Saturday 15 December 2018

2018 Round-Up

The Annual round-up of 5" bits of metal that have been filling my ears in 2018 (and some others which I never got round to buying, but have been enjoying through the medium of Spotify et al, and will no doubt be slapping my money on the counter before Auld Lang Syne is sung).
I've not written about these this year (apart from 2) - not that there hasn't been the enthusiasm with the product, mote there hasn't been the enthusiasm to write stuff based on a couple of listens, preferring to savour the content over a period of time, make a considered opinion, and then finding that I've left it too long before going into print

It's not a ranked list (the first few are, but after that it all becomes a bit arbitrary), and contains 16 things that I've enjoyed (plus 1 special mention (ie it's an album of covers rather than original material), 1 re-issue, and 2 that properly disappointed)

Spiritualized - And Nothing Hurt
Manages that rare thing with an album - is unique, stands on it own, but damn near every song is recognisable from somewhere but completely of itself.
It also manages to be both a guitar album and an electronic album in one package.
Every song feels crafted, laboured over, re-crafted and only then when it is perfect placed on the album.  There is not a moment wasted, and no whiffs of filler.
His master work - 'Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space' - was released 21 years ago.  Here finally is a Spiritualized album equal to that work.

Suede - The Blue Hour
Epic, sweeping, Prog-Indie.  A bit like a hybrid of 'Suede' (the debut album) and 'Dog Man Star'.
Dark tales from a far from idyllic countryside (at times, a feeling of an almost dystopian countryside).
You get echoes of the guitar fuzz of Suede of old, with a bit of Scott Walker, a bit of TV drama soundtrack, and even a moment of an un-used Bond Theme.
Whilst I dislike the term, this album does take you on a journey - there is a certain immersion to it, where like most, if not all, Prog (or Prog-lite?) it demands to be consumed as a whole piece.  Although, at the same time there are many tracks here that could be cherry-picked without losing the atmospheres or tone.
As a final statement: So much better (streets ahead) than the last outing - the disappointing 'Night Thoughts'.

Wreckless Eric - Construction Time And Demolition
Still touring, still writing songs, still putting out albums as good as anything else out there.  Always presented and often looked upon as the underdog, his catalogue of lo-fi recordings, high quality songs continues with this album'
OK, his voice may not be for everybody - but this album is a stream of fuzzy bass, tinny guitars, mad piano, assorted horns, all bolted to narrative, conversational lyrics about whatever appears to be happening around him.  'Construction Time And Demolition' is stuffed full of tunes and melodies that would be the envy of many (if only more than a couple of hundred people get to hear it).
"Whole Wide World" was 40 years ago, and it would be a shame if that were his only legacy when he can produce stuff like this.

Paul Weller - True Meanings
He's back (as every year).  But this time he's released an album that will last after initial enthusiasm, and you want to return to.
The album initially feels like a re-visit (with updates) of 'Wild Wood'.  But this is no simple re-hash of past glories.
Most of the tracks set themselves in the pastoral, acoustic mould, but are then layered and lifted with strings, taking them somewhere unexpected for a "straight" Paul Weller album.  This is of course no surprise, as each album of the last 10 years or so has driven down a different road.
The difference here is the he is working with a co-write, and one does wonder if there is now an element of both quality control and competitive pushing going on.

White Denim - Performance
Swampy blues boogie with a bit of Glam-Rock/T.Rex going on, some soul excursions thrown in, and a bit of even a bit of proggy madness in places.
Own studio perhaps giving the freedom of time and a chance to try a bit more.
It is in a similar vein to previous release - 'Still' - but goes broader and deeper in it's influence (whilst staying in the same place ???) - it just feels like they have a bigger palette (or more tracks on the mixing desk).
The whole thing is just the right side a ragged, with riffs, and boogie stomps all over the shop.
From start to finish, a joy to behold.

The Damned - Evil Spirits
They were there at the start of Punk - 'Damned, Damned, Damned' remains an essential item - they went off the boil and split up before 1977 was over.  They reformed with an album of perfect punk-pop, and eventually 9 years later (with a modified, smoothed sound and some line-up alterations) finally got a Top 10 hit and got paid.  After that, things started to go south, but never to be beaten, they kept touring, kept reforming, and kept releasing albums.
This stands as their very best since The Black Album (in 1980) - sounding probably tighter than ever, sonically in control (the Tony Visconti production credit is often a mark of quality), and full of Psychedelic Scott Walker-isms.
They may be heading towards pensionable age, but they remain an awesome live band, and their DVD (Don't You Wish We Were Dead) is definitely worth a watch.

Manic Street Preachers - Resistance Is Futile
From a band who started influenced by the past, but not wanting to update the past rather than revisit it.  Throughout their career, the Manics have constantly strove forward, and rarely look back (apart from a couple of Richey-tinted specs moments).
This album then is something of a surprise - another move forward, but this time echoing past glories.  It sometimes reads like a canter through their back catalogue (with a couple of near nicks of someone elses songs thrown in).
26 years they've been recording, and they're still producing anthemic quality material, and don't look like stopping anytime soon.

Roger Daltrey - As Long As I Have You
Follow-up to the collaboration with Wilko Johnson (see below), and Rog still showing what a fine voice he has.  A decent collection of songs, and a supporting band including Mr P Townshend.  Since Pete's autobiography set the record straight, these two do not appear at odds that the media suggest and are happy to be working together.  Could be considered a new Who album, but it's more thatn that - it's a new Who album, where they've actually tried to make a decent Who album (rather than going through the motions)

First Aid Kit - Ruins
I'm a lover of loud guitars, high tempos and other stuff that usually garners the response: "Turn it down!"
So what is this doing on my list?
Well, no-one can ignore the harmonies, melodies, and indeed the brittle emotion running through many of these songs.
Need to kick back against the world and relax a bit?  This may very well be the album to soundtrack that experience.
The first half of the album maybe stronger than the second (I admit there is a bit of a lull in the middle), but It does not distract from the sheer enjoyment of it.

