Tuesday, September 28, 2010

372 Late for the Sky- Still more Jackson Browne.


Album: Late for the Sky
Artist: Jackson Browne
Year: 1974
Genre: Rock

Tracks



  1. Late for the Sky
  2. Fountain of Sorrow
  3. Farther On
  4. The Late Show
  5. The Road and the Sky
  6. For a Dancer
  7. Walking Slow
  8. Before the Deluge


There are three types of reviews that I'm really struggling to write on this blog. I've done over 100 albums, I'm a fair way into my next 100 and I've started to develop a sense of dread when I see a certain type of release crop up. The first are rap albums about which I've said almost everything I can. There's only so many times you can type "I don't see the attraction" before it starts to wear a bit thin. The second albums I cringe at are seminal punk albums, releases by obscure American bands from the seventies or eighties who released one album that sold 14 units but has since been regarded as hugely influential by musicians whose albums sell 15 units but Rolling Stone felt the need to survey for this list. The final album that I dread seeing, the last release that makes me groan inwardly and outwardly at the same time are releases by Jackson Bloody Browne.

I'm not sure if you can remember my last Jackson Browne album review. It's possible you recall it well because it was pretty much exactly like the Jackson Browne review I wrote before. For memory the last time I wrote about Browne I scrabbled around for some descriptive sentences before launching into a welcome distraction about how talented the musicians he played with were. Now I find myself reviewing another album by the talented but dull singer/songwriter and I'm left without anything much to say and a lot of space to say it in.

What can you say about Jackson Browne that hasn't been said before? The answer is nothing. He's laid back, middle of the road and forgettable. The reviews I've churned out about him so far have been predictable, pedestrian and just as unmemorable. Late for the Sky is exactly like his other releases only slightly more highly regarded by the sort of people who like Jackson Browne albums. It's not a departure from his previous styles, in fact Jackson has never departed from his previous styles. He's been recording music for nearly four decades now and all his albums are basically genial Folk/Rock that genial folk/rockers like. I've read a lot of reviews of his albums and it's interesting to note that most of them focus on the lyrical content. As someone who has been forced to review his albums I can understand why they do this. There's nothing much new to talk about musically so reviewers are forced to discuss the words in order to filll column inches.

Jackson Browne ladies and gentlemen, he's very consistent.

Influenced by: Jackson Browne
Influenced: Jackson Browne


Highlight: One of the tracks
Lowlight: One of the other tracks

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Of course Jackson Browne's songs from the early seventies tend to sound alike. He was and is a moderately talented composer and singer."

-It's worth pointing out that's from a five star review.

So Jackson Browne is he....um... you know... or is he more....I mean isn't he....um... is he? Let me know below if you can be bothered.

Friday, September 24, 2010

373 Post. Quirky Icelandic Fun.

Album: Post
Artist: Bjork
Year: 1995
Genre: Pop


Tracks


1. Army of Me
2. Hyperballad
3. The Modern Things
4. It's Oh So Quiet
5. Enjoy
6. You've Been Flirting Again
7. Isobel
8. Possibly Maybe
9. I Miss You
10. Cover Me
11. Headphones


Before I sat down to listen to Post all the way through I knew Bjork from three different forms of media. The first was the song It's Oh so Quiet and it's accompanying video clip in which the singer wanders between a dreamy streetscape and a Buzby Berkley show tune. The second was another notorious clip which shows Bjork arriving at an airport in Thailand and suddenly turning from weary traveller with a press entourage into a vengeful pixie of death determined to smite all who would try and interview her. If you haven't seen the clip it's really a frightening piece of footage. It looks like Bjork is wandering in a daze through the departure lounge trying to remember something. You can see the confusion on her little face as she's clearly thinking: "now there was something I was going to do while I was in Thailand, what the hell was it? Oh I know, I was going to launch a frenzied assault on a journalist. How convenient there's one right here!" Her attack is vicious and brutal and if people hadn't been around to pull her off the female reporter you could honestly believe Bjork would have killed her. My final impression of the quirky Icelandic dwarf-person is related to the Cremaster films and installations prepared by her artist husband, which are demented, bizarre, twisted and I have to say very impressive and I enjoyed a lot.

