Saturday, 17 December 2016

Various ‎Just Say Noël

VariousJust Say Noël

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A compilation CD released by Geffen featuring artists on their roster around 1996. It features music from Sonic Youth, Beck, The Roots, XTC, Southern Culture On The Skids, and many more, This Is The Last Post Of The Year So Have A Merry Christmas & A Happy New Year, Aid00

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Elvis Costello ‎The Very Best Of Elvis Costello

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One of the most striking elements of Costello's songs has always been the scathing, precise social commentary of his lyrics. Never one to shirk away from issues, the early period of Costello's work sees him addressing topics from mercenary warfare ('Oliver's Army') to wife-beating ('Watching The Detectives'). It is a mark of his talent that these songs still sound strikingly relevant today. Check out 'Clubland' for a cynical sussing of club-culture 15 years before Jarvis became 'Sorted (For Es and Whizz)' or 1978's '(I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea', a depiction of exploitative Warhol-style production of fashion models. Musically as well as lyrically, Costello's considerable ability was quickly in evidence. From his debut My Aim Is True, 'Watching The Detectives', with its dubby bass, fragmented guitar figures and skittering percussion, created a White reggae sound much imitated by The Police. In 1978, with collaborator and producer Steve Nieve, Costello formed The Attractions (Steve Nieve - keyboards, Bruce Thomas - Bass, and Pete Thomas - Drums) for This Year's Model. In the process, a unique sound was created that was both restrained and innovative. On the spunky pop of 'Pump it Up', for example, The Attractions provide a dumb-ass punk three-chord riff and a Doors-esque organ sound as backdrop to Costello's rapid fire Subterranean Homesick Blues lyrics. Elsewhere The Attractions create accompaniments that are both beautiful and subtle ('Shipbuilding'), and swirly, frantic and poppy ('Lipstick Vogue'). Viewing this collection as a whole Costello's musical diversity is apparent. From the snarly, spiky pop on Armed Forces to the more laid-back calypso soul on tracks such as 'Everyday I Write The Book' from 1983's Punch The Clock, Costello's music managed to evolve while staying true to a deeply rooted artistic vision. Costello's work away from The Attractions, such as the critically overlooked but intriguing 1996 album with the Brodsky Quartet, All This Useless Beauty, displayed an imagination and taste much lacking during the time. Away from the security of The Attractions, Costello still created some excellent material, including 'Brilliant Mistake', the track featured here from his 1986 album with T.Bone Burnett, the superb King Of America. While his solo outing from 1991, 'Mighty Like A Rose', was somewhat less than impressive, 1994 saw him reunited with The Attractions for Brutal Youth, a well received return to form. Costello manages to consistently sound contemporary while resisting the remix-one-stop-career-fix option, in favour of the discipline of hard work and strong songwriting. While such 'Best Of' collections can always be criticised for missing certain favourites ('Less Than Zero' is particularly conspicuous by its absence), this CD contains a vast array of classic tracks. It is an essential purchase.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Various ‎Creation Artifact: The Dawn Of Creation Records 1983-1985

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Alan McGee's Creation Records was one of the most influential and consistently interesting labels of the '80s and '90s, cranking out classic songs and albums while giving the world some of the biggest bands of the era (the Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, Oasis). Cherry Red's 2015 box set Artifact: The Dawn of Creation Records 83-85 focuses on the very beginnings of Creation's run, compiling singles, live tracks, demos, and Peel Sessions and putting them in a handsome package. The first two discs gather up (almost) all the singles released between 1983 and 1985, beginning with the Legend!'s raucous "'73 in '83." Along the way there are classic tracks by McGee's own Biff Bang Pow! ("There Must Be a Better Life"), the Loft ("Why Does the Rain"), the Jasmine Minks ("Think"), and Meat Whiplash ("Don't Slip Up"). The first JAMC and Primal Scream singles are here too, along with two brilliant singles by the Pastels and obscure releases by the Moodists and the X-Men. The sheer amount of quality indie pop on display is staggering. McGee and his crew were great talent-spotters and the label's aesthetic was spot-on, capturing the best aspects of '60s pop and '70s punk while sounding smack up to date. The third disc is a grab bag of rarities, obscurities, and live tracks highlighted by a wonderfully jangly single by McGee's pre-Creation band the Laughing Apple; three live songs by a band that was very inspirational to McGee, the Television Personalities; and excerpts from the Alive in the Living Room album, which captured Creation bands (and others) playing at the club McGee founded. The fourth disc is one that will have collectors frothing at the mouth, composed as it is of all previously unreleased demos by a handful of bands, including lots of Jasmine Minks tracks, sounding scruffy and alive with youthful vigor. The Biff Bang Pow!, Legend! and X-Men tracks are all fun, while the Moodists' takes on "Train from Kansas City" and "Guess I'm Dumb" show that they knew their way around a cover version, but the crown jewels are the three tracks that Meat Whiplash recorded for their never released second single. The fifth disc is another one for the hardcore Creation fans. It's made up of Peel Sessions, with a handful of live Loft tracks added as a bonus. The Loft are the stars here, sounding like a great lost band as they run through their perfect jangle pop repertoire with sophisticated flair. The Meat Whiplash session is noisy thrills and the Bodines deliver frantically energetic versions of their classic tunes "Theresa" and "William Shatner." Overall, the box set is nearly perfect. The music itself is consistently brilliant, the rarities are impressive, the curation very well considered, and the bright sound fairly jumps out of the speakers. Fans of the label, and indie pop in general, will be pleased that so much care was given to Creation's thrilling early days and should waste no time adding Artifact to their collections.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

The Stranglers La Folie Reissue

The Stranglers La Folie Reissue

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La Folie is a welcome album in the Stranglers' oeuvre, mainly a collection of tight, punchy songs that often suggest the forthright approach of American new wave bands. With one exception, the songs are shorter and more pointed, harking back to the comparative conciseness of some of the tunes on the band's first two albums, Rattus Norvegicus and No More Heroes, though acidic lyrics still predominate. "Non-Stop" is a typical example, featuring a half-spoken vocal that suggests Lou Reed, a Cars-influenced organ sound, and a bouncy, dance-derived drum beat; this particular song is atypical, however, because it employs a blues-oriented progression. An interesting excursion is encountered in the song "Golden Brown," a subdued, jazz-influenced number with purring vocals, a coolly executed synthesizer/harpsichord backing texture, and a periodically stumbling beat. Only the plushly understated title track suggests the sprawl typical of the group's immediately preceding releases. This fine album is well worth purchasing

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Underworld ‎Dubnobasswithmyheadman Super Deluxe Edition

