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


Wednesday, 13 February 2019

The Specials - Encore

From their first single (on their own label) in 1979 to their (slightly premature, slightly messy, but politically infused) break-up of the original line-up, The Specials packed a lot into their original 3 year incarnation (before splintering to Fun Boy Three and the Dammers-helmed Special AKA).
A short period of time between the mashed-up ska-punk of "Gangsters" and the downbeat commentary of "Ghost Town".  They also managed two albums, and both are deemed (and rightly so) as classic of the time.
And now 40 years later, they're back (in somewhat reduced original membership form).
But ... this aint no nostalgic re-tread, they have actually got something to say (even if it a very similar conversation to 40 years ago)

More laid-back than 'The Specials' and 'More Specials', but echoes of their past filter through everything.
It may not have the energy of the debut - indeed it's more in the late period Ghost Town vein.  Songs with a message delivered carefully and concisely so you get the point, but still find your self bouncing and/or nodding to the infectious beat behind.
The upbeat punky-ska party can be found on the accompanying Live disk where you'll find all the favourites including "Gangsters", "Nite Klub" and "Too Much To Young".  This also includes a great version of "Redemption Song" followed by a massively upbeat "Monkey Man"

Only Terry Hall, Lynval Golding and Horace Panter remain from the original line-up - there's no Jerry Dammers, Roddy Radiation, Neville Staple or John Bradbury - but the substitutes do a sterling job of replicating their input.

Opening with a call for peace, tolerance and general acceptance, the cover of The Equals "Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys" is more funky than reggae, but still hits the mark and you just know you're listening to The Specials.
The 3 narrative/conversational songs here - "B.L.M" (Lynval's story of facing racism from childhood to shopping in New York), "10 Commandments" (the Shafia Khan fronted female viewpoint update of the Prince Buster track of the same name") and "The Life And Times (Of a Man Called Depression)" (an open story about his what it is really like (and Terry Hall, a self confessed sufferer would/should know) - and these are among the most affecting, thought provoking here. .
Politics rears it's head (as it would do on a Specials album) with "Vote for Me" and, as if to prove nothing has changed in 30-odd years, there is a jazz-infused update of the Fun Boy Three track "The Lunatics Have Taken Over The Asylum" (do Terry and Lynval now have to pay themselves royalties?).
They return to their Ska crate-digging with a cover of The Valentines "Gun Fever" (given it's alternative title "Blam Blam Fever").
Both "Breaking Point" and "Embarrassed by You" initially read as a (slight) grumpy old man tale of despair with the world.  Both of these, and particularly "Embarrassed By You" do end up thinking "Hang on, you've got a point" - much like most of the album.

The final track "We Sell Hope" ties it all together for me - it talks of the contradictions that exist in the world, and a call for tolerance and acceptance of those differences - "Looked all around the world, Could be a beautiful place to live in"

Amen to that

Vote For Me

10 Commandments

We Sell Hope

Saturday, 9 February 2019

Steve Mason - About The Light

The new album from Steve Mason can initially be seen as a departure from the "template" that marked his work with The Beta Band and his previous solo albums.
All thoroughly accessible (if sometimes a little hard going), but with an undercurrent of dubby claustrophobia.
Fine (actually, better than just "fine") though they were, they always flt to be the work of a man in a studio trying to find out what all the buttons did - this time out he's surrounded himself with a touring band.
The song subjects reside in the same areas, if lifted in mood a little, and the sound is a lot brighter than before.  The claustrophobia is still present in some tracks, but not as oppressive as before.
The reason behind this change of tone may be the incumbent of the producers chair - Stephen Street has given the album a certain gloss, almost (at times) like a late period Britpop sheen.

The "Open with an Earworm" rule has been followed, with the song "America Is Your Boyfriend" (despite the initial sinister-sounding introduction).
There are some standout/pay attention moments in the songs, but all remain fairly flat - entertainingly flat - and there are points when a little songwriting quirk or production fiddle is called for to lift it up a notch.
A case in point here is the final tack titled - as an ending track should be - "The End".  It rolls on competently and closes the album off in style, but it just feels like there should be more coming.  It's a feeling that the album remains somehow unresolved.

