Saturday, 26 September 2020

The Wannadies Bagsy Me


The Wannadies Bagsy Me

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 From its puzzling name (which it shares with a popular Swedish children's play written by Thomas Tidholm) to the unsettling cover art, unexplained shots of beautiful young women playing dead, the Wannadies' fourth album has a distinctly odd vibe. This continues in Pär Wiksten's lyrics; even the most sugary pop songs here barely mask undercurrents of anger, spite, resignation, and obsession. "Friends" is one of the most vengeful kiss-offs to an ex this side of early Elvis Costello, and the vaguely tropical "Oh Yes (It's a Mess)" bemoans the fact that sleeping with someone you actually like is less fun than the alternatives. The songs are uniformly excellent, with the hyperactive "Damn It I Said" featuring both the album's best chorus and coolest guitar sound and the glorious "Someone Somewhere" the most singable melody. The nearly nine-minute closer, "That's All," might tax some listeners' patience, but the hypnotic coda doesn't actually overstay its welcome

Wednesday, 23 September 2020

Mull Historical Society Us


Mull Historical Society Us

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 Colin MacIntyre's voice is somewhere on a line that connects Lindsey Buckingham to Roger Hodgson, and the only other solo artist possessed with the kind of boundless, restless creative energy to write, play, produce, and design everything he releases is Todd Rundgren. Despite these factors, MacIntyre has managed to develop his own odd personality while also avoiding the pitfalls that come with being labeled a throwback. (Besides, would Rundgren put a wigged dog on one of his album covers? Probably not.) He doesn't fit with the latest new-rock revival, and he doesn't like to whine, yet he's just as modern-sounding and contemporary as any of his peers. On Us, he makes good on the promise shown on his debut. No longer happily adding layer upon unnecessary layer of instrumentation to his songs, he has learned the value of directness that comes with knowing when to put a cap on a song and let it slide without the extra blurt of kazoo. That directness has carried over to the lyrics; the only character in most of these songs is the guy who wrote them. Melody still plays a major role, though the listener isn't beaten over the head with it. A good balance is struck between breezily flowing acoustic songs and hyperkinetic blasts of guitar pop. MacIntyre's wise abandonment of the kitchen-sink approach would've benefited this album even more if he had kept the running time below 45 minutes or so; at an hour, some of its nuances are bound to be lost in the shuffle. This prime songwriter is too anxious to purge his backlog, but too much is definitely preferable to not enough

Saturday, 19 September 2020

Yazoo In Your Room



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With only two albums and a handful of singles released before they broke up, the '80s synth pop duo Yazoo -- or Yaz if you're outside the United States -- are in the "all or nothing" category when it comes to box sets. Save a couple remixes, Mute's 2008 set In Your Room is everything the duo -- instrumentalist and former Depeche Mode member Vince Clarke along with the as yet unheard of vocalist Alison Moyet -- released in its short career, and then some. Disc one of this three-CD/one-DVD set features their debut 1982 album, Upstairs at Eric's, while disc two features the follow-up, You and Me Both, from a year later. Both are remastered splendidly -- giving the albums more depth and punch in the bass -- as are the remixes and B-sides that occupy disc three. The non-album tracks "State Farm" and "The Other Side of Love" both get a proper home on the third disc and sit next to a wealth of desirable extended mixes of club hits like "Situation" and "Don't Go

Wednesday, 16 September 2020

Eurythmics Be Yourself Tonight



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On Be Yourself Tonight, Eurythmics' most commercially successful and hit-laden album, the duo meticulously blended the new wave electronic elements that dominated their previous sets with the harder straight-edged rock and soul that would dominate later sets to come up with a near-perfect pop album. This disc scored no less than four hit singles and kept them a mainstay on MTV's play lists during the channel's heyday. Fusing pop, soul, rock, electronic beats, and even gospel, this is arguably the duo's finest moment. The first hit, "Would I Lie to You," is a straight-forward rocker, complete with great guitar licks, a soulful horn section, and Annie Lennox sounding as vicious and vivacious as ever. The second single, which was a huge chart topper in Europe, "There Must Be an Angel," is nothing short of shimmering beauty, with Lennox providing truly angelic vocals and Stevie Wonder lending an enchanting harmonica solo. Aretha Franklin lends her powerhouse pipes for the duet "Sisters Are Doin' It for Themselves," which has gone on to become an immortal feminist anthem. From the soulful electronic beats (a rarity) in "It's Alright (Baby's Coming Back)" to the beauty of the Elvis Costello duet "Adrian" to the pain and longing of the sorrowful rocker "Better to Have Lost in Love (Than Never to Have Loved at All)," this album runs a wide array of musical styles, each song standing tall on its own two feet. This disc is, without a doubt, one of the best rock/pop albums from the 1980s and one of the grandest, most creative albums delivered by the ever-appealing and innovative duo of Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart. A true classic.

