Friday, 31 August 2007

THE BLITTERS – EATING YOUR BRAINS (BAD HAND RECORDS)


THE BLITTERS – EATING YOUR BRAINS (BAD HAND RECORDS)

This was a record I so dearly wanted to put out on Gringo Records as it exerted an exciting bolt of energy thrust of energy into the Colchester music scene exhibiting a kind of unity that had not previously been in place with this generation. Without doubt upon his arrival from Canada The Blitters rejuvenated the scene during the band’s brief existence.

“Eating Your Brains” is a frenetic and schizophrenic slab of vinyl. It opens with the lines “said she couldn’t be my date ‘cos she had the chicken pox” which to be honest is up there with best beginnings of any song. From there the opening despatch flips gear as the pace steps up to what sounds like a race between the vocal delivery and charged killer beats.

The Blitters were an electro punk band equal parts Suicide equal parts hardcore punk which all melded into a less abrasive Big Black type proposition with wonderful keyboard lines and hi-hats that sound like cooking pot lids.

In a live setting The Blitters was a wonderful thing to behold as a crazy professor set out to cause as much havoc onstage as resources would allow him/them. Over the course of their existence The Blitters would cover himself in mustard, throw his head into a bag full of brains (well, grapes), destroy a computer, fire silly string into the audience while a smoke machine would coat the stage in confusion. If pyrotechnics had been allowed they would have been executed.

On the flipside “Kill The Lucky” offers an apocalyptic social rant deploying disgust towards those born into money that are protected by the cloak of their family’s wealth. It is a song about being morally bankrupt and a call to arms to insert some justice into proceedings, albeit a call that will never be acted upon. While the Dead Kennedys had their half tongue in cheek “Kill The Poor” this could well be the equally stinging retort. Nobody should get out of here alive.

Gaining two airplays from John Peel in the process, this is a massive and essential piece of Colchester music history.

Thesaurus moment: soar.

The Blitters
The Blitters interview
The Blitters live
Bad Hand Records

Thursday, 30 August 2007

JANE’S ADDICTION – JUST BECAUSE (PARLOPHONE)


JANE’S ADDICTION – JUST BECAUSE (PARLOPHONE)

This was the great Jane’s Addiction comeback single and truly it matched up to all expectations in a manner and at a level that deep down you really didn’t think they would/could accomplish. Forget how old and silly they now looked on TV and/or in videos this had energy, power and flight that covered so much ground and ticked so many boxes.

When the single came out the first time I heard it was as single of the week on the old Mark And Lard afternoon show on Radio One. You could sense that they jumped at the opportunity to make it there single of the week and as I listened to their show on my old Nokia mobile phone all was excessively frowned upon by the powers that be and the people that would eventually sack me for blogging about their organisation.

The release of the song also coincided with one of my co-workers blowing me out on a long planned date. For me the lyrics suddenly took on a new meaning, a more specific and directed one. Lines such as “if I were you I’d better watch out” worked perfectly as I walked around for weeks with a snarl directed at the flat chested and moustached girl. I almost found myself asking her “when was the last time you did anything?” with regards to her lack of enthusiasm for going out with me. Of course I didn’t do these things, that would have just been psycho. No, I just thought them.

It is strange now how as a result of that Radio One playlisting that this has become THE Jane’s Addiction song for a certain section of people.

Drama aside it is actually a very good track with Dave Navarro truly on song as he towers above the song prior to dropping bombs. This is a much layered song which continues to resurge every time you think that it is taking a rest or slowing down. There is a wicked pace to proceedings that I don’t feel was previously evident with older Jane’s Addiction material and as a result it lends a mature and measured strand to the piece that offers depth and ultimately longevity.

This is the way you return from the dead.

Thesaurus moment: jaunt.

Jane’s Addiction

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

VARIOUS – PUMP UP THE VOLUME MUSIC FROM THE ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK (MCA RECORDS)


VARIOUS – PUMP UP THE VOLUME MUSIC FROM THE ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK (MCA RECORDS)

Pump Up The Volume these days appears to be something of a great lost teenage rebellion movie from the early nineties. With Christian Slater in full Jack Nicholson mode it came coupled with Heathers as a cynical take on high school life in America viewed from the perspective of the cool outcast.

For some reason while Heathers is widely available (including even being given away free with a Sunday newspaper at one point), Pump Up The Volume is unavailable on DVD and seldom seen. Perhaps the movie is not up to the standards that the fifteen year old me recalls but with a pre-Nirvana alternative rock soundtrack it was quite possibly taping into a movement that was about to go overground.

The movie centres on Slater playing a shy high school kid who at night hits the airwaves as “Happy Harry Hard-on” with his subversive pirate radio show that initially plays loud and sweary songs that are not heard on normal radio stations while the DJ waxed lyrical in almost teenage Howard Beale style just how fucked everyone and everything was/is. Then as he gained a following and tapes of his shows were circulated things became serious as he message began to have an affect on the students causing great concern for the corrupt and evil teachers throwing out the troublemakers and dumb kids in order to bump up their pass rates. That would never happen in real life.

Slater would begin each radio show with “Everybody Knows” by Leonard Cohen as his theme music. This was definitely my first exposure to the work of Cohen. Unfortunately here on the official soundtrack album the song comes in the form of a cover version by Concrete Blonde, a kind of L7 without the looks, talent or credibility.

And I this is probably the biggest problem of this album as it fails to fully represent what it is supposed to with regards to the meaning of the movie. Welcome to a world run by adults. Not least when oldie Ivan Neville is track two.

A band called Liquid Jesus chip in with a catchy, quirky number (a Sly & The Family Stone cover called “Stand”) that I guess is supposedly “out there” and to its credit it does possess a hook but ultimately, who the fuck are they?

Finally with track does the record reach genuine credibility with the Pixies and the “UK Surf” version of “Wave Of Mutilation.” I probably shouldn’t admit it but this was the first time I ever heard the Pixies and it was a pretty decent way to start, even to the point that for years I could stand the “normal” version of the song, finding it crass in comparison to this laidback, almost Beach Boys-esqe take on the classic.

It was probably the Henry Rollins collaboration with Bad Brains that drove me to part with my money for this album at a time when I really couldn’t afford more than a CD every week or so. Again I have to concede that this was the first time and place that I ever heard the MC5 call to action “Kick Out The Jams” in any form, not even realising that this was a cover. With Rollins’ trademark bellow he dominates the song, pretty much making it a song he was born to deliver.

From here token rap act Above The Law swear like troopers in early nineties hip hop style sounding like a combination of Gangstarr and an NWA solo joint. Actually a pretty good track from a no name outfit. Hell, its better than most things rap today.

Then comes the grunge future as Soundgarden chip in with the jokey “Heretic” while Sonic Youth drop “Titanium Expose” from Goo, which was always a classic multi layered whisk of excitement.

The Cowboy Junkies hop in towards the end with a cover of “Me And The Devil Blues” by Robert Johnson that comes caked in slide guitar and violin that truly serves to compliment the original and add a new haunting tone to the song in an efficient manner.

All in all this a half decent compilation of tracks that suggests didn’t have too much of a budget or the blessing of the older statesmen potentially involved. It is disappointed that “Love Comes In Spurts” by Richard Hell was absent in addition to the original “Everybody Knows” as the inclusion of both would have introduced a whole new generation to the wares of a couple of legends. From time to time the missing tracks from the soundtrack appear online as a kind of companion which are well worth searching out not least for additional tracks by the Beastie Boys and the Descendents.

These days the guy would just do a podcast but I don’t think you could really make a movie out that.

Thesaurus moment: almost.

Pump Up The Volume
MCA Records

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

PIXIES – DOOLITTLE (4AD)


PIXIES – DOOLITTLE (4AD)

This record is about collision, the collision of styles, the collision of genres, of sounds and these days would be led to believe of personalities. Imagine crossing art school with surf and hardcore and you begin to get an idea of what the Pixies sound like.

The band has always been one of strong personalities and unique qualities. As the record opens with “Debaser” a blissfully rubbery bassline grabs hold of proceedings before a siren guitar part descends and explodes onto the scene prior to a screaming man of insane proportions singing about obscure French art films (Un Chien Andalou) takes over proceedings.

From here the banshee wail vocal style seldom relents as one of the few genuinely original singing voices of any genres works its magic.

