We’re not sure how we feel about this Sparks/Franz Ferdinand collaboration

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British music news rag NME broke some eyebrow-raising news last week: For their next studio project, avant-pop duo Sparks are collaborating with Scottish rockers Franz Ferdinand. Apparently sessions have been in progress since April 2013 and should be completed by this summer.

If you think this sounds like a trainwreck in the making, you’re not alone. Sparks keyboardist Ron Mael agrees with you. “If there was a train crash between Franz Ferdinand and Sparks,” the mustachioed Mael brother told NME, “this is what the wreckage would sound like.” I’m sure he meant that in a good way, but still, we’re concerned. Not that Franz Ferdinand are the worst of the early ’00s crop of Brit-rock bands; at least Sparks aren’t collaborating with, say, Razorlight. Alex Kapranos and co. are fine, and even occasionally catchy in a Scottish Strokes sort of way. But they’re not exactly weird or innovative or groundbreaking—so for this pairing to be anything more than a curiosity, Ron and Russell Mael are going to have to do a lot of the heavy lifting.

Oddly, this isn’t the first time there’s been talk of a Sparks and FF collab. Way back in 2006, there were reports that Franz Ferdinand was working on an entire album of Sparks covers (which never came to fruition, obviously). Turns out Kapranos and his mates really are huge Sparks fans—so who knows? Maybe working with the brothers Mael will bring out a side of FF we haven’t heard before.

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You seriously still don’t own a copy of DEVO’s “The Complete Truth About De-Evolution”? That’s OK, they’re reissuing it again next month.

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Although they’re still mostly remembered for “Whip It,” DEVO made some of the greatest and strangest music videos of the MTV era, beginning with early avant-garde classics like “Jocko Homo” and culminating in eye-popping performance clips like “Peek-a-Boo” and “Time Out for Fun.” Most of these videos were first collected in 1993 on The Complete Truth About De-Evolution, released exclusively in the ill-fated Laserdisc format. The collection was later reissued on DVD in 2003 by Rhino Records, but that set went out of print. Maybe third time’s the charm?

On Feb. 11th, MVD Entertainment will release the latest incarnation of The Complete Truth About De-Evolution on DVD. As near as we can tell, it’s the same material that was included on the Rhino release, which is to say that the band’s 1984 cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Are U Experienced?” still doesn’t make the cut (apparently the Hendrix estate really didn’t like DEVO’s take) but a bunch of cool bonus materials do, including some early live footage and Bruce Conner’s short film version of “Mongoloid.” There’s also commentary by Mark Mothersbaugh and Gerald Casale, which is the worth the price of admission alone.

No details yet on where you can find the newest version of The Complete Truth About De-Evolution but most MVD Entertainment releases are pretty easy to track down via Amazon.com and elsewhere. If we can get our hands on a copy, we’ll post a longer review of the full package soon.

Let’s play this post out with some classic DEVO eye candy from the 1981 New Traditionalists era, aka that time when the guys all wore fake plastic Reagan hair for a year. This is “Through Being Cool,” which I’m tempted to say is the weirdest video they ever did, except they’re all pretty weird in their own ways. I do believe, however, that this is the only DEVO video to feature some sweet breakdancing spin moves. [Update: Nope. Turns out this one does, too. We apologize for the oversight. We also blame the Hendrix estate.]

This fan-made DEVO claymation video is awesome

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Here’s a fun little thing we recently ran across on ClubDevo.com: a Polish film student named Natalia Brożyńska recently completed a short stop-action animated film called “Searching for Devo,” featuring (with the band’s blessing) the demo version of “Blockhead.” The whole thing is beautifully shot and looks like it probably took more hours to do than we’ve spent on this entire blog in four years. Here’s what Gerald Casale had to say about it: “This sincere, labor-intensive, retro stop-action animation piece from a young girl in Poland is the latest proof that music is indeed the universal language. I felt like Devo were anthropomorphized bacteria performing sonic surgery in a Blockhead’s colon.”

Nina Hagen

Nina Hagen

So it being Halloween and all, we were going to make some wacky costumed act our Weird Band of the Week. But then we were going through some old reader comments and a few different folks mentioned Nina Hagen and we said, “You know what? Other acts wear Halloween costumes. Nina Hagen is a Halloween costume.” People have been ripping off her unique style for decades, to the point where some of them (ahem, Lady Gaga) probably aren’t even aware of the original source. So for all you young’uns out there, let’s get acquainted with the so-called Mother of Punk, shall we?

Nina Hagen was born in 1955 in East Berlin, at the height of the Cold War. She was pegged very early in life as an opera prodigy, but she was more interested in pop music. After singing in a more traditional German pop band called Fritzens Dampferband (you can hear one of her early vocals here), she formed a “rock” band called Automobil in 1974. I put “rock” in quotation marks because this was one of their more rockin’ tracks:

The song title translates roughly to “You Forgot the Color Film” and the lyrics are basically all Nina Hagen berating her boyfriend on their vacation for, well, not bringing color film. Apparently it was interpreted at the time as a sly critique of the drabness of East Berlin. Yeah, life behind the Iron Curtain was not fun.

In 1976, she and her parents defected to West Germany, and that’s when the Nina Hagen we all know and love really began to blossom. Inspired by the nascent punk scene on a visit to London, Hagen formed the Nina Hagen Band and began playing a theatrical mix of punk, glam and progressive rock, all punctuated by her increasingly over-the-top, operatic vocals. The music was frankly not all that exciting, but Hagen was developing into an astonishing vocalist and live performer. Here, for example, is the Nina Hagen Band in 1979, performing a track called “Naturträne.” It’s basically one minute of song followed by three minutes of Nina wailing over a bunch of prog-rock noodling, but this woman could wail over a Yanni record and I’d still camp out for tickets.