I'm sure Bjork would like to be known for more than airport meltdowns and the work of her husband and so it seemed only fair to approach her biggest album with an open mind and an appreciative ear. It's Oh So Quiet has two tempos, a slow one for the parts where Bjork is singing about life between love affairs and an uptempo one in which she details the frentetic nature of a good romance. The Clip is great but the song is very Bjorky. The other noticeably bjorky song on the album is Hyperballad about a woman who lives in the side of a cliff and wonders what it would be like to throw herself off. It's an interesting approach to song writing- first person narrated suicide contemplation.

The problem with Bjork is definitely her voice, unless you're a Bjork fan in which case it's one of the biggest attractions. Bjork sings as if English is her second language (and it is) and also as if verbal communication itself isn't something she's especially comfortable with. Maybe that's why she prefers to let her fists do the talking when she's out in public. Personally I struggle with Bjork's vocal stylings. She drives me away more than draws me in but I can understand why people might be attracted. She can definitely sing and gets the most impact she can from her voice but if you're not onside she's not really going to win you over. She's an acquired taste.

Post is a strange listen. It's not as assaulting as an attack on a journalist but it's not as intriguing as a cremaster installation. I listened four times and reacted in exactly the same way that I did at the start. If you hear it once and like it then you're lucky, if your first listen didn't appeal I'm guessing repeated listens won't win you over.


Influenced by: Nordic Sensibilities.
Influenced: Ethereal Electronica

Highlight: Hyperballad
Lowlight: Headphones.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: To me, listening to Bjork sing is like listening to someone rake their fingernails down a chalkboard, or, failing that, rub a pinecone against a brick wall.

-Nails on a chalkboard I can understand but pinecones on a brick wall? Since when is that a universally accepted unpleasant sound?

So do you go bezerk for bjork or is she a jerk who's music doesn't work? Let me know below.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

374. Eagles. No, not the one with Hotel California.



Album:
Eagles
Artist:
The Eagles
Genre:
Rock
Year:
1972

Tracks
  1. Take It Easy
  2. Witchy Woman
  3. Chug All Night
  4. Most of Us Are Sad
  5. Nightingale
  6. Train Leaves Here This Morning
  7. Take the Devil
  8. Earlybird
  9. Peaceful Easy Feeling
  10. Tryin'
Some band's create new music by taking the best aspects of existing genres and combining them into something new and exciting. The Pogues took the ethos of punk and the instruments of traditional music and made Celtic Punk. The Grateful Dead took the riffs and rhythms of rock and roll and the freeform nature of jazz and created the Jam band scene. The White stripes took the energy of punk, the riffing of rockabilly and the rhythm of blues to create... whatever the hell it is the White Stripes play. Exciting new forms of music have been made by artists with an urge take music places it's never been before by cherry picking what they like from what already exists and wandering off down a musical lane and seeing where they end up.

And then there are bands who pick the worst of certain genres and give birth to something awful. The Eagles are such a band. They managed to blend the self-indulgent nature of rock with the tedium of country and the lack of urgency of folk to make country-folk-rock. Their debut album is a key moment in this particular genre and makes for some very bland listening. I've had to write at length about Jackson Browne already in this countdown. While some people love him I've always found him so inoffensive that his music deletes itself from my mind as soon as I've heard it. Mr Browne is credited as writer or co-writer of two of the songs on this release and his hand seems to be all over it. The two biggest tracks on the album were
Take it Easy and Peaceful Easy Feeling, both of which are very Browne like- laid back and relaxed. Jackson recorded Take it Easy, which he co-wrote, himself and while he didn't write Peaceful Easy Feeling he might as well have. It's a Browne tune from it's casual and relaxed tempo right down to it's whistful lyrics. In fact it's possible that Browne did write this track it's just that his music is so forgettable he'd lost all recollection of it after he demoed it to the Eagles and they never bothered to let him know.

While the album tries to rock and roll a bit from time to time it never reaches the Rock heights that bands like Creedence or the Stones could hit and in comparison it just comes off sounding bland and ineffective. I get the impression that it's appearance on this listing is a bit of a surprise. While The Eagles Greatest Hits was a monster selling release this early album was never critically lauded when it came out and hasn't been re-evaluated in the years since.


The surprising thing about this album's level of tedium isn't that it came from the Eagles but that it was produced by Glyn Johns. There aren't too many producers that I pay attention to but Mr John's is one of them. He had worked with some of the greatest musicians ever to put exciting sounds onto pieces of vinyl. He started out working with The Beatles before going on to produce The Rolling Stones (Get your ya yas out), Joe Satriani (self titled), The Who (Who's next and others), Midnight Oil (Place without a postcard), Dylan (Real Live), The Small Faces (Ogden's nut gone flake) and Eric Clapton (Slowhand). He's a guy you call on when you want a good rock sound and yet he's credited with helping the Eagles to find their distinctive sound. Thankfully Who's Next is enough to forgive him all his sins.


