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

Friday, 23 November 2018

Bad News

A similar idea happened at a similar time on different sides of the Atlantic.
But which came first: Spinal Tap or Bad News?

Well, Spinal Tap first saw the light of day on a Saturday Night Live sketch in 1979.
Now there is a good chance that Adrian Edmondson may have seen this and been inspired to try something similar.
Or more likely, it was just one of those coincidences that a couple of people had the same idea at the same time (it does happen).
The prime difference between the two though is that whilst Spinal Tap have actually had some success (albeit minor, and festooned with reviews such as "Shit Sandwich", they are actually part of the machine (as Pink Floyd have referred to it), and do have some talent as 20 years of remaining in the machine is testament to..
Bad News on the other hand are trying to break into the machine, but are somewhat lacking in the talent department (bravado and belief are off the scale, but talent is in fairly short supply).

Bad News were first seen in early 1983 in a documentary type film entitled "The Bad News Tour" where the Four Horseman Of The Rock Apocalypse (as they later titled themselves) can be seen boarding a Transit Van for a tour of the bright lights of the UK (primarily a gig in Grantham).
The four members - Vim Fuego (real name: Alan Metcalfe), Den Dennis, Colin Grigson and Spider Webb (real name: Spider Webb) - bore an uncanny resemblance to 3 of The Young Ones (Adrian Edmondaon, Rik Mayall and Nigel Planer) and a Comic Strip Presents actor/director (Pete Richardson).
Much like the concept of synchronous ideas (stated above), everybody has a doppelganger somewhere.
As the documentary ends, you can hear the band falling apart before yours ears as Vim announces: "This band is a pile of shit"

And that was that - or was it?
The journalist they met on the original tour - Sally Freeman - wanted to get the band back together to find out what they'd been doing since the original tour - and released a new documentary.
Well, they had some minor success as the clip from The Tube testifies (although Vim and Colin are having their usual disagreements in front of Jools Holland and the viewing public).
As it turns out. they have all given up the music - Vim is a painter and decorator, Den works for Vim, Colin works in a bank (and still lives at home) and Spider - the wild man who could throw up exactly half a pint into a half-pint pot with no spillage - had to marry this strange hippy woman because he got her pregnant.
Their fist re-union is a relatively friendly affair, but becomes more volatile as the Den informs all those present that Vim's idea of "keeping the music alive" involves playing Mary Hopkins songs in Wine Bars.
Vim is angry with Den and as the barracking starts from the rest of the band, he throws a piece of paper on the table - it is a Record Contract (albeit with little know independent Frilly Pink).
The band are left dumbfounded, and Sally has the perfect opening to her documentary (titled More Bad News).
After availing themselves of the free lager in the studio, their first single is recorded and released - they go straight out and buying 350 copies.  This gets them banned from the charts and any promotion, but the record company somehow gets them onto the bill at the 1986 Monster Of Rock Festival at Castle Donnington.
Things didn't go to well and they performed in a hail of plastic bottles and much derision from the other bands on stage.
Their show ended with the crowd invading the stage resulting in Vim undergoing major surgery and Colin having his throat cut.  Spider escaped by setting fire to himself, and Den "was so scared, I went to the toilet in my trousers and most people, like, kept away from me because of the smell".

Well, it can't have been that bad because inside 6 months, the band were signed to EMI and released their first major label single - a cover of "Bohemian Rhapsody".  And then the album followed soon after.
Ah the album ... it is basically a catalogue of every Heavy Metal cliche imaginable (Booze, Motorbikes, Mythical creatures (like the beast from the Lager of Lamot advert)) and a lot of sweary arguing.
It's a bit like a Derek & Clive album with added loud guitars and strained to the point of tunelessness vocals.

They pushed on for another year which included an appearance at the Reading Rock Festival (special guest: Brian May) and a date supporting Iron Maiden at Hammersmith Odeon (special guest: Jimmy Page).
They also went one stage further in the sweary arguing stakes with the release of the album 'Bootleg' containing more of arguing an less music.
And they rounded off their EMI career with the single "Cashing In On Christmas" - except they failed to Cash In as the single failed to get past number 80 in the charts, and is unlikely to appear on any 'Best All-Time Christmas Sing-Song Tunes To Be Played In Every Shop From November 2nd ... Ever' compilation albums.

