Wednesday, 29 March 2017

The Boo Radleys ‎Giant Steps Deluxe Edition

The Boo RadleysGiant Steps Deluxe Edition

Get It At Discogs
Giant Steps was a colossal record for its time. Colossal. The music rags fell over themselves with platitudes for The Boo Radleys. It was the kind of worship that bordered on sycophantic and payola-driven. Yet, these Creation All-Stars in a pre-Oasis world were the label’s brightest hope, and what was clear from the start was the epic title matched the grandiose trail-breaking feel of the record. You stopped what you were doing and took notice. It was that kind of record. A psychedelic pop record, an indie guitar record, a dub-based groove record, a falling down the rabbit-hole record. Giant Steps wasn’t the Boo’s out-of-the-blue debut. Not by any means. This Liverpool/London quartet had been punching their weight for a few years now, with Giant Steps appearing a year after the Dinosaur Jr/MBV fuzz n’ pop of 1992’s Everything’s Alright Forever. With songwriter/guitarist Martin Carr’s bursting back-pocket Bernard Butler riff, “I Hang Suspended” became the perfect “and away we go!” track to launch the album with vocalist Sice’s featherweight vocals giving Giant Steps an airy, otherworldly feel. The dub/reggae rhythms of “Upon 9th And Fairchild”, the breezy, downbeat vibe of “Wish I Was Skinny”. The shoegaze n‘ politics of “Rodney King (Song For Lenny Bruce)”, the soaring dub-sympathy of “Lazarus”. Every track was a larger-than-life chapter in a book that was 17 songs long.When you think of what Radiohead were doing at the same time and what The Boo Radleys did with Giant Steps, it’s a crime The Boo’s number never came up the same. The album drips with madcap invention and the same kind of technicolour studio wizardry that an obvious Beatles acolyte such as Carr saw as the ultimate goal. But how do you go about topping the freakish genius of Giant Steps? When Wake Up! rolled around two years later, the playground had changed so significantly that the shoegazers were extinct and the talk about town was this thing called “Britpop”. Almost sensing the sea change in the works, the sprightly lead track and single “Wake Up Boo!” found quick favour with the Britpop kids and morning television presenters, but it’s the kind of song that if someone walked into your room singing (with its “wake up, it’s a beautiful morning!” refrain), you’d feel inclined to knock them clear into tomorrow. Wake Up! had its moments (it topped the UK album charts, no less) and listening with a fresh pair of ears, it’s a more than adequate follow-up, but one that sold largely on the back of Britpop and the terminally infectious “Wake Up Boo!”. More reigned in and focussed than its predecessor, Wake Up! toned down the roaming psychedelia and tightened up on the Beatles influence, appearing most noticeably on the sing-along nursery rhyme feel of “Find The Answer Within” and the backmasking mad freak-out “Joel”. The Elvis Costello shuck and jive of “It‘s Lulu“ missed its mark as a single, and in its place should’ve been given over to swooning falsetto pop of “Stuck On Amber”, the only track to hit the same Giant Steps stratosphere while straddling the pervading Britpop ethos. The Camden scene name-dropping of “Charles Bukowski Is Dead” places Wake Up! in a semi-perfect time capsule for the Britpop era, but it was never to be one of those defining releases. Looking back, it’s almost as if Giant Steps never happened, overshadowed by your Definitely Maybe’s and your Parklife’s, yet clearly deserving of the same stature. Cherry Red’s deluxe treatment rounds up the various pre/post album releases (including the classic Adrenalin and Boo Forever! EPs) as well as all extraneous b-sides which means each Deluxe Edition winds up being a whopping 3CDs long each. With b-sides always being the sole domain of the fan, it’s a mixed bag, but there’s a few forgotten gems scattered around — the Boo’s cover of Fat Larry’s Band’s R&B hit “Zoom”, the St. Etienne Remix of “Rodney King” to name just a few. Though the eight (count’em) mixes/versions of “Lazarus” do begin to test your mettle, but if that’s the worst, you’re still in for one hell of a treat.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Trashcan Sinatras ‎Weightlifting

