Malibu – Robo Sapiens

Malibu - Robo SapiensEver since I heard the TV Eyes album a few years ago, I’ve been pining for more from that particular side project. Given that it’s a side project for Jellyfish alumni Roger Joseph Manning Jr. and Jason Falkner, and Manning’s occasional collaborator Brian Reitzell, it’s a given that it might be a while before we hear these busy musicians reform TV Eyes. Little did I know that Manning and his cohorts basically followed up on that album under a different name, only a year later!

Malibu is a pseudonym for Manning, and Robo Sapiens is Malibu’s debut album of heavily-’80s-influenced dance pop. This isn’t normally a genre I’d spend too much time with, but as with TV Eyes, Manning’s own leanings make sure that the ’80s influence is worn on Malibu’s sleeve for all to see. The opening track, “Yesteryear”, kicks in with arpeggiating keyboards and echoplexed guitar licks courtesy of Jason Falkner, and the retro synths are the real deal, restored for these sessions. It sounds like it should be the background music for a kick-ass TV sports montage.

Other highlights include “Rubber Tubes”, “German Oil” and “Parisian Nights”, latter of which takes a very circa-1980 sound and then flirts with chiptunes in the same track; there are quite a few songs with lyrics here, but almost all of the lyrics are processed through a vocoder or some other means of creating a robotic sound. The best example of this is “Please Don’t Go”, though there are plenty of others. For those looking for a solid TV Eyes connection, there’s an extended version of “She Gets Around” here, which fits in perfectly with the sound of the rest of the album.

3 out of 4Now that we know that these boys aren’t averse to revisiting the ’80s just for the pure musical fun of it, I all but demand a repeat engagement – whether as TV Eyes or as Malibu. Manning and friends have managed to distill all that was cool about ’80s music into two very cool projects. Let’s go for the trifecta.

Order this CD

  1. Yesterday (5:34)
  2. The Bounce (6:19)
  3. German Oil (6:18)
  4. Sidekicks (7:12)
  5. She Gets Around (6:21)
  6. Rubber Tubes (5:33)
  7. Parisian Nights (5:09)
  8. Animal Lovin’ Ken (6:11)
  9. Time To Time (5:05)
  10. D.I.E.T. (6:31)
  11. Please Don’t Go (4:20)

Released by: Expansion Team
Release date: 2007
Total running time: 64:33

Roger Joseph Manning Jr. – Catnip Dynamite

Roger Joseph Manning Jr. - Catnip DynamiteWhen I listened to former Jellyfish frontman Roger Manning’s debut solo album, Land Of Pure Imagination, a couple of years ago, I was impressed with his amazing studio technique, his harmonies and performances, but not so much with the songs. I’d almost swear the man read my mind, because his new album puts those worries to rest with a solid string of songs that are just freaking fantastic. Fans of melodic, hooky ’70s power pop with great harmony will find this album’s title incredibly appropriate. To narrow it down a bit – if you like Cheap Trick, you’re going to love this.

The album opens up with “The Quickening”, an anthemic ’70s style rocker with a foot-stomping Gary Glitter-style beat. As cheerful as it is musically, its lyrics bemoan the impatience of youth and the unstoppable, unslowable roller coaster ride of growing older. The vocal harmonies are an awesome wall of sound here, and those who like this song will also get a kick out of “Down In Front” a couple of tracks later. In between is the deceptively cheerful “Love’s Never Half As Good”, a pleasant song that calls to mind a certain breed of well-written, workmanlike ’70s ballad. The description might also apply to “My Girl”, though I find myself liking “Love’s Never Half As Good” much better.

“Imaginary Friend” gets things back onto a rockier course, with a great sonic throwback to the late ’60s/early ’70s rhythm-section-plus-electric-organ sound. “Haunted Henry” is a bit of a ghost of the Jellyfish sound, a catchy story song with a macabre twist – along with Land Of Pure Imagination‘s “Too Late For Us Now”, this is probably the most Jellyfish-esque thing Manning has done since Jellyfish. “Tinseltown” is a nice story song which cautions against seeking fame and fortune at too high a price. As the lyrics chronicle the small-town beginnings of its cast of characters, some very nice pedal steel guitar work starts to creep in, giving the song a vaguely country flavor, though not so much as to completely distract.

