rolling stones hackney diamonds 

prison columnCatipalism: Where cats become dissatisfied with its lot they are unable to rise up in revolt clutching scythes, axes and burning brands (for all sorts of reasons) and decapitate their 'owner', so whenever able, they head to nearby houses in search of better pats, better food and some peace and quiet.

This happened with my first cat Doody who, after shimmying through the side door, zipped off and simply never came back. A street crowded with houses with small yards, and a main road nearby ... I was desolate, until a few weeks later I spotted the little bugger on a wall nearby. He knew me, sniffed my hand, turned his bumhole on me and sodded off.

I'd fed the little bugger for 18 months and helped him whereever I could. Of course, I'd also had him desexed, for which he might not have forgiven me. And he managed to burn his whiskers once, before I could get to him. So, gratitude might not have been high on his list of priorities.

Now, it is ingratitude which brings me first to the Rolling Stones’ new LP, which I won't name, because you'll all start squabbling over nothing. First, the Stones - like the Beatles, the Animals (who are touring next year), the Kinks, the Beach Boys and a host of others - produced original things based partly on warping their influences, and found fame, fortune and appalling taste in clothes. Just like Will Shakespeare, in fact. Good on 'em, it's hard to get kids out of the house these days, they need a little catipalism in their lives.

The new Stones LP is not bad, and as albums go, it's pretty good. There's a few songs on there I really like (and I may have the titles a bit screwy) “Whole Wide World”, “Dreamy Skies” and “Mess It Up”, for example. The Stones are doing pretty much what they've always done, and in the process they influenced shedloads of popular bands, and untold squillions of hopeless and un-signable indie bands - and that comment, I realised as I sat down, comes from not having listened to the Stones for quite a while, not since the gig in Adelaide. Boy, can you hear the Stones influence on so many really lame indie bands.

Anyway, does their new LP deserve to be a hit? Well, I suppose so. Why not? By now you will have read Grayson Haver Currin's review on Pitchfork. He's terribly-terribly clever but not as insightful as he thinks, and I can only hope to god that's his real name, because if you're going to hatchet someone, you'd better be spot-on. Which Grayson isn't, alas. 

First, in terms of the Stones' musical history, the new LP slots right into place - which Grayson doesn't comprehend. Sure, there's more than a few songs here which the fans love and are about as enticing as fingernails down a blackboard for me; but I've always thought that every Stones LP produced a puddle of muff songs. And, the further down your particular highway of creativity, the more frequently you tend to repeat ideas, concepts and so on - and sometimes that leads to a financial cul-de-sac, sometimes to ever-spiralling heights. The only way to alter that inevitability is to be content in consistently changing course - the antithesis of being the rock 'n' roll executive, and of course that's what the Stones have been for decades. 

Second, when Grayson seems outraged that “the Stones helped define rock stardom’s swaggering ethos. They also turned it forever into a big fucking business”, I'm afraid we're looking at that incredibly common trope, the rock-writer as faux-rebel, as common as it ever was. Knock 'em down and pick up a reputation.

Look, daft, rock 'n' roll was always a business, right? It's my understanding that Colonel Tom Parker was as loathsome an individual as you would ever encounter, but he made Elvis Presley famous (of course, he then neutered the poor sod until Elvis was able to, like Doody, scoot out when the door was open and reinvent himself as a new man) which made it clear what rock 'n' roll could be, long before the ‘60s. I've heard the argument that if it weren't for Colonel Tom Parker, rock 'n' roll would have been a parochial fad. You start the thread, I'll make popcorn.

Hell, when most bands were happy to play a gig, party and screw afterwards with no thought for the future, the Stones were the first band to gross a million in the USA. There's nothing wrong with making money in r'n'r. Just ask KISS, or Aerosmith; their big physical rock'n'roll influence was the New York Dolls, who were more rock'n'roll than either of them - even on their last tour, the Dolls were more rock'n'roll. Because ... they rock. The thing is though, that while I don't begrudge Aerosmiff their private jets and lycra pants and private comedians, I do think that bands like the Dolls shouldn't have to live in such a situation that they have to sell their guitars to pay for their hospital bills. (Hospital bills might be the subject of another rant, by the by.)

