Saturday, 13 October 2018

Various Millions Like Us The Story Of The Mod Revival 1977-1989



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Spread out over four discs and lovingly packaged, Cherry Red's Millions Like Us tells the tale of the mod revival, one of the most insular and focused music scenes to ever come out of the U.K. Inspired by the success of the Jam, who played with all the pent-up energy of the Who and sported the dress sense of the nattiest '60s mods, and the release of the film Quadrophenia, England exploded with bands eager to follow in the Jam's wake, and Millions collects up most, if not all, of them. From the most obscure corners of the scene to the bands who almost made it (the Lambrettas, Secret Affair, the Chords, Squire -- each of whom get two songs), there are tons of groups made up of young lads in stylish gear looking to express their frustrations, celebrate their small freedoms, bash out ringing chords, and impress the young modettes in the crowd. For the most part, the bands involved play with enough energy and fire to obscure their obvious debt to the past, and the Jam, and the collection is filled with tons of great songs. Split between rave-ups about scooters, bank holidays, and girls, and empowering mini-epics about the "kids" and the scene, there's a positivity to the music that must have provided a nice alternative for people who wanted loud and aggressive music, but also wanted to hear good melodies and look smart. To that end, a great deal of the songs here share a lot with the power pop scene that was operating in the U.S. at the same time. Check out Secret Affair's "My World," which sounds like it could have been on a Raspberries album. There's also a strong R&B thread running through the scene, mostly in a good Northern soul/Motown-inspired way, sometimes in a corny, overly reverent way (like the Q-Tips' tepid cover of "S.Y.S.L.J.F.M [The Letter Song]"). The set takes a few interesting detours here and there, gathering up some music on the fringes of the scene like L.A. band the Untouchables' "Free Yourself," the twee pop psych of Direct Hits' lovely "Modesty Blaise," the modern girl group snap of Dee Walker's "Snap Back," and the bubblegummy pop of the JetSet's "Wednesday Girl." These diversions show how far the mod revival's reach extended, and it keeps the set from being merely four hours of bands who wanted to be the Jam's little brothers. The fourth disc shows that this urge was very strong and long-lasting, since even by 1989 there were still bands in deep thrall to the classic mod sound, though peppered by psychedelic leanings (the Leepers' "Paint a Day") and early acid jazz (the James Taylor Quartet) too. Like most box sets, Millions Like Us isn't perfect and goes on a little too long, but overall it's a fun, exhaustive, and inspired look back at a vibrant scene that tends to be overlooked, but really shouldn't be.

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

The Jam Direction Reaction Creation





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Direction Reaction Creation is the ultimate Jam package, offering 117 tracks over five discs -- essentially the band's complete studio recordings. With a strict adherence to chronological order, the box presents each single followed by its B-side(s) (six of which appear on CD for the first time, including the brilliant "See Saw"), followed by the proper album tracks -- oddly, though, the album versions of the singles are chosen in most places. Unfortunately, this approach sometimes disrupts the flow of the albums, especially in the case of All Mod Cons, which loses three tracks to the treatment, and Setting Sons, which loses "Eton Rifles" to a separate disc. This is a small point for purists to debate -- the difference is really unnoticeable in light of the truly great music found on the discs. In addition to the regular studio tracks, disc five offers over an hour of studio demos -- 22 previously unreleased tracks of considerably different takes of better-known material, a few never-before-heard Weller and Foxton originals, and some interesting covers like "Rain," "Dead End Street," and "Every Little Bit Hurts." A lavish 88-page booklet accompanies the set with great liner notes, an extensive band chronology and discography, and the band's complete gig list, along with plenty of rare photos and memorabilia. The Jam, simply put, were one the finest bands in rock & roll history, and Direction Reaction Creation offers the proof, showing both their remarkably rapid growth and their incredible consistency

