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4.6 out of 5 stars41
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This may be the most underrated album of the 1990s. Certainly it deserves far more fans than it has, but luckily with most all it takes is people hearing it for the first time. It is impossible to listen to this album without being reminded of the Beatles. Phillips's husband T-Bone Burnett, one of the great producers on the planet (he won the Grammy in 2002 for O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU! for best album of the year) and Phillips seem to have immersed themselves in MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR immediately before going into the recording studio. This was all, of course, completely intentional. Why else have a song that reminds one of elements in "Strawberry Fields Forever" that is entitled "Strawberry Road"? Or radically separate the tracks so that the album is in the same kind of exaggerated stereo the Beatle's albums employed. Burnett is too great a producer not to have known precisely the effect these arrangements would have on a listener.
From beginning to end, this album serves up one great song after another, all delivered in Phillips's superb, rich, nasally voice. In reality, every song on the album stands out, though if pressed, I would probably single out "Baby I Can't Please You," "Strawberry Road," "When I Fall," "Same Changes" (with amazing use of an African talking drum), and "I Need Love," the one song off the album to get some radio airplay. This is just a very, very strong set of songs, impeccably produced, with a great back up band. I can't imagine anyone being disappointed in this record. Get it.
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on May 14, 2002
An extemely strong album from an artist who is not nearly as well-known as Sheryl, Alanis, Jewel and others, but who deserves to be, since she is farther along in her craft. This is the first Sam Phillips CD I bought, and it remains my favorite and one of my favorite CDs. Most reviewers consider it pop-oriented, and I admit there are many catchy tunes, but it rocks harder than her other CDs and it is a rather dark album too. If you want a Sam Phillips CD, this is the one I'd get.
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on June 8, 2003
At the release of "Martinis and Bikinis", Sam Phillips had made a name for herself as an insightful, poetic artist with interesting, fresh music. Critics loved her, but unfortunately, she was grossly ignored by radio. This is a very fun and thought provoking release, more upbeat music than her previous two releases. "Baby I Can't Please You" is probably the most radio-friendly song on here and who can't relate to the lyrics, "You take the words I say and make them mean everything they don't, baby you're obscene. You don't listen you don't hear you're blinded by the fear that surrounds you." I enjoyed "Same Rain" which states, "Is it the same rain that falls on a holy man, is it the same rain that falls on a liar's hand, is it the same rain that falls on me?" Even though "Signposts" is a short song, I love it for her having the guts to honestly tell why she left Christian music for secular music, "I wanted to get lost and love the questions there, beauty and the truth, I could breathe like air." I absolutely love the Phillips/T Bone Burnett song "Same Changes" and I might be the only to say this, I LOVE the song "Black Sky", because it is so different, eclectic, and has a powerful message about our human greed for money and our lack of concern for the health of the earth in the process. It's kind of a doomsday song and the music is so fitting... it's just something you would have to hear for yourself to appreciate. I just can't praise this disc enough... a very strong release!!
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on September 16, 2005
One of the best and most vital records of 1994, Phillips' third mainstream rock-pop album (formerly billed as "Leslie Phillips", she was a Christian music star in the 1980s) is less a prosaic collection of songs than an organic stream of incantations and revelations from the Otherworld. Many commentators have remarked on M&B's debt to the Beatles, and there are certainly some musical echoes of the Fabs: the "She's A Woman" strums of "Signposts"; the homage of "Strawberry Road" (based on an Iroquois belief); the cover of Lennon's "Gimme Some truth"; the harpsichords, multitracked harmonies, slicing guitar riffs, and Indian drums. But Phillips is no pale imitator. She works subliminally, her oblique lyrics tweaking at the edges of consciousness. Her strongest link with the moptops, in truth, is a shared ethos of belief in the value and power of love, and of the wisdom in 'holding on to the voice inside you" amid the blare of a corrupted society. Like an Old Testament prophet, Phillips rails against the ills of the world -- greed, deceit, oppression -- using an elliptical imagery that is more surreal than overtly political. Her songs are striking in their melodic nuances as well. She employs instruments and vocals with the craft of a painter, assembling glorious guitar pop ("I Need Love") alongside thunderous Indian raga ("Baby I Can't Please You", a shout against her former fundamentalist string-pullers), disturbing nightmares ("Black Sky," "Wheel of the Broken Voice"), and triumphant epiphanies ("When I Fall"). Martinis & Bikinis' predecessors (The Indescribable Wow; Cruel Inventions) were also impressive, but this offering, with harder-edged production by then-husband T Bone Burnett, is simply relentless. Sam Phillips at the height of her form.
