Genesis – Abacab

Genesis - AbacabI’ve been meaning to review this album for two or three years now, and it’s such an odd beast to get a grip on. This is Genesis in flux, and yet Genesis finding its feet. Several years after losing Peter Gabriel to a solo career, the remaining trio of founding members soldiered on, and yet sometimes you’d think they were clinging to the past. Abacab is an album full of good songs, but it’s also an album with something of a serious identity crisis.

The title track – edited down to little over half of its original running time – received healthy radio airplay at the time of the album’s release, but along with songs like “Me And Sarah Jane”, “Keep It Dark” and “Who Dunnit?”, “Abacab” represents the majority of this album’s personality. Phil Collins, Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford seemed to be trying to hang onto the prog-rock sound of the Gabriel era, with meandering song structures (“Sarah Jane” in particular can’t seem to latch onto any one particular melody, trying out several melodic lines and discarding them in turn – it’s almost like early Split Enz). This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – I quite like “Abacab” and “Keep It Dark”, and they demonstrate that, when he used to try to emulate Gabriel’s throat-thrasing vocal style, there used to be a raw power to Phil Collins’ voice which his latter-day career has carefully buried.

It’s in songs like “Man On The Corner” and especially “No Reply At All” that one finds hints of the future Genesis sound. The latter in particular is bouncy, with some Motown-style brass work and a lighthearted lyric. “Man On The Corner” is again somewhat brooding and dark, with just a hint again of the Peter Gabriel influence, but it’s indicative of my favorite era of Genesis – songs better suited to Collins’ vocal range and style, but falling somewhere between the Gabriel-era Genesis sound and Collins’ later self-styled reinvention of himself as a soft-pop balladeer. It may not be the original sound mandated in the Gabriel/Hackett era, but it was the best possible style for the Collins-led Genesis.

3 out of 4Abacab, in retrospect, is a bit of a mixed bag – but, being a bit of a transitional piece (despite having been preceded by two other albums with the Banks/Collins/Rutherford lineup), it was bound to be. They were really starting to get it here.

Order this CD

  1. Abacab (7:02)
  2. No Reply At All (4:41)
  3. Me And Sarah Jane (6:00)
  4. Keep It Dark (4:34)
  5. Dodo / Lurker (7:30)
  6. Who Dunnit? (3:22)
  7. Man On The Corner (4:27)
  8. Like It Or Not (4:58)
  9. Another Record (4:30)

Released by: Atlantic
Release date: 1981
Total running time: 47:04

The Swingers – Counting The Beat

The Swingers - Counting The BeatIf this album is a good example of anything, it’s a good example of how not to pick the lead track of an album. Counting The Beat is an interesting 1981 set by The Swingers, a band formed by former Split Enz guitarist/vocalist Phil Judd and featuring future Midnight Oil bassist Bones Hillman and guitarist Michael Den Elzen (who later sat in as a session player on Tim Finn’s fourth solo album). The problem with Counting The Beat, however, is wading through the first two tracks before getting to the album’s real meat.

The Swingers sound a lot like Judd’s later band Schnell Fenster, with Judd’s trademark wavering, almost-shouting vocal at the forefront of the group’s sound. Some of the songs here are worth a listen – “Lovesick”, “True Or False”, and “Ayatollah” among them – but something about the first two tracks on the CD (“Practical Joker” and “One Track Mind”) consistently hits me as being unappealing. Others’ mileage may vary, and whether or not you can stomach much of Judd’s vocal style will probably a major factor in whether you like those tracks or, for that matter, the entire album.

Split Enz fans wondering if The Swingers sound anything like that band may or may not find some similarities. Counting The Beat was produced by David Tickle, who helped the Enz cement their sound in the 2 out of 4early ’80s with True Colours, and here it sounds like he’s trying to split the difference between the Enz and the Clash. Sometimes it works…and sometimes it doesn’t.

Overall, a cautious recommendation; it helps if you’ve heard some early Split Enz and perhaps the more melodically inclined (and, frankly, better produced) Schnell Fenster first.

