Friday, 25 December 2015

Saint Etienne ‎A Glimpse Of Stocking

Nollaig Shona Duit

Saint Etienne A Glimpse Of Stocking

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It’s Christmas time. There’s usually no need to be afraid. But let’s face it, it’s never really the most inspiring period for popular music. For every gem or two wrestled from each Christmas-themed release, there’s usually a sleigh-load of rubbish to wade through. So it’s a pleasure to report that those good folks Saint Etienne have decided to up the ante.Given the bitter weather, it’s nice of Sarah, Bob and Pete to provide something to keep you warm with a set that collects together previous fan club releases along with 1994’s I Was Born on Christmas Day smash, as well as recording a half-dozen new additions to complete proceedings. Alongside well-selected covers of Cliff Richard (21st Century Christmas), Chris Rea (Driving Home for Christmas), Billy Fury (My Christmas Prayer) and The Doors (Wintertime Love), there’s the tinsel techno rave-up of Gonna Have a Party, the sizzling glam of Come on Christmas, the icy OMDness of Through the Winter and the instrumental interludes of Snowbound on the South Bank and Fireside Favourite. They finish off with their version of Harry Nilsson’s Snow, from 2003’s fan club disc. There are no new takes on carols, nor any narky topical dialogues about the commercialisation of Christmas among this lot; instead, it’s a groovin’ assortment of magic and sparkle all the way. A frisky, marvellous delight from beginning to end, A Glimpse of Stocking finds itself high and firmly in the lineage of quality festive albums, to be filed beside similarly themed releases by the Carpenters, Ella, The Beach Boys, Low and Phil Spector. It is, albeit not quite literally (nobody wants a record exploding in their hands), a cracker

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Talking Heads ‎Stop Making Sense Special New Edition

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It starts with audience noise, David Byrne scrolls out and utters immortal opening lines. “Hi. I’ve got a tape I wanna play you.” A basic electronic drum pattern starts up, there’s a sharply strummed acoustic guitar and then the bare-bones live version of “Psycho Killer” blows the studio original clean out of the water. Just a drum machine, Byrne’s voice and an acoustic guitar. You already know that this is going to be one of the greatest live albums in the history of popular music. For the next song Tina Weymouth turns up on stage and they produce a stunning version of “Heaven”. For “Thank You For Sending Me An Angel” Chris Franz appears behind the drum kit and things are really starting to take shape now. “Found A Job” finds Jerry Harrison appear next to Byrne to add anther guitar and the original Talking Heads quartet is in place, playing their angular art rock and winning the audience over hand over fist. But it doesn’t stop there, as all manner of backing singers, synth players, percussionists and funky rhythm guitar players take to the stage one after the other, until by the time we get to “Burning Down The House” we get the funkiest punk band that ever walked the earth. Lets get one thing straight now, Stop Making Sense may very well be the best live album ever recorded, it’s certainly one of the best sounding, as its production picks up every polyrhythm, every guitar lick, everyone of Byrne’s vocal ticks. The majority of the sixteen tracks here are superior to their studio counterparts and given that Talking Heads were no slouches in the studio, that’s one hell of an achievement. Favourite numbers? Everyone has their own, but for me “Slippery People”, “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)” and “Take Me To The River” are three that jump out at me every time (particularly that drum crack and vocal yelp near the end of “Slippery People” which sounds as if it’s going to blow your speaker out if you play it too loud). Only one track doesn’t quite measure up to the studio original and that’s the evergreen “Once In A Lifetime”, but the original version is so close to my heart that I doubt any other recording of it will ever measure up and the live version here is very, very good indeed. Of course no review of Stop Making Sense is complete without a reference to Byrne’s big suit worn during the storming “Girlfriend Is Better”. You can practically hear it expanding. On this expanded version you also get “Genius Of Love” played by the Tom Tom Club (on this occasion the entire Talking Heads line up except David Byrne), while Byrne takes the opportunity for a well-deserved breather. While some would argue that has no place on a Talking Heads release, I would argue until my last breath that it should remain, if only to hear Chris Franz yelling “Jaammmeesss Broowwwwnnn!!! Jaammmeesss Broowwwwnnn!!!”. It’s just one of many utterly brilliant moments on this album. This is one of the few occasions where a live album is an act’s definitive release. It starts with the most basic of rhythms and a sparse tune and it ends with some of the most complex polyrhythms in my music collection. It doesn’t really get much better than this.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

The Fall I Am Kurious Oranj

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So, how to shake things up, how to make life interesting? Why, record the music for a ballet of course. I mean, what else are you gonna do? One thing it did do was give The Fall an actual reason to record an album, other than out of habit. As a result, although not everything here works, a good half of it works magnificently, and the rest is never less than interesting. 'New Big Prinz' opens the whole shebang and The Fall sound more wired and alive than they had for a good couple of years, at least. A couple of years for The Fall being a long time, you understand. 'Big New Prinz' is stomping, storming, hand-clapping, the works. Mark E Smith sings and shouts, the guitar is catchy as the catchiest thing ever, and there you have it. A winner. The 'Overture' is a solo Brix tune, sung by her as well. It's a very pretty guitar tune, pretty of course not being a usual Fall descriptive word, but then, this isn't a usual Fall LP. 'Dog Is Life' marries William Blake and Mark E Smith in a seemingly bizarre coupling but it works fantastically well. First of all we have Mark E Smith spitting out the 'Dog Is Life' rant after which 'Jerusalem' announces itself with strong drums and deep bass notes. When the guitar comes in, when Mark E Smith starts singing, you realise this is a close cousin to the opening 'Big New Prinz'. In actual fact, together with 'Big New Prinz' and 'Wrong Place, Right Time', 'Jerusalem' was issued as part of a three song EP by the group. All three of these songs are great, but 'Jerusalem' is particularly entertaining for the lyrical content when Mark E Smith starts to get all political on us. 'Kurious Oranj' deserves a special mention. It's a song that's been known to disgust non Fall lovers I've played it to, though I'm not sure why. Perhaps it's because the lyrics are completely daft and make no sense whatsoever. Perhaps it's because of the simplistic bass groove. It's an addictive bass groove though, once you get into it. It's a 'humorous' bass groove in line with the 'daft' nature of the song in the first place. Well, for all I know, the lyrics are dead meaningful. The end result is just sheer entertainment however, and that's alright by me. We have a number of softer, sweeter guitar songs on the second half of this record. 'Guide Me Soft' is a single exposed guitar with bare percussion and Mark E Smith half singing / half speaking. 'Yes O Yes' is the kind of song that wouldn't have sounded out of place on 'Bend Sinister' but it also shares the grinding, repetitive nature of certain songs from 'The Frenz Experiment'. 'Yes O Yes' isn't particular a highlight here but it works in context. 'Van Plague?' on the other hand just works, full stop. A greatly underrated Fall song, it's not often spoken of by fans but this is one of the sweetest Fall songs I can think of and also one of the best 'straight' Mark E Smith vocal performances. 'Bad News Girl' isn't particularly noteworthy being a tuneless dirge, 'Last Nacht' is a lively dance experiment and the closing 'Big New Priest' merely an alternative mix of the albums opening cut. I'll mention 'Cab It Up!' as well. 'Cab It Up!' isn't original, the melody is obvious and goes round and round. It's a lively track though, and Mark E Smith is particularly lively vocally. When he shouts out 'cabbing it uptown, UPTOWN!' it's a great Fall moment, for me at least. And, there you have it. 'I Am Kurious Oranj'. Difficult to come to a definite conclusion about the whole thing, other than it's entertaining. But, entertaining is good.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Hüsker Dü ‎Candy Apple Grey

