Thursday, October 29, 2009

465. The ultimate collection of the golden hits of the very best of the essential greatest All time Drifters hits.


Album: Any drifters greatest hits compilation (there are millions of them)

Artist: The Drifters

Year: Any year from the invention of the compact disc until now (1968)

Genre: Do-wop.

Tracks:

(something like the following)


1. Dance With Me
2. Under the Boardwalk
3. Please Stay
4. On Broadway
5. There Goes My Baby
6. Saturday Night at the Movies
7. Save the Last Dance for Me
8. Up on the Roof
9. Stand by Me
10. Spanish Harlem

I'm imagining a scene in a hospital emergency ward. Two paramedics wheel a middle aged woman on a trolley down the corridor, she’s wearing slippers and a cardigan, she’s clutching a copy of The Daily Mail which she somehow got her hands on even though she lives in Duluth Minnesota. There’s no visible injury except for a small trickle of blood from the ears but she’s clearly in great pain. “The Milk!” She screams. “The angry girl has no milk! For god’s sake someone get her some milk!” Serious looking doctors and nurses rush to her side.

“What happened?” asks a medic of some description to another medical person.

“Live through this, it’s an album by Hole.”

“Courtney Love?”

“That’s the one. Somehow she listened to the whole thing from start to finish. It was too much anger for one middle-aged woman.”

“What’s her name?”

“Agnes.”

“Okay Agnes. Listen to me, I’m a doctor. It’s okay Agnes I know it hurts now but believe me you’re going to live through this.”

The woman screams as the doctor regrets a bad choice of words. “The angry girl! She kept sounding sweet and then suddenly she got angry again! The shouting! The shouting!”

The doctor turns to a nurse who is standing by. “Nurse, this is serious. Bring me... The Drifters!”

If you’re not an angry teenager and you’ve recently listened to an entire Hole album then can I recommend a good dose of The Drifters as an immediate cure. You couldn’t get more polar opposites than Courtney Love and the doo-wop stylings of Ben E King and friends. A few minutes spent in their company will have an amazing effect on shattered ear drums and fragile nerves.

The first thing that grabs you about the Drifters is how crystal clear their vocals are. Every single word comes at you with diction and a clarity of tone. There’s no doubting what the songs are about, they’re all simple tales simply told but beautifully sung. The arrangements behind them are full but not overbearing and the backing vocals might be daft (lots of bom boms and wawoos and other nonsense) but still work. I expected most of their music to be in the ballad vein but there’s lots of up tempo toe-tappers here as well. While it’s true that a lot of their songs sound exactly like Under The Boardwalk (their biggest hit) there are lots of songs that don’t and so a greatest hits album is great fun to listen to.


I must point out here that I wasn’t listening to the exact collection of songs that Rolling Stone Magazine was reviewing because it seems like there is a new Drifters compilation released every week. A search on allmusic revealed a staggering 192 compilation albums released by the Drifters, not bad for a band who only released 19 studio albums in their career. Name me another band who had three times as many members in their ranks than they released albums. Apparently over 60 people have been a Drifter at one stage with a line-up so fluid it’s a wonder they weren’t changing personnel mid-song. But then I’m not sure it matters that much, the important thing is that every member had a golden voice and did what they were told when the song was arranged. The end result is a pleasant musical experience. I’m not sure I’d listen to them regularly but I’ve installed one of their CD’s in a cabinet in my house with a sign saying “In case of Courtney, break glass”.

Highlight: Under the boardwalk, its’ a great song that even Tony Soprano couldn’t ruin with his lyrical rewrite. Look out for Sand in my shoes which is the songs sadder, but very clever sequel.

Lowlight: Probably This magic moment but it’s definitely not as low as some other lowlights I’ve been subjected to recently.

Influenced by: Gospel music.

Influenced: Boy bands.


Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "This is a classic cd that everyone needs to own. South Carolina beach music cannot be summarized better than through this cd. It's a MUST HAVE!!"


-That seems like a very specific location. I've never heard msuic described as South Caroline Beach Music before. I had no idea it was a genre all it's own.

So do you catch their drift or would you rather leave their musical career under the boardwalk? Let me know below.

Friday, October 23, 2009

466. Live through this- A Hole lot of Love (sorry)


Album: Live through this.

Artitst: Hole.

Year: 1994

Genre: Grunge.

Tracks.

1. Violet

2. Miss World

3. Plump

4. Asking For It

5. Jennifer's Body

6. Doll Parts

7. Credit In The Straight World

8. Softer, Softest

9. She Walks On Me 3:23

10. I Think That I Would Die

11. Gutless

12. Rock Star


I’m still trying to work out whether attractive women in rock get a free ride or face an uphill battle in their attempts to become stars. One thing is for sure- they’re judged by different standards, especially if they stray into the sort of angry musical territory that women are supposed to steer clear of. If a man feels frustrated and annoyed at his place in the world it’s fine for him to jump on stage and shout stroppy things into a microphone- that’s a perfectly acceptable outlet for his angst and rage. But if a woman feels like she’s getting a raw deal from life she’s supposed to lie on a couch and eat entire blocks of chocolate while watching Days of our Lives. If a girl decides to take to the stage rather than the sofa she’s a novelty in the rock world, which would either boost her over the thousands of men doing the same thing or the expectations placed on her gender would hold her back, I'm not sure which. Courtney Love is probably a good person to ask.

