Tuesday, December 29, 2009

447. Q. Are we not men? A. No we are Devo! -Q. Are we not irritating? A. God yes.


Album: Q. Are we not men? A. No we are Devo!

Artist: Devo.

Year: 1978

Genre: Wank.

Tracks.

  1. Uncontrollable Urge
  2. (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction
  3. Praying Hands
  4. Space Junk
  5. Mongoloid
  6. Jocko Homo
  7. Too Much Paranoias
  8. Gut Feeling
  9. Come Back Jonee
  10. Sloppy (I Saw My Baby Gettin')
  11. Shrivel Up


“So can we have a recording contract please?”

“No. Your music is grating and repetitive.”

“You don’t think it’s quirky?”

“No, just annoying.”

“What if we wore silly costumes and flower pots on our heads?”

“Sign here.”

I seriously thought about making this review consist of just the phrase “This music is repetitive and annoying” printed in the most irritating font I could find and copied 500 times. While it would have been a perfect facsimile of Devo’s music but a huge cop out and so something I avoided.

Devo’s biggest hit is definitely Whip It, which became successful mainly due to the nasty video clip which features the lead singer of Devo whipping the clothes off a pained looking girl who ended up in revealing lingerie. It lacked taste and was therefore a pretty good representation of the song itself. I’ve always hated Whip It and wasn’t looking forward to coming across it when I listened to this album. To my relief Whip It doesn’t actually appear on Are We Not Men but to my despair there are loads of songs which are just as bad if not worse.

For some reason best known to their flower-potted selves the members of Devo decided to cover I can’t get no Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones. Obviously I’m a huge fan of the original track but that doesn’t mean I believe it should never be covered. I’m all for a quirky cover as long as it brings something new and worthwhile to the table. Hendrix didn’t just cover All along the watchtower he reinvented it with respect to the original. Devo do much the same with Satisfaction only without any of the talent. The problem is that Devo’s version isn’t a cover it’s basically a recital with unrelated backing. A key part of the original track is the riff which is just as memorable as the vocal lines. Devo decided to drop the iconic chords completely and replace it with the sort of electronic cotton-wool that pads the rest of the album. All that we’re left with from the original song are the vocals which are whined in an atonal nasal drone complete with sudden leaps up the register for no really compelling reason. I can’t describe how annoying this is.

For Devo fans (has anyone ever met one?) the biggest tracks on this release are Mongoloid and Jocko Homo, which is sort of a Devo fan's national anthem. The latter track was the single release from this album and the source of its title. In amongst the annoying noises and repeated riff that make up the backing wells a repeated question: “Are we not men?” bleats the lead singer in that nails-on-a-blackboard voice to which the rest of the band reply: “We are devo” in their best robot voices. Apparently this sort of tosh really goes off in concert. The fans just lap it up. I hate making judgment calls about a band’s fanbase but I can’t help but picture devo-tees as ever-so-slightly nerdy. They’re probably huge fans of Stephen Hawking, not just as a scientific thinker but also as a vocalist.

Mongoloid is a light-heartedly offensive song about someone with Downs Syndrome who apparently fits into American society so well nobody notices his disability. You could argue that their poking fun at the USA and not at those with Downs Syndrome but even as early as the seventies Mongoloid was considered a derogatory term. The instrumentation on this track and the entire album is simple and tedious stuff. I could go into any high school in the country and find teenagers who could play this stuff but I doubt I’d find anyone who would want to.

Taken as simply a comic satire, Devo probably have something to offer the world. They saw themselves as commenting on the Devolution of the Human race and their statements about the direction humanity is headed probably have some validity. Pity it sounds so damn awful.

Highlight: Kudos to them for sticking with the idea of looking like prannies for going on thirty years now.

Lowlight: The music.

Influenced by: Books. There’s your problem right there.

Influenced: New Wave. So it’s their fault.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I liked this when it first came out b/c I was 16. I was a rebel, wanted to be part of something different. This is their best work since the weirdness does get lame after a while.

Favorite song is Mongoloid...totally strange but rocking song. "Uncontrollable Urge" rocks (in a weird way) and Come Back Johnny is almost a conventional song. Satisfaction is completely unique but its not a good song. The group was obviously trying to do more than music and develop a KISS, multi media, making money kind of thing.

I saw them live (they were horrible) during their hey day. The most interesting thing about them is while other odd bands were eventually accepted and integrated into the mainstream, DEVO is still as odd of a group as ever. Mark Motherbough does a lot of soundtrack work (Rugrats) and you can hear the DEVO in all of his work.

Anybody that gives this novelty group 5 stars is cheapening what true excellent music is. DEVO came out as a Goof, not as serious musicians. They got big in the 70's b/c they were part of the new wave and kids (like me) were looking for alternative music that we can claim our own."

-Interesting review, I really like his point about five-star ratings. He gave the album two stars by the way.

So are you DEVOted to DEVO or Can't you get any satisfaction from their albums? Let me know below.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

448. In Color. Big in Japan.


Album: In Color.

Artist: Cheap Trick.

Year: 1977

Genre: Rock.

Tracks.

  1. Hello There
  2. Big Eyes
  3. Downed
  4. I Want You to Want Me
  5. You're All Talk
  6. Oh Caroline
  7. Clock Strikes Ten
  8. Southern Girls
  9. Come On, Come On
  10. So Good to See You


Cheap Trick were actually my introduction to Rock and Roll Music. While I can’t really claim they were what started my love of Rock they were definitely my first glimpse into a world I never knew before. So I suppose I owe them a huge debt of thanks.

I didn’t grow up in a Rock and Roll household. My parents were young (or at least younger) in the sixties and so should have been immersed in the music of the Beatles, the Stones and Dylan but instead they decided to avoid that world completely. My father is a classical music fantatic who dipped his toe into the world of Jazz but lost interest well before Miles Davis made it interesting. I grew up on a constant diet of Mozart and his contemporaries which instilled a huge respect for classical, baroque and romantic music but not anything like the devotion my father possessed. There was nothing remotely rocking in my house and so my exposure to electrified guitar music came from the television. I have no idea under what circumstances and what program it was but somehow as a young child I saw a clip of Cheap Trick performing Dream Police. “oooh,” said my (approximately) six year old brain “There’s a new and exciting world and I want in.” My interest was sparked and it wasn’t long before my love of Rock and Roll started.

At the time I thought the song was actually called Green Police which is probably why nobody knew what the hell I was talking about when I asked my friends about it. Having no disposable income and no control over the radio or television stations in my house meant I had no way of actually hearing the tune again so I was left with a maddening fragment of a song in my head and a desire to hear more. I don’t think I’ve heard Dream Police in it’s entirety again since and in fact I’ve never listened to a Cheap Trick album until now, thirty years later. (If you’re interested my honest answer to the “What’s the first album you ever bought?” question is Monty Python’s Contractual Obligation. Dull but true).

