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Old 09-15-2012, 05:30 PM   #1511 (permalink)
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Another big disappointment for me was this band, Boy Meets Girl, whose major hit we probably all know, that being “Waiting for a star to fall”, but the album it came from, their second, “Reel life”, had only one or two other decent tracks. This is possibly weirder when you consider that the two members of Boy Meets Girl --- husband and wife team George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam --- also wrote two big hit singles for the late Whitney Houston, so it's not as if they couldn't write a followup. In fact they did, and it wasn't too bad, but somehow “Bring down the moon” didn't capture the imagination of record buyers in the same way that “Waiting for a star to fall” did.
Reel life --- Boy Meets Girl --- 1988 (RCA)

You've got to give them their due: every single track on this album is written by Merrill and Rubicam, except for one, on which Merrill flies solo, but by the same token there's then nowhere to hide, as you can't hypothesise that writers brought in to contribute are responsible for the other tracks not gaining the popularity of the hit single. It is, in the end, all on the duo.

But it gets going well enough, with the already-mentioned followup to their hit single...


Then there's that single. I have to say, it's a great pop tune, not surprised it was a big hit. Just a shame the next one didn't make it to single status, as I really think it could have been another success for them, and without question my favourite on the album...


... and this is it! It's called “Stormy love”. How was this not released as a single?? It has everything: cool guitar intro, great hooks and melodies, excellent chorus...


... unfortunately it then degenerates into somewhat of a sub-pop/dance album with tracks like “Stay forever”


“If you run”


and “Restless dreamer”.


There is some hope though, in the shape of “One sweet dream”


and the closer, “Someone's got to send out love”, though it's far too short. A decent end to a disappointing album.


It's not that the rest of the tracks are terrible: most of them are adequate, with a few quite good. It's just that none of them measure up to the promise of the opening three, and as I say, when you have an album with self-penned songs, and when both those songwriters are already established via one of the biggest recording artistes of the time, it's both sad and frustrating to see that the album which will go down in music history as their most famous is so hit-and-miss, when it could have been a triumph.

Merrill and Rubicam divorced in 2001, but remained a writing duo. Their last album was released in 2004 however, and pretty much sunk without a trace. There's been no news of them since.
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Old 09-16-2012, 06:51 AM   #1512 (permalink)
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Welcome.... to the Meat Grinder! Bwahh ha hah hah!

I realised yesterday that one of the sites I use for research, Encyclopaedia Metallum, allows you to search for metal bands in various ways --- by genre, by title, by country, by A-Z --- but they also have something I never noticed before, which is “Random band”. Interesting, he thought, and so the idea for a new section was formed. Now, I have absolutely no doubt that a large percentage of these bands will not be to my liking, as there are a lot of sub-genres of metal I don't particularly get on well with, and everyone by now is familiar with my dislike of “death vocals”, so I know I will regret this in some ways, but here it is anyway.

The kinds of metal I hate? Well, let's see: if it's SO LOUD YOUR EARS BLEED, way too fast for anything to be discerned amid a mad cacophony of screeching and banging, if it has death vocals, if it's depressingly doomy, or if it's Venom. That mostly covers it. Doesn't leave much, you say? I beg to differ: there are hundreds of bands I enjoy, from Maiden and Helloween to Saxon and Scorpions, and from Saratoga to Cain's Dinasty. But I prefer to be able to hear and make out my music, and rather a lot of the more extreme metal tends not to allow this. Now, that being said, I'm also a fan --- not a big fan, only have two of their albums, but still a fan --- of one of the loudest bands on the planet. But Motorhead I consider to be really in a class of their own. However, here, anything goes (shudder)!

So, in the Meat Grinder I will randomly select a metal band, and regardless of what their style is I will attempt to review one of their albums, give a little background to them, and advise you of my opinion of them. This review will not be objective, but will depend entirely on how much enjoyment, or lack of, I got from the album/band. So death vocals, screaming, music too fast or indecipherably loud, or anything else I don't like will earn the band a low rating, even if they're highly thought of. So watch out if you come up, Slipknot or Dimmu Borgir! My opinion is of course only my opinion, but here in my journal that means it's law, so feel free to debate with me, but basically if I don't like it it's getting trashed.

That's not to say in any way that I reject or ignore the following a band has: if millions like them, great. But if I don't, then they won't do well here. Each album will be rated with my patented cleaver rating, which is very complicated and hard to understand, but I'll try and explain it here. Hmm, let's see. Okay. The less cleavers, the more I hate the band and/or album. So an album I hate utterly will have a rating of one or two cleavers, whereas a band I love will get the maximum five. Okay, so it's not that complicated or hard to understand. Cookies? Huh? Oh yeah: just like the Cookie ratings in “Bitesize”. Though you probably wouldn't want to try biting into a cleaver.

Anyway, deep breath and away we go. And the first band to stagger into the Meat Grinder and come under my unforgiving and critical microscope is...

Oh dear. I read the description on EM and my heart sinks. “Extreme, blackened thrash” --- and with a vocalist who goes by the name of Doomy G. Blackthrash (sounds like something out of “The Simpsons”!) my expectations just about hit the floor. But hey, this is what this section is all about, trying new things and not shying away from bands that would normally have me reaching for my Marillion collection to help me calm down. This will, I'm sure, be a painful ordeal, but really, if I ignored these guys and tried to get someone more in the vein of Hammerfall or Balance of Power then I'd just be making a mockery of the whole section, and denying its raison d'etre.

So, it's a baptism of fire ye want now, is it? Fair enough. Hold my jacket, I'm going in!

Hailing from East Lansing, Michigan, whose most famous landmark apparently is the Michigan State University, pictured, Sauron take their name of course from the “bad guy” in JRR Tolkien's “The Lord of the Rings”. Can we then hope for lyrics with a fantasy/sword-and-sorcery bent? Can we, not to be smart, expect lyrics we can hear and understand? Who knows, but looking at the beautiful grounds of MSU I can't help but feel that guys like Sauron would be turned away from its gates, perhaps chased away by nasty snarling dogs and cops with tasers. Yeah, they don't look the university type really. They seem to be most closely linked with the thrash metal bands so prevalent in Europe, particularly Germany.

So, some details then. Below is a sketchy profile of the band, mostly gleaned from my friends at Encyclopaedia Metallum --- okay, completely thanks to them! In the following, the term “Born” will always refer to the setting up of the band, no matter how long after that it took for them to release any material. Should the band be broken up, split, reformed into another band or otherwise not currently active under this name, I will also include a “Died” year. This does not of course necessarily mean they're no longer around, just not in this format. An “F” after a band member indicates they founded or helped found the band. As this is a totally random selection, it may become difficult, even impossible to find albums from the bands chosen, in which case I will have to judge them based on what I can find in terms of singles, liver performances, samples of tracks, YouTubes and so on. Where possible though I will always endeavour to feature an album or EP.


