Album Reviews Pages

Friday, November 7, 2014

Head on the Door by The Cure

Head on the Door by Cure - Classic Albums Reviews

Back in the early '90s, there was a TV show called The Mary Whitehouse Experience. Kind of a precursor to The Mighty Boosh, inasmuch as it was comedy informed by/made for people who liked indie music. One of the sketches would involve co-star Rob Newman parodying The Cure's Robert Smith, singing a stupidly happy song (Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport') in a mope-pop, super-gloomy goth style. It was, almost always, very funny. Robert Smith certainly thought so -he appeared in one episode, playing himself. Nowadays, of course. The Cure are considered extremely cool (Razorlight, Interpol, Mogwai, Marilyn Manson, The Rapture, The Neptunes - the list of patrons is as diverse as it is endless), but back then, right through the “oi-oi!”-isms of Britpop and up until very recently, it was a different story. Despite the fact they were releasing super-happy pop singles like '92’s 'Friday I’m In Love’ or '96’s 'Mint Car’, the perception of Robert Smith and his band of outwardly unmerry men was exactly that of the show: a band who were epitomised by their ultra-gloomy, doom-ridden opuses: 1981’s ‘Faith’, 1982’s ’Pornography’ and 1989’s ‘Disintegration’.

Overlooked for a long time was the fact that, in between these (albeit brilliant) albums, The Cure made some of the finest pop -that’s proper pop - music of the decade -including ‘The Head On The Door’. The first line may run, “Yesterday I got so old I felt like I could die", but opener ‘In Between Days’ is anything but depressing. Rather, like much of this album, it - metaphorically speaking -spins carefree across the dancefloor, arms aloft: the very definition of effervescence. Songs such as ‘Kyoto Song’ and ‘Push’ may contain enough darkness to feel like the work of borderline goths, but the over-riding sense throughout is one of playfulness. Here The Cure take their new-wave sensibilities and filter them through the pop production values of the day (pounding synthetic drums, tacky keyboard sounds, lots of echo), but are also unafraid to draw influence from the most unlikely of places. Listen to the off-kilter, airy flute melodies that decorate ‘Six Different Ways’; listen to the way 'Screw"s fuzz-bass blends seamlessly with its disco backbeat; listen to the Spanish guitar flourishes of ‘Blood’ and... well, see where you reckon The Neptunes ‘discovered’ the idea for Justin Timberlake’s ‘Like I Love You’ from.

And yet, what makes ‘The Head On The Door’ such a remarkable record is that, for all its adventure and unashamed pop sensibility, it still sounds undeniably like The Cure - The Cure of those super-gloomy albums with which they are most associated. From the moments where the production veers close to being dated (the closing ‘Sinking’), to the likes of the incredible ‘Close To Me’, Robert Smith takes whatever the hell style of music he likes and, without even sounding like he’s trying, makes it his own. The Cure may have made more poppy, darker, gloomier and more experimental records, both before and since, but 'The Head On The Door' was the point at which all these traits met.

Track Listings:

01. In Between Days
02. Kyoto Song
03. The Blood
04. Six Different Ways
05. Push
06. The Baby Screams
07. Close To Me
08. A Night Like This
09. Screw
10. Sinking

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A Northern Soul by The Verve

A Northern Soul by The Verve - Classic Album Reviews

Were you to tell the author of the above lyrics how things would turn out. he'd never have believed you. in 1995. The Verve, led by 22 year old 'Mad' Richard Ashcroft were busy self-destructing in South Wales, crafting their second album from days of E-fuelled madness. Depending on who and what you believe, the following are true of the sessions: they'd commence at 8am and last for hours; the record company covered the amplifiers in chicken wire due to the regularity that they were being trashed; hire cars were spun in fields until their wheels came off; tears were common, of both joy and anguish. Half-truths, perhaps, but one thing is certain: band and producer (Oasis-assisting nutcase Owen Morris - the polar opposite of a steadying influence) were pushing themselves to the edge. Madness reigned.

