Wednesday, 12 December 2018

The Orb Orblivion Remastered



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If the Orb's 1995 release Orbus Terrarum was an extended meditation on the earthbound, the band's follow-up in Orblivion rises from the muck of primordial ectoplasm for a guided tour of late 20th century Western culture's more paranoid face. From the Cold War (the album kicks off with Joseph McCarthy's intoning of the immortal invective "Are you now, or have you ever been...") to the pre-millennial ranting of David Thewlis' warped, apocalyptic monologue from Mike Leigh's Naked ("The bar code! The ubiquitous bar code!"), Orblivion does for post-industrial, turn of the century mania what earlier albums such as The Orb's Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld and U.F.Orb did for aliens and flying saucers. Like the previous record -- an effusive mix of sprawling environmental textures, clanging, treated percussion, and humorous, trainspottery samples -- Orblivion brings with it another adjustment in mood, combining elements of downbeat, electro, and drum'n'bass with dense, soupy amalgams of treated electronics and shimmering rhythms. Orblivion also evidences a renewed interest in the more immediately engaging, upbeat pop of "Perpetual Dawn"- and "Little Fluffy Clouds"-era Orb, with a deeper, more embellished sound marked, in all likelihood, by the first full-time contributions from former engineer Andy Hughes (who replaced Kris Weston after the latter's departure in 1994). Dub is still the organizing principle of the Orb's music, however, and whatever one's opinion of the actual album (reactions are likely to range from "genius" to "aimless") the production is undeniably amazing. [Island's 2008 U.K. edition included a nine-track bonus disc of remixes.]

Saturday, 8 December 2018

The Prodigy More Music For The Jilted Generation Remastered



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The Prodigy's response to the sweeping legislation and crackdown on raves contained in 1994's Criminal Justice Bill is an effective statement of intent. Pure sonic terrorism, Music for the Jilted Generation employs the same rave energy that charged their debut, Experience, up the charts in Britain, but yokes it to a cause other than massive drug intake. Compared to their previous work, the sound is grubbier and less reliant on samples; the effect moved the Prodigy away from the American-influenced rave and acid house of the past and toward a uniquely British vision of breakbeat techno that was increasingly allied to the limey invention of drum'n'bass. As on Experience, there are so many great songs here that first-time listeners would be forgiven for thinking of a greatest-hits compilation instead of a proper studio album. After a short intro, the shattering of panes of glass on "Break & Enter" catapults the album ahead with a propulsive flair. Each of the four singles -- "Voodoo People," "Poison," "No Good (Start the Dance)," and "One Love" -- are excellent, though album tracks like "Speedway" and "Their Law" (with help from Pop Will Eat Itself) don't slip up either. If Experience seemed like an excellent fluke, Music for the Jilted Generation is the album that announced the Prodigy were on the charts to stay.