Band name: Sauron
Nationality: USA (Michigan)
Subgenre: Black/death metal (god save me!)
Born: 2000
Status: Active
Albums: Thrash assault (2004); Satanic Assassins (2008)
Live albums: None
Collections/Anthologies/Boxsets: None
Lineup: Doomy G. Blackthrash (Bass, vocals) F
Victor “Lore Lord” Ruiz (Guitar) F
Mike “Skinthrasher” Hudson (Drums)




In the case of our first random band, Sauron, it would appear that they only have two albums, so which to choose? Well, their most recent is called “Satanic assassins”, so no prizes for guessing what that's likely to sound like! Mind you, the other is called “Thrash assault”, so not really a lot to choose from. Yeah, maybe you're right: maybe I am doing them a disservice, prejudging them based on name, image, style ... but I somehow doubt they're going to be performing any classical violin pieces or have written any acoustic ballads. No, I'd be willing to stake a month's pay on that. If I got paid. Which I don't. But anyway...

If there's any blessing to be had (prejudge, prejudge!) here, it's that the albums, both of them, have only seven tracks each. No long songs, and not much to choose between them that I can see. For no other reason than that it's their latest offering, I've decided to go with “Satanic assassins”, though word has it that they're in the studio at the moment, hard at work on “Mordor: A metal symphony in four movements”.... sorry, sorry, slipped into an alternate dimension there just for a moment. Whoa! That was weird!

Anyway, this is the current offering from Sauron, and although it was released in 2008 there doesn't seem to be anything else forthcoming as yet. Their previous effort, and debut, was out in 2004 though, so that's four years between albums. Could be another one due! Looking over the tracklist I'm again not given to any real hope that this might turn out to be something other than what I'm expecting/dreading: “Lords of slaughter and warfare.” “Angel hunter”. “Thrash metal nightmare”. Yup, you can't beat the classics! Okay then, let's just inch the amp down a few notches, make sure I've a spare pair of knickers available and ....

Satanic assassins --- Sauron --- 2008 (Witches Brew)


Well, my fears appear not to be totally groundless, in fact the sort of sledgehammer guitar and what comes across to me as aimless thrashing behind the drumkit is bad enough, and serves to epitomise everything I hate about the more extreme types of metal, but those damnable death vocals are all over the place, and I find it hard to concentrate on the lyrics much less understand them. A word used by another journal writer here --- can't remember who --- tuneage, seems pretty much absent, and it's, to me, a race between guitarist and drummer to see who can finish first, while Mister Blackthrash roars away, seemingly oblivious to the guys behind him as the lovingly-titled “Poser holocaust” trundles along, opening the album. I guess Sauron would consider me one of the posers they --- presumably --- sing about, as I really hate this sort of music, but to be fair there is a very decent guitar solo from “Lore Lord” in the last minute or so, though it's really more like a word suddenly recognised among a garble of foreign language that just for a moment gives you the impression you might be able to understand what's going on, then everything again descends into chaos.

Yeah, not a fan of this at all --- big surprise! Next up is that sensitive ditty I mentioned earlier, and “Lords of slaughter and warfare” makes Motorhead seem slow and sedate by comparison. Speed metal this certainly is, thrash too, but again I find it hard to make any lyrics out through the gutteral vocals, which kind of destroys any chance I might have to judge this in any way fairly. That would be bad enough, but there's nothing much for me to say about the guitar other than that it's superfast, and the drums can only be described as an assault, so it's tough to take any real musical criticism from either, although as I write once again Victor Ruiz proves he can play when he wants to, and unleashes quite a fine solo, but it's quickly subsumed a second time into the wall of sound that passes for his usual axework, and while many of you will no doubt love this and headbang away to it, it's not my cup of venom, not at all.

And so it goes. “Storm of ashes” hacks its way blindly into the title track --- on which Blackthrash subjects me not only to his harsh deep vocal but also throws a few higher-register screams in there just to unnerve me further --- and on into “Possession”, complete with opening and suitably diabolical laugh, and I just wait for the album to come to an end. Yeah, it's not very open-minded of me, but hey, this isn't “Stranger in a strange land”: I'm not trying to understand, evaluate and even change my opinion of certain music genres or sub-genres. I've gone into this with my eyes (though perhaps not my ears) wide open, knowing there is a good chance that a large percentage of the bands here will not appeal to me, that I may hate many, and it may be a while before, if ever, I hit upon either one I like or one I know, or have heard of. But hey, it's a bit of fun, though try telling that to my poor ears! If you know/like this band, or any of the no doubt future objects of my derision or negative criticism, don't take offence, as I have explained already that my tastes in metal run to a certain type: music you can make out, that has melody, that doesn't make you want to run screaming for the exits, that displays what I consider a modicum of talent and ability. So I'm only judging these bands within those criteria. My criteria. I'm sure Sauron have legions of fans: I'm just not someone who could or would count myself as one of them.

All right, to be totally fair and equitable, “Angel hunter” changes the format slightly, with a more grindy, almost slower track which can't be really called a cruncher, as every track here crunches you up and spits you out, but it is, I don't know, not as breakneck fast as the rest of the album, though it does up the speed near the end, and we finish on the aply-titled (for me, at any rate!) “Thrash metal nightmare”, which is, well, fast noisy and very hard to understand. Kind of sums up the band really.

So, not going to become a Sauron fan anytime soon, or ever listen to one of their songs again: just not my thing. I'd like to say that for what they do they do it well, but I really can't. I don't know. Thrash metal and speed metal is not my thing, and I have no real yardstick to judge this against (and if I had these guys would probably only beat me with it anyway!) so I don't know if it's good thrash/black/death/speed metal or bad. I just know I don't like it, hence the rating below. Not exactly a stellar beginning, but then, as Stacey-Lynn once remarked, that's the nature of randomness. Perhaps I'll have better luck next time.

TRACKLISTING

1. Poser holocaust
2. Lords of slaughter and warfare
3. Storm of ashes
4. Satanic assassins
5. Possession
6. Angel hunter
7. Thrash metal nightmare

A great idea and its always fun to read somebody's opinion of extreme metal especially if they dislike it. For the band in question, I've never heard of Sauron but there are so many bands out there that are just loud and agressive for the sake of it.

I think for you to have any chance with extreme metal you need to start at the more accessible end of it. I like extreme metal on the same level as any other metal, but there are extreme metal sub-genres that I really don't like that much at all, for example I'm not really into black metal at all and I've never really dug anything that Venom ever put out BUT I love death metal with a passion when its on.

So you may ask yourself how does one get into extreme metal First off you've got to stop looking for melody within the music and bothering whether you can understand the lyrics. Now this is not easy to do for somebody who's not annointed with such music. You have to remember that the amount of technically gifted artists that there are in extreme metal is impressive. Like anything you need gaateway bands into extreme metal and 80s and 90s thrash is the best place to start. For example, it was Megadeth that got me into extreme metal far more than Metallica and both are very much now at the lighter end of extreme metal. Once past there, there then you need Slayer and then Sepultura (in my opinion the Greatest ever metal band) and if you like these then you're in!!! Death metal is amazing and Death the band are the ideal place to start, their evolution as a band was amazing. What's amazing about death metal are the varieties and scenes that it has. There is the original Florida scene, the Gothenburg scene and one of the most interesting the French Canadian scene. Also there is technical death metal and when death metal bands started to expand their songs the concept of melody started creeping in as well! I'm not a huge fan of doom as I find that is far less varied than Death. When it comes to extreme metal there is a huge amount of variety waiting for you.