It's no criticism, but all the songs on 'A Northern Soul' from the opening 'A New Decade', through to '(Reprise)' sound the same. Or that's to say. they all stagger along at the same, menacing, strung out 6/7/8am pace and all blend into one another. Guitarist Nick McCabe, a foil without whom Ashcroft has never seemed complete, is either blissed-out beautiful or headfuck heavy, while the dubbed-out grooves of the title track and "Life’s An Ocean" are similarly claustrophobic. You see. musically, this is an album that captures a particular mood - the soundtrack of a never-ending comedown and the perfect backdrop for Ashcroft's anguish. “I'm gonna die alone in bed...";
“I don't believe that love is free..."; “These streets these times they tie me down...". it"s bleak, but beautifully so.

Richard Ashcroft still takes flak for his lyrics. They’re seen as serious-yet-empty sentiments, hollow shells of epicness. A valid criticism now he’s a quiet family man. but not here. This is the language of the hours from which "A Northern Soul' was born, and the hours in which it should be heard. The hours of limitless ambition, raw emotion and utter bollocks.

Punctuating all this chaos, though, there are the two songs that provide the blueprint for the future. And while the sparsely-backed ‘On Your Own', in contrast to its surroundings, is delicate, it’s the majestic 'History', on which Ashcroft: singer/songwriter, for better or for worse, is truly born. No coincidence then, that this was The Verve Mkl's final single before they reformed as stadium-fillers. With Mkll it was goodbye to madness and self-destruction and a hello to string-laden grandeur.

And so, in 2014. with the bad old days behind him. Ashcroft has the ‘Keys To The World': the wife, the family, the house (with the bag of weed inside) and the knowledge that, when he steps onstage this Saturday in Manchester there'll be the biggest crowd of his career singing his songs back at him. The knowledge that, whatever anyone may think of him today, he's made it through and made a difference. He’s a lucky man. but contentment rarely breeds greatness, and his recent material is proof. That stuff William Blake said about the road of excess and the palace of wisdom is true, y'know. Ashcroft knows because he's been there.

Track Listings:

01. A New Decade
02. This Is Music
03. On Your Own
04. So It Goes
05. A Northern Soul
06. Brainstorm Interlude
07. Drive You Home
08. History
09. No Knock On My Door
10. Life's An Ocean
11. Stormy Clouds
12. (Reprise)

Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From The First Psychedelic Era (1965-1968) by Various Artists

Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From The First Psychedelic Era (1965-1968)

Being in a garage band these days is a piece of piss. A few half ideas, an internet connection and some ripped recording software (there's a programme called Garageband, helpfully), and within days the whole world can feel the same undeniable energy you did during that first rehearsal; girls in deepest middle America can be singing lyrics by boys from Coventry minutes after pressing record. A romantic notion? I think not - there's four fellas from Sheffield who would disagree and. with any luck, there’s some group that everyone will care about even more around the corner. Maybe even by the time you read this.

In the early-'60s, with rock’n’roll's seismic impact at its height, there were more kids in garage bands than there have ever been, before or since. The so-called “British invasion" spearheaded by the Stones' sexually-charged reappropriation of the blues, was permeating the mainstream and exposing young America to music who, until then (despite it being on their doorstep - no MySpace, you see), were unaware of. It made them think, “Hey, forget getting a job, this is what it's all about! And all I gotta do is grow my hair, learn the guitar and I can get girls too! I can do this!"

