Saturday, 9 November 2019

The Stone Roses The Stone Roses


The Stone Roses The Stone Roses

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Routinely named as the greatest British album of the past 20 years in British music mag polls, sometimes rivaling such sacred cows as Revolver whenever those publications decide to do a Greatest Albums Ever list, The Stone Roses remains one of those classic albums that somehow defies translation across the pond. To be sure, it's not that the British overrate the Stone Roses. Rather, it's that the U.S., apart from some Anglophiles and Gen-Xers, missed the golden moment when the Stone Roses were the best band in the world, capturing a crystalline moment where nostalgia for the Summer of Love refracted through the prism of burgeoning acid house. Unlike the Happy Mondays, the Stone Roses weren't really immersed in the pulsating E-underworld of raves, but their music was certainly informed by this new thumping psychedelia as much as it was by the '60s jangle, which is why the Stone Roses can feel somewhat out of time even as it thoroughly, undeniably is about its moment. That timelessness is one of the chief reasons The Stone Roses endures as a modern classic and why it's been given this spectacular 20th Anniversary reissue. There are multiple editions, all of interest: a basic remastered single-disc, an extensive two-disc/one-DVD set that pairs the original album with a "Lost Demos" CD and video of a live show from Blackpool Empress Ballroom, then finally, a gargantuan set that has all this, plus another disc that rounds up the non-LP singles and B-sides as well as more extensive liner notes, art prints, and a USB disc with unreleased backwards tracks, music videos, and other collector's treats. All this is a fanatics treasure, and there is quite a bit of musical worth here too, especially on the B-sides, which may have already been reissued on Made of Stone but is nice to have paired here. Still, the main revelation of the "Lost Demos" is how perfect John Leckie's production of The Stone Roses is. On these demos, the songs are firmly intact but the colors are muted, and Ian Brown's notoriously wobbly vocals are quite shaky; they are clearly a blueprint, not a final product. Listening to the full album after the demos, The Stone Roses seems even more wondrous: Leckie coaxed the right performances out of all four members, letting Mani and Reni lock into a muscular, fluid groove, encouraging John Squire to paint as vividly with his guitar as he did in his artwork, finding a way for Ian Brown to seem swaggering and spectral simultaneously, a resurrection whose adoration was an inevitability. For longtime fans, this is reason enough to dig into this deluxe anniversary edition, and for those who have never known, there's no better place to get enchanted.

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Oasis (What's The Story) Morning Glory



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If Definitely Maybe was an unintentional concept album about wanting to be a rock & roll star, (What's the Story) Morning Glory? is what happens after the dreams come true. Oasis turns in a relatively introspective second record, filled with big, gorgeous ballads instead of ripping rockers. Unlike Definitely Maybe, the production on Morning Glory is varied enough to handle the range in emotions; instead of drowning everything with amplifiers turned up to 12, there are strings, keyboards, and harmonicas. This expanded production helps give Noel Gallagher's sweeping melodies an emotional resonance that he occasionally can't convey lyrically. However, that is far from a fatal flaw; Gallagher's lyrics work best in fragments, where the images catch in your mind and grow, thanks to the music. Gallagher may be guilty of some borrowing, or even plagiarism, but he uses the familiar riffs as building blocks. This is where his genius lies: He's a thief and doesn't have many original thoughts, but as a pop/rock melodicist he's pretty much without peer. Likewise, as musicians, Oasis are hardly innovators, yet they have a majestic grandeur in their sound that makes ballads like "Wonderwall" or rockers like "Some Might Say" positively transcendent. Alan White does add authority to the rhythm section, but the most noticeable change is in Liam Gallagher. His voice sneered throughout Definitely Maybe, but on Morning Glory his singing has become more textured and skillful. He gives the lyric in the raging title track a hint of regret, is sympathetic on "Wonderwall," defiant on "Some Might Say," and humorous on "She's Electric," a bawdy rewrite of "Digsy's Diner." It might not have the immediate impact of Definitely Maybe, but Morning Glory is just as exciting and compulsively listenable. [In 2014, just a year shy of its 20th anniversary, (What's The Story) Morning Glory? received a super-deluxe reissue weighing in at three CDs. The first of the CDs features a remastered version of the original album, while the second CD rounds up nearly all the non-LP B-sides (a live 1995 "Live Forever" is missing), plus "Bonehead's Bank Holiday" -- a delightful, ragged novelty which was originally released only on the vinyl edition of Morning Glory -- and a cover of "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away," which appeared only on the Japanese "Some Might Say" single. This collection of flipsides is nearly as good as the proper album, and some of the songs should've made the proper album: "Talk Tonight" is Noel Gallagher's best ballad, "Acquiesce" crystallizes the tension of the brothers Gallagher, "Step Out" is a wild reinvention of Stevie Wonder's "Uptight (Everything Is Alright)" (which is why it was cut from the record at the last minute), "Round Are Way" belongs to the Ian Dury/Madness tradition -- and it'd be enough to justify a re-purchase of the album, particularly for anybody who loves Morning Glory but never had the accompanying singles. Nevertheless, the third disc is the real treat for hardcore fans, as it has unheard demos of "Some Might Say," "She's Electric," "Rockin' Chair," and "Hey Now," along with live performances highlighted by an MTV Unplugged take on "Round Are Way" featuring Noel on vocals. Apart from an excised verse of a demo of "Bonehead's Bank Holiday," there are no great revelations but each cut is excellent, offering confirmation that Oasis were indeed in their imperial phase during Morning Glory.]

