Tuesday, 13 November 2018

No Surpises

Radiohead - one of those bands that I own albums by, but rarely feel the desire to listen regularly.
Many, many people hold Radiohead in high esteem for their experimentation, their pushing boundaries, their "difference".
Me?  I probably don't properly get it.
Their first album 'Pablo Honey' is probably best described as a straight indie-rock album with no great surprises.  The album contains a potential millstone in the shape of "Creep" (a song containing a passing reference to The Hollies "The Air That I Breathe"- no doubt their best know song, and certainly most covered.  It was even used as a playout singalong on a brief Channel 4 Game Show Last Chance Lottery featuring Patrick Kielty.

And it may be this (threatened) anonymity that spurred them onto greater heights
Second album 'The Bends' is a complete step on/step up from 'Pablo Honey' - on first listen , it's easy to dismiss as a bit pretentious, a bit "look at us and how clever we are", but it just gets under the skin to the point where it becomes an unputdownable artefact - an antidote to Britpop homogony.
And this is then taken further with the insular moodiness not seen since The Smiths, proggy madness, of 'OK Computer'.
I have no doubt that The Bends and OK Computer are 2 of the greatest albums of the last 20 years (has it been that long?)
'Kid A' arrived at the turn of the millennium, an I (like many others) listened expectantly, then confusingly, then scratched my head - it sounded like they had too much studio time, too many ideas, and not enough editorial control.
My "buy as soon as possible" relationship with Radiohead ended, and eve now I can only profess to hearing "bits" of  later releases - I'm told by "those in the know" that I am missing a treat.  I somehow feel I should explore further, but never really felt the desire.

So there you go ... 'Pablo Honey' is an OK album, but it is the next 2 that assures Radiohead legacy (in my head at least).
For me, 'The Bends' takes it on points (but only just) over 'OK Computer'.
But if forced to pick just one track, it would be ...

"No Surprises"
A delicate, almost childlike, melody bolted to a downbeat lyric smacking of despair and frustration.  The juxtaposition is almost unsettling.  And when framed with the video, "No Surprises" becomes one of the most claustrophobic songs you'll ever hear.
It never resolves, and don't go looking for salvation in the next track on the album, because "Lucky" is almost as despairing.
But, it is just incessant and will burrow it's way into your head.  It manages that trick, as performed by The Smiths ("Girlfriend In A Coma" being a prime example) and others, of making a downbeat song a cheerful earworm.

"No Surprises" - if you want to get all analytical about the lyric - is a cry for help, a cry to leave the mundane behind, the sufferance, the repetition, and just exist in a state of perpetual relaxation and simplicity - with "no alarms and no surprises".
And who wouldn't want that?

At it's root, it comes from the same point as Queen's "I Want To Break Free"
I wonder if Radiohead are considering a version of that track for the inevitable Covers album that will no doubt be along at some point in every career?

Saturday, 27 October 2018

Thin Lizzy

This may sound a terrible thing to say about a band as revered as Thin Lizzy, but ownership of their material can probably be condensed to a Greatest Hits, a Live album and just one of their studio albums.

There is no doubt, despite the hoo-hah of whether it is "Live" or the product of studio overdubs, that 'Live and Dangerous' is just about the definitive Live rock album ever released (The Who: Live At Leeds, Iron Maiden: Live After Death and Motorhead: No Sleep Til Hammersmith run it close).
But of their 12 studio albums, only 'Jailbreak' is the complete article
Whether it was the "flat" production, songs not being quite "there", or maybe it was the time taken to record which lost their spontaneity.  Whatever it was, all the albums have their moments (and very fine moments indeed), but only 'Jailbreak' sustains it over 40 minutes.

Formed in the last moments of 1969, and consisting of Eric Bell approached Phil Lynott and Brian Downey.
Within 6 months, their first single was in the shops - it sold next to nothing, and the band returned to Ireland for a re-think.
Constant gigging and support in the UK from Kid Jensen and John Peel led to a 3 album offer, and they wasted no time relocating to London and recording their first album.
There is a certain Celtic-Folk twang to the first three albums ('Thin Lizzy', 'Shades of a Blue Orphanage', Vagabonds of the Western World').  The nascent Lizzy hallmarks are there - Phil Lynott's narration, a bit of romanticism, and a solid rock backing that is on the verge of exploding - but these albums are not that earth-shattering to be honest.
Except perhaps the echoes of the future in the shape of "The Rocker".

Their commercial breakthrough came at the end of their Decca contract when the single "Whiskey In The Jar" nestled in the Top 10.