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Leftfield Leftism


Leftfield Leftism

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Leftfield were part of a select group of early ’90s dance acts, along with Underworld, Chemical Brothers, The Prodigy and Orbital, who showed that dance music could compete with their guitar-obsessed contemporaries, not least when it came to live performance. Ditching the previously acceptable PA route, Leftfield soon became known for their punishing live performances, accomplished drummer Neil Barnes driving the set from behind a drum kit, where the incredible volume rivalled anything a rock band could muster. At one gig they unseated some of Brixton Academy’s plasterwork, earning them, or rather their sound system, a ban from the venue. Clues to Leftfield’s potential had been dropping since the beginning of the ’90s with releases ‘Release The Pressure’, ‘Song Of Life’ and ‘Open Up’ all enjoying critical and chart success. Each of the tracks appear on ‘Leftism’, giving fans a solid roadmap when first sitting down to tune into the album as a whole. Although the practise of including singles on the subsequent album comes in for some criticism, they sit perfectly here and hint at a long term plan for the album. One concession to ‘proper’ album status is the role call of guest vocalists, supplying proceedings a diverse character. Remember that this is from an act whose music press coverage of the time usually mentioned ‘faceless techno’ in there somewhere. As well as friends and peers Earl Sixteen, on album opener ‘Release The Pressure’, Lemn Sissay, on ‘21st Century Poem’, and Danny Red on ‘Inspection (Check One)’, star quality was provided by Toni Halliday of electro goths Curve (ask yer dad) and, of course, John Lydon on ‘Open Up’. Of course, to the uninitiated the most notable guest appearance on ‘Leftism’ is Lydon’s - formerly Johnny Rotten of The Sex Pistols, latterly Country Life butter salesman, and avowed dance music hater. That was until Leftfield were revealed to be the chink in his armour, wherein the duo met the punk legend and, thankfully, got on famously, bringing Lydon up to speed on quality dance music and initiating sessions for the “Burn Hollywood burn” rant of ‘Open Up’ (which amusingly reached number thirteen on the UK Singles chart just as Hollywood suffered extensive bush fires). Expertly showcasing the duo’s oeuvre, laughably termed ‘progressive house’ at the time, it opened with the dub influenced ‘Release The Pressure’ and tribal house of ‘Afro-Left’ before taking things down a notch with the sublime chill out classics ‘Melt’ and the first half of ‘Song Of Life’. Things move up a gear through ‘Song Of Life’, taking in Toni Halliday’s sultry appearance on ‘Original’, into the solid middle section’s beat-heavy selections, ‘Black Flute’ and ‘Space Shanty’. Setting up the second half of the album, ‘Inspection (Check One)’ moves once again into dubbier territory, ‘Storm 3000’ keeps it bass heavy, adding some jungle rhythms before Lydon lets loose on the visceral, furious ‘Open Up’. Closing out with the dark, reflective ‘21st Century Poem’, it’s an expertly paced album, clearly understanding the dynamics of the album form, though the pair claim scant attention was paid to such notions.

Saturday, 1 December 2018

Blur Parklife Special Edition



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Modern Life Is Rubbish established Blur as the heir to the archly British pop of the Kinks, the Small Faces, and the Jam, but its follow-up, Parklife, revealed the depth of that transformation. Relying more heavily on Ray Davies' seriocomic social commentary, as well as new wave, Parklife runs through the entire history of post-British Invasion Brit-pop in the course of 16 songs, touching on psychedelia, synth pop, disco, punk, and music hall along the way. Damon Albarn intended these songs to form a sketch of British life in the mid-'90s, and it's startling how close he came to his goal; not only did the bouncy, disco-fied "Girls & Boys" and singalong chant "Parklife" become anthems in the U.K., but they inaugurated a new era of Brit-pop and lad culture, where British youth celebrated their country and traditions. The legions of jangly, melodic bands that followed in the wake of Parklife revealed how much more complex Blur's vision was. Not only was their music precisely detailed -- sound effects and brilliant guitar lines pop up all over the record -- but the melodies elegantly interwove with the chords, as in the graceful, heartbreaking "Badhead." Surprisingly, Albarn, for all of his cold, dispassionate wit, demonstrates compassion that gives these songs three dimensions, as on the pathos-laden "End of a Century," the melancholy Walker Brothers tribute "To the End," and the swirling, epic closer, "This Is a Low." For all of its celebration of tradition, Parklife is a thoroughly modern record in that it bends genres and is self-referential (the mod anthem of the title track is voiced by none other than Phil Daniels, the star of Quadrophenia). And, by tying the past and the present together, Blur articulated the mid-'90s Zeitgeist and produced an epoch-defining record. [EMI's deluxe 2012 double-disc expansion of Parklife contains the 1994 album on the first disc and a host of B-sides and rarities on the second. Parklife is where Blur hit their stride and this is evident even throughout the B-sides collected here. Sure, there are songs that are proud throwaways -- Graham Coxon's spiteful, boozy pisstake "Red Necks" and Alex James' tweaked twee "Alex's Song" -- but there are also moments of shivering beauty, as in the Ziggy Stardust homage "Peter Panic," the gleefully nasty disco "People in Europe," and the barbed pop of "Threadneedle Street." To these B-sides acoustic versions of "Jubilee" (a song that does not easily lend itself to such an arrangement), "Parklife," and "End of a Century" are added, rounding out a generous and entertaining bonus disc.]

