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Now Hear This

Reviews of recent albums by Morrissey, Volcano Suns, Living Color and Patti Smith.

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Morrissey, “Years of Refusal” (Attack/Lost Highway)
As frontman for the Smiths, Morrissey inspired a cult of coifed pompadours to wear their bleeding, black hearts on rolled up sleeves, eventually becoming the most important British musician of his time. … or so says the news release for his ninth solo disc. Per usual, lyrical melodrama runs rampant through each track and you have to wonder: If the guy had foregone the vow of celibacy over the years, would he be nearly as sullen? The good news is that more than ever, he comes out swinging with a barrage of distorted guitars and thunderous drums that swell and burst with proud pop glory. The raucous riffs and dissonance of “Something Is Squeezing My Skull” poise the Moz as a resilient, hard rocker, while “All You Need Is Me” rhythmically revisits the Smiths' early years. The woe-begotten grandpa of emo revisits Vauxhall sentiments on “I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris, v” and weeps it up on a handful of cuts toward the end of the disc. Whether or not he is the epic influence on a generation of Brit rock is debatable, but he continues to prove he's still the king of pain. HHHII — Hilary Langford

Morrissey performs at the National on Friday, March 13. Tickets are already sold out.


Volcano Suns, “The Bright Orange Years/All Night Lotus Party” (Merge)
As the drummer for early '80s Boston post-punk pioneers Mission of Burma, Peter Prescott was not the most visible presence in the band, often literally obscured by singers Roger Miller and Clint Conley. When the band broke up, however, he continued Burma's mission with the Volcano Suns, grinding out similarly tense songs full of searing guitars, throbbing bass lines and half-shouted vocals.

Merge Records' reissues of the Suns' debut and sophomore albums, from 1985 and 1986 respectively, show either how integral Prescott was to Burma's innovative post-punk sound or how thoroughly he had absorbed Miller and Conley's particular genius. On this pair of albums — the first of seven over six years — the Suns created a dense din, but layered songs such as “Cornfield” and “White Elephant” had sophisticated hooks that tried to create some order in the chaos. Twenty bonus tracks, including 7-inch singles and assorted live covers, round out the reissues, portraying a band that deserves more than its footnote status. HHHHI — Stephen M. Deusner

Living Colour, “OMFUG Masters: Living Colour Live, August 19, 2005: The Bowery Collection” (MVD Audio)
Eighties rockers Living Colour began their career at CBGB, a legendary Manhattan club and the backdrop for this performance. In 2005, the fabled nightspot was teetering on oblivion and the band — guitarist Vernon Reid, bassist Doug Wimbush, singer Corey Glover and drummer Wil Calhoun — returned in a valiant attempt to prevent the inevitable. Songs about alienation and gentrification made them the ultimate choice for a wake. “Sacred Ground” and “Open Letter to a Landlord” (“Now you can tear a building down/But you can't erase a memory”) are given more weight and both clock in at more than 10 minutes. The group reworks its hits, making the absence of covers and nonalbum songs less of a disappointment. For example, “Type” is played with uncommon velocity that typifies Reid's dexterity and improvisation. The political commentary on songs such as “Cult of Personality” (1988) still resonates as we witness presidential history: “I know your anger, I know your dreams/I've been everything you wanna be/I'm the Cult of Personality.” HHHII — Craig Belcher

DVD: Patti Smith “Dream of Life” (Palm)
Rock pioneer Patti Smith is probably best known for the iconic black-and-white photos taken of her in the '70s by former roommate Robert Mapplethorpe. But she also made some great music and, judging from her last 9:30 Club show, remains a vibrant performer today. You wouldn't know it, however, from this relaxed 16 mm documentary from commercial photographer and director Steven Sebring.

The film took around 11 years to complete and has the loose feel of a home movie by the artist herself. Smith narrates her life as if picking through a scrapbook, while her Beat-styled poetic musings are woven through archival footage and interviews that never reveal too much. Smith, whose sister I'm told lives in Richmond, is a Dylan fanatic, so attempts to cultivate mystery aren't surprising. But what makes this stand apart from the usual VH1 “Behind The Music”-styled documentary are the dogged attempts to reach Smith's interior world as an artist, glimpsed in impressionistic bits and pieces. Smith comes across as fairly humble: staying true to herself, nurturing her art and never really forcing it. This kind of personal project appeals most to fans.

Unfortunately, there are no complete live performances included as extras. But of particular note here is the sound design by Margaret Crimmins and Greg Smith, who do an impressive job mingling interviews, music and street noise with Smith's own frazzled but engaging storytelling. HHHII — Brent Baldwin

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