Cheap Trick

[Full disclosure: I worked on Cheap Trick’s box set and instigated the band’s Steve Albini-produced single on Sub Pop in 1997.–Ira Robbins] At a time when heavy metal had lost its menace and was fading into side-show stupidity, Cheap Trick — a powerhouse that had long been dominating Midwest clubs and bars — blew out…

Trouser Press Books

London, 1972: An ordinary schoolgirl is pulled into the world of a fading rock star and becomes the secret weapon in a plan to revive his career in the time of glam. The mysteries of sex and songwriting, connivance, fame, family and the music business collide to bring her to a life she has never…

The John Paul Jones

It takes bottle to dub your band the name of a famous musician plus an article, especially when there is no audible connection to him. Unless the reference is to the American Revolutionary War naval commander, not the Englishman born John Baldwin. Regardless, the Brooklyn band led by Gabe Levine (later of the better-known Takka…

Freshies

Before he became Frank Sidebottom, the late Chris Sievey led the Freshies, an ill-fated Manchester diy new wave band – more peppy power pop than punk – that got into the lower rungs of the British charts with a verbosely delightful 1980 single, “I’m in Love With the Girl on the Manchester Virgin Megastore Checkout…

Silly Boys

On its one EP, the New Jersey trio plays smart-aleck power pop about such things as “High School Crush” and “Corner Telephone.” They have the sound down, but add little to distinguish it from others plying the same form. Tuneful but shallow. The group was later known as Pinstripes. A couple of decades later, Silly…

Edward Rogers

Ed Rogers, a stylish English expat who lives in New York (where we first became friends in the early ’70s), is a prolific exponent of the power pop underground, a knowledgeable fan and scholar who channels his musical devotions into charming original creations that honor, echo – and ultimately expand upon – some of the…

Danny & Dusty

A batch of rowdy tunes about drinkin’, lovin’, gamblin’ and losin’, The Lost Weekend was a one-off studio bender by the cream of LA’s cowpunk society. The cast: Dan Stuart and Chris Cacavas of Green on Red, Steve Wynn and Dennis Duck of Dream Syndicate and most of the Long Ryders. Produced by Paul Cutler, The Lost Weekend offers…

Hudson Bell

A Louisiana native based in San Francisco, Hudson Bell began putting his music out on homemade cassettes just before grunge blew the doors off indie rock at the start of the ’90s. His prolific catalog — a meandering, maturing evolution from earnest acoustic music to laconic, extended rock — varies in style and achievement but…

Circuit II

With Arthur Baker producing, this biracial Detroit trio plays a different combination of rock and funk, dodging contemporary stereotypes to forge a blend quite their own. The balance shifts from song to song: electronically syncopated beats share the grooves with rock-inflected guitar. Overlaid tape effects (edits by the Latin Rascals) color some of the tracks…

Chron Gen

This quartet from Hertfordshire, formed in the class of ’77, produced top-notch British punk-core, rippling with strength and clarity. But it took them a long while to get an album out. Played at reasonable speed with a generally high level of comprehensibility, Chronic Generation (originally distributed with a live maxi-single) offers songs about the usual…

Christine Lavin

One of the leading lights in the ’80s folk revival, Christine Lavin applies an incisive, self-aware wit and a confidently absurdist view of modern relationships and life in the big city (New York) to acoustic music. Sung in a clear, sweet voice (think of early Joni Mitchell), her songs address microcosmic issues more than matters…

Jools Holland

Best known now as the host of a long-running music show on British television, the flamboyant pianist — a cigar-chomping hustler able to energize even the most blasé audience — provided much of the zest on Squeeze’s first three albums. For his solo debut, Jools adopted a less contemporary stance, playing old-fashioned bar-room romps with…

Children

Like most jangle-pop with roots in ’60s folk-rock, this New York quartet pins its hopes on enticing vocal harmonies. While the group’s original songs are sturdy and charming,  production on The Children (by Bob Rupe of the Silos) is mediocre: while the male and female voices come through with reasonable clarity, the simply arranged guitars…

Mysteries of Life

After the dissolution of Antenna, Jake Smith took over the bass job in the Indianapolis wing of the Vulgar Boatmen; the elemental intensity of that group’s frugal folk-pop strongly informs the Mysteries of Life, the delightful Bloomington group he and cymbal-shy wife Freda Love Smith (ex-Blake Babies and Antenna) unveiled in 1995. But, to a…

Brandos

A well-groomed quartet operating out of New York, the Brandos mine all the right influences and come up with dramatic, workmanlike melodic rock, occasionally displaying flashes of moral and political conscience, on their first album. Though too much of the band’s material lacks real distinction, Honor Among Thieves is a generally impressive debut, with singer/guitarist/producer…

Suzanne Fellini

One sexy single of peppy new wave clichés (“Love on the Phone,” complete with period rototoms) earned the singer brief radio interest in 1980, but her lone time-capsule album — a random collection of styles, from rock to Ronstadt — contained nothing to extend her career beyond that.

Dark

Innocuous, dignified rock from Boston. Mild lyrics, conservative synthesizer and sax make this unobnoxious lounge music for the undiscriminating ’80s humanoid. While there’s nothing horrible going on here, there is simply nothing going on here.

B-Movie

“Nowhere Girl” got these British synth-poppers enough new wave notice in America to warrant a full MTV-era album in 1985, but they really needn’t have bothered. Their one “hit” is a percolating OMD soundalike brought low by the deep and unmusical voice of singer/bassist Steve Hovington.  The rest of Forever Running attempts a collection of…

Moldy Peaches

Naïveté (willful and otherwise) has provided a gentle alternative to macho rock at least back to the late-’60s Shaggs. But childlike innocence made by adults isn’t the innocence of children—a dichotomy underscored by New York’s Moldy Peaches. The sweet melodies Adam Green and Kimya Dawson apply to breakfast cereal characters, Duran Duran and cartoons also…

Junior High

This young Chicago quartet (whose bassist and singer, Bran Harvey, died of cancer in May 2020) must have been a great live band. On their lone CD, they distill the rangy guitar energy of Minneapolis’s indie rock titans — the Magnolias, Soul Asylum, Replacements and Hüsker Dü — into a joyful whoosh of stage-ready rock…