Album release:
Concrete Blonde
1993 Capitol Records

Johnette Napolitano has dark powers. She is also one of the most underrated creative forces in modern rock music. Not only does she write some of the most powerful and passionate lyrics in the business, she also wrote the majority of the music on this overpowering album, painted the cover art and took the photographs in the album sleeve. With her ability to play just about any musical instrument you put in front of her and a voice that can either seduce you into a trance or fell stone columns, you wonder why she needs the rest of the band. Trust me. She does. Her efforts outside of Concrete Blonde always had something missing. James Mankey's guitar mates with Johnette's voice and to underestimate him is also a mistake. The presence of either Harry Rushakoff or Paul Thompson, who share the percussional side of things on the album, completes the picture. Johnette handles most of the bass on the album, as she often does whenever possible.

Mexican Moon was the last album from Concrete Blonde before they imploded, only to resurface and reform years later. The album is intense and dark and if you listen to the entire opus on headphones at just the right volume you might just break up your own band at the end of it all.

Jenny I Read

Jenny I read something you said about Rock and Roll and life and death
Ah, Jenny I read they carried you home
Broken, beaten all alone

The guitar rises up from the depths and gives a great portrayal of despair and ruin while shouting at us to listen. The story of a woman who was once a bright star but whose magic has faded, but she is far less concerned about her fall from grace than those who remember her as the icon she once was.

Yeah, you wanted it all
But the American dream was nothing to write home about

Mexican Moon

The album's title track waxes poetically about the themes that are constant in the music of Concrete Blonde. Despair mingles with anxious hope that is but a dream of the past and never close enough to touch. Picture yourself fled to Mexico and unable to return home, left with only the memories of what was and might have been.

Oh, señor
I run but the damage has been done
Miles have gone away
And my amore he never come

There you find yourself in the bar on the edge of yourself looking for solace in the eyes of strangers and trying to forget where once you were.

Just some time
Just a little kiss of mine
Take me where I can forget, senor
You are so very kind

Heal It Up

Feeling the fire under my feet
I was a liar, you were a cheat
Playing with knives we were cut close to home
Close to the bone
You're so alone

As a single, Heal It Up fell on its face, due more to the fact that it was just a bit too intense for regular radio airplay in its time. A song playing to the desire to repair and reunite with a lost love, it doesn't pull any punches. A very loud and reckless song, it can tear you through the heart if you can in any way relate. To desire a reunion with someone with whom there was great passion and yet a mutually assured destruction can be a romantic notion, but this song recognizes the inherent danger in such things.

Feeling the pinch, feeling the hope
Feeling the void deep in my soul
Feeling my feelings so out of control
Cause the years have not been kind to me, I know

Jonestown

To open a song with an defiant speech from Jim Jones is not something easily done. For a song sung from the point of view of a cult leader with too much power over the flock and has lost control of his identity and struggles with the issues of why he is where he is, it is strangely appropriate.

They don't know who to run to
They don't know where to go
Unless you tell them what to think
They don't know what they know

The danger of power is that he who has the power is always reluctant to give it up. While it may become necessary to surrender that power, especially as it grows, the addictive nature of power keeps its icy hold over you. Once mad with power, the lines begin to blur... one after another.

The sheep are running scared tonight
The cows are coming home

Rain

A little sprinkling of melancholy follows with the fifth track on the album. After staring down the barrel of a shotgun with much of the first four tracks, here is your opportunity to catch your breath. The very notion of rain has always induced reflection and memory, and such is the theme of this song. There is waiting and anticipation of the arrival of someone who has been lost and yet you know they won't be coming back.

Rain
Laughing at the window
Thought I saw your face
Only cloudy images
On my window pane
And all I hear is rain
And things I tried to say

I Call It Love

And now it is time for some good old fashioned religion. No, not great churches and ancient temples or holy teachings. Real old time religion.

Some call it power
Come from above
Some call it Jesus
I call it Love

Some call it Allah
Some call it God
Some call it Buddha
I call it Love

Ah, yes, Love, the great all-powerful force of the universe that is greater than any of the beings that hold dominion in any court by virtue of its grace makes those beings possible. This is why you've been driving through the rain to find that old friend who doesn't think you'll ever really show up.

