Wednesday, 29 June 2022

"I'm Bored. Might As Well Be Listening To Genesis"

I did, and can report that I was not bored - just let down at the end with 'Calling All Stations' which I never actually managed all the way through in one sitting.

15 albums over 28 years, and I've been through them all (well, someone had to)

Charterhouse School pupils Peter Gabriel (Vocals), Tony Banks (Keyboards), Mike Rutherford (Bass), Ant Phillips (Guitar) and Chris Stewart (Drums) formed a band and recorded some initial home moade demos.  These demos found their way to former Charterhouse pupil Jonathan King who signed the band to a management deal, arranged a recording contract, gave the band a name (Genesis) and put them in the studio
(The initial deal on offer was a  10 year management contract and a 5 year recording contract.  This offer was subsequently reduced - primarily due to parental intervention of the 15 to 17 year old band members - to a one year management and recording deal.
Initial recordings took place and the band were looking to expand their songs - Jonathan King (acting as producer) advised against this and to "stick to the 3 minute pop song".
Now named Genesis, and acting on the brief, "The Silent Sun" was delivered as the first single.  A second single "A Winters Tale" met with the same dis-interest as the first, so Jonathan King decided an album was the route to go.
(By this stage though, drummer Chris Stewart had returned to his studies a Charterhouse being replaced by another school friend John Silver)

1969s 'From Genesis to Revelation', at the producers behest, eschewed the elongation, changing time signatures and self-indulgence the band wanted to go into in favour of the 3 minute song.
The album attracted as much success as the preceding singles (ie none) as did their final single before the Decca and King deal ended.  At this point, the band was effectively on hold as the members returned to their studies.  By the end of the year the band reconvened (minus John Silver who was replaced by new drummer John Mayhew), decided to turn professional, starting writing in earnest and actually started playing gigs.and they threw in their lot with Tony Stratton-Smith and Charisma Records - already home to The Nice, Van der Graaf Generator, Rare Bird and Atomic Rooster, so a little more Prog on the roster wasn't going to hurt.

And the first fruits of this relationship was 'Trespass' in 1970.  An album which follows the path of expansion, elongation and experimentation denied previously.  And it's got more than a touch of Genesis's future signature all over it.  "The Knife" is the key track here - one of those long songs (9 minutes) which is full of ideas, interludes, and diversions which doesn't feel 9 minutes long (if anything it could happily be longer).  This is the de facto debut - and very assured it is too.  The band might be getting somewhere, maybe a cultish achievement, but somewhere nonetheless.
What's that?  Oh the drummer and guitarist want to leave.  So after the promise of 'Trespass', it's goodbye to Ant Phillips and John Mayhew, and hello to Steve Hackett and Phil Collins.

The now accepted "classic" line-up kicks of proceedings with 1971s 'Nursery Cryme'.
If I'm being honest, I did start to get a bit bored with this album - there's lots of ideas, lots of parts to the songs, but it just doesn't seem to hang together for me.  "The Musical Box" and "Return Of The Giant Hogweed" are the pick of the tracks, with "Harold The Barrel" showing a humourous side to the band oft forgotten, or indeed never noticed.
There is a true-ism which says a bands 3rd album is often the point that marks the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning.  If we consider 'Nursery Cryme' to be the bands 2nd album (again ignoring 'From Genesis To Revelation') then that truism is upheld with the release of 'Foxtrot' in 1972.

With Steve Hackett and Phil Collins now ensconced in the band, the creativity and performance has gone up a notch.  There now feels more "shape" and cohesion to the band and it's music, and opener "Watcher Of The Skies" exemplifies that.  There's not a duff, or skippable, track here, and the album is crowned by the 23 minute "Supper's Ready" - a 7 movement epic that repeats motifs and bounces from the pastoral to the bombastic, and then resolves itself with the final "As Sure As Eggs Is Eggs".  Epic in it's conception, and epic in it's delivery.  A true masterpiece of the Peter Gabriel era.

'Selling England By The Pound' has a lot to live up to after "Supper's Ready".  It tries - not least with opening track "Dancing with the Moonlit Knight" and "Firth of Fifth".  And let's not forget the inclusion of a surprising hit single (Number 21 counts as a hit doesn't it?) "I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)".
However, despite a brave attempt to equal or top 'Foxtrot' it falls just short (very very nearly, but not quite)

1974s concept album 'The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway' is generally cited as the masterpiece of the Gabriel-era.  But is it?  Well, it's tough going, the story is a tad impenetrable - the songs don't do the intended narrative justice (and even less if split out of context), so Gabriel included the full story in the sleeve notes - but it is delivered with huge confidence and competence.
If you want to try and understand the fancifulness and possible madness of the story, then wikipedia attempts to explain it:
Plot Summary link 
The tour in support of The Lamb opened before the album was released - the intent of the show was a full performance of an unheard work to a bemused audience.

As the tour drew to a close, Peter Gabriel announced his intention to leave.  This decision was a combination of a desire to spend more time with his family and a belief that he'd gone as far as he could with Genesis.
Despite the loss, the remaining members did not want it to end the band - after a short break they reconvened to work on new material.  Phil Collins suggested that they could just be an instrumental band, but the others felt that a new vocalist was definitely needed.  The problem was finding one - many auditions were held, with Phil Collins teaching the auditionee the vocal parts, but no-one was found to be up to the job.  In the end, a reluctant Phil Collins took on the job (supposedly on a temporary basis).

And the first fruits of this reduced line-up with a reluctant singer was 1976s 'Trick Of The Tail' - and for a band who has lost their singer and frontman, you really wouldn't know it.  The songwriting and construction is at the same level as it ever was, the only thing changed is the tone of the voice and, by association, there's a less whimsy going on in the performance.
"Dance On A Volcano" is a statement of intent opener - showing they can pick up from where they left off, and if anything are continuing to push forward.  "Squonk" quickly establishes itself as a classic of the catalogue and closer "Los Endos" is both a jog through styles of the past and establishment of a looser rhythmic style.  Against expectations perhaps, Genesis managed to prove that losing a frontman isn't always the end.

And the four continued the trick, if a bit more laboured/fractious, with 'Wind & Wuthering'.  Still very much proggy Genesis, but mixing a more romantic/yearning styling.  What is noticeable on this album is when Phil Collin's sings in a higher register, there is a passing resemblance to Peter Gabriel - maybe that's why the transition seemed all the more seamless.
Steve Hackett expressed frustration with this one as much of his songwriting and musical idea were sidelined - but conversely his playing on this album is perhaps better than it ever was.
By the end of the tour, feeling constricted by the band and wanting to pursue a solo career, he left the band. 

Now reduced to a three-piece, but with confidence in their abilities - Rutherford, Banks and Collins had effectively constructed the basis of 'Trick Of The Tail' themselves whilst Hackett was recording his first solo album - it was decided that no replacement would be sought.

'...And Then There Were Three...' is the factually correct title of the next album, and another move away from the arty-prog epics that was their stock-in-trade of old.  The extended pieces continued, if lesser than before, and the songs were trimmed and focussed.  It also achieve that rare thing with Genesis producing a song that became a radio hit - "Follow You Follow Me", indeed their first top 10 single.
The adjustment here was not perhaps as smooth as Perter Gabriel's departure, and previously Hackett-filled gaps are noticeable, but a brave attempt to move forward in the face of adversity.

'Duke' and 'Abacab' are cut from similar cloth - now very much operating in the shorter songs smoother, softer, radio friendly world (with some old tricks included for good measure - prime example is the 10 minute "Duke's Travels"/"Duke's End" suite).  Phil Collins solo career, was gathering pace but did not seem to be affecting his commitment to Genesis.  Indeed another big hit for Genesis was "Misunderstanding" the Collins wrote for his first album but felt Genesis would give it more strength.There is some cross-over (why wouldn't there be, it's the same vocalist and drummer).  If anything, the lessons of his solo career had moved Genesis to a more pop-rock direction.  My summary: 'Duke' is a strong consistent package featuring great songs, playing and delivery.  'Abacab' feels a little more insubstantial - it's good, but one feels it could've been better.

So with a couple of hit singles behind them, smooth US stadium-appealing albums in the can, burgeoning solo careers (with varying degrees of success) and a steady drip of back catalogue sales, where next?
Well, turn back towards the prog obviously - and where there was once whimsy, now add a shaft of darkness.  Best exemplified by the maniacal laugh that opens into lead single "Mama" from the simply titled 'Genesis'.  And "Home By The Sea" / "Second Home By The Sea" shows the long songs are still as great as ever.
But having been bitten by the Pop Star bug, and the chance to get on MTV, the lightweight "Illegal Alien" also appears.  Whilst the song does have a point and a comment to make, the lyrical construct and delivering it in a cod-Mexican accent may not have been the smartest idea - at least judged by today's standards anyway.

There was a 3 year gap until 1986s 'Invisible Touch', but in that period they completed a 5 month tour in support of 'Genesis', Phil Collins continued his pop supremacy with a new album and multiple appearances for anyone who asked (including 2 performances at Live Aid either side of the Atlantic), Mike Rutherford convened Mike & The Mechanics, and Tony Banks released some unhailed solo work (including a very nearly hit single (number 75 for 2 weeks) with Fish from Marillion).

'Invisible Touch' is more pop market focussed than previously with 5 hit singles from 10 tracks, but the album also includes perhaps the lat great Genesis long song in the shape of "Domino".
Producer Hugh Padgham had got his feet under the table with the last Genesis album, and his work here is maybe as important to the final product - in terms of shape and presentation to the market - as the band themselves.  Genesis vs Phil Collins solo is oft debated - did he keep his best songs for himself?  was Genesis now Phil's side Project?  and many more questions.  In truth, there is always a division between the 2 worlds (see also Mike & The Mechanics versus Genesis), but this album comes confirms the 2 worlds co-existed, but there are moments when Hugh Padgham's production comes very close to muddying the water.

