Friday, December 31, 2010

345. Stop Making Sense. Talking heads sing to dancing bodies


345. Stop Making Sense. Talking heads sing to dancing bodies

Album: Stop Making Sense
Artist: Talking Head
Year: 1984
Genre: Rocky Pop stuff

Tracks

  1. Psycho Killer

  2. Swamp

  3. Slippery People

  4. Burning Down the House

  5. Girlfriend Is Better

  6. Once in a Lifetime

  7. What a Day That Was

  8. Life During Wartime

  9. Take Me to the River



I have to confess I’ve always been fairly lukewarm on the idea of the concert movie. The theory is that a band puts together a dynamic live show and then employs a director to capture the event as faithfully as possible. Then when the band is recovering at home trying to wash the cocaine residue out of their underwear an editor turns the footage into a concert movie that can then open in theatres all over the world. Fans who experienced the excitement of the tour can relive the event in a cramped seat with a bucket of popcorn, and those who weren’t there can enjoy the band in a venue ill-designed for dancing or musical enjoyment. It’s a strange way to take rock and roll to a place it wasn’t designed to go.

Stop Making Sense was the name of a concert movie that Talking Heads put together after their 1983 tour. The movie had 16 tracks recorded over 3 nights and unlike most concert movies actually has a storyline of sorts. David Byrne appears onstage on his own for the first number and is gradually joined by an extra band member for each track until the stage is full of performers. It’s a clever effect which is sadly lost in the original Soundtrack album which is basically nine songs culled from the movie and then heavily edited. Songs were doctored and almost all audience noise was removed. The final effect is a strange reinventing of the Talking Heads catalogue rather than any faithful replication of their live shows.

So is it any good? Yes, it is. Thankfully the songs themselves are great and the performances fantastic so the album manages to overcome the hurdles the concept has thrown in front of them. If you only buy one Talking Heads album in your life then it should probably be this one.

Highlight: Psycho Killer or Burning down the House
Lowlight: Take me to the River

Influenced by: That area where Cinema and Rock colide.
Influenced: Phish

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote (this is from the reviews for the movie but I had to include it because it’s priceless): I loved "Stop Making Sense" when it hit the movie theaters back in the mid 80's. I was Very Disappointed with the DVD. It Was Not the movie !! It was all this bogus and unnecessary commentary laid over a classic piece of performing arts. The ceaseless drivel totally ruined this classic live music performance. I would Very Much like to get the Original Movie & not this dubbed nonsense. I am very unsatisfied.

-As many others pointed out in the talkback this reviewer would have had a more satisfying experience if they turned the commentary track off.

So did you enjoy it when Talking Heads stopped making sense or do you wish they’d start making sense again, or did you think they never made sense so couldn’t stop anyway... or has this sentence stopped making sense? Let me know below.




Tuesday, December 28, 2010

346. 3 feet high and rising. When hip hop gets silly.

Album: Three feet high and rising
Artist: De La Soul
Genre: Hip Hop
Year: 1989

Tracks


1 Intro 1:41
2 The Magic Number
3 Change in Speak
4 Cool Breeze on the Rocks
5 Can U Keep a Secret?
6 Jenifa Taught Me (Derwin's Revenge)
7 Ghetto Thang
8 Transmitting Live from Mars
9 Eye Know
10 Take It Off
11 A Little Bit of Soap
12 Tread Water
13 Potholes in My Lawn
14 Say No Go
15 Do as De La Does
16 Plug Tunin' [Last Chance to Comprehend]
17 De la Orgee
18 Buddy
19 Description
20 Me, Myself and I
21 This Is a Recording 4 Livingin a Fulltime Era (L.I.F.E.)
22 I Can Do Anything (Delacratic)
23 D.A.I.S.Y.
24 Plug Tunin'


There's no doubt hip hop is a genre that seems to take itself fairly seriously. Not many of the rappers I've listened to so far appear to have much of a sense of humour about themselves or a sense of the ridiculous. You don't find may gangsta rappers cracking jokes about their insecurities. Rap traditionally doesn't have much appreciation of absurdism as a lyrical tool. The exception to this rule is De La Soul. The three guys who make up De La Soul are clearly big fans of silly. They like silliness and they appreciate a good round of lyrical foolishness. They're less interested in guns, misogyny, egotism and drugs and quaintly obsessed with daisies and dandruff. They're also a lot less interested in swearing a lot. You might think this sounds like G-rated rap for those who like their hip-hoping to be more family orientated. And you'd be wrong. De La Orgee is 1:14 minutes of the band and some female friends replicating the sounds of an orgy in progress. At least I assume they're just pretending. It's possible someone just left the mic on after a recording session with some backing vocalists who were very open to suggestions.

Musically 3 Feet High and Rising is a lot more playful than other rap. It's bouncier and more laid back and sounds like an attempt to move rap towards the mainstream. The backing is primarilly made up of samples and includes beats and riffs taken from Led Zep, Johnny Cash, Parliament, James Brown, The Monkees, The Turtles, Sly and the Family Stone, Otis Redding, Bo Diddley and a host of others. Not that you'll recognize most of them. They've cherry picked all the music that went before and made it their own.

The most recognizable track on this album for me was The Magic Number which mobile phone company 3 have taken as their promotional jingle. I naively assumed it was an original piece of music and didn't realize that they'd ripped it off De La Soul. The other singles I didn't recognise but then I'm sure they still get a lot of airplay on radio stations who play that sort of thing.

You might think having read this review that i quite liked 3 feet high. In fact I found it fairly irritating. It was refreshing to hear some hip hop that was prepared to be vaguely light hearted but that doesn't make it entertaining listening. The skits were really annoying the first time let alone on repeated listens and the tracks didn't move me much at all. I'm glad someone is playing around with the idea of rap but I'm not sure I need to listen to the end results.

Influenced by: Grandmaster Flash and Funkadelic
Influenced: Playful hip hop everywhere

Highlight: The refreshing outlook on life.
Lowlight: The skits inbetween tracks

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Here are the top 5 songs on the album. 5. Say No Go- I haven't heard this song yet, but I have heard alot about it, and seems like one of their greatest hits ever."

-For the love of Clapton- DO NOT WRITE A REVIEW OF AN ALBUM IF YOU HAVEN'T ACTUALLY HEARD IT ALL THE WAY THROUGH AT LEAST ONCE! Seriously. What did you give the album five stars for if you haven't heard the music? Was the cover really that good?

So are you three feet high and rising or plummeting back down to earth with a dull (sampled) thud? Let me know below.

Friday, December 24, 2010

347. The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Where acid meets fingerpaint.

Album: The Piper at the Gates of Dawn
Artist: Pink Floyd
Year: 1967
Genre: Psychedelia

Tracks

  1. Astronomy Dominé
  2. Lucifer Sam
  3. Matilda Mother
  4. Flaming
  5. Pow R. Toc H.
  6. Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk
  7. Interstellar Overdrive
  8. The Gnome
  9. Chapter 24
  10. Scarecrow
  11. Bike


Piper at the Gates of Dawn is the only Pink Floyd album to feature Syd Barrett in a leading role and it's just about as hippie as any album can be. And I'm not just talking a bit druggie I'm talking about the full-on hippie experience with lyrics that talk about riding on unicorns and a gnome named Grimble Crumble and lots of references to flowers and Kings and planets and the winter solstice and sad scarecrows and a mouse without a house named Gerald. Pink Floyd later developed a reputation for writing doom-laden bombast but on the strength of this stuff they were lucky to escape a permanent label as the Kings of Twee.

The title of this album comes from The Wind in the Willows and Barrett appears to sing the entire album as if it's the soundtrack to a children's book that nobody had bothered to write yet. It's full of magical tales with a quaint British flavour and it's the sort of thing that wanders through your mind if you enjoy reading kid's books while ripped off your head on some quality acid. Most children's writers use their power of invention and creativity when conjuring their fantasy worlds but Barrett was such a heavy drug user he just recorded what he saw in his trips. When he describes what Grimble Crumble the gnome is wearing he's hasn't imagined it up he's actually spent time in the gnome's house and probably passed out in his wardrobe.