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on April 19, 2003
Probably my favorite album of the decade.
Wonderful lyrics and nostalgic sonic textures that never grow old.
Every song has given me the shivers at one time or another.
I like her other albums, but they don't compare to this.
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on January 30, 2001
Sam Phillips isn't the world's most famous rock/pop singer-songwriter---but she deserves to be! Her albums of inescapably catchy, wickedly witty pop songcraft are of such glorious quality that they should be used as classroom materials in a university course on Pop 101; that they aren't played more often on the radio has as much to do with her unwillingness to self-promote as it does with the dauntingly high standards each of her recordings sets---most people, alas, simply don't have the good taste to appreciate her, I guess. She poses on the cover of M&B like some Marlene Dietrich character, coldly glamorous, yet not so secretly winking to the audience: stardom, she seems to be saying, is wearing her out---but the results, oh, the results are wonderful to hear! "Strawberry Road" revisits Pepperland, with a touch of Virginia Woolf; "Baby I Can't Please You" is a kiss-off worthy of Bob Dylan, but with George Harrison's mid-Sixties Indian mystic trappings; and "Fighting with Fire" dresses down corporate greedaholics to a relentless, Bo Diddley beat. Sam Phillips is the coolest thing that ever stood in front of a band, and this record amply demonstrates why it's a mystery that she isn't the reigning queen of pop music.
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on June 11, 2000
The overriding feature of Sam Phillips' Martinis & Bikinis is her love for the Beatles (most significantly John Lennon). `Strawberry Road' sounds like a John Lennon psychedelic pop song that was left out of the Sgt. Pepper's album. And the luscious `Love and Kisses' owes more than a nod to Lennon. Phillips has also rewritten the Beatles' `Rain' (Same Rain). The guitar riff from `If I Needed Someone' opens `Same Changes.' Finally, the album concludes the Lennon's `Gimmie Some Truth.' Like Lennon, Phillips' songs trace her search for faith, and display a mistrust for the institutions of religion, politics and commercialism. `Love and Kisses,' Baby I Can't Please You,' `Same Changes,' and `I Need Love' criticizes greed and intolerance. Both Phillips and Lennon turn inwardly for a real God and real truth. Several specific references in `Gimmie Some Truth' are dated, but not the composition's cynicism and mistrust of politics.
Sam Phillips composes honest and beguiling pop music. Martinis and Bikinis is filled with catchy hooks, and a verse-chorus-verse structure that is instantly memorable. For wit and infectious melodies, it is tough to beat. In the category of Pure Pop For Now People, I give Martinis and Bikinis 5-stars.
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on October 16, 2001
Some of you may recognize the name Leslie Phillips as a Christian singer of the 80's who was regularly classed with the likes of Amy Grant (one of her albums was titled "Black and White in a World of Grey"). Around the turn of the decade, the form that her faith had taken dissolved and, for many of her fans, she left the fold. I only started to listen to her after this break, however, and I have yet to be able un-insinuate her songs from my mind. A quick listen to one of her "post-CCM" albums might give the impression that she simply writes three-minute pop songs about love (albeit in a slightly more inventive fashion than the ones you normally hear); at least, that's all I heard on my first try - but it's amazing how sneakily her music creeps up on you. Phillips does write pop songs - but they're bizarre, stirring, groovy songs that refuse to fall into place and sit still. It's definitely not "rock" music; the drumming/percussion on her songs, for instance (although you could say the same for whatever instruments she uses) is often understated, varied, and occasionally spiky - never driving or trying to overwhelm or puncture. It tends to flicker and vibrate, rather than call for attention. (It's something like the difference between a man's firm grip in a handshake and the way you'd only touch the fingers of a women in doing the same - but certainly no less pleasant for being so.) Phillips' voice, too, is not overpowering; it's rich, and can connote husky, raw feeling, but mostly keeps itself a little bottom-heavy and mellow.