Highlight:
Witchy Woman
Lowlight:
Peaceful Easy Feeling

Influenced by:
Jackson Browne and other tedious people

Influenced:
Jackson Browne and other tedious people

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote:
If the Eagles never won a Best New Artist Grammy,I'm sure they were at least a nominee. Here is their 1972 self-titled debut featuring three Top 10 hits:TAKE IT EASY which begins this album,WITCHY WOMAN and the soft-rock PEACEFUL EASY FEELING. This is followed by five more non-compilation albums on the Asylum label.

-I love an excuse to look up some Rock Trivia. The Eagles were nominated for best newcomer Grammy in 1973 but lost out to America, a band often criticized as being a bit of an Eagles Rip-off.

Friday, September 17, 2010

375. The Ultimate Collection. The greatest hits of a blues great.


Album: The Ultimate Collection
Artist: John Lee Hooker
Year: 1991
Genre: The Blues

Tracks

  1. Teachin' the Blues
  2. Boogie Chillen'
  3. Sally Mae
  4. Let Your Daddy Ride
  5. Crawlin' King Snake
  6. Weeping Willow Boogie
  7. Hobo Blues
  8. Huckle up Baby
  9. I'm in the Mood
  10. John L's House Rent Boogie
  11. No More Doggin'
  12. I Need Some Money
  13. Frisco Blues
  14. Dimples
  15. It Serves You Right to Suffer
  16. Bottle Up and Go
  17. Boom Boom
  18. Big Legs, Tight Skirt
  19. You Know, I Know
  20. One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer
  21. Let's Go Out Tonight
  22. I Cover the Waterfront
  23. She's Mine (Keep Your Hands to Yourself)
  24. Back Biters and Syndicators
  25. Think Twice Before You Go
  26. Shake It Baby
  27. I'm Bad Like Jesse James
  28. Peavine
  29. Burning Hell
  30. Terraplane Blues
  31. I'm in the Mood



The blues is full of tragic stories of artists cut down in their prime or dying in poverty while someone else got rich on their success. Some of the biggest names in blues music have been ripped off, trod on, abused and exploited without ever receiving any of the acclaim they deserve for shaping popular music. I'm delighted to say John Lee Hooker is not one of those guys. When he died in 2001 at the age of 83 he'd received the accolades and the financial success that his career deserved. He was lauded by his peers and by the generations that followed and showered with awards recognition and fame. If you're at all curious as to why he earned and deserved his success can I direct you to The Ultimate Collection, two discs of proof that Hooker is one of the greats of modern music.

Like his contemporaries (BB King, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley for example) John Lee Hooker has a distinctive style that is immediately recognizable to anyone familiar with his work. Hooker's trademark is the boogie. His signature track is a gem called Boogie Chillen which rocks and grooves and funks away with only the great man's voice and guitar to drive it. Hooker plays a riff, taps out a beat with his foot and sings over the top in his distinctive early vocal style (he would become much deeper in later years). Part of the song's attraction is the lyrical content which isn't traditional blues by any stretch of the imagination. We think of blues songs as being lament's about evil women, or the woes of poverty. Or else they're baffling innuendo like "Mama killed a chicken, she thought it was a duck, she put it on the table with it's legs sticking up" which Hooker sings in Bottle up and Go and lots of other people have quoted since (no don't ask me what it means, I'm just assuming it's rude). The lyrics to Boogie Chillen are about a much more accessible subject. The singer wants to go out and boogie-woogie and is pleading his case to his parents. It's about a teen's desire for liberation and his urge to be free. It's a universal idea that appeals to teenagers all over the world. Boogie Chillen's lasting appeal can also be attributed to the fact that it hasn't dated at all. It's been copied and ripped off for years (ZZ Top were sued by Hooker's record label for using it in La Grange) and often the latter versions sound trapped in their era. You can date them as soon as you hear them. Hooker's original version sounds like it was recorded yesterday. It's still fresh and vital which is an incredible achievement since it was actually committed to vinyl back in 1948. The song isn't just older than ZZ Top's career it's older than the band members themselves. Even if you were born before Hooker wrote the song you'll still be unable to resist the temptation to tap your toes.

