Saturday, 7 December 2019

The Colourfield Virgins And Philistines


The Colourfield Virgins And Philistines

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When it was initially released in the mid-'80s, the Colour Field's Virgins and Philistines had little in common with most of the albums recorded during that decade. The passing of years has only strengthened the LP's timeless appeal. Plucking sounds from the late '60s and early '70s, the Colour Field created an album that will never be dated because it cannot be attached to a specific era. The mournful violin and sultry Latin rhythms of "Castles in the Air" represent the apex of vocalist Terry Hall's artistry. Hopelessly romantic, "Castles in the Air" yearns for lost love with a filmmaker's eye and a poet's ear. There are two versions of "Castles in the Air" on the Japanese CD reissue of Virgins and Philistines, the second of which has a lengthy instrumental intro; both are stunningly beautiful. The Japanese edition of Virgins and Philistines actually eclipses the original. First of all, there are more songs: 20 instead of merely 12. The bonus tracks include a dreamy cover of "Windmills of Your Mind," an instrumental rendition of "Thinking of You," and the rare B-side "My Wild Flame," essentially a rewrite of "The Colour Field." "Pushing Up Daisies" can be found on either version; however, on CD the track's thorny guitar riffs and sullen basslines have greater punch. "Pushing Up Daisies" offers a sobering look at withering stardom; Hall may write from a downcast, cynical perspective, but his unpretentious, honest lyrics are always hummable. Hall expresses more emotion on Virgins and Philistines than he ever did with his previous groups, the Specials and Fun Boy Three. On "Take," Hall sings, "You just take/And pile on the agony." The pain in Hall's voice rips through the song's cozy layer of acoustic guitars. The remake of "Can't Get Enough of You Baby" is the only track on the LP that received radio airplay in the U.S., and it's misleading; nothing else on the album is that upbeat. Although the album looks to the past for inspiration, it's never retro; the music is frozen in suspended animation, always fresh whenever it's heard.

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

The Darling Buds Erotica


The Darling Buds Erotica

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The Darling Buds may have echoed the prevailing trends of the British music scene, but they could never be faulted for mere mimicry or want of imagination. What they lacked in the originality department they more than made up for with stellar musical execution and the undeniable talent of lead singer and songwriter Andrea Lewis. Repeated listens to Erotica (released just prior to Madonna's LP of the same title) should convince the harshest cynic that the Darling Buds absorbed, rather than plagiarized, what they listened to. You can hear strains of My Bloody Valentine's guitar rush and Swervedriver's scrawl and scream in "Please Yourself"; it's undeniably a fantastic song. Also, not too many songwriters of the time were as bold or articulate as Lewis, as she is here. "One Thing Leads to Another" (not a Fixx cover), "Isolation" (not a Joy Division cover), and "Long Day in the Universe" rival anything that the British charts had to offer at the time; heck, any of the ten songs here sound like great singles. The DBs continued to expand themselves rhythmically and make further strides into sophisticated pop, managing to make a third successive album that's top-to-toe fantastic.

Saturday, 30 November 2019

Pearl Jam Ten


Pearl Jam Ten


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Pearl Jam went all out and delivered not one but three reissues, all in increasing levels of lavishness. First off is a standard two-CD set, followed by a triple-disc set that adds a DVD of the band's 1992 performance for MTV Unplugged and then there's a gargantuan, frankly ludicrous, collectors edition that has all that plus four slabs of vinyl containing the two mixes of the album plus a 1992 live show, one cassette that replicates the original demo Eddie Vedder turned in as his audition, and assorted memorabilia that retails for $200.00. All this commotion camouflages the really noteworthy aspect of this anniversary edition: Pearl Jam brought in their longtime producer Brendan O'Brien to remix Ten from the ground up, to strip away the studio affectations of producer Rick Parashar and mixer Tim Palmer that made it a bright, shiny anomaly during the dingy heyday of grunge and make the album sound more liked the rest of the band's work (which O'Brien produced, after all). This isn't full-scale cultural revisionism on the order of George Lucas -- the original album is preserved in remastered form on the first disc -- nor is it akin to the massive reworking of Raw Power that took liberties with the aesthetics of a classic, altering some crucial reasons why it was influential, but rather like a director's cut that's designed to be closer to the artist's original intentions. Since Ten is the odd man out among Pearl Jam's albums -- its shimmering surfaces and gated rhythms too eager to crossover -- this revision also seems logical, bringing it closer to the sound and feel of Vs. and Vitalogy without drastically altering its character. Actually, it's quite arguable that this lean, muscular remix is a marked improvement on the original mix, as it's easier to focus on both the songs and group's interplay. The only room for complaint is that for a deluxe reissue this seems to skimp on the bonus tracks, never bothering to include all the relevant non-LP songs from Ten. It's seems that the logic behind their absence is that they're all available on the compilation Lost Dogs and the bonus material here is all unreleased: a version of "Brother" with vocals (an instrumental was on Lost Dogs), early versions of "Breath and a Scream" and "State of Love and Trust" recorded a year before the Singles soundtrack, and the unreleased "Just a Girl," "2000 Mile Blues," and "Evil Little Goat." Although the latter two sound like the unfinished outtakes they are, it's still nice to have all this material in circulation, but even so it doesn't feel quite right to have a reissue of Ten that misses the B-side "Yellow Ledbetter," a song that received a lot of radio play during the peak of the album's popularity. It also doesn't feel right to have that original demo available only as a cassette in the super-deluxe version of Ten -- or to have the live show only on vinyl, for that matter -- when it would have been easy to expand the set out to three CDs and have this material available for everyone, but in a sense, that's nitpicking: the mad collectors are going to invest in the $200.00 set while the less dedicated will be happy with the remix which is certainly reason enough to justify this entire multi-format project. [A deluxe edition was also released.]