Trashcan SinatrasWeightlifting

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The Trash Can Sinatras' third album, 1996's A Happy Pocket, sank out of sight on a wave of apathy from the record-buying public, critics, and seemingly the bandmembers themselves. Apart from a hard to find EP from 2000, Weightlifting is the group's first album since and it is a satisfying return to the jangling heights of their wonderful albums Cake (1990) and I've Seen Everything (1993). The band has thankfully made few concessions to modern times. There are no drum loops, soundscapes, or duff hip-hop tracks; nothing here wouldn't have sounded perfect in the early '90s. They also have written a batch of soothingly melodic, achingly pretty songs that may not contain anything as immediate or hooky as "Obscurity Knocks" or "Hayfever," but still pack quite the emotional punch. Frank Reader's voice is the same sweet melancholy croon that it was back in the day, and he wraps it around some melancholy gems that will be twanging the heartstrings of Trash Can fans both old and new. The majority of the album's tracks are lovely ballads like "Got Carried Away," "What Woman Do to Men," and "A Coda," the last being the best of them with its strings and Scottish soul feel. "Usually" is the standout; Reader sounds positively angelic and the strings bathe him in sorrowful splendor. "Country Air" is also a splendid cut with some plangent acoustic guitar, loads of atmosphere, and some smart soundtrack-flavored chord changes. The uptempo songs are darn good, too; "Welcome Back" is a powerful opener and statement of intent, "It's a Miracle" combines classic '90s jangle pop guitars with a bouncing beat and some rumbling timpani, and the title track has rich backing vocals and Reader's most intimate and powerful vocals. The song that should be a hit is the glittering "Freetime," with its jaunty beat, winning melody, and bells -- of course it won't be, but what can you do? Play it again and again, one supposes. The only small flaw with the album is the occasional heavy metal guitar solo that stands out like a sore plectrum. That kind of guitar-store technique has little place in music as charming and sweetly pastoral as this. Luckily, it only rears its ugly mug once or twice, most notably on "Welcome Back." Apart from that, Weightlifting is like a gift to anyone who was left hanging by the band's disappearance. Listening to the record makes you feel like it's 1993 again -- in a good way; a melodic, honest, and jangly kind of way; a way that makes you think "nobody makes records like this anymore." Hey, not too many people made them as good as this back then, either. A great comeback that deserves every last bit of attention it gets.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Suede Sci-Fi Lullabies

Get It At Discogs
Few debut singles have the impact of Suede's "The Drowners," which helped set the course to Britpop and established Suede as one of the U.K.'s most important bands. In that light, it isn't surprising that the B-sides were considered as important as the A-side -- the slow, grinding "My Insatiable One" was covered in concerts by Morrissey weeks after its release, while the band often closed shows with the majestic "To the Birds." The strength of the "Drowners" B-sides wasn't an anomaly -- it established a precedent of high-quality B-sides that Suede strove to maintain on their first three albums. The double-disc Sci-Fi Lullabies collects the majority of those B-sides, leaving behind the odd live track and remix, as well as the worthy "Painted People" and "Asda Town" and the non-LP single "Stay Together." What's included is stellar, offering an alternate history of Suede. In fact, the first disc -- comprised of Suede and Dog Man Star B-sides, plus the haunting "Europe Is Our Playground" -- is as strong as any of their albums, featuring such essentials as the sleazy "He's Dead," "The Living Dead," "My Dark Star," the storming "Killing of a Flash Boy," the sighing "Where the Pigs Don't Fly," and "Whipsnade," all strong enough to be A-sides. Disc two isn't quite as consistent, which might be because they're all drawn from the singles for Coming Up, but it does find the band exploring their darker, more adventurous side, which they largely suppressed on that record. Unlike most B-sides compilations, Sci-Fi Lullabies is far from extraneous -- for any Suede fan, and most fans of contemporary Britpop, this is absolutely essential material, confirming the group's status as one of the '90s' greatest bands.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Microdisney ‎39 Minutes

