Saturday, 25 February 2017

Morrissey ‎You Are The Quarry Deluxe Edition

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At his core, Morrissey has always been conservative -- not in his politics, of course, but in how he romanticizes the past and plays by the rules of a different time. His passions, whether it's the New York Dolls or '60s British cinema, exist out of time, and he's gone to great lengths to ensure that his music also can't be pinned to a particular era, which means all his solo albums share similar musical and theatrical traits, and they're subject to the whims of fashion. In the years following the Smiths, he could rarely set a foot wrong, but sometime after releasing his best solo album, Your Arsenal, in 1992, the British music press turned on him and he was not much better than a pariah during the mid-'90s heyday of Brit-pop, the very time that he should have been celebrated as one of the great figures of British pop music, particularly since the Smiths inspired every band of note, from Suede and Blur to Oasis and Pulp. By the time he released Maladjusted in the summer of 1997, he was a forgotten legend, not even given approval of his album art, and instead of cranking out records to the diehards, he chose to move to Los Angeles and wait out the storm. He stayed quiet for seven years. During that time, fashions changed again, as they're prone to do, as Brit-pop turned toward the sullen art rock of Radiohead and Coldplay, the mainstream filled up with teen pop, and American rock music was either stuck in the death throes of grunge and punk-pop or in emo's heart-on-sleeve caterwauling, which owed no little debt to Mozzer's grandly theatric introspection in the Smiths. Instead of being seen as a has-been, as he had been in the latter half of the '90s, Morrissey was seen as a giant, name checked by artists as diverse as Ryan Adams and OutKast, so the time was ripe for a comeback. But Morrissey had waited long enough to do it on his terms, rejecting major labels for Sanctuary (on the condition that they revive the reggae imprint Attack Records) and recording You Are the Quarry with his longtime touring band, with producer Jerry Finn, best-known for his work with neo-punk bands blink-182, Sum 41, and Green Day. Finn's presence suggests that Morrissey might be changing or modernizing his sound, designing a large-scale comeback, but that runs contrary to his character. Apart from some subtleties -- the glam on Your Arsenal, the gentleness on Vauxhall and I, the prog rock on Southpaw Grammar -- he's worked the same territory ever since Viva Hate, and there's no reason for him to change now. And he doesn't. There are no surprises on You Are the Quarry. It delivers all the trademark wit, pathos, and surging mid-tempo guitar anthems that have been his stock-in-trade since the beginning of his solo career. It's not so much a return to form as it is a simple return, Morrissey picking up where he left off with Maladjusted, improving on that likeable album with a stronger set of songs and more muscular music (even if no single is as indelible as "Alma Matters"). If You Are the Quarry had been delivered in 1999, it would have been written off as more of the same, but since it's coming out at the end of a seven-year itch, he's back in fashion, so its reception is very warm. Frankly, it's nice to have his reputation restored, but that oversells the album, suggesting that it's either a breakthrough or a comeback when it's neither. It's merely a very good Morrissey album, living up to his legacy without expanding it greatly. But after such a long wait, that's more than enough.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

New Order ‎Retro

New OrderRetro

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Add Retro to the dizzying stack of New Order compilations and best-ofs. Actually, it was the second comp to come out in the last half of 2002 (International was released in October and contains nearly every song that is on Retro). With that said, Retro is probably the most expansive and interesting New Order compilation since 1987's Substance. Keeping an eye and ear on the amazing Joy Division set Heart and Soul, Rhino stepped in to publish this box as well (that alone will give Retro a bit more credibility). The packaging is more or less identical to Heart and Soul's four-CD orientation and comes complete with its own Peter Saville-directed artwork and 70-plus-page booklet. Unlike the Joy Division set, Retro makes no attempt to create a comprehensive or complete look at New Order's expansive catalog. Rather, it is set up as an ultimate mix tape that might be made for someone's cousin who knows nothing of this band. And like a mix tape, everyone's track list would be different and would probably carry on a different mood. This one is curated by four individual selectors, and each disc carries on with a major theme. The first disc, "POP," is compiled by U.K. journalist Miranda Sawyer and contains all the major New Order favorites: "Blue Monday," "Bizarre Love Triangle," "Confusion," and a few minor surprises such as "Brutal" (featured on the Beach soundtrack). John McCready, journalist and Hacienda DJ, put together a "FAN" disc that contains some moodier album cuts like "Your Silent Face" and "Sooner Than You Think." Mike Pickering (M People, Hacienda DJ), selects New Order's dance-friendly material on the "CLUB" disc. Finally, Bobby Gillespie (Primal Scream) picks up some "LIVE" tracks -- which proves to nicely distill New Order's generally hit-or-miss concert performances. While Retro may not be a complete necessity it does pull together into one spot enough rarities (nothing too impossible to find, though) and a rather entertaining track list for obsessives.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Air Moon Safari 10th Anniversary Special Edition

