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In 1989, an interesting change of pace for watchers of INXS came in the form of a collaborative album involving Michael Hutchence and Ollie Olsen. Olsen, ex-Whirlywirld mastermind, and a Melbourne-based musician and DJ of some repute, had worked with Michael on music for the Richard Lowenstein film Dogs In Space a couple of years before, and scored an Australian hit with the alluring track 'Rooms For The Memory' (from the film and soundtrack LP). Dubbed Max Q (after Ollie's dog of the same name), the band consisted of mainstays Olsen and Hutchence with an attachment mob of musicians drawn from the underground scene. Held in high regard by fans and critics alike, but unsuccessful commercially, Max Q is a remarkable album indeed. Considered ahead of its time upon release and now out of print (when it could be most appreciated); Max Q deserves some long overdue attention. Constructed around Olsen's hybrid electronic song structures, Max Q explodes with invention at every turn. 'Sometimes' and 'Way Of The World', both featured tracks on the album, bristle with a vibe of punk/agro meets disco/house splendor - an area bands like Depeche Mode and Massive Attack have explored in depth. Jittery guitars clash with looped percussion attacks, and Michael's raging vocal workouts head butt powerful orchestral flourishes and the odd sonic bleep. There's a lot of raw noise going on here, but some of it is certainly beautiful - i.e. 'Monday Night By Satellite' and 'Ot-Ven-Rot'. Faint traces of Talking Heads, Eastern influences and the specter of Barry White also frame this exciting music. Before the release of the album the Australian master tapes were taken to New York City to be given a further polishing in the mix department by genius musical innovator Todd Terry from Chicago. A famous DJ who is one of the founding fathers of House music, Terry worked on the album and the attendant remixes (issued as b-sides and bonus tracks around the world). Michael and Ollie accompanied the movement of the music to NYC, and rooming together on the upper west side of town, finished the record and set plans and strategies into place for its release, promo and publicity. Upon release, Max Q would go through the Atlantic (WEA) pipeline stateside for the albums distribution, Mercury in the UK and Europe, and CBS/Sony in Australia. Coming on the heels of INXS's triumphant KICK album and tour didn't hurt, but also did not guarantee attention in the marketplace or translate to sales necessarily. Both of those areas suffered as far as Max Q was concerned - not for lack of trying though. With an intriguing Richard Lowenstein concept video for 'Way Of The World', and a mad dancing workout performance clip for 'Sometimes', exposure on music video channels globally was assured. Another little-seen (but highly innovative) video for third single 'Monday Night By Satellite' was also created and issued in some territories outside the US. Sadly, Max Q was doomed without 100% commitment from all participants (musicians, managers, etc.) and enough touring to make a difference (there were no Max Q live dates). In the context of INXS, Max Q draws insights into Michael's musical leanings away from the powerful funk/rock super band. An artistic triumph, the special album project established Michael Hutchence as no mere 'hood ornament' fronting a globe-trotting pop group (witness his understated presence on the mosaic-like cover image and associated band photos). This was not a typical vanity trip by a rich rock star and his cronies by any means - quite the opposite. Even the provocative shearing of his golden locks into a smart "short, back and sides" cut further distanced the Michael of Max Q and INXS. In hindsight, Max Q proved to be a worthwhile side project that had a positive creative impact on INXS when they reconvened to record X in 1990, and future recordings throughout the next decade. One can hear the Max Q influence on INXS in songs such as 'Faith In Each Other', 'Strange Desire', 'The Gift' and 'She Is Rising'. Interestingly, the b-side to the band's very next single, 'Suicide Blonde' (after Max Q was released), a sassy track called 'Everybody Wants U Tonight' by Jon Farriss, bears a strong likeness to the Max Q material, showing that Michael was not the only one exploring new musical areas within the band at this time. A must-have item in any comprehensive INXS collection, Max Q also connects in a very linear way with the Michael Hutchence solo album released in 1999 (U.S., 2000). Though Ollie Olsen is not part of that new album's makeup, the style is similar in its assimilation of current left-field influences and odd recording approaches and performances. The biographical aspects of both records cannot be ignored either. 'Possibilities' from the posthumous solo album echoes sentiments of 'Concrete' from Max Q, and so on. In essence, Max Q was Michael's first solo album, but to his credit he went to great lengths to establish it very much as a freestanding band apart from 'Michael Hutchence of INXS,' allowing for the project to stand or fall on its own merits.
