Robin Denselow reviews the latest rock releases
ONE Saturday afternoon, earlier this month, I was in Tower Records, the largest music store on Sunset, in Los Angeles, trying to see what the rich West Coasters were buying as their most fashionable records of the moment. Two piles of albums were going down fast. One was "Combat Rock" by the Clash (who had just been in town with the Who) and the other was Missing Persons' "Spring Session" (just released here on Capitol), by a local band who make the locals feel they are still where it's at (as they really still say) in a town that only recently discovered punk.
Missing Persons are going to be a major band, certainly in America and perhaps over here but they do sound as if they've been put together by a desperately fashion-conscious committee. Lead singer Dale Bozzio is a good-looking blonde who has been known to wear a clear plastic bra and neon briefs on stage.
In British musical terms there may be little new here but this is still one of the bouncier bands the laid-back West Coast has produced, a pop band to put alongside the aggression of X or The Gun Club. Four of the five band members have worked with Zappa, who knows a good musician when he hears one and their keyboard-based songs are sometimes as catchy as early Blondie. The witty 'Words' and 'Walking in LA ("nobody walks in LA, only a nobody walks in LA") sounded better there than they do in Camden Town but they are still good pop songs.
Joni Mitchell: "Wild Things Run Fast" (Geffen). The undisputed queen of the old West Coast scene returns, after a lengthy absence, with an album that mixes songs of middle age and nostalgia with (for her) an almost commercial, lightweight style more in the tradition of her early songs than the jazz experiments with Mingus.
Worst things first and that means her version of Buddy Holly's 'You're So Square', now updated, sophisticated and corrupted with new lines like, "you don't like going to parties to toot and talk all night long." Far better are her mature, honest ballads. There's little new but old Mitchell enthusiasts won't be disappointed.
Siouxsie And The Banshees: "A Kiss In The Dreamhouse" (Polydor). From an exciting but limited Punk screecher through to a relaxed but powerful, individual and often disturbing performer, Siouxsie has constantly surprised and her fourth album is remarkable for its sheer sustained excellence. At this point in a recording career, most performers (except for rarities like Elvis Costello) tend to slacken off but Siouxsie continues to improve. Her voice is better than ever and her range is matched by the current Banshees line-up. As ever, there's an angry, eerie feel to many of the songs which range from 'Melt', an extraordinary, exquisite song on sex, death and marriage to the breathy, atmospheric 'Obsession' and the slinky, jazzy shuffle of 'Cocoon'.
Psychic TV: "Force The Hand Of Chance" (Some Bizarre). This is the latest offering from Peter Christopherson and the self-styled Genesis P. Orridge, former members of Throbbing Gristle, and currently exponents of the "Psychic Temple Of Youth," for whom they are preparing half-hour broadcasts that will be shown on a New York cable network.
The music is varied and at times surprisingly good. It ranges from gentle slushy ballads like 'Just Drifting' and 'Caresse' to more sturdy, clonking synthesizer-based pieces with temple bell effects.
The final 'Message From The Temple' is a burst of voice-over propaganda on the "don't compromise - go for what you want" Temple message, with strings in the background. It sounds like the work of crew-cut hippies.
Orange Juice: "Rip It Up" (Polydor). Nothing to do with Buddy Holly, despite the title but a new album from the well-respected Scottish band who can't decide if they are quite as wet as their name. On earlier recordings, singer Edwyn Collins seemed to make a point of being hopeless. The rest of his band, pushed along by a decidedly non-Scottish percussionist Zeke Manyika, have obviously been wasting no time in rehearsals and decided to beef the music up as much as they can. Edwyn is now pushed along by his musicians. Not a great album but a great improvement.
Status Quo: "From The Makers Of..." (Vertigo). Something for a headbangers' Christmas, from a Heavy Metal band with a folksy charm to their endless riffs. Status Quo celebrate 20 years on the road with a three-album set packaged in what looks like a large Nivea tin. It contains all their hits, from the non-HM 'Pictures Of Matchstick Men', back in 1968, to the current hit 'Caroline', one of the tracks recorded live at Birmingham's NEC earlier this year. Personally, I find Status Quo wonderful in very small doses and the small dose I like best here is the Brum crowd yelling along to the old John Fogerty song 'Rockin' All Over The World'.