Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Belle & Sebastian Dear Catastrophe Waitress


Belle & Sebastian Dear Catastrophe Waitress

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After the near-disaster of forced democracy on Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant and the stultifying holding pattern of the Storytelling soundtrack, where Todd Solondz brought out their worst tendencies, it seemed that Belle & Sebastian were disappearing into their own preciousness, but then something unexpected happened: they returned to form with 2003's Dear Catastrophe Waitress. This was unexpected not just because their last efforts suggested that B&S no longer could produce a consistently engaging work, but because their savior came in the guise of Trevor Horn, the man who successfully helped Yes turn new wave, the man best known for his synth-heavy productions of ABC and Frankie Goes to Hollywood, the man who was last heard producing everybody's favorite Russian teen lesbian duo, Tatu. That diverse resumé suggests that Horn knows how to play to a band's strengths, and he certainly helps Belle & Sebastian regain their focus and vision, turning Dear Catastrophe Waitress into one of the group's best albums. One of the reasons that album works so well is that the notion that the band has no leader has been discarded, with Stuart Murdoch thankfully serving as the lead singer and songwriter throughout the record. Murdoch's songs are firmly within the patented Belle & Sebastian style, and while it may be true that he's not stretching himself much as a writer, that doesn't matter because he sounds assured and confident, turning out a set of songs that are finely crafted and tuneful. It's among his catchiest work, if not quite his cleverest, since the words occasionally offer an overdose of whimsy that leads to queasiness. And that's where Horn comes in -- by keeping the focus on the tunes and subtly varying the production, he's made Dear Catastrophe Waitress the richest musical offering yet from Belle & Sebastian. If it doesn't quite have the timeless feel of If You're Feeling Sinister, so be it, since this is their first record since that defining album to offer a similarly rich listen, and that's quite a comeback for a band that only an album ago seemed to peak too early.

Saturday, 13 July 2019

Fatboy Silm You've Come A Long Way, Baby 10th Anniversary Edition



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Fatboy Slim's debut album, Better Living Through Chemistry, was one of the surprises of the big beat revolution of 1996 -- an eclectic blowout, all tracked to thunderous loops and masterminded by Norman Cook, a former member of the British pop band the Housemartins. It might not have been as startlingly fresh as the Chemical Brothers, but the hard-hitting beats and catchiness, not to mention consistency, of Better Living was a shock, and it raised expectations for Fatboy Slim's second album, You've Come a Long Way, Baby. And that record itself was something of a surprise, since it not only exceeded the expectations set by the debut, but came damn close to being the definitive big beat album, rivaling the Chemicals' second record, Dig Your Own Hole. The difference is, Cook is a record geek with extensive knowledge and eclectic tastes. His juxtapositions -- the album swings from hip-hop to reggae to jangle pop, and then all combines into one sound -- are wildly original, even if the music itself doesn't break through the confines of big beat. Then again, when a record is this forceful and catchy, it doesn't need to break new stylistic ground -- the pleasure is in hearing a master work. And there's no question that Cook is a master of sorts -- You've Come a Long Way, Baby is a seamless record, filled with great imagination, unexpected twists and turns, huge hooks, and great beats. It's the kind of record that gives big beat a good name.

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Propellerheads Decksandrumsandrockandroll Japan



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Really, the title says it all -- Decksanddrumsandrockandroll is about as close to rock & roll as big-beat techno is going to get. Taking their cue from the Chemical Brothers, the Bath-based duo Propellerheads offer a set of pummeling, ultra-loud beats that may dabble in funk, house, hip-hop, soul, and rap, but which all come out sounding as aggressive as rock. Not that there's anything wrong with that -- at its best, big beat is as invigorating as any other music -- but Propellerheads don't have the finesse, innovation, or style of the Chemical Brothers, the leading proponents of big beat. When they shake the beat up, whether on the wah-wah-drenched "Velvet Pants" or the pair of John Barry/James Bond tributes (a reworking of their cover of "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" and "History Repeating"), it sounds like a tactical move, since they know they can't spend the entire album on thundering dance cuts like "Bang On!" and "Take California." That said, Decksanddrumsandrockandroll remains a strong big beat album, even if it ultimately doesn't reveal anything new, because the duo knows how to craft a hard-hitting, infectious rhythm track. And while that doesn't make them the next Chemical Brothers, it does make them the best in this style since the Chemicals.

