Monday, 2 December 2019

Who's Next versus Sticky Fingers

Both these albums come from 1971 and mark a point where the careers changed direction and these two bands vied for the title of "The Greatest Rock & Roll Band In The World".

For The Rolling Stones, their contract at Decca had ended, as had their management relationship with Allen Klein, and they now had the freedom to organise their own affairs.  They formed their own Rolling Stones Records company, with the intention of owning and controlling their copyrights and recordings.
However, the relationship with Klein was not completely over as he retained control of all their Decca recordings up to 1969 (including the 1970 Live album 'Get Your Yas Yas Out').
The first product of this new label came in April 1971 with the release of the single "Brown Sugar", followed a week later by the 'Sticky Fingers' album.  They took their blues influences, the country influences, and their live experience, mixed it all up and delivered 12 tracks of supreme quality.  The bass and drums are as tight as ever (if not at their tightest), Mick and Keith spar in perfect harmony, and Mick Taylor's soloing is top notch throughout - there is an argument (unresloved) that Taylor deserved a co-writing credit for at least 2 tracks here where his input changed the direction of the original songs ("Sway" and "Moonlight Mile"), and certainly for "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" where his solo constitutes around half the song.
Sadly for Mick Taylor, that co-write credit has never happened.

The Who had come off the back of sustained touring and success of 'Tommy', and recently put out the 'Live At Leeds' album - this had confirmed their position as an incendiary live proposition.
Never one without ambition, Pete Townsend began working on his next concept album - Lifehouse.
Pete was unable to fully convey the story to his bandmates and producers, and very likely got a bit lost in the madness of it all.
'Who's Next' was effectively a "salvage job" by producer Glyn Johns of the Lifehouse songs, but without the concept/narrative arc Pete intended.  And what a salvage job it was - Pete Townsend has explained, re-explained, and sometimes become obseesed by his Lifehouse vision, but would it have been a better album than this one?  It would have to be something special to out-gun 'Who's Next'.

Are these the best albums either band ever released?  Very probably.
I would argue the merits of 'Quadrophenia' over 'Who's Next', but that's my opinion - you're entitled to your own opinion (but you'd be wrong!)
Others may argue that 'Exile On Main Street' eclipses 'Sticky Fingers'.
I often found that, due to it being a double album, 'Exile ..' can outstay it's welcome, and for it's brevity 'Sticky Fingers' is indeed the Stones peak.

'Who's Next' has one track less than 'Sticky Fingers', so to to ensure a fair fight "Pure and Easy" has been added at track 2 (which is where I think it may have sat in the Lifehouse story (or at least, my interpretation of how the Lifehouse story flows))

"Baba O'Riley" vs "Brown Sugar"
Hmm ... this isn't going to be easy.
2 tracks which vie for the title of Greatest Opening Tracks ... ever.
"Baba O'Riley" with it's burbling synth and shared vocal between Rog and Pete is a phenomenal piece of work.
But then, "Brown Sugar" is just about the greatest guitar riff committed to vinyl.
It's close, but "Brown Sugar" takes it by a nose - purely for it's immediacy - "Baba" takes a little while to get going, "Brown Sugar" is right there in yer face
Who 0 Stones 1

"Pure And Easy" vs "Sway"
After those openers, "Pure and Easy" sounds a little lightweight, but it has enough about it to question why it never actually made the final cut.
"Sway" is the Stones at their ragged best.  Mick Jagger's (near) slurred delivery carries the song, and there is so much going on behind it.  Not least Mick Taylor's fine solo in the middle.
"Sway" is the victor here
Who 0 Stones 2

"Bargain" vs "Wild Horses"
"Bargain" has just about everything going for it - it is recognisably The Who.  The guitar, bass and drums come together perfectly to compliment Roger's vocal.
But ... "Wild Horses"is just dripping with emotion (achingly beautiful?).
It looks like Mick n Keef n Mick n Bill n Charlie are running away with this.
Who 0 Stones 3

"Love Ain't for Keeping" vs "Can't You Hear Me Knocking"
On first hearing, "Love Aint For Keeping" sounds a bout filler-y/throwaway.  Listen again - it's a a necessary party of the 'Who's Next ' whole.  There is so much going on behind the track.
"Can't You Hear Me Knocking" runs for over 7 minutes and is dominated by Mick Taylor's guitar.  Problem is it never really goes anywhere, or indeed concludes itself.Brilliant though it is, you do find your attention wandering as the guitar and Bobby Key's sax fight it out.
The 'Oo get one back
Who 1 Stones 3

