Saturday, 30 April 2016

Spacemen 3 ‎The Perfect Prescription

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Drawing together some earlier material and a slew of new songs, Spacemen 3 tied everything together on the brilliant Perfect Prescription, the clear point of departure from tribute to psych inspirations and finding its own unique voice. Planned as a concept album, Perfect Prescription works where so many other similar efforts failed due to the strength of the individual songs, as well as the smart focus of the concept in question -- a vision of a drug trip from inception to its blasted conclusion, highs and lows fully intact. The bookending of the album makes that much clear -- "Take Me to the Other Side" is a brash, exultant charge into the joys of the experience, a sharp, tight performance. "Call the Doctor," meanwhile, is a pretty-but-wounded conclusion, husky singing and a drowsy mood detailing the final collapse. The many highlights in between beginning and end are so striking that the album is practically a best-of in all but name. Sonic's eventual work with Spectrum and E.A.R. gets clearly signaled via the majestic reprise of the Transparent Radiation single, here introduced by the swirling flange of an edited "Ecstasy Symphony," also originally from that release. Sonic's breathless delivery of the Red Krayola classic, combined with the elegant arrangement, is a marvel to hear. "Walkin' With Jesus," meanwhile, is practically the birth of Spiritualized, the much different earlier takes now become a reflective combination of acoustic guitar, two-note keyboard lines, and Pierce's yearning, aching desire. The intentionally nasty flip to that is the storming charge of "Things'll Never Be the Same," a call to arms (or injecting something into them) that's as disturbing as it is energetic, the compressed, violent rage of feedback and rhythmic charge a gripping listen. Guest performers from the Jazz Butcher family tree, including Alex Green on sax, help expand the record's sonic range even further. Further reissues include a rotating series of bonus tracks from contemporary singles.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Roxy Music ‎The Thrill Of It All

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Album-rock artists like Roxy Music always make a difficult subject for comprehensive, multi-disc box sets. Frequently, their albums were designed as a cohesive whole and the idea of individual singles never really entered the picture at all. Roxy Music was slightly different than the average art/prog-rock band -- not only did they make albums, they also made singles. And that is one of the reasons why the four-disc set The Thrill of It All is successful. Roxy's songs stand as individual works, and they make sense outside of their original context, even if they make more sense within their original context. Thankfully, the majority of each of their major albums are reproduced on the first three discs of this collection, leaving the fourth disc for non-LP singles, remixes, and B-sides. Most of this material has not been available on CD before, making The Thrill of it All essential for collectors. Nevertheless, it's a helpful guide to Roxy's career for casual fans -- it contains all of the essential songs and shows why the group was one of the seminal bands of the '70s.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Prince ‎The Hits / The B-Sides

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Even if you have all the other albums, this is essential for the collection of hard-to-find B-sides like "Erotic City," "She's Always In My Hair," "How Come U Don't Call Me Anymore".... He's probably the first artist since the Beatles to include some of his best work on non-LP B-sides. Otherwise, this is a by-the-numbers greatest hits compilation, missing only the huge commercial hit "Batdance," and including a couple of great new songs (the ballad "Pink Cashmere," the blues-rock "Peach") and finally a decent version of "Nothing Compares 2 U," previously recorded by The Family and by Irish chanteuse Sinead O'Connor.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Depeche Mode ‎Violator