Saturday, 2 November 2019

Manic Street Preachers Everything Must Go 10th Anniversary Deluxe Edition



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Months after the release of the harrowing The Holy Bible, Manic Street Preachers guitarist Richey James disappeared, leaving no trace of his whereabouts or his well-being. Ultimately, the remaining trio decided to carry on, releasing their fourth album, Everything Must Go, in 1996. Considering the tragic circumstances that surrounded it, Everything Must Go is the strongest, most focused, and certainly the most optimistic album the Manics ever released. Five of the songs feature lyrics James left behind before his disappearance, and while offering no motivation for his actions, they do hint at the depths of his despair. Nicky Wire wrote the remaining lyrics, and his songs give the record its weight and balance, confronting the issue of James' disappearance in a roundabout way, never explicitly mentioning the topic but offering a gritty dose of realistic optimism offering the hope that things will get better; after the nihilism of The Holy Bible, the outlook is all the more inspiring. Furthermore, the Manics' musical attack has become leaner; their music still rages, but it's channeled into concise, anthemic rock songs that soar on their own belief. Above all, Everything Must Go is a cathartic experience -- it is genuinely moving to hear the Manics offering hope without sinking to mawkish sentimentality or collapsing under the weight of their situation. [The 2006 edition features a host of bonus features on two CDs and one DVD. The first CD offers up the entire album (remastered) along with six previously unreleased live tracks. The second CD features unreleased rehearsals, demos, alternate versions and rare B-sides

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Stereophonics Word Gets Around Deluxe Edition



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In the late '90s, a rash of Welsh rock bands emerged, among them Catatonia, Super Furry Animals, 60 Ft. Dolls, and the Stereophonics. On the surface, the Stereophonics' gritty rock & roll seems relatively uninspired, but upon close listen Word Gets Around proves to be a very accomplished debut. Vocalist/guitarist Kelly Jones' vocals are raw and rip the songs apart, as his loud, arena-ready guitar assault gives every track a gritty edge. Jones' lyrics are also of note; highly poetic and meaningful, he writes about the underbelly of a small town. The anthemic opener, the outrageously catchy "A Thousand Trees," details how a respected high school athletic coach ruined his career through a lurid sexual encounter with a female student, and the quick, jagged "More Life in a Tramp's Vest" displays the view of the world through the eyes of a supermarket bag boy. Word Gets Around isn't all about hard rockers, though; the hit "Traffic" is a beautifully constructed ballad that works marvelously when a juxtaposition is made between the music and Jones' rough vocal styling. While Word Gets Around occasionally suffers from blandness, it is a remarkably accomplished debut LP.

Saturday, 26 October 2019

The Beta Band Hot Shots II


The Beta Band Hot Shots II

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Following an LP that was slagged by even the group themselves before release, the Beta Band got down to business for their second proper record. While their self-titled debut reveled in a near-blinding collage of samples, synthpads, noise, and obtuse figures, for Hot Shots II the group took a much different path. Many of the tracks are (comparatively) quiet songs, the productions pared down to minimal proportions and focused on slow, darkly descending chords. The band's methods are innovative as before, but now they've taken on the challenge of saying more with less -- with fewer production fragments to obscure the songs, they're left to survive on their own. During the opener "Squares," a minute passes before the song even begins to make sense; a few glimpses of beats and basslines are the only accompaniment to Stephen Mason's chanted vocals, until the chorus sweeps in to reveal a tight, beautiful trip-hop-with-strings production. "Gone" does well with just bass, piano, and background vocals from the band. Elsewhere, the Beta Band rely on spare bits -- stuttered acoustic guitar samples, whining melodica, regal horns in the background -- to get their point across, but aren't afraid to rock out either. While the songwriting certainly isn't direct, it's much less consciously inscrutable compared to the madcap toss-offs spread over The Beta Band. Understandably suspicious when the group promised an even better record their second time out, listeners have the proof with Hot Shots II.

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Steve Mason Boys Outside


Steve Mason Boys Outside

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From the first few seconds of Steve Mason's first full-length under his own name (following one as King Biscuit Time and one as Black Affair), the results could be a Beta Band reunion in full force, with all the crushing beats and junk-shop audio detritus to boot. But it soon becomes clear that Mason's production partner, Richard X, is having a subtle influence, one that pushes Boys Outside into adult alternative territory. While that may be worrisome for Mason's long-time fans, it bodes well for those who have long wondered whether his voice would always remain one of the best-kept secrets in the alternative/indie world. Compared to Beta Band material, the songs here are given a sharper touch but also a softer focus, and Mason's vocals (always a highlight of the records he appeared on) are given the foreground. His vocals still evoke some sort of Scottish high lonesome sound, although his range hasn't expanded much in a dozen years of music-making. (Considering his dearth of material over the past eight years, most listeners will be thankful for this.) His lyrical themes remain bewildered and self-indicting. It's easy to get the feeling that the cover, which is completely black, is an act of fatalistic self-resignation; when he sings "The river runs baby, and it calls for me," the unavoidable impression is that he'll soon be floating along in it, face down. Mason and Richard X do an excellent job of sanding off the rough edges of Mason's past Beta Band material, leaving listeners with more melodic and harmonic treats to enrich their discovery of his many lyrical delicacies. Mason's career has been one of constant starts and stops and side-project misdirections (for his fans, at least), so the straightforwardly eccentric Boys Outside is clearly a record to treasure.