“The Turnstile At Heaven’s Gate” features another solid wall of vocal harmony, as well as a brief break for marching band to keep things lively. “Survival Machine” is an epic, nearly eight minutes in length, which is really two songs in one; it’s the kind of anti-war piece that wasn’t at all uncommon in the late 1960s and early ’70s, but seems to be in surprisingly short supply today. The first half of the song is heavy on heavy apocalyptic organ riffs, while the second half gives way to a more bittersweet tone. “Living In End Times” is a sharp-tongued, fast-rocking commentary on folks whose fascination with the Bible seems to begin and end with Revelations. Name-checking everything from “The Late, Great Planet Earth” to “Left Behind”, this is easily the heaviest song – instrumentally speaking – on the whole album, in service of a message that I really wish more people would pick up on.

“Drive Thru Girl” starts out with a mock “live show” intro, and, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, proceeds to turn an amazing number of fast food sales slogans into double entendres set to a cheesy music hall-style accompaniment. This song may not sit well with those who are still waiting for some or all of the former members of Jellyfish to revisit the sound of that group’s glory days, but I found it amusing enough. The album closes with “American Affluenza”, a token anti-consumerist song whose only real disappointment is that the lyrics don’t have much to say. (By contrast, Ben Folds’ “All U Can Eat” is a much more interesting experience lyrically; I also admit to certain built-in skepticism about a song extolling the foibles of American consumer culture when that song has been earmarked as a Japan-exclusive track.)

3 out of 4Catnip Dynamite is a great bunch of songs, but in places it lets go of enough of its energy that it’s hard to get through in a single sitting. Still, for anyone who, like myself, grew up with the ’70s sound reverberating from their radios (back when it was the ’70s and people actually listened to radio because decent songs could be found there), this album more than lives up to its name.

Order this CD

  1. The Quickening (5:06)
  2. Love’s Never Half As Good (5:36)
  3. Down In Front (5:23)
  4. My Girl (4:09)
  5. Imaginary Friend (5:07)
  6. Haunted Henry (4:49)
  7. Tinsel Town (5:23)
  8. The Turnstile At Heaven’s Gate (4:40)
  9. Survival Machine (7:54)
  10. Living In End Times (5:09)
  11. Drive Thru Girl (5:15)
  12. American Affluenza (3:30)

Released by: Phantom
Release date: 2008
Total running time: 62:01

MC Hawking – A Brief History Of Rhyme

MC Hawking - A Brief History Of RhymeLadies and gentlemen, I bring to you: the first-ever rap review here on theLogBook.com. But don’t assign too much street cred to me, for this is incredibly geeky rap. The whole humorous premise behind MC Hawking is as follows: what if Professor Stephen Hawking was moonlighting as a gangsta rapper? If you’re wondering what in the world that would sound like, you may already know more than you think: MC Hawking – the brainchild of parody webmaster Ken Leavitt-Lawrence – sounds like the voice synthesizer used by the real Professor Hawking (who, if truth be told, doesn’t go around popping caps on anyone’s ass). The lyrics are a combination of the prerequisite topics of gangsta rap – getting even against one’s rivals by any means available, drug deals, the ever-popular topic of bitches, etc. – and real live honest-to-God theoretical physics. MC Hawking tries to explain the basic tenets of entropy, and then busts out the refrain “You down with entropy? Yeah, you know me!”

