Wednesday, September 30, 2009

473. A rush of blood to the head- I’ve lost count of the ironic titles.


Album: A rush of blood to the head.

Artist: Coldplay.

Year: 2002.

Genre: Pop

Tracks

1. Polotik.

2. In my place.

3. God Put a smile on your face.

4. The scientist

5. Clocks.

6. Daylight.

7. Green eyes.

8. A warning sign

9. Whisper

10. A rush of blood to the head.

11. Amsterdam.

I’d like to love Coldplay, I really would. I think my life would be better and I’d be a happier person if I could join the millions of people who are big fans of The Play. I’m one of those people who really respects a band who use their fame to promote a good cause. Don’t go ramming it down people’s throats but why not sing about making the world a better place rather than give us yet another song about sexual prowess? Coldplay seem like nice guys who have conquered the world and kept their head enough not to behave like complete prats. If they want to give their children silly names then good for them, it’s no business of mine.

Yes I’d go so far as to say that I’d really be much happier if I could catch The Cold. But sadly I don’t like their music at all.

A Rush of Blood to the Head is basically an album recorded with care, precision and no real emotion as far as I can tell. From the title track onwards it feels like listening to a piece of IKEA furniture. Everything in its right place. No Alarms and No Surprises. Radio for the head not the heart. It’s the rock equivalent of New Labour- polished, buffed and totally spin doctored. You can’t shake the feeling that the songs were assembled rather than performed in the studio. It’s Sudoko music- all the numbers have to be in the right boxes.

More effort was required behind the mixing desk rather than in front of it to record a track like Clocks. The second time the piano riff comes it sounds exactly like the first time. Did they bother to play it again or just copy and paste the first one down in the right spot? The strings, which are all over this album, come in at just the right time to provide a general wash that makes it immediately more uplifting. The expression A rush of Blood to the Head suggests an action caused by a sudden emotional outburst but there just wasn’t much passion or emotion during these sessions. You can’t help but think anyone getting aroused in the Coldplay recording studio is asked to go and do a crossword until they calm down.

Almost every track on A rush of Blood to the Head sounds like it was written more with a commercial in mind than an emotional audience. It’s no coincidence that almost every song on this release appeared on an ad or television promo. For a time in Britain you didn’t need to put this album on you only had to tune in to a TV station in order to hear the whole thing in bite-sized segments. Listening to the album you can’t help but think most of the songs sound like 30 second advertising soundtracks expanded to song length. None of the lyrics stood out for me except the line: “Shoot an apple off my head” which I thought ironic since Apple is the name of the lead singer’s daughter.

Comparisons with U2 are unoriginal, trite but entirely accurate. Coldplay sound like they’ve been influenced by the four lads from Dublin but they don’t have Bono’s voice, The Edge’s guitar ability or their combined songwriting skills. Most of Rush of Blood to the Head sounds like the album filler you find on U2 releases post Achtung Baby.

Highlights: About thirty seconds of most of the songs.

Lowlights: The yawn inducing strings.

Influenced by: U2, Radiohead and apparently Cat Stevens and Joe Satriani.

Influenced: Tricky question. Are people influenced by Coldplay or are they more influenced by U2 and Radiohead?

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: " As a 74 year old musciologist I have seen many outrages during my lifetime, like World War 2, Pol Pot, Western Exploitation and Stravinsky's 'Rite of Passage' but this album certainly surpasses anything in the 20th century and barring the extinction of the human race (although it does come close) will see out the 21st as the greatest crime ever perpertrated against humanity and more specifically Gary Barlow. When I first heard this 'A Rush of Thievery from Chris Martion' I was shaking with anger for 27 days and 8 hours. I had to put into a seclusion unit with 5 doses of horse tranquiliser a day just to calm me down. Now a year on I am on a mere two doses.
Where to start? First of all, this album robs off that album which transcends music and for many of us music scholar represents the holy grail of music, yes it is of course the towering 'Open Road'. Was this band as naive to think that it would not be noticed? Emotionally this album does not complete me like Open Road. Chris' shreiking high nasal girlie voice does not do justice to the material that it has not being ripped off from, nor does it capture its majesty or magic of 'Open Road'. File this one under- 'Outrages me to the very core of my existence'."

