Friday, February 26, 2010

430 Cheap Trick at Budokan- Second time lucky


Album: Live at Budokan.

Artist: Cheap Trick.

Year: 1978

Genre: Rock.

  1. Hello There
  2. Come On, Come On
  3. Lookout
  4. Big Eyes
  5. Need Your Love
  6. Ain't That a Shame
  7. I Want You to Want Me
  8. Surrender
  9. Goodnight Now
  10. Clock Strikes Ten

There are some artists who crop up fairly regularly in this countdown. Releases by The Beatles are a bit thin on the ground in the lower reaches of the charts but trust me they’ll be back with a vengeance in the upper echelons along with The Stones and Dylan who make up a trinity than seems to dominate almost half the countdown. The Velvet Underground and Big Star have their full discography here somewhere and lots of other artists make repeat appearances. But so far only one band has managed to break into the countdown twice with pretty much the same set of music. There are ten tracks on Live at Budokan, six of which have already appeared on In Color , the album I reviewed a few albums back.

None of those six tracks are what you’d called reworked in any way. They don’t feature extended jam passages, massive changes in tempo, added string sections, changed lyrics, spoken word interludes on the current political climate or a choral backing. They’re pretty much straight ahead versions of songs they’d already recorded in the studio. The only difference is the constant backdrop of screaming Japanese girls which almost drowns out the performers.

Amazingly a steady wash of pre-pubescent Orientals was all that these songs needed to boost sales in America. While In Color sold badly, Live at Budokan, which was supposed to be a Japan only release, was imported into the states so often it eventually got a local release and sold massive amounts. Pretty much the same songs with added high-pitched squealing managed to outsell the originals by a factor of around 100. It’s a wonder other artists didn’t catch onto this: “I’ve got it! I know what this track is missing. Whack on some screeching Japanese girls- there’s your X-factor right there!”

While I could be as cynical as I like about all of this I have to say that I’m not immune to the strange, hirthero unexplored, mystical allure of the screaming Japanese girl effect. I listened to In Color and was under whelmed. It didn’t really do anything for me but Budokan was a much more enjoyable experience. The standout track on both releases is the catchy I want you to want me which was released as the lead single on In Color. It was launched on the unsuspecting world who proceeded to greet it with tidal waves of rampant apathy. The single didn’t chart at all in the US but in Japan it went to number one and was brought by thousands of young girls who took it home and screeched at it. After In Budokan started going places the live version of I want you to Want me was released again and went top ten in the US. Same song but totally different response.

If you listening to In Color triggered your "Meh" response then try giving Live in Budokan a spin. You might find it enables you to get in touch with your inner Japanese teenager. And she deserves to be let out once in a while.

Highlight: I want you to want me.

Lowlight: Goodnight Now.

Influenced by: The Beatles and waves of Japanese adoration.

Influenced: Lots of Japanese pop bands.


Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "This album goes down in the history as one of the greatest live recordings, ever. I recently went to Japan and saw Judas Priest at Budokan (Boo Dough Con, not Boo Duh Con). It was a chilling experience to walk up to this temple like structure...walk inside and imagine what happened inside there in 1978. I was walking back stage in the hallways...and I could imagine Robin Zander warming up vocally...a tinge of nervousness and absolutely no clue what was about to happen. Magic."

-I suspect Zander may have had at least an inkling of what was about to happen. Granted he may not have known the album would take off like it did but I'm pretty sure he knew there was an audience out there on the seats expecting him to play music. Otherwise it must have come as a hell of a surprise when he went out on stage.

So are you willing to give them another go or is having the same songs in the coutndown twice just a Cheap Trick? Let me know below.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

431. Anthology- In the days before they were a kind of pizza.


Album: Anthology.
Artist: Diana Ross
Year: 1974
Genre: Girl Groups

Tracks.


  1. Let Me Go The Right Way
  2. A Breath Taking Guy
  3. When The Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes
  4. Standing At The Crossroads Of Love
  5. Run, Run, Run
  6. Where Did Our Love Go
  7. Baby Love
  8. Ask Any Girl
  9. Come See About Me
  10. Stop! In The Name Of Love
  11. Back In My Arms Again
  12. Nothing But Heartaches
  13. I Hear A Symphony
  14. My World Is Empty Without You
  15. Love Is Like An Itching In My Heart
  16. You Can't Hurry Love
  17. You Keep Me Hangin' On
  18. Love Is Here And Now You're Gone
  19. The Happening
  20. Reflections
  21. In And Out Of Love
  22. Forever Came Today
  23. Some Things You Never Get Used To
  24. Love Child
  25. A Hard Day's Night
  26. Funny How Time Slips Away
  27. You Send Me
  28. Falling In Love With Love
  29. I'm The Greatest Star
  30. I'm Gonna Make You Love Me (with the Temptations)
  31. I'm Livin' In Shame
  32. The Composer
  33. I'll Try Something New (with the Temptations)
  34. No Matter What Sign You Are
  35. Someday We'll Be Together

The Supremes- a story of how three young girls with stars in their eyes became one girl with two other girls and then three different girls before becoming no girls at all. A tragic tales of rampant egos, spangly dresses, alcoholism and a spooky resemblance to Michael Jackson.

