Tuesday 24 December 2013

Noises From 2013

It will surprise no-one that at this time of year I'm going to publish a list of those noises which have given the greatest listening pleasure of the last 12 months.
You may agree with the selections, you may disagree.  You may think I'm a cloth-eared noodle for not including Daft Punk or Public Service Broadcasting.
In my defence, I was possibly the only person in the world who remained wholly underwhelmed by the Daft Punk single ("Get Lucky").  And whilst I own the Public Service Broadcasting album, it don't make the Top 10.
So the choice is yours - you can either stop reading now, or take a goosey-gander at the following 10 "platters that mattered!" in 2013.

Now then, do I present the list in a logical sequence, and entirely random sequence (involving links to other pages and bits missing from the narrative), or in reverse order to build up the tension?

1. Steve Mason - Monkey Minds In The Devils Time The Stuff & Nonsense Review...
Heard one track on ThisIsMyJam ("Oh My Lord") which was enough to convince me to invest hard earned cash in the album.  It was one of those albums that was just about perfect on first listen.  And then just got better with each subsequent listen.
S&N Top Track: Oh My Lord

2. Manic Street Preachers - Rewind The Film The Stuff & Nonsense Review...
I always felt slightly let down by The Manics when it came to their albums.  However, their last 3 releases ('Send Away The Tigers', 'Postcards From A Young Man' and this 'un) have, for me, been the most cohesive they've released.
S&N Top Track: This Sullen Welsh Heart

3. Frank Turner - Tape Deck Heart
This is the album which should have exploded Frank Turner across the cosmos.  5 albums in he has now appeared at the Olympic Opening Ceremony, picked up some favourable press in Q and Mojo and received fairly wide airplay on Radio.  This album is raw, honest, toughtful, and in many places good loud fun jumping up and down music - try it, you just might like it.
S&N Top Track: Recovery

4. Steven Wilson - The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories)
5 Tracks, all approaching (or exceeding) the 10 minutes, the bass player from Kajagoogoo and a Chapman Stick.
On the face of it, there is a lot to put people off this album.  Well, they're the fools.  This is an epic work touching all bases of Prog greats (Yes, Rush, Genesis, King Crimson et al), but is in no way simply derivative or repetitive of its fore-bearers.
Sit back in your favourite chair, maybe with a drink or two to hand, and marvel in the sounds created
S&N Top Track: The Raven That Refused To Sing

5. David Bowie - The Next Day
The preceding single "Where Are We Now" was released, in secret, on Bowie's 66th birthday.  Building on that initial shock/intrigue/surprise, the album came out a couple of months later.
No-one knew what to expect really, but I don't think it was a disappointment.  Corking tunes, top lyrics - more than could be hoped from someone who had effectively retired, at least in public consiosness, and released nothing for 10 years.  I remain shocked/intrigued and surprised by the album even now
S&N Top Track: Valentines Day

6. Duckworth Lewis Method - Sticky Wickets
More cricketing shenningans and top tunes from the Divine Comedy/Pugwash collective.
This album is almost as good as the first, covering many more musical styles.  Who knew the sport of cricket could be so interesting.  The album with have you smiling from ear-to-ear, and/or marvelling at some the harmonies and melodies created.  Keep an ear out for the host of "Special Guest Voices", including Matt Berry, Steven Fry, Daniel Radcliffe, David 'Bumble' Lloyd and Henry Blofield (to mention just a few - a whole host of others appear on the album closer "Nudging and Nurdling")
S&N Top Track: Third Man

7. John Grant - Pale Green Ghosts
Thematically similar to previous release "Queen Of Denmark", this album has a more confident feel running through it.  And, be under no illusion, it is not Queen Of Denmark Part 2.  The atmosphere, the balladry, the heartfelt honesty remains, but the music stylings are electronica in intent.  Repeated listening definitley pays dividends.
S&N Top Track: GMF

8. Primal Scream - More Light
Opening with a song called "2013", is a pretty sure way to make sure your bands name is mentioned in the Year End Lists.  This album is a melange of Rock, Soul, Garage Rock, Space Rock, a bit of Funk and a wallop of psychadelia.  It shows the Primal Scream don't need to rely on Stones/Faces revisits to deliver the goods.
S&N Top Track: Its Alright, Its OK

9. Arctic Monkeys - AM
Alex Turner's voice has always annoyed me.  The previous Monkeys albums ........
Theres a nod to Led Zeppelin, Slade, Hip Hop stylings and a more experimental bent than perhaps was expected.
Arctic Monkeys have got the riffs, the lyrics and have chucked out their best album since the debut 'I Don't Want What I Haven't Got'.
S&N Top Track: I Want It All

10. Paul McCartney - New
OK, its Paul McCartney.  He has been there, done it, gone back again, done it some more. And with this album goes back again for some more.  Yes, you can hear his voice cracking in places, but what did you expect from a 71 year old bloke.  To me, it just sounds like he's really trying.  This set is the equal of anything he did in the 80s (and close to his 70s high points too).
S&N Top Track: Early Days

Tuesday 10 December 2013

The Day My World Turned Prog

Prog Rock can be bluntly summed up as:
Rock Music with Orchestral and Classical pretensions.  It will probably be overlong, possibly pompous, and more than likley deal with wizards, elves or the writings of J R R Tolkien.  Other favoured subjects are medieval history or science fiction.  The band will probably entail one (if not all) of the following: a Rickenbaker Bass, Hammond Organ, oversized drum kit that TWO drummers would have difficulty navigating.
The sound will probably be a bit jazz-fusion-y, almost spacey and will incoporate an extreme number of widdly-widdly solos, or elongated musical diversions.
Oh, and lets not forget the inclusion in the bands catalogue of at least one Concept Album.  A related song-cycle/narrative, spread over 4 sides of vinyl.

It's undoubted peak in the UK was the early to mid-70s, with the most famous exponents being  Pink Floyd, Yes, King Crimson, Genesis, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer.
(there are MANY others, but brevity prevents my producing a definitive list)

I have dabbled in the waters of Prog, but to be honest my knowledge of all things Prog is probably best described as "adequate".
Is there such a thing a populist Prog? If there is, then the Prog albums I do own (variable numbers of releases by Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Yes, ELP, Jethro Tull, Genesis & Rush), may well act as a definition.

And then a couple of weeks ago I received an e-mail from Universal Music (not just me, I think loads of people did) informing me of the 10 Prog Albums You MUST Own.
Now I fully accept that this list is basically a list of "someones" favourites, and therefore not definitive.
In actuality, it is probably a list of 10 albums that Universal hold the rights to and are trying to make some cash out of.
Anyway, it piqued my interest, containing artists I'd heard of, but never actually heard.

And it caught me at a time when the CD on permaplay chez-Digit was/is: Steven Wilson's "The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories)"

In a foretaster of a soon to be published bog entry (probably), this album sits comfortably in my Top 5 Albums of 2013.
But the one thing it did do was make me want to go and listen to the Prog albums I do own, particularly Genesis and Rush.

And so with fortuitous timing I received an invitation to discover more Prog stuff.
But I still wasn't sure - Prog is (as stated before) overlong, pompous and at time a tad pretentious.
So I posed the question to similar minded individuals who inhabit The Afterword blog.

The response was varied and a number of stand out recommendations were apparent.  In exchange for money, Amazon have sent me in the past fortnight Peter Hammill's "The Silent Corner and The Empty Stage" and Caravan's "In the Land of Grey and Pink".  Also pending delivery is an album called "Garden Shed" by England.
Released in 1977 to very little response, the music therein touches all 70s Prog Rock bases from Yes, King Crimson and Genesis, with future echoes to later Prog like Marillion (or did Fish and the boys simply look backwards?).  To alleviate the anticipation of the wait, there is a whole album video on YouTube which is taking a bit of a caning at the moment.  Maybe its my in-built musical snobbery taking over, but I really do believe that this is a great album, and deserves a wider audience.
This is not the full album, but the first track on the album ('Midnight Madness'):

And so after my initial question, and the responses/recommendations received, I was contacted by e-mail by one of the residents of the blog offering a "Prog Starter Kit", and a week or so later a jiffy bag landed with a thwack on my doormat.
The bag contained undiscovered/unheard wonders including Matching Mole, Gentle Giant Steve Hillage, Egg and Gong.  That was my weekend sorted.
At the moment, the undoubted pick of the bunch is "The Rotters Club" by Hatfield & The North (a band that is forever confused in my head with Kilburn & The High Roads).  Aside from the 20 minute long 'Mumps', the songs on this album rarely exceed 5 minutes.