But Hooker is far from a one trick pony. There are other songs on The Ultimate collection which feature Hooker alone with his guitar but there are tracks which feature drums, bass and piano and other songs which employ a bigger band sound. Pretty much everything on the album is gold but tracks like Boom Boom, One Burbon one scotch and one beer, Crawlin King Snake, I'm in the mood and It serves me right to suffer do stand slightly above the rest of the tracks. All are certified blues classics.

In the last decades of his life John Lee Hooker released a series of albums in which he played his hits accompanied by a group of A-list contributers (Bonnie Raitt, Carlos Santana, Van Morrison, Los Lobos etc) who had all been influenced by his work. Far from being cheap cash-in's designed to pull more money from a wider fanbase, these albums (The Healer, Mr Lucky, Best of Friends) are fantastic albums which find Hooker in fine form and enjoying the company of his guests. They also showcase his amazing voice which became richer and more powerful with age. I love the 1948 version of Boogie Chillen but his later vocals are so much more powerful. Granted there is something odd about hearing a man in his seventies pleading with his parents for permission to boogie but if you can overlook that Hooker's voice is one of the greatest in popular music.

Influenced by:
Poverty, racism, a desire to boogie and his stepfather at the age of 13
Influenced: Everyone who plays the blues and pretty much everyone who plays rock and roll

Highlight: Boogie Chilllun,
Lowlight: Teaching the Blues. A strangely dull way to start the album.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote:
"The problem with compiling such a collection is implied in Boogie Man, Charles Shaar Murray's fine biography. Hooker recorded for a number of different labels, especially in his early days, and also under a variety of different names (John Lee Booker, John Lee Cooker, Little Pork Chop, etc.), so it takes a lot of legwork to figure out just which recordings were made by Hooker at all, much less obtain the rights to rerelease them. "

-That's really cool. I had no idea Hooker used other names. I love the idea of him calling himself John Lee Booker and then Cooker and maybe moving on to Dooker and Eooker before deciding to change tactics and call himself Little Pork Chop instead.

So is this the ultimate Collection or would you rather give it the ultimate rejection? Let me know below.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

377 CrazySexyCool. Mega selling R and B from TLC

Album: CrazySexyCool
Artist: TLC
Genre: R and B
Year: 1994


  1. Intro-Lude
  2. Creep
  3. Kick Your Game
  4. Diggin' on You
  5. Case of the Fake People
  6. Crazy Sexy Cool - Interlude
  7. Red Light Special
  8. Waterfalls
  9. Intermission-Lude
  10. Let's Do It Again
  11. If I Was Your Girlfriend
  12. Sexy - Interlude
  13. Take Our Time
  14. Can I Get a Witness - Interlude
  15. Switch
  16. Sumthin' Wicked This Way Comes


CrazySexyCool has been sold a few times over the years. In fact this album has sold 15 million copies throughout the world which is an unbelievable effort. According to the RIAA it's been classified platinum 11 times which puts it in the same category as Sgt Peppers and above Nevermind, The Joshua Tree and Led Zeppelin's debut. The Singles from the album (all four of them) were huge hits across the planet and went to number one on most charts. And yet I've never heard any of it. You might think I live in a cave somewhere with a box of Dylan albums and a bag on my head but believe it or not I'm a functioning member of society who mixes freely with the general public. So how did a mammoth selling album released in my lifetime completely slip me by? The answer is that music has become so compartmentalized and fragmented lately that it's possible to completely ignore single genres. I've never liked R and B and so I avoid it and thanks to the internet it's easy to do. I listen to what I want when I want to rather than turning on a radio and expecting it to play me things I might enjoy in between the ads and incessant prattle. (Listen to me, I'm like an old man with new technology. Aged attitudes with a finger on the tech-pulse: "Hey you kids! Get off my lawn or I'll put photoshopped pictures of you on my blog!" Tragic)

Anyway the point is that I'm encountering an album for the first time which a large section of the public is already intimately familiar with. My horizons are being widened by a detailed examination of a genre that I'm happy to leave to other people (15 million of them). So has it converted me to the joys of R and B? Has this die-hard rock fan with a Beatles obsessions discovered the hip-hop fan that lay dormant and neglected in his soul for so long?

No.

