Bizzare rock from Penn Jilette; Oregon's comeback LP
no tearsheet for the first review; tearsheet to CBS for the second. --vmb
NEVER MIND THE SEX PISTOLS --
HERE'S BONGOS, BASS, & BOB!
Bongos, Bass, and Bob.
in the Hands of Babies Records.
By V. MICHAEL BOVE
ROCK MUSIC THAT TAKES A twisted view of life has a history as long as rock itself, beginning in the 1950s with Nervous Norvis, who sounded frighteningly like Ronald Reagan. In recent years the genre has exploded in popularity, its practitioners including Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper, They Might Be Giants, The Dead Milkmen, and many others with varying degrees of musical and satirical talent.
An intriguing addition to this new and notable list, Bongos, Bass, and Bob is headed up by Penn Jillette, the talkative half of the magic duo Penn and Teller (Teller contributes purposely ugly cover art). Jillette's bass and vocals are accompanied by bongo playing by singer Dean J. Seal and amazingly versatile guitar work by Rob "Running" Elk. Fred Frith (yes, that Fred Frith) makes cameo appearances on violin.
Aficionados of the album-as-art-object school will have a field day with Never Mind the Sex Pistols. Even before one plays this disc, it becomes apparent that something seriously odd -- if not unpleasant -- is going on. Item: the rather attractive clear blue vinyl of this record. Item: Both sides are labeled "Side B" (actually quite appropriate). Item: A computer bulletin board account for terminal- and modem-equipped listeners. Item: Every place the name of the record company appears, it's slightly different. Item: An order blank for Velvet Underground Appreciation Society paraphernalia like Maureen Tucker T-shirts is enclosed. Item: A lyrics sheet loaded with modern poetry like this:
I'm walking in the park, walking in the park with my sweater on my shoulder, and I'm walking in the dark, walking in the dark with my sweater and my schnauzer and I'm wondering while I'm walking, wondering if I should stop and get some Woolite for the sweater and some dog food for the schnauzer and a quart of milk for breakfast in the morning.
Despite their limited instrumentation Bongos, Bass, and Bob create a very tight sound, using a variety of styles ranging from calypso to ersatz Dylan. This record would be worth having even if it had normal lyrics. While "Thorazine Shuffle" isn't quite up to the timeless standard set by The Fugs' "New Amphetamine Shriek," and while a couple of songs seem to be inside jokes about friends, this album hits home with examinations of such topics as self-destructive tendencies ("Clearly Unhealthy"), clean teeth ("Oral Hygiene"), used clothing ("Clothes of the Dead"), and housemates ("Rent Control"). But the true gems, which curiously all treat variations of the same theme, are saved for the end. "Die Trying to Escape" is bass-driven B-movie music, "Girls with Guns" is the doo-wop story of a man to whom a speargun-equipped Ursula Andress is the epitome of womanhood, and "Gun in my Hand and I'm Waitin' on my Woman," goes from one of the least auspicious intros in recent memory to what should become a classic in the annals of punkadelia.
Never Mind the Sex Pistols is more than just a good hack. You can dance to it, too.
A FOND MEMORY of my undergraduate years involves nights when rather than doing problem sets, we got out some candles, some jug wine, and some records by Oregon, an instrumental quartet whose synthesis of Eastern, classical, and jazz influences proved ideal for such meditative moments. I hadn't heard very much about Oregon recently, and when their new album on CBS/Portrait arrived in The Tech's office last week, I was frankly worried about what might have happened to them in their transition to a "big" label. My worries were not settled by the accompanying press release which said, "These guys invented new age before it ever existed and still play it better than anyone else," and "Given the explosion of Adult Alternative Radio, Oregon will fit right into the format."
I am pleased to report that despite the hype, 45th Parallel deserves a place alongside Oregon's old Vanguard releases. There have been some changes, to be sure; Trilok Gurtu, who plays drums as well as tabla, has replaced the late Collin Walcott. "Chihuahua Dreams" is the first Oregon piece with vocals (by Nancy King), but it sounds like, well, what an Oregon piece with vocals ought to sound like.
The addition of snare drums and cymbals in a few places makes the music sound too much like generic straight-ahead modern jazz, but "Riding on the D Train" and "Les Douzilles" nicely combine classical guitar with tabla in a way that should satisfy even the most hard-core Oh yeah. All those hard-core skinhead New Age fans, right?--debby Oregon fan. New Age influences are largely confined to "Urumchi," sort of African space music, and "Pageant (Epilogue)," a Liz Story-style piano piece well executed by Ralph Towner.
I wouldn't necessarily recommend 45th Parallel as an introduction to Oregon, but long-time listeners shouldn't be inclined to ignore it despite the major-label hype.