KRISTIAN HOFFMAN

&

(Eggbert)

Are you ready for the Beach Shop Boys?

While songwriter/keyboardist Hoffman may be remembered in most quarters as playing Ed McMahon

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CD Reviews

KRISTIAN HOFFMAN

&

(Eggbert)

Are you ready for the Beach Shop Boys?

While songwriter/keyboardist Hoffman may be remembered in most quarters as playing Ed McMahon to flamboyant out/proud singer Lance Loud's Johnny Carson in '70s pop anarchists the Mumps, over the years he's worked with a slew of famous faces. Here he rings up some of those pals for 17 tunes with decidedly delightful over-the-top results. Right from the git-go, on tumescent power- popper "Devil May Care," Hoffman and legendary Sparks castrato Russell Mael are on the prowl for sleaze 'n' succor. (The pairing's all the more inspired when you realize that erstwhile Sparks member Earle Mankey is handling production chores on the album.) The tragic romantic ballad "Scarecrow," part piano ballad and part show tune, finds H. and Rufus Wainwright gazing misty-eyed at the stars and clicking their stiletto heels together three times: Oh, don't you just know they wish they were at home, tucked in nice and safe by Auntie Em and Papa Loudon III! And the steamy team ups just keep coming, including memorable ones with Maria McKee, Ann Magnuson, Lydia Lunch, El Vez, Michael Quercio, and Redd Kross' Steve McDonald. But interestingly, the standout track, "Revert to Type," finds Hoffman taking center stage. Backed by Brian Wilson's old collaborator Van Dyke Parks' lush-life string/horn arrangements, he croons, warbles, and emotes in a swooping falsetto worthy of Freddie Mercury, with just enough hint of Neil Tennant nancing about in the wings to suggest that the band name Beach Shop Boys has potential. All this and a spoken-word cameo from Pee-Wee Herman? Just smashing, dah-link! FRED MILLS

THE STRANGLERS

Rare, Live, and Unreleased 1974-1976

(Sanctuary/Castle)

Sex Pistols peers release crappy recordings and expose a dirty underbelly of pop.

The opening scene of the movie Sexy Beast (go rent it) features the Stranglers' 1977 ode to strolling on beaches, "Peaches." As brilliantly as the song works in the film, the bulk of the Stranglers' tunes never really worked that well for the band—at least not here in the States and not where most women of their era were concerned. Tagged early on as aggressive, misogynist punks, the Stranglers played a keyboard-heavy variety of dude rock that appealed to the U.K.'s bad boy set while pissing off plenty of feminists. Songs like the aforementioned "Peaches" have the psychedelic swagger of a tough Doors tune, but the lyrics, which describe a leering beachcomber, eventually got the track banned from the BBC. Songs like "Peasant in the Big Shitty" and "Down in the Sewer" maintain a Jefferson Airplane-like psych rock, acid-trip vibe, while the new wave and saloon-style keys of other tracks are evidence that a better-behaved version of the Stranglers might never have been classified as punk in the first place. Although the first songs here—a batch of 1976 demos, including the Clash-lite opener "Grip" (which became "Get a Grip") and "Go Buddy Go," a garage rock/circus tent Animals piano number—can be forgiven for their rudimentary hiss, the 10 or so live tracks sound like they were recorded in your grandfather's bathtub. Those seeking an introductory or best-of collection would be wise to look elsewhere. LAURA CASSIDY

MARK OLSON AND THE CREEKDIPPERS

December's Child

(Dualtone)

Another fine eclectic outing from ex-Jayhawk.

Mark Olson's post- Jayhawks project sometimes resembles a No Depression dream date, a cross between Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue and Tucson's Giant Sand, its lineup expanding, contracting, and swapping instruments at will. On occasion, the Creekdippers (a.k.a. the Original Harmony Ridge Creekdippers) have consisted solely of Olson and Victoria Williams, an inspired musical (and legal) marriage marked by Olson's trembly warble, Williams' insouciant little-girl chirp, and a healthy appreciation for all things stringed and acoustic. Throughout, though, the musical vision has remained consistently, delightfully, and maddeningly eclectic.

This album's high points include "Say You'll Be Mine," which finds Olson's old Jayhawks pal, Gary Louris, harmonizing sweetly atop a banjo/pedal steel melody nicked subtly from "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue"; "Back to the Old Home Place," an endearingly odd, Randy Newman-esque pop waltz; and the title track, a kind of low-key cosmic-country hoedown featuring an improbable house-of-cards vocal from Olson and a blend of quirky sounds, from Michael Russell's sweet fiddle to Williams' wah-wah banjo to Danny Frankel's tingly percussion, giving the tune its psychedelic patina. But the Creekdippers, in the final estimation, resist being shoehorned into a genre or style by virtue of their collective wide-eyed-and-innocent vibe. One minute, they're an alt-Americana group as focused as The Band; the next, an underrehearsed traveling Salvation Army band; the next, a veddy-proper chamber outfit trying its hand at bluegrass. And not being able to forecast which hat Olson and co. will be wearing at any given point is half the fun. FRED MILLS

 
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