Let's be honest that was the answer everyone was expecting and who am I to disappoint them? I gave CrazySexyCool the regulation four listens with an open mind and came to the same conclusion I reached after the end of my first encounter with the opening couple of tracks. It's just not for me. So what's the problem? What is it that moves 15 million people and leaves me completely unaffected? The obvious answer is the fact that it lacks the things I love (riffs, lead breaks, shouty vocals) and has lots of the things that I try to avoid in music (processed beats, electronic instrumentation) but I think it does go a bit deeper than that. One of the things I really respond to in music is the ethos behind it. I like the idea of the rock rebel who has some degree of control over what they do. The Beatles in the studio with George Martin revolutionizing music, Dylan taking total control of his image and reinventing himself, the Stones reveling in excess as tax exiles in France, Midnight Oil refusing to temper their politics for the sake of record sales and Radiohead trusting their fans to come with them on a musical journey to a destination they hadn't mapped out themselves. It's what makes music great and inspirational. And I don't just love it because of the mystique behind it but because that passion and maverick attitude comes through in the music.

What I hear when I listen to CrazySexyCool is the sound of people trying to make as much money as possible. The tracks on CSL were written by 17 different people. More than 7 people worked as producers. The artists who appear on the record cover are reduced to models in video clips whose heavily processed voices help generate the record sales. When it was released CrazySexyCool sold 11 million albums in the US alone. All four singles entered the Top 5 with two of them spending time at the top spot. TLC were generating incredible amounts of cash but the band filed for bankruptcy not long after it's release. While record executives and producers were getting filthy rich the girls themselves were basically just exploited for their looks. The songs are basically recordings of girls singing other people's songs under the instruction of their lords and masters for the benefit of men in suits who never play a note. That's not rock and roll it's slavery with a video clip.

Highlight: Waterfalls
Lowlight: If I was your girlfriend.

Influenced by: What we used to call R and B
Influenced: What we now call R and B


Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I THINK TLC IS THE BEST BAND IN THE WORLD, THEY ARE IN STYLE AND THEY ARE THE BOMB..... I HOPE THEY ARE THE NUMBER 1 IN THE COUNT DOWN, MY BIRTHDAY IS IN APRIL AND I RELLY WANT THEM TO COME SING NO SCRUBS I WOULD BE SO GLAD THAT HAS BEEN MY BIRTHDAY WISH FOR A LONG LONG LONG LONG LONG TIME, I WOULD GIVE MY BIRTHDAY MONEY UP ....... [THATS 100.00 DOLLERS ] I LOVE YOU TLC "

-That's really sweet. I think TLC demand more than 100 dollars for an appearance fee but I'd really love it if they made this person's birthday.

So does TLC stand for This Lovely CD or Totally Lackluster Crap? Let me know below.

Monday, September 13, 2010

378. Funky Kingston. I've got your Reggae right here.

Album: Funky Kingston
Artist: Toots and the Maytals
Genre: Reggae
Year: 1973

Tracks



  1. Sit Right Down
  2. Pomp And Pride
  3. Louie, Louie
  4. I Can't Believe
  5. Redemption Song
  6. Daddy's Home
  7. Funky Kingston
  8. It Was Written Down

I have to confess Reggae is a genre that I've never seen the point in. I just don't understand the attraction in the music of Jamaica which everyone on the planet seems to accept as a unifying artform. "How can you not like Reggae" people say to me as if I've just expressed my disdain for chocolate, sunsets or breasts. "Everyone loves Reggae" they say denying the fact that I'm living evidence to the contrary. The most annoying people are those that suggest it must be because I haven't listened to enough of it. They assume I've formed my opinion based on the opening bars of Eric Clapton's I Shot The Sherrif and all it will take is some time with "proper" reggae and I will not only enjoy the music but become a full on Rastafarian. Toots and the Maytalls Funky Kingston is the first proper reggae album to make it's way onto the chart. It wanders late into the countdown like a laid back Jamaican who doesn't see the point in rushing anything. There will be other examples of the genre later on in this list with Bob Marley making an inevitable appearance but for the moment Toots is the countdown's first attempt to turn me into a reggae fan.

Before I start my review I have to say two things- the first is that I'm reviewing the original release and not the American re-release with extra tracks, and the second is that Toots and the Maytals have the best name in the countdown so far. Toots is an incredibly cool name and I'm only sorry they didn't play heavy metal because that would be even funnier.

