Phish, A Picture of Nectar

It's worth it to read the band's dedication to Nectar Rorris, the album's namesake beverage(ur), in which they gratefully acknowledge he "was happy to give us a gig despite our lack of experience, organization, or a song list long enough to last two sets." All that is true, and all that is reflected here with the possible exception of the latter. Indeed, this hippie gemisch of nonsense vocals and multi-instrumental brilliance ("whatever you do, take care of your shoes") doesn't really cook until somewhere into the third track ("Cavern," named for no good reason) and then it just takes off. Exceptional moments: the smooth, skillful guitar jam leading "Stash," the scatty imprecise jazz of "Magilla" b/w hot guitar licks and sweaty tropical rhythms in "The Landlady" (!), and rhyming "tweezer" and "freezer" in (what else?) "Tweezer" and its closing encore. On the low end, besides the first two weaker tracks, "Glide" is pretty dumb and the mercifully short "Faht" and "Catapult" just feel shoveled on to fill out that second set, but they're all balanced out either by the beautiful juxtaposition of graceful keyboards and agonizing drug withdrawal in "The Mango Song" ("your hands and feet are mangoes, you're gonna be a genius anyway") or the hard-driving indictment of how badly the educational system serves berserkers in "Chalk Dust Torture." Nectar was onto something. They were on something. But it all worked out in the end, didn't it? (Content: S-bomb in "Poor Heart," drug references in "Stash" and "The Mango Song.")

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Modest Mouse, The Moon & Antarctica

If all the Moon and Antarctica have in common is being lifeless and difficult for humans to inhabit, then that's this album too. The low points begin early with "3rd Planet," a grimy disheveled mess obsessed with "f*cking people over" (possibly the listeners), but later on also the atonal, cacophanous "Tiny Cities Made of Ashes" and the interminable "The Stars are Projectors." There are flashes of talent: I liked the introspective "The Cold Part," though mostly for the musing harmonies and overdubs and not much else, the solemn if moronic "Gravity Rides Everything" with its Radiohead-style distortion, and the clever "Paper Thin Walls" which might have sprung fully formed from the head of David Byrne. A couple tracks like "Dark Center of the Universe" and "A Different City" even get up enough verve to groove to. Still, Isaac Brock's snarly navel-gazing is as tedious as the affected clang association lyrics, and the quality of the production doesn't generally match its erratic composition. The band nevertheless thinks more of it than it deserves, as evidenced by the 2004 reissue/remaster with four tracks as reworked for BBC Radio 1; though actually longer than the originals, they're tighter, and potentially proof this band's got something more to offer after all. (Content: F- and S-bombs, violent imagery on "Wild Packs of Family Dogs.")

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The Beatles, Let It Be

Stop it with the gauzy historical revisionism: Abbey Road was truly their last album, and this is just the flotsam that washed up after. Lennon was gone by then and the remnant, coasting on their own formidable narcissism (including George Martin), finished up a batch of half-hearted live noodles and jams and dumped it all on Phil Spector to deal with. So he got out the Wall of Sound, and for his controversial efforts polishing their turds into sequins, he was excoriated by three of the four (Lennon, ironically, the only one to get the joke) and half of all the record critics across the universe. For my money, it's still the same pretentious crap it was in the bootlegs, it just sounds better (which Let It Be... Naked, McCartney's ill-advised anti-production remix, likewise misunderstood). Now, being the Beatles, it's still a good album and stands the test of time, and I still love the schmaltz. But don't you dare think for a minute I'd tolerate this kind of laziness from anyone else. (Content: no concerns.)

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The Greatest of Pleasure

Even (or perhaps particularly) obscure bands resurrect; Pleasure's original keyboardist, now a prosecuting attorney, brought back a new incarnation of this Portland soul-funk group in 2019 after disbanding 38 years prior. Fans trying to turn back the clock, however, will find a lot of flaws in this retrospective collection: their 1975 début and 1982 swan song are completely ignored, the Afrofuturist "Future Now" comes across as me-too and helplessly dated, cookie-cutter later singles "Yearnin' Burnin'" and "Take A Chance" don't impress and while "Glide" was indisputably their biggest hit we certainly didn't need three versions of it (not least leading off with a limp rap remix overdubbed by Psycho). Fortunately the good singles made it here too including sublimely rich "Ghettos of the Mind" and the insistent sax solos on the superfunky "Joyous," but the best outings are the sensually lyric "Sassafras Girl" (with its softly hooting primal intro yielding a gauzy tropical feel) and my favourite track, "Get to the Feeling," mixing husky vocals, infectious beat, strong horns and an unerring baseline that's never off point. (So funky, in fact, that they basically ripped it off for "The Real Thing" and nearly as good, so we'll forgive it.) Add on the boisterous "Let's Dance" and "Foxy Lady" and you've got a real party. We wish their revival luck because they'll have some big shoes to fill: while this album proves their discography wasn't always distinguished, more often than not it still delighted. (Content: no concerns.)

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10cc, How Dare You!

An exemplar of prog rock taken to a possibly illogical extreme, it's still a nearly unmitigated marvel to listen to. Complete even with overture, every single track is practically an operetta in miniature: laments of the bullied ("I Wanna Rule The World"), the mentally ill ("Iceberg") and harassed parents ("Rock 'N' Roll Lullaby"), wrapped up in boyhood sexual awakening (the bluesy "Head Room") and a layer of nostalgia ("Lazy Ways"). Any regret of the album's sole weak track (the desperately witty but monotonous morality play "Art For Art's Sake") is quickly dispelled by two more of exceptional skill: the saucy yet studiously formal "I'm Mandy Fly Me" featuring a remarkable bridge instrumental between the two halves of a shaggy stewardess story, and the absolute best of all, "Don't Hang Up"'s tale of a relationship on the skids, with heartfelt performance, perfect orchestration and knife-sharp wordplay ("when the barman said whatcha drinking, I said marriage on the rocks"). The subject matter may occasionally be a bit startling (how dare they, indeed!) but its originality never falters and neither will your interest. The CD reissue adds the lightweight "Get It While You Can," not of the same studio quality or level of wit as the rest of the album, but a worthy track all the same. (Content: adult themes.)

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Oingo Boingo, Nothing To Fear

In retrospect, Only A Lad's frenetic energy level was probably unsustainable. Although the manic funk headbanger "Insects" is every bit as crazy as you'd hope, and the oddly sweet "Wild Sex (In The Working Class)" may be more laidback but no less exuberant, the rest of the album perplexingly doesn't quite reach those heights. "Nothing To Fear (But Fear Itself)" does have some of the same old transgressive zip and "Reptiles and Samurai" is inexplicable but fun, but then there's the (ironically) brainless "Grey Matter," the (likewise) sluggish "Running On A Treadmill," and the disagreeably preachy "Why'd We Come" which squares badly with the group's then-dominant nihilism. The remainder (particularly "Private Life") are solid, and largely even good, but not anywhere near as punchy. You'll still get a mostly decent album, but if you were looking for another refreshing slap in the face you won't get it here. (Content: adult themes on "Wild Sex" and "Nothing To Fear.")

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