October 25, 2020

1986-01-05 – Daily Record

1986 01 05 Daily_Record_Sun__Jan_5__1986_

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By JIM BOHEN
Daily Record sun Writer

ICE ON FIRE
ELTON JOHN
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Never one to let a trend catch him off guard. Elton
John tries his hand at the British whiteboy soul of
Wham, Paul Young and their ilk on Ice on Fire. and
guess what? It suits him just fine. ,

John was always something of a soul singer back in
the days of “Border Song." Now, with old hand Gus Dud-
geon hack on board as producer. he‘s added a tight horn
section for the dance tunes and invited along such guests
as Simple Minds drummer Mel Gaynor. Paul Young has-
sist Pino Palladino. Nik Kershaw. Sister Sledge and
Wham's George Michael.

Michael's presence on the hit “Wrap Her Up" helps
enliven an otherwise routine song. especially when he
and John get into a camp interchange of women‘s names
at the end. Happily. some of the other tracks sound even
more like hits. The horns propel the grim “This Town"
(featuring the Sledges) and the affectionate “Soul Glove."
Tinkling vibes and “Where Did Our Love Go" rhythm
make .“Candy by the Pound" as sweet as its title.

The dance tunes alternate with dolorous ballads in the
continental style of “Sorry Seems to Be the' Hardest
Word." They're a little melodramatic. but Elton fans
ought to he used to that by now. Much more likeable is
“Nikita." presumably addressed to a girl John saw from
afar on his Soviet visit. The pretty tune is reminiscent of
“Little Jeannie" and “Daniel." Despite the new trap-
pings. it's still the same old Elton underneath.

ASTRA
ASIA

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['1] hm m hur the stories behind the comings and go-

ings in Asia's lineup over the last two years — the depar-
ture oi bassist and lead singer John Wetton, his replace-
ment by soundalike Greg Lake for exactly one Japanese
concert (broadcast live on MTV and preserved on home
video). and Wetton‘s return on the condition that he
wouldn't have to work with guitarist Steve Howe.
Strangest of all. now that Howe's gone off to form a new
group with ex-Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett. Asia has
replaced him with Armand "Mandy” Meyer. formerly of
the Swiss heavy metal band Krokus.

Not that Meyer excercised much influence over Astra.
Once again it's Wetton and keyboardist Geoff Downes

who take charge. fashioning a commercially acceptable .

product from the shards of British progressive rock.

Sure. Wetton can sing — at least when he has the re-
sources of the studio behind him (live. it‘s a different
story). And Downes knows how to construct a catchy
tune. But these guys insist on inflating their modest ma-
terial to gross proportions with Downes‘ orchestral key-
boards. Carl Palmer's bulldozer drumming and Wetton’s
chest-beating vocal heroics.

What‘s especially offensive is Wetton's arrogance. His
must be the most self-absorhed love songs of all time.
Anyone writing from inside a limousine has a lot of gall
to ask for pity, as he does on “Rock and Roll Dream." So
when he turns to social commentary with “Countdown to
Zero" — a heavy-handed protest against the superpower
machinations that threaten England and Western Europe
as helpless bystanders - it's a little hard to believe him.

The synthesizer technology marshalled here is amaz-
ing. Downes’ keyboards sound so much like trumpet tan-
tare, pealing bells and massed strings that when an ac-
tuai orchestra turns up for one track, you can barely tell
the difference. But for all its sophistication. the playing
lacks grace and warmth. It's not even musicianship -
just strategy.

HOUNDS 0F DOVE

KATE BUSH
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Damned it I know what Kate Bush is on about in
H ounds of Love. Much oi side one, the “Hounds of Love"
side, seems to be addressed to God (“Your son's coming
out," she puns). while side two. which bears the overall
title “The Ninth Wave." has something to do with
drowning in a frozen river. But Bush's impenetrable lyr-
ics defy interpretation.

Nevertheless, the album makes fascinating listening.
Its songs are built on shocking juxtapositions, leaping
from Irish pipes and whistles to ciattering African per-
cussion to delicate piano to a string sextet with banjo.
The tracks are jammed with interpolated voices and sub-
liminal sound effects a la Pink Floyd's The Wall (from
which Bush actually lifts a whirring helicopter). My ta-
vorite moment comes when her line “There's something
moving under the ice" is underlined by sonar blips and a
submarine officer‘s remarks to his captain.

Bush has toned down her voice an octave or two. elimi-
nating the screechiness that made her previous albums
rough going for non-cultists. “Running up that Hill." per-
haps a response to friend Peter Gabriel's “Solsbury Hill,"
is conventional enough to have made the American top
30. a first for her. You won't be hearing the more eccen-
tric tracks on the radio, but they’re worth hearing.

WHO’S MISSING
THE WHO
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The Who's leftovers are worth more than most groups’
major works, but this ragtag collection really strains
one’s indulgence. It leads off with four tracks circa '65“
(two from B sides. two from the vaults) that betray
Roger Daltrey's adolescent inability to sing rhythm and
blues. something he demonstrated on the two James
Brown tunes on the Who's first album. (At the time Dal-
trey was an r&b purist who thought the Who were selling

out by recording Pete Townshend's pop compositions.)

Next. Keith Moon sings a falsetto “Barbara Ann"
that's even sloppier than the Beach Boys“ version. it you
can imagine that. It’s a relief to come to the single re-
leases of “I'm a Boy" and “Mary Anne with the Shaky
mm" both slightly different from the available album
versions. Unfortunately. these two comic miniatures (one ‘
about a lad whose mother forces him to dress as a girl.
the other about a young lady for whose special skills
“guys come from every city") suffer from wretched fi-
delity, as if they’d been taken from badly worn 45s. ‘

Side two dates from the early ’703, featuring two typi- '
cally dour John Entwistle 8 sides and a charming coun- ;‘
try-and-western one by Daltrey. But the only song worth '
reviving is Townshend's typically ambivalent “I Don‘t
Even Know Myself" (previously the flip of “Won’t Get
Fooled Again"), which alternates between siide-guitar
rock and harmonica swing. The album winds up with a
live “Bargain" from 1972. which, despite Townshend‘s
effusions in the liner notes. fails to top the studio orig-
inal.

Thanks to the way their US. label has carved up the _
Who's catalog - parceling out the choice bits on misbe- -
gotten releases from Magic Bus to H ooh'gans — there
probably will never be a comprehensive or consistently
listenable collection of Who rarities. Even now, a clutch
of worthy tracks remains unreleased in America - the
unedited version of “The Kids Are All Right," from the
group's first British album; their angry covers of the
Rolling Stones. “The Last Time and “Under My Thumb,"
issued to protest harsh drug sentences imposed on Mick ‘
Jagger and Keith Richards in 1967; the studio version of ‘
“Young Man Blues." heard only on a rare British sam-
pler. Collectors will want the previously unreleased '.
tracks included here. but for the rest of us they might as 'i
well have remained among the missing.