Thursday, 28 July 2022

Guns n Roses - Appetite For Destruction

is 35 years old.

It's also an album I actively avoided for the first 15 years of it's life, telling anyone who would listen it was derivative, ramshackle, with painful squawky vocals, playing to the lowest common denominator rawk etc
I also saw them live at Monsters Of Rock Donnington 1988 - they were good, but not impressive (or maybe my own prejudices and a hangover clouded objective judgement)

But ... I admit I was wrong, and biased, and basically a bit daft
(still got a slight issue with Axl Rose's vocal though)

The rise of the band is also quite impressive - forming in 1984, settling on the "classic" line-up (ie the one that recorded 'Appetite For Destruction') by mid-85, signing a $75,000 deal with Geffen in early 1986, releasing their first single in late 1986, and then unleashing the monster in mid-1987, which would go on to sell in excess of 30,000,000.

So what was all the fuss about?

When I first heard the debut EP - 'Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide' - I struggled to understand the Kerrang-driven fuss about the band.  2 cover versions plus 2 so-so originals.
It honestly felt like a triumph of substance over style - Aerosmith riffs layed over Hanoi Rocks meets Motley Crue, with Hair Metal aspirations
(yes, I was that reductive about it).

So did my opinions sway when the album was released?  Nah, even the release of "Welcome To The Jungle" - which, be honest, is one heck of an opening track - altered the stance.
The next single - "Sweet Child O' Mine" - caught the public and airwave attention (and no doubt drove further album sales), but still I remained steadfast.
Then came "Paradise City" - in retrospect, an object lesson in how to do stadium rock - and I admit to a little wavering ....

However, I have made my grumpy stand and I must stick to it.

Right the way through 'GnR Lies' in 1988 (basically 'Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide' plus 4 new acoustic recordings), through 1991 when I did actually buy 'Use Your Illusion I' and 'Use Your Illusion II' in one massive Our Price trip
(also purchased: Metallica 'Metallica', Spin Doctors 'Pocket Full of Kryptonite', Pearl Jam 'Ten', Pixies 'Trompe le Monde', Nirvana 'Nevermind' and Primal Scream 'Screamadelica' - I think I was feeling very flush that day)

And still 'Appetite For Destruction' was not on my shelf.
Until one day in the early 2000s when idly browsing HMV and the 4 for £20 section - I'd got 3 in my sweaty mitts and needed a makeweight.  Why did I choose an album I'd ignored for so long - no idea, but I'm glad my prejudices subsided.

Not everything is a winner, but it all hangs together, and it's the sheer energy that wins out.

Opening with a slight guitar riff that builds and you may think "I've heard all these tropes before" - and then wallop - the whole thing kicks in.  Here's your introduction to what follows over the next 40 minutes.

The next few tracks though suffer in comparison to "Jungle" - they're good, they're full of attitude and energy, but just don't have the sheer power promised.

"Paradise City" which follows lifts the album from the doldrums, and could very well be the centerpiece of the whole album.  In fact from this track (which originally closed side 1) what follows - "My Michelle", "Think About You", "Sweet Child o' Mine", "You're Crazy" - is certainly one of the best "5 tracks in the middle of an album" runs out there.

By the end, the band is spent - surely there is no more energy to give (and see below - there wasn't much more career to give either).  And no doubt the listener is in a similar frame of mind.

The sheer power of this debut though made it somewhat difficult to maintain that level - and the band never did.  Amidst drug and drink problems, personal relationships, media attention, shifting line-ups, self-indulgence, they never managed to hit these heights again.

After the double (released as 2 single albums) "Use Your Illusion" came "The Spaghetti Incident?" - an album of covers which sort of bookends (with  'Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide'), and the long promised, talked up, re-recorded, delayed, re-hashed, 15 years late 'Chinese Democracy' - which when it did arrive was frankly not worth the wait.

I'll say it again - I was wrong.  'Appetite For Destruction' is a superb piece of work, and rightly deserving of the plaudits.

Welcome To The Jungle

Sweet Child o' Mine

Paradise City

Monday, 11 July 2022

Michael Head & The Red Elastic Band - Dear Scott

We're now over halfway through 2022, so I think I'm relatively safe in making this prediction: I've just been listening to the Album Of The Year.