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Candy Apple Grey from 1986 marks Hüsker Dü's "sellout" to the big nasty major label Warner Bros. So, naturally, this album is supposed to be a terrible album. Well... sorry to disappoint you guys, but it ain't. It really ain't. Do you know how bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden ever could wind up at respectively Geffen and A&M? Because of this very album here. This album album proves that it is possible for a punk band to go from the diy indie ethics of releasing the albums yourself, or on small indie labels - to a huge major label, without making a fool out of yourself! Actually, in quite a few's opinion - they do the exact opposite! You'll find emocore fans stating Zen Arcade as Hüsker Dü's best album. You'll find hardcore fans stating Everything Falls Apart as their best album. As for the "rest" - it's New Day Rising, Flip Your Wig and perhaps most commonly - Candy Apple Grey that matters. Candy Apple Grey is without a doubt the most radio-friendly album to derive from Hüsker Dü. That sentence alone might just be enough to make some of the hardcore fans' stomachs turn. But have no fear, it's only a temporarily stomach-turn. Once you've put the record on the gramophone - you'll find that: "Hey! This ain't altogether that bad!". No, it isn't. It's actually quite impressing, I must say. It begins with you getting pushed into a wail. Then punched in the face by a tremendous force, that is Bob Mould's distinct way of playing the guitar. And then it explodes. For a trio, they sound huge. And the sound is broader than ever. It's all still there. the basics I mean; there's still the thumpy drums being played slightly behind the beat, the malicious basslines that cooperate perfectly with the trashing guitar-riffs. But there's something more to it, this time. It's broader and more melodic, than ever. It's sort of a total change of genre. It's a transition from hardcore/emocore to what is later to be known as alternative rock. It sounds as frenetic, as passionate and as upset as ever... but it's also introverted, cold, and at times toned-down. There's even an acoustic guitar in the picture, as well as a piano. The songs "No Promise Have I Made", "Hardly Getting Over It" and "Too Far Down" are particularly... blue. And cold. And just downright sad. The acoustic guitar and piano makes a welcome change of sound, from the upbeat tracks on the record, who - by the way, are catchier and more passionate than ever. There is some very strong songwriting present on this record. Bob Mould and Grant Hart both outdo themselves. The lyrics on this album is concerned with everything from breaking up in "Don't Want to Know If You Are Lonely", to trying to sell ice cream in a theater (I have no idea if that's a metaphor, and in which case - what it's supposed to mean) in "Eiffel Tower High". In general it's all kind of blue and melancholic. But still damn catchy. You'll have yourself singing along to both "I Don't Know for Sure" and "Sorry Somehow" by the end of the tracks. The production is also better, now that they're on Warner Bros. But it all sounds a little dirty, and not as commercialized as one would expect. Who's produced this album? None other than Bob Mould and Grant Hart themselves. So this is still diy and indie, up to a certain point. They're still in full artistic control, thanks to Warner Bros. who put their money where their mouth was - supporting a band they're not very likely to make any money on, but is admired in the musical industry. And for that I really respect Warner Bros. for being a label that is more engaged in MUSIC than in MONEY. This "full artistic control" contract is considered being a model for future alternative rock acts that signed with major labels (e.g. Sonic Youth and Soul Asylum). All in all, this is a great album. With a lot of amazing tracks. Maybe especially "Don't Want to Know If You Are Lonely" - the album's natural highlight. It's probably the most catchy Hüsker Dü song ever. If not the best Hüsker Dü song ever. Such an amazing track. But with that being said, no tracks are really skipable. They're all actually surprisingly good. You know, for a major label act.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Bob Mould Bob Mould (Hubcap)

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As he was promoting the last Sugar album, File Under: Easy Listening, Bob Mould hinted that he was tired of working with a band and was fascinated by the simple, four-track recordings of Sebadoh and Guided by Voices. So, it didn't come as a complete surprise when he disbanded Sugar a year after the release of FU:EL and began working on a record by himself. Bob Mould, his third solo album, was recorded entirely by Mould, but it doesn't sound like a lo-fi project -- it doesn't have the professional production of Sugar's records, but it has all their sonic detail. What has changed is the details themselves. Bob Mould may not surge on waves of loud guitars like Hüsker Dü or Sugar, but Mould is reaching into new territory, using distortion as a coloring device and exploring trancier melodies. And Mould sounds revitalized throughout the album -- although it is clear that this isn't a collection of first-takes, his obsession with making the album entirely on his own makes the music fierce and alive. Mould may be heading further into singer/songwriter territory with each album he releases, but he keeps his music away from stodginess by continually changing his approach and delving into new sonic territories. It also doesn't hurt that his increasingly bitter lyrics are gut-wrenchingly provocative and his melodies are consistently engaging

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Kitchens Of Distinction ‎Love Is Hell

Kitchens Of Distinction Love Is Hell

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The Kitchens of Distinction's early comparisons ran the gamut from Echo and the Bunnymen and the Chameleons to older fret-benders like Neil Young and Jimi Hendrix. What the comparisons were all aiming to describe was the band's secret weapon -- Swales' awesome abilities on guitar, which created tenderness and overdriven power. On Love Is Hell, the band's debut, the Kitchens sound like they're feeling their way around a studio, with rougher, punkier edges on some numbers (notably the thrashy rant against the workday grind, "Mainly Mornings"). More impressive still is how well Fitzgerald's thoughtful, passionate lyrics and singing match Swales' work in so many different ways throughout the record -- tenderly evocative on "In a Cave," increasingly agitated during the bitter "Prize," and downright soaring on "The 3rd Time We Opened the Capsule." This last song has a perfect Kitchens moment, with a rushing, joyful guitar break followed by Fitzgerald's forceful delivery of "I want the light to shine/Right in my eyes!" "Her Last Day in Bed" starkly visits a deathbed scene with a sheer, frightening feel heightened by violin, while the climactic "Hammer" views a pick-up gone terribly wrong with increasingly distraught lyrics and music. Intelligent, intricate, and unafraid to rock and caress equally, Love Is Hell is an incredible first effort. Later editions of the record add the Elephantine EP (including the biological/political ruminating title track), a delicious death-to-Thatcher fantasy titled "Margaret's Injection," and the bittersweet end-of-a-relationship portrayal "1001st Fault.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