Saturday, 19 October 2019

Peter Gabriel Hit


Peter Gabriel Hit

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Peter Gabriel's work doesn't lend itself easily to compilations -- not because he didn't cut singles, since he made many terrific stand-alone singles, but because his body of work is so idiosyncratic, even contradictory, that it's possible to have perfectly valid differing perspectives on his catalog. This results in differing opinions among fans, so it's perfectly logical that Gabriel and his associates would have a unique view of his own work, as captured on Hit. Billed on its slipcase as "The Definitive Two CD Collection," Hit spans 30 tracks culled from his entire solo career, from 1977's Peter Gabriel to 2002's Up, plus the previously unreleased "Burn You Up, Burn You Down." It certainly is a generous compilation, and it does contain the basics: "Solsbury Hill," "Shock the Monkey," "Sledgehammer," "Don't Give Up," "Games Without Frontiers," "Biko," "Red Rain," "Big Time," and "In Your Eyes." But the devil is in the details, and in this particular case, the details push Hit away from the broad-based appeal of So and closer to the dense, subtle territory of Us and Up. This is achieved, of course, through the track selection, which is heavy on recent material (note: none of the edit details are present on the back cover, hence their presence here): from Up, there's "Growing Up [Tom Lord-Alge Mix]," "More Than This [Radio Edit]," "The Drop," "I Grieve," and "Signal to Noise," which amounts to half the entire album; the previously unreleased 2003 live track "Downside Up"; "Cloudless" from the soundtrack to the 2002 Rabbit-Proof Fence and "Lovetown" from the 1994 Philadelphia soundtrack; "The Tower That Ate People [Steve Osborne Mix]" and "Father, Son" from OVO; the 1990 Shaking the Tree remake of "Here Comes the Flood"; from Us, the album track "Love to Be Loved," plus the singles "Digging in the Dirt," "Blood of Eden [Radio Edit]," and "Steam [Radio Edit]." That's a grand total of 16 tracks dating after the career high watermark of So -- 16 tracks covering two full albums, plus a lot of odds and ends. There's unquestionably good material here -- not just the Us singles, but much of Up was quite excellent, even if it requires several listens to appreciate -- but the heavy emphasis on this post-So work skews too much to the new (nine of the 14 tracks on disc two are of relatively recent vintage), at least if the yardstick is either an evenhanded appreciation of Gabriel's entire solo work or a portrait of his best-known, best-loved work. After all, there are many singles missing -- "I Have the Touch," "I Go Swimming," "Come Talk to Me," "Kiss That Frog," and "Secret World" among them -- plus other worthy uncollected rarities (his deliriously paranoid "Out Out" from the 1984 Gremlins soundtrack needs to finally get a CD issue) and many, many terrific album tracks that would have had given this compilation greater breadth and depth, including "Moribund the Burgermeister," "Mercy Street," "Intruder," "Family Snapshot," and the tremendous pair of "On the Air" and "D.I.Y.," the two best cuts on the underrated Peter Gabriel 2 (which is once again consciously ignored by Gabriel, with this exhaustive collection featuring nothing from the record). If some of these 12 songs had managed to get on Hit, it truly would have been definitive, capturing the entire scope of his solo career. As it stands, it's a very good collection, one that delivers most of what is expected, even as it presents a relatively up-to-date self-portrait of the artist.

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Robert Palmer Best Of Both Worlds The Robert Palmer Anthology (1974-2001)



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There are usually thought to be two phases to Robert Palmer's career: an earlier one running from 1974 to 1983, when he explored New Orleans second-line funk and reggae, backed by members of Little Feat and the Meters and turned out a series of critically acclaimed, modestly successful recordings, and a later one, from 1985 on, when he rode his good looks, some high-fashion videos, and some simplistic hard rock/pop to a series of big hits on his own and with the Power Station. This two-CD set responds to that view by devoting its first disc to the earlier phase and its second disc to the later one. Palmer switched record companies along the way, too, but Hip-O is known for its willingness to license material from other labels, and 15 of the 20 tracks on the second disc come from outside the Universal archives. Along the way, all of the singer's U.S. Top 40 hits are included, though the collection was assembled with Palmer's input, which leads to alterations from the original recordings that fans might not be entirely pleased with. For a couple of earlier compilations, Addictions, Vols. 1 and 2, he used remixes of many of his well-known recordings, and those remixes have been retained here. He has also chosen to present three favorites -- "Johnny and Mary," "Riptide," and "Looking for Clues" -- as 2001 live performances rather than in their original studio recordings. Still, the selection is well-considered. The first disc is a good summation of Palmer's first eight Island albums, and the second disc demonstrates that not all of the second half of his career sounded like "Addicted to Love," that, actually, it was far more varied than the first half. There have been several Palmer compilations, but this one is the most comprehensive yet assembled.