It’s hard to explain the appeal to those who perhaps just don’t “get” this kind of humor – I, for one, file this under the same category as Ben Folds’ ironically pretty cover of a certain Dr. Dre tune – but if I’m in the mood for MC Hawking, this stuff is hysterical. It’s not something to play with the kiddo within earshot, to be sure, but it’s damned funny – and word has it that a certain Professor Hawking himself is fully aware of the joke and thinks it’s funny too. (C’mon, we’re talking about the same Stephen Hawking who wanted to do a guest shot on Star Trek: The Next Generation and once appeared in a Red Dwarf special. Aside from being one of the most brilliant human beings to have emerged from the 20th century, Stephen Hawking, God bless him, is cool. I’d like to think I could hang on to my sense of humor in his circumstances.)

Now, of course, there will be those who just don’t find the humor in “Hawking”‘s profanity-laden tirades about taking out rival physicists from MIT in a drive-by, or things like the skit in which he beats Moby senseless on general principle (presumably, he’s trying to see if fission initiates, in which case we really are all made of stars). But it’s hard for me not to be dragged out of a downer mood by howlingly funny tracks like “Big Bizang”, “E=MC Hawking” or “Entropy”. Others, admittedly, miss the mark – I find myself routinely skipping “Bitchslap” and “The Dozens”. This is rap for the cool geeks, the people who took time out from high school science homework to memorize Monty Python movies (not that I’m talking about myself there, mind you…I was too busy memorizing Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes in high school).

Most of this material has been available for some time on the “official MC Hawking fan site“, but in 2004 several of the raps from that site appeared with a few new skits and songs on this “greatest hits” album (in actuality, the 3 out of 4first and only physical CD that “MC Hawking” has released). This is one of those things where I vote with my money, sort of like buying the Homestar Runner DVDs, to show my support for not-quite-mainstream talent – and after you check it out for yourself, if you’ve got even one wickedly funny bone in your body, I have a feeling you’ll be doing the same.

Order this CD

  1. The Hawkman Cometh (3:01)
  2. The Dozens (2:04)
  3. The Big Bizang (2:53)
  4. Excerpt From A Radio Interview, part 1 (1:14)
  5. Entropy (3:22)
  6. The Mighty Stephen Hawking (2:00)
  7. Crazy As Fuck (2:23)
  8. Bitchslap (4:25)
  9. Excerpt From A Radio Interview, part 2 (1:41)
  10. Fuck The Creationists (2:23)
  11. E=MC Hawking (3:27)
  12. All My Shootings Be Drive-Bys (3:36)
  13. UFT For The MC (3:28)
  14. Excerpt From A Radio Interview, part 3 (1:20)
  15. What We Need More Of Is Science (2:42)
  16. GTA3 (2:56)

Released by: Brash Music
Release date: 2004
Total running time: 42:55

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Paul McCartney – Memory Almost Full

It’s hard to imagine, with all the stuff Paul McCartney’s been through in the past ten years – and I trust that I don’t have to elaborate on that – that he could turn out a cheerful classic album like this. It’s also his first U.S. release published by someone other than Capitol Records, the Beatles’ home label Stateside since the beginning; this one was released by a new label started up by, of all people, Starbucks. Yes, the coffee chain. But don’t let any of the above distract you from the fact that this is Sir Paul’s best offering in ten years.

The first three songs, “Dance Tonight”, “Ever Present Past” and “Your Sunshine”, are a triple-threat reminded of why the man’s considered one of the finest pop songsmiths on the planet, even four decades after most of his lifelong listeners first made his acquaintance. They’re classic specimens of McCarthy’s musical craftsmanship, and they’re just so cheerful that it’s impossible not to crack a smile. “Mister Bellamy” and “Vintage Clothes” also fall into this category, despite the former feeling just a little bit like a follow-up to “Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey” – this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

He also proves that he’s still fully capable of rocking out on numbers like “Only Mama Knows” and “That Was Me”, which have both quickly become a couple of my McCartney favorites. “Only Mama Knows” starts out with a string section, but after that brief intro, becomes pure rock ‘n’ roll, while “That Was Me” is an almost obligatory humorous travelogue of McCartney’s past, from his childhood to a little gig in a place called the Cavern and beyond.