Michael Head has been doing the rounds since the early 80s - first as a member of The Pale Fountains, then in Shack.  When Shack folded ("went on hiatus" is the usual phrase), he struck out on his own with Michael Head Introducing The Strands for a single album until Shack re-formed, folded again and he convened the Red Elastic Band.
His past ventures have often been critically acclaimed, but rarely passing over into commercial success.  This may explain why I was unaware of his work until introduced to this album - and now I really believe I need to do some archive digging (The Pale Fountains were pretty good weren't they - how did I miss them?  Not reading the NME in 1985 I suppose)

And so to this one - his tenth under various guises - and the opening two tracks "Kismet" and "Broken Beauty" could well be enough to secure the annual crown on their own, but what follows just reinforces the contention.

The whole album is fully formed, brimming with light and warmth, but also has passing weariness, and a brittle human condition feeling about it.  And Bill Ryder-Jones production just lifts and shines everything - not a trace of mud herein.
Right from the start, the influences are worn on the sleeve - Love very much in evidence, but at times sounding like a bastard son of Love, The Byrds, The Coral, Richard Hawley and Scott Walker.
At this point I should qualify that the Dear Scott of the title is not Walker, but F Scott Fitzgerald. 

Dear Scott refers to novelist, F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose debt-ridden, down-and-out years captured the imagination of Head, specifically a postcard Fitzgerald addressed to himself upon checking in at Hollywood’s infamous Golden Age retreat, The Garden Of Allah Hotel. Head explains: “A decade after being the king of the jazz age, Fitzgerald arrived unfashionable and sober, ready to conquer Hollywood. His agent with a sense of humour booked him into The Garden Of Allah, where writers, movie stars and even Stravinsky sometimes lived. He famously picked up a postcard on checking in and addressed it to himself.”

Right from the start, the influences are worn on the sleeve, but this aint no nostalgia-fest, or repeating the tricks of others.  This is a singular effort, mixing psych, folk, jangle, and singer-songwriter oeuvre.
Much like an obvious touchstone - Love's 'Forever Changes' * - the songs themselves may not be vying for the title of greatest song ever written when standing alone, but in the context of the album become greater than the sum of their parts, and prove Michael Head to be a songwriter of some renown.

* I know, it's the second reference to Love in this text - apologies for the apparent dis-service.  There is so much more going on here


Broken Beauty

Wednesday, 29 June 2022

"I'm Bored. Might As Well Be Listening To Genesis"

I did, and can report that I was not bored - just let down at the end with 'Calling All Stations' which I never actually managed all the way through in one sitting.

15 albums over 28 years, and I've been through them all (well, someone had to)

Charterhouse School pupils Peter Gabriel (Vocals), Tony Banks (Keyboards), Mike Rutherford (Bass), Ant Phillips (Guitar) and Chris Stewart (Drums) formed a band and recorded some initial home moade demos.  These demos found their way to former Charterhouse pupil Jonathan King who signed the band to a management deal, arranged a recording contract, gave the band a name (Genesis) and put them in the studio
(The initial deal on offer was a  10 year management contract and a 5 year recording contract.  This offer was subsequently reduced - primarily due to parental intervention of the 15 to 17 year old band members - to a one year management and recording deal.
Initial recordings took place and the band were looking to expand their songs - Jonathan King (acting as producer) advised against this and to "stick to the 3 minute pop song".
Now named Genesis, and acting on the brief, "The Silent Sun" was delivered as the first single.  A second single "A Winters Tale" met with the same dis-interest as the first, so Jonathan King decided an album was the route to go.
(By this stage though, drummer Chris Stewart had returned to his studies a Charterhouse being replaced by another school friend John Silver)

1969s 'From Genesis to Revelation', at the producers behest, eschewed the elongation, changing time signatures and self-indulgence the band wanted to go into in favour of the 3 minute song.
The album attracted as much success as the preceding singles (ie none) as did their final single before the Decca and King deal ended.  At this point, the band was effectively on hold as the members returned to their studies.  By the end of the year the band reconvened (minus John Silver who was replaced by new drummer John Mayhew), decided to turn professional, starting writing in earnest and actually started playing gigs.and they threw in their lot with Tony Stratton-Smith and Charisma Records - already home to The Nice, Van der Graaf Generator, Rare Bird and Atomic Rooster, so a little more Prog on the roster wasn't going to hurt.

