can deny the distinctiveness of his style.
This is an excellent recording: sweet yet detailed, with a solid soundstage and outstanding bass. The only shortcomings are a slightly closed-in feeling at the top and a rather foreshortened, two-dimensional perspective on the orchestra. Kundun is harder to appreciate musically than Titanic, and I would not put the recording on the same level. But it is, in many ways, the more creative work.