Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Ride Going Blank Again 20th Anniversary Edition

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Difficult to believe as it may be, just 25 years ago Ride found themselves sitting pretty in the top tens of both the UK singles and albums chart. While not the most commercially unfriendly band of the day by any stretch of the imagination, their achievements still raised a few eyebrows back then, not to mention a hail of celebratory cheers up and down the land from the indie and underground fraternity. After all, it isn't every day that a guitar heavy mantra clocking in at eight minutes gatecrashes a top ten containing such gems as The Pasadenas and Curtis Stigers that particular week. Entering the charts as the second highest new entry in the lofty position of number nine just six places behind Michael Jackson's 'Remember The Time' - indeed The Jesus & Mary Chain's 'Reverence' also cracked the final ten that week one place below - 'Leave Them All Behind' has arguably become Ride's signature piece. The moment they left the shoegaze tag behind once and for all. Eighteen months earlier, the band had released their debut long player, Nowhere, to a fanfare of universal acclaim. Even today still heralded as one of the most inspired records of its generation, most bands would have been daunted at the prospect of following such a near perfect artifact as this. But then Ride never were a band that rested on their laurels. Despite Rob Newman's occasionally humorous send-up sketch on The Mary Whitehouse Experience, their focus and determination could never be faulted. So, less than a year after Nowhere's release, work had already begun on its successor. Whereas Nowhere was borne out of a shared love of My Bloody Valentine, The Jesus & Mary Chain and The House Of Love, Going Blank Again would see a more diverse range of influences enter the melting pot. Recorded towards the back end of 1991 with Alan Moulder, whose previous credits had included the Glider and Tremelo EPs for My Bloody Valentine and the Mary Chain's Automatic long player, Going Blank Again was unleashed in March the following year with both critics and consumers alike falling head over heels for its box of delights. Comprising ten songs in total, it's a beguiling affair for those like myself previously turned onto Ride's effluent charm by those flawless first four EPs and the innocent beauty cum maelstrom of Nowhere. And yet also compelling, not least in the way every single piece offers something new on each subsequent listen. Take the aforementioned 'Leave Them All Behind' for example, already a firm favourite due to Andy Bell and Mark Gardener's harmonising incandescently over guitars that resemble successive tidal waves crashing against the shore. However, it's the often understated rhythm section of Steve Queralt and Loz Colbert that really come to the fore here, driving the song along at its widescreen core, occasionally traversing into dub territories before Gardener and Bell declare "I don't care about the truth!" in the coda. The term masterpiece is bandied about far too easily nowadays but for eight glorious minutes or so in 1992, this was as close as the UK independent scene ever got to creating its own 'Bohemian Rhapsody'. And so it continues throughout the record. 'Twisterella' arguably represents Ride's finest three minutes from a pop perspective (although it could be said of the early singles 'Chelsea Girl' and 'Like A Daydream'), while 'Not Fazed' sees the Oxford four-piece reliving their wildest Marquee Moon fantasies. 'Chrome Waves' meanwhile samples Massive Attack's 'Unfinished Sympathy', its string segment and laidback aura owing more to Bristol's burgeoning trip hop collective than the Home Counties so-called scene that celebrates itself Ride were allegedly spawned from. Duelling guitars - check out Bell's mesmeric solo in the final third - and a melody that accentuates yet pre-dates Britpop by a good two years characterises 'Mouse Trap', another stark diversion from what had previously been regarded as the accepted norm with Ride. Indeed it's only on 'Time Of Her Time', situated at Going Blank Again's halfway mark, that Ride come close to the reverb heavy overload of their debut. Influenced by Terry Bickers of The House Of Love while not sounding a million miles away from his 'Destroy The Heart' opus, its place here perhaps a final sign-off to Nowhere's dense soundscapes. Another sample, this time from Bruce Robinson's 1987 adaptation of 'Withnail & I', introduces 'Cool Your Boots', a reflective, and somewhat sprawling opus that serves as 'Leave Them All Behind''s slightly paralytic younger sibling. 'Making Judy Smile' also doffs its cap towards Britpop, albeit the original Sixties era that started the ball rolling. It's on the dreamy, dub heavy, two-songs-in-one 'Time Machine' where Ride really come into their own. Imagine King Tubby and Kevin Shields sat at the controls while Paul Simon's recording Graceland and you're halfway there. Having already flirted with similar experiments in sound on 1991's Today Forever EP, 'Time Machine' is yet another example of a band at a creative peak they would struggle to repeat again. 'OX4' closes the record in a psychedelic swirl reminiscent of Hawkwind at their In Search Of Space finest, Gardener and Bell both managing to sound errant yet wistful in their delivery. The album was re-issued with four bonus tracks taken from the 'Leave Them All Behind' and 'Twisterella' singles in 2001, and all four remain for this twentieth anniversary edition too. While 'Going Blank Again' the song didn't make Going Blank Again the album first time round, its symphonic urgency resonates here, particular against 'Howard Hughes's more sombre nature and the plodding if partially incisive 'Stampede', possibly the weakest track of the bunch. The ten-minute instrumental 'Grasshopper' closes the audio element, at the time resembling nothing else on this earth, even though the likes of Godspeed! You Black Emperor would soon be churning out textured pieces of similar magnificence in their sleep. What radiates through Going Blank Again from start to finish is how the record's never dated badly. If anything, it carries the same amount of succulent vitality when first released, its contents still refreshingly relevant now as then. And then of course there's the bonus DVD, Live At Brixton. Essentially it's a greatest hits set recorded on 27th March 1992 and originally released in VHS format later that same year. It captures Ride at their diligent, if unspectacular best. Highlights from their first four EPs - check out the double whammy of 'Unfamiliar' and 'Like A Daydream' early on in the set - congeal with choice picks from Nowhere (the title track, 'Vapour Trail' and 'Dreams Burn Down' standing out emphatically) and the majority of Going Blank Again, the complicated arrangement of 'Time Machine' unsurprisingly omitted from the live set. As an added incentive to purchase what is already a must-own record anyway, the twentieth anniversary edition of Going Blank Again is an essential addition to anyone's collection. So what are you waiting for..?

