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Under a Mediterranean Sky by Steve Hackett: Sixty orchestral seconds into the opening track, Hackett’s nylon-stringed guitar makes the first of its many appearances, setting the tone for what follows: a strikingly elegant evocation of the wide-open spaces the album’s title promises—an evocation that has much more in common with the traditional classical-guitar repertoire than it does with Hackett’s progressive-rock youth. Not that he has shed all traces of pop. Ultimately, however, any similarities between “Joie de Vivre” and Mason Williams’ “Classical Gas” and “Casa del Fauno” and the Carpenters’ “For All We Know” are only passing fancies. And, not counting “Scarlatti Sonata,” he composed or co-composed everything himself.
Destiny Street Complete by Richard Hell & the Voidoids: Unlike the explosive, shards-and-all Blank Generation, which fit perfectly into the New York City–punk moment in 1977, 1982’s more well-rounded Destiny Street was an album without a milieu. But if lacking context (and major-label PR) hindered its impact on the cusp of the MTV era, it has also made it seem more timeless—and therefore worthier of the completist-reissue treatment—than many a more famous artifact. Hell’s description of it in the liner notes as “the sound of a little combo playing real gone rock and roll” is accurate as far as it goes, but it doesn’t account for his lyrics, his singing, his taste in covers, or the impact of the late-great explosive, shards-and-all guitarist Robert Quine.
If Loving You Is Wrong by Rev. Johnny L. “The Hurricane” Jones: “I learned a long time ago that everything that’s good to you isn’t good for you.” “If God has blessed you with a good wife, my friends, you ought to take care of that wife.” This document of an early-’70s service at Atlanta’s Mount Olive Baptist Church isn’t all that different from Jones’ other recent Jewel Records MP3 reissues. Amid spirited, primitively recorded singing, a deeply felt sermon punctuated throughout by shouts of “Yeah!” and “Amen!” emerges. What sets this sermon apart is that it doubles as an analysis of Luther Ingram’s greatest hit—“(If Loving You is Wrong) I Don’t Want To be Right”—more penetrating than anything dreamt of in the typical music critic’s philosophy.
Soul Jazz Records Presents Two Synths, a Guitar (and) a Drum Machine by various artists: The most purposefully noisy and weird of these 15 acts is New Fries, whose “Lily” sounds like sped-up Public Image Ltd. A close second is IXNA, whose “Somebody Said” sounds like sped-up Laurie Anderson. Coming in at a distant but cute third is Gramme, whose “Discolovers” might be an offshoot of the Tom Tom Club’s family tree. And if many of the remaining cuts, sped-up though they are, share too much DNA with high-end-hotel-lobby “trance” music to justify the collection’s “post punk dance” subtitle, the final three—by Black Deer, MADMADMAD, and Wino D respectively—combine for an off-kilter denouement worth sticking around for.
Richard Hell’s Destiny Street isn’t the only album circa the Golden Age of Punk that’s available in a new, never-to-be-superseded format. There’s also UMe’s nine-piece-vinyl “Super Deluxe/Remastered” Armed Forces box by Elvis Costello and the Attractions. Yes, vinyl—Costello considers the compact disc “demonstrably inferior … as a sonic-storage medium.” Apparently, he bears no grudge against the MP3, in which format all three hours and 17 super-deluxe-remastered minutes are available from Amazon for under $30.
Costello was clearly outdoing himself in 1978 and ’79. Whether nailing Armed Forces in the studio or tearing its songs (and others) up onstage, neither he nor the Attractions waste a second. As for the enduring relevance of Armed Forces’ best-known song, let’s just say that no one who considers cancel culture a good idea has any business air-banding along to “(What’s So Funny ’Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” ever again. —A.O.