Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Queen - Live At Wembley (1986)


  

Recorded live at Wembley Stadium in 1986

This was Queen one year after storming the same Wembley stage at Live Aid returning to greet thousands of their new-found fans and many of those who had stuck with them through thick and thin from back in 1973. This was moustachioed, yellow-jacketed, white-trousered Freddie Mercury and Queen at the height of their "phase two" powers and, contrary to as portrayed (deliberately) erroneously in the biopic "Bohemian Rhapsody", Mercury had not received his AIDS diagnosis at this point. His, and the band's performance is full of vibrancy and vitality. It is largely a good set (save the early set "medley" that blighted Queen gigs throughout their career, this time cutting short "Seven Seas Of Rhye" and "Tear It Up"). It is great for old fans like me to hear "In The Lap Of The Gods (Revisited)" given an outing, but this is all that is really there for 1973-74 fans apart from the brief burst of "Rhye" and the ubiquitous and glorious "Now I'm Here".

I have always been firmly in the "Queen are better when they rock" camp and in this respect I am catered for in the magnificent heavy rock of "One Vision", the afore-mentioned "Tear It Up", "Tie Your Mother Down" and "Hammer To Fall". The recent chart converts are kept more than happy with "A Kind Of Magic", played far heavier than on the hit single, the singalong, handclapping "Radio Ga Ga", "I Want To Break Free" and "Friends Will Be Friends".

It is a sad moment to hear Mercury tell the crowd the band will "stay together until they ....ing well die" and then sings "Who Wants To Live Forever". This statement also gives the lie to the biopic's story that the band split up in 1984, before Live Aid. As Mercury said, they never split up and they never would, darlings.

It is pretty much a joyful romp from beginning to end as Queen command the huge stadium crowd with ease. The one negative is the sound, which has always been slightly muffled, although the most recent remaster has alleviated this somewhat. It still has that sound that outdoor concerts always have,  taken away a bit by the wind. I only had the privilege of seeing Queen live once, at Earl's Court in 1977. I always regretted not seeing them in this period. This album makes up for that.

TRACK LISTING

1. One Vision
2. Tie Your Mother Down
3. In The Lap Of The Gods (Revisited)
4. Seven Seas Of Rhye
5. Tear It Up
6. A Kind Of Magic
7. Under Pressure
8. Another One Bites The Dust
9. Who Wants To Live Forever
10. I Want To Break Free
11. Brighton Rock
12. Now I'm Here
13. Love Of My Life
14. Is This The World We Created?
15. Baby I Don't Care
16. Hello Mary Lou (Goodbye Heart)
17. Tutti Frutti
18. Gimme Some Lovin'
19. Bohemian Rhapsody
20. Hammer To Fall
21. Crazy Little Thing Called Love
22. Big Spender
23. Radio Ga Ga
24. We Will Rock You
25. Friends Will Be Friends
26. We Are The Champions
27. God Save The Queen

B-

Bruce Foxton




Touch Sensitive (1984)
Back In The Room (2012)
Smash The Clock (2016)

Mott




Drive On (1975)
Shouting And Pointing (1976)

Curtis Mayfield - Do It All Night (1978)

  

Released August 1978

Curtis Mayfield totally abandoned his "message" based, socially-aware urban funk/soul and went full-on disco for this album, released in the middle of the 1977-79 disco boom. Yes, there are still a few funky guitar parts here and there and Mayfield's falsetto hasn't changed, but the album's six tracks are largely heavily orchestrated disco stompers of lush soul ballads. The Isley Brothers went the same way at the same time too. Not a Pusherman, Billy Jack or Superfly in earshot of this one. Those early/mid seventies characters are long gone, in jail or drugged-out, no doubt. It is the hedonistic disco groove that matters now, and the energy to do it all night. It is a bit of a shame that Mayfield ended up by the end of the decade doing stuff like this, but as he was still Curtis Mayfield, it was certainly classy disco. You can't help but think, however, that Mayfield would never, ever have recorded anything like this between 1970 and 1976, he would have rejected it outright. The album duly alienated Mayfield's long-time fan base and, significantly, failed to win him many new ones either.