Chris Pope & The Chords UK - Nowhere Land
Chris Pope's moment in the sum came briefly as part of the Mod Revival, and was over inside 3 years.  Undeterred, he kept going - he has released a number of fine solo albums, and has recently re-adopted the Chords moniker.
This album was funded via PledgeMusic, and the content is as deserving of your ears as any major label release.  Whilst the musical landscape may not go too far beyond the 12-Bar RnB influence, the songs are well arranged, solidly played with exuberance and urgency (even a spot of anger at times) and report on Chris's world, his frustrations, his tribulations and his triumphs.
It's definitely one of those "turn it up loud and watch the speakers shake" albums

The Vaccines - Combat Sports
They've only gone and done it again - 4 albums in and they still produce a release of instant gratification and enjoyment.  You really don't have to overstretch the "listening to" muscles with this band.
"Indie by numbers" may be an apt description, but there is a passion and energy that cannot be ignored, and the songwriting is a couple of notches above other landfill-esque competitors

Gaz Coombes - Worlds Stongest Man
Locked in his own studio, experimenting, trying stuff, labouring by himself - Gaz may no longer portray the cheeky, smiley, pre-Britpop "scamp" he once was, oh no, he is an "artist".
Ignore the pretentiousness of this statement, and one listen to this album will confirm that blokes sitting in sheds do produce very good things.
A Step up from 'Matador' (which was pretty darn fine) ...

Frank Turner - Be More Kind
My concern is that Frank Turner is (was) becoming lazy, predictable and shiny (here's a slow song, here's some politics, here's an air-punching affirmation etc).  Whilst 'Be More Kind' does contain all those elements, the studio sheen applied to his last album has been docked, and he's sounding more valid and passionate in his output.

Wilko Johnson - Blow Your Mind
Upfront, I will concede that this offering is (unfortunately) the lesser partner of the Roger Daltrey collaboration from a coupe of years ago.  The same tricks, the same drive and passion, damn near the same band and song constructs are all present and correct, it just lacks "something".  A great listen if the mood is right - at the right time, all is dandy in the world.  If the moment is wrong, you get the feeling that the voice is just not strong enough to carry it, and look to move on quicker than you probably should.  Perfect pub music (and probably it's natural habitat)

Father John Misty - God's Favourite Customer
The pretensions of 'Pure Comedy' are stripped away and FJM delivers a corker.
Previously he tried to be Billy Joel, this time out the touchstone is Elton John, and it works marvelously.  No real stand out tracks (well, maybe a couple), and best consumed as one big whole

Glen Matlock - Good To Go
Former Sex Pistol (is there any review that doesn't describe Glen Matlock as that?) goes full-on rockabilly, ably supported by Slim Jim Phantom.  Like Chris Pope (above) Glen is too long in the tooth to pander to "styles", "demographics" and even expectations, and is happy doing what he wants (but even happier on stage by the look of it)

Special Mention:
Matt Berry - Television Themes
A collection of 1970s TV Themes from the 1970s fleshed out to full length and given a slight psychedelic-y, jazz-y coating.
Anyone who watched TV in these years will be familiar with the tunes in their shortened form, but here you can marvel at a full length version of "Sorry!", get creeped again by "Picture Box" and enjoy the sound of "Are You Being Served" without being told what each floor sells.
There is also a Pub Bore trivia reminder: the theme to Wildtrack was a John Barry tune called "Florida Fantasy" and used in Midnight Cowboy.  I think your age can be defined by upon hearing it you picture Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman, or Tony Soper and Su Ingle.

Give Out But Don't Give Up: The Original Memphis Recordings
This re-release is the 'Give Out ...' album presented in it's original guise - a sleazy, bluesy, country-rock album.  Stripped of the Funk excursions and 90s US Rock production, what is left is The Stones meets MC5 meets The Stooges meets Muscle Shoals.
A recent documentary suggests that if this version was released in 1994, it wouldn't have sold.  And that's probably true. After  'Screamadelica', the audience was probably expected more of the Funky stuff, and the "clean" Rock sound.  This "trying to meet market expectation" may also explain why "Give Out ..." is not always considered be on the Primals finest moments.  Have a listen to this - it is indeed a fine, fine moment.

Not enjoyed as much as I hoped:
John Grant - Love Is Magic
I may have to admit that since ;The Queen Of Denmark' John Grant is unlikely to align to my particular tastes.  Yes, there are moments, and one cannot deny the songcraft and heft of delivery.  It just feels each album is moving further away from my core tastes, and ultimately leaving me disappointed.
Could I see this one coming? The couple of early tracks I heard, and the reviews I read, suggested that 'Love Is Magic' could turn my attention.  Sadly, this din't happen.
Great singer, great songs, but not really for me.

Arctic Monkeys - Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
Another band with a sliding scale of Rigidly Digital interest.
This debut was, is, and will remain a sterling piece of work.  Each subsequent album has become more and more removed.  And fair play, why would anyone expect them to standstill?
Problem for me was that as album releases increased, song interest and longevity reduced.  There was a brief 'blip' around 'AM', but then it was back to normal service.

Those that aren't yet in my possession, but have still enjoyed:
Aah ... Spotify.  The gift to those of us without enough disposable income (or in my case, serving an expenditure penance for some over-spending misdemeanor.
These albums would, no doubt, have been in the long list if I had more time with them.
Parquet Courts - Wide Awake!
Idles - Joy as an Act of Resistance
Paul McCartney - Egypt Station
Courtney Barnett - Tell Me How You Really Feel

Spiritualized - I'm Your Man

Wreckless Eric - Gateway To Europe

Parquet Courts - Total Football

Tuesday 4 December 2018

Bat Out Of Hell

It's mad, it's overblown, it sounds like Richard Wagner meets Phil Spector recast for Broadway, the story is out of order, and it has been on the charts for something like 9 million years.
And 40+ years after it's release it remains a phenomenal piece of work, and a truly great album (if often derided by those who obviously know no better).

The concept/genesis of Jim Steinman's work dates back almost a decade before it's release.  This album was effectively the third draft - keeping 3 of the previous songs and adding 4 more to create a 7 track album with an average length of around 7 minutes per track (so much for the 3 minute pop song).
But none of those minutes are really wasted - it's full-on scene-setting, atmosphere and drama from start to finish.