There are lots of people out there who want to believe that Hole wasn't so much Courtney Love's main band as Kurt Cobain's other musical act. During their respective bands most successful years, Love and Cobain were boyfriend and girlfriend (and then, after getting married in their pyjamas, they became husband and wife before finally ending up as cash cow and widow). I find it fascinating that while lots of people are prepared to credit Cobain with providing assistance to Love, nobody believes he benefited from her input. There are fans who are convinced that Live Through This was written entirely by Cobain who even played most of the instruments. They see Courtney as a woman riding on her husband’s talent, like a taller and less irritating version of Yoko Ono. But you won’t find anyone claiming that Nevermind was written by Love who used her considerable talent to prop up the career of her husband. The conspiracy theories only run in one direction.


Part of the problem is probably that Love herself is more famous than her music. I have never owned a Hole album and I’m fairly sure this is the first time I’ve heard any songs written or sung by Love, and yet I know lots about the woman. I know about her difficult upbringing, her drug habits, her marriage, I’ve even seen her breasts (it wasn’t a private viewing, she was a big fan of whipping them out at regular intervals, she's probably got the second-most famous pair of musical boobs after Madonna and just ahead of Janis).She's become more of a celebrity than a musician and so it's easy to believe that because the tabloid press treat her as a walking headline she must be as talentless as the publicity-craving clothes horses that they treat with the same cynical disdain. Just because she might appear on the same glossy page as Paris Hilton doesn't necessarily mean that she's also a talentless waste of (a small amount of) space.

The music on Live Through This follows the pattern that I believe was laid down by the Pixies (but was possibly someone else’s idea first) that mixes soft and hard in the one song. Rather than writing ballads and heavy songs, Love chooses to write light verses that she sings in her sweeter, more gentle voice followed by huge choruses that she belts out at double the volume in her big, shouty voice which starts to grate after about the third song. The whole album combines to make a big ball of angry which really gets draining after a while. Love doesn’t do angry shouting very well and it doesn’t take long until it gets painful. It’s made especially agonizing by the fact that her writing style doesn't rely on tunes so much as repeated lines. She repeats a line a few time and calls it a verse before finding a line to hammer out six times in a shouty voice to call a chorus. Sometimes there’s a bridge, usually consisting of a line repeated several times.

I started to wish the album would end after a few tracks but it kept on going. And it’s really hard to get behind some of things that she’s clearly angry about. A track called “I think that I would die” features the line “There is no milk” shouted over and over again. It didn’t take long before I was shouting back: “Then for the love of god just buy some milk! You’re husband's a millionaire- send one of the servants out to buy a bloody cow! Stop shouting the deficiencies of your grocery shopping at me I’m getting a headache!”

I have to say that when I could shut Courtney out (which I was trying to do almost all the time) I was impressed with the rest of the band. The guitar sound was really clean and the drummer was doing a lot more interesting stuff than the songs deserved. Sadly it wasn’t enough to ever make me want to hear this again.

Highlight: The occasional moments of guitar that shine through.

Lowlights: That gritted teeth feeling you get when you know Courtney is about to get shouty.

Influenced by: Patti Smith and Kurt Cobain.

Influenced: Evanescence and others like them.


Two favourite Amazon reviews for you this time, firstly this five star review: This album displays Kurt Cobain at the peak of his songwriting abilities. Stand-outs include "Violet", "Gutless", and "Softer, Softest". Listening to these songs, one can't help but wonder the artistic heights that Kurt might have achieved, had he not been taken away from us so tragically early. Also recommended: "Nevermind", "Bleach", "In Utero".

Then this One star review: This album should have been named "Hole Featuring Kurt Cobain". Thats what it is. Think about it. Just imagine Kurt Singing these songs instead of Courtney. It's so easy especially on Plump. Theres actually a version of Asking For It with Kurt singing on it. There is proof that Drown Soda and Old Age are actually Nirvana songs. In one of his last interviews, Kurt even said that Coutney tried to convince him to give Heart-shaped Box to her! This isn't a bad album, but Courtney doesn't deserve so much praise for music she didn't write.

-Poor Courtney, those who hate this album think she ruined songs Cobain wrote and even those who love it give Kurt all the credit.

So do you Love Courtney or wish she'd crawl into a Hole and die? Let me know below.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

467. "Love and Theft"- Part two of Dylan’s fourth comeback.


Album: "Love and Theft"

Artist: Bob Dylan.

Year: 2001.

Genre: Late career Dylan.

Tracks.

