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.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

364. American Recordings- A comeback for the man in black.

364. American Recordings. A comeback for the man in black.

Album: American Recordings
Artist: Johnny Cash
Year: 1994
Genre: Country

Tracks


  1. Delia's Gone
  2. Let the Train Blow the Whistle
  3. The Beast in Me
  4. Drive On
  5. Why Me Lord
  6. Thirteen
  7. Oh, Bury Me Not (Introduction: A Cowboy's Prayer)
  8. Bird on a Wire
  9. Tennessee Stud
  10. Down There by the Train
  11. Redemption
  12. Like a Soldier
  13. The Man Who Couldn't Cry


I've often felt that producers can get in the way of great music. Artists come to recording sessions with demos of their songs recorded on simple instruments. If the artist can write a good song and perform it well then pretty much everything required to make it great is already there. But in order to justify their existence producers feel the need to add strings, and basoons and extra percussion, and sound effects and maybe a cowbell! Or a cow! What this song needs is a cow or two or even an entire herd! Sampled cows! Someone call up a farm I need 50 head of cattle in the studio by this afternoon!

Johnny Cash has often felt producers get in the way of his music and thankfully Rick Rubin does as well. In 1994 Rubin decided he wanted one of the greatest voices in music to record on his record label without any embellishments or fancy notions. Just Cash and his guitar and some great songs. The result is American Recordings which (thankfully) is only the first in a series of albums that Cash recorded before he died.

Johnny Cash is never going to rank as one of the greatest guitar players of all time but he definitely had one of the greatest voices on the planet. He doesn't possess a countryfied twang that grates the nerves of anyone who doesn't live in the tornado-prone parts of America, he's blessed with a deeply sonorous tone that sounds exactly like a mountain would sound like if you could get it in a recording studio. He's just a joy to listen to and his voice is so unique there aren't many things other than a lone guitar that could add anything to his music. All he really needs to make great records is a set of great songs. Which was where the producer comes in.

Rick Rubin decided style didn't matter, eras were irrelevant and genres didn't exist- the only important factor was whether the song was one that Cash could turn into a Johnny Cash song. Some of the tracks (Delia's Gone and Oh Bury Me not) were songs that Cash had already recorded decades before. Others were ones he wrote more recently. Some were covers and some were written especially for Cash to sing by contemporary songwriters. Tom Waits wrote Down there by the Train and Heavy Metal hero Glen Danzig wrote Thirteen. While on paper it looks like a hodge podge of standards, obscure covers, original material and eclectic bespoke material on the album it's a Johnny Cash album. The strength of his personality is enough to transform every track into his own song. And it makes for compelling listening.

I enjoyed American Recordings so much I hunted down the entire collection. There are six albums in the American Recordings set and every one is fantastic. If you're not a fan of Johnny Cash already then this will turn you into one. And while you're taking the time to appreciate the voice and the songs spare a thought for the producer who spent the sessions sitting up in the sound booth with his feet on the desk enjoying perfection rather than trying to screw it up.

Influenced by: Country music and vocal depth
Influenced: Generations to stop saying "I don't like any country music".

Highlight: The Beast in Me
Lowlight: The man who couldn't cry (but it's definitely not a very low lowlight)

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: This CD is even worse than his old stuff!
Picture an old man, who could never sing to begin with, producing a CD with only him and his guitar, singing some obscure murder, prison, woe on to me songs, and you get the idea.

So did this album have you screaming halleluja or shouting Why Me Lord? Let me know below

Friday, October 22, 2010

365- Louder than Bombs- Keeping up with the Smiths.

Album: Louder than Bombs
Artist: The Smiths
Year: 1987
Genre: Pop

Tracks


  1. Is It Really So Strange?
  2. Sheila Take a Bow
  3. Shoplifters of the World Unite
  4. Sweet and Tender Hooligan
  5. Half a Person
  6. London
  7. Panic
  8. Girl Afraid
  9. Shakespeare's Sister
  10. William, It Was Really Nothing
  11. You Just Haven't Earned It Yet, Baby
  12. Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now
  13. Ask
  14. Golden Lights
  15. Oscillate Wildly
  16. These Things Take Time
  17. Rubber Ring
  18. Back to the Old House
  19. Hand in Glove
  20. Stretch Out and Wait
  21. Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want
  22. This Night Has Opened My Eyes
  23. Unloveable
  24. Asleep