After a year on tour and respective solo careers (except Tony Banks) occupying more time and energy, you would be forgiven for thinking that was the end.  Indeed, a career spanning documentary was filmed and aired on the BBC.  But the Genesis Bat Signal went back up in early 1991, and they re-convened for another round.
'We Can't Dance' was written in the studio from the ground up.  It was this recording method that kept Phil Collins in the saddle, despite increasing demands and success on his own.
In fact so much material was produced, a double album was issued (well, it was nominally a double but more the fact that in the CD era they could now fill up 70 odd minutes if they really wanted to).
They culled even more singles form this one (6 from 12), but the album also contains 2 long songs in the shape of "Driving The Last Spike" and "Fading Lights" - welcome additions to the catalogue, but falling just short of previous 8 minute + efforts).

And then following the tour, Phil Collins did leave - the pressure of the solo career, solo touring, and personal issues just meant he was unable to focus on Genesis.
And arguably at that point, the band should've probably drawn a line.  But Rutherford and Banks are made of sterner stuff - a new singer (Ray Wilson from Stiltskin) was installed and 'Calling All Stations' written, recorded and released.
The title track isn't that bad a song, but stretching the good will over an entire album just (I think) sullied) the legacy - more an exercise of "keeping the name out there" rather than producing a worthy album
(although, in fairness, it does underline the importance of Tony Banks to the whole sound and focus of Genesis).

From slight, producer misguided, beginnings, to rising Prog Monster, to losing your vocalist and then losing a guitarist (to lose one player is careless, but to lose 2 in short order could be fateful), to reduced numbers, and then a change of sound and fanbase, there is much to like across these 15 albums (OK, apart from the last one perhaps).
So where to start for the novice?
(Novice?  that was me 3 months ago.  Hark at me and "the voice of experience")

  • From the Peter Gabriel years, 'The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway' may have the reputation, but is probably not the best starting point.  A double session of 'Foxtrot' quickly followed by 'Selling England By The Pound' is recommended
  • I'm going to call out 'A Trick Of The Tail' from the transitional years as muchly worthy of investigation
  • For the 3 piece era, the starting point would/should be 1983s 'Genesis', and 'Invisible Touch' is also worth a spin

Supper's Ready



Dancing With The Moonlit Knight



A Trick Of The Tail



Mama



Land Of Confusion





Monday, 20 June 2022

Humdrum Express - Forward Defensive

The last Humdrum Express album dropped (as the cool kids say) just before lockdown - this meant that a highly competent collection of songs did not get the live airings and potentially reaching a wider audience it deserved.
Undeterred, the new album arrives some 27 months later, and I can report that normal service has been resumed.  More of the same gentle skewering of modern life, wry observations, exasperation, absurdity, and lyrical one-liners.
But this time, there's a little bit of politics and a cello.

Why 27 months?  Well, there's been a couple of lockdowns you know - and as a result, Ian states:

“Lockdown hit us all in different ways. I didn’t notice it at first but mixing with fewer idiots than usual was hampering my main source of writing inspiration. I eventually took the unusual step of posting a song idea on Twitter.

“The positive response gave me the encouragement needed and 24-hours later, "Denim In The Dugout" was finished. Finally back in the groove, 12 more songs came tumbling out to complete the project.”

The songs herein cover varying subjects including spending Christmas on Bondi Beach with the frontman of The Lemonheads. Peter Shilton on social media, the life of third choice goalkeepers, peculiar collectibles, people who’ve built pubs in their gardens, manscaping, and those who talk loudly at gigs (and are blissfully unaware that there is anything wrong with that).
It's not too much of a leap - and a very possibly simplistic stance - to say Humdrum Express are not far from Half Man Half Biscuit with a Midlands accent.

That little bit of politics mentioned on track 1 -"Brave Boy" - reciting the upset at getting a vaccine sticker rather than an enamel badge.  There can't be too many songs that mix trypanophobia with a political outburst.

"I'm aware the cost of a badge might be seen as a drain on resources, but this jab was an achievement for me.  It wasn't me who spent 37 billion on a failed Track & Trace system and millions more more on deficient PPE"

Mate ... I didn't even get a flipping sticker, but I agree with your assertion.

Now before you think Ian Passey's gone all Billy Bragg militant, this is the only time that the real world enters proceedings.
(Actually, not true - "What A Time To Be Alive" identifies the fact that we may all have to work until we're 85, but doesn't go down the "overthrow the Government" route.  It does off a sarcastic air punch at the end though)

Humdrum normality is restored with "Christmas With Evan Dando" - the unlikely tale of finding yourself in Australia with The Lemonheads frontman, followed by another 11 folk-indie-ska-infused, sometimes spoken word observations of the possibly un-important but actually in need of investigation (maybe even rectification).  At one point he even goes a bit Morrissey on "Manscaping" (or that's what my cloth ears heard anyway)

"The Gig Chatterer" recounts the scourge of musicians and gig goers that - like rats in London - you're never more than 6 feet away from a knobhead talking over the performance.

"One Man's Tat (Is Another Man's Treasure)" is an investigation of the stuff that people collect - to be honest, I collect some odd stuff (examples: books about the London Underground, Viz Comics) but that list there is primarily tat (in my humble opinion).  Although I do enjoy the line about having a collection of yellow, green and brown snooker balls - bought as a baulk buy (well, it made me laugh).

And another thing ... Football Managers are wearing Jeans!
Now whilst some of the names may change (such is the fickle world of Football Management) the exasperation at those who used to wear a suit or training gear have now gone all casual is evident.

Neil Warnock's flares flap in the breeze,

Steve Bruce cuts a dash in dungarees

No foul committed the ref says play on

Garry Monk's transferred to spray on


All aboard the Humdrum Express ... and a ruddy good time is guaranteed.

The Gig Chatterer


Denim In The Dugout



More here if your interest has been piqued
https://soundcloud.com/thehumdrumexpress/tracks

And if you want the whole album (and any others):
https://thehumdrumexpress.bandcamp.com/album/forward-defensive


Tuesday, 31 May 2022

Liam Gallagher - C'mon You Know

His third solo album, and with enough traction to further bury/forget the mis-step underwhelm of Beady Eye, which could've consigned Liam to post-Oasis tryer.  But 2 previous solo albums, and now this one restores the reputation, and continues to push Gallagher The Younger in front of his elder brother.
'C'Mon You Know' may not be breaking new experimental ground, but is just different enough from previous offerings to stand on it's own.

The listening diet here must've included to The Beatles 'Revolver' with a side order of 'Let It Bleed' era Stones-y - there are echoes of both throughout (although I must state not exclusively).  

Sometimes it might be a bit "Liam by numbers" like he's toeing the record company line or career advisor to break the US (and anywhere else).  And a Dave Grohl co-write can't do any harm pulling in new fans from the Foo Fighters fanbase (or indeed the US where very British acts often fall - Slade, Elvis Costello & The Attractions, The Jam, Blur, Oasis)

Album opener "More Power" has a choir intro that is just a bit too close to 'You Can't Always Get What You Want", whilst "Everything's Electric" (co-written with Dave Grohl) has more than a passing nod to "Gimme Shelter".  "Better Days" is the most Revolver-esque with phased drums and backwards guitar, and "Don't Go Halfway" repeats the tricks.

And in the shape of "Too Good For Giving Up" he's found another of those big ballads - in a similar mould to "Champagne Supernova", "Stop Crying Your Heart Out" or "For What It's Worth" that he will no doubt deliver bolt upright, parka clad, straining towards the microphone, and again showcasing "The Voice of Britpop".

Of the 12 tracks here, only the closer "Oh Sweet Children" misses the spot for me - maybe if it was earlier in the album it wouldn't claw so much, but as a closer it just signs the album off with a bit of an anti-climax.

As with previous efforts, it may be "lyrically challenged" ie finding a rhyme for the next line that will fit the last line, but he's got the chops to carry it off, remains musically assured, and no little attitude and commitment in the delivery.

But despite the above comparisons and possible shortcomings (unfairly?), this is the product of Liam Gallagher, his co-writers and performers, and no little attitude and belief in ones self.
Some years ago he declared "Tonight, I'm a Rock n Roll Star", and with this album he's continuing to fulfill that prophecy, even if he's heading a bit more mainstream than perhaps he intended

At times, it can sound a bit too clean and contrived but the overall result is a Good album (I may even venture a Very Good album), , but not perhaps a Great one.
I think the "rules of engagement" for this one are fairly simple: play loud, enjoy, don't go looking for hidden meaning in the lyrics.


Better Days


Everything's Electric


Too Good For Giving Up

Thursday, 19 May 2022

The Rolling Stones Are Still Exiled On Main Street After 50 Years

Release Date: 26 May 1972

Is it their best?  Very probably
Is it my favourite? No
That particular honour falls as a Score Draw between 'Beggars Banquet' and 'Sticky Fingers'
But Exile is closely, and firmly in third spot.
(This sounds like I keep a Top 10 List of Albums by various bands, and update them periodically.  I don't - honest!)

So 50 years on, does this album still hold a lofty place in the pantheon of "Greatest Albums ... Ever", is it really all that, and is the world (or should it?) still listening to the Strolling Bones?
The answers are "Yes", "Yes", and "Yes, well I still am anyway".
And with half a century under it's belt, I'm expecting (if it hasn't started already) a deluge of re-listenings, re-appraisals and hagiographic texts.

'Exile On Main Street' is, to put it very simply, a sprawling double album, birthed in perhaps not the most artistically conducive environment where all band members were rarely in the same room (or sometimes not on the same continent).
There's no thematic vision, concept, or even focus at times - but it's stuffed full of sublime R&B riffage, Rock & Roll, Country, Gospel, Jazz, Swing, and anything else that took their fancy.

The nature of the recording meant that damn near everything that happened was recorded, with whoever was available at the time.  And then when it came time to distill to an album, it was just easier to put it all out.  And 'Exile On Main Street' is I think all the better for that.

Sessions arguably started during the recording of 'Sticky Fingers' - a couple of tracks were held back to prevent Allen Klein getting his mitts on them as he'd manged with "Brown Sugar" and "Wild Horses".  But it was the re-location to South Of France to avoid the taxman, setting up residence in a rented villa - Nellcote - near Nice where the bulk of 'Exile ...' took shape and form (I use the phrase "form" loosely)
Between the partying, the drugging and the constant visitors, most of the basic tracks for the album were laid down by the band in various configurations.
These tracks were taken to Los Angeles where vocals, overdubs, buffing, and general fairy dust added.