  1. Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum
  2. Mississippi
  3. Summer Days
  4. Bye and Bye
  5. Lonesome Day Blues
  6. Floater (Too Much to Ask)
  7. High Water (For Charley Patton)
  8. Moonlight
  9. Honest with Me
  10. Po' Boy
  11. Cry a While
  12. Sugar Baby

At 467 "Love and Theft" marks Dylan’s first appearance in the top 500. There will be another 9 before the count ends. He manages 10 albums in the list which means 2% of this countdown belongs to Bob. That’s a fair achievement but it’s made even better when you consider the fact that this album was recorded almost 40 years after his debut. None of his living contemporaries who dominated the 60’s (McCartney, Young, Mitchell, Clapton, The Stones) have any of their later releases in the list but Bob was still putting out highly regarded albums in 2001 and beyond. Name me another artist who was churning out classic albums in the 60’s and in their 60’s?

I’ll try and keep this review somewhere on planet earth but it’s difficult because for me, Dylan occupies a realm outside any other artist in the known stratosphere. I know that’s a wanky thing to say but it’s true. He influenced popular music more than any other person who ever lived with no exceptions. He wrote so many good songs that they could compile a three disc best-of a few years ago and left off at least three further discs worth of magnificent tracks. He is Bob Dylan and as you may have gathered I’m a massive fan. I’m the sort of guy who doesn’t just love his albums and his officially released outtakes collections I enjoy listening to the unofficial outtake bootlegs- not the tracks he decided to release, not even the unreleased tracks he decided to release but the unreleased, unrealeased tracks. That’s the extent of my love for the guy.

So with that in mind I’ll try and review "Love and Theft" without going over the top… It’s fantastic!

Well I tried.

The problem is that I really do like this album. It’s not just my pathetic Bob-love blinding me to its faults, I can accept that he's capable of releasing less than perfect albums that I never need to hear again, but this is really great, and it sounds unlike anything else going around at the moment.

The strength of Late Era Bob is that Dylan isn’t trying to be anyone to anything except himself. In his early career Bob often suffered from people’s expectations and his own desire to break away from the boxes they wanted to put him in. People wanted to give him labels and judged his releases based on what they wanted him to do. By the time "Love and Theft" was released the music world regarded him as a national treasure and were prepared to take whatever he released on his own terms. He knew it and felt free to release an album of what he regarded as his music.It's the sound of someone synthesizing their musical influences into something new and unique. It takes into account everything that made up the musical landscape up to 1962 when Bob stepped onto the scene and changed music forever.


"Love and Theft" shows off Dylan's ability to take a song and lay down a definitive version which he then takes to new places when performed life. On the record High Water (For Charley Patton) is a great song performed acoustic with a banjo and a bluegrass feel. It sort of romps along with a light touch from the band which contrasts nicely with the darker tone Dylan lets permeate his vocal performance. A live version released a few years later showcases the great man's ability to transform his vision when performed live. While Dylan has given his vocal a more playful tone that dances along with the tune he's given the band a hard edge- the beat kicks along with dueling guitars turning the song into some outstanding Rock and Roll. Throughout his long and illustrious career Bob has always reinvented himself on his records and then reinvented those reinventions when it comes to the live stage.

"Love and Theft" owes a debt to folk-pioneer and Dylan hero Woody Guthrie but also to those who went before. Music from the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s permeate this disc and not just the music of the delta but white music as well. As well as being a great writer Dylan has an encyclopedic knowledge of American music and "Love and Theft" allows us to see his record collection filtered through the life of Bob. It rocks, it swings, it croons and waltzes and sways and boogies and it’s just plain great music with lyrics worthy of the greatest lyricist of the last 50 years.You didn’t hear any of these songs on the radio and you missed out. Go and buy it now.

(By the way, I said I would reserve the word “genius” for only one artist on this list. Bob is not that artist. Genius is not a word I use lightly and while I respect Bob above all else he doesn’t fit my definition of the G-word. That guy comes later on.)

Highlights: High Water. A great track and even better live (check out the version released on Tell Tale Signs)

Lowlights: None. Really, honestly, not a dud track.

Influenced by: Bob’s incredibly extensive knowledge of early American music.

Influenced: Bands who wanted their music to stand outside genres.

