Sunday 12 December 2021

Whats a Year End Without A Year End List

I do love a list, but I don't think I can be bothered to do one this year ... only kidding
(although when you've finished it you'll probably wish I hadn't)

2021 has delivered plenty of new music, and has also marked a (slight) return to what we used to call "normality".
Edit: did I speak too soon ...

It may not be huge numbers, but I've managed 2 gigs (2 more to come in the coming weeks), a visit to Belfast, a Curry night with old friends and one or two (twenty or thirty?) meals out.
Still working at home (going into the office usually once a week), and I've finally bought a proper monitor rather than just squinting at a 13" laptop screen.  Plus working at home means I can get my hands (and ears) on new stuff as it is delivered (not much of a life advantage, but I like "little victories").

I thought I'd got my list sorted, but then Hamish Hawk and the (late) purchase of The Stranglers threw a Spaniard in the worms.

And to be sure of my ranking, I went back and listened to them all again - some adjustments up and down were made, but rest assured this ranking is based on important research and not just an arbitrary "that'll do".

And so ...

1. The Coral 'Coral Island'

A double album clocking in at around 45 minutes isn't really a double album. Unless it is 2 distinct parts that need to be purposefully split.
And that is the case with 'Coral Island' - a thematic story of an imagined seaside town - first at the height of Summer, and the second when it closes down (either for the winter, or for good).
Part 1 evokes summer - you can almost smell the chips, and then feel they grey and cold of a deserted and/or forgotten seaside town (I've been to Skegness in October) in Part 2.
It mixes jangly indie, 60s Garage, and throws in a mix of Inspiral Carpets, Richard Hawley, The Shadows and Joe Meek for good measure.  A football analogy: they may have spent 20+ years in the Championship with the odd excursion to the Premier League, but this is the album that cements their position ion the top league.  Possibly hyperbole, but I believe it to be their best album of their career.


2. Jim Bob 'Who Do We Hate Today?'

Lockdown wasn't too bad for some, and produced some very good albums.  This is not a Lockdown Concept album, but does touch on the subject and comments on the world it finds itself in.
From Glam Rock-ish stomps to brittle ruminations, with clever wordplay akin to Ian Dury, humour and cynicism in equal measure, there's much to like for the (slightly) unreconstructed indie fan from the early 90s (ie me).
The commentary says: OK - the world's not really "great", but it's not that "shit" either - this is the "real" somewhere inbetween (you decide?).

Summer Of No Touching

3. Hamish Hawk 'Heavy Elevator'

If Jim Bob's wordplay errs on the realistic and cynical, Hamish Hawk goes for wordplay of the more literary kind.  The sort of reference you need to hear a couple of times to get, or just need to go away and look-up ("for years I was Lennon's Imagine track three" a case in point).
And all this is set to a variety of musical backdrops and styles - some immediately recognisable, some a collection of bits and pieces, but always unique in delivery.
There is yearning, there's humour, there's rocking moments, and all through is a clear commitment to make each track unique and the best it can be.

The Mauritian Badminton Doubles Champion 1973 

4. Alice Cooper 'Detroit Stories'

The run of albums from 'Killer', 'Schools Out' and 'Billion Dollar Babies' would grace anyones back-catalogue.  And it is to that sound Alice returns, rather than sanitised shlock-horror image with a (often) over-produced sound.
This album is a nod to the rocking Detroit sound of those 4 albums, plus the whole Detroit scene - featuring prime movers like Wayne Kramer (MC5) and Mark Farner (Grand Funk Railroad) - and also peers like Iggy Pop, The Stooges, and more who were part of it, or inspired by it.
Alice is back, and despite the concerns that re-living his past would not deliver, it most certainly does.

Detroit City 2021

5. Paul Weller 'Fat Pop'

A new year, a new Paul Weller album - and this one is perhaps the best of the immediate past.  
Rather than take flight in a now genre obsession (whilst still being unmistakably Weller) 'Fat Pop' appears to distill the relative tangents of the past and also hark back to the past catalogue to create a recognisable, yet still challenging and driving forwards, listening experience.
The sub-title states "Volume 1" - can we have Volume 2 soon please to sit alongside this little corker.

Shades Of Blue

6. Stranglers 'Dark Matters'

A late entry (as I didn't get round to buying it when it first appeared).  Is it the thrill of the new, or actually up there?  The latter.
Dark Matters contains all the hallmarks of The Stranglers - musicality mixed with confrontation.  It may only be JJ left from the original line-up (Dave Greenfield sadly passed before his contributions were complete).  It may be 9 years since their last release (and 44 years since their debut) but The Stranglers (albeit in reduced form) are still delivering.

This Song

7. Manic Street Preachers 'Ultra Vivid Lament'

With 'Ultra Vivid Lament', the Manics continue their high quality consistent run of albums.  Gone are the incitments to revolution of the past, the espousing of socialism.  The 6th Form Poetry in the lyrics still remains, as does the interpretations in song of the lost/missed Richey Edwards (not perhaps as overtly as before but it's still (possibly) there.  Every Manics album of recent years has contained a call and response duet, and this one boasts two.  It also feels (as do many previous outings) as a continuing saga/history.  Rooted in the same ideals but not falling back on the same stories.
For a band that was supposed to have a short life, they are now reaching "elder statesman" status, and are one of those bands that everyone knows about.  Like the Ravens at the Tower Of London, they are just there - and continue to underline their relevance in the world.

The Secret He Has Missed 

8. Iron Maiden 'Senjutsu'

And here's another lot still producing valid work after nigh on 4 and a half decades in the biz.  Save for a couple of mis-steps when Bruce and Adrian left the ranks, ver Maiden's output has always been top notch.  And 'Senjutsu' is no different.  OK, they may indulge their proggy tendencies and extend songs out for 8 minutes plus, but there is nary a note or interlude wasted.  All the hallmarks remain, the quality is as high as ever, and this is no resting on the laurels - Maiden continue to push along and surely retain their position as Britain's (if not the world's) premier Heavy Rock band.

The Writing On The Wall

9. Matt Berry 'The Blue Elephant'

He's a clever bugger! Not content with performing the 9th best album of the year, he goes further by writing it all, playing everything (with some drumming assistance), producing it, and even painting the picture that adorns the cover.  With all those additional responsibilities, has the songwriting suffered?  Not a bit of it.  Echoes of psychedelia, wallops of Prog, some (forgivably?) bad lyrics, this is one elephant in the room that you'd be happy to mention and talk about.

Summer Sun

10. The Professionals 'SNAFU'

The Professionals original life was short and messy.  Their reformation was supposed to be a one-off.  There was enough support to warrant creating a whole album (2017s 'What In The World') and after 4 years of near constant touring (apart from 2020 for some reason?) and pleasing (admittedly middle-age) crowds up and down the country, this second album is spewed out.  Energetic and committed from the off, the pace rarely reduces - and what a fine noise it is.  It may not be challenging, breaking new musical ground, but it doesn't need to be when what is presented is more than satisfactory.


11. Parquet Courts 'Sympathy For Life'

On which the Parquet Courts continue their sound evolution.  Imagine mixing The Strokes with Depeche Mode and adding sniff of New Order to the recipe.  The Parquet Courts have, and whatresults is properly great.  It may not be as immediate as it's predecessors ('Human Performance' and 'Wide Awake'), but stick with it and 'Sympathy For Life' reveals it be at least the equal.  Across the tracks there are some very good songs, and a couple of "not quite as good" songs, but no clunkers and no skippers, and the energy levels rarely dip.

Walking At A Downtown Pace

12. Wolf Alice 'Blue Weekend'

This was bought on the strength of one track.  However, regular playing (note: not to convince myself of the investment) revealed a very fine album indeed.  There's no fixed genre or style to the album, but it does feel a singular whole.
This album covers all bases from breathy minimalism to all out thrashy-trashy-indie rock, interspersed with and St Etienne-meets-Garbage moments, and bolted to lyrics that conjure evocative images (they may not be personal to you, but you can recognise the situation they conveying).  The way some of the slower, more introspective tracks butt up against the louder ones may feel jarring on first hearing, but there is a natural flow and groove soon discovered.

Safe From Heartbreak (If I Never Fall In Love)

13. Public Service Broadcasting 'Bright Music'

PSBs first album was called 'Inform-Educate-Entertain' and that is exactly what it did, mixing old news reel with newly created backing music.  Subsequent albums repeated the trick with the Space Race and Welsh Coal Mining.
Now, maybe the subject matter here (Berlin) is a bit alien to this listener, but this doesn't feel as essential as previous outputtings.  This is no criticism of the content - like with past music, you really feel that every note has been laboured over to endure it is perfectly placed.  On the plus side, I did learn that Berlin was home to the first electric street lamp (so it's not all bad) and that in the shape of "Blue Heaven" may well have produced Song Of The Year

Blue Heaven

14. John Grant 'Boy From Michigan'

I will freely admit to being blown away by John Grant albums on first hearing, and then few follow-up enthusiastic listenings happen.  Why?  Sadly, because the albums aren't 'Queen Of Denmark' or 'Pale Green Ghosts' (and I don't think I've actually listened to 2108s 'Love Is Magic' since 2018).
However, I'm making the (hopeful) statement that 'Boy From Michigan' is a keeper.  It's not QoD or PGG (get that from my mind!) but what it is is a sumptuous personal nattative of Grant's life, the prejudices he's faced, and the world as he sees it, addresses with wit, eloquence, under-statement, melody and musicianship. 