Now in spite of that little run of negativity, this is a very good listenable album - it is un-demanding meaning it plays through without jarring or the desire to press skip.  The aforementioned "America Is You Boyfriend" is a fine opener and the first single lifted "Stars Around My Heart" is the most obvious choice, and one of the strongest tracks here.
Other tracks have Smiths-esque guitars ("No Clue"), the big horn sound on "Stars Around My Heart" pops up elsewhere (not least in the soulful yearning, almost hymnal, "Rocket") , and there's a diversion into Pink Floyd territory for "Fox On The Rooftop" - which also contains a marvellous little guitar solo.
There's even an echo of TV's Pot Black theme running through "Walking Away From Love".

OK, for me this may not rank up there with Steve Mason's last couple of releases, but that should not detract from the greatness, increased confidence, swagger and triumph of this album.

Is it too soon to mention Album Of The Year?
Very probably, and as this was the first new album I bought this year, it may be a bit premature.  But I'm sure it's going to be replayed a few times in the next 12 months

America is Your Boyfriend

Stars Around My Heart

Saturday, 2 February 2019

Stiff Little Fingers – Inflammable Material

The debut album from Stiff Little Fingers is 40 Years old today.
Is it a product of it's time, or still a viable listen after all these years?
I say: definitely the latter

In 1978, two bands from Northern Ireland produced their first singles and sent them to John Peel in the hope of getting Radio airplay.

One of them (The Undertones – Teenage Kicks) got played twice in a row and has passed into legend as John Peel’s favourite track of all time.
The other (Stiff Little Fingers – Suspect Device) was played every night for a week and Rough Trade (the only place in London to stock the single) was constantly running short of stock. Demand was so great, Geoff Travis approached the band so his label could re-release it and satisfy his customers.
A 50/50 Split Profit Deal was agreed with a handshake – no Contracts, no Lawyers, no future markets exploitation clause, just a straightforward Manufacturing and Distribution deal. Both had the desire to keep the arrangement simple – Stiff Little Fingers had already been disappointed by Island Records 6 months earlier (a tale told in the song “Rough Trade”, which is not about the label that released their records but about the label that signed them and then dropped them within a week, and signed The Jags instead)

“Alternative Ulster” was the next release on Rough Trade – the master tapes “obtained” from the Island Records sessions – and then a full album was suggested.
Neither the band or Rough Trade had ever done an album, but How Hard Can It Be?
Geoff Travis, Mayo Thompson and the band decamped to two terraced houses in Cambridge (aka Spaceward Studios) and recorded and mixed the album in 12 days.
Upon release it became the first independent album to make Top 20, and went on to sell 100,000 copies.

The album opens with an aural onslaught of the opening chords to “Suspect Device” and then in comes Jake Burns voice sounding like he’s been gargling glass.
And the energy and passion never drops across 12 tracks – most only just break 2 minutes, and the longest clocks in at 3 and a half minutes (due in no small part to the Doo-Wop vocal section in the middle of “Barbed Wire Love” (yes – a love song on a noisy, raggedy punk album).
Thematically it bounces between politics, police oppression, equality, empowerment, and general teenage boredom

And then there is the re-working of Bob Marley’s “Johnny Was”.
The Clash had punkified Reggae with “Police and Thieves” on their debut album – Stiff Little Fingers relocated Johnny to Belfast, added military drums, and strung the song out over 8 minutes (when played live, it is not unusual for the song to run for 11 or 12 minutes)
“Alternative Ulster” would/should be the perfect album closer.
Unfortunately one more track is added (“Closed Groove”) which (sadly) dents the overall perfection of this album.

4 decades on and it still sounds full of anger and hope for something better (“Grab it and change it, it’s yours”). And whilst the targets and causes may have changed, there is still relevance/resonance in their stance.
And without this album, Rough Trade would probably never have had the funds or confidence to build themselves into the market leading Indie label and give the world The Smiths

This is their definitive Punk statement. Punk as a thing, was pretty much over by 1979, and the band wanted to develop away from Punk thrash into a Post-Punk/Powerpop vein (perhaps a similar path trodden by Buzzcocks). Unfortunately whilst they had the tunes (and at this stage major label backing from Chrysalis), their original audience was not quite as prepared to move with them.
Yes there was relative success, but this was ever diminishing and they eventually split in 1982.
They reformed in 1987 and are still touring today. Their set list regularly includes 4 tracks from this album (“Suspect Device”, “Wasted Life”, “Johnny Was” and traditional set closer “Alternative Ulster”)