This album is actually a bit of a problem since there are as many versions of it as there are line ups of the Supremes. It was originally released as a three LP set in 1976 before being revised and expanded in 1986. And then revised and expanded again in 1995 before finally being revised and altered significantly in 2001. When Rolling Stone magazine put out their list they neglected to mention which of the many incarnations of this release they regarded as holding spot number 431 which leaves me in a bit of a pickle when it comes to reviewing it. I've chosen to stick to the core songs which make up the bulk of every release and include all the actual hits. The remaining tracks (which were only altered in the hopes of persuading die-hard fans to purchase every version) I've pretty much ignored, which is fine because the rest of the pop world has pretty much done the same.

When they started out in the early sixties the Supremes were a trio of girls one of whom was Diana Ross. Their beginning wasn't spectacular by any stretch of the imagination and they really started to take off when Motown head Berry Gordy decided to alter the band structure and make Ross the leader of the group. He made this decision based partly on her looks, partly on her talent but mainly because he'd been secretly extending her more than just professional guidance, if you know what I mean (Gordy was later revealed as the father of one of Ross's children). Previously vocal duties had been shared more equally by the three girls but when the name changed to Diana Ross and the Supremes the others faded into the background and became mere backing singers. If you listen to this album in something like a chronological order you can hear different voices taking leads in the early days before it gradually becomes Diana's show. Not long after her ascension to "Supreme Supreme" Ross's bandmate Florence Ballard succumbed to alcoholism brought on in part by her jealousy at Diana's supreme supremacy. She left and was replaced with another singer, a line-up change that I'm sorry to report isn't really evident on this album. By the time she departed Ballard was just a backing vocalist and easily replaced by someone with a similar voice and less of a tendency to balloon out of proportion thanks to substance abuse.

Obviously the biggest hit on this release is Stop! In the name of Love, which is probably their signature tune and I have to say is the bane of my life. In the school I teach in it's quite common for someone to correct errant behavior by holding out a raised palm and saying "stop" in a forceful tone. I know I'm not the only one who immediately sings "In the name of love! before you break my heart!" in my head, but I'm probably the only one who keeps singing it for the rest of the day. I'm sure its not just me who suffers from Supreme-meme Syndrome in the workplace. Nurses in maternity ward must have Baby Love running as a constant loop in their head; People who sell mirrors must be constantly singing Reflections; Trapeze artists would be forever humming You Keep me Hanging On and TV executives must surely find themselves singing I'm living in Shame on a fairly regular basis. The biggest hits on this album are definitely well produced pop tracks sung by the undoubtedly talented Ms Ross and whichever two peons were lucky enough to back her at the time. They sounded good on record, good on the radio and very good when done live in nice frocks with accompanying dance moves.

While it's easy to sing the praises of the girls in front of the microphones I have to stop at this point and mention the boys behind them. Lamont Dozier along with Brian and Edward Holland made up a writing team known as Holland-Dozier-Holland who together wrote all the original hits the Supremes charted with. Baby Love, Stop in the name of Love, You Can't hurry love, You keep me hanging on and Reflections were all HDH compositions as were many other lesser Supremes songs along with hits recorded by Marvin Gaye, The Four tops, Martha and the Vendallas and Michael Jackson. As a trio they wrote 25 number one hit singles which is no mean feat. They deserve credit for not only churning out so many songs (over 200 according to their official website) but for being able to vary their style and not just repeat a set formula over and over again. They were truly talented guys and they deserve the royalties they still receive whenever anyone cranks out a cover of one of their tunes.

Whichever version you get your hands on Anthology is a lot of Supremes and certainly too much for the likes of me. While their hits are great pop, some of their covers (A Hard Days Night for example) aren't worth hearing more than once. There are one-disc compilations out there which have all the hits and none of the filler that pads out this mammoth release. If you're a fan of girl groups then you could do much worse than get your hands on the greatest girl group of them all.

Influenced by: Motown's stable of singers and songwriters.
Influenced:
Every girl group that's gone after them.

Highlight:
For me it's Reflections but you'll have your own personal favourite.
Lowlight: A Hard Day's Night- it was compulsory to do a Beatles cover at the time but not many people did them very well.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Gee, I really have to get into the new think. Let's see. I go to the Louvre and am shocked to find Mona Lisa's smile has now been airbrushed into a frown and to make something new out of the painting someone has added a mustache. If I object, I should "get over it." After all, we had the original painting for so long! Is the listening public today that dumb and that gullible that 15 seconds more of a fade and tricked-up remixing rates five-star reviews and 20 bucks put down for a C.D.? Sounds like it, and I guess I'll have to get over THAT, too."

-Get into the new think. That's a great phrase. And I like the Mona Lisa comparison, although it does fall down a bit when you consider the fact that there is only one Mona but there are dozens of Supreme's CD's and so remastering one doesn't really damage all of them.