Saturday, 12 October 2019

David Bowie Nothing Has Changed The Very Best Of Bowie



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Nothing Has Changed is a bit of a cheeky title for a career retrospective from an artist who is known as a chameleon, and this triple-disc compilation has other tricks up its sleeve. Chief among these is sequencing the SuperDeluxe 59-track set in reverse chronological order, so it opens with the brand-new, jazz-inflected "Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)" and concludes with David Bowie's debut single, "Liza Jane." On paper, this seems a bit like a stunt, but in actuality it's a sly way to revisit and recontextualize a career that has been compiled many, many times before. Previously, there have been single discs, double discs, and triple-disc boxes, but the largest of these was Sound + Vision, a box released in 1989, and the most recent was 2002's The Best of Bowie, which featured slightly different track listings in different territories but generally stopped in the late '90s. The two-CD version of Nothing Has Changed resembles this 2002 set -- there are absences, notably "John, I'm Only Dancing," "Diamond Dogs," and "TVC15," but they're not noticed among the parade of standards -- but it's easily overshadowed by the triple-disc SuperDeluxe set. This version of Nothing Has Changed touches upon nearly every phrase of Bowie's career, bypassing Tin Machine but finding space for early pre-"Space Oddity" singles that often don't make Bowie's comps, and naturally it samples from his fine Y2K records, plus his 2013 comeback The Next Day. This expansiveness alone would be noteworthy, but when it's combined with the reverse sequencing the compilation forces listeners to reconsider an artist whose legacy seemed so set in stone it appropriately was enshrined in museums. Obvious high-water marks are undersold -- there's not as much Ziggy as usual, nor as much Berlin -- so other eras can also enter the canon, whether it's the assured maturity of the new millennium or the appealing juvenilia of the '60s. The end result is something unexpected: a compilation that makes us hear an artist we know well in a whole new way.

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Simple Minds Celebrate


Simple Minds Celebrate

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A 50-track anthology, Celebrate: Greatest Hits covers Simple Minds from the band's 1978 debut through 2009's Graffiti Soul. There's also a pair of decent exclusive tracks, "Blood Diamonds" and "Broken Glass Park," recorded specifically for the set. Fanatics could pick apart the track selections, but this provides a high-quality overview of the band's output. Their rapid development from 1978 through 1982 -- a period represented with the likes of "Chelsea Girl," "I Travel," "Love Song," "Promised You a Miracle," and "Speed Your Love to Me" -- was unlike that of any of their peers. The assortment of material taken from the band's later albums is evenhanded, including "Alive and Kicking," "All the Things She Said," "Belfast Child," "Let There Be Love," and "She's a River," all of which reached the Top Ten in the U.K.

Saturday, 5 October 2019

Lloyd Cole & The Commotions 1984-1989


Lloyd Cole & The Commotions 1984-1989

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The lush, facile simplicity of Lloyd Cole's music is brimmed with cushioned harmonies and soft-spoken choruses, and more often than not deals with the complexity of love. Accompanied by the bright jangle of guitar that's hitched to palatable pop tempos, his work with backup band the Commotions produced a number of melody-ridden songs that are best accessed on 1984-1989, a collection of their finest material. Not unlike Orange Juice or the Blue Nile, Cole's music used polished instrumentation behind elements of subdued '80s Europop, best exemplified in songs like "Perfect Skin" and "You Will Never Be No Good." As an enduring and enjoyable compilation, 1984-1989 really does gather the cream of their music, and each song relinquishes a clean, robust sound. Some of the more beautiful tracks include the friendly candor of "Are You Ready to Be Heartbroken?" or the irregularity between the lines of "Jennifer She Said." "Brand New Friend" glimmers with Cole's vocal resilience, as does the pristine bounce of "Lost Weekend." All three of Lloyd Cole and the Commotions' albums contribute songs to this best-of, with the stronger pieces coming from 1984's Rattlesnakes. Cole's music strays from sounding contrived or overlapped and sports comparisons to the Beautiful South in that they share the same lyrical wit and appeal. Relatively unknown in North America, Lloyd Cole and the Commotions contributed to some of the finest music to ever hover with pop ease, and this compilation lines up his best work all in one place

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Radiohead The Bends Collector's Edition



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The Bends was Radiohead's peak as an adventurous guitar band and their creativity wasn't limited to the album proper -- it spilled over to that album's B-sides, resulting in their most consistent string of singles, which, in turn, makes the double-disc reissue of The Bends the best of all the 2009 deluxe Radiohead reissues. This collects all the B-sides from the singles for "My Iron Long," "High & Dry"/"Planet Telex," "Fake Plastic Trees," and "Street Spirit (Fade Out)," adding four BBC sessions to comprise a bonus disc totalling 21 tracks. Compared to the Pablo Honey and OK Computer reissues, this doesn't rely heavily on live tracks or remixes, so there is a pretty hefty amount of valuable non-LP songs here, including "Talk Show Host," "Bishop's Robes," "Banana Co.," and "Molasses," which all point the way toward the vibrant twitchy progressive rock of OK Computer. Even with these tunes hinting toward the future, the 21 tracks on the bonus disc are connected strongly to the muscular, imaginative present of Radiohead in 1995, building and expanding upon the sound of The Bends and, when presented in conjunction with the album, enhancing it, illustrating that this was when the band found its voice.

Saturday, 28 September 2019

Julian Cope World Shut Your Mouth



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Retreating from the collapse of the Teardrop Explodes to his hometown of Tamworth, Cope produced his first solo effort with help from producer Steve Lovell on guitar and fellow Teardrop Gary Dwyer on drums. The result is a surprisingly vibrant, rich album that shows Cope easily moving on from his group days while retaining his unique powerful and natural gifts for singing and songwriting. If there's something about the sound of World that suggests its early-'80s recording dates -- Dwyer's drums sound like Steve Lillywhite's been after them at points! -- Cope's own particular, heavily psych-into-pop-inspired goals aren't lost in it. Some of his songs are so inspired that one just has to wonder how in the world they didn't end up as hits somewhere. "An Elegant Chaos" is a great example, an at-once cryptic and fascinating lyric peppered with just enough knowing irony ("Here comes the part where I break down and cry") and a synth-string-touched crunch given a breezy pace. Top it off with Cope's singing and the result is simply genius. Two songs from the final Teardrops sessions, "Metranil Vavin," an homage to a Russian poet, and "Pussyface" get enthusiastic run-throughs here. "Metranil Vavin" in particular is a kick, shifting from garagey crunch and energy to a show tune chorus at the drop of a hat, while sitar from Lovell and concluding oboe from Kate St. John, who plays on many other cuts, add even more pastoral trippiness. Further strong cuts include "Kolly Kibber's Birthday," with a fast rhythm machine and keyboard drones leading the way; the quirky string/brass surge of "Sunshine Playroom"; and the upbeat "Greatness and Perfection." Throughout World, Cope demonstrates why he's one of the best, most unaffected singers in rock around, his vocals carrying sweep and passion without sounding like he's trying to impress himself or others.

