Alice Cooper - Love It To Death: Having a hard time thinking of something to say about this. It's '70s hard rock, a little too idiosyncratic to be typical '70s hard rock to stand out, and it's an absolutely fantastic album. Listened to it more than the previous two combined, and I haven't gotten sick of it. Every track is great. Perhaps Mark E. Smith ripped off "I'm eighteen and I like it" in a 2008 song: "I'm a fifty-year-old man and I like it". It wouldn't be the first time he didn't something like that, having filched "I think it's over now, I think it's ending" (the United States of America album, late '60s) in the 2007 song "Over! Over!".
Alice Cooper - Killer: A letdown after the last one. The short songs are slighter and, although there are hooks, there's very little memorable music. When listening I know all the music but if you asked me later how any of the songs went, even the more tuneful ones ("Be My Lover" and "Yeah, Yeah, Yeah"), I couldn't tell you. (This is actually an unfair standard because this album isn't melody-based.) The long songs aren't pulled off as well as on Love It To Death, so the whole record seems like a disappointing step sideways from that disc: I don't want at all to say a retread of it, but they do seem to be based on the same general blueprint. Still love these guys' schtick.
Alice Cooper - School's Out: A pleasant surprise. I think I prefer this one to Killer, and it seems to have the spirit of Love It To Death more than that album does. Except for "Grand Finale" (four-and-a-half minutes of boring instrumental, the same thing over and over until the last 30 seconds) all the songs are good. I recognize the opening to "Public Animal No. 9" but never knew the rest of the song. Does anyone else dig the bass on the title track? On that track, as with a lot of annoyingly ubiquitous songs I didn't like but came around to (the singles on Are You Experienced?, "Start Me Up", the Beatles' "Come Together", etc.) the songs are much more fun to actually listen to and you're not hearing only the one or two musical elements of the songs over and over). Some tracks took time to appreciate ("Luney Tune", "Blue Turk"); unlike Killer, repeat listens pay off. Its being a pseudo-concept album (hey, it was 1972) doesn't hurt it.
The Jazz Butcher - A Scandal in Bohemia: Like the Sherlock Holmes story. Very highly recommended. Sonic Boom collaborated with this guy extensively (the band is basically Pat Fish + whoever he's playing with at the moment) and this album came recommended as a starting point. To my surprise it's just '80s indie pop with no hint of Sonic Boominess, with sharp lyrics à la PSB and lots of great (and diverse; there are like a dozen different styles tried here) tunes. Fish has an attractive voice, if you're into it, like Martin Fry crossed with John Cale or Steve Wynn, which may be a little overripe for some. They had like 15 albums and reviews are hard to come by; the albums don't even have their own Wikipedia pages. There's easily the chance I could be overrating this album for being one close to my heart because I discovered it, mostly on my own (hello Stoneage Romeos).
The Jazz Butcher - Distressed Gentlefolk: Countryish art-pop that sounds a hell of a lot of -- down to the vocals -- Vintage Violence-era John Cale, with the soul of Sparks. Too self-consciously clever for its own good -- so is A Scandal in Bohemia but it didn't seem as overtly lightweight as this album (its follow-up). For instance, "Hungarian Love Song" should be irresistible with its semi-familiar melody, witty lyrics, and arrangement; but it never takes off and comes off as, at best, a novelty song (at worst the whole album could be considered a comedy album, like a very sophisticated Weird Al without the parodies). Back in the day we had a cult of TMBG on Babble and I found their music a bit like this, but not as likeable. It's a likeable album; I think that's the best way to describe it. A little annoying yet enjoyable: if I ever put it on, I wouldn't be calling for its being turned off.
