Sunday, 30 September 2018

Paul Simon - Still Crazy After All These Years (1975)

My little town....

  

Released October 1975

Recorded in New York City

Running time 34.33

Whereas 1973's "There Goes Rhymin' Simon" experimented with various musical styles, this album, two years later, was pretty much played in the same laid-back, immaculately-played and easy late night jazz style. It is a very relaxing album.

TRACK LISTING

1. Still Crazy After All These Years
2. My Little Town
3. I'll Do It For Your Love
4. 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover
5. Night Game
6. Gone At Last
7. Some Folks' Lives Roll Easy
8. Have A Good Time
9. You're Kind
10. Silent Eyes
11. Slip Slidin' Away                                

The title track is a reflective piece, well-known to everyone by now. "My Little Town" sees Simon reunited with Art Garfunkel for some delicious harmonies and a "Kodachrome"-style rhythm.  "I'd Do It For Your Love" is another entrancing slow number, while "50 Ways To Leave Your Lover" is an addictively rhythmic and catchy song that became one of his biggest hits. "Night Game" is a rather odd song about a participant in a baseball game dying, it would seem. It is a rather chilling song.

"Gone At Last" is a vibrant, lively slice of infectious gospel and "Have A Good Time" has a punchy bit of jazzy brass in it, over an insistent female backing vocal. "Some Folks' Lives Roll Easy" is a soulful, slow number that Simon would re-record on 2018's "In The Blue Light".

"You're Kind" has an appealing, bassy and percussion-driven refrain and a mellifluous Simon vocal. The tempo ups a bit on this, but not much, just in its stronger rhythm. "Silent Eyes" is a plaintive piano and bass-driven ballad to end what is a pretty low-key and short album. "Slip Slidin' Away", recorded during this album's sessions surely should have been included. It is the best track on the album, not on the album, if you understand.

It was a huge seller, but for me, there are several much better Simon albums out there. It is perfectly pleasant, of course, as all his albums are. It seemed a bit of a "treading water" album to me. Despite that, there was not another album to come for another five years. Actually, maybe I'm being a bit unfair, it does have hidden depths and appeal, requiring many listens.

C+

The Beatles - Let It Be...Naked

The long and winding road....

  

This release takes the original recordings from the fractious 1969 sessions that spawned the Beatles' swan song album and removes the Phil Spector-added lush string and brass instrumentation, stripping the songs down to their original, raw, rock roots. The two pointless fillers, "Dig It" and "Maggie Mae" are not included, and instead the powerful "Don't Let Me Down" quite rightly makes a deserved appearance.

TRACK LISTING

1. Get Back
2. Dig A Pony
3. For You Blue
4. The Long And Winding Road
5. Two Of Us
6. I've Got A Feeling
7. One After 909
8. Don't Let Me Down
9. I Me Mine
10. Across The Universe
11. Let It Be                                              

"Get Back" is a good rocking start, although it is cut considerably shorter that either the album or single version. "Dig A Pony" is ok, but  actually prefer the version that appeared on the eventual album. The sound of the guitar near the end is brought to the fore, however. "For You Blue" sounds very similar, to me.

Now, I like the Spector-produced "The Long And Winding Road" as it happens, but I have to admit that here it sounds wonderful - evocative and simply beautiful. McCartney's voice seems to have more resonance than on the original album version. Listening to it, one concentrates more on his vocal, as opposed to the massive, dramatic orchestration.

"Two Of Us" doesn't seem to change much, but "I've Got A Feeling" was a composite edit from two takes from the legendary "rooftop concert". "One After 909" is remixed from the same concert. It sounds a bit bassier to me, but maybe I am just imagining it. "Don't Let Me Down" is another composite from the rooftop takes, not the version that appeared as a single. "I Me Mine" removes some of Spector's orchestration and sounds more bluesy and guitar-driven. Lennon's "Across The Universe" has no backing vocals, maracas or Spector's sound effects in it. It is a far starker, more atmospheric track as a result. "Let It Be" is different from both the single and album version. I like it. The cymbals on this are crystal clear, as are Starr's drums overall and McCartney's vocals are emotive and melodic. There is, I think, a different, more rhythmic bass line on it too.

In conclusion, this is an interesting, enjoyable listen that throws a different light on this often-maligned album.

B-


The Beatles - Let It Be (1970)

Across the universe....

  

Released May 1970

Recorded at Abbey Road Studios, London

Running time 35:10

Recorded in some fractious sessions in 1969 before (some of the tracks), and alongside the "Abbey Road" album sessions, this was actually, in all but its chronological release date, The Beatles' penultimate album and it is generally accepted by most as being a patchy one, nowhere near as good as its predecessors, "The Beatles (The White Album)" or "Abbey Road". The negative feelings towards it do it a tiny bit of a disservice, however painful and chaotic its genesis. Most of the tracks were recorded for the album to be known as "Get Back". That project got shelved and the better tracks that ensued subsequently became "Abbey Road". Therefore the impression that these tracks were a bunch of rejected ones recorded by a group in its final, painful throes has followed it around for evermore. The opinion that you could almost feel the group breaking up while listening to this album is therefore a bit of a misnomer, because after recording and rejecting this batch of songs, they came up with the inspired "Abbey Road" material.

