Lost Treasures – Viv Albertine’s “The Vermillion Border” (Revisited)

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Viv Albertine – “The Vermillion Border”

Cadiz Music (2012)

Authored by Dale Nickey:

Viv Albertine should be anointed patron saint of the domestically dispossessed. After leaving her band The Slits and the music business some three decades ago, she reestablished dominion over her own life after a lengthy submission to the mundane identity of Hastings housewife and mother. When Albertine finally decided to cast off the invisible shackles of marriage, Albertine had no golden parachute of prior chart hits to help zip line her escape from a financially responsible but existentially impoverished husband; a man who possessed no appreciation for the musical visionary he lived with for 17 years.

After releasing an excellent 4 song EP “Flesh” in 2010, Albertine’s formal declaration of independence took the form of her 2012 debut solo album “The Vermillion Border” and it’s a revelation. Albertine is present and in charge throughout the 11 tracks that comprise the album. Each song features her feathery, labyrinthine guitar style and her honey-sweet monotone vocals. And, of further interest is the guest line-up, that features a different bass player on each track – those include; Jack Bruce, Tina Weymouth, Glen Matlock, Danny Thompson and a host of others. If suffering is the compost of good art, “The Vermillion Border” is an art piece 25 years in the making. Stylistically, the album is clearly informed by the artist’s eclectic and inclusive listening habits as well as her life experiences with sexism, cancer, marriage, motherhood and divorce. You would not expect such a catholic variance in style, tone and color from an ex-punker. However, when you factor in that her favorite guitar player is Progressive Guitar icon, Steve Howe from Yes, it all starts to make sense. As a guitarist she conjures an impressive range of sounds and rhythms using muted strings, drone strings, note clusters, capos and chord embellishments.

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“The Vermillion Border” is a rich banquet of mood and tone. As a songwriter, Viv keeps it simple and sticks to verse/chorus song structure with the odd bridge or transition.  Her voice is an unpretentious instrument of persuasion that – when layered and doubled – can add up to significantly more than its component parts.

What follows is a track by track overview of “The Vermillion Border”

1. “I Want More” If any song serves as a manifesto to Albertine’s third act heroics it’s this track. It’s snarly, provocative and cacophonic in equal and proper measure. Lyrically, it works on many levels; as an existential plea to the cosmic referee to put up a few more minutes on the clock, or as an ultimatum to an underachieving partner to raise their game a notch. “I Want More” charges out of the gate hard.

2.“Confessions of a MILF” – The catchiest track on the album is probably the deepest. The artist has alluded to that fact that nursery rhymes are probably the closest thing young girls have to a collective folk music tradition. The song starts off dead simple with a hooky little Telecaster riff as the bedrock to Albertine’s screed against domestic mundanity. As the music builds and gets angrier, so do the lyrics. The volume and dissonance increases unabated as Albertine chants her repetitive mantras of domestic servitude. It all builds to a raucous crescendo with Albertine howling, “SHOES OFF!” before she crumples to the floor breathless while still gasping her desperate incantations through to the end of the track. A fascinating record by any measure. However, the involvement of Albertine’s ex-paramour Mick Jones (The Clash) turns “..Milf” into an epic.

3. “In Vitro” – Here, Albertine alludes to the travails of In Vitro fertilization, in addition to her regime of chemotherapy; the woman has suffered. The In Vitro regime included daily self-administered stomach injections. But, one wonders if the needles she coos so benignly about could also belong to absent friends who ultimately succumbed to the ravages of Heroin. Arguably the most sophisticated and detailed composition on the album.

4. When it was Nice – One imagines this song was written during that transitional period where  rose tinted denial gradually gives way to the realization that that you’ve grown to dislike the person you’re in love with.

5. Hook-up Girl – On this tune Albertine mixes a sappy girl-pop verse with a bouncy malt-shop refrain: all describing the dark melancholy that accompanies a dour, loveless relationship based only on sexual convenience. Clearly, the narrator is not happy with the proffered arrangement, which she describes as… “Blowjobs no kisses”.

