Sunday, 30 September 2018

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


  

Released October 1975

Recorded in New York City

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.

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 was a huge seller, but for me, there are 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


  

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.

"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)

  

Released May 1970

Recorded at Abbey Road Studios, London

Recorded in some fractious sessions in 1969 before 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 predecessor, "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.

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


 

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)


 

Released November 1980

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)

  

Released February 1975

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)


  

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.

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)


  

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.

"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)


  

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.

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




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.

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)




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.

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)


  

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.

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+

Simple Minds - Real To Real Cacophony (1979)




Released November 1979

After the patchy, vaguely pretentious and derivative debut album, "Life in Day" from seven months earlier, Simple Minds produced a genuine post-punk album that was a world away from its predecessor.

Yes, there are lots of influences on here, as there certainly were on the first album, but on this outing the group are beginning to forge some sort of identity of their own. The title track opener is a real deal post-punk track and "Naked Eye" is uncategoriably brilliant, sort of The Slits meet Brian Eno. "Citizen (Dance Of Youth)" is unquestionably influenced by Joy Division, but no matter, it still sounds good. The sound on this album is a lot less tinny than on the first album, although its 2002 remaster could do with another overhaul. "Carnival (Shelter In A Suitcase)" is an industrial, scratchy guitar-driven upbeat number. The songs on here are up there with other great post-punk albums from 1979 from Joy Division, Gang Of Four, Siouxsie & The Banshees and Public Image Ltd. At this point, Simple Minds had made themselves really quite credible, and "cult".

"Factory" continues the quality. This really is a much more fulfilling album than the first. Jim Kerr reckons he listened to Joy Division's "Unknown Pleasures" after recording the first album and was blown away. You can tell. There are influences all over this, but they are well-chanelled influences. The group still have their own sound. Their swirling, melodic keyboards, the occasionally dubby, reverbed guitars, and Kerr's now much deeper voice. The drum and bass interplay at the end of this is excellent. "Cacophony" is a forbidding, Joy Division-esque instrumental. "Veldt" has some thumping tribal rhythm and noises at the beginning and a simply huge bass line. The animal noises and Eno-esque sound effects continue through this odd instrumental.

"Premonition" is a great track, with a good percussion/keyboard and bass intro and simply a great groove it. Almost a bit funky in a way. David Bowie had surely been listening to this before he did the "Scary Monsters" album. Yes, Bowie did get influenced by others. He got that guitar on "Fashion" from somewhere. This is one of Simple Minds' best early tracks. It is a shame that the group tarnished their credibility by becoming a bloated "stadium rock" band a few years later, because this genuinely good stuff. Similarly, "Changeling"  is up there with the best of their early years. Full of riffs and keyboard breaks and a general feeling of insistent urgency. Kerr's voice is just so much better on here than it was seven months earlier. He no longer sounds like a cross between Russell Mael of Sparks and early Bob Geldof.

"Film Theme" is a characterful, evocative instrumental that lives up to its title, sounding like it should be used for a French noir film. "Calling Your Name" is a pulsating, muscular and riffy number with some entrancing fairground-style keyboards that sound a little like the sort Orchestral Manouevres In The Dark would start to use to great effect a year later. "Scar" is a portentous-sounding number with a sort of bagpipe keyboard effect at the beginning before it kicks in to a far heavier sound than had been produced previously. It has echoes of early Roxy Music about it, but in a much more powerful way than on the first album. Overall, a vast improvement n the somewhat wayward debut.

B

Simple Minds - Life in a Day (1979)



Released April 1979

Simple Minds were a very odd entity. They began here, as a derivative, Magazine and early Roxy Music-influenced introspective post-punk group. A few years later they were a massive, somewhat pretentious stadium-rock band. Their progression was a bit like U2's from a few years later, although their descent was as rapid as their ascent, something U2 didn't experience. Rather like Roxy Music, Fleetwood Mac and Santana, Simple Minds were a group whose eventual hordes of arm-waving fans who crowded out huge US stadiums had literally no idea about their early albums or their initial incarnation. As I said, a strange band, and one I never really "got", I have to be completely honest.