Favourite Amazon Customer review quote: “i have already written one review but i have not seen it on this site yet. dylan is prophesying, he's preaching the glory of god in the person of jesus christ.you cannot really understand his true meaning, although there are certainly many layers of thought involved, unless you ara a true christian and studying the word of god like dylan is and i am. for instance dweedle dum and tweedle dee are death and hell. not one reviewer of 280 knows this. this includes the self ordained professors. now plug in death and hell and see how the song makes perfect sense.mississippi is d. living on a fleshly level instead of walking in the spirit. he only did one thing wrong, stayed in the flesh a lifetime to long. bye and bye, moonlight, honest with me, are the lord jesus speaking to his church, thru dylan. the lord loves us so very much he wants to meet us all alone so we can have fellowship with him just like two lovers. he's breathing a lovers sigh because we don't understand it, his feelings[love]for us, we'd be honest with him if only we[could get a revelation of it]knew.dylan can't know when it's time to strike[die].he can't take us across the river of death, only jesus knows the things we truly should like.only jesus can baptize in fire so we can sin no more.summer days of peace and joy are gone from this earth. but d. knows in the kingdom of god there is peace and joy, and in the lords kingdom [the highlands] its still and now going on. po boy is the prodigal son.the love of god- and the theft of this truth- is truly the correct understanding of the title. false teachers, prophets, have corrupted this truth and d. is setting it right, you always knew he was a true prophet anyhow.my captain, who is well decorated is jesus. the loverman is the devil.high water is analogy of noahs flood. as it was in the days of noah so shall it be when the son of man returns.floater is the holy spirit. for the wind listeth were it will,and you here the sound there of, but you can,t tell where it came from nor where its going, so is everyone born of the spirit.if a child asks for bread will you give him a stone. how much more will the father give you the spirit to those who ask.is it to much to ask,no.i'll stop here.i would like to do a word analysis of all the songs. most everyone raves about this album.d. got it all from god.last night the wind was whispering,i was trying to make out what it was.dylan did a great job of hearing what the spirit sayeth to the churces. this is the most incredible album ever done, ever.why, because d. is preaching the glory and love of god to a truly needy world.this is my only praise and worship album. may it now bless you as you hear it in the spirit.

-Okay. Interesting point of view, Thanks for sharing.


So what do you think- Is Dylan the greatest artist of all time or just of the last 100 years? Let me know below.

Monday, October 19, 2009

468. Elton John- Not just Elton John, Very Elton John.


Album: Elton John.

Artist: Elton John.

Year: 1970

Genre: Easy listening Pop.

Tracks

1. Your Song

2. I Need You To Turn To

3. Take Me To The Pilot

4. No Shoe Strings On Louise

5. First Episode At Hienton

6. Sixty Years On

7. Border Song

8. The Greatest Discovery

9. The Cage

10. The King Must Die

Elton John’s self titled album (his second LP) caught me a bit by surprise. I knew Sir Elton as the flamboyant, gay icon who played concerts with orchestras, re-recorded Candle in the Wind and advertised The Royal Mail on television. His music wasn’t something I paid attention to because I wasn’t really in his target demographic. But while he didn’t interest me I’d heard talk of early Elton John who it was worth dedicating some time to. Tiny Dancer and Madman Across the Water were songs I’d always heard talked of and were covered by people I admired. So when I put this album on I expected to hear some gutsy piano and songs written by an eager young artist and not a middle-aged billionaire with a celebrity obsession.

It turns out I was wrong. By the sound of this release Elton was actually born in his forties and from the start of his career targeted the housewives who were going to become his staple audience. There are more strings on this release than piano and for every brief hint of rock there’s a massive dollop of sentimental sludge. I’m not saying Elton isn’t talented or deserving of his fame, I’m just a bit mystified as to why anyone under 40 would care.

The opening track (and the only song I recognize) is Your Song which he’s still playing to this day. It sets the tone for the rest of the album- Elton’s voice is up front and his piano just one of the wash of instruments behind him. Most prominent are the strings which are all over this release. Even the up tempo rocking track Take Me to the Pilot features some violins in amongst the mix, almost as if it was in their contract to be present on every song. I’ve never heard Border song before but I was able to predict the exact moment the orchestra was going to come in. “Violins…now!” I said out loud and while I got a strange look from someone else on the train I was correct to the second. I was pleased with myself for spotting the songs predictability (but had the smile wiped off my face a few second later when a huge chorus suddenly joined Elton without warning and scared the bejeebus out of me).

The song that sums up this release for me is The Greatest Discovery which is so saccharine it could snuff out the life of a diabetic like a candle in a sugary wind. It starts with some big, weepy strings augmented by an honest-to-god harp. A harp! What other album in the top 500 features a harp? I’m guessing none… actually scrap that, the top album has a harp in it but then it’s got everything so it doesn’t count. After the harp and the strings indulge in a battle to out-sentiment each other that lasts a quarter of the songs length, Elton comes in playing some slow chords on his piano and singing. The lyrics are all about a young boy waking up to discover the source of a new sound in his house. I’m reluctant to type the final lines for fear that my computer will implode with the weight of saccharine and turn into an enormous mouse-driven sugar cube… but here goes:

In those silent happy seconds

That surround the sound of this event

A parent smile is made in moments

They have made for you a friend

And all you ever learned from them

Until you grew much older

Did not compare with when they said

This is your brand new brother

Bleeech! Call me a big, dumb, heartless male but isn’t that just gut wrenching? And what does “A parent smile is made in moments” actually mean? It’s making me shudder just to think about it.

So Elton John was a disappointment. I was expecting to be pleasantly surprised but instead was bitterly disappointed at my lack of surprise (if that’s possible). It all sounds like easy listening to me and while I don’t need my listening as difficult as Public Image Limited I certainly don’t like it as straightforward as this.

Highlight: No Shoe strings on Louise Not the song as much as the song title.

Lowlight: The greatest gift.

