Saturday, 30 March 2013

Desert Island Discs 29 Ocean Rain by Echo and the Bunnymen



29 Ocean Rain by Echo and the Bunnymen 1984

I've got a real soft spot for the much maligned 4th "grey" lp but in the end it just had to be this

Before Ocean Rain , I thought the Bunnymen were a bit of singles band. The lps were always a bit patchy with the singles by and largely the best things on them.

I do remember thinking how they would ever bee able to follow up the holy trinity of Back of Love , the Cutter and Never Stop.

Then this came out in all its gloriously dramatic majesty!



and who knew that they could tap into such a pop vein, with what is still one of my favourite videos 




Ocean rain is an lp of wild ambition. The acoustics and stings don't seem that big a deal now but at the time it all seemed quite radical after songs made to be sang in long overcoats on a winter's day.

Add into that their Crystal Day event and their tour of key lay lines and the Bunnymen were so much more ... interesting than Bono 's U2 could ever hope to be.

As ever the lyrics are either poetically insightful or a load of old tosh

I've no idea what this was about , just that it was magnificent you just had to be careful where you sang it (shouting out cucumbers and carrots too often and you'll find yourself suddenly on your own!)

Thorn of Crowns by Echo and the Bunnymen


The title track is a proper dictionary definition of epic and made the Bunnymen's world seem a magical and mysterious place



The only criticism I had is with only 9 songs it was always over way too soon




Not the best band in the world ever and not the best lp in the world ever, but a lot better than most peoples best efforts

You can buy Ocean Rain here

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Desert Island Discs 30 Gravity by Balloon


30 Gravity by Balloon 1992

Okay so now we are in to the serious stuff .. the top 30. To kick things off here is a genuine lost classic , hidden gem , should have been a contender.

There was a time when I seriously thought I was the only person to own this lp, until Trev from hissyfit burst that bubble on a previous post.

Ahead of its and definitely out of time, there are elements of folk , country but all skewed through a pop lens. Just as effective with catchy pop songs

Wedding Train - Balloon

as with breathtakingly fragile beauty

Frighten to Death - Balloon

I've no idea what on earth they are on about most of the time , the quirky lyrics have you grasping at  meaning.

Having said that Now That The Thrill's Gone has one of my favourite love gone wrong lyric

We're taking the blame for all of out faults
And I'm calling you names like a parrot that taunts
We're running away ,when we can walk
We used to believe but not anymore

A sight for sore eyes, my eyes were sore
Photographs on a sleeve , a sleeve that you wore
Words out of me, words that were torn

There was a time I loved someone
But now there's nothing left of them at all

The whole thing is about mood and atmosphere , with layers and harmonies , acoustic and electric all weaving around each other.

I don't play it that often but when I do it always comes across as even better than I remembered

You can get Gravity here - go on its a small club but worth joining

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Desert Island Discs 31 Creeping up on Jesus by the Big Dish



31 Creeping up on Jesus by the Big Dish 1988

A bit bland for a lot of people, the production did seem to make them a tad Lloyd Cole light. The first lp was a tad patchy but I thought it all came together with the second. Another set of songs where you got the feeling that the singer wanted to live in a Hopper painting or a carver short story.

The lead off single, European Rain, was a bit of throwaway pop which is exactly what is was having been rush written following the kiss of death " we don't hear any singles" comment from the record company. This explains why Steven Lindsay holds the song in a bit of contempt

It is with the other tracks that the lp comes alive. Listening now I could do with 80s keyboards turned down a bit , but even with this the songs shine through. Here is a short clip of Faith healer from their recent reunion concert



I guess we all have lps like this in our lists. Ones that seem okay to others but for some reason that we can't put our fingers on have lodged themselves firmly into our lives. For me the Big Dish are forever linked to Leeds poly, where I saw them play live in my first week at the Tuesday night Beckett's park band night.

Not as good in most ways to Steven Lindsay's solo lps but these crafted songs for a reason I can't really explain mean more.

