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

Sunday, 1 May 2022

Spiritualized - Everything Was Beautiful

1997s 'Ladies & Gentleman ... We Are Floating In Space' was, and always will be Spiritualized's masterwork.
But 2018s 'And Nothing Hurt' came very close to usurping it, and this release maintains that knocking on the door.

There is an argument that 'And Nothing Hurt' could've been a double album with the wealth of material Jason Pierce had at his disposal.  In the end it was a single album, and many of the disregarded demos form the basis of this album - and it shows, there is a nice continuum from the last album, but this is not a collection of tarted up left overs.  Each track is a mini-epic, mini-masterpiece with a range of styles popping in and out - Stones, Stooges, Jazz, Country, Psychedelia, even a passing early solo John Lennon-ish moment (or at least that's what I heard), plus the best song Bobby Gillespie never wrote (and will no doubt be miffed that Jason Pierce beat him to it).  But this album is not about the sounds or the influences, it's about how they're corralled and personalized to create a unique whole that is undoubtedly Spiritualized.  And it also has that trusted (or at least for me anyway) suspense of reality and entry into Spiritualized's world.
The atmospheric building of opener "Always Together With You" draws you in, and you're rooted almost trance like until closer "I'm Coming Home Again" peeps it's last.

7 tracks across 44 minutes - only one dips below 4 minutes (and you want it to be longer), and like all great "long songs" you don't notice the length - "The A Song (Laid In Your Arms)" is 7 minutes magnificently spent, and the closer "I'm Coming Home Again" clocks in at just under 10.

Highlights?  Well, there are 7 of them and it just feels wrong to Spotify cherry pick them and separate them from their siblings.  But it's going to happen, so if I'm pushed I would highlight "Always Together With You", "Crazy" and "The Mainline Song" - but would also implore the listener to explore the other 4 tracks immediately after listening.

The double album idea?  The twin albums take their names from the a line in the Kurt Vonnegut novel Slaughter House Five ("Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt") - or so the ever reliable interweb informs me.
It's also the title of a Moby album from 2018 - now being the same year as Spitualized's 'And Nothing Hurt' may be a reason for choosing the 2 single albums route.
Would it work as a double?
There is enough commonality and theme and feeling to warrant it, but if it was done as a double album in 2018, I think it may suffer from DoubleAlbum-itis (50% Great, 30% Pretty Good, 20% Needs more work).
However, as 2 distinct releases (with each honed a stand alone release) and played back-to-back this has all the makings of a very fine double.
But it's not a double album - what you have in your grubby little mits (or in your ears more correctly) is an album worthy of investigation, repeated listening and (hopefully) high acclaim when dullards like me start assembling lists in 7 months time.

Always Together With You


The Mainline Song

Saturday, 16 April 2022

Wet Leg

 "The most hotly anticipated album of the year" may be an over used cliche, but in the case of Wet Leg after the singles "Chaise Longue", "Wet Dream", "Too Late Now", "Oh No" and "Angelica" it's a cliche that fits.  And now it's here - was it worth the anticipative waiting?

On first listen, the album comes over as a bit insubstantial - nice enough, but nowt to really rave about.  And then listen again and more is revealed.  The intricacy of the instrumentation, to joy and exuberance of the songs, the underlying enjoyment and fun, the way the voices work together, the wit and story in the lyrics (and a bit of near filth and some naughty words).

It's one of those "play and lose yourself in the world for 40 minutes" jobs.

Seamlessly mixing 80s pop, high energy dance, post-punk, dreamy pop, and anything else that happens to fit, this is a collection of songs written and performed for fun - and the enjoyment is there for all to hear.  What comes out is proof that "Chaise Longue" - which continues to dig itself into my head on each hearing and refuse to leave - was not a mere novelty but one piece of the jigsaw.

The aforementioned singles are present and correct, along with 7 more tracks which would be just as capable as single releases.  "Being In Love", "Loving You", "Supermarket", and closer "Too Late Now" being the pick for me at the moment, but the other tracks are not far behind.

One can't help but wonder if it might be a case of too much too soon with this accomplished debut - time will tell.  But for now: "Was it worth the wait?"  Abso-bloomin-lutely.

Being In Love

Wet Dream

Loving You

Thursday, 7 April 2022

Chris Pope & Chords UK / Len Price 3 / Block 33

 A tale of 3 Mod albums:

  • Chris Pope & The Chords UK - Big City Dreams
  • Len Price 3 - Ip Dip Do
  • Block 33 - The Day The World Stood Still

All recently released, all independently/self-funded, and all steaming with energy.