Not long after this album was released Barrett became progressively more unreliable and started to go off the rails somewhat. He would become violent and retreated into himself so much that he became useless in a live setting. The rest of the band hired David Gilmour as second guitarist but really he was a replacement for Barrett who hung around for a while until the band stopped picking him up for gigs. Syd left to pursue a solo career which didn't really go anywhere before he stopped going anywhere himself and became a recluse. He lived for years out of the public eye amidst tales of mental instability and erratic behaviour. Pink Floyd meanwhile continued with Gilmour as guitarist and Roger Waters as band leader. They released Dark Side of the Moon, The Wall and other albums and became one of the world's biggest bands. After Waters left, Gilmour took on the role of leader and released two albums before dissolving the band for good. I'll commit a massive act of musical heresy here by saying I prefer Pink Floyd when Dave Gilmour was in charge to the incarnation led by Syd Barrett. I know I'm not supposed to think that, conventional wisdom says Barrett is a musical genius and Gilmour was just in it for the money but to be honest I'll take Momentary Lapse of Reason over this album any day of the week.

Piper at the Gates of Dawn doesn't sound like music written for adults. It doesn't even sound like music written for children it sounds like music written for stoned children. As a non-stoned adult I find it to be an impenetrable fog of annoying melodies and mid-sixties lyrical foolishness.

Influenced by: Children's fiction and adult drugs.
Influenced: Every english Hippie.

Highlight: Astronime Domine
Lowlight: Bike

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Syd Barret is NOT a genius. A genius would figure out how to survive mental illness."

-Ouch. Commenting on an album is one thing but making sweeping statements about mental health is another entirely.

So was it all downhill for the Floyd from here or was this lowpoint they climbed up from? Let me know below.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

348. At Newport. The Blues.


Album: At Newport
Artist: Muddy Waters
Year: 1960
Genre: The Blues

Tracks

  1. I Got My Brand On You
  2. (I'm Your) Hoochie Coochie Man
  3. Baby, Please Don't Go
  4. Soon Forgotten
  5. Tiger In Your Tank
  6. I Feel So Good
  7. Got My Mojo Working
  8. Got My Mojo Working, Pt. 2
  9. Goodbye Newport Blues


When Muddy Waters and his band took to the stage at the Newport Jazz Festival he was essentially trespassing on established territory. The festival was designed to highlight jazz performances and the audience was more accustomed to sitting and appreciating virtuoso Jazz than getting up and dancing to blues music. This is definitely not a rock crowd and if you're in any doubt you only need to listen to the introduction Muddy gets at the start of the album. A lone voice announces his name with all the excitement of a teacher calling out a class roll. It sounds like someone introducing panelists on a political discussion program more rather than an announcer revealing the name of a blues legend to an eager crowd. The smattering of applause makes it clear that the crowd aren't unhappy to see him but he's not the reason they came.

Throughout this album's all-too-brief running time Waters and his band (who I've always thought should be called The Puddles) win the crowd over. He starts off slow with I got my Brand on You but quickly moves into Hoochie Coochie Man and performs the version that inspires all the countless people who have covered the song ever since. Baby Please don't go is another definitive classic which he follows up with Soon Forgotten, Tiger in your Tank and I feel so good. During this last track you can clearly hear the audience getting involved. He's turned the jazz fans into dancing fiends who are loving every minute. He finishes his set with I've got my Mojo Working and totally sets the crowd alight. There's clapping and cheering and it concludes with some rapturous applause. The audience refuses to let him leave and he comes back for a further reprise of Mojo with the band and the audience joining in on the chorus. When Muddy isn't at the mike you can hear the crowd going wild and screaming at whatever is going on. Clearly there were antics involved. It would have been a great gig to attend.

The album concludes on a really interesting note which I only learned about recently. The 1960 Newport festival attracted record crowds and there were disturbances that caused someone to call the national guard. There was a rumour circulating that the festival had no future. A poet who was in the audience (because what's a jazz fest without a poet?) wrote a lament about the possible close of the festival. He gave it to Muddy's band and the pianist Otis Spann sang it while the band improvised around him. The final result is called Goodbye Newport and is such a great slow blues track you'd be amazed to learn the singer was sight-reading the lyrics off a sheet of paper. The words "Goodbye Newport" spoken at the end of the album aren't a band saying goodbye to a crowd but musicians saying farewell to an era. Thankfully it wasn't the case and Newport lived on.

Live at Newport is a great album by a great man fronting a great band. It's highly recommended listening for those who want to get their mojo working.

Influenced by: Robert Johnson.
Influenced: The Rolling Stones

Highlight: Got my Mojo working
Lowlight: Goodbye Newport.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I'm a lot older now, have gone though several copies of this record. I've had it on four track, eight track, cassette and CD and now on iTunes."

-I alway love people who own up to owning multiple formats of an album. Especially when one of those is from Amazon's main rival.

So is your mojo working or is it currently in an inoperable state? Let me know below.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

349 Roger the Engineer. Sort of a Yardbirds album a bit.

Artist: The Yardbirds
Album: Roger the Engineer
Year: 1966
Genre: Rock


  1. Lost Woman
  2. Over, Under, Sideways, Down
  3. I Can't Make Your Way
  4. Farewell
  5. Hot House of Omagarashid
  6. Jeff's Boogie
  7. He's Always There
  8. Turn into Earth
  9. What Do You Want
  10. Ever Since the World Began

Okay I'll do this slowly and we'll all try and keep up... This album was originally released in England only it wasn't called Roger the Engineer it was called The Yardbirds. It was re-released in America with a different track listing and different mix... Only it wasn't called The Yardbirds. It wasn't called Roger the Engineer either it was called Over Under Sideways Down. It was re-released in Germany and Japan only it wasn't called Roger there either. Or The Yardbirds. Or Over Under. It was called Yardbirds without the definite article. It was also another mix. The more observant (and persistent) among you might have realised that we have three different albums with three different titles, none of which is Roger the Engineer, the album that all this fuss is supposed to be about. Silly isn't it? But that's what they did in the sixties. Different countries were entirely different markets and there was no need for anything to be consistent. Who knows, maybe they saw ahead a few decades and realised that one day there would be people who would call themselves collectors and want to buy every version of an album they could find.

Anyway the point is that Rolling Stone magazine have decided to include an album that technically doesn't exist in it's countdown. The first appearance of Roger the Engineer as a title came in the eighties when the album had a rerelease with further track additions and alterations. For the purposes of reviewing I'll stick to the tracks which are common to every incarnation of this enigmatic album. Which is a pity because most of them are pretty bad.

The Yardbirds started as a blues band full of blues purists who wouldn't touch a song unless it was written by an impoverished black American. They were led by Eric Clapton who was the sort of guy who would never write a pop ballad for a movie soundtrack or release a watered down, acoustic version of a big hit in order to cash in (at least he wasn't back then). Sadly the only people who were interested in buying white-boy interpretations of blues classics were members of the Rolling Stones so The Yardbirds were pressured to "Write songs like them Beatles fellas." The end result is this album (or these albums) which the Yardbirds recorded with their new guitarist Jeff Beck who was no slouch with an electric guitar. In fact if the band could write songs as well as Beck could play this would be a belter of a release. Instead it's a pretty tepid affair. Most of the songs are the sort of things that John and Paul wouldn't even have considered selling to other people. He's always there, Lost Woman, I can't Make Your Way etc and the rest of the album are just lame psychedelic songs that sound pretty feeble when removed from their home decade. Two songs stand out from the rest of the mediocrity. The first is Hot House of Omargarashid which is staggeringly awful. It's two minutes and forty seconds that sounds like a theme song to a justifiably forgotten children's cartoon. It's annoyingly bouncy and the only lyrics are "Ya ya ya", which is sung over and over again until even the singers sound bored. It's so bad it even features a wobble board. Thankfully the other exception is a magnificent song called Over Under Sideways Down which is one of the forgotten gems of the sixties. It's got a beat, a riff, a chorus, a bassline and some great lyrics. OUSD could happily take a place in the track listing of any album released that year by any band.

