Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Wet Wet Wet

A more credible group than many imagine, for me, anyway....

Popped In Souled Out (1987)

Clydebank band Wet Wet Wet had been around since 1982, but this was their first album. The group, as the title suggests, were a mixture of pop and soul, with some rock hints in there with the occasional nod to the new wave they grew up listening to. The group suffered a bit from being dismissed as a teen pop outfit, but in many ways they were more than that. They wrote their songs as a group and they understood music history, often throwing in a reference to a classic from time past, either musically or lyrically. They are a bit hard to categorise. Launching in the eighties, they use a bit of typical eighties backing, but they also use rock guitars and retrospective soul stylings. Vocalist Marti Pellow had a winning, lush soulful voice too. So much so that he could make an ordinary song sound better than it actually was.
Wishing I Was Lucky is a disco-ish groove of a pop song with a hook of a chorus line, but otherwise is a bit of a confused affair. There are influences from early eighties group ABC in there, for me, particularly on the keyboard sound. East Of The River is an eighties-style soul number with a killer brass riff. The lyric "I won't work for nobody but you" is from The MiraclesLove Machine from 1974. I Remember has a nice bass line, a really slowed-down soul/funk beat and a great vocal. The two singles, the sweet soul of Angel Eyes and the Motown-ish Sweet Little Mystery are both absolute perfect pieces of soul/pop, brilliantly executed and deserved hits. Angel Eyes references the Bacharach-David songs The Look Of Love and Walk On By.  

I Don't Believe (Sonny's Letter), maybe surprisingly, namechecks Linton Kwesi Johnson's roots reggae anti-police brutality poem. I am sure the reference was lost on 95% of the people who bought this album. The album's classic track, for me, has always been the magnificent, uplifting soul of Temptation, with its strong "don't waste my fucking spirit" line near the end. Pellow's voice is simply superb on this song. The line "all the tea in China" comes from Van Morrison's Tupelo Honey. "Peace, love and understanding" is a nod to Elvis Costello's What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love and Understanding.

I Can Give You Everything is a an upbeat piece of disco soul, with wah-wah guitar and funky percussion. The Moment You Left Me is a slow soul ballad lifted higher by Pellow's vocal. 
Words Of Wisdom has a catchy beat but is otherwise pretty unremarkable. Pellow does a bit of Michael Jackson hiccup in his delivery. Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight is a laid-back, brassy cover of a James Taylor song. World In Another is a lively number with a frantic bass line. Although this is a strong ending to the album you can't help but feel the best material was to be found on the first half of it. The best version of the album is the remastered "30th Anniversary" edition.

The Memphis Sessions (1988)

This was a virtually unnoticed album from soon to be chart superstars Wet Wet Wet. It was released after their fist album, before they had become really famous. It is only seven tracks in length and results from sessions in Memphis with legendary producer Willie Mitchell (best known for his work with Al Green and Ann Peebles). Quite how this relatively unknown Scottish band managed to get such a gig is unclear. They definitely struck lucky, although the album slipped completely under the radar. The tracks are mainly Memphis-style re-workings of ones from the debut album, Popped In Souled Out. They are good, too, and personally I prefer many of them to the originals, but then I am a huge Stax fan.
I Don't Believe, as with all the material is done in a warmer, more laid-back and soulful fashion, less sharp and poppy. The sound is a bit more understated, but is more bassy and rich at the same time. The track is also given a vaguely reggae beat (maybe due to its lyrical references to Linton Kwesi Johnson's Sonny's Lettah). Sweet Little Mystery is slowed down somewhat and Marti Pellow's gorgeous vocal is even more enticingly appealing. Booker T-style organ backs the version and while it doesn't have the sheer pop joy of the original, it does have a lush, soul feeling about it. East Of The River has some delicious Memphis horns blasting all over it, like a Southside Johnny track. The backing is so powerful that it almost drowns out Pellow, not quite, though, it would take quite a lot to do that. This Time is a slow ballad with a Prince-esque vocal in places. It has a late-night cocktail bar ambience to it. Temptation has always been my favourite Wet Wet Wet song. Here is it slightly speeded up and given some Stax horns and melodic Memphis guitar sound. While it is a good version, it loses a little of the grandiose pop majesty of the original. 

