Tuesday, July 28, 2009

487. Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness- "Thanks to your gloomy, depressing music..."

Album: Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.
Artist: The Smashing Pumpkins.
Year: 1995
Genre: Hard Rock, grunge.

Disc One:

1. Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
2. Tonight, Tonight
3. Jellybelly
4. Zero
5. Here Is No Why
6. Bullet with Butterfly Wings
7. To Forgive
8. Fuck You (An Ode to No One)
9. Love
10. Cupid de Locke
11. Galapogos
12. Muzzle
13. Porcelina of the Vast Oceans
14. Take Me Down

Disc Two.

1. Where Boys Fear to Tread
2. Bodies
3. Thirty-Three
4. In the Arms of Sleep
5. 1979
6. Tales of a Scorched Earth
7. Thru the Eyes of Ruby
8. Stumbleine
9. X.Y.U.
10. We Only Come Out at Night
11. Beautiful
12. Lily (My One and Only)
13. By Starlight
14. Farewell and Goodnight

Probably the hardest trick to pull off in Rock and Roll is the double album. It was hard enough in the old days when a double involved four sides of vinyl but today an artist has to come up with at least two hours of music to fill two CD’s. Which is hard to do and almost impossible to do well. Rock’s most famous double release is The Beatles’ White Album, which I love dearly but would happily lose large chunks of.

The other great musical challenge of our time is “The concept album,” an attempt to integrate all the music on a disc within a single theme. Rather than just releasing a “here’s a bunch of songs I wrote” album, artists will attempt to release a “Here’s a suite of music that conveys a distinct narrative or join into a cohesive whole to undergo a synthesised exploration of a singular concept.” Amazingly the albums themselves are often a bigger wank than that description. Rock’s most famous concept album is Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon which is great, in stark contrast to every other concept album which isn’t.

The only thing that fills me with dread more than the phrase “concept album” is the expression “double concept album”. I can count the number of concept albums worth listening to on the fingers of one hand. I don’t need to bring the other hand into play to add the list of double CD albums that are worth owning. And in order to count the number of worthwhile Double-disc concept albums I have to return all my fingers into a clenched fist which I can then shake at the rock world with a general sense of frustration. Concept albums are about conveying a strong emotion. The irony is that one of the few things I feel strongly enough about to warrant two discs of music is the idea that nobody should ever be allowed to release a two disc concept album.

The Smashing Pumpkins seem to have fallen into the trap of believing that they have two CD’s worth of ideas when in fact they’ve got a lot of the same idea they’ve just lost the ability to self-edit. It makes for an especially difficult listen when their theme is: "the human condition of mortal sorrow.” Note the word “mortal” in there. This isn’t an album about feeling a bit mopey but over two hours of feeling sad to the point of near death. You might ask yourself who would listen to 28 tracks about anguish, despair and unfocused rage. The answer is teenagers. Nobody ever lost money underestimating the self indulgent anguish of the Western adolescent with a disposable income and an uncertain idea of his place in the social framework. Make your album angst-ridden and teenagers will be only to happy to be sad along with it, and pay you lots of money in the process.

The irony is that the band was probably feeling positively jubilant when they recorded this. “We’re gonna be so rich! I can’t wait. What are you gonna do with your millions? I’m gonna buy an entire house lined with mink and have butlers with mink uniforms and Mink couches so the whole house is just a great big fuzzy paradise like living inside an inside-out cat. It’s gonna to be so cool! Anyway what track are we doing now? Oh yeah Tales of a Scorched Earth. One two three!”

I think there is an album that I might quite like buried away in here somewhere. If they cut out 70 minutes of it’s 120+ running time there would be enough great ideas to sustain 11 or so songs, and the wearying sameness wouldn’t be so draining. Do we need the title track for example? Its three minutes of minor piano chords and despondent strings. Is it really bringing anything new to the rock table? While there are lots of strings, harps, pianos and other musical embellishments most tracks are basically guitar-angst songs with distorted chords and angry vocals. The best of these tracks (Zero, Bullet with Butterfly wings) have their impact reduced by lumping them in with lesser efforts like Porcelina of the Vast Oceans which takes a full nine minutes to go nowhere at all.

