Culturespill » 2008 » March

AC/DC: They’ve Got Balls

29th March


It’s easy to spot an AC/DC fan these days: they’re the ones trying to tear their own arms off with their teeth. The eight-year hiatus since AC/DC’s last album—the consistently sizzling Stiff Upper Lip—is the band’s longest break ever between productions. The surprising strength of Stiff Upper Lip only intensified the agony of anticipation fueled by one promising but ultimately deceptive rumor after another regarding the next album. Even worse, the most promising “rumors” have come straight from the horse’s mouth: Brian Johnson himself, whose sporadic pronouncements about eminent double albums and boxed sets routinely turn out to be about as sensible as a Pat Robertson revelation.

Just as signs suggested that new music was about to surface, fans took another kick in the teeth from a report that the elusive fogies hadn’t even entered a damned studio yet! The prolonged anxiety over the rumored new AC/DC album has been going on for at least four years and counting. It began in January 2004 when Brian Johnson spilled the beans to an Italian music magazine that the band would “definitely” have a new album out that year. Oops. Then he mouthed off again the following year in an interview on New York City’s 104.3 FM—after no album came even remotely close to release in 2004—about some kind of AC/DC studio marathon during which enough songs were written “for a boxed set.”

But before saying that he “sang a few of the songs with the boys,” he told 104.3’s Terry Trunk that the band “should be getting together pretty soon.” Huh? So you already sang new songs “with the boys,” but you also have not gotten together with them yet? OK, thanks for the update, John Kerry. Days earlier, Brian Johnson got a nice little phone call from Sony after he talked about “48 songs” being written for a new “double” album. Oops again. Sony asked if he would please kindly shove a nice fat coconut in his pie hole and bite on it. Hard.

But he didn’t. News reports surfaced later that fall about AC/DC recording the new album in a London studio. Then came May 3, 2006, and a little report printed in the Sydney Morning Herald: “Fifa Riccobono said the band had not decided upon a definite schedule for release, and still had not got into the recording studio.” Well, if you’ve got the balls to go by the name of Fifa fucking Riccobono, I guess what you say is gospel. So, in other words, AC/DC fans: Smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em.

An Interview with Brian Johnson

AC/DC are contractually obligated to produce about three more albums, and they recently booked time with a renowned German photographer, so anyone who thinks that Angus is ready to hang up his skirt can be sure that there’ll be plenty more where that came from (unfortunately). Seriously, Angus, you could be my grandfather; put some frickin’ pants on dude.

The real stumbling block doesn’t appear to have anything to do with age or a lack of interest, as some have speculated. J Albert & Son, the company that owns the band’s entire catalog and serves as the worldwide publisher of their copyrights, recently struck a new licensing deal with SONY/BMG that will allow Sony to release Alberts’s back catalog under their name, as well as any future releases from Alberts artists. This includes AC/DC’s ephemeral project, of course. The deal was reportedly in the works for quite some time, which may have been the reason why the status of AC/DC’s new album has been in limbo for years: If you’re going to make a new record, it kind of helps to know who is going to finance it.

The official closure of this deal has cleared that air and paved the way for the boys to get down to business. I expect a new AC/DC album late this year Summer (2008), as many reports suggest that the band has been spotted this month in Vancouver, the scene of their last glorious crime, Stiff Upper Lip. It is well known that when they finally hit the studio with rehearsed material, they tend to lay the tracks down fast—and I expect it to be thrilling, as Angus appears to have been slaving over new, harder riffs with the intention of making nothing less than a “perfect” record. If the band feels any compulsion to reward fans’ patience with great music, I’d put my money on Brian and “the boys” to deliver the goods.

Leonard Cohen: “I’ve Seen the future, baby. It is murder.”

29th March



When Leonard growled those lines with what Elton John referred to as his “non-voice” on 1992’s classic album The Future, I wonder whether he had himself in mind? Cohen’s prophecy came true in a painfully personal way when he returned from his five-year seclusion at L.A.’s Mount Baldy Zen monastery to find his retirement fund of $5 million reduced to 150 grand. Apparently, while Cohen plucked daisies and cooked for his Roshi in the mountains, his long-time manager Kelley Lynch plucked millions from his coffers, directly linking her American Express bill to Cohen’s bank account and withdrawing tens of thousands of dollars at a time for personal use.