TRACK LISTING

1. Do It All Night Long
2. No Goodbyes
3. Party Party
4. Keep Me Loving You
5. In Love In Love In Love
6. You Are You Are

"Do It All Night Long" is over eight minutes of typical disco string orchestration, rhythmic percussion, pounding drums, female backing vocals trading off against Mayfield and some funky guitar lines. "No Goodbyes" has that archetypal, sweeping disco backing that featured on so many songs and movie soundtracks. The rhythm is infectious, however, with those backing vocals again dominating. Mayfield's vocal is almost incidental to the groove of the track. The problem with Mayfield is that he wasn't poppy enough to construct perfect three minute "Disco Inferno"- type floor shakers, he was still far too sincere and serious an artist to go completely pop. What you get, then, is a strange hybrid of material that wants to be disco pop but still retains that desire to be viewed as credible. I referred to The Isley Brothers earlier, and they suffered from the same problem. "No Goodbyes" could never be a hit single. It duly wasn't.

The lively, danceable "Party Party" is virtually sung by the backing singers and is barely comprehensible as being a Curtis Mayfield track. The guitar line is decidedly upbeat and funky, though. As well-crafted disco goes, I cannot help but like it, taken in isolation. It has an addictive Chic-esque percussion and bass interplay near the end. Mayfield returns to tell us that "all we need is funk". Never mind what is wrong with America today for Curtis now, unfortunately.

The old "side two" sees the mood get a bit more laid-back and soulful with firstly, "Keep Me Loving You" and then "In Love In Love In Love", which is a bit of a throwback to Mayfield's previous romantic numbers, albeit here with even more lush orchestration and a nice piano in there too. "You Are You Are" is a slight return to the disco groove, reminiscent of Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes' "The Love I Lost" in its refrain and there you go, the album is over in the flash of a glitterball. It was pleasant enough, but most people accept that this was not representative of Mayfield's best work.

C

Sting - Live In Berlin (2010)


  

Recorded live in Berlin with The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

I was pleasantly surprised by this live album. I had been concerned that the presence of The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra would over-orchestrate the sound - too many strings, not enough bass, guitar and drums. This is actually not the case at all. Although there is not a conventional rock band backing Sting, there is a solid bass, rhythmic percussion, keyboards and intermittent saxophone throughout the album. It is certainly not a case of Sting singing his songs against a predominantly orchestral backing. Well-known tracks such as "If I Ever Lose My Faith In You", "Englishman In New York" and "Fields Of Gold" are performed recognisably. Yes there is additional orchestration, but it doesn't turn them into new tracks. The orchestra blends perfectly with Sting and his musicians. There is more obvious influence from the orchestra on later tracks, but it certainly never overwhelms Sting. It subtly augments the songs.

There are tracks where the orchestra really comes into its own, though, and interacts beautifully with Sting and the bass/percussion. The bass sound, rhythm and gentle guitar are beautiful on this moving song. One such number is the evocative "The End Of The Game". "Tomorrow We'll See" and "All Would Envy" are similarly impressive. "Whenever I Say Your Name" is wonderful too, with excellent additional lead vocals from Jo Lawry and some sumptuous Branford Marsalis saxophone (the kind Sting loves to use).

"Why Should I Cry For You?" is hauntingly beautiful and "Shape Of My Heart" features some delicious Spanish-style acoustic guitar and a subtle backing from the orchestra. The jazzy "Moon Over Bourbon Street" is given an interesting new makeover to be about Sting being followed by a vampire in New Orleans' French Quarter, with additional instrumental atmospheric sound effects. "Mad About You" is chock full of superb inventive instrumentation. The Police's "King Of Pain" does not suffer for the additional orchestration, it is delivered just as powerfully. There is a convincing case to be made for this version being the better one. The Eastern-influenced "Desert Rose" is also mightily impressive. "Fragile" is as good as it always is.

The whole album is a triumph, for me. Eminently listenable. Great sound quality too.

TRACK LISTING

1. If I Ever Lose My Faith In You
2. Englishman In New York
3. Fields Of Gold
4. Why Should I Cry For You?
5. All Would Envy
6. Tomorrow We'll See
7. The End Of The Game
8. Whenever I Say Your Name
9. Shape Of My Heart
10. Moon Over Bourbon Street
11. Mad About You
12. King Of Pain
13. Desert Rose
14. Fragile

B+

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Sting - 57th & 9th (2016)

  

Released November 2016

After dabbling in classical music with "Symphonicities" and writing a musical in "The Last Ship", Sting returned to his more recognisable style of laid-back, sometimes slightly jazzy rock/pop with this appealing album. The street intersection of the title refers to the roads he crossed in New York City on his way to the studio he recorded this album in.