The Yardbirds released some great singles in their time and had some fine moments on their albums but I wouldn't reccomend this release in any of it's multiple formats. Instead I'd suggest you get your hands on any one of a million compilations which will include Over Under Sideways down and therefore the only thing here worth hearing.

Influenced by: The Blues and a desire to make more money than the people who usually played it.
Influenced: Aerosmith, The Black Crowes and lads like them.

Highlight: Over Under Sideways Down
Lowlight: Hot House of Omagarashid and the cover art.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Unfortunately, almost all of the songs have extremely weak melodies, and the trippy sentiments, poorly thought out to begin with, have aged very badly, reminding me of something that Neil from "The Young Ones" might sing."

-Brilliant. The Neil comparison is perfect.

So are you Over this album or Under it's influence? Let me know below.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

350. Rust Never Sleeps. Providing suicide note inspiration since 1994

Album: Rust Never Sleeps
Artist: Neil Young
Year: 1979
Genre: Rock

Tracks


  1. My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)
  2. Thrasher
  3. Ride My Llama
  4. Pocahontas
  5. Sail Away
  6. Powderfinger
  7. Welfare Mothers
  8. Sedan Delivery
  9. Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)



You have to love Neil Young. Back in the sixties he made a conscious decision to follow nobody's rules and regulations and to be a star in his own terms. He would continue to write lyrics about the subjects that meant something to him and put them to music that paid no attention to popular convention at the time. He would refuse to sell his music to advertisers and make no effort to conform. It's now 2010 and he's still doing exactly that. Granted he's had some misfires on the way but he's also produced some outstanding music, both on stage and in the studio.

Rust Never Sleeps is proves Neil's talent and appropriately enough it comes to us from both the stage and the studio. It's sort of a live album but then sort of not one as well. Neil set out on tour with Crazy Horse, a band he enjoyed playing with who exist without him but not successfully (anyone ever been to a Youngless Crazy Horse gig? No I didn't think so). Some of the shows were recorded and then Neil took the new songs the band had played and "tinkered" with the recordings. "Tinkered" in the sense that the US military has "tinkered" with Iraq and Afghanistan. He removed most of the audience noise and then proceeded to add overdubs wherever he thought they'd work. The final effect is essentially a studio album in which the basic tracks happened to be recorded onstage. It's a strange way to make an album but it's actually a huge success (unlike Iraq and Afghanistan).

Like the concerts themselves the album is divided into two halves. The first side is entirely acoustic and showcases the gentler side of Neil. Play this to most of your mothers and they'd quite enjoy it. Some find Young's voice a bit hard to deal with but the does write a lovely tune. Hey Hey My My is probably the best known song from this set and it opens the album as an acoustic ballad. The line "It's better to burn out than to fade away" was fairly haunting when it was recorded but since it was made famous in Kurt Cobain's suicide note it's taken on an extra resonance. The remaining four songs on side one aren't quite as good but they're still great examples of Neil's ability to craft lyrics and melody together into a beautiful song.

The second side features the electric stylings of Crazy Horse and is the sort of music that your mother warned you about. Neil is often called The Godfather of Grunge and the four tracks that close this album will tell you why. The elements of punk and metal with guitar soloing that Pearl Jam and others popularized are all here in Powderfinger, Welfare Mothers and Sedan Delivery. Surprisingly for some the album closes with the same song it opened with. Young bookends the album with an acoustic and an electric rendition of Hey Hey My My and proves that it works as a gentle ballad and a grungier rock number.

For the next ten years Neil's experimental side got the better of him and his music suffered. If you started listening to music in the 80's you'd wonder what all the fuss about this Neil Young character was. You certainly wouldn't pick him as a great songwriter, lyricist, singer and guitarist. But return to 1979 and this album proved that he was all four. And thankfully he would be again.

Highlight: Hey hey My My (into the black)
Lowlight: Welfare Mothers

Influenced by: Live audience feedback.
Influenced: Grunge.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: I can tolerate stoner Neil Young sometimes drifting off at the microphone, as he does on many of the sleepy songs on this half-baked record. What I can't tolerate, however, is him ripping off the line that Def Leppard made famous: "It's better to burn out than fade away." That's just not cool, and it shows this hippie really isn't all that original, when one gets right down to it.

Nonetheless, his acoustic song dedicated to the Ramone's deceased Johnny Rotten at the start of the album is rather poignant, and the song does deserve its "classic-rock" status, despite the fact that Leppard did the lines better on the song "Photograph" from 1992.


-This person clearly knows that Neil predates Def Leppard and this is what we on the internet call "trolling"


So is Neil's music young and fresh or old and rusty? Let me know below.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

351. Brothers in Arms. The ugliest band to ever conquer MTV

Artist: Dire Straits
Album: Brothers in Arms
Year: 1985
Genre: Rock


1. So Far Away
2. Money for Nothing
3. Walk of Life
4. Your Latest Trick
5. Why Worry
6. Ride Across the River
7. The Man's Too Strong
8. One World
9. Brothers in Arms


There are lots of people who really, genuinely hate Dire Straits. Their existence during the 80's was enough to make certain people rail with frustration and rage. This is mainly because after the invention of punk, bands like Dire Straits were not supposed to exist. The Sex Pistols and the Clash were supposed to signal the death of traditional stadium rock and roll. The musical revolution in the late seventies should have made extended guitar solos redundant and any song with more than three chords obsolete. Every number in a band's repertoire should have lasted no more than three minutes when played live to audiences who should never number more than 80. Punk had musical integrity and stadium rock didn't. By 1985 Dire Straits were a massive global sensation who sold millions of albums and concert tickets and created videos which seemed to run all the time on MTV. Somehow the musical revolution which was supposed to kill them off created the ideal environment for Dire Straits to flourish.

By 1985 Mark Knopfler and his band had become one of the biggest bands on the planet. Their brand of unassuming Rock and Roll revolving around Knopfler's fluid guitar lines and limited range vocals was moving units and making them rich. Their staple trademark involved long songs with extended instrumentals that became more extended when played live. They'd mastered the huge selling album but hadn't quite perfected the hit single or the major video clip. Money For Nothing proved they could master both formats and Walk of Life proved it wasn't a fluke. Both songs were pretty much everywhere during 1985 and were tracks the whole world heard. There was no escaping them and legions of fans had no desire to.

Personally I think Brothers in Arms is actually Dire Straits weakest moment. Their earlier albums seem to have more fire and I really like some of the songs on their last release but this just seems a bit too stuck in it's time. The simple keyboard vamp of Walk of Life really gets on your nerves quickly and Money for Nothing has a good riff but other than that just seems to be a bit out of place. Personally I prefer them live and while I'm no devotee I quite enjoy Alchemy which showcases all their best earlier work in a live setting.

Recently Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols (who was scathing in his criticism of Dire Straits) reformed his former band in what he admitted was a cynical grab for cash. He's also appeared on celebrity reality shows and features in an advertising campaign for Butter. Knopfler rejected million pound offers to reform Dire Straits because he prefers playing low-key gigs where he can focus on playing what he loves. You tell me who is more about the music?

Highlight: Brothers in Arms
Lowlight: Na na. Na-na Na-na Na-na Na-na.

Influenced by: Jazz and Sting
Influenced: Angy Punks.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review quote: "I can't tell how overrated this CD is. It is very overrated and boring. If you like sexy, overrated, sad, boring noise music buy this."

-Okay you've find it over-rated, yes it's over-rated and boring you said. It's boring, over-rated and sexy. Wait- sexy? Who describes music they don't like as sexy?

So are you pleased to have these Brothers in Arms or would you rather disown the family? Let me know below.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

352. 52nd Street. Billy Joel gives an address to the nation.

