Tuesday, 17 July 2018

The Lilac Time ‎Paradise Circus

The Lilac TimeParadise Circus

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With bolder instrumentation, a brighter overall atmosphere, and a perfect glistening pop polish, Paradise Circus expands on the glorious promise of the Lilac Time's debut. Stephen Duffy might have later decried that the album was a more commercial affair than he would have liked, but its stunning melodies and sweet acoustic nature make for addictive listening. Duffy claims that studio execs forced the band back into the studio to cut singles and to Americanize their songs. Of course, such corporate tinkering stifles the creative process, but the insistence on catchy choruses does wonders for the band. Duffy and company seem to have looked to their peers for inspiration. Perhaps more here than on any other Lilac Time album, the band's influences are readily apparent. Channeling the Smiths, Nick Drake, and the Byrds, they package the mix into their own radio-friendly folk-pop style and create perhaps their most accessible album. Other than two brief instrumentals and the somber "She Still Loves You" and "Father Mother Wife and Child," the songs of Paradise Circus are happy etchings that immediately embed themselves in the catchy-tune section of a listener's brain. "The Beauty in Your Body" is musically about as close to Nick Drake as a song can be, though its melodramatic premise adds a chamber pop element. Throughout the album, Duffy's lyrics are as poetic and bittersweet as ever, but he delivers them with a bouncy step. Occasionally, horns and background vocals feel overly forced, for which one can blame the execs, but the album absolutely overflows with Johnny Marr-like jangling acoustic guitars and bluesy harmonica, pristine mandolins, and mesmerizing tempos that mingle to perfection with Duffy's elliptical, wry vocals. Ardent fans know that Duffy frequently crafts songs that suggest chugging trains, and Paradise Circus contains a plethora of selections that fit this bill: "The Lost Girl in the Midnight Sun," "The Days of the Week," "The Girl Who Waves at Trains," and "The Rollercoaster Song." Though its fine singles may not have become the hits they deserved to become, Paradise Circus as a whole is even stronger than its shiny, catchy highlights. As they would do throughout their career, the Lilac Time prove here that a great singles band can be simultaneously heady and masterful at crafting marvelous albums.

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Duffy I Love My Friends

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Stephen Duffy (or Duffy, as he prefers to be known on this release) put together an almost perfect album with this one. Following a year of difficulty securing a record deal (the alternate title of this CD is Looking for a Deal), Duffy took his management into his own hands and recorded this CD with a few friends: XTC's Andy Partridge, Aimee Mann, Blur's Alex James, and Elastica's Justin Welch (Duffy formed a side project with James and Welch called Me Me Me). The result is everything good about Britpop. The CD begins with "Tune In," a short piece of a radio dial being tuned to various songs from Duffy's long, somewhat complicated career. This basically sets the tone for this seemingly autobiographical, almost confessional album. Musically, Duffy seems to be leaning toward his Lilac Time days, which means it is more folk than dance (in fact, "Twenty Three" sounds very similar to "Return to Yesterday"). Duffy's voice is in fine form, and lyrically it is in the same vein as Lennon's Plastic Ono Band, and Dylan's Blood on the Tracks. At times, a difficult CD to listen to ("Postcard" certainly brings a lump to the throat), but it is refreshing to hear an artist reflect on his life, both professionally and personally. There is not a weak track on the CD, and although it has a folky tinge to it, it still features some of the finest pop melodies to be written in the '90s. "What If I Fall In Love With You" and "You Are" have tunes that after just one listening stick in your memory. This is intelligent music, accessible to most, and it serves as an excellent introduction to Duffy. Expertly produced (by Duffy and Stephen Street, and Andy Partridge), and extremely well recorded, it has a warm sound while utilizing '90s technology. A well-crafted album which not only survives repeated listenings, but almost cries out for constant attention, which is well deserved.

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Pulp ‎Different Class Reissue