Suspect Device

Alternative Ulster

Thursday, 10 January 2019

The Kinks

The Kinks early years were as one of the great 60s Singles bands - 9 singles in 18 months (8 in the Top 10, including 3 Number Ones)

"Dead End Street" (from late 1966) marked a change in sound and approach - Ray Davies was now moving into evocative social commentary with a firm working class grounding.
This was followed by the monumental "Waterloo Sunset" and the Dave Davies solo (featuring the whole band) "Death Of A Clown".  Both were lifted from the soon to be released album 'Something Else'.
This album hints at what the band wanted to be doing, how they wanted to be seen, and attempts to put the (possibly derogatory) Singles Band moniker behind them.
Yes there would be further singles to come, but only one more ("Autumn Almanac") would reach the Top 10 in the sixties.
What 'Something Else' also did was herald a run of run of 5 albums equal to the work of their peers.  The only problem was Pye (and later RCA) did not really know how to place the band and market them effectively.  This resulted in the band being tagged as a Singles Band, and their albums (which had much more of "the real Kinks" about them) went unnoticed

These albums were:
  • Village Green (1968)
  • Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) (1969)
  • Lola (1970)
  • Muswell Hillbillies (1971)
  • Everybody's In Showbiz (1972)

Village Green
Read the mumblings of a dullard (ie me) here

Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)
Originally conceived as the soundtrack to a TV play that never happened.
Being an already written screenplay, ensures this album remains "on message" and the narrative remains focussed.
The commercialism is reined back - "Victoria" and the sublime "Shangri-La" being the obvious choices for singles.  But pretty much every track here is fit for purpose and rives the story on, culminating in closing track "Arthur" which really does sound like the closing theme of a TV show.
There is an oft trotted out argument of which is the first concept album - and this is one of the contenders (along with Pretty Things' 'SF Sorrow' and The Who's 'Tommy'), but as this one came last chronologically it may be a flawed argument, but this is definitely in the first three.

Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One
The lead single returned them to the upper reaches of the charts, but the album bombed.
Possibly too insular - Ray takes a swipe at "the biz".  Maybe this set of songs just doesn't have the resonance (whether it is nostalgia or environment) that the previous two had.
The other thing to note with this album is that the concept doesn't truly hang together, but the strength of the songs - ranging from Music Hall to Heavy Rock (even "proto-punk") lifts it from folly to fineness.
And one more thing ... would Ray's cod-African/Jamaican accent on "Apeman" be acceptable nearly 50 years later?

Muswell Hillbillies
New record label (RCA) and the chance to finally break in the US (now their US ban was lifted, and support from said new label).
And what did Ray do?  He went back to "what he knew" and dashed off an album of songs about roots characters from his upbringing and a veiled diatribe towards urban renewal at the expense of "everyday folk"
But all is not lost - the musical backdrop is and English accented take on Americana, colliding with London-centric Working Class Music Hall, with touches of darkness, despair and paranoia.
Much like 'Lola ..' the cogency of the storyline/narrative does go awry, but it is the strength of the songs that wins out.
And yes, this one bombed in the UK too, and didn't get great success in the US either.

Everybody's In Showbiz
This album could so easily have been called Life On The Road, but it's anothe concept that loses waivers from the base narrative..
The music is deeper into the US roots that informed the original Kinks, but with an English accent - at times sounding reminiscent of Rod Stewart & The Faces.
And to top all that, it rounds of with surely one of the greatest songs to fall out of Ray's pen - "Celluloid Heroes"
The accompanying live set showcases the power of the band on stage - this may not be the best mixed live album you'll hear, but they sure know how to put on a show.