"My Wife" vs "You Gotta Move"
The point for "Love Ain't For Keeping" is aided by it's almost seamless mood and style transition into "My Wife".  Not part of the original Lifehouse concept, but keeping up the tradition of having at least 1 John Entwistle track per album, this one is, without a doubt, the best track he penned for The Who.
In comparison, the Stones go deep into swampy blues territory.  All well and good, but it can't surpass The Ox's masterpiece
Who 2 Stones 3

"The Song Is Over" vs "Bitch"
"The Song Is Over" is a fine song and one that would fair better if Pete's Lifehouse vision could've been fully realised.
But up against "Bitch" ... Sure, it may not be an un-adulterated Stones classic (when did you lat hear it on the radio?), but it has got so much groove (and plenty to spare) and that horn section is damn near perfect.
Who 2 Stones 4

"Getting in Tune" vs "I Got the Blues" 
"I Got The Blues" is another aching Blues workout, nearly pulling the same emotion trick as "Wild Horses" and adopting a similar horn trick to "Bitch", but for me never quite does it.
"Getting In Tune" is a showcase for Roger's vocal, and the power of his voice over the lead guitar, lead bass and lead drums all fighting for attention win this one through.
Who 3 Stones 4

"Going Mobile" vs "Sister Morphine"
"Going Mobile" almost nicks it's introduction from Christie's "Yellow River", but after that (and this might be partly down to Pete's vocal) it all feels a bit flat
"Sister Morphine" was originally a Marianne Faithful track a couple of years before (featuring much the same band) - the Stones version just adds a dollop of sleaze.  This is one intense track.
Who 3 Stones 5

"Behind Blue Eyes" vs "Dead Flowers"
Right, in any normal competition, 'Dead Flowers' would be unassailable.  But this is up against "Behind Blue Eyes".
And there is so much going on - the opening vulnerability, rising to an anger (especially in the second section)"Behind Blue Eyes" finds Roger inhabiting the song character and shows extreme vulnerability and anger in equal measure.  Great track, great playing, great performance ... and another point for The Who
Who 4 Stones 5

"Won't Get Fooled Again" vs "Moonlight Mile"
"Won't Get Fooled Again" meets the criteria of always close on an epic" ... and then some.
"Moonlight Mile" is a fine piece of work, always threatening to explode somewhere and then always reining itself in.  And the strings are a bit tasty too.  But I'm not totally convinced it's an album closer.
I'm tipping my hat to The Who again,
Who 5 Stones 5

It's a draw.  An honourable draw perhaps.
But, that's no good.  You came here to find out which is best.
So how do we do this ... do we roll forward to their next album's ('Exile On Main Street' and 'Quadrophenia')? I've sort of done that above.
Consider the merits of their previous live albums?  Both essential documents of these bands live performances, and of no help whatsoever in declaring supremacy.
Or .. as I'm writing this tosh, do I get the deciding vote?

Both these are probably their best albums, but 'Sticky Fingers' can flag in a couple of places over it's 40-odd minutes.  By comparison, 'Who's Next' is a corker from Soup To Nuts - it starts at the top, and finishes on an even higher plain.  And the stuff in the middle is more than decent.  For it's consistency I have to award the victory to 'Who's Next'

My Wife

Dead Flowers (Live at The Marquee).
A version that leaves you in no doubt just how good a guitar player Mick Taylor is/was

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Blondie versus Ramones

More specifically, 'Parallel Lines' vs 'Road To Ruin'

Both CBGBs alumni, both recorded in New York in early spring/Summer, and both released (within a few days of each other) in September 1978.
For one group it was to be the commercial breakthrough (certainly in the UK), for the other it was to be a consolidation of their (relatively) cult success.

Musically, both of these fall into the "Punk-Pop" bracket - Blondie being heavier on the "Pop", Ramones ploughing the "Punk" furrow

Both have new members in their line-ups for 1978.
Frank Infante, who had been on a hired-hand on Bass duties for "Plastic Letters" is now a full-time member (switching to Rhythm Guitar) and Nigel Harrison joining on Bass.
For the Ramones, Tommy retreated from the drum stool to be full-time producer, and was replaced by Marky (late of Richard Hell & The Voidoids - another band graduating from CBGBs).

