Saturday, January 29, 2011

337 Aqualung. Yet another rant against the Church of England featuring a flautist.

Album: Aqualung
Artist: Jethro Tull
Year: 1971
Genre: Prog Rock

Tracks

  1. Aqualung
  2. Cross-Eyed Mary
  3. Cheap Day Return
  4. Mother Goose
  5. Wond'ring Aloud
  6. Up to Me
  7. My God
  8. Hymn 43
  9. Slipstream
  10. Locomotive Breath
  11. Wind Up



It's funny but even though I can't really tell you what defines a "prog rock" album I can tell you that Aqualung is one. The popular definition of prog involves something about trying to make rock music more "cerebral". It's an attempt to move popular music away from conventional structures, instrumentation, rhythms and subject matter into areas that it doesn't traditionally occupy. To give you a practical example: if asked to record a song with "Travel" as the subject matter, a Rock band would use guitars, bass and drums to record a 5 minute song in 4/4 time about a road trip they went on which involved sex, drugs and alcohol. A prog-rock band would record an 18 minute opus about a space traveler who meets exotic characters through the course of 7 different time signatures and musical modes using sound effects, strings and possibly a harp. There would be a four minute keyboard solo. One member of the band would write linear notes continuing the narrative and fans would dress up as the main character when they attended shows. The rock band would be met backstage by groupies who wanted to indulge their wildest sexual fantasies. The Prog-rock band would be met by young men who wanted them to read essays they'd written which compared them to Bach.

Jethro Tull's main contribution to the world of prog-rock comes thanks to this album and to the flute of lead singer Ian Anderson who is the first name everyone thinks of when anyone talks about Rock Flute. Anderson's fluting loiters around some of the tracks on Aqualung and for the most part is just a bit of background noise that could easily be replaced by a piano (or being a prog rock album- by a fluglehorn, theremin or home-made zither). The exception is Locomotive Breath which is easily the standout song on the entire record. The flute solo in the middle of Locomotive breath is a breathy burst of rock played on one of the least rock instruments in the world. It's short, sharp and fantastic and when it recieved radio airplay it marked the first time anyone in the world ever air-fluted. Anyone who has tried to rock on a flute since is immediately compared to Anderson's work at that moment. But Locomotive Breath is more than just a quirky solo. The main riff is strong enough that lots of bands have covered it since. And fantastic it is too.

Sadly the rest of the album isn't able to live up to the heights set by its most famous track. Most of the songs are either inconsequential ditties which go nowhere or massive overblown numbers like My God which pass through prog and into high comedy. Anderson takes another flute solo in My God and manages to turn into into a self indulgent warble-fest. On it's own it would sound like a man road-testing flutes, the fact that they've decided to add a male choir to it for an extra dose of prog-wank only makes it much funnier. It also doesn't help that the song is a vicious attack against The Church of England. Tull seem to think the church is evil and deserves scorn and vitriol. Damn those elderly women and their church fetes! How dare they sell their home made cakes and slices along with used textbooks and potplants! In fact that Anglican communion and all who worship there make Tull angry enough to give them a second serve in Hymn 43.

Aqualung is one of those releases that earns it's place on this chart thanks to one sensational song. Locomotive breath is a great track. It's a pity the rest of the album can't come anywhere near it.


Highlight: Locomotive Breath
Lowlight: My God

Influenced by: Baroque music
Influenced: Anyone who plays rock flute.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Dull, Overated, Short, boring, lyrically stupid, full of filler, and definitely NOT a Rock Classic."

-That's how the review starts and it continues in that style for a long time. I can only assume the fact that the reviewer gave Aqualung five stars was a mistake.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

338 Cheap Thrills. Janis and a bunch of guys.

Album: Cheap Thrills
Artist: Big Brother and the Holding Company
Year: 1968
Genre: Rock

Tracks


  1. Combination of the Two
  2. I Need a Man to Love
  3. Summertime
  4. Piece of My Heart
  5. Turtle Blues
  6. Oh, Sweet Mary
  7. Ball and Chain


You have to spare a thought for Big Brother and the Holding Company. In the mid-sixties they were a big band destined for greatness. They played psychadelic rock in San Fransisco, the home of tripped-out music and were among a number of bands who were on the verge of registering chart successes as high as they were. The one thing they decided they lacked was a lead singer. So someone suggested they hook up with a woman who was hanging around looking for a group to sing with. Her name was Janis Joplin and she destroyed the band with the sort of ruthless efficiency that only Yoko Ono could hope to match.