Just remember the old saying "If its too loud, You're too old!"
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Old 09-16-2012, 09:51 AM   #1513 (permalink)
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Thanks US. I wouldn't necessarily say I'd be getting into death metal (name puts me off, for one thing), and if Sauron are a prime example, then yeuuch! But I just loved the idea of diving right in and getting a totally random band, and listening to their work. Sauron was certainly a baptism of fire for me, and while I did not enjoy their music it was curiously satisfying to be listening to music I would not normally touch with a barge pole, if I had such an item.

I'm interested to see what comes up next. As you may have seen from both my review in "Bitesize" of "Headstones", and my request in the "Metal recommendations" thread, I'm beginning to warm to doom metal though, at least through Lake of Tears, and if you can point me in the direction of similar bands I'd appreciate it.

Oh yeah, and if it's too loud I'm too old? But I KNOW I'm too old (fifty next year) so that doesn't bother me. Loudness in and of itself doesn't turn me off totally --- like I said in the intro, I enjoy Motorhead --- but loudness without any sense of melody or direction does. Might as well just get a sledgehammer and start hitting my shed: that's not music. Well, not to me.

I may look at Slayer and Sepultura, meh, might, but I'm not necessarily looking to get into that subgenre, just interested to see what whatever I get thrown into sounds like. One cleaver remains my verdict, but we'll see who comes up next...
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Old 09-18-2012, 12:52 PM   #1514 (permalink)
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Thanks US. I wouldn't necessarily say I'd be getting into death metal (name puts me off, for one thing), and if Sauron are a prime example, then yeuuch! But I just loved the idea of diving right in and getting a totally random band, and listening to their work. Sauron was certainly a baptism of fire for me, and while I did not enjoy their music it was curiously satisfying to be listening to music I would not normally touch with a barge pole, if I had such an item.

I'm interested to see what comes up next. As you may have seen from both my review in "Bitesize" of "Headstones", and my request in the "Metal recommendations" thread, I'm beginning to warm to doom metal though, at least through Lake of Tears, and if you can point me in the direction of similar bands I'd appreciate it.

Oh yeah, and if it's too loud I'm too old? But I KNOW I'm too old (fifty next year) so that doesn't bother me. Loudness in and of itself doesn't turn me off totally --- like I said in the intro, I enjoy Motorhead --- but loudness without any sense of melody or direction does. Might as well just get a sledgehammer and start hitting my shed: that's not music. Well, not to me.

I may look at Slayer and Sepultura, meh, might, but I'm not necessarily looking to get into that subgenre, just interested to see what whatever I get thrown into sounds like. One cleaver remains my verdict, but we'll see who comes up next...
Well I'm going to be looking forward to reading your random metal reviews on here, it will be interesting to see which extreme bands you might actually like.
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Old 09-18-2012, 07:05 PM   #1515 (permalink)
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Well I'm going to be looking forward to reading your random metal reviews on here, it will be interesting to see which extreme bands you might actually like.
It will. Thing is, as it's ALL metal I could end up with someone like Maiden or Judas Priest, or Metallica, though with my luck I'll get bleedin' Slipknot! Ah well, we shall see...
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Old 09-19-2012, 07:10 AM   #1516 (permalink)
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I'd like to break with tradition, if I may, and change the format of this section this once. Normally I would select a song and talk about its lyrics, how well they're written and so on, and indeed this entry won't deviate from that makeup, but this time around I want to concentrate on not one, but two songs. Why? Well, because both of these songs are worthy of inclusion in this section, but both deal with the one tricky subject, and rather than choose between them I'd like to feature both.

What tricky subject, you ask? Well, the rather thorny and often avoided subject of suicide. Taking one's life is no laughing matter, and though the MASH theme may have advanced the theory that it's painless, that is total crap. If the person choosing to end their life is lucky, or plans correctly --- if indeed it's possible to use that phrase when talking about suicide --- the act can certainly be painless. There are a lot of ways to die that are, well, taking the easy way out. They don't have to hurt, and they don't have to be uncomfortable or long-drawn out. Not everyone who decides to end their life does so by hanging themselves, or cutting their wrists. Why would you do such a thing? Well, obviously I have no right to ask such a complex question, but it must be a terrible place to find yourself in.

But painless? What about those who are left behind? The wives/husbands, mothers/fathers, siblings, friends, anyone who was connected to the person who has killed themself. The feelings of pain, despair, grief and indeed doubt and guilt seldom if ever go away: people close to the suicidee (is that a word?) will for a very long time be asking themselves, why didn't they notice? What could they have said or done to have prevented it? Was it their fault? And of course, the mother and/or father, if still alive, will wish they could have gone in place of their child.

So painless? Give me a break. Now, I know the following songs should not be taken as any sort of a serious attempt to address the issue of suicide, and to be fair, only one of the ones featured here does. But the different ways the two songs approach the idea of ending one's life are worth noticing and talking about. One takes a very humourous, almost irreverent look at the pressures that can drive one to the ultimate step, the other describes in almost worrying detail the same thing, but each song is totally different. They were written over twenty years apart, and in totally different styles but both by bands which have leanings towards progressive rock.

Harold the barrel (Genesis) from “Nursery cryme”, 1971
Music and lyrics by Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford

In Genesis' little-regarded song from one of their seminal albums from the early seventies, Harold, a “well-known restaurant owner” who appears to be something of a henpecked husband, finally has enough of the pressures of life and runs away. When he is cornered the television news are covering the story, as he stands on the roof of a building. People for some reason seem very unsympathetic to his plight, perhaps because of what he's supposed to have done before running off --- ”Father of three, it's disgusting!/ Such a horrible thing to do!” and his mother, given her chance to talk him down, seems more concerned with the fact that his shirt is dirty and that he'll be showing her up on national television.

As a policeman then tries to talk him down, Harold envisages a life of calm and ease, which he knows he will never have, and at the end of the song it would appear he jumps, almost joyously as he grins to the copper, who has pleaded with him to come down, ”You must be joking!/ Take a running jump!” but in fact it's he who jumps, into the great unknown and towards his destiny.

The whole thing is, typically of Genesis at that time, described almost as a play, with various characters --- Harold, Mr. Plod the policeman, the Lord Mayor, Harold's mother etc. --- each having their part and with it their piece or pieces of dialogue. There's also some satire in the lyric, like where Harold allegedly cuts off his toes, it's remarked that he hasn't a leg to stand on, but later the bias of the Great British Public comes through, as someone comments that his brother was just the same and so Harold should not be trusted, as if they knew beforehand.


”A well-known Bognor restaurant-owner
Disappeared early this morning.
Last seen in a mouse-brown overcoat,
Suitably camouflaged,
They saw him catch a train.