-It's stuff like this that make the hours I spend sifting through Amazon reviews worthwhile.

So do you play this album often or does it just leave you cold? Let me know below.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

474. Tunnel of Love- It’s not you, it’s me.


Album: Tunnel of Love.

Artist: Bruce Springsteen.

Year: 1987

Genre: Rock/pop


Tracks.


1. Aint got you

2. Tougher than the rest

3. All that Heaven will allow

4. Spare parts

5. Cautious man.

6. Walk like a man.

7. Tunnel of Love

8. Two faces.

9. Brilliant disguise.

10. One step up.

11. When you're alone.

12. Valentine's day.


The world of rock and roll contains a handful of artists that I respect, admire and completely fail to understand the appeal of. Musicians who have a dedicated fanbase, critical acclaim, massive album sales and nothing that I can latch onto. I appreciate that they’re talented and creative people and rather than looking down my nose at their fans I envy their ability to appreciate someone who is just beyond me. Several of these artists are on this list. One of them is Bruce Springsteen.

He might be referred to as The Boss but I just can’t count myself amongst his workforce. I’ve tried to like him and in fact I struggle to find anything to not like. His voice has a fantastic quality, there’s just something about it that suggests pre-depression hardship and trial. He sings like a guy who doesn’t belong in a high fidelity recording studio as much as out somewhere in a field. Springsteen records should come with built-in scratches. His lyrics show he’s a thoughtful guy with a sense of social justice, and he can definitely write a song. So why can’t I get into him? What is it about Tunnel of Love that leaves me cold and unaffected? I didn’t hate it, I wouldn’t howl if forced to listen to it on a car trip or at a friends place, but I could never imagine putting it on by choice. It must be a genetic thing- there’s a Bruce Gene and I don’t have it. Or perhaps Springsteen fandom is an infection and I’m somehow immune. Either way I’m laying the blame at my feet and not his.

Tunnel of Love contains more synthesizers than guitars but if I was to blame them I’d be making excuses rather than finding the real cause of my problem. True, the outro of Two Faces sounds like its being played on a child’s toy organ but I can't say it ruined a song I was otherwise really enjoying. I listened to this album four times over the last two days but I can’t recall a single song (except for Brilliant Disguise). None of them have stayed in my head. It just doesn’t make an impression.

Brilliant Disguise has stayed with me because of one of those lyrical mis-hearings that you get in rock from time to time. When Bruce sings the title, the double L in the middle of "Brilliant" has a harder edge to it which makes the line sound like: “Is that you baby or just a Brick in disguise.” I thought that the entire track was about building materials that had managed to sneak their way into Bruce’s marriage due to a cunning use of false moustaches. Bloody hell, I thought, that’s a very unusual and specific problem. When he later reversed the perspective and asked how his wife knew that he wasn’t just a brick in disguise I had a vision of two separate bricks wearing make up and wigs each convinced the other was Mr or Mrs Springsteen. Imagine the surprise when they found out: “You’re a brick as well! What a cleverly disguised fool I’ve been.”

Tunnel of love made for a really frustrating listen. I wanted to like it. I wanted to think it was great. I just couldn’t get involved. From what I’ve read it’s not typical Springsteen but then I get the impression he doesn’t really do typical. I’ll encounter further Bruce later in the countdown and when I do I promise I’ll take to it with an open ear. If I enjoy it more I’ll revisit Tunnel of Love and see if I’ve sorted out what my Bruce issue is. Stay tuned

Highlight: Brilliant Disguise.

Lowlight: Two Faces.

Influenced by: Marital problems.

Influenced: Badly drawn boy.