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Peter Gabriel So 25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition



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Gabriel had enough success with Security to allow him to take his time in making his fifth studio album, So. During this extended time off, he continued to embrace lighter, humorous music and MTV completed its ascendance to dominate pop culture. "Shock the Monkey" had been a favorite during the early days of the music-video network, so they were prepared to embrace a new record from him -- and he seized the opportunity by developing a brilliant, kaleidoscopic video for "Sledgehammer," an Otis Redding-inspired soul-pop raver that was easily his catchiest, happiest single to date. Needless to say, it was also his most accessible, and, in that sense it was a good introduction to So, the catchiest, happiest record he ever cut. "Sledgehammer" propelled the record toward blockbuster status, and Gabriel had written enough songs with single potential to keep it there. There was "Big Time," another colorful dance number; "Don't Give Up," a moving duet with Kate Bush; "Red Rain," a stately anthem popular on album rock radio; and "In Your Eyes," Gabriel's greatest love song which achieved genuine classic status after being featured in Cameron Crowe's classic, Say Anything. These all illustrated the strengths of the album: Gabriel's increased melodicism and ability to blend soul, African music, and jangly pop into his moody art rock. Apart from these singles, plus the urgent "That Voice Again," the rest of the record is as quiet as the album tracks of Security. The difference is, the singles on that record were part of the overall fabric; here, the singles are the fabric, which can make the album seem top-heavy (a fault of many blockbuster albums, particularly those of the mid-'80s). Even so, those songs are so strong, finding Gabriel in a newfound confidence and accessibility, that it's hard not to be won over by them, even if overall So doesn't develop the unity of its two predecessors. So is unquestionably Peter Gabriel's high-water mark commercially and creatively, it's one of his greatest albums, as well. All this makes it an ideal candidate for a super deluxe set, which the album received in 2012. Like many deluxe sets this comes in two different incarnations, the splashiest one being the Immersion box set containing a wealth of material: there is a remastered So; there is the concert film Live from Athens 1987 concert, presented both as a DVD and as a double-CD; a DVD of the Classic Albums documentary series focusing on So; a vinyl version of the album; a 12" single with two previously unreleased tracks ("Courage," "Sagrada") and an alternate version of "Don't Give Up;" finally, there's an extra CD of So DNA, containing evolutionary edits of each song on the album. Of these extras, by far the most interesting is So DNA. While the live concert -- which is the bonus feature on the far cheaper standard deluxe triple-disc edition -- is quite good, So DNA illustrates Gabriel's creative process in a way no other album has. Each cut begins as an amorphous set of instrumentals and vocals, then slowly the song takes shape. This procedure tends to be more interesting on the livelier numbers like "Sledgehammer" and "Big Time," whose origins are much further away from the finished product than, say, the always eerie "Red Rain," but each of the cuts are quite compelling and surely worth the time of any Gabriel diehard. Whether it's worth the considerable chunk of cash just to hear this disc is another matter, but the rest of the Immersion Box is indeed gorgeous -- a handsomely produced, well-annotated, deep excavation into So -- so anybody with the inclination and budget to purchase the super-deluxe set will likely not be disappointed.

Saturday, 24 November 2018

Kate Bush Hounds Of Love


Kate Bush Hounds Of Love

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Kate Bush's strongest album also marked her breakthrough into the American charts, and yielded a set of dazzling videos as well as an enviable body of hits, spearheaded by "Running Up That Hill," her biggest single since "Wuthering Heights." Strangely enough, Hounds of Love was no less complicated in its structure, imagery, and extra-musical references (even lifting a line of dialogue from Jacques Tourneur's Curse of the Demon for the intro of the title song) than The Dreaming, which had been roundly criticized for being too ambitious and complex. But Hounds of Love was more carefully crafted as a pop record, and it abounded in memorable melodies and arrangements, the latter reflecting idioms ranging from orchestrated progressive pop to high-wattage traditional folk; and at the center of it all was Bush in the best album-length vocal performance of her career, extending her range and also drawing expressiveness from deep inside of herself, so much so that one almost feels as though he's eavesdropping at moments during "Running Up That Hill." Hounds of Love is actually a two-part album (the two sides of the original LP release being the now-lost natural dividing line), consisting of the suites "Hounds of Love" and "The Ninth Wave." The former is steeped in lyrical and sonic sensuality that tends to wash over the listener, while the latter is about the experiences of birth and rebirth. If this sounds like heady stuff, it could be, but Bush never lets the material get too far from its pop trappings and purpose. In some respects, this was also Bush's first fully realized album, done completely on her own terms, made entirely at her own 48-track home studio, to her schedule and preferences, and delivered whole to EMI as a finished work; that history is important, helping to explain the sheer presence of the album's most striking element -- the spirit of experimentation at every turn, in the little details of the sound. That vastly divergent grasp, from the minutiae of each song to the broad sweeping arc of the two suites, all heavily ornamented with layered instrumentation, makes this record wonderfully overpowering as a piece of pop music. Indeed, this reviewer hadn't had so much fun and such a challenge listening to a new album from the U.K. since Abbey Road, and it's pretty plain that Bush listened to (and learned from) a lot of the Beatles' output in her youth. Incidentally, those seeking to hear the full, exquisite sonic range of Hounds of Love (or any of Bush's pre-1990s albums, for that matter) should ignore the U.S.-made EMI America CDs and go for any of the British CD editions, either individually or in the This Woman's Work set; or, better still on Hounds of Love, the boxed edition with bonus tracks released in conjunction with EMI's 100th anniversary in 1997.

