Thursday, 31 January 2013

Desert Island Discs 58 Suede by Suede

  58 Suede by Suede 1993

The sound of sex and depression by Britpop's John the Baptists. Sure it was all rehashed Bowie but compared to Grunge it was sleazy, glamorous and more importantly it was suburbia , high rise based and seemed to swagger in its englishness.

It was the sound of a singer and a guitarist seemingly in a spiralling competition as to who could outdo each other.

For the 3rd single they had added a pop chart sheen

Looking back it is all so frighteningly calculated to shock or at least ensure column inches, but then isn't that calculation what pop is all about. If you want earnest ... well where is the fun in that.

The real surprise on the lp was the big sweeping ballads made the whole thing feel timeless and wrestled music back from across the water

She's Not Dead - Suede

A lot of people would probably point to the follow up Dog Man Star as their classic although I prefer the leanness of the debut

 I think I also knew that this was probably the last time that I would be in tune with whatever the press decided was the "next big thing" without reacting well it is just a watered down version of ..... , which is ironic as Suede more than most paraded their influences in front of them.

You can buy Suede here

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Desert Island Discs 59 Blue Lights on the Runway by Bell X1

59 Blue Lights on the Runway by Bellx1 2009

Part of Juniper that splintered when Band member Damian Rice decided to leave and sing songs of sorrow , Bellx 1 already had released 3 great lps of melodic guitar music (Music in Mouth would have made this chart if it wasn't for Blue Lights) when this came out.

The band seemed to have been listening closely to their Talking Heads records and channelled them all into a more polished sound where by and large the emphasis was on big pop songs.

All that is missing from the below is the big suit

Amidst all the spiky pop songs are some gorgeous lush ballads, including this one which never fails to have me ring my parents

Light Catches Your Face - Bell X1

You can buy Blue Lights here

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Desert Island Discs 60 Tin Drum by Japan

60 Tin Drum by Japan 1981

I was blissfully unaware of their dodgy New York Dolls lite past, all I knew was the achingly cool imagery that Smash Hits hoovered up. I'm still not sure there has been a more left of centre hit than this

Many an oxfam was raided to try and find shirts with small collars , etc. I loved the whole look so much so that the lp cover stayed on my wall in my room at poly 9 years after it had first been released and long after a time when far eastern imagery was being used by every graphic designer going.

The lp really didn't sound like anything else around at the time and was about as far from the flat fens as you could get.  There was a bit of Bowie , a bit of Roxy but by adding in some eastern influence they had moved well away from the sound of the previous lp  Gentlemen Take Polaroids that was by and large an homage to these 2 acts.

At the other extreme to Ghosts was the dance song that you couldn't dance to

The other worldliness of Sylvian's Ferry, Bowie croon married to Richard Barbieri's other wordly keyboards, driven along by Karn and Jansen's rhythm section. It was weird enough to feel special but catchy enough to hang onto.... and more importantly for Spaldingvyou felt the 4 of them wouldn't be seen dead on either a motorbike or a scooter.

For me the track that sums up Tin Drum ended up causing my record to wear out is this one. Again who knows what it is all about , a load of nonsense probably but for once that is not the point

Sons of Pioneers - Japan

 You can buy Tin Drum here

Friday, 25 January 2013

Desert Isalnd Discs 61 Apple Venus by XTC

61 Apple Venus Vol 1 by XTC 1999

Xtc had seemingly been in an endless dispute with Virgin records and seven years on from Nonsuch Apple Venus appeared a bit out of nowhere. Dave Gregory had left the band feeling that the orchestral direction had left him nothing more than a session musician.

You can see what he meant as the lush string arrangements and layered harmonies make this the best example of chamber pop (if such a thing exists) out there.

The lyrics range from the wide screen eco politics of River of Orchids and the Last Balloon that book end the lp to the gentle reflections on getting old and settling down of Colin Moulding's contributions. There is also Andy Partridge's bitter song for his ex wife in Your Dictionary with its death of a marriage

 Now your laughter has a hollow ring
But the hollow ring has no finger in
So let's close the book and let the day begin
And our marriage be undone

The bulk of the album though is centred on the English countryside , be it the local pub , the harvest festival and a celebration of nature.

