Friday, 21 September 2018

Paul Weller - True Meanings

There are certain truisms in life that can never be avoided - Births, Deaths, Taxes, Reading FC failing to win a League game ... and each year will bring forth a new Paul Weller album.

And 'True Meanings' has arrived.
Across his 14 solo albums he has re-appropriated Traffic and jazzy moments, gone pastoral and folky, picked up his guitar again and made some "Modfather Of Britpop" noises, indulged his experimental side, become the "Doyen Of Dad Rock", stripped backed and gone folky again, added a touch of soul, mixed Indie and Krautrock, gone psychedelic and spacey - he really is The Changingman (see what I did there?).

As is his want. 'True Meanings' signals another left turn from previous outings, but also revisits the earlier folky leanings - a simple redux explanation of this album is "A slightly less pastoral 'Wild Wood' with added strings.

Whilst I may have raved about them at the time, 'Saturns Pattern' and 'A Kind Revolution' were good albums, but didn't have enough to make me want to revisit them in the way 'Stanley Road', 'As Is Now' (my personal favourite) or 'Sonik Kicks' continue to provide.

The prime difference here is the appearance of a co-writer in the credits - a rare occurrence with Paul Weller output.
And the co-write has perhaps enhanced the quality control or taken the songs to a different place that Weller may have gone down on his own.
It wouldn't' be a Paul Weller album without appearances from Noel Gallagher and Steve Craddock.  The guest list on this one is expanded with Rod Argent offering Hammond interjections on (opener) "Soul Searchers" and (closer) "White Horses", and appearances from Folk royalty Danny Thompson and Martin Carthy on "Come Along".

The songs themselves are possibly rooted in "standard Weller acoustic" type material, but are lifted by bathing in strings, providing another string to the already full style-catalogue his career has inhabited.  And there is a slight dabble with Eastern-sounding backing on "Books".
There are moments when the song feels like they begin to descend in to Easy Listening/Crooning territory, but are quickly lifted by a key change or a wallop of swelling strings.
All theses moments, and the aforementioned perceived increase in quality control, go a long way to maintain interest from start to finish - yes there are specific tracks that one would want to extract and listen to in isolation, but this is (to my ears) and "Album" to be listened to as the artist intended (sounds a bit high-brow-arty-w*nky, but ...)

I admit in recent years to being probably more pleased with the existence, and concept, of Paul Weller than the actual albums, but this one goes off in another direction and renews interest.
This is definitely one to be pulled off the shelf again in future times.


White Horses

Friday, 14 September 2018

Record Collection Random Choice (RCRC) - The Compilations - Now Thats What I Call Music 5

My original plan to fill up 2018 with 26 fortnightly posts about random choices from the record collection has come to an end.
(26 x 2 = 52.  How did I manage it in around 40 weeks?)

So ... where next?
Let's go and randomly delve into the compilations - there are a lot of them and are organised alphabetically.  I did try be genre (with the alphabet attached) but I could never find anything.
This strictly alphabetical method does, however, throw up some interesting juxtapositions:

Love Songs Album > Love, Honour & Obey Soundtrack > Mary Poppins > Massive Dance 98 *
(* a compilation of have no recollection of buying (or indeed listening to) and must have "acquired" it from somewhere for some purpose (now lost in the mists of time)).

This Year has seen a (sort of) Now Thats What I Call Music "frenzy" with the release of Now100, and the 35th Anniversary of the series.
First released in 1983, the "compilation of chart hits" was not a new thing - KTel and Ronco had been doing very nicely with their offerings - but the Now compilation was just that bit different.
A collaboration between EMI and Virgin.  And as they owned much of the material, licensing difficulties were pushed to the back burner, and the full weight of major label marketing could be employed.
Yes, there was still some licensing that needed to be sorted - CBS/WEA didn't/wouldn't release their big names (Madonna and Bruce Springsteen have never appeared on a Now album, and Michael Jackson's solitary appearance was with an old track that caught the record company by surprise),and ended up putting out their own rival 'The Hits Album' which initially matched the Now albums, but ultimately, as the world moved towards fewer labels until the point there were only 2 or 3 left in charge of everything, the Now series won the race.
The release schedule was (and still is) 3 per year, appearing at Easter, Summer and Christmas.