Within a few months of her joining them all media attention turned to focus on the tiny texan with the amazing voice and Big Brother became nothing more than her backing group. The band's sound changed to suit her style and the instrumental music that they had started playing was cast aside in favour of more opportunities for Janis to dominate the stage. You might argue that she took them places where they hadn't managed to go before- Cheap Thrills was a huge selling album and was bigger than anything they might have managed on their own. This might be true but everyone can name the lead singer and more people can name the artist who drew the cover (Robert Crumb) than any other members of the band. When your fame is superceded by the singer you employed and the guy who does the artwork you can be sure you're not making the impact in the rock world you wanted.

After Cheap Thrills was released Janis left to pursue her own hugely successful solo career and left Big Brother's corpse in her wake. They couldn't go back to their old sound because people wanted to hear Joplinesque material. And any vocalist they employed to replace her was never going to be able to make the impact she did. They were ignored and eventually fell apart completely.

The sad thing is that Cheap Thrills is a truly fantastic album. It's not fair to see this as just an early Janis Joplin album, it's a great release by one of the sadly neglected San Fransisco bands. Oh Sweet Mary is a fantastic psychadelic workout in which every band member cuts loose with some great jamming and Janis is content to contribute backing vocals. It makes me wish there were more recordings around of Big Brother without Janis.

Of course I couldn't finish this review without pointing out that Janis Joplin is a truly amazing vocalist and an incredible talent. Her version of Summertime is magnificent and shows off how damn good she really was. I only wish more people would call it "Summertime by Big Brother and the Holding Company with Janis Joplin on vocals and the great James Gurley on guitar".

Highlight: Summertime (and not just Joplin's vocals)
Lowlight: The strange attempt to pretend it's a live album.

Influenced by: The blues and LSD
Influenced: Female belters the world over.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Poetry is the word of God. I can't find anyone to love me. The main problem with our planet is that Janis Joplin is not recognised as an equal with Jimi Hendrix, although she was at tne time."

-What a strange review. I don't want to sound harsh to someone who is clearly a bit sad but maybe they'd be easier to love if they thought world poverty was a larger world problem than the imbalance between Hendrix and Joplin's popularity?

So do you like your thrills cheap or expensive? Let me know below.


Friday, January 21, 2011

339 The Heart of Saturday Night. From the bowels of friday evening.

Album: The Heart of Saturday Night
Artist: Tom Waits
Year: 1974
Genre: Jazz


Tracks


  1. New Coat of Paint
  2. San Diego Serenade
  3. Semi Suite
  4. Shiver Me Timbers
  5. Diamonds on My Windshield
  6. (Looking for) The Heart of Saturday Night
  7. Fumblin' with the Blues
  8. Please Call Me, Baby
  9. Depot, Depot
  10. Drunk on the Moon
  11. The Ghosts of Saturday Night (After Hours at Napoleone's Pizza House)



Regular readers of this blog will know that Tom Waits has been my greatest discovery of the countdown so far. I've come to love all things Tom and get really excited when I see his name appearing on the countdown. The Heart of Saturday Night is the highest placed Waits album in this list and also the earliest of his releases to get a mention. And it's yet another incidence when I disagree with the voters who made this list. Don't get me wrong I really like Heart but to my mind it's not nearly as interesting as later Waits. His signature voice is there and you can tell it's Tom but there is more of an emphasis on balladry and bar-room piano crooning than the weirdness of his later efforts. It sounds like Tom but unlike his later albums it doesn't sound like only Tom could do it. Mule Variations is the sort of release that could only come from the mind of Tom Waits. Other people could have recorded The Heart of Saturday Night, it wouldn't sound quite the same but they could have done it.

