Best remembered as the bassist for the Californian pop band Sparks, Martin Gordon has built a stellar reputation for himself as a solo artist since 2003. “How Am I Doing So Far?” is a kind-of greatest hits record with tracks from Gordon’s first three solo releases and a good starting point for the novice. There are Beatles, ELO, Todd Rundgren and ABBA influences here and there. My first thoughts were “Where has this guy been hiding? ” The production is highly polished and the guitars riff away on “Oh no, What shall we do?” remind me of “Baby’s in Black” by way of 10cc. The hooks and new wave-y keyboards in “Love Power” are so catchy, you almost are required to listen again to hear the wacky lyrics. You’ve got to give Martin credit for doing a glam version of Gilbert & Sullivan’s “The Captain of the Pinafore” – a tough song, done right (Todd would be proud). Even the quirkiness of his early Sparks records show up in “Land of Nod.” The attention to sonic details are very impressive here as well, “Plug and Play” resembles a Cars meets The Move mix. “Anyway Goodbye” lists a pile of health advice you should ignore. The Euro-centric humor and melodies will draw the listener in. With a track titled “Her Daddy was a Dalek, Her Mummy was a Non-stick Flying Pan” how can you not? Also one notices that this is a massive 20-track collection. The pysche-pop that surrounds songs like “Bad Light Stops Play” is top notch, and fans of The Pillbugs should pay attention too. The subject matter is also about rock star self-awareness (“Next Big Thing” and “Girls Fight Over Me”). There are few miscues here, and occasionally the production gloss is a bit too thick, but if you like good power pop this will encourage you to explore more of Gordon’s amazing work. Maybe my next review will be his current album “The World is Your Lobster.”
Pop Culture Press
Now that Martin Gordon has completed his so-called Mammal Trilogy (3 CDs released 2003-2005), here’s a one-disc distillation of highlights. If as I suspect you’ve missed out on these three albums, you really should do yourself a favor and pick this up. Mojo just picked one of the early tracks as a pick of the month, “Daddy Was A Dalek and Mummy Was A Non-Stick Frying Pan.” It’s one of the many classics contained herein. Smarter than most pop music around, and amazingly witty as well, this is pop of the highest order — think Queen’s “Killer Queen,” Sparks’ “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us” (a song featuring and arranged by Gordon), Bowie’s “Drive-In Saturday,” and musically you’re on the same page. Included is a killer cover of The Beatles’ “Every Little Thing” in an arrangement owing a lot to Yes’ 1970 cover version, and his tribute to Cheap Trick (probably the single band Gordon’s band sonically most resembles). There’s also four excellent bonus tracks not included in the Mammal Trilogy.
Don’t miss his hilarious website, with a detailed history of this overlooked but brilliant artist whose resume includes backing the Stones & Bowie (huh? ed.), and appearing on Marc Bolan’s final TV shows.
With three sterling solo albums under his belt, and a box set rounding the trilogy into one convenient, budget-priced block, it would be hard to imagine Martin Gordon’s profile rising any higher, at least on the new release racks. But along comes How Am I Doing So Far all the same, and anybody glancing at the track listing and assuming that it’s just a “best-of” digest of the other three CDs would be doing themselves a major disservice.Of course, that’s all it is, really, but the simple act of mixing the three together, then extracting a single disc’s worth of highlights, brings new context to some of Gordon’s finest recent compositions. Four bonus tracks, meanwhile, include two wholly unreleased numbers (“Girls Fight Over Me” and “Next Big Thing”, plus a snazzy remix and a fabulous demo.
Elsewhere, we’re reminded of Gordon’s long standing fascination for the Beatles (“Every Little Thing” joins “Dear Prudence” (from his Jet days) and “Norwegian Wood” (Radio Stars) in his canon of fab Fabs covers), but the meat of the matter remains the wall of sheer wonder that Gordon has erected across a clutch of truly extraordinary songs. Indeed, whether you already own the parent albums or not, How Am I Doing So Far really should be the next big thing on your shopping list.
