By the time of his death at the age of 40 in August this year, Chicago-based schizophrenic street singer, Wesley Willis had built up a cult following with his bizarre three-chord tunes on which he waxed lyrical about everybody and everything that either crossed his path or annoyed him.
The Chicago mass-transit system, religion, prison, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tammy Smith, Spiderman, Ophrah Winfrey, Mullet haircuts, his keyboard and the sexual organs of various wild animals have all been targets of Willis' crude and amusing musical observations.
Usually performed solo on a keyboard and, or with a guitar and a rhythm machine, Willis' tunes are either absorbing or disturbing, depending on one's sense of humor. When he wasn't ridiculing people or places, Willis and his sometime backing band, Wesley Willis Fiasco, packed a mighty musical punch. Their version of Duran Duran's Girls on Film is one of the greatest covers of all time.
Discovered on the streets of Chicago in the early 1990s, Willis released over 50 albums, many of which he sold himself on the streets of The Windy City. By 1995, he had come to the attention of several well-known musicians including Jello Biafra, who would later pen the liner notes to many a Willis release.
The third and, what sadly proved to be the posthumous installment of Willis' greatest hits collection, includes some truly memorable and atypical Willis moments such as I Whipped Spiderman's Ass, Suck a Pitbull's Dick and My Keyboard Got Damaged. The sidesplitting My Mother Smokes Crack Rocks and Verbal Assault are two of the albums most charmingly offensive moments.
The album might offend those of a nervous disposition, but, hey, this was the world of Wesley Willis and is a fitting tribute to the man Biafra once dubbed "a true punk rocker."
It boasts the musical anti-hero working-class chic of Television, Sonic Youth and The Fall, yet the Strokes is not your average snotty garage band that has clawed it out of the housing estate and made its way to the top.
One member is the son of Elite modeling agency bigwig John Casablancas, another is the son of singer/songwriter Albert Hammond, who wrote It Never Rains in Southern California, and all the combo attended private prep schools as part of their rather blessed backgrounds.
The Strokes might hail from the privileged New York upper crust, but its owes much of its success to the UK music press. Picked up by popular UK music weekly, NME, the band won a fanatical British following long before it was a household name at home in the US. Released late last month, Room on Fire is not that different from it predecessor, 2001's Is This It?. The combo is still trying to sound too much like the Velvets cum Television to warrant being taken seriously and even when it branches out and cranks up the tempo the hooks and riffs remain all to predictable.
From the opener, Whatever Happened?, a tune that sounds all too similar to the band's 2001, New York City Cops, the combo appears to be caught somewhere between rock and a hard place. The album does have it moments, however, albeit only two of them. With Reptilia and The End Has No End, the album has a brief spark of attitude that it so badly needs.
It was the down-to-earth, heartfelt and impassioned songwriting prowess of Francis Healy that first put Glasgow based Travis on the music map in the mid-1990s following the combo's move to London. The foursome's debut EP, All I Wanna Do is Rock, became an instant indie hit at a time when British rock was moving away from artsy-fartsy-ness and returning to back-to-basics rock.