Monday, October 31, 2011

Review catch up: James Blake - Enough Thunder ep

I have a confession to make - I don't really understand what dubstep is. I thought I knew what it was but James Blake (apart from the wobbling bass) sounds pretty far from what the stuff I'd always associated with the tag but everything I read about him refers to dubstep - everything. I'm far from an expert but Blake comes on like a less hysterical Antony with a throbbing subwoofer and while some songs hint at deeper rhythms (Not Long Now and We might feel Unsound on this ep in particular), it seems periphery to Blake's main game. And that main game is pure emotion.

The genre seems pretty irrelevant because much like Antony, I often can't make out what he's singing but my body responds to the music in a visceral and emotional way. I am moved by his music even if I don't necessarily understand it (or the genre it sits in). The first track here, Once we all agree, sits on a skeletal piano line, distant bass and a wave of distorted guitar worthy of Mogwai. For me, this is the highlight of the record but the other tracks are strong. The Bon Iver assisted Fall Creek Boys Choir leans a little to close to Bon Iver's recent album for my liking but it still sounds better than anything on that record. The cover of Joni Mitchell's A Case of You is a straight forward piano reading of the song and while far from the elegiac (and amazing) re-imaging of Feist's Limit to your love, Blake pulls it off convincingly.

This ep reassures me that there may be great things to come from James Blake and that my instinctual response to his album (that it is brilliant) was not wrong.


Sunday, October 30, 2011

Review catch up: Gillian Welch - The Harvest and the Harrow

What do Jane's Addiction and Gillian Welch have in common? Apart from being awesome, their respective last full length releases of new material was in 2003. Welch recently said the delay was because she'd written a bunch of songs in that time, but didn't think they were strong enough to release. That tight quality control is reflected in The Harvest and the Harrow which features ten exquisite songs of Welch and partner David Rawlings at their best.

Musically, you know what you're getting here: bare bones acoustic folk/country but even in the sparest of musical settings, Welch's voice beguiles and fills the open space with such beauty and grace that it can make your heart stop for a second. There is a purity and expressiveness to her voice that is unforced and natural - no Idol hysterics to be found here. However, the compelling on this record is the focus of the lyrics - dark meditations on betrayal, love, temptation and the past. Welch is exploring adult complications here which hit you later in life - friends left behind, loss and the inevitable conclusion of bad decisions made in the past. However, Welch is not peddling nostalgia but rather reflection on where we lose our way.

The music ranges from jaunty folk (Scarlet Town, The Way It Goes) to a knee slapping hoedown (Six White Horses) but the general music palette is slow burn ballads which allow Welch to shine. The highlights include the bitter betrayal in The Way It Will Be, the tale of a man lost to progress in Hard Times and the aforementioned The Way It Goes, a kind of Appalachian folk equivalent to Walk on the Wild Side.

There is no change in direction Welch and Rawlings on this record, it's business as usual and if you're not on board with this style of music there will be nothing here to convert you. However, there is rarely weak moment on this album and if you ever loved Welch, this is easily her best album after Time (The Revelator).


Saturday, October 29, 2011

Review catch up: Jane's Addiction - The Great Escape Artist

Jane's Addiction are one of the greatest bands of the last 25 years with two classic albums and if you don't believe that you're either stupid, drunk or never really heard them. As such, I really wanted The Great Escape Artist to be something special but unfortunately it's not and it pains me to write that. As a fan, you root for the artist (especially when they only release albums sporadically) and maybe my expectations are too high but there is something really weird and disconnected about this record. It's an ok listen but when it comes to Jane's, the bar is a little (maybe unfairly) higher.

The original Jane's line up was the product of four distinct styles: Stephen Perkins tribal thump, Dave Navarro's slash and burn guitar style, Eric Avery's driving bass and Perry Farrell's shamanic freak outs. I have long said that the original line up's MVP was Avery whose bass lines provided the foundation that propelled the band and gave the platform for the other players strengths. Avery's refusal to return to the band after the re-formation has left them without this crucial element which has changed the bands sound. On 2003's Strays, the band opted for a metallic rock edge that abandoned the bacchanalian carny eccentricities of their earlier work but it still sounded like Jane's Addiction. The new record has a clutch of songs that don't really sound like the band at all which is disappointing.

