U U U U U U
AML AM, An
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Warped by the desert, Giant Sand's right on target
Ballad of a Thin Line Man
The desert does strange things to
a band. It distorts guitars, and makes
them screech. It adds paranoia, and
can even lead to dementia. The effect
is felt on everything it touches.
There are different ways to play
the desert. Thin White Rope
professes sun-baked insanity, while
Naked Prey just rumbles along. The
Meat Puppets throw all their efforts
to the wind with a carefree abandon,
satisfied to be products of their home
Giant Sand just plays.
On Ballad of a Thin.Line Man,
currently available only as an
English import (as are too many
other good American records), Giant
Sand plays distinctly "western" rock
music without any of the self-
conscious superficiality of bands
like, say, the Long Ryders. As with
Phoenix, Arizona natives the Meat
Puppets, the desert is an integral
force behind their sound, but Giant
Sand doesn't simply look on it with
wonder - they give it a good
The record opens with "Thin Line
Man," a blast of distorted, bent-and-
contorted guitar lines that bounces
over a riveting, even sexually
charged, rhythm. At the flick of a
switch, the band halts this
aggressive attack and churns out a
slower, stealthy crawl. Giant Sand
are masters of their instruments, and
they don't take any pains to hide it,
although they also don't go out of
their way to prove it. They charge
into a ("misty") mountain hopping
bass line on "A Hard Man to Get to
Know," but they can also turn off
the wattage as easily as they can
blow it out.
Softer, creepy acoustic numbers
such as "Last Legs," featuring
Leaving Trains vocalist Falling
James, highlight the LP with
tinkling piano keys and hushed
guitars. For their cover of Dylan's
"All Along the Watchtower" they
start off with a hollow cello solo
before pummeling the song into a
ragged frenzy. And when guitarist
Paula Jean Brown pipes up to take
lead vocals on "The Chill Outside"
- a lush, guitar-filled melody -
her sweeter singing shows a softer
character while maintaining the
band's distinctive edge.
Giant Sand's songs are portraits
of haunted figures. There's the man
with the gun in his hand, the
graveyard drivers, and many other
haggard, desperate men like the Thin
Line Man, who "lays low when he
can." On the acoustic, waltzing
"Graveyard," vocalist Howe Gelb
begs to be driven past the graveyard
Giant Sand recycles familiar influences, recharges them with a dose of desert dastardliness
tonight as a chorus of ghostly voices
fill the background with their
frightening harmonies. "Who Am I"
answers its title with., "he's the man
with the son of a gun... "
It's too bad that no domestic
record label has noticed this LP, but
that shouldn't prevent you from
digging it out of the local import
bins. Giant Sand have produced one
of the best albums of the year, and
certainly one of the most original.
Halfway to Sanity
The Ramones have been churning
out records since Gerald Ford was
President, and this presents a real
stumper; how are we to evaluate a
new Ramones record? Do we apply a
"Beatles" standard, and say "O.K.,
guys, it's time for an Abbey Road?"
But that isn't really fair, is it? It
especially isn't fair to impose such a
standard on a band that from its very
first stirrings wanted to be, and over
the years has become, the Beach
Boys of punk.
While this comparison is
somewhat distasteful at first blush,
it is meant as a compliment. The
Beach Boys never had the talent of
many of the groups they have
outlived. They have routinely
generated records that sound like
nothing so much as The Beach
Boys, except for those rare occasions
when they sound like Jan & Dean.
And yet, every few years, the Beach
Boys delivered a record with more
than the requisite three good songs,
and these momentary flirtations with
out-and-out brilliance justified the
band's continued existence for
another couple of years.
And 11 years into the game, The
Ramones have given us yet another
momentary flirtation with out-and-
Halfway to Sanity recalls Too
Tough to Die, an album which
found The Ramones fiddling with
their formula. The harder edge of
Too Tough, which mysteriously
evaporated on the follow-up, the
disappointing Animal Boy, is back,
but the band adds further variations
on the theme. The opening cut, "I
Wanna Live" features Johnny
Ramone actually playing his guitar
one string at a time, for a significant
portion of the song.
