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Friday, 5 June 2009

Classical Gassing

Oh dear, oh dear - I have done a bad thing. I guess the shiny newness of blogging had worn off - and I was busy! Anyway, must get back off the wagon.

Classic albums - a subject to fuel endless debate, and yet in everyone's Top 10 list there are undeniable true classics that tower above what should really be described as 'favourites' rather than anything else. What is a classic album? Well it will transcend any attempts at pigeon-holing in any genre, and it will not be allowed any duff tracks (well maybe just one). It should probably be something that stands that test of time too, just in case it turns out to be a favourite masquerading as something more. So, how many of the 'classic' albums from my collection do you think are actually classic, or just very good - or not even that? (As usual in no order.)

The Killers - Hot Fuss (2004)
Radiohead - Ok Computer (1997)
Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon (1973)
Queensryche - Operation: Mind Crime (1988)
Marillion - Fugazi (1984)

Nirvana - Nevermind (1991)
AC/DC - Back In Black (1980)
Diamond Head - Canterbury (1983)
Alice Cooper - Killer (1971)
Rush - Signals (1982)

Okay, so let's see how many 'rules' I've broken. Is Hot Fuss too new? I say not. I used to dislike The Killers - so there's the zeal of the convert at play - but the sheer inventiveness of the songs is a blessing and Brandon Flowers' vocals are emotional and compelling. Radiohead - whiny English navel-gazers? No! On O.C. Radiohead chew up genres and spit them out, the scope of the musical ideas and their ability to realise them is staggering - and it's got Stephen Hawking on for fox hake! Shame they have never matched it.

What can you say about Dark Side... for me it is the anti-concept album. The concept is not, I think, in the lyrics as you might expect, but in the music and its progression. The Floyd utterly in tune with each other. Operation: Mindcrime is everything that Dark Side is not, and no worse for that. It is a single narrative from start to finish. Is there a theme emerging? Song writing is the key. Queensryche take 80's metal somewhere it had never been and never reached again in my view. The power of Geoff Tate's vocals, the melodic pyro of DeGarmo and Wilton, enthralling.

Marillion are like Marmite (you know the rest). As with The Killers I used to loath them until one day I got it. Fish lays himself bare in every song - anger, heartache, fear, loathing... As with The Floyd the band, all expert in their field, meshed as if one mind to concoct one haunting dream after another on an album that rode the crest of the new prog wave that Market Square Heroes generated. Several poles apart Nirvana cut loose with such manic intensity that the listener is left almost breathless. The sheer, vital energy of Nevermind, the seemingly casual and careless brilliance of Nirvana, is truly awesome, but without the mind-boggling song writing their crazed virtuosity would have been so much hot air.

The term Rock (and Roll) is used very casually these, mostly by people who don't know what they are talking about, but it used to mean so much more. AC/DC knew how to rock like no-one else. They understood it. Bon Scott lived it, and ultimately died it. How could they ever reach the heights of Highway to Hell and Dirty Deeds again? Few believed that they could and they would never be as truly masterful again, but there was one white hot parting shot, the 2nd best selling album of all time, a scorching tribute to the man from Kirriemuir.

Diamond who? Their star burned bright, but not long (although they are going still). The band who are most famous for inspiring Metallica were truly innovative songwriters, taking their brand of hard rock down a side road that led to their crackling 1983 offering Canterbury. This is surely what medieval metal would sound like.

Like AC/DC time has change Alice Cooper - as it does everyone. Unlike Bon Scott the Coop survived to conquer his demons, staggering through a distinctly sub-average period to start producing some fine material these days. But his heyday was with the classic 70's line up of Smith-Bruce-Dunaway-Buxton-(Ezrin). There are obvious classic songs in Cooper's back-cat, but to me no other of his albums is so consistently brilliant in the diversity and consistency of the material.