By the third song the band is singing along the lines of Charles Manson and a “Wave Of Mutilation” casting a true concern and intrigue regarding the background of the individuals summoning the words. Then this track is followed by a number entitled “I Bleed” that exudes some kind of pre-frenzy calmness before exploding into chaotic scenes of potential homicide and personal disgrace. The ringing sound that remains in your mind/head afterwards is intentional.

When I first got into the Pixies I was prone to singing their songs out loud, most frequently “Here Comes Your Man” and “Monkey Gone To Heaven.” Most explicitly I remember once singing “Here Comes Your Man” and some drippy girl thinking that these words were a come on from me. Perhaps this is why she hung around me for a few months. When however I would sing the words “this monkey’s gone to heaven” and “then God is seven” certain people just thought I was a Jesus freak.

As the record arrives as “Dead” this is almost the first duff track of the collection, only saved by the funny playing on the part of Santiago and Black Francis repeatedly saying “the crapper.” It does however serve as a fine lead into “Monkey Gone To Heaven.”

“Monkey Gone To Heaven” is a genuinely towering song. As the opening bars levitate it above proceedings that slope into a slick Deal bassline and occasional string chimes it performs large big service for the band offering up a kind of happy melancholy that flows spiritually and endeavours to deal with the big questions. Following art house and murderous pretensions you suddenly begin question whether this is the work of a manipulative cult as opposed to a struggling rock band on an independent label.

Unfortunately from this point I have always felt the record peters off. It also suddenly begins to feel distinctly South of the border. “Mr Grieves” plays out like a dusty porch song while “Crackity Jones” is almost basic hardcore punk akin to The Plugz.

The terribly sarcastic “La La Love You” I feel demeans the record with a snide touch that is just too fickle to decipher. I am positive though it is where Kurt Cobain derived inspiration for his vocal method when they performed “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on Top Of The Pops. Its still a very silly song though.

From here I just feel the album ends on a bum note. “There Goes My Gun” is a fun song with another mixed up sentiment that could easily be taken either way including the psychotic. Perhaps it was quite fitting in the end that they used a Pixies song at the end of Fight Club.

Doolittle climaxes with “Gouge Away”, an almost whispered and threatening outro with a sinister tone that could just as easily be swallowed as Black Francis instructing “go away.” Obviously Santiago eventually drops in to turn the track into a cacophony and ends the album with a sense of closure and subtle devastation.

There is no doubting that this is a great band making a great record.

Thesaurus moment: titivate.

Pixies
4AD

Monday, 27 August 2007

VARIOUS – SUB POP 200 (SUB POP)


VARIOUS – SUB POP 200 (SUB POP)

Originally released as a triple vinyl album this was the second compilation that Sub Pop put out as a showcase for the label’s wares pushing the Sub Pop brand in a similar style to Motown in the sixties.

Consisting of twenty songs by twenty acts it is a very strong lineup boasting most of the acts that made the label a critical if not commercial success on its way to representing grunge.

The collection opens with Tad and “Sex God Missy” who the powers that were at the company really thought was going to be the act to make the biggest dent. Physically it was no-brainer but ultimately it just wasn’t going to happen that way.

Soon Nirvana come rolling along with a studio version of “Spank Thru” which is passable but not a shade on live versions of the song that have emerged elsewhere (not least on the “Sliver” EP). This however is probably why most copies of the CD re-release were purchased post Nevermind.

Following comes the truly astounding Steven Jesse Bernstein (billed here as Steven J. Bernstein) sounding like the angriest man in history as he growls out a spoken word piece called “Come Out Tonight” that appears to be putting him the place of a horny JFK going unfulfilled. Maybe.

The first of a number of cover versions follows with the sound of the tide beckoning Mudhoney to drawl out their version of “The Rose” that Bette Midler was so well known for. To the song Mark Arm brings much pained emotion as fuzzed up drone of Steve Turner’s guitar suggests just what may have been missing from the life of Mary Rose Foster all the long.

A collective/scene/label feel is most staunchly brought to the table by Soundgarden who do their Kiss thing by transplanting the rock city from Detroit to Sub Pop with their contribution “Sub Pop Rock City”. This is the first truly great song on the compilation as Cornell screams about his hometown sounding like Paul Stanley in overdrive. A wonderful chorus arrives before mid song a telephone call is made from the Sub Pop office and their bosses regarding the band’s sideburns before Kim Thayil goes wah crazy in a manner most righteous. These guys were always great.

Despite having mutated into Mudhoney and Mother Love Bone by this point Green River appear on the compilation with “Hangin’ Tree” which demonstrates the weird and dark humour that inhabited the scene at the time, one that outsiders would be troubled to understand. “Hangin’ Tree” is most definitely one of the finer moments of Green River’s career as a looping guitar line accompanies Arm’s demented subject matter before going slightly metal towards the conclusion.

Sub Pop evergreens The Fastbacks follow Green River with a cover of a Green River song in the form of “Swallow My Pride”. I have read in the past that this song was always hoped to be a kind of “Louie Louie” for the scene, a song that defined and brought everyone together. The Fastbacks version is a speeded up version that you begin to question is even a cover at all sounding very removed from the original. In other words, they made it there own.

From here two more great cover versions arrive in the form of the Girl Trouble take on “Gonna Find A Cave” by the Banana Splits and the Screaming Trees version of “Love Or Confusion” by Hendrix. The former is a thumping surf joyride of a track while the latter is a feedback infused modern take on an already pioneering original. Also obviously Jimi never had Lanegan’s voice.

Coming in from Olympia the Beat Happening supply “Pajama Party In A Haunted Hive” in suitably disturbing manner before Mark Arm and Steve Turner return for a third time this time with the Thrown Ups who deliver the incredibly drunken and regretful sounding “You Lost It” that explodes to the life in the fashion of a person bursting into tears while doing the hoovering. Remorse and common sense does not appear to be their thing.

So twenty songs later and Sub Pop have delivered a party of some of the sickest and most backwards sounding music in history. This is why we loved them so.

Thesaurus moment: coterie.

Sub Pop

Sunday, 26 August 2007

MUDHONEY – MUDHONEY (SUB POP)


MUDHONEY – MUDHONEY (SUB POP)

In some ways this is probably the best collection of songs that Mudhoney ever managed to cobble together into a studio album. Unfortunately the recordings of them are quite frankly dross. Somehow between the process of writing and practising the songs at the point of recording (with Jack Endino) something got stunted and squeezed too much life out of these potential classics. The evidence is in the live versions of the songs that emerge on various bootlegs, this was a band on fire being suffocated and extinguished within the studio environment.

The record opens majestically with “This Gift” which was the first ever Mudhoney song I heard. Here is a band making sounds and noises with their instruments that you have no idea how they doing it. Accompanying such mesmerising gestures is a set of lyrics delivered with the kind of sneer that come from only the most

These are sick love songs performed by individuals 99.9% of the world’s female population does not want to sleep with play for an audience whose chances with the ladies are even slighter than that. You just know that when the second song on an album comes with the pissed mantra of “Flat Out Fucked” this is not necessarily a set of songs that will appeal to most. This is what it was like to be drunk in the nineties.

From here you begin to wonder just how in such a left field circle a song as explicit as “Get Into Yours” found acceptance. I think it is was because it tapped into the loser lifestyle and celebrated failure. Within this song was the kind of gesture a sane person from the right side of the tracks would never be expressing (even though they were probably thinking such desperation). Sadly though the recording just sounds muffled as I listen to it today and really try to get excited to the point I can objects across the room with view to smashing them. Come back Lassie!

Surviving from the era of Superfuzz Bigmuff “You Got It” returns to the record with a series of sentiments not unlike the desperation of “Get Into Yours” but now with a kind of scolding distaste for the apple of the author’s eye. Some might with it as verging on misogynistic but boy does this capture in song the description of female friends that we have all encountered over the years. With its lumbering throws this isn’t necessarily a bad way to be in life: offensively guarded.

Having always had a keen ear for a cover version next they storm through “Magnolia Caboose Babyshit” which was originally by Blue Cheer under the name of “Magnolia Caboose Babyfinger.” Damn song sounds like it was designed to be in a Hanna-Barbera cartoon.