Saturday, 6 July 2019

Grant Lee Buffalo Mighty Joe Moon


Grant Lee Buffalo Mighty Joe Moon

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Grant Lee Phillips, as he would later be known as a solo artist, is primarily the sole songwriter for his group Grant Lee Buffalo as well. But unlike more subtle releases later in his career, there is a fire burning in him on this album, galvanizing in songs like the opening anthem Lone Star Song. Released in 1994, when grunge had a fairly good hold on what was king on the airwaves, comes an album, that takes that raw emotion and embraces it with a vocalist who can be just as abrasive as any hard rock artist and then tone it down, into an almost singer/songwriter tone that can evoke that beauty reminiscent of such artists as Gordon Lightfoot or even James Taylor. What makes this album an all time classic and yet keeps it safely under the radar, is the fact that it doesn't sound like anything else. There is really no one quite to compare it to. Not that Phillip's songwriting doesn't draw from many pools of inspiration, but when he does, he takes it and makes it own. Like the 'master's apprentice' analogy, Phillip's music is HIS music, and he never comes close to becoming a mere clone of his inspirations. Distorted guitars, mixed with mandolins, banjos, blaring harmonicas and Phillips ever commanding voice is held steady by a very subtle yet strong rhythm section. Lyrically he blazes through politics, love, the human spirit, and ends the album with a very chilling take on his own version of the old hymn Rock of Ages. There is no need to pick this album apart, song by song. Every song on here somehow perfectly meshes with its predecessor, yet holds a distinct vibe, always slightly different. From glaring electric guitars to hushed acoutics, each song on here has something to say, musically and lyrically, conveyed in such a manner that it can cut right to the heart of the listener, especially with tracks such as Happiness. Phillips has a way of getting his message across in a way that draws in his listeners, as he though he is not just singing to them, but for them, making many of these songs a very personal listen. This album is one of those very few that you don't find the need to skip a track. It works on so many levels and rises above much of what was being released in 1994 and even in 2019. If there was this kind of ingenuity, this kind of depth, put into the commercial market, music would be a lot healthier for it. To think that this was released on Geffen records now amazes me, because today, this album would probably end up on a lower tier independent label. They went on to record two more albums after this one, both good, but never reaching the heights acheived Mighty Joe Moon.

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Screaming Trees Sweet Oblivion


Screaming Trees Sweet Oblivion

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The Screaming Trees one-upped their major-label debut, Uncle Anesthesia, with this solid, vastly underrated effort. Sweet Oblivion's lead single, the jumpy hard rocker "Nearly Lost You," proved itself a highlight on the hugely successful, Seattle-themed Singles soundtrack. But even though the Screaming Trees stacked up quite well against their more famous peers in that particular showcase, the exposure didn't make them stars. Perhaps it was because Sweet Oblivion had been released several months before Singles, and the band thus couldn't build a sense of anticipation for a new album release, the way Alice in Chains and Smashing Pumpkins did for Dirt and Siamese Dream, respectively; nor could they capitalize on the extra publicity that goes along with new releases. For whatever reason, Singles didn't push sales of Sweet Oblivion, as the latter only scraped the lower reaches of the Billboard charts. And that's a shame, because the record is quite good -- the best songs here are easily among the best in their catalog, and the songwriting was their most consistent yet. "Nearly Lost You" is a standout, of course, but "Dollar Bill," "Shadow of the Season," and "Butterfly" are nearly as impressive. Mark Lanegan's raspy voice conveys a weary wistfulness that adds an unexpected dimension to the group's otherwise macho garage-psych grunge. The Trees no longer sound all that punkish, trading in some of their early, noisy fury for a more '70s-indebted hard rock sound, but it's done with a graceful power that proves they were at least the equal of their more famous fellow scenesters. Unfortunately, the four-year hiatus between Sweet Oblivion and its follow-up, Dust, ensured that the band would be forever relegated to cult status.

Saturday, 29 June 2019

Moose High Ball Me!



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What's more surprising? That London's Moose have finally secured a U.S. release for their fourth LP, High Ball Me!, after the first three were undeserved imports? (They were dropped by a hasty Virgin in 1992 after only one release, a cobbled-together, seven-song EP of their earliest, too-formative singles called Sonny and Sam, still the poorest intro to the group.) Or that Moose are still so damn sparkling after a decade, making them four-out-of-four terrific with wonderfully inspired LPs? Or that they're even still around at all, considering the obscurity they've suffered (and the five-year span since their last LP)? Again, nearly all their contemporaries from the 1989-1993 Camden dream pop scene have withered on the vine. But Moose, the group least reliant on that scene for its inspirations and sound (despite a longstanding friendship with Cocteau Twins, who brought Moose over as a support band on their final U.S. tour), have continued to prosper, at least musically. And what a thing of pacific beauty they remain! For High Ball Me! is another proud accomplishment from a group that's always made beguiling, sunny warm, expertly textured, well-conceived, and well-played LPs (think bossa nova ambience mixed with early Glen Campbell/Jimmy Webb pop gems, a little like Ivy), while covering Wire and Harry Nilsson's "Everybody's Talking." Each new album is like a group of songs to ice-skate to, so cool and menthol, so sweet and gliding, and High Ball Me! is yet another. One just falls for still-vintage Moose handiwork in "Keeping Up with You," "Pretend We Never Met," "The Only Man in Town" (previewed on Saltwater Records' teaser EP, Baby It's Over), like a secret schoolgirl crush. Ditto the sultry, snake-charming, violin-trimmed pop of the most unique offering, "Lily la Tigresse." Moose mainmen K.J. "Moose" McKillop and Russell Yates remain consummate stylists, infecting every selection with charm, and most of all, seductive hooks. When "Lily la Tigresse" asks, with luscious sexual entreaty, "Why can't we be as nature planned?," it sums up the grace of the LP as a whole. Few albums can match this one for sublime elegance

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

The Telescopes The Telescopes


The Telescopes The Telescopes

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The Telescopes began as a run-of-the-mill British shoegazer band fully under the thrall of noise and My Bloody Valentine, perhaps a little angrier than most of that ilk but pretty unmemorable. At some point, however, they discovered subtlety and songcraft. They traded in most of their noise pedals for some that make the guitars go all spacy and phased-out. They also wrote a batch of songs with melodies and hooks reminiscent of Love or The Notorious Byrd Brothers-era Byrds. The songs on The Telescopes are built on acoustic guitars, then the aforementioned tricked-out electric guitars are laid on top and garnished with bongos, organs, pianos, and all sorts of classic instruments. Stephen Lawrie's vocals are restrained and semi-emotional and female backing vocals add a touch of sweetness that might otherwise be missing from the record, as the overall atmosphere is very moody and introspective. A large chunk of the credit should be given to producer Guy Fixsen, who also helmed some great records with Moose and Rollerskate Skinny and was a member of Laika. Sadly, the Telescopes split soon after this album came out, but the classic sound they came up with here lives on in bands like Mojave 3 and the Verve.