Of course, just like today, a lot of them were shite. But even shite bands are capable of one moment of genius - maybe even more. And anyway, it's all about the collective desire; the attitude. That is what’s exciting. And that's what ‘Nuggets' - lovingly-compiled by future Patti Smith Group guitarist Lenny Kaye - documents. None of the 27 bands here are professional, many are barely even competent. Few were taken seriously by record companies scared by this new force, and thus their output was mainly restricted to local radio and seven-inch singles unlikely to ever be repressed, due to their creators' here-today-gone-tomorrow nature. Today, every musician’s most insignificant utterance is forever-archived in cyberspace, but these songs could easily have been lost in history forever. Thank fuck they weren’t, for this is rock'n’roll at its most naive, primal and therefore perfect. Yes, Mouse's ‘A Public Execution’ or Count Five's ’Psychotic Reaction' may be blatant rip-offs (the latter from ‘Like A Rolling Stone’, the former from ‘I'm A Man'); yes. The Knickerbockers' ‘Lies' may be karaoke Beatles and yes, the likes of The Electric Prunes' T Had Too Much To Dream Last Night' may have been written by professional songwriting teams. But these are records that perfectly capture the energy and frustration of youth, far more so than the ones that inspired them. ‘Nuggets’ is punk’s DIY spirit a good decade before it happened, and much more besides. Check the LSD-drenched perfection of The 13th Floor Elevators’ ’You're Gonna Miss Me', the sophisticated harmonies of 'My World Fell Down' by Sagittarius or The Amboy Dukes’ ear-piercing take on 'Baby Please Don't Go’: recordings with urgency and immediacy, but recordings that are ambitious - that push things forward. All these tracks are vital.

Forming a band? Don't do anything until you've absorbed 'Nuggets'. Everything - everything you need to know is here.

Track Listings:

Disc: 1
1. I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night) (Album Version) - By The Electric Prunes
2. Dirty Water (Single/LP Version) - By The Standells
3. Night Time - By The Strangeloves
4. Lies (Single/LP Version) - By The Knickerbockers
5. Respect - By The Vagrants
6. A Public Execution - By Mouse
7. No Time Like the Right Time - By The Blues Project
8. Oh Yeah (LP Version) - By The Shadows Of Knight
9. Pushin' Too Hard (Single/LP Version) - By The Seeds feat. Sky Saxon
10. Moulty - By The Barbarians
11. Don't Look Back - By Remains
12. An Invitation to Cry - By The Magicians
13. Liar, Liar (LP Version) - By The Castaways
14. You're Gonna Miss Me (Single Version) - By The Thirteenth Floor Elevators

Disc: 2
1. Psychotic Reaction (Single Version) - By Count Five
2. Hey Joe (Single Version) - By The Leaves
3. Romeo & Juliet - By Michael & The Messengers
4. Sugar and Spice - By The Cryan' Shames
5. Baby Please Don't Go - By The Amboy Dukes
6. Tobacco Road - By Blues Magoos
7. Let's Talk About Girls - By The Chocolate Watchband
8. Sit Down I Think I Love You (Single Version) - By The Mojo Men
9. Run, Run, Run (LP Version) - By The Third Rail
10. My World Fell Down - By Sagittarius
11. Open My Eyes (Album Version) - By Nazz
12. Farmer John (Edit Version) - By The Premiers
13. It's A-Happening - By Magic Mushrooms

Beggars Banquet by The Rolling Stones

Beggars Banquet by The Rolling Stones - Classic Album Reviews

The Beatles and the Stones, The Beatles and the Stones... They may be inseparable as the names of the two best British bands of the '60s, but we all know who is perceived by most as being superior, and not without reason. Watch the June '67 footage of the former's performance of 'All You Need Is Love' becoming part of the first ever live global television link, and in the audience you'll see Mick Jagger, grinning, clapping along, a mere disciple. Months later, with the bungling mysticism of the 'Their Satanic Majesties Request' album, his awe has mutated into imitation: in '67 The Rolling Stones tried to make their own 'Sgt Pepper's...' and sounded lost.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Around the World in a Day by Prince

Around the World in a Day by Prince - Classic Albums Reviews

How strange was it to see Prince at the Brit Awards this year? Amid the going through the motions shite, he looked amazing; every inch the sort of otherworldly megastar that time has forgotten. Yet while you couldn’t take your eyes off him. it was also hard not to snigger as he leant back, teeth gritted, ringing out the solos from ’Purple Rain’. Frankly, there was no denying that the histrionics of the song that made him famous sounded more than a little dated. He was playing to the crowd, and that's not what Prince, at his best, is about. He’s an innovator, and if you want proof, forget his biggest album and instead seek out the follow-up. ’Around The World In A Day’.