While I accept that a band changes over time, what I find surprising is that the band members seem to be running in the opposite direction of what makes them so special. Navarro is sometimes AWOL on this album. While his guitar work can be subtle and textured (something he's great at, listen to Summertime Rolls), what makes him special is that he can go from zero to a billion in a blink of eye and simultaneously play lead and rhythm with passion and emotion. On a number of these tracks (particularly Curiosity Kills), he sounds like the Edge covering a late era Cure song and as any Cure fan knows, that's not necessarily a good thing. Perkins seems to be on a leash, the creativity and brutality of his drumming tempered and understated. Farrell is never less than an interesting vocalist but even he seems to be constrained by the new sound.

The record starts promisingly enough with Underground, a mid paced rocker with an insistent groove and End to the Lies which I figure puts the nail in the coffin of Avery ever returning. Navarro unleashes a shit storm of guitar here that sounds massive and ok, ok I'll even forgive Perry for that line ("You were the foreskin, I was the real head.") This is followed by the aforementioned Cure tribute, Curiosity Kills and the underwhelming second single Irresistible Force. Prior to hearing the song, I imagined a Jane's Addiction song called Irresistible Force would be a barnstorming rockfest - I certainly got that wrong. While pretty, it kind of goes nowhere. I'll Hit You Back is a good song but the music could be any band and the only Jane's stamp on the tune is Perry's vocals. That's the disconnect, where is the Jane's sound?

The songs continue in this vein for a while and I'm not sure whether it's the influence of TVOTR collaborator David Sitek or a conscious move on the band to distance themselves from their signature sound. Ironically, the three most Jane's sounding songs are the one's co-written by Duff McKagen who left the band because of musical differences. The twisting guitars lines of Ultimate Reason, the eerie pathos of Broken People and driving Words Right Out of My Mouth seem to echo the sound that we love. Words Right Out of My Mouth might be a paint-by-numbers Jane's rocker but in the context of this record, it's a relief to hear.

I take no pleasure in writing this and the album is far from offensive. I'll definitely be listening to it in the weeks and months to come. However, when you get a Jane's Addiction record it should be something special and this is a passable entry into their canon but not remarkable. To add insult to injury, the deluxe version has a bonus live show featuring some of their best songs which reminds you how far this record is from their best. Still, go out and buy it - it's probably better than most rock releases this year.

One last thing, Perry really needs to give up doing the covers - just sayin'...


Friday, October 28, 2011

Love you live

When I have a spare few hours and a good internet connection I'm going to spend some time trawling through Moshcam - a site that films live shows in Australia in surprisingly high quality. I'm already lining up the Jane's Addiction, Swervedriver, No Age, Mogwai and Descendents gigs I missed and there's a lot more there from the Necks to Megadeth to fulfil your every desire. A full list of the bands featured on the site can be found here. Seriously worth checking out.

If any geeks out there know how to rip this stuff, please get in touch...


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Corporate Rock media still sucks (kind of)...

In the last week, I've spent two very long stretches of time in airports waiting for planes (six hours in Athens and ten hours in Bangkok). To ward off the boredom, I bought a different issue of Rolling Stone in each of these airports and pretty much read them front to back. Back in the late 80's and early 90's, I was a regular Rolling Stone reader but not exclusively - I rabidly read several different music magazines each month including NME, Melodymaker, Spin, Juice (the Australian Spin offshoot), Select, Q, Alternative Press etc etc... I eventually decided that I should be spending more money on music than reading about it and eventually reduced my reading to more occasional one-off purchases when I saw something of interest. However, regardless of where I am, I will always browse the music section hen I visit the newsagent.

ANYHOW, reading Rolling Stone seemed like a weird exercise in nostalgia because even though the music landscape has changed, their approach to writing about it has not and I was kind of surprised about how boring the music writing was. As Rino point out recently, they have a weird obsession with Eddie Vedder (a photo in each issue - they really should have a column called What's Eddie up to this month?) but even the bands I love who were covered in the magazine were just very dull and not compelling or interesting in any way. I remember when the notion of "the Rolling Stone interview" meant some kind of indepth, candid portrayal of the artist but there was no such perception, depth or analysis in these issues (although they did a strange soft hatchet posthumous piece on Steve Jobs). A good review in Rolling Stone meant substantial record sales for bands and record companies pandered to the wants of the magazine but it doesn't seem that way anymore. Of interest though was that all the articles on politics and the environment were top notch and far better than their music writing (in particular, articles on Obama's war room and the environmental crisis in Australia were excellent). Maybe Rolling Stone needs to recast themselves as a news magazine rather than a music magazine.