"Rocks Off" kicks things off with no little style (and a touch of sleaze), closely followed by "Rip This Joint".  "Shake Your Hips" and "Casino Boogie" keep things shuffling along.  And there's no let up on side 1 closing with "Tumbling Dice".
And Side 2 is no slouch either from the loose, ragged, almost falling apart "Sweet Virginia" to the piano swagger of "Loving Cup".
But ... whether this is double album malaise, Side 3 just feels a bit meandering, despite containing "Happy".  Almost like "where to do we put these extra tracks we've just found.  Oh, bung 'em on side 3".
Side 4 though - "All Down The Line, "Stop Breaking Down", "Shine A Light" and "Soul Survivor" finishes the album on a definite high - and for that is worthy of the plaudits.

As asked at the top: is it their best?  Yes I believe it is.  For all it's sprawliness, what came after in the catalogue has it's moments, but just doesn't feel as cohesive as 'Exile On Main Street'.

Consider the configuration of the band though - Mick Taylor added some special ingredient that was missing before and after.

That run of albums that Mick Taylor is on - 'Sticky Fingers', 'Exile On Main Street', 'Goats Head Soup', 'Its Only Rock & Roll' - is surely peak Stoneage.
What cam after is not without it's moments, sometimes patchy, sometimes very patchy, but not really in the same league as those four pinnacles.  Maybe Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood's guitar style (and lifestyle, and haircut) are just too close to cause tension or musical inspiration.  Both great players, but not fighting each other for riffs, solos and space.

Something, in truth everything, just aligned perfectly in 1971 / 72.  There must've been something in the water at Nellcote (and it wasn't just Keith's stash being flushed away).


Rocks Off


Sweet Virginia


All Down The Line

Wednesday, 11 May 2022

Tin Machine

1987 album 'Never Let Me Down' and Glass Spider Tour that followed left the world feeling unfulfilled, and had a similar effect on David Bowie.  It was all becoming a bit stagnant, a bit trying too hard to be relevant, a bit weighed down by legacy - the phrase "best since Scary Monsters" was a common phrase in reviews.

The premise of Tin Machine was not "David Bowie And ..", it was an equal rights, equal dibs democracy - a concern he could hide away in plain sight and do the music he and his new band mates wanted to do.
As a concept, it's not too far removed from the premise of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders Form Mars.  Unlike Ziggy though, this band was about the collective - Bowie was on the verge of breaking a career, and The Spiders were on wages.
And all I've read about Tin Machine, he did uphold the democracy (to an extent - he was still prime songwriter, but arrangement and realisation was very much a band affair).
Tin Machine's life was always going to be finite - Bowie knew he would re-start his solo career at some point.  Plus there were some other suggested, but not spoken of, personal issues to contend with in the band which meant it probably ended sooner than any of them expected.  And so it was that Tin Machine gave him the renewed confidence and energy.

It certainly re-energised him again and the influence and effect can be heard in 'Black Tie, White Noise'.  It also gave him the freedom to do what the flip he liked, knowing that it was an artisitc exercise rather than a commercial enterprise (although commerciality surely came into it, I don't think he went chasing audiences or sales again).
Indeed, what came after was Bowie off exploring whatever enthused him at that moment (I suppose a harder-line version of the journey from 'Hunky Dory' to 'Scary Monsters', with a few more more jarring turns).

David Bowie approached guitarist Reeves Gabrels to work on ideas and just see what came out - he needed a lift after the tour and in his own words was "a bit lost".  Through Gabrels encouragement the band idea was spawned.  After a couple of initial experiments with line-up, Tony Sales (Bass) and Hunt Sales (Drums) were asked to join - Bowie had previously worked with them on Iggy Pop's 'Lust For Life' so knew they're capabilities.

The recording of the debut album - after an initially shaky start where the main players weerer wary of each others intentions - settled into a highly productive state - sometimes managing a complete recording, tracking, and mixing of a song a day.
Much of the recording was done as live in the studio with few overdubs, and the lyrics were either as written with no embellishment or made up on the spot.
It shows in the mixture of rock, energy, focus, delivery, and yes a little bit of arty-fartiness.  There is a certain influence that can be heard from Pixies and Sonic Youth (2 of Bowie's fave current listening).  It pre-empted, and ran alongside the nascent Grunge time, and I'm sure that the album was on the racks of, and just maybe percolated into the burgeoning songwriting of Kurt Cobain
And to repeat the statement above, what comes out is the product of Tin Machine, not David Bowie And Tin Machine.

Opener "Heaven’s In Here" is one of those ambivalent, confounding tracks where on one listen it's "nah", but at other times it's "just how good is this".  Personally I find it overlong with too many potential false endings, and the discordant playout is not all required.
But on a different day ...

I do wonder if some of the more critical critics got halfway through "Heaven's In Here", and then went no further.
And if that is the case, then they really have missed a treat - “Tin Machine” with it's edge of madness incessant riff comes flying at you.  Rocking out indeed.  There's a good chance that the titular track is the best here.
But that would be a dis-service to the many other contenders: “Prisoner Of Love”, “Crack City”, "Under The God”, “Bus Stop”, “Baby Can Dance”.
And if you can't find anything in those then there are 6 more storming tracks for your delectation - all very worthy, just in my opinion as essential as those listed above.
Add to that is a Tin Machine'd version of John Lennon's “Working Class Hero” - delivered with no less venom than it's originator.  Although with the focus on 4/4 Rock and venting the spleen, I think it loses some of the ground-down, under the surface, anger of the original.

Some say "of course, the second Tin Machine album is the best one".  Poppycock - I think those that say that are just trying be a bit arch and clever, a bit "look at me".
Tin Machine II seems to lack the spark of the debut - it's not without it's moments, but overall the debut is just a stronger document
(although there's not a bad shout to have it as a double album)


Tin Machine



Under The God


Bus Stop




Sunday, 1 May 2022

Spiritualized - Everything Was Beautiful

1997s 'Ladies & Gentleman ... We Are Floating In Space' was, and always will be Spiritualized's masterwork.
But 2018s 'And Nothing Hurt' came very close to usurping it, and this release maintains that knocking on the door.

There is an argument that 'And Nothing Hurt' could've been a double album with the wealth of material Jason Pierce had at his disposal.  In the end it was a single album, and many of the disregarded demos form the basis of this album - and it shows, there is a nice continuum from the last album, but this is not a collection of tarted up left overs.  Each track is a mini-epic, mini-masterpiece with a range of styles popping in and out - Stones, Stooges, Jazz, Country, Psychedelia, even a passing early solo John Lennon-ish moment (or at least that's what I heard), plus the best song Bobby Gillespie never wrote (and will no doubt be miffed that Jason Pierce beat him to it).  But this album is not about the sounds or the influences, it's about how they're corralled and personalized to create a unique whole that is undoubtedly Spiritualized.  And it also has that trusted (or at least for me anyway) suspense of reality and entry into Spiritualized's world.
The atmospheric building of opener "Always Together With You" draws you in, and you're rooted almost trance like until closer "I'm Coming Home Again" peeps it's last.

7 tracks across 44 minutes - only one dips below 4 minutes (and you want it to be longer), and like all great "long songs" you don't notice the length - "The A Song (Laid In Your Arms)" is 7 minutes magnificently spent, and the closer "I'm Coming Home Again" clocks in at just under 10.

Highlights?  Well, there are 7 of them and it just feels wrong to Spotify cherry pick them and separate them from their siblings.  But it's going to happen, so if I'm pushed I would highlight "Always Together With You", "Crazy" and "The Mainline Song" - but would also implore the listener to explore the other 4 tracks immediately after listening.

The double album idea?  The twin albums take their names from the a line in the Kurt Vonnegut novel Slaughter House Five ("Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt") - or so the ever reliable interweb informs me.
It's also the title of a Moby album from 2018 - now being the same year as Spitualized's 'And Nothing Hurt' may be a reason for choosing the 2 single albums route.
Would it work as a double?
There is enough commonality and theme and feeling to warrant it, but if it was done as a double album in 2018, I think it may suffer from DoubleAlbum-itis (50% Great, 30% Pretty Good, 20% Needs more work).
However, as 2 distinct releases (with each honed a stand alone release) and played back-to-back this has all the makings of a very fine double.
But it's not a double album - what you have in your grubby little mits (or in your ears more correctly) is an album worthy of investigation, repeated listening and (hopefully) high acclaim when dullards like me start assembling lists in 7 months time.


Always Together With You


Crazy


The Mainline Song

Saturday, 16 April 2022

Wet Leg

 "The most hotly anticipated album of the year" may be an over used cliche, but in the case of Wet Leg after the singles "Chaise Longue", "Wet Dream", "Too Late Now", "Oh No" and "Angelica" it's a cliche that fits.  And now it's here - was it worth the anticipative waiting?

On first listen, the album comes over as a bit insubstantial - nice enough, but nowt to really rave about.  And then listen again and more is revealed.  The intricacy of the instrumentation, to joy and exuberance of the songs, the underlying enjoyment and fun, the way the voices work together, the wit and story in the lyrics (and a bit of near filth and some naughty words).

It's one of those "play and lose yourself in the world for 40 minutes" jobs.

Seamlessly mixing 80s pop, high energy dance, post-punk, dreamy pop, and anything else that happens to fit, this is a collection of songs written and performed for fun - and the enjoyment is there for all to hear.  What comes out is proof that "Chaise Longue" - which continues to dig itself into my head on each hearing and refuse to leave - was not a mere novelty but one piece of the jigsaw.

The aforementioned singles are present and correct, along with 7 more tracks which would be just as capable as single releases.  "Being In Love", "Loving You", "Supermarket", and closer "Too Late Now" being the pick for me at the moment, but the other tracks are not far behind.

One can't help but wonder if it might be a case of too much too soon with this accomplished debut - time will tell.  But for now: "Was it worth the wait?"  Abso-bloomin-lutely.