Come on, let's get real here: almost all bands flogging rebellion are in fact toeing the line, trying to climb the greasy pole. Remember that line from The Clash? “Turning rebellion into money”? Nick Cave has been shifting his paradigms for decades and he's still managed to get high upon that pole, so it's not as if it can't be done. By contrast, Hall and Oateshave overstayed their welcome by at least 40 years - and their current public squabble indicates to me that they were businessmen first, creatives second. Nothing wrong with that. Nothing wrong with being a plumber, either, or a brickie, or a truckie. 

So. Do the Stones rock? Look, not really. At least, not anymore. I mean, if your kids or grandkids expressed an interest in rock'n'roll down at the local, would you think they'd be moved by the Stones (who just happened to need a place to do a warm-up gig) or the Dolls? I mean, the Stones are a good rock'n'roll band, sure, and Jagger moves so much on stage that teenage long-distance runners would have difficulty staying by his side, but right now you could easily insert a dozen rockin' bands you'd rather see at that local pub than the Stones.

Also, once you get to be a rock star - which the Stones have been for a damn long time now - it's an unrealistic atmosphere. For example, you don't have to cook - or clean - if you don't want to. People don't tell you, “no, you're an idiot” or “what the fuck are you wearing, you look like a dweeb” (like they do to me).

So when Mick has a whinge about a girlfriend or whatever, it's not the same as the bloke down the pub singing a song about his girlfriend. This is the bloke who had a 21-year relationship with a famous supermodel, and who married her in 1990; when they split, he released a public statement (later upheld by a court) that they were never “officially” married. The court agreed; the ceremony was never recognised in the country the ceremony was held in. Maybe it's me, but I don't get much wound up over Jagger having his feelings hurt by a lady.

How often do we hear the man's complaint about a woman? Blokey r'n'b musos have surely done this idea to death yet never cease reaching for it ... life isn't a Mickey Spillane novel.

Why the hell it's always the woman's fault I can't imagine. I mean, there's a entire unpleasant landscape of “man angry with woman” songs (and a positive aerology of tropes within that), and that's straight from the blues too. But the blues was singing about a different world with different experiences. Songs like that usually get the “skip” treatment in my house; I've just heard it far too many times and it raises no empathy with me. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone. Sometimes people just simply can't live with each other anymore. Sometimes it's that silent demon, unexpressed expectations. Two people expecting different things but overlapping in the middle, like a Venn diagram. That sort of insight I don't hear much in the Stones. The songs don't reach out and touch me.

And, granted, yes, it's bands like the Stones who suck a lot of oxygen out of an increasingly slim market, but let's put it this way: if the geezer and would-be geezer generation weren't sluicing their dosh on the Stones new LP, they'd either be blowing it on pokies and coke, home hardware and boats, and unnecessary new re-releases of oldies stuff (like the new Queen box set).

Hell, I've nothing against The Rolling Stones, love some of their music ... but for me there are other bands and always will be.

So let's settle down and get to know Penny Ikinger's new LP, “Travels and Travails” (Off The Hip Records), which I rate four and a half bottles.

 penny red stage

In a nutshell, Penny is one of those  musicians who can't keep away. She does it because her music is as much a part of her DNA as it is for Keef, Mick, McCartney, or John Steel and Micky Gallagher of The Animals, or (say) The Johnnys or The Psychotic Turnbuckles or Fear and Loathing

Unlike the Stones, I suspect she has a day job and doesn't have her home chores done for her.

Most of the songs are her own; one was co-written with Mark Snarski and there's three with Deniz Tek. The only cover is a Scientists number. As with the Stones' LP, Penny is able to invite a number of excellent musicians to the party; three I'm familiar with are Vinz Guilluy and Dimi Dero (who appears on three tracks) and Masami Kawaguchi, who appears on a different three.

Not that any of that matters when the disc is spinning, any more than it should when the Stones record is on. Either the song is good or it ain't. Good production helps but it's not everything. The Stones have a style - their new LP still compares well with their first three; guess which one is “better” produced? 

Realistically, that's what the fans come for. Songs. Preferably in a style they know and love. Now, Ikinger has a style. It's extraordinary. Low, powerful, mesmerising guitar lines sound like whips, or cables in the wind, the keening of lost magpies ... How many LPs open with soaring controlled feedback?