Man-in-the-street:
"Father of three it's disgusting!"
"Such a horrible thing to do!"
Harold the Barrel cut off his toes and he served them all for tea.
"Can't go far",
"He can't go far".
"Hasn't got a leg to stand on!"
"He can't go far".

Man-on-the-spot:
I'm standing in a doorway on the main square
Tension is mounting
There's a restless crowd of angry people

Man-on-the-council:
"More than we've ever seen.
- had to tighten up security!"

Over to the scene at the town hall:
The Lord Mayor's ready to speak.

Lord Mayor:

"Man of suspicion, you can't last long,
The British Public is on our side."

British Public:
"Can't last long",
"You can't last long".
"Said you couldn't trust him, his brother was just the same"
"You can't last long".

Harold:
If I was many miles from here,
I'd be sailing in an open boat on the sea.
Instead I'm on this window ledge,
With the whole world below

Up at the window!
Look at the window...

Mr.Plod:
"We can 'elp you!"

Plod's ChorusL
"We can 'elp you!"

Mr. Plod:
"We're all your friends,
If you come on down and talk to us son."

Harold:
You must be joking!
Take a running jump!

The crowd was getting stronger
And our Harold getting weaker;
Forwards, backwards, swaying side to side:
Fearing the very worst
They called his mother to the site.
Upon the ledge beside him
His mother made a last request:

67-yr-old Mrs Barrel:
"Come off the ledge!
If your father were alive he'd be very, very, very upset.
Just can't jump, you just can't jump.
Your shirt's all dirty, there's a man here from the B.B.C.!
You just can't jump!"

Mr. Plod:
"We can 'elp you!"

Plod's Chorus:
"We can 'elp you!"

Mr. Plod:
"We're all your friends, if you come on down
and talk to us Harry."

Harold:
You must be joking!
Take a running jump......”


So that's “Harold the barrel”, and Genesis' own humourous and lighthearted take on suicide. Of course, you could argue that it was disrespectful, that they were trivialising the act, but no doubt Collins or Gabriel would have laughed at you and said “it's only a story!” Such it is, more something out of a carry-on movie or something than anything expected to reflect real life, though there is a dark subtext in there: people are often not so forgiving of those who commit suicide, and often in the crowds that gather there are more than a few who wish, whether they express the desire or not, that the person would jump.

Alan Parsons, on the other hand, tackled the subject in a far more sombre and realistic way, when he wrote his first solo album, away from the Alan Parsons Project. Released in 1993, “Try anything once” ends with the song “Oh life! (There must be more)” which chronicles the sad story of a woman who has reached the end of her rope, and is ready to end it all. Unlike Genesis' Harold, we're not given any information in the song as to what specifically has led her to this unhappy state, as Parsons, and fellow songwriter David Pack, tend to concentrate more on the thoughts going through her head as she gazes upon what must surely be her last morning: ”The city lights shine seaward/Swirling in a trance/Her eyes upon the water/Alone in her last dance.”

Whereas “Harold the barrel” is a humourous fiction though, “Oh life” is based on true events, on the story of a woman who drove her car off a pier with her children inside, which somehow makes this even more poignant, and yet paints her as a little selfish: kill yourself if you must, it's your life. But I feel it's unfair for anyone to visit such a decision upon anyone else, especially their children. Without knowing the full story though I suppose it's unfair to judge, though her mental state is alluded to when Pack, taking the vocal as well as co-writing credit for the song, sings ”She hears the voices/Turn into a roar” and it would seem she has come to a decision. Her plaintive cry, the title of the song, can certainly be taken as something that many people who contemplate, if not actually carry out, suicide, must think: is this all there is? Is there nothing left for me? Nothing to look forward to?

It's a sobering thought.

Oh life! (There must be more) (Alan Parsons) from “Try anything once”, 1993
Music and lyrics by Alan Parsons and David Pack


Waves roll out, out to sea;
Tasting the saltwater tears upon her cheek.

Morning breaks: she's not there.
Who could ever find her?
Who would even care?

No-one heard, no-one came.
No angel of mercy appears to know her name.
Where is hope when words fail?
All the colours running inside when life turns pale.

In the dock the boats are harboured
Where the water's cold and still.
Oh life, she cries, I've lost the will.
From the bridge she sees a lifetime
Being washed upon the shore.
Oh life, she cries
There must be more...

Tides roll in, waters rise;
Any chance of reason only clouds her eyes.
Arms of grace she won't feel;
All the wounds inside her that time can never heal.

The city lights shine seaward swirling in a trance:
Her eyes upon the water alone in her last dance.

From the docks the boats are leaving
As she cries into the dawn:
"Oh life, I'm barely holding on!"
And she sees her future falling
Til it finds the ocean floor.
Oh life, she cries
There must be more!

There must be more!

And with the early light
She'll sail into the clear.
The winds are all behind her:
The hour is almost here.

From the bridge she hears the voices
Turn into a roar.
Oh life, she cries,
There must be more!
On the dock her soul is sinking
But her spirit longs to soar.
Oh life, she cries
There must be more!

There must be more!
There must be more!
Oh life I'm barely holding on.

There must be more!
There must be more!
Oh life, there must be something more!


Two songs as I say which approach the issue of suicide two very different ways, and certainly in me elicit two very different reactions. Genesis' song I can laugh at, perhaps feel annoyed at the townspeople for their mob mentality, his mother for her selfishness, and maybe even feel relief for Harold that he's slipped the bonds of earth and left all his troubles behind him. Alan Parsons' on the other hand, just makes me tear up every time I hear it: the first time I did it was like someone had punched me in the stomach, and coming as it does at the end of the album just adds to its effectiveness.

An example, then, of how a subject universally seen as if not quite taboo then usually avoided by musicians (possibly because it can be too close to home, with so many legends of the music biz taking their own lives down the years) can be treated two totally separate ways, and yet still manage to get across the intrinsic message, that life is precious and there should at the end be some hope, something we can look forward to, a reason to go on living.
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Old 09-21-2012, 05:56 AM   #1517 (permalink)
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Yeah, you'll be seeing this particular logo a lot more in the coming months, as I more frequently review current albums, with the year fast disappearing: hell, I heard the first fireworks today! Once Halloween has been and gone, it's only a hop, skip and huge credit card bill to Christmas! Better get a move on then. So both here and in “Bitesize” I'll be looking at more 2012 releases; I really have a lot to get through, and to paraphrase Roger Waters, every day the internet brings more.

Don't be surprised then if you see two, three or even more “Meanwhiles” in a week. I don't know how much I'm going to get through, but there is a stack waiting, and so many of those really deserve the full treatment so can't really be relegated, as it were, to inclusion on my other journal. Not that that means that the albums reviewed there are any less special, perish the thought! But the “Bitesize” reviews are by design shorter and less involved, and only feature one track per review in a YouTube, whereas at least a dozen important albums --- important to me, anyway --- have been released in the last few months, and I need to properly look at them. This, then, is the first, and absolutely requires and deserves the full treatment.

