Wednesday, November 30, 2011

253. Trans Europe Express. Please Read.




Album: Trans Europe Express
Artist: Kraftwerk
Genre: Electronica
Year: 1977

Tracks

  1. Europe Endless
  2. The Hall Of Mirrors
  3. Showroom Dummies
  4. Trans-Europe Express
  5. Metal On Metal
  6. Franz Schubert
  7. Endless Endless

I really hope a lot of people read this post. According to blog stats there are people out there reading this which is good because frankly I'd hate to think I listened to this album 4 times for nothing.

Four times I sat through Trans Europe Express. Four times I listened to the mind numbing beats, droning vocals and irritating repetitive melodies so I could write this review. Four seperate train trips saw me enduring this and resisting the temptation to listen to something else. Do you have any idea how hard this was? At any moment, with only a few taps of my finger, I could have made my MP3 player stop torturing me with Kraftwerk and instead reward me with some Crosby Stills and Nash. My brain kept telling me that at any minute I could stop the pain and replace it with pleasure but I resisted the urge because I knew I had a post to write. I needed to persist in order to put these words on the page.

You know what really frustrates me? You know what really gets me werked up? I could have saved myself the trouble and written the review at the end of track one and it would sounded exactly the same. By the time I'd finished the opening song I thought "Gee, Kraftwerk really are as boring, monotonous and soullless as people say they are". I'd heard enough in those opening 9 minutes to form an opinion, I tried to keep an open mind for the rest of the album but it's hard to be objective when you have a German repeating the same things endlessly in your ears.

When the final track  came to an end I went straight to my iriver's music folder and told it to play the first thing it found. You won't find Ani Di Franco on this countdown anywhere but 32 Flavors has more emotion, joy, spontaniety, talent and life than this entire album combined and multiplied by four.

Apparently modern music needed Kraftwerk. I honestly can't see why.

Influenced by: Mirrors, Europe and no actual music
Influenced: Depeche mode etc

Highlight: Franz Schubert
Lowlight: Europe Endless

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: I really wanted to like Kraftwerk. I've had this album for years, originally buying it when I began getting interested in electronic music and friends insisted it was a seminal work in the genre. I told myself I liked it, but once the novelty wore off, I rarely listened to it. Now that I'm cleaning out my CD collection, I gave it another listen to see whether it was worth keeping. The answer is a resounding "no." 


-I wonder how many people share a similar experience.


So does Kraftwerk werk for you or would you rather pull the plug on electronica all together? Let me know below.

Friday, November 25, 2011

254. Whitney Houston. The saddest feel-good pop of all



Album: Whitney Houston
Artist: Whitney Houston
Year: 1985
Genre: Pop

Tracks

  1. You Give Good Love
  2. Thinking About You
  3. Someone for Me
  4. Saving All My Love for You
  5. Nobody Loves Me Like You Do
  6. How Will I Know
  7. All at Once
  8. Take Good Care of My Heart
  9. Greatest Love of All
  10. Hold Me

Some music is designed to make you happy. Some songs have been written specifically to give you a spring in your step and a smile on your face. Most pop music is created with exactly this ethos in mind. When you're happy listen to this and when you're sad listen to this to get happy.

Whitney Houston's first album is definitely an attempt to capture the sound of hugs. 15 different writers collaborated on a set of songs designed to be a big bucket of sunshine in the lives of all who heard it. It's one of those albums where even the sad break-up songs are supposed to make you feel great.

A few decades have passed and while other girly pop of the era (Madonna, Cindi Lauper etc) can still recapture the bright colours of the eighties, a listen to Whitney Houston only makes you think about what's happened to Whitney since those days.

For a decade or two, Houston released big selling albums, sold out concert venues and had a nice-girl image that combined wholesome and genuine. But by the end of the nineties she become progressively more erratic and the drug rumours started. She had a messy divorce, some dreadful interviews and some highly publicized secret trips to rehab.