So what do you think- is this Supreme entertainment or do you wish they'd Stop in the name of love? Let me know below.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

432 Sleepless-The most recent album on the countdown.


Album: Sleepless

Artist: Peter Wolf

Year: 2002

Genre: Rock.



  1. Growin' Pain
  2. Nothing But the Wheel
  3. A Lot of Good Ones Gone
  4. Never Like This Before
  5. Run Silent, Run Deep
  6. Homework
  7. Five O'Clock Angel
  8. Hey Jordan
  9. Too Close Together
  10. Some Things You Don't Want to Know
  11. Oh Marianne
  12. Sleepless

There are lots of bands kicking around the planet who people compare to the Rolling Stones. Groups like Primal Scream, The Black Crowes and more recently Jet and Silvertide have been tagged with the label “Stones Clones” for the Jagger/Richards quality of their music. They earned this label because their songs are riff-based rock that reminds the listener of Brown Sugar and Jumping Jack Flash. There are lots of bands ripping off the feel of these great songs, not least of which are the Rolling Stones who have been doing it for the past 20 years or so. While I’ve often listened to an album or song and thought- very stonesy, this is the first time that I’ve heard an album and been instantly reminded of a Rolling Stones ballad.

The second track on Sleepless is called Nothing But The Wheel which as a title makes no sense until you realise he’s talking about a steering wheel and singing “I’m holding onto nothing but the wheel”. The opening acoustic guitar and the way the other instruments come in on cue is very like a Rolling Stones ballad. When the vocals begin you’re immediately reminded of all those great slow songs that Jagger and co used to effortlessly conjure up. I knew nothing about this album before my first listen but immediately I thought of the Stones when this track came along. Imagine my surprise when a few lines in Wolf was joined by one of the most distinctive vocals in rock and Roll.

Mick Jagger sings backing on Nothing but the wheel and later in the track takes a verse on his own. It’s right and proper that he does. In fact I suspect he wasn’t actually invited to the studio he just appeared there as if summoned by the sound of someone capturing his writing style so perfectly. It’s as if he was generated in front of a microphone as soon as the opening chords were played. It’s worth pointing out how great it was to hear him. I love Mick’s voice, I love the stones and I love him. He’s a true Rock icon and capable of turning a dud track into a great one. Not that this is a lemon by any stretch of the imagination. It’s actually a well written song that Jagger himself would be proud of. The other half of the Stones double combo crops up later in the disc when Keith Richards staggers into the studio to lend his weight to Too Close Together. The Ragged One lends his voice and his guitar to the album’s rockier number which definitely benefits from his considerable presence.


I have to confess when I first heard this album I thought it was recorded by some new rock hero. One of the brand of young turks who is proud of their classic rock influences and rather than trying to rail against established acts like the Stones considers it a huge honour to open for them. In fact Wolf is what you'd call an established musician and a contempory of Jagger and Richards. For many years he was the lead vocalist isn the J Geils Band which have had some minor hits in their time but are hardly a household name. Mention them to most rock fans and they'll claim they've heard of them but can't name an actual member other than the blindingly obvious J Geils himself. Far from being a young turk Wolf is one of those artists who is in a happy place where his back catalogue sells enough to keep him supplied with Jewel-encrusted cocaine dishes and he only needs to put out new albums in order to satisfy his urge for creative output. When you listen again with that in mind it's clearly that kind of release- tunes written by a seasoned professional with nothing to prove but no hunger to hit the top of the charts either.

It's also the kind of release that can attract a collection of impressive sessions musicians to play on. Most notably a gjy named Tony Garnier who for over twenty years has made a living as Bob Dylan's bass player and tours constantly with the great man as his musical director. Multi instrumentalist and Dylan player Larry Campbell also lends his considerable talents to this release as does Divinyls member Charley Drayton and someone named Magick Dick who is apparently a former member of the J Geils band and not an actual enchanted penis, which I think is a pity.

Sleepless makes for a pleasant listen and it's novel to hear someone capture the sound of a Stones ballad so well. But it doesn't leave much of a lasting impression and you can't help but wonder how well it will age. When Rolling Stone magazine released it's best albums of the decade list at the end of 2009 Sleepless was no where to be found.

Influenced by: The Rolling Stones
Influenced: Far Too early to say

Highlight: Nothing but the wheel
Lowlight: Five O Clock angel.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Well another surprise from the Woofah Goofah."

-Definitely a candidate for best rock nickname ever. Peter Wolf, better known as The Woofah Goofah

So are you afraid of the big bad wolf or are you sleepless with anticipation of his next release? Let me know below.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

433. Another Green World- Another trip into Brian Eno's head.


Album: Another Green World.
Artist: Brian Eno
Year: 1975
Genre: Experimental

Tracks

  1. Sky Saw
  2. Over Fire Island
  3. St. Elmo's Fire
  4. In Dark Trees
  5. The Big Ship
  6. I'll Come Running
  7. Another Green World
  8. Sombre Reptiles
  9. Little Fishes
  10. Golden Hours
  11. Becalmed
  12. Zawinul/Lava
  13. Everything Merges With the Night
  14. Spirits Drifting

I'd only just wiped myself clean from a blast of Eno's warm jets a few album's earlier and I find myself listening to another dose of Brian's musical outpouring. That's one of the quirky things about this list: it wasn't compiled to be listened to in order so things don't crop up with any kind of structure they just appear in a random way, which at times means listening to someone right after you've just given them a lot of your time.

