Sunday, September 11, 2005

The Sadistic Mika Band-GOLDEN BEST CD (Toshiba/EMI EU)
Rouge-LIVE 1976 CD (Captain Trips Japan, available via Slippytown)

If I don't already have enough Japanese rock & roll to sift through these days (Taj Mahal Travelers, Fushitsusha, a 12-CD Les Rallizes Denudes selection of 90s-vintage recordings...) here comes more Asian Artyfacts (save for the Milk/Cookies disque of course) to help spice up my dismal round-eyed life. I gotta admit that, especially in the wake of some pretty dire music being regurgitated these days, Japanese rock's still got the sock, or maybe it's because the local market's just so dry, but either way here are a buncha cee-dees that have recently arrived which deal with some more of that now-archival Japanese music that's been taking my laser launching pad over by storm. BUT WAIT!!!!, I didn't know whether I wanted to make this essay/review into a piece on Japanese mid-seventies rock or just plain glam/punk concerns of the same chronological strata so's I decided to throw in the aforementioned Milk 'n' Cookies reissue just to confuse things up a bit, but I'm sure you'll understand deep down inside.

Whereas Les Rallizes Denudes represented just about as far underground and mysterioso you could get in the Japanese rock scene, it could be argued that the Sadistic Mika Band were the cream of the underground rock brigades in old Nippon. Of course, these guys (and gal) could only be considered "underground" if you still considered Roxy Music and T. Rex underground...I mean, maybe they were total obscurities to the mass of musical midgies swarming your local college and high school campuses during them dayze but what about those real rockism maniacs who eyeballed the rock mags with alarming regularity and professed interest in things that were new, looked refreshing and maybe sounded energetic enough as well? Face it, if you were part of the second swarm of smart-set musicologists out there in post-Watergate cynicismland you pretty much woulda KNOWN BY HEART who these Sadistic Mika people were! Why (if you got hold of the hypesheets), they were none other than Japan's answer to Roxy Music themselves, or was it King Crimson?, but anyway how could you have missed 'em not only with the hefty exposure (a piece by Jonh Ingham ex-BOMP/NEW HAVEN ROCK PRESS cartoonist and future Generation X manager in a '75 CREEM, Eno wearing a t-shirt with their name emblazoned upon it easily espiable on the back cover of the Quiet Sun MAINSTREAM album) but with their very own longplayer on Harvest Records that was actually released inna U.S. of Whoa for that matter! (Not only that but ex-Mirrors/Rocket From the Tombs bassist Craig Bell, who gave their sole US elpee a thumbs down in the pages of CREEM's "Rock-A-Rama" section told me that he really liked the disque but wrote that flippant review anyway in order to impress the powers that be!) Yes, if you were the kinda guy who had your own copy of the Jem catalog and paid hefty sums of $12 each for Ohr albums that you couldn't find ANYWHERE unless you took the big trek to Cleveland for your musical needs, there was no doubt you knew who the Sadistic Mikas could you miss 'em even with that all-important Horseslips and Gentle Giant coverage of the day anyway?

Actually I must admit that I did miss the American edition of their album when it came out way back in 1975. In fact, although I recall seeing the British HOT MENU import in the bins once in awhile (the cover snap being convieniently lifted for GOLDEN BEST) I don't even remember seeing the Amerigan collection of various Japanese elpee tracks adorning my local NATIONAL RECORD MART ever, but that didn't stop me from snatching up a copy well over a decade later when I was, er, trying to search for life outside the patented underground rock/label anti-human muzak that was beginning to strangle the life outta the likes of my fanzine and my sanity for that matter.

But what do the Sadistic Mika Band mean in 2005? Well, that's open to debate...actually I thought GOLDEN BEST (sounds like a Chinese buffet!) would be quite the gathering of retro-glam-chic like Roxy were around the time of COUNTRY LIFE with an Asian-tint, and although there are shades of Roxiness here/there (the "2HB"-styled electric piano opening to "Sumie No Kunie" and the decadent pomp of "Black Ship [4th June]" come to mind) but this presumably career-spanning collection if anything shows that the Sadistics were a bunch that certainly bended with whatever times they happened to chance upon. Unfortunately their "go with the flow" attitude didn't take them from Roxy to New York to London like one would have hoped, because their (presumably) later recordings have this smarmy AM cum Japanese pop prance that sounds even more contrived than when other Japanese acts attempted it. I mean, I can take the slower, more AM-pop classics that seem "aimed" at that legendary just-post-18-to-34 demographic group, but the sambas and imitation fifties romps (though the disco-attempt "Suki Suki Suki" is an exception!) just make the Sadistics sound like a group struggling to keep head above water grasping for any gulcheral identity they can. TRANSLATION: when doing a hard British-inspired glamprog romp the Sadistics are within their proper niche...otherwise they might as well have been Kyu Sakamoto reincarnated for all YOU'LL care!

Not only that, but group namesake Mika is certainly kept in the background if she's being heard at all...dunno why since she had a nice enough set of pipes (though acc. to Ingham she hated her singing abilities!) and her hot looks woulda made for a fine CREEM DREEM pinup, but given the second-class treatment Mika gets in her own group it's not hard to fathom why the lass ditched hubby/group leader Kazuhiko Katoh and ended up marrying Harvest head Peter Jenner! Perhaps if she posed semi-clad in COUNTRY LIFE-inspired PENTHOUSE throes of ecstasy on the cover (or at least if they stuck her in the hot tub 'stead of her husband) this woulda sold a few more copies, though such a sexy concept as that might not have settled well in then-prudish mid-seventies Japan! Oh well, it sure woulda settled well with me, but they coulda at least used it for the western market!!!

