Friday, July 30, 2010

390. Elephant. Jack White's early attempts to save Rock and Roll.

Album: Elephant
Artist: The White Stripes
Year: 2003
Genre: Rock

  1. Seven Nation Army
  2. Black Math
  3. There's No Home for You Here
  4. I Just Don't Know What to Do with Myself
  5. In the Cold, Cold Night
  6. I Want to Be the Boy to Warm Your Mother's Heart
  7. You've Got Her in Your Pocket
  8. Ball and Biscuit
  9. The Hardest Button to Button
  10. Little Acorns
  11. Hypnotize
  12. The Air Near My Fingers
  13. Girl, You Have No Faith in Medicine
  14. It's True That We Love One Another
  15. Who's to Say
  16. Good to Me

You have to love the idea of the White Stripes even if you don't enjoy their music. Two people (who may or not have been married or related) decided to record albums of music using only outdated analogue equipment. They formed a band and didn't bother to include a bass player. They took their influences from all over the musical spectrum and defied anyone to put them into a box. Although if they were to be put in a box they'd ensure the carton in question was red, white and black- their signature colour scheme which dominates all their album covers, video clips and stage sets. They were a tri-chrome pair of ambiguously-related sixties throwbacks who used old stuff to make new music. How can you not love them?

The answer is: easily. There are lots of people who hate the white stripes and you can see why. Jack's voice isn't what you'd call approachable. His singing sounds like he's laying down demo tracks after a long party. His guitar playing is squeaky, distorted and not just all over the shop it's all over the extensive mall complex with parking facilities. Meg White's drumming is adequate and her voice is a total contrast to Jack's. While he sings like he doesn't give a stuff she sounds like she's incredibly nervous about the final outcome. If you're the sort of person who likes music accessible and beautiful the White Stripes are definitely not your cup of tea (raspberry tea presumably, served in a white cup on a black saucer).

Personally I really like Jack and Meg and I've taken this album as an opportunity to try and work out why. What is it about them that I respond to? Is it the White Stripes I like or the idea of the White Stripes? We now know all about their relationship (they married in 1996, he took her surname name and kept it when they divorced in 2000) but for years the media was still trying to unearth the real facts about their claim to be siblings. I have to confess I really loved the idea that the celebrity obsessed media was completely stumped by two young musicians from Detroit who confused them for years. I like the idea that they can't be compared to any other band (except possibly The Velvet Underground but only because they've both got female drummers who can't really sing) and there's something about Jack White's reverence for the distant past that appeals to me. But does their music actually live up to the myth they've created around themselves?

Yes. Yes it does.

Elephant is a great album and it doesn't hold it's greatness back, it's quite happy to reveal it in the opening seconds of the first track. Seven Nation Army has a fantastic riff that came in a decade when you would assume all the great riffs has already been written. It's instantly catchy and gets stuck in your head in a happy way. If you know the song you're singing it in your head now. And while there are other bands who can write a good riff but then have no idea what to do with it Jack uses it as a launchpoint for a great song. The beat has you nodding your head and the track motors along with perfectly judged peaks and troughs. It's a great track and I enjoy it all the more knowing that the riff was written in The Corner Hotel in Melbourne, Australia a city I'm proud to call my home. It's slightly pathetic to point out connections like this but there is precious little that's Australian in this countdown so you have to cling to whatever you can.

Thankfully the rest of the album proves that White is a long way from a one-tricky pony. Ball and Biscuit is a magnificent blues track, I just don't know what to do with myself is a fantastic Bacharach cover, There's no home for you here girl go away is a vicious dismissal song and The Cold Cold night is actually a lovely song that suits Meg's voice. Those who hate the White Stripes' harsh edges would be well advised to check out You've Got Her in Your Pocket, a gentle acoustic ballad which proves Jack can write a song quiet music as well as he does noisy. I'm sure some producer somewhere has heard this track and realized it's potential as a career launching point for some female balladeer with a beautiful voice and looks to match. There's barely a dud track on the album and even the last few moments, which are usually reserved for filler, bristle with killer moments. My favourite track of the album is possibly The Air Near My Fingers which frollicks along with some great lyrics and even a tasty organ solo.

Jack White has decided to save modern rock and roll and frankly he's doing a great job. The White Stripes are just one of the great band's he's formed. He's one of the most exciting voices in modern rock and I look forward to hearing what he can produce in the future.

Highlight: Seven Nation Army
Lowlight: Little Acorns

Influenced by: The Blues and analog equipment.
Influenced: Lots of bands who fell in love with guitars again

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Finally, something that's better then the others. But yet you ask; "Why give it one star?" Well, it SUCKS!!! Yes, it SUCKS!!! Those other C.D.'s by this artist SUCK even MORE!!! And I hear Jack White received an award for best guitar from MTV... Clearly, those people are out of their minds, and probably don't know what good guitar sounds like. And, why does Meg always use those cymbals? And, as a bassist/guitarist, I find it somewhat stupid that they don't hire a full-time bassist. It's also a bit "insulting."