When approaching an artist such as Martin Gordon for the first time, it can be appealing to just grab the best-of set instead trying to wade through his vast discography which spans not only 3 solo albums but a multitude of other bands. How Am I Doing So Far? makes that option even more appealing than usual. Culled from Gordon’s three previous solo records it does a good job representing his finest material and even adding in some unreleased tracks. Known for making witty and clever power pop, the main thing Gordon has to worry about is becoming too puny for his own good. Featuring songs with titles like “Her Daddy was a Dalek, Her Mummy was a Non-Stick Frying Pan” and “(Oh Dear What Shall We Do) Daddy’s Lost His Head in a Coup” some might say it’s already crossed that line. However, even during those songs Gordon avoids (narrowly) the novelty category, in part because of how much breezy fun the songs are to listen to. Every track on the CD has a playful quality to it. Rockers like “Fuss Me”, “Plug’N’Play” and “Fickle” make up a fair amount of the album and each have plenty of puns and references contained in them.
Track #13 “Bad Light Stops Play” uses a phrase from the game of cricket to form a delectable pop piece. On slightly darker material such as “Anyway Goodbye”, the upbeat spirit still comes through. Here, in the way of a bubbly chorus. “Only One Dream Per Person” may be the most somber song on the album and it’s premise is a re-imagining of Heaven if run by Germans. If there’s one thing this record wants to get across it’s that you shouldn’t take most of it seriously. Occasionally the songs feel a bit too polished with great guitars, excellent vocal arrangements, and a fantastic backing band making you wish for a slightly more raw and less sincere feeling. It can almost seem as if Gordon is trying too hard to make each song a model of sophisticated power pop. When you come near the end of the album you may feel worn out on it all. Thankfully, “Girls Fight Over Me” and “Good Girls Gone Bad Remix” serve up a bit more edgy, immediate fair. Overall, How Am I Doing So Far? is a great CD on it’s own and will serve as a good intro course on Martin Gordon for newcomers. He knows how to craft slick, catchy pop songs that would otherwise come off as novelty items.
This might be the ultimate argument settler. Rather than squabble over which of Gordon’s three solo albums is the best, just get this compilation, and skim the cream. The former leader of Jet and Radio Stars (after his apprenticeship in Sparks) does a terrific job of picking out the top tracks from his trilogy of witty power pop discs. As I’ve written before, Gordon’s solo tuneage sounds like a modern update on his Radio Stars work, just a bit smoother, and leavened with bits of his glam past and contemporaries like Cheap Trick. He has a crack band, with former Jet and John’s Children drummer Chris Towson on the skins and an excellent singer in Pelle Almgren, along with two ace guitarists, Andy Reimer, who played on the first two albums, and Enrico Antico, who was on the last one. Some songs are just breezy fun, like “Fuss Me”. Gordon shows that he can take a clever lyrical concept and make it pay off, skewering internet scams on “(Oh No, What Shall We Do?) Daddy Lost His Head in a Coup”, and writing a sci-fi romantic tale in “Her Daddy Was a Dalek, Her Mummy Was a Non-Stick Frying Pan”.
While rockers like “Cheap Trick” and “Plug ‘n’ Play” are Gordon’s bread-and-butter, some of the best songs are slower tunes, augmented by outstanding lead guitar work. “Only One Dream Per Person” imagines what Heaven would be like if run by Germans, while “Bad Light Stops Play” takes a term used in cricket broadcasts on a song with Move-like pop-psych overtones. While Gordon’s cover of The Move’s “Tonight” is a personal favorite, the three on this collection are also standouts. There’s The Beatles’ “Every Little Thing She Does”, Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Captain of the Pinafore”, and from the original movie *The Producers*, “Love Power”. These remakes give you an idea of the musical and lyrical sensibilities at work here. There are four bonus tracks, i.e., unreleased, which just add to the fun.
With the extraordinary “God’s On His Lunchbreak (Please Call Back)” still hot, and just waiting for the fourth delivery of his particular Mammal Trilogy, the incomparable Martin Gordon strikes back with “How Am I Doing So Far?”, collecting some of the best moments of his brief solo discography. What to say of this eccentric gentleman that we have not said before? His music continues being a secret for many, but his talent is beyond all doubt. His ‘pop for grown ups’, polished like the suggested precious diamond that it actually is, combines infectious melodies with powerful riffs, texts that would delight Noel Coward and an acute and parodic British sense of humour.
