Thursday, December 8, 2016

One Last Pick Through the Bins, Volume 8: The Hives

How far to back into that one?

The first song I ever heard by The Hives was “Hate to Say I Told You So.” A boyfriend of an in-law used that and a song by The Czars that I can’t remember to pad out the rest of a CD with The Strokes first album on it. So, yeah, good day for me. Great song, too, one that worked exactly the same way any great single should (i.e., “you like that kid? There’s more where that came from.”)

I didn’t listen to that parenthetical voice. When the next chance to pick up something by The Hives came ‘round – and this was years later, a half decade at least - fate threw two albums at me: Barely Legal and Tyrannosaurus Hives. Barely Legal, as it turns out, is the band’s debut album. It also turns out it’s not easy to come by, even by today’s (or Spotify’s) standards. I want to pause here to acknowledge something people can’t appreciate in these days of “(almost) every song at your fingertips.” There was a time when some kind of essentially accidental logic sent that Swedish album to a random record store in the American town you actually have to live in. Add to that the necessity of some random person going on a bizarre music-porn quest to seek out this semi-mythical, yet documented (in fanzines) colored 45 of a European import. This was treasure hunting, people. I only did it in Seattle and in the early 90s, and very, very passively. Also, that was a time when people just threw all that shit at you. You only had to decide whether you wanted to eat the extra cost. Still have a few colored vinyl 45s. Just sayin’…

At any rate, Barely Legal came from a European label, and featured an essentially anonymous band (e.g. The Hives; no one knew who they were…maybe just outside of Sweden). Even as I barely remember how I came across it (old gypsy woman?), it’s a good debut, one filled with a healthy dose of straight punk numbers – e.g., “Well, Well, Well,” “King of Asskissing,” and “What’s that Spell…Go to Hell!” – but a couple prototypes for future songs came in, too – e.g., “Here We Go Again” and “BlackJack.”

Tyrannosaurus Hives built from the prototypes. (It felt better to use “builds” in the prior sentence because good music feels current when I hear it, but that’s why I kept The Hives’ discography close while I looked into this stuff; Barely Legal came out in 1997; their most current is 2012, for reference). It came in the middle of their run and years ago – things change, people change, hairstyles change - but it’s still the cleanest embrace of what feels like the band’s best self. Searing pace, nervously manic guitar riffs, all topped by a bellowing sociopath who knows how to use a good scream: these are a few of my favorite things, and The Hives gave them to me on Tyrannosaurus Hives. When I think of The Hives, even with the oddballs on Barely Legal, Tyrannosaurus Hives is their sound.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

One Last Pick Through the Bins, Volume 7: The (or the) Lemonheads

Don't get it either...

According to “my sources,” The Lemonheads cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson” “got them the most exposure they had had.” (Hat tip, though, for the quick reference to Madonna's "Like a Virgin.") And that’s a goddamn shame, not least because it’s not even their best cover. Here, I’m willing to entertain a debate: I’m partial to their “Amazing Grace,” but I’m sure some people out there would vouch for “My Name Is Luka.” That last one is a rare case where a male voice works better…something about vulnerability and the way men tend to suppress it…

Apart from knowing it happened at some point during high school, I can’t really say when I first heard the Lemonheads - but it happened before they, or rather he, added the definite article to the band’s name. And, “he” means the guy you’re likely to know, if you know The Lemonheads at all, Evan Dando.

However and whenever it happened, the Lemonheads put out two of my all-time favorite albums, Hate Your Friends and Creator. I played both into the fucking ground for years upon years and they somehow still make a steady appearance in my musical rotation to this day. One detail makes that doubly weird, or arguably embarrassing: the themes they address on both albums, even the way they approach to music, is decidedly adolescent – or, generously, “young adult.” Then again, that might be shortchanging just how cleanly they hit a couple major themes – among them, frustration in relationships, heartbreak, anger…I guess it’s mostly just frustration, really, a mindset that I don’t know that I’ve ever let go of. I’m not even sure that I’m capable of letting go of it. Put another way, I can listen to “Fucked Up” over and over again and still feel every word. I mean, who can’t connect to the idea of being reminded again and again and again of something that you already know in your bones – that, yes, I fucked up. And I’m real sorry.

So, yeah, both Hate Your Friends and Creator loom large in my pantheon of albums – they live in Arcadia, even Mount Olympus. They put out a couple albums after that – Lick, among them, which is where you find their cover of "Luka" – and Lick was fine, even as I had no idea at the time about where the band was when they released it (e.g, nowhere good personally, but improving professionally). Lovey came after that, and, bluntly, I’m not sure I even remember that one coming out. The only album after Lick that I remember coming out was It’s a Shame About Ray. That’s where they put “Mrs. Robinson,” along with the title track, but my opinion on it at the time of its release can best be summed up in the way I renamed it: I called it “It’s a Shame About The Lemonheads.” And I meant it.