Waits never turned his back on this more conventional approach to music writing when he branched out into whatever the hell his latter career is. Every album he's released that I've heard has featured at least a couple of tunes that feature Tom at his piano sharing his blues with the world. I just prefer these songs in amongst the rest of Waits' output rather than gathered together in the one place. I'm also not a huge fan of the string backing that accompany too many of the tracks. I prefer to think of Waits as a lone figure sitting at a piano in the corner of a bar room somewhere. He could maybe be joined by a drummer and a bass player as long as they're both decripit figures with whiskey on their breath and nicotine-stained fingers. The image of a string quartet sitting around dressed nicely and playing polished instruments just doesn't gel with Waits for me.

My favourite track on Heart is definitely Diamonds on the Windsheild in which Tom weaves a fantastic visual image of life driving through America. The line "Colder than a well-diggers ass" is worth the album price alone.

There's not really bad track on Heart but there's nothing that stands out for me like songs did on other Waits releases.

Highlight: Diamonds on the Windshield.
Lowlight: Depot, Depot

Influenced by: Sinatra and whiskey
Influenced: Bar rooms all over the world.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "If you cant find a spot in your collection for this disc - you may as well start collecting stamps."

-The presumption here appears to be that philatelists have no taste in music. Odd.

So does this really capture the heart of Saturday night or is it more indicative of the spleen of Wednesday around lunchtime? Let me know below.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

340. Damaged- When Henry stands up.

Album: Damaged
Artist: Black Flag
Year: 1981
Genre: Punk

Tracks

  1. Rise Above
  2. Spray Paint (The Walls)
  3. Six Pack
  4. What I See
  5. T.V. Party
  6. Thirsty & Miserable
  7. Police Story
  8. Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie
  9. Depression
  10. Room 13
  11. Damaged II
  12. No More
  13. Padded Cell
  14. Life of Pain
  15. Damaged I



It's seminal punk time again Ladies and Gentleman. That recuring moment in the countdown when I'm forced to listen to a group of shouty people who influenced punk as we know it. And having heard their shouty output four times in a row I take it upon myself to try and write something profound about seminal punk. I've done this about ten times now which means the ratio of my blogs to their chords used is currently at 10:3. Black Flag released this album in 1981 and without them punk wouldn't be what it was today. I'm not sure what punk is today but I think it's basically Green Day so you can make your own mind up as to whether we should be thanking Black Flag or hunting them down for some mob-style justice.

However unlike most seminal punk that I blog about, Black Flag actually have a member that I've heard of. In fact I've not only heard of Henry Rollins I'd consider myself among his vast legion of fans. Once Black Flag imploded in a ball of pure anger and stopped functioning as a touring entity, Rollins formed his own band and continued in a similar vein but also launched a number of side careers. He writes poetry, acts in mainstream Hollywood movies (Johnny Mnemonic, Bad Boys 2, Heat and Lost Highway) works as a DJ and most notably tours the world as a spoken word artist, a role that involves ...well... speaking... words... It's a strange thing spoken word, it's not stand up (although he's definitely funny) it's not a poetry recital and it's not a sermon, it's just a guy saying things in front of a bunch of people who have decided he's worth hearing. He doesn't have a specific cause to push, he's not selling anything or trying to present himself as a life-coach, he just gets up onstage and tells a few stories and shares his views on things. Yes it is odd but it's very entertaining, even on CD years after the recording.

Listening to Black Flag for me involved hearing Rollins as a young man before the idea of just touring the world chatting had ever occurred to him. Lyrically Damaged is vintage Rollins and takes a swipe at some of his favourite subjects including lethargy, TV and American society. The surprising thing is that Henry didn't actually write the lyrics. They were mainly penned by Greg Ginn, the only consistent member of Black Flag throughout it's long career. The other startling thing about Damaged is that Ginn, who wrote all the words, is apparently a huge fan of the Grateful Dead. Black Flag is about as far from The Dead as you can get. Jerry Garcia and friends have often stretched one song out longer than this entire album.