'Share It' (Track 1):

So what have I learnt?
1. Prog is not as exacting as the throwaway definition at the introduction
2. Not all Prog is overlong and eternally widdly-widdly
3. Sometimes the helpfulness and generosity of people really does surprise you
4. Don't be fooled by initial impressions of a genre, Try It, You Might Like It
5. When you want to investigate different forms of music, Amazon gets richer and I get poorer (I think I know why)

Final question:
Progs heyday was undoubtedly the 1970s, but by 1975/76 it's popularity was on the wane.
Did Punk kill Prog?
Well, consider the fact that albums by Yes, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd et al continued to sell by the lorry-load, and ELP had that most un-Prog things (ie a hit single) in 1977 and that might give you a clue.
Also, John Lydon has never hidden the fact that he is a massive fan of bands like Magma, Can and Van der Graaf Generator and the Prog like influence apparent in some Public Image Ltd and the case for the defence is looking stronger.

Monday 25 November 2013

Thats Mucked Up The Alphabetical-ness

You've got to have a system.
Marlon Brando, Suzanne Dando - thats how I remember it.
(c) Harry Hill

As has been mentioned in these venerable pages (?) before, the music collection is organised strictly by alphabet, with a sub-filing order of chronology.
And it works wonderfully.  If my eyes alight on the garish pink spine of the Sex Pistols "Never Mind The Bollocks", I know I'm only a few steps away from a Siouxsie and The Banshees album.  Similarly, if I am drawn to the chunky spine of Jeff Buckley's Grace (2 CDs and a DVD, yet its thicker than a double CD case), I know I'm in the correct area to find the Buzzcocks.
Anyway, you get the idea ... everything is in its place, easy to find, and all is well in the world.

But what does one do when an artist or band changes their name mid-career?
When Generation X became abbreviated to Gen X, with a slight bending of the rules, chronology and alphabetic principles can be applied.
When Madness became The Madness, this too was no issue as the rules are that 'The' is dropped to maintain order (except in the case of The The), otherwise the 'T' section would be massive.
The Tyrannosaurus Rex to T.Rex conundrum?  Simple.  The two bands are in effect the same band, so the chronology rule applies.
Joy Division and New Order? Although very similar in both (initial) sound and personnel are two different bands, so are filed under 'J' and 'N' respectively.

And then you got those who just go all out to confuse.  "Original Soundtracks" by Passengers, is effectively a U2 album appearing between "Zooropa" and "Pop".  But, it isn't 'really' a U2 album.  There is a whole different concept going on here, so that one is filed away from the others in the discography
And you can't have this discussion without mentioning the most notorious name changer in pop.  Prince/Squiggle/TAFKAP - fortunately I don't own any CDs bearing any of those names, so that particular headache is non-existent.

For the last year or so, I have been gradually building up the collection of John Wesley Harding releases, and discovered that he would be releasing/has released a new album in September 2013.
And now it's arrived, and he has returned to his given name of Wesley Stace.  So, my question now is do I file the CD under 'S' (as would be correct), or under 'H' with his other releases (or would seem chronologically logical)?
To quote the esteemed philosopher D P Gumby: "My Brain Hurts".
(I might file it under 'W' just to be awkward, but then the equilibrium in the universe may be disturbed, a time hole opened up and the last 25 years of history eradicated.  This means no-one may ever read this diatribe of kack flowing from my fingertips.)

The album itself is somewhat different  to his previous releases.  It is more personal and more mellow than previous releases, sparser in sound and giving a more intimate, close up feel.  And maybe it is "the shock of the new", but I think it's one of his best collections.

From the new album: "When I Knew"

Still don't know where to file it though.
"Is it important?", I hear you ask.
I think you can probably guess what my answer to that question may be.

Thursday 7 November 2013

Come On Brain, Don't Fail Me Now

Most of my music or DVD purchases are through Amazon (other on-line retailers are available), Record Fairs, Car Boot Sales and Charity Shops.  But, there is a certain indefinable "something" about spending a good couple of hours mooching around a shop unit stacked high with vinyl, CDs, books and sundry memorabilia.
And so today I vistied just such an emporium and began, idly flicking through a couple of the racks to see if there was anything new or interesting to be snaffled up.
And then ... complete brain failure.  I had no true idea what I was actually looking for.  My carefully thought out and planned list of "stuff" was no longer in my head.  It appears to have escaped somewhere between leaving the house and standing in the shop.  It's probably been left on the bus, although that is one item of lost luggage it may be difficult to reclaim.

And what's worse is that this is not the first occasion in recent memory that this has happened.
The solution?  Much like a boy scout, a policeman or a train-spotter, I have taken to writing everything down in a notebook, and rarely leave the house without said book or a pen (apart from tying a reef knot or polishing your woggle, this is one of the few "life lessons" that I gained from the Scouts).

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present, as a solution to my ageing and fading brain cells:

The Rigid Digit Book Of Knowledge

A grandiose name for a well thumbed, raggedy edged A7 size Notebook, bought i a supermarket for the princely sum of 59p.
The book now extends into it's third volume, and contains notes, scribblings and thoughts - stuff to do, phone numbers, the measurements of the space where a washing machine goes in the kitchen, a recipe for Steak and Kidney Pudding, and various car insurance or home insurance quotes.  (Note: I'm not that daft and the book does not contain any PINs or Bank Account numbers).
I suppose the next stage is to organise the pages better, so I can at least find what I jotted down in a moment of enlightenment, or desperation to remember.  Some of the stuff has even made it's way onto here.

Maybe it is just a factor of being 30-13 that short term memory is fading, and yet I can still recall the FA Cup Final Scores, and the team line-ups for each match since 1970, the names and order of all 31 Carry On Films, the catalogue numbers for all Iron Maiden singles and albums up to (and including) "Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son", and the words to Carter USM's 'Sherrif Fatman'.  Not useful information, I'll grant you, but there may come a day when this sort of knowledge may prove useful.
But for now, I need the support of my book to help me avoid the "Standing In The Shop Looking Like A Loony" scenario.
Hmm ... My Book - that would make a great title for a song.
Oh, it already has. And here it is:

The Beautiful South - My Book

The Beautiful South were formed by Paul Heaton and Dave Hemingway following the demise of The Housemartins.  The band was always intended to have dual vocalists, but following recording of the debut album Brian Corrigan was added as a full-time third vocalist.  The songs were strightforward, sometimes humour filled (albeit at times in a dark, black comedy style), often barbed and/or cynical commentaries.

If you haven't heard much of the band, seek out a copy of the two compilations "Carry On Up The Charts" and "Solid Bronze".
And if you still have some spare cash, invest in a copy of "Golddiggas, Headnodders and Pholk Songs".  OK, its a Covers album, but don't let that put you off.  The ecelcticness of the choices puuls you in ('Youre The One That I Want', 'Dont Fear The Reaper' and 'Blitzkrieg Bop', all done Beautiful South-stylee).

Thursday 24 October 2013

I Want To Live In Wokingham

The Unitary Authority with the Highest Average Personal Well Being score in England.
(I used to live in Wokingham UA, but was asked to leave because I was a miserable sod)

(Ref: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/wellbeing/measuring-national-well-being/pe..., Table 8)

According to the Survey, the inhabitants of Reading and Slough have the highest average anxiety ratings (which is probably something to do with the fact they live in Reading and Slough).

However, if you live around Stoke-On-Trent or Inner London, then you'll probably be singing this song:

Damned - I Just Can't Be Happy Today

If you're feeling bored and want to read the whole thing, here it is:

Does this Survey offer any mind blowing insights, or new information?
Does any Survey do that?
After all, it's widely accepted that 64.7% of all Statistics are made up.