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Paul Weller ‎Stanley Road Deluxe Edition

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With Stanley Road Paul Weller has managed to prove to his fans and his critics that he is still an important musician even in his solo days. He hasn’t just written 12 good songs, instead, he’s written one great album. A factor in any great album is the overall feel that perpetuates each song, making them all feel as though they deserve their place and complimenting the songs that come before and after them. A mostly guitar driven album, Weller fuses good solos and riffs with his usual effective lyrics, often ending a song with a long instrumental that gently ushers in the next song, which gladly and competently carries the album along. However, there is the occasional song that primarily uses the piano evoking another great feel. Though these songs are quite different from the guitar based ones, they seem to come at just the right points in the album so that, not only are they a nice change of direction, but also they effortlessly fit in. To truly appreciate this fine album start at the beginning and just let it play on to the end. It far outweighs the sum of its parts, and as these parts are so good, you’re in for a great journey.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Edwyn Collins I'm Not Following You

Edwyn Collins I'm Not Following You

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Having found himself back in the commercial limelight with Gorgeous George, Collins followed it up with the equally -- possibly even more -- delightful I'm Not Following You. Trademark wit blended with passion intact and with key sideplayers drummer Paul Cook and bassist Clare Kenny helping out among many others -- including a wonderfully scabrous vocal cameo by Mark E. Smith on the very disco "Seventies Night" -- Collins tries all sorts of different things and more often than not comes up with the goods. "The Magic Piper (Of Love)" was the understandable lead single, catchy and with more than a little bite to it, drawing from finger-snapping hep-lounge Vegas sources and his own fun lyrics: "My girlfriend she got blotto/Half cut in Santa's grotto/It turns out he's a dirty old man." Add to that some just right flute and a clever brass sample that suddenly turns into an orchestrated sample from the Velvet Underground, and the man still has it. It's one of many joys throughout, with Collins showing a musical heterodoxy that would probably stupefy most other bands or acts. "Seventies Night," for example, is followed up by the sweet orchestration and quick acoustic fingerpicking of "No One Waved Goodbye," a regretful look at a relationship in pieces. There's full-on feedback and pounding drums, there's sly, compressed production touching quirky keyboards and Euro/cabaret arrangements, and even the self-explanatory Hammond-tinged "Country Rock." The hint of wistful nostalgia is often matched by the lyrics, with asides like "I'm going back to my old school/Cause to tell you the truth/All those songs of my youth/Move this old fool." Not many musicians so readily and easily allow for the hints of the passage of time. Leave it to Collins to find a number of ways to do just that.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Soundgarden ‎Superunknown Super Deluxe Edition