Rather than wading your way through the entire of Melon Collie I’d recommend checking out a Smashing Pumpkins best of. Some artists are badly served by compilations but groups like this which hide good tracks amongst lesser ones are really helped by a good cherry picking. And definitely check out Stephen Lynch’s Billy Corgan impression, it’s a winner: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tj7AzD7rTaM

Highlight: Probably Bullet with Butterfly wings. It’s the most memorable track.
Lowlights: The last hour or so.
Influenced by: Pain, anguish, despair, financial gain.
Influenced: having read the amazon reviews I’d say lots of really sad teenagers.

Favourite amazon customer review quote: “for the love of good buy this album!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

-if only you’d spent as much time proofreading as you did typing exclamation marks.

So do you think the Pumpkins are really smashing or is this infinite badness? Let me know below.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

488. Voodoo- Earth Wind and Fire for Generation Y.

Album: Voodoo.

Artist: D’Angelo.

Year: 2000

Genre: Neo-Soul (apparently)


1. Playa Playa
2. Devil's Pie
3. Left & Right (feat. Method Man & Redman)
4. The Line
5. Send It On
6. Chicken Grease
7. One Mo'Gin
8. The Root
9. Spanish Joint
10. Feel Like Makin' Love
11. Greatdayindamornin' / Booty
12. Untitled (How Does It Feel)

There are lots of similarities between D’Angelo’s Voodoo and Earth Wind and Fire’s That’s the way of The World. Both feature talented vocalists with emphasis on harmony, both use real instruments as backing, both have an uptempo song which works as the standout track and both are genuinely tedious.

Apparently Voodoo is a prime example of neo-soul music, which I think is like normal soul music only slower and duller. I really struggled through D’Angelo’s masterpiece which puts me at odds with the Amazon customer reviewers who seemed to suggest that this was the only CD in existence and was compulsory listening for everyone on the planet. They were either listening to a different album or else they saw things in it that I was missing completely. With only one exception it felt like every track was the same tempo. Songs lasted for seven minutes but felt like lifetimes as they maintained the some beat without much variation. D’Angelo crooned on about whatever was on his mind over a wash of his own backing vocals.

I just didn’t like Voodoo but that’s okay because you get the impression D’Angelo is loving it enough for both of us. I think it’s more than possible he’s got a bit of an ego on him. Look, I might be doing him an injustice but watch the video clip for (Untitled) how does it feel which features him wearing jewelry and nothing else. It’s a one-take rendition of the song in which D’Angelo stands nude in front of a black background. The shot is always carefully framed so you can’t see his Voodoo Chile but it’s clear he’s starkers. Full credit to the guy, he’s better ripped than a 320Kbs MP3. He’s obviously spent as much time on his body as his body of work and he’s determined we should share the benefits in the video clip as he poses and flexes and croons. It reinforces a view I formed when I was listening to the album- I think this was all written with the female audience in mind.

I didn’t enjoy it but I could appreciate that D’Angelo is a talented guy. He can sing and he’s no record executive creation. It’s his album and he receives songwriting, production and a lot of instrument credits. And when he doesn’t play himself he calls in experienced players to work with him. Spanish Joint is the albums up tempo number and it’s a jazzy little piece of funk with a great groove full of really tasty guitar licks. It’s a great moment that suddenly crops up at the end of the album to wake you up from the stupor the rest of the tunes induce.

Spanish Joint.
Lowlight: That point about Track seven when you start screaming “This is the same as all the other tracks. Please stop now!”

Influenced by:
Earth, Wind and Fire.
Influenced: Lots of women.

Best amazon customer review quote: “Voodoo is the slow burning flame, the cardshark that decided to slowplay his flush and get paid off in a big way on the river, the tortoise that beat the hare. Like the most special people, you are still learning new and exciting things about it after a year of being around one another.”

-I’m not following- how is the cardshark begging paid off on a river?

So do you Voodoo or would you rather Voodon’t? Let me know below.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

489. Guitar Town- How the west won me over.

Album: Guitar town.
Artist: Steve Earle
Year: 1986.
Genre: Country Rock.

