What a great debut album this was! If for some reason you haven`t heard it, now is the time to go to Youtube and have a listen. And afterwards find a place where they sell the album and buy it- this one deserves to be in anyone`s collection. The production, the musicianship, the songs, the stage show – this band had it all from the start!
THE TUBES: The Tubes (A&M)
By Max Bell
It`s best to be wary of deliberately “funny” rock records, especially ones from new bands who are claimed to be the greatest thing since sliced bread. For instance, if anyone tells you that The Tubes is/are very good parodists and extremely hilarious you can assume one of the three following possibilities: (a) that person is jaded, (b) he`s lying, (c) he`s very easily amused.
Having said that, let`s examine this month`s phenomenon for what it`s really worth, laying odds of two to one that The Tubes will indeed be vying with Springreens as the act most likely to this year. Apart from the promotion campaign the “I laughed `til I cried” backslapping, and the buzz surrounding their appearance, do they really have anything to offer?
W-e-e-ll. I recently saw a video film of the band at work and wasn`t unduly excited.
They played and sounded sloppy, most of the fun was sunk by its overkill quotient, and in the audience there was too much nervous sniggering of the “I know I`m supposed-to-like-this-but-I-don`t-really-although-it`s-unhip-to-admit-it” variety. On the other hand, the spectacularly ungullible Mick Farren says that their cabaret extravaganza is “OK”.
Since then they`ve definitely improved, because the music here is one of the more impressive features – as it has to be in the absence of their excessive visual experience, which utilises all the rock-glitter cliches for their own ends. That in itself is nothing new. Mouse and the Traps were pretty adept piss artists when everyone was still into beads and kaftans (cf. The Turtles, Wild Angles, Bonzos, Barron Knights, Zappa etc.) More recently, The Dictators tried to pull a similar number and failed miserably, much to several people`s acute embarrassment.
So on with the show and “Up From The Deep” with its pointedly cynical only-in-it-for-the-money lyric:
“Tell me how you want it / That`s how I`ll have our guitar player, Roger Steen, play it.” Betcha chuckling fit to bust a gut. Pleasantly spooky orchestral backing (Dominic Frontiere) conjuring up watery images and more than good synthesisers and keyboards from Mike Cotten and Vincent Welnick. There`s partial continuity on all the tracks, and this one ends in fine style with William Spooner and Steen trading some powerful bridging guitar.
“Haloes” is deliberate verbal indulgence in the CSN&Y earnest dullard mould, with more deft melodic touches such as the rippling guitar that accompanies each end line and Al Kooper`s clear show-off production. The very fact that someone as supposedly staid and establishment as Kooper can become involved with The Tubes says a lot for their aspirations and abilities (still, Al must have had a sense of humour to ever get mixed up with Blood, Sweat and Tears). Again, the soap opera arrangement is paramount (hope they can play like this live).
Side one closes with the slightly predictable “Malaguena Salerosa”; castanets, mock Andalusian sentiment, dramatic strings and all. It`s funny if you think singing in Spanish is sufficient cause for merriment.
“Mondon Bondage” is a highpoint in The Tubes set, and lends itself admirably to their way with props (the luscious female Re Styles breathing heavy into rope `n`rubber mag titillation). Lyrically, it sucks:
“I`ve been tied up so long, there`s no escape… I could run off to Jamaica, If this bondage I could break”
Alright lads, you can go now. I do like the demonic power licks, TV takeaway muzak and crass echo on the drums, though; also the strangulated 3rd. Reich post-Bowie vocal from lead vocalist Fee Waybill (bet he gets a lot of mileage out of that name).
Because of the lavish production, confident packaging and “how-did-we-ever-do-without-`em” permancence of their presentation, it`s often easy to forget that this is only their first album. By any standards the music is good, and there are frequent flashes of real inspiration to indicate that they are an exciting prospect, potentially as interesting as Roxy Music (who they`ve already outpaced in the States).
The self righteously aware satire “What Do You Want From Life” is one reason why they can`t just be another hype (it owes a lot to The Mothers). “Boy Crazy” is another. This should become some kind of anthem for permissive sisterhood everywhere it inverts the usual boy meets girl hogwash that passes for soda pop rock `n` roll into flunked eight grade sex-hungry heavy metal. Full marks for being the world`s first band to put an inter uterine device in a song and make it effective.
Tubes` piece de resistance “White Punks On Dope”, is ultimately their best, and simultaneously their most objectionable number. Who really relates to this specifically Californian rich kid rap except specifically Californian rich kids? It`s the old Ziggy/Iggy/Bingheimer legacy and sounds exactly like an “Alladin Sane” outtake:
“I go crazy `cause my folks are so rich / Have to score when I get that rich white punk itch.”
Note that it sneakily manipulates what it pretends to despise (albeit cleverly and will ironically appeal to the ennui-striken shell-shocked victims it describes so accurately. Prairie L`Emprere Prince`s crazed drumming, the catchy chorus, expertly timed double fade and fake raucous laughter finale cannot disguise the fact that this is a grand preconceived put-on.
Sure, there`s room for a group able to expose the chicanery prevalent in rock music by doing the same things well and making them look dumb, but it`ll have to be done a lot more carefully. A few steps removed from The Tubes is a band doing something similar to an audience of bored trendies in an expensive niterie while the rest of us push our noses against the window. San Francisco here we go.
If you don`t want rock to metamorphose into customised cabaret, have fun with your new Tubes album and leave it at that. They aren`t yet all they`re cracked up to be, though for starters this is super glossy. The cover is ace in true Pirelli calendar style.
I think they`ll make a load of bucks.
I have personally transcribed this from the original paper and you are free to use it as you like. If you use it on your own webpages – please credit me or put up a link to my blog.
This number of New Musical Express also contains articles/interviews with these people: The Who, Eric Clapton, David Bowie`s mum, Blue Oyster Cult, Thin Lizzy, Bert Jansch, Van McCoy, Budgie, Gerry Johnson.
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