Saturday 28 May 2016

Bruce Foxton - Smash The Clock

Playing in his own tribute band (From The Jam) is obviously going to have an effect on your own output.  As is the fact that having spent 5 years recording with The Jam (were they the biggest band in Britain at the time? very probably) means your legacy is assured.  It is also a fact of life that Bruce Foxton on his own has never really achieved the heights, or the acclaim, that perhaps his contribution to the aforementioned "Biggest Band In Britain 1979 to 1982" deserves.
His first solo album proper. 'The Freak', was good but not exactly indispensable.  His record company seemed to share this belief, and no more product was forthcoming.  He kept playing solo and in small club bands, and then in 1990 landed the vacant Bass post in Stiff Little Fingers.
He stayed with SLF until 2006, when he left to join The Casbah Club Bruce Watson, Mark Brzezicki and Simon Townshend (he'd been playing with the band since 2004, but now became a full time member).
A year later he moved from The Casbah Club to link up with Rick Buckler and Russell Hastings in tribute band The Gift, which who were subsequently re-titled From The Jam.  A 66.6% reformation led to a plethora of rumours of a full blown reformation.  To be honest, neither Bruce Foxton or Rick Buckler were on speaking terms with Paul Weller at this time, so this is as close to a reformation as would ever occur.
The loss of Foxton's wife in 2009, and his attendance at JohnWeller's funeral in the same year led to a reconciliation with Paul Weller, and an appearance on two tracks on Weller's 2010 album 'Wake Up The Nation'.
Depending on the version of the story you believe, this action either drove a wedge between Foxton and Buckler, or Buckler became disillusioned when he realised that From The Jam would never result in a full blown Jam reformation, and he departed from the band.

But ... once an artist, always an artist, and in addition to the standard From The Jam set, new music (created with vocalist/co-writer Russell Hastings) crept it's way into the set, and in 2012 Bruce Foxton released his second solo album, 'Back In The Room'.  Backed by his From The Jam cohorts (the drum stool now being filled by Mark Brzezicki), the album featured guest appearances from Steve Norman, Steve Cropper and Paul Weller.  To complete the "potential reformation" rumours, the album was also recorded at Paul Weller's Black Barn Studios.

And so to this - his third solo album, funded through Pledge Music (as was 'Back In The Room'), and again recorded at Black Barn Studios.

From The Jam vocalist Russell Hastings is all present and correct here, and his vocal sound is so close to that of Paul Weller, you would be forgiven for thinking that maybe, just may be, the unthinkable has happened and this is The Jam's sixth album.
The presence of Paul Weller on a couple of tracks, and a couple more of the tracks sounding like they could sit comfortably on PWs 'Stanley Road' or 'Heavy Soul' certainly re-inforce this notion, but that is unfair and too simplistic a statement about this album.
The music is a mix of anglicised Motown and Northern Soul with a nod to The Kinks, The Small Faces, Dr Feelgood and even a dash of Jethro Tull.

The High Fidelity Rules Of Making A Mix Tape are adhered to here (ie start with something that grabs their attention), with opener "Now The Time Has Come" bursting to life with a drum roll before the horns kicks in.  Back to that unwanted comparison, this does sound like it was a missing track from 'The Gift' - a fine, fine opener with some fine bassmanship (what else would you expect?) from Mr Foxton.
"Round and Round" starts in a mellow blaxploitation funk mode before chorus burst out and then returns to the groove.  The mellow mood continues on "Pictures and Diamonds" with added psychadelic dreaminess.  The track is built on a rolling Hammond Organ riff an features the guitar work of the studio's owner.
"Louder" is acoustic based, and the comparisons continue with a Style Council vibe very much in evidence.
It may purely as a result of the title but there is a Small Faces meets The Jam (and even a touch of Madness) feel about "Sunday Morning", complete with it's horn section and Barrelhouse piano.  Make no mistake this is one of the most accessible, immediate and memorable songs here.
"Full Circle" opens with Paul Jones harmonica and Wilko Johnsons guitar - on the face of it, it sounds like a lost Dr Feelgood track with Paul Weller's vocal (this is a good thing!).
If you play a Rickenbaker, you can't help but produce a chord sound reminiscent of 1978/79 Jam, and many of the Mod Revival bands that followed.  And that is what you get on title track "Smash The Clock".  The addition of saxophone lifts the track into unexpected territory.  On first listening, it is the most disposable track here, and then furtherlistening elevates it to one of the key tracks of the whole offering.
Paul Jones harmonica is back for "Back Street, Dead Street" - a full blown rocker that speeds along, and just makes you want to jump up and down, or at the very least nod your head (or maybe that is just me?).
The musical backdrop changes again for "Writing On The Wall" stating with a Maggie May-esque acoustic riff.  It has a definite Folk root, and is almost Rod Stewart/Faces tunage with Paul Weller singing over the top (this may be down to the influence of the opening guitar motif, but I can't get away from the feeling).
From there, it is back to the mellow acoustic wistful dreaminess for the "There Are Times To Make Me Happy", and then a return to the driving Rock n Soul (is that a genre?) for "All Right Now" complete with liberal application of Hammond organ.
"Running Away From You" starts almost melancholic, but soon builds to a virtual anthem.  To be brutally frank, this is probably the weakest track for me, but not that weak that you want to hit the Skip button.
Album closer is the instrumental "50 Yards Down Sandy Lane" which re-visits the mellow mood, this time with added flute, and closes the album off in fine style.

This is all new, all good, but still rooted in comfort - a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining 35 minutes, with riffs, lyrics and bits of songs remaining in your head for days - much like going to a From The Jam show.

