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Old 05-02-2009, 05:15 PM   #211 (permalink)
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another Mark Hollis fan!

i must say i prefer Spirit of Eden to this one -- but they're both superb albums worthy of recognition. and i completely agree, his approach to minimalism is glorious, through the looking glass of the 'post-rock' mantra. i love this album, i love the theme behind it, and Hollis' morose vocals really compliment its smooth style.

good pick dude.
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Old 05-03-2009, 08:05 AM   #212 (permalink)
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Spirit Of Eden is absolutely excellent (I Believe In You is one of the best songs of all time), but it didn't quite strike a chord with me like Laughing Stock did from the word go. Maybe when I'm done with this list I'll review it.

Number 3 might go up later today btw. Depends how much work I can get done in the next few hours.
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Old 05-03-2009, 10:46 AM   #213 (permalink)
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Laughing Stock is one of those albums that I picked up a long time ago but have yet to really explore. Reading your review pushed it up on my priorities list Nice review!

Also looking forward to see who your top 3 are gonna be!
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Old 05-03-2009, 01:31 PM   #214 (permalink)
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Excellent, excellent choice with Talk Talk who (as most on here know) are one of my favourite bands. Great review as well mate.
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Old 05-04-2009, 04:00 AM   #215 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by toretorden View Post
Laughing Stock is one of those albums that I picked up a long time ago but have yet to really explore. Reading your review pushed it up on my priorities list Nice review!

Also looking forward to see who your top 3 are gonna be!
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Excellent, excellent choice with Talk Talk who (as most on here know) are one of my favourite bands. Great review as well mate.
Thanks guys I'll probably get bored of sitting around my flat pretending to work eventually, so chances are the next one's going up today.
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Old 05-04-2009, 03:38 PM   #216 (permalink)
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3. The Pogues - If I Should Fall From Grace With God (1988)

1. If I Should Fall from Grace with God
2. Turkish Song of the Damned
3. Bottle of Smoke
4. Fairytale of New York
5. Metropolis
6. Thousands Are Sailing
7. South Australia
8. Fiesta
9. The Recruiting Sergeant/The Rocky Road to Dublin/The Galway Races
10. Streets of Sorrow/Birmingham Six
11. Lullaby of London
12. Sit Down by the Fire
13. The Broad Majestic Shannon
14. Worms

Behind curtain number 3 is an album I love for almost the exact opposite reasons to Talk Talk's Laughing Stock. To put this into a little bit of context, by 1987 the Pogues had something of a cult following in the UK, basically meaning that for all the critical acclaim their radical combination of Irish folk with the energy of punk rock had garnered, they lacked the commercial success to mirror it. Although the magnificent A Pair Of Brown Eyes single had been their first top 100-breaching single, even hiring a certain Elvis Costello to produce their previous LP release, Rum Sodomy and the Lash, hadn't seen much chart action. So, three years and a line-up change later (which saw bassist Cait O'Riordan run off to marry Elvis Costello to be replaced by Darryl Hunt, along with the hiring of multi-instrumentalist Terry Woods), the Pogues took to studio again with a few new ideas. Thankfully, dying their hair purple and turning up the echo on the drums wasn't among them. Though the Irish folk/punk crossover provides us with the centre of this album, a few new influences from areas such as Spanish folk, Middle Eastern folk and even jazz found their way into the songs. Combined with some of the finest melodies I've ever heard and vocalist Shane MacGowan's beautiful poetry, this results in probably my most listened-to album of the last few months and of the very best (and, again, more overlooked) classics of music.

Fittingly for such a bilious and uptempo album the title track, If I Should Fall From Grace With God starts things with a bang. Clocking at a fairly brief 2:20, it's basically what makes a good Pogues song in a nutshell - Darryl Hunt's lightning-quick yet repetitive drumbeat giving the song its energy, Spider Stacy's tin whistle and James Fearnley's accordion giving it that giddy, rousing kind of melody, and Shane MacGowan singing some imagery-full lyrics in his typically raucous, atonal style.

Turkish Song Of the Damned takes the Celtic folk-isms of the title track before it, injects a few Middle Eastern flavours into it and makes a darker and endlessly fascinating result. On the back of a truly infectious melody and terrific lyric about someone who came "old friend from Hell tonight - across the rotting sea - where the nails of the cross - or the blood of Christ - can bring you help this eve" and another great ensemble performance from the rest of the band comes one of the Pogues' very finest. The final 60 seconds of the song are absolute genius too. Bottle Of Smoke, on the other hand, is a lot more in keeping with the Pogues' older material, in that it's a hyped-up, frenetic take on Celtic folk. It's a furiously uptempo, sleazy piss-up of a song - absolute class in other words.