Country Fair

15. Dead Men Walking 'Freedom - It Aint On The Rise'

Dead Men Walking, as a collective, have been doing the rounds since 2001.  Their schtick is stripped back acoustice versions of Punk and New Wave songs, and their membership has included Kirk Brandon, Glen Matlock, Captain Sensible, and Mike Peters (among many others).
The current line-up is: Kirk Brandon (Theatre Of Hate / Spear Of Destiny), Dave Ruffy and Segs Jennings (Ruts DC), and Jake Burns (Stiff Little Fingers).
This album is a mix of half a dozen originals (mostly from Brandon and Jennings) mixed with the "classics" from each band stripped back to 4 blokes sitting on a stage telling stories and singing songs acoustically.
What I take away from this is: great songwriters continue to write great songs, a great song has the same (if not more) power when stripped back to the bones, and (on a personal note) I never realised how good Spear Of Destiny were.

(there should be a link here, but the album (or any of the tracks are not on YouTube))

There are two more which would probably be on the list, but I haven't actually bought them yet.  Spotify only listening don't count - my rules are that I need to own the product.  That way it becomes more than a casual listening experience.  They are flipping good though.

  • Robert Plant & Alison Krauss 'Raise The Roof'
  • James McMurtry 'The Horses and the Hounds"

These oversights will be rectified soon (honest!)

Song Of The Year?

Well, that could very well be any one of the 15 links above.
But I feel I should highlight one of those stand-alone orphans with no albumular home

Sharon Van Etten & Angel Olsen - Like I Used To

Monday 29 November 2021

The Stranglers - Dark Matters

I had tickets for the Final UK Tour in November 2020.  Obviously that didn't happen - it was rescheduled to April 2021, and is now scheduled for February 2022.

I'd bought those tickets back in early 2020 so was not aware what was coming.  Also - and perhaps of more importance - Dave Greenfield passed away in May 2020.
This leaves Jean Jacques Burnel as the last Strangler standing (Hugh Cornwell left in 1990, and Jet Black who eased into semi-retirement in 2015, fully retired in 2018 as he approached his 80th birthday)

Dave Greenfield's keyboards do appear on 8 of the 11 tracks on 'Dark Matters', an everyone of those 11 deliver what you want/expect from a Stranglers album.  Solid backbeat, rumbling bass, aggressive guitar, and sometimes confrontational vocal (but certainly not on acoustic "The Lines" which underlines the breadth of The Stranglers musicality).

Opener "Water" has all that you want to open the album, and "This Song" just keeps it going - and comes complete with a video featuring uber-fan Stuart Pearce
Track 3 is JJ's tribute to his keyboarding mate "And If You Should See Dave".  The lyric talks of loss and missed opportunity to say farewell properly and includes the poignant line:

"It would be nice to say Hello, This is where your solo would go ..."

Recorded against a backdrop of isolation, separation, and personal loss, this album stands as a testament to The Stranglers quality control, songcraft and musicianship.  If this is the last of the breed then it is a fitting send off to the band, and the restraint of closer "Breathe" signs off in some style, fading from a cacophony to a single electronic pulse.

All good things must come to an end, sadly some endings are a whimper - this one aint.
Roll on February 2022
(unless it gets postponed again ..)

And If You Should See Dave

The Last Men On The Moon

Wednesday 10 November 2021


German Heavy Metal may not be the broadest of categories.
Dominating that list would be The Scorpions, Michael Schenker, Accept, Rammstein and Kreator.
Yes, there are probably many others, but as I don't own anything by them (or have never knowingly heard them), it's a bit difficult for me to comment

Anyway, one more band to add to the list: Helloween.

Formed in 1984, signed to Noise International and released their debut by mid 1985.
'Walls Of Jericho' included the track "Heavy Metal Is The Law" which gives a clue to the content - thumping drums, crunching guitar, volume cranked up - in short, a slab of thrash metal with, if I'm honest, few redeeming features.  It sits well alongside mid-80s thrash outings from Europe, but is not one I'd play again in my later years.

A change of vocalist in 1986 also heralded a change in the bands sound - the Metal they were now producing was closer to the Iron Maiden end of the market.  And in this vein, the and intended to release a double concept type album titled The Keeper Of The Seven Keys.
Lofty thoughts for a relatively low selling band on a relatively small, independent German record label (albeit with a licensing deal with Megaforce International in the US)

As a result, these lofty thoughts were reined in and the record label won out with "we'll release a single album, and if that's successful you can do part 2".

And with that promise ringing in their ears, they honed own the already written songs and sent forth an 8 track album.  The rough thrash edges were smoothed, new vocalist Michael Kiske provided a Dickinson-esque platform, Kai Hansen handles most the guitar work (in the absence of second guitarist and songwriter Michael Weikath), the drums thump, the bass plods, and what is produced is very enjoyable 37 minutes
Bookended by 2 similar pieces ("Initiation" and "Follow The Sign", it comes flying out of the traps with"I'm Alive".  That pace may not be maintained - there are some almost "Metal By Numbers" tracks present, but "Future World" and  the 13 minute multi-movement track (the near eponymously titled "Halloween") keep offer more than enough redemption and return-ability.

And with the critical and public acclaim, the band went on tour for nigh on 2 years.  And in the middle of their world-schlepping, Noise International held good to their word and released 'Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part 2'.

'...Part 2' isn't a bad album, it just doesn't feel as vital or worked at as '... Part 1'.  The fact it was written and recorded during tour down-time, and the increasing tensions in the band, just may explain the shortfall.  The album is dominated by the returning Michael Weikath, which is bound to affect the consistency and flow between the two parts.
By late 1988, MTV was heavily playing "I Want Out" - a single lifted from '.. Part 2' which was effectively Kai Hansen's resignation letter.

1989 started with a new guitarist in tow, and a change of record label - signing with major label EMI, quickly followed by a Breach Of Contract lawsuit from Noise International.  This basically stopped the band touring for the best part of 3 years.
Which should mean that without the distraction and efforts of touring, they could settle into the studio and produce a masterwork.
Sadly not - the resultant album 'Pink Bubbles Go Ape' (1991) shares more DNA with US Hair Metal than early Thrash days or Seven Keys Maiden-isms.  The fan-base was not convinced, and the album barely broke even.
One more album followed before EMI cut it's losses.  And add to that the departure of the vocalist and drummer, they stumbled on with their appeal growing ever more select (but continuing to sell well in Germany, Scandinavia and Japan).  Past members have returned, and they've even managed to update the 7 Keys tale with the album 'Keeper Of The Seven Keys: The Legacy'
(note: I've listened to it twice on Spotify - it's OK, but I'm not sure I'll be investing)

They may not be in the Premier League, but perhaps near regulars in the Championship Play Offs).  In a relatively small pool, they deserve a place in the pantheon of Germanic Heavy Rock merchants

I'm Alive


I Want Out

Thursday 28 October 2021

Hamish Hawk - Heavy Elevator

Edit:  After first publishing this, I discover that both my research and assumptions are flawed.
This is not Hamish Hawk's debut release, it is in fact his third - preceded by 'Aznavour' (2014) an 'Zero To One' (2018).
I have therefore modified the text to rectify my error (and left in the original text to remind me I am a fool, and should research properly in future)

Releasing your debut a new album can be a daunting task.  Without mass media hype, major record company support, or a persuasive sponsor and advocate, a relatively low key release on a minor, self-funded label is always going to be a risk.

But if you have a song titled "The Mauritian Badminton Doubles Champion 1973" in your cannon, then I'm going to want to hear the whole album.
Credit where it's due, it was Chris Hawkins enthusing on Radio 6, and the playing of the above track that piqued my interest, and now the album has arrived on my doormat ... I am not disappoint.

I sometimes feel when writing this drivel, that I do the artist in question a dis-service when I compare them to others.  But I need a hook ... imagine Scott Walker grafted to Morrissey, with a bit of Neil Hannon thrown in.  Oh, and passing nods to Echo & The Bunnymen, New Order, and Joy Division.  Even a whiff of Pink Floyd for good measure.

11 tracks ranging from all out Indie rockers ("Bakerloo, Unbecoming") to introspection ("New Rhododendrons") to Post-Punk ("Caterpillar") and many points between.

If I'm honest, the album doesn't follow the mix-tape rule of "open with a banger" - "Vivian Comma" is a slight and brittle track.  I'd like a bit of oomph, which creeps in on Track 2 (the wonderfully titled "This, Whatever It Is, Needs Improvement"), and the fully oomphed with Track 3 ("The Mauritian Badminton Doubles Champion 1973") with it's jangling guitar, strong vocal, wordy and literate verses bolted to an incessant chorus.

Each track has it's own identity, rarely (if ever) do you stumble on a slight nick from somewhere, or a re-use of a past trick,but the voice and the lyrics remain strong.  Hamish Hawk may well come from the school of "can I just lever all these words into a line when it shouldn't actually fit" - and he does, and successfully too.

Not only is the album diverse and consistent, it's all delivered with a sure confidence and a little intensity - I dunno, this feels like it might just be one of those unimpeachable debut albums that will be the making of Mr Hawk's legacy.
And I'm looking to the future with bated breath.