Anyway, on to this album. The opener, "Someone" seems created with Roxy Music's "Virginia Plan" in mind, lots of frantic verses, madcap keyboard breaks and swirls. It is not a bad song, for its time, to be fair, although it has always sounded a bit tinny. Released in 1979, I remember at the time that nobody quite knew what to make of Simple Minds. Were they punk? No. Were they post punk in the Magazine/Public Image Ltd/Joy Division style? No. Were they "art rock"? Possibly, but a bit too late. The title track was a Ultravox-ish sonically overwhelming mish-mash. It had some Pete Shelley from The Buzzcocks yelping vocals from singer Jim Kerr and some Roxy keyboards with a kind of New York Dolls glam crash. As mentioned earlier, there were plenty of influences from Magazine's "Real Life" from the year before, in the keyboard sound, although Kerr's vocal is far less hauntingly dominant than Howard Devoto's.

"Sad Affair" is an upbeat, catchy strange sort of rocker with some madcap guitar and another high-pitched, weak-ish vocal that gets overwhelmed by the backing. "All For You" is a thumping, mid-pace riffy number with some impressive bass in the middle. It seemed most groups had to put out one extended track on each album, even the punks. Here it is the Velvet Underground meets string orchestration pompous, overblown and pretty pointless "Pleasantly Disturbed". "No Cure" and its frenetic keyboard sound and weird high pitched vocal suddenly make me realise what this whole album reminds me of - Sparks, their overall, unique sound and Russell Mael's vocal. Got it.

I remember seeing the band perform the proto-anthemic "Chelsea Girl" on one of the music shows at the time and being a bit under-convince by it. It has its moments, it has to be said - a grandiose sound, some thumping drums and melodramatic guitar riffs. It is actually quite unusual, and pretty much impossible to categorise. It has a sublime bass and vocal bit a the end, credit where its due. "Wasteland" is a punky rock-ish number that has something to it, vague hints of early U2 but somehow not quite getting there. "Destiny" had that upbeat, tinny keyboard and mannered yelpy vocal that was so typical of The Boomtown Rats' first couple of albums. This album is supposedly remastered (2002), but some of the material is quite trebly/keyboard-y, I am not sure much more can be done.

The best track is probably the last one, "Murder Story" a mysterious, inventive, extended but always captivating song. It had enough potential to suggest there was something more to come from the group. Indeed some of "side two" had done so too, "Chelsea Girl" and "Wasteland".

The fact I have included so many other artists' names in this review give an idea as to how derivative it is, struggling to find its own identity. Jim Kerr said of this album, however, that after recording it he got in the car and played a tape someone had given him. It was Joy Division's "Unknown Pleasures". He said "we've totally blown it". Maybe he was right.

C+


Joy Division - Closer (1980)


  

Released in July 1980

Recorded in Islington, London

From the jagged, edgy opening of "Atrocity Exhibition", with its addictive drum rhythm and grinding guitar interjections, and the dour, self-explanatory and very atmospheric "Isolation", this is an even more challenging album than their debut from the previous year, "Unknown Pleasures". The group push the "post-punk" boundaries even further into the realms of paranoid introspection. They really were a perplexing, inventive group. Yes there were others with the a similar sound and dour image, but none did it quite so genuinely disturbingly as Joy Division. I have to say that "Atrocity Exhibition", turned up loud, sounds marvellous. Totally infectious.

Tracks like "Passover" are classic examples of the Joy Division sound - pounding, doleful drums, big rumbling bass, mysterious keyboards and quirky vocals. It is one of the album's best cuts.  "Colony" ploughs the same furrow. As also does the ghostly "A Means To An End". It is all pretty unnerving stuff. They sort of re-wrote what "rock" music, whatever you call it, was about. Out in the charts in 1980, there was effervescent, tuneful new wave material, lively, joyful ska, commercial reggae and poppy disco-ish stuff was still around. All of this was a world away from Joy Division. After singer Ian Curtis's untimely death, they regrouped as New Order and continued in the same vein until it was clear they couldn't keep putting out stuff like this and reinvented themselves as an upbeat, positive dance music group, mastering that particular genre. The seeds were sown here, though, just listen to that intoxicating bass line on the beguiling "Heart And Soul" and the metronomic drum sound too. This material influenced  so many subsequent bands, both in the post punk genre and the dance music boom beyond.

