Friday, 12 July 2019

Mattiel - Satis Factory

Yo know those moments when a song pops up on the radio, and you think "I know this.  Oh no I don't, it's definitely new.  Oh hang on, I'm sure I've heard this."
And then a bit of research shows there is a whole album available by the artist in question.

A case in point here is "Keep The Change" by Mattiel - coming across like a sort of lost Northern Soul stomper/60s Garage Rock mash-up sung by Nico (a curious mixture, but one that is apt)- and the attendant album ('Satis Factory') is more than satisfactory
(some albums bought on the strength of one track can lead to disappointment, not this one)

Anyway, this was the song that stopped me in my tracks, started questioning my ears, led to an Amazon order, and then resulted in me typing this guff for your entertainment (ridicule?)

Keep The Change

The parent album contains 12 tracks with echoes of recognition throughout - Garage Rock, Velvet Underground, Nico, Jefferson Airplane, Psychedelia, even a bit of Debbie Harry and Courtney Barnett are noticeable  - all adding to the "Retro, yet of itself" sound.  The music on this album, at some point, touches most of the varying styles of the rock genre.  But this is no pastiche of the styles, merely a starting point of recognition that hooks the listener in (or it did me anyway).
The 12 tracks each clock in around 3 minutes, meaning this is a fine way to spend half hour of life.

Opener "Til The Moment Of Death" is a sort of Velvet Underground meets Country affair, with Gothic undertones.  The VU references (with added 12 Bar Blues) continue "Rescue You" and most blatantly on "Millionaire" where the laid back groove imparts all the recognisable bits of "Sunday Morning", "Femme Fatale" and "All Tomorrows Parties".
Outside of the aforementioned "Keep The Change", "Je Ne Me Connais Pas" and the narrative/conversational "Food For Thought" are contenders for the next single.
"Populonia" and "Athlete" veer into Psychedelia territory.  And "Heck Fire" ups the funk quotient a couple of notches.
Penultimate track "Berlin Weekend" is my particular favourite at the moment, pulling all these styles together, adding a bit more, and creating a stomping song that will lodge itself in your earholes for a good while.

Despite all the references above, I repeat this is no pastiche or carbon-copy album, merely a comfortable starting point to ensure half an hours prime enjoyment.

Berlin Weekend

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Tommy - Trimmed

The Who have released two double-album Rock Operas which have both been turned into Films.
(3 if you include the aborted Lifehouse project which nearly sent Pete Townshend tonto, and the best bits were salvaged for the peerless 'Whos Next')

'Quadrophenia' (the second of the Rock Operas) is, to my mind, damn near perfect in both musical and celluloid format.

'Tommy' is a great album, maybe a bit of filler crept in to advance the (possibly fanciful) storyline.  The problem for me with 'Tommy' is the filler which can sometimes be a bit jarring to overall enjoyment.
I'm not convinced the film version adds anything to the Legend.  If anything, Ken Russel's vision of Tommy just adds to the confusion and fancifulness of the storyline (although it is eminently watchable - and not just because of Ann Margret writhing in Baked Beans)
One option to reduce the filler tracks would be to just live with the it, and listen as the artist intended.
But we are the receivers, and we know best (don't we?  The Customer is Always Right (Even when they're wrong) ... ?)
Another solution either press skip a few times or pre-program the CD player.
A final solution (other than not listening to it at all) would be to produce a personalised CD-R, lifting the preferred bits, or in these days of Spotify Playlists, a Playlist would be the solution).

So let us assume we want to go down the trimming route - what to leave out, but still produce a coherent story and flow?