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Superunknown may be easily regarded as Soundgarden’s most commercial album, if only for the fact that it is the band’s most successful, achieving a certification of five times platinum. However, Superunknown is not a sell out record for the band, nor is it devoid of Soundgarden’s signature style or even a relinquishing of said style in favor of the sounds of their brethren in the “Grunge” subgenre of music—a subgenre Soundgarden never actually fit into or exemplified. In fact, while Superunknown may not feature Soundgarden’s best songs, it is arguably the band’s best all around album, with consistently great songs throughout, including those that were packaged as singles to propel Superunknown to super stardom. Part of this is because the songs themselves are fascinatingly complex and cerebral and hardly fit the mold of what most people would consider singles these days, or ever. Most, if not all, of the singles from the album feature dark themes that might cause even Robert Smith of the Cure to suggest that singer-songwriter Chris Cornell try Prozac.“The Day I Tried to Live” and “Fell on Black Days” are two of the album’s biggest hits and deal with depressing failure and crushing defeat, all set to murky song textures that beckon the ear to listen. The album’s mega hit, “Black Hole Sun”, features a surreal dreamscape with lyrics that aren’t quite universally accessible. The remaining two singles, “Spoonman” and “My Wave”, feature unconventional instruments and abnormal instrument tuning. And those were just the singles. Imagine the songs that weren’t chosen for their commercial potential. The 20th Anniversary release could stand as something of a greatest hits compilation in its own right for all of the rarities it contains. The live tracks that dominate the second disc do not merely showcase Superunknown, but also versions of songs from Badmotorfinger and Ultramega OK. Soundgarden have proven their concert chops over and over again, going way back to their 1990 home video (and rare accompanying EP) Louder Than Live. The live tracks here are no exception. The real treasure trove of Superunknown’s re-release however, is found in the vast amount of alternate takes scattered all over discs two through four. When “Fell on Black Days” was released as a single, a video was made, as were videos for the other four singles. However, this was not the band merely lip synching to the album version of the song, but performing it live for producer Brendan O’Brien. That raw and fascinating version is included here, but stands as only one of many examples of alternate takes. Disc two begins with an alternate mix of “The Day I Tried to Live” and continues into the alternate Steve Fisk remix of “Spoonman”. Cut songs and b-sides like “Exit Stonehenge”, “Kyle Petty, Son of Richard” and “Birth Ritual” (which was released on the Singles soundtrack) help to round out the rare side of this soundscape, with oddities like “Jerry Garcia’s Finger” and “Ghostmotorfinger” all pointing toward the fact that this is not your usual “expanded edition” packed with repeats. This is a good thing, of course, because with so many alternate versions, remixes, rehearsals, live recordings and demos, this collection could seem like an exercise in sameness (there are no less than four individual renditions of “Fell on Black Days” and “The Day I Tried to Live” each). Fascinatingly, Superunknown’s 20th anniversary edition never quite falls into this sad trap. The arrangement of the songs on these four discs—plus the Blu-ray, which is a high definition copy of the first disc—is done in such a way as to showcase the band’s talents while separating individual songs from their alternate versions. Further, this arrangement and the professionalism of the band combine to show exactly why there are so many versions of each tune: because Soundgarden is never content to release the song until it is ready. “Black Days III” is a dark and harsh version of its better-known sister song, but sounds like it might have fit somewhere on Screaming Life, the band’s first EP. Conversely, the (original) Steve Fisk remix of “Spoonman” separates itself from the single version by actually including samples from the aforementioned Soundgarden dance song “Fopp”. While it is true that some of the song versions are very similar to their final studio product, such as “Kickstand”, the versions are great to listen to for fans, especially because they don’t appear adjacent to each other on the discs. And then, of course, there are the mess-around tracks like “The Date I Tried to Leave”, which features Cornell’s pained description of a night out with a girl. It doesn’t go well. It is hard to say that the “rehearsal” tracks will be accessible to many more than hardcore Soundgarden fans or musicians who can relate to the start-stop and voiceover style of pushing through a song and trying to get it right, but then again, it’s hard to imagine many outside-of-hardcore fans of the band forking over the €80-plus it costs to buy this collection. Those that have the money and the interest should definitely do so, however. The overall experience is magnificent, even when listened to from start to finish, straight through. Is there room for a sprawling re-release this huge with this many repeated tracks? As Cornell wrote in “Fell on Black Days”, so appropriately, “Don’t you lock up something that you wanted to see fly.” The Superunknown 20th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition is worth every second of its very long run time.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Teenage Fanclub ‎Four Thousand Seven Hundred And Sixty-Six Seconds A Short Cut To Teenage Fanclub

