Sunday, 24 January 2010

Week 19 - 30 Years, part one

So, the Brit Awards celebrates its 30th this year - the awards ceremony that seems to have done less with its life than I have.

I watched Mel B present the highlights of previous years. Obviously, the one that stands out is Jarvis Cocker rubbing his ass at the crowd in protest at Michael Jackson celebrating allegations of child dodginess by surrounding himself with children. But, like the awards of late, this programme managed to edit out any semblance of interest by not
showing Jarvis. Not content with this, they had Trevor Nelson and Cat Deeley (seriously) lambasting Cocker for this in such an inane way that even the commentators on the I Love.... series of shows would wince at the vacuity of it all.

But anyway, to celebrate their 30th year, one award the Brits will be dishing out is the Album of 30 Years, which honours the best British album of the past 30 years. Supposedly.

As you can see from the nominees
(right), there's the banal, the expected and the just damn bizarre. If (What's the Story) Morning Glory, why not Definitely, Maybe or Blur's Parklife?! If Sade, why not, well anything else?!

This selection did one thing for me, it got me thinking of my 10 favourite albums from the past 30 years. I'd planned on doing something of this ilk for a while.

First things first, I don't want this to come across as muso's list where I'm trying to score points by choosing little-known or controversial albums. I'm not saying my list is better or worse than the Brits. It's personal. Click on the links to hear the songs.

Secondly, there are no compilation albums - which is a shame for the likes of the Smiths, Madness, the Specials and Carter USM.

Finally, I'm really surprised by the results. I thought the 90s were rubbish, but the majority of albums have come from then. Whether it's because that's when I grew up I dunno, but I doubt it as I bought more music during the 2000s. Odd.

On with the show.

This first of three installations will contain the first four albums, chronologically, with the exception of any to be included in my top three - that's part three. Exciting, eh?!

So we start with a bona fide classic. As far as debuts go, this is up there with the best. In fact, as far as albums go, it's up there with the best. The Stone Roses' 1989 self-titled release got a 10-year-old me in to music.

Chugging into your ears, the intro to opening track I Wanna Be Adored reminds me of Manchester's Piccadilly Station, with the train wheels scraping on the metal tracks as they come to a halt and the people depart onto the pimpled concrete (I have very strong memories of that concrete for some reason!). It's a stunning opening track and signalled to the world the intent of the precocious band who would help change the of the city, and the style of British youngsters.

But it wasn't all swagger with the Roses, they could produce glimmering, cheeky songs too. Songs about getting hands stuck to their jeans and the likes. (Song for My) Sugar Spun Sister is a beautiful track and expertly ambiguous. Is it about love, drugs or prostitutes? Who knows, just enjoy it.

There are reasons not to like This Is the One, well Man Utd come out to it, but it's such a good song I can bypass that. I absolutely love this song, it's just ace, it wouldn't get outclassed on any album. It is one of my all-time favourite songs and not putting this album in my top 3 was really hard, but I think it's become more of an old friend than an album!

If those three songs aren't enough, there's also the likes of She Bangs the Drums, Waterfall and I Am the Resurrection. Now that's great!

From Madchester to sunkist LA for the next one. People will say the Red Hot Chili Peppers have done better albums than this - Blood Sugar Sex Magick and Californication for two - but this 1995 album doesn't have a bad track among it.

One Hot Minute is one of their more experimental albums and often goes on about drug addiction and whatnot.

Warped is a dark and muddy intro to an album, but Aeroplane is more serene, even containing Flea's daughter and her classmates singing. Typically, the cheeriness hides something sinister - probably drugs, what with the mentions
of spikes and sitting in his kitchen, overcoming gravity. Also, the slap bass is phenomenal, not that I'm usually into that stuff. My Friends also fits into the serene bracket, whereas Deep Kick is more like Warped.

Coffee Shop is a funk rock track to dance to, and Pea is just beautifully bizarre! One Big Mob kicks off with a punch but then mellows into a trippy haze before going full circle, lovely. This is the time when the album shows some semblance of order and the rest of the tracks are more accessible especially Tearjerker. Towards the end the Chilis vent about religion.

This is showns perfectly in the funky and somewhat angry Shallow Be Thy Name. "I was not created in the likeness of a fraud" and all the talk of being heretical. It's a rollicking good ride anyway, unless you're of a vehementally religious persuasion.

To sum up One Hot Minute: Drugs may be bad, mm'kay, but they lead to some excellent music.

For the penultimate album of this installation, we have some more from a rocky ilk.

Mention Reef to people and they'll immediately picture their biggest hit, Place Your Hands. But there was a time when Gary Stringer and co were serious contenders to the Led Zeppelin throne.

