Friday, 17 September 2021

Jim Bob - Who Do We Hate Today

Jim Bob Morrison was 50% of Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine.  Carter split in 1998 after 3 very very good albums, a couple of nearly good albums, and one that was just about OK (although their moment had obviously passed).
I admit not following their careers after the band ended, but Fruitbat remains active (albeit in a low key way) while Jim Bob penned 5 novels, 2 autobiographies, and released 13 albums in 20 years.
(Looks like I may have a bit of catching up to do)

And then in early Summer whilst traversing a Youtube rabbit-hole, I stumbled across a new single from the floppy haired Carter vocalist - "that's a bit good" thought I.

The Summer Of No Touching

Commentary from first Lockdown experience, including the lyrical observations:
"The streets were completely deserted, I pretended I was Cillian Murphy"
"Me, I get my facts from whatever David Icke says, And old rock star from the 90s"

And then brought back to the stark image at the end of:
"And me? I'm still waiting here outside Tesco, Self-medicating with my Domestos"

The parent album was procured soon after release in August, and there is little to fault with it.

13 vignettes of Modern Life as seen through the eyes of the narrator - it's not a Covid Concept album, but with all that is happening it sort of ends up feeling that way.
Songs like "Karen Is Thinking Of Changing Her Name", "Song For The Unsung (You're So Modest You'll Never Think This Song Is About You", vie for attention against ecological concerns - "The Earth Bleeds Out" and "Wheres The Back Door, Steve" - and unreconstructed characters - "Shona Is Dating A Drunk, Woman Hating Neanderthal Man", "#prayfortony".

The musical backdrop is vaguely familiar and comfortable, and lyrically the listener moves from applauding the worldplay to nodding their head and thinking "good point!".

The closing track ("Who Do We Hate Today") can be read as a rumination over why certain factions of humanity wake up and spend their day looking for someone or something to fault and blame.
I'd argue this short track is Jim Bob's Peace and Love moment, and leaves the listener to ponder their own path - "be positive in these negative times" is what I took from it.

And all rolled out in under 40 minutes - that's enough time to give it another listen.  It deserves it.

Wednesday, 1 September 2021

Ordinary Boys

In the Summer of 2004, I'm wandering the aisles of FOPP looking for something new to listen to.

As is often the way with (memories of) FOPP, I'm laden with back catalogue CDs that are too well priced to ignore.  At between £3 and £5, it's difficult to say "No".  And even more difficult when you get to the counter and they say "Ah, you've spent over £20 - would you like these couple of extra CDs for a couple of quid each?".

As I approach another aisle looking for anything that might be of interest, or filling a gap in the catalogue, a sound comes over the in-store speaker - a recognisable chug-a-lug guitar riff, and then the opening statement: "Radio play just depresses me today".
Do you know, I think you may have a point.  A little later came the lyric "Originality is so passe" - it's a little sub-Morrissey, but I respect your opinion.

So I wandered some more aisles and listened so more: "I'm pretty sure I'll be buying this" thought I.
And then came a cover version of The Specials "Little Bitch" - that made my mind up.

Now 2004 wasn't exactly a fallow year - Green Day 'American Idiot', Franz Ferdinand's debut, The Libertines second (and for a while last), Morrissey 'You Are The Quarry', Graham Coxon 'Happiness In Magazines', U2 'How To Dismantle an Atom Bomb', The Streets 'A Grand Don't Come For Free' - but it wasn't exactly a rare old year.  Not too many albums destined to bother the "All Time Best Of The Best You Must Hear Ever" Lists.
And the one I heard tracks from that day in FOPP probably won't be bothering that list either, but still stands as one of the finest from that year.

'Over The Counter Culture' was The Ordinary Boys debut release was 12 tracks of energy and passion set to music with echoes of The Jam, The Smiths, The Clash, The Specials.  There is also a certain brit-centricness to the lyrics and vocal delivery evoking a Ray Davies-ish influence.

It's a little bit Modern life Is soooooooo Rubbish, mixed with a bit of attempted Social commentary falls slightly short - which has a tendency to veer into cliche.  And OK, some of it is a bit formulaic, and "of it's time".  But there's something there that makes this album a bit sticky and returnable.