In “Here Comes Sickness” the band charge out one of their most loose but direct songs of their arsenal. Again it is yet another scathing attack on a female in their world that could equally be a persistent groupie (a prototype Courtney Love) or a stepmother figure (if taking the line “there goes sickness in my daddy’s car” literally). In the same way Run DMC were “illin’”, Mudhoney had their “sickness.” With lines like “all the neighbourhood dogs sniffing at her crotch” you sense this tale does not come from a happy home.

A couple of understated offers following in “Running Loaded” and “The Farther I Go” racing out of the blocks like the Stooges working double time. This is then gets replaced by a sense of remorse overwhelming proceedings with “By Her Own Hand” and the bleakest number on the album on a day where competition is stiff and scathing.

“When Tomorrow Hits” is a scary, apprehensive on the grandest scale as a sense of dread occupies thoughts and the reaction to the moment currently passing. Eventually the song explodes in suitable and destructive fashion.

As proceedings climax with “Dead Love” the record gets taken in a very psychedelic direction that expertly takes on what it really is like to fall (literally) in love and bury yourself in obsession “six feet under in love.” This is the song of consummation, of getting caught up in the moment and beginning to feel giddy with it as the ride takes a most unexpected turn. Am I still talking about the song or recalling a past sexploit now? Just what does Mark Arm mean when he keeps repeating “I got sucked?” So much wah, so little time. And with that it ends with the band sounding as if they are falling down a well.

Ultimately at the end of the album the strength of song has won. Even if the recording doesn’t feel or sound up to measure the tracks do, holding enough dynamism to makeup for any shortfalls that may have unfortunately occurred in the process. Against the elements enthusiasm remains high. There’s nobody to blame, move along.

Thesaurus moment: infatuation.

Mudhoney
Sub Pop

Saturday, 25 August 2007

HUGGY BEAR – HER JAZZ (WIIIJA)


HUGGY BEAR – HER JAZZ (WIIIJA)

When Huggy Bear appeared on The Word performing this song it was a high water mark for not only the Riot Grrrl movement but also DIY punk rock and independent music in general. Here was a band that managed to break into the mainstream via the backdoor down to reputation and ferocity as opposed to career ambitions and shilling. The entire point of their appearance and performance was to penetrate the arseholes and convey a message that things can be different, you can (and have to) be angry rather than accept all that is offered, given and shoved down your throat. It was a victory on many levels and as they found themselves being removed from the studio (as the story goes) they were anything but victims.

If I’m being honest I don’t think I really fully understood Huggy Bear or the Riot Grrrl movement when they were in existence, I guess being male I didn’t feel entitled. Additionally at the time their records were pretty rare and tough to get hold of in small town Essex. They screamed of a “Boy-Girl Revolution” in a manner that was probably too blunt for the locals to go anywhere near. A few years later Bis would incorporate much of the message and present it in a much more cuddly manner via their own “Teen-c Revolution” which also sadly found itself being slammed down by many corners and powers that be (although many more doors did open themselves for Bis as a result). At the end of the day it’s all gravy.

For me there was always more bite to this band than there was Bikini Kill. The scratchy lo-fi element to their sound appeared to contain more edge than their slightly grunge leaning American counterparts. Quite frankly the band sounds terrifying, bordering on deranged with a scary display of focused passion not necessarily content with the status quo and accepted social conventions.

With “Her Jazz” the distorted guitar at times sounds like a trumpet being played through shards of glass as its jagged delivery matches that of the vocalists. This is a heart thumping single, exhilarating to anyone feeling repressed and aching for change.

Thesaurus moment: perpetual.

Huggy Bear
Wiiija

Friday, 24 August 2007

TEENAGE FANCLUB – MELLOW DOUBT (CREATION RECORDS)


TEENAGE FANCLUB – MELLOW DOUBT (CREATION RECORDS)

I once embarrassed myself by urging a girl I was trying to woo to listen to this song and take in its sentiments and desires. These were words that I could not express on my own and in place the good good people of Teenage Fanclub were somewhat wizardry at wearing their hearts on their sleeves in a manner that was not cheesy or creepy. My god that suggestion was a glorious failure. I don’t know if the girl ever bothered to look up the song and the band but she certainly didn’t bother to get back to me to report on the results.

There a perverse kind of optimism to this song, which is probably how you are able to remember all the words after only a few listens. The pain attached to these sentiments is far too tangible to be healthily expressed in any real walk of life or encounter. With blood soaked sleeve from wearing their heart far too explicitly on it when it urges/pleads “don’t go away” even the hardest soul is not exempt from having a sniffle.

This is Norman Blake’s song and perhaps his finest moment. With Grand Prix everything seemed to come together for the band, the songwriting was sharp and telling, nailing its subject matter and stirring the listener with it. Basically anything was being done to take the attention away from Norman’s silly beard.

These were the days of two CD singles and a seven inch and so as a result this release had an abundance of extra tracks that amazingly were also very strong. With three very strong songwriters in the band each author appeared to get the opportunity to shine on every release and here “Getting Real” is Gerry’s ramshackle effort. In “Some People Try To Fuck With You” a nice little sponge gets tarred with a feebly aggressive breakdown which is then difficult to tack seriously in a fight/combat scenario as they appear to fill a bridge with the aid of a record or penny whistle. This is truly drunk, too upbeat for such a scathing conclusion.

The single concludes with an acoustic version of “About You”, the uber catchy opening track on Grand Prix.

With time history will reveal the two CD and seven inch single chart position cheat format strategy as being a horrifically indulgent blight on the history recorded music as so many releases will have stuff with filler but occasionally a review of the system will unearth diamonds such releases like this.

Thesaurus moment: unabashed.

Teenage Fanclub
Creation Records

Thursday, 23 August 2007

BEASTIE BOYS – ILL COMMUNICATION (CAPITOL)


BEASTIE BOYS – ILL COMMUNICATION (CAPITOL)

After the grand reinvention that came with Check Your Head, with their fourth album the Beastie Boys presented the world a more refined and organic album that now smoothed out the blunt edges from their previous effort to lend a more free flowing and upbeat tone to proceedings.

Another twenty track epic of a record despite the constant variation and fusion of genres that came with this record very little (if any) of it felt like filler as you sensed the band reached its goal of trying to represent the album as a complete body of work in itself rather than being just a collection of tracks in the grand tradition of jazz records here was a solid piece of art that well served and represented the time and place of where it came from while also tipping its head many times to the innovators that made this music possible at such a time. With their method of acknowledging their inspirations they became innovators of their own.

The record opens with “Sure Shot” which immediately displays a more groove driven accompaniment to proceedings as their trademark Jewish whine flows in the loosest and seemingly least forced manner so far.

If the first track of the album failed to make a mark and dent the concentration of the listener with view to capturing attention “Tough Guy” storms in the least subtle manner with barking and blitzing hardcore punk.

“Bobo On The Corner” provides the first example of the expanded funk instrumentals that regularly come to serve this album as an urban and transmetropolitan experience, often echoing pleasing crime movie scores from the greatest seventies era in a very Lalo Schifrin manner.

Things attain at a relentless pace as the threesome of “Root Down”, “Sabotage” and “Get It Together” arrive in a row shooting the album into outer space. All three songs would eventually become singles and staples in the Beastie Boy legacy, each possessing a staunch identity of their own as “Sabotage” screamed its way into being the thinking man’s “Fight For Your Right” and “Get It Together” came complete with a masterful cameo from Q-Tip.

Beyond this peak the record then takes a decidedly mellow route as the vibe lightens and the funk portion of our journey begins with “Sabrosa” as things turn percussion heavy at the hands of Bobo.

The bass continues to maraud on “The Update” as the slow distorted rhymes disorientate and serve proceedings well and the slow provides one of my all time favourite breaks in any song. With its lurching bass this song sounds almost aquatic. Next as the bass couples magnificently with Money Mark’s keyboard playing on “Futterman’s Rule”, the latest funk instrumental on the record, the day truly is handed over to MCA who takes on true ownership of the musical path of the record. Futterman’s Rule being that as soon as two people at the table are served you can start eating, which feels apt in the light of the feast that is being offered up by this record.

The whole of the second side of the record is in general more subtle and chilled out. “Flute Loop” says exactly what it does on the tin and “Ricky’s Theme” provides their most tender instrumental moment to date.

Another hardcore track resurges the album in the form of “Heart Attack Man” before the record ends strongly with the relentless “Bodhisattva Vow” which is another track that is all about MCA which spits over the most chilling of monk accompaniments.