I've already reviewed one Smiths album and I failed to see what the fuss was about. I'm aware of the adoration that the band enjoys around the world but listening to an earlier release I just couldn't see the point. I said at the time that I'd approach later releases with an open mind. Now in the midst of the 300's we've come across another release by one of the England's favourite bands. but unlike the previous entry Louder than bombs isn't an album, it's a collection of rarities and lost tracks designed to allow die-hard Smiths fans to fill the gaps in their music collection. Consequently it's a hodge podge of non-album singles, B sides and oddments. The general effect is widely regarded by Smiths fans as a "for completists only" release. Granted most Smiths fans are such completists they'd pay good money for a recording of Morrisseys voicemail message but that still doesn't change the fact that this album isn't a considered release that the band put together as a single work of art.

That being said this album does contain a handful of singles that broke into the top 20 in the UK and even has a song that the writers of Rolling Stone Magazine decided was one of the 500 greatest of all time (William, It Was Really Nothing which appeared at number 425 on the list). While there might be B-sides amongst the hits these aren't just throwaway demos and album outcasts and Smiths fans would regard even the lowliest of B-sides as better than most band's biggest chart-toppers (in fact they would probably put every Smiths' song in the top 500 of all time and pad out any gaps with voicemail messages).

So did listening to Louder than bombs start to turn me onto Mozza and his former bandmates? Have I joined the ranks of Smith-obsessives and ardent devotees?

No.

To be honest their appeal is still a bit of a mystery although if it helps I'm starting to narrow down what I find a bit alienating. I've been listening to some Johnny Cash lately and I can't help but think he's got one of the greatest voices ever. Cash sings like a kind of god and he's so good I could listen to him read my own reviews and not get put off by the appalling similes. At the same time I've had to listen to a lot of the Police which means enduring Sting whose singing really gets on my tits. Cash- Good, Sting-Bad. Anyone care to join me in posing a theory? The voices I enjoy are deep and sonorous. They possess the sort of depth which can only be inhabited by those fish with glowing lights on their head. I've recently enjoyed Tom Waits for the same reason. Sting on the other hand is a bit high-pitched and whiny. Morrissey usually sings at a higher pitch except for times when he decides to go even further up the range into a falsetto. I'm no fan of his voice at his normal register but when he's trying to launch his vocals into space I find it really grating. There are those that rave about Johnny Marr as a guitarist and I have to confess I really enjoyed his work with Modest Mouse. But on these tracks there just doesn't' seem to be much to get excited about. He doesn't prove his agility on the six-strings enough to distract you from Morrissey's voice.

I spent a lot of time listening to the A-sides on this compilation and I've reached the conclusion that your love or lack of love for the Smiths' is going to depend on your appreciation of Morriseys' voice. If you're someone who loves a higher vocal range then you're predisposed to enjoy the Smiths. But if high vocals are a low point on a medium for you then there's not enough to compensate.

Highlight: Ask
Lowlight: Hand in Glove

Influenced by: Meloncholy and angst.
Influenced: A generation of English teenagers.


Favourite Amazon customer Review Quote: "Shoplifters of the world Unite is one my favorites, but do shoplifters really have the moral fortitude to unite, would they trust each other, I doubt beyond the mayhem of a day. Although shoplifting can be fun, especially for smokes or alchohol."

So did you enjoy this or would you rather turn the volume down and listen to the bombs instead.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

366. Mott- Another album for the Hoopleheads.



Album: Mott
Artist: Mott the Hoople
Year: 1973
Genre: Rock

Tracks


  1. All the Way from Memphis
  2. Whizz Kid
  3. Hymn for the Dudes
  4. Honaloochie Boogie
  5. Violence
  6. Drivin’ Sister
  7. Ballad of Mott the Hoople (26th March 1972, Zürich)
  8. I’m a Cadillac/El Camino Dolo Roso
  9. I Wish I Was Your Mother