6. The False Heart – A druggy mood piece that shuffles sleepily into the twilight zone of despondency. On this piece more than any other, Albertine’s guitar work conveys more than words. Albertine’s voice sounds fragile and emotionally spent, beyond caring. The refrain is a faint schoolyard taunt, wearily repeating the word….liar, liar, liar…

7. Don’t Believe – In her book, Albertine professed her admiration and obsession with John Lennon and his art. “Don’t Believe” is the female riposte to Lennon’s neo-nihilist purge “God”. His influence (lyrically) is clearly present on this track. Written the day her father died, “Don’t Believe” stands as one of the greatest atheist anthems in the Rock pantheon, a slow boil screed where Albertine sneeringly declares belief only in things that she can see, touch and feel. The harmonic structure is a deceptively nuanced, circular guitar riff that brings to mind early XTC.

8. Becalmed (I Should Have Known) – Gorgeous, atmospheric track. Imagine a sober, transgendered Syd Barrett baring his soul after jumping into the existential void without a safety line. Indeed, Albertine’s slithery slide work sounds like it could have been sampled directly from Pink Floyd’s “Relics”.

9. Little Girl In A Box – Having read Albertine’s amazing book “Boys.., Clothes.., Music..”, the lyrics on “The Vermillion Border” scan like a ‘cliff notes’ version of that work. Albertine whispers the lyrics in the manner of a mother reading her daughter to sleep. However, instead of a benign fairy tale, this is a cautionary one for a girl taking her first tentative steps into womanhood. Probably meant for the ears of Albertine’s own daughter. However, the standard mommy speech is clearly extrapolated from personal experience and (possibly) from similar advice given by Albertine’s own mother.

10. Madness of Clouds – Floating, meandering mood piece. The only track on “The Vermillion Border” that courts dispensability.

11. Still England –Clearly, Albertine’s work is informed by that particular love/hate relationship with Britain that other British artists (Kinks, XTC, The Beatles) have mined to great artistic effect. On this tune she gives us a laundry list of the most British of British institutions and celebrities. She somehow combines cultural pride with a healthy distain for bullshit iconography. The song marches along – ticking off such disparate people and entities as The Royal Mail, Kate Bush, David Bowie, Tea, The Roxy, etc…. The final word uttered is ‘cunt’; the most inflammatory, gender specific epithet in the English language. The word is both bracing and startling, while at the same time, it’s uttered casually and unapologetically. Albertine (a stealthy anti-hero in the feminist movement) somehow denudes the word’s power to hurt or shock. “Still England” is the perfect end to a near perfect album.

This writer stubbornly maintains that Rock and Roll as a living, breathing art is dead. However, once in a while a maverick bolt of lightning strikes the corpse and animates the monster to life (however briefly) and thus, forces us to question our pronouncement. “The Vermillion Border” is just such an album.

 

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Debut Albums that Shook My World – Lene Lovich “Stateless”

Authored by Dale Nickey:

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LENE LOVICH – STATELESS (1978)

They were called “promotional films” back then. There was no television broadcast channel dedicated to music. MTV was a few years off. The Z Channel was the one cable channel on the block where you could watch movies intended for mature audiences. Now and then you would see a band you liked on The Midnight Special or In Concert. There were a few local music shows on TV too. But, not many.

Anyway, promotional films were becoming the main avenue for up and coming British artists to plant their flag on U.S. soil. That’s how I found Kate Bush. Then, one day Lene Lovich came.

Kate Bush was odd and ethereal. Lene Lovich was just plain weird…and wonderful. She just materialized on my television one night. Exotic, pretty and tough as nails. Never saw that combination of attributes in a woman before. She was Punk, but not really. It was a whole different ball game. In her music I heard Classical, Motown, and Rockabilly…the works. Her first song that made it over to the states was “Lucky Number”. The film for that song was from a hipper world than the one I lived in. Lene’s boyfriend (Les Chappel) was the guitar player and looked ominous with his shaved head. Not like today – when everyone from your cable guy to your coffee barista is a skinhead. Back then, in the era of Prog caped-crusaders with flowing locks, it was a real statement. A statement of what, I was wasn’t sure. I wasn’t jealous of Les because he didn’t seem like a typical yob boyfriend. He seemed more like Lene’s loyal subject and henchman. Indeed, the video showed the band standing well behind Lene bowing in submission while she declared:

“…everything I do I take complete control, that’s where I’m coming from. My Lucky Number is one”

The only question that remained was; where can I buy this goddamned record?

