Wednesday, December 17, 2014

12 Kind of Blue (1959) Miles Davis




1. So What
2. Freddie Freeloader
3. Blue in Green
4. All Blues
5. Flamenco Sketches

I always make a bit of a git of myself when I write about jazz. It's a style of music whose appeal I struggle to put into actual words. I know there are people who can and do it very well but usually they're actual performers themselves. It's interesting that in order to be a pop or rock reviewer you don't need to have played an instrument in your life, you just have to know what you like, but in order to write about Jazz you need to have a background in your subject and a knowledge spawned from an attempt to make the music yourself.  There are some great writer/performers out there who have written some fantastic stuff about jazz and this album in particular. The liner notes to my copy of Kind of Blue make for bafflingly pleasing reading as it references terms that I just don't understand but wish I did. I don't understand what syncopated actually means and I can't tell you why modal jazz is different to jazz that isn't modal.

In fact my reading about Kind of Blue has actually made me understand it less rather than understand it more. I've read about how pianist Bill Evans could play a chord without actually playing the chord, or at least some of the notes, and instead play around the chord and suggest the chord. I don't understand how this works. I don't get how you suggest three notes by playing different ones. It's all got me baffled.

What I'm trying to say is that I don't know why I love Kind of Blue but I can tell you that I adore it to bits. It's blissfully perfect in every way. It's gloriously dense because every single player is doing something interesting at every available moment. Nobody is just hammering out a rhythm while wondering where they're going for dinner and nobody is coasting along, they're all playing their little hearts out all the time and they're just making that stuff up. Nobody is following sheet music, they're just letting the music pour out of them like it was pumped into their body and needed an outlet to prevent them from exploding. The sound of  a bunch of guys making music up at the same time should be a recipe for disaster but whatever loose rules they were sticking to (I think it was a form of modal syncopation) keeps them together. It helps that they're clearly listening to each other as well. Nobody is off on their own planet having an aimless noodle. It all sounds like a coherent and structured group performing a structured idea.

I have made the mistake of putting Kind of Blue on as background music when I've got company around which I realise is a huge error because I have very few friends that are anywhere near as interesting as Kind of Blue is. I find myself wishing my guest would shut up and appreciate the music. It's easy to think it could be background material but it benefits from your full attention. When I hear the opening notes of So What I just want to sit back and enjoy the whole thing.

Kind of Blue is genuinely perfect. It's the jazz album that non-jazz fans like and in its time has converted many non jazz heads to the joys of good jazz music. Be one of those guys if you haven't already.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "how can someone enjoy the horn when all through EVERY song this constant bass thumping, boom boo boo boom boom boo boom boo boom boom boom boo boo boom STUPID!"

-Um... turn the bass on your stereo down maybe? Just a thought.

So does this make you Kind of Blue or Kind of Happy? Let me know below

Thursday, December 11, 2014

13 The Velvet Underground and Nico (1967) The Velvet Underground




1. Sunday Morning
2. I'm Waiting For The Man
3. Femme Fatale
4. Venus In Furs
5. Run Run Run
6. All Tomorrow's Parties
7. Heroin
8. There She Goes Again
9. I'll Be Your Mirror
10. Black Angel's Death Song
11. European Son

There are a couple of entries on this countdown which I can honestly say I've done a complete reversal on: albums or artists I was initially not a fan of but have come to appreciate and even love over time. The VU is definitely of them.

Many years ago, a work colleague tried to convince me of the benefits of the VU and I have to confess I wasn't ready for them. I listened and concluded they just weren't for me. They confirmed what I'd always suspected: they were something of an acquired taste.

It's possible I was correct but I've since definitely acquired the taste. The access point was the easily accessible Loaded which is the VU album that non VU fans like but it led me deeper to try and appreciate this masterpiece, which really is as good as everyone gives it credit for. It's tempting to believe that the only reason The Velvet Underground and Nico is lauded so much is because it was so ignored at the time. We're all over-praising an album because we're so romantically attached to the notion that quality work went totally ignored in its day. While it's true there is a certain cool factor in liking this album and knowing it makes you smarter than the entire of 1967, but that's not the only attraction.