By the time Mott the Hoople came to release Mott (which I think can technically be called a Self Half-Titled release) Rock's "Golden era" was coming to an end. While you may be with Bono ("Don't believe in the sixties, the golden age of rock") in regarding it all as a load of bollocks there are definitely those who feel the greatest era in all of popular music started in 1963 when the Beatles changed the world and ended in the early seventies when the world changed the Beatles. 63-73 is often called The Greatest decade and I'll be fairly confident that the majority of the albums in the top 100 of this list were recorded in those days. By 1973 the world had already seen the entire careers of The Beatles, Hendrix, Cream and The Doors along with the finest hours from The Rolling Stones, The Who, Pink Floyd and lots of others. Popular music had seen all the innovations that would make it better and was now forced to rely on the changes that would just make it bigger, flashier, more expensive and further out of touch with the average punter in the street. This is what produced Glam rock and finally led to the invention of Punk which gave Rock it's much needed boot up the backside. Mott the Hoople had already given the world All the Young Dudes and now that it's composer and producer David Bowie had reinvented himself again they were left to their own devices to try and come up with something original and inspiring in an era that had already seen Sgt Peppers, Exile on Mainstreet and Dark Side of the Moon.

Whether or not they were successful probably depends on how you judge your Rock and Roll. If you go exclusively on album sales then Mott could have done better. If you judge it by songs that receive airplay decades later then it's not looking too strong. If however you're criteria for a good album involves creepy lyrics involving strange relationships you might find Mott is right up your alley. On the album's final track, I wish I was your mother, Ian Hunter sings about how much he wishes he was his lover's mother or even her father. This would have given him the opportunity to wrestle her brothers. Try and tell me that's not a strange desire. I love my wife very much and at no point have I wanted to be either of her parents. And I've never had a desire to wrestle her brother (his martial arts black belt notwithstanding). The good news is that the lyrics of Mother aren't what's keeping it from achieving the greatness it deserves. The song itself is pretty bad regardless of the words and the added mandolin doesn't help either. Mandolins rarely add anything to music and they should be avoided mainly because it's absolutely impossible to look cool while playing one.

My least favourite track on Mott however is a song called Violence which commits does something I always hate in music- puts me into a lyrical timewarp. I'm sure there's an actual word for it but the effect I'm talking about is the line that only seems complete when you start it again. Violence features the oft-repeated line: "Violence, Violence it's the only thing that makes any sense". Once you've sung this line the only way to feel that it's reached a satisfactory conclusion is to immediately sing it again. Consequently once it's in your head it's not going away until you either crowbar it out with another tune or else beat yourself senseless with a blunt implement. This approach might seem drastic but it's the only response, especially when the line taunting you from inside your own head advocates violence as the only solution.

With the exception of Violence, Mott isn't an especially offensive album but it's not really that much fun either. It lacks an All the Young Dudes or another hit single and has too many forgettable moments and no really memorable ones. It sounds like Rock in a holding pattern- redtreading watered down version of former greatness while it waits for music to reinvent itself.

Highlight: All the way from Memphis
Lowlight: Violence

Influenced by: The Stones
Influenced: Glam Rock


Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "MOTT" is a FIVE STAR RECORD by a band that had a lot to say with only a very short time to do so (1969-1973). The Rock 'N' Roll Hall of Fame is a JOKE... This was OUR BAND"

-Every band has a fan who is incensed about their exclusion from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

So would you care to Mott or would you rather not? Let me know below.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

367- Is this it? We've come here to save Rock and Roll.






Album:
Is this it?
Artist: The Strokes
Year: 2001
Genre: Rock

Tracks


1. Is This It
2. The Modern Age
3. Soma
4. Barely Legal
5. Someday
6. Alone, Together
7. Last Nite
8. Hard to Explain
9. New York City Cops
10. Trying Your Luck
11. Take It or Leave It


Every year someone writing somewhere will pronounce Rock and Roll dead. At the same exact same moment someone else will have have found Rock's saviour. In it's half-century on earth Rock has died and been brought back to life more times than Michael Myers and Jason Voorhoeves combined. Messiah's have lined up to save Rock from death and frequently watched their own careers die instead. Not many bands have burst onto the scene, revived rock and then managed to live through the critical backlash that anyone with overnight success brings upon themselves if they're selfish enough not to overdose or suicide before they enter the studio again.