James Whiplash

James Whiplash

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Fourteen years down the line from Stutter, Whiplash is far from a consolidation of past success. It’s the sound of a band fighting out of a corner, rising to their own challenge and proving themselves once again. That isn’t to say the record doesn’t take it’s cues from previous efforts. The same thread of intimacy that drew together Laid is pitched with the experimental dance dynamic so prevalent in Wah Wah. Tim Booth’s crystal tone weaves typically potent tales of despair, but more pressingly of rejuvenation. "Got to keep faith that your luck will change", he intones on the charged gem of an opener, ‘Tomorrow’. It’s that track that sets the agenda for the revival, its punching melody and glorious chorus pushing the bands focus away from their recent introversion. Though the single, ‘She’s A Star’ treads the same, successful vein it’s the tracks that follow which constitute a real progression. The sceptical broadside ‘Greenpeace’ serves as a bridge between the crafted pop of the first half and the unwavering dance of the second. Booth’s wistful vocal punctuated by bursts of drum and bass. Perhaps it’s a risk for an established band to take on a new sound without looking desperate, but more often than not they manage to pull it off. What Goldie and Ed Rush would make of it though, is another story. What makes it credible is that it isn’t a token effort, the rest of the album follows in this modernist trend. The hard house sound of ‘Go To The Bank’ and ‘Play Dead’ may seem to eager to push the band’s dance credentials, but this is countered by the melodic techno strains of ‘Avalanche’ and ‘Watering Hole’. It’s on these tracks that the new sound is most effective, as it is combined with the traditional songwriting we’ve come to expect of James. ‘Avalanche’ in particular gives Booth chance to soar like a distant deity over its strong melody and sparse beats. With a new future forged, the band allow themselves one indulgence. The foray into the past that is ‘Blue Pastures’; an intimate , acoustic track that harks back to ‘Laid's’ claustrophobic ballads. It may be that this album doesn’t please the fans. It’s likely it won’t please the critics. But then, this record is primarily about the band themselves. It’s an album that had to be made to prove they have a future and that they can be part of the future. After all, if you stand still to long all you can do is sit down.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Spiritualized ‎Pure Phase

Spirituailzed Pure Phase

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This album is often dismissed as a transitional release between two more substantial efforts, and while I don’t disagree with that opinion, Pure Phase is a fine album in its own right. Less suite-like than Laser Guided Melodes, with 12 distinct songs, this album is also less cohesive, and it has more moods as it veers between dreamy mood pieces and ear splittingly loud noise-fests. In general I prefer the former, as some of the more abrasive latter stuff can really test my patience, but though Pure Phase has its ups and downs some of the ups are pretty incredible. This album hits an immediate peak with the epic psychedelia of “Medication,” which starts with those church-y keyboards that play such an important role throughout the album. This 8-minute song is mostly very mellow but has periodic surges where the excitement is upped considerably, and there’s a certain uplifting euphoria and an undeniable sense of grandeur to the song (as with many of the best Spiritualized songs). Gorgeous flute highlights the more modest standout “The Slide Song,” while “All Of My Tears” is a pretty rewrite of an old Spaceman 3 song on which the dreamy, swirling sound again dominates. Even better is “Let It Flow,” which has more church-y organ and adds hooky gospel-y vocals as well, which would soon become an increasing band trademark along with the droning guitars that anchor their massive Wall Of Sound. The other highlights here are "Lay Back in the Sun," one of those (loud, poppy) songs that simply makes me glad to be alive, while the woozy "Spread Your Wings" provides a gorgeously affecting and suitably epic climax near the end of the album. Elsewhere, there are some pleasant songs that offer mere background music, and there are even a few that I tend to skip entirely, as Pure Phase to me is more about its peaks whereas Laser Guided Melodies was more about its consistency and start to finish listenability. Again, I prefer the former, but soundwise this was the album that pointed the way to their superior, breakthrough next release.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Various ‎Factory Records Communications 1978-92

Various Factory Records Communications 1978-92

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Disc 1 kicks off with the most important track from the double 7" "A Factory Sample", "Digital" by Joy Division. It still stands up as one of the purest examples of latent energy in pop music and set the stall out for the revered band's future. The next track by Cabaret Voltaire, "Baader Meinhof", is just as important - it heralded the introduction of one of Britain's most important electronic bands who cruelly dipped under the radar for far too long - uneasy listening made by Sheffield's pioneers. Factory gave them a bunk-up to the heights of Rough Trade before a brief sojurn with Factory in 1982 with the John Robie-mixed "Yashar" (included here). Other contributions come from A Certain Ratio, Section 25, OMD, The Distractions and The Names, all seriously under-rated and caned by the media back in the day plus the slightly more accepted Durutti Column weighing in with the beautiful "Sketch For Summer". Just about every track here was produced and mixed by the label's eccentric Spector-esque soundsmith, Martin Hannett. You can hear just how ahead of the times he was with the smash-snare sound and sparse dub-washed drum and bass sounds employed on much of the label's first 40 releases. The Names' "Nightshift" brings this home more than any other track on this 4 cd set and remains one of Factory's true missed opportunities for a hit. "Dolphin's Spurt" by Holland's Minny Pops is also a landmark single - brutal electro beats and monologue moodisms mixed with gravel-ditch deep basslines. Hannett was very very good at making sounds sound human and alien all at the same time. Check the remix of "She's Lost Control" by Joy Division here - even though the sleeve notes claim this is the album version - doh! The remaining discs run chronologically (to a degree) and are, by turns, captivating, annoying and stunning in almost equal measure. Compiler Jon Savage and archiver (and LTM label boss) James Nice have done a good job overall but I have to baulk at the inclusion of Royal family & The Poor's "Art On 45" over a track from their much-underrated pair of LPs...aside from this the disc is faultless. A few tracks from Belgian neighbours, Factory Benelux, makes sense although perhaps a free bonus EP disc of tracks from the Brussels label might have made more sense. Anyhow, the most important electro-disco single of all time is on disc 2 - "Everything's Gone Green" (the 12" version despite the sleevenotes) by New Order was so far ahead of the times it has gone beyond legend. Forget "Blue Monday" (awesome though it is), EGG is a blinder....crashing, clattering drums - hi hats from heaven and an eerie bass note that sounds like the Titanic's last breath.....I have seen kids cry to this.... Disc 3 catches up with the post-New York scene in style. Quite how Section 25 and 52nd Street didn't acheive an appearance on Top Of The Pops for the tracks "Looking From A Hilltop" and "Can't Afford" has been and always will be beyond me......sheer pop wrapped in a film of bitterness did not sit well with radio in those days - but clearly the former track did having been hammered by DJs in the States and over here (including me). It still sounds like it came out last week. Closing track, "24 Hour Party People" by Happy Mondays, eludes to the days of Madchester and the second wave of anarchy at the label. Money was spent on zany trips to Barbados and Ibiza for it's artists plus a £30,000 table for their new offices....yet the kids were lapping up the Hacienda classics, "Reach For Love" by Marcel King and "Hallelujah" by the Mondays and chalking up huge consumption levels of every shape and colour of tablet this side of Boots whilst dodging bullets. And that is where it all started to go a bit awry....suddenly 5 hetrosexual men (the directors of the label) were faced with death...of their previous icon, Ian Curtis, their wonderful studio enigma, Hannett, the boisterous yet lovable manager of New Order, Rob Gretton....and the death of their bank balance, drained in part by the incomprehensible incidents at their beloved (and hated) nightclub in Whitworth Street. Disc 4 - listen and weep.
A Rough Trade box set would never make sense, a Mute box set just might, a 4AD box set certainly would. But a Factory box set makes absolutely no sense whatsoever - which is why you should invest in this reasonable attempt at documenting one of Britain's finest 15 years of music, full stop. My only gripes are reserved for missing tracks - "Partyline" by the Stockholm Monsters (an anthem), "Elegia" by New Order, "Crazy Wisdom" by Section 25 (since there are a few Fac Benelux tracks here), "Arpeggiator" by Durutti Column, "Caught" by Anna Domino and the heavily-sampled "N'sel Fik" by Fadela...but all in all a good effort to gather the very best of Factory under one roof. What a story.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