I Remember has some captivating percussion sounds and seductive horns. For You Are is another late night slow burner, while the cover of Stevie Wonder's Heaven Help Us All is uplifting and credible. This was an impressive, underrated album that is worth checking out. It is certainly not essential, but worth half an hour of your time.

Holding Back The River (1989)

This was Wet Wet Wet's third album and it was mainly populated with smooth, catchy, grandiose pop-soul ballads. It is immaculately played, with excellent quality sound and is probably a better album than it is historically given credit for, as it is rarely spoken of these days.
Sweet Surrender is a gorgeous, laid-back slice of Wet Wet Wet slick soul, with Marti Pellow's voice ideally suited to the track's lush smoothness. It is on tracks like this that he was at his best, as opposed to the more on more bluesy, upbeat material. The same applies to the hit single Can't Stand The Night, which was released as Stay With Me Heartache as the title of the single. It is a reggae-tinged poppy and catchy number. For some reason, "cheeseburger!" is shouted in the middle of the song, just as it was in The Clash's Magnificent Seven from 1981. 

Blue For You is a big, sleek ballad that begins like a James Bond theme tune. Once again, it is high quality stuff, particularly on the vocal delivery. It eventually merges seamlessly into the beautiful, dignified Broke Away, which was also a single, although a surprisingly low-key one. Marti Pellow's charismatic voice is superb on the early material on this album. It is some of the later ones that don't suit him quite so much. You've Had It gave the album some typically eighties synthesised mid-pace disco-ish soul, albeit including a pretty impressive guitar solo midway through. I Wish is a sumptuous, big production ballad, full of sweeping synthesisers, brass, organ and guitar and another great vocal. The ambience continues on the saxophone-augmented Keys To Your Heart. Quality stuff. Unfortunately, the same can't really be said for a rambling messy cover of Rod Stewart's classic Maggie May. It is so much Stewart's song anyway, that it is almost an impossible song to cover, but here Wet Wet Wet never seem to get control of the song as it comes and goes, floating around for six minutes, unsatisfactorily. The album drops in quality somewhat after this as well. 

Hold Back The River is an enjoyable, brass-driven bluesy workout, but, as I hinted at earlier, I feel Pellow's voice didn't do as much justice to material like this as they did to the big typical WWW ballads. Another Clash reference comes in when Jimmy Jazz is announced before a brief jazzy interlude. The final number, How The Hell Did That Get There is an Atlantic meets Dexy's Midnight Runners brass stomp which again finds Pellow's mellifluous voice to be somewhat wanting against such a thumping beat. Overall, however, this is an eminently listenable album to dig out every now and again.

High On The Happy Side (1992)
This was when Clydebank's Wet Wet Wet made it properly as a chart act, with a surprising number one in Goodnight Girl. They continue their unique brand of appealing pop-soul with rock influences on this eminently listenable but now slightly dated album. It could do with a remaster too.

More Than Love is a nice, sweeping ballad that suffers a bit through a muffled production, particularly on the verses, although it improves a bit when the chorus kicks in. Lip Service has a funky, brassy soul feel to it, with some wah-wah guitar, shuffling, gritty percussion and an affected vocal from Marti Pellow. Not a bad track at all. Put The Light On has shades of Del Amitri about it in its acoustic guitar backing and also in Pellow's voice. The title track, High On The Happy Side, is lovely, with a nice late evening backing and yet another impressive vocal. It features a good guitar solo near the end. It is very early nineties though, sounding like the stuff Elton John was doing during the same period. 

Maybe Tomorrow has a thumping big bass line and an atmospheric, slightly mysterious feel to it. Goodnight Girl was a strangely catchy yet sparsely backed song that became the group's first number one. Celebration is an upbeat, acoustically-driven number, and, after an unremarkable beginning, Make it Tonight bursts out with its irresistible chorus. How Long is a singalong, soulful but poppy number. Brand New Sunrise is a late-night jazzy, bluesy crooner with a delicious bass line. 2 Days After Midnite is an excellent, lively piece of soul funk upon which to end an album that is far more than just an offering from a chart pop group. It has considerably more than just a bit of credibility about it.