Now Thats What I Call Music 5 was the Summer of 1985 offering, and was the first one I actually went to a shop and bought (WHSmith, £5.99).

So whats on it ...

There is a sort of rose-tinted view that 80s Pop was a fine, fine thing, but reading through the track-listing here I think it was wheezing a bit in mid-1985.
Yes, "proper" 1980s pop royalty opens the album with Duran Duran "View To A Kill", and the ever ubiquitous Phil Collins is represented by "One More Night", but there are also of few "you had to be there" moments with Jaki Graham ("Round and Round"), The Conway Brothers ("Turn It Up" - me neither?) and Dead Or Alive's follow-up to the massive selling "You Spin Me Round" - represented here by "In Too Deep" which did not do nearly as well.

Elsewhere the 80s Dollar-seeking Simple Minds give us "Don't You Forget About Me" and Paul Young's "Everytime You Go Away" (which, in my humble opinion, is a brilliant pop/soul song, and one of his best).
And the joy of the novelty song is here too in the shape of The Commentators (aka Rory Bremner) where he moves the location from Vietnam to The Oval for his re-write of Paul Hardcastle's "19"
(a bit of a case of Mike Yarwood-meets-The Barron Knights?).

For this rock-bloke, it is Side 4 that wins out (bar a couple of tracks).

U2 - "The Unforgettable Fire"
Style Council - "Walls Come Tumbling Down"
Katrina & The Waves - "Walking On Sunshine"
Gary Moore And Phil Lynott - "Out In The Fields"
The Damned - "The Shadow Of Love"
Howard Jones - "Life In One Day"
Jimmy Nail - "Love Don't Live Here Anymore"

If I could swap the last to tracks out for Marillion - "Kayleigh" and Fine Young Cannibals - "Johnny Come Home", then that would be a side to savour.

"Out In The Fields" would be the last Top 10 appearance for Phil Lynott before his passing in January 1986, so it seems only right that I choose this track as the "illustrative point" of this post.

Out In The Fields

And as a special bonus treat (!)
N-n-n-nineten Not Out

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Record Collection Random Choice (RCRC) - Z: Zodiac Mindwarp & The Love Reaction - Tattooed Beat Messiah

Zodiac Mindwarp's first EP release was titled 'High Priest Of Love' in 1986.
It was basically a bit of punk mixed with recycled AC/DC riffs, with a massive dollop of sleaze added.
Band members listed on record are very likely to be psuedonyms (Kid Chaos?  Trash D Garbage? Flash Bastard?  Evil Bastard?), and the accompanying text on the back cover all feels a bit self-important, pretend poetry - like their playing up to a character, and pushing it as far as they can.  But that aside, the content is brilliant.
It sold f*** all, but Zodiac was not deterred and embarked on the follow-up (no doubt hastened by the success of The Cult's 'Electric' which re-cycled much the same AC/DC riffs).

Trailed by the single "Prime Mover" - opening with an almost gospel/quasi-religious organ herald, and then (attempted?) blood curdling scream (with a touch of Lemmy), the fun commences.
Guitar riff, thumping drums and straight solid bass underpinning a near-Lemmy-ish vocal.
In the first line he declares that he loves both TV and T.Rex.  In fact he loves T.Rex so much, he christens himself The Groover in the chorus.
At the tone is set ... over 12 tracks (13 if you have the CD which includes a brave (but ultimately unsuccessful) attempt at "Born To Be Wild"), there is little variance.
Don't go looking for arch-musicianship - there isn't any.  Don't hunt down lyrical meanings or unexpected turns of phrase, because they're pretty much absent too.
But it is immense "fun" - and calls to be played very loud whilst bouncing around like a loony.
It can't last though - by the middle of Side 2 the album begins to run out of steam and dwindles to the end.
On the plus side, the previously mentioned "Prime Mover" and other big single "Back Seat Education" rank as some of the better sleaze-infused HM/HR songs of the late 80s (if you like that sort of thing)

And then time, cynicism, and actually reading the album cover properly reveals certain back-stories and "truths" (suggestions?)