A 2009 comeback was called I Look To You which generated two singles, one of which peaked at number 70 on the billboard charts and the other only managed 100. It was supposed to return her to the top of her game but it only served to return her to rehab a few years later.

You may be able to disconnect art from artist more effectively than I can but when I listen to this album I struggle to overlook the tragedy that Whitney became. From Pop princess to walking headline. It's hard to listen to this music and feelgood when you know that the singer was so dependent on other substances to feel good herself.

Highlight: Her voice. She does have a great voice
Lowlight: The production hasn't dated at all well

Influenced by: The Supremes
Influenced: Teenage girls looking for a positive role model

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Whitney is a true diva, and I AM A TEEN!"

-Glad we cleared that up

So does Houston have a problem or not? let me know below.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

255. The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation society. And you can be too.



Album: The Kinks are The Village Green Preservation Society
Artist: The Kinks
Genre: Rock
Year: 1968

Tracks

  1. The Village Green Preservation Society
  2. Do You Remember Walter?
  3. Picture Book
  4. Johnny Thunder
  5. Last of the Steam-powered Trains
  6. Big Sky
  7. Sitting by the Riverside
  8. Animal Farm
  9. Village Green
  10. Starstruck
  11. Phenomenal Cat
  12. All of My Friends Were There
  13. Wicked Annabella
  14. Monica
  15. People Take Pictures of Each Other

Like many sixties albums, this release was inspired by a trip. Unlike it's contemporaries however, the trip concerned wasn't a drug trip but an actual physical venture. Kinks leader Ray Davies went wandering around some quaint English towns and started to wonder what their future was. He thought about the England of his childhood and grew nostalgic for the life he used to know and the way of life he thought was under threat. His feelings generated an album that reveled in the things that made rural English life unique. At a time when everyone else was still caught up with the ideal of swinging London, Davies moved his focus to decidedly unswinging Devon.

The resulting album continues Davies' quest to try and blend the new sounds of British invasion rock with the quaint ideals of a time gone by. A set of tunes less focused on rebelling against the world today than conforming to the world of yesterday.

At the time few people cared. The album didn't sell well and the only single failed to chart at all. But in the years since it's risen in the esteem of the music loving public who seem to have developed a keen nostalgia for the days when Ray Davies felt keen nostalgia. A recent 3 disc deluxe version featured the album in its stereo form and mono mix along with a CD full of alternate mixes and versions. Ever year it rises in the public's estimations and becomes more and more popular.

Personally Villiage Green doesn't move me much. It's pleasant but I just can't marry quaint and rock in my head in any satisfactory way. Rock doesn't have to be angry, aggressive, depressing, carnal or exciting but for some reason I just can't deal with it being a bit twee. It makes me nostalgic for a time when nostalgia was the domain of the old an not the young and vibrant.

Highlight: The title track
Lowlight: People take pictures of each other. It's just too much twee

Influenced by: Nostalgia
Influenced: Belle and Sebastian and others like them.

Favourite Amazon customer review quote: I just wish they'd make this album in closed caption, because then we'd all have world peace!

-I have no idea what that means.

So does this album have you looking back with misty eyes or choking back festy liquid? Le me know below.

Friday, November 18, 2011

256. The Velvet Rope- Lot's of People and Janet Jackson



Album: The Velvet Rope
Artist: Jane Jackson.
Year: 1997
Genre: Pop

Tracks


1. Interlude: Twisted Elegance
2. Velvet Rope
3. You
4. Got 'til It's Gone
5. Interlude: Speaker Phone
6. My Need
7. Interlude: Fasten Your Seatbelts
8. Go Deep
9. Free Xone
10. Interlude: Memory
11. Together Again
12. Interlude: Online
13. Empty
14. Interlude: Full
15. What About
16. Every Time
17. Tonight's the Night
18. I Get Lonely
19. Rope Burn
20. Anything
21. Interlude: Sad
22. Special


Apparently this is a Janet Jackson album. Apparently it's her masterpiece and proof that she's a musical force to be reckoned with. It's her greatest statement and most important release.