Being In Love


Wet Dream


Loving You


Thursday, 7 April 2022

Chris Pope & Chords UK / Len Price 3 / Block 33

 A tale of 3 Mod albums:

  • Chris Pope & The Chords UK - Big City Dreams
  • Len Price 3 - Ip Dip Do
  • Block 33 - The Day The World Stood Still

All recently released, all independently/self-funded, and all steaming with energy.

"Mod" may actually be the wrong term, but it's an apposite catch-all for the attitude and sounds spewing forth from the grooves of these 3 albums (or more correctly the collection of 0s and 1s flying from the silvery 5" disc)

Chris Pope & The Chords UK

First up, the old stager of the bunch - Chris Pope was the guitarist and songwriter of The Chords - one of the recognised leading Mod Revival groups of 1979.  In truth, there was more to The Chords songs than merely "Mod" but it was a convenient, relevant tag and alignment.
The Chords fell apart in the early 80s after a clutch of (sadly underperforming chart-wise) singles and a single album 'So Far Away'.  Chris Popes keen songwriting continues, and now with a re-configured Chords UK, he continues to deliver quasi-folk tales from South London with a biting (and sometimes resigned) edge.
This album is the third Chords UK release, and ranks happily alongside previous (plus the 3 solo Chris Pope albums), and contains many songs that are likely to become mainstays of live outings.
"Listen To The Radio", "Last Great Rock Star" and "Hey Kids Come The Revolution" fire open proceedings with a burst of 60s RnB meets Punk meets Power Pop (I'm being constrictive there, the music is a wider church than I'm suggesting).
"Down And Out In New York City" has an autobiographical edge recounting the final days of The Chords, before the reflective and rousing closer "Great Expectations".
"Keep Calm & Carry On" is sage advice, so I'll keep calm and carry on listening to this album.

Len Price 3 - Ip Dip Do

Similarly, the Mod tag may not be 100% true for Len Price 3, but again it just fits.  They blend 60s Garage, The Who, Psychedelia, The Clash, The Ramones, and a short, sharp kick and lush, infectious melodies.
The songs are there for listening to and being entertained by - not for looking deeper for a message.  Some of the titles are worth the entry fee alone - "Chav Squad", "Mr Spongs Miraculous Leap", "Billy The Quid", "Raven At My Window" - and then the songwriting and playing delivers on the top.
Seven albums in and the quality and energy remains at the highest level.  It might all be over in just half an hour which gives enough normal listening time to play it again ... and again, and again.

Block 33 - The Day The World Stood Still

New boys Block 33 are still waiting to play their showpiece debut album launch gig at the 100 Club.  The debut album came out just as the world went into lockdown, meaning the launch gig was delayed to MAy 2021, and then further delayed until after the release of their second album.
Annoying, but now they've got an even bigger set of songs to draw on, and these new ones are every bit as vital as their charged debut.
Take all them lazy references above, and add a bit of Oasis-ish Britpop and a touch of Arctic Monkeys into the mix, and Mod (and Block 33 definitely identify as Mods) is in rude health.
From instrumental opener "Battle Cry" through "Better Tell The Devil", "Away Day, "Broken By Design" and "Changes" the energy and commitment rarely subsides.  And this is tempered by a change of pace in tracks like "The Devils Silhouette" and "Escape Route".  On first hearing, lead single "The Girl In The Yellow Jackie Dress" is ripe for 6Music - I have let Steve Lamacq know on their behalf (but he never replies)


In summary, if there was a festival bill featuring those 3 (ModFest?) alongside From The Jam, Ocean Colour Scene, Secret Affair and The Purple Hearts, then I would be (to misuse a similie) as happy as Jimmy.


Chris Pope & The Chords UK - Keep Calm And Carry On


Len Price 3 - She Came From Out Of The Sun


Block 33 - The Girl In The Yellow Jackie Dress


Sunday, 27 March 2022

Mattiel - Georgia Gothic

This is the third Mattiel album, and the first where Mattiel Brown and Jonah Swiller have directly collaborated face-to-face in building a  collection of 11 songs.  And that collaboration has added more diversity and experimentation into the mix, where before they were perhaps aiming for a template or soundscape or atomosphere.
And it is the diversity of influence and delivery that wins for this record.  At times introspective, the next moment is joyous and bristling with a euphoric pop-ish sheen.

Retro garage sound takes (slight) a back seat in favour of broader styles including Country and Spaghetti Western moments - both of which showcase Mattiel's vocal abilities.
Too simplistic perhaps - there are many influences going on in here, and not always easy to divine.  But combined together it just seems to weave into a very fine whole.

And continuing to be simplistic, it's a bit like Siouxsie Sioux meets Goldrapp with bit of First Aid Kit and Ennio Morricone thrown in for good measure.

"Jeff Golblum" stomps along like a Glam Infused Indie Rocker, "On The Run" drips with Country, and "Lighthouse" is infectious euphoric pop with a massive hook of a chorus - and that's just the first three tracks.
Admittedly not everything works - "Wheels Fall Off" sounds like the wheels might be falling off, and I'm not sure if "Subterranean Shut In Blues" is an update/re-write of (can you guess which Dylan track?) "Subterranean Homesick Blues", or what it's trying to achieve.  Nice enough, but for me (based on 3 listens) not essential.
In spite of that, there are enough varying style highs to warrant repeated listening and repeated enjoyment - pick of the other tracks are the brooding "Blood In The Yolk" and the psychedelicy "You Can Have It All" which most definitely are essential listening.

Lighthouse


You Can Have It All


Blood In The Yolk



Tuesday, 15 March 2022

Bryan Ferry - Dylanesque

The first few Bob Dylan songs I heard were probably "Mr Tambourine Man" by The Byrds, "This Wheels On Fire" by Julie Driscoll and Brian Auger, "The Mighty Quinn" by Manfred Mann, "Knocking On Heaven's Door" by Eric Clapton, "All Along The Watchtower" by Jimi Hendrix, and "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall" by Roxy Music.
Thing is, I didn't register these as Bob Dylan songs until a bit later.  I liked the songs, and others I'd hear with the writers name of "Dylan", but never really felt the need to dig in further.
The first Bob Dylan album I bought was 'Greatest Hits' - a CBS Nice Price re-issue of the 1967 album.

The Dylan Door opened and I stepped through.  One of the first purchases was 'Blonde On Blonde' - which may not have been a great place to start as I stepped out of the door again.
Over time though, more Dylan albums have arrived and over time been greatly enjoyed - they seem to worm there way in, rather than give an instant hit.  Still not sure about 'Blondes On Blonde' though.

Much as I like the collected works of Mr Zimmerman, I can't help thinking that the works of Dylan may be more palatable when delivered by other voices.
(although I've never found better versions of "Tangled Up In Blue" or "Shelter From The Storm" than the originals on 'Blood On The Tracks').

Bryan Ferry takes that (personal) truism, and delivers an album of 11 tracks in familiar surroundings, but different enough to go "yup, that's a cracking version".  The histrionics of Roxy Music's "A Hard Rains Gonna Fall" are stripped away, and the track choices are delivered with a certain Ferry-ish Lounge Lizard, Velvet lapels, Dinner Suited chic.

It may not be challenging,and you the listener may think "The Byrds did that better", "nah .. the Jimi Hendrix version is definitive", "I still prefer the Sisters Of Mercy version" (OK, not everyone will agree with that last one).
But what Bryan Ferry does it not try to top previous versions, merely add to the legend (of possibly both himself and Bob Dylan).

In summary:

  • If you like Bob Dylan than you'll probably enjoy the album to hear these songs rendered in a new way.
  • If you only have a passing acquaintance with Bob Dylan, then this album acts as a way in to some of the perhaps lesser known works.
  • If you don't like Bob Dylan, but want some un-challenging background soundtrack for whatever un-challenging activity you are doing, then this album might just fit the bill

The Times They Are A Changing

Knockin On Heavens Door

Positively 4th Street



Hmmm ... I wonder if there a series to be had here - The Covers Album Project

Saturday, 5 March 2022

Yard Act - The Overload

 After a couple of single releases in 2020, and then a couple more in 2021, Yard Act release their debut album.  And there's a lot stuffed into the 37 minutes.

From the start "spiky Post Punk" is a catch-all description - yet does no favours in explaining the breadth of sounds and influence on display.
It's easy to roll out the comparisons - The Fall, Sleaford Mods, even a touch of Parquet Courts due to the melange of styles on offer.  And despite being from Leeds, there's a certain Nigel Blackwell-esque Half Man Half Biscuit tone to the part spoken/part sung (spung?) vocal delivery and lyrical content.
And in a world of reductive comparisons (maybe more in tone and attitude, than sound), I'll also cite another Leeds band who arrived with a seemingly fully formed debut album - The Kaiser Chiefs
But all those (and more) are bound together to become Yard Act.

Whilst there may be a lot going on in some of tracks, it all works and the album is full of confidence, much humour, even a bit of social comment, and a couple of deeply burying ear-worms.

I may only have one new album so far with a 2022 date stamp (this one) so I can confidently say that at this moment it is the Album Of The Year.  In 12 months time though ... I'm sure it will still be up there, if only for containing the perfectly observed rhyming couplet (in response to Brexit):

Are you seriously still trying to kid me, that our culture will be just fine.  When all that's left is knobheads morris dancing to Sham 69?


The Overload


Payday


Tall Poppies

Saturday, 19 February 2022

Human League - Dare

 All this pandemic malarkey has got in the way of some landmark anniveraries.
Not least this one - the 40th Anniversary of Human League's 'Dare'.

At the start of 1981, the Human League were basically on their arse.  Half the band had left, the remaining members had a microphone stand and a slide projector between them, and they were seriously in debt.  Despite high hopes, the early Human League singles - much to Phil Oakey's confusion - had failed to garner commercial success.

Working on the principle that a great pop band has 2 female singers, 2 dancers were recruited from a Sheffield nightclub, and the Tour was fulfilled (maybe not as intended, but fulfilled nonetheless).