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The five-disc, six-and-a-quarter-hour long edition of Underworld’s 1994 debut (well, debut in the form that most people would recognize as Underworld, with Rick Smith and Karl Hyde teaming up with Darren Emerson in the wake of Underworld mk I’s collapse) is the kind of thing you’d never recommend to someone interested in checking out the band for the first time. Lengthier than some bands’ entire discographies, replete with alternate versions and collector detritus (really amazing collector detritus, but still), it is an embarrassment of riches for fans but a very heavy meal for the neophyte. The album itself, justly a classic, sounds great here, but the much more digestible two-disc Deluxe Edition is an easier place to start (and boasts the same remaster, which to the band’s credit sounds fresher and sharper but not painfully louder nor brickwalled into oblivion). That version’s second disc compiles some of the early and important singles and the previously unreleased songs from the bigger version, a smart approach if not actually one that culls the very cream from the (much) longer edition, although it does have the advantage of not taking a quarter of your day to listen to. Or is that an advantage? If nothing else, getting and devoting oneself to this kind of actually-deluxe edition allows the kind of deep dive that many of us seem to find hard to manage or justify in 2014. Editions like this one often work best when you come to them already intimately familiar with the original work, allowing material like the live rehearsal recorded in the band’s home studio (that would be disc 5) to function both as a pleasure in its own right (that 18-minute “Spoonman”!) and a new way of approaching and understanding work you’ve loved for years. The bonus material here has been IntellIgently organized and, with one or two minor exceptions, very intelligently chosen (and given taste, we probably all disagree which of the 41 tracks here are those exceptions). If this isn’t everything of worth Underworld had in the vaults from this era, it certainly feels like it sometimes, a mark of how satisfying (and yes, exhaustive) it is. Dubnobasswithmyheadman has at this point been canonized and picked-over enough that there’s little enough to add, but in the context of all this other material it’s kind of amazing all over again that Hyde, Smith, and Emerson came up with such a fully-formed sound and emotional tone from all these disparate directions they might have taken. While the supplementary material is great, there’s only maybe one example of a track so good you might wish it had made the cut instead (that would be the immortal “Rez”, especially ever since their live album indelibly connected it and “Cowgirl”). Interestingly enough, most of the less dancefloor-friendly songs here are found on the original LP, like the lithely downtempo “River of Bass” and the plaintive, sparse “Tongue”. On the album they serve to give the likes of the dark, cathartic “Dirty Epic” and the propulsive, buzzing “Spoonman” greater impact through contrast, but as the other four discs here prove, Underworld could have easily made an album that would have been much more conventionally club focused (and it would have also been astounding, but perhaps a little less distinctive). Those four discs cover, in order, non-album singles and b-sides (including two songs they released under the Lemon Interrupt name), remixes, previously unreleased material (mostly rough versions, with some worthwhile new songs) and the aforementioned rehearsal tapes. While any fan who owns a significant number of Underworld releases will find some duplication, the band appear to have generally tried to avoid that common pitfall (“Bigmouth” and “Big Meat Show”, both of which appeared on the recent 1992-2012 The Anthology, only appear here on the rehearsal tape for example) while still being definitive. There are definitely some oddities, especially for fans that weren’t around when some of this material was originally released (“Dirtyguitar”, for example, contains elements of both “Dirty Epic” and “Mmm…Skyscraper I Love You”, not two songs you’d necessarily think to combine), and some revelations even for longtime fans: the sublime outro to “Mmm…Skyscraper I Love You” appears to have been composed by adding the guitar riff from the fine, previously unreleased “Can You Feel Me?” to what’s tagged as the “After Sky” version of the former here, and more than once you can hear Karl Hyde trying out different lyrical and vocal techniques on the way to the assured, stream of consciousness sloganeering he fully pioneered on the original album, an approach that’s still one of the most striking things about Underworld’s work. Whether due to the material available or preference, “Mmm…Skyscraper I Love You” and “Dark & Long” get most of the spotlight here, with both songs showing up in six and seven different versions, respectively, across the five discs (although four songs from the original release only turn up on the first disc here). Normally just over two hours worth of those two songs might run the risk of tediousness, but the range from (for example) the pulsing, subdued album version of “Dark & Long”, the featured-in-Trainspotting synth washes of “Dark & Long (Dark Train)”, and the 20-minute, beatific “Dark & Long (Thing in a Book Mix)” are transformed enough that including them all doesn’t feel redundant or lazy. Of course, this is a band who once released a 65-minute US single half composed of versions of the same song that plays better than a lot of contemporary electronic albums. The songs and versions included here are of such uniformly high quality that it’s a bit of a shame that they aren’t spread out a little more evenly, admittedly; the two alternate versions of “Cowgirl” that are here, for example, are among the best bonus material here. The “Irish Pub in Kyoto” mix is an instrumental take that occasionally sounds like a factory in a videogame (in the best possible way), while the previously unreleased demo (tagged, as everything on disc 4 is, with information that presumably means more to them than us, in this case “(Alt Cowgirl C69 Mix From A1564)”) sees a subdued Hyde working through a set of lyrics about a cowgirl “under a branded sky” that did not make the album version at all. It’s further in that Hyde appears to almost stumble on a few lines that would wind up either repeated or just looped in the released version (“call me I feel like flying into” appears here only as part of a longer monologue, for example) over tumbling drums that have a looser feel than the seething LP version. The result is something that is almost totally unlike “Cowgirl” despite being unmistakably the same song; in the old days they could have thrown it on the b-side as a “part two” and it would have been a cult favourite. At the risk of turning in a review as long as the BOX set, there isn’t room to dig through all of this wonderful material to describe how many similar cases there are in this edition of Dubnobasswithmyheadman. But over and over again these discs subtly unlock new angles on the original, the way the instrumental “Dirty Ambi Piano” version of “Dirty Epic” makes those foghorn synths in the back almost holy. Six hours and fifteen minutes is a lot of time to spend contemplating an album once, but this set argues in the strongest possible terms that Underworld Mk II’s first effort is well worth it; 

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

The Fall ‎458489 B Sides

The Fall 458498 B Sides

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The title cleverly encapsulates the contents - the Fall's B-sides (45s) from 1984 to 1989. The Fall were a first-rate singles band, and the flip sides were often their equals. There is the odd dud here -- there are a thousand Fall songs to hear and "Clear Off" and "Mark'll Sink Us" wouldn't be high on ones list of priorities. But there are also many genuinely great tracks: "Petty Thief Lout," "Australians in Europe," "No Bulbs." It should be noted that in the Fall's turbulent history, their six-year spell at Beggars Banquet was their most productive and artistically rewarding. There are actually 31 tracks on view here, including a handful of remixes -- rich pickings (the album was never originally issued outside of Europe).