Brian didn't enter the studio to record Another Green World with any ideas set down. He rejected the notions of traditional songwriting and pre-planning and instead decided to see what the studio produced. To begin with the answer was "bugger all" which meant he decided to consult his cards. No not his collection of pornographic playing cards, although he might have had a peek or two in between sessions, but his personally created card set called "Oblique Strategies" which contain phrases and ideas designed to help inspire creativity. Using the ideas provided by random selections of these cards Eno created Another green world. And so with this in mind I'm going to write this blog entry using the same procedure. I've managed to find an online edition of the Oblique Strategies (http://stoney.sb.org/eno/oblique.html) which I will know use to inspire me to write this posting. Just like Eno did I'll pick random cards (which the site generates for me) and see where it takes me.

Here goes with Oblique Strategy number one...

"Don't be frightened of cliches"

...okay in that case I'll describe this release as experimental and avante garde. Doing well so far. Next Strategy...

"Breathe more deeply."

...Righto. Pardon me while I take a deep breath break. Right I've really got oxygen into the old lungs now. Not sure if this is helping you appreciate Another Green World but at least you know I'm well oxygenated. Next strategy...

"Accretion"

...What? I don't know what that means. Hang on I'm going to have to look that up. Accretion: "Growth or increase in size by gradual external addition, fusion, or inclusion." Right, well I've learnt something today. So I will Accrete this post by gradually adding something to it: Phil Collins plays drums on this album a bit. Next Strategy...

"Lowest common denominator"

...Hmm. To be honest I think I've covered that already. I've done a golden shower reference and a gratuitous mention of the porno playing cards so there's not much lower I can go. Next Strategy...

"Do we need holes?"

...Right. Do we need holes? I think I can safely say that no, this blog doesn't need holes. Holes suggest an absence of something and if anything this post needs less voids and more actual substance. So far all I've said about the actual album is two cliches with an accretion of Phil Collins. Less holes and more substance required I feel. Next Strategy...

"Honour thy error as a hidden intention"

... to be honest I think that sums up Eno's work ethic. There's no such thing as a mistake. If something comes up Eno runs with it and takes it wherever it goes. Which is much easier to do when making music than it is when typing so it works better on albums than blogs. But in keeping with this idea the rest of the blog will not be adjusted for typos. Next Strategy...

"How Would you have done it?"

...Ooh good question. I would have Smashed every synthesiser in the building with a big bat and then hired a drummer, a bass player, two guitarists and a singer and then seen where things go from there. I probably would have made them play blues covers and Dylan songs. Next Stragety...

"Dno't be afriad of things because they're easy to do"

...well that's a relief. I've always been terrified of children's jigsaw puzzles but with that advice my fears are completely waylaid. last strategy....

"Go Outside, Shut the door"

...Fair enough. With that advice I'm going to end this blog right here. It might not have made much sense but hopefully it's been an insight into the way Another Green World was created. It takes a fairly unique mind to design a set of cards to encourage creativity and an even more unique one to let it dictate the terms in a recording studio. Consequently this is a fairly unique album. I didn't enjoy it much but I'm impressed it even exists.

Highlights:
St Elmo's fire which sounds like an actual song.
Lowlights: Sky Saw, which sounds like an actual song but an irritating one.

Influenced by: A self penned deck of cards.
Influenced: Ambient music in general.

Favourite Amazon Customer review Quote:
"Man, I remember this cat back in my salad days who was studying to be a dolphin translater and he wrote a book with a chapter dedicated to the pleasure of interspecies intercourse. Guess what he had playing in his car when the cops pulled him over for breaking into an aquatic park ... "

-That's a great anecdote. Thanks for sharing.

So what do you think? Does Eno stand for Excellent Noise output or Enough Nonsense Oddball? Let me know below.

Friday, February 12, 2010

434. Outlandos d'Amour- Further police brutality.


Album: Outlandos d'Amour

Artist: The Police.

Year: 1978

Genre: Rock

Tracks

  1. Next to You
  2. So Lonely
  3. Roxanne
  4. Hole in My Life
  5. Peanuts
  6. Can't Stand Losing You
  7. Truth Hits Everybody
  8. Born in the 50's
  9. Be My Girl - Sally
  10. Masoko Tanga

I have to admit I was really disappointed to encounter this album in the top 500. I naively assumed I’d done The Police when I reviewed their last release back at album 455 which I thought was their only entry into this list. I expressed my views on Sting and his band and generally made my opinions felt. Bumping into another album further up the countdown was a surprise and made me curious to know just how many of their releases I’m going to have to review. The Answer is four. Throughout this countdown I’m going to have to endure two more encounters with police harassment.