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

R.E.M. Green


R.E.M. Green

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By 1988, R.E.M. were unlikely megastars in the making. The band who had pretty much invented college rock with their strange, inscrutable lyricism and folky guitar jangle were moving from cult status into inevitable mainstream success. The year before, they’d released Document, a dark and monolithic set of deeply-serious songs that had spawned their first top ten single in the form of the anti-love song The One I Love and with sales on an upwards curve, Warners (who had already harvested The Replacements, The B52s and Hüsker Dü) came calling with designs on U2-like crossover for the Georgian four piece. R.E.M. almost reluctantly and with a huge amount of mischief (the title of Green is as much a comment on the mega dollar deal they signed as the environmental themes that dominate the album) delivered a bright and bold commercial album that still stands as a master class in how a band can remain resolute to their own vision while rising above big business demands. Act local; think global indeed. Full of what R.E.M. themselves called big dumb bubblegum pop songs including the Doors-referencing Pop Song 89 and the eco-anthem Stand (another top ten hit), Green was Michael Stipe, Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Bill Berry loosening up, having fun and enjoying the sunlit uplands after foraging on the forest floor for so long. Following Stipe’s instruction to his band mates “not to write any more R.E.M. type songs", accordions, mandolins, a thing as verboten as a wha-wha guitar solo, and much instrument swapping took place in Ardent Studios in Memphis and Bearsville in Woodstock. So Green’s first side signals a determination to escape their reputation as serious and politicised young men – Pop Song 89 knowingly throws shapes with hackneyed rock `n’ roll riffs and subverts pop songs clichés; Get Up! is a joyful call to arms complete with the sound of multiple musical boxes being sprung open at the same time; You Are The Everything sings beatifically with Buck’s chirpy mandolin and on World Leader Pretend, Stipe even drops his mask and determines to embrace life only, of course, with Mike Mills keening the word “dreamer” in the background. But it was all a prelude to the dark heart of the album. For all that sunshine and sixties-style optimism, R.E.M. were still a turbulent bunch and Green takes on a darker hue starting with The Wrong Child, an off-key ballad inspired by Dublin writer Christopher Nolan’s book Under The Eye of The Clock. I Remember California really does blot out the sun as R.E.M. recalls the West Coast Shangri La as a ruined world with Trident submarines patrolling the oceans and the San Andreas Fault yawning open to swallow the whole place up. R.E.M.’s very own Led Zep moment, Turn You Inside, is similarly apocalyptic, a power chording epic that is actually about, well, having meaningless and vengeful sex. Orange Crush, a leftover from Document, which concerns itself with on-going US militarism provided another unlikely hit single. They did close with Green’s most upbeat and optimistic song – Untitled, a lovely childlike moment in which the band members once again swap instruments as an act of solidarity in the face of what was to come next. This is a welcome 25th anniversary re-mastered reissue and Warners continue their nostalgia drive with the inclusion of a very good 21-track live album recorded in Greensboro Coliseum in North Carolina in 1989 including many of the terrific songs here and older classics such as Finest Worksong, It’s The End of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) and Perfect Circle. Maybe R.E.M. had peaked creatively with Document and Life’s Rich Pageant but Green was the start of phase two. It still sounds marvellous - dream-like one minute - strident and clear-eyed the next and it is another reminder that R.E.M.’s sudden split two years ago leaves an almost eerie vacuum. Were they ever here? Will a major rock band be this consistently good again? It is almost a shock to be reminded of how great Green really was

