Saturday, 12 December 2020

Various Just In Time For Christmas



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Just in Time for Christmas" is a good example of the kind of holiday album of Christmas rock that used to hit the record stores sometime around Black Friday -- back when there were record stores, that is. Perhaps the executives and marketing personnel at the major rock-music labels got tired of watching Andy Williams et al. monopolize the Christmas-album market. Whatever the reason, the late 1980's and early 1990's saw a growing number of rock-themed Christmas CD's in which one can see some similar trends. This album, released by I.R.S. Records, reflects the alternative-rock sensibilities of the label that once counted R.E.M., the Go-Go's, the Alarm, and Concrete Blonde among its stable of acts. Like many of these albums, "Just in Time for Christmas" starts with a relatively well-established act and then proceeds to less well-known artists -- perhaps in hopes of providing said artists with greater exposure, and thereby drumming up sales. The relatively well-established act that starts things off here is Squeeze with "Christmas Day." Back in those days, Squeeze was considered definitively cool -- it was always safe to play Squeeze at a graduate-school party -- but I must confess that their work, while intellectually satisfying, never did much for me emotionally. That being said, "Christmas Day," a guitar-based song with a harp intro and good harmonies, typifies well the band's smart, hip, self-conscious approach. The Rebel Pebbles' "Cool Yule" is a fast-paced, peppy song with a definite Go-Go's vibe to it. Klark Kent (whose secret-identity name is a pseudonym for Stewart Copeland, according to Wikipedia) contributes "Yo Ho Ho"; with its low-timbre vocals (especially the words "Yo Ho Ho" in a deep, rumbling bass) and sardonic delivery, it could perhaps be retitled "Have Yourself a Portentous Little Christmas." Torch Song's "Hark" is very synthesized, with syncopated percussion and phase-shifted harmony vocals. One hears, in this song, many of the musical trends of the 1980's fading into the distance. But things pick up with the next couple of songs. Reckless Sleepers' "Every Day Will Be Like a Holiday" is a country-tinged song that seems sincere rather than ironic, with fine harmony vocals. Steve Hunter's "We Three Kings," an acoustic-guitar instrumental supported by bells, has a pleasant and contemplative quality. And the dB's, from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, bring their own country overtones to "Home for the Holidays," offering a fresh take on the familiar theme of family members missing each other when they can't be together at the holidays. With the vocalist's high thin tenor, effective use of lap steel guitar, and violin coming in on the chorus, this song is a highlight of the album.

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

Various The Edge Of Christmas



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There's nothing dangerous about The Edge of Christmas, rather it's a collection of contemporary Christmas songs suitable for play at even the most conservative family gathering-save for one punky number by the Ramones. Bookended by Queen's gorgeous anthem, "Thank God It's Christmas" and the Waitresses' new wave rap, "Christmas Wrapping," the compilation takes a while to get going, but halfway thorough things loosen up-not unlike an office Christmas party. The Pretenders' "2000 Miles" and the Pogues' "Fairytale of New York" were classy inclusions. Kate Bush's "December Will Be Magic Again" and the Cocteau Twins' "Winter Wonderland" are rarities now made available again. Dave Edmund's "Run Run Rudolph," a classic rockabilly romp, and the Ramones' "Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight )" are modern day standards. As holiday rock records go, it doesn't get much more-traditional than this.

Saturday, 5 December 2020

The Jam ‎The Sound Of The Jam



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 If you already own the long out of print Greatest Hits set, then there's no real reason to invest in Sound of the Jam, which, predictably, repeats the majority of that program. However, for latecomers this provides an excellent overview of the output of one of Britain's most distinctive and influential new wave bands. The album's 20 tracks proceed in chronological order, documenting the Jam's progression from sharp, aggressive mod-influenced rock ("Modern World," "In the City") to explicitly Motown-influenced post-punk R&B ("Town Called Malice"), with frequent forays into surreal balladeering ("Butterfly Collector") and ambiguous love songs ("English Rose"). The band's sociopolitical stance is not always comprehensible, especially to American ears (and particularly to American ears born somewhere around the time these songs were written), but it clearly has something to do with populist politics, open-hearted romance, and some kind of gentle socialism. That such sentiments could translate into reliably tight, beautifully constructed guitar pop with a serrated edge is a testament both to frontman Paul Weller and his fellow bandmembers. Weller would later go on to make records of an increasingly unpredictable and inconsistent nature with the Style Council, but as Sound of the Jam makes clear, his first band got the best of his prodigious early talent. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, 2 December 2020

