the gandharvas

REVIEW: The Gandharvas – Sold for a Smile (1997/1998 US and Canadian versions)

THE GANDHARVAS – Sold for a Smile (1997/1998 Universal US and Canadian versions)

What a band were the Gandharvas.  Lead howler Paul Jago could hit those Perry Farrell highs, and they wrote some pretty fucking great songs including their major hit “The First Day of Spring”.  An unappreciated gem would be their third and final album, 1997’s Sold for a Smile.  Led by the anthemic single “Downtime”, this is a hard album to resist no matter which version you get. It even made our list: “88 Unrightfully Ignored Albums of the 90s“.

Versions?  Yes, two:  the Canadian and US have different track listings.  In 1997, Canada got the basic 10 track CD.  When it was released Stateside, a number of tracks including “Downtime” were remixed.  The US and Canadian versions of “Downtime” have vastly different guitar solo and outro mixes, for example.  The States also got two bonus tracks:  a new recording of “The First Day of Spring” and a cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time”.  (The original album was a shorty at just under 40 minutes.)

The Gandharvas turned it up a notch for this album without losing sight of their more delicate tendencies.  “Gonna Be So Loose” is a slamdance of squealing vocals and chords.  (This song is available remixed on the US version.)  But then “Shells” is a low, strummy song perfect for the headphones.  It shows of the layered vocals that are a Gandharvas trademark.  “Waiting for Something to Happen” then goes somewhere between Guns N’ Roses and screamy, psychedelic punk rock — an astounding song, which then defies all logic by going acoustic.  And then all over the place.

Time for a little more pop in the rock, with “Hammer in a Shell”.  Snarly pop, with a sour candy coating.  “Watching the Girl” was another fine single, a more streamlined song for this album.  It too was remixed on the US edition, putting the guitars way louder.  Then strap in for “Sarsasparilla”, a boulder-heavy rocketship blast into space. “Into the Mainstream”, then, is a bit more complex, and perhaps a little bit epic.

“Milk Ocean” leads you to the end, with a healthy dose of acidy psychedelia.  It’s the closer, “Diabaloney” that’s a real head scratcher.  Is it a joke?  I can’t tell.  “I fuck it up, I got the fuck, I got the luck,” goes one set of lines.  Heavy and screamy goodness, but a real headscratcher nonetheless.  What the hell did I just listen to?

On the US version, the new recording of “The First Day of Spring” is placed third in the running order, after the remixes of “Downtime” and “Gonna Be So Loose”.  It’s quite a bit heavier than the original, though a brilliant song it remains.  Could it be actually a polished up live version?  Why does Paul Jago yell out “Colorado!” in the middle?  For fun?  This band is from London, Ontario not Colorado!  And “Time After Time”?  They twist it up, give it bite, and for better or for worse make it their own.  Unless you have a serious attachment to the song, the Gandharvas’ interpretation is quite cool.

As if you can’t tell, this is an album you should own.  Get one or the other, or both!

5/5 stars

 

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#653: The Reset King (Music and Gaming and other stories)

GETTING MORE TALE #653: The Reset King (Music and Gaming and other stories)
A sequel to #652: Evolution ’80s: Music and Gaming

Perhaps the greatest awakening I ever had in my life was the moment I first heard Iron Maiden.  It was so important to me, it was the first chapter of Record Store Tales — Part 1, “Run to the Hills”.  At that early age, music and video games collided I was never the same again.  Since that time, music has always been intertwined with gaming and my best buddy Bob.  All three combined were responsible for my rock n’ roll epiphany.

Bob and I played a lot of Atari on the weekends.  Both families had the Atari 2600, but we both had different selections of games.  Depending on whose house we were at, we’d play different games.  “Gorf” was one game he had that I didn’t.  It was a shooter like “Space Invaders” but with different kinds of levels.  More than going for a high score, it was important for us to try and make it through all the levels.  Atari games were so limited.  “Gorf” had five distinct levels so it was more rewarding to see all five than to rack up high scores.

Same with “Frogger”.  That was one of my games, and Bob was very competitive on it.  As you progressed up the levels, more obstacles were thrown in your way, like snakes for example.  It was exciting to make it to a new level for the first time, but “Frogger” was a hair-triggered game where timing was everything.  And Bob used to get very, very excitable when a game of “Frogger” went wrong.  That is how he earned the nickname The Reset King.

Here was his thinking.  If you lose a level early in “Frogger”, the chances of making it to a new high level were greatly reduced.  Bob would rather reset the game than try in futility.  So, he’d dive for that reset button on the Atari console, usually while yelling something at the game.  “The game is cheating!” was a favourite.

The game is cheating indeed, I suppose.  It was easier to let him reset than argue that an Atari 2600 wasn’t sophisticated enough to “cheat” at a video game.  “Frogger” was very touchy, but it wasn’t particularly glitchy.  If you so much as touched a car, you were dead even if it didn’t technically “hit” you.  So it could get frustrating, sure.  We would have to eventually cut Bob off from resets or nobody else would get a turn.