1. Guitar Town
2. Goodbye's All We've Got Left
3. Hillbilly Highway
4. Good Ol' Boy (Gettin' Tough)
5. My Old Friend the Blues
6. Someday
7. Think It Over
8. Fearless Heart
9. Little Rock & Roller
10. Down the Road

Guitar Town, Steve Earle’s debut, is technically a country album but not country as I thought I knew it. It’s not wagon trains, cattle, campfires and whisky it’s Truckstops, rigs, jukeboxes and beer. It’s either countrified Rock or rocked-up country depending which direction of the highway you’re travelling down. And Guitar Town is all about travelling. It’s an album for people driving from places in the Deep South to other places in the Deep South, usually in a big truck hauling a huge case of the blues. It’s lonesome music for heading into the sunset to. In fact the only way to listen to Guitar Town is driving into the sunset. I imagine the west coast of America is crammed with Steve Earl fans who keep putting on his albums and just heading west into the sunset. “Heck I’d sure like to visit my folks back east but everytime I gets anywheres near I puts on Guitar Town and dang it if I don’t wind up back here again.”

If you feel so inclined the lyrics of Guitar town are a perfect opportunity to play “Southern Cliché bingo.” In fact let’s play a round now. Cards ready? Good. I’ll call out the words and phrases and you tick them off...
Tennessee? Check.
Chevy? Yep.
Grandaddy? Yep.
Pretty baby? You betcha.
One horse town? Of course.
Texas? Yep again.
Pick up truck? Darn tootin.
Interstate? Yep.
I got me a...? Oh yes.
Sad and blue? Bingo!

Fun isn’t it? Guitar town ticks all the musical clichés as well. The pedal steel guitar comes in just when you expect it to and the vocal inflections are all so damn yeehaw it takes all your willpower not to boot-scoot west into the sunset.
While I was listening to Steve Earle’s first album I have to confess to feeling guilty on two fronts. The first is that I was actually kind of enjoying it. Not loving every minute and thinking “where has this been all my life” but not hating it as much as I thought I would. I was originally disappointed not to find Copperhead Road (the only Steve Earle Song I know) on it but once I rallied from the shock and realised it was a country album all the way I actually didn’t mind it. The second guilt trip was when I laid a heavy load of preconceptions on it and its creator. I imagined Steve Earle as being the sort of guy who created music for his people in the south and not those Innerlectuals in New York or those Hippie-types in Californ-i-a. I was sure Earle was the sort of person who railed against those who railed against the Gulf war. I had him tagged as a right-wing, redneck making music for the similarly inclined. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that he’s actually a left-wing radical in the Springsteen camp. Earle might sound like a redneck but he’s much more hawk than dove.

Having overcome my preconceptions and prejudices I’m happy to declare Guitar Town an enjoyable listen, especially My Old Friend the Blues which is clearly the album’s stand out track.

Highlight: Actually not minding a country album.
Lowlight: Wondering why I was actually not minding a country album
Influenced by: All those old cowboy lads whose names I should know but don’t.
Influenced: Some really awful country artists who followed in his bootseps.

Favourite Amazon customer review quote: “Play "My Home Town" by Montgomery Gentry and then take it out and throw it as far as you can and put in "Guitar Town" and tell me who can write a song!”

-That’s a very specific set of instructions.

So is guitar town your favourite destination or somewhere you avoid completely? Let me know below.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

490. Entertainment- The most ironic title yet.

Album: Entertainment.
Artist: Gang of four.
Year: 1979.
Genre: Overly Earnest English political punk.


1. Ether
2. Natural's Not in It
3. Not Great Men
4. Damaged Goods
5. Return the Gift
6. Guns Before Butter
7. I Found That Essence Rare
8. Glass
9. Contract
10. At Home He's a Tourist
11. 5.45
12. Anthrax

When I started this blog I promised I’d give every album at least four listens all the way through. Every note, every lyric, four times. So far that hasn’t proved too difficult. There have been some releases I’ve reviewed that haven’t floated my boat but they haven’t sunk it completely either. Entertainment by Gang of Four was the first time I’ve really had to suffer during this experience.

Gang of Four are a bunch of English lads who are described by most people as post-punk. In other words they took aspects of punk and added other things, although I can’t help but think they actually took things away rather than bringing anything to the punk table. They seemed to do away with melody and vocal variation for a start. Almost every track on Entertainment is identical: abrasive guitars and monotone vocals with lyrics that suggest someone is taking the whole experience far too seriously.

