Friday, June 25, 2010

398. Anthology- Not the Temptations compilation I wanted to review.

Album: Anthology
Artist: The Temptations.
Year: 1973
Genre: Soul then Funk then Soul again.

Tracks


Disc 1

  1. The Way You Do The Things You Do
  2. I'll Be In Trouble
  3. The Girl's Alright With Me
  4. Girl (Why You Wanna Make Me Blue)
  5. My Girl
  6. It's Growing
  7. Since I Lost My Baby
  8. My Baby
  9. Don't Look Back
  10. Get Ready
  11. Ain't Too Proud To Beg
  12. Beauty Is Only Skin Deep
  13. (I Know) I'm Losing You
  14. All I Need
  15. You're My Everything
  16. (Loneliness Made Me Realize) It's You That I Need
  17. I Wish It Would Rain
  18. I Truly, Truly Believe
  19. I Could Never Love Another (After Loving You)
  20. Runaway Child, Running Wild
  21. Ol' Man River
  22. Try To Remember
  23. The Impossible Dream

Disc 2

  1. I'm Gonna Make You Love Me
  2. Please Return Your Love To Me
  3. Cloud Nine
  4. Don't Let The Joneses Get You Down
  5. I Can't Get Next To You
  6. Psychedelic Shack
  7. Ball Of Confusion (That's What The World Is Today)
  8. Funky Music Sho Nuff Turns Me On
  9. I Ain't Got Nothin'
  10. Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)
  11. Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are)
  12. Mother Nature
  13. Love Woke Me Up This Morning
  14. Papa Was A Rollin' Stone
  15. Masterpiece
  16. Shakey Ground
  17. Power
  18. Sail Away
  19. Treat Her Like A Lady


Like most motown acts the Temptations have had their fair share of compilations. In fact there's probably more Temptation Best of Cd's than there were original releases, possibly even more than there were songs. Motown is a fan of repackaging and re releasing and who could blame them? They've got their hands on some incredible recordings and if they want to release them to the general public on a weekly basis then why not? Rolling Stone have decided to include Anthology amongst their top 500 albums but have neglected to mention which of the three versions they're talking about. To be honest it doesn't matter either way because as far as I'm concerned every single issue of this, and almost every other Temptations anthology is a poor cousin to the greatest Temptations anthology of them all- Psychedelic Soul, which if I had my way would sit proudly in the upper echelons of this chart.

To my mind one of the greatest unsung heroes of the music world is a guy named Norman Whitfield who deserves a lot more praise and respect than he gets. Whitfield was a songwriter, producer and arranger whose talent far out shadowed his ability to get along with people. You may not have heard of him but you know his work if only due to his co-writing credit on Heard it through the Grapevine.

In the late sixties Whitfield was working as a songwriter and producer at Motown records. He'd written a few successful hits for the Temptations who at that time were one of the biggest acts in the land. They had a built a reputation based on soulful, croony hits such as My Girl, which is still their biggest hit today. If you wanted a G-rated soundtrack to your seductive attempts then the five singers who made up The Temptations were the guys you turned to. Their music was standard pop fare perfectly crafted and well sung. It's the sort of stuff that makes up the vast majority of their compilations and still gets played constantly on easy listening radio today. It's romantic but nothing special as far as I'm concerned and I'm not the only one.

Whitfield wrote and produced some of these recordings but by 1969 he thought music had moved on and he asked Motown head Berry Gordy if he could take control of the Temptations career and move them in a different direction. He'd been listening to Sly and Family Stone and decided that Soul was all very well but what Motown needed was more Funk. His vision included an increased role for the Funk Brothers, the in-house motown band, and an injection of groove into the Temptations songs. He also decided to tackle the social issues that were rocking the US at the time. The first album released under Whitfield's guidance was Cloud Nine, a two-way bet which features one side of traditional Temptations ballads and another side made up of the new style referred to as Psychadelic Soul. Future albums dropped the ballads and started to focus more on the funk. Songs were no longer written as 3 minute singles but instead were big productions numbers with long instrumental passages and running times around the ten-minute mark.

Eventually the Temptations became annoyed that the focus of their music was moving from their vocals to the instrumental arrangement that Whitfield worked so hard on. They started referring to themselves as Whitfield's backing singers. The band and Norman parted company and the Temptations returned to songs that focused more on their vocals and suited the fans who had become disillusioned with the Whitfield stage of their career.