It is normally the kind of stuff that would have me running for the hills but only one track Frivolous Tonight strays too far towards twee.

Listen to these two examples and get carried along by the ambition , the harmonies etc and just wallow in the shear lushnes of it all

Harvest Festival - XTC

Easter Parade - XTC

You can buy a copy of one of the lost gems of an lp here

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Desert Island Discs 62 The Wrong People by Furniture

62 The Wrong People by Furniture 1986

Up there with Shack for the unluckiest band in the world award. Furniture's the Wrong People was filled up with just the right amount of angst for someone leaving home for the first time

Shamefully ,along with Its Immaterial, forever pigeon holed as one hit wonders, but what a hit. Not really sounding like anything else at of the time , its slightly off kilter lyric with a backing that would grace an Elbow lp

By the follow up a re recorded version of an earlier single the video had got slicker but their luck was in free fall , with it making radio 1s playlist Stiff records couldn't produce anywhere near enough to match demand and so the catchier song and quirkier lyric was destined to flop

Another single Miss You had Janice Long crying live on air (I may well have made this up as I cant find any record of this as a single let alone the crying - however it is a cracking sad song) but their chance had come and gone.

The lp benefits from a both songwriters taking vocal duties and a band willing to take risks with the arrangements and take them to places that not a lot of other bands I liked at the time were willing to go

The centrepiece is the track She Gets out the Scrapbook that crams as much drama into one song as most bands generate in a back catalogue.

This came out in a weird time in between a levels and poly when I moved to Worcester to work on a volunteer project. Working 48 hours on and 48 off I and a co volunteer looked after Ray who had tried to commit suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning. The volunteer system allowed Ray to continue to live in his home. The volunteers home was a flat opposite the sauce factory and next to a night shelter where we also used to help out every now and then.

Their was a feeling that having had to retake my a levels and now stuck out in worcester all my friends lives were now passing me by and the sentiments in the song struck a chord. I didn't realise at the time just how much growing up I was having to do in that 6 months

She Gets Out the Scrapbook - Furniture

you can buy a re released version of the Wrong People here

Monday, 21 January 2013

Desert Island Discs 63 Gorgeous George by Edwyn Collins

63 Gorgeous George by Edwyn Collins 1994

I sometimes think I like the idea of Edwyn Collins more than the music itself. If I had to name my top 10 singers he would be there or there abouts, but in truth most of his out put is just too dam patchy.

Every Orange Juice and solo lp I have (and I've got them all) has glorious moments, each of them with at least one track that would up there in my favourite songs chart ... but also at least one or two  which would leave me scratching my head.

Gorgeous George however is top drawer songwriting from start to finish.

Best known for this off course, which turned him for a short time into an international pop star!

He followed it up with this gorgeous bit of pop (check out the interviewers change from Japanese to English!)

The lp starts off with Edwyn's lyrics at their biting best in the campaign for real rock and its "truly detestable summer festival" refrain and the added bonus of having  a pop at the "raggled taggled plastic gyspy Robert Zimmerframe" is a bonus. Goodness knows what people who bought this on the strength of Girl like You made of it all

He is at his best when the assassins knife is hidden in a bouquet of a pretty pop song. Stand out track sees the Gorgeous George Galloway get both barrels. (Strangely I used the think this was all about a Boy George wanting Edwyn to produce a new lp .... I needed to get out more)

Gorgeous George by Edwyn Collins

My other favourite shows that when he strips away the gimmicky production and shifts in style , simple is often best

Low Expectations - Edwyn Collins

Back recording after his illness is remarkable enough but the fact that in Losing Sleep, he produced his strongest work since this lp is a testament to his talent and determination. I do wonder though that in terms of lyrics if anything will hit the heights of the Trojan horse that was Gorgeous George

you can buy the lp here  

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Desert Island Discs 64 Planet Fabulous by Something Happens

64 Planet Fabulous by Something Happens 1994

Something Happens pretty much follow  the same criteria and pattern as The Fat Lady Sings except for a much worse dress sense and lp cover designs.

It could have been 2nd lp Stuck Together With Gods Glue which has the big pop tunes, but instead I've gone for the mellower final lp Planet Fabulous. ( The 3rd was for some reason a real stinker).