One Dove ‎Morning Dove White

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ONE DOVE were a moody Glaswegian trio comprised of Ian Carmichael, Jim McKinven and Dot Allison. McKinven was best known for his stint in ALTERED IMAGES during their ‘Happy Birthday’ and ‘Pinky Blue’ period. This project couldn’t have been more different, especially when compared with his former band mate Johnny McElhone who formed TEXAS with Sharleen Spiteri. Producer Andrew Weatherall signed them to his Junior Boys Own label after hearing their independently released single ‘Fallen’ and became involved in the recording process, along with Gary Burns and Jagz Kooner from SABRES OF PARADISE who both later went on to form THE ALOOF. ‘Morning Dove White’ took its title from the Native American name of Elvis Presley’s grandmother. Seasoned by the icy but angelic voice of Dot Allison, it was something truly unique in the sphere of post Acid House electronic dance music. Dot Allison’s resigned opening line on ‘Fallen’ of “I don’t know why I’m telling you any of this…” is simply seductive. The accompanying groovy rhythm section on a slight off-beat makes it the most club flavoured track on here with the reggae-inflections of LEFTFIELD’s ‘Release The Pressure’ as its backdrop. Although often referred to as a dance act, ONE DOVE’s sound was actually characterised by primarily electronic textures with heavy processing influenced by laid back Jamaican dub and Eno-esque ambience. This recalled the work of former PUBLIC IMAGE LIMITED bassist Jah Wobble who incidentally guested on ‘Morning Dove White’ and later recorded an album with BRIAN ENO called ‘Spinner’. The single versions of ‘Breakdown’ and ‘White Love’ reworked by Stephen Hague are actually quite brilliant, accessible and are far less intimidating than the full-on dub attack of the lengthy album cuts. But even as radio mixes, they are hardly the glossy pop of SAINT ETIENNE. London Records had taken over the Junior Boys Own label and wanted to make ONE DOVE’s music more radio friendly. The band may have been unhappy about the commercialisation of their sound and there is something to be said about fighting for your art but what is the point if people can’t access your work through conventional media and grow into it, especially if it is relatively radical? In hindsight, London Records were being well intentioned but this led to a dispute which delayed the release ‘Morning Dove White’ for a full year until 1993. A compromise was reached with ONE DOVE working with Stephen Hague in the studio during the remix sessions. ‘White Love’ is wonderfully dreamy with its subtle piano and gospel salvo predating MOBY’s ‘Play’ by several years. Their biggest hit ‘Breakdown’ has a surprising VAN MORRISON influence, taking its chorus from THEM’s ‘Here Comes The Night’. In both, Dot Allison’s sexily whispering vocals are the distinctive key. But ‘Morning Dove White’s crowning glory is the Phil Spector in the 23rd Century mystique of the stupendous ‘Why Don’t You Take Me?’ featuring Wall Of Sound effects galore and reverbed steel drum samples, it is almost funereal but actually possesses an uplifting quality. Although there was a Stephen Hague assisted mix sans steel drums available on the single release, in this case it was Andrew Weatherall’s original vision that is won the day. Of the supporting features on ‘Morning Dove White’, ‘There Goes The Cure’ is very ‘Twin Peaks’ in atmosphere, punctuated by Dot Allison’s chants of “he’s gone”. Constructed around some tinkling piano and deep ambient drones, its heart is suddenly invaded by Jah Wobble’s distinctive bass run before returning full circle with the aid of a dramatic percussive climax. Both ‘Sirens’ and ‘My Friend’ recall Weatherall’s work on PRIMAL SCREAM’s ‘Screamadelica’ while ‘Transient Truth’ is a superb instrumental with an ‘Ipcress File’ meets KING TUBBY twist. The echoey drum machine and the various incessantly repeated spy film riffs provide a suitably hypnotic soundtrack. With a promising debut album greeted by enormous praise and critical approval, a follow-up was eagerly anticipated. A reworking of DOLLY PARTON’s ‘Jolene’ and the song ‘Skanga’ which were included as B-sides to’ Why Don’t You Take Me?’ gave an indication of the heavier dub reggae sound that was being pursued. There was even rumours of a cover version of SIMON DUPREE & THE BIG SOUND’s ‘Kites’, the concept of which had the potential to be amazing. But there was no second album. It was recorded but never released. Frustrated and drained by business politics, ONE DOVE disbanded in 1996. Dot Allison went on to release a series of acclaimed solo albums including ‘Afterglow’ and ‘We Are Science’ as well as working with DEATH IN VEGAS and MASSIVE ATTACK.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Cocteau Twins ‎Garlands (Unremastered Expanded Re-Issue Edition)

