Land and Rockets
Alt-rock icons live and reissued
Land. As in, a body of? Or is it the act of landing? Or Land, as in the first-ever selected overview of Patti Smith's musical output. It's just like Smith to pick a word with an open meaning, and it lends itself to the question: What is a good landing point for a body of work as dense, expansive and earthy as Smith's? Should the first track be "Because the Night," her collaboration with Bruce Springsteen and only legitimate Billboard hit? Should it be "Gloria" or "Rock 'n' Roll Nigger," certainly among her most anticipated concert highlights?
It's hard to determine, because Smith — along with her longtime co-conspirator, guitarist Lenny Kaye — has always been more about movement than any one movement. Free-associate her with proto-punk or garage rock revivalism all you like, but Smith's truest long-term musical relationship has been with Arista Records, her label for 27 years.
With the just-released two-disc Land (1975-2002), Smith fulfills her contract with Arista. But well before the fond farewells of her "hidden" a cappella rendition of Annie's "Tomorrow" on disc two, Land surveys the territory Smith and company have covered over the years — though it's not the smoothest of rides. Skipping back and forth between raw poetry and slickly produced songs from Smith's eight albums (singles and album cuts culled with help from fans), disc one serves as a jumpy primer of the artist's prose and poise.
It's with disc two — a collection of rare and live tracks — that Smith strips off the guise of composed laureate and tears into the kind of idiosyncratic material hardcore fans have come to expect. Smith's entire career has been a collision course — beat poetry banging up against the beat, definition falling prey to meaning, feeling straining against form. A fighter by nature, Smith's compilation showcases some of the finest blows she's delivered — make that Landed.
No less cantankerous, Richard Hell also has become the subject of the retrospective treatment with the release of the two-disc Time (Matador). Comprised of the early-'80s ROIR cassette-only collection R.I.P., along with bonus tracks and live concerts from London and CBGB's circa 1977, Time showcases some of Hell's most highly regarded material.
Though Hell — who, at one point, played in both Television and the Heartbreakers before founding the Voidoids — released little material, he had a huge impact. He was even an unintentional fashion plate, his ripped clothes inspiring Sex Pistols svengali Malcolm McLaren.
Time should appeal less to the casual listener than to those who most appreciate those aforementioned contributions. To call the bulk of the recordings raw is a compliment, and Hell's signature tune, "Blank Generation," is only available in a blistering live rendition. But Time does its best to capture this nihilistic, tensely wound slam poet slashing through pretensions with primitive abandon — like a man before his Time.
Patti Smith plays the Echo Lounge Thurs., April 11, and the Atlanta Civic Center Fri., April 12.
When Love and Rockets' Daniel Ash and David J played Atlanta on the same night last week, they performed on different stages with different musicians in venues miles apart. Although both were aware that their current tours crisscrossed in some cities, April 5 was the only date when they were in the same town simultaneously. Yet there would be no Love and Rockets reunion, forcing fans to support one or the other.
But the faithful can find consolation in recent reissues of Love and Rockets' earliest work. The group's first three out-of-print albums have received a long-overdue refurbishing, complete with extra tracks, snazzy booklets and astonishingly clean remastered sound.
Emerging from the gloom-and-doom ashes of the goth institution Bauhaus, singer/songwriter/keyboardists J and Ash, along with drummer Kevin Haskins, transformed the glam/psychedelic influences of T.Rex, Syd Barrett and Sgt. Pepper-era Beatles into a churning mid-'80s Brit head-trip. Although their first single, a funky reworking of the Temptations' "Ball of Confusion," was aimed at the fertile club scene, Love and Rockets' 1985 debut, Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven, was an introspective, self-absorbed introduction that teetered on the brink of pretentiousness. The appropriately titled, eight-minute "Haunted When the Minutes Drag" best exemplifies the band's brooding, atmospheric approach, which combines dreamy melodies with acoustic guitars, droning vocals and percussive keyboards for an intoxicating incense-and-peppermints brew that sounds amusingly — but not embarrassingly — dated.
The reissue adds six singles and various remixes, expanding the album to almost twice its original length. While three versions of "If There's a Heaven Above" seems excessive and superfluous, rare pictures and snappy liner notes (which include interviews with J and Ash) make this a definitive snapshot of the band's nascent days.
With 1986's confident and commercially viable Express, the band streamlined its vision, adding Jesus and Mary Chain guitar noise and tightening the aural noose. The result is a sonically rich, swirling blend that explodes in the amazing "Kundalini Express," arguably their most fully realized piece. Silly title notwithstanding, "Yin and Yang (The Flowerpot Men)" is the best song Marc Bolin never wrote, and Haskins' locomotive drums infuse urgency to an album bursting with a day-glo psychedelic sound.
Express remains a classic of the period and, in retrospect, of the group's career. The reissue tacks on seven bonus tracks, including a definitive version of Barrett's spooky yet driving "Lucifer Sam."
By the time of 1987's Earth Sun Moon — Love and Rockets' third album in as many years — Ash and J were writing lyrics separately, the songs and production were muddy and their once-vibrant sound lacked focus and flash. The reissue adds an unnecessary slow mix of "Mirror People." And while tracks like "No New Tale to Tell," the morose "Mirror People" and the Peter Gabriel-ish "Waiting for the Flood" are moderately impressive, the group sounds like it was running out of creative gas. After a disappointing 1989 follow-up, Love and Rockets took a much-needed five-year breather.??