So In Color isn’t my introduction to Cheap Trick but it’s the first time I’ve actually sat down and listened to anything they’ve ever done. This puts in me sharp contrast with the entire of the nation of Japan who are apparently all Cheap Trick fanatics. It’s where their careers took off because for some reason America wasn’t interested in The Trick while the Japanese became pretty much fanatical in their adoration calling them “The American Beatles.” You can kind of see where they come from, while not as blatantly Beatley as Oasis there are definitely moments of fabness that peek through Cheap Trick's music.

But probably the biggest appeal in The Trick is the music which is deceptively simple and easy to replicate but hard to invent. When people heard In Color there would have been millions of teenage boys who would have said “I can do that! I can hit that note, I can play those chords and I have a friend who can play drums like that when he’s not stoned. We could do this!” And it’s true a lot of people could but the point is they couldn’t do it first. I could walk into my local high school and assemble a band who could do a pretty good cover of Clock Strikes Ten but I’d be amazingly lucky to find anyone who could write a song that’s as deceptively simple and yet catchy.

Ultimately In Color doesn’t really leave any sort of impression on me. It’s fairly disposable and lightweight, I’m sure it rocks out a party of American college kids and helps to bring the Japanese exchange student out of their shell but it doesn’t really stay with me for any amount of time. If I could travel back in time to meet my six year old self I’d say two things: firstly “It’s Dream police you dickhead” and secondly “Here’s a copy of Sticky Fingers, get this into you.”

Highlight: Southern Girls. A catchy tune which I’d describe as “highly agreeable” a phrase I have never used about any other song ever.

Lowlight: Big eyes “disagreeable” see explanation above.

Influenced by: The Beatles.

Influenced: X-japan and countless thousands of other Japanese rock bands.


Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Sit down, Jonas Brothers, this is Pop/Rock written and performed by young adults, NOT KIDS, for kids, not young adults..."

-That's great. Most people talk about "Adult music" but I've never heard anyone rave on about "Young Adult music" before.

So is Cheap Trick inexpensive rock or does it contain a wealth of riches? Let me know below.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

449. The World is a Ghetto- Make Love not War.


Album: The World is a Ghetto.

Artist: War.

Year: 1972

Genre: Funk.


Tracks.


  1. The Cisco Kid
  2. Where Was You At
  3. City, Country, City
  4. Four Cornered Room
  5. The World is a Ghetto
  6. Beetles in the Bog

If you’re going to take anything away from this album it will be the knowledge that the members of War used to have a close personal bond with someone named the Cisco kid. You will remember this information because the line “The Cisco kid he was a friend of mine” is repeated constantly throughout the album’s first track. In fact it’s almost the only lyric. Apparently this song was released as the album’s single which I find astounding because I got really sick of it after half it’s running length. If I heard it on the radio it would have me changing stations straight away. Frustratingly The Cisco kid appears to have grown into the Cisco Adult and he now makes computer network equipment which means my work place features the word Cisco quite prominently on a lot of our hardware, causing me to get this song stuck in my head several times a day.

The good news is that the album picks up dramatically from that point onwards. War have a great groove going and while they’re not exactly funk and not quite jazz and not really rock they clearly don’t care either way they’re just happy to play music and let music store owners worry about which category to put them in. There are loads of instruments, multiple percussionists, backing vocals and so much going on that it sounds like one of those albums that wasn’t made by a band in a studio as much as it was self-generated by a great party moved by a communal groove.

The highlight of the release is a song called City, Country, City which is a 13 minute instrumental and closes out the first side. It starts off with the casual saunter of a song that knows it’s got almost a quarter of an hour to play with so isn’t in any kind of rush. For a while it uses two contrasting music themes which are presumably supposed to represent the City and the Country. These motifs compete with each other throughout the song’s opening to represent the difference between life in the farmland and life in the big smoke. The rural setting is represented by a muted trumpet that sounds exactly like the one from the Sesame Street theme which plays a fairly tedious refrain over and over. The urban soundscape features a wailing sax with what sounds like an entire apartment block of percussionists grooving away in the background. Thankfully by about the three minute mark the urban sprawl has overtaken the pastureland and most of the rest of the track boogies and cooks making it clear exactly where the members of the band want to spend their time. When the sax gives way to a very funky organ you know that all the musicians in War (along with their good friend Cisco) prefer to hang out in the city where the action is. This is tasty stuff and couldn’t be more different to the album’s opening.

Sadly the record sort of drifts away on side two. It never dips as low as the opening track but it never reaches the highs of City, Country, City either. It’s like the interesting people left the party at the end of side one and the rest of the album was made by the people who didn’t know when to leave. It’s okay stuff but nothing to write home about.

Highlight: The city part of City, Country, City.

Lowlight: The Cisco kid is definitely no friend of mine.

Influenced by: James Brown, Miles Davis.

Influenced: Funk.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Qoute: "If you like music that is a good backdrop for a party or just hanging around the house or better yet washing the car this is a cd that will fill the bill.enjoy!"


-I love the ascending scale of appropriateness- it's good for raving... no wait, it's better for relaxing... no scrap that it's perfect for heavy domestic chores!


So Are you happy to declare war or would you rather negotiate a cease fire? Let me know below.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

450. Fly like an eagle- in space no one can hear you bootscoot


Album: Fly Like and eagle.

Artist: Steve Miller Band.

Year: 1976

Genre: Rock.


Tracks.


  1. Space Intro
  2. Fly Like an Eagle
  3. Wild Mountain Honey
  4. Serenade
  5. Dance, Dance, Dance
  6. Mercury Blues
  7. Take the Money and Run
  8. Rock'n Me
  9. You Send Me
  10. Blue Odyssey
  11. Sweet Maree
  12. The Window

Unless you’re a huge fan of Firefly you probably don’t think science fiction mixes well with country and western. It’s a fair bet you’re of the opinion that spaceships and intergalactic travel don’t play well with cattle drives and roadside diners. If you hold this view then perhaps you could mention this to Steve Miller.

The first track on Fly like an Eagle is a Spacey intro called Space intro. It’s one minute and eighteen seconds of tripped-out chords that sounds like the incidental music for an eighties sci fi movie. It sends a loud warning to the listener: “Warning! Here be Hippies!” You immediately assume that the Steve Miller Band are the sort of lads who not only believe that Aliens exist but they possess a potent form of love drug and believe in peace, harmony and the sexual revolution. Space intro bleeds into the album’s title track which continues with the synthesized space noises and follows it up with some hippie lyrics- “Time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping into the future.” Eventually the track subsides off into some more cosmic chordplay while the next song sort of ambles into the mix like a spaceship drifting into a movie-camera’s field of view.