And the first fruits of this relationship was 'Trespass' in 1970.  An album which follows the path of expansion, elongation and experimentation denied previously.  And it's got more than a touch of Genesis's future signature all over it.  "The Knife" is the key track here - one of those long songs (9 minutes) which is full of ideas, interludes, and diversions which doesn't feel 9 minutes long (if anything it could happily be longer).  This is the de facto debut - and very assured it is too.  The band might be getting somewhere, maybe a cultish achievement, but somewhere nonetheless.
What's that?  Oh the drummer and guitarist want to leave.  So after the promise of 'Trespass', it's goodbye to Ant Phillips and John Mayhew, and hello to Steve Hackett and Phil Collins.

The now accepted "classic" line-up kicks of proceedings with 1971s 'Nursery Cryme'.
If I'm being honest, I did start to get a bit bored with this album - there's lots of ideas, lots of parts to the songs, but it just doesn't seem to hang together for me.  "The Musical Box" and "Return Of The Giant Hogweed" are the pick of the tracks, with "Harold The Barrel" showing a humourous side to the band oft forgotten, or indeed never noticed.
There is a true-ism which says a bands 3rd album is often the point that marks the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning.  If we consider 'Nursery Cryme' to be the bands 2nd album (again ignoring 'From Genesis To Revelation') then that truism is upheld with the release of 'Foxtrot' in 1972.

With Steve Hackett and Phil Collins now ensconced in the band, the creativity and performance has gone up a notch.  There now feels more "shape" and cohesion to the band and it's music, and opener "Watcher Of The Skies" exemplifies that.  There's not a duff, or skippable, track here, and the album is crowned by the 23 minute "Supper's Ready" - a 7 movement epic that repeats motifs and bounces from the pastoral to the bombastic, and then resolves itself with the final "As Sure As Eggs Is Eggs".  Epic in it's conception, and epic in it's delivery.  A true masterpiece of the Peter Gabriel era.

'Selling England By The Pound' has a lot to live up to after "Supper's Ready".  It tries - not least with opening track "Dancing with the Moonlit Knight" and "Firth of Fifth".  And let's not forget the inclusion of a surprising hit single (Number 21 counts as a hit doesn't it?) "I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)".
However, despite a brave attempt to equal or top 'Foxtrot' it falls just short (very very nearly, but not quite)

1974s concept album 'The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway' is generally cited as the masterpiece of the Gabriel-era.  But is it?  Well, it's tough going, the story is a tad impenetrable - the songs don't do the intended narrative justice (and even less if split out of context), so Gabriel included the full story in the sleeve notes - but it is delivered with huge confidence and competence.
If you want to try and understand the fancifulness and possible madness of the story, then wikipedia attempts to explain it:
Plot Summary link 
The tour in support of The Lamb opened before the album was released - the intent of the show was a full performance of an unheard work to a bemused audience.

As the tour drew to a close, Peter Gabriel announced his intention to leave.  This decision was a combination of a desire to spend more time with his family and a belief that he'd gone as far as he could with Genesis.
Despite the loss, the remaining members did not want it to end the band - after a short break they reconvened to work on new material.  Phil Collins suggested that they could just be an instrumental band, but the others felt that a new vocalist was definitely needed.  The problem was finding one - many auditions were held, with Phil Collins teaching the auditionee the vocal parts, but no-one was found to be up to the job.  In the end, a reluctant Phil Collins took on the job (supposedly on a temporary basis).

And the first fruits of this reduced line-up with a reluctant singer was 1976s 'Trick Of The Tail' - and for a band who has lost their singer and frontman, you really wouldn't know it.  The songwriting and construction is at the same level as it ever was, the only thing changed is the tone of the voice and, by association, there's a less whimsy going on in the performance.
"Dance On A Volcano" is a statement of intent opener - showing they can pick up from where they left off, and if anything are continuing to push forward.  "Squonk" quickly establishes itself as a classic of the catalogue and closer "Los Endos" is both a jog through styles of the past and establishment of a looser rhythmic style.  Against expectations perhaps, Genesis managed to prove that losing a frontman isn't always the end.