TRACK LISTING

1. Two Of Us
2. Dig A Pony
3. Across The Universe
4. I Me Mine
5. Dig It
6. Let It Be
7. Maggie Mae
8. I've Got A Feeling
9. One After 909
10. The Long And Winding Road
11. For You Blue
12. Get Back                                              

The holy thump of "Two Of Us" is lively and pleasant enough and the muscular, bluesy rock of "Dig A Pony" is, for me, as good as the rock stuff on the first side of "Abbey Road". I have never quite understood the opprobrium often thrown at "Across The Universe". I find it atmospheric and haunting. Give me that over "Rocky Raccoon" or "Martha My Dear" any day. George Harrison's "I Me Mine" has some searing guitar on it and a catchy vocal from him too. A lot was made of the post-recording influence of Phil Spector, who put some strings on a few of the songs after The Beatles had recorded them. It was only really "The Long And Winding Road", "I Me Mine" and "Across The Universe" and, personally, I don't mind their presence. I feel his supposed negative effect has been over-exaggerated.

I have always enjoyed the more raw, edgy cut of "Let It Be" used on this album, with its muscular guitar solo and infectious percussion. It is far more of a rock song on here as opposed to a maudlin hands in the air anthem. "Dig It" and "Maggie Mae" are both throwaway wastes of time, really. Paul McCartney's "I've Got A Feeling", from the legendary "rooftop concert" was another highly credible hard rocker with some serious guitar, excellent electric piano from Billy Preston and a convincing McCartney vocal, with Lennon chipping in with some vocals too.

"One After 909" is another enjoyable country-blues/rock 'n' roll style rocker. Yes, it is nothing special but in some ways, when one assesses The Beatles' credibility as a "rock band", something I have always had a problem with, this and most of the other material on this album is as rocking as they ever did. For me, I love the plaintiveness of  "The Long And Winding Road" and, as I said earlier, I have no problem with the strings. They are beautiful, as is the song. I don't get the criticism of this song. It is a great one. McCartney still plays it in concert and everyone loves it. It would be in my top ten Beatles songs, so there you go. I like the brass orchestration it too.

Harrison's country blues "For You Blue" is another good one, worthy of more than curt dismissal. Nobody can really argue with "Get Back" as a copper-bottomed rocker either, particularly the version that appears on this album. There is a perfectly valid case for this album being The Beatles best "rock" album. There is no McCartney "whimsy" present either, no twee "music hall" style "ditties", thank goodness. Add "Don't Let Me Down", "Old Brown Shoe" and "The Ballad Of John & Yoko" and you would have a pretty credible rock album. The wonders of digital technology allow you to do that and yes, it makes for a convincing album.

B-

John Lennon & Yoko Ono - Double Fantasy Stripped Down

Watching the wheels....

 

TRACK LISTING

1. (Just Like) Starting Over
2. Kiss Kiss Kiss
3. Clean Up Time
4. Give Me Something
5. I'm Losing You
6. I'm Moving On
7. Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)
8. Watching The Wheels
9. Yes, I'm Your Angel
10. Woman
11. Beautiful Boys
12. Dear Yoko
13. Every Man Has A Woman Who Loves Him
14. Hard Times Are Over                                        

For me, this is a bit of a superfluous release. It is not an album like "Let It Be", where much of Phil Spector's production did not appear on original demo versions, so "Let It Be (Naked)" could be released and appreciated. On "Double Fantasy", the original was a pretty well-realised album, sonically. Therefore I am not sure what "stripping it down" wanted to achieve.


It seems that quite a bit of the backing vocals have been taken away, such as the doo-wop parts on "(Just Like) Starting Over". This is a shame, because rather than making the song sound more rootsy, it takes away its nostalgic, late fifties feel. Tracks like "Kiss Kiss Kiss" and "Clean Up Time" do sound more rocky, bassy and with a bit more of a rawness to them, but, as I said, I am not sure it was  necessary in the first place. A few studio "chat" bits have been added in, as if to give the recordings a feel of being "live" in the studio. Yes, the songs sound a bit more earthy, with the final slick coat of production removed, but in many ways, they sound like very high quality demo versions in need of one final tweaking.

Yoko Ono's tracks have more of a Grace Jones, punky, bassy and raw feel to them, though. "Give Me Something" highlights the searing guitar and Lennon's excellent "I'm Losing You" has a huge, pulsating bass line that I love. This track really comes to life on this version. Not that it was ever bad, it just has a muscular new appeal here. The same applies to Yoko's powerful "I'm Moving On". "Watching The Wheels" is deeper and bassier, concentrating the bass, piano and drums. It sounds great, to be honest. This is one that is better than the original.