The idea was shopped around to prospective record companies, but there were no takers.
The album was recorded through 1975 under the guidance of Todd Rundgren in the producers chair.  Rundgren fell for a Jim Steinman story the they had already signed a record contract, and liking what he heard agreed to finance some studio time  (some reports say he loaned Meat & Steinman the money).  He also roped in his his band (Utopia) and some friends from the E Street Band as supporting musicians.
Despite the record contract story being untrue, Rundgren was now all in, and the success (albeit belated) of the album was down to his production and arrangement, as much as Mr Loaf's performance and Jim Steinman's songs.
When it finally was released, Meat Loaf was the headline name on the cover.  At the bottom is the legend "Songs by Jim Steinman" - arguably, a second sub-title should be added acknowledging Todd Rundgren's contribution.

More time spent trying to sell it to a record company than was spent writing and recording it
Only picked up by small Cleveland (a lowly subsidiary of Epic) with zero expectations (possibly as a favour to the E Street Band members and Todd Rundgren himself), and was finally released in 1977.

There was no great interest when released, hanging around the lower end of the charts (if it managed to get that far) and picking up few sales - in fairness, it suffered from both under-promotion by the Record Company (it was a last minute deal with a small subsidiary label), and (b) not really fitting with any prevailing musical trend, so didn't have a ready made target audience.
In the UK, it was nigh on a year before it picked up any real momentum after a live clip was aired on The Old Grey Whistle Test.
And it is probably really only in a live setting that 'Bat Out Of Hell' would appeal - the tracks are long, the names unknown, but the sheer theatricality of performance wins through.
At around the same time, a syndicated TV show played the '"Bat Out Of Hell" video (a live performance), and the album, or selected tracks, started to pick up radio play.

From slow beginnings, it went on to sell nigh on 50 million worldwide, and it's reckoned it still sells between 250,000 and 500,000 copies per year.

Vocal problems as a result of incessant touring (and straining his voice every night). couipled with a breakdown in the relationship of the 2 main players, put the mockers on the intended follow-up.
Jim Steinman did release 'Bad For Good' a couple of yesrs later - it's a pretty good listen, but Jim Steinman is not a singer in the same mould, and one wonders how Mr Loaf would've delivered these songs.

Fast forward to 1993 and the public get the chance to find out.
Bat Out Of Hell II was a brave attempt to re-ignite a monster, but the comfort of success (and in the case with the 'Bat ..' label it was pretty much an assured success) took away some of the urgency and/or the overblown nature of the original.
Yes this sequel was overblown, but overblown by a budget rather than performance.
Bat Out Of Hell III arrived a couple of years later, and with the best will in the world this really was a case of milking the cash cow until it was dry.

I am intrigued by the Musical and probably will go and see it - I have heard some good things about.   But ... and this may come as a shock to you, I'm not really one for Musical Theatre.  I did go and see We Will Rock You, but the experience was all a bit "ho-hum. is that it?"  - it felt like just an excuse to lever Queen songs into a flimsy storyline.
The Bat Out Of Hell Musical however, was actually written by Jim Steinman, and is based on his original vision of a retelling of the Peter Pan story set in some future dystopia.
Sounds cheery, but I think the songs were sort of designed for the Theatre setting.

The opening track of the album is the title track - I think to create a properly cogent storyline, it should actually be the penultimate track.

The original track listing:
  • Bat Out Of Hell
  • You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth
  • Heaven Can Wait
  • All Revved Up With No Place To Go
  • Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad
  • Paradise By The Dashboard Light
  • For Crying Out Loud

My re-jigged track listing to tell a clearer story:
  • All Revved Up With No Place To Go
  • You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth
  • Paradise By The Dashboard Light
  • Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad
  • For Crying Out Loud
  • Bat Out Of Hell
  • Heaven Can Wait

Friday 23 November 2018

Bad News

A similar idea happened at a similar time on different sides of the Atlantic.
But which came first: Spinal Tap or Bad News?

Well, Spinal Tap first saw the light of day on a Saturday Night Live sketch in 1979.
Now there is a good chance that Adrian Edmondson may have seen this and been inspired to try something similar.
Or more likely, it was just one of those coincidences that a couple of people had the same idea at the same time (it does happen).
The prime difference between the two though is that whilst Spinal Tap have actually had some success (albeit minor, and festooned with reviews such as "Shit Sandwich", they are actually part of the machine (as Pink Floyd have referred to it), and do have some talent as 20 years of remaining in the machine is testament to..
Bad News on the other hand are trying to break into the machine, but are somewhat lacking in the talent department (bravado and belief are off the scale, but talent is in fairly short supply).

Bad News were first seen in early 1983 in a documentary type film entitled "The Bad News Tour" where the Four Horseman Of The Rock Apocalypse (as they later titled themselves) can be seen boarding a Transit Van for a tour of the bright lights of the UK (primarily a gig in Grantham).
The four members - Vim Fuego (real name: Alan Metcalfe), Den Dennis, Colin Grigson and Spider Webb (real name: Spider Webb) - bore an uncanny resemblance to 3 of The Young Ones (Adrian Edmondaon, Rik Mayall and Nigel Planer) and a Comic Strip Presents actor/director (Pete Richardson).
Much like the concept of synchronous ideas (stated above), everybody has a doppelganger somewhere.
As the documentary ends, you can hear the band falling apart before yours ears as Vim announces: "This band is a pile of shit"

And that was that - or was it?
The journalist they met on the original tour - Sally Freeman - wanted to get the band back together to find out what they'd been doing since the original tour - and released a new documentary.
Well, they had some minor success as the clip from The Tube testifies (although Vim and Colin are having their usual disagreements in front of Jools Holland and the viewing public).
As it turns out. they have all given up the music - Vim is a painter and decorator, Den works for Vim, Colin works in a bank (and still lives at home) and Spider - the wild man who could throw up exactly half a pint into a half-pint pot with no spillage - had to marry this strange hippy woman because he got her pregnant.
Their fist re-union is a relatively friendly affair, but becomes more volatile as the Den informs all those present that Vim's idea of "keeping the music alive" involves playing Mary Hopkins songs in Wine Bars.
Vim is angry with Den and as the barracking starts from the rest of the band, he throws a piece of paper on the table - it is a Record Contract (albeit with little know independent Frilly Pink).
The band are left dumbfounded, and Sally has the perfect opening to her documentary (titled More Bad News).
After availing themselves of the free lager in the studio, their first single is recorded and released - they go straight out and buying 350 copies.  This gets them banned from the charts and any promotion, but the record company somehow gets them onto the bill at the 1986 Monster Of Rock Festival at Castle Donnington.
Things didn't go to well and they performed in a hail of plastic bottles and much derision from the other bands on stage.
Their show ended with the crowd invading the stage resulting in Vim undergoing major surgery and Colin having his throat cut.  Spider escaped by setting fire to himself, and Den "was so scared, I went to the toilet in my trousers and most people, like, kept away from me because of the smell".