There is more sumptuous, industrial bass on "Twenty Four Hours". Despite being very adventurous in the UK in 1979-80, this is all very much created under the influence of the Krautrock German bands - Kraftwerk, Neu! and Can and, of course, David Bowie's late seventies work, although he never was as gloomy as this. A sombre, insistent track like "The Eternal" is rock noir, if there was such a thing. Deep and dark. The only thing coming close at the time was Talking Heads' "The Overload". "Decades" is very similar. This album, if anything, was even more dour than its predecessor. Beautifully dour, at times, however. Personally I quite like an occasional half hour or so of it. It sort of gets into your system. I wouldn't want to listen to little else, though.

The 2007 remasters of both albums are excellent, too. The bass sound is really highlighted and there is a warmth and depth  to the sound.

B-

New Order - Movement (1981)

  

Released November 1981

Recorded in Stockport

From the unfortunate ashes of the ground-breaking Joy Division came New Order, without deceased vocalist Ian Curtis. His stamp and legacy is still all over this album, which still retains the dour, introspective, post-punk atmosphere of Joy Division's two albums. However, from the first upbeat notes of the vibrant "Dreams Never End" there is a slightly discernible shift in mood. A more effervescent liveliness that, of course, would see the new decade end with the band sunning themselves in Ibiza as kings of the burgeoning dance club scene. The post-punk sombreness is still not far from the surface at all on this album, though, exemplified on the mournful, haunting "Truth". A lot of the group's material is still ghostly and mysterious. To my taste, just as it should be. If I am honest, I much prefer this, and the Joy Division stuff to all that hands in the air dance material, man. To say nothing of that dreadful football song. Give me dismal student music any day.

"Senses" is a departure from the norm, with some rhythmic, tribal-sounding drums all over it. The vocals are still deep and edgy and there are still lots of industrial-sounding noises and a big rumbling, sonorous bass sound. It has that Talking Heads "I Zimbra" rhythm to it, though. The changes are beginning to come. I have never quite understood why this album got such comparatively bad press both at the time of release and in retrospect. Personally, I have always enjoyed it and feel it is a fine, atmospheric piece of work.

"Chosen Time" has that typical Joy Division bass line but it is quite fast-paced compared to much of the earlier work. It is a song that cries out for Curtis's wired-up voice. The vocal on here is too low, both in the and in the mix. There is some excellent Kraftwerk-style train-sounding synthesiser at the end of it. "ICB" is a particularly mournful number very much in the Joy Division fashion. "The Him" continues in the same vein. It is understandable why they were still putting out stuff like this in 1981. post-punk was still de rigeur, "New Romanticism" had barely begun, so it was very much in keeping with the times. Incidentally, listening to the bass and drums on this number, I have to say that these 2015 remasters are excellent.

"Doubts Even Here" is also very Talking Heads-ish, to me, and is possibly the most baleful in its "Curtis effect". It sounds genuinely sad from beginning to end. "Denial" lifts things up a bit with an energetic beat, although the vocals are still somnolent. I suppose it is fair to say that they couldn't keep putting out albums like this, however good they were. People were beginning to tire of the gloominess.

B-

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

New Order - Low-Life (1985)


  

Released May 1985

Recorded in London

This was the album when New Order truly "became happy" and threw off the dark, sombre introspection of Joy Division and their first album and sort of re-invented themselves as a pleasure and hedonism-loving happily drugged-up synthesised dance music band. As opposed to dour post-punk, much of this album is almost New Romantic in its poppy synthesiser songs and Pet Shop Boys-style vocals.

The quite bizarre anti-war song "Love Vigilantes" is a most surprising opener, with a harmonica-driven jaunty beat and "The Perfect Kiss" is sort of Pet Shop Boys meet A-Ha, not too much like previous New Order at all, save for that big, thumping bass. "This Time Of Night" is also commercially accessible and has some classically-influenced Ultravox-sounding keyboards. It is a great track. This stuff is totally different from Joy Division (even though I liked them a lot) and totally catches the carefree zeitgeist of the mid/late eighties. "Sunrise" is another Ultravox-style typically eighties electronic chugger, with that metronomic drum sound, rubbery bass and haughty vocals. It even sounds a bit like Magazine's "Shot By Both Sides" at times too. Great guitar right at the end also.