'Parallel Lines' is the point where the world changed for Blondie - they managed to hit the top 10 is most regions (including number 1 in the UK) and spawned 3 Top 10 Singles (including 2 number ones"Sunday Girl" and "Heart Of Glass").  The Ramones manged to creep into the Top 40 albums, and only one of the three singles extracted ("Don't Come Close") managed to crawl into the lower reaches of the chart.

If I'm honest, 'Parallel Lines' is the best thing Blondie ever did, and 'Road To Ruin' is not the strongest of Ramones albums - a one-sided contest with an obvious winner?  We shall see ...

There are 12 tracks on each album, so no re-jigging or adding singles, demos, outtakes etc required (all I've done is switch a couple of tracks to line-up the cover versions)

"Hanging on the Telephone" vs "I Just Want to Have Something to Do"
Both great opening tracks - no "easing in", it's "Bang!" and we're off.
The point has to go to Blondie because of the added urgency in their track
Blondie 1 Ramones 0

"One Way or Another" vs "I Wanted Everything"
"One Way Or Another" is massively repetitive, but will stick in your ears for a good while.  Hardly surpirsing that latterly it was used on TV adverts, and boy band cover version.
Ramones may have wanted everything, and it comes roaring out of traps, but this is another point for Blondie
Blondie 2 Ramones 0

"Picture This" vs "Don't Come Close"
The first single to be released from 'Parallel Lines' and nestled into the Top 10 - a sign of things to come.
But this is one the finest songs in the Ramones catalogue, and no matter how sultry Debbie Harry looks in the video, it's one back for the Ramones
Blondie 2 Ramones 1

"Fade Away and Radiate" vs "I Don't Want You"
"Fade Away ..." slows things down.  "I Don't Want You" doesn't - it's not quite as breakneck as other tracks, and does have a massive chorus.  Unfortunately, it never really lifts to another level.
Despite that, on the strength of the (very simple) chorus, it's the equaliser
Blondie 2 Ramones 2

"Pretty Baby" vs  "Bad Brain"
("Bad Brain" is really the penultimate track, but I have re-jigged it here to line up the two cover versions)
"Pretty Baby" is no slouch, but "Bad Brain" is classic Ramones - full on 100MPH and no let-up.
Ramones sneak the lead
Blondie 2 Ramones 3

"I Know But I Don't Know" vs "I'm Against It"
"I Know But I Don't Know" is Frank Infante's first (and only) solo composition for Blondie.  In some ways, it doesn't truly fit on the album.
"I'm Against It" is a list of stuff Joey doesn't like bolted to an archetypal Ramones thrash.  It also includes a common lyrical trope, mixing childlike references, politics and American culture
"I don't like playing ping pong,
I don't like the Viet Cong,
I don't like Burger King,
I don't like anything"
But despite all that, I think (and this is going to sound perverse as I said it doesn't feel like it fits), "I Know ..." takes the point.  It's case is also helped by having a whiff of The Pixies about it - I wonder if Black Francis had a copy of this album?
Blondie 3 Ramones 3

"11:59" vs "I Wanna Be Sedated"
Whilst "11:59" is a really strong (if relatively un-hrealded) Blondie track, "Sedated" is in the top 5 essential Ramones tracks (alongisde "Blitzkrieg Bop", "Sheena Is A Punk Rocker", "Rockaway Beach" and "Something To Believe In").  No question where the point goes this time round
Blondie 3 Ramones 4

"Will Anything Happen?" vs "Go Mental"
"Will Anything Happen" is another Jack Lee song (the writer of "Hanging On The Telephone"), and is almost as pummeling and relentless as a fair few Ramones tracks - prime Power-Pop.
"Go Mental" is an apt title for the musical pallette on offer, but - and it pains me to say this - if your looking for light and shade on the Ramones album you won't find it, and "Go Mental" just doesn't do enough to lift itslef above "standard"
Blondie 4 Ramones 4

"Sunday Girl" vs "Questioningly"
"Sunday Girl" is pure pop, and one track that never seems to fade by over-familiarity.
"Questioningly" is the hoped for light and shade spoken of previously.
But against "Sunday Girl" it's not going to cut it
Blondie 5 Ramones 4