There are still some big sing along moments in the title track and 70s Wedding   .. "where the music is crap and the clothes do your head in"

However the lp is mainly made up of quirky songs that sit around the 2 1/2 mins mark. As a result it can be a bit of a hotch potch of styles , with songs often leaving you wanting an extra verse.

Wind's Future Wife by Something Happens

They certainly doesn't push any boundaries and for me it is pure comfort food music but I love the sense of melancholy that runs through all their songs

Here Comes the Soldiers by Something Happens

I read everything that you wrote and it seemed like you were living my life much better than I was

Planet fabulous is a tad rare but there is a best of out there that you can get very cheaply here which has a lot of great stuff on it. A shame about the bland name as it was originally called "The Beatings Will Continue until Morale Improves"  - until I assume the record company thought enough was enough

Thursday, 17 January 2013

desert Island Discs 65 - Kite by Kirsty MaCcoll

65 Kite by Kirsty MaCcoll 1989

Up until Kite I knew Kirsty Maccoll through the pleasant cover of Billy Bragg's New England and the not quite novelty hit of There's Guy works down the chipshop.

In fairness Kite would have passed me by if it wasn't for French and Saunders

Every week Kirsty would perform a song backed by Raw Sex or with French and Saunders mugging in the background.

They were usually cover versions but then she performed one of her own songs (about 6 1/2 mins in on the above clip) about the shallowness of fame and the red tops.15 Minutes could have been written this year with the ins and outs of the Leveson enquiry

The lyrics were spot on sharp

Seven times in seven days
I've sat and wished my life away
I know the greyness comes and goes
But the sun don't shine
And the snow don't snow

There's Suzy-Ann with her tits and curls
Where mediocrity excels
For those vicious boys and their boring girls
You know it makes me sick but it's a bozo's world

Then there's always the cash
Selling yourself for some trash
Smiling at people that you cannot stand
You're in demand
Your fifteen minutes start now

City banker looks are in
The heartless heart, the chinless chin
And you'd spill your beans for just a pint of gin
How you got so holy
And became so thin

In Sunday papers every week
The silly words you love to speak
The tacky photos and the phoney smiles
Well it's a bozo's world
And you're a bozo's child

Then there's always the cash
Selling yourself for some trash
Smiling at people that you cannot stand
You're in demand
Your fifteen minutes start now

Then there's always the fame!
Autographs now and again
People who saw you on Blankety Blank
Or in the bank
Your fifteen minutes start now

The lead off single was just as good with its view of Tory Britain, with  a lyric as biting as anything Billy Bragg or Elvis Costello could come up with

I though of you when they closed down the school and hospital too
Did they think that you were better they were wrong
You had so many friends
They all left you in the end
Because they couldn't stand the patter

The public were apathetic, preferring the harmony laden and perfectly lovely cover of The Kinks' Days.

The lp is full of hidden treasures whether it is the country lament on love in Don't come the Cowboy or Johnny Marrs jangle pop of Innocence or the quieter more fragile moments

You and Me Baby - Kirsty Maccoll

It is a shame that as one smart songwriter she is probably best known for singing other people's lyrics and with her cruelly premature death this is unlikely to change

Kite has just been re released as a double cd with a load of extras on which you can get here

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Desert Island Discs 66 - Soul Mining by The The

66 Soul Mining by The The 1983

1983 and I ws struggling with both my o levels and figuring out how to talk to girls ( I went to an all boy grammar school and we would spend out lunchtimes ahnging around the record section in Smiths trying to look cool to the High School girls who were also there).

Friday night meant Spalding's semi alternative disco Wagon Wheels ( a barn at the back of a pub where you could get served vomit inducing vodka and orange cordial) for a tap of your foot . nod of your head , dance to something by the already disbanded Jam and a hopeful search for a snog.

One weekend 2 things happened. Firstly the dj at Wagon Wheels (notorious for ignoring requests) played this

and then on the sunday Annie Nightingale played the full lp version of this

I rushed out to buy the lp Soul Mining that monday and got home to lsiten to seven tracks of a man slowly falling apart in his room .