Another Survey that is worth reading, offering a different view, is Britistics (http://theavamovement.com/Britistics_Matthew_Rowett_PDF.pdf) - even if just for the information that "Mums spend 7 minutes pairing socks and folding clothes after each wash"

Saturday 12 October 2013

Favourite Shirts

This was the title of Haircut 100's first single.
It is also an apposite title to waffle on about my favourite T-Shirt of days passed.

The Ramones T-Shirt, bought in the heady days of no responsibility, living at home, spare cash (ie 1988), and finally laid to rest in 1993.
(I feel I must qualify ownership of said T-Shirt, in that purchase was a fandom purchase, and not a fashion statement).
A five year life span for a T-Shirt is pretty impressive, even more so when you consider the amount of wear it had.  Towards the end of it's life, it had faded from jet black to a washed out mottled grey with flecks of white.  It was peppered with cigarette burns, food stains and fraying edges.
And yet still I continued to wear it - it almost became an instantly recognisable part of my existence, a calling card.
"I didn't recognise you", people would say, "wheres The Ramones shirt?"
And then one wash too many finally killed it.  It was pulled from the Hotpoint, one arm had fallen off, the neck became detatched from the body and some of the larger burns expanded and coalesced to make a second neck hole.
The garment was given a full viking burial - it was set alight and floated across the fish pond accompanied by  "I Wanna Be Sedated".

In the late 90s (or so), the retro T-Shirt market took off, and the wearing of pre-stressed garments from the 80s became a fashion statement.  In my cynical style, I often wonder if the wearers of such garments actually know who Lemmy is, or can hum the opening bars of Led Zeppelin's 'Rock and Roll".
Although, sometimes my cynicism is left ungrounded:
Whilst visiting a local watering hole, I noticed that the barmaid (I'm guessing early to mid 20s) wearing an OMD Architecture & Morality T-Shirt.  She served the pint and I said: "good band, good album" (to deflect the fact that she might think I was just staring at her chest).
I expected the reply: "Are they? Never heard of them, but the T-Shirt looked nice in the shop".
No - she then proceeded to tell me that Architecture & Morality was, in her opinion, OMDs best album. A nerdy conversation about early 80s synth bands ensued, and I got a free pint into the bargain.

And now, the retail market for the retro band T-Shirt has infiltrated the high street.
Tesco has provided my wardrobe with a couple of Beatles T-Shirts (for information: Yellow Submarine & Abbey Road), and a replacement Ramones T-Shirt has been procured from ... Primark (the range also includes Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie (Aladdin Sane), Rolling Stones Lips, Pete Docherty and Samantha Fox).
So 20 years after the original met a firey/watery end, I now have a replacement.
Now I'm on the look out for a Monster of Rock 1988 T-Shirt.

Friday 4 October 2013

Against My Better Judgement

I will now be joining the 21st Century.
Two or three months ago, the current Mrs D decided to drop her mobile phone, shattering the screen in the process.  It was still usable, but there was a danger of getting shards of glass stuck in your cheek after every phone call.  And being one of those new fangle-dangled Smart Phone things, it became increasingly difficult to operate without slicing the tip of your finger.

The price of repair/replacement was a bit steep, with no insurance and no immediate chance of an upgrade.
A new phone contract was sorted out with a new supplier  - the amount of freebies (ie a 7" Tablet and a Digital Camera) probably swung the deal.  But we still had the old SIM card and a broken phone, and another few months until it could be cancelled without incurring charges.

When the day came, I phoned the supplier and stated my wish to cancel the contract.  As I had been with them for about 10 years (or so) and they provide all the TV, Broadband and Telephony, I was offered as a good will gesture, a reduced price SIM Only deal, and a free handset (whilst maintaining the discounts I have on the other packages).

So now I will take possession of my first mobile phone - I will no longer be able to claim blissful ignorance and luddite-ness of the modern world.
Nor will I be able to hide behind the excuse: "Sorry, I forgot what time it was and had no way of contacting you"

The handset itself is a dead basic version, able to make and receive calls and texts, and ... that's about it.
Well, if I have to have a phone (and I'm told that I do) then that is really all I want to do with it.

In the eyes of my wife and children, I am still a technophobic dullard, but its a start

Now, what about this FaceTube thing?

Tuesday 17 September 2013

Manic Street Preachers - Rewind The Film

The Manics are perhaps the latest in a line of bands that are best referred to as a Singles Band.  If someone were to ask me to recommend a Manics album, I would have no hesitation in pointing them in the direction of 'National Treasures: The Complete Singles'.
The problem (for me) was that their albums never really hung together properly.

And a case in point is their latest offering "Show Me The Wonder".  A single that just gets better with each listen, until it is firmly buried inside your head, popping out without warning when making a cup of coffee, walking the dog or brushing your teeth first thing in the morning.

"So what of the new album?", I hear you ask (or perhaps don't, fearing that I'm about to go off on some long meandering flight of fancy, and never really arriving at a recommendation or conclusion).

21 years ago 'Generation Terrorists' hit the shelves on a wave of hype and expectation.  The album was over-produced, overly glossy and over long.  But the singles lifted from it were some of the best noises to emerge in the dark days of 1992 (and there begins the 'Manic Street Preachers are a Singles Band' legend).
In short, the debut filed to live up to many peoples (including the bands) expectations.  It didn't sell the predicted 22 million, and they weren't able to split up in a crash of publicity and legend.
This meant only one thing.  They would have to re-group, re-think and return to the studio and do some more work.
Next off the blocks was 'Gold Against The Soul' which (and I'm being fair here) was OK, followed by 'The Holy Bible' in 1994.  Revisionist history identifies this album as the Manics masterwork, a work of genius, despite it's relatively poor sales.  Well, for me this is another OK album.

So, after 3 years of recording, they'd managed a slew of great singles, and 3 ultimately disappointing albums.
Maybe this was their lot, a promise of greatness never truly fulfilled.

Following the disappearance of Richey Edwards in February 1995, the remaining three piece re-grouped and in 1996 released 'Everything Must Go'.  5 of the tracks featured lyrics from Richey Edwards, but overall the album marked a definite change in sound, attitude and lyrical theme.  The sound was more anthemic, epic even, and much richer and tighter than any of it's predecessors (it's closest relation is 'Gold Against The Soul').
And they continued the stadium-friendliness, albeit with a tougher political undercurrent, with 'This Is My Truth, Tell Me Yours' in 1998.
'This Is My Truth ...' was their biggest selling album, and the Manics were one of the biggest bands in the UK.  But still the album lacked cohesion.
It was 3 years before 'Know Your Enemy' was uleashed.  The album was a return to the punk propoganda of early releases, but lacked focus.
'Lifeblood' was wistful, in place melancholic and downbeat.  Thier are reminiscences of Joy Division/New Order and The Cure.  Whilst still not the complete album that the Manics should have been capable of, the change in sound and focus were refreshing (although the politics / protest / anger was still apparent in a couple of songs.

In 2007, 'Send Away The Tigers' was released (preceded by the single "Your Love Alone (Is Not Enough)").  At last, this was a proper album.  To these ears, it just worked from start to finish.  Big on the stadium-rock epic sound, electric guitars turned up to 11, bombastic drums, and even room for a cover of "Working Class Hero".
'Journal for Plague Lovers' was the bands attempt to lay the ghost of Richey to rest, and is admirable, if not the greatest addition tho the Manic Street Preachers catalogue
And then, to prove 'Send Away The Tigers' it was no freak occurrence, they repeated the cohesive album trick with 'Postcards from a Young Man'.

And so we arrive at the new album, 'Rewind The Film'.