The cosmic sounds prepare you for a journey into the far reaches of the galaxy. It's odd then that the trip appears to stop pretty abruptly in Tennessee. Two tracks later we’re singing about Grandpaw and Grandmaw, sons of a gun and hard workin’ in the noonday sun.

You get the impression that Fly like and Eagle is a concept album with a concept that didn’t make it past the first few tracks. Someone told Steve Miller that sci fi was big and anything spacey sold bucketloads. If he could drop his homeboy image and launch his sound into the stratosphere his albums sales would join him up there in the heavens. Consequently the first four tracks are full of references to stars, space, earth and planets while they ooze synth washes and even include the sitar, which everyone knows is the intergalactic traveler's acoustic instrument of choice. By the time the record reaches Dance Dance Dance Miller has clearly given up on the space image and come crashing to earth with a thud. Most of the rest of the album is light years away from the opening as the band firmly bases itself in the deep south with tales of cars and pretty girls accompanied by guitars straight out of Memphis.

The albums most famous track is Take the Money and Run which features protagonists named Bobby Sue and Billy Joe and is set in El Paso, a place that only exists in order to provide a cast of characters in western narratives. This track and the next one prove that Miller has a great voice for this sort of stuff. It’s hard to pull off Rocking Country if you haven’t got the right accent but Miller does it with ease. It only serves to highlight how wrong the opening attempts at Sci-fi sounded. David Bowie could have done it in his sleep but the SMB fall short.

Fly like and Eagle is a strange listen that tries to do two things but doesn't quite manage either. It would be much better if they’d ditched the opening Space intro and rerecorded the first few songs in the same style they finished the album. If you’re going to record a concept album then you really have to go all the way, there’s no point recording Fly like and Eagle when you could go the whole hog and record Fly like an S-series intergalactic Star Cruiser with Hyperdrive and Dual boosted thrust capacitors. But then why bother recording a sci-fi album at all when you’re clearly a great Rocking-Country band? What was the point? And why bring back the space-synths again on side two for a 55 minute track called Blue Odyssey? And why record a cover version of You Send Me, which is a song that only makes sense if it’s sung by a postcard?

I don’t think I’ll ever get these questions answered but either way I think you’re better off avoiding Fly Like and Eagle and instead picking up a Steve Miller Band Best of or a live album which features this releases high points without the cosmic trappings.

Highlight: Fly like and Eagle is actually not a bad track even if it does feature weird space-noodling and the line “Shoe the children” which sounds like “Shoo the children” until the next line puts it in context.

Lowlight: The last three tracks which really fall away completely and end the album with a whimper.

Influenced by: Merle Haggard and Neil Armstrong.

Influenced: Joss Wheedon and possibly some hillbilly’s from a distant planet who really groove to this sort of stuff.


Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Steve Miller rule"

-That's it. That's the entire review. A man of few words.

So does Fly Like and Eagle soar for you or is it just taking up space? Let me know below.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

451. Back in the USA- Episode two of Rocks’ strangest story.


Album: Back in the USA

Artist: MC5

Year: 1970

Genre: Rock.


Tracks.


  1. Tutti Frutti
  2. Tonight
  3. Teenage Lust
  4. Let Me Try
  5. Looking at You
  6. High School
  7. Call Me Animal
  8. The American Ruse
  9. Shakin' Street
  10. The Human Being Lawnmower
  11. Back in the U.S.A.

It’s often said that if you remember the sixties you weren’t really there. I don’t know what recollection the members of MC5 have of those heady years but it’s possible they can recall every detail which would back my theory that they weren’t present at all. While they’re allegedly a product of that great decade, MC5 don’t sound or behave like any sixties band I’m aware of. It’s not just that their name makes them sound like a hip-hop outfit it’s that their music makes them sound more like sixties throwbacks than a sixties band.

Even those who have never heard a song by MC5 know about their most famous minute in the son when they decided to open their debut album with the phrase “Kick out the jams mutherfuckers”. Today you’d be hard pressed to find a hip-hop album that didn’t contain a "motherfucker" on it somewhere. In some parts of the music community it’s basically a term of affection and there are rap stars who probably use it as a pet name for their own maternal parent. But back in 1969 it wasn’t done, but then neither was releasing a live album before you’d put out a studio album and MC5 did that too.


MC5 can really rock. The fast numbers on Back in the USA are all sensational and will have any self-respecting rock fan nodding their head in approval. If you don’t feel the need to air-guitar to an of the three lead breaks in Looking at you then you should have your fictional instrument confiscated. But if you want real proof that MC5 know how to boogie skip straight to the final track in which the band try to acquit themselves in the ultimate rock examination- a Chuck Berry cover. If you can pull off a cover by the guy who invented Riff-based rock then you can hold your head up high as a rock act. It’s harder than it sounds but MC5 give an outstanding rendition of Back in the USA which would have Chuck nodding in approval if he wasn’t busy being a creepy, antisocial, coprophiliac oddball.

The choice of Berry cover and the album title becomes more interesting when you contrast it with the self-penned American Ruse that occurs earlier in the album. Back in the USA is Chuck’s love song to his home country, it’s full of references to American places and how fabulous they are. American Ruse on the other hand gives us these lines:

“They told you in school about freedom

But when you try to be free they never let ya

They said "it's easy , nothing to it"

And now the army's out to get ya”

MC5 were known in their home city of Detroit as a politically active band with left leaning lyrics. I’ve never read any interviews with the band but I would believe the inclusion of Back in the USA isn’t ironic as much as it’s a genuine expression of the band’s feelings. I don’t hold with the idea that those who see fault in their home country are less patriotic than those who don’t. It’s possible to love your home nation while hating what other people are doing to it. MC5 strike me as political in the best sense- they know something is wrong and they’re prepared to sing about it but not preach or rub anyone’s nose in anything. And they’re also ready to have a good time.

Highlight: American Ruse.

Lowlight: Let me try. No, don’t try a ballad.

Influenced: Lots of punks apparently. This is often called proto-punk which is a term I don’t fully understand.

Influenced by: Little Richard, Chuck Berry, an influential and highly politicized manager and a producer who wished they were Bruce Springsteen.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: Kick Out The Jams and Starship are great albums. I love MC5, but this record is truely terrible. It sounds like watered down American Bandstand. I replayed it twice thinking, "this can't be the same group???" The only time that this album should be played is to end hostage situations.


-I wonder if somewhere someone has kept a list of albums that people have claimed would be good to end hostage negotiations. I'm guessing not because it would be a pretty big list if they had.