Zodiac Mindwarp was the creation of sometime artist, sometime editor of Flexi-pop magazine, Mark Manning.  The original line-up of the band included Jimmy Cauty (later of The Orb and KLF) and Kid Chaos (soon to join The Cult and play (part-time) with Guns n Roses).
Their first EP was released on Dave Balfe's Food Label, and leading up to this album the band were signed up to major label Mercury.  Balfe continued as the band's manager, and called up his old sparring partner Bill Drummond to assist production - and knowing Bill Drummond, probably artistic placement, marketing and a touch of agitation into the mix too.

And so to paraphrase Loyd Grossman "the clues are all there":
  • Sometime artist
  • created character and pseudonymous band
  • evasiveness and/or over-confidence in interviews
  • maxed out sleaze content
  • Bill Drummond
  • No long term future career ("get in, get paid, get out")
It was all a big Art Project - and not a bad one at that

Prime Mover

Back Seat Education

Sunday, 2 September 2018

Record Collection Random Choice (RCRC) - Y: Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Live Rust

After the worldwide success of 'Harvest' in 1972, Neil Young's album sales were reducing.  The albums were still getting relatively good sales, but over a longer period of time from release, and not in the numbers that 'Harvest' achieved.
He remained a massive live draw, and equally in demand by peers and former band-mates (Young appeared in The Band's Last Waltz and reformed Crosby, Stills & Nash in 1974).

During his 1978 Tour, a number of shows were recorded.
Performances were then selected and over-dubbed in the studio where necessary and then released under the title 'Rust Never Sleeps' in June 1979.
And then 6 months later, another show (or set of shows - I'm not 100% sure?) was selected and released as 'Live Rust'.

Two live albums within 6 months of each other - taken from similar recordings from the same tour.  Add the fact that Neil Young had only a couple of years earlier released a Greatest Hits/Best Of set ('Decade'), there is the feeling that he was just milking the cash cow in lieu of any new inspiration.

'Live Rust' was intended as the soundtrack accompaniment to the Rust Never Sleeps film that was also doing the rounds (at one point old Neil was informing the record company this album was also to be called 'Rust Never Sleeps').

The earlier album contains 9 tracks, 'Live Rust' was a double-disc set with 16 tracks
Only "Sedan Delivery", "Powderfinger" and "Hey Hey My My" (in both acoustic (Out Of The Blue) and electric (Into The Black) variants) appear on both.

But which is better?
'Rust Never Sleeps' is the shorter and perhaps the easiest to consume, but also was cleaned up and overdubbed in the studio - as a result the audience noise is muted.  'Live Rust' however gives a more "full show" feeling.
'Live Rust' repeats the trick of 'Rust Never Sleeps' by starting in acoustic territory and then going into  full-on incendiary electric land.
And when it comes to the second half, one can only revel in the tightness and power of Crazy Horse.
Personal choice: the presence of "Like A Hurricane" means 'Live Rust' wins.

Hey Hey My My (Out Of The Blue)

Hey Hey My My (Into The Black)

Like A Hurricane

Thursday, 23 August 2018

Record Collection Random Choice (RCRC) - X: X-Ray Spex - Germfree Adolescents

The letters X, Y and Z offer slim pickings, and I make no promises for the discovery and re-appraisal of long forgotten gems.  Indeed, the random-ness of these selections may not appear all that random and you lot will be thinking "ah, he's just chosen something comfy that he knows".
Well, honestly - the randomisation may be minimal but it is still Excel's choice and not mine.

This was the debut (and only) album by one of the early wave of Punk bands (inspired by Sex Pistols, and played The Roxy - credentials for an "original punk band" me suggests?).
X Ray Spex had two stand-out elements that differentiated them from the Punk pack.
  1. Although many other vocalists had a sneer and untrained tone, Poly Styrene could holler with the best of them.  And as a girl in a generally bloke-ish world, her confidence to shout-sing her politics and beliefs no doubt inspired many others to have a go.
  2. They employed a most unlikely instrument for a nascent punk band - a saxophone.  Blown and parped by Lora Logic.  Yes it is a very unlikely punk instrument, but adds a certain depth, tone and uniqueness to the band.  Plus, it can't be that daft an idea, as the model was used a couple of years later for Hazel O'Connors band in Breaking Glass
Their first single ("Oh Bondage Up Yours" - the only recording with Lora Logic, before she left and went back to school) came in late 1977, with this album following a year later.