Thatcher’s Britain politicized music in a way that no era has since and only the Vietnam War did before. Everywhere you looked bands were turning their back on love/sex/parties and other lyric staples and writing songs about political oppression. How can we dance when the miners are striking? How could you think about making love at a time when the country is being ruled by a despot? How could you possibly be having a nice time when the Iron Lady and her oppressive regime still runs the country?

During the Vietnam War, music was political but capable of having a bit of a giggle with it as well. In fact humour was often seen as the most effective way of getting a message across. Alice’s Restaurant by Arlo Guthrie is the most effective anti-draft song you’re likely to find and part of its impact is the fact that you’re laughing while the message hits home. Phil Ochs and Country Joe skewered the war with wit and their lesson was no less appreciated as a result. Bob Dylan made right wing anti-communist paranoia look totally absurd with Talkin John Birch paranoid blues and live versions show just how much his audience laughed along. But that sense of humour just doesn’t seem to be present in Thatcher’s Britain.

My personal theory on this is that in Nixon’s America comedians weren’t addressing the war while in Thatcher’s Britain alternative comedy was a very powerful force. While American protest singers didn’t have anyone poking fun at the war in a light hearted way those who lived under Thatcher had scores of Left-Wing comedians doing Thatcher gags. When you listen to 60’s protest songs you’re hearing the voice of the counter-culture, when you listen to Thatcher era protest music it’s only one voice in the choir of dissent.

The end result is bands like Gang of Four who are just so damned earnest. They take themselves so seriously so it’s hard to get involved when you don’t share their concerns. While the issues of Vietnam seem relevant in today’s political climate the problems Thatcher caused don’t seem relevant 20 years later in another country. When we’re all focused on renewable energies the plight of striking coal-miners doesn’t seem like a big issue. It’s from another world.

Gang of Four take their lyrics very seriously which makes it kind of hard for me to. When I hear passages like this...
“How can I sit and eat my tea,
with all that blood flowing from the television.
At a quarter to six,
I watch the news,
Eating, eating all my food
As I sit watching the red spot
In the egg which looks like
All the blood you don't see on the television.”
...from a track called 5:45 it just looks to me like bad teenage poetry rather that serious protest stuff. You can’t really take someone seriously when they use the phrase “bourgeois state” without irony. The whole thing just reminds me of Rik from The Young Ones, who is not someone you want brought to mind while listening to an album. “See the girl on the TV dressed in a Bikini/ She doesn't think so but she's dressed for the H-Bomb” Isn’t that a great lyric? Not sure what it says to you but to me it says: “we’re weighed down with the troubles of the world and looking down on you for not being as deep as us.”
I know comparisons to Husker Du aren’t all that helpful but it’s the only other Punk album I’ve heard all the way through and so my home base for a point of discussion. New Day Rising is a badly produced soup of joyful punk with melodies and hooks and things that made it infectious. Entertainment is much slicker in its production but lacks melodies or variation. The vocals are sung in a monotone and the abrasive guitars almost dare you to try and appreciate them. (The bass is great though, shame cool bass lines aren’t enough to save an album).

Listening to Entertainment (four times) I couldn’t help but feel that the band was suffering and wanted us to as well.

The basslines
Lowlight: Pretty much everything else.
Influenced by: The injustices being perpetrated on the citizens of the world by the fascist regimes of Thatcher and those like her.
Influenced: The Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Two of whom cast votes on this poll.

Favourite Amazon Customer review qute: “I can't think of any band so rough and refined, so young yet so right on, a perfect car crash... a crooning lover alone... bare as could be but fat as hell... from noise that couldn't have been intentional except that it's perfect, passed with melodies and chanting of melloncholly and outrage and anomie... something you can sing at the next political protest you attend from the bottom of your lungs to the top of your pallat so the whole godDAMNED WORLD CAN FUGGIN' HEAR IT!!! i have! and in denny hasterts' district!”

-To be honest when I first read this I thought the word “anomie” was made up but I googled it found it wasn’t. I’ve been educated.

So do Gang of Four provide Entertainment or not? Let me know below.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

491. All the young dudes- Bowie to the rescue.

Album: All the Young Dudes.