“Transitions” closes Ill Communication in majestic fashion, looking forward and truly book ending a grand and royal experience.

I don’t think I have ever heard another record that so magnificently meshes so many styles and genres in such a modern way. As I look at the group on the back of the sleeve and the sum of its parts it is a truly breathtaking sight, the ultimate gang that briefly every white boy into exhilarating music wanted to be part of. This was an entire industry at work, almost a lifestyle that promoted the most positive of messages and the best that all worlds had to offer. I can’t help but feel hip hop has changed drastically in the time between the release of this record and now and it is a true loss to music and culture that history will always continue to rediscover time after time long after the Beastie Boys have finally exited the scene and movement.

Thesaurus moment: celestial.

Beastie Boys
Grand Royal
Capitol

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

SQUEEZE – HOURGLASS (A&M RECORDS)


SQUEEZE – HOURGLASS (A&M RECORDS)

This single is one of the best examples of how a great pop song need not necessarily be suffocated by glossy production and studio slick. In many ways this track represents everything I stand against in music but such elements represent a non issue when the song serves to draw such a rarely invigorating emotional response from myself.

That is not to say the song is perfect as the first ten seconds sees an excessive and unnecessary bad Roxy Music-esqe saxophone intro but climbing past this held within there are exuberant hooks, subtle in celebration and immediately memorable in that way that can make a person feel energetic and young that all adds up to at times something nearing a perfect composition.

Squeeze were always an interesting outfit in the UK music scene. They would have arrived around the new wave but there is not necessarily much to suggest that their roots would have been in punk music even if there line-up might suggest otherwise. In some ways there are elements that remind of Madness which could signal a leaning and affinity to the lighter side of Stiff Records recording artists and having Jools Holland as a bit player amongst their ranks has given them a strange placing in the books of music history. This is one of their later efforts coming from the late eighties which suggests the high production levels that would appear to hinder the song rather than empower it as the lyrical content could even be that of an indie band such as Teenage Fanclub.

Here is proof positive that not everything in chart music was bad in the eighties (just the majority of it). These are the songs FM radio was invented for.

Thesaurus moment: spry.

Squeeze
A&M Records

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

HENRY ROLLINS – GET IN THE VAN (2.13.61)


HENRY ROLLINS – GET IN THE VAN (2.13.61)

This is how it was supposed to be. In many ways this could be viewed as the punk generation’s On The Road. Held within is a blunt and unflinching account of what it was like to tour and indeed be on the road during one of the most violent and volatile periods of music.

Like the majority of people of my generation I discovered Black Flag long after the event through the recommendations and comparisons by and of Kurt Cobain. In Black Flag was some kind of mystical monster of a punk, the kind whose records were difficult to find/buy which as a result added so much value to the reputation and legacy to a band very few of us knew about. When I finally ordered my first Black Flag record on import it was “Damaged” and I never looked back. In some ways I think the message cut/touched deep and for me there has always been that Black Flag stance, of cutting a solid posture and sticking up for yourself while questioning anything dubious, successful and popular. This wasn’t even working class music, it was underclass music.

Of course this tale is not perfect. Given how Rollins and Ginn felt about each other towards the end of the band’s existence it is very probable that naturally the tale leans more in favour of Henry when the political correctness of instances comes into question. Likewise even though the band was eternally piss poor and seemingly working hand-to-mouth living in true wrecks of digs (a point hit home by the movie Decline Of The Western Civilisation which actually featured a pre-Rollins Black Flag) the natural hyperbole of Rollins’ style is very male potentially misleading, he is the commander of the jokes and sense of humour.

Such quibbles aside the entertainment value of the work is beyond question. The tales of touring and roaming around the country (indeed world) as the ultimate gang is something that can literally conjure arousal in certain men. Indeed when I got left out of a tour early into the existence of our record label back in the day I truly felt that I was missing out on my “Get In The Van” experience.

As bands of the era guest star left right and centre it is exceptionally titillating to get something of an insight in the world of these individuals and just what they were like (explicitly in the case of Gene October from Chelsea) as well as being mocked by Ultraxox. Elsewhere other great times are recounted such as tours with the Minutemen and happening across a Misfits soundcheck.

When Rollins signs off he leaves some kind of epitaph as to how this is not an experience lived by punk bands of this modern, of how they have nearly really had to fight for their music in order to survive. The sad truth is that as Green Day and Epitaph took over the pop punk bands became the new hair bands of this modern era once the final optimistic remnants of Nirvana and Kurt Cobain had been stubbed out. As a result of this Rollins very much establishes himself as a one off, the type of individual that is unlikely to be replicated and there at the end of the day is the major value of Get In The Van as a document of how it was and how it still should be.

Thesaurus moment: drive.

Henry Rollins
Henry Rollins interview
2.13.61

Monday, 20 August 2007

JIM CARROLL – POOLS OF MERCURY (MERCURY)


JIM CARROLL – POOLS OF MERCURY (MERCURY)

Having experienced a lot of hardness and tragedy through his life Jim Carroll is a rare talent that is able to turn his poetry into the kind of aural art that is able to catch a modern audience’s attention.

Most famous for his book “The Basketball Diaries” (and the subsequent movie thereof) as writer he has lived a rock and roll lifestyle through drugs and self prostitution, activities that make for uncomfortable subject matter but equally as blissfully indulged in music medium.

Having previously made music with the Jim Carroll Band this is his fourth album (fifth if you include The World Without Gravity compilation) from 1998 which fluctuates between spoken word pieces and songs.

It is the actual spoken word pieces that hold most weight here being delivered is a more barbed manner coupled with a more distinct and appropriate musical backing that is almost trip hop. The unfortunate otherwise is that as a singer his exploits prove slightly too theatrical and the band rather stock in its playing. Something needs to be divulged in a different manner. That said the title track (with band) is a standout exception on the music front.

At many points it is a very claustrophobic album with a true sense of loss attached to overriding tone of the piece.

Caked in Catholic guilt his career has seemed to serve as something of a middle point between William Burroughs and Patti Smith. There is a real sense of defiance and often necessary self destruction attached to his sensibilities.

Tellingly the album ends with a track entitled “8 Fragments For Kurt Cobain” with an expression of understanding towards the pain that the Nirvana frontman felt. Within the piece Carroll describes how it feels to turn pain into art, putting himself in the place of Cobain and despatching a description of what it is like to be driven by Heroin. It’s an incredible personal piece that reads like a letter to one of the greatest talents (and losses) of our generation.

Ultimately this collection isn’t a pill to be taken on a sunny day.

Thesaurus moment: confess.

Jim Carroll
Mercury

Sunday, 19 August 2007

FAITH NO MORE – THE REAL THING (LONDON/SLASH)


FAITH NO MORE – THE REAL THING (LONDON/SLASH)

Provided that they don’t reunite and ruin their legacy Faith No More should go down as one of the smartest and most versatile bands ever to rub up against the metal genre. Infinite in their ideas and capabilities this was a band of diverse individuals coming together to create an energetic cacophony of exciting sounds and genre bursting compositions. There were not many outfits in the pages of Kerrang you could say that about.

This was their breakthrough record. After a succession of singers (that even included Courtney Love at one point apparently) the arrival of Mike Patton on board seemed to complete the puzzle. With a vocal style able to paint many patterns at times it sounded on some tracks that there was more than one vocalist, so schizophrenic was his performance. He could rap, he could croon, he was perfect.

The Real Thing tends to get lumped into the funk rock genre of the time, in a way making Faith No More the Red Hot Chili Peppers that it is/was OK to like. You have to blame Bill Gould and his bouncy style of playing. Its not that it’s bad, it’s just all encompassing and coupled with the rap manner of Patton there is at times a kind of daisy age attached to proceedings.

It opens on a heart stopping entry with “From Out Of Nowhere” and a blatant ode to something/someone good. In the process it rolls over the listening insisting that they get caught up in proceedings, not offering them the option of indifference.

From here the album literally detonates as Roddy Bottum’s synth adds a variety of effects that accompany power chords provided by Jim Martin explosions.

It is perhaps unfortunate that the song this record is best known for is “Epic.” Its not that it’s a bad song, it is just that it is slightly stock, very indicative of the sound and genre the band were so cheaply lumped in with at the time. By the time their next record arrived a song like this would have become a distant memory but in many ears their reputation was already cast. Shortly afterwards “Falling To Pieces” displays a similar kind of delivery but thankfully provides a masterful swing and sensation of floatation.