The Strokes are a rare entity indeed. They released a debut album which the critics adored and couldn't get enough of. Unlike many critical darlings they managed to convert the lines of oozing praise into record and ticket sales. Instead of pratting about the world stage telling everyone they were the greatest things since the Beatles, The Strokes managed to preserve their appeal through the inevitable round of TV appearances and became heroes in England and America, which is a pretty impressive trick. Their concerts were well attended and popular and while follow-up albums never hit the heights of their debut they were still well received and never tried to repeat themselves or (worse) move in a completely new direction ("Our new album is an attempt to play Jazz fusion on traditional folk instruments")

The real test of the popularity of Is This It is listening to it ten years after it's release. Critics are still putting it on their best-of lists today. When Rolling Stone magazine decided to sum up the greatest albums of the 00's only Radiohead's Kid A could top it. There's been no backlash and the cross that the press erected to crucify the Strokes on remains empty and unused. I have to confess that I had never heard this album before I came to give it a listen earlier this week. I know for some that seems remarkeable. How can someone who claims to listen to music obsessively not hear the 2nd greatest album of the last decade? In my defence I was living in England when it was released and so I avoided listening to radio whenever possible. Australian radio is pretty bad but it's a breath of audio fresh air compared to what pours out of the UK airwaves.

So what did I think of Is This It? Well I have to say it picked up dramatically after the first song. The album opens with the title track which is the only slower song the band attempt. It's not really that inspiring it has to be said and while it was annoying on a first listen it actually became more tedious the more I heard. From track two onwards however the Strokes really won me over. They play what some people call pop-punk and they play it really well. Riffs, hooks, solos and beats make for a really great listen and you can imagine a pub full of punters going off in a big way.

If you somehow avoided This is it then can I take them time to tell you that it really is it. It's fresh and exciting rock and roll and proof that Rock isn't dead and will never die.

Influenced by: Music classes. Apparently they actually took music classes.
Influenced: Most bands with any kind of Indy street cred.

Highlight: The Modern Age
Lowlight: Is this it

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "to all those that appreciate talented musicians, skills, creativity, and SOUL, dont' buy this crap. i borrowed this cd from a friend due to the hype!like i said, this is not rock. listen to JIMI HENDRIX, steve vai, joe satrianni, yngwie malmsteen, tony mcalpine, led zepplin, etc."

-There's no doubt quoting Yngwie Malmsteen in your list of preferable alternatives immediately reduces your credibility level.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

368. Rage Against the Machine. Big, loud, sweary and very very angry.

Album: Rage Against the Machine
Artist: Rage Against the Machine
Genre: Rage Against the Machine
Year: 1992

Tracks


  1. Bombtrack
  2. Killing in the Name
  3. Take the Power Back
  4. Settle for Nothing
  5. Bullet in the Head
  6. Know Your Enemy
  7. Wake Up
  8. Fistful of Steel
  9. Township Rebellion
  10. Freedom


Sometimes I listen to albums and wonder why the singers are so angry. Rich and successful young men with fame, groupies, drugs and fleets of expensive cars shout a lot about how annoyed they are and rail against humanity in general. Rage sells and contentment doesn't. Rock tracks called "Goodness, isn't life super?" don't move off the shelves.

One of the angriest bands on the planet were Rage Against the Machine, who weren't just a bit teetchy and irritable they were driven by an incandescent ire and sulfurous fury which underpinned every song of every album. They're a stroppy bunch of disgruntled rock stars and for my money they're one of the greatest things to come out of nineties music. Their debut album screams out of your speakers from track one. It grabs you by the ears, slams your skull into the CD Player and shouts "how the hell can you just sit there?" directly into your face. It hammers you around the head with righteous indignation at the injustice of the world and leaves you breathless, educated and eager to take the ride all over again. It can only be listened to live or in the privacy of your own home. Playing it in public would incite riots and cause the overthrow of the established government- which is exactly what RATM were hoping for.

The most famous track on Rage is definitely Killing in the Name of, a single that took 17 years to get to number one on the UK charts. It's original release in 1992 saw English record buyers send it to number 25, below 24 other songs that were much safer in lyrical content and contained little to no actual swearing. In 2009 thanks to facebook, the internet and sheer bloody-mindedness it not only achieved the number one spot but managed it at Christmas, a time when the number one spot is "coveted" according to the ubiquitous phrase "The coveted number one spot." For several years the Christmas chart topper had been the exclusive domain of the winner of X-factor whose overblown and lifeless cover of a popular standard was cynically churned out by evil men in suits in an attempt to gain extra funds from their newly spawned cash-calf. Disgruntled bloggers (are there any other kind?) decided that enough was enough and they would mobilise the forces of the planet to buy Killing in the Name of and turn it into a surprise hit. The campaign worked and Rage against the Machine had a number one single almost two decades after it was released.