Artist: Mott the Hoople.

Year: 1972.

Genre: Rock with a twist of glam.

Track listing.

1. Sweet Jane
2. Momma’s Little Jewel
3. All the Young Dudes
4. Sucker
5. Jerkin' Crocus
6. One of the Boys
7. Soft Ground
8. Ready for Love/After Lights
9. Sea Diver

Apparently die-hard Mott the Hoople fans (who I hope to god call themselves Hoopleheads) don’t regard All the Young Dudes as the crowning achievement in the Hoople back catalogue. It’s not typical of their sound and a dilution of the true Hoople experience (I’m really enjoying typing Hoople, can you tell?) The blame/credit for the sound on Dudes, which makes it loved by Rolling Stone magazine but not by Hoopleheads, is down to producer/songwriter/svengali David Bowie.

From 1969 to 1971 M the H were a reasonably successful hard rock band who cranked out four albums with fantastic song titles like Death may be your Santa Claus and The Wheel of the Quivering Meat Conception. By 1972 they’d had enough and announced they were packing it in to pursue other interests and solo careers. But before Mott The Hoople could officially become Not the Hoople, David Bowie stepped in and announced he was a big fan. He wanted to be their producer and would gift them a song if they could settle their differences. The result was a new record deal and a huge selling album with a Bowie-written hit single.

There’s no doubt the Thin White Duke is all over Dudes. While the title song is the only one he wrote, a lot of the others sound like they could be his work. The production sounds Bowie-like and at times the vocals even sound like someone doing their best David impression. While his influence is everywhere it’s no more apparent than on All The Young Dudes, the song he wrote for them. Viewed from any direction you’d have to say that ATYD is a generous gift indeed. It’s a great song with a really catchy chorus that sounds almost as much like the Beatles as it does Bowie. If the author had decided to record it himself he would have had a number one hit but instead he gave it to someone else- Kudos to you Mr B.

Sadly the rest of the album isn’t strong enough to rise to the challenge laid down by their producer. The general sound is Stones-like but the band doesn’t have the riff-writing potential of a Jagger or Richards. The opening track is a cover of the Velvet Underground’s Sweet Jane, which is a bold move especially since they stole the chord progression for one of their own tracks (Jerkin Crocus) a bit later on. I would have thought that if you were going to plagiarize something it’s best not to lead-off with the original so people have a point of comparison.

They do however have moments of lyric writing brilliance. My personal favourite is on Jerkin Crocus which features the line: “I know what she want/ Just a lick of your ice cream cone.” Aha! I thought. That would be sexual innuendo. It doesn’t literally refer to the physical act of licking a frozen dessert. The “ice cream cone” is cunning slang that sneaks a sex act past the record company. While those of us clever enough to see hidden meanings can work this out, the Record Executives with their suits and ties and lack of imagination assume this to be a reference to the consumption of icy-cold treats. After hearing this my brain was finely attuned to pick up subtle innuendo and concealed lewdness. Imagine my surprise when a few lines later I heard “I know what she want/A judo hold on a black man’s balls.” What the hell happened there? Did the band struggle to find a metaphor for a woman with a martial arts grip on gentleman’s testicles or is “A judo hold on a black man’s balls” a cunning double meaning all of it’s own? And if so what the hell for? My mind just boggled.

I haven’t heard any of the earlier Hoople albums so I comment on the Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes that Bowie made to their sound but having heard All the Young Dudes I’m tempted to track them down. There’s a lot to like in this release and I’d like to hear more. And it would be great to be able to introduce myself to people as a Hooplehead.

Highlight: All the young Dudes. If you don’t know it (and you probably do) it’s worth hunting down.

Lowlight: The album does fade out badly when the band tries to slow things down.

Influenced by: David Bowie.
Influenced: Lots of English bands I’ve never heard of.

Favourite Amazon customer review quote: “I haven't a clue what Columbia was pressing their records on back in the 70's, but my copy refused to say "uncle" when used for either entertainment purposes or a jazz cigarette rolling kit.”

-I think you’d need more than jazz cigarettes to hear an album say uncle.