The original album, across 4 ides of vinyl, was constructed as follows:
  1. Overture
  2. It’s A Boy
  3. 1921
  4. Amazing Journey
  5. Sparks
  6. Eyesight To The Blind (The Hawker)
  7. Christmas
  8. Cousin Kevin
  9. The Acid Queen
  10. Underture
  11. Do You Think It’s Alright?
  12. Fiddle About
  13. Pinball Wizard
  14. There’s A Doctor
  15. Go To The Mirror!
  16. Tommy, Can You Hear Me?
  17. Smash the Mirror
  18. Sensation
  19. Miracle Cure
  20. Sally Simpson
  21. I’m Free
  22. Welcome
  23. Tommy’s Holiday Camp
  24. We’re Not Gonna Take It
The Trimmed Version:
  1. Overture
  2. It's a Boy
  3. Amazing Journey
  4. Sparks
  5. Christmas
  6. Cousin Kevin
  7. The Acid Queen
  8. Pinball Wizard
  9. Go to the Mirror
  10. Smash The Mirror
  11. Sensation
  12. I'm Free
  13. We're Not Gonna Take It
75 and a half minutes trimmed to just over 46 minutes (not quite right for one side of a C90 cassette, but if you further exclude "Smash The Mirror" (at 1 minute 20 seconds), the final version will sit snugly on one side of a TDK).

So why did you leave out half the tracks? I pretend I hear you ask.

"Overture" remains as the opener because this is a Rock Opera, and the affectations of high culture need to be re-inforced (all Operas start with an Overture, so why should Tommy be any different?).
"It's A Boy" stays because (a) it follows naturally from "Overture" and (b) it introduces the character (a bit like a "Seven Ages Of Man" type affair).
Which brings us to the first reject - "1921" is a nice enough tune (if a bit lightweight) and does contain the lines about why the boy retreats inside himself.  But I'm not convinced bu it, and I think "Amazing Journey" explains the premise of the story (maybe not how he came to be like that).  "Sparks" stays because it is a fine instrumental, contains enough recurring themes and motifs to keep the interest going - sort of like a mini-"Overture".
"Eyesight To The Blind" is ejected, not because it is a duffer (there's no duffers here) but purely on the basis that it is someone elses song and it somehow feels levered in.  Besides, I want to retain the singular vision of the artist (oh hark at me and my arty-farty snobbishness).
"Christmas" has the sound of early Who about it, with slight Beach Boys overtones.  It rocks a long, and I would miss it if it wan't there.
John Entwistle must be represented somewhere and "Cousin Kevin" is the best of his two offerings, particularly with the light vs dark, schizophrenic nature of this track.
"The Acid Queen" never really sounds right coming from Pete Townshend's mouth - the definitive version is Tina Turner's rendition - but whether it sounds correct or not, this is one killer track.
"Underture" just feels like a jam session (with a purpose) and slapped on the record to fill the time (I may be being harsh here and it's probably someone's favourite, but I can happily live without it)
"Do You Think It's Alright?" is 24 seconds of narrative to introduce the Uncle Ernie character.  Neither this nor the characters song survives my culling.  "Fiddle About" is vaguely amusing, but entirely in-essential (apart from giving Keith a starring role in the film).
"Pinball Wizard" is the best known track on the album, and only a fool would leave it off.
The next 5 tracks ("There’s A Doctor", "Go To The Mirror", "Tommy, Can You Hear Me?", "Smash the Mirror" and "Sensation") recount the moments leading up to and immediately after restoration of the senses.
"There's A Doctor" is narrative, and "Tommy Can You Hear Me" starts well enough (if a little light) but never really goes anywhere - and the repeated "Tommy" refrain at the end just gets on my wick.

 "Go To The Mirror" also contains the refrain "See Me, Feel Me, Touch Me, Heal Me" - a sort of clarion call to the healing process (and a key part of the live performance) - and the bridge section repeated later in "We're Not Gonna Take It" (see, Pete did think it through, and it all hangs together).

And so to side 4 - the triumph of healing, the "new religion" of followers, the denouncement and the conclusion.  And in my version, it is reduced by two thirds.
"Miracle Cure" is a blink and you'll miss it 10 seconds.  "Sally Simpson" introduces another character and provides the narrative jump to explain Tommy's new found Messiah status.  "I'm Free" (which survives) does a similar job lyrically, and is wrapped up in a much better tune.
"Welcome" just seems to drag - it's nice enough, but does have you reaching for the skip button.  "Tommy's Holiday Camp" (written by Keith Moon) does not hang around long enough to drag, but is all a bit end-of-the-pier, and would not be missed.
The Who often saved the best (and often epic (and/or overblown) until last - "The Ox" on 'My Generation', "A Quick One While He's Away" on 'A Quick One', "Rael" on 'Sell Out', "Won't Get Fooled Again on 'Whos Next', "Love Reign O'er Me" on 'Quadrophenia', "Who Are You" on 'Who Are You'.
And 'Tommy' is no exception with the album ending with "We're Not Gonna Take It" - the moment when Tommy's Messiah status slips and he is seen for what he is - the same as everyone else.

