Thursday, 9 June 2011
Changing the whole set and feel of a tour halfway through is pretty radical and something promoters of acts as big as Bowie (if there are any) simply wouldn't stand for today. The fact that many American concert-goers were expecting one thing but were given something completely different demonstrates Bowie's relentless imperative to act upon whatever took his fancy at the time. Also he managed to complete the tour on a diet of red peppers, milk and, most importantly, cocaine. What an engine.
Friday, 3 June 2011
Rodgers called upon his Chic associates Bernard Edwards (bass) and Tony Thompson (drums) to help create Like a Virgin (1984), an album which my mind instantly jumps to when thinking about what a great pop record should be.
An all-time favourite of mine, and one which appears on the album, is Material Girl, a track which demonstrates Rodgers, Edwards and Thompson as the impossibly water-tight rhythm section they were.
It's tacky, it's gimmicky, it's pure bubblegum and for these very reasons it's a damn fine single.
What's always impressed me with this song, however, is Tony Thompson's drumming. Rock solid for the verses, his snappy flourishes before the chorus puts one foot of this song in territory clearly marked 'Rock'.
Does it get more perfect than this?
Wednesday, 1 June 2011
But the devil will find work for idle hands to do and on being given all three of the band's studio albums to borrow I've found myself succumbing to their indefineable magic.
It's the passion. In an age which is one huge, non-committal shrug of the shoulders, Arcade Fire have a startling intensity about their music. It's rousing, it's enervating, it makes so many other mainstream acts sound like dilly-dallying time-wasters. You can hear that they mean every measure of tape they lay down and are no strangers to some good old-fashioned hard work.
There's not much more I can say, really, because I don't think they deserve to be ham-fistedly dissected by me. However, a current favourite is Intervention from 2007s Neon Bible. If this doesn't stir you, nothing will.
Now to try and like Animal Collective...
Friday, 15 April 2011
Ryan Giggs' bob and weave against Arsenal gets the inevitable mention but, despite being one of the great semi-final strikes, I put another on par with it.
Mark Hughes' volley against Oldham for Manchester United in the '94 semi embodies everything which makes Sparky one of my favourite ever United players.
The Guardian article cites context as being vital in the compiling of their list and this goal features the sort of heart-stopping drama which United made their own in the 1990s and beyond.
After a dull 90 minutes Oldham went ahead in extra-time when Neil Pointon stabbed home after an uncharacteristic Peter Schmeichel flap. With a minute left, and United running out of ideas, Brian McClair looped a desperate ball over his shoulder to ask questions of the Oldham defence. Muscling his way between a couple of defenders it dropped to Hughes who pulled the trigger on that pneumatic right foot of his to keep United's double dream alive.
It was so typical of the Welshman. He was a warrior, always ready for battle and always putting his body on the line for the good of the team, commitment never a question. Sir Alex Ferguson once said you could put your life on Hughes scoring when you needed a goal and here he drew on all his bravery and supreme vollying technique to take the tie to a replay (which United ran out 4-1 winners). God, I love Mark Hughes.
Thursday, 14 April 2011
The song is Kitchenette, a classic Cave tale of adultery, lust and death, and the lyrics in question are:
I keep hanging around your kitchenette
And I'm gonna get a pot to cook you in
I stick my fingers in your biscuit jar
and crush all your gingerbread men...
Menacing enough, but the lines which have brought me much mirth are:
What's this husband of yours ever given to you
Oprah Winfrey on a plasma screen
And a brood of junky buck-toothed imbeciles
The ugliest fucking kids I've ever seen
Monday, 11 April 2011
I can't remember when it was first shown but it isn't on iPlayer anymore. Instead, I found it on Youtube and have pasted the links to all six parts. Don't worry, its only an hour and a half long (not long enough for me, though) and covers the genre's beginnings in 1970s industrial England through to inadvertently providing the soundtrack to the social upheavals of Thatcher's Britain. I think its a great documentary and expresses how significant, irreverent, varied, daft and creative the genre was (and still is considering the synthesiser has been reigning supreme for a number of years now). Enjoy.
