Monday, 22 January 2018

Record Collection Random Choice (RCRC) - C

Time for another roll of fate.
The letter C provides a number somewhere in the middle of the collection, and the result is ... Cliff!
(But not the one you may think (and happily not for me either)).

Jimmy Cliff - The Harder They Come

Basically a Reggae starter kit.
Think you don't like Reggae?  have a listen to this album - not a duff track on it and a perfect soundtrack for late summer evenings (and I'm writing this in January, so it works in the cold and damp too).
(A second recommendation for all things Reggae is the compilation Young, Gifted And Black - Volume 1 is better than Volume 2, but both deserve a place in any collection)

Compiled and sold as the soundtrack to Jimmy Cliff's movie of the same name, this compilation takes the purposefully recorded title track, adds three more Jimmy Cliff tracks, and then bulks out the album with a selection of landmark records/producer favourites from 1967 to 1972.

What you get is:
  1. "You Can Get It If You Really Want" - Jimmy Cliff
  2. "Draw Your Brakes" - Scotty
  3. "Rivers of Babylon" - The Melodians
  4. "Many Rivers to Cross" - Jimmy Cliff
  5. "Sweet and Dandy" - The Maytals
  6. "The Harder They Come" - Jimmy Cliff
  7. "Johnny Too Bad" - The Slickers
  8. "007 (Shanty Town)" - Desmond Dekker
  9. "Pressure Drop" - The Maytals
  10. "Sitting in Limbo" - Jimmy Cliff
  11. "You Can Get It If You Really Want" - Jimmy Cliff
  12. "The Harder They Come" - Jimmy Cliff
(and no, that it is a transcription error - you do have 2 versions of "You Can Get It If You Really Want" - the second version is more an instrumental with only the vocals for the chorus)

It is often stated that the film and the soundtrack introduced the world to Reggae, and listening to these tracks you can see why it succeeded.

For even more Reggae greats, the 2 Disc expanded version offers 18 more tracks including more from Jimmy Cliff, The Maytals and Desmond Dekker, plus Eric Donaldson, Johnny Nash and Dave & Ansel Collins.
  1. "Israelites" - Desmond Dekker and The Aces
  2. "My Conversation" - The Uniques
  3. "Do the Reggay" - The Maytals
  4. "Viet Nam" - Jimmy Cliff
  5. "I Can See Clearly Now" - Johnny Nash
  6. "Reggae Hit the Town" - The Ethiopians
  7. "Double Barrel" - Dave and Ansel Collins
  8. "It Mek" - Desmond Dekker and The Aces
  9. "Sweet Sensation" - The Melodians
  10. "Let Your Yeah Be Yeah" - Jimmy Cliff
  11. "Cherry Oh Baby" - Eric Donaldson
  12. "Monkey Spanner" - Dave and Ansel Collins
  13. "54-46 (That's My Number)" - The Maytals
  14. "It's My Delight" - The Melodians
  15. "Wonderful World, Beautiful People" - Jimmy Cliff
  16. "Pomp and Pride" - The Maytals
  17. "Guava Jelly" - Johnny Nash
  18. "The Bigger They Come the Harder They Fall" - Jimmy Cliff

(Serious redux warning!)
The film is far from a "Rags To Riches" tale, although it starts that way with main character Ivanhoe Martin (Jimmy Cliff) leaving his family in rural Jamaica to try his luck in Kingston.
On arrival, all his possessions are stolen.  Seeking work, he takes any job he can find, before trying his luck in the singing business.  He does end up making a record, but has no success.
His next job is in Kingstons thriving underground drug trade, delivering drugs around the city, and then being hunted by the police.  He descends deeper into the criminal world, stealing anything he can get his hands on, and most importantly avoiding the police at all costs.  As a result, he becomes something of a folk hero - it is this status that drives his record to success.
With the police closing in, he attempts to escape the island but fails to get aboard a boat bound for Cuba and is washed ashore.
The movie ends with Ivanhoe awaking to the sound of a police ambush, there is a stand-off, and a gunfight and Ivanhoe is no more.

There aren't too many films I watch repeatedly, but this is one of them - The Harder They Come is a bit of a "formulaic blaxploitation" movie (with a bit of Wild West thrown in for good measure), but pulls no punches and is not afraid to show the darker side of Jamaica.
There is a strange juxtaposition of the gritty, realism and darkness of the film against the uplifting joyousness of the soundtrack.