Well, it can't have been that bad because inside 6 months, the band were signed to EMI and released their first major label single - a cover of "Bohemian Rhapsody".  And then the album followed soon after.
Ah the album ... it is basically a catalogue of every Heavy Metal cliche imaginable (Booze, Motorbikes, Mythical creatures (like the beast from the Lager of Lamot advert)) and a lot of sweary arguing.
It's a bit like a Derek & Clive album with added loud guitars and strained to the point of tunelessness vocals.

They pushed on for another year which included an appearance at the Reading Rock Festival (special guest: Brian May) and a date supporting Iron Maiden at Hammersmith Odeon (special guest: Jimmy Page).
They also went one stage further in the sweary arguing stakes with the release of the album 'Bootleg' containing more of arguing an less music.
And they rounded off their EMI career with the single "Cashing In On Christmas" - except they failed to Cash In as the single failed to get past number 80 in the charts, and is unlikely to appear on any 'Best All-Time Christmas Sing-Song Tunes To Be Played In Every Shop From November 2nd ... Ever' compilation albums.

Bad News introduce themselves (warning - this clip may contain some potentially disagreeable Anglo Saxon wordage):

and then go straight into their eponymous track (or they did on the album, but not on YouTube):

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

Sunday 9 September 2018

Record Collection Random Choice (RCRC) - Z: Zodiac Mindwarp & The Love Reaction - Tattooed Beat Messiah

Zodiac Mindwarp's first EP release was titled 'High Priest Of Love' in 1986.
It was basically a bit of punk mixed with recycled AC/DC riffs, with a massive dollop of sleaze added.
Band members listed on record are very likely to be psuedonyms (Kid Chaos?  Trash D Garbage? Flash Bastard?  Evil Bastard?), and the accompanying text on the back cover all feels a bit self-important, pretend poetry - like their playing up to a character, and pushing it as far as they can.  But that aside, the content is brilliant.
It sold f*** all, but Zodiac was not deterred and embarked on the follow-up (no doubt hastened by the success of The Cult's 'Electric' which re-cycled much the same AC/DC riffs).

Trailed by the single "Prime Mover" - opening with an almost gospel/quasi-religious organ herald, and then (attempted?) blood curdling scream (with a touch of Lemmy), the fun commences.
Guitar riff, thumping drums and straight solid bass underpinning a near-Lemmy-ish vocal.
In the first line he declares that he loves both TV and T.Rex.  In fact he loves T.Rex so much, he christens himself The Groover in the chorus.
At the tone is set ... over 12 tracks (13 if you have the CD which includes a brave (but ultimately unsuccessful) attempt at "Born To Be Wild"), there is little variance.
Don't go looking for arch-musicianship - there isn't any.  Don't hunt down lyrical meanings or unexpected turns of phrase, because they're pretty much absent too.
But it is immense "fun" - and calls to be played very loud whilst bouncing around like a loony.
It can't last though - by the middle of Side 2 the album begins to run out of steam and dwindles to the end.
On the plus side, the previously mentioned "Prime Mover" and other big single "Back Seat Education" rank as some of the better sleaze-infused HM/HR songs of the late 80s (if you like that sort of thing)

And then time, cynicism, and actually reading the album cover properly reveals certain back-stories and "truths" (suggestions?)

Zodiac Mindwarp was the creation of sometime artist, sometime editor of Flexi-pop magazine, Mark Manning.  The original line-up of the band included Jimmy Cauty (later of The Orb and KLF) and Kid Chaos (soon to join The Cult and play (part-time) with Guns n Roses).
Their first EP was released on Dave Balfe's Food Label, and leading up to this album the band were signed up to major label Mercury.  Balfe continued as the band's manager, and called up his old sparring partner Bill Drummond to assist production - and knowing Bill Drummond, probably artistic placement, marketing and a touch of agitation into the mix too.

And so to paraphrase Loyd Grossman "the clues are all there":
  • Sometime artist
  • created character and pseudonymous band
  • evasiveness and/or over-confidence in interviews
  • maxed out sleaze content
  • Bill Drummond
  • No long term future career ("get in, get paid, get out")
It was all a big Art Project - and not a bad one at that

Prime Mover

Back Seat Education

Sunday 2 September 2018

Record Collection Random Choice (RCRC) - Y: Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Live Rust

After the worldwide success of 'Harvest' in 1972, Neil Young's album sales were reducing.  The albums were still getting relatively good sales, but over a longer period of time from release, and not in the numbers that 'Harvest' achieved.
He remained a massive live draw, and equally in demand by peers and former band-mates (Young appeared in The Band's Last Waltz and reformed Crosby, Stills & Nash in 1974).

During his 1978 Tour, a number of shows were recorded.
Performances were then selected and over-dubbed in the studio where necessary and then released under the title 'Rust Never Sleeps' in June 1979.
And then 6 months later, another show (or set of shows - I'm not 100% sure?) was selected and released as 'Live Rust'.

Two live albums within 6 months of each other - taken from similar recordings from the same tour.  Add the fact that Neil Young had only a couple of years earlier released a Greatest Hits/Best Of set ('Decade'), there is the feeling that he was just milking the cash cow in lieu of any new inspiration.

'Live Rust' was intended as the soundtrack accompaniment to the Rust Never Sleeps film that was also doing the rounds (at one point old Neil was informing the record company this album was also to be called 'Rust Never Sleeps').

The earlier album contains 9 tracks, 'Live Rust' was a double-disc set with 16 tracks
Only "Sedan Delivery", "Powderfinger" and "Hey Hey My My" (in both acoustic (Out Of The Blue) and electric (Into The Black) variants) appear on both.

But which is better?
'Rust Never Sleeps' is the shorter and perhaps the easiest to consume, but also was cleaned up and overdubbed in the studio - as a result the audience noise is muted.  'Live Rust' however gives a more "full show" feeling.
'Live Rust' repeats the trick of 'Rust Never Sleeps' by starting in acoustic territory and then going into  full-on incendiary electric land.
And when it comes to the second half, one can only revel in the tightness and power of Crazy Horse.
Personal choice: the presence of "Like A Hurricane" means 'Live Rust' wins.