Influenced by: Bach.

Influenced: George Michael.

Favourite Amazon review quote: “Throughout this journey John and Bernie Taupin succour the listener's emotions with richly blended poetic harmonies, alternately invigorating and bewildering in their density and simplicity.”

-Hmmm okay.

So are does Elton set your heart meltin' or make you want to rush to the John.? Let me know below.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

469. Metal Box- Making the sex pistols look good.


Album: Metal Box.
Artist: Public Image Limited.
Year: 1979
Genre: Anti Rock.
Tracks.
1. Albatross
2. Memories
3. Swan Lake
4. Poptones
5. Careering
6. No Birds
7. Graveyard
8. The Suit
9. Bad Baby
10. Socialist
11. Chant
12. Radio 4

I’ve heard people call Ringo Starr the luckiest guy in rock and roll, implying that the drumming Beatle managed to become a multi-millionaire by riding on the back of his more talented bandmates. The “is Ringo a great drummer” debate is still raging but one thing is for certain- once they sacked Pete Best, the Fab Three could have chosen any drummer in Liverpool and they decided to pick Ringo so he must have had something other than looks that weren’t going to rival the three lads up front. My personal pick for the Luckiest Guy in Rock is Johnny “Rotten” Lydon, who managed to amass a lot of money without possessing any actual talent. He was selected as lead singer of the Sex Pistols based entirely on his ability to rub people up the wrong way. Malcolm Mclaren, the Pistol’s manager, wanted the band to get on people’s nerves and he managed to find the most irritating person on the planet to lead them.
After he left the Pistols, Rotten gathered together a group of musicians and formed a band called Public Image Limited with a view to recording what he called Anti-Rock and the rest of us call "bollocks". Anti Rock is a concept that I’ve never understood: “Here’s something great, let’s try and find the polar opposite of it. Why not apply the same logic to food? Why has nobody ever tried to invent Anti-muffins? “Let’s find everything that’s great about muffins and then find the polar opposite.” The reason nobody has done this is because it would be crap…just like Anti Rock.
Metal Box is much more of a challenge to enjoy than it was to make. The musicians make the Sex Pistols look like Cream and you’re hard pressed to find anything amongst its running length that you can attribute to actual talent. Pretty much every track features a simple repetitive drum line, an equally bland and cyclic bass-line that combine to form a dull plod, which tragically forms the best part of each track. Over the top of this insipid tedium guitarist Levene does whatever he feels like using a consistently grating guitar tone not lightened by any sense of melody. And wandering in and out like whenever the mood takes him is Johnny Rotten, who provides nonsensical vocals in a voice that’s as unmistakable as it is unlovable. Rotten is the only vocalist I’ve ever heard who manages to sound deranged and smug at the same time. It’s a neat trick but that doesn’t make it fun to listen to. And if he’s not using his manic voice he affects a bored monotone that somehow manages to be out of tune. I wouldn’t have thought it was possible to be out of tune when there is no tune to be out of but somehow Rotten manages it.
My grandmother would always label any music recorded after 1945 with the summation “It’s not music it’s just noise” which sounded pretty silly when applied to I Want to Hold Your Hand but listening to Metal Box I’m tempted to believe the old girl had a point. When does noise created with instruments become actual music and not just noise? If you have no chorus/verse structure, no melody to speak of, no key to stay within the confines off and only the bass player and drummer appear to be aware of anyone else’s existence- is it still music? And if it is just noise then how do you compare it to other noise in order to make a list of the 500 best noises? How do you judge if it’s successful or not? Dance music is a success if you dance to it. Sad songs are successful if they make you weepy. Heavy metal is successful if your parents hate it. What about Anti Rock? What were Lydon and co trying to achieve? And how do we determine if they succeeded or not?
While this wouldn’t get in my top albums list if we expanded the count to the top 5 million it obviously affected enough people to make it to 469. How was that possible, I hear you cry in outraged tones? Presumably because the editors of Rolling Stone magazine gave Yoko Ono a vote. When the magazine chose musical luminaries to cast their opinions on the rock world they picked Yoko to be on their panel. What was going through their minds? I can see her bopping her weird, little head to this stuff and putting it at number one on her countdown. Yoko’s opinions, like her music, should never be listened to.

EDIT: I haven't mentioned the packaging but check out the comment by Anon User below which makes a really interesting connection between the metal case this Album came in and the music contained within. Well worth a read.

Highlight: The look on people’s face when I play it and say “you know there are only 468 albums better than this one”
Lowlight: Albatross. And it’s all downhill from there.
Influenced by: A desire to be different to musicians who might have been pretentious but were definitely talented.
Influenced: god alone knows.
Favourite Amazon Customer review quote: Only squares and mediocre fools could think this is sloppy. That is the only way I could fathom why they would think so.
-Who calls anyone a square anymore?

So Should Lydon's image be more public or more limited? Let me know below.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

470. REM Document- Thank God for 1987




Album: Document.

Artist: REM

Year: 1987

Genre: College radio rock.