Saturday, 26 November 2016

The Fall ‎458489 A Sides

The Fall 458489 A Sides

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Bypassing their edgy, early singles and concentrating on their artier, more eclectic work of the mid- and late '80s, 458489 A-Sides encapsulates nearly all of the Fall's many attributes. All of the singles on A-Sides are culled from the era when Brix Smith was in the band, arguably the band's most cohesive and rewarding years. Drawing from their strongest albums -- The Wonderful and Frightening World of the Fall, This Nation's Saving Grace, Bend Sinister, The Frenz Experiment -- A-Sides offers an excellent introduction to the Fall. It is both a useful retrospective and a kind of road map, pointing out the differences between albums. For neophytes and the uninitiated, there is no better sampler, and for longtime fans, the collection reiterates what a fine singles band the Fall were in their heyday

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

808 State ‎Ex:El Deluxe Edition

808 StateEx:El Deluxe Edition

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Capturing 808 State at their absolute best, none of their subsequent albums quite matched Ex:El's perfect blend of art, mass appeal, and zeitgeist (one of the most common vocal samples in techno, Willy Wonka's "We are the music makers," made its first major appearance here). A major change here from past releases is the increasing variety and power of the State's percussion: beats are heavier and more staggered, embracing earlier flirtations with hip-hop and industrial music with even greater success, as heard on heavy duty groovers like "Leo, Leo." A sign of how influential Ex:El ended up being can be seen in how one of the commonest clichés of U.K. techno albums -- the guest appearance of a noted indie/alternative rocker on a track or two -- got its start from the cameo vocals here. Fellow Mancunian dance pioneer Bernard Sumner of New Order sings one of his patented gentle ruminations over "Spanish Heart," a nice piano-led number with a solid backbeat. Meanwhile, even more notably, the Sugarcubes' Björk lends her swooping singing to the lower-key but still active "Qmart" and the dramatic, flamenco-tinged "Ooops," establishing a partnership with the State's Graham Massey that would result in his working on many of her solo projects. Add to all this two of the best techno singles from the early '90s -- "In Yer Face," a subtly politicized anti-American slammer, and the almighty "Cubik" (in America replaced by an astonishing remix of the same song, the original having appeared on UK Version) -- and Ex:El stands out all the more strongly. A true masterpiece.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Various ‎Back To The Old Skool Indie Dance Classics

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Ministry of Sound's Back to the Old Skool Indie Dance Classics collects club hits from the '80s and '90s. The three-disc set leans heavily toward acid house and U.K. artists, especially those from the Madchester scene, such as Happy Mondays, New Order, and the Stone Roses. While a few of the 60 tracks don't quite fit the "Dance Classics" bill (the La's' alt-pop ballad "There She Goes" would likely clear a floor), songs like the Shamen's "Move Any Mountain," M/A/R/R/S' "Pump Up the Volume," and the Stereo MC's' "Connected" are surefire jams to get a retro dance party started right.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Various ‎Britpop At The BBC

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Britpop at the BBC is a slightly misleading title for this three-disc collection. While the 44 tracks on the first two discs are compiled by Radio One's Evening Session DJs Steve Lamacq and Jo Whiley, they are not actually BBC recordings, but the artists' original studio recordings. Hardcore Brit-pop fans will likely already own most of these classic tracks from Suede, Cast, Ocean Colour Scene, and many more, though it's a fine compilation in its own right. However, the third disc is actually devoted to the BBC's Evening Session performances and features some very nice unreleased cuts by Pulp, the Auteurs, Blur, Supergrass, and other great bands of the era And Here's The Documentary Live Forever The Rise And Fall Of Brirpop

Saturday, 12 November 2016

The Housemartins ‎London 0 Hull 4 Deluxe Edition

The Housemartins London 0 Hull 4

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Has there ever been a band where the members have gone on to such disparate occupations? Paul Heaton we know about - he invented mum rock with the Beautiful South, sold nine billion copies of 'Carry On Up The Charts' and remains one of pop's most doggedly loyal footy freaks. Bassist Quentin 'Norman' Cook decided it would be a laugh to wear loud Hawaiian shirts and marry Zoe Ball while at the same time reinventing rave to no small degree of success. Jangly guitar maestro Stan Cullimore went on to bonk and bash Ulrika Jonson, play some football and still managed to find some time to indulge in a spot of dogging. Only joking. That was Stan Collymore. Stan Cullimore opened a vegetarian delicatessen before launching another more successful career as a children's author and script writer for the BBC. Meanwhile, original drummer Hugh Whittaker decided to take up amateur surgery and rearranged somebody's features with an axe before being held at Her Majesty's pleasure. 'London 0 Hull 4' was originally released in October 1986 on the influential Go-Discs label during a stark period for British music, where such esteemed greats as Nick Berry, Five Star and Cutting Crew roamed the dressing rooms of Top Of The Pops on a weekly basis. The Smiths were gone, the C86 bands were still finding their feet, Madchester was still a twinkle in Tony Wilson's eye and Ian Brown and John Squire were still a) talking to each other and b) goths. This deluxe edition of the Housemartins' debut is a fabulous reminder of what a fine and necessary group they were. "Happy Hour" remains a beguiling combination of group harmony, Stan's catchy, shimmering guitar and a scathing lyric that decries the 80's preoccupation with success and wealth. Unbelievably, it got to number three in the charts. "Get Up Off Our Knees" continues in a similar vein with a youthful exuberance and energy, while the more melancholy "Flag Day" (another single) is a plea for real heroes rather than simply do-gooders with its intriguing refrain: "It's a waste of time if you know what they mean /Try shaking a box in front of the Queen / 'Cause her purse is fat and bursting at the seams" No punches being pulled here. There isn't really a duff track on the album. One tiny complaint that may be levelled is that the while the material is universally fabulous, the light-as-a-feather production by John Williams (no, not that one) is a little same-y, although the gospel stylings of 'Lean On Me' are a nice contrast to the jangle pop that precede it. The second disc is where the unreleased treasures are hidden, with eight previously unheard tracks and the obligitary collection of b-sides. Heaton's vocals are a revelation here as he growls, moans and falsettos like a man possessed. In particular, 'I'll Be Your Shelter' is a lost classic, a gospel hymn with a joyous feel to it akin to the 'Stones 'Shine a Light'. Even the choir at the end doesn't grate - seriously impressive stuff. Superb acapella versions of Curtis Mayfield's 'People Get Ready' and gospel standard 'Joy Joy Joy' show just what a versatile and intriguing band The Housemartins were. Less impressive is 'Rap Around the Clock' which is some kind of throwaway bonkers hip hop mash up - the birth of the Fat Boy perhaps? The Peel Sessions and Janice Long BBC Sessions are solid, workmanlike versions of album material and sound almost identical to the studio versions, the sign of a really tight band establishing their sound and setting out their stall in grand fashion.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Prefab Sprout ‎Jordan The Comeback

Prefab Sprout Jordan The Comeback

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Jordan: The Comeback is Prefab Sprout's largely successful attempt to embrace the breadth of popular music; wisely reuniting with producer Thomas Dolby, Paddy McAloon freely indulges his myriad ambitions and obsessions to weave a dense, finely textured tapestry closer in spirit and construction to a lavish Broadway musical than to the conventional rock concept LP. Over the course of no less than 19 tracks, McAloon chases his twin preoccupations of religion and celebrity, creating a loose thematic canvas perfect for his expanding musical palette; quickly dispensing with common pop idioms, the album moves from tracks like the samba-styled "Carnival 2000" to the self-explanatory "Jesse James Symphony" and its companion piece "Jesse James Bolero" with remarkable dexterity. Dolby's atmospheric production lends an even greater visual dimension to the songs, which -- with their tightly constructed narratives and occasional spoken-word passages -- seem almost destined to someday reach the stage; indeed, Jordan: The Comeback is like an original cast recording minus the actors, or a rock opera without the silliness and bombast -- a truly inspired work.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Dexys Midnight Runners ‎Searching For The Young Soul Rebels Deluxe Edition