I thought I'd got my Top Albums Of The Year List almost sorted, but now there is another worthy contender vying for inclusion

The Mauritian Badminton Doubles Champion 1973

Bakerloo, Unbecoming

New Rhodedendrons

Friday 22 October 2021

The Professionals - SNAFU

 SNAFU is an abbreviation.  It stands for:

  • Situation Normal - The Professionals return with another slab of solid, energetic, balls out Rock n Roll
  • All F****d Up - their last new music appeared at the start of March 2020, that description pretty much describes the backdrop to the creation of this album

It may have taken 36 years for their second album (2017s 'What In The World') to arrive, but since then there have been 3 x 4 track EPs, almost constant touring (when they were able to) and now this new album.

And it delivers what you expect - straight ahead, no frills, rock which works on record and (if past experience is anything to go by) live on stage in theatres and clubs.

Showiness, histrionics, whimsy, clever-dicky lyrical turns, musical diversions - not a bit of it.  Paul Cook's tom toms herald the opening track "Easily Lead" and the tone and groove is set.
Tom Spencer (vocals, guitar), Toshi JC Ogawa (bass), and a host of invited guests (including Chris McCormack, Billy Duffy and Phil Collen) to add their own ingredients to the mix, and 'SNAFU' ensures those colder nights are not so biting - warm, honest, welcoming, and thouroughly entertaining.

Admittedly, the 11 tracks here rarely veer from the template, but why should they, and why do they need to?

"Spike Me Baby" (based on Paul Cook eating a bar of chocolate that was laced with herbal product by his daughter) a straight 4/4 rock with a memorable chorus, that would not sound out of place in the edgier parts of Radio 2, or tha lighter moments of 6Music

Steve Jones is not on this album, other than in spirit as the inspiration for "M'Ashes" - the tale of Paul Cook taking Jonesy's mothers ashes to LA, and the meeting and parting of 2 old friends.
The melody may be a slight lift from Simon & Garfunkel's "Cecilia", but this may very well be one of the best songs The Professionals have done - it's both a hark back to Steve Jones chug-a-lug riffing, shout along chorus, an added bit of poignancy and truth, and the current band standing front and centre.

"Punk Rock And A Hard Place" may be a bit of a cliched title, but a fine song indeed (and one where they invent a new word "jearlurful" - I think I know what they're meaning by it, but I might try and lever into conversation to see if anyone notices")

The lyrics of "Never Say Never" suggest a swipe at a Mr J Rotten - it's possible, but I think it's more coincidence of timing, and may well have been written before the recent disagreements (although saying that, I don't think Cookie has ever had a disagreement.  I don't think I've read one bad word about him)

Negatives are few (but I'm a grumpy sod so I'm going to highlight a couple):
"The Elegant Art (Of Falling Apart)" is a stonking track both musically and lyrically, but on record it sounds restrained, almost over-produced.
And I mentioned up there "why change the template" - I stand by those words, but would welcome one or two slight diversions.  I'm not complaining about chant-along choruses, or Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus-Middle Eight-Chorus song construct, but a splash of extra colour by changing the order a little perhaps.
But then again, I only know 4 chords and can't carry a tune in a bucket, so what do I know about songcraft?

"Gold And Truthful" includes the line "They don't make 'em like that anymore", but The Professionals were made that way, stay that way, and play that way.  And long may they continue.
Many bands second life exceeds their first, so all props to them

To paraphrase opening track of their last album: You can't keep a good band down


Friday 15 October 2021

Jimmy Barnes - Working Class Man

 Late 1985 / Early 1986 (not sure of the exact date) I won a competition on local radio station Radio 210 (about to be re-branded as 2-TEN since it was now on FM, and about to ditch it's 210 metres Medium Wave signal).

Whilst I can't remember the date, I can remember the question: "Who came alive at Reading in 1980?"

The answer is/was Slade, and for knowing the name of their 1980 Live EP netted me the princely prize of 6 singles.
4 of the singles have been lost to the mists of my memory (although one was Stan Campbell I think?), and they are probably somewhere on the shelf.

But the ones I do remember are a re-release of Blondie's "Denis" (in a blue sleeve, as opposed to the more common red one) and Jimmy Barnes "Working Class Man".
Nope, I had no idea who Jimmy Barnes was - and if I'm being cynical (Qui Moi?) I think it was the DJ just clearing his desk of that weeks promo detritus that had landed.
(which is probably the reason for those old local radio competitions).

Jimmy Barnes ...

He is an Australian singer who had some (Australian) success in the past with Cold Chisel - pretty much unheard of in the UK, but in the top 3 or 4 hard rock/bar rock bands doing the rounds in Australia alongside AC/DC, Rose Tattoo, Radio Birdman, The Saints, and early INXS.

Cold Chisel had split in 1983 and Jimmy released a solo debut in 1984 (in Australia only).
Somehow, this got to the ears of David Geffen, and he was duly signed up, plonked in a studio.Geffen must have had high hopes for Barnes as he was assisted in the recording by a high class line-up including Waddy Watchel (Jackson Browne, Warren Zevon et al), Johnathan Cain and Neal Schon from Journey, Mick Fleetwood banging pots on a couple of tracks, and backing vocals provided by Kim Carnes.

If you want to make in-roads to the American market surround yourself with those that have already done it.

Now ... not knowing the singer, and going only by the single cover - all clad in denim - my expectation was  a sort of sub-Springsteen/Bob Seger Blue Collar Rock with an AOR sheen.
Well - and bearing in mind the above cast list - that is sort of what I got. I'm not sure the first impressions of the cover did him many favours.  But ... the voice - it was rough, tough, with a shouty blues-y edge.

The single sold by the shed-load in his homeland, and the album continued the usual sales business.  But in the US?  Nitto.
Even the placement of the title track in the film Gung Ho didn't have any effect (the fact the film pretty much tanked at the Box Office probably didn't help either).

The album (which again can't have sold in the numbers intended as I picked it up for a quid) bore the same cover photo. Originally titled 'For The Working Class Man', and later re-titled/re-issued as 'Jimmy Barnes'.
(I listened again recently, and it may not make me say "this is an undiscovered classic", I can't really find fault with it)

And despite the Gung Ho (see what I did there) all-out attack on the US market, there's something defiantly honest, balls-out, and defiant about the it,  Whilst the songs may not be earth shattering, or pushing for inclusion in a journos All Time Top (whatever) lists, there is nothing wrong with them at all.  Throughout, the music is clean, the band well played, and the singing top notch (if all that is a little hampered by an "of it's time" feeling with all the mid-80s production tricks stopping the needles going into the red).

Despite Geffen's (un-rewarded) investment, Jimmy Barnes did make an impression on the US chart (and in the UK) when he provided vocals on the Lost Boys Soundtrack, backed up by Aussie mates INXS ("Good Times" being the most successful and best known, and "Laying Down The Law").

Jimmy Barnes may never have made it out of the Southern Hemisphere, but he's still selling albums and regularly topping the charts in Australia and New Zealand

Working Class Man

Monday 4 October 2021

Iron Maiden - Senjutsu / Manic Street Preachers - Ultra Vivid Lament / Public Service Broadcasting - Bright Music

 My plan with this here blog thing is to write about old and newly released albums with equal relish.

The intention was to focus on at least one album a month and write something informed (and sometimes excitable) about a current 5" silvery disc filling the quieter moments in my house.

In the main, I think I started well but tailed off in the Summer - and then September comes along and provides 3 new albums all deserving a write-up.
And as they all arrives within a couple of weeks of each other, I've crammed the listening in, formed opinions and thoughts about them, but not had enough time with them to create an aimless stream of conscious post about each of them.

So let's just bung em all in one post, and offer a mini-review of each

Iron Maiden - 'Senjutsu'

You can't be in the game for 40+ years without knowing what your audience want, what your artistic muse craves, and how to deliver both with quality.
Iron Maiden have managed a high quality output (bar a couple of mis-steps) through their life.  And with 'Senjutsu' they've kept the hit rate going.
Similar to recent albums, they're proggy tendancies are indulged - only 2 of the 10 tracks are below 5 minutes.  But as with Maiden of the near past even the epic moments are filled with melody, invention and commitment.
All the hallmarks are there - duelling guitars, traded solos, bass harmonics, solid drums with Nicko's ride cymbal playing a part, topped of with clear, almost operatic, vocal delivery.
"The Writing On The Wall" is the obvious pick - mixing proggy-Maiden with galloping-Maiden - but "Days of Future Past", "The Time Machine", "Darkest Hour" and "Death of the Celts" are fine additions to the cannon.
It may be 80+ minutes across 2 discs, but worthy of the time investment.