This all lends itself to something I've been thinking about for a while as the arbiters of taste have moved from traditional print media to sites such as Pitchfork. I'm pretty sure a good rating on Pitchfork equates music sales (or at least, a high number of illegal downloads) but I'm not sure that these grassroots websites are any better than traditional media forms. I've seen a number of good records slammed on there and even though it's ironic and hypocritical that someone who writes and blogs about music (even though I am a lone crazy yelling into the abyss of the internet), the power they now wield seems substantial. If you want evidence of that, read the Merge book, where they describe the problem they faced when Pitchfork gave Arcade Fire's Funeral a 10 and all the copies of the record sold out and it took weeks to re-stock supplies (admittedly, a great problem for Merge to have). But I guess that's my point, Pitchfork seem to be merely a new iteration of the Rolling Stone model. Sure, it seems different because it is web rather than print based and free for readers but the model and importance of artists appearing on Pitchfork seems to be increasing. A few year ago, I think a Tom Waits interview on Pitchfork would have been a coup but now it seems perfunctory.

So what does this mean? Nothing really but it seems to me that the Pitchforks of the world are merely becoming the new corporate media. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily but as they now hold festivals, publish books and hold events, that grain of independence that sparked the site will be tested and no doubt compromised (my inner conspiracy theorist still finds the glowing review of the last Bon Iver record followed by the announcement he was curating a Pitchfork Festival too much of a coincidence - that record is terrible). Anyhow, whatever, I still find Stereogum funnier...


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Break in transmission

Hi there, I'm on the road in Laos at the moment which means time to write and reliable internet connection is scarce. As such, I'll be offline for a few days. Just talk amongst yourselves for a minute...

PS totally unrelated - if you miss the films of David Lynch and when I say that, I mean the good films of David Lynch, go and check out Drive. While not having the warped logic of a Lynch film, it is definitely influenced by the more noir aspects of his work - and it's violent too. Yay!


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A song a day: NOFX - Idiot son of an asshole

OWS edition: This is the last one and I tried to avoid being too obvious with this stuff (you know, Gang of Four, the Clash, Dead Kennedys, RATM, Billy Brag etc). Anyhow, I can't say I was ever the biggest fan of NOFX but I always thought this was a pretty cute take on George Bush - as cute as that can get. Anyhow, I promise to put the political stuff away tomorrow and start complaining about music as normal...


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A song a day: The Herd - 77%

OWS edition: The Herd are a hip hop collective from Sydney who have been long producing the best Australian hip hop which explores the political landscape of the country (I'm slightly biased as I have a vague connection there). During the deep, dark years under the conservative government of John Howard, there was the disgrace of the Tampa affair (google it). This national shame was supported by 77% of the Australian population but the Herd responded in kind with a song that proclaimed "77% of Aussies are racist" and the classic chorus "Wake up, this country needs a fucking shake up/Wake up, these cunts need a shake up." They've produced a number of other great songs and are worth checking out.


Monday, October 17, 2011

A song a day: Super Furry Animals - The Man Don't Give A Fuck

OWS Edition: I'm not sure if anyone thinks of this as a political song but I always did. Essentially, the verses about being placated by TV's etc is all very derived from Bill Hicks political apathy comedy and let's face it, governments and big business don't give a fuck about anybody else. I could be wrong about this but you know, fuck the man, man...

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A song a day: Midnight Oil - Dreamworld

OWS edition: Again with the lefty songs I had to include my favourite Midnight Oil song. Dreamworld is essentially about the cost of environmental damage at the expense of commerce but apart from that, it's just a rocking song. Great riff, great backing vocals and displaying the power of the band at its best. Strangely, I used to sing this song in relation to my workplace when some mini-fiefdoms came to were coming to an end rather than what it's about - it's such a great line "Your dreamworld is about to fall." Whatever you think about Garrett entering politics, Midnight Oil's legacy is undeniable and vibrant.