Album: 52nd Street
Artist: Billy Joel
Year: 1978
Genre: Rock


Tracks

  1. Big Shot
  2. Honesty
  3. My Life
  4. Zanzibar
  5. Stiletto
  6. Rosalinda's Eyes
  7. Half A Mile Away
  8. Until The Night
  9. 52nd Street



Billy Joel isn't just a person he's become a kind of musical template. He's a syndrome all his own. People catch Billy Joel. Sufferers start out as angry young men but quickly become middle-of-the-road darlings. Their audience ages and they start performing in venues which have Gold Class tickets so the people in the front rows are their richest fans rather than those dedicated enough to camp out overnight in a ticket line. Today he's given up writing new music for the pop charts and instead writes classical pieces but still tours on the strength of his back catalogue.

Back in 1978 Joel was still interested in Rock and Roll. He was still a songwriter and churned out albums and hit singles. 52nd Street is his sixth album which means he's passed the nervous debut, made his way through the difficult second release, got through albums 3,4 and 5 (the "comfortable albums") and is up to the "Are you still here?" album which is where a lot of people tend to lose their way.

There are three strings to Joel's bow. He's a writer, a singer and a pianist.

As a singer he's fairly well suited to this sort of music. It's fairly gentle rock that doesn't challenge the vocal chords much but needs a stamp of authority to make it work. He's forceful in his vocals and can bring it down a notch to a sweeter level when he has to. He's not going to be anyone's favourite vocalist but he's not embarrassing himself either.

As a pianist he's surprisingly low-key on this album. The prowess he enjoys showing off (like the key-pounding at the start of Angry Young Man) is toned down on this release. If you didn't know much about Joel before you put this on you might not be able to identify which instrument he plays (probably not helped by the fact that guitars are mentioned often in the lyrics and he's holding a trumpet on the cover). The one exception to this song is Stilletto which allows him to cut lose on a grand piano and display his keyboard talents.

As a songwriter this isn't really Joel's finest hour. Stilletto is a good song and while there are those who love My Life it leaves me a bit cold. Most of the other tracks seem like fairly forgettable album-filler material.

Trivia buffs may be interested to know that this was the first ever album released on CD (in 1982). I wonder how many people bought it purely so they had something to play on their new toy?

52nd Street didn't make me sit up and want to hear more Joel but it did remind me that before he was an old guy playing songs to wealthy people he was a young rock and roller, sadly he caught the world's first case of Billy Joel.

Highlight: Stilletto
Lowlight: Rosalinda's eyes.

Influenced by:
The Beatles
Influenced: Ben Folds

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I admit that I was a fan back in my own misspent youth, given as I was to soggy sentimentality, but unlike Billy, I grew up. You will too. Till then, you will probably love this album. "

-Ouch

So are you happy to pay a visit to 52nd street or would you rather give it a wide berth? Let me know below

Sunday, December 5, 2010

353. Having a Rave Up.

Album: Having a Rave Up
Artist: The Yardbirds
Year: 1965
Genre: Rock

Tracks

  1. You're A Better Man Than I
  2. Evil Hearted You
  3. I'm A Man
  4. Still I'm Sad
  5. Heart Full Of Soul
  6. The Train Kept A-Rollin'
  7. Smokestack Lightning
  8. Respectable
  9. I'm A Man
  10. Here 'Tis

Some bands have a truly great guitarist playing with them: Led Zep had Jimmy Page, Cream had Eric Clapton, The Jeff Beck group had Jeff Beck which was convenient because their name would have been really baffling otherwise. When people gather together to argue about the greatest English guitarist of all time (and believe me they do) Clapton, Beck and Page are always the three names they will throw around. While you can argue until you're blue in the face the one thing nobody can deny is that one band and one band only featured all three of these great musicians throughout the course of it's time on earth. A band that featured three of the most famous men to play guitar in the sixties and yet a group unknown to most listeners of mainstream music. I'm referring to The Yardbirds, who managed to replace a great guitarist with another one and then pull off the same trick again but somehow managed to fade into relative musical obscurity.

The Yardbirds started life as blues band who would set rooms alight with Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry covers. They were partly led in this endeavor by Eric Clapton who at the time was such a blues purist he once beat someone to death for humming the jingle from a cigarette ad. Okay I made that last bit up but he was notorious for avidly refusing to play anything that wasn't originally written by an impoverished black guy. That's not to say the band were slavish plagiarists, they took blues songs and made them their own. Mainly they sped them up and emphasised the beat which turned rooms full of punters into a seething mass of raving dance fiends. Which is why Yardbirds shows started to be called Rave ups. Side Two of Having a Rave Up contains edited highlights of one of these events. Clapton and the rest of the band tear through four blues standards with the sort of energy and ferocity and nobody else could match at the time. It's punk-rock played by a virtuoso and it's flat out fantastic.

While they may have been dynamite in a small club, blues covers didn't make the charts and gain you access to mainstream radio. If the Yardbirds wanted the sort of money the rest of the British invasion bands were enjoying they needed to start producing original pop material. At the time pop was a dirty word for Clapton and he left the band so he wouldn't have to offend his blues purism. You can't help but wonder what his former bandmates must have thought when he later produced songs like Change the World. Their replacement was Jeff Beck, a talented guitarist with less puritanical standards. He was happy to play pop songs and the band released a string of singles which sold respectably enough to give them international exposure. Some of these songs (although not the best of them) are featured on side one of Having a Rave Up. There is less emphasis on guitar and speed and a clearer attempt to jump on the psychadelic bandwagon kicking around at the time.

The best of these singles is Train Kept a Rollin, an old blues track which the band reinvent as a complete and utter shambles. Their rendition is a sloppy screw- up in which it's clear nobody has the faintest idea which way the track is going. Nobody knows who is soloing when and to make matters worse Keith Relf double tracked his vocals with completely different words and arrangements. It sounds like his twin brother turned up to the studio and attempted to put him off by singing a different song. It shouldn't work but it does, it really does.

Having a Rave Up is a weird document of two distinct periods in a band's career- commercial success vs blues purism. If you want to contrast these two aspects then the band had conveniently included two versions of the same song. Side one has a studio version of I'm a man recorded with Jeff Beck on guitar while side two has a live version with Eric Clapton. Personally I reccomend you don't bother getting your hands on this album. It's been totally superceded by other releases and is nothing more than an annoying taster of two different bands. Instead I sugest you get your hands on Five Live Yardbirds which contains the full set of Clapton's live show and pick up any of the million other Yardbirds best of's which will give you all their best singles.

Highlight: Train kept a rollin.
Lowlight: Still I'm sad

Influenced by: The Blues and commercialism.
Influenced: Aerosmith and The Black Crowes.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I bought this album (no CDs then!) when it came out."

-I think that exact phrase is one of Amazon's most repeated sentences.

So do you prefer the Yardbirds with Clapton or Beck? Or Page? or Beck and Page? Or Page and the guys he chose to replace them? Let me know below.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

354. 12 Songs- A dozen more Randy Newman tracks.

Album: 12 Songs
Artist: Randy Newman
Year: 1970
Genre: Pop

Tracks

  1. Have You Seen My Baby?
  2. Let's Burn Down The Cornfield
  3. Mama Told Me Not To Come
  4. Suzanne
  5. Lover's Prayer
  6. Lucinda
  7. Underneath The Harlem Moon
  8. Yellow Man
  9. Old Kentucky Home
  10. Rosemary
  11. If You Need Oil
  12. Uncle Bob's Midnight Blues

I've written about Randy Newman before. You may recall him as the nice old man who records songs for pretty much every Pixar film out there. He's also the guy who recorded Short People a song that everyone seems to know but can never recall the origin of. 12 Songs is an album by that guy. There are 12 songs on it. One can only assume this somehow affected his choice of title.

Newman's musical style is best described as gentle. He sounds a lot like that guy playing piano in the corner of the bar. You enjoy the atmosphere he provides but at the end of the day you can't recall a single thing he played. He accompanies himself on piano without any kind of flourish or flamboyance. He's no Dr John. He's got an agreeable voice that soothes the ear but doesn't take you anyplace you haven't been before. He's not at all seductive unless you're the sort of person who thinks pleasant oil paintings of rustic scenes is the height of pornography. Nobody was ever incited to riot because of a Randy Newman song.