The extended version of the soundtrack closes with this more soulful take of the title track.  It was recorded at Muscle Shoals Studio in 1971, and originally released as the B Side of "Sitting In Limbo"

Jimmy Cliff - The Bigger The Come The Harder They Fall

The Harder They Come - Film Trailer

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Record Collection Random Choice (RCRC) - B

I have decided that these posts need a snappy title.
If I am to produce 26 highly interesting, informative critiques of albums nestling in the collection, then they need to be done under a specific banner.
As it goes, I couldn't think of a snappy title so went with the rubbish banner you see above.

And so to the letter B.
Lets see what we have this time.
What? No! Do I have to?
I could just cheat I suppose.
No, that wouldn't be right, and would compromise the randomness.

The randomiser was lucky last time out.  But now, as if to prove that this is a completely random selection, the gods of chance (devil?) has sent me to the lower end of the B section, and I now have to summon enthusiasm to spout forth on the era defining debut album by ... Bucks Fizz

Bucks Fizz were formed in late 1980 by Andy Hill and Nichola Martin to perform their song in the Eurovision heats A Song For Europe.
The group followed the ABBA model (ie 2 girls and 2 boys).  Mike Nolan was the first to be recruited, followed soon after by Cheryl Baker (who had previous Eurovision experience as part of Co-Co in 1978.
Open auditions brought Bobby G and Jay Aston to the line-up - Bobby G was second choice after original "second male" Stephen Fischer was unable to take up the offer.

Eurovision trivia tangent - Stephen Fischer would return to Eurovision in 1982 as one half of Bardo.  The other half was Sally-Ann Triplet, who had previously performed with Prima Donna at the 1980 contest.  Prima Donna also included Lance Aston, brother of Jay

They recorded the Hill/Martin tune "Making Your Mind Up", and won the Song For Europe contest.
This was released as a single in preparation for the main event in Dublin the following month.
Bucks Fizz won the contest, and the single went to Number 1 in the UK, and most other European countries.
Knowing they were obviously onto a good thing, a second single "Piece Of The Action" was released as "Making Your Mind Up" was leaving the charts.
The debut album followed 6 weeks later, and a third single ("One Of Those Nights") released in August.

The album contained the 3 singles plus 7 other original tracks (mostly written by Andy Hill and Nichola Martin).
To be totally honest, there is nothing here of any great musical innovation or enduring influence.  But then again, this is happy-clappy MOR Pop, and does exactly what you expect of it.
In the course of research, I had to listen to the album - it is not something I want to repeat.  No-one got hurt, but I was getting some funny looks from my wife.
It just sort of exists like background noise (and no, that does not make it an Ambient album to rank alongside Brian Eno or The Orb).

It achieved a Top 20 placing and was certified Gold with in excess of 100,000 sales - not at all bad for a manufactured band designed to perform at the Eurovision Song Contest, and then like many others before, disappear from view after their first single.
Marketing, Talent or "Right Place, Right Time" - you decide?

Of interest (possibly?) is the name appearing as writer of two of the tracks - Pete Sinfield.
A name more commonly associated with King Crimson.
Is it possible that closing track "The Right Situation" is a departure from formula and a Prog Rock epic in 3 movements?


No more singles were released from the album as focus moved to recording the second album, and the first new single "Land Of Make Believe" was released in November.
Another Pete Sinfield co-write, and one that will stop you listening to "In The Court Of The Crimson King" in quite the same way again.

The rusted chains of prison moons
Are shattered by the sun
I walk a road, horizons change
The tournament's begun
The purple piper plays his tune,
The choir softly sing;
Three lullabies in an ancient tongue,
For the court of the crimson king

Shadows, tapping at your window 
Ghostly voices whisper will you come and play 
Not for all the tea in China 
Or the corn in Carolina 
Never, never ever 
They're running after you babe
Run for the sun, little one 
You're an outlaw once again 
Time to change, Superman 
He'll be with us while he can 
In the land of make believe

in 10 years?
Well, you have to pay the rent.  And admittedly, there is a certain ghostly progginess to that verse (or is it just me?)

I was rather hoping to find a heavily rocked up/punked up version of "Making Your Mind Up" to sign off with (and at least regain some of my ROCK credentials)
Alas, no such (commercially available) cover version exists.
What I did find though was a German re-recording, with revised lyrics that was used in a German Song Contest in the same year as Bucks Fizz Eurovision win.

Maggie Mae - Rock n Roll Cowboy

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

AC/DC - Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap

The Gods of Random have been kind and produced a low number (9), and the first album for perusal is AC/DCs second album of 1976.
This is the bands fourth (or third?) album.
The first two ('High Voltage' and 'TNT') were Australian only releases, and their third release (also titled 'High Voltage') combined the best bits of the Australian albums and was given an International release.
'Dirty Deeds ..' also had a later International release with modified track listing ("RIP (Rock In Peace)" was replaced by the frantic "The Rocker").