And finally Rush. They were my favourite band for at least one decade, probably two. Despite my evangelism for NiN and Tool, I can't help feeling that Rush are still there are at the hub of everything, waiting for me to come back. Intellectualism, compassion, virtuosity, heart, mind, soul, poetry, science, history, Earth, galaxy, universe. The Big Bang. Rush's canvas is the entirety of human existence. No theme is too big or too small. They are truly masters of the possible and the impossible. But which album? It was a close run thing between Signals and Moving Pictures, but ultimately the dark angst of Subdivisions; the summer breeze of Analog Kid; the sweep of Chemistry; the optimism of New World Man; and the intense excitement of Countdown tipped the decision.

It's a personal list, but so is everyone's. There is no right answer.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Eye Contact Leads To – Soundwave EP (06)

According to fan feedback ECTL contain elements of Mission of Burma, New Order/Joy Division, Devo, Kraftwerk, The Kinks(!) and Motorhead(!!!). The Kinks I will allow – there’s a certain jangly, rhythmic, tonal quality that is reminiscent of the Kinky ones (until Eric opens his mouth at least), but Motorhead? – you are having a laugh, sir/madam.

The eponymous ‘Eye Contact Leads To’ is a track that certainly admits to the influence of New Order in its skipping synth intro and Sam’s jittery guitar. Eric’s vocals are raw – in a good way – distinctly edgy, almost incongruous given the mainly electronic thrust of the song, but again in a good way, where you might expect smooth lamenting, the edge is welcome, an 80’s punk ghost trapped in the machine of 90’s electronica - intriguing. There are other ghosts present in the mix also – a spectre of Muse in certain wandering keyboard runs – a little light haunting by Mr. Cobain (circa Bleach) in Eric’s angry, howling lyrics.

An absolutely manky (trad. Scots adj. – filthy) baseline provides the intro to ‘Nothingsomething’ – soon joined by anxious guitar and a tripping drum beat from Mikey that drive a schizo harmony at jogging pace – imagine yourself running down the street with a gang of irate jannies chasing you – in vain. This is an energetic platform for Eric’s taunting, verging towards vicious, rants. Something about the beat will definitely make you want to pogo – then it will get lodged in your head and follow you around all day – in a good way.

This review was written in 2006 and ECLT grew on me steadily. It wasn’t an instant thing, but after a couple of listens it’s a joyous experience to curse along with the Glasgow 3some (at that time). Despite some comparisons made on their ms site (www.myspace.com/eyecontactleadsto) at that time there are no dirges here, it’s all upbeat if more thoughtful aggression. Mental Up Your Arse, if you will.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

The Film That Rocked




There are some excellent music-themed movies out there and this latest effort from the ever reliable Working Title and Richard Curtis is another. Based on the 'adventures' of Radio Caroline in the 1960's this is great fun, with typically effortless performances from Bill Nighy, Nick Frost, Rhys Ifans and the masterful PSH. Kenneth Branagh (or kenNETH, braNAGH as the Good Doctor would have it) is a standout for me as the evil minister - Senator Palpatine meets Sir Humphrey if you will - and Jack Davenport reprises his Norrington roll in Pirates of the Caribbean as the self-serving lackey, only 300 years later. Also, our laconic and likable hero Carl (Tom Sturridge) is a ringer for Trent Reznor I think! (you decide).


Okay it doesn't scale the heights of 'This Is Spinal Tap' or 'The Commitments', but it's a good movie that recreates the feel of the free-loving 60's with affection (or so I hear, I was only born in '66). The soundtrack is every bit as good as you would expect of a film set in that time of musical revolution and written by Mr. Curtis. Whether you see it at the cinema or rent it it is definitely worth seeing. There are some very funny scenes, not a little excitement at the end, spotting the music is always entertaining and there is 'homage' to a certain Jimi Hendrix album cover...

Thursday, 23 April 2009

File under 'Criminal Neglect'...