Now things have turned ugly, with Lynch subsequently losing her child in a custody battle with her ex-husband who fears she’s become suicidal, partly on account of the many insanely rambling emails she has sent to Cohen and others, one of which invited Michael Greenberg, Cohen’s former investment adviser, to an evening of “tantric sex” (Where are these women in my life?). Now Greenberg’s suing Cohen for conspiracy and extortion, accusing the reclusive Zen Buddhist of squandering his millions on some kind of “celebrity” lifestyle and threats of using an upcoming tour to spread slander about him. Lynch herself is AWOL, failing to respond to subpoena orders and disconnecting her phone, and it seems that Cohen’s successful fight in the courts to recover the cash has one little problem: it does not help him recover the cash. Woops.

Enter Macklam/Feldman Management, a Blue Alert, and some Hawaiian chanteuse called Anjani. Cohen’s partnership with Macklam/Feldman following the Kelley Lynch catastrophe initiated persuasive rumors of a world tour—which would be Cohen’s first in 13 years—prompting Greenberg’s contention that Cohen was using tour rumors to intimidate his former advisor by threatening to make Greenberg’s alleged improprieties very public during interviews (though Cohen’s tame conversation with Terry Gross that spring did not come even remotely close to suggesting any such intention). At 71 at the time of his new partnership with Mcklam/Feldman, it seemed more likely that the daunting demands of touring were simply too overwhelming for Cohen to seriously consider in the twilight of his career. But then he got inducted into the Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame alongside, uh-hem, Madonna. Disappointingly, there was no Brittney Spears tongue kiss between them, but the occasion does seem to have lent Cohen the mojo he needed to actually do this thing: now 73, he’s announced plans to embark on a world tour beginning in July (dates below), and there are bound to be lots of interviews. If you are Michael Greenberg, you may commence the soiling of your pants at this time. Thank you.

Aside from rumored work on an upcoming album of his own, Cohen also produced the recently released Blue Alert for Hawaiian jazz crooner and current girlfriend, Anjani Thomas. Cohen may be broke, but a single glance at Anjani makes clear once again that he’s still got his mojo workin’—at 73, it’s workin’ overtime—and who could blame the guy? Cohen’s financial straits may suggest that when he emerges from seclusion to declare that Blue Alert is “the best album I’ve ever heard,” he is doing his duty as a salesman. But that would be an unfair and cold appraisal; the album is actually a hard-hitting and sexy collection of gorgeously spare, underproduced ballads. Anjani’s seductive whisper expertly compliments Blue Alert’s consistent delivery of raw, jazz-drenched piano ballads, commanding the sensuousness of an evening breeze washing over lovers splitting a bottle of Chablis at the beach. If Cohen’s follow-up to the disastrously unfocused—if mildly fascinating—Dear Heather explores the same aesthetic he navigates with Anjani on Blue Alert, it is certain to be one of his finest hours.

The new solo album appears certain to accompany the recently announced tour. Cohen angered some fans with the unfocused gaiety of Dear Heather, and defended himself by saying that it was meant as a “playful” album to be followed by a collection of more characteristic material—you know, the stuff that makes you want to kill yourself. The album may make it to stores later this year, most likely the fall (2008).

Here are Leonard Cohen’s tour dates:

June 6-7: Toronto (Sony Centre)
June 14: Dublin (IMMA)
June 17-20: Manchester, England (Manchester International Festival)
June 23-26: Montreal (Place des Arts)
June 29: Glastonbury, England (Glastonbury Festival)
July 1: Oslo (Aliset Stadium)
July 3: Helsingborg, Sweden (Open Air)
July 5: Copenhagen (Rosenborg Castle)
July 6: Arhuus, Denmark (Raadhus Parken)
July 8: Montreux, Switzerland (Jazz Festival)
July 9: Lyon, France (Lyon Festival)
July 10: Bruges, Belgium (Cactus)
July 12: Amsterdam (Westerdam)
July 16: Edinburgh (Castle)
July 17: London (O2 Arena)
July 19: Lisbon (Passeio Maritimo)
July 20: Bennicasim, Spain (Bennicasim Festival)
July 22: Nice, France (Jazz Festival)
July 25: Lorrach, Germany (Stimmen De Welt)
July 27: Lucca, Italy (Summer Festival)
July 29: Athens (Lykabettus Theatre)
Aug. 3: Ledbury, England (Big Chill)
Aug. 5-6: Istanbul (Arena)
Aug. 10: Prague (Castle)
Aug. 12: Budapest (Sziget)
Aug. 14-15: Girona, Spain (Cap Roig)
Aug. 28-29: Vienna (Opera House)

Sparklehorse: Here Come More Painbirds—Finally.

