Frederick Michael St. Jude
Frederick Michael St. Jude is a musician, singer, painter, writer of children’s books and actor who appeared on the television show Miami Vice who may have simply remained an obscure figure if not for Gregg Turkington (a.k.a. comedian Neil Hamburger) who heard St. Jude’s debut 1977 album Here Am I and tracked him down, leading to a re-issue of that album on Drag City Records.
St. Jude’s story gets a lot more interesting when learning that he penned and recorded in Fort Lauderdale an ambitious hour-long concept album called Gang War that has remained unreleased since its creation in 1982.
Once again, St. Jude gets a second chance thanks to Drag City, which has recently released Gang War; on one hand, today’s audience is contemporaneously seeing revived post-apocalyptic themes in popular culture, but how about rock operas and socio-political concept albums?
The album has a definite cinematic tone, with its opening lyrics “I stand behind the thrusters of a missile that was downed in Philly” painting a vivid picture. Later, a voice-over, with the authority of a radio announcer, says, “In a time when there was nothing, there were gangs...This is the story of their war and the mercenary caught in between.”
Gang War has the earnest drama of a straight-faced musical, and 33 years after its creation, St. Jude has explained that the album is a symbolic battle of emotions.
During its rock moments, it somewhat resembles the rush of Rush, while during its calmer moments, unplugged Led Zeppelin or early ’70s David Bowie come to mind, but with modern-for-1982 synth sounds joining acoustic guitar strums. There are a few diversions, like the funk of “Chicago’s Burnin’” and the tense synth and piano drama of “Interlude Oxygen.”
St. Jude has a peculiar brazen rock voice that primarily brings to mind Rush’s Geddy Lee, or some combination of Robert Plant and Axl Rose; as he ends notes, however, his vocal modulations can become violent, evoking some kind of unsettling Yoko Ono-esque cackle.
This writer is glad this album exists and was re-discovered, although its ambition overshadows the songs themselves, which are competent—this is not at all a homemade outsider album—but not quite as sharp, infectious or stick-to-your-ribs satisfying as desired.
Ripe 4 Luv
Ben Cook is best known as a member of Toronto hardcore bands, notably the singer of the group No Warning and a guitarist in the band F***ed Up, but for his debut album Ripe 4 Luv on Slumberland Records under the moniker Young Guv (after numerous 7” singles as Young Governor), he goes into nostalgic, hook-ridden pop territory; from one perspective, the tracks might seem like borderline tongue-in-cheek homages, but the proceedings are too enjoyable and the craftsmanship too good to dismiss this material as throwaway pastiche.
While previous tunes had a more snappy, gritty style in line with Cook’s punk sources, on Ripe 4 Luv Cook has a slightly more refined aesthetic that primarily brings to mind ‘80s post-new wave Top 40 pop or ’70s power-pop. The opening
“Crushing Sensation” features Cook with an effeminate singing affectation on the homemade concoction with an artificial drum machine and clean electric guitar, pulling all the right strings with backing vocal “ooh”s and a classic pop ramp-up. On the title track, Cook seems to channel early ’80s Prince, and he follows hand-muted guitar notes with cathartic ringing chords, ending the tracking with unabashedly cheesy synth soloing.
The power-pop vibe is prominent on tunes like “Crawling Back to You” and “Kelly, I’m Not a Creep,” which in particular sounds like a sibling to Cheap Trick’s “Surrender,” and even the Paisley Underground group The Three O’Clock is conjured on the tune “Livin’ the Dream,” due to details like Cook’s high vocal range and affinity for memorable jangle-pop hooks.
Surely the laid back, hazy “Aquarian” is trying to evoke Hall & Oates’ “I Can’t Go for That,” and the ending “Wrong Crowd” has a mellifluous shuffle rhythm and uses ’80s effects, sax flourishes, spoken French and a vocal delivery that brings to mind Green Gartside of Scritti Politti.
This writer would be the first to admit that another ’70s/’80s throwback isn’t necessary, but with the charming delivery and crafty arrangements on Ripe 4 Luv, Young Guv has won him over.