And so, he was crowned the Reset King by my dad, who worried he was going to break the damn switch.  It was a title Bob rejected because the game was cheating, and because David Dolph across the street was way worse with the reset button.

David Dolph was this bratty kid across the street.  His weird family wouldn’t let them play with any toys with guns, like G.I. Joe.  But David was no dummy.  He had a Transformers collection, because he didn’t tell his mom they came with guns.  He was also destructive, and if you let David Dolph near your toys, he’d probably wreck them.  We didn’t like David Dolph, but one afternoon we found ourselves at his house playing video games in the basement.  It was there that David Dolph faced the Reset King.

They didn’t have an Atari, but they did have a Commodore Vic 20 that you could play games on.  We were playing there in the basement, when the Reset King decided to start a game over because it “cheated” early on.

“No fair!” yelled David Dolph.  “No fair!  It’s my turn now!”  He tried to wrestle the controller from Bob’s hand, who didn’t budge.  In fact he just continued to stare intently at the TV and play, with the corners of his mouth attempting to conceal a smile.  Giving up the fight over the controller, David Dolph burst into tears and ran upstairs.  Bob kept playing, a huge grin now upon his face.  We stayed until Bob finished playing games!

David Dolph was a weird kid.  His parents were really strict and wouldn’t let them listen to music, except for Bruce Springsteen.  They approved of the Boss, but heavy metal was satanic to them.  The kid was over at our house one afternoon when I was watching music videos on TV with Bob.  He was visibly upset by “Rock You” by Helix, and left the house.  About a decade later, he sure changed.  I often heard him blasting Savatage’s “Hall of the Mountain King” from his bedroom window when his parents weren’t around.

Maybe it’s the narcissist in me, but who was he blasting Savatage for?  By that time, Bob and I weren’t even talking to him, so I always wondered if he was blasting it at us.

As much fun as we had over the years, you had to be patient when gaming with Bob.  If you wanted play with him, you had to let the Reset King have his way.

The reset button never broke.  In fact we still have the same Atari 2600.  It works, and we still have all the cartridges…except one.  My sister never forgave me for trading away “Superman”.  However, I traded “Superman” for my first Kiss (Record Store Tales Part 3:  My First Kiss) so clearly I had the greater good in mind.

What did break…frequently…were the controllers.  And that wasn’t Bob’s fault.  Bob owned an Atari and took good care of his stuff.  He was brought up in a Dutch household that understood the value of working for something and taking care of it.  None of Bob’s things were broken like David Dolph’s.  No, Bob didn’t break our controllers.  They were broken by Cousin Geoffrey.  Cousin Geoffrey broke…everything.

My cousin is now a father himself, and he understands things a little differently now.  I think he doesn’t hold it against me when I say he was fucking annoying to play Atari or Nintendo with.  More annoying than the Reset King or David Dolph!

Geoffrey destroyed about three Atari joysticks.  I was pretty good at taking them apart and repairing them, but there was only so much I could do.  An Atari joystick was a plastic handle that activated four switches on a circuitboard underneath.  Geoffrey would push those joysticks so hard that the plastic inside would shatter.  I could take it apart and use hot glue to give the inner plastic frame some strength but it was a temporary fix at best.  You had to buy new controllers.  My dad eventually decreed that Geoffrey was only allowed to play with old, refurbished controllers, not the new ones.

Geoffrey destroyed our original Transformers G1 Frenzy figure, on Christmas day, the same day we got it!  He was just a destructive child, and what he didn’t destroy he simply lost.  I’ll give you some examples of the chaos he caused.

First trip to Alberta, August 1979.  l-r Mike, Geoffrey “Captain Destructo”, and Kathryn

In August 1979, the family took our first trip to Alberta.  It was a two week tour starting in Edmonton and going through the mountains.  My sister, my cousin and I were often given the same toys to play with, so we wouldn’t fight over them.  My sister and my cousin were both given dinky cars of the Batmobile.  Were they ever cool.  They came with a little metal trailer and a plastic Bat Boat you could tow.  We had a lot of fun playing dinky cars on those floors of Alberta motels.  They were also small enough to carry around in your pockets.

Geoffrey threw his first Batmobile off a mountain in Jasper.  He just wanted to see what would happen if he threw the Batmobile off a moutain.  A second Batmobile was bought for him on the same trip.  That Batmobile was flushed down the toilet of a rest stop in Canmore.  He was eventually given a third Batmobile, which, as far as I know, survived a little longer than the other two.

Geoffrey “Captain Destructo” (in cap) sulking after sacrificing the Batmobile to the Mountain Gods.

Another incident of soul-crushing toy waste happened in the summer of 1983.  This time, Geoffrey was visiting us in Ontario.  It was the summer of Return of the Jedi.  The new figures were out.  My mom took us to Zellers and bought each of us a new toy.  I chose Luke Skywalker, partly because he came with so many accessories.  He came with a new lightsaber, a gun and a cloth cape.  Geoffrey got the same figure.  We then waited on a bench while my mom did her banking.