There are some simply outstanding songs on this album. I'm waiting for the Man is a great rock and roll song by anyone's standards. It's not darkly impenetrable, weirdly esoteric, emotionally disturbing or any of the other labels that get thrown at the VU, it's just a great rock song. True it's about waiting for a heroin dealer which in 1967 wasn't in any way cool but that's beside the point. Speaking of heroin, the song Heroin is apparently about heroin. While other bands were trying to subtly drop hints at marijuana or LSD usage into their lyrics, The VU were happy to write a song that was blatantly and unequivocally about an intravenous drug trip.  The lyrics not only talk about taking heroin, the song structure, with its lazy opening tones which build to a crescendo, is designed to replicate the feeling of a trip in progress. Speaking as someone who has never used heroin I have no idea how accurate the aural depiction is, but I can tell you that it works as a Rock and Roll song. Run Run Run is another great track which could easily have been a minor hit for lots of other bands performing at the time, assuming of course that they dropped the heroin references.

I'm Waiting for The Man, Heroin and Run Run Run are three fantastic songs with brilliant Lou Reed vocals but then Reed's singing isn't the problem a lot of people have with The Velvet Underground and Nico. The issue is the Nico bit.

Nico was a German chanteuse, a word which I think means "woman possessed of a deep voice". She sings her lyrics with a definite German accent in a register below what most people consider a normal female range. For those used to pretty singers with pretty voices it must have been a real shock to encounter someone who sounds like she's not just from the other side of the Berlin wall, she's actually a part of its foundations.

When you can get past the fact that Nico has an unconventional voice, you can definitely start to really enjoy and not just endure her contributions to the album. I'll be your mirror is great, All Tomorrows parties is brilliant and Femme Fatale is kind of haunting. I've heard them all done by more classically acceptable singers with pretty voices and they don't have anything near the appeal of the original. There really is something to be said for the value of character and personality in a vocal performance and this proves how important matching the right singer to the song really is.

Even if you overcome the hurdle of Nico's voice, this album still has challenges to throw at you. European Son is basically just loud feedback and distortion and The Black Angels Death Song sounds like... well it sounds a lot like a Black Angel would if it was dying. Neither are the sorts of tracks that your mother would put on for a relaxing afternoon.

The Velvet Underground and Nico isn't just a novelty album that has gained a reputation thanks to its initial obscurity and famous cover. It's a great set of songs in its own right and deserves all the praise it gets. If you're not a fan then can I urge you to give it a few more listens? You might be exactly where I was once, but trust me you'll be much happier where I am now.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I bought this CD after a guy at a coffee shop saw me playing my Strokes CD on my player. He said, if you like the Strokes you'll like the velvet Underground."

-That's a very cool way to get into music "Some stranger reccomended this album..." shame he didn't end up enjoying it.

So is this as addictive as... I don't know some addictive substance, I can't think of one right now... or not? Let me know below

Thursday, December 4, 2014

14 Abbey Road (1969) The Beatles



Abbey Road isn't just a great Beatles album, it's an important one. It's one that Beatles fans need in order to end their story on a high instead of a depressing kind of low.

After spending a painful few weeks staring at each other in hatred for the dismal Let it Be sessions, the band was pretty much ready to go their separate ways and call it a day.  They were happy to slink off into their solo careers leaving someone else to salvage what they could from the Let it Be sessions and consequently make the band's final statement a sad record of their infighting and bickering. Thankfully Paul had more respect for the Band's legacy and persuaded them to reunite in their old studio with their old producer for a final album made the way they used to.  The end result is Abbey Road which is thankfully a triumph. If you're going to listen to the Beatles albums in order of release then Let It Be will be your final moment, but if you listen to them in they order they were created you can end the journey that starts with Please Please Me with this masterpiece and feel like you've had a much more satisfying trip.