While Synchronicty was their last hurrah and Sting’s rehearsal for his solo career, Outlandos d’Amour was the first album that the trio recorded which means I’m effectively bookending their career. So did they improve over time and break-up having grown musically or did they run out of ideas compared to the stellar heights of their original release? Neither. To my mind they just mutated into a different variety of suck.

The Police started as a reggae punk band which was probably their first mistake. The Clash pulled off a combination of punk and reggae but they’re the only ones who have ever managed it. Everyone else who has tried has ended up taking the worst aspects of both without bringing the best aspects of either. The Police are no exception. The element of punk they brought to the table was the simple chorus repeated often which they combined with a cod-reggae beat to make something that is truly irritating.

Nowhere is this more annoying than on the lead single and a song that must have plagued anyone unfortunate enough to be christened Roxanne. Anyone who bears that name must be indescribably sick of having people sing “Roooxanne” to them when introduced. Would it be less annoying if the woman the Police was singing about wasn’t a prostitute? I think the answer is probably no. The only thing more annoying than a Sting impression is a genuine Sting vocal.

The really grating thing about Roxanne (and most of the rest of the album) is the reggae beat. Now I should probably put my cards on the table at this point and admit that I don’t like reggae. I know I’m supposed to, it’s the one musical form that everyone is supposed to like. “How can you not like Reggae?” I hear you cry. “Don’t you like Bob Marley?” The answer is no, no I don’t. I respect him but I don’t enjoy listening to his music. I’m going to have to later on in the countdown and who knows, maybe I’ll change my tune but for now I can say that Marley does nothing for me at all. So if I don’t like the one man whose name is synonymous with Reggae, the Elvis of the genre, why would I want to hear three white guys ripping it off? Reggae music came out of the hardship of poverty in Afro-Caribbean culture and is at its best when played by people with a foothold in the traditions rather than by white people from first world countries. White Reggae is like Clear cola, black mass and green bowel movements- the worst kind of wrong.

Most white people just don’t have the voice for Reggae. It’s a genre that needs to be sung in a deeper, sonorous Jamaican tone. Sting’s thin and reedy voice just doesn’t work, at least not in this context. When he sings whiteboy songs like Every Breath You Take he does a more than credible job. But when he actually attempts to use Reggae inflections and phrasing as in Roxanne and So Lonely he misses the mark in a major way.

Debut albums are often a bands finest hour. They tend to be chock full of ideas created during the years spent trying to land a record contract. Be My Girl Sally would seem to undercut this argument somewhat. The Sally in question is an inflatable sex doll- that traditional figure of fun and merriment. The song isn’t an actual tune as much as it is a childishly rude poem with a tacked-on and forgettable chorus. Summers recites lines like:

“I took her to the bedroom
And pumped her with some life,
And later in a moment
That girl became my wife”

It’s one of those tracks that usually crops up late in a bands career before the inevitable break up:

“Well that’s it, I’m out of ideas. We’ve pillaged the unreleased tracks from the back catalogue, I’ve rewritten some of our old hits in a different key with a tempo change and we’ve got a few covers scraped together. Can anything think of something else we can cram on here to pad this bastard out to an album’s length?”

Well I’ve got a poem I wrote back when I was 15.

“It’s not that naff one you wrote about the blow up doll is it?”

“…might be.”

“Oh allright then. We’ll bang on a chorus and hope it’s not too crap.”

Sadly it is crap and it’s hard to believe they didn’t have anything better than this lying around to include instead.

Clearly Police fans and I don’t really see eye-to-eye. I wouldn’t have included either of their albums on a top 500 list but if I was forced to at truncheon point I would have put Synchronicity above this collection of Reggae rip-offs.

Highlight: Um… born in the fifties?

Lowlight: Possibly the amazingly pretentious title.

Influenced by: The Clash, who did this stuff much better and Bob Marley.

Influenced: Post Punk.

Favorite Amazon Customer Review Quote: “Here you find a new but seasoned group following the lead of a lyrical genius, all you need to really comprehend the significance of this album is a REAL knowledge of the pain and struggle to say "YOUR PIECE"....”

-I’m not running with the idea of Sting as a musical genius and as for the rest of the review…

So it's part punk, it's part Reggae- but is it all good or all bad? Let me know below.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

435. To Bring you my Love. When White girls get the blues.




Album: To Bring you my Love.

Artist: PJ Harvey.

Year: 1995

Genre: Blues.

Tracks
  1. To Bring You My Love
  2. Meet ze Monsta
  3. Working for the Man
  4. C'mon Billy
  5. Teclo
  6. Long Snake Moan
  7. Down by the Water
  8. I Think I'm a Mother
  9. Send His Love to Me
  10. The Dancer

The first time I heard this album I made the mistake of listening to it at a fairly low volume. I thought PJ Harvey fit more into the folk mode and that I was due for a train trip of fairly sedate acoustic music. I was completely wrong. I started being wrong from pretty much the first track but I became completely and totally incorrect at track six, a song called Long Snake Moan which demands to be played at full volume. When I reached this song I stopped it about two minutes in and started it up again at the loudest crank my MP3 player could muster. I pushed the volume to a point that was not only audible to my fellow commuters but could be clearly heard by the people our train hurtled past. Even if they were sitting cars. Listening to music of their own. At full volume.