Wednesday, 25 September 2019

The Lilac Time And Love For All Remastered



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Abandoning entirely the folk-pop sound of the Lilac Time's first two albums, & Love for All is a worthwhile stylistic detour that results in the first genuinely excellent album of Stephen Duffy's career, including his earlier solo incarnation as Tin Tin. Just over half the album (seven of 12 songs) was produced by XTC's Andy Partridge, with John Leckie covering the others, and the overall sound is akin to Partridge and Leckie's collaboration on the Dukes of Stratosphear records, minus the more obvious '60s pop rip-offs. (Well, discounting "All for Love and Love for All," which cops subtle riffs from the Magical Mystery Tour era and name checks the Quarrymen in the first verse.) Duffy has never before acknowledged much of an interest in either psychedelia or '60s pop, yet his songs fit Partridge and Leckie's atmospheric production touches nicely. Adding a greater reliance on electric guitars and keyboards (mostly piano played by Cara Tivey) to the Lilac Time's formerly acoustic sound, & Love for All manages not only to not overwhelm Duffy's thoughtful lyrics, graceful melodies, or thin but effective vocals, but to enhance them. [The 2006 edition includes four bonus tracks, as well as a four-song BBC session.]

Saturday, 21 September 2019

Moby Play & Play B-Sides



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Following a notorious flirtation with alternative rock, Moby returned to the electronic dance mainstream on the 1997 album I Like to Score. With 1999's Play, he made yet another leap back toward the electronica base that had passed him by during the mid-'90s. The first two tracks, "Honey" and "Find My Baby," weave short blues or gospel vocal samples around rather disinterested breakbeat techno. This version of blues-meets-electronica is undoubtedly intriguing to the all-important NPR crowd, but it is more than just a bit gimmicky to any techno fans who know their Carl Craig from Carl Cox. Fortunately, Moby redeems himself in a big way over the rest of the album with a spate of tracks that return him to the evocative, melancholy techno that's been a specialty since his early days. The tinkly piano line and warped string samples on "Porcelain" frame a meaningful, devastatingly understated vocal from the man himself, while "South Side" is just another pop song by someone who shouldn't be singing -- that is, until the transcendent chorus redeems everything. Surprisingly, many of Moby's vocal tracks are highlights; he has an unerring sense of how to frame his fragile vocals with sympathetic productions. 

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Red Hot Chili Peppers Californication Australian Edition


Red Hot Chili Peppers Californication Australian Edition

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Many figured that the Red Hot Chili Peppers' days as undisputed alternative kings were numbered after their lackluster 1995 release One Hot Minute, but like the great phoenix rising from the ashes, this legendary and influential outfit returned back to greatness with 1999's Californication. An obvious reason for their rebirth is the reappearance of guitarist John Frusciante (replacing Dave Navarro), who left the Peppers in 1992 and disappeared into a haze of hard drugs before cleaning up and returning to the fold in 1998. Frusciante was a main reason for such past band classics as 1989's Mother's Milk and 1991's Blood Sugar Sex Magik, and proves once and for all to be the quintessential RHCP guitarist. Anthony Kiedis' vocals have improved dramatically as well, while the rhythm section of bassist Flea and drummer Chad Smith remains one of rock's best. The quartet's trademark punk-funk can be sampled on such tracks as "Around the World," "I Like Dirt," and "Parallel Universe," but the more pop-oriented material proves to be a pleasant surprise -- "Scar Tissue," "Otherside," "Easily," and "Purple Stain" all contain strong melodies and instantly memorable choruses. And like their 1992 introspective hit "Under the Bridge," there are even a few mellow moments -- "Porcelain," "Road Trippin'," and the title track. With the instrumentalists' interplay at an all-time telepathic high and Kiedis peaking as a vocalist, Californication is a bona fide Chili Peppers classic.

Saturday, 31 August 2019

The Beat You Just Can't Beat It The Best Of The Beat



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The Beat existed in its original form for less than five years in the late 1970s and early '80s, long enough to release three albums (I Just Can't Stop It, Wha'ppen?, and Special Beat Service) and some one-off singles. So, a two-hour, 37-track, two-CD set like the discount-priced U.K. retrospective You Just Can't Beat It: The Best of the Beat covers most of the group's recordings, with only a handful of tracks (not including remixes and live versions) left out. The most significant omission is the British single "Hit It," which only got to number 70 in the charts. The big hits are all here in a roughly chronological sequencing that gives the listener a sense of the band's development from its ska revival beginnings to more of a dub/reggae style and finally something like a mainstream soul/R&B approach including keyboards. Throughout, lead singer Dave Wakeling sings huskily over the infectiously danceable rhythms, complemented by the toasting of Ranking Roger. By the end, the group doesn't sound remotely spent, but further musical developments had to be handled by Wakeling and Ranking Roger in General Public on the one hand and guitarist Andy Cox and bassist Dave Steele with Fine Young Cannibals on the other. (In her enthusiastic if sketchy liner notes, Rhoda Dakar reveals that Wakeling leads a version of the English Beat in the U.S., while Ranking Roger has the New English Beat in the U.K.)