So there you go - I've trimmed 'Tommy' by nigh on 40 minutes, and by association knocked out most of the phenomenal performance included on the expanded 'Live At Leeds' (which will always be considered as one of the greatest Live albums ever released - and in expanded form (with the second disc being a start to finish 'Tommy' performance), it's an ever better Live album

We're Not Gonna Take It

Friday, 10 May 2019

When Inspiration Doesn't Strike

Latterly, I have found myself staring at the CD and Vinyl shelves asking myself the question "what do I want to listen to?"

It's not like I'm lacking in choice (he says big-headedly), I just can't summon the inspiration to choose.  And when I do finally make a choice, I'm dithering and changing my mind.
There's something just not firing.  There is some sort of fatigue or malaise taking over.
Even browsing and purchasing new stuff has become affected.  The Amazon Wish List is in place, there are scribbled notes all over the place of "stuff to search for", but just no desire to make the purchase.
A visit to a record shop usually spawns something  - I think it rude not to make at least one purchase, and I can usually find something of interest.


The usual thing is that I get a song stuck in my head at some point in the day, and the only way to sate it is to listen to that artist when I return home.  This may inspire further listening of both the related and unrelated kind.  And when this itch has been scratched, further inspiration will befall me whilst trawling websites and blog sites of an evening.
I have probably spent too much time posting Youtube videos of "Cover Versions That Are Better Than The Originals" and "Songs Inspired by West Side Story and Other Musicals", or randomly shouting out (writing down) song titles including numbers, or offering an opinion on a Jam single.
But going to these places and participating has usually led to a new discovery, or re-discovery, which has kept the inspiration going (whilst continuing to fill up the CD shelves).

But at this moment in time ... nothing.

Recently, the interweb place I spent far too much time - - has convened another semi-regular CD Swap Event.
The premise is a simple one - contributors are grouped together, they each select 12 tracks (loosely) based around a theme, and then send each other the burned CDs with no information or track listing.
Each contributor listens (without prejudice?) and posts their thoughts (and guesses of the artists) on the website in a sort of mass blind review scenario.
Previous events have led to some wonderful discoveries of both old and new artists that I may not have heard, or have ignored because I didn't "think" they were my thing.
But yet again, the malaise has struck - whilst there are a couple of avenues of interest, I've done nothing about it.

Why, why, why?
Am I to be inflicted with this and settle into a world of comfort with the same 12 albums in constant rotation?
Do I join the massed ranks of civilian-types who are unable to see beyond Abba, Simply Red, Coldplay, The Greatest Showman soundtrack, and other nuggets of mass produced pop-pap
(I know this is a snobbish thing to say, but there are people like that out there in the big bad world)

I would usually end these aimless missives with an illustrative video of my latest enthusiasm.
But as you've probably guessed, there is no such enthusiasm going on, so I'm just off to stare forlornly at the shelves in the vague hope of a flash of inspiration and renewed vigour.
Failing that, I will revisit the various websites and blogs hoping something fires the old synapses.

I'll be back ...

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Blur - Parklife

Very probably the album that heralded the arrival of Britpop to a mass audience, 'Parklife' was released 25 years ago.
And despite the overplaying of the title track, how does the album stand up now?
Debut album 'Leisure' was a relative disappointment, and whilst the theme's of 'Modern Life Is Rubbish' were an attempt to regain lost ground, it perhaps came a couple of years to early.
In truth, neither the band or the public were prepared for the accomplishment or acclaim for this album.

The opener "Girls & Boys" (the single that preceded the album's release) always sounds like it's on the wrong album to me - a story of Club18-30-esque hedonism.  It initially sounds like a sop to the record company for a hit, and doesn't have that Britpoppy-Geezerish tone of the rest of the album.
But .. if we pretend we are psuedo-intellectuals and look for meaning, or consider 'Parklife' as a concept album (as if anyone would?), the lagered-up partying sort of "fits" such a concept.