Long Snake Moan frankly blew me away. It bowled me over so convincingly that when it finished I’d been blown four carriages back down the train. There’s real power in this song. It’s one of those tracks that should come with a government health warning and shouldn’t be listening to while operating heavy machinery. It’s not just loud it’s got grunt, balls and chutzpah in equal doses. The bass player churns out lines that rumble seismically more than musically. The drummer sounds like he’s pounding skins in order to raise the dead and the guitar makes noises that suggest he’s one of the deceased the drums just brought back to life. Over the top of it all is PJ churning out the sort of power-vocals that should never pour forth from someone named Polly. Harvey is no folkie, she’s no punk either, she’s pure blues.

There are lots of great traditions in the blues. It’s a style of music that has its own series of motifs and codes and the better the performer understands them the better they work. You could write a song about the struggles you were having dealing with the planning permissions laid down by your local suburban council which are preventing you from building a carport but it wouldn’t be the blues. It might be sad, it might use blues chords, it might even be called Zoning permit blues but it wouldn’t be The Blues. PJ Harvey understands the blues. She sets her songs in desolate locations, she deals with issues of true angst and she knows that the blues and the spiritual world go hand in hand. The songs on To Bring you my love delve heavily into religious imagery. God is mentioned often but in ways that suggest he’d be displeased. The Devil is actively at work in the world and Jesus is someone that you can appeal to for help. Just to make sure Christianity doesn’t get all the credit and blame, Voodoo gets a regular mention, which is a fine old blues tradition. A further blues trope is honoured in the presence of blatant sexual innuendo. I haven’t checked but I can say with a fair degree of certainty that the Long Snake PJ is referring to doesn’t possess scales, a forked tongue or more than one eye.

I’ve become a big fan of this album. I really like Harvey and the ways she goes about making music. The band behind her aren’t full of flash and bombast, there’s no soloing or technical wizardry and no added frills. But there is a perfect backdrop for her lyrics. PJ Harvey relates personal tales and compelling narratives and her band paints a realistic backdrop behind her which gives her narrative a much greater impact. The most celebrated track on To Bring you my love is Down By The Water, a tale about a woman who drowns her young baby. It might not be the cheeriest subject matter but then this is the blues. The really cool thing is the way that Harvey relates the tale, she’s worked with Flood (who is a producer not a meteorological event) to turn her narrative lyrics into a compelling tale. When she repeats the final line (Little fish big fish swimming in the water, come back here and give me my daughter) during the coda it’s no longer PJ Harvey singing but a deranged woman who is genuinely appealing to pond life for the return of the infant she’s just murdered. She doesn’t sing the line she delivers it in a passionate whisper which is eerie and really catchy.

This album definitely goes on the “cool discovery pile.” I started listening to the albums on this list in order to broaden my musical horizons and this particular vista is a desert populated by god and the devil and the powers of voodoo and infanticide. It’s a strangely spooky place but one I’ll revisit often.

Highlight: Long Snake Moooaaaan. Lowlight: The Dancer. Influenced by: The Blues, crossroads, the devil and the delta. Influenced: Not sure but I'd like to hear them.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I know it's not me, but I found nothing on this CD even remotely listenable. This is horrible crap. Apparently, those who deem it great and all must have all of their taste in their mouth. After I listened to my copy I am now using it as a coaster. Works better that way." - I don't think anyone buys coasters anymore. Judging by the number of reviews on amazon who declare their least favourite music is now a small drinks mat I think the coaster industry has gone totally belly up. Coaster makers across the land must be drowning their sorrows in bars and sobbing bitterly as they rest their drinks on unwanted copies of PJ Harvey albums. Spare them a thought. So does PJ make you Perfectly Jubilant or is she Pure Junk? Let me know below.

Friday, February 5, 2010

436 Here come the warm jets- a slightly scary delve into a very quirky mind.


Album: Here come the warm jets.

Artist: Brian Eno.

Year: 1974

Genre: Experimental.

Tracks.

  1. Needles in the Camel's Eye
  2. The Paw Paw Negro Blowtorch
  3. Baby's on Fire
  4. Cindy Tells Me
  5. Driving Me Backwards
  6. On Some Faraway Beach
  7. Blank Frank
  8. Dead Finks Don't Talk
  9. Some of Them Are Old
  10. Here Come the Warm Jets

I’ve never really given a huge amount of thought to Rock producers before. I think I’ve always seen them as coming from the George Martin school: nice, middle-aged boffins without artistic temperaments who were much more comfortable in the technical part of the studio than out where the instruments were. The sort of people who’s job it was to get the weird ideas in the artist’s drug-addled mind onto tape in a format that actually had some marketing potential. A staid and necessary buffer between the madness in the musician's head and the commercial obsessions of the record company executives.