Lyrically he is prone to adopt characters, which is an interesting tactic but must have made him the ideal candidate to write for Pixar. He writes satire from a first person perspective. Which is all very well but since his voice always sounds like your favourite uncle it's a strange experience hearing him adopt different personna. Especially since he's happy to play various roles throughout the album. On 12 Songs he's a racist, a drunk, a lech and a terrified teenager- all while sounding like the nice man who plays on your kids favourite soundtrack albums. It's a weird experience.

Newman is one of those guys that I can appreciate the talents of but have no desire to hear very often. He's agreeable, clever, pleasant but not memorable at all. He deserves every bit of the fame he's acquired and every dollar in his bank account. But there is too much fantastic music out there for me to spend time listening to his albums.

Influenced by: The state of the world
Influenced: Musical satirists who wanted to blend comment with melody.

Highlight: Suzanne
Lowlight: If you need Oil


Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "This CD secretly installs DRM (digital rights management) software on your PC without your permission. Not only does it do this, but the software then hides itself by installing as a "root kit."

-The review then goes on to give a detailed list of the problems of trying to rip certain Sony CD's onto a computer. It's long and comprehensive and outlines the CD's affected. Sadly Randy Newman's 12 songs isn't one of them. A Neil Diamond album which is also called 12 Songs is but Randy's album of the same name is not. The reviewer gave this album one star. So to summarize this album recieved a one star review from someone because an album with the same name doesn't play nicely with a computer.

So is 12 songs not enough or is it a dozen songs too many? Let me know below.

Friday, November 26, 2010

355. Between the Buttons. Why?





Album:
Between the Buttons
Artist: The Rolling Stones
Year: 1967
Genre: Rock

Tracks

  1. Yesterday's Paper
  2. My Obsession
  3. Back Street Girl
  4. Connection
  5. She Smiled Sweetly
  6. Cool Calm And Collected
  7. All Sold Out
  8. Please Go Home
  9. Who's Been Sleeping Here
  10. Complicated
  11. Miss Amanda Jones
  12. Something Happened To Me Yesterday



About time! Finally after 144 albums of non-stones music I get to sit back and listen to an album by The Rolling Stones, one of my favourite bands of all time. The guys who reinvented rock and roll as we know it. The creators of some of my favourite albums and performers of magnificent concert events. The glimmer twins. The Stones! Who march triumphantly onto the Top 500 list with.... this crap.

Seriously this is really baffling. I love the Stones but I can't stand Between the Buttons. Nobody likes Between the Buttons. Die-hard fans of Jagger/Richards hate it as do Mick and Keith. Rolling Stones best-of compilations (and there are lots) only ever include one track from this album and that's always the compilation's low point. When the band toured after this album was released they only included one track in their setlists. In the subsequent years when they've mined their back catalogue for surprises to delight the fans in concert they've only dipped into Between the Buttons, presumably because not even they can stand listening to it.

Between the Buttons is the sound of a great band floundering around trying to find a place for themselves in the pop firmament. While the Beatles marched confidently on reinventing themselves, and modern music, with every release, Mick and Keith were trying to work out what they wanted to do. They started doing blues and R&B covers but quickly realized they weren't going to climb the heights as the lads from Liverpool if they didn't write their own songs. While their earlier efforts were fairly transparent rip-offs they quickly started to develop as songwriters. Between the Buttons catches them after their initial spurt of beginner's luck was over but before they became one of the greatest songwriting duos in Rock and Roll.

Selecting a low-point on this release is actually a real challenge. My Obsession is a tuneless wander around the recording studio which stops and starts and falls in a heap at regular intervals, Back Street Girl is a semi-sweet ballad with truly terrible lyrics about a nobleman who has a bit of street-rough on the side, Connection sounds like a drum track with other people interfering in the back-ground, She Smiled Sweetly is crap and Cool, Calm and Collected is even worse with a honky tonk verses and psychedelic chorus prioving they could bugger up multiple genres in the space of one song. The opening tracks on side two (All Sold Out, Please Go Home and Who's been sleeping here) are thankfully not as bad but you wouldn't even include them on a six-disc best of album. Complicated is another shambles and Miss Amanda Jones sounds like an ill advised attempt to be the Monkees. But my award for album nadir must be the staggeringly dire Something Happened to Me which takes five minutes to become my vote for worst Stones track ever. It's supposed to bounce along but it just flops about like a fish in a tuba and if Mick wasn't stoned at the time you can bet he was a few minutes after finishing as he tried to get the memory of the vocals from his head. There's nothing of the grit that they would later produce. It's just badness by the bucketload.

I can only assume Between the Buttons managed to sneak its way onto this chart (although being 144 places from the bottom is a pretty brazen sneak) because the bastardized American version included two sides of a recent single. The US market dropped two songs from the tracklisting and replaced them with Lets Spend the night together and Ruby Tuesday, both stone-cold Stones classics and would lift any album in anyone's estimation. But how it could raise it to 355 in a top 500 countdown is still a bit baffling.

It goes without saying I don't reccomend Between the Buttons. It's not good at all and was followed by the further not-goodness of Satanic Majesties, another misstep the band needed before they became untouchable.

Highlight: All Sold Out (but don't look for it on a Stones best of anytime soon)
Lowlight: Something happened to me yesterday

Influenced by: Career aimlessness.
Influenced: I honestly can see anyone being influenced by this.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "this album rules. i mean seriously, it wears a crown and is a monarch and makes laws that govern the land. the land of your head!! or at least mine. "

-that's outstanding. Although if something rules there is always the chance it can be deposed.

So are you a fan of the Stones. And if you are are you a fan of this? Let me know below.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

356. Sketches of Spain- Bliss on vinyl.




Album:
Sketches of Spain
Artist: Miles Davis
Year: 1960
Genre: Jazz

Tracks

  1. Concierto De Aranjuez (Adagio)
  2. Will O' The Wisp (From "El Amor Brujo")
  3. The Pan Piper
  4. Saeta
  5. Solea


Sketches of Spain is an absolute, bone fide masterpiece from start to finish. It's one of the great works by a man who created buckets of greatness throughout his career. It's an album I turn to constantly whenever I feel the need to be completely absorbed by music. If I want to lie down and experience an album that has the power to overwhelm anything else in my life and take me to another place for a while it's often Sketches that I'll reach for. Miles Davis is one of the 20th centuries greatest musical talents and we should all take some time to revere him as the godlike figure he was.

Having said that it would be unfair to give the world's greatest jazz man full credit for this release. In fact it's not right to give Miles the entire credit for any of his masterworks. He was a great trumpeter, innovator and band leader but he was also amazingly good at finding and appreciating talent and bringing out the best in those around him. The list of people who played with Miles is a who's who of Jazz greats many of whom started out in his bands. On Sketches the man who deserves the accolades is Gil Evans, who was responsible for the arrangements. The pairing of Davis and Evans gave us many other great works but none with the power of Sketches.

The album opens with an interpretation of a piece of music that everyone now knows. It's called Concierto de Aranjuez and is instantly recognizeable as that piece that sounds like a mexican desert. It crops up often in movies, TV shows and advertisements representing a desolate wastelande in South America. You couldn't play it over the top of an arctic scene (it would baffle the penguins for a start, and you should never confuse a penguin- they prefer things black and white) but wack it over the top of sand and cactii and it fits. Aranujuez is a classical music piece that Miles heard it at a friend's house and brought back to Evans who loved it so much he decided to base an entire album around it. Evans found another Spanish sounding piece to round out side one and then wrote three more latiny tracks to make up a second side. The whole experience bleeds wonderful and is the sort of music that possesses the closest thing to universal appeal that 20th century music can acquire.

