Saturday, November 03, 2007

I'd Buy Anything By...Concrete Blonde

Even though I'd heard (and enjoyed) their first big hit ("Still in Hollywood"), it wasn't until "Joey" came out that I became really aware of Concrete Blonde. That sad, doomed, gorgeous song (and "Bloodletting," the album it came from) will always vividly remind me of a family trip to New England, sitting inside a string of tiny lake-shore cabins and playing cards with my parents while listening to "Joey," the one song we all enjoyed.

When I realized that Concrete Blonde was entwined with one of my most favourite groups (Wall of Voodoo) I started picking up more of their albums, and I gradually grew to like their somewhat minimal, streetwise sound. The later "Mexican Moon" release REALLY grabbed me -- all sludgy, cavernous studio-trickery, with Andy Prieboy on piano -- and though I sadly missed that tour, Vanilla and I made it to their "Group Therapy" reunion show, which was nothing short of incredible...flamenco routines and all.

Johnette Napolitano is a top-notch songwriter, able to distill both love and pain without relying on cliches:
Things get better every day you stay alive.
Then I'm amazed every day
that the sun decides to rise.
Every minute, every hour,
is another chance to change.
Life is beautiful & terrible & strange.
Guitarist James Mankey has a jangly, loose style well-suited to sweetness, power-chords, and even SWEET power-chords. Their drummers may come and go, but that core duo will hopefully always be around, charming the rockers and the goths and the card-playing parents alike.

Here's Johnette looking more Lee Aaron than usual, with "Heal It Up," including Roxy Music's Paul Thompson on Big Thumpy Drums.

After breaking up and then settling their differences, they proved to me (and hopefully the world) that they still "had it." Here's "Take Me Home," possibly one of the most astute and beautiful of all their songs.

Must-have albums? I'd say both their first self-titled release and "Mexican Moon," to capture both their garage sound and their crazy-studio sound. Albums to avoid? Definitely "Walking in London," which has some good moments but otherwise sounds like they're only going through the motions..."stumbling through London," as it were. For fans only: Napolitano's collaboration with guitarist Marc Moreland called "Pretty and Twisted," which is as demented and beautiful as you'd imagine.


Anonymous said...

Please tell me (I’m too lazy to look it up). What is the Concrete Blonde/Wall of Voodoo connection, exactly?

Adam Thornton said...

I assume they cross-pollinated simply because they were both playing in L.A. and were both signed to IRS, but the first recorded connection is on "Bloodletting." One song was co-written with WOV's Bruce Moreland, and "Tomorrow Wendy" was written by Andy Prieboy (who also played keyboards on the track).

Prieboy later sang "low manly notes" on the "Walking in London" album (you can really hear him in "Ghost of a Texas Ladies' Man") and played the beautiful piano at the end of "Love is a Blind Ambition" on "Mexican Moon."

Meanwhile, Johnette appeared on Prieboy's first solo album (a duet on "Tomorrow Wendy") and did uncredited vocals on his "Montezuma" single (she's the hillbilly vocalist on the brilliant cover of "Whole Lotta Love").

She also teamed up with WOV's guitarist Marc Moreland for one album as "Pretty and Twisted."

When I was in LA, it turned out that my hairdresser there had done fashion shows with Johnette and was Prieboy's regular hairdresser; she said that Prieboy and Napolitano were very close friends but had apparently had a falling out; true, after "Mexican Moon," they haven't worked together again.

So THAT'S more than you ever wanted to know! :)