Thursday, 31 March 2011
There's something terribly unforgiving about the cover of the Human League's 1980 album, Travelogue.
The grainy lack of focus, the violently bright sun lurking ominously (is it rising or setting?), and the mysterious figure being transported across harsh arctic plains - all of these elements add to an overall picture of nihilism, of a bleak, solitary future (the League were constantly looking forward) where there is a lack of simple human connection. In short, I think it looks brilliantly chilling.
The cover also reminds me of the opening scenes of John Carpenter's re-make of The Thing, which sees an Alaskan Malamute running away from it's frantic Scandinavian masters after something has gone horrifically wrong at their research facility.
Unfortunately I can't find out who shot the cover. But in a weird way I don't want to know.
Monday, 28 March 2011
Judging by the scowls on their faces it’s difficult to tell whether Brooklyn noise-popsters Crystal Stilts like to be beside the seaside. The first show of their seven-date British tour sees them on the south-east coast in Brighton playing to a surprisingly sparse crowd.
All too often the band has not so much been accused of ripping off Joy Division but molesting Ian Curtis’ corpse. The post-punk pioneers are clearly an influence, but Crystal Stilts also take inspiration from the strung-out insouciance of Velvet Underground and the swampy mysticism of the Doors.
The influences come together seductively on Departure, a swirling broth of fuzz bass, descending chords and creeping, funereal keys. The song is drawn out, letting it have its way with the audience, and when it is brought to an end, punters shake their heads wondering what strange plane they had just been taken to.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. When it wants to their music can reach euphoric highs, as demonstrated on the spritely Sycamore Tree and the swaggering Through the Floor. This is as upbeat as it gets though as these moments are snuffed out quickly by a further dose of the morose.
For the most part the band look thoroughly disinterested but one gets the feeling that it would be a cardinal sin for them to look like they enjoy what they are doing. Does Lou Reed ever smile? Did Ian Curtis ever burst out into a beaming, ear to ear grin? Lucky for them their music has plenty of life in it yet.
Thursday, 24 March 2011
I was typically reluctant at first as I had decided the song was going to be an atrocity. It was a purely instinctive reaction, but then I thought why not see how bad it actually is? Maybe its the masochist in me, he who writhes and squirms ecstatically in the horror, but I have always found terrible music highly comedic, no matter how earnest the performer is.
My opinion didn't change once I had heard it. Yes, it is a sorry piece of music, the aural equivalent of watching a dog with no legs trying to stand up, but is it really worse than anything else in the charts?
The top 40 has always been smattered with shit and as I write this it is no different. The Black Eyed Peas have their perennial place in there, this week with Just Can't Get Enough. Its as irritating and auto-tuned as Black's single. Another pot shot leads us to Tinie Tempah's Wonderman (featuring Ellie Goulding), which is as banal and monotone as listening to an old person talk about something which you simply do not care about.
What do we have here? Olly Murs' Heart On My Sleeve, a terminal ballad of euthanasian proportions; Alexis Jordan's Good Girl, one of the worst songs to enter the chart this year, yet it reached number six; and George Michael's butchering of True Faith, calling into question whether it is worth saving children in Africa.
Friday certainly isn't better than anything in the charts but with all the commotion surrounding it one could be forgiven for thinking that it was a recitation of the Nazi Party manifesto produced by Stock, Aitken and Waterman. With it's insistence on repetition and auto-tuning it is no different to the majority of the music in the charts right now. Take this as a warning: we haven't heard the last of Rebecca Black.
Wednesday, 9 March 2011
Patrick Bateman's meandering paeans to stars such as Collins, Whitney Houston and Huey Lewis and the News are amongst the funniest moments in the book and go some way to demonstrate Bateman's sickeningly bland facade, masking the gnarled torment within.