29th March


Popular speculation about the long wait for Sparklehorse’s first album since 2001’s brilliant It’s A Wonderful Life was that Linkous’s infamous health problems slowed him down. For a guy who almost lost his legs when they were trapped beneath him for 14 hours during an overdose of valium and anti-depressants—causing them to lose circulation and necessitating leg braces for the rest of his life—health will always be a hindrance. After all, the man did die—that’s a bit of a hindrance, even if he woke up three minutes later. To be frank, though, one thing Linkous will never be accused of is being in a rush. The man’s planning to build himself a home with pre-civil war logs from Michigan, for Christ’s sake. He does not live in real time—or in this century; I’m awaiting reports that he also plans to transport those logs by lama. As an explanation for the long delay between albums, however, health and eccentricity are only minor parts of a long, strange tale.

Several years ago Linkous purchased one of only three recording consoles made in the late 1960s by mythical engineering guru, Daniel Flickinger. Flickinger vanished in the late ‘70s after some kind of epic throw-down with Ike Turner over sound problems, never to be heard from again. Sorry Dan; that’s what happens when you throw down with Ike fucking Turner. One of the other two consoles Flickinger crafted was custom-made for Sly Stone, complete with black-lighting so that Sly could see the Everests of coke he’d pile on it. He then put a gun to the heads of the movers who helped fit it into his studio, piled another mound of coke, and refused to let the poor bastards leave until they showed him how to use it. Att-a-boy, Sly. Reportedly, Sly held them hostage for a week. In 2004, UK “punk” duo The Kills (what does “punk” even mean anymore, anyway—has it become the new “alternative”?) disgraced Sly’s old Flickinger when they traced it to some place called Bentmont, Michigan and used it to make their exceedingly boring No Wow LP.

Though Linkous was led to believe that the Flickinger 20/24/44 he got from Paragon Recording was up and ready to use before he bought it, he spent a good four years pouring thousands of dollars into the thing to get it to work properly. He only seems to have succeeded at this in 2005—four years since the release of Wonderful Life—when he declared that “it is undoubtedly the best-sounding console I’ve ever heard.” By Linkous’s own account, he wrote so much material for the album that became the gorgeously trippy Dreamed For Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain that it could have been a double-disc, “but there were quite a few problems actually recording it, foremost being the Flickinger,” Linkous explained on a message board in 2005.

Now that he actually has something to record with and has laid down enough tracks at his Static King studio in North Carolina for a lot more than just the Dreamed For album, rumor has it that he’s finalizing songs for a new record while also collaborating with—God help us all—hip-hop mastermind Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton (the upcoming album will reportedly be titled either “Sparklemouse” or “Dangerhorse.” Sweet.) That’s kind of like Harry Connick, Jr. hitting the road with The Dancing Wu Li Masters as his backing band, only cool. With a series of overtly schizophrenic albums under his belt that pit punk freak-outs like “Pig” up against the drugged-to-sleep whispers of “Painbirds,” news of this most unlikely collaboration further solidifies Mr. Linkous’s standing as the Neil Young of indie rock (ugh, talk about a phrase that’s been mugged of meaning.) Well, maybe he’s got a ways to go yet, come to think of it. I did, after all, recently witness a Neil Young “concert” in New York City during which Young spent as much time cluelessly wandering the stage in an impassioned diatribe with the ceiling, arms flailing madly at his sides, as he did singing songs, so Linkous still has a few more notches of crazy to go. According to most accounts, though–or perhaps merely the picture up above–the man’s damn close. Daauumm close.