And the backing vocals
throughout are actually tonally
proper, musical even, with the lone
exception of Deborah Harry's work
on "Go Lil' Camaro Go." I'm not at
all embarrassed to admit that I
thought she was any of the Ramones
save DeeDee until I read the liner
Ronettes fans will be heartened
by two cuts which by rights should
have been produced by Phil Spector,
"A Real Cool Time" and "Bye Bye
Baby." The latter song is quite
simply the finest ersatz Spector ever.
And the lyrics are typically too-
smart, exemplified by "Weasel Face"
and "Worm Man" two additions to
the Ramones menagerie which
belong near the wart-hogs.
Halfway to Sanity is a lot better
than it had to be. It's like meeting
an old friend who's lost twenty
pounds. The bones are the same, but
the flesh looks a lot better.
Poetic Champions Compose
Poetic Champions Compose is
the latest effort from the
poet/genius/muse/rock star Van
Morrison. On the first try, the
album is a disappointingly self-
indulgent, painstakingly slow-
moving panorama by a burnt-out
musician. Soggy instrumentals,
lengthy string flourishes, and below
average couplets ("I wish I could
fly/ like a bird up in the sky") seem
to characterize an album as week as
But fear not, a couple of replays
and all the subtleties and delights
we expect from Van Morrison show
up. There are some near-classic
songs on this record; it just takes
some patience. And who deserves
our patience more?
"The Mystery," for example,
might just be a ripoff of Morrison's
own "Into the Mystic." He is
inviting us to accompany him on
the same kind of transcendental
journey as he did in 1970, but this
time he is the guide, not a fellow
traveller. His singing is as
confident as ever, the arrangements
as unerring as can be.
"Did Ye Get Healed" ranks as
one of Morrison's great
compositions. "You'll get stronger
when you get the feeling," he
instructs. He's right. As with his
other masterpieces, from "Gloria"
to last year's "Ivory Tower," there
is a feeling and you do feel
stronger, just by hearing it. This is
powerful stuff, approached but not
equalled by a legion of imitators.
Even the instrumental tracks
acquire a certain c h a r m.
Featherweight jazz resting only on
barely structured melodies, they
make a kind of sense that is all
Poetic Champions Compose
goes way deeper than its dull
surface; it has a sheen that sparkles
to no end, given the chance.
Ray Parker Jr.
Unlike Luther Vandross and
Freddie Jackson, his peers in the
R&B hitmaking bonanza, Ray
Parker Jr. writes intelligent hits.
No, not "Ghostbusters," but think
back to "Jack and Jill" and "A
Woman Needs Love." These songs
had a knowing and cautious
attitude, not at all smarmy or
After Dark, Parker's most recent
effort, is a return of sorts. The pro-
duction goes down as smooth as
frozen yogurt. The percussion is
perky and the melodies hummable.
And it is clear after the first listen
which songs will find a home on
"I Don't Think That Man
Should Sleep Alone," and "Perfect
Lovers" are the two most likely
candidates for airplay. The first is a
confident but sincere plea over the
phone for his "baby" to keep him
company. It skips along in an
engaging, if not unpredictable
groove. Top 40 is written all over
"Perfect Lovers" is a true gem.
A slow number, produced by Burt
Bacharach and Carol Bayer Sager
(Yes, they're back. At least they
don't sing), it is a mature,
unsentimental morsel. The chorus
is catchy in a way that hearkens
back to Motown's glory years.
Of course, After Dark is ir
chart competition with blockbusters
Bad and Whitney. Against these
sub-par products, though, it could
emerge as the well-crafted creation
that it is.
Continued from Page 8
But what can I do? There he
was! Straight from central casting!
Complete with, nervous tics,
obscene under-the-breath muttering,
and, I swear, a tattoo of the Army
'dawg' with blood-red eyes just
above his needle tracks.