Saturday, 29 August 2020

Super Furry Animals Guerrilla


Super Furry Animals Guerrilla

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It's difficult not to find Super Furry Animals' brand of pop infectious, particularly the collection of numbers compiled for Guerilla, the band's third full-length and arguably most cohesive -- albeit pleasingly and consistently unpredictable -- to date. Old-school techno remains in remnants, such as in "Wherever I Lay My Phone (That's My Home)." When it rears its head otherwise, it rests easily beside and within the majority of the fully fledged pop songs. The High Llamas contribute to the dreamy "Turning Tide"; there's the tropicalia of "Northern Lites," and, as ever, there are shades of punk and distortion in "Night Vision." Amazingly, the super bouncy rocker "The Teacher" does not credit a sample to the Who's "Baba O'Riley."

Wednesday, 26 August 2020

Garbage Version 2.0


Garbage Version 2.0 

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Unveiling the new model of a machine that made its debut three years prior, alternative rock outfit Garbage polished the raw grind of their hazy first album with the sparkling digital sheen of 1998 sophomore effort Version 2.0. Emerging from the eerie trip-hop and bleak grunge of the critically acclaimed, multi-platinum Garbage, the quartet expanded their vision, going into overdrive with a futuristic sound that blended their inspirations both classic (the Beach Boys, the Beatles, and the Pretenders) and contemporary (Björk, Portishead, and the Prodigy). While Garbage retained the sleaze and effortless cool of their debut -- hinted on early tracks "As Heaven Is Wide" and "A Stroke of Luck" -- they infused Version 2.0 with deeper electronic layering, improved hooks, and an intimate lyrical focus courtesy of iconic vocalist Shirley Manson, who seized her place as the face and voice of the band with authority and confidence. On the propulsive "When I Grow Up" and the bittersweet "Special," Garbage took cues from '60s girl groups with "sha-la-la"s and stacked vocal harmonies, grounding them with a delivery inspired by Chrissie Hynde. Elsewhere, the hard techno edges of Curve and Björk cut through the frustrated "Dumb" and the lusty "Sleep Together," while Depeche Mode's Wild West years received tribute on the stomping "Wicked Ways." Beyond the blistering hit singles "I Think I'm Paranoid" and "Push It," Version 2.0 is also home to Garbage's most tender and heartbreaking moments, from the pensive "Medication" to the trip-hop-indebted "The Trick Is to Keep Breathing" and "You Look So Fine." Balanced and taut, Version 2.0 is a greatest-hits collection packaged as a regular album, not only a peak in Garbage's catalog, but one of the definitive releases of the late '90s.

Saturday, 22 August 2020

China Crisis Flaunt The Imperfection



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China Crisis underwent a complete change in sound for their third album, completely ditching the heavy dub rhythms and challenging arrangements of 1982's Difficult Shapes & Passive Rhythms, Some People Think It's Fun to Entertain and 1983's Working with Fire and Steel (Possible Pop Songs, Vol. 2) with an altogether smoother and less aggressive sound. That doesn't equal a commercial capitulation, however; if anything, the choice of Walter Becker (of the then-unfashionable Steely Dan) as producer was a more commercially daring maneuver than anything the group had previously attempted. The overall sound is considerably prettier than before -- the placid Eno-like "Black Man Ray? is downright beautiful -- and the arrangements mix synthesizers with traditional instruments in what was for 1985 an unusually graceful way, with neither predominating. Another difference from the earlier albums is that the group's songwriting is much improved, the failed instrumental experiments and tiresome dance workouts that occasionally marred their earlier albums replaced with a newfound melodic sophistication and lyrical acuity. By the time of 1987's What Price Paradise, this sophistication will be unfortunately replaced by callow slickness, but Flaunt the Imperfection is the one album where China Crisis got the balance right.

Wednesday, 19 August 2020

Blancmange Happy Families


Blancmange Happy Families 

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Blancmange's first album, 1982's Happy Families, yielded the radio hit "Living on the Ceiling," which also received a good deal of attention from early MTV. Though Happy Families can accurately be described as techno-pop, it's techno-pop with a modicum of taste and sophistication, putting it more in the ballpark of genre pioneers like OMD and Yazoo than of annoying '80s anachronisms like Kajagoogoo or EBN-OZN. Neil Arthur's lyrics are interesting enough to reward close listening, and his Bowie-esque voice, while somewhat limited, serves the material well. The sound of Happy Families is built largely around synthesizers, played by Arthur and partner Stephen Luscombe. The duo have a knack for catchy basslines and drum programming, on top of which they strategically deploy guitars, Eastern instrumentation, and female backing vocals. Particular highlights include "I Can't Explain" "Feel Me," "Sad Day," and "God's Kitchen."
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