Depeche Mode Violator

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Sometimes an album comes along and changes things forever. When Depeche Mode's seventh studio album arrived in 1990 (a whole 3 years after the colossal 'Music for the Masses') it certainly changed things. It set a new benchmark in electronic pop music - a benchmark that not only critics and fans recognised, but also an impressive number of the moody quartets contemporaries. Take ‘The Pet Shop Boys' Neil Tennant for example, who admitted during an interview: "We were listening to Violator by Depeche Mode, which was a very good album and we were deeply jealous of it" and bandmate Chris Lowe agreeing, "They had raised the stakes". Its just one of many instances that goes to show the impact this release had. Even with its 26 year old age, it still manages to capture the attention of a diverse range of listeners around the globe. Consider the aching beauty of 'Enjoy the Silence' or the mega-hit 'Personal Jesus'. The sheer amount of times these songs have been covered, remixed and/or referenced as an influence by artists as diverse and polar-opposite as 'Shakira' and 'Marylyn Manson', is clearly testament to the almost unrivalled quality and the ability to connect and strike an emotional cord with listeners, that 'Violator' possesses. 'Violator' is album without any fat on its bones, just lean muscle. It's a relatively short experience at only 9 tracks and 47 minutes long but that’s part of what makes it so satisfying. Depeche Mode's biggest hit, 'Personal Jesus' displays this perfectly featuring a simple guitar riff, minimalist plunges of synth and a repetitive vocal hook, "Reach out and touch faith". Its concise and sharp containing no unnecessary weight or clutter, and that’s precisely what makes such a refreshing and compelling experience. 'Enjoy the Silence' is just as perfect, with a gorgeous melody and strikingly simple yet incredibly touching lyrics. The entire album deploys this quality; flawlessly firing out deep and sophisticated moody electronic songs one after another. Each track delivers exactly what it intends - 'World in My Eyes' sets out to entice and enrapture with seductive vocals from Gahan and does exactly that boasting an infectiously funky beat, subtle rises and falls in tone and astute lyrics. 'Sweetest Perfection' meanwhile, attempts a dark poetry on the effects of drug addiction and that too does an equally stellar job in delivering its intention, with emotionally harrowing lyrics like "When I need a drug in me, it brings out the thug in me" and spine-tingling synth scrapes floating behind Gore's fragile vocals. That's the point of the album - the key to its success. Wherever you look on the album you'll find precise and considered dark songs that just work on every level and achieve all the right emotional responses from the listener they demand. 'Violator' is intelligent - knowing when to take a break and how to flow from one track to another, with atmospheric, gentler moments like 'Waiting for the Night' appearing after sprawling, intense tracks like 'Halo'; much in the same way 'Blue Dress' brings about a welcomed change of pace after the sprightly 'Policy of Truth'. Its so easy to understand why 'Violator' set the benchmark in the electronic music world - Its simple, precision engineered dark pop. The result of a band as talented and challenging of itself as Depeche Mode, continually pushing its music and ideas into new fields of sound. Flawlessly executed, its a mature, elegant, majestic, dark, compelling and wholly satisfying album that raised the stakes in its genre. Featuring two of the best songs of its generation ('Personal Jesus' and 'Enjoy the Silence'), nary a millisecond where it doesn’t compel, In a word, stunning.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

The Mighty Lemon Drops ‎Happy Head

The Mighty Lemon Drops Happy Head

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For The Mighty Lemon Drops—known to many for the band’s inclusion on NME’s much-loathed/much-loved C86 compilation—such laziness leads to eternal comparisons to Echo & The Bunnymen. Pick an online review at random and it’s a certainty the Echo namedrop comes somewhere in the first three graphs. Didn’t see one? Go back and read that story again—trust us, it’s there. Give Wounded Bird’s reissue of 1986’s Happy Head and the ensuing EP, Out of Hand, a cursory listen and one will discover the comparison is apt: Both groups dipped their beaks in neo-psychedelia, updating ‘60s sounds with their own layered, guitar landscapes. However, for Echo & The Bunnymen, a song’s mood was invariably changing—thanks to the flighty picking of Will Sergeant and Ian McCulloch’s affecting vocal work. The Mighty Lemon Drops, meanwhile, glutted themselves on tranquility, quickly (and regretfully) retreating when the music became too cocksure or too tender. Only later, on their third release, World Without End, did the Wolverhampton quartet finally swap hardboiled composure for precious candor, resulting in the most exhilarating work in their catalog. By that point in their career, one could fathom why The Mighty Lemon Drops were lumped in with the “fey city rollers” of the C86 scene (and had they kept their original moniker, The Sherbert Monsters, they might have been bigger). Listen to Happy Head / Out of Hand, however, and you’re left scratching your noggin; there’s nothing to make a schoolboy blush in “Behind Your Back” and “Going Under,” slasher tracks featuring David Newton’s razor-sharp riffing. And there’s nothing twee as fuck about “Happy Head” and “Out Of Hand,” both songs brimming with thick, guitar swagger, and evoking contemporaries such as The Close Lobsters, The Flatmates, and Recurrence-era Railway Children. The group does get adventurous—“Count Me Out” features a nifty guitar solo replete with Eastern flavorings, “On My Mind” points the way towards the band’s smoother, more melodious sound, and there’s a solid cover of The 13th Floor Elevators’ “Splash 1 (Now I’m Home)”—but for the most part, The Mighty Lemon Drops are chasing their tails, crafting music from the same burnished-guitars-pounding-drums template. Even the lyrics are middling, as in “Like an Angel,” when the sometimes nasally Paul Marsh sings, “Baby, baby please / You got me on my hands and knees / Baby, baby please / Won’t you give me what you know I need.” The reissue of Happy Head / Out of Hand is a must for Mighty Lemon Drop diehards,