So are you glad to be Back in the USA or would you rather be anywhere else? Let me know below.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

452. Music- What a blandly descriptive title.


Album: Music.

Artist: Madonna

Year: 2000

Genre: Pop.

Tracks.


1. Music
2. Impressive Instant
3. Runaway Lover
4. I Deserve It
5. Amazing
6. Nobody's Perfect
7. Don't Tell Me
8. What It Feels Like for a Girl
9. Paradise (Not for Me)
10. Gone

And so we come to the publicity machine that is Madonna. With the possible exception of the late Michael Jackson, there is no one else on this list whose personal life is in danger of swamping their musical output. For every hit single Madonna has racked up she’s had a thousand headlines in the press for other reasons. Whether it’s featuring in her own hardcover book of softcore pornography; failing or succeeding in attempts to save the third world one adoption at a time; receiving critical canings for her acting attempts; marrying or breaking up with people less famous than herself; launching into X-rated tirades on talk shows or having religious epiphanies of a variety of flavours, she does tend to dominate the headlines. No matter how loud you crank her CD’s it’s hard for her music to rise above the volume of press chatter about her private life. The one thing that has kept Madonna a viable musical force rather than a tragic joke is her ability to always look like she’s in control. Unlike other female pop stars, Madge never looks like she’s basically a puppet having her strings pulled by record execs. She’s the woman in charge. It’s made her admired and respected by large sections of the record buying public but feared and loathed by lots of others who you get the impression are just waiting for her to make a massive musical mistake.

Music isn’t a huge mistake but it labours under the weight of some stylistic choices that set it up for a lot of flack. The first choice was to bring in a French music producer with an Arabic name, which was never going to go down well with the American record buying public who on the whole aren’t fans of the French or anything that even faintly resembles Islam. But the name wasn’t the problem as much as letting Mirwais Ahmadzaï dick about with her vocals. The production on Music is mainly electronic with percussion and instrumentation sounds that don’t come from any recognizable instruments. In addition to layering all sorts of sonic weirdness behind Madge’s vocals, Mirawais also used a vocoder to play with Madonna’s singing. I’ve never seen a vocoder but I’ve heard what they do so I imagine it looks like a small, sinister, black box with pentagrams in the side, bloodstains on a front and a faint sulphurous smell. Actually it’s probably not even a physical entity, it comes on a CD and gets installed on one of the many computers in the control room. Either way the end result is that Madge’s voice can be sped up, slowed down and made to do that digital burping thing where she holds a note and the vowel sounds can rise, fall or hiccup on the whim of the producer. What comes across louder than the actual vocals is the message that Madonna sends to her fans which is that she’s surrendered control over what’s going on. Her voice is Madge’s most concrete contribution to an album and when she lets someone turn that into yet another instrument to be manipulated it suggests Music isn’t a Madonna album anymore it’s a Mirawais release that she’s just doing session work on. It’s as much his album as hers anyway, he cowrote most of the songs, he worked as producer and he created all the background soundscapes- why should she get all the credit just because she looks better in the video clips?

Madge’s second biggest mistake was including her version of American Pie as a bonus track on the CD released in most countries. If you type “worst cover version” into google and then look at the lists it kicks up you will find Madonna’s American Pie on all of them. It’s a lifeless rendition of a much loved classic that sounds like someone going through the motions without really understanding what motions are actually required. Mistake number three was admitting that she didn’t want the version included on the album but was forced into it by Record Executives. Madonna should never admit that she did anything because Record Execs made her. It totally kills the “Madonna is her own boss” image which serves her so well. The minute she lets that pretense die she gets crucified by the sort of people who loathe her enough to vote American Pie among the worst covers of all time when there are far more heinous desecrations of much loved songs out there.

As to the music itself, Music is an attempt to blend pop and dance. I’d possibly call it “pance” music if only I wasn’t… actually scrap that, I’m going to have to call it pance music because I’ve typed it now and it’s made me giggle so pance music it is. I’m not really familiar with much pance music since I’m not really much of a pancer. I rarely pance to be honest and so I can’t claim to be much of an authority. But this strikes me as a better example of the genre although I think it works more effectively when it moves into pop territory than dance. I Deserve it allows Madonna the most scope to showcase her voice without Vocoder and it sounds pretty good, the girl can sing. Shame her clown of a producer decided what she needed in the background was the sound of alarms going off.

Highlight: The title track, which includes the only sung use of the word Bourgeois outside of a communist marching song.

Lowlight: The alarms going off behind I Deserve it.

Influenced by: European dance music.

Influenced: European Dancers.

Favourite Amazon Customer review quote: “Welcome to TeamLamb, an organized team of Mariah Carey fans. Our purpose is to keep Mariah, the biggest female musical icon of all time, on top.

Unfortunately, the no-talent ****, Madonna, is still being referred to as the "Queen of Pop," even though her most recent album, American Life, and her Reinvention Tour have really made her the "Queen of Flops." Madonna used to be successful, but that's because she slept her way to the top. Mariah, on the other hand, has sold millions of records based solely on her amazing talents and being a great role model.

Mariah has had sixteen number one singles. Her last two number one singles, "We Belong Together" and "Heartbreaker" have broken worldwide records everywhere. Mariah's most recent Charmbracelet tour was a critically acclaimed smash that played to millions all over the world. Roger Friedman, a well respected music journalist, called the concert one of the greatest he's seen in the past ten years. Mariah is, indeed, the biggest musical sensation since the Beatles.

Within the next couple months, Madonna will try to take away Mariah's crown by releasing "Confessions on a Dance Floor" along with the single, "Hung Up." There seems to be a lot of buzz , but most of it seems generated by Madonna's desperate, pathetic fans. TeamLamb will do everything we can to make this project a flop for Madonna. We will organize by calling radio stations and telling them how much we don't like her new songs, write letters to several magazines and confirm that she is, indeed, over, and spread negative messages about Madonna on several Internet blogs.”

-Weird. What’s amazing is the reviewer gave Music five stars. Talk about a mixed message.

So does this music make your people come together or would you rather turn it off? Let me know below.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

453 Ritual De Lo Habitual- Hard (to fathom) Rock

Album: Ritual De Lo Habitual.
Artist: Jane's Addiction.
Year: 1990
Genre: Rock.

Tracks.


  1. Stop!
  2. No One's Leaving
  3. Ain't No Right
  4. Obvious
  5. Been Caught Stealing
  6. Three Days
  7. Then She Did...
  8. Of Course
  9. Classic Girl

Hard rock albums are traditionally not slow burners. Nobody says things like: “I didn’t get ACDC at first but after really spending time with them I understood the subtleties. It just takes a couple of listens.” Hard Rock is a very immediate genre and you can tell if an album is a winner or not after about the first thirty seconds of song one. An exception to this rule is Ritual De Lo Habitual by Janes Addiction which is hard rock but not as we know it.

