Monday, October 29, 2012

157 Closer. Lets dance to Joy Division




Album: Closer
Artist: Joy Division
Genre: Rock
Year: 1980


Tracks
  1. Atrocity Exhibition
  2. Isolation
  3. Passover
  4. Colony
  5. A Means to an End
  6. Heart and Soul
  7. Twenty Four Hours
  8. The Eternal
  9. Decades

Death is an outstanding career move (at least for musicians and artists. Kicking the bucket isn't really going to do much for your professional life if you work in a bank). Whitney Houston had the biggest sales of her career not long after her death; John Lennon's place as the best Beatle was secured when he died in 1980 and countless other musicians have been given an extra air of mystique thanks to their untimely demise. Freddy Mercury has achieved a cult like level of popularity but imagine how his career would have gone if he was still around today with a wider waistband but smaller vocal range and less hair. Can you imagine how much adoration people would feel for Kurt Cobain if he was judging American Idol?

There's no doubt Ian Curtis did Joy Division a big favour by becoming not just an ex-member of the band but an ex-member of the human race due to his suicide a few weeks before the release of Closer. Posthumous might be hard to spell and frequently mispronounced but that doesn't mean it doesn't do outstanding things for your career. The publicity generated by the lead singer's suicide pushed the album into the spotlight in a way it could never have been if Curtis was around to give interviews. 

It didn't hurt that Closer sounds like music recorded by people who are seriously considering topping themselves as soon as the session finishes. If Closer had been full of upbeat sounds and songs about just how great flowers and butterflies are it would have made for an awkward listen in light of the lead singer's demise at his own hand. But Joy Division's final album is a dark and doom-laden affair with Curtis singing as if the recording process was something he had to endure before he was free to end it all. 

Joy Division are widely lauded and praised in the music press and Closer is held up as their ultimate masterpiece. It's their high water mark and I find it impossible to appreciate in any way. Doom-laden and tedious with a dollop of self-importance is how I'd classify it. Not at all what Les Paul had in mind when he electrified the guitar and revolutionised our lives. Dull, plodding and monotonous. 

There are thousands who would disagree with me but how many of those have got caught up in the romantic notion of the death of Ian Curtis rather than looking at the album on it's own merits? I'm not trying to claim the only reason to appreciate Closer is self delusion but I can't help but wonder how many people have elevated it above the status it deserves because of the associated story? 

I'm not sure what reaction the members of Joy Division were trying to inspire in their listeners when they released this album but I know I'm not feeling it at all.

Influenced by: Unhappiness
Influenced: Further Unhappiness

Highlight: Heart and Soul
Lowlight: Passover

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Wot are ye talkin all this crap for 'moan tae, mind?, ouer Joy Division Closer is on the same vein o' Hibernian McClintock legacy of warrior poets inish as James Joyce Ulysses ya Fenian skunks!"

- I have no idea what any of that actually means but I love reading it out loud.

So is does this album make you closer to Joy Division or not? Let me know below.

Friday, October 26, 2012

158 Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy. Thanks Sir Elton



Album: Captain Fantastic and The Brown Dirt Cowboy
Artist: Elton John
Genre: Pop
Year: 1975

Tracks

  1. Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy
  2. Tower of Babel
  3. Bitter Fingers
  4. Tell Me When the Whistle Blows
  5. Someone Saved My Life Tonight
  6. (Gotta Get a) Meal Ticket
  7. Better Off Dead
  8. Writing
  9. We All Fall in Love Sometimes
  10. Curtains

Before I started this project I had never heard an Elton John Album from start to finish. I knew him for a few songs, a lot of flamboyance and for receiving knighthoods and wearing silly clothes. I didn't associate him with album-length artistic expression.

My earlier encounters with his albums weren't entire successful. His debut left me feeling decidedly queasy thanks to it's over reliance on sentimentality. In my earlier review I had some incredibly unpleasant things to say about The Greatest Discovery, a sugary saccharine song on his debut album that at the time made me gag. I wrote that review back in 2009 when I was a very different person. Since then I've become a parent twice which means I recently had the exact experience outlined in The Greatest Discovery. I introduced my first-born child to his new baby brother. It was an emotional moment as my two beautiful boys met for the first time. Watching them play, learn and grow together in the years to come will give me years of pleasure and joy and their first meeting was a special experience. So I recently re-listened to The Greatest Discovery in order to see whether parenthood would change my views on something I'd previously discarded as over sentimental.

