Friday, September 28, 2012

169. Exodus. That's it I'm outta here




Album: Exodus
Artist: Bob Marley and the Wailers
Year: 1977
Genre: Reggae

Tracks
  1. Natural Mystic
  2. So Much Things to Say
  3. Guiltiness
  4. The Heathen
  5. Exodus
  6. Jamming
  7. Waiting in Vain
  8. Turn Your Lights Down Low
  9. Three Little Birds
  10. One Love/People Get Ready

Exodus is another step towards my attempts to work out why I don't like Reggae. I've given up trying to establish some kind of love for it. I've listened to quite a bit and still can't see the point, I've given up trying to revive the body, it's definitely dead, I'm now conducting the autopsy.

Is it Marley himself? Do I hate the music because the creator annoys me? Not at all. I've got nothing but respect for Bob as a person and I like his soulful voice. He was a big fan of cricket. How can you not love a guy who likes cricket?

Is it the lyrics? No, no problem there. Marley's lyrics are a bit hard to get into if you're not on his wavelength but they're not offensive, irritating or confronting.

Is it the instrumentation? Don't think so. Guitars, bass, drums, pretty standard stuff. No synthesizers, annoying pedal steel guitars or piano accordions.

The production then? Getting close. The opening track features Marley's voice in the middle of the mix, a guitar in the background as if it's being played by someone in another building, and the beat up close and centre. Too much reggae beat.

So.... it's looking like the beat then? Yes I think it probably is. The famous reggae beat just does nothing for me. It's too languid. It plods along and gets annoying really quickly. I've recently heard covers of Three Little Birds and Exodus and really enjoyed them both. The focused on the melody and not the rhythm and the great songs they are came through for me.

Reggae- if you have the rhythm it's great, if not it feels a like a great party going on next door that you can hear but you're not invited to.

Highlight: Three little birds
Lowlight: Waiting in Vain

Influenced by: An attempt on Marley's life
Influenced: Reggae and beyond

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Didnt like any of the songs. But, what do I know. I'm not Jamaican."

-I'm not Jamaican either but I think this release has a fanbase that extends beyond the Caribbean.

So does this mark your exit from Reggae music or are you happy to stick around? Let me know below.

Monday, September 24, 2012

170 Live at Leeds. The greatest live album of all time?



Album: Live at Leeds
Artist: The Who
Year: 1970
Genre: Rock

Tracks

  1. Young Man Blues
  2. Substitute
  3. Summertime Blues
  4. Shakin' All Over
  5. My Generation
  6. Magic Bus

If you type "Greatest live albums" into google you will find heaps of lists which attempt to order a massive quantity of live albums into some sort of order. Whether it's a top ten, a top twenty or a top one hundred you will inevitably find Live at Leeds somewhere near the top of the list. It's the high water mark of live releases and the benchmark that all others are held to.

If you're going to compare bands then The Who can stand against pretty much anyone else in a member-for-member match up. Daltry is as good a vocalist as almost anyone else around, Townshend could only be bettered by a handful of guitarists playing at the time, Entwhistle could hold his own on the bass and nobody was better than Moon. Based on pure musical ability they were better than the Beatles and only eclipsed by Zeppelin who boasted a Page/Plant combo that was impossible to beat. Unlike a lot of other bands doing the rounds at the time, The Who were better than the sum of their parts. They weren't virtuosos who didn't listen to each other, they brought out the best and not the worst in their band-mates  When they were on, as they were at Leeds, the band was propelled forward by Moon's magnificent drumming and everyone else just hung on for a rock and roll ride which showcased their collective talent.

Live at Leeds is an amazing show but bogged down slightly by some tracks which aren't among their finest. Heaven and Hell, Fortune Teller and Tattoo are all well played but nothing compared to some of their other work. Don't get me wrong, Live at Leeds is great but it pales when compared to a show they performed at the Young Vic theatre in London a year later. At Leeds the band were supporting Tommy, an overblown rock opera but at the Young Vic they were supporting Who's Next, their greatest album. Consequently the 1971 show has songs like Bargain, Behind Blue Eyes and Won't get Fooled again which are easily among the best songs The Who ever recorded.

Live at Leeds is good, the deluxe edition with more tracks is better but the Young Vic show (released as a bonus disc with the Who's Next Deluxe edition, and more completely in bootleg form) blows them both away.

