Saturday, May 29, 2010

406. I do not want what I haven't got. Not just a good title but admirable sentiments.

Album: I do not want what I haven't got.
Artist: Sinead O'Connor
Year: 1990
Genre: Pop.


1. Feel So Different
2. I Am Stretched On Your Grave
3. Three Babies
4. The Emperor's New Clothes
5. Black Boys On Mopeds
6. Nothing Compares 2 U
7. Jump In The River
8. You Cause As Much Sorrow
9. The Last Day Of Our Acquaintance
10. I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got

I can't help but feel sorry for Sinead O'Connor. It seems like her career followed a fairly vicious trajectory- she started as "the next big thing" then became "The controversial singer" and then "The increasingly erratic singer" and finally seems to have become "whatever happened to Sinead O'connor?" While technically she's a singer-songwriter her most recognizable song is a cover and her songwriting talents have been totally overshadowed by her outspoken antics and even her haircut. I have to confess that when I try and recall Sinead now I can't actually picture how she looks. I know she had a shaved head but then so do I so when I imagine her I can only see myself shaving, which is not a good look. To be honest the image that stays with me more than the woman herself is the satirized version that appeared on a Father Ted episode. It's never good when your image has been taken over by a parody.

The music on I do Not Want has been totally overshadowed by it's biggest selling song. Nothing compares 2 U is what I like to think of as "A found cover" in the sense that it's a huge hit the second time around when it was basically ignored in it's initial form. Prince wrote Nothing compares 2 U and threw it on an album somewhere as a filler track which everyone promptly ignored. But at some point O'Connor, or possibly her record producer or maybe even her hair dresser recommended she have a stab at it. I've never heard the original (not many people have) but I imagine being a Prince song it's sort of whiney and creepy in it's attempts to be erotic. O'Connor sings as if she means every word and spent hours crafting every line herself. It became her signature song, which when you think about it must be annoying if you consider yourself a serious songwriter. You can appreciate how annoying it must be to go out onstage every night playing songs you poured your heart into only to get the biggest cheer when you play the opening few notes of someone else's song.

The rest of the album is just the sort of stuff that must really annoy record executives. You get the feeling that with a bit of lyrical tweaking it could have been full of the sort of songs that sell albums to mainstream female fans. Throwing away the political edge and introducing more romantic whimsy would make it a lot more marketable. I wonder how many people purchased this album hoping for a set of tunes that sounded like Nothing Compares 2 U and instead got songs like Black Boys on Mopeds which opens with the lines:
"Margareth Thatcher on TV

Shocked by the deaths that took place in Beijing
It seems strange that she should be offended
The same orders are given by her"

Listening to I Do Not Want is a strange experience. Musically it didn't move me at all but I can't help but be moved by O'Conner herself. A young woman who felt she had something to say but was reduced to a parody by a culture that didn't want her to say anything, they just wanted her to shut up and sing love songs. It seems to me that the English media sucked all the life out of a talented young singer by turning her into a walking headline and then reveling in the erratic behavior that their persecution caused. I actually had quite a strong reaction to this CD although it wasn't related to the music- I wanted to break the cover in half to form a weapon and stalk press conferences stabbing anyone who has ever used the phrase "The public has a right to know."

Influenced by: Celtic music and Thatcher.
Influenced: Women who wanted an outspoken role model.

Highlight: I am stretched on your grave (sadly it's another cover)
Lowlight: Nothing Compares 2 U

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "This is why I have the babies. My beautiful female babies named Matilda y Brazilda. It's all about the beats and rhytms of this song, coupled with Chris's (i will nevah stop putting 's, Mr. Ward...kiss my fanny bo banny) creamy sexy tone to her voice. My wife likes my bump and grind to this. PUMP up this jam, Chris O'Donnell cause noffing will compare to the you and the tendaness we feel when we caress each other's bodies and make love to your "moody musy". Oh my lands! "

-What the hell is that about? Part of me wants to know but a larger part is more than happy to remain ignorant.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

407. Strange Days-new vistas opened by Doors.

Album: Strange Days.
Artist: The Doors.
Year: 1967
Genre: Psychedelic Rock.