Tribute to a Bothered Mind: R.L. Burnside, 1926-2005

29th March

BurnsideBlues aint nothin’ but dance music
—RL Burnside

Just after seeing a heavy-weight boxing match on pay-per-view one night, I watched George Foreman—who was one of the announcers and had knocked out Michael Moorer only a few years earlier to become the oldest heavy-weight champ in history—interrupt the usual post-fight commentary by launching out of his seat, tearing the headset off of his tremendous bell of a head and shouting “I’LL WHOOP AUWL OF ‘EM!!”

The other announcers’ jaws locked open like mannequins during climax. No one quite knew who this “all” was that he referred to. “All” as in EVERYBODY? Like, the whole crowd? “All” as in the boxers, whose combined age was still a good ten years shy of Foreman’s?

Just for a second, I could understand how this morbidly obese burger-grill salesman once held the fear of the world in his pair of laced gloves. There was something terrible about him all of a sudden. He clenched his fists and unleashed a Howard Dean-like snarl as his dumbstruck colleagues leaped up to hold him back.

“It’s OK, George. OK,” they said, as in “George, you weigh 400 pounds and you’re older than our grandparents.”
Even more disturbing than the outburst itself was the routine manner in which they pacified him. Apparently, this happened a lot.

“So that’s what happens after you get the shit beat out of you for thirty years,” I thought to myself. Then again, what more could be expected of a man who names his seven sons, in no particular order, George, George, George, George, George, George and, lastly, George.

What made even less sense to me than Foreman’s fit was that, the first time I popped R.L. Burnside’s A Bothered Mind into the car stereo back when it had just hit shelves at the Barnes & Noble where I endured my miserable clerkship in 2004, I thought of the night George Foreman challenged an arena full of boxing fans to a lumberjack throw-down.

But as song after song unfolded, as the man who was known to his buddies only as “Rule” laid down groove after groove with producers Mark. E. Clark and Tino Gross at the great Fat Possum Records–the label responsible for the resurrection of many neglected blues badasses–it all started to make sense: this ain’t no blues record. This is a 13-track ass-whoopin’. No wonder the liner notes feature a picture of Burnside holding his gut in place as he shakes the snake beside a dirt road, a vague stream of piss arching toward the ground as he stood and scowled over the mud he made. This guy is for real, I thought as I gazed in wonderment at the portrait of this broke-down asylum of a man.

Even the deplorable “Kid Rock,” who seems hell-bent on mooching off the reputations of every elder statesman in the industry, could not detract from Rule’s furious vocals on “My Name is Robert Too.” The album starts off with Burnside belching “I do what I want!” and ends with “That motherfucker stole my check!” I wouldn’t steal a dime from this crazy bastard. This is Jimmy Reed by way of the Beastie Boys; it’s the sound Lightnin’ Hopkins would have made if equipped with a blowtorch and a gong. The cherry on the endless banana split called A bothered Mind is the infuriated rendition of “Rollin’ And Tumblin’,” which is so brilliant it’s just plain cruel.

I listen to lots of blues records. I’m broke, work 7 days a week, and I owe 57 grand in student loan debt. As Etta James says on her great album Let’s Roll, the blues is my bidness.

Burnside, of course, brought his own horror show to the Delta: he spawned twelve kids with a woman named Alice Mae, and lost his father, brother and uncle to murder on the streets of 1950s Chicago in the span of a month. When asked about a murder he himself committed, for which he served just six months in jail after his boss pulled strings to bust him loose because he needed a tractor driver, Burnside offered this pithy summary: “I didn’t mean to kill nobody, I just meant to shoot the sonofabitch in the head. Him dyin’ was between him and the Lord.”

Clearly, Rule had some bidness too. You kind of have to if you’re going to release albums with titles like A Ass Pocket of Whiskey as he did in 1996.

So take it from me—R.L. Burnside was the first bonafide bluesman to come up with a contemporary blues album that tossed hip-hop and rock into the mix without sounding like a desperate geezer. With A Bothered Mind, “Rule” proved that George Foreman’s not the only potbellied grandfather who could whoop auwl of ‘em. Burnside didn’t just release the blues album of the year in 2004–just months before he would die in a Memphis hospital at the age of 78–he made one of the best blues albums of the past decade. If that’s not an enviable way to leave this world, then I don’t know what is.