Friday, 10 August 2018

Record Collection Random Choice (RCRC) - W: Wolfsbane - Live Fast, Die Fast

Not too much has come out of Tamworth - Sir Robert Peel and Julian Cope perhaps being the most noteworthy.
But it was home to one of the first British Heavy Metal bands to be signed to Rick Rubin's Def American label.  He was also producer of this - their debut album.

The sub-title of the album should give a bit of a clue to the content:
Wicked Tales of Booze, Birds and Bad Language

The album itself is pretty formulaic - sort of Iron Maiden meets AC/DC with a bit of David Lee Roth thrown in for good measure.  And the Rick Rubin production is not a great one - it all sounds a bit flat, the edges smoothed and never really shines or grabs the listeners attention.
I'd like to say "ah - but this doesn't matter because the songs are top notch".
Unfortunately, I can't say this because the album has a couple of high points and then seems to be fleshed out with filler, guitar trickery (wankery?) and thumping drums.
Give Blaze Bayley credit though - the vocals are really quite good, and one can understand how the man got the job of filling Bruce Dickinson's shoes in Iron Maiden (sadly, despite a couple of good songs, the Maiden albums he was involved with are a bit "treading water").

But back to Wolfsbane ...

The album kicks off with an sonic assault in the shape of "Man Hunt" - maybe not big on the lyrical front, but a late 80s Metal track favoured at parties and alternative nightclubs (I know this because I played it a couple of times to positive reaction).
But following songs barely break away from the template and just all sound a bit predictable.  The two other beast tracks are "All Or Nothing" (not the Small Faces song), and (almost obligatory) Rock/Metal Ballad (think Bad Company meets Dogs D'Amour) in the shape of "Tears From A Fool".

12 tracks - 3 pass muster, and the other 9 are somewhat disposable (to my ears) - I wouldn't necessarily seek this album out again (maybe I've heard it too much in my younger years), but by the same token I wouldn't turn it off if it popped up on random play.

Man Hunt

Tears From A Fool

Friday, 27 July 2018

Record Collection Random Choice (RCRC) - V: Velvet Underground - Velvet Underground & Nico

1967 may be considered as the "birth of Rock".
The album was rapidly becoming the prime method of delivery, with sales beginning to out-strip singles.
And there were one or two landmark albums in that year.
The Beatles 'Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' being the most obvious.  But 1967 was also the year of' The Who Sell Out' (The Who), 'Their Satanic Majesties Request' (The Rolling Stones), 'Smiley Smile' (Beach Boys). 'Are You Experienced' (Jimi Hendrix Experience) and 'Piper At The Gates Of Dawn' (Pink Floyd).  A fair few "classics" in one calendar year, but honourable mentions also go to 'Disraeli Gears' (Cream), 'Forever Changes' (Love), 'Days Of Future Passed' (Moody Blues'), 'Odessey and Oracle' (The Zombies) ...

I could go on, but I think it's fair to say that there were a good few (soon to be) influential albums in that year.
And then there's this one - equally as influential (in some circles, probably even more so), but snuck out quietly to little reception or commercial success.  (Conservative estimates suggest the album sold no more than 50,000 in it's first 2 years of life, and it would be a further 10 years before it cracked the 100,000 mark).

Lou Reed and John Cale had first come together in 1964 sharing a love of experimental music and art.  They were joined by college friend Sterling Morrison, and re-christened their band Velvet Underground.  Drummer Moe Tucker joined soon after.
Lou Reed's song "Venus In Furs" was translated into a short art film, and through this they came to the attention of Andy Warhol.
Warhol invited the band to become part of his touring show/event Exploding Plastic Inevitable, and continued to encourage the band to practice, experiment and record.
Warhol also suggested the band use German singer Nico on some of their tracks.
Under Andy Warhol's guidance (and his expansion to the vocal line-up), the band recorded their debut album a fortnight in late spring 1966 (they returned to the studio towards the end of 1966 to add the finishing touches and record one more track.
Andy Warhol is listed as Producer, but it is suggested that the extent of his "production" was standing in the studio nodding sagely and offering encouragement to the band (he also bank-rolled some of, so a tag of "Executive Producer" probably isn't too far away).

With Warhol involved, and with the artiness of the cover (a single yellow banana on a white background (a peelable banana on early copies)) you would probably expect an avant-garde, pseudo-intellectual, almost impenetrable (only to those "in the know") collection.
Well, track 1 certainly pushes those misconceptions away very quickly.

