Rick Rubin

Going back to Back to the Grotto

Friday, June 1st, 2012 | musiX | 1 Comment

San Francisco by way of Chico, Californ-I-A four-piece the Mother Hips have gone through loads of changes over the past two decades. The band is currently in the studio working on a new record—their eighth long player—but we’re here to talk about what went down back in 1992 … you know, the year Nirvana’s Nevermind hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 Chart, Quentin Tarantino made his directorial debut with Reservoir Dogs, a tribute to Freddie Mercury was held at Wembley Stadium …

… it was a long time ago. In a galaxy far, far away. I was just out of high school, not yet living in Chico. The Mother Hips released their debut Back to the Grotto in February of 1992, and eventually put out on Rick Rubin’s American Recordings. It was largely overlooked at the time (you’d be hard-pressed to find any ink on the record), but it’s a seminal release for the band. Intertwining guitars and vocals support Tim Bluhm’s playful, confessional lyrics. The album seamlessly brings together British Invasion melodies, Dead-like extended passages, California pop harmonies. Listening to it again, it’s hard to believe this is a debut album. The Hips simplified their sound over the following years, but have since embraced the elements that make Grotto great.

In true 2012 fashion, the Mother Hips are planning to play the album in its entirety on June 15 at San Francisco’s Independent. What’s more, the band is offering the record for free download through June 2. It’s your chance to discover a lost gem. It’s the hippiest, unhip thing you’ll do all day … or the hippest, unhippie thing. Either way, you’ll be glad you did.

“Precious Opal”The Mother Hips

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Neil Diamond: In the rough

Friday, April 1st, 2011 | musiX | 1 Comment

Neil Diamond. Horribly out of place in The Last Waltz. Spoofed brilliantly later by Will Ferrell. Forever associated with two decades of Vegas-style glitz, adult-contemporary pap and unfortunate hair and blouses (the cover of 1972′s Hot August Night sorta says it all). Somewhere along the way he was dubbed “the Jewish Elvis.”

You have to rewind a little further to get to the good stuff. The essential stuff. Released in concert with Diamond’s recent induction into the farce that is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Neil Diamond: The Bang Years 1966-1968 shines a light on the songwriter’s early, can’t-miss pop gems. Diamond signed to Bert Berns’ Bang Records in 1966 after years cutting his teeth in The Brill Building, thus beginning an impressive run of singles—most of which you’ve heard at least once—including “Solitary Man,” “Cherry, Cherry,” “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon,” “Kentucky Woman,” “Shiloh,” “Red, Red Wine,” “You Got to Me”—all loaded with tambourine and hand claps, piano and horns, and that smoky rasp. Then there’s “Thank the Lord For the Night Time,” a song that hints at his ’70s kitsch and one whose descending bridge before the chorus continues to tickle my fickle ears. Everything on The Bang Years appears in their original mono mixes, and there are a few tracks (“I’ll Come Running,” “The Time is Now” and “The Long Way Home”) that haven’t seen the light of day since their original release. All I have to say is it’s about time.

But let us not forget that Neil Diamond has been back for some time. I’d like to say it was Saving Silverman—in which Jason Biggs, Jack Black and Steve Zahn spend time in their tribute band Diamonds in the Rough—that made him cool again. Although it was most likely 2005′s 12 Songs that brought him back to form while at the same time introducing Diamond to a younger audience (having the name “Rick Rubin” attached never hurts). Maybe he never actually went away. But in mine eyes and ears, Neil Diamond will forever look like the photo above and sound like the songs below.

“Solitary Man”Neil Diamond

“Thank the Lord For the Night Time”Neil Diamond

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Black Friday: Slayer vs. Metallica

Friday, December 26th, 2008 | musiX | 39 Comments

This sounds like a no-brainer: Slayer slays Metallica for its latter-day sins, and drags its lifeless corpse back to a dark cave with the rest of the sell-outs.

