Category: Diz

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.


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.

John McLaughlin

Chunky. That’s really the best word I can come up with to describe this one. It may be the sinister precursor to early-onset dementia, but everything about this track just sounds chunky to me; the rhythms, the harmonies, the just-overdriven guitar and keyboard tones. Like the rest of Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew (1970), ‘John McLaughlin’ – named for the album’s guitarist – is driven by constant, and complex, improvisation by the whole band, with the resulting fluid soundscape kept tethered by repeated fragments of melody. What sets this track apart is its sparseness and concision. In an album of gloriously bloated improvisational epics that you don’t so much listen as submit to, here are four and a half minutes of (comparatively) lean, dissonant rocking. ‘John McLaughlin’ is a brief reprieve, a moment to catch our breath and let the spotlight rest on the titular guitarist and his inimitable tones. The guitar wails, the keyboards bubble, and everything’s chunky. And then we get on with the show.

Peaceful Valley Boulevard

I should probably disclose the fact that I’m a Neil Young tragic. Everything he has done, is doing, or will do is fine by me. That may be somewhat of an overstatement; I think even I’d be sorely tested if he started stalking the night, plucking children from their beds and leaving their bloodless carcasses in a heap by the village fountain. But then Neil has never been about pleasing his audience. Though the greater public tends to associate him with the delicate country-tinged acoustic music found on records such as Harvest (1972) and Comes A Time (1977), his career has embraced all manner of styles from hardcore country to proto-grunge to electronica. While not all these experiments may have worked, not one of Neil’s real fans (getting a ‘Greatest Hits’ collection doesn’t count) would willingly do away with his willful inconsistency, because it is out of this restlessness and indifference to public expectations that Young’s greatest music emerges.

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Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell

The year was 1997, and the folks at Sony decided to do something nice. They offered to let Iggy Pop oversee the remixing of Raw Power (1973), the gloriously messy, (then) final album by Iggy and his partners in volume, The Stooges. Big mistake. Big, beautiful, glorious, ridiculous mistake. Iggy decided he was going to abandon the somewhat ‘arty’ mix done by friend and champion David Bowie for the album’s original release, and instead give Raw Power a sound to live up to its title. It did. Best summary: Everything Distorted, All The Time. Iggy called it a ‘very violent mix’. Understatement. This mix slaughters its listeners, skins them and eats their brains in order to gain their intelligence. In 2010 they re-released the album once more, this time reverting to the original Bowie mix. I have not heard this latest release, and frankly, I don’t care to. I have heard the definitive Raw Power, and it is big, loud, messy, ugly and stupid to the point of genius. I was tempted to go for one of the comparatively cerebral cuts from the album, but that would be taking the easy way out. You haven’t really heard this album until you begin to fear for your speakers.