Hey Hey My My (Out Of The Blue)

Hey Hey My My (Into The Black)

Like A Hurricane

Thursday 23 August 2018

Record Collection Random Choice (RCRC) - X: X-Ray Spex - Germfree Adolescents

The letters X, Y and Z offer slim pickings, and I make no promises for the discovery and re-appraisal of long forgotten gems.  Indeed, the random-ness of these selections may not appear all that random and you lot will be thinking "ah, he's just chosen something comfy that he knows".
Well, honestly - the randomisation may be minimal but it is still Excel's choice and not mine.

This was the debut (and only) album by one of the early wave of Punk bands (inspired by Sex Pistols, and played The Roxy - credentials for an "original punk band" me suggests?).
X Ray Spex had two stand-out elements that differentiated them from the Punk pack.
  1. Although many other vocalists had a sneer and untrained tone, Poly Styrene could holler with the best of them.  And as a girl in a generally bloke-ish world, her confidence to shout-sing her politics and beliefs no doubt inspired many others to have a go.
  2. They employed a most unlikely instrument for a nascent punk band - a saxophone.  Blown and parped by Lora Logic.  Yes it is a very unlikely punk instrument, but adds a certain depth, tone and uniqueness to the band.  Plus, it can't be that daft an idea, as the model was used a couple of years later for Hazel O'Connors band in Breaking Glass
Their first single ("Oh Bondage Up Yours" - the only recording with Lora Logic, before she left and went back to school) came in late 1977, with this album following a year later.

The album can be read as an onslaught against consumerism, fakery and gender politics (no getting away from that one - Poly is a forceful character, and you just somehow "believe" it is there).
On first listen, it's difficult to get past the punk-thrash, atonal high pitched vocal and seemingly out of place saxophone.
Further listens reveal it to be something of a statement.  And titles such as "The Day The World Turned Dy Glo" do resonate - this album does indeed feel alive, colourful and joyous in delivery, if lyrically it may take a darker or more contemplative tone.
The stand out tracks for this listener are the title track "Germ Free Adolescents" (which has a slower pace than the rest of the album, but is no less engaging), "Identity" (a mainstay of multiple "Best Of Punk" compilations) and the almost 60s Girl Group meets New Wave sounding "I Can't Do Anything".

Their star rose and descended quickly - by early 1979, Poly Styrene was showing signs of mentally exhaustion, wrongly diagnosed with scizophrenia and sectioned.  This spelt the end of the band and they chose not to continue.
Poly later became involved in Hare Krishna movement, and made intermittent public appearances thereafter.
As one of the few women involved at the outset of Punk, she will be remembered as a trailblazer of sorts.
Her "legend" will always be this debut album - she was one of the first female punks, not scared of herself or anyone else, and (fearfully treading into cliché territory) a true original.
Sadly, Marianne Elliot (aka Poly Styrene) passed away in 2011.

Back row: Debbie Harry, Viv Albertine, Siouxsie Sioux
Fron row: Chrissie Hynde, Poly Styrene, Pauline Black

Germ Free Adolescents


I Can't Do Anything

Friday 10 August 2018

Record Collection Random Choice (RCRC) - W: Wolfsbane - Live Fast, Die Fast

Not too much has come out of Tamworth - Sir Robert Peel and Julian Cope perhaps being the most noteworthy.
But it was home to one of the first British Heavy Metal bands to be signed to Rick Rubin's Def American label.  He was also producer of this - their debut album.

The sub-title of the album should give a bit of a clue to the content:
Wicked Tales of Booze, Birds and Bad Language

The album itself is pretty formulaic - sort of Iron Maiden meets AC/DC with a bit of David Lee Roth thrown in for good measure.  And the Rick Rubin production is not a great one - it all sounds a bit flat, the edges smoothed and never really shines or grabs the listeners attention.
I'd like to say "ah - but this doesn't matter because the songs are top notch".
Unfortunately, I can't say this because the album has a couple of high points and then seems to be fleshed out with filler, guitar trickery (wankery?) and thumping drums.
Give Blaze Bayley credit though - the vocals are really quite good, and one can understand how the man got the job of filling Bruce Dickinson's shoes in Iron Maiden (sadly, despite a couple of good songs, the Maiden albums he was involved with are a bit "treading water").

But back to Wolfsbane ...

The album kicks off with an sonic assault in the shape of "Man Hunt" - maybe not big on the lyrical front, but a late 80s Metal track favoured at parties and alternative nightclubs (I know this because I played it a couple of times to positive reaction).
But following songs barely break away from the template and just all sound a bit predictable.  The two other beast tracks are "All Or Nothing" (not the Small Faces song), and (almost obligatory) Rock/Metal Ballad (think Bad Company meets Dogs D'Amour) in the shape of "Tears From A Fool".

12 tracks - 3 pass muster, and the other 9 are somewhat disposable (to my ears) - I wouldn't necessarily seek this album out again (maybe I've heard it too much in my younger years), but by the same token I wouldn't turn it off if it popped up on random play.

Man Hunt

Tears From A Fool

Friday 27 July 2018

Record Collection Random Choice (RCRC) - V: Velvet Underground - Velvet Underground & Nico

1967 may be considered as the "birth of Rock".
The album was rapidly becoming the prime method of delivery, with sales beginning to out-strip singles.
And there were one or two landmark albums in that year.
The Beatles 'Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' being the most obvious.  But 1967 was also the year of' The Who Sell Out' (The Who), 'Their Satanic Majesties Request' (The Rolling Stones), 'Smiley Smile' (Beach Boys). 'Are You Experienced' (Jimi Hendrix Experience) and 'Piper At The Gates Of Dawn' (Pink Floyd).  A fair few "classics" in one calendar year, but honourable mentions also go to 'Disraeli Gears' (Cream), 'Forever Changes' (Love), 'Days Of Future Passed' (Moody Blues'), 'Odessey and Oracle' (The Zombies) ...

I could go on, but I think it's fair to say that there were a good few (soon to be) influential albums in that year.
And then there's this one - equally as influential (in some circles, probably even more so), but snuck out quietly to little reception or commercial success.  (Conservative estimates suggest the album sold no more than 50,000 in it's first 2 years of life, and it would be a further 10 years before it cracked the 100,000 mark).