By the end of ’79, the Nina Hagen Band had already broken up, as Hagen went off to explore wilder musical frontiers as a solo artist. Even in this 1980 clip of her covering “Ziggy Stardust” on Swedish television, the style and attitude she became famous for is pretty much all there: the crazy hair and eye makeup, crazier facial expressions, and positively batshit vocals.

In 1982, Hagen released her first solo album and first album sung entirely in English, NunSexMonkRock. Richard Metzger of Dangerous Minds recently called it the post-punk era’s greatest “unsung masterpiece” and it’s hard to argue with him. From beginning to end, the record sounds like it was flown in from another planet, not exactly punk or glam or New Wave but somehow channeling all those forces into a totally original sound. The best-known track is an anti-heroin anthem called “Smack Jack,” which isn’t the weirdest thing on the album but which features a music video that has to be seen to be believed. Yes, that’s Nina in male cop drag. And Nina singing backup. And another Nina singing the other backup. It’s a Nina-palooza.

Hagen’s done plenty of other weird shit in the years since: One of the most amazingly ’80s videos of all time, “New York New York” (her only real hit here in the U.S.).  A Rammstein cover with the Finnish cello-rock band Apocalyptica, which is fitting since Till Lindemann stole many of his vocal affectations from Hagen. She released an album of Hindu devotional chants, with cover art featuring herself dressed up as the goddess Kali. She once told David Letterman about a UFO she saw over Malibu—actually, she told lots of people about UFOs. In more recent years, she’s recorded an album of big band standards, covered Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus,” and, sadly, lost much of her once-astonishing vocal range. She’s also become a devout Christian, which probably alienated some of her old punk fan base. But she remains as refreshingly kooky and totally original as ever.

We’ll leave you with one of Nina Hagen’s signature cover tunes. Sid Vicious may have punked up “My Way” first, but Nina’s version is untouchable, even after all these years.

P.S. Thanks to readers Singing Grass, Alex and Denny for reminding us to add Nina to the Weird List. Better late than never, right, guys?

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Your Fuzzy Friends have released a free EP. Because they love you.

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After planting their flag on YouTube with their epic $5 video series, Your Fuzzy Friends, North Carolina’s greatest puppet-based band, are getting in on the “give our music away for free” action with a new EP called Some of My Best Friends Are Gay Unicorns. (Does this mean they’ve been kicking it with fellow weird band Army of Gay Unicorns? If so, we look forward to the drillcore remix of “Don’t Touch My Mustache.”) It’s available now for $0 (or name your price, if you’re feeling magnanimous) via Bandcamp. Check it out.

Q: Are we not men? A: We are Throbbleheads!

DEVO ThrobbleheadI really hope we get to take the people over at Aggronautix out for beers someday, because those guys are frickin’ awesome. Their Throbblehead series sometimes seems like it’s ripped from the pages of this blog: GG Allin, Mojo Nixon, Roky Erickson (OK, Roky’s not on the Weird List yet, but he probably should be). If they come out with an Anklepants Throbblehead, we’ll take that as proof that they’re mining our Weird List for likely candidates to immortalize in polyresin.

The latest entry in Aggronautix’s growing pantheon of weirdo Throbbleheads is none other than DEVO. Based on the classic look from the band’s 1980 “Freedom of Choice” tour, the seven-inch figure sports a bitchin’ keytar and a red Energy Dome hat—which bobbles! To the best of our knowledge, the keytar doesn’t work—but it still looks bitchin’.

The DEVO Throbblehead figures ship in September and only 2,000 are being made, so pre-order yours now. And as if you needed any more convincing, here’s a video starring Gerry Casale and, uh, some other dude, touting the Throbblehead’s many virtues.

R.I.P. Alan Myers, DEVO drummer

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Sad news from the weird music world this week: Alan Myers, drummer for DEVO during their classic 1976-1985 period, died of brain cancer on Monday at the age of 58. Although DEVO has gone through many drummers over the years—Myers was their third, replacing Jim Mothersbaugh—he’s probably the one you’re thinking of when you picture the band in their signature Energy Dome hats, belting out offbeat New Wave hits like “Whip It” and “Girl U Want.”

We’re late to this wake: A zillion other publications have already published obits and tributes, of which the one from the LA Times’ Randall Roberts is probably our favorite. Current DEVO drummer Josh Freese also summed up Myers’ career quite neatly in a single tweet: “1 of my all time favs. An underrated/brilliant drummer. Such an honor playing his parts w/Devo. Godspeed Human Metronome.”

Myers left DEVO in 1985 after the release of the heavily programmed Shout, saying the band’s increasing use of Fairlights and electronic drums left him feeling uninspired. In the years that followed, he was a regular presence around the L.A. music scene, particularly with Skyline Electric, the band he founded with his wife Christine in 2005. They were actually scheduled to play a show in Chinatown this Friday, but presumably that show has been canceled.

We’ll leave you with a classic DEVO live performance from 1980: “Uncontrollable Urge.” People like to call Alan Myers the “Human Metronome,” but no mere metronome could have rocked this hard through this track’s stop-start rhythms. His precise, propulsive drum patterns were as much a part of the band’s sound as Mark Mothersbaugh’s yelping vocals. When DEVO finally get inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—and let’s be optimistic and assume they will be—there should be an empty seat at the table in remembrance of Alan Myers.