Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Music Machine - The Ultimate Turn On

The Music Machine's "Talk Talk" is one of the epochal moments in '60s garage rock, two minutes of killer fuzztone guitar, roaring organ, stop-on-a-dime bass and percussion, and the angry, frustrated bellow of Sean Bonniwell as he details the myriad ways in which his life stinks. On the surface, "Talk Talk" isn't that far removed from what the Standells, the Chocolate Watch Band, or the Seeds were doing at the time, but there was a precision in the Music Machine's performance that few of their peers could match, and even in a genre that encouraged lyrical and vocal melodrama, Bonniwell was tapping into something deeper, darker, and spookier than other bands of the day. And the group's matching black outfits, complete with a single black glove on the right hand, made them look as dramatic and threatening as they sounded. The Music Machine might have become one of major acts of the garage era if they'd lasted longer, but the group's original lineup was together for less than 18 months, leaving behind just one album and a pair of non-LP singles before most of the band split and the act evolved into Bonniwell's Music Machine (who released an uneven album for Warner Brothers). Many garage rock obsessives champion the debut album, (Turn On) The Music Machine, as one of the overlooked masterworks of the genre, and the British Big Beat label have paid homage to the LP with The Ultimate Turn On, a definitive study of the group's brief golden era. The Ultimate Turn On features the entirety of (Turn On) The Music Machine in both its stereo and mono mixes (the latter sounding noticeably more powerful), as well as both sides of the two non-LP singles, but that's not all. Along with the Music Machine's entire recorded output for Original Sound Records, this set includes a second disc featuring rehearsal tapes, demo recordings, and alternate mixes, offering an intriguing picture of how the Music Machine's original songs evolved and what their second album might have been like if they'd stayed in their original form long enough to record it. While Bonniwell's songs -- which snarl in a literate fashion and openly wear their social and psychological viewpoints on their sleeve -- are often cited as the Music Machine's secret weapon, the rough rehearsal tapes demonstrate what a solid and capable band he had, and the wealth of original material on disc two makes the presence of five covers on Ultimate Turn On seem like a wasted opportunity. The extensive liner notes by Alec Palao and video clips (playable on a personal computer) of the band performing on the television show Boss City are icing on a very satisfying cake. The Ultimate Turn On is the ultimate Music Machine collection, an exhaustive portrait of a band considerably more fascinating than their sole hit single would lead you to expect.  -AMG

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