During the first decade of the 2000s, this website was a minor, unremarkable part of the “web reviewing community”, where people reviewed albums as a hobby. Here I revisit another of my favourite sites.
Like Wilson & Alroy’s Record Reviews, Brian Burks’ Creative Noise was a very early adopter of the internet for music reviews. By the time I’d discovered Creative Noise, it was already defunct – it was last updated more than 20 years ago. But it eventually became a favourite; Burks is an excellent writer.
Burks’ taste can be stylistically limited – Creative Noise is focused on guitar bands from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. I couldn’t find the citation, but I’ve seen it described as “relentlessly middlebrow”. Burks avoids mainstream pop and progressive rock in favour of guitar bands. At the same time, it’s a treasure-trove of slightly-off-the-beaten-path music. I enjoy Burks’ linking of three of his favourite bands below – it helps that I love all three bands too.
The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society
Many regard this as the Kinks’ masterpiece, and it is certainly their most legendary. Which just goes to show’ya, since it was their worst selling – it only sold 17,000 copies in the U.S. when it came out. Nothing on here reaches the spectacular highs of “Waterloo Sunset” or “Victoria”, but this is, song-for-song, their most consistent set. Loosely inspired by Dylan Thomas’ “Under the Milkwood”, it sketches out life in a small English town, capturing its citizens with their small pleasures and mundane realities. It’s a quiet, engrossing album, filled with mostly acoustic pop, but never laid-back or banal. Ray pares down his lyrics and the music to absolute, enchanting simplicity, giving the songs a timeless quality. An unheard of rarity at the time, this was rock not as raise-the-roof teenage dance music, but rather a children’s storybook set to music. Nostalgia for young and innocent days – “Do You Remember Walter”, playing cricket in the rain, is my favorite – coexist with cartoon characters like “Johnny Thunder”, “Wicked Annabella”, “Phenomenal Cat” (straight out of Alice-in-Wonderland), and oh, yes, “The Last of the Steam-Powered Trains”. The band plays at its quietest and most stripped-down; any jolts of noise or baroqueness would only break the spell. No other “rock” album is better for a peaceful picnic in the country. Or just close your eyes, listen to this album, and you’ll already be there.
Radio City (1974) *****
Their best album is spottier than the debut, but the high points are higher and the sound is intriguingly weirder in contrast the first album’s ready-for-radio accessiblity. Jagged edges have replaced smooth harmonies, which is attributable to the departure of Chris Bell for a solo career. This cuts down on the consistency of the songwriting, which accounts for the spottiness, but even the weaker songs (“She’s A Mover”, “Oh My Soul”) are interesting. The band often sounds as if it’s about to fall apart, which makes this excitingly unpredictable, and on a sonic level highly influential given the holes and corners in the sound. Jody Stephens holds it all together with his drumming, and often sounds like a man tenously trying to keep a house from collapsing. Bassist Andy Hummel chips in the delightful “Way Out West” which boasts a great chorus – as do, well, most Big Star songs. Chilton’s never played better guitar than here, which often sounds like Dave Davies’ six-string trying to emulate Roger McGuinn’s twelve string, especially on the ringing break that propels “September Gurls”, a pinaccle of jangly pop perfection that anyone who has ever heard can never forget. And the chorus of “Back Of A Car”, which gloriously strains Chilton’s high range to its limit, is also unforgettable. Easily one of the top ten or twenty greatest albums in rock, it actually manages to reach the level Big Star’s beloved forebears the Beatles – this is as sonically intriguing and possesses songs as great as Revolver.
P.S. Both #1 Record and Radio City have been reissued on one CD. The early ’90s reissue undoubtedly sparked the current revival of this band’s reputation, which in turn undoubtedly revived the band in a literal sense when Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens teamed up with Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow of the Posies to put on several concerts as the reunited Big Star. When asked why he reformed the band, Alex Chilton bluntly said, “For the money”, which I don’t mind because it’s a)honest, and b)it’s about damn time he actually made some money from this, instead of some alterna-crap Sassy cute band ripping off his music.
Pleased To Meet Me (1987) *****
My story: I discovered the ‘Mats in early ’88 after being turned on a few months earlier by this great new band I heard on the radio called R.E.M. I also read that great “America’s Best Band” cover article on R.E.M. in Rolling Stone (back when it was a halfway-decent read), and….to cut to the chase, I discovered this entire universe of alternative rock that I had been unaware of most of my 14 years. So I dove in with my paper-route money and checked out the Clash and Husker Du and Camper Van Beethoven and some other bands. Dearest to my heart were the Replacements, and for about six years or so the first album I bought by them I believed to be the greatest album of all time, period. The instant I heard this all the way through I knew this was the band for me, that I would follow them to the ends of the earth and buy their entire back catalog. I only found out years later who “Alex Chilton” and Big Star were – I thought he was some old Memphis bluesman! And it still took me 934 listens to figure out that Paul was talking about trading rare Kinks albums – “Exchanging Good Lucks, Face To Face”. So you’ve got the holy trinity, the greatest band of the ’80s singing about the greatest band of the ’70s with a link to the greatest band of the ’60s! Or, if not the greatest, the most certainly underrated! Producer Jim Dickinson gives the ‘Mats a powerful rock sound in contrast to the previous album’s thinness, making “I.O.U.”, “Red Red Wine”, and “Shooting Dirty Pool” positively scorching, you’ll jump and down and bang your head and holler and just make a damn fool of yerself. Kurt Cobain lifted a turn of phrase and downcast desperate melancholy from “Nevermind”, if not the first-person suicide study “The Ledge”. “I Don’t Know” possesses nagging horns punctuating Paul’s sarcastic sneer, indecisively answering “Whatcha you gonna do with your life?” with “Nuthin'”. Everything you need is here, including a couple of great ballads, the after-hours “Nightclub Jitters” and the acoustic “Skyway”, about downtown Minneapolis’ most unusual feature.
Burks has a preference for power-pop, as this page demonstrates: Dwight Twilley, Tommy Tutone,The Vapors.
Burks stopped writing Creative Noise in 2001, but the archives are preserved here: https://starling.rinet.ru/music/temp/music-1.html. Burks continued with a Blogspot account, but it hasn’t been updated for a few years: http://c–noise.blogspot.com/