The Nazz – “Nazz Nazz” (1969)

December 31, 2009 at 11:13 am (Music, Reviews & Articles, Todd Rundgren)

A PopMatters review from the early 2000s, by Jason Thompson, concerning Todd Rundgren’s first major band… 

 

The early years of Todd Rundgren’s career were no less inconspicuous than everything else he’s done down through the years. As a guitarist, songwriter, and vocalist for Philadelphia’s Nazz, Rundgren cut his chops on both sides of the studio glass, whipping out ferocious rockers while at the same time mastering the machines that recorded his band’s work. And while the Nazz set themselves up as superstars from the beginning, they never actually achieved nationwide success.

Their first LP Nazz spawned the semi-hits “Open My Eyes” and “Hello, It’s Me”, a tune that would be come Todd’s signature piece after he re-recorded it for his Something/Anything? solo masterpiece. The group’s second release Nazz Nazz has been derided by some rock guides as being too stuck in the psychedelia of 1967 (the album was released in 1969). However, it’s a great mix of all sorts of styles and ultimately the best of the Nazz trilogy. Nazz III was actually the second half of Nazz Nazz, but at the time the rest of the group outvoted Rundgren who wanted to release a double album. That’s quite all right, as the bulk of III leaves a lot to be desired.

Nazz consisted of Rundgren on guitars, Carson Van Osten on bass, Thom Mooney on drums, and Stewkey Antoni on vocals and keyboards. Stewkey’s vocals weren’t always the strongest, but on this second album he actually put forth some real feeling behind the tunes, giving them the punch they needed. By this time, Todd had taught himself how to read music, so his songs were even more dynamic and complex. Thom Mooney always sounded as if he wanted to be Keith Moon with a little more restraint, and Carson Van Osten was a more than capable bassist.

Nazz Nazz kicks off with the furious “Forget All About It,” an absolutely breathtaking rock-fest complete with great harmony vocals and a scorching guitar solo by Todd. In the middle of the song, the band offers some advice to its audience. “If you haven’t got time to rest / Then take the record off now!”. It’s as if they were demanding full attention to their record and didn’t want their fans to just dance to it. They needn’t have worried. “Forget All About It” is the farthest thing away from a pop dance tune.

“Not Wrong Long” contains some searing organ work, and some venomous lyrics. “I can see by the look in your eyes / You may be wrong / But you’re tellin’ lies”. A bit of an egotistical title wrapped around a 20/20 hindsight breakup tune. “I may be wrong / But I’m not wrong long”. Terrific. The punch of this song is somewhat undermined by the unintentionally silly “Rain Rider.” “Some men sail the waters / Some men live on the land / I was born Apollo / With the reins in the grip of my hand.” Goofy. However, Todd saves the day a bit by singing the lines of the bridge, but all seems lost again when that chorus kicks in with the “Ride my chariot, baby!” getting lodged in the brain stem for a long time after.

“Gonna Cry Today” is one of Todd’s best and earliest heartbreak tunes. “You know as long as I can remember / Nobody ever / Got anybody back this way / But it sure doesn’t look like it makes a difference now / So I’m gonna cry today”. Again, an organ is used to great effect here, and Stewkey’s singing with Todd on backup is near perfect. This is great, because Stewkey most often had the most difficulty on the Nazz’s slower tunes. Here, “Gonna Cry Today” fits him like a glove.

From there, Todd dives into his own take on Sgt. Peppers and Magical Mystery Tour in under four minutes on “Meridian Leeward,” a song about a pig who is changed into a human. “I’m a human being now, but I used to be a pig / Till they shortened off my snout / And they made me wear a wig.” It’s whimsical and fun, with plenty of phased and flanged instruments popping in and out of the mix. And of course, they just had to take a swipe at cops. “You look like a cop / But you know you’re a pig”. Perhaps that joke was actually fresh back in 1968. In relation to the civil unrest the nation was going through at the time, it makes a bit more sense.