Favourite Amazon customer review quote:Just was listening to Bruce Springsteen in my car stereo and then realized how crappy his voice is and the way his songs were.I think he screams and he sounds more like a duck. I was a fan to him for several years and still cant remember then either. my dad loves bruce and he buys his albums while he only likes all these pop singers such as Sheryl crow, bob seger, Bruce springsteen and the crappy Rolling stones. All four of them are overrated and pretty much suck. Why cant he like Metallica who were miles better and heavier except their debut sucked. I just kinda wish that Bob Seger, Rolling stones, Sheryl Crow, and Bruce springsteen would all fade out as they are all just for adults. I am still a kid and I like what i listen to.Gimme one break from this guy.I could only remember 1 song he did good that could have been title Tunnel Of Love which I think even Dire Straits made a different song titled that but earlier and I like them better. Take my advice, go with Metallica(Ride The Lightning till Load), and Green Day (Nimrod till American Idiot) or Foreigner CD with Waiting For A Girl Like You which all those albums were much,much better than just a stupid pop singer..dont listen to San Francisco's KFOG because they may play this crap!!

-That’s magnificent. There’s everything in that review: strange comparisons (a duck?), parental resentment, further band-bashing, inappropriate recommendations and seriously strange sentences (“I was a fan to him for several years and still cant remember then either.” –what the hell does that mean?)

So do you respect Bruce as your boss or is he more of a David Brent in your life? Let me know below.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

475. Live in Europe- Stop me if you’ve heard this one.


Album: Live in Europe.

Artist: Otis Redding.

Year: 1967.

Genre: Soul.

Tracks.

1. Resepect.

2. Can't turn you loose

3. I've been loving you too long.

4. My Girl.

5. Shake.

6. (I can't get no) Satisfaction.

7. Fa Fa Fa Fa (Sad song)

8. These arms of mine.

9. Day tripper

10. Try a little Tenderness.

Live in Europe makes for a really strange listen. Despite the fact that I’d never heard this release before and I don’t own an Otis Redding album, I could sing along with pretty much the entire album. It’s a basically a collection of Soul standards and some rock cover tunes that I'd have to describe as sub-standards.

The original songs are for the most part ones you know but might not have known were written by Redding. Aretha Franklin had Respect but she had it after Otis did. The Blues Brothers were turned loose on stage to Can’t Turn You Loose but only because Redding was first. Mick Jagger said I’ve been Loving You Too Long but Otis said it before him (and before Ike and Tina). I’ve heard These Arms Of Mine from somewhere that I can’t place at the moment, but wherever it is I’ve heard it, those people heard it here.

You may have heard these songs in other places but Redding outdoes all who covered him. The Blues Brothers perform Can’t Turn you Loose as an instrumental and the musicians backing them learned to play the song by backing Redding on this album.When a young, inexperienced Mick Jagger sings I’ve Been Loving You Too Long it sounds like he’s only been devoted to you for a year and most of that was just a boyhood crush, Otis sounds like he started his devotion during the rule of emperor Trajan. The only cover that outshines Redding is Aretha’s version of Respect which is as definitive as definitive gets. Redding may have written it but it’s her song.

The original that I didn’t know on the album was a truly awful track called Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad song) which is really terrible in ways I can’t describe. The problem is the Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa bit, which isn’t pronounced Fa but Feur-ya, imagine Bob Dylan doing impressions of Star Wars laser fights and your almost there. The general effect is like soul music with added comedy sound effects. The first few listens it reminded me of something and I couldn’t work out what. Finally I realized it was that weird letter that Simon Pegg reads while in prison at the end of an episode of Big Train. If you’ve seen it, you’ll know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t then I can only offer an apology for wasting your time, which is more than Redding did for including this song.

The cover songs on Live in Europe are a collection of interesting choices. Several are R and B standards: My Girl by The Temptations, Shake by Sam Cooke and Try a Little Tenderness which everyone had taken a turn with but Redding nailed in what is generally considered the definitive version. In addition to these staples Otis decided to try his hand at some of the bigger songs of the day which is why Live in Europe boasts versions of Day Tripper and Satisfaction.