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Universal UK reissued the three key '90s Pulp albums as double-disc deluxe editions in 2006. Thankfully, the deluxe edition of Pulp's 1995 masterpiece Different Class is not just a recycling of Second Class, the collection of B-sides that appeared as a bonus disc in a repackaging of the album in 1996. That's partially due to the fact that Second Class drew heavily from His 'n' Hers-era B-sides, which now appropriately appear on the concurrently released His 'n' Hers deluxe edition, so this 11-track collection of non-LP material and rarities feels quite different than the 1996 bonus disc. Completists should also be aware that this disc does not contain all the B-sides from the Different Class singles, but that's because the singles carried B-sides that were largely consisted of alternate mixes; a "Vocoda Mix" of "Common People" shows up here, but there are plenty of mixes that didn't carry over here, only two of which may be missed by collectors: an alternate, extended "Live Bed Show" and a 7" single mix of "Disco 2000," which is considerably different than the album mix thanks to added organ, synths, harmonies, and, yes, a prominent disco beat. These may be missed by certain trainspotters, but all the crucial non-LP material from the Different Class era is here, all worthy of the classic album they supported. There's the cutting, wickedly funny teacher-student sex tale "PTA"; there's "Mile End," their contribution to the Trainspotting soundtrack, a nimble evocation of slum living that's far catchier than its subject should be; there's "Whiskey in the Jar," a surprisingly sinewy cover of the Thin Lizzy version of the Irish anthem that was given to the Childline charity album; then, there's the heartbreaking "Ansaphone," a B-side for "Disco 2000" that's presented here in a slightly different demo version. "Ansaphone" is grouped together with four demos of unheard songs from the sessions, all very strong. For starters, there's "Paula," whose light, skipping music camouflages the cynicism of the friends-with-benefits celebration of the lyrics. It's followed by the tremendous "Catcliffe Shakedown," a six-minute epic that may be driven by a slightly dorky beat (which Jarvis Cocker calls "frankly ridiculous" in his great liner notes, which also feature full lyrics for all songs on these two discs), but it gains strength from its gangly rhythms, and it's distinguished by a great Jarvis lyric that, by his own admission, resembles "I Spy," but where that contained a barely veiled menace, this is pure riotous satire of a nasty down-class small town ("why not try our delicious lager-styled drink?"). The sleek, svelte "We Can Dance Again" pales a bit in comparison to this deliberately cinematic gem, but it's a great piece of knowing retro-disco, as is the fantastic "Don't Lose It," which is sensual and urgent in equal measures. Rounding out the rest of the deluxe edition is their transcendent version of "Common People" that closed their triumphant last-minute headlining slot at the 1995 Glastonbury Festival and Nick Cave's inspired "Pub Rock Version" of "Disco 2000," which sees its first release here. With the possible exception of the "Vocoda Mix," which finds a threadbare idea stretched a little too far, this is all great music, a fitting companion to a classic album, and makes this a truly deluxe deluxe edition.

Saturday, 7 July 2018

Super Furry Animals ‎Fuzzy Logic US Album

Super Furry AnimalsFuzzy Logic

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Super Furry Animals are eclectic, to say the least. Fusing together pop melodies, psychedelia, and art rock with an impish, punky fury, the band cover more ground on their debut album, Fuzzy Logic, than most indie bands do in their entire career. However, the album works better as a series of moments than as a collection, mainly due to their overreaching ambition. Each song floats by on irresistible, catchy vocal harmonies, while the music alternates between glitzy overdriven guitars and sighing, sweeping keyboard, guitar, and string backdrops. Over these lush sonic beds, lead vocalist Gruff sings lyrics that are either mystical, nonsensical, or bizarrely funny -- none of the songs make much literal sense, but that doesn't quite matter when the music is as free-spirited as this. The songs may start conventionally, but they'll be undercut by wild synthesizers and careening guitar solos, or off-kilter vocal melodies. Taken as individual moments -- as the singles "God! Show Me Magic" (relatively straight-ahead punk-pop), "Hometown Unicorn" (gorgeous psychedelia), and "Something 4 the Weekend" (which finds the middle ground between the first two singles) prove -- the music of Super Furry Animals is quite intoxicating, but when assembled together, they don't sustain momentum. However, the individual pleasures of each song become more apparent with each listen and Fuzzy Logic suggests that the group could blossom into something quite distinctive and utterly unique within a few albums. [The expanded 2005 reissue of Fuzzy Logic contains a bonus disc with five B-sides: "Organ Yn Dy Geg," "Crys Ti," "Lazy Life (Of No Fixed Identity)," "Death by Melody," and "Waiting to Happen." These are not all of the Fuzzy Logic-era B-sides -- such highlights as "Guacamole" and "Don't Be a Fool, Billy" only appear on the B-sides compilation Outspaced. So, the bonus disc here and those on the other 2005 Super Furry reissues act as clearing-houses for B-sides that did not appear on Outspaced and do not contain all of the album's B-sides or any rarities

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Ned's Atomic Dustbin ‎God Fodder

Ned's Atomic DustbinGod Fodder

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Ned's Atomic Dustbin may be one of Britain's most overlooked bands, which is surprising, considering that while their releases may not be groundbreaking, each one is certainly solid. The band emerged in the early '90s, and was quickly grouped (along with bands like Pop Will Eat Itself and Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine) into the English "grebo" scene: punk-influenced, electronica-informed, hyper, light-hearted rock. God Fodder, their first major release, is arguably their best. Featuring college radio hits like "Kill Your Television" and "Grey Cell Green," it's a consistently satisfying blend of frenzied, melodic rock, with the occasional touch of quirkiness; the band's use of two basses (one playing "normal" basslines, the other scratching out harmonic riffs) keeps their sound light and hooky enough to put quite a distance between their oeuvre and that of the average grebo or punk band.