1. Strange Days
2. You're Lost Little Girl
3. Love Me Two Times
4. Unhappy Girl
5. Horse Latitudes
6. Moonlight Drive
7. People Are Strange
8. My Eyes Have Seen You
9. I Can't See Your Face in My Mind
10. When the Music's Over

When my generation was growing up in the eighties the first thing we listened to was whatever our parents were playing, for me that was a steady diet of Mozart but for a lot of my friends it was easy listening radio, I definitely got the better deal. We moved from this onto whatever the pop radio stations were playing, which unfortunately in the eighties was eighties music. If I'd grown up in the sixties I would have had the Beatles but instead I endured Skyhooks. After puberty struck there was always a rite-of-passage moment when we discovered our own musical tastes and develop our own musical personality. For many of my peers the gateway that opened them up to a new musical horizon was a Doors tape. Someone's older brother made a copy of a Doors Best of and it was passed around and duplicated like a prized analogue artifact. Lots of my friends had their world blown apart by People are Strange, Roadhouse Blues and The End. It was cool music that pop radio didn't play, it was adult music and it had as big an impact on a teenage boy's life as their first beer, their first M rated movie or their first nudie magazine.

You can see why The Doors had an instant appeal for 15 year old boys. They were psychedelic and mysterious but in a masculine way. They were clearly into drugs but hadn't let that lead them into a psychologically unsettling love of flowers, girly clothes and non-violence. You could enjoy them without any worry that you were going to stop appreciating Arnold Schwarzenagger movies. Most importantly for a musical choice, parents hated them and girls didn't like them but considered them exotic. But the biggest appeal of all was the lead singer who was the ideal role-model for a 15 year old boy. Jim Morrison was a good looking guy who could pull off wearing black leather pants and you knew had those pants pulled off by willing groupies on a nightly basis. Jim never had to worry about mustering up the courage to talk to a girl on a train, he was never reduced to a stammering wreck by his older sister's friends and he never pined for a good-looking teacher he had a desperate crush on. He was a rebel who sang about how nobody really understood him which plays right into the feeling of adolescent males that makes them believe they're the most incomprehensible creatures on the planet (except for girls who make no sense at any stage). And most importantly of all he died while maintaining his mystique. Unlike other rock heroes of the sixties he never sold out and advertised a bank, or had a day-glo wearing disco phase, or went middle of the road, or went into rehab found Jesus and released an album of songs about how much happier he was playing scrabble with his kids. He lived as the perfect rebel that every 15 year old boy wanted to be and then obligingly died before he turned into their parents.

But don't think for a second that I'm suggesting The Doors are exclusively for teenage boys. There are lots of bands (and heaps of movie makers) who have made a healthy living writing material aimed at the adolescent male. While I personally missed the Doors phase that so many of my peers went through I can appreciate what the fuss was about. There's a lot to like on Strange Days. It's gloriously psychedelic while still staying grounded enough to sound like good old fashioned rock and roll. Strange Days, Love me Two Times, People are Strange and When the Music's Over appear on rock radio and Doors' best of's so are familiar territory. The main surprise for me (who had never listened to a Doors album all the way through before) were how strong the other tracks were. All the things that make their hits so great (Morrison's voice, Krieger's psychedelic but bluesy guitars and Manzarek's keyboards) are all there in big enough doses to make for a consistently strong listen. There are no weak songs which is especially impressive seeing as how this is their second album and came so hot on the heels of their debut that they didn't have much time to write new material. Consequently many of the songs on Strange Days are re-recorded version of tracks that didn't make the cut the first time around. The album's low point is definitely the poem "Horse Latitudes" which is a cheery tale about Horses dumped overboard by a ship's crew during a storm. It's another reason Morrison was adored by teenage boys, he gave them permission to write appalling, self-indulgent poetry. Using the phrase "Mute Nostril agony" to describe a drowning horse is just the sort of thing that delights an adolescent.

On the whole I was really impressed with Strange Days. It made me realise that The Doors are more than just their greatest hits and Morrison is more than just a poster boy. He's a great rock vocalist and deserves to be remembered for more than just his strange life. And while I often sit and marvel at the greatness of our current technological age, I can't help but think it's a bit of a pity that in these days of ipods, portable hard drives, freely exchangeable MP3's and memory sticks, the epiphany of The Doors Tape has left us for good.

Highlight: Love me two Times, especially that opening riff.
Lowlight: Horse Latitudes. Bad teenage poetry.

Influenced by:
The great bluesmen, great poets and shaman,
Influenced: Generations of teenage boys who were given their first taste of the wider musical world.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "This is a disappointing follow up indeed. About as disappointing at the follow up to Katrina and the Waves follow up to their monster hit debut."