“Voodoo Girl” is a dark-waltzing stomp with Ikinger's sugar 'n' spice vocal pouring out ... do you remember Grayson (see above) also moaning about the studio “tricks” the Stones use? What a goose: every musician hooked to music uses technology, and often either the more modern or the more archaic, the better. They love sound, sonics, variety. Ron Sanchez's production on Ikinger's voice alone is utterly magnificent, and check out her ending to “Voodoo Girl”:

Left all I had behind to get closer to you
Here I stand at your command
If you won’t set me free to be one with you
My bleeding heart will lie at your door

I hope this ain't based on a real situation. Rings far too true. Woman chases worthless bum, only to realise ... he's a worthless bum. Have we seen this before? Sure, all too often, but not that many (not enough) songs like this appear in the charts - I'd love to see that happen here.

“Spinster” is Penny's straight from the soul plea and it's beautiful, a powerfully moving vamp, seductive as a dance of the veils ... read this and tell me you've not seen this before: 

I tried to love you sweetly
Gave myself completely
But nothing could make you place a golden ring upon my finger
Why is this the way you treat me?
When I fold your clothes so neatly
I can’t leave and I won’t stray even though you look the other way when I walk in the room
Now that's deadly enough, but here's the savage chorus: 
Then you said: ‘Why do you have to be so old?’
I guess I’ll remain a spinster

Well, my jaw hit the floor when I heard that chorus. The kind of casually cruel thing a certain gutless type of man would say to get a woman to leave. I can only hope to god these lyrics aren't based on real life; either that or it's superbly imagined. “Spinster” wraps itself around your neck and absolutely swallows you whole.

These first two songs have a superior production, crystal clean and huge. Ikinger's guitar practically glistens in your ears, and her voice is pop-star perfect.

“Southern Man” is a glorious blues-drenched slow-burn, staring into existentialist's maw ... I'd be reluctant to compare Penny's musical style to any particular band, as she makes her own way quite effectively: 

Southern man, come and find me
Southern man, kiss my soul
With the city lights behind me
And the radio on
All my life’s behind me

Then comes the laid-back groovitan “Siberia”; Penny's more light-hearted here; she wants to go to Siberia to “ride on a rocket to the USA/ In the 21st Century”; a more up-tempo hoot is “Ride On, Cowboy” in which you will find yourself bouncing up and down in your seat like an overexcited eight-month-old. And did I mention her guitar? Bloody huge, such wonderful control.

And here come more songs, and they absolutely get under your skin - including the live “Tsunami”. I absolutely love it. Her guitar and vocal delivery on the Scientists' “We Had Love'”... this could've been an original, it's made for her. Fantastic, I'd say it's the best cover of a Scientists song I've heard.

I'm wary of carrying on too much about LPs these days. You either get this or not: Penny Ikinger's songs are bloody good, she's a gifted guitarist and a gift to us. She's been part of the underground for so long people take her for granted; and one wishes that she'd been snapped up by a major label years ago. Instead, we listen and pinch ourselves, delighted. 

travels and travails lge 
Penny Ikinger feels real to me; her songs are vivid and actual, whereas the Stones are simply the Stones, and I don't need another Stones LP. As it happens I think Penny's songs are better, and far more interesting topically, and if “Travels and Travails” sounded like the band had been recording in yer living room the songs would still shine. As I said earlier, it's not the fine production you sit down to, but the songs.

Look, when your kids or grandkids express an interest to see a rock band that really rocks down at your local ... Penny Ikinger is right in amongst it. I mean, that's one big, big sound she has. And, quite frankly, if any relation of mine got into rock via the Stones at this stage in their careers I'd expect them to drop it in six months and join that cool new accounting school instead. I mean, that worked out well for Jagger.

Sure, I don't begrudge you your new Stones LP. Nor should anyone else. But “Travels and Travails” I'll be happy to turn on in ten years. Less well-known artists are in greater need of oxygen, and listening on Sputtify is an insult, not support; the question is, do you know your product? 

So, there are two morals of this story: first, there are a lot of LPs out there far better than the latest Stones record, and second: you need to get out a lot more. Time you characters tried a little catipalism. Better food, more quality pats. 

Penny's released several CDs of her original songs: I'm sure you know a few sad Stones fans who could do with a bit of balance and quality in their lives this Christmas. 

Kudos to Mick Baty for having the chuff for putting this out. Hero, and man of infinite taste. Go here. You know what to do.


Also reviewed here.