But Rage Against the Machine is more than just it's most famous single. There are lots of other great tracks on the album that run the full gamut of emotions from disparagingly annoyed to seethingly vengeful. It's proof that sometimes you can judge an album by it's cover. Rage Against the Machine features the famous photograph of a Vietnamese bhuddist monk protesting the war by setting himself on fire in public. It's a well chosen image- RATM are advocating the use of fire to achieve a more peaceful world. They're trying to ignite something and prepared to use whatever means necessary. A lesser band would just be annoying but Tom Morello and Rage are capable of turning anger into great music.

Highlight: Killing in the Name of
Lowlight: Township Rebellion

Influenced by: Rage. Rap and Metal
Influenced: Sadly lots of terrible bands who tried to combine metal chords with rap lyrics. Please stop now.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: These guys are terrible. They have absolutely no talent and they act really afeminite. This is music for the mindless. Even Sugar Ray is better than these guys!

-RATM act afeminite? Even if you had correctly spelled what I think you mean I'm still not sure I agree with you.

So are you Raging along with Rage or turning off your machine to enjoy the silence? Let me know below.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

369. Regatta De Blanc. Not especially arresting music from The Police.


Album: Regatta De Blanc
Artist: The Police
Year: 1979
Genre: Rock

Tracks


  1. Message in a Bottle
  2. Reggatta de Blanc
  3. It's Alright for You
  4. Bring on the Night
  5. Deathwish
  6. Walking on the Moon
  7. On Any Other Day
  8. The Bed's Too Big Without You
  9. Contact
  10. Does Everyone Stare
  11. No Time This Time



369 sees another album by The Police which means another pretentious title and another collection of Sting's vocals. Regular readers of this blog might recall my previous reviews of Police albums which were less than complimentary. I reviewed their last album first and their first album later which leads us to their second album and the second last I'm going to review (that does make sense you just need to read it slowly). The good news is that Regatta is a much more enjoyable experience than the other two albums.

There are two hits on Regatta which anyone with a radio not locked onto a classical station has heard. There's definitely a sliding scale of fame as far as music is concerned. If I haven't heard of it then I think it's obscure. If my wife has heard of it then it's pretty much universally known. If my parents have heard it then it's Mozart. Walking on the Moon and Message in a bottle were both songs that my wife said she'd heard so they've definitely penetrated the cultural zeitgeist to some extent. Message in a bottle is a fairly pleasant listen. It's got a nice groove going and the "I hope that someone gets my..." line is Sting singing at his best. It's not at all high-pitched and grating. Sadly the same can't be said for the other single. Walking on the moon relies on the reggae beat The Police decided to rip off early in their career and it shuffles along like something that comes directly from Jamaica. Only without any of the charm. True reggae is usually augmented by the dulcet tones of an Afro-Carribean singer who lends their deep and sonorous voice to the instrumentation. Walking features the whiney screech of Sting which makes it sound like a Reggae song performed under the influence of helium. While the band lays down a bass-heavy groove which tickles the woofers, Sting gives your speaker's tweeters a work out which they didn't need or want.

While the rest of Regatta isn't as bad as Walking it's not as good as Message either. But it does have some good ideas which goes against the traditional grain of The Dreaded Second Album. Traditionally most bands release a debut which is described as "Long awaited". It's the long awaited debut from a new band who have been writing songs for years and perfecting them in clubs and bars around their hometown. They spend a lot of time writing and perfecting songs because they've got no money to do drugs and no females will sleep with them because they smell like the back of the touring van they spend most of their life in. After the first album goes stellar they're catapulted to a life of fame that involves huge gigs, a decent touring entourage and as many groupie boobs as they can snort cocaine from. Somehow the urge to write songs gets lost amongst the press interviews, TV Appearances, wild parties, huge gigs, music festivals and drug abuse. And the motivation that made them write music that connected with common people (near poverty, failed relationships, cheap pubs and unfulfilled lust) is replaced by experiences that only other rock stars can connect with (sycophants, aspiring models, promoters and celebrities). This will frequently lead to a case of The Dreaded Second Album Syndrome in which the band can't cobble together any songs good enough to compare with the hits they packed album one with. Lots of bands put out a great debut and then fall in a heap when required to come up with a follow up. Surprisingly The Police actually put a stronger set of songs on album two than they did on album one. There's nothing much here that suggests a dearth of ideas or a tendency to repeat themselves.