No amount of remixing can make Yoko's "Yes, I'm Your Angel" any more listenable for me, unfortunately. "Woman" has a nice feel to it, without the eventual orchestration. "Dear Yoko" has an energetic thump to it.

Overall, it is still a good, listen, however. The sound quality is excellent and, as pointed out, there is an essential, down-to-earth attraction to the songs in the format. There are some who prefer this version of the album, and I can see where they are coming from, even though the changes are not incredibly obvious, nor were they particularly necessary.

The 2010 remaster of the eventual album is the best of the 2010 remasters, nowhere near as trebly or tinny as I find some of the other 2010 remasters. Personally, I prefer the full bassiness of the 2002 Yoko Ono-supervised remasters.

C

John Lennon & Yoko Ono - Double Fantasy (1980)

Kiss kiss kiss....

 

Released November 1980

TRACK LISTING

1. (Just Like) Starting Over
2. Kiss Kiss Kiss
3. Clean Up Time
4. Give Me Something
5. I'm Losing You
6. I'm Moving On
7. Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)
8. Watching The Wheels
9. Yes, I'm Your Angel
10. Woman
11. Beautiful Boys
12. Dear Yoko
13. Every Man Has A Woman Who Loves Him
14. Hard Times Are Over                                      

Upon this album's release a couple of weeks before John Lennon's murder, it was not well-received critically. After his death, of course, it sold by the bucketload. Retrospectively some have praised it, although many have criticised it as indulgence on both their parts - telling the world how loved-up they are and how at peace. They did, it has to be said, have an irritating quality of seeming to think the world cared about how happy they were, when, actually, before Lennon's unfortunate demise, the world had grown a little apathetic to them.

Personally, I have always quite liked it. It has an excellent sound quality, particularly on the warmer, bassier 2002 remaster. I would say, though, that the first half of the album is better than the last.

The album follows a Lennon song/Yoko song pattern. Many just programme their systems to play the Lennon material. Admittedly, the Lennon stuff is excellent, and the superior of the two, but I quite like the Yoko tracks. They are appealing in a punky, Lene Lovich sort of way, as opposed to the unlistenable screaming that is on much of her seventies material.

Lennon's late fifties pastiche "(Just Like) Starting Over" is well known as a catchy hit single. Yoko's "Kiss Kiss Kiss" has a staccato, quirky appeal, but could do without the lovemaking noises! Lennon's "Clean Up Time" is a punchy, brass-driven upbeat number with a big, thumping bass line. The punky,  Grace Jones-influenced "Give Me Something" is most underrated. "I'm Losing You" is a soulful Lennon mid-paced, muscular rocker and one of his best on the album. Yoko's "I'm Moving On" is one of her best too, featuring a killer guitar riff and a convincing sound overall. No need for the monkey impersonation at the end, though, Yoko.

While "Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)" is a tender song from Lennon to his son, it is a bit syrupy, to be honest. Eric Clapton and Rod Stewart subsequently recorded songs like this to their young children. Not very rock 'n' roll. The Lennon/Yoko pattern is halted with Lennon's excellent "Watching The Wheels" with its typically catchy hook line. Yoko's quality unfortunately deteriorates with the throwaway, jazzy "Yes I'm Your Angel" with its awful "tra-la-la-la" part.

"Woman" was a huge posthumous hit, deservedly so. It probably would have been a success anyway. It has a great refrain and guitar riff. One of Lennon's best, despite its blissful romantic nature. "Beautiful Boys" has Yoko utilising some traditional Japanese music to back a song to her son. Her vocal is a bit discordant, however. Do we need another song to their son? Probably not. It was quite clever in the way it switches to address her for year-old "boy" though. "Dear Yoko" is an update on "Oh Yoko!", with a guitar relaxing a piano on the same catchy musical refrain. Yes, I know these songs to Yoko are somewhat irritating, but I actually like both of them, enjoying their jaunty melodies. "Every Man Has A Woman Who Loves Him" is another Grace Jones-ish haunting number from Yoko. I really like this one.

A poignant end to the album drives in "Hard Times Are Over". Unfortunately, as we know, they were not, tragically.

(The bonus track, "Walking On Thin Ice" from Yoko is one of her best. It was also covered impressively by Elvis Costello on his "Out Of Our Idiot" compilation in the late eighties. Lennon's stark, piano-based ballad "Help Me To Help Myself" isn't so good, however).

C+

Saturday, 29 September 2018

John Lennon - Rock 'n' Roll (1975)

You can't catch me....