His excellent original pieces like “(Oh No, What Shall We Do) Daddy Lost His Head In A Coup”, “Fickle”, “Plug N’Play”, “Only One Dream Per Person”, “Bad Light Stops Play” or “Her Daddy Was A Dalek…” shake hands with attractive covers (from “Every Little Thing She Does” by the Beatles to Gilbert & Sullivan’s “The Captain Of The Pinafore” or “Love Power”, highlight of Mel Brook’s legendary film “The Producers”) and a good handful of unreleased pieces, giving body to a ‘Best Of’ of radiant and surrealistic pop, a true exception to the predictable. Highly recommended.
Positively Yeah Yeah Yeah
20-track anthology of clever, theatric British pop from the former Sparks bassist, featuring four previously unreleased songs, covering the Beatles’ “Every Little Thing She Does” and a funky romp through “Love Power” from Mel Brooks’ The Producers.
John M James / syndicated to Cincinnati City Beat, Louisville Eccentric Observer, River City Reader, Anchorage Press, Pulse, YES Weekly, Independent News, Wildcat Weekly, Metro LA
Martin Gordon has a resume as long as my arm. Truthfully, my arm is probably of an average length for a person of my height so in fact I suppose Martin’s musical resume probably somewhere approaches what would be normal for a musician who has been involved in (uh) making music since he first started (umm) making music.
Now, with that said (not that I really said very much at all), I will also (and must) say that there are very few as witty or crafty or wafty as Martin Gordon. He’s definitely something else! The tracks on this new release are taken from his three mammalian related (aren’t we all?) releases (Baboon In The Basement, The Joy Of More Hogwash, and God’s On His Lunch Break, Please Call Back) and feature bonus (?!) tracks that he either forgot about or was saving to treat us all with at this later date. They are as equally brilliant, melodic and tastefully (YUM!) well-played (by the likes of his mate Chris Townson, vocalist Pelle Almgren, and guitarists Enrico Antico and Andy Reimer) as all of the other material contained herein. Martin Gordon? He’s one hell of a mammal. And I mean that in the most complimentary way. God may be on his lunch break but I bet he’s got Martin Gordon along with him and they are laughing their asses off. Recommended. (20 tracks. 68:46 playing time.)
“How Am I Doing So Far?” offers an overview of the first three solo albums from former Jet, Sparks and Radio Stars member Martin Gordon. For reasons of animal protection, Gordon has this time decided not to appear on the cover with a representative of the animal world (sorry, Martin, but the creature on “God’s On His Lunchbreak (Please Call Back)” also has something animal about it)!
Again once we can observe peculiar relationships (“Her Daddy Was A Dalek, Her Mummy Was A Non-Stick Frying Pan”), discover new angles on Nigerian spam (“Daddy Lost His Head In A Coup” and sing along with cover versions for cynics (“The Captain of The Pinafore”). Rounding off this colorful mixture are four unreleased tunes, including the demo version of “Hit Him On The Head (With A Hammer)” (less painful). “How Am I Doing So Far?” is entertaining and highly individual food for the demanding cynic.
Three times over the last three years, this column has waxed rhapsodic over new albums by Martin Gordon, the songwriting heart behind such magnificent ventures as Jet, Radio Stars and the Blue Meanies. But there’s a rumor going around that some people out there still haven’t rushed out to buy their own copies of The Baboon In The Basement, The Joy of More Hogwash and God’s On His Lunchbreak. It is for those sad souls that the Radiant Future label has compiled How Am I Doing So Far?, a 16 song selection of the trilogy’s finest moments, accompanied by four further, previously unreleased tracks – a demo, a remix, and two brand new songs.
Lovers of the albums in question, of course, will argue forever over whether this really does represent the cream of the crop – new favorite tracks emerge every time you hear them. But for anyone who has resisted taking the ride so far, there can be no easier, or more compulsive, an entry into the world of thoughtful pop, frustrating zaniness and electrifying melody that Gordon presides over. How is he doing so far? Brilliantly.
The former Blue Meanies, Jet and Radio Stars bassist makes a welcome return with some stonking glam riffs, plus intricate harmonies and the quirky vocal delivery of Sparks (who sacked him back in ’77 for daring to question their love of the Fender Precision). (Oh, and in case you were wondering, the man most associated with Rickenbacker is now sporting an Ibanez SR765.