And yet within 3 minutes we move onto a darkly comic tale of a cross-dresser who takes his own life (or does he?) - "Tracy Jacks" is more of an opener, a scene-setter for what follows, and it's tone is not a million miles from the character-based songs of Ray Davies or Paul Weller.

From that moment on, the album continues to deliver and develops the Britishness of 'Modern Life Is Rubbish'.  Blur hit their stride with every track (yes, even "Trouble In The Message Centre") being a complete whole - a case of "all killer, no filler".  There is a danger of over-exposure and over-familiarity and this is certainly true of the title track, but the album remains a truly wonderous slab of vinyl (or shiny metal, depending on your choice of format).

4 singles were culled from the album ("Girls & Boys", "Parklife", "End Of The Century" and "To The End") and all show different facets of Blur's developing songcraft.
Alongside these (fairly) well known tracks nestles:
 - all-out punky thrash ("Bank Holiday", "Jubilee")
 - a Syd Barrett knock-off ("Far Out" - Alex James' sole songwriting contribution to the album)
 - a rumination of separation and/or a life in a rut ("Badhead")
I'm wondering (although this cannot be confirmed) if this song has anything to do with Damon Albarn and Justine Frischmann's relationship? It could certainly be read that way
 - an almost 80s Funk throwback - musically if not lyrically ("London Loves")
 - a throwaway (not disposable) Franco-German oompah accordian-based instrumental ("Debt Collector")
 - and a mad piece of Music Hall which almost veers into The Beatles "Eight Days A Week" ("Lot 105")

And if it wasn't for "Lot 105" then surely "This Is A Low" would be vying for inclusion in a list of "Best Album Closing Tracks"
If I'm honest, this is another track which didn't endear itself immediately, and it took a few listens to understand the ambition it was showing compared to the general good feeling, celebratory nature of the album.  Performed Live is the moment I "got it" - it has that feeling of Epic-ness about it, and gives a definite pointer to the development and growth the band would go through on subsequent albums.
If this album is Bripop personified, "This Is  A Low" is the point Blur show they want more, and are no longer content to plough the formulaic furrows.

Tracy Jacks

This Is A Low

Monday, 8 April 2019

Where did the obsession start ...

Yup, it's definitely an obsession.
If I'm not listening to music, I'm talking about it, writing about or buying it.
It's only at work that there is generally no soundtrack of my choice banging out in the background (open office environments tend to frown on that sort of thing (and they would frown even more if I was left in charge of the music choices))

So how did it happen?  Where, and why, did it all begin?

Most Talent Show contestants claim to have been brought up in his always full of music - Beatles, Stones, Joni Mitchell, Captain Beaky - but I wasn't.
My home was permanently fixed to Radio 2 (I remember staring at the stereo wondering why a miniature Jimmy Young wasn't sitting there interviewing some politician - 28 years old I was).
My parents had grown up in the 60s, so they must've been touched by Beatlemania, Stonesmania, Whomaina or any other"...mania" doing the rounds.  My mum even told the story how someone who worked at the EMI Pressing Plant (the one in Hayes I'm assuming) lived across the road from here, and she had a complete set of Beatles singles on the day of release
Maybe they were affected by that early 70s thing where they'd now got married, bought a house and had children so it was time to "put away childish things"
There was a record player and a tape deck, I rarely saw a cassette tape until my dad starting recording albums for the car, and then saw the record collection was a couple of albums each by Abba and The Carpenters, a Booby Crush album, a recording of the 1812 Overture and The Beatles Red album (1962-66).

A house full of music?  Not me.

I got my first tape player around 1979 and began dutifully listening to, and recording, the Radio 1 Top 40 countdown.
I can the recall two (possibly three) other events that occurred in 1979 which may be a pointer.
  1. A visit to my cousins who had their own record player - I became enamoured by these little black circles, and the fact that you could play what you want, when you want without relying on Tony Blackburn to play it on a Sunday evening
    (I think it was Tony Blackburn at the time - might've been Simon Bates?)
  2. A copy of either Smash Hits or Look-In being passed around at school and the contents being discussed
    ("What?  You've never heard of "Heart Of Glass" by Blondie?")
  3. The video for Dave Edmunds "Girls Talk" on Top Of The Pops
    ("I don't want to be a footballer anymore.  I want to be in a band and do music")
Now, I should have been ritually viewing Top Of The Pops every Thursday, but as a diligent Cub Scout I was unable to see it unless it was School Holidays, or I was too ill to attend to my duties as a Seconder (and later a Sixer) of White Six.
I have watched the re-runs on BBC4 and don't believe I missed any truly earth shattering performances - and missing the Tottenham Hotspur 1981 FA Cup Squad performing "Ossie's Dream" is not going to make my rue my past

