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Old 04-23-2009, 08:57 AM   #201 (permalink)
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Fine choices. Do you have the Buddha Of Suburbia? If you don't you should definitely give it a go - it's in a very similar vein to those 5, and probably his best album post-1980 (in my opinion). Give us a shout if you need a link eh.
I have never heard it so a link would be spot on old bean
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Old 04-25-2009, 02:46 PM   #202 (permalink)
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5. Steel Pulse - True Democracy (1982)

1. Chant A Psalm
2. Ravers
3. Find It...Quick!
4. A Who Responsible?
5. Worth His Weight In Gold (Rally Round)
6. Leggo Beast
7. Blues Dance Raid
8. Your House
9. Man No Sober
10. Dub Marcus Say

I always find it hard to review reggae with sounding like some raddish who has no idea what he's on about but, nevertheless, I'll do my best to do this album justice - officially my favourite reggae album of all time. While I could just as easily call their 1978 debut, Handsworth Revolution, a classic (it is the album that got me into reggae music and all), Steel Pulse's fourth album here stands for me as the pinnacle of Birmingham reggae (don't even get me started on that joke of a band called UB40). To put this album into a bit of context, with their aforementioned debut, Steel Pulse had caused a few ripples in the music industry and had gained a sizeable cult following, and had even supported Bob Marley and Burning Spear on tour. They'd become known for using much more of a polished studio sound than their roots reggae contemporaries, as well as peddling very politically-motivated, anti-apartheid songs (it doesn't take much of an imagination to think what they'd be on about for a song called Ku Klux Klan for example). As yet, though, mainstream success had eluded them. In hiring legendary producer Karl Pitterson (who had albums such as Bob Malry's Exodus and Peter Tosh's Legalize It under his belt, as well as Steel Pulse's first two albums), the band attempted to find a more mainstream sound as well as, in lead singer David Hinds' words, "your earth-man style and your militant style". It's the best way to sum this album up in a stylistic sense. From the bare bones of the instantly-recognisable reggae backbone, True Democracy employs an eclectic mix of upbeat dance rhythms, political and social commentary and a state-of-the-art feel that sets it apart from the sound of contemporary Jamaican reggae of the day. It's mainstream yet militant, preaching yet unpretentious, and one of the absolute essentials on top of that.

Chant a Psalm is the raucous album opener; its terrific, danceable rhythm and smooth, polished sound a fitting precursor to the album that lies ahead. It also doesn't sacrifice the straight-faced, political commentary which dominates a lot of Steel Pulse lyrics with Hinds, with his wonderfully rich voice, calls for us to "invoke our angels" citing Biblical figures like Moses and Elijah for that extra punch. Ravers is, fittingly enough, a track which carries Chant a Psalm's dance rhythms and studio ethics across, and would become a signature song of early 80s reggae, as well as a disco standard. Rolling into view on the back of some irresistible guitar licks, Find It...Quick! is a similarly anthemic and uptempo tune, and one which lyrically carries the same sort of social and political weight, as Hinds says the answer to the "violence on your box at home - shouts and screams - from your neighbours next door - vandals prowl the dim lit streets" is love for your fellow man. A bit naive really, but another brilliant piece of reggae nonetheless.

From a Who Responsible? onwards the album's lyrical theme takes a turn towards the angrier, this being a commentary on the unsolved crimes against black people in England and America over a slick rhythm and efficient band performance. Worth His Weight In Gold (Rally Round) is another rhythm-oriented piece of music with mainstream appeal which carries another angry, militant lyric at its heart, this one calling for Africans to "repatriate" in a diatribe against those who "took us away". It's another example of reggae at its finest and is, seeing as the album title is in the lyric, a very strong centre-piece for it.

Starting with Leggo Beast, the lyrical theme goes into the direction of several social diatribes, all the while maintaining the glossy, accessible finish that dominates the music. Apparently, 'leggo beast' is a slang term for lazy women, which makes for an interesting rant over the top of yet another terrifically catchy and harmony-laden tune. Blues Dance Raid concerns another area of black British life in suburbia, this time the police breaking up blues dances or boogies - an early 80s, reggae-oriented form of a rave. The beautiful Your House is the sore thumb of the tracklisting in many ways. For a start all the songs on True Democracy were written and sung by David Hinds except for this one, which was written and sung by percussionist Phonso Martin. Aside from his brilliant percussive contributions to a classic reggae album, this anthemic love song sounds a lot like the kind of thing you'd expect from a Bob Marley record. Holding no political weight whatsoever, it could so easily have been a weak point but is, on the contrary, one of my favourite reggae songs of all time and doesn't hinder the album's quality at all. Man No Sober is another example of Hinds dealing with a subject matter which reggae doesn't typically deal with, this one being a rant about "the drunkard who staggers around - the alleys of cities and towns - his sorrows he tries to drown" and the "solutions to his problems" which "can never be found" over another infectious and rhythm-heavy backing track. Dub Marcus Say is a dub remix of Worth His Weight In Gold and puts the lid on a very fine album indeed.