If you’re scratching your head as to just who Scritti Politti is, here’s a quick primer for an act that’s had almost more of an interesting life outside of the spotlight as in it. Green Gartside, a stage name for Paul Strohmeyer, was a politically-minded art school student who became inspired by the punk movement, started his own band, and gained the attention of enough people through his own philosophical and politically charged songs to gain a spot on a tour with Joy Division and Gang of Four. Unfortunately, Green, as he was sometimes known by only the one name, had massive stage fright (much like Andy Partridge of XTC or Cat Power), couldn’t perform, and had his first heart attack at the age of 23. After a few years of struggling to make that work, the other band members eventually left, leaving Green on his own to chart his own musical path. He was inspired by the music coming out of New York City at the time, tried to record a failed and unreleased record with Nile Rodgers, then eventually put together a series of singles which became the landmark Cupid & Psyche 85. This album was a breakthrough at the time, but can also still be played today without any anachronistic dangers. Every song still holds up today as one of the best pop records ever produced. Green, as he is simply credited in the liner notes, has a voice that one critic has stated is “eternally 14 years old.” Green’s childlike feminine voice is a wonder to behold, and coming from a guy who’s 6’6″, it’s even more amazing. Add to that some of the first sampling ever to be used in popular music, and you’ve got a recipe for an innovative record. The first song on the album, “The Word Girl (Flesh and Blood),” played on Green’s use of language and wordplay, writing a song about how the actual word `girl’ is used in pop music and how it objectifies women, all set to dub reggae keys and bass. The song became a big hit in the UK, but it wouldn’t be the only one. “Absolute” wasn’t one that hit the charts as big as some of the others, but is definitely one of the standout tracks, using the methods of sampling and sound manipulation that Green had become fascinated with. “Perfect Way” was the huge hit in the US, and it’s easy to hear why. Various loops and studio wizardry add to a sonically dense and exciting mix, but it is Green’s vocals, way with words and delivery that make this song stunning. The other hit in the UK, and one that I definitely remember hearing on the radio in 1985, though it didn’t chart in the US is the divine “Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin).” The cribbed hip-hop sounds from songs at the time like Newcleus’ “Jam on Revenge” take on whole new meanings in this pop love song. Again, Green gives us some witty lyrics such as “There’s nothing I wouldn’t do, including doing nothing.” He takes the idea of a `would be’ lover and changes it to `Wood Beez,’ then adds a chorus of praying (like Aretha Franklin) that simply sticks in your cranium. It was quite a big step away from the political and philosophical songs of his post-punk beginnings, and a smaller step away from the literary and lyrical presentations of his past, but Scritti Politti indelibly left their mark on the world of pop music with Cupid & Psyche 85. Some may say the music sounds dated today, but the production is solid, and Green’s vocals are so smooth you can spread them on a bagel. Every once in a while I’ll break this one out and attempt a horrible falsetto, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t fun to listen to and try.
While Madness were still the most fun you could have with your clothes on, their third album, 7, showed a side of the band that we had not seen before. On the surface, the album contained their usual jovial and fun approach to music, yet, lyrically, it pointed in a far more somber direction. The single "Grey Day" was a dub-laden and lyrically depressing come-down after the party the band had on the first two albums... and it was brilliant. "Mrs. Hutchinson" deals with the impending death of a certain hospital patient. "Cardiac Arrest" describes a heart attack brought on by stress. "Shut Up" is sung from the point of view of a career criminal caught in an uncompromising position. Well, OK, so it may not be the 'woe is me' crap that Emo bands have given us in recent years, but for Madness, this was serious stuff. That is not to say that the album isn't fun, because it is. "Benny Bullfrog" is a gem of a tune, no matter how close it gets to novelty. More musically diverse than Absolutely, 7 is a stunning and mature album that this writer feels is one of their best albums, if not their best. Ska fans were sorely disappointed by the lack of skanking tunes, but Madness had grown up and this albums remains a fantastic platter of Pop gems. Once again, Langer & Winstanley's production is flawless. NOTE: While "It Must Be Love" was NOT included on the album, it was released as a single shortly after this album's release and can be found on the bonus disc. One of their all-time finest singles, "It Must Be Love" was a brilliant re-invention of the classic Labi Sifre tune, succeeding on all levels. In fact, many folks think it's a Madness original... and they definitely turn it into a song they can nearly claim as their own.