Not everything is sunshine on Memory Almost Full, either; things slow down and become more introspective with “You Tell Me” and “End Of The End”. In “End Of The End”, McCartney basically lays down how he’d like to be remembered when he’s gone, a sobering thought to be sure, but it’s also a song that’s virtually destined to be played over his own obituary. There are also just a couple of hints of bitterness at recent events in his life, and the media’s attention to them: he sings “I’m not coming down / no matter what you say / I like it up here anyway” on the seemingly cheerful “Mister Bellamy”. ‘Nuff said.

4 out of 4What makes the whole endeavour that much more impressive is that McCartney has joined the ranks of the musical hermit crabs with Memory Almost Full. With the exception of any overdubbed orchestral sweeteners, the ex-Beatle literally plays and sings everything himself. You’d have to figure that if anyone in the world would be able to pull something like that off, Paul McCartney would be it. The result is his best album in about ten years – it’s pure Paul, and it’s intensely admirable both for the great music and the pure class of the guy making it. A simply outstanding album.

Order this CD

  1. Dance Tonight (2:52)
  2. Ever Present Past (2:54)
  3. See Your Sunshine (3:17)
  4. Only Mama Knows (4:17)
  5. You Tell Me (3:15)
  6. Mister Bellamy (3:39)
  7. Gratitude (3:17)
  8. Vintage Clothes (2:22)
  9. That Was Me (2:38)
  10. Feet In The Clouds (3:24)
  11. House Of Wax (4:59)
  12. End Of The End (2:51)
  13. Nod Your Head (1:55)

Released by: Hear Music
Release date: 2007
Total running time: 41:40

Roger Joseph Manning Jr. – The Land Of Pure Imagination

Roger Manning - The Land Of Pure ImaginationFormerly of early 90s power pop powerhouse Jellyfish, Roger Manning is reinventing the 1970s with this solo project, on which he plays and sings everything (except for a trumpet on one song). Fans of 70s music will probably find at several gems to love here, though those expecting to hear the second coming of Jellyfish may be left scratching their heads in places.

In its brief, two-album heyday, Jellyfish mined almost the entire gamut of well-produced, well-written 70s pop music, with stylistic nods to Queen, Supertramp, ELO and numberous other 70s supergroups, and with Manning in the driver’s seat, Jellyfish still managed to make all of those elements the band’s own unique sound. Manning’s chief inspiration is still the 1970s, though here he seems to be absorbing influences from everyone from Mac Davis to Carole King. Fan of Jellyfish’s decidedly rocked-out sound may find it hard to square these elements with what they were expecting. That doesn’t make Imagination a bad album; but for folks like me who were going “Ooh! Roger Manning! Jellyfish!” like I was may require a little bit of an adjustment period while their expectations hash it out with the reality of what’s on the CD.

What’s on the CD is good stuff, though. The title track and especially “Too Late For Us Now,” which I count as my favorite song on the whole album, wouldn’t have been at all out of place in the Jellyfish set list. “Creeple People” and “The Loser” come close to this category as well. “Sandman” hearkens back to the gorgeous a cappella vocal harmonies of Jellyfish’s “Hush,” and “You Were Right” recalls some of that group’s more low-key numbers (i.e. “Calling Sarah”). Manning’s production and vocals are impeccable – even if you don’t care for a given song, it’s almost impossible not to admire his one-man-band abilities here.

But all of that’s pretty cautious praise. There are a couple of songs that I tend to skip – “Wish It Would Rain” resurrects a particularly vapid flavor of 70s pop that was already overused 30 years ago. And while on a conceptual level I like the ornate intricacy of “Appleby,” I just can’t bring myself to really like the song, and I can’t even put a finger on why. The odd thing is that “Appleby” is one of three tracks that were added to the album, to replace three tracks deleted from its Japanese release under the title of Solid State Warrior. The three deleted tracks were made available as a very-limited-edition bonus CD (~200 copies) during 3 out of 4the album’s launch, and all three of the omitted songs are stunners – why anyone thought they didn’t make the cut for consumption in the English-speaking world is a mystery. (“In The Name Of Romance” and “Pray For The Many” are the other two add-on tracks, the latter being the best of the three.)

