Saturday, 20 May 2017

Soundgarden ‎Superunknown Super Deluxe Edition



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Superunknown may be easily regarded as Soundgarden’s most commercial album, if only for the fact that it is the band’s most successful, achieving a certification of five times platinum. However, Superunknown is not a sell out record for the band, nor is it devoid of Soundgarden’s signature style or even a relinquishing of said style in favor of the sounds of their brethren in the “Grunge” subgenre of music—a subgenre Soundgarden never actually fit into or exemplified. In fact, while Superunknown may not feature Soundgarden’s best songs, it is arguably the band’s best all around album, with consistently great songs throughout, including those that were packaged as singles to propel Superunknown to super stardom. Part of this is because the songs themselves are fascinatingly complex and cerebral and hardly fit the mold of what most people would consider singles these days, or ever. Most, if not all, of the singles from the album feature dark themes that might cause even Robert Smith of the Cure to suggest that singer-songwriter Chris Cornell try Prozac.“The Day I Tried to Live” and “Fell on Black Days” are two of the album’s biggest hits and deal with depressing failure and crushing defeat, all set to murky song textures that beckon the ear to listen. The album’s mega hit, “Black Hole Sun”, features a surreal dreamscape with lyrics that aren’t quite universally accessible. The remaining two singles, “Spoonman” and “My Wave”, feature unconventional instruments and abnormal instrument tuning. And those were just the singles. Imagine the songs that weren’t chosen for their commercial potential. The 20th Anniversary release could stand as something of a greatest hits compilation in its own right for all of the rarities it contains. The live tracks that dominate the second disc do not merely showcase Superunknown, but also versions of songs from Badmotorfinger and Ultramega OK. Soundgarden have proven their concert chops over and over again, going way back to their 1990 home video (and rare accompanying EP) Louder Than Live. The live tracks here are no exception. The real treasure trove of Superunknown’s re-release however, is found in the vast amount of alternate takes scattered all over discs two through four. When “Fell on Black Days” was released as a single, a video was made, as were videos for the other four singles. However, this was not the band merely lip synching to the album version of the song, but performing it live for producer Brendan O’Brien. That raw and fascinating version is included here, but stands as only one of many examples of alternate takes. Disc two begins with an alternate mix of “The Day I Tried to Live” and continues into the alternate Steve Fisk remix of “Spoonman”. Cut songs and b-sides like “Exit Stonehenge”, “Kyle Petty, Son of Richard” and “Birth Ritual” (which was released on the Singles soundtrack) help to round out the rare side of this soundscape, with oddities like “Jerry Garcia’s Finger” and “Ghostmotorfinger” all pointing toward the fact that this is not your usual “expanded edition” packed with repeats. This is a good thing, of course, because with so many alternate versions, remixes, rehearsals, live recordings and demos, this collection could seem like an exercise in sameness (there are no less than four individual renditions of “Fell on Black Days” and “The Day I Tried to Live” each). Fascinatingly, Superunknown’s 20th anniversary edition never quite falls into this sad trap. The arrangement of the songs on these four discs—plus the Blu-ray, which is a high definition copy of the first disc—is done in such a way as to showcase the band’s talents while separating individual songs from their alternate versions. Further, this arrangement and the professionalism of the band combine to show exactly why there are so many versions of each tune: because Soundgarden is never content to release the song until it is ready. “Black Days III” is a dark and harsh version of its better-known sister song, but sounds like it might have fit somewhere on Screaming Life, the band’s first EP. Conversely, the (original) Steve Fisk remix of “Spoonman” separates itself from the single version by actually including samples from the aforementioned Soundgarden dance song “Fopp”. While it is true that some of the song versions are very similar to their final studio product, such as “Kickstand”, the versions are great to listen to for fans, especially because they don’t appear adjacent to each other on the discs. And then, of course, there are the mess-around tracks like “The Date I Tried to Leave”, which features Cornell’s pained description of a night out with a girl. It doesn’t go well. It is hard to say that the “rehearsal” tracks will be accessible to many more than hardcore Soundgarden fans or musicians who can relate to the start-stop and voiceover style of pushing through a song and trying to get it right, but then again, it’s hard to imagine many outside-of-hardcore fans of the band forking over the €80-plus it costs to buy this collection. Those that have the money and the interest should definitely do so, however. The overall experience is magnificent, even when listened to from start to finish, straight through. Is there room for a sprawling re-release this huge with this many repeated tracks? As Cornell wrote in “Fell on Black Days”, so appropriately, “Don’t you lock up something that you wanted to see fly.” The Superunknown 20th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition is worth every second of its very long run time.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Teenage Fanclub ‎Four Thousand Seven Hundred And Sixty-Six Seconds A Short Cut To Teenage Fanclub