-That's fantastic. A bassist backlash against the White Stripes. I love the idea of something that can make the least passionate member of ever rock band get angry and riled up. "I was so furious about the white stripes insult to bassists everywhere that last week when I was onstage I moved a few feet away from my amp in protest"

So are you insulted by the White Stripes lack of a bassist who glad that music is finally being liberated from it's dependence on the four-stringed menace? Let me know below.

Friday, July 23, 2010

391. The Pretender- Another album what's the guy's name...sorry I'll have to go look it up.

Album: The Pretender
Artist: Jackson Browne
Year: 1976
Genre: Folk

1. The Fuse
2. Your Bright Baby Blues
3. Linda Paloma
4. Here Come Those Tears Again
5. The Only Child
6. Daddy's Tune
7. Sleep Dark and Silent Gate
8. The Pretender

Here's another Jackson Browne album for you which means another casual meander into forgettable musical territory. Inoffensive songs with pleasant melodies, forgettable riffs and an attitude so laid back it needs to look up to see it's own feet. Rock and Roll without the urgency. Country without the swagger. Pop without the hooks. Folk without the whine. It's a wonder they managed to imprint this music onto vinyl because it failed to make any impression on me.

While I don't have much that's nice to say about Jackson Browne I'm certainly not brave enough to say anything nasty about him for fear that his friends will beat me up. Browne has a lot of friends. Some people allow one or two of their close colleagues to appear on their album but Browne appears to just fling open the doors and let whoever is passing drop on in. The Roll call for The Pretender contains some pretty impressive names: David Crosby and Graham Nash, Bonnie Raitt, Albert Lee, Lowell George, Bill Payne and Fred Tackett from Little Feat, Don Henly from the Eagles, John Hall (who is currently a Congressman in NY), Jim Gordon (sadly still serving time in prison) and Gary Coleman (presumably not the cute kid from Diffrent strokes who died recently). It's a big roll call but for some reason the talents of most of those people just don't add to the album. Rather than adding the sort of fiery licks that Raitt, Lee and George are capable of they get sucked into the middle of the road feeling that Browne is famous for. Just like his last album (For Everyman Number 457) it's not offensive or bland it's just a bit dull and nothing I can get excited by. Browne has a really nice voice but I think I'd rather hear it introducing music on a radio station than on the tracks themselves. He'd make a good DJ on a late night station somewhere playing tunes for shift workers, as long as they weren't his own songs which might have a tendency to make them nod off at their heavy machinery.

This is probably a good time to discuss two of Browne's collaborators who deserve a mention which they might not otherwise get. The first is Jim Gordon who plays drums on this album and deserves a paragraph of his own because he possibly appears on this list more than any other session musician. His drumming or organ playing is on Pet Sounds (The Beach Boys), The Notorious Byrd Brothers (The Byrds), Layla and other assorted love songs (Derek and the Dominoes), All things must pass (George Harrison), Imagine (John Lennon), 12 songs (Randy Newman), Back to Mono (Phil Spector) and Pretzel Logic (Steely Dan). He's can also be found on albums by BB King, John Lee Hooker, Frank Zappa, Barbara Striesand, the Muppets and dozens of others. You know you're a good drummer when your skills are called on by half the Beatles, two blues Legends, Frank Zappa and Jim Henson. Sadly Gordon would probably be present on a dozen more top 500 releases if he wasn't currently serving a prison sentence for murdering his own mother with a hammer back in 1983. He's due for parole but I'd be surprised if we see him on the streets anytime soon. Apparently Gordon destroyed a prison mess hall recently when he saw footage on television of Clapton performing an acoustic version of Layla (which Gordon co wrote) and had to be heavily sedated. He's been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and is not a well man.

The other person I'd like to mention is Lowell George who along with Fred Tackett and Bill Payne played in legendary Rock outfit Little Feat who I think deserve a place in this countdown. While their studio output might not be the greatest music ever committed to vinyl their live album Waiting for Columbus is a magnificent collection of fantastic tracks. They're nothing short of brilliant and this list would get a lot more respect from me if it had more love for the Feat.

Sorry I've forgotten who I'm meant to be reviewing. Whoever it is they're not nearly as memorable as Little Feat. Let's hope I never have to review them again.

Highlight: Dixie Chicken (although it's on Waiting for Columbus by Little Feat)
Lowlight: The end of side one when you realise it's not worth the effort turning over and you might as well just play the first side again

Influenced by: Easy Listening.
Influenced: Even Easier Listening.