Burn - The Big Dish

The last song for me is the highlight which became the staple of many a compilation tape

Where do you Live - The Big Dish

You can buy Creeping up on Jesus here

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Desert Island Discs 32 Under Cold Blue Stars by Josh Rouse



32 - Under Cold Blue Stars by Josh Rouse 2002

I'm generally not that big a fan of Americana (although more and more lps under that broad heading have slipped through the net recently). In the early days Josh Rouse was put under that banner. However he was a bit different (as his willingness to embrace different ideas and styles in future lps showed) , a Nebraskan with a love of Uk bands like the Smiths.

Loosely built around the ups and down of a1950s American newly weds lives, no matter how hard he tries to disguise it at it heart Under the Cold Blue Stars is full of great pop songs




He has one of those cracked sore throat voices that won't be to everyone's taste but matches perfectly the melancholy nature of a lot of the songs

Ugly stories by Josh Rouse

Overall the lp feels like a series of short stories set in the world of a Richard Yates book or a Hopper painting

Under Cold Blue Stars - Josh Rouse

Under the cold blue stars
You would just stroll around the yard
That’s what happens to dreams
When the life strains and a child lays in you

When you got old, you play guitar
In a little town, your favourite bar
Just blowing steam, now the lights
Fade and everyone paid to see you

So did the farm, it steal your soul
When the cornfields won't grow
It's time to leave, now the heart
Bleeds and a family leans on you

You were under the cold blue stars
In another town, your favourite bar
That's what happens to dreams
When the life strains and a child lays in you
He has arguably made better and certainly more polished lps but this is the one I keep coming back to.

You can buy Under Cold Blue Stars here

Friday, 22 March 2013

Desert Island Discs 33 Don't Get Weird on me Babe by Lloyd Cole


33 Don't Get Weird on me Babe by Lloyd Cole 1991

It was nearly Love Story ( his most commotions like solo lp) or the very grown up Anti depressant , but I've gone for 1991's schizophrenic Don't Get Weird on my Baby.

One side of Byrdsy jangle guitar songs and one side of heartbreakingly  maudlin songs set to an orchestra. Released at a time when just out of poly I would still feel smug in getting the Carver referencing title, may favourite song and side would change with the weather.

Ironically the weakest track ended up being the first single , I guess as it was the closest thing to a throwaway pop song on the lp.



The jangle side saw Lloyd at his jangle best


It is not all jangle , one of my favourites for this side is the more groove based Pay for It , where you can just get lost in the long fade out

Pay for it - Lloyd Cole

The orchestral side benefited from being co written with ex commotion Blair Cowan.





The full heartache is saved for the final unrequited love song , easily one of the best things he has done

What he Doesn't Know - Lloyd Cole

Just melt as the strings close the lp.

Despite good reviews it didn't sell and I remember reading he lost a shed load of money on it. A bit of a hidden gem , you can buy Don't get here

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Desert Island Discs 34 O by Damien Rice



34 - O by Damien Rice 2002

Better  be careful here as this was the subject of one of my only 2 take down notices. Got to be in the top 10 break up lps going. Now I love David Gray but when this came out the emotion , the variety and the balls to take some out and out risks (the first time I heard the part when the opera comes in on Eskimo my jaw hung open and it was one of those stop what ever else you are doing moments) knocks him out of the water. 

Even stripped of the full studio power the songs have an intensity that is enthralling and exhausting in equal measure

                                                                                                              


In Lisa Hannigan he found the perfect vocal foil, I'm not sure what their history was but how can you not listen to this lp and feel like you are eavesdropping on a couple's private breakdown



It is a record that needs to be listened to in one the merging of Blowers Daughter into Cannonball is another drop dead moment in an lp that is full of them, with its pay off of the hushed whisper "until I find someone new"

Having said that the moment when Blower's Daughter pops up in the film of Patrick Marber's play Closer triggered an emotional response that I didn't know was lurking

I'll finish with 3 clips , the videos for the  two best known tracks and then the power of the live performance.

 
 
 
 


It was a trick he couldn't pull off a second time with the follow up being a disappointment despite the promise of the lead off single.