"Signposts," the second song on the album, is a good example of this insinuating power. A syncopated bass drum starts it out, only to be interrupted by the clatter of a few hits out of time; her guitarist then joins in, off-beat, only to have the snare drum start, off beat with the guitar. The rhythm all comes together in the chorus, however (with the guitar breaking into arpeggiated chords) and makes the theme more wonderful for it: "Logic dances you from here to there/Not very far/Making sense can't tell you/Where you are." This is not a statement of meaninglessness, however: "I wanted to get lost and love the questions there/Beauty and the truth that I could breathe like air/Till I finally found a signpost in a strange land."
Ruminating about lyrics like this is how Phillips' music so firmly insinuates itself: it's as if she's not impressed with all the ways we normally try to unravel our own experience, wanting to get out to those places beyond all that insipid sense-making - where she could breathe beauty and truth like air (what a line! Sure beats "black and white in a world of gray" - but still shows something of the same concern!). This is interesting enough - what sort of odd ways will she find, I wonder, to speak of beauty and truth that far outshine the sort of truisms that normally get passed off as sound conviction? But she doesn't stop there - she's in a strange land, but she sees a signpost, pointing her beyond even that. With a few lines, my world is turned on its side. (Keep in mind this is only the second song on the disc.)
The album as a whole doesn't lose any momentum. She is totally unassuming, even a little shy, in how she presents her vision through her pop songs (titles include "Baby I Can't Please You" and "I Need Love"); but this underhanded delivery makes the vision all the more moving. Most memorable (to me) is her disillusionment with the one who "censors longing and organizes beauty" so that he can't get to the place of richness "where the dream fades/down between our longing and desire/where our hearts break - into love." The rules aren't always right, she says - but that doesn't mean she's any less in love with what can't be captured by rules. It seems to me that when Leslie became Sam, she wasn't walking away from God, but getting closer. And letting God be mysterious.
She shows a more social concern elsewhere when she gets fed up with "The borders and the flags/How far our guns can shoot/Fascist slogans/And the movie of the week/The way we sell ourselves/The way we spend our greed." She's not preaching, though, as much as squinting - she ends her list of social absurdities by admitting "How long it takes/To hear our dreams," again pointing toward that richness that is hard to find but impossible to miss. She delivers her concerns about God and Americans (and how Americans live) so effectively that it makes the album truly revolutionary and even dangerous; the sort of thing that, if there were personal agents guiding our society in the directions it's heading, they would want to censor it much sooner than a lot of other self-styled revolutionary musicians out there. (Or perhaps they could conspire to keep the majority of Americans ignorant of her existence - just as they are now.) Anyway, it sure beats 99% of the sludge that daily pours out my radio. All that, with these groovy guitar riffs to boot! Hubba hubba!
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on November 10, 2000
I've listened to this over and over for years now, and it continues to get better. It is truly unique sounding against the landscape of music out there today. As far as the Beatle comparison, I have to say that only the obscure and esoteric Beatle textures are implemented, so trust me, the Beatles sound that comes through is not a distraction or in any way diminishes the music (like some other reviewers seem to suggest). I'm glad I got to listen to it without having any prior knowledge of the Beatle influence. Every single song is well done...yet any one song could be an admirable single. If you like Matthew Sweet (in other words, have some weakness for a pleasing pop hook every now and then) you will probably like this. I love it!
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on May 25, 2001
Smart, tuneful, and utterly memorable, "Martinis and Bikini's represents the high point in the woefully overlooked career of Sam Phillips.
Produced by her husband T-Bone Burnette, "Martinis and Bikinis" pays a nod to mid 60's era Beatles to be sure, but it takes the fab four's influence and mixes it with unique touches all its own. Sam's lyrics suggest spiritual longing as it deals with relationships with both the mortal and the divine and it is all set to the kind of catchy, accessible melodies that have been absent from the mainstream music scene for the last decade.
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