Saturday, 22 June 2019

EMF Epsom Mad Funkers The Best Of



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Regrettably, England's EMF had been seared with the curse of premature victory, sometimes belting out "Unbelievable" two or three times per show, and many assumed they'd be forever damned to run from their own success until the day they took off their long shorts and cut their hair. But Epsom Mad Funkers, an emphatic and touching tribute with new songs and a second disc of remixes, proves that what saved them from disaster was an anarchic instinct for just how to nail together the flotsam and jetsam of late-20th century chart music without sounding totally contrived. One moment you could get "Girl of an Age," the great, cherubic baggy anthem that never was, the next you'd be swimming about in megalomaniac, brain-rammed funk ("Perfect Day," "They're Here") or even a sort of facetious revelry, such as the live classic "EMF," which would rather stack up stylistic Lego blocks and smash them to pieces than try to mimic the picture on the box. For better or worse, nobody else sounded like this

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Jesus Jones Never Enough The Best Of Jesus Jones



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In 2001, shortly after a new album and a new tour of England and America, EMI announced plans to release Never Enough: The Best of Jesus Jones. Although the label had released Greatest in Japan in 1999, the collection had many holes -- most notably, the complete lack of material from Already. Building on Greatest, Never Enough adds classics like "Move Mountains" and "All the Answers" from Liquidizer; the hidden gem "Blissed" from Doubt; and the electro-rock shaker "Idiot Stare" from Perverse. Making a strong showing from Already are the singles "The Next Big Thing" and "Chemical #1," the poppy "They're Out There," and the haunting "February." Closing out the first disc is "Come On Home," a new track that bridges Jesus Jones' signature sound of the past with their garage rock influence of the present. Disc two offers rare B-sides and a generous helping of remixes by the Prodigy, Aphex Twin, Ben Chapman, Phil Harding, and Martyn Phillips. A true catch-all of both the group's popular and more obscure material, Never Enough serves as the ultimate companion for hardcore Jesus Jones fans, and an eye-opener to more casual listeners who may only be familiar with hits like "Right Here, Right Now" and "Real, Real, Real."

Saturday, 15 June 2019

Ultravox Vienna Definitive Edition



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With the departure of vocalist John Foxx and guitarist Robin Simon behind them, Vienna kicked off Ultravox's second phase with former Rich Kids vocalist Midge Ure at the helm. Trading Foxx's glam rock stance for Ure's aristocratic delivery, Vienna recasts the band as a melodramatic synth pop chamber ensemble with most of the group doubling on traditional string quartet instruments and the synthesizers often serving to emulate an orchestra. It was a bold move that took awhile to pay off (the first two singles, "Sleepwalk" and "Passing Strangers," went unnoticed), but when the monolithic title track was released, the Ure lineup became the band's most identifiable one almost overnight. The simple and instantly recognizable drumbeat of "Vienna" proved infectious, taking the single to the top of the charts in the U.K. and making an impression in a new wave-apprehensive America. Bassist Chris Cross' monotone narration on "Mr X" and the frantic ride that is "Western Promise" give the album just enough diversity and showcased the rest of the group on an Ure-heavy album. There are plenty of pretentious and pompous moments at which Foxx-era purists cringe, but taken as a snooty rebellion against the guitar-heavy climate of the late '70s, they're ignorable. Returning producer Conny Plank's style adapted well to the new group, pitting the stark and the lush against one another. Add Anton Corbijn's photography and Peter Saville's smart cover design, and all the ingredients for an early-'80s classic are there. A few albums later, it would all seem like a fluke, but on Vienna, all the pieces come together. [This edition of the album contains a bonus disc of live tracks and alternate takes.]

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Heaven 17 The Luxury Gap Deluxe Version



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After creating a marvelous electronic debut, Glenn Gregory, Ian Marsh, and Martyn Ware decided to tamper with their winning formula a bit on Heaven 17's 1983 follow-up to Penthouse and Pavement. The result, which added piano, strings, and Earth, Wind, & Fire's horn section to the band's cool synthesizer pulse, was even better, and The Luxury Gap became one of the seminal albums of the British new wave. The best-known track remains "Let Me Go," a club hit that features Gregory's moody, dramatic lead above a percolating vocal and synth arrangement. But even better is the mechanized Motown of "Temptation," a deservedly huge British smash that got a shot of genuine soul from R&B singer Carol Kenyon. Nearly every song ends up a winner, though, as the album displays undreamed-of range. If beat-heavy techno anthems like "Crushed By the Wheels of Industry" were expected of Heaven 17, the melodic sophistication of "The Best Kept Secret" and "Lady Ice and Mr. Hex" -- both of which sound almost like show tunes -- wasn't. If there's a flaw, it's that while the band's leftist messages were more subtle and humorous than most of their time, they still seem rather naïve. But the music, which showed just how warm electro-pop's usually chilly grooves could be, is another matter entirely. [Note to collectors: there were differences in the original British and American pressings of the album. The 1997 reissue by Caroline follows the order of the British pressing, adding some extended remixes.]