Call me cynical but it's also a bit of a sham. 

Got til it's gone is probably the best example I can put forward as evidence. It's not just a good metaphor for this album but for an entire genre. It's Hip Hop in a nutshell. The song's main refrain is a slowed down sample of Joni Mitchell's Big Yellow Taxi. The "Don't know what you've got till it's gone" line is repeated constantly throughout the song.  Janet sings the occasional accompanying line with a tune that is only slightly more musical than general chatting. At just over the halfway point she hands the mic over to a rapper named Q-Tip who raps for the remainder of the song's length. The end result is apparently "A Janet Jackson song" even though it's credited to Janet Jackson, James Harris III, Terry Lewis, René Elizondo, Jr., Joni Mitchell and Kamaal Ibn Fareed. It took five people to write a song that is basically just a lot of backing for the good bit of the song which Joni Mitchell wrote decades before.

But it's actually not that simple. When she heard Got til it's Gone on the radio, an English singer named Des'ree recognised some of her own music in the mix and claimed it sampled her song Feel So High. She successfully sued and was consequently added as a song writer. At the same time a group of rappers calling themselves The Ummah (which included Q-Tip) claimed they were owed a production credit for their efforts. Consequently the final track listing should include seven writers and six producers, all of whom were required to effectively screw up a lovely song that Joni Mitchell recorded years before by herself with one producer behind the desk. 

So tell me how this is Janet Jackson's finest hour? How is it even a Janet Jackson song? Her voice features less than Mitchell's and Q-Tip's and what little she performs she "co-wrote and co produced" with a dozen others. 

There is nothing on this album as good as on Rhythm Nation, her other album in the countdown and personally I'd rate Big Yellow Taxi as a hundred times better than anything here.

Highlight: Joni Mitchell
Lowlight: All the annoying interludes

Influenced by: Madonna
Influenced: Please don't ask me to list their names because I honestly don't know.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "i guess the wold loves tras"

-You know someone thinks an album is trash when they can't even be bothered finishing their review.

So is this pure velvet for you or just money for old rope? Let me know below.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

257. Stardust- Show us your Willie





Album: Stardust
Artist: Willie Nelson
Year: 1978
Genre: Standards

Tracks

  1. Stardust
  2. Georgia on My Mind
  3. Blue Skies
  4. All of Me
  5. Unchained Melody
  6. September Song
  7. On the Sunny Side of the Street
  8. Moonlight in Vermont
  9. Don't Get Around Much Anymore
  10. Someone to Watch Over Me

Critics of this list (and there are many) usually vent their anger at the fact that Rock and Roll is well represented while many other genres receive only a few token albums. Heavy Metal fans are upset that it doesn't contain much "Real Metal," Jazz fans feel seminal and timeless jazz offerings are ignored in favour of disposable pop and Australians complain that their country doesn't appear to exist at all. Fans of country music feel that not only is their genre largely ignored but the albums that make the cut aren't representative of the best the artform has to offer. Stardust is put forward as possible proof.

Willie Nelson is definitely country. He's as country as country comes. He's got a country accent, a country beard, he plays a country guitar (which he's named after a horse) and he's a hero to country artists everywhere. But Stardust isn't really a country album. It's Willie's album of standards- songs so popular they're a standard in a lot of people's repertoires. It's a "Do it yourself" album, you could pick it up and sing it yourself from reading the back cover. Most of the songs are still popular now and were even more popular back then.

Willie doesn't countryfy the tunes in anyway. It's not an album of country versions of standard songs. He sings the songs like he's a fan trying to do them justice. And there's no doubt he does. Under the watchfull eye of Booker T (who had a Rap name before Rap was invented), Willie lends his low-key vocal stylings to a selection of great tunes. He doesn't belt them out because Willie don't belt. His has a limited range but he knows it and stays within the boundaries.