Favourite Amazon Customer review Quote: "I cannot say enough about the importance of this album. The lowest point in Jackson Browne's life (his wife's suicide) produced the most harrowing and effectual songs of his carrer. 'The Pretender' and 'Here Come Those Tears Again' are the most striking songs about love, life and everything in-between. From the first moments of this album (The Fuse) to the final fading of 'The Pretender', the only thing you want from this album is more of it."

-I love reviews that completely disagree with everything I've said.

So is Jackson Browne a Pretender to the throne of rock god or does he deserve his place? Let me know below.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

392. Willy the Poor Boys- Fortunate Son and some other tracks.

Album: Willy and the Poor boys.
Artist: Creedence Clearwater Revival
Genre: Rock
Year: 1969

  1. Down on the Corner
  2. It Came Out of the Sky
  3. Cotton Fields
  4. Poorboy Shuffle
  5. Feelin' Blue
  6. Fortunate Son
  7. Don't Look Now
  8. The Midnight Special
  9. Side o' the Road
  10. Effigy

I need to share a quick story here before I go on. When I was kid in Primary school we had these music books that we'd use to sing in music classes. They had a mixture of traditional Australian hits along with some of the more kid-friendly rock and roll (Yellow Submarine, Octopuses Garden etc). One of the songs (and possibly my music teacher's favourite) was Down on the Corner which we used to sing a lot. When I was somewhere in the middle of my formative years I actually heard this song on the radio and was stunned that someone had recorded a song from my primary school music book. I assumed they must have been hanging around outside listening to Grade 2 belting out our sensational version of Down on the Corner and thought they could make money with it. I was, it must be pointed out, an exceptionally stupid child. And it's appropriate that I begin this review with a tale about my childhood because I'm going to refer to this album as Willy from now on and you know it's making me giggle in an extremely immature way.

Willy is the first Creedence album to appear on this list and, I have to confess, the first CCR album that I've heard all the way through. I've owned one of their best-ofs for a while and play it occasionally but it's never inspired me to seek out their releases. Willy and the Poor Boys hasn't inspired me to hunt out any of their other albums and it's basically affirmed what I already knew- they're catalogue makes for a great single-disc best-of.

It seems that by the time they came to record this album the CCR's inspiration had pretty much dried up. While their earlier album's contain lots of strong originals the Fogerty-written tracks on this release are fairly thin on the ground. Two of the ten tracks are disposable instrumentals that sound more like the sort of lifeless studio jams added to anniversary edition CD's to pad out running times than anything that belongs on an official release. Two more tracks are covers which CCR don't really kick out of the park, in fact they barely boot to the other end of the field. It's all sounding a bit weary but Creedence do have a magnificent excuse: Willy and the Poor Boys was the third studio album they released in 1969. Today bands are more likely to have three years in between albums than three releases in the same 12 months. But back in the sixties bands cranked out the LP's and so CCR found themselves back in the studio trying to put together another set of ten tracks almost as soon as their previous release hit the shops. Under that kind of pressure you couldn't blame them for hanging around Primary schools trying to overhear music lessons for inspiration. They can definitely be forgiven for throwing in a cover and an instrumental or two.

The good news is that the original tracks on Willy make up for the lack of spark provided by the filler. Fortunate Son has so much damn spark it's a Hadron Collider sized light show all of it's own. It's justifiably held up as one of the greatest songs of the sixties and has managed to maintain it's edge despite major overuse in pretty much every sound track going. Lyrically it was a scathing condemnation of the Vietnam war before such sentiments were popular along with a damning indictment of George W Bush before anyone had ever heard of him. There are a few moments in Rock and Roll that make you leap towards the volume in order to crank it up loud enough to wake Garcia. The opening to Fortunate Son is definitely one of them. If that bass and drum doesn't get you the guitar chords will and combined they give you just enough warning to make the song loud before the song kicks up a gear. Sing along people, it doesn't matter who your parents are you're fortunate indeed if you can sing this gem at the top of your voice.

The rest of the originals on Willy aren't up to the standard set by Fortunate Son but then the same can be said of a lot of music recorded in the subsequent decades. It overshadows everything on the album and not much tries to get out from underneath it. The title track is cute, It Came out of the Sky and Feelin Blue are okay but the final song tends to plod along with a weary tread. You can almost imagine the band in the studio yawning with the fatigue of three albums and constant touring.

Willy and the Poor Boys is definitely a good listen but it's lowlights are disposable lightweights and it's highlights are available on a Creedence best of. It's a shame to think what the band might have been capable of if they'd been allowed to take a few months off and regroup with fresher heads and less frayed nerves.

Highlight: It aint me, It aint me- yes it is. Fortunate son by a long way.
Lowlight: Either Poorboy Shuffle or Side O the road. They're both so forgettable I honestly can't recall which is worse.