Their 1995 debut Replenish brings out the surfers in them and, couple with the Zeppelin-style riffs, makes this a criminally overlooked album.

Starting with the stellar Feed Me, Dominic Greensmith's drums conjure up a stormy sea and Stringers somewhat affected vocals add to the buffeting nature of the opener.

Next up is the riff-alicious (!) Naked which reached number 11 in the charts, unsurprising considering the guitar work of Kenwyn House and Jack Bessant, and Stringer bellowing "I'll blow you away".

Taking it down a notch and conveying a tranquil bay is the obviously titled Mellow
. It's a great track to put on and drift away to sunny Cornish shores. As is the rest of the album, containing the rocky single Good Feeling and the title track.

Finally for this week, it's a totally different style of album, although it does allow you to drift off into another world, like parts of Replenish.

Moving on to 1997 and an album that - coupled with the Stone Roses - must surely be in most 'best album' lists. Following the disbandment of the hugely influential Spacemen 3, Jason 'J Spaceman' Pierce formed Spiritualized. He struck gold once more.

There weren't too many acts in the 90s that could blend strings, gospel and preposterously loud guitars and have commercial and critical success. Maybe it's because pillheads had a load of money! Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating Through Space is an amazing piece of work, from Kate Radley's low-key announcement at the start to the Dr John vocals on the bluesy Cop Shoot Cop. It's an emotional ride and no mistake, guv.

To start with there's the title track with the Kate Radley's aforementioned mutterance. Done entirely in loops, Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating Through Space is a sublime piece of paradoxically uplifting melancholy - mixing heartbreak with hope.

That's a theme that resonates through Spiritualzed's work, and it's employed perfectly in All of My Thoughts. Another theme is sonic surprise. In this track the beautiful music is interrupted by ferocious freakouts.

But the incredible track on here is the utterly heartbreaking Broken Heart. Having heard it many times, I should be immune to it now, but tiny beads of water still find their way to the corners of my eyes!

There's not a bad track here, and I haven't even mentioned Come Together, Electricity or Cool Waves.

Anyway, that's finally it for this week. The next two weeks' installments should be shorter!

Friday, 15 January 2010

Week 18 - When Good Vocoders Go Bad

Firstly, an apology. As you can probably tell, I didn't get round to doing a New Year blog and, as the one I had in mind was various, exotic versions of Auld Lang Syne, I thought I'd better leave it for another time. Like August.

But anyway, onwards into a new decade.

As the season of goodwill is far behind us, I thought I'd serve up an abhoration of a blog. Yes, that's right, it's this blog's version of When Animals Attack, but more terrifying.

I was listening to an album recently, Bossa N Ramones, and was overwhelmed by how good it was. In general. Even some of the Ramones songs I'm not massively keen on work well, and there's a beautiful version of The KKK Took My Baby Away (if you can get past the weirdness of it!). However there was one that made me pull a face usually associated with a pungent whiff. But more on that later and onwards to the vocoders.

Let's get this straight, the vocoder isn't totally evil. Air, Daft Punk, Super Furry Animals and (ahem) even Peter Frampton use it well. But some people take a bone and run with it. However, like kindly dogs, they don't bury it away from human eyes/ears, these musicians decide it's the best thing in the world and they must make an entire song with it.

First up is the obvious one, but I'll just do a YouTube link to it as I don't want the police to find it on my hard drive! Hello Cherilyn Sarkisian, aka Cher. She say she believes in life after love, but she also believes in murdering the hell out of the poor vocoder that some lackey probably found while looking in the bins trying to find clothes for Cher. Yes, it's that travesty from 1998, Believe.

God, I hate that more than I remember.

Anyhoo, next up is another trip back in time, further on this occassion. There's no worse recipe than a dash of funk added to a modicum of R&B, sprinkled too liberally with vocoder and served up in the cracked bowl of the 1980s. This didn't stop Larry Blackmon and co. In 1986, Cameo slapped their culinary abortion onto our plates and we, amazingly, lapped it up. There's still some leftovers available for the chav-tastic 80s clubs. Prepare to screech 'Aw' like a cat suffering from diarrhea: here's Cameo with Word Up.

And finally, the song that inspired me to hurt your ears. Remember I was saying about Bossa N Ramones? There's a version of Pet Semetary on there. It's kind of charming, but there's no escaping the vocoder (or it might be a custom made dsumi, apparently. Either way it's an overused vocal enhancer).The perpetrator of this is Yasmin Gate and I wish her no ill, but...well, oof.

So, I'll leave you with Yasmin Gate doing the Ramones' Pet Semetary.