The album can be read as an onslaught against consumerism, fakery and gender politics (no getting away from that one - Poly is a forceful character, and you just somehow "believe" it is there).
On first listen, it's difficult to get past the punk-thrash, atonal high pitched vocal and seemingly out of place saxophone.
Further listens reveal it to be something of a statement.  And titles such as "The Day The World Turned Dy Glo" do resonate - this album does indeed feel alive, colourful and joyous in delivery, if lyrically it may take a darker or more contemplative tone.
The stand out tracks for this listener are the title track "Germ Free Adolescents" (which has a slower pace than the rest of the album, but is no less engaging), "Identity" (a mainstay of multiple "Best Of Punk" compilations) and the almost 60s Girl Group meets New Wave sounding "I Can't Do Anything".

Their star rose and descended quickly - by early 1979, Poly Styrene was showing signs of mentally exhaustion, wrongly diagnosed with scizophrenia and sectioned.  This spelt the end of the band and they chose not to continue.
Poly later became involved in Hare Krishna movement, and made intermittent public appearances thereafter.
As one of the few women involved at the outset of Punk, she will be remembered as a trailblazer of sorts.
Her "legend" will always be this debut album - she was one of the first female punks, not scared of herself or anyone else, and (fearfully treading into cliché territory) a true original.
Sadly, Marianne Elliot (aka Poly Styrene) passed away in 2011.

Back row: Debbie Harry, Viv Albertine, Siouxsie Sioux
Fron row: Chrissie Hynde, Poly Styrene, Pauline Black

Germ Free Adolescents


I Can't Do Anything

Friday, 10 August 2018

Record Collection Random Choice (RCRC) - W: Wolfsbane - Live Fast, Die Fast

Not too much has come out of Tamworth - Sir Robert Peel and Julian Cope perhaps being the most noteworthy.
But it was home to one of the first British Heavy Metal bands to be signed to Rick Rubin's Def American label.  He was also producer of this - their debut album.

The sub-title of the album should give a bit of a clue to the content:
Wicked Tales of Booze, Birds and Bad Language

The album itself is pretty formulaic - sort of Iron Maiden meets AC/DC with a bit of David Lee Roth thrown in for good measure.  And the Rick Rubin production is not a great one - it all sounds a bit flat, the edges smoothed and never really shines or grabs the listeners attention.
I'd like to say "ah - but this doesn't matter because the songs are top notch".
Unfortunately, I can't say this because the album has a couple of high points and then seems to be fleshed out with filler, guitar trickery (wankery?) and thumping drums.
Give Blaze Bayley credit though - the vocals are really quite good, and one can understand how the man got the job of filling Bruce Dickinson's shoes in Iron Maiden (sadly, despite a couple of good songs, the Maiden albums he was involved with are a bit "treading water").

But back to Wolfsbane ...

The album kicks off with an sonic assault in the shape of "Man Hunt" - maybe not big on the lyrical front, but a late 80s Metal track favoured at parties and alternative nightclubs (I know this because I played it a couple of times to positive reaction).
But following songs barely break away from the template and just all sound a bit predictable.  The two other beast tracks are "All Or Nothing" (not the Small Faces song), and (almost obligatory) Rock/Metal Ballad (think Bad Company meets Dogs D'Amour) in the shape of "Tears From A Fool".

12 tracks - 3 pass muster, and the other 9 are somewhat disposable (to my ears) - I wouldn't necessarily seek this album out again (maybe I've heard it too much in my younger years), but by the same token I wouldn't turn it off if it popped up on random play.