An album which, to me, is Steel Pulse's finest and most consistent effort. Whereas their earlier work is just as meritable, True Democracy sees Karl Pitterson's production creating a much fuller and uptempo sound and, therefore, a much more accessible one. Such is the reason if I had to recommend one classic reggae album to someone who's never heard any good reggae before, I'd go with this album. Another reason it's impossible to hate this album is because, while softening their approach in order to gain a more mainstream audience, Steel Pulse still explore the deeply evocative, militant and thought-provoking lyrical matters of social and political commentary, with Hinds incorporating some unusual subjects into his lyrics. As well as all this, Pitterson's splendid production allows each band member (particularly percussionist Phonso Martin) to really stand up and make themselves heard. All these factors are the building blocks to a classic reggae album, and one I couldn't give enough praise. Brilliant album. If you've ever thought about getting into reggae but aren't sure where to turn, I recommend this.


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Old 04-25-2009, 03:45 PM   #203 (permalink)
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Ah forgot about this lot Though the way you talked up Handsworth, I thought that would crack the nut

Either way, top album.
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Old 04-25-2009, 04:26 PM   #204 (permalink)
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Yeah, this is up there, great reggae songwriting. It's one of those albums you would play to one of those uninformed 'all reggae sounds the same' types. You say the production is cutting edge and I agree with that, it's a little too clean for how I like me reggy personally, being very compressed, but not as OTT as a lot of 80's albums.
Steel Pulse were in this documentary film that has yet to be released on DVD for licensing reasons, there are scattered clips of other bands on youtube but this line-up keeps me awake at night Urgh! A Music War - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Can somebody please explain why the guy sermonizing on the album sleeve has his hair sticking up? Please?!
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Old 04-26-2009, 06:53 AM   #205 (permalink)
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Ah forgot about this lot Though the way you talked up Handsworth, I thought that would crack the nut

Either way, top album.
Yeah, Handworth's a top album, but I was always gonna go with this one to be honest. It's reggae studiocraft and production at its finest in my opinion (I'm sure there are some around here who'd disagree though).
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Yeah, this is up there, great reggae songwriting. It's one of those albums you would play to one of those uninformed 'all reggae sounds the same' types. You say the production is cutting edge and I agree with that, it's a little too clean for how I like me reggy personally, being very compressed, but not as OTT as a lot of 80's albums.
Steel Pulse were in this documentary film that has yet to be released on DVD for licensing reasons, there are scattered clips of other bands on youtube but this line-up keeps me awake at night Urgh! A Music War - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Well, I love most reggae music to be honest, but I do slightly prefer a cleaner production style - it's generally how I like my music. Also it's the production that makes this album ideal for all the said 'all reggae sounds the same' types. That and the fact it's a damn cool album.

That DVD looks awesome by the way (birthday in six weeks, hint hint )
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Old 04-30-2009, 06:54 PM   #206 (permalink)
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Honestly I don't know how to even begin making a top 100 album list I'm a slave to sound, but what an eclectic list of recordings. I have many of these recordings but I see a few finds I am really excited about discovering. Your list gets more insane the closer to #1 you get. Great thread Bulldog.
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Old 04-30-2009, 11:49 PM   #207 (permalink)
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I'll second whoever it was that suggested this to be the top 100 thread since the original. Pithy throughout and thorough in the clutch. Spot on Bulldog, fantastic list.
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Old 05-01-2009, 08:40 AM   #208 (permalink)
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Thanks guys I still have quite a bit on my plate over the weekend, but I imagine at least one more review should pop up soon enough (maybe even tonight if it keeps bloody raining).
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Old 05-01-2009, 08:41 AM   #209 (permalink)
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I envy Bulldogs album reviews also. (I envy Toretordone's)
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Old 05-02-2009, 06:08 PM   #210 (permalink)
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I envy Bulldogs album reviews also. (I envy Toretordone's)
Believe me, I'm only reasonably coherent with certain genres. This next one should be a bit tricky...

4. Talk Talk - Laughing Stock (1991)

1. Myrrhman
2. Ascension Day
3. After The Flood
4. Taphead
5. New Grass
6. Runeii

First of all, it's worth mentioning that this album features probably my favourite cover artwork. I mean, it's a tree with the birds perched on its branches in the shape of the Earth's continents - what's there not to like!