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine ‎You Fat Bastard The Anthology

Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine You Fat Bastard The Anthology CD1/CD2

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England: it’s rubbish, innit? Carter USM sound like England. The sound of football chants, nursery rhymes and bad puns. Their landscape is urban: grimy bedsits and abortion clinics, young offenders drunk down the pub, petty theft on litter strewn streets. For about five years from 1987 Jim Bob and Fruitbat clawed their way up the ladder then called 'indie' from Rough Trade to Chrysalis to EMI and even scored a number one album. Carter were the Pet Shop Boys on the dole, replacing Neil Tennant’s West End elegance with South London grime and sarcasm, and sleek electronic pop with cheap synthesizers, punk guitars, a Roland drum machine, and primitive samples. They even covered the Pets Shop Boys “Rent” turning it into a scream of overdriven anguish. This double CD pulls together their best songs. I was expecting two CDs to be far too much, but this is a well thought out selection that showcases the full range of their material The righteous anger of “Bloodsport For All” a song attacking racist bullying in the army still has the power to stir the blood. “England”’s hurdy gurdy and sordid sex could have come from Brecht’s Beggar’s Opera. The delicate yearning pulse of “And God Created Brixton” Is the Pet Shop Boys, only with Billy Bragg on vocals. The stark passionate melodrama of “A Prince in A Pauper’s Grave” is crying out to be covered by some dark diva. It’s only twenty years ago but it seems like light years away. Today’s 'alternative' music is too slick, too shiny, too designed. What we need is a Carter USM musical. Take the best songs here, orchestrate them and turn them into a show. A show about shattered dreams and ruined lives, a show as bleak as Chicago but with a London accent.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Public Image Limited Plastic Box

Public Image Limited Plastic Box CD1/CD2/CD3/CD4

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Most who own Plastic Box probably use the second half as coasters. Those who don't probably get headaches when listening to the first two, and a select few find much to love about the whole thing. As if conceding to the consensus that PiL's early years were their best, the first half is devoted to the band's first three studio LPs cut over four years, while the second half covers the remainder. Listeners get the entirety of Public Image/First Edition sans "Fodderstompf." The majority of Metal Box (issued as Second Edition in the U.S.) is included, with three of the original versions sacrificed for Peel Session counterparts that really take the cake. "Careering" is especially wonderful and harrowing, arguably the collective's finest recorded moment. Keith Levene goes bonkers with the keyboards, perhaps fostering the increased intensity amongst the remaining members. The 12" mix of "Swan Lake" ("Death Disco") gets the box set upgrade too, as well as a couple other worthwhile Metal Box outtakes. Closing out the second disc is the entirety of The Flowers of Romance, sequentially shuffled with an additional non-album track. The second half of Plastic Box hits upon each of the remaining studio LPs, with the odd rarity, single mix and Peel Session thrown in for completist bait. For those who want improved sound over their early CD issues, the money spent is a smart investment. A quick comparison of the first 20 seconds of "Annalisa" to the version found on an old copy of Public Image should be evidence enough; the bassline of "Chant" makes the gut feel as if it's being endlessly pummelled by a bouncing battering ram. Though vast and relatively pricey, Plastic Box is an excellent introduction, if only for the adventurous

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

The Field Mice ‎Where'd You Learn To Kiss That Way?

The Field Mice Where'd You Learn To Kiss That Way? CD1/CD2

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Although revered in certain indie circles, for far too long the Field Mice appeared in danger of languishing as the great lost pop band of the early '90s, with their records out of print and fetching obscene prices on the collector's market. A lavish two-disc retrospective worthy of their growing legacy, the extraordinary Where'd You Learn to Kiss That Way? finally restores the group to their rightful prominence, assembling all of the key tracks they released on the legendary Sarah label between 1988 and 1991. With their shimmering guitars, indelible melodies, lush arrangements, and Bobby Wratten's heartbreaking songs, in retrospect the Field Mice now seem like the missing link between the Smiths and Belle & Sebastian -- at their best ("Emma's House," "This Love Is Not Wrong," "Coach Station Reunion," and countless others), they achieve the same kind of pop transcendence, spinning tales of love and loss with an elegance and grandeur that are often breathtaking. And while it's a shame Shinkansen didn't opt to include a third disc and release the band's complete recorded output, each of the 36 tracks which did make the cut sparkles. No longer lost, the Field Mice were simply a great pop band, and with Where'd You Learn to Kiss That Way?, their music might finally reach the wide audience it so richly deserves