Consequently most Temptations collections have three distinct parts. The first is the easy listening sound of My Girl and their other chart hits. The middle section contains the songs that Whitfield produced and is much funkier before the easy-listening returns at the end but without the well known hits. My personal recommendation is that you avoid the Anthologies and other career-spanning retrospectives and instead hunt down a collection called Psychedelic Soul a two disc compilation of the Temptations greatest collaborations with Whitfield. There's not a single dud track on it's two hour running length and in addition to great songs you probably know like War, Ball of Confusion and Cloud Nine there are also some fantastic tracks that you'll be delighted to discover (Plastic Man, Psychadelic Shack and Friendship Train). And of course unlike most Temptations compilations, Psychedelic Soul contains the full 11 minute version of Papa was a Rollin Stone, a definite candidate for one of of my favourite tracks of all time.

So by all means enjoy any Temptations best of you can get your hands on but I urge you, I implore you to hunt out Psychadelic Soul and enjoy the two full discs of the funkiest, grooviest and most psychedelic soul ever committed to vinyl.

Highlight: The Funky tracks.
Lowlight: The non-funky tracks. They're not bad but they do pale in comparison.

Influenced by: Sly and the Family stone
Influenced: All modern funk.

Favourite Amazon Customer review quote:
"Iwould like to say that the temptations are my all time group and i just love there songs Ilove the old schoolif you know what i mean the group now its ok and i love them to but i really lovethe older group."

-The Temptations, so good they defy the need for punctuation, capitalization and even the space bar.

So can you resist the Temptation? Let me know below.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

399 Californication- gentrified funk punk.


Album: Californication.

Artist: Red Hot Chili Peppers

Year: 1999.

Genre: Rock


Tracks.


  1. Around the World
  2. Parallel Universe
  3. Scar Tissue
  4. Otherside
  5. Get on Top
  6. Californication
  7. Easily
  8. Porcelain
  9. Emit Remmus
  10. I Like Dirt
  11. This Velvet Glove
  12. Savior
  13. Purple Stain
  14. Right on Time
  15. Road Trippin'

I remember having an argument back in 1989. I’m not the sort of person who memorizes every disagreement and has a catalogue of disputes in my head but this one sticks in the mind because I referred to it again frequently throughout the 90’s. This particular debate involved music and my antagonists were two dedicated fans of Motley Crue. Anyone out there remember the Crue? Lately they appear to be more of a tabloid event than a musical act but for a while they released albums and there were even those that took them seriously. The two people I was arguing with took them very seriously indeed and regarded them as the greatest musical act in the world at the time. The Crue had just released Doctor Feelgood (their biggest album and before you ask- no, it isn’t on this list) and the Crue-hoos I was arguing with were adamant that it was the best collection of notes ever committed to vinyl, tape or any other medium. Also released in that year was Mothers Milk by the Red Hot Chili Peppers and while it wasn’t generating much impact in the music press in Australia (it only peaked at number 52 in the US album charts) at the time I was a big fan and made the mistake of trying to tell the two Cruedle-doos I was chatting with that I thought it was a better album than Dr Feelgood. Their reaction was so extreme it was like I’d told them they looked silly in their acid wash and bandanas or I’d cast aspersions on the attractiveness of their mullets. They retaliated by making fun of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ name and in retrospect who could blame them? I claimed Motley Crue were a thing of the past and a relic of the 80’s. I declared the Peppers to be the future of good music.

For a few years I was correct. Sadly now… not so much.


Mother’s Milk was a great album full of fantastic music that was unlike anything else at the time. It was funk it was punk and it rocked in a way that nothing else did before and sadly the Red Hot Chilli Peppers never have again. They toured Australia soon afterwards and put on a great live show. I got my hands on their earlier albums and even declared them my favourite band at one point. While Mother’s Milk got them a bit of attention throughout the world the next album made them the headlining act they are today. Blood Sugar Sex Magic features some of the grunt that made me love Mother’s Milk but sadly featured Under the Bridge, a huge selling ballad which brought them mainstream success but fans of Mothers Milk viewed with suspicion at best and derision at worst.

To me the entire of Californication sounds like an attempt to appeal to their Under the Bridge fans. The funk is gone and with it the fire. While you would struggle to find an appropriate label for Mothers Milk you can call Californication pop. It’s wearing rock clothes but it’s a bland set of pop songs.