Coming hot on its heels in the dreamy duet with the late, great Kirsty MacColl and a song I'm sure we've all heard in one way or another, being the Pogues' biggest hit and probably the best Christmas song of all time. Fairytale Of New York is, though over-exposed in relation to the album that spawned it, a timeless classic, being a triumph of composition (given the wonderful tempo change half-way through) and being rather adventurous lyrically for a Christmas single, concerning how, in a nutshell and despite popular belief, there are actually more divorces and suicides around Christmastime than at any other point of the year. It's all very ironic really, and another fantastic song to go with it. Also, at least in the first half, it's the first ballad that the Pogues had written, which is one way in which this album signals a change in their musical direction. Another way it does this is, with tracks like the intriguing cross between jazz and folk of all things that is Metropolis, that it features solely instrumental tracks for the first time on any Pogues record. Given the lads' fantastic musical abilities and their subsequent strengths as a unit (which are here for all to see throughout the whole album), this comes as a bonus rather than an obstruction to the flow of the record.

Over the next four tracks is a sequence of probably the best, giddiest drinking songs money (or an extensive hard-drive) can buy, being a set of magnificent, anthemic and melodic songs. The first of these is Thousands Are Sailing, something of a sea shanty with its lyric revolving around the Irish immigration to the US of A and boasting enough of an infectious melody, memorable chorus and spot-on musicianship to make it truly efficient. Even Shane MacGowan's singing sounds good in this context. To follow it up is the traditional sea shanty South Australia. Sung by Spider Stacy, this frenzied rendition is yet another absolute gem which keeps the tempo of the album at that its hyped and oh-so-effective level. The pace is carried over nicely to the frenzied, jazz-influenced Fiesta. It's a bouncy, fun, brass-led, dizzy knees-up of a song, another terrific tune, and such sentiments are again carried over to the following song which, in this case, is the Recruiting Sergeant/the Rocky Road To Dublin/The Galway Races. Well, almost. The first segment of the medley is the deeply affecting the Recruiting Sergeant which tells the story of conscription in Ireland during World War 1 to a slowly rolling, fittingly military drumbeat, after which the instrumental Rocky Road To Dublin acts as a segue between it and the energetic re-reading of the Galway Races. Complete with its catchy hooks, raucous choruses and yarn-spinning lyrics, it puts the lid on the more frantic part of the album.

From there the mood takes a turn towards the more solemn, as the title of the next (non-traditional) medley, Streets Of Sorrow/Birmingham Six, the first part of which is the gentle, deeply emotional acoustic ballad sung by Terry Woods, as he laments the chaos of the apartheid in Belfast at the time before MacGowan comes in with the second half of the medley, where the tempo picks up slightly as he tells us of the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four - two groups of Irishmen imprisoned on terrorist charges and tortured by police officers. It's the first real hint of any anger or political motivation in the Pogues' back-catalogue, and is all the more thought-provoking and effective for it. It is though the only such song on the album, with the following Lullaby Of London being an absolutely beautiful and romantic folk ballad. The melody from the accordion and the tin whistle, the somewhat minimalist approach from the rest of the band and the gorgeous, typically image-laden MacGowan lyrics all fit together perfectly to form a sheer masterpiece of a song.

With Sit Down By the Fire the pace is turned up a few notches again as we're given a kind of sister-song to Bottle Of Smoke, in that it's a short, sharp Celtic folk number with a punk slant on the whole thing, and turns out to be just as memorable and infectious. The Broad Majestic Shannon is again more along the lines of the Pogues' earlier works, being yet another wonderfully played and thought-out, kind of gently rolling romantic ballad. To put the lid on the album is the minute-long traditional Worms, which simply features two bass chords of the accordion over a fairly simplistic and whimsical lyric. It probably stands as the sole weak point on the album, being a bit of a Her Majesty-type anti-climax.

Despite this though, as the above blabbering review may suggest, this album definitely represents the Pogues at their absolute best, and that absolute best for those who don't know is the ability to produce some of the best melodies of all time and back them up with MacGowan's brilliant lyrics and terrific performances from the rest of one of the most capable groups of musicians ever. I think so anyway. Although there are at least three more Pogues albums worth a go, they'd never be quite as down-to-earth and consistent as they are here. It's also, to me, the best Celtic punk album of all time - although there are plenty of great Pogues-following bands out there today, none of them have quite managed to make this level of artistic greatness. One of my most listened to albums and deservedly so.