Wednesday, 28 August 2019

The Specials The Best Of The Specials



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Released in the U.K. in 2008 but not appearing in the U.S. until 2014, the Best of the Specials is far and away the most generous Specials compilation ever assembled, weighing in at a hefty 20 tracks and, in its initial pressing at least, containing an accompanying 16-track DVD featuring music videos and live performance. The real meat of the collection is that CD of 20 hits and staples, the songs that made the Specials one of the most vital bands of the early '80s: all the early singles -- "Gangsters," "Ghost Town," "Message to You Rudy," "Nite Klub" -- but also "Rat Race," "Stereotypes," "What I Like Most About You Is Your Girlfriend," "Racist Friend," and "Nelson Mandela." All these and more are here on a compilation that encompasses the entirety of their dynamic, sometimes chaotic, career and while their debut remains peerless, this is a good way to get a sense of the whole story.

Saturday, 24 August 2019

Eurythmics Ultimate Collection



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Preceding the elaborate 2005 reissues of Eurythmics' eight proper albums by a month, The Ultimate Collection narrowly trumps 1991's Greatest Hits since it features remastered sound and a more extensive track list. While it does not contain "Don't Ask Me Again," opting to instead select a couple merely decent highlights from 1999's Peace, two new (unplanned) recordings add value for any kind of fan. Bookending the disc, "I've Got a Life" is powerful disco-pop with Annie Lennox strongly present over a bursting multi-tiered arrangement, while the relatively low-key "Was It Just Another Affair" has more in common with late-period Everything But the Girl. Both songs pleasingly sound the way Eurythmics should sound in 2005. The rest of the disc leans toward the duo's peak of popularity, 1985's Be Yourself Tonight and the following year's Revenge, while the remainder of the albums -- with the exception of the unrepresented In the Garden, the debut -- chime in with two or three songs each. A truly ultimate collection would contain two discs and dig deeper into some of the best album cuts, rather than rely on charting singles, but this disc will sufficiently satisfy the casual fans who just want the songs they know and love.

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Suzanne Vega Retrospective The Best Of Suzanne Vega



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Retrospective: The Best of Suzanne Vega is essentially A&M's updated version of their 1999 issue, The Best of Suzanne Vega: Tried and True, adding "Tired of Sleeping" from Vega's Days of Open Hand, "Calypso" and "Solitude Standing" from Solitude Standing, "(I'll Never Be) Your Maggie May" and "Penitent" from the 2001 recording Songs in Red and Gray, and "Woman on the Tier (I'll See You Through)" from the Dead Man Walking soundtrack. Unfortunately, A&M chose to drop "Book and Cover" from the track listing, which was only previously available on The Best of Suzanne Vega: Tried and True, but the overall collection feels a little bit more hearty with a total of 21 tracks instead of 17. [The U.K. edition includes a bonus disc boasting six live tracks, a previously unreleased song titled "Anniversary", and the original version of "Tom's Diner"]

Saturday, 17 August 2019

Ultravox The Very Best Of



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With the departure of John Foxx and the arrival of his replacement Midge Ure, Ultravox underwent a seismic shift in emphasis, signaled by more than the mere loss of their moniker's exclamation point. Having flirted with lush and lavish synthesized sounds on their third album, Systems of Romance, the band threw itself whole-heartedly into the burgeoning New Romantic movement. Beginning in June 1980, Ultravox began releasing a series of seminal singles pooling around alienation and dislocation, taking them into the U.K. singles chart for the first time and keeping them there until their dissolution in 1987. The group's themes became ever more grandiose -- "Vienna"'s crumbling Hapsburg empire, "Reap the Wild Wind"'s horrors and heroism of war, "The Voice" examining the fearsome pull of fascism, "Dancing with Tears in My Eyes" spreading terror of nuclear annihilation. All are packed with images so vivid they remain engraved in the minds of anyone old enough to remember the '80s. But that's because one can't hear the songs today without their fabulous videos swirling into view. Best of Ultravox: Sight and Sound pairs a CD featuring all the Ure-led band's singles (along with a sole B-side, "White China") with a DVD of 14 of their hits and accompanying videos: "Vienna" defining the New Romantic genre and look, "Wild Wind" paying tribute to the RAF who saved Britain from the Nazi onslaught, and "Dancing" turning a three-minute warning into an epic homage of the life that mankind's leaders seemed set to destroy.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Nick Heyward & Haircut One Hundred The Greatest Hits


Nick Heyward & Haircut One Hundred The Greatest Hits

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Haircut 100 wasn't given the respect the band deserved in the early '80s. The group was -- and unfortunately still is -- often lumped in with the one-hit wonders from that period. It's not their fault that U.S. radio stations only concentrated on one track, the cuddly single "Love Plus One." They were far better than people give them credit for. This compilation mixes the band's U.K. chart favorites with the highlights of vocalist Nick Heyward's solo career. Although many best-of albums usually aren't comprehensive enough when reflecting the finest moments of an artist's discography, this is a welcome exception, the perfect introduction to Heyward and Haircut 100. It's hard to argue with the selections. "Favourite Shirts" should've been the smash that "Love Plus One" became. Recalling a young Aztec Camera with its infectiously jangling riff and positive vibes, "Favourite Shirts" has a sense of innocence that alternative rock in the '90s sadly lost. The summer-soaked gaiety of "Favourite Shirts" and "Fantastic Day" is exhilarating; listening to them is like inhaling fresh air. Although Haircut 100 wasn't the same without him, Heyward actually improved as a songwriter when he left the group. Solo cuts such as "Blue Hat for a Blue Day" and "Whistle Down the Wind" display his maturity, but his ear for toe-tapping melodies hasn't aged. "On a Sunday" and "Love All Day (And Night)" resurrect Haircut 100's untainted pop