The Style Council Our Favourite Shop


The Style Council Our Favourite Shop 

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Following the break-up of The Jam in 1982 and The Gift, Weller endeavoured to write what he would coin as 'more soulful' music. In that musical journey, he'd form The Style Council and take himself in a completely new musical direction. Loud guitar solos would be replaced by refined brass sections, whilst the gruff voice of Foxton would be replaced by a myriad of backing singers. Homebreakers, the album's opener, provides with the perfect vibe that sets the rest of the record. It's five minutes of pure brilliance, featuring a defined soul in overall sound, substantiated by both the horn sections and Mick Talbot on Hammond Organ that provide a great backing to Weller's deep vocal. Come To Milton Keynes also features the Hammond Organ during his introduction, but is a much more upbeat and lighter tune when compared to the likes of Homebreakers. It opts for both strings and horns, as well as a steady drum beat, courtesy of Steve White. Despite its happy tune, Come To Milton Keynes is more overtly political than anything The Jam ever produced - like The Jam's A Town Called Malice, it's a deliberate attack on the idea of 'Middle England' and the Thatcherite principles present in the eighties. Internationalists is particularly funky, featuring a rocksteady drum beat in part, and this up-tempo guitar riff that's a little reminiscent of Huey Lewis & The News' I Want A New Drug, as is the lyrical structure. It's undoubtedly one of the record's best offerings, making for compulsive foot-tapping at the very least. On the contrary, A Stone's Throw Away is very much like Weller's own Eleanor Rigby - there's an overpowering string backing that, when coupled with Weller's solemn vocal, changes the vibe and pace of the album completely. It becomes a little more refined and takes a step back from the faster start. The Stand Up Comic's Instructions fusing a Hammond Organ and a spoken word poem that's actually vocalled by Lenny Henry. Interestingly, looking back at this from the perspective of modern-day observational humour, Henry's words evoke a sense of the old seventies comedians, pioneered by the likes of Bernard Manning. It makes you curl up a little with lines like "Tell 'em the one about the friggin' queer/Do the one that always works,/'Bout the lazy blacks that don't like work." and "Do that one that never fails/'Bout the gang of white thugs and the Asian male,/And once you got 'em, they'll be with you!" It's fascinating how humour has changed so much in the past forty years. The Lodgers is one of the other majorly political songs on Our Favourite Shop, featuring a duet from both Weller and then wife Dee C. Lee, who had, quite famously, previously worked with Wham!. It's a great song with four minutes of satire in part, combined with a Nile Rodgers-esque riff backing it and a thumping bassline. Walls Come Tumbling Down! takes us back to Homebreakers by way of overall sound, but instead fusing it with a vocal that could be best suited to a track like The Eton Rifles on the verse. It's one of the tightest and most complete songs on the album and goes down as one of my favourites. On some editions of the album, you'd have Shout To The Top! added as a bonus and since it's on the version we've got, it seems wrong not to discuss one of The Style Council's catchiest songs. In reality, it's that performance on Top Of The Pops that got me into The Style Council, obviously many years later than its original broadcast. Personally speaking, Shout To The Top! is their best effort, fusing a jazzy bassline with great drumming patterns, a recurring piano sound to die for and one of Weller's best vocals in his career. If you're on the search for something with a mixture of fast-paced funk and slowed-down soul, then Our Favourite Shop ticks all the right boxes. Arguably, this is better than any of his works with The Jam and I'd go along with that. As much as I love the likes of In The City and Sound Affects, if I'm honest, Weller's work with The Style Council just has a little more substance and swagger. It's pretty much perfect.

Saturday, 28 November 2020

Nik Kershaw The Riddle


Nik Kershaw The Riddle

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The 1980’s remain a seminal period in the development of music. Sonic styles and trends came, and, much like the barbarian tribes that ran amok in the Dark Ages, abruptly ended, or were supplanted by something else entirely. The rise of the synth as the instrument of choice, and the cultural resonance and obsession with commercialized pop music led to an entirely new era in the worldwide music industry. Some musicians grew to become icons, destined to be hailed for decades to come, while others simply achieved one or a few (the lucky ones, that is) charting hits, then sputtered out, never to rise again.This is the world in which Nicholas David Kershaw, better known as Nik Kershaw, was born and bred. It’s easy to look at just the musical achievements of the time, and candid shots from classic 80’s films and conclude (falsely) that entry costs and earnings were, respectively, low and plentiful. On the contrary, the 80’s were one of the most dangerous times for career musicians, as sonic trends were so mercurial, and subject to change. This didn’t stop Kershaw, however, and the little lad from Ipswich landed a charting hit with Wouldn’t It Be Good in 1984, which he followed up with his debut album, Human Racing.Then, in late 1984, Nik Kershaw released what would become one of his (if not THE) most beloved albums, The Riddle. The album itself has a good weight to it, ranging in at 10 tracks, however, it seems to lack a center of gravity. The opener, Don Quixote, is an 80’s pop fanfare of the highest order, combining basic synth rhythms with artificial orchestra hits, and a Latin-esque counter melody. It hits intensely, and is highly infectious.The title track is also impressive as well: the flute-like synth melodies and general marching percussion rhythm work wonders, and The Riddle feels not only catchy, but also takes on it’s own inertia,The reissue includes several of Kershaw’s live performances, and a few extra tracks, of both original material, and reworkings of tracks from The Riddle

Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Howard Jones Human's Lib


Howard Jones Human's Lib

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Human's Lib is an unintentionally revealing title for Howard Jones' debut album. What first seems like a play on words reveals itself as something of an empowering manifesto, a shift that mirrors his music. Upon first glance, Human's Lib appears to be state-of-the-art synth pop circa 1984: a record where every element outside of the human voices appears to be electronic. While that may well be true, Jones isn't a futurist the way such peers as Depeche Mode or Eurythmics are. At his core, Jones is a reconstituted free spirit, preaching the power of positive thinking and advocating universal love. His dedication to synthesizers does camouflage Jones' innate hippie, which gives the album an appealing dichotomy: underneath his electronics and stylish haircut, he's singing about subjects better suited to acoustic guitars and tie-dyed T-shirts. Still, Human's Lib benefits from Jones' complete immersion in synths, giving the album a glimmering sheen that remains emblematic of the dawn of MTV. In particular, "New Song" is quintessential post-New Wave synth pop, all percolating blips and analog washes held together by a massive melodic hook. Throughout Human's Lib, Jones usually relies on texture, a move that makes the album an ingratiating artifact, but there are moments where his songcraft surfaces. Usually those are on singles, such as "Pearl in the Shell," which flattens a Tamla/Motown beat for the music video era. But it's the searching "What Is Love?" -- the album's biggest hit everywhere outside of the U.S. -- that points the way toward Jones future: it's a big, soaring ballad that hints at the adult contemporary he'd later embrace.

Saturday, 21 November 2020

The Creatures A Bestiary Of...The Creatures


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The early Creatures material had fallen out of print in most locations for quite a while before Bestiary made its long overdue appearance. Only Feast had made a regular appearance in certain record stores thanks to Japanese pressings; Bestiary topped that by including the contents of the Wild Things and Right Now EPs as well as "Hot Springs in the Snow," the B-side from "Miss the Girl." The result collects everything originally put out in the first phase of the Creatures' existence, making for a convenient and very well remastered collection. No previously unreleased tracks or unexpected bonuses are included, but that's quibbling in comparison to finally having all the cuts available again. Full lyrics are included, as well as recording details, a brief series of informative liner notes, and even release dates and U.K. chart positions. Another bonus is the inclusion of all the original sleeve art for the various releases, including the notorious wet T-shirt in the shower shots for Wild Things (an alternate image from that session is the cover for the collection as a whole). The lovely cover for Feast, featuring Sioux wearing a striking native Hawaiian costume, appears in such a way that one can refold the booklet to make it the front cover, a nice option.

Wednesday, 18 November 2020

Siouxsie And The Banshees Peepshow


Siouxsie And The Banshees Peepshow

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The switch to Yet Another Banshees Guitarist in Specimen vet Jon Klein might have been seen as a cue for a time of tentative rebuilding -- the more so because another new member, cellist Martin McCarrick, was recruited at the same time. Anything but -- heralded by the spectacular "Peek-A-Boo," interpolating what sounded like the Charleston into hip-hop rhythms with a brilliant, choppy arrangement, Peepshow proved the band's best album in years. Once again showcasing the band's ace in the hole -- the ability to always provide an accomplished variety of sound and approach while still recognizably maintaining a uniquely Banshees style -- Peepshow is the sound of a band reenergized. Siouxsie's thrilling call and response with herself on "Peek-A-Boo" really can't be beat, but her star turns throughout the album all deserve notice, especially with the bravura one-two conclusion of the stately "The Last Beat of My Heart" and the dramatic, lives-up-to-the-title "Rhapsody." McCarrick's cello work is excellently integrated into the music, adding a purring extra bite on songs like the pummeling "The Killing Jar," while both Steven Severin and Budgie acquit themselves well as always. If their moments of total flash are subsumed for the overall arrangements, it's to the benefit of the songs, overseen with another fine production job from semi-regular Banshees studio cohort Mike Hedges. The band's knack for a combination of title, lyric, and atmosphere remains strong -- "Carousel" sounds indeed like a slightly demented version of such a thing, while "Rawhead and Bloodybones," appropriately for two English bogeyman characters, is quiet, creepy, and very much sneaking-up-on-you-in-the-night. "Scarecrow" is a secret highlight, ominous guitar and bass tones and swirling arrangements supporting a great Siouxsie turn, while the hints of flamenco on "Turn to Stone" perhaps inadvertently suggest where the Creatures would end up with their next album two years later.
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