Possibly my favourite cut on the album is the title track. It's an instrumental, which is a definite bonus and it's a really good one. It's a chance to appreciate how talented the band are without being distracted by their lead singer who was actually quite a good bass player when he got going. This track reminds me of an Australian band called Spy V Spy who I've always said were criminally under rated and deserve more love. If you like this song then check them out. No Time This Time is a good rock and roll song and gets my vote for best undiscovered Police hit. Any Other Day however is the album's lowpoint and sounds like Stewart Copeland's selfless attempt to prove that Sting wasn' the most annoying singer in the band.

Regatta is the highest ranking Police album in the countdown so far and deservedly so. There's one more to go.

Highlight: No time This Time
Lowlight: Walking on the Moon.

Influenced by: Reggae and Rampant egos
Influenced: Simply Red.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "This album has the honor of being one of the best air guitar albums ever,Honest just ask Rick " three dudes with no shirts" N. "

-That sentence started with a statement I disagreed with but rapidly became something I didn't understand.


Alors trouvez-vous Stin prétentieux ou tout simplement ennuyeux? Permettez-moi de savoir-dessous.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

370. Volunteers. Slick Hippie Rock.

Album: Volunteers
Artist: Jefferson Airplane
Year: 1969
Genre: Rock

Tracks


1. We Can Be Together
2. Good Shepherd
3. The Farm
4. Hey Fredrick
1. Turn My Life Down
2. Wooden Ships
3. Eskimo Blue Day
4. A Song for All Seasons
5. Meadowlands
6. Volunteers


Before they became Jefferson Starship and then just Starship, Jefferson Airplane were a hugely influential San Fransisco rock band who genuinely pushed some boundaries and rattled some cages. They might be known today for songs like Somebody to Love, which is a fairly sweet and innocent pop song but in 1969 they were more interested in being the voice of sixties counter-culture. Volunteers was their most strident appeal and would be the album your mother warned you about if your mum had a good grasp of left-wing, proto-anarchist, hippie anthems of the late sixties.

By today's standards the lyrics on Volunteers aren't especially risque but back in 1969 the word "Fuck" wasn't making regular appearances on vinyl. If you listen closely to We Can Be Together, the opening track on Volunteers you can clearly hear the phrase "up against the wall Motherfuckers" being sung, and not just by some dirty hippie-type but by a woman. It seems that before the seventies started people hadn't worked out what they were offended by and no advisory sticker was required. Surprisingly the band performed the song without any lyrical revision on the Dick Cavett show which is apparently the first ever appearance of the word "Fuck" on American TV. The rest of the album offended America and not just because of it's language, although if you're a big swearing fan there are some random "shits" thrown about as well (also sung by Slick). We can be Together is an angry incitement to "tear down the walls," the title track openly incites revolution and Wooden Ships is a lament about what life will be like in a post-apocoplytic world. Airplane even prove that they don't need words to be controversial, Meadowlands is a strange dirge performed on an organ which many at the time would have recognised as the theme song for the Soviet Union's armed forces, which you can imagine went down well during the cold war.

Years later when bands like Rage Against the Machine have made motherfucker-ridden incitements to smash the state fairly commonplace it's possible to examine Volunteers with a focus more on the music than the controversy, which affords us an excellent chance to heap praise on Jorma Kaukonen. While he went on to establish a career as a perfomer of acoustic folk and blues, back in the sixties Jorma was the Airplane's lead guitarist and their most potent weapon. You can talk all you like about Grace Slick's vocals but for me what makes Volunteers a classic is Jorma and his six strings. Hey Frederick starts as Grace's ballad but quickly becomes Jorma's chance to shine as duels himself on a double tracked guitar break that is just magnificent. He wails and plays some magnificent passages while Nicky Hopkins pushes him along on the piano. If you're a lover of good guitarwork and you've never heard Hey Frederick then for goodness sake check it out, the only reason Kaukonen isn't better known is because nobody can pronounce either of his names.