And the four continued the trick, if a bit more laboured/fractious, with 'Wind & Wuthering'.  Still very much proggy Genesis, but mixing a more romantic/yearning styling.  What is noticeable on this album is when Phil Collin's sings in a higher register, there is a passing resemblance to Peter Gabriel - maybe that's why the transition seemed all the more seamless.
Steve Hackett expressed frustration with this one as much of his songwriting and musical idea were sidelined - but conversely his playing on this album is perhaps better than it ever was.
By the end of the tour, feeling constricted by the band and wanting to pursue a solo career, he left the band. 

Now reduced to a three-piece, but with confidence in their abilities - Rutherford, Banks and Collins had effectively constructed the basis of 'Trick Of The Tail' themselves whilst Hackett was recording his first solo album - it was decided that no replacement would be sought.

'...And Then There Were Three...' is the factually correct title of the next album, and another move away from the arty-prog epics that was their stock-in-trade of old.  The extended pieces continued, if lesser than before, and the songs were trimmed and focussed.  It also achieve that rare thing with Genesis producing a song that became a radio hit - "Follow You Follow Me", indeed their first top 10 single.
The adjustment here was not perhaps as smooth as Perter Gabriel's departure, and previously Hackett-filled gaps are noticeable, but a brave attempt to move forward in the face of adversity.

'Duke' and 'Abacab' are cut from similar cloth - now very much operating in the shorter songs smoother, softer, radio friendly world (with some old tricks included for good measure - prime example is the 10 minute "Duke's Travels"/"Duke's End" suite).  Phil Collins solo career, was gathering pace but did not seem to be affecting his commitment to Genesis.  Indeed another big hit for Genesis was "Misunderstanding" the Collins wrote for his first album but felt Genesis would give it more strength.There is some cross-over (why wouldn't there be, it's the same vocalist and drummer).  If anything, the lessons of his solo career had moved Genesis to a more pop-rock direction.  My summary: 'Duke' is a strong consistent package featuring great songs, playing and delivery.  'Abacab' feels a little more insubstantial - it's good, but one feels it could've been better.

So with a couple of hit singles behind them, smooth US stadium-appealing albums in the can, burgeoning solo careers (with varying degrees of success) and a steady drip of back catalogue sales, where next?
Well, turn back towards the prog obviously - and where there was once whimsy, now add a shaft of darkness.  Best exemplified by the maniacal laugh that opens into lead single "Mama" from the simply titled 'Genesis'.  And "Home By The Sea" / "Second Home By The Sea" shows the long songs are still as great as ever.
But having been bitten by the Pop Star bug, and the chance to get on MTV, the lightweight "Illegal Alien" also appears.  Whilst the song does have a point and a comment to make, the lyrical construct and delivering it in a cod-Mexican accent may not have been the smartest idea - at least judged by today's standards anyway.

There was a 3 year gap until 1986s 'Invisible Touch', but in that period they completed a 5 month tour in support of 'Genesis', Phil Collins continued his pop supremacy with a new album and multiple appearances for anyone who asked (including 2 performances at Live Aid either side of the Atlantic), Mike Rutherford convened Mike & The Mechanics, and Tony Banks released some unhailed solo work (including a very nearly hit single (number 75 for 2 weeks) with Fish from Marillion).

'Invisible Touch' is more pop market focussed than previously with 5 hit singles from 10 tracks, but the album also includes perhaps the lat great Genesis long song in the shape of "Domino".
Producer Hugh Padgham had got his feet under the table with the last Genesis album, and his work here is maybe as important to the final product - in terms of shape and presentation to the market - as the band themselves.  Genesis vs Phil Collins solo is oft debated - did he keep his best songs for himself?  was Genesis now Phil's side Project?  and many more questions.  In truth, there is always a division between the 2 worlds (see also Mike & The Mechanics versus Genesis), but this album comes confirms the 2 worlds co-existed, but there are moments when Hugh Padgham's production comes very close to muddying the water.

