Monday 30 April 2018

Facebook Challenge: Top 10 Albums

(aka "another blog post idea that I may have nicked from somewhere (or should that be inspired by?")

The connected world of Social Media means that I have more virtual friends than actual, living friends (and I mean "real" friends that I actually converse with using breath, words and facial expressions).
I do however take solace in the fact that around 80% of my Facebook friends I have actually sat in a pub with sometime in the last couple of years
Facebook is awash with Quizzes and Personality Tests, often designed to harvest personal data and feed Cambridge Analytica and the US Election (or something like that - wasn't Facebook also responsible for the relegation of Sunderland to League One?).
But sometimes, there is some all inclusive activity that appeals to the inner-nerd.
I was challenged (may be too strong a term?) to post 10 Albums that "mean something to me".
So, like any normal bloke the first thing I did was make a list, and then edit that list, and then re-edit that list.  But no matter how many revisions took place, I just couldn't get it to them magic 10 - so what did I do created an eleventh posting (or in this case a prequel) showcasing those that I had to leave out.

I was nominated to post 10 albums in 10 days.
These 10 albums are the very fabric of my being and are hard wired into my brain.
They still get regular listening time, despite knowing every word, phrase and drumbeat (and for vinyl geeks: every hiss, crackle and scratch)
I've done the sensible thing and made a list.
But first ... here are 12 albums that didn't make the cut:

Having decided on the final 10, I then did a bit of analysis and statistics to understand my personality, preferences and musical motivation.
(Not really, but it sounds like the nerdy sort of thing I might've done).

"Peak Music Buying", and therefore influence is probably in the years 15 to 22.  With this in mind, my list should've been stuffed full of records released between 1985 and 1992.  Some just fell slightly earlier (forgivable, but just as likely to "influential"), only one of my all-time Top 10 was from the 21st Century, but a lot of them were from a lot earlier than my peak (or even "knowingly listened to" years).  In my defence, only one of them was released before I was actually born.  And I will also blame a well-stocked, relatively cheap second hand record shop that opened when I was 14 and proceeded to relieve me of most of my Paper round earnings.

10) Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine - 30 Something (1991)

When an album opens with a quote from Red Dwarf, you just "feel" it's going to be good.

"When you're younger you can eat what you like, drink what you like, and still climb into your 26 inch waist trousers and zip them closed. Then you reach that age, 24 25, your muscles give up, they wave a little white flag, and without any warning at all you're suddenly a fat b*stard"
Top Tracks: "Billy Smarts Circus", "Shoppers Paradise"

9) Dexys Midnight Runners - Searching For The Young Soul Rebels (1980)
If you listen to Radio 2 or Commercial Radio, you may believe that Dexys Midnight Runners only did 2 songs.
Wrong - this was their debut album (1980), and was a near perfect mix of Northern Soul, Mod, Ska and Punk.

"For God's sake, Burn It Down"
Top Tracks: "Burn It Down", "There, There My Dear"

8) Henry Priestman - Chronicles Of Modern Life (2008)
30 years after his first attempt at the big time with Yachts, and 20 years after The Christians, Henry Priestman's debut album is like a bible for the Grumpy Middle Aged Man.
Folky-poppy tunes delivered with wisdom, humour, a bit of anger (more "frustrated annoyance" than "anger") and a dollop of self-deprecation.

"There I was in all my naiveté"
Top Tracks: "Old", "Did I Fight In The Punk Wars For This?"

7) Marillion - Misplaced Childhood (1985)
Who releases a Prog Rock Concept album in 1985?
Into a world with the first whiff of manufactured pop courtesy of Stock Aitken & Waterman, an increasing US influence and a general move towards MOR/Coffee Table blandness, Marillion thought it would be a good idea
(and credit to EMI, who were still looking for a return on their investment, for letting them).
33 years on, it's still the best thing they ever did.