Metal Box by Public Image Limited

Metal Box by Public Image Limited - Classic Albums Reviews

You know what? Fuck the Sex Pistols. For all the endless praise that history has heaped upon them, for all the undoubted cultural and musical relevance they collectively had, individually they were - all but one of'em - idiots. Forget Steve Jones, a thuggish guitarist who would have been just as happy as part of the all-drinking, all-shagging, all-twiddly-soloing bands such as The Faces that he was supposed to be destroying; forget Glen Matlock, bassist and architect of these songs that changed so much, yet a man who abhorred the sentiments of 'God Save The Queen’, but is happy, in safe hindsight, to take credit for them. We'll let Paul Cook off, an archetypal drummer, in as much as he communicated in grunts and went along with anything.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Dry by PJ Harvey

Dry by PJ Harvey - Classic Albums Reviews

A girl? In a band?
Who, as well as being able to play guitar, sing and write songs all by herself, is comfortable enough with her sexuality to use it as a manipulative tool (just like male singers since Elvis have) and not feel cheap, whaaat? Somebody, call the pedestal-makers. We got us a role model!

Astonishing isn’t it, that in 2006, with girls in bands both good and bad all over the place, the likes of Karen 0 are still being dubbed "female icons”.

Must we really patronisingly elevate every maker of a great record who doesn't have a penis to such a status? Can they not just be “icons”? Are we not done with all this? We certainly should be, and one of the reasons why is Polly Jean Harvey who - pussy or no pussy - was without question one of the most consistently innovative, entrancing and brilliant musicians of the '90s.

Faust IV by Faust

Faust IV by Faust - Classic Albums Reviews

Some bands form because they want to be famous and make money. Some bands form because they want to see endless lengths of motorway from the back of a rusty Leyland Sherpa. Some bands form because they want to get laid in the back of a rusty Leyland Sherpa. Faust weren’t like those bands, probably because they were an experimental prog-rock act from 1970s Germany. Faust formed because they wanted to make music that sounded like absolutely nothing else that had ever gone before, then play it on pneumatic drills. Naked.

While their contemporaries Kraftwerk made sleek, repetitious records, Faust meandered, threw away good ideas and took the piss. But if it’s uniformity and consistency you're after, stick with Keane.

Only After Dark by Nick Rhodes and John Taylor

Only After Dark by Nick Rhodes and John Taylor - Classic Album Reviews

For decades, we have accepted the orthodoxy that 1976 was rock music's Year Zero; that the rise of the Sex Pistols was the defining moment in modern rock history; that punk rock is the musical and ethical measure against which every new band and movement must be compared.

But, clearly, this is bollocks. The first wave of punk bands had a brutal revolutionary energy, but, between them, the Pistols, The Damned and The Clash produced barely a handful of enduring tunes. The wider punk movement, meanwhile, lapsed into the selfparody of Generation X and Sham 69.

Violator by Depeche Mode

Violator by Depeche Mode - Classic Albums Review

For a long time, Essex boys Depeche Mode found themselves in a strange position when it came to their standing in the UK. Despite achieving almost constant chart success throughout the '80s, critically they were seen as the runts of the synth-pop litter, they were seen as a bit, well, naff. The critics, as if you didn’t know it already, were wrong.
But in the US things were completely different. Depeche Mode, along with the likes of The Cure and New Order, were the hippest of the hip Brit bands, and by the late-'80s were selling out venues with mind-boggling capacities that you could comfortably fit Wembley Stadium into.
At the 80.000 capacity LA Rose Bowl, they recorded the successful live album ’101' in 1988.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Collected by Massive Attack

