Saturday, 28 March 2009

Lady GaGa - Poker Face (single)

Who the hell does Lady GaGa think she is? Actually, who the hell is Lady GaGa? You turn your back from the pop scene for thirty seconds and suddenly a new peroxide-blonde upstart is wearing a bin bag and gyrating your way on screen. This latest pop offering releases her second single, Poker Face, on Monday and you just know the song is going to be played in Turkish discos.

Drawing that great parallel between gambling and love (whether to stick or twist, keep your cards close to your chest, blah blah fucking blah) the song betrays GaGa’s Wild Child image and opts for cosy synths and a particularly limp chorus. Alternately it could be about oral sex – try and picture the boisterous geezers on dancefloors shouting “‘Ere, I’d like to Poke ‘er Face! Oi! Oi!”

She’ll probably be huge because I just don’t know anymore.

Iggy Pop - The Idiot (1977)

It’s hard to imagine just how fucked up Iggy Pop was back in the mid-seventies. As the Stooges crumbled in a murky swamp of drugs and death Pop found himself a broken shell of a man, the result of an intense heroin addiction. After an ever-increasing series of embarrassingly pathetic incidents, both on-stage and off-, he checked himself into a mental institution where he claims his only consistent visitor was David Bowie, something of an old acquaintance from headier, bygone days in London after Pop re-located there after yet another Stooges meltdown. It is fair to say that Bowie helped Pop tremendously in his recovery from his serious problems yet Iggy returned the favour, assisting Bowie through a period of crippling cocaine use.

So, as Bowie absorbed the Pop into his now-downsized inner-sanctum, the two set about writing and recording an album to be known as The Idiot. It certainly holds its own place in Rock history: it was the album Ian Curtis listened to when he decided to hang himself. Contrary to Curtis’ dramatic reaction to the record it is, in reality, a mighty fine offering from the pint-sized rocker.

Partly recorded in France and Germany (Bowie’s fascination with Krautrock present throughout) the album is notable for Bowie’s role as producer and co-writer. It says something so deliciously apt about Iggy Pop, the perennial almost-was, that one of his finest, most focused and personal albums has someone else looming ominously over proceedings; here it is Bowie as puppetmaster. Despite some mystery over who features on the album it is generally perceived that the music is practically all Bowie’s whilst Pop deals primarily with lyrical duties.

The album opens with 'Sister Midnight', an exercise in measured funk courtesy of Bowie’s superb rhythm section of Dennis Davis and George Murray complimented by the grandly talented Carlos Alomar on guitar (here taking a writing credit).

From here the album wears it’s electronic, postmodern influences on its sleeve, most notably on the clunky 'Mass Production' and the post-punk classic 'Nightclubbing'; the latter is as sleazy and lecherous as you’re likely to hear, its lobotomized beat and stabbed synths creeping along with menacing detachment . The creepy 'Baby' sees Pop’s croon at its most melancholy and features the delightful line ‘Maybe there’s nothing to see/ I’ve already been down the street of chance’.

Delving deeper, Pop casts a nostalgic eye back on his days in the Stooges with 'Dum Dum Boys', a song which exposes the singer as a lonely soul, abandoned by his brothers when he most needed them. Shouting, ‘Where are ya now I need ya?’ he sounds battered and bruised, yearning for a simplicity the past, and drugs, have laid waste to.

The albums centrepiece, however, is the impossibly brilliant 'China Girl'. Far superior to Bowie’s glossy attempt six years later, this version grooves around euphoric melodies before Pop adopts a pained, strained vocal as the song gallops away into the distance, leaving this listener slack-jawed in awe. A breathtaking song.

For those thinking that this is some sort of ‘rehab’ album for the Motor-City native, they are grossly mistaken; he was still battling many demons during this period of his life and the album chronicles a man merely picking up the pieces. Generally overlooked in the Iggy Pop canon, The Idiot is a pale, anaemic album (check out the vampiric 'Funtime') which rarely looks optimistically on proceedings. It does, however, chronicle a particular flux one of Rock’s most inimitable characters was going through and the listener can’t help but root for him throughout. Just don’t mention car insurance.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

The Rolling Stones - Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out (1970)

Live albums can often be patchy affairs. Live Rolling Stones albums are often patchier. However, one thing which can be said about them is that they certainly reflect the particular phase the band would have been going through at the time. From 1982’s Still Life when they just didn’t care anymore to 1991’s Flashpoint which captured them as the well-oiled money-making monster we know and love(?) today, the evolution of the band has always been caught on tape. The quality of the recorded show is also dependent on Keith Richards’ own dependence on drugs.

The Rolling Stones first official live album, Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out, was recorded in late 1969 as part of an American tour, their first tour anywhere since the halcyon days of 1967 when the band couldn’t hear themselves over the screaming girls who would leave auditoriums stinking of piss. The band now faced a different challenge: the audience were there to actually listen to their music, so the band bumped up the amplification, the length of the show, everything.

The album begins with the band’s now-trademark recording claiming them to be ‘The Greatest Rock ‘n Roll Band in The World’ – first used on this tour – and, on listening to the album, one really can’t argue with the claim. Capturing a band embarking on the peak years of their career as both a live act and as a recording group the album is drenched in the sex and death blues which they so excelled at.

The tracklisting isn’t instantly recognisable for fans expecting yet another run through of 'Satisfaction' or 'Get Off of My Cloud' – but doesn’t that make it all the more exciting? Here the Stones flex their blues muscles with renditions of Robert Johnson’s lonesome 'Love in Vain' - sounding like one of those perfect concert moments where time and unexplained emotions are perfectly crystallised - as well as the creeping 'Stray Cat Blues'. Yet it is the utterly menacing 'Midnight Rambler' where the true magic of the album lies. Stretched out to nine minutes Keith Richards’ raunchy riff (does he know any other?) is gradually replaced by a bluesy breakdown, the essence of the blues dripping from Richards and Mick Taylor’s fingers.

For those who possess a sketchy knowledge of the Stones there is enough here to remain satisfied. 'Jumpin Jack Flash' is played with heady abandon whilst 'Honky Tonk Women' is dispatched with glorious enthusiasm. 'Sympathy For The Devil' bounces along intoxicatingly as Mick Taylor screams and wails on his Les Paul (his playing deliciously gorgeous as usual) and the welcome inclusion of 'Live With Me', including a fantastically bum note right at the start of the song, harks back to the band’s R ’n B roots (never has a group of skinny white cockneys sounded like a troupe of black Chicago natives). There is of course a couple of Chuck Berry numbers, 'Carol' and 'Little Queenie', to keep Keith Richards happy.

They were the baddest band on the planet during this epoch, a time when hippy idealism was being booted in the head, and no band anywhere possessed such an inherent sense of danger or a knack of backing it up. The performance recorded here captures a band in fine live form and, more importantly, having a hell of a time on stage. And to think Altamont was just over a week away...