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Paul Weller Hit Parade


Paul Weller Hit Parade

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Teenage rock & rollers often don't last. Certainly, they rarely keep performing into middle age, but Paul Weller has never been ordinary. From the outset, Weller was different -- too tense, too difficult to fit into the crowd even when he was the most popular musician in Britain, as he was when he led the Jam at the turn of the '80s. That ornery side gave his music an edge and also gave it a riveting humanity that earned him a passionate, devoted audience who stuck with him through a roller coaster of ups and downs in his career, from his abrupt disbandment of the Jam to form the slick, soulful Style Council to his comeback as the trad-rocking Modfather in the '90s. It's one of the great careers of the post-punk era, and the four-disc 2006 box set Hit Parade is the first attempt to tell it in its entirety, from the bright, brilliant early years of the Jam to his role as an elder statesman in the new millennium. Given the great wealth of music that Weller made during these three decades, the compilers picked the simplest and best solution to whittling down his rich, complicated career to the basics: they picked the A-sides of all of his British singles. This means that there are great songs left behind -- whether it's the Jam B-side "Tales from the Riverbank" or the soulful "Can You Heal Us (Holy Man)" from Wild Wood -- but that's the nature of hits compilations: great songs get left behind. What's impressive with Hit Parade is not what's absent but what's present, which is not only enough to make a case for Weller's strengths as a songwriter and restless rocker, but which helps explain the transitions in his career in a way that may be revelatory even for longtime fans. For instance, in this context the stylized café-soul of the Style Council seems like a natural outgrowth of the high-octane Motown-pop of the last Jam singles, and while it's hard to argue that the Style Council didn't drift in its latter years, it's easier to hear how revitalized Weller was as a solo artist when "Into Tomorrow" follows the fallow final gasps of the Council. Then again, by trimming his career down to the singles, the weak patches in his career aren't as evident: even when Weller's albums were patchy, the singles were often strong, and when they're taken together they aren't just an enjoyable, exciting listen, they tell one of the greatest stories in rock history, one that provides revelations even to those who have been with him since the beginning. And that's what makes Hit Parade a truly great box set.

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

The Style Council The Complete Adventures Of The Style Council



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Given the blockbuster success of the Jam's exhaustive box set Direction Reaction Creation, perhaps it was inevitable that Polydor would give the Style Council a similar treatment, but the 1998 release of the five-disc box set The Complete Adventures of the Style Council was still a bit of surprise -- there never was much interest in their catalog following their 1990 disbandment. Fortunately, Polydor took a chance and assembled The Complete Adventures, a lavish box set containing all of the group's singles and albums, minus the live Home & Abroad but including the notorious unreleased 1989 record A Decade of Modernism, which the label allegedly rejected because it found Weller turning toward house music. As it turns out, A Decade of Modernism wasn't that far afield from what the Style Council was exploring from their inception, as the chronological running order of the set makes clear. The sequencing is a blessed occurrence, since it's easy to trace their development over the years. Instead of an aberration, the Style Council seems like a natural extension of the Jam's final record, The Gift, and every one of their subsequent records makes more sense than before. That doesn't mean the music is always compelling. No matter how interesting some of Weller's ideas were, they didn't always work, and he wrote way too many pompous, directionless songs to have The Complete Adventures rank with Direction Reaction Creation. (There are also too many Mick Talbot instrumentals, but that's another story.) For most listeners, including some serious Weller fans, the Style Council is best appreciated as a singles band, but for the dedicated, The Complete Adventures reveals that the Style Council, no matter how maddening they could be, were a group that continually reinvented themselves, occasionally making some remarkable music along the way