The opening line: "I don't want my children to grow up like me" prepares the ground for what is to come.
12 brand new tracks, presented in the main in acoustic bareness, with a theme of reflection, and the omni-present feeling of loss.  The sound of the album is a departure from the expected punk/stadium rock which they are known for.  There are touches of folk, stabs of Motown/Northern Soul horns and even a gospel departure.  Parts of the album sound like a more accessible version of Radiohead.  The inclusion of additional of voices (Richard Hawley on '"Rewind The Film", Lucy Rose on "This Sullen Welsh Heart" and Cate Le Bon on "4 Lonely Roads") adds another dimension to what you would expect from the Manics.
Many of the tracks can be described as un-typical Manic tracks, and then you hear the voice of James Dean Bradfield, Nicky Wires reluctant backing vocals and the oft-employed string arrangements which bathe a selection of the songs, and it's back to business.
Special mention for "Manorbier", the most un-typical Manics track here. This is essentially an instrumental rooted in a spacey, almost ambient presentation.  If this were to be performed in a stadium setting, I'm sure that the lighters would be aloft for the triumphant, choir like chanting at the end.
This is album finishes with the only truly angry song here.  "30 Year War" is the bands Thatcher song.
Reads like a history lesson the working classes fight against "the endless parade of old Etonian scum" (would any other band write a song with those words in it?).  And it really is quite angry, and all wrapped in a musical package that starts with a simple horn lament, followed by electronic sweeps and then the archetypal Manic Street Preachers epic soundscape with personal and angry, almost spat out, lyrics

It's a political sentiment that I don't necessarily agree with, but when does that stop anyone enjoying an album as good as this one is.

The Manic Street Preachers are at their best when they are plugged in and turned up to 11, but this album works without the need for bombastic drums, histrionic guitars or stadium-pleasing anthems.
12 tracks of contemplation, reflection, and (as is always conveyed with their albums) honesty.
 For me, it's a competitor to 'Send Away The Tigers' and 'Postcards From A Young Man' as their most complete album.

And this is the most un-typical Manics track on the album, - Manorbier.

Wednesday 28 August 2013

Is This The Most English Song Ever?

I'm currently on holiday (well, couple of days off following the Bank Holiday), and have been engaging in the usual folly associated with going out for the day in Great Britain.
"Where shall we go?"
"Oh, lets go to the coast for the day.  Or we could just go out for a drive somewhere and see what we find"

If the above ("go out for a drive and find a nice pub or something") is ever suggested, then my best advice is: DON'T!
You'll never find anywhere, and end up driving down tiny little country roads (often with grass growing down the middle) in the vain hope of finding pub nirvana - the sort of place with loads of parking, cheap beer, loads of different cask ales and plentiful portions of pub grub.
Well, these places don't exist and you'll end up sitting in the garden of a Harvester (or worse, the car park of a Little Chef (do these still exist?)) and then turning round and going home again.

At least I managed to draw one positive from the whole futile escapade.
Whilst driving around, I passed through some small villages, often with double or triple barreled names (many sounding like they should be names of Blues musicians) and was struck by the "Olde Worlde" fell of some of them, which brought to mind one of the most quintessentially English songs ever.

The Kinks - The Village Green Preservation Society

How many other songs make mention of those elements that (partially) define what it is to be in England? 

We are the Village Green Preservation Society
God save Donald Duck, Vaudeville and Variety
We are the Desperate Dan Appreciation Society
God save strawberry jam and all the different varieties
Preserving the old ways from being abused
Protecting the new ways for me and for you
What more can we do?
We are the Draught Beer Preservation Society
God save Mrs Mopp and good old Mother Riley
We are the Custard Pie Appreciation Consortium
God save the George Cross and all those who were awarded them
We are the Sherlock Holmes english speaking vernacular
Help save Fu Manchu, Moriarty and Dracula
We are the Office Block Persecution Affinity
God save little shops, china cups and virginity
We are the Skyscraper Condemnation Affiliate
God save tudor houses, antique tables and billiards
Preserving the old ways from being abused
Protecting the new ways for me and for you
What more can we do?
God save the Village Green

The parent album (full title - The Kinks Are: The Village Green Preservation Society) sold poorly in its release, but is now regarded as a genuine classic and one of the best (if not THE best) in The Kinks catalogue.
The poor sales were probably not helped by the fact that:
- many of their contemparies were going hippy-dippy psychedelic or focusing on the American market.  Releasing your album on the same day as The Beatles 'White Album' and a week before The Rolling Stones 'Beggars Banquet' probably didn't help much either.

The album is often referred to as a 'Concept Album', and whilst there is an underlying theme, I personally don't think it is.  It's certainly not a concept album when compared to the next album ('Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)'), The Pretty Things 'S F Sorrow' or The Who's 'Tommy').
What it is a collection of some of the best songs Ray Davies has written, touching on themes of loss ("Village Green", Do You Remember Walter"), family memories ("Picture Book", "People Take Picture Of Each Other"), child-like fantasy/whimsy "Phenominal Cat" and acceptance of the march of time ("The Last Of The Steam Powered Trains".  In fact the songs are that good they could afford to leave "Days" off of the UK release.

Much like when I'm reading P G Wodehouse, it seems to refers to a past that no longer exists, and probably never did, but you just want to spend some time in the world described.

Kate Rusby performing the title track The Village Green Preservation Society.
I suppose it would be called a tender and delicate reading of the song. with added Yorkshire twang.
Adds a new dimension to the song (to these ears)

And while I'm here, what is it about female voices and Ray Davies songs?
Here's two more examples.
Kirsty MacColl - Days (the hit single that didn't make the final cut of the Village Green Preservation Society)

Pretenders - Stop Your Sobbing (originally released in 1964 on the Kinks debut album)

Wednesday 21 August 2013

You Could Be Laughing 65% More Of The Time

Yes, I know it's a lyric from John Grant's second album, but I've only just got round to buying the first ("Queen Of Denmark").
This album was released in 2010, but it's taken 3 years and the purchase of his follow-up album "Pale Green Ghosts" for this CD to find a home on my shelf.
And to be honest, since I've bought it, it hasn't spent much time on the shelf.  It's almost taken up permanent residence in the CD Player.

'Queen Of Denmark' is an album where the songs a primarily based around a piano and John Grant's voice, with a healthy slab of melancholy and bitter-sweet reflection.
All served up with a collection of lyrics that are both thoughtful, powerful and full of humour and wit.  From start to finish, it touches on music hall ("Silver Platter Club"), the opening of "Marz" has a touch of the nursery rhyme about it, attack on intolerant people ("JC Hates Faggots"), and just generally having a bad day (or longer) ("Chicken Bones").  The lyrics even find time to have a pop at Winona Ryder's english accent in the film Dracula ("Sigourney Weaver").

The title track is, for me, the stand out track of the whole album.  The track starts on a reflective tone, and almost self loathing.  It starts with the line: "I wanted to change the world, But I could not even change my underwear" and continues in a sort of apologetic tone, before the chorus (and the backing band (Midlake)) explode forth, before relenting and the verse returns to the piano and John Grant's deep, mellow. emotive and rich voice.

Throughout the album, there is a deeply personal sounding tone to many of the songs, but the humour and wit contained in the lyrics shines through and just adds to the "earworm-iness" of the songs.
I guarantee that you will leave this album, perhaps feeling slightly uncomfortable in places, but with a wry smile on your face (maybe that's just my experience?)

Don't believe me?  Judge for yourself - "Queen Of Denmark"

"So, where does this ... 65% More Of The Time ... thing come from?", I hear you ask.
Well, that is lifted from the lyric of "GMF" from the second album ('Pale Green Ghosts').
Musically similar to "Queen Of Denmark", this song sounds much more self-confident and knowing of himself, but I as the listener am not entirely convinced.
The song contains more of the fine lyrical moments such as:

"I'm usually only waiting for you to stop talking, So that I can
Concerning 2-way streets I have to say, That I am not a fan"

"Half of the time I think I'm in some movie
I play the underdog of course
I wonder who'll they'll get to play me, maybe
They could dig up Richard Burton's corpse"

I'm also amused by the exponential reduction he introduces in the final lines of the song:
"And don't forget you could be laughing
65 percent more of the time
You could be laughing
63 percent more of the time
You could be laughing
25 percent more of the time"

It almost feels he has developed some mathamatical equation to calculate how much more happier you would be in his company, but regressing over time.