9 tracks built around similar patterns of thumping drums and heavy bar room blues riffing (with the quieter, almost delicate "Ride On" chucked in for good measure).

'Dirty Deeds ...' opens with the title track, and an almost sinister sounding riff.  Bon Scott's equally sinister vocals offer his services to help solve any little problems you may be having (these aren't problems like a blocked drain or dripping tap - these services are more criminal in nature).
Part way through the lyrics is the first serving of  lascivious humour, as Bon announces his phone number as 26-24-36.
"Love At First Feel" is, as the title suggests, continuing the theme (sex and drugs and rock and roll are very much a theme of AC/DC).
The lascivious (or more correctly schoolboy) humour returns for "Big Balls" - a harmless song about a man who arranges society dances - anyone who spies dirt in those lyrics must have a really dirty mind (???).

Some balls are held for charity
And some for fancy dress
But when they're held for pleasure
They're the balls that I like best
My balls are always bouncing
To the left and to the right
It's my belief that my big balls
Should be held every night

No smut there, as far as I can see.

Next up is what probably reads like Bon Scott's autobiography "The Rocker", and there may be a touch of Bon in "Problem Child" too.

Side 1 over, and there has been no let up yet - no time for breath.
"There's Gonna Be Some Rockin" is just as relentless, if on the slightly slower side, and then that riff is back with abandon for 7 minutes of "Ain't No Fun (Waiting 'Round To Be A Millionaire)". A spoken track announces the song:
"The following is a true story.  Only the names have been changed - to protect the guilty".
And then (at last?) time for breath with the slow dirty blues of "Ride On".
After that respite the thumping drums and riffing returns for closing track "Squealer".

When the album was released in the UK, it was lumped in with the burgeoning Punk movement, and (like Motorhead) AC/DC were the heavy rock band that it was "OK to like if you're a Punk".
The UK was their biggest market until the US breakthrough with 1979s 'Highway To Hell' and then confirmed with 1980s 'Back In Black'.
Whilst not a big seller on release, 'Dirty Deeds ...' is now the bands biggest album in their back catalogue, beaten only be the aforementioned albums.

Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap

Monday, 1 January 2018

Something To Do In 2018

I need a "quest", a purpose, something to do to get myself to do a regular update to this blog.
A sort of regular feature to supplement the other fine fine pieces of writing about new releases and the back catalogues of my favourite artists.

Whilst not a wholly original idea to "listen to stuff and then write about it", I'm going to do it anyway.

There are 26 letter in the alphabet (as I'm sure you knew?) - this means there is the basis for a series of fortnightly postings based around something in the alphabet.

As a bit of a nerd/sad muppet/OCD case (delete as applicable), my entire Music Collection is logged in a database.
(Well, big Excel spreadsheet - the Access Database I had previously "fell over" and I couldn't be arsed to re-build it)
This lists all singles and albums by artist and title - that is the starting point, that is the alphabetical bit of my quest.
Now all I need to do is generate a random number, find the corresponding entry in the database, listen to it and write some wondrous prose (or meandering rubbish) about said album.

As it is all in Excel, I will create a Pivot Table to arrange LPs and CDs alphabetically be artist, and use the RAND function to tell me which number I need to be waffling on about at that time.

This is not without problems or concerns - there is a distinct possibility that the random number generation could lead me to waxing lyrical about The Barron Knights or James Last, or an album I bought for one track and really couldn't listen to the rest of it.
But by the same token, this could lead to a re-discovery of a long forgotten dust covered relic that has lain dormant for far too long - it is my duty to tell the world of it's greatness.

This will only cover the A - Z part of the database - Various Artists Compilations are to be excluded, as whilst I'd dearly love to bang on about the Nuggets compilation, I'm really not sure I could find the enthusiasm for Now Thats What I Call Music 7, Hits 5 or Micky Mouse's Disco Party.

Let the pointless quest commence ...

Slade - Here's To The New Year

Saturday, 16 December 2017

The Essential Selection 2017

I’ve read a lot of Year End Lists, and there is one abiding thought I take from all that I've seen.
They're wrong.
So, to redress the balance of correctness in the Universe, I bring you the only true and correct Year End List for 2017.

But which order do I publish it?
A selection of daily (or bi-daily) posts expounded the greatness of each individual selection?
A simple 1 to 10, or maybe a 10 to 1?
A series of cryptic clues to keep the 9 people who read this dross guessing?

I'm a bloke, a list is a list and certain rules must be followed.  So it will be a single posting (this one), with each album ranked from 1 to 14, and then some other stuff tacked on the end.

