(Rough Trade R2902)
Great Xpectations Live
(X Rated XFMMC 1)
LIKE Greil Marcus's book of the same name, the compilation album Lipstick Traces attempts to co-opt punk in the service of a wider intellectual theory; the surprise is that it is quite so entertaining.
As a punk history it has several notable characteristics, not least that it is probably the only punk collection ever released that does not feature the safety pin prominently in its design. Instead, obscure Situationist pamphleteers and Dadaists such as Richard Huelsenbeck and Marcel Duchamp share the cover with punk femmes like Gaye Advert and the Slits. The presence of the women is presumably supposed to draw wider attention to punk as a liberating feminist spirit - and, indeed, the contributions from the likes of the Slits, Raincoats and Kleenex would have been unthinkable from any previous female bands.
The main intention, however, is to place punk (or perhaps, now, Punk) within a wider context of artistic subversion throughout the 20th century. So, we are treated to Dadaist compositions by Tristan Tzara, Marcel Janco and Huelsenbeck, and Situationist declamations from such as Guy Debord - who is afforded three tracks here, two of them apparently silent. Some of this stuff, of course, is babble, of primarily theoretical interest: the ultra-lettrist sound- poetry of Jean-Louis Brau's 'Instrumentation Verbale (Face 2)' is rather like having someone choke to death in your living-room, while Gil Wolman's 'Megapneumies, 24 Mars 1963 (Face 1)' degenerates from what appears to be alcoholically-styled talking in tongues to a barrage of hawking and spitting noises appropriate to the album's punk theme.
We are also, however, treated to the Orioles' 1949 proto-doowop number 'It's Too Soon to Know' - a breakthrough sundering of racial musical divisions, and Bascam Lamar Lunsford's subversive hillbilly anthem 'I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground', an obvious influence on Dylan's 'Stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again'. Weirdest of the weird, however - and one of the better performances here - has to be Marie Osmond's quite brilliant rendition of Dadaist Hugo Ball's sound-poem 'Karawane', recorded for a Fantastic Facts-style show in 1984. Even without all the cheery punk nuggets, this would be a compilation of particular fun and fascination.
The Great Xpectations Live compilation, souvenir of an indie concert in Finsbury Park a few weeks ago, shows just how drained the original independent punk spirit has become as it has been safely corralled as 'indie' music: just another conservative genre to be charted along with soul and country, and like them with its own genre-specific radio station (part- owned by the headlining band's manager), for which this concert and album are intended to provide funding.
The Family Cat's 'Colour Me Grey', which opens proceedings, speaks volumes about just how far punk's anger has been emasculated into a meekly sullen acceptance of the status quo. 'I don't have anything to say at all,' they sing, with dour pride. In which case: shut up. None of the subsequent bands - Catherine Wheel, the Frank & Walters, Kingmaker, the Cure, etc - challenges their audience in any way, so scared are they of offending polite indie conventions; and significantly, the rote rebellion of the more 'political' bands here - Senseless Things, Carter USM - is always aimed at some outside force, rather than inner life.
With luck, they will get their radio station, preach to their legions of converted, and the rest of us can tune into something more challenging.
(Columbia 473874 2)
IT'S easy to see why Bruce Springsteen married Patti Scialfa: quite apart from the obvious musical similarities on display here, so clearly does she reflect his now quaintly antiquated rock romanticism that it must have seemed like hearing an echo when they first spoke. All the songs here conform to either Boss-style street-opera - most blatantly 'Valerie', on which the brooding euphoria of Roy Bittan's keyboard work functions exactly as on her husband's albums - or to the kind of corny view of rock 'n' roll that gave the world Walter Hill's film Streets of Fire, the reductio ad absurdum of rock-rebellion-as-salvation.
But where Springsteen can animate that mode and elevate it beyond the ridiculous, Scialfa only manages to present a more soap-operatic version of the same presumptions and attitudes. There are some nice moments - the modified Bo Diddley beat and backward guitar break of 'In My Imagination'; and 'Lucky Girl', on which the producer Mike Campbell gets to wear his Byrds hat - but it's a lacklustre affair overall. As a singer, she makes too much of the falsetto catch in her voice: it should be an occasional strategy, not a style. Springsteen plays on a couple of tracks, notably contributing lead guitar to 'Big Black Heaven', but it's just a few restrained phrases, just a case of dotting the song's Is and crossing its Ts.Reuse content