-that's the first time I've ever heard The Doors compared to Katrina and the waves.

So what do you think- do you love The Doors two times or can't you even bring yourself to feel affection for them once? Let me know below.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

408 Time out of mind- Must. Stop. Raving. About. Bob.

Album: Time out of mind.

Artist: Bob Dylan.

Year: 1997.

Grenre: Late era Dylan.


  1. Love Sick
  2. Dirt Road Blues
  3. Standing in the Doorway
  4. Million Miles
  5. Tryin' to Get to Heaven
  6. Til I Fell in Love with You
  7. Not Dark Yet
  8. Cold Irons Bound
  9. Make You Feel My Love
  10. Can't Wait
  11. Highlands

I've been a bit negative on the site of late. It's been a while since I've had something to rave about and get excited by. I was worried it was turning into a massive slanging match. And then I saw a Bob Dylan release coming and thought- well that's okay then.

Time out of Mind was Bob Dylan's comeback from the musical wilderness that he'd been in for years. After spending most of the eighties recording terrible albums and indulging in regrettable fashion choices he put out a gem of a release in 1989 called Oh Mercy, which was sadly not given enough attention at the time but I think is an absolute belter. He followed it up with a stinker (Under the Red Sky- avoid at all costs) and two albums of old folk covers which are okay but could never be anything more than just old folk covers. By the end of the nineties the general consensus was that Dylan was effectively washed up and should give up and go home.

In 1997 he put out Time out of Mind and everyone snapped to attention. He won accolades, Grammy awards and widespread respect. He followed it up with Love and Theft (also on this countdown) and then released Modern Times which came out after this list was published but was Rolling Stone Magazines second best album of the noughties (or whatever we call the decade that started in 2000). Throughout that period new Dylan albums stopped being something that fans were tentative about and the press ignored, they became events that music magazines cleared their front covers for. 2009's Together through life went to number one in the UK and other places that have charts Bob hasn't topped in decades. In other words as I write this Bob Dylan is one of the biggest male solo artists in popular music again, and he achieved that not through rehashes of his old hits or tribute albums from modern artists- but by releasing new music of a standard that not many others could approach. And that return to form started here with Time out of Mind.

In order to praise this release I'm not going to talk much about any of the tracks from it. Instead I'm going to talk about a song called Red River Shore, which Bob recorded for this album but decided not to include. Bob fans had to wait for 11 years to hear Red River Shore when it was released on an album of outtakes and alternate releases that Bob put out in 2008. Unlike a lot of artist's " leftover" collections which aren't worth hearing (This is the mix of an album track without the percussion overdub! Here's a demo version of our single that sounds just like a slightly drunker version of the final product! Here's a song we didn't include on our albums because it's crap!) Tell Tale Signs is a fantastic collection of songs that I listen to often. Red River Shore is one of the outstanding moments. It's a brilliant song and one that only Bob could do. It starts with two guitars playing together without settling on any kind of melody. Bob's voice comes in and sings about the girl from the red river shore who he loved once and haunts him still. Eventually he's joined by a bass, percussion, drums and a piano accordion. The song continues for seven and half minutes with no choruses, bridges, solos or changes in tempo. Just Bob singing eight verses each of which finishes with the same line: "the girl from the red river shore". It's hypnotic and brilliant and only Bob Dylan could pull it off and then decide not to release it. Other people associated with the sessions heard it and loved it. They adored it and begged him to include it on the album. But for some reason Bob felt it didn't fit in with Time out of Mind and so it sat in a vault for over a decade.

Bob Dylan ladies and gentleman- a guy who can record a magnificent album full of outstanding tracks and leave the best one off.

Influenced by: His vast music collection.

Influenced: Lots of music critics into giddy spirals of joy.

Highlights: Not dark Yet.

Lowlights: Highlands (it was a lot of people's highlight but not mine. Still doesn't mean it's not a great track though)

Favourite Amazon Customer Review quote: "...HE HAS TO SHOW HIS ''THIS IS WHAT DEATH LOOKS LIKE'' FACE ON THE COVER !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! bob is no musical genius (no ''O'' in genius,people !!!!!!!!) but he is a genius exploiter.he duped a generation of hippies into believing his junk.its been said before,put some other drunk guys name on any of bobs cds and not one person would buy it.except for tom waits but that goes without saying. "

-Silly rabbit.

