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Robert Hilburn : British Look To U.s. For Rock

April 20, 1985|ROBERT HILBURN

The acidic British rock press doesn't mince words when dealing with its home-grown stars.

Melody Maker's Barry McIlheney dismissed fellow countryman Phil Collins' best-selling "No Jacket Required" album as "bland . . . fairly ordinary (music) for very ordinary people to play at their desperately ordinary parties."

Duran Duran's "Seven and the Ragged Tiger" was ridiculed in Record Mirror as "so assuredly awful that it breaks new ground in badness." And here's how a Sounds reviewer dealt with Rod Stewart's "Body Wishes" LP: "An embarrassment from beginning to end. . . . The old sod doesn't realize that this sort of twaddle died a death 11 years ago."

For years, however, the real barbs have been reserved for American pop and rock stars. Speaking about the mainstream Journey and REO Speedwagon crowd, Melody Maker's Adam Sweeting characterizes much of American rock in the last decade as "bland ear wash for the sun-kissed deaf."

But that's changing.

Thanks to the arrival of such spirited and purposeful groups as X, the Blasters, R.E.M. and the Replacements, American rock has made a spectacular comeback. In fact, English writers--rebelling against the trendy commercialism of the London scene--are now in love with a group of independent American bands whose styles are built around the primitive blues-and-country consciousness of early rock.

This turnaround has been under way for months as individual critics began championing U.S. groups, but it's now reaching the consensus stage in England.

The April 13 issue of Melody Maker, one of the leading pop papers, is a virtual valentine to American artists. The cover is a photo of guitarist Peter Buck (of Georgia-based R.E.M.) draped over a sketch of the American flag.

In his introduction to the magazine's six-part series under the title "State of the Union," Sweeting declares that "British eyes (are) once more turning west, confident at last that American music has found enough of its old, real self to feel like taking on the world again."

This English attention is especially noteworthy in Los Angeles because 20 of the 36 bands saluted are either from here or are strongly identified with the city's club or independent recording scene.

The L.A. contingent (plus guests): Bangles, Beat Farmers, Black Flag, Blasters, Blood on the Saddle, Chris D. (and his Divine Horseman pals), Dream Syndicate, Droogs, Green on Red, Leaving Trains, Long Ryders, Los Lobos, Minutemen, Naked Prey, Rain Parade, Rank and File, Tex and the Horseheads, True West, the Untouchables and X.

Other U.S. bands spotlighted by Melody Maker: Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, Chesterfield Kings, Del Fuegos, Del-Lords, Guadalcanal Diary, Husker Du, Jason & the Scorchers, Let's Active, Love Tractor, Lyres, 10,000 Maniacs, Plasticland, R.E.M., Replacements, Swimming Pool Q's and Violent Femmes.

Invariably, there will be disagreements among critics about some of the choices, whose styles range from fairly hard-core punk to updated rockabilly. It's hard, for instance, to see how anyone could put together a list of even the 20 top new U.S. bands--much less 36--without finding room for Phoenix's Meat Puppets or L.A.'s Textones.

Another point: Record-buyers in England apparently don't pay any more attention to the critics than they do here. None of the 36 acts was represented on the April 13 Melody Maker list of the 30 best-selling albums in Britain, and only one (Los Lobos) had a record among the list of 50 best-selling singles.

Remember, however, that there is ample precedence for critical darlings turning into tomorrow's pop heroes. Or have you forgotten about the early days of Bruce Springsteen, Prince and David Bowie?

Meanwhile, there is obvious and rather humorous irony in the fact that so many mainstream popfans in this country continue to look to England for what's happening, while these British "t1634956389wouldn't have joined the surge to the Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre on Friday night to see the dull but hugely popular English hotshot Spandau Ballet. He would have been trying to figure a way to see both Black Flag (at the Anticlub) and Blood on the Saddle (at the O.N. Klub), both appearing tonight.

LIVE ACTION: Tickets go on sale today for four Universal Amphitheatre shows: Earl Klugh, May 31; a New York Doo Wopp show (featuring the Flamingos, Chantels and Clovers), June 22; Randy Newman, July 12, and America, July 14. . . . Crosby, Stills & Nash will be at the Greek Theatre on July 3 and 4, Aretha Franklin on July 6 and 7; tickets for both shows on sale Monday. . . . Tickets also go on sale Monday for Earl Klugh's June 1 stop at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre. . . . Accept will be at the Hollywood Palladium on May 10 with Rough Cutt. . . . Rory Gallagher is due May 18 at the Beverly Theatre, the Bellamy Brothers and Ed Bruce on May 26. . . . Link Wray will join Rank and File on May 18 at Fender's in Long Beach. . . . The Bongos headline the Palace on May 4. The Meat Puppets will be at McCabe's on May 3, and Ralph Stanley headlines there May 4.

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