In Mary Harron's film adaptation, Bateman (played by Christian Bale) entertains two prostitutes whilst informing them emotively about Collins' work with Genesis ("too artsy, too intellectual") and his later solo work ("more commercial and therefore more satisfying, in a narrower way"). Engaging in sex with both women, it is to the soundtrack of Sussudio, Bateman's personal favourite, from Collins' 1985 album No Jacket Required. Its a perfect 80s pop song which, to anyone who has seen the film, is now loaded with gratuitous sexual imagery and Patrick Bateman's immortal line, "Sabrina, don't just stare at it, eat it."
Tuesday, 1 March 2011
How was it getting the sound sorted in the church?
It was good today; we can hear each other. Sometimes it can be quite bad but today it seems OK. We usually trust the promoters to get a good venue.
Does touring fill you with as much excitement now as it presumably did when you started with the Super Furry Animals?
Yeah, in a different way, I suppose. When we (SFAs) started to tour the excitement was coupled with being on a long drinking session (laughs). Maybe now it's more about the music. When we were starting out it was a complete head expansion going to a new town. It was an insane absurdity. It was a lot of fun, y'know. We still have fun on tour but that's why we don't tour as often because our bodies can't...so when I tour on my own I'm very sensible. With Super Furry Animals we have a certain influence on each other...
After a series of collaborations, how is it just doing the solo thing?
It's about being...I think this record is about being in my comfort zone, which isn't necessarily the most adventurous thing to do. But you have to give up control over some things.
So you're not a control freak in the studio?
No. I haven't got the loudest voice. When I make my own records it's a lot faster. I'm not the most articulate so I'm not very good at explaining things to other people. It doesn't mean it's a better record. I can record exactly what I was trying to do.
The album was mainly recorded over here but mixed in L.A. Is that a bit surreal?
Yeah, a lot of it was recorded in other people's houses but I had one day in a big commercial studio because I didn't have a record deal. I recorded the drums in one day in a big studio.
To work with Mario Caldatto who has done albums with people like Beastie Boys and Tone Loc. He works in his own space, not like a big studio. We worked on his computer. He's got a load of old synths as well so I went round his house to do it. I took my family as well and stayed over there for a bit.
What's your favourite part of America?
I like the energy. It's like becoming a child again because everything is big. That's what I found exciting about touring because it keeps everything new and America is so big you still find something new every day. It seems endless. You could tour there perpetually.
You've said that you wanted to make a record of piano-led ballads but that didn't really happen with the new album. Do you feel your musical tastes have changed?
A lot of things that have gone onto this record are things I've been listening to since I was a teenager. It was very much about making a record of simple songs like you'd get with John Cale and Lou Reed records.
Do you take pride in certain songs more than others?
Yeah, I suppose the ones I'm happiest with are the ones that I had the least control over. Things like Shark Ridden Waters which almost came by chance working with Andy Votel. There's piano on most tracks but the piano on that song is by kids on a toy piano.
Should we expect any more collaborations any time soon?
Yeah, I've been turning a lot of things down. With SFAs we were extremely guarded for years and I was turning everything down until Mogwai asked me to sing on their record (the song Dial:Revenge on 2001s Rock Action), and I love Mogwai, love hanging out with them, and they asked me to go to Glasgow for three days so it was "Yeah, go on then" (laughs).
How was it working with Gorillaz (Rhys collaborated on the track Superfast Jellyfish on 2010s Plastic Beach)? I always imagined Damon Albarn to be a dictator in the studio...
But I suppose he's in his element in the studio - he's surrounded by the instruments he's collected over the years. I think all the money he's made from Gorillaz has gone back into Gorillaz.
Did they let you have much of a say in where the song you collaborated on was going?
For Superfast Jellyfish he had a bassline and we had a fifteen to twenty minute jam and he picked out two bars of it and then put the song together and then he wanted me to write a chorus. He gave me the title. Then I went away and didn't hear it for three or four months - by which time he'd edited my parts and De La Soul came in and did some rhymes which was crazy because I was buying De La Soul records when I was 19. It was, like, "Wow!".
