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January 19, 1994

Down with the Ship

Kirsty MaCollKirsty MacColl, Titanic Days (I.R.S. 1993) -- British singer/songwriter Kirsty MacColl has reached a new plateau on her third album, Titanic Days. In this fine release, Kirsty has penned tunes that are frequently cinematic in scope while also barbed in meaning.

And Kirsty has a right to be barbed. As the daughter of a noted English avant-garde poet/actor, and the wife of producer Steve Lillywhite (who has worked with The Pogues and U2), Kirsty has often found herself eclipsed by the more renowned male members of her clan. Add to this mix the fact that Kirsty was unceremoniously dumped by her last label, and her position becomes more clear -- she is no longer willing to be treated as a token woman.

As Kirsty notes, her new disc is moodier and "reflects the experience of massive change and turmoil on both personal and global levels; that dual fear and excitement of a huge tide where everything is constantly changing." For example, the mysterious title track ("Titanic Days") is, according to Kirsty, based on a dream-inspired vision.

On the rest of the album, the metallic-tinged voice of Kirsty is well-matched by her sharp wit and sense of humor. For example, on the playful "Bad" (or is it playful?) Kirsty sings that "I've been an awful woman all my life/A dreadful daughter and a hopeless wife/And I've had my eyes on that carving knife/Oh you've been lucky so far," while she con-cludes "Big Boy on a Saturday Night" with a softly satiric refrain -- "Oh yes my darling's such a big boy/On a Saturday night."

Although the charming "Angel" makes for a sweet single, the most radio-accessible track is "Can't Stop Killing You," in which Kirsty lets down her guard in a song about a (lady) killer coming to town. Kirsty shows her kinky side as she croons, "He taught her how to pout/And he taught her how to tease/And he taught her how to beg/When she fell down to her knees" -- and it's believable.

"Can't Stop Killing You" is a vision straight out of Jim Thompson, and is one of the funkiest gender-benders since Prince's "If I Was Your Girlfriend." On Titanic Days, Ms. MacColl shows that she's ready to escape the shackles imposed by outsiders and explore her own groove. Good for her. Let's have some more.

Seaweed, Go Your Own Way (Sub Pop 1993) -- Punk rockers Seaweed have unleashed a 12-minute long, in-your-face CD-5 in Go Your Own Way. Tough enough to eat nails, the band's blistering version of Fleetwood Mac's "Go Your Own Way" must be heard to be believed. Recommended as an immediate antidote to creeping/creepy nostalgia for Barbara Streisand.

Jim CarrollThe Jim Carroll Band, A World Without Gravity (Rhino 1993) -- The good folks at Rhino have produced another first-rate retrospective in A World Without Gravity, which features an industrial-strength dose of tracks from the three albums released in the early 80s by poet/rocker Jim Carroll.

Carroll, who is now more interested in poetry than music, recorded some dynamite rock efforts for Atco that showed a Greg Kihn-influenced sound -- intelligent power pop, without all the arena rock baggage -- and the best cuts are collected on A World Without Gravity.

Carroll, the son of a third-generation saloonkeeper, hails from a working-class New York Irish Catholic background. In his mid-20s, he left the Big Apple and headed to northern California, where he was inspired to form a band. The group's first release, Catholic Boy (1980), was perhaps its high water mark; by the time of the third album, I Write Your Name (1984), internal dissention and record company disputes had taken their toll on the band.

Still, Carroll's insinuating vocals and luminous lyrics stand out. The lead-off cut on this collection, "People Who Died," is the band's signature song. Featuring lyrics about "People who died . . . They were all my friends, and they just died" wrapped up in a three-minute ditty, it's apparent that Carroll was interested both exploring and expanding traditional pop elements. Heck, even my 16 month-old son jams up on this spirited rocker.

The most pleasant surprise on this album is "Differing Touch," a previously unreleased cut recorded in 1985 that is set against a backdraft of anxiety and disquiet. With background vocals from Syd Straw, "Differing Touch" is a terrifically understated pop tune -- something that Elvis Costello or Moon Martin would have been delighted to record.

Jim Carroll has not completely retired from live performances, as he released a funky live beat-type spoken-word album entitled Praying Mantis in 1991 on Giant Records that also displays his knack with rhythm and words. For fans of Carroll, A World Without Gravity will be a welcome addition.

Leaving TrainsAlbum Artwork -- While wandering through the ever-wondrous aisles at Tower Records (Go buy an album tonight!), I found the disc from Leaving Trains. I don't know anything about this band, but I always get a chuckle out of the artwork on the back cover. Check it out while you're browsing at Tower Records.

-- Randy Krbechek


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