"Elegia" is a grandiose European-sounding instrumental piece. "Sooner Than You Think" has an infectious rhythm, with some "real" percussion, which is always nice to hear, for me. "Sub-culture" is such an eighties-sounding song, such an example of the best of the electronic music around at the time, considerably better than the most of that genre. It has a huge, pounding drum part before the addictive keyboard lines come back. I have to admit, I am more of a traditional rock/punk/soul sort of guy myself, but as far as this sort of thing goes, this is as good as it gets.

"Face Up" starts with some portentous drum beats before progressing into a madcap bit of synthesiser  from the underrated Gillian Gilbert. It ends the album on an upbeat note, which is probably apt as it had been a breath of fresh air in a time when there wasn't too much genuinely good music around.

B-

Oasis - The Masterplan (1998)


  

Released November 1998

This album was a compilation of 'b' sides and unreleased material mainly aimed at the US market which contained a quality of songs that many artists would have given their eye teeth to have in their canon. Indeed, it can be likened to as a perfectly credible album and many would argue it is the superior collection of work to its official predecessor 1977's bloated and somewhat indulgent "Be Here Now".

The album has not been remastered, but, via the wonders of digital technology, if you have the first three albums in their 2014 remastered "deluxe editions", you can cherry pick the tracks to make up a 2014 remastered version of "The Masterplan". Most impressive it sounds too. Not as bombastic as the original masterings, with some subtleties in percussion and bass brought to the fore.

Highlights are the solid, rocking blast of "Acquiesce"; a raw live version of The Beatles' "I Am The Walrus"; the jaunty psychedelia of "Underneath The Sky"; the plaintive, acoustic, Paul Weller-influenced "Talk Tonight"; the surprising Burt Bacharach-inspired "Going Nowhere". These are all excellent tracks worthy of positions on regular albums. "Fade Away" rocks frenetically, but no amount of remastering will cure its raucous sound, however. Therein lies much of its grungy appeal, though. "The Swamp Song" is an excellent instrumental too. "Listen Up" has a great bass sound and clear, sharp percussion. "Rockin' Chair" has echoes of The Jam, for me. Maybe that's just me, but there is something about it. The tuneful, emotive "Half The World Away" and "(It's Good) To Be Free" both sound excellent in their remastered formats.

Just check out "Stay Young". Maybe the best track on the album. Solid anthemic Oasis rock at its finest. Their rock is never particularly fast, or slow. It is always just solid. "Headshrinker" has a real seventies-style guitar intro and a punk feel to it. Again, it forcefully chugs along. Noel Gallagher reckons the acoustic, bassy and orchestrated "The Masterplan" is the best Oasis song he ever wrote. When it breaks out into the full band bit, it is easy to agree with him.

All the material is good on this album, let's be honest. It exists perfectly credibly as a bona fide Oasis album.

B-

Oasis






The albums reviewed are in orange. Click on the album title to read the review.

Definitely Maybe (1994)
(What's The Story) Morning Glory (1995)
Be Here Now (1997)
The Masterplan (1998)
Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants (2000)
Heathen Chemistry (2002)
Don't Believe The Truth (2005)
Dig Out Your Soul (2008)

Oasis - (What's The Story) Morning Glory? (1995)


  

Released October 1995

Recorded at Rockfield Studios, Monmouth, Wales

Oasis's second album was as hard-hitting and anthem-packed as their sonically-explosive debut "Definitely Maybe" had been. There were several enhancements, however - increased use of strings and other varied instrumentation as well as that trademark guitar bombast.