  

Released February 1975

TRACK LISTING

1. Be Bop A Lula
2. Stand By Me
3. Rip It Up/Ready Teddy
4. You Can't Catch Me
5. Ain't That A Shame
6. Do You Want To Dance
7. Sweet Little Sixteen
8. Slippin' And Slidin'
9. Peggy Sue
10. Bring It On Home To Me/Send Some Lovin'
11. Bony Moronie
12. Ya Ya
13. Just Because                                                

Recorded as part of a legal agreement resulting from the "here come old flat top" line in The Beatles' "Come Together", John Lennon revisits his old rock 'n' roll favourites. Produced by Phil Spector, it does not have the muffled, muddy production that "Some Time In New York City" or George Harrison's "All Things Must Pass", although the 2012 remaster is far more trebly and tinny than its 2002 predecessor, which is far warmer and bassier, which suits my taste.


I have always found it a totally enjoyable album to listen to. Whatever the circumstances of its conception or the stresses of the recording process, (apparently they were chaotic and, at times, fractious) Lennon sounds as if he was having a good time. That can only be a good thing. He could sing rock 'n' roll with his eyes shut, but, to me, he sounds rapturous on some of these recordings. You certainly can't tell if he was in a bad mood. This upbeat feel has always made me wonder why the album was so badly received at the time. In retrospect, in later years, it has received some better assessments.

The highlights are plenty. I like all of it, basically, and it is well played by Lennon's faithful band, but "Be-Bop-A-Lula", "Stand By Me", the Chuck Berry song "You Can't Catch Me" that contained the "flat top" line, the fun "Slippin' And Slidin'" and the bluesy, slow grind of "Bony Moronie" are favourites of mine. The "medley" songs - "Rip It Up"/"Ready Teddy" and "Bring It On Home To Me"/"Send Me Some Lovin'" are excellent, effervescent and rocking too. The mega slowed-down "Do You Wanna Dance" doesn't quite work, for me, although "Sweet Little Sixteen" comes off as a slow saxophone-driven groove. Buddy Holly's "Peggy Sue" is played pretty straight.

Lennon undoubtedly sounds more upbeat on here than he had on any of his previous solo albums, particularly the earlier ones. I never fail to enjoy this album.

B-

John Lennon - Some Time In New York City (1972)

We're all water....

  

Released June 1972

A much-derided album, but one with incredible passion and depth of feeling, this was John Lennon and Yoko Ono in full-on protest mode. They take on a myriad of causes - sexism, feminism, the prison system, unfair incarceration, legal and governmental corruption, Northern Ireland, drugs laws and civil rights. Phil Spector produced the album - badly in my opinion, for such a genius ten years earlier. The sound is muddy and indistinct throughout.

TRACK LISTING


1. Woman Is The Nigger Of The World
2. Sisters, O Sisters
3. Attica State
4. Born In A Prison
5. New York City
6. Sunday Bloody Sunday
7. The Luck Of The Irish
8. John Sinclair
9. Angela
10. We're All Water
11. Cold Turkey
12. Don't Worry Kyoko
13. Well (Baby Please Don't Go)
14. Jamrag
15. Scumbag
16. Au                                                        

The opener “Woman….” Is incredibly hard-hitting, particularly in 1972, but it is bang on the money. The sound is muffled and dull, like that produced by Phil Spector for both George Harrison and later for Leonard Cohen. It has that blaring saxophone sound and damp uncrisp-sounding drums.

The feminist anthem, “Sisters, Oh Sisters”, has its moments. Some catchy saxophone and a rocking feel to it, though Yoko’s input is a bit grating. The singalong “Attica State”, about the New York prison, reworks the refrain from “Yellow Submarine” - “we all live in an Attica State”. Yoko’s similarly-themed “Born In A Prison” is one I have always liked. Some great saxophone on it too.


“New York City” is a marvellous, vibrant number, almost ruined by the awful production, but its good enough to still ride over that. It has some great cynical Lennon lyrics, killer guitar and saxophone too. It pulsates, from beginning to end. Quite why Lennon lived in New York is a mystery. He loved it, but the authorities were hounding him on a daily basis at this time. He should have come home.

“Sunday Bloody Sunday” needed to be sung, as indeed did “Luck Of The Irish”. However passionate and totally justified, they both sound more than a little naive in Lennon and Yoko’s hands, particularly the latter. The former was hard-hitting, as it should have been, and works the better of the two.

“John Sinclair” was about a man unfairly jailed for a (comparatively) minor marijuana offence, while “Angela” was about black human rights campaigner Angela Davis. The effervescent "We're All Water” explores the Dylanesque concept of everyone being the same, naked, even the President. It is a madcap romp, with Yoko wailing for all she’s worth, but I can’t help but like it.

The live set that formed the second disc of the original double album is an appealingly raw affair. “Cold Turkey” burns with a pure, visceral energy. The rambling Led Zeppelin-esque “Don’t Worry Kyoko” has a few good points - namely the heavy riff and the overall groove, but Ono’s incessant screaming makes it pretty unlistenable for most of it. Thankfully, some blues is on the menu next with “Well (Baby Please Don’t Go)”. It features some searing guitar but Ono still manages to get some screaming in there somehow.