This success led another record company to offer them a deal and they delivered 'Nightlife' soon after.
Thin Lizzy were a settled, solid unit - Phil Lynott was the archetypal rock & roller - all leather pants, posturing and heavy drinking (plus some "other substances").  Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson were the very textbook definition of a twin-lead guitar attack, and Brian Downey sat at the back holding it all together.  But still album success eluded them.

After the soulful, acoustic-y 'Nightlife', 'Fighting' was there next attempt to place their live show on record.  This was their fifth attempt, and whilst the twin guitar attack is full-on and everything is rocking nicely, this one still falls just short.  It did however translate into their first big seller.

And then came their moment - their signature song "The Boys Are Back In Town" was released as a single, flew into the Top 10, hung around a bit, and fuelled sales of the parent album.
After 6 years, a couple of personnel changes and two record labels, all was coming good.
There is a certain strength, immediacy and energy from note 1 to the run out groove on side 2.
Highlights include the aforementioned "Boys ...", the titular "Jailbreak", "Warriors", "Cowboy Song"and "Emerald".
Across 14 tracks, you can barely get a fag paper in any crack in the bands playing, and the soulful drool of Lynott's vocal just makes it sound "a bit different" from other straight 70s Rock albums.

'Johnny The Fox' arrived at the back end of the same year.  It may have perhaps benefited from a bit more time and fettling.
The simple thing to do would've been to create 'Jailbreak Part 2' but Lynott was stretching and the band were playing along.  There were some relationship issues coming to the fore - namely Phil Lynott and Brian Robertson, which culminated in Robbo being "suspended" when a hand injury put in jeopardy the imminent US tour (step forward super-sub Gary Moore, who had filled in as a touring guitarist back in 1974).
Brian Robertson returned (albeit briefly) for the recording of 'Bad Reputation' and stayed on board for the tour in support of it, and for the selection of recordings (and possibly overdubbing if history/myth/legend is to be believed) that formed the 'Live And Dangerous' album.
The album is one of the foremost Live documents in Rock, and showcases the "classic line-up" in their natural environment.

But ... one month later, Brian Robertson was gone for good.  Gary Moore stepped in (again) as the full time replacement.
Thin Lizzy's attitude, and Lynott's gregariousness, allowed the band to be (generally) accepted by the Punk, and Phil Lynott marked this with a collaboration with drinking buddies Steve Jones and Paul Cook to form the live only Greedy Bastards (not that they stayed live only, releasing a cash in Christmas single "We Wish You A Merry Jingle" at the end of 1978).

With Gary Moore in the camp, work began on the next album - 'Black Rose: A Rock Legend'.
Relationships inside the band appeared to be running far smoother since Robertson's departure and it shows in the quality of the songs and the energy of the album.  Including "Do Anything You Want To", "Waiting For An Alibi" and the 7 minute title track "Róisín Dubh (Black Rose): A Rock Legend" - this batch of songs is almost as strong as 'Jailbreak'
If you feel you need another Lizzy album in your collection, this is the one to go for.

And as often happens in the Lizzy camp, as there star begun to rise, it fell again just as quickly with Gary Moore leaving mid-tour - Midge Ure was parachuted in to complete the US dates (apparently he learnt the set list on the plane over to the US).

1980 started with the completion of recording for Phil Lynott's solo album, the selection of Snowy White as replacement guitarist and the commencement of recording for 'Chinatown'.
And the cracks are beginning to show on this album - whether it was the distraction of a solo career, tiredness from years of incessant touring, the new guitarist not yet gelling with the band - whatever it was, the album feels a bit forced and a bit "contractual obligation".  The singles lifted from the album ("Chinatown" and "Killer On The Loose") are it's undoubted high points.
This feeling continues with 1981s 'Renegade', if anything the incompatibility of Snowy White and Thin Lizzy is compounded - only  "Hollywood (Down on Your Luck)" passes muster (to these ears).

The last throw of the dice came in 1983 with final album  'Thunder And Lightning'.  The album is patchy at best and you get the feeling the "thrill" had gone.
The first song written for the band by new guitarist John Sykes (ex Tygers Of Pan Tang) was the single "Cold Sweat" - this song would also provide Thin Lizzy with their last TV appearance, and the tour in support of the album was to be their last.  The band split (although no-one believed for good) at the end of 1983.

Boys Are Back In Town
Everyone knows it, but I don't think you can ever tire of it

"Tonight there gonna be a Jailbreak.  Somewhere in this town" - check the Jail house, its bound to be there

Rosalie / Cowboy Song
Another of their signature songs (albeit a cover of a Bob Seger track), mixing seamlessly with another top track from Jailbreak - from Lie And Dangerous

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

The Kinks - Village Green Preservation Society

Will be celebrating it's 50th Anniversary very soon.
And there's the great irony (if that is the correct term?) - it will be 50 years old, and still sounds relevant because it was dealing with a nostalgic view of some 50 years in it's own past.