Covering the Beatles and Stones is a great move from a soul giant. They're both bands who became huge with help from the R and B back catalogue so why shouldn’t Redding take something back? A soul version of a number one pop hit scores points with his audience and maybe broadens his fan base. But I can’t help but think he chose two strange songs to cover. Day Tripper and Satisfaction are both riff-based songs. The Stones were masters of the Rock Riff and the Day Tripper is generally considered to be the Fab Four’s attempt at a Stones-like song. They fly on the basis of a guitar crunching out that familiar series of notes. Redding’s band is Horn Heavy and a sure fire way to bugger up a good riff is to play it on a trombone. It's like trying to play classical music on the bagpipes, polka tunes on the cello or country ballads on anything at all- it just doesn’t work.

The undeniable strength of Live in Europe lies with Redding’s voice. He’s one of the great soul singers and this release will convince you if you think otherwise. No doubt you’ve recently heard many of these songs covered by singers on tv shows with words like "Idol" and "Talent" in the name. You’ve watched as pop wannabes belt out carefully crafted versions of these tunes to squealing audiences. The difference between those lads and Otis is that unlike them, Redding isn’t auditioning for anything. Contestants on Idol treat songs like musical resumes, each song is just a CV designed to show off their vocal range and earnest facial expressions. Otis on the other hand isn’t auditioning for anyone. He’s walked out on stage to blow the audience away and relies on his natural talent to wipe the floor with them. It’s what makes Live in Europe so damn good.

Highlight: Shake, a song I didn’t know but think is great.

Lowlight: The Day Tripper riff played on horns and Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa.

Influenced by: A desire to add lust to gospel music.

Influenced: Gormless prannies with big voices and no soul who want to win lots of money on talent shows.

Favourite Amazon Customer review quote: "Otis Redding was completing a highly successful Europian tour. This album is the finale. Otis was the number one recording artist in England at the conclusion of this tour. He had replaced the the Beatles!! This is the best R&B album ever recorded."

-Woah there. I'm happy to praise this album but I think you'll find that when this tour concluded the Beatles released Sergeant Peppers so your "replacing the Beatles claim" might be a bit overstated.

So do you sit up and take notice of Otis or do you wish this album had stayed in Europe? Let me know below.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

476. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band- Best discovery so far.


Album: The Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

Artist: The Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

Year: 1965

Genre: Blues.

Tracks.

1. Born in chicago

2. Shake your money maker.

3. Blues with a feeling.

4. Thank you Mr Poobah.

5. I got my mojo working.

6. Mellow down easy.

7. Screamin

8. Our love is drifting

9. Mystery train.

10. Last night

11. Look over yonder's wall.


There are a few albums on this list that are widely regarded as “slow burners.” Releases that you have to spend time with in order to fully appreciate. One such release was the Smiths, which I gave ample opportunity to burn at whatever speed it required but found it failed to ignite a spark of any description. I’ve given The Paul Butterfield Blues Band a good deal more than four listens, not because I was trying to appreciate it but because it’s brilliant. It’s both a quick and slow burner that ignited my interest immediately and then smoldered away happily, setting alight a series of fire analogies which I should probably extinguish now.

The first thing that hit me about PBBB was the guitar work of Mike Bloomfield. I’d had a run of guitarless releases recently that made me hunger for a good lead break and The Bloomster provided the goods. I was familiar with his work from Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited but was blown away by what he was pulling off here. Rolling Stone Magazines list of the top 100 guitarists has Bloomfield at 21. In the past I’d thought that was a bit high but having listened to this release a few times I can honestly say it’s well deserved.

Bloomfield is the best thing on this disc but for my initial listens he was distracting me from the other great appeal of this album which is Butterfield himself. As a vocalist The Butter is okay but as a blues harmonica player he’s sensational. I’d previously thought that the blues harp only existed to give lead singers who can’t dance something to do during the instrumental bits. If you hold this view then Butterfield will persuade you otherwise. He can produce a great range of soulful notes out of something that is basically just a metal box with a reed inside. Rolling Stone magazine has never produced a Top 500 Harmonica Solos list but it’s only a matter of time before they do and when it happens The Butter will be liberally spread throughout.