After a year on tour and respective solo careers (except Tony Banks) occupying more time and energy, you would be forgiven for thinking that was the end.  Indeed, a career spanning documentary was filmed and aired on the BBC.  But the Genesis Bat Signal went back up in early 1991, and they re-convened for another round.
'We Can't Dance' was written in the studio from the ground up.  It was this recording method that kept Phil Collins in the saddle, despite increasing demands and success on his own.
In fact so much material was produced, a double album was issued (well, it was nominally a double but more the fact that in the CD era they could now fill up 70 odd minutes if they really wanted to).
They culled even more singles form this one (6 from 12), but the album also contains 2 long songs in the shape of "Driving The Last Spike" and "Fading Lights" - welcome additions to the catalogue, but falling just short of previous 8 minute + efforts).

And then following the tour, Phil Collins did leave - the pressure of the solo career, solo touring, and personal issues just meant he was unable to focus on Genesis.
And arguably at that point, the band should've probably drawn a line.  But Rutherford and Banks are made of sterner stuff - a new singer (Ray Wilson from Stiltskin) was installed and 'Calling All Stations' written, recorded and released.
The title track isn't that bad a song, but stretching the good will over an entire album just (I think) sullied) the legacy - more an exercise of "keeping the name out there" rather than producing a worthy album
(although, in fairness, it does underline the importance of Tony Banks to the whole sound and focus of Genesis).

From slight, producer misguided, beginnings, to rising Prog Monster, to losing your vocalist and then losing a guitarist (to lose one player is careless, but to lose 2 in short order could be fateful), to reduced numbers, and then a change of sound and fanbase, there is much to like across these 15 albums (OK, apart from the last one perhaps).
So where to start for the novice?
(Novice?  that was me 3 months ago.  Hark at me and "the voice of experience")

  • From the Peter Gabriel years, 'The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway' may have the reputation, but is probably not the best starting point.  A double session of 'Foxtrot' quickly followed by 'Selling England By The Pound' is recommended
  • I'm going to call out 'A Trick Of The Tail' from the transitional years as muchly worthy of investigation
  • For the 3 piece era, the starting point would/should be 1983s 'Genesis', and 'Invisible Touch' is also worth a spin

Supper's Ready

Dancing With The Moonlit Knight

A Trick Of The Tail


Land Of Confusion

Monday, 20 June 2022

Humdrum Express - Forward Defensive

The last Humdrum Express album dropped (as the cool kids say) just before lockdown - this meant that a highly competent collection of songs did not get the live airings and potentially reaching a wider audience it deserved.
Undeterred, the new album arrives some 27 months later, and I can report that normal service has been resumed.  More of the same gentle skewering of modern life, wry observations, exasperation, absurdity, and lyrical one-liners.
But this time, there's a little bit of politics and a cello.

Why 27 months?  Well, there's been a couple of lockdowns you know - and as a result, Ian states:

“Lockdown hit us all in different ways. I didn’t notice it at first but mixing with fewer idiots than usual was hampering my main source of writing inspiration. I eventually took the unusual step of posting a song idea on Twitter.

“The positive response gave me the encouragement needed and 24-hours later, "Denim In The Dugout" was finished. Finally back in the groove, 12 more songs came tumbling out to complete the project.”

The songs herein cover varying subjects including spending Christmas on Bondi Beach with the frontman of The Lemonheads. Peter Shilton on social media, the life of third choice goalkeepers, peculiar collectibles, people who’ve built pubs in their gardens, manscaping, and those who talk loudly at gigs (and are blissfully unaware that there is anything wrong with that).
It's not too much of a leap - and a very possibly simplistic stance - to say Humdrum Express are not far from Half Man Half Biscuit with a Midlands accent.

That little bit of politics mentioned on track 1 -"Brave Boy" - reciting the upset at getting a vaccine sticker rather than an enamel badge.  There can't be too many songs that mix trypanophobia with a political outburst.