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For one brief, shining moment in late 1991 and early 1992, Teenage Fanclub looked unstoppable. The Scottish band’s second album, Bandwagonesque—a flawless combination of alternative rock feedback and gorgeous, wistful melodies—came out to ecstatic reviews, the album was getting airplay on college radio in North America, and in a wonderfully bold move, Spin magazine named the album their 1991 album of the year, edging out Nirvana’s Nevermind. But then grunge broke, and everyone forgot about this unassuming band and their great little album. It was all Nirvana all the time, as American audiences chose Nirvana’s brilliant, slickly-produced teen rebellion over Teenage Fanclub’s equally brilliant, slickly-produced pop rock. Even Spin backpedaled, embarrassing itself by openly questioning their decision to go with Bandwagonesque instead of the much more popular Nevermind. Now, twelve years later, tracks from Nevermind are played to death on classic rock radio, to the point where it would be nice to go a day without hearing the opening chords to “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, and Teenage Fanclub have faded from the mainstream, maintaining a small but loyal fanbase on this continent. However, Bandwagonesque has aged gracefully over the years, and it still sounds as fresh as it did when we all first bought it way back when. There are many people who have not bought a Teenage Fanclub album since 1992, and the band’s new career retrospective Four Thousand Seven Hundred and Sixty-Six Seconds: A Short Cut to Teenage Fanclub is the perfect place for people to start catching up. Spanning six albums over thirteen years, as far as guitar pop compilations go, this is as good as it gets, as you see the band metamorphose from the dissonant feedback-laced sounds of Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth, to Neil Young-style rock, to a straight-up Big Star imitation, to a lovely latter-day sound, reminiscent of the Byrds and Badfinger. With three highly talented singer-songwriters (guitarists Norman Blake and Raymond McGinley, as well as bassist Gerard Love), the band has amassed a wealth of material that would qualify for such a compilation, and with this CD, they do their best to please their fans, cramming in 21 songs, clocking in at nearly 80 minutes Their 1990 debut album, A Catholic Education, is given only a passing nod with the inclusion of “Everything Flows”, with its muddy melody, buried under loud, raw, Neil Young-meets-My Bloody Valentine guitar riffs. Bandwagonesque boasts three selections on this CD, though several more cuts could have easily been included. The most essential songs from that album are here, though, in the form of “What You Do to Me”, Love’s wonderful single “Star Sign”, and most importantly, the classic “The Concept”, arguably their greatest song ever. Opening with a blast of feedback that sounds just as slick and contrived as anything on Nevermind, the mellifluous chords that follow shock the listener, Blake’s opening lines showing this song is more than just angry, noisy rock, as he sings tenderly about a girl with questionable taste in music: “She wears denim wherever she goes / Says she’s gone to get some records by the Status Quo”. One of the most beautiful rock songs to come out of the Nineties, it’s five and a half minutes of pure bliss, comprised of a three-minute melody that rivals the pop genius of Big Star’s “September Girls”, and a stunning, two-minute coda that boasts some of the most heartbreaking harmonies you’ll ever hear. Its epic combination of desperate, raw emotion (“I didn’t want to hurt you”) and ethereal beauty makes this a kind of college rock version of “Layla”, and it still makes your spine tingle today. 1993’s Thirteen (the title an obvious tribute to Big Star) received a less than enthusiastic response from critics and fans, and indeed was a more inconsistent album, and two of its better songs are included: “Hang On”, which goes back to the rumbling guitars of their debut album, and the terrific powerpop of “Radio”. Their 1995 album Grand Prix, though practically ignored by the public, was a fine return to form, and is regarded by many as being their best album. It’s obvious the band thinks so, too, as five of its tracks are on this compilation. Blake’s pretty “Mellow Doubt” hints at the more acoustic slant the band would take in the future, while McGinley’s “About You” and Love’s brilliant “Sparky’s Dream” both have incredible, catchy Byrds-like harmony vocals. Meanwhile, both “Don’t Look Back” and the aptly-titled “Neil Jung” utilize some great, Crazy Horse style guitar work. The four songs from 1997’s criminally underrated Songs From Northern Britain will be real revelations to those who have yet to hear that album. Gone are the loud guitars, as pure pop songcraft becomes the band’s sole focus. The lilting “Ain’t That Enough” has a wonderful Crosby Stills and Nash vibe, “Your Love is the Place Where I Come From” and “I Don’t Want Control of You” sound like Gram Parsons outtakes from the Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo, while “Planets” sticks to the reliable Big Star formula. The Howdy! album from 2000 is one of the weakest in the band’s career, but songs like “Dumb Dumb Dumb” and “I Need Direction” show that the album had its share of sublime moments. As is always the case with a best-of compilation, no one tracklisting will ever please all fans, and Teenage Fanclub devotees will undoubtedly have something to grumble about: three new tracks are included, and the omission of their great 1990 song “God Knows it’s True”, or overlooked Bandwagonesque gems like “Alcoholiday” and “December” in favor of the new material will likely raise a few eyebrows, but one new track truly deserves to be there. Norman Blake’s “Did I Say” is shockingly good, two and a half wondrous minutes of the best Badfinger imitation that you’ll ever hear, proof that the band still has what has made them great for so long. This album might stop just shy of perfect, but it’s still essential listening, perfect for those who are new to the band, or for those who have just forgotten about them recently. It’s 4,766 seconds of musical brilliance.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Bjork Debut Japan