There’s a definite, if unwritten, set of rules for hard rock releases: simple lyrics about sex, drugs and rock and roll, basic song structures, melodic guitar solos, vocals with swagger and no attempts to subvert the genre. You can throw in some strings if you want a bit of extra pomp and if you feel like including a ballad or two that’s up to you. But don’t go varying from the format too much or your album won’t sell. That’s the current thinking but nobody thought to tell Jane’s Addiction who break all the rules. Songs seems to drop tempo's as if they have an expiration date and then suddenly move in a completely different direction. Riffs seem to compete with each other and strange overdubs and interludes totally transgress the Keep It Simple Stupid concept that usually serves Hard Rock so well.

The most commercially accessible thing on the album is the lead single Been Caught Steelin which is definitely a happy slice of funk and probably the best song about shoplifting since that old Cliff Richard number: “Shove a tube of jaffa cakes down your trousers.” It grooves along with some snappy drums and jangly guitars and Perry Farrell's really odd vocals. There’s something about Farrell that just doesn’t fit the hard Rock mold. He has high pitched tones and a strangely casual approach. Most metal singers feel the need to belt as if their life depended on it. Farrell often sings as if his mind is on something else, which is odd because the sudden changes in song direction would suggest a need to concentrate pretty hard.

While it was never a single, the strongest track on the album is the 11 minute epic Three Days which progresses it’s way through a range of moods and styles before it finally ends. There are enough ideas in this track to sustain most bands for an entire release and its definitely one of those songs that really explodes when it’s played at a high volume. If it’s shaking your walls then it’s rocking your mind. On the whole it’s a shame Jane’s addiction didn’t allow it the space to be the albums main focus. It comes hot on the heels of Caught Steelin and then segues into another long, but not nearly as memorable track. Three Days deserves to be the finale of the album by itself so it doesn’t get lost in amongst everything else that’s going on.

Ritual de lo Habitual has really grown on me. I like it more with each listen and even writing this review has made me more appreciative. Highly recommended.

Highlight: Three Days and Been caught steelin.

Lowlight: Then She did.

Influenced by: Led Zeppelin and a refreshing desire to not sound like they were slavishly imitating them.
Influenced: Again, not sure. I should probably look this up.


Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "this album is a major dissapointment. If it wasnt for the solid drum work, it would be completely USELESS. perry ferrel voice is already irritating enough without the excess reverb used to try to make it bigger sounding. "Three days" is 23hrs and 55 minutes too long, "been caught stealing" gives me a rash and "stop" makes me want to jump out of a window. Im all for bands who arent afraid to take chances with their music- i just think that this was one experiment whose funding should have been abruptly cut short"

-I've read a lot of Amazon reviews in my time but I've never heard someone blame skin complaints on an album before.

So do you share the addiction or would you rather be in rehab? Let me know below.

Friday, December 4, 2009

454. Getz/Gilberto- Blame it on the Bossa Nova.


Album: Getz/Gilberto

Artist: Stan Getz Jaoa Gilberto.

Year: 1964

Genre: Bossa Nova.

Tracks.


  1. The Girl from Ipanema
  2. Doralice
  3. Para Machucar Meu Coração
  4. Desafinado
  5. Corcovado
  6. Só Danço Samba
  7. O Grande Amor
  8. Vivo Sonhando

In theory I’m supposed to review these albums as if I’m hearing everything for the first time. Sometimes that’s easy because I am, but at times it’s near impossible when the music is so famous and iconic that I can’t actually conceive of a time when I hadn’t heard it. One such track is the first cut on this album: The Girl From Ipanema, arguably one of the world's most played songs thanks largely due to elevators, shopping malls and even those new hi-tech public toilets (which are designed to discourage drug use but play the sort of music that makes me want to get smacked off my nut on heroin). Ever since it’s inclusion as elevator music at the end of The Blues Brothers (and possibly before) The Girl From Ipanema has been held up as the archetypal muzac tune- a light ditty rendered soullessly inoffensive by a hammond organ and then pumped into a million locations throughout the world. While it’s just not possible for me to hear TGFI without thinking “not this bloody song again” when people bought this album back in 1964 most of them were hearing it for the first time. It had never been a tedious soundtrack to a vertical journey, it was the opening track on the album that introduced them to Bossa Nova.

Before it was just a preset rhythm sequence on a cheap electronic keyboards, The Bossa Nova was a musical craze that lasted for a few years in the mid sixties amongst people who were too old for the Beatles but too young for old Vera Lynn records. It’s slow, slinky, sexy music which was inspired by Brazilian rhythms and today is basically impossible to separate from attempts at seduction. I guarantee if you put this CD on in the background when you’re with one other person they will immediate expect you to make a pass at them. It doesn’t matter whether they person is of the same gender, a close relative or even deaf, the power of the seductive forces will make them assume you’re about to dim the lights and produce a bottle of champagne, two glasses and a novelty contraceptive. There is just something about that beat along with that sax sound that gets people out of their clothing. It must have been a bugger when played live in clubs, entire groups of punters would have found themselves nude at the end of the set with no recollection of ever undoing a zip. One minute they were the a collection of fully clothed jazz fans and a quick sax solo later they were starkers and loving it. It’s that sort of music.

It doesn’t help that the vocals are mainly sung in Portuguese which I’ve discovered is as sexy as Spanish and French combined. I’ve never heard any other music sung in Portuguese before which I assume is because the entire country is too busy pleasuring each other to record music. They probably start trying to record an album but get halfway through the vocal track and just start pairing off. It’s darn sexy stuff.

Complimenting the vocals of Gilberto is Stan Getz’s saxophone which is always played with that slow languid muted tone. No atonal squeaking here just melodic runs that positively purr, laid over the top of a guitar and steady beat. Throw in the occasional piano and female vocals and the combined result is just the sort of thing I can imagine going down really well in the hip and groovy sixties.

Of course the problem is the first track. I’ve tried to be open minded and objective and I still can’t consider it anything but annoying. Its major problem is probably the lack of variation. The song starts with a male Portuguese rendition of the famous “Tall and thin and young and lovely/ the girl from Ipanema goes walking…” lines. It’s repeated two more times before the chorus bit kicks in. Then it’s sung all over again in English before the sax arrives and basically plays the same lines just in case you missed it. Finally a piano does it all over again and then it’s sung in English once more. I’m sick of the song from hearing it as muzac for years but it’s a wonder people didn’t tire of it after the first listen. It’s repetitive stuff.