Saturday, 10 August 2019

Blur The Best Of Blur



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It's boring to point out omissions on hits compilations, especially when a collection is as generous as the 18-track The Best of Blur, but let's do it anyway. The Best of Blur largely bypasses the group's key album, Modern Life Is Rubbish, the record that invented Brit-pop, skewing in favor of the self-consciously "experimental" 13, which, for all of its attributes, wasn't a singles album. Plus, the group continues to punish the British record-buying public by not including the brilliant "Pop Scene" (to beat a dead horse, the single that invented Brit-pop), since nobody bought it at the time. So, without "Pop Scene," "Chemical World," or "Sunday Sunday," a crucial chapter of Blur's history is missing from The Best of Blur -- the chapter where they essentially became Blur. It's to their immense credit that the album doesn't feel like it's missing anything, since these singles (plus one album track) are dazzling on their own. Of course, the trick is that the record isn't assembled chronologically. Instead, it flows like a set list, complete with the set closer "This Is a Low" followed by a two-song encore that ends with the new song (the good, not great, "Music Is My Radar"), which not only gives it a momentum of its own, but draws attention to the songs themselves. And "dazzling" isn't hyperbole -- based on these 18 songs, Blur aren't just the best pop band of the '90s, with greater range and depth than their peers; they rank among the best pop bands of all time. The Best of Blur illustrates that, even as it misses some of their best moments -- omissions that prevent it from being the flat-out classic it should be. Even so, it's pretty damn terrific, particularly for the unconverted.

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Squeeze Big Squeeze The Very Best Of



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Over the course of Squeeze's 25-year career, an inexplicable number of greatest-hits compilations have surfaced (seven, to be specific), and nearly all of them have suffered from a serious flaw, whether it's the exclusion of important hit singles or the inclusion of mediocre album cuts and B-sides. The only two worthwhile compilations -- 1982's Singles 45's & Under and 1994's Greatest Hits -- both suffered somewhat by not covering the entirety of the band's career. Big Squeeze is the attempt to remedy this mess, as it is the first hits compilation that covers the band from 1977 to 1998, including most of the important singles along the way, as well as tacking on a bonus disc of B-sides. Granted, Squeeze released some great singles -- enough to substantiate a straight-up two-disc singles compilation, really -- but for a casual fan, this is truly the best introduction. Big Squeeze includes the entirety of Singles 45's & Under (save for the substitution of "Labelled with Love" for "If I Didn't Love You"), and then goes on to pluck their more important later-day singles, including their biggest U.S. chart hit, 1987's "Hourglass," and their 1995 Top 20 British comeback, "This Summer." The second disc is an interesting, if flawed, journey through Squeeze's B-sides catalog. The band has a treasure trove of nearly 100 non-album cuts available, so it's surprising that Big Squeeze wastes space on throwaways like "Suites from Five Strangers" and "Squabs on Forty Fab," but most of the rest of the tracks live up to the high standard of the band's singles and album cuts. There is also an insightful track-by-track commentary written by both Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford, although it's poorly organized and inexplicably fails to identify who is speaking in each part of the liner notes. Qualms aside, the most significant feature of Big Squeeze is that unlike most of the other Squeeze compilations, this one makes sense as a retrospective. [Big Squeeze was also reissued in 2005 as Gold].

Saturday, 3 August 2019

Tears For Fears Tears Roll Down (Greatest Hits 82-92) (Sound+Vision Deluxe)




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Capturing some of their chart-topping smashes and other key tracks, Tears for Fears marks a monumental career with their collection Tears Roll Down: Greatest Hits 82-92. Toward the end of the praise surrounding their third album, 1991's Seeds of Love, Curt Smith left the band. Roland Orzabal was left to sail the ship alone, and the strong success dwindled years later. However, this dozen-track compilation showcases some of the band's early tracks heavily dominated by pulsating bass drops and heavy synth beats. "Pale Shelter" and "Mad World" from their 1982 debut The Hurting moved toward the soul-defining musical maturation found on 1985's groundbreaking staple Songs From the Big Chair. The Top Ten hits are undoubtedly featured: "Everybody Wants to Rule the World," "Shout," and the more obscure "Mothers Talk." The luscious "Head Over Heels" cuts short of it's closing guitar work, a disappointment in the grand scheme of Tears for Fears' synth-dominated sound. Such layered riffs separated the rawness from the fluffy new wave aspect. "Sowing the Seeds of Love" marked the band's own branded progressive rock & roll, but "Woman in Chains," the gospel-tinged cut featuring guest vocals from Oleta Adams, was their most spiritual effort. Essentially, the dozen-track collection is a perfect look at what Tears for Fears did for music during the '80s until the mid-'90s. They made new wave sound cool and melodically beautiful.