Come to think of it. if the Sadistic's Occidental company Harvest (who were trying for an Island Records sound here!) handled this CD reissue I'm sure it would have made not only for a better collection but for an overall superior package! I mean, there's nada biographical or production info to go by here and the enclosed lyrics booklet's all in Japanese! Other'n copping a classic elpee cover photo, this product resembles something you can buy for $4.99 at the checkout line at Big Lots! (By the way, GOLDEN BEST still gets the OK from me despite not quite hitting the usual BLOG TO COMM high energy make best with what you got standards...I mean, besides the tracks worthy of your ears how could I ignore Mika's tender, seventies-sexual stride resplendent on the cover???)

As for Milk 'N' Cookies, I can somehow have seen these guys being "Big in Japan" themselves while remaining total unknowns here in the United States (and at a time when country rock schmooze a la the Starland Vocal Band was all the rage, though funny enough I actually recall liking "Afternoon Delight" on some now-unfathomable-to-me level, a fact which I'm sure Tim Ellison might get a huge kick outta!). They certainly had the looks and the sound to pull off such a stunt as that, but unfortunately you just knew that they would get PLOWED OVER here. A little history: Milk 'N' Cookies started off in the vast wilderness of the lower Manhattan rock scene playing at such hotspots as the 82 Club before taking the trek to the sunny confines of Southern California before heading back to a revitalized En Why See club circuit where they appeared frequently at such over-namedropped scribehyped outlets as CBGB and Max's Kansas City before offshooting into various projects both of interest and not to the average BLOG TO COMM reader In the meantime (1975) they got signed to Island in England where a single produced by Steve's brother Muff Winwood (who got his nickname the same way Beaver Harris got his...meaning the guy didn't wear a furry handwarmer in the winter, or maybe he did... if you know what I mean) came out though an album was shelved until "punk rock" supposedly became marketable for a few weeks in 1977. Cold hands and delayed releases aside, what you've here is yet another glam-slam project that ranks up there with a lotta the competition both saleable and not, and fortunately (like the best rock/roll) there's the right amount of punkiness mixed in with the extremely seventies glam-rock riffage and fey sex appeal "for the girls" to make Milk 'N' Cookies more'n just another slide down the charnelchute. If you can, imagine the perfect three-way bop between the Bay City Rollers, Sparks and the Ramones and you'll be halfway there. Anyway, this cee-dee plus oblig. extras makes for a nice occasional popspin for those of you enamored by the mid-seventies decapop I've been writing about not only today but the past week or so, and to top the whole thing off this comes with a neet insert featuring a group history written by noneother'n New York Dolls historian Nina Antonia!

Going back to Japan we have this not-so-new CD from Rouge to contend with. These guys were also mentioned in Jonh Ingham's Sadistic Mika piece because Kazuhiko was producing these "self styled punks"'s album at the time that article was written. Dunno what happened to that one, but Captain Trips released this live thingie recorded a year later, and I gotta 'fess up to the fact that LIVE 1976 is pretty hotcha in a now-deceased toughguy punk way that I'm sure seemed unique to a lotta the people in the respective burghs where groups like Rouge and others were playing out. However, after the Sex Pistols began making new waves it all kinda came off...I dunno...contrived. At least contrived to a lotta the more hipster-oriented amongst us, but I kinda found it interesting enough even if fading in popularity because it all had the power of the past and the vision of the present to it making it timeless in its own strange way. Back when punks in general and punk rock fanzines like ROCK NEWS, DENIM DELINQUENT and TEENAGE NEWS outta Montreal were still fawning over the Rolling Stones there were a lotta groups like this around kinda straggling the old and punk and metal waves with some ease and a lotta success if you ask me, and Rouge themselves did a pretty good Dolls (even quoting "Looking For a Kiss"!) cum Stones thing themselves with this booming live gig that three decades down the line comes off about as refreshing as I'm sure it would had I chanced upon a show of theirs way back when. Both the Dolls and Stones seem like good starting points; at least the back cover photo from a live gig with an oversized Easter Bunny hopping about brings back memories of the pix I saw of the "new" Dolls in Tokyo with a Frankenstein monster doing pretty much the same thing (OK, he was lurking). Hot, bluezy and definitely punky enough for the times, I'd say that LIVE 1976 is a pretty good approximation of the thud-headed fun and games groups like Somebody Good were laying down in the Big Apple and who knows what in your neck of the woods, and love it or hate it but you must ADMIT it...that rock groups like Rouge were sure a lot more fun'n entertaining than the usual bar-bait bands out there laying down the entire Moody Blues songbook for you, that's for sure! (Though initially you MIGHT be fooled into thinking that this is a progressive album upon listening to the first few seconds, where strains of Pink Floyd's "Sisyphus" [!!!!!!] morph into Alice Cooper's "Titanic Overture" before the fun and games begin!)


Anonymous said...

I guess I like "Afternoon Delight" OK. You're right, of course, that it pleases me that you liked the song at one point. Starland Vocal Band won the Grammy for Best New Artist or Best New Group or whatever it was in 1976, beating out Boston who were also nominated. This seems awfully silly (unless the Starland Vocal Band's debut album is actually some genius pop thing that I never knew about).

Christopher Stigliano said...

Tim, I actually used to watch the Starland Vocal Band summer replacement variety show with Proctor and Bergman of Firesign Theater as comedy relief. I can't recall what their non-hits sounded like though. I remember one running gig where they had some goofy Billy Carter lookalike on as "the Starland Vocal Band's Brother Billy" if you can imagine that. The humor was at least whacked enough!

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