There's a theme developing above - Kinks concept albums rarely remain bounded by the concept they purport to sell.
Undeterred, there would be further concept albums through the 70s (Preservation Act 1, Preservation Act 2, Soap Opera, Schoolboys in Disgrace)  - whilst this run retains the adventure of the previous outings, the conceptualising and the band themselves begin to sound strained, and sometimes forced.  Rays descending sanity, continual under-achievement and the bands lack of focus on the game in hand certainly didn't help.
And after 1975s 'Schoolboys In Disgrace' another change of label led to another change in focus this time attempting to recreate their live Rock show on record
Still up to a standard many bands would be glad of, but no longer doing anything in the UK, and bumbling along nicely in the US.  1983s "Come Dancing" returned them the UK singles chart, but the attendant album (as normally happens with The Kinks) pulled up no trees.

But these 5 albums (plus 'Something Else' as a prologue) I believe represent the high point of The Kinks career, and deserve to be heard by a wider audience - if only to prove there is more to them than "You Really Got Me" or "Waterloo Sunset".


Top Of The Pops

Muswell Hillbilly

Celluloid Heroes

Saturday, 15 December 2018

2018 Round-Up

The Annual round-up of 5" bits of metal that have been filling my ears in 2018 (and some others which I never got round to buying, but have been enjoying through the medium of Spotify et al, and will no doubt be slapping my money on the counter before Auld Lang Syne is sung).
I've not written about these this year (apart from 2) - not that there hasn't been the enthusiasm with the product, mote there hasn't been the enthusiasm to write stuff based on a couple of listens, preferring to savour the content over a period of time, make a considered opinion, and then finding that I've left it too long before going into print

It's not a ranked list (the first few are, but after that it all becomes a bit arbitrary), and contains 16 things that I've enjoyed (plus 1 special mention (ie it's an album of covers rather than original material), 1 re-issue, and 2 that properly disappointed)

Spiritualized - And Nothing Hurt
Manages that rare thing with an album - is unique, stands on it own, but damn near every song is recognisable from somewhere but completely of itself.
It also manages to be both a guitar album and an electronic album in one package.
Every song feels crafted, laboured over, re-crafted and only then when it is perfect placed on the album.  There is not a moment wasted, and no whiffs of filler.
His master work - 'Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space' - was released 21 years ago.  Here finally is a Spiritualized album equal to that work.

Suede - The Blue Hour
Epic, sweeping, Prog-Indie.  A bit like a hybrid of 'Suede' (the debut album) and 'Dog Man Star'.
Dark tales from a far from idyllic countryside (at times, a feeling of an almost dystopian countryside).
You get echoes of the guitar fuzz of Suede of old, with a bit of Scott Walker, a bit of TV drama soundtrack, and even a moment of an un-used Bond Theme.
Whilst I dislike the term, this album does take you on a journey - there is a certain immersion to it, where like most, if not all, Prog (or Prog-lite?) it demands to be consumed as a whole piece.  Although, at the same time there are many tracks here that could be cherry-picked without losing the atmospheres or tone.
As a final statement: So much better (streets ahead) than the last outing - the disappointing 'Night Thoughts'.

Wreckless Eric - Construction Time And Demolition
Still touring, still writing songs, still putting out albums as good as anything else out there.  Always presented and often looked upon as the underdog, his catalogue of lo-fi recordings, high quality songs continues with this album'
OK, his voice may not be for everybody - but this album is a stream of fuzzy bass, tinny guitars, mad piano, assorted horns, all bolted to narrative, conversational lyrics about whatever appears to be happening around him.  'Construction Time And Demolition' is stuffed full of tunes and melodies that would be the envy of many (if only more than a couple of hundred people get to hear it).
"Whole Wide World" was 40 years ago, and it would be a shame if that were his only legacy when he can produce stuff like this.

Paul Weller - True Meanings
He's back (as every year).  But this time he's released an album that will last after initial enthusiasm, and you want to return to.
The album initially feels like a re-visit (with updates) of 'Wild Wood'.  But this is no simple re-hash of past glories.
Most of the tracks set themselves in the pastoral, acoustic mould, but are then layered and lifted with strings, taking them somewhere unexpected for a "straight" Paul Weller album.  This is of course no surprise, as each album of the last 10 years or so has driven down a different road.
The difference here is the he is working with a co-write, and one does wonder if there is now an element of both quality control and competitive pushing going on.

