Lately, brothers Ron and Russell Mael of Sparks have been getting a lot of attention. They are the subject of Edgar Wright’s acclaimed “The Sparks Brothers” doc and the sibling duo also wrote the screenplay and songs for the Leos Carax movie, “Annette,” starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard. Possibly all this renewed awareness will spark (get it?) people’s interest in the underrated. 80s LA new wave band, Gleaming Spires, whose primary members David Kendrick and Leslie Bohem were members of Sparks from 1981–1985.
Expanded reissues of Gleaming Spires’ first three albums, “Songs of the Spires,” “Walk on Well Lighted Streets” and “Welcoming a New Ice Age” (all on Omnivore) not only go a long way in helping us understand why the Mael brothers wanted Kendrick and Bohem in their band, but also the contribution they made to West Coast music scene of the period. Perhaps best-known for the college radio hit single “Are You Ready for the Sex Girls?” (from 1981’s Songs of the Spires), Gleaming Spires basically made new wave music for your noggin that also spoke to your feet. Their irresistible original compositions deserve the chance to be heard again (or for the first time), and their stellar choice in cover material (“Somewhere” from West Side Story, Abba’s “Does Your Mother Know?” and Elvis’ “Suspicious Minds”) speaks for itself.
Believe it or not, it’s been more than 40 years since U2 released its excellent debut album Boy, featuring the breakout single “I Will Follow.” At the time, no other band sounded like U2, thanks in large part to the distinguished guitar playing of “The Edge.” Soon after, U2 would release a string of studio albums, including “War,” “The Unforgettable Fire” and “The Joshua Tree” that would make them favorites of critics and music-lovers alike. “Achtung Baby,” coming four years after “The Joshua Tree,” was a career-high and also the beginning of the band’s decline.
At the time of its release in 2000, “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” (Island/UMC), reissued in a 20th anniversary remastered double CD deluxe edition, signaled something of a comeback for U2 (who have not released a new studio album since 2017). Like the best of U2’s previous albums, it sounds timeless and deserves to be revisited. Aside from the four singles, “Beautiful Day,” “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of,” “Elevation” and “Walk On,” “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” contains standouts such as “Wild Honey,” the bizarre “New York” and the still timely “Peace on Earth.” The first disc of the reissue also includes the non-U.S. bonus track “The Ground Beneath Her Feet” which features lyrics by Salman Rushdie. A second disc, recorded live in 2001 at the Fleet Center in Boston, includes songs from earlier albums such as “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “With or Without You” and “The Fly,” with a focus on the newer songs.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, while a pre-arena rock U2 was leading the new wave invasion from across the pond, bands in Athens (Georgia, that is), including the B-52’s and R.E.M., both led by queer performers, were creating some of the most distinctive music stateside. In fact, R.E.M. (as well as U2) is credited with creating what would come to be known as college rock.
Landing sonically somewhere between the B-52’s and R.E.M., the quartet known as Pylon are being feted with handsomely packaged reissues of its first two albums, 1980’s “Gyrate” and 1983’s “Chomp” (both on New West). The vocal acrobatics of lead vocalist Vanessa Briscoe Hay gives the band a certain B-52’s quality, along with the jagged dance beats, best experienced on “Volume,” “Feast On My Heart,” “Driving School” and “Danger” from “Gyrate,” as well as on “M-Train” and “Gyrate” from “Chomp.” On the other hand, you can also hear echoes of R.E.M. in songs such as “Weather Radio,” “Gravity,” the instrumental “Italian Movie Theme” and “Crazy.” R.E.M. even covered “Crazy” on 1987’s “Dead Letter Office.” These comparisons aside, Pylon was always very much its own band, blazing its own underappreciated trail, especially on “Yo-Yo,” “Beep,” “Buzz” and “No Clocks.” If there’s one quibble, it’s that the CD reissues don’t include the bonus material that could be found on earlier expanded Pylon reissues — 2007’s “Gyrate Plus” and 2009’s “Chomp More.”
Originally released in 2005, the 15th-anniversary reissue and vinyl (opaque red, no less!) debut, “All That We Needed” (Craft Recordings) by Chicago’s west suburban band, Plain White T’s, is notable for being the first place once could hear PWT’s song “Hey There Delilah.” Of course, the version on “All That We Needed” differs from the rerecorded 2007 version that went on to become the band’s sole, albeit massive, hit single. “All That We Needed,” arriving as it did after the Smashing Pumpkins had already broken up and then reformed, was a latecomer to the formerly fruitful Chicago music scene (see also Liz Phair, Urge Overkill, Material Issue, Veruca Salt) and owed more to fellow suburbanites Fall Out Boy than any of its predecessors. The other notable thing about the previously mentioned “Hey There Delilah” is that not only did it not sound like anything else on the otherwise crunchy collection of suburban punk songs such as “Take Me Away,” “Sad Story,” “Lazy Day Afternoon” and “Last Call,” it had more in common with Green Day’s “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” than anything else.
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