Come Together.

Come together has a brilliantly slinky baseline some outstandingly cryptic lines and a fantastic vocal performance. It's also responsible for the best legal settlement in music history. For years people have been suing other people who they think have lifted bits of their music. There are a huge number of lawyers in America getting extremely rich representing disgruntled musicians who are suing other disgruntled musicians demanding a percentage of royalties because their songs sound a bit similar. Most of these settlements end up with one party paying the other some cash, but Come Together's lawsuit had a much better result. Lennon was sued by the people who held the publishing rights for Chuck Berry's catalogue for a line that he definitely lifted from a Berry song. Instead of handing over any money however, Lennon agreed to record some of their songs on his next solo album which would give them royalties but wouldn't cost him. How cool is that? I'd like to see all such disputes settled this way: okay so you clearly plagiarized the tune from these guys so you should probably listen to the rest of their catalogue because you're covering three of their songs on your next LP.

Something

It's definitely fitting that one of the best songs on Abbey Road is by George. Lennon and McCartney started life as the Beatles songwriting strength and George was running to catch up. By the White Album he was more than holding his own and by Abbey Road he was producing songs as good as Something, which nobody else was doing at the time. It's the perfect love ballad which has soul not schmaltz at its core.

Maxwell's Silver Hammer

Nobody covers this song much anymore. At the time it was kind of a cheery kids song and I remember singing it in school but as the years went on people started to think "Wait, is hitting someone with a hammer really that cute?" Somehow brutal violence could be overlooked in the late sixties and you could easily slip multiple blunt-force trauma fatalities into an album as long as the tune was bouncy. We've changed a bit now.

Oh Darling

It was easy to write McCartney off at the end of the Beatles career as someone who was moving towards the Middle of The Road artistically and producing dull and tedious music. There are those who believe he was turning his back on rock and roll and embracing music hall. Oh Darling proves them wrong. It's a fantastic song that he really belts out with genuine passion.

Octopuses Garden

The obligatory Ringo track and one that he wrote (almost) by himself. While his other songs were often covers or written by a fellow Beatle, this one was his own idea. It's one of those Beatles songs which is great for kids but a bit tiring when you're an adult, especially when people started playing it to you when you were three. There aren't many things I liked when I was three that I still like now.

I want you (She's so Heavy)

A good song? Yes. Worth extending to almost eight minutes? No. When it starts you're pleased to see it arrive but by the time it finishes you're definitely glad to see the back of it. The extended coda wears out its welcome. It's made more frustrating by the knowledge that George had some great songs lying around that could have been included and if John had turned this into a regular length composition there would have been space for one, but no instead of hearing All Things Must Pass we had to hear this repeat itself over and over again.

Here Comes the Sun

Another classic George composition. How many people sing this spontaneously when the sun breaks through a cloud cover suddenly? And how much more joyous does it make the situation when it does? Some songs just put a permanent smile on your face, this is definitely one of them.

Because

I love Because. Partly because it's a fantastic song but partly because it's the sound of John, Paul and George working together in harmony, literally. The gorgeous harmony vocals were created because the three of them put aside their differences and banded together to make a great song as good as it could be. Nobody was saying "That's good enough" and leaving to pursue their solo interests, they all cared enough to put the effort in and make the best Beatles album they could. Thanks guys.

The Medley

The rest of Abbey Road is taken up with a medley which almost acts as a clearing house for half finished songs that Lennon and McCartney had lying around and couldn't brush up into a full track. It shouldn't work but it does. It doesn't have a weak moment from its opening note to the final triumphant finale as it travels through lyrical vitriol and absurdity, rock and pop, vocal harmonies, drum solos and lead breaks. It's all there and every single bit of it works.