Picture This (1995)

This was Wet Wet Wet's fourth album (or fifth if you count The Memphis Sessions). This saw the band at the height of their commercial success. Unfortunately, the were never really able to shake off their teen pop image, despite putting out some credible, soulful pop music. They were a proper band, not a stool-sitting, crooning "boy band" and should always be treated as such. This is my favourite of their albums. The group had mastered their sound by now, mixing punchy horns with big string orchestration, plus electric guitar, "proper drums" and singer Marti Pellow's unique, expressive voice. It was a good, solid sound and the production on this album is impressive, you can clearly hear the progress since 1987's Popped In Souled Out.
Julia Says is a beautiful, orchestrated ballad, but an unusual choice for an album opener. It is full of big production. Marti Pellow's vocal is excellent on this, particularly at the end, as the song gets more dramatic. After The Love Goes is sort of Americana meets big, brassy soul. The vocal and verses have hints of The Band about them. The chorus is full-on horn-driven pop-soul. There are folky aspects too, plus a great guitar solo. All sorts of styles are in this one. Somewhere Somehow is a deep, bassy, singalong slow rock ballad. On the second verse Pellow's voice is simply superb - full of genuine soul delivery. Wet Wet Wet may not be to everyone's taste, but I have no shame in saying that I love this track. So I like the Clash, Mott The Hoople, The Ramones, Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones as well. So fucking what. Good music is good music. Gypsy Girl is a delightful piece of melodic, acoustic folk-influenced fare. A lovely song. Don't Want To Forgive Me Now was a hit single, full of hooks, a great chorus and an upbeat Elvis Costello feel to it. 

She Might Never Know is a bluesy, brassy number with a bit of Southside Johnny in the vocals and the big brass interjections. It has a nice little bass line near the end. Someone Like You is a grand, soulful ballad with a few country twangs in the guitar backing. Love Is My Shepherd continues the slow trend with another smoky ballad. Most of Wet Wet Wet's albums seemed to have second halves full of sumptuous slow numbers and we get another one here in the rich soul pop of She's All On Mind, which has airs of Burt Bacharach to it. It has a very catchy chorus, as indeed does the quietly majestic Morning. Both of these were lower top twenty hits, largely because of their choruses, no doubt. Home Tonight stays low-key, but solidly bassy in its backing. It has a lovely vocal once more. Then, finally, we get their big one - their huge number one cover of The Troggs' little known and unremarkable track, Love Is All Around, given a barnstorming big production makeoever. It was number one for weeks in 1994. You can hear why, it is simply a great pop record. When Marti sings "oh yes it is"  after delivering the first it is still a tingling moment. For me, anyway.

The album has some great pop-soul moments but, like most of the group's albums, the momentum is lost a bit during the second half as the tempo drops with that series of slower numbers, but let that not detract too much from the general quality on offer. I listened to this album a lot in the nineties and it served as pleasant, casual fare.

10 (1997)

I must admit I quite enjoyed my Wet Wet Wet albums between the late eighties and this one, in 1997. I have no embarrassment about admitting that. This was the last one that I bought, though. Not that this was a bad album, but it was not really offering too much different than any of the previous albums had. Wet Wet Wet had become the go-to band for cod-funk, cod-soul with tinges of cod-country. The production was now super slick, effortless and, because it was so good, the music was losing any edge it may have had. It was all getting a bit too easy. This was probably the group's most easy listening album thus far, too. Their previous albums had their share of uptempo numbers, but they are pretty much non-existent on here. It used to be that their albums often faded out in their second halves with slow-paced ballads. This album is comprised totally of them.                                                

If I Never See You Again is a slick, smooth, big production and very typical Wet Wet Wet ballad to open the album. You know what you're getting here - a good Marti Pellow vocal, big chorus, sweeping strings, some nice guitar interjections. They had mastered the formula by now. Back On My Feet is a punchy piece of horn-driven country soul. I like this one a lot. Fool For Your Love is a melodic, laid-back, easy-ish number. The Only Sounds continues the gentle ambience with a delicious ballad. Pellow's vocal is superb. You still have to give Wet Wet Wet credit for stuff like this. It was perfect, tuneful, romantic pop.