"Heart of Glass" vs "She's the One"
You have to admire the sheer balls to bung a disco track into the middle of a Power-Pop album, and extra points for the "build from the bottom up" technical exercise involved.
"She's The One" is an exceedingly competent track, and one that is even better live, but "Heart Of Glass " takes it, and creates a bit of daylight in the scores.
Blondie 6 Ramones 4

"I'm Gonna Love You Too" vs "Needles and Pins"
And so the battle of the cover versions (in this case Buddy Holly versus The Searchers).
The Blondie cover is faithful to the original, if revved up (and all the better for it).
A cover of a Searchers track may seem an odd choice for the Ramones, but I'm guessing they were probably more conversant with the Jackie De Shannon version.  The arrangement and delivery wins it for the Ramones - they've never sounded so jangly.
Blondie 6 Ramones 5

"Just Go Away" vs "It's a Long Way Back"
The best the Ramones can hope for now is a draw.  Unfortunately "It's A Long Way Back" does not sound like an album closer - it's just a bit laboured.  Proper fodder for the middle of the album, but not the final track.  In truth, it's not a million miles away from a Flamin' Groovies track (the distinctive Joey Ramone vocal has never sounded so close to the Groovies).
"Just Go Away" on the other hand rounds off 'Parallel Lines' in fine style.  And the backing vocals always raise a smile.  It also has a proper ending courtesy of Clem Burke's drum roll.  "It's A Long Way Back" just sort of crawls to and ending and then stops.

Blondie 7 Ramones 5

Closer than I thought ...

In my ears, the toughest match-up (unfortunately for Blondie) on the albums


I Wanna Be Sedated

Monday, 11 November 2019

Never Mind The Bollocks versus The Clash

Take two contemporary albums - both cornerstones of a genre, and both superb slabs of debut albumage, and compare/contrast on a track-by-track basis.
Who wins?

The Clash debut is from April 1977, and was the first 33.3 RPM outing for CBS - the single "White Riot" came a month before, and the "Capital Radio" EP (featuring 4 songs not on the album, or (in truth) 1 song, a brief excerpt of a track and a 2 part interview) appeared at the same time.
The album was modified for release in the US with 4 tracks knocked out and replaced by "Complete Control", "(White Man) in Hammersmith Palais", "Clash City Rockers", "Jail Guitar Doors" and "I Fought The Law" were added - can't improve on perfection?  The US version very nearly does.

'Never Mind The Bollocks' was the long awaited Sex Pistols debut arriving in October 1977.  It contained all 4 singles to date and 8 other prime cuts.
The band themselves were nearing breaking point - Glen Matlock (the bass player) had been sacked to be replaced by Sid Vicious (not the bass player), and there was very little mileage left.  Indeed by January 1978, John Lydon had left and there were only to be 8 more original songs would be added to the catalogue (plus a few more cover versions).

A note on production: The Clash debut was produced by their sound man Mickey Foote, whilst the Pistols secured the services of Chris Thomas (previous work including production for Roxy Music, mixing of Pink Floyd's 'Dark Side Of The Moon' and (un-credited) Production Assistant duties on The Beatles' 'White Album').
Whilst 'The Clash' can sometimes sound sparse, almost amateur-ish, 'Never Mind The Bollocks' is at the other end of the spectrum almost sounding claustrophobic with mutliple guitars layered over each other.

'Never Mind The Bollocks' only has 12 tracks, 'The Clash' has 14 – so with a little bit of re-jigging (ie adding a couple of B-Sides), let battle commence:

"Holidays in the Sun" vs "Janie Jones"
Every album needs a strong opener, and the sound of marching jack boots broken by a near copy of The Jam’s In The City riff fits the bill.  But Janie Jones is one of those damn near perfect “Album 1 Side 1 Track 1” moments.

Sex Pistols 0 The Clash 1

"Bodies" vs "Remote Control"
"Bodies" continues the NMTB onslaught with one of their finest riffs, a mad story and some choice sweary bits.
"Remote Control" is not one of The Clash’s strongest, and an odd choice for a single.  You can see why they were annoyed with CBS (on the plus side, it did give the world “Complete Control”)

Sex Pistols 1 The Clash 1

"No Feelings" vs "I'm So Bored with the USA"
"I'm So Bored with the USA" is a great track but just cannot compete with the riffing and sneering of "No Feelings".  The Pistols take the lead

Sex Pistols 2 The Clash 1

"Liar" vs "White Riot"
A bit of a one sided match-up here – 2 minutes of righteous fury and a seeming call to arms versus one of the weaker Pistols tracks.  "White Riot" probably deserves 2 points here, but it’s the equaliser anyway.