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At the time of the recording of Garlands, Cocteau Twins were a trio: Robin Guthrie on guitar and drum machine, Liz Fraser on voice, and Will Heggie on bass. Heggie was sort of the leader of the group in a sense: his sinuous post-punk bass riffage drives all 8 of the songs here. It is this strong bass underpining that gives the album a real 1982 post-punk feel. I would compare this to the way Jah Wobble's bass drives Public Image Limited's Metal Box, or the way Peter Hook's basswork drives New Order's Power, Corruption, and Lies. So Heggie's bass is the foundation of the music of Garlands. Layered over that bass is a clunky drum machine, the Roland 808 if you believe the press. This was the standard drum machine for a long time, and it's presence here is very typical. None of the beats are challenging: they are there to provide a sort of metronomic presence in the songs. Robin Guthrie plays some of his harshest, punkest riffs on this album. The guitar whirs and screams with lots of high-end trebly distortion. His playing here is not as subtle as what he later became known for. Still, it is very in keeping with the times. The final element to the sound is Liz Fraser's voice. When Garlands came out, i i am sure that her singing was very unique. She squeals and warbles her way through lyrics that hover at the edge of comprehension. Her voice is harsh here, not as refined as it would become, but there is a certain power and presence to it. But like i said earlier: they were young and this album shows that. However, for what it is, it's pretty good. It's a dark, moody, bass and squealing guitar laden lost epic of the post-punk scene. For folks into this type of music, Garlands is something to check out. The album starts off with Blood Bitch diving head first is the deep bass. This is followed by Wax and Wane, a song which Mr. Guthrie was to remix in 1985 for the band's first American release. I know the version from The Pink Opaque better, and it still strikes me as odd to hear this orginal mix. Here, the drum machine takes center stage, clinking it's way through the beat. It is surrounded, enveloped, by Heggie's bass in an unstoppable riff -- perhaps the best he has ever done (although i say that with the caveat that his later work is largely unknown to me). Fraser and Guthrie see-saw their way through the melody. The overall effect: a fever dream of paranoia. It's a great post-punk song. The Twins follow that up with But I'm Not, a song in which Fraser cuts loose vocally. She sings a deep, husky, jazz-influenced (Etta James perhaps?) style that she wouldn't really return to for years. Her vocal theatrics make this song noteworthy, because otherwise the music is unremarkable after the intense riffage of Wax and Wane. Blind Dumb Deaf is up next, and is probably the weakest track on the album. It seems to be The Robin Guthrie Show, as the drum machine and guitar dominate the proceedings. Not bad per se, just not as good as the rest of the album. The next track, Shallow Then Halo is one i never really noticed until i listened to the re-mastered CD. I think that this tune, of all the ones here, really benefitted the most from the re-mastering. It sounds much less muddy in remastered form than it did in the original. Of course this is true of the whole album, but Shallow Then Halo had the most mud removed. In general, this is a good gothy tune. Fraser's voice is nicely layered, and you can almost uderstand her vocals here. The bass and guitar complement each other very well too. Suddenly, i find i like this song. Odd. The Hollow Men is less goth more dub, as the drum machine and bass notes echo about. Next is the title track, which is a good rocking tune. And finally, the album ends with the decent but not stellar Grail Overfloweth. Overall, this isn't a bad album. On it's own. It is a very typical album for the early 1980's, and it has a few tracks that standout among the general mass of music from that time. One thing about the 2 versions i now own. Until this version came out, the version you were most likely to encounter was a combined CD that included an early Peel Session and the 7" single for Speak No Evil b/w Perhaps Some Other Aeon tacked onto the end. That makes it a 14 track CD, and those extra tracks are pretty good tunes in this same general vein. This re-mastered edition strips the "added bonus tracks" from the album, and restores it to it's orignal 8 song glory. After years of hearing the compiled edition, this sounds somewhat incomplete to me. When Grail Overfloweth peters out, i expect to hear Dear Heart. It's wierd that it just ends, but i guess that is my problem, caused by my familiarity with the compiled edition only. And the re-mastering really works here. Guthrie did a fine job. Each song is less muddy than it was on the original release, and the songs shine in the added clearness. I guess that i kind of wish that Guthrie had remastered all of it, the album, the Peel Session, and the 7", and put out the whole thing. But oh well. Those Peel tracks made it onto the BBC Sessions disc. But i am not sure if they were re-mastered there..... At any rate, i would heartily endorse this record to fans of that early 80's proto-goth/early new wave/post-punk sound. Cocteau Twins had a unique interpration of that particular cultural zeitgeist, and while they had better work to come, this is certainly a worthwhile listen for fans of the genre. If, however, you are a Cocteau/dreampop fan, be forewarned: this is pre-dreampop Cocteau Twins. It's not what you think of when you think Cocteau Twins.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

The Teardrop Explodes ‎Zoology

The Teardrop Explodes Zoology

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Julian Cope isn't one to dwell on the past, but he isn't opposed to re-evaluating it, either. When going through some old tapes, he evidently found enough material to convince him to add one more compilation to the Teardrop Explodes post-breakup catalog. This set is evenly split between demos, early versions, and live tracks. As with any anthology of this kind, the sound quality tends to vary. The earliest songs, a few instrumentals from 1978, sound the roughest, but the majority of the tracks sound excellent. Audio clarity is hardly an issue, though, when legendary lost Teardrop gems like "Log Cabin" and the original "You Disappear From View" are finally unearthed. The latter's stripped-down sound is indescribably better than the cheesy, faux soul version that appeared on Everybody Wants to Shag the Teardrop Explodes. Just more evidence that their unfinished third album would have been another classic had Cope been able to keep David Balfe's synth at bay. While a few of the alternate takes aren't terribly different from the common ones, "Tiny Children" is utterly charming and upbeat, a far cry from the haunting take included on Wilder. Musically speaking, the best version of the group was the one that featured Jeff Hammer on keyboards and Alfie Agius on bass. The sometimes comedic differences these hired hands had with core members Cope and Gary Dwyer are highlighted in Cope's hilarious book, Head-On. But the diversity seems to have worked: this incarnation of the band is featured on exciting live renditions of "The Culture Bunker" and "Sleeping Gas," which both display the band's unique fusion of the sounds of 1967 and 1977. One would assume that the vaults have pretty much been emptied with this disc, even though several complete live broadcasts and many BBC sessions are still in the archives. However, based upon a disclaimer on the cover which states that Zoology is to rhyme with "eulogy," this may be the final word on the group. If that's the case, it's a fine swansong, tidily wrapping up the loose ends for longtime admirers of the highly underrated post-punk band. (There is an unlisted final track which is an interview with several luminaries, including Cope, concerning the fabled Columbia Hotel in London, a favorite hideaway for new wave artists in the early '80s.)

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Various ‎Lonely Is An Eyesore

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In a certain sense, Lonley Is an Eyesore functions as a time-capsule, a snapshot of Post-Punk circa the mid-Eighties, albeit a snapshot saturated with the particular shades and tinctures of the Goth-informed Dream-Pop of the 4AD stable. As a result, there is an aesthetic cohesiveness to this album that is unusual for a compilation, which stems from that fact that, to some extent, 4AD was pushing a particular (Ivo Watts-Russell produced) sound rather than the bands themselves. This approach was taken a step further with the This Mortal Coil releases, in which various 4AD artists were thrown together in the studio (under the control of Watts-Russell) to record cover songs dressed up in 4AD-style gloom. Despite this overriding emphasis on style over substance, Lonely Is an Eyesore holds up quite well 28 years later because it contains an intriguing mix of the influential (Dead Can Dance, Cocteau Twins, Throwing Muses) and the obscure (Dif Juz, The Wolfgang Press, Clan of Xymox), all at the height of their powers. The compilation was also released in a severely limited edition (try 100, of which only 30 were commercially issued), encased in a wooden box with a VHS supplement and a number of graphic prints.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Morrissey Vauxhall And I (20th Anniversary Definitive Master)