Disc One features the original 13 track album. Disc Two features three tracks from a Richard Skinner session (including "Tiptoes", which was later recorded for the band's following album, The Rise & Fall) plus eight additional non album tracks (including "It Must Be Love", "In The City" and even the very rare extended version of "Cardiac Arrest").
Looper is Stuart David from Belle and Sebastian, it says so on the sticker on the cover. However on listening to this album the connection wouldn't be immediately obvious, as this is very different fare indeed. The proclamation on the cover isn't an idle boast either, with almost every song being David's work alone, apart from occasional guest vocals and even rarer guest musicians. Everything else is samples arranged by David, played by him and sung or spoken by him. The songs are a diverse mix of funky beats, clever samples and spoken word stories, not unlike Eels, Susan's House, which display David's talent for writing engaging tales admirably. One such tale is told on Impossible Things #2, a gorgeous story set to a simple beat with flute and harmonica complimenting it beautifully. Similar songs are Dave The Moon Man, another example of sparkling prose set to an infectious tune and Columbo's Car, a tongue in cheek parody about the TV detective in which he investigates Stuart David for stealing samples, all set to a funky jazz tune. Stuart David also has an ear for a catchy sample and knows how to mix them for maximum effect. The Treehouse is a thumping beat, a haunting melody and a brilliant sampled lyric. Ballad of Ray Suzuki is a dance tune on which David lets rip with all the samples he can find and Burning Flies is David mixing it up to the odd lyric of "I'm quite happy burning flies." Just to prove that Looper isn't just about samples and funky beats, there's Quiet And Small, for which David owes the Velvet Underground's, Pale Blue Eyes a huge debt. On the evidence of Up A Tree Stuart David may find Looper, unlike many side projects, outshines his day job as bassist with Belle And Sebastian. Let's hope this album isn't a once off, as Looper has too much to offer. A brilliant debut, haunting, funky, melodic, Up A Tree has it all.
It should be no surprise to many that the early work of Simple Minds has aged far better than the breast-beating rock band they were to be come in the late 80's/early 90's period. Common consensus has it that 'New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84)' is the true classic but spare a moment for 1981's ambitious double-set of 'Sons And Fascination/Sister Feelings Call'. It is an 80-minute opus of electronic music with a decidely European sound following on neatly from the early Ultravox albums. 'The American' and 'Love Song' gave the group their first hits since 'I Travel' and although this recording is considering more commercially viable than the first three long players - they had just signed to Virgin Records after all - there is a high standard of artistic merit on show. A cursory listen to '70 Cities As Love Brings The Fall' is like listening to a space-age elevator opening and closing and the first title track brings an unlikely case for marrying together slap bass, Oriental keyboards and Jim Kerr's gothic vocals. 'Seeing Out The Angels' is an indication of the prettier textures incorporated on their next album whilst 'Careful In Career' proves that they had not totaly discarded their post-punk routes. Admittedly the slap bass use becomes wearisome after a while but this is a highly presentable example of what Simple Minds thought the future would sound like from 1982's perspective.