For me the balance of Californication is way off. The funk and groove of their earlier work has been toned down while the embarrassingly naff lyrics have been ramped up further. Anthony Keidis has always attempted to marry his spiritual leanings with his rampant sex drive and consequently writes cringingly bad lyrics that suggest he’d like to sexually use every woman in the room but he’d still respect them in the morning. This is the man who gave us the refrain: “I’d like to party on your pussy” earlier in his career but now prefers to drop gems like this from Around the world:

Go-rilla cunt-illa/Sammy D and Salmonella/Come with me 'cause I'm an ass killer/You're ill but I'm iller”

That’s vintage Keidis right there, sexual boasting mixed with pointless rhyming. For more fun why not check out Purple Stain:

“To finger paint is not a sin/I put my middle finger in/Your monthly blood is what I win/I'm in your house now let me spin”

Ewww.

And it's not just lyrically annoying, Easily plods along like something in a no hurry with nowhere to go. Just as it reaches the point where it needs something to lift if out of the slump it’s quietly dying in Frusciante breaks out easily the worst guitar solo I’ve heard since All You Need Is Love. It’s oddly lifeless and the sort of thing that a teenager could happily crank out after five minutes practice.

Californication just makes me sad. It's the sound of a great band gone truly sour. I would never have said this a few years back but to my mind there is just as much chance of Motley Crue releasing a new album of great songs as The Peppers.

Highlight: The coda to Purple stain but by the time you reach it the lyrics have put you off.

Lowlight: The words, oh lord the words.

Influenced by: Punk bands, drugs and ego.
Influenced: No idea but I've got no desire to hear them.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I am firmly convinced that if all students from the first grade (even kindergarten) through their last year in college were exposed to simple ear training exercises that allowed them the opportunity to identify what they were hearing on the radio, TV, CDs, jazz, opera, orchestra, chorus, band, etc..our music scene in general would be much different! If simple ear training exercises, coupled with simple music theory, were carried out in public school, the public would demand music of much higher calibre than they are presently consuming. Why would they demand better music? Because they would HEAR that the music they are being fed is too repititious, trite, banal to warrant our attention, much less our money on the sales of records or concert attendance. The average person today doesn't want to think about music, they just want to enjoy it. They usually will settle for the same thing day after day. They feel life is too difficult to have to think about the music they are listening to. Hence the gap between the performer and the listener in the world today."

-Interesting idea. Although if the average person just wants to enjoy music what's the problem?

So do you think Californication is an improvement on Mother's Milk or a big step down? Or don't you care either way? Let me know below.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

400. Illmatic- A good time for a quick recap.

Album: Illmatic
Artist: Naws
Year: 1994
Genre: Rap

Tracks

1. The Genesis
2. NY State of Mind
3. Life's a Bitch
4. The World is Yours
5. Halftime
6. Memory Lane
7. One Love
8. One time 4 your mind
9. Represent
10. It aint hard to tell

Album 400 and it's almost a year to the day since I started this blog. My horizons have been expanded to the tune of 100 albums and it's a good time to sit down, take stock and have a bit of a recap. Here are some things I've learned after 400 albums.


-Tom Waits is amazing and you should all listen to him more often.

-America and England are the only two countries that produces music. The rest of us just listen. America has 67 albums on this countdown. The UK has produced 32.

-The Best of the Girl Groups has buggered up my nice neat tags column by being both a British and an American release so it needed both tags. Curse you upbeat females and your cheery close harmonies!

-Hip Hop is a much more varied genre than I gave it credit for. I used to think I didn't like it because it all sounded the same. Now I realise I don't like it because I find all the various sub-genres equally annoying.

-There is not a single album in the bottom 500 of this countdown from 1969. I predict there will be a lot more later on.

-Fans of Jazz music have a reason to feel slighted by the fact that there are only two Jazz albums in the countdown. Folk fans can feel double annoyed.

-Punk starts and ends with the Clash as far as I'm concerned. They may have been influenced by what went before and influenced what came after but I don't care.

-Over a third of the countdown (37 albums) comes from the Seventies. Surprisingly the eighties (22 albums) has more than the sixties (16 albums). I expect this will change as the countdown progresses.

-As Steve pointed out in the last review there are a few albums that seem to have made it on the list on the strength of one track. My definition of a great album is one that is still a great album even if you remove the standout track.

-The Pogues are great and I thank Rolling Stone for introducing me to them. The same goes for Paul Butterfield and Sam Cooke's live at the Harlem Square club.

-By the way. Someone called Nas released an album called Illmatic. It appeared at 400 on the countdown. Feel free to reread my hip hop reviews and apply the same sentiments again.