  1. Conor Oberst – Salutations
    At the back end of 2016, Conor Oberst released 'Ruminations' - a collection of vocal/piano/guitar/harmonica tracks (basically demos).  There was a brittleness and something raw about all the tracks.  And a very good album it was too.
    In March, 'Salutations' took those 10 songs, adds seven more, and they were re-recorded as full band and studio production jobs.
    Initially, you may fear that this is slightly lazy songwriting, and or the songs may lose something in translation.
    Not a bit of it - the intimacy may be diluted, but the emotion and brittleness remains.  As a result, 'Ruminations' may now be seen as a Work In Progress, and although the songs are the same there is enough difference for both albums to be as equally rewarding.
  2. Public Service Broadcasting – Every Valley
    Public Service Broadcasting hit their third album, and like the two previous is something of a "concept album".
    Album 2 'The Race For Space' told the story of the 1960s Space Race between USA and Russia, this album looks closer to home examining the rise and fall (mostly the fall) of Coal Mining in South Wales.  As a result of the subject matter, the air of triumph is somewhat pared back, almost becoming claustrophobic. 
    Now, the nature of the subject matter ensures that the air of triumph isn't quite as obvious, but this does not detract from the sheer quality and effort placed on the music and it's complimenting of the chosen archive voice tracks.
    And that choir on the closing track is guaranteed (ish) to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.  Triumphant?  In a way, yes.
  3. Len Price 3 – Kentish Longtails
    5 albums in, and 4 yrars since the last release, the Len Price 3 (yes, there are 3 of them but none of them is called Len) are still making a glorious garage-powerpop-mod-psych noise (was that enough genre coverage?).
    There's a couple of gear changes down, proving they can do slower tempo tenderness equally as well as full-on vitriol.
    There is no let up in quality over 5 albums, and this is the one that contains enough "open-ness" and accessibility to perhaps elevate LP3 from "phenomenal live, yet still a bit of a cult" to "slightly more mainstream than the occasional play on 6Music".
    On the one hand, I really hope so,  And yet, the music snob in me says "please stay a cult band and hidden secret"
  4. Sparks – Hippopotamus
    It takes some doing to produce an album where every track sounds like you know it, or have heard it before somewhere, and at the same time be totally new.
    The music on this album is something special, and the lyrics are served up laced with wit and dry and/or wry humour.  A right rollicking dollop of fun to be had.
    Thoroughly entertaining from needle drop to run-off groove (not that I own the album on vinyl, but you know what I mean).
     Given Sparks propensity for humourous album titles in the past, I only wish they had released and album titled: 'Pushing Aside Graham Parker'
  5. Paul Weller – A Kind Revolution
    Paul Weller may be slipping seamlessly into the position of an old curmudgeon in the eyes of many onlookers.  And yet he still retains the capability to produce a cracking album each time he enters a studio.
    This one started life almost immediately after 2015s 'Saturns Pattern', and that same groove is evident.  And then in true PW "I'm doing what I want" style it strays off somewhere else.  Not into the comfort of Weller's past 40 years in the biz, but somewhere else again.
    OK, it's not massively avant garde or experimental, but it does take the boy from Woking onward again.
    Where next? A long as it's not a deeper revisit of The Style Council euro-jazzy tones, then I'll continue to be a happy bunny.
  6. The Professionals – What In The World
    Like Weller above, the drummer on this (Paul Cook) is also 40+ years long in the tooth.
    Formed from the remnants of the Sex Pistols, and then falling apart in a catalogue of contract battles, drugs and car crashes, it took 33 years to re-form.
    Steve Jones opted to stay in LA, and Ray McVeigh (rhythm guitar) is no longer in the band, but this new album features a host of "stellar" guitar guests (including Jones-y (both of the Steve and Mick variety)), Phil Collen and Billy Duffy.  Chris McCormack of 3 Colours Red also puts in appearance, and must've done a good enough job as he is now a "full member".
    Powerpop/Powerrock, big chunky riffs, lyrics that you don't have to try to find "hidden depths" - on the whole: bang it on turn it up and enjoy the moment.  That's what Rock 'n' Roll is about (isn't it?)
  7. Noel Gallagher – Who Built The Moon
    Noel's third post-Oasis set, and still delivering the goods.
    Sometimes you just wish he would go all-out rocking, but there is something "right" about his solo output - mid-paced, almost inward looking.
    Never the strongest of voices, he uses it as another texture/instrument.
    He can glam-stomp with the best of 'em, and then go all French cinema in the same 40 minutes. He's still nicking stiff and "re-imagining it", but what's wrong with that when you come up with an album as good as this one?
  8. Sharks – Killers Of The Deep
