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Because You’re Not Paying Attention

[Don’t panic, this isn’t another Wrecking Ball review. Diz covered that one pretty comprehensively. Still, I think the album is a pretty important case study in modern music. And if you don’t like that, deal with it]

I’ve been enjoying Bruce Springsteen’s latest album, Wrecking Ball. Enjoying it a lot, actually, and it’s been creating quite a buzz. After all, why shouldn’t it? It effectively captures the mood of 2012 America: a tale of dejected men and women, broken families, and the indignation of those whose hard work is rendered null and void at the hands of a reckless few. It’s an angry, dare I say visceral album

After all, compared with previous eras, we haven’t had particularly many songs written about some of the most momentous events over the last few decades. When one looks back to a similarly tumultuous era; the late 60s and early 70s, it seems as if our current predicament is at least similar in magnitude. While there aren’t any direct parallels to the sexual revolution or the Vietnam War, the global economic depression and corresponding widespread mass public protests doth protest that something is rotten in the state of Denmark. View full article »

Oooh – so close. Just missed it by a whisker, by a hair’s breadth. We were so close to having another masterpiece on our hands, and all it would have taken was a stroke of the pen, just enough ink to draw a line through that final title on the track list and draw to a close one of the finest, and most timely, sets of songs to be released in a good while. You may have read in the current periodicals that Bruce Springsteen’s Wrecking Ball was a solid effort, a noble failure, an encouraging sign, or even an embarrassing gaffe. These opinions are wrong and you should not listen to them. Wrecking Ball is ambitious, honest and alive, and all it would have taken for it to equal – that’s right: equal – the Springsteen FM radio staples of Born To Run (1975) and Born In The USA (1984) would have been to get rid of just that one last fucking song. Without it, it would have been a comprehensive challenge to the Neil Youngs and Bob Dylans of this world to show that it’s not good enough for the aged rocker to release an album that is ‘not bad, considering’. As it stands, Wrecking Ball still represents a fearsome new benchmark against which the golden oldies must measure themselves.

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Flash Lights and Great Parties

It’s not hard to explain the appeal of Parliament-Funkadelic, especially to white people, who follow the great maxim of liking black music that nobody listens to anymore. Now while that unfairly throws honkies like myself under the bus – after all, great music is great music no matter where or when it comes from – by the same token it is evident that the unfathomably upbeat and occasionally uncritical has immense appeal to the rock and jazz audience who aren’t completely sold by the material generated by the hip-hop, indie-rock and electro generation. View full article »

The odds are stacked against albums. Even if you’re lucky enough to be a record released during that point in history when people were actually likely to buy you in large numbers,  even if you were created by a global superstar at the height of their powers, the odds are that, in the long run, you’ll sell, and be listened to, about as much as Englebirt Humperdink’s Greatest Hits. Time can be simply beastly in the way it treats an album, especially if it wasn’t quite fortunate enough to be the breakthrough. Pity Pink Floyd’s Meddle (1971) as it competes with Dark Side Of The Moon (1973) for a place in the public consciousness, or muster up some sympathy if you can for Nirvana’s first, Bleach (1989), doomed to a cold existence in the shadows of Nevermind (1991). It’s just not fair, especially when the album being forgotten is just as musically satisfying as its more popular sibling, who only staked their spot in history through good timing and relentless self promotion. It’s wrong, and we must rectify it.

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I only want to see you in the Purple Rain

This is Prince’s original recording of Purple Rain, sans several minutes of jamming at the beginning, an extra verse in-between the standard second and third verses and a minute or so of the final guitar solo. I get it, an eight minute song is already pushing it, unless you’re in the prog-rock business. That said, I do wish he’d just kept the original like this. Sure it’s sanctimonious, sure it’s kitschy, but that’s what Prince is. The power of this man is to turn (often perverse) semantics into intensely funky tales. There is no-one else in the audience except the girl he’s singing to, and anyone who’s seen Purple Rain (which I completely recommend) can remember the sheer amount of close-ups between him and Apollonia.

I personally don’t give a shit what Purple Rain is, or what it’s supposed to symbolise. I don’t care that every Prince song is about sex, love or dancing. I care because this insane, idiosyncratic man puts his all into the music he creates. People don’t always like it, because it isn’t neatly definable. It’s too dirty for pop, too robotic for funk, too heavy for dance, too electronic for R&B and too muddy for rock. It’s this strange, convoluted sound, that makes you groove as much as you want to rock. What stands out is not only his bizarre intellect and prodigious output, but how genuine he is. While admittedly some of Prince’s material is hardly the sort that is generally regarded as being “written from the heart”, there are moments, like this, where he does dissolve some of the barriers he puts up between his audience and himself.

And damnit he’s sexy.