I'd like to say that the presence of Rollins managed to lift this album above the other seminal punk releases I've listened to lately but sadly it's pretty much business as usual. If you like this stuff then you've got this and you're angry at me for not getting on board. If you don't then there's nothing much that's going to convert you.

Highlight: TV party
Lowlight: Room 13

Influenced by: Their previous albums (Henry Rollins was a huge fan of the band before he became their lead singer. Apparently he still says they were better before he joined)
Influenced: Hardcore punk and grunge.


Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: This is classic hardcore (PUNK) from before I was born. I absolutely love Black Flag, they are so hardcore and awesome its like so good. Henry Rollins is awesome and the music is so angry and hardcore. Some punks in my town played Rise Above at the Battle of the Bands, sooooooooooooo awesome. 5 stars excellent!!!!!!!

-You have to love a review that includes local anecdotes.

So do you salute the black flag or would you rather it was flown at half mast? Let me know below.

Friday, January 14, 2011

341. Play- All those songs from all those ads.

Album: Play
Artist: Moby
Year: 1999
Genre: Almost all of them

Tracks

  1. Honey
  2. Find My Baby
  3. Porcelain
  4. Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?
  5. South Side
  6. Rushing
  7. Bodyrock
  8. Natural Blues
  9. Machete
  10. 7
  11. Run On
  12. Down Slow
  13. If Things Were Perfect
  14. Everloving
  15. Inside
  16. Guitar Flute & String
  17. The Sky Is Broken
  18. My Weakness




I can say with absolute assurance that you've heard at least some of Play. Even if you live in a hermit cave where you've been industriously mossing your walls for the past two decades and you've only just recently staggered blinking into the sunlight in order to see what this internet thing was all about, you've still heard tracks from Play. This is not because Play was exceptionally popular when it was released (although it was) or because it's endured over the years (although it has) but because the tracks were sold to every advertiser, TV executive, film maker, game designer and other corporation that needed some catchy and quirky music. The songs were literally everywhere. And even if you're the sort of person who has managed to avoid film, television and all other media you possibly know aspects of the album thanks to it's extensive use of sampling.

Play is one of those albums that wasn't composed as much as it was compiled. For many it took sampling to an art form and revolutionised what could be done with electronic gadgetry and an extensive record collection. I don't know a huge amount about the history of sampling but to me it seems that Moby's biggest innovation was reversing the traditional process. Before him sampling was used by those who wanted a backing for their vocals but couldn't be bothered actually touching an instrument. Moby was more interested in sampling the vocals from old records and playing around with the instrumentation to come up with something new. Part of his talent lay in finding forgotten gems so obscure that the singers themselves probably couldn't remember recording them. Bessie Jones, Boy Blue, Spoonie Gee and the Trecherous three, Vera Hall Bill Landford and the Landfordaires and Willie Hutch have all unwittingly lent their voices to Play and consequently to video games and movie trailers. It's a concept that sort of blows my mind a bit to be honest. Vera Hall recorded Troubled So Hard back in 1937, three decades before the Calvin Klein company was founded. More than half a century later Vera's voice was being used to advertise CK jeans to the world. Moby made a fortune and Calvin Klein did well out of the deal but Hall recieved nothing. Neither did Alan Lomax, the music legend who traveled the world throughout his life recording folk, blues and roots music which would otherwise be lost forever. The samples Moby uses exist today because Lomax felt they should be preserved. You would like to think Moby felt inspired enough to send some of his fortune to Lomax (who was still alive when Play came out) but sadly he didn't feel the need.

The real sadness is that you could put forward a convincing argument to say it's the samples that make the music and not the other way around. Granted Moby does well to bring them out, dust them off and shed a new light on them but as the rest of the album proves he's nothing without them. If you take away the big singles from Play you're left with some pointless instrumental noodling and the songs Moby wrote and sang himself, all of which are imminently forgettable.