The remains three tracks were recorded at Fillmore East in New York City with Frank Zappa & The Mothers Of Invention. “Jamrag” (aka “King Kong”)" is an interesting instrumental, funky in places, but once more blighted by Ono’s vocals. “Scumbag” is a lively, organ-driven rhythmic with some inventive lyrics (not). The title is repeated incessantly. It segues straight into "Aü" which is basically Yoko wailing again and Lennon and Zappa sending their guitars into feedback mode. It is pretty much unlistenable.

Overall, this is undoubtedly Lennon’s worst album but, despite that, worthy of an occasional listen, and it certainly has its chronological and cultural importance.

C+

John Lennon





Albums reviewed are highlighted in orange. Click on an album title to read the review.

Plastic Ono Band (1970)
Imagine (1971)
Some Time In New York City (1972)
Mind Games (1973)
Walls And Bridges (1974)
Rock 'n' Roll (1975)
Double Fantasy (1980)
Double Fantasy Stripped Down 2010 Mixes
Milk And Honey (1984)
Imagine (2018 Remix)

John Lennon & The Plastic Ono Band (1970)

Well well well....

  

Released December 1970

Recorded in London and Berkshire

This is a raw, edgy and angst-ridden solo album from John Lennon, his first "proper" solo piece of work. Lennon explores all sorts of mother and parental issues, anxiety about relationships and some cynical, political protest thrown in.

It is musically basic - guitar, bass and drums for the most part with occasional piano and keyboards. Its sparse sound adds to its appeal for me, I always found parts of "Imagine" to be somewhat over-orchestrated. Old mate Ringo Starr is on drums throughout, giving it considerable gravitas.

TRACK LISTING

1. Mother
2. Hold On
3. I Found Out
4. Working Class Hero
5. Isolation
6. Remember
7. Love
8. Well Well Well
9. Look At Me
10. God
11. My Mummy's Dead                  

"Mother" is a yearning, heartfelt opener with anguished vocals and a great backing sound to it. "Hold On" has an absolutely sumptuous bass on it from the talented Klaus Voorman. "I Found Out" is bluesy and confrontational and has Lennon shocking the world when he sings of "some of you sitting there with your cock in your hand...". This was pretty racy stuff for 1970. This was Lennon at his most scathing and world-weary. "Working Class Hero" continues the mood brilliantly, as Lennon channels his inner Dylan and produces are superbly cynical protest song. There is no doubt by now the Lennon's world is not a particularly happy one, despite his apparent bedroom bliss with Yoko Ono. The bleak ballad, "Isolation", only serves to reinforce that feeling. The album's cover shows a pastoral, peaceful scene, much like Wings' "Wild Life". This was anything but a relaxed album.

"Remember" is musically upbeat, with a pounding drum sound, augmented by a clunky piano. Again, though, it is a questioning song, one of disillusion. It actually has hints of McCartney about it, for me.  As indeed does the tender "Love", the first chilled-out love song on the album. The buzzy guitar-driven "Well Well Well" has echoes of "The White Album" in some ways. Maybe it is Ringo's muscular but rhythmic drumming. It is supposed to be a song about Lennon's daily life with Yoko. It ends with him screaming. Read into that what you will about his state of mind. He was always an impossible person to read.

"Look At Me" is acoustically beautiful, Beatles-esque, but is deeply self-analytical once more. Having questioned his entire existence and his life, there can be only one more thing to question - God. The track bearing the deity's name is a marvellous slice of Lennon cynicism sung over a stark piano, bass and drum backing. "God is a concept by which we measure our pain...". Heavy stuff Lennon then proceeds to list everything he doesn't believe in, incredibly convincingly and aggressively, eschewing, amongst other things, all the guru stuff, then Elvis and Dylan, until finally saying "I don't believe in Beatles...". This was possibly Lennon's most powerful, post-Beatles song of all. "I was the walrus, but now I'm John...". What a great line. What a moving song.


Personally, I find the short, painful "My Mummy's Dead" to be unlistenable, so I do not include it when playing the album digitally, replacing it with the two chanting protest songs, "Power To The People" and "Give Peace A Chance". So, for me, "God" is followed by the fist-pumping unity of "Power To The People". I find that quite apt. I do understand, though, "Mummy"'s vital position on the original album, ending it on a starkly disturbing, anguishing note.

B-

John Lennon - Imagine (1971)

Crippled inside....

  

Released September 1971

Recorded in New York and England

I have to say, initially, that I much prefer the 2002 remaster to the 2010 one, which I found far too weak and trebly for my taste. I like a full, warm, bassy sound and the 2002 remaster certainly delivers that. Klaus Voorman played bass on this album and I want to hear him. Thankfully on this version, I can, loud and clear.

