Thursday, January 28, 2010

The End of the Eighties, Track 04

“A Few Hours After This…”
The Cure
In Between Days 12” B-side

In the mid-’80s, John had this cassette tape called Standing on a Beach floating around in his car. At the time I was very much not into alternative music. I remember (primarily because he won’t let me forget) giving him a hard time for listening to that crap.

Fast-forward a couple of years and I’m buying that tape off of him for nine bucks.

Long after I picked up the CD version of the album, Staring at the Sea, I still played the hell out of that tape. Side one had all the singles, but side two had something the CD didn’t: “A Few Hours After This…”

I have referred to those two-and-a-half minutes as “the greatest b-side ever released,” and I stand by it. This song soars somewhere between the luxuriant Goth of Faith’s “The Funeral Party” and the pop sensibilities of Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me’s “Just Like Heaven”. It’s the kind of song where I just close my eyes and arms are folded around me – safe, warm, lush.

In the liner notes of the Join the Dots b-sides and rarities collection, Cure frontman Robert Smith refers to “A Few Hours After This...” as “a slightly deranged experiment, an attempt to do something orchestral and quirky,” and that’s exactly how it unfolds. The music is majestic, all swirling strings and bold percussion, and mixing it with idiosyncratic love song lyrics multiplies its richness. Throwing in a splash of humor, something often overlooked when it comes to Smith’s work, in this setting is nothing short of peculiar brilliance: “A few hours after this and we're apart again / Like two white checks / Like opposite poles / In a secret game / (Like nothing like these I suppose...)”

Fifteen years later, the honest-to-goodness, number one, main reason I bought Join the Dots was to finally have “A Few Hours After This...” on CD. And, frankly, it was worth every penny. I remember bringing the set home and immediately popping disc one in the stereo, queuing up the song, cranking up the volume, settling into the couch, pressing play, and closing my eyes. Tracy flew downstairs as soon as the first chest-thrumming note hit, wanting to know why the house was shaking. I didn’t have a great answer for her; I could only explain that I had never heard this song so crisp and clear and needed the moment.

A couple years later, I was asked to review the third wave of Cure deluxe edition reissues for PopMatters. Among them were the expanded The Head on the Door remaster and the Rarities (1984-1985) disc, including a studio demo version of the song. It’s an expanded mash-up of what would become the lyrics to “Screw” and “A Few Hours After This...” on top of a guitar-based rendering of the composition, making it a fascinating window into how the two songs evolved.

That freshman year at Bowling Green was a lot of things, but, apart from being a song by a core group that helped define the era for me, “A Few Hours After This...” sort of encapsulates it all at its heart... over-the-top, playful, dramatic, quirky.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Marvel Unbound - X-Men and Spider-Man

I remember seeing the first issues of the X-Men and Spider-Man miniseries on the shelf at my local comic shop when it was first released and thinking how cool it looked. But over the last year, I have slowly and consistently moved to trade-waiting. So I consciously made the decision to not buy the singles and pick up the collected edition down the road.

I was excited when it was released and showed up in my DCBS box the first week of the New Year. Unfortunately, the story turned out to be a confusing mess. I read the four issues in one s
itting, hoping with each turn of the page that things would improve. I wasn’t so lucky.

The concept, I think, could’ve been really cool. Each of the four issues takes place during a different era of Marvel history. Beginning, naturally, with the late 1960s, the first issue is by far the most entertaining. It holds in its pages the promise of an engaging story. It begins with Kraven the Hunter announcing on television that he has discovered Spider-Man is a mutant. The rest of the issue is a fun collision between Peter Parker’s world (inclu
ding Gwen, MJ, Harry, and Flash) and the original X-Men, who are seeking out Spider-Man to offer their assistance (they know he’s not a mutant, but feel they should warn him about all the new enemies and bigotry he might encounter if the world believes he is a mutant). The last page sets up some intrigue and reveals Mister Sinister as pulling the strings behind the scenes, but also becomes the recycled blueprint for everything that follows.

As we move through the subsequent issues, the
novelty of seeing the characters in different eras wears off quickly as the repetition of the heroes joining forces, battling the Marauders and Mister Sinister, then Carnage and Mister Sinister, then clone Kraven (Xraven. Seriously.) and Mister Sinister wears thin. It was kind of neat to see Spidey with the various incarnations of the X-Men, but I had a bad feeling about things as soon as the second issue started.

