|Roger Ebner performing with Bile, April 2023. Photo by Danesh Kothari|
“One would say that I’m busy.”
|Roger Ebner performing with Bile, April 2023. Photo by Danesh Kothari|
“One would say that I’m busy.”
“I hate everything that is not myself!”
When Curse Mackey snarled his way through the above lyric as the frontman of incendiary Texas-based sonic miscreants Evil Mothers, he added his voice to the then-burgeoning American Industrial music scene. Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson may have grabbed bigger headlines at the time, but Evil Mothers (especially on its classic, Lee Popa-produced 1992 album, Crossdresser) did the glitz-meets-grime shtick way better. Mackey’s done a helluva lot since those days, including a long-running stint as a raft-riding vocalist for the infamous Pigface and spells with Grim Faeries and My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult. Interestingly, he’s also pursued a decidedly less abrasive path as a solo act in recent years.
Released last fall, Mackey’s exceptional Immoral Emporium finds him exploring softer—but by no means less intense—sounds that represent an artist as interested in melody as he is in mayhem. Shades of The Reptile House-era Sisters of Mercy, the heavier side of Depeche Mode and the calmer side of Ohgr run throughout the 10-song collection, adding up to a listening experience that prompts more visions of John Hughes films than it does of, say, Dee Snider’s Strangeland flick. This is classic Goth-tinged Dark Pop that puts Curse’s songwriting talents in a well-earned spotlight—and demonstrates that he’s as strong on his own as he is alongside 20 or so other maniacs on a typical tour with a certain Chicago band that pulls him into its maelstrom every few years.
Simply put, Immoral Emporium is easily one of the finest albums released by a Pigface contributor in decades. Highly recommended.
Curse Mackey performs this Saturday at the Dark Force Fest in Parsippany, NJ. Tickets are still available.
|Photo courtesy of Reybee, Inc.|
In November 2016—just as Americans began embracing (or, depending on your sensibilities, rejecting) the idea of a Trump presidency—long-running Japanese Punk/Pop legends Shonen Knife hit the stage at the Middle East in Cambridge, MA to deliver the audience from the heaviness of recent times. Now, in 2023, the band’s new album, Our Best Place, is here to relieve our years of pent-up COVID-era fears and frustrations by giving us a much-needed great time.
"People might not be comfortable when hearing other people’s complaints,” singer/guitarist Naoko Yamano observed during our recent conversation. “Music should be a thing that can make people happy."
Released last month on Good Charamel Records (the label founded by Goo Goo Dolls bassist/vocalist Robby Takac), Our Best Place continues the Shonen Knife tradition of insanely catchy tunes that aim to make the world a happier place. Rather than beat the listener over the head with didactic politicizing, the ladies treat us to songs about food (“Spicy Veggie Curry,” “Vamos Taquitos,” “The Story of Baumkuchen"), lovely weather (“Nice Day”), and life’s simple pleasures (“Afternoon Tea”). With “Afternoon Tea” being this writer’s favorite track on the album, I had to ask Naoko for some insight into its creation. Naturally, her response was as simple and to the point as her cheery songwriting.
“I listen to various music. ‘Afternoon Tea’ may be inspired by British Mersey Beat. I don’t have any scheme; melody lines just appear.”
Our Best Place features the talents of Naoko’s younger sister, Atsuko, who returned to the band in 2016 after a 10-year break. Now on bass duties after serving as the group’s drummer for several years, Atsuko continues to have a considerable impact on the Shonen Knife sound
“Her bass lines are getting excellent!” Naoko shares. “Her favorite music is similar to mine, so it’s easy. Without any explanation, she plays well.”
Although Shonen Knife has been a staple in its homeland for nearly 42 years now, the band’s biggest exposure in the United State came in the early ’90s. Already a favorite among adventurous stateside music fans (including the band Redd Kross, which released a song named after them in 1990), Shonen Knife gained near-mainstream success in America via two major label albums (1992’s classic Let’s Knife and 1993’s Rock Animals) and an unforgettable video for the track “Riding on the Rocket.” The ladies even delivered the infamous “Fuck it Up, Pigface!” chant on Pigface’s 1994 album, Notes from thee Underground. Still going after four decades, Naoko remains as enthusiastic to be in the band as she was way back in 1981.
“Being Shonen Knife is very natural, and I don’t have any conscious that so many years have passed. I’m always fresh.”
|Shonen Knife, 1982|
With 40-plus years behind them, Naoko and the rest of Shonen Knife look to the future with the same smiles and innocent charm they brought to their first release (Minna Tanoshiku, pictured above) in 1982. What is the one thing she feels the band has yet to accomplish after all this time?