Now the re-birth began - the avant-garde stylings of the past were stripped back (although maybe not removed completely), and a pure pop sheen added in the pursuit of commercial success.

Virgin Records kept the faith (and continued financial support) and the breakthrough came with the single "The Sound Of The Crowd".  This was followed by the Top 10 "Love Action".  Off the back of his production work on those couple of singles, The Human League hunkered down with Martin Rushent to create, assemble, and record the album.

What came out was an almost perfect mix of synth-pop, nightclub, and a little bit of avant-garde/Kraftwerk-y brooding from the immediate past.
Oh, and another hit single - "Open Your Heart" to add to the mix

"The Things That Dreams Are Made Of" opens the album pointing clearly to a new start, and what is to come over the next 40 minutes.  "Open Your Heart" jacks up the pop quotient, with Phil Oakey's almost anguished vocals at the top of his range.
Much of the accessibility of 'Dare' is the detailed song construction, lyrics veering to the almost wordy and arty, and the relatively simple memorable tunes.  It's a synthesiser album played by pop folk who are not synth geeks (in perhaps the way original members Martyn Ware and Ian Craig-Marsh were).
An album tooled for the night-club, and as the say in "Sound Of The Crowd" - "dance around!", but also with a touch of menace about it (maybe it's the way Phil intones the lyrics, but there are at times a feeling of confrontation).
There is one cover version - the theme to the film "Get Carter" fits the tone of the album as showing the different facets and moods of the band.  Singles were given a Red or Blue deignation identifying if they were dancefloor ready (Red) or straight pop songs (Blue).  There are elements of 'Dare' ("Get Carter" being one of them, but also "Darkness", "I Am The Law" and "Seconds" which should probably have a Black (or Dark Grey) marker.

It's another of those "witness the 80s being born" moments - and the production from Martin Rushent is a big factor here - his studio was one of the most tooled up at the time.
It says a lot about Virgin Records support of the band to give them a chance to come back from the brink of implosion, and their support to pair them with a producer and studio of some renown.

And the return on Virgin's investment was handsomely rewarded when a single lifted from the album (which originally had no place on the album, and under compromise was tacked on the end of Side 2) sold in droves to become the Christmas Number One.

That single - "Don't You Want Me" - became Human League's signature (and probably millstone around their neck).  It would eventually sell over a million copies, and that success gave new life to Human League's old work (the album 'Reproduction' and 'Travelogue' started to actually sell, and their first single ('Being Boiled' (from 1979)) crept into the Top 10 in early 1982.

Not content with the continuing sales of 'Dare', producer Martin Rushent took the tapes back into the studio.  Tapes were cut and re-spliced, echo and other effects added, vocals stripped, and one of the first re-mix albums was thrown to a ravenous market.
'Love And Dancing' was released under the name The League Unlimited Orchestra, and was retailed at a lower price to ensure fans were not ripped off by buying (nearly) the same songs twice.

If 'Dare' is an essential album (which I think it is), then 'Love And Dancing' is the perfect compliment. 

The Human League stayed on a high with the release of their next single "Mirror Man". and nearly scored a second Christmas Number One.  "Keep Feeling Fascination" followed it to the higher reaches of the chart, but a new album had to wait until Spring 1984.  It sold well, but the departure of Martin Rushent was noticeable in sound presentation, and the sheer time between album releases (despite continuing sales of 'Dare'), did seem to damage their popularity.
Phil Oakey scored a solo success with "Together In Electric Dreams" in late 1984, and the Human League looked to be in hiatus (either chosen or enforced?).
They did return in 1986 with 'Human' and scored a US Number one, but despite a couple of further albums the bands trajectory was turning downwards towards the 80s nostalgia circuit.

'Dare' remains their high watermark, a synth-pop album that ranks alongside other greats, both in terms of sales and influence.

The Things That Dreams Are Made Of


Open You Heart


Don't You Want Me (from 'Love And Dancing')


Monday, 14 February 2022

Paolo Hewitt: Paul Weller - The Changingman

The story of The Jam is probably best told by Paolo Hewitt's 1983 book A Beat Concerto.
The book that appeared 9 months after 23 year old Paul Weller decided to break-up the biggest band in Britain, after 5 years, 18 Top 40 singles, and 5 albums.
And the book is a real "access all areas" affair - Paolo's relationship with Paul Weller ensured he was there for the major events, and had Paul's ear if any gaps needed filling whilst penning the tome.

However, if I'm being critical (which I am at the moment) the story of The Jam told here is really the story of Paul Weller whilst he was in The Jam.
Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler are mentioned, but were not interviewed during the writing, and I'm not sure actually had sight of the draft, or final sign-off of the book.

This fact is mentioned in Alex Ogg's Foxton & Buckler: Our Story book, which also has little time for Paolo Hewitt - who effectively excluded them from A Beat Concerto, the 'Snap!' compilation, and the 'Extras' compilation - and finishes with the line: "There were 3 people in The Jam, and 2 of them weren't Paul Weller (or Paolo Hewitt)"

Bruce Foxton has not published an autobiography, but is busy delivering his life story from a stage near you in From The Jam (even if it is something of an oddity to have an original member appearing in his own tribute band.  Then again, it just adds weight to the performance).
Rick Buckler has published his autobiography a couple of years ago - That's Entertainment.  It's not a bad book by any means, giving some pre-Jam background for Rick, but doesn't really add anything to the known story, relying on well told anecdotes and stories, plus one can detect a little bitterness sneaking through.

There is no official Paul Weller biography or autobiography - the nearest I think you can get is the Into Tomorrow DVD (which is not easily available), The Style Council: Long Hut Summers, and About The Young Idea (the film from the 2015 archive exhibition, which now supplants A Beat Concerto as the definitive telling of the story).
Paul Weller is not one for opening up and sharing his life (and why should he?) so Paolo Hewitt's biog is as close as we can get.

The book opens with the line: "Paul Weller and I were friends for over 30 years.  We're not anymore."
Now I have no doubt about his past relationship with Paul Weller, the access granted, the moments shared, and the mutual respect and tolerance of mood that exists between friends.
But opening a biography with that phrase does seem a bit odd.
As I understand it (specific details are scant), it was the decision to write and publish this book - including some perhaps guarded details and/or embellishments - that drove the wedge between the two.
That opening line also gives the concern that the book is a "kiss and tell" or a running down of the subject in a fit of revenge (or something).

I'm pleased to report it's neither of those things, but I do feel Paolo Hewitt has overplayed his part in the story.  And rather than a factual(ish) biography, it comes over like Hewitt's memoir titled "My Life With Paul Weller"

Two particular passages inspire this belief:

1.  When he is called to Paul Weller's room on the last Jam tour.  Weller is having doubts about The Jam's future and Paolo puts it into perspective:
"I told him I didn't think The Jam would last.  My reasoning was clear: 'The Gift' had proved that he would need an urgent overhaul if he was to follow his dream of making The Jam a soulful agit-prop band.  Something had to give."
2. When The Style Council have disbanded, and in the middle of his first solo outings, Weller expresses concern about his own abilities as a songwriter.  Again, Paolo gives him a pep talk and together they map out his immediate solo future.
"Paul was going through a crisis.  One afternoon he sat in my hotel room and said "I don't think I'm an artist".  I said: "how can you not be an artist.  Look at the musical journey you've been on, the songs you've written, how much you've changed.  You can't do that if you're not an artist"

It was at this point I was half-expecting him to say: "... and then I picked up Paul's acoustic guitar and played him the descending arpeggio chord pattern of "Sunflower" and "The Changingman" riff"

These conversations may have happened (well, not the last one), but I doubt in the detail given, and I also doubt a man of singular vision and belief such as Paul Weller would've needed his career to date summarized and forward planned by anybody but himself (and maybe his old man and manager, John Weller)

That said, it ain't a bad canter through Paul Weller's life story - all early touchstones visited, the rise Of The Jam, the (unwanted) title of Spokesman For A Generation, the decision to start The Style Council, the politically charged Red Wedge days, the opportunity to explore/experiment as much as he could (Polydor were tolerant for a while, but as sales dwindled, the freedoms reined in and the relationship eventually severed), and then onto his ever-changing solo career (up to 'As Is Now' when their ways parted).

Each chapter is framed against a particular song.  This gives a flow and point of reference showing the man in question at a given point - his feelings at the time, concerns, influences, relationships, and at times offering pointers to what came next.
Sometimes the song choice is relevant.  Other times it just seems to be a device to introduce another "Me and Paul ..." anecdote.
As said above, I have no reason to doubt the events shared and it's not a hatchet job (as it could've been after the severing of relations).  But I do think it paints Paul Weller as possibly more difficult and grumpy than he actually is.  Certainly in many interviews that can be apparent, and the book also mentions his great humorous streak ("Are you happy still being called the spokesman for a generation?"  "Don't do it so much now - Weekends only"), but there must've been at least the equal good mood vs bad mood moments in their time together?  It seems not, Paul Weller was mostly in a bad mood.

In summary, as a biography goes I just wish there was more factual detail, but this book serves as an insight to the character and artistry of Paul Weller (albeit from a potentially myopic source).
I don't doubt it's assembly and publication was easy for Paolo Hewitt, particularly as it happened whilst one of his oldest friendships was coming to and end.  And despite all my (apparent) criticisms, I thank him for sharing his story and relationship.
It's doubtful Paul Weller will have a desire to publish an autobiography - he has never felt the need to explain his actions or court publicity and examination of his private life.  And until / if there is ever an Authorised biography, this book is as close to understanding Paul Weller as we're likely to get.
But it does do that "thing" that all good biographies do - make you go back and listen to the music again.  I'm still not totally convinced, but I have been enjoyed digging into The Style Council stuff which remained an unfloated boat for a long long time.
(Bonus Recommendation: the documentary Long Hot Summers: The Story Of The Style Council is worth a look too - it was another 90 minutes that re-piqued my interest in things Style Council-y)


The Jam - That's Entertainment

Style Council - Walls Come Tumbling Down

Paul Weller - Uh Huh Oh Yeh


Saturday, 5 February 2022

Charmed Life - The Best Of The Divine Comedy

If someone were to ask (and it might happen) "where does one start with The Divine Comedy?".
My answer would be: start with 'Absent Friends', then jump back to 'Casanova', and then get the rest in any order.