"I'm aware the cost of a badge might be seen as a drain on resources, but this jab was an achievement for me.  It wasn't me who spent 37 billion on a failed Track & Trace system and millions more more on deficient PPE"

Mate ... I didn't even get a flipping sticker, but I agree with your assertion.

Now before you think Ian Passey's gone all Billy Bragg militant, this is the only time that the real world enters proceedings.
(Actually, not true - "What A Time To Be Alive" identifies the fact that we may all have to work until we're 85, but doesn't go down the "overthrow the Government" route.  It does off a sarcastic air punch at the end though)

Humdrum normality is restored with "Christmas With Evan Dando" - the unlikely tale of finding yourself in Australia with The Lemonheads frontman, followed by another 11 folk-indie-ska-infused, sometimes spoken word observations of the possibly un-important but actually in need of investigation (maybe even rectification).  At one point he even goes a bit Morrissey on "Manscaping" (or that's what my cloth ears heard anyway)

"The Gig Chatterer" recounts the scourge of musicians and gig goers that - like rats in London - you're never more than 6 feet away from a knobhead talking over the performance.

"One Man's Tat (Is Another Man's Treasure)" is an investigation of the stuff that people collect - to be honest, I collect some odd stuff (examples: books about the London Underground, Viz Comics) but that list there is primarily tat (in my humble opinion).  Although I do enjoy the line about having a collection of yellow, green and brown snooker balls - bought as a baulk buy (well, it made me laugh).

And another thing ... Football Managers are wearing Jeans!
Now whilst some of the names may change (such is the fickle world of Football Management) the exasperation at those who used to wear a suit or training gear have now gone all casual is evident.

Neil Warnock's flares flap in the breeze,

Steve Bruce cuts a dash in dungarees

No foul committed the ref says play on

Garry Monk's transferred to spray on

All aboard the Humdrum Express ... and a ruddy good time is guaranteed.

The Gig Chatterer

Denim In The Dugout

More here if your interest has been piqued

And if you want the whole album (and any others):

Tuesday, 31 May 2022

Liam Gallagher - C'mon You Know

His third solo album, and with enough traction to further bury/forget the mis-step underwhelm of Beady Eye, which could've consigned Liam to post-Oasis tryer.  But 2 previous solo albums, and now this one restores the reputation, and continues to push Gallagher The Younger in front of his elder brother.
'C'Mon You Know' may not be breaking new experimental ground, but is just different enough from previous offerings to stand on it's own.

The listening diet here must've included to The Beatles 'Revolver' with a side order of 'Let It Bleed' era Stones-y - there are echoes of both throughout (although I must state not exclusively).  

Sometimes it might be a bit "Liam by numbers" like he's toeing the record company line or career advisor to break the US (and anywhere else).  And a Dave Grohl co-write can't do any harm pulling in new fans from the Foo Fighters fanbase (or indeed the US where very British acts often fall - Slade, Elvis Costello & The Attractions, The Jam, Blur, Oasis)

Album opener "More Power" has a choir intro that is just a bit too close to 'You Can't Always Get What You Want", whilst "Everything's Electric" (co-written with Dave Grohl) has more than a passing nod to "Gimme Shelter".  "Better Days" is the most Revolver-esque with phased drums and backwards guitar, and "Don't Go Halfway" repeats the tricks.

And in the shape of "Too Good For Giving Up" he's found another of those big ballads - in a similar mould to "Champagne Supernova", "Stop Crying Your Heart Out" or "For What It's Worth" that he will no doubt deliver bolt upright, parka clad, straining towards the microphone, and again showcasing "The Voice of Britpop".

Of the 12 tracks here, only the closer "Oh Sweet Children" misses the spot for me - maybe if it was earlier in the album it wouldn't claw so much, but as a closer it just signs the album off with a bit of an anti-climax.

As with previous efforts, it may be "lyrically challenged" ie finding a rhyme for the next line that will fit the last line, but he's got the chops to carry it off, remains musically assured, and no little attitude and commitment in the delivery.

