There are a lot of things I should be writing about this week.
Amanda Shires’ new album, for instance, is as lovely as everyone says it is. Lucero’s Among the Ghosts does exactly what it should, and is probably that band’s best work. I have yet to catch up with Meg Myers and Cowboy Junkies and Dirty Projectors. If I wanted to maintain the illusion that Tuesday Morning 3 A.M. is a real music column with any concern at all for what I should be reviewing, I’d pick one or two of those.
But this column is meant as a chronicle of what I am actually listening to, and so I have to be honest. I don’t care as much about anything I’ve listed there as I do about the new Enuff Z’Nuff. If there’s one release this week that made me rush home, rip off the cellophane and listen right away, it’s this one. I have no idea what that says about me, other than the fact that I’ve been a fan of this Chicago-based rock band for nearly 30 years. Feel free to ridicule. It won’t stop me from being excited.
I’ve lauded Enuff Z’Nuff in this space before, many times. In 1989 and 1990, they were exactly what I needed to bridge the gap between my teenage metalhead years and my budding fascination with the Beatles and all things ‘60s pop. I’d never even heard the term “power pop,” but I knew I loved what Enuff Z’Nuff was doing. Their self-titled debut was pretty good, but it was their second album, Strength, that truly made me a fan. Big, screaming pop-metal guitars surrounding beautifully written songs, melodies that went on for days and gorgeous harmonies. It’s still a great record.
And then they just, you know, kept on doing that. For the next 15 years, they seemed unstoppable, issuing one great power pop album after another. For a while they would reach back into their archives and come up with gems like Peach Fuzz that they would gussy up and release in between their more forward-looking records, like the powerhouse Tweaked. I think their best album is 2000’s Ten – it’s more concise than some of their more sprawling efforts, and has a tremendous hit rate when it comes to songwriting.
For all of that time, the Lennon and McCartney of Enuff Z’Nuff remained Donnie Vie and Chip Z’Nuff. They’re dope-smoking rock stars, to be sure, and no one would ever call them role models, but man, could those two guys write a hook. They don’t get along very well these days, and it’s a shame – Donnie quit the band more than once, returning just for studio efforts like 2010’s terrific Dissonance, and he hasn’t been a member of the touring version of Enuff Z’Nuff for more than a decade.
So now here is Diamond Boy, the 15th Enuff Z’Nuff album and the first one without Donnie Vie’s participation at all. Chip sings every song here, and is the lead songwriter, and there’s some question in my mind whether this should count as an Enuff Z’Nuff album at all. But thankfully, the record is good enough that those questions just fade away as I’m listening to it. I miss Vie’s distinctive voice – Z’Nuff doesn’t quite have the power or the character to make up for it – but the songs here are pretty great. If this had to exist, I’m glad it’s as good as it is.
Chip has taken a deep dive into ‘60s psychedelica here, upping the weirdness while keeping the guitar-rock core of the band intact. The title track is fun, but it’s “Where Did You Go” that makes the best early argument for this album’s existence. It has a hook that will sink into you, and the band plays it with swagger, which is all you can ask. As the album goes on, Chip gives us straight-ahead rockers like “Metalheart,” but also more complex ‘60s pop numbers like “Down On Luck.” This is a dark record, with references to cheap cocaine and a song called “Dopesick,” but it’s a catchy one, and its more psych-infused moments give it a flair all its own.
“Love is On the Line” is probably my favorite here, its strange Lennon-esque chord progression building and changing throughout, its chorus big and memorable. Those who write Enuff Z’Nuff off as an ‘80s glam band always seem to miss songs like this one, or like the closer “Imaginary Man,” which borrows a melody line from “For No One.” They’ve been part of the EZN DNA since the start, and it’s their ability and willingness to write songs like these that has kept me in their corner for three decades.
I’m sad that there needed to be an Enuff Z’Nuff album without Donnie Vie, but I’m pleased that the one we have is so solid. Chip and his new band can swagger all they want to. Diamond Boy is much better than I expected it would be. And for those who miss Donnie, he’s taking pre-orders for his new album now, with an eye toward releasing it this year. Three decades in and Enuff Z’Nuff keeps earning my fandom.
* * * * *
In addition to this new one from a band that draws equally from the ‘60s and the ‘80s, I’ve been listening non-stop to an album from 1979.