You can get what is still my go to sad songs lp here

Monday, 18 March 2013

Desert Island Discs 35 Amplified Heart by Everything But The Girl


35 - Amplified Heart by Everything But the Girl 1994


Now considering I've got pretty much everything EBTG have recorded , b sides and all , this was a relatively straight forward choice. Idlewild pushed it close but in the end suffers from some dodgy 80s production that hasn't dated that well, of the dancey ones , Walking Wounded is great but I've no time for Temperamental. The 1st 3 lps have some soaring moments but all 3 suffer from one track that I have to resist the skip temptation. Language of Life and Worldwide are just a tad too slick.

Amplified Heart is just perfect. A much more folky feel it benefits from some top notch playing (Danny Thompson's bass provides the lps heart) and Tracy Thorn's voice by this lp had matured to its peak. That folky feel was out of synch with the rest of the what was going on , it took a remix/reimagining of Missing to give them their massive hit. I can't help but think that if it had been released over the last few years this one would have been massive.

My love of this lp is also grounded in the fact that I saw them on tour twice about this time and both times they were outstanding.

Not really a singles lp (Todd Terry remix the exception) opening track Rollercoaster sets the lp up for a perfect sunday morning listen


The lp shows the benefit of having 2 songwriters as the quality just doesn't dip.


The expected Ben Watt vocal is give to a song that wouldn't sound out of place on Simon and Garfunkel's repertoire. It's got that melancholic sense of memory and regret down to a tee

25th December - Everything But the Girl

Best thing on the lp is another Ben Watt tune but this time sung by Tracey and one of the saddest songs they've recorded

Two Star - Everything But the Girl

Well, it's not for me to say
But I can't see what you see in him anyway
But such righteousness in me
Is not a nice thing to display
And who am I

For Christ sakes anyway
Oh, to judge a life this way
When my owns in disarray

My owns in disarray
My owns in disarray, hey

And I watch Saturday Kids' TV
Yeah, with the sound turned down
And I leave food on the eiderdown
All my thoughts pushed underground
Maybe you're happy, everyone says you are

You drive around on two star
You leave your life ajar
And God knows you deserve it
Bad luck follows everyone
So go on and stop listening to me

Stop listening to me
And don't ask me how I feel
Don't ask me how I feel

So it's not for me to say
Because I change my mind from day to day
Oh, and when I look at you
I only see bits of myself anyway
So go on and stop listening to me

Stop listening to me
And don't ask me what to say
Or to judge a life this way
When my owns in disarray

My owns in disarray
My owns in disarray, hey
Would love this to have the same re release treatment that the first 3 lps got however reading interviews with both of them this looks highly unlikely, so you can get the original here

on a sep note Tracey Thorns autobiography is out now and you can get it here

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Desert Island Discs 36 Baptist Hospital by Boo Hewerdine


36 Baptist Hospital by Boo Hewerdine 1996



Now isn't that a beautiful song (not so sure about the curtains)

I'm written quite a few posts on Boo Hewerdine and picking a favourite lp was always going to be a challenge. There are 2 types of Boo lp. There is the quieter more reflective , hushed folky ones and then there are the ones with fuller arrangements that mine the more pop seam.

Where as I love the reflective Boo, it is 2nd set that I keep going back to (nearly always featuring the fantastically inventive guitar playing of Neil MacColl)

Baptist Hospital is Boo's 2nd solo lp and released at a time when the record company may have still held out hope for a hit in his own name rather than as a songwriter for others.

For me it is the closest thing in a sound to a Bible lp , helped by the fact it includes a version of one song that his old band rejected which he ended up giving to Eddie Reader (Patience of Angels) and another of which a version appeared eventually on the much delayed 3rd Bible lp Dodo (Dreamlife)



However, the closets has more to do with the sound , which is why these 2 acoustic performances are a bit misleading. The guitars jangle  a lot more on Baptist Hospital. His version of another of his songs that he gave to Eddi Reader bounces along with a Byrdsy backing.

If you listen to this lp and the Bible's Dodo together they could have been recorded in the same session, which is partly why this one gets the nod

Love Thieves - Boo Hewerdine

Song For a Friend - Boo Hewerdine

The one song that points to how his next lp would evolve is a gorgeous ache of a song



sometimes the thing that you love in the night
the morning will choose to regret 

You can buy Baptist Hospital here

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Desert Island Discs 37 Songs From the Deep Forest by Duke Special



37 Songs From the Deep Forest by Duke Special 2007

I had thought the days of polished smart pop that I used to love in the late 80s had gone for good . The televised karaoke had kicked it into touch.