Having heard it again I can honestly say it's actually slightly worse than I thought it was. Living the song doesn't make the ghastliness any less horrible. 

Captain Fantastic however is a different issue. Taupin and John wrote the album from their own experiences. Elton John is Captain Fantastic and Bernie Taupin is the Brown Dirt Cowboy. They're not trying to pluck at the heart strings with artificial sentimentality or create a false sense of atmosphere. They're sharing their lives with the listener.

I won't say I love Captain Fantastic but it's definitely a much more enjoyable listen than any other Elton John album I've heard up to this point. It's mature and world-weary and sounds like people genuinely connecting with themselves and each other instead of just trying to write songs which please people. It's still a bit over produced for my liking with too much orchestration but it still works as a showcase for John's voice and talent. 

If you think Elton is all about image and playing pleasing ballads to middle aged housewives then this is the album that might persuade you he was once a serious artist with something to say.

Highlight: The title track
Lowlight: Writing

Influenced by: Life and a lyricist
Influenced: Ben Folds

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "He is, without a doubt, a genius ... I would go so far as to call him the Mozart of our times."

-oooh don't compare anyone to Mozart, there are some people who are just beyond comparison.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

159. Alive! Sort of livish



Album: Alive!
Artist: KISS
Genre: Metal
Year: 1975

Tracks


1. Deuce
2. Strutter
3. Got to Choose
4. Hotter Than Hell
5. Firehouse
6. Nothin' to Lose
7. C'mon and Love Me
8. Parasite
9. She
10. Watchin' You
11. 100,000 Years
12. Black Diamond
13. Rock Bottom
14. Cold Gin
15. Rock and Roll All Nite
16. Let Me Go, Rock 'n' Roll


A few years ago when I was in the early stages of this blog I wrote about Destroyer by KISS. I had memories of not being very complimentary and having read it again I've relived the experience. I claimed in that review that I had to stop walking because I was laughing so hard and to this day I can still pinpoint the exact location of that giggling fit on a map. I couldn't take it seriously at all.

Alive! was the band's earlier attempt to turn them from an underground band into a mainstream success by replicating their dynamic and explosive live show on four sides of vinyl. You might have thought this was a big ask considering Kiss Koncerts were known as much for pyrotechnics, make up and general onstage shenanigans than for the actual music. The only way a fan could hope to truly replicate a concert experience was to play the album loud while surrounded by burning clowns.

Nevertheless the record company decided a double album might bring in the cash so they set up microphones and tried to capture the sound of a live show. They captured the band in their full sweaty glory and then took the tapes back to the studio to mix them.

And it's here that they encountered a slight snag. Apparently when you separated the musical performance from the stage antics and atmosphere it revealed a few errors: some musical misteps, tuning issues, rhythmic anomalies and a general inability to reproduce the songs in a live setting. The audience didn't notice because they were too busy making noise and enjoying fireworks but when the only focus was the sound it was clear that the music needed some help.

And so the band came into the studio and re-recorded their parts and fixed everything up. They basically recorded a studio album that they then overdubbed audience noise onto which was then tweaked and mixed. It's not a document of their concert as much as it's a studio reproduction of their setlist and it's painfully obvious when you listen with earphones.

Alive! is an album of big shouty rock and roll for fans of a big shouty rock and roll band. It's a slick and polished "live" album by a band who put on a slick and polished live show. If you went to their shows and shouted your approval then it was a good souvenir document. If you want a good live album that captures the true energy of a live concert then this isn't it. Alive! is as real as the cover photo which  looks like the band onstage but is clearly posed and staged just for the camera. It's as bad as Destroyer but not redeemingly hilarious which is a pity because it's impossible to take seriously.

Highlight: I just wanna rock and roll all nite! (big and dumb but the best big and dumb song on the album)
Lowlight: Parasite

Influenced by: Alice Cooper
Influenced: XJapan

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "This is a complete mystery to me, but just in case this happens to anyone else; I unwrapped the cd case and opened it up to only find one disc (disc 1). I've taken it completely apart and spent an hour looking all around where I was sitting as I opened it."

-An hour? Unless you were sitting on a stack of loose CD's that seems like a long time to search.