Have a read through the track listing. It's a fair chance you know the songs and you know what Willie's voice sounds like. If you want to hear that voice sing that song then Stardust is worth checking out. If you want a country album, this isn't it.

Influenced by: Broadway
Influenced: The expansion of a country artists repertoire.

Highlight: All of me
Lowlight: On the Sunny Side of the Streth

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Every song is presently well, the fidelity is just great."

-Every song is presently well... does that mean that there might be a time when it won't be well?

So is this an album by a true star or just old and dusty? Let me know below

Saturday, November 12, 2011

258 American Beauty. Damn near perfect.



Album: American Beauty
Artist: The Grateful Dead
Year: 1970
Genre: Rock

Tracks

  1. Box of Rain
  2. Friend of the Devil
  3. Sugar Magnolia
  4. Operator
  5. Candyman
  6. Ripple
  7. Brokedown Palace
  8. Till the Morning Comes
  9. Attics of My Life
  10. Truckin'
American Beauty is part two of the dual package you can bust out if anyone ever tells you The Grateful Dead couldn't write songs. Paired up with Workingman's Dead, it's proof that Garcia and Co deserve to be held up as one of the great bands in American music history.

Beauty may not have pushed the Dead in any new directions from their last album. They didn't reinvent themselves or take any bold risks, instead they took the blueprint they'd already set and improved on it further. It's another set of great songs.

Ripple, Box of Rain, Attics of my Life, Brokendown Palace and Friend of the Devil are all gorgeous songs and the equal of anyone writing folk-rock at the time. The last four became regular staples of the Dead's live set with Friend of the Devil becoming one of their most played songs. Ripple however was given a few outings before being dropped because the band could never quite do it justice onstage. It needed an acoustic arrangment which is why it was broken out when the Dead did a run of unplugged shows in 1980 (years before MTV ever had the idea). The live album Reckoning has an acoustic version of Ripple that will make you smile on a cloudy day. It's definitely worth hunting down.

But American Beauty isn't all lightness and hippie folk. Sugar Magnolia is one of Weir's best rock songs but is easily eclipsed by Truckin which closes the album out. Truckin is one of the great roadtrip songs. If you need to get behind the wheel and travel make sure Truckin is on your musical playlist. The groove is enough to warrant a few good spins but the line "What a Looooooong strange trip it's been!" is one of Rock's great singalong moments.

I literally don't have a bad word to say about American Beauty. It's blissful and wondrous and just looking at the cover makes me happy.

Once again I highly reccomend you not only get this album but pick up the remastered reissue with added live versions. If it starts your journey towards appreciating live Grateful Dead then it's a first step well worth taking.

Influenced by: CSN and LSD
Influenced: A lot of people who previously wrote The Dead off completely.

Highlight: Truckin
Lowlight: Operator

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "like man I put this disc on for my siameses cat Reggie and I swear to god he tried to gnaw through the radio plug, luckily I unplugged it. So I was all like " What gives lil Reggie you don't feel the Dead?" and he was all like licking his tail then he took a nap."

-Right. Deadheads are often accused of enjoying illicit substances but I think their detractors are capable of knocking back a tab of acid or two as well.

So am I right to rave so much about the Beauty or am I just getting carried away? Let me know below.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

259. Crosby Stills and Nash- Even better than the sum of the parts.



Album: Crosby Stills and Nash
Artist: Crosby Stills and Nash
Year: 1969
Genre: Folk

Tracks

  1. Suite: Judy Blue Eyes
  2. Marrakesh Express
  3. Guinnevere
  4. You Don't Have to Cry
  5. Pre-Road Downs
  6. Wooden Ships
  7. Lady of the Island
  8. Helplessly Hoping
  9. Long Time Gone
  10. 49 Bye-Byes

The term Supergroup was created to describe a rock group made up of people who already had some fame behind them. A bunch of musicians who were already big stars when they bumped into each other at their drug dealers house and decided to combine their musical talents. Supergroups occur when a mutual group of talented admirers pool their abilities and attempt to make audio magic. Usually they suck.