Order this CD

  1. Practical Joker (3:18)
  2. One Track Mind (3:46)
  3. Lovesick (3:47)
  4. True Or False (4:13)
  5. More (3:55)
  6. Counting The Beat (3:04)
  7. It Ain’t What You Dance It’s The Way You Dance It (3:02)
  8. Ayatollah (3:39)
  9. Five O’Clock Shadow (3:43)
  10. Funny Feeling (3:46)
  11. Distortion (3:52)
  12. Hit The Beach (4:01)
  13. One Good Reason (2:50)
  14. The Flak (3:41)

Released by: Mushroom
Release date: 1981
Total running time: 50:37

Lindsey Buckingham – Law & Order

Lindsey Buckingham - Law & OrderThe first solo effort by Fleetwood Mac’s best-known frontman proves that he had a musical voice that was being held back in the structure of the world-famous band. Buckingham’s efforts on the Mac’s Tusk double LP seemed to meet with either indifference or non-comprehension on the part of the listening public, and his contributions to 1981’s Fleetwood Mac album Mirage were, while still experimental, a little bit subdued in places. Law & Order is a demonstration of how brilliant Buckingham can be when set free: the songs retain an experimental feel, but they’re never anything less than commercial.

Some of Buckingham’s fellow Macsters make cameo appearances, with Christine McVie harmonizing on the dreamy “Shadow Of The West” and Mick Fleetwood lending a very recognizable hand at the drum kit for the now slightly-obscure hit Rating: 4 out of 4single “Trouble”. But Buckingham is perfectly capable of shining on his own. The quirky “Bwana”, one of the best things he’s ever done, begs one to put the CD player on “repeat 1.” His cover of the standard “September Song” is a vocal showcase for him, and it’s an interesting contrast to the somewhat more low-key cover of the same song on Jeff Lynne’s Armchair Theatre.

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  1. Bwana (3:06)
  2. Trouble (3:53)
  3. Mary Lee Jones (3:12)
  4. I’ll Tell You Now (4:18)
  5. It Was I (2:39)
  6. September Song (3:13)
  7. Shadow Of The West (3:57)
  8. That’s How We Do It In L.A. (2:52)
  9. Johnny Stew (3:06)
  10. Love From Here, Love From There (2:47)
  11. A Satisfied Mind (2:47)

Released by: Warner Bros.
Release date: 1981
Total running time: 36:25

Science Ninja Team Gatchaman – music by Bob Sakuma

Science Ninja Team Gatchaman soundtrackNever heard of Gatchaman? Oh, yes you have. Gatchaman is the story of five highly-trained young people, given state-of-the-art equipment and Earth’s most advanced spacecraft, the God Phoenix. Their mission is to employ their dual skills – ninja fighting and scientific knowledge – to defeat the evil Sosai X, who endlessly conjures up elaborate schemes in an effort to conquer Earth. It’s just possible that this early 70s anime’ series was the birth of the five-kids-in-spandex genre that later gave rise to such godawful live-action train wrecks as Power Rangers and VR Troopers. It’s also just possible that you remember the English dubbed version from the early 80s, retitled Battle of the Planets.

Bob Sakuma’s oft-recycled music accompanied both the Gatchaman team and their American counterparts (a.k.a. “G-Force”), and anyone who spent any time with the show will recognize the melodies and cues lined up on this survey of the show’s music.

I’ll be up-front and advise you to steer clear of this if you are not a Gatchaman/Battle of the Planets fan. This album is loaded with really, really short cues, all crammed into longer tracks. Some of the pieces on this selection of background music are over in all of three seconds – such is the brevity of music composed for animation. Some of the music is really a bit dated too – one doesn’t hear quite so much Hammond organ in science fiction (or, for that matter, animation) these days.

That said, there is a lot of very interesting music here, and some of it stands up quite well. This, along with the Space Battleship Yamato (a.k.a. Star Blazers) soundtrack, may be enough to help you journey back to those post-grade-school afternoons of your youth.

