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


The Mainline Song