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For one brief, shining moment in late 1991 and early 1992, Teenage Fanclub looked unstoppable. The Scottish band’s second album, Bandwagonesque—a flawless combination of alternative rock feedback and gorgeous, wistful melodies—came out to ecstatic reviews, the album was getting airplay on college radio in North America, and in a wonderfully bold move, Spin magazine named the album their 1991 album of the year, edging out Nirvana’s Nevermind. But then grunge broke, and everyone forgot about this unassuming band and their great little album. It was all Nirvana all the time, as American audiences chose Nirvana’s brilliant, slickly-produced teen rebellion over Teenage Fanclub’s equally brilliant, slickly-produced pop rock. Even Spin backpedaled, embarrassing itself by openly questioning their decision to go with Bandwagonesque instead of the much more popular Nevermind. Now, twelve years later, tracks from Nevermind are played to death on classic rock radio, to the point where it would be nice to go a day without hearing the opening chords to “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, and Teenage Fanclub have faded from the mainstream, maintaining a small but loyal fanbase on this continent. However, Bandwagonesque has aged gracefully over the years, and it still sounds as fresh as it did when we all first bought it way back when. There are many people who have not bought a Teenage Fanclub album since 1992, and the band’s new career retrospective Four Thousand Seven Hundred and Sixty-Six Seconds: A Short Cut to Teenage Fanclub is the perfect place for people to start catching up. Spanning six albums over thirteen years, as far as guitar pop compilations go, this is as good as it gets, as you see the band metamorphose from the dissonant feedback-laced sounds of Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth, to Neil Young-style rock, to a straight-up Big Star imitation, to a lovely latter-day sound, reminiscent of the Byrds and Badfinger. With three highly talented singer-songwriters (guitarists Norman Blake and Raymond McGinley, as well as bassist Gerard Love), the band has amassed a wealth of material that would qualify for such a compilation, and with this CD, they do their best to please their fans, cramming in 21 songs, clocking in at nearly 80 minutes Their 1990 debut album, A Catholic Education, is given only a passing nod with the inclusion of “Everything Flows”, with its muddy melody, buried under loud, raw, Neil Young-meets-My Bloody Valentine guitar riffs. Bandwagonesque boasts three selections on this CD, though several more cuts could have easily been included. The most essential songs from that album are here, though, in the form of “What You Do to Me”, Love’s wonderful single “Star Sign”, and most importantly, the classic “The Concept”, arguably their greatest song ever. Opening with a blast of feedback that sounds just as slick and contrived as anything on Nevermind, the mellifluous chords that follow shock the listener, Blake’s opening lines showing this song is more than just angry, noisy rock, as he sings tenderly about a girl with questionable taste in music: “She wears denim wherever she goes / Says she’s gone to get some records by the Status Quo”. One of the most beautiful rock songs to come out of the Nineties, it’s five and a half minutes of pure bliss, comprised of a three-minute melody that rivals the pop genius of Big Star’s “September Girls”, and a stunning, two-minute coda that boasts some of the most heartbreaking harmonies you’ll ever hear. Its epic combination of desperate, raw emotion (“I didn’t want to hurt you”) and ethereal beauty makes this a kind of college rock version of “Layla”, and it still makes your spine tingle today. 1993’s Thirteen (the title an obvious tribute to Big Star) received a less than enthusiastic response from critics and fans, and indeed was a more inconsistent album, and two of its better songs are included: “Hang On”, which goes back to the rumbling guitars of their debut album, and the terrific powerpop of “Radio”. Their 1995 album Grand Prix, though practically ignored by the public, was a fine return to form, and is regarded by many as being their best album. It’s obvious the band thinks so, too, as five of its tracks are on this compilation. Blake’s pretty “Mellow Doubt” hints at the more acoustic slant the band would take in the future, while McGinley’s “About You” and Love’s brilliant “Sparky’s Dream” both have incredible, catchy Byrds-like harmony vocals. Meanwhile, both “Don’t Look Back” and the aptly-titled “Neil Jung” utilize some great, Crazy Horse style guitar work. The four songs from 1997’s criminally underrated Songs From Northern Britain will be real revelations to those who have yet to hear that album. Gone are the loud guitars, as pure pop songcraft becomes the band’s sole focus. The lilting “Ain’t That Enough” has a wonderful Crosby Stills and Nash vibe, “Your Love is the Place Where I Come From” and “I Don’t Want Control of You” sound like Gram Parsons outtakes from the Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo, while “Planets” sticks to the reliable Big Star formula. The Howdy! album from 2000 is one of the weakest in the band’s career, but songs like “Dumb Dumb Dumb” and “I Need Direction” show that the album had its share of sublime moments. As is always the case with a best-of compilation, no one tracklisting will ever please all fans, and Teenage Fanclub devotees will undoubtedly have something to grumble about: three new tracks are included, and the omission of their great 1990 song “God Knows it’s True”, or overlooked Bandwagonesque gems like “Alcoholiday” and “December” in favor of the new material will likely raise a few eyebrows, but one new track truly deserves to be there. Norman Blake’s “Did I Say” is shockingly good, two and a half wondrous minutes of the best Badfinger imitation that you’ll ever hear, proof that the band still has what has made them great for so long. This album might stop just shy of perfect, but it’s still essential listening, perfect for those who are new to the band, or for those who have just forgotten about them recently. It’s 4,766 seconds of musical brilliance.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Bjork Debut Japan