There are those purists who criticize Sketches as something other than Jazz. They prefer Miles when he stretches out and leaves the safety net of an arrangement behind. The idea of taking one of the greatest improvisers of all time and confining him to a score is sacralige to those who just love Miles when he lets the music move him. To a degree they may have a point. Sketches doesn't have the edge of Kind of Blue (or his later, much edgier work) and it may be pre-arranged Big band jazz but it's the greatest example of the genre there is. The first track really does give you tingles in the spine and Miles might be locked into a score but that doesn't mean his trumpet sounds confined or restricted. It's hard to define why one guy blowing raspberries into a bendy brass tube sounds better than another but there's no doubt Miles could play that thing.

There's nothing more to say really. It's greatness on a CD. Go out now and appreciate the greatness.

Highlight: Concierto De Aranjuez (Adagio)
Lowlight: The rest of the album. It's still great but there's no doubt it's not as good as the opener.

Influenced by: Spain.
Influenced: Modern Jazz.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "This reminds me of someone practising on trumpet. I couldn't stand it. This is dead. I can't believe anyone liked it."

-Someone practicing trumpet? How many people do you know who practice the trumpet with thirty other musicians?

So do you love Sketches of Spain or haven't you heard it yet? Let me know below.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

357. Honky Chateau. With a conservative looking heterosexual on the cover.

Album: Honky Chateau
Artist: Elton John
Year: 1972
Genre: Pop

Tracks


1 Honky Cat
2 Mellow
3 I Think I'm Going To Kill Myself
4 Susie (Dramas)
5 Rocket Man (I Think It's Going To Be A Long, Long Time)
6 Salvation
7 Slave
8 Amy
9 Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters
10 Hercules


Elton John is one of the unbelievably famous artists that I've actually been forced to sit down and listen to as a result of taking on this project. He's a household name and of course I'm fully aware of his existence but prior to taking on this blog my experience with him was limited to radio songs, headlines and of course his Muppets appearance (appearing on The Muppets is an instant increase in prestige as far as I'm concerned). I've now heard three of John's albums all the way through and it's allowing me to hear him as a performer who released albums instead of just a funny-looking guy the English press adore.

Honky Chateau is his fifth release and much better than the previous two which appeared on this countdown. Saying it's my favourite Elton John is definitely faint praise but it's still a positive step from how scathing I've been about him in the past. There are two things which make me appreciate Honky Chateau more than his previous work. The first is the absence of strings. Back in 1972 Elton saw himself as the leader of a rock band which suits his style a lot more. The second was the addition of Jean-Luc Ponty on electric guitar. Jean Luc is great and it says something about my music tastes that I've got a hell of a lot more Ponty in my collection than I do Elton John. He's only on two tracks which is a pity and they're not his finest moments but he does lift the album when he appears.

The biggest track on Honky Chateau is definitely Rocket Man which is one of Elton's biggest tunes. I'm not sure about you but I've never been a huge fan of Rocket Man. It's always struck me as a bit daft and does nothing to move me at all. It's still a bit too over-produced for my money. The bass is nice but the backing vocals almost make me wonder if Elton ditched strings from this release as a cost-cutting rather than artistic measure. Personally I prefer the song Mona Lisa's and Mad Hatters which is a nice ballad that I quite enjoy, although it has to be said I prefer the Indigo Girls version which I reccomend you hunt out (and while you're there check out the Indigo Girls version of every cover they've ever done)

Honky Chateau is my favourite Elton John album, but then I hate the other two I've heard and the finest moments are provided by a guest musician and it's greatest song is much better when sung by someone else- that's praise so faint you can barely see it on the paper.


Influenced by: A lyricist (I'm not knocking it. I think the musician/lyricist combination is actually a great idea)
Influenced: A lot more people than you might think.

Highlight: Mona Lisa's and Mad Hatters
Lowlight: Amy


Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: Elton John is a legend of rock music since the 70's.Honky Chateau it's wonderful. Elton make a great folk-rock songs."Rocket Man" it's was the 2 mundial hit( the 1 was Your Song) but "Honky Cat" it's another massive hit.The album is make the top in Billboard Chart and was one of my favorite albums.

-I don't want to knock a non-native English speaker but I have to ask what a mundial hit is?

So is your chateau honky or not? Let me know below.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

358. Singles going Steady. Clever title.





Album: Singles Going Steady
Artist: The Buzzcocks
Genre: Punk
Year: 1979

Tracks

  1. Orgasm Addict
  2. What Do I Get?
  3. I Don't Mind
  4. Love You More
  5. Ever Fallen in Love?
  6. Promises
  7. Everybody's Happy
  8. Nowadays
  9. Harmony in My Head
  10. What Ever Happened To?
  11. Oh Shit!
  12. Autonomy
  13. Noise Annoys
  14. Just Lust
  15. Lipstick
  16. Why Can't I Touch It?
  17. Something's Gone Wrong Again

Singles Going Steady is a collection of all the Singles released by seminal UK Punk act the Buzzcocks. For those who love their punk seminal and British there are three bands worth getting excited about: The Sex Pistols, The (early) Clash and the Buzzcocks who never quite achieved the notoriety of the Pistols or the sales of The Clash. In fact the Buzzcocks are best known for giving their name to the title of an BBC music quiz show called Nevermind The Buzzcocks in which two great Comedians (Phil Jupitas and The Mighty Boosh’s Noel Fielding) are joined by pointless shiny pop-stars who begin the show as the next big thing but whose career has pretty much passed by the time it goes to air.

The Buzzcocks are famous for being Punk’s less vitriolic and more melodic proponents. They’re not railing tunelessly against things as much as they are putting traditional rock themes (sexual frustration, teen angst etc) to a conventional melody and then playing it fast. You could imagine almost all the songs on this album slowed down and sung by a female vocalist with a bit of classical training, most would hold up quite well.

The problem with singles collections like this is that they throw on the B-sides as well. Which means it tries to act as a Greatest Hits package (the singles) and a rarities collection (the B-sides) at the same time. The first-time listener gets to enjoy great tracks like Ever Fallen in Love which is a fantastic song and it’s B-side Just Lust... which isn’t. There are some further hits on Singles but sadly they’re outweighed by the misses. Noise Annoys is an appropriately named attempt to charm the listener with a song that keeps stopping abruptly and then starting again, which sadly fails badly.

If you were around in the seventies and disgruntled with the excesses of Rock and Roll the Buzzcocks are probably remembered fondly as a kind of saviour who resurrected music. For those of us who grew up in a time when Rock didn’t need saving bands like the Buzzcocks who revel in their amateur status can often seem as self-indulgent as the virtuoso stadium rockers.

The Buzzcocks- not sure I’d recommend the band but the TV show is definitely a winner.

Influenced by: The Velvet Underground and The Sex Pistols
Influenced: Melodic punk bands (Greenday for example) and people who name panel games.

Highlight: Ever Fallen in Love
Lowlight: Noise Annoys

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: “If you do not own this you are dumb”

-That’s it. That’s the full review. Amazingly one person rated this review as helpful. I wonder what it actually helped them to do?

-The Buzzcocks. Do they generate a buzz for you or are they just a bunch of.... punks. Let me know below.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

359. Stankonia. Make my rap the p-funk.


Album: Stankonia.
Artist: Outkast
Year: 2000
Genre: Rap


1. Intro
2. Gasoline Dreams
3. I'm Cool (Interlude)
4. So Fresh, So Clean
5. Ms. Jackson
6. Snappin' & Trappin'
7. D.F. (Interlude)
8. Spaghetti Junction
9. Kim & Cookie (Interlude)
10. I'll Call Before I Come
11. B.O.B.
12. Xplosion
13. Good Hair (Interlude)
14. We Luv Deez Hoez
15. Humble Mumble
16. Drinkin' Again (Interlude)
17. Red Velvet
18. Cruisin' In The ATL (Interlude)
19. Gangsta Sh*t
20. Toilet Tisha
21. Slum Beautiful
22. Pre-Nump (Interlude)
23. Stankonia (Stanklove)



Stankonia is a rap album. It's hip hop all the way but unlike other albums in the genre... it's actually not so bad. I know I've said this before but this is my favourite Hip Hop album. It's not going to knock any of my favourite albums off my own personal list but if I was forced to listen to Rap this is the album that I'd take.