If I Could Only Be With You is another of those big, grandiose ballads. I Want You is a deep, bluesy, late night ballad. It has a lovely bass line. It is another smoochy number. In 1997, it was de rigeur to record a "swing"-style track. Wet Wet Wet duly do that on the Sinatra-influenced jazzy strains of Maybe I'm In Love. It is their own song but very mush in the fifties style. The easy listening vibe continues in the even more jazzily smooth cover of the standard Beyond The Sea. You have to say it is most appealing. Lonely Girl is back to more traditional Wet Wet Wet fare, a soulful number with a vaguely funky background. Strange is a catchy, brassy piece of pop-soul. Theme From Ten is an instrumental which sticks to the ambience of the album. It Hurts has a slightly reggae-influenced beat, but once more, it doesn't deviate from the overall relaxed atmosphere of the album. In fact, this would be the group's final album until they released a reunion one in 2007. It had been ten great years for them, but it was all starting to sound a bit the same so the split probably came at the right time, even though this was a fine-sounding, professional album.

A group with similar white soul success in the same period were Simply Red. Check out their stuff here :-

Sunday, 27 January 2019

The Beat

These were my favourites from the early eighties "two tone" ska revival....

I Just Can't Stop It (1980)

The Beat slightly lagged behind Madness, The Selecter and The Specials (the other main two-tone groups) in putting out their first album. They had some singles out before, however, The Tears Of A Clown and Mirror In The Bathroom, so they had gained an audience and this was quite an anticipated album. Personally, The Beat were my favourite two-tone band. They were a six-piece and featured veteran fifty-plus (at the time) saxophonist, "Saxa". They had an ear for a melody and also for a wry, observational and culturally relevant lyric. The music was essentially ska, full of lilting guitar licks, dub infuences and that deep, gloriously tuneful saxophone wailing away beneath nearly every tune. They were great live too. I remember being up at the front at one of their gigs and singing the "Saxa oh la - good God!" bit in Jackpot to Ranking Roger as he sang it straight back to me, smiling.

This debut album was, like many debut albums from the period, was upbeat, "in your face" and following the punk feel of debuts by The Clash, The Jam and Stiff Little Fingers. The pace doesn't let up for pretty much all of what is a breackneck ride. The album kicks off with two stonking hit singles - the staccato Mirror In The Bathroom and the lively, catchy Hands Off She's MineTwo Swords is a cynical, socially aware anti-fascist "message" song done in an almost punky style and Twist And Crawl is a short, sharp frantic ska rocker, as is Click ClickBoth Rough Rider and Jackpot are pure Jamaican-influenced organ-driven, irresistibly melodious skankers.

Big Shot and Noise In This World are also upbeat rockers and Best Friend was a catchy, rhythmic single. Whine and Grind/Stand Down Margaret was superbly, rebelliously political at the time, demanding the resignation of UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Yes, many people probably won't get the meaning these days. The album's one slow song, Can't Get Used To Losing You, was a cover of a sixties hit for Andy Williams, but it works exceptionally well, with an excellent vocal from the talented Dave Wakeling. The sound is good on the latest remaster and any play of this will guarantee to put a bit of a spring back into your step. They were right, they just couldn't stop it. The vibe continues from beginning to end of this excellent album. Highly recommended.

Wha'ppen (1981)

This was The Beat's second album, following on from the frantic ska rhythms of their stunning, lively debut, I Just Can't Stop It. If anything, for me, this was the better album. It was more subtle and showed a real development in the band's songwriting. There were some really impressive, often very acutely socially aware songs on here. They were not all simple good-time ska skankers. The pace is far slower than the hundred miles an hour of the debut album, concentrating more on dub rhythms, with influences from South African township music, roots reggae and also from soul. Personally, I feel this was the group's finest achievement. It is an excellent album. My own personal memories are of playing it endlessly upon release while in bed with tonsilitis.

The beautifully bassy, atmospheric opener, Doors To Your Heart is a melodious, saxophone and semi-dub reggae addictive slow burner of a song, and All Out To Get You was an insistent, singalong single. It had a completely irresistible rhythm. The drum-bass-guitar-saxophone interplay is superb throughout the whole album. This band could play, make no mistake about that. Monkey Murders saw the band explore roots reggae with some dubby bass and a wonderful, almost South African township-sounding saxophone, while the Talking Heads-esque I Am Your Flag was a wry, upbeat political rocker, criticising overt nationalism. 