As if the subject of clones isn’t convoluted enough in every comic book universe, writer Christos Gage piles on the meta here. Issue #2 finds a black-suited Spidey and a powerless, Mohawk-sporting Storm leading Wolverine, Dazzler, and Rogue ag
ainst the Marauders, ultimately destroying incubating clones of the original X-Men. Spider clone Ben Reilly, the Spider-Man of issue #3 (who doesn’t know he’s a clone), teams up with an Adamantium skeleton-less Wolverine, Archangel, Cyclops, and Storm in an attempt to stop Mister Sinister from procuring a piece of Carnage’s alien symbiote. The final act features Spider-Man and a Cyclops/Wolverine/Nightcrawler/Kitty/Colossus team battling Mister Sinister’s hairless, albino Kraven clone. The story finally runs out of gas when they defeat Xraven by – yeah, I’m gonna spoil this mess because you should save your money – hurting Xraven’s feelings, who then turns on Mister Sinister.

When I finished reading the book, I turned to the back cover in hopes of finding a synopsis of the story that might make some sense of what I’d just muddled through. Sadly, based on the three-sentence attempt at a summary, I’m not sure Marvel
really knows what this is all about either.

What Marvel does know, however, is damn fine art. And Mario Alberti’s work on these four issues is gorgeous. Every page of issue #1 shines, from the awesome page one Hulk cameo to a great Scott Summers to a sexy Gwen Stacy! Hank McCoy, Marvel Girl, Kraven? They all look stunning. And the atmosphere Alberti infuses into each panel adds depth to the world the characters inhabit. Unfortunately, the subsequent issues get bogged down by too much visual noise from the action, but the individual character renderings are beautiful. I’d let Alberti draw every single entry in an Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe just to drool over how he would craft each character.

For bonus material, we get a reprint of the first meeting between the X-Men and Spider-Man, which took place on a single page of X-Men #27. Then we’re given a full 20-page story originally presented in X-Men #35, “Along Came a Spider…” (You have to wonder how many times over the years a variation of that phrase has been used in comics where Spidey guest-stars.) It’s a fun Roy Thomas story that includes a Banshee cameo over the first few pages to set things up.

Maybe if I was better-schooled in the clone history of the Marvel Universe (I missed Spidey’s Clone Saga altogether in the ’90s while I was away from comics), I might have appreciated X-Men and Spider-Man more. As it stands, I got away with paying less than cover price for the original single issues by picking this up in trade, but I could have saved even more if I’d just bought the first issue and walked away.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The End of the Eighties, Track 03

Love and Rockets

Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven


In the wake of Bauhaus’ dissolution in the early ’80s, band members went their separate ways with various solo and one-off projects. As the story goes, in 1985 when Peter Murphy failed to show up for a proposed Bauhaus reunion rehearsal, three-fourths of the band decided to jam anyway and Love and Rockets was born.

Amid the psychedelia-glam mash-up of Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven, the debut closes out with a gorgeous 13-minute pairing of “Haunted When the Minutes Drag” and “Saudade”. The former is somewhat well-known for being featured in John Hughes’ She’s Having a Baby (an edited version of the song appears on the soundtrack). The latter is a five-minute instrumental I have always associated with my college roommate John.

For the last 20 years, I have operated under the assumption that “Saudade” is John’s favorite Love and Rockets tune. And knowing John, and how thoughtfully he walks through this life, there couldn’t be a more fitting choice because “saudade” is a Portuguese word analogous to nostalgia. Regardless, “Saudade” is one of my favorite Love and Rockets tunes and reason enough for inclusion on the playlist.

The synthesizer-guitar mix winds and flows around and between all the little reflective places in my head, easily conjuring memories of friends and girlfriends. It encapsulates those quieter moments I remember from Bowling Green… furiously trying to capture the thoughts in my head as my Sharpie (my writing utensil of choice at the time) flew across a page, watching Wonder Years in our dorm, hanging out with Kari (my girlfriend early that Fall semester).

Avoiding the Goth prototype they pioneered, Daniel Ash, David J, and Kevin Haskins explored psychedelia and glam (Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven and Express), psychedelia and folk (Earth * Sun * Moon), and alternative rock and glam (Love and Rockets), before finally devolving into techno and house (everything after until I stopped following them altogether). But those first four albums contain some of my favorite songs of the era.

And given the backward-looking nature of this playlist, I can’t think of a more appropriate song selection than “Saudade”.

Related, irreconcilable memory: Not sure why it’s lodged in my head or if it’s even accurate, but I’m pretty sure Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven was the first compact disc I ever bought. What I do know for sure is that I started buying CDs before I ever had a player.