I felt predisposed towards this release from the first track which is called Intro. It features some weird backing before a voice announces a journey to Stankonia a place "7 light years below the surface of the earth where all funky things come." My immediate thought was- someone has been listening to Parliament/Funkadelic. As far as I'm concerned a lot more people need to listen to P-funk and should be forced to incorporate their influence into their musical output. Outkast want to bring the Funk into their work which is what Rap has always been lacking as far as I'm concerned. Stankonia is a long way from being a true funk release but it's rap by people who have been to at least one George Clinton concert and have definitely been listening to his albums. There are more tunes and catchy hooks in Stankonia than on all the other rap albums I've heard combined.

The standout track is definitely B.O.B. which stands for Bombs Over Baghdad. As far as I've been able to tell it's got nothing to do with the Iraq war but then I couldn't tell that from hearing the song because the lyrics are so fast. The rhymes on B.O.B. don't just flow they're torrential. It's incredibly rapid stuff and if they can pull it off live then I'm hugely impressed. Most Hip Hop seems to have a fairly steady rhythm but this is the thrash metal of rap. There's also a catchy backing vocal which is arguably overused but still something to latch onto. The Eddie Hazel like guitar is nice as well and the overall effect makes it my favourite Hip Hop song of all time.

Stankonia has added elements (funk mainly) to the traditional Hip Hop mix and it's also taken away some the more objectionable elements (misogyny, a gun obsession and endless ego-trips). It does however feel the need to encorporate spoken work skits and pointlessness in amongst the tracks. There are 23 songs on Stankonia, eight of which are under or around a minute and contain no actual music. Does anyone listen to these things more than once?

Either way its encouraging that each new rap album I encounter as I move up the countdown is better than what went before.

Influenced by: Rap and George Clinton
Influenced: I'm not sure but if it his has influenced any modern rap it can only be a good thing.

Highlight: B.O.B.
Lowlight: Any of the spoken word stuff or Ms Jackson which was a hit single but is incredibly annoying.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "this album is stupid with no point no good songs. Its just about 2 men going on about nothing the songs are boring if i was you id buy eminem's album there is no point in buying this album its the worst album i have ever heard im very dissapointed i this album very poor i wouldnt even waste 5 cents on this album"

-sometimes your feelings are too important for punctuation.

So are you with the outkast or would you rather cast them out? Let me know below.

Monday, November 8, 2010

360. Siamese Dream. More Pumpkins smashed.

Album: Siamese Dream
Artist: The Smashing Pumpkins
Year: 1993
Genre: Metal

Tracks


  1. Cherub Rock
  2. Quiet
  3. Today
  4. Hummer
  5. Rocket
  6. Disarm
  7. Soma
  8. Geek U.S.A.
  9. Mayonaise
  10. Spaceboy
  11. Silverfuck
  12. Sweet Sweet
  13. Luna


Again with the bloody Smashing Pumpkins. Seriously I've had enough of these annoying bastards after listening to their double album opus four times and feeling the pain every minute. Meeting them again was like meeting the most boring person in your high school at your workplace. The sight of them brought back all manner of unpleasant memories. It's more shouty angst-ridden vocals with grinding guitars and metal flourishes. It's more music that takes itself so damn seriously you can't help but want to shout "Lighten up!" at it repeatedly until it develops some semblance of perspective.

Apparently when this album was recorded the band was effectively falling apart in the studio. Sometimes bands can overcome this situation to produce greatness and sometimes conflict actually takes a group to new levels. In the case of the Smashing Pumpkins it made them depressed and angry, so it's more of the same really. Lead guitarist and baldy-shouty man Billy Corgan was fighting a battle with his weight which was apparently ballooning out and not doing anything to aid his crippling depression which at times prevented him from getting out of bed. The drummer was addicted to heroin which apparently the band resented but if anything they should have been grateful for. It's a law of some kind that every band like the pumpkins has to have a drug-addict in their ranks and if Chamberlain hadn't been shooting up excessively one of the others would have had to put their hand up and their arm out ready to receive the obligatory near OD. Further problems were caused by the two remaining band members who had been married but were now undergoing an acrimonious divorce.

So what sort of music do you think was produced by a tubby manic depressive, a junkie and two people who hated each other? If you answered "angry and depressed" then congratulations you win, and your prize can be a life without having to listen to the Pumpkins ever again. If you like your music shouty, angry and aggressive but prefer to keep your album listening under an hour then this is the release for you. If you prefer to extend your angst and irritation for an entire afternoon then get yourself onto the Melonchollie trip. Please don't bother me with it again.

Influenced by: Heroin, divorce and obesity.
Influenced: The sort of people Ben Folds sings about in Rockin the Suburbs

Highlight: The singles
Lowlight: Putting it on again and getting melonchollie flashbacks

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote:
"All grunge is sick and gross and horrific sounding trash. When i watched the videos to this group it just seemed satanic and the visuals were like a timeless deformity had swallowed the universe. one of their videos was about the 70s. I dont remember the 70s being like hell. i remember the 70s being soulful and fun. this group is a green stain and icky stench."

-A green stain and icky stench is a fantastic description of pretty much anything.

So is this album a siamese dream or a cojoined nightmare? Let me know below.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

361. Substance. A title just dripping with irony.

Album: Substance
Artist: New Order
Year: 1987
Genre: Electronica

Tracks

  1. Ceremony
  2. Everything's Gone Green
  3. Temptation
  4. Blue Monday
  5. Confusion
  6. Thieves Like Us
  7. The Perfect Kiss
  8. Sub-culture
  9. Shellshock
  10. State of the Nation
  11. Bizarre Love Triangle
  12. True Faith
  13. In a Lonely Place
  14. Procession
  15. Cries and Whispers
  16. Hurt
  17. The Beach
  18. Confusion Instrumental
  19. Lonesome Tonight
  20. Murder
  21. Thieves Like Us Instrumental
  22. The Kiss of Death
  23. Shame of the Nation
  24. 1963


I didn't realise this until I came to research them but New Order are actually Joy Division without their lead singer. I'm fully aware of Joy Division but mainly because I'm a huge fan of Lets dance to Joy Division by the Wombats, a song I can't recommend highly enough. Just as Joy Division were about to conquer America, lead singer Ian Curtis committed suicide and left the rest of the band without a frontman. They decided to forge onwards only without the name or their back catalog. They settled on New Order as a name, moved the band further towards the synthesized electro sound their previous band had been slowly creeping towards. They augmented their line-up with a friend and a new band was born.

An amazing thing happened when I put this album on- my wife started to sing along. She doesn't normally do this. Traditionally when I put top 500 albums on she closes the door and leaves me too it. But when she heard Bizarre Love Triangle she broke out in song. And unusually for her she actually got the words right. She's sung along before but traditionally using a set of phrases almost entirely of her own devising. Her amazing ability to rewrite pop classics on the fly has dazzled me in the past but she started at the: "Everytime I see you falling, I get down on my knees and pray" bit and kept going getting all the words correct. There's no accounting for this bizarre behaviour since she's never owned a New Order album or single and didn't even know the name when I told her. Some things just get stuck in her head.

New Order are from that shady genre of music that I tend to avoid- synth based 80's pop, often called electro. There are those who worship this genre with a dedicated passion. Many of these people are English. Many of them feel that the only kind of music worth listening to can be produced entirely by men standing behind keyboards. Drums aren't necessary and guitars just get in the way. Substance is a compilation. And not just a collection it's a two disc collection. And it's not just a two disc collection of songs it includes all their best 12" mixes. Which means it's two discs of electro songs most of which go for around six minutes. That's a lot of simulated drum beats. Far too many for the likes of me. Nowhere is this more obvious than on the spectacularly annoying The Beach which goes for 7:19 and manages to plod through this extended run time without a single redeeming feature. It sounds like a remixed 80's video game soundtrack with a repetitive rhythm that you can imagine pacman chomping his way through. Thumping behind it are some really tragic drum noises and that terrible hand-clap effect that thankfully we grew out of in the early nineties. The vocals are synthesised to sound like a computer villain in a kids tv series crica 1983. Did people really dance to this twenty years ago? And if so what moves did they make? I can only imagine them looking like complete dickheads in a nightclub somewhere as they manipulated their body to the sounds of machines competing to see who could make the most annoying noise.