Sex Pistols 2 The Clash 2

"God Save the Queen" vs "Hate and War"
Another uneven match – despite all the familiarity, controversy, hoo-hah etc, "God Save The Queen" is one phenomenal track

Sex Pistols 3 The Clash 2

"Problems" vs "What's My Name"
Both competent, although "What’s My Name" just edges it in my ears.  I’m tempted to award half a point each, but the incessant stating of “Problems” on the play-out just gets on my wick (why can’t they just finish it on a nice piano flourish, or an explosion, or something else?)

Sex Pistols 3 The Clash 3

"Seventeen" vs "Deny"
Nothing on The Clash debut could be classed as “filler”, but "Deny" is (for me) on of the lesser tracks.  "Seventeen" scores the point (and not just because it could be my theme song – I am a lazy sod)

Sex Pistols 4 The Clash 3

"Anarchy in the UK" vs "London's Burning"
The most even match of the contest, and similar sentiments in both - now is the time for a change.
"Anarchy" wins, no "London’s Burning" wins, no "Anarchy", no "London's Burning".  Can’t split them. They’re both as urgent and exasperated as each other.  Half points each.

Sex Pistols 4.5 The Clash 3.5

"Submission" vs "Career Opportunities"
"Submission" always sound a bit laboured, whilst "Career Opportunities" is constantly on the money – urgent, direct, not outstaying it’s welcome.  (And not even the Sandinsta version with Micky Gallagher’s kids singing does not sully it)

Sex Pistols 4.5 The Clash 4.5

"Pretty Vacant" vs "Cheat"
Nip and tuck all the way so far, and a score back for the Pistols again.  Why?  Because this is Pretty Vacant.  OK, this might be a trick of production, but I doubt a slickly produced version of "Cheat"(with Topper’s drums on it) would beat "Pretty Vacant".

Sex Pistols 5.5 The Clash 4.5

"New York" vs "Protex Blue"
"New York" is a veiled attack on Malcolm McLaren, "Protex Blue" is a song about buying rubber johnnies.  For that reason, it wins.

Sex Pistols 5.5 The Clash 5.5

"No Fun" (B-Side of "Pretty Vacant") vs "Police & Thieves"
The cover version moment:
"No Fun" is straight out of the rehearsal room, "Police & Thieves" shows more ambition in it’s choice and execution.

Sex Pistols 5.5 The Clash 6.5

"Satellite" (B-Side of "Holidays in the Sun") vs "48 Hours"
"Satellite" should’ve been on '... Bollocks' (at the expense of "Problems", "Liar" or "New York" in my opinion).  The song is one of the best in the Pistols canon – "48 Hours" just can’t compete

Sex Pistols 6.5 The Clash 6.5

"EMI" vs "Garageland"
Ooo – a decider (and not a contrived one – honest)
"EMI" tells the story of the Sex Pistols time at the titular record label, "Garageland" is an answer to Charles Shaar Murray who said "The Clash are the kind of garage band who should be returned to the garage immediately".
Both songs of overcoming adversity – but only one ends with a raspberry blown in the general direction of their detractors.  And for this childish but amusing finale, "EMI" wins through.

Sex Pistols 7.5 The Clash 6.5

'Never Mind The Bollocks' wins - just!

Friday, 1 November 2019

Richard Dawson - 2020

Wikipedia tells me this is Richard Dawson's 7th album - which means I may need to go to Spotify and do a bit of catching up.
On the other side of this, it means I have no pre-conceived conceptions about this offering - and if the back catalogue is as good as this, then I'll be a happy bunny.

Phew!  This is some special thing - a right old mash up of folk-esque story telling, indie grungeiness, a bit of prog-ish-ness - the introduction to "Black Triangle" could be straight out of the ELP songbook - , all bolted to a sometime Trumpton-ish tune coupled with some seriously hummable melodies.  The voice veers between Northumbrian brogue, measured baritone and pained falsetto (with a couple of Ronnie James Dio-like screechy moments).