Bjork Debut

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“Rock and Roll is so passé, so yesterday. Pop music is more important than art”, said Bjork on the release of “Debut” in 1993. Undoubtedly her view was provocative, but for all the quirky, cute innocence she outwardly portrayed there was, and still is a knowing determination to make music that has an expressive purpose that binds both experimentalism and popular musical culture seamlessly. She would insist that “Debut” was merely a stepping stone to greater things, an opportunity to develop her skills as a solo artist and establish a style and content distinctly different to that of The Sugarcubes. Her modest views belie the value of this collection, and for many fans this remains her greatest achievement, showcasing an unerring ability to successfully marry a vast array of styles including pop, dance, electronic, house, jazz and trip-hop. The glue that holds such ambitious intentions is Bjork’s skilful song writing, mainly themed around a joyous celebration of love, and of course her unique vocal style which swoops effortlessly through octaves somewhere between a screaming banshee, a distant melodious mantra from an uncharted heaven and a young child, fresh and untainted by the ills of this world. “Debut” owes much to the cast list of contributors, all cleverly selected by Bjork. Soul II Soul’s Nellee Hooper brings the polished dance rhythms and co writing credits for five of the songs. Veteran jazz musician Corky Hale adds a beautifully understated Harp accompaniment to the Van Heusen/Burke penned classic, Like Someone In Love. The gentle bossa nova rhythms of “Aeroplane” and the starkly mysterious “Anchor Song” are both enlivened by jazz saxophonist Oliver Lake. The album would host a staggering four hit singles (five if one includes the tagged on David Arnold producedPlay Dead), helped in no small part by some of the most innovative promotional videos ever seen. Of the singles,Human Behaviour stands out as one of Bjork’s most memorable recordings. The slowed down four to the floor house rhythm with bass drums beating out a jungle call overlaid with a vocal track that dynamically displays the singer’s range as she takes the perspective of an animal studying the human emotion.Big Time Sensuality andViolently Happy are far more than disposable dance numbers, as the singer adds a rare warmth to the mechanized rhythms, taking the songs way beyond the dancefloor.Venus As A Boy is the sweetest of odd love songs, combining a chilled reggae pace with a keyboard/vibraphone melody that skips around Bjork’s vocal line with the simple whimsy of a child’s rhyme. The heartfelt yearning of Come To Me is supported by a serenely spacious arrangement that includes an exotic eastern backing with added tabla and sub continental string effects. Bjork would distance herself from the success of “Debut”, almost dismissively stating "It's hard to judge yourself but I don't think [the early albums are] my best. Debut was the album that went the highest up there in terms of what is 'Bjork music'. But I think that the persona I created, which was entirely accidental, is better captured on the later albums." Without appearing confrontational, this album is as important, dynamic and enjoyable as any of her later recordings. Few female artists have produced albums as challenging as Bjork and this sets the agenda.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

The Police ‎Message In A Box (The Complete Recordings)



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Despite their legendary status, the Police only released five albums during their brief reign from 1978-1983. In addition, the trio had amassed a healthy amount of both studio and live B-sides, plus songs that only appeared on soundtracks. For the 1993 four-CD box set Message in a Box: The Complete Recordings, every single song the Police ever recorded is included. All the tracks were digitally remastered for the project, sounding superior to the original CD versions of the single albums. Also included is a 68-page booklet that includes an interesting (and often humorous) biography, a time line, and notes from all three bandmembers regarding the rarities that appear for the first time on compact disc here. But of course, the real charm of the box set is the music -- album tracks ("Hole in My Life," "It's Alright for You," "Driven to Tears"), hits ("Message in a Bottle," "Can't Stand Losing You," "Spirits in the Material World"), and rarities ("Fallout," a live version of "Next to You") are all timeless classics. While the set is highly recommended to newcomers just discovering the wonders of the Police, longtime fans should consider replacing their tinny-sounding single CDs with the definitive Message in a Box. After all, it contains a total of 24 tracks unavailable (for the most part) anywhere else.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Sugar File Under Easy Listening Deluxe Edition