Microdisney39 Minutes

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In many ways Microdisney exemplify the difficulties facing any band who feel that they have something valid and non-conformist to say but are also driven by a desire to bring that vision to as wide and diverse an audience as possible. Within those terms of reference, 39 Minutes may be a definitive offering. Certainly, it is by far the Micros' most polished effort to date, slick and streamlined yet much harder and more direct than last year's Crooked Mile which, on reflection, sounds rushed and strangely incomplete. The melodies are as comforting and reassuring as a familiar fireside and a bottle of well-aged malt - but what separates Microdisney from the Johnny Hates Jazz' and even Prefab Sprouts (with whom the Disneys have more in common than one night think) of the world, is the lyrical bile of Cathal Coughlan. "You've got dreams and I've got dreams", he sings on 'High And Dry' and his unwillingness to lie down and write a few nonsensical ditties and let the resultant ackers exorcise his troubled spirits must be the cause of great consternation when Virgin's annual accounts are totted up. On 39 Minutes both Mr. C's dander and muse must have been up extremely early in the morning as the targets are spread wide and none - but none - are missed with as vicious a verbal volley as is conceivable in 'mainstream' pop. And yet, no matter how many times Coughlan twists the knife, there's always a flowing melody courtesy of Sean O'Hagan to soften the blow, which continually drags the listener back to the songs and ultimately prolongs the public humiliation of the target. Taking lines of lyrics out of context is not something which becomes these songs as Coughlan treats each track as an entity rather than stumbling upon a snappy couplet and working backwards and around it to arrive at the finished text. The subjects tackled encompass tabloid harassment ('Singer's Hampstead Home'), the devaluation of the media ('Bluerings'), cultural imperialism ('Herr Director') and the pernicious influence of colonialism ('Send Herman Home'). The latter is one of the album's standouts as a perfect impersonation of a well-known Northern political figure leads into a razor-sharp rhythm track, O'Hagan's guitar-playing leading you to think that the lad grew up in Memphis rather than Cork, and the mid-section features a tap-dancing solo which mutates into the sound of stomping jackboots (incidentally, the tap-dancing/jackboots solo is credited to Eugene Terrablanche and John Hermon… naughty boys!). Off the wall, playful and hurtful, 'Send Herman Home' is arguably the best song Microdisney have ever recorded. Whatever fate ultimately befalls Microdisney, be it chart acceptance or the dreaded epithet of 'cult status', there can be no remotely convincing argument against the assertion that they're making some of the best and most provocative pop music ever to have emanated from this country. 39 Minutes catches them at their very best.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

The Frank And Walters ‎Trains, Boats And Planes

The Frank And WaltersTrains, Boats And Planes

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Trains, Boats and Planes is a charming early release from the Frank & Walters. The album sees the band creating music of a more anthem-oriented rock sound than later releases. The subject matter is the same, but the songwriting is less subtle. The music is overall more dependent on guitars than Beauty Becomes More Than Life and Glass. The feel of the album is actually quite similar to that of Grand Parade, but the production isn't as sharp and there's less refinement of the musical grandeur on display. The album sees the band concerned primarily with matters of the heart and friendships. On "This Is Not a Song," Paul Linehan sings that the song isn't about politics, sex, James Dean, animals, trees, or wealth; it's "a song I wrote especially for you/I want to say thank you for having me." There's quite a few touching, sincere, and sweetly awkward moments of a similar nature on the album. "Trainspotters," with a guitar underscore that sounds straight from Johnny Marr's songbook, sees the bittersweet tale of a trainspotter named Tim, with Linehan asking, "Does Timmy know the score?" It's the sort of touching moment fans have come to adore. Every song maintains an optimistic core that things will always turn out right with a little bit of love in one's heart. "Fashion Crisies Hits New York" employs epic guitars and deeper-pitched vocals than usual from Linehan and jangling background sounds.Since it was out of print for quite some time, it might be a pleasant find for newcomers. It would be hard to imagine a more positive, under-appreciated band than the Frank & Walters, and these 11 songs simply prove that a band can continue along in one style, with only minute changes from album to album, and have an incredible career. Trains, Boats and Planes is entirely winning, and it's a necessary addition to any fan's collection.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Public Image Limited 9

