1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Just to add to what my old friend Haydn says in the other review here (remember all the hours we spent playing Tubes albums together?)...
Well, against all odds it has finally happened. I had given up hope of the third studio album from The Tubes ever appearing on CD - after all, the world needed hundreds of reissues of cruddy lounge albums of insignificant provenance a lot more than it needed a cult rock masterpiece by a band with some chart hits to their name, didn't it? Even an email exchange between myself and former Tubes Genius manqué Bill `Sputnik' Spooner led to him concluding that the album would never appear on CD. But 21 years after the format first appeared, NOW has finally been issued on CD. And boy, does it sound amazing....
`Now' was the successor to the dynamic, sleek and satirical `Young and Rich', which had appeared in 1976. With the intention of taking the group back to its bar band roots, producer John Anthony and The Tubes themselves for the first time generally eschewed the orchestral backings, string sections and jazz sessioneers they had used to pad out their grandiose rock sound when making their first two albums. Such embellishments had clearly been problematic for some listeners, who found The Tubes sound too big: it seemed that only the cognescenti understood - The Tubes were grandiose in the best psych-prog technoflash punk manner possible, rather than merely pompous like the ranks of popular yet abhorrent artists who comprise the canon of Rock Music For Those Who Don't Like Rock Music (Yes, I'm talking about Queen and Meatloaf here, amongst others). The Tubes were in the same class as Alice Cooper instead, presenting audiences sophisticated in their understanding of both crudity and truly original musical composition by world-class stylists with flavoursome Rock Grandeur rather than crass, hollow chorus-driven `anthemic' pomp.
But it was nevertheless time for a change and the arrangements and production of `Now' gave the band space to show what they could do, especially with acoustic guitars and piano. Compared to `The Tubes' and `Young and Rich', the album is intimate in its sound: this is down not only to the arrangements, but the subject matter of the songs. While the laugh-out-loud content of the Tubes satire was not always as explicit on record as many would have it (many tracks needed to be heard- and seen - in the context of the groups' legendary stunt-prop-costumer-character stageshows for the humour to be understandable, while a handful were very funny in themselves -e.g. `Proud To Be An American'), `Now' pushed the dark humour of the group further into the background, revealing an existential blackness that had always been there, but that had been offset by the optimism and colour of some songs (like Roger Steen's fantastic `Haloes' and `Brighter Day').
The album opens with `Smoke', a piano driven meditation on the desperation of the singles bar scene that is as bleak in tone as (yet moodier in execution than) Roxy Music's `Love is the Drug'. Vince Welnicks' ivory tinkling on the album is his finest work and this and the following number (the gorgeously melodic pop ballad `Hit Parade) are dominated by the great mans' piano work, which is worth comparing to that of Mike Garson (on Bowie's `Aladdinsane' and `1.Outside') and Dave Formula (the great keyboardist of Magazine, whose piano on `Real Life' and `Secondhand Daylight' should be heared by all devotees of rock pianaa). `Smoke' is only 4:50 here - on the live album that followed in 1978, it was expanded to an eight minute workout of staggering intensity.
Fee Waybill takes lead vocals on these first two cuts, then Sputnik himself takes over for `Strung Out On Strings', a simple tale of a boys' love for his guitar that is embellished throughout with beautiful electric and acoustic riffs and solos from Bill and Roger. Ecastatic, longing and fun, the song is a perfect illustration of The Tubes at their most poignant: it is both amusing and heartfelt, yearning and triumphant, a kaleidoscope of emotion. Next up is a great acoustic blues number `Golden Boy': even if you are unconvinced by the soulfulness and `authenticity' of the blues as yammered on about by boring critics and musicians for the last few decades, this will still get you - to hear Fee Waybill singing blues is really something.
The original side one closes with a cover of Captain Beefheart's `My head Is My Only House Unless It Rains', sung by Sputnik, whose velvety-rough voice is filled with earnest longing. Special mention here for synthesist Mike Cotten, who contributes some of his most delicate and moving work, proving that there was more to his quicksilver talent than some of the most amazing noise effects ever pulled out of analogue electronics. The simple effectiveness and clean inventiveness of drummer Prairie Prince also pays dividends on this gentle cut: given the power and precision of Prairie's work, not to mention the instantly recognisable fills that set him apart as a drummer not only of chops but style, it is easy to forget he is capable of superb subtlety as well as piledriving strength that rivals John Bonham and Paul Thompson.