Lou Reed and John Cale had first come together in 1964 sharing a love of experimental music and art.  They were joined by college friend Sterling Morrison, and re-christened their band Velvet Underground.  Drummer Moe Tucker joined soon after.
Lou Reed's song "Venus In Furs" was translated into a short art film, and through this they came to the attention of Andy Warhol.
Warhol invited the band to become part of his touring show/event Exploding Plastic Inevitable, and continued to encourage the band to practice, experiment and record.
Warhol also suggested the band use German singer Nico on some of their tracks.
Under Andy Warhol's guidance (and his expansion to the vocal line-up), the band recorded their debut album a fortnight in late spring 1966 (they returned to the studio towards the end of 1966 to add the finishing touches and record one more track.
Andy Warhol is listed as Producer, but it is suggested that the extent of his "production" was standing in the studio nodding sagely and offering encouragement to the band (he also bank-rolled some of, so a tag of "Executive Producer" probably isn't too far away).

With Warhol involved, and with the artiness of the cover (a single yellow banana on a white background (a peelable banana on early copies)) you would probably expect an avant-garde, pseudo-intellectual, almost impenetrable (only to those "in the know") collection.
Well, track 1 certainly pushes those misconceptions away very quickly.

Opener "Sunday Morning" (and the last track added) is a gentle pop song with psychedelic-folk feeling, not to far removed from the Mamas & Papas (or similar).  And this is where the "oddity" of this album comes in - "Sunday Morning" has been used as the introduction for Michael Ball's Radio 2 show for a good few years now.  A perfectly acceptable, perfectly polite, perfect pop song (OK, with a little touch of paranoia going on in the lyrics).
And then the dirt & darkness begin - "Waiting For My Man" is a two chord, drum thumping garage rocker telling the tale of Lou Reed waiting in an unwelcoming part of town for his drug dealer to arrive.
Nico's first full vocal is next on "Femme Fatale" - cut from a similar cloth as "Sunday Morning" but from a darker place, with a strange mixture of Latin and Germanic tones.
The droning "Venus In Furs" follows, wrongfooting (wrong-earing?) the listener once again.  A trand employed right the way through.
You just never know where you're going to be taken next: There's Garage Rock ("Run, Run, Run", "There She Goes Again", drugs and darkness ("Heroin" - is it a celebration or a warning?), a ballad from Nico ("I'll Be Your Mirror"), Poetry over a squeaking Viola ("Black Angels Death Song") and a frankly disorientating mess which is strangely listenable (closing track "European Son").

There is no "theme" or "trend" to the album as such, it is a culmination of a group of musicians pushing their boundaries in the name of "art" (whatever that means).
What they did do, bu accident rather than design, was to create an album that grew in stature over time (it gets better each time you listen to it, and become familiar with it's discordant-ness), and one that in retrospect you can identify influence on future musical movements (Punk, Goth, Post-Punk, Alternative Rock, Art Rock - all can draw some connecting line back to 'Velvet Underground & Nico', and it's not too much of a jump to suggest David Bowie's "Queen Bitch" owes a debt to this album too.)

There were to be more Velvet Underground albums, and all had their moments.  Just not as many moments, compiled together as well as they managed with this first offering, and never as perfect again.

Sunday Morning


All Tomorrows Parties

Saturday 7 July 2018

Record Collection Random Choice (RCRC) - U: Uriah Heep - The Best Of Uriah Heep

1977 was considered as Year Zero - the moment when all the new Punk bands swept aside the lumbering dinosaurs of the 70s.
Deep Purple were bestowed a career spanning (or 7 years of it) compilation by EMI with 'Deepest Purple', Black Sabbath were on the downward with the disappointing 'Technical Ecstasy; followed by Ozzy Osbourne's departure after 'Never Say Die' in 1978, Led Zeppelin breathed their last in the same year) - although the loss of John Bonham probably had more to do with it than the Punk movement - Yes became No, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer's highfalutin musical w*nkery was widely mocked.
But roll forward 5 years, and all these bands were still selling in high numbers and selling out concert venues.
One such band which either saw what was coming and ducked out early, or had perhaps reached the end of their natural life was Uriah Heep, whose sales and reputation seemed to drop quite quickly after the release of this compilation in 1976.

Uriah Heep - were they Prog?  were the Heavy Rock?  did they have a bit of psychadelia going on?
Yes, yes, and the answer ins in the ear of the beholder (although probably not).

Uriah Heep were formed in 1967, but didn't get their name until a couple of years later when they decided original name Spice just wan't right, and chose something more proggy-rocky and Dickensian.
Their first couple of albums sold in "cultish" numbers (ie small amounts), but their third album ('Look At Yourself', complete with mirrored cover (get it?) took them into the album charts and lifted them up the Festival bills.
1972 brought the release of 'Demons and Wizards' and 'The Magician's Birthday'.
Both albums had the Prog-regulation Roger Dean album covers, and both nestled in the Top 20 album charts.
Three more albums of hard-riffing Prog-styled Rock followed ('Sweet Freedom', 'Wonderworld', 'Return to Fantasy', plus the regulation Live album which captures the band at their loud, raucous best.
Their reward was this 1976 compilation pulling the best bits from their previous albums, but the denoument was falling sales and dwindling audiences.
They kept trudging on, and by 1982s 'Abominog' very nearly crept back into the big(ish) time.

With this compilation there is no danger of the Trade Descriptions Act - this really is the best stuff.
The opening track is perhaps the one song that Uriah Heep will forever be linked with ("Easy Livin").  But when a song is this good, I'm sure they won't mind.  The album is bookended by another burst of power in the shape of "Gypsy" - Prog and Heavy Metal combine (Mick Box's guitar riff and Ken Hensley's keyboards matching Keith Emerson's histrionics).  And in between is a batch of songs the equal of their early 70s contemporaries - "Bird of Prey", "Sunrise", "The Wizard", "Sweet Lorraine" - all mighty fine.

Punk was supposed to sweep away the dinosuars of the past, but Uriah Heep are still going and may well be visitiing a concert venue near you soon (if you live in Geramny or Scandanavia, or visit the Butlins Alternative Weekend thingys).