Public Image Limited 9

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9 features essentially the same group of characters found on Happy?, with only Lu Edmonds having left the fold (though he did contribute to the writing on each song). Seven studio albums, seven lineups -- Lydon failed yet again to keep the same people together for more than one record. But is this notion really of major consequence? Not really, and Lydon probably prides himself in it. Thankfully, 9 retained the Happy? core of Bruce Smith, John McGeoch, and Allan Dias. If Happy? and various points prior were flirtations with accessible dance-pop, 9 was a bear hug embrace of it. 9 is split between a modern rock record and a dance producer-derived one, but credit both producers and band for making it a successful combination; on paper, the game plan looks like an accident waiting to happen. Stephen Hague was responsible for just over half of the album's production, with E.T. Thorngren working on the remainder and Nellee Hooper mixing one of Thorngren's productions. 9 is easily PiL's slickest yet, but there's substance to balance it out. The catchy "Disappointed" provided the band's greatest success in the States, with plenty of airplay on modern rock radio stations and light rotation on MTV. Other highlights: the dubby, almost Police-like near-instrumental "U.S.L.S. 1" and the surprising use of acoustic guitar on "Worry." Lowlights: the slightly goofy "Sand Castles in the Snow," the oddball fusion of Asiatic keyboards and late-'80s R&B on "Like That," the character play of Lydon in "Warrior."

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Talk Talk ‎The Colour Of Spring

Talk TalkThe Colour Of Spring

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Many people look back on Talk Talk as the band that pioneered post-rock. It's easy to look back favourably on them in retrospect, but as is the case with many genre pioneers, they weren't appreciated in their day and age. Despite the cult following both The Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock have developed, they were largely passed off as pretentious and bloated at their time of release, when nobody could look back like we can to see the impact these albums would have on the modern musical landscape. It should be noted that the bands third album, The Colour of Spring is actually their best-selling album, containing their most popular singles while performing leaps and bounds over their previous releases in terms of both originality and quality. By doing away with the synth-heavy new wave the band had developed and taking influences from jazz and art-pop, the band created an eclectic melting pot that paved the way for it's successors without alienating fans, making it a defining album for the band and a landmark transition album for music as a whole. Right from the get go, the band wastes no time establishing their new direction with “Happiness Is Easy”. Beginning with nothing but a repeating drum track, the track is immediately more bare-boned than anything in their back catalogue, but the slow and careful addition of layers to it's skeletal structure indicates a far more mature approach to their song-writing. The song slowly builds into a track somewhat more familiar to fans; Hollis' signature croon is still here, as are the addictive grooves and a memorable chorus, but there's something different. The expressive strings that ease in a little over a minute into the song, the extended instrumental sections, a far wider instrumental palate, all of these show a band striving to take an idea and push it to its limit. The singles of the album (#16 hit “Life's What You Make It” and #48 single “Living In Another World) also adhere to this pattern, bearing a loose similarity to past singles but containing more experimentation, more creativity and as such are a more satisfying experience overall. They are no less addictive when compared to past singles, but there is a whole new level of depth given to these new songs. However these tracks are the reason that, despite how far Talk Talk expanded their sound here, one foot was grounded firmly in the past. The real meat of the album lies in between these more fan-friendly cuts. “April 5th” marks the most haunting ballad of the band's career, expanding on the morose sound played with in the second track and multiplying it tenfold. Throwing in a wider range of instruments (including a saxophone, a variophon, a dobro and an organ), a more creative song structure and some of Mark Hollis' most emotive vocals makes this the most unique track thus far in the bands career. This is their first big step in the direction of their future sound, and an important statement from the band. This statement is furthered by the 7th track, “Chameleon Day”. Easily the most experimental song on the album, this piece wouldn't be out of place on either of their following albums, consisting of nothing but an extremely sparse jazz atmosphere and Hollis' evocative croons. The final track is the real highlight though, standing as a perfect snapshot for the entire album and the perfect marriage of old and new styles. “Time It's Time” is a monumental epic that epitomises everything the band has accomplished thus far. With more creative ideas and even more unique sounds (harmonicas, melodicas and tribal chants are a focal point of the track), the band essentially hits all of the targets they were aiming for throughout the album. The track covers several different sounds and feelings, with lyrics like “Time it's time to live through the pain, now that it's over” that perfectly reflect the atmosphere. Even though the track can become pompous and overbearing with its exuberance, it was a necessary piece to the puzzle and the perfect close to the album. While one foot is still grounded in the past, this is the foot that was planted in the future, the foot that would pioneer a new genre and affect music as we know it today. For a band with a legacy as important as Talk Talk's, it is difficult to appraise a past album without comparing it to their revered classics. These is no doubt that the albums succeeding this one were far more important to music today, but that should not diminish the success of this release, as well as its importance to the band itself. This was a masterful album in it's own right, the culmination of everything the band had built until this point, and the perfect transition into the sound they would become known for. It was the bands first successful experimentation and gave them the confidence needed to release albums as challenging as The Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock in the future. The Colour of Spring stands as an integral part of Talk Talk's history, the most pivotal moment in their career and a brilliant album that is truly worth your time.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Iggy Pop ‎A Million In Prizes The Anthology