Jorma doesn't just limit himself to one track. His talent is all over this album. It's time we saved Volunteers from the shadow of the motherfucker and treated it as the classic piece of sixties Rock and Roll that it is.

Highlight: Hey Frederick
Lowlight: The Farm, which features one of my favourite musicians playing one of my least favourite instruments.


Influenced by: The Haight Ashbury scene and the political climate.
Influenced: Pretty much every rock band with a female vocalist. Slick and Joplin laid down the blueprint for woman-front bands.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "It's too bad I've never been able to hear the first song in its entirety. My record has a big scratch right in the middle of the song, and I don't want to risk the life of my needle to find out that it obviously won't play."

-Now there's an old school complaint that you don't often hear in today's digitial age.

So are you a Volunteer or did you avoid the guys with the sign up sheets? Let me know below.

Friday, October 1, 2010

371. Siren. Calling all Roxy Music fans (and there must be some)


Album: Siren
Artist: Roxy Music
Year: 1975
Genre: Rock

Tracks

  1. Love Is the Drug
  2. End of the Line
  3. Sentimental Fool
  4. Whirlwind
  5. She Sells
  6. Could It Happen to Me?
  7. Both Ends Burning
  8. Nightingale
  9. Just Another High


Sometimes my opinion of an album stays pretty much constant throughout the obligatory four listen that I give each one for this blog. There are times when I hear it once and think "not really my cup of tea" and I still think the same thing three listens later only with more bitterness and a deep-seated sense of irritation that I'm not listening to my favourite music in order to spend more time with stuff I don't like. But then there are times when an album actually needs four listens to fully appreciate and a release has grown exponentially in my estimations. One such album was Siren.

The first time I heard Siren it grated a bit I have to be honest. It struck me as trying too hard to be quirky and became a bit annoying. Listen number two smoothed out my wrinkles of irritation and by three and four I could actually understand why it had a fanbase. I'm not a huge Roxy Music fan by any stretch of the imagination but when someone mentions Siren to me in the future (something that has never happened in my life up to this point, but there's a first time for everything) I can nod wisely and say "yeah, not a bad album".

The stumbling block for many Roxy Music fans are Bryan Ferry's vocals which are a long way from typical rock and roll. Ferry has a habit of warbling his vowel sounds which makes him sound less like a vocalist and more like a ghost. It's entirely possible that Bryan isn't a living singer from the seventies but a dead one from the twenties who happened to be haunting the studio at the time. An effective exorcism would turn Siren into an instrumental album, and to be honest it would still hold up pretty well.

While there are some people who love him, Ferry's vocals were something I had to overcome rather than appreciate. Thankfully the rest of the band cooks along nicely and provides a lot to appreciate if you're prepared to spend some time with it. Probably the best way to describe the arrangements on Siren is dense. There's none of your sparse, lone acoustic guitar arrangements on this album it's an all-and-everything approach. The listener has to really concentrate in order to distinguish between the various guitars, keyboards, brass and strings that seem to be battling away in the background. At various points on the album the songs are augmented by an oboe. Did the album need an oboe? No, but Andy Mackay had one and he'd brought it along and then he was damn well going to use it. Good luck picking it out but apparently it's on there somewhere along with a few synthesisers, a ghost and probably a kitchen sink.

The cacophony that makes up Siren's backing is part of what makes repeated listens essential to appreciating it's charm. The melody lines might be more distinct if the band had showed more restraint but there would be less to appreciate. Give Siren a listen and then give it another three. You might find yourself enjoying it more every time.

Influenced by: Music catalogues.
Influenced: Princess Diana (her favourite band apparently)

Highlight: Love is the Drug
Lowlight: Nightingale.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Simon LeBon and Nick Rhodes called. . .. .and they want their music back. As well as their wardrobe. Bryan Ferry is no match for the geniuses that are Simon and Nick. "

-This reviewer appears to be implying that Roxy Music have shamelessly ripped off Duran Duran. An interesting theory that's easy to shoot holes in. The biggest hole being the fact that Roxy Music predate Duran Duran by several years.

-So did you heed the siren's call or do you lament the fact that it's been going all night but the owners haven't done anything about it and it was probably set off by that bloody cat from next door? Let me know below.