While the album is worth listening to for the two Fields alone, the rest of the band are no slouches either. The combination of a tight rhythm section and exceptional soloists mean there’s not much that can go wrong with an album like this. As long as they choose good songs to cover (and they do), listen to what the rest of the band is doing (and they do) and keep and eye on the time to make sure they don’t disappear up their own blues-inspired bottoms (and they don’t) they’ll come away with a great album. Musical maths is easy sometimes: Talent+great songs= a good listen. Paul Butterfield Blues Band (the album) is a sensational release full of blues tracks of every tempo and some original instrumentals with the obligatory silly names (“Thank you Mr Poobah” for example). The only thing that could stand in the way of PBBB from becoming huge was something like drug addiction and sadly both the Fields succumbed and died prematurely of narcotic-related mishaps.

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band is definitely the discovery of the countdown up to this point as far as I’m concerned. I’ve tracked down their other releases and enjoyed them as well although they’re not nearly up to this standard. But I wouldn’t say it’s a huge widening of my horizons. While they’re great at what they do the PBBB lives pretty firmly in a genre that I knew I liked anyway. Like the Yardbirds, the Rolling Stones, the Allman Brothers etc etc they’re a blues cover band who crank out blues standards way above everyone else’s standard.

By the way: If my name was Paul Butterfield (and I’m glad it isn’t) I think I’d probably adopt a stage name if I was going to become a recording artist. But if I hadn’t and if I was going to perform the blues I don’t think I’d name my band the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. And if I did I certainly wouldn’t call my debut album The Paul Butterfield Blues Band so people had to refer to it as the Paul Butterfield Blues Band by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. But Paul Butterfield did so we have to put up with it.

Highlight: Bloomfield’s every guitar lick. May he rest in peace

Lowlight: The knowledge that this could have been the start of something fantastic instead of just a one-off.

Influenced by: Blues players named King.

Influenced: The Black Crowes and others like them.

Favourite Amazon customer review qoute: "this white boy blues stuff is so over-done. every band like this from this era all sound the same: boring, watered-down, stuck-in-the-same-groove, white-boy, schlock. pure torture!!"

-You sir are as dumb as toast. In fact I'd go so far as to say that you are dumber than toast. If I took the stupidest piece of bread from the dimmest loaf in the world's thickest bakery and then gave it five minutes in a combined toaster/stupiding machine the end result would still be clever enough to call you an idiot.

So is the PBBB Perfect Blues Brilliantly Bellowed, or Painful Bollocks Badly Botched? Let me know below.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

477- The Score- I’d call it a draw.


Album: The Score.

Artist: The Fugees.

Year:1996

Genre: Pop/R and B

Tracks.

1. Red Intro
2. How Many Mics
3. Ready or Not
4. Zealots
5. Beast
6. Fu-Gee-La
7. Family Business
8. Killing Me Softly
9. Score
10. Mask
11. Cowboys
12. No Woman, No Cry
13. Manifest/Outro
14. Fu-Gee-La [Refugee Camp Remix][*]
15. Fu-Gee-La [Sly & Robbie Mix][*]
16. Mista Mista

I’ve recently started paying a lot more attention to lyrics. For some reason a few of the albums I’ve listened to lately have had me dedicating time to lyric sheets in order to check out exactly what’s going through the artists head. Often this has provided a real insight into the minds of the creators. With the Fugees... not so much.

I haven’t a clue what the hell these people are on about. What does this mean: “How Many Mic's Do We Rip on the Daily/Say me say Many Moni, Say me say many many many

What on earth is going there? I have no idea what I’m missing but whatever it is I’m missing it by many, many, many miles. More baffling still is this gem from later in the album: “I’ll be Nina Simone and defecating on your microphone”. What? Did Nina Simone do that often? I never saw her live but I’m reasonably sure that the finale of her stage act didn’t involve a dropping of the drawers and the creation of some self-styled Mic cable. It’s definitely the sort of thing that would have entered popular culture and we’d all think El Nina weather patterns were a lot more hilarious.

Name checking is a huge part of this album. The Fugees love a good name check. I’ve scoured the lyrics to The Score and can provide you with a list of call-outs which I’ve arranged in helpful categories...