A little later, a succession of Paper Rounds and any other income was thrown over the counter at second hand record shops, Our Price, even Woolworths and Boots sold me records.  I was amassing quite a little collection - which was stored in a chest of drawers (if I'm honest, just one drawer).
And then as a present, I received a copy of The Guinness Book Of British Hit Singles - I now had the means to listen, the means to purchase, and now the means to read every word of those lists and analysis, learn it and talk about it like some sort of authority.

And it is those three events above, and that book which dropped me hook, line and sinker into a world of musical obsession from which I will never escape (and don't actually want to anyway)

Full time employment, and no real responsibilities, meant that the purchasing power, and frequency, increased as did the need for additional storage.
And the increased purchasing was supplemented by regular attendance at Live gigs, and the emptying of the wallet at the Merchandise stand - programmes, T-Shirts, other sundry memorabilia, and special release CDs and albums (this is where I note that the CD is a preferable format to the 12" album - they're much easier to stuff in your pocket and tend to remain unharmed when caught in the rush of the crowd for the last tube train.

The rise of the Internet has been something of a double-edged sword.
An oversize music collection can be reduced to a succession of 1s and 0s and carried round in your pocket.  And if you visit the "right places" you can pretty much replace your entire collection.
However, when it comes to digital music I own very little sticking steadfastly to the physical product (and using up every bit of spare storage space into the bargain).
The Internet may have expanded my musical horizons, offering a "try before you buy" principle, but discoveries will usually result in a 5" disc of metal arriving in the post (or more slabs of vinyl being forced into overladen shelving)

In pre-Internet days, if you heard a new song on the radio you has to wait for the back announcement and then scour the local record shops in the hope of finding a copy. If none were to be found, you placed a special order from the Big Book, took your receipt and waited a fortnight for it to be delivered to the store.
Now, you can hear a song on the radio, wait for the back announcement, get home, fire up the computer and place your order direct with the artist.

Or in the case of The Humdrum Express – hear a song on the radio, wait for the back announcement, forget to do anything about it, hear it again 6 months later, get home, fire up the computer and place your order direct with the artist.

Next week is Record Store Day, and whilst some of the special releases (granted, fewer than in previous years) do appeal, - I will be avoiding that one.  For me, every visit to a town involves a visit to the record store, therefore every day is Record Store Day to me.
So I'll be avoiding the queues of chancers buying up everything in sight, watching the prices on ebay go through the roof 20 minutes after the shops have opened, and generally being grumpy about the whole thing.  But I guarantee there will be music playing at the time (probably the debut album by Them Crooked Vultures which I forgot I owned and found down the back of the cabinet the stereo stands in in my Dining Room)

My fear is when I die my wife and kids will sell it for what I TOLD them I paid for it

John Miles - Music

Dave Edmunds - Girls Talk

Humdrum Express - Leopard Print Onesie

Friday, 22 March 2019

Whatever Happened To The Stranglers?

When it comes to Punk Rock, there is the usually accepted Big 3 - Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Damned.
But there is a fourth way (fifth of you include Buzzcocks).

The Stranglers formed in 1974, The Guildford Stranglers were effectively a Pub-Rock styles band who soon became associated with the Punk scene.
More musically adept perhaps than their peers - Blues, Jazz, Classical, unusual time signatures - all combined with straight rock & roll into one a proper solid band.
JJ Burnel's rumbling bass (a sound not unlike a nuclear explosion at times) and Dave Greenfield's Doors-esque quasi-orchestral keyboards at front and centre, Jet Black's solid thumping drums, and Hugh Cornwells's growling lyrics over the tops.  There is an undercurrent of snarly aggression at times, but writers of fantastically accessible songs (and a few that would blow your ears off).
And their music developed over the albums from the straight snarling punky stuff (with melodies to spare), through Post-Punk stylings, a bit of Krautrock and a sort of pan-European hard-pop sound, and then back to the Garage.