The keys to the greatness of this album are the more subtle numbers. The measured approach and delivery of “Zombie Eaters” is a thrilling execution while “Underwater Love” is truly invigorating as Patton’s vocals leave a strange kind of ringing in its path.

Listening to “Woodpecker From Mars” now it sounds like a pre-emptive strike of what would be the Fantomas cover of “The Godfather Theme”. I cannot recall too many metal records featuring Russian fiddles at the time.

The Real Thing ends storming to the finish with its cover version of “War Pigs” which actually manages to improve on the original and almost cause Ozzy to roll in his grave. To this classic they brought an energy and groove that just was not there previously. The lyrical somersaults that Patton performs during this genuine epic are not of mere men. Times they were a changing.

In a perfect manner of book ending the album the evidently twisted “Edge Of The World” opens with doo-wop and creases with a swinging croon that feels exclusive to this band only as the subject matter would appear seedy in the most contradictory sense imaginable. You suspect that this dark side and humour is what Patton brought to the table and for many years now “Edge Of The World” has actually served as the stand out track on the album for me. You could do bad things to this song.

As so many albums from genre and era begin to sound dated, cheesy and inappropriate it is with genuine glee that I find this album holds up so well possessing still the power that it was always had but also the restrain that refuses to allow it to slip into cliché and cheese.

It was all looking good for a while back there.

Thesaurus moment: handsome.

Faith No More
London Records
Slash Records

Saturday, 18 August 2007

MEN WITHOUT HATS – THE SAFETY DANCE (STATIK RECORDS)


MEN WITHOUT HATS – THE SAFETY DANCE (STATIK RECORDS)

At times the eighties seem like the weirdest point in history. Technology was finally (just about) happening and people began (occasionally) adopting the look of science fiction. Perhaps the drugs of the seventies mixed with the wealth of the eighties were a toxic combination too weird to explain and dismiss at the time. Or just maybe it was the impending threat and subsequent fear of nuclear destruction that installed a devil may care attitude in people and caused them to do peculiar things.

Men Without Hats were peculiar. There is no question about it. For a group of individuals to place so much stock and importance in dancing suggests either a fever mind of mixed up priorities or lots of drugs having a proactive affect.

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I finally accepted that I loved this song. The moment came in that shockingly average movie The Mexican when gay hitman James Gandolfini found himself in a scene dancing the song while some scrawny guy he and Julia Roberts just picked up. If it was safe for Tony Soprano to dance this to tune it was safe for anyone.

I still cannot quite work out the origins and meaning of this song. Are these people acting with an elevated confidence and desire to get up and boogie? Is it about pulling? Is it about assuring the target of the singer’s affection by letting her know that it is “safe to dance”? Or is it just about losing inhibitions? I guess it is a piece that just works on many many levels.

A purist should and will hate this. It’s too slick (very eighties) and seemingly devoid of humility. It is funny to listen closely and hear the keys sounding like videogame music.

Men Without Hats hailed from Montreal and were led by the brothers Doroschuk (Ivan and Stefan) and legend has it that the name of the band came about because they genuinely refused to wear hats due to style reasons. How many bands this day and age would demonstrate such dedication to their craft.

A great song for all the wrong reasons.

Thesaurus moment: cap.

Friday, 17 August 2007

LEMONHEADS – MRS ROBINSON/BEING AROUND (ATLANTIC RECORDS)


LEMONHEADS – MRS ROBINSON/BEING AROUND (ATLANTIC RECORDS)

For most of the world this was the first time any of them ever heard of the Lemonheads and Evan Dando. Excitingly it was pretty strange to hear an ultra familiar song with pop cinema connotations being presented and directed in such a modern manner. Here was a whole new graduate for the world.

It wasn’t until the band performed this song on The Word that I finally clicked with it. Up until that point I had been supremely dubious of the band. Evan was too pretty and the video featuring a ride along Camden Lock felt too obvious and explicitly pandering. Their performance on The Word however was genuinely renegade. As the band suddenly appeared to turn up their instruments (their weapons) it was almost as if they were approaching the song with contempt, stomping on its legacy with their own footprint which all served to display that there was much much more to this band that met the eye. As David Ryan held it all together, Evan Dando played his guitar like J Mascis and Nic Dalton just gave up on playing his bass in any traditional sense or method. Apparently he was Eing off tits which might explain the amount of fun he appeared to be having and how at the end of proceedings he thought it more to just try and balance his bass in the palm of his hand rather actually finish the song. It all closed with Evan suddenly launching into the words of “Being Around” as everything got messy and the kids of the time came a bit too close to the band and stage for manners and comfort. For years I spent days trawling the internet for a copy of this performance.

There are truly so many contradictions attached to this release (their breakout release). The cover artwork looks as it were sketched by an imbecile and bears very little in the way of relation to the music held within. Was this is an attempt to dupe people in, to many the music parent approved on a surface level? Looking closely at the credits you will note “Cover art by Evan Dando age 25 ¼”. Enough said.

History seems to forget that this was actually a double A-side single with “Being Around” which itself was another cover version, this time by the more obscure Smudge from Australia (who were also responsible for “The Outdoor Type” which the Lemonheads later covered for a single). Only 1.37 in length it comes with the classic line “if I was a booger, would you pick your nose?”

Likewise track three “Divan” is another Smudge cover version as the single continues with an EP standard of quality.

Strikingly the single ends with an Evan solo version of future super hit “Into Your Arms”, a track everyone knows and at this early stage already had the chops.

The legacy of this single is warranted.

Thesaurus moment: mooch.

Lemonheads
Atlantic Records

Thursday, 16 August 2007

FUGAZI – FUGAZI EP (DISCHORD)


FUGAZI – FUGAZI EP (DISCHORD)

The first Fugazi record was a blocky post punk release deploying tinges of reggae as Ian Mackaye appeared hell bent of moving away from his hardcore roots. At this time Guy Picciotto was only featuring for the band on vocals so as a result the songs are dominated by Mackaye’s wooden block Gibson all the way.

The seven-song affair opens with “Waiting Room” which over the years has come to represent THE Fugazi song for much of their audience striving to relive the Minor Threat days. It is a powerful track that really emphasises the talents of the band’s rhythm section, especially the intricate playing of Joe Lally on bass. Very dubby and very effective.

Early Fugazi in many ways holds more in common than the sound they eventually arrived at. These are brute forces of nature in song form, explicitly addressing social issues and causes in a manner that thankfully is not stifling or choking to the music. As far as balance goes Fugazi have always managed to strike and maintain one that is both fan friendly and true to their art. In an era where chest beating liberals (as well intentioned as they are) have proved somewhat of an embarrassment for the longest time Fugazi felt like the gang it was cool to be in and often the unit that you could/would sensibly model yourselves on.

With their first collection of songs there is plenty to grasp hold of. Once “Waiting Room” is out of the way “Bulldog Front” drops in like some kind alpha epiphany, an explicit passage arriving at clarity.

As “Burning” drops in there is a real air of menace with Guy leading the line vocally and the band imposing like Jaws heading from the distance. Here is the first time I can recall Mackaye exhibiting that wonderful way in which he seems able to keep his guitar sound hanging in the air like a bomber dropping napalm. The shonky sound that then follows physically displays the mindset of an individual at odds with modern society with its selfish inclinations and nasty demonstrations.

From here “Give Me The Cure” exhibits a swarming echo by way of guitar. Its sentiments may feel slightly immature but the playing remains magnificent.

To this day “Suggestion” remains one of the most menacing tracks in the Fugazi cannon raining out masculine concern and identity crisis. They’re just so damn politically correct.

Over time Fugazi may have eclipsed these songs but even now they remain stronger that most items of the genre.

Thesaurus moment: commence.

Fugazi
Fugazi interview
Fugazi live
Dischord Records

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

TOM WAITS – CLOSING TIME (ELEKTRA)


TOM WAITS – CLOSING TIME (ELEKTRA)

With this record it is stating the painfully obvious but Tom Waits really does sound young on it. Indeed of bleating with his gruff, damaged vocal chords instead he is actually belting out the songs with an impressive singing voice which would often see him being compared with Randy Newman in a very positive manner. In some ways it also sounds like late period Bruce Springsteen, the Springsteen so painfully soughting credibility in the face of years being a chest thumping shill.