The good news is that Funky Kingston starts quite well. Sit Right Down is the best reggae song I've ever heard. Granted this isn't a staggering achievement, as praise goes it's up there with "nicest Nazi" but it's still something. Although I suspect the attraction has something to do with the fact that of all the tracks on the album it seems to owe the most to funk and the least to reggae. The familiar beat is still there but it's broken up with what sound like definite nods to The Temptations. The "My Father say..." passages are pretty groovy it has to be said. The problem is the album is basically all down hill from there. Pomp and Pride takes a single line and repeats it ad naseum over the top of a reggae beat until it starts to throb inside your brain like an old man trying to beat his way out of a flash mob. Track three is a further descent as the band rips out a cover of Louie Louie which takes all the charm from the song and turns it into a terrible cover. It reminds me of all those god-awful "A reggae tribute to..." albums were cash hungry record executives churn out rastafied versions of a great band's work with a reggae beat in the hope of collecting a quick buck. Radiohead fans can buy reggae, bluegrass and string quartet tributes to their heroes if they want to. I humbly predict none of them do.

Louie Louie finally collapses into what I can only describe as the low point of the album. I can't believe isn't a song as much as it's an annoying exercise in call and response. The lead singer takes an annoying line of vowels "ah a ah ah a ah ah ahh" and has it chorused back to him by a collection of individuals who clearly had nothing better to do at the time. Later he's quite happy to repeat this refrain and then modify it by replacing the "Ahs" with "ehs" and "ohs" as if he's setting the world's dullest eye chart to music.

The rest of the album doesn't reach the heights of the first track but doesn't dip into the depths of the rest of side one. The album just continued with the standard reggae plod that has failed to move me for so many years. My conversion to reggae may come at a later date but this album wasn't it.

Highlight: Sit down right
Lowlight: I can't believe

Influenced by: Jamaica
Influenced: Everyone who has ever made reggae (Toots actually invented the word)

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "...and the raspy character of his voice, together with a a tight though unobstructive backing band makes this CD a very enjoyable experience."

-I've never heard a band described as unobstructive before. What a great concept.

So does this convert you to reggae, or reinforce an opinion either way? Let me know below.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

379. Greetings from Asbury Park. Dylan+Thesaurus+Dictionary = this.

Album: Greetings from Asbury Park
Artist: Bruce Springsteen
Year: 1973
Genre: Rock

Tracks

  1. Blinded by the Light
  2. Growin' Up
  3. Mary Queen of Arkansas
  4. Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street?
  5. Lost in the Flood
  6. The Angel
  7. For You
  8. Spirit in the Night
  9. It's Hard to Be a Saint in the City


Greetings From Asbury Park is the debut album by Bruce "The Boss" Springsteen, who was elected CEO of the rock world in the eighties but retired at the end of the decade and has been content in the casual workforce ever since. Regular readers might recall my review of an earlier Springsteen album in which I admitted I didn't really understand the attraction in Bruce or the E-street band. I said then that I was hoping future albums might make me realize what the joys of Bruce-worship are. I'm sorry to say that a full four listens to Greetings hasn't turned me into a Springsteenager, quite the opposite in fact.

The problem is the opening song which you're no doubt familiar with but probably not in this form. Bruce's debut album track (and first single) was the insanely irritating and gratingly annoying Blinded by the Light. A song that I can barely stand writing about let alone listening to. I've got no way of knowing but I think my brain latches onto tunes more than most and songs get stuck in my head like a rat in a trap more than they do for everyone else. Songs with lines that seem to repeat endlessly are the bane of my existence and all it takes is for the title to be mentioned and my dickhead of a brain will torment me for the rest of the day by singing it incessantly in my subconscious. There are several songs in this countdown so far that I'd classify as torture songs- The Cisco kid by Earth Wind and Fire, Rikki Don't Lose That Number by Steely Dan, Poor Little Beggar Girl by Richard and Linda Thompson and now Blinded By The Light. If you tied me to a chair and played these tracks on a loop I would crack about 30 seconds into the first song. I'd confess to murders I hadn't even heard of let alone committed at the merest opening bars of Blinded.

While Bruce's version is incredibly irritating it's can't hold a candle to Manfred Mann's atrocity that topped the charts a few years later. It's almost as if Blinded is some sort of gypsy curse and the only way to rid yourself of it is to pass it on. The Manfred's heard it in 1973 and spent four sleepless years with that annoying refrain wandering around their head like their own personal audio stalker. They realised the only way to preserve their sanity was to form a band and put an even more cloying rendition on vinyl in order to pass the curse on. They also decided to change one of the repeating lines to make it sound like "Wrapped up like a douche" which I swear I thought the song said until I finally heard the original (it's "deuce" not "douche," which doesn't make any more sense to be honest).