A song a day: Public Enemy - Shut 'em down

OWS edition: Following on from Nation and Black Planet, it seems that Apocalypse 91, The Enemy Strikes Back is largely underrated and it never really got its due (duets with Anthrax not standing). I mean it's pretty hard to follow two classic albums without unfair scrutiny. However, there is a lot to love on that album and my fave track has long been Shut 'em down (close second Get the fuck outta Dodge), a long form rap about exploitation of the black community. The lines that seemed most pertinent to me regardless of race have always been:

I like Nike but wait a minute
The neighborhood supports so put some money in it
Corporations owe they gotta give up the dough
To the town or else we gotta shut 'em down

The notion that businesses have community responsibility rings louder and louder every day...


Saturday, October 15, 2011

A song a day: The Weakerthans - Pamphleteer

OWS edition: All these Occupy Wall Street protests have got me thinking about good radical songs that can be inspiring. Being an ardent leftie for, well, forever, I don't think that good music and politics can be mutually exclusive. However, I thought I'd start with a song that kind of sums up the thankless task it can to believe in something passionately. Pamphleteer ably captures the thankless task of standing on a street corner handing our fliers to an uncaring or uninterested populis. I've been there myself and while you might burn with a righteous passion for the community good (and I think that's what the left generally represents - basic humanism over capital), it can do your head in at the indifference with what people feel about it but in the end, you sick with it regardless. I don't think I've heard this better articulated than in this song and the Weakerthans are an overlooked indie band with left politics making great music.


Friday, October 14, 2011

Peter Gabriel: What's it going to take?

Seems I've been dwelling on some old stuff this week and with the upcoming release of Jane's Addiction and Tom Waits albums in the coming weeks, that's probably not going to change. So... Peter Gabriel. There I've said it. I like Peter Gabriel and while I've never really explored his Genesis years, as a kid I was deeply in love with his solo albums. And I don't think there's anything wrong with that because despite the big shiny pop numbers that got on the radio (Sledgehammer), most of his records had some weird shit going on in the back end. He's one of those artists that somehow infiltrated the mainstream while being singularly not mainstream in content. So Peter has a new album out called New Blood which is him re-recording some songs from his back catlogue. His last album, Scratch my back, was a collection of covers. His last album of actual new material was 2002's Ovo

So my question is this: what's it going to take for Peter Gabriel to write a new song? I know he's now rocking that strange Confucius look and batting off questions of Genesis re-unions from Rolling Stone - but Peter, mate, re-imaginings, covers - this isn't what people want. Either back off into the background Bowie style or pull your finger out and write a decent bloody new tune... Just saying... 


Thursday, October 13, 2011

A song a day: Laura Viers - Black gold blues

I'm not exactly how sure famous Laura Veirs is beyond my group of friends. My knowledge is primarily fuelled by a friend who has a silent passion that burns for her. As such, my exposure to her is as much based upon his undying love for Veirs rather than reading about or stumbling across her music on TV or the Radio. However, once you're hooked, you're hooked and Veirs produces erudite indie songs - much of it informed by her qualification as a geologist. Black Gold Blues is Veirs at her most rocking and it's a mighty sound to behold while the metaphor of digging for gold transpires to a be a search for a romantic love. It's a wild and heady sound and makes me think if Liz Phair hadn't lost her mind she'd be producing songs like this.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Mastodon - The Hunter

Just a quick review as I've only been able to listen to this a few times. The thing I love about Mastodon is that they are unrepentantly heavy in an grandiose kind of way. They could write a song about going to the supermarket to buy margarine and it would probably sound like a heavy metal version of The Iliad. They can do the sprawling epic-complex songs and things that come close to conventional rock songs. It seems that The Hunter is more focussed on the latter category of song - a little less complex and a bit more concise but also a lot of fun nonetheless. Lyrically, it seems to be as nutty as ever but as with Mastodon, a band who produced a concept album about a time travelling quadriplegic, these things are to be expected. I don't think I love it as much as Crack the Skye but I think more time with it will reveal it's charms. That's not to say it isn't a great listen and if you have ever joined the cult of Mastodon before, you'll definitely like this. Recommended.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Wall revisited

Pink Floyd seem to be everywhere at the moment and with the release of remastered versions of their definitive work, I decided to go back down memory lane. Pink Floyd were a big band for me in my teens but apart from listening to Wish You Were Here every now and then, they kind of dropped off my radar when I started listening seriously to punk and alternative music. Despite this, I spent many, many hours of my deep, dark teen days in my bedroom listening to Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here and The Wall.