But despite the above comparisons and possible shortcomings (unfairly?), this is the product of Liam Gallagher, his co-writers and performers, and no little attitude and belief in ones self.
Some years ago he declared "Tonight, I'm a Rock n Roll Star", and with this album he's continuing to fulfill that prophecy, even if he's heading a bit more mainstream than perhaps he intended

At times, it can sound a bit too clean and contrived but the overall result is a Good album (I may even venture a Very Good album), , but not perhaps a Great one.
I think the "rules of engagement" for this one are fairly simple: play loud, enjoy, don't go looking for hidden meaning in the lyrics.

Better Days

Everything's Electric

Too Good For Giving Up

Thursday, 19 May 2022

The Rolling Stones Are Still Exiled On Main Street After 50 Years

Release Date: 26 May 1972

Is it their best?  Very probably
Is it my favourite? No
That particular honour falls as a Score Draw between 'Beggars Banquet' and 'Sticky Fingers'
But Exile is closely, and firmly in third spot.
(This sounds like I keep a Top 10 List of Albums by various bands, and update them periodically.  I don't - honest!)

So 50 years on, does this album still hold a lofty place in the pantheon of "Greatest Albums ... Ever", is it really all that, and is the world (or should it?) still listening to the Strolling Bones?
The answers are "Yes", "Yes", and "Yes, well I still am anyway".
And with half a century under it's belt, I'm expecting (if it hasn't started already) a deluge of re-listenings, re-appraisals and hagiographic texts.

'Exile On Main Street' is, to put it very simply, a sprawling double album, birthed in perhaps not the most artistically conducive environment where all band members were rarely in the same room (or sometimes not on the same continent).
There's no thematic vision, concept, or even focus at times - but it's stuffed full of sublime R&B riffage, Rock & Roll, Country, Gospel, Jazz, Swing, and anything else that took their fancy.

The nature of the recording meant that damn near everything that happened was recorded, with whoever was available at the time.  And then when it came time to distill to an album, it was just easier to put it all out.  And 'Exile On Main Street' is I think all the better for that.

Sessions arguably started during the recording of 'Sticky Fingers' - a couple of tracks were held back to prevent Allen Klein getting his mitts on them as he'd manged with "Brown Sugar" and "Wild Horses".  But it was the re-location to South Of France to avoid the taxman, setting up residence in a rented villa - Nellcote - near Nice where the bulk of 'Exile ...' took shape and form (I use the phrase "form" loosely)
Between the partying, the drugging and the constant visitors, most of the basic tracks for the album were laid down by the band in various configurations.
These tracks were taken to Los Angeles where vocals, overdubs, buffing, and general fairy dust added.

"Rocks Off" kicks things off with no little style (and a touch of sleaze), closely followed by "Rip This Joint".  "Shake Your Hips" and "Casino Boogie" keep things shuffling along.  And there's no let up on side 1 closing with "Tumbling Dice".
And Side 2 is no slouch either from the loose, ragged, almost falling apart "Sweet Virginia" to the piano swagger of "Loving Cup".
But ... whether this is double album malaise, Side 3 just feels a bit meandering, despite containing "Happy".  Almost like "where to do we put these extra tracks we've just found.  Oh, bung 'em on side 3".
Side 4 though - "All Down The Line, "Stop Breaking Down", "Shine A Light" and "Soul Survivor" finishes the album on a definite high - and for that is worthy of the plaudits.

As asked at the top: is it their best?  Yes I believe it is.  For all it's sprawliness, what came after in the catalogue has it's moments, but just doesn't feel as cohesive as 'Exile On Main Street'.

Consider the configuration of the band though - Mick Taylor added some special ingredient that was missing before and after.

That run of albums that Mick Taylor is on - 'Sticky Fingers', 'Exile On Main Street', 'Goats Head Soup', 'Its Only Rock & Roll' - is surely peak Stoneage.
What cam after is not without it's moments, sometimes patchy, sometimes very patchy, but not really in the same league as those four pinnacles.  Maybe Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood's guitar style (and lifestyle, and haircut) are just too close to cause tension or musical inspiration.  Both great players, but not fighting each other for riffs, solos and space.

Something, in truth everything, just aligned perfectly in 1971 / 72.  There must've been something in the water at Nellcote (and it wasn't just Keith's stash being flushed away).