But now the release of this compilation short-circuits that (a bit) - 23 Neil Hannon curated tracks, plus (as is usual with Best Of compos these days) one new track ("The Best Mistakes").

My answer would now be: start with this compilation ... and then get 'Absent Friends', jump back 'Casanova', and then get the rest in any order.

I only have 2 minor quibbles with the set:

  1. it's not in chronological order (but as it was chosen, and no doubt sequenced, by Neil Hannon who am I to complain)
  2. the absence of "The Pop Singer's Fear Of The Pollen Count" (but I'm sure there are others who will bemoan their own favourite not being here)

But the content here far outweighs any minor quibbles (or the non-appearance of "My Lovely Horse").
From the breakthrough single "Something For The Weekend", through the never over-played or unwelcome "National Express" to the latter day masterpiece "Norman and Norma" this set drips with some of the finest baroque-pop with intelligent lyrics, wry observations, knowing references, no little humour, and character songs that are introduced, inhabited, and resolved inside 3 minutes.

Charmed Life?  Possibly.  According to Neil Hannon himself:

“I’ve been luckier than most.  I get to sing songs to people for a living, and they almost always applaud! So when asked what to call this collection, I thought of ‘Charmed Life’. I like the song and it rather sums up how I feel about my life.”

If you know the world of The Divine Comedy, then this album satisfies allowing access to the best stuff without changing several CDs.
If you're new to the world of The Divine Comedy - here's your chance to jump in.  What are you waiting for?

"The Best Mistakes"


"Absent Friends"


"National Express"

Monday, 31 January 2022

Live Albums (Part 2 - Not "The Also Rans", but "Not Really in The Running")

The previous posting on this guff I call a blog was my opinion on some of the best live albums released.
This posting is not the other side of the coin, but when assembling the candidates I noticed how some bands with an otherwise stellar catalogue haven't managed a properly great live album (or indeed any live album at all).

The first is perhaps not truly in keeping with the tone, but worth highlighting to show how quality control can drop off.

The Who - 'Whos Last'
The distance between this and 'Live At Leeds' is stunning.  A gap of 12 years, but much energy, attitude, and power has dissipated.  Admittedly this album was intended to record their final live moments and finish off the career (hence the title) but it's a bit of a damp squib, and you can hear why they called it a day at that stage.


The big names who "official" live record could've been better:

Faces - 'Coast to Coast: Overture and Beginners'
Recorded in 1974 after Ronnie Lane had left, and Rod had started (seemingly) to prioritise his eyes on building his solo career.  The billing "Rod Stewart and ..." and the Rod-heavy track list show where the record companies mind was.  Faces get 2 tracks, there are 2 new cover versions, the rest is a quick romp through Rod's solo career (mostly in cover form, but still Rod's doing rather than the bands).
That said, the versions of "Stay With Me" and "Every Picture Tells A Story" are quite superb.

Simon & Garfunkel - 'Concert In Central Park'
The content of this album is not in question - all the songs are well performed and interpreted.  It's just that the relationship between the two has long since dwindled - the voice harmony may be there (at times) but it just feels a bit "here's a pay day"

Led Zeppelin - 'The Song Remains The Same'
You're the biggest live band in the US, if not the world.  Time to capitalise by releasing a live album and accompanying film.  But somewhere in all the production, and the selection of the best of 3 nights a Madison Square Garden, Led Zep managed to frame themselves with a bit of a sub-standard performance (as evidenced by the latter released 'How The West Was Won' from the same period).

The Jam - 'Dig The New Breed'
In late 1982, Paul Weller called time on The Jam.  Still owing one more record to Polydor, a wealth of live tapes were reviewed and a representative sample selected from the past 5 years.  The track listing is (very nearly) chronological, but unfortunately the live dates weren't giving a bit of a muddled feel to it all.  A missed opportunity perhaps, but at the time the only place you could get "Going Underground" on an album.  The later 'Jam Live' and 'Live At The BBC' showed how it could've/should've been


Those with no live album's in their (original) lifetime:

The Specials
The EP "Too Much To Young" was as close as it came.  The energy in those 4 tracks gives an insight to how a full album could've sounded, but alas it never happened.
A later released Live album did plunder a couple of 1980 shows, but its a fairly shoddy package and the sound isn't great.

The Clash

No live material was officially released in their recording lifetime.  The posthumous 'From Here to Eternity' goes some way to showing what it could've been like (and that there were plenty of recordings to choose from, but to be honest with the 5 core albums in 5 years (1 a double, and 1 a triple) did they really have time or space to release a live outing

The Damned
Admittedly 'Live At Shepperton 1980' did creep out at the time The Damned were playing musical record labels, Captain Sensible was wavering between the band, a solo career, and B-List Celebrity, and 6 of those tracks had already been used to bolster out Side 4 of 'The Black Album'.  There have been a slew of live recordings released since, many from the 77 to 82 period showing what a ragegdy, yet tight as a nuns chuff live band they were (and indeed, despite numerous line-up changes and advanicing years, they still are)

Sex Pistols
Not really surprising fro a band with a short life and only one official album (2 if you include the film soundtrack/McLaren cash-in).
Their reputation as a thrilling live affair is not properly recorded, and certainly not on the piles of unlicensed live albums (some worse than bootleg recordings) peppering the market.
Of the original life, The Original Pistols / Live at Burton On Trent is worth investigating, but it's not until the 1996 reformation shows brought forth 'Filthy Lucre Live' - 20 years after the original event, but sparkling with energy.


No live album - yet.  There's still time though:

Manic Street Preachers
I was lucky enough to see an early Manics show in a small club - "incendiary" would be an apt description.  And latterly (certainly since 'Everything Must Go') much of their material is geared towards the crowd-pleasing live spectacle.  A couple of Live cover versions have been included on 'Lipstick Traces', but no full live album has yet hit the racks.
(There are plenty of bootlegs out there though)


Saturday, 22 January 2022

Live Albums

 A Live Album is often a route into a band if you don't want to go down the Best Of compilation road.
And it is often a fine route as the Live Album (certainly when released as part of the band's main lifetime) will capture them at the very top performance power with a ravenous supporting crowd.

And the venue is important too - a general rule of thumb is that the best live albums will come from theatre shows, rather than enourmodomes.  One where you can almost feel the sweat, feel the thump of the bass bin, taste the watered down/over priced beer, and get lost in the show.

And a live album can act as a definitive moment in time, showcasing the confidence in songs and performance.  Live Albums are often inserted in the main catalogue to fulfill a contractual obligation, or when there is no new material recorded (or even in progress).  But whatever the reason, there never seems to be a perfunctory or lacklustre performance issued.
(OK, I admit it - many Live Albums are touched-up, cleaned up, and/or overdubbed in the studio).
The Live Album is an even better proposition if:

(a) it's a full show, warts and all, rather than a selection from different recordings, and
(b) you were at the recorded show

The nearest I personally have to (b) is Iron Maiden's 'Live At Donnington 1992'.

I started writing this thinking "oh yeah, that will be an easy post - I'll highlight 5 or 6 essentials, say why they are essential, and post a couple of vids.
And then I started assembling the list - the long list runs to about 40 albums, and I can't cull it to a (more manageable) 10, so here's a selection and the reasons why they deserve a mention.

Each one follows the "band/artist at the top of their game" principle (but not all abide by the "warts and all" and/or "sweaty theatre" rules)


The Who - 'Live At Leeds'
Often cited as the number 1, object lesson how to do a Live Album.  And they're probably right.  Coming off the back of Tommy, The Who toured University Campuses for 3 months in early 1970 (before returning to the US for more dates).
Recorded on the opening night, the original 6 track album shimmers with power and aggression, including a 15 minute version of "My Generation" and a return to roots with incendiary versions of "Summertime Blues" and "Shakin All Over".  The later CD re-issue restores the entire set including a well rehearsed and delivered 'Tommy'.
Arguably, the following nights 'Live At Hull' is an even better performance, but remained lost following damage to the tapes and the loss of the bass track - until it was matched and re-dubbed from 'Live At Leeds' - so well in fact, you can't see the join.

Thin Lizzy - 'Live and Dangerous'
And another rightly near the top of the lists.  OK, there is an argument how much of it is live and how much of it was re-done/re-dubbed in the studio (producer Tony Visconti suggest "most of it" with only the drums and the audience noise being otiginal recordings - the band suggest otherwise).
However it came into being. what you have is a document of what a fine rock & roll band Lizzy really were, and Phil Lynott the consumate frontman/rabble rouser.
On record, Thin Lizzy never quite managed a "perfect" album apart from perhaps 'Jailbreak' - this set shows how strong the base material was.  Maybe it was red light fever, maybe the production was too harsh, but Thin Lizzy swang like never before (or sadly again)

Iron Maiden - 'Live After Death'
In retrospect, it's hard to believe that this album was only 5 years into their recording existence.
From London's East End Pubs to Long Beach Arena in half a decade.  3 sides of this album come from Long Beach Arena, Side 4 from the more intimate Hammersmith Odeon.
This one breaks 2 of the rules - it's not a full show, and its an enormodome (or 75% of it is), but all that is forgivable when confronted by the sheer attack of the performance - the band playing at the op of their ability, and Bruce Dickinson leading from the front.  An entertainer as much as "just a singer".
The sound an recording is clearer than anyone would expect from a live album - very little (if any) bleeding of instruments into each other, no moments of feedback or monitor bursting into the red.  And I think that has much to do with the man who produced it - Martin Birch.  He knows a thing or two about Live albums (as you will see later)

Motorhead - 'No Sleep Til Hammersmith'
If the aliens landed and said "what is this Heavy Rock thing?" you could do worse than play them this album - just look at their little faces as the double bass drum thump of "Overkill" kicks in.
Culled from a short 5 date tour (which, despite the title, never even got to Hammersmith) this showcased just what a powerful band they were on stage.
The previous year a Live EP had snuck into the Top 10, by the end of 1980 "Ace Of Spades" had breached the Top 20, and the tiular album sat in the Top 10.  And just before this jaunt, Motorhead were back in the Top 10 (and on Top Of The Pops) with Girlschool.
The album debuted at Number 1 in the album chart, and spawned a further Top 10 single with the eponymous "Motorhead".  Not sure "Pop Star" was ever on Lemmy's bucket list, but for a brief moment they were the biggest selling band in the UK.