“Touring with our private jet!”
Typically, a legendary band’s first studio album in 25 years would be the cause of considerable fanfare, but that wasn’t the case with Bauhaus’ Go Away White.
Recorded in 2006 and released 15 years ago today, Bauhaus’ fifth (and supposedly final) album came and went without a tour or even an interview schedule to usher in its release. What should have been a triumphant sonic comeback was treated by its creators as a mere afterthought, as Bauhaus – singer Peter Murphy, guitarist Daniel Ash, bassist David J and drummer Kevin Haskins – had once again disbanded long before the sound of the T. Rex-y opening track, “Too Much 21st Century,” even met listeners’ ears for the first time.
Go Away White’s doomed release was an example of history repeating itself. Bauhaus’ other final album, 1983’s appropriately named Burning From The Inside, represented a splintered group inching towards the finish line with each passing note.
“The first two weeks we were in the studio [recording that album], the original idea was for us three to go in there and put some backing tracks down, because Pete got double pneumonia,” Ash recalled in a 2017 feature on this website. “The chemistry was completely different. We were originally just going to put backing tracks down, and then a couple of the tracks turned into fully finished ones – ‘Who Killed Mr. Moonlight?’ and ‘Slice Of Life.’ That was the beginning of the end for Bauhaus, because the chemistry had changed… I think it had started to fracture the whole Bauhaus thing. It was getting to that stage where it had gone as far as it was going to go.”
After a brief stint with bassist Glenn Campling as Tones on Tail, Ash and Haskins rejoined J to form Alternative powerhouse Love And Rockets, while Murphy embarked on an iconic solo career. Bauhaus rose from the dead in 1998 for a highly successful reunion tour and again reformed in 2005 for an extraordinary performance at the Coachella Festival in Indio, CA. (As Murphy shouted at the end of the set-closing “Dark Entries:” “You can say now that you were there!” I was and I have!)
The rousing success of the Coachella gig was followed by touring in 2005 and 2006. The band then entered the studio – without a single note of music written but with plenty of the old personality conflicts that fueled its initial breakup 23 years earlier.
“We went in with hardly any material – just some lyrics,” J remembered in a conversation with this writer last August. “It was kind of made up on the spot. There’s something very exciting about doing that – and something very immediate. We pulled something out of the hat there! Because it was done just prior to going out on the road – after coming off touring and going back out again – we didn’t have time to really contemplate it; we just did it. The idea was that we would do rough mixes and we would go back and mix it properly after the touring, but it became so fractious on the road that the idea of us being in a small room together was … (laughs).”
Considering the state of affairs within Bauhaus at the time (detailed at length in J’s must-read 2014 autobiography, Who Killed Mr. Moonlight? Bauhaus, Black Magick and Benediction), it’s a good thing that the band ultimately elected to release the rough mixes as they were – a decision initially made during its 2006 tour with Nine Inch Nails.
“Trent [Reznor] heard that we had recorded an album,” J explains. “We said, ‘Yeah, we have, but it’s just a rough mix.’ He said, ‘Can I hear it?’ On one plane flight, he listened to the whole album. He was waiting for us when he got off – he wasn’t in first class; he was in with the goats and chickens along with the rest of us! – but he was waiting there, and he was so enthused. He said, ‘I love this record! Guys, I don’t think you should go back in. There’s something really special about this; it sounds really vital and urgent; I think you should put it out like this.’ It gave us pause, and that’s exactly what we ended up doing. It was a relief, because we just thought, ‘Now we don’t have to go back into a studio together!’”
Going with the rough mixes was indeed the right move. Free from overthinking or overproducing, Go Away White is an energized, organic journey that showcases a freewheeling spirit and cheekiness common among bands just starting out in their smelly garages. The material is largely loose and, in some cases, decidedly unbaked: Gleeful whistling runs through entire sections of “Black Stone Heart” in lieu of actual lyrics, while in-studio conversations between the musicians – particularly on “Mirror Remains” – were left on the recording.
“[“Mirror Remans”] is one moment that I really love,” J says. “We were all playing together, and Peter says to Daniel, “Daniel, some kind of guitar solo here!’ And Daniel’s playing like a two-note thing and goes, very laconically, ‘This is the solo.’ And that is the solo! Peter goes, ‘Um, yeah! Alright. Great. Cool.’”
Of course, Go Away White was also a very serious listen in places. “Endless Summer Of The Damned,” “Adrenalin,” Saved” and the gloriously gloomy album closer “Zikir” were unmistakably Bauhaus, while the adventurousness of the aforementioned “Black Stone Heart” hinted at interesting things to come from the veteran act. Sadly, it wasn’t meant to be. With even diehard fans often unaware of the album’s existence, Go Away White is destined to wallow in obscurity – which seems to suit Ash just fine.