TRACK LISTING

1. Imagine
2. Crippled Inside
3. Jealous Guy
4. It's So Hard
5. Don't Want To Be A Soldier Mama
6. Gimme Some Truth
7. Oh My Love
8. How Do You Sleep?
9. How
10. Oh Yoko!                                                            

The title track is what is is - iconic. It needs no further comment. “Crippled Inside” is an enjoyable slice of lively, country-ish rock. It has received a fair few criticisms over the years, but I have always quite liked it. It is catchy and lightweight but still carries enough of Lennon’s cynicism to fit in with the album’s overall mood. “Jealous Guy” is another one known to everyone, Lennon’s original version being far more stark than Roxy Music’s big, full-sounding eighties cover of it.

“It’s so Hard” is a pulsating, bluesy-based number. Personally, I feel it would work better without the lush string orchestration at the end. It is a good one, though, full of energy and enthusiasm. Cynically convincing too, is the bassy grind of the anti-war “I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier Mama”.  I love the bass, saxophone and guitar improvisation parts near the end. “Gimme Some Truth” continues the political comment with some killer guitar and a thumping rhythm.


“Oh My Love” sees a switch to a plaintive, tenderly romantic song dedicated to the fulfilment Lennon was experiencing with Yoko Ono in his life. Just when he was getting a bit loved-up, however, the old spiky Lennon returns with the embittered “How Do You Sleep?” - his notoriously venomous attack on Paul McCartney. He obviously had a lot of pent-up anger, but this all seemed a bit over-the-top to me. Naming some of McCartney’s songs as examples of his faults was just a cheap shot. Musically, the song has a deep, muscular sound, some great guitar interjections and again, some string orchestration I feel it could have survived without. Regarding how he slept, I am sure McCartney slept the sleep of the somewhat bemused.

“How” shows Lennon at his most vulnerable again, questioning himself and his feelings. Despite his apparent romantic bliss, he always seemed to be battling with various issues. Snap yourself out of it, John. He did just that with the jaunty “Oh Yoko”. This is another one that has attracted opprobrium. Again, I have always quite liked it its melodic piano coda and touchingly sweet feel.

Overall, the album is a perplexing one. It has several mood swings within its songs. Like Lennon himself. Enigmatic.

THE 2018 REMIXED ALBUM

I was interested to hear the new remix of this album. Personally, I have always preferred the 2002 remasters to the 2010 ones, finding the latter far too trebly for my taste. I find the 2002s more punchy and bassy, which is what I like. I realise that I am in a minority here but anyway, I was curious as to whether there is any discernible change to this new remix. Obviously it is strange hearing familiar music remixed with slight sonic alterations, but I enjoyed it on the "Sgt. Pepper" remix and on Tony Visconti's work on some of David Bowie's albums.

The title track is beautifully warm. When the bass kicks in it is subtle yet solid - full and bassy and no tinniness. “Crippled Inside” has a nice, resonant thump to it and that country guitar is razor sharp and crystal clear. So far this sounds far closer to my preferred 2002 Yoko Ono remaster than the admittedly more popular 2010 one. Because this remix seems to be strong and bassy it will probably annoy “audiophiles”, but for me, as someone who likes powerful bass, it is perfect.

“Jealous Guy” has a wonderfully melodic bass line. Again it is subtle and velvety smooth here. This is a track that often suffered from a harsh, tinny sound. Not anymore. The lush string orchestration now sounds soothing and cultured. Lovely. This is the best I have ever heard the song. The fact is it is not, in effect, the original, may bother some people. Not me. I prefer it this way. It is just better. The bluesy “It’s So Hard” is pulsating and those sweeping strings are once again balanced perfectly, as is the saxophone. “I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier” just throbs with muscular bassy beauty. Love it. That saxophone too. Mmmm.

“Gimme Some Truth” has sometimes been a bit grating when Lennon raises his voice and the music rises with him and this is far more easy on the ear here. The guitar intro to “Oh My Love” followed by the piano is sublime, as indeed it is when the understated bass arrives. The bitter “How Do You Sleep?” again has sumptuous bass, strings and that searing guitar solo sounds excellent. The big bass thump in “How?” and that vibrant orchestration has no distortion, for me. Just warmth. The jaunty “Oh Yoko!” is breathtaking in its clarity, even the harmonica bit. Just listen to that speaker-shaking punch on “Power To The People”. Great stuff.

Personally, this is the best I have ever heard this iconic album. I know there are probably thousands out there who will say "I prefer the original" (which, of course is still available in various remasterings), “it’s too bassy”, “it’s a sonic mess” or their usual favourite - “it hurts my ears”. Let them all talk. My opinion is just that, a single opinion, and mine is that I love it.

B+




Friday, 28 September 2018

Aretha Franklin - The Atlantic Singles Collection 1967-1970

I say a little prayer....

  

Now, I am a stereo man first and foremost, I have to admit, but I can appreciate the authentic, powerful, beautiful sound of pure, unadulterated mono on several notable occasions - The Rolling Stones early albums, Bob Dylan's sixties output, some of the Beatles albums, The Kinks, Them, The Animals - and this, which is a truly sublime collection of mono brilliance.

