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