The attendant video is one of the best directed, best shot and best acted I've seen for a long while, and just adds to the song as a whole package:

Wednesday 31 July 2013

Monotonous Ribbons Of Tarmac

It took SEVEN attempts to pass my Drving Test, so when I finally did get that magical piece of paper, Driving became a bit of an obsession.  Any opportunity to travel by car was taken, meaning I spent most of my late teenage and early 20s completely sober.  I was the designated driver - designated by myself, and it was surprising how little argument there was among my friends.
And now I was fully licensed, I felt it was my duty to explore the road network of Great Britain.
And what did I discover?  Motorways are just plain tedious!

An example: if I am travelling to the West Country (Warning: There be Dragons), the road choice is simple.  M4/M5 or A303.  My choice is always A303.  It's a million times more interesting, it has roundabouts every 20 or so miles to keep you awake, and it just feels so much quicker.

Now I don't profess to have driven on every Motorway, but I've been on a fair few and offer the following observations.
  • The M4 section from Reading to Slough is about 20 miles and never seems to drag or lose interest over this relatively short distance.  However, The M4 section from Reading to Newbury is about the same distance but seems to go on forever.
    After this, the run to Swindon feels never-ending - in fact, it feels like you are entering a different time zone (although, you are now in Wiltshire and so this is probably true)
  • Following on from the statement above regarding travel to the West Country, the M5 is usually jammed with traffic, hence reducing average speed and making this section of your journey longer than it needs to be.  Frankly, after passing through the motorway interchange at Bristol, it's a job to stay awake on this frustratingly slow and overly packed roadway.
  • The M6, specifically the section from Stoke to Carlisle is perhaps the most featureless stretch of road I have ever been on.  Even the 1960s carbuncle that is Lancaster Services cannot alleviate the monotony.  Plus points however are gained for the Westmorland Farm Shop at Tebay Services.  Perhaps the most bearable Motorway Service Area on the whole network.
  • Running from the M40 to the M6, this section of the M42 never feels that long.  The reverse journey, however never seems to stop.
  • In the interests of balance, I can honestly say that the M1 is actually a good stretch of road.  Purely based on personal experience, I've never suffered from the normal tedium, tiredness 'nodding off and crashing' scenarios of other motorways.
  • The M25 - good or bad?  Well, it is basically just a big ring road.  It serves it's purpose, and never having been stuck on it on a Friday night, I have no issues with it.
    It also has possibly the best piece of graffiti ever (on the Amersham Viaduct):

Perhaps the most famous road to be celebrated in song is Route 66.  It and conveys a romantic vision of driving across America.  Free, the open road, the wind in your hair, foot down, arm out of window and drive.
I've never done this trip, but speaking to people who have, advice ranges from "very boring" to "don't bother" (you may know different of course).
Whatever, lets stick with the dream view for a second.
Conversely, there is never likely to be a song written about the joys of travelling on the M4.

Well if you ever plan to motor west
Just take the motorway that's (not) the best
Life is a bit of a bore, on the M4
Well it winds from Chiswick to Pontarddulais
Nearly 200 miles all the way
Life is a bit of a bore, on the M4
Well it goes from Hounslow to Slough
The Maidenhead Bypass section looks oh so pretty
You'll see Reading and Newbury
Hungerford and Wantage, don't forget Swindon
Bath, Bristol and The Severn Bridge
Would you get hip to this kindly tip
And go take that South Wales trip
Life is a bit of a bore, on the M4

Admittedly, Tom Robinson's "2-4-6-8 Motorway" is generically as close as a British song gets to celebrating the road network.  And Kula Shaker's love letter to the A303 (titled, simply, "303") doesn't quite cut it.

And so, we must leave it to the Irish to celebrate roads closer to home.  Consider the lyric of The Saw Doctors "N17"

And I wish I was on the N17
Stone walls and the grass is green
And I wish I was on the N17
Stone walls and the grass is green
Travelling with just my thoughts and dreams

So much more interesting than:
I've just passed Almondsbury Interchange, next stop is Aust Services
Hope I've got the right money for the Severn Bridge Toll

The following links have been heavily visited by me, because for some reason I find this sort of stuff interesting (no idea why?).
My wife, on the other hand, is somewhat exasperated by my reading/research of this information.  Even going so far to state: "Why don't you spend your time looking at porn like most other blokes?"

Tuesday 9 July 2013

Who's Next?

Without wishing to strike a morbid note (and let's face facts, it WILL happen sooner or later), those musicians from the 60s and 70s who can cause such as buzz with the release of new material or an announcement of a festival headline gig or a new tour, will at some point shuffle of this ball of rock we call home and go to visit the great A&R department in the sky (except perhaps Lemmy who seems to have discovered the secret of immortality).

And yes, it will indeed be a sad day when those esteemed people do finally pass on.
One day, even Status Quo may stop touring, and then what?  Who is there to create that similar level of excitement when they announce they will headline Glastonbury or emerge from the studio with a new album.

Who is there working at this time who has a large enough catalogue and the sort of mass public appeal that is required for such a lofty position as "Keeper Of The Rock Flame".

Now, from my exceedingly myopic viewpoint, I suggest the following, and have difficulty coming up with many more contenders.

The Elder Statesman of 1970s Vintage:
Elvis Costello
Bruce Springsteen

The young (?) upstarts from Punk/New Wave to early 1980s:
Paul Weller
John Lydon
Billy Bragg

From the 1980s, and seemingly never to escape that connection:
Midge Ure
Depeche Mode

From the 1990s to now(ish):
Noel Gallagher
Damon Albarn / Blur
Manic Street Preachers
Primal Scream
Jack White
Richard Hawley
Arctic Monkeys
Mumford and Sons (love 'em or loathe 'em, I think they will be around for a while yet)

Creators of two of the best Albums of 2013, but will they still be doing the job in 2033?:
Frank Turner
John Grant

Cynically, it appears that the music business has gone backwards 60 years to a time of a single controlling force (for Larry Parnes in the 1950s, read Simon Cowell in the 21st Century), and the defined career path of From New Kids On The Block to Old Geezers Standing On A Stage is seemingly not currently an option.
We are now in 2013 and in need of the next Elvis or Beatles moment - that point in time where something comes along and completely changes the business model, and hopefully for the better.

But never mind - the sun is shining and all is (seemingly) well in the world (unless you live in Egypt).
Here's an exceedingly summery tune, provided by one of the bands who could've made the list  (but they seemed to have disappeared up there own fundament)

Noah And The Whale - 5 Years Time

Thursday 20 June 2013

A Part of British Heritage I Can Live Without

The TV Sitcom is a many splendoured thing.
From the great (eg Hancock, Steptoe and Son, Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads, Porridge, Fawlty Towers, Blackadder) to the watchable (eg Just Good Friends), to the unwatchable, but you can understand why some people like it (Last Of The Summer Wine) to the absolute dross (eg Bottle Boys, Brighton Belles).  It's what has been filling up our TV screens since they first flickered into life.

But why, when cinema audiences were on the downturn in the 1970s, did the film companies decide to make feature length versions of the lower end of the Sitcom spectrum?
  • Are You Being Served?
  • Bless This House
  • Father, Dear Father
  • George and Mildred
  • The Lovers
  • Love Thy Neighbour
  • Man About the House
  • On the Buses (which somehow managed 3 films!)
  • Please Sir!
Can you spot a theme here?  None of these were that funny as a sitcom, so who thoughn they could be expanded to a 90 minute cavalcade of comedy?
Was there an excess of cheap celluloid in the 1970s, and the ethos was "bung any old crap out, at least we'll get rid of the stockpile"?

Fraankly, I can live without this collection of mirthless trash, even if ITV2 continue to show them back-to-back EVERY Bank Holiday weekend.
So, in my new World Order, these films will be cast into the pit and lost for all eternity.