As such, this was the first time I have listened to The Wall in its entirety in at least twenty years and while it sounds good, my lord is it a dour and miserable listen - no wonder I was so fucked up as a teen if this was what I was feeding my soul. The narrative thrust of mental degradation through abuse and despair pours misery upon misery as it builds to the pulling down the metaphoric wall. That being said, the songs are strong and there are very few duds here (if any), probably a reflection of Roger Waters' perfectionism and the personal nature of the narrative. Still, the songs that stood out strongest to me in my teens Mother, Goodbye Blue Sky, Hey You and Is there anybody out there? still sound good today. Comfortably Numb is still far and away the best song here, a deserving classic with a guitar solo which is both lyrical and soaring.

But here's the crux of the matter, the record sounds great, the musicianship is flawless and it is no doubt a strong record but I don't think I could listen to it too often. Seriously, this album is imprinted in my mind but I have changed and whatever compelled me to listen to it endlessly as a fifteen year old does not compel me in my late thirties. If you were ever a fan, this remaster sparkles sonically but I think I will leave Pink to sort out his identity crisis by himself. I think I'll still get the Wish You Were Here remaster though.


Monday, October 10, 2011

Stop... Censorship?!

One of the records I'm most anticipating this year is the new Jane's Addiction record, The Great Escape Artist which is out in a couple of weeks. I liked End to the lies but I'm a little lukewarm on the second single Irresistible Force. Whatever - I'm keen for any new Jane's record and even though I didn't rate the last one, I still listen to it pretty regularly. They performed on Kimmel this week and ended the show with Stop. The weirdest thing is the TV channel censored the word "Goddamn" at the end of the song (as in "Turn off that smokestack and that goddamn radio"). It's even stranger when Perry yells "Fuck 'em up!" at the beginning of the solo (about 3:02) and that didn't get censored. Does anyone else find that kind of censorship weird - you'd censor goddamn over fuck? Anyhow, I'm a big boy now, I can hear the word goddamn. Oh yeah and Navarro is shredding on that song...


Sunday, October 9, 2011

A song a day: Fugazi - Birthday Pony

The one and only time I saw Fugazi, they opened with Birthday Pony. I walked into the club in Brisbane just as the first chords came crashing down and I ran onto the floor like a gleeful child. Really, I just put this song up today because I wanted a song with birthday in the title today because I turn 38 today. Self indulgent I know but it is a blog after all... Actually, the only reason I mention it is because I have a stellar array of musicians I share my birthday with - PJ Harvey, John Lennon, John Entwhistle and... Al Jourgensen! The one guy I feel sorry for born today is Sean Lennon - son of John (no pressure) and born on the same day as his Dad - that's a long shadow to escape. You'd think sharing a birthday with such people would mean I would be talented too but that didn't really work out for me...


Saturday, October 8, 2011

Ipod and imperceptibility

Maybe if Jane Austen had lived today she would have written a book called Ipod and imperceptibility - a tale of modern manners, perception and the role an Ipod plays in it. Whatever the case, I recently had my ipod stolen and in some ways it has psychically damaged me. Not so much in the loss of the possession - it is easily replaced but because as I identify with the music that I listen to, the ipod has become some weird extension of my personality. I'm not thinking a David Cronenberg style flesh-machine interface but when I look through the ipod listing I could see pieces of my history, my idiosyncrasies and my absolute perfect taste in music (I kid). But to the thief (or fucking prick as I like to call him), who no doubt wiped it and sold  it or replaced the music with his bullshit whatever taste, it would just being a random bunch of artists he has probably never heard of. The linkages, subtleties and connections in that list of music would only be apparent to me or a fellow music fan. Further, music I collected from other people on my ipod is no doubt lost forever (although most of it will be backed up in far off Sydney). As such, I face at least the next short period of time without having music on demand which is strangely terrifying. Even when I travelled in the 80's and 90's, I had cassettes, a walkman and batteries always at the ready. I'm sure it won't be long before I break and get something to tide me over and raid my girlfriend's itunes on her laptop but life without music - that's a life that kind of sucks.

 Whatever the case may be, I'm sure Elizabeth Bennett's ipod would have some Tori Amos on it...