Last of a dyin' breed --- Lynyrd Skynyrd --- 2012 (Roadrunner)


A sadly appropriate title in more ways than one, Lynyrd Skynyrd's latest album sees them reduced to one remaining original member, as those who survived the horrible plane crash that wiped out half the band in 1977 have left the band, passed away or been in some cases forced out, one by one. Remaining founder member Gary Rossington is however joined by some big names, including former member Ronnie Van Zant's younger brother Johnny, Blackfoot's Rickey Medlocke and the aptly-named Peter Keys on, well, keys. Overall, allowing for the hiatus the band took during the period 1977-1987, following the tragic crash and the loss of their friends and bandmates, this is Lynyrd Skynyrd's thirteenth album (not including a Christmas one; who does?) --- let's hope it's not unlucky for them, although some would say that the guys have had more bad luck than any rock band should ever expect to, or deserve.

The familiar sound of the growling slide guitar opens the album before the drums thunder in and things get truly rockin' with the title track, and the Skynyrd train is rollin' again, full speed down the tracks! Hell, it might be the seventies! No-one would ever think to level the description of progressive in Skynyrd's direction, nor I think would they want to be seen as such. There's no real need for their music to develop; it's perfect as it is. The formula works, why mess with it? These are, after all, the godfathers of southern rock, and while you may be able to teach an old dog new tricks, you also risk getting bitten. Or to put it another way, if you grab a rattlesnake by the tail, better make sure you've got protective gloves on!

Slower and bluesier is the grinder “One day at a time”, with a great twin guitar attack and some fine vocal harmonies, a real workingman's song. Of course, I should point out that most if not all of the members of Skynyrd mentioned above have been with the band for years: it's just that this is the first of their albums I've heard since, well, ever. I have to admit to knowing nothing of theirs past “Free bird” and “Sweet home Alabama”; just never got round to it. To be honest, I really didn't think they were still around, but they're certainly proving me wrong, rocking with the same power and downhome honesty that characterised their popularity in the seventies and on into the late eighties and beyond. One new member though is ex-Black Crowes bassist Johnny Colt, who seems to fit right in, as if he's been here for years. “Homegrown” ups the tempo a little more, throwing in a good dose of ZZ for good measure, with powerful squealing organ from our man Peter.

Speaking of Mister Keys, there's a totally beautiful gentle piano intro to “Ready to fly”, with just Johnny's voice accompanying it till some what sounds like violin comes in, shortly followed by the guitars and drums. A real southern rock ballad, with fine slide guitar and a heart as big as Texas. Er, Alabama, I mean. Okay, okay! Florida! Just doesn't have the same ring, y'know? Anyway, great big guitar solo that just rips the heart right out of you as Rossington lets us know he's still around, and not yet ready to ride into the sunset and follow those surviving bandmembers who have left the ranks. He certainly sounds like he's enjoying himself, as does Ronnie's brother, doing his late sibling proud. Some lush string arrangements add the final layer to this song, which at the moment I pick as the standout. It's also the longest track, just under five and a half minutes.

Surely must be a banjo starting off “Mississippi blood”, though none is credited, but I wonder could that be Rickey Medlocke's grandfather Shorty, being drafted in? Nah, surely he'd have passed on by now! He sounded in his seventies or older when he guested on Blackfoot's “Rattlesnake rock and roller” back in '81. Tempo continues to rise with “Good teacher”, one of those good ol' rock songs about “wimmen”, then there's a tear coming to my eye for the poignant “Something to live for”, with some deep soulful, almost gospel organ from Keys and a deep political message in the mould of Springsteen or Earle. You can hear the pain in Johnny's gravelly voice as he sings about the breakup of his relationship, linking it subtly to the breakup of society in the USA, and that pain comes through almost as a palpable force through the emotional guitar solo unleashed by Gary Rossington.

The only song on the album not written by Skynyrd, “Life's twisted” seems to have been composed by two of the members of Black Stone Cherry, and it's a good edgy rocker with a great piano and organ line, but true to their reputation Skynyrd are in fact first and always a guitar band, and this is shown by their having no less than three guitarists, in Medlocke, Rossington and Mark Matejka, with Marilyn Manson's infamous Johnny 5 even adding additional guitars! This all shows in hard rocker “Nothing comes easy”, another workingman's anthem with a real boogie feel to it, and not surprisingly some excellent guitar solos.

With a sort of feedback start and somehow putting me in mind of the American Civil War, “Honey hole” is not what I expected at all. With a title like that I thought we'd get a rabble-rousin', drinkin', screwin' goodtime song, but though it breaks out for the chorus into a big guitar sound, the song is mostly hard acoustic, with harmonica and slide, then halfway in we get the big southern rock guitar part we've been waiting for, and it has been worth the wait. Quite a lot of Zep in this one, methinks. And we close on the philosophical “Start livin' life again”, a powerful blues statement of intent, with banjo and some truly exquisite guitar from Rossington; if ever a man let his instrument do his talking for him, you're hearing it right here.

Earlier I voiced the hope that this, Lynyrd Skynyrd's thirteenth album, would not be unlucky for them. Having listened to this, I think I can promise that's very unlikely. I'm sure we'll be hearing a lot more in the coming years from the kings of southern rock, as it seems this is one band that stands up even to death himself. Don't fear the reaper? Don't think it ever crossed the minds of these guys! They just go from strength to strength, laughing in the face of adversity --- well, perhaps not laughing, that would be disrespectful to the memory of their fallen comrades. But they keep that memory alive by continuing on the legacy Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines and the others started, and making sure their work goes on.

As Frank Marino once remarked: ain't dead yet.

TRACKLISTING

1. Last of a dyin' breed
2. One day at a time
3. Homegrown
4. Ready to fly
5. Mississippi blood
6. Good teacher
7. Something to live for
8. Life's twisted
9. Nothing comes easy
10. Honey hole
11. Start livin' life again
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Old 09-23-2012, 09:40 AM   #1518 (permalink)
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Magnetic Fields --- Jean-Michel Jarre --- 1981 (Discques Dreyfus)


To be honest, this review began life as a slot on the “Bitesize” journal, but I quickly realised as I wrote that such a short review would not do this album justice, and so as the paragraphs added up and the descriptions kept coming, I decided to extend this into a full album review for the Playlist. Like most people my age I came across Jean-Michel Jarre though the medium of “Oxygene” (that's with an “e”: the album not the gas) and loved it. Some people only listened to the popular single, “Part IV”, but I loved every track on that album. I loved the atmosphere it created, the soundscape, the images it engendered in my mind, the way it made me feel.

So, was it just a brief fascination in my youth with JMJ's work through that album? Was it that “Oxygene part IV” was in the charts, and seemed to be used on just about every scientific program on telly? I'm not a huge fan of electronic music, and up to today have only ever listened to that one album, the last time being probably five years ago. Now I have his discography, so what do I think? Well, the one I've chosen is split into five tracks, all called “Magnetic Fields”, and the first track alone is over seventeen minutes long, so let's get into it.