Stateless was her first album and everything about it was perfect. This was an album by a female artist, but the artwork was refreshingly absent  pinks, pastels and squiggly graphics. The American version had Lene facing the camera, unsmiling, shot from the waist up. Giving nothing away. Wearing a black tunic like those favored by Communist politburo officials. She looked like Stalin or Mao Tse Tung reincarnated as a hot chick. Even had a dimple on her chin like Mao. Love at first sight.

The back cover was equally austere black and white. Nobody could guess what era this album came from if they didn’t know already. It was the perfect tonic for a lost, inquiring, non-conformist punk like me. There was a time when kids didn’t want to fit in, or wear the same poncy sneakers as everybody else. We didn’t want our heroes to look like us. We wanted something out of this world; or at the very least, not of our world. Lene was a British artist, born in Detroit with Yugoslavian ancestry. Maybe there was a god.

Lene would show up fairly regularly on TV. I can’t remember which shows. But, somehow she found me. Then came the film for “Say When”. It was a live band performance mimed to the record. Didn’t matter. The film showed a town hall full of kids, arms locked and smashed together like sardines going ape shit. There was Lene, braids down to her ass, blissfully ignorant of any fire code, gleefully detonating this explosion of teen hormones. Little did I know the woman was 30 years old.

Lene had a hot hand. Kate Bush couldn’t gain any traction with the American audience but Lene was making her mark. After Stateless, came the album Flex and a thunderbolt from the heavens, “Bird Song”. “Bird Song” (the film) got a lot of play in America. I was surprised it didn’t do better on Billboard, but I saw it on TV a lot. Lene in a wedding gown, in mourning dress, in graveyards, stalked by evil priests.  Beautiful, dour, bold, and gothic. I fell hard under the spell of “Bird Song”, Her vocals were from another dimension. I then realized that at the core of all great art there was sadness. Happy songs were stupid.

Lene needed a hit, so she came up with “New Toy”. The perfect single. She swung the hammer that drove the final nail into the disco coffin by becoming the first musical artist to put on a concert at the disco mecca Studio 54. She was on her way. Incredible performer. Better than Jagger even. Nothing could stop her it seemed.

Then she was gone. She didn’t say goodbye. She just wasn’t there anymore. Me and my friends got older and started making our own music and hooking up with girls. The new wave of rock music (inspired by Punk) got co-opted by the dweebs in The Biz. They hogtied it, categorized it, and gave us Spandau Ballet and Haircut 100. That wasn’t how it was supposed to go down. Stiff records didn’t think Lene was commercial enough so they held up her next album for two years. Just long enough for Michael Jackson to happen. Just long enough for the Hip Hop hoards to arm themselves with their beatboxes and begin their long march, trampling over all that stood before. The music world slowly but surely began its fade to black.

Lene Lovich wasn’t made for this world, but she stopped by for a visit and left us some cool presents before she de-materialized. Stateless was one of those gifts. We never got to see the production of ‘Lene Lovich Superstar’. But we will always have the legend. Legends are better than stars. They endure.

Book Review – “Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys” (Viv Albertine)

Reviewed by Dale Nickey:

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Postcards from the hedge…

At a time when any sane fifty-something housewife and mother would be asking herself,  “Is that all there is?”, Viv Albertine shouted, “I want more!”.

In case you didn’t know, Viv Albertine was the guitarist and songwriter for the seminal British punk band The Slits. In the late 1970’s, The Slits – along with The Clash and The Sex Pistols – invented Punk music, fashion and culture. Her experiences could fill a book; and In fact, they did. In 2014, she published her critically acclaimed and award winning book,”Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys”. Truth is indeed stranger than fiction, and in this book, life imitates art.

With no ghost-writer in sight, Albertine leaves it all on the page and never blinks. She chronicles her experiences with masturbation, poverty, sex, Heroin, abortion, depression, sexism, cancer, marriage, motherhood, divorce and (above all) music.

Albertine’s  remembrance of the golden age of Punk (1977-1979) is loaded with grimy, mundane detail. She befriended Sid Vicious and blew Johnny Rotten. She had a three year relationship with Mick Jones of The Clash. She took guitar lessons from Keith Levene (PIL). She shot Heroin with Johnny Thunders. She dated Vincent Gallo and beat back cancer. Her life has been an extreme roller coaster ride through a gale of blood, sweat and shit. Moreover, she is clearly not done yet.