Yes - Close to the Edge: Nothing much to say, just that I finally "got" this one after many years of trying (last on my albums-I-don't-get list to fall was Selling England By the Pound, next hopefully will be Bitches Brew). "And You And I" has always been a top-five Yes song for me and it still is; the other two tracks are, I've realized, great, too. I'm not really getting the pop-song-drawn-out-to-ridiculous-proportions vibe. I've read that it's intended actually as a loose sonata form, which would make more sense for these "celestial masses with heads in their asses" than a pop song. "Siberian Khatru" is more than a little like "Roundabout" but it's a much more enjoyable song: my overplaying "Roundabout" to death probably has something to do with that. My dad has a CD copy and three vinyl copies of this album so maybe my not really liking it was something psychological (the rip I'm listening to was copied from his CD, in fact, some 15 years ago). The "aaaah!" bits in the title-track intro are hilarious. Always raises a smile.
Schumann - Piano Quintet, Andante und Variationen, Fantasiestücke, Märchenbilder (Martha Argerich et al): Chamber music. I'm of course familiar with the quintet (Schumann's best-known chamber work?); I didn't have a recording of it and now I do. It's a god enough performance and it's good to have, but I bought this equally for the rest of the program. The andante and variations are great: it's for the unorthodox combination of two pianos, two cellos, and horn, and it's all the more enjoyable for that. Unfortunately the rest of the disc feels wayward; the Märchenbilder (for piano and viola: I'm a total mark for that instrument) are the better of the two works. The Fantasiestücke are boring and just kind of take up space between the variations and Märchenbilder. TL;DR - quintet and andante are great, the rest is rather underwhelming, even when I skip the quintet and start with the second work (andante).
Shostakovich - Symphonies 1 & 3 (Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra/Vasily Petrenko): Got this Naxos disc for the First, duh. I'm semi-familiar with it, having once owned a vinyl recording taking the first side -- must have been a long side or a fast performance -- of a Vox Turnabout disc with a psychedelic cover; the artist was some outfit out of Zagreb. That's all I remember; I don't know what happened to it. It's really a nice little symphony, written when he was absurdly young (and, given that, better than it has any right to be), rich in orchestration with modern textures ("rich" all around). The emotional range isn't as wide as it could be, but it's no cold fish either. The Third is little known, commissioned by the government for some official purpose. It's basically a single-movement extended (though not uninterrupted) crescendo in six parts, culminating in a great rousing hymn in Russian I'm glad I don't understand. It's easy to write this off as Stalinist propaganda but it's perfectly acceptable music, though not more than that, and I doubt I'll put it on again.
Sonny Stitt - Now!: This is on the same disc as last What's Spinning?'s Salt & Pepper, but the artwork appears nowhere on the packaging and the entire album -- eight cuts in all -- is listed on the back as bonus tracks rather than an album in its own right, which fact is acknowledged only in the fine print. It seems to be a vinyl transfer. It's the same year (1963) with the exact same lineup as Salt & Pepper but without Paul Gonsalves which of course makes a huge difference. As with that album it's safe, straight-ahead jazz that other over-the-hill legends were putting out then. It's entertaining and you won't get bored (if you like the other album on this officially-not-a-twofer you'll like this) but... yeah. It's less interesting for the lack of a second horn guy. "Surfin'" is not the Beach Boys song.
Fats Waller - The Indispensable Fats Waller, Vol. 1/2 (1926-35): First, the sound quality on this is excellent. For some reason (tape hadn't been invented yet) there's no surface noise at all on this so I guess there was some heavy filtering done? If it was, it's full of little details like background instruments you probably wouldn't be able to hear on the 78. Anyway this is a great compilation, over two 40-50min CDs, thankfully, not giving too much and with more music overall, too! I haven't touched my Bix Beiderbecke comp since I got it, but other than that I mostly love these early guys. Spanning 1926-35, it features Waller on organ early on, then onto piano and band tracks and then, like just about every track on the second disc, with vocal numbers. I gather from the tracklist he's better known as a singer than a pianist? He's not as good at it (beyond merely competent but I'm just not into him; he sounds like he should be more charismatic than he is. Just about anything off the first disc is a highlight. The second isn't bad but it only represents a couple of years and it's almost all vocal. Historically important but his stuff's enjoyable just as music. "Honeysuckle Rose" has to be in the top five or -ten recorded songs of the era.