So is this live brilliance or studio drudgery? Let me know below




Saturday, October 20, 2012

160 Electric Warrior. Lets Get It On



Album: Electric Warrior
Artist: T Rex
Genre: Rock
Year: 1971

Tracks


1. Mambo Sun
2. Cosmic Dancer
3. Jeepster
4. Monolith
5. Lean Woman Blues
6. Get It On
7. Planet Queen
8. Girl
9. The Motivator
10. Life's a Gas
11. Rip Off


Well don't I feel like a bit of a dill. Silly, silly me.

For some reason I've been writing T Rex off for years. I've always believed they were a hugely over rated group that English people of a certain generation had latched onto because there wasn't much else being released when they were performing. The Beatles had broken up, The Stones and Zeppelin had passed their peak so children of the mid seventies had to make do with what they had and try and pretend it was worth making a lot of noise about.

Imagine my surprise then when I put Electric Warrior on and heard track one. Mambo Sun starts with a funky bassline that grooves along underneath Marc Bolan's uniquely whispered vocal stylings. Bolan's low-key singing is unlike anyone else I can think of and is instantly arresting. Hurl in a tasty guitar riff and all the ingredients are there for a great track. I have to confess it took my quite a few listens to get to the rest of the album because I was having such a nice time with track one.

I did eventually hear the rest of the album which means I heard Jeepster and Get it On, the two T Rex tracks that everyone who has ever listened to rock radio is familiar with. They're both great songs and actually sitting and listening to them made me realise how good they are. T Rex had a unique sound and nobody else was doing what they did at the time.

Sadly most of the rest of the album isn't quite as good. When T Rex try and sound like The Stones or Bowie they just don't manage to pull it off as well. Their attempts at Blues (Lean Woman Blues) comes years after white boy blues had run it's course and been done to death and their ballads (Cosmic Dancer) just don't work.

T Rex are one of those bands that struck out in their own unique direction and when they did they were great but when they try and follow ground people have trod often before they're not so hot. Still they're much better than I'd given them credit for and if you've never heard Mambo Sun (which is inexplicably left of their greatest hits compilations) give it a try. It's got my vote for one of the overlooked hits of the seventies.

Influenced by: The Stones and Bowie
Influenced: English alt-rock

Highlight: Mambo Sam
Lowlight: Lean Woman Blues

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Im not an angry person bashing any old music. Im a musician bashing this bullfunk."

-Bullfunk? That sounds like a genre more than an insult.

So is this bullfunk or not? Let me know below.

161. Dock of the Bay. More time wasted.




Album: The Dock of the Bay
Artist: Otis Redding
Genre: Soul
Year: 1968

Tracks

1. (Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay
2. I Love You More Than Words Can Say
3. Let Me Come on Home
4. Open the Door
5. Don't Mess with Cupid
6. The Glory of Love
7. I'm Coming Home to See About You
8. Tramp
9. The Hucklebuck
10. Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out
11. Ole Man Trouble


I wasted my time but there's not reason to waste yours so I'll make this brief and put another post up straight away. In about a dozen album's time we'll listen to Dreams to Remember an anthology of Otis Redding which contains the entire of Dock of the Bay except for four songs which didn't make the grade. The only reason to listen to this album over the far superior Dreams is to hear those four songs. The only thing I have to say about them is that they're not worth putting on an Otis Redding hits anthology.

I could write lots about how pointless this list can be when it replicates itself rather than make room for other music but I've said it lots of times before and no doubt I'll be saying it again before I finish the list.

Highlight: The tracks on Dreams to Remember
Lowlight: The other four tracks

Influenced by: Soul
Influenced: Rod Stewart

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: This album had a mongrel begining. It has a thoroughbred history.

-Oooh good quote. Well done

So did you waste your time on this or not? Let me know below.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

162. OK Computer. No. Just No.



Album: OK Computer
Artist: Radiohead
Genre: Rock
Year: 1997

  1. Airbag
  2. Paranoid Android
  3. Subterranean Homesick Alien
  4. Exit Music (For a Film)
  5. Let Down
  6. Karma Police
  7. Fitter Happier
  8. Electioneering
  9. Climbing Up the Walls
  10. No Surprises
  11. Lucky
  12. The Tourist

162? Seriously? One Hundred and Sixty two? Ok Computer? The album that sits on top of most "best of the nineties" lists is no better than 161 other albums? The biggest album by one of the biggest bands in the world can't even break into the top 100?

Sometimes this list is just mystifying.