"Huddled in the safety of a pseudo silk kimono"

Top Tracks: "Heart Of Lothian", Childhoods End? / White Feather"

6) Big Country - The Crossing (1983)
The sound of bagpipes is not too dissimilar to the sound of strangling a cat.
But listening to faux-Bagpipes when played on an electric guitar is a really worthwhile experience (honest).
Released in 1983, and having no synthesisers at all, put them at odds with much of the rest of the pop charts.
Their nearest contemporaries were probably U2, and there was a brief moment when it seemed the Scots may outsell and outlive the Irish.
(If you're not sure what happened next, they didn't)

"I've never seen you look like this without a reason"

Top Tracks: "Chance", "Porrohman"

5) The Beatles - Abbey Road (1969)

A popular Beat Combo from the 60s who had their share of success.
The last album they recorded together, but (confusingly) not the last they released (how does that work?).
Note: if it wan't for a throwaway 23 seconds of nonsense about The Queen, the last recorded words would be: "And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make" - that's philosophy that is
Little is known what happened to the band members after they split up.

"Here come old flat-top, he come grooving slowly"

Top Tracks: The Medley on Side 2 culminating in "Golden Slumbers" / "Carry That Weight" / "The End"
(I'm also a fan of "Octopus's Garden", but don't tell anyone)

4) Pink Floyd - The Wall (1979)

Some say Wish You Were Here. Others say Dark Side Of The Moon.
I say "Pah! This is the ultimate Pink Floyd platter".
Some suggest it is self-indulgent, navel gazing tosh. Others bemoan it's extravagance, or suggest that the album is padded with 50% good stuff and 50% filler.
If Marmite made albums, this would probably be one of them.

"So ya, thought ya
Might like to go to the show
To feel the warm thrill of confusion
That space cadet glow"

Top Tracks: "Mother", "Comfortably Numb"

3) Stiff Little Fingers - Inflammable Material (1979)

The first album released on Rough Trade, and the first independently released album to make the UK Album Chart Top 10 - recorded relatively cheaply in a Cambridge studio that was basically 2 terraced houses knocked together.
From the very outset, an all out attack on the senses (in a good way).
One of THE essential albums from the 77-79 period.

"Inflammable material planted in my head, it's a suspect device that's left 2000 dead"

Top Tracks: "Suspect Device", "Alternative Ulster"

2) Sex Pistols - Never Mind The Bollocks (1977)

Not just the ultimate Punk Rock album, but surely one of the greatest Rock albums ever.

The sheer force, energy, tightness of the band, and most importantly power of the songs themselves.
Re-issued, re-packaged and re-configured several dozen times, and always a thrill to hear it.

"A cheap holiday in other peoples misery"

Top Tracks: "God Save The Queen", "EMI"

1) The Who - Quadrophenia (1973)

A Rock Opera by The Who ... but not that one. The one with the believable story line.
After the success of Tommy came Pete Townshend's failure to repeat the trick with Lifehouse. He laboured over it, and then culled the best songs into Who's Next (another potential candidate for the Greatest Rock Album ... Ever).
He then tried again with a long form story set to song with the story of a disaffected Mod with multiple personalities, seemingly at odds with everyone and everything.
Pete Towshend produces some of his strongest songs, Roger Daltrey inhabits the character, Keith Moon's drumming is all over the place and spot on timing always, and John Entwhistle's bass underpins everything like rolling thunder.

"Can you see the real me? Can you? Can you?"

Top Tracks: "The Real Me", "Doctor Jimmy"

Tuesday 24 April 2018

Record Collection Random Choice (RCRC) - M: Macc Lads - From Beer To Eternity

The Macc Lads hail from Macclesfield and have produced a number of albums containing their own brand of locally referencing, irreverent, base humour.
The band are playing characters straight out of the pages of Viz, and listening to them is much like a Working Mans Club set against a sub-Motorhead backing.

Styling themselves as "the rudest, crudest, lewdest, drunkest band in Christendom", the title of their debut album ('Beer & Sex & Chips & Gravy') sums up the subject matter for the entirety of their career.  The album was recorded with Governmental assistance via the Enterprise Allowance Scheme.  However once the Government cottoned on to this, questions were asked in the House, the grant was withdrawn and a hefty fine issued.
Undeterred, they ploughed on with their audience baiting live shows (third album 'Live At Leeds' shows their is no love lost between Lancashire and Yorkshire), and another album chock full of tales of Booze, Birds & Fags (it was obviously a winning formula, so why change).