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Although electronica had its fair share of chillout classics prior to the debut of Air, the lion's share were either stark techno (Warp) or sample-laden trip-hop (Mo' Wax). But while Air had certainly bought records and gear based on the artists that had influenced them, they didn't just regurgitate (or sample) them; they learned from them, digesting their lessons in a way that gave them new paths to follow. They were musicians in a producer's world, and while no one could ever accuse their music of being danceable, it delivered the emotional power of great dance music even while pushing the barriers of what "electronica" could or should sound like. (Never again would Saint Etienne be the only band of a certain age to reveal their fondness for Burt Bacharach.) The Modulor EP had displayed astonishing powers of mood and texture, but it was Air's full-length debut, Moon Safari, that proved they could also write accessible pop songs like "Sexy Boy" and "Kelly Watch the Stars." But it wasn't all pop. The opener, "La Femme d'Argent," was an otherworldly beginning, with a slinky bassline evoking Serge Gainsbourg's Histoire de Melody Nelson and a slow glide through seven minutes of growing bliss (plus a wonderful keyboard solo). The vocoderized "Remember" relaunched a wave of robot pop that hadn't been heard in almost 20 years, and the solos for harmonica and French horn on "Ce Matin La" made the Bacharach comparisons direct. Unlike most electronica producers, Air had musical ideas that stretched beyond samplers or keyboards, and Moon Safari found those ideas wrapped up in music that was engaging, warm, and irresistible.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Enigma The Cross Of Changes

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Cretu being no fool, he figured if it worked the first time, no need to change things much for the second. But he also knew not to simply go ahead and just rehash his debut for Cross of Changes, resulting in a just different enough effort along the same overall lines. The usual air of tasteful middle-of-the-road spirituality takes precedence, right down to the cover art and appropriately pantheistic quote from Persian mystic poet Rumi in the CD booklet. Needless to say, the music attempts to match the same throughout, and often succeeds. Things kick off with more of the synth-whale song noises and atmospherics from MCMXC, however there aren't any monks to be found this time around, but what sounds like the same whispering woman talking about "clearing the debts of many hundred years" and the like. From there, Cretu merrily takes the same plunge -- some of his sample choices this time around show he's got a decent record collection, including parts from Songs From the Victorious City, the striking fusion of Egyptian and Western musics from Anne Dudley and Jaz Coleman. His work with beats and loops noticeably shows a more developed edge -- while hardly an innovator, there's a bit more grime and loud in his rhythms, which in combination with extra electric guitar make a reasonable contrast to the smoother elements. Consider the rampaging conclusion to "I Love You...I'll Kill You," which while sharing some cheese with the title itself still works surprisingly well, right down to a clever Robert Plant vocal sample at the end. "Return to Innocence" was the big single from this one, not quite up there with "Sadeness" in the popular culture in the U.S. but almost inescapable elsewhere. There's another Led Zeppelin sample (this time John Bonham) and a haunting male vocal providing oomph under the fuzzy-headed greeting card philosophy of the main lyrics. It's an impressive effort, showing Cretu had a definite something in his own way.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Various ‎Just Say Yes... Sire's Winter CD Music Sampler

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Samplers are often throwaways, their contents quickly and mindlessly tossed together to promote a label's latest releases. Just Say Yes: Sire's Winter CD Music Sampler may have been produced to woo record buyers into purchasing albums by cult artists, but it offers a wealth of new wave rarities that significantly transcends its original purpose. Released in 1987, Just Say Yes: Sire CD Sampler has become a time machine delivering glimpses of cutting-edge artists before they became mainstream stars and young bands that should've but never fulfilled their commercial potential. Instead of lazily compiling singles, the CD opens with three 12" mixes, extended versions of Depeche Mode's pounding "Never Let Me Down Again," Echo & the Bunnymen's riff-heavy "Lips Like Sugar," and the Mighty Lemon Drops' toe-tapper "Out of Hand." If that wasn't enough, there are tracks like The Smiths' "Work Is a Four-Letter Word" and James' "Ya-Ho" that are probably missing from the collections of those groups' fans. Figures on a Beach's dreamy "No Stars" is a tale of unrequited love steered by jangling guitars and ethereal synths; if Simple Minds had recorded it, the song would've exploded on the charts. Although the uplifting "Young Manhood" isn't truly representative of the Wild Swans' majestic Bringing Home the Ashes LP, it is immediately catchy. Mix in Throwing Muses' otherworldly "A Feeling" and Aztec Camera's revealing confessional "How Men Are" and saying no to Just Say Yes becomes nearly impossible.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Various Artists Kats Karavan The History Of John Peel On The Radio