I first knew something was up
when the zealous Motown Stadium
Cops went after some petty
criminal who had probably inflated
a beach ball, or incited a nasty
chant. "Y'know," Sergeant Rock
mumbled, in. tones which recalled
Fred Rogers,"everyone treats the
police like they're evil, but they're
really our buddies! Yes, they ar
The last time I heard somethi ,
like that, Safety-Pup was speaking.
It's funny. This guy was a
classic under-the-breath mutterer,
and I was eavesdropping to the best
of my ability, but the only word I
could ever pick up was the f-word.
For nine innings, non-stop, he ran
on,"mumble, mumble, mumble,
mumble F-WORD, mumble,
mutter, F-WORD, wheeze."
And even though I'm sure he
wanted the people sitting around
him to hear his muttered nasties,
his non-mumbled commentary was
"Leave it to Beaver" clean. Every
opportunity for a really tasty
obscenity was bypassed with
substitutions like "stink, stank,
stinking, stunk, smells, smelly,
golly, darn," and "gosh."
"My God," I thought to myself,
"this guy probably spent two years
in DaNang getting the living shit
scared out of him by 'friendly fire,'
and the foulest language he openly
mouths is 'stinky?"'
And he was soooo wrong.
Moments after the Tigers
substituted Scott Lusader for Larry
Herndon, and Lusader handled a
bloop single as well as any right-
fielder could, he turned to me and
grumbled., "Y'know they oughta
get someone like Lusader out there,
someone with a hot mitt." For
those of you who don't know, this
is an impressive mistake. Larry
Herndon is black, and Scott Lusader
is white, and this reads even from
three hundred feet.
And no way did this game stink.
he final out inspired Kim to dead-
lift my augmented bulk off of the
bench I had been jumping up and
down on. I recognize that this game
will be old news by the time these
words are read, but it sure beats the
heck out of my original column
idea-"Breakfast at the MUG...I
really dig it!" And if you still feel
shortchanged, remember, Sarge
might readthis...I'm risking my life
Continued from Page 8
more of an entrenchment in the form
of various kinds of conservatism, if
not reaction. I happened to be here
(Ann Arbor) the first time, in the
'30s, when everything was to the
left and so it was in the whole
' ""' s
, =-' '
country. And the country moves that
way but I think it's not unique to
the United States. It seems to me to
breathe in that way.
There are times in a country when
social reform becomes absolutely
imperative and then there's a reaction
against changing anything. We've
been through that now in the last
years with Reagan. And, after all,
it's-only twenty years ago that the
most profound legislative attempts
to solve racism were enacted under
Johnson. And it's the same country,
the same people walking around.
And yet, they allegedly became very
conservative on these issues.
And I think now, it's very
possible, with us running into eco-
nomic troubles, you may find again
a radical upsurge in this country. Or
a liberal one. It wouldn't surprise me
Q: Do you mean that people vote
with their bankbooks?
M: Well...I think that the
attitude of the country is pretty
much practical. When it's practical
to be conservative, the people are
conservative, and when it's practical
to be radical, they're radical. I know
that during Roosevelt's time, in the
space of a year or less, people who
were extremely conservative, a year
later were, out of desperation, voting
for the most radical reforms in the
history of this country... .Maybe
that's a virtue of the country, that it
does that. In other words, people
react not ideologically so much as
out of necessity.
Now, as far ar racism goes, I per-
sonally have always felt that it was
the Achilles heel of the American
culture and in some ways it's a good
sign that there's more trouble be-
cause it may mean that a change is
closer at hand. Nobody ever got
anything that didn't complain about
it. Nothing changes unless there's
Q: Well, looking at your work, I
don't see a romantic, but a pragmatic
M: Well, I don't think that there
are many writers who aren't basic-
ally romantic. They don't write very
much. There's a longing for what
isn't there on the earth, and that's
romantic. An analytic person accepts
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PAGE 4 WEEKEND/OCTOBER 9, 1987
WEEKEND/OCTOBER 9, 1987