Tuesday, September 6, 2011
Easily the sickest thing about this collection of bootlegs from 1977 to 2009 is the completeness of the package. The thing comprises four CDs, traverses 64 tracks (mostly live bootlegs) and covers a total of well over four hours of Iggy. So for somebody (myself included) who’s a fan but hasn’t necessarily tracked the career of this punk god blow by blow, this document brings together any and all of the shit that’s cemented Pop at the forefront of rock’n’roll for the last forty-odd years.
The discs outline tracks from each of the four decades Pop’s been doin’ his business. From the opening bars of Raw Power you’re taken there. It’s striking through the first disc (the ‘70s, der) the amount of soul and funk thrown into the mix. I Need Somebody scrapes the gutters of loneliness, while Search & Destroy plays out as vital as it’s ever been, in a recording from a Cleveland club in 1977. For bootlegs, the general sound quality ain’t too bad either. There’s jeering, and moments of crowd violence and abuse, but somehow it all adds to the ‘punk’ of it all.
The subsequent discs offer more than enough variation on thematic and sonic exploration to satiate something in every listener. Whether it’s the Nightclubbing and Shades ‘80s period of Pop/Bowie collaboration (and if you don’t know shit about that, read Paul Trynka’s bio Open Up & Bleed); the raw power of his ‘70s material that rocked the UK years before the Sex Pistols arrived on the scene while listeners at home scratched their heads and nodded along to America (the band); the heroin chic of his ‘90s shit, which incorporates the (also Bowie co-write) Lust For Life and this writer’s all time favourite Candy; or whatever he’s been up to in the last decade (not quite so hot, but you can’t deny his live shows); there is some motherfucking thing here for every motherfucker and that’s that.
Beyond the notables there are nestled gems to be discovered and the covers he pulls out across all four discs are glimmering insights into the inspiration of the man. Van Morrison’s Gloria gets a rework (replete with the chorus blasting ‘I.G.G.Y.P.O.P, Iggy Pop!’). Rock’n’roll (you know, the old-type stuff) classics You Really Got Me (Ray Davies), Hang On Sloopy (The McCoys), Real Wild Child (Johnny O’Keefe), and Louie Louie (Chuck Berry) all get a run through along with a bunch of curios including the Batman Theme. The lack of liner notes and limited selection of photographs detract from the thing, but only in the sense that you wanna know more, immerse yourself in this world, be at these shows.
In experiencing Roadkill Rising in a gluttonous fashion, what is really illuminated is that this one guy (and arguably through his various incarnations and collaborations) has pretty much shaped any punk rock variant you listen to today. Not only was he doin’ it first, but he’s still standing, doin’ it last. And his pop sensibilities and rare song writing genius have allowed him to transcend genre (incorporating soul, gospel, rock’n’roll, punk, post-punk, new wave, etc, etc), time period, fashion, social strata, gender, age and language barriers to deliver himself to the world, time and again. For this we should all be thankful. If you don’t love Iggy Pop, there is something seriously fuckin’ wrong with you; but if you do, you will love this release. Satisfaction guaranteed.
Entering into this, the Sand Pebbles’ fifth album, you find yourself in familiar territory. Distinctive guitar tones circle beneath Andrew Tanner’s strong vocal, which kicks off about ten seconds in and is joined by Tor Larsen’s twenty-odd seconds later. The guitars gather over one another, delays and echoes bounce around for a bit before gradually converging into rippling melody. Spring Time (Who Hasn’t Lost Their Head?) is classic Sand Pebbles. Melding elements of ’70s psych with ’60s folk and pop, it acts as perfect pallet cleanser – once wrapped-up some six minutes later, there’s no question where you are. Second up, Because I Could continues on the same trajectory (it could almost play as the second, albeit more thumping, part of the opening number) but from here Dark Magic veers into some new and exciting territory.
The alternation between Tanner and Larsen on this release broadens the canvas upon which the band can draw. On single Occupied Europe (Take Me Across The Water) Larsen holds complex lyrical patterns singlehandedly and delivers the vocal track of the record. Third number Long Long Ago sees Larsen steer us through the first of a series of straight-up folk songs. His voice emerges from a largely backing role and commands the Sand Pebbles machine onto bold new ground. On first listen you’d almost swear they’d brought in a female vocalist, such is the sweetness of his voice.
Still, the rare and beautiful combination of Tanner and Larsen’s voices has come to define the Sand Pebbles’ sound, as the title track along with the brooding Another Way To Love reinforce. That and the inimitable guitar signatures and irregular rhythms, which are given room to breathe in the more instrumental closing couplet. These signposts guide the listener through an otherwise complex voyage and ease the transition from genre to genre.
Regardless of contributions from Galaxie 500’s Dean Wareham, Luna’s Britta Phillips, Spiritualized’s Will Carruthers, et al., which are for the most part difficult to pinpoint, this record signifies an alternation in flight-path for Sand Pebbles and at the same time grounds them as one of the most innovative and important acts Melbourne has produced in recent times. This is a band willing to explore and diversify to their strengths and possibly to the detriment of their more psych-leaning audience. It’s a bold record with hidden jewels aplenty, and no great surprise in that.