Man Hunt

Tears From A Fool

Friday, 27 July 2018

Record Collection Random Choice (RCRC) - V: Velvet Underground - Velvet Underground & Nico

1967 may be considered as the "birth of Rock".
The album was rapidly becoming the prime method of delivery, with sales beginning to out-strip singles.
And there were one or two landmark albums in that year.
The Beatles 'Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' being the most obvious.  But 1967 was also the year of' The Who Sell Out' (The Who), 'Their Satanic Majesties Request' (The Rolling Stones), 'Smiley Smile' (Beach Boys). 'Are You Experienced' (Jimi Hendrix Experience) and 'Piper At The Gates Of Dawn' (Pink Floyd).  A fair few "classics" in one calendar year, but honourable mentions also go to 'Disraeli Gears' (Cream), 'Forever Changes' (Love), 'Days Of Future Passed' (Moody Blues'), 'Odessey and Oracle' (The Zombies) ...

I could go on, but I think it's fair to say that there were a good few (soon to be) influential albums in that year.
And then there's this one - equally as influential (in some circles, probably even more so), but snuck out quietly to little reception or commercial success.  (Conservative estimates suggest the album sold no more than 50,000 in it's first 2 years of life, and it would be a further 10 years before it cracked the 100,000 mark).

Lou Reed and John Cale had first come together in 1964 sharing a love of experimental music and art.  They were joined by college friend Sterling Morrison, and re-christened their band Velvet Underground.  Drummer Moe Tucker joined soon after.
Lou Reed's song "Venus In Furs" was translated into a short art film, and through this they came to the attention of Andy Warhol.
Warhol invited the band to become part of his touring show/event Exploding Plastic Inevitable, and continued to encourage the band to practice, experiment and record.
Warhol also suggested the band use German singer Nico on some of their tracks.
Under Andy Warhol's guidance (and his expansion to the vocal line-up), the band recorded their debut album a fortnight in late spring 1966 (they returned to the studio towards the end of 1966 to add the finishing touches and record one more track.
Andy Warhol is listed as Producer, but it is suggested that the extent of his "production" was standing in the studio nodding sagely and offering encouragement to the band (he also bank-rolled some of, so a tag of "Executive Producer" probably isn't too far away).

With Warhol involved, and with the artiness of the cover (a single yellow banana on a white background (a peelable banana on early copies)) you would probably expect an avant-garde, pseudo-intellectual, almost impenetrable (only to those "in the know") collection.
Well, track 1 certainly pushes those misconceptions away very quickly.

Opener "Sunday Morning" (and the last track added) is a gentle pop song with psychedelic-folk feeling, not to far removed from the Mamas & Papas (or similar).  And this is where the "oddity" of this album comes in - "Sunday Morning" has been used as the introduction for Michael Ball's Radio 2 show for a good few years now.  A perfectly acceptable, perfectly polite, perfect pop song (OK, with a little touch of paranoia going on in the lyrics).
And then the dirt & darkness begin - "Waiting For My Man" is a two chord, drum thumping garage rocker telling the tale of Lou Reed waiting in an unwelcoming part of town for his drug dealer to arrive.
Nico's first full vocal is next on "Femme Fatale" - cut from a similar cloth as "Sunday Morning" but from a darker place, with a strange mixture of Latin and Germanic tones.
The droning "Venus In Furs" follows, wrongfooting (wrong-earing?) the listener once again.  A trand employed right the way through.
You just never know where you're going to be taken next: There's Garage Rock ("Run, Run, Run", "There She Goes Again", drugs and darkness ("Heroin" - is it a celebration or a warning?), a ballad from Nico ("I'll Be Your Mirror"), Poetry over a squeaking Viola ("Black Angels Death Song") and a frankly disorientating mess which is strangely listenable (closing track "European Son").

There is no "theme" or "trend" to the album as such, it is a culmination of a group of musicians pushing their boundaries in the name of "art" (whatever that means).
What they did do, bu accident rather than design, was to create an album that grew in stature over time (it gets better each time you listen to it, and become familiar with it's discordant-ness), and one that in retrospect you can identify influence on future musical movements (Punk, Goth, Post-Punk, Alternative Rock, Art Rock - all can draw some connecting line back to 'Velvet Underground & Nico', and it's not too much of a jump to suggest David Bowie's "Queen Bitch" owes a debt to this album too.)

There were to be more Velvet Underground albums, and all had their moments.  Just not as many moments, compiled together as well as they managed with this first offering, and never as perfect again.

Sunday Morning


All Tomorrows Parties