Not always an easy listen, with the limited subject matter, and - but despite that, one cannot get away from the fact that it is pretty funny (more foul-mouthed Paul Calf / Alan Partridge-esque than Chubby Brown).Listening is sometimes hard work, all a bit one dimensional, sometimes even distasteful, some of the humour being beyond schoolboy and very in your face.  But, honestly, not for one second do you believe them to be actually serious.
(Sadly, some of the tabloid newspapers did  - at one point declaring them to be the saviours of Working Class culture and sending their records to Army personnel overseas.  And then in virtually no time at all, declaring them filth and calling for a blanket ban on them performing - which probably goes to show just how good their invented parody personas were)

An indicator that there might be more than smut, smut and more smut going on is how there is a passing reference to Wilfred Owen's Dulce et Decorum Est in the song "Ben Nevis" (not enough to warrant a writing credit, but it's there)

By the time of this, their fourth album, they were cult favourites gracing the pages of Kerrang, and even getting the odd (very scarce) late night mainstream radio or TV mention or (even rarer) appearance.
The 'Pie Taster' EP even made the lower reaches of the charts
(OK, Number 95 for 1 week, but it is success of a sort)

'From Beer To Eternity' was their fourth album and stuck rigidly to the format, opening with "Alton Towers" about a Bank Holiday visit to the titular theme park, and finding no pub, no women to ogle, and bemoaning having to stand in a queue'.
And the quest for beer and women continues through the 17 tracks, stopping off for a visit to the Peak District and a Chinese Takeaway.
"All Day Drinking", "Tab After Tab" and "My Pub" leave little to the imagination regarding subject matter.  Similarly "Lucy Lastic", "Lady Muck" and "Ugly Women" are pretty clear too.
Musically limited, lyrically limited, commercially limited, limited chance of being heard on the radio or TV.  The whole escapade is somewhat limiting.
And whilst it may not be big or clever to swear like a docker, and invent a whole load of new swear-y terms - it is pretty funny (in the same way that Derek and Clive, Bad News, or other sweary spoken word and music albums are amusing - I guess you just have to have a sort of skewed vision on the world)

Not from the album, but it can probably be termed as The Macc Lads manifesto:
Eh Up (Monkees)

Alton Towers

No Sheep 'Til Buxton (the "hit" single, that actually got a showing on MTV)

Friday 20 April 2018

Manic Street Preachers - Resistance Is Futile

26 years in and they're still going.  Still releasing albums of commitment, passion and energy laced with thoughts and musings on dignity, self-empowerment, in-justice, and forgotten Heroes and Heroines.

They came in on a bubble of hype and expectation, found a core (if niche) audience with two further releases, and then re-invented themselves (after the loss of Richey Edwards) as the enfant terrible of Stadium Rock (with a bit of socialist politics thrown in).
They then had a third incarnation where they stripped back the political posturing, strapped on a Gibson and rocked out with 'Send Away The Tigers'.

If I'm honest, whilst the period between 'Everything Must Go' and 'Lifeblood' may have been the most commercially successful, it was also not as interesting or bombastic as the incarnations before and after.
There's no denying, the Manics are now the elder statesman of indie-rock, but they're not letting up, and 'Resistance Is Futile' is another valid addition to their catalogue.
There are moments when the lyrics smack of 6th Form Poetry, you feel they're being too wordy or the trope of whacking on a string section starts to become predictable, but these are minor gripes.
This is unmistakably the Manic Street Preachers - did you really expect anything else?

The album doubles-up as a stand-alone statement, and a canter through their past.
You get echoes of 'Everything Must Go' ("People Give In"), 'Generation Terrorists' ("International Blue"), 'This Is My Truth ... Tell Me Yours' ("Distant Colours"), 'Send Away The Tigers' ("Liverpool Revisited") and 'The Holy Bible' ("Broken Algorithms").
But always sounding committed and like they want to be doing this and they just might have something to say, or they want to get off their chest.

"Vivian" re-treads the ground of "Kevin Carter" (from 'Everything Must Go') by celebrating the life of a relatively unknown photographer (Vivian Maier).
There seems to be a thread of Male/Female duets going through Manics albums of the past, and this one is no different - a vocal share with Welsh vocalist The Anchoress, on a song about the relationship between  Dylan Thomas and Caitlin Macnamara (unsurprisingly called "Dylan and Caitlin").
Again, this one has echoes of the past evoking "Little Baby Nothing" from 'Generation Terrorists' whilst tying it to a string section that sounds remarkably close to "Don't Go Breaking My Heart".