So is Time out of mind the best album of the nineties or just one of the best albums of the nineties? Let me know below.

Friday, May 14, 2010

409. 461 Ocean Boulevard- Clapton flies solo.

Album: 461 Ocean Boulevard.
Artist: Eric Clapton.
Year: 1974
Genre: Rock.

  1. Motherless Children
  2. Give Me Strength
  3. Willie and the Hand Jive
  4. Get Ready
  5. I Shot the Sheriff
  6. I Can't Hold Out
  7. Please Be With Me
  8. Let It Grow
  9. Steady Rollin' Man
  10. Mainline Florida

Can I just take a moment to wax lyrical about how cool the world is at the moment? The answer is yes I can because it's my blog and the coolness of the world is officially measured at "way"- it's way cool. The reason I say this is because of CD deluxe editions. If you were going to pay for this album on Vinyl all those years ago you would have got 10 tracks spread across two sides of something larger than a dinner plate. Today you can purchase a deluxe CD which (arguably) sounds better thanks to it's remastering. In addition to those ten original tracks (which you can now hear all the way through without having to get up to turn it over) you can also enjoy 5 bonus songs that didn't make the original cut. And as if that wasn't enough you can experience an entirely new CD full of live music taken from concerts performed not long after the album was released. I'm sorry but if that isn't way cool then I don't know what is.

While I love it when people go to a lot of effort to remaster and repackage old albums it has worked against 461 Ocean Boulevard. It's not that the remastering is bad or the packaging dreadful it's just that the 10 original tracks actually suffer when compared to the bonus disc.

I've talked before on these pages about how I prefer live music to studio stuff. Eric Clapton is an excellent case in point and I Shot the Sheriff is as good an example as you'll find anywhere. Clapton's cover of the Bob Marley classic was a huge hit when it was released and went to number one. It was a lot of people's first encounter with Reggae and it's a fair bet that thanks to regular radio play over the years more people have heard Clapton's version than the original. Personally I can't stand it. I'm no fan of reggae to begin with but white-reggae even less so. If I'm going to have to listen to Marley (and frankly I'd rather not) I'd prefer to hear him sing than someone else rip him off. The version of I Shot the Sheriff that appears on the original 461 Ocean Boulevard is not something I'd ever choose to listen to. But I quite enjoy the live version on the bonus disc. The reason is basically because when played live Clapton treated it less like a reggae song and more like a blues exploration which means it lets him do what he does best: stretch out with his guitar.

Clapton is a master guitarist who is admired and adored by generations of young players (whose opinions mean nothing) and by BB King (who knows a thing or two about blues playing). As a vocalist he's average at best, as a song writer he's just okay, as a substance abuser he was world class but as a guitarist he has few equals, especially when he sets out to play the blues. Sadly on 461 Ocean Boulevard he seems to be trying to reinvent himself as a pop singer or a reggae singer or a songwriter or something. He lets his guitar take a back seat all too often and instead tries to move the focus onto the songs (which are fairly forgettable) or his vocals which aren't much to write home about either. The result is an album that's essentially frustrating, you know the songs could be much better if Clapton was allowed to cut lose on his fender strat but instead he's focusing on his vocal stylings. It's like Scarlet Johnson wearing a low cut top but pointing at her feet- the artist can try and emphasize whatever they like but you know what you came for.

I'd love to know what Clapton's old bandmates in the Yardbirds think of a song like Let it Grow which is several steps beyond awful. Eric famously walked out on the Yardbirds after they tried to move their blues based-repertoire in a more pop-oriented direction. Clapton was a blues purist who didn't' want to play anything that hadn't been written by a dead black guy. A few years later and he was releasing solo albums with Let it Grow which is the sort of Middle-of-the-road dross which would have any self-respecting blues man doing pirouettes in his grave. It sounds a lot like one of the more tedious tracks from a seventies stage musical only it's sung in Clapton's creepy-whisper voice which sounds like the ghost of a dead pervert. There is even an attempt at a Layla-like coda which is just repetitive and annoying. Let it Grow appears on the bonus live disc in a version which is infinitely superior to the studio cut. Eric's voice has more of the familiar growl that it would develop in later years (his vocals definitely improved with age) and in between the time it took to release the album and put on the tour he seemed to have discovered some oomph in the song's structure. It's still not a patch on anything put out by Cream, Blind Faith, Derek and the Dominoes, The Bluesbreakers or the much neglected Yardbirds but it's streets ahead of the CD.