On paper the Travelling Wilbury's should have been brilliant. Bob Dylan working with George Harrison helped by Tom Petty should have been enough to create an eargasm. Despite having a wonderful time in the studio they could only manage one half-decent song (Handle With Care) and a two fairly forgettable albums which aren't as good as the unreleased demos. Most supergroups don't do nearly as well.

The most notable exception is the most super of all supergroups: Crosby Stills and Nash. Ex-Byrd David Crosby and former Buffalo Sprinfield Co-leader Stephen Stills started writing and performing together and singing some songs around California. They lusted after the dulcet tones of Englishman Graham Nash, who was singing with the Hollies and decided his voice would perfectly round out the new sound they both heard in their heads. Thankfully Nash ditched his former band and joined up.

The result is a Supergroup that is even better than the sum of its parts. I enjoy Buffalo Sprinfield, don't mind The Byrds and can put up with the Hollies in small doses, but I love this album. In fact I'd even go so far as to say I had a mild obsession with it at one point. I managed to find a second hand copy of the CSN biography, which is one of the best pieces of rock and roll writing I've ever enjoyed. Listening to it gave me a new appreciation of this album and I got a bit hung up on in. Four times a day, 7 days a week hung up in fact. In true David Crosby style I became hopelessly addicted and couldn't put it down. It was a wonderful drug whose only side effects were tunes endlessly playing in my head and keeping me company throughout my day.

Crosby, Stills and Nash not only overcame the standard supergroup pitfalls (rampant egos for example) they dodged individual obstacles throughout the album. They recorded a long suite without making it sound pretentious (Suite: Judy Blue Eyes), they descended into total hippiedom without anchoring their song in an era that it couldn't escape (Gunivere), they recorded a post-apocalyptic tune without becoming hoplessly mawkish (Wooden Ships) and even put together a tune heavilly relying on alliteration without sounding like a whimsical wordy wankfest (Helplessly Hoping). And all throughout there are those harmonies. Three voices that sound like they were made to sing together. Close your eyes and put on earphones... aaah. Bliss. Just bliss.

There were rocky years ahead for Crosby, Stills and Nash. They got old and their band got Young but decades later the force of their musical connection is so strong that they're still playing together in 2011. The world's best supergroup and one of the sixties best albums.

Highlight: Suite: Judy Blue Eyes
Lowlight: Lady of the Island

Influenced by: The groups they left
Influenced: The "Folk revival"

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "There's nothing here. "Suite Judy Blue Eyes" is one of the longest, most boring songs ever."

-Quality aside, if you think a song that's under 7 and a half minutes is one of the longest ever you clearly need to be exposed to more music.

So is CSN bigger than the sum of their parts or less? Let me know below.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

260 Buena Vista Social Club- World Music's greatest triumph



Album: Beuna Vista Social Club
Artist: Buena Vista Social Club
Year: 1997
Genre: World Music

Tracks
  1. Chan Chan
  2. De camino a la vereda
  3. El cuarto de Tula
  4. Pueblo nuevo
  5. Dos gardenias
  6. ¿Y tú qué has hecho?
  7. Veinte años
  8. El carretero
  9. Candela
  10. Amor de loca juventud
  11. Orgullecida
  12. Murmullo
  13. Buena Vista Social Club
  14. La bayamesa

There is a genre of music called "World Music" which apparently is best defined as "Anything not recorded in English". Kind of arrogant isn't it? We've decided that anything not sung by white people in a language the Queen can understand isn't just music it's "World Music". I wonder if people in other cultures who record albums think of themselves as World Musicians?

Most World Music albums sell a handful of copies to a niche market made up of people who have a taste for the exotic or like to look like they do. But the genre's greatest triumph by far is The Buena Vista Social Club which I'm happy to say come about completely by accident.