If you have the skip button ready Play is a great listen but it's not a Moby album, it's a compilation album of forgotten greats that Alan Lomax deserves as much credit for as Moby.


Highlight: Run on
Lowlight: Guitar Flue and Strings

Influenced by: Alan Lomax
Influenced: Consumerist Instincts in a generation

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "at the vidarbha cricket association ground at nagpur on november 28 1997 india`s saurav ganguly became the fifty one batsman and the 57th occation in test history to join the 99 run club. He is the 6th indian to do so. Table two has the full list of the indian players . In thhe final test in Mumbai Steevve buckner who was officiatin 32 second test match has now empired in mosat matches."

-That's the entire review. A one star review for Moby's Play which contains a strange cricket update. And just to set the record straight: he may let the power of the umpire get to his head sometimes but I don't think Steve Buchnor has ever empired a game in his life.


So do you push play or would you rather hit stop? Let me know below.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

342 Violator. The third best version of Personal Jesus I've ever heard.

Album: Violator
Artist: Depeche Mode
Year: 1990
Genre: Electronic Dance

Tracks

  1. World in My Eyes
  2. Sweetest Perfection
  3. Personal Jesus
  4. Halo
  5. Waiting for the Night
  6. Enjoy the Silence
  7. Policy of Truth
  8. Blue Dress
  9. Clean

Depeche mode are an electronic dance band that rely on synthesizers and processed drum beats to make their music. Any regular readers care to guess where this review is going? That's correct. I find this sort of stuff annoying. I just don't like electro and I never have. If I'm going to enjoy music I have to think it's reasonably hard to to. If I go and see an orchestra perform I'm looking at an entire room full of people doing stuff I can't come close to doing. Even the percussionist at the back who just hits things a few times during the course of a symphony looks good in a tuxedo so he's pulling off a trick I can't. But I think I could reasonably program a machine to make blooping noises. If I want to listen to someone doing something I can do myself I might as well put on a recording of someone being cynical about music. Normally when I take these views I assume I'm on my own. I hated Bat out of Hell but Millions of people disagreed with me enough to buy the album. However I have a suspicion that when I talk about this album I'm not entirely alone because the only track on the album that most people like is the most Un-Depeche Mode-ish.

Violator is predominantly an album of electronic dance music that leaves no impact on me at all. It just falls into the background like a wallpaper pattern which is annoying when you focus on it. There is one exception to this and many of you probably know what I'm talking about. The song is called Personal Jesus and it's a bit of a winner. "Reach out and touch faith! Your own. Personal. Jesus. Someone to hear your prayers, someone to care." It's a brilliant song and anyone talking about this album will always mention it first. It's everyone's pic as the album's highlight and the best thing the band have ever done. And here's the thing- it relies heavily on a guitar riff and a genuine drum beat. There may be few electronic noises over the top but what drives the track are actual musicians (well an actual musician and a drummer). It's a real guitar and a real drum and they combine to lift the song above the rest of the album. Sadly it gets a bit repetitive and falls apart at the end but that opening "Reach out and Touch Faith" line is a great moment in Rock and Roll. Marilyn Manson realised how good it was when he decided to do a cover version for his greatest hits album. It's not often I'll say this about MM but he's done quite a good job and takes everything that was good about the original version and removes all the bad. But he's eclipsed by Johnny Cash whose acoustic guitar rendition is great in every possible way. It takes something that's already good and adds a sheen of pure awesome that only the Man in Black can provide.

Violator is a bit of a tedious plod through some sound effects and uninspired tunes until suddenly Personal Jesus arrives like a musical messiah to save proceedings briefly. Sadly the album doesn't have a John the Baptist track to proceed it or a St Paul to follow.

Influenced by: The need to boogie to computer games
Influenced: Johnny Two-Hats

Highlight: Personal Jesus
Lowlight: Clean


Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "This cd takes alot of artistic background in music to really understand the bands innermost thoughts. Obviously the band members are not christians but they are spiratual. When I listen to the songs I like to get candles or incence and be "spiritual" with their music"

-Candles, incense and Depeche Mode- that's a truly original, never-tried-before, idea.