1. Finest Worksong

2. Welcome To The Occupation

3. Exhuming McCarthy

4. Disturbance At The Heron House

5. Strange

6. It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

7. The One I Love

8. Fireplace

9. Lightnin' Hopkins

10. King Of Birds

11. Oddfellows Local 151

The careers of REM and U2 followed similar paths until they diverged somewhere in the nineties. Both bands had low-key beginnings and grew their fanbase by regular touring. Both groups featured a similar line up and were fronted by vocalists who wrote obscure lyrics with a social justice edge. The fortunes of the two acts turned in 1987 when they both released their commercial breakthrough albums, Joshua Tree for U2 and Document for REM. They both used their mainstream success as a springboard for further commercial and critical highpoints which saw them as the biggest acts in the world. The late eighties and early nineties were big years for Dublin and Georgia’s finest who ruled the world’s music charts and performed for huge audiences. Neither was content to rest on their laurels and felt the need to experiment and expand their sound including other elements into the Bass/guitars/drums/vocals mix. From there the fortunes of the two acts started to diverge. While Bono and co maintained their claim as one of the biggest bands in the world, Stipe and his cohorts saw their sales decline and found themselves performing in smaller and smaller venues.

When looking back on their respective careers in 2003 the contributors to Rolling Stone Magazines top 500 list decided that U2 deserved to have five albums in the list while REM only warranted three. They also decreed that Document should loiter down in the bottom fifty while The Joshua Tree deserved a top fifty ranking at number 26.

I’ve owned The Joshua Tree for years and only heard Document all the way through for the first time this week. I have to say I can’t understand why they’re separated by 400 albums and can only conclude that REM’s fall from critical favour in 2003 must have contributed.

Document is a really great album, it doesn’t have the gravity or serious tone that Joshua Tree does but some would say that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Stipes tongue is in his check as much as Bono’s heart is on his sleeve. While REM’s lyrics address weighty topics (Reaganism for example) they choose to use a slightly lighter tone. The highpoint of this ethos (And indeed the album and probably of the entire of 1987) is It’s the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine) which really is one of the all time great songs. As if the title alone isn’t enough to love it to bits the song kicks along like no other tune since Subterranean Homesick Blues (which it’s indebted too as much as Dylan’s anthem is indebted to Chuck Berry’s Too Much Monkey Business) but its scattershot verses work so well because the chorus is so catchy. There have been songs on albums that I’ve reviewed in this countdown that have become permanently lodged in my brain. There’s one that I can’t even type for fear that it will get stuck in there again and I’ll have to exorcise it by banging my head on the table. Bugger. Too late… it’s there. The song is Poor Little Beggar Girl by Richard and Linda Thompson and it’s currently my least favourite thing ever. Thankfully It’s the End of the World is an antidote to that track because it’s catchiness is so all encompassing that it boots any other track from my brain and refuses any other refrain even the slightest foothold. REM wrote themselves a magnificent song and then milked it for all it’s worth with a great counterpoint vocal (it’s time I had some time alone) and a great arrangement. As a song it works better than anything on Joshua Tree, all of which sounds tame on the album compared to later live versions.

What Joshua Tree has that Document lacks is a sound. That U2 sound which they seemed to perfect on Joshua Tree and is unmistakably theirs. Only the Beatles have as distinctive a style which you can recognize immediately. Stipe’s voice might be famous but the rest of the band could easily be one of hundred’s of other groups. That’s not to say their bad, far from it, but they’re not light years from other groups kicking around at the time.

But what Document possesses that U2 lacks is a lot more colour. After track four (Bullet the Blue Sky) Joshua Tree does tend to sound fairly similar. There’s a lot more variety on Document and as a result I think it’s a stronger album. Granted there is a really misplaced cover (Strange definitely the album’s lowpoint). But that aside there isn’t a weak track.

If your exposure to REM stops with Losing my religion and Man on the Moon then can I recommend you dip into the back catalogue and pull out this little gem. Along with Joshua Tree it helped to kill of “eighties music” and usher us into the nineties. It really was the end of the (musical) world as we knew it.

Highlight: “Leonard Bernstein!”

Lowlight: Strange. A real lemon.

Influenced by: The Monkees apparently, or so Michael Stipe says.

Influenced: American college kids who wanted to find a bridge between their musical interests and their sociology lectures.

Favourite Amazon customer review quote: “Product was in excellent shape, Item cost & shipping were reasonably priced, and arrived in a very timely manner considering I ordered it late in the 2006 holiday season. Thank you AMAZON.”

-That’s it, that’s the entire review. For the last time people- Amazon is not ebay! You review the product not the delivery. Sheesh.

So does REM stand for Really Entertaining Music or Rank, Effluent Muck? Let me know below.

Friday, October 9, 2009

471. Heaven Up here- By nobody actually named echo and precisely no actual bunnymen.


Album: Heaven up Here.

Artist: Echo and the Bunnymen.

Year: 1981

Genre: Ooooh, I’d be tempted to say post punk if I only knew what that meant.

