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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Blast from My Past

Many years ago, before writing Murder Mysteries, among other things, I wrote music reviews for a local St. Louis paper called "Spotlight". Since I was expressing my opinion on local and national recordings, I thought it best to use an alternate name or pen name if you will. I guess I thought that if I used my real name and I happened to write a less than favorable review, the musicians could find me and express their displeasure. So, I invented a name or character if you will.
Quick back story, for years I had this problem, I apparently looked like "Jim" or someone named "Jim". Countless times, I would be approached in a public place or party and asked if my name was Jim. No, sorry, it's not. No Jim here.
Anyway, while deciding what my "pen" name should be, I thought about my Jim issue. I went on to think...Hmmm, you know, there seems to be a "cult" of people out in the world that think I was this guy named Jim. Aha! Perfect! Thus my pen name became.. are you ready? "Jim Cult". Yep.
One of the bands I wrote about and reviewed were called "The Eyes". The Eyes were a very popular local group that drew national attention. Eventually, they were signed by Atlantic Records and had to change their name, (see they did it too) and became "Pale Divine". Well, Pale Divine imploded after one record, but the guitarist Rich Fortus has gone on in the music industry to great things. In fact he is now a member of the newer Guns n Roses.
This past Monday, December 29th 2008, "Pale Divine" reunited for one night in St. Louis at The Pageant and played to a packed house. The reason I am telling you all of this - is that I found a The Eyes/Pale Divine website. On the site, under their "Press" tab, I found 2 of my old reviews listed. I almost don't remember writing them, but I thought I would share a little bit of what I used to do. Keep in mind I was much younger back then, but weren't we all. Here are the reviews:
"Just Released: 'Freedom in a Cage'"
Spotlight, April 6, 1989 (by Jim Cult) all rights reserved.

You may have to listen to Freedom in a Cage more than once to convince yourself that this is a locally produced product. Yes, the Eyes are a local band, and they've just come out with a superior cassette. Hats off to Dave Probst for an outstanding mixing and engineering job. The overall sound quality makes for an aural experience. "Body Fall" pulls you in one side with a few delicate acoustic notes, then dives into a powerful punch of rich harmonies and driving rhythms. "Way Strange" follows with searing guitar work from Richard Fortus. His lead work is like a wild fire that can barely be kept under control. Michael Schaerer ignites each song with powerful vocals, his range and approach setting the musical atmosphere. For example, "The Closet," which depicts a boy who's hiding after experiencing motherus-interuptus in a girlfriend's bedroom, becomes dark an foreboding through Schaerer's haunting vocal approach. Also, take note of Greg Miller's off-kilter attack on drums in the songs - it really adds to the tension of the lyrical content and mood. All ten songs on the tape are wonderfully crafted, there are no throw-away fillers here. The stand out track has to be "Delicate Balance," with its funky, winding tempo highlighted by Fortus' bouncing riff what wraps around Dan Angenend Jr's perfect, popping bass groove.We could go on and on here, but it would suffice to say that Freedom in a Cage is one rockin'-sonic-funk, dance-to-the-music, I-want-to-take-you-higher, get-up-like-a-sex-machine, let-me-stand-next-to-your-fire feast of excellent songcrafting. It's a must hear cassette by a top notch St.Louis band. Nuff said.


But wait! There's more.

The Audio File: “Straight To Goodbye, Pale Divine”
Atlantic/Atco Records
Spotlight, October 1991 (by Jim Cult) all rights reserved.

You may have heard it all by now: Record deal… long wait… name change… blah, blah, blah… et cetera, et cetera. Let’s cut to the exposition and go straight to Straight To Goodbye. You’ve probably heard most of these songs live or at least some of them on Freedom In a Cage, the independent cassette/cd, released a couple years ago.

Well, producer Simon Rogers has captured and kept the heart and energy of the initial compositions. Rogers, who has worked with the Fall and Peter Murphy in the past, seems to have let Pale Divine define their own sound. Categorizing the early Eyes’ sound found lines drawn to bands such as Mission U.K., the Church and so on… but some of the newer material carries hints of older influences. You may hear a touch of Beatles in “Universe” with its Eastern sitar-ish mysticism, a slice of Bowie in “It Couldn’t Happen To You” and even a hint of Hendrix in “Something About Me” with Rich Fortus’ feverish wah-induced fret work. But, of course, similarities are only in the ear of the beholder. Naturally, there is the original Divine sound. The best example can be found in the song “Anything” with its rich melodies, lush harmonies and lyrical quips like: “And if I have to sell you/What’ll you buy?”

A note on the atmosphere that Michael Schaerer’s lyrics present: Let’s just say they are not the “feel good” images of the year – somewhat lost and lonely, seething with neurosis. The only real love song is “Cigarette.”

The overall essence of strong guitar work and melodic presence that is the core of Pale music is enhanced by producer Rogers. The dynamics that one loses in live settings or local recordings, Rogers captures with crystal clarity. My only problem with the recording is some of the placement levels. Greg Miller’s drums are a tad subdued on most songs, with the exception of “Flow My Tears,” where they pound prominently under Schaerer’s tortured vocal. Also, the background harmonies on “Anything” area little light compared to how I usually enjoy hearing them. Aside from these minor peeves, Straight To Goodbye is an outstanding recording. The band’s basic inimitable sound is intact and enhanced on a professional level, allowing fans of Pale Divine or first-time listeners to hear their music in its purest form.


By the way. I did go to the Pale Divine reunion show. And not once did anyone ask if my name was Jim.
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