In addition to the different vocal style there is also something of a country element attached to these songs, one that hints at a small-town existence where true love runs free and people exhibit integrity in the face of poverty.

As a result of all these elements, realistically this is not the best Tom Waits to search out and introduce yourself with. That’s not to say it is a bad record but certainly it is pretty far removed from his best and most inventive efforts. As say above, you just do not recognise it as the Waits the world has come to adore over the years.

Right now I am using this record as some kind of comedown soundtrack after a domestic has blown up in the apartment next door to me. The time is now 1.20AM and while there is too much furniture in my mind I am choosing this as the record to break the peace, to help re-engage with the world at a time when everyone around me represents the pit of humanity. His strains aren’t helping.

At the end of the day I just do not like or value this album. It is just too much of a departure from the Tom Waits I know and adore. Not everything it always right from the beginning.

Thesaurus moment: unfledged.

Tom Waits
Elektra

Monday, 13 August 2007

SHELLAC – THE RUDE GESTURE, A PICTORIAL HISTORY EP (TOUCH AND GO)


SHELLAC – THE RUDE GESTURE, A PICTORIAL HISTORY EP (TOUCH AND GO)

The first Shellac record holds all the promise that they were later to follow through on and continues tracks that remain constant inclusions in their sets to this day. These are three of the most tightly wound songs in recorded history, tracks so stern in restrained aggression that it requires such adept poker faces not to corpse in the process.

It opens with “The Guy Who Invented Fire”, a song so great I know a band to have been named after it. Opening with some of the clearest, harshest, best recorded drums anywhere in music history the hissing buzz of Albini’s guitar already offers a sense of menace before

The bridge between the first song and the second feels almost non-existent as swiftly proceedings meld into the declaration “I got a girlfriend, you cannot have her” and most definitely you believe what is being said. “The Rambler Song” is a distinct gesture of condemnation combined with an apparent celebration of a trophy not intended for mass consumption. With each guitar whistle it feels like a stab to the heart of any potential protagonist. Eventually after much corruption and sounds that sound carved out of wood with bare hands it reaches a definite conclusion decreeing no loss.

“Had his heart broken”

Flipping over the release takes on a sombre tone as “Billiard Player Song” tells a gargled tale of heartbreak and affection. This sounds like the harshest and heaviest blues song in history.

This just has to be heard to be believed.

Thesaurus moment: secure.

Shellac
Shellac interview
Shellac live
Touch And Go

Sunday, 12 August 2007

NIRVANA – LITHIUM (DGC)


NIRVANA – LITHIUM (DGC)

This was the Nirvana summer hit of 1992 with its release timed to coincide with their historical victory against the elements at Reading Festival that year (a festival that was very much different to the corporate logo riddled event that it is now).

The third single to be pulled from Nevermind this was also the song that they famously played the MTV Awards that summer when Kurt threatened to play “Rape Me” instead and eventually Krist would wind up bashing himself in the head with his bass after he threw it in the air.

Not the most obvious of singles Lithium is a mid tempo often slow paced number from the band that eventually explodes into a jarring finale. It is in essence quite generic in its structure as the muddled vocals make even less sense when read from a hymn sheet. With the opening lines of “I’m so happy” the lethargic continuation of the song is almost hilarious in comparison to the initial sentiments spewed out at the opening of the song. Thanks to its catchy chorus though and vocal refrains this represents one of the easier Nirvana songs to singalong to and with it perhaps one of the most rounded songs in their catalogue that truly represented the entire width of their songbook.

In the end this turned out to be a single I bought numerous times. The first time I purchased it came at the close of the 1992 summer school holidays. I bought it on cassette single from Woolworths in Clacton-on-sea and while the charts filled with horrible pieces of MTV churned euro pop this felt like one of the few beacons of hope. Indeed this was the time that Erasure were reaching the top of the charts with their Abba cover versions. The day I bought this single on cassette I bumped into a friend in town and made a joke about buying the Erasure thing instead. Immediately my friend responded how he already had the Erasure single. Years later when he was unearthed on Facebook we discovered he had now come out and was royally flying the flag. I guess Nirvana wasn’t really for him after then although Reading 92 was also the year the Bjorn Again took to the main stage with their cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

The second time I bought the single it was the US import CD single version. The cover of the single had always been striking due to its similarity (in my mind) to the Incesticide cover. It was cool to see a larger version of the cover but the true gold in the import version (and the reason why I paid the equivalent of an album for it) was how it included lyric sheets for the entire tracklisting of Nevermind. The UK digipack CD single had not come with lyrics although it did have an extra track in the form of their cover of The Wipers “D-7”.

The b-sides to the release were pretty titillating. The live version of “Been A Son” eventually surpassed any studio recorded version of the song and served as an exciting example of how great the band sounded live even if it wasn’t their greatest or strongest song on its own merit. The other track to feature on the release was “Curmudgeon” which proved wonky and unsettling in a fun manner sounding once more like nothing else in the Nirvana cannon.

A great single but not their best.

Thesaurus moment: yeah.

Nirvana
DGC

Saturday, 11 August 2007

CORD - SEA OF TROUBLE (ISLAND RECORDS)


CORD – SEA OF TROUBLE (ISLAND RECORDS)

Cord came into my consciousness when they came into the studio where I worked, recording on a major label pound. Suddenly a band I had never heard of, coming from Norwich, appeared to be threatening the big time.

On what is some of the worst/cheapest sounding vinyl in history, Cord prove to be something of a pointless guitar strumming outfit not a million miles away in sound from Keane, appealing to the Snow Patrol audience in the process. There may have been some credibility and depth to this kind of music when acts like The Verve were charting high with string accompanied indie hits but now these groups seem to be churned out on a major label conveyor belt as the popular kids from school make nice nice with the world as they foist the instruments that their parents bought them onto the world. Didn’t we and the industry get our fill with Starsailor?

Ouch, would you believe I have worked at the accountants for three of those acts and the recording studio of this act. I should be drummed out of any involvement in music and negated any opinion now!

Strangely the b-side hints at having heard Slint/Dave Pajo for thirty seconds before the front man begins spouting more tripe, probably about his dick, occasionally lapsing into an American accent oddly. Example lyric “if I do not try, I cannot fail” – FUCKING A!

Thesaurus moment: mistaken.

Cord

Friday, 10 August 2007

THE JESUS LIZARD – WHEELCHAIR EPIDEMIC (TOUCH AND GO)


THE JESUS LIZARD – WHEELCHAIR EPIDEMIC (TOUCH AND GO)

Actually a cover version of a song originally by Texan band The Dicks this is a swift and jagged song that The Jesus Lizard make their own, not sounding in the least bit like a cover version.

When the song reaches the chorus the aching barks that Yow delivers sounds akin to a redneck saluting his god crossed with lodging punch into the brain of a scumbag.

On the reverse comes the lurching “Dancing Naked Ladies” which is no less menacing and possessing more explicitly aggressive gestures housed in a tightly wound composition that appears to have its own safety alarm in the middle for when things get too hot.

You can probably guess from the song title alone what kind of attitude and set of intentions a track named “Dancing Naked Ladies” is going to house. As ever a dark sense of humour is best applied to the violent and sexist images being conjured up at taste’s expense.

For me The Jesus Lizard conjures up many of the worst things in life, it forces me to recall dimly lit drunken evenings spent in scary surroundings that were lucky not to end in bloodshed and hate crimes. Much like Yow’s role from “Walls In The City” in a lot of ways this is the music equivalent of a Charles Bukowski book.

This was the way forward.

Thesaurus moment: spasmodic.

The Jesus Lizard
Touch And Go

Thursday, 9 August 2007

MORRISSEY – THE LAST OF THE FAMOUS INTERNATIONAL PLAYBOYS (EMI)


MORRISSEY – THE LAST OF THE FAMOUS INTERNATIONAL PLAYBOYS (EMI)

Often with Morrissey you get the impression that he would have liked to have been born into an era and quite possibly into another body. Here is a man that chooses his heroes with interesting (and occasionally) dubious criteria that suggests a devil streak in him.

“Dear hero in prison” just might be my favourite first line of any British indie (well, alternative) song. Practically a love letter sent out to Reggie Kray this is a most English song and exhibits just what it is that Morrissey does best in his dissection (and celebration) of our nation’s rejected treasures. There is a rich tapestry in being English and disliked in your home country and this is something that appears to create relish in our man.