Then this came out by Pete Wilson recording under the name Duke Special, the kind of record that could have sat beside Danny Wilson . Prefab Sprout etc. 20 years earlier.

I'd actually got one lp by Pete Wilson in an earlier guise (Booley) although I only realised it when researching an earlier post about the singer.

It has everything I love about music, smart lyrics , warm melodies that are as comfortable as old slippers , the kind of classic song writing with echoes to an earlier time and a bit of quirkiness in the arrangements

There are the seeds of some of Duke Special's more ambitious work here with a sense of theatre and at times vaudeville in the song writing and the arrangements. However strip away the strings and the brass and you have a set of tunes that become familiar so quickly you feel sure they must be cover versions

The songs seem more personal on this debut with later works more character studies/short stories, and each song has at least one killer line

"Save me from the movies and someone else's dreams" could have come from Paddy Mac's pen

The backings range from the wall of sound that is Freewheel (I don't want to stand still I just want to Freewheel has become his manifesto)


To songs of fragile beauty


To big pop songs



I'll leave with the lp highlight, stick with it as the mindless gig chatter slowly dies away due to the power of the performance. If you've ever lost a friend too soon then I defy you to listen to this and keep a dry eye



If by a chance this is new to you and you miss the days when pop music could be smart then give this a go. You can buy Songs From here


Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Desert Island Discs 38 Strangeways Here We Come by the Smiths


38 Strangeways Here We Come by the Smiths 1987

It is hard to explain just how important the Smiths were as I was growing up. 5 years older or 5 years younger and you would wonder what all the fuss was about or think of them as a quite good guitar band that made a couple of decent lps.

However growing up in the land that time forgot of 1980s fens my world was split into those that loved the Smiths and those (the vast majority who were still stuck in the last mod revival) that hated the Smiths. Right from the first top of the pops appearance for This Charming Man to the  thunderous intro to What Difference Does it Make at the local indie disco I was hooked.

I remember long drunken conversations (too much orange cordial and vodka) on the meaning of the lyrics and friends admitting to a sense of disappointment when How Soon is Now (probably their masterpiece) was promoted from a b side to a single and stopped being our song.

Queen is Dead is the one that is often held up as their best but I love their final lp. Its classic quit while at the top. The lp gives a glimpse of  the potential the Smith had beyond jangly guitars and Morrissey's personality. It is no accident that both Morrissey and Marr choose this as the best Smiths lps.

By its release the band were already no more , Marr leaving based on what now seems like a misunderstanding and inability to communicate with each other (that and his frustration at having to cover a Twinkle song for a b side.)

For an lp where both songwriters were trying to move the Smiths away from the Smiths sound the opening single was very smiths like.  Less than 3 mins with a slight vaudeville feel behind a sparkly bit of acoustic guitar. This is one of those tracks that a lot of Smiths fans cite as one of their worst ( one comment I've seen is" like Spitting Image doing the Smiths") , but I love it even if it is a Smith song for beginners



Morrissey is in the finest of voices and his lyrics are as quirky a ever

"There's too much caffeine in your blood stream
And a lack of real spice in your life"

"Has the Perrier gone straight to my head"

There are some "traditional" Smiths songs but with a bigger sharper sound and listening back it seems a closer relation to Morrissey's first solo lp than The Queen is Dead



There is a bitterness to the lyrics, with Paint a Vulgar picture a direct attack on the music industry and it never ending
Re-issue ! Re-package ! Re-package !
Re-evaluate the songs
Double-pack with a photograph
Extra Track (and a tacky badge)
Which is ironic as The Smiths are probably only second to the Rolling Stones in terms of never ending compilations.