Side two (as was) opens with jazz-prog-latin psych-fest instrumental `God Bird Change', credited to the newest member at that time - Mingo Lewis became the ninth Tube and his incisiveness on percussion (he played in Santana for a while) was perfect compliment for the exacting skills of the rest of the group. More Weather Report than Utopia, `God Bird Change' became a live tour de force and here it is suitably inspiring also, giving Cotten and Welnick room to stretch out, riff, beep and solo before Mingo himself shows us what he can do on congas and bongers on the breakdown.
Next up is the sublime single `I'm Just A Mess', another fine Roger Steen composition. Rog takes the lead vocal on this tender tale of a shy guy searching for love in the autumn. I generally find this cut to be indescribably moving, especially when Sputnik comes in (with his voice at its most gravel-like) on the "stay with me baby" refrain. Beautiful melodies and lyrics, great guitars, some nice whitenoise synth from Cotton and the superb vocal arrangements and close harmonies with Fee, Sputnik and Roger, their vocals meshing brilliantly make this my fave Tubes single.
Re Styles finest moment comes up next: the bizarre `Cathy's Clone' is as chilling and theatrical as vintage Alice Cooper and benefits from Beefheartian soprano sax and sleazy guitar that threatens to slide off the groove. Re's voice is here at its most unusual and is a great foil for early material by Blondie: shame she never sung many Tubes numbers.
`This Town' is a great show tune, the only track on the album with horns and strings: superb synths and Fee's theatrical delivery carry the number until its great swinging finale where the dystopian attitude of the band comes through (`it's a miserable town...a nowhere town...it's the pits...), the words so at odds with the jazzy flourish of the tune. `Pound of Flesh' is more typical of earlier Tubes material in its jokey but ass-kicking rock approach and Cotton again dominates, his synth bursts staggeringly powerful, but his finest moment is yet to come when on closing track `You're No Fun' he puts his instruments through some impressive changes in the opening buildup of the song that still leaves me breathless: after over 20 years of fiddling with analogue synth myself, I still do not know how he does it.
So that's `Now' : dark, beautiful, grim and uplifting in its intensity. The most underrated album by one of the most underrated bands in history, a work of staggering genius. Originally intended to be a concept album (though what it's about, no-one seems sure of, even the band, who say the concept fell apart during the recording), `Now' was the last great recording studio gasp from The Tubes before a more commercial approach beckoned. Just buy it....
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 3 February 2005
Well it has been said before and I echo the sentiment here. It's about time !!! From the pespective of a long-time Tubes Fan, this album is probably one of the most underrated of The Tubes studio albums. The reason for this may be the lack of orchestral add-ins on the tracks. Granted, the result is RAW, but genuine, and is definitely my favourite album by The Tubes.
If you are a person who likes production, or should I say over production, then this album may not be for you - but if you are a connoisseur of music, then ignoring this album will probably be the worst thing you will do.
Without going into a blow by blow account of every track, I will say that the quality of the tracks is constantly brilliant, and the musicianship as ever is sterling. You will be surprised at the diversity of music here, you will find soulful songs (Golden Boy) alongside the weird and wonderful (God Bird Change and Cathy's Clone) Other songs remind us of former decades (besides the 70s) This Town and Hit Parade. I am always pleased when a band writes its own material, and am rarely impressed by cover versions, but "My head is my only House" - a Captain Beefheart song is done very well indeed.
My personal favourites are "Strung Out on Strings" - "a six string rock dream rockabilly lullaby" - which is no lullaby, "God Bird Change" and "Smoke" - which still remains a strong song. Once again, don't expect these to be 3 minute put togther songs that you find in the Top 40, you'll be disappointed.
HOWEVER, if you are looking for something "different but good" to listen to, then give this album a listen. The Tubes may have forged their reputation on their Stage show antics, but when you take a closer look, the Music is a real treasure too!
I gave this five stars because of the pleasure this album has given me for decades. If the music on an album can do that, it's got to be worth 5 stars.