Saturday, 30 June 2018

Catherine Wheel ‎Adam And Eve

Catherine WheelAdam And Eve

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Even by Catherine Wheel's lofty standards, Adam and Eve is boldly realized. It's infused with unusual moods, textures, and ambitious touches -- such as built-up volume shifts, or keyboards and acoustic guitars that suggest endless wide-open spaces. The album is also an impressive thematic whole formed by two untitled tracks that start and finish the LP, with gentle connectors between songs in which chords of one tune drift quietly into the start of the next. In markedly lowering the volume throughout large passages of the album, they shine the spotlight on singer/guitarist Rob Dickinson, who alternates his smooth, cool, meditative cooing with a more yearning, emotional, arresting wail. Other guitarist Brian Futter, bassist Dave Hawes, and drummer Neil Sims negotiate a maze of hues and tints, from peaceful, pretty solitude to the most desperate pathos. 1996's release of Like Cats and Dogs (a collection culled from the group's more ponderous, subdued, nearly ambient B-sides) precipitated the album's more restrained approach and more ambitious scope. More importantly, like much of Like Cats and Dogs, the LP is again greatly influenced by Talk Talk's Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock. So it's significant that Talk Talk's Tim Friese-Greene, who'd already produced Ferment and played on Happy Days, was called in again to play keyboards and ended up playing a major role in the album's sound, along with vaunted Pink Floyd producer Bob Ezrin and Garth Richardson. The more moody, reflective qualities that resulted are evident throughout, in the low-rumbling crash of "Broken Nose," the twinkling tones of "Ma Solituda," the near-Pink Floyd pastoral sweep of "Future Boy," the whimsical, throbbing ecstasy of "Delicious" and "Satellite," and the penultimate epic space-floaters, "Goodbye" and "For Dreaming." To put it bluntly, Adam and Eve is brilliant -- as playful as it is gripping, and as sweet as it is contentious.

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Dinosaur Jr Ear-Bleeding Country The Best Of

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The conventional wisdom on Dinosaur Jr. is focused almost entirely on their sonics, which admittedly were devastating and influential. Other bands had never relinquished the force of electric guitars -- Hüsker Dü were a galvanizing force, Sonic Youth reaffirmed that sheer noise had poetic power -- but Dinosaur, through their laconic frontman, J Mascis, restored not just the idea of a guitar hero, but showed that underground rock could soar with the eloquence of a guitar hero, reeling from lovely leads to sheets of noise to tranquil chords. In their early days, they relied more on sheer, overwhelming power, which tended to overshadow Mascis' subtle songwriting -- something that came to the forefront when the group, shed of Lou Barlow, shifted to Sire early in the '90s, because that also brought cleaner, precise productions. Since Rhino's 2001 compilation Ear-Bleeding Country: The Best of Dinosaur Jr. concentrates the Sire recordings, it does wind up emphasizing his songwriting, yet since those songs were always graced with Dinosaur's sonic power and grace, it does provide an accurate summary of their career. And it provides a pretty tremendous listen in doing that. Some may argue that there's not enough Homestead or SST material here, and "Raisans" should have been here (along with Green Mind's "Puke + Cry," and possibly their cover of "Show Me the Way"), but this generous 19-track collection never sags in its momentum, never has a dull spot, and pulls off a tricky move -- it makes Mascis seem consistent, which latter-day Dinosaur Jr. were not necessarily. However, as this collection proves, Mascis never lost his touch and could still write terrific songs, even as late as the group's final album. But what really stands out here is the consistency of the work -- "Little Fury Things" and "Freak Scene" may be the benchmarks of underground '80s rock, but alt-rock standards like the straight cover of the Cure's "Just Like Heaven," "Whatever's Cool With Me," "Start Choppin," "Get Me," "Feel the Pain," and the astonishing "The Wagon" are their equal, as is nearly every other song on this collection. And while the inclusion of "Where'd You Go," a cut by Mascis and his post-Dinosaur outfit, the Fog, is puzzling, "Take a Run at the Sun," a Beach Boys homage from the Grace of My Heart soundtrack that puts the High Llamas and R.E.M.'s latter-day efforts to shame, certainly isn't, since it illustrates that Mascis' genius is conscious. So, while there may be a couple of songs that maybe should have made the cut, what is here cements that Dinosaur Jr. are one of the great bands of their era, and it's a terrific listen, one of the best records in their catalog.

Saturday, 23 June 2018

The Supernaturals ‎It Doesn't Matter Anymore

The SupernaturalsIt Doesn't Matter Anymore

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After a string of successful singles, the Supernaturals' debut, It Doesn't Matter Anymore appeared and proved to be one of the finest britpop records of 1997. Filled with beautiful pop melodies, the Supernaturals' music is pretension-free and uninhibited; they are strictly a pop band. It Doesn't Matter Anymore is a brilliant debut of upbeat, sparkling pop singles and precious ballads, including the five stellar singles, "Smile," "Lazy Lover," "The Day After Yesterday's Man," "Free to Land" and "Love Has Passed Away." The punkish shuffle of "Stammer," and the expository drumming of the infectious opener, "Please Be Gentle with Me," are amongst the highlights of this album where dips in quality are few. Each track on the disc feels like a classic summertime anthem made for backyard barbecues and trips to the beach. It Doesn't Matter Anymore contains only a few slow spots -- most notably on the ballads, which are (for the most part) less inspired than the more uptempo tracks. While some of the lyrics and songs also have a tendency to become silly at times, It Doesn't Matter Anymore is an incredibly accomplished and compelling debut
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