White Denim - Performance
Swampy blues boogie with a bit of Glam-Rock/T.Rex going on, some soul excursions thrown in, and a bit of even a bit of proggy madness in places.
Own studio perhaps giving the freedom of time and a chance to try a bit more.
It is in a similar vein to previous release - 'Still' - but goes broader and deeper in it's influence (whilst staying in the same place ???) - it just feels like they have a bigger palette (or more tracks on the mixing desk).
The whole thing is just the right side a ragged, with riffs, and boogie stomps all over the shop.
From start to finish, a joy to behold.

The Damned - Evil Spirits
They were there at the start of Punk - 'Damned, Damned, Damned' remains an essential item - they went off the boil and split up before 1977 was over.  They reformed with an album of perfect punk-pop, and eventually 9 years later (with a modified, smoothed sound and some line-up alterations) finally got a Top 10 hit and got paid.  After that, things started to go south, but never to be beaten, they kept touring, kept reforming, and kept releasing albums.
This stands as their very best since The Black Album (in 1980) - sounding probably tighter than ever, sonically in control (the Tony Visconti production credit is often a mark of quality), and full of Psychedelic Scott Walker-isms.
They may be heading towards pensionable age, but they remain an awesome live band, and their DVD (Don't You Wish We Were Dead) is definitely worth a watch.

Manic Street Preachers - Resistance Is Futile
From a band who started influenced by the past, but not wanting to update the past rather than revisit it.  Throughout their career, the Manics have constantly strove forward, and rarely look back (apart from a couple of Richey-tinted specs moments).
This album then is something of a surprise - another move forward, but this time echoing past glories.  It sometimes reads like a canter through their back catalogue (with a couple of near nicks of someone elses songs thrown in).
26 years they've been recording, and they're still producing anthemic quality material, and don't look like stopping anytime soon.

Roger Daltrey - As Long As I Have You
Follow-up to the collaboration with Wilko Johnson (see below), and Rog still showing what a fine voice he has.  A decent collection of songs, and a supporting band including Mr P Townshend.  Since Pete's autobiography set the record straight, these two do not appear at odds that the media suggest and are happy to be working together.  Could be considered a new Who album, but it's more thatn that - it's a new Who album, where they've actually tried to make a decent Who album (rather than going through the motions)

First Aid Kit - Ruins
I'm a lover of loud guitars, high tempos and other stuff that usually garners the response: "Turn it down!"
So what is this doing on my list?
Well, no-one can ignore the harmonies, melodies, and indeed the brittle emotion running through many of these songs.
Need to kick back against the world and relax a bit?  This may very well be the album to soundtrack that experience.
The first half of the album maybe stronger than the second (I admit there is a bit of a lull in the middle), but It does not distract from the sheer enjoyment of it.

Chris Pope & The Chords UK - Nowhere Land
Chris Pope's moment in the sum came briefly as part of the Mod Revival, and was over inside 3 years.  Undeterred, he kept going - he has released a number of fine solo albums, and has recently re-adopted the Chords moniker.
This album was funded via PledgeMusic, and the content is as deserving of your ears as any major label release.  Whilst the musical landscape may not go too far beyond the 12-Bar RnB influence, the songs are well arranged, solidly played with exuberance and urgency (even a spot of anger at times) and report on Chris's world, his frustrations, his tribulations and his triumphs.
It's definitely one of those "turn it up loud and watch the speakers shake" albums

The Vaccines - Combat Sports
They've only gone and done it again - 4 albums in and they still produce a release of instant gratification and enjoyment.  You really don't have to overstretch the "listening to" muscles with this band.
"Indie by numbers" may be an apt description, but there is a passion and energy that cannot be ignored, and the songwriting is a couple of notches above other landfill-esque competitors

Gaz Coombes - Worlds Stongest Man
Locked in his own studio, experimenting, trying stuff, labouring by himself - Gaz may no longer portray the cheeky, smiley, pre-Britpop "scamp" he once was, oh no, he is an "artist".
Ignore the pretentiousness of this statement, and one listen to this album will confirm that blokes sitting in sheds do produce very good things.
A Step up from 'Matador' (which was pretty darn fine) ...

Frank Turner - Be More Kind
My concern is that Frank Turner is (was) becoming lazy, predictable and shiny (here's a slow song, here's some politics, here's an air-punching affirmation etc).  Whilst 'Be More Kind' does contain all those elements, the studio sheen applied to his last album has been docked, and he's sounding more valid and passionate in his output.

