Friday, February 08, 2013

The Spirit is Willing But the Flesh is...(An Occasional Series)

Saw this interesting quote (from the Village Voice Critics poll in 1987) over at the newly active The guy flapping his gums is Chicago indie rock eminence grise Steve Albini.

"“I am of the belief that there are two distinct schools of rock journalists: (1) those for whom punk rock was the most important thing that ever happened, and, (2) everybody else (who, for lack of a better collective noun, I will call ‘shitheads’). Shitheads write about whatever is presented to them, non-judgmentally treating all styles of music as equals, distinguished from each other only by superficial stylistic elements. From the shithead school comes the deification of hip hop, AM radio floss, salsa, zydeco, blues and jazz artists, who ought really to be judged against either the entire spectrum of popular culture (against which their insignificance becomes obvious) or other practitioners of specific-genre music (against whom their minute differences might be measured).”

To which I think we can all say -- wow. Behold the perils of being one of the several billion people in the world with less integrity and principles than Albini.

Seriously, I wrote about the guy (who hadn't yet fucked up Nirvana's followup to Nevermind when he made the comment above) in these precincts in 2010, and at the time I allowed how I thought he was a talented guy if something of a large asshole, in part because he thought it was funny to name one of his side project bands Rapeman. (Yeah, I'm aware he got if from a Japanese manga and thus it's like, you know, cool and ironic. Fuck him.)

Anyway, it also occurred to me at the time that the most important reason I think Albini's an asshole is because of what he did, wearing his "I am not a record producer" hat, to The Fleshtones' "Let's Go," the should have been a huge hit first track from what should have been that band's commercial breakthrough album Laboratory of Sound from 1995.

Seriously, this is one of the absolutely greatest rock songs and performances ever -- the right three chords, those strategically placed yelps of the title acting as a terrific hook throughout, the atomic energy level (that "The hell with radiation!" movie sample at the beginning is doubly appropriate) and perhaps the funniest and most bordering on genius lyrics about the appeal of cheap thrills/transcendence in the history of the music.

Let's get gone
Get completely fucked
Let's go crazy on angel dust
Let's go -- let's get out of here!
Let's get drunk
Let's get in a fight
Let's get into something really wrong -- that's right!
And let's get out of here!
Doesn't get better than that, frankly. And yet you listen to the version that Albini "produced" and it sounds like every crappy teenage garage band that ever taped itself on an old Wollensak in their parents finished basement in 1965. Seriously -- I weep when I hear this; it's still thrilling, obviously, but when I think of how good it could have been if somebody not Albini (or an asshole) had been in charge of the recording it's enough to make you want to go to Chicago and smack the little twit upside the head.

Oh well, Could have would have yada yada.



Who Am Us Anyway? said...

Every once in a while I remind myself that whatever else has gone wrong, at least I have not (yet) gotten on Simels's shit list -- and this is one of those times :-)

Anonymous said...

it sounds like every crappy teenage garage band that ever taped itself on an old Wollensak in their parents finished basement in 1965.

Maybe that was the point. It was worth trying. You could imagine it produced in the manner of the Romantics "What I like About You". Or maybe a little more Cheap Trick-y. But I think you're frustration is with the song itself. It starts out great but really doesn't hold up till the end. Better production might have helped. But they needed something big to kick in about halfway through and carry the listener to the end.

buzzbabyjesus said...

Albini is an annoying absolutist to be sure, but he goes for a punchy, live, dry sound, which is hard to argue with. I think this Fleshtones tune sounds great, but I would have mixed the background vocals up, and maybe dropped the guitar back a bit.

steve simels said...

The bands you mention (Big Star, Raspberries, Flamin’ Groovies, Cheap Trick, Dwight Twilley, Shoes, dB’s, Matthew Sweet, Posies) are utterly unrelated. I can tolerate some of them, love the Flamin’ Groovies and Cheap Trick and have a profound hatred of the rest. I cannot bring myself to use the term “power pop.” Catchy, mock-descriptive terms are for dilettantes and journalists. I guess you could say I think this music is for pussies and should be stopped."

Fuck him. He's a complete jerk.

As for his technical prowess behind the board, as somebody said -- For a flat fee, he'll make your band sound like a demo tape made in a huge warehouse!

cthulhu said...

As much as I like his essay about the music business, he definitely appears to knock the top off of the jerkometer. And I'm sure I'd hate to hear what he would say about the Who...

Speaking of the Who (we were? well, we are now!), can't resist inventing the opportunity to give a mini-review of the San Diego show on 2/5. It almost didn't happen: Zak Starkey got sick, or injured himself, or something, and less that 24 hrs before the show, the band had no drummer. They tapped SoCal drummer Scott Devours, who had played on one of Daltrey's tours a few years ago; he came down to SD the day of the show, did a 2-hr run-through of the Quadrophenia portion of the show, and they went live a few hours later. Summary: marvelous! I am now a born-again Quadrophenia fan. Yeah, I know it's not really the Who without Moon and Entwistle, and there's the whole existential thing about geezers past retirement age playing young-man's-music, but holy shit, the passion and verve with which the two principles played was inspiring, the overall musicianship was terrific, the sound was great...just a terrific experience.

At the end of the Quadrophenia set, Townshend introduce everybody, praised Devours for "coming in like the 7th fuckin' calvary and saving us!", then informed everybody that Scott hadn't practiced the remainder of the show; but, in Pete's words, "everybody knows this shit!!!" And he did. And they did. I was still floating around with a smile on my face for a couple of days after...

Who Am Us Anyway? said...