"Mod" may actually be the wrong term, but it's an apposite catch-all for the attitude and sounds spewing forth from the grooves of these 3 albums (or more correctly the collection of 0s and 1s flying from the silvery 5" disc)

Chris Pope & The Chords UK

First up, the old stager of the bunch - Chris Pope was the guitarist and songwriter of The Chords - one of the recognised leading Mod Revival groups of 1979.  In truth, there was more to The Chords songs than merely "Mod" but it was a convenient, relevant tag and alignment.
The Chords fell apart in the early 80s after a clutch of (sadly underperforming chart-wise) singles and a single album 'So Far Away'.  Chris Popes keen songwriting continues, and now with a re-configured Chords UK, he continues to deliver quasi-folk tales from South London with a biting (and sometimes resigned) edge.
This album is the third Chords UK release, and ranks happily alongside previous (plus the 3 solo Chris Pope albums), and contains many songs that are likely to become mainstays of live outings.
"Listen To The Radio", "Last Great Rock Star" and "Hey Kids Come The Revolution" fire open proceedings with a burst of 60s RnB meets Punk meets Power Pop (I'm being constrictive there, the music is a wider church than I'm suggesting).
"Down And Out In New York City" has an autobiographical edge recounting the final days of The Chords, before the reflective and rousing closer "Great Expectations".
"Keep Calm & Carry On" is sage advice, so I'll keep calm and carry on listening to this album.

Len Price 3 - Ip Dip Do

Similarly, the Mod tag may not be 100% true for Len Price 3, but again it just fits.  They blend 60s Garage, The Who, Psychedelia, The Clash, The Ramones, and a short, sharp kick and lush, infectious melodies.
The songs are there for listening to and being entertained by - not for looking deeper for a message.  Some of the titles are worth the entry fee alone - "Chav Squad", "Mr Spongs Miraculous Leap", "Billy The Quid", "Raven At My Window" - and then the songwriting and playing delivers on the top.
Seven albums in and the quality and energy remains at the highest level.  It might all be over in just half an hour which gives enough normal listening time to play it again ... and again, and again.

Block 33 - The Day The World Stood Still

New boys Block 33 are still waiting to play their showpiece debut album launch gig at the 100 Club.  The debut album came out just as the world went into lockdown, meaning the launch gig was delayed to MAy 2021, and then further delayed until after the release of their second album.
Annoying, but now they've got an even bigger set of songs to draw on, and these new ones are every bit as vital as their charged debut.
Take all them lazy references above, and add a bit of Oasis-ish Britpop and a touch of Arctic Monkeys into the mix, and Mod (and Block 33 definitely identify as Mods) is in rude health.
From instrumental opener "Battle Cry" through "Better Tell The Devil", "Away Day, "Broken By Design" and "Changes" the energy and commitment rarely subsides.  And this is tempered by a change of pace in tracks like "The Devils Silhouette" and "Escape Route".  On first hearing, lead single "The Girl In The Yellow Jackie Dress" is ripe for 6Music - I have let Steve Lamacq know on their behalf (but he never replies)

In summary, if there was a festival bill featuring those 3 (ModFest?) alongside From The Jam, Ocean Colour Scene, Secret Affair and The Purple Hearts, then I would be (to misuse a similie) as happy as Jimmy.

Chris Pope & The Chords UK - Keep Calm And Carry On

Len Price 3 - She Came From Out Of The Sun

Block 33 - The Girl In The Yellow Jackie Dress

Sunday, 27 March 2022

Mattiel - Georgia Gothic

This is the third Mattiel album, and the first where Mattiel Brown and Jonah Swiller have directly collaborated face-to-face in building a  collection of 11 songs.  And that collaboration has added more diversity and experimentation into the mix, where before they were perhaps aiming for a template or soundscape or atomosphere.
And it is the diversity of influence and delivery that wins for this record.  At times introspective, the next moment is joyous and bristling with a euphoric pop-ish sheen.

Retro garage sound takes (slight) a back seat in favour of broader styles including Country and Spaghetti Western moments - both of which showcase Mattiel's vocal abilities.
Too simplistic perhaps - there are many influences going on in here, and not always easy to divine.  But combined together it just seems to weave into a very fine whole.

And continuing to be simplistic, it's a bit like Siouxsie Sioux meets Goldrapp with bit of First Aid Kit and Ennio Morricone thrown in for good measure.

