Dead Flowers: Let Me Be (Album Review)

The Dead Flowers from Dallas Texas are simply one of the best rock and roll bands in the country right now. Their new album Let Me Be reaffirms their lyrical wit and interlocked guitar attack.  It’s music from the American wasteland, broke and broken-hearted wondering where the dream went but still searching for something that resembles redemption.   It taps into the collective damage so many people experienced growing up in the new millennium yet retaining their sense of fierce defiance against a world of debt, part-time gigs, and fentanyl deaths.

Sonically this band navigated one of the biggest problems for modern groups, what do you do after Kurt Cobain’s suicide. He was the last voice of a generation from a rock and roll background and since his death many bands allow themselves to happily exist as water downed, grunged-out imitators. It can be cool, but it’s never anything new. The Dead Flowers bypass this ironically by diving into the past.

Personally, I believe the shadow of Westerberg is hung over this band too often. Though there’s certainly some influence from the Replacements the biggest effect is their ability to cross-breed genre. The Dead Flowers are not afraid of country or blues or having a moment that sounds too indebted to workforce radio. Their music may sound familiar but these guys are doing something totally new.

Let Me Be is their most ferocious outing yet. The album kicks off with its title track before dropping into the anthemic Dying In the Streets.  This serious highlight captures the band as they churn and dive showing off something a bit tougher. Happie and the song’s reprise kicks in after with it’s driving melancholic progression and poetic sense of loss. One of the greatest strengths is the sharp lyricism displayed on this track that never gives way to pretension.

For me, the true centerpiece of this album that holds it together is the tune Garland. With an interlocking guitar and vocal melody, it moves the band into unfamiliar psychedelic territory before dropping back into a hard rock attack. Garland may not be my #1 favorite tune on the album but it’s the most rewarding because it shows new avenues the Dead Flowers could pursue.

Closing off the album is the descent of the shambolic country and blues of I Feel Like Shit. The song is akin to a tune like the Replacements’ Treatment Bound, closing the album with a little slop and change of mood. Ironically considering the title, it’s a moment where a little more light gets through. Its the sound of a band alone in a garage doing what they want.

Let Me Be is a killer listen and an album you should own. I do wish there were a few more moments acoustics would pop up like Dead Flowers demonstrated on their album “His Blues” with the song Here I Am but I’m not sure it would have served the tone and direction. The only weakness from my perspective is either in the guitar mix or the actual tones used in the studio. The interlocking rhythm and lead work is a major strength of the Dead Flowers, however, the two parts tend to blend just enough that the intricacies of their composition are not as apparent on first listen.

The Dead Flowers are an important band. If the next wave of rock and roll ever happens, it will be because of groups like them.  Maybe they will be the leaders or maybe these are the pub rock years before 1977. But based on the driving rhythm section of James Brock and Evan Johnson, Vince Tully’s incredible lead work, and Corey Howe’s raging vocals, this is a band that will stand its ground and will still be around no matter what happens. 

Let Me Be is available on Spotify and iTunes.

Richard Hell and the Voidoids: Blank Generation 40th Anniversary Edition Reviewed (How Deluxe Do You Want It?)

On Friday Richard Hell and the Voidoids seminal Blank Generation was issued as a deluxe two-disc set. As a fan of this record, I was nervous that Richard Hell oversaw another reissue from his catalog. Despite having performed and demoed material in groundbreaking bands like Television and the Heartbreakers, Richard Hell himself only released three proper studio albums in his career. Blank Generation and Destiny Street with the Voidoids and the self-titled Dim Stars. His work on 2009 issued Destiny Street Repaired that improved certain aspects of the album’s fidelity but lost major elements of the record’s appeal. His newly recorded vocals lacked the frantic and fragile delivery of the 1982 release and the loss of Robert Quine’s chaotic lead assault robbed Destiny Street Repaired of it’s atmosphere. Blank Generation did not suffer the same fate.

The deluxe reissue of Blank Generation is the definitive available version of the album. The original cd release had multiple detrimental flaws. First was the loss of Blank Generation’s iconic cover. What replaced it felt, forcibly upbeat and new-wave with its pink border and floating green circles spelling out the title. The second sin was the decision to replace Down at the Rock and Roll Club with an alternative take. Though just as strong as the original, there was no reason not to include it as a bonus track. Finally, the release’s greatest failing was the remastering or lack thereof. The 1977 vinyl had a warm yet assertive quality where the cd reissue sounded like the album got shoved into a rusty tin can. However, the original cd did include two bonus tracks, the incredible I’m Your Man and the cover of All The Way not represented on the current deluxe edition… more on this later…

The Deluxe 40th Anniversary edition repairs all these major issues. The mix and master remain true to the 1977 release, they included the original take of Down at the Rocks and Roll Club and brought back the iconic cover. If you wish to hear the album in its true intended form, buy this edition now. Unless you track down an original pressing, there’s nothing that comes close.

Thankfully they chose to include a second disc of unheard studio outtakes and live performances. These are worth the price of admission alone but not without issues. The first problem is the nature of Richard Hell’s career. If you’re a fan of an iconic artist whose musical career only lasted a few albums, it is easy to become a completist. The bonus disc leaves off alternative takes present on the compilation Time. Though a possible result of aging tapes, these alternative versions had slightly better fidelity than those present here. The deluxe edition also makes the curious choice to include Another World off the Ork Records EP while abandoning You Gotta Lose and the band’s first released version of Blank Generation. Though not as iconic, it’s a slightly more relaxed and interesting take on the song.