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In 1994, Morrissey told the world that he was retiring from music. After ten albums in ten years, and a life of near-constant touring, the recent deaths of three close colleagues was the final straw. The grand dame of pop music was bowing out. Vauxhall & I was to be Morrissey’s last stand. Of course, it didn’t pan out that way – the man came back with a new album the very next year – but it sure sounds like goodbye. Vauxhall & I is portentious, doom-laden, dripping with pathos and the settling of scores. It’s also the best record Morrissey has ever been involved with. No other album in the man’s storied career sounds like this; the spry glam rock of its predecessor Your Arsenal is missing in action – no doubt down to the tragic passing of that album’s producer Mick Ronson in 1993. Instead, Vauxhall offers eleven tracks which belie the influences Morrissey always touted, but never actively showed off. It’s a balladeer’s album – there are shades of Dion, Joe Meek and, of course, chansonnier extraordinaire Jacques Brel. If ever there was a modern-day equivalent to Scott Walker’s peerless first four LPs, this is it. The first five little words of “Now My Heart Is Full” set the tone: “There’s gonna be some trouble.” Screw the punctured bicycles on the last night of the fair – at the age of 35, Morrissey really meant business. The lights are low, the mood is sombre; a nagging two-note riff drifts eerily underneath proceedings. It’s the sound of autumn at its most tempestuous – the clouds are black, everyone has a storm headache, and it’s only a question of when the heavens will open. Come the chorus, they do. Morrissey’s voice rises out of the murk, and the rain starts lashing down: “Tell all of my friends…” Of course, from the murk, a smirk – “I don’t have too many…” From here, it’s a swirl of images, characters, situations; Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock gets a look-in, as do some “loafing oafs in all-night chemists.” Chorus after chorus goes by (the verse, by now, long vanished into the distance), occasionally broken up by some patented Bowie-style jangle-and-chug in the guitars. The drama continues to unfold (personal highlight: “Underact, express depression, aaahhhhhh,” [pause for effect] “But Bunnie, I loved you…”), but all we’re supposed to do is “pass by.” As if that’s going to be possible. Vauxhall‘s character studies are richer and more mysterious than any he had previously concocted – just what did the child in “Used to Be a Sweet Boy” do that caused his narrating parents to be so in denial? – and the wit and wordplay is deeper still. Take lead single “The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get”: three years on, Morrissey’s court woes would get an equally woeful song of their own in “Sorrow Will Come in the End”, but here, they’re dismissed in one wave of the hand – “Beware, I bear more grudges than lonely High Court judges.” And if at this point, Morrissey’s lyrics were untouchable, his composers-in-chief Alain Whyte and Boz Boorer took the bait and matched them to the best music of his career. Whyte’s delicate touch on the woozy “Hold on to Your Friends” is revelatory, while the wistful acoustics of “Why Don’t You Find Out for Yourself” are astonishing; one of Vauxhall‘s most unassuming numbers, it may just be the finest thing here. Boorer’s contributions are no slouch either, though, and his baroque “Lifeguard Sleeping, Girl Drowning” is unlike anything Morrissey had ever done; this is where all of Steven Patrick’s dreams of being Sinatra finally came to fruit. Nowhere else in his discography can you hear Morrissey acting in front of the microphone like this - almost engulfed by Boorer’s clarinet and Steve Lillywhite’s gossamer production, his whispered croon, bordering on the androgynous, is revelatory. “Please don’t worry,” he intones near the song’s end, “there’ll be no fuss - she was…nobody’s nothing,” before being swallowed up in the undertow of shimmering cymbals and his own wordless cries for help. And then there’s “Speedway”. The savage, violent, brutal “Speedway”, the sound of Morrissey tearing the curtain down, all the scenery and props crashing around him while he petulantly plays to the peanut gallery. The song opens with him literally cutting his critics down with the sampled sound of a chainsaw, laughing at his foes. “You won’t smile,” he sneers just before the song’s thundering final act, “until my loving mouth is shut good and proper…FOREVER.” The music stops dead for a second, Morrissey having seemingly been silenced (for once). But then the ebow of death sneaks back up into the mix, Woodie Taylor’s drums slam down like hammers, and Morrissey continues to deliver his ultimate malediction: “All those lies, written lies, twisted lies - well, they weren’t lies.” Everything somehow continues to get louder and more intense, before the final twist of the knife for anyone who loves him, hates him, or dares to stand in his way - “In my own sick way, I’ve always been true to you.” Taylor nonchalantly clatters the song to its conclusion, seemingly not realising that he’s responsible for the climax to what might just be the greatest album of all time. Oh, and that bonus live disc? For once, it’s a revelation. In the illustrious setting of London’s Drury Lane, the Vauxhall tracks retain their atmosphere, while also gaining some balls. A rendition of “You’re the One for Me, Fatty” is almost improved by the sound of Moz constantly being groped away from the microphone by adoring stage-invaders, long-time live favourite “Jack the Ripper” is as tender as it is tough, and the segue from the freak-out finale of “The National Front Disco” into a stately version of ‘Moonriver’ is spellbinding. “I wrote that,” Morrissey deadpans at the end of the latter. He commands the song so well, you’d almost be inclined to believe him. It can’t be coincidence that, twenty years on, Vauxhall is the only album in his catalogue reissue campaign to remain unfuckedwith in any way, shape or form. For once - artwork aside - he knows when to leave well alone. Vauxhall & I is barely an album. It’s a performance, a recital, an audition monologue. It’s the synthesis of everything Steven Patrick Morrissey ever tried, finally succeeding in one glorious forty-minute burst. It’s a rock and roll suicide, and if you don’t understand what I mean, well…if you need anything more from me, I just can’t explain. So I won’t even try to.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Prefab Sprout ‎Steve McQueen Reissue

Prefab Sprout Steve McQueen Reissue

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1985 was a strange year For music. New wave was dead, and college rock was just getting going. The number of cool artists around was distressingly small, and they seemingly all came from either Minneapolis or Manchester. In amidst the jangle of the Smiths, the buzz of Hüsker Dü, and the synth washes of New Order, Northern England quartet Prefab Sprout’s second album, Steve McQueen, slipped in between the cracks as the elegant record that hipsters could chill out to. Popular, too, it hit #21 on the UK album charts. In the US, those bullies in charge of the estate of deceased actor Steve McQueen made poor Prefab change the album title. The band apparently consulted a caveman and went with Two Wheels Good (okay, now try saying, “mo-tor-cy-cle”). Despite its clunky American name, the disc still managed to crack the Billboard 200. So, we now know which artists Prefab Sprout don’t sound like. But their music doesn’t exist purely in contrast to other trends of the time. In truth, this album resides pretty snugly between the sophisti-pop of Style Council and the smartly written ditties of Aztec Camera. If you began the day with Café Bleu and slogged through the afternoon thanks to a spin of High Land, Hard Rain, then Steve McQueen would make for a perfect evening’s programming. Which isn’t to say that the music here is sleepy. Rather, it is daydreamy, creating its own lush little alcove of sound for you to drift into. This atmosphere begins with the soulful voice of leader Paddy McAloon. Even as he’s passionately warning us against the pitfalls that occur “When Loves Breaks Down”, the effect is far from bracing. And, when McAloon breathily croons the line, “Hunger stays ‘til it’s fed”, the outside world slips into a fog. Thomas Dolby’s keyboard flourishes also add greatly to the mood. Among chiming guitars, legato bass lines, and softly crashing cymbals, Dolby’s synth pads infuse the record with an ambience of dusky air pushing through a summer’s window screen. Steve McQueen is more than a pleasant mood, though. McAloon’s songs are mostly excellent. Along with lead single “When Loves Breaks Down”, the rockabilly-infused opener “Faron Young” is a bouncy, catchy, and complexly arranged number that could almost be mistaken for a cut off Meat Is Murder; “Hallelujah” references George Gershwin in its lyrics and 1970s soul balladry in its breezy sway; and late album beauty “Desire As” is a weary post-breakup wonder (“I’ve got six things on my mind / You’re no longer one of them”). As a testament to the strength of the songwriting on Steve McQueen, this remastered Legacy Edition comes with a bonus disc of solo acoustic versions of most of the album’s tracks, which McAloon recorded in 2006 specifically for the release. With only a six-string and his own voice, Paddy offers lovely interpretations of his two-decades-old songs.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Frank Black Frank Black