Bad News introduce themselves (warning - this clip may contain some potentially disagreeable Anglo Saxon wordage):

and then go straight into their eponymous track (or they did on the album, but not on YouTube):

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

No Surpises

Radiohead - one of those bands that I own albums by, but rarely feel the desire to listen regularly.
Many, many people hold Radiohead in high esteem for their experimentation, their pushing boundaries, their "difference".
Me?  I probably don't properly get it.
Their first album 'Pablo Honey' is probably best described as a straight indie-rock album with no great surprises.  The album contains a potential millstone in the shape of "Creep" (a song containing a passing reference to The Hollies "The Air That I Breathe"- no doubt their best know song, and certainly most covered.  It was even used as a playout singalong on a brief Channel 4 Game Show Last Chance Lottery featuring Patrick Kielty.

And it may be this (threatened) anonymity that spurred them onto greater heights
Second album 'The Bends' is a complete step on/step up from 'Pablo Honey' - on first listen , it's easy to dismiss as a bit pretentious, a bit "look at us and how clever we are", but it just gets under the skin to the point where it becomes an unputdownable artefact - an antidote to Britpop homogony.
And this is then taken further with the insular moodiness not seen since The Smiths, proggy madness, of 'OK Computer'.
I have no doubt that The Bends and OK Computer are 2 of the greatest albums of the last 20 years (has it been that long?)
'Kid A' arrived at the turn of the millennium, an I (like many others) listened expectantly, then confusingly, then scratched my head - it sounded like they had too much studio time, too many ideas, and not enough editorial control.
My "buy as soon as possible" relationship with Radiohead ended, and eve now I can only profess to hearing "bits" of  later releases - I'm told by "those in the know" that I am missing a treat.  I somehow feel I should explore further, but never really felt the desire.

So there you go ... 'Pablo Honey' is an OK album, but it is the next 2 that assures Radiohead legacy (in my head at least).
For me, 'The Bends' takes it on points (but only just) over 'OK Computer'.
But if forced to pick just one track, it would be ...

"No Surprises"
A delicate, almost childlike, melody bolted to a downbeat lyric smacking of despair and frustration.  The juxtaposition is almost unsettling.  And when framed with the video, "No Surprises" becomes one of the most claustrophobic songs you'll ever hear.
It never resolves, and don't go looking for salvation in the next track on the album, because "Lucky" is almost as despairing.
But, it is just incessant and will burrow it's way into your head.  It manages that trick, as performed by The Smiths ("Girlfriend In A Coma" being a prime example) and others, of making a downbeat song a cheerful earworm.

"No Surprises" - if you want to get all analytical about the lyric - is a cry for help, a cry to leave the mundane behind, the sufferance, the repetition, and just exist in a state of perpetual relaxation and simplicity - with "no alarms and no surprises".
And who wouldn't want that?

At it's root, it comes from the same point as Queen's "I Want To Break Free"
I wonder if Radiohead are considering a version of that track for the inevitable Covers album that will no doubt be along at some point in every career?

Saturday, 27 October 2018

Thin Lizzy

This may sound a terrible thing to say about a band as revered as Thin Lizzy, but ownership of their material can probably be condensed to a Greatest Hits, a Live album and just one of their studio albums.

There is no doubt, despite the hoo-hah of whether it is "Live" or the product of studio overdubs, that 'Live and Dangerous' is just about the definitive Live rock album ever released (The Who: Live At Leeds, Iron Maiden: Live After Death and Motorhead: No Sleep Til Hammersmith run it close).
But of their 12 studio albums, only 'Jailbreak' is the complete article
Whether it was the "flat" production, songs not being quite "there", or maybe it was the time taken to record which lost their spontaneity.  Whatever it was, all the albums have their moments (and very fine moments indeed), but only 'Jailbreak' sustains it over 40 minutes.