So is it all hail Bowie for bring Mott back from the dead or do you curse him for inflicting more Hoople upon us? Let me know below.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

492. Vitalogy- Where accordions and Grunge collide.

Album: Vitalogy.

Artist: Pearl Jam.

Year: 1994.

Genre: Grunge. Post Grunge. Metal


1. Last Exit
2. Spin the Black Circle
3. Not for You
4. Tremor Christ
5. Nothingman
6. Whipping
7. Pry, To
8. Corduroy
9. Bugs
10. Satan's Bed
11. Better Man
12. Aye Davanita
13. Immortality
14. Hey Foxymophandlemama, That's Me

By 1994 Grunge had exploded into the mainstream and then exploded out again. The 1991 release of Pearl Jam’s debut Ten and Nirvana’s Nevermind had made the world look to Seattle as a new Liverpool of musical talent. Fashion designers exploited Grunge as a new trend and even The New York Times was publishing articles about the “movement” complete with a list of Grunge slang terms which had been made up by a bored record sales-rep who was fond of a giggle. Within three years of the world taking notice, Kurt Cobain was dead and the grunge craze which the media had created was just as lifeless. When Pearl Jam recorded Vitalogy it wasn’t just their third album it was their first album in the post Nirvana world, and their attempt to prove they were a rock and roll band and not just one branch of a fad-tree that had just been felled.

In theory, Vitalogy should be a complete car crash of an album. If you wanted to put forward a checklist of events that produce dud studio ventures this release ticks pretty much all the boxes. Huge external pressure? Check. Fractured band ready to break up? Check. Punishing tour schedule forcing band to record during stolen moments? Check. Absent band-member’s place filled by his instrument tech? Check. Guitarist in and out of rehab? Check. Experimental use of piano accordion? Check. It should be a disaster but somehow all the rage and frustration caused Vitalogy to be a belter of a release and not the endless parade of throwaway tosh people were expecting and the music press were secretly hoping for.

The great thing about Vitalogy is that a lot of it is angry music with heavy beats, screaming guitars and real fury in the vocals. But the beauty is that it’s angry about subjects that I personally have no right to get angry about. There are no songs full of righteous rage about social injustice, no venom directed at targets I personally wish I could spit eloquent vitriol at and no catharsis for my own personal pain. Instead there’s some incandescent ire directed at the intrusive nature of the press and the pressures of being famous. So I can put on Vitalogy and bang my head and rage and snarl the vocals like Eddie Vedder about an issue that has never impacted me in the least. How dare you invade my privacy just because I’ve had two hit albums? You bastards! Spin The Black Circle is a short and punchy rant about how vinyl is much better than CD’s. Now there’s a cause I can get behind! I can even put the track on repeat so I can hear the rage about CD’s over and over again. There’s something strangely satisfying about experiencing some wrath that you can only relate to on a purely theoretical level.

There are also some great slower tempo songs on Vitalogy, the most famous being Betterman, a track about a battered wife, which former Australian Cricket Captain Steve Waugh chose as his theme music until someone told him what the lyrics meant. There’s a nice track with a sing along chorus (“already in love”) which sounds sweet but for some reason is entitled Satan’s Bed.

But that’s not to say everything on Vitalogy is gold. Bugs is basically a strange monologue recorded over the top of what I could charitably call accordion playing. The accordion isn’t my favourite instrument when it’s played well but when it’s played badly… its somehow much better. Weird. Bugs makes for compelling listening but I never want to hear it again, which puts in on the same shelf as Hey Foxymophandlemoma, That’s Me, an exercise in overdubbing, vocal manipulation and sound collage that works just as well as every other such exercise has worked since Revolution #9.

Vitalogy is a great album that takes the typical grunge sound set down by the band (and others) up to that point and adds enough variety to make it a brilliant album in its own right.

Highlight: Spin the black circle. I’m not sure if they were the first to point out the whole record-needle/heroin thing but they did it better than anyone else.

Lowlight: Bugs. Probably a great curiousity on a B-sides compilation but not really worth including on an album, at least Hey Foxymophandlemoma, That’s Me has the decency to be at the end of the album.

Influenced by:
Neil Young, who earned the name The Godfather of Grunge thanks in part to Pearl Jam.

Influenced: A legion of Grunge-light bands who couldn’t write songs but could wear the fashion and tune their guitars to sound the same.