For my money OK Computer is the best album released in the 1990's. I can't think of a release from that decade which is better than this and I say that fully aware that Dylan released an album in 1997.

To be honest I'd be raving about this album even if the only good songs were Karma Police and No Surprises both of which are magnificent ballads. Not even my local busker who plays both tracks badly and at a loud, amplified volume that's clearly audible from my bedroom can dull my love of these songs. They sound fantastic on the album, they're brilliant when done live and they were even great when I used to sing them regularly in a tiny karaoke bar in rural Japan.

I'd even rave about it if the only good track was Paranoid Android. There are lots of bands who have managed to get an album on the top 500 based on one classic song and a lot of filler and Paranoid is better than the stand out tracks from many of the albums here. Lots of bands have tried to pull off a tempo changing epic song and failed dismally. Starting a track with one mood and then switching through several others before you finish is harder than it looks and it's easy to stuff up royally. Many groups have tried and ended up looking like they've just smooshed together a bunch of half-formed ideas into one half-formed whole. But Paranoid Android is an outstanding rock and roll song which sounds greater than the sum of its bits and has you shouting along even though you might occasionally catch yourself hearing the words coming out of the mouth and wondering what the hell you're actually singing (gucci little piggies? The Panic, the Vomit? Unborn Chicken Voice in my head?)

Paranoid Android, Karma Police and No Surprises would be enough for me to regard this as one of the great albums on their own. Even if the rest of the album was entirely forgettable I'd still remember this album as brilliant. I'm delighted to report however that the filler tracks on OK Computer are easily good enough to emerge from the shadow of its outstanding moments. Every track is brilliant but I'd put forward Electioneering as one of the overlooked gems of the nineties. If you gave Electioneering to most other bands at the time they would have released it as a single and built an album around it, Radiohead stick it towards the tail end of their CD where it kicks in as a fantastic surprise.

Taken as simply a set of songs, OK Computer is a brilliant album, but observed thematically it can offer so much more. Essays have been written about it's thematic intention and what it has to say about the world at the time, the world of the future and the state of UK politics. Regardless of what you take away from it you can't deny that something has deliberately been added to turn this disc into something more than just "stuff we had lying around the studio at the time." Radiohead were moved and want to move something in you as well.

There is only one thing wrong with this album; only one fault I can find and only a tiny niggle I have which is this: what the hell is it doing at number 162 on this list! In what warped and demented parallel universe is this not better than a live Kiss album? Or the debut from the B-52's? Or anything by Steely Bloody Dan!

I'm angry now and need a lie down.

Influenced by: Modern life
Influenced: Coldplay, Muse and others

Highlight: Paranoid Android... no Karma Police... no no No Suprises.
Lowlight: Fitter, Happier More Productive, I still don't skip it though.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Coldplay and Starsailor paved the way for this band, but that doesn't mean it is any good."

-I think this is trolling of the most obvious kind.

So are you OK with this or not? Let me know below.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

163 1999. Apparently he's very good



Album: 1999
Artist: Prince
Year: 1982
Genre: Pop

Tracks


1. 1999
2. Little Red Corvette
3. Delirious
4. Let's Pretend We're Married
5. D.M.S.R.
6. Automatic
7. Something in the Water (Does Not Compute)
8. Free
9. Lady Cab Driver
10. All the Critics Love U in New York
11. International Lover


People keep telling me that Prince is a brilliant musician. He's supposed to have a talent so staggeringly massive it's possible to overlook the fact that he's unbearably pretentious and irritating. He's rumoured to possess abilities so immense they're even capable of approaching the size of his own ego. I'm supposed to appreciate him as a genius whose skills give him a free pass when it comes to the standards of social acceptance we apply to other human beings. Personally I've never been able to see it. To me he's just an annoying person with an elevated sense of his own importance and an ability to say some truly silly things like saying the Internet was over in early 2012 ("The internet's like MTV. At one time MTV was hip and suddenly it became outdated. Anyway, all these computers and digital gadgets are no good. They just fill your head with numbers and that can't be good for you." -shut up fool)

Every Prince track I've ever heard has struck me as annoying pop with appalling lyrics. It's all been overdone synth-wank as far as I can tell with lots of badly dated electronica and a really annoying squeaky voice but I want to find a way in. I might never become a fan but I want to at least become an admirer, even if it's a begrudging one.