Thankfully there is more variation in the rest of the album which snakes and grooves along like jazz in a tight skirt.Give it a listen but only if you're prepared to jump on top of anyone else in the room.

Highlight: That sax tone.

Lowlight: You know who from you know where.

Influenced by: Sambas and Rhumbas and other such things.

Influenced: A lot of people out of their clothing.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: “It makes me cry ,crazy and lazy!”

-Okay so it doesn’t have an unbridled erotic power for everyone. Apparently some people become sobbing, deranged and lethargic. Like a weeping homicidal maniac who can’t be bothered killing anyone.

So do you wish this album would just bugger off to Ipanema or do you...hey, stop that! Get that tongue out of my ear! Put those clothes back on! Let me know below.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

455. Synchronicity- Yes, you’re right, it’s a very pretentious title.


Album: Synchronicity.

Artist: The Police.

Year: 1983

Genre: Pop.

Tracks.

  1. Synchronicity I
  2. Walking in Your Footsteps
  3. O My God
  4. Mother
  5. Miss Gradenko
  6. Synchronicity II
  7. Every Breath You Take
  8. King of Pain
  9. Wrapped Around Your Finger
  10. Tea in the Sahara

Some rock stars are well-read individuals who digest the great thinkers and share their own insights with the record-buying public through the medium of song. Literature and Rock may make strange bedfellows but you can see examples in any CD store- Dylan and poetry, Bono and the Bible, Robert Plant and Tolkien, Motley Crue and old issues of Hustler- the written word speaking to the song lyric. One individual who feels the need to share the contents of his bookshelf with the world is Sting especially when his reading matter of choice concerns tantric sex.

But before he could wank on for hours about how he could shag for days, Sting was a member of the Police and inflicted his reading on the rest of us. At the time he was obviously into Jung and the theory of Synchronicity- which, lets be honest, is basically just a lot of tosh about coincidence. Synchronicity is best defined as “a pointless attempt to find meaning in random chance” but it’s the sort of thing that it’s easy to get romantic about if you’re a thirteen year old girl- or Sting.

You may have gathered that I’m not Sting’s biggest fan and you’d be correct. Well spotted. I’ve got no problem with his voice or his music, it’s the fact that he’s just so damn pretentious and smug. He’s like the Anti-Keith Richards. If you ask Keith about the deeper meanings and hidden subtexts in his songs he’ll smirk at you in his heavily-creased way and say something like: “It’s just a fuckin’ song man.” Suggest to Sting that his music is just a song and he’ll try and persuade you that in fact you’ve missed the eighteen extra levels and the importance of what he’s trying to do. If there’s one thing I can’t abide in a rock star its smugness.

Anyway the point of this review isn’t to take pot shots at Sting it’s to review Synchronicity which is one of those albums that falls into the “Band falling apart” category. A last gasp by a group of musicians who can’t bear to be in the same room as each other. The fact that Sting is a prat and the band was falling apart is one of those amazing coincidences that Sting would probably call Synchronicity but the rest of us call inevitable. Copeland and Summers couldn’t stand their lead singer and refused to have anything much to do with him. Consequently the songs that make up this album are either Sting songs or songs by the other two

Copeland’s song is called Miss Gredenko which is actually rather good. It’s quirky and catchy and a lot of fun and makes me realise that Copelands contribution to the sound of Oysterhead (the best post-Police release by any of it’s members) was more than just as a drummer. Summers' song is called Mother and it’s just appalling. There are those who believe it was his genuine attempt to sabotage the release by writing the worst song he could. Certainly the shouted lyrics don’t fit into the rest of the album at all and it’s the sort of thing that should be tucked away at the record's end rather than in the middle of side one where the hits normally go.

Although it pains me to say it, some of Sting’s songs are actually rather good. Every step you take is justifiably held up as a classic. It’s a great song even though it has incredibly creepy lyrics. I’d never really paid attention to the words before but if you listen closely its less about love and more about obsession and stalking. It’s not a narrative tale that could ever end happily. The other songs aren’t as good but they’re in roughly the same vein: catchy, melodic pop occasionally ruined by daft lyrics. Walking in your footsteps is a painfully bad attempt to link humankind’s ability to destroy itself with the mortality of the dinosaurs. I’m hard pressed to pick the most stupid lyric, it’s a close call between

“Fifty million years ago
You walked upon the planet so,
Lord of all that you could see
Just a little bit like me”

And…

“Hey Mr. dinosaur
You really couldn’t ask for more
You were god’s favourite creature
But you didn’t have a future

Or possibly…

“You were built three stories high
They say you would not hurt a fly
If we explode the atom bomb
Would they say that we were dumb?”

It’s a tricky call, you decide.

If you can overlook Sting’s pretentiousness and the amazing coincidence that there are two songs on this album called Synchonicity then there is actually something here to enjoy. The problem is just how hard it is to overlook the smug.

Highlight: Every breath you take

Lowlight: Mother

Influenced by: Reggae (although less so than their previous releases)

Influenced: Sting’s solo career.

Favourite Amazon Customer review quote: “Why no one likes "Mother"? It's like "On The Run" on Floyd's "Dark Side Of The Moon" or "Tomorrow Never Knows" on the Beatles' "Revolver": very very weird, but it gives a new perspective and meaning to the album and makes it worthwhile.”

-Whoah! Hold on there just a second. Comparing Mother to Tommorow Never knows. Are you out of your mind?

So what do you think- is Sting a Prick or do you find the Police Arresting? Let me know below.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

456- Third Sister Lovers- Sorry, what?


Album: Third/Sister Lovers.

Artist: Big Star.

Year: 1974

Genre: Pop.

Tracks.


  1. Stroke It Noel
  2. For You
  3. Kizza Me
  4. You Can't Have Me
  5. Nightime
  6. Blue Moon
  7. Take Care
  8. Jesus Christ
  9. Femme Fatale
  10. O, Dana
  11. Big Black Car
  12. Holocaust
  13. Kanga Roo
  14. Thank You Friends

This is without a doubt the strangest damn thing that has passed onto my MP3 player in a long time. I thought this album was strange when I first encountered it, stranger when I listened to it and stranger still when I read about it. I naively assumed before I went into this blogging project that there wasn’t much that could surprise me. I thought every release (with the exception of some rap and hip hop) would be by an artist that I was at least familiar with. I might not own the album but I’d know a song or two and at the very least have heard of the artist. Imagine my surprise when Big Star came along- a musical act who were completely off my radar. An album that has been around almost as long as I have, by a band that’s been on the planet for longer than I’ve lived, but I was completely unaware of. It was a novel experience putting in my earphones in order to hear a release with no preconceptions, a completely fresh listen.