It’s also worth noting that your favorite pieces of music from Battle Of The Planets might not be present here; the Americanized version of the series had music added by U.S. composer Hoyt Curtin, and Curtin’s music – including the Battle Of The Planets theme song – is not represented on this CD. (The original Gatchaman theme, 3 out of 4however, is almost disturbing – its title translates to “Destroy Gallactor!” and it is cheerfully sung by a children’s choir.)

Almost all of the non-vocal music from the Gatchaman soundtrack was recently included on a semi-official Battle Of The Planets CD, though this album remains the only place to find the vocal tracks.

Order this CD

  1. Prologue (1:27)
    1. Science Ninja Team (0:10)
    2. Gatchaman main theme – Destroy Gallactor! (1:17)
      performed by Columbia Cradle Club
  2. Emblem G (3:16)
    1. The White Shadow (0:04)
    2. International Science Organization (0:38)
    3. Birdstyle (0:45)
    4. Scramble (0:53)
    5. Gather God Phoenix (0:53)
  3. Gallactor Versions (3:56)
    1. Dangerous (0:47)
    2. Zero Angle (1:38)
    3. Sniper (0:33)
    4. Death Clash (0:30)
    5. Iron Beast (0:21)
  4. Fighting Phoenix (3:28)
    1. Snack Jun (0:16)
    2. Gatchaman Attack (1:28)
    3. Birdmissile (0:29)
    4. And Then…Victory (0:40)
    5. Return To The Sunrise (0:33)
  5. Coral Reef (0:28)
  6. Crescent Moon (3:24)
    1. Good Morning Phoenix (0:52)
    2. Morning Service (0:33)
    3. Croissant (0:21)
    4. At Dusk (0:42)
    5. Goodnight Seahorse (0:49)
  7. Behind Shaded Eyes (3:46)
    1. Shadow Of Gallactor (0:26)
    2. Burning City (0:30)
    3. Into Dark Depths (0:35)
    4. The Hidden Devil (0:24)
    5. A Night Of Unrest (0:53)
    6. Devastation Of The Earth (0:45)
  8. Katse, The Helmet Strap Tightens (0:33)
  9. Gatchaman (0:05)
  10. Fighter G (4:00)
    1. Invasion Assault (0:38)
    2. Army Corps (0:34)
    3. Capture (0:41)
    4. Pursuit (0:33)
    5. A Sudden Change (0:16)
    6. Violent Force (0:10)
  11. Red Illusion (4:40)
    1. Red Wing (0:06)
    2. Red Partner (2:17)
    3. Red Memory (1:00)
    4. Red Impulse (1:11)
  12. Alone On The Earth (0:52)
  13. A Pledge To The Open Sky (3:13)
    1. Surrender To Fate (1:16)
    2. Strong Flapping Wings (0:43)
    3. Stable, Lifting Wings (1:10)
  14. 0002 (3:48)
    1. Unknown Figure (0:29)
    2. Mutant (0:50)
    3. Cross Karakorum (0:47)
    4. A Living Island (0:34)
    5. Target X (0:16)
    6. Rushing In (0:39)
  15. The Phoenix Can (3:30)
    1. Visiting Tomorrow (0:23)
    2. We Are The Flock… (1:06)
    3. Daybreak (0:42)
    4. The Immortal Ninja Team (1:10)
  16. Epilogue (1:28)
    1. Ending Theme Song: Gatchaman’s Song (1:28)
      performed by Masato Shimon & The Columbia Cradle Club

Released by: Columbia Nippon
Release date: 1981 (re-released on CD in 1995)
Total running time: 42:59

Raiders Of The Lost Ark – music by John Williams

Raiders Of The Lost Ark soundtrackOne of the better (not to mention fun) movies during the early 1980s was Raiders Of The Lost Ark. This Steven Spielberg / George Lucas co-production turned out to be one of the biggest hits of 1981, and the film was later nominated for Oscars in Best Picture, not to mention spawning numerous imitators as well as two sequels: Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom and Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade.

The music played a key role in this film, and John Williams provided an excellent score for this film, also earning a nomination for (but not winning) an Oscar for best score. The soundtrack was released as an album, and in 1995, was re-released on CD with additional music not included in the album. The music was re-mastered for the CD pressing from the original two-track stereo master tapes, and it sounds great… not a crack or pop to be heard.