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Kats Karavan is a splendid 4-CD set charting the history of John Peel’s iconoclastic shows spanning 5 decades from the late 1960s until his sad and untimely death in 2004. Champion of the obscure and unheard, he introduced whole Generations of teenagers to new music and gave hundreds of bands their first mainstream broadcasts. Incredibly, 5 years have already passed since John’s death and a whole new generation is already growing up without knowing what it’s like to listen to a DJ who would play Bloc Party, followed by Ivor Cutler, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, then Bong-Ra, Linton Kwesi Johnson followed by The Misunderstood. Universal Music, with the full approval of John’s family, has undertaken the unenviable task of trying to recreate one of John’s shows on this 4 cd Box set. It has been a mammoth and difficult challenge. How could anyone fit generations of listeners’ favourite sessions, singles or anecdotes onto 4 discs? There is no Undertones, no Joy Division, no Chameleons, to name but three Peel favourites who don’t appear here but all have already appeared extensively on previous Peel compilations. So wide-reaching and eclectic was John’s passion for music that this compilation could have been made ten times over without even touching the sides of his shows. Drawing material right up until John’s last ever Festive Fifty, Kats Karavan includes big players, one-hit wonders, chart toppers and those who stayed at the lower reaches. It includes tracks from the likes of Small Faces, Thin Lizzy, Aswad, The Damned, Medicine Head, The Jam, The Slits, Funboy Five, The Cure, Linton Kwesi Johnson, That Petrol Emotion, Extreme Noise Terror, Ivor Cutler, Mercury Rev, Milo, Bloc Party and many, many more. The set also includes some rarities and curiosities. The Free track, Walk In My Shadow, was considered ‘lost’ by the BBC until it was recently discovered on some old reel to reel tapes. This is the first time it has ever been available and the first time it’s been heard since the original broadcast. There is also track from The Misunderstood, the only band that John ever managed and who performed one of John’s all-time favourite gigs: “If I had to list the ten great performances I’ve seen in my life, one would be The Misunderstood at Pandora’s Box, Hollywood, 1966. My god, they were a great band!” (John Peel) John supplies backing vocals on the Altered Images track, their cover of Neil Diamond’s Song Sung Blue, his only appearance on record. [This is slightly incorrect, as I've let them know. It's almost certainly Peelie's only singing performance on record, mind.] To further recreate the spirit and mood of one of John’s shows, some clips of John’s own links appear from time to time. None of his ‘chat’ has been kept by the BBC so the record label used extracts of the best of what they were able to find on old cassette tapes, cleaning them up for the CD set, where they work to great effect. Kats Karavan comes complete with artwork featuring rare and unseen photographs alongside personal recollections from many of the featured artists, who were only too delighted to contribute and be involved in this homage to the late, great John Peel.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Various ‎Retro:Active (Rare & Remixed)

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Retroactive: Rare & Remixed, features tracks from Camouflage, Erasure, Vis-a-vis, Screaming Blue Messiahs, The Spoons, INXS, Dream Academy, The Other Two, Echo & The Bunnymen, The Cure, The Beloved and Book of Love. This CD is brimming with great tracks, but favorites included on it are Camouflage's 'Great Commandment', INXS 'Burn For You' The Other Two's 'Tasty Fish', The Spoons 'Symmetry', Echo & the Bunnymen's 'Bring On The Dancing Horses' and the ultra-rare remix of The Cure's 'Boys Don't Cry'

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Various ‎Trainspotting #2 (Music From The Motion Picture Vol #2)

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The sequel to the original Trainspotting compilation includes additional tracks used in the film plus several tracks director Danny Boyle and producer Andrew MacDonald wished to use in the film, but for which they didn't have time. Beginning with the Ewan McGregor-sampling "Choose Life" by PF Project, the album includes tracks by many artists also on the original (David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Underworld, Leftfield, Primal Scream) plus new additions like Heaven 17, Joy Division, Fun Boy Three and Goldie. There are also two remixes of tracks from the original: Darren Price's version of Underworld's "Born Slippy/NUXX" and Baby Doc's reworking of Iggy Pop's "Nightclubbing." The result is an album quite distanced from what had become the usual practice -- soundtrack sequels based mainly on the big cash-in. Any fans of the original Trainspotting will likely enjoy the follow-up as well.
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