March 29, 1995
The Cruel Sea, The Honeymoon is Over (A & M Records 1995) - The Cruel Sea, an Australian-based quartet, makes an extremely impressive Stateside debut with The Honeymoon is Over. Featuring 13 strong rock cuts (including five instrumentals), The Cruel Sea has the poise and swagger needed to reach the big time.
The band consists of Tex Perkins on vocals, Dan Rumour on guitars, James Cruickshank on guitars and keyboards, Ken Gormly on bass, and Jim Elliott on drums. The Cruel Sea began as a four-piece instrumental outfit with a party-oriented flavor. With the addition of sardonic lead singer Perkins, the band became a force to be reckoned with.
The Cruel Sea has been playing together for five years, and has reached superstardom in Australia. At last year's Australian Aria Awards (the Australian Grammys), the band won Best Band, Best Album, Best Single, Best Producer, and Song of the Year. With these awards, The Cruel Sea emerged as the new kings of the hill, or, as one Australian magazine termed them, the "Australian Rolling Stones for the 90s."
From front to end, The Honeymoon is Over is a treat. From the instrumental tracks (such as the North African-influenced "Orleans Stomp" and the pop-rock, "Seems Twice") to rock cuts like "Better Than Love" and "Black Stick," The Cruel Sea delivers the goods. Singer Perkins has a sexy and urgent appeal (in the vein of Michael Hutchence of INXS); his deep, whiskey-soaked voice invites you to come to places that only exist after dark.
There was an extra surprise in this album for me, as I rediscovered Tex Perkins. In the early 80s, he played with a largely-unknown Australian band called Beasts of Bourbon. I remember enjoying a record from Beasts of Bourbon back when Michael Jackson and Men at Work were threatening to take over pop music with their synthesizer-based dance beats. Beasts of Bourbon played unabashed guitar-based rock, which was a welcome relief. This was a time when REM was only a glimmer on the horizon, and Seattle punk was unheard of. Thus, I have a soft spot for Perkins, and am glad to see him resume his rockin' ways.
I jammed on this disc from the moment I heard it. Find The Honeymoon is Over. You'll never leave the bedroom.
The Jayhawks, Tomorrow the Green Grass (American 1995) - On their fourth disc, the Jayhawks continue their picture-perfect country rock harmonies and songwriting skills. While the band claims Minneapolis roots, it has evolved far beyond its Midwestern home; by taking cues from the harmony-vocal-oriented Flying Burrito Bros., the Jayhawks have evolved into a likeable combo.
The band is centered around Mark Olson and Gary Louris, who share lead vocal and guitar duties, beside writing all of the band's songs. The band was formed in Minneapolis in 1985, and has undergone numerous personnel changes.
The core band now includes of Marc Perlman on bass and Karen Grotberg on keyboards and vocals. The band members are solidly in demand as studio musicians: various members have worked on albums by Joe Henry, Maria McKee, and Counting Crows. The group has at least partly relocated to the West Coast, with Olson now residing in L.A.
For the recording of Tomorrow the Green Grass, the band brought in Don Heffington (who also worked on Marvin Etzioni's terrific Weapons of the Spirit) on drums, and Benmont Tench (from the Heartbreakers) on organ.
With the pleasant harmony vocals of Louris and Olson, and the steady studio efforts of the band, it's hard not to like the group. In many ways, they resemble a countrified, Californian version of the BoDeans (also based in the Midwest). While both groups have the plainspoken Midwestern honesty, the BoDeans are more willing to explore the dark side of long winters, whereas the Jayhawks have been influenced by lots of time in the California sun; their songs are more upbeat and pop-oriented.
From cuts like "Miss Williams' Guitar" (about Victoria Williams, the wife of Olson) to a terrific cover of a 1975 Grand Funk Railroad cut, "Bad Time" (featuring the marvelous Sharleen Spiteri of Texas on backing vocals), the 13 songs on Tomorrow the Green Grass are consistently upbeat.
There's a place for this kind of music. The world doesn't need to be filled with dour and distressing dirges. Tomorrow the Green Grass is a worthy follow-up to the band's 1992 release, Hollywood Town Hall, and should continue to win over fans.
Big Audio, Higher Power (Columbia 1994) -- Oh, what a disappointment. Big Audio, formerly known as Big Audio Dynamite and B.A.D. II, has undergone several line-up changes during its ten-year recording career. The last line-up produced 1991's masterful The Globe, which should go down as one of the top ten albums of the decade.
For Higher Power, this ever-changing combo waited three years before returning to the studio to capture their hip-hop-cum-rock pastiche. Whereas The Globe soared to lofty heights, Higher Power often trolls in the mundane. Such a shame from this amazingly-talented and innovative bunch.
Big Audio Dynamite was formed by Mick Jones in 1984 after his departure from The Clash. Blending hip-hop, techno, rap, sampling, and assorted classical and rock influences, the combo's five prior studio albums (including This is Big Audio Dynamite and No. 10 Upping Street) have consistently pushed and redefined the boundaries of modern rock.
The new album doesn't live up to the band's promise. Some songs are catchy, such as the pop-oriented "Harrow Road," and the semi-acoustic highlight of the album, "Moon," which opens with a snippet of "Also Sprache Zarastrua" (best known from the movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey) before slyly merging into a dream-beat soft-pop jam. However, the bulk of the album never gels, as the band fails to capitalize on their vocal skills or the incredible guitarwork of Jones.
Two years ago, I thought Big Audio was going to redefine rock as we know it, with their sophisticated sampling technique and smooth seques. By following the current trend to wait three years between albums, the band's skills have become blunted. Pop music changes quickly: what was once unique and refreshing now seems commonplace and pedestrian.
Big Audio has toured extensively through the years with U2, and for good reason; both acts are (or were) at the forefront of modern rock. The latest rumor is that Mick Jones will reunite the Clash to headline this year's Lalapalozza tour. Maybe this will rekindle the fire. Alas, what could have been.
-- Randy Krbechek
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