The White Stripes – Icky Thump

I can’t describe how disappointed I was when in 2011, I learned that The White Stripes had called it quits. It was four years after the release of their final album, “Icky Thump”. At least they went out releasing what is quite possibly their best album.

Jack and Meg White made an almost immediate impact on the local Detroit music scene when they formed The White Stripes in 1997. They finally gained international fame in 2001 when they released their third album “White Blood Cells”. With the three albums that followed, The White Stripes became significant in the revival of garage rock around the world.

“Icky Thump” holds nothing back with its continuation of what the White Stripes started with their early records. If anything, it steps things up a notch. Loud and aggressive, rootsy and stripped down, it shares a lot in common with “White Blood Cells” and the records before it. But then there are Jack White’s guitar solos. Always an amalgam of chaos, aggression, virtuosity, and originality, they are immediately recognizable and impossible for any other guitarist to duplicate. For the most part Jack avoided solos on the early White Stripes albums. I have no idea why; he’s incredible.

Jack White has achieved great success in the music business, during and after The White Stripes. He has used that success to make a difference in his home city of Detroit. He helped revitalize a section of the Cass Corridor, opening up Third Man Records there. It’s not only a record store but has a performance area for live shows and record mastering and pressing facility (yeah, Jack’s a vinyl kind of guy). He also donated $170 thousand to renovate Clark Park where he used to play baseball as a kid. Plus, he rescued the Detroit Masonic Temple, a city landmark, from falling into tax foreclosure. Saving the beautiful and iconic building from an uncertain fate, an anonymous donor, later discovered to be Jack White, paid the $142 thousand bill. As a Mason who has frequently attended meetings there, I will be eternally grateful to Jack White for that. As a gesture of gratitude, the 1500 seat Cathedral Theater inside the building was rededicated the Jack White Theater.

Love And Rockets – Earth, Sun, Moon

This is not goth rock. This is so much more.

That was my first impression of hearing 1987’s “Earth, Sun, Moon” by Love and Rockets.

Love and Rockets were essentially the gothic rock band Bauhaus minus their enigmatic frontman, Peter Murphy. Even though Love and Rockets kept the post punk dark overtones that helped Bauhaus all but define gothic rock, they also stretched outside its realms, injecting folk, blues, and pop into their songs.

“Here on Earth” “Waiting for the Flood” and “The Telephone Is Empty” had sax solos played by Daniel Ash. “No New Tale To Tell” which became Love and Rockets first hit song included a flute solo that Ian Anderson would have been proud of. “Lazy” had a bluesy yet upbeat vibe to it. Overall, “Earth, Sun, Moon” had a much more acoustic feeling throughout than Bauhaus would have ever dreamt of.

It was still gothic, but it was also epic.

Sam Phillips – Martinis And Bikinis

I discovered Sam Phillips’ music right at the end of my stint in radio. I was taking classes at Wayne State University and volunteering at Detroit public radio station WDET. The radio station was doing some housekeeping and gave me a whole box of music they were clearing out. It was mostly music by artists I had never hard of. Among all of them, the one that stood out the most to me was “Cruel Inventions” by Sam Phillips. I immediately went out looking for more stuff by her at the record store and discovered she had just released her follow-up, “Martinis and Bikinis”. No hesitation. I bought it.

I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say Sam Phillips has a good voice; at least not in the traditional sense. Just like Stevie Nicks doesn’t have what would traditionally be called a good voice. In similar fashion, Sam Phillips’ voice is as distinct as it is memorable; perfectly suited to the songs she writes and sings.

I first owned “Martinis and Bikinis” on CD. In my renewed love of vinyl, I have been trying to dig up some of my favorite recordings in that format. Well, I recently ran across “Martinis and Bikinis” on white vinyl online. No hesitation. I bought it.

“Martinis and Bikinis” is an album perfectly suited for vinyl, due in part to T Bone Burnett’s brilliant production. I would lay odds that he’s an analog guy. He has also produced albums by Los Lobos, Counting Crowes, Alison Krauss and Robert Plant, and the soundtracks to “Walk the Line” and “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”

The other thing that makes “Martinis and Bikinis” better to have on vinyl is the bonus tracks that are not on the CD. Side four of the album is a collection of four previously unavailable alternate versions of songs from the original release. The best of those is the recording of “I Need Love”, performed with a string quartet. It gives a totally new feel to an already great song. I honestly don’t know which version I prefer.

WHFR-FM Motor City Gems

Q. What do you get when you combine some of the best local Detroit bands and the best college radio station on the planet?

A. A killer album of that perfectly captures the energy and originality of the Detroit music scene today.

I ran across “Motor City Gems” the other day at a non-profit Detroit improv theater, Planet Ant. Even though I had no intent of buying another album when the group of us set out that night, when I saw WHFR set up in the bar of the theater, selling the album, picking up a copy was a no brainer. It couldn’t have been a better decision.

WHFR is a non-profit volunteer run college radio station on the campus of Henry Ford College. There is not a cooler radio station in existence. Granted, I’m probably a bit biased in that opinion, as my wife and I are both alumni from many years ago, back when it was still Henry Ford Community College.

“Motor City Gems” is an incredible collection of some of the best music coming out of Detroit today. My personal favorites are the blues infused rocker “Lightning Strikes” by The Muggs (which kicks off the album), Carolyn Striho’s ethereal and moody “Oceans”, and “Jam Sandwich”, a jazz fusion inspired instrumental by The Kenny Hill group. But in all honesty this whole album is great – and I assure you, that is an unbiased opinion.