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Various John Peel Right Time Wrong Speed

Various John Peel Right Time, Wrong Speed CD1/CD2

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This tribute album encompasses thirty-eight tracks by bands championed by the late great John Peel; largely focussing on the punk, indie and post-punk genres with which his work was most associated, but including a wide range of bands and styles. Some of the bands and songs featured here, such as the Buzzcocks' 'What Do I Get' and Joy Division's 'Atmosphere', are well-known classics and likely to already feature in many music-lovers' collections, but the knowledge of others, such as 'O Superman' by Laurie Anderson is less widespread. 'Right Time Wrong Speed' offers something for everyone, whether it be an existing favourite or a previously undiscovered gem. CD1 opens with 'What Do I Get' by the Buzzcocks, a safe choice given its enduring popularity at indie clubs and the bands status as being one of the finest of their genre. It is a wise choice nevertheless, and induces a sense of excitement and anticipation for the rest of the album through it's bouncy beat and catchy tune. Although more typically "punk", the second track 'Alternative Ulster' by the Stiff Little Fingers prolongs the mood initiated by the previous track and leads nicely into (the original version not found on later 'Best Of' compilations of) 'A Forest' by The Cure, one of the band's finest early tracks and a pleasure to hear any time, any mood, anywhere. The remainder of the CD contains many, many good songs too many for each to be described individually. Notable highlights include The Slits' 'Typical Girls', a treat for anyone with an interest in riot grrrl and/or female bands in general; and 'Pasi Pano Pane Zviedozo' by The Four Brothers, which manages to conjure a Jamaican vibe even in the coldest of Scottish living rooms. Laurie Anderson's 'O Superman' is the most intriguing track on the album, an experimental piece that makes an early use of electronic effects. There are a few well-known classics on here that will appeal to even the most rookie observer of John's work, such as The Only One's 'Another Girl Another Planet' (which was recently featured on a mobile phone advert) and the sumptuous 'Just Like Honey' by The Jesus and Mary Chain, which features on the 'Lost In Translation' soundtrack and hence is likely to be already loved by indie kids everywhere. Upon switching to CD2 one is immediately greeted by the sound of Joy Division's 'Atmosphere', not one of the band's most well-known songs (such as 'She's Lost Control' or the anthemic 'Love Will Tear Us Apart') but a favourite of many fans and an ideal, if not obvious, choice to open the second disc. 'Musette and Drums' by the Cocteau Twins follows, again not one of the band's best-known or catchiest songs, but still a track that follows on well from 'Atmosphere' and one that may well win the band new fans and greater awareness there certainly isn't anything like it in today's indie mainstream. The Smiths' 'There Is A Light That Never Goes Out' rounds off the opening threesome, a track that, unlike its predecessors, is known and loved by all Smiths fans and most indie fans. It's hard not to wonder whether such a popular track was chosen in order to increase interest in the compilation and encourage sales, but The Smiths are such a brilliant and unique band, and this is one of their best songs, that it's hard to stay suspicious or annoyed for long. Although for the most part CD2 consists of indie music, with frequent nods to reggae (such as Poet And The Roots' 'All Wi Doin' Is Defending') and new wave ('Just Fascination' by Cabaret Voltaire for example) there are a few cheesy pop tunes too such as Grandmaster Flash's 'The Message' which are guaranteed to raise a smile or liven up a party. Bjork fans will appreciate the inclusion of 'Birthday' by the Sugarcubes, arguably one of their best tracks despite its slightly sinister lyrics. Goths are likely to find amusement in The Birthday Party's 'Release The Bats' which combines old style rock'n'roll with heavier modern day ROCK (the capital letters are necessary to convey the true sense in which the word is meant here) and lyrics about vampires. Gang Of Four's 'Damaged Goods' is also a noteworthy inclusion, combining a jaunty beat with poisonous lyrics to produce a track that manages to be both cheering and sinister. 'Right Time, Wrong Speed' is one of the best compilations to be released this year. Although different tracks will appeal more to some listeners than others, there isn't a single bad or unoriginal track on either disc. By not always choosing the most well-known song by each band we are reminded by the compilers that every band has to start somewhere, and by not only including the most famous artists to feature on Peel's show we are introduced to new tracks and artists as well as old favourites. Perhaps the only downside of such an outstanding collection is that it shows up the majority of modern mainstream indie for the repetitive trite that it really is.
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