“Under the Ice” is Nazz Nazz‘s second hard rock tune. Another should have been hit with a guitar hook that sounds as familiar as your mom calling your name, “Under the Ice” is pure rock and roll. Harmony vocals add to the tense mix, and Thom’s drumming seems to want to topple the whole song over. If he ever sound like Moon the Loon, it’s right here in this tune. After that, is the British pop of “Hang on Paul” (written about Paul Fishkin, the manager of Woody’s Truck Stop, which had been Todd and Carson’s first band). The band put a strange warble throughout the tune on purpose, making it sound as if it was warped. It truly was in spirit, if nothing else.

Todd sings the entire rock-blues workout “Kiddie Boy.” Even at this point, his voice was strong and easily the better over Stewkey’s. “Kiddie Boy” features some ragtag horns and a great bunch of killer guitar lines from Todd. And the guitar just keeps getting better on the slinky “Featherbedding Lover.” “Ain’t it nice / To have somebody waitin’ at home.” The song may just as well have been called “Mattress Back,” but I doubt it would have been recorded if it was. Todd’s guitar work throughout sounds downright Hendrixian, especially at the solo. Good and meaty rock.

“Letters Don’t Count” opens with wine glasses being played. This is another great slow song that Stewkey handles effortlessly. It sounds just as new and fresh today as it probably did then. Though a bit wordy at times, “Letters Don’t Count” is a great song, filled with harmony vocals and pretty acoustic guitar by Todd. But forget all about that, and listen to the 11 minute-15 second fury of “A Beautiful Song,” which splits into various styles. Opening with more incredible guitar, and a horn section that sounds like early Chicago when they were actually interesting, “A Beautiful Song” continues its mutations and puts the cap on Nazz Nazz and sends it soundly to bed.

As I said before, this is the best album the Nazz released. Its variety of styles, great slow songs, and fantastic guitar work by Rundgren make it a must have for any Todd fan. The rest of the world will no doubt continue to not really know who the Nazz was, and probably won’t care. So be it. Nazz Nazz is one killer rock record from the late ’60s that still holds its own more than 30 years later. And that’s nothing to sneeze at. 

Jason Thompson

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Midnight Oil – “Scream in Blue: Live” (1992)

December 31, 2009 at 8:20 am (David Fricke, Music, Reviews & Articles)

July 1992 Rolling Stone review by longtime Oil champion David Fricke…

 

Never mind the Puget Sound, this is real guitar nirvana: crisp, catalytic agit-twang, pregnant with steely menace, shivering with skittish vibrato and erupting in enraged screams of ice-pick feedback. Midnight Oil is well known for its eco-political agenda, but Scream in Blue – culled from live performances dating back as far as 1982 – is the first Oils album devoted to the band’s sheer, stampeding force.

Eschewing greatest hits (“Beds Are Burning” excepted) for enduring show-time fireballs like “Sometimes,” from Diesel and Dust, and the prophetic “Powderworks,” from their 1978 debut album, the Oils damn the popcraft and turn up the rage. Vocalist Peter Garrett, a daunting presence even in sensitive-ballad gear, has to fight hard to ride the tide of the band’s Live at Leeds-ish attack, in particular the vigorous dogfighting guitars of Jim Moginie and Martin Rotsey. He barely gets a breath in edgewise amid the torrent of flinty power chords, Rob Hirst’s mulekick drumming and the brassy choral hurrahs in “Read About It.” “Only the Strong,” recorded at a 1982 show in Sydney during the band’s first flush of super-stardom in Australia, is an archetypal Oils stage raver, spiked with stop-start rhythms and spooky a cappella harmony breaks, while Moginie’s and Rotsey’s guitars echo Garrett’s vocal psychodrama with their own saw-toothed howls of indignation.

The orange-flame incandescence of these performances will be nothing new to anyone who’s been torched firsthand at an Oils gig. Recent converts swung over by the more refined agitation on Diesel and Dust and Blue Sky Mining may be taken aback by the clatter of the damn-near-atonal opening title track and the desperate hammering of “Progress” (recorded at the infamous 1990 lunchtime protest show at the foot of Exxon’s Manhattan HQ), but they’ll get over it. The noise is contagious, and the sense of purpose coursing through it has its own locomotive tug. The album actually ends with an unlisted, acoustic studio reprise of “Burnie,” from the 1981 LP Place Without a Postcard, but don’t be fooled by the throaty introspection in Garrett’s singing. The theme, as always, is No Surrender, the only difference is in the volume. 

David Fricke

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