Classic Albums Reviews - Collected by Massive Attack

As a big football fan, Massive Attack's Robert ’3D' Del Naja might appreciate the analogy we're about to bestow on him. He’s the Sam Allardyce of music. By that, we don’t mean he’s got a head like a pumpkin and chews gum like a Friesian, What we mean is that in the 15 years of his group’s career he’s signed up, got in on loan, transferred, dropped and generally wrung fantastic performances from a disparate group of characters.
’Collected’ is a neat detour as Massive Attack journey on to their fifth album, ‘Weather Underground’, due next year. A time to reflect on an outfit who, despite more fallouts than the EU parliament, have made some of the most enduringly intelligent music of our time. And, as with everything Massive Attack have done,

My Life in the Bush of Ghosts by Brian Eno and David Byrne

Classic Albums Reviews - My Life in the Bush of Ghosts by Brian Eno and David Byrne

In 2014 freedom of speech actually means you’re free to speak about almost anything as long as you remember the correct thing to say. Terrified and hysterical self-hating Christian fascists parade up and down outside provincial theatres objecting to a piece of faintly amusing musical theatre. Lunatic Muslim extremists clearly weighed down with way too much fucking time on their hands torch Norwegian mobile phone shops when there’s nothing Danish left to burn. Meanwhile, the rest of us, who realise that religions are just stories that some people are too frightened to leave behind with Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy are left wondering where this madness began. Well, some of it began here.

Axis Bold As Love by Jimi Hendrix

Classic Albums Reviews - Axis Bold As Love by Jimi Hendrix

While it’s hardly an obscurity (it does, after all, feature Jimi Fucking Hendrix), there’s a commonly held view that the second of the three Jimi Hendrix Experience albums is the least remarkable. ‘Are You Experienced?’ has the advantage of being the album on which the world met The Greatest Guitarist Ever, while the last, the sprawling, expansive 'Electric Ladyland’
is held up as The Masterpiece; one of the defining records of the psychedelic era and one that people with more time on their hands than you and I have written entire books on. But ‘Axis: Bold As Love’? Well, it’s neither as furiously in yer face as its predecessor, nor as out there as its follow up. It’s seen by many as a mid-point; a transitional phase

Who Needs Actions When You Got Words by Plan B

Album Reviews - Who Needs Actions When You Got Words by Plan B

At a glance, east London’s Plan B is a gimmick: a hoodie-wearing. perma scowling, Asbo in waiting, with a mouth fouler than Towers Of London's week old Y-fronts. He’s also a rapper who joins himself on acoustic guitar and references Radiohead and Cobain. You can almost hear a marketing manager rubbing his hands with glee. But go beneath the obvious Marshall Mathers influences and you’ll see that while Plan B creates characters who shout bleak, brutal words about drugs, murder and absent fathers there is a strict moral tone. He doesn't glorify nastiness. Instead, ultra-violence is the road to nowhere: the Damilola Taylor inspired ’Kidz’. Drugs will eventually ruin you: the Rage Against The Machine-driven ‘No More Eatin”. a rap that rushes with the deadly thrill of an out-of-control car racing down a hill.

Silver And Fire by M. Craft

Album Reviews - Silver And Fire by M. Craft

Australians in London, eh? Cramming into Walkabouts, drinking enormous amounts of shit lager, bellowing along to 'Tie Me Kangaroo Down. Sport'... and then, if young Martin Craft is anything to go by. returning to a bedroom to write dreamy guitar pop that reconciles a number of bad taste hallmarks uber slick '80s production, bossanova rhythms  with a world weariness of Radiohead proportions, it’s not without its bland lkea pop moments, but the oddly serene 'I've Got Nobody Waiting For Me' employs picked banjo without resorting to rustic cliche, while ‘Love Knows How To Fight' builds robust emotional fortitude out of gorgeous, ethereal layers of sound.