Frank Black Frank Black

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Underneath their noise and weirdness, the Pixies had a thorough knowledge of rock history, spanning '50s and '60s' surf-rock, '70s punk's menacing energy and '80s college rock's quirkiness. After dismantling the band, Black Francis inverted his name, collaborated with Captain Beefheart / Pere Ubu sideman Eric Drew Feldman and let his inner rock historian loose on Frank Black. Much of the album nods to Black's inspirations, but his own gifts still shine through. The chugging Iggy Pop homage "Ten Percenter" borrows the Stooges' primitive grind, while the arty, dissonant UFO convention tale "Parry the Wind High, Low" recalls Bowie's Berlin era. However, "I Heard Ramona Sing" -- a Ramones tribute -- is an airy, jangly pop number that sounds nothing like its subject; the Beach Boys' "Hang On To Your Ego" gets a new wave makeover with crunchy guitars and shiny keyboards. Despite his efforts to escape the Pixies' sound, many of Frank Black's songs would have fit on Trompe Le Monde. "Los Angeles" builds on that album's spacy, metallic feel; with its thrashy choruses and dreamy coda, it almost caricatures the Pixies' extreme dynamics. However, whimsical vignettes like "Brackish Boy" and "Two Spaces" sound more like They Might Be Giants -- one of Black's favorite groups -- than his old band, while softer songs like "Adda Lee" and "Every Time I Go Around Here" reveal more emotional depth. Frank Black also boasts an unabashedly big, polished sound; keyboards and brass embellish "Places Named After Numbers" and the epic surf-rock instrumental "Tossed." Just a few years later, new wave-inspired punk-pop bands like Weezer, the Rentals and even No Doubt ruled alternative rock, proving that even if his solo career wasn't as influential as his Pixies years, Frank Black was still ahead of his time.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Grandaddy ‎The Sophtware Slump Deluxe Edition

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The Sophtware Slump is one of the best albums of the 00s. Released in the first May of the decade, it was up against strong competition commercially (Sonic Youth, Eminem, Pearl Jam) – making its peak of 36 on the UK albums chart impressive indeed. But despite substantial critical praise, the group never broke the mainstream in the manner of similarly concept-heavy alt-rockers like The Flaming Lips and Radiohead. Grandaddy broke up in 2006, their final album Just Like the Fambly Cat an epitaph for a band whose work was singularly styled and frequently stunning. This is their finest studio set, but far from their most accessible collection. It’s a strange meeting of worlds, buzzing technology butting heads with bucolic retreat, backwoods mentality confounded by modernity. Frontman Jason Lytle produces, as he had on 1997’s debut disc Under the Western Freeway. But while Grandaddy’s first full-length was a bright and bizarre collection of oddball pop and hum-along indie (A.M. 180 is its best-known cut), these 46 minutes are rather more muted, introspective musings on expired alcoholic robots – Jed the Humanoid, and its fuzzy companion Jed’s Other Poem (with the great line, "I try to sing it funny like Beck, but it’s bringing me down") – standing in for eccentric essays on alien landscapes. It’s not without moments of instant-fix delight – The Crystal Lake is a perfect five minutes of songwriting gold – but this can be a heavy-going album for newcomers. But like so many great, so-called must-have long-players, repeat plays reward the listener with treats aplenty. Underneath the Weeping Willow is a tear-jerker to treasure, a sigh of a lyric desperate for retirement from the racket of the real world tugging on the ducts with a velveteen touch, its spare piano backdrop effortlessly beautiful. Hewlett’s Daughter is a calm, contemplative piece that briefly contorts into a clangourous rocker around the two-minute mark; and Broken Household Appliance National Forest is the greatest song ever written about abandoned fridge-freezers. But it’s the closer, So You’ll Aim Towards the Sky, that leaves the most lasting mark – and the biggest lump in the throat. If you don’t feel the slightest bit moved by the time a voice offers a simple "good luck", check your pulse. At the time of its original release, a handful of critics claimed that The Sophtware Slump was better than OK Computer. At points, one can hear where they were coming from. It’s certainly an essential of its era that has weathered the years well. The disc of extras included with this deluxe edition is, inevitably, something of a mixed bag. Fans will be pleased to get their ears around material from the band’s 2001 EP, Through a Frosty Plate Glass, as well as rough-edged album demos and B sides; but why is there nothing from the Signal to Snow Ratio four-tracker of 1999? Packaged with the original album in 2000 for a few quid more, it points the way to The Sophtware Slump’s masterful melancholy. A no-brainer for inclusion on paper, somehow it’s missing. Baffling, for sure, but it takes nothing away from the album-proper’s enduring excellence.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