Largely a one man band with session musicians ., Matt Johnson brought out the best in those he played with , whether it is Jools Holland's endless piano solo or Orange Juice's Zeke Manyika manic drumming.
 He and co producer Paul Hardiman (who strangely a year later would produce LLoyd Cole's Rattlesnakes) managed to make an lp that blended traditional rock instruments with synths so that the end results sounded like neither. Little things like leaving in the string scratches of the chord changes on Uncertain Smile made the whole thing feel slightly off kilter.

The lyrics were perfect for the mixed up , angst  ridden self centred world of a 16 year old. Here is the closing track taken out of the bedsit and onto the road with Johnny Marr on guitar

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Desert Island Discs 67 Parachutes by Coldplay

67 Parachutes by Coldplay 2000

Alan McGee once famously described them as "bedwetters", they have turned into the band that music critics and trendy bands seem to love to hate , often held up as what is all wrong in music today. All for deciding to make melodic piano driven pop songs with chiming guitars.

I love the debut lp , before all the stadiums , festivals, celebrity wives, guest appearances and Eno. It has a really crisp sound and you can almost feel the uncertainty of the band feeling their way towards.

 The debut single didn't really hint at what was to come

It was the release of Yellow when people seemed to sit up and take note , helped with the simple but effective video

Compare the band form teh first clip and the see how the song has grown with them. If asked at the time I would have said they were the least likely stadium band going.

My favourite track is the single Don't Panic , less than 3 mins of a perfect bit of melody

You've almost certainly already made up your mind about Coldplay and Chris Martin's do gooder persona does sometime make it difficult to like them , but listen back to the debut and judge it on their own merits. I do wonder what kind of music they would have made if the follow up had bombed rather than propelling them to bigger and bigger things. They still make great songs , but gone is the personal touch and that sense of uncertainty that weaves its way through Parachutes

Friday, 11 January 2013

Desert Island Discs 68 The Stone Roses by the Stone Roses

68 The Stone Roses by The Stone Roses

Every now and then music needs a bit of a kick up the arse and a 2 finger salute to what has come before and has there ever been a better one than

Kiss me where the sun don't shine
The past is yours but the future's mine

Sure everything is a rip off right from the Pollock lite cover, however isn't all good music a bit of a rip off of something else?

When at poly one of the girls in our house had an older brother Ian who used to come and stay quite a bit, I think partly because he had a soft spot for one of the other girls who didn't drink alcohol but liked a tipple of vintage sarcens vinegar but that's another story.

We used to swap tapes and on one visit he gave me one I'd asked him to do of the Woodentops and he mentioned that he'd put something on the other side that was the best debut lp since the Bunnymen's crocodiles.

Is there anything better than sitting down in your room to listen to something for the first time , with no idea what to expect and simply being blown away?

Before their sound became baggy , before the endless wait for the bloated follow up (never have I been so disappointed by a second lp) , before they spawned a 100 awful madchester bands, they were the most exciting band on the planet.

A rush of sixties guitars a confident swagger , the multi tracked vocals to try and get them in some of tune and most of all at its heart a set of great sing along songs

Here is their own Bill Grundy moment

The focus was often on Ian Brown's dodgy vocals (who needs pitch perfect anyway!) but great showman ship and Jon Squire's guitar playing , but what a rhythm section!

I am the Resurrection - The Stone Roses

After all this time I still get a rush when I play this lp

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Desert Island Discs 69 Black Celebration by Depeche Mode

69 Black Celebration by Depeche Mode 1986

Now I'm pretty sure this isnt going to be on anyone else's list

It seems a bit ironic that one of the tinny synth bands that was meant to signal the death of rock by all the doom merchants (including strangely the musicians union) ended up as one of the biggest rock bands in the world.

Quite how they went from pretty boy synth sounds to stadium filling and out excessing the wildest rock groups is a bit of a mystery (Echo and the Bunnymen must still be scratching their heads) , or maybe not.

I love Depeche Mode in all their various guises except their most successful, when the guitars came in and the interest in grunge began they seemed to morph from something genuinely interesting into just another angst driven goth band (where their personal traumas became more interesting then the music they were making), albeit one that sold the kind of numbers that goth bands could only dream of.

Their best time is just before their tipping point. Violator is probably their best lp and their most successful, but the really interesting ones are when the combined their love of sampling with a slightly darker edge , when they were feeling their way to the giants they would become.