Update: So I wrote this last week and Steve Jobs passed away which I find incredibly sad news. I am a bit of an apple tragic - the first computer I really used regularly was a Mac Plus (I think) in about 1992. I have long said that the ipod is the perfect piece of technology for which I can find absolutely no downside to but don't forget Steve Jobs headed up Pixar until 2006 and I love those films - love them. He was obviously a man of vision and reshaped how we use technology but also with Apple made it elegant, user-friendly and fun. Anyone touched by the spectre of cancer (I'm sure that's most of us) knows how terrible it is for the sufferer and their loved ones. I hope in the end it was a peaceful death and I'm sure Jobs will be long remembered. Sad stuff.


Friday, October 7, 2011

A song a day: Straightjacket Fits - Down in Splendour

I think Shayne Carter must be forever pissed about Down in Splendour. Carter wrote the bulk of songs for Straightjacket Fits and to his credit, he has written a great many songs. However, the band will always be best know for Splendour which was written and sung by his bandmate Andrew Brough. It's legend that Carter ousted Brough not long after the success of this song and the subsequent LP Blow is all Carter (a great record too but out of print as far as I know). Anyhow, here is a slice of pure New Zealand indie pop bliss - this song never fails to make me feel better.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

Notes from the road

At the moment, I'm travelling through Europe on a world trips that lasts until December. As such, with sporadic internet, radio and TV availability it's hard to keep up with what's going on. But as I travel, here's some things I've noticed:

1. I feel embarrassed for the Red Hot Chilli Peppers for their new single. I'm not a fan but it is fucking terrible. The only thing worse is Anthony Kiedis's moustache in the video.

2. I feel sad for Limp Bizkit (but not much). I saw their new video for a song called Shotgun and rather than turn it off immediately, I watched it (more fool me). The video is comprised of live grainy live shots of the band but then you realise most of the footage is compiled from when they were popular ten years ago or whatever. I guess it's hard to get new footage of fans going crazy when you're playing to 10 people at a church fete these days.

3. I feel discombobulated by the Metallica/Lou Reed project. I've heard one song and it is terrible. It's like Lou fronting a Black Sabbath covers band from Wollongong. Maybe the rest is genius but I think Lou pushes the joke too far sometimes.

4. I have no idea who Bruno Mars is but he is everywhere. EVERYWHERE!

5. I am not offended or surprised that Europe loves Queen. In fact, on the day I landed in Estonia I heard three different Queens songs within an hour of landing. I didn't feel bad about that at all.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A song a day: Counting Crows - Anna Begins

Weird - I literally just time travelled. I went for a shower and a shave and came out to the bedroom and my girlfriend was playing Counting Crows debut album (which is also weird). This is something that my long gone girlfriend in 1994 would have done as well. And if it was 1994, this album doesn’t sound that bad. At the time, they were touted as the next big thing because Mr Jones nicked Van Morrison’s sha-la-la’s and name checked Bob Dylan. In retrospect, that seems pretty calculated but at the time the music press saw it as revelatory. I guess this was before the Michelle Branch duets and the Shrek theme tunes. As these kind of bands go, I don’t think anyone really touched American Music Club in terms of lyricism and musicianship but I have to say Anna Begins is ok as are about three or four other tracks on August and everything after. So in 1994, this is pretty good but I’m glad I’m not caught in a time trap. --

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A song a day: I Break Horses – Winter Beats

I’ve been thinking a lot about music genealogy of late (are the Pixies really my version of the Beatles? Then that makes Jane’s Addiction my Led Zeppelin!) and there are so many bands that seem to be touched by the hand of Loveless. This seems especially true of a number electronic bands that use lush atmospherics to create the Bloody Valentine wall of sound and beauty. My favourite of these post MBV bands was always Bowery Electric’s Beat album – a kind of long lost electronic niece to Loveless. Anyhow, I see I Break Horses as coming from that lineage and their record is a satisfying listen if you like that aesthetic. Winter Beats is probably the closest they get to a ‘single’ and that ain’t no bad thing. --

Monday, October 3, 2011

A song a day: Refused - New Noise

Whenever I meet someone who is a Refused fan and we getting talking, someone inevitably starts hyperventilating when New Noise is mentioned. It is a GREAT song about reclaiming the narrative both musically and politically and any self respecting rock fan usually falls inn love with it when they hear it. There's not much more to say except that if you want to see a great documentary about the hardships and failing dynamics of a band, track down the documentary Refused are fucking dead - yeah, they're not coming back...--

Sunday, October 2, 2011

So REM broke up eh? Any thoughts U2...