My entry point was always going to be the guitar. Apparently Prince is a great guitar player and managed to make Rolling Stone Magazine's list of the top 100 guitarists of all time. So I listened to 1999 hoping for some six-string wizardry to turn my view. Sadly it's not really a guitar album. Prince apparently has a lot of strings to his bow and he chose to play around with the other strings on this release leaving the six guitar strings to bury themselves in the mix.

I've checked out the youtube clip of Prince playing on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in which George Harrison was honoured by a group of musicians playing While My Guitar Gently Weeps. People have claimed his guitar solo is among the best ever recorded. These people need to hear more guitar playing. When Clapton plays While My Guitar Gently Weeps his guitar genuinely weeps. He's playing from the heart as he focuses his talents on providing a fitting tribute for a great friend whose loss he feels deeply. He understands the blues and he gets them from George's death. Prince just understands Prince adoration. It's the only thing that drives him on. His solo at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction is an exercise in guitar wizardry which requires great skill but is totally devoid of soul. It's highly practised and rehearsed trickery which looks fantastic but has nothing at its core but a desire to impress. This sort of thing is fine at a Prince show which is designed to be a shrine at which his fans worship but at an event that's supposed to pay tribute to someone else it's just selfish show-ponying of the worst kind. It's an attempt to steal all the limelight away from George and turn it into a Prince show. It's made worse by his arrogant (and pre-rehearsed) fling of the guitar and poonce off-stage as if receiving applause is beneath him. Whenever I watch that clip I really want Tom Petty, who has put more soul into a soundcheck than Prince has put into his entire career, to smack that smug little poser in his artfully unshaven face and force him to his knees to beg an apology from any of George's family who were present.

I still haven't found any evidence of Prince's guitar prowess but if I do it's going to have to be truly electrifying to make me overlook what a detestably arrogant little tossbag he is.

Influenced by: His own ego
Influenced: Other arrogant pop singers.

Highlight: The cover
Lowlight: The performer

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Hate i"

-That's the entire review. Very succinct. Agree i.

So was 1999 a good year or not? Let me know below.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

164. Heart like a wheel. Wheely?



Album: Heart Like A Wheel
Artist: Linda Rondstandt
Year: 1974
Genre: Country Rock

Tracks

  1. You're No Good
  2. It Doesn't Matter Anymore
  3. Faithless Love
  4. The Dark End of the Street
  5. Heart Like a Wheel
  6. When Will I Be Loved
  7. Willin'
  8. I Can't Help It (If I'm Still in Love with You)
  9. Keep Me from Blowing Away
  10. You Can Close Your Eyes

This is where my personal prejudices come into play. Listening to this countdown has made me examine my musical preconceptions and given me a greater understanding how I'm affected by the music I listen to and it's made me realise how much I've romanticised the idea of the artist as inspired creator.

You won't find Ani Di Franco on this countdown which is a shame. I love Ani, I love her voice, I love her guitar playing, I love her lyrics and I really love her as an artist. Ani is a modern folk musician who has her own record label which she managed to fund through her constant touring and by selling home made tapes out of the boot of her car. Today she regularly records albums of self-penned material which she plays and sings herself. She works with a producer but determines how she wants her songs arranged and performed (as the head of her own record label she's technically hiring any staff and nobody tells her what to do). 

I love the idea of Ani sitting at home (or more likely in a hotel room on tour) with a guitar and a pad writing down words and music because something has moved her that day. I love the idea that she says "I'm going to make an album now" and goes into the studio where she puts music to the thoughts and feelings she's been having since she last made a record. She chooses how to arrange her words and then plays the music she wants to play. The end result is an album by Ani DiFranco.

Compare that to Linda Rondstandt who didn't write any of the songs on Heart Like a Wheel. The record label brought in a producer and arranger who basically organized the studio sessions and helped choose which tracks they wanted her to sing. They then organized the host of talented musicians who put the instrumental backing together for Linda to sing on. The star came in and lent her (admittedly glorious) voice over the top of their work and an album was made after she entered another studio for an extended photo session to provide the cover. 

Now I'm not knocking Linda for a second. The woman has a wonderful voice, is very attractive and from all reports is a nice person. She's everything you could want in a pop star but I want something more than a pop star. I want an artist with a creative vision that they have a part in sharing. 

If Linda and her record company had a falling out and she was sacked they could have plucked another vocalist from a nearby bar band, plonked her in a studio and let her do the vocals in a day or two. It might not have sounded quite as good but it could have sounded better, who knows? The point is that Linda is just a singer. 