Maybe it's the overt way it's influences are presented in each song, a combination of strong melody delivered with youthful exuberance.  Even possibly the odd Terrace Chant Yobbo anthemic quality of some of the choruses.  It just makes you smile and restores the belief that music is about enjoyment

There were other albums available operating in similar territory, delivering similar goods at the time - but The Ordinary Boys seemed to me (not always the best judge) to be leading from (near) the front.
I really did believe they had a future, maybe with a little bit of extra press support and media exposure.

And when their follow-up - 'Brassbound' - arrived in 2005, I remained convinced.  Especially when preceded by the strong ska-heavy-with-a-whiff-of-Madness single "Boys Will Be Boys" arrived.
A second single "Life Will Be the Death of Me" arrived in late Summer, and despite my beliefs, it tanked.
And then came the media exposure that the band needed - lead singer Preston signed up to Celebrity Big Brother in early 2006.  He came fourth, "Boys Will Be Boys" latterly (and possibly deservedly) rose to the higher reaches of the singles chart.

Their third album 'How To Get Everything You Ever Wanted In Ten Easy Steps' arrived in late 2006.  It's not a bad album, but does sound a bit watered down and heavily produced.
How to describe it?
If 'Over The Counter Culture' is 100%, then 'Brassbound' is 75% ("still pretty fine, but missing something").  By that marking, 'How To Get Everything ...' scrapes in at 30% ('a bit better than a contractual obligation, listenable, but not essential).

And then came the moment that defines Preston, and by association The Ordinary Boys - he walks off Never Mind The Buzzcocks in a strop.
Now, be fair Simon Amstell was being a bit of an arse, but the petulant walk-off really didn't help his case or record sales.

'Over The Counter Culture' to my ears sits with those other albums up there as the "go to" listening for 2004.  The band may not have been able to sustain the impact of their debut, but a 1 in 3 hit rate is not bad going.
And on the bright side, Preston can look forward to constant re-runs of his TV moment in those Channel 5 "When TV Doesn't Go Very Well" programmes or an ITV2 special entitled "When Celebrities Walk Off Telly Like A Spoilt Child".
He can also take solace in the fact Piers Morgan was just copying him.

Over The Counter Culture

Little Bitch

Boys Will Be Boys

Monday, 23 August 2021

Withnail And I

I've plumbed the depths of Netflix and Amazon, and consumed just about every Police procedural drama it has to offer.
Except the Scandinavian ones ... this might be a simplest redux, but all that chunky knitwear and staring out of windows just doesn't hook me.  And maybe this is a sign of my intellect, or inability to concentrate, but the sub-titles detract from the story for me.

And so I return to the stack of previously watched, and always enjoyed DVDs.  That cache of films that you shove on when you just need some comfort, and can recite the script along with the moving pictures.
And one such film is a relatively low budget offering from the mid-80s, which has assumed cult status, yet still has people saying "and what's so great about that then?"

If the greatness of a film is judged by it's quotability, then Withnail And I is up there with the best of them.
I get the impression that it is a bit of a Marmite film - those that like it tend to love it, quote it, and watch it fairly regularly. Those that dislike it (and you can only dislike something if you've actually seen it) really cannot see what the attraction is.  2 unemployed actors living in squalor get drunk a lot, and then go on holiday - big deal.

And it's not an easy sell (as that last sentence suggests ... but here goes

Written by Bruce Johnston, it is loosely (although he has never divulged how loosely?) based on his student days.
Set in 1969, Withnail and I tells the story of 2 out of work actors clinging to the notion that their big break is just round the corner, and so are content to stay in a dingy flat in Camden waiting for that time.
But how to fill the time?  Copious amounts of alcohol, greasy breakfasts, a walk in Regents Park and a scant refusal to clean up the flat.
Needing a break from this drudgery (or full schedule?), it's time to change the backdrop and secure Withnail's rich uncle's holiday cottage - a somewhat remote, cold, powerless building in the Lake District.
Woefully unprepared for life in the country, they bumble through until the arrival of Uncle Monty and his un-warranted advances.  Monty leaves with his tail between his legs, and then the pair are recalled to London as there is the offer of a stage play.
Withnail - who has no Driving License - decides to speed up the return by driving back as fast as he can, and is then arrested.
They arrive back at the flat to find Danny The Dealer espousing (*his own peculiar) politics:

"I don't advise a haircut, man. All hairdressers are in the employment of the government. Hair are your aerials. They pick up signals from the cosmos and transmit them directly into the brain. This is the reason bald-headed men are uptight."