Even though I've only ever really heard the above album (and parts of a concert on the telly, though I couldn't tell you which tracks were played, much less which albums they were from) Jarre's music always seemed to me to epitomise the future, sci-fi and things like that. It always had a very otherworldly feel to it, like it was the sort of thing they probably played in the Sigma Centauri Arena, or that little green men and women bopped to down the local disco. The kind of music you would believe set trends, then left them behind to set new ones. It always seemed relevant, never redundant, and even now, more than thirty years after its release, “Magnetic Fields” seems fresh, vibrant and of the times.

It's perhaps telling that the opening track is now over five minutes in, that it has basically maintained the same overall melody throughout thus far, and yet I'm not bored with it. Like the music of his contemporary Vangelis, it seems Jean-Michel knows how to hook you and draw you in, and then keep your attention. Indeed, at minute seven, the rushing, bubbling keyboards die away to give way to a much slower, lusher piano and synth sound, very relaxing after the urgency of the opening part, I guess you'd say the first movement. Utilising many samples, for which he became famous as something of a pioneer, the second movement even features a tiny snippet of “Oxygene”, the opening part if I recall. Then there's people laughing, crying, birdsong, traffic, all sorts of sound mixed in and over all of this a deep, sonorous synth striding majestically through the soundscape, taking control and pulling you along. Other synths join in with the odd bubbly run, like the sort of thing you would have heard maybe on “Doctor Who” or “Star Trek”, but it's the main synth that holds the line.

There's an almost prog-rock feel to some of the synthwork from minute ten onwards, with rushing, whooshing sounds overlaying a deep organ sound, thunder rolling and more samples, then suddenly uptempo dancy synth breaks in as the third movement gets going around minute twelve, very europop but with deep choral synth backing, rolling high-pitched organ adding another layer to the sound while some squeaky runs with a pitch bend wheel add more alien touches to the music as the track heads towards its conclusion. There are so many samples in here that to be honest, a cop car went by outside and I wasn't altogether sure if it was on the disc or not!

After all that, the track sort of fades out and down, and part 2 comes in on boppy, bubbly keys with a sort of fast-handclap drum machine beat behind them, and compared to its predecessor it's a very short track, just a few seconds short of four minutes, but still manages to cram in some interesting synth effects and change the tune around as it goes, the keys getting whistly and cheeky before reverting back to the bopalong of the original melody. Very catchy, and nothing like part 1 at all. More weird pitch-bending, where Jarre almost makes the keyboard speak in a squeaky voice, and it all chugs happily away to the end, where rolling surf and sound samples pull in part 3.

Another one that falls short of the four-minute mark, this has virtually no music at all, with half its length taken up by mechanical sounds, then what seems to be a clock ticking, until some bright synth makes its way in at about the third minute, and what sounds like humming, but may be another sample or indeed another synth, accompanies it in the lower register. Something akin to a violin is also added in, and the whole thing carries on into part 4, where first some percussion and then some buzzing synth makes its presence felt, as the sound effects fall away behind, and the music once again asserts itself.

There's a definite melody here this time, a sort of mid-paced but basically uptempo sound, with elements dragged in again from “Oxygene”, samples here and there, then synthesised voices sing out an almost pop melody, while other synths swirl and jump in the background, the drum machine tapping out the rhythm. A low bassy synth then takes the track out as something that sounds like metal sliding over metal is added in, and with a big heavy whoosh of air we're into the closer, part five, which is subtitled “The last rumba”.

The reasoning behind the subtitle becomes immediately obvious as the track begins, being set to a rumba rhythm and played like a ballroom dance melody, with a drum machine mimicking the sound of castanets and the only real melody being a single keyboard. In much the same way as Mike Oldfield sent himself up with the country styling of the closer on “Tubular Bells II”, it seems Jarre is doing the same here, taking a sly little dig at those who might take this music too seriously. Or hell, maybe he was just tired from composing and wanted to have a little fun: can't blame him for that. There's a nice little guitar line that takes over the melody in the last minute, and it's an interesting way to close what can certainly be described as an interesting album.

I would have to say I like this. It may not be my usual sort of thing, but it's definitely entertaining, clever and easy to listen to. “Oxygene” has always had a strong place in my heart, being a reminder of the music I listened to in my youth, and I'll always love that album. But after almost forty years, I think I'm now ready to move beyond that and sample (haha) more of Mr. Jarre's work, and this has certainly proved to be a decent and rewarding first step into what I would still term, and see as, the music of tomorrow.

TRACKLISTING

1. Magnetic Fields Part 1
2. Magnetic Fields Part 2
3. Magnetic Fields Part 3
4. Magnetic Fields Part 4
5. Magnetic Fields Part 5 (The last rumba)
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Old 09-24-2012, 01:19 PM   #1519 (permalink)
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Part three: “The future just ain't what it used to be...

After many months at sea, watching the seasons change and surviving more than one pirate attack --- hey! I got to use a GUN! I'm HARD now! COME on! Let's 'AVE ya! --- it seems the end of my journey is at hand. Ahead, I can make out a vague coastline which can only be the final destination on my travels through the lands of the Boyband, but this one is a lot different to any of the others I've visited. Not that surprising really, as this is Terra Permusica Futura, New or Future Boybandland, and here I'll find the new young guns, the next generation of boybands, those who are determined to carry on the legacy of bands like Nsync, Boyzone and Take That. Have they the talent (what am I saying?) that's required to take on the mantle? Or are they just weak pretenders to the throne, playing at being a band while just milking the fame for all the glory and money they can? Again, what the hell am I saying? I'm tired, forgive me. It's been a very long journey and I'm starting to get confused.

In fairness though, I have seen through my previous visits to the other two lands in this region that many of the boybands I looked down on (and still, to an extent, do) did have some talent, and there can be no denying that they wrote, in some cases, some pretty good songs. I still would never take them seriously as “proper” bands, but albums like Take That's “Beautiful world”, Boyzone's “Brother” and Backstreet Boys' “Unbreakable” did at least give me pause, and I had to somewhat grudgingly admit that these were in most cases better than I had expected, or experienced up to that point, from those bands.

Although this final section is intended to concentrate primarily on “today's” boybands, which is to say, those formed in the last two or three years and who are currently considered to be at the top of their game, I would be remiss were I to omit speaking about one of the biggest boybands on the planet, in many ways the yardstick by which all the “new” boybands are, and will be, judged, and to whose legacy they aspire. I'm not sure whether the fact that they are Irish makes me proud or ashamed, but I would not be doing my country justice were I to leave them out, even if they did have their heyday in the 90s and early part of the twenty-first century, and even if they are no longer together, two of the basic criteria needed for inclusion in the closing part of my series.