Saturday, 8 June 2019

Pet Shop Boys PopArt Limited Edition


Pet Shop Boys PopArt Limited Edition

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Looking back at the 35 years since Neil Tennant left England's Smash Hits magazine to form the Pet Shop Boys with Chris Lowe, the two-CD Popart opens itself up for arguments while surpassing 1991's Discography as the ready-to-wear selection. All the growing up and becoming more emotionally focused the duo did post-Discography could have yielded a dour hits collection, but putting new tracks like the plaintive "I Get Along" between the slick chestnuts "West End Girls" and "So Hard" works to the listener's advantage. The tropical and wistful "Single-Bilingual" and the clever and melancholy "You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You're Drunk" add more latter-day treasures that Discography couldn't include, and the only thing left to do besides submit is argue about the details. One disc is full of "Pop" moments and the other "Art," but just try and figure out the criteria. The two new songs (the austere electro of "Miracles" and the fair "Flamboyant") are nice enough but they're not as fully formed as their surroundings, making them obvious late additions. A little bit of text and history in the liner notes would have helped, and fans should be aware most of the tracks here appear in album versions rather than single mixes. Of course, compilers need to make decisions and bookending the collection with the ultracamp and semiflippant covers of "Go West" and "Somewhere" could be seen as a comment on how listeners shouldn't worry so much and just enjoy. Regardless of omissions and decisions, Popart is an excellent, hang-together listen and a better representation of the duo's career than Discography. [Upon Popart's release, a limited edition was available with an extra disc of remixes from Moby, Sasha, Danny Tenaglia, and others.]

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Happy Mondays Bummed Collector's Edition



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Only a year after the intermittently thrilling Squirrel and G-Man, Happy Mondays snapped into focus on its sophomore album, 1988's Bummed. "Focus" is an odd word for the persistently addled, violently hedonistic Mondays, yet Bummed has its own peculiar drug logic, loping into view with the two-stepping "Country Song," a cut so twisted it goes far beyond irony, then settling into the dense groove of "Moving In With," its hook buzzing and circling, causing a cacophony. Such vivid, concrete textures are a hallmark of producer Martin Hannett, the Mancunian legend who has been brought on board to give the Happy Mondays direction by doing the opposite of what he did with Joy Division. His production for Unknown Pleasures was stark, austere, but Bummed is all smeared colors and harsh edges, a fistful of razors and menace cutting viciously into the subconscious. This is nasty, nightmarish music delivered with a lascivious leer by Shaun Ryder, a hallucinatory accidental poet portrayed on the album's garish cover as some kind of harlot put out to pasture. Decadence has rarely sounded as dangerous as it did in the hands of the Mondays and this is where they reveled in that debauchery, pumping out stiff psychedelic funk as Ryder spat out rhymes of luck, lazyitis and fat lady wrestlers. Hannett's bright, brittle production amplifies everything, creating a swirling hyper-reality that's almost a sonic black hole sucking everything into its vortex -- slide guitars, sound clips from "Performance," maniacally looped drum machines, Beatles melodies, drums that are pushed to the front of the mix so it all is a relentless assault, from the ears down to the loins. As jagged and lacerating as all this is, there's a sense of evil glee, that the Mondays want to drag you down to their level, but there's no sense of seduction here; you're either with them or not, as Bummed is music for after you've already succumbed to the dark side.

Saturday, 1 June 2019

Various Artists Mersey Boys & Liverpool Girls



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Subtitled - The Sounds of the Mersey 1978-2001. UK compilation featuring 21 acts with origins in post-Beatles Liverpool. Tracks include, Ian McNabb ' Liverpool Girl', Cast 'Sandstorm', Echo and the Bunnymen 'The Back of Love', The LA's 'Feelin' and more

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

The Future Sound Of London Teachings From The Electronic Brain (The Best of FSOL)



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One of the first of the blissed-out rave acts to storm the charts, and also one of the longest lasting, the Future Sound of London deserved a good singles compilation, and fortunately they get one with the Virgin retrospective Teachings from the Electronic Brain. Their highest moments were virtually always their singles, and short-form tracks offer a much easier path to understanding the music of Brian Dougans and Garry Cobain than their occasionally bloated LPs. Teachings from the Electronic Brain neglects nothing of real value, beginning with their first chart hit ("Papua New Guinea") and grabbing the best tracks from their albums Accelerator ("Expander"), Lifeforms (the title track), the live-in-the-studio ISDN ("Far-Out Son of Lung and the Ramblings of a Madman," "Smokin' Japanese Babe"), and Dead Cities ("We Have Explosive").