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Adam And The Ants Kings Of The Wild Frontier Remastered



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Hooking up with Malcolm McLaren was a pivotal moment for Adam Ant, since the manager not only introduced Ant to the thundering, infectious Burundi drum beat that became his signature, he stole his band, too. Adam and the rest of the Ants had just worked up how to exploit the Burundi style when McLaren pirated the boys off to support Annabella Lwin in Bow Wow Wow -- using the very same sound they had developed with Adam Ant. It was now a race to get that sound into the stores first, and Adam lucked out when he joined forces with guitarist Marco Pirroni, who quickly proved to be invaluable. Ant and Pirroni knocked out a bunch of songs that retained some of the dark artiness of Dirk Wears White Sox, largely anchored by those enormous Burundi beats and given great, irresistible pop hooks -- plus a flash sense of style, as the new Ants dressed up in something that looked like American Indians with a velveteen touch of a dandy fop. It was a brilliant, gonzo move -- something that quickly overshadowed Bow Wow Wow -- and the resulting record, Kings of the Wild Frontier, is one of the great defining albums of its time. There's simply nothing else like it, nothing else that has the same bravado, the same swagger, the same gleeful self-aggrandizement and sense of camp. This walked a brilliant line between campiness and art-house chutzpah, and it arrived at precisely the right time -- at the forefront of new wave, so Adam & the Ants exploded into the British popular consciousness. If image was all that they had, they would've remained a fad, but Kings of the Wild Frontier remains a terrific album because it not only has some tremendous songs -- the title track and "Antmusic" are classic hits, while "Killer in the Home" and "Physical (You're So)" are every bit their equal -- but because it fearlessly, imperceptibly switches gears between giddy and ominous, providing nothing short of a thrill ride in its 13 songs. That's why it still sounds like nothing else years after its release

Saturday, 17 November 2018

The Human League Dare! + Fascination!


The Human League Dare! + Fascination!

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Dare! captures a moment in time perfectly -- the moment post-punk's robotic fascination with synthesizers met a clinical Bowie-esque infatuation with fashion and modern art, including pop culture, plus a healthy love of songcraft. The Human League had shown much of this on their early singles, such as "Empire State Human," but on Dare! they simply gelled, as their style was supported by music and songs with emotional substance. That doesn't mean that the album isn't arty, since it certainly is, but that's part of its power -- the self-conscious detachment enhances the postmodern sense of emotional isolation, obsession with form over content, and love of modernity for its own sake. That's why Dare! struck a chord with listeners who didn't like synth pop or the new romantics in 1981, and why it still sounds startlingly original decades after its original release -- the technology may have dated, synths and drum machines may have become more advanced, but few have manipulated technology in such an emotionally effective way. Of course, that all wouldn't matter if the songs themselves didn't work smashingly, whether it's a mood piece as eerie as "Seconds," an anti-anthem like "The Things That Dreams Are Made Of," the dance club glow of "Love Action (I Believe in Love)," or the utter genius of "Don't You Want Me," a devastating chronicle of a frayed romance wrapped in the greatest pop hooks and production of its year. The latter was a huge hit, so much so that it overshadowed the album in the minds of most listeners, yet, for all of its shining brilliance, it wasn't a pop supernova -- it's simply the brightest star on this record, one of the defining records of its time. [The 2012 reissue of the album adds bonus remixes and versions, the Fascination! EP, and expanded packaging.]
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