While Nirvana were blazing an ultimately self destructive trail across the West Coast sky, and Mudhoney were out-garaging Arnold Clark (automotive retail monopolist in the West of Scotland); Pearl Jam were making music with a soulful and spiritual ease that belied the immense legacy they were creating. Okay, perhaps 'ease' is not the right word, as their distinct discomfort at the close attention of the industry machine was marked and appears to remain today, but to me that only gives their music a greater authenticity, an aura of truth that is rare in today's packaged and categorised world of media-ocrity.

It is utterly pointless for me to recommend a place to start with Pearl Jam, a route into their aural cornucopia. The depth, breadth and height, the variety and the consistency of their back catalog is truly staggering. The good news is that it is unnecessary for me to try, because you can start anywhere from 1992's debut 'Ten' to the last studio release 'Pearl Jam' in 2006, and anywhere in between, and I believe that you will be as enthralled, energised, enraptured as I have always been. But if you really do have the attention span of a mayfly with ADD here is my suggestion for the mother load (in no order but date).

Even Flow (from 'Ten' 1992)
Daughter (from 'Vs.' 1993)
rearviewmirror (from 'Vs.' 1993)
Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town (from 'Vs.' 1993)
Spin The Black Circle (from 'Vitalogy' 1994)
Better Man (from 'Vitalogy' 1994)

Who You Are (from 'No Code' 1996)
Low Light (from 'Yield' 1998)
Light Years (from 'Binaural' 2000)

Cropduster (from 'Riot Act' 2002)
Bushleager (from 'Riot Act' 2002)
Unemployable (from 'Pearl Jam' 2006)

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Frank Turner

I first became aware of Frank Turner as a quarter of Million Dead who released 2 albums ('A Song To Ruin', 2003 and 'Harmony, No Harmony', 2005) before divorcing due to 'irreconcilable differences'. MD were a superb band, their songs both fierce and intricate, barbed wire frames for Frank's aggressively intelligent socialist-hued lyrics. For all that I did not share his leanings, I found the songs entirely compelling, infused with energy, anger and humour, and a rare accuracy and insight in the picture of modern life that they painted (e.g. 'To Whom It May Concern'). http://www.myspace.com/amilliondeaddead

Frank's solo offerings are no less intelligent, no less compelling and not without humour. I have seen them pigeon-holed as 'Folk' but for me that is not an adequate description. Frank's voice is highly individual, the songs new friends that are at once familiar. Knowing what has gone before in the shape of MD just adds to the pleasure that I take from Frank's work. See 'Sleep Is For The Week' (2007) and 'Love Ire & Song' (2008). When was the last time you heard a song featuring a line about finding a charger for your phone? www.myspace.com/frankturner

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Sky Architects

Have a listen to this Danish band. I'm not recommending them just because drummer Steffen is a friend of mine and drummed for my former band Taunt (twice - not for two spells, I mean twice). I think they have a very fresh sound. Steffen is a bit of a metal-head, so this was a surprise to me. It's not perfectly polished and that makes it more accessible, more vibrant. You can hear influences in there, or perhaps they are echoes, for me a touch of Hell Is For Heroes and perhaps Khoma - both good things! Find them here, www.myspace.com/skyarchitects


Monday, 20 April 2009

By way of introduction...

The title of this blog is a song by Nine Inch Nails, from the 2005 album 'With Teeth' on Interscope. You can expect to hear a lot about NIN in here for the simple reason that Trent Reznor is one of my great sources of inspiration. If you don't know NIN you will find it a love/hate thing I expect (strong reaction one way or the other), but I think it is impossible to deny the unique voice that Mr. Reznor has, evinced by the broad range of artists that he influences, from the usual metal/industrial suspects, to country greats, for it was he who created 'Hurt' which Johnny Cash covered so movingly. See them at T in the Park this year, at the MEN or the O2. http://www.nin.com/

...and I suppose I should apologise for my photo. Please do not mistake it for a homage to south-central gangstas, twas take just before taking the stage with Taunt at Moorings Bar in Aberdeen - people do funny things before playing music in front of a room 'full' of people. Alas poor Taunt, more of which later, but if you just can't wait there's http://www.taunt.co.uk/