TRACK LISTING

1. I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)
2. Do Right Women, Do Right Man
3. Respect
4. Dr. Feelgood
5. Baby I Love You
6. Going Down Slow
7. (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman
8. Baby, Baby, Baby
9. Chain Of Fools
10. Prove It
11. (Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You've Been Gone
12. Ain't No Way
13. Think
14. You Send Me
15. The House That Jack Built
16. I Say A Little Prayer
17. See Saw
18. My Song
19. The Weight
20. The Tracks Of My Tears
21. I Can't See Myself Leaving You
22. Gentle On My Mind
23. Share Your Love With Me
24. Pledging My Love/ The Clock
25. Eleanor Rigby
26. It Ain't Fair
27. Call Me
28. Son Of A Preacher Man
29. Spirit In The Dark
30. The Thrill Is Gone
31. Don't Play That Song
32. Let It Be
33. Border Song
34. You And Me                                                                                              

The music needs no introduction, of course, but the sound does need commenting on - it is full, powerful and bassy and comes pounding right out of the centre of your speakers with a beautifully resounding thump. The bass is sublime. For evidence, check out the bass, drums and guitar on the underrated "Dr. Feelgood", the sheer bassy soul power on "Chain Of Fools" or the grinding gospel soul of "Think". Just listen to that bass on "See Saw". Sumptuous.

On lighter tracks, such as "I Say A Little Prayer" the bass is subtle and melodic and the cymbals come clear and sharp from your speakers. I will say, though, that the overall volume is a little quieter than some releases, so you have to turn it up a bit. No problem. Just crank up "The House That Jack Built". Glorious.

A- 

Rod Stewart - Blood Red Roses (2018)

Didn't I....

 

Released September 2018

The question I ask myself, as a Rod Stewart fan since I first heard "Maggie May" in 1971 aged twelve, is do I need another Rod Stewart album? Yes, on balance I probably do. Just.

The last two have been pretty good, since Stewart re-discovered his songwriting muse with the writing of his autobiography, but they have not been ones I have particularly revisited. I suspect this one may be the same, but fair play to him for still putting out vibrant, muscular rock albums, which is what this one mostly is. As you would expect, though, it is crammed full of nostalgia.

TRACK LISTING

1. Look In Her Eyes
2. Hole In My Heart
3. Farewell
4. Didn't I
5. Blood Red Roses
6. Grace
7. Give Me Love
8. Rest Of My Life
9. Rollin' And Tumblin'
10. Julia
11. Honey Gold
12. Vegas Shuffle
13. Cold Old London                                          

Rod's voice still sounds powerful and can cope with the thumping, contemporary programmed drum and bass sounds. The first track, "Look In Her Eyes" is a good, upbeat one, but I find it slightly overwhelmed by the pounding backing, but that is just the way songs are produced in 2018. Rod has always wanted to keep abreast of current musical trends, so that is the way it is going to be. Some searing guitar riffs introduce the rocking "Hole In My Heart" and Stewart is on great vocal form here. Two songs in, it must be time for a nostalgic look back at a misspent youth in those old London days in the mid-late sixties and Rod delivers with the lovely "Farewell" (using the same title of his earlier 1974 hit). Listening to it, it is a heartbreaking goodbye to an old friend from those days who has recently passed away. Some may say it is cheesy. Not me. It is extremely moving. When he enunciates  "milli-OH-nnaire" like he used to in the seventies, (on "You Can Make Me Dance, Sing Or Anything") it takes me right back.

"Didn't I" has been around for a few months now and is another emotional song sung by Stewart in the role of father to an errant, drug-taking daughter. I am not sure if its true. He sings with a singer called Bridget Cady who I am not familiar with. It ends a bit abruptly, though. The previous album, "Another Country" saw Stewart delving into Celtic folk songs for his inspiration on several occasions. Here he does so again with some rousing Irish-style fiddle for the strident, tub-thumping title track. The Irish feel continues with the wistful, maudlin "Grace" which is a cover of an Irish "rebel song" (written, however, in the eighties, not 1916-17) He does it pretty well although it will receive criticism for being overblown, no doubt. It is an emotive song and it is clear to see why Stewart was inspired to cover it.

Then it is time for some genre-hopping as we get a synthesised disco beat for "Give Me Love" which sounds as if it should be on one of his eighties albums. Like those, it is similarly unremarkable, to be honest. Some killer bass lines on it, though. "Rest Of My Life" is a catchy, convincing Motown-sounding song taking Stewart back to a sound he always loved. He sounds great on the one. You know, all this stuff is nothing ground-breaking, but I still can't help but like the hammy old whatever. His songs just make me feel nostalgic. They are intended to, no doubt, so they are doing their job.