Thankfully the rest of the album isn't nearly as teeth-gnashing as the opening track. You don't often get to use the word "Verbose" to describe an album but Greetings is your chance. It's wordier than an audio dictionary and crammed full to brim with images, analogies, narratives and Americana reference points. To choose a song at random, Lost in the Flood has 432 words which are squashed into three dense verses and don't leave much room for soloing, instrumentation or respite. The words come flying at you like someone reading fridge poetry. The obvious influence is Bob Dylan, who put together entire albums made up of this sort of stuff, only a lot more successfully. Springsteen is no Dylan when it comes to crafting an image or writing a tune.

If you skip past the opening track, Greetings from Asbury Park is a not-unpleasant album that sounds more like a lyricist purging his songbook than a songwriter creating an album. Springsteen fans I've spoken to about this album have said "it's not his best" which is exactly what they said after the last one. I reserve my opinion of his career until I've had a chance to listen to more of his work down the track. Hopefully I'll actually hear his best at some point.

Highlight: The Angel
Lowlight: Blinded by the Light.

Influenced by: Bob
Influenced: Hmmm, only people who had never heard Bob.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Stunk, BOO! I'm not even sure what this is supposed to be. Sounded like the tape got caught in the tape deck. I can't believe Manfred Mann heard 'Blinded By the Light' and said, "Oh ya...let's cover that tune."

-Succinct and to the point.

So are you happy to accept Greetings from Asbury Park or would you mark them return to sender? Let me know below.

Friday, September 3, 2010

380. Sunflower- A bunch of Beach Boys songs you've never heard.


Album: Sunflower
Artist: The Beach Boys
Year: 1970
Genre: Rock

Tracks

  1. Slip On Through
  2. This Whole World
  3. Add Some Music to Your Day
  4. Got to Know the Woman
  5. Deirdre
  6. It's About Time
  7. Tears in the Morning
  8. All I Wanna Do
  9. Forever
  10. Our Sweet Love
  11. At My Window
  12. Cool, Cool Water

By 1970 the Beatles had broken up and the road was clear for the Beach Boys to become the dominant force in the pop world. Sadly they were unable to pounce on the opportunity. Brian Wilson was a broken man and the public had moved on from the Beach Boys when they moved away from their surfing roots and tried to embrace psychedelia. They were dropped by their record label and drifting aimlessly like a surfer on a reservoir. When they finally got an album of new material together and a label who would sign them they produced Sunflower, which decades later rock critics have decided they love but the record buying public ignored completely. It's highest chart position in the US was 151, a sad decline for a once proud band.

I have to confess I've never really liked the Beach Boys much. I find their sunny attitude to life and devotion to surfing intensely irritating. I think it's partly because I know they didn't actually surf themselves. They adopted a manufactured image in order to sell records and that sort of thing always gets on my nerves. Sunflower however is a late-era Beach Boys album, there's no Good Vibrations or Surfer Girl here it's post psychadelic music created by millionaires dealing with fame, drug habits and a sense of spiritual emptiness.

Sunflower is also a collaborative effort. Every member of the group contributed a track after band leader and songwriter Brian Wilson decided to retreat into his bedroom and immerse himself in cocaine and junk food. While the others had been able to ride on Wilson's songwriting abilities in the past they had to produce their own songs which gives Sunflower a bit of a disjointed feel. It's the strange sound of a veteran band relying on novice songwriters.

A lot of Sunflower is painfully bad: Diedre is a saccharine dedication song whose existence must be an unwanted extra layer of pain for anyone unfortunate enough to be named Deidre. Add Some Music To Your Day sounds like a discarded Sesame Street composition and Tears in the Morning is so bad it features a piano accordion. Lyrically the album is a definitely on the odd side as well. Our Sweet Love feature the line "Pretty things like insects and flowers, I want to make them part of our sweet love." Sorry what? I can understand how you'd want floral arrangements to make a contribution to your romantic life but insects? What girl wants insects to be part of their sweet love? "Oh darling how romantic! You've strewn the bed with rose petals! And what's this all over the pillow? Oh my God!" Cool Cool Water must annoy chemists everywhere when it keeps refering to water as "a gas" not once but several times. Men in white lab-coats must scream "It's a bloody liquid!" at their CD players every time this track comes on.