So after 40+ years, what is their prime contribution to popular culture (as recognised by "the man in the street")
  • Their 1977 single "Peaches" - a overtly lecherous song song about staring at women on the beach, and possibly the only song played on Radio 2 containing the word "clitoris"
  • Their 1982 single "Golden Brown" - not a comeback as such, but their first single to get into the top 20 for 3 years.  Peaking at number 2, it is possibly the only song played on Radio 2 about the joys of Heroin
  • 3 of their tracks ("Waltzinblack", "Peaches" and "Viva Vlad!" have been used as the title music for Keith Floyd's foodie TV Programmes
The Stranglers career can (simplistically) be split into 2 phases:
With Hugh Cornwell and Without Hugh Conrnwell
Phase 1 retained the same line-up over 10 albums (plus 2 official Live albums)
Phase 2 has seen Hugh replaced by a separate vocalist (Paul Roberts) and guitarist (John Ellis (ex-Vibrators)), before returning to a 4 piece with Baz Warne (ex-Toy Dolls) occupying the vacant Hugh slot.

They released 2 albums in Punk's high-year of 1977 - 'Rattus Norvegicus' and 'No More Heroes' both deserve a place in any self-respecting music collection.
These two albums of solid tunes can be sometimes confrontational, sometimes un-PC (before Political Correctness was a thing) or just plain rude and sexist (to the unitiated, or those that missed the obvious humour (albeit very dark) or satire in their lyrics).  However they were taken, they sold enough to assure The Stranglers a place at the top table.
Within 6 months 'Black and White' arrived and expanded the standard 4/4 and pushed into new territory (for a mere Punk band).  This album may not have invented Post-Punk, but certainly has a hand in it.
The Stranglers audience accepted the stretch, and were rewarded further as the band broadened their horizons, song subjects and time signatures on 'The Raven' (featuring Vikings, Australian politics and Genetic Engineering) and then went full-blown conceptual with 'The Gospel According to the Meninblack'.
'La Folie' is another change - the sound becoming lighter, the production lusher, but the songs do suffer and this is remarkably inconsistent compared to previous outings.
It was to be their last album for Liberty/United Artists - they had already signed to Epic, and this was their "contractual obligation".
But not before "Golden Brown" was lifted as a single.  A weird one as it is both unrepresentative of The Stranglers, yet representative of their desire to be different from their peers.
In a final act of puk-y "two fingers to you", their last single Liberty Records was "Strange Little Girl" - an original 1974 demo rejected by EMI, finally released 9 years later ... on an EMI owned subsidiary label.

They arrived at their new label with the same adventure as before, but you just get the feeling time and their past was catching up on them.  The albums produced for Epic just don't feel as essential as their earlier outings.
'Feline', 'Aural Sculpture' and 'Dreamtime' are not without their high points, they are just not as consistent.  They do feel like a sanitised version of The Stranglers.  Maybe it was record company intervention, maybe they were chasing glories of "Golden Brown" again - there is just "something" missing in the cleanliness.
And a couple of years later that brief return to commercial heights did happen with a cover of The Kinks "All Day And All Of The Night"securing their first Top 10 appearance since 1983s "European Female". A Live album ('All Live And All Of The Night' (including the studio version of "All Day And All Of The Night")) came next, and placed The Stranglers as Punk Royalty - theor appearance on Channel 4's Saturday Live (performing "No More Heroes") was introduced by Ben Elton saying "10 years ago if you wanted to be a Punk, all you had to do was not hand in your homework and listen to this track".  Other TV appearances followed, including appearances on the Terry Wogan show and numerous mentions on any programme celebrating 10 years of Punk.
The Stranglers seemed to accept their elder statesman position, and returned to the Garge with an incendiary cover of "96 Tears"continued to push forward and 'Dreamtime' was a particularly strong (if inconsistent) album.  The parent album '10' moved slowly - it was good but inconsistent, and at times sounding like the band had lost interest (probably not helped by the fact Hugh Cornwell was leaving once recording was finished).
Eager to get a return on their investment, Epic put out a Greatest Hits compilation which did better than expected business - it seemed there was a market for The Stranglers, but unfortunately the band was (seemingly) no more - no singer, no guitarist, no record label.