Favourite Customer Review Quote: "llmatic is with out a doubt the best hip-hop CD that I have ever listened to. Nas's lyrics communicate with people better than Ronald Reagan. Every track on the CD is phat. You could listen to the entire CD without skipping a single song (unlike some of the new so called hip-hop CD's). Illmatic is definitely woth the money and will be a pleasure to listen to. Trust me, you won't be dissapointed. "

-Ronald Reaan? I've never heard a rapper compared to Ronald Reagan before.

Influenced by: Rap
Influenced: Rap

Highlight: oh I don't know... track four.
Lowlight: Oh I don't know.... track four, no wait, track five.

So what do you think? Are you annoyed I didn't bother reviewing Illmatic or grateful I spared you another rap review? And while I'm there do you have highlight you'd like to point out? Let me know below.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

401 Pronounced Leh nerd Skin Nerd- Freebird... and some other songs.


Artist: Lynrd Skynyrd
Album: Pronounced Leh Nerd Skin Nerd.
Year: 1973
Genre: Southern Rock

Tracks

  1. I Ain't the One
  2. Tuesday's Gone
  3. Gimme Three Steps
  4. Simple Man
  5. Things Goin' On
  6. Mississippi Kid
  7. Poison Whiskey
  8. Free Bird


Back in 1973 Southern -Freebird!- Rock band, Lyrnyrd Skynyrd were a -Freebird!- blues based boogie -Freebird!- band who -Freebird!- were basically like lots of -FREEBIRD!- other Allman Brothers -FREEBIRD!- Rip off's only -FREEBIRD!- harder -FREEEEEEBIIIIRD!- to -FREEEEEEBIIIIRD!- spell -FREEEEEEBIIIIRD!-

Alright. Clearly before I progress with any sort of actual review I should address the Freebird phenomenon which is either hilarious or incredibly irritating, depending on your point of view.

Freebird is the final track on Pronounced Leh nerd Skin nerd and easily the band's most successful song. While Sweet Home Alabama may get more mainstream radio play, for the die-hard skynyrd fan it's a distant second to Freebird. And it's also a cultural phenomenon. An internet meme that even predates the internet.

The cult of Freebird started with a live album that Skynyrd released in 1976 in which they saved Freebird for the final encore. By the time they returned to the stage it the audience were all screaming for their favourite song. From there things start to get a bit murky. To this day nobody knows who it was who turned the iconic "Freebird!" cry from that album into an international concert sensation. It's up there with "Judas" as the most claimed Rock-audience outcry. It doesn't matter who did it first the point is that that it's a cliche now for someone in an audience somewhere to shout Freebird during a quiet song. When a band is on stage and there's a lull in proceedings someone will call out Freebird and divide the audience into roughly equal portions with half thinking he's a comic genius and the other convinced he's the biggest twat to ever purchase a concert ticket. While some bands find this amusing for most it's just annoying to have someone enact Rock's longest running gag in the middle of their set. Personally I think it's all about comic timing- calling out Freebird during some struggling rock band's pub gig is neither funny nor clever but shout it at full volume when a symphony orchestra is about to kick off then you've got to admit it's kind of cool. I've only been to the opera a few times but every time I went I was wishing I had the guts to yell it out at the top of my lungs just when the fat woman is about to let rip with an aria.

All this has sort of overtaken the song itself which I probably should mention since it's the point of this review after all. Freebird is a great song and listening to the original version I have to admit it does justify its hype. It starts off as a ballad with some mellow organ chords and acoustic guitar. Granted the percussion gets a bit bombastic but generally speaking it's a fairly low key beginning. It's a simple, slow song about the singer's desire to be free and not tied down. Then suddenly at 4:40 or so the tempo picks up and the song becomes an air guitarist's wet dream. The remainder of the track consists of dual guitars dueling. It's a six-string frenzy which fades off into the sunset after nearly five minutes of pure, unadulterated shred. If you're the sort of person who loves guitar theatrics then you're not only familiar with all this you've spent many hours leaping around your room air-guitaring like a maniac with fingers twiddling and face contorted into a series of ridiculous grimaces. If you don't like electric guitars then you'll be making your own grimace faces after twenty seconds and your fingers will immediately twiddle towards the stop button.

Just like the song has been overtaken by the legend, the rest of pronounced Leh nerd Skin Nerd has been overshadowed by it's famous closing track. The remainder of the album is a passable collection of southern Rock and roll songs that wouldn't make anyone's top 500 on their own. They're well played and well sung but slightly forgettable and verging too much on the hokey (Gimme three steps). The rockers (I aint the one, Things goin on) work well but Tuesday's gone is a perfect example of how to turn a ballad into an overblown production number with added cringe.