Influenced by:
The swamp. Apparently this is swamp music. How a marshland can influence anyone I'm not sure but it has.
Influenced: Pearl Jam.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "The CCR catalogue has finally received the remaster (and bonus live tracks or alternate takes)! When you download this, make sure it's the version released Sept. 30, 2008. The sound quality is great. The album, without having to go into detail, is just flat-out a classic. I bought it as a teenager on vinyl when it came out and I was spending some time with my aging great-grandmother in Tennessee. She came to the door when I was playing Cotton Fields and ended up listening to the album with me -- and she was 80 years old at the time and LOVED IT! So do I, and I think I've had it in 8-track, cassette, and first-generation (muddy sound) versions. Now I have it in 256 kbs mp3!"

-I've said it before: I love it when people are so dedicated to albums they obtain them in multiple formats. But I love it even more when people have fond memories of listening to vinyl albums with their great-grandmothers. Very cool indeed.

So are you a fortunate son for having heard this or a poor boy for having to endure it? Let me know below.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

393. Good Old Boys. Jaunty satire that wouldn't get past today's internet filters.

Album: Good Old Boys.
Artist: Randy Newman.
Genre: Country
Year: 1974

  1. Rednecks
  2. Birmingham
  3. Marie
  4. Mr. President (Have Pity on the Working Man)
  5. Guilty
  6. Louisiana 1927
  7. Every Man a King
  8. Kingfish
  9. Naked Man
  10. Wedding in Cherokee County
  11. Back on My Feet Again
  12. Rollin'

When most people hear this album they have two immediate responses- the first is: "I recognize that guy from somewhere". The second and more immediate response is "He can't say that!"

The first of these two responses is a reaction to Randy Newman's voice which is immediately familiar mainly because of his latter day career writing songs for Pixar films. If you've seen any of the Toy Story Movies, Monsters Inc, Cars or A Bugs Life you would have heard Randy's voice and tunes at key moments in the movie. Even if the songs weren't song by Randy himself you'd still recognize the style. The tunes that Newman has recorded on this album, and his subsequent movie work, are either jaunty and upbeat with quirky but not bizarre orchestration or melancholy and wistful with quirky but not bizarre orchestration. He's hit on a definite and distinctive style and you can see why film-makers have turned to him over the years to put down the soundtrack to the emotional moments in their movies. The songs on Good Old Boys sound exactly like the ones he produces for Toy Story, with one noticeable difference...

The second thing you might notice about Randy Newman's music involves the lyrical content of this album's opening track. The opening lines reference a "Smart ass New York Jew" which you might find slightly confronting until it's effortlessly trumped by the line "We're keeping the niggers down." If you think your ears are playing tricks on you Newman is happy to repeat the phrase numerous times throughout the song which moves the listener from "Did he just say that?" to "He did just say that" and then all the way through to "He keeps saying that!" As far as I'm aware Newman hasn't returned to the N-word as a regular theme in his later output. I haven't actually seen Cars or but I'm sure I'd have heard about it if the soundtrack used racial epithets. And if Newman had a tendency to inject casual racism into his cinematic work it's a fair bet that a cuddly production company like Pixar would dispense with his services quicker than you can say the phrase "It's political correctness gone mad!"

Rednecks, the song in question, isn't actually racist it's satire and it makes a valid point. Newman sings as a character who is annoyed at the way the Northern states put down those from the South and treats them as racist idiots. He finishes with an accusation that the North is hypocritical, citing the conditions of the African American population living in ghettos in Northern cities. As satire it works incredibly well. It plays directly into your prejudices (those damn, ignorant racist rednecks) and then turns the table on the listener by making an excellent point and making it well. It would be hard to argue if Newman really was a redneck from the Southern States, the fact that he's a Californian with a keen ear for satire gives it a lot more impact.

Musically I think Randy's later career has troubled his earlier output and taken some of the gloss off. There's no doubt Newman writes a very good soundtrack song. His music gives an animated movie an emotional edge and makes the reader become passionately involved with the lives of creatures who are just a collection of binary code produced by talented whizz kids with expensive computers. The problem is it makes his earlier work sound like movie songs without a movie to accompany them. Listening to Good Old Boys feels a bit empty because he's using a sound that we're conditioned to expect a narrative behind. It's an odd experience and one that leaves you a bit detached and emotionally confused.

If you're a big fan of your Pixar soundtracks then you might want to check out Good Old Boys but it might feel like an empty experience. You're better off waiting for the next animated masterpiece to come along. It's a fair bet it will include a brand new Randy Newman song or two and they'll sound a lot like these tracks do.