In amongst the average tracks and the below-average tracks is one song that I'd have to say is an undiscovered gem. It's About Time is a fantastic Rock and Roll song and I wonder where it's been all my life. It's three minutes of great music that any rock band at the time would be proud of. A thumping piano and bass riff, a catchy chorus, some bongos and a fantastic vocal performance. If you haven't heard it then I strongly recommend you track it down.

Sunflower might be a bit of an unfocused mess but it's definitely an unfocused mess by the Beach Boys. The tight harmonies and lush vocals are on every track and for fans of the Wilsons and Co it's no Pet Sounds but I can imagine it earning a regular spin on the turntable.

Highlight: It's about time
Lowlight: Deidre

Influenced by: The Beatles.
Influenced: Rock critics to wax vitriolic.

Favourite Amazon Review Customer Quote: "even the marginal tracks (deidre, at my window, tears in the morning) are not bad at all and are masterpieces when compare to any wack music you care to mention."

-I love the application of hip hop street terms to 1970's psychadelic pop.

So is Sunflower the work of Budding Geniuses or Blooming Idiots? Let me know below.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

381. The Modern Lovers. Didn't see that coming.

Album: The Modern Lovers
Artist: The Modern Lovers
Year: 1976
Genre: Rock

Tracks

  1. Roadrunner
  2. Astral Plane
  3. Old World
  4. Pablo Picasso
  5. She Cracked
  6. Hospital
  7. Someone I Care About
  8. Girlfriend
  9. Modern World

They say not many people bought the Velvet Underground's debut album but that everyone who did started a band. I'd previously though this was just a very cute thing to say but having listened to a lot of the albums on this list I'm beginning to think it's based on actual research. I probably should have included an "influenced by VU" tag on these posts so I could immediately bring them up at will. Reed and Co can comfortably take the crown of "most influential artists" so far in the countdown.

Some of the VU's disciples are The Modern Lovers, a pre-punk band who barely troubled the record buying charts when they finally released their debut album but whose influence is so far-reaching someone is probably claiming everyone who bought their album started a band of their own. You might not have heard of them (few have) but apparently they've had a huge impact on the rock world. Or the Ramones are big fans, which as we've discovered already, is enough to get you into the countdown.

The most interesting thing about The Modern Lovers' album is that it wasn't released it escaped. It has a troubled life and it's appearance here is a triumph that nobody would ever have anticipated. In 1971 the band, who had been playing gigs around Boston, entered a recording studio to put down some demo tracks for what would hopefully become their debut album. The following year they finally got around to entering the studio again this time under the guidance of John Cale from the Velvet Underground. Again they produced some demos. Another later session generated more demo recordings. Before the band could finally reconvene in a studio somewhere and actually record a proper album they decided to go their separate ways, which is generally considered a good career move but only after you've actually released an album for your fans to treasure. The Modern Lovers never got around to producing final tracks so their brief career was destined to be ignored by the record buying public.

It took four years for a record executive at their old record label to decide their demos were worth an album release in their own right. He cobbled together nine tracks from the three different sessions and put it out as The Modern Lovers self titled debut. While it didn't storm it's way onto the charts it was lauded by record critics, who nobody ever pays the slightest bit of attention to.

The end result is an album that was never intended to be released. Unlike every other studio release on this list the sounds on the album were never intended for the public's ears. It's the sound of a band laying down demos to give other people an indication of what they could record professionally if given the chance. There are no overdubs it's basically raw and live in the studio. It poses an interesting question- would the album be better or worse if they'd had the chance to record the album properly? Would they re-record vocals? Would they add some extra horns? Perhaps throw in a backing vocal? Would it lose all it's charm and appeal to TML's small but dedicated fanbase (35 reviews on amazon) or would it have given them mainstream success? Or possibly both?

Personally I'm no great fan of The Modern Lovers. Their songs are a bit repetitive and bland for my liking. They're definitely groundbreaking, you wouldn't think these tracks were recorded in 1971 but they need something more than a surprising time period to make them appeal to modern ears.

Highlight: Girlfriend
Lowlight: Astral Plane

Influenced by: The Velvet Underground (yet again)
Influenced: REM


Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: This album is the historical equivalent of finding a book describing the rise and fall of the third reich with a publishing date in the 13th century. Let's talk about the Halo Benders, Marci Playground and Cool Yeah. But this album predates these groups by 25 years. Jonathon email me, I owe you lunch............

That's brilliant. It's short, witty, references obscure bands and even finishes with a lunch invitation.