After Freebird (and it's appearance at every rock concert ever) and Sweet Home Alabama (and it's appearance on every movie soundtrack ever) Skynyrd are most famous for having an enforced break up after a plane crash. An aviation accident in 1977 claimed three members, including the lead singer and songwriter. I've always assumed that the band broke up at that point never to return but was surprised to learn on researching this release that they're not only still going strong but they're releasing albums. Nobody appears to be buying them but they're churning them out and touring on the strength of them. It's comforting to know that somewhere in the American deep south an entire audience is shouting Freebird to a band who are only too ready to play it.

Influenced by: The Allman Brothers Band.
Influenced: Millions of concert going wankers.

Highlight: (say it with me now) Freeeeeeeeebiiiiiiiird!
Lowlight: Tuesday's gone.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "This is my favorite Lynyrd Skynyrd. I've had the album, 8 track, cassette and now the CD. Would definitely purchase it again if something replaced the CD!"

-Fantastic. I love people with that level of dedication. My hat's off to you sir.


So are you shouting Freebird at your concerts or do you wish that clown would just shut up? Let me know below.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

402. Dr John's Gumbo- Aint not time to stash the gumbo


Album: Dr John's Gumbo
Artist: Dr John.
Year: 1972
Genre: Funk

Tracks.



  1. Iko Iko
  2. Blow Wind Blow
  3. Big Chief
  4. Somebody Changed the Lock
  5. Mess Around
  6. Let the Good Times Roll
  7. Junko Partner
  8. Stack-A-Lee
  9. Tipitina
  10. Those Lonely Lonely Nights
  11. Huey Smith Medley - High Blood Pressure, Don't You Just Know It, Well I'll Be John Brown
  12. Little Liza Jane

The musical world is definitely fortunate that Dr John decided to give up his promising medical career and instead concentrate on music. I'm sure he's a brilliant physician in his own area of specialty (beards probably, or perhaps treating those who suffer from a lack of colourful adornments) but he's certainly a gift to the musical world and a much needed presence in the otherwise fairly bland and pedestrian domain of piano based rock and roll.

I'm joking of course, Dr John was never a qualified medical practitioner, to my knowledge he's always been an eccentric musician in love with New Orleans and the music it's inspired. And there's no doubt that particular city has inspired some outstanding tunes over the years. While his style of playing has always been firmly rooted in New Orleans Funk, Dr John's Gumbo, his fifth studio album is made up entirely of covers from his home city and makes for entertaining listening. It's frolicking stuff that rolls along happily propelled by John's piano lines and the general air of infectious fun that obviously permeated the studio like a constant smoke haze.

You're probably familiar with a lot of these songs thanks to the cover versions made popular in later years. Some of these versions were inspired by the original versions but others were helped into the world thanks to the arrangements Dr John gave them on this album. Iko Iko is the opening track on Gumbo and probably the most famous track here. It started life as an attempt to document the chants that rival gangs in New Orleans used to taunt each other with. It appears that the two groups would gather together and have a competition to see who could come up with the most baffling thing to shout. Many have tried to understand what it means and all have failed. I suggest you enjoy it for the joyously pointless nature of the lyrics, which make as much sense as most hip-hop but have the good grace to embrace their own futility. Iko Iko is best remembered by movie goers from it's appearance in movie soundtracks, most notably Rain Man. Personally I recommend you find a version by The Grateful Dead who played it often in concert and while they could torture it utterly at times they could also launch it into the stratosphere and transform their audience into a happy frenzy of dancing loons (which some might say wasn't really a huge transformation).

All of these songs were recorded before John covered them and many have had several versions committed to vinyl since. I have to confess that the songs I knew from other sources (Iko Iko, Blow Wind Blow, Stack a Lee and Let the Good times Roll) were all the low points of the album for me. I prefer all four of those tracks in other forms. The songs that faired better for me were ones that I'd never heard before. Mess Around for example is fantastic. It really allows John to shine on piano and you can imagine it filling the floor in smokey dance clubs. It was originally recorded by Ray Charles which means I might bump into it later in the countdown. It will be a happy reunion if it occurs.