But its not all bad - being the benevolent dictator that I will undoubtedly be, some of the film from that period of cinematic daftness will be saved:
  • Carry On Behind, Carry On England and Carry On Emmanuelle - despite being the three worst films to bear the name Carry On, they are saved for no other reason than they are Carry On films.
  • Rising Damp, Till Death Us Do Part and Dads Army occupy that unique position of being top-notch sitcoms, but generally so-so films (ie not bad, but not that good either) - so they're safe
  • Steptoe and Son goes a stage further - both the films are emminently watchable, but just fall short of greatness when operating outside the usual 30 minute time period. - saved
Also saved from eternal damnation are two of the best of the sorry crop:
  • Porridge
  • The Likely Lads.
The known characters, situations and frustrations from the TV series remained, but both seamlessly made the transition to cinema.  This, I think, is due in no small part to the writers (Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais) whose later work including Auf Wiedersehen Pet, The Commitments and Flushed Away showed they were equally comfortable operating in a longer form, and not just in the defined 30 minute sitcom timeframe.

This pecualir folly of turning unfunny sitcoms into unfunny films stopped in the early 80s - good job too, otherwise the great viewing public may have been "treated" to feature length versions of 'Allo 'Allo and Hi-De-Hi.

But now it seems the idea of turning TV sitcoms into films is back, albeit with limited success.

The Thick Of It was a part scripted, part improvised political satire.  Hidden away on BBC4, and then transferring to BBC2, it was thought provoking, possibly savage, and in some case probably VERY close to the truth.  The film version "In The Loop" was a pale imitation of the TV show.
And in August, the long awaited (maybe only by me) Alan Partridge film - Alpha Papa - is to be released.  One can only hope that this film occupies the Porridge/Likely Lads territory, by being a valid addition to the AP cannon

Also in August, the second installment of a Touch Of Cloth will hit the TV Screens (as long as you have Sky One).
Written by Charlie Brooker and Dan Maier, the first installment debunked the TV Detective drama, icoporating just about every cliche and predictable plot evelopment going.  Also, stuffed full of as many bad puns, sight gags and general silliness as past masters suchas Airplane, Police Squad and Naked Gun.

Yup, it's looking like August is going to be a fine month (unless of course ITV2 decide to air one (or more) of the films mentioned above))

Wednesday 12 June 2013

You've Got To Start Somewhere (or Another Pointless Quest)

Title Of Quest:  Assemble a collection of as many first releases from UK independent record companies
Point of Quest: Absolutley None

It is common knowledge that the first commercial release on Virgin Records was Mike Oldfield's 'Tubular Bells' in 1973.  This album has to date sold something like 257 million copies, and is apparently Richard Madely's favourite album.  It was also the first album to be played in East Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall and was recently rejected as the theme for an ITV re-make of On The Buses (note: check these facts?) - not a bad way to start a record company.

This particular quest will be limited to the first single releases of UK Indepent record companies, primarily from late 70s/80s.  The principle of the search is (partially) inspired by The Clash song 'Hitsville UK' from "Sandinista", which explicity mentions 3 of these labels, but sort of encompasses the whole lot.

So what will I be hunting down?
(arranged in alphabetical order for no other reason than it will be easier to read (if you feel so inclined)

  • Beggars Banquet BEG1: The Lurkers - Shadow / Love Story
  • Bronze BRO1: Squeek - Make Hay While The Sun Shines / L'Amour D'Un Apres-Midi
    (not truly the first release on Bronze, but the first with the BRO catalogue reference)
  • Chiswick SW1: The Count Bishops - Speedball EP (Route 66 / I Ain't Got You / Beautiful Delilah / Teenage Letter)
  • Cherry Red CHERRY1: The Tights - Bad Hearts / It / Cracked
  • Chrysalis CHS2001: Tir Na Nog - The Lady I Love / Heidi
  • Cooking Vinyl FRY001: The Oyster Band - Hal-an-Tow / Ashes To Ashes
  • Creation CRE001: The Legend! - '73 In '83 / You (Chunka, Chunka) We're Glamorous / Melt The Guns
  • Damaged Goods DAMGOOD1: Thee Headcoatees - Headcoat Girl / Thee Headcoats - Lakota Woman
  • Factory FAC2: A Factory Sample (Joy Division - Digital / Glass, The Durutti Column - No Communication / Thin Ice (Detail), John Dowie - Acne / Idiot / Hitlers Liver, Cabaret Voltaire - Baader-Meinhoff / Sex In Secret)
    Additional Trivia: Proof that Factory gave a number to everything it touched is borne out by the discovery that Tony Wilson's coffin was given the catalogue number FAC501
  • Fiction FICS001: The Cure - Killing An Arab / 10.15 Saturday Night
  • Go! Discs VFM2: The Box- Old Style Drop Down / Momentum
    (was there a VFM1, or did Go! Discs employ a Factory style numbering system?.  Maybe VFM1 was the Go! Discs office or Billy Bragg's first contract with the company?)
  • Good Vibrations GOT1: Rudi - Big Time
    (and not, as many people may suspect Teenage Kicks from The Undertones)
  • Heavenly HVN2: Saint Etienne - Only Love Can Break Your Heart
  • Island WI001: Lord Creator - Independant Jamaica Calypso / Remember 
  • Kitchenware SK2: Hurrah! - The Sun Shines Here / I'll Be Your Surprise 
  • Neat NEAT ONE: Motorway - All I Wanna Be Is Your Romeo / It Ain't Easy When You're Alone
  • PostCard 80-1: Orange Juice - Falling And Laughing / Moscow Olympics / Moscow
  • Rought Trade RT001: Metal Urbain - Paris Maquis / Cle De Contact
  • Small Wonder SMALL1: Puncture - Mucky Pup / You Can't Rock And Roll (In A Council Flat)
  • Some Bizzare BZS2: Soft Cell - Tainted Love / Memorabilia
  • Stiff BUY1: Nick Lowe - So It Goes / Heart Of The City
And now a couple that I've already got so have no need to search out these ones:
  • Immediate IM001: The McCoys - Hang On Sloopy / I Can't Explain It
  • Rigid Digits SRD1: Stiff Little Fingers - Suspect Device / Wasted Life
  • Two Tone TT1/TT2: Specials - Gangsters / The Selecter - The Selecter

This could get expensive and time cosuming.  My stomping ground for the coming months will be ebay, discogs.com, car boot sales, charity shops - basically anywhere I may stumble across these items.

And what will I achieve from doing this?  Absolutely Nothing, expect the satisfaction that I will own several pieces of plastic which represent the birth of a number of small businesses which either no longer exist, or have been swallowed up by the huge faceless conglomerates.

Am I obsessed? Probably - as my wife said to me when I announced my intention: "Oh, you sad little man!"

And because I finish every post with a video, here are two fine examples of debut record label releases.
from Factory Records, Joy Division - Digital

and from Stiff Records, Nick Lowe - So It Goes

And if you believe I've missed anything, and should really be seeking out the initial outings of <insert name of record label here>, do please let me know and I'll add it to my list.

Wednesday 29 May 2013

Oh, The Irony

Previously entilted 'Hoarding and Purging, but changed because:
(a) it was written in a hurry, and
(b) I think the above is a much better title

My name is Rigid Digit, and I am a hoarder.
Now, I don't profess to be a hoarder like those portrayed on Channel 4's 'The Hoarder Next Door', or BBC's 'Britains Biggest Hoarders', but my perdiliction for amassing Vinyl has perhaps got a bit out of hand.

Surely, you can never have too much Vinyl?  A statement I would ordinarily agree with apart from the fact that most of the Vinyl I've acquired in recent years has been 'job lot' purchases from people trying to clear space in their own houses.  I'm also banned from going to Charity Shops and Car Boot Sales on my own for fear that I will return with "armfuls of crap" (not my words).
And because of this, opening of the door and climbing into the seat in front of the computer has become somewhat challenging.
A quick review of the Vinyl Collection reveals 5 copies of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" (I'll keep them, there might be a sudden surge of interest if Michael Jackson ever dies), a plethora of James Last and Richard Clayderman albums, and a selection of Easy Listening albums including Johnny Mathis, Barbara Dickson, Perry Como and Kiri Te Kanawa - I'll be honest, I'm probably not going to listen to any of those.
I've also got several duplicate copies of albums which have been upgraded/replaced by CD versions.