Formed in the last moments of 1969, and consisting of Eric Bell approached Phil Lynott and Brian Downey.
Within 6 months, their first single was in the shops - it sold next to nothing, and the band returned to Ireland for a re-think.
Constant gigging and support in the UK from Kid Jensen and John Peel led to a 3 album offer, and they wasted no time relocating to London and recording their first album.
There is a certain Celtic-Folk twang to the first three albums ('Thin Lizzy', 'Shades of a Blue Orphanage', Vagabonds of the Western World').  The nascent Lizzy hallmarks are there - Phil Lynott's narration, a bit of romanticism, and a solid rock backing that is on the verge of exploding - but these albums are not that earth-shattering to be honest.
Except perhaps the echoes of the future in the shape of "The Rocker".

Their commercial breakthrough came at the end of their Decca contract when the single "Whiskey In The Jar" nestled in the Top 10.

This success led another record company to offer them a deal and they delivered 'Nightlife' soon after.
Thin Lizzy were a settled, solid unit - Phil Lynott was the archetypal rock & roller - all leather pants, posturing and heavy drinking (plus some "other substances").  Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson were the very textbook definition of a twin-lead guitar attack, and Brian Downey sat at the back holding it all together.  But still album success eluded them.

After the soulful, acoustic-y 'Nightlife', 'Fighting' was there next attempt to place their live show on record.  This was their fifth attempt, and whilst the twin guitar attack is full-on and everything is rocking nicely, this one still falls just short.  It did however translate into their first big seller.

And then came their moment - their signature song "The Boys Are Back In Town" was released as a single, flew into the Top 10, hung around a bit, and fuelled sales of the parent album.
After 6 years, a couple of personnel changes and two record labels, all was coming good.
There is a certain strength, immediacy and energy from note 1 to the run out groove on side 2.
Highlights include the aforementioned "Boys ...", the titular "Jailbreak", "Warriors", "Cowboy Song"and "Emerald".
Across 14 tracks, you can barely get a fag paper in any crack in the bands playing, and the soulful drool of Lynott's vocal just makes it sound "a bit different" from other straight 70s Rock albums.

'Johnny The Fox' arrived at the back end of the same year.  It may have perhaps benefited from a bit more time and fettling.
The simple thing to do would've been to create 'Jailbreak Part 2' but Lynott was stretching and the band were playing along.  There were some relationship issues coming to the fore - namely Phil Lynott and Brian Robertson, which culminated in Robbo being "suspended" when a hand injury put in jeopardy the imminent US tour (step forward super-sub Gary Moore, who had filled in as a touring guitarist back in 1974).
Brian Robertson returned (albeit briefly) for the recording of 'Bad Reputation' and stayed on board for the tour in support of it, and for the selection of recordings (and possibly overdubbing if history/myth/legend is to be believed) that formed the 'Live And Dangerous' album.
The album is one of the foremost Live documents in Rock, and showcases the "classic line-up" in their natural environment.

But ... one month later, Brian Robertson was gone for good.  Gary Moore stepped in (again) as the full time replacement.
Thin Lizzy's attitude, and Lynott's gregariousness, allowed the band to be (generally) accepted by the Punk, and Phil Lynott marked this with a collaboration with drinking buddies Steve Jones and Paul Cook to form the live only Greedy Bastards (not that they stayed live only, releasing a cash in Christmas single "We Wish You A Merry Jingle" at the end of 1978).

With Gary Moore in the camp, work began on the next album - 'Black Rose: A Rock Legend'.
Relationships inside the band appeared to be running far smoother since Robertson's departure and it shows in the quality of the songs and the energy of the album.  Including "Do Anything You Want To", "Waiting For An Alibi" and the 7 minute title track "Róisín Dubh (Black Rose): A Rock Legend" - this batch of songs is almost as strong as 'Jailbreak'
If you feel you need another Lizzy album in your collection, this is the one to go for.

And as often happens in the Lizzy camp, as there star begun to rise, it fell again just as quickly with Gary Moore leaving mid-tour - Midge Ure was parachuted in to complete the US dates (apparently he learnt the set list on the plane over to the US).