Manic Street Preachers - 'Ultra Vivid Lament'

Another year, another Manics album - and (like Iron Maiden above) their quality quotient remains high.
Yes, they have a tendency to be a bit insular, rail against politics (sometimes me thinks slightly naively) and use the word "revolution" quite a lot.
But the sometimes 6th Form Poetry, and the ever present reading of a lyric as a "missing Richey" moment, can more than be forgiven when bolted to tunes like these.
One can't help but notice (or say again) that since the loss of Richey Edwards, the Manics output has adopted a tunesmithery and emotion that was perhaps lost in the early days posturing.
The album is not without some slightly flawed moments - "Don't Let The Night Divide Us" is a bit filler-esque, and the duet with Mark Lanegan "Blank Diary Entry" just doesn't seem to fit - they have succesfully pulled in co-vocalists before (Ian McCulloch on the near epic "Some Kind Of Nothingness" being a good example) but this one just doesn't work as perhaps all parties hoped for.
Although, lay that off against tracks like "Still Snowing in Sapporo", "Orwellian" and "Afterending" then those flaws are more than forgiveable.
And speaking of duets, the co-vocal with Julia Cumming on "The Secret He Has Missed" upholds the trend of there being at least one sure-fire classic Manics single on each album

Public Service Broadcasting - Bright Magic 

Public Service Broadcasting's modus operandi is to find a concept/story (Public Information Films, the Space Race, Welsh Mining Industry), find archive documentary, and weave an atmosphere around it all.
With this album though, they don't have the "hook" of a story I (and others) know of, and can then go "on the journey" with them,.
What they have done is eschewed the archive and created a full concept celebrating Berlin.
Being simple about it, it's Public Service Broadcasting's trademark trance-like, indie/dance grooves, bolted to Krautrock, with moments of Berlin-era Bowie ("The Visitors" would not be too far out of place on 'Low').
"Im Licht" and "Lichtspiel II: Schwarz Weiss Grau" are two particular highlights, and nestled away in the middle of the album is (a firm contender for The Song Of The Year/Earworm Of The Year) "Blue Heaven" which evokes both Marelene Dietrich and Goldfrapp in equal measure.
This is their 4th full album, and one suspects there must be a duffer somewhere - well 'Bright Magic'; is most definitely not that album.

Iron Maiden - "The Writing On The Wall"

Manic Street Preachers - "The Secret He Has Missed"

Public Service Broadcasting - "Blue Heaven"

Friday 24 September 2021

A Best Of Volume 2 Is Not Supposed To Be Better Than Volume 1

But in the case of Manfred Mann's Earth Band that is what happens.

A Best Of is usually a contractual obligation, or a record company curated collection of the highlights of a bands time on a label (or if they own or can afford the licensing, the bands entire career).All compiled together in one easy to digest, and comfort creating package.

If a Volume 2 appears then it's either that the band has a second-wind, and hence another 5 or 10 years of highlights to flog (again), or it is the last scrapings of the barrel as the label tries to eek as much from the investment as possible - with lesser known "hits", album tracks, out-takes and demos thrown out to earn a quid/dollar.

The Best Of Manfred Mann's Earth Band has all the big highlights one would hope for - including "Blinded By The Light", "Davy's On The Road Again", and a very fine live version of "Quinn The Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn").  One big omission here though is "Joybringer" - although this is more as a result of me owning the Warners 1996 issue, rather than the expanded and re-mastered 1999 version.
Still, despite my incorrect ownership, I can report that the contents of said album are very good - nary a duff listen.  It's a bit jazzy, a bit proggy, a bit mid-Atlantic AOR, but it can get a bit ponderous at times.  Although, hang about, it'll be back on form in a minute.
It rocks along nicely - just in a gentle, sort of unchallenging way.
If I pretended I was reviewing it for a published magazine, I'd give it a 6 (maybe 7) out of 10.

Manfred Mann's Earth Band basis was to (sort of) re-visit the 60s idea of trawling around for the best unheard songs that they could record (and make their own) along with an equal volume of Band-penned tracks (possibly including a new reading of a classical music passage - a trick oft performed by Prog peers Emerson, Lake & Palmer).
If Volume 1 shows their appreciation of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, then Volume 2 continues the thread.

The Best Of Manfred Mann's Earth Band Volume II just feels a stronger set - it feels like there is some thought put into the track listing rather than "what singles got the highest in the chart?" of Volume 1.

Bob Dylan is present with renderings of "Times They Are A Changing", "Shelter Form The Storm", and "It's All Over Now Baby Blue".
No Bruce Springsteen on this one but Al Stewart gets a royalty with "Eyes Of Nostradamus", and Doug Hollis & Graeme Douglas get a bank balance boost with a strangely 80s-centric, but insistent and eminently listenable version of Eddie & The Hot Rods "Do Anything You Wanna Do".
And exalted songwriting duo Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller are represented with Shirley Bassey's finest "I (Who Have Nothing)"

Among all the songwriters, the name Gustav Holst appears on the final track.  Yup, the 2 volume collection is rounded off with "Joybringer" - and yes it does.


Quinn The Eskimo

Friday 17 September 2021

Jim Bob - Who Do We Hate Today

Jim Bob Morrison was 50% of Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine.  Carter split in 1998 after 3 very very good albums, a couple of nearly good albums, and one that was just about OK (although their moment had obviously passed).
I admit not following their careers after the band ended, but Fruitbat remains active (albeit in a low key way) while Jim Bob penned 5 novels, 2 autobiographies, and released 13 albums in 20 years.
(Looks like I may have a bit of catching up to do)

And then in early Summer whilst traversing a Youtube rabbit-hole, I stumbled across a new single from the floppy haired Carter vocalist - "that's a bit good" thought I.

The Summer Of No Touching

Commentary from first Lockdown experience, including the lyrical observations:
"The streets were completely deserted, I pretended I was Cillian Murphy"
"Me, I get my facts from whatever David Icke says, And old rock star from the 90s"

And then brought back to the stark image at the end of:
"And me? I'm still waiting here outside Tesco, Self-medicating with my Domestos"

The parent album was procured soon after release in August, and there is little to fault with it.

13 vignettes of Modern Life as seen through the eyes of the narrator - it's not a Covid Concept album, but with all that is happening it sort of ends up feeling that way.
Songs like "Karen Is Thinking Of Changing Her Name", "Song For The Unsung (You're So Modest You'll Never Think This Song Is About You", vie for attention against ecological concerns - "The Earth Bleeds Out" and "Wheres The Back Door, Steve" - and unreconstructed characters - "Shona Is Dating A Drunk, Woman Hating Neanderthal Man", "#prayfortony".

The musical backdrop is vaguely familiar and comfortable, and lyrically the listener moves from applauding the worldplay to nodding their head and thinking "good point!".

The closing track ("Who Do We Hate Today") can be read as a rumination over why certain factions of humanity wake up and spend their day looking for someone or something to fault and blame.
I'd argue this short track is Jim Bob's Peace and Love moment, and leaves the listener to ponder their own path - "be positive in these negative times" is what I took from it.

And all rolled out in under 40 minutes - that's enough time to give it another listen.  It deserves it.

Wednesday 1 September 2021

Ordinary Boys

In the Summer of 2004, I'm wandering the aisles of FOPP looking for something new to listen to.

As is often the way with (memories of) FOPP, I'm laden with back catalogue CDs that are too well priced to ignore.  At between £3 and £5, it's difficult to say "No".  And even more difficult when you get to the counter and they say "Ah, you've spent over £20 - would you like these couple of extra CDs for a couple of quid each?".

As I approach another aisle looking for anything that might be of interest, or filling a gap in the catalogue, a sound comes over the in-store speaker - a recognisable chug-a-lug guitar riff, and then the opening statement: "Radio play just depresses me today".
Do you know, I think you may have a point.  A little later came the lyric "Originality is so passe" - it's a little sub-Morrissey, but I respect your opinion.

So I wandered some more aisles and listened so more: "I'm pretty sure I'll be buying this" thought I.
And then came a cover version of The Specials "Little Bitch" - that made my mind up.

Now 2004 wasn't exactly a fallow year - Green Day 'American Idiot', Franz Ferdinand's debut, The Libertines second (and for a while last), Morrissey 'You Are The Quarry', Graham Coxon 'Happiness In Magazines', U2 'How To Dismantle an Atom Bomb', The Streets 'A Grand Don't Come For Free' - but it wasn't exactly a rare old year.  Not too many albums destined to bother the "All Time Best Of The Best You Must Hear Ever" Lists.
And the one I heard tracks from that day in FOPP probably won't be bothering that list either, but still stands as one of the finest from that year.

'Over The Counter Culture' was The Ordinary Boys debut release was 12 tracks of energy and passion set to music with echoes of The Jam, The Smiths, The Clash, The Specials.  There is also a certain brit-centricness to the lyrics and vocal delivery evoking a Ray Davies-ish influence.

It's a little bit Modern life Is soooooooo Rubbish, mixed with a bit of attempted Social commentary falls slightly short - which has a tendency to veer into cliche.  And OK, some of it is a bit formulaic, and "of it's time".  But there's something there that makes this album a bit sticky and returnable.

Maybe it's the overt way it's influences are presented in each song, a combination of strong melody delivered with youthful exuberance.  Even possibly the odd Terrace Chant Yobbo anthemic quality of some of the choruses.  It just makes you smile and restores the belief that music is about enjoyment

There were other albums available operating in similar territory, delivering similar goods at the time - but The Ordinary Boys seemed to me (not always the best judge) to be leading from (near) the front.
I really did believe they had a future, maybe with a little bit of extra press support and media exposure.

And when their follow-up - 'Brassbound' - arrived in 2005, I remained convinced.  Especially when preceded by the strong ska-heavy-with-a-whiff-of-Madness single "Boys Will Be Boys" arrived.
A second single "Life Will Be the Death of Me" arrived in late Summer, and despite my beliefs, it tanked.
And then came the media exposure that the band needed - lead singer Preston signed up to Celebrity Big Brother in early 2006.  He came fourth, "Boys Will Be Boys" latterly (and possibly deservedly) rose to the higher reaches of the singles chart.