Historical Figures: Elliot Ness, Al Capone, Kennedy (either one), Rockwell, Mussolini (described as “the great” which is a bold political statement), Hannibal (the elephants-over-the-alps one not the gets-less-scary-every-new-movie one), Jesse James, Nostradamus (I bet he didn’t see that coming) and Cassius Clay.

Musicians: Seal (unless they’re referring to the animal), Tracy Chapman, Eurythmics, Carlos Santana, Pete Tosh, Marley (Bob presumably), Cindi Lauper, Stevie Wonder, Toni Braxton, Biggie Smalls, Sheena Easton and Nina Simone (who has probably been namechecked in a song before but never with the word “defecate” in the same line).

Actors: John Travolta, Dick Van Dyke, Alec Baldwin, John Wayne, Lee Van Cleef, Jim Carrey, Za Za Gabor (tell me that’s not a movie cast you’d like to see)

Religious figures: God, Jesus Christ, Satan, Mother Mary, Haile Saleassie, Paul McCartney, Mephistopholes.

Contemporary figures: Newt Gingrich (who “sucks dick” apparently), Bill Clinton, David Sonenberg (the Fugees manager, I had to look him up), Connie Chung, Rodney (King presumably), Judge Ito (the judge in the OJ Simpson trial), Farakkhan (Louis presumably, unless there are other Farakkhans I’m unaware of) and Khalid Muhammad (who was a guy who kicked around with Louis Farrkahn, I had to look him up too)

Fictional characters: “Love Doctor strange” (who I’m assuming is Dr Strangelove), Porgy and Bess, Damocles, The Phantom of the opera, Dr Kimble, Chewbacca, Batman and Blackula (again that’s a movie I’d like to see: it’s got heroes, villains, wookies and songs, what more could you want?)

And finally people I’d never heard of: Alice, Stevie, Khalid Muhammad, , Frederick Douglass, Tommy Motolla, Menudo, Hajj Malik Shabazz, Tall Kid Mutombo, Alex Haley, Chaka Demus and Pliars, , Trugoy, Rashida, Chicken George (who became dead George) and Buju Banton.

Perhaps the Fugees logic was that if everyone they name-checked bought a copy of their album they’d be assured of platinum sales.

The music on the Score is what people call R and B, which is a term that needs a lot more definition than it has been given. What it means as far as this album is concerned is a mix of real instruments with samples and singing with rapping. As she proved in her solo career, Lauryn Hill can sing. Her biggest moment in this album is a cover of Killing Me Softly which proves she can belt out a tune but I found a bit repetitive and not as interesting as the original.

I can see why people who like R and B like the Fugees. They’re stuff is original, they’re lyrics are witty and Hill is a talented vocalist. I tapped my toes during Fugee-La but I can’t say I’ve been converted.

Highlight: Fu-Gee-La.

Lowlight: The weird skit in which a Henry Rollins-impersonating waiter starts a fight in a restaurant. What’s all that about?

Influenced by: Most of the musicians name checked.

Influenced: Future R and B singers.

Favourite Amazon customer review quote: Actually the submitters to amazon were pretty restrained about this so I went to Youtube where I found this gem in the comments for Killing Me Softly: “My mom wass Giviingg biirth to me while thiiss song wass on the radio in the carr soo tiiss iiss myy song lol :D”

-That is really cool. Badly typed but really cool none the less.


So is this R and B Rocking and Beautiful or Rubbish and Boring? Let me know below.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

478. Radio- for God’s sake switch it off.


Album: Radio.

Artist: LL Cool J

Year:1985

Genre: Rap.

Tracks:

1. I can't live without my radio 5:27
2. You can't dance.
3. Dear Yvette
4. I Can Give You More
5. Dangerous
6. Spoken Word/A Cappella Track (LL Cool J/Radio)
7. Rock The Bells
8. I Need A Beat
9. That's A Lie
10. You'll Rock
11. I Want You


This is actually starting to get really painful. I'd just like to point out that I’ve got lots of great music in my collection. I own albums that I feel the need to listen to once a week simply out of a sense of duty to the talented people who created them. I own songs that make me feel like the world is a better place and whole CD’s by people who I don’t feel worthy to share a planet with. So why am I spending my time listening to LL Cool J? After the folking awful effort that was number 479 (I’m still trying to get some of those songs out of my head) I wanted to hear something that reaffirmed my faith in music…instead I’m listening to what is possibly the low point of the count down so far: Radio by LL Cool J.