Dr John's Gumbo is good fun. Its one of the few albums on this list that you can't imagine anyone having a negative reaction to. The Piano is the world's most accessible instrument and in the hands of a master like Dr John it makes an effortlessly charming album. If album's were eligible for office then Gumbo would be Prime Minister by now. It might not be too many people's first choice but everyone would be pleased to see it and nobody would be campaigning against it.

Influenced by: New Orleans
Influenced: Stevie Ray Vaughan and the Grateful Dead.


Highlight: Mess Around
Lowlight: Stack a Lee (but it's more a midlight than a lowlight)

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Der Herr Doktor ehrt hier seine Wurzeln. Professor Longhair und Huey Smith sind unverkennbar seine Meister. Und er wird ihnen mehr als gerecht, indem er ihre Stücke spielt, wie sie selbst es nicht gekonnt hätten. Er ist einfach ein Held des Arrangements. Die Bläser und Drummer grüßen direkt von der Bourbon Street und das Klavier aus der Preservation Hall. Und „Iko Iko" war niemals spannender als hier. Mick Jagger und Keith Richards hätten sich mal „Let The Good Times Roll" anhören sollen. Wirklich schöne CD, nur stört mich manchmal, dass das ganze sich etwas zu massiv anfühlt. Aber das musste Anfang der 70er wohl so sein. "

-I read all the reviews on Amazon and there wasn't a single one that was full of the usual entertainment value that customers on that site provide. Doctor John fans are a very literate and thoughtful bunch. So I included this one in the hope that any German speakers out there will be provided with a massive laugh. Although I suspect this is just another well written and considered review as well but since I can't read it I've got my hopes up.

So do you schedule regular trips to the Doctor or do you prefer alternative remedies? Let me know below.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

403. Radio City- I smell a rat.




Album:
Radio City.
Artist: Big Star
Year: 1974
Genre: Rock

Tracks

  1. O My Soul
  2. Life Is White
  3. Way Out West
  4. What's Going Ahn
  5. You Get What You Deserve
  6. Mod Lang
  7. Back of a Car
  8. Daisy Glaze
  9. She's a Mover
  10. September Gurls
  11. Morpha Too
  12. I'm in Love with a Girl

I suspect a conspiracy at work. I think a group of the contributors to the list decided to have a bit of a fun with the concept and subtly include a massive gag purely for their own entertainment. While everyone else decided to take their awesome responsibility seriously and carefully evaluate whether Revolver was better or worse than Pet Sounds, a small but statistically significant bunch of giggling jokesters decided to subvert the entire experience. Whoever these funsters were they've given us not one, not two, but all three albums by Big Star in the top 500. Take that mainstream rock press!

As far as conspiracies go it's perfect. If they'd chosen a completely worthless musical act (Bucks Fizz for example) to appear in the higher echelons of the charts people would have picked up that something was wrong and approached the people concerned who would have been unable to maintain a straight face while trying to claim they were deeply moved by Makin your Mind Up. It also would have looked odd if Big Star appeared at number one but having all three releases in the bottom 100 is crazy but not so implausible it immediately calls attention on the entire ruse. Most people would look at the list and say "Oh another album by Big Star. They were obviously a lot more influential than I thought. They must have been seminal." Few people know what seminal actually means (and fewer still can say it without giggling) but it's a great way to describe an album that you don't really like much but think people who know more than you enjoy.

Look I have nothing against Big Star and nothing against this album. I just can't for the life of me see why it's here. It's not really groundbreaking in any way. Nobody is trying anything new, playing in a unique time signature or breaking out an instrument that hadn't made it's way onto a pop record before. You can't say this album was the first of it's kind, if anything it's the 10,000th of it's kind. The only thing unique about it is the fact that it sounds really British despite being American. It's totally unlike other American albums but a lot like a lot of English ones. That technically makes it unique but not in any groundbreaking way. None of the musicians are brilliant masters in their field. A list of the greatest singers, drummers, guitarists or bass players isn't going to include a member of Big Star anywhere in it's ranks. That's not to say they can't play but I'd describe them all as "competent" rather than outstanding and who wants to be described as competent? "Hey you have to come down to the pub there's this new band playing who are all really competent." In addition to five full listens to the album I also gave the single September Gurls a further five chances to make an impact and by the end of it I still can't remember how it goes. It's just under three minutes of aural wallpaper that leaves no impression at all. There's not a song on this album that I hated but nothing at all that stayed with me. It made as much impact on me as a ball of wool makes on concrete. The only emotion I had while listening to this album was confusion at how it possibly rated above almost half the albums that loiter in the charts below it.