My only quibble with Abbey Road is the presence of Her Majesty as the final moment. It would be perfect if the finale moment in the Beatles catalogue was "And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make" which might be clumsily worded but is as good a summation of the Beatles ethos as your likely to find. It comes at the conclusion of a magnificent album of music and should send the listener on their way with a huge grin plastered over their face. Sadly Her Majesty breaks the euphoria and is the album's final track. Her Majesty is a pointless little 23 second ditty with useless lyrics and an aimless tune that starts nowhere and ends up in the same place. It was included on the album's final mix by accident but approved by the band which on the whole is a shame. I'm tempted to say it would be better if it had never existed but then if it didn't Chumbawamba would never have recorded a cover version with added verses and chorus which turn it into a fantastic republican anthem.

Abbey Road is my favourite Beatles album and the one that I return to most frequently. There's not a weak song on its running length and the whole thing creates a joyous mood, making it one of those rare albums that genuinely has the power to lift my day. It's testament to the Beatles' genius that even though we're at number 14 on the countdown, there are still four more of their albums to come. To my mind none of them is better than this one but my favourite Beatles album has changed several times over the years and may well change again.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "England's Fab Bore released this album in 1969, during which the Beatles were falling apart at the seams due to creative, financial, and legal issues. "Come Together" sounds fake, and everything else is tired. Who would buy this when you have Pink? Get her new album instead."

-Do you know the only fun I have with this whole Amazon review thing now? It's reading reviews that are obviously written by American 14 year olds and trying to guess which band they will say is better than the artist they're writing about. Which artist are they going to claim the reader should buy instead? I didn't see Pink coming this time but that doesn't make it any less depressing.


So... favourite Beatles album? Abbey Road? Sgt Peppers? Revolver? Something else? Let me know below.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

15 Are you Experienced (1967) Jimi Hendrix Experience



1. Purple Haze
2. Manic Depression
3. Hey Joe
4. Love Or Confusion
5. May This Be Love
6. I Don't Live Today
7. The Wind Cries Mary
8. Fire
9. 3rd Stone From The Sun
10. Foxey Lady
11. Are You Experienced

Hendrix once supported the Monkees on tour. In 1967, the Monkees thought The Jimi Hendrix Experience was the right group to warm their audience of teenage girls up for their rendition of Daydream Believer. Predictably it was a disaster and Hendrix eventually grew sick of performing to room full of screaming Monkees fans chanting "We Want the Monkees!" while he was playing Purple Haze and walked out of the tour.

Today we look at Hendrix as a guy who could solo for longer than most Monkees songs and we think of him as the height of psychedelic excess. But back in 1967 when people only had this album as an indication of his abilities, it must have seemed like a more reasonable proposition. Granted it would never have looked like a good idea and there must have been people scratching their heads and saying "Seriously?" to each other when they first heard it but you can kind of see where people are coming from because Are you Experienced is, at its core, a collection of really strong songs.

Forget about the wild clothing, forget about the stage theatrics, even forget about the guitar playing ability and just focus on the album as a set of 1960's pop tunes. Foxy Lady, Manic Depression, Can you See Me, Fire, Love or Confusion and I Don't Live today could all have been hits for other bands if they'd played to their pop strengths. At their core, they're just catchy melodies with good hooks. You may think I'm mad but I can even imagine a song like Fire being slowed down slightly, brightened up and performed by the Monkees themselves. It's not lightyears away from I'm Not Your Stepping Stone.

Thanks to a frenetic schedule of touring and recording, Hendrix would never have such a strong set of songs to enter a studio with ever again. His time spent building his career in the lead up to the release of his first album gave him some freedom to sit down and write which gave him an opportunity to pen some fantastic pieces of late sixties rock. Regardless of what you think of Jimi's other abilities, you can't deny the fact that The Wind Whispers Mary is actually a beautiful song. It might be played by a guy we associate with feedback and guitar burning but we should take the time to remember that he was also a guy who could write a really lovely piece of music. Even the lesser known tracks on Experienced showcase a talent for putting together a memorable song.