Tracks.

1. Show of Strength

2. With a Hip

3. Over the Wall

4. It Was a Pleasure

5. Promise

6. Heaven up Here

7. Disease

8. All My Colours

9. No Dark Things

10. Turquoise Days

11. All I Want

Echo and the Bunnymen have probably the most interesting name in the countdown so far. It’s made more interesting when you realise that none of them is named Echo and few, if any, of the members are rabbits. It’s just one of those great names that goes no way towards describing the kind of music they play.

Speaking of going no way to describing their music, that’s probably the distance I’ll get when I try now. Heaven up here is doom-laden pop with distinctive rhythms and extravagant guitar flourishes. See? No help at all. But then I defy you to do better.

E and the BM are a talented lot who are more about albums than hit singles. They don’t really do catchy tunes. You won’t find yourself walking down the street humming one of their anthems or spot one of their songs on a Pop Idol audition. The album only produced one single which didn’t break the UK Top 40. But Heaven Up Here works as a great album of material. It’s a fantastic listen from start to finish due mainly to the fact that the band cram so much into the individual tracks.

At every moment in an E and the BM song every member of the band is doing something interesting. The two guitarists are firing off riffs and hooks left right and centre (literally, if you listen in stereo), the bass player refuses to content himself with holding down a simple melody line and the drummer is constantly flinging out fills and flourishes. The overall effect sounds like a bunch of guys trying to earn first place in a “who can be more interesting” competition. It’s a wonder they managed to keep the music together and the whole thing doesn’t just descend into mindless noodling.

I’ve seen Echo and the Bunnymen described as Post-Punk but if anything I’d describe them as anti-punk. The Punk ethos went against the idea of virtuoso musicianship. Anyone who knew more than four chords was viewed with suspicion and attitude was far more important than musicianship. If you separated the instruments in a sex pistols albums and focused only on the bass it would make for a very dull listen indeed. While I was listening to Heaven Up Here I found myself taking out one earphone on a regular basis to try and focus on what one person was doing at a time.

Lyrically Heaven Up Here isn’t especially cheery. My Life’s the Disease sums up the situation pretty well. The vocals are definitely the least interesting part of the album with most of Ian Mculloch’s words delivered as if he’s burdened with the weight of the entire planet. He’s not a happy camper by any stretch of the imagination. His shallow vocal range and even shallower emotional range would drag other album’s down but on Heaven Up Here there’s so much going on that his voice isn’t the focus it’s just another instrument in the mix.

Heaven Up Here is a strange release in that I recommend it, I’m glad I found it but I don’t really need to hear any of the bands other work. There’s a lot on the album that I enjoy but that doesn’t mean I want anymore of it. You really can have too much of a good thing. It’s probably not helped by the fact that they wait until track 7 to introduce much musical variation. The first six songs blend together into a fog of guitars and similar tempos. The rest of the album has more variety and if they’d mixed up the track list a bit it might make the songs in the first half a bit more distinct.

Highlight: The bass player… no wait… the drummer… no hang on it’s that guitar, no that one… no it is the bass player…wait…

Lowlight: My Life’s the disease. Perhaps your time would have been better spent looking for the cure.

Influenced by: Punk and Prog Rock, making this possibly the world’s only example of Pronk Rock.

Influenced: Rik from the Young Ones. “Then I shall write to the lead singer of echo and the bunnymen. Dear Mr Echo.”

Favourite Amazon customer review quote: “I'm happy I have bands such as Echo in my cd collection and feel a bit sorry for those who feel that kid rock and limp bizkit are alternative music. Seems the American public has little taste, see parents that's what you get for letting little Brandon and Buffy watch Jerry Springer after school and not the Discovery channel.....

-That’s a fascinating social experiment. We should get 100 American children and raise them on the discovery channel and see if they transform into echo and the Bunnymen fans. And if they do does that mean they’ll also be able to make such sweeping generalizations about an entire nation?

So is this album Heaven or have you had it up to here with it? Let me know below.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

472. Hysteria- Hair today, gone tomorrow.


Album: Hysteria.

Artist: Def Leppard.

Year: 1987

Genre: Hair band rock.

Tracks.

1. Women.

2. Rocket.

3. Animal.

4. Love Bites.

5. Pour Some Sugar on me.

6. Armageddon it.

7. Gods of war.

8. Don't shoot shotgun

9. Run Riot.

10. Hysteria.

11. Excitable.

12. Love and affection.



“Right. So what’s the name of your band then?”

“Deaf Leopard.”

“Deaf Leopard?”

“Yeah. Can we have a record contract please?”

“So you’ve named your band after a hard-of-hearing jungle cat?”

“Pretty much.”

“Your name evokes images of a large, fierce predator that you can easily sneak up on?”

“Yes. Yes I suppose it does. So about this record cont-”

“No.”

“How about if we spell it Def Leppard?”

“Sign here.”

Way back in my first post I talked about Touch by Eurythmics and how I didn’t know what I was supposed to do with it. I had no idea what reaction I was supposed to have during the long electro passages, I couldn’t dance or sing along and it didn’t move me emotionally so it left me really confused.