    Another entry from the "old guys rule" file, and another return after many years away.
    The Sharks were formed in by Andy Fraser when he left Free.  Vocalist Steve "Snips" Parsons and session guitarist Chris Spedding were also in the band.
    Fraser baled in 1973, and after a couple of low selling albums, the band ended. Spedding and Parsons briefly re-united in the mid-90s, and again in 2010.
    This album from the reconvened band (plus Paul Cook (see The Professionals above)) is a collection of songs from the greatest pub band you'd want to hear (and that is not meant as a dis-service).
    Rocking, riffing, grooving with a touch of Some Girls-era Stones meets New York Dolls thrown in for good measure, this album is proof that a little bit of experience goes a long way.
  9. The Disappointment Choir – Vows
    Admittedly, I (sort of) know the duo behind this.  But this album aint here out of some form of loyalty.  It's here on merit.
    11 tracks of pure pop joy.  This is both spritely and downbeat (but definitely not down, down (if you know what I mean?)) 80s synth-pop meets Indie, with diversions into folkishness, funk and a bit of proggishness thrown in.  A simple one liner I read said: "Erasure fronted by Morrissey", and that ain't far from the truth.  Both voices provide a different perspective and tone in each song, and compliment each other brilliantly when harmonising, or sharing vocal duties.
    Plenty here to worm your way into your head, and at times insanely memorable - you could walk round for days with the melody to "Heartstrings" firmly lodged in your frontal lobe.
  10. Steven Wilson – To The Bone
    He's still progging like a good 'un, but has now added a pop slant to his output.
    All the tropes of previous releases are still evident, as is the immaculate production (what else would you expect from him?).  There's hooks-a-plenty, layered instruments, atmospheres, a bit of psychdelia for good measure.
    At times you feel you could be listening to a lost recording of late period Rush or Pink Floyd (and there's a bit of Genesis in there too -  and then he chucks in a bit of "Abba meets Bollywood".
  11. John Otway and The Big Band – Montserrat
    Otway is either a genius or completely mad - I'm plumping for the genius category, or at the very least a Great British eccentric.
    It's been 10 years since his last album, so this time (with the help of Kickstarter) he decided to go and record on the island of Montseraat, where no-one has been since the a violent hurricane in 1989 destroyed most of it.  Just one problem - he may have to re-build the studio first (see, genius!).
    Despite the daft idea, record in the Carribean he did, and what he came up with was a rollicking, loud, sometimes painfully sang (but always perfectly enunciated) collection of songs which stand alongside anything else he has done.
    Don't let the mad hair fool you, these are really cracking songs which will hang around your brain for days.
  12. Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbot - Crooked Calypso
    OK, if I'm honest this third album from Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott is not as strong as the previous two.  You do get the feeling theres a couple of bits of filler crept in.
    That said, there is still much to please the ears on this one.
    There is still the wry observtions and with in the lyrics, great arrangements and top notch delivery of the vocals.  The music as ever is a sprawling variation of styles (soul, Motown, R&B, Housemartins-y pop).  As ever, there always seems to be a bit of an edge, or barbed comment going on somewhere.
    Music for grown-ups that is not bland MOR or TV stars having a crack at singing.
  13. Declan McKenna – What Do You Think Of The Car?
    Do you ever get those moments when you think "Hang on, that singer is younger than my children. Sh*t, maybe I'm to old for this game?"
    Well, Declan caused me to have that though this year.
    The songs are are lyrically great wonderfully arranged.  Considering he's only 18, this is a massively mature album (how old does that make me sound?).
    There's no histrionics, no show-boating just great indie-pop(ish) songs with a nod towards David Bowie, The Beatles and all great pop in between, whilst still steadfastly flying the indie-flag.
    The great hope for the future?  Time will tell, and by then I may have reconciled the fact that there are people releasing records who are younger than some of the old band T-Shirts I own (and still wear on occasion).
  14. Liam Gallagher – As You Were
    Afterr several listens, I can declare Gallagher The Younger's latest solo effort to be "a triumph of synergy" (ie greater than the sum of it's individual tracks).
    Many of the tracks here, when taken on their own, would probably not pass muster for a reconvened Oasis album *
    The album itself is a generally inoffensive set of songs that wouldn't sound out of place on Radio 2 or out of the mouth of Robbie Williams.  There are moments however when the boy from Burnage is standing and snarling (in a nice way) right in front of you, just to remind you that he is a fine vocalist and has achieved what he set out to do (or at least in his brothers words) and be a Rock & Roll Star.