Before I heard Here Come the Warm Jets I knew Brian Eno as a producer and not a musician. I’d never heard his solo musical output but was very familiar with many of his production credits, especially the albums he produced for U2, which are basically all the good ones. Having now heard the music that Eno produces when he’s in charge and read some interviews with the man I can only conclude that far from acting as a calm temperament in the studio keeping Bono’s wild ideas in check, Eno was most probably a deranged loon who wanted to push U2’s music into strange and spooky areas.

Now that I’ve been introduced to the other facet’s of Eno’s life I might as well address them individually as they relate to this album

Eno as lyricist: Ranges from the esoteric… “Blank Frank is the siren, he's the air-raid, he's the crater. He's on the menu on the table, he's the knife and he's the waiter” …to the macabre… “Baby's on fire/ Better throw her in the water/ Look at her laughing/ Like a heifer to the slaughter” …and back again… “You have to make the choice between/ The Paw Paw Negro Blowtorch and me”

Eno as a songwriter: Brian freely admits that he didn’t really write these songs as much as create the circumstance in which they were able to occur. He deliberately collected a group of musicians that he thought wouldn’t get on, in the hope of building tension and a friction filled atmosphere. He then manipulated the results in the mixing process in order to create something even stranger than the sound of musicians disliking each other. Don’t try to dance or sing along, life doesn’t always work that way.

Eno as arranger and producer: There are recognizable instruments on Warm Jets, and then there are disguised instruments, instruments played in ways they weren’t designed to and instruments distorted out of all recognition. And then there’s an added level of tonal weirdness that belongs in another category altogether.

Eno as singer: Nasal, unpleasantly nasal.. One Interview I read described his voice like this: “His singing is not unlike the shriek of a hare that's just caught an air gun pellet up the ass.” That’s a pretty woeful description but then I can’t really do better and I don’t have the resources to propel objects up the anal orifices of rodents in order to make a suitable comparison. It could very well be an amazingly accurate summation. For all I know the reporter in question lined up an entire menagerie and then systematically opened fire up their rectums until one of the poor beasts let forth a shriek that exactly resembled the way Eno sings on Warm Jets. If that’s the case then I take my hat off to the commitment of the music journalist in question.

Eno as a person: Out there. Waaaay out there. For a while he was much more interested in discussing his extensive collection of pornography with journalists than talking about his music. He believes sexually explicit material is an art from which might explain his extensive collection of pornographic playing cards but does little to account for his love of mud-wrestling videos. Eno was also a fan of nuding up during interviews and discussing his own body parts. My personal favourite quote is: “I only make love to keep my feet warm,” which might go some way to explaining why his marriages break up- if someone gave him a toasty warm pair of socks for Christmas the sexual side of the relationship would fall apart completely. While Eno went on record as saying the title of this album was a reference to his guitar playing style he also admits there’s a golden shower connection (google it if you don’t know what a golden shower is but for God’s sake don’t search for images or video.)


Here come the warm Jets isn’t something I could listen to on any sort of regular basis. It’s one of those albums that pushed music in a new direction, I’m just not sure that it pushed it to a place that music wanted to go. Music was perfectly happy where it was before Eno unleashed his warm jets all over it and gave us this album.

Highlight: On some faraway beach. Not bad at all.

Lowlight: Baby’s on fire. Not good at all.

Influenced by: Glam Rock and a desire to work against glam rock.

Influenced: Not many of the artists that Eno went on to work with. He produced albums for INXS who I just can’t picture listening to this.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Qoute: Paw Paw Negro Blow Torch is one of the sexiest songs done, next to Found a Job and Tight Scrummy.

-I’m sorry but anyone who is turned on by Paw Paw negro Blow Torch is someone that I don’t want to have a sexual encounter with.

So would you bask happily under the flow of a warm jet or would you rather wash your hands of the whole thing? Let me know below.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

437 All things must pass- Isn’t it a pity


Album: All things must pass.

Artist: George Harrison.

Year: 1970

Genre: Rock


Tracks.


1. I'd Have You Anytime
2. My Sweet Lord
3. Wah-Wah
4. Isn't It a Pity (Version 1)
5. What Is Life
6. If Not for You
7. Behind That Locked Door
8. Let It Down
9. Run of the Mill
10. I Live for You
11. Beware of Darkness
12. Let It Down
13. What Is Life
14. My Sweet Lord (2000)

Disc Two

1. Beware of Darkness
2. Apple Scruffs
3. Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll)
4. Awaiting on You All
5. All Things Must Pass
6. I Dig Love
7. Art Of Dying
8. Isn't It a Pity (Version 2)
9. Hear Me Lord
10. It's Johnny's Birthday
11. Plug Me In
12. I Remember Jeep
13. Thanks for the Pepperoni
14. Out of the Blue

The Beatles were the biggest thing in popular music because they were so much greater than the sum of their parts. Lennon and McCartney brought out the best in each other, they both brought out the best in George Harrison, producer George Martin brought out the best in all of them and Ringo brought his drums along. They were a finely balanced collection of talents whose egos were all kept in check and adequately counter-weighted until Yoko Ono slithered into the picture and buggered everything up with a level of incandescent pratness which the pop world had hitherto not seen contained in an individual person.