“I don’t ever listen to that album,” he revealed to me in 2017. “I personally have got bad memories of when it was recorded. We were in the studio for a grand total of three weeks; we wrote, recorded, produced and mixed everything in three weeks. I have to say the atmosphere was not good in the studio. We sort of all dissipated after those three weeks. I can’t comment on that album; I can’t listen to it. I’ve just got bad memories of making of it…I don’t know what the public perception is of that record; I just keep having to keep away from it. It’s all the way in the back on my mind. I don’t ever think about that record.”
Haskins was slightly more complimentary towards Bauhaus’ apparent swan song when he spoke with me about it six years ago.
“For some reason, just last week, I don’t know what I was doing, but I did listen to a couple of tracks,” he shared. “Maybe it was just in my car and they came on; I’m not sure – it was very random. I seriously haven’t listened to it in years, so I can listen to it more objectively [now]. It kind of surprised me; it didn’t really feel like, ‘This is a Bauhaus song,’ but it was good. It’s difficult to critique your own work. When we finished it, it didn’t really feel in a general sense like Bauhaus or the image of Bauhaus I have in my head. I think it holds up, but it sounds like a bit of a different band to me […] Although the early work had a certain kind of eclectic nature to each record, it has a strong identity. I think Go Away White has a strong identity, but it has a different one.”
|My personal copy of Go Away White - colored in by Peter Murphy himself|
Bauhaus reconvened as a live act in 2019. Three years later, the band issued a new song, the brilliantly oddball “Drink The New Wine,” that was recorded by all four members separately during the COVID-19 lockdown. The group maintained an active touring schedule until it suddenly announced in August 2022 that it had canceled its remaining dates for the year and that Murphy had entered rehab. Two months ago, it was announced that a reformed Love And Rockets would perform at the Cruel World Festival in Pasadena, CA this May.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
(To be clear, Murphy’s absence from this feature was a matter of logistics, not politics. I have made several attempts to interview him over the years. Despite coming very close on a couple of occasions, my efforts were ultimately thwarted by conflicting schedules and (more than once) the man’s health and personal matters at the time. That said, he was as friendly and approachable as the rest of the lot when our paths crossed in Boston 10 years ago, and my door is always open to him. Until our next encounter takes place, I wish him the very best.)
Thirty years after Murphy first split with the trio that would become Love And Rockets, fans are again left to wonder if Bauhaus will roar again or if its narrative will ultimately end with a whimper. No matter what, Go Away White stands as a powerful – if unjustly overlooked – addition to a bulletproof discography.
“Listening back to it now, Trent was right,” J says. “It sounds really good!”
|Photo: Craig Sotres|
What is the truest barometer of success in the music business?
Is it a gold album? Well, the living legend known as Engelbert Humperdinck has 64 of those. Is it a platinum album? Engelbert has 23. Although these numbers are certainly stunning, the greatest sign of Engelbert’s enduring presence in the international spotlight is the fact that on a snowy and slushy New England night last weekend, fans packed the Chevalier Theatre in Medford, MA to see the man – now 86 and still touring in 2023 – sing the songs that defined his record-breaking career and deliver newer selections that prove that he is far from taking his final bow.
For 90 captivating minutes, Engelbert held the audience in the palm of his hand as he delivered the big hits (this writer’s personal favorites from the evening: 1981’s “Maybe This Time” and his 1967 breakthrough hit, “Release Me”), a batch of perfectly selected covers (including Gamble and Huff’s “If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” the George Jackson/Bob Seger hit “Old Time Rock and Roll” and Jennifer Rush’s “The Power of Love”) and even a rousing rendition of his recently released Country Line Dance version of Barry White’s “You’re The First, The Last, My Everything,” which got a good chunk of the crowd dancing in the aisles. (Always the ladies’ man, Engelbert received plenty of fawning attention from female fans throughout his set – even if their grandchildren may have been a touch embarrassed had they been there.)