Their third album 'How To Get Everything You Ever Wanted In Ten Easy Steps' arrived in late 2006.  It's not a bad album, but does sound a bit watered down and heavily produced.
How to describe it?
If 'Over The Counter Culture' is 100%, then 'Brassbound' is 75% ("still pretty fine, but missing something").  By that marking, 'How To Get Everything ...' scrapes in at 30% ('a bit better than a contractual obligation, listenable, but not essential).

And then came the moment that defines Preston, and by association The Ordinary Boys - he walks off Never Mind The Buzzcocks in a strop.
Now, be fair Simon Amstell was being a bit of an arse, but the petulant walk-off really didn't help his case or record sales.

'Over The Counter Culture' to my ears sits with those other albums up there as the "go to" listening for 2004.  The band may not have been able to sustain the impact of their debut, but a 1 in 3 hit rate is not bad going.
And on the bright side, Preston can look forward to constant re-runs of his TV moment in those Channel 5 "When TV Doesn't Go Very Well" programmes or an ITV2 special entitled "When Celebrities Walk Off Telly Like A Spoilt Child".
He can also take solace in the fact Piers Morgan was just copying him.

Over The Counter Culture

Little Bitch

Boys Will Be Boys

Monday 23 August 2021

Withnail And I

I've plumbed the depths of Netflix and Amazon, and consumed just about every Police procedural drama it has to offer.
Except the Scandinavian ones ... this might be a simplest redux, but all that chunky knitwear and staring out of windows just doesn't hook me.  And maybe this is a sign of my intellect, or inability to concentrate, but the sub-titles detract from the story for me.

And so I return to the stack of previously watched, and always enjoyed DVDs.  That cache of films that you shove on when you just need some comfort, and can recite the script along with the moving pictures.
And one such film is a relatively low budget offering from the mid-80s, which has assumed cult status, yet still has people saying "and what's so great about that then?"

If the greatness of a film is judged by it's quotability, then Withnail And I is up there with the best of them.
I get the impression that it is a bit of a Marmite film - those that like it tend to love it, quote it, and watch it fairly regularly. Those that dislike it (and you can only dislike something if you've actually seen it) really cannot see what the attraction is.  2 unemployed actors living in squalor get drunk a lot, and then go on holiday - big deal.

And it's not an easy sell (as that last sentence suggests ... but here goes

Written by Bruce Johnston, it is loosely (although he has never divulged how loosely?) based on his student days.
Set in 1969, Withnail and I tells the story of 2 out of work actors clinging to the notion that their big break is just round the corner, and so are content to stay in a dingy flat in Camden waiting for that time.
But how to fill the time?  Copious amounts of alcohol, greasy breakfasts, a walk in Regents Park and a scant refusal to clean up the flat.
Needing a break from this drudgery (or full schedule?), it's time to change the backdrop and secure Withnail's rich uncle's holiday cottage - a somewhat remote, cold, powerless building in the Lake District.
Woefully unprepared for life in the country, they bumble through until the arrival of Uncle Monty and his un-warranted advances.  Monty leaves with his tail between his legs, and then the pair are recalled to London as there is the offer of a stage play.
Withnail - who has no Driving License - decides to speed up the return by driving back as fast as he can, and is then arrested.
They arrive back at the flat to find Danny The Dealer espousing (*his own peculiar) politics:

"I don't advise a haircut, man. All hairdressers are in the employment of the government. Hair are your aerials. They pick up signals from the cosmos and transmit them directly into the brain. This is the reason bald-headed men are uptight."

 "We are 91 days from the end of this decade and there’s gonna be a lot of refugees."

"If you're hanging on to a rising balloon, you're presented with a difficult decision - let go before it's too late or hang on and keep getting higher, posing the question: how long can you keep a grip on the rope? They're selling hippie wigs in Woolworth's, man. The greatest decade in the history of mankind is over. And as Presuming Ed here has so consistently pointed out, we have failed to paint it black."

Danny : The joint I'm about to roll requires a craftsman. It can utilise up to 12 skins. It is called a Camberwell Carrot.

Marwood : It's impossible to use 12 papers on one joint.

Danny : It's impossible to make a Camberwell Carrot with anything less.

Withnail : Who says it's a Camberwell Carrot?

Danny : I do. I invented it in Camberwell, and it looks like a carrot.

Breaking this spaced outedness is Marwood's discovery of a letter informing the pair of their eviction.
He packs his bags, has one final walk (with a spaced and drunk) Withnail in Regents Park, and credits roll

(see, I told you it wasn't an easy sell)

But it's what happens between those (mundane?) plot points that make the film.
Yes it is highly quotable, some of the lines and situations could almost be Python-esque, but there is a darker under-current to it all, but is delivered by 2 characters that veer on the grotesgue (well ,one certainly does) but you can't help but root for them, and feel some of their anxiety.

The amount of alcohol consumed in the film gives rise to a Student Drinking Game where one must imbibe along with the film.

(from wikipedia)

There is a drinking game associated with the film. The game consists of keeping up, drink for drink, with each alcoholic substance consumed by Withnail over the course of the film.
All told, Withnail is shown drinking roughly ​9 1⁄2 glasses of red wine, one-half pint of cider (with ice in), one shot of lighter fluid (vinegar or overproof rum are common substitutes), ​2 1⁄2 measures of gin, 6 glasses of sherry, 13 drams of Scotch whisky and ​1⁄2 pint of ale.[49]

Already seen the film?  Watch it again
Intrigued by the film (despite my best efforts to knacker it)?  Give it a watch, and see which way the Marmite falls

And if all else fails, watch the trailer:

Saturday 7 August 2021

A New Beginning

 Other titles considered:

  • The Times They Are A-Changing
  • New Life
  • Just Like Starting Over
  • Fings Aint Wot They Used T'Be

What am I on about?

I started work 34 years ago this month - and I'm still with the same employer.

I started on a 4 Year Apprenticeship, did a year in the Inspection and Metrology Lab, a short stint in the Drawing Office, and then landed up as a Project Planner.  A return to learning saw me progress through Cost Engineering, Project Management, Commercial Management, and then I settled into Project Controls (basically, telling the Project Manager they are an idiot!).  And I've been in that world for last 25 years.

But now, at the age of 51, I have made the decision to leave the comfort zone behind and move to the Dark Side of IT - I will be administering and maintaining the Integrated Business System across Projects, Finance, Supply Chain,and Human Resources (Oracle Fusion, if you're interested.  Or even care).  The main focus is Projects, so it's still Project Controls per se, and I will bring with me the issues and failings of using the System at the coal-face.

And so I am now placing myself on a vertical learning curve with all the fun of remote working (for a little while longer at least) while my new colleagues have to get used to my unique, grumpy, sarcastic ways of doing things.
I admit to a little fear in this move, but what's the worst that can happen?

Will it prove to be the right decision?  Who knows, but Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained.

And, NO - I will not musically illustrate this post with Bucks Fizz 1986 post Coach crash comeback single (Mamba Seyra with knobs on!).

Instead I'll ask the question: when this lot lost their founding member, songwriter, and all round visionary, did they really believe that they would still be achieving relative success 40 years later?
(and why did every Radio 1 DJ of the time have a different way of pronouncing their name?)

Depeche Mode - New Life

Friday 30 July 2021

Something Happened In The Summer of 1991

1991 was a relatively inoffensive year.

As far as the Singles Chart goes, the year was book-ended by Iron Maiden's "Bring Your Daughter (To The Slaughter)" - not one of their greatst songs - and "Bohemian Rhapsody" returning to the toppermost of the poppermost following Freddie Mecrury's shuffling of this mortal curl in November.
In between that there were a couple of novelty records ("Do The Bartman", Hale & Pace's "The Stonk), but the baulk of the year was taken up by Bryan Adams with that song and Cher Shoop Shoop-ing a lot.

Album-wise, Eurythmics clocked up 10 weeks with 'Greatest Hits', and Simply Red managed 4 with 'Stars'.
Away from the coffee table, REM hit the top (and international success) with 'Out Of Time', and perhaps surprisingly U2s 'Achtung Baby' which confirmed, re-inforced, and even enhanced their reputation as one of the biggest bands in the world never hit the summit (probably due to the Freddie situation which saw 'Greatest Hits II' take the top spot for the final 5 weeks of the year)

But away from the top of the commercial charts, there were some none too shabby albums to be had 

  • Blur 'Leisure'
  • Billy Bragg 'Don't Try This at Home'
  • Carter USM '30 Something'
  • Elvis Costello 'Mighty Like A Rose'
  • Farm 'Spartacus'
  • Jesus Jones 'Doubt'
  • KLF 'The White Room'
  • Levellers 'Levelling The Land'
  • Kirst MacColl 'Electric Landlady'
  • Massive Attack 'Blue Lines'
  • My Bloody Valentine 'Loveless'
  • Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers 'Into the Great Wide Open'
  • Saw Doctors 'If This Is Rock and Roll, I Want My Old Job Back'
  • Saint Etienne 'Foxbase Alpha'
  • Teenage Fanclub 'Bandwagonesque'
  • Tin Machine II (well, I like it)
  • Wonderstuff 'Never Loved Elvis'
Special mention too for two compilations which reminded punters that the past is something that should be embraced.  As compilations go, these fall into the category of "not a duff tack on it"

  • Specials - Singles
  • Thin Lizzy - Dedication

But ... in amongst all this film-backed soppy number one singles, coffee table albums, and minority sellers that deserved better (see above), there was a moment in August and September which saw a string of albums which seemingly turned the music world on it's axis.
It was loud, it was brash, it found a ravenous audience, and most of it came from the US.