Influenced by: Country.
Influenced: Pixar

Highlight: Rednecks.
Lowlight: Kingfish.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Good Old Boys" is also a great record to drink to. Just as my friend Myles. He is a killer diller from the dirty dirty. Myles is hard into "Cougars" (women over the age of 40), huffing gasoline, books on tape, big jungle cats, paintings of race cars, and hanging out without his shirt on. He is a no-nonsense kind of dude. I am pretty sure you can find Myles hanging out in his San Francisco apartment shirtless right now with a mean scotch buzz, the body of a decomposing bobcat or lynx in his basement fridge, a 46 year old woman chained to his staircase, and Randy Newman's "Good Old Boys" blasting at an uncomfortable volume from his alarm clock/CD player.

-that's a fantastic description.

So is Newman a good old boy or a bad old man? Let me know below.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

394. For your Pleasure ...or someone's presumably.

Album: For your pleasure
Artist: Roxy Music
Year: 1973
Genre: Art Rock


  1. Do the Strand
  2. Beauty Queen
  3. Strictly Confidential
  4. Editions of You
  5. In Every Dream Home a Heartache
  6. The Bogus Man
  7. Grey Lagoons
  8. For Your Pleasure

It’s a quirky kind of list this top 500 list. It has a habit of throwing you the odd curveball from time to time. To be honest I’m not sure what a curveball is but that’s okay because I don’t know what Art rock is either and that’s the curveball it’s recently decided to fling my way. The really quirky thing however is the way the countdown is organized. Art rock lovers who are a big fan of Brian Eno had two of his albums in quick succession back in the mid 400’s and now Roxy Music fans, who have waited patiently for over 100 albums suddenly find three of their releases appearing in a the space of twenty albums or so,

Consequently I’m finding myself going from being a Roxy music novice who has never heard a release all the way through to a seasoned campaigner who will enjoy or endure over 10 hours of Roxy music in the coming weeks.

Roxy music is described as Art rock which begs the question- isn’t all music art? Surely music is an art form and consequently all rock is art. Whether it’s good art or not is a point you could debate for years but if your only definition is a dictionary then all Rock is art. For some reason people felt the need to describe Roxy Music as Art rock which sounds a bit pretentious… but then so do Roxy music.

You probably know lead singer Brian Ferry from such hits as Lets Stick Together (a reworking of Canned Heats Let’s Work Together) He’s got a distinctive voice which he decides to use to great effect on this album. If he can throw in a quirky vocal effect he’ll run with it. Ferry is a big fan of the warble. He doesn’t have a huge range but he’s happy to use the full extent of it during the course of one word. He’s one of the strangest things on this album but trying to out-weird him at every step is a sax player whose notes are like a brass version of Ferry’s vocals. Throw in a guitar that sounds like it’s trying to ape the sax trying to ape Ferry and there is a lot of oddness going on. If this album was a painting it would be one of those densely populated pictures of a crowd scene. Like a Hieronymus Bosch, the guy who painted pictures of hell that looked like an extremely demented Wheres Wally (There he is! There behind the demon whipping that nude lady's bottom). They'd be busy pictures full of lots of things which catch your eye and are intriguing. They'd be fun to study in an art gallery for a bit but you wouldn't want to hang them on your living room wall.

At the end of side one Roxy music commit two of my all time great musical sins. The first is to record a song about the owner of an inflatable sex doll. It’s a simple tale of a wealthy individual who lives for pleasure and buys a blowup up sex toy through a mail order catalogue. For a while songs about sex dolls were so popular they could probably put together a compilation album made up entire of tracks dedicated to the subject (they could call it “going down on vinyl”). The Police had one earlier in the countdown and there are probably a few more to come (who knows maybe Roxy music have put together a concept album about the subject). Those in our society who feel the need to dedicate their affections to a synthetic lover are definitely an easy target. I’ve never met anyone who admitted owning a sex doll (they’re a lot like Roxy music albums in that respect) and they’re hardly going to form a protest group. You can mock them all you like and they’ll take their hurt feelings home to be shared only with their synthetic mistress. I just wonder what the point is. The song in question attempts to be sinister but crosses into laughable territory when the line “I blew her up and then she blew my mind” ushers in a sudden turn towards bombastic. I hope this wasn’t done seriously because if it was its unintentionally hilarious. The second great sin is fading out and then coming back for an extended instrumental coda. A trick that was a bit tired when the Beatles did it but was aged in the extreme by 1973.

For your Pleasure has a lot going on and if it was a painting I’d give it more than a passing glance. I might even sit down for a while and admire it. But I still wouldn’t be making any room for it in my house.

Highlight: The Bogus Man, especially the extended outro.
Lowlight: In every Dream home a heartache.

Influenced by: Art.
Influenced: Art Rock.