“Come on let’s open these,” said Geoffrey.  My sister and I always waited until we got home.

Geoffrey ripped open his Luke.

“Why are you opening that now?  You’re going to lose the gun.  Just wait until we get home.  This is our last stop.”  I attempted to reason with my cousin but he had Luke out of the package.

Within the first five minutes, he lost the gun.  Before we made it home, he lost the lightsaber too.

“I told you so,” was something I relished saying to him.  My Luke, by the way, still has all his accessories 35 years later.

What these tales tell us is that cousin Geoffrey was a monsoon of chaos and utter destruction.  He also had all the latest stuff, and that included video games.  Fortunately for his parents, the original Nintendo Entertainment System had very robust, button-based controllers.  He couldn’t break them.  He was really good at “Super Mario Bros.” and “Mike Tyson’s Punch Out”.  Unfortunately this meant my sister and I didn’t get much gaming time.  We died early and often, and he played long lives while earning extra ones.  His turns were much longer than ours.

We saw him make it to Mike Tyson once.  That was pretty cool.  Once he almost made it, but my dad walked in front of the TV during a fight and caused Geoffrey to lose.  Boy he sure threw a fit that time!

Here’s the funny thing.  When we were kids, my cousin took a lot of energy and patience to keep entertained.  When he hit his 20s, he really mellowed out and we bonded like we never have before.  And what did we bond over?  Music and video games.

I took a trip out to Alberta for a week in 1997.  He took me shopping to a couple music stores in Calgary, used and new.  I found a rare CD featuring the early one of somebody named Dave Grohl.  It was the band Scream, and the CD was No More Censorship.  I was kicking off a love affair with Foo Fighters and it was a seriously cool find.  Geoffrey was (and always has been) into to Tragically Hip, so I got him a CD by a similar sounding band called the Barstool Prophets. Meanwhile, he turned me onto the Gandharvas with their last album Sold For a Smile.  Killer album that I still love (and own two different copies of).

At night, he introduced me to one of the best racing games I’ve ever played.  For the N64 system, we spent hours on “Top Gear Rally”.  It was such an immersive game for its time.  We designed our cars, we discovered shortcuts, and had a blast seeing how far we could make it.

Once again, it wasn’t best scores or best times that mattered.  It was seeing how far you could get.  Getting to the third or fourth level was rare and required serious skill.  It was the most fun I’d had playing video games in many years!

All these memories flow like a stream of consciousness, triggered by certain songs.  Early Kiss, AC/DC and Quiet Riot will forever be associated with the old Atari 2600 in the basement.  Bob was a constant gaming companion, and he sets off even more memories.  Discovering music together, like Whitesnake and Kiss albums.  All hail the Reset King.  Long may he reign!

 

 

Most Unrightfully Ignored Albums of the 1990s – LeBrain’s List Part 2

In alphabetical order, here’s Part 2:  88 albums that meant the world to me in the 1990′s but never got the respect I felt they deserved.  

Dokken – Dysfunctional (reunion with George, adventurous album)
Steve Earle – I Feel Alright (jail obviously did him some good — his best record)
Steve Earle – El Corazon (among his best records)
Extreme – III Sides To Every Story (don’t get me started!)
Extreme – Waiting For the Punchline (a stripped-down oft-forgotten classic with Mike Mangini)
Faith No More – Angel Dust (…)
Faith No More – King For A Day, Fool For A Lifetime
Fight – War Of Words (I didn’t like Halford’s followup effort but this one is brutally heavy)
The Four Horsemen – Nobody Said It Was Easy (it wasn’t easy, is why)
The Four Horsemen – Gettin’ Pretty Good…At Barely Gettin’ By (but they released two great records in the 1990’s)

Fu Manchu – The Action Is Go (started me on my Fu Manchu addiction)
The Gandharvas – Sold For A Smile (my cousin turned me onto this one while I was in Calgary)
Halford – Live Insurrection (better than any of the live albums that Priest did without him)
Harem Scarem – Mood Swings (brilliant album, you can hear Queen influences, but it’s the guitar and vocals that set it apart)
Harem Scarem – Karma Cleansing (…now a bit more progressive, like progressive-lite)
Harem Scarem – Big Bang Theory (…and now, short and to the point!)
Helix – It’s A Business Doing Pleasure (too soft for the general Helix masses)
The Hellacopters – Grande Rock (the album Kiss should have made instead of Psycho Circus)
Glenn Hughes – From Now On… (anthemic and spiritual)
Iron Maiden – Fear Of the Dark (it gets a bad rap but it pretty much got me through 1992)
Journey – Trial By Fire (I don’t think they’ve ever made a better record to be honest)
Killer Dwarfs – Dirty Weapons (ditto!)