Easy Livin'


(it's not on this compilation, but is a pretty good cover version from 1982s 'Abominog')
Tin Soldier

Friday 29 June 2018

Record Collection Random Choice (RCRC) - T: The Thrils - So Much For The City

From beginnings in mid-90s Dublin, via a 6 month stint in San Fransisco, The Thrills debut came out in 2003.
I recall being impressed by the single "Big Sur", and then further impressed by "One Horse Town" - not so much by the other big single "Santa Cruz (You're Not That Far)", but I'd bought the album by then.

The music is a mixture of 60s/70s West Coast, with added Beach Boys harmonies.  There are also diversions into Country and Western, and even a brief moment of Link Wray on one track.
Whilst the album is bright and properly summer-y feeling, I can't get past the fact that the signles are the high point, and the rest feel a bit like filler.
"Don't Steal Our Sun", "Hollywood Kids" and "Say It Ain't So" do their best to lift it, but it all feels a bit safe and one-dimensional.  Some of the tracks sound like they need a little more work to finish them off, and sometimes just run out of steam rather than providing a definite ending, and some of the slower songs either sound a bit strined or out of place (may benefit from revised sequencing?)
Despite a couple of high points, the album misses "something"  It almost feels as if the band could be had up under the Trades Descriptions Act - there is just not enough thrilling going on.

None of this is suggesting that 'So Much For The City' is in any way a bad album - the mood and production of the album is just right for that background barbecue music (or other Garden-type party of choice).  The tone also makes me think that whilst not gracing the airwaves of playlist-constrained/constant looping Commercial Radio, the songs would find a home on Radio 2 - a notch above MOR, but not "too edgy".
It did the job for the Thrills in 2003 by promoting them on the touring circuit (remember that?) from small clubs to small/mid-size theaters.
I saw them in such a venue, and the band certainly played a strong show, and lead singer Conor Desay could hold the audiences attention.

But just as their ascension was gathering pace, a comparatively disappointing second album ('Let's Bottle Bohemia" and a changing musical landscape (Pop Idol, record companies seeking quick returns on investment instead of playing the long game by allowing time for "something" to happen, the rise of the internet and file sharing platforms ...) signalled a change in fortune.
A third album saw the light of day, but relatively low sales led to them being dropped by their record label, and the band fell apart soon after.

One Horse Town

Big Sur

Tuesday 12 June 2018

Record Collection Random Choice (RCRC) - S: The Shadows - 50 Golden Greats

After The Beatles and The Stones, The Shads (as the cool kids would probably call them) are arguably the most successful British Band of all time.

In excess of 30 million records sold (in all guises of their career), 5 Number Ones, 16 Top 10 singles, plus another 30 or so as backing band to Cliff Richard.

This compilation is an update of the multiple selling 20 Golden Greats from 1977, and brings together the the big 50s and 60s hits, and adds later material and cover versions into the mix.

They effectively stopped producing new material and became a cabaret / covers band between the original release and the end of the 1970s.  But hey, when the songs and the playing is this good who cares - Hank B Marvin, you have one of the most recognisable playing styles in the world of all things Rolling and Rocking.

And all the big hitters are here - "Apache" (which was later "re-appropriated" as the basis beat for early hip-hop via Michael Viner's Incredible Bongo Band), the twang of "FBI", the shrill tones of "Man Of Mystery", the sheer swing and happiness of "Dance On", the cinematic sweep of "Wonderful Land" (now there's a tune crying out to be appropriated by Quentin Tarantino) - and many more that will make you think "why do I not listen to The Shadows more often? they're bloody good, they are".
As are a choice selection of the later interpretations of popular tunes ("Something", "Riders In The Sky", "Cavatina" (the Theme from The Deer Hunter), even The Shads take on Fleetwood Mac's "Albatross").
The later material somehow don't feel as essential, and at times feel like "music by numbers" or like your stuck in an elevator, but the playing is top notch, the production is up there, and you just know there is an air of total professionalism about it - they're not just doing it for the money, they are wanting to give the very best performance each time.

Put it on, sit back, get on with your day (this is music to do stuff by, it is not hard work, or "stop in your tracks and concentrate" stuff), and 2 hours later the world isn't such a bad place after all.

I've owned this for a few years, and a couple of other Shadows compilations take up shelf space, but I have (as far as I recall) knowingly said to myself: "Tonight, I will be mostly listening to The Shadows".

More fool me!!


Ghost Riders In The Sky

Monday 4 June 2018

Frank Turner - Be More Kind

The 7th Frank Turner album represents another shift, another development of the band and singer from out-and-out shouty folk-punk to a more considered and more simply pleasing sound.  One you don't have to try too hard with to separate music and lyrics.
In simple terms - it continues a path from 6Music to Radio 2 (note: this is not a criticism)

'Be More Kind' offers 13 well crafted songs, sometimes not quite hitting "it", but no real duffers.
Opener "Don't Worry" is a downbeat, yet rousing (or uplifting) song.  From simple beginnings, the strings rise and there's almost a gospel feeling to the playout.
"1933" is Frank's old school shouty air-punching.
Both of these songs include the lines: "I don't know what I'm doing, no on has a clue" and "I don't know what's going on anymore".
And with that, a bit of a theme is developing - he is still advocating togetherness and looking out for your fellow man, but their is an air of fear with the world, almost darkness  coursing through the album, especially on the tracks "Let's Make America Great Again" and "21st Century Survival Blues".
"Be More Kind" has a passing whiff of the vocal melody from "Streets Of London" mixed with some later period Genesis-esque guitar.  It's message is obvious from the title, and it would take a churlish, belligerent, despot character to argue against it's intention.
"Little Changes" is the most accessible, earwormy song here, and a contender for "obvious single", if it weren't for the presence of the 80s Drum and Keyboard loaded "Blackout".
Confusion and uncertainty returns on closer "Get It Right" but also offers some salvation, or at least hope, that something good may come of all this.
There's no answers, or instructions, but a belief that WE can get it sorted.

Initially, I was undecided, almost non-plussed about this album.  But after a few spins, it began to seep in, and has been receiving lots of deserved airtime.
It may not be a full-bore 10 out of 10, but is comfortably sitting in the 7s.