As ever though some of the sharpest lines were hidden in the prettiest tunes

Unhappy Birthday - The Smiths

You can buy Strangeways Here We Come here

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Desert Island Discs 39 August and Everything After by Counting Crows



39 August and Everything After by Counting Crows 1993

I really shouldn't like this it all. The kind of non descript American rock that normally has me switching for the off switch , the whiniest of vocals and released at a time when there were a plethora of stodgy rock bands that seemed to blend into each other.

However there was something a bit different about Counting Crows. They could do miserable and I do like miserable but they also have a great ear for a pop tune


Adam Duritz is also blessed with a clever turn of phrase. The songs switch between character based short stories and the autobiographical , often blending so you aren't sure which is which.

Although the detail is such that even the short stories seem like they come from something real (Mr Jones being a great case in point in that on one level it feel like a Carver short story when in fact it is about a close friend)



The catchy songs got them noticed but it is the slower more mellow affairs where the band really shine



Raining in Baltimore for me is the highlight. I've featured it before but it is worth a re listen. It captures to perfection that sense of helplessness that comes with a long distance love affair

Raining in Baltimore - Counting Crows

The lp suggests that Duritz's mind isn't somewhere very pleasant to hang out as you get the sense that he has lived this sadness and this realness makes this one of my favourite when I'm feeling low lps

you can buy the lp here

Friday, 8 March 2013

Desert Island Discs 40 I Didn't Get Where I am by Chris Difford



40 I Didn't Get Where I am by Chris Difford 2008


I'd never been a massive Squeeze fan. they were a typical singles band and I had the greatest hits that was it. I saw Chris Difford by accident having been to a concert to see Boo Hewerdine. Chris Difford was sharing the bill and played a set that basically consisted of the Squeeze greatest hits lp. I really liked his voice and the versions he did that night , but the 3 best tracks I hadn't heard before and he announced they were from his new lp.

I Didn't Get Where I Am is full of great songs , largely acoustic arrangements and some wonderful backing vocals that balance Chris Difford's lead. A kind of reverse of the way that he used to compliment Glen Tilbrook's sweeter lead vocals in Squeeze.

Most of the songs seem to have an autobiographical element and at times you feel you are listening to an exercise in therapy by song writing. Chris hasn't the strongest voice in the world but this is compensated by the fact that the  production is spot on and was a tad surprised to learn produced by an ex member of It Bites!

The opening track , a simple tale of a broken relationship, shows off the what a good job both Francis Dunnery did on production and Dorrie Jacksons great vocals

Tightrope - Chris Difford

A number of the songs deal with his at the time conflicted feelings about Squeeze



The track that gets me every time is Lamas Fayre, all about childhood and the family holidays that Chris Difford took with his parents and brothers. The music sways like the tide of the sea and there is always the sudden realisation that although the location , memories and details are different ,the lyrics and sentiment pull on  my own memories of long car journeys and beach holidays with mum, dad and sister. No matter how many times I hear this song this realisation emotionally hits me afresh every time.

My father my mother my bothers and me
So young and simple in my memory

The version of the lp is a lush affair laden with harmonies, here is a live version - a bit tinny and there is rather too much focus on the slide show but listen to the lyrics and if you have ever sat in a car on a rainy summer's day drinking lemonade and eating crisps then let the song take you back


The lp closes with Parents built around a lovely simple piano refrain and with the killer "Life's too short to mess about with anything but love"

Again for most people probably a nice enough lp but nothing more , however for some reason this one touches me with every track .. a mid life musical crisis

You can buy I didn't get here

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Desert Island Discs 41 Temple of the Low Men by Crowded House


41 Temple of the Low Men by Crowded House 1988

I'm guessing that most people will go for the all conquering Woodface, however for me it is the 2nd lp that promised so much but sent the band into a bit of a tailspin , Temple of the Low Men.

I first heard it when I visited a couple of old school friends in Sheffield, and the sunday morning after a visit to the Leadmill's to see proto shoe gazers Chapterhouse play and then a bit of a dance and failed attempt to chat up nurses at the following indie disco. After all that jangly guitar , someone put this on and said "think you might like this it is all a bit Beatley for me"

It was a long way away from other stuff I was listening to at the time ,and for a while would become the most middle of he road lp I owned. The production from Mitchell Froom was pin sharp but the thing that stood out was the way that the melodies wormed their way into your brain with out ever being predictable



I could see what my friend meant about the Beatles influence, form the McCartneyesque Into Temptation to the one track that doesn't work , the almost pastiche of John Lennon that is Kill Eyes.