"Rollin' And Tumblin'" is a stonking cover of the old Muddy Waters song, taking Stewart back to his original mid sixties blues roots. It is the most credible song on the album. If only he would release an album of blues covers as opposed to easy listening crooners. I wonder if the girl in the romantic, nostalgic "Julia" is the same one who appeared in 1978's "Last Summer" on the "Blondes Have More Fun" album? There is lots of looking to the past on this album, as there always have been, to be honest, even in the seventies, Rod was looking back to the sixties. "Honey Gold" is another retrospective memory, for an old partying pal from his Faces days (unnamed). "Vegas Shuffle" is a bit of a throwaway that is pretty superfluous. It sounds like something from the early nineties.

"Cold Old London" ends the album with more shameless, unrepentant looking back. Bridget Cady joins Rod again for a tender ballad, the only real one of its type on here. On first listen, I have to say I have enjoyed this album more than I thought I would. Of the last three - "Time", "Another Country" and this one, I think I like it the most, certainly on first hearing, although obviously opinions can change. Anyway, good old Rod.

B

Thursday, 27 September 2018

New Order - Power, Corruption & Lies (1983)

Age of consent....

  

Released May 1983

Recorded in Islington, London

A much lighter, far more accessible album than 1981's sombre, post-punk "Movement" this is when the change started to make itself known in New Order that would be far more realised in Low-Life. Rhythm was far more apparent now, and synthesisers were introduced a lot more, far more electronic-pop sounds. The good thing about New Order, though, was they always had "real" drums and bass as well as the electronic sounds.

TRACK LISTING

1. Age Of Consent
2. We All Stand
3. The Village
4. 5-8-6
5. Your Silent Face
6. Ultraviolence
7. Ecstasy
8. Leave Me Alone                            

This is no more apparent than on the wonderful, lively and catchy opener, "Age Of Consent". Wow! was this really miserable, dour introspective New Order née Joy Division? Surely not? This was when they finally broke free of the Joy Division shackles and started travelling down new roads. Not they they were still not averse to a bit of misery - "We All Stand" is a slow-pace, lyrically mournful song, but it is clothed in slightly jazzy rhythms and a much lighter touch of musical gloom, if that makes sense. They were definitely coming out of the dark. New Romantics had been preening around for a few years now and sombre melancholy was no longer de rigeur. Expression was what it was all about now, darling, post-punk was stepping out on to the dance floor, away from the pale-faced students mooching around in greatcoats. "The Village" was an upbeat piece of Euro-styled electro-pop. Groups like Yazoo, Go West and Erasure would make whole careers out of this sort of stuff. The synth riff actually sounds a lot like Big Country's bagpipe guitar on "Fields Of Fire", to me, anyway. There is a Celtic feel to the martial drum sound too. This couldn't be more different to Joy Division.

A slightly clumsy segue brings us into the more brooding "5-8-6", an extended number with more echoes from the past than the others, although it sounded more Kraftwerk-esque before changing beat and giving us some more danceable electronics. Not that I ever wanted to dance to this stuff, I just liked listening to it, but that's me. I never danced to anything (apart from pogoing). The track is very similar to the iconic single, "Blue Monday" which had come out two months before this album.

"Your Silent Face" had a melodic grandiose and infectious intro with a fetching, haunting and emotive vocal. It is actually an extremely beautiful piece of music. It was almost as if a curtain had been opened from the dingy room that Joy Division had been holed up in for years and now the sun was shining through, such is the difference. It was described as "a declaration of independence". It was that seismic a change in attitude and approach. "Ultraviolence" is a typical piece of eighties electronic rock, but with the group still using the old haunting-style vocals.

"Ecstasy" is a bit of an instrumental workout that is ok, but doesn't really get anywhere, the vibe is better than the tune itself, to be honest but "Leave Me Alone" is a Human League-ish attractive, melodic number to finish what was a bright, airy album (comparatively).

B+

Simple Minds - 5 x 5 Live (2012)


  

Recorded live in 2012

This is a great live album from Simple Minds. It has the concept of taking five tracks from each of the first five albums the band did (before they became a "stadium rock" band) and playing them live, in 2012. These five albums were almost "cult" albums that fans who knew Simple Minds from their big, successful mid eighties/early nineties period often knew nothing about.

It is great to hear the band in their more current incarnation revisiting these old tracks and playing them superbly, giving them a real "oomph" that the originals sometimes lacked. This is particularly true on the tracks from their debut album, 1979's "Life In A Day", which were very tinny in their original format but simply come to a big, bassy new life here. Just check out the title track from that album on here for proof. It has become massive. "Celebrate", from "Empires And Dance" also sounds superb too. In fact they all do. Too many to simply name and compliment them all.

Yes, Jim Kerr's voice is older and throatier, but that is a good thing, particularly on those first album tracks, where his voice was originally more of a bleat. I cannot recommended this album highly enough. It's great. A really good concept too. More bands should undertake similar.

B+