  • July
    • Mudhoney 'Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge'
  • August
    • Babes In Toyland 'To Mother'
    • Metallica 'Metallica'
    • Spin Doctors 'Pocket Full of Kryptonite'
    • Pearl Jam 'Ten'
  • September
    • Hole 'Pretty on the Inside'
    • Guns n' Roses 'Use Your Illusion I' and 'Use Your Illusion II'
    • Primal Scream 'Screamadelica'
    • Pixies 'Trompe le Monde'
    • Soundgarden 'Badmotorfinger'
    • Red Hot Chili Peppers 'Blood Sugar Sex Magik'
    • Nirvana 'Nevermind'
    • Status Quo 'Rock til You Drop'

If the 1960s (and arguably the early 80s) were termed the British Invasion, the surely those 3 months in 1991 is the US returning the favour.

Can you spot the ringer in that lot, the sole UK entry in the midst of the Grunge Invasion?

Primal Scream being un-Primal Scream like.  Unleashing their heady mix of dance beats, dub, acid house, funk and psychadelia - all mixed up with Stooges-lite/Stones-esque moments.  As much a product of the studio as it is a live band, Andrew Weatherall fashioned the bands demos into something that probably they, and indeed most of the listening public weren't expecting.  They'd never sounded like this before (really), and never sounded like this again.  And 'Screamadelica' remains one of their best, most acclaimed, albums.

It more than holds it's own against the US onslaught.
To consider a couple of them:

'Metallica' was the album that was smoothed by Bob Rock's production with the deliberate aim for commercial success.  Which was duly delivered.  The band sounds more direct, less complicated in construct, but (sadly) not as interesting or committed.

'Use Your Illusion' would've massively benefited by being shrunk to a single album.  Across 2 albums, there is just not enough variety in what they do to sustain

Pearl Jam's 'Ten' was more rock than grunge, but by associations of geography, the album became a key work of the genre.  Thing is, it is an "OK" album with a few undoubted high-points, but again feels limited in capability.

Spin Doctors 'Pocket Full of Kryptonite' was Grunge-Pop to be sold through quickly while the bandwagon was rolling.  There isn't too much redeeming or classic about this album (It's not bad - I listened to it again fairly recently - just not that great)

And now the sacred cow ...

Nirvana 'Nevermind' - If there is one record and one band that pretty much defines the genre and period, then it's this one.  A heady mixture of anger, angst, recycled riffs, energy, passion and attitude.
It is a great little album, but I'm just not convinced by the argument that it is one of the most important albums ever released.  Yes, I agree it's monumental and certainly created a shift in commercial attitudes and thinking, and indeed has a pervading influence.  But ... is it an absolute stone-cold classic?
I think it's gradual decline in those oft published "All Time Top 100 Best Ever Ever" lists is suggestive that maybe the content is not wall-to-wall stonkers, and that over-playing (and indeed over-mythologising) could be it's downfall too.

I know it looks like I've slaughtered 3 months of music, and it sounds like I haven't got a good word to say about any of them.  Not true, I like many of those albums, and still play them from time to time.  I'm just not convinced that they turned the music biz on it's head as the legend (and the rock press) would have us believe - and in the case of Metallica, Guns n' Roses and The Pixies, I'm not even convinced those are their best albums.
And of those clutch of albums that saw the light of day in those 100 days of Summer/Autumn 1991, the most returned to the turntable is ... Primal Scream 'Screamadelica'
(and that's not even my favourite of theirs)

Primal Scream - Loaded

Nirvana - Smells Like Teen Spirit

Weird Al Yankovic - Smells Like Nirvana

Saturday 10 July 2021

ZZ Top

In December 2019, I took the whole month off work.  All that accrued holiday that I was unable to use in a stupidly busy year was splurged on a whole month of doing "not a lot".
And as I wasn't working, the razor stayed in the drawer and slowly ran out of charge, whilst I developed a lustrous beard.
(for "lustrous", read "patchy, with bits of grey")
And then came New Year and time to return to work, I kept the facial hair, trimmed it down a bit, and returned to work for a full 3 months until Covid took hold, and I've been working at home ever since.

The beard is now part of me, and I'm not getting rid of it.  I have harboured ambitions of getting it to ZZ Top standards, but for one dissenting voice shouting "oh no you're bloody not!".

The most famous beard wearers in all of Rock Music (apart from the drummer who is ironically called Frank Beard), Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill and Frank Beard have been working together since 1969, with just a few solo sojourns in between.
(Are they the longest surviving band with no personnel changes?  They may very well be)
The early years of the band weren't as hirsute - Beards and tache, yes.  But not until 1979, and the release of 'Degüello' was the full length topiary that made their legend first seen.

My entry point to ZZ Top (like may others I'm sure) was 1983s 'Eliminator' - a bright, clean sounding but bluesy rocking slab of 12 tracks, which spawned 4 singles "Gimme All Your Lovin", "Sharp Dressed Man", "TV Dinners" and the lascivious "Legs".  The look of the band, and the visuals created by the album and it's sound sat them in prime position for MTV, and lap it up they did.
Although I didn't know it at the time, 'Eliminator' was another evolution of the bands desire to innovate and develop their sound - starting on the aforementioned 'Degüello - enhancing their basic 3 piece Bar Blues sound, using a range of synthesisers and studio technologies.

And what's so wrong with innovating and trying to stretch yourself?  Absolutely nothing, and fair play to them for doing so and keep it interesting.
But if anyone asks me (and they haven't yet) my advice would be that a fine place to start the ZZ Top journey is at the beginning in the swampy-blues sound of 'ZZ Top's First Album' (1971) or 'Rio Grande Mud' (1972).

Over and above those though, my go to "you must hear this" choice would be 1973s 'Tres Hombres'.
This is their third album and they've now got  feel for the studio, and are becoming more adept at recreating their sound in the studio confines - not going in, plugging in, and laying it down.  This album feels stronger than previous efforts - the playing is more solid, certainly at the bottom end - allowing the guitars to sit above the groove and the songs to bloom, rather than replicate what you would hear on stage.

There is much to like (and move your feet to) on the album.  From the somewhat funky-blues-boogie of opener "Waiting For The Bus" through "Jesus Just Left Chicago" to "Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers" and "Move Me On Down The Line".

But surely the standout track is "La Grange" - a John Lee Hooker-like Boogie, with a searing guitar bolted to it.
Undoubtedly one of the highest points in ZZ Tops's half decade, and one often overlooked in favour of the Beards, Cars, and Girls videos of 'Eliminator' and 'Afterburner'

Sunday 20 June 2021

Nick Heyward - From Monday To Sunday

In the early 80s, Haircut 100 were ploughing a joyful jazz-funk type groove, and  realeased a clutch of truly great singles ("Favourite Shirts (Boy Meets Girl)", "Love Plus One", "Fantastic Day" and "Nobody's Fool") and one great album ('Pelican West') before falling apart and frontman Nick Heyward starting a sol career with moderate success (moderate compared to the critical and public adoration that Haircut 100 received, and could have continued to receive).
By 1986/87 success had all but dried up and Nick was probably consigned to the "Where Are They Now?" file.

And then in May 1994, snuck away on late night ITV (Bob Mills – In Bed With Me Dinner) Nick Heyward was introduced as the musical guest.  A near incendiary version of "Fantastic Day" flew out of the telly.  This was followed by "Caravan" – a track I didn’t know but I needed to hear again.  A cover version of The Jam’s "Sounds From The Street" finished things off.

Strange how 15 minutes of TV can have such an effect and re-launch a career in the viewer’s mind.

And here is the performance(s):

"Caravan" was from Nick's latest solo album 'From Monday To Sunday' which arrived in my sweaty little hands the following weekend (yes, this is a time when a trip to Our Price - or often other record shops if looking for something in particular - was a necessary pert of the process) and was probably played solidly for about a month (or more).

Although his solo career had never hit the heights investors hoped he was capable of, he'd somehow wound up signing to a major label (Epic) and was releasing his fourth solo set (something of a comeback, as it was his first album for 5 years).

There was a slight departure in sound too - the funk-edges of his previous work were replaced with Rock-centric tropes.  The melody and songcraft of old remained, but there was an injection of energy and jangle too.

At the time I first heard this album, Britpop was gathering pace, and it fitted the mould.  In fact, I see it now as one the pre-cursors - a sort of proto-Britpop, alongside names such as Boo Radleys, Primal Scream, Elastica, Gene, SMASH, These Animal Men, Menswear and Shed Seven

And to these ears 'From Monday To Sunday' is the beginnings of Britpop.  Its full of melody, strong songs, and rooted on this side of the Atlantic.  It takes near nostalgia such as The Stone Roses and blends with The Beatles, Squeeze and The Jam to fill out the picture.
A trick repeated by many a Britpopper.
And to my eyes, the album cover is a picture of a Full English Breakfast served in a greasy spoon cafe (completed with chequered vinyl tablecloth) - the type of British Culture celebrating image that would become a common site, most notably the pictures of Blur at the Dog Racing on the inner cover of 'Parklife' 

For me, it’s up there with Britpop touchstones 'Parklife', 'Definitely Maybe' and 'Stanley Road'.
And off the back of 'Stanley Road', Paul Weller was anointed The Modfather Of Britpop.
I'm not suggesting that Nick Heyward is the equal of Paul Weller, but they are certainly contemporary.

