Monthly Archives: February 2017

My brother’s albums: INXS, Kick

[INXS - Kick]

At times, the Sibling Rivalry Collection Race waded into some murky waters.

The rule was simple: the first person to buy an album from an artist had a monopoly on that artist, and other siblings could not encroach on that monopoly.

The rule was very clear about albums. Singles, however, usually threw wrenches in jurisdictional claims.

Kick by INXS could have tuned into a civil lawsuit between my brother and me.

Back in 1985, INXS release Listen Like Thieves, which spawned the catchy single “What You Need”. I bought that single after watching the video numerous times on Betamax-recorded episodes of Friday Night Videos. I did not end up buying the album.

A TV appearance by INXS in 1987 premiered the band’s then-new single, “Need You Tonight.” My brother liked it. I thought it wasn’t as good as “What You Need”.

But he liked it enough to buy the album. Technically, that meant INXS became his jurisdiction.

And boy did that rankle my feathers, especially when it turned out the rest of the album was better than “Need You Tonight”. I felt that because I had already established a claim with “What You Need”, I ought to have had first dibs on Kick. My brother pointed out that I was ambivalent about “Need You Tonight”, which could be interpreted as relinquishing that claim.

(Don’t get me wrong about “Need You Tonight” — I eventually grew to like the song, mostly because “Mediate” segued right into it.)

Of course, bratty kids that we were, we didn’t want to share. I don’t remember now how I got my hands on a dubbed copy of the album. He may have relented to making a dub, or I may have borrowed it from a friend. I got my hands on it, despite the rule.

Kick would eventually become ubiquitous, and the radio exposure coupled with my own spins eventually made me grow tired of the album. “Never Tear Us Apart” wasn’t a great single, but it seemed to be the song played to death.

By the time I embarked on building out my own collection, Kick managed to get left behind. For a time, I owned a greatest hits compilation but that too got lost in a cash-strapped purge.

Oddly enough, Kick returned to my collection only after I used the streaming services to listen to its predecessor, Listen Like ThievesKick is definitely the stronger album, but Listen Like Thieves is no slouch. It was the much-needed warm-up before the breakout.

It’s probably been 19 years since I listened to Kick, and it was strange to discover how familiar it all felt. That pretty much meant I had really internalized the album, even though I hadn’t owned it till now.

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Vinyl find: Love and Money, Strange Kind of Love

[Love and Money - Strange Kind of Love]

Here’s how it worked when I was growing up.

You heard a song on the radio. If you liked it, you bought the single. You heard more songs by the same artist. If you liked those songs as well, you bought the album.

What happens, then, when you stop listening to the radio? Easy — keep buying singles without hearing the song!

That’s how I encountered Love and Money. I was browsing the singles section of Tower Records, looking for something that might scratch my itch for non-American bands. The single to “Hallelujah Man” had a decent enough sleeve, and a name like Love and Money didn’t scream hair metal or radio pop.

So I bought it. I liked what I heard, but I wasn’t entirely convinced to sink a week and a half’s allowance on a full album. No other singles were released from the album in the US.

It would be another 28 years before I encountered Love and Money again. The album from which “Hallelujah Man” was taken, titled Strange Kind of Love, was sitting in a bin at the Lifelong Thrift Shop for $1. I spent that much on the single.

After an initial listen, I was intrigued by the band’s mix of British white soul and post-punk, as if the missing link between Johnny Hates Jazz and the Smiths were somehow unearthed. Another few spins made me seek out a CD.

“Hallelujah Man” was a decent enough single, but the title track and “Jocelyn Square” performed better on the UK charts for good reason. “Up Escalator” imagines what ABC would sound like with harder guitars and no horns, while the last vestiges of post-punk drive the adult contemporary cool of “Avalanche”. James Grant’s smooth voice could make him the captain of your heart.

Love and Money arrived a bit too late to capitalize on the revived British invasion early in the ’80s, and the light jazz radio format that emerged in the latter part of the decade flared out before it could do any good for the band.

So Love and Money remained a somewhat successful act on the other side of the ocean. I’m surprised someone had actually owned a copy of Strange Kind of Love to end up donating to the thrift store.

In 1988, the Sugarcubes, Kronos Quartet, Living Colour and In Tua Nua vied for my attention. Still, I’m a little disappointed in my youthful self for not following up on that blind single purchase. I think I would have liked the album, and it could have very well endured a number of collection purges to persist to this day.

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In pursuit of George Michael

[George Michael - Faith]

George Michael has had a confounding influence on my life.

I remember watching videos for “Careless Whisper” and “I Want Your Sex” and recognizing that, yes, I find him desirable. But I was at an age where I didn’t know what desire was, and in an age where that kind of desire would imperil my life.

When his arrest forced him out of the closet in 1998, I was surprised on the level of “How the hell did I not pick up he was gay?” It was the kind of realization that put the past in perspective — of course, I found him desirable! He was signaling all this time!

But my brother called dibs on George Michael in our Sibling Rivalry Collection Race. At first, we were competing over who would get Make It Big by Wham! till radio played all the singles to death and gave neither of us much incentive.

My brother scooped up Faith, but Michael’s popularity was so ubiquitous, I became ambivalent. “Kissing a Fool” was great the first few times. Hearing every five minutes for weeks on end failed to entertain.

When Michael released Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1, I was on my way to exploring music further outside the mainstream. The revelation of his sexuality wasn’t enough for me to become a fan, but I did pay attention when he created new music.

Three decades had to pass before I was receptive to examining his music. That ubiquitousness gives Faith a familiarity that feels comfortable. The non-single tracks don’t stand out as much.

Listen Without Prejudice got a lukewarm reception in the US, but it’s the album that shows a lot more maturity and craft. It’s not the hookfest of Make It Big or Faith, but it has a lot more heart and a greater sense of adventure.

It also demonstrated how far Michael had come since Make It Big. The optimism of Wham!’s second album captures the early half of the ’80s well, but it also sealed its fate as a sonic time capsule.

George Michael’s passing epitomizes that Joni Mitchell lyric: “You don’t know what you got till it’s gone.” In my case, it’s literal. It took his death for me to overcome an ambivalence formed at a time when other’s people opinions mattered.

 

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