My advice would be to purchase the deluxe version of this album and then use the original CD as a coaster while you enjoy the bonus live disc. The versions of 461 Ocean Boulevard songs are far superior to the studio release and the presence of some of Clapton's older songs (Badge, Can't find my way home and Layla) for example only serve to emphasise how disappointing the original album actually is.

Influenced by: Heroin.
Influenced: Rock stars off Heroin.

Highlight: The bonus disc.
Lowlight: The studio disc.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "call this one "Classic Bodge" because it defines the sound of Bodge.

Now you know..."

-No, no really I don't. I haven't a clue what you're talking about.

So do you drop in to 461 Ocean boulevard on a regularly basis or is it an address best avoided? Let me know below.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

410. Pink Flag- Personally I blame the Ramones.

Album: Pink Flag.
Artist: Wire
Year: 1977
Genre: Punk.

1. Reuters
2. Field Day for the Sundays
3. Three Girl Rhumba
4. Ex Lion Tamer
5. Lowdown
6. Start to Move
7. Brazil
8. It's So Obvious
9. Surgeon's Girl
10. Pink Flag
11. The Commercial
12. Straight Line
13. 106 Beats That
14. Mr. Suit
15. Strange
16. Fragile
17. Mannequin
18. Different to Me" (Annette Green)
19. Champs
20. Feeling Called Love
21. 1 2 X U

I blame the Ramones, I think it's all their fault. It's not that they've got a lot to answer for musically it's more to do with their influence on this list as a whole. Those leather-jacket wearing punksters must have really addictive personalities because when the writers at Rolling Stone magazine put this list together they overvalued the Ramones' opinions somewhat. If you include their long-term manager there were four members of the Ramones who contributed to this countdown. They must be the Pringles of the Rock-interview world- you can't stop at just one: "They're very moorish those Ramones, I came to ask one of them what albums they liked but I had to interview another three before I felt satisfied." Now don't get me wrong- I think it's only fair that a Ramone gets to share his views on the greatest albums of all time. They were an influential band who deserve a voice. But two voices? I don't think so. Three voices? Definitely not. Four voices? Now you're just being silly. I think this list would have been a lot more balanced and more credible if the editors had cast their nets a bit wider and interviewed a wider cross section of the music community. Maybe asking for input from Ani Di Franco or an Indigo Girl to address the male bias a bit (most of the female contributors were very pop mainstream) or try quizzing a member of the Jam Band community. Surely the Ramones could sacrifice one of their votes to give a member of Phish a bit of input? They have sold millions of concert tickets over their 20 year career after all.

Anyway the point is that the list seems to be full of punk albums that everyone who is really into Punk regards as "seminal" but everyone who isn't sees as "really obscure." At the time of writing only 42 people felt the need to express their opinion of this album on Amazon. 42 reviews for a release that's 23 years old isn't much and suggests a degree of apathy out of tune with an album that supposedly only has 409 more superior releases in the entire history of popular music. But I bet the Ramones like it which explains why it ranks at 410. And it means I have to review another "seminal punk album" at a time when I've discovered I don't like punk, seminal or otherwise.

Apparently this release is groundbreaking but like Gang of Four, the Minutemen and other albums on this list it seems to follow some fairly standard rules...

1. Use a minimum amount of chords. To quote Lou Reed: "One chord is fine. Two chords is pushing it. Three chords and you're into jazz."
2. Avoid solos. Avoid any musical embellishments of any kind. You've got your three chords- don't be greedy.
3. Don't try to hide the fact that you can't sing in tune- celebrate it.
4. Abandon standard song structures. If you can't write a chorus then just pretend you don't care.

5. Get in, play your three chords and get out before anyone realizes you haven't written an actual song.
6. Celebrate your disdain for Television and those who watch it. It seems to me that every seminal punk album needs to have a healthy stab at TV and it's viewers. In the interests of research I checked what TV program achieved the highest ratings in 1977 and found out it was Happy Days... so they probably had a valid point.
7. Don't bother varying the rhythm.
8. If you want some variety then get a bit shouty. Don't bother changing the tempo just up the volume.

The final rule involves giving your lyrics an edge of obscurity that makes them impenetrable but deep sounding. The Wire are often credited with having thoughtful lyrics an example of which follows:

"My mind is unwilling and your flesh is so weak
Do my movements betray the secrets I think?
I always stand by walls and try to humour fools

Am I moving in a straight line?