The obscurity of Daniel Amos continues to frustrate me, decades after I first caught on to them. They’re one of the most important spiritual rock bands ever, the one that set the template of creativity and poetry for others that followed. Inside of a very small circle, Terry Scott Taylor and his band of musical miscreants are legends. They were among the first to bring a sense of artistry to the Jesus-rock industry, and for pretty much their entire career, that industry had no idea what to do with them.
The record I have been binge-listening to is a case in point. In 1978, DA released Shotgun Angel, a weird record that is half Eagles, half prog-rock. This got them signed to Solid Rock Records, owned by fellow pioneer Larry Norman, and in 1979 they delivered their third album, Horrendous Disc, which found them taking the plunge into full-on rock. The first four DA albums chart a musical evolution so sharp that their early fans still complain about it, and that was only exacerbated by Solid Rock’s decision not to release Horrendous Disc for two years.
That means that in 1981, DA’s third album – a jump away from country-gospel and into ‘70s radio-rock – was issued mere weeks before their fourth, Alarma, which dove straight into ‘80s new wave. What fans they had built up to this point were thrown two curve balls at once, and must have wondered what had happened to the band they had known. There’s a fearlessness to this rapid artistic growth, but even the band wanted to ease their fans in a little bit more than their label allowed them to.
Horrendous Disc is often overlooked in DA’s catalog, and a new, astonishingly wonderful reissue aims to correct that. The result of a very successful Kickstarter campaign, the Horrendous Disc box combines the remastered album with four CDs of bonus material, a beautiful book, some signed postcards, a guitar pick and a pin, collected together in a purposefully garish box. I don’t need most of that stuff, but the five CDs of content are all indispensable and help make the case for Horrendous Disc’s importance.
Start with the album itself, which is splendid. “I Love You #19” starts with a classic ‘70s guitar riff, and it has never sounded bigger or better. This song should be on classic rock radio. It’s just a killer tune, and it sets the tone. Most of the rest of Horrendous Disc has a classic ‘70s sound and feel, from the Zevon-esque “Hound of Heaven” to the Jeff Lynne-style extravaganza of “Man in the Moon.” These songs all tackle their spiritual themes with metaphor and poetry – “On the Line” is about prayer, though you’d never know it just from listening once – and the lyrics demand close reads to tease out their meanings. (This is completely different from the Christian music of today, which beats you over the head with its message.)
The title track that closes the album is something else entirely, a five-minute psychodrama about a broken marriage. It’s a constantly shifting masterpiece, one of the earliest signs that Daniel Amos wasn’t going to be like any other band. (I will cop to hearing metal band Deliverance’s version of this first, but you can’t beat the original, and it sounds better here than I have ever heard it.)
As for the bonus material, well, therein lies a tale. Between 1979 and 1981, Daniel Amos didn’t just sit around waiting for their album to come out. They wrote and recorded a bunch of tunes that were never released until now. The second disc of this set contains what is basically a new Daniel Amos album, slotting in between Horrendous and Alarma, and it’s wonderful. The third disc contains four-track demos of the “ten biggies,” the ten songs intended for the next record that never happened. We also get the requisite plethora of demos and alternate takes, and a full concert from 1979, but it’s this unreleased material that is the true treasure.
And there are two interesting things about it, to me. One is that, while Taylor remains the leader of this band, Jerry Chamberlain proves himself a musical force here. His material stands strong and tall with Taylor’s, and it’s great stuff. The other is that these songs don’t provide a bridge to Alarma at all. You might think you’d be able to hear the new wave influences creeping in, but you can’t. The touchstone remains ELO for all of this material, which is fascinating. Where did the angular guitar slashing of the next record come from? It remains a mystery.
What isn’t a mystery is the enduring legacy of Horrendous Disc. While few people have heard it (or even heard of it), within the spiritual pop realm, it’s an absolute classic. I’m so glad to see it finally get the reissue it deserves. In my world, its importance cannot be overstated. You can check it out yourself at www.danielamos.com.
Next week, the new Death Cab for Cutie comes out, so I’m bound to write about something people care about. Or maybe not. Follow Tuesday Morning 3 A.M. on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tm3am.
See you in line Tuesday morning.