Wilko Johnson - Blow Your Mind
Upfront, I will concede that this offering is (unfortunately) the lesser partner of the Roger Daltrey collaboration from a coupe of years ago.  The same tricks, the same drive and passion, damn near the same band and song constructs are all present and correct, it just lacks "something".  A great listen if the mood is right - at the right time, all is dandy in the world.  If the moment is wrong, you get the feeling that the voice is just not strong enough to carry it, and look to move on quicker than you probably should.  Perfect pub music (and probably it's natural habitat)

Father John Misty - God's Favourite Customer
The pretensions of 'Pure Comedy' are stripped away and FJM delivers a corker.
Previously he tried to be Billy Joel, this time out the touchstone is Elton John, and it works marvelously.  No real stand out tracks (well, maybe a couple), and best consumed as one big whole

Glen Matlock - Good To Go
Former Sex Pistol (is there any review that doesn't describe Glen Matlock as that?) goes full-on rockabilly, ably supported by Slim Jim Phantom.  Like Chris Pope (above) Glen is too long in the tooth to pander to "styles", "demographics" and even expectations, and is happy doing what he wants (but even happier on stage by the look of it)

Special Mention:
Matt Berry - Television Themes
A collection of 1970s TV Themes from the 1970s fleshed out to full length and given a slight psychedelic-y, jazz-y coating.
Anyone who watched TV in these years will be familiar with the tunes in their shortened form, but here you can marvel at a full length version of "Sorry!", get creeped again by "Picture Box" and enjoy the sound of "Are You Being Served" without being told what each floor sells.
There is also a Pub Bore trivia reminder: the theme to Wildtrack was a John Barry tune called "Florida Fantasy" and used in Midnight Cowboy.  I think your age can be defined by upon hearing it you picture Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman, or Tony Soper and Su Ingle.

Give Out But Don't Give Up: The Original Memphis Recordings
This re-release is the 'Give Out ...' album presented in it's original guise - a sleazy, bluesy, country-rock album.  Stripped of the Funk excursions and 90s US Rock production, what is left is The Stones meets MC5 meets The Stooges meets Muscle Shoals.
A recent documentary suggests that if this version was released in 1994, it wouldn't have sold.  And that's probably true. After  'Screamadelica', the audience was probably expected more of the Funky stuff, and the "clean" Rock sound.  This "trying to meet market expectation" may also explain why "Give Out ..." is not always considered be on the Primals finest moments.  Have a listen to this - it is indeed a fine, fine moment.

Not enjoyed as much as I hoped:
John Grant - Love Is Magic
I may have to admit that since ;The Queen Of Denmark' John Grant is unlikely to align to my particular tastes.  Yes, there are moments, and one cannot deny the songcraft and heft of delivery.  It just feels each album is moving further away from my core tastes, and ultimately leaving me disappointed.
Could I see this one coming? The couple of early tracks I heard, and the reviews I read, suggested that 'Love Is Magic' could turn my attention.  Sadly, this din't happen.
Great singer, great songs, but not really for me.

Arctic Monkeys - Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
Another band with a sliding scale of Rigidly Digital interest.
This debut was, is, and will remain a sterling piece of work.  Each subsequent album has become more and more removed.  And fair play, why would anyone expect them to standstill?
Problem for me was that as album releases increased, song interest and longevity reduced.  There was a brief 'blip' around 'AM', but then it was back to normal service.

Those that aren't yet in my possession, but have still enjoyed:
Aah ... Spotify.  The gift to those of us without enough disposable income (or in my case, serving an expenditure penance for some over-spending misdemeanor.
These albums would, no doubt, have been in the long list if I had more time with them.
Parquet Courts - Wide Awake!
Idles - Joy as an Act of Resistance
Paul McCartney - Egypt Station
Courtney Barnett - Tell Me How You Really Feel

Spiritualized - I'm Your Man

Wreckless Eric - Gateway To Europe

Parquet Courts - Total Football

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Bat Out Of Hell

It's mad, it's overblown, it sounds like Richard Wagner meets Phil Spector recast for Broadway, the story is out of order, and it has been on the charts for something like 9 million years.
And 40+ years after it's release it remains a phenomenal piece of work, and a truly great album (if often derided by those who obviously know no better).