Slim Slow Slider

It’s not often that a voice gets better in old age, but in this particular instance I’m more than willing to accept a little nonconformity. Some 40 years after the release of his perennial cult favourite, Astral Weeks  (1968), Van Morrison finally took to the stage of the Hollywood Bowl for two concerts in which the album was performed in its entirety, finally giving all the material the live airing that was denied it at the time of the album’s release. The result was arguably one of the finest live albums around, one that bucked the recent trend of ‘classic’ artists performing note-for-note renditions of their most popular albums to instead substantially reinterpret the material in the improvisational spirit in which it was originally recorded.

Perhaps most significant about the album however is its preservation of a simply incredible vocal performance from the then 63-year-old Morrison, one that is, for my money, better than that recorded by the Van at age 23. While much of Van’s recent original output has tended towards to comfortable, competent and uninspiring combinations of soul, pop, country and blues that have done little for his voice other than to demonstrate its professionalism, the return to the lushly orchestrated, yet thoroughly freewheeling jazzy-folky soul of Astral Weeks reveals the full capabilities of his soaring bellow of a voice. On cuts like ‘Slim Slow Slider’, here extended with one of the live album’s several jubilant codas, we can see how Van’s voice has deepened without losing its power or tone, as happens to many vocalists, and has become something far more nuanced and moving than the, admittedly still impressive, keening yelp of his earlier years. Not only has Van still got it; he went and made it better.

In Love With The Boss

Him?

You’ve got that itch. Palms are sweating, knees trembling, general jitters. You blink rapidly as you wipe your forehead, trying to keep an eye on the road ahead. How long has it been? An hour? A year? A centu – stop! ‘Pull yourself together, man’, you think, ‘this foolishness has to come to an end’. You’ve got to forget this schoolboy obsession, drive it from your mind – by force, if necessary. It’s unbecoming, and it’s getting harder and harder to hide it from your friends. Besides; he’s all wrong for you, you’re completely different types. He’s not proper, he’s not reserved – why, he doesn’t have an ounce of sarcasm in his body. And have you heard that voice of his? Either a steel-wool bellow or a ‘moon in june’ croon – it’s frightful. No, he’s not our type at all. But then again…it just feels so good. You get excited just thinking about it. The stately piano, the twiddling organ, the chiming guitars, THE WAILING SAXOPHONE! LIL’ DARLIN! JOHNSTOWN! CHEVY! MISTER!

Fuck it, there’s no point in denial. You’re in love with The Boss.

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I Got The Collection Blues

 

I have a confession to make: I am one of the six people left in the world who still buys CDs. Yeah, I know, its kind of embarrassing, and trust me, I’ve heard everything that you’re about to say a hundred times before. I know they cost me money, I know they take up space, I know that you believe there is no real difference in sound between mp3 and CD. But the fact remains that I like CDs. I like the way they sound when you pop one into the car stereo and crank it up, I like that slight bit of tension when you try and remove the disc from its case for the very first time, and for a second it looks like you won’t get it out without it snapping. I like the way I can line them all up and see, right there in front of me, a collection of all the sounds that make me feel good. But I’m not really here to talk about the merits of physical versus digital distribution of music; that is a useless argument in which no amount of touchy-feely bullshit will ever change minds. The vast majority of people will do what is easiest, and that will always be the case. The reason I mention CD ownership is not as a starting point for some kind of anti-digital hate spray, but instead because the actual spending of money on music, and the resulting physical presence in my home, set me thinking about something that is equally applicable to a digital collection. All that…stuff – it’s kind of scary.

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The Paul Grabowsky Sextet at 505

Jazz, to the layman at least, isn’t known for its compositional style. In the dictionary definition sense, jazz is considered purely an improvisational form of art; through musical interplay, the musicians form a collective consciousness which allows their individual performances to take on a much grander form, greater than the sum of its parts. Yet this is not to undermine the role of the composer, whose role in a jazz band is to direct and tap into the explosive potential of his performers, a trend most famously associated with Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus. View full article »

I Set My Face To The Hillside

You should really listen to the entire album. Tortoise’s TNT (1998) is chock full of post-rock goodness, and is most definitely worthy of your attention, whatever your tastes may be – you can’t listen to it and not feel an odd combination of relaxation and stimulation, and if you can, then you’re clearly an inhuman cosmobot from beyond the moon. I’ll be honest with you; Tortoise is not one of my favourite bands, and nor is TNT one of my favourite albums. But it is a damn good one, and one possessed of a distinctive brand of easygoing intellectualism that never fails to reinvigorate. ‘I Set My Face To The Hillside’ is a standout on this record, one that arguably embodies what makes TNT superior, in my mind, to the sometimes-more-lauded Millions Now Living Will Never Die (1996). Just take a listen to that introduction, with its crowd noise and the simple melody of a scratchy acoustic guitar. It’s just so human, and it is this that sets the whole album apart. TNT is experimental, electronic and intellectual, to varying degrees, but it is also relentlessly welcoming, and that is a very difficult balance to achieve.