Thursday, 24 February 2011

Sit down, Sir Mick

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
Uploaded by aquarius3. - Explore more music videos.

Friday, 18 February 2011

The Greatest Album Ever Made

Let me tell you about the greatest album ever made. It is both polished yet flawed. It is dumb yet clever. It dares to dream yet is rooted firmly in reality. It is The Lexicon of Love by ABC.

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.

Track listing:
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

The White Stripes: The End

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

Gary Moore R.I.P.

I've just heard that former Thin Lizzy guitarist Gary Moore has died at the age of 58. I've got great memories of the man because the first proper live gig I ever went to was with my dad to see Gary Moore at the Colston Hall in Bristol.

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