Rocks Off

Sweet Virginia

All Down The Line

Wednesday, 11 May 2022

Tin Machine

1987 album 'Never Let Me Down' and Glass Spider Tour that followed left the world feeling unfulfilled, and had a similar effect on David Bowie.  It was all becoming a bit stagnant, a bit trying too hard to be relevant, a bit weighed down by legacy - the phrase "best since Scary Monsters" was a common phrase in reviews.

The premise of Tin Machine was not "David Bowie And ..", it was an equal rights, equal dibs democracy - a concern he could hide away in plain sight and do the music he and his new band mates wanted to do.
As a concept, it's not too far removed from the premise of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders Form Mars.  Unlike Ziggy though, this band was about the collective - Bowie was on the verge of breaking a career, and The Spiders were on wages.
And all I've read about Tin Machine, he did uphold the democracy (to an extent - he was still prime songwriter, but arrangement and realisation was very much a band affair).
Tin Machine's life was always going to be finite - Bowie knew he would re-start his solo career at some point.  Plus there were some other suggested, but not spoken of, personal issues to contend with in the band which meant it probably ended sooner than any of them expected.  And so it was that Tin Machine gave him the renewed confidence and energy.

It certainly re-energised him again and the influence and effect can be heard in 'Black Tie, White Noise'.  It also gave him the freedom to do what the flip he liked, knowing that it was an artisitc exercise rather than a commercial enterprise (although commerciality surely came into it, I don't think he went chasing audiences or sales again).
Indeed, what came after was Bowie off exploring whatever enthused him at that moment (I suppose a harder-line version of the journey from 'Hunky Dory' to 'Scary Monsters', with a few more more jarring turns).

David Bowie approached guitarist Reeves Gabrels to work on ideas and just see what came out - he needed a lift after the tour and in his own words was "a bit lost".  Through Gabrels encouragement the band idea was spawned.  After a couple of initial experiments with line-up, Tony Sales (Bass) and Hunt Sales (Drums) were asked to join - Bowie had previously worked with them on Iggy Pop's 'Lust For Life' so knew they're capabilities.

The recording of the debut album - after an initially shaky start where the main players weerer wary of each others intentions - settled into a highly productive state - sometimes managing a complete recording, tracking, and mixing of a song a day.
Much of the recording was done as live in the studio with few overdubs, and the lyrics were either as written with no embellishment or made up on the spot.
It shows in the mixture of rock, energy, focus, delivery, and yes a little bit of arty-fartiness.  There is a certain influence that can be heard from Pixies and Sonic Youth (2 of Bowie's fave current listening).  It pre-empted, and ran alongside the nascent Grunge time, and I'm sure that the album was on the racks of, and just maybe percolated into the burgeoning songwriting of Kurt Cobain
And to repeat the statement above, what comes out is the product of Tin Machine, not David Bowie And Tin Machine.

Opener "Heaven’s In Here" is one of those ambivalent, confounding tracks where on one listen it's "nah", but at other times it's "just how good is this".  Personally I find it overlong with too many potential false endings, and the discordant playout is not all required.
But on a different day ...

I do wonder if some of the more critical critics got halfway through "Heaven's In Here", and then went no further.
And if that is the case, then they really have missed a treat - “Tin Machine” with it's edge of madness incessant riff comes flying at you.  Rocking out indeed.  There's a good chance that the titular track is the best here.
But that would be a dis-service to the many other contenders: “Prisoner Of Love”, “Crack City”, "Under The God”, “Bus Stop”, “Baby Can Dance”.
And if you can't find anything in those then there are 6 more storming tracks for your delectation - all very worthy, just in my opinion as essential as those listed above.
Add to that is a Tin Machine'd version of John Lennon's “Working Class Hero” - delivered with no less venom than it's originator.  Although with the focus on 4/4 Rock and venting the spleen, I think it loses some of the ground-down, under the surface, anger of the original.

Some say "of course, the second Tin Machine album is the best one".  Poppycock - I think those that say that are just trying be a bit arch and clever, a bit "look at me".
Tin Machine II seems to lack the spark of the debut - it's not without it's moments, but overall the debut is just a stronger document
(although there's not a bad shout to have it as a double album)

Tin Machine

Under The God

Bus Stop