You won’t find any of the same problem amongst fans of Hysteria. If you don’t know what you’re supposed to be doing then your earphones have fallen off. Those regular thumping beats? That’s the rhythm for you to shake your huge mane of hair to, or possibly pump your fist in the air; devil-horns optional. Don’t worry about accidentally headbutting the person in front or behind you because their head will be moving with the exact same rhythm. Those huge guitar breaks? That’s when you air guitar. Waggle the fingers of one hand out in space somewhere beyond one shoulder while the other hand shapes intricate patterns on the front of your black T-shirt. Finally those huge vocal sections where the band has triple, or quadruple tracked themselves singing backing? That’s your moment to shout along. Words are important, volume is essential but melody is entirely optional.

Def Leppard are an eighties hair-band. So called because they were part of a genre of music that seemed to spend as much time under a blow-dryer as they did in the studio. Their albums were big but their hair was bigger. During the eighties there were millions of these groups roaming around wearing silly clothes and playing sillier music. I’m not a huge fan of hair bands and thought I wouldn’t like this but I have to say I didn’t hate it as much as I thought I would. Yes it’s dumb. Yes it’s over-produced. Yes it’s written exclusively for stadiums. But somehow it’s kind of fun. There were seven singles released from this album and all of them were hits. Despite myself I can see why.

Back in 1987 I was 14 which means I was basically this album's target audience and so my ears did prick up when I heard some of these tracks on the radio. Rocket is the song I remember most, I recall it went "Rocket, Yeah!" And then followed that up with a baffling line that I think went: "staying alive to live" which clearly made no sense but didn't matter in the least- I wasn't tuning into rock radio stations for life-altering snippets of wisdom. Listening to it 20 years later I can tell you that the reason the "Rocket, Yeah!" bit stuck in my head is because that's pretty much all the song does. The line that follows is actually "Satellite of love" which is presumably a shout-out to Lou Reed. Apart from a really confusing bridge in the middle which seems to consist of a broadcast from NASA the track is basically just a rhythm and some shouty bits. It's insipid, moronic, asanine and I'm ashamed to say- great fun. Actually not being able to make sense of the lyrics is definitely a plus on this release. If you can understand what they're singing then these lines from Pour Some Sugar On Me would have entered your head: "You got the peaches, I got the cream/ Sweet to taste, saccharine/ 'Cos I'm hot, say what, sticky sweet/ From my head, my head, to my feet." Sadly there is no un-hearing lines like that once they've entered your brain.

One of the things that set Leppard apart from all the other bands was the collected number of limbs. While most bands averaged two hands for every band member the drummer from Def had half the number of arms normally associated with those in the percussion business. Rick Allen lost an arm in a motoring accident and seriously considered throwing in his career entirely. With an admirable sense of determination he redesigned his drum kit and kept going. His feet do double the work of most drummers and pedals do the job that his missing arm normally would. It’s an impressive effort to consider that all the percussion sounds (with the exception of handclaps presumably) are made by a guy lacking what most people would consider essential for a good drummer.

Def Leppard's Hysteria- it's silly. Really silly. Very very foolish indeed. And yet kind of fun. I wouldn't say I'm a fan but now that I've listened I'm less likely to poke fun at those that are.


Highlight: Rocket.

Lowlight: That weird bit of talking in the middle of Rockrt where the guitar solo should be but isn't.

Influenced by: Zeppelin, Sabbath etc.

Influenced: Grunge but not in a positive way.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "In 1985, after putting the five then-current members of Def Leppard into a freeze-dried chamber, Robert John "Mutt" Lange began the follow-up to his last studio effort, "Pyromania." His vision was grander this time, and the work on the new songs was slow but precise. He recruited '80's-era T-1000 Robots to complete his singular vision, but the sessions were fraught with problems. Some of the T-1000's rebelled, and Lange, who was suffering through a terrible bout of stress, perhaps because he had not met Shania Twain at this juncture, soon had to take a leave of absence. When Lange came back the T-1000's were in full control of the monumental "Hysteria" sessions, and he could do nothing but wallow in drug-induced self-pity. His only real contribution to the album was the opening riff on track 12, which the robots granted him. (It's really not a bad riff, Mutt!!)

By August 1987, "Hysteria" was ready to roll for public consumption, and the members of Def Leppard were released from their concubines. A tradgedy occurred when something went wrong with drummer Rick Allen's thawing process, and the young man lost his left arm. Luckily, the stilted beats the robots had concocted on "Hysteria" suited Allen's new playing style just fine, and everbody was anxious to proceed.

In another unexplained tradgedy with the band, singer Joe Elliott contracted the mumps while frozen, but he lived to tell his tale.

If you caught this tour in '87, '88, '89, you've caught history, no??"


-I think this guy needs to look up "concubine" in a dictionary. And he also needs a bit of a lie down.


So it's big and dumb but is it dumb good or dumb bad? Let me know below.