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Queens Of The Stone Age Rated R Deluxe Edition


Queens Of The Stone Age Rated R Deluxe Edition

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The second Queens of the Stone Age album, Rated R (as in the movie rating; its title was changed from II at the last minute before release), makes its stoner rock affiliations clear right from the opening track. The lyrics of "Feel Good Hit of the Summer" consist entirely of a one-line list of recreational drugs that Josh Homme rattles off over and over, a gag that gets pretty tiresome by the end of the song (and certainly doesn't need the reprise that follows "In the Fade"). Fortunately, the rest of the material is up to snuff. R is mellower, trippier, and more arranged than its predecessor, making its point through warm fuzz-guitar tones, ethereal harmonies, vibraphones, horns, and even the odd steel drum. That might alienate listeners who have come to expect a crunchier guitar attack, but even though it's not really aggro, R is still far heavier than the garage punk and grunge that inform much of the record. It's still got the vaunted California-desert vibes of Kyuss, but it evokes a more relaxed, spacious, twilight feel, as opposed to a high-noon meltdown. Mark Lanegan and Barrett Martin of the Screaming Trees both appear on multiple tracks, and their band's psychedelic grunge -- in its warmer, less noisy moments -- is actually not a bad point of comparison. Longtime Kyuss fans might be disappointed at the relative lack of heaviness, but R's direction was hinted at on the first QOTSA album, and Homme's experimentation really opens up the band's sound, pointing to exciting new directions for heavy guitar rock in the new millennium. [For its tenth anniversary, Rated R receives a deluxe double-disc reissue that tweaks the cover color from blue to red and adds a bonus disc rounding up all the B-sides from the album’s accompanying singles and a brutal live set from the 2000 Reading Festival. The B-sides maintain the high quality of Rated R -- the stomping “Ode to Clarissa” should have made the cut on the proper album and deservedly was part of the Reading live set, “Born to Hula” points toward Songs for the Deaf, “You’re So Vague” cleverly spins Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain,” while the band offers strong covers of Romeo Void’s “Never Say Never” and the Kinks’ “Who’ll Be the Next in Line” -- but the real treat is the storming live set that pairs selections from the QOTSA debut with Rated R material, swapping studio precision for brutal force and adding a sneak peak of Songs’ “Millionaire” for good measure. It’s the band at its best and reason enough for any fan to buy this excellent album again.]

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Foo Fighters Foo Fighters Japan Edition



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Essentially a collection of solo home recordings by Dave Grohl, Foo Fighters' eponymous debut is a modest triumph. Driven by big pop melodies and distorted guitars, Foo Fighters do strongly recall Nirvana, only with a decidedly lighter approach. If Kurt Cobain's writing occasionally recalled John Lennon, Dave Grohl's songs are reminiscent of Paul McCartney -- they're driven by large, instantly memorable melodies, whether it's the joyous outburst of "This Is a Call" or the gentle pop of "Big Me." That doesn't mean Grohl shies away from noise; toward the end of the record, he piles on several thrashers that make more sense as pure aggressive sound than as songs. Since he recorded the album by himself, they aren't as powerful as most band's primal sonic workouts, but the results are damn impressive for a solo musician. Nevertheless, they aren't as strong as his fully formed pop songs, and that's where the true heart of the album lies. Foo Fighters has a handful of punk-pop gems that show, given the right musicians and songwriters, the genre had not entirely become a cliché by the middle of the '90s

Saturday, 11 May 2019

Felt The Strange Idols Pattern And Other Short Stories



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After establishing their sparse, dramatic sound with two albums and a handful of singles, Felt exploded into brilliance on their third album, 1984's The Strange Idols Pattern and Other Short Stories. Working with producer John Leckie for the first time, the band made a purposeful leap into the world of hi-fi recording: the arrangements are full and layered, Lawrence's vocals pop with confidence and vigor, and Felt have a limber swing to them that they'd never exhibited before. As usual, the record was split between Maurice Deebank's intricate instrumentals and Lawrence's songs, but for the first time Deebank's guitar explorations and Lawrence's tightly wound inner journeys sound like the work of two different visionaries instead of a united front. To that end, the instrumentals are limited to only three this time. Lawrence's songs are too good to be shunted aside; almost every track here could be considered one of his best. The hooks are undeniable, the melodies are crystalline, Lawrence's vocals have jumped about five steps ahead of where they were and his words have taken on deeper meanings and feelings, and Deebank's guitarwork is perfectly integrated into the jangling whole. Felt hinted at being able to make music as immediate and catchy as "Spanish House" and "Sunlight Bathed the Golden Glow"; they came close to recording songs as achingly pretty as "Vasco da Gama" and "Crystal Ball"; but this is where it all comes together and they deliver their first masterpiece. Songs like "Dismantled King Is Off the Throne" and "Roman Litter" rank with the best poppy post-punk of the early '80s; they have all the emotional power of the Smiths, all the guitar overload of the Church, all the drama of Echo & the Bunnymen, and more than enough elevated songcraft and laser-sharp vision to make them sound totally unique. The Strange Idols Pattern and Other Short Stories may not have the cachet or reputation of albums by the "big-name" bands of the era, but it has the songs and that's what counts the most. This is Lawrence and Felt at their absolute classic best, not to be overlooked or missed for any reason.