Stiff Little Fingers - 'Hanx' / 'Live In Aberdeen'
Originally conceived and released to crack the US market (where Chrysalis could get to, but previous record company Rough Trade fell short).  The album was released in the UK at a reduced price which can't have harmed it's chart performance, but full price/half price the content of 'Hanx' is worth it.
Basically a "greatest hits" of their first 2 albums, the performance is never less than 110% (a feat they continue to deliver to this day - I've never seen a half-arsed or duff performance from SLF).
On the same tour which spawned 'Hanx', a couple of other shows were recorded, but later disregarded due to sound quality issues.
'Live In Aberdeen' had found it's way onto the bootleg market (titled 'Broken Fingers'), until finally getting a clean-up and official release in the 2002.
You can't go wrong with either, but 'Live In Aberdeen' just has more of the "full show" experience.

Deep Purple - 'Made In Japan'
By 1972, Deep Purple were surely one of the biggest bands in the world - if not by sales, then certainly by live attendance.  They were one of those bands that were seldom off the road.
Like many bands of the time (Led Zep and Pink Floyd being 2 prime examples) they were keen to get some official live product out there if only to stem the flow of bootlegs.
Their last 2 albums had sat at number 1, so commercially this one was unlikely to fail - unless it was a really duff recording.
Enter Martin Birch to supervise and engineer the recordings, and then work closely with the band to ensure that the best performances made it onto the record.
It may not have performed as well as previous albums (chart-wise) despite selling for a fixed lower price, but it is a perfect encapsulation of Deep Purple Mark 2 ant their powers on stage.

AC/DC - 'If You Want Blood ... You've Got It"
AC/DC's own brand of heads-down/balls-out relentless riffing boogie found a home not only in the bars of Australia, but also in the pubs of London.  A band as good, and committed to live work, as this was never going to stay in the pub circuit forever.  And so it was that 2 years after arriving in the UK, they were headlining the Glasgow Apollo to a rapturous crowd (no doubt even further enraptured by the Scottish heritage of 3 band members).
Opener "Riff Raff" flys out of the speakers, and there is no let up over 2 sides and 40 minutes - even the slower "Ride On" becomes incendiary as the crowd sing along.
And talking of crowd chants - the introduction to "Wjhole Lotta Rosie" with the shout of "Angus!" as the riff breaks is still an integral part to this day.  As is the 5 minute Angus solo walkabout in "Let There Be Rock" - all present and correct here.
The album title was such a good song title, it was written up and appears on their next (huge selling) album 'Highway To Hell'

Ramones - 'Its Alive'
The Ramones first came to London on 4th July 1976 playing the Roundhouse in Camden.  Many writers cite this as the moment Punk started in the UK.  There are stories of how The Damned, The Clash, The Sex Pistols, The Stranglers, and all other prime movers were in attendance.  A nice story, but The Clash and the Pistols were in Sheffield that night, so that's that myth de-bunked.
The Ramones influence and reception was great enough that just 18 months later they were selling out the Rainbow Theatre on New Years Eve. and recording their first live album.
This album is basically the first 3 albums squeezed onto 4 sides of vinyl - with nary a pause for breath.
Arguably it's as close to a template for "how to do Punk", if not "how to do a Live Album".  Or would've been had it not been kept on the shelf for 18 months, finally seeing the light of day (in mid 1979) just as the punk flame was slowly being extinguished and the moment had passed.

Neil Young - 'Rust Never Sleeps' / 'Live Rust'
Neil Young never shied away from performing live shows composed of new material.  And so it was for the release of 'Rust Never Sleeps' - a live album, split into "acoustic" and "electric" sides featuring brand new material.
The production on 'Rust Never Sleeps' attempts to remove as much audience noise as possible, but still has that live feel.  Young (under the pseudonym Bernard Shakey) also recorded a companion documentary of the tour, that was issued at the end of 1979 (6 months after 'Rust Never Sleeps') under the name 'Live Rust' with an album of the same name also released.
'Live Rust' restores the audience noise, and expands the set to include some of Young's greatest back catalogue moments.  Of the two, I prefer 'Live Rust' is the definitive Neil live document, but you need the both as 'Rust Never Sleeps' contains 5 tracks not available elsewhere.
1991's 'Weld' performs a similar trick and is worth a listen - it may be 12 years later, but Neil Young and Crazy Horse retain the same power on stage (and the additional 35 minute disc 'Arc-Weld' is an interesting exercise in 35 minutes of feedback, guitar noise, experimentation, and musique concrete)

U2 - 'Under A Blood Red Sky'
As a band, U2 were "doing OK" in 1983 - 2 relatively well received albums, able to sell-out theatre shows, and starting to move to larger venues.  1983s 'War' underlined/confirmed the bands progress - still 4 or 5 years from being the biggest thing about, but travelling in the right direction.

Their status (and US adulation) was underlined by the venues chosen for the 1983 Tour, including the open-air, 10000 capacity, Red Rocks Amphitheatre.
The plan was to film the event - which did happen - but torrential rain almost forced the show to be cancelled.  There was a break in the weather just before the band came on stage, but a virtual lake on the stage and the Colorado climate did not make it look the most welcoming.  But they soldiered on, got through the show, and assured their place in US adulation (which would only increase in future years).
Only 2 tracks come from Red Rocks, but the full show is available on the attendant film.
The performance(s) herein are a combination of prowess and rough edges and makes for a great listen (remember the "warts and all" rule)

Dire Straits - 'Alchemy'
Dire Straits fist major UK tour was supporting Talking Heads - sounds incongruous now (and then I suppose), but this was just before "Sultans Of Swing" broke the Top 10, and subsequent albums began lengthy stays in the album charts (with sales to match).
By 1983s 'Love Over Gold' the music was becpme more moody, and the arrangements more complex - adding a whiff of Prog to the Rock, Blues, Soul, Jazz, Americana (before it was called Americana, and any other style they fancied into the mix.
Alchemy was recorded on the 1983/84 tour - the album can sometimes feel a bit slow and drawn out (particularly Side 1 of the original vinyl, now "pepped up" on CD with the insertion of "Love Over Gold"), and the crowd applause and cheers don't always match the mood of the song, but one can't help admire the technical excellence or the delivery of the songs - close enough to the original versions, yet differently arranged enough to be unique

Status Quo - 'Live!'
On which the Frantic Four have never sounded so Frantic.  I've seen the Quo several times, and always wished they'd be like this - it was close, but never quite the same.
Interestingly, Francis Rossi doesn't rate this album (but Francis has also said that "Marguerita Time" is one of his favourite Quo songs, so...).
Maybe this isn't a go-to for a fair-weather Quo fan with more "deep cuts" than big hits, but this is the sound of a committed tight band flexing their chops and extending songs as far as they can be taken - "Forty Five Hundred Times", "Caroline" (plus a drum solo) and "Roadhouse Blues" are all the thick end of a quarter of an hour, but never hit the point where the listener searches for the skip button.
Heads Down, No Nonsense, MindFUL Boogie - Indeed!

Queen - 'Live Killers'
Queen's reputation (and legacy) had been pretty much assured following the double releases of 'A Night At The Opera' and 'A Day At The Races'.  And for all their studio capability, they were also a hugely capable and in demand live draw.
With no new product to support, and between albums, they embarked on a 3 month Tor of Europe, followed by 2 months in Japan, under the title "Live Killers" (can you see a plan emerging?).
Many of these shows were recorded, and Queen - always big on Quality Control - sifted through these recordings to find the best takes to represent the Live set, opening up with the peerless fast (and rocked up) version of "We Will Rock You", and this album certainly does.  It also follows the title of track 2 "Let Me Entertain You" being thoroughly entertaining.
Just 7 years later, they stopped touring and this was marked by 'Live Magic 86' and (the full show) 'Live At Wembley 86' - both those albums are fine documents of Queen on stage, but 'Live Killers' is (for me) the best live outing.

Rolling Stones - 'Get Yer Ya Yas Out'
As their Decca contract came to a close, it was noted that they owed the company one more album.  The solution?  Fulfill demand with a Live recording (and also kick back against the number of Bootlegs doing the rounds).
The album includes Mick's question to the audience "Charlie's good tonight?".  After a brief pause, he replied "Charlie's good every night".
And so were the whole band, and Mick Taylor's input can be clearly heard pointing the way to the stadium filling "Greatest Rock n Roll Band In The World" they soon became.
And this is where the legend starts

Bruce Springsteen - 'Live 75 to 85'
In 1974, Jon Landau wrote in Rolling Stone that he had seen the future of Rock n Roll, and that future was Bruce Springsteen.  And on the evidence of this 3 and a half hour compilation, that pretty much sums it up.  Despite the title, only one track comes from 1975 ("Thunder Road") but that's a minor point.  As is about 40% coming from the 84/85 period, but one can only assume they were the best recordings available.
Here is a band (note: band, not band and singer) who want to do nothing else than play their hearts out for as long as possible, entertain the crowd, and never give less than 100%
In 2021, Bruce Springsteen released the 1979 No Nukes concert from Madison Square Garden - arguably containing even better performances, and acting as a perfect accompaniment to this 5 vinyl/3 CD box set.

The Band - 'The Last Waltz'
The former backing band for Bob Dylan broke away from their paymaster and re-formed themselves simply as "The Band", and with Bob Dylan began to explore roots americana and folk music, culminating in the album 'Music From The Big Pink' - maybe not huge selling, but latterly recognised as hugely influential.  The follow-up album simply titled 'The Band' and complete with an old-timey sepia toned cover set a new template for american music and it's influence (including The Byrds, The Eagles, George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello, and many more).
Americana: invented by Canadians.
By 1976, The Band were growing tired of touring and conceived one last showpiece event - The Last Waltz - to be filmed by friend and fan Martin Scorsese, and featuring an all-star line-up including Ronnie Hawkins, Bob Dylan, Paul Butterfield, Eric Clapton, Neil Diamond, Dr. John, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Ringo Starr, Muddy Waters, Ronnie Wood, and Neil Young.
If The Band were tired of touring and playing on stage, 'The Last Waltz' somewhat de-bunks that.