Of course his songwriting pales when you compare it to his guitar playing. My goodness could that guy play guitar. He was a truly amazingly gifted musician and there aren't too many other people who have such a natural talent. He was 24 at the time this was recorded which still blows my mind. I have no idea how someone manages to develop such a revolutionary ability and freakish range of gifts when they've only been of legal drinking age for 3 years. It's one thing to be incredibly good at what you do, it's another thing to be able to take that talent in a bold new direction. Hendrix mastered the pop, rock and blues playing styles of the day and could do what his contemporaries could do but could also pioneer new ways of using the guitar to express himself which are still be copied (but rarely if ever bettered) to this day.

Hendrix was a great singer and the world's greatest guitarist, but early in his career he was a great writer of pop tunes as well which makes Are you Experienced one of the greatest albums of alltime.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review quote: "Words cannot describe my intense dislike for Jimi's guitar "skills". This guy is a HACK."

-This has been so depressing. Every week I sift through some of the most peurile and inane dross searching for an interesting Amazon Customer Review Quote. "This albums sucks, if you want real music listen to..." over and over again. It's been soul destroying finding this nonsense for you. Soul destroying.

So are you experienced? Let me know below.



Thursday, November 20, 2014

16 Blood on the tracks (1975) Bob Dylan



1. Tangled Up in Blue
2. Simple Twist of Fate
3. You're a Big Girl Now
4. Idiot Wind
5. You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go
6. Meet Me in the Morning
7. Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts
8. If You See Her, Say Hello
9. Shelter from the Storm
10. Buckets of Rain

By 1975 Dylan had been recording albums for 13 years and had managed to effectively kill off the public's expectations of his work, which he felt had been holding him back for nearly a decade. He started life as an acoustic writer of "Finger pointing songs" but destroyed the ideals of a generation when he went electric and became a rock star, singing impenetrable psychedelic missives backed by a full band. He then explored Americana and totally changed his singing style before finally killing off his entire fanbase with Self Portrait a deliberate attempt to commit career suicide.

After becoming an icon of the sixties, Dylan entered the middle of the seventies as nothing more than an artist, free to create music on his own terms and in his own way. He no longer felt the overwhelming burden of public pressure and an insatiable desire to shrug if off. He had reached a happy point in which he could just release Bob Dylan albums for people who wanted to buy them. He could write songs and release them and if people liked them they could buy them and show up to his concerts and everyone else wasn't his concern.

1974's Planet Waves was a return to form of sorts but it wasn't until 1975 that Dylan proved he wasn't just the best survivor of the 1960's, he was one of the best artists of the 70's as well.

Blood on the Tracks is a masterpiece and far and away the best album released in 1975 and quite possibly the finest release in the entire decade. It has at least four of Dylan's best songs and several tracks which classify as those unappreciated gems that Dylan fans love and more people should hear.

Tangled Up In Blue is quite possibly my favourite ever Dylan song (although even pinning me down to a top ten in no actual order would cause me considerable pain and angst). I'm one of those people who always seems to have a song in their head and spends most of their time singing it out loud much to the irritation of those around me. For over two decades now I think Tangled has been the song my brain has returned to most frequently. It's just a permanently happy place that my mind gravitates towards and I'll regularly find myself singing "Early one morning the sun was shining, I was laying in bed..." and I'll be off. I can do the whole song and have to stop and really revel in each opportunity to sing "Tangled up in blue!"

Tangled challenges the notion held by many, Dylan included, that he was a lyricist and not a tunesmith. To the best of my knowledge nobody has accused Dylan of snatching the melody for Tangled from another source. Many of his classic songs are "based" to a lesser or greater degree on folk melodies but there are others that are entirely original and Tangled is one of them. It's a perfect marriage of music and lyrics and while it wouldn't be as brilliant with other words attached it's definitely not a case of poetry propping up a substandard melody.