Little Changes


Friday 1 June 2018

Record Collection Random Choice (RCRC) - R: Tom Robinson Band - Power In The Darkness

The Tom Robinson Band formed in 1976, and fused the energy and freedom of Punk with the political questioning (not sloganeering, merely questioning) of Tom's lyrics.
The band themselves were made up of Tom on bass guitar and vocals, Mark Ambler who passed the audition to be bass player but turned out to be a more adept Hammond Organ operative, Danny Kustow who fused blues guitar with crunching power chords and riffs, and Dolphin Taylor a drummer of thumping power with a bit of swing underneath.

Their first single was the a-political, anthemic "2-4-6-8 Motorway" - a legacy that sees TRB regularly represented on Punk and New Wave compilations.
This was followed by the "Rising Free" EP, whose lead track brought them further media attention, but the sheer passion, energy and commentary in the song did not lose their audience (as the media perhaps predicted), but brought them a certain element of acclaim.
That song was "Glad To Be Gay".
In a world where the only real representation of Gay men in the media were The Village People, Dick Emery characters, John Inman (Mr Humphries in Are You Being Served) and Larry Grayson, Tom's stance was "This is me, this is what I believe.  Take it or leave it.  But you might want to think about for a second".
The bands support of organisations such as Rock Against Racism also brought them attention as a posturing, political band.  And most importantly, they believed it and had something to say.

Their debut album was released in 1978, and contained none of the previous singles - what it did contain was 10 tracks of Clash/Jam-esque rock, with stabs of The Stranglers (from Ambler's Hammond, and Robinson's sometimes snarling vocal), infused with energy, fury, disillusionment, hope and the offer of empowerment.
(The US version added the 2 singles and 4 tracks from the EP, turning it into a virtual double album, as does the CD re-issue).
Production duties fell to Chris Thomas, who repeated the previous trick he performed with Sex Pistols 'Never Mind The Bollocks' by delivering a seriously solid, sonically robust, Rock album.

There aren't too many stronger "in yer face" album openers than "Up Against The Wall", "Grey Cortina" keeps the momentum up and never lets up until the closing track "Power In The Darkness".
Other stand-out tracks are "Long Hot Summer" and "The Winter Of 79" where Tom predicts an apolyptic future.  From the expanded edition, the pub-sing-a-long of "Martin" is an audience pleaser, and "Don't Take No For An Answer" is a bittersweet recounting of a failed deal with Kinks mainman Ray Davies.
And entirely fitting with the underlying theme of the album, songs, and Tom Robinson's outlook, there is also a fine reading of Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released"

A Second album would follow in 1979 ('TRB Two'), but without Mark Ambler or Dolphin Taylor it didn't have "it", and the band fell apart.
Tom continued in music, but his focus shifted towards Human Rights and activism, being involved in Rock Against Racism, Amnesty International.  In parallel he became a radio presenter, and can now be heard on 6Music.

Up Against The Wall

Winter Of 79

Thursday 24 May 2018

Record Collection Random Choice (RCRC) - Q: Quireboys - A Bit Of What You Fancy

The Q section is not that big - only X, Y & Z have fewer entries.
The choices were basically Q-Tips, Queen, Queens Of The Stone Age, Queensryche, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Quiet Riot or The Quireboys (including the singles would've also thrown up Suzi Quatro)
The original random choice fell on the CD re-issue of The Quireboys first two albums.
I have taken the executive decision and decided to concentrate on the first.

Released in 1990, after copping management from Sharon Osbourne and a contract with EMI, the album feels like something of a clipping and (over)polishing of the bands ramshackle Faces/Stones referencing bar-room blues.

The Quireboys formed in the mid-80s (firstly as The Choirboys, and then changed to The Queerboys) and built up a following in London clubland (including The Marquee).
They were invited to appear at the Reading Rock Festival in 1987, but only on the proviso that they change their name.
Wanting to keep the Q (knowing that 30 years later they would be featuring in a little read blog on the  (yet to be invented) internet, they reverted to an adjusted spelling of their original name.
They were first on the bill, and played for 40 minutes to 100s of Festival go-ers.  Their performance was recorded and played later on Radio 1s Friday Rock Show.
Their following increased, club gigs expanded outside London, and they signed a record deal with independent Survival Records (leading to 1988 releases "Mayfair" and "There She Goes Again").
Second guitarist Ginger left soon after to form The Wildhearts.
Also in 1988, they returned to Reading playing higher up the bill, and again featured on the Friday Rock Show.
More heavy gigging, and select Support slots - including Guns n Roses - led to the Sharon Osbourne management deal and a contract with EMI.

Lead single "7 O'Clock" - a good time party song, starting with a tinkling pub piano before the riffing and Spikes raspy vocal kicks in - preceded the albums release, and a relatively healthy position in the chart suggested that EMI might be on for a decent return on investment.
Second single "Hey You" confirmed this by sneaking into the Top 20.
Not their finest moment, and smacked of "simple anthem, give us a hit single" but it did the job, and helped to shift album units, resulting in 'A Bit Of What You Fancy' debuting at Number 2.
Two further singles followed -  "I Don't Love You Anymore" and a re-recording of "There She Goes Again" both achieving airplay and chart action.

Whilst not exactly veering much from the template, there isn't really a duff track here - "Sweet Mary Ann" could've been a Rod Stewart 'Never A Dull Moment'-era leftover, "Man On The Loose" and "Misled" owe a huge debt to Ron Wood's Faces riffs, and "Whipping Boy" (co-written with ex-Rod Stewart alumni and producer Jim Cregan) is a Country-ish Stones knock-off.
(None of this is meant to be a criticism - no-one knew who The Stones or Faces were in 1990, so The Quireboys filled the gap)

It looked like the world was on the up:
They appeared at Castle Donnington Monsters Of Rock and supported Aerosmith on an arena tour of UK, Europe and the United States.
A Live album followed at end of year, proving they could still rock out with the best of them, and the studio was obviously not their natural home.

Oozing good time Rock n Roll, sleaze and Jack Daniels, this album is of the moment and could've/should've been THE party starter of 1990.
Sadly, I think it came a year too late for The Quireboys, and any chance of making a mark was dealt a kicking when Grunge emerged a little later.
Their non-core audience, management and record label all moved on to other things.
The band slowly fell apart (ongoing drummer issues had been something of a constant in the band), but lead singer Spike Gray remained a Quireboy (along with Ginger's replacement Guy Griffin) and they're still treading the boards in small, sweaty clubs somewhere in the world.

7 O'Clock

Sweet Mary Ann