2001 / Music

Review: April’s Record Review Roundup: A Classic Makes A Slight Return

Marvin Gaye, Daft Punk, The Melvins Offer New Releases

Marvin Gaye always makes me smile. It’s the slight strain in the upper register of his normally stately voice that gives me shivers every time.

That being the case, the re-release of his “What’s Going On,” chock full of extra tracks, threatened to leave me in a state of perma-grin.

However, two other new releases — Daft Punk and most of all, the Melvins — quickly quelled that feeling.

Here’s why:

Read The Reviews: The Melvins | Marvin Gaye | Daft Punk

Marvin Gaye “What’s Going On: Deluxe Edition”

As you might expect, the new Deluxe Edition of Marvin Gaye’s classic, “What’s Going On,” is well, still a classic.

Photo: Motown Records

Photo: Motown Records

The good news is that as part of Universal’s Deluxe Edition series, there are about two hours of new material are now available for the first time — this while the original album clocked in about 35 minutes. Add to this some beautiful packaging, photos and liner notes, it’s clear that Universal/Motown have made the greatest soul album even more magnificent. Who cares if there are six versions of “What’s Going On” on this?

Skipping over the original album, the new tracks include the songs’ initial mixes, the single versions of select tracks and a 1972 concert at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

What’s clear upon listening to the original mix of the album is that the release of that version would have been a disaster. The music is pushed way back and the vocals are entirely unhindered. Many of the distinct subtleties of the released version are missing or muted in the first mix- no strumming guitars, the horns lost some swagger and the swelling of strings is restricted. It’s all a melodic mush with a pulsing conga rhythm.

One positive aspect of these tracks is that Gaye’s voice is way out front in the mix. It really highlights the full majesty of his croon. Unfettered, you can hear Gaye’s full range as he duets with himself on “What’s Going On” and “God Is Love.”

Despite providing insight, the inclusion of many of these mixes would only excite musciologists – as does another mix of “What’s Going On” with only the rhythm section, even though it showcases the virtuosity of Motown bassist James Jamerson.

The Kennedy Center concert starts the second disc and begins with the aptly titled “Sixties Medley,” a 13-minute Murder’s Row of his ’60s hits like “That’s The Way Love Is,” and “I Heard It Through The Grapevine.” Most of the concert features renditions of the songs from “What’s Going On,” with backup from the musicians with whom he recorded the album.

As he essentially crooned on most of the “What’s Going On” album, Gaye in performance suavely wails, moans and howls. He’s a preacher and sage teaching lessons about life and love backed by funky big band that really swings.

In between the lessons in his songs, he’s even instructing the band. He orders them to restart a slinky, polyrhythmic “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler) and once back in the groove, he guides the horn section through a horn break with his falsetto.

Unwisely, the concert is followed by a trio of single versions of “What’s Going On” tracks. Although fascinating in there own right in their attempt to distill the fire and brimstone of the songs into two to three minutes, they’re anticlimactic.

The Deluxe Edition concludes with a work-in-progress song that Gaye recorded shortly before beginning work on “What’s Going On.” “Head Title” is only a sketch of a song with hodge podge instrumentation, unbridled singing by Gaye and a well-defined chorus. It’s interesting but not much more.

Even though some of this material might only satisfy completists, the Deluxe Edition vastly outdoes the regular version of “What’s Going On.”

The leftovers from one of the greatest rock records is still better than a lot of what’s out there.

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The Melvins “Colossus of Destiny”

When the Melvins make their brief appearance in the annals of rock’n’roll, it will be as a footnote.

The group’s sole claim to fame won’t be their seamless fusion of ’70s metal and hardcore punk, nor the dozens of KISS-inspired, thundering guitar albums that they’ve recorded over the past few decades, nor the “Dropped D” guitar tuning that they adapted and passed along to their Seattle brethen in the mid-’80s.

Instead, they were buddies with Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain –sharing the same hometown and occasionally, the same drummer.

Unfortunately, the group’s new album, “Colossus of Destiny,” does little to alter their chances of being almost ignored.

The record is a live recording containing two tracks – one lasting only five seconds and the other is 59 minutes of the band sparsely noodling with blips and chirps of feedback. It sounds like two radios humping.

There’s no pretense that this is avant-garde music or anything but a few guys fooling around with some guitar pedals.

And to be honest, this record kind of pisses me off.

Although the album fits into the group’s penchant for humor – like when each band member recorded solo albums in the spirit of KISS – the record wastes the audience’s time and money.

Wasting an album should be a crime. The Melvins tossed off what could have been someone else’s shot at making a record.

I listened to this entire record so you don’t have to.

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Daft Punk “Discovery”

It takes a special kind of dance record for it to inspire people to really listen to it.

Ever since disco and hip-hop DJs eradicated humans (apart from the vocals) from the melodies they crafted on the dance floors in the ’70s, most dance music has evolved to become the trance-like soundtrack to the party. (And to be fair, who can really get their groove on in just a three-minute tune?)

Sometimes however, it does get a bit monotonous.

On their second effort “Discovery,” Daft Punk — two Parisians scene-sters clad in robot helmets -shove dance music back toward something friendly for the mind and ears, as well as for the feet. Some of the cuts could even be hummed. But, ignore the inane lyrics — you’ll thank me.

Although “Discovery” is not as groundbreaking in their use of beats and samples as their first album, “Homework,” Daft Punk does occasionally shine.

The album kicks off with the Abba-esque “One More Time,” although the Swedes never had such a relentless, throbbing beat behind them. A muted accordion-like sound and a tambourine are the core of the track.

“Digital Love” features what sounds like a guitar feeding back in a Campbell’s soup can with a pulsating drum pattern and swirling keyboards on top. “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger,” has a quirky driving rhythm that’s like a long lost techno song by the Talking Heads — albeit with no lyrics apart from repeating the title over and over.

The black sheep of the collection is “Something About Us,” which is a slow-paced funk stroll with a solo that’s either played on a guitar or an electric piano.

Another highlight is the stuttering, cut-and-paste melody of “Face To Face.” With prominent vocals courtesy of Todd Edwards and a pulverizing drumbeat, the song is probably the album’s closest brush with a traditional song structure as opposed to a series of recurring samples. As such, it might be the album’s most coherent moment.

The thing about this entire album that’s a bit suspect is that many of the songs’ vocals feature the same computer-like distortions as Cher’s hit “Believe.” Couldn’t they come up with anything else?

Regardless of whether their milking last year’s proven formula, “One More Time” topped the Billboard Dance/Club charts for three weeks — proving that the public isn’t sick of it yet. Who would have thought Cher was a musical pioneer?

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Note: David’s nationally syndicated music column, Soundbytes, appeared in the Entertainment section of all Internet Broadcasting websites. This column was originally published there.

©Copyright 2001 by David Hyland. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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