26 May 2002

CD Update #1 -- 2002 So Far (Part 1 of 2)

I'm appalled to say that the following long-delayed update represents nearly every single music CD I've bought this year. I used to average 300 CDs a year. Do you know what changed my ways? Was it Napster and things of that nature? No, not a bit. If anything, they made me buy more CDs than normal. I loved the convenience of hearing (or reading) someone rave about a track or a band, downloading it to check it out, then buying the entire CD (if warranted). I remain convinced that this is how the vast majority of Napster users utilised the service, because speaking for myself there is no way an MP3 takes the place of a CD, either in quality or in "extras." MP3s are damn handy little things to have around, but they are just not good enough (apart from rare occasions) to do the job in critical-listening situations.

So was it economics? No. Was it a declining interest in modern music? No, because there are still plenty of worthwhile artists around (harder to find these days, of course), and a ton of re-issues to keep us busy in the meantime.

It was the ever-increasing price of CDs. It's really just that simple. I don't respond well to naked greed -- one of the few naked things I don't respond well to :).

As much as I like some of my favourite artists, there are very few for whom I'd routinely shell out nearly $20 a CD, particularly when the money goes mainly to the record company and not the artist. CDs should cost around 10-12 bucks. Period. If they would price CDs at 12 bucks and split it four ways ($3 each for the record company, distributor, reseller and artist), who would complain? Not me, definitely not the artists. Okay, so maybe the record company takes $4 and the distributor gets $2. Fine. Whatever. But you get the idea.

For those of you who don't know me personally, I'm blessed to have shopped for music at many of the finest record stores on this earth in dozens if not hundreds of cities and towns. I'm doubly lucky to have an array of friends whose musical tastes are nothing short of exceptional. My CD collection is vast, and while the bulk of it is geared towards 80s Punk/Ska/New Wave/New Romantic music, there is plenty of stuff from many other genres, from country to Icelandic Folk. At last count, the collection had well over 1,500 CDs in it for which I paid of average price of $6.50 a disc. You do the math.

I primarily buy my discs in one of three places:
1. Park Avenue CDs, an independent CD store in Winter Park, Florida. If you are in the Orlando area and love music, you must visit this store.

2. Rock n Roll Heaven, an independent VINYL store in Orlando. They have tons of CDs too, and a treasure trove of cultural icon stuff, from Dark Shadows board games to Pee Wee Herman dolls and a whole lot more stretching back to the 1950s. Ironically, much of it is not for sale -- it's their own private collection, put out for you to love as they do. If are in the area and you love music and pop culture junk you must visit this store.

3. GEMM.com - a remarkable online resource that can find virtually any music, books or videos ever made. They are particularly good at finding obscure and foreign material the Americans pretend doesn't even exist. If you can't locate in using GEMM, take it as the first sign that you should give up.

The following list does not include CDs purchased by Heather to supplement her growing interest in classical and Northern European music, or our mutual interest in sci-fi audio-drama CDs by Big Finish. This is just music CDs I purchased since January, and I probably missed one or two but on the whole this is it. Most of you will have no idea how sad things have gotten for me to have so few new discs to talk about.

We'll start with my visit to the incredible, amazing, heaven-esque Amoeba Music in Hollywood, CA. This place has been voted the Best Music Store in California for 10 years running, and once you visit (or look at the pics on the web site) it's easy to see why: there's just SO MUCH STUFF. On my visit I didn't even try to go upstairs to the vinyl and DVD sections ... must ... save ... the brain!!

We limited ourselves to only 90 minutes inside this gigantic emporium of wonderfulness because we were limited on funds (having already blown huge chunks of cash on Doctor Who-related goodies at The 13th Floor of Gallifrey One in nearby Burbank) and because to stay there much longer would have resulting in paralyzing choice-overload insanity. Suffice to say that this store has so many CDs that over 25,000 of them are under THREE DOLLARS.