The Frank Sinatra/Sid Vicious evergreen “My Way” could have been written by Viv Albertine. Where most Rock music autobiographies obscure your view with the high gloss finish of ghost writing, co-authorship and/or over zealous copy-editing, Albertine sticks to the Punk ethos and puts her own pen to paper (warts and all). There are dodgy moments as regards syntax and punctuation. However, much like a great punk record – where passion trumps perfection – Albertine’s narrative has an edge and energy that would surely be diluted by literary precision.

If you assume the most engrossing part of the book revolves around her memoirs of London’s Punk scene, you would be dead wrong. The Punk era merely serves as preamble and allegory to the remainder of her life. Punk was about demolishing stagnant cultural forms and rebuilding from scratch. Viv Albertine not only applied this ethos to her music, but her life as well.

There’s heartbreak, humor and heroism on every page. Albertine has stated that she views her book as a self-help guide for young girls navigating the choppy waters of sexism and failure. Yes, it’s all that. But, it’s also an inspirational treatise for those of us navigating the infinitely choppier waters of ageism and mortality.

In the tired genre of the Rock Music autobiography, “Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys” (along with Bob Dylan’s “Chronicles”) stands  a world apart and miles above. A drop-dead masterpiece.

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In the clip below, the author talks about her book…..

Lost and Found – Lene Lovich (The Mata Hari of Rock)

Lene-Lovich

Authored by Dale Nickey:

Britain in the late 70’s was the place to be if you were a strong, creative and unusual woman artist. 1977 gifted the world with Kate Bush, 1978 brought us Chrissie Hynde. Finally in 1979, a braided, shrieking, East-Euro dervish of a woman kicked the door off its hinges and twirled into our consciousness like some transgender, Rock and Roll incarnation of the Tasmanian Devil. Her name was Lene Lovich.

Please think of Lene (pronounced lay-nah) next time you watch Lady Ga GaCindi Lauper, Dale Bozzio or Bjork. Lene Lovich was unusual before unusual became the new normal. She will always carry around the inaccurate tag of New Wave ingénue. But that’s like saying Jimi Hendrix played rock and roll. Yeah he did, but that’s just part of the story.

Heading into the second half of the seventies decade, the debris of 60’s counterculture was still smoking and smoldering. Though Britain was undergoing the upheaval of punk, in America it was still a boutique industry. And, though gender roles were starting to change, women were still expected to occupy a certain place in the music landscape. Joni Mitchell sold a lot of records when she wore jeans and crinoline and sang about being, “strung out on another man”. However, when she jazzed things up and became more of a ball buster, her sales dipped. Emmylou Harris, Carol King, Karen Carpenter……the list goes on; long hair, jeans and “just touch my cheek before you leave”. Glitz? Glamour? That was selling out to the man. Plastic soul. Even strong, intelligent, ‘fuck you’ women artists had to toe a certain line and content themselves with being “the chick singer” in a successful band (Example: Grace Slick, Stevie Nicks). Black music you ask? It was Disco or die.

One could argue that Lene Lovich was the first commercially successful Outsider woman artist. If you check out her backstory, you’ll find that being different and unique was Lene’s only available option and not a jaded construct.

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Lili-Marlene Premilovich was born in Detroit,  March 30.1949 to a Yugoslavian father and an English mother. It was an unpleasant and intolerant urban environment for someone of Lene’s European sensibilities.  Lene described herself as the “Wednesday Adams” of the school she went to. Clearly, her Outsider roots formed early.

Reprieve came in the form of a move to Britain with her mother when Lovich was age 13. Even though Lene ended up in Hull (arguably ‘the Detroit’ of Britain), young Lene flowered in a way she would never have done in America. She found her muse by the same method many seminal British artists did; she attended art school. She studied drama, sculpture and learned to play the saxophone. She worked as an Oriental dancer, a Go Go girl, a voice over artist, lyricist-for-hire and busked the London underground. She absorbed many diverse influences and her drive to realize her musical vision was relentless. The fact that she was pushing 30 by the time she signed to Stiff Records (1978) was probably a positive thing. When Lene finally did hit big, she was a mature woman who knew who she was and what she wanted. Moreover, the themes of independence and self-determination would become lyrical cornerstones of her art.