Notorious BIG and Public enemy did open my eyes a bit to what rap fans see in their favourite genre. It didn’t lure me away from good old rock and roll but it at least I could appreciate what there was to like if you liked that sort of stuff. But Radio just left me cold and annoyed. It’s just a guy talking and a machine playing. That’s all it is. Set up your drum machine and then rhyme over the top of it.

This sort of rap is so easy it was corrupted in the eighties and nineties by middle aged people trying to reach out to the youth. Anyone with a message to push to young people knew that all they needed was a keyboard with programmed beats and they could create raps to “speak to the kids”. There was loads of this stuff around a few years back:

“Yo yo yo I’m B-Boy, I’m the rhyming bear,

And I’m here to tell you why a level crossing is there”

Or...

We’re redhead and sparky, your main home boys,

And the message we’re rapping is: “Matches aint toys!”

Or...

“I’m the carpet king, your local carpet seller,

And if you want carpets, I’m your fella.”

Or even...

“Were Edam and Eve, God’s rhyming cheeses,

And we’re here to tell you bout our homeboy Jesus.”

Raps were even created by politicians, TV weathermen, soap stars and others equally devoid of street cred who realised that rapping required no actual talent. The difference between these hip hop wannabes and Cool J is that the try-hards at least know their rhymes have no musical merit. Radio is basically a concept album with the theme being how great LL thinks he is. Whole songs are dedicated to the fact that he’s the greatest person ever allowed near a microphone. “My literature is above Shakespeare” he says at one point which is a pretty hefty claim not really backed up by lines like: “You lied and a body builder kicked your butt/ If you were in Egypt you’d lie to King Tutt”. Not only is that not up to Shakespeare’s standard it’s slightly worse than an English teachers attempts to put the bards work into rap form in order to interest the kids:

“My name is Hamlet you can call me Ham,

The prince of Denmark is what I am.

I’m confused, I’m angry I might not be sane,

I’m a cheesed-off, mother-cussing, mixed up Dane.

The most mind boggling part of Radio is that there are points when LL Cool J stops rhyming and all we hear is the drum machine beating. There were moments in this release when no human being was involved, everyone sat around twiddling their thumbs while tape ran and the box in the corner made electronic “boom” and “tish” sounds. One machine recorded another while people sat idly by. Why would I want to listen to that?

Rhyming couplets and a drum machine are no substitute for talent. How on earth did this rate above Maggot Brain?

Highlight: None. Nothing at all. Oh okay, the “can’t-dance” rant in the second track is kind of clever.

Lowlight: This line “Japan’s whole military couldn’t disarm me.” What military? Japan has no military.

Influenced by: Actual rappers.

Influenced: Non-rappers into believing it was easy.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote:I, COMMAND YOU, TO RUN OUT AND GET THIS REAL DEFINITON OF HIP-HOP!

-Better do what he says. He’s typing in Capitals.

So what do you think? Is LL Cool J as bad as I think he is or as good as he thinks he is? Let me know below.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

479. I want to see the Bright Lights tonight- Industrial Revolution Retro.


Album: I want to see the bright lights tonight.

Artist: Richard and Linda Thompson.

Year: 1974

Genre: Traditional English Folk music.

Tracks.

1 When I Get To The Border
2 The Calvary Cross
3 Withered and Died
4 I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight
5 Down Where The Drunkards Roll
6 We Sing Hallelujah
7 Has He Got A Friend For Me
8 The Little Beggar Girl
9 The End Of The Rainbow
10 The Great Valerio



I’ve never fully understand what constitutes folk music. What is and isn’t folk? Who listens to folk? What sort of folk are folk folk?