Third Sister Lovers is as weird as its title would suggest. It’s just a massive big bucket of odd with trappings of strange and a healthy dose of bizarre just to keep things interesting. But not in a Trout Mask Replica kind of way more in a “lets-not-adhere-to-any-rules” sort of way. I started to get a handle on the album a few tracks in when I finally recognised a song. It was a cover of Femme Fatale by the Velvet Underground and suddenly it all made a lot more sense. This is the sort of music that fans of Cale, Reed and Nico make when they’ve got recording contracts and melodies in their heads. Listening to this album you can formulate an image of the musicians as bohemian beatnicks who grew up in a freak community and found the Velvet Underground as their musical saviour. They started life performing 30 minute versions of Sister Ray and bemoaning commercial radio and pop music in general. Except that’s not the case. Lead singer and Prime Mover Alex Chilton was actually a member of the Blue-eyed Memphis soul/pop group The Box Tops who were clean cut young lads performing songs with titles like Choo Choo Train and I Met Her in Church. Chilton moved from those squeaky clean early days to take residence somewhere out in left field. He released two albums with his new band Big Star which didn’t sell well and then finally this record which was regarded as so uncommercial it sat unreleased for four years.

While Chilton may have embraced some of the musical directions of the Velvets he certainly hasn’t adopted their lyrical obsession with drugs and sadomasochism. Lou Reed penned a song called Jesus which you won’t find being adopted by mainstream churches anytime soon. But Jesus Christ by Big Star is an honest-to-god Christmas song. “Jesus Christ was born today, Jesus Christ was born” is sung without a hint of irony and wouldn’t sound out of place on a Christmas music compilation (It's probably on one somewhere). The rest of the album seems to be obsessed with sad themes and despair and the occasional moment of bafflement. What does Kizza Me actually mean?

Musically Third Sister Lovers roams merrily around genres without ever settling on one in particular or seeming to care. At times Chilton’s voice sounds eerily like a George Harrison impersonator searching for a tune. The guitars sound positively supernatural, ranging from ghostly to possessed, the strings drone and at times the backing vocalists sound like talented amateurs while at other times they just sound amateur.

There are melodies but nobody seems to know what they are.

You get the sense that the strings were arranged based on a visual aesthetic more than an aural one: “I’ve arranged the strings, all the violas are sitting in a straight line while the cellos have adopted a V formation”.

There are horns/woodwinds but they’re not played as much as engaged in combat, at one stage a clarinet player is physically attacked by his instrument which he clearly enraged at some point during the session.

The percussion wanders around with a sense of randomness not often found in mainstream drumming. At the end of Kangaroo there is a sudden burst of cowbell which is mixed in at a higher volume than anything else. It doesn’t sound like the deliberate act of a musician as much as the sudden entrance of a passing madman with a cowbell, or possibly even an actual cow.

All of this might make you believe I don’t like this album. In fact nothing is further from the truth. I should hate it but I don’t. Something about it sort of works, not in a “greater than the sum of its parts” way more in a “defying the impossible odds” way. A bit like the world’s must beautiful car crash, or a massive industrial accident that somehow resembles Michelle Pfieffer, it shouldn’t work but it does.

Either way I can say without a shadow of a doubt that this is the greatest album with a Christmas song and Nico cover ever recorded by an ex-boy band member and then left unreleased for almost five years.

Highlight: You can’t have me. Some truly great drumming moments and worth searching out.

Lowlight: I thought it was Kangaroo but according to everyone else it’s the best song.

Influenced by: disillusionment with a record label.

Influenced: Primal Scream and Radiohead.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: “It behooves us to examine the hit songs released in 1974, and see where rock and roll could have gone without this album and the intelligent fan base of aficionados and critics which have sustained its legendary status until the consciousness of the world could catch up. Here then is a list of top radio hits from 1974; it is not a pretty picture: "Smokin' In The Boys Room" - Brownsville Station, "Waterloo" - ABBA, "Billy, Don't Be a Hero" - Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods, "Already Gone" and "Best Of My Love" - The Eagles, "Kung Fu Fighting" - Carl Douglas, "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet" - Bachman-Turner Overdrive, "Can't Get Enough" - Bad Company, "Shang-A-Lang" - Bay City Rollers, "Midnight At The Oasis" - Maria Muldaur, "I Honestly Love You" - Olivia Newton-John, and of course, the most horrific cloying noise that vaguely resemble music ever recorded..."(You're) Having My Baby" by Paul Anka & Odia Coates.”

-You have to love anyone who introduces research with the word “behooves.” Good for you.

So are you a third sister lover lover or do big star just kizza you off? Let me know below.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

457. For Everyman- Taking it very easy indeed.


Album: For Everyman.

Artist: Jackson Browne

Year:1973

Genre: Unchallenging listening.


Tracks.

  1. Take It Easy
  2. Our Lady of the Well
  3. Colors of the Sun
  4. I Thought I Was a Child
  5. These Days
  6. Red Neck Friend
  7. The Times You've Come
  8. Ready or Not
  9. Sing My Songs to Me
  10. For Everyman



There’s a song on For Everyman that I think sums up the situation rather well. It’s called Ready or Not and it’s about a young man who is forced to give up his carousing ways in order to settle down with the woman he’s knocked up. Ready or not he has to change from his life as a bit of a Rock and Roller to more of an Adult Contemporary individual. If you’re at that point in life where you’re starting to settle down and embrace your approaching middle-age then Jackson Browne might be just the thing for you. If you’ve got a CD collection that leans towards Rock music (some Stones, The Clash, copies of Dire Straits albums you don’t recall purchasing) and you want to move your tastes more towards easy listening then Jackson Browne might well be the perfect transition point. Treat him like training wheels for your middle-aged music tastes.


That’s not to say Jackson Browne is boring, he’s just not really that interesting. He’s not so much Rock and Roll as Sway and Wobble. He’s a musician that you could happily take home to visit your mother, she wouldn’t be offended, in fact it’s possible she wouldn’t even notice. The general feel on For Everyman is laid back and easy. It’s a fair bet all guitar solos on this album were played sitting down. It’s music for the back porch with all the urgency of a tectonic plate drift.


The most widely recognized song on For Everyman is Take it Easy which was written by Browne but a huge hit for the Eagles, who are another band that you’re mother would be happy to meet but struggle to recall the next day. Browne was generous enough to give Take it Easy away which means by the time he came to record it for this album everyone who cared knew it already.