Back when I attended the college, WHFR was a very local, low powered radio station that was on the air only 12 hours a day. Today, they broadcast 24/7 and can be listened to nearly anywhere in the world through the Internet (just tell Alexa or Google “play radio station WHFR”). In addition to local music, WHFR’s radio programs play what is probably the most diverse range of music you will hear anywhere on the planet.

Spandau Ballet – True

I know this much is true…

Of the bands from the UK’s new romantic musical movement, Spandau Ballet recorded the most romantic sounding song…so long as you don’t listen to the lyrics. “True” is actually a very sad song about loss and loneliness.

With its clean production with influences of soul, jazz, and R&B, “True” was Spandau Ballet’s most successful album. The title track was also their biggest hit single. Spandau Ballet, more especially this album, embodied what Britain’s new romantic era was all about. They had the look and set the standard musically for other bands to follow.

Game Theory – Lolita Nation

Even though they released only three albums, and I only own one of them, Game Theory is possibly my all-time favorite alternative band. “Lolita Nation” is definitely my favorite alternative album of all time.

With its impeccable combination of unpredictable chaos and controlled structure “Lolita Nation” is without a doubt an underground masterpiece. I know it must have been one of the guy store clerks working at Harmony House who recommended this album to me back in 1987. If it had been a girl, I would have married her.

“Lolita Nation” is an album that never tried for commercial success…and it never really got it. It didn’t deserve it. I hate to sound like an elitist, but commercial success would have ruined it. It remains the best kept secret of those who have heard to it. No…to those who have listened to it. This is an album you can’t just put on in the background. It should be listened to.

Trust me, if you haven’t yet, you need to listen to “Lolita Nation”.

Berlin – Pleasure Victim

Berlin was an alternative synth-pop band that played heavily on sexual innuendos. Okay, with songs like “Sex (I’m a…)” and Terry Nunn’s role in the band being listed as vocals and BJs, I suppose it went a little beyond innuendo…. Anyway, because of this, Berlin was quite often dogged by some critics as being lackluster in talent, focusing more on sexuality than substance to sell their music. I never thought so.

Berlin made some of the most exciting synth-pop music in the 1980s. Sure, some of that had to do with the suggestive lyrics and Terry Nunn’s sexual overtness, but it had a lot more to do with great hooks that made their songs as easy to dance to as they were enticing to listen to. It also had a lot to do with Bassist John Crawford, who penned most of Berlin’s stuff. He had a mastery of writing catchy tracks with seductive lyrics; just as Terry Nunn had the exceptional vocal talents to exhume the seductive qualities from those words and melodies.

As for Terry Nunn’s other talents noted in the album’s credits…well, one can only wonder.

Joan Jett and the Blackhearts – I Love Rock ‘n Roll

I knew I had heard Joan Jett somewhere before when “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” became her breakthrough single and album. The Internet wasn’t around back in 1981, so it took me a while to realize that along with metal rocker, Lita Ford, she was previously in the all female punk band The Runaways, best known for their minor hit “Cherry Bomb”.

Joan Jett took the punk rock edge from The Runaways and gave it just enough polish to make one of greatest albums from the ’80s. With its perfect blend of of amped up covers and power chord originals, “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” was an album that really couldn’t miss. It also has one of the most iconic album covers of all time. Perfectly capturing Joan Jett’s slicked back bad and reputation sides, photographer Mick Rock said he had set out to capture something memorable, in the vein of a female Elvis. Well done Mick.

Florence And The Machine – High As Hope

Florence Welch has one of the most immediately identifiable voices in popular music today. She is also an incredible songwriter. With its somewhat stripped down production, Florence and the Machine’s latest album, “High as Hope” focuses on both to create what is one of the best new albums released in 2018.

The songs on “High as Hope” revolve thematically around the end of love. That thought is so ingrained throughout the lyrics of the songs here that “The End of Love” was originally considered for the title of the record. That subject may sound like the making of a somber, even downtrodden record, but it’s really not. As the album’s chosen title implies, the overall focus is the hope that comes after the hunger for love is washed away. Even though there is an aire of sadness here and there, the songs on “High as Hope” purvey an upbeat feeling of acceptance, comfort, and self reliance. This is all beautifully delivered with the perfect pairing of the music to the lyrics…and of course, the confidence exhumed by Florence Welch’s wonderfully powerful voice.

The Tragically Hip – Day For Night

Day For Night is a film technique wherein filters or underexposure are used to make a movie scene shot in daylight or a well-lit studio a little darker, to make it look like it was shot at night. It is also title of The Tragically Hip’s fourth album; easily the darkest in their canon.

Compared to other Hip albums, the songs on “Day for Night” definitely have a darker feeling. The deep, moody bass lines are more dominant and the guitars are more sustained and droning. Gord Downie’s lyrics, as always, emphasize multiple layers of interpretation, but here convey a slightly more somber, sometimes more aggressive quality than on The Hip’s earlier records.

The Tragically Hip are not inherently a dark band and “Day for Night” is not by any means a dark album. But it is dark for The Hip, and that is what makes it one of their most intriguing albums. “Day for Night” is an album that exposes The Hip through a filtered lens; one that gives the listener a chance, if only for 80 minutes or so, to trade in their day for night.

When I started rebuilding my vinyl collection I knew Tragically Hip records would find their way into it at some point. What I didn’t know was that I would run across a great deal on a box set that included all 14 of their albums on vinyl. The box set also came with a poster and a turntable matt that has the band’s logo on it, including their gargoyle mascot.