I want to see the bright lights tonight by Richard and Linda Thompson is definitely folk music. It uses terms that haven’t been used outside folk music in centuries (“sawbones” “drunkard” “briar” “Skivver” “peg leg”) it features instruments that probably had to be borrowed from museums for the recording sessions. It has the vocal intonation of someone who thinks nothing of holding a vowel sound and then wandering it around for a few octaves until it feels at home. Most of the songs are about tragedy. It’s definitely folk. But Richard Thompson sneaks a few modern electric instruments in as well so it’s plugged-in folk sitting awkwardly amongst unplugged folk.

The final effect sounds like a demented, alcohol-fuelled jam session. I can imagine a pub somewhere in a forgotten bit of England. The Cotswolds for example. I’ve got no idea where the Cotswolds are but they sound like a folky place. Actually no, forget that- this pub I’m imagining is in a place that refers to the Cotswolds as The Big Smoke. It’s a tiny place that has nothing much except a general store and a tavern called The King and Scrotum or something equally fantastic. The pub is beer stained, smells of nicotine and serves drinks in tankards. It’s populated by people with huge beards, most of whom are men. In addition to heavy drinking and complaining about tourists, the locals like nothing more than having a good sing-song. Some old farmers in quality knitwear pull out wind instruments with names like the flooverhorn and the Spuckwhistle and the local poacher sits down with a nineteen-stringed cousin of the lute called a plonkthwaddle and they all fanny around the edges of an old tune made popular by smugglers. Someone plays percussion on an instrument covered in the skin of a pig they killed with their own hands.

From time to time everyone stops while one of the womenfolk accompanies herself while she sings a tragic ballad. When she’s finished everyone sniffs back a tear before someone says “Right lads, who knows “Greselda the buxom farmers wife?” and some wit chimes back “Well oi met her once but from what oi hears oi don’t know her as well as yerself!” and the whole bar collapses with mirth like it’s the first time this joke has been cracked. The instruments come out again although this time someone smuggles an electric guitar onstage and everyone is too drunk to notice. After a few more tales of tragedy impending someone pulls a Hammond B3 organ from their beard but the entire bar is too drunk to care. A knees-up is had and everyone passes out just as the last note is played.

I struggle to know what market Richard Thompson was pitching this too. Surely die-hard folkies don’t want electric guitar all over their music and scoff into their pewter beverage containers at the notion of an amp joining a band on stage. And the sort of people who love a good, wailing lead break would be put off by songs with lines like: “A gent such as thee.” It’s a weird mix. More puzzling to me is why the hell anyone would write an album as if they’re churning out tunes for a pre-Dickensian audience? When I first heard this I thought it was an album of old English Folk songs modernised slightly. I was surprise to find all the compositions were original. Did the world need any more songs that sound like they were written in the 1800’s? Was there a void in the market? Surely the 1800’s produced enough. The whole thing works like a period album from a period that nobody wants to revisit. At one point Thompson sings about wanting a “salty girl.What the hell is a salty girl and what’s she doing kicking around in an album released in the 1970’s? I just don’t get it.

Apparently this is a masterpiece but frankly I couldn’t see it. I found the whole thing to be really painful to listen to. Linda Thompson’s voice does nothing for me and the attempt to replicate authentic English Folk (with added fender strats) just got on my nerves. Don’t sing about being a dancing peg-legged beggar girl unless you’re actually a unidexter who is forced to samba for cash, that’s my philosophy.

Highlight: The title track is really nice when it’s sung by other people.

Lowlight: The great Valerio, the worst song about a tight rope walker I’ve ever heard.

Influenced by: The black death, rum, sodomy and the lash.

Influenced: Anyone who loves the sound of an amplified six string but still yearns for the days when you could whip slaves and defecate into a porcelain pot kept beneath the bed.

Favourite amazon customer review quote: Linda's singing is as perfectly plaintive as a lonely bagpipe."

-Yes. Bagpipes are a great analogy for her voice. It does remind me of a bagpipe. And there’s a very good reason why most bagpipes can be described as lonely.

So is this full of bright lights or do you take a dim view of the whole album? Let me know below.