This more than welcome 2014 remaster gives the album a far more subtle sonic makeover, bringing out far more nuances that were detectable on the crashing original. This improvement is not quite clear on the opener, the Gary Glitter-influenced "Hello", which just sounds a little quieter, less clashing than the original. "Roll With It", however, sees a vast improvement, you hear all sorts of things in that were previously buried away - a clearer guitar sound, less deafening drums and a melodic bass. The iconic "Wonderwall" is even better. It sounds bloody marvellous. Sumptuous bass on it and those acoustic guitars are crystal clear. "Look Back In Anger" has percussion that now sounds much clearer and this is one of those tracks where the string backing really came into its own. These four tracks - "Hello", "Roll With It", Wonderwall" and "Look Back In Anger" - one of the finest openings to a album? Up there, surely? "Hey Now", the next track, was no slouch, either. It initially suffered from the murky, crashing production, however, and even now that cannot be completely cured. It will always sound a bit like that, but that is part of Oasis's sound. Despite Oasis's eschewing of traditional rock (something I was never convinced by), it is packed full of traditional rock guitar, as many of their songs were.

Oasis came on the scene a generation after my halcyon days so I was always someone who listened to them from a boring, washed-out old punk's position so I cannot assess their effect on my life (they had none) or even culturally, in a general sense, particularly well. I just know they had something in their chutzpah and raucous, "don't give a stuff" attitude and muscular guitar attack that appealed to me. I loved the cover too - "Selectadisc" record shop on London's Berwick Street clearly visible, a shop and I street I visited many, many times. Pretty much every day during a period when I was walking around London as a publishing company rep.

"Some Might Say" is another classic Oasis anthem, and another one drenched in seventies-style guitar riffs. Liam Gallagher's distinctive, sneering vocal is so redolent of the mid nineties. Again, the remaster tones down a tiny bit of the bombast and that guitar bit around two minutes in comes to a new life. "Cast No Shadow" is a lesser-mentioned, underrated number and it sounds great here - superb, full and melodic bass and crystal clear acoustic guitars. The rhyme scheme in the jaunty "She's Electric" is a little simplistic (as were several of their lyrics) but I can't help but like it. It just makes me smile, particularly the "I quite fancy your mother line...." with its laddish cheekiness.

The title track is, for me, the weakest on the album. The seems a little to formulaic and lazy to me. This is remedied by the anthemic "Champagne Supernova", of course. There has always been something very Rolling Stones in it, in the way it uses acoustic and electric guitars. The vocals are clearly different, but just something about it. On this remaster the bass is once again sublime and the drum sound too. Listen just after the "why, why, why..." bit. Great stuff. A great remastering effort.

The many high quality extras, such as "Acquiesce", "The Masterplan", their stonking cover of Slade's "Come On Feel The Noise" and the superb live cuts make this a more than worthy re-release to get hold of.

B+

Pentangle - Cruel Sister (1970)


  

Released November 1970

Recorded in London

This is the most folky of Pentangle's albums - the tracks are all traditional folk. No jazz experiments to be found here. Quite why they never made it to the heights of Fairport Convention or Steeleye Span is a mystery. Some of their stuff is as good as you will hear traditional folk songs interpreted. Jacqui McShee's voice is simply sublime, crystal clear and the instrumentation is rich, warm and textured.

The first song is a favourite of mine - "A Maid That's Deep In Love" tells a fascinating story about a girl who goes to see dressed as a man in order to be with her lover. "When I Was in My Prime" has McShee singing totally unaccompanied, a very difficult thing to do. It is an utterly beautiful delivery. Not a note out of place. Her voice is hauntingly seductive.

"Lord Franklin" has John Renbourn on lead vocals on an evocative, moving, tragic seafaring tale. Lord Franklin died trying to navigate the North-West passage in Canada. Jacqui joins in with some infectious backing vocals. Then some delicious guitar parts, also from Renbourn, arrive to add to the atmosphere. The title track also has some Eastern-sounding guitar and another ghostly vocal. It is a story of two sisters rivalling each other for the love of a knight. It is a Northumbrian tale also known as "Twa Sisters'. One of the sisters murders the other by pushing her in the North Sea.

Although Pentangle use the electric guitar considerably n this album, it never overwhelms the sound. It doesn't turn them into a electric folk group. Their subtle use of electric guitar lies under the main melody, enhancing it but not dominating it. Steeleye Span's early electric interjections, for example, were far more aggressive, such as on tracks such as "Cam Ye O'er Frae France'.

The old "side two" was entirely taken over by one song - the eighteen-minute "Jack Orion". The track has Bert Jansch sharing vocal duties with McShee and the instrumentation is seriously good - acoustic guitar, percussion, electric guitar and an intoxicating bass. Although it is obviously lengthy, it is a perfect creation. I love the way they didn't care about putting such a long track on the album. They wanted to do it and so they did. Good for them. This is one of Pentangle's finest albums and probably their last truly essential one.