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“A soul group with a brass section, and all looking good. We wanted to be a group that looked like something… A formed group, a project, not just random”. The words of Kevin Rowland, ex-punk, who in 1977 left band The Killjoys in a state of despair, pulled from the abyss by soul music and a vision, a search for the young soul rebels. Formed in 1978, his hand-picked group Dexys Midnight Runners were a tight, formidable looking outfit of fighters, dressed firstly in workmen’s clothes before adorning sports attire, the band engaging in physical activities before gigs and rehearsals. Sweating from their exertions, they stood out as a band who were impenetrable to the audience, a gang you could never belong to, with a clear leader who could only be admired for his intimidation of others. This spirit of isolation from popular culture is seen in the opening track on Searching For The Young Soul Rebels, here remastered with a second CD of rarities, sessions and b-sides. ‘Burn It Down’, a re-recorded version of debut single ‘Dance Stance’, opens with the disenchanted search of youth, sweeping the radio airwaves for a new sensation. The history of 70’s music is played as he scours the dial, the Sex Pistols, The Specials; but these do not hold his interest. As he flicks of the radio Rowland proclaims “For God’s sake, burn it down!” and we burst in, the strident brass of a different era matched with swirling Hammond and his unique vocal delivery, incomprehensible and full of intense emotional passion. There is little of their music that fits into the early 80’s, though the album is packed with pop moments, the confrontational sound sweetened with strong hooks and melodies. The interwoven horns and bass of ‘Tell Me When My Light Turns Green’ are a joy, and ‘I Couldn’t Help It If I Tried’ shows a slow and mournful edge, building in bitter intensity through the chorus. Single ‘There There My Dear’ again has an exuberant pace, Rowland’s vocal jammed with rolled rolling r’s amid the yelps and howls. It reaches its peak with ‘Geno’, their first number one single, a tribute to Geno Washington performed in his style. Completely at odds with the new wave moment of the time, it sounded timeless even then. For those like me born in the 70’s, listening to it now provides a feeling of nostalgia so intense I can almost taste the era in which I first heard it, May 1980 somehow implanted back into my mind. As a song, it feels to me as if it has always existed. The second CD of this release features a wide array of Radio sessions, both from The John Peel Show and Kid Jensen. It also includes the patchy singles released in the aftermath of their debut album, a period which saw the majority of the band abandon Rowland in frustration. A year after topping the charts with Geno, Rowland and his young soul rebels looked like a spent force. However, in 1982 they did something almost never seen before, reinventing themselves and becoming even bigger popstars than they were first time around. Rowland never truly found The Young Soul Rebels, finding instead The Celtic Soul Brothers with its jamboree of fiddles and mandolins. If you though have never experienced the tight precision of this exceptional debut, then this re-issue is highly recommended.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Dexys Midnight Runners ‎Too-Rye-Ay Deluxe Edition

Dexys Midnight Runners Too-Rye-Ay Duluxe Edition

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For one brief moment, Dexy's exploded into America's consciousness -- and what a song to do it with! "Come on Eileen" combines ramalama rock & roll, soul delivery, and Celtic/country flavor into a perfect musical fusion and an irresistible U.K. and U.S. number one hit. Both the song and its video were such hits that years later, ska/punk band Save Ferris made a minor splash with its own version of the tune, while Garth Brooks appeared in a Saturday Night Live skit dressed as the capering, bedraggled Rowland. The rest of the album is nearly as successful, with quite a few numbers that should have matched "Come on Eileen"'s fame. Given that song's obvious debt to Van Morrison's similar fusions, it's no surprise that Dexy's tipped their hat with a great cover of Morrison's "Jackie Wilson Said," another big British single. Throughout the album, Rowland's distinct, unique voice takes the fore, but the revamped Dexy's lineup proves it was the original version's equal, if not better. Given that only trombonist Big Jimmy Patterson remained, and even then only for two tracks, recruiting a new band able to create the "Celtic soul" Rowland dreamed about turned out to be exactly the right move. Excellently produced by Rowland and the legendary Clive Langer/Alan Winstanley production team, Too-Rye-Ay sounds like an old soul revue recorded on-stage, no doubt an intentional goal. Other highlights include the opening jaunt "The Celtic Soul Brothers," which just about says it all both in title and delivery; the slow swirl of "All in All," and the vicious ballad "Liars A to E." [Universal's expansive 2007 Deluxe Edition boasted over 25 Bonus cuts, including B-sides, BBC concert recordings, and rare tracks.]

Saturday, 29 October 2016

The Waterboys ‎This Is The Sea Reissue

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Released on September 16th 1985, This Is the Sea is indeed The Waterboys’ ultimate musical masterpiece, especially if Scott’s grand vision is to be considered—intricate arrangements, extensive instrumentation, a balance between Folk and Rock influences, and rich literary and traditional references. All the ingredients of The Waterboys’ legacy sound are all there in the mix. The Pan is certainly at the helm.This Is the Sea begins with the dramatic solo saxophone call of “Don’t Bang the Drum,” which slowly builds up into a proper Folk Rock stomper. “Well, here we are in a special place,” sings Scott. Indeed. Just into the first song and he is already fulfilling his promise of taking the listener to that special place of musical pleasure. Sweet and wild with the promise of pleasure.Following immediately is the band’s most iconic song, “The Whole of the Moon,” the epitome of The Waterboys’ so-called big music, summing up everything that is great about the band—poetic lyrics, catchy choruses, a horn section, string orchestration, a rainbow, unicorns, cannonballs, scimitars, and scarves…underneath the stars.In the structural simplicity of the upbeat piano song “Spirit,” Scott was able to channel his mysticism and spirituality in full frenetic glory; short but galloping with enchanting energy. Then there comes “The Pan Within,” the album’s dark and romantic moment, where the fiddle takes center stage. “Close your eyes, breathe slow, and we will begin,” urges Scott. Yes, the journey of the Pan and his Waterboys is just beginning. ”Medicine Bow” is where the listener is taken to next; rhythmically the same as “The Pan Within,” melodically similar, but certainly a more portentous affair: “There’s a black wind blowing / A typhoon on the rise / Pummeling rain / Murderous skies!”The mood becomes nostalgic and the tempo slows down as the next song plays—”Old England,” a beautiful ballad made even more alluring by the interplay of bells and horns and Scott’s unrestrained tenor-range voice, which is akin to that of The Cure’s Robert Smith, yet is more Bluesy and has a stronger tone of urgency. “Be My Enemy” exudes the same piano-led sentiment as in “Spirit,” yet it is when everything gears up—tempo, rhythm, vocals, and the clanging chimes of doom…cymbals crashing everywhere. The first song written for the album, according to Scott himself, “Trumpets” is an onomatopoeic ballad. Your love feels like trumpets. Simple yet majestic. Finally, the album closes aptly with the second-longest track that further indulges the listener to delight in the pleasure which is The Waterboys’ music; “Once you were tethered / Well, now you are free / That was the river / This is the sea!”Over the years, The Waterboys with its music remains to be a big influence on many of its contemporaries as well as on a slew of relatively younger bands operating in similar planes of sounds. Scott and his ensemble may have given all their best in This Is the Sea, but the Pan himself is not yet done with whatever musical vision left in him that he wants to share to the world at large. He is still out there writing songs and making music, most likely staring at the whole of the moon as reflectively as ever. If comfort and nostalgia painted with timeless relevance is what you are after, then This Is the Sea is the perfect soundtrack for such musical indulgence.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Fine Young Cannibals The Raw & the Cooked Deluxe Edition