I really love Tangled's lyrics by the way. I mean really love them. I can't explain why lines like "Some are mathematicians, some are carpenter's wives" are so perfect but I know they are. They're unmistakably Dylan and even though he would tamper with them in later live renditions they're triumphant in their original, and deliberately baffling form. Much of the appeal of Tangled lies in the fact that the narrative perspective switches around so we can't tell if Dylan is singing in the first person or the third person which sounds a bit crap as an idea but makes the song so much more intriguing in practice.

Tangled on its own would be enough to carry the album (it's better than Forever Young which was Planet Waves standout track and was so good Dylan included two different versions) but it's far from the album's only highlight. Simple Twist of Fate is one of Bob's best slow ballad songs and tells a story that is so much more than a simple love song.  Idiot Wind is a magnificently scathing and vitriolic song that rivals Like a Rollin Stone or Don't think twice it's alright in its bitterness and would overtake them completely if it wasn't for Dylan's declaration that he's an idiot as well. The final act of outright genius on Blood is Shelter from the Storm which gets under your skin and shakes you around. It's essentially another break up song in an album which is full of them (nobody believes Bob when he says he didn't write it about his failed marriage) but its images are apocalyptic, messiah-like and downright scary at times but beautiful at others. You could spend months alone with this song dissecting its meaning and at the end you might come to some understanding but a part of you might die as well as you looked into its blackness.

Tangled, Simple Twist, Idiot and Shelter make up the four great moments on Blood and they're all classic Dylan songs and arguably the best tracks released in 1975. They're well supported by You're a big girl now, You're gonna make lonesome when you go, Meet me in the Morning, If you see her say hello and Buckets of Rain which would have been the standout track on any album Dylan released for the next decade. In fact only the overlong Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts, which doesn't deserve a quarter of it's running time, let alone a full 9 minutes, isn't at least very good.

Blood on the Tracks marks the moment when Dylan reconnected with his muse and proved to children of the seventies why he was such a big deal in the sixties. His muse would abandon him again for a while in the future but anyone who thinks Bob is a part of the hippie decade and never survived outside needs to hear 1975's Blood on the Tracks. And then follow that up with 1989's Oh Mercy and then everything he's released since 1997.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Zimmerman? Zimmerframe more like, you cactus-faced crock of cack."

-Oh shush, foolish person.

So are you happy this blood was shed? Let me know below.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

17 Nevermind (1991) Nirvana


1. Smells Like Teen Spirit
2. In Bloom
3. Come as You Are
4. Breed
5. Lithium
6. Polly
7. Territorial Pissings
8. Drain You
9. Lounge Act
10. Stay Away
11. On a Plain
12. Something in the Way


There have been a few albums which have totally changed the world. Their appearance completely revolutionised music as we know it and left an altered state in their wake. They grabbed what we knew about popular music and shook it up and battered it around and everyone knew nothing could be the same again. It wasn't subtle, we didn't need ten years and the benefit of hindsight to see it happening, we watched music change before us and knew we were part of a revolution.

I wasn't actually born when a lot of these changes occurred. When Elvis, The Beatles, Dylan, Zeppelin and others dropped their respective bombshells I was yet to trouble the planet in any way. When the Sex Pistols tore music apart in the last seventies I was only four years old and it would still be years before I listened to anything that wasn't created by Jim Henson.

But Nirvana's bombshell I was definitely around for and I remember the impact well. In 1991 I was 18 and had lived through the eighties and knew I was being shortchanged. I had realised that previous generations had great music and I had to put up with synth pop and hair bands. I was acutely aware that with a few exceptions (thanks Midnight Oil, thank you now and always) most music from the decade of my formative years was more than a bit naff.

I remember things like Poison's Unskinny Bop being what we thought Modern Rock and Roll was. It had all the ingredients music needed at the time: Handsome guys with big hair. That's what the decade was basically all about.

And then Nirvana came along and stuck a massive boot straight though our musical TV screens. I can remember a time when Smells Like Teen Spirit was everywhere. It was on TV and radio all the time and people were playing it in their homes and singing it in the streets. I'm sure looking back on it now I'm over romantacising the time and there must have been some people singing something by the Carpenters but in my memory it was everywhere and we loved it.