So the REM break up has being playing on my mind for a few days now and it's mainly been about when bands should break up as opposed to whether they do. It maybe heretical to many but I was mainly thinking about U2 - huge band, huge pulling power and can sell out arenas anywhere in the world. But what was the last U2 album I really enjoyed from front to back? Achtung Baby which is celebrating it's 20th anniversary this year.

When I think back, Zooropa was spotty (although it has some great songs towards the end of the record and Stay [So far, so close] is one of their best of that decade) and then there was Pop. As I was thinking about this on a train trip two days ago, I decided to listen to Pop in its entirety for the first time in a gazillion years. I couldn't do it - once I hit Mofo and started to wonder who advised the boys to add all those Chemical Brothers flourishes, they had lost me. Maybe they thought it was some Achtung-esque reinvention but maybe there was no thought at all or too much thought... Who knows? There's some good songs there but it is a hard listen.

I then listened to All that you can't leave behind which sounds like a U2 tribute band aping their greatest hits. There's some good songs there but the back end is pretty poor. From then on, it seems that U2 forgot how to write a memorable chorus on Atomic Bomb and No Line on the Horizon. To be honest, Atomic Bomb features what I consider the worst U2 line ever (which is apparently one of Bono's favourites):

Freedom has a scent like the top of a newborn baby's head

Uhmmm... no. REM had a much noticeable decline in both popularity and quality but while U2 remain huge, I'd argue the quality control has been lacking. Obviously, there is the will in the band to continue although Larry always looks grumpy but should I expect a band like this to be producing good albums at this stage of their career? I'd argue that Fugazi's last record was one of their best some 20 years into their existence and you know, that last Metallica album was pretty good.

Maybe this is a product of being in a behemoth band. I went to see Metallica last year and had a blast. I later saw the live video from the same tour (Fran├žais Pour Une Nuit) and it was pretty much, move for move, the same concert I saw in Brisbane except for a slightly altered setlist. I know a production of that size or the U2 360 show needs to have a certain regularity to be manageable and the fans want to hear the hits so I get that. I saw U2 on the Zoo TV tour and it was pretty much the same as a live broadcast I'd seen on TV. I wonder does this size and routine make the bands over think everything from the live show to their recording? Achtung Baby is such a primal howl of a record - a record of turmoil, inventiveness and raw power. No line on the horizon seemed like it was micromanaged and produced in a test tube by scientists.

Now, to be honest, I'm not advocating for U2 to split up. I mean the Rolling Stones keep on keeping on and no one expects them to release a really great album at this stage. I guess the thing is with REM, they knew the jig was up but with U2 I always have this glimmering hope that they will produce one more really great record. It's a terrible expectation and probably an impossible one but that's partly because I am a fan. There may never be another Joshua Tree or Achtung in them but we can hope. I'm being a little unfair here, I could say this about any band who have been around for a while, I mean you could say the same thing about the Cure or the Beastie Boys or Aerosmith or Radiohead (WHAT! WAIT! NEVER!). Actually, you could say it about some newer bands too, I mean Coldplay haven't done anything interesting since their second album apart from wear stupid jackets (if they ever did anything interesting at all). But whatever, I'm just tossing some seeds around here. Thoughts?


Saturday, October 1, 2011

A song a day: REM - Lotus

Up was REM's first record without Bill Berry and it is actually pretty great although it wasn't that well received at the time. I loved the ruse that the band played by releasing the single Daysleeper first which was a slice of Automatic styled acoustic pop from the band. Anyone who was suckered into that must have been slightly perturbed when the hoarse sounding Stipe started squawking "HEY HEY" on Lotus, which seems to be, for all intents and purposes, a song about tripping. There is something sinuous and sexy about this song and while on first listen, it sounds slightly innocuous, its charms sink there way deeply into your cranium. I'm not sure what the last great REM song was but this is definitely a good one from the post-Berry period.

Update: I wrote this a couple of weeks ago and read today that REM have broken up. Really it should have of happened years ago. With the lifeless live albums and seemingly never ending greatest hits packages, it just seemed to be getting worse and worse. I actually think that Up was their last consistently good record and Reveal had three nice little pop gems on it. My friend who is a lifelong REM fan tried to convince me the last album was good but I really couldn’t hear it. Still, they had a great run of incredible albums in the 80’s and 90’s so as a music lover I’m thankful for the joy that they bought me over the years (and I will still defend New Adventures in Hi-Fi to my death). RIP REM.