Black, Greenfield and JJ Burnel reconvened and brought in live guitarist John Ellis as a full member.  Paul Roberts was brought in soon after when it became clear that neither Ellis or Burnel were comfortable being full time lead singer.
Since Cornwell's departure they have manged 7 albums - the pick of the bunch being the Baz Warne fronted 'Suite XVI'

They remain an awesome live attraction, have a back catalogue that many bands would envy, a past that many rock stars would envy, and are still releasing albums that contain worthy music.
Jet Black recently turned 80 (he no longer tours), Dave Greenfield will soon turn 70 and despite being super-fit Jean Jaques Burnel is now past pensionable age.
Baz Warne has been with the band for nigh on 20 years, and if the others do decide to stand down, I'm thinking Baz may find new cohorts and keep The Stranglers franchise rolling for a few more years yet.

(Get A) Grip (On Yourself)


Always The Sun


Sunday, 24 February 2019

Blondie - Parallel Lines

What is Perfect Pop?
This album must rank high up when trying to define such a thing.

Ostensibly seen as a Singles band (and there were some fine, fine singles - 5 of them going to Number 1), they also manged some darn fine, and consistent albums.

They were formed in New York in 1974, and graduated from the burgeoning New York at the time.
As a band they were not raggedy or rough enough for Punk, not arty enough for the Post Punk, and probably to Pop for Powerpop.

They took the best bits of history (Buddy Holly, Phil Spector, Girl Groups) mixing it with what is going on around them (Ramones, Talking Heads, Television and Patti Smith etc) and adding their own take on whatever genre/style they fancied.  Live appearances in and around New York, including CBGBs and Max's Kansas City, eventually resulted in a record deal (albeit a somewhat draconian one) with Private Stock Records.
Their debut album followed, but with no promotion from the Record Company it was not a success - apart from in Australia where the album went into the Top 20, and the single "In The Flesh" just missed the top spot.
Buoyed by the success, and with other record companies sniffing around, Blondie bought themselves out of their Private Stock contract and signed with Chrysalis.
The first output from this new relationship was the single "Denis" (Number 2 in the UK) and the album 'Plastic Letters'.  With a bit more Record Company support, a second single ("I'm Always Touched By Your Presence Dear"), and a string of TV appearances brought Blondie some success in the UK and Europe.
But they were just getting warmed up - I doubt anyone could've foresaw the success that was to come with their next album released in September 1978.

Preceded by the single "Picture This" (falling just outside the Top 10), it was perhaps the next single - "Hanging On The Telephone" - that heralded Blondie's arrival proper, and started to shift album in large numbers.
But it was the next single - "Heart Of Glass" - that sent the band properly global, topping the US charts, and resulting in Debbie Harry's picture adorning just about every music magazine, and probably a fair few teenage boys bedroom walls.
This single continues to be Blondie's most famous offering, and shows a band not scared to stretch their sound, and proves that Disco and New Wave can co-exist on the same record - and in another collision of "two musical worlds collide", Robert Fripp is drafted in for some guitar work on "Fade Away and Radiate".
With the success of "Heart Of Glass" not yet fading, another single soon followed (and another Number One single too) in the shape of "Sunday Girl".

'Parallel Lines' has no duff moments  - a couple of weaker moments in the shape of  "I Know but I Don't Know" and "Will Anything Happen?" perhaps, but not enough to make you reach for the skip button.
Alongside the band firing on all cylinders, is a gold-plated sheen provided by Mike Chapman's production.  He knows a bit about what makes a good pop song (indeed his writing partnership with Nicky Chinn is testament to that), but his input here is maybe just as important as the singer and the players.

1979 was shaping up to be quite a year for Blondie with the release of 'Eat To The Beat' later in the year (preceded by the single "Dreaming" which must surely rank as one of their absolute finest).
'Eat To The Beat' rose to the top of the charts. and takes what they started on Parallel Lines and pushes on going into funk and reggae territory without breaking sweat.  There are moments where the sound seems "forced" on 'Eat To The Beat', whereas 'Parallel Lines' just sound so effortless.

Hanging On The Telephone