Nostalgia - never gets old

I think the two prime lessons learned from this albums original release were:
  • Making an album which goes against current trends (in this case psychedelia, experimentation, a bit of mysticism perhaps) may not always be a commercial success 
  • If you are going to release something you've laboured over for 12 months or more, try not to do it on the same day The Beatles are releasing their new album'.
    And if you do delay it a week or so, then you'll be up against the new Rolling Stones offering - so its lose-lose really
Village Green Preservation Society was ostensibly a Concept Album - although it contained no story/narrative.
It was a collection of songs based around memories, reveries and an evocations of the past, that (possibly) never actually existed.
The collection of songs is, very probably, the strongest set in Ray Davies's monumental catalogue (which when you consider the cannon contains "Waterloo Sunset", "Lola" and "Shangri-La", that is no faint praise).
And not forgetting that this set was so strong, they could afford to leave preceding single "Days" off of it.

Originally delivered as a 12 track album, Ray Davies was given more time to complete his thoughts and a 15 track version was eventually sanctioned and delivered (Ray was originally looking for a 20+ track double album.  Who releases a double album one month before Christmas in 1968?)

The album contains it's share of character songs ("Johnny Thunder", "Monica", "Wicked Annabella"), memories and loss "Do You Remember Walter", "Picture Book", "People Take Picture Of Each Other", "Village Green".
"All My Friends Were There" recounts a true story of embarrassment on stage, set to a music-hall type backing.
And never scared of a bit of plagiarism, the riff to Howlin' Wolf's "Smokestack Lightnin'" is lifted to provide the backing for "The Last Of The Steam Powered Trains" - a song that can be read as a withering acceptance of being out of time and out of step with the moment, or just a mourning of the loss of the Steam Railways.
And then the album is topped off (or more correctly opened) by a celebration of quintessentially English "things", and an attempt to lever in as many alternative terms for groups as possible.

Upon release, it sold next to nothing and laboured to less than 100,000 worldwide sales over the next 20 years.
And then Ray's magnum opus was re-discovered (along with a critical re-appraisal of all things Kinky).  It was making regular appearances in those "You Have To Listen To This ..." lists, and it's author was recognised as one of the great English songwriters.
Despite it's commercial shortcomings, what it did do was open a sustained fit of endeavor, soon followed by 'Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)', 'Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One' and the often overlooked, but mighty fine, 'Muswell Hillbillies'.

Later Kinks albums (post 1971) are a hit and miss affair.  The early Kinks albums were focused on hit making, money making sounds - they have their moments, but you never feel the writer or the band is being stretched.
The period between 1968 and 1971 may not have garnered sales and public recognition, but ranks alongside the best work of anyones catalogue.

Village Green Preservation Society

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Paul Anka - Rock Swings

In my continuing quest to do something original with this blog thing, I now find myself nicking another idea for a post by visiting a Charity Shop and spending 50p on something, and then reporting back the "wonderfulness" of my purchase.

Paul Anka - singer, actor, composer.  He wrote the English lyrics for "My Way", wrote a song for Princess Di before Princess Di even existed, co-wrote a song with Michael Jackson, and was never covered by The Rolling Stones (none of his songs were covered by Generation X either - so that last statement is a bit irrelevant)

Released in 2004, the basic idea of taking contemporary songs and giving them a big band, swinging, easy listening make-over was nothing new - Pat Boone had done something similar in 1997, and The Mike Flowers Pops had brief success with an Easy Listening version of Oasis "Wonderwall" in late 1995.  They also managed to release an album, including re-imaginings of Prince's "1999", The Doors "Light My Fire" and a Velvet Underground Medley.
The idea of the album was perhaps pushing the flimsy idea a bit - there's a certain tongue-in-cheek subversion about it all, but it's interest is fleeting.
Robbie Williams then went all out in the belief that he was the re-incarnation of Frank Sinatra with his 2001 album "Swing When You're Winning".
All this activity led to a mini-revival (of sorts) of a kind of soft, easy listening, swinging, lounge music.
No matter how flimsy or previously used an idea is, it's all about the execution.
And with this one, it sounds like an honest attempt to properly re-set these songs in Mr Anka's universe, without irony or tongue-in-cheek re-position of an old-time crooner for a new generation.

With echoes of Mike Flowers, Paul Anka tackles "Wonderwall" - and if I'm honest, doesn't come up with a winner.  It's all a bit strained, familiar and schmaltz-y.
But other re-arrangements work much better, and there is the surprise of some of the song choices given a big band makeover.
A great deal of the angst is lost from songs such as "Smells Like Teen Spirit" or "Black Hole Sun", but the songs still work in their new setting. "Jump" and "It's A Sin" bounce along nicely (and harmlessly).