"Jeff Golblum" stomps along like a Glam Infused Indie Rocker, "On The Run" drips with Country, and "Lighthouse" is infectious euphoric pop with a massive hook of a chorus - and that's just the first three tracks.
Admittedly not everything works - "Wheels Fall Off" sounds like the wheels might be falling off, and I'm not sure if "Subterranean Shut In Blues" is an update/re-write of (can you guess which Dylan track?) "Subterranean Homesick Blues", or what it's trying to achieve.  Nice enough, but for me (based on 3 listens) not essential.
In spite of that, there are enough varying style highs to warrant repeated listening and repeated enjoyment - pick of the other tracks are the brooding "Blood In The Yolk" and the psychedelicy "You Can Have It All" which most definitely are essential listening.


You Can Have It All

Blood In The Yolk

Tuesday, 15 March 2022

Bryan Ferry - Dylanesque

The first few Bob Dylan songs I heard were probably "Mr Tambourine Man" by The Byrds, "This Wheels On Fire" by Julie Driscoll and Brian Auger, "The Mighty Quinn" by Manfred Mann, "Knocking On Heaven's Door" by Eric Clapton, "All Along The Watchtower" by Jimi Hendrix, and "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall" by Roxy Music.
Thing is, I didn't register these as Bob Dylan songs until a bit later.  I liked the songs, and others I'd hear with the writers name of "Dylan", but never really felt the need to dig in further.
The first Bob Dylan album I bought was 'Greatest Hits' - a CBS Nice Price re-issue of the 1967 album.

The Dylan Door opened and I stepped through.  One of the first purchases was 'Blonde On Blonde' - which may not have been a great place to start as I stepped out of the door again.
Over time though, more Dylan albums have arrived and over time been greatly enjoyed - they seem to worm there way in, rather than give an instant hit.  Still not sure about 'Blondes On Blonde' though.

Much as I like the collected works of Mr Zimmerman, I can't help thinking that the works of Dylan may be more palatable when delivered by other voices.
(although I've never found better versions of "Tangled Up In Blue" or "Shelter From The Storm" than the originals on 'Blood On The Tracks').

Bryan Ferry takes that (personal) truism, and delivers an album of 11 tracks in familiar surroundings, but different enough to go "yup, that's a cracking version".  The histrionics of Roxy Music's "A Hard Rains Gonna Fall" are stripped away, and the track choices are delivered with a certain Ferry-ish Lounge Lizard, Velvet lapels, Dinner Suited chic.

It may not be challenging,and you the listener may think "The Byrds did that better", "nah .. the Jimi Hendrix version is definitive", "I still prefer the Sisters Of Mercy version" (OK, not everyone will agree with that last one).
But what Bryan Ferry does it not try to top previous versions, merely add to the legend (of possibly both himself and Bob Dylan).

In summary:

  • If you like Bob Dylan than you'll probably enjoy the album to hear these songs rendered in a new way.
  • If you only have a passing acquaintance with Bob Dylan, then this album acts as a way in to some of the perhaps lesser known works.
  • If you don't like Bob Dylan, but want some un-challenging background soundtrack for whatever un-challenging activity you are doing, then this album might just fit the bill

The Times They Are A Changing

Knockin On Heavens Door

Positively 4th Street

Hmmm ... I wonder if there a series to be had here - The Covers Album Project

Saturday, 5 March 2022

Yard Act - The Overload

 After a couple of single releases in 2020, and then a couple more in 2021, Yard Act release their debut album.  And there's a lot stuffed into the 37 minutes.

From the start "spiky Post Punk" is a catch-all description - yet does no favours in explaining the breadth of sounds and influence on display.
It's easy to roll out the comparisons - The Fall, Sleaford Mods, even a touch of Parquet Courts due to the melange of styles on offer.  And despite being from Leeds, there's a certain Nigel Blackwell-esque Half Man Half Biscuit tone to the part spoken/part sung (spung?) vocal delivery and lyrical content.
And in a world of reductive comparisons (maybe more in tone and attitude, than sound), I'll also cite another Leeds band who arrived with a seemingly fully formed debut album - The Kaiser Chiefs
But all those (and more) are bound together to become Yard Act.

Whilst there may be a lot going on in some of tracks, it all works and the album is full of confidence, much humour, even a bit of social comment, and a couple of deeply burying ear-worms.

I may only have one new album so far with a 2022 date stamp (this one) so I can confidently say that at this moment it is the Album Of The Year.  In 12 months time though ... I'm sure it will still be up there, if only for containing the perfectly observed rhyming couplet (in response to Brexit):

Are you seriously still trying to kid me, that our culture will be just fine.  When all that's left is knobheads morris dancing to Sham 69?

The Overload


Tall Poppies