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

The Go-Betweens Liberty Belle And The Black Diamond Express



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Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express was the beginning of the Go-Betweens' crossover into more elegant and refined pop territory. "Robert Forster's endearingly fey persona, equal parts Bryan Ferry and gangly bookstore clerk, reaches full flower on the Go-Betweens' fourth album, which tempers the angularity and occasional claustrophobia of the band's previous work with a new airiness and nervous romanticism. The lighter sound can be partly attributed to the growing influence of co-leader Grant McLennan, whose wistful "Cattle and Cane" and "Bachelor Kisses" lent grace to the Go-Betweens' sometimes stilted early records... Liberty Belle is by no means free of the old Go-Betweens' edge (the brooding "Twin Layers of Lightning" is proof of that), but it is the pervading warmth and rueful humor of this release that make it so accessible and such a delight." Obviously, Bernard MacMahon and his Lo-Max Records label (and Jet Set in the United States) took that to heart when plotting out the reissue of the Go-Betweens' last three original albums, this one, Tallulah, and 16 Lovers Lane. Like the others, Liberty Belle is offered in a deluxe slipcase edition which contains two artfully remastered CDs (by Bill Inglot and Dave Schultz), a booklet with a load of photos, complete lyrics and sessions notes and a personal and humorous liner essay by Andrew Mueller. The album as originally released is presented on disc one. Added to its tag end are videos for "Spring Rain," and "Head Full of Steam," the two big singles from the set. American audiences will be suitably pleased with these since they aren't available anywhere else. Disc two hosts 11 bonus cuts. The first surprise is a spanking new version of "Don't Let Him Come Back." It was recorded and mixed in July of 1985, three months before the rest of the album was recorded. This one stands in sharp contrast to early versions of "The Wrong Road" and "Bow Down," also recorded at the same session, in that this one boasts a slightly different arrangement than the officially issued version. The bonus CD also sports the single version of "Head Full of Steam," and a radio session of "Apology Accepted." The rest of the tracks are, fantastically, unreleased and rare cuts that either didn't make the finished album or were recorded for other purposes or never used. These include a live cover of "I'm Gonna Knock on Your Door," which was recorded at the Boston Arms, and Liberty Belle cast-offs like the beautiful "The Life at Hand," as well as "Little Joe," and "Reunion Dinner." In all, this is a brilliant package, presenting a final, definitive picture of the Go-Betweens at an important creative juncture that ultimately shifted their aesthetic approach to both recording and writing.

Saturday, 4 May 2019

The Cars Heartbeat City


The Cars Heartbeat City

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Coming off the less-than-classic Shake It Up, the Cars decided again to change things up, this time moving from their home studio in Boston to London to record with Mutt Lange. The producer was coming off a string of sleek modern hits, most recently Def Leppard's Pyromania, and the Cars put themselves in Lange's capable and demanding hands. They spent six months in the studio painstakingly putting the album together, sometimes spending days getting the right bass sound or vocal take. The bandmembers were rarely in the room at the same time and instead of using live drums on the record, Lange and David Robinson put together drum tracks using samples of Robinson's playing. This sounds a bit like the recipe for a airless, stale album, but much like Pyromania, Heartbeat City is a gleaming pop masterpiece. The producer's golden touch, the strength of the songs Ric Ocasek wrote, and the stunning vocal performance both he and Benjamin Orr deliver make the album one of the best of the '80s and something that still sounds perfect many years later. It's a near-total reboot of the Cars' sound, giving them a thoroughly modern upgrade while still retaining enough of the DNA from their early hits to keep it a Cars album. Songs like "You Might Think" and "Magic" have the power chords and chugging rhythms, "It's Not the Night" has the dramatic emotion, and "Looking for Love" has some chirpy new wave in the verses, but most of the album takes the band to new places. "Hello Again" is arena-sized modern rock with some very Def Lep backing vocals -- something that pops up on almost every song -- and "Drive" is a timelessly romantic ballad that perfects the MOR sound that the previous album hinted at. The title track is moody soft pop with smooth synth pads and a crooning vocal by Ocasek, "Stranger Eyes" is basically a mash-up of Def Lep and the Cars with the addition of a few wonderfully corny synth sound effects, and "It's Not the Night" is pure AOR balladry that sounds like it could have been on Foreigner 4, another record Lange produced. Overall, Heartbeat City is a masterful example of how a band can reinvent itself without losing what made it great in the first place. Credit Lange's production savvy, Ocasek's songwriting genius, or the band's dedication to adding just what each song needed; when you combine them all it makes for brilliant pop and one of the landmark albums of the era.

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Elvis Costello And The Attractions Armed Forces


Elvis Costello And The Attractions Armed Forces

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After releasing and touring the intense This Year's Model, Elvis Costello quickly returned to the studio with the Attractions to record his third album, Armed Forces. In contrast to the stripped-down pop and rock of his first two albums, Armed Forces boasted a detailed and textured pop production, but it was hardly lavish. However, the more spacious arrangements -- complete with ringing pianos, echoing reverb, layered guitars, and harmonies -- accent Costello's melodies, making the record more accessible than his first two albums. Perversely, while the sound of Costello's music was becoming more open and welcoming, his songs became more insular and paranoid, even though he cloaked his emotions well. Many of the songs on Armed Forces use politics as a metaphor for personal relationships, particularly fascism, which explains its working title, Emotional Fascism. Occasionally, the lyrics are forced, but the music never is -- the album demonstrates the depth of Costello's compositional talents and how he can move from the hook-laden pop of "Accidents Will Happen" to the paranoid "Goon Squad" with ease. Some of the songs, like the light reggae of "Two Little Hitlers" and the impassioned "Party Girl," build on his strengths, while others like the layered "Oliver's Army" take Costello into new territories. It's a dense but accessible pop record and ranks as his third masterpiece in a row.