Overall, it’s a good album, though it’d be an even better album without the tinkering that went on as it crossed the Pacific.

    Order this CD in the Store

  1. The Land Of Pure Imagination (6:01)
  2. Too Late For Us Now (3:23)
  3. Wish It Would Rain (5:42)
  4. The Loser (3:36)
  5. Sandman (3:37)
  6. Pray For The Many (3:02)
  7. Dragonfly (5:19)
  8. Creeple People (5:31)
  9. In The Name Of Romance (5:26)
  10. You Were Right (5:43)
  11. Appleby (5:30)
    Not Lame bonus disc (Solid State Warrior songs omitted in U.S. release):

  1. What You Don’t Know About The Girl (2:49)
  2. Sleep Children (2:47)
  3. ‘Til We Meet Again (3:44)

Released by: Cordless Recordings
Release date: 2006 (originally released in Japan as Solid State Warrior in 2005)
Total running time: 52:55

Meco – Star Wars Party

Meco - Star Wars PartyTwenty-seven years after his first Star Wars-themed album, Music Inspired By Star Wars And Other Galactic Funk, Meco Monardo returns in time for the release of the final Star Wars film, Revenge of the Sith. This album of (mostly) new material, Star Wars Party, has a very different feel to Meco’s Star Wars work of old.

Rather than go the direct disco route, the covers on Star Wars Party see Meco stretching into wildly differing directions. “I Am Your Father” is a trance-like dance track. “Star Wars Love Themes” melds cues from both trilogies into an odd march-like affair. “New Star Wars” is basically Meco’s modern take on a dance version of the main Star Wars theme, with lots of samples. “The Empire Strikes Back” is not really a new track, but a remix of the 1980 original that basically adds new sound effects to the mix. (I question the wisdom of including this track, since it basically outclasses the new covers completely.) “You Are Reckless” is a rambling hodge-podge of Star Wars music overdubbed with Yoda dialogue. “Lapti Nek” is certainly the best of the new crop; a decent rendition of the now redundant Max Rebo track, with solid use of dialogue sampling that doesn’t distract from the song.

The original tracks “Star Wars Party”, “Jedi Knight” and “Live Your Life” are lightweight fluff pieces that can’t stand up alongside even the questionable quality of the covers. The lyrics are absolutely atrocious (and not in a good way) and while the music is not horrible, neither is it memorable.

But the biggest problem with Star Wars Party isn’t Meco’s unusual musical choices or his lousy lyrics and simplistic original music, it’s his reliance on dialogue clips. While his choice of dialogue is fine and how he chooses to use it within a song is usually spot on, the problem is that only about a third of the clips are authentic (or at least close enough not to matter). It’s jarring hearing unknown voices speaking such classic lines (and then to hear them sampled over and over again). The worst are the people speaking Han and Leia’s lines in “Star Wars Love Themes” and the grating fake Yoda sprinkled throughout the CD. To make matters worse, there will often be authentic dialogue right next to these poor imitations, making the failure more glaring than it otherwise might be. If Meco wanted all these voice samples, he should have gotten clearance to use only original dialogue or given up on the idea.

But just when it seems that Star Wars Party will inevitably wind up filed somewhere between useless and unnecessary, we come to the final track on the disc, “Boogie Wookie”. Silly as its title may sound, it’s a lush disco dance track that is as close to the perfection Meco achieved on the original Galactic Funk album as Star Wars Party gets. With a generous sprinkling of Wookie dialogue throughout and no real lyrics to speak of, Meco falls into none of the traps that damage the other tracks. I won’t go so far as to say that “Boogie Wookie” is good enough to make me recommend this disc, but I found it good enough to justify the purchase to myself, at least.