The only way I can account for this album's success is to blame it on patriotic American's who grew up during the British Invasion years of Rock and Roll and were overly enthusiastic about a group of their countrymen proving that it wasn't only Limeys who could make pop/rock. Either that or my conspiracy theory was closer to the mark than I realised.

Highlight: The guitar solo in O My Soul. It's competent.
Lowlight: There isn't one. It's very consistent.

Influenced by: The Kinks, the faces, the stones, the beatles, and other the bands
Influenced: The Bangles.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "After listening through this in my office, I realise that I've found the perfect music to listen to at work. It's bland enough so as to not intrude on my concentration, yet poppy enough to not bore me to sleep. It's the perfect background music: it's there, I hear it, but it doesn't demand that I stop what I'm doing to really listen to it. This of course is faint praise, as no band wants to supply music to be piped in through elevators or over PA systems."

-Good summation. Well done.

So do you know why Big Star is here? Please let me know below.

Friday, June 4, 2010

404- Sandanista! An ambitious shambles.

Album: Sandanista!
Artist: The Clash.
Year: 1980.
Genre: You name it.


  1. The Magnificent Seven
  2. Hitsville UK
  3. Junco Partner
  4. Ivan Meets G.I. Joe
  5. The Leader
  6. Something About England
  7. Rebel Waltz
  8. Look Here
  9. The Crooked Beat
  10. Somebody Got Murdered
  11. One More Time
  12. One More Dub
  13. Lightning Strikes (Not Once but twice)
  14. Up in Heaven (Not Only Here)
  15. Corner Soul
  16. Let's Go Crazy
  17. If Music Could Talk
  18. The Sound of Sinners
  19. Police on My Back
  20. Midnight Log
  21. The Equaliser
  22. The Call Up
  23. Washington Bullets
  24. Broadway
  25. Lose This Skin
  26. Charlie Don't Surf
  27. Mensforth Hill
  28. Junkie Slip
  29. Kingston Advice
  30. The Street Parade
  31. Version City
  32. Living in Fame
  33. Silicone on Sapphire
  34. Version Pardner
  35. Career Opportunities
  36. Shepherds Delight

When I'm listening to the top 500 albums in order I never know what I'm going to encounter next. I'm just as likely to find something horrible as something sensational and can run into rock, pop, hip hop, or anything in between and outside. Listening to Sandanista! is a microcosm of that experience contained in the one release. The Clash's fourth album is an absolute shambles that sprawls over two full CD's packed with pretty much every music style going around at the time and even some that you could believe The Clash invented. In it's original form it was six sides of baffling vinyl that ping ponged around so many genres, themes and moods it made The White Album look positively focused. For some it's the greatest album of all time, for others it's an unlistenable disaster while there are those who believe it's a great album padded with two albums of detritus.

If you're a fan of Rock and Roll then you'd have to be a pretty hardened cynic not to enjoy some songs on this album. Granted you'd need a guide of some kind to find them but there are definitely treasures here. Washington Bullets is the jauntiest song about Fidel Castro that I've ever heard, The Sound of Sinners is the greatest gospel song ever produced by a punk band and the opening track is worth having just for the fantastic line "Italian Mobster shoots a lobster" which is one of my all time favourite Rock Rhymes. The good songs (and I'll add Charlie don't surf, The Call up, Somebody got murdered and even Hitsville UK to the ones I've already mentioned) are a logical next step from the heights the band reached on London Calling and an obvious step towards Should I stay or Should I go now and Rock the Casbah.

As for the bad... they're pretty bad. Possibly the worst offenders are the tracks that aren't just failed songs but odd bastardizations of existing tracks. There are six songs that are basically just dub versions of decent songs which only serve to take some of the gloss of the original, especially in the instance of One More Dub which comes straight after One More time and fuses with it to form something repetitive and annoying. Mensforth Hill is just one of the earlier tracks played backwards with a few things overdubbed over the top, it sounds like... well it sounds like a song played backwards. If that sort of thing were enjoyable then we'd play our records backwards all the time. Among the other famous misfires is a cover version of Career Opportunities, an earlier Clash hit, sung by two small children for no really discernible reason. It's sufficiently dreadful that by the midpoint you begin to wish they were playing it backwards, it could hardly sound worse. Lying somewhere between the hits and the misses are the odd tracks that don't really land in either camp. Most notable is Ivan meets GI Joe which includes space invader sound effects, horns and a chorus that sounds like a children's sitcom theme. It's a big bucket of weird floating in a sea of extreme odd.