Saturday, 27 April 2019

Ministry Twitch


Ministry Twitch

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The name Ministry brings to mind images of big, dumb guitars and arena rock sensibility. But before they created their influential third album, The Land of Rape and Honey, there was Twitch. And this album probably owes more to Front 242 than anything. The only thing remotely resembling their later music is the use of psychotic sampling that Al Jourgensen and Paul Barker will always be known for. A good example is "Like You," the first track on the album. Other differences include Patty Jourgensen singing on the song "The Angel" and Al Jourgensen actually trying to sound unaggravated at times. It's interesting though repetitive at times ("Crash and Burn"), and if you care to listen to Jourgensen's rants, he really does have something to say. "Isle of Man" tells the story of the arrival of Columbus and how the persecution of the Indians will be revisited on the offenders in time. Make no mistake: this sounds nothing like any of Ministry's other albums; listeners may hear how they became what they did.

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Front 242 Front By Front


Front 242 Front By Front 


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Official Version was fantastic, but this album was something else again. Easily one of the greatest industrial albums ever made, bar none, Front by Front hit like a bombshell on its listeners and influenced more bands and songs than can be counted. Even the album art design, with everything from a rough pixel computer font cover to harsh video stills and blunt slogans, is a work of art, perfectly in sync with the electric mania inside (unfortunately, in the late '90s the entire Front 242 catalog was reissued with "high-tech" graphics). From the rampaging start of the album, "Until Death (Us Do Part)," not a single note, sample, guttural syllable, or headache-inducing drum hit is out of place. The album's most deservedly famous track can make an equally good case for being the definite EBM song: "Headhunter." A portrait of capitalism as mercenary terrorism with a wickedly compelling mock orchestral bass providing lead melody, "Headhunter" deserves notice not merely for the pounding music but the astonishing vocal arrangements. Richard 23 and Jean-Luc de Meyer serve up the memorable step-by-step chorus in perfect balance, the latter delivering each step like an order from on high while 23's singing adds on even more frenetic energy. The overall feeling of militaristic, blunt efficiency encompasses music, artwork, and lyrics -- thus utterly appropriate song titles like "Circling Overland" and "First In/First Out." "In Rhythmus Bleiben" stands out as a particularly fine song in a series of them, the melange of computer squeals and glitches, building percussion, chaotic vocal samples, and a downright anthemic chorus resulting in one killer tune. The 1992 reissue does the original CD one better by also including another mix of "Headhunter," as well as the entire Never Stop EP.

Saturday, 20 April 2019

Ian Dury Reasons To Be Cheerful - The Best Of



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The late Ian Dury knew for sure that it was a question of the right moment at the right time in the right place, because tomorrow might never arrive. And one day, he was right; it didn't. But his work ethic and never-give-up attitude left the world with some truly memorable music that is as much naughty fun as one can reasonably bear. There are 36 tracks, and all of the faves are here, of course. Who would want an Ian Dury comp without "Sex and Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll," or "Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick," or "Sweet Gene Vincent?" So yeah, those are all here, and if those were the only singles the cat released, they would have assured his place in the pantheon of all that happened in the U.K. in the late '70s and early '80s. But what about the other stuff, like the James Brown meets Tom Tom Club meet Kurtis Blow mutation of the title track, with its sweet soul-jazz middle eight? Or, what about the driving piano funkiness of "Wake Up and Make Love With Love Me," with its hilarious dirty boasting and truly infectious greasy groove? And then there's the provocative ska meets reggae and R&B of "I Want to Be Straight," with its proclamation of wanting to get out of the dumps and into a place of stature in the welfare state. There is humor in this music in bushels. But all of that humor points to the heart of a cultural malaise, and at what crap it is to be lonely and brokenhearted and broke in an age of abundance while questioning what that abundance is. All of it backed by a band that never got credit for how tight and versatile it was, how it provoked Dury onto greater lyrical plateaus just to match those killer grooves. It's a shame the guy's gone, man, a real shame. What's worse is that he didn't get nearly the credit he was owed during his lifetime -- he had a better sense of humor and was more musically interesting that James White by a country mile, and had a better band than anybody. Hopefully, anybody who was remotely interested in Dury will pick this little slab of memory up and be astonished. Never has the sound of real rebellion been so friendly or so necessary.

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Dexy`s Midnight Runners Let's Make This Precious The Best Of


Dexy`s Midnight Runners Let's Make This Precious The Best Of

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Let's Make This Precious: The Best of Dexys Midnight Runners collects 18 tracks from the genre-hopping creators of "Come on Eileen," including the hits (in the U.K., at least) "Celtic Soul Brothers (More Please Thank You)," "Geno," "Breaking Down the Walls of Heartache," and "Show Me." All of the best tracks here have been cherry-picked from the group's 1980 debut Searching for the Young Soul Rebels and 1982 smash Too-Rye-Ay, which makes a strong case for searching out the excellent 2002 reissues of each, but as samplers go, it's hard to beat this set of infectious folk-kissed, blue-eyed soul-infused new wave jams.

Saturday, 13 April 2019

Mansun Attack Of The Grey Lantern 2010 Collector's Edition



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Opening with the swirling, cinematic strings of "The Chad Who Loved Me," Mansun's debut album, Attack of the Grey Lantern, is anything but a conventional Brit-pop record. Few debut records are this assured, especially when a group is developing such an idiosyncratic, individual style. Mansun recalls many artists -- Suede, Manic Street Preachers, Tears for Fears, David Bowie, ABC, Blur, Prince -- without sounding exactly like any of them. Attack of the Grey Lantern is a grandiose, darkly seductive blend of new wave and '90s indie rock, filled with phased guitars, drum machines, and subversive, off-kilter song structures, many of which wind past five minutes. No song is ever quite what it seems -- "Mansun's Only Love Song" balances between soul and fractured pop, "Stripper Vicar" has new wave backing vocals and hard-rock chords, while "Taxloss" marries Suede's dark glam rock with uneasy psychedelia. It's an ambitious, even pretentious, record, but Mansun has enough confidence and skill to make it an astonishingly original debut. 