Yoko really did upset the entire Apple cart. Prior to her appearance John Lennon sought the musical opinions of Paul who was his musical equal and George Martin who was a wise and impartial observer. When Yoko, who was as talentless as she was opinionated, entered John’s life she became his primary sounding board and he lost all sense of perspective. The balance broke down and sadly the Beatles collapsed like a teenage jam session when the pizza arrives. Separate ways were gone and solo careers pursued, none of which came anywhere near approaching the levels that the Fab Four and Martin achieved together.

Harrison was the immediate winner when the three Beatles songwriters were released from Beatledom and allowed to go their separate. Because he came quite late to the songwriting game, and even later to the actually-worth-hearing-songwriting-game (his early efforts were pretty average) George was the Beatle who had the biggest backlog of unrecorded songs to get out of his system. While Paul and John’s work made up 90% of the later Beatles efforts, George could only get one or two of his songs on every album, even though he had enough material to make a single album of his own. So when it came time to release a solo project George had three discs of songs to release… actually that’s not true he only had two but he cobbled together a third just for the hell of it.

Some of the songs that finally found there way onto All Things Must Pass had been hanging around in George’s song drawer for nearly four years. Truly great songs like Isn’t it a pity were put forward by the quiet Beatle for consideration on Beatle’s albums but rejected by the two noisy Beatles in favour of their own work.

For me this is a shame on two levels- partly because (and I know it’s sacrilege to say this) late-era Beatles albums could have been much better if George had been allowed more material. The White album is a classic release but if it had been allowed to replace some of it’s dead wood (Revolution 9, the two Honey Pies, Bungalow Bill, the slow version of Revolution) and replace them with some of George’s better tracks the album would be even greater. But John and Paul weren’t having it.

The other pity about All Things Must Pass is that it was produced by Phil Spector, a man who deserves as much contempt, scorn and vitriol as Yoko Ono. While all but one of the Beatles albums were produced by the incomparably angelic and perfect George Martin one release was spewed forth by the creeping horror that is Phil Spector- a small worm-like creature who is the exact opposite of Martin in every way. The two individuals are like polar opposites: Martin understands the value of a song and does what he can to make it achieve all it can- Spector sees songs as raw material to be transformed into one of his overblown monstrosities; Martin’s personality created an atmosphere in the studio that bought out the best in his artists, Spector turned up with fire arms, threw tantrums and issued death threats; Martin recently celebrated his 43rd wedding anniversary- Spector is currently serving a prison sentence for murdering his girlfriend.

While they later went on to regret the decision, the Beatles collectively and individually, became involved with Spector and let him produce and subsequently ruin their work. He was responsible for turning Let it Be, the final album from the Fab Four into a travesty that subsequent reissues were thankfully able to save. He was also responsible for producing All Things Must Pass and made it an overblown mess which George felt the need to remix years later in order to create a version that was much truer to his original intention than what was originally released on vinyl.

All Things Must pass is marred by Spector’s trademark overproduction: voices and instruments are treated to unnecessary echo and reverb, there are loads of overdubs that don’t need to be there and songs tend to hang around long after they’ve worn out their welcome. The most famous single to come out of this sessions was My Sweet Lord, which you will recognise as that song you hear on the radio and enjoy for the first few minutes but wish would bugger off a lot earlier. Sadly this is typical of a lot of songs on this release. All things must pass but on this album they don’t pass nearly quickly enough. Otherwise great songs like Wah Wah, What is life and especially Isn’t it a pity have long and drawn out codas as Spector attempts to turn them from good pop songs into symphonic movements.

If you’re going to listen to this album, and I recommend you do, make sure you check out the remixed version that George himself put together a few years before his death. It strips back some of Spector’s damage and reveals a great set of songs, many of which would have been good enough to grace an album by the Beatles. There’s even a lot of joy to be had in the third disc on this set which is made up of jam sessions recorded by some of George’s friends in the studio.

I recommend this and I’d go on record as saying it’s the best solo release by a former Beatle. And I really recommend the recently released Let It Roll, a dud-free George Harrison greatest hits compilation which makes for a fantastic listen.

Influenced by: The Beatles, Ravi Shankar and Eastern Spiritualism.

Influenced: Not sure. I’ll say Belle and Sebastian and defy you to contradict me.

Highlight: Wah Wah.

Lowlight: Those long drawn out codas.

Favourite Amazon customer review quote: “there's so much you don't know about George Harrison, after listening to this album everyday when I woke up all the way through each and every morning for seventy seven days, jams and bonus tracks included, there is even more I don't know about George Harrison, God help me this album contains secrets”

-Wow, that’s a truly creepy level of dedication.

So do you wish the quiet Beatle would stay silent or did you enjoy all the things that passed by your ears when you heard this? Let me know below.