    * Sorry Noel & Liam, but you know that anything you do will always come back to:  when's the reformation?

Haven’t got it yet, but expecting great(ish) things:
U2 – Songs Of Experience
It may be loyalty or collection filling, but I'm really hoping that this is the equal of 'Songs Of Innocence' - the only difference is that I have to pay for it this time.

Courtney Barnett/Kurt Vile – Lotta Sea Lice
Based on one single ("Continental Breakfast") and a quick listen on Spotify, I'm looking forward to the day I remember to buy this one (it's gradually making its way up the priority list)

No matter how many listens has not gained a place in the essential selection:
Elbow – Little Fictions.
Is one of the little fictions that Elbow's 2017 album was actually any good?
'The Seldom Seen Kid' in 2008 really was something quite special.  2011s 'Build A Rocket Boys' was close to achieving the trick again (but ultimately fell short).
But this ... I have tried, but I just can't find a way in. At varying moments, it is bland, dirgy, directionless and/or over-produced.
No Score Draw

Father John Misty – Pure Comedy
I know some people have been raving about this one (it's appearance in many year end charts backs this up), but it just comes across as a bit arch, a bit knowing, a bit clever-dicky.
There is nothing "bad" about this album, just nothing (beyond one and a half songs) that has really floated my boat.

Marillion - Misplaced Childhood
One of my most favouritist albums this year celebrated the monumental 32nd Anniversary.
To mark this exulted milestone, it has been re-masterd (by Steven Wilson) and re-issued in a 4 CD Box Set, along with alternative mixes, demoes, a Live Show (including a performance of the whole album) and a DVD/BluRay containing a documentry and two further Steven Wilson mixes of the album in 5.1 Surround Sound and 96/24 Stereo Remaster (whatever that means?).

Phil Collins - Not Dead Yet
A child actor with a love of music and drumming gets the gig with a group of ex-Public Schoolboys and becomes the go-to drummer for all Proggers wanting to go solo.
After taking the step forward from drum kit to Microphone, he too decides to have a crack at solo stardom.
And he does pretty well out of it.  Albeit becoming something of a figure of fun and over-exposure.
He comes across as a sound bloke, self-deprecating and willing to admit to his own mistakes.
He knows he over-exposed himself (oo-er?) in the 80s, but as has been said in many bios, he felt if the work was offered how could he turn it down because it might all end tomorrow.

I haven't been inside a cinema since Toy Story 2, so am unlikely to recommend any of the Big Budget Blockbusters, or Scandinavian Art House films that may be floated the boats of others.
Maybe I just don't have the patience, the intelligence or the imagination to really lose myself in fiction, and find myself more drawn to the documentary end of film-y things.  As a result, I highly recommend the recent Sky Arts doco XTC: This Is Pop (this has also led me to questioning why I don't own many of their albums, and am currently visiting Amazon to rectify this oversight)

It may not be Album Of The Year, but it does contain the Track Of The Year.
Father John Misty - Ballad Of The Dying Man

Conor Oberst - Gossamer Thin

Monday, 4 December 2017

But which is better: Noel or Liam?

In the words of Harry Hill - there's only one way to find out.

Only this fighting is not done in the boxing ring, on stage or in the pages of the highly respected, and always correct, media.

This battle is being fought across the airwaves. and probably cooked up by one of the record companies (or both) to ensure maximum notice, interest and potentially sales for the "Fiery Feuding Brothers" (© The Sun, The Mirror, The Mail, etc).

Both these new albums are their third offerings since the inevitable, but strangely unexpected end to Oasis back in 2009.
Liam was the first to release post Oasis material in early 2011 (beating Noel's High Flying Birds by about 8 months).
To all intents and purposes, Beady Eye was basically the last Oasis line-up with Noel Gallagher.
That first album contained some good moments, unfortunately not enough to sustain interest for a long period of time.  What was missing was Noels knack of writing a tune that was both original and reminiscent
Beady Eye managed a second album, without really breaking sweat, and limped to a conclusion soon after.

Three years since Beady Eye's last outing comes his first solo effort 'As You Were'.
There has been mention, not least by Liam, that this album was his "last chance".  I don't think that is entirely true, but the record company were obviously concerned with his shortcomings as a songwriter he was teamed with  co-writers and a producer to ensure a smooth, commercial product.
And in the main it has worked - the rough edges are shorn, and the album is a return to Britpop-ish/Oasis-esque material with a lighter touch (one can't help but fearing the homogeny of sound his found Liam veering into Robbie Williams territory).
The album starts on a high - the feedback (recalling Morning Glory), crashing guitars and harmonica opening "Wall Of Glass".  But the songs never really build or lift from there - all competent stuff, but never really hitting new ground.
That said, "You Better Run", "Come Back To Me" or "For What It's Worth" (along with the aforementioned "Wall Of Glass") are amongst the very best his post-Oasis career has produced.
Sometimes the lyrical back references grate a little (Purple Haze, Tomorrow Never Knows, Helter Skelter and Happiness is still a warm gun all get a mention), but the vocal delivery, and charisma, remain second to none and re-inforces the notion that Liam does indeed posses one of the most recognisable voices of the past 20 years, and with the right song one of the best too.
There's much to like and enjoy here, but sometimes you just yearn for a bit more "edge" to it all.