Being 18 at the time I was part of the generation that the song apparently spoke to. People have held it up as an anthem for a generation and something that spoke to us and moved us in a way that we hadn't been moved before. It summed up Generation X apparently which I personally think is nonsense. My friends and I didn't respond to Smells Like Teen Spirit because it expressed our feelings in a way that we couldn't. We didn't think we'd finally found an outlet for our angst and frustration which somehow wasn't being conveyed in whatever the hell Unskinny Bop was about. We just liked it because it rocked.

And Smells Like Teen Spirit definitely rocks. Those opening chords are fantastic and the sound is just unbelievably powerful. That onslaught of grunge intensity made us all realise just how anaemic hair bands really were. They didn't have attitude, they had stylists, but Nirvana looked like they would physically assault anyone who came near them with hair spray. I didn't know what the lyrics were at the time and still don't but I knew that stomping drum beat was the sound of three guys jumping up and down on the grave of Poison's career and I thanked them for it.

You'd be forgiven for thinking I'm a massive Nirvana fan. The truth is I never actually bought a copy of Nevermind and have never heard it all the way through before now, more than two decades after it was released. I liked Smells Like Teen Spirit and enjoyed hearing it on the radio and I'm forever grateful that it existed but it never moved me enough to buy it.

There's no doubt that listening to Nirvana twenty years after its initial release makes you appreciate that unlike a lot of things that demolished music (the Sex Pistols most notably) they don't sound stuck in their era. You could play one of the lesser known tracks, Polly for example, on the radio today and nobody would immediate think it was a 90's song that should have stayed there. There's nothing that dates it badly or holds it back. And it doesn't have the traditional grunge sound that makes it immediately recognizable. Polly features acoustic guitars and harmonies and is quite a pretty melody when you get down to it.

When Rolling Stone magazine listed the best albums of the 90's at the end of the decade, they put this at number one with Radiohead's OK computer at number two. Years later they revised the list and swapped them over to put Nevermind in second place. Regardless of which is best there are definitely similarities between the two bands. They both appear to operate with a total disregard for any genre classification or rules. Neither band really cares what you think they should sound like and what category record shops put them in. They're both they're own genres and they both arrived at that point by absorbing a huge range of musical influences. The members of Nirvana have talked about being huge devotees of both Punk and bands like Led Zeppelin which Punk was a reaction against. They enjoy alternative rock like The Pixies and a lot of the Heavy Metal bands that The Pixies were supposed to be an alternative to. They're just three guys who devour the music they like and let it create something new without really trying.

The result really does deserve to be held up as one of the great rock albums of all time. Cobain is a talented vocalist, the band creates a fantastic sound and more importantly there's some great songwriting on offer. Tori Amos proved that Smells Like Teen Spirit didn't need the power chord and volume to work, it thrived with just her piano and a voice to propel it. Come as you are, In Bloom and Polly are all great pieces of writing and brilliant songs in their own right.

The massive success of Nevermind delighted the record company executives but made Cobain decidedly uncomfortable. He quickly wanted to turn his back on the image they'd created. It's hard to know what Nirvana might have sounded like had Kurt not taken his own life a few short years after this album was created. They might have sounded like the Foo Fighter do now, or it's possible they'd still be playing somewhere debuting new music to smaller and smaller crowds disappointed at Cobain's refusal to play anything from their glory days. Sadly we'll never know, but this album does stand testament to a massive talent who deserves our thanks for helping to drive a knife through the heart of eighties music.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Better yet, go check out some classics like Van Halen (Sammy Hagar era - I don't think we have to get into that other dork and his pathetic shtik). Now there's someone that knows how to take a guitar and make it go "neeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeer-wah-wah-wah-wah-wah-diddly-diddly-doodley-doooooooooo!!!!!"."

-I love that solo! That's a great song!