Influenced by: The Stones
Influenced: Mods

Highlight: Young Man Blues
Lowlight: Heaven and Hell

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "My dad has the original vinyl album of this and it is nothing like it at all. First off there is an extra 8 songs added to the "remastered' cd. I would not reccomend it."

-I will never understand people who complain about bonus material on a CD.

So is this Heaven or Hell? Let me know below.

Friday, September 21, 2012

171 The Notorious Byrd Brothers



Album: The Notorious Byrd Brothers
Artist: The Byrds
Year: 1968
Genre: Folk

Tracks

  1. Artificial Energy
  2. Goin' Back
  3. Natural Harmony
  4. Draft Morning
  5. Wasn't Born to Follow
  6. Get to You
  7. Change Is Now
  8. Old John Robertson
  9. Tribal Gathering
  10. Dolphin's Smile
  11. Space Odyssey
Okay I'll try and make this as simple as possible...

When The Byrds started there were five of them but Gene Clarke left early in their career because he was afraid of flying (which in most bands is a drawback but when you're called The Byrds it's also ironically hilarious). They continued as a foursome for a while but while recording The Notoriuos Byrd Brothers they became a trio when the drummer left in a snit. Also having snits was co-founder David Crosby who became so snit-intenstive mid-way through the recording process he was out-snitted by the remaining two members who snitted him out of the group. His replacement was Gene Clarke (the non-flying one, remember him?) who came back for a bit and was joined by the drummer who got over his snit long enough to record a bit. By then the other two had realised the power of the snit-smite and kicked Clarke and the drummer out again.

Somehow in amongst that mess The Notorious Byrd Brothers was written, recorded and released. In amongst the feuding, the sacking, the rehiring and other issues they managed to gather together two sides of vinyl. The question is: should they have bothered.

The Notorious Byrd Brothers shows the Byrds experimenting with different sounds, ideas and moods. The jangly guitar has been replaced by early synthesisers, pedal steel guitars, studio effects and elaborate instrumentation. It's a progression from their origins every bit as extreme as Sergeant Peppers was for the Beatles. But it's nowhere near as good.

The Byrds strength was never their songwriting. Their finest moments are written by Dylan and others and their best originals were written by Gene Clark (with occasional moments by Crosby who would become a much better songwriter later in his career). The Notorious Byrd Brothers features no Clark compositions and a few left overs from Crosby that were recorded despite the fact that he was seething somewhere else having been thrown from the group. As an album it's an interesting experiment and a step towards the country attitudes they would later adopt, but it's not a strong enough set of songs to make it a great listen. Experimentation is fine if you have a concrete basis to experiment from but if the songs you've brought to the table wouldn't have been good enough to be considered filler on your earlier albums the listener is just left with some experimental ideas that might have been revolutionary at the time, but years later when the same experiments have been conducted successfully by others, a modern audience isn't really hearing anything revolutionary.

The Notorious Byrd Brothers marks the start of the Byrds decline but, more importantly, it's the moment that let Crosby loose to join Stills and Nash and become part of a band ten times better than the Byrds ever were or ever would be.

Highlight: The fact it removed Crosby from Byrdom
Lowlight: The country signposts towards their future direction.

Influenced by: Drugs, Dylan and Country
Influenced: Alt country.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Actually a 4.25 on the star scale but there is not that choice!"

-I love people who are that specific. The album isn't worth 4.5 stars but it's a definite 4.25.

So do you love hearing Byrds syng or not? Let me know below.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

172 Every picture tells a story. Don't spare the Rod.



Album: Every picture tells a story
Artist: Rod Stewart
Genre: Rock
Year: 1971

Tracks
  1. Every Picture Tells a Story
  2. Seems Like a Long Time
  3. That's All Right
  4. Amazing Grace
  5. Tomorrow Is a Long Time
  6. Henry
  7. Maggie May
  8. Mandolin Wind
  9. (I Know) I'm Losing You
  10. Reason to Believe
Rod Stewart has had a career renaissance lately by learning to grow old gracefully. For while he was aging in a very ungraceful way (tight pants and silly hair are not becoming on a 50 year old who has let himself go) but his recent reliance on The Great American Songbook for a string of albums has confirmed him as a middle-of-the-road balladeer beloved by housewives. Before he put on tuxedos and crooned It Had To Be You to a concert hall full of elderly ladies he was a rock and roller; a cocksure band leader full of bravado fronting a band of coke-fueled dirty rockers.

