Walking through Hollywood on a Sunday morning, I spied a fella in Spandex pants, lying in the gutter. He rolled up bloodshot eyes and proposed a choice in exchange for a $10 donation: He would either blow me or give me a cassette.
He didn't look healthy, so I chose the tape. (Yes, I make it a point of honor to keep a working player.)
The boxless Maxell showed enough wear that this could have been an authentic relic of the 1970s. Its faded, hand-printed label, Scotch-taped where it had begun to peel, read, "Bubbling Up mix." I couldn't wait to get it home.
The music floored me -- how could these classic manifestations of glam and proto-punk have escaped my notice? Then a web search revealed the shocking truth: "Bubbling Up" is actually a new 12-song compilation with the above much longer title. It consists mostly of several band projects featuring multi-instrumentalist Steve "Trash" Fishman, whose former sideman credits have included work with the Stranglers' Hugh Cornwell and '70s psychedelic punx Chrome, both cameo performers on the album.
Fishman's involvement as a writer, singer and player makes for a consistent aesthetic (is that still a word?), despite the variety of styles -- party rock in the mode of Bowie's "Aladdin Sane," Roxy Music's first album and "The Rocky Horror Show," along with moody distorto-plod and sterephonic sound collages designed to mess with your head when you're wasted. Throughout, Fishman pulls off a tour-de-force vocal impersonation of a cocaine queen tottering in a vast, reverberative arena of numb ecstasy.
The more I listen, the more layers emerge, and the more Fishman's hook-obsessed arranging talents shine. Further, his circusy lyrics mock every obsolete Hollywood cliché, engage in thoughtful inquiry ("Hey Atlas, how did you end up with a job like this?") and issue irresistible invitations ("Come slumming with me!"). Although I favor the four Trashbeat tracks, there ain't no clinkers here -- "Bubbling Up" blasts effervescence from first to last. A glorious surprise.
When I strolled through Hollywood again yesterday, Spandex Pants had ascended from the gutter to a bus bench. He said he was off dope and on antibiotics, and he regretted the loss of his precious tape -- he offered to blow me if I'd give it back.
Well, it was a win-win; I had made a copy.
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"Bubbling Up From Underground" will be available here and elsewhere beginning Tuesday, July 6.