-So do you like any other tracks or is it just Personal Jesus for you as well? Let me know below.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

343. Bat out of Hell. The kind of meatloaf that could send me Vegetarian.

Album: Bat out of Hell
Artist: Meatloaf
Year: 1977
Genre: Overblown Rock

Tracks (with track-length so you can appreciate the full magnitude of the pain)


1. Bat Out of Hell 9:48
2. You Took the Words Right out of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night) 5:04
3. Heaven Can Wait 4:38
4. All Revved Up with No Place to Go 4:19
5. Two out of Three Ain't Bad 5:23
6. Paradise by the Dashboard Light 8:28
7. For Crying Out Loud 8:45



Sometimes I'm out of step with popular music taste. There are moments when I seem to be on the absolute outer as far as music goes because everyone loves something that I can't abide. One of the most obvious examples of this disconnect is Bat out of Hell which is the fourth best-selling album of all time and the second best selling album in Australia. I did some calculations based on the number of units Bat sold in my home nation (1,610,000) and our population (currently 21,374,000) and came to the conclusion that over 13% of the people in this country owns a copy of Bat out of Hell. That's more than one in ten. According to those maths while I was listening to this album on the train thinking "who likes this stuff?" there must have been at least 2 people on the carriage who have a copy sitting at home in their music collection. I wanted to run around the carriage trying to find these individuals and ask them what the hell they were thinking. What is it they like- the overblown production? The fact that the songs go on for interminable hours? The naff lyrics? What's the appeal?

As you may have gathered I am no fan of Bat out of Hell. In fact I'd go so far as to say that it's the worst thing I've heard on the countdown in some time and I can tell you why. This is basically a musical. It's not rock and roll, it's Broadway doing a crap impression. Meatloaf isn't a rock and roller he's a musical singer and actor playing the role of a rocker. But then I don't think you can blame Mr Loaf for this monstrosity. I've got nothing against Meat, he's a good actor and from all reports quite a nice guy. He's also a good singer who can really belt out a tune. The problem lies at the feet of the loathsome individual who wrote all of these songs. Every note on Bat was penned by a despicable slime-creature called Jim Steinman who has earnt an absolute fortune writing drivel for horrible people to record. In addition to the songs on this and most of the rest of Meatloaf's ouvre he's also written for Barry Manilow, Celine Dion, Boyzone, Air Supply, Hulk Hogan, Bonnie Tyler (He wrote Total eclipse of the heart). If that wasn't bad enough he's written musicals! Honest to god musicals! Including one with Andrew Loyd Webber (Whistle Down the Wind) and one called Garbo-The Musical (which was about Greta Garbo not those guys who empty bins which is a shame because from all reports the musical was rubbish) as well as a musical version of the Batman story which thank god was never actually made. And as if all this wasn't enough, as if he didn't have enough black marks against his name to blot out the sun and cast a pall of darkness over music as we know it, he produced an album by a band called (I'm not making this up) Iron Prostate which included a song called Bring me the head of Jerry Garcia and features lyrics such as "Bring me the head of Jerry Garcia/ He plays guitar like diarrhea/ He's dumb as a doorknob and a ton overweight/ That's why they call him the dreadful grate." It's like he's personally set out to dedicate his career to getting on my nerves. He probably donates large sections of his fortune to right-wing causes around the world and I bet he's responsible for canceling Deadwood, Carnivale and Arrested Development.

Bat out of hell is truly awful. It's an overblown musical with no redeeming feature that somehow sucked in 13% of my nation. Thankfully I can assure you that none of those people are under the age of 35. As the years roll on Bat out of Hell owners will die off and won't be replaced by newer generations who know better than to be conned by this nonsense. Thirty years from now the only people who will remember this album at all will be in nursing homes and here's hoping the first thing that goes when their memory starts failing them are the lyrics to Two out of three aint bad.


Influenced by: Broadway.
Influenced: Some poor selling sequels.