Knowing this keeps me distant from Heart Like A Wheel, it's a bunch of covers and country tracks chosen by a producer and arranger. I can't connect to it in the way I can an album by DiFranco. It tells me nothing about Linda except that she's got a nice voice. It doesn't torture me the way some other albums on this list do but it certainly doesn't involve me, move me or inspire me. 

If you want an album of pop/rock/country sung by a talented female then Heart Like a Wheel is probably your thing. It's the way pop albums are made.

Highlight: Willin (although I prefer the original)
Lowlight: Keep me from Blowing Away

Influenced by: Country and pop
Influenced: country pop crossovers from then on

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote:  "Listen this CD and you are good"

-Excellent. I've always wanted to be thought of as good. It's nice to know I've got a way in.

So have you listened to this and do you feel like you're good? Let me know below.


Thursday, October 11, 2012

165 Let's Get it on. Class



Album: Lets Get It On
Artist: Marvin Gaye
Year: 1973
Genre: Soul

Tracks


1. Let's Get It On
2. Please Stay (Once You Go Away)
3. If I Should Die Tonight
4. Keep Gettin' It On
5. Come Get to This
6. Distant Lover
7. You Sure Love to Ball
8. Just to Keep You Satisfied


Class is a strange thing. A lot of modern popular music lacks any kind of class at all. It's basically a bunch of people singing about how they want to shag someone silly. It's a declaration that the singer has found a girl that they want to put part of their body into and they want to do it right now; no class at all.

Marvin Gaye on the other hand is classy. The man is full of class, his albums just ooze class and everything about him and his career is just... there's no other word for it... classy. His songs aren't about something as cheap as just wanting to have his way with someone they're about...um.... hang on I'll check... oh.

Turns out Marv just wants to get it on as well. He wants to "groove you good" and he wants to do it "this minute." In fact he wants "Everybody to start getting it on". He might be classy but he's clearly horny as well.

So what makes Marvin Gaye classy but modern singers sharing the same sentiment not classy?

Firstly it's the strings. The lush production and instrumentation suggest a level of sophistication that you just can't replicate with guitars and drums. A room full of string instruments can give a simple declaration of lust an extra layer of gravitas. He might want to doink her but he wants to do it to a string accompaniment which makes it classy.

It's probably also got something to do with the declaration of love that Gaye adds as well. He doesn't want to groove simply because he's noticed someone in a club, he wants to groove a woman that he declares undying affection for. He's in love and wants to make love not just satisfy a primal urge.

If you're thinking of making a song about bonking and you're taking notes then note one should read: "strings" and note two: "love". But note three is the real clincher: you need to have Marvin Gaye's voice.

Marvin has a voice like golden velvet wrapped around honey. It's pure seduction in musical form and could charm the habit of a statue of a nun. If he directed his perfect voice at me I'd probably be halfway undressed before I remembered I was a heterosexual.

In the end class is all about talent. If you've got the talent of Marvin Gaye you could make songs about garbage disposal sound classy, if you haven't you can't.

I don't choose to listen to Let's Get it On very often but whenever I hear it or any of his other album's I always sit back and marvel at Marvin. It's too over produced and slick for my liking but there's no denying the massive talent driving it onward. Classy, very classy.

Influenced by: Soul
Influenced: Michael Jackson

Highlight: The title track
Lowlight: Distant Lover

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: " I suggest waiting until you're about to "get it on" and then putting on this album. "

-Eww. Please don't make these suggestions.

So would you enjoy getting this on or would you rather they just get it off? Let me know below.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

166. Imperial Bedroom. Mellow Costello



Album: Imperial Bedroom
Artist: Elvis Costello
Genre: Pop
Year: 1982

Tracks

  1. Beyond Belief
  2. Tears Before Bedtime
  3. Shabby Doll
  4. The Long Honeymoon
  5. Man Out of Time
  6. Almost Blue
  7. ...And in Every Home
  8. The Loved Ones
  9. Human Hands
  10. Kid About It
  11. Little Savage
  12. Boy with a Problem
  13. Pidgin English
  14. You Little Fool
  15. Town Cryer

Two albums ago I wrote about Elvis Costello's debut album My Aim Is True. I talked about how he wrote a good song and could put together a good lyric.

