One of the reasons rock music seems constantly in flux is because of the varied pressures that force artists to risk what gains they have made at the threat of stagnation.
The success of a new stylistic prototype like the current electronic dance sound really puts the pressure on. At best, this sound has provided an opportunity for enervation and growth through an expansion of rock's highly flexible musical grammar. Artists like Pete Shelley and Bryan Ferry have used elements of this style to enhance their highly personal and poetic approaches.
At worst, the sound has become a formulaic assemblage of pulsing synthesizers, metronomic beats, Third-World rhythms and other space-age effects, mindlessly grafted onto conventional ideas in hopes of some commercial or artistic breakthrough. Neil Young's recent album, "Transformer," represented a fairly facile exploration of this brave new world of rock electronics. Less lighthearted disasters crowd the new wave sections of record stores all over town.
It may be surprising, but even a die-hard, rock 'n' roll classicist like Dave Edmunds has embraced the computer age in his new album, "Information" (Columbia FC 38651). Fortunately, in the hands of a gifted producer and musician like Edmunds, the synthesizers and electronic percussion have been organically infused into his already full-bodied guitar rock, resulting in one of the most imaginatively orchestrated "walls of sound" in contemporary pop. With production assistance from Electric Light Orchestra's Jeff Lynne on two cuts and a tasteful and varied selection of songs from contemporary writers, Edmunds has produced the boldest album of his career.
The title track, produced by Lynne and written by Edmunds, is easily the album's highlight and deserves to be Edmunds' first American hit since he covered Smiley Lewis' "I Hear You Knocking" in 1971. Propelled by his sinewy guitar work and colored by a percolating synthesizer riff, Edmunds' double-tracked vocals deliver one of the most compelling melodies of his limited song-writing career. Other tracks, like Lynne's "Slipping Away" and Moon Martin's "Don't You Double Cross Me Baby" are equally dynamic, wrapping Edmunds' tough guitar and squealing synthesizer lines around cracking dance beats.
If there is a drawback to Edmunds' electronic foray, it is those perfectly synchronized and booming dance club drums. They can enliven an individual track, but add up to rhythmic rigor mortis over the whole side of an album. Fortunately, he rescues both sides from this fate with songs that prove he hasn't forgotten his past or rock 'n' roll's. Otis Blackwell's "The Shape I'm In" is given a rollicking Louisiana treatment thanks to Geraint Watkins' zany accordion and hot-blooded Cajun yelps and cries. On his own "Don't Call Me Tonight," Edmunds turns off the machines and heads back to his musical womb, the straight ahead guitar groove of Chuck Berry.
In a move designed to expand their audience beyond devotees of hyperactive live performances, Joe Carrasco and the Crowns have also modernized their rabble-rousing Tex-Mex rock 'n' roll. On his new release, "Party Weekend" (MCA-5404), pop producer Richard Gottherer has been brought in to provide commercial sheen and punch. To his credit, Gottherer has added measured doses of electronic keyboard and percussion and has brightened the mix and tightened the music without altering the cheesy, fun sound that allows Carrasco to wear his crown and call himself "King" without a hint of braggadocio.
The album's weakness is that some of the songs, especially when Carrasco collaborates with Gottherer, sound like last-minute studio constructions bordering on outright pop pilferage. For example, "Lupe" was born and bred by "Hang On Sloopy," while "Burnin' It Down" steals the undulating organ riff from "96 Tears." Although Eddie Cochran's classic rhythm gets plundered in "Let's Go Nutz," the song at least offers a clear view of Carrasco's musical philosophy. But Carrasco is a benevolent, even happy-go-lucky "King," so his thefts are often painless.
At best, the Crowns' music, like their stage outfits, have all the bright and peppy colors of an international bazaar. "Kantina" is one of Carrasco's most impressive songs, employing exotic organ lines and a Turkish-style instrumental break to create a kind of moody, Third-World pop anthem. "Tears Been-A-Falling" is a tender ballad set to a light reggae beat, while "Party Weekend" and "Buena" have been re-recorded and are more hummable than ever.