The original intention was to fly renowned guitarist Ry Cooder (a man with a penchant for jamming with interesting people) to Cuba where he would play with some local musicians and two performers from Mali who would form a strange new musical genre. Sadly (or maybe happily) the African musicians couldn't get their visa's sorted out so Cooder decided to spend a few days recording some traditional Cuban music with some traditional Cubans. They spent six days playing together and then released an album for the heck of it.

Somehow the public's imagination was captured. The album sold steadily despite not receiving much promotion. Word of mouth drove sales throughout the year that followed and eventually a film was made about the music's creation and a subsequent reunion concert. The movie bolstered album sales still further and the most unlikely hit was created.

Buena Vista Social Club is a fun listen. It's light and breezy and jazz that people who say they hate jazz would love. Most of the copies sold are probably used to background music but that doesn't stop it from being a great album that's hard not to enjoy. It's popular all over the world (where it's called World Music) and in Cuba (where it's just called music) and presumably even in Mali (where two frustrated musicians must be gnashing their teeth thinking about what they missed out on)

Highlight: Candela
Lowlight: Murmullo

Influenced by: Cuba's history
Influenced: Record labels to pump out any Cuban music they could find.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote  "If this is the best of Cuba, then maybe the US trade embargo was a good thing after all."

-That's a bit harsh.

So will this music live as long as Fidel? Let me know below.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

261 Tracy Chapman- Nice Girl Does Well



Album: Tracy Chapman
Artist: Tracy Chapman
Year: 1988
Genre: Folk

Tracks

  1. Talkin' Bout a Revolution
  2. Fast Car
  3. Across the Lines
  4. Behind the Wall
  5. Baby Can I Hold You
  6. Mountains o' Things
  7. She's Got Her Ticket
  8. Why?
  9. For My Lover
  10. If Not Now...
  11. For You

I love the idea of Tracy Chapman, I like her story and I really like her.

Chapman grew up in a poor family but had a mother who recognised her musical talent and encouraged it from an early age. She dedicated herself to singing and playing guitar and had a hit album that made her name and earnt her a fortune. And then she neatly and perfectly sidestepped the pitfalls the music industry puts in front of someone they've painted as an overnight success. She didn't fall into a haze of drug abuse, she avoided becoming a "trapped by their success" nostalgia act, she doesn't give interviews abusing those who went after her and she never sold out and let her music become an advertising jingle. She's made herself a happy career writing and playing music for people who want to hear what she plays while making guest appearances paying tribute to her heroes and performing charity concerts to raise awareness for causes she supports.

Chapman is someone who has a massive talent which she has taken full control of to forge her own career and to help others. In every respect she's the perfect role model for young girls (and boys) everywhere. Wouldn't the world be a much better place if she replaced the bleached-blonde talentless nobodies on the covers of magazines all over the world? Instead of obsessing over the drug habits, failed relationships or attention-seeking shenanigans of the attractive but vacuous we could have Tracy Chapman on our newstands. I'd smile inside if I passed a display of glossy magazines with "Chapman plays charity concert for new chairty" on the cover instead of "Kim shows off her new man!" headlines which make me die a little more inside every time I see them.

Tracy Chapman's debut album is a great listen but possibly eclipsed by Collection, a Greatest hits release which has the best moments from this album and other great tracks besides.

Chapman had a wonderful voice, a lot of songwriting talent, a beautiful soul and lives a wonderful and genuine life- the world is a better place for her existence and would be even better if more people knew it.

Highlight: Fast Car.
Lowlight: If not now

Influenced by: Joni Mitchell
Influenced: I'm not sure but I'm pleased that she's out there influencing someone.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Some liberals feel that music is just another place to be a drag. (And these remarks are coming from a massive liberal!) I don't subscribe to that hogwash. 10,000 maniacs, Midnight Oil and Tracy Chapman are the bottom of the barrell; a very humorless barrell."

-Ouch. There's a lot of vitriol directed at Chapman's politics over on Amazon.

So if you had a fast car would you play Tracy Chapman in it or drive away as quick as you can? Let me know below.