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Lene Lovich was that rarest of all animals, a virtuoso with no formal musical training. Lovich developed her vocal technique by making sounds and noises on her walks to school; testing her range to see how high she could go, and then dipping down and see how low her voice could go. She was extreme and fit in perfectly with the Punk/New Wave zeitgeist that thirsted for all things strange and thrilling. She could swagger down low on a verse and then kick it into the stratosphere on a dime with death defying shrieks and screams in the chorus. However, her excesses were always musical. Listen to “Bird Song” (on the album Flex). It affects me physically every time I hear it. Sometimes it chills the spine; sometimes it brings tears to my eyes. But it’s not background music for other pursuits.

Lene Lovich (along with Bush and Hynde) were girls of a different feather. All the aforementioned were hot, strong and under the thumb of no man or record label; nor did they need to ghettoize their art as women’s music. Lene Lovich is still with us tours Europe regularly. Do revisit her music and see her live if you’re lucky enough to have her performing in your town. She is a force of nature and irreplaceable. And, for those of us who are settling into our recliners for a very wintry and climactic final act, she’s divine inspiration.

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Click Here to visit Lene >>>> http://lenelovich.net/

 

 

80’s Bands Time Forgot (Spotlight) – BEAST OF BEAST

Authored by Dale Nickey:

Beast Of Beast (Sex Drugs And Noise) 1982

Vocallist/Songwriter/Chanteuse Virginia Macolino paid her L.A. dues in spades.  While leading the Prog-Punk outfit Virginia And The Slims through an 18 month club slog,  she was poached by Orange County Euro-pop wanna-bees Berlin….. Not allowed to write for that group, she got fed up after recording one album and left the band only months before Berlin became international stars.  Her answer was to take back control of her muse and form the band Beast Of Beast.  The frustration she endured in her previous bands found expression in the spleen venting debut EP – “Sex Drugs and Noise”.  Dame’ Macolino’s ‘Persian cat on a hot tin roof ‘ growl paired perfectly with the serrated edge scrapings of  guitarist Roy Felig.  On the vanguard of noise-pop before it became mainstream; “Sex Drugs and Noise” carries a hefty price tag on the collectible vinyl market.

Top 10 Countdown – Mental Musical Masterpieces # 9 Wild Man Fischer

NUMBER  9…..Number 9…..Number 9……

Wild Man Fischer – An Evening with Wild Man Fischer (1968)

More masterpieces click >> 10 9  8  7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Wild Man Fischer - An Evening With Wild Man Fischer

Larry “Wild Man” Fischer was a regular sighting on the streets of Hollywood in the 60’s and beyond; the type of guy you would go to great effort to avoid or ignore despite the fact Larry would sell you one of his songs for a dime.  Fischer was a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic with bi-polar disorder. He was institutionalized at the age of 16 for attacking his mother with a knife. He claims he escaped and remained at large simply because nobody bothered to look for him.  What may have repelled others attracted Frank Zappa.  Maestro Zappa met Fischer and saw something different. He saw an artist.  Zappa befriended Fischer and signed him to a record deal with his boutique label “Bizarre Records”.

Fischer’s masterpiece is “An Evening With Wild Man Fischer” Produced by Frank Zappa,“Evening…..” is a sprawling mess of a double LP album. Songs like “Merry Go Round” are maddeningly repetitive and catchy. Much of the album consists of Fischer engaging in banal chatter with loiterers on the streets of Hollywood.  These lo-fi man-on-the-street field recordings are backed by Zappa’s studio overdubs’ which sound like mechanized ticking sounds of a mind gone mad.  Elsewhere Fischer performs his original songs a cappella with varying degrees of  cogency. Other songs approach conventional rock song craft. To paraphrase Zappa himself, “Wild Man Fischer had something to say, whether you wanted to hear it or not”.

Fischer’s corrosive ramblings were equal parts harrowing and hilarious.  It’s easy to write off  Fischer as a nutter on first listen. However, a careful study of his music reveals the seedling of an artist struggling to break through the concrete of mental illness. Aside from Fischer’s violent teen episode, he seems to have managed his madness into a benign lunacy in his adult years. And, we’ll never know how much Zappa’s patronage or the healing powers of music helped Fischer during his bittersweet struggle through life (he died in 2011 at age 66).  The following tune “Jennifer Jones” is probably Fischer’s most revealing song.  WARNING…Not for faint hearts or delicate sensibilities……