And who knows?  With a little more luck and recognition, he could be making guest appearances on albums and/or playing larger venues.  Instead, Nick remains on the 80s nostalgia circuit.

Maybe, just maybe, Nick fired too soon.

Quality is high across the album's 12 tracks - there is a danger that it can be seen as front-loaded with "He Doesn't Love You Like I Do", "Caravan", and "Kite" filling 3 of the 4 opening solts.
But no, there is more than enough of equal calibre filling the space.

The pick of the bunch for me is "kite" - it's rich, jangling, undertated and plain glorious.  This song says as much to me about the summer of 1994 as Parklife and Live Forever.

Also vying for attention of the yearning "How Do You Live Without Sunshine", the jumping (almost echoes of Haircut 100 past) "January Man", and closing track - the almost epic and yearning (again) "Everytime"

Life's like that, delicious with clause.

You never get the truth, just promises galore.

Don’t let them shoot your kite down


Thursday 10 June 2021

Matt Berry - The Blue Elephant

Matt Berry is a bit like that kid at school where everything he turns his hand to is a success.  But his charisma prevents you from disliking the annoying over-achiever.

And so it is with his music career.  He's been releasing albums for a decade and a bit, and with this one he really has gone full polymath - playing all instruments (except the drums), writing, producing, arranging, even supplying the painting for the cover.

'The Blue Elephant' is a journey through summer sounds against a backdrop of 60s Garage-Psych, The Doors meets Deep Purple, Proggy moments, and even a near David Bowie vocal impression.  But it's not a retro exercise - this is as much a product of 2021 as the debt it owes to the past.  Breezily familiar yet brand new.  Relaxing yet occasionally jarring.  An exercise in audience pleasing as much as pleasing the artist himself.

Berry's sometimes over enunciated tones fit the musical styles, although the album is sometimes let down by weak lyrics.  Actually, those lyrics might be weak on purpose - maybe Matt Berry can't help himself returning to Comedy-type.

"It's a drag to be set on fire, I've been sacked from the choir, I came back to Bedfordshire"
("Now Disappear")

"There's something in the air, There's someone on the street, There's something in my hair, There's someone you should meet"
("Life Unknown")

"Me, me, I don't care, Don't touch my hair, Try not to stare"
"In my home, all alone, Hide my bone, Live alone, kill my phone, Watch my tone"
("Like Stone")

But the lyrics are a minor quibble - it's all about the music and ambiance that the album delivers.
"Abroad" is a breezy instrumental easing you in before "Summer Sun" goes full on 60s Garage-Psych.  Probably the most incessant (and best) track on here.  It is familiar yet unheard before.  A rare trick to pull off.
As you progress through the tracks, you get the notion that The Doors were something of a touchstone/reference point, even closely cribbing "Riders On The Storm" through the breakdown of  "Alone".
All tracks closely butt up to each other rendering the album best consumed as a whole rather than split out to individual tracks.
There are a couple of instrumental linking tracks - notably in the form of "Safe Passage" and "Safer Passage" which to these ears are the same track fed in different directions through the Tape Machine.
A trick I feel is repeated with "Story Told" and "Forget Me".  These two tracks are either a backward recording, or a forward and backward version combined.

After "Summer Sun", special praise goes to "Blues Inside Me" - a blues-rock / late 60s / Glam Rock stomp which starts in Jim Morrison territory before mutating into something that feels like an early David Bowie cut.

The listing of instruments used includes 11 varieties of keyboard ranging from piano, Wurlitzer, Hammond Organ, Vox Continental and a bank of synthesisers.
Vastly under-rated rock instruments like Xylophone and Glockenspiel are also listed, giving rise to the cry "More Glockenspiel!" as some tracks unfold.

Although Matt Berry plays everything (and at points feeds his vocals through a vocoder), in a lot of cases it's the drums that drive the songs - managing to stay on dead beat but with enough randomness and flourish to add more depth and colour to the picture.

There is much to like with 'The Blue Elephant', but aside from the 2 stand out tracks highlighted, one wonders how substantial the songs are.  In context, they work together creating an almost perfect soundtrack for relaxed summer evenings - as a whole it definitely hits a spot.  Just not convinced there is a "Great" album here - a "Very Very Good" one perhaps, but just falling short of Greatness.

Summer Sun

Blues Inside Me

Thursday 27 May 2021

Derek And Clive

 Peter Cook and Dudley Moore first worked together in Beyond The Fringe with Alan Bennett and Jonathan Miller.
When Beyond The Fringe completed it's last tour, Dudley Moore was offered a BBC Series - Not Only But Also - showcasing his comedy and Music.  He brought Peter Cook in as a scriptwriter and occasional performer.  Cook's role in the show expanded to equal billing, and the Pete and Dud Dagenham Dialogues were born.
Much of Not Only But Also has been wiped, but the shows that do remain show the two performing together in an irreverent, often improvisational way - a result of not really having time to rehearse, Cook's propensity to go off-script when a new thought came to him, and the devilment in Cook's eyes when he spots a new way to make Dud corpse 

Like here (at about 5:25)

Not Only But Also ran for 3 series, but by the end relations between the 2 were strained, primarily due to Peter Cooks increasing un-reliability and increasing alcohol intake.
In 1973, they assembled their best sketches into a revue show - Behind The Fridge - and set off on tour of Australia and USA.
While in America, Peter Cook attempted to smooth relationships with Dudley by booking some time in a studio and the pair just taking some time out to have rambling conversations, a few drinks, and see what happened.
What happened was basically the Dagenham Dialogues peppered with swearing.  And so was born the alter egos of Derek and Clive.
Chris Blackwell - Head of Island Records who'd booked the studio for them - gave out Bootleg copies to friends, who passed them on, and passed them on again.  When Peter Cook heard about this, he pushed Chris Blackwell to release it commercially (Dudley Moore was a little concerned as it may impact the Hollywood career and image he was looking to build).
For the commercial release, some other sketches were added from their current Stage Show - it's not that they're bad sketches, they just don't flow with the tirade of filth and bad language of the other tracks
(no less funny though)

And so was born the legend of a pair of toilet cleaners discussing philosophy, meeting strangers, and reminiscences of past employment.  As the sleeve notes said, they're basically just a couple of c*nts.

The album may not have sold in droves (it did make number 74 on the Australian Album Chart), but was picked up and shared by the many (it was packaged like a bootleg, and it was bootlegs that reached the ears of more than those who actually laid out hard cash).
But it's reception (and reputation) was enough for Pete & Dud to revisit the characters the following year, releasing 'Come Again' and this time finding a place in the Top 20 of the UK Album Chart.

'Come Again' is basically more of the same, but with the shock quotient turned up several notches.  It was known that Peter Cook's decent into alcoholism was rampant at this time, and the clanking of glasses and slurred speech on the album suggest that Dudley Moore was in a similar state of inebriation.
The other noticeable thing about the conversations on 'Come Again' as a sign that their working and personal; relationships with each other were strained almost to breaking point - Peter Cook never missing an opportunity to have a dig or snide remark in Dudley's direction.

The third installment of Derek and Clive - 'Ad Nauseum' - came in 1978, and marks the end of their working relationship.
The album itself was effectively recorded sober - as can be seen in the accompanying film (Derek and Clive Get The Horn, released 1979) - and for the most part a happy and cordial affair.  But there are moments when Peter Cook cannot stop himself sticking the knife in and going just too far for Dudley Moore's liking.
Towards the end of the recording, and after a particularly spiteful attack - Dudley Moore walks out saying "It's no wonder we're splitting up".  And indeed, 'Ad Nauseum' was to be the last joint project they worked on.

But the legacy of Derek and Clive was not over - Peter Cook and Richard Branson had organised for the recording of the album to be filmed, and the resultant film (although not granted an official release due to censorship issues) was put out on video.
Unfortunately, about as many copies of the video were impounded by the Police as were sold to the British public, resulting in the Video company (part funded by Peter Cook) going bankrupt.
It was finally given a proper DVD release in 1993.

I may have listened to the albums too much, but it is difficult to hear the name Jayne Mansfield without raising a smile, questioning inept leadership without asking "is this anyway to run a ballroom", or even listen to Horse Racing commentary.

If there is a true-ism that there is a Monty Python quote for any occasion ("all roads lead to Python"), then many of those same roads (often with a vulgar fork in the road) will also lead to Derek & Clive.

The Worst Job I Ever Had

The Worst Job He Ever Had


Horse Racing

Monday 17 May 2021

Paul Weller - Fat Pop

 Paul Weller has been in the game for nigh on 45 years, and his catalogue boasts 26 studio albums.  Those of his sol career have often been an exploration of his latest musical passion - each album has enough difference about it to make it unique from it's predecessor.  And in all those switches of style, he's remained relatively clunker-free.

Now into his seventh decade (he's 63 at the end of May), one would think he might start slowing down a bit, revel in his elder statesman position, make the odd guest appearance on mates albums and live shows.
No chance - he's maintained his lifetimes work rate of an album every couple of years.  In fact 'Fat Pop' comes just 10 months after 'On Sunset'.

When you hear that a new album is due, the initial excitement is often tempered by "OK, how much experimentation, will he be doing this time?" or that unfortunate thought that there may be a couple of diamonds amongst the tracks, but probably not enough to pull from the shelves again at a later date.