Bjork Debut

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“Rock and Roll is so passé, so yesterday. Pop music is more important than art”, said Bjork on the release of “Debut” in 1993. Undoubtedly her view was provocative, but for all the quirky, cute innocence she outwardly portrayed there was, and still is a knowing determination to make music that has an expressive purpose that binds both experimentalism and popular musical culture seamlessly. She would insist that “Debut” was merely a stepping stone to greater things, an opportunity to develop her skills as a solo artist and establish a style and content distinctly different to that of The Sugarcubes. Her modest views belie the value of this collection, and for many fans this remains her greatest achievement, showcasing an unerring ability to successfully marry a vast array of styles including pop, dance, electronic, house, jazz and trip-hop. The glue that holds such ambitious intentions is Bjork’s skilful song writing, mainly themed around a joyous celebration of love, and of course her unique vocal style which swoops effortlessly through octaves somewhere between a screaming banshee, a distant melodious mantra from an uncharted heaven and a young child, fresh and untainted by the ills of this world. “Debut” owes much to the cast list of contributors, all cleverly selected by Bjork. Soul II Soul’s Nellee Hooper brings the polished dance rhythms and co writing credits for five of the songs. Veteran jazz musician Corky Hale adds a beautifully understated Harp accompaniment to the Van Heusen/Burke penned classic, Like Someone In Love. The gentle bossa nova rhythms of “Aeroplane” and the starkly mysterious “Anchor Song” are both enlivened by jazz saxophonist Oliver Lake. The album would host a staggering four hit singles (five if one includes the tagged on David Arnold producedPlay Dead), helped in no small part by some of the most innovative promotional videos ever seen. Of the singles,Human Behaviour stands out as one of Bjork’s most memorable recordings. The slowed down four to the floor house rhythm with bass drums beating out a jungle call overlaid with a vocal track that dynamically displays the singer’s range as she takes the perspective of an animal studying the human emotion.Big Time Sensuality andViolently Happy are far more than disposable dance numbers, as the singer adds a rare warmth to the mechanized rhythms, taking the songs way beyond the dancefloor.Venus As A Boy is the sweetest of odd love songs, combining a chilled reggae pace with a keyboard/vibraphone melody that skips around Bjork’s vocal line with the simple whimsy of a child’s rhyme. The heartfelt yearning of Come To Me is supported by a serenely spacious arrangement that includes an exotic eastern backing with added tabla and sub continental string effects. Bjork would distance herself from the success of “Debut”, almost dismissively stating "It's hard to judge yourself but I don't think [the early albums are] my best. Debut was the album that went the highest up there in terms of what is 'Bjork music'. But I think that the persona I created, which was entirely accidental, is better captured on the later albums." Without appearing confrontational, this album is as important, dynamic and enjoyable as any of her later recordings. Few female artists have produced albums as challenging as Bjork and this sets the agenda.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

The Police ‎Message In A Box (The Complete Recordings)

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Despite their legendary status, the Police only released five albums during their brief reign from 1978-1983. In addition, the trio had amassed a healthy amount of both studio and live B-sides, plus songs that only appeared on soundtracks. For the 1993 four-CD box set Message in a Box: The Complete Recordings, every single song the Police ever recorded is included. All the tracks were digitally remastered for the project, sounding superior to the original CD versions of the single albums. Also included is a 68-page booklet that includes an interesting (and often humorous) biography, a time line, and notes from all three bandmembers regarding the rarities that appear for the first time on compact disc here. But of course, the real charm of the box set is the music -- album tracks ("Hole in My Life," "It's Alright for You," "Driven to Tears"), hits ("Message in a Bottle," "Can't Stand Losing You," "Spirits in the Material World"), and rarities ("Fallout," a live version of "Next to You") are all timeless classics. While the set is highly recommended to newcomers just discovering the wonders of the Police, longtime fans should consider replacing their tinny-sounding single CDs with the definitive Message in a Box. After all, it contains a total of 24 tracks unavailable (for the most part) anywhere else.
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