Bloody hell, that took longer than I expected...

Last edited by Bulldog; 05-04-2009 at 03:44 PM.
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Old 05-07-2009, 05:05 PM   #217 (permalink)
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I take it there aren't exactly a lot of Pogues fan here then, or at least not fanatical ones like me

Oh well, moving on...

2. Scott Walker - The Drift (2006)

1. Cossacks Are
2. Clara
3. Jesse
4. Jolson and Jones
5. Cue
6. Hand Me Ups
7. Buzzers
8. Psoriatic
9. The Escape
10. A Lover Loves

Scott Walker's a funny old chap. To indulge in a little bit of back-story, he and a few more ex-pat Americans moved to UK in the 60s and started a fairly successful pop career as the Walker Brothers, after which Mr. Engels here (having adopted the surname Walker as his stage name) went solo, recording some fantastic chamber music before the critics turned nasty on him in the 70s. In 1979, the Walker Brothers reunited and recorded the album Nite Flights; a mixed bag on the whole but, most importantly (and relevantly) the four tracks which Scott Walker wrote and sung on the album were very forward-thinking and experimental for the time. This would signal what the rest of Walker's solo career would sound like... sort of. The Walker Brothers split up again soon after that album was released, with Scott Walker going solo again, but this time in a very different manner. For a start, his material took on a much darker edge, starting with his great 1984 album Climate Of the Hunter. Secondly, he became a recluse, sheltering himself from the media spotlight and only emerging every 11 years from then to release a solo album. Thirdly, these albums got darker and better as time went on. 1995's Tilt found Walker making his most profound, bleak, grim and at times even frightening album yet. On top of that, it was a brilliant album too.

And then comes 2006's the Drift. The kind of album this is is perfectly illustrated by the sleeve art above - unrelentingly dark and unsettling basically, not to mention his masterpiece. The album is a masterclass of atmosphere, with sonic pictures so vivid that listening to the album from end-to-end on a dark, sober night in through a pair of state-of-the-art headphones is a little like watching a horror movie. In keeping with the ethics of horror cinema, this album, with its many juxtapositions between quiet passages and sudden loud noises is designed to induce discomfort in the listener. Due to the very 21st century production, this effect is pulled off so well that for me it actually beats a lot of horror movie experiences.

Anyway, enough context, let's talk songs! Cossacks Are opens the box of frogs that is the Drift, with its pounding, industrial drumbeat, uncomfortably-skewed two-chord guitar and the quick bursts of orchestration and heavily-treated synth really sets up such a cold soundscape. Scott Walker's brilliant, rich and deep baritone vocal (a signature of his past releases), singing cryptic and ominous lyrics such as "with an arm across the torso - face on the nails" and "touching the shattered lives it unearths - a nocturne filled with glorious ideas - a chilling exploration - of erotic consumption" gives it all that much more shape.

If there's a signature for this album, it's that exact sentiment - bleak and unsettling soundscapes married with cryptic and dark lyrics. The epic, 13 minute in length Clara is an absolute monolith of a piece of music, the lyric of which concerns the last hours of Benito Mussolini's mistress Clara Petacci just before they were shot and hung. It all fits together so perfectly, providing us with the first truly creepy moment on the album, given the shifting of the balance of noise from quiet, in this case being Walker's voice accompanied only by strings and some very loose percussion, and loud, being a sudden burst of noise from those departments accompanied by a kind of foreboding urgency in the vocal. Half-way through, to play up the song's concept, the voice of French singer Vanessa Contenay-Quinones has a verse as Petracci which, despite its honey-like sweetness, sounds so damn creepy amidst the sonic picture. Also, you'll hear a weird percussive sound throughout this song which sounds kind of like someone punching a carcass. This would be because it is the sound of someone in the studio punching a carcass, to represent the Italian crowds stoning and kicking the corpses of Mussolini and Petracci after their deaths. Basically, this is a mag-fucking-nificent work of art if you'll excuse the potty-mouth. Listen to it while you're still around, for chrissakes.

Jesse keeps that same kind of unsettling torch burning. The verses consist of Walker alternating between a whisper and softly-sung vocalisation over another very dense and slow two-chord guitar riff and a low, simmering string arrangement which boils over with each "famine is a tall tower - a building left in the night - Jesse are you listening?" chorus, making for another damn creepy song. The following Jolson and Jones is set to an ever-so slightly faster pace with a very prominent metallic percussion figure and follows a slightly different pattern of movement to its predecessors in the tracklisting. While it maintains that overall slow-rolling pace, which alternates from bleakly minimalist to a louder tone, this song sees the first spine-tingling moment on the album with its burst of noise about 2 and a half minutes in. Another epic piece of work this.