Peter Frampton - 'Frampton Comes Alive'
 'Frampton Comes Alive' is one of those rare albums that rises from seemingly nowhere, sold by the bucketload, but then the success is not repeated.  Humble Pie did something similar with 'Performance Rockin' the Fillmore' featuring a guitarist called ... Peter Frampton.
It's one of those albums that just "is" - there's plenty to like (the near 8 minute version of "Jumping Jack Flash" for example) and very little not to like.  The songs are great, the band strong (despite the loss of keyboardsman Andy Bown the night before), and the crowd full of support.
And if that's not enough, there's always the Talkbox to marvel at.

Johnny Cash - 'At Folsom Prison' / 'At San Quentin'
'Folsom Prison Blues' was written in 1955 based on Johnny Cash's thoughts and perceptions of being in Prison.  Later he had the idea of performing shows in a Prison, but his record company were unwilling to support the idea.  That is until a change of producer thought it a good idea and both Folsom and San Quentin were contacted.  Folsom Prison were the first to reply, so Cash and his band trooped off to perform 2 daytime shows for the inmates.
Cash was no stranger to an indiscretion or two, and you almost get the idea the inmates viewed him as "one of their own".  Cash responded by delivering a relaxed, but never sloppy, set which the captive audience lapped up.  As the show progresses the closeness between audience and band grows ever nearer.
A year later he repeated the event at San Quentin Prison, found much the same reception, recorded an equally strong (if not stronger album), and (as Folsom Prison had it's own track) wrote and delivered "San Quentin" to a rapturous applause (even playing it twice).
'San Quentin' also includes an impropmtu/busked version if what would become one of Johnny Cash's best known tracks - "A Boy Named Sue",  He had told the band he might play it, but part way trough the set struck up the opening chords, read the lyrics from a notebook, and the band followed without confusion or diversion.

Cheap Trick - 'At Budokan'
Whilst homeland success in the US was limited, although critically lauded, Cheap Trick were achieving incomparably high success in Japan.
After the release of their second album, a tour was arranged to capitalise on this adulation.
And when they got there, even Cheap Trick were surprised at the level.
The tour ended with 2 sold out nights at the 15,000 capacity Budokan arena - the second of which was recorded for this album.
There are points when the crowd makes so much noise they are almost drowning out the band.  And the band reply with a masterful performance.
The success garnered in the US with this release did lead to a couple of years of continued success before Management and record company problems saw them back to "critically lauded" (meaning, doing OK, remaining popular, but not really selling much anymore)

Oasis - 'Familiar To Millions'
In 1999, things were a bit fraught in the Oasis camp - the expected high of 'Be Here Now' had not been delivered, 3 original members has departed, and they had still not cracked America (which was high on the "to do" list).  The 2000 album 'Standing on the Shoulder of Giants' had been recorded by the remaining members, with Noel Gallagher playing just about everything, and then when released the reception was relatively lukewarm - it still sold in large numbers and spawned hit singles, but the reception was generally "meh!".
The accompanying tour took in America, Japan, Europe, South America, and included 2 sold out nights at Wembley Stadium.  This album comes from the first of those 2 nights (thankfully not the second night where Liam was somewhat the worse for wear).
Despite the reception to their latest album (which is represented by 4 songs here), and the obvious (omnipresent) tensions on stage, on this night they are definitely Rock n Roll Stars

The White Stripes - 'Under Great White Northern Lights'
Recorded on the White Stripes last tour of Canada, and released as an accompaniment to the documentary of the same name, it stands as testament to the White Stripes power as a band.  Do you really need more than a voice, a guitar and a drum.
There was "something" special about the White Stripes, and these performances and the crowds response proves it.  Unfortunately when the band went into hibernation and subsequent cessation, Jack White started to believe and present himself as a bit more important than he actually is/was.
I never got to see the White Stripes live, and this album makes me rue the missed opportunity every time I play it.


And as I scan back over that list, I ask myself "have I missed something?" - only 2 of the albums come from the 21st Century.  Is the Live Album a dying form?  As just about everything (both audio and visual) is now recorded, does the planning for a Live Album no longer happen,  And with footage (official or otherwise) available on YouTube and other platforms mean there is no more clamour for official product?

Friday, 7 January 2022

Queen - A Night At The Opera

By 1975, Queen had released 3 albums and were seriously in debt.  This debt is mainly attributed to their Management deal with Trident which gave them almost unlimited studio time when Trident Studios were free, in return for a ruinous Management Fee, and a deal which meant that their recordings could be sold on to the record company, but didn't have to be.
There'd been some minor success for the albums 'Queen' and 'Queen II' and they'd cracked the Top 10 with "Seven Seas Of Rhye".
It was next album 'Sheer Heart Attack' which proved the breakthrough as did the single "Killer Queen" - the band now had the bargaining power (an a tenacious lawyer) to break free from their Trident deal and start earning some cash from their efforts.

A proper deal with EMI was secured, as was committed management support.  But despite being skint, it cost £100k to get out of the Trident deal, plus they spent a further £50k preparing and recording their fourth album.
Money well spent on EMI's part, or certainly proved to be later.  By the end of the year Queen held the top spots in both the Singles and Albums charts.

Album opens with a blunt, bitter put down of their previous manager.  Whilst never being named (or as the sub-title of the song says "Dedicated To ...") the lyric leaves little doubt.  As does Freddie Mercury's stage introduction "this is dedicated to a m*ther-fucker we used to know"

There are shared credits, shared vocals, shared purpose, and a production sheen that sounds cleaner and advanced than most 1975 recordings (and indeed still cleaner and ahead of many from 1985).
One can almost feel the shared purpose and collaboration as they all hunker down together birthing and fettling each others songs into the best they can possibly be.

Whilst he may only have a single writing credit, John Deacon's "You're My Best Friend" must surely be the pension pot that keeps on giving.
Similarly, Roger Taylor's sole contribution "I'm In Love With My Car" ensured an unexpected windfall when it was chosen as the B Side for "Bohemian Rhapsody".

The remaining tracks are shared between Freddie Mercury and Brian May.

Freddie follows the bitter opener "Death On Two Legs (Dedicated To ...)" with Noel Cowrad-esque Music Hall camp of "Lazing On A Sunday Afternoon" and "Seaside Rendezvous".  He also gives some heartfelt balladry with "Love Of My Life"

Brian May is perhaps the most eclectic from going from skiffle ("Good Company"), spacey-psychy-folk ("39"), a dose of smooth yet tough rock that became Queen's trademark ("Sweet Lady"), and flexing his Prog muscles in the multi-part 8 minute epic "The Prophets Song".
Oh, and there is even time for his arrangement of the National Anthem to close the album - God Save Themselves, indeed.

But there's one more track on the album not mentioned - a track described by Roger Taylor in 2000 as "that bloody song!".
Yes, I'm sure it is over-played and overly familiar, but if you can transport yourself back to the first time you ever heard "Bohemian Rhapsody" I'm pretty sure your first response was "what the bloody hell is that!  Play it again."
A feeling shared by DJ (and friend of Freddie Mercury) Kenny Everett it who played it about 15 times over 2 days on his radio show.  Such was the demand, a sceptical EMI - who had initially refused to release it as a single claiming it was too long, had no hook, and no commercial potential - were left with no option to release it in November 1975.
Hello Christmas Number One, 9 weeks at the summit (which can't of hurt album sales), and today (including a number of re-releases) has shifted nigh on 15 million units worldwide.
I't one of those now hard-wired songs alongside "Imagine", "Hey Jude", "Stairway To Heaven", "Good Vibrations", "Satisfaction", and "Johnny B Goode" which just "is" and regularly vies for top spot in the Top 10 of All Time lists

There is a myth doing the rounds that the same piano was used for "Bohemian Rhapsody", "Hey Jude", "Life On Mars", "Your Song", "You're So Vain", and "I Don't Like Mondays" (and many others).
Whilst this may be true for many of the tracks, the piano in question - a 1920s Bechstein housed in Trident Studios - wasn't used for "Bohemian Rhapsody" as that was recorded at Rockfield Studios in Wales.  "Seven Seas Of Rhye" and "Killer Queen" certainly feature the Trident Bechstein, and whilst parts of 'A Night At The Opera' were recorded at Trident, the myth remains just that (a myth, but a great trivia nugget if it were true).

At the start of the year, the band were skint with a suffocating management deal and no real control over their own destiny.
12 months later they were headlining a sold out Hammersmith Odeon on Christmas Eve whilst simultaneously being broadcast to the nation on The Old Grey Whistle Test.

And from that moment, the world of Queen was changed - subsequent albums, tours, and general reception just increased with each movement, culminating in the monumental release of Queen's Greatest Hits in 1981.  An album which now (apparently) has a place in 1 in 5 homes in the UK, and is second only to Abba 'Gold' in the all-time sales list.

Now, I need to call out a slight mis-step and wane in popularity in the 1982/1983 period following the album 'Hot Space'.
They returned in early 1984 with the release of 'The Works' and two (late)career defining singles "Radio Ga Ga" and "I Want To Break Free".  There was a feeling of "returning Rock Royalty" with this album and the band now regarded with some affection (not quite National Treasures but not far off).
And then all good-will was starting to drain with the (ill advised?) performance in South Africa's Sun City. 
The route back to public adoration (possibly even greater than before) was to be 20 minutes at Live Aid, which included a performance of the now 10 year old "Bohemian Rhapsody"

'A Night At The Opera' - an album birthed in difficult circumstances, an album that assured Queen's place in the pantheon, and (for my money) the best album in their catalogue.


39


I'm In Love With My Car


Bohemian Rhapsody