Star Wars Party doesn’t live up to the legacy of Meco’s classic work from the golden age of Star Wars, but it isn’t a complete disaster. The remix of “Empire” is pretty good (but expendable) and “Boogie Wookie” and the “Lapti Nek” cover deserve attention. The other tracks have little value (and what value they have is mostly destroyed by the awful voice sampling). Ultimately, your enjoyment of Star Wars Party will likely be determined by how far three good tracks can take you.

rating: 2 out of 4

Note: Star Wars Party was simultaneously released under the alternate title Music Inspired By Star Wars. Both are available for purchase, but Star Wars Party is only available from Amazon.com and CDbaby.com. All other online retailers and brick and mortar stores sell only Music Inspired by Star Wars.

Order this CD

  1. I Am Your Father (3:07)
  2. Star Wars Party (3:10)
  3. Star Wars Love Themes (4:00)
  4. New Star Wars (3:07)
  5. The Empire Strikes Back (3:30)
  6. You Are Reckless (3:05)
  7. Jedi Knight (4:03)
  8. Lapti Nek (3:23)
  9. Live Your Life (3:18)
  10. Boogie Wookie (6:24)

Released by: Mecoman Productions
Release date: 2005
Total running time: 37:43

Moody Blues – To Our Children’s Children’s Children

Moody Blues - To Our Children's Children's ChildrenPossibly inspired by the moon shots of 1969, To Our Children’s Children’s Children is an interesting musical document of awe and wonder, and you can hear Hayward and Lodge turning over in their minds the implications of that decade-defining triumph of technology and determination. That rebirth of wonderment and subsequent wrestling with the realization that this triumph could be used for either good or ill is very much the theme of the album, starting with the cacophonous opening of “Higher And Higher”, evoking the sound of a rocket launch (or is that a bomb blast?) from up close and even featuring processed spoken vocals that could conceivably remind one of voices transmitted from space.

“Eyes Of A Child” furthers this theme by appearing twice on the album, in radically different forms. The first treatment is gentle and, sonically, appropriately childlike and quite relaxing. The second version is faster-paced, heavy with electric guitars, and filled with a somewhat more mature, one might even say rebellious, energy – and yet it’s the same song.. I thought that was a fascinating concept, and the Moodies did it just enough to avoid it being too repetitive. “I Never Thought I’d Live To Be A Hundred” and “I Never Thought I’d Live To Be A Million” provide another – somewhat opposite – set of matching bookends.

“Beyond” is a rousing instrumental with a dreamy, ethereal middle section, and leads directly into a quartet of some of the best material the Moodies ever put on record. “Out And In”, the churning “Gypsy”, and the wistful one-two punch of “Eternity Road” and “Candle Of Life” are a consecutive home run streak of winners. The album closes out with another winner, the gentle but eminently hummable “Watching And Waiting”.

4 out of 4Overall, To Our Children’s Children’s Children is one of the Moody Blues’ best efforts, and one of the best reflections of a lyrical style that is uniquely theirs. Their words express concerns and worries about the human condition, present and future, without taking the banal (and, for future listeners lacking the context, commercially fatal) route of making things topical. Even knowing the events that were going on when these songs were written is entirely optional – it becomes a subtext, not a context vital to understanding the songs. Beautiful stuff – there simply isn’t enough music like this around.

Order this CD

  1. Higher And Higher (4:11)
  2. Eyes Of A Child I (3:23)
  3. Floating (3:00)
  4. Eyes Of A Child II (1:22)
  5. I Never Thought I’d Live To Be A Hundred (1:05)
  6. Beyond (2:58)
  7. Out And In (3:41)
  8. Gypsy (3:33)
  9. Eternity Road (4:18)
  10. Candle Of Life (4:18)
  11. Sun Is Still Shining (3:36)
  12. I Never Thought I’d Live To Be A Million (0:33)
  13. Watching And Waiting (4:16)

Released by: Threshold / Polydor
Release date: 1970 / remastered & reissued 1997
Total running time: 40:20