The epic-length Cue is another monolithic piece like Clara before, which follows a very cryptic and gloomy concept, this one concerning what I can only assume is some sort of pandemic. These lyrics are, again, brilliance on a stick when pitted alongside the fragile and quiet arrangement, with such macabre delights as "strain after strain after strain after strain - immunity - immunity - through the dominant wards and nurseries - a flugleman moves - through the lung-smeared slides and corridors - a flugleman moves". Plus, seeing as I like to listen to albums as I review them off the cuff like this, there's a moment about halfway through this which made me practically jump out of my skin listening to it just now.

Hand Me Ups is, as an entire song, one of these sudden bursts of noise over that signature industrial backdrop provided by both the percussion string arrangements, and is another moment that comes as a bit of a shock here. Hot on its heels in Buzzers, which opens up after an excerpt from a radio broadcast and by now, from the bleak and unusual rhythm which eases the music along, you're almost expecting something to surprise you, and this is another way in which this album functions like a good horror movie - when you expect a fright, it doesn't come, and that sense of nervousness is what keeps your attention. Although the urgency in the music does increase in places, this song is comparably a moment of light relief alongside its bedfellows. Psoriatic builds on that foreboding sense on anticipation of what lies ahead somewhat, as its louder moments in their suddenness do have that uncomfortable sensation going in tandem with them.

But it's nothing compared to what comes next. The Escape is, among the underground of music-listeners, one of the most notorious songs of all-time. It's one of the best uses of atmosphere in a composition that I can think of - every aspect of it makes it that much more than just another song. The deceptively gentle and soothing vocal delivery, the sparse and creeping musical backing, the lyrics that open with "the car in front follows the long way around - prey moves - predator moves - foreshortened angels hunting me down" - it just builds and builds in its own not-immediately-obvious way towards one hell of a climax. The moment that comes after "look into its eyes - it will look into your eyes" towards the end of the track is certainly the biggest fright a piece of music has ever given me (and don't get me wrong - I eat nails for breakfast, laugh in the face of fear and drop ice-cubes down the vest of trepidation). Coming after this, A Lover Loves is just about the strangest way you could wish to wrap up an album such as this, being easily the most conventional song on the album, seeing as it's a kind of dark mutant of folk-rock which uses a repetitive guitar figure. It'd seem weird even by this album's standards, but it seems so perfect at the same time. It's a darkly sweet end to a horror show of an album.

And there you have it. I couldn't put my finger on what kind of genre this album is if you paid me to - I guess there elements of classical, chamber music, folk and industrial in there, but giving it labels is pointless and doesn't even begin to explain the music. Hell, my review probably doesn't either. I'd say 'this album will change your life, get it now, it's a form of musical enlightenment, perfection, yadda yadda yadda' but, the truth is, however much hype I give this album, it'll never live up to it in your eyes. I'll leave you with these words though - this album is an absolutely unforgettable musical experience, and despite the fact I've used the word original so much in this thread, I really can't think of another album that's had the kind of effect on me that this one has. A blissfully perfect album.




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Old 05-08-2009, 06:24 AM   #218 (permalink)
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Downloading Scott Walker now after checking out the video's and reading your review. The vocals may take some getting used to but it really does sound like something I must at least check out.
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Old 05-08-2009, 06:32 AM   #219 (permalink)
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Hehe, I also have both your latest and the story is the same .. Both are albums I've picked up because they were recommended to me and both are albums I have yet to make an effort with.

Great reviews!
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Old 05-08-2009, 08:28 AM   #220 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mojopinuk View Post
Downloading Scott Walker now after checking out the video's and reading your review. The vocals may take some getting used to but it really does sound like something I must at least check out.
Hey mate, long time no see As for this album, it's certainly something that benefits repeated listening massively. It's my favourite night-time album by a country mile - it definitely benefits from listening to it when you've got a certain atmosphere going, if that makes any sense at all.

Quote:
Originally Posted by toretorden View Post
Hehe, I also have both your latest and the story is the same .. Both are albums I've picked up because they were recommended to me and both are albums I have yet to make an effort with.

Great reviews!
Thanks man I was fairly tired when I wrote the Scott Walker review (having spent the whole day working), so sorry if it's a bit incoherent. I'll just get the perma-link for you in the albums index as well...
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