Lowlights: Sooo many. So many but I had to include this spoken attrocity that occurs are the start of track two and is spoken by Steinman himself and an unnamed woman.

Male: On a hot summer night, would you offer your throat to the wolf with the red roses?
Female: Will he offer me his mouth?
M: Yes!
F: Will he offer me his teeth?
M:Yes!
F: Will he offer me his jaws?
M: Yes!
F: Will he offer me his hunger?
M: Yes!
F: Again, will he offer me his hunger?
M: Yes!
F: And will he starve without me?
M: Yes!
F: And does he love me?
M: Yes! Yes! On a hot summer night would you offer your throat to the wolf with the red roses?
F: Yes!
F: I bet you say that to all the boys


Highlight: The Cover art which is slightly less overblown that the music.


Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "this albulm rocks!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Meat Loaf is my Hero, whup whup"

-I'm not sure how useful a review is when the ratio of exclamation marks to words is 31:10, especially when two of those words are "whup"

So are you one of the millions who bought and loved this or one of the millions who is baffled by it's success? Let me know below.

Monday, January 3, 2011

344. Berlin. An album that divided critics

Album: Berlin
Artist: Lou Reed
Genre: Rock
Year: 1973

Tracks


  1. Berlin
  2. Lady Day
  3. Men of Good Fortune
  4. Caroline Says I
  5. How Do You Think It Feels
  6. Oh, Jim
  7. Caroline Says II
  8. The Kids
  9. The Bed
  10. Sad Song

Lou Reed is best remembered as one of the driving forces behind The Velvet Underground a band it's essential to list amongst your influences if you want to be taken seriously as a rock band in the modern age. After he left the Velvets (or more accurately they left him) he proceeded to record some fairly commercially accessible music (Satellite of love, Vicious and Walk on the wild side for example). Just when he had become a mainstream success he put out Berlin which divided the critics like a wall through a major European city.

Berlin was unlike anything that Reed had done before. While the Velvet Underground played simplified music without much overdubbing or musical adornment, Berlin has basically everything Lou could get his hands on to fling onto an album. There are strings, horns, choristers, sessions musicians and as many accessories as you can imagine on two sides of vinyl. It's also Lou's most low key contribution to one of his releases. Despite being competent on several instruments he limits his own input to acoustic guitar and vocals. He also hands production duties to Bob Ezrin who can be held responsible for a lot of the more bombastic elements.

Berlin has undergone a few re-examinations in its lifetime. It's initial release was met with some fairly harsh criticism from those who enjoyed Transformer and the hit singles it produced. Rolling Stone magazine even called it "A disaster" and said it was the end of his career. Other reviewers were equally disparaging. A few years later people had reassessed it's charms and decided it deserved to be considered a classic. Certainly at the very least the subsequent release of Metal Machine Music (two discs of guitar distortion) meant nobody could claim Berlin was Reed's worst album. Over the years public opinion has swayed again especially as demos and rarities from the Velvet Undergrounds career have come to light. When the VU back catalogue was extensively mined versions of many of Berlin's songs were heard in earlier VU versions which many preferred to the final product Lou put on Berlin.

I reccomend you give this album a spin. It's not catchy, it's not uplifting and it's not going to brighten your day but there's a lot in it to reward a detailed listen. And it's definitely more rewarding the more time you give it.

Influenced by: The Velvet Underground. Everyone is influenced by the Velvet Underground, even Lou.
Influenced: Future Bob Ezrin projects

Highlight: Berlin
Lowlight: The Bed

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Very bad lyrics, bad music and no flow at all make this a terrible album. The other listeners have to be blind (and deaf) followers of Lou Reed or get stoned when they listen to this album. Fingers on a chalkboard. That's what I hate about album reviews is that even if an album sucks fans will try to stick up for there idol and never rate them in a true manner."

-If you don't like something then all the other reviewers must hate it too and be either drugged out or blind to it's faults.


So what's your history with Berlin? Do you agree with those who hated it back then or are you with those who love it now? Let me know below.