Idlewild are proud of their home nation. Every time he strums a chord in any given half-hearted genre shuffle for his band, it’s so clear to see that Roddy Woomble is one of Scotland’s truest patriots – perhaps it was once humble and restricted to small bouts of overpowering Scottish accent, but eventually it simply became an unmistakable admiration. He tried to bend the rules of the band’s third foray, The Remote Part, when Scotland’s very own poet Laureate Edwin Morgan opted to collaborate with Idlewild, squeezing an angry poem about the land’s literature into a completely unrelated song. Then, Woomble’s band made an attempt at writing Scottish folk in a conventional rock sound as their albums progressed, and eventually it all ended with recognition, the band donating a new creation to Songs of The Book, a modern day attempt at Scottish folklore. Thanks to Woomble, this is the band’s truest, proudest characteristic, and what better way to be recognised than with your country behind you? But thankfully, their sophomore effort needed an introduction to absolutely everyone, because there was nothing to live up to; Hope Is Important, the bands debut album, was a jumbled mess that really only succeeded in presenting Idlewild’s schisms. What was there to this record? There was pure hardcore punk with the most mediocre distain, with the band screaming through one minute of the most pointless introduction ever created. There was also sentiment as half way through and a few sessions of thinking later they wrote “I’m Happy To Be Here Tonight”, a weary acoustic outpour that sounded exactly like they would have wanted it to – coming out of a distant and ancient castle. In between these outcasts was a slob’s cut and paste job, with choruses and verses simply being positioned until the album faded away, never to be remembered again. This was the band’s blessing: nobody needs to remember this album (what a mix up!) until they have actually remembered what its wiser counterpart 100 Broken Windows, did. In recent years, the path faced with post-punk revival acts such as Interpol, Franz Ferdinand, Editors et al has become as frequent as possibly necessary. Yet there are even other alt rockers with the same desire to impel ‘real’ punk aggression into their typical offshoot of rock music, albeit keeping it to an accessible limit. Before the new millennium, anyone who had listened to the interpretation and definition by Manic Street Preachers of punk rock by means of The Holy Bible would have known that this would not be a particularly unique trend. Whether or not Idlewild travelled into the future and gauged any of this is unsure, but their happy millennium album, 100 Broken Windows, essentially restrained the unplanned, somehow wrong sounds they had one crafted and traded it in for something quite special. And while it’s easy to label Woomble’s alternative rock as ‘punk based’, what it really becomes is aggressive music floating amidst thoughtful music. For instance, the resemblance of a two-chord outfit on “I Don’t Have A Map” is there as Rod Jones cranks up the guitar and vibrates the room with distortion, and there’s even more evidence to fit the pedantic when Woomble is so close to screaming his lungs out as he sings You can’t cope without the contact! one last time. But what makes the track so delightfully brilliant – so enjoyable – is that the band stop and think, realise their limits, and create something that, to the wider world, is devoid of boundary. Again, the near-yells on “Idea Track” create something that has always mystified me – the idea of blending pop-punk with Britpop into one package. And this beautiful result of a chaotic, one-syllable anthem, sums up the connotations abound in the ‘punk’ side of 100 Broken Windows – they’re always hiding, and as they’re mixed with unpredictable, atonal piano, they’re just one small contribution to making it a masterpiece. Still, sometimes it’s even better for the band to tread down another path of outburst. Instead of reaching for the distressing, blasting vocals, the band are fusing absolutely anything they can get their hand on, bidding farewell to integrity and making some of the catchiest music ever. “These Wooden Ideas” draws in fuzzy, psychedelic keyboard that overlaps with moody guitar lines, and Woomble is left, the senile, crafty singer he is, to almost respond to the silent listener, retorting arguments with I bet you don’t know how to spell contradiction/I bet you don’t know how to sell conviction. It’s moments like these, where a sneakily long bridge is suddenly shattered with possibly the best chorus in history, that the band invoke their truest form of rock. Again, this power comes through when the band want to dig into their historical niches and end up squealing a sing-along verse of Gertrude Stein said “THAT’S ENOUGH!” in the fleshed-out, epic grunge nobility of “Roesability”. All these moments signify a lack of regard for musical prowess and a distinct adoration for simply thrashing their guitars, drums and vocals against one another, and it makes 100 Broken Windows, with its enclosed unhappy happenstance of echoes, one of the most claustrophobic, intense albums to listen in on. 100 Broken Windows never really had a circumstance to rely on in terms of making it truly special and provoking, which makes it even more remarkable as an album anyone can connect to emotionally. Lyrically, Woomble has scribbled out a brainstorm that looks nonsensical on paper, but suits every mood it touches. He references absolutely no-one in “The Bronze Medal”, crying out materialistic loathing with It felt cold inside/so we threw the television on the fire and rambling about coming third – but even when it should be so untouchable, it suits the abnormal piano ballad perfectly and becomes attaching. And even amidst each candid track’s lyrical weirdness, Idlewild can connect each and every amplified guitar note, piano chord and (just once), bagpipe line. In the end, it’s summed up in “The Bronze Medal” when, finally, Woomble knows what he wants to say, and becomes coherent enough to delicately sing It was always meant to be like this/when you’re somewhere that’s as cold as this. By the time this half-hum is over, there is simply one thing to understand about 100 Broken Windows: personality. It is an album about identity in so many abstract ways; the phobias of “Actually Its Darkness”, the imagination of humans that can be conveyed in “These Wooden Ideas”, and the full embodiment of human character in the albums disheartening, heavy closer. Everyone of Idlewild’s blurry ballads in 100 Broken Windows are almost suffocating in their emotional resonance, but more importantly, at the same time as they’re helping you discover what the album and band means to you, you’re also reminded – through the accent, the poetry, the avid instruments, whatever – that they’re true patriots. Enjoy forty minutes of Scotland’s uproar.