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Idlewild Hope Is Important



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The members of Idlewild were barely in their twenties when they recorded their debut, Hope Is Important. Quite taken with the grunge surge of the early '90s, distorted guitars and textured basslines mosh among Roddy Woomble's screeching vocals, which are also abrasive and wounded. The first half of Hope Is Important has a high-speed disposition of punk chaos reminiscent of Nirvana's Bleach. "You've Lost Your Way" and "4 People Do Good" rampage with angst-ridden themes, and classic vocalic disarray and complexity. "I'm Happy to Be Here Tonight" is where Idlewild truly shines -- an indie anthem wholeheartedly passionate. They may be from the working-class mass of Scotland, but Idlewild's members are intellects with a twist. Hope Is Important exudes the fiery nature of four young guys yearning to make their own way in modern rock despite the popularity of the three-chord riff. Lyrically, the poetry behind such wordplay isn't as apparent as it would be on their follow-up, 100 Broken Windows. But it's there, and it's enjoyably humorous

Saturday, 6 April 2019

Skunk Anansie Post Orgasmic Chill


Skunk Anansie Post Orgasmic Chill

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Post Orgasmic Chill bursts with nervous energy and jarring contrasts yet is as straight-ahead a hard rock album as Skunk Anansie is likely to create. The staccato guitar and drum rhythms of "Charlie Big Potato" and "On My Motel TV" hit like a jackhammer, yet strings and other flourishes polish them into an intelligent, subtle finish. Lead singer Skin's outrage is thoroughly believable in the potent anti-racism screed "We Don't Need Who You Think You Are"; "The Skank Heads" unleashes a torrent of four-on-the-floor rock that couches an instrumental interlude that sounds like the Police in space-age dub

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Faith No More Album Of The Year


Faith No More Album Of The Year

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Faith No More's 1997 release Album of the Year featured the talents of another new guitarist, Jon Hudson, who replaced Dean Menta (Menta only toured with the group in support of King for a Day before being dismissed). Like King for a Day, Album is more straightforward musically than past releases and remains one of FNM's most focused and concise works. Recorded in bassist Billy Gould's home studio, Album of the Year would turn out to be their last studio recording before splitting up in 1997. A trio of outstanding tracks -- "Stripsearch," "Last Cup of Sorrow," and "Ashes to Ashes" -- blend hard rock and pop melodicism the way only FNM can, while "Helpless" is an unpredictable composition that alternates between heavy guitar riffing and Mike Patton's tempered vocals. The explosive album opener, "Collision," and "Naked in Front of the Computer" show that the band can still compose prime heavy rockers, while other musical forms were included as well (the romantic ballad "She Loves Me Not," the evil boogie of "Home Sick Home," and the Middle Eastern sounds of "Mouth to Mouth"). For the gripping album closer, "Pristina," the '90s turmoil in Yugoslavia is used as a backdrop for a tale of lovers being separated due to war. Album of the Year was a fitting way for one of alt-rock's most influential and important bands to end its career.

Saturday, 30 March 2019

The Flaming Lips Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots



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After the symphonic majesty of The Soft Bulletin, the Flaming Lips return with Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, a sublime fusion of Bulletin's newfound emotional directness, the old-school playfulness of Transmissions From the Satellite Heart, and, more importantly, exciting new expressions of the group's sentimental, experimental sound. While the album isn't as immediately impressive as the equally brilliant and unfocused Soft Bulletin, it's more consistent, using a palette of rounded, surprisingly emotive basslines; squelchy analog synths; and manicured acoustic guitars to craft songs like "One More Robot/Sympathy 3000-21," a sleekly melancholy tale of robots developing emotions, and "In the Morning of the Magicians," an aptly named electronic art rock epic that sounds like a collaboration between the Moody Blues and Wendy Carlos. Paradoxically, the Lips use simpler arrangements to create more diverse sounds on Yoshimi, spanning the lush, psychedelic reveries of "It's Summertime"; the instrumental "Approaching Pavonis Mons by Balloon"; the dubby "Are You a Hypnotist?"; and the barely organized chaos of "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 2," which defeats the evil metal ones with ferocious drums, buzzing synths, and the razor sharp howl of the Boredoms' Yoshimi. Few bands can craft life-affirming songs about potentially depressing subjects (the passage of time, fighting for what you care about, good vs. evil) as the Flaming Lips, and on Yoshimi, they're at the top of their game. "Do You Realize??" is the standout, so immediately gorgeous that it's obvious that it's the single. It's also the most obviously influenced by The Soft Bulletin, but it's even catchier and sadder, sweetening such unavoidable truths like "Do you realize that everyone you know someday will die?" with chimes, clouds of strings, and angelic backing vocals. Yoshimi features some of the sharpest emotional peaks and valleys of any Lips album -- the superficially playful "Fight Test" is surprisingly bittersweet, while sad songs like "All We Have Is Now" and "Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell" are leavened by witty lyrics and production tricks. Funny, beautiful, and moving, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots finds the Flaming Lips continuing to grow and challenge themselves in not-so-obvious ways after delivering their obvious masterpiece.
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