 "We are 91 days from the end of this decade and there’s gonna be a lot of refugees."

"If you're hanging on to a rising balloon, you're presented with a difficult decision - let go before it's too late or hang on and keep getting higher, posing the question: how long can you keep a grip on the rope? They're selling hippie wigs in Woolworth's, man. The greatest decade in the history of mankind is over. And as Presuming Ed here has so consistently pointed out, we have failed to paint it black."

Danny : The joint I'm about to roll requires a craftsman. It can utilise up to 12 skins. It is called a Camberwell Carrot.

Marwood : It's impossible to use 12 papers on one joint.

Danny : It's impossible to make a Camberwell Carrot with anything less.

Withnail : Who says it's a Camberwell Carrot?

Danny : I do. I invented it in Camberwell, and it looks like a carrot.

Breaking this spaced outedness is Marwood's discovery of a letter informing the pair of their eviction.
He packs his bags, has one final walk (with a spaced and drunk) Withnail in Regents Park, and credits roll

(see, I told you it wasn't an easy sell)

But it's what happens between those (mundane?) plot points that make the film.
Yes it is highly quotable, some of the lines and situations could almost be Python-esque, but there is a darker under-current to it all, but is delivered by 2 characters that veer on the grotesgue (well ,one certainly does) but you can't help but root for them, and feel some of their anxiety.

The amount of alcohol consumed in the film gives rise to a Student Drinking Game where one must imbibe along with the film.

(from wikipedia)

There is a drinking game associated with the film. The game consists of keeping up, drink for drink, with each alcoholic substance consumed by Withnail over the course of the film.
All told, Withnail is shown drinking roughly ​9 1⁄2 glasses of red wine, one-half pint of cider (with ice in), one shot of lighter fluid (vinegar or overproof rum are common substitutes), ​2 1⁄2 measures of gin, 6 glasses of sherry, 13 drams of Scotch whisky and ​1⁄2 pint of ale.[49]

Already seen the film?  Watch it again
Intrigued by the film (despite my best efforts to knacker it)?  Give it a watch, and see which way the Marmite falls

And if all else fails, watch the trailer:

Saturday, 7 August 2021

A New Beginning

 Other titles considered:

  • The Times They Are A-Changing
  • New Life
  • Just Like Starting Over
  • Fings Aint Wot They Used T'Be

What am I on about?

I started work 34 years ago this month - and I'm still with the same employer.

I started on a 4 Year Apprenticeship, did a year in the Inspection and Metrology Lab, a short stint in the Drawing Office, and then landed up as a Project Planner.  A return to learning saw me progress through Cost Engineering, Project Management, Commercial Management, and then I settled into Project Controls (basically, telling the Project Manager they are an idiot!).  And I've been in that world for last 25 years.

But now, at the age of 51, I have made the decision to leave the comfort zone behind and move to the Dark Side of IT - I will be administering and maintaining the Integrated Business System across Projects, Finance, Supply Chain,and Human Resources (Oracle Fusion, if you're interested.  Or even care).  The main focus is Projects, so it's still Project Controls per se, and I will bring with me the issues and failings of using the System at the coal-face.

And so I am now placing myself on a vertical learning curve with all the fun of remote working (for a little while longer at least) while my new colleagues have to get used to my unique, grumpy, sarcastic ways of doing things.
I admit to a little fear in this move, but what's the worst that can happen?

Will it prove to be the right decision?  Who knows, but Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained.

And, NO - I will not musically illustrate this post with Bucks Fizz 1986 post Coach crash comeback single (Mamba Seyra with knobs on!).

Instead I'll ask the question: when this lot lost their founding member, songwriter, and all round visionary, did they really believe that they would still be achieving relative success 40 years later?
(and why did every Radio 1 DJ of the time have a different way of pronouncing their name?)

Depeche Mode - New Life

Friday, 30 July 2021

Something Happened In The Summer of 1991

1991 was a relatively inoffensive year.