You sense from the lyrical content that Morrissey quite identifies with Mr Kray and the role of the song is about looking for some kind of reasoning and origin behind negative gestures with view to abstaining he and his subject from responsibility.

With The Smiths rhythm section still on board the playing is tempered and sinister in its accompaniment and build before reaching a wonky climax than manages to rightfully remain respectful to the source material throughout.

Thesaurus moment: bouquet.

Morrissey
EMI

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

NEIL YOUNG – NEIL YOUNG (REPRISE)


NEIL YOUNG – NEIL YOUNG (REPRISE)

Having put his experiences of being in a band behind him the first Neil Young solo album is a subtly adventurous array of songs fielded towards the ill at ease, a state you can’t help but feel Young was in at the time.

This is far from an immediate album, indeed it opens with a curious instrumental that isn’t necessarily a very appealing introduction. Following comes “The Loner” which comes equipped with one of the heaviest hooks anywhere in the Young cannon. Here is a song where the listener and the artist appear in sync, on the same wavelength and in similar shoes. In many ways this is what Young has always been about: empathising with the common man.

With this record Young often still sounds like the bands he has just exited from, of a band still affected by the summer of love and hippy ethos which ultimately sees it displaying a distinct lack of urgency and cynicism, instead clinging to idealism and affection. Not necessarily a bad trait, just one not conducive to a person producing their best work.

Probably the best known track to come from this album is “The Old Laughing Lady”, a song that has endured over the years and regularly returned to Young’s set. This is a strange version of the song, one that possesses keyboard strokes that perversely remind of “Riders On The Storm” by The Doors. Then come in the crazy “Gimme Shelter-esqe” backing vocals pimping the joint out. All in all it is a very different take on the song to one the world has come accustomed to over the years. And not necessarily the best one.

Ultimately I think the record (much like his career in general) gets let down by the country sounding material, that basic and simple noise that belittles and lowers the IQ of any song. Such earnest music seldom sounds so stupid. There is a kind of free fantasy attached to the vision and demographics of this music but its not necessarily one that feels developed or modern.

With a harsh set of fade outs attached to many of the tracks there is a real sense of Young wishing this album out of the way so that he can get on with his career.

Thesaurus moment: primordial.

Neil Young
Reprise

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

THE FALL – DRAGNET (STEP FORWARD)

THE FALL – DRAGNET (STEP FORWARD)

Recorded over three days in August of 1979 the second Fall album sees band still sounding resoundingly bloody minded with a snarling “grim up North” attitude that serves to further gnash at the ears of the listener.

Following up “Live At The Witch Trials” there is a definite step up on the sound here which, without losing the jagged edge of their debut, manages to bulk up with a denser element to their output.  From the previous lineup only Mark E. Smith and Marc Riley remained as this served as the entry point for Craig Scanlon and Steve Hanley who would eventually remain as the longest (and most loyal) servants to the cause.

Representing something of an expansion of the ideas from their debut this is where elements/influences such as Can and Beefheart play as much a role in the band’s sound as all the punk and post punk surround at the time.

The ball doesn’t take long to start rolling and kick off as Smith loudly enquires “is there anybody there?” and “Psyckick Dancehall” opens proceedings.  From here the track begins wailing as he demonstrates happiness in amplification and the sound of his own voice.  In a way you sense if he wasn’t manning a microphone in a band he would equally be rocking the PA at a factory or supermarket.  As the song storms forward halfway through it rides a calypso bridge, foraging an unexpected path.

Afterwards the horrific “A Figure Walks” adds a degree of horror to proceedings while the elevation of “Printhead” serves to thrill as the song hangs in the air prior to unleashing its force (via quotes extracted of reviews).  “Diceman” isn’t a whole lot different either as the Luke Rhinehart inspired snarl does sound like the punk was still as relevant as it once was.

“Just take for instance a time of great depression.”

“Your Heart Out” is the money shot.  There is genuine sweetness to the song even though Smith is doing his best to sound undesirable.  Its all in the playing, the wonderfully light structure and upbeat tone that sticks in the mind and comes the closest to anything pop and coherent.  Could it be possible to kiss to a Fall song?

From here the album manages to maintain a sense of fun with the leisurely “Flat Of Angles” and its dizzying swing.  Then there is pain “Spectre Vs Rector” which appears to spend a large portion of its duration moving furniture and tuning up.  This isn’t pop, its practice.

As with all early Fall records the scratchy guitars serve to bludgeon the listener.  The product isn’t perfect, often sounding damaged.  It’s the greatest feeling.

Two albums in, two sessions of joy.

Thesaurus moment: vexatious.

Monday, 6 August 2007

THE BREEDERS – POD (4AD)


THE BREEDERS – POD (4AD)

Twins have always been a terrifying concept to me. All throughout my life whenever I have encountered a set there has always been one who I disliked or they disliked me (or it was mutual).

Sounding as if butter wouldn’t melt in its mouth the first Breeders album arrives in charming fashion serving up a series of appetizers that lull the listener into a false of security and transfixing them in a delicate daze. The harmonies that arise from the off come with sense of aloof menace, one that attaches itself through the entire duration of the record and that suggests a degree/level of ESP running through the authors of this work. All in all it insinuates a set of circumstances that can only end in tears.

Unsurprisingly the familiarity of and relation to the Pixies looms heavy over the music, sounding like the legends performing on downers or even possibly at the wrong speed. This is divine and playful stuff. Then the trademark Albini drum sound comes in arriving as subtle as a brick. Yet the tranquillity remains.

A Creepy Crawl atmosphere feels most exposed with their Beatles cover and the finest version of “Happiness Is A Warm Gun” that is ever likely to be committed to vinyl (including the original), which brings a confused air to proceedings.

The gnarly sarcasm flows all the way through the record as “Oh!” just sounds as if the band are drunk having found a violin tucked away in a corner. The simplicity of “Hellbound” stands out as they nonchalantly power out the most ringing of efforts with equal ease.

There is a sweet naivety to the playing of the record, one that suggests adventure and screams side project. Ultimately you get the impression that this record was originally designed to be more fun than competent and as “When I Was A Painter” loops to a conclusion sounding like a person playing on drugs not knowing when to stop, stuck on a mental carousel they are unable to disembark from. In such relaxed surroundings this only adds to the fun.

“Iris” serves as the watermark, the highpoint, the bomb of the album. As Kim sings “oh c’mon, nobody wants that” it conjures up the kind of image that goes with the general being and atmosphere of the album, one of reluctant conflict and intoxicated situations lasting late into the evening through to the following morning. With this song in particular there is a sense of poetic struggle.

Ultimately on this record you can tell that it has been given a lot breathing space, the opportunity to play around with ideas and emotions that may have been otherwise stifled in the members’ various other day jobs.

It finishes satisfyingly strongly with all elements coming together in the fiercest of fashions as Deal’s vocals (and harmonies) gain power in parallel with the added force of the guitar sound all culminating in “Limehouse” as true excitement for life prevails.

If only all first dates could be so special.

Thesaurus moment: ringer.

The Breeders
4AD

Sunday, 5 August 2007

ARAB STRAP – THE WEEK NEVER STARTS ROUND HERE (CHEMIKAL UNDERGROUND)


ARAB STRAP – THE WEEK NEVER STARTS ROUND HERE (CHEMIKAL UNDERGROUND)

I actually received this record as a Christmas present back in 1996. I am pretty sure when my mother was buying it in Ipswich she wasn’t quite aware of what the contents of the package was all about. A few days later I found myself in Covent Garden Rough Trade on our then traditional post-Christmas record shopping trip as “The Clearing” came on the shop stereo and sounded like the hugest song of the moment.

It was actually “The First Big Weekend” that saw Arab Strap arrive on the music scene with a real money shot, a single that gained repeated Radio One airplay back when it mattered and eventually wound up on a Guinness TV advertisement. This song was unique and truly original, nothing sounded like then or since.

This is a perfect album, succinctly and efficiently representing and describing a strand of existence not necessarily focal or vocal in music, media or art. In many forms Aidan and Malcolm were the true anti-heroes of lo-fi, the ones most likely to be the person looking back in the mirror of the listener. This was not a time when life was amazing or people were thriving, when nights out and social experience was necessarily pleasure as the powers that be would have you believe. In a strange way this record sounds nihilistic and damaged but never negative. It’s cold and sardonic but not strictly hostile or aggressive, it doesn’t hate it just doesn’t have any time for you. It’s beaten, tired and struggling to relax. Indeed in songs such as “Gourmet” there is real beauty, albeit fleeting and ultimately unfulfilling.