Into Temptations lyrics about infidelity are just so spot on that Mrs Finn must have felt a bit nervous when she heard them


Ever the sucker for a sad song it remains my favourite Crowded House song right down to the guilty whispered "Don't Tell" at the end.

Although the crisp, clean production was one of the lps key strengths the quality of the songs meant they pass the old one man and a guitar (or in the case 3 men) test



I still cant quite believe that this lp only got to 138 in the Uk charts. The record company tried their best with 5 singles coming from it. The disappointing sales only increased the pressure , saw a Nick Seymour leave for a bit and eventually Tim Finn drafted in.

Whereas Temple doesn't have the Finn harmonies of Woodface, it benefits from the fact that it wasn't as successful and so still retains a freshness each time I hear it.

They remain one of the few bands that I really regret not seeing live


It maybe very "fm tastic" but you can get the timeless Temple of the Low Men here

Monday, 4 March 2013

Desert Island Discs 42 Boots Met My Face by Admiral Fallow



42 Boots Met My Face by Admiral Fallow 2010

A more recent lp this time and one that became my favourite of 2010. This is what I wrote at the time.

 
Into May and although I've bought quite a few lps that I like nothing had really stood out. , until Boots Met My Face by Admiral Fallow came through the post box and is an early contender for lp of the year (although I think the copy I have is a re release with the lp originally released last year with a different cover)

Admiral Fallow are a Scottish 5 piece built around the singer and main songwriter Louis Abbott. It is a stunning set of crafted songs that are difficult to describe. There is a folky element that bring to mind a Mumford and Sons but with the banjo replaced with a clarinet, there are echoes of Elbow and some great sing along pop songs with girl/boy vocals , an earthier Deacon Blue. Okay I mentioned 3 bands and Admiral Fallow sound like none of them and I'm sure have very different reference points., but it is strange brew of the 3 that sprung to mind (with maybe with a twist of first lp Guillemots in there as well)

The lyrics are personal and full of quotable lines that bring a smile of recognition and more painful emotions hit right on the head.

"All of the songs document the first chapter of my life, be it memories from school or kicking a ball about with my childhood chums. All of the songs are taken from real life events. There's no fiction. I'm not into making up stories or characters for the sake of trying to stir emotions. They are songs about friends and family as well as a fair bit of self-evaluation.”

If this makes Abbott seem a little serious don't worry I mean there is a great song called Subuteo on the lp


If anything over time the lp has got even better.The slower songs have grown and the catchy singles remain as fresh as ever


 
My favourite tracks remains the majestic opening



You can buy Boots Met My Face here

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Desert Island Discs 43 London 0 Hull 4 The Housemartins



43 London 0 Hull 4 by the Housemartins 1986

As with Wilder this is here purely on the basis of time and place. This time first year at Leeds poly.

Having said that I still smile whenever I hear this



And I can still get a bit emotional when I hear this

Flag Day - Housemartins

To some extent they came across as a bit of a cartoon band with their made up names and sing along songs , a bit like the monkees , but with a political message that made Billy Bragg look like a social democrat.

They had that amazing ability to write hook driven pop songs and in Paul Heaton were blessed with a singer whose voice had a deep soul feel.

London 0 Hull 4 is one of those rare lp where it could easily be a greatest hits as for once the every track a potential hit holds true


For my first year at poly I lived in halls of residence in Leeds .  Some old govt buildings set around an acre that wasn't quite an acre. For some reason a lot of people in our Hall went home for the weekend and so a relatively few of us had the run of the place. This was one of those lps that was a permanent soundtrack to those times and one that would prompt spontaneous ferocious dancing where ever we were


The delights of youtube has unearthed this Whistle Test feature of the band


Part 2 is worth watching for the both the smashie and nicie dj but also as a reminder of how great they were live



You can buy the debut lp from "the 4th best band in Hull" here which is expanded to include their cracking b sides