As far as the Singles Chart goes, the year was book-ended by Iron Maiden's "Bring Your Daughter (To The Slaughter)" - not one of their greatst songs - and "Bohemian Rhapsody" returning to the toppermost of the poppermost following Freddie Mecrury's shuffling of this mortal curl in November.
In between that there were a couple of novelty records ("Do The Bartman", Hale & Pace's "The Stonk), but the baulk of the year was taken up by Bryan Adams with that song and Cher Shoop Shoop-ing a lot.

Album-wise, Eurythmics clocked up 10 weeks with 'Greatest Hits', and Simply Red managed 4 with 'Stars'.
Away from the coffee table, REM hit the top (and international success) with 'Out Of Time', and perhaps surprisingly U2s 'Achtung Baby' which confirmed, re-inforced, and even enhanced their reputation as one of the biggest bands in the world never hit the summit (probably due to the Freddie situation which saw 'Greatest Hits II' take the top spot for the final 5 weeks of the year)

But away from the top of the commercial charts, there were some none too shabby albums to be had 

  • Blur 'Leisure'
  • Billy Bragg 'Don't Try This at Home'
  • Carter USM '30 Something'
  • Elvis Costello 'Mighty Like A Rose'
  • Farm 'Spartacus'
  • Jesus Jones 'Doubt'
  • KLF 'The White Room'
  • Levellers 'Levelling The Land'
  • Kirst MacColl 'Electric Landlady'
  • Massive Attack 'Blue Lines'
  • My Bloody Valentine 'Loveless'
  • Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers 'Into the Great Wide Open'
  • Saw Doctors 'If This Is Rock and Roll, I Want My Old Job Back'
  • Saint Etienne 'Foxbase Alpha'
  • Teenage Fanclub 'Bandwagonesque'
  • Tin Machine II (well, I like it)
  • Wonderstuff 'Never Loved Elvis'
Special mention too for two compilations which reminded punters that the past is something that should be embraced.  As compilations go, these fall into the category of "not a duff tack on it"

  • Specials - Singles
  • Thin Lizzy - Dedication

But ... in amongst all this film-backed soppy number one singles, coffee table albums, and minority sellers that deserved better (see above), there was a moment in August and September which saw a string of albums which seemingly turned the music world on it's axis.
It was loud, it was brash, it found a ravenous audience, and most of it came from the US.

  • July
    • Mudhoney 'Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge'
  • August
    • Babes In Toyland 'To Mother'
    • Metallica 'Metallica'
    • Spin Doctors 'Pocket Full of Kryptonite'
    • Pearl Jam 'Ten'
  • September
    • Hole 'Pretty on the Inside'
    • Guns n' Roses 'Use Your Illusion I' and 'Use Your Illusion II'
    • Primal Scream 'Screamadelica'
    • Pixies 'Trompe le Monde'
    • Soundgarden 'Badmotorfinger'
    • Red Hot Chili Peppers 'Blood Sugar Sex Magik'
    • Nirvana 'Nevermind'
    • Status Quo 'Rock til You Drop'

If the 1960s (and arguably the early 80s) were termed the British Invasion, the surely those 3 months in 1991 is the US returning the favour.

Can you spot the ringer in that lot, the sole UK entry in the midst of the Grunge Invasion?

Primal Scream being un-Primal Scream like.  Unleashing their heady mix of dance beats, dub, acid house, funk and psychadelia - all mixed up with Stooges-lite/Stones-esque moments.  As much a product of the studio as it is a live band, Andrew Weatherall fashioned the bands demos into something that probably they, and indeed most of the listening public weren't expecting.  They'd never sounded like this before (really), and never sounded like this again.  And 'Screamadelica' remains one of their best, most acclaimed, albums.

It more than holds it's own against the US onslaught.
To consider a couple of them:

'Metallica' was the album that was smoothed by Bob Rock's production with the deliberate aim for commercial success.  Which was duly delivered.  The band sounds more direct, less complicated in construct, but (sadly) not as interesting or committed.

'Use Your Illusion' would've massively benefited by being shrunk to a single album.  Across 2 albums, there is just not enough variety in what they do to sustain

Pearl Jam's 'Ten' was more rock than grunge, but by associations of geography, the album became a key work of the genre.  Thing is, it is an "OK" album with a few undoubted high-points, but again feels limited in capability.