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If you're willing to count his work in such early regional bands as the Prime Movers and the Iguanas, Iggy Pop has been playing rock & roll for over 50 years as this compilation hits the stores -- meaning there are guys in big-league rock bands who've spent years trying to be Iggy but weren't even alive when the guy first started plugging into the Real O Mind. That, dear readers, is influence, and while the man has had more than his share of creative ups and downs over those four decades, one spin of A Million in Prizes: The Anthology tells you why Iggy has always mattered, and still does -- he has never lost the ability to plug into the primal madness and furious belief that separates great rock & roll from ordinary stuff, and he can call up that near-demonic passion on a regular basis. While this isn't the first career-inclusive Iggy compilation, A Million in Prizes is comprised of two full-loaded CDs, which gives it a scale and scope that bests its closest competition, 1996's solid Nude & Rude: The Best of Iggy Pop, and it also gives full props to his work with the Stooges, featuring 11 songs from that band's various incarnations (though whose idea was it to only include one track from the epochal Fun House? For shame!). As for the solo stuff, this set follows the bizarre roller-coaster ride from the gloomy self-reappraisal of his albums with David Bowie through his desperate efforts to find his own solo voice in the 1980s to his reemergence in the new millennium as an artist who can merge mind and muscle with equal force. While not every album is represented on A Million in Prizes, this offers an accurate and compelling look at the Iggy time line, and the mastering is strong, clear, and loud (especially on the earlier material, which has long merited aural refurbishing). The liner essays from Danny Fields and Lenny Kaye are excellent, and Iggy sums himself pretty well when he tells Fields, "I get up in the morning, I look in the mirror, and I think, 'Hey, you're a pretty interesting guy.'" That may well be rock's greatest understatement, and while A Million in Prizes is hardly the final and definitive statement on Iggy Pop's life and music, as an introduction and career overview it's damn near unbeatable -- at least until Iggy finally gets the box set treatment he so richly deserves.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Doves ‎The Last Broadcast US Limited Edition

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When Doves issued Lost Souls in fall 2000, Britpop was immersed in its melodic gloom-and-doom era, ushered in by the success of Radiohead. The likes of Coldplay, Travis, Elbow, and Starsailor followed in their wake, as did Doves. What separated Doves from the rest was a glint of passion, evident on their 2000 debut, Lost Souls. Two years later, the atmospheric dreamscapes of Lost Souls were torn asunder for the musical daybreak of The Last Broadcast. As it turns out, the psychedelic vibrancy of "Catch the Sun," the brightest track on the album, pointed toward this brave second record. Gone are the hazy space rock trips and the cheerless attitudes; Doves are on the sunny side of the street for The Last Broadcast. The seven-minute sonic boom of "There Goes the Fear" finds Jimi Goodwin sharing vocals with Jez and Andy Williams for a glorious chorus. Each of them switches up vocal duties throughout, lending a joyous feel to the album itself. From the bold front of "Words" to the fiery momentum of "Pounding," The Last Broadcast shows a refreshing rawness that was absent before. The High Llamas' Sean O'Hagan delivers sweeping orchestral arrangements for the sublime "Friday's Dust," while the electronic dewdrops of "The Sulphur Man" push Doves' divine ambience further to the front.Doves were caught up in making grand compositions on Lost Souls, which worked fabulously, but it was too much. They've stripped down to the basics, letting the optimism of The Last Broadcast take center stage. It's a brilliant moment.
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