Opener "Sunday Morning" (and the last track added) is a gentle pop song with psychedelic-folk feeling, not to far removed from the Mamas & Papas (or similar).  And this is where the "oddity" of this album comes in - "Sunday Morning" has been used as the introduction for Michael Ball's Radio 2 show for a good few years now.  A perfectly acceptable, perfectly polite, perfect pop song (OK, with a little touch of paranoia going on in the lyrics).
And then the dirt & darkness begin - "Waiting For My Man" is a two chord, drum thumping garage rocker telling the tale of Lou Reed waiting in an unwelcoming part of town for his drug dealer to arrive.
Nico's first full vocal is next on "Femme Fatale" - cut from a similar cloth as "Sunday Morning" but from a darker place, with a strange mixture of Latin and Germanic tones.
The droning "Venus In Furs" follows, wrongfooting (wrong-earing?) the listener once again.  A trand employed right the way through.
You just never know where you're going to be taken next: There's Garage Rock ("Run, Run, Run", "There She Goes Again", drugs and darkness ("Heroin" - is it a celebration or a warning?), a ballad from Nico ("I'll Be Your Mirror"), Poetry over a squeaking Viola ("Black Angels Death Song") and a frankly disorientating mess which is strangely listenable (closing track "European Son").

There is no "theme" or "trend" to the album as such, it is a culmination of a group of musicians pushing their boundaries in the name of "art" (whatever that means).
What they did do, bu accident rather than design, was to create an album that grew in stature over time (it gets better each time you listen to it, and become familiar with it's discordant-ness), and one that in retrospect you can identify influence on future musical movements (Punk, Goth, Post-Punk, Alternative Rock, Art Rock - all can draw some connecting line back to 'Velvet Underground & Nico', and it's not too much of a jump to suggest David Bowie's "Queen Bitch" owes a debt to this album too.)

There were to be more Velvet Underground albums, and all had their moments.  Just not as many moments, compiled together as well as they managed with this first offering, and never as perfect again.

Sunday Morning


All Tomorrows Parties

Saturday, 7 July 2018

Record Collection Random Choice (RCRC) - U: Uriah Heep - The Best Of Uriah Heep

1977 was considered as Year Zero - the moment when all the new Punk bands swept aside the lumbering dinosaurs of the 70s.
Deep Purple were bestowed a career spanning (or 7 years of it) compilation by EMI with 'Deepest Purple', Black Sabbath were on the downward with the disappointing 'Technical Ecstasy; followed by Ozzy Osbourne's departure after 'Never Say Die' in 1978, Led Zeppelin breathed their last in the same year) - although the loss of John Bonham probably had more to do with it than the Punk movement - Yes became No, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer's highfalutin musical w*nkery was widely mocked.
But roll forward 5 years, and all these bands were still selling in high numbers and selling out concert venues.
One such band which either saw what was coming and ducked out early, or had perhaps reached the end of their natural life was Uriah Heep, whose sales and reputation seemed to drop quite quickly after the release of this compilation in 1976.

Uriah Heep - were they Prog?  were the Heavy Rock?  did they have a bit of psychadelia going on?
Yes, yes, and the answer ins in the ear of the beholder (although probably not).

Uriah Heep were formed in 1967, but didn't get their name until a couple of years later when they decided original name Spice just wan't right, and chose something more proggy-rocky and Dickensian.
Their first couple of albums sold in "cultish" numbers (ie small amounts), but their third album ('Look At Yourself', complete with mirrored cover (get it?) took them into the album charts and lifted them up the Festival bills.
1972 brought the release of 'Demons and Wizards' and 'The Magician's Birthday'.
Both albums had the Prog-regulation Roger Dean album covers, and both nestled in the Top 20 album charts.
Three more albums of hard-riffing Prog-styled Rock followed ('Sweet Freedom', 'Wonderworld', 'Return to Fantasy', plus the regulation Live album which captures the band at their loud, raucous best.
Their reward was this 1976 compilation pulling the best bits from their previous albums, but the denoument was falling sales and dwindling audiences.
They kept trudging on, and by 1982s 'Abominog' very nearly crept back into the big(ish) time.

With this compilation there is no danger of the Trade Descriptions Act - this really is the best stuff.
The opening track is perhaps the one song that Uriah Heep will forever be linked with ("Easy Livin").  But when a song is this good, I'm sure they won't mind.  The album is bookended by another burst of power in the shape of "Gypsy" - Prog and Heavy Metal combine (Mick Box's guitar riff and Ken Hensley's keyboards matching Keith Emerson's histrionics).  And in between is a batch of songs the equal of their early 70s contemporaries - "Bird of Prey", "Sunrise", "The Wizard", "Sweet Lorraine" - all mighty fine.