Spin Doctors 'Pocket Full of Kryptonite' was Grunge-Pop to be sold through quickly while the bandwagon was rolling.  There isn't too much redeeming or classic about this album (It's not bad - I listened to it again fairly recently - just not that great)

And now the sacred cow ...

Nirvana 'Nevermind' - If there is one record and one band that pretty much defines the genre and period, then it's this one.  A heady mixture of anger, angst, recycled riffs, energy, passion and attitude.
It is a great little album, but I'm just not convinced by the argument that it is one of the most important albums ever released.  Yes, I agree it's monumental and certainly created a shift in commercial attitudes and thinking, and indeed has a pervading influence.  But ... is it an absolute stone-cold classic?
I think it's gradual decline in those oft published "All Time Top 100 Best Ever Ever" lists is suggestive that maybe the content is not wall-to-wall stonkers, and that over-playing (and indeed over-mythologising) could be it's downfall too.

I know it looks like I've slaughtered 3 months of music, and it sounds like I haven't got a good word to say about any of them.  Not true, I like many of those albums, and still play them from time to time.  I'm just not convinced that they turned the music biz on it's head as the legend (and the rock press) would have us believe - and in the case of Metallica, Guns n' Roses and The Pixies, I'm not even convinced those are their best albums.
And of those clutch of albums that saw the light of day in those 100 days of Summer/Autumn 1991, the most returned to the turntable is ... Primal Scream 'Screamadelica'
(and that's not even my favourite of theirs)

Primal Scream - Loaded

Nirvana - Smells Like Teen Spirit

Weird Al Yankovic - Smells Like Nirvana

Saturday, 10 July 2021

ZZ Top

In December 2019, I took the whole month off work.  All that accrued holiday that I was unable to use in a stupidly busy year was splurged on a whole month of doing "not a lot".
And as I wasn't working, the razor stayed in the drawer and slowly ran out of charge, whilst I developed a lustrous beard.
(for "lustrous", read "patchy, with bits of grey")
And then came New Year and time to return to work, I kept the facial hair, trimmed it down a bit, and returned to work for a full 3 months until Covid took hold, and I've been working at home ever since.

The beard is now part of me, and I'm not getting rid of it.  I have harboured ambitions of getting it to ZZ Top standards, but for one dissenting voice shouting "oh no you're bloody not!".

The most famous beard wearers in all of Rock Music (apart from the drummer who is ironically called Frank Beard), Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill and Frank Beard have been working together since 1969, with just a few solo sojourns in between.
(Are they the longest surviving band with no personnel changes?  They may very well be)
The early years of the band weren't as hirsute - Beards and tache, yes.  But not until 1979, and the release of 'Degüello' was the full length topiary that made their legend first seen.

My entry point to ZZ Top (like may others I'm sure) was 1983s 'Eliminator' - a bright, clean sounding but bluesy rocking slab of 12 tracks, which spawned 4 singles "Gimme All Your Lovin", "Sharp Dressed Man", "TV Dinners" and the lascivious "Legs".  The look of the band, and the visuals created by the album and it's sound sat them in prime position for MTV, and lap it up they did.
Although I didn't know it at the time, 'Eliminator' was another evolution of the bands desire to innovate and develop their sound - starting on the aforementioned 'Degüello - enhancing their basic 3 piece Bar Blues sound, using a range of synthesisers and studio technologies.

And what's so wrong with innovating and trying to stretch yourself?  Absolutely nothing, and fair play to them for doing so and keep it interesting.
But if anyone asks me (and they haven't yet) my advice would be that a fine place to start the ZZ Top journey is at the beginning in the swampy-blues sound of 'ZZ Top's First Album' (1971) or 'Rio Grande Mud' (1972).

Over and above those though, my go to "you must hear this" choice would be 1973s 'Tres Hombres'.
This is their third album and they've now got  feel for the studio, and are becoming more adept at recreating their sound in the studio confines - not going in, plugging in, and laying it down.  This album feels stronger than previous efforts - the playing is more solid, certainly at the bottom end - allowing the guitars to sit above the groove and the songs to bloom, rather than replicate what you would hear on stage.