Favourite Amazon Customer review Quote: "I just listened to "The Bogus Man" twice. What a piece of garbage -- and nearly 10 minutes long. If this is any indication of the rest of the album, then stay away. "

-Do we really need your reviews of an album that you've heard one track from? Even if you have taken the time to hear it twice you could probably go to the effort of hearing the whole thing before you give it a one star review.

So- For your Pleasure or For your Displeasure? Let me know below.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

395 Blue Lines. Hop that skips hip.

Album: Blue Lines
Artist: Massive Attack
Year: 1991
Genre: Trip Hop

1. Safe from Harm
2. One Love
3. Blue Lines
4. Be Thankful for What You've Got
5. Five Man Army"
6. Unfinished Sympathy"
7. Daydreaming
8. Lately
9. Hymn of the Big Wheel

"Rhighty-ho Lionel old chap, the microphone is live we’re ready to go"

"Um Sebastian, just before we do progress there’s a small matter I’m a bit perturbed by"

"Oh dear, perturbed you say?"

"Yes, Yes I think I’d go so far as to say I’m perturbed. It’s about this rapping business."

"What about it?

"Well I just can’t help but think it’s not really...our sort of thing."

"Sorry old boy, I’m afraid I'm not quite following you."

"My fault, My fault. It’s just that I’ve always found Rap and Hopping Hiply to be more the domain of... I believe African Americans is the currently preferred term. Traditionally the proponents of this style of music are Americans of a certain racial group and not… well English such as ourselves."

"Ah, I see your vexation now."

"You can see why I’m perturbed?"

"Yes, now that you come to mention it I can."

"And I just worry that in comparison some of our rhymes might have a tendency to appear a bit... wack."


"Yes, Wack."

"Now it’s my turn to be perturbed I’m afraid."

"Wack is a term commonly used by MCC’s to denote something of an inferior quality. That vinaigrette dressing I had on my salad earlier was definitely Wack for example as was the accompanying chardonnay."

"I understand…what’s an MCC?"

"Well apparently it’s a term that rappers prefer to be known by. It really is an extremely complicated world this rapping business"

"And you’re worried that your rhyming skills are a bit wack?"

"Welll… take this first song for example, this line: “I was looking back at you to see if you were looking back at me looking back at you”.

"Quite clever line that I thought."

"Yes it’s clever, I just can’t help but think it’s a bit... insecure."

"How do you mean?"

"Well MCC’s from America like Dr Jay and Method Rock and others like them tend to be a bit more forthright in their interactions with the fairer sex. They’d be less likely to be doing all that looking back and more likely to be giving the young lady in question a jolly good seeing too. Pardon the vulgarity of my language but that’s how it is. They’d commit to a vigorous session of love making and then probably boast about it a lot afterwards."

"Goodness, that’s awfully forthright."

"Yes but I’m led to understand that’s a good portion of the appeal. It’s not just rhyming rather quickly it’s about a lifestyle. And one that’s a good deal more street and a bit less…"

"Radio 4?"


"Ah. Well there’s the thing. I’m sure that here in Great Britian and possibly other parts of the world there are people who are a bit put off by some of the more misogynistic tendencies of the MCC’s that you’re referring too. They might appreciate more of an English take on the whole Rap thing."

"You’re suggesting there’s a market for a more genteel style of English rapping?"

"Yes, one that’s a bit more wordplay than gunplay."

"Righto. Sounds good to me. Where were we up to?"

"We’re doing track two- One love. You’d just sung "Ever so faithful, ever so sure".

"Smashing. Ready when you are."

Okay I'm sure that's not how either member of Massive Attack speaks and there's more to their music than just insecure rhyming. But listening to it you can't help but wonder what gangsta rappers feel about having their genre stolen and returned with added levels of insecurity and a pretense at turning the backing into an artform. Still either way, trip hop is probably your thing if you're a fan of hip hop but not misogyny.

Highlight: The Title Track.
Lowlight: Lately.

Influenced by: Rap and electonica.
Influenced: Lots of English people who previously thought rap music wasn't their thing.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Really no amazing!!!!!!!! Un disco mas de early tri-hop .La unica cancion ke vale la pena es Daydreaming...and Hymn of the big wheel el resto aburridiiiiiiiiiiiiiisimo.......ohh Unfinished Symphaty es cool tambien!"

I have no idea what this says but I thiiiiiiiiiink it's fantastiiiiiiic!!!! Hooray for you.

So does Blue Lines launch a massive attack on your ears or can you easily fend them off? Let me know below.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

396. Eliminator. The beards are back in town.

Album: Eliminator.
Artist: ZZ Top
Genre: Rock.
Year: 1983

1. Gimme All Your Lovin'
2. Got Me Under Pressure
3. Sharp Dressed Man
4. I Need You Tonight
5. I Got the Six
6. Legs
7. Thug
8. TV Dinners
9. Dirty Dog
10. If I Could Only Flag Her Down
11. Bad Girl

The careers of ZZ Top and Van Halen have followed fairly similar trajectories...