Did you play Glastonbury with them? I didn't see them because I was off watching the Bootleg Beatles at the time.
No, I didn't, I was in L.A. at the time. It's a very unusual situation when I get asked to help headline Glastonbury and have to turn it down.
When you signed with Creation in 1995 were you witness to any of the madness of Alan McGee?
I think he was straight by then but they were extremely exciting times. My experience of Alan McGee was just someone who was extremely enthusiastic about everything he was doing which rubbed off on other people. When he first heard The Man Don't Give a Fuck it was supposed to be a B-side and he was going, "That's a single; lets release it next week". And people in the office were going, "No, Alan, it takes three weeks to manufacture a record"..."OK, lets do it in three weeks." He wanted to do everything straight away which was great.
How motivated would you say you are? Is it good to have someone like that behind you who is propelling you forward?
It's always good to have enthusiastic people behind you. Enthusiasm is an amazing trait to have.
Have you always been this laid back?
Yeah, I don't know if I am laid back...I think some people often mistake enthusiasm and creativity for madness, which is ridiculous when people just want to try things out.
Apart from bottles of hotel shampoo, do you collect, or hoard, anything else?
Yeah, records are acceptable. We're living in a very disposable age and our minds aren't cut out for disposability. I think we still instinctively want to keep hold of everything and we care about the objects. That comes from a time when people had so much less in their lives and they really wanted to take care of those things.
Do you still have your first guitar?
No, I've given those things away...
Out of generosity?
Yeah, people want things for raffles as well.
So you don't have rooms full of guitars at home?
No, no, as a musician I always wanted to be a drummer and I have no interest in guitars. I've got very little emotional attachment with them.
So do you have a few drum kits knocking around at home?
I've got one but it's been shared around half of Cardiff in various studios.
Thursday, 24 February 2011
I took a trip to the supermarket today to buy a pencil sharpener and paid a visit to the magazine aisle to have a look at the music rags.
I thumbed through the latest issue of the NME (I know the NME polarises opinion but I had sent a live review to them and wanted to see if it had been published. It hadn't) and came across a pull-out magazine detailing 'The Greatest Frontmen of All Time'. It turns out Iggy Pop is the greatest frontman of all time. Well done, Iggy. What baffled me more, however, was a small section at the bottom of one page which showed those who hadn't made the list; essentially those who had fallen from grace. And who should I find in that list but Sir Mick Jagger.
Now, call me a romantic, but not only is Mick Jagger the greatest frontman of all time but how he didn't even make the list I'll never know. I think the NME's reasoning was because he started wearing Lycra in the 1980s or some shit like that. My thinking is that Jagger is the original Rock Star, prowling around the stage like an alley cat on heat, and without him and the Stones paving the way for snotty punks to piss off parents nationwide, Iggy Pop and the Stooges wouldn't have been let near a recording studio. And, besides, you can't drunkenly dance like Iggy Pop when you're at a wedding. You'd get blood everywhere for a start.
I might as well tag a Stones song on the end now, hadn't I?
rolling stones - start me up
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Friday, 18 February 2011
During the late-Seventies/early-Eighties, Sheffield produced a handful of bands who spearheaded a new electronic era for British pop. The Holy Trinity of this Steel City explosion were the Human League, Heaven 17 and ABC.
Whilst the Human League and Heaven 17 embraced dynamic synths and other electronic sounds born from the undeniable influence Krautrock was having at the time, ABC were swayed as much by 60s Motown and the idealised glamour of 50s Hollywood as they were Roxy Music and David Bowie - no more so than on their 1982 debut.
The most recognised tracks on the album are Poison Arrow and The Look of Love, yet this is an album where every song, barring the 0:59 interlude of The Look of Love, Pt.4 (although itself a beautifully lush passage of heavenly harps), could have been released as a single.