My favourite lp by them is Black Celebration. The lead off single stating with random piano chord and then a car exhaust is still one of the best things they have done (although not quite cracking the video thing yet)

The first 3 tracks merge one into another with the title track followed by Fly on the Windscreen (with the over somewhere sample buzzing in your head ). A track that still makes their live set today. This clip is from their self destruction days with Dave Gahan's voice a worryingly good advert for heroin addiction

We then get to Martin Gore's first vocal in Question of Lust. Never the strongest singer , it is the vulnerability that I like , you get the feeling the whole thing could come crashing down at any moment.

The other single released is a good old stomp along , a trick they would take further with the next lp although the sentiment is a tad dodgy to say the least

The real delights are hidden away in some of the lp tracks where the band really begin to flex their musical muscles with backing tracks full of surprises , whether the layered and complex or in the fragile beauty of Sometimes
Sex and death dominate as themes, although lyrics were never really what Depeche Mode were all about (they are guilty of some real clunkers)
I think the lp has such affection for me as the year it was released I went to poly and it stuck out against the jangly guitars and social realsim lyrics of the C86 bands I got into at Leeds. At the time still seen as a bit of a joke band, many a drunken night I'd defend them and play this lp in what I foolishly thought would be the ultimate argument winning gesture.  
In a way the band have come full circle with the lst couple of lps going back to a more synth driven sound
and now for something completely different - there are a couple more charts doing the rounds. First up the Vinyl Villain is celebrating turning 50 by celebrating his 50 favourite lps.
Secondly Dirk at Sexy Loser is celebrating reaching 45 by celebrating his 45 favourite singles. He seems in a bit of doubt as to whether he will see it through but as he has made such a cracking start then maybe this will add a bit of pressure to keep going!

Monday, 7 January 2013

Desert Island Discs - 70 Johnson by the Fat Lady Sings

70 Johnson by The Fat Lady Sings 1993

The Fat Lady Sings in some ways provide a small snap shot of a large part of my record collection.

Celtic in origin , some early indie success , some early critical success, a major label signing leading to a brush with the charts , has a life of 2/3 lps , lead singer goes off and records under own name, does slow sad songs and faster sad songs, lyrics contain some "clever" play on words,  melodies that linger and guitars that jangle. Finally of course the records dont sell that many although copies now seem to go for silly money.

As you ca hear from this single , Johnson was never going to change any worlds , win any awards or reinvent the popular song. However it is showcase of Nick Kelly's fine songwriting bought alive by a band who had honed their skills from non stop touring (the result of which saw Nick Kelly break up the band after the tour promoting this lp as he realised the lives of his friends and family were passing him by).

It was a toss up between this and the debut , but Johnson shades it due to the hit that never was , a song that gives the sense of watching life and love pass you by

And the Girls go out and it's a date
And the boys stay in now it's too late
Still I fall in love six times a night
In vain on sight

And this bottle laughs back in my face
See how easily I lose my place
And the way I look tonight's a crime
Where does the time go?
Where has the time gone?

But if I held you in my arms again
This time I'd never let you go
And I would feel the universe for you
And I would let you know

We don't leave ourselves in many things
Just in letters leases writs and rings
And when the last one's sold or lost or gone
We don't belong here

And the stupid bells
That hang around London town
They cannot pick me up
They cannot dust me down
Things would always have turned out about this way
Where there's an up there'll always be a down you say
Where there's an up there'll always be a down

And one of the saddest goodbye songs which is effective because of its economy

I am sincerely yours no more
I quit
I know life is long
but life is too short for this

Finally as I've posted both of these before here they are at their melodic best

You can buy Johnson here and Fat Lady Sings wont be the last band on the chart that meets the criteria at the top of the post by a long way!

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Desert Island Discs 71 Exit Music by Steven Lindsay

71 Exit Music by Steven Lindsay 2004

Another day another break up lp. Thirteen years after the last Big Dish lp , lead singer Steven Lindsay returns with his first solo lp of piano and string driven songs built around the divorce from his wife.

The arrangements and sparse and his voice has become richer with age, suiting the more mournful songs to perfection. It is one of those lps that is great to wallow in but be warned its not for those wanting  a pick me up as beautiful as it is , it is a good mood killer.