In the seventies both bands were Rock God's churning out guitar-based hits that you'll find played on classic rock radio today. Boys loved them and air-guitarists still do today. Ugly Groupies. Beer.

In the eighties both bands embraced MTV, synthesizers and lightened their tone. Mainstream success followed. Albums walked off the shelves. Stadiums filled. Attractive Groupies. Cocaine.

In the nineties both bands were brutally slaughtered by grunge and left bloody by the side of highways they seemed to idolize. Albums failed to chart. Stadiums became smaller and fans older. Audience waited patiently for their old stuff and offered collected groans when they said "Here's a song from our latest album". Aging groupies. Alcohol to excess.

In the noughties both bands became the punchlines to oft-repeated jokes. Van Halen for their constantly changing lead singers and ZZ Top for their beards. New Albums were completely ignored by the public who were surprised to find they were still around. Ticket sales were eclipsed by their own tribute acts who played only the old stuff and could do it without forgetting the words. Prostitutes. Viagra.

Eliminator marks the highpoint of ZZ Top's career. It's their biggest selling album and spawned their biggest selling singles. It also helped to cement their image thanks to the iconic video clips which still get played on MTV today. Eliminator's three big radio hits (Sharp dressed man, Legs and Got me Under pressure) were a trilogy of themed video clips which all featured a similar narrative. In every clip an All-American Boy was helped out by a trio of former Playboy models called The Eliminator girls. These huge-haired young ladies would arrive in the Eliminator Car and proceed to pose in tight clothing. Watching over these proceedings like some hirsute, ethereal guardian angels were the members of ZZ top who materialize occasionally to give encouragement and perform a foolish dance move before fading away to give the Eliminator girls more room to accommodate their hair and posing They played directly into the ultimate teenage male fantasy: my life sucks I wish someone would magically appear and make it better... actually no I wish a playboy model would turn up and make it better.... no scrap that I wish THREE playboy models would turn up, and then I wish- actually it's probably best we leave the adolescent male fantasy there. Suffice it to say a young American's dreams are being enacted in five minutes with an accompanying sound track. If you really want to read too much into it you can formulate some theory about the appearance of the band at regular intervals being a confirmation that the trinitarian God the teenager grew up believing in but has started to doubt really does exist and is actually groovy and likes to party. No that's probably a step too far.

While it's easy for bands embracing the MTV age to focus more on the image than the music the members of ZZ top actually put a lot of effort into Eliminator and it works quite well as an album. Granted there's some filler but generally they've managed to write some catchy tunes that popularize their sound without sacrificing the guitar format that made them what they are. Anyone looking for a Jesus left Chicago or La Grange will be disappointed but the singles are catchy enough and the riffs, solos and rhythm are all there. Legs has dated badly but the rest of the tracks have aged better. They sound like ZZ Top could have recorded them yesterday, which is probably more of an indication of the band's rut than the track's timelessness.

So what does the future hold for the bearded funsters from Texas? Will they ever reclaim the heights they hit in the eighties? Probably not. But thanks to Guitar Hero and Rock Band there are whole new generations ready to groove again to their back catalog. In the eighties their fans may have been holding tennis rackets and looking at themselves in the mirror but today they'll be holding plastic guitars and staring at coloured lights moving down a screen. I just wonder whether the teenager sitting on the couch trying to beat his high score will be loving every minute or wishing three playboy models would drive up and transform his life.

Influenced by: Synthesizers, commercial aspirations and a nagging sensation that they once played the blues.
Influenced: Video clip makers of the late eighties.

Highlight: Sharp dressed man.
Lowlight: TV Dinners

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "This cd is the best and so is KZPS!!! "

-Anyone out there have the faintest idea what KZPS is?

So does Eliminator eliminate all the competition or should it be eliminated itself? Let me know below.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

397 Rain Dogs- "Play it like a midget's Bar Mitzvah"

Album: Rain Dogs
Artist: Tom Waits
Year: 1985
Genre: Tom Waits


  1. Singapore
  2. Clap Hands
  3. Cemetery Polka
  4. Jockey Full of Bourbon
  5. Tango Till They're Sore
  6. Big Black Mariah
  7. Diamonds & Gold
  8. Hang Down Your Head
  9. Time
  10. Rain Dogs
  11. Midtown
  12. 9th & Hennepin
  13. Gun Street Girl
  14. Union Square
  15. Blind Love
  16. Walking Spanish
  17. Downtown Train
  18. Bride of Rain Dog
  19. Anywhere I Lay My Head