Despite the fact that the cover of this album is adorned by a lonely scene of a forgotten amusement stand framed by the harsh winter highlands, 'Songs From Nothern Britain' is an LP full of the joys of summer. I would use the metaphore of being able to almost hear the birds of spring singing along in tandem with the tracks, except for the fact that the intro for one of the album's singles 'I Don't Want Control Of You' makes it redundant by actually doing it. Indeed, as soon as the LP starts with the shiny-happy single 'Start Again', you're on a musical road-trip to sun drenched apple orchards and quiet lake side groves, surrounded by jangley guitars and layered Beach Boys aping harmonies. The next song 'Ain't That Enough' actually has the lyrics "Here comes the sunrise / Ain't that enough / Summer in the city / Summer in the city." To carry on the point of the sunniness of this record is perhaps overkill, but there is a song later on the album entitled 'Winter', which, somewhat confusingly, is a tale of escaping to the pristine beauty of the forest ("Skys are forever clear / road never made it here /forest so deep and green / like nothing we've ever seen") and is one of the least winter-esque sounding songs you're ever likely to hear. Being 'happy' does not, of course, have any bearing on the quality of albums, but rest assured that 'Songs From Northern Britain' excells in the quality department too. Aside from the aforementioned tracks, there are a couple more truely classic tunes waiting in the wings. 'Take The Long Way Round' has a bouncing punky riff that propells it onward (a riff that was stolen by Idlewild for 'As If I Hadn't Slept', and once again has a delightful feel of travel and summer coursing through it's lyricism ("Sometimes you look for inspiration / Sometimes you underline destinations"), whilst the album highlight is the utterly beautiful acoustic driven ballad 'Planets', which is one of the best folk-rock tunes I've ever heard and once again ("We're moving out of the city / And into the highlands / We'll pack up the kids / and look for a home") is full of summer movements and the joys contained therein.In conclusion, I love this album. I would go so far as to say it's one of my favorite record for a sunny day. It's overlooked and underated, and a true lost gem if ever there was one.
Beneath the Rhythm and Sound is a carefree, simple album. The music is so light and airy –- and it flows so perfectly –- that listening to it will make you feel like you’re floating. The album has an excellent mix of dreamy songs (like “Ice Skating at Night”) and somewhat bouncy songs (like “Sublime”). It’s not necessarily dance music, though a few of the songs may cause you to spontaneously bust a move. It’s head-bobbing music. The Ocean Blue’s music is extremely poppy. And I don’t mean that in the glitzy-cheeseball-pop sense. I mean it in the fun-and-simple-Beatles-pop sense. These guys don’t need expensive costumes and fancy dance moves to make them great musicians. I definitely recommend adding Beneath the Rhythm and Sound to your collection
Conventional wisdom would suggest that That Petrol Emotion peaked with their first two albums of cutthroat, frenetic garage pop, and that subsequent albums made too many concessions to pop currents and lost their charm. Piffle. Chemicrazy is the supreme statement by a band who could have gone on churning out excellent garage-rock songs from here till eternity, but chose not to. The results on End of the Millennium Psychosis Blues were patchy, but not here -- especially on two of the finest singles never to grace the British charts: "Sensitize" and "Hey Venus." Vocalist Steve Mack's performance on the former, in particular, is stunning; and the rest of the album is almost as good. If you have any sort of appetite for pop music, you'd have to be dead from the neck up not to dance your legs off to this.