Rod started as leader singer of the Jeff Beck group before becoming one of The Faces, a rock band who deserve a lot more credit than they usually get. Every Picture Tells a Story is his third solo album but is clearly the product of a guy who knows his way around the stage as well as the studio. Rod knew how to rock and had a lot of friends he could call on to make sure he rocked well. He also had a good ear for a clever cover that could show off what he could achieve.

The big hit here is obviously Maggie May which has been played to death on radios all over the world. It's a cheery little tune about a young man having second thoughts about his sexual relationship with an older woman. It gets played a lot on oldies radio and easy listening stations where it's a pleasant little ditty for those who like this sort of thing. But if you swapped the roles and it was a young woman singing about her much older male lover it would be decidedly creepy. Personally I think Maggie May is the album's lowpoint. There's a lot more to love here than a song that Rod himself describes as "without a melody". Enjoy his cover of Dylan's Tomorrow is a Long Time instead or appreciate the title track which rocks and swaggers. Rod has a great but limited voice but on Every Picture Tells a Story he uses it well and the musicians behind him sound like a tight band and not just a bunch of session guys brought in to back a singer.

If you think Rod Stewart is just an old guy trying to be Sinatra then give this a spin, or even better dip into The Faces back catalogue or try some Jeff Beck group. You might look at him in a totally different light.

Influenced by: Dylan and The Faces
Influenced: Aerosmith

Highlight: Tomorrow is a long time
Lowlight: Maggie May

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "This album is what church aspires to be but can never be."

-That's interesting. I wonder if that's the attitude Rod had when he was entering the studio "allright boys- lets' make this just like church only better!"

So what kind of story does this picture tell you? Let me know below.

Friday, September 14, 2012

173. Something/Anything. Too many things



Album: Something/Anything
Artist: Todd Rundgren
Genre: Rock
Year: 1972

Tracks

  1. I Saw the Light
  2. It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference
  3. Wolfman Jack
  4. Cold Morning Light
  5. It Takes Two to Tango (This Is for the Girls)
  6. Sweeter Memories
  7. Intro
  8. Breathless
  9. The Night the Carousel Burnt Down
  10. Saving Grace
  11. Marlene
  12. Song of the Viking
  13. I Went to the Mirror
  14. Black Maria
  15. One More Day (No Word)
  16. Couldn't I Just Tell You
  17. Torch Song
  18. Little Red Lights
  19. Overture—My Roots: Money (That's What I Want)/Messin' With The Kid
  20. Dust in the Wind
  21. Piss Aaron
  22. Hello It's Me
  23. Some Folks Is Even Whiter Than Me
  24. You Left Me Sore
  25. Slut

Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should. It's a law that applies in all things but especially in music. If you're releasing an album the final  judgement will be made on the quality of the music not on any feat you managed to achieve in the studio: "Listen to this. It's a new CD by a band who record all their music in a studio filled with 200 bats and a grumpy Rottweiler. They had to record this while ducking constantly, trying not to wake the dog and scraping guano off their instruments. It's an incredible achievement and an amazing feat of human endurance. Sounds terrible but damn impressive."

Todd Rudgren decided he was capable of not only releasing an album but he would play every instrument on it himself. He would personally play and produce every note and sing every backing vocal so the entire album was just an enormous testament to his own magnificent ability. But he wouldn't just do it as a single album, oh no, he would release a double album: four sides of vinyl with no one but Todd supplying any input or relief.

This sort of self-indulgence is an affront to nature and God decided to unleash his wrath on Rundgren for his crimes against music by loosing forth an earthquake on Las Angeles where the was recording. Instead of taking the almighty's hint, Todd decided to raise his middle-finger skywards and not only finish the album elsewhere but make the final side a mini rock-opera in order to prove he cared little for public decency.

The end result is a double album that is genuinely self-indulgent in the worst possible way. It sorely needed someone else to cut the bloated four sides of vinyl down to a slick two and provide some editorial control.  Dull tracks that would have been discarded by other artists making a single album clog up the vinyl and one track (Intro) is Todd talking to the listener and demonstrating studio techniques. How desperate do you have to be to fill up record grooves if you're surrendering time to spoken demonstrations of studio trickery?