Friday 20 May 2016

Green Day - American Idiot

"Do you have the time, to listen to me whine?"

When those words spewed out out my radio in 1994, my answer was "Yes I do - Bloody Hell, that is good".
"Basket Case" was one of those songs that sort of re-calibrates your mind, and you realise that this is the music you have been hankering for amongst a turgid mass of normality with the occasional glint of inspiration.

As is often the case at moments like this, things could get expensive (or relatively anyway, because in 1994 I had less disposable income than a very poor rodent who lives in an ecclesiastical building).
Fortunately, the back catalogue wasn't that big.
The parent album 'Dookie' was procured and played - it was good, but not great. Nothing making me go "oh, this is what I've been looking for". Leastways, there was nothing which had the room spinning and vision blurring Scooby Doo style like "Basket Case".
Going backwards, 'Kerplunk' was admirable punk thrash, but nothing knocking the earth of it's axis.
Maybe "Basket Case" was a one-off, and the best/strongest the band were going to do.

'Insomniac' (1995) and 'Nimrod' (1997) were definitely worthy additions, but still not "there".
'Nimrod' shifts the sound slightly from all out thrash to a more contemplative style. Still making noise, but now doing against a more purposeful backdrop (does that make any sense?).
'Warning' (2000) marks a definite shift of style and persona in the band. Like 'Nimrod', it has still got the urgency but the band is growing to incorporate more ideas, styles and arrangements. Problem was the audience wasn't moving with them.
'Warning' is either a great album which sets the base for what happened next, or a band desperately trying to break free from it's roots and find a new audience, and not really achieving either. As a result, it is a competent and generally listenable album, but the frustration exudes from the tracks and sort of misses the target as a result.

The relative commercial failure of 'Warning', the ensuing relationships in the band, and the attempts to find/rediscover their audience started to leave the band floundering somewhat, certainly in the UK where they pretty much disappeared from view. Coupled with the release of the compilation 'International Superhits' the following year seemed to mark a sort of stop point. Whilst sales of the compilation showed there my well be an audience, nothing more was really expected - not least what came next.

Returning to the studio in 2003, a succession of demos were created and recorded in preparation for a new album. The story is that these recordings were stolen from the studio and the entire Project was dumped - this may very well be the case, but none of these recordings have ever surfaced, which brings up the debate did they ever exist or is it just an urban myth?
Whatever the truth, after indulging in that great American staple of "Group Therapy" to air their grievances and seek a resolution, and consultation with their producer, it was decided to start again.
After the loss of the previous demos, and soul searching discussions within the band of how best to continue, each member went away and created mini-songs (around 30 seconds/1 minute in length) against no particular backdrop or theme.
This brought the band back together, as they were stitched together to create a sort of min-epic song in 3 or 4 movements. Two of these tracks ("Homecoming" and "Jesus Of Suburbia") formed the core of the new album, along with the recently penned title track. This had the effect of bringing the band back together as a unit, and accepting their position in the scheme of things (they were no longer snotty punks in a garage, but were now on the verge of being "rock stars", and they felt they were capable of it. Albeit without the commercial success, massive stadium audience or back catalogue to support it).
The title track was written and the shape/story of the album started to form. It may sound ambitiously daft, but the intent was to produce a Punk Rock Opera. Further encouraged by producer Rob Cavallo, more songs were created and inserted into the thread. What came out was probably the best and most complete work the band had produced.

In autumn 2004, Green Day returned to my ears when I heard "Letterbomb" on the radio. As I recall, it sort of washed over me a bit - I knew of them still, but hadn't really paid attention to what was going on.
And then a couple of days later, it was there again - something about it appealed, not in the same way as "Basket Case" 10 years previously, but enough to make me go and buy the parent album.

'American Idiot' purchased and played, but beyond "Letterbomb" I was vaguely non-plussed.
But the songs stayed in my head, and whilst not a result of repeated playing, there was just the moment where I thought "have I missed something, or been too harsh?". I played it again, followed the rough outline of the concept/story (albeit a fairly loose strand), and BANG - now I get it.
And I kept getting it - the more you listen, the more you enjoy it.
Critically, certainly in Q and many other publications, it was hailed as the Album of 2004. And it hung around longer than that. Indeed, off the back of it's success, Green Day became one of the biggest, most recognisable bands on the planet - even getting a Weird Al Yankovic re-working (that's when you know you've arrived).

OK, the album is often called a Punk Rock Opera (indeed, I called it that above), but (with my musical snob head on) this is Punk for people who don't really know what Punk is. Also the "Rock Opera" bit - there is a loose storyline to it, but none of the tracks are truly dependant on the others. Each track can stand on it's own.
In short, what you have here is a wonderful slab of loud Rock, and very probably the best of the mid 2000s.

So, where next?
After the Live albums, the critical and commercial acclaim, the thing to do is go back in the studio and bring out a successor that is equal or even better than before.
What they actually did was to continue with the concept idea, and produced '21st Century Breakdown'. The album is competent, but gets too caught up in the concept idea and as a result emerges confused, overwrought and (if I'm being harsh) decidedly average. And after that, at the end of 2012, were three separate albums released approximately a month apart - '¡Uno!', '¡Dos!', and '¡TrĂ©!'. Break these albums down and you have a very good single album, or a listenable double album. But a triple?

12 years on from it's release, Green Day may never surpass 'American Idiot',and then again why would they want to, or do they actually need to?
It might be over-played and overly recognisable, but I don't think it is getting lost or in any way losing it's appeal. From the opening chords of "American Idiot" strap yourself in for a loud and bouncing hour of noise. And what more can anyone want than that?

Jesus Of Suburbia