The concept/genesis of Jim Steinman's work dates back almost a decade before it's release.  This album was effectively the third draft - keeping 3 of the previous songs and adding 4 more to create a 7 track album with an average length of around 7 minutes per track (so much for the 3 minute pop song).
But none of those minutes are really wasted - it's full-on scene-setting, atmosphere and drama from start to finish.

The idea was shopped around to prospective record companies, but there were no takers.
The album was recorded through 1975 under the guidance of Todd Rundgren in the producers chair.  Rundgren fell for a Jim Steinman story the they had already signed a record contract, and liking what he heard agreed to finance some studio time  (some reports say he loaned Meat & Steinman the money).  He also roped in his his band (Utopia) and some friends from the E Street Band as supporting musicians.
Despite the record contract story being untrue, Rundgren was now all in, and the success (albeit belated) of the album was down to his production and arrangement, as much as Mr Loaf's performance and Jim Steinman's songs.
When it finally was released, Meat Loaf was the headline name on the cover.  At the bottom is the legend "Songs by Jim Steinman" - arguably, a second sub-title should be added acknowledging Todd Rundgren's contribution.

More time spent trying to sell it to a record company than was spent writing and recording it
Only picked up by small Cleveland (a lowly subsidiary of Epic) with zero expectations (possibly as a favour to the E Street Band members and Todd Rundgren himself), and was finally released in 1977.

There was no great interest when released, hanging around the lower end of the charts (if it managed to get that far) and picking up few sales - in fairness, it suffered from both under-promotion by the Record Company (it was a last minute deal with a small subsidiary label), and (b) not really fitting with any prevailing musical trend, so didn't have a ready made target audience.
In the UK, it was nigh on a year before it picked up any real momentum after a live clip was aired on The Old Grey Whistle Test.
And it is probably really only in a live setting that 'Bat Out Of Hell' would appeal - the tracks are long, the names unknown, but the sheer theatricality of performance wins through.
At around the same time, a syndicated TV show played the '"Bat Out Of Hell" video (a live performance), and the album, or selected tracks, started to pick up radio play.

From slow beginnings, it went on to sell nigh on 50 million worldwide, and it's reckoned it still sells between 250,000 and 500,000 copies per year.

Vocal problems as a result of incessant touring (and straining his voice every night). couipled with a breakdown in the relationship of the 2 main players, put the mockers on the intended follow-up.
Jim Steinman did release 'Bad For Good' a couple of yesrs later - it's a pretty good listen, but Jim Steinman is not a singer in the same mould, and one wonders how Mr Loaf would've delivered these songs.

Fast forward to 1993 and the public get the chance to find out.
Bat Out Of Hell II was a brave attempt to re-ignite a monster, but the comfort of success (and in the case with the 'Bat ..' label it was pretty much an assured success) took away some of the urgency and/or the overblown nature of the original.
Yes this sequel was overblown, but overblown by a budget rather than performance.
Bat Out Of Hell III arrived a couple of years later, and with the best will in the world this really was a case of milking the cash cow until it was dry.

I am intrigued by the Musical and probably will go and see it - I have heard some good things about.   But ... and this may come as a shock to you, I'm not really one for Musical Theatre.  I did go and see We Will Rock You, but the experience was all a bit "ho-hum. is that it?"  - it felt like just an excuse to lever Queen songs into a flimsy storyline.
The Bat Out Of Hell Musical however, was actually written by Jim Steinman, and is based on his original vision of a retelling of the Peter Pan story set in some future dystopia.
Sounds cheery, but I think the songs were sort of designed for the Theatre setting.

The opening track of the album is the title track - I think to create a properly cogent storyline, it should actually be the penultimate track.

The original track listing:
  • Bat Out Of Hell
  • You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth
  • Heaven Can Wait
  • All Revved Up With No Place To Go
  • Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad
  • Paradise By The Dashboard Light
  • For Crying Out Loud

My re-jigged track listing to tell a clearer story:
  • All Revved Up With No Place To Go
  • You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth
  • Paradise By The Dashboard Light
  • Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad
  • For Crying Out Loud
  • Bat Out Of Hell
  • Heaven Can Wait