On this countdown we've progressed two albums to Imperial Bedroom but Costello released five albums in between his debut and this one and showed a definite musical progression. We'll encounter his second album later in the list, we've already seen his third lower in the countdown which means his first three albums are considered by Rolling Stone to be among the greatest ever made.

Album number 4 was probably destined for greatness as well but Costello got drunk one night and had a few derogatory things to say about Ray Charles and James Brown (the n-word was used which wasn't a classy move). His comments were reported in the press and suddenly Elvis found himself having to give one of those sickly, grovely press conferences in which he had to try and prove he wasn't a racist which is basically impossible to do without formally announcing your engagement to an African tribeswoman. Costello decided to try and prove he wasn't prejudiced against black people by recording an album heavily influenced by soul music. Two years later he surprised everyone by releasing an album made up entirely of Country and Western Covers which makes me wonder if he got drunk somewhere, made some choice comments about the deep south and felt the need to atone in musical form before the word got out.

Either way the point is that by the time he came to record Imperial Bedroom he was still an artist with a  huge range of influences but he was now someone who had mastered a range of styles. He's done soul and country, he can do proto-punk and pull of a good ballad. Catchy Pop is definitely his forte and he can rock and roll effortlessly. In a few short years he'd gone from an unknown to a commercial success without the confining straight jacket of fan expectations.

Entering a studio with that level of freedom he managed to produce another great album. The well crafted tunes are there along with the biting lyrics but this time Costello sounds a lot more confident with his own voice. He can really sing and while he sometimes lapses into a decidedly UK-Punk sounding sneer (most notably on Pidgin English) on the gorgeous ballad Almost Blue his voice has a wonderfully soulful tone that seems to come to the listener via a smoky club straight out of Golden Era Hollywood.

Elvis Costello was a true original when he recorded his debut album and never settled into any form of predictability or settled into a rut. Music is richer for his presence and your CD collection would be richer for having a few of his albums in your collection. Imperial Bedroom is definitely a good starting point.

Influenced by: Almost everything
Influenced: English alternative pop

Highlight: Almost Blue
Lowlight: Pidgin English

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Sorry, "begging the question" does NOT mean "asking the question" or "provoking the question"; it means assuming in your argument a priori the very thing your argument attempts to prove. "Begging the question" is a logical fallacy, more formally known as "petitio principii".

-I'm sorry but someone who dedicates half their amazon review to correcting someone else's misuse of an English cliche is not someone I'd like to meet at a party.

So is this a bedroom you'd like to be invited into or would you give it a miss? Let me know below

Friday, October 5, 2012

167. Master of Puppets. (Not a Jim Henson tribute)




Album: Master of Puppets
Artist: Metallica
Year: 1986
Genre: Metal

Tracks


1. Battery
2. Master of Puppets
3. The Thing That Should Not Be
4. Welcome Home (Sanitarium)
5. Disposable Heroes
6. Leper Messiah
7. Orion
8. Damage, Inc.


Apparently there is such a thing as "Real Metal" and such a thing as "Not real metal". Every album on the countdown that looks a bit metallic can be divided into one of these two categories. The problem is that most people can't agree on exactly which is which most of the time. I'm forever reading about a metal album which one reviewer is lauding as true metal in the realest sense of the word while someone else is dismissing as not the real thing. Fools Metal is just as prevalent as Fools Gold on the top 500 (actually more so since the Stone Roses have been sadly neglected).

But cutting through that debate like a massive axe made of the truest metal is Master of Puppets which is definitely, absolutely, totally and utterly metal of the realest kind. 

Goodness this is metallic. The guitars crunch in no uncertain terms. They're loud, distorted and played fast and furious. The drumskins are pounded so hard and fast if they were still on the cows they came from the steak would be tender enough to win awards from discerning carnivores. And while the bass player won't win any prizes for improvising skills or variation, if his fingers were drivers they'd be fined for speeding on any road in the country. This is as real as metal gets.

Is it any good? If you like metal then the answer is a resounding yes. If you're a fan of the genre then this is your Sgt Peppers, Pet Sounds and Blonde on Blonde all rolled into one. If Metal is your thing then this is your thing within that thing. It's the reason you get up in the morning and it's what keeps you up late at night.

But if metal isn't your thing then this isn't going to help much. The entire genre is an acquired taste which you either love or hate with no middle ground. Nobody is a bit just interested in metal or likes some songs but not others. There is nobody on the planet who has burnt the odd metal song into an otherwise metal-free compilation because they likes thrashed guitars and speeding drums in moderation. 