TRACK LISTING

1. I Can't Stop Thinking About You
2. 50,000
3. Down, Down, Down
4. One Fine Day
5. Pretty Young Soldier
6. Petrol Head
7. Heading South On The Great North Road
8. If You Can't Love Me
9. Inshallah
10. The Empty Chair

"I Can't Stop Thinking About You" is an upbeat, riffy rocker that wouldn't have sounded out of place on either of The Police's last three albums. "50,000" is even more riffy in its beginning, before it delivers a quiet verse based on Sting's reactions to the passing of Prince and David Bowie. The chorus comes blasting back in, anthemically. It is a most atmospheric, evocative number. "Down, Down, Down" also has a very Police-esque guitar line underpinning it, together with a nostalgic-sounding chorus.

"One Fine Day" is another very typically Sting piece of pop/rock. Solid and muscular. "Pretty Young Soldier" is a strange, homoerotic historically-based song, while the chunky "Petrol Head" has some heavy passages and some echoes of Bruce Springsteen in places. "Heading South On The Great North Road" is an acoustic, folky tale reflecting Sting's North-Eastern roots. "If You Can't Love Me" is slightly messy in its structure, with a paranoid vocal. Maybe it grows on you, but I find its chorus part a bit discordant.

"Inshallah" is a peaceful, seductively rhythmic number and "The Empty Chair" is a Celtic-influenced folk lament to end this short but interesting album. It is a sensitively-constructed work whose sometimes introspective feel demands several listens.

B-

Sting & Shaggy - 44/876 (2018)

  

Released April 2018

This is an odd, surprising coupling from two artists whose halcyon days are behind them (66 year-old Sting and 50 year-old Shaggy). Maybe is is not so much of a shock, though Sting has always liked his reggae, from those credible early Police cuts and Shaggy has also like to extend himself soulfully beyond mere ragga-style toasting. I have come to this album a year late and was sceptical when I first saw it, but upon first listen I was proved wrong. It is quite an endearing offering and well worth a listen. It functions both as a good contemporary reggae album and also a good Sting album. The artists blend pleasingly well together without any awkward self-consciousness. It all sounds quite effortlessly easy.

TRACK LISTING

1. 44/876
2. Morning Is Coming
3. Waiting For The Break Of Day
4. Gotta Get Back My Baby
5. Don't Make Me Wait
6. Just One Lifetime
7. 22nd Street
8. Dreaming In The USA
9. Crooked Tree
10. To Love And Be Loved
11. Sad Trombone
12. Night Shift

"44/876" refers to the international dialling codes for the UK and Jamaica and is a quirky, fun and poppy number that sees both singers performing in their typical style. They merge quite well, although, for me, the bass sound is overpowering (and I love bass), but that is just the way of the contemporary genre. It is actually the only track where this happens, though. "Morning Is Coming" has a less booming bass sound, some archetypally Sting tenor saxophone backing and more great vocals from both of them. "Waiting For The Break Of Day" is an infectious Sting-dominated track that could easily be included on any of his other albums. Shaggy still has a vocal part, though, and it doesn't sound out of place. Personally, I find the sound production ideal on this one, in comparison to "44/876". Lovely, rumbling, melodic bass on it. "Gotta Get Back My Baby" has Shaggy singing more than toasting and he is pretty good, his vocals croaky and soulful.

"Don't Make Me Wait" is a lovely, summery, laid-back groove full of the feel of a Jamaican resort on a hot afternoon. Sting's voice on this is superb, as good as it has sounded for a long time. He sounds quite revitalised by this, coming across as if he is really enjoying himself. "Just One Lifetime" is a ragga cut with typical Shaggy vocals and rhythm. One would expect that Sting's arrival with his "Ten Summoner's Tales" delivery would just not fit in, but it is the opposite, it merges perfectly on another addictive pop/ragga number. "22nd Street" is a crooning, atmospheric, late-night Sting song enhanced by Shaggy. The strength of this album can be summed up in these two songs - the former a ragga song augmented by Sting, the latter a Sting song lifted higher by Shaggy. They do this really well.

"Dreaming In The USA" could, at times, be a Police song in its musical construction, although its lyrics are somewhat cheesy and superficial. It is infuriatingly catchy, however. "Crooked Tree" has Shaggy singing with a Buju Banton growl on a Sting folky, narrative song about a historical criminal's court appearance. It could easily be from his "Last Ship" album. The mood returns to a lively one on the poppy reggae of "To Love And Be Loved", which is another intoxicating, appealing number. "Sad Trombone" is a jazzy, very Sting song and one that would fit easily on to any of his solo albums. "Night Shift" is yet another really good song. This is up there with the best of Sting's solo output, for me. Stick it on a "Best Of Sting" playlist and it certainly would not sound out of place.

This is a highly recommended album, there is not a bad track on it.

B+