With Trevor Horn in the control room, the band had one of the most creative pop brains in Britain adding an unashamed gloss to the album: the guitars are tight and choppy; basslines are slapped up and down the fret-board (like all good 80s pop); and string sections add a grand, dramatic sweep to many of the songs.
Where the album races ahead of its contemporaries, however, is in the lovelorn lyrics of Martin Fry. Possessing a voice which is full of painful yearning, once-bitten-twice-shy heartache, and innocent optimism, Fry's witty wordplay and intelligent observations are that rare thing - believable and relateable.
If I were pushed I would say the album reaches its zenith on Valentine's Day, which sees a bruised Fry looking both bitterly and regretfully over a past love. It also has the genius lyrical denouement:
And I'm shaking a hand and clenching a fist/If you gave me a pound for the moments I missed/And I got dancing lessons for all the lips I should have kissed/I'd be a millionaire/I'd be your Fred Astaire
This is simply pop music at its best: both clever and with a heart.
1. Show Me
2. Poison Arrow
3. Many Happy Returns
4. Tears Are Not Enough
5. Valentine's Day
6. The Look of Love, Pt.1
7. Date Stamp
8. All of My Heart
9. 4 Ever 2 Gether
10. The Look of Love, Pt.4
11. Theme from "Mantrap"
Wednesday, 9 February 2011
Ok, ok, this is late but it's been on the back burner for a couple of weeks and I simply had to get it out of my system.
When I heard The White Stripes had split a small wave of melancholy washed over me. They were a band which my generation can confidently claim is ours. Along with other groups which a grateful NME rounded up under the banner 'The New Rock Revolution' (The Strokes, The Hives, The Vines etc.) The White Stripes were able to lift guitar music from the torpor of late-Nineties nu-metal (and I don't care what you say - guitar music will always be significant and its upkeep of massive importance) and swivel attention onto the blues - a genre to which rock and roll owes everything.
The genius was in the simplicity ("Blues is easy to play but hard to feel", said Jimi Hendrix). Suddenly, if you were thrashing around on your guitar in a garage with a friend who plays drums, you didn't need a bass player. Just a really loud amplifier. Jack White took on the role of judge, jury and executioner with his guitar and emerged as one of the most original musicians of the era.
Propelled by a bludgeoning distortion manipulated from analogue recording techniques, White's riffs could tear down walls. Coupled with his mind-bending solos, sounding more like the devil's morsecode thanks to some kind of pitch-shifting device, here you had something to really get your teeth into. Then there was that voice, a terrifying yelp delivered with the bug-eyed insanity of a pantomime villain.
"But she's a shit drummer". That's the response you are most likely to get when talking about Meg White's contribution to The White Stripes. I'm sure she would be the first to acknowledge that she isn't the most accomplished drummer but was technical prowess really needed for such simple songs? The Stripes had a childlike joie de vivre to a lot of their music (think of the kitsch ditties often appearing at the end of albums) and the reassuring, rock-steady backbeat of Meg provided the perfect foundation over which Jack could run amok. Vocally, her siren-like lead on In The Cold, Cold Night, is one of her finest moments.
Marvel at the videos. A testament to the importance they placed on appearance (the colour scheme, Jack's plastic guitar, the distinctly English aesthetic around White Blood Cells and Elephant, the number 3 - who, or what did it relate to?) their videos ranged from the rural to the clever, employing an impressive conveyor belt of directors (and I don't just mean Michel Gondry - although the following video is Gondry-directed). They are even more pronounced now due to the shockingly shite depths to which music videos have plummeted.
But how long could they have sustained the formula? The limits put on the guitar/drums combination were beginning to show around their fifth album Get Behind Me Satan. Whilst other instruments had been employed by this time (the use of a marimba on The Nurse), the visceral, scorched sound of previous albums had given way to more subtle, sparse touches. There was a return to electric blues on Icky Thump but, with Jack White's manifold other ventures gathering a head of steam, the White Stripes were quickly becoming a dot on the horizon.