Consequently this is basically a review-proof album. If you like your music heavy then you love this and nothing I can say will convince you otherwise. If you hate metal then I can't give you a sneaky entry point to help you find a way in. I can't point you to a hidden depth that will let you penetrate it's subtle mysteries. It's hard and fast and heavy and loud and if that's your thing then your thing is right here. If it isn't then stay the hell away.

Influenced by: Black Sabbath and Industrial Machinery
Influenced: Everyone who plays Thrash

Highlight: The Title Track
Lowlight: A few tracks later when you start to get bit of a headache

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Every song by Metallica, Black Sabbath, Beatles, Stones,Hendrix, Doors, Pink Floyd, Beethoven, ACDC, Judas Priest, Who, Aerosmith, Dio, Megadeth, Rush, Queen, REM , Bob Marley, Mozart, Iron Maiden, Scorpions, Bach , Van Morrison, Guns n Roses, Van Halen, Vivaldi, Motorhead, Saxon ,Boston, Chicago, Velvet Underground, U2, David Bowie, Elton John, Cliff Richard, Spice Girls,Morbid Angel,Scot Joplin, Def Leppard ,Genesis,Yes, King Crimson, Blue Cheer, Cream , Robert Cray, Sandie Shaw,Sonny and Cher,hell EVERYONE, has already been done far, far better by the Godlike Led Zeppelin."

-Hang on. Did you just claim everything Mozart, Bach and Beethoven has ever done had already been done by Led Zeppelin? I can understand people's adoration for their favourite band but claiming they're capable of time travel is a bit rich surely?

So does this album master your puppets? Let me know below.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

168 My Aim Is True. A hit



Album: My aim is true
Artist: Elvis Costello
Year: 1977
Genre: Rock

Tracks

  1. Welcome to the Working Week
  2. Miracle Man
  3. No Dancing
  4. Blame It on Cain
  5. Alison
  6. Sneaky Feelings
  7. (The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes
  8. Less Than Zero
  9. Mystery Dance
  10. Pay It Back
  11. I'm Not Angry
  12. Waiting for the End of the World

Some artists wear their influences on their sleeve. You can hear their musical forefathers in every note they play and every track on their album. As soon as you hear a Stevie Ray Vaughan album you can immediately tell he's drawing heavily on Hendrix and Buddy Guy. Listen to a modern blues guitarist and you can spot SRV's influence in everything from their soloing to their onstage posturing.

Elvis Costello however appears to have been influenced by everything. Listening to My Aim Is True it's impossible to pin down exactly which box Costello is trying to put himself into. When he deposited this on the desk of record executives they must have done themselves scalp injuries scratching their heads trying to work out what the hell it was. 1977 was an era in which record companies liked things in boxes and there's no convenient package to put Elvis Costello in. How do you pin down someone who loves Burt Bacharach and the Grateful Dead but has clearly been listening to modern radio and paying a lot of attention?

There are a lot of people out there who can classify themselves as "True Originals" who can't be pinned down, defined and easily catalogued. A lot of these people make terrible music but Costello is actually a talented guy. He can write songs and he can write great lyrics as well. I'm not the sort of guy who normally pays much attention to lyrics. Bad lyrics will immediately turn me off but I won't listen to  music I don't like just because the words are profound. But Costello throws irresistible lines like these around...

"I said "I'm so happy, I could die."
She said "Drop dead," then left with another guy."

...and shares some insight like...


"And then they told me I could be somebody
if I didn't let too much get in my way.
And I tried so hard just to be myself,
but I keep on fading away.
Until the lights went out, I didn't know what to do.
If I could fool myself, then maybe I'd fool you too."

But don't go thinking Costello is just a poet with a backing band. He can write a tune as well which makes My Aim is True a catchy and enjoyable listen.

It might have been confusing in 1977 but thanks to it's eclectic nature and the quality of the material, Costello's debut has aged much better than lots of other things released that year. Well worth your time.

Highlight: Sneaky Feelings
Lowlight: Alison

Influenced by: The Dead, Punk and the fifties
Influenced: New Wave

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I purchased this CD for $29.98, only to find a few days later the price marked down to $17.97."

-I can understand you're annoyed but is that any reason to give an album a one star review?

So is this a hit or a big miss? Let me know below.