Just over a month after Liam's 'As You Were', Noels Gallagher also releases his third set.  Unlike Liam, who seems happy/comfortable to remain in the rocking vocalist position, Noel always seems to be striving to do something a bit different.
Weirdly, across 3 albums there is a lot of moving forward and trying of new things, but always seemingly staying in the same place (is that possible?).
Ultimately, in my mind, Noels solo output has ultimately been more rewarding than that of his sibling.  And there is no change here, although I must add that of the 3 so far, this one is probably the weakest - it just doesn't seem to "hang together" as well as his last two offerings.

If Liam is "the voice of a generation", then Noel is "the songwriter of a generation".
The songs may not be complex, or breaking any new songwriting craft, but they are direct, accessible and memorable.
And that's what you get here - 11 tracks (12 on the bonus edition) which have all the hallmarks of Gallagher The Elder, as well as the desire to change the template.

It wouldn't be a Noel Gallagher album if he didn't implore us to "hold on", and that's just what he does on the coda to opening track "Fort Knox" (an instrumental not a million miles from Oasis's "Fuckin' In The Bushes").
Unlike past albums, there is no rehash of the "Wonderwall" chord structure, but there is plenty of references to influences, all wrapped in in his own package.
All the favourites/expectations are here: Beatles, Stone Roses, Smiths etc.
"Holy Mountain" adds something new with a Mott The Hoople stomp, a bit of The Vaccines and a bit of a Plastic Bertrand "oo-whoo-oo" backing.
Whilst the album is not an out-and-out rocker, there is plenty to keep spirits up, and also a couple of well placed instrumental atmospheric-y outings in the shape of "Interlude (Wednesday Part 1)" and "End Credits (Wednesday Part 2)".
Noel has never had the strongest of voices (certainly not in comparison to his younger brother).  To compensate for this he places his voice somewhere in the mix, rather than above it, and uses it as another texture/tool of the song.
And like everything Noel seems to release, both Paul Weller and Johnny Marr are once again drafted in for support (Weller on "Holy Mountain" and Marr on "If Love Is The Law").
The album is a bit of a mixed affair, but repeated listening reveals more and I think it might be a stayer.

Who wins?
On balance, I think it might be a score-draw.
But Noel may just nick it in the last minute as I think 'Who Built The Moon' has more staying power (and is more likely to return to mu CD player more often) than 'As You Were'

Liam Gallagher - For What Its Worth

Noel Gallagher - Holy Mountain

Saturday, 4 November 2017

The Professionals


To para-phrase Alan Partridge: "They're only the band the Sex Pistols could've been"

At the fag-end of the Pistols life, Steve Jones and Paul Cook were left as the only 2 members.  John Lydon had walked out in San Fransico ("ever get the feeling you've been cheated?") and Sid was busy being Sid on a path to self destruction.
Cook and Jones kept recording to keep the name alive, and probably string out a career for as long as Macolm McLaren would allow.
As part of the recordings for the film Great Rock n Roll Swindle, Cook and Jones laid down 4 new tracks - 2 of which appeared in the film ("Lonely Boy" and "Silly Thing".  The other two ("Black Leather and "Here We Go Again" would appear as the sixth single in the multiple single pack 'The Pistols Pack'.
The album version of "Silly Thing" featured Paul Cook on vocals - for the upcoming single release, the track was re-recorded with Steve Jones on vocals.  Also participating in this session was session bassist Andy Allan.
"Silly Thing" was released as a single and climbed into the Top 10 (it was also bestowed a Legs and Co dance routine on Top Of The Pops).

Late in 1979, following the legal dissolution of the Sex Pistols, Cook and Jones re-grouped (retaining Andy Allan) as The Professionals.
Their association with Virgin Records continued, and they went into the studio to record new product.
Mid 1980 saw their first single release - "Just Another Dream" stuck in the 'Guitar, Bass, Drums, with vocals over the top' template, and none too shabby it was - although it din't trouble the chat compilers.
Their second single "1-2-3" crept into the lower reaches of the Top 50, but they kept going and continued with the plan to record the album for release before the end of the year.

And then ...