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One of the most exciting albums released during a decade of artifice and extravagance, in a mere ten songs and 35 minutes the Fine Young Cannibals created a masterpiece. Admittedly the trio had some Help -- backing singers, guest musicians (including former Squeeze piano man Jools Holland and Talking Head's Jerry Harrison) -- but that doesn't take away the band's own accomplishment. Remaining true to the FYC's vision of tying past and present musical styles together into artful new pop packages, The Raw & the Cooked features a Shopping List of genres. Mod, funk, Motown, British beat, R&B, punk, rock, and even disco are embedded within the songs, while the rhythms, many synthetically created, are equally diverse. In less delicate hands this would be nothing more than an everything including the kitchen sink motley mess, but FYC manage this mix with subtly and elan. Two-thirds of the record were released as U.K. singles, all were hits, and each one proudly boasted a distinctly different blend of styles. "Good Thing," for example, was the trio's tribute to the legendary all-night Northern soul parties of the '60s, but is much more than a mere meld of mod and Motown. It's actually built round a slinky R&B riff, fueled by a boogie-woogie piano, and slammed home with a cracking beat. "I'm Not the Man I Used to Be" is a torrid torch song, but fired by a futuristic jungle beat and an almost housey production. Then, of course, there's "She Drives Me Crazy," which features the most unique, and instantly identifiable, beat/riff combination of the decade. Even the four tracks that didn't make the singles cut could have, if MCA had the audacity to keep releasing them. "Tell Me What" perfectly re-creates the Tamla sound, with only the synth giving it a modern touch, but on the rest, FYC delve deeper into funk, disco, soul, and lovingly coax them into the modern era. Every one of Raw's tracks simmers with creativity, as the hooks, sharp melodies, and irrepressible beats are caressed by nuanced arrangements and sparkling production. Never has music's past, present, and future been more exceptionally combined.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Mercury Rev ‎Deserter's Songs Deluxe Edition

Mercury Rev Deserter's Songs

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Like their sister-band The Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev took the scenic route to success. After a messy debut album and an equally messy follow-up they ditched their front man and took a gentler and much more interesting career path, with the jazzy, dreamy and startling See You on the Other Side being a charmingly rough and ready blueprint for what would come after a brief split and guitarist Grasshoper’s brief stray in a monastery. When Deserter’s Songs was released in 1998 nobody had any great expectations for it, but it touched a nerve and it found an audience that would remain entranced by its Americana lullabies to this day. After all the guitar and electronica heavy music that had dominated most of the 90s, the rock music world was exhausted, it needed a rest and a soothing balm to ease its troubles. That this balm was provided by Mercury Rev was a complete and total surprise. Deserter’s Songs, with it’s bowed saws, soothing keyboards, harps, gentle guitars, calm strings and all manner of other ghostly sounds was a world away from what the music press had spent the last eight years falling head-over-heels in love with and it was all the better for it. This was gentle, intelligent and introspective music and it had the added bonus of being exactly what a lot of people needed to hear at that time. “Holes” lays out Mercury Rev’s new modus operandi magnificently and is still one of my favourite tracks on the album, with its talk of moles, smoke-like streams and polished stones. The carefully created mood is maintained by the next two tracks is a nice change from all the bands who show their cards too early and then this is followed by a ghostly instrumental which prepares us nicely for a slight change in pace that arrives along with The Band’s Levon Helm playing drums on “Opus 40”, one of the albums more obvious attempts at a pop song that nevertheless remains ethereal and uplifting. Helm’s former band mate Garth Hudson also pitches in on the “Hudson Line”, a song which I have only recently discovered the joy of. Yet another concerted attempt at a pop song is “Goddess On A Hiway”, which again is strangely uplifting without appearing to break a sweat despite having one of the biggest choruses on the album. The beauty of Deserter’s Songs is that it works as a fully-formed cohesive whole, allowing the music to take you on a soothing journey through a dream like state, the soundscape changing in a seamless and gentle manner, that is until the music takes one final twist with the final track, when “Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp” takes you with bounding enthusiasm into anthemic territory and provides an enjoyable soundtrack to ride into the sunset to.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

The Orb ‎The Orb's Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld

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Marking pretty much the precise point at which dance music became epic, Alex Paterson turned an on-off DJing gig into a fully-fledged project with The Orb’s first studio album after years of EPs and singles.The Orb’s Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld certainly doesn’t short change on the promise of its title. A continuous, progressive composition of ten tracks over four sections (‘Earth Orbit’, ‘Lunar Orbit’, ‘Ultraworld Probe’ and ‘Ultraworld’), the album and its signature song ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’ did an awful lot to change the concept of what dance music could sound like, particularly in terms of mainstream perceptions. The concepts of extended dancefloor remixes and sampling had of course been around for a long time, but there was something playfully subversive, eccentric and quintessentially English about what Paterson introduced with his music. The Orb started life in the rave scene, catering to ecstasy casualties in the chillout room at Paul Oakenfold’s ‘Land of Oz’ nights at Heaven in the late ‘80s. Quickly becoming celebrated for playing ambient, percussion-free sets that lasted for several hours, Paterson worked with partner-in-crime Jimmy Cauty, whom he met through a mutual friend in Killing Joke’s bassist Youth and who found fleeting superstardom with pop terrorists The KLF. Piling dozens of ‘found sounds’, field recordings and all manner of spoken-word samples on top of each other, and marrying those up with similarly researched visual materials projected on to the walls, The Orb’s sets threatened to overload the senses but, crucially, didn’t overstimulate those who came to hear them, wanting instead to lose themselves in a musical journey. This philosophy was carried over completely intact to Paterson’s first full studio effort – and truly, …Ultraworld is a journey like few others before or since. Kicking off with The Orb’s most famous track ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’ which eventually became a UK Top 10 hit in 1993, nearly three years after its original release, it’s the closest to a commercial moment at under five minutes. The subject of litigation because of the uncleared central sample of pop star Rickie Lee Jones (with a noticeable cold!) talking about her childhood memories of the skies where she grew up in Arizona, it’s quirky disposition and rock-steady beat for many represents a kind of shorthand for the more ambient, comedown side of the rave scene. Following this, Paterson spreads his wings and shows what he’s really capable of with a bigger canvas. The lush, Dionysian ambience of ‘Earth (Gaia)’, featuring Bible readings; the totally spaced-out dub feel of ‘Perpetual Dawn’; the gentle, loping breaks and beats of ‘Supernova At The End Of The Universe’ and ‘Into The Fourth Dimension’… all liberally sprinkled with an arsenal of snatched samples that could only have been the result of an incorrigible music nerd given access to vast archives of records. Finally, after a full 90 minutes, the record arrives at its destination, a trip that began with cloud-gazing and meadows ending in the alien atmosphere of the 20-minute closer ‘A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules From The Centre Of The Ultraworld’. Many mixes exist of this track, but the one on the album is a live mix with the central sample of Minnie Riperton’s ‘Lovin’ You’ fading in and out very fleetingly as a wealth of samples from sci-fi radio plays and natural sounds dive and swoop about to create a musical equivalent of a sensory deprivation chamber. Whereas ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’ summed up a wider scene, ‘A Huge Ever Growing…’ perhaps sums up Paterson’s sensibilities best. here’s something of the punk sensibility in Paterson’s approach to the arrangement, with the sense of a lot of things going on at the same time (multiple samples rubbing up against each other at the same time) but, paradoxically, a sparseness in terms of the deployment of those same samples so that it never feels as if he’s labouring the point. Consequently, though the arrangements often very lengthy (all but one of the tracks are over 8 minutes long) it always feels very accessible and easy to listen to, and how much pleasure one derives from Ultraworld – and, indeed, The Orb’s entire discography – is entirely up to the listener.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