Saturday, 29 September 2018

Daft Punk Musique Vol. 1 1993-2005



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Daft Punk titled their hits compilation with an indicator (Vol. 1) that more would be forthcoming, and it's easy to believe that in a dozen years, another dozen singles could be collected with no drop in quality. Unlike their contemporaries coming of age during the rise of electronica, Messrs. Bangalter and de Homem-Christo structured their tracks with drop-dead hooks, peerless beats that were perfect for the dancefloor or the living room, and an innovative production sense. Although Musique, Vol. 1: 1993-2005 won't be necessary for longtime fans, it boasts a few inclusions that should lure in even those who have each of the first three albums. The first reason is its opener, "Musique," actually a B-side (of debut single "Da Funk") whose basement sonics and filter-disco vocal treatment made it the best side of Daft Punk's best single. The second excellent tactic is including three of Daft Punk's greatest remixes, including the electro-shocked "Mothership Reconnection" (originally by Scott Grooves) and "Chord Memory" (originally by Ian Pooley). During their first dozen years, virtually all of Daft Punk's best productions were singles (the only exception being "Face to Face" from Discovery), and Musique is the best example why the duo was tops in electronica from the late '90s to the turn of the millennium.

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Placebo Without You I'm Nothing



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While Placebo's self-titled debut contained mostly elements of '90s alternative (Smashing Pumpkins, etc.), their second album, Without You I'm Nothing, is full of '70s glam rock and punk references. Placebo's rhythm section of Stefan Olsdal (bass) and Steve Hewitt (drums) is impressively tight, but the band's star attraction is undoubtedly androgynous singer/guitarist Brian Molko. Whereas the debut was written solely by Molko, their latest is a bona fide group effort, with Molko still handling the lyric-writing. The swirling anthemic album opener, "Pure Morning," is a self-proclaimed "celebration of friendship with women," and should be a guaranteed hit single, while the racing "Brick Shithouse" merges '90s electro-rock with Sonic Youth punk guitars. "You Don't Care About Us" shows that Molko can easily re-create J Mascis' late-'80s guitar tones, and "Scared of Girls" contains gender-bending vocals from Molko and a tribal-rock accompaniment.

Saturday, 22 September 2018

Slowdive Souvlaki


Slowdive Souvlaki 

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Though not as big and swirling as Just for a Day, there's more of an attempt to put advanced song structure and melody in place rather than just craft infinitely appealing, occasionally thunderous mood music. Everything is simplified, as if Brian Eno's presence on two songs -- he contributes keyboards and treatments and co-wrote one tune after turning down the band's invitation to produce -- hammered home the better aspects of "ambient" music. This is no Music for Airports though. On the opening "Alison," the largely uplifting "When the Sun Hits," and the darkly blissful "Machine Gun," Slowdive are still capable of mouth-opening, spine-tingling flourishes. They've found a way to be quiet, moving, and aggressive simultaneously, mixing trance-like beauty with the deepest delayed guitar sounds around, a sound at once relaxing, soothing, and exciting, and most of all harshly beautiful. [SBK released Souvlaki in the U.S. a full eight months after its English release on Creation, with three-quarters of the 5 EP tacked on the end, plus one unreleased track, a memorable, spacy run through Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood's "Some Velvet Morning."]

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Cocteau Twins ‎Stars And Topsoil A Collection (1982-1990)



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Stars and Topsoil collects some of the Cocteau Twins' better-known 4AD material, which ends at 1990, before their departure to Fontana in the U.K. and Capitol in the U.S. Outside of college radio support and some late-night MTV rotation, the Cocteaus were basically invisible and unheard of in the U.S.; in the U.K., they were a higher profile act, but they still remained more of a cult band with a rabid following. As a barometer for the unfamiliar more than anything else, the compilation will either lead to the purchase of the group's entire catalog or nothing more, because those who are familiar tend to fall into two distinct camps: There are those who find the group to be from the gods, and there are those who are in firm belief that they were birthed from the stinking pit of the precious art-fluff well. Though the Cocteaus never really repeated themselves, they held a set of characteristics throughout their discography that made them extremely unique -- characteristics that launched a legion of imitators. While the selection here is fairly representative, there still isn't a definitive first place to go with the Cocteaus. An era spanning seven LPs of studio material and nine singles is a good load to pick from, and this particular track listing is just one of hundreds a fan could come up with. The disc is just as quality as most other Cocteaus releases
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