Pete Townshend's long lost rock opera, Lifehouse, has gained near-mythical status since sinking off the map around 1971. It was originally planned for release after Tommy (before Quadrophenia) but was shelved due to misunderstandings with Universal Pictures, a series of failed concerts for the planned film and Townshend's subsequent breakdown. You can read all about Townshend's attempt to weave together "ideas he had himself experienced at Who concerts, the spiritual Sufi writings of Inayat Khan, science fiction, computer technology, synthesized sounds and a world founded on domination and rebellion," at www.petetownshend.com.
The story of Lifehouse, which you will find there written in agonizing detail, involves some sort of future society in which citizens "experience suits" plug into a "grid" which "feeds" life experiences to said participant. A rogue then hacks his way into the grid and puts on a rock show. Quite mystical.
Nearly thirty years later, Townshend has revisited Lifehouse, putting together a disc consisting of demos and newly recorded material. Townshendian story aside, Lifehouse elements (a sampler of the 6-CD Lifehouse box set) is a cool new disc. Who fans will appreciate Townshend's raw demos of "Getting in Tune" and "Won't Get Fooled Again." The orchestral version of "Baba O'Riley" is also pretty nifty. It's only the updated "Who Are You," stinkin' up the joint with a pathetically stilted rap section thrown in for hipness sake (yeah, hip in oh a - maybe 1989), that is the true weak link in this chain of rockin'-new, rough boy Pete. Long live rawk! -Raahb Hulsman
It's said that practice makes perfect, but sometimes practice just makes ... practiced. As a roots rocker who's more often sided with the punks than the retro crowd, Dave Alvin should be the absolutely perfect choice to bring new life to fifteen songs that are so ingrained into unfenced America that the copyright laws have simply passed 'em by. But there are some long stretches here that sound like the toil of an earnest re-creator. Though not stiff as boards, some of these tracks seem to be led by a performer enraptured with museum pieces, unable to grasp that these songs have survived because their liveliness reflects on the interpreter as well as the history.
Perhaps there'd be less disappointment if there weren't times when the ex-Blaster brings forth chills. In the very first verse of "Shenandoah," Alvin's voice makes more short breaking leaps than he puts into the next half-dozen songs. His usual deep tone makes a great starting point for songs like "Delia," but sometimes he rests on his gifts. "Shenandoah" is also blessed with a good mix of organ, guitar, and drums, and in arrangements this collection does pretty good. For example, rustic instruments contribute to "Maggie Campbell" but no one hams it up, thus leaving room for Alvin to put in great bottleneck slide work. Similarly, the rockabilly Saturday-night dance take on "East Virginia Blues" goes a long way into forgetting the likes of a quick-tempo but impersonal "What Did The Deep Sea Say."
This could've been a classic album if there had been more inspiration like when somebody thought to pair the sit-down-and-relax anthem "Walk Right In" with "Murder of The Lawson Family," where everyday intimacy is grafted onto abject terror through a Sphynx-like mystery. -T.E. Lyons
The latest from Box Factory's series of split CDs, showcases a problem with the format: when one band rocks and the other sucks.
The band that rocks is 90 Day Men. There's no roster on the insert, but I'd swear ex-members of Circus Lupus are involved. The first track, "From One Prima Donna to Another," kicks off with stuttering bass and chunky drums, jumping into a quick-shuffling calling-out of fellow pretenders - at least, I think that's what the guy's mumbling about. Nice amp-hiss at the end.
"Studio Track Four" is a pleasant throwaway, a funky, fuzzy instrumental with a dreamy overlay of turntable whir, voices and traffic noise washing through the background, before directly seguing into the one reason to spend your fin on this disc.
With a blurt of tape stopped, then re-started, "Methodist" is a bittersweet hunk of math and spite. The lead vox yowl above the initial rush and clatter, then go silent as others step forward to testify in voices blase as a scientist's. As the music slows into a point/counterpoint between the big, doom-laden bass and guitars ticking like dynamite under the House of Lords, the words of revolutionaries and priests overlap, listing their desires. "I want to treat the innocent people my bomb will have to maim/ I want to confront the machines of Broadway, I want Fifth Avenue to remember its Indian trails/ I want to write well about the Jews/ I want to preach about marriage from the insatiable pulpit of virginity, watching black hairs on the legs of brides/ I want my face to be carried in Peking/ I want to tell an old girlfriend who's appalled by my methods that revolutions do not happen on buffet tables, and watch her silver evening gown dampen at the crotch."
After that, Gogogoairheart would've been a letdown even if they didn't suck as bad as they do. "Hypnotized" has a nice New Zealandy lo-fi feel, but after that, the thin, whiny vocals, the weak punk-funk that brings to mind old Rough Trade bands, only not good, the general lack of oomph, just makes ya wish they hadn't blown all their imagination on their catchy moniker. Feh! -Bill Widener