Steve, what do you think of otherwise? I've never been there before this post ... their concept "all aspects of writing about popular music" sounds cool to me, albeit nerdy-cool, but ...

steve simels said...


I've got tickets to see the Who at a 3000 seat venue in a couple of weeks.

The last time I saw them any place smaller than a hockey rink was 1968.

steve simels said...

Who Am Us:

That rock critic's site is a great reference/research archive, that's for sure.

cthulhu said...

Steve - I'm totally envious!! Will be very interested to hear your take on the show. Both previous times I saw the Who were on the floor of a football stadium (1982 and 1989; the only opportunity I ever had to see them with the original lineup would have been about 1976, and as a callow 14-year-old I was just barely starting to get interested in rock 'n roll).

Of course, I did get to see Townshend perform an acoustic solo show in a 400 seat theater in 2001...definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience :-)

buzzbabyjesus said...

Slight return to original topic, no disrespect to the 'OO.

I meant to share this yesterday, but was having modem problems.

I'm not an Albini apologist, I think he's a dick and would never want to work with him, but he gets results sometimes in spite of Steve's low opinion of the Fleshtones "production".

Speaking of Cheap Trick, I loved their first album, which I got at my college radio station, where I screened records for possible broadcast.

I was very disappointed by "In Color". I hated the "POP" sheen, although I recognize it was intended to attract a bigger audience. The rockers I'd seen live didn't.

Interestingly they revisited the album with Albini in 1997, and although it has never been released, thanks to the blogosphere, it's not hard to obtain.

While it's not a better Pop album, the sound is much truer to the band.

Here's a link to "Downed":


Anonymous said...

agree on first Cheap Trick LP.

If it was a 500-copies-pressed record on their own label and they never did anything else it would be one of those holy grail type "collectors'" records.

steve simels said...


I've been meaning to check out that Albini remake of In Color for ages -- thanks for the link.

I plan to give it a serious listen on the morrow....

Dave said...


Albini is a complete asshole. It's OK to be a provocateur if you have something interesting to say. Albini couldn't be more banal or predictable.

Here's the crux of the problem as it appears to me. Music is the way many kids, especially boys, project their personality and establish an image. When you haven't had the chance to actually DO anything, your taste is one of the only ways to make a mark.

It's a generalization, but I think it's safe to say that the majority of musicians (and music critics, I daresay) were not BIg Men or Women on Campus in school, and one way to make a mark is to shun elements of what made you a wuss in your former identity. Macho is good; soft is bad. Essentially, this is Albini's shtick. Within any rock genre, it's prestigious to be hard, unhip to be soft. Punk >power pop. It will be ever thus. But some of us grow up after high school and lose this bullshit.

Last night, I went to Loser's Lounge at Joe's Pub, where there was a mock "battle" between James Taylor and Cat Stevens. Actually, the night made a good case for Cat Stevens as a songwriter, and the selections were skewed toward his best work. He easily beat James Taylor among the crowd, despite a few of his clunkers.

So even in a battle of the white wimps, James Taylor can't win. Maybe if you have James Taylor "battle" Al Stewart, Taylor could win that.

As long as musical taste projects status rather than aesthetics, you'll always have assholes like Albini. I like happen to like James Taylor and the Fleshtones, and some of Albini's own music (which I tend to like more than his productions). But I daresay in twenty years, a random person is more likely to be listening to "Something in the Way She Moves" to than "Bad Penny."

steve simels said...

You are a wise man.

buzzbabyjesus said...


Willard has it.

steve simels said...


Ah. Of course. Didn't realize yours was just one song.

buzzbabyjesus said...

I thought that was a good place to start.

Anonymous said...

Cthulhu, if the Who invented the fucking music, it ain't "young men's" music. They can play it until they drop, afaic.

The show later this month isn't Quadrophenia ... They are on the same bill with Elvis Costello. It's a charity event. Should be interesting.

Had tix for Quadrophenia a couple of months ago, but was hobbled with a bad hip and was walking with a cane. Decided we didn't want to go to a show of a band who sang the words "Hope I die before I get old" .... Somehow it just wouldn't have worked. :-)

sigmasix said...

You know? I saw Big Black in the spring of 1986 at a small basement venue in muncie Indiana called the No Bar and Grill. Albini threw a brick of firecrackers into the slam dancing crowd. The place was a TINY basement club with a capacity of 50, and there was 150 there that night. I was up front, right next to Albini all night- back then us "punkers" didn't do stages so the band was right there on the floor with the fans/poguers and slam dancers. I bitched at Albini and told him I couldn't see anything, as my eyes were running uncontrollably from the acrid smoke (his were too) and he called me an asshole, over the PA- in front of the whole club. Turns out Big Black recorded the concert and released it as a limited edition live LP called "Sound Of Impact"- I believe the incident is around song 10 or so, not sure. I can clearly be heard to scream out that "I can't see, I can't see!" and Albini replies with an insipid comment something like "There are some people that can't breath, Asshole!".
I have all of his big black albums and the Rapeman stuff, which has a masterful cover of Stones "Just Got Paid" that rules.
Albini also produced an entire album's worth of material by a band that I used to love to watch called Modern Vending- those recordings never saw the light of day.
Albini as a person has never done anything to convince me he is anything other than a total dick.

sigmasix said...

There is a video of the show as well. Dimly lit by one light bulb.
The No Bar and Grill was the coolest little music venue I've ever seen. It was situated right next to the heart of the Ball State Campus and it had a scene all it's own. Sadly it has long ago disappeared- It only lasted 5 or 6 years- But it was the center of an incredible scene.