I always anticipated each White Stripes release with great excitement. If they announced that the whole break up was a ruse and they were to release another album tomorrow, I'd be sure to have that breathless feeling rise up in my chest. Very few bands do that to me nowadays. I guess that means they adhered to the old showbiz mantra of 'leave them wanting more', finish at the top and all that.
The six albums they did release will remain the soundtrack to a time when the world opened up for me and I'll always listen to them with a lot of love and affection, never mind the sense of danger and menace they often induce in this listener. Funny, evil, baffling, cool - an utterly unique band. White Stripes, you will be missed.
Sunday, 6 February 2011
I was about 14 and really into playing guitar at the time. I still love to play but at that time it was everything for me. I remember being completely slack-jawed at the sheer talent Moore possessed. Me, my dad and a thousand-odd ageing rockers sporting well-worn denim jackets and leather trousers all left very happy.
Me and my dad went to see him the year after at the same venue and had tickets to Bath's International Guitar Festival where Moore was scheduled to play. When we got to the gig there was a huge sign outside which read 'Appearance by Gary Moore cancelled.' Me and my dad were completely gutted but, luckily, Moore's place was taken by another fantastic guitarist called Bernie Marsden. But it wasn't Moore. Zach Starkey was the house drummer that night.
I thought about putting a solo song of Moore's up but then remembered that he plays on one of my all-time favourite Thin Lizzy tracks, Waiting For An Alibi. Crank it up.
R.I.P. Gary Moore
Sunday, 30 January 2011
I started smoking when I was 15 (thats 10 years this year) and have tried a few times to stop but have now gone about a month without having a cigarette (I don't like to say the exact number of days; it puts a kind of unnecessary pressure on the whole thing) which is the longest I've ever done.
Usually I start again when I go out for a drink. As soon as I get a glass filled with alcohol in my hand my mind turns to cigarettes. And that's just after the first sip of the first drink. But recently I've been managing to go out, have a drink, and not smoke. It was touch and go on Friday when I had an unlit cigarette in my hand but I just really didn't want it.
One of the great things about having a real go at stopping is the money I've been saving. It's not like I'm flush with cash but my bank balance has been looking healthier.
Another great thing is that I've felt more energetic in the last month. Fortunately this has come at the right time because I've needed to pull some late-nighters due to exams recently.
The best thing about trying to stop, and going this long without a cigarette, though, is the sense of control I've felt. I no longer feel as though my day is dictated by rolling cigarettes and smoking them at regular intervals. My first thought in the morning isn't 'Do I have enough tobacco for today?' or 'Where will I get some smokes later when I run out?' and that feels incredibly good.
I'm not counting any chickens because, as previously mentioned, I've tried to quit a number of times now. This time around, though, I think I've given myself the best chance yet of stopping permanently.
Saturday, 29 January 2011
One evening, working late in the college library, I had a look through the music section and decided to take out George Harrison's first post-Beatles solo album, All Things Must Pass.
For some reason I've never bothered with this album. There's something about the Beatles' respective solo work which rarely inspires me. There are flashes of genius here and there but I always feel listening to them, knowing they don't have the other three behind them, tearing it up, is like visiting a beautiful, famous landmark only to find that building work is being done to it. It's just not the same.
That's changed now. Harrison's album single-handedly saved me from losing my mind under a ton of revision notes. It's pure folk-rock and has the most incredible warmth about the production. Also, the lyrics shed light on the relief, but also the bitterness, Harrison was feeling about the Beatles' split. Whats more, he wrote most of the songs whilst the Beatles were still functioning, only to have them dismissed by Lennon and McCartney. Who knows, maybe they felt a hint of worry that George was suddenly threatening their empire with the superb material he was writing as the group were falling apart.
Anyway, below is a song from the album called Let it Down. Quite possibly my favourite song on the album, it's a perfect example of both the chaos and the calm felt after the group's split.