I am very happy to report that 'Fat Pop' may be the album to break that sequence of folly and may well take it's place along side 'Sonik Kicks' as my most played PW album of the 21st Century.
With 'Fat Pop' you get the impression that Paul Weller is writing songs for himself and his audience - something of a departure from previous works where the audience has to catch up and tune in to the vibe.
In doing so, there is an almost perfect balance of the familiar and the new about it, and plenty of diversity in the grooves (or 1s and 0s if you have the CD - which I do)

The opening track - "Cosmic Fringes" - sets the ground for what's coming.  A guitar led track with psych overtones bolted to a vaguely recognisable riff, and a virtual spoken word (sing-speak?) delivery.
"True" is a marriage of The Jam and David Bowie's "Heroes", complete with Mott The Hoople-esque honking sax sounds.  It's full of energy, and over too soon.
Title track "Fat Pop" slows proceedings down finding laid back soul groove, before a Weller classic-in-waiting arrives - "Shades Of Blue".  A valid addition to the Weller cannon.  One of his best for many years.
"Glad Times" drops into another soul groove akin to Style Council with dubby and jazzy overtones, complete with a great horn section.  Like "Fat Pop" above, this feels like it might be a leftover from 'On Sunset', or at the very least authored around the same time.
"Cobweb / Connection" is acoustic driven with some Spanish guitar interludes.  There's a real summery shimmer about the track, if a little insubstantial.
If I'm honest there is a bit of a lull with next 2 tracks - "Testify" and "That Pleasure".  There's nothing wrong with the tracks, a bit of blaxploitation funk, a touch of Motown, and more soul grooves just doesn't feel like it's moving forward apace.
With "Failed", I'm not sure if Paul Weller has been hanging about with Noel Gallagher too long, or he's just trying to show him how to do it properly?
"Failed" does lift the album in time for "Moving Canvas" and then into the reflective sounding "In Better Times" which does sound like a throwback to 90s PW.
"Still Glides The Stream" closes the album with lush strings, and a couple of lines that I may be mis-interpreting, but for me seem to sum up the rasion d'etre for the album:

Be careful with what you ignore
Look for greatness in the small
For the man who never was
Still knows what his public needed
Yes, he knows what his public needed

OK, I admit the album is not without some skippable moments, but there is more than enough to just press play and let it run (plus it's not that long an album - just because you can get 70 minutes onto a CD, it doesn't mean you have to)


Shades Of Blue

Still Glides The Stream

Monday 3 May 2021

The Coral - Coral Island

The Coral's first album came out 20 years ago.  And a fine album it is.  After this, and over the next 8 albums, The Coral went about their business with quiet consistency, and whilst perhaps not receiving untold riches or high profile interviews in the music press, there really is very much to like in their catalogue.
Phase 1 of their career was closed out by 2008's 'Singles Collection'.  1 more album came before a 4 / 5 year hiatus which was broken in 2016.

And now they're back again with a double concept album titled "Coral Island".
Except ... it isn't really a double album (done and dusted in under an hour!) more two companion albums telling 2 sides of a story.
And it isn't really a concept album - there is a theme and outline narrative (best explained in the accompanying book), but no underlying story, main characters, or narrative conclusion.

Coral Island is an imagined seaside resort, and the album is split into 2 parts telling the story Summer point of view when the place is buzzing with incomers (Part 1: Welcome To Coral Island) and then looks at the town and the residents remaining when the visitors have gone (Part 2: The Ghost Of Coral Island).

There are 15 stand alone songs in the 24 song package.  The remaining tracks are narration provided by James and Ian Skelly's grand-dad.  The tunes themselves (in Part 1) are bright, melodic, a sort of Britpop-Psychedelia which has been a common thread of The Coral's work.  Part 2 (as the sub-title suggests) is a darker affair, but still has moments of lift and breeze.

From the 60s-esque, oh-so Coral sounding "Lover Undiscovered" through the Garage Rock meets The Doors meets Inspiral Carpets of "Vacancy", the busked, wistful "Autumn Has Come" - and that's just Part 1.
Part 2 starts on a darker tone - "The Golden Age" sounds like you've mistakenly played a Richard Hawley album by mistake, but also remains Coral-ly.  In fact Part 2 probably contains more musical diversity and also has echoes of ? And The Myserians, The Shadows, Neil Hannon, Johnny Cash and Crosby Stills & Nash.
"Watch You Disappear" seem s to pull all these influences/sounds together whilst also pulling in Del Shannon, Joe Meek, and even a touch of "The Legend Of Xanadu".
And if this wasn't enough, penultimate track "Calico Girl" sounds like it wouldn't sound out of place in a trove of undiscovered 'White Album' demos.

The album displays real ambition, and delivers on that.  It's intricate in creation and delivery, and doesn't fade or attempt to fit a song to the theme and move the album on in a jump.

'Coral Island' is very probably the best album of their career.  And very probably the best album of 2021 so far.
(and who knows, may also be in the running for album of the year when critics and others tapping at keyboards assemble their "Goodbye To Another Year" lists)

Lover Undiscovered


Take Me Back To The Summertime

Friday 23 April 2021

The Who Sell Out - Deluxe Edition

The Who’s 1967 album is given the Super Deluxe enormobox treatment. And there is a lot to get through.

If you are new to this album, this 80 quid box is unlikely to be your starting point, so the assumption is that buyers of this will already be familiar with the album content.

It’s been suggested that Sell Out was an early concept album. Not convinced – there is no narrative, no story thread linking the songs, and no conclusion. What it is is a collection of great songs linked by jingles and adverts. It is more an attempt to celebrate (or perhaps re-create) the experience of listening to Pirate Radio.
The original plan was to sell the space between tracks for real adverts – when this idea didn’t fly, the band created and recorded their own (many of them created by John Entwhistle and Keith Moon in the Pub round the corner from the Studio).

The 13 tracks that make up the original album are a mix of psychedelia, tough-egded pop, and with “I Can See For Miles” a rock edge that would become The Who’s trademark.
Like previous outing ‘A Quick One … While He’s Away’, the album is rounded out with a Pete Townshend mini-opera (“Rael”) – another exercise in Pete stretching himself by taking fragments of ideas and songs and weaving them together into one whole, and yes I think he succeeds. Whatever, it is certainly good practice for (what we now know) was coming next.

This box gives 112 tracks across 5 CDs and 2 additional 7” singles.
You get both the mono and stereo mixes of the album stuffed in this box, plus a host of extra tracks – some have appeared before in the guise of the Maximum R n B Box Set, Odds and Sods compilation, or bonus tracks on previous re-issues, but many are seeing light for the first time.
Also included as bonus tracks of the mono and stereo albums are the contemporary singles “Pictures Of Lily” / “Doctor Doctor”, “The Last Time / “Under My Thumb”, a host of unused advert jingles, and a Who’d up version of Grieg’s “Hall of The Mountain King”

But that’s not all …

A third CD of various takes from the Sessions for the album, and another CD (titled “The Road To Tommy”) of work in progress recordings from 1968, including the singles “Dogs” / “Call Me Lightening”, and “Magic Bus” / “Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde”.

Thing is these 1968 recordings I don’t believe are a nascent Tommy – I believe that was a singular and separate concept, but there are certainly some themes, thoughts, riffs and motifs here which would be re-cycled or re-purposed for Tommy.Like Quads from 1966 (which spawned “I’m A Boy”) or Lifehouse, what this is may be an embryo of an idea, or an unrealised story which would later be broken-down with the best bits salvaged.
Completing the CDs is a disc of Pete Townshend demos which sound well formed – Townshend would always attempt to provide a fully formed demo of his vision for a song and these are no different.

The only issue I have is, that although nice to have – and I think I have 3 albums of Townshend demos (the Scoop series) – I’m not sure they’ll get many plays. Maybe once or twice, but not as often as the original album (but now I have to choose the mono or stereo versions).

The 7” singles in the box are:

- the UK Track single of “I Can See for Miles” / “Someones Coming” (both mono versions)
- the US Decca single of “Magic Bus” / “Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde”.

That may be it for the music, but in the package is a host of extra bumph as we would expect from Super Deluxe boxes.

First off is an 80-page, hard-back full-colour book, including rare period photos, memorabilia, track by track annotation and new sleeve notes by Pete Townshend with comments from the likes of Pete Drummond (Radio Caroline DJ), Richard Evans (designer) & Roy Flynn (the Speakeasy Club manager).
And the extra bits and bobs are: nine posters & inserts, including replicas of the original album posters, a gig poster from The City Hall Newcastle, a Saville Theatre show 8-page programme, a business card for the Bag o’ Nails club, a flyer for Bath Pavilion concerts, a bumper sticker for Wonderful Radio London, Keith Moon’s Speakeasy Club membership card and a Who Fan Club newsletter and photo.

The vaults must now be pretty sparse for this period of The Who. This set offers just about everything before, during, and after this album.

Sell Out is the point where The Who became more focussed as a band on their work, rather than being a singles band, and it shows in Pete’s songwriting, Roger voice, the tightness of the band, and the fact that Sell Out contains no real duffers across it’s 13 tracks.

If you’ve heard (and like) the original album, what could be better than wallowing in the vaults of these songs and times, and all the additional stuff you get with it.

Armenia City In The Sky