If Rundgren had taken a band into the studio, surrendered control to a producer and culled the weaker songs there could be a great album here. He's obviously an intelligent guy but even the best songs sound like they were pieced together in the control room rather than created with any heart or outside inspiration. Avoid.

Highlight: The blues covers
Lowlight: The rest of the side four

Influenced by: Self indulgence
Influenced: The wrath of God

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "this is worth re discovering for sure folks and it's not what you think it is... or is it"

-If it's not what I think it is what is it? Now I'm one of the unsure folks.

So is this something you'd enjoy or would you rather listen to anything else? Let me know below.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

174 Desire. Bob with Friends



Album: Desire
Artist: Bob Dylan
Year: 1976
Genre: Rock


Tracks

  1. Hurricane
  2. Isis
  3. Mozambique
  4. One More Cup of Coffee (Valley Below)
  5. Oh, Sister
  6. Joey
  7. Romance in Durango
  8. Black Diamond Bay
  9. Sara

Some artists need all the help they can get. There are performers out there who are nothing without a team of songwriters, producers, musicians, stylists, fashion designers, choreographers and hangers on. Then there are people like Dylan who don't need anyone. As his early albums proved, Bob can create greatness armed with just a guitar, a harmonica and a head full of ideas. He can write an album of hit songs without any help and produce greatness all alone in a studio.

But in the middle of the seventies Bob started to get lonely. He wanted to write with someone and play with lots of someones. He wanted to record as part of a group, tour as part of an ensemble and generally live his new life as a single person with as many others as possible. Which is why he launched into The Rolling Thunder Revue, a tour which included dozens of people who loved him (and Joni Mitchell as well) and wrote songs with Jacques Levy, a guy he met who directed plays and had a doctorate in psychology. He took this new collection of songs into the studio which he packed with backing singers and a huge number of musicians including a violin player he heard busking on the street and (at one point) five different guitarists.

Somehow in amongst the shambles, Bob managed to create an album of material which he released to a world eager to hear his follow up to the previous year's stellar Blood on the Tracks. It still amazes me that they weren't disappointed.

Desire wouldn't make my top 10 list of Dylan albums. In fact it would barely make my top twenty. Most of the songs are too long, too repetitive and too full of backing vocals or annoyingly over zealous violin. Scarlet Riviera plays the fiddle like a woman who spends her days desperately trying to get as much attention as possible on street corners. She managed to go through the entire recording process without ever realising that sometimes in a studio less is more. I adore Blood on the Tracks and if I'd bought it in 1975 (when I was two) I would have been a hugely disappointed three year old to get this as a follow up a year later.

Like almost every Dylan album ever released I think this could have been improved with the inclusion of a few outtakes. If Dylan had dropped the long and ponderously overblown Joey or (and I know this is sacrilege) the tediously repetitive Hurricane, he could have included Abandoned Love and Catfish which would have made the album a few steps more interesting.

Part of me wonders whether I genuinely dislike Desire or whether I'm just too obsessed with the image of Dylan as lone maverick to have the good grace to accept him as co-writer and band-member. Perhaps the idea of my hero needing people doesn't sit well with me and I wonder if the problem is my own perception and not the music. But when I get to the five minute mark of Joey and realise I'm not even half way through I become fairly convinced it is the music after all.

Highlight: One more cup of coffee
Lowlight: Joey

Influenced by: Everyone in the studio
Influenced: The White stripes, Ani Di Franco and the American justice system.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review quote: "The song "Hurricane" is about the destructive power of tropical storms and is easily the best song on the album."

-Really? I could have sworn it had something to do with a boxer. Is this guy seriously suggesting a tropical storm was wrongly imprisoned for murder?


So is this brilliant or do you desire something more? Let me know below.

Friday, September 7, 2012

175 Close to you. As seen on the muppets.



Album: Close to you
Artist: The Carpenters
Year: 1970
Genre: Pop

Tracks


1. We've Only Just Begun
2. Love Is Surrender
3. Maybe It's You
4. Reason to Believe
5. Help!
6. (They Long to Be) Close to You
7. Baby It's You
8. I'll Never Fall in Love Again
9. Crescent Noon
10. Mr. Guder
11. I Kept On Loving You
12. Another Song

Why do birds suddenly appear every time you are near? It depends on the type of bird really doesn't it? If they're vultures it's probably because you're a dead moose. If they're penguins there's a good chance you're wearing a hat made of fish. If they're seagulls then you're eating chips. And if you're a dead moose eating chips in a fish hat then you probably can't read this for feathers or hear any music for incessant squawking. Anyway none of that is really relevant.