B+

Leon Bridges - Good Thing (2018)


  

Released May 2018

After 2015's phenomenally good, but blatantly sixties soul revivalist debut album, "Coming Home", Leon Bridges had a bit of a problem. As good as that album obviously was, should he keep chanelling his inner Sam Cooke/mid sixties Marvin Gaye or should he break out a bit and try and reach a wider audience, while still recording material in the basic style he loved? It would seem that on this album he decided on a bit of a compromise. Yes, he has broadened things out a bit, still nostalgic in is soulfulness, but it also bears influences from seventies artists such as Al Green and  Prince in his late eighties/early nineties period. There are even some contemporary vibes in there too. Overall, though, I can't help but feel that this is Bridges' seventies/eighties/nineties/00s album, while "Coming Home" was his sixties one.

The album starts, unusually, with the slow, laid-back orchestrated, contemporary-sounding soul of "Bet Ain't With The Hand". "Bad Bad News" is a bassy, jazzy grinder with a lot of seventies-style funky soul. This is far more of a seventies groove than the sixties material of the debut. It has some sublime jazz guitar on it too. "Shy" goes more down the current road with some of that "r 'n' b" thumping bass and drum backing. Personally, I preferred the authentic sounding "proper" drums of the previous outing. This sounds too much like many other current recordings for my liking. "Beyond" is a nice soulful song, but it also a little blighted by that huge deep drum sound.

"Forgive You" is a bassy, shuffling number but somewhat unremarkable. It sounds very much like typical 2018 r 'n' b chart material. "Lions" is another hampered by its backing. You can see that Bridges is trying to appeal to a modern audience here and the same applies to "If It Feels Good (Then It Must Be)", with its echoes of Prince in places. "You Don't Know" is also very Prince-esque, even more so, in fact. Like something from the late eighties. Nice guitar break on it though. "Mrs" continues the sexed-up Prince vibe in a sensuous, laid-back groove. "Georgia To Texas" ends the album with another tribute from Bridges to his Mother ("Lisa Sawyer" on the first album was the first). It is the finest piece of genuine soul on the album and the only one that really brings to mind the previous album. It features some seductive saxophone as well and some great jazzy drumming.

In summary, however, I have to say I much prefer "Coming Home" and feel that this album has lost its soul to contemporary pressure somewhat. I know why Bridges has gone down that route, in a way he had to. Thankfully, the first album will always be around to listen to.

C+

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Leon Bridges - Coming Home (2015)


  

Released June 2015

Recorded in Forth Worth, Texas

2015 was one hell of a year for revivalists - The London Souls, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats and this, Leon Bridges' debut album. It is album absolutely steeped in the r'n'b of the early 1960s - Sam Cooke, early/mid period Marvin Gaye and Otis Redding. The music is full of early Motown doo-wop backing vocals, Stax-y horns and churchy organ. Just check out the sublime Southern soul of "Better Man" and the pure Marvin Gaye-influenced "Coming Home". Even the cover is completely retro and Bridges' sharply dressed (in a retro style) look and typical early 60s pose.

It is so refreshing to hear a contemporary soul album with no drum machines, no huge manufactured overwhelming bass sound, no synthesised vocals, no syrupy vocals using quavering vocal tricks. This is just straight up early 60s soul with music played by a proper band and sung by a completely authentic voice. There is an effortless groove to some of the tracks - just listen to "Brown Skin Girl" and the sumptuous "Smooth Sailin'". None of the tracks on here burn the house down but they get into a laid-back soulful but subtly upbeat rhythm. "Flowers" is probably the most upbeat, along with "Twistin' And Groovin'". While the music is obviously revivalist, there is a modern vitality and, of course, improved quality sound to it all that makes it most appealing.

"Shine" literally sounds as if "Change Is Gonna Come"-era Sam Cooke has revisited this earth. "Lisa Sawyer" is a soulful tribute to his mother, backed by some beautiful, atmospheric, smoky saxophone. This is a most enjoyable, quietly uplifting album. Recommended.

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