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