Certainly having made enough money to have bought their own island, this is exactly what Westlife have done it seems, and our ship takes a small detour towards the place they call West Landing, where I will research and learn more about the biggest boyband in Irish --- perhaps world --- history than I perhaps would ever want to.
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Old 09-24-2012, 01:53 PM   #1520 (permalink)
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As we found to be the case with Nsync, what seems years ago now when we reviewed their albums and traced their history, the boyband was again heavily influenced by the “mammy element”. In the case of the former, US band, it was Timberlake's mother who coined their name, (thus giving headaches ever after to Google) but with Westlife it seems to have been the mother of one of the bandmembers who actually approached impresario extraordinaire Louis Walsh --- in whose honour their main city here is named --- about managing the band and helping them achieve fame. At the time a sextet, and going under the name of IOYOU, the band was quickly pared down to three of the original members, as Simon Cowell rather unkindly remarked they were the ugliest boyband ever, and no-one was going to pay to see ugly people! Bottom line, people! Bottom line! So having dismissed half of the band, Walsh then recruited two more to make the lineup a quintet. The band then consisted of:

Shane Filan (original member)
Kian Egan (original member)
Mark Feehily (original member)
Nicky Byrne
Bryan McFadden

They then went on to release their first album, having been signed to Cowell's BMG label, and following successful support slots with Boyzone and Backstreet Boys in 1998. The self-titled debut, released in 1999, took the charts by storm, powering up to no. 2 and giving them no less than five number one singles.

Westlife --- Westlife --- 1999 (BMG)


It opens with a sugary ballad, one of their many hit singles, featuring the standard tool of the boyband, the close-harmony singing. “Swear it again” isn't the worst boyband ballad I've ever heard, but for my money, it's not that special either. You can't deny these guys can sing though. Of course, like most of their peers they did not write their own material, and had a host of top-level songwriters drafted in to provide them the hits they would sing. Just another example, as I see it, of the plastic and artificial nature of the boyband. There's a nice bit of acoustic guitar on “If I let you go”, but it's soon drowned out by the everpresent digital piano, though there's a half-decent bassline in there. It's kind of a mid-paced song, not fast but not quite a ballad, and yes, it was another number one single.

Nice little guitar solo, almost, but it gets interrupted by the singing, almost as if the guys are determined to remind people who are the stars here, as they see it. Another ballad follows, and I have to admit I have a little soft spot for “Flying without wings”, despite the acerbic title to this piece. It's a well-written ballad and quite stirring, and it builds nicely from a fairly acoustic stripped beginning to a pretty powerful dramatic climax. Another number one for them, in case you needed to be told. Quite short really, with a full choir. And the next one is... another ballad. And another number one.

And so it goes. So far I've yet to hear Westlife, er, rock out in any way shape or form. They seem to be a band (or have been a band) who made their reputation and fame on glossy, girl-pleasing love songs. Ah well. Okay as soon as I say that they finally up the tempo with “No no”, a dancy, poppy bopper with lots of synth and drum machines, then it's back to the piano ballads for “I don't wanna fight”, and looking down the tracklist my heart sinks as I see this album has seventeen songs! Why oh why? Still, we must persevere so on we soldier, as I note that there is at least a nice guitar solo in “I don't wanna fight”, and following it is the second uptempo track, though “Change the world” does precisely not that, only a step up from the ballads, still pretty twee and sugary. Ugh.

Another ballad proper in “Moments”, not bad really, then they attempt Terry Jacks' classic “Seasons in the sun” (yeah, another number one for them) with an interestingly celtic intro on what sounds like maybe oileann pipes. I find the lack of the echoey guitar from the original makes the song lose some of its impact however, and the sense of pain Jacks conveyed through the lyric just isn't there when you have these guys singing it: just doesn't seem as sincere. Another uptempo ballad in “I need you”, with plenty of those handclap drumbeats I hate so much, then a slower ballad in “I miss you”, until we're brought to another cover version, as they proceed to rip the heart out of Extreme's acoustic classic “More than words”. Sigh.

And on it goes. Alternating between ballads and, er, semi-ballads, the album continues with pretty generic songs like “Open your heart” (NOT a cover of the Human League's new-wave smash, thank the stars!) and “Try again”, with the only interesting thing a sort of celtic flavour instilled by what sounds like oileann pipes but is most likely just keyboard jiggerypokery. There's a brief flash of almost AOR in the opening to “What I want is what I've got”, but it's very quickly tossed aside as the song falls into the dancy/poppy formula, more handclaps and an almost childish rhythm, bit of reggae/island beat thrown in, but basically on this album you get what you expect really, no more and no less. Fans would love it, those who hate Westlife and other boybands will, well, hate it, but those who are undecided are unlikely to be won over by this debut in my opinion. On some versions of the album they closed with yet another cover version, this time of ABBA's “I have a dream”, which again hit number one for them as a double A-sided single released with “Seasons in the sun”.

TRACKLISTING

1. Swear it again
2. If I let you go
3. Flying without wings
4. Fool again
5. No no
6. I don't wanna fight
7. Change the world
8. Moments
9. Seasons in the sun
10. I need you
11. Miss you
12. More than words
13. Open your heart
14. Try again
15. What I want is what I've got
16. We are one
17. Can't lose what you never had
18. I have a dream (some versions)

A meteoric rise to success and fame of course followed. With five number one singles and a chart-topping, four-times-platinum album under their belts, the world was at Westlife's feet. They went on to release a total of eight albums, not including two “specialised” cover albums, one of music by Sinatra and one of love songs, before their eventual breakup earlier this year. I wouldn't have the stomach, nor interest, nor space, to cover all eight of their albums, so we're going to be skipping a bit here and there, as is my usual practice when an artiste has so many albums to pick from.

Their second album was, not surprisingly, another occupant of the number one slot, and gave rise to their first world tour, whereafter they released their third album, which is the one I'm going to look at here. Not a clever choice, really, as it has, wait for it, twenty tracks! And I thought the debut was long! Sweet Jesus give me strength to face the trials ahead!

World of our own --- Westlife --- 2001 (BMG)


Yielding another four hit singles --- although only a paltry three reached number one! --- “World of our own” became Westlife's third multi-platinum album, and sailed in at number one. Again. It also features more of the evolving songwriting of the band, who only contributed the one track to the previous album but here write seven, this perhaps showing more of a willingness to get involved and perhaps take more control of their music, a common problem as we've seen with boybands. As long as someone's writing your hits, you kind of have to fall into line. In another, but separate sphere, Kylie learned this lesson and struck out on her own, breaking the chains and becoming even more successful and loved.

The album kicks off with yet another hit single for them, this being the somewhat Waterboys-influenced “Queen of my heart”, which I hate to admit is not that bad, with some nice celtic flavour thanks to pipes and accordion and a slow, swaying beat. The melody however is suspiciously familiar, just can't quite place it. Nice kids' choir too. Things jump up a little with “Bop bop baby”, another hit though the only one that didn't gain the coveted (and by this time you would assume expected) number one slot, and the first effort at writing on the album by some of the guys, Bryan and Shane in fact. Nothing special, I'm surprised it was even selected as a single, as indeed were the band, who had been pushing for another track, “Why do I love you”, which was not chosen.