There is much to like (and move your feet to) on the album.  From the somewhat funky-blues-boogie of opener "Waiting For The Bus" through "Jesus Just Left Chicago" to "Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers" and "Move Me On Down The Line".

But surely the standout track is "La Grange" - a John Lee Hooker-like Boogie, with a searing guitar bolted to it.
Undoubtedly one of the highest points in ZZ Tops's half decade, and one often overlooked in favour of the Beards, Cars, and Girls videos of 'Eliminator' and 'Afterburner'

Sunday, 20 June 2021

Nick Heyward - From Monday To Sunday

In the early 80s, Haircut 100 were ploughing a joyful jazz-funk type groove, and  realeased a clutch of truly great singles ("Favourite Shirts (Boy Meets Girl)", "Love Plus One", "Fantastic Day" and "Nobody's Fool") and one great album ('Pelican West') before falling apart and frontman Nick Heyward starting a sol career with moderate success (moderate compared to the critical and public adoration that Haircut 100 received, and could have continued to receive).
By 1986/87 success had all but dried up and Nick was probably consigned to the "Where Are They Now?" file.

And then in May 1994, snuck away on late night ITV (Bob Mills – In Bed With Me Dinner) Nick Heyward was introduced as the musical guest.  A near incendiary version of "Fantastic Day" flew out of the telly.  This was followed by "Caravan" – a track I didn’t know but I needed to hear again.  A cover version of The Jam’s "Sounds From The Street" finished things off.

Strange how 15 minutes of TV can have such an effect and re-launch a career in the viewer’s mind.

And here is the performance(s):

"Caravan" was from Nick's latest solo album 'From Monday To Sunday' which arrived in my sweaty little hands the following weekend (yes, this is a time when a trip to Our Price - or often other record shops if looking for something in particular - was a necessary pert of the process) and was probably played solidly for about a month (or more).

Although his solo career had never hit the heights investors hoped he was capable of, he'd somehow wound up signing to a major label (Epic) and was releasing his fourth solo set (something of a comeback, as it was his first album for 5 years).

There was a slight departure in sound too - the funk-edges of his previous work were replaced with Rock-centric tropes.  The melody and songcraft of old remained, but there was an injection of energy and jangle too.

At the time I first heard this album, Britpop was gathering pace, and it fitted the mould.  In fact, I see it now as one the pre-cursors - a sort of proto-Britpop, alongside names such as Boo Radleys, Primal Scream, Elastica, Gene, SMASH, These Animal Men, Menswear and Shed Seven

And to these ears 'From Monday To Sunday' is the beginnings of Britpop.  Its full of melody, strong songs, and rooted on this side of the Atlantic.  It takes near nostalgia such as The Stone Roses and blends with The Beatles, Squeeze and The Jam to fill out the picture.
A trick repeated by many a Britpopper.
And to my eyes, the album cover is a picture of a Full English Breakfast served in a greasy spoon cafe (completed with chequered vinyl tablecloth) - the type of British Culture celebrating image that would become a common site, most notably the pictures of Blur at the Dog Racing on the inner cover of 'Parklife' 

For me, it’s up there with Britpop touchstones 'Parklife', 'Definitely Maybe' and 'Stanley Road'.
And off the back of 'Stanley Road', Paul Weller was anointed The Modfather Of Britpop.
I'm not suggesting that Nick Heyward is the equal of Paul Weller, but they are certainly contemporary.

And who knows?  With a little more luck and recognition, he could be making guest appearances on albums and/or playing larger venues.  Instead, Nick remains on the 80s nostalgia circuit.

Maybe, just maybe, Nick fired too soon.

Quality is high across the album's 12 tracks - there is a danger that it can be seen as front-loaded with "He Doesn't Love You Like I Do", "Caravan", and "Kite" filling 3 of the 4 opening solts.
But no, there is more than enough of equal calibre filling the space.

The pick of the bunch for me is "kite" - it's rich, jangling, undertated and plain glorious.  This song says as much to me about the summer of 1994 as Parklife and Live Forever.

Also vying for attention of the yearning "How Do You Live Without Sunshine", the jumping (almost echoes of Haircut 100 past) "January Man", and closing track - the almost epic and yearning (again) "Everytime"

Life's like that, delicious with clause.

You never get the truth, just promises galore.

Don’t let them shoot your kite down