The Waterboys The Secret Life Of The Waterboys 81-85

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The Secret Life of The Waterboys is a collection of previously unreleased studio recordings, radio sessions, live tracks and lost "B-sides" from the years 1981-1985. A 1985 BBC radio version of "Medicine Bow" opens proceedings with an extra verse and extended instrumental section to differentiate it from the familiar This is the Sea album recording. "That Was the River" is a wildly different, fast version of that album's title track, with Television's Tom Verlaine (no less) supplying some typically inventive, jagged lead guitar. "A Pagan Place" is a remix of the original master tape and consequently doesn't provide any real surprises. "Billy Sparks" is described by Scott as a raggle-taggle folk rock romp from the Pagan Place sessions presaging the Fisherman's Blues sound by about five years. While there's some validity in that claim (he wrote it after all, so should know what he's talking about!), the song is a slighter thing than any of the tracks on Fisherman's Blues. Rhythmically it's got more in common with the early '80s Ska revival than Irish or British folk music, and the tune is in the same vein as Katrina and the Waves' "Walking on Sunshine." It's equally toe-tapping however, and is the kind of thing that you find yourself humming round the house in spite of yourself. "Savage Earth Heart" has, as Scott notes, been played in hundreds of different versions. This one was recorded on The Waterboys ' first U.S. tour (in 1984) and features some stupendous drumming from Chris Whitten. The following version of "Don't Bang the Drum" is definitely something special. Here's the booklet notes: "This rearrangement was recorded live in one take for a radio session at the BBC's Golders Green studio, a converted and very atmospheric old theatre. Roddy Lorimer (trumpet) and Anthony Thistlethwaite (saxophone) played in two theatre boxes, high above Mike Scott (piano, vocals) and Steve Wickham (violin.) The lights were turned way down low and this is what happened." It's every bit as magical as you might hope. "The Ways of Men" is a fine big music Waterboys song, written too late for A Pagan Place and just too early for This Is the Sea. Thistlethwaite blows up the proverbial storm through this one. "Rags" (Second Amendment) is an earlier version with a different, bleaker lyric. "The Earth Only Endures" is a traditional Sioux lyric set to music and sung by Scott, to the accompaniment of an acoustic guitar and a thunderstorm. "Somebody Might Wave Back" is the original, solo demo of the song, recorded by Scott with his acoustic guitar in 1982. Interestingly (for me) this was the first Waterboys song that I heard performed by a busker (who I remember only as Peter). He'd learnt the song from the full band, album version, but unknowingly nailed the song's original form right on the head! "Going to Paris" is the oldest song on this collection, and it shows. Its interest lies mainly in being an example of the writer's early efforts, in the same way as some of The Beatles Anthology 1. "The Three Day Man" is a storming rocker from another BBC session featuring guest drummer Preston Hayman, who was working with Kate Bush at the time. "Bury My Heart" was written in an all night burst after reading Dee Brown's book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee in late 1981. Having completed the song, Scott recorded the whole thing himself (vocals, guitars, piano, and drums), then inexplicably didn't include it on the first Waterboys album. "Out of Control" is an absolute treasure. The track is credited to Another Pretty Face, Scott's main band before using the name The Waterboys . This recording was played on a BBC radio show by John Peel (legendary and much-loved champion of obscure music and undiscovered talent). Nigel Grainge (of Ensign records) heard this on his car radio and vowed to sign the unknown musicians responsible. Three months later he did. The closing song, "Love That Kills," was recorded in 1983 under the influence of the writings of W.B. Yeats and Dion Fortune. The vocal performance finds Scott occasionally over-reaching himself (this was recorded during a mammoth session), but is nonetheless a lost Waterboys classic, and provides an insight into just where Scott's muse was already leading him.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

The Jesus & Mary Chain ‎The Power Of Negative Thinking B-Sides & Rarities

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The Jesus and Mary Chain's 2008 Rhino four-disc box set The Power of Negative Thinking: B-Sides & Rarities, collects all of the influential Scottish noise-pop band's various B-side singles, cover songs, and sundry demos in one terrific package. Fans of JAMC who already own the band's albums should be pleased to see that none of the original album tracks are included here. For those who don't own them, Rhino's 2006 bonus disc reissues of Psychocandy, Darklands, Automatic, Honey's Dead, and Stoned & Dethroned is the place to start. However, in many ways The Power of Negative Thinking is a more honest portrait of JAMC than even the studio albums reveal. Often mischaracterized as gloomy, goth rock misanthropes -- only partly true -- JAMC were in truth huge fans of '60s sunshine pop, surf rock, and even hip-hop and aspired to a kind of D.I.Y. Phil Spector Wall of Sound aesthetic that found them substituting Spector's strings and horns with walls of feedbacking guitar. These are rough demos meant to capture the Reid brothers' raw creative vision of rock music that -- as guitarist Jim Reid says in the liner notes -- had, "the pop sensibilities of the Shangri-Las, but with the production values of the Birthday Party." In that sense, we get JAMC from their dreamy lo-fi punk roots with the 1983 drum machine-driven demo for "Up Too High" and 1984's sludgy feedback-laden "Upside Down," to their time as '90s alt rock icons on such pristinely polished efforts like shimmering 1992 ballad "Why Do You Want Me?" and the catchy folk-rock of 1994's "Something I Can't Have." We even get one of the few non-Reid entries in bassist Ben Lurie's pop nugget "Rocket." Also enlightening are such giddy cover songs as JAMC's version of Bo Diddley's "Who Do You Love," Prince's "Alphabet Street," and the Temptations' "My Girl" which purportedly JAMC were so drunk during the recording of they could barely hold their instruments. It's also true that the Reid brothers were big fans of Bob Dylan and that many of these songs were written on acoustic guitar. Not surprisingly, here we get blissfully melodic acoustic versions of "Just Like Honey" and "Taste of Cindy," which actually come fairly close to fulfilling JAMC's Spector-ish aspirations. Ultimately, The Power of Negative Thinking isn't the whole JAMC story, but it's the whole story behind the scenes and A-side singles, and sometimes the B-sides. Even better.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

The Cure ‎Join The Dots (B-Sides & Rarities 1978>2001 The Fiction Years)

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Wisely, the Cure decided to start fresh upon signing with their new label in 2004 by cleaning house, remastering the old albums, and bringing their fans Join the Dots: B-Sides & Rarities, 1978-2001. Not only is it the ultimate companion to the official releases, but it is, in a way, the new-super-deluxe-updated version of that cassette release of Staring at the Sea. Every B-side is included, in order, with cleaned-up sound, liner notes, and explanations by the man who made it all happen. All tracks, from "10.15 Saturday Night" (the B-side to the debut single "Killing an Arab") to covers of "Hello, I Love You," "Purple Haze," and "World in My Eyes," to entries from the Bloodflowers singles, are an indication that while the Cure made both strong albums and singles, they were not afraid to experiment along the way, and more importantly, they didn't let pride keep them from not making them available to those who were willing to look for them. Their growth as a band can be fully tracked in the songs here. The wild development on disc one (which includes the B-sides from the Staring at the Sea cassette, the B-sides from the Boys Don't Cry re-release from 1986, and the Japanese Whispers B-sides, as well as the extremely rare "Lament" [flexi-disc version]) is easily their strongest and most diverse era, with Smith growing artistically and musically in leaps and bounds from track to track. The rampant growth eventually gives way to the dark and heavy pop of the B-sides of Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Disintegration, and Mixed Up on disc two. While the songs are strong on this second disc, they manage to have less of the wild, experimental abandon that disc one has. the Cure began to find a real niche by this point, and by disc three, the dream pop of the late '80s had developed into the stadium-sized gloom and doom that characterized 1992's Wish, their critical and commercial peak. Eventually the band's output would become more sporadic, and the level of consistency would be more of a trademark of the band than the experimentalism of old. Disc four, which covers the time from Wild Mood Swings to Bloodflowers, is the "weakest" of the collection, but there are still great moments to be found, with many remixes that give the original tracks a new interpretation. There are those who would argue that the band grew, and others would argue that it fell apart, yet there is no denying that the majority of work on Join the Dots is extraordinarily strong. It admittedly may be a bit too much for someone who isn't quite a big devotee of the band, but it's a veritable godsend for those who've been waiting for this for years. No jumbled, out-of-order track listings, no glaring omissions (it's safe to say that the reissues of the albums will take care of any extra tracks, mixes, and miscellanea lying around) -- it's exactly what a rarities/B-sides collection should be. Join the Dots: B-Sides & Rarities, 1978-2001 is proof that, while the band may falter from time to time -- as most do -- the Cure have, unlike most, really been paying attention to their fans' needs over the years.
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