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When Husker Du fell apart at the seams Bob Mould – just one half of that band’s songwriting magic – released two very good solo albums. And then it was straight into Sugar, a power-trio that sat somewhere in the middle of R.E.M. and Nirvana. Mould’s gift for immediacy in a song never gets distracted by the buzz of the riff – and his hard-working ethic saw three albums in three years. You could argue that File Under: Easy Listening, the band’s swansong – wasn’t quite up there with Beaster and Copper Blue. But still this album has so much to offer. Originally released in 1994 here it is represented as a double disc with accompanying DVD. The original 10-track album is added to with the six B-sides, the second disc features an 18-track live concert from November, 1994, titled The Joke Is Always On Us, Sometimes and the DVD collects promo videos for Your Favourite Thing, Believe What You’re Saying and Gee Angel. There are MTV appearances too and a special pairing of Mould with Lou Barlow from the show 120 Minutes. But back to the album, perfect indie-pop that still beguiles, Panama City Motel and Can’t Help You Anymore slowed down from Husker’s fury to suggest that in an alternative (pardon the pun) universe Sugar would have been hit-makers.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

INXS ‎Shine Like It Does The Anthology 1979-1997



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From the vantage of 2001, the year Rhino released the double-disc retrospective Shine Like It Does: The Anthology (1979-1997), it's a little hard to believe that the Australian sextet really rivaled U2 for popularity in 1987/1988, when Kick worked its way to multi-platinum global success. At the time, they belonged next to the likes of U2 and R.E.M., two post-punk legends that worked their way into the mainstream because they were a quintessential college rock band of the '80s, thrillingly balancing style with substance. This, of course, means that they can still sound tied to the times, but that's leavened by their heritage as an Australian rock band -- which means no matter how stylish they got, they could still rock really, really hard. Unfortunately, at the height of their popularity, they made records that camouflaged their raw talents with synthesized bass and drums, which is what rock bands did in the late '80s. And, throughout their career, INXS did tend to favor the sounds of the time, whether it was the angular new wave of Shabooh Shoobah, the evocative Listen Like Thieves, the Stonesy funk of Kick, or the alt-rock explorations of Welcome to Wherever You Are. This can make Shine Like It Does sound a bit like a music travelogue of its time, especially because its 42 songs do have their fair share of songs that seem like filler, but what stands out when the collection is finished is how damn good INXS was when it all clicked. That could mean such new wave classics as "The One Thing," "Don't Change," or "Original Sin," the college rock staples of "Kiss the Dirt (Falling Down the Mountain)" and "Listen Like Thieves," or such mainstream breakthroughs as "What You Need," "Need You Tonight," "Devil Inside," "New Sensation," "Never Tear Us Apart," "Suicide Blonde," and "Disappear." And it didn't stop there, either, because such latter-day songs as "Heaven Sent," "Not Enough Time," "Beautiful Girl" and "Elegantly Wasted" may not have been big hits, but they did hold their own against those hits. All these are here, along with some rarities, album tracks, and quasi-rarities, such as the Jimmy Barnes duet "Good Times" from The Lost Boys soundtrack and a number of remixes and single edits, giving this a reason to spread out over two discs.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Art Of Noise Daft


Art Of Noise Daft

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The place for Art of Noise neophytes to start, Daft collects (Who's Afraid Of?) The Art of Noise! and Into Battle with the Art of Noise, along with two reworkings of "Moments in Love" from the original U.K. release of that song, to make a fantastic hour's worth of music. If anything, a single or two aside, Daft beats out the official Best Of compilation by a mile. Having aged superbly with time, AON's early works sound all the more advanced and of the moment, a testament especially to Trevor Horn's excellent production and Anne Dudley's gripping arrangements. Further entertainment comes from the liner notes, which aren't merely state-of-the-art 1984 album design but an apparently barbed attack on the further incarnation of the band from one Otto Flake. The exact seriousness of this is up to the reader. As for the "Moments in Love" versions, both are gentler and more elegant than the already lush original,

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds ‎The Best Of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds Special Edition



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Nick Cave is unquestionably an album artist. Each of his records has a specific mood and theme, standing as an individual work. That said, his albums have also been notoriously uneven. Sometimes, as on From Her to Eternity or The Boatman's Call, he has delivered near-masterpieces, while on other albums, only a handful of songs have hit the mark accurately, which is why The Best of Nick Cave is a welcome addition to his catalog. Granted, the title is a bit odd (it's better than Greatest Hits, however), but the compilation itself is as good as it could possibly be. All the major songs -- "Red Right Hand," "Straight to You," "Nobody's Baby Now," "Into My Arms," "Do You Love Me?," "Henry Lee," "Where the Wild Roses Grow," "From Her to Eternity" 
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