1980 started with the completion of recording for Phil Lynott's solo album, the selection of Snowy White as replacement guitarist and the commencement of recording for 'Chinatown'.
And the cracks are beginning to show on this album - whether it was the distraction of a solo career, tiredness from years of incessant touring, the new guitarist not yet gelling with the band - whatever it was, the album feels a bit forced and a bit "contractual obligation".  The singles lifted from the album ("Chinatown" and "Killer On The Loose") are it's undoubted high points.
This feeling continues with 1981s 'Renegade', if anything the incompatibility of Snowy White and Thin Lizzy is compounded - only  "Hollywood (Down on Your Luck)" passes muster (to these ears).

The last throw of the dice came in 1983 with final album  'Thunder And Lightning'.  The album is patchy at best and you get the feeling the "thrill" had gone.
The first song written for the band by new guitarist John Sykes (ex Tygers Of Pan Tang) was the single "Cold Sweat" - this song would also provide Thin Lizzy with their last TV appearance, and the tour in support of the album was to be their last.  The band split (although no-one believed for good) at the end of 1983.

Boys Are Back In Town
Everyone knows it, but I don't think you can ever tire of it

"Tonight there gonna be a Jailbreak.  Somewhere in this town" - check the Jail house, its bound to be there

Rosalie / Cowboy Song
Another of their signature songs (albeit a cover of a Bob Seger track), mixing seamlessly with another top track from Jailbreak - from Lie And Dangerous

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

The Kinks - Village Green Preservation Society

Will be celebrating it's 50th Anniversary very soon.
And there's the great irony (if that is the correct term?) - it will be 50 years old, and still sounds relevant because it was dealing with a nostalgic view of some 50 years in it's own past.

Nostalgia - never gets old

I think the two prime lessons learned from this albums original release were:
  • Making an album which goes against current trends (in this case psychedelia, experimentation, a bit of mysticism perhaps) may not always be a commercial success 
  • If you are going to release something you've laboured over for 12 months or more, try not to do it on the same day The Beatles are releasing their new album'.
    And if you do delay it a week or so, then you'll be up against the new Rolling Stones offering - so its lose-lose really
Village Green Preservation Society was ostensibly a Concept Album - although it contained no story/narrative.
It was a collection of songs based around memories, reveries and an evocations of the past, that (possibly) never actually existed.
The collection of songs is, very probably, the strongest set in Ray Davies's monumental catalogue (which when you consider the cannon contains "Waterloo Sunset", "Lola" and "Shangri-La", that is no faint praise).
And not forgetting that this set was so strong, they could afford to leave preceding single "Days" off of it.

Originally delivered as a 12 track album, Ray Davies was given more time to complete his thoughts and a 15 track version was eventually sanctioned and delivered (Ray was originally looking for a 20+ track double album.  Who releases a double album one month before Christmas in 1968?)

The album contains it's share of character songs ("Johnny Thunder", "Monica", "Wicked Annabella"), memories and loss "Do You Remember Walter", "Picture Book", "People Take Picture Of Each Other", "Village Green".
"All My Friends Were There" recounts a true story of embarrassment on stage, set to a music-hall type backing.
And never scared of a bit of plagiarism, the riff to Howlin' Wolf's "Smokestack Lightnin'" is lifted to provide the backing for "The Last Of The Steam Powered Trains" - a song that can be read as a withering acceptance of being out of time and out of step with the moment, or just a mourning of the loss of the Steam Railways.
And then the album is topped off (or more correctly opened) by a celebration of quintessentially English "things", and an attempt to lever in as many alternative terms for groups as possible.

Upon release, it sold next to nothing and laboured to less than 100,000 worldwide sales over the next 20 years.
And then Ray's magnum opus was re-discovered (along with a critical re-appraisal of all things Kinky).  It was making regular appearances in those "You Have To Listen To This ..." lists, and it's author was recognised as one of the great English songwriters.
Despite it's commercial shortcomings, what it did do was open a sustained fit of endeavor, soon followed by 'Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)', 'Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One' and the often overlooked, but mighty fine, 'Muswell Hillbillies'.

Later Kinks albums (post 1971) are a hit and miss affair.  The early Kinks albums were focused on hit making, money making sounds - they have their moments, but you never feel the writer or the band is being stretched.
The period between 1968 and 1971 may not have garnered sales and public recognition, but ranks alongside the best work of anyones catalogue.

Village Green Preservation Society