What is relevant is that Karen Carpenter had a lovely voice didn't she? I mean genuinely perfect. It's a cliche to say it and I immediately sound old and pathetic voicing this but today's modern pop stars can't really hold a candle to Karen. She just had a set of lungs and a voicebox which combined to make truly beautiful sounds. She was also a surprisingly good drummer. Interesting choice of words, I wonder what made me say "surprisingly"? Oh I know it's because she's a girl and drummers aren't supposed to be girls. I like to pretend I'm above sexism but when it comes to rock, prejudices do come out I'm afraid, I understand that she'd be a great singer because ladies sing nice but in my head drumming is a man's business.

Karen leant her perfect voice and considerable drumming skills to some of the prettiest love songs still gracing oldies radio today. Close to You features some of their biggest hits, mainly written by Burt Bacharach, Tim Hardin, Paul Williams and other big-name songwriters. There's also a Lennon/McCartney which I have to say makes my skin crawl. I'm fine with Karen singing romantic ballads from another era. I have no issue with easy listening music for easy listening lovers, but when they take on The Beatles it does get my back up. Help is a great rock song, one of the greatest. Hearing it turn into syrup feels like a kind of sacrilege.

If you like your listening easy then few people are easier on the ears than Karen Carpenter. But if you're a fan of rock you might want to skip track 5, sometimes birds appear because they want to devour Beatles.

Influenced by: Songwriters
Influenced: Female balladeers

Highlight: Aaaaaaaaaaah close to you (it's been on the Muppets)
Lowlight: Help

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Richard Carpenter knew how to make the most -- and the least -- of his sister's talent."

-That's a bit unfair. People still seem to think that poor Karen was just her brother's lead singer.

So do you want this CD close to you or would you rather keep it at arm's length? Let me know below.


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

176 Rocks. Or not.



Album: Rocks
Artist: Aerosmith
Year: 1976
Genre: Rock

Tracks


1. Back in the Saddle
2. Last Child
3. Rats in the Cellar
4. Combination
5. Sick as a Dog
6. Nobody's Fault
7. Get the Lead Out
8. Lick and a Promise
9. Home Tonight

Albums like this make me think I should apologise and throw this entire blogging experience in. I'm clearly totally out of touch with the world as a whole and not qualified to write about my own offspring let alone someone else's musical output. I should pack up and stop wasting all your time.

Aerosmith's previous album was called Toys in the Attic and I'd take it over this any day of the week. Toys has their best and second best song (Sweet Emotion and Walk This Way although I can't decide which is which) and a bunch of other tracks that are also brilliant. To my mind it's far and away their best album and the band's high water mark. 

But everyone else disagrees.

Toys in the attic is at 228 on the countdown and Rocks is here fifty places higher. People are generally fond of Toys but they rave about Rocks as being among the greatest things ever. It apparently kick-started the career of every hard rocker who played music in the last 30 years and was a huge influenced on everyone from Slash to Metallica and probably Katy Perry, Susan Boyle and Yo Yo Mar as well. It's everyone's favourite Aerosmith album... except mine.

I can't understand what the fuss is about. Back in the Saddle is a great song but the rest range from average to terrible. I wouldn't take the other singles (Last Child and Rats in the Cellar) over any songs on Toys and I wouldn't take dross like Combustion over pretty much anything. It sounds to me like a tepid effort by a band who expended all their ideas on their previous release.

But what do I know? Who am I to argue with every other music critic and musician who has ever lived. Apparently I'm completely wrong and you should stop listening to me now. I clearly know bugger-all and I'm wasting everyone's time, but if it's okay with you I'll waste it while listening to Toys in the Attics and putting Rocks back on the shelf. 

Influenced by: The Yardbirds
Influenced: Everyone in hard rock

Highlight: Back in the Saddle
Lowlight: Combustion

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Aerosmith's "Rocks" is comparible to "Exile On Main Street" by the Rolling Stones insomuch as the album is a total experience, and not a bunch of hit singles."

-I'm definitely out of step with this guy. 

So does this rock or not? Let me know below.