Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Essential 10: Bruce Springsteen (Part 1)

Chronological Order

1. The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle (1973): After the busy Dylanesque lyricism of his debut, Bruce moved in a jazzy direction for his second album, and although it still very Bruce trying to find his niche, it contains enough panache to achieve classic status.

2. Born to Run (1975): Given a massive budget by the record company in one last push for stardom, Springsteen underwent a painstaking process to achieve that certain sound (wall of sound production, sung by Roy Orbison apparently). After the recording, re-recording and many hours of studio time later he still wasn't satisfied by the result. Everybody else thinks its pretty good Bruce, in fact one of the greatest albums ever .........

3. Darkness on the Edge of Town (1978): A bitter legal dispute prevented the release of an album for 3 years, but the long wait was certainly worth it. He made the conscious decision to avoid making “Born to Run 2”, relying more on the themes of regret, hopeless struggle and crushed dreams. Incredible album.

4. The River (1980): The Rock & Roll revival double album ! One half demented driving rockers with throwaway lyrics, one half introspective kitchen sink dramas, in other words vintage Springsteen.

5. Nebraska (1982): Initially intended to serve as demos for the next E-Street Band record, Springsteen liked the stark homemade atmosphere of the music and put the songs out as a solo acoustic album. The most bleak and haunting musical vision Bruce has yet released.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Essential 10: Nick Cave (Part 2)

With the Bad Seeds, unless stated.

6. Let Love In (1994): Regarded by many as his masterpiece. Certainly the place to start if you’re looking to get into Cave’s world.

7. The Boatman’s Call (1997): The presence of PJ Harvey in Cave’s life seems to have had an influence on several of these sparsely decorated and delicately played songs. Yet another remarkable achievement. Has anybody ever started a love song with a line like, “I don’t believe in an interventionist God”. I mean, really.

8. Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus (2004): Double albums are usually an unwise idea, the artist choosing to fill the gaps with substandard material. Forget what you know, these 17 songs are consistently brilliant.

9. With Warren Ellis, The Proposition OST (2005): The perfect (and I mean perfect) companion to the stark brutality of Cave’s screenplay.

10. Grinderman, Grinderman (2007): The long awaited return to raw garage rock. A mind- boggling album, even his side projects are quality.

Special mentions go out to; 'Murder Ballads', 'No More Shall We Part' and the underrated 'Henry's Dream'. Also, check out the most recent album Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!

Monday, January 26, 2009

We Make A Little History: The Essential Nick Cave (Part 1)

With the Bad Seeds, unless stated.

1. The Birthday Party: Junkyard (1982) Some vital post-punk filled with unprecedented levels of gothic fury and anger.

2. From Her To Eternity (1984): The classic debut album, with that very special title track.

3. Your Funeral… My Trial (1986): Cave was mired in addiction at the time of recording, which is evidenced by the rather murky atmosphere. Despite this, he hits new heights lyrically making this a truly remarkable album.

4. Tender Prey (1988): The one with ‘The Mercy Seat’ on it …….and nine other wonderful songs, from his most corrosive era.

5. The Good Son (1990): Following a period of abstention from the dreaded demons, Cave went to Brazil and came back a new man. Calmer, more serene and writing some of the best songs of his career. You need this.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

'Working On A Dream': The Review

Springsteen’s stock is on the rise at present what with the Golden Globe award, the Obama inauguration and the highly successful tour to support the ‘Magic’ album.

So, with the creative juices in full flow, Springsteen headed back to the studio to hopefully capture the zest of the recent activities with the backing of the E-Street Band.

The following is a track-by-track analysis of the resulting album ‘Working On A Dream’, is it an energised improvement on the decidedly patchy ‘Magic’ or another rush-released disappointment ?

1. Outlaw Pete: A sprawling 8 minute opener with some archetypal Bruce storytelling lyrics. Not as epic as it wants to be and it probably doesn’t sustain its length, but its a very solid beginning to the album, great chorus. So far, so good.

2. My Lucky Day: An insipid uptempo rocker, that attempts to be buoyant and joyous but ends up mired in lyrical and musical clich├ęs, with a paint-by-numbers sax solo and swinging drumbeat.

3. Working On A Dream: The title track is too overtly self-referential to be considered a serious new song, haven’t we been down this road a hundred times before Bruce ?

4. Queen Of The Supermarket: An excellent Springsteen title, but the song itself is short on real quality. The best point of reference would be something introspective from the ‘The River’ album. Passable.

5. What Love Can Do: Hard to get excited by this, a bit too polished for its own good. Only a decent guitar solo lifts the boredom somewhat.

6. This Life: A major improvement, very reminiscent of 'Girls in Their Summer Clothes', without hitting the heights of that song. There's a definite 'Pet Sounds' era Beach Boys influence in the production, melody and clustered vocals.

7. Good Eye: This is interesting. Classic Springsteen throaty vocal backed by a thunderous blues workout. Good harmonica too. One of the best tracks on the album. Bruce Springsteen meets Alabama 3 sounds strange, but it works.

8. Tomorrow Never Knows: Bruce goes country. I wish he hadn’t.

9. Life Itself: This at least has some promise, you can imagine the band turning it into a live favourite. One of the few moments on the album that threatens to rise above the mediocre.

10. Kingdom Of Days: aka Bruce Springsteen sleepwalking his way through another filler track.

11. Surprise, Surprise: The truly execrable lyrics mean Bruce is fighting an uphill battle to turn this average rocker into something acceptable. He fails.