Time catches up with all of us, and Engelbert is no exception. Although his voice occasionally showed the effects of decades on stage (and whose voice wouldn’t after 60 years on the road?), he addressed the passage of time with admirable aplomb throughout his show. After cheekily grabbing his knee while dancing around earlier in the set, he unveiled a moving performance of Toby Keith’s “Don’t Let The Old Man In” and took a moment to speak about the 2021 passing of his wife of 56 years, Patricia Healey. To put a poignant cap on the evening’s festivities, Engelbert encored with Matt Monro’s “If I Never Sing Another Song,” his voice soaring as he brilliantly encapsulated this current phrase of his long and storied life:
In my heyday, young girls wrote to me
Everybody seemed to have time to devote to me
Everyone I saw all swore they knew me
Once upon a song
Main attraction, couldn't buy a seat
The celebrity celebrities were dying to meet
I've had every accolade bestowed on me
And so you see
If I never sing another song
It shouldn't bother me
I've had my share of fame
You know my name
If I never sing another song
Or take another bow
I would get by
But I'm not sure how.
And now, a glimpse behind the curtain:
While such a passionate show would leave any singer exhausted, Engelbert gave an equally memorable performance backstage after the show, holding court for a small gathering of friends and admirers (including yours truly) in a relaxed setting. For nearly an hour, Engelbert – a soft-spoken English gentleman of the highest possible order – joked, shared tales from his past and chatted without giving the slightest sense that he’d rather be anywhere else. Without betraying any off-the-record confidences, I can attest to the fact that he is a tremendous storyteller and a deeply funny and charming man.
As a final note, it was amazing to see the Chevalier Theatre show begin with a video presentation of the intro from the 1982 An Evening with Engelbert concert film from the Hilton in Las Vegas. That was around the time that I (thanks for my grandmother’s record collection) was first introduced to the man – then in his forties, blonde, tan and on top of the world. Forty-one years later, he remains the man on the marquee – much older now but still the king of the stage. What a gift.
Engelbert Humperdinck All About Love EP Review
Official Engelbert Humperdinck Website
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Growing up in a house where the turntable was always on, I was exposed to a variety of genes that will forever be in my DNA. My English father spun classic British Invasion tunes, while my older brother played plenty of AC/DC, Van Halen and Black Sabbath. Mom was an Adult Contemporary aficionado (which led to my lifelong, unabashed Barry Manilow fandom), while my grandmother was all about Engelbert. To this day, I still know every note of his 1983 album, You And Your Lover, the same way I can still smell the paint drying on the front porch of my childhood home. Engelbert Humperdinck is an important part of the soundtrack of my life and one of the artists who made me a music lover – and eventually a music journalist.
Now, in 2023, I have the great pleasure of writing about Engelbert in the present tense.
First of all, the man’s still touring at 86 years old. That’s pretty amazing on its own, but he also boasts 64 gold albums and 23 platinum albums. He has sold 140-plus million records worldwide. There’s absolutely no denying that he is a musical giant and a true legend in this business.
Engelbert’s latest release, the exceptional five-song All About Love EP, drives home exactly why he has enjoyed such a massive career – and why he’s still relevant today. All About Love kicks off with a cover of Barry White’s immortal “You’re The First, The Last, My Everything,” which Engelbert transforms into a Country Line Dance number. On paper, such a thing shouldn’t work: How in the world do you take a Soul classic, put a Brit from Leicester on the mic and turn it into something heard at a honkey-tonk? Fortunately, this left-field recording turns out to be an absolute joy. Not only does he make the song his own, but the video he’s released for it has already earned 2.5 million views on YouTube.
All About Love continues with a beautiful rendition of The Bee Gees’ first American chart-topper, 1971’s “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart.” Pairing some of history’s greatest Pop songwriters with one of Pop’s greatest voices is a masterstroke, as Engelbert’s interpretation expertly embraces the original song’s sense of sorrow while flavoring the proceedings with his trademark voice.
While the aforementioned Barry White cover succeeds through risk-taking, Engelbert’s version of Mel & Tim’s 1972 Soul staple “Starting All Over Again” scores by largely staying faithful to the source material.
The EP’s fourth track, a new recording of the Engelbert standard “Take Me Back Again,” is where the heartstrings really get pulled. Already a classic song of longing and regret, it cuts even deeper in this latest incarnation when considering that Engelbert’s wife of 56 years, Patricia Healey, died of COVID-19 in 2021. When Engelbert’s vulnerable, aged voice forlornly declares, “I’d give up everything to have your love again,” you believe him.
Engelbert perfectly wraps up All About Love with a spirited cover of Lou Rawls’ 1976 hit “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine,” which delivers enough bounce and enthusiasm to conclude the EP on a high. All About Love offers plenty of sounds to enjoy and cherish while also leaving fans wanting more – which is something that all great entertainers do. And Engelbert Humperdinck remains one of the greatest.
Engelbert Humperdinck performs at the Chevalier Theatre in Medford, MA on Saturday, February 25. Tickets are still available.
Official Engelbert Humperdinck Website