A lot of what I've got is relatively worthless, so it'll be the Charity Shop for them.  But there are a couple of items which are worthy of e-baying.

So far, I have sold a Minidisc Player, a Cassette Player a metal shed and a garden rotavotor on e-bay, and will be placing a few choice items of the vinyl collection on there in the coming weeks.
Who knows? I may soon uncover the carpet for the first time in a few years.

And what will I do with the funds gained?

Probaly buy another pile of vinyl off e-bay.  Therefore the net effect will be zero, but at least I tried.

And this is the ironic bit (and yes, it is ironic, unlike the Alannis Morrissette song which should be called "That's Bloody Unfortunate") - one of the first "re-cycled e-bay funds" purchases was a Weird Al Yankovic CD contianing this very song:

Second thoughts, I might just keep everything

Tuesday 14 May 2013

Second Album Syndrome

Is it real, or a media/record company invention to excuse potentially lower sales and lesser public reaction than the debut album?

First off, lets go through the obvious:

Sex Pistols - 'Never Mind The Bollocks' is a must-own record.  Ignore the Punk tag, this is one of the greatest Rock albums ever committed to plastic.  Whilst the second album ('The Great Rock n Roll Swindle') does contain some new material (for what its worth), it was released after the band ceased to properly function, and therefore discounted from my ruminations.

The Jam - It would take something special to top 'In The City', especially given there was only 6 months between the debut and 'This Is The Modern World'.  Sadly, 'Modern World' wasn't that special.  Discounted because, although popular opinion says 'This Is The Modern World' wasn't very good, it really isn't that bad.  It just sounds laboured especially when compared to 'All Mod Cons' which followed it

The Stone Roses - The debut album is held in the highest esteem, regularly appearing in Top10 or Top20 Albums Of All Time Listings.  Personally, I prefer 'Second Coming'  - so their not going on the list either

And now my selection of Follow-Up Failures:
Arctic Monkeys -  'Favourite Worst Nightmare' could never live up to the hype it was given after 'Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not'.  And it didn't.  "Flourescent Adolescent" excepted, to these ears the rest sounded like out-takes, re-writes or simply re-treads of the debut album

Stereophonics - 'Word Gets Around' was a corking album, 'Performance & Cocktails' continues in the same vein but runs out of steam about half way through

Guns n Roses - 'Appetite For Destruction' is rightly regarded as a Classic.  It's got energy, passion, danger (and several other clich├ęd descriptions).  'Use Your Illusion' is best described as "the second album".  If it had been a single album, a lot of the vanity and padding would be gone, and you could (almost) forgive the overblown nature of "November Rain".  As it is, a two album release means: too much self-indulgence, not enough substance.

Damned - 'Damned Damned Damned' is one of the holy trinity of punk albums.  A rip-snorting rollercoaster of adrenaline, power and sheer fun.  'Music For Pleasure' is none of these things.  By comparison it is lame, disappointing and a bit of a mess.  However, consider this: if it wasn't for 'Music For Pleasure' we may never have got 'Machine Gun Etiquette'

New York Dolls - the eponymous debut album is perhaps the missing link between Iggy Pop and The Sex Pistols on the Punk Road Map.  Forget about the fake Rolling Stones impersonations, or Bob Harris's "mock rock" put down, this is an album full of attitude, arrogance, sleaze and New York hedonism coupled with raucous, rough-edged, raggedy-arse rock n roll.  The second album has the portentious title 'Too Much Too Soon' and that is probably a fair summary of the content.

Quireboys - Having released their first single ("Mayfair") in 1987 it was to be a three year wait for the debut album.  When the album ('A Bit Of What You Fancy') did arrive the sound was cleaner, but forgiveably so - all the original elements of fun, good time bar room rock n roll were all present and correct.
Releasing a Live album as your second album doesn't really cout, so we move swiftly to 'Bitter Sweet & Twisted'  which (in my opinion) needed more work, and the production was aimed squarely at the American market, losing a lot of UK fans in the process.

Thunder - like the Quireboys above, Thunder can be classified in the little known late 80s/early 90s genre New Wave Of British Heavy Metal Bands Who Sound A Bit Like The Faces Or Bad Company (NWOBHMBWSABLTFOBC) (it is quite a long title, which is probably why Kerrang rarely (ie never) referred to it).
'Back Street Symphony' was a Bluesy-Rock album containing a plethora of corking tunes, raspy vocals, twin guitars and an energetic live act (on the three occassions I swaw them, you really did get the feeling they were putting everything they had into the show). The second album 'Laughing On Judgement Day' is adequate, but to these ears not in the same league as the first.  Add to that the emergence of Nirvana and the whole grunge business, and bands like Thunder found large swathes of their audience gone, and record company support dwindling.
'Laughing On Judgement Day' does however contain vocalists Danny Bowes closest approximation of Paul Rodgers on the track "Low Life In High Places"

The Thrills - songs like "Santa Cruz", "Big Sur" and "One Horse Town" remain superb tracks and make the debut album ('So Much For The City') worthwhile.  However, even nicking the theme tune to Mork and Mindy for the middle eight of "Whatever Happened To Corey Haim" can't redeem the same-iness of 'Lets Borttle Bohemia'

Ordinary Boys - perhaps the biggest fall from grace I can think of.  Their first album 'Over The Counter Culture' was, and is, a superb piece of work.  Since it's release, I never tire of listening to it.  The follow-up 'Brassbound' sounded laboured and un-original.  And then Preston went and showed what a prize prat he was by appearing on Big Brother, marrying a gold digging non-entity, walking of the set of Never Mind The Buzzcocks, and then disappearing up his own backside.
Whatever, the debut album is still a stonking wodge of Mod meets Ska meets Paul Weller meets The Smiths.

Ordinary Boys - Over The Counter Culture

Thunder - Low Life In High Places

Monday 6 May 2013

From Start To Finish

That is how an album should be consumed, not just cherry picked for the best bits.
Although it seems that the un-packaging (is that a word?) of albums is becoming more and more commonplace.  That activity halps explain (at least to me) the following couple of news stories that have appeared in the past fornight.
  1. Calvin Harris (who I have nerver knowiungly heard) is now the holder of the record for the most Top 10 Singles released from a single album, with the 8th release going into the Top10 a couple of weeks ago (will the album now be re-promoted as 'Greatest Hits'?)
  2. Compilation Albums now account for for 1/5th (20%) of all album sales
Despite my archaic belief that an album should be consumed as a complete entity, it seems the great British public is more than happy with a world of 'Now Thats What I Call Music?'*, 'Stuff You've Heard On The Radio', 'Look At The Hits On That' and other compilation titles some of which aren't actually real.

* Question Mark added on purpose, and purely in a futile attempt to raise a smile from the readers of this tosh

A couple of years ago there was the battle between Pink Floyd and iTunes over the attempt to split up and sell individual tracks from 'Dark Side Of The Moon'.
Roger Waters vehemently fought against this, claiming that these tracks should be heard in context and as sequenced as originally intended.
A stance that I can understand, and wholeheartedly agree with.

Whilst on the surface an album is just a collection of tracks, probably recorded in the space of a couple of months and probably just randomly thrown together to create a 40/50 minute product, the tracks need to be sequenced to provide some sort of "journey" and to ensure that the listener remains engaged.  It's no good just lobbing your 3 best songs at the front of the album, and then padding ouit the remainder with any old rubbish, or sticking all the fast songs together on Side 1 (how old am I?), and filling side two with ballads and instrumentals.
No, all the tracks should be strategically placed in order to provide the listener with troughs and peaks of emotion, energy and (sometimes) enjoyment.  There also comes the point when the sequencing is so perfect that the listener would be unable to imagine any other track following another.
So people like Roger Waters or Pete Townsend will spend time sequencing the tracks to produce a cohesive explanation of their original vision of the concept/story, and then we come along with iTunes or Amazon and download only Tracks 3 and 7.