It's a generally held belief that The Clash made Sandanista! a triple record for no better reason than to see if they could. It's baffling then that in their scrabble for tracks to pad out the album they left off Bankrobber which was recorded during these sessions and released as a single but left off this release. Surely they could have found a dud track to drop in order to make room? The entire of the third disk springs to mind.

On the whole if you're prepared to approach Sandanista! with an open mind and a finger ready to hit the skip button you'll find a lot to like. But god knows it was painful experience having to hear the whole thing four times all the way through. Never again.

Influenced by: Absolutely everything.
Influenced: Anyone who heard it- for better or worse.

Highlight: Probably The Magnificent seven, which is actually a pity because it means the best song is over straight away leaving you with almost 2 and a half hours of inferior music,
Lowlight: Mensforth Hill just tops Career Opportunities.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "this is possibly the greatest c.d. of all time. The reggae/funk/disco sound is unbelievable. Sandinista features my all time favorite clash songs ever, washington bullets and hitsville UK. I gaurantee this c.d. will amze anyone, and if you say different your a liar."

-I love people who are so confident in their believes that they're sure any contrary opinion must be a blatant lie. Oh to be that confident.

So have you listened to Sandanista all the way through? Honestly? Let me know below.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

405 Rid of Me. Another PJ party.

Album: Rid of Me
Artist: PJ Harvey.
Year: 1993
Genre: Rock.

Tracks

  1. Rid of Me
  2. Missed
  3. Legs
  4. Rub 'til It Bleeds
  5. Hook
  6. Man-Size Sextet
  7. Highway '61 Revisited
  8. 50ft Queenie
  9. Yuri-G
  10. Man-Size
  11. Dry
  12. Me-Jane
  13. Snake
  14. Ecstasy

Rid of me has to rate as the first real disappointment of my project so far. There weren't too many albums that I was eagerly awaiting that I hadn't heard already but this was one of them. I'd previously been ignorant of PJ Harvey and her work but was turned into something of a fan thanks to her earlier album To Bring you My Love which I reviewed a few albums back. I discussed at length how impressed I was with her ability to take the blues and turn it into something new, fresh and incredibly powerful. Imagine my delight then to discover that the Rolling Stone voters had chosen another of her albums which they considered deserved to be ranked 30 places higher than To Bring you My Love. I was expecting a superior album but I have to say I felt pretty let down.

Far and away the best thing on Rid of Me is actually a Bob Dylan cover. Not that I recognised it straight away. Highway 61 revisited starts of with totally unfamiliar instrumentation and it's not until the lyrics become clear that I could identify what it was she was singing. I love it when someone really reinvents a Bob song (Dylan does it himself when he sings live). You can start listening to Bob Dylan covers today and spend the rest of your life doing so because by the time you've caught up with all the ones released up to this point more than enough will have been recorded to take you to your death. In amongst the million or so acoustic renditions of Blowin in the Wind which bring nothing to the table it's worth dedicating some time to PJ Harvey's version of Highway 61.

While the album itself didn't move me much I took the time to hunt around for some live versions of the two singles (Man Size and Rid of me) to see what they could do for me. The versions PJ performs with a band left me as ambivilent as the album tracks but I did find a few versions of each which she sings accompanied only by her own guitar. When she's on her own without a band to fall back on she's frankly mesmerising. She resists the easy road of using an acoustic guitar and toning down the punk aspects to turn her songs into gentle ballads. Instead she fronts up to an audience with an electric guitar and punk attitude. She has real stage presence and a fantastic ability to subvert images. She sounds like she should be performing in ripped jeans and a Clash T-shirt but she takes the stage with a impeccable hair and makeup and the sort of outfit that suggests she's dressed for a red carpet function rather than a rock show. Rid of me and Man Size are both so much better live and worth checking out.

Highlight: Highway 61 revisited
Lowlight: Dry

Influenced by: Dylan and punk
Influenced: Lots of girls who rock.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "NOTE: Whether you agree with my assessment of this record or not, people who really seem to like this record also seem to like her new record ("Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea") but not 1995's "To Bring You My Love" or 1998's "Is This Desire", both of which represent far-better productions by Flood. Depending on where you are on the P.J. Harvey fan spectrum, beware. "

-ooh that's interesting. There's a PJ Harvey fan spectrum. Since I really liked To Bring you My Love I might check out Is This Desire as well. Thanks Amazon!

So do you have a man-size love for PJ or would you rather be rid of her? Let me know below.