Punk was supposed to sweep away the dinosuars of the past, but Uriah Heep are still going and may well be visitiing a concert venue near you soon (if you live in Geramny or Scandanavia, or visit the Butlins Alternative Weekend thingys).

Easy Livin'


(it's not on this compilation, but is a pretty good cover version from 1982s 'Abominog')
Tin Soldier

Friday, 29 June 2018

Record Collection Random Choice (RCRC) - T: The Thrils - So Much For The City

From beginnings in mid-90s Dublin, via a 6 month stint in San Fransisco, The Thrills debut came out in 2003.
I recall being impressed by the single "Big Sur", and then further impressed by "One Horse Town" - not so much by the other big single "Santa Cruz (You're Not That Far)", but I'd bought the album by then.

The music is a mixture of 60s/70s West Coast, with added Beach Boys harmonies.  There are also diversions into Country and Western, and even a brief moment of Link Wray on one track.
Whilst the album is bright and properly summer-y feeling, I can't get past the fact that the signles are the high point, and the rest feel a bit like filler.
"Don't Steal Our Sun", "Hollywood Kids" and "Say It Ain't So" do their best to lift it, but it all feels a bit safe and one-dimensional.  Some of the tracks sound like they need a little more work to finish them off, and sometimes just run out of steam rather than providing a definite ending, and some of the slower songs either sound a bit strined or out of place (may benefit from revised sequencing?)
Despite a couple of high points, the album misses "something"  It almost feels as if the band could be had up under the Trades Descriptions Act - there is just not enough thrilling going on.

None of this is suggesting that 'So Much For The City' is in any way a bad album - the mood and production of the album is just right for that background barbecue music (or other Garden-type party of choice).  The tone also makes me think that whilst not gracing the airwaves of playlist-constrained/constant looping Commercial Radio, the songs would find a home on Radio 2 - a notch above MOR, but not "too edgy".
It did the job for the Thrills in 2003 by promoting them on the touring circuit (remember that?) from small clubs to small/mid-size theaters.
I saw them in such a venue, and the band certainly played a strong show, and lead singer Conor Desay could hold the audiences attention.

But just as their ascension was gathering pace, a comparatively disappointing second album ('Let's Bottle Bohemia" and a changing musical landscape (Pop Idol, record companies seeking quick returns on investment instead of playing the long game by allowing time for "something" to happen, the rise of the internet and file sharing platforms ...) signalled a change in fortune.
A third album saw the light of day, but relatively low sales led to them being dropped by their record label, and the band fell apart soon after.

One Horse Town

Big Sur

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Record Collection Random Choice (RCRC) - S: The Shadows - 50 Golden Greats

After The Beatles and The Stones, The Shads (as the cool kids would probably call them) are arguably the most successful British Band of all time.

In excess of 30 million records sold (in all guises of their career), 5 Number Ones, 16 Top 10 singles, plus another 30 or so as backing band to Cliff Richard.

This compilation is an update of the multiple selling 20 Golden Greats from 1977, and brings together the the big 50s and 60s hits, and adds later material and cover versions into the mix.

They effectively stopped producing new material and became a cabaret / covers band between the original release and the end of the 1970s.  But hey, when the songs and the playing is this good who cares - Hank B Marvin, you have one of the most recognisable playing styles in the world of all things Rolling and Rocking.

And all the big hitters are here - "Apache" (which was later "re-appropriated" as the basis beat for early hip-hop via Michael Viner's Incredible Bongo Band), the twang of "FBI", the shrill tones of "Man Of Mystery", the sheer swing and happiness of "Dance On", the cinematic sweep of "Wonderful Land" (now there's a tune crying out to be appropriated by Quentin Tarantino) - and many more that will make you think "why do I not listen to The Shadows more often? they're bloody good, they are".
As are a choice selection of the later interpretations of popular tunes ("Something", "Riders In The Sky", "Cavatina" (the Theme from The Deer Hunter), even The Shads take on Fleetwood Mac's "Albatross").
The later material somehow don't feel as essential, and at times feel like "music by numbers" or like your stuck in an elevator, but the playing is top notch, the production is up there, and you just know there is an air of total professionalism about it - they're not just doing it for the money, they are wanting to give the very best performance each time.

Put it on, sit back, get on with your day (this is music to do stuff by, it is not hard work, or "stop in your tracks and concentrate" stuff), and 2 hours later the world isn't such a bad place after all.

I've owned this for a few years, and a couple of other Shadows compilations take up shelf space, but I have (as far as I recall) knowingly said to myself: "Tonight, I will be mostly listening to The Shadows".

More fool me!!