OK, I admit that everyone does pull single tracks off albums for inclusion on their own compilations, or to show a friend how good a particular band, or their album is.
I also freely admit to plundering an album and posting YouTube links to specific tracks on a website forum that I frequent (The Afterword, to be specific - come on over, have a look, the waters lovely etc etc)).
BUT ...
This is all done with the knowledge of the entire album.  The inbuilt hard-wiring that xxx follows yyy, the background understanding that Track 4 is stronger than the last single, and Track 8 is a bit of a duffer.
So my request to you all is listen to albums all the way through as the artist intended.  Let's not lose the art of the album, it's sequencing from barnstorming opening track to epic finishing track, interspersed with the signles, possibly a ballad, an instrumental track (unless you're listening to The Shadows, when it may well be an unexpected vocal track) and maybe a surprising choice of a cover version.
Otherwise, we'll end up drowning in a sea of Greatest Hits, Very Best Ofs, Essential Collections and generic SimonCowellisthdevilBritainsGotNoXFactorTalent blandness.

When it's good, it is a fantastic way to spend 40 minutes or so.
When it isn't that good, at least you've spent 40 minutes annoying the wife* (or is that just me?)

* common phrases heard in my house:
  • "what's this rubbish then?"
  • "do we have to listen to this?"
  • "does it have to be so loud?"
  • or when stuff turns up in the post, or when I return from a shopping trip "more crap!"

To return to a previous statement regarding the importance of sequencing and how taking tracks out of context may effect the overall experience of the album, I am now going to completely contradict myself (and probably annoy Roger Waters into the bargain):
Behold, the final two tracks from 'Dark Side Of The Moon' ("Brain Damage" & "Eclipse")

If you've never heard the above and like it enough to want to purchase it, please, please, PLEASE get the whole album, play it from start to finish and enjoy the experience.

If, however, you just want the individual track(s) - go ahead, but I still don't agree with the un-packaging of albums into single tracks.

It's just WRONG!

And relax ...

Sunday 28 April 2013

Full Up

The title does not refer to my stomach after a particularly hefty meal.  Nor does it speak of my frustration with the Car Park at The Oracle in Reading (is it ever not full?).
The title is a summary of the available space in the audio media storage solution.  In short, my CD shelves are full.  In the words of Sleeper's Louise Wener *: 'What Do I Do Now?'

* is she related to ex-Blue Peter presenter Chris Wenner?  No, his surname has an extra 'n'.  Mystery solved

When we moved house about 6 years ago, we did the thing that everyone who moves into a new home in need of new/replacement furnishings does, namely take a trip to Ikea.
This particular trip involved the usual routine of getting stuck in traffic on the North Circular Road, wandering through the showroom for what feels like a couple of days and losing a touch with reality outside, collecting the boxes of the chosen purchases from the warehouse and wondering how it is all going to fit in the car, paying at the checkout and not truly comprehending how much you've actually spent.
No trip to Ikea is complete unless you have bought a big bag of Tea Lights, a plastic box cheese grater and a cheap hot dog on the way out.
And as often happens, when I leave the Ikea car park I turn in the wrong direction and , to paraphrase Phil Daniels in Quadrophenia, I 'wound up in bloody Neasden'.

The first post-house move trip to Ikea resulted in the purchase of a couple of Billy Bookcases and 6 Benno CD/DVD towers.  All in a dark brown colour to match/compliment the wooden floor in the new house.
So, for the rest of that weekend I was unpacking flat pack furniture and assembling the planks of wood into something upright, solid, usable, functional and scandanavian (not sure that last bit is actually relevant).
After building the units, they were arranged in the room and loaded up with stuff - the next day we went back to Ikea to buy another couple of CD stands.
And now, they're full up.  I've already moved the CD singles and free Magazine CDs out to the cave upstairs, and thbits of the compilation section are encroaching into the DVD storage area, so there is no real free space I can utilise.
The obvious solution is to go back to the Scandanavian Shop Of Wonder and simply buy another couple of shelves.  A simple solution you would think, except that the colour is no longer availble

My wife's stunningly simplistic, yet somewhat drastic solution was: "You'll have to get rid of some, or stop buying them".  Neither of these options will be happening.
Another obvious solution is to go digital - copy everyhting to MP3 and get shot of the CDs - again, this will not be happening.  I've spoken before about my (possibly outdated) commitment to the physical product,  so joining the 21st Century digital revolution is not on the cards either.
Initial research shows me that an alternative storage solution may cost the thich end of £200 (if not more), plus this may also entail replaceing the other furnishings a the colours will no longer match (and the problem is?  women can be so touchy about stuff like that - I know, I've got the bruises to prove it).

Jona Lewie said that at social gatherings, he would invariably be seen where the food is being prepared.  I have a similar status - you will always find my be the CD shelves at parties.  Often muttering to myself, or anyone else in earshot: "I've got that one", "oo - thats intersting", "never heard of them.  Is it any good?", "why did you buy this?".
But it's not just a case of musiocal snobbery or inabilty to invlove myself in small talk with potentially dull people, this activity has a practical application.  Namely, research into how other people have solutionised (is that a word?) the CD and DVD collections.

I have always hoped that music magazines would introduce a correspondence section in their publications where readers can send in pictures of their Record and CD collections for the voyeuristic satisfaction of others.  Similar, I suppose, to those sections in Gentlemans magazines, this particular stream could be entitled 'Reader Shelves'.

<Reminder #1: Insert Photo Here>

<Reminder #2: Buy a Digital Camera>

A later blog post, probably in a couple of months, will be titled "I've Got Piles", meaning I've not sorted out any new storage, and all my recent purchases are now place in a teetering tower on top of the stereo.

Having mentioned Louise Wener and Sleeper earlier, let us consider the "Brit Pop Band Fronted By A Girlie" genre for a second.  Personally, I preferred Echobelly to Sleeper, and in front of Echobelly would be the band fronted by the most heavily Welsh accented person in popular music - Catatonia:

Monday 22 April 2013

Record Store Day

The 2013 version of this event seems to have been as popular as previous years.
Long queues at many shops, some starting at around 5am.  The special releases shipped to the shops and devoured by those who wanted them.  In short, a veritable success for all those independent record shops who participated.  And if the availability of stuff on e-bay is anything to go by, it seems a roaring trade was done by all.

So what did I get?
Nothing ... and perversely I'm quite pleased I didn't go.
In my inimitable, curmudgeonly way I decided not to go to any of my local shops, at least not on the day anyway.
No, bugger it.  If this is a day for the celebration of all that is unique and welcoming about the local record shop, then I want to go and spend the day doing what you should do in a record shop - idly browsing throught the racks looking for something I might want, and also stumbling across something that I didn't know I wanted.

I watched 'Last Shop Standing' on SkyArts on Friday night and was all keen and geared up to fly out of my front door on Saturday morning and join the throng.
But I think I may have had a dodgy bacon sandwich sometime on Friday, because waking up on Saturday morning wasn't an easy task, and my head felt like two woodpeckers had taken up residence.
So I did the "watching it on Ceefax" thing - logged on to t'internet and read about the goings on, the numbers of people attending, the special releases and the live performances at many of the shops.

I did get the 'guilt pangs' that I should be out there supporting my local shop, but this was offset by my in-built cynicism towards anything seemingly "coporatised".
The intent of Record Store Day is valid - to get as many people to visit their local store as possible, and thereby ensuring it's survival.  But is one day enough?  To ensure that little treausre-trove remains in the high street/side street/wherever it is, people need to go there a bit more regularly than an annual visit.
So this explains my one-man protest aginst Record Store Day, and I'll go visiting next Saturday, when the queues outside the shop will be non-existent, and the majority of visitors the previous week will be strangely absent.
And further to the "roaring trade was done by all" statement above, I can't help feeling there is also a roaring re-sale going on, and that to me is the problem with RSD - most of the special releases have been bought up with the sole intention of being flogged on at a profit.

I did purchase something on Saturday, albeit from the comfort of my own chair.
Hopefully, the new Frank Turner album ('Tape Deck Heart') will be falling through my letterbox any day now.

Frank Turner - Recovery