So is this great or... nevermind? Let me know below.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

18 Born to Run (1975) Bruce Springsteen


1. Thunder Road
2. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
3. Night
4. Backstreets
5. Born to Run
6. She's the One
7. Meeting Across the River
8. Jungleland

This countdown has given me an excellent opportunity to assess several artists that I've always respected but never actually enjoyed, and discover what it is that's keeping me from appreciating them. With Joni Mitchell and Van Morrison it's their voice, with David Bowie it's his production and with Bruce Springsteen it's that face he pulls when he goes shouty.

Actually it's not the face as much as it's the voice he's using and the mood of the song. There seem to be a lot of songs in Springsteen's repertoire which see him take the microphone and shout a big line while the band swells behind him and the volume rises and it gets faster and its all big and bombastic. While this is happening, Springsteen makes a face. I have no problem with his face or any particular expression it pulls. I'm okay with Springsteen's features it's just a visual representation of a Springsteen musical mood that I just don't get. I'm not 100% sure why this is. I have no trouble with loud rock and roll and many of my favourite artists have big voices which they're not afraid to use. When Daltry gets screamy I get chills, when Springsteen gets shouty I get kind of bored.

It might be in part because it seems like a technique that Springsteen tends to over use. He does it a lot and to be honest every time I hear Springsteen from this era I'm just waiting for it come along. Even when a track starts off slowly, I'm still anticipating a build up towards the moment when the band turns everything up to 11 and Bruce gets shouty and pulls the face. I passed every song on Born to Run through the "Does it have Shouty Face Bruce" test and the following are my results...

Thunder Road? Yes. It gets their eventually.

Tenth Avenue Freeze Out? He gets there within the first minute even if the the band don't go with him.

Night? Doesn't go all the way to 11 until the final minute when it definitely approaches ten.

Backstreets sounds like it will never get there because it starts with a gentle piano but by the halfway mark he's well and truly shouting.

Born to Run? Hurtles there within the first minute and pretty much stays there for the entire track. The video clip is one of the best visual depictions of the shouty face you're likely to find.

She's the one?  Another faker, it starts nice and gentle but builds again and by three minutes in he's shouting to compete with a saxophone solo.

Meeting across the river? No. Bruce starts gentle and despite spending the whole song looking like it's going to suddenly launch into 11 territory it says toned down.

Jungleland? With a nine minute running time you would think Bruce has longer to wait before he gets shouty but he's there before the three minute mark.

In other words pretty much every song on Born to Run except one has Bruce in shouty bombast mode after a brief but predictable musical climax. It's a trick that might be really effective once but when it's used on the majority of the album it tends to wear a bit thin.

I've discovered in my musical listening that my favourite Springsteen tracks are pretty much all his quiet and subtle ones. The Streets of Philidelphia, My Home Town etc are all really great songs. I like Bruce when he slows down and uses his fantastic voice as a subtle instrument not something to bludgeon the audience with.  He's got a great voice, writes a great song but for reasons I'm struggling to identify, he bores me a bit when he gets loud and shouty.

Before I started listening to his albums on this countdown, I would have struggled to answer if someone asked me "Do you like Springsteen?" I probably would have said I liked him as a person but not really as a performer. Now that I've delved into his catalogue more I can say I really like him when he's being subtle but I find him a bit dull when he puts his foot the floor and goes full bore.

Born to Run isn't my least favourite Springsteen album, but it's certainly one I don't need to hear again. Every song except one (and that's pretty dull to be honest) builds up to 11 pretty quickly and gets immediately tiring when it does.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Timing really is everything. When this album came out in '75, most of the people who had revolutionized rock in the 1960s and early '70s were either dead (Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison), in seclusion (John Lennon, Brian Wilson) or in a declining phase (the Rolling Stones). Meanwhile, Punk and New Wave were still a couple of years away on the horizon. The Bay City Rollers were probably Bruce's toughest competition. The contrast made this album look more innovative than it really was."

-That's actually quite an astute observation. Not sure I entirely agree but it's kind of hard to argue against.

So were you born to run or are you happy walking? Let me know below.