I've listened to the entire of Substance four times and I can honestly say there is a lot more to love in one song by The Wombats than this entire collection. Once the people who grew up subjected to this die off it will be perish with them and be forgotten about forever.

Highlight: Bizarre Love Triangle
Lowlight: The Beach

Influenced by: Computer games and a colleagues death.
Influenced: Johnny two hats.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Anyone who says this is not one of the best CD's ever is an idiot."

-I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree

So do you think this album has substance or are you an idiot like me?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

362. LA Woman. They could do albums too.

Album: LA Woman
Artist: The Doors
Year: 1971
Genre: Rock

Tracks

  1. The Changeling
  2. Love Her Madly
  3. Been Down So Long
  4. Cars Hiss by My Window
  5. L.A. Woman
  6. L'America
  7. Hyacinth House
  8. Crawling King Snake
  9. The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)
  10. Riders on the Storm


One of my discoveries of the countdown so far has to be the Doors. I'm not saying I was unaware of Jim Morrison before I started this project, I'm saying I didn't realise how consistent they were as a band. My experiences with Doorsdom had been limited to the greatest hits and a few live albums I've heard. Sitting down and listening to two of their albums from start to finish has made me appreciate how good they were as songwriters and musicians.

LA Woman grabs you from the first track. I'd never heard The Changeling and it made me wonder why it's taken me this long to catch up with it. Any other band would have put this out as a single and it would have charted well but the Doors had better songs to give the general public. The Changeling is good, blues based rock and roll, as is pretty much the rest of the album. The title track and Love Her Madly are two of the biggest hits from they album and they deserve their place in whichever "Best Rock songs of all time" list is prepared to count them. Been Down so long, Cars Hiss By My Window and Crawling Kingsnake are great blues tracks. L'america and the Hyacinth house are a bit of a flat spot on the album and WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat) is an overly self-indulgence poem by Morrison that Krieger's guitar struggles desperately to salvage.

Far and away the best song on the album is The Doors biggest hit and possibly one of the best songs of the early seventies. Riders on the Storm is unlike anything anyone else was putting on vinyl at the time. It's creepy, hypnotic, mesmerizing and flat out fantastic. Of course I've heard this song before but for some reason it never really affected me the way it did when I heard it the other day. I'm not sure if it was just because I was listening closely or because the tracks preceeding it had conditioned me to really enjoy it. There's definitely something to be said for hearing a song in it's right place in a tracklisting. Certainly it benefits from not having the opening marred by some dickhead saying: "Weather bureau predicts some nasty weather on the way, rain, hail, it's gonna be ugly folks... here's The Doors with Riders on the Storm," which is how it gets announced every time it gets radio airplay.

The main reason Riders is such a good song is because it allows all The Doors a chance to shine. Robby Krieger is a much better guitarist than people give him credit for. People may enjoy debating Page, Clapton and Beck but all the while Robby is pulling off some tasty solos and proving he has a real feel for the blues. Ray Manzarek is a unique keyboard player who doesn't really sound like anyone else and The Storm song is his greatest moment in the sun. Ray's keys are funky and groovy and perfectly evocative of a fairly persistent downpour. Densmore is a tight drummer and at no point does he fall of his stool or smack himself in the forehead with a stick- which sometimes is all that's required of the guy who hangs around with the musicians.

The final aspect that makes Riders so good is that Jim Morrison shuts up. Don't get me wrong I have nothing against his vocal abilities, quite the contrary, but it's important that the guy behind the mike knows how to back away from time to time. During the song's long soloing passages Jim lets the rest of the band have their opportunity to crawl out from under his massive stage presence and feel some love. Jim's undeniable Charisma overshadowed the rest of the band completely and made him one of Rocks most recognisable Rock stars and granted the rest of the band virtual anonymity. Personally I think this is a real pity because the other members could stand equal in terms of talent. That's why albums like this one are the best way to appreciate The Doors. Sadly as a live unit the cult of Jim forced the band to become his backing outfit and their concerts were worse off for it.

If you're only Doors experience is on radio or from a Best Of then check LA Woman out.

Highlight: Riders on the Storm
Lowlight: WASP

Influenced by: The Blues and shamanism.
Influenced: Teenage boys searching for a hero.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Did you know that "Mr. Mojo Risin'" is a perfect anagram for Jim Morrison?"

-No. No I didn't. But I do now and I thank you for telling me.

So have the met an LA Woman? And did you love her madly or think she was just a crawling King Snake? Let me know below.

Friday, October 29, 2010

363. Ray of Light- Not actually an album about a guy named Ray.

Album: Ray of Light
Artist: Madonna
Year: 1998
Genre: Pop

Tracks


1. Drowned World/Substitute for Love
2. Swim
3. Ray of Light
4. Candy Perfume Girl
5. Skin
6. Nothing Really Matters
7. Sky Fits Heaven
8. Shanti/Ashtangi
9. Frozen
10. The Power of Good-Bye
11. To Have and Not to Hold
12. Little Star
13. Mer Girl


Madonna is a bit of a surprise package I must say. I had her pretty much tagged in a box, it was labeled "not for me" and had a small note on the side that said "major attention seeker". This survey is the first time I've sat down and actually listened to any of her albums. I'm surprised to say the highlights of her career are more enjoyable than I'd given her credit for. Ray of Light is actually not bad. I'm not going to relabel the box "my new favourite thing" but its definitely made me realise that she's more than just a collection of headlines, failed adoptions and increasingly ropey erotic photographs.

Ray of Light is a pop album and consequently Pop in all it's sensibilities. The producer is effectively a co-creator since the music utilises whatever he and Madge feel best suits the songs. There are instruments sometimes and at other stages there's just noises created by machines. But at no point does Maddey get herself swamped by the backing and risk becoming just a face in a video clip. She apparently undertook a lot of vocal training before the album and was consequently eager to show off her singing ability. She does this by varying her style and proving she can put her stamp on whatever she decides to turn her mind to. Madonna actually has quite a sweet voice. I know this probably isn't news to her legion of fans but for those of us who only knew her through Like a Virgin it's quite a shock. Drowned World (Substitute for love) is a slow tempo number that would fall in a heap if the person at the centre couldn't hold the attention of the audience.

She's got a commanding presence that Madonna. It leads me to wonder if she has that authority on an album because of her own voice or because she's such a larger than life individual. In a few albums I'll be reviewing an album by The Yardbirds. I love their music and I can sing every word on the album in question but I can't formulate a picture of what the lead singer looks like. He's an anonymous figure in my mind. But I can picture Madonna quite clearly, sometimes she's even wearing clothes. Does the fact that she's such a personality make these songs more accessible or would it have an impact even if it was a debut release by an otherwise anonymous entity?

Either way the point is that the songs on Ray of Light are definitely Pop but it's music that I didn't hate listening to, which means it must be a pretty exceptional example of the genre.

Highlight: The Title Track
Lowlight: Mer Girl

Influenced by: Madonna's desire to be taken seriously.
Influenced: People who take Madonna seriously.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I'm sorry, Madonna fans, but after having been fans of Madonna for years, we've had enough of hearing this queen of controversy, showing off her body just so she can win men and sell zillions of albums. Mother hates her now (except for some of her early works?), and I don't think she can sing. No matter how much she recovers from the attitude she used to have, it's apparent she'll never change."

-That's just weird: "Mother hates her now" -what the hell does that mean? Does anyone else picture this reviewer looking a lot like Normal Bates?

So did you embrace Madonna's Ray of light or would you rather sit in the darkness? Let me know below.