French Toast (Soleil Trop Chaud) was, as its title suggests, a journey into vocal "toasting" (semi-spoken lyrics over a dub beat). It is another one with South African influence. Drowning is beautifully laid-back in its bassy rhythm and also cynical in its message, as indeed is the sombre, brooding Dream Home In New Zealand, with its dubby hints in its backing. The ubiquitous saxophone from veteran saxophonist, "Saxa", is just so damn good. Slightly different is the simply gorgeous ska ballad Walk Away which features more sumptuous saxophone. Over And Over, with its upbeat, jazzy backing and impressive brass; the bleak and wonderfully bassy and dubby Cheated; the frenetic protest of Get A Job and the dryly observational The Limits We Set all continue the quality songwriting and infectious melodies that this album overflowed with. 

** The non-album single Too Nice To Talk To was once again incredibly catchy and a worthy hit from a most worthy band. Highly recommended. The best of 1981.

Special Beat Service (1982)

This was The Beat's final album. After Wha'ppen saw the group tone down the frantic ska of their debut album in favour of a more laid-back, dubby but soulful sound they diversified even more with this, which often sounded far more like a new wave album than a two tone/ska one. There were influences from The Jam, Joe Jackson, Talking Heads, Dexy's Midnight Runners and even some of the New Romantic groups on here. There is nowhere near the amount of dub influence on this one.

It just didn't really do very well and the band called it a day soon after. Funnily enough, it was more successful in the USA, as "The English Beat". Americans wanted a mix of New Wave and New Romanticism, and the got it here. It is actually as innovative and adventurous as the previous album had been. I don't blame The Beat for trying to widen their style. After all, The Clash, Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson, The Jam, Madness and The Specials had all done the same. Personally, I find it a refreshingly enjoyable album.

I Confess is a sort of Style Council-ish dancey, jazzy number (although they didn't exist yet) with a Kevin Rowland-influenced vocal. To be honest it doesn't sound much like The Beat at all. Even the saxophone is jazzy. Not much ska to be found here. It is pleasant enough, though, with a nice bass part near the end. At times it almost sounds like ABC or A-Ha it has to be said. Jeanette sees a welcome return to what one would expect from the Beat - an upbeat ska skanker with some South African-sounding saxophone. Sorry has a beguiling, understated backing, and a sort of melody that seems to be trying to be avant garde, with some Talking Heads-esque vocals and wailing, experimental saxophone sounds. Sole Salvation is very much a new wave number that sounds a bit like some of the stuff The Jam put out right at the end of their career, although the dubby Spar Wid Me is a step back on to familiar with some killer riddims and sumptuous saxophone. Rotating Head is a jaunty track that has real echoes of the band's debut album. Save It For Later is a thumping groover with a Byrds-style jangly guitar sound at times. It is probably the best track on the album. The group's last great one. 

She's Going is a catchy, very Joe Jackson-sounding number, with some Latin-ish guitars and appealing saxophone. Pato And Roger A Go Talk has lashing of typical Saxa saxophone and some toasting from Ranking Roger and guest vocalist Pato BantonSugar And Stress is pretty typical Beat fare, although even this has a light, acoustic guitar solo in the middle. The romantic End Of The Party has Dave Wakeling sounding like Spandau Ballet's Tony Hadley, unbelievably. It goes without saying, really, that there is a sublime saxophone solo n the song. Ackee 1-2-3 sounds as if it straight out of South African township in places. Great stuff. I have to say I have really enjoyed getting into this again after overlooking it for any years, despite always being a big fan of the first two albums. It was a really good album.

Bounce (2016)

This was the first of (so far) two comeback albums from The Beat's Ranking Roger and assorted musicians. Singer Dave Wakeling also has a version of The Beat. A bit like UB40, they are now two separate bands, which is a shame, but both are worth listening to. The albums are all enjoyable and it is nice to hear the artists still doing it, but they are bit like the Bruce Foxton (of The Jam) albums. While they are good, you can't help but feel that although they are pleasingly nostalgic, nothing will ever replace the original stuff. Incidentally, this album is produced by Mick Lister, once of minor new wave bands The Stowaways and The Truth.

Walking On The Wrong Side is a soulful, mid-pace rocker with some typical Beat saxophone and Roger using a reggae-style vocal and some "toasting" passages. The saxophonist, whose identity I am not sure of, sounds a lot like Brian Travers of UB40 in tone, more so than he or she sounds like Saxa, the saxophonist on the original Beat albums. Busy Busy Doing Nothing is a catchy, new wave-sounding poppy number. Heaven Hiding is tuneful enough, again in a poppy sort of way but nothing as yet makes you think of The Beat. Until Avoid The Obvious that is. Roger's voice sounds remarkably like Dave Wakeling's and the rhythm behind the verses is a dead ringer for Too Nice To Talk To, with that rumbling bass line and swirling saxophone.

Fire Burn 
has a deep, dubby beat and a brooding, slow burning feel and a feel of Third World and The Wailing Souls in places. It is one the album's best cuts. 
On My Way has vague airs of Men At Work's Down Under, for me, in the chorus. The verses remind me of something else, but I can't put my finger on it. Some nice saxophone on it too. Work Work Work is a r'n'b commercial soul-influenced number with a bit of a simplistic lyric. Talkin' About Her has a tuneful, almost lovers' rock-style light reggae rhythm. Once again, it is a very poppy song, with none of the ascerbic political commentary or wry social observation that so characterised The Beat's original work. This sounds like the sort of stuff Chaka Demus & Pliers or Bitty MacLean released in the early nineties. Singalong and unthreatening. Side To Side is an upbeat, bassy ragga meets ska type of fast skanker with Roger's son, Ranking Junior, on breakneck speed, tongue-twisting rapping vocals. It also has a very early nineties groove to it. 

My Dream has a very new wave feel to it in its riff, despite Roger's toasting. It is almost a London Calling riff. Close The Door is a rootsy cut, featuring the melodica, as made famous by Augustus Pablo and some vocals that put me in mind of The Police's reggae numbers. It is the album's most authentic reggae track. Overall, of Ranking Roger's two contemporary albums, I prefer his 2019 one, Public Confidential over this one. This one s a perfectly enjoyable listen, but it is certainly not essential.

Here We Go Love! (2018)

Both Ranking Roger and Dave Wakeling from The Beat have separate versions of the band (apparently amicable, unlike a similar situation with UB40). While Roger's two albums, particularly 2019's Public Confidential, have real echoes of The Beat's classic early eighties music, this one doesn't really. While I think it is a good album, many don't, saying it doesn't sound much like The Beat. On the last point I agree. I don't really get why Wakeling just didn't issue it as a Dave Wakeling solo album, because that is really what it is.

The opener, How Can You Stand There? is a lively, vibrant breath of fresh ska air, with an accordion backing in place giving it an almost Cajun feel. Wakeling's voice is instantly recognisable and the saxophone has that South African sound that The Beat used so much, but this doesn't really sound like a Beat record. It just sounds like a damn good Dave Wakeling ska-rock record. The One And Only is a very catchy, poppy number with a real early eighties new wave light pop, but slightly riffy feel to it. Redemption Time is a roots reggae meets ska number with great bass and an upbeat Beat-style rhythm. It is one of the album's best cuts, one of the most Beat-like.

If Killing Worked finds Wakeling returning to his wry, observational view of the world, something he did so well, lyrically, with The Beat. Despite its important message, this is a most uplifting, infectious song. I really like it. It has a new wave riffiness to it. 
Here We Go Love has echoes of Joe Jackson's early punky material with a rapid beat and sharp guitar riffs. It is littered with expletives, for some reason that isn't entirely clear on such a musically upbeat, "fun" song. Wakeling always had an ability to make a lively song cynical, however. Never Die is a mournful, evocative rock ballad, the like of which has not appeared on any Beat album (or two tone one, for that matter). It is tracks like this that make this a Wakeling solo album. It is actually rather moving. The orchestral brass and strings ending is certainly innovative and different. The Love You Give is an appealing mid-pace new wave rock song with Wakeling sounding rather like Dexy's Midnight RunnersKevin Rowland. It has a Nick Lowe feel to it too. You Really Oughta Know is very Madness-influenced in its jauntiness. You're Stuck is another upbeat, new wave number with slight hints of New Romaticism in its ABC-style chorus. 

Every Time You Told Me is a slightly bluesy number that reminds me of Southside Johnny, funnily enough. Again, it very different from anything the original Beat ever did. Dem Call It Ska is a a rootsy ska piece of fun. Drive Her Away is another in that singalong new wave style that dominates the album. Be There For You sounds a bit like some of the stuff Bruce Foxton of The Jam now put out, vocally anyway, despite its light reggae beat. It also reminds me of something else but I just can't put my finger on it. As I said earlier this is a good Dave Wakeling album, but not really a Beat album.

Public Confidential (2019)

After an excellent 2016 comeback with Bounce, this is another highly enjoyable album from Ranking Roger and his impressive band who pretty much replicate the sound of the original 1979-83 sound The Beat to the note. It sounds so like the original group, as if they have never been away. Yes, there are lot of musical and vocal similarities to the material from the three early eighties Beat albums, but that doesn't bother me unduly, it is great to hear this sort of thing again, sounding so fresh and vibrant.
Maniac takes me right back to the debut album with its dubby rhythms, catchy vocals and swirling saxophone. Roger utilises his "toasting" vocals a lot on this album, probably slightly more than on the  originals. Public Confidential is a Madness-influenced number, with some deep, sonorous saxophone underpinning and and infectious beat/refrain. The sound quality is excellent throughout the album, it is worth saying too.

Who's Dat Looking pretty much uses the Mirror In The Bathroom backing beat but it is still an invigorating number with some great saxophone-bass interplay in the middle of the track. 

On The Road is an upbeat, rootsy toasting number, with echoes of UB40 about it, particularly in the saxophone sound. The roots feel continues on Dangerous, with its Prince Far I-style growling vocals. It confronts the issue of knife crime head on in the lyrics. Long Call Short Talk is a melodious skank and even more fitting that description is the infectious Giving It Up, which is the most singalong track on the album. A Good Day For Sunshine is another typically Beat track that sounds as if it is straight off the debut album with a Ranking Full Stop backing riff. Skank Away is, funnily enough, less of an upbeat skank and more of a ragga-style groove. Civilisation again has a saxophone riff straight out of UB40 but it has that Beat liveliness about it. Overall, this album is a bright, invigorating breath of fresh air. It ends before you know it, such is the pacy pleasure (not necessarily a bad thing in the age of 75 minute CD albums). Highly recommended.
Related posts :-
The Specials
The Selecter

Sunday, 20 January 2019


Pub rockers with a soulful side....

Five-A-Side (1974)

had a reputation as being a "pub rock" band, which was true to an extent, in that they had that average blokes from the pub image (compared to the peacock finery of the glam rock artists all around them). Musically, however, they were a bit difficult to pin down. They certainly weren't pub-style heads-down full-on bluesy r'n'b. They were also often pigeonholed as "blue-eyed soul", largely because of their superb, soulful only chart hit in How Long, and singer Paul Carrack's "white soul" voice.  The rest of the album isn't really like that track, though, ploughing more of a rocky, piano-driven Americana-influenced slightly bluesy rock style that was actually somewhat unique and certainly didn't fit into the country rock genre that was so popular among other "serious" bands at the time. Anyway, this was their debut album and probably the best of the three they put out. 
Sniffin' About is a lively, rocking opener with a bit of a hint of The Eagles here and there and The Doobie Brothers too. For me, there is some Steely Dan floating around as well, airs of My Old School in places. It certainly builds the feeling that this is far more of a rock album than a soul one. Rock 'n' Roll Runaway has some driving piano and country style slide guitar contributing to an upbeat number. It comes to a somewhat abrupt end, rather as if it were a studio alternative take, which is a shame.

How Long is a classic seventies single, with superb atmosphere, hooks and bass line. The Real Feeling is a mid-pace boogie-ish rocking number, which again suffers from a sudden ending, before its time. 24 Hours is a deep, bassy, almost funky workout, featuring some excellent organ and saxophone, and Why attempts to re-create How Long to an extent, although it is far more rocking, with a killer guitar solo. It is an excellent track. Perfect laid-back soulful rock. It is all very "adult", particularly in comparison to the contemporary output from artists like David Bowie, Mott The Hoople, Roxy Music who were far more ebullient and chart-orientated in their approach than this brand of thoughtful rock. Time Ain't Long is a grinding, bluesy rock groove with a bit of an Allman Brothers feel for me, just here and there. A sort of Southern states feel. Know How It Feels is a mournful, somewhat under-cooked, unremarkable slow ballad. The vocal is a little muffled and undercooked. Satellite, however, is a jaunty, piano-powered number that sounds like something Bruce Hornsby may put on Harbor Lights with its rolling piano riff. There is nice swirling saxophone on here too. So Sorry Baby ends the album on a solid muscular note with an organ-driven rocking, riffy track. Overall, this a highly credible, listenable album that would have appealed more in America in 1974 than in the UK. It is worth a listen, but it is nothing ground-breaking.

Time For Another (1975)

For me, this, Ace's second album, is a very US-sounding offering, full of country rock vibes, Eagles/America influence and just a general feel of Americana. It is an easier album to categorise than the previous year's debut and, while that album had a more raw soulful rock feel to it, this one is certainly a pleasurable listen. Listening to this, one would be pretty convinced that Ace were a US group as opposed to a UK one.
I Think It's Gonna Last is an Eagles-esque US-sounding rocker and the appealing I'm A Man gives us more Americana, in its upbeat, guitar-picking country rock sound. 

Tongue Tied is a melodic, laid-back AOR rock ballad. Its features Eagles meets The Doobie Brothers-style vocals and, again, sounds very much a US easy listening song. Lovely bass line underpinning it too and some excellent guitar. Does It Hurt You is a solidly country rock tune, full of America (the group)-influenced harmonies and a gentle steel guitar backing.

Message To You is a a number that evokes the group's big hit How Long more than anything else on the album thus far, but it still has some convincing Doobie Brothers guitar-vocal interplay making it far more of a US-sounding track than its predecessor. 
No Future In Your Eyes is a deliciously laid-back slow number with CSNY vocals and a softly funky guitar backing. It is a bit reminiscent of Eric Clapton's material from this period. 

This Is What You Find continues the sleepy, unthreatening, laid-back ambience. Ace were able to get away with this sort of (admittedly very pleasant) material in 1975. Give it a year or so, however, and it would become culturally irrelevant. The track features some sublime guitar-bass passages, however. You Can't Lose is slightly more upbeat, albeit in a very Eric Clapton sort of way. More understated funk backs the track and the vocals are very Doobie Brothers. Nice wah-wah solo in the middle as well. Sail On My Brother sounds a bit like a Free rock ballad in both its sound, vocal delivery and its title. Not quite as muscular as Free, though, more like Fleetwood MacAin't Gonna Stand For This No More is a slice of funky blues to finish off another enjoyable but not essential album.

No Strings (1977)

This was Ace's final album. By now, punk was pumping its fists all around and a laid-back album of AOR rock-soul was simple not culturally relevant anymore. It is perfectly listenable, taken out of context, but it is not as good as the group's other two offerings. It is very much a harmless slice of Southern Californian-influenced AOR. Completely inessential, it has to be said. Personally, I never felt Ace were particularly a "pub rock" band, but either way, many groups who were in 1974-76 were now veering strongly towards punk. Ace did the opposite and went full-on West Coast USA. A strange choice for a UK band in 1977. It was to be their final choice.

Rock 'n' Roll Singer is a rollicking piano and brass Chicago-esque opener, while You're All I Need sort of taps into that now quite long gone feel of How Long but with some very end of the seventies, easy listening vocals and some Santana-style guitar. Crazy World has a Doobie Brothers riff and some soulful, Boz Scaggs-inspired vocals. I'm Not Takin' It Out On You continues in the same Doobies-Eagles-later Tower Of Power albums vein. Like the previous album, much of the album's material is very US freeway/radio-friendly in feel, nothing like the UK in 1977 at all and, as another estimable reviewer has pointed out, the 1974 glory days of "pub soul" with How Long now seem a very long time ago.

Movin' has lyrics full of Americana-derived images with lyrics about "taking the coastal highway". Tracks like this are perfectly inoffensive but they seriously are nothing special. 
Gleaming In The Gloom reminds me of Traffic's mid-seventies output. It also has hints of Ace's best 1974 work, particularly in the guitar solo mid-song. Let's Hang On again ploughs that 1974 furrow but with a bit of a Jackson Browne-sounding vocal from Paul CarrackWhy Did You Leave Me? is a pretty ordinary mid-pace rock ballad. Some nice guitar floating around on it though. The chorus is uninspiring, it has to be said. 

Found Out The Hard Way is a lively rocker once again featuring some impressive riffy guitar. It is one of the album's better cuts, for me. C'est La Vie is a sad-sounding number to end Ace's three year, three album recording career. All three of their albums were eminently listenable, but they never really made it, which was a bit of a shame, but listening to the albums, you can sort of hear why.