12. Last Carnival: Bruce goes carny with the first circus reference since ‘Wild Billy’s Circus Story’ (1973)! Clearly this is the best thing on the album. He finally strips away the layers of production and sings with acoustic backing and the massed vocals of the band. A transcendent moment.

13. The Wrestler: Most versions of the album come with this bonus track from the movie of the same name. Excellent stripped back song, with some superb lyrics and a cutting vocal.

A saccharine, over-produced and tame album with too many generic melodies and sugary sentiments. The mood of the album is one of hope and contentment, reflecting the anticipation of the Obama era, but this doesn't make for a ground-breaking listening experience.

On the plus side, Springsteen delivers a wide palette of styles making this his most diverse album to date, but he ultimately fails to deliver a knock-out blow in any of his chosen genres.

The radio friendly sound will make it popular amongst the casual listeners, but the hardened fans will be waiting for the next solo acoustic album.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

More Under-Appreciated Stones and Hot Rocks

Slave: Great groove based tune that builds impressively with a lazy reggae inflected drumbeat, tumbling piano lines and an outrageous sax solo. Tattoo You (1981)

Memory Motel: An epic from the patchy Black & Blue album, and one of the few to feature a shared lead vocal between Jagger and Richards. Black & Blue (1976)

Star Star (aka Starf**ker): Based around (yet another) recycled Chuck Berry lick, but nobody does this kind of thing better and the lyrics are quality. Goats Head Soup (1973)

Soul Survivor: Why is the final track from ‘Exile…’ so underrated? It’s got all the essential ingredients: Legendary riff, check. Rock solid rhythm section, check. Mick going over the top, double check. Exile on Main Street (1972)

Memo From Turner: Ok, so it’s more of a Jagger solo effort from the ‘Performance’ soundtrack than a Stones song, but its got an authentic bluesy vibe and Ry Cooder on slide-guitar. Performance (1970)

Sister Morphine: ‘Here I lie in my hospital bed’, goes the first line as Ry Cooder (him again) plays some sinuous bottleneck adding a third dimension to the dank atmosphere. Sticky Fingers (1971)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Post-Punk 2: Both Sides Of The River

Gang Of Four: Entertainment! (1979), If all the bands who said they were influenced by this album had actually bought it, Gang Of Four would be bigger sellers than U2. It’s a classic, what with the cutting riffs and bendy basslines.

Killing Joke: Killing Joke (1980), This is pitch black, abrasive and stripped bare of any pretensions. i.e. essential post-punk

Simple Minds: Empires & Dance (1980), The Scottish band before they got all ‘arena’ sounding. Seriously though, their early esoteric period produced a couple of wonderful albums, this is probably the best of them. A potent mix of Bowie’s Berlin era and Joy Division.

Associates: The Affectionate Punch (1980), The glorious voice of Billy Mackenzie is pushed to the forefront of this tremendous album. Again the Bowie influence can be felt in tracks like ‘Transport to Central’.

Suicide: Suicide (1977), They went about as stark and macabre as you can go without completely alienating your audience. Also the template for all those synth duos that came in their wake.

Throbbing Gristle: 20 Jazz Funk Greats (1979), Darkly intoxicating, really pushes the envelope with concentrated measures of ambient, industrial and (very) early electronica.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Pleased To Meet You: Under- Appreciated Stones, Exibit A

Fingerprint File: Early attempt to try something more dancefloor orientated and downright funky. Comes complete with blatant nods to Sly & The Family Stone and James Brown.
It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (1974)

Little T&A: Classic Keith number which gives him ample room to trot out his inimitable blend woozy guitar riffs and gravel vocal stylings.
Tattoo You (1981)

She's So Cold: This one has a timeless Charlie Watts four to floor drum pattern and Mick doing his rockstar-in-Studio 54 thing. Superior.
Emotional Rescue (1980)

Too Much Blood: The track has Mick Jagger rapping about how he didn’t like the movie ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’.
This is backed by what disturbingly sounds like a synthesised latin rhythm. Has to be heard to be believed.
Undercover (1983)

Dancing With Mr. D: We go down to the bayou with swampy blues riffing and sinister voodoo lyrics. With its authentic dingy feel, it sounds like something that escaped from the ‘Exile…’ sessions.
Goats Head Soup (1973)

When The Whip Comes Down: Jaggers faintly controversial lyrics may give this track bite, but the real fire comes from the buoyant band performances. Jaggers slurred delivery is vintage Stones.
Some Girls (1978)

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Post-Punk: Start Again. Part 1

Following on the heels of the initial punk explosion of the mid to late seventies, a host of the new generation took the genre to new places while retaining the roots of the punk ideal.

By adding musical inflections of a more introverted, abstract and experimental nature, they changed the way we thought about punk rock. The waves of this movement are still felt today, with legions of young pretenders.

Joy Division, ‘Unknown Pleasures’: Influential. Very.

Magazine, ‘Real Life’: The definitive post-punk statement, courtesy of Howard Devoto and company.

Public Image Ltd., ‘Metal Box’: It’s got those visceral Jah Wobble basslines and John Lydon ranting like a maniac. Ferocious.

Pere Ubu, ‘The Modern Dance’: The essential debut. Skin crawling claustrophobia from Cleveland, Ohio.

The Chameleons, ‘Script of the Bridge’: Yet another lost classic of the era. Think soaring melodies and angular guitars.

The Pop Group, ‘Y’: The dubby side of post-punk. It’s darkly political with an infectious funky vibe. Classic stuff.

Wire, ‘154’: Something of a masterpiece in the genre. But you already knew that, right ?