I always thought it would be interesting to set these two metal titans loose on each other. It’s been written about before, but done very half-assed, usually summed up in one over-simplified conclusion: Metallica are pussies and Slayer fucking rules. Well, not so fast, my fine feathered-haired friend …

First, a little background. There are some interesting parallels in the bands’ careers. Both formed in 1981 in Southern California (Metallica, of course, later relocated to the Bay Area), and drew their influence from British metal bands like Venom, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. Both bands were given their first breaks by founder and owner of Metal Blade Records Brian Slagel, who put them on his Metal Massacre compilations (Metallica on Metal Massacre I, Slayer on III). Metallica and Slayer released their debut records in 1983—Kill ‘Em All and Show No Mercy, respectively. They are both considered part of the “Big Four of Thrash” along with Anthrax and Megadeth. Both bands have a median age of 44. In their respective 28-year careers, both bands have had similar output—Slayer has released 10 albums; Metallica, nine. Both have had records produced by Rick Rubin. The majority of their songs touch on war and death and insanity—with very metallic titles like “No Remorse,” “Criminally Insane,” “Disposable Heroes” and “Expendable Youth.” Guess who wrote which.

So why is Slayer still a critically lauded metal band that can do no wrong in the eyes of its crazed devotees, while Metallica has been relegated to “They were once great, but started sucking ass in the early ’90s” status? That’s easy. Because Metallica was once great, but started sucking ass in the early ’90s. Oh … then there was the whole Napster debacle. Um … and we got to watch in disbelief as the members underwent $40,000-a-week therapy sessions, thus emerging as raging primadonnas in 2004′s Some Kind of Monster. Right.

BUT. There’s always a but. Take Slayer and Metallica’s best records—arguably Reign In Blood and Master of Puppets, respectively—and there’s no contest. Don’t get me wrong, Reign In Blood is a great record that deserves all the accolades it receives, but Master of Puppets is a flawless and deadly combination of musicianship, anger, production, speed and, above all else, the songs are just better. Stand those records side by side and Metallica slays Slayer. Match up their second-best: Metallica’s … And Justice For All and Slayer’s Seasons In the Abyss, and Metallica emerges again. Debuts? Kill ‘Em All is a raw slab of punk rock … kills Show No Mercy dead.

Yes, Metallica cheesed out in the ’90s. In a big way. But let me say this: Dr. Dre was also involved in the Napster lawsuit, but hasn’t caught nearly as much shit as Lars Ulrich. And Load and ReLoad were torpid and mediocre hard-rock records with stagnant production. Then again, Slayer hasn’t changed one bit, essentially rewriting the same riff hundreds of times over, while adopting a pretty predictable insert serial killer/Nazi war criminal name here lyrical template. There’s something to be said for evolving—although in the world of metal, the theory of evolution is as absurd as Intelligent Design is in real life.

Now it’s almost 2009(?!), which means the members of Metallica and Slayer are ancient in metal years. Do both bands still bring it? Of-goddamn-course. Does that mean they’re good? Meh. Metallica released Death Magnetic this year, a return to its former self, and made an eerie video for “All Nightmare Long” about a Soviet experiment gone wrong. The speed and the eight-minute, multi-part songs are back, but it could never be as good as Master of Puppets or … And Justice For All. And Slayer is set to release an as-yet-to-be-titled album in 2009 (I’m sure the title will include one of the following words: “death,” “God,” “die” or “Christ”), and it will sound exactly like Reign In Blood and Seasons In the Abyss, which, in itself, is impressive. But why not just listen to Reign In Blood and Seasons In the Abyss?

Now if you’ve read this far, you a) still give two squirts about these bands, b) are waxing nostalgic on your awkward teenage years, or c) were just morbidly curious as to how this death match would end. Well, the end is here. And both bands are still standing, for better or worse. So how can we settle this? Well, the album title Kill ‘Em All sort of set the stage early on for Metallica (good thing they didn’t go with the original title, Metal Up Your Ass). Guess we’ll just have to see what the fun-lovin’ fellas in Slayer come up with next year. There. I just wrote 800 words about Metallica and Slayer, and it wasn’t half-assed … perhaps three-quarters-assed.

“Psychopathy Red”Slayer (unreleased, from the forthcoming record)

Video for “All Nightmare Long” from Metallica’s Death Magnetic

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