The songs themselves are basically sung in a spoken word like narrative - there is no attempt at a poetic turn of phrase or a levering in of a rhyming couplet.  The instrumentation is relatively stripped back and simple, but can (and often does) explode into louder moments.
Dawson is addressing the minutae, and sometimes absurdity, of everyday life - "we're hurrying home from Sheffield, having received a phone call" begins one song ("The Queens Head") - and using the words that best convey the story he is trying to tell, and paints a vivid picture into the bargain
Imagine a meeting between Neil Hannon, Captain Beefheart and Ken Loach - that's a pretty close comparison of the experience.
And like those artists, the more time you invest you suddenly get an "Ah, that's what it's all about" moment
(OK, The Divine Comedy is bit more direct, and Captain Beefheart it might take a little longer)

There are a couple of moments when the songs sound like a descent into madness - notably on "Civil Servant" and "Fulfillment Centre", and considering the drudgery of the song subject it just fits the story.

The song construct, singing narrative, and subject matter just seem to "fit" - and then the detail and/or explanation of the mundane in the lyrics just provides another focus.
There is a certain comfort in some of the lyrical references that makes the stories told seem more real.  And because of that certain familiarity, you almost walk away thinking that Richard Dawson's world is not such a skewed view on the world

Civil Servant


Heart Emoji

Friday, 18 October 2019

We Are The Mods, We Are The Mods (Again)

Did Quadrophenia spark a Mod Revival in 1979, or was it already happening?
Well, it didn't to it any harm did it.

Despite Punk's believed ethos of (seemingly) destroying all that had come before it, it did actually open up and several bands looked backwards for inspiration.  A possibly simplistic statement of Punk Rock is "sped up Chuck Berry riffs", and that's probably not too far from the truth.

As Punk died and splintered into Post-Punk, Goth, Art-Rock, and whatever other titles bestowed by the music press, one band stuck to their original stance.
The Jam, in truth, were never a Punk band - but in a case of "right place, right time" their adrenaline-fuelled stage show, backed up with the Mod look and Union Jacks a-plenty caught the attention.
As 1977 turned into 1978, The Jam upped the Mod quotient - their album 'All Mod Cons' was released in late 1978 - and the beginnings of a new "scene" started to appear.

As with most things musical, the Mod Revival started as a London-centric thing - with the Bridge House in Canning Town and The Wellington in Waterloo being two particular hot-beds.
After the tribalism of Punk, Working Class youth were looking/waiting for the next "thing" - and why not the look back to "Clean Living In Difficult Circumstances" ethos of Mod.
The new bands found support and a home in the music press with Garry Bushell (in Sounds) regularly featuring his new enthusiasms (when not bigging up the Oi scene).
Whatever anyone thinks of Garry Bushell (personally, I think him a bit of a smug pillock), he did seem to have his ear to the ground, and knew a real "Sound From The Street" when he heard one.  He called it a "Renewal" rather than a "Revival".

One of the first records of this burgeoning movement was the Mods Mayday compilation, recorded (unsurprisingly) on May Day 1979 at the Bridge House, Canning Town.  The album featured the bands Squire, Merton Parkas, Small Hours, Beggar, and Secret Affair.

Secret Affair's "Time For Action" (released August 1979) was perhaps the clarion call of the movement - despite Secret Affair (sort of) eschewing the Mod Revival, and setting themselves up as "The Glory Boys" (which was the same sort of thing really, but was a "new" thing rather than a revival).
Secret Affair were not the first to release their wares, but they were one of the earliest to make an impression on the charts, radio and mass media.
And that timing also coincided with the release of Quadrophenia which brought further focus to the Mod look, style, ethos and culture.  And it didn't do it any harm - bands popped up everywhere as record companies (burned by Punk) jumped on another bandwagon.

Secret Affair, The Chords and The Purple Hearts were perhaps the Big 3.
But others made their presence known including The Lambrettas, Back To Zero, Nine Below Zero, The Jolt, The Teenbeats, Small Hours and others - all managing a couple of singles, and maybe an album.  Not always to large scale success, but enough to sate their dreams and ensure a legacy.