Best Amazon customer review quote: “Hahahahaahah the Smashing Pumpkins?!?! HAHahahahaahah you think the smashing pumpkins are the best band from the 90s?!?!?! AHAHAHAHahahahahahahah AHAHAHAahahahaahahahahahahahahaa”

-Thanks, that’s very eloquent stuff.

So what do you think? Would you struggle to find a Better Man than Eddie Vedder or is Vitalogy Not For You? Let me know below.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

493. That’s the Way of the world- Like real music only much slower.

Album: That’s the way of the world.
Artist: Earth Wind and Fire.
Year: 1973
Genre: Slow soul

Track listing.
1. Shining Star
2. That's the Way of the World
3. Happy Feelin'
4. All About Love
5. Yearnin' Learnin'
6. Reasons
7. Africano
8. See the Light

Earth Wind and Fire are possibly the biggest band in the world that I knew nothing about. They’ve sold millions of records, been inducted into halls of fame, been cited as influencing whole generations and I couldn’t name a single song. Shame on me.

The encouraging news is that as soon as I gave That’s the Way of the World my first listen I immediately knew track one: Shining Star is a song that you’d know if I sang it, a facility that thankfully this blog doesn’t provide. I won’t sing it but I’ll type it rhythmically which will be enough to make you remember: “You’re a shining star, no matter who you are, shining bright to see, what you can truly be.” To be honest I’ve never understood where funk stops and disco begins, it’s a blurry line as far as I’m concerned but whichever side Shining Star falls it’s pretty cool. It’s actually quite an achievement to give multiple vocalists and a big band a chance to show off in under three minutes without ever losing the song completely. Shining Star promises great things from the album. Sadly it was all down hill from there.

Track two, the album’s title track is half the pace of Shining Star and slows everything down to walking speed. I was hoping it was the disc’s slow number and things would pick up but track three slowed the pace down again. Happy Feelin is obviously about a wedding and it feels to me that it lasts longer than most marriages. It really plods along at a crawl and makes every one of its seven minutes feel like an eternity. I wonder how the drummer manages to stay awake during these sessions.

For the most part the rest of the album continues with slow ballads about love. Earth Wind and Fire are obviously in favour of love and feel they need to take their time to share their feelings at length. Love is a subject that they’re passionate about and they don’t want to rush their ideas by speeding the tempo above six beats a minute. And they’re so passionate about Love that they feel the need to sing about it in a huge variety of registers so the topic is fully covered across the octaves. Reasons features some of the highest pitch singing I’ve heard from a male in a long time. It’s so high it’s actually distracting in a “how does he reach those notes without aid of some kind?” way and almost turns the song into more of a magic trick than a ballad.

One of the lyrical variations occurs at the end of the album when the band sings a song called See the light which as far as I could tell was a call to evangelise Africa. It’s certainly a call to evangelise somewhere and since the track ends with snippets of a field recording of tribal music being played in an African village it’s a fair assumption. But I have to say, if you’re going to talk about converting a nation to your viewpoint it’s probably a wise idea to make your track more interesting than the song your prospective converts are playing. The African villagers are clearly having a fantastic time and if it’s a choice between joining them for a lively jam or slow trudge with EWAF then I’d pack my bags and make tracks to Tanzania.

The only other track that I could get into at all was the Up-tempo instrumental Africano, which sounds more like chase music from a 1970’s cop-show than anything faintly African, but at least it’s not yet another slow ballad about love.

Highlight: Shining Star.
Lowlight: The spoken “rap” in All About Love.
Influenced by: Marvin Gaye, the Temptations and at times the vocal arrangements of the Supremes.
Influenced: Those who like their tunes slow.

Best Amazon Customer review Quote: “If you were born between 1975 and 1976, you were likely conceived to "Reasons." What else is there to say?”

-That’s actually a very easy claim to make and pretty hard to disprove. After all, who in their right mind is going to ask their parents what music was playing while they were conceived? Or any question relating to their conception or the sex lives of their parents? Some questions are best left unasked.

So do Earth, Wind and fire set you on fire or are they just a lot of flaming clods spouting hot hair?

Friday, July 3, 2009

494. She’s so unusual- 1983 Strikes again.

Album: She’s so unusual.

