GRAHAM PARKER AND THE RUMOUR-Squeezeing Out Sparks (Arista AB 4223).
ROXY MUSIC-Manifesto (Atco SD 38-114).
THE TUBES will be at Georgetown's McDonough Auditorium April 27.
GRAHAM PARKER will be at George Washington's Lisner Auditorium May 12.
It's hard to imagine, but Arista, which has been the artistic ruination (albeit commercial canonization) of Barry Manilow may have atoned by rescuing Graham Parker from the feeble Mercury fold. (Graham and his new company certainly think so; they are circulating to dee jays a record called "Mercury Poisoning" in which Graham calls himself "the best-kept secret in the West."
"Squeezing Out Sparks," Parker's fifth album and first for Arista, proves that while Parker has not yet honed his writing to perfect edge, it already cuts deeper than most new British rockers'. And while Parker has his targets, they are more philosphical than political-Elvis Costello minus the propaganda.
Parker has four advantages over the pubrock rabble: a strong, spare melodic M.O. which grabs the ear, plus a wry, sly irony which engages the brain; a voice which, while not traditionally smooth, has a Jagger'd insinuation and a blessedly clean articulation; and one of Britain's premiere back-up bands, The rumour, a band so tight that they carried the early part of Catlene Carter's debut tour when her own nerves and in experience got the best of her.
The album's title is a good example of Parker's expertise with the double-entendre. In the title, the sparks are meant to indicate the creative energy as well as the sheerly physical; Parker is shown on the cover looking inscrutably straight ahead while a halo of golden sparks explodes above his hair.
But it has another, also double, meaning as a lyric within the song "You Can't Be Too Strong." There he aludes to the physical and physic "self" given up in lovemaking: "But everybody else is squeezin' out his spark/That happened in the Heat/Somewhere in the dark."
Parker has great affection for his pubrocking predecessors, but it's not uncritical. He simultaneously salutes and takes on the Rolling Stones in the driving "Protection", which neatly translates "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" from a rootless '60s idiom to a '70s image of Big Brother-rish intrusion. The lyrics are "talked" as Jagger talked "Satisfaction"; there are similar referemces to the voice on the radio; the chorus repeats "I can't get no . . . proteciton" and the final hook is even nostalgia - it works by itself just fine.
The finest cut on the album, and possibly Parker's all-time best song, is "Discovering Japan," the first-side first cut and a killer. It's love "beneath the nuclear shadows," where the GI's "ram right through" the geisha's delicate heart.
I shouted 'sayonara'
It didn't mean goodbye
But lovers turn to poser
Show up in film exposures
Just like in travel brochures
Discovering Japan . . .
This, plus a forceful guitar hook, equals a crack at the singles market at last for Parker.
ROXY MUSIC is off to a new start, too, with "Manifesto," their first studio album in three years. And intriguing schizophrenia haunts this album, in form - the album's "East Side" has a whole different personality from its "West Side" - and content (one of the songs, "Still Falls the Rain," is a dialogue between Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde).
The title song makes a strong case for deliberate existentialism - even if you have to work at it. "I am for life around the corner/that takes you by surprise" begins with a carpe diem thoughtlessness; "I am for the revolution's coming/I don't know where she's been" displays a budding cynicism; and the final construction. "I am that I am from out of nowhere" is distinctly, artistically alienated.
Roxy Music has always been the forest primeval of devolution rock - as well as an inspiration to much of the intellectual crest of the New Wave - and their newly self-consicious use of synthesizers and technorock paraphernalia spoofs themselves as well as society.
The album's "East Side" is intentionally "artsy" and more than a little craftsy. It dabbles in disco and dense, experimental melodies. Ferry thinks of its as the more "European" side, but for the purposes of American audiences it can conveniently be compared to Manhattan's East Side, where modernism meets minimalism. Both "Manifesto" and "Still Falls the Rain" ("You feed my fire you need my shade") are from the East Side.
On the West Side, the music is more romantic, lusher, more R&B than disco. At times it recalls the black leather nightclubs of and old sentiment Frank Sinatra albums. In "My Little Girl," lyricist Bryan Ferry says, "Thee's a small cafe where lovers take their time/it's good for rainy days/too bad the weather's fine." "Dance Away," the new single, is a streetcorner-harmonizer reminiscent of "Two Silhouettes on the Shade."
In "Cry Cry Cry" Ferry sideswipes the cry-me-a-river literature: "Remeber when you cry cry cry your heart out/I did mine."
The problem with satire of this sort is that it's hard to froget the source.
THE SATIRE of the Tubes' "Remote Control" works primarily because the subject, television, is so pervasive a metaphor in our culture that we take for granted puns and images like "turn me on" and "saving my prime time for you."
First off, the cover of the Tubes album is a masterpiece. On the front, a diapered infant is being cared for by an articial mother whose head is helmet-shaped television with a nipple in the middle of screen. Reflected in the screen is the back cover-the group members in the "Hollywood Squares" cage.
The album was produced by Todd Rundgren, who has found ways to plug crevices in the wall of sound that even Phil Ramone misses. The production here is almost as dense fo Rundgren's own "Something / Anything" on which he multi-traced every instrument he could think of.
The high level of glee which persists throughout "Remote Control" is infectious, and might, with radio airplay on some rocker like "Turn Me On," release the Tubes from their old image of theatrical freaks. CAPTION: Picture, GRAHAM PARKER: "THE BEST KEPT SECRET IN THE WEST"?