The Smiths ‎The Sound Of The Smiths

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Depending on your count, The Sound of the Smiths is the third or fourth posthumous Smiths compilation -- a number that may be a bit excessive considering the group's rather concise catalog, containing just four studio albums and singles rounded up on three singles compilations (and two of those covered the same essential territory, too). That's a lot of repetition but whether it's taken in either its single-disc or double-disc deluxe editions, The Sound of the Smiths is the best of these posthumous overviews. The single-disc -- which is the first disc of the deluxe set -- is the hits disc, containing every cut from the 18-track 1995 compilation Singles and expanding it with five cuts all dating from the mid-'80s: "Still Ill," "Nowhere Fast," "Barbarism Begins at Home," "The Headmaster Ritual," and "You Just Haven't Earned It Yet Baby." As a Smiths-basics goes, it's first-rate, an introduction and summary that's compulsively listenable. The second disc on the deluxe The Sound of the Smiths splits the difference between a rarities compilation and a "more of the best" collection of album tracks, rounding up non-LP singles and B-sides like "Jeane," "Wonderful Woman," Money Changes Everything," and the New York Vocal version of "This Charming Man," live versions of "Handsome Devil," "Meat Is Murder," "What's the World?" and "London," the Troy Tate demo of "Pretty Girls Make Graves," and a bunch of great Smiths songs including a hefty chunk of The Queen Is Dead. It falls short of being the long-awaited collection of Smiths rarities, the absence of which remains a mystery, but it's the best stab at one to date and a pretty entertaining listen in its own right.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Ian McCulloch ‎Candleland Reissue

Ian McCulloch Candleland Reissue

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Ian McCulloch's first solo LP represents his most accomplished work since the 1984 Echo and the Bunnymen masterpiece Ocean Rain; haunted by the recent deaths of the singer's father as well as Bunnymen drummer Pete DeFreitas, Candleland is a poignant yet ultimately triumphant album which probes not only themes of loss but also rebirth. Atmospherically produced by Ray Shulman, tracks like "The Flickering Wall" and "Proud to Fall" tread familiar musical territory, yet are delivered with a renewed sense of purpose; McCulloch's expressive vocals and impassioned lyrics recall past glories, but also tap newfound reserves of maturity and introspection. Equally compelling are the record's more unexpected departures, which include the waltz-like "I Know You Well," the New Order-esque "Faith and Healing," and the glistening title track, a fairytale music box with backing vocals courtesy of the Cocteau Twins' Elizabeth Fraser. A stunning and unexpected return to form

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Various ‎Left Of The Dial: Dispatches From The 80s Underground

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Alternative rock of the 1980s was such a large and diverse scene that any box set documenting the genre is bound to be the cause of debate as to what is and isn't included, even a four-CD, 82-track production such as this one. Despite the inevitable exclusions, Left of the Dial: Dispatches from the '80s Underground does a decent job of collecting representative cuts from all spectrums of the style, even if it does tilt toward the more mainstream of such acts. Of course, artists like R.E.M., the Cure, Aztec Camera, the Pretenders, Ultravox, Lone Justice, the Smithereens, Concrete Blonde, Echo & the Bunnymen, and the Church (all sampled on this box) were "mainstream" only by the standards of the more left-leaning college radio programmers; by the measurements of the actual mainstream, they were still pretty "alternative," even "underground" in some cases. And the set doesn't neglect the edgier side of '80s underground rock, with tracks by the Dead Kennedys, Minor Threat, Throbbing Gristle, the Minutemen, Black Flag, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Gun Club, the Butthole Surfers, the Raincoats, and Beat Happening as well. Between the poles are numerous slices of music of different shades of anti-mainstreamdom, from the paisley underground (the Three O'Clock, the Rain Parade, the Dream Syndicate) and an iconoclastic singer/songwriter (Billy Bragg) to British guitar-grounded sounds (the Jesus and Mary Chain, the Stone Roses, XTC), goth (Sisters of Mercy, Bauhaus), folk-punk (the Violent Femmes), retro-garage (the Lyres), ska (the English Beat), and even punk novelty (the Dead Milkmen). There are few real surprises or underexposed gems: the Passions' 1981 single "I'm in Love With a German Film Star" is about the only item by a group that hasn't been canonized in the '80s alternative rock pantheon, though actually that song was a British hit. On the other hand, the astute and eclectic programming makes for a better listen than other attempts that have been made to compile '80s alternative rock. It's sort of like listening to an actual '80s college radio station, but one that's more listenable than any college radio stations actually were, both because of the catholic stylistic assortment and the selection of some of these artists' very best songs. If you did listen to this sort of music devotedly back in the '80s, in fact, much of this will be like revisiting familiar hits and standards, even if few of them actually made the charts as actual hits (and then usually in the U.K.): R.E.M.'s "Radio Free Europe," the Dead Kennedys' "Holiday in Cambodia," the Jesus and Mary Chain's "Just Like Honey," Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart," the Violent Femmes' "Blister in the Sun," XTC's "Senses Working Overtime," the Sugarcubes' "Birthday," Faith No More's "We Care a Lot," the Church's "Under the Milky Way," Siouxsie & the Banshees' "Christine," Gun Club's "Sex Beat," and Suicidal Tendencies' "Institutionalized," for instance, all fall into that category. And if you didn't experience the music directly during the era, this box set still gives you a pretty good idea of what was going on, and what paths to travel down for further investigation.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Eels ‎Beautiful Freak