In a recent interview, Nicky Wire stated that it is not easy to get the word "Totalitarian" into a song.  Whilst he may not have got that word in, he does lever in the word "Conquistador" on closing track "The Left Behind".  A song with a slower, almost lazy backing, and a Nicky Wire vocal (I never considered NW to be the most adept vocalist, but in this song it works).

International Blue

Dylan & Caitlin

Sunday 15 April 2018

Record Collection Random Choice (RCRC) - L: Little Angels - Don't Prey For Me

I find myself in the midst of second division Hair Metal (from Scarborough, of all places).
Not much of note happens in Scarborough - it was the backdrop for the Michael Caine/Jane Horrocks film Little Voice, and was the birthplace of playwright Alan Ayckbourn.
And The Little Angels, a band of relatively short life and limited commercial success warrant an entry on the "Notable People From ..." page on wikipedia

Oh well, here goes ...

Actually, my memory is wrong - whilst there is a touch of Hair Metal about proceedings, this album rocks along nicely (if lightly).

This is the 12 track re-issue, meaning (lucky boy that I am) I get two additional tracks in the shape of "She's A Little Angel" (from an earlier EP) and "Radical Your Lover" (stand alone single released after the initial release of this album).

There is no getting away from the fact that this is clean-edged pop metal with just a whiff of Aerosmith about it, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.  It's not all "looking to LA", there is a certain Britishness to the songs (or some of them, at least)
The songs are well constructed, well played and well sung - not just mere facsimiles of "what is popular in the world of hair metal at the moment".  They have the added USP of a horn section, which adds to many of the tracks, lifting them from mere throwaway into something deserving a bit more attention (and a bit more memorable - the previously mentioned "Radical Your Lover" has been stuck in my head all day after hearing it again).

Originally released in 1989 (and re-released in 1990 with those two extra tracks), Little Angels were hailed as one of the great British hopes (alongside Quireboys and Thunder et al) for all things Heavy(ish) and Rock-y - and then Grunge changed the goalposts.
Anyone playing bluesy rock, or happy hair metal was consigned to the history books virtually overnight.
But it wasn't all doom and gloom for the band - their next album rose to Number 1 in the album charts - albeit gaining the (unwanted) distinction of having the shortest chart history of a Number 1 album (in and out within 5 weeks).

Undiscovered classic?
Ripe for re-invention?

Probably not - but it is a great little album (OK, in small doses separated by a few years (about 25 years in this case))

Kicking Up Dust

Radical Your Lover

Friday 6 April 2018

Record Collection Random Choice (RCRC) - K: Kaiser Chiefs - Employment

Early 2000s weren't exactly the richest time.  The hedonism and feelgood-ishness of Britpop and Cool Britannia was dissipating.
Yes, there was some good stiff about, but it was sporadic, and a lot of it was a bit "instant" and sometime verging on the bland.
By 2004, the industry was changing - record sales were bottoming out and live touring was seen as the way forward.  Talent shows were taking hold, and the "alternative" was fast becoming a plethora of landfill indie sound-a-likes.

Into this appeared a bunch of Leeds lads with their debut album.
Nicking the best bits from the past, combining them into a high octane, devil may care-ish slab of fun came the debut album from The Kaiser Chiefs ('Employment').

Their mantra is evident right from the start - sounding quintessentially British, and sounding like (sort of) XTC meets Britpop, with a dollop of Mod Revival in there somewhere, and a touch of The Beach Boys going on.
No clever chords, structures, time signatures - just simple songs with simple lyrics delivered with passion, humour and a bit of hedonism thrown in.

If I was writing and publishing Year End lists in 2005 (I probably was, just not the "publishing" bit), then this would be somewhere near the top.
Listening again (and it's probably been at least 10 years since an "all the way through" listen), I forgot how much this album makes me smile - there's just a joie de vivre / forget everything and be entertained feel about the whole thing.
The singles (5 of the 12 tracks) remain well known, but there is enough about the remaining 7 tracks to be potential singles too - short, sharp, and thoroughly enjoyable.
Subsequently, I don't think they ever hit the same heights again - yes, there were some good tracks there, but never really hit the spot the way 'Employment' did

Everyday I Love You Less and Less

And if you're going to have a "Millstone Round Your Neck" song in your armoury, this aint a bad one to have:

I Predict A Riot