There isn't really any bitterness to break the mood , only hinted at in Shoot the Breeze - and were you with me anyway,   it is only meditation on sorry memory and regret ...  a kind of how on earth did we let that happen

Goodnight by Steven Lindsay

Valentine by Steven Lindsay

I'm reaching the ending of the line
I'm sending you my only valentine

You can buy Exit Music here

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Desert Island Discs 72 - The House of Love by the House of Love

72 - The House of Love by The House of Love 1988

In the guitar wilderness between the Smiths and Suede, ploughing  a lone furrow against the invasion of grunge , for one year The House of Ove were the most exciting band in the country, they were contenders. Drugs , depression , major label intereference , a messy divorce bewtween the 2 main creative talents all meant that they faded away.

However in 1988 they shone brightly.

I was at poly in Leeds when this came out and along with the Wedding Present they provided a sense of  energy and sharp edges that contrasted with a lot of the smooth Steely Dan influenced bands I was listening to at the time. They also came across as wonderfully aloof as all good guitar bands should be!

Christine and the non lp single Destroy the Heart became a staple of the weds night poly discos (at which your shoes would end up caked in a strange reddy brown gunge known as poly crap).

Drawing a straight line from the early Bunnymen lps I was worried that the 10 variations on a Christine theme would stretch a bit thin. However the rest of the lp is more about melody and some fantastic guitar playing by Terry Bickers who somehow got lost between Marr and Butler

Hope - House of Love

Recently re released in 3 disc glory you can get a copy here.

Everytime I listen to this , I can't help thinking what could have been

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Desert Island Discs 73 Keepers by Jones

73 Keepers by Jones 2010

Firstly happy new year and here's hoping 2013 is a great one for you and all your loved ones

This is a tough one to go for Keepers or Hopeland ? I guess Loss over hope in songs wins it for me , despite the title track of Hopeland being one of my favourite songs ever. The other reason is that the spoken pieces on Keepers just edges those on Hopeland.

Anyway here is what I had to say when it came out

Last year Trevor Jones lead singer of Miracle Mile took the plunge and released a solo lp "Hopeland" under his own name. This was prompted by a change in approach to writing and the more reflective nature of the songs , some of which were spoken word, poems set to music. I raved about it here. Well it seems the long school holiday for Miracle Mile is lasting a bit longer as he has recorded a follow up lp "Keepers"
It really does feel like a sister lp of "Hopeland" with again spoken word pieces along side reflective songs. Although this time the prompting is a sense of loss rather than a sense of hope.

For me there are a three key differences with the 2 lps, firstly this time the power of the spoken pieces comes less from a sense of simplicity and more from being immersed in a short story. The backing to these tracks again perfectly walks the tightrope of supporting and enhancing the mood without distracting from the words.
Secondly there is more a sense of flexing the recording muscles as far as the backing tracks go , and as a result the lp is full of small stand out moments , the hand claps on folding sheets the backing vocals on In Your Eye and the beautiful almost classical guitar solo of I deny. The use of acoustic guitar , piano and slide guitar mean these moments really shine. It is one of those lps that gives pleasure in the smallest things
Thirdly part of the this muscle flexing sees a number of the songs augmented by some fantastic orchestration from Miracle Mile partner Marcus Cliffe. I suspect the cost of getting an orchestra in means that these sounds are from a machine, if this is the case never has a machine sounding so warm and immersed in the mood of each song. For me these are the real highlights of Keepers and why much as I loved Hopeland ,this is the better lp.
There is also a comforting sense of familiarity in some of the themes and images linking Keepers with Hopeland and the more personal Miracle Mile songs, the search for blue skies, the memories of a white dog to the extent that there is a stripped down cover of the Miracle Mile song Papillon
Finally somehow Marcus Cliffe's production has created an intimate personal sound that is pin sharp. Even on my crappy car stereo I almost found myself looking at the passenger seat expecting to see Trevor with guitar doing an in car performance

If you go to Trevor's website here you can listen to tracks and get a free download of Ghost of Song which combines the songs of both Hopeland and Keepers , however if you do you'd be missing out on the spoken word pieces so  I would buy the whole lp

You can buy Keepers here