It’s time for another trip into the head of Mr Tom Waits. The thinking person’s thinking person and a master story-teller of the quirkiest narratives ever captured in song. Tom Waits might be a real person but it's almost easier to think of him as a character created by a novelist. He's the guy who crops up around chapter four where he confuses the hero, scares the heroine, intrigues the reader and worries the author's agent who thinks he'll cause problems when they try and sell the film rights. Amazingly he did exist back in the eighties and continues to exist today in basically an unchanged form. He's aged a bit but since he was basically a fairly decrepit form of gentrification thirty years ago he hasn't aged visibly it's just the years have just caught up with his face. To be honest I should probably replace the text in this review with a bunch of photos of Waits who’s visage is so unique it describes his music better than I ever could.

Waits began his career as the sort of guy who'd play piano tunes in bars populated by seedy characters and those fallen from past glories. On Rain Dogs Tom decided his songs had moved away from the piano and towards... quirkier instrument and lots of other things besides. There are guitars and horns but there's also a range of percussion sounds that could just as easilly be neighbours thumping on the walls in an attempt to quieten Waits down than drums of any kind. I can’t help but wonder how he records his demos. John and Paul used to come to sessions with recordings they’d made at home on an acoustic guitar. I imagine Tom coming to sessions with tracks that he’d recorded using frying pans, building materials and foodstuffs. A collection of musicians were forced to try and interpret the weirdness in his head using instructions he gave them, including a famous command issued to guitarist Mark Ribot- "Play it like a midget's Bar Mitzvah". The final effect is strange, ethereal and ultimately timeless. Until I looked it up I hadn’t the faintest idea when this was recorded. If I had to guess I would have said the mid 2030’s during an ironic retro phase full for nostalgia for a time that never actually happened.

Over the top of this sonic weirdness is Tom's voice which growls like a catchy version of Captain Beefheart. The only person who could possibly describe Tom Waits voice is Tom Waits himself. Suffice it to say it can sound aggressive, terrifying and carnal but also beautiful, magical and surprisingly sweet. He can put more emotion in a single count in than a lot of people manage in an entire song. Lyrically he's on a different plane to anyone else writing songs. The best way to describe it is to recall those songs Dylan used to sing- Desolation Row, Visions of Johanna etc, songs that were a roll call of strange characters: Shakespeare in Alleys, Blind commissioners with hands tied to tight rope walkers, one-eyed midgets. Now imagine some of those characters wrote poetry. Tom's lyrics are even stranger still. You can see why Waits fans are so dedicated. There are enough strange ideas, quirky moments and quotable lines on this one album alone to sustain a hundred listens without wearing out its welcome.

So it's strange lyrics, sung by a strange man with a strange voice over a collection of strange sounds but is it any good? Hell yes. It's brilliant at every step and when it's not busy being fantastic it lurches into magnificent and stumbles through sensational into outstanding. I’m beginning to think Tom’s musical career isn’t enough for me. Even his acting roles aren’t giving me enough Waits. I want him to do traffic reports on my radio. I want him announcing the stations on my morning train, I’d go to church if he was preaching, I’d watch the news if he read it, I’d even enjoy tedious staff meetings if Waits were allowed to chair them. "The next item on the agenda is going to soak into your skin like a camel in a fedora and an alligator leaving town for a more tragic place".

The world isn’t ready for Waits to be a mainstream superstar and frankly I can’t imagine a time when it would be (and if I’d feel comfortable living there if it did). He’s definitely in the acquired taste basket and quite possibly in his own separate whicker container within that basket. But if you can aquire the taste he’s unbelievable fun. There’s a big part of me that wishes I could curtail this blog and instead spend a full month with every Waits album. If the rest of them are only half this good they're still a hell of a lot more fun that much of the rest of the countdown.

Influenced by: Other people have recorded music in the past. Listening to Rain Dog's it's possible Tom Waits has never heard any music before ever. Or else he's heard it all and regards it as just a tiny first step towards what he thinks music should be.
Influenced: Lots of people as inspiration but nobody on earth as a template to be copied.

Highlight: It's all pretty High. But Jockey Full of Bourbon is the song you'll be singing for ages afterwards.
Lowlight: The two instrumentals are a bit of a lowpoint.

Favourite Amazon Customer review Quote:
"This "Tom Waits" guy sucks. What a horrible voice! He sounds like a piece of raw meat ran over by a truck. Listen to REAL music like Nickelback or St. Anger by Metallica if you want a truly enjoyable listening experience."

-This is what we call "Trolling". This person has put this comment up in the hopes of generating angry comments. The 30 people who felt the need to comment are testament to how successful it was.

So is this album a lot of Diamonds and Gold for you or should Waits Hang His Head in Shame? Let me know below.