But the Mod Revival (or Renewal?) was not to last - by 1982, Paul Weller announced his intention to split The Jam, and the Mod world seemed to split with it.
Early Style Council (notably "Speak Lime A Child" and "A Solid Bond In Your Heart" had echoes of the 1978-82 period), but they were moving to a more soulful area - the Revival bands who combined the 60s RnB and added Punk/New Wave into the mix were no longer in vogue.  Bands like The Truth and Nine Below Zero enjoyed minor success.  A brief (second) revival headed by The Prisoners came and went in the mid-80s, and then Mod-isms became appropriated by Britpop bands, notably with Blur's second album 'Modern Life Is Rubbish' re-claiming Britishness coupled a Mod-look, and the appearance of Phil Daniels "Parklife".  Ocean Colour Scene appeared to take it one stage further, and almost created Mod Revival Revival.

Cherry Red Records know about this sort of stuff, and have released a 4CD Box Set ('Millions Like Us - The Story Of The Mod Revival 1977-1989') pulling together the key bands and tracks of the period.  And a real treat it is too.
But if you haven't got time for 100 tracks, then luxuriate in these 3:

Secret Affair - Time For Action

The Chords - The British Way Of Life

The Purple Heart - Jimmy

Friday, 4 October 2019

Liam Gallagher - Why Me? Why Not?

When a new album bearing the name "Gallagher" arrives, there are usually 4 stock questions:

  1. Does it sound like it always sounds?
  2. Are the lyrics peppered with bad or contrived rhymes?
  3. Is it derivative / a slight knock-off of other peoples work?
  4. Does it break any new ground, or in anyway a departure from the expected?
And the answers, unsurprisingly, are: Yes, Yes, Yes and No

The full title of this album could/should be: 'Why Me? Why Not? What More Did You Expect?'

But this is not a bad thing - it is comfortable, easy to access, and rewards quite quickly.  The only fear is that the "reward" may not last and this will soon be consigned to the "might play again if I stumble across it" pile.

There are many people in this world who perceive Liam Gallagher as "that insufferable knob that used to sing in Oasis".  And, to be honest, his latest advert on Amazon hardly helps his case.
But I maintain he has one of the greatest rock voices of the past few years (well, 25 since the release of Oasis's 'Definitely Maybe').
Just the right combination of sneer, strain, over-diction and emotion - combined together, in my ears, that gives a level of honesty and believability about his performances.  You get the feeling he still can't believe the position he is in, and wants to make each performance, and every syllable, count.
Unfortunately, I think his voice was ill served by his previous sols album (2017s 'As You Were') with only "For What It's Worth" really showcasing his vocal abilities (yes, I think he does have some vocal ability).  The rest of that album seemed to be a sanitised version of what it could've been, and seemed to be attempting to send him towards the edgier end of Radio 2 listening - and why not, Warners obviously wanted a return on their investment.

'Why Me? Why Not?' is his second solo album, and is a step up from the previous 2 Beady albums (which just seemed to be treading water with the odd highlight moment) and the first solo album.
The trademark voice is more apparent, the band sound is fuller and less produced, and the songs feel better written and arranged
(there are moments when (devillishly) you would say they're almost Noel-esque).

The album opens in fine stompng style with the Glam Rock/Slade-esque "Shockwave", and the 70s stomp, udeated obviously for current days, pervadses much of the album's 11 tracks.
He even gets a bit reflective, almost offering an olive branch of acceptance to his older sibling on "One of Us" - the prime "Liam voice" track here, and "Once" continues the reflection. almost to a sign-off of finally putting the rumours of Oasis reunions off the agenda.

So a strong start, and whilst the rest of the album does not perhaps hit these same heights, there is nothing with a whiff of filler, and nothing that is sub-standard.
Liam's Lennon-fixation remains, but on a couple of tracks (perhaps most notably "Alright Now", and also on the psychedelic-y "The Meadow") there's a bit of Paul McCartney melody creeping in, with a touch of a George Harrison guitar soloing to cap it off.
And another influence turned real for this album is The Stone Roses, most noticeable on the bonus track "Invisible Sun" (which surely is a contender for the real album (rather than a bonus) possibly replacing "Halo" (which is probably the weakest track here).

Despite the minor quibble of track choices (and I'm not going to argue with Liam - would you?), this album has enough to want to repeatedly listen.
Job's a good 'un - top stuff our kid!