The instrumentation at least at this point has progressed beyond the standard synth/guitar/piano, with some Hammond added on this one, and a rather lovely acoustic guitar intro to another ballad, “I cry”, which has a certain lounge feeling to it, and yeah, I'll admit it's not too bad. I'll be honest, these guys can really do ballads, and they mostly play to their strengths on these albums, which is probably one reason for their otherwise inexplicable longevity --- when they disbanded this year they had been together for fourteen years: that's longer than some of their more ardent fans had been alive! I guess like many boybands before them, they found the thing that worked for them and stuck to it, instead of trying to branch out and reinvent themselves. Sometimes that works, as in Take That's renaissance, but often it can fall flat on its face, and hell, if it ain't broke, right?

Nice orchestral arrangement to this song too, very powerful and emotional, then we're into their cover of one of Billy Joel's songs I hated anyway, but which again hit the top for them, as indeed it did for its writer, “Uptown girl”. You know the score: they basically retrod the territory Joel had stalked in 1983, never straying far from the original. Westlife, like most boybands tended to cover a song in pretty much the same way it was originally sang, not ones for reinterpretation. As long as it sold, after all... There's nothing good I can say about this. I hated it when Billy did it, I hate it just as much when Westlife attempt it. Next up is the song they wanted to be the single to replace “Bop bop baby”, and it's another ballad. “Why do I love you” is okay, but to be honest I don't see a huge difference between the two, and let's be candid here: at the height of their fame and popularity the guys could probably have coughed into a hanky and recorded the results, and it would have gone to number one. I don't think substituting one song for the other was the big decision Westlife thought it was.

And yet another piano ballad hits, this time in the shape of “I wanna grow old with you”, but it's worth marking as it's the first track on the album not only written solely by the guys, but with the assistance of Kian Egan, his first attempt at songwriting on the album and the reunion of the partnership he shared with the other two on the previous album, on the one track. It's pretty good, surprisingly, quite moving, but then you get the dancy, throwaway “When you're lookin like that”, which really annoys me: very Nsync/BSB I feel, almost like the guys were just trying to have a hit that wasn't a ballad. Which they probably were. “We need something to fill the dancefloors, guys! No, not the slow set! We have enough of them to fill an album .... hmmm, there's an idea!”

Although the ballads are good (the less said about the faster songs the better, really) the problem I see with Westlife records so far is that there's no real variety. It's either soft, poignant, heart-rending ballads or boppy dance numbers, with the former far outweighing the latter by a long way. Id like to hear, I don't know, an acoustic, an acapella, a hard rocker --- sorry, did I just say that? I really am tired! --- well, something different, something to break the chain, throw in some interest into what have been for the most part boringly predictable albums. Yeah I know: what am I saying? Someone get me a cup of strong coffee! Oh wait, I don't drink coffee. Oh god, here's another ballad...

Well, it's “Evergreen”, which though it wasn't released as a single did take X Factor winner Will Young to the number one spot, and yeah it's okay, but follows the general format of a Westlife ballad, which is becoming a little tiresome now. And we're not even halfway through this twenty-track album. Where's that coffee? Whaddya mean, I said I don't drink coffee??!! Do I have to do everything myself? Title track is up next. Heads it's a ballad, tales it's what I'm going to call a “dancer”. Oh look! It's a dancer. Half-decent almost hip-hop beat to it, okay guitar but ultimately pretty empty. Another three ballads follow, one of which, “If your heart's not in it”, captures my state of mind perfectly. To be fair, “When you come around”, which is another Egan effort, this time with Nicky Byrne and some other non-Westlife members writing, is a lot better. In fact, it's the first time they approach anything close to even soft rock rather than pop. Okay, it's not that good, but of the fast tracks on this album (there aren't that many) this would definitely be my favourite. Like the guitar work in it too.


The boys more or less stamp their authority on the next two tracks also, each written or co-written by one or more Westlife members, with the orchestrally-inclined ballad “Don't say it's too late” by far the best of the two, “Don't let me go” being one of those singalong/clapalong happy type uptempo throwaway songs. But then there's an acoustic intro to “Walk away”, another nice ballad but a little different, though when it hits the chorus it falls into the usual format, and “Love crime” is nothing to write home about, though “Imaginary diva” makes you wish you were somewhere else. It's a soul/funk song something in the mould of Kid Creole's “Stool pigeon”, but with a female vocal which is not credited anywhere I can see, and to be honest it doesn't even seem like a Westlife song, though it is co-written by some of them. Well, I was complaining about them not taking chances and doing something different, wasn't I? This is certainly that, anyway.

Then they really do it, as far as I'm concerned. By taking on my alltime favourite love song, Sarah McLachlan's gorgeous “Angel”, they've crossed the line! They do an okay job with it, but again don't do anything different with it. I think it may be Kian singing, but to be honest I don't care. They've blown it with me, just as I was beginning to warm to them. Well, not hate them as much. Well, tolerate ... look, they've just lost any possible goodwill that was coming their way from me, okay?

Not only that, but there's then a “hidden track” tacked onto the end of this unutterably beautiful song, so it becomes a carrier for “Bad girls”, which is a really annoying dance song that really should have been left off the album. If you're going to finish an album, then you could go a long way to do better than closing with “Angel”, and there were already at this point nineteen tracks, but no, they had to squeeze one more on, and it's not even worth stretching the running time of the album for.

To quote Charlie Brown: good grief.

TRACKLISTING

1. Queen of my heart
2. Bop bop baby
3. I cry
4. Uptown girl
5. Why do I love you
6. I wanna grow old with you
7. When you're looking like that
8. Evergreen
9. World of our own
10. To be loved
11. Drive (for all time)
12. If your heart's not in it
13. When you come around
14. Don't say it's too late
15. Don't let me go
16. Walk away
17. Love crime
18. Imaginary diva
19. Angel (including “hidden track” “Bad girls”)

Everything was rosy with Westlife for this period, despite persistent rumours of a split on the cards. They embarked on two more world tours, released a fourth album and then came the news that had been threatening for over two years, as Bryan McFadden announced he was leaving the band, to concentrate more on his family life. He eventually engaged in his own, moderately successful solo career. McFadden was not replaced in Westlife, and they continued on as a quartet, releasing another three albums between 2003 and 2006, and in the process duetting with Diana Ross and also having number ones with more cover versions, this time of Barry Manilow's “Mandy” (hey, Take That had already wrecked “Could it be magic”: why not?), “You raise me up” and Bette Midler's classic love song “The rose”. With most if not all of these, and other, original singles hitting the number one spot almost constantly, it seemed like Westlife were none the poorer for McFadden's departure, and that their stripping-down to a four-piece was selling even more albums for them. During this time they emulated Robbie Williams by looking to the past for a cover album of Sinatra/Rat Pack songs.

In 2007, they released their ninth album --- seventh proper, discounting “Allow us to be Frank” and “The Love album”, which were both covers --- and it of course went directly to the number one spot, yielding them yet another three hit singles, however no number ones this time. Hmm. Was the Westlife ship beginning to let in water? The album's certainly shorter than the others we've reviewed up to now, a mere twelve tracks. Let's give it a listen. Yes, we have to...
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