Oh, it's unlust and the one-dimensional boy"

That's it. They're the entire lyrics for a song called Straight Line. It's a fine line between thoughtful and baffling and I think this occupies an entire middle ground all of it's own. I'm baffled but in a thoughtful way.

The only song on Pink Flag that I recognized was a track called Strange, which I knew I'd heard somewhere but couldn't tell where. Once I looked it up I realized it was the one track on REM's document that I couldn't stand. It doesn't hold up much better in it's original form.

While I don't like this music I do admire the sentiment behind it. Wire were never going to bow down to anyone, they don't release albums for the masses and you know that every note of every song is what they intended it to be. I really admire that as a concept and admire them as artists for doing their own thing. I understand what an impact this must have had back in 1977 but I can't help but wonder who listens to it now. 42 amazon reviews is a tiny amount and of those most reference the fact that the reviewer has been a fan of them for years. The most recent positive review on the site comes from 2006. I don't think they're picking up many new fans.

Highlight: Some Handclaps come in towards the end of the album and you can't help but greet them as a marvelous blast of exotica.
Lowlight: The fact that it makes you think handclaps are exotic.

Influenced by: The Sex Pistols, The Clash.
Influenced: Husker Du and REM and I'm assuming The Ramones.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "this record is great. buy it. NOW!!!! "ok, i'll do it." -- mindless consumer in search of good music"

-That's the whole review. Thoughtful or baffling? You decide.

So do you salute the Pink Flag or would you rather if flew at half mast for the Wire's career? Let me know below.

Friday, May 7, 2010

411. Double Nicklels on the Dime. Fast music that obeys speed limits.

Album: Double Nickels on the Dime.
Artist: The Minutemen.
Year: 1984.
Genre: Punk

  1. "D.'s Car Jam"
  2. "Anxious Mo-Fo"
  3. "Theatre Is the Life of You"
  4. "Viet Nam"
  5. "Cohesion"
  6. "It's Expected I'm Gone"
  7. "#1 Hit Song"
  8. "Two Beads at the End"
  9. "Do You Want New Wave or Do You Want the Truth?"
  10. "Shit from an Old Notebook"
  11. "Nature Without Man"
  12. "One Reporter's Opinion"
  13. "Mike's Car Jam"
  14. "Political Song for Michael Jackson to Sing"
  15. "Maybe Partying Will Help"
  16. "Toadies"
  17. "Retreat"
  18. "The Big Foist"
  19. "God Bows To Math"
  20. "Corona"
  21. "The Glory of Man"
  22. "Take 5, D."
  1. "My Heart and the Real World"
  2. "History Lesson - Part II"
  3. "George's Car Jam"
  4. "You Need the Glory"
  5. "The Roar of the Masses Could be Farts"
  6. "West Germany"
  7. "The Politics of Time"
  8. "Themselves"
  9. "Please Don't Be Gentle With Me"
  10. "Nothing Indeed"
  11. "No Exchange"
  12. "There Ain't Shit on T.V. Tonight"
  13. "This Ain't No Picnic"
  14. "Spillage"
  15. "Three Car Jam"
  16. "Untitled Song for Latin America"
  17. "Jesus and Tequila"
  18. "June 16th"
  19. "Storm in My House"
  20. "Martin's Story"
  21. "The World According to Nouns"
  22. "Love Dance"

Another album and another entry by a seminal punk group who only fans of seminal punk have ever heard of. The minutemen don't get commercial airplay, aren't stopped on the streets by starry-eyed celebrity spotters and are unlikely to have their song catalogue pillaged for a Broadway musical. But for a certain type of person they're the greatest thing in music and the fact that hardly anyone else thinks so only confirms their belief. My tastes in the seminal run more towards seminal hippies then seminal punks so I didn't know anything much about the Minutemen before I put this album in. But in reading up about them I was immediately predisposed to like them because we shared something in common- a mutual loathing of Sammy Hagar.

Sammy Hagar is best known for becoming David Lee Roth's replacement in Van Halen but before he superimposed his massive ego onto that already self-indulgent edifice of modern rock he was a writer of protest songs. He set out to address the wrongs of the world and put right injustice wherever he saw it. So what was it that got Sammy riled? What inspired Mr Hagar to pen his greatest masterwork? Poverty? War? Environmental destruction? No, Sammy's big protest song is called I Can't Drive 55 and documents his indignation at the new driving laws which forbid him from accelerating his souped up penis-compensator over 55 Miles Per Hour on American highways. Yeah, go Sammy Go! Write the wrongs then right the wrongs!