Jesus Forgive Me (For The Things I'm About To Say)

I killed you in my mind today
I cut you up, I watched you bleed
I killed you in my heart today
For everything you did to me

Here comes a sudden and abrupt foray into the darkness. Someone is a little bit upset. The darkest thoughts that wash over us when we have been betrayed or abandoned by someone beloved and trusted can push us across the thin line between love and hate. Two days ago you were leaping through the daisies and dancing cheek to cheek and now your mind and heart are dreaming up all kinds of bloodlust. Come on. Don't tell me it has never happened to you before. In the end though, there always comes that moment when you begin to blame yourself and then comes the depression and self-loathing, hatched from your anger and launched back upon yourself.

On my knees beside my bed
Liar, liar, liar
I'm sorry for the things I said
Liar, liar, liar
I've washed the sheets a million times
Liar, liar, liar
I'm paying for my crime

When You Smile

When you smile, I don't know what to do
Cause I could lose everything in a minute or two
And it seems like the end of the world
When you smile

The vision of true love and the magic that can happen between two people has always been given a different kind of shine by Johnette Napolitano in her words and the music she frames them with, however this track is one of two on the album not penned by Johnette. Written by Steve Wynn of Dream Syndicate fame, it appears as one of the band's special selections because they believe it in.

Close To Home

The album has been a rough ride over the lakes and rivers of the soul and now it is time to come full circle. This song sounds a bit like a happy little tune you might sing around a campfire with your summertime camp friends. Recounting the places you have been to in your travels you return to the chorus and chant I'm getting closer and closer to home. The rub here is that you realize you have never truly been home, but you are getting closer all the time. It has nothing to do with where in the world you are at this moment. It has to do with where you are within yourself.

One Of My Kind

Ever feel like you are in the middle of a room or living in a town where you are the only one who can understand yourself? Sometimes you are waiting and growing less patient by the moment looking for someone who will validate that you are not the only one like you in the world. Other times you don't want them to find you because you are who you are and don't need the competition. I find mixed emotions when one of my kind blows into town. They are both a comfort and a threat to my perception of my own reality. They are an unknown quantity with power in my personal universe.

It's a matter of time before they find me
I'm waiting for a sign from one of my kind
I'm waiting for the time to fall behind me
I'm waiting for a sign from one of my kind

End Of The Line

The second cover song on the album, this is a Brian Ferry composition. The connection between Concrete Blonde and Roxy Music becomes two-fold with Paul Thompson on the drums. The song falls somewhat clumsily into the natural progression of the album, but at the same time it brings us to last call at the saloon.

If you ever miss me
If I should cross your mind
You know where to find me
I'll be waiting at the end of the line

(Love Is A) Blind Ambition

You can interpret this song in several different ways. At the surface it seems to be a tale of someone who sleeps with a lot of people in the hopes it will allow them to one day discover love from the ruins. At the same time it feels more to me the tale of someone who desperately seeks to be loved and accepts far less in exchange for the love they offer.

And all the minutes
Of all the madness
And all the poetry
Between the good and badness

When you look back at the years behind you, often you realize that you once sought very different things than you do now. It may be because you are jaded and lost the ideals you once honored above all else. So many empty nights with interchangable faces and you begin to wonder how blind your ambition really was. The stars in your eyes are a different color these days than they were when you were so young and foolish.

Bajo La Lune Mexicana

Literal translations of lyrics from one language to another rarely works very well. This is the title track sung in Spanish, fitting well into the feel of the Mexican setting. As I do not really speak Spanish I always enjoyed this version, but when I played it for my wife, whose first language is Spanish, she laughed. The words have been translated one by one into Spanish, and when you do that, it becomes clumsy and incorrect. You have to rewrite the whole song to do it correctly. Treat it as an extra track on the album, as the previous track is the proper conclusion to this great album.


Lyrics by Johnette Napolitano
Except When You Smile by Steve Wynn
and End Of The Line by Brian Ferry
Lyrics may be mildly off target
As they were never released in printed form

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