But let's get things started by saying that Talk Talk's lead singer and guitarist is one of the unsung geniuses of music, and this album is where it shows the most. As their fifth and final album, Talk Talk's Laughing Stock is one of the classic examples of a band completely unrecognisable from its beginnings due to the artistic maturity that prevailed as time went on. From their synth-pop beginnings, which saw them reap the benefits of chart-busters like It's My Life, with their preceding album release (1988's Spirit Of Eden) Talk Talk had, in effectively becoming a vehicle for the creative vision of Hollis and his co-writer, organist Tim Friese-Greene, opted for a much more experimental and left-of-field musical direction. In a nutshell, this was a much more experimental, arty and minimalist post-rock direction than fans and critics alike had become used to. Besides Laughing Stock, Spirit Of Eden is definitely worth a listen too. But for this album, the one which turned out to be Talk Talk's swansong, this artistic direction is explored much more fully and what results is another one of the best and most original albums of all time (not to mention an album that was, along with its predecessor, one of the first mainstream releases to be categorised as post-rock). Picking up where Spirit Of Eden , the recording sessions for this album have taken on a mythical status, with tales of Hollis trying to set the haunting, ethereal mood of the record using candles and incense. It's also worth mentioning that, with the exception of After the Flood, every song was composed by Hollis alone, turning this into something akin to a solo album.

Every track clocks at or over the five minute mark, making for six little treasure troves on music which reveal their full colours more and more as they open up. Myrrhman is one such track and sums up the kinds of musical sentiments you'll find on this album nicely. It's a lo-fi, brooding song which turns the conventional rock-song structural format on its head and features a minimal, religiously-inclined lyric. It's such a gentle and fragile opening to the album, getting by on Hollis' soothing, baritone vocal, his soft and sparingly-used guitar strums and Friese-Greene's atmospheric organ chords during the instrumental break. It passes as gently as a cloud and sets the mood of the album perfectly.

Although that can't exactly be said of the pace and tone. Hot on its heels is the much louder Ascension Day, which tears into the overall sonic picture on the back of some heavy percussion and spiky guitar riffs, in which again Hollis' lyrics, although beautifully-executed again, don't exactly play the largest part. The whole album was recorded live, and this is perhaps where that shows the most obviously (even the string and woodwind sections, which were recorded occasionally throughout the album, were taped live with Talk Talk in the same studio booth). It's a bit of a stormy, slightly surprising moment on an otherwise fairly down-tempo and contemplative record.

After the Flood takes the pace down a few notches, sort of fading into view with its repetitive drumbeat and haunting organ lines which keep it at that slow, evocative kind of tone. By the time Hollis' vocal pops up, the song's already had that hypnotic effect, which only increases as the songs builds towards its first climax, where Hollis sings another abstract verse in "shake my head - turn my face to the floor - dead to respect - to be born - lest we forget who lay". Following is a heavily-distorted guitar break before this brilliant track repeats the lyric prior to fading out, all the while keeping that same pounding, gloriously minimalist rhythm. Bloody fantastic 'song' this.

In the same sort of vein as Myrrhman before it, Taphead is another track so soft and radiantly atmospheric that it takes on such a hauntingly beautiful quality with Friese-Greene's moody harmonium chords and Hollis' soothing almost to the point of being whispered vocal, before more colour and shape is slowly revealed by another distant-sounding, skewed rhythmic backing, all of which fits Hollis' musings on dying "in sin or born again - with will to wind and wander climb" perfectly. Another gloriously atmospheric slice of post-rock.

As is the following, of-epic-length New Grass, which again shows that kind of juxtaposition between the rhythm section's performance and the rest of the music somehow being tied together by the mood of the piece. Where Taphead conjures a picture of the calm after the storm, New Grass takes on the sonic guise of the sun bursting through the clouds, with slightly livelier rhythmic pulse, carefree-sounding guitar licks and higher-pitched organ tones giving off an air of a kind of dreamy optimism. Again, it's full of instrumental breaks with a scarce use of lyrics that helps get the atmosphere and mood of the piece across that much more.

To put the lid on the album is the calm and contemplative Runeii, which kind of eases the record along to its conclusion. It's another show in an instrumental sense of very loose guitar notes, softly-sung vocals and colourful swathes of organ which just sort of rolls in and out of view.

Like the whole album, it's very loosely-structured too. On the whole, Laughing Stock comes across as a studio project into which the most thought and artistic precision went during the recording phase. A lot of this sounds improvised (to these ears anyway), given the jazzy reminiscence of the instrumental breaks which feature in every song. Those and the odd time signatures which are brought to one's attention by the odd rhythms throughout set this miles from conventional rock music. Somehow, an absolute masterpiece of emotion, atmosphere, colour and mood is made from such a minimalist approach to songwriting and recording. It really is quite a bizarre album, and one I've found it hard to put into words why I love it so much. Calling it a hypnotic masterpiece would go some way towards explaining it. Whip out a good book, brew a nice cup of coffee and just listen to this album in the dead of the night from end to end. Unless you really can't stand something you could call post-rock, the chances are that you won't regret it.



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