Also, of note, for a CD that only costs $12.99, it includes a full color booklet containing several photographs 4 out of 4and production sketches from the movies, introduction by Steven Spielberg, comments from John Williams about various bits, and a analysis and a track-by-track commentary by Lukas Kendall of Film Score Monthly.

If you enjoyed the film as much as I did, and enjoyed the music, then the soundtrack is a must-have for your collection.

Order this CD

  1. The Raiders March (2:50)
  2. Main Title: South America, 1936 (4:10)
  3. In the Idol’s Temple (5:26)
  4. Flight from Peru (2:20)
  5. Journey to Nepal (2:11)
  6. The Medallion (2:55)
  7. To Cairo (1:29)
  8. The Basket Game (5:04)
  9. The Map Room: Dawn (3:52)
  10. Reunion and The Dig Begins (4:10)
  11. The Well of the Souls (5:28)
  12. Airplane Fight (4:37)
  13. Desert Chase (8:15)
  14. Marion’s Theme (2:08)
  15. The German Sub / To The Nazi Hideout (4:32)
  16. Ark Trek (1:33)
  17. The Miracle of the Ark (6:08)
  18. The Warehouse (:56)
  19. End Credits (5:20)

Released by: Digital Compact Classics
Release date: 1981 (re-released on CD in 1995)
Total running time: 73:32

Electric Light Orchestra – Time

Electric Light Orchestra - TimeThough this isn’t my favorite ELO album of the 1980s, it contains my favorite song by the group which is also quite likely my favorite song of all time. I can’t say enough good things about “Rain Is Falling”, which achieves an almost perfect balance of orchestral and rock elements, and the vocals aren’t echoed too much (a common ELO failing of which even I tire), and it’s the band at its peak – at least for me. I could take up the rest of this whole review on this one song, but there are a whole dozen other tunes on Time, including the mechanical “Yours Truly, 2095” (with the great lyric “I met someone who looks a lot like you / She does the things you do / but she is an IBM”!), the laid-back harmonies of4 out of 4 stars “The Lights Go Down”, and “21st Century Man”. As always, most people will remember the album’s singles, “Twilight”, “Here Is The News”, and the coffee achiever song “Hold On Tight” (as in hold on tight to your dream). I highly recommend this one, as I do most ELO albums!

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  1. Prologue (1:16)
  2. Twilight (3:42)
  3. Yours Truly, 2095 (3:12)
  4. Ticket to the Moon (4:07)
  5. The Way Life’s Meant To Be (4:39)
  6. Another Heart Breaks (3:48)
  7. Rain Is Falling (3:55)
  8. From the End of the World (3:16)
  9. The Lights Go Down (3:34)
  10. Here Is The News (3:45)
  11. 21st Century Man (4:09)
  12. Hold On Tight (3:06)
  13. Epilogue (1:32)

Released by: Jet
Release date: 1981
Total running time: 44:01

Police – Ghost In The Machine

Police - Ghost In The MachineWow. Now this is more like it. My all-time favorite Police album, Ghost in the Machine may be best remembered as the album from which “Spirits In The Material World” (which will always be, in my mind, the definitive statement of the Police sound) and “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” came, but also contains other personal favorites as “Too Much Information”, “Secret Journey” and “Hungry For You”, which is sung entirely in French until the last verse. I’m not sure what else I can say about this album aside 4 out of 4from noting that it’s the Police in their finest form, and it was really the last time their music visited the edge of being new wave. The cover design is also very cool, using simple LED-type symbols for the three band members.

  1. Spirits in the Material World (2:59)
  2. Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic (4:21)
  3. Invisible Sun (3:43)
  4. Order this CD Hungry For You (j’aurais toujours faim de toi) (2:53)
  5. Demolition Man (5:55)
  6. Too Much Information (3:42)
  7. Rehumanize Yourself (3:11)
  8. One World (Not Three) (4:46)
  9. Omegaman (2:48)
  10. Secret Journey (3:34)
  11. Darkness (3:13)

Released by: A&M
Release date: 1981
Total running time: 41:05