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

ABC Look Of Love The Very Best Of ABC (Sound + Vision Deluxe)



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With a deeper and broader track listing than most ABC compilations, Look of Love: The Very Best of ABC more or less lives up to its name. Concentrating on the band's glory days, the album covers the highlights of ABC's first five albums, including hits like the title track, "Poison Arrow," "When Smokey Sings," "Be Near Me," and "How to Be a Millionaire," as well as album tracks like "S.O.S.," "All of My Heart," and "The Night You Murdered Love." While some of the later inclusions, such as "The Real Thing," don't quite pack the punch of ABC's prime work, the 2001 track "Peace and Tranquility" fits in with the earlier material surprisingly well. Likewise, the somewhat random track listing might be somewhat annoying to anyone trying to track ABC's chronological development, but it does spotlight how consistent their brand of suave synth pop is. With a new song, a more diverse track listing, and no unnecessary remixes, Look of Love has a slight edge over Absolutely ABC: The Best of ABC as the group's definitive retrospective.

Saturday, 27 July 2019

The Housemartins /The Beautiful South Soup The Housemartins Condensed / Cream Of The Beautiful South



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Featuring a picture of can of soup on the cover, the top half titled "The Housemartins Condensed" and the bottom half "The Cream of the Beautiful South," the album known as Soup was rather biased toward the latter of Paul Heaton's groups with just seven of 22 tracks from only two of the Housemartins' albums, London 0 Hull 4 (named after the fact that there were four of them and they were from Hull) and The People Who Grinned Themselves to Death. That's not a lot, considering that during their brief existence, the Housemartins only achieved seven Top 40 hits, all of which are included here except their cover of "There Is Always Something There to Remind Me." The band was more influential than its chart success would have indicated. Both the Housemartins' other major hits were included, the bouncy, jolly "Happy Hour" and the a cappella cover of "Caravan of Love," along with lesser hits "Five Get Over Excited," "Me and the Farmer," and "Build." Fifteen of the 22 tracks here are devoted to Heaton's second and even more commercially successful band, the Beautiful South. With nine Top Ten albums behind them, the Beautiful South had achieved more radio-friendly hits and continued to enjoy play on easy listening stations long after their peak in the early '90s. Songs such as "Song for Whoever," "You Keep It All In," "A Little Time," "Rotterdam," "Don't Marry Her," and "Perfect 10" are all here, along with some lesser hits spread throughout their career from 1989 to 2003. The Housemartins have not been very well served by their highly visible greatest-hits campaigns, including the low-key release Best Of in 2004 and Now That's What I Call Quite Good! (a parody title of Now That's What I Call Music, the compilation series) in 1988. The Beautiful South, however, had enjoyed one of the biggest-selling albums of the '90s with Carry on Up the Charts, and Solid Bronze had also been a successful hits compilation, but Soup is the first time that both of Paul Heaton's bands' songs had been brought together.

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Crowded House The Very Very Best Of Crowded House



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The second big-scale Crowded House compilation -- following the first, Recurring Dream, by 14 years, and the budget-line set Classic Masters by seven - 2010’s The Very Very Best of Crowded House (the second “very” distinguishing it from Recurring Dream, which was merely “The Very Best”) comes in two incarnations: a single CD running a tight 19 tracks, and a digital download that’s expanded to 32 songs. The CD version offers up much of Crowded House’s canon including “Weather with You,” “Something so Strong,” “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” “Four Seasons in One Day,” “It’s Only Natural,” “Better Be Home Soon” and “Mean to Me,” ultimately repeating 14 of Recurring Dream’s 19 songs while finding space for a pair of tunes from the 2007 reunion Time on Earth (“Don’t Stop Now,” “Pour Le Monde”). The three tunes left behind -- “World Where You Live,” “Into Temptation,” “When You Come” -- are all missed but they can be found on the digital edition, along with a clutch of other great songs that help make it the best Crowded House comp so far, verging on the definitive. Naturally, the single disc isn’t as thorough, but it does as good a job of offering the basics as Recurring Dream, and will surely satisfy listeners who don’t believe they need more than a disc of Crowded House.

Saturday, 20 July 2019

Badly Drawn Boy The Hour Of Bewilderbeast


Badly Drawn Boy The Hour Of Bewilderbeast

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What has the field of lo-fi slacker pop come to when faced by an LP as ambitious and entertaining as Badly Drawn Boy's The Hour of Bewilderbeast? Despite all attempts to sabotage his songwriting and production with innumerable experimental tidbits, songs within a song, and (seemingly) tossed-off arrangements, Damon Gough has to face the fact that he wrote and produced over a dozen excellent songs of baroque folk-pop for his album debut, and the many gems can't help but shine through all the self-indulgence. The sprightly orchestration for cello and trumpet (Gough's own) that begin the album are eventually taken over by the sparse guitar pickings and wistful folky sunshine of "The Shining," which veers into the skewed slide guitar and ominous tone of "Everybody's Stalking." Gough rarely pauses for breath (even when he's doing a ballad) or follows any traditional sense of album flow, but after a listen or two, The Hour of Bewilderbeast is revealed as a shambling masterpiece of a pop album. Most of these songs are Gough's entirely (he plays as many as eight instruments), with occasional help from friends like Twisted Nerve co-labelhead Andy Votel and assorted drummers for accompaniment. His songwriting is great, but Gough's twisted sense of humor helps the album shine as well, as on "Fall in a River," where the down-a-lazy-river feel carries through to the point where not just Gough but the entire production is submerged with a splash and attendant warping of the sound. The Hour of Bewilderbeast surely isn't a traditional pop album, but a continually beguiling trip through lo-fi postmodern folk that draws as much from Harry Nilsson as Beck

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.
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