I've always thought Hagar was fairly pathetic and it turns out I'm not the only one. The Minutemen decided Sammy was a git and dedicated this album to their resentment. The title apparently refers to driving at 55mph (the "double nickles" are two 5's and the "dime" is the speedometer). I'd like to say that the album is basically a dedication to the joys of obeying traffic laws with titles like "Stop! in the name of life," "giving way to you" "Speed hump me baby" and "I took the right turn when I turned right with you." Sadly this is not the case. The actual content of the album seems more inspired by The Clash's Sandanista than anything else. Like the Clash the Minutemen decided to throw pretty much everything at the album and create a monster-sized slab of eclectic. Unlike Sandanista however the experimentation isn't quite as adventurous and the results aren't as successful. They may toy with other influences but there isn't enough straying from the straight ahead punk song to give Two Nickels the lunatic charm of Sandanista. Of course in their defence the Minutemen weren't blessed with the Budget and record label backing that the Clash enjoyed.

Proof, if any were needed, of the Minutemen's lack of budget can be seen on the Video clip for This Aint No Picnic which you can watch on youtube, and a recommend you do. Picnic features the band performing amongst the wreckage of a disused building along with stock footage of an old Ronald Reagan movie in which he plays a World War Two bomber pilot. Thanks to clever editing the finished clip features the then President of the United States machine gunning the Minutemen before dropping a bomb on them but failing to deter them from playing the music they love. It's a clever clip and it shows off everything their fans love about The Minutemen- they're unpretentious, inexpensive and definitely don't have mainstream looks.

I'm not joining the legion of Minutemen fan any time soon but I can see why their devotees like them. If you like quick punk with a sense of humour you might want to become a fan, chances are you'll double their fanbase size in your own town if you do.

Highlight: This Aint no Picnic.
Lowlight: The 34 songs it takes to get to hear This Aint No Picnic.

Influenced by: The Ramones. The Clash.
Influenced: Henry Rollins.


-I hardly need tell you that this review made some people on amazon a wee bit tetchy.

So would are double nickels on the dime a bargain or 60 seconds too long. Let me know below.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

412 Mezzanine- Actually quite a clever title when you think about it.

Album: Mezzanine
Artist: Massive Attack
Year: 1998
Genre: Trip Hop.


1. Angel
2. Risingson
3. Teardrop
4. Inertia Creeps
5. Exchange
6. Dissolved Girl
7. Man Next Door
8. Black Milk
9. Mezzanine
10. Group Four
11. (Exchange)

Massive Attack pretty much invented a genre known as Trip Hop which blends the beats and vocal styles of Hip Hop with the attitude of a County Cricket match. They say that necessity is the mother of invention but I'm not sure that it was an actual need that possessed the members of Massive Attack to come up with a new musical genre. I'm not sure that anyone was listening to Hip Hop and thinking it was all very well but just not laid back enough. "This is some quite good hopping I just wish it was less hip and a bit more... I don't know- trippy for want of a better word."

While I'm not sold on the music I think the name is fantastic. Trip Hop is a perfect description of what this album sounds like. You could almost believe that the creators of this album set out to record a full on hip-hop release but were sabotaged by a dose of LSD that someone slipped into the water cooler. "Okay this next song is about how great I am and how I'm the greatest rapper in the world...and...and... woaah- I just realised we're all the greatest rappers in the world. All of us. No... more than that, the world itself is like the ultimate rapper! And we're not rappers we're like- unwrappers whose job it is to unwrap the layers of rhymes that wrap up the world. Yeah. It's not about rapping it's about unwrapping. Wow. Did anyone hear me breath just then? We should totally use that, that should be the song man the breathing and the unwrapping... yeah this is really it.... hey why does the mic have a face like my mother?"

The most famous song on Mezzanine is Teardrop which you may know as the theme for House (although you may not, since it's only used fairly briefly and without the vocals). Teardrop is difficult to describe if you haven't heard it. The centerpiece is definitely the other-worldly vocals performed by Elizabeth Fraser which sort of float across the track sounding less like a human being and more like a rainforest singing in the shower. While reading up on Mezzanine I was fascinated to learn that it had been covered by other artists which I found surprising because I couldn't imagine anyone being able to pull it off. The best thing about Teardrop is the fact that tune is catchy and fragile at the same time. It makes you want to sing along but afraid that if you do the whole thing will crash around your ears, and not just your own rendition but Fraser's as well. If you try and join in you'll put her off and somehow break the song for everyone else. This explains why the instrumentation around her is so low-key, they didn't want to destroy what was happening.