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Although it is officially the debut of the rock trio Eels, the 1996 album Beautiful Freak is in reality the third album by composer and performer Mark Oliver Everett, who goes by stage the name “E”. The collaboration of four studio producers (including Everett), this album is filled with simple tracks of moderate tempo which employ exquisite arrangements and production methods to deliver a unique listening experience. A native of Virginia, Everett migrated to Southern California in pursuit of a music career. In the early 1990s, he released two solo albums (under the name ‘E’) on Polydor Records, A Man Called E and Broken Toy Shop. Released in 1993, this latter solo album included drummer Jonathan “Butch” Norton. However, with limited commercial success, E was in search of a new record deal and identity. Along with Norton and bassist Tommy Walter, the group “Eels” was formed, with the name chosen in part so group records would be placed Next to E solo albums in record stores. Eels were one of the first groups to sign with the New DreamWorks Records and they spent the early part of 1996 in the studio recording Beautiful Freak with producers Jon Brion, Mark Goldenberg and Michael Simpson. Throughout the duration of Beautiful Freak, there are original and eccentric pop-oriented tunes with contrasting lyrical themes of melancholy and despair. “Susan’s House” features spoken vocals and Everett’s observations of human misery as he walks towards the home of an ex-girlfriend and musically features a sampled piano from an older recording by Gladys Knight & the Pips. The song is followed by grunge-oriented “Rags to Rags”, which features an interesting drum pattern by Norton as well as a strong overall rock arrangement during the choruses. The album opener was also the first single released by Eels, “Novocaine for the Soul”. Co-written by Everett and producer Mark Goldenberg, this track features a pleasant and steady rock arrangement with good melody which helped make it a International hit “Beautiful Freak”, the album’s title song, features Elcetric piano and very somber vocals by Everett, While the lyrics are a little weak on this track, the surreal and sad mood makes up for this deficiency. Co-written by guest guitarist Jon Brion, “Not Ready Yet” is a sad tune about recovering from disaster and feeling the isolation of that situation. The longest track on the album, this song leaves plenty of room for musical grooves as it is bass and rhythm-driven with several guitar overdubs. “My Beloved Monster” with a very slight banjo before the electric guitar-driven song proper begins and, during the second verse and beyond a bouncy bass and feedback effects add a real edge to the sonic qualities of this song. Co-written by Keyboardist Jim Jacobsen who provides a cool synthesized choir, “Flower” may be the highlight of the entire album. Melodically and lyrically this track works Very well as a sad slacker creed with the clever refrain; “everyone is trying to bum me out…” The later part of the album has more solid tracks which remain within the spirit of the overall album while also introducing some nice new methods. “Guest List” is built on funky, descending bass while “Mental” features an upbeat bass/key riff by Walter and some hard rock chording in the choruses. “Spunky” has a lyrical sense of Reserved enthusiasm which matches the song’s title as “Your Lucky Day in Hell” is soulful with cool rhythms, effects and high-registered vocals. The album wraps “Manchild”, the most traditional, “lover’s lament” ballad on the album, co-written by Jill Sobule, with a long, surreal fade-out with sound effects to usher out the album. Following the release of Beautiful Freak, Eels toured extensively throughout the United States and Europe. Although Walter departed from the band in September 1997, Eels would go on to release ten further studio albums (to date) and have had a long and distinguished career.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Echo & The Bunnymen ‎Ocean Rain Reissue

Echo & The Bunnymen Ocean Rain Reissue

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Ocean Rain was the Bunnymen’s 4th album in five years and marked a change in direction for the band. Echoes of the bands’ previous work are still present, from Les Pattinson’s circular bass riffs, Will Sergeant’s off-kilter guitar patterns, Pete de Freitas’ intricate drumming and Ian McCulloch’s huge voice and doggerel lyrical voice. It’s just that on this album it all coalesced into something a little more classic, a little softer and melodic. The huge sweeping nature of songs like “The Cutter” and “Back of Love” from their previous album, Porcupine, had been replaced by something a little more lush, a little more planned. Previous Ocean Rain albums were often the result of jam sessions in the studio rather than meticulously demoed records. Ocean Rain feels more thought out with some more light and romance sneaking into the soundscape. Whether the recording of the songs in Paris has leaked through into the sound or not, it is a fuller sounding record than anything they had recorded before. Strings are more prominent, xylophones and glockenspiels are featured, and acoustic guitars are used instead of electrics. The album centers around the song that has almost become the Bunnymen calling card, “The Killing Moon,” apparently something that came to McCulloch in a dream. It was the first track to be recorded for the album and was actually all recorded in the UK. It’s been featured in the Donnie Darko soundtrack, covered by Pavement and still it survives. It’s a beautiful piece of work, a consummate bit of songwriting from the low rumbling bass, the brushed drums and the riff that runs through it, all with McCulloch’s soaring vocals over the top as he sings about lips being “magic whirls, and the sky over hung with jewels.” This is one of those songs that a band records and will just know that they will have to Play it at every performance. It’s a rare classic song that can even stand the Nouvelle Vague treatment. The album Starts brightly with a strummed guitar and the epic strings of “Silver,” as McCulloch sings, ”Swung from a chandelier.” That pretty much sets the scene for the album, and it’s a classy affair that soars and swoops from the get go. Everybody involved is at the top of their game. Sergeant’s guitar lines ring clear and cleanly through this song, and the multi-tracked lah-lahs that run throughout fit the bill perfectly. This is an album that sets its stall out early and Continues to deliver for each of its nine tracks. These can be divided into two types of songs; the melody-rich and poppier songs like “Silver” and “Seven Seas,” and the slower, epic tracks like “The Killing Moon,” and “Nocturnal Me.” In between these songs are tracks like the freak out, skittering drums of “Thorn of Crowns,” originally known as “Cucumber” (you know they made imaginative demos). This is possibly the only song to ever make a good chorus out of the phrase “C-c-c-c-Cucumber, cauliflower, cabbage” and should therefore mark this out as special in its own right. The album closes on the majestic title track. It starts with low, simple bass and Sergeant’s guitar appearing through the fog, as McCulloch sings “All at sea again, and now my hurricanes have brought down this ocean rain to bathe me again.” in a lugubrious croak worthy of a whale. Slowly but surely, other instruments arrive on the waves of this magnificent song – the strings, the brushed drums, an insistent riff as it builds to a crescendo that you know is coming for a good minute or two before it arrives. McCulloch’s voice cuts loose and you are swept along on the crest of a wave, a tidal swell, and perfect storm all rolled into one artistic rare beauty. Many bands would be lucky to record a single song as good as this. The Bunnymen managed to fit nine pearls onto one record without appearing to break a sweat. It’s hard to pick out highlights here. Ocean Rain is an album of nine Winners. Each song is in exactly the right place; not a note is out of place, not a line feels forced or awkward. It’s a rare thing for this to happen, but the Bunnymen achieved it on Ocean Rain, and perhaps that made what followed so depressing. This is an album that has been remastered and re-issued once or twice (quite worthy), so it’s unlikely that Gil Norton’s production will be improved on any further, and to be fair why would you want to mess around with a man that produced the Pixies, James, Throwing Muses and Foo Fighters amongst others?