Ghost Riders In The Sky

Monday, 4 June 2018

Frank Turner - Be More Kind

The 7th Frank Turner album represents another shift, another development of the band and singer from out-and-out shouty folk-punk to a more considered and more simply pleasing sound.  One you don't have to try too hard with to separate music and lyrics.
In simple terms - it continues a path from 6Music to Radio 2 (note: this is not a criticism)

'Be More Kind' offers 13 well crafted songs, sometimes not quite hitting "it", but no real duffers.
Opener "Don't Worry" is a downbeat, yet rousing (or uplifting) song.  From simple beginnings, the strings rise and there's almost a gospel feeling to the playout.
"1933" is Frank's old school shouty air-punching.
Both of these songs include the lines: "I don't know what I'm doing, no on has a clue" and "I don't know what's going on anymore".
And with that, a bit of a theme is developing - he is still advocating togetherness and looking out for your fellow man, but their is an air of fear with the world, almost darkness  coursing through the album, especially on the tracks "Let's Make America Great Again" and "21st Century Survival Blues".
"Be More Kind" has a passing whiff of the vocal melody from "Streets Of London" mixed with some later period Genesis-esque guitar.  It's message is obvious from the title, and it would take a churlish, belligerent, despot character to argue against it's intention.
"Little Changes" is the most accessible, earwormy song here, and a contender for "obvious single", if it weren't for the presence of the 80s Drum and Keyboard loaded "Blackout".
Confusion and uncertainty returns on closer "Get It Right" but also offers some salvation, or at least hope, that something good may come of all this.
There's no answers, or instructions, but a belief that WE can get it sorted.

Initially, I was undecided, almost non-plussed about this album.  But after a few spins, it began to seep in, and has been receiving lots of deserved airtime.
It may not be a full-bore 10 out of 10, but is comfortably sitting in the 7s.

Little Changes


Friday, 1 June 2018

Record Collection Random Choice (RCRC) - R: Tom Robinson Band - Power In The Darkness

The Tom Robinson Band formed in 1976, and fused the energy and freedom of Punk with the political questioning (not sloganeering, merely questioning) of Tom's lyrics.
The band themselves were made up of Tom on bass guitar and vocals, Mark Ambler who passed the audition to be bass player but turned out to be a more adept Hammond Organ operative, Danny Kustow who fused blues guitar with crunching power chords and riffs, and Dolphin Taylor a drummer of thumping power with a bit of swing underneath.

Their first single was the a-political, anthemic "2-4-6-8 Motorway" - a legacy that sees TRB regularly represented on Punk and New Wave compilations.
This was followed by the "Rising Free" EP, whose lead track brought them further media attention, but the sheer passion, energy and commentary in the song did not lose their audience (as the media perhaps predicted), but brought them a certain element of acclaim.
That song was "Glad To Be Gay".
In a world where the only real representation of Gay men in the media were The Village People, Dick Emery characters, John Inman (Mr Humphries in Are You Being Served) and Larry Grayson, Tom's stance was "This is me, this is what I believe.  Take it or leave it.  But you might want to think about for a second".
The bands support of organisations such as Rock Against Racism also brought them attention as a posturing, political band.  And most importantly, they believed it and had something to say.

Their debut album was released in 1978, and contained none of the previous singles - what it did contain was 10 tracks of Clash/Jam-esque rock, with stabs of The Stranglers (from Ambler's Hammond, and Robinson's sometimes snarling vocal), infused with energy, fury, disillusionment, hope and the offer of empowerment.
(The US version added the 2 singles and 4 tracks from the EP, turning it into a virtual double album, as does the CD re-issue).
Production duties fell to Chris Thomas, who repeated the previous trick he performed with Sex Pistols 'Never Mind The Bollocks' by delivering a seriously solid, sonically robust, Rock album.

There aren't too many stronger "in yer face" album openers than "Up Against The Wall", "Grey Cortina" keeps the momentum up and never lets up until the closing track "Power In The Darkness".
Other stand-out tracks are "Long Hot Summer" and "The Winter Of 79" where Tom predicts an apolyptic future.  From the expanded edition, the pub-sing-a-long of "Martin" is an audience pleaser, and "Don't Take No For An Answer" is a bittersweet recounting of a failed deal with Kinks mainman Ray Davies.
And entirely fitting with the underlying theme of the album, songs, and Tom Robinson's outlook, there is also a fine reading of Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released"

A Second album would follow in 1979 ('TRB Two'), but without Mark Ambler or Dolphin Taylor it didn't have "it", and the band fell apart.
Tom continued in music, but his focus shifted towards Human Rights and activism, being involved in Rock Against Racism, Amnesty International.  In parallel he became a radio presenter, and can now be heard on 6Music.

Up Against The Wall

Winter Of 79