The other standout track is the up tempo rocker Redneck Friend which kicks along at a reasonable pace thanks in part to Elton John who provides some rollicking riffs on piano. You know you’re album isn’t really rock and roll if Elton John is responsible for its heaviest moment. Other guests drop in to provide assistance to some of the tracks including members of the Eagles along with David Crosby and Bonnie Raitt who provide backing vocals but not so you could tell it was them. As an important footnote, Drums on this album were partly provided by Jim Keltner who may not be a name you recognise but has probably played more drums on the top 500 album list than anyone else. In fact it’s possible that Keltner is the one person whose performing features here more than any other artist.


The rest of For Everyman is basically Browne being laid back and oozing warm layers of inoffensive musical reflections full of yearning and contemplation. Jackson is the only guy on the planet who could cover Black Sabbath’s Paranoid and make it seem wistful. He just has a way of making everything come across as evocative of a time and place that I’ve never been but Browne seems to think I’m familiar with.


For Everyman is actually a fairly good title for this release. It’s probably has the same effect on pretty much everyone who hears it. Nobody is going to regard it as offensive and a painful listen but then I can’t see too many getting excited enough to actually raise themselves out of their porch chairs.Only 32 people felt moved enough by it to actually post a review on Amazon which is among the lowest for all the albums in the top 500. Four of those reviews gave the album 3 stars which is also fairly odd. Who logs onto Amazon to give an album 3 out of five stars? Traditionally all Amazon reviews are either five star raves or 1 star trashings designed to annoy the five star ravers and drop it's average rating down. Well here's to everyone who felt inspired enough by For Everyman to go out of their way to tell everyone they considered it slightly above average. Take it Easy.


Highlight: Red Neck Friend.
Lowlight: Our Lady of the well.
Influenced by: Furniture and the desire to record music without leaving it.
Influenced: The Eagles and the more laid back variety of singer songwriter.



Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote:
"I alluded to a song from this album, "Ready Or Not" in my review of Alvin & Mylon's "On The Road To Freedom." It's a interesting little ditty about his ladyfriend (please tell me it wasn't Darryl Hannah) turning up....pregnant. In the key of "E," Jackson tells us, "someone's gonna have to explain it me." Dude, if you didn't know then, you've only your folks (I guess) to blame. And there's a great version of "Take It Easy" on this thing too, yeah, THAT one that he wrote for the Eagles. A tad too...."mellow" for my tastes, but then there's a song, "Redneck Friend," which ain't bad. The pianist noted in the liner notes is - ahem - "Rockady Johnnie." Which translates to a still closted, not yet a "sir," Elton John. I just can NOT deal with Jackson Browne in all honesty; however, after hearing "Ready Or Not" while "similarily inclined," I guess I felt I had to run out in a buying frenzy and purchase the album. It ain't bad, but my wife's the only one of us who listens to it anymore. Go figure..."

-How fantastic is that? A three star review that takes itself so easy in the end he admits he doesn't actually listen to the album.

So is this release really for Everyman or not? Let me know below.

Friday, November 20, 2009

458. John Prine- High Country and Western.


Album: John Prine.

Artist: John Prine.

Year: 1971

Genre: Hippiefied American Folk.


Tracks.

  1. Illegal Smile
  2. Spanish Pipedream
  3. Hello In There
  4. Sam Stone
  5. Paradise
  6. Pretty Good
  7. Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore
  8. Far From Me
  9. Angel From Montgomery
  10. Quiet Man
  11. Donald and Lydia
  12. Six O'Clock News
  13. Flashback Blues

Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline reconnected a generation of musicians with traditional American music and allowed them to incorporate the sounds of country and western into their musical landscape. The Eagles, The Byrds, The Grateful Dead and others were able to marry their hippie ideals with the traditions of the American heartland and produce albums that some call country rock but I prefer to call Rope and Dope- songs about rural America and how much fun it is to experience while stoned.

Strutting into this genre in 1971 was a guy called John Prine who sounds like a country star with hippie values. His voice is Nashville but his lyrics are San Fransisco. He was happy to mix wild-west nostalgia with surreal imagery and anti war songs and comes away looking like a clever guy who has managed to keep a foot in both camps without alienating either.

The opening track on John Prine helps to set the tone. After a verse that establishes that he has the blues (including a great line about trying to stare down a bowl of oatmeal and losing) he comes in with a chorus telling us that it’s okay because he’ll be spending the evening with an “Illegal Smile.” Despite the fact that marijuana never gets a mention, it’s clear what’s giving Prine a reason to grin. The term Illegal Smile is now a part of hippie drug culture and Mr Prine managed to become a hero of a generation without alienating fans of country music who were happy to embrace his music.

Over the course of the album Prine gives us some protest songs, tragic tales of returned veterans, Dylan-like surrealism, high comedy, subtle sacrilege and some really great tunes. He also delivers a Country standard which you’ve surely heard somewhere. Angel from Montgomery is a fantastic song which I knew well from a dozen different covers but had never heard sung by its writer. It really is a beautiful song and while I probably prefer versions by Bonnie Raitt than its writer that doesn’t take anything away from Prine’s rendition which is just beautiful.

I have to confess that I had a very strange experience with this album. I listened to it for the first time on a Friday morning on my commute to work and enjoyed it a lot. By the time I returned home that night I’d heard it twice more and concluded it was great stuff. The next day I went down with Swine Flu and spent a period of days sick in bed with a high temperature. Throughout that experience I had lines from Prine’s songs repeating themselves over and over again in my head. My fever-addled brain had latched onto snatches of his music and decided that what I needed was to hear them as a permanent looping soundtrack to my global-pandemic induced illness. Most prevalent was the chorus of Pretty Good (“Pretty Good, not bad I can’t complain, but actually everything’s just about the same”) which seemed to be in my head every waking second of every day. By the time the virus has moved on to harass some other poor swine I can’t tell you how sick I was of hearing these lines. Music can definitely be evocative and your response depends on your experiences, so many people still love incredibly bad songs simply because they were playing while they lost their virginity (this is the only reason I can think of why anyone still has a fondness for Supertramp). My enjoyment of this particular song is possibly muted by my experiences but then it’s not fair to lay blame on John Prine just because the extra degrees of heat frying my brain chose to play his music as a soundtrack to my pain. But it speaks well of him that his songs are so catchy that I could sing them after only three listens.

Catchy sums up Prine well. His music is definitely catchy, his lyrics are witty and he’s a lot more fun than a dose of swine flu. I highly recommend him.

Highlight: Angel from Montogomery.

Lowlight: Hmmm. I’m struggling with this. It’s a very consistent album.

Influenced by: Bob.

Influenced: Loudon Wainwright III

Favourite Amazon Review Quote: "Illegal Smile" is a bouncy tune about trying to laugh when everything around you is going wrong.”

-Hmmm. I think you might have missed the point a bit.


So did Prine give you an illegal smile or do you think he should be arrested?