Altogether the 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition is the best out there. However, I would argue considering it’s limited release and dedicated fan base that a box set would have been more appropriate. Rather than Hell’s typical slow leak from his archives, it would have been better with a disc dedicated to each alternative take with the addition of I’m Your Man and All The Way. Then rounding out the third disc with the Ork EP and assorted live tracks. Then again, he might be holding out for the 50th Anniversary to give us that.

If you never heard this album, here’s a member by member reason why you must hear it.

Richard Hell served as a key creative member in both Television and the Heartbreakers. He invented the iconic image of punk rock being the first to rip up his clothes and spike his hair. This and the song Blank Generation fascinated Malcolm Mclaren to the degree he attempted to export him back to England to be the singer in the yet to form Sex Pistols.

Marc Bell the Voidoids’ drummer was one of the most talented players in the first wave of punk. He gives the album its drive and swing, a sheer powerhouse behind the kit. If you don’t recognize his name you’re more likely to know him as Marky Ramone.

Ivan Julian’s career is often the most overlooked among the Voidoids members.  He’s continued playing and producing music since exiting the band and writing killer rockers like Young Man’s Money. If you haven’t heard his music there’s a chance you’ve heard his contributions to the Clash or Mathew Sweet. 

Robert Quine remains one of my top ten guitarists of all time. He went on to become a key force in Lou Reed’s band during his early 1980’s comeback. Quine plays on the Blue Mask, Legendary Hearts and Lou Reed Live in Italy. Like Ivan Julian, he went on to record with Mathew Sweet. 

Unkle Chuk Iz Ded (A Rock and Roll Obituary: Charles Manson)

In every religion, symbolism carries sacred powers. Rock and Roll is no exception to this rule. Human nature is an exercise in duality and it don’t matter if it’s Jesus vs Satan or the Beatles vs the Stones. More often than not these labels are just human constructs, recreating biblical drama. I mean come on, John Lennon could be a real asshole, right? So you got the summer of love burning hot and then Charles Manson steps on the stage. He’s basically a hypnotic hack, who is crazy enough that he’s kept as a public pet for the amusement of more successful people… Dennis Wilson, I’m looking at your tombstone…

So this bigoted dude shows up straight outta prison promising a race war and recruits a bunch of suburban kitties to join his death valley survival squad based on a copy of the White Album. He orders a couple executions, gets apprehended and spends his life back in the only place he felt at home… jail. The 1970’s counterculture, punk, early industrial, etc picked up on him as a symbol for the end of the Age of Aquarius. Now the problem begins here. These individuals were not stupid. They understood irony and satire and the use of violent imagery as a means to provoke. If it weren’t for the white supremacist right wingers it’s not hard to imagine the swastika lasting as a symbol of punk’s bad taste for a few more years.

At this point on our journey, we enter the 1980’s and the dropping IQ of hardcore punk fans. Though there were plenty of terrific bands during this era, irony and satire were lost on many of the fans and these symbols were taken as virtues. Enter Charles Manson the persecuted folk hero who espouses environmentalism, living behind bars even though he committed no crime.

So why did anyone continue to give a shit about this guy? Personally, I was always attracted to his charisma as an aesthetic quality. It was more something to be studied than to look up to. It’s genuinely interesting but more than 10 minutes of research and you will realize he was an evil piece of shit. So why do people still look up this guy? He was an older white dude with no redeeming qualities that created a harem of young attractive women. That’s the fantasy most of his devotees wish they could live out. But it doesn’t really matter, in the end, the legend will live on. As part of the duality of the human soul, Charles Manson’s memory will continue as a tainted sacrament for the rock and rollers that never could grow up.

Who The Fuck Is John Cale (The 50th Anniversary show for The Velvet Underground and Nico)

For much of his career, John Cale lived under the shadow of Lou Reed. This stems from the lack of lyrical contributions he made on the first two Velvet Underground records. The fact that the Velvets continued to put out two more records that challenged the musical status quo of the day undercuts his contributions to the band. In reality, Velvet Underground and Nico and White Light/White Heat were heavily indebted to his musical abilities. That sense of amphetamine laced tension results entirely from Cale’s playing creating a porto-Pixies loud/soft dynamic.  

This weekend John Cale reclaimed his status as a creative force within the Velvet Underground. Playing two shows at the Brooklyn Academy of Music as part of their Next Wave Festival, Cale forcibly demonstrated his gift as an arranger and bandleader. With support from the likes of Kurt Vile, The Animal Collective, MGMT and Sky Ferreira, John Cale reimagined the whole of VU and Nico and half of White Light/White Heat in the image of his own career. 

Though I have a strong loyalty to Lou Reed’s work, he often made safer choices than John Cale when searching for collaborators. As outrageous as Lou Reed and Metallica were together, John Cale’s own partnerships were far stranger. In these sets, Cale brought forth not only his classical expertise but his interest in electronic music and the pure experimental psychosis redefining these songs in a new context. Sister Ray took on a deranged acid house tone, while a string section added to the avant-classical vibe of Venus in Furs.

The strength of the two shows at BAM results from a conscious decision by Cale to tap into an overlooked aspect of the Velvets. Often the result of the punk movement’s derision of the 1960’s they are usually remembered for their minimalist rock and gutter lyrics. In truth, they were one of the great psychedelic bands of their era and consciously wrote pop music that you could dance to. Seemingly dark as their content could be, their songs were celebrations of life even if it’s the parts we are not supposed to talk about. The final truth of these performances is the fact these songs are as relevant today as they were in 1967. You can dress them how you want but what matters are the lyrics and the melodies the rest is just how far you can take it.

John Cale, an abbreviated overview of the 1970s: