Archive for November, 2010

Singapore noise

Saturday, November 27th, 2010

I went to an interesting event tonight – it was a noise performance in a Norwegian Seamen’s church on a hill in Singapore. Since there are not many Norwegian Seamen any more, the church is open to all Norwegians, and increasingly also cultural events as well. In this case, two Norwegian musicians flew to Singapore, they jammed with two Singaporean musicians for a week, and then they threw two performances. The first one was yesterday at the Lasalle school of the arts. The event will move next to Rotterdam, where a similar event will happen, and in June of 2011 all of the musicians will reconvene in Oslo to jam again.

Apparently the Lasalle show yesterday afternoon was quite noisy and rambunctious, I wish I could have seen it. Tonight, the gig was a bit more sedate. The show started off with all four musicians building up a vibe. There were two guitarists (including Leslie Low), playing guitars and e-bows and a ton of effects and mixers. Then there was also an iBook dude, as well as a guy who had effects pedals and various objects that he made noise and scratches with. The second set was with Leslie Low and Lasse (the two guys in the unit whose names start with the letter “L”), the guitarist and the noise tools guy, they built up a strange soundscape that included conventional stuff (Leslie playing conventional guitar patterns and singing/moaning) as well a noise fragments and severe feedback. The third set was from the iBook guy and the bearded long-haired Norwegian (?) guitarist. They did some bleeps and blurps, but seemed to be somewhat disconnected. I enjoyed the middle set the most, but the first set was also very exciting – it took me to a special place in my mind, and I couldn’t help grinning from ear to ear. Gorgeous.

Afterwards there were waffles, I had a few and then headed off home.

Here are some pics of the evening:

Leslie Low on guitar/effects

Leslie Low on guitar/effects

Guitar and effects

Guitar and effects

iBook and implements

iBook and implements

Grinding away

Grinding away

Neil Young’s Archives, Part 1

Saturday, November 27th, 2010
NYA

NYA

Neil Young, “Archives Volume 1, 1963-1972″, 11DVD box – I don’t know what you’ve read about Neil Young’s Archives, but it’s probably the coolest thing you can spend your money on. Yes, we know it’s meticulous, and it’s been decades in the making, but the experience of owning a copy is really something unforgettable. First of all, when the 12 discs arrive (10 DVDs and 2 CDs), the box set is really huge. So big you wonder if it will fit on the shelf. The set won a grammy for best art direction on a box set, and it’s easy to see why.

The Box:

You open it from the top, and it has a strange little magnetic tug to it. At the top of the box set is a 236-page book that is tall and thin, it has a fake leather jacket that is really beautiful that shows some sort of forest-at-sunset scene. While the music covers the 1963-1972 period, the book starts in 1945, when Neil is born (actually, even before that, as it shows pictures of Neil’s parents). The book has no text, just lots of pictures, lyrics, doodles, coffee stains and newspaper clippings. It offers a beat-abstract journey through Neil’s life focusing on the substance without all of the vanities.

Next up is a slim poster that is presented like a filing cabinet that contains all of the songs in the set.

After that, there’s the crazy box of 10 discs numbered from zero to nine with neat little magnetic fasteners. The discs are gatefold CDs that generally have pics all over them, with no booklets. We pop the first one in and we see a nice title screen with the promise of “Play All”, “Song Selection”, “More” and “Set Up”. When you select any of the first one you get the songs, when you select the second one you get the filing cabinet, and depending on what you click on you may get various multi-media, you get into the songs, and you might get photo galleries. “Early Years” is a family album. Selecting a song will get you a title card, with all the vital statistics. When you click on the “play” triangle you get a picture of a turntable with the song playing. If you want, you can watch the turntable spin, there are interesting things nearby like sheet music. The rest of the songs on the first CD are like this, although they change a bit – sometimes they are turntables, but they may also be reel-to-reels of various sorts. All of the other CDs contain various multimedia presentations, it will take ages to explore them.

Here are some pics I took of the various discs and their covers:

Neil Young Archives, Disc 0-Disc 3, Outside artwork

Neil Young Archives, Disc 0-Disc 3, Outside artwork

Neil Young Archives, Disc 0-Disc 3, Inside artwork

Neil Young Archives, Disc 0-Disc 3, Inside artwork

Neil Young Archives, Disc 4-Disc 7, Outside artwork

Neil Young Archives, Disc 4-Disc 7, Outside artwork

Neil Young Archives, Disc 4-Disc 7, Inside artwork

Neil Young Archives, Disc 4-Disc 7, Inside artwork

Neil Young Archives, Disc 8 and 9, extra CD/DVD, Outside artwork

Neil Young Archives, Disc 8 and 9, extra CD/DVD, Outside artwork

Neil Young Archives, Disc 8 and 9, extra CD/DVD, Inside artwork

Neil Young Archives, Disc 8 and 9, extra CD/DVD, Inside artwork

Here’s what all the discs look like. Neil tried to get most of them to resemble vinyl somehow.

The faces of all the CDs in the Neil Young Archive Part 1

The faces of all the CDs in the Neil Young Archive Part 1

The final component is a black box/drawer, which contains three items: a notepad from the Whiskey A Go-Go that says “Speaking Pad”, which appears to have on it written in pencil the words:

“IF YOU ARE
A SPEAKING
PAD – WHY DON’T
YOU SAY SOMETHING
?!??!?”, followed by the words written in pen in what looks like Neil’s handwriting “(Uhh?”)”

The box also contains a CD and DVD version of “Sugar Mountain – Live at Canterbury House 1968″, part of the “Neil Young Archives Performance Series”. It also comes with a card that contains a code that is supposed to let you download all of the songs on the collection (since most of the music is on DVDs you can’t rip them to your iTunes), but my code is defective and wouldn’t download – could it be that they aren’t allowing downloads over the US Thanksgiving weekend? Maybe.

…well, sure enough, on the Tuesday after the weekend it worked. Downloadable are 125 songs only. The DVDs have easter eggs of a further 12 songs (hidden tracks), and if you own the Blu-ray version you get even more songs available for download when you want them.

There’s just so much here. The box itself is gorgeous, made to look like something that is classic, tattered, decaying, yet vibrant and defiant. There is even stuff printed on the bottom of the box. Neil’s image is everywhere, as are motifs of his name, down to the name wrapping around the box itself (I guess when there are four boxes you can arrange them together any side you want to form his whole name, giving you a $1,000 Neil Young wall) and the main material is old newspaper clippings. The box top sows a hand of eight cards with pictures of Neil through the years, from a young boy to the Neil Young and After The Gold Rush covers and beyond. Inside the lid is an early ad for a gig starring “Swinging Neil Young and the Squires”.

Slotted in the top of the box is space for the 236-page book, the poster, the 10-disc keeper, and the black box that contains the download card/code, the speaking pad and the Sugar Mountain CD+DVD.

The book:

The 236-page book is a great document: the first 181 pages are images, there are 34 pages of listings of Neil’s catalogued song archive, then 19 pages of credits for the songs, the images in the book, and the box set production. The images portion of the books is without text but full of reproductions of photos, lyrics sheets, newspaper clippings, letters and telexes, souvenirs and other stuff, all with maps of the local region as a background. The catalogue of archived songs is a coffee-stained sheet of all of the songs Neil wrote or recorded (with alternate versions, of course) that indicates which songs went into this project and which didn’t (for example, in addition to the six songs by The Squires that are on this release, there’s seven other songs listed, which were either not recorded or where the tape is lost). At the very end are the full credits of all the songs, full photo credits and explanation of the photos, box production credits, and all sorts of other groovy stuff. I’m glad that they made the decision to not have an essay running throughout, since these things are often just pap (the essays that accompany the otherwise-fantastic Robert Plant and John Lennon solo career retrospective boxes I bought recently are either nothing new or just a bit too sparkly).

Since there’s no essay, the pictures and lyrics sheets tell their own story, the former more than the latter. At the beginning we get a picture of Neil’s maternal grandfather taken in 1910 (notes at the end tell what’s going on in all of the images for interested parties; anyone else can just enjoy the images for what they looks like), then a portrait of his father as a young man in 1937, pictures of Neil’s birth mother, his birth parents’ wedding picture, and then four pages in the first pictures of Neil, four years old wearing a cowboy hat, or fishing in a river, or with his brother Bob. There’s also a clipping from a newspaper about his town in Ontario called Omemee, which is not too far from Peterborough, that shows him holding up a gigantic fish, a muskie, that is as long as he is tall. There’s a school picture that shows a kid with weird eyes and a toothy smile that is distinctly recognisable as the Neil Young we all know and love. There are pics of Neil in school, with his family, on the beach (ha ha), on a dock, fishing, with his dog, with his fellow high school yearbook staffers, or wearing his “Canadian Freeloaders Society” jacket. A picture of his dog by the porch screen door when he is ten years old is particularly compelling for me – my own son is nearly ten himself and the size of the kids is about the same. The first picture of Neil with a guitar is at the time of his junior high school graduation in 1961 when he was 15.

Soon we get music-related pictures, and there’s the first-known picture of Neil’s band The Squires, from December 1962 when Neil had just turned 17. Then there’s the label from their first single, “Aurora”, released in 1963, set lists, early reviews, set lists, cord charts, an audiotape cover, gig announcements that include the Squires along with acts like Judy Scott, Phil Sanchez, Chad Allen, Miss Mickey Allen, and Lenny Breau. There’s a rare photo of Neil with a girlfriend, Pam Smith, a picture of his famous hearse “Mort” from April, 1965 that The Squires toured in, and a great pic of a 20-year-old Neil standing next to a highway marquee that said “Neil Young to nite” in the summer of 1965. There’s a full letter to his mom when he was staying at “Bunny’s mother’s” in Toronto that includes a message in beautiful handwriting from Bunny herself. From page 42 onwards, Neil is in California, and there’s a picture with the Buffalo Springfield from June 1966, with the famous speaking pad and a ticket from the Whisky ‘A-Go-Go. On page 53 there’s a picture of a Buffalo Springfield guitar pick, which the end credits describe as “Buffalo Springfield guitar pick found by Ron Perfit many years ago in Richie Furay’s couch in Colorado.” There are lyrics for an unfinished Buffalo Springfield song “Scarborough High”, other snatches of unpublished lyrics “There’s a Girl I That I Knew”, clippings of a drug bust that nabbed Neil, Paul Furay, James Messina, as well as Eric Clapton, described as “a guitarist for another rock group known as ‘The Creams.’” There’s articles about the Buffalo Springfield’s breakup, then the solo era starts with a picture of his Topanga Canyon house, lyrics sheets for “Birds”, “Last Trip To Tulsa”, and lyrics and chords for a song called “Here We Are In The Years.” The rest of the book is newspaper articles, the odd photo, concert posters or sleeves for singles, and you see Neil’s hair getting real long. Then he’s in a group with Crosby, Stills and Nash with tons of pictures, sometimes with Joni Mitchell, there are concert programmes, and then the Crazy Horse era begins. Nice pictures of Neil playing with Danny Whitten, covers of Time and Life showing the Kent State murders. There is also a column from Neil’s dad Scott Young describing the feeling of seeing his son play Carnegie Hall, along with a concert poster, and an ad showing that season’s Carnegie Hall schedule (Neil Diamond played Carnegie Hall a few weeks before him, Pete Seeger and Judy Collins played separately the weeks after). Then there are also pictures from his new Broken Arrow Ranch, one of them together with Louie Grappi, his forman and the inspiration for the song “Old Man”. There is a series of photos taken in September 1971 when Neil was recording “Harvest” with the Stray Gators, including a particularly cool one of Neil sitting slumped in a wooden chair in a room with sunlight streaming through the windows, with his long scraggly hair and checked flannel shirt where he looks particularly insane, or like a young Kurt Cobain. There’s also a great picture of Neil in a Nashville junkyard on October 2nd 1971 standing next to a mountainous pile of flattened cars (at one point cars are stacked nine high in the cropped picture – don’t know how high up it went).

One complaint about the book – it’s kind of stinky! It has a weird chemical/onion stench to it. I hope it doesn’t give anyone headaches/allergies/cancer. I wonder what it’s coming from?

The music:

Musically, on the DVDs and the MP3 downloads, the story starts with Neil’s first band, the Squires, and two jaunty surf instrumentals that they do, “Aurora” and “The Sultan”. There’s nothing to suggest Neil Young is in this band, but the third song, “I Wonder”, has vocals, and it sounds like an early version of “Don’t Cry No Tears” from Zuma. The first disc warms up with six songs by the Squires, all of which are written by Neil Young (in fact, his first co-writing credit comes in 1966, “Kahuna Sunset”, which he wrote with Stephen Stills, which is a surf instrumental as well). That’s followed by three songs recorded with Comrie Smith (of whom little is known, except that after he played with Neil he also played in the mid-sixties with a Vancouver band called 3′s A Crowd), seven solo songs, and then a bit of the Buffalo Springfield era. The Squires songs sound very old, surf jingles, and the ones with vocals sound pleasant and naive. The Comrie Smith songs are a mixed bag: the first one is a blues rap, the second one is country, and the third one is the jangly guitar rock of the day. The set of songs performed by only Neil Young starts off with the first sign of the Neil we know, demos recorded in New York in December of 1965 of “Sugar Mountain” (when he played it at the Canterbury on November 9th and 10th, 1968 he claimed he’d written the song five years earlier but not played for four-and-a-half years) and “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing” (which he recorded with The Buffalo Springfield) with just Neil on guitar and vocal. That’s followed by four previously unreleased songs. “Runaround Babe” sounds like a very typical Neil Young acoustic jangler, as is “The Ballad Of Peggy Grover”, which sounds not too different from “I Wonder”/”Don’t Cry No Tears” (it incorporates parts of each song). “The Rent Is Always Due” is “I Am A Child” with different lyrics, but has a bit of a Bob Dylan/protest song element to the lyrics and vocal presentation. “Extra, Extra” is a simple acoustic song that’s a bit dull. The entire box has about 16 previously unreleased songs that the public is hearing here for the first time.

Following the early years, there’s Buffalo Springfield songs, either in a Neil Young solo version (“Down, Down, Down” is an early version of “Broken Arrow” – the former was recorded in 1966 and the latter released in 1967). Songs from the Buffalo Springfield albums that are not on the archive are included as “hidden songs”, which means digging through the DVDs to find the clues and clicking on them. There’s a fantastic unreleased song called “Sell Out” that is like a Bob Dylan diss, but has the full-on Neil Young in Buffalo Springfield attack. Not all of Neil’s Buffalo Springfield songs are here from the original versions (he had five on the first album, three on the second, two on the third… we could see where that was going), but among the hidden tracks are plenty of Stephen Stills songs. Left off entirely is “It’s So Hard To Wait”, which he co-wrote with Richie Furay. There’s also an instrumental called “Slowly Burning”, recorded during the Buffalo Springfield years, but with other musicians. “One More Time” is a Neil Young solo song, mellow, played just on an acoustic guitar, but was included on a Buffalo Springfield box set.

The treatment of Neil Young’s proper solo career starts off with “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere”, a promotional single released in 1968 around the time of his first solo album that eventually became the title track of his second release. The promo version is recorded without Crazy Horse, who became his band with the second release – it is shorter and a bit thinner. The set contains three versions of the song – the promo single, the album version, and a live release from the Filmore. It also contains three versions of “Birds”, a song from “After The Gold Rush” that I never particularly liked because of all the yucky harmonizing. An early version is done with guitar and some busy drumming (so-so), there’s the slow B-side of a non-LP single of August, 1969, done as a band number, it is shorter than the eventual version from “After The Gold Rush” (it’s getting there); better yet is the solo acoustic version from Live at the Canterbury House, Ann Arbor, Michigan, November 9th and 10th, 1968, which has no annoying elements (harmonizing, busy drumming, etc).

The set contains four live concerts: the Canterbury House show, Live at the Riverboat, Toronto, recorded February 7-9 1969, Live at the Fillmore East in New York March 6-7, 1970 and Live at Massey Hall, Toronto, January 19th 1971. Each of the concerts comes on its own DVD (or in the case of the Canterbury show, on a CD and a DVD). There are a few “straggler” live songs added, such as Neil singing with Crosby, Stills and Nash at Woodstock, a blistering little number called “Sea of Madness”. There’s also a number that Neil learned in church that he claims he doesn’t know who wrote it, a hokey number called “It Might Have Been” that he played with Crazy Horse at the Music Hall in Cincinnati, February 25th, 1970. Then there are two more numbers with Crosby, Stills and Nash – “Only Love Can Break Your Heart”, which would be released on “After The Gold Rush” on August 31st 1970, performed at the Fillmore East in New York City on June 5th, 1970, and “Tell Me Why”, also from “After The Gold Rush”, performed exactly one month later at the Auditorium Theater in Chicago. There’s also Neil playing “See The Sky About To Rain” solo, with voice and piano, at The Cellar Door in Washington, DC, December 1-2, 1970, and “Heart of Gold” recorded solo with vocal, guitar and harmonica at UCLA on January 30th, 1971.

The concerts are all nice, with plenty of between-song banter. When Neil performs solo (Canterbury House, The Riverboat, Massey Hall) he tends to have spaced-out raps that are either self-pitying or just plain funny, while he tends to also groove with repartee with Crosby, Stills and Nash. With Crazy Horse, like the Fillmore East set, there is nearly no between-song banter at all. And less nonsense – the set is blistering, particularly 12 minutes of “Down By The River” and a 16-minute long concert closer “Cowgirl In The Sand” and (although when the band walks offstage you hear the first snatches of a very anticlimactic “Sweet Baby James” coming over the PA).

The DVDs:

There are 10 DVDs in this set, and opening each one of them is like opening up a birthday present. Most of them provide the same features: Play All, Song Selection, More, Set Up.

  • Pressing “Play All” lets you “watch” the songs being played. If they are singles, you get to see the single spinning on a turntable; if they are album tracks, you get to see the LP, and if they are unreleased you get to see reel-to-reels. The hi fi equipment is of the era (i.e. looking vintage), and there are plenty of close-ups of the spinning vinyl for the vinyl fetishists. Surrounding the hi-fi equipment are pictures and news clippings that are relevant to the song.
  • Pressing “Song Selection” opens up the filing cabinet and you see the songs that are on the disc. If you select one, it gives you the option of seeing Photos (if any are available), Documents (if any are available), Press (if any is available) and Memorabilia (if any is available).  You also see full albums, and if you click on that you get a simple card that describes all of the when, where, why and who. You also get TV spots (video), radio spots (audio), lyrics and some LP summaries.
  • Pressing “More” gives you a sub-sub-menu that shows “Neil Young Biography” (giving the context of the disc and its timeframe), “Web Info” (a dead end; probably this is for Blu-Ray buyers), “Timeline” (an amazing interactive map that spans the wedding of Neil Young’s parents in 1945 to October 1973. Shows global events ((JFK assassination, etc) recording industry events (Les Paul’s first guitar), bands, shows, recordings and all sorts of other milestones.
  • Pressing “Set Up” just gives you info about how to set up your speakers.

The discs tend to start with a menu that shows the image that is on the cover of the disc. Some discs, such as disc 3 and disc 8 (the latter offers to skip the intro, the former doesn’t), start with a short video montage before the menu appears.

Disc 0 – Early Years (1963-1965): “Aurora” and “The Sultan”, watching a vinyl 45 on a turntable, “I Wonder” seen as a reel-to-reel with pics and handwritten sheets. “Mustang” (also unreleased) reel-to-reel with sound reel mixing, pic, trim out, similar for “I’ll Love You Forever”, telegram from CN “(I’m a man and) I can’t Cry”, reel to real, board and three pics. “Hello Lonely Woman”, Neil and Comrie at Concord, Transitorized Stereophonic 550 reel-to-reel on the floor “Casting Me Away From You”, see reel-to-reel close-up with the words “Casting Me Away/ There Goes My Baby / Yesterday’s tomorrows / High heeled sneakers”. The “Sugar Mountain” clip just shows a weird suitcase reel to reel, no pics or clippings, also same for “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing.” To end. “The Rent is Always Due” sounds like “I Am A Child.”

Song selection – song by song, most have photos, documents, press, memorabilia, lyrics, song, it’s endless! Cover from a pic taken May 21st 1965, live at the Westgate High School in Fort William, Ontario (now Thunder Bay, Ontario). Inane photos like the Comrie Smith family car, or Square photos attached of ACS song. Nothing for NYC session of “Sugar Mountain”.

Disc 1 – Early Years (1966-1968): “Flying on the Ground is Wrong” cassette tape. “Burned” a ’45 on a mini turntable. “Out of my Mind” shows LP on turntables, then focuses on Buffalo 25cent piece on needle head. “Down Down Down” unreleased, like “Broken Arrow.” Reel to reel set. “Kahua Sunset”, surf instrumental like the Squires, reel to real, unreleased “Mr Soul” single on turntable with super acetate as source.

Found excerpt from a radio interview. “Flying on the Ground is Wrong” came from Roy Orbison’s “Blue Boys”. 11/12/1969, Neil Young’s birthday, articles, William Morris Agency letter of signing. Radio clip on the similarity between “Mr Soul” and “Satisfaction.” “Mr Soul” on TV clip, Stephen Stills with cowboy hat, Hollywood Palace 4/8/67. Merry Clayton sings on “Expecting to Fly.” Two radio excerpts. Poster for “BS Again”. At your groovy record store now. “Slowly Burning” (it’s a slow instrumental, although the notes tell that some lyrics exist). “One More Sigh” is a beautiful ballad. The “This Is It” montage of three songs from the last concert, picture with weird floating green sound cloud that contorts with the sound levels. “The Buffalo Springfield will not perform unless you go back to your seats,” is repeated over and over. Country song becomes Ravel’s “Bolero”. First solo LP “Neil Young” really had cover as was used on “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.” “Birds rap.” “Wore himself out on overdubbing on the first album.” “Far out, man.” Sample of radio spots for first album. Merry Clayton on “The Old Laughing Lady.””I’m not tryin’ to go on another trip, y’know what I mean?” Groovy. Far out. It”s pretty hip. “Bush Baby” rap.

Disc 2 – Topanga 1 (1968-1969): Reel to reel, “I’ve Been Waiting For You” puts the reel to reel over his eyes from the first album. Candle light in front of reel to reel for “Sugar Mountain.” “Down By The River” close-up on needle, following “the river” of grooves. Different angles of vinyl fetishism. Beach turntable is literally “in the sand”, tea mugs to be seen.

Here are some shots I took of the DVD presentation of audio tracks:

Neil Young Archive Disc 2, "I've Been Waiting For You"

Neil Young Archive Disc 2, “I’ve Been Waiting For You”

Neil Young Archive Disc 2, "I've Loved Her So Long"

Neil Young Archive Disc 2, “I’ve Loved Her So Long”

Neil Young Archive Disc 2, "Cowgirl In The Sand"

Neil Young Archive Disc 2, “Cowgirl In The Sand”

Disc 3 – Live at the Riverboat 1969: Shows a short clip of the outside of the Riverboat, where the entrance shows David Wilcox’s name on marquee. Video clip included shows yearning for days of Riverboat show when he’d get raves over totally new songs. BB King, Janis Joplin and the Mothers of Invention played Toronto that February. Toronto Star February 5th, 1965, Jack Batten. Other reviews from the Peterborough Examiner, The Ottawa Citizen, the Toronto Daily Star, the Toronto Globe and Mail. Nine raps – mentions Sam The Record Man, A and A, CHUM FM. “It was out of sight.” Met up with The Rockets at the Bitter End in New York City right after that. Robin Lane sings beautiful duet vocals with Neil on “Round and Round”. Photo shows original artwork for the “Oh Lonesome Me” LP. “Crosby, Stills, Nash and Berkowitz” rap.

Disc 4 – Topanga 2 (1969-1970): first video – “Sea of Madness”, 9/14/69 Big Sur Folk festival, Neil Young singing at keyboard, band played next to pool, naked hippy men dancing about. “Mr Soul” acoustic with CSNY, “Down By The River” on TV.

Disc 5 – Neil Young & Crazy Horse Live at the Fillmore East 1970: intro shows a street scene as it would have been in front of the Fillmore East on a rainy night before a show. Review mentions “Cinnamon Girl”, but it’s not available on this release. DVD runs through photos of the band from the show. Next best thing to having it on video.

Disc 6 – Topanga 3 (1970): Radio interviewer asks Neil his reaction to being named on Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.” “Ohio” front and back cover, black and white song lyrics on black, bill of rights stuff (press and speech freedom) on white. Video of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young acoustic singing “Ohio”, became great clap-along ten months later (March 1971). “‘Till the Morning Comes” shows After The Gold Rush 8-track in deck.

Disc 7 – Live at Massey Hall 1971: nothing to see – this is a CD.

Disc 8 – North Country (1971-1972): Starts off wit a video of Neil driving around Broken Arrow ranch in a car, looks like that’s Graham Nash in the car with him. “Bad Fog of Loneliness” has James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt sharing vocals with Neil Young. Onstage raps show mic and shimmering green line. Radio raps show radio and shimmering green line. Three pics with Louie Avita (the “old man”) for “Old Man.” Ironic: 1971 single of “Old Man” shows Neil Young looking like the bearded old man he really is now (Italy single only). “Even When I’m happy it sounds like I’m not.” Eleven-minute video of Neil Young and the London Symphony Orchestra doing “A Man Needs a Maid” stuff. Jack Nietsche in his shades. Neil strums “Harvest.” At the end he looks up, realizes it’s done and gives a big smile of relief. Jammin’ in the barn to “Are you Ready For The Country” with Jack Nitzche on slide guitar. Neil Young in 1971 lookin’ like Kurt Cobain, in his flannel shirt. “Alabama” barn video with false starts, without Crosby and Stills backing vocals. Twelve-minute “Words” interview, Neil Young reclined on field drinking Coors and listening to the echo. Spinning golden LP for the “Heart of Gold” segment. “A Man Needs A Maid” shows reel to reel, with 1971-era black and white TV with images from the 12-minute video. A clip of Neil in a record shop finding bootlegs of his show, and confiscating them. Journey Through The Past

Disc 9 – Journey Through The Past A Film By Neil Young: Extra materials show movie listing at #44 in the Variety box office listings of May 15th, 1974 with $20,000 earned in its first weak of release; other movies on the same list are The Sting, Blazing Saddles, The Great Gatsby, The Exorcist, The Last Detail, Papillon, Sleeper, The Conversation, Foxy Brown, Serpico, American Graffiti, The Lords of Flatbush, Deep Throat, The Way We Were, It’s Alive, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz and The Poseidon Adventure! Lots of bio stuff. Starts with sombre music at the opening. Scenes include: driveway / elevator / intros / goofy kid acting like a manager / backstage halls / DJ booth / two Buffalo Springfield songs, “For What It’s Worth” and “Mr Soul” / man sitting on hood of rolling car / Neil Young rolling a joint and smoking it with Graham Nash and Carrie Snodgress / backstage poster pile / CSGN / Fillmore East “Ohio” / Cadillac in desert drops injured bearded graduate / CSNY “Southern Man” / Graduate on Vegas strip / old-timer with a flannel-shirted Neil and Carrie smoking a joint in the forest, eating fruit / Stray Gators jam in barn “Ready For The Country” / Graduate on driveway / lizards walking / card tricks / mouthy kid gambling / graduate at gas bar drinking Coors / Neil Young’s old-timer / Crosby with joint babbling / cow on sunset hill, listening to “Alabama” being played by Stray Gators in the barn / driving through town slowly / “The footprint of the American Chicken” sticker on door / Nixon sings “God Bless America” / Crosby mutters, “and they’re full of shit!” loudly / barge falling down slide into water / climbing car mountain (with Coors in hand) / Stills and Nash walk in field / talking with intense city folk / truck on beach / man walks on beach with car / clansmen rie on beach, through surf / truck drives around post / klansmen attack post / syringe inside Bible / sings “Soldier” / limo arrives / freeze mid-step. Neil Young was editor, executive producers were Ahmet Ertegun, David Gefen and Elliot Roberts. Film was intended to have same vibes as a Neil Young album, he edited it the way he would have edited an LP release.

The timelines of the DVDs tend to hide some interesting material, particularly videos. This is what they include:

Disc 0 - no videos or audio clips

Disc 1 - “Do I have To Come Right Out And Say It?” 3:04 – audio – single

- “For What It’s Worth” – 2:42 – audio – single

- “This Is It” last concert excerpt – 14:29

Disc 2 – No video or audio extras

Disc 3 - No video or audio extras

Disc 4 - Neil Young and Stephen Stills sing “Mr Soul” at Woodstock, August 18th, 1969 – 5:04 – video

- CSNY, “Down By The River”, TV spot, 4:53 – video

- interview segment – 4:05 – Danny Whitten – Rusty old tractor vs well-oiled machine

Disc 5 - backstage bios of Crazy Horse and members, with two secret videos

Disc 6 - “The Loner” and “Cinnamon Girl” at the Cafe Freejon and the Filmore East, June 1970 acoustic solo, talking to hippies in Washington Square Park, tuning and teaching one guy to play “Cinnamon Girl”

- CSNY “On The Way Home” at Filmore East, June 2nd, 1970 – 13:24

Disc 7 - CD

Disc 8 - Confronting bootleggers – 14:42

- On writing “The Needle and the Damage Done”

- “There’s A World” 3:48 – February 28th, 1971

- “Gator Stomp” – 1:37, jeep on driveway, Jack Nitzche on slide guitar, drinkin’ Michelobs

Disc 9 - No extras

Extra DVD - No extras

Regarding easter eggs, someone’s compiled a directory of them here, but I haven’t had the time to investigate this yet. Someone else has provided the following advice:

When you get to the main menu page, toggle your remote around. Push the button to the up,down, east and west postions. This will cause something other then the usual, “song selection”, “more” etc to light up. When that does click that and it will bring up a hidden song or easter egg. On the timeline, click the gray or white pins and you will get information or a video.

Merry Christmas from Uncle Henry and Auntie Amazon

Saturday, November 27th, 2010

Auntie Amazon delivered a generous early Christmas present, and so did Uncle Henry at 2.13.61. Help me, I’m drowning in new music/box sets!!

RPAKRS

RPAKRS

Robert Plant, “Raising Sand” – There’s something really stunning about Robert Plant and Alison Krauss on “Raising Sand,” another album of covers but the first true duets Plant has recorded since “The Battle of Evermore” with Sandy Denny. There’s a supreme focus on those two amazing voices, one of the unlikeliest pairings to produce the most magical surprises since Isobel Campbell hooked up with Mark Lanegan on “Ballad of the Broken Seas.” It’s supremely satisfying that this album slayed at the 2009 Grammy Awards, beating out Coldplay and Radiohead and several other not-as-good-as-Robert-Plant bands to win a bunch of awards. Funny – they won or “Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals” and “Best Country Collaboration with Vocals”. Only one song is not a cover, that’s “Please Read The Letter”, a song Plant wrote with Jimmy Page for their “Walking Into Clarkdale” release of 1998.

The album starts off with both voices singing the sombre “Rich Woman,” then there’s the stunning and majestic “Killing The Blues,” with its superb slide guitar and a very laid back country feel. That’s followed with “Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us”, which is another first on a Robert Plant album – a song sung by someone else! (Plant shows up only for a few backing vocals. Things get reversed in the next song, “Polly Come Home”, which slows things down to near Low-levels (and, yes, Plant does cover two Low songs on his next album… sounds like he’d already been taking Low lessons). “Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On)” is an Everly Brothers song that sounds a bit out of place here (can Alison Krauss rock? Robert Plant sure can…). “Through The Morning, Through The Night” is a pure country song, mainly sung by Krauss, but Plant comes in regularly. “Please Read The Letter” is a nice enough song, but it is also just a bit mushy. There’s nothing traditional or classic about this song, although both vocalists do a great job giving it life. “Trampled Rose” is a Tom Waits song from the 2004 “Real Gone” CD, and it sounds like it, with its spooky bone-rattling rhythms, but then Alison Krauss’ sweet voice comes in. Plant gives the whole song to her, and he doesn’t sing on it at all. “Fortune Teller” is an upbeat and silly song that sounds a bit out of place on the album, Plant handles it by himself, although there are some Krauss backing vocals. A lot of bands have covered this song, including The Who, The Stones, The Hollies, etc. “Stick With Me Baby” is a beautiful country style song sung between Plant and Krauss. Stunning. “Nothin’” is a very heavy song, with grungy guitars zazzling it up, making it very different from the sombre Townes van Zandt original. Plant sings this one without Krauss in a mumbling high tone. Great spooky fiddle comes in, making this sound a bit like a Dirty Three song. Grrr!! “Let Your Loss Be Your Lesson” starts off like a Jimi Hendrix song, then it melds into a sassy Alison Krauss country number. Yee haw! “Your Long Journey” is a beautiful duet that closes the release.

Incidentally, I gathered the originals of these songs. They can be found here.

RPBOJ

RPBOJ

Robert Plant, “Band of Joy” – A difficult follow-up to the Grammy award-winning “Raising Sand” (and Plant and Krauss apparently did try to make “Raising Sand II”), this time around we see Plant releasing yet another covers album – he only has writing credits on one song, besides a few where he credits himself for “arrangement.” The album is somewhat uninspiring, although the two Low covers (“Silver Rider” and “Monkey”) are brilliant (and you wonder what they would have sounded with Krauss, although Patty Griffin does a great job.

“Angel Dance” is a fun rocker, while the Richard Thompson cover “House of Cards” slows things down somewhat, with sassy backing vocals. “Central Two-O-Nine” is a rustic ole banjo-pickin’ bluegrasser, with old man baritone keeping it warm on the porch of the ole shack on the hilltop. Yup. “Silver Rider” is the longest song on the album, and in many ways a standout. There is a loud, grungy riffage, and the song is a stunning duet that needs to be blasted. Plant was born to sing this song, one of his top 10 solo works. It’s slow and trudging, slower and more trudging perhaps than even the original song by Low, from “The Great Destroyer” release, as Plant’s is over one minute longer; the Low version also has louder vocal harmonies (which Plant replaces with crunchy guitars – nice). “You Can’t Buy My Love” is a spirited old rocker, and “Falling In Love Again” is a gloomy crooner. “The Only Sound That Matters” is a beautiful ballad with slide guitar, it sounds great and groovy. “Monkey” is a beautiful version of the Low song, with great swooning guitars. Low’s version goes for bombast, getting away from the mellower than death sound, while Plant’s version keeps it sombre.

Plant follows up the haunting “Monkey” with the hokey “Cindy, I’ll Marry You Someday”, a song that Nick Cave has also covered. Plant does it bluegrass, and it builds up slowly in intensity. Then there’s another Townes Van Zandt, his second in two albums, “Harm’s Swift Way”. This is reportedly the last song ol’ Townes ever wrote, and Plant gives it a jazzy rendition, a bit different than Townes probably would have done it. “Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down” is a traditional, done in a very spooky and swampy ole way, it is another of the album’s standout tracks. Groovy. Last song on the album is “Even This Shall Pass Away”, a spare tune that just has Plant’s voice with some percussion, and then, later, some weird bass groanings. Pretty fun and funky electronic moaning closer.

This page originally contained a review of the Rolling Stones’ Get Yer Ya-Yas Out box set. That review can now be read at My big bad Rolling Stones page.

20YOD

20YOD

20 Years of Dischord, 3CD set of songs from 1980 to 2000, both previously released and unreleased, with downloadable songs from 2001-2006, as well as six videos – This wonderful box set comes with a 134-page booklet full of information and photos (one page of text on a band, with a facing page of a photo/photo collage of the band, for 48 bands; at the end, pictures of the 132 releases of the first 20 years, a list of split-label releases, then staff photos), a compilation from the official releases, a compilation of unreleased tracks and other rarities, along with six video clips. The front cover shows Ian MacKaye and Jeff Nelson sitting in the Dischord office in 1980 then again in 2000 – it’s kind of like the Beatles in the 1962-1966 and 1967-1970 compilation albums; Jeff has lost more hair than Ian has, that’s for sure. There is also a code to download a batch of songs from the next 10 years of Dischord history (2001 to 2006, or so).

In the intro, Ian and Jef’s talk about the set itself and its difficulties in finding the material (i.e. tracking down devices that could play some of the obscure formats that the original tapes had been recorded onto, etc), while Henry Rollins’ intro sets the scene, from the late ’70s (Bad Brains, the Enzymes, the Extorts). DIY releases were unthinkable at the time, but then there was Skip Groff’s early support of young bands, along with Don Zientara’s Inner Ear studio (where the early Bad Brains shows had been recorded). First two bands, the Teen Idles, and the Untouchables, represent brothers Ian and Alex MacKaye respectively, and the bands playing on the first Dischord show (discs 01 and 07 respectively). The story of State of Alert – Henry taking the remains of the Extorts to form a band. Minor Threat and SOA debuted at the same gig with the Untouchables, Black Market Baby and Bad Brains (!!!!). Minor Threat – Lyle was new to guitar (formerly a vocalist with the Extorts), Ian was new to vocals (formerly a bassist from the Teen Idles). A five-pice from fall ’82-June ’83. Reunited, perhaps because they were so successful. Void first non-DC band. Youth brigade had a very different, near-industrial sound, bass-driven. Government Issue very funny, rock and roll bullshit, first Dischord band to release on a different label. Scream from Virginia, more advanced musically. Iron Cross primitive, early oi! band, few songs. Red C standard punk, first female member for a Dischord band. They only appear otherwise only on the Flex Your Head compilation. Brendon Canty debuts in Deadline. Skewbald/Grand Union sounds like Minor Threat, but not as good. Gray Matter jangly electro pop before it speeds up to punk. Rites of Spring “Drink Deep”: bass-led, Guy Piciotto vocal intense, liked slowed-down Suicidal Tendencies. Beefeater has a thin guitar sound, mixes funk and ska, Tomas from Switzerland (and in Red C), metal poser drummer, mixes in metal sounds, they also did “No More Apartheid.” The Snakes’ goofy “Snake Rap, released on “Discard Records,” Jeff had Adult Swim Records. Dag Nasty, Brian from Minor Threat (he was in a Samhain precursor). Embrace very dogmatic “Money”. Ian and Faith. Soulside, formerly Lünchmeat. “Egg Hunt” is Ian and Jeff trying it again, sounds like Fugazi, last time together on a recording. One Last Wish is Guy and Brendan, shoegazer-ish, 3 Rites of spring guys and 1 Embrace guy, gut-dominated, they only did six shows in four months before breaking up. Fire Party a girl band with Amy Pickering, first Dischord girl band, haunting like Siouxsie Sioux. Ignition like a weak Minor Threat. Three plays a great tune with snotty vocals, initially had Ian and Jeff, then Jeff left, but it has the Gray Matter guys. Shudder To Think plays with soft vocals. Happy Go-Licky does an instrumental, crazy stuff, like Sonic Youth, very minimal. Fugazi. Lungfish, which is Jane’s Addiction-like, ex-DC, Baltimore, 22 years old, rare concerts, repetition of playing the same song over and over again, Fidelity Jones has organ and funk. Nation of Ulysses has Brendan Canty’s brother Nathan on drums, playing fast, aggressive punk, but not tough or full loud. Holy Rollers – scratchy and groovy, groovy funk, lotsa changes. Jawbox groovy, bass-driven, grinding. Good ‘n’ melodic ‘n’ aggressive. Severin – melodic bagpipe and singalong sound. The High Back Chairs – Lush-like rocker, crunchy, bassy, REM vocals, good mix, Jeff Nelson’s last performance. Autoclave – sweet girl stuff. Was a DisKord (Dischord plus K! Records) release. Circus Lupus – roaring punk, Joan Jett produced (first time since The Germs). Branch Manager – funky Minutemen-like tight and roaring. Slant 6 – girly funky catchy. Hoover – dressed like The Band. Groaning and like Fugazi, but with horns. Funky, cool. Trust – crunchy, poppy, Little Rock AR band, la la la la las, poppy, catchy. Smart Went Crazy – weird Pavement-like, very un-hardcore, angular, cello! Ian versus Jeff again on releasing this, Jeff likes weird bands. Good groove on solo. Proggy Faith No More-ish. The Crownhate Ruin – Tool-like metallic complex structures, two Hoovers and one… The Warmers – Alex MacKaye five years after Ignition (1994), sparse and groovy intense. The Make-up – Cramps-like, Kingmen copy with Michelle from Olympia. “Gospel yeh-yeh.” Bluetip – sparse, angular, big chorus. Farquot – funky, goovy, stop-start, angular, roaring, plopping. Q And Not U – energetic alternative music, angular guitars and weird, crazy drumming. 20th anniversary Dischord Records dogmatic crisis, arrogant last line. Nice flipping through the gallery of album covers.

That was all what was on the first two disc, which are samples of 20 years of Dischord releases, with an accompanying booklet. Then there’s the third CD, which contains all the rare and unreleased stuff, which is what you’d be after if you’d been following the label for years. The songs are mainly very very good. The first track is The Teen Idles’ “Get Up and Go”, a much longer version than the one that kicks off the first CD, which was on the official release. “Deadhead” is a snooty anti-hippy song with a lot of energy (“I’ll be grateful when you’re dead”), that has a weird acoustic bit in the middle before it kicks off into the stratosphere. The Untouchables’ “Stepping Stone” is that band’s version of a song that everybody in DC covered in the day, this one sounds like it’s driven by the bass guitar. The State of Alert song “Draw Blank” is from an early session of the band, one that was abandoned for a stronger later session that the band funded themselves. These guys were in a hurry, the song is only 39 seconds long. They still manage to squeeze in a guitar solo. Nice. There are two Minor Threat songs, a live verson of “Straight Edge” from December 13th 1980, the first song that they ever played live, and “Understand”, the only unreleased Minor Threat song that came with lyrics. It’s rough, and the guitar sound is uncharacteristically weak, but it’s got all the catapulting energy you’d expect of a Minor Threat song. Government Issue’s “Snubbing” is a savage punk anthem with sharp guitars and sloppy vocals. “Asshole” is one of three versions of the song that the band recorded, but the one on this CD has Ian Mackaye singing. Great guitar, fantastic vocals. It sounds like a new Minor Threat song. That’s followed with another Minor Threat song, “Asshole Dub”, being a reggae version of Government Issue’s “Asshole”, it’s good fun. I mean, it’s really really good fun. You’ll love this song to pieces. The Rozzlyn Rangers song/anthem is a silly piece of work that has a sort of weird honky tonk feel to it. Void follows with “Black, Jewish and Poor”, a savage song just over one minute long, and “Authority”, two takes in nearly the same time! These guys really were in a hurry!! These songs are amazing, constant tromelling and screaming. The first version is 0:26, the second one is 0:48. Madness. Scream’s “Search For Employment” is pure energy. I can’t believe these guys played this well and stayed in tune. Beautiful. Deadline’s “No Revolution” is not that great, and Faith’s “No Choice” is snooty and sloppy, it’s good fun. Marginal Man’s “Manipulator” is sweet and moody, it builds nicely with great sounds and feeling, nearly Middle Eastern in some ways, before it builds into a real punk song; the lead-out is sweet and sexy and a bit proggy even, just a great song. You can’t listen to the song just once. Dag Nasty’s “All Ages Show” is sort of nearly like a Naked Raygun catchy tune, it’s great. There are two Fugazi tracks: “The Word”, an outtake from the Margin Walker EP, it was one of the first Fugazi songs, but it never went anywhere. Too bad, it’s a great song and sounds just like those early Fugazi songs that you remember that made you want to burst out of your dorm room and catapult through the sky. Real beauty, it’s just full of complex parts and full production. How could this song not been considered good enough to put on an official release? Astounding. It’s the only song on this CD that is over four minutes long. “Burning” is a live track and naturally it has to be sheer fun! Shudder To Think’s “Drop Dead, Don’t Blink” is a great hunk of burning pop punk, very catchy. Circus Lupus does “We Are The One”, an Avengers cover that was intended for a tribute album, it’s a good scratchy cover that is a bit cleaner than the original but with a bit less energy. Slant Six’s “Are You Human” is sweet and beautiful Grrl roque, very fun and sexy and funny, in a strange way. Rock ‘n’ roll! The final track is an “interview” of DC punks, with Ian’s voice standing out the whole way through, he talks about all the new and young bands… of course, now they’re old and old. Weird and stupid, but funny in retrospect, especially to hear the passion. “Gene Simmons, 24.” I listen to this and I just want to order about half the Dischord catalogue. Or all of it! “Hi, Ian… one of each, please!”

But wait, there’s more – the disc actually contains six live clips, and boy are they great! The Teen Idles were recorded on October 31st 1980 playing “Deadhead”, there’s a young Ian Mackaye on bass. Of course, it’s pure anarchy, more kids on the “stage” than in the audience, the clip is in primitive technicolor (1:48). S.O.A. plays “Draw Blank” at dc space on December 18th 1980, even at that young age Henry’s already got his trademark Rollins squat and pose. Half of the audience are wearing bit S.O.A. t-shirts as they pogo all the way to hell. The shot is grainy, smoggy ‘n’ black ‘n’ white, but hey – it’s history (0:42)! The Untouchables play “If The Kids Are United”, a Sham 69 cover, at the same gig, and a very young Alec Mackaye, brother of Ian, freaks right out (3:09). The Faith played “You’re X’d” on June 25th 1982, lots of intense yelling and screaming, the audience doesn’t seem to know what to make of them (1:15). At the same show, Deadline played “Outside The Law”, three guys in white shirts (yay). The song builds up slowly, but then tries to get pretty intense (Void plays “Who Are You” on July 1st 1983, is insanity, lead singer John Weiffenbach comes out in his green shorts, does three jumps where he touches his toes mid-air, and then the song kicks off. The show is utter chaos, with the kids in the audience jumping all over each other, and them singing the lyrics as often as John does. At the end, the guitarist does a little Jimmy Page-like thing, very un-punk… but that’s okay, they later became a metal band anyway (2:19). Most of these songs and more are available on YouTube, by the way…

But wait, there’s even more – since it’s Dischord, the value never ends, and you get a code to download the next ten years of Dischord stuff (they should call this “30 Years of Dischord”). It’s with these songs that you really hear how much the label has changed. El Guapo contains nary a guitar, it sounds like silly synth-pop, but it’s clean, it’s pure, and it’s good. “The Licensee” by the Channels sounds like Helmet at first, but you get thrown off later by the female backing vocals (Helmet meets the B-52s?). Black Eyes’ “Speaking In Tongues” is sheer madness, great insane vocals with funky drumming, really insane in an Insane Clown Posse sort of way, but very indie. The Aquarium’s “White House” has a sort of hockey arena anthem-feel to it, and is very keyboard/bass/vocal-driven. Unique. French Toast’s “Off Center” is a freaky bass-driven song with fun female vocals that grows in its craziness. “Reflector”, by Antelope, is another guitar-less bass and vocal-driven song, what’s up with this? The song is okay, but nothing very exciting. “Sissy Spacek” by Edie Sedgwick is a great song about Carrie and who-knows-what-else; again, it’s electronic beats, bass and vocal, but its wild and beautiful. “And that pig’s blood came down in a red flood.” I love it. The CD also offers “Me And You”, the other Egg Hung song (they only recorded two songs, and the other one is on another CD in this set). The song is atmospheric, super-produced, but with loving guitars and great beats an echoes. Supreme! “Around The Corner” by The Evens is a beautiful bass and drum and vocal-driven song, mostly sung by Amy Farina but with baritone guitarist Ian Mackaye providing backing vocals. Funky and smooth, a really fun number. “Solid Ring FIghers” by Soccer Team is a sweet and funky pop song with really great drumming and a strong woovering bass sound. Woooooo!!!!! Henry Rollins raves about The Soccer Team and The Evens in Fanatic 2. “It’s Good To Have Met You” by The Pupils is pretty dull and slow (one voice, one guitar and something that sounds like a rail crossing bleating on and on… interesting. The lyrics are sad, I wonder what the story behind them is). “Prison Song (A Love Song Called Will You Come Visit Me In Prison)” by Beauty Pill is a very nice, very beautiful love song that’s sweetly funny, nice acoustic guitar, pretty female vocal, very un-Dischord. By now, Dischord is totally un-Dischord, and it has been for a very long time. And why not? “Via Nomentana (version)” by Fugazi bassisst Joe Lally is a really fantastic, melodic, lyrical song, intense in its own way, with nice bass parts (of course). This song has a weird Velvet Underground feel to parts of it, I wonder how he did that. “The Perfect Target” by Medications is a sorta boring rocker that manages to get a bit angular and Naked Raygun-ish at times too. “Not Me Now” by the Capital City Dusters is a sweet little song that is full of pop energy and sneering SHeavy-like vocals. Love it!

NYLN

NYLN

Neil Young, “Le Noise” – Neil Young’s latest album is a collaboration with Daniel Lanois, and it arrives in a simple gatefold paper CD casing that contains a disc in one of its sleeves and a simple lyrics sheet, printed front and back and folded into quarters. The whole thing is in black and white, silver and brown, with the only splash of primary colour a tiny little Canadian flag on the CD itself. It’s a true solo album, with Neil the only one who gets credits (Guitar and vocal: Neil Young), although apparently Daniel Lanois added some noise and keyboard flourishes; there is not a single drum sound on the whole disc. Opening track “Walk With Me” opens with feedback-drenched guitar and the echoey vocals of Neil shouting “I feel your love, I feel your strong love”. “Sign of Love” is a droner, and “Someone’s Going to Rescue You” chills it out a bit, with Neil singing in his famous falsetto, letting it warble and break at times. It’s pretty raw and sounds like it was recorded in an afternoon, even if it probably wasn’t. Wait, did I just hear a bit of background vocals? Neil accompanying himself? “Love and War” is a beautiful, very mellow song with heartbreaking lyrics. “Seen a lot of young men go to war and leave a lot of young brides waiting/I’ve watched them try to explain it to their kids and seen a lot of them failing/They tried to tell them and they tried to explain why daddy won’t ever come home again.” It confesses about his feelings about approaching these tough themes, trying to sing about what is right. The best song on the CD is probably the sarcastic “It’s an Angry World”. “It’s an Angry World, and everything is going to be all right, yeah, it’s an angry world.” Great riff, cool noise. “The Hitchhiker” is storytelling, where Neil tells his life story, mainly his history of drug use (grass, hash, amphetamines, valium and cocaine), ending with the words “I don’t know how I’m standing here, living in my life/ I’m thankful for my children, and my faithful wife.” “Peaceful Valley Boulevard” is an odd little acoustic number about the killing of the buffalo that is somewhat reminiscent of Pocahontas. Disc closer “Rumblin’” is just that.

The 8-song CD runs nearly 38 minutes.

GS

GS

KMFDM, “Greatest Shit” -I don’t remember the last time I bought a CD based on the album cover alone, but you have to admit… this is a pretty cool album cover. It’s been several years since I’ve given KMFDM any attention, and it’s been too long – they’re an amazing band. Nearly every song on this compilation is raucous, and there several surprises and standouts (WWIII, DIY, Tohuvabohu, Hau Ruck, Dogma, Free YouR Hate, Terror, Adios, Trust, Attack/Reload, Sturm & Drang, Never Say Never), and some old favorites (Megalomaniac, Virus, Light, Godlike – especially Godlike – and A Drug Against War). Great, great, great stuff. Some of the songs lay it on a bit thick with the backing vocals, and not every singer can live up to the En Esch vocals (although Nicole Blackman does a good job on Dogma).

Besides the cover, there are really no other extras, and the booklet doesn’t contain too much – it has a two-page essay that is pretty flattering of the band, i.e. it reads like PR:

After more than 25 years, KMFDM remains a musical entity to be reckoned with. Through relentless musical exploration and reinvention, they have continued to top themselves. Sascha and his band of misfits have stood the test of time. As can plainly be seen, the self-proclaimed fathers of industrial rock show no signs of stopping.

Barf. But the song credits that contain some pretty funny little surprises if you read them all, and album cover art. The sense of humor is intact, they call the first CD of their greatest hits package “Würst”, which means “sausage”, but it sounds like “worst”. Get it – greatest hits, the best, and the worst? Even “Greatest Shit” is a play on “Greatest Hits.” Of course, it’s all good… but none of it beats that great cover.

DBSTS

DBSTS

David Bowie “Station to Station” 3CD set – I am a sucker for box sets. I didn’t need to get this so badly, since I am quite familiar with ever second song on this CD (“Golden Years”, “TVC 15″ and “Wild Is The Wind” would be on any Bowie compilation or greatest hits release; “Station To Station”, “Word On A Wing” and “Stay” are new songs to me). But the two-CD concert that is on this is stunning, and Bowie’s touring band is amazing! For the studio release, there are seven musicians (including three guitarists – Bowie himself is credited with “vocals, guitars, tenor and alto saxophone, Moog and mellotron”), whereas live he only sang, working instead with two guiarists, Carlos Alomar, who had been in the studio band, and new guitarist Stacey Heydon. They also toured without a piano player. The tour was called the Isolar Tour, but it was quickly referred to as the Station To Station Tour, or the White Light Tour. The booklet for the box is okay – a short opening essay by Cameron Crowe tries to paint a picture, but eventually confesses “The details of the recording remain enigmatic to this day. The artist himself has little to say about it. When pressed in a 2006 interview, he remembered few details from the sessions.” Great. What we do know is that this is a period in his life when he was using a lot of drugs, was getting paranoid, encountering “spiritual frenzy”, producing demos for Iggy Pop, filming “The Man Who Fell To Earth” for Nicholas Roeg, and preparing for a 64-date tour of Canada, the US, Central Europe and the UK that took him to 49 cities in four months. Wow.

While the booklet may be a bit skimpy on details of this difficult and creative period for Bowie, the outside source-referenced Wikipedia entry on the Station to Station does provide more details:

According to biographer David Buckley, the Los Angeles-based Bowie, fuelled by an “astronomic” cocaine habit and subsisting on a diet of peppers and milk, spent much of 1975-76 “in a state of psychic terror”.[3] Stories – mostly from one interview, pieces of which found their way into Playboy and Rolling Stone – circulated of the singer living in a house full of ancient-Egyptian artefacts, burning black candles, seeing bodies fall past his window, having his semen stolen by witches, receiving secret messages from The Rolling Stones, and living in morbid fear of fellow Aleister Crowley aficionado Jimmy Page.[1] Bowie would later say of L.A., “The fucking place should be wiped off the face of the earth”.

The CD set also includes some nice pictures in the booklet, and there’s a timeline of events from May 1975 to May 1976. It’s all Bowie all the time – the only picture of the back is an audience view from the drum riser that shows everyone’s backs (it’s a great shot, though, and is also used across the 2CD inner gatefold. No lyrics, but some nice big colour photos of Bowie on cards.

The opening track of the studio album, with its long 3:20 buildup (the whole song is 10:15) is mesmerizing, as are the opening lyrics “The return of the Thin White Duke…”, it foes on and on and is a lot of fun with its funky grooves, its piano, its touches of electronica, and a superb Bowie vibe. “Golden Years” is the good retro fun that we all know and love. “Word on a Wing” is glorious Bowie operatic vocalosity, while “TVC 15″ rocks and rolls, with its goofy six opening “oh-oh-oh-oh-oh”. Probably the funkiest song on the release is “Stay”, with its groovy percussion and its two minute-long closing guitar jam-out (and its lack of saxophone – thank you, David, for showing restraint here). “Wild Is The Wind”, the emotional Nina Simone cover that closes the studio release, needs no introduction.

The concert, like the album it supports, opens with “Station To Station”, the band wringing it out here to nearly 12 minutes long. It openings to blistering feedback guitar, before phasing into the long opener we’re familiar with, stretched now to 4:30. The song is a funk fest, with the last three minutes a nice jam-out. It’s the longest song in the concert. “Suffragette City”, “Fame”, the “Life on Mars” and “Five Years” medley, “Panic in Detroit”, a boring version of “Changes” with Bowie cutting up in the intro, Diamond Dogs”, a not-so-great “Rebel Rebel” and “The Jean Genie” are pretty conventional versions. “Panic in Detroit” (with its not-so-great drum solo, but a nice guitar solo and a bit of a bass solo) makes it the better version of the older songs, the end of which Bowie introduces the band, adding “a Canadian, but a guitarist nonetheless, Stacey Heydon”. Ha ha ha… “Stay”, with its wicked guitar funk is stupendous, and the long outro is a vision to behold. It’s also the closest David Bowie will get to writing a new theme song for Shaft. The Velvet Underground’s “Waiting For The Man” is a bit odd in a funkified version, but it’s good fun nonetheless, with a bit of lyrical improv to spice it up a bit. “TVC15″ is interesting with its party atmosphere in the intro, but that and the rest of the songs on the discs, “Diamond Dogs”, “Rebel Rebel” and “The Jean Genie” are all pretty straight forward.

MCTS

MCTS

Mastodon, “Crack the Skye” CD + DVD – “Oblivion” starts off like a Metallica song, then bursts out into Mastodon, not really going anywhere interesting. It’s a catchy song, though, and the guitar solo is very ice. “Divinations” starts off with some “country yokel” ukelele, but then gets moving quickly into the standard “100 riffs” formula that Mastodon has, going quickly into scary lyrics turf, but the song is not murderous. It is also the shortest on the CD, and has a zinging guitar solo. “Quintessence” has the killer opening riff that you’d expect from Mastodon, and it moves in, but doesn’t get fun. It is a boring pop song. “The Czar: I. Usurper II. Escape III. Martyr IV. Spiral” is a dirge of sorts, and it boils in the midst of kooky Russian imagery for what seems like a long time, but then it gets insanely good as the movement of the song shifts higher and higher. Great sound, great production, great riffs!!! The song grinds on and on, always pushing a hard course. “Ghosts of Karelia” opens with a great riff and thunderous drumming, and it just keeps up throughout. “Crack The Sky”, the title track, blasts open with those arpeggio riffs, grooving along, then going into a regular rock song (nothing too ferocious here, right?). Hearing space vocals – is this Mastodon or Daft Punk? Interesting, though! “The Last Baron” is a very long song of 13 glorious minutes, good stuff. But isn’t this band suddenly a bit too melodic, and a bit too un-scary? But the song is great in its insanity, which manifests itself deep into the last song, with its stunning moods. It’s the best song on the album.

The DVD shows the making of “Crack The Skye” and you get to find out a bit about what the band’s all about. Guitarist Bill Kelliher is a major Star Wars fan, has a room full of the figurines (still in their boxes) that he gives a brief tour of. He also often wears Star Wars t-shirts. The other guitarist Bent Hinds, who’s a bit goofy/loopy since his brain hemorrhage (he’s also the only potbellied rockstar that I can think of) is a major Creature From The Black Lagoon fan, and tours his Creature swag. They talk about the difference in the recording process – “Blood Mountain” had been recorded over two months of torture when the band was living in a hotel room in Seattle, “Crack The Skye” was recorded in their home town of Atlanta. Drummer Brann Dailor is a Cadillac fan, looks bored in sessions. Rehearsed album in their jam space before entering the studio, they were more prepared lyrically and vocally. They now have the money to invest in equipment, love old gear. Played a 1964 Stratocaster through a 1968 purple Marshall JMP 100 watt head. Brann has a cool black velvet Bruce Lee painting, also a black velvet sad clown. He talks seriously about Skye, his sister, who committed suicide when she was 14 and he was 15, the album is in a way named after her, but is not about her. In a stupid sequence, he starts to tell what the album is about, but then turns on a lawnmower and pushes it around, so of course you can’t hear a thing. “Oblivion” is about leaving your body, going out too far, getting burned, getting lost, a metaphor for leaving home, a metaphor for the band about leaving and letting the soul ascent as it goes near the sun. “Sometimes you just have to close your eyes, grab your balls, and think of the 1970s.” The band talks about how they wanted to make a prog rock album, and sure enough, some parts of it sound very Yes-like.

TTAB

TTAB

Talk Talk, “Asides Besides”, 2CD set -The two-disc set has a very clever title, as the first disc covers the A-sides of the band’s series of 12-inch singles and remixes of their well-known songs. They are mostly kind of silly, and don’t usually improve on the originals (exceptions are “My Foolish Friend”, the “It’s My Life” extended version that is just as luscious as the original, “Living In Another World”, the freakout that is “Pictures of Bernadette”, which was a B-side of the “The Colour Of Sprint” track “Give It Up”, and the long drone of “Happiness is Easy”). It is often quite jarring to hear these great songs dancing cheek to cheek with in-your-face Eurodisco beats. But what can you do? Those were the times, and that’s what people wanted to hear. At the same time, it’s interesting to note that they didn’t entertain extended remixes after their third album, which is when Hollis returned to his jazz/experimental roots (and when his record company gave him the money to do so).

The second disc is the B-sides and they start off a bit slowly, with demo versions of the songs we know from the first two albums, such as “Talk Talk”, “Mirror Man”, and “Candy”. They are not too different, except that the vocals are a bit different, the pace of “Talk Talk” is less frantic, and “Mirror Man” has cheezier new wave keyboards. The first real moment of interest comes with “Call In The Night Boy PIano Version)”, a dramatic reading of this song, accompanied by a spongy bass, with a lot of noodling; stellar vocal renderings in this one, really amazing, and a sign of things to come. That’s followed by some regular versions of songs from their early period, such as synth-popper “Striker Up The Band” and “Dum Dum Girl”, as well as oddities such as “Question”, with its “la la la la la” melodies, and a sweet piano version of “Call In The Night Boys”, as well as “Again A Game… Again”, which is a strong pop song and would have fit right in on any of the band’s first two albums. Eventually, we’re hit with the jackpot that anyone who buys this is waiting for – some of the post-rock magic that Talk Talk is infamous for, in the form of wonderful fragments of the experimental sessions of “The Colour of Spring” and “Spirit of Eden”. These do show up in the form of “It’s Getting Late In The Evening”, which was a B-side of the “Colour of Spring” single “Life Is What You Make It” of early 1986, and “For What It’s Worth”, the B-side of “Living In Another World”, a single from the same album that was released in March, 1986. “It’s Getting Late in the Evening” is a (nearly) drumless keyboard-a-thon, with piano and Mark Hollis’ hauned, floating voice that swells and sways into a burbling ocean of swirling organ sounds; the flood surges, but then eventually disappears. “For What It’s Worth” is the more appealing of the two songs, with attractive keyboard hooks melodies and Hollis’ patented laid back moan that quivers with emotion. “Pictures of Bernadette” is a pretty regular rocker, while “John Cope” is another moody, melancholic piece with the well-known shuffle beat, the groovy keyboards, and the Hollis moan. Superb.

EBDFEC

EBDFEC

Earth, “A Bureaucratic Desire For Extra-Capsular Extraction” – Love the title; just as our own planet was formed over a million millenia to become what it is today, the great band Earth did not emerge fully-formed to record their masterpiece Earth 2, they clearly had to have a first album. This, now, is the re-release of their first drone recordings, complete with an opening essay by mastermind Dylan Carlson, writing in May 2010 about the early pre-grunge days of the band in October 1990. Noting that the band started out with two bass players (one of whom was Melvins/Thrones/High on Fire bassist Joe Preston), a guitarist and a drum machine, Carlson mentions that the troupe contained “a certain singer of a soon to be well known pop band”, who was actually Kurt Cobain of Nirvana (making this probably the first time Nirvana has ever been referred to as a pop band – although, compared to Earth, maybe they are). The track listing is on the cover. There’s a freaky word-collage on four of the inside pages. The CD label is half in Chinese. Oh my God… how weird?!?!?!?!?!?!

The first two songs, “A Bureaucratic Desire For Revenge” parts one and two (the title comes from Bergman’s “Hour of the Wolf”) are dirge-like, but sound odd with a drummer. The second one even introduces horrible screams and odd chanting, some of it provided by lead dude Dylan. It sure is like nothing I’ve ever heard before. “Ourobos is Broken”, at 18:13 the longest song on the disc, is nearly Godflesh – like in parts, with its broad chords and mechanical drumming (both bands formed around the same time), although the drumming fades out after the first six minutes and it becomes sort of Earth 2-ish. Wow – long and boring and exciting! “Geometry of Murder” is even more Godflesh-like, with its blazing guitar riffs, but the drums are too subdued, not as crisp. But that’s okay!!! “German Dental Work” is slow and plodding, “Divine and Bright” (which is “a love song written to the H-bomb”) is poppy and plodding and features moans by Kurt and screams by Dylan. It’s a very short song, only 2:58. “Dissolution I” is your regular drone beauty. I love those cold, autumn days.

Blast it in your earphones, or through your expensive sound system – play this music LOUD!!!

SDTDAFTAT

SDTDAFTAT

Sandy Denny, Trevor Lucas and friends, “The Attic Tracks” – I was very happy to get this album, or at least I was happy right up until I realised that they have now released a 19-disc career retrospective of Sandy Denny. Holy smokes!!!!! But I guess if anyone deserves it, it’s Sandy. All of the Sandy Denny songs on this are also in the box (but none of the Trevor Duncan songs are).

This disc was issued in 1995 by Raven Records with the note that “royalties generated by the sale of this disc will be used by the Estate of Sandy Denny and Trevor Lucas to fund the education and/or welfare of their children and Trevor’s widow,” and that it was released with the co-operation of Island Records International and PolyGram Australia. Sandy and Trevor were in her post-Fairport Convention band Fotheringay together, and they were married from 1973 until Denny’s death in March 1978 after a fall down the stairs that left her with a brain haemorrhage. Lucas was a guitarist and singer/songwriter from Melbourne, Australia, who played with Fairport Convention on Unhalfbricking while he was dating Denny. He died in 1989 of a heart attack.

The disc comes with a booklet, lovingly written by John Penhallow, Fairport Convention’s first manager in 1967, in Sydney Australia, that talks about how he got to know Trevor and Sandy, how he collected the songs that are on the compilation, and other background stuff. It is one of the better liner notes I’ve seen, and there is excellent track-by-track notation. The source of the music is Trevor’s tape collection. The booklet hints at more tracks that aren’t here yet – nine tracks from Sandy’s first recordings of 1966/1967, and 15 tracks from what was probably Sandy’s last concert (three of the latter are on this disc). The disc also has great images – there is one of Sandy and Trevor on their wedding day, pictures of them performing, shots of record covers and singles, concert posters, and other rare stuff.

For me it was interesting hearing these Sandy Denny songs that I’m unfamiliar with. What a voice! Trevor Duncan I’m unfamiliar with, but he’s a great guitar player and has a nice Neil Diamond/Gordon Lightfoot kind of a voice, warm but maybe a bit boring.

The first track is “Moments”, an unreleased song that is the last studio track Sandy recorded, in May 1977. Great lyrics: “If I had my life again/ I would choose to be with you, my friend/ Time moves slowly and it goes so fast/ And who knows how long our days will last.” Sadly ironic words, and a really beautiful song that gets a lump in the throat. What a voice! “The Ballad of Ned Kelly” Trevor wrote for Fotheringay in 1970 and it sounds like something from The Band. “Ecoute, Ecoute” is a cool French version of Sandy’s solo “Listen Listen”, supported by Richard Thompson. “One More Chance” is Sandy’s voice and piano, the demo for a song she wrote for Fairport Convention in 1975. Ditto for the next song “Rising For The Moon,” which has more of a Gaellic twang to it and less oomph in it. Both tunes are stark and beautiful. A Fairport Convention B-side, “Tears” is a fantastic song, written and sung by Duncan in a doleful songwriting way, with great lyrics, and the tale told in each verse ending with the line “The tears that we shared simply dried.” “Easy To Slip” is a rockin’ Little Feat song, also sadly ironic considering the fall down the stairs that did Sandy in. “Losing Game” is a Flying Burrito Brothers track that has nice horns and a rockin’ Sandy Denny vocal. “Girls On The Avenue” is a pop song sung by Trevor that sounds a bit dated, sort of like a minor Neil Diamond song from the time, it was written by Richard Clayton and was a hit in Australia, Duncan hoped it would crack him globally but it never did and later got buried in his attic. Icky background vocals, even though they are by Sandy Denny and Linda Thompson (!!!). “Breakaway” is soundtrack music that has a shuffling train sound to it. “Still Waters Run Deep” sounds a lot like a Joni Mitchell song, and “The King And Queen Of England” sounds like one of those 10,000 Maniacs songs that Nathalie Merchant does on with piano accompaniment, this one is gorgeous. “No End” is also a song with voice and solo piano, a long meandering melancholy reflection on lost friendship and love, and it has great lyrics: “They said that it was snowing in astounded tones upon the news/ I wonder why they’re always so surprised – cos every year it snows.” Smartass. But this is one of the nicest songs I’ve heard in years. What a song. What a voice! Trevor Duncan then sings “The Town I Loved So Well”, which sounds like “And The Band Played Waltzing Mathilda.” He also does a great version of Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young,” which I suppose is how we will always think of him and Sandy, it has a nice guitar solo. “Gold Dust” is, again, a song that sounds a lot like Joni Mitchell. “Stranger To Himself” is an old Fairport Convention song that Sandy sings, it grinds away moodily with Gaellic menace. “Who Knows Where The Time Goes” is the well-known Fairport Convention song, here represented in a long, slow version. The last three songs were from Sandy’s last concert performance, on November 27 1977.

GMIAA

GMIAA

Germs, “The Complete Anthology” – Every song that this seminal LA punk band recorded. Darby Crash crashed and burned brilliantly in the early 1980s. A total anarchist, he played a last gig with the band in order to afford a does of heroin to take him out. Brrrr… Crash is compared to Rimbaud, and his lyrics are highly literate, and the band that backs him up can be heard to improve a lot over the course of the recording; he also sounds a lot like Flipper lead guy Will Shatter, who also died of a heroin overdose. The liner notes are very good, and there are lots of pictures of the band in there. Pat Smear, who is now a superstar with Nirvana and Foo Fighters, got his start in the Germs. The first and last song on the release is “Forming”, and you can hear how different the band was at the start and end of their career by listening to this little punk ditty.

HDWSAS

HDWSAS

Husker Du, “Warehouse: Songs and Stories” – This has always been one of my favorite albums from one of my favorite old hardcore bands. The songs here are hardly punk, as each of them has that great songwriting, and Bob Mould and Grant Hart are in great form. “These Important Years” starts it all off with a blister and a blaze, and then it just gets better. “Standing In The Rain” is a catchy-as-hell song, as is nearly every song that follows – “Back From Nowhere”, “Ice Cold Ice”, “Friend You’ve Got To Fall” (despite its overly catchy chorus), “She Floated Away”, the punchy and irresistible “Turn It Around”, the crusty “Bed of Nails”, and fun rockers with catchy harmonics like “Up In The Air.” The double album closes off with the thunderous “You Can Live At Home.”

Typically, the songs that appeal to me more are by Bob Mould, but songs like the Irish canty-like “She Floated Away”, “Tell You Why Tomorrow”, the silly “She’s A Woman (And Now He’s A Man)” are good offerings from Grant Hart (although his Elvis-like “Actual Condition” is pretty weird). But at least it shows his willingness to experiment and get away from that drone drone thing.

JWIM

JWIM

Judge, “What it Meant – the Complete Discography” – A great discovery, Judge was a New York straight edge band that played from 1987 to 1991. They played angry, metallic hardcore that sounds a lot like Suicidal Tendencies from the” Join The Army” era. Practically all of the songs are very good, with the possible exception of the Led Zeppelin cover, “When The Levee Breaks”, which isn’t so great. Standouts are “The Storm”, “New York Crew”, “I’ve Lost”, the OI! band Blitz cover “Warriors”, and nearly every other song on this album. I only heard about this group when it came up on some sort of a search of Amazon for bands, and I’m glad that it did. Some great lyrics, mostly against drugs: on “Fed Up” it’s “Smoking that butt, it makes you mature/ A slave to sex and you tell me you’re pure/ You slam that beer, it makes you a man/ I’ll try to keep my cool but you better understand”; on “In My Way” it’s “Those drugs are gonna kill you if I don’t get to you first”; on “Bringin’ It Down” it’s “A beer, a joint like a gun at your head/ The price that you pay is the blood that you bled/ The needle, the track mark, youu’re scarred for life; You’re weak and you’re hurt and you’re gonna lose this fight/ You drink it and you smoke it and you say you feel fine/ And you snort it and you shoot it and now it’s melted your mind”. “Like You”, with its cool arpeggios intro, and the raw emotion of “I’ve Lost”. A song like the second version of “Take Me Away” is not so great, with its tinny drums failing to impress where others have been so strong. There are two versions of “Bringing It Down”, one with really bad drums. This CD represents every recording the band ever made. Some of the tracks appear twice, because they were re-recorded for an ultra-rare EP called “Chung King Can Suck It”, of which only 110 copies were made.

Check it out – Judge!

CD

CD

The Cure, “Disintegration” [Remastered] – “Disintegration” has been the only Cure studio release that I ever bought close to its release (I’ve only ever bought packages, such as the “Standing on the Beach”/”Staring at the Sea” compilation, and the Connect the Dots box set), so when this was released as a set with demos and the full “Entreat” live show I thought it would be a good one to get. The booklet has a short essay describing what the band went through in the recording, such as kicking the useless Lol Tolhurst out of the band, or allowing him to leave, or whatever happened; it also talks about how they saved the lyrics from a deadly fire, the band forming a human chain, wrapping wet towels around their heads and shoulders, and then groping around a smoke-filled room to retrieve the already-smouldering leather satchel with the only copy of the lyrics in it – whew! There are a bunch of pictures from the era – man, were those guys ugly. Vocals for the 12 studio songs (but none of the singles) are included.

The songs on the studio release are all as good as I remember, although somehow they are a bit shabby, pale, boring. Not quite what I remembered, exactly, although the later songs are a bit nicer than the earlier songs. I was quite surprised when I got to the live show, which was from a show at Wembley Stadium in July of 1989 that represents all 12 songs on Disintegration, that I actually liked it better than the studio version. I was surprised, because usually it’s the other way around, where the live recording bugs me for some reason or other, I nearly always prefer the studio album… just not this time.

The second disc doesn’t really excite that much either, although it has its moments. It includes three Robert Smith home demos, nine band demo instrumentals, two studio rough instrumentals, four studio roughs with guide vocals, one rough mix with vocals and one Robert Smith solo rough mix with vocals. Seems that the band went through two rounds of laying down the instrumentals, a process that lasted from about April to October. Taken together they chart the whole recording process of the album. Listening to the instrumentals can be a bit trying at times, but it also shows how interesting the music can be (even when it drones on and on) without the distraction – pleasant though it may be – or Robert Smith’s unique voice. It’s also fitting, since the album is known for its long instrumental sections anyway.

First off: the demos that Robert Smith did at home before he added the vocals, which are sort or like rough karaoke tracks. “Prayers For Rain” sounds like it’s been programmed into hell, and there are three such demos. “Fascination Street” sounds weird with a bit of slide guitar and keyboard thrown on top of the mix. There are also band rehearsals. The one for “Homesick” sounds just that – it’s awful. Other band rehearsals are “Closedown”, “Lovesong”, “The Same Deep Water As You”, and “Disintegration”. “Lovesong” has really weird bass sounds. There are also B-sides “Fear Of Ghosts”, which sounds like some sort of a weird early Cure icy poker repeating its tracks over and over, “Noheart”, which starts out with wicked drums and noise and then a creepy dirge with cheap keyboard sounds, “Esten”, which is jaunty and cheerful and a lot of fun, and “2 Late (alternate version)”, a gorgeous and textured number that has that “Monday I’m In Love” spring in its stride. “Babble” is a fun tune, bass-driven with prominent keyboards and drums, here in its instrumental version. Other studio roughs have vocals and sound a lot like the final album versions. “Out of Mind” is keyboard-led and it sort of grooves, it also has hard rock guitar (!?!) in it. It’s a lot less murky than the final B-side version, and it has great Robert Smith vocals. “Delirious Night” is jaunty and drum-led, it sort of grooves on and on and on and has really strange vocals. “Pirate Ships” is a Judy Collins cover that Robert Smith did for a planned 40th anniversary Elektra tribute album that never happened so it never got used, and appears here for the first time. It is a strange little ditty, with Robert Smith singing over accordion sounds, with the sound of surf to accompany it. I can’t find this song on YouTube, my ersatz jukebox; I wonder what the original sounded like.

MH

MH

Mark Hollis, “Mark Hollis” – Mark Hollis released his only solo album so far in 1998, seven years after the final Talk Talk album “Laughing Stock”, and it’s simply called “Mark Hollis.” On the cover is a strange picture of a pasty that has haunting, sad eyes – it looks alive. The black and white photo is framed in white, and the whole booklet is simply lyrics and very simple production details.

The first song is called “The Colour Of Spring”, which is of course also the name of their third release from 1986. After 18 seconds of silence, the song starts with simple piano chords and the gorgeous, pleading voice of Mark Hollis. “Watershed” is a beautiful song with the fractured accordions, percussion, light guitar and basswork, and (as always) very dominated by the vocals. “Inside Looking Out” is mainly guitar and voice, and is haunting. This is the only song on the album solely-written by Hollis. “The Gift” is a full band, and moves along more quickly, with faster drums, strange sounds, and that odd harmonica howl from time to time. It fades out abruptly with goofy bassoon work, and the next song, “A Life (1895-1915)” fades in with that all-over-the-place quasi-classical blurting stuff, which continues, then with voice, and percussion comes in finally after about three minutes, when the wind instruments fall away and the guitar starts to swell, Hollis turns the vocal duties over to half-murmuring half-singing children’s voices. Beautiful. This is the longest song on the release, 8:10, it is an extremely complex song that goes through several movements, and after the children’s voices you get keyboard and double bass, then weird windworks, then some sort of a strange fade-out. “Westward Bound” is only guitar and Hollis’ haunting voice. “The Daily Planet” is more like a full on song – it starts with bassoon doodling for a minute, but then picks up with a drum beat that moves the song along slowly, the voice comes in after 2.5 minutes with those haunting vocals, there’s some great harmonica work. “A New Jerusalem” moves right along, with piano chords, guitar and vocals, but near the middle it peters out and becomes a whispering, still, moody statement, Hollis’ last so far. The last 90 seconds of the song are silence.

RBLT

RBLT

Rollins Band, “Life Time” – The great first release from the Rollins Band is now available on Henry’s own 2.13.61 label. Rollins had done self-titled album with other musicians, as well as a joke album under the moniker Henrietty Collins and the Wife-Beating Child Haters called “Drive By Shooting” (which is a lot of fun – anyone should look it up), but he must have not enjoyed those bands because this is the unit that he had for many years, minus a bass player or two. The album was produced by Ian MacKaye (of Minor Threat/Fugazi/Dischord Records fame), and the songs don’t pull any punches. Opening track “Burned Beyond Recognition” is a fantastic screamathon that opens like Black Sabbath’s “Sweet Leaf”, with Henry’s voice dominating the mix. “What Am I Doing Here?” screams and yells, and “One Thousand Times Blind” commands the listener “don’t love me, you’ll hate yourself.” Lots of wordplay like that. “Lonely” and “Wreck-Age” are pretty regular musically, and again they’re dominated by Rollins’ superb voice. Lyrically they’re all good. “Lonely” posits that “there’s nothing like finding someone when you’re lonely”, and “Wreck-age” talks about individuals that have been crushed by the world that they live in. “Gun In Mouth Blues” is probably the most intense Henry Rollins has ever recorded – and that’s saying something. It starts off slow, with drums, then a bit of bass, some guitar comes in, and it builds up to a slow, plodding, wallowing thump, and Henry’s voice comes in with a low voice, saying “you’ve got hard times… oooh… you’ve got blues… you’ve got, got, got, got, got…. YEAH!!!!!!!” It just shatters any stillness in life. They really don’t make music like this any more, not even Rollins himself. If you play this so anyone who owns a Coldplay album they will definitely run screaming from the room (i.e. how to lose friends and alienate people). The song winds down, the narrator has a gun in his hand, he ask himself “should I pull it? Should I pull it? Pull it? Pull it? PULL IT??!!??” Then all hell breaks loose with intense screaming and a long burnout jam.

The rest of the album is relatively anti-climatic now. How can it not be? But there are still some gems. “You Look At You” is a relatively straight-forward rocker, as is “If You’re Alive.” “I’ve Been Turned Out” has a bit of a rap in it, it’s slow in parts but has great lyrics. “You say that you’re my friend, but I don’t know you/ I’ll trust you just as far as I can throw you/ No I don’t know you, I know my enemy/ They’re the ones that look at me with honest eyes/ They hate my guts, but at least it’s the truth/ I’ll trust them just as far as I can throw them off the roof.” Naturally it ends with a pure jam, and some of that bungee bass and band wallop that we know and love from releases like “The End of Silence”. The release also comes with live versions of “What Am I Doing Here?” “Burned Beyond Recognition”, “Move Right In” (a Velvet Underground cover) and “Hot Animal Machine II” are pretty good, especially “Move Right In” with its short bass solo and the mini drum solo that busts out with the blazing “Inna Gadda da Vida” lick. Stellar. “Hot Animal Machine 2″ appeared on Henry’s solo album of two years earlier, but by now the version is much longer and full of craziness, with atmospheric beginnings and insane drum beats and full on screams and love dripping off the world. Love it all!!!

RBW

RBW

Rollins Band, “Weighting” – Here are extra songs from the “Weight” sessions, including three songs that ended up on soundtracks, four songs with New York saxophonist Charles Gayle, and five live songs. “Fall Guy” had appeared on the Demon Knight soundtrack (I didn’t watch it), it is a crazy burner with lots of anger. “I See Through” is heavy on the vocals, the band is kind of taking it easy; the song appeared on “Johnny Mnemonic”, a film that Rollins had a small role in (he gets murdered by a psychotic, animalistic Dolph Lundgren. “Right Here Too Much”, great title, but not an exciting song; still, Rollins is giving it all he’s got. I’m not sure which film soundtrack it appeared on.

“Miles Jam #3″ is the first song with Charles Gayle, which starts off with bass bopping and drum beating, Rollins doing some sort of an abstract speech about something that pisses him of, the sax comes in slowly after a minute and a half. It’s a loose jam and just sort of goes on and on, with Rollins taking his time in his delivery. It’s stream-of-consciousness, it seems like he doesn’t really have a plan for what he wants to say. “I just want to see what you would do if you were pushed. I mean REALLY pushed.” “Plague #3″ is a bit funkier, as it has some cool riffs, and is the most like a formal song among the Charles Gayle tracks. It’s a great song. “Night Sweat” sounds like just that, and it is tense and jagged, almost Velvet Underground-esque. Rollins moans like a crazy man. “Jam #1″ is a pretty good song, the longest on the set at over 14 minutes, starting off slow, building up to some cool guitar riffs and some very nice basswork. Badass!

The live songs are pretty okay, especially a very funky “Disconnect” with its wicked basslines, and some surreal ad-lib (and nasty hollering) on “Liar.” “Volume 4″ is a pretty good song, but sounds a bit muddy. “Divine Object of Hatred” is not a fantastic song, but it’s trippy hearing Rollins holler “divine” over and over again, and there is some nifty bass spazzing. “Civilised” is scary and intense with some great vocal delivery – crazy tonguetwisters like ” see what you do when you use what you got but what do you do when you do what you want” and “freedom, you ain’t no freedom, you want your freedom,
your freedom is killing you man, freedom, you can’t handle your freedom, hey! And now you’re dying for it.”

RBANSOR

RBANSOR

Rollins Band, “A Nicer Shade of Red” – A goofy recording with Rollins’ third band, the Mother Superior-backed Rollins Band, and these are extra songs that didn’t get onto the “Nice” album, along with some odds ‘n’ ends. “Too Much Rock ‘n’ Roll” is some great… rock ‘n’ roll, with funky-ass distortion on the Les Paul, and some funny backing vocals. Is that Slash or is that Jim Wilson? Jim who?!?!?! “Marcus Has The Evil In Him” is a washed-out grungy piece of work, thunderous. Love it. “Nowhere To Go But Inside” is a deep dark rusty nail of a muttering Rollins scary-tune. “10x” is good ole rock ‘n’ roll with a sorta Slash-like solo. “Always The Same” is near-punk, very repetitive and with a bit of blues. “Soul Implant” is a great old rocker, full of cool sounds, very unconventional. Probably the best song on the CD as it is understated, yet innovative. It’s grown on me. “Raped” starts off well, but it is, of course, an icky song. I wonder what point Henry’s trying to make being confrontational about someone who wants to rape him. Run! “Ain’t It Fun” is a great great Stooges cover, and “You Lost Me” is again washed out and droopy, with waves of feedback and distortion. “Stone Washed Clean” is a groovy jam-out, with some truly incredible guitar spazzes. Jim Wilson, HELP ME! “A Life Denied” is full of cool guitar sounds, and a snatch of Pink Floyd’s “Echoes”, sinister vocals, great atmospherics, then it cuts off abruptly. Crazy. “Your Number Is One” has great great guitar effects and cool bass, the song is very good, and this long version has extended guitar bits, a very good drum solo, and a brief bass solo. Perfect! The last song on the release is “Such A Drag” and it is an indulgent spoken word with music thing. The song drifts out after eight minutes, but then comes back with the sound of wind, and Henry’s still talkin’ about stuff, but now over a piano. It sounds like a bit of an operetta now.

V30SODC

V30SODC

Various, “:30 Over D.C.~~” -

When you think of DC punk and indie music, you think of Dischord Records, right? Well, before Ian and Jeff started Dischord Records, there was Skip Groff and his Yesterday and Today record shop, with its Limp Records label attached to it. Ian and the other DC kids got a lot of support and early breaks from Skip, and memorialized him in the “Skip, we love you” crack in their version of “Stepping Stone” (the song that, of course, every DC band covered). This CD is a collection of pre-Dischord DC bands, and it is being kept in print by Skip; Henry Rollins is distributing it on his label, and I was smart enough to snag a copy. It’s great!

The CD comes with the original liner notes from the first edition, notes on the printings, and new liner notes from the 2004 re-release. The original notes are funny, talking about how there was once a scene in DC in the mid-60s, before the town became Vietnam war-era conservative and late night entertainment dried up, eventually giving itself over to either heavy metal or “John Revolta clones and that dreaded social disease, disco music.” The disc seems to champion “New Wave” music, which is a lot different in the 1978 version represented here than what we would associate it with a few years later. But it’s all good fun. In the 2004 liner notes, theyre sill calling it New Wave, making it sound very important like it was setting off a musical bonfire. And it was, even if it doesn’t sound very incendiary here. As such, then, it’s a really great musical document, one that every serious record collector should own. This was Skip’s label’s first release, but not its last.

The CD starts off with “The Break” by The Penetrators, which is pretty straight forward punk and very fun. “This shit is gonna break,” sounds kind of California but it’s DC. “Imagination [Live]“ by The Rudements is a bit Flipper-sounding, with thick bass lines and snotty spoken-vocal storytelling. “Thank You for Sending Me an Eno” by The Mock Turtles is weird squeaky scratchy instrumental that strums and is full of sampled talk. Strange, aimless and fun. “Attitude [Live]“ by Slickee Boys is a great piece of light punk with fantastic lyrics and a bit of a rockabilly beat to it, and fun crowd response. Classy. “Jet Lag Drag” by Chumps has that slow creep, with a bit of tooting horn (sax?), it’™s poorly recorded but has a lot of authentic attitude. “Every Time You Give Me a Call” by Billy Synth sounds like a famous song, with its familiar verse, but I can’t place it. It’s great strumming snottiness. “Get Up ‘N Dance” by Jeff Dahl is strumming pop, while “I Want Something New” by Half Japanese is screaming, shouting noise from Jad and David, hard to recognise from the current wonky Half Japanese that we know and love so well; same same but different, and mush hoarser. “I Hate” by White Boy, White Boy is either racists and misogynistic or totally taking the piss. It’s a bit too extreme, with its metallic raving in a Jello Biafra voice. “I hate shitty food and girls on the rag/ I hate straights and I hate fags.” Riot, man, riot!

“I Can Explain” by The Nurses is a sweet, twee song with great jangling riffs that has a tough chorus. “No Fun” by Mark Hoback makes you think of the Stooges song, but it’s self-penned. It’s a simple song with mild guitars, and a shaker keeping the beat, the singing is a bit Jerry Lee Lewis. “Tell my baby that my car wouldn’t run, tell my baby couldn’t have no fun, we end up what we barely begun, no fun.” And more in that vein. “Wouldn’t feel bad about having no fun, even the TV told me I should have fun / All of my friends are saying they had no fun too, tell me what’s there for me to do, no no no fun.” The lyrics are fun, I should type them all out – some day. “Getting tired of electrical toys, getting tired of the drug of my choice / Getting tired have to lower my voice, getting tired being one of the boys.” It is fun! And – dare I say it – I think I like it better than the Stooges song of the same name. Ha ha ha haaaaa…

“Martyr Me” by Judies Fixation is regular snotty punk, very fun too, with great bluesy -70s guitar solo breakdown thrown in, those DC punkers knew how to rock, the longest song on the album at 3:55, ha ha… “Knocking Down Guard Rails” by Tina Peel is a bit of B52s-like fluffy/weird pop with organ and female backup singers, the kids are goin’ crazy. “Murder One” by Young Turds is a simple, sax-based song, while “Mr. President [Live]“ by Da Moronics is a real punk song, with a Richard Hell yell and political lyrics that seem a bit dated now: “Mr President, Mr Carter, I think that I augha tell you what’s going on the ground, something ain’t right this time. Mr president, I may love you, I know that I voted for you, Mr President, Mr Carter, I think that I augta tell you that people out there they don’t even care about Washington DC, or New York City, or any place it seems.””I want you again in ’82, that is true.” “Don’t pull a JFK.” “I don’t tell lies, I’m Catholic y’know, and we gotta do everything right.” “You’re so lenient.” Crazy. “Stay Limp” by The Raisinets is jangly old rock ‘n’ roll with a great bassline, but rambling Half Japanese-like lyrics, “stay limp, avoid excitation, keep your trouser snake in traction.” Even more wild, weird craziness, very bass-driven with jangling guitars playing out repetitive chords. Love it, or leave it for those with class.

DVD Review:

TTIA

TTIA

Roxy Music, “The Thrill of it All” – Yeh, groovy, video of Roxy Music from 1972-1976 (hot, arty, weird, thrilling) and 1979-1982 (smoothy, sexy, stylish, mature, very ’80s). “Re-made/Re-model” from an u dated July 1972 session at the Royal College of Art in London shows the band in full swing. It’s the first tune from their debut album and it is the only real glimpse of a freaky Bryan Ferry, showing him with thick eye shadow and long hair. The song is frantic and zany, with images, glimpses and colour. The song is strange, but traditional in the sense that there is a break for every member to get a solo (even Brian Eno gets a “treatments” solo). “Ladytron”, from the Old Grey Whistle Test BBC show, starts out with green suit clarinet, then spacey jam, Eno in leopard print and sliver gloves, guitarist Phil Manzanera with bug sunglasses with embedded diamonds (they reappear in some 1982 footage). Eno gets crazy at the console. Bryan Ferry has shorter hair now and just a bit of eye shadow, and by the time of “Virginia Plain” for the Top of the Pops, he’s looking pretty much like how we know him forever after: the slimy, vamping sophisticate. “For Your Pleasure” is weird, sparse Space:1999 music. “Do The Strand” vamps in suits, Eno in a silver boa jacket, while “In Every Dream Home a Heartache” the band is Kraftwerk-like, all sling guitars but don’t play, robotic, only Eno plays gurgle, halfway through they rock out. Ferry like Elvis with Stratocaster as a prop, Ray Manzanarek on cherry red Les Paul, wailing. Eno with black feathers. “Editions of You”, Eno with gold puff jackew with epaulets. Watching Roxy Music at this point is as much as hearing the music as checking out what the boys are wearing… except for the drummer, of course, who is meaty, always wears singlet, and looks like a young Glenn Danzig. “Pyjamerama” shows Ferry in a white tux, something we’ll see much more of going forward, especially for the next three tracks, all recorded at Musikladen for German television, with the great SH IT sticker on the wall. By now, Brian Eno is out of the band, and the main eccentric is keyboardist and violinist Eddie Jobson (long-term brass and woodwindist Andy Mackay, with his mullet and green suits, doesn’t really qualify as eccentric). “Amazona” has Jobson’s great violin solo, and “Psalm” is a weird Nick Cve-like song, with Ferry buildup and sow-off vocals, cool funk vibe, Ferry looks like a young Harvey Heitel, and then someone trhwos him a tamborine. “All I Want Is You,” a greaser Ferry, rockin band. “Love is the Drug”, pre-recordef for Top of the Pops with a two-tier stage and backup singers, a real big-stage production for the first time – we’ll see more of that later too. Ferry looks great with his eye patch. In “Mother of Pearl” Ferry goes nuts, saxophone sweater, guitar crazy, cool rhythm section, great lady keyboardist (oh, that’s Eddie Jobson, actually). “Nightingale” is a bit of weird funk, while “Out of the BLue” is sharp and rockin’ with great clarinet, and a great Jobson violin solo. The second disc shows off the band’s 1979-1982 line-up, which is very big-sounding and suave stadium rock-ready, it also combines live footage with promotional videos. The first song is on the ABBA show, and Anni-Frid and Agnetha introduce them as one of their favourite bands (cool). The songs are good fun, and the musicianship is amazing. You get to see the evolution of the bass player, from a sluggish goon in the earlier songs to a full-on boppin’, dancin’ dude who’s a very big part of the sound. Phil Manzanera is mostly doodling away on his Gibson Firebird, although at times he’s on a Les Paul, and some other devices. Disc 2 is less interesting than the first, but it’s still good fun. Yay.

Book Review:

HRF1

HRF1

Fanatic, Volume 1, by Henry Rollins – From May to December 2004, Henry Rollins hosted a radio show called Harmony In My Head. These are the liner notes for the show and they provide a lot of information about a lot of bands. They also give a sense of the deep appreciation of all sorts of music that Rollins has, his knowledge of the bands he loves (or his lack of knowledge, in some cases, whether that information is hard to get or not), some anecdotes of the interesting people he’s met and the cool shows he’s seen; you also get a sense of just how much of a music fanatic Henry Rollins really is! He uses phrases like “What a man. What a song. What an album. What a band” a lot. The year 2004 seemed like a relatively quiet year for the man, but he did go off a few times for USO tours, speaking to the men in Afghanistan and at a camp in the Caribbean somewhere.

Some of the groups that he raves about (and seems to have a complete discography of, including extremely rare singles and EPs and foreign releases/alternate versions) are Suicide/Alan Vega, The Cramps, The Damned, UK Subs, The Buzzcocks and Buzzkunst, X Ray Specs, The Adverts, The Stains, The Fall, Trouble Funk, The Ramones (especially Johnny Ramone), Bad Brains, The Ruts, Sham 69, Richard Berry, Black Sabbath, Public Enemy, Devo, Iggy Pop and the Stooges (of course), Lou Reed, The Gun Club, John Lee Hooker, Lightin’ Hopkins, Mississippi Fred McDowell, John Cale, Eater, Roy Orbison, Lee Scratch Perry, Roky Erickson, all of Scott “Wino” Weinreich’s bands (Saint Vitus, The Obsessed, etc) and all of the Dischord Records bands. The band he plays the most of is The Fall.

Some of the bands that he’s obsessive about that surprised me are Billy Idol and Generation X, Roxy Music, Nico, J Mascis and Dinosaur Jr, Alice In Chains, Captain Beefheart, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and some others.

He’s a major fan of jazz, and is a walking encyclopedia of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and all of the other greats (the former Henry Garfield did take his stage name from Sonny Rollins, by the way).

Among the goofy songs that he threw in just to be a sarcastic bastard are ABC “The Look Of Love”, Venom’s “The Chanting of the Priests”, Nena’s “99 Luftbalons” and Mercyful Fate “Black Funeral.”

Then there are also all the bands he’s been associated with, such as State of Alert, Black Flag, Bad Brains, The Misfits, The Birthday Party, Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds.

He also tells strange anecdotes, like hanging out with the mother of Thin Lizzy singer/bassist Phil Lynott (?!?!), getting tapes of radio DJ chatter, the time they opened for Venon and got great between-song banter, the story of hanging out with violent bands like The Stains, chasing down hard-to-find Generation X songs, helping Bad Brains and Teen Idles distribute their early albums when no one had any money, checking out the tortured piano that Jerry Lee Lewis plays on in his home in Mississippi, the time that Beasts of Bourbon blew away Nirvana when they opened for them, talking about Captain Beefheart with Jeff Bridges (also a huge Beefheart fan), checking out Trouble Funk with a dangerous all-black audience, walking home through the snow after a Clash concert that had Bo Diddley opening for it, tying Pete Shelley’s shoelaces together as he played supe-serious (and then mentioning it to Shelley years later when they met), hanging out with a sick Johnny Ramone a week before he died, meeting the drummer of X-Ray Specs, a chance encounter with King Sunny Ade, helping Alan Vega re-master old recordings that he’s left lying around, watching the first Minor Threat show, live recordings from never-released bands like The Enzymes (his former guitarist Chris Haskett former band). Then there’s a sad tale about the Minutemen – he could only bring himself to play one Minutemen song, simply because of the torment he feels about the death of D Boon. He also talks about bands he DIDN’T see – The Germs and Rites Of Spring, for example, are bands he’d rave about but never got a chance to experience. Included in the book is the foreword to the autobiography of Eater singer Andy Blade, as well as his contribution to the liner notes of the Adverts’ “Cast of Thousands” re-release.

The book is full of interesting concert posters. I have barely heard any of these songs, and many of the bands are new to me. I need to spend some time on YouTube doing research. Missing from the book is Frank Zappa, and California hardcore groups like Suicidal Tendencies. I wonder if he has a low opinion of these acts, or if they are just left out for other reasons. I don’t know if he’s being ironic or mean, but he describes a guy “Thurston Moore, who’s in a band called Sonic Youth”; who hasn’t heard of Thurston Moore and Sonic Youth? Either way it’s all good, all interesting.

HRF2

HRF2

Fanatic, Volume 2, by Henry Rollins – Henry Rollins’ second Fanatic book is even thicker than the first one, with 417 pages of notes for the songs he played on 52 radio shows in 2006. The book also has playlists of all the shows he did in 2006, as well as a song index catalogued by band. It’s here that you get to see just how many songs he played by The Fall (49), the Buzzcocks (22), Public Enemy (5), Thor (4), Dio (1), etc.

You get to learn a few interesting things about Rollins, namely that he is a big fan of all sorts of doo wop music, and he totally loves Indonesian gamelan music. Who’da thunk? He’s also not a fan of rap or hip hop – the only band he plays here is Public Enemy (he’s got that right), and a Vanilla Ice track, just for fun. Of course he plays tons of UK punk, DC punk and SoCal punk, as well as blues and jazz and avant garde, as well as a bit of comedy (Coyle and Sharp, National Lampoon).

There are a few interesting anecdotes. In the set that he dedicated to the recently-deceased John Peel, Rollins writes “It was always a dream of mine to do a Peel Session. We asked at the BBC in the 80s around the time we had recorded the Life Time album and we got word back that he didn’t like our music and didn’t like me.” Oh well. When he played Public Image Limited we find out that John Lydon didn’t like him either, and when he played The Fall, we find out that Mark E. Smith had some sort of an attitude about Rollins as well – Rollins quotes him several times saying “I mean, I wouldn’t even shake hands with Sonic Youth, you know. And Henry Rollins is a bit of a lunatic. He gets up and gives a fucking lecture about how he wishes he was me.” Rollins mentions the quote at least three times, at one stage saying “I wish I was Mark E Smith!! I want to be a small of stature genius somewhat destroyed by my intellect and drug abuse. I want band members to quit left and right! That’s what I want! I want it now. I’m a lunatic and that’s what I want!!!!!!!!!!” Funny how Rollins mentions the unofficial Fall site at the end of every single entry on The Fall.

This book has fewer “pullout” stories than the first book, meaning special sections where he expands on a song entry with a long anecdote about the band (one of the longer ones in this book is a breakdown of his favorite Damned albums), but it’s full of tons of great information, photos and posters anyway. Rollins tells a weird story about how Gene Defcon asked him to draw a picture of a cop riding on the back of a unicorn that Defcon used on the inside of his album.

I have a feeling that Mr Defcon was making sport of me but I remain a fan nonetheless.” There’s a great story about the Descendents: “One night the band’s drummer and guitar player, Bill and Frank,walked into the venue right from their day job as commercial fishermen all covered in fish scales and fish blood. What a smell. They set up their gear and played at full bore in stench mode.

Rollins talks about his agony over never seeing certain DC bands play live since he was away too much touring with Black Flag so bands like Rites of Spring, formed, played, and broke up before he got a chance. But he did get to see One Last Wish, which included three of the four Rites of Spring members. I happen to be reading this at the same time as I listen to the “Twenty Years of Dischord” CD set, which is totally appropriate, great. He writes at great length about The Ruts and their doomed lead singer Malcolm Owen, there’s long pieces Suicide and Alan Vega told in a very personal, as well as pieces by The Buzzcock, John Coltraine, Nico, Brian Eno, John Cale, Tuvan throat singers Huun-Huur-Tu, Miles Davis, James Brown (and his band, the JBs, and some of his band’s solo efforts), Roky Erickson, The Snakes, Bad Brains, The Gun Club and Jeffrey Lee Pierce, Parliament/Funkadelic/George Clinton and the Ramones (nice bit of praise on the drumming of Tommy Ramone in one of the entries).

He devotes a whole show to The Misfits where he compares the unreleased 12 Hits From Hell version of the band’s songs with their alternate versions on other albums. He also has another chapter describing a show of all Hallowe’en related songs (scary) and another of a show of all Christmas-related songs (even scarier!) that starts off with a great drawing someone did of Tony Iommi wearing a santa hat, his left-handed Gibson SG garlanded with Christmas lights and Christmas tree ornaments and an angel sitting on the headstock. Awwwww!!! Oh yeah, and another one devoted to just b-sides (Ozzy Osborne’s “Party With The Animals” is played here, for example). On another show a week before Christmas on the 15th anniversary of Joe Cole’s murder he plays songs that were among Cole’s favorites. There is also stuff about the craziness of Sham 69 and the “good Skrewdriver” from before they became a racist white power act.

The book has fun, irreverent stuff like his mention of Ann Coulter, “she’s hard as a rock and anything rough that comes her way she can bounce off her adams apple effortlessly.” A great bit on Black Sabbath:

It’s hard to be one of the best bands in the world and invent a genre. A lot of people can’t handle it. It’s not surprising that music critics couldn’t handle it. They get it wrong all the time. Sabbath is proof that most music critics are not worth the food they’re fed. If you can’t get to Black Sabbath, if they’re not your cup of tea, you’re drinking herbal tea and the rest of us are done with you. Really. If you don’t like Sabbath, please stop listening to our show. You’re better off without us and we’re better off without you.

Lots of despair also about the SST back catalogue and how poorly it’s being maintained. Rollins doesn’t seem to be a Sonic Youth fan. Mentions Half Japanese opening up for the Dead Kennedys in 1980, that must have been quite a show. Then there’s funny stuff like:

That many records come out without my knowledge is nothing new. Bands come together, record several great albums, tour relentlessly and break up for one reason or another and I find out when their best-of comes out years later. A lot gets by me. Good thing I’m not the president.

I know the feeling well, and I’m sure you do too. He relates some interesting tales of prison recordings, such as Robert Pete Williams, who wrote “I’ve Grown So Ugly”, which is covered by Captain Beefheart.

John Lennon, Signature Box

Saturday, November 27th, 2010
JLSB

JLSB

John Lennon, Signature Box, 8CD box – I was never a huge John Lennon fan, but hey – how can any self-respecting music lover not be a John Lennon fan? And, since I didn’t have any of his solo CDs, the release of this gorgeous discography to commemorate what would have been his 70th birthday was the perfect excuse to catch up.

John Lennon was with us for 40 years, and we’ve lived without him for 30. And then this box comes along and reminds us of it all. The box itself is somewhat outsized, and much bigger than you need to hold 10 CDs. It is all white, with the word “LENNON” emblazoned in blue sky/cloud motif on top of all that white. When you slip slide the top of the box off (tight, the way an iPhone box would breathe open mid-pace), you see a greeting:

FROM
YOKO
JULIAN
SEAN

Personal messages from the three surviving Lennons. Below that is a hardcover book, white with the word “Yes” emblazoned on it in blue. The booklet has an essay and photos.

Below it are John Lennon’s eight CDs, and one singles and rarities collection:

- John Lennon, Plastic Ono Band
- John Lennon, Imagine
- John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band, Some Time in NYC
- John Lennon, Mind Games
- John Lennon, Walls and Bridges
- John Lennon, Rock ‘n’ Roll
- John Lennon, Double Fantasy
- John Lennon, Milk and Honey
- Singles and Home Tapes

Each of these (except the last) contains a thick and glorious booklet that include photos, essays and lyrics.

Once your fantasy has taken in all this glorious media, you can note the side of the inner box, which has a nice portrait of John and Yoko (full body) on one side, and an abstract concept of their faces on the other.

Finally, at the bottom, there’s a drawer that contains a gorgeous print of a drawing of John and Yoko sitting under a tree. Nice.

The square white book that comes with the set is a gorgeous little thing, with the word “yes” inlaid in blue in what seems to be John’s handwriting. It contains 60 pages of photos and writings on John Lennon, with some lyrics, doodles and artwork. Many of the photos are of John and Yoko together, and there are some of John before he met Yoko; there are no pictures of John’s two sons. John is in every picture in the book except a picture of a Ringo Starr album cover, inexplicably included here. There’s a great picture of the bed-in that is followed by a pen drawing of the scene. My favourite picture is of John and Yoko at Giza, with the pyramids in the background. The essay is not bad, as it gives saucy quotes from John pissed off about people’s expectations of him, or their poor opinions of Yoko (and, by extension then, of him too), but it also re-tells some of the stories that are in the individual album booklets. Some of the typography is screwy, as a few lines drift out of the left column. On pages 7, 11, 14, 15, 20, 44, 45, 48 and 56 this problem exists. Is this some sort of code? Sadly, there are no labels or credits for the pics and paintings. Neil Young Archives Volume 1 this ain’t, but it’s a work of art nonetheless.

John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band - The booklet has a nice drawing in it depicting the album cover scene on page 2, and the picture from “Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band” on the back of the booklet. There’s also a nice pic of John in a kimono, and John and Yoko posing with large pictures of themselves as children, probably when they were each only four years old or so. The essay gives a short background to the recording of the album, as they all do, to set the scene.

The music, of course, is great. Opening track is “Mother”, probably the best song John ever did. The gloomy bell that makes you think out of something Black Sabbath would have done around the time, then that burst of music: a guitar, a piano, a drum and a voice all coming in at the same time. The song is so simple, so heart-wrenching, and even if it seems to come in with everything right off the bat, it just builds and builds. It’s hard to hit the skip button when this one comes on, for whatever reason, you just want to drop everything you’re doing and focus all of your attention. “Hold On” is a decent song, “I Found Out” is an early punk classic with minimalistic production and great lyrics.

“Working Class Hero” is, of course, the classic of anger that it is, covered as it has been by such great voices as Marianne Faithful and others. “Isolation” is a scary dirge that could have been written by Roger Waters. “Remember” is cool as cucumber rock ‘n’ roll, and “Love” is as quiet as quiet gets. “Well, Well, Well” kicks and grooves, it’s mean. “Look At Me” is a very boring ballad, or dirge, while “God” blisters with iconoclasm and a great repetitive groove. “I don’t believe in Elvis, I don’t believe in Zimmerman, I don’t believe in Beatles – I just believe in me, Yoko and me.” The final track, “My Mummy’s Dead” is a fragment, just like John liked to use for his own albums and Beatles albums. A brilliant album full of great tracks.

Imagine - The booklet has pictures of John at his white grand piano, lounging in his white deck chairs, wrestling a pig, or hanging out with Yoko or Phil Specter.

The title track opens the piece, and everyone’s heard it a million times – it’s been voted the greatest composition of all creation. “Crippled Inside” is an old-time country rocker with great piano, “Jealous Guy” is the greatest whistling song ever written, while “It’s So Hard” is more standard rock ‘n’ roll with some cool saxophone. “I Don’t Wanna Be A Soldier Mama” is some great swamp rock, love it. “Give Me Some Truth” is fast-moving anger rock, John spouting bile at critics. “I’m sick and tired of hearing things from uptight short-sighted narrow-minded hypocrites/ All I want is the truth, just give me the truth,” and it just goes on and on. Amazing. “Oh My Love” is a simple, beautiful ditty with just John’s voice and guitar, with some piano. “How Do You Sleep” is another anger song, this time against Paul McCartney, which starts off with those pretentious string sounds, then gets into some more swamp boogie. That is followed by the simple (and similarly-titled) “How?”, which is a bit of a schmaltzer with strings and everything. “Oh Yoko!” is a fun song to close the album.

Some Time In New York City - One disc of studio music and one disc of live recordings. The booklet opens up with a picture of John and Yoko and their band of the day, Elephant’s Memory, with a little map to name the individual – but no index to the map. Great, I guess someone screwed up there. There’s also a groovy picture of John and Yoko playing onstage with Frank Zappa, as they did for the scary final four songs on the live recording that covers Disc 2. The gatefold CD holder has three panes and shows John and Yoko posing in front of a smashed car, Yoko looking un-Asian and wearing a witch’s hat, there’s also a really atrocious photo of the band onstage. This is the first release ascribed to John Lennon and Yoko Ono, and it is a highly politicised work.

Disc 1, which represents a studio recording, starts off with “Woman Is The Nigger Of The World”, sounding a lot like something Leonard Cohen might have put on “Death of a Ladies Man”, with a big, brash Saturday Night Live band sort of sound. “Sisters, O Sisters” is the first real Yoko Ono song in the John Lennon series, it starts off with Yoko’s voice saying “Male chauvinist pig engineer, nyeh heh”, and John saying “Right on, sister.” It’s like another world. The opening salvo has the feel of a theatre piece, it then becomes a bit of old school rock ‘n’ roll that is actually a great little song from Yoko. Love it, even if this form of music isn’t really what Yoko was about – I wonder if she was saddled into it somehow by John to win her greater acceptance from the music people he’d surrounded himself with from the Beatles days and carried over into his solo work. “Attica State” is more great anger rock from both John and Yoko, but somehow Yoko is more prominent in this (Ironically, David Chapman is housed here on his life sentence for murdering John). “Born in a Prison” sounds very much like something you’d hear from David Letterman’s band, but it’s a ballad from Yoko and is a bit maudlin high school. “New York City” is great rock ‘n’ roll from John, “Standing on a corner, just me and Yoko Ono”, love it! “Sunday Bloody Sunday” is a great piece of funk from John (“This is not a U2 song, this is a John and Yoko song.”) “The Luck Of The Irish” is a nice song, if a bit over-produced with the strings and the piano and all and Yoko affecting an opera singer-type of voice. I like the Shonen Knife version a bit more, but that may be because I heard it first (it also certainly doesn’t suffer from over-production). “John Sinclair”, despite the fantastic slide guitar, is the first flop of the series, probably because of the irritating “got to got to got to got to got to got to got to got to got to got to got to got to got to got to got to…” that he does. I never want to hear the song again, unless I’m convinced otherwise. “Angela” is much better, a song that Yoko sings about Angela Davis, who was imprisoned for 18 months without trial. “We’re All Water” is a crazy old rocker sung by Yoko that has plenty of her freaky vocal noises on it.

Disc two represents two live recordings. The first was from a show done at the Lyceum Ballroom in London, England on December 15th 1969 for a UNICEF charity concert when John and Yoko were playing with Eric Clapton, Bonnie and Delaney, George Harrison, Keith Moon, Billy Preston, Klaus Voorman, and tons of other people. The two songs are an eight minute-long version of “Cold Turkey”, a song John had released as a single and is presented here as a relatively straight forward version, and “Don’t Worry Kyoko”, a 16 minute-long Yoko Ono noise freakout that presages anything that Hijo Kaidan ever did on the Japanese noise scene in the late 80s and 90s, and which starts with the wail “Johnnnnnnnnn I love you; repent, you killed Harati you murderer”, which is followed by jabs of great funk that is punctuated by those unholy wails. The best thing is the applause at the end – whatever people might have said about Yoko at the time, the crowd seemed into it, or at least blasted into some drop-jaw respect. The last four tracks were recorded with Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention on June 6th 1971 and Frank is heard prominently speaking on some tracks, particularly “Scumbag”. “Well (Baby Please Don’t Go)” is an old school rock ‘n’ roll song done to precision by the Mothers, with Yoko’s insane wailing accompanying it, another unhinged moment. Great, great, great solo, which I can only guess was supplied by Zappa himself, and there is tons of applause. Yes!! This eventually drifts into “Jamrag”, which is less interesting, as it gets into the keyboard and Ono-wail thing and is quite experimental, it sounds a lot like prog rock. “Scumbag” starts on a note and is near-perfect, with John pitching in 35 seconds into the song with the only lyrics to the song: “Scumbag.” I have to wonder if this sense of humor is more Frank’s than John’s; it seems more Zappa-esque, but who really knows – John was the boss in those days. “Au” happens when the band leaves the stage, and then Yoko carries on with her voice and some feedback. It’s really fantastic, and she gets great applause.

Mind Games - Just a few things in the booklet, namely a press conference pic with John and Yoko, a wonky “Declaration of Nutopia” letter signed and caricatured by both John and Yoko, and a strange message about the three most important books John’s read recently; oh yeah, and a nice picture of a cat on top of it.

The eponymous opening song is probably already very well known for its atmospheric lyrics and gorgeous rhythms; it’s followed by “Tight A$”, which is good fun – some old blistering rock ‘n’ roll from John’s Reeperbahn era. “Aisumasen (I’m Sorry)” is something you’d hear from anyone, whether they’re Madonna or Lunarin, but it’s also a beautiful song that is well-written, nicely produced, and a real keeper. “One Day (At A Time)” sounds like a reject from Sgt Pepper’s. “Bring On The Lucie (Freda People)” is really great, envigorating rock ‘n’ roll with a rousing popular chorus and fantastic right-on lyrics. Fantastic! “Intuition” is sort of a boring folk song that sounds more like Paul than John; “Out of the Blue” sort of sounds like “Sexy Sadie” and something else, but more produced. “Only People” is more rousing groove and fun! “I Know (I Know)” sounds like more confession from John, it’s a nice acoustic ballad that becomes a woodsy rocker (“I’m sorry, yes I am”). It includes the line “Today I love you more than yesterday/ Right now I love you more right now.” Sounds like a less elegant version than something else I know (try Elvis’ Ku-u-i-po: “”Ku-u-i-po I love you more today, More today than yesterday / But I love you less today, Less than I will tomorrow”. Continuing (ironically), with the Hawaiian theme, “You Are Here” is a Honolulu rocker, that includes the line “East is east and west is west, the twain shall meet/ East is west, and west is east, Let it be complete”, disagreeing completely with Rudyard Kilping, who said “East is east and west is west, and never the twin shall meet”. Album closer “Meat City” is a really amazing rocker that includes some crazy voice-manipulated bits in the first part. Were it not for those, it would be one of John Lennon’s best bits of his solo career.

Walls and Bridge - some illustrations, and some pictures of John with long, long hair hanging out with Elton John, who played with him on “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night”. The cover is a collage of three drawings John made when he was 11, the booklet shows all three in their entirety. This album was recorded during John’s lost weekend in Los Angeles with May Pang when he also produced an album with Harry Nilsson, and at one point there was a mini Beatles reunion when Paul McCartney showed up at the studio to jam with John, Nilsson, Stevie Wonder and some other musicians. The recordings are available on YouTube, but they are a bit tough to listen to, with the sounds of bickering an coke snorting.

The album starts well, with the slinky “Going Down On Love”, which is followed closely by the honky tonk funk of “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night”, which features Elton John and his whole band and was Lennon’s first #1 single as a solo artist (and the last one he’d enjoy in his lifetime). “Old Dirt Road” is a boring dirge, at least compared to the ripping funk of the song that follows it, “What You Got.” “Bless You” is a sad song to Yoko that includes some nice horns, while “Scared” is a gloomy tune with a full brass band accompanying it that has some nice guitar work. It hits the spot, while” #9 Dream” is a very nice dreamy song with a gorgeous, memorable tune. “Surprise, Surprise (Sweet Bird of Paradox)” is a groovy rocker that’s punctuated with horns. “Steel and Glass” is an angry rip at Beatles manager Alan Klein, with some dark funk and ominous strings, each verse is another stab at the man. “Beef Jerky” is a cool and silly instrumental, with prominent guitar and cool horns, and an occasional crowd chant of “beef jerky, beef jerky, beef jerky.” “Nobody Loves You (When You’re Down And Out)” feels sorry for itself, with bitter lyrics like “I’ll scratch your back and you’ll knife mine.” Last song is a knocked-off song called “Ya Ya“, a song that John was obliged to release in order to satisfy a settlement with music publisher Morris Levy who was able to establish in court that John and the Beatles ripped off Chuck Berry’s “You Can’t Catch Me” (which he owned the rights to) in “Come Together” (hey – they do sound similar, and he really lifted one of the line – although not as baldly as the Beach Boys did to Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen” in their “Surfin’ USA“; why was everybody ripping off Chuck Berry and treating him so disrespectfully?). An 11-year-old Julian Lennon plays drums. It’s fun, but a bit too short. Lennon would record it properly on his next album (and finally also satisfy his legal obligation to Levy, who had decided after hearing the crappy “Ya Ya” to take things into his own hands by mail-order releasing ROOTS: John Lennon Sings The Great Rock & Roll Hits against John and his record company’s wishes, a major rock ‘n’ roll cock-up… but a very interesting one at least).

Rock ‘N’ Roll - The title, written like that, seems like a typo, but that’s the way it’s spelled (just like Guns N’ Roses looks wrong). The booklet has four pictures of a young John Lennon from the Hamburg days, and no lyrics sheet. The three “ghosts” that are strolling by are the other Beatles (Stuart Sutcliffe, George Harrison and Paul McCartney – seems that Pete Best was absent from the photo shoot that day, or didn’t make it into the photo that was finally used).

The album opens with a faithful version of Gene Vincent’s “Be-Bop-A-Lula”, and is followed by that version of Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” that everybody knows. “Rip It Up” and “Ready Teddy”, both by Bumps Blackwell, are sexy rockers done as a medley, with the provocative lyrics “Gonna rip it up, gonna rock it up, gonna shake it up, gonna ball it up, gonna rick it up and ball tonight,” great rock with horns. “You Can’t Catch Me” is the offending Chuck Berry that John was nailed on for lifting ideas for “Come Together” that brought this whole album into existence – the publisher of “You Can’t Catch Me” agreed to a settlement if John would record some of his songs, and he finally did on this album. Lennon’s version of the song is loud and boisterous and a lot of fun. Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That A Shame”, a song that the Beatles must have played a lot in the early days, and can be heard on Part 1 of the Beatles Anthology DVD series, is given the slow, heavy Cheap Trick treatment. “Do You Want To Dance”, the old Bobby Freeman number, is given a kind of island vibe to it, even if John shouts the chorus. Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen” is a slow, hornified rocker, while “Slippin’ And Slidin’” has a lot of insane energy. Buddy Holly’s “Peggy Sue” is given the full Buddy Holly treatment, with the rolling drums. Who could record anything but a faithful version of this unique classic? “Bring It On Home To Me/Send Me Some Lovin’” is pretty standard, while “Bony Moronie” really zooms, with fantastic fuzz guitar and long, grungy aggressive lyrics. At 2:18, this release’s version of “Ya Ya” is a bit more than twice as long as the version that closes “Walls and Bridges”, which John had done with his 12-year-old son Julian Lennon. It has long instrumental bits and seems more like a kids song than anything else. “Just Because” is a schmaltzy Lloyd Price song that John doesn’t really take seriously and drags out endlessly. It’s pretty boring and not a great album-closer (the sessions also produced another song, “Move Over, Ms. L”, which was the B-side to “Stand By Me”, the album’s only single. It’s in the set, but on another CD).

“Rock’N'Roll” was the last album John would release for five years. In the meantime, he reconciled with Yoko, they had a baby, John cleaned up, he became a devoted father and spent his whole day with his new boy, Sean. After a while, he felt the urge to make music again, and eventually he had enough for “Double Fantasy.”

Double Fantasy - The booklet has pics of John, John and Yoko, and John and Yoko and Sean. It also has a nice pen drawing of John being a dad to his little kid.

The album is a mix of songs by John and Yoko, meaning that approximately every other one is by one or the other. John has seven songs and so does Yoko. John and Yoko did the album by themselves, not under contract to a studio, so they had the luxury of shopping it around. David Geffen was the one who got the contract, and it launched his label. John starts it up with “(Just Like) Starting Over”, the dreamy tune with the angelic chorus backing it up, followed by Yoko’s very new wave “Kiss Kiss Kiss”, a very groovy tune with sampled sounds “da-te” and an orgasmic double climax over the final 30 seconds at the end of the song. This is the album with the greatest Yoko presence, and her first real contribution since her stellar contributions to “Some Time In New York City”, actually. “Cleanup Time” is groovy funky psychedelic slow and peaceful that incorporates nursery rhymes, horns, and some fantastic guitar work. Yoko’s “Give Me Something” is electronic New Wave and sounds a bit like Peter Schilling, very robotic. “Give me something that’s not cold cold cold.” John brings back the soul with the mournful “I’m Losing You”, a hard song to sing or listen to when you know what happened to him later, which Yoko blends into “I’m Moving On”, where she demonstrates the spite of a woman betrayed by her man – it has almost the same beat, but a different riff, it is more mechanical. “You didn’t have to tell a white lie/ you know you scarred me for life/ Don’t stick your finger in my pie/ You know I see through your jive/ I want the truth and nothing more.” Both songs are great, and they’re even better when heard together (which you usually wouldn’t, because radio DJs typically play the former and skip the latter… and so do compilers of John Lennon anthologies). Next is “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)”, a wonderful song for five-year-old Sean Lennon that brings the family back together. “Watching The Wheels” is a regular song and quite well known. “Yes, I’m Your Angel” by Yoko Ono is some sort of 1920s flapper song, not innovative in any way, but still fun. “Woman” by John is that fantastic love song with that great riff and the spacy vocals, hammed up a bit with backing vocalists. Yoko has her own version of a boy song with “Beautiful Boys”, which is gloomy and more like a Nico song than anything else. “Your tears are streaming even when you’re smiling.” “Dear Yoko” is a funky rocker (it starts off with “well-a-well-a-well-a”) with great vocals and terrific lyrics that is somewhat like “Oh Yoko!” from “Imagine”. The last two songs are by Yoko: “Every Man Has A Woman Who Loves Him” is a bit of a New Wave plodder that is a companion to John’s “Nobody Loves You (When You’re Down And Out), and “Hard Times Are Over” is a kind of a warbly Broadway tune that comes off as somewhat overproduced.

Milk and Honey - The booklet has many pictures, mainly John with Sean or Yoko, with a few of him on his own. The final picture is Yoko in a kimono sitting alone, looking off to her right, seeming very lonely. It is the last statement of the set, as the last two CDs (“singles” and “home recordings” don’t have a booklet).

This album was released posthumously, and of the 12 songs odd-numbered songs are John’s, while even-numbered songs are Yoko’s. Some of the songs don’t have that big production, at least not for John’s songs, since Yoko still had a chance to at least see her songs completed. The release opens with “Steppin’ Out”, a fun song about a househusband going crazy after being cooped up with the family for too long and watching Sesame Street, it has a chunky, chugging feel to it. Yoko’s first number “Sleepless Night” is a funky, confused new wave/dub wander around soundscapes and strange grooves, the singing is pretty good. It has a very experimental sound and he Japanese accent seems to be gone. “I Don’t Want to Face It” starts off with John goofing around, saying “un, deux, eins, zwei hickle fickle.” The song is a pretty standard rocker. Yoko’s second number “Don’t Be Scared” is pretty much pure dub, with plenty of deep bass, scratchy guitars and a bit of percussion. It is a bit jazzy and has backing vocals and just sort of meanders aimlessly. “Everybody’s Talking” is that goofy rocker with the weird Thompson Twins percussion feel to it. “O’ Sanity” has an overproduced feel to it, but it is very short and has great, crazy lyrics: “It’s only sane to be insane/ Psychotic builds a castle and lives in it/ I don’t know what to do with my sanity/ When the world’s at the verge of calamity.” John’s “Borrowed Time”, with its ironic title (so many sadly ironic titles on that last album: “I Don’t Want To Face It”, “Nobody Told Me”, “Borrowed Time” and especially “Grow Old With Me”) is quite minimal and simple, also not a very exciting song. “Your Hands” is a sexy song of longing, sung partly in Japanese – she sounds like she’s singing a national anthem in these parts – with the translation of what she’s sung delivered in English in a semi-hurried speaking tone. She delivers one of the set’s strongest lyrics here: “In a day, no matter how many times we meet, it’s not enough/ In a lifetime, no matter how many times we meet, it’s not enough/ In a lifetime, no matter how many times we meet, it’s not enough/ In many lifetimes, no matter how many times we meet, it’s not enough.” The tone is militant, defiant. Oh man – brings a tear every time. “(Forgive Me) My Little Flower Princess” is sort of a Roxy Music crooner sung by an apologetic philanderer. “Let Me Count The Ways” is Yoko’s simple piano ditty for John, talking about how much she misses John, lots of memories. “Grow Old With Me” is a beautiful song, with John singing passionately a really sweet ditty, with piano and simple drum accompaniment. “God bless our love, God bless our love.” The final song, “You’re The One”, is by Yoko – it starts off with the sound of explosions, sampled voices, keyboards, and then erupts into a strange new wave tune that sounds like early Talk Talk. It’s pretty good, she performs a sort of strange vocal ballet that has drips of inspiration for Kate Bush and Bjork. Good stuff, Yoko!

The album cover for “Milk And Honey” is similar to the cover for “Double Fantasy”, just a close-up of John and Yoko showing their love for each other, Yoko looks great, and John looks happy, both of these photos came from the same session. It must be hard for Yoko to look at those pictures after her terrible loss.

It’s hard for me to take, and hard for me to believe, that John was 40 when he was murdered, nearly the same age as I am now. I’m very lucky to have made it this far, and have a beautiful family to share my life with, I wish John could have had the same.

The final two discs are the singles and the rarities. For the singles and B-sides which don’t appear on the albums, there’s the percussion-led and mightily aggressive sax-fuelled “Power To The People” (great!!), “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” (how can you complain? It’s one of the best Christmas songs ever), “Instant Karma” (sounds like a Beatles song), “Cold Turkey” (great bustin’ blues stomp), and “Give Peace A Chance” (one of the greatest group raps ever – stellar!). There’s also “Move Over Ms L”, the B-side to “Stand By Me” from “Rock’N'Roll”. The song is good fun, with its rollicking beat, and the horns keeping things hot.

The home recordings have four songs not found on any other CD in this set, and seven demos of well-known songs, most of which are for songs that appear on the first album. These include a version of “Mother” that sounds a lot like the original albeit without the 34 seconds of gloomy church bell toming at the beginning; similar for “Love” and “God”, which are presented in stripped-down acoustic versions. “Remember” is just the song without the intro, John singing and playing the piano. “I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier Mama” is John with guitar, piano and drum accompaniment, it is very folky with a bit of honky tonk while the final recording is full of electric sounds, intense vocals and is quite swampy and sinister. “I Found Out” is very familiar, while “Nobody Told Me” is even more stripped down, with a horrible recording quality. “Isolation” is just John’s voice with piano, he still sounds a lot like Roger Waters. “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)” is a very stripped-down version, with just voice, guitar, and handclaps and different lyrics.

Then there are the original songs: “Honey Don’t” is not on other albums, it sounds like an old rocker. “One Of The Boys” is John and guitar, friendly and homey, as is “India, India,” which sounds almost like a James Taylor groove-out. “Serve Yourself” is a song mocking religious freaks that sort of parodies Bob Dylan’s “Serve Somebody”, quite righteously taking the piss out of old Bob.

As a bonus, here’s a clip of John and Bob bickering in a taxi in London:

Robert Plant discography box – Nine Lives

Saturday, November 27th, 2010
RPNL

RPNL

Robert Plant discography “Nine Lives”, box – This is a box set of Robert Plant’s first nine solo releases (he includes in this the Honeydrippers release, although it’s not really solo Plant), as well as a DVD documentary that includes also his promotional videos. The design of the set is unique, with the nine CDs and one DVD fitting into little sleeves, with a 60-page booklet sliding in and out of its own sleeve. Nice.

The presentation of the set is absolutely beautiful, with haunting “Ship of Fools” artwork on the cover, the back cover, the inside pages and all throughout the booklet. It was done by Grahame Baker-Smith, the same person who did the work on Mighty ReArranger, the ninth of the nine lives, and Plant’s most recent album at the time of the 2006 box set (he’s had two since – Raising Sand with Alison Krauss in 2007, and Band of Joy in 2010). For the first 12 pages of the booklet, we only get pictures of Plant (nice one of him wearing a Jimmy Page t-shirt, another one of him playing an acoustic guitar), but eventually other band members drift in. The highly flattering essay eventually drifts into case studies for each album, some of which include conceptual album cover art (Honeydrippers Volume 1, Now and Zen, Mighty Rearranger) that was never used, and descriptions of what sets that release apart from the other career work that Plant’s done; the purple prose notes that Plant outdoes himself with each release (ho hum). There’s a nice set of pictures of Plant and his band around each album section, like a picture of him rocking out with the Stray Cats in 1985, pictures of him in concert, pictures of him on the sets of his videos, Plant wandering the deserts of the world, the covers of some of the singles, a picture of Plant at a bar juggling six lemons (!!!), and a random concert poster of a 2003 gig in Belorussia. One anomaly, however, is the Fate of Nations chapter, which only shows pictures of Plant.

“Pictures at Eleven” (1982) – Robert Plant’s first solo LP, this is the one that put the pressure on the man to come up with something worthy of his Led Zeppelin material (and something that neither Jimmy Page or John Paul Jones has done). Very ballsy, but of course he pulls it off, probably because he had a crack band that included Robbie Blunt on guitar and Phil Collins on drums (Collins not only recorded on Plant’s first two albums, but he also toured with him on his second tour – wasn’t he doing anything else from 1981-1983? …actually, he released a solo album in 1981, “Face Value” and also “Genesis” with his band, and in 1983 there was “Abacab”. Did the man never sleep?). The album has three two songs that were played on the radio at the time, “Pledge Pin” and the album opener “Burning Down One Side”, which is a rocker with a nice solo. “Midnight in Samosa” is Spanish-themed and a pretty funky little number with great moods. “Pledge Pin” rocks in a sort of simple new wave way and is not over-produced, just a solid straight track. There’s a cool sax solo and some spooky keyboard outro parts that the sax plays over, something new for Robert Plant (but also very early-80s). “Slow Dancer” is a spooky bluesy haunter with a wailing Robert Plant going crazy and some middle eastern strings. In the middle, after the brilliant solo, there’s this weird keyboard moment, and some chanting (!?!), then another brilliant solo. Maybe the best song on the album, and very Led Zeppelin/Kashmir grandiose (drummer on this song is Cozy Powell, not Phil Collins). “Worse Than Detroit” has boring lyrics from Robert Plant, but good band jamming on chilled out guitar and some great harmonica and slide guitar. “Fat Lip” is a light, groovy little rocker. “Like I’ve Never Been Gone” is a great haunting song that is initially dominated by Plant’s voice. Cozy Powell is also the drummer on this track (although Collins plays on the excellent live version from the 1983 “Principle of Moments” tour). Great little solo there. “Mystery Title” is a rocker with wailing vocals and a bit of jazz aside and some screaming guitar freakout at the end, while “Far Post” is a bit of a jaunty, poppy rocker. “Far Post” is the B-side from the UK “Burning Down One Side” single release, which was, like the album and all of its singles, released on Swan Song records, one of its last before it folded in 1983 (I guess “Pictures at Eleven” was Swan Song’s swan song).

“The Principle of Moments” (1983) – The second album starts off with “Other Arms”, a fast number that is pretty groovy, but not too exciting. Better, in some ways is “In The Mood”, a trippy, dreamy number that is good fun and has a wild little solo. Unfortunately, the fun is put off a little by the dated breakdancing and other nonsense from the accompanying video, but that’s probably besides the point – it’s a great song. “Messin’ With The Mekon” is a bit of a boring number with weird timings, and a “Phil Collins roll” at the beginning that sounds like it was lifted from “Sussudio”. “Wreckless Love” is a righteous rocker that steamrolls with compelling might and some wild middle eastern sounds (and some cheezy keyboard blasts and electric drumming). “Horizontal Departure” is tight and punky, while “Stranger Here… Than Over There” is weird and moody like a Cure song and there are amorphous lyrics and bizarre keyboard blasts, it sounds like a B-side. Curiously, this oddity comes just before “Big Log”, the last song on the album and probably one of the best things that Robert Plant has ever recorded solo (and maybe better than plenty of Led Zeppelin tracks). No problems here about the imagery from the video marring appreciation of the song – it’s a great video. No need to say much about this masterpiece, everybody’s probably heard it. I only wish that the distracting programmed clap beat were a little lower in the mix. But what a song, what guitar, what singing!

The bonus tracks are good. The live version of “In The Mood” is okay; better is an 11:11 version of “Through With The Two Step”, a song that (like the shorter regular release version) starts off very slow, with cheezy keyboard, and promises to be very boring, but before too long begins to blaze with a really amazing moody guitar solo at mid-song that sort of lingers on and on and on; there’s another verse, and then another blazing solo, with vocal groundout. Great! The penultimate track is a cover of Bob Marley’s “Lively Up Yourself”, which is good fun, although the boys never really pull off a true reggae feel. Maybe they were never trying to. I don’t know how many covers Plant played in those early days, but this is an early example of what became a habit of his – he has since released two covers albums (Honeydrippers and Dreamland – Band of Joy has quite a few covers on it too). “Turnaround” is an unreleased song, it’s a funky cool number with nice slide guitar and a bit of a funk feel. No idea why it was rejected for the release, it’s certainly tons better than “Stranger Here… Than Over There”.

“The Honeydrippers (Volume One)” (1984) – A mega project that Robert Plant had been trying to put together since even before his first solo album, “Picures At Eleven”, the Honeydrippers assembles Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck and Nile Rogers on guitar, and Paul Schaffer on piano. But it is very much Plant’s project, along with Atlantic chairman Ahmut Ertegun who is billed as the producer “Nutegre” (Ertegun backwards). “I Get A Thrill” has great Plant vocals and doo-wop backup singing, and a blistering little guitar solo from Jimmy Page. “Sea of Love” is, of course, well known and syrupy smooth with a nice Jimmy Page solo. “I Got A Woman” is a Ray Charles song and comes off as very Elvis-y, and has a sax solo and a bit of Jeff Beck’s backing guitar (no solo). “Young Boy Blues” is a lot like “Sea of Love” with its syrupy vocals and the soaring strings, but this song has no guitar solo. “Rockin’ at Midnight” is a very horn-y song that is supposed to have a bit of Jeff Beck too, but you can hardly hear anything below the horns – no, wait, there’s a Jeff Beck mini-solo. The release also has a bootlegged recording of “Rockin’ at Midnight” done one year after it was released, with a full horn section and plenty of horn solos. Great!

“Shaken ‘n’ Stirred (1985) – This was the final release of the original Robert Plant solo band with Robbie Blunt and the others (Ritchie Hayward of Little Feat replaced Phil Collins on drums). It’s very experimental, with lots of synthesizer and synthesized guitars (ugh… why would you do such a thing to a guitar?), as well as strong backing vocals from Toni Halliday. The album is called avant garde in the liner notes, but it’s not really that. Opener “Hip To Hoo” is all over the place, with light guitars, funky bass, some jazzy bits, keyboards all over the place, female accompaniment as well as backup singers blurting out “cheap, cheap.” “Kallalou Kallalou” starts off with busy keyboards, and then moves into a funky/choppy/angular rocker a la something from Led Zeppelin’s “Presence” (but with backing vocals). The solo is damn funky, too bad the backing track is so busy. “Too Loud” is very synthy and new wave, with tons of wanky keyboard bleats, odd breaks and jarring synth blasts. “Rings on your fingers, bells on your toes”, I’ve heard that lyric somewhere before… Plant raps! Then there’s some gay Spanish man talking over the track – brutal. Probably Plant’s worst song so far (or ever – the man doesn’t really put out bad music), it’s hard to grasp that this song was actually selected as a single! “Talk to me Victor, talk to me Victor,” Plant says at the end of the other guy’s monologue. Huh? “Trouble Your Money” is a better, with cool vibes and guitar shades, tappity percussion, and a chilled-out vibe. “Pink and Black” is pretty standard rock ‘n’ roll, moving along with a busy beat that is more bass and drums than guitar, and Plant howls and yelps about love. “Little By Little” tries to be this album’s “Big Log,” but suffers from being a bit too keyboard-heavy. Nonetheless, it’s a pretty nice song, and the disc includes a remix that adds about half a minute to its 4:46 running time. Nice bridge in the middle – a whole song based on that riff (which reappears at the closeout, along with some cool guitar and vocal wailing) would have been splendid. “Doo Doo A Do Do” is not a song about poo poo, but it’s full of nonsensical/smutty lyrics like “Nobody can do the jerk, like you do/Oh, no no no, come on, dance in the dark.” Go, Robert, go! The song has a good bass- and keyboard-driven beat, and lots of moaning and groaning and ‘oh yeah’ and ‘oh no no no’ and all sorts of other preening and posing. The the background singers come in with their “Shoop shopp, sha-la-la-las.” Crazy. “Easily Lead” (yes, that’d not a typo, it’s “lead”, as in the lead of a pencil, or “lead,” which rhymes with “need”; it’s not “led”, as in “Led Zeppelin”, which rhymes with “deadhead”) doesn’t seem to be about Led Zeppelin at all, and the typo must be a deliberate dodge, because it’s actually about a woman who’s “so professional”. The song is fast and rockin’ without any annoying production elements – except maybe some powerful keyboards – but some pretty funky bass, and a nice lead-out solo. “Sixes and Sevens” has a very synthesized guitar feel to it and is very dated in parts.

Now and Zen (1988) – When I was listening to Robert Plant today, my son noticed this title – “Hey, ‘Now and Zen’!” he said to me, ha ha – the boy’s name is Zen, which is why he’d take note. Here Plant records with a new bunch of musicians from his first three solo releases, “Pictures At Eleven, “Principle Of Moments” and “Shaken ‘n’ Stirred”; his primary songwriter is now band keyboardist Phil Johnstone. In fact, Johnstone and engineer Dave Barrett co-wrote the opening track, “Heaven Knows”, the first time so far that Plant hasn’t had a hand in writing one of his band’s original numbers. That song is quite majestic, although some of the lyrics are questionable (“You were pumping iron while I was pumping irony”. It is also sprinkled with great Jimmy Page guitar parts and has a furious original Page solo as well. Great! “Dance on my Own” is synth pop with groovy guitar bits and an addictive chorus. “Tall Cool One”, the well-known song with its melange of Led Zeppelin songs distraction in the middle, is serious fun, and totally whacked out. Not only are the lyrics pretty cool “Lighten up, baby, I’m in love with you”, but it’s got Jimmy Page playing guitar throughout (an improvement from their last joint ventures, “I Get A Thrill” and “Sea Of Love”), as well as samples from old Led Zeppelin songs. It’s a modern masterpiece. “The Way I Feel” is a moody rocker that’s a bit jangly, nice song. “Helen of Troy” is great guitar-based rock ‘n’ roll with cool riffs, while “Billy’s Revenge” has elements of doo-wop and Link Wray at the same time, with a nasty old guitar riff blasting away – magic. “Ship of Fools”, meanwhile, tries to recapture the mood and majesty of “Big Log” with a pretty riff and some nice singing, but the big drum roll in the middle that moves it into second gear kind of breaks the spell. “Why” is a chunky new age song with sexy backup singers (one of whom was Kirsty MacColl!) and their “oh-oh-oh”. “White, Clean and Neat” is a slow song with a groovy guitar riff and finger snaps, and it’s about a young man discovering the blues. In a keyboard-driven outro, strange, haunting speech samples fill out the end of the song and add to the mystery. It’s a tall, cool tune. “Walking Towards Paradise”, by one J Williams (who I can’t seem to find out much about) is a slack pop song. The disc comes with three bonus songs, a blistering live version of “Billy’s Revenge” (it should be a blistering version – it’s a blistering song), a very long version of “Ship of Fools” (way too long, actually), and “Tall Cool One” (boogie! boogie!! and included are some bits that weren’t in the album version!!); these live tracks were all lifted from “bootlegs” recorded in the 1990s, according to the liner notes.

It’s funny – at the time, I thought that “Now And Zen” was a great album, but now I see it as practically his creative nadir – as good as it is, each of the releases that follow this one exceeds it, and they seem to progressively improve on their predecessors as well.

“Manic Nirvana” (1990) – A real rock ‘n’ roll album, with few of the arty and keyboard-driven flourishes of the previous two; the production also seems less dates and more hard-driven. Opening track “Hurting Kind (I’ve Got My Eyes On You)” could be Zep-like, except maybe for the backing vocals (need to make it different somehow). “Big Love” starts out with big drums, then big organs, then big voice, but it still has a bit of a doo-wop feel to it somehow, and a big ole chorus with lots of hollerin’. It’s BIG! “S S S & Q” blazes with a rockin’ blues blaze and slide (stellar), it’s a horny love song. The chorus “Here comes the rain again” sounds a bit like a ripoff of someone else’s song, but that’s okay – it rocks in ways that the cool and collected “Here Comes The Rain Again” by the Eurythmics just didn’t. “I Cried” is a very soft, sad song, led by acoustic guitars and thumping percussion. “She Said” is sort of a squawking rocker that blazes after the softness of “I Cried,” while “Nirvana” is a nutty rocker with jangly INXS “New Sensation”-style guitars, and a cool (ironic?) chorus of “Nir-VA-naaaa.” “Tie Die On The Highway” is a cool trip-hop-ish rocker that starts out with a quote from Wavy Gravy at Woodstock, “Good morning. What we have in mind was breakfast in bed for 400,000″ and some spooky organs that jumps into a great riff. It blazes! Oddly, Plant’s normally-strong vocals are a bit outclassed by the band here – if that’s possible – and the production, which is great fun. The song has a great harmonica solo, with some techno wave, another Woodstock sample (“We must be in Heaven, man…”). More blaze, great song. “Your Ma Said You Cried In Your Sleep Last Night” is a funky dirge, with lots of ‘na na na na na’ and Plant parsing his own “Black Dog.” Cool drum stomp. “Anniversary” is a spooky keyboard-driven dirge that picks up with scary drum beats, building up to something ominous… like a cool guitar solo. “Anniversary” is a short acoustic and vocal ditty, probably the first such a simple arrangement on a Robert Plant solo album so far (he had many more – most of “Raising Sand” is simple arrangements). “Watching You” starts off with a heavy percussion-led stomp, then gets into other cool moods – keyboards, shimmering guitar – and then Robert Plant’s majestic voice. The song includes voices from Siddi Makain Mushkin and some heavenly Robert Plant wailing. Stellar. Wow! “Oompa (Watery Bint)” is a cool, lite number with a funky keyboard sound and some googly guitar spritzes to keep things groovy, it’s a very dramatic, humorous number with a glorious keyboard break in the middle. Great fun! “One Love” is a boppy number with very nice guitar grooves and some tribal rock ‘n’ roll drumming mood that evokes Buddy Holly. “Don’t Look Back” is part popper, part call-and-response from the band. Good fun, great vibes, fantastic album – wish there was more Manic Nirvana!

“Fate of Nations” (1993) – Robert Plant’s last album for nearly a decade starts off with “Calling To You”, noisy and hot and bothered, an orgy of really cool noise with a very tight band really unfolding, from the spooky glistening shades at the beginning to the crazy Nigel Kennedy fiddlework at the end. Rob really cuts loose too, one of his best solo songs. The album is a very British affair, with all sorts of traditional English sounds and musicians. “Down To The Sea” starts off with some keyboard, some tabla, then some cool guitar, Plant’s voice, and the song soars over and upward. “Come Into My Life” is a great soldiering song that includes background vocals from Maire Brennan of Clanaad and guitar from Richard Thompson – nothing sounds quite like that guitar. Lots of different sounds coming through here. The album loses momentum with “I Believe”, which sounds very much like a mid-80s super-produced pop song (coming out well after the end of that era, even – what’s up with that?). Even worse is “29 Palms”, which is not only poppy, but also more than just a bit kitschy. Things get back on track with “Memory Song (Hello Hello)”, which starts off with some cool Eastern-influenced guitar, a scary bass sound, and some real Plant crooning. Somewhere in the middle there’s something in a major key, but then Plant gets back to full-throated yells, and the blues guitar comes back in. Wilderness. “If I Were A Carpenter” is a straight-forward acoustic cover of the Tim Hardin song, with strings too, of course (and sitar!). It sounds great. “Promised Land” is totally nutso – it sounds like it has big fat Jimmy Page guitars on it, and some great tribal percussion and wailing blues harp. “The Greatest Gift” starts off moody like a Sade song, and then continues on like a moody Sade song. Very nice. “Great Spirit” is sung in falsetto and is almost like smooth R&B, sorta, but is still a very nice song, still full of Led Zeppelin puns (“the accident remains the same”). There’s also a great Mississippi blues version of this song with Rainer Ptacek as one of the extras. “Network News” is an impossibly funky guitar rocker that just zooms on and on, spliced occasionally with background vocals, then wild Indian instruments and an “electric orchestra”, whatever that is. Crazy crunchy guitar sounds coming out of this song. “Colours of a Shade” is a very Gaellic song, probably the most Gaellic offering from Plant since the “Battle Of Evermore” on Led Zeppelin IV. “Roller Coaster”, an unreleased demo, also has a sort of upbeat smooth Sade feel to it, “a roller coaster in my heart”. “8:05″ is a sappy old country standard originally written by Moby Grape (Plant loves Moby Grape, not to mention its misguided genius Skip Spence), played solo acoustic with Cutting Crew’s Kevin Scott McMichael providing backing vocals, it sounds great. “Dark Moon” is a spooky old blues song that Plant sings, accompanied by swampy steel guitar from Rainer Ptacek.

At 16 tracks, four of them bonus tracks, and over 78 minutes of music, this is probably the most generous release on “Nine Lives” – it’s full of great songs and lots of bonuses.

“Dreamland” (2002) – After a nine-year hiatus, where he put out two albums with Jimmy Page (“No Quarter” and “Walking Into Clarksdale”, which mainly presented both Led Zeppelin versions, but also had some new songs on the latter), Robert Plant came back with a new album, filled mostly with covers (and two originals). Listening to the album is huge fun, because it encourages me to investigate the originals (and even some famous covers by other artists, like Nazareth’s version of Bonnie Dobson’s “Morning Dew”), some of which I’d not been familiar with before this. It’s also probably his best solo album, and it debuts a new band, The Strange Sensation, which among its many multi-instrumentalists includes members of Portishead and the Cure. Plant recorded with them on Dreamland, and co-billed with them on its followup Mighty ReArranger. The album starts with a huge bang with “Funny in my Mind (I Believe I’m Fixin’ to Die)”, a Bukka White song to which the band added its names to the song credits due to the the extreme revisions they put the song through (kind of like what Led Zeppelin did on their first album, actually). It’s no longer this, but it’s this. It starts off with a droning Middle Eastern keyboard instrument, then great thundering bass and frantic drumming, and then Plant’s sandy voice. The song later freaks out with some fantastic wah guitar. Bukka White this ain’t! “Morning Dew”, a post-apocalyptic folk song written by Canadian singer Bonnie Dobson in 1962 and covered by many famous artists, is pretty mellow, has strings, and no unusual flourishes, other than a really cool swaying guitar “solo”. Here’s the original, and the AMAZING Nazareth version. “One More Cup of Coffee” is a Dylan cover, probably one of the first ever by either Plant or anybody else from Led Zeppelin, it’s a great song. Chilling how he shouts “to the valley below.” The song will haunt you. “The Last Time I Saw Her” is an original composition with Plant and all band members credited, it’s so-so, and very much about wah effects. A short remix (trims over a minute from the song), spruces it up with some techno flourishes, and some groovy female vocals (‘da da da, da-da da da da’ and ‘c’mon c’mon!’). There’s even a magnificent new slide guitar solo thrown in, while the moody wah-based solo of the original is put aside. It works. “Song to the Siren” is a beautiful, faithful-to-the-original acoustic cover of the Tim Buckley song that also has some sweeping orchestral keyboards to prop it up. The masterpiece of the album is probably “Win My Train Fare Home (If I Ever Get Lucky)”, an original song by Robert Plant and the Strange Sensation that “contains elements of “If I Ever Get Lucky” (Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup), “Milk Cow’s Calf Blues” (Robert Johnson), “Crawlin’ King Snake” by John Lee Hooker, and “That’s Alright Mama” (Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup” again). The song is swampy and boils along with Plant’s moan, some percussion, and some eery (and eerily Middle Eastern-sounding) blues guitar. A stunner. Apparently, Plant and Justin Adams sang a killer version of it live at the Festival in the Desert in Mali that can be heard on another compilation album, “Sixty Six to Timbuktu”, which has album releases on one disc and unreleased tracks from 1966 (Band of Joy era, pre-Led Zeppelin) to 2003. The most obvious borrowings are from “If I Ever Get Lucky” and “Crawlin’ King Snake”, with “lucky” and “crawl” oft-repeated words in the song. I can’t really hear “Milk Cow’s Calf Blues” or “That’s Alright Mama” (except for a snatch of lyrics). The song starts off spooky and swampy, like The Doors’ “The End”, then builds into some cool jammin’. “Darkness, Darkness” by Jesse Colin Young is another spooky, swampy number, starting off with Plant’s voice and gurgling organ, before “hitting it” with guitar cords and drums, eventually crescendoing in a full-on guitar solo. Great keyboard sounds, great guitar sounds, and Plant’s voice is in fine form, the song ends with a total grunge-out. Stunning. “Red Dress” is a band song, and it’s a bit of a jam, with wailing Plant vocals, some guitar and blues harp jamming, but is nothing special. Next up is a swampy, spooky version of “Hey Joe” (nearly every other song on this recording is swampy and spooky) that builds and builds with strange pluckings, electronic mood sounds, and spasms of guitar squeal a la Grinderman. After some buildup, the band launches into a phrase of the Jimi Hendrix version of the great song (there are few similarities besides this one – the pace, and even the lyrics, are different), before building up into a great deal of feedback and guitar squeal feedback, with the band just going nuts on drum and percussion, the song quietens down. This happens once in the middle of the song, and once at the end. Magic. “Skip’s Song” has a very Led Zeppelin feel to it, as heard in the keyboard wander/guitar blast of “Thank You,” right down to a section that reminds you of the “little drops of rain” bridge. Close your eyes and it’s Led Zeppelin II time again, at least until the female vocals come in. It’s by Skip Spence, the Windsor, Ontario musician who was a co-founder of Moby Grape and who played in Jefferson Airplane and Quicksilver Messenger Service (!!). Original song “Dirt in a Hole”, a bonus track, is fast-moving and bluesy.

“Mighty ReArranger” (2005) – By “Robert Plant and the Strange Sensation”, and the first time in his 25-year solo career that Plant has had his name on an album cover next to his band’s and co-songwriters’ (he would repeat the faour on his next album, “Raising Sand”, with Alison Krauss, before returning to form with “Band of Joy” in 2010, which is credited on the cover to Robert Plant only). Interestingly, conceptual artwork included in the “Nine Lives” box shows that at one point there was no “and the Strange Sensation” on the cover. According to the “Nine Lives” booklet, Plant turned down an invitation to attend the Grammy Awards to receive a special prize because he was putting this album together. Opening track “Another Tribe” is pounding in its use of percussion, but is otherwise sweet and pure and lacks the edge of most of the songs on previous release “Dreamland”, which came after a nine-year absence from a solo career. “Mighty ReArranger” only comes three years after its predecessor, and it has on it some funky techno sounds along with the acoustic strumming, the Arabian strings and the world music percussion. “Shine It All Around” is kind of trip-hoppy, with sledgy beats, and a great blasting, soaring chorus that sounds nearly Soundgarden-ish (weird that Plant would sound like Chris Cornell, who has built a career out of emulating Plant; or is he being playful here? Blame the producer, I say…). The sarcastic “Freedom Fries” is a groovy number that quotes “American Pie” (“The Father the Son and the Holy Ghost, they caught the last train for the coast”) and name-drops “Raising Sand”, the title of his next album… and then goes into some groovy guitar boogie. “Tin Pan Valley” starts off with some cool electronics, percussion, and Plant’s voice, then jumps into some crunchy guitars and hollering. Night and day – great! “All The King’s Horses” is a sweet acoustic number laced with a touch of moody electronics. “The Enchanter” starts off swampy, with a groovy blues bass and guitar grindout, but then gets busy with some techno flourishes and guitar squeals, very trippy. Some very nice electronic sounds at the end of the song, to take it into “Takamba”, a rockin’ political number that talks about UK being the 52nd state. Whatever. It’s still a righteous blues-based blaster with great droning vocal delivery. Plenty of whipping guitar duels at the end of the song and fiery yelps from Mr Plant himself. “Dancing in Heaven” is a pretty standard popper, while “Somebody Knocking” is more Middle Eastern and Led Zeppelin, like maybe “Celebration Day”, with somewhat aimless jamming and big moody backgrounds, fat ringing chords and all sorts of flavours and colours. “Let The Four Winds Blow” is a bit of a rockin’ boogie number with mood and attitude, very happy to know this song – beautiful. “Mighty ReArranger” is a big, funky boogie with monk-like background vocals and mouth harp, then smashing boogie tile. “Brother Ray” is about the passing of Ray Charles (not a companion piece to “Sister Ray”, but I think there might be a reference here – I wonder if Plant and Reed get along…), and it’s a fragment of a longer blues jam. It’s also the last song on the album proper, but here is still followed by five bonus tracks. “Red White and Blue” is a country song masked in the blues, that somehow also has similar “Celebration Day” colours. “All of the Money in the World” is a pretty boring pop song. “Shine It All Around (Girls Remix)” is a bit of Plant techno, that builds up with beats, has some Plant wails, has some vocorder voices, goofy keyboard, and snazzy drum samples. Good fun – sounds better than it sounds (?!?). It is a bit repetitive, and you do get the feeling that maybe the DJ cut and pasted the first half of the song onto the end in order to double the length (do DJs get paid by the beat?). “Tin Pan Valley (Girls Remix)” has the cliched flourishes of a techno track, but it also has a fun break beat that just goes on and on, and there’s a bit more of Plant’s whispy vocals to drive it along. The song builds up to a crunch-out, and Plant’s vocals are shattered and spliced and thrown into the technoblender. “The Enchanter (Unkle Reconstruction Remix)” is a pretty conventional remix, meaning that it retains a lot of the original song, mainly adding busy beats, then zooming it along into the rest of this funky song.

Bonus DVD – A crafted and produced docu-interview that covers the years of these nine CDs accompanies the set. It’s not great, as it mainly highlights how boring Robert Plant is as a person/interviewee (although there are moments of crafty/arty brilliance nonetheless). And in some ways, the guest interviewees balance Plant a lot, giving a lot of character (Lenny Kravitz, John McEnroe) where Plant lacks. “It’s a very unusual marriage and relationship between the nine albums,” he says, blandly. But then Lenny Kravitz talks about hearing “Black Dog” the first time he smoked pot, which changed the direction of his life. Phil Collins, no great flame as an interviewee, nonetheless talks about the days drumming for Plant’s first solo albums, it’s a cool little slice of history. Then Tori Amos, who I think was one of Plant’s lovers, talks about the man. “When I heard the men at the church saying that Led Zeppelin was bringing the devil to their daughters, I thought ‘oh, yippee – finally!’” Roy Harper, lookin’ cool, talks about how he saw Plant walking around followed by five women. Roger Daltry notes that “Robert was a tower or rock ‘n’ roll passion, sensuality an sexual energy.” Plant talks about how it was disconcerting to be solo, because at age 32 he had to learn a new role, lost his friends, had no instructions for the future. Talked about getting the band together again. Ahmet Ertegun, sounding shaky, also gave his recount of those days (Ertegun died on December 14th 2006 at age 83 after sustaining a head injury; this prompted a Led Zeppelin concert reunion on December 10th, 2007). Phil Collins, a force of energy, creativity and professionalism, helped launch his first solo album. Phil got excited and tearful. Dubious videos, like “In The Mood” are still good fun. John McEnroe talks about cliches on fighting with umpires, playing “Stairway to Heaven.” Nudie suit. “The good news is that people will remember you for the rest of your life; the bad news is that you have to live up to yourself.” Plant wept at his first solo gig in Peoria when he saw the crowd eruption. He begins one of his stories as “one night in a sex club in Tokyo…” with Ahmed Ertagun. Tori Amos sounds so stoned… About “Tie Die On The Highway”: “I don’t know about the summer of love, but I know that the year after I finally found a tribe to belong to. They were turning the world upside down.” Tori Amos: “Watching Robert Plant perform made me re-think how to be a woman. Because there’s a real femininity with the hammer of Thor in him. There’s this duality he possesses. At a time that women in music were circumcising their femininity, thinking that made them stronger, made me think that that didn’t make me stronger at all, just empty.” Nigel Kennedy sounds like a lad with his neon yellow cap. “Plant is smart enough to work with a guitarist like Jimmy Page.” Bobbie Gillespie – Evil Heat – 2002 – Kate Moss. Plant mentions Lenny Kravitz. Jesse Collin Young “Get Together”, the Youngbloods, voice of an angel, loved “Darkness Darkness.” “You can read my letters, but you can’t read my mind”, “You can mistreat me here, but you can’t when I get home.” There wasn’t one lyric that wasn’t taken from another song. Steals an apple from the juggler. Stoic sub-Saharan boy. “Burning Down One Side.” Crap judo. Tons of cheap ’80s chicks. Tears off shirt and walks down highway – like “Falling Down.” “Big Log” feels a lot like “Paris, Texas”. Has a lower back tattoo. Gas station torii. Cool sunset. Green Back Films presents: “In The Mood.” With breakdancers, jumps in pool “Rockin’ at Midnight,” camera on Plant, even during guitar solos. Scenes mix between punks of 50s and ’90s. “Sea of Love”, singing behind tux jacket on drying line. String of violinists at pier at sunset. Xylophonoist waiting. “Little By Little” on bog, scene with dog with transvestite. “Pink and Black” very punk and edgy.

One major complaint about this box set: no lyrics!!!

Richard Thompson’s Walking On A Wire box

Saturday, November 27th, 2010
RTWOAW

RTWOAW

Richard Thompson “Walking on a Wire”, 4CD box – I was interested in Fairport Convention as I like British folk from that era – Nick Drake, Roy Harper, and to some extent even Pink Floyd – and I’m fascinated by the stunning Sandy Denny, the only person to ever accompany Robert Plant on Vocals on “The Battle of Evermore.” And from Sandy Denny and Fairport Convention you naturally have to wander backwards to Richard Thompson. I’ve watched some YouTube videos of him, what a guitarist, what a performer, what a quick tongue. And I was curious to hear more of him, so I invested in this box set, which wanders along all of the phases of this amazing musician’s career. This box set is rather old school as it doesn’t have any special adornments, but is quite functional – it covers all of the phases of Richard Thompson’s career, starting with his work with Fairport Convention, moving on to his work with his (then) wife Linda, before going into what he’s done since and on his own. The booklet has lots of great photos of a young Richard, skinny and shy and a bit odd-looking, and without a guitar strapped around his neck, before getting to pictures of Richard either posing with bandmates or performing somewhere. In early years you see the young man with long, curly locks, and later on bearded with a beret.

The four CDs don’t have any special packaging, but the tall and slim 60-page booklet is very nice, with a long essay and tons of rare photos. It has essays by a few different people, but doesn’t give much information about the 70 tracks on the album other than songwriting credits, although it runs through a “selected album discography and sessionography” that runs down who played what on these albums. The set starts with “Time Will Show The Wiser”, a not-so-interesting but pleasant song written by American songwriter Emmett Rhodes, then picks up with “Meet On The Ledge”, where we get our first snatch of Sandy Denny vocals, which come in right after the male vocals, and is stunning. The rousing chorus is also fantastic.

Most of the songs on this set get five out of five stars for me, but even there I have found plenty of amazing standouts. “Crazy Man Michael” has great Sandy Denny vocals (which Sandy Denny vocals aren’t great, though?), “The Poor Ditching Boy” is a great Scottish ballad that Richard did solo just after he left Fairport Convention, and he sings it with a strong strong voice.

“The Angels Took My Racehorse Away” is rousing rock, and you can hear prominently Linda Peters, who later became Linda Thompson, singing background vocals. There are 21 songs from the Linda Thompson era and most of them are stellar. Linda’s voice is a bit like Sandy’s, but purer, stronger (while maybe a little less soulful), and she sounds a lot like Nathalie Merchant. “Withered and Died” is practically a country song that is mainly taken by Linda’s strong voice, with a few squirmy solos by Richard. “Down Where The Drunkards Roll” is a gloomy Celtic song with weird organ sounds, with nice backing vocals by Richard singing in his deepest deep voice. “The Calvary Cross” has this crazy Eastern mystic intro that bends weird notes all over the place, then becomes a shifty and mellow groover with lots of reverb, sung by Richard. “Dimming Of The Day” is probably the most mellow song I’ve ever heard; David Gilmour does a great version, although his stately voice and splendid enunciation don’t quite have the soul that Richard and Linda do. This music is so beautiful. It is coupled with a very nice instrumental called “Dargai.” The song “Strange Affair” is a truly beautiful song sung by Linda, very understated with lots of emphasis on her voice, with some nice backing by Richard. “Sisters” is a very good song, supremely sung by Linda with a piano and guitar accompaniment, the lyrics are among the most intense I’ve ever heard, with lines like “Don’t call me your sister and put a knife through my heart”. Wow. “Man In Need” is a crazy old pub rocker sung by Richard that is a lot of fun, while “Shoot Out The Lights” is a freaked-out rock number. “Wall of Death” is one of Richard and Linda’s best songs, they have a fantastic harmonisation, singing “Let me ride on the wall of death one more time.” Beauty from end to end. “Walking On A Wire” is pretty corny, despite being the song that the collection is named after; nonetheless, it has some incredible solos in it. More to my heart is “Tear Stained Letter”, which sounds easily like a rollicking little something that the Pogues could have written. Lots of great lyrics, like “My head was beating like a song from the Clash/ It was writing cheques that my body couldn’t cash.” “Beat The Retreat” is a song with just Richard and his guitar, it sounds so incredibly anguished, each note and each tone is just from the bottom of his soul. Splendid! “Turning of the Tide” is a musty old rocker, with its pickup about pickups. Crazy. “I Misunderstood” is a song that, at the offset, doesn’t sound so fantastic, more like just another ’80s ballad, until you get to lyrics like “But I misunderstood/ But I misunderstood/ But I misunderstood/ I thought she was saying ‘good luck’/ She was saying ‘good-bye’” That song is followed immediately by what is probably the best song in the selection, “1952 Vincent Black Lightning,” a tale sung by Richard on solo guitar about a woman who meets the rider of the title motorbike, who tells her “Red hair and black leather/ My favourite colour scheme.” The song is like a Scottish shanty, but it is set in a modern time, and tells the tale of a doomed 21-year-old, his girl and his bike. Beautiful, with great singing and fantastic guitarwork. Here is a pic of a real 1952 vincent black lightning.

The later songs are not as great, but there are a few nice selections, like the new wave rocker “Razor Dance”, which has some nice lyrics, starting off with “After the death of a thousand kisses/ Comes the catacomb of tongues.” “Persuasion” is a beautiful ditty sung with Neil Finn of Crowded House fame. “Hard On Me” is a rocker that is just full of really fantastic solos. “A Legal Matter” is a rockin’ acoustic number, sung with real attitude. “I’ll Never Give It Up” is good rock ‘n’ roll, while “Dad’s Gonna Kill Me” is the real deal, storytelling with violin accompaniment and backup vocals, and “She Sang Angels To Rest” closes the box set with a 2007 recording that wrings out the emotions on acoustic guitar. Great. Everyone must own this box set.

KMFDM videos

Friday, November 26th, 2010

I found some cool KMFDM videos that have been animated by the group’s regular album cover artist, Aidan Hughes. Check out his very cool website. “A Drug Against War” is much better, it’s got trippy presentation and animates some of the well-known KMFDM album covers. “Son of a Gun” is computerized and doesn’t have much soul.

A Drug Against War

KMFDM – A Drug Against War
Uploaded by raggalaggaff. – Music videos, artist interviews, concerts and more.

Son of a Gun

KMFDM – Son Of A Gun
Uploaded by raggalaggaff. – Watch the latest news videos.

Scary Santa!

Sunday, November 21st, 2010

Saw this in Singapore on Friday.

Is this Santa Claus or Satan Claus?

Scary Santa!

Scary Santa!

Victory!

Sunday, November 21st, 2010

I had an odd week.  Monday and Tuesday I took days off and did a few things around the house. I also finished off the manuscript for my second book – hah!  Thursday I worked from home, which meant editing some videos and also going in to Little India to edit some videos.  Friday was a regular day at work.

Nice weekend.  On Saturday morning Zen and I went to see Megamind.  It was pretty funny.  I even laughed out loud once at a line, like “You’re so naive – I suppose you believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Queen Elizabeth.” In the afternoon Zen and I went swimming, it was fun!  In the evening we watched two episodes of Space: 1999.

Sunday started off with a softball tournament, which lasted until about 2:00.  Zen’s team, the Coconuts (junior division) automatically won the first game, because the team that they had been matched up against had to withdraw for some reason.  And then they also won their second match, which they played in real life, and won 9-2.  Zen didn’t have much action, but it was a good game.  That was followed by another game, which the team lost, but not by a wide margin – 6-4, so they were out of the championship, but they could play for 3rd or 4th place.  That game they also lost, but a slightly wider margin – 6-3.  But we were happy that the Coconuts won games in two consecutive tournaments, that when they lost they only lost by a few points (not like previous years’ blowouts), that they were playing better together as a team, and that they got as high as fourth place!

After that we went home, had a swim, took a nap, and Naoko and Zen packed and prepared for their trip back to Japan tonight.  I went through Zen’s book and papers tidying up things, filled two bags of stuff to toss and one of books to sell/give away to next year’s students (if they do that sort of thing here).

It was a fun day, but a bit sad – Naoko and Zen will be gone for six weeks.

Zen got a "model pupil" certificate at school!

Zen got a "model pupil" certificate at school!

This is the actual certificate.

This is the actual certificate.

Zen at bat

Zen at bat

Naoko and Zen, on their way to Japan

Naoko and Zen, on their way to Japan

New CDs!!

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

Got to catch up on some of my reviews! First the CDs:

I got Boris and Ian Astbury’s BXI at this time. For the review of that CD, see My Big Bad Boris Page.


Carnation, “12.21.12″ -
Carnation is a band from Melbourne, Australia, they are a shoegazer/Britpop-type band that sounds a lot like early “Love”-era Cult, but perhaps with Michael Stipe singing instead of Ian Astbury. They recently did a tour of Singapore, they’ve got a funky account of it here. As far as I know, this is the only band that has come to tour Singapore, playing six shows here, each at a different place. Bravo, guys!

“12.21.12″ is quite an improvement on the opening EP, and nearly every song is a good one. The production values are hot, and it sounds like a big release from a major label. “Coming Down” has all the right drums and screaming guitar chorus, with the vocals soothing their way in. “Gone” is their really amazing song, for which they have a really cool video. The song is a killer winner that makes you want to get up and dance, the soaring guitar sounds can’t help but force you to take note. I hope this song helped turn them into superstars wherever they are from. “Judas” is a funky number with some slide guitar, “The Future” pulses with strange energy and quick barre chords, while “2012″ is all about the cool licks, earning the guys some bonus points in the groove department.


Carnation, “Carnation” EP – Carnation’s first release is an EP of five songs, all of them quite good. The band has a sound that is a bit like early Cult, they start the first song “Up All Night Long” off with some funky drumming, then a killer riff, and immediately the vocals kick in six bars (or 12 seconds) into the song. Start it off smart. Being the first album, the production is a bit hollow, and they have one fewer members than “12.21.12″, but the songwriting is fantastic. “Priestess” is all about big splashy riffs, and the band jumps up with a very good Cult-like tune. It has a very ’80s alternative rock sound, I guess you could already call this retro. The other songs on the EP are quite nice, and the last one hides a hidden track at the end. Oooohhh… aaaaaaahhh…

CTEM

CTEM

Cathedral, “The Ethereal Mirror” – This is Cathedral’s big label album, the one that they did after “Forest of Equilibrium”, which nearly invented doom metal. But already, on their second album, they sound completely different, with a more stoner sound that the doom fans derided as “disco doom.” Album opener “Velvet Vortex” is an instrumental number that is not bad, followed quickly by “Ride”, a nutty psychedelic thing, if a bit boring. “”Enter The Worms” is more my style, as it has that doom metal bite and plenty of growl. The band sounds great. As far as “disco doom” goes, “Magic Mountain” is a great number, with plenty of noise, groove, funk and all around heaviness, and a fantastic psychedelic solo! As Lee Dorrian himself says, “oooh… dy-no-mite!” Love this stuff. They have handclaps in the mix, but here it’s more ironic than over-produced, with Lee’s somewhat suicidal backlash at the macho grindcore/doom scene. Handclapping along to doom, ha ha ha… “Fountain of Innocence” is sort of pop-metal, sorta, but it is also very complex, and like “Magic Mountain” it has lots of parts – pop metal riff, heavy riff, psychedelic passage, and all sorts of fun. “Grim Luxuria” is a bit of horror metal, with lots of growling and frothing at the mouth and insane laughter from lead doomster Lee Dorrian, and a horrorshow guitar solo – great psychedelic blues. “Jaded Entity” is atonal and weird at first, but quickly becomes a nice grinder, also with growling and mincing of teeth aplenty. “Ashes You Leave” is a slow, boring droner. “Phantasmagoria” is true, plodding, head smashing on a tortoise shell sllllllloooooow-aaaaaassssss-mollllllllasssssses doom, a song that could have easily found a home on the first Cathedral album. It’s so beautiful. After 4.5 minutes of that, the song picks up for a few more minutes of mid-tempo rock. At the end the song just sort of grinds out into nothingness. Perfect. The album finishes with “Imprisoned In Flesh”, a strange near-acoustic number that seems pretty throwaway.

My version of the CD came with a great DVD, a documentary that is the companion to the version that is on the “Forest of Equilibrium” CD (clearly, it was filmed at the same time and released in two parts, i.e. there’s the pub interview scene that is the same across both DVDs).

Blokes sittin’ in pub, guys from the first two albums:

Lee Dorrian, vocals, sound effects (current member)
Garry Jennings (Gaz), guitars (current member)
Adam Lehan, guitars (past member)
Mark Griffiths (Griff), bass (past member)
Drummers Mike Smail (from Forest of Equilibriuim) and Mark Wharton (from the Ethereal Mirror) were absent.

There is a lot of discussion about the spirit of the times. The second album was a reaction to the people at the time of the first album shouting “faster, faster”, but then the second albums was a shock to the fans who had gotten used to the first album.

“Soul Sacrifice”, from the between-LPs release, was when they really changed. Lee only wanted to record slow. “Why can’t we write any slow songs like ‘Silent Rapture’, from the first album, he’d ask. Still says it for every album.

On this recording, the musicianship became very strong. “Gaz and Adam got better as guitar players, getter at songwriting as well.” On the DVD there is a great clip without sound of the band freaking out onstage in front of a sea of faces, and some great clips from Osaka castle, also toured Israel and went to the States to play CBGBs at a killer gig on Christmas 1992 with Napalm Death, Trouble, Cathedral The Obsessed and Crowbar – amazing!

Recording of album was not pleasurable, but they took the Sony/Columbia money;
Columbia sent him away to write lyrics, Lee stayed at a hotel next to a pub and got pissed, walking along the beach at night with a Dictaphone trying to write lyrics. Admirable because he was consciously trying to change styles and become a brilliant lyricist, which he did. Had supernatural experience with ghost in bedroom, then the pillow in staircase episode freaking him out. Reading esoteric literature, Nigel Fellows, psychadelic rock groups, progressive psychedelic influences came to front. Torturing himself by smoking lots of weed and reading lots of books by Leilel Wendel about death, the angel of death, reading magic books, having weird supernatural experiences to make the record vague and tripped out.

There was the experience of using the Sex Pistols studio. Talking to the groundsman about Paul Cook throwing the TV into the pool, eating totally deluxe vegan meals, nighttime action, producer got heavy, daunting studio, demos at Clive’s place, clear tone on guitar, Adam’s leads are cutting through and sounding nice, but it sounded like pop. “That’s what doom’s about.””No, you don’t want to be doing that.” Argued about the start of “Phantasagoria.”

- “We’ve compromised on some things, but this has got to stay.”

- “He said “Mick Jagger’s bass player wouldn’t play something like that.”

Lee: “what a cocksucker, what a nob.” “Please cut out ‘what a wanker’, because he produced the record – he might get the DVD.”

With the album artwork, the main focus was the wheel, the circular motion of life, the cruelty of religion, medieval cruelty, more abstract, Cathedral riding roughshod through all this madness; original title was “Ride through the Decay”, title changed two days before printing.

Drew only from the head and from visual cues, very naive stuff, which was difficult to do, very stylistic, no band photograph, incorporated the four musicians into the painting, the groups weren’t doing it any more, better than a posed photo, one of the group left, turned him into the grim reaper. Griff turned into Grim Reaper, Gaz played bass on album.

Dave Pratchett travelled to Nottingham with a little bag of art material to paint it at Earache office, he took a day to do it all. “Religion is very guilty of trying to smash the feminine, blaming Eve for all sin, which of course is nonsense, so we’ve made religion itself, and the apple itself is rotten here. Human society will be rotten as long as religion has a hold. It’s going to be a struggle.”

Mates broke up after a major label gig, it was tours that they didn’t want to do, they became the “ethereal two-piece”. Lee: “Maybe we compromised ourselves musically a bit, even though listening back it’s still quite a strong record. I think we did, in a way. I think in terms of production we did, at the time it felt like we were compromising. The songs are ours, the music was our music, he never did anything that drastic. He rearranged a few things, but he never wrote anything. All of the music was ours anyway.”

“There’s no denying that Dave Ecker is a fantastic producer, but we just were not ready to work with someone like that. We were underground kids recording in shitty studios, al of a sudden you’re in this deluxe luxury place owned by Richard Branson doing a record for Columbia, and it’s not what we were about.”

Photo shoots to look like the Black Crowes with a wardrobe assistant, Gaz wore lime green flares and a Black Sabbath Vol. 4 t-shirt to freak out the macho grindcore narrow-minded guys. Not pictures in Coventry with a hangover. $10,000 for photo session, rejected all pictures. Seven clips from “Magic Mountain” video, four clips from the “Ride” video.

Were fans of Mercyful Fate, but didn’t want to be on that tour, did meet and greet for winners of a competition. Got very disillusioned. Frustration got so far that the band was falling out with each other. Were inventing things in interviews dissing Columbia. “Ethereal Two-piece” joke. Something happened about merchandise and publishing and the band split in two, doing a tour with Fight.

Childish stuff going on, nobody was innocent except Scott. Close-knit group splitting up. Should have been fighting against what was tearing them apart, instead of each other. Lee went over the top with the fancy clothes to mess with the head of fans who were so macho, he went the other way. People talked about their clothes more than their music after a while, and it was called “disco doom.” The band went to disco clubs because they didn’t want to go to rock clubs.

Bootsy Collins was going to remix Magic Mountain. Columbia thought that they were taking the piss, and maybe they were because it was so close to the line. It would have alienated the audience even more. The band was too heavy for the mainstream yet too commercial for the underground.

Had their passports stolen, lost the photos with Rob Halford; Adam’s last gig, couldn’t communicate, didn’t want to leave. Within three years, two of the original members had left. Lack of money was a problem.

Band goes around the table talking about what they are doing now: Adam, a dogsbody for an electronics firm, an overblown office junior who is paid an extremely small amount of money; Lee loves running the record label, does it full time, most of the time, gets a buzz out of it even if there’s no wage, wants to do it for a long time. Collects expensive psychedelic records; Adam is an office worker for money, nothing exciting, doing no music except for a hobby. Is a father to two kids; Gaz still plays in Cathedral, part-owner of a major retail firm.

Lee: “I remember about 1992, walking from my flat in Illfields into town for a point somewhere, thinking ‘I don’t think it’s going to last much longer, give it a year or two and it’s all going to be over.’ But we didn’t expect, no way, to be here all these years later, absolutely no way. It’s almost 20 years.”

Gaz: Succeeded with everything they’ve done: done sound check with Trouble, played with Tony Iommi, toured with Black Sabbath, did things with Saint Vitus, met people from Witchfinder General and Angel Witch.

Old pictures of Griff. Lee could share lyrics ideas with Griff, now he’s on his own. Griff misses the times, Adam regrets leaving, doesn’t regret his life since leaving Cathedral. Misses it. Misses his mates more than touring.

Define doom: Griff says “It’s the feeling of power, the feeling of rain-soaked depression, when you’re feeling down – that’s doom. Doom is the end. The End.” Lee disagrees, says its indefinable.

Photographing Satan’s cock: It’s a metal statue, it’s Satan’s cock, it’s the most metal thing he’s ever seen.

Videos for :”Ride” and “Midnight Mountain”

“Ride” – mainly a performance of the band, lighting and psychedelic effects, including mirroring.

“Midnight Mountain” – a hodge-podge of crazy images.

Notes from sketch paper of album cover, by Dave Pratchett:

They play nice tunes on a harp fashioned from a cadaver, perhaps she’s taking twisted pleasure from a former lover

Pig-Monk sees it as his duty to destroy apples i.e. sex

The Black Angel looks superb in latex (god must be jealous) Bible in one hand he pulls down angel-cherubs with another and pushes the torture wheel with his third. Three hands symbolises supernatural power.

The ants form an arc of triumph. They alone will survive the holocaust.

Punch synonimous with cruelty and how to fascinate kids with the idea

The love birds have fallen out.

Three armed pig-monk takes the shape of wolf to sexually assult torture victim (shades of little red riding hood)

Once pretty girl about to be corrupted.

The artist, sickened by the cruelty of feudalism and his own imagination, revisits his own picture in the shape of a mythical monster to put it out of its misery with the aid of the C20 homage to man, the nuclear bomb.

Commenting on Religious bigotry I can’t let Muslim Fundamentalism off the hook.

Victim with painted smile

Punch synonimous with cruelty and how to facinate kids with the idea

Gods instrument? No, God is mans instrument to destroy the less powerful masses

Filigee border gets too near the centre

CCB

CCB

Cathedral, “Carnival Bizarre” – A truly wonderful Cathedral release. “Vampire Sun” starts off with “Are you high?” just like Ozzy did in live shows with Black Sabbath. The song stomps and writhes with a great freakin’ riff pileage, but eventually just drones on without hitting its rock. “Hopkins (The Witchfinder General)” is a song inspired by the Vincent Price film and samples him (Cathedral also adores an older band, who took their name from the film, called Witchfinder General); it’s true stoner insanity and has great riff, great vocals, it’s just all-around amazing. The song is fun with lots of dynamic vocals as interesting as the guitars. Lee Dorrian uses his voice like an instrument in the same way that Mike Patton of Faith No More does, only in a less theatrical fashion. “Utopian Blaster” is a cool-o song with a great title that the band did with one of the real rock greats, Tony Iommi, on guitar. The song has supreme riffage and a good groove and powerful presence, great mini-solos, long solos, and strange vocal passages. “Night of the Seagulls” is menacing and scary and just builds on very broad riffs and scary thoughts and images, including spooky guitar sounds and weird groanings at the end that don’t come from seagulls! “Carnival Bizarre” is a great rocker full of slashing riffs that just go all over the place, and Lee Dorrian is full of spit and venom. The song has interesting prog rock passages – a phaser guitar/vocal section, and a hockey arena organ-like verse, then the obligatory guitar solo. Beauty way to go, eh?!? “Intertias Cave” is a good ole rocker that incorporated the riff from Moby Dick (wise-asses) that has some sweet singalong melodies. “Fangalacticus Supergoria” is a truly freaked out song with mighty vocals, on top of a really screaming metal song. The shrieking and wailing is quite unholy. Wow!

The CD is accompanied with a DVD that has eight promo videos (two of which, “Ride” and “Magic Mountain” are also on the “The Ethereal Mirror” DVD), and a concert video from 1992. In the concert video, Lee says “The lyrics are a bit negative, but in a positive way.” There’s a strange stoned interlude between the videos, and it’s all good fun to see the boys looking young and energetic and with full heads of hair. The band plays “Soul Sacrifice”, “Equilibrium”, “Autumn Twilight”, “Frozen Rapture” and “A Funeral Request.” Each song is a bonanza of lights and freakouts, and there’s hair flying everywhere. We don’t see any audience shots, but it was probably a sea of people in the dark. There are lots of coloured stage lights, so although there were a lot of lights there’s not a lot of brightness and it was a spooky stage.

The Promo videos are great:

“Ebony Tears” in a graveyard, the band wearing crosses, Motorhead t-shirt, spider, treetops, a burial and a wedding.”

“Autumn Twilight” is just the band playing the song, pretty straight. Gaz plays a Gibson SG now.

“Cosmic Funeral” shows the band as monks in robes. It’s ballad-like, but then Lee shouts “Disco supernova!” and it gets better, the video is full of strobe.

“Stained Glass HOrizon” shows a road warrior climbing dusty hills in some sort of post-apocalyptic world. THere’s a crap solo that turns psychedelic, then becomes murderously good and heavy.

“Black Sunday” shows clips from the band’s touring up until that point, with all the various members, there’s toking, they feed beer to a horse, they are in Sydney, and they play on Motorhead’s stage. Very good psychedelic passage, it’s a great song.

“Hopkins (Witchfinder General)” is a fun video, with clips of the “Witchfinder General” movie of 1968, starring Vincent Price interspersed throughout. The band is wearing disco clothes and Lee is cavorting with a shapely black model in lingerie and a pentagram painted on her forehead. The band plays through Orange stacks.

By the way, if you want to see the movie, here it is:

CSM

CSM

Cathedral, “Statik Magik” EP – This is an EP with three songs that came out after the second album, when the band went through its major label hell and lost two of its original members. Lead singer Lee Dorrian and guitarist Gary Jennings got a new drummer and bassist and tried them out on this, a strange little venture that features two conventional songs (“Hypnos 164″ 5:46 and “Cosmic Funeral”, 7:03) and a crazy Beefheart-esque musical voyage (“The Voyage Of The Homeless Sapien”, 22:42). “Hypnos 164″ starts off with a single chord wailout with wild bass, before going into a crazy guitar and vocal washout that has to be heard to be believed. The song kicks in and is sinister and evil, it warps into a ripoff of Black Sabbath’s “Johnny Blade”, with some funky cowbell, Huge fun. “Cosmic Funeral” is a sort of singalong punk/doom ballad, it’s pretty scary and it’s quite freaky too – there’s a weird breakdown in the middle with a guitar and bass solo back-and-forth before Lee finishes it off with the declaration of “Disco supernova!” It finishes with a mighty groove stomp. “The Voyage Of The Homeless Sapien” is such a long song, it goes through many phases, and starts off with a weird psychedelic gloom-out, with washed out vocals, then it becomes some standard doom muck, then there’s some strange pluckings, a full-out metal session, then it becomes a bit like Yes with some airy gloomings, the sound of an owl, and more full on metal. Yoiks! The band goes crazy, and Lee does some James Hetfield “Yeah-hay”s. Then there’s some real jazz ploinking and plonkings and crazy hooting, mixed in with real thrash, goofing-around orchestrated balladry and mocking crap Britpop stuff; later there’s a stoned bass pondering that includes the riff from Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man”, followed by more killer riffs (I’m sure these have been used in Cathedral songs before – the band overflows with killer riffs. Big rock riffs fade out to psychedelic guitar and vocal groanings that sound like they came from the “Zabriskie Point” soundtrack, and insane mutterings about boobies. Sick garbage. But I love it.

My version came with the CD/DVD version of “The Carnival Bizarre”.

JNT

JNT

Jandek, “New Town” – It’s hard to review Jandek. He doesn’t have any real songs. From the sounds of it, it is Thurston Moore mumbling over a warped guitar plonk with some banging and percussion and harmonica. The cover shows a picture of a drum kit. The song titles are “New Town” (strangely, this song has snatches of Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne” in it), “Steal Away Home”, “Street Walk”, “You Standing There”, “Desert Voice”, “Let Me Hear THe Words You Say”, “The Real You”, “It WOuld ONly Be Action”, “Look At It”, “Time WIll Come” and “What You Are.” It sounds almost like traditional Japanese music – you know, the kind where a woman will pluck at a zither with a big wedge-shaped shingle and howl about something that you can’t understand. That’s what listening to Jandek is like. And it’s wonderful.

LD

LD

Lunarin, “duae” – Lunarin is a sort-of shoegazer band from Singapore that combines strong songwriting with very good studio production and playing to create songs with a sort of Tool/Evanesence feel to it. The CD starts out with a piano piece, “For Apollo.” There are three piano pieces on the album, each of them just over a minute in length, and none of them do much for me, but nearly all of the songs are good, with the exception of “Saturn”, which is mopey and has all sorts of “Sorry” lyrics. The songs are often dominated by the expressive and emotional wailing of lead singer and bassist Linda Ong. “Midas” is a hearty rocker with groovy beats and guitar licks, “Zero Point Red” is darker with groovy riffs that builds up to some hefty rock ‘n’ roll. “Red” is long, fast and dark. and has a vaguely industrial drive that dissolves into an Indian drone before picking up again into a moody rocker. “Coralline” is a pretty song with a rousing chorus. “Icarus Rising” is a lusty near-ballad, while “Serpentine” starts off with moody dissonance before becoming a Rush-like rumbler. “The Sky (Algiers)” starts off with groovy, quiet guitars and drums, then builds up and becomes a very pretty song with cool riffs and a great drive. The band has made this song available on their website for remixing as a Garageband track (a fan poll revealed that, of all the tracks on the album, this one was the right one for a remix project). They’ve also posted some of the results for a free download. The penultimate song, “The Inquisition”, is just over 10 minutes long and a very nice (near) closer (the actual closer is one of those not-so-great piano ditties.

The packaging of the CD is okay, with stylistic photos that have a very industrial feel to them. They also include a personal letter, that seems like it has been signed in pen by each member. The letter is a heartfelt outpouring that starts off “we would like to thank you for taking precious time and money to purchase this little of album of outs. It kills us to think that you are willing to spend time and effort to listen to what we have written and produced. We know you had a choice. We know that there is great music out there clamouring for your attention. So this is an honour, truly.” It’s a bit over the top – CD purchasing is a pretty casual experience, not something that requires a herculean effort, so this is a bit over the top, but it’s nice to see someone doing this sort of thing anyway.

The Void, The Sky, by Lunarin

The Void, The Sky, by Lunarin

Lunarin has already posted their remix project for “The Sky (Algiers)”, and they’ve got ten contributions available for download. Being remixes, many of them are quite boring, tech-heavy, droning, with sparkly ambient keyboards, perhaps stripped of drums with new ambient noises thrown into a bare soundscape that retains vocals, or maybe just wonking and plonking the elements of the song. But “Time of Apollo 2010″ by Ivan Chew uses elements from the song to create a whole new song, which incorporates interesting dialogue soundbites that sound like they come from a documentary on the Apollo moon launch, it’s definitely the best “remix” of the bunch. “The Sky (Cosmic Armchair Uplifting Sky Mix)” by Cosmic Armchair is also pretty good, as it has a dance floor feel to it that incorporates a lot of the catchier elements of the song. “The Sky (Shoegaze Mix)” by Kevin Mathews is also pretty good, with its washed-out guitars. It’s also generously long, at 7:40 the longest remix of the bunch (and maybe that’s a blessing…).

Book reviews:

CE RPR

CE RPR

Carlucci’s Edge, by Richard Paul Russo – I was given this book by my friend as one of three that he thought were better than The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. I don’t know what bone my friend had to pick with that book – I didn’t think it was perfect either, but I enjoyed it immensely anyway – but it must be pretty serious if he thinks this book is better than Stieg Larsson’s book.

The book is about Carlucci investigating a murder of a musician. The musician’s girlfriend is also investigating his murder. They travel around, they meet people who probably know why the murder was commissioned. The murderer is never caught, but the people behind the murder are exposed. It’s really hard to care, because the freakshow world that the people inhabit is not interesting or appealing, other than for the similarity it bears to to the New York of “Liquid Sky”.

To be fair, Carlucci is the character of several books, so this book might be more interesting to people who’ve read more than one of his adventures. But it is still very, very, very hard to care about any of the characters in the book, or to understand what they do except get caught, deer-like, in the headlights of an onrushing truck.

SB TST

SB TST

The Simple Truth, by David Baldacci – I was given this book by my friend as one of three that he thought were better than The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. I don’t know what bone my friend had to pick with that book – I didn’t think it was perfect either, but I enjoyed it immensely anyway – but it must be pretty serious if he thinks this book is better than Stieg Larsson’s book.

David Carlucci is a very talented writer, the author of the book Absolute Power, which I haven’t read, but admire the movie that Clint Eastwood made of it. Carlucci is adapt at describing people and events and knows how to turn a phrase, how to mould characters, and how to set up a plot. I wasn’t so sure at the beginning of “The Simple Truth”, when I came across some pretty clunky dialogue; I was less sure when his plot called for one of the main characters from the first half of the book, who was described as intelligent, making one of the dumbest moves in the book: a Supreme House clerk breaks rules and takes evidence on that nearly nobody knows about, drives out into a dangerous spot in the middle of nowhere just to get an answer to something that had been bothering him… yeah, right. Dumb, dumb, dumb; and of course he gets himself killed; and of course that launches the whole book. As you read the book you get a sense of certain Hollywood types who had been pegged to play the lead roles: Bill Pullman as John Fiske, Pete Gallagher as Michael Fiske, Rebecca De Mornay as Sara Evans, Gene Hackman as John Marshall, etc. There’s a fun/preposterous series of events, and plenty of carnage. And about five bad guys.

Unfortunately, when the crime is solved it hardly seems like a crime at all. And it brings down the Supreme Court. And the sky cracks in two. How dramatic. Barf.

DW ITF

DW ITF

Into the Fire, by David Wiltse – I was given this book by my friend as one of three that he thought were better than The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. I don’t know what bone my friend had to pick with that book – I didn’t think it was perfect either, but I enjoyed it immensely anyway – but it must be pretty serious if he thinks this book is better than Stieg Larsson’s book.

I hate serial killer stories real/fictional, so enjoying this one was a bit of a long shot anyway. But I was quite disappointed when I read the first 185 pages and barely learned anything that wasn’t on the back cover of the book. Characters that were half interesting were introduced and quickly abandoned. Trained FBI investigators overlook what is blatant/screamingly obvious. We get to meet an interesting scamp, her pastor and his middle-aged temptress. Then, unfortunately, we get to spend time with the most uninteresting/unsuccessful serial killer ever, and the demented creep who works for the FBI who is trained to hunt him down. This is the first book that I’ve read that gets wrapped up “satisfactorily” in the last five pages. It’s almost like the author had been padding his text so efficiently all along that, when he realised he’d passed his word count quota, he simply wrapped it up as quickly as possible. And that’s not a great proposition for a reader.