One Of Us


Wednesday, 25 September 2019

Britannia Music Club

In the mid 80s, Record Companies were trying to squeeze as much out their back catalogues as possible.  This was before the advent of the CD when new technology did that for them.
But before the CD revolution (or "people re-buying the stuff they've already bought"), a few record companies launched their budget or more correctly "mid price" labels.
CBS had their Nice Price stream, Virgin launched Virgin Mid-Price (all with and OVED# catalogue number) and EMI had their Fame label.
Basically, old stuff was re-released on these labels - and punters either re-bought their old worn out albums, or younger fans discovered new music at a bargain price (I was one of the latter - £3.99 for a bona fide classic album?  Yes please).

Each of these labels included a catalogue (of sorts) which was basically just a list (complete with catalogue numbers, potential stockists, and peppered with the odd picture).
A (sort of) revolution in music buying was born - you could now sit at home an read up on what you might be on your next visit to a record shop, rather than just aimlessly mooch in the hope of inspiration (I still preferred the latter method, and could quite happily lose 3 hours in a record shop).

There was also the Mail Order route, with Record Shops advertising their wares in the back of Smash Hits, Kerrang, Record Collector, or any other magazine where they could afford the advertising space.  And into this Mail Order maelstrom, and advertising space in national newspapers strode The Britannia Music Club.

The premis was simple:
      choose x records or tapes (or later CDs), and pay for x-1      (Postage and Packing applies)

Whichever way you look at it, this meant you were getting one recording completely gratis (except the P+P costs ate up most of that saving).
It also meant you were now a club member, and each month you could peruse their magazine and choose, from the comfort of your house, which newly released albums you might want to get.  Again, these would be offered at a cheaper price than the high street (and again, the Postage and Packing costs would negate any saving).
As a club member, you were required to purchase 6 albums at full price in your first year of membership.  After that you could make as many (or as few) purchases as you liked, and if you bought 6 further albums you were entitled to a Free album (Postage and Packing applies).
You also got a (supposedly hand-picked) Monthly Recommendation - basically, the offer of whatever album they had the biggest pile of in the warehouse.
But you have to remember to send the reply card back before the due date or you could end up with an album you don't really want.  OK, you've met part of your obligation by buying a full price album, but equally you could now have a Five Star album on your shelf that you're never going to listen to.

But there were other short-comings to the seemingly Utopian music buying experience.

  • Britannia was partly (or wholly?) owned by PolyGram, meaning they had quite a deep catalogue but only from PolyGram artists - so there was nothing from EMI, Virgin, CBS, or any of the Indie labels.(Universal Music)
  • New releases only hit the magazine about 1 month after they are available elsewhere (plus another 2 weeks before they arrive through your letterbox)
  • Payment was by cheque or Postal Order (they would get really annoyed if you sent cash, or tried to make up the difference in postage stamps)
  • They had a fairly aggressive marketing stance - constantly sending junk mail bulletins about new releases, upcoming films or concerts in the USA (which you had no chance of getting to)
  • Their Customer Service was (at best) woeful (and (at worst) non-existent)
  • It sold itself as a "Club" and stated you had the freedom to leave whenever you wanted.  In truth, it was more difficult to get out of than a High Security Prison.

But they were the Biggest Bugger in the Playground, and could basically do what they liked, because where else were you going to go?  They even ended up sponsoring the Brit Awards for a period (the time when it became a corporate sham with predictable results and winners announced long before the ceremony).  This also gave them the opportunity to send even more junk mail (usually telling you what you already knew because it was already printed in the club magazine)

Britannia were eventually driven out by the Internet - and notably Amazon - where you could browse at home, make a selection, order it and be listening to it without ever having to set foot in a nasty, smelly record shop with borderline rude staff
(I like record shops like that)

The difference was Amazon (and the others like, cd-wow *, even hmv) were much more efficient, had a deeper range of product, decently priced, and did not threaten to "send the boys round" if you forgot to correctly tick the "No Thanks" box

* cd-wow - the cheapest place on the (early) internet for CDs.  Basically, because most of their stock was made up of Japanese and Russian Bootlegs

So the mid-80s record companies budget labels were correct - there is a market for people to sit at home and make their selections.  And Britannia Music Club exploited this.  Convenient (and possibly lazy)? Yes.  But what was missing was the choice and delivery network so you didn't have to wait a fortnight to get your hands on your new purchases.
(And as a recent new member of Amazon Prime, I can vouch for the speed of delivery)

Still can't beat a good morning's mooch around a nasty,smelly record shop - that's my weekend sorted.