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"