Despite my best efforts at self-control, I spent $50 and got four CDs. If not for one $20 import single (hey, what did he say earlier about not paying $20 for a full CD anymore?!), it would have been four CDs for $30. Try that at your local Omniglomerate Corporate Music Only Outlet. And now:

1. Blondie - Eat to the Beat
Another new version of one of my all-time favourite albums. This one takes the basic masterpiece (probably the best record of 1979, and that's saying a lot because 79 was an incredible year for music), throws in some bonus tracks and new liner notes from producer Mike Chapman, adds a touch of 24-bit remastering and Amoeba lets it go for $9.98. If you've not heard this one, it's Blondie's pinnacle of poppiness. Not the one with the most hits, but in my opinion the best all-around record they did. I was quite surprised to learn (via the new production info notes) that legendary 60s songwriter Ellie Greenwich and child flop Lorna Luft contributed to the backing vocals!

The bonus tracks included on this one are as follows:
Die Young Stay Pretty (live BBC, previously unreleased in the US)
Seven Rooms of Gloom (live BBC, previously unreleased in the US)
Heroes (live w/an uncredited Robert Fripp!)
Ring of Fire (live)

2. The Tourists - Greatest Hits
Not to be confused with the crappy 1984 comp Should Have Been Greatest Hits, this one caught my eye because it was much newer (1997) and had twice as many tracks, roughly an equal number from each of the three original Tourists studio albums (and one bona-fide rarity, the b-side to the free 7" that came with LD, a song called "Strange Sky.")

The Tourists, in case you don't know, were a new-wavey but derivative powerpop band who had two members that would go on to be big, big, big I tell ya! ... Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart. The only other thing I have on CD from this band is a Japanese issue of their final album, Luminous Basement. They were great and, given the later interest in powerpop, quite ahead of their time. Annie was a strong but passionless singer back in those days, more interested in being Grace Slick than Grace Jones, if you see what I'm saying. Pete Coombes, the lead singer and songwriter, went on to form Acid Drops with Eddie Chin, then promptly vanished from the face of the earth.

Believe it or not, VH1.com has a page on the band, and here's a very very good discography.

Damn I'd love to get those three back together and make them play some of those old songs. HA!

3. Ultravox - Rage in Eden
I didn't have the album on CD, and this Nordic version (what with it's three bonus tracks) seemed to fit the bill. I've since discovered that of all the CD versions of this album, mine happens to be by far the ugliest. Oh well.

Rage in Eden was described in reviews at the time as "a transitional work" but I have always disagreed; Vienna set the stage for their hook-laden, emotionally detached, gothic/new romatic style of synthrock, and RiE just carries that on (as would their following albums). If it's flawed, the flaw is that they might have overreached on the pretension front at the expense of memorable lyrics, but that would be rectified by the time Quartet came out. RiE is a satisfying, sophisticated piece of polished pop from electronic elitists.

If you're reading this and you don't know who Ultravox are, just go shoot yourself. You missed the New Romantic movement, and thus your life has little meaning. I pity the man who has never worn makeup!

Of course (he said, putting on his elitist snob hat), this album is merely one of the better works of Ultravox Mark II. The original Ultravox lineup featured vocalist and songwriter John Foxx, and in my mind was an act that reached even greater artistic heights, if nowhere near the level of commercial success that the Midge Ure-led era did.

The bonus tracks:
I Never Wanted to Begin
Paths and Angles
I Never Wanted to Begin (12")

4. The Trash Can Sinatras - Snow (single)
Among all my friends, I think I'm the only one with a real passion for this band. They are obscure even in their native Scotland, though highly influential because they were out there writing intricate, clever, soul-stirring pop songs long before your Belle & Sebastians and your Starlets and your Appendix Outs.

Simply put, I think this band have been consistently amazing. They are not one of those groups that will wow you on first listen -- they creep into your brain like a safecracker, and their gentle (but definitely not snoozy) pop and extra-clever lyrics tickle the dials of your psyche (or, at least, mine) just so. If you ever see a copy of their hard-to-find third album, A Happy Pocket, just buy it. It's a masterpiece.

"Snow" was probably originally meant as a "tide-you-over" single till the fourth album came out, but it's been over a year since this was released and no sign of a new record (they are, at last report, still recording it). "Snow" is also an excellent way to test your subwoofer, as they really went low on the bass parts for some reason. If you enjoy B&S and The Beautiful South, you will probably like the Trash Can Sinatras.

Part 2 will cover my 2002 Park Ave CD purchases. Gosh, this is riveting, isn't it?? ;)

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