You could listen to music for a hundred years and fail to find an album more Scottish and representative of the times and existence of being so as the millennium came crashing to an end. Legend has it that Moffat and Middleton bonded over releases on the Drag City label but never were any of the releases from that label ever so explicit and direct.

There is no second guessing with Arab Strap. When in “Driving” they sing about agreeing on the fact that “your sister helped us wank” this is not high end philosophy with any kind of underlying meaning, it’s a kind of crassness for crass sake to display just what is going on in their world and how their upbringing and environment have made them the people and artists that they are now. This was Irvine Welsh without the flab and it should have made them superstars immediately.

The stark minimalism of “I Work In A Saloon” reads like a skinny Scottish version of Saturday Night Sunday Morning ripping into the trivia of a demeaning existence and the mess that comes at the conclusion of a moment born out of boredom and a weird kind of necessity. The accompanying guitar line and repetitive drumbeat make for a perfect layering of such sentiments and the lack of fanfare in such existence. Almost immediately afterwards “Wasting” covers the same territory as if built from being on the opposite side of proceedings although at least this time this song reaches some kind of conclusion at the close of the repetition and the album sinks to a despondent and chemical level.

As the album arrives at “The First Big Weekend” the track serves to pick up proceedings with a euphoric read through of high times built on/from nothing, the kind of times that grab you and sweep you away with the flow. The references within the song are so tangible that the right listener literally pops with enjoyment as a generation and a moment gets concisely described with the most vivid accuracy of the time. The references to The Simpsons and Euro 96 give the song a real date stamped on it (15 June 1996) assisting the listener to look back and recount their own big weekends. As the pace of the song ups, so does the experience and urgency in addition to the basic enjoyment and triumph attached to what we do and will always do. Such upbeat takes on vivid routine are always going to be the things that will get us through.

The calm of the storm arrives in the reflective “Kate Moss” that aches of some kind of resignation that existence is not destined to resemble what we had hoped for us, the kind of world that daytime television tries to shove down our throats while heavily promoting Saturday evening game shows.

As the album draws to a close the subject matter of the songs more and more begin to sound like drunken odes to wasted opportunities with the fairer sex and moments of high emotion now being spat out and pissed upon in a most cold fashion. With hindsight such failure is obvious but at the eye of the storm within these songs everything feels real and permitted, muddled and ridiculous. They ain’t too proud to beg, especially on “Phone Me Tonight” that staunchly assembles the sound of turmoil and loss.

The penultimate song “Blood” is a bitter narrative of being cheated on and contains one of my all time favourite lines from any song in “well he can fucking keep that fickle fucking disco tart”. This may not be the most pleasant or politically correct of lines but it just accurately/basically represents the emotions, sentiments and feelings of a person put in such a position/situation.

The album ends with “Deeper” which is a song that I don’t think Arab Strap ever topped or bettered. Using a unique storytelling method, the lengthy narrative device clearly describes an experience and moment in time with a clarity seldom heard in music anywhere. I hate to use the word “tender” in conjunction with Arab Strap but this is what exudes from the climatic closer as some kind of wish fulfilment occurs in the mind of Moffat that may or may not have transpired in reality. For his sake, you hope it did.

Over the years this album has truly served me well and is always the Arab Strap record I keep coming back to. As things were captured to perfection the minimalism of the piece is so stark and loud in comparison to their records that would follow, the ones with all tricks and dressing up. When the words were like this none of those frills were ever required. I can truly say that this record is unique and there is nothing like it in my collection.

Hey I know that guy.

Thesaurus moment: string.

Arab Strap
Arab Strap interview
Chemikal Underground

Saturday, 4 August 2007

KATE NASH – FOUNDATIONS (FICTION)


KATE NASH – FOUNDATIONS (FICTION)

Using her subtle cockney/mockney accent to full use and singing in the manner that Lily Allen talks; for a long time now Kate Nash has been promising much and charming many with her smart and sensitive lyrical observations all packaged in her pretty girl next door ensemble of dark brown eyes, big hair and awkwardness. I have to admit the package reminds me of heyday Tracey Ullman.

A song that definitely improves with additional listens, with “Foundations” somehow she crowbars the longest hook into a chorus for a very long time as the song clearly dissects a rather spiky relationship with a manner that is truly admirable. I almost feel I know this girl because I dislike her smart arse attitude.

Many years ago I was trawling my arse around town, going out with a girl who was wilfully stringing me along as I picked up every bill to every restaurant and often found myself smothering her with gifts and unrequited love. Had I had this record around those naïve times, perhaps I would have spotted certain signals, signs and trends sooner. Instead as every other meeting descended into arguments and battles that I would win, eventually losing the war I found myself uttering the legendary words “I like it when I make you cry” to her just because I thought it showed she cared. In fact it was actually her playing me like a fiddle. And how do I know this? Kate Nash just wrote the lyrics “but it gives me thrills to wind you up.”

And this is the real reason for the Parental Advisory Sticker.

The fact that this record has reached number two in the charts really signifies changing times, either demonstrating how cheapened the single format has become or actually how a whole new era and range of talented musicians are now likely to benefit. As to which reality this record actually represents remains open to debate but with consideration for the latter possibility, this amazing record certain represents that train of thought.

On this occasion the single is backed with “Navy Taxi”, a less bolshy song devoid of the front of “Foundations.” Still it remains introspective with its narration and is something of a display of the remorseful side little Ms Nash, piano led and sweet. You could almost forgive her arrogance of the a-side.

Thesaurus moment: aplomb.

Kate Nash
Fiction

Friday, 3 August 2007

SONIC YOUTH – 100% (DGC)


SONIC YOUTH – 100% (DGC)

It cannot be denied that this was probably the first Sonic Youth song that my generation ever heard. In the midst of the Nirvana hype while I was still at school occasionally the skate themed video would appear on MTV and basically anyone in my circle that saw it would immediately lose their shit. One kid called Chris Wright even based his bowl hairstyle on Steve Shelley’s version of the model. Chris by the way was last seen heading to Amsterdam in chase of a lady. This after a spell of playing bass in an Ocean Colour Scene type band but I’ll digress.

In subsequent years anyone worth their indie stripes has listened to every Sonic Youth album past and present as they come and go but I genuinely the period that was Dirty remains there best as their noisiest, best recorded, most ferocious and generally the height of the incendiary intensity displaying them at their most driven.

“100%” opens with noise oppression from the right. Then from the left direction more stinging sound strikes and suddenly all becomes blurred until it gets harnessed and a huge hulking riff cuts through proceedings giving the song an almost pop direction while not sacrificing any of the noise or might of the tools at hand. This is not playing, this is sculpting.

Effortlessly cool Thurston sings in an almost dribbled murmur, mumbling sweet nothings that are really addressing a nasty murder in the community. This is the way people deal in the grunge era it would seem.

There is no fucking about with this record, it goes for the jugular in ways the majority of alternative and indie musicians can only dream of. It is noise rock but delivered at the hands of experts who know what they are doing, effortlessly cool in a laidback motion suggesting a truly higher intellect.

Elsewhere on the disc follows the schizophrenic “Crème Brulee” which also appears on the transcending Dirty and opens sounding like another Sonic Youth composition that could have seen them rolling with the Manson family before melting into a drunk sounding ode caked in suffocation. Next “Genetic” strikes in the kind of exuberant fashion that most Lee Renaldo led compositions express; he is the king of the upbeat chord change when it comes to this band.

The fantastically christened “Hendrix Necro” closes out the CD single suggesting an attempt at combining the classic rock sound of Jimi with the hardcore sounds of the vibrant violent early eighties. It’s a Kim song, scathing and Riot Grrrl sounding that could have been equally at home on a Free Kitten record. Halfway through the track falls apart, turning into a swirling mess and sonic explosion. No fear.

With a video that features Jason Lee in skating mode years before Kevin Smith discovered his acting skills, Kim looking amazing in a Rolling Stones shirt and a sad back story regarding former friend Joe Cole, “100%” is a very loaded song working on many levels with many messages.

This is what happens with lightning strikes.

Thesaurus moment: dent.

Sonic Youth
DGC