Saturday, 23 November 2019

Cast All Change



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Cast's All Change serves as the perfect antidote to the inner rage fueling much American alternative rock -- it would be hard to imagine a more gloriously upbeat backbeat of a guitar pop record, one that appeals to the eternal adolescent in each of us. The group's pedigree derives from good stock, founder John Power having served time with another fine Mersey combo the La's. But Cast transcends the hackneyed expectations of its environment, structure, and genetics through sheer, relentless quality of songcraft and performance. No sooner has one wide-eyed, hook-infested injection stormed the synapses demanding total capitulation than another of equal potency lines up to take its place. Cast vocals recall Small Faces-era Steve Marriott fused, in places, to Suede's Brett Anderson. There's a soft-psych feel to several tracks (try "Sandstorm") that calls to mind "Pictures of Matchstick Men"-era Status Quo; Cast has clearly assimilated several volumes of Bam Caruso's Rubble and A.I.P.'s Electric Sugarcube Flashbacks series, without sacrificing its power-Mod backbone. Production is brittle and uncluttered. On the lyrics front, all is positively cheery, anthemic stuff about truth, honor, living well, having fun and getting the girl, delivered exuberantly enough to strip away several coats of accumulated cynicism and almost make you believe it's possible. Two favorites are the shifting falsetto angst anthem "Tell It Like Is" and the ballad "Walk Away" -- a clue to how Mott the Hoople's "Roll Away the Stone" would have come out recorded in 1967.

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Ocean Colour Scene Moseley Shoals


Ocean Colour Scene Moseley Shoals

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By the time Ocean Colour Scene released their debut album in 1992, they were already considered has-beens. The band had formed during the height of Madchester, but they never released their first album until the scene was already dead, which left them without a following. But between their debut and their second album, 1996's Moseley Shoals, a strange thing happened -- the band was taken under the wings of two of Britain's biggest pop stars, Paul Weller and Noel Gallagher. The band suddenly catapulted back into the spotlight because of its superstar connections, but the music actually deserved the attention. Ocean Colour Scene had spent the time between their two albums improving their sound. On Moseley Shoals, they are looser, funkier, and have a strong, organic R&B vibe that was inherited from the Small Faces and Weller's solo recordings. They sprinkle Beatlesque and Stonesy flourishes throughout the album, as well as the odd prog rock flair, adding an even more eclectic flavor to their traditionalist pop/rock. Ocean Colour Scene are still developing their songwriting skills -- the sound is more impressive than the songs throughout Moseley Shoals -- but their second album is an unexpectedly enjoyable record.

Saturday, 16 November 2019

Paul Weller Wild Wood


Paul Weller Wild Wood

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Paul Weller deservedly regained his status as the Modfather with his second solo album, Wild Wood. Actually, the album is only tangentially related to mod, since Weller picks up on the classicism of his debut, adding heavy elements of pastoral British folk and Traffic-styled trippiness. Add to that a yearning introspection and a clean production that nevertheless feels a little rustic, even homemade, and the result is his first true masterwork since ending the Jam. The great irony of the record is that many of the songs -- "Has My Fire Really Gone Out?," "Can You Heal Us (Holy Man)" -- question his motivation and, as is apparent in his spirited performances, he reawakened his music by writing these searching songs. Though this isn't as adventurous as the Style Council, it succeeds on its own terms, and winds up being a great testament from an artist entering middle age. And, it helped kick off the trad rock that dominated British music during the '90s.

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

The Charlatans Tellin' Stories


The Charlatans Tellin' Stories

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The Charlatans made a surprising comeback in 1995, turning in an eponymous album that earned them their best reviews and sales ever. Tellin' Stories, the follow-up to The Charlatans, should have been triumphant, but tragedy struck midway through its recording, when keyboardist Rob Collins was killed in a car accident. Collins was an integral part of the band's lineup, creating a distinctive, swirling, neo-psychedelic sound, and it seemed unlikely that the band could carry on without him, much less record a record as earthy and warm as Tellin' Stories. Primal Scream's Martin Duffy volunteered to help the band complete the album, which was basically written before Collins' death, and that might explain why there are no overt references to his absence anywhere on the album. Instead, Tellin' Stories is another collection of classicist rock & roll spiked with dance beats, much like any other Charlatans album. Where its predecessor was more informed by mechanized beats, the rhythms are more organic, which perfectly suits the rolling "North Country Boy," the sweeping "One to Another," and the heart-tugging "How Can You Leave Us?" And, like any other Charlatans album, it doesn't quite hold together, falling apart with instrumentals and ill-conceived songs toward the end. On the whole, however, Tellin' Stories is more consistent than their earlier records, and the best songs showcase the band at its strongest, which is quite an achievement considering the traumas the Charlatans underwent during its recording. More than anything, that's a fitting salute to Collins.
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