Surely proof that in the right hands, a good song is a good song in whatever genre it's cast into.

Black Hole Sun

The Lovecats

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Record Collection Random Choice (RCRC) - The Compilations - Sound Of The Suburbs / Sound Of The City

Two compilations from the same stable released within a year of each other, and went some way (at least in my little world of acquaintance) to sparking some interest in punky/new wave stuff that had been long, long, forgotten about (all of about 10 or 12 years, which when you're only 20 represents 50% of your life - this stuff was old).
So as they are form the same gene pool, they are considered, in my head at least, as a double album, and for the purpose of this musing I am maintaining that belief.

From 1991, 'Sound Of The Suburbs' is basically a "starter kit" for late 70s/early 80s post-punk and new wave.
I recall it's release being salivated over in the pages of Select Magazine, who also bigged up the release of 'Singles from The Specials around the same time.
Re-discovery of a period not so long past was in the air - a couple of years later Select were the one's who first mentioned Britpop - could these compilations be the catalyst that started a movement? (probably not).

'Sound Of The Suburbs' picks the prime tracks of the period, and every one is a winner.  And like all the best, heavily listened to compilations, one track MUST follow another.  Once the sequence is in your mind (and ears), if the playout of Only Ones "Another Girl Another Planet" is not immediately followed by the drum crack and guitar intro of Undertones "Teenage Kicks" then there is something going wrong inside my brain.

'Sound Of The City' gives the bigger names a second outing (proving they are not One Hit Wonders), adds a nod to the US with The Ramones, Blondie and The Pretenders (OK, they're only 25% American) and gives a spotlight to some of the lesser known names (less obvious choices?) of the era, like The Ruts, Spizz Energi and The Jags (who were an actual One Hit Wonder).

So what do you get?
Well, rather than pick out highlights (which is too damn difficult, because they are all highlights), the track listings are:

Sound Of The Suburbs
  1. Jam - The Eton Rifles
  2. Adam & The Ants - Antmusic
  3. Buzzcocks - Ever Fallen in Love
  4. Only Ones - Another Girl Another Planet
  5. Undertones - Teenage Kicks
  6. Martha & The Muffins - Echo Beach
  7. Altered Images - Happy Birthday
  8. Elvis Costello & The Attractions - Oliver's Army
  9. Tom Robinson Band - 2-4-6-8 Motorway
  10. Ian Dury & The Blockheads - Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick
  11. Blondie - Call Me
  12. Teardrop Explodes - Reward
  13. Boomtown Rats - I Don't Like Mondays
  14. Psychedelic Furs - Pretty in Pink
  15. Stranglers - No More Heroes
  16. Vapors - Turning Japanese
  17. Eddie & The Hot Rods - Do Anything You Wanna Do
  18. The Members - The Sound of the Suburbs

Sound Of The City
  1. Boomtown Rats - She's So Modern
  2. Ramones - Sheena Is a Punk Rocker
  3. Blondie - Denis
  4. The Ruts - Staring at the Rude Boys
  5. The Buzzcocks - Promises
  6. The Damned - Love Song
  7. The Jags - Back of My Hand
  8. Spizz Energi - Where's Captain Kirk
  9. The Jam - Down in the Tube Station at Midnight
  10. The Stranglers - Hanging Around
  11. Sham 69 - If the Kids Are United
  12. Ian Dury and The Blockheads - Reasons to Be Cheerful (Part Three)
  13. The Pretenders - Brass in Pocket
  14. Elvis Costello & The Attractions - (I Don't Want to Go To) Chelsea
  15. Adam and the Ants - Dog Eat Dog
  16. Generation X - Dancing With Myself
  17. Stiff Little Fingers - At the Edge

More compilations of this type would follow, invariably titled Teenage Kicks (I have 5 different compilations with that title) or No More Heroes or Alternative 80s or Punk & New Wave Classics, and would contain much of the same tracks.
This is the original, and the one responsible for re-igniting populist interest in this period/genre of music (and allowing record companies to trawl and re-package their archives)
It may not be to everyone's taste (especially with the word "Punk" in the title), but theses sets contains some absolutely sublime pop records of the period, and some surprisingly popular "Big Hits"
(Surprising?  Sham69 - a possibly niche concern, and certainly now a "cartoon" of their former selves manged 4 Top 10 singles in this period)

The Members - Sound Of The Suburbs (the track that gives it's name to the original compilation)

Buzzcocks - Ever Fallen In Love (probably one of the finest Punk/New Wave/Pop Singles ... ever)

Blondie - Denis (a nod to the US, and one their very best)

The Jags - Back Of My Hand (one hit wonders (with a soupçon of Elvis Costello-ism going on))

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