Teardrop is a great song but sadly it's definitely the album's highpoint. The rest of Mezzanine is dominated by pointless rapping. It made me realise that while I find most of the Ego-driven lyrics of Hip Hop stars intensely irritating it's not just their endless boasting that puts me off. While Massive Attacks rapping is a lot more trippy it's still a bit annoying. I struggle to find anything to latch onto in the album as a whole. For me it's like Teardrop is a great single accompanied by 10 lesser B-sides.

Highlight: Teardrop.
Lowlight: Probably Black Milk

Influenced by: Hip Hop and LSD
Influenced: Everyone else who has called themselves Trip Hop.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I don't pay much attention to pop music. But, sadly, when I do I find little reason to change my habits. The praise lavished on these recordists made me curious, though I was utterly befuddled by this praise when I heard them. Their sound approximates a group of kids playing with casio keyboards in someone's basement."

-I love the fact that he called them recordists. And isn't it great how the basement is always the chosen location when you're trying to deride someone's musical efforts?

So do you appreciate music with an extra level or would you rather we took the mezzanine out? Let me know below

Sunday, May 2, 2010

413. Beauty and the Beat. My New favourite Girl Group.

Album: Beauty and the Beat.
Artist: The Go Go's.
Year: 1981
Genre: Pop

  1. Our Lips Are Sealed
  2. How Much More
  3. Tonite
  4. Lust to Love
  5. This Town
  6. We Got the Beat
  7. Fading Fast
  8. Automatic
  9. You Can't Walk in Your Sleep (If You Can't Sleep)
  10. Skidmarks on My Heart
  11. Can't Stop the World

I can honestly say that I now have a new favourite Girl group. Not that there was a previous holder of the title, it was a vacant position waiting to be filled. I've always been a big fan of the Indigo Girls (who I think should be on this list somewhere btw) but I wouldn't call them a girl group. Belinda Carlisle and friends are definitely a girl group of some description and so I'm happy to award them the title of 500 Horizons favourite girl group- I bet they'll be thrilled.

I have to own up to a bit of blatant sexism here. I made some assumptions when I was listening to this album and I'm not especially proud of my line of thinking. When I first put this Beauty and the Beat on I couldn't help but wonder who was playing the instruments and writing the songs. I know, I know, it's an awful thing to think. Just because the voices are female you immediately assume that there must be some men behind them doing all the hard work that is too tricky for the women folk. The problem was that the Go Go's are described as a girl group and that title immediately conjures images of bands like the Spice Girls- manufactured outfits who never played or wrote a note of their own music. I assumed that everything on Beauty and the Beat was created by a corporate entity who auditioned for attractive girls to cavort in video clips for the songs they'd already had written. Shame on me, shame.

The truth is that The Go Go's are a band like any other on this countdown. They're musicians who met and decided to play music together. They wrote their own material and played their own instruments. Belinda Carlisle, who went on to enjoy the most successful solo career, is the lead singer and the rest of the group went on to various careers that met with limited success after they stopped being Go Go's and became Went Went's. Whether being all girls (and all fairly attractive girls) gave them a head start or held them back (or both) is something you can debate endlessly amongst your friends. The fact is that they've written an album full of catchy tunes and they promoted girl power before we'd even heard the term. Their songs sort of bounce along with a pop sensibility but a post punk attitude.

If you like your music to pop and your girls to have attitude then The Go Go's could be for you. They're not going to get another turn on my MP3 player but they can be marked down on the "Pleasant surprise" column of my 500 horizons ledger.

Influenced by:
Punk and Tina Turner.
Influenced: The Spice Girls.

Highlight: Our Lips are Sealed
Lowlight: Automatic

Favourite amazon customer review quote: "Beauty And The Beat Has To Go Down In History as one of the greatest Offerings in Music. It Is not the Cheesy Pop Singles that makes this album great but the outstanding lyrics, melodies and music on the other tracks which make this album a great work of art."

I think that might be overstating the case slightly.

So is this album a thing of beauty or do you wish it would just beat it? Let me know below.