After the release of the second single, Andy Allan was ousted (did he leave or was he pushed?) replaced by Paul Myers from Subway Sect.
Allan had originally joined as a session player, but it was unclear whether he was actually ever promoted to a full time member.
Either way he felt he had not been duly credited, or indeed payed for his contribution thus far.  Add the fact that he wasn't officially under contract to Virgin Records (Virgin had signed The Professionals, which at the time was only Paul Cook and Steve Jones).
Seeking recompense, Allan sued Virgin record.  As a result of the injunction granted to Andy Allan, the track "Kick Down The Doors" was removed from the recent Virgin compilation 'Cash Cows', and all recordings to date for the album shelved.

Ray McVeigh was added as second guitarist, and they returned to the studio to start again, re-recording previous tracks and fashioning some new ones.
The re-recording of the album was declared the priority, and as a result live dates were scarce and the press and public were beginning to lose interest.
Another 6 months passed before the band broke cover with the single "Join The Professionals" - and again no chart action was garnered.
Only 2 or 3 UK shows were played before the band went off on a US Tour.
Coinciding with the US Tour, the new/re-recorded album 'I Didn't See It Coming' finally made it into the shops in October 1981 - some 16 months after initial recording.

Press response was lukewarm, and sales were slow.  Lack of promotion, and the sheer time it had taken did not endear it to a mass audience.
Shame, because in retrospect, and despite all the hoo-hah leading up to release it is a blinding corker of PowerPopPunk (if such a genre exists).
The one big criticism that can be levelled at the album is that the production is a bit thin and weedy, burying the power of Jones-ys guitar attack, and swamping the vocals.
Just a couple of days after the release, whilst in the US, the band were involved in a car accident which injured Cook, Myers, and McVeigh and abruptly ended the tour.
It also curtailed any future UK promotion for the album and it limped out of view.
After a period of recuperation, they returned to the US the following year, but the increasing drug habits of Jones and Myers put the mockers on that, and the band split and returned home (except for Steve Jones, who is still resident in LA).

And then it all went quiet - Steve Jones played some sessions with Iggy Pop, and also hooked up with some big names in bands like Chequered Past and The Neurotic Outsiders.  He released a couple of solo albums, and then "retired" to LA, breaking cover for Sex Pistols re-unions, brief guest appearances, and most recently hosting Jonesy's Jukebox on various radio stations around LA.
Paul Cook was behind the discovery and first single of Bananrama, but then effectively retired from music, popping up a long-time session drummer for Edwyn Collins.

Sex Pistols reunion activity kept them in touch (they were mates anyway, so more than likely in contact sooner or later), but The Professionals were not re-considered.

In 2016, The Professionals reformed to play a co-headline gig with Glen Matlock's post-Pistols outfit The Rich Kids.
There was obviously still enough of a spark there to consider reforming full-time and record again.

Which leads us to this - the new album ('What In The World') from the reconfigured Professionals
Cook and Myers remain from the first incarnation, but Steve Jones was unable to commit full time, so Tom Spencer fills the void this time round.
Steve Jones does appear as a guest guitarist on three tracks, along with a host of others showing the power of Paul Cook's address book.
Additional guitar oomph is provided by: Duff McKagen (Guns ‘n’ Roses), Mick Jones (The Clash), Phil Collen (Def Leppard), Marco Pirroni (Adam & The Ants), Chris McCormack (3 Colours Red) and Billy Duffy (The Cult).

'What In The World' is 10 tracks of solid, thumping, new wave / powerpunk / pub-rock / meatandpotatoesrock / (whatevergenre)rock.

Opening track "Good Man Down" sets the tone and lets you know what you are in for - solid, shout along, anthemic stuff.
OK, this may not be breaking new ground, or have some arty aesthetic underpinning the concept, but you can turn it up loud, jump around like a loony and go away with a smile on your face.
The pounding pace and power never lets up (only on "Extramadura" (featuring Mick Jones) does the tempo fall back.

There is the obvious danger that this album may be seen as a bunch of old punks in the midst of a mid-life crisis re-living their past.
Oh no no - yes the band name and members are all in "later years", but this album is as new, powerful and valid as anything produced in the past couple of years in that un-pigeonholeable genre of Rock (as we know and love it).

It took nearly 2 years for the debut to see the light of day, and it has taken 36 years for the follow-up to be released.
Both events were worth the wait (although, if you are going to do a third album, try not to leave it quite so long)
The world may have massively changed in that intervening time, but there is still a place for The Professionals

Track #1 from the first Professionals album ('I Didn't See It Coming') - "The Magnificent"

Track #1 from 'What In The World' - "Good Man Down"