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Various ‎Palatine The Factory Story / 1979-1990

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Palatine: The Factory Story/1979-1990 is a box set that combines the four separately released discs that distill the history of Manchester, England's Factory Records. Thanks to a roster that included the likes of Joy Division, New Order, Cabaret Voltaire, the Durutti Column, and (later) the Happy Mondays, Factory is regarded along the same level as Rough Trade, Postcard, Mute, 4AD, and Creation as one of the most important indie labels -- U.K. or otherwise -- to have broken the mold of the large company-based music industry during the late '70s and early '80s. Aside from the aforementioned acts, Factory never really became much of a force on the charts, save for the occasional hit. However, these four discs are impressive in gathering a good percentage of quality music that varies from post-punk to synth pop to Madchester to just plain weird. Each of the discs holds a particular theme, whether it's the mood or the time period covered. (Beware: The title of the box is deviously similar to the third volume, titled Palatine: The Factory Story, Vol. 3/1979-1989). There aren't any major omissions throughout these 49 songs; a healthy amount of attention is paid to the label's biggest acts, and smaller notables like A Certain Ratio, ESG, and the Stockholm Monsters are thankfully represented. While it could be argued that Crispy Ambulance and the Names could have been included instead of the nth New Order inclusion or arguably lesser acts like Kalima or Quando Quango, there aren't any true gripes to be had with this package

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Happy Mondays Pills 'N' Thrills And Bellyaches Reissue

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Transforming from awkward underdogs to the biggest indie band in the country in the space of just two years, Happy Mondays’ third LP Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches encapsulates the short-lived media obsession with ‘Madchester’ at the start of the ‘90s more than any other album. While it brought the shenanigans of their colourful lead singer Shaun Ryder and maracas player / backup dancer / lucky mascot Bez to the attention of tabloids, its unexpected commercial success cannot be explained without its producer Paul Oakenfold. While he became a global superstar DJ and remixer by the end of the ‘90s, at end of the previous decade Oakenfold was a rising star, making his name through regular sets at clubs up and down Britain as the rave scene was booming. His production softened their jagged, sloppy funk rhythms and sharpened up the sound quality, making it sound much more expansive than anything they had done before. 1988’s Bummed, produced by Factory Records’ legendary in-house producer Martin Hannett, was well-received but sounds so much more claustrophobic and scratchy by comparison. However, while Hannett’s production had only hinted at the Mondays’ knack for spectacular rhythms, Oakenfold and his engineer Steve Osborne (who would go on to produce Doves, Elbow, Starsailor and many other indie acts at the start of the ‘00s) made it prominent, making it the primary building block of the music. They married the group’s shabby industrial funk with subtle, up-to-the-minute dance beats, and both aspects complimented and reinforced each other. Oakenfold was one of two people that had been commissioned in 1989 to remix Bummed highlight ‘Wrote For Luck’: Erasure’s Vince Clarke had made one, which was good, but Oakenfold’s was spectacular. Retitled ‘W.F.L. (Think About The Future mix)’, it was interspersed with elements of N.W.A.’s cleaned-up ‘Express Yourself’ remix and took things to another level. Ryder himself was most impressed, saying that Oakenfold “brought that sort of trance to it… all the right ingredients.” The iconic Madchester Rave On EP followed later in ‘89, and a creative partnership was forged for the Mondays’ upcoming third album. Kicking off with single ‘Kinky Afro’, one of the more rock-orientated moments on the album, the difference in atmosphere is palpable from its predecessor. A mellow, radio-friendly vibe, it showcases Ryder’s unusual lyrical style, a kind of deliberately absurd working-class poetry in the style of Mark E Smith – “Son, I’m thirty / I only went with your mother ‘cause she’s dirty” is an inspired opening line, mischievous and down-to-earth. It was also the first time that backup singer Rowetta had featured on a Mondays album, and her soulful vocals gave the package a wider appeal. The exceptional ‘God’s Cop’ follows it (for some reason, never released as a single despite its very obvious chart appeal), the first real display of virtuosity from Oakenfold. Featuring an irresistibly bendy and funky guitar riff welded to the producer’s jackhammering drum breaks, the title was a reference to the chief of police in Manchester, James Anderton, who was hellbent on smashing the city’s rave scene in the late ‘80s and who once claimed that he had a ‘hotline to God’. The album’s third single ‘Loose Fit’ was rather moodier, featuring a chiming guitar riff that glistens over a dark dub texture, it features some rather ambiguous lyrics from Ryder as he declares there “won’t be no misfit in my household today” – which could either be taken as a declaration of defiance from his own generation or an impersonation of the condemnation of that of his parents’. It’s probably the latter, as the chorus’s lyrics have Rowetta singing “go where you’re going / say what you’re saying / sounds good to me”. The sense that Ryder, deliberately or otherwise, is speaking on behalf of a new generation of ravers seeking to separate themselves from their parents’ music and values is a subtle undercurrent amid the psychedelic, sunshine-infused revelry of Pills ‘n’ Thrills, and demonstrates how underrated he was as a lyricist. It takes a slightly uglier form on ‘Grandbag’s Funeral’, a rather sneering piece of generational rebellion, but comes forward more entertainingly on the album’s singles and tracks like ‘Holiday’ and ‘Dennis And Lois’. The breezy, summery feel of the latter track is juxtaposed with the sinister ‘Bob’s Yer Uncle’, and that the Mondays could change moods so quickly without upsetting the pace of the album shows their versatility. The second half of Pills ‘n’ Thrills is kind of overshadowed by the presence of ‘Step On’, certainly the Mondays’ best-known hit and released in the summer before the album’s release. To all intents and purposes a remix of John Kongos’ ‘He’s Gonna Step On You Again’, it featuring a maddeningly addictive, immediately recognisable piano hook that provokes a kind of Pavlovian reaction in a generation of club-goers that were around to hear it at the time. The ludicrously happy riff of ‘Holiday’ is followed by the weird fugue of organs and distorted guitar of ‘Harmony’, a kind of psychedelic chillout that reflects the record’s artwork, a collage of sweet wrappers, logos and cultural detritus. Musically and rhythmically, Pills ‘n’ Thrills was dancefloor-bound, but Ryder’s personality and performance frames it as a recognisably rock experience, uniting the two genres and tribes of fans in the same way that The Stone Roses had done the previous year and Screamadelica would do the following year. It was an album of sheer, unadulterated hedonism that perfectly captured its time and place, the kind of which comes around once in a generation, for both artists and fans. A 2007 reissue courtesy of Rhino Records is a great introduction to the band in general, as it included all the accompanying B-sides, music videos and remixes. However, this kind of lightning rarely strikes in the same place twice, and the commercial success and national attention that Pills ‘n’ Thrills brought to its creators went to their heads, with the non-stop partying and industrial quantities of drugs they consumed draining their creativity and inspiration. With Shaun Ryder and his bassist brother Paul in the grip of heroin addiction, the choice was made to decamp to Barbados, at ruinous expense to Factory’s finances, to record their next album at Eddy Grant’s studio with Talking Heads’ Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth. The Caribbean island had no heroin, but plenty of crack cocaine, and the band ended up selling the studio’s furniture. Yes Please! took over two years to arrive and, when it did, it was a complete turkey, full of lumpen arrangements and flat song ideas. The band disintegrated slowly throughout 1993, with members departing in quick succession, and Happy Mondays was no more. Shaun Ryder formed the funk-influenced Black Grape in the mid ‘90s, enjoying a Mercury nomination for their 1995 debut It’s Great When You’re Straight… Yeah, before a brief Mondays reunion was attempted and abandoned in 2000. A new line-up did, however, come together to record Unkle Dysfunktional in 2007, and in 2012 the full original line-up reunited to announce some new material, and has been playing Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches on tour throughout 2015 in celebration of its 25th anniversary.
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