Artist: Cindy Lauper.

Year: 1983

Genre: Pop.

Track listing.

1. Money Changes Everything
2. Girls Just Want to Have Fun
3. When You Were Mine
4. Time After Time
5. She Bop
6. All Through The Night
7. Witness
8. I'll Kiss You
9. He's So Unusual
10. Yeah Yeah

I swear to god I can sing every word of Girls Just Wanna have fun. I’ve never owned a copy of the album or the single, I’ve never voluntarily sought it out but when the track came up on this album I could sing it word for word. The lyrics are lodged in my brain and I can’t tell you how annoying that is. There is so much I’ve tried to cram into my head over the years (the Japanese language, computing terms, things my wife told me I had to buy on the way home) that have dissolved from my brain like an asprin in coke. But the lyrics to Girls Just Wanna got stuck in my head like a well aimed spear. I have a horrible feeling that at the end of my life I’ll succumb to dementia and forget important things like my own name but if someone asks me a question I’ll reply “Phone rings… in the middle… of the night.”

She’s So Unusual was Cindy Lauper’s breakthrough hit and it launched her into the pop stratosphere. The 10 songs on the album (mostly obscure covers) acted as a forum for her quirky voice and the video clips which accompanied the 5 hit singles beamed her equally quirky personality and style of dress into homes all over the world. Girls Just Wanna became a huge favourite with teen-age girls and a bit of a feminist anthem. It also provided the music world (and Miles Davis) with Time after Time, her other biggest hit.

Just like Touch by The Eurythmics, She’s so Unusual is a product of it’s time and that time is 1983. Consequently all 10 songs are crammed full of synthesizers and simulated percussion. For me the synthesizer is that person having a loud phone conversation on a train; it’s the niggling cough from two rows back in a movie; it’s my neighbour’s stereo when I’m trying to sleep; it’s an annoying noise that becomes more irritating the more I hear it and try not to be annoyed by it. As a sound it’s far bigger than anything else around it could ever hope to be. So just like Touch I listened to She’s so unusual and wondered what it would be like if I could hear just the songs and the voice without the electronic beastie all over it.

Thankfully I’m not the only one who wondered this. A few years back Lauper was obviously pondering along the same lines. In 2005 Cindy released an album called The Body Acoustic which was made up of newly recorded acoustic versions of the hits from her back catalogue, many of them coming from She’s So Unusual. And I have to say it’s a bit of a winner. With real instruments behind her Lauper sounds great and a lot of the songs really go places. A long list of guest stars range from some of my favourite artists (Jeff Beck, Ani Di Franco) to people I’d never heard of (Puffy Ami Yumi) who have all been inspired by Lauper in some way (I can imagine Jeff Beck really grooving to She Bop. Good for him). Speaking of Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, The Body Acoustic version is a weirdly demented Ska version in which Lauper is backed by a very boisterous Japanese female band. It’s definitely the least painful rendition of this song I’ve ever heard.

Returning to the point of this entry- She’s So Unusual is an album I didn’t enjoy but then it’s not like Lauper recorded it with mid-thirties males in mind. It’s an album for girls who want to have fun. I bet when she recorded it she was imagining girls would be still be singing along at weddings 25 years later. And how right she was. But while I’m no fan of the original album and plan never to hear it again I’ll go on record as saying The Body Acoustic was a surprisingly pleasurable listen.

Highlight: Time after Time suffers least from the production. (Although Check out She-Bop on youtube, it’s a fairly wild video clip)

Lowlight: Every painful sound that dribbles out of my least favourite machine.

Influenced by: A general desire to prove herself.
Influenced: Women who like to make quirky music.

Favourite amazon review quote:
“Two facts and only two facts only must you know about Cyndi Lauper.
1. I was born on the same day in the same place and we were probably switched at birth.
2. Halloween 1982 I dressed up as Cyndi for a party. This may not seem so bad but the fact is that I not only dressed up as Cyndi but rode the bus dressed that way!!! You just don't do those things in Duluth Minnesota.”

-I’m just not sure those two nuggets of information are as essential as you think they are.

So what do you think: Is she So Unusual you can’t get into her or are you a girl who just wants to have fun? Let me know below