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Old 09-25-2012, 02:54 AM   #1521 (permalink)
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Back home --- Westlife --- 2007 (Sony BMG)


It starts off with another ballad, and indeed another cover, Michael Buble's “Home”, and is notable for this time having no writing credits for the remaining band members. This indeed seems to have been the case since McFadden's departure, and you would perhaps be forgiven for thinking this was because he was the main songwriter in the band, but Egan and Filan also wrote, as we have seen, on “World of our own”, so perhaps the change in label, with Sony taking over Cowell's BMG label, had something to do with it? Or perhaps not. Whatever, seems it would stay that way until their last album, with only Mark Feehily contributing to the one track on the penultimate album apart from that.

Another ballad follows, the second single, “Us against the world” sold well for them but did not go to number one, then the third single (what imagination, eh?) is a bit more uptempo and dancy, but “Something right” hasn't a lot about it, and it's not that surprising that it did badly for them. Pretty cringe-inducing is the next ballad, “I'm already there”, not released as a single but due to excessive downloads somehow made it into the singles charts... Nice orchestral arrangements, but it's tearjerking at its worst really. Still, it's better than “When I'm with you”, with its annoying handclap beat and yowling keyboards...

The almost acapella opening to “Have you ever” is interesting, but it quickly settles down into yet another piano ballad, with a certain feel of those old motown love songs from the seventies, and piano follows piano for “It's you”, which again sounds quite familiar. Where have I heard that tune before? Robbie Williams? “She's the one”? Yeah, that's it: almost ripped the piano melody off verbatim, guys. Nice bit of guitar for a change opening “Catch my breath”, and it actually gets a little harder as the song nears its end: this isn't too bad, at least it's different. Which is not something I can say about the throwaway dancer “The easy way”, whose title really says all you need to know about the song. Decent uppy brass all right. Some nice acoustic guitar in “I do” (yeah, another ballad) but mostly I amuse myself listening to how the two interchanging male vocals, talking essentially about marrying, almost seem to be talking to each other. Gay, or what? Sorry guys, it's just so funny how that ends up sounding.

And I'm bored.

Oh well, two tracks left to go. I have to say, ballads apart --- and really they seem to form about eighty percent of Westlife's material, at least from what I've reviewed --- I'm finding very little to like about this boyband, whereas before I almost warmed to the likes of Take That and even Boyzone, but these guys just seem so plastic. Haven't heard such an obvious case of “staying in it for the money” since Nsync. Anyway, “Pictures in my head” is a little better than I had expected, a sort of uptempo ballad with a slight rocky edge, then the album closes on “You must have had a broken heart”, another basic ballad. Yeah, nothing's leaping out at me as a sudden change or improvement, on the same lines as Take That's “Beautiful world” or Boyzone's “Brother”. Still don't like these guys.

TRACKLISTING

1. Home
2. Us against the world
3. Something right
4. I'm already there
5. When I'm with you
6. Have you ever
7. It's you
8. Catch my breath
9. The easy way
10. I do
11. Pictures in my head
12. You must have had a broken heart

Another album followed in 2009, which would prove to be their penultimate one. Now I had originally intended to pass over this and finish this section with a review of their final album, which you would think would make sense. However, after having read what Shane Filan said about it prior to its release, I'm going to change my mind and give this one a chance. Could it be their “Beautiful world” or “Brother”? According to Filan, there was “more tempo, more rocky songs, some more American songs, some darker songs .... with darker lyrics.” Okay, well, I'll believe it when I hear it, but I think in fairness I should at least check the album out and see if their claims turned out to be well founded.

So, this is the final Westlife album I'll be reviewing (thank god!) and it's the one before their final release. It's notable due to having no input or involvement whatever by their two longtime songwriters and producers, Steve Mac and Wayne Hector, but it also contains no efforts by the band, other than one co-writing credit for Mark Feehily on the last-but-one track.

Where we are --- Westlife --- 2009 (Sony)


(Note: I have tried several ways to get the image of the album cover to show up, but despite using several sources it refuses to, so I can't do anything about it here. I'm sure you're all devastated...)
After taking a year-long break following their eighth album, “Back home”, and following a sold-out event in Croke Park, Dublin, labelled “Ten years of Westlife”, the boys were back with their new and long-awaited album. Interesting to see the first track, and the first single, is Daughtry's “What about now”, itself written by two of the members of Evanescence. So is this the new, rockier, maybe darker tone that Filan was talking about prior to the album's release? Okay, it's a serious change from their soppy piano ballads and their classical-guitar lounge songs, but then again it's a cover, and I know this song, so what have Westlife got to show us that they can say, like the kid at the end of the “X-Files”, I made this?

Well, “How to break a heart” is a quick step back to familiar territory, almost as if their brief foray into the world of rock has shaken them, and they need to reacclimitise themselves, tugging the security blanket back around their shoulders, then “Leaving” has a lovely strings arrangement, so much so that I almost expect Josh Groban to start singing, but it's a big swaying powerful ballad with a lot of emotion, while “Shadows” is more of the old piano ballad material but with a big dramatic production, some nice strings but let's be honest: Westlife ain't reinventing the wheel here, and much of this can be found on any of their other albums. I don't see any huge change in direction, any major shift in format and the opener apart --- which as I say is a cover anyway --- I see no “rocky” material.

Another nice ballad in “Talk me down” and a somewhat harder one with some nice AOR style keys for the title track, nice production and “The difference” is the closest they come to the likes of “Pictures in my head” from the previous album, which was the first non-ballad to catch my interest. There's a general sense of a harder sort of pop here, but I think it would be stretching it to call it rock, even soft rock. It rattles along nicely though and it's catchy, but then, what else would you expect from a Westlife song?

More ballads with “As love is my witness” and “Another world”, which perhaps should be named either “The same world” or “Another ballad”: I am rather amazed, given what Shane Filan promised before the album's release, at how similar this sounds to any of the other three Westlife albums I've reviewed --- okay, suffered through. I was expecting at least some change, some shift, some attempt to pull away from the polished, by-the-numbers formulaic pop they had by now peddled for over ten years, but no, it seems this is just another year, another Westlife album, and the boys no doubt watched the euros pile up with little interest in stretching themselves or exploring new musical avenues. Hey, I suppose it's what the fans wanted, but if that's all it was, why go on about how “different” the album was supposed to be?

I would love to tell you that the next track is a cover of the Strangler's punk hit, but the tinkling piano and deep, emotional vocal as “No more heroes” begins dashes any such hopes, if they were ever really recognised or expected. Yep, another powerful ballad, and Westlife continue to stick to what they know, what they're good at (and it has to be admitted, they are good at it) and what sells. Yawn. Someone wake me up when this is over, yeah?

Okay, “Sound of a broken heart”, while still essentially a ballad, does up the tempo a little, and there are some nice keyboards in it, decent strings but it's sort of like a ballad trying to be something else, and it falls between two stools, one of which I'm nodding off on. All right, that's unfair: it's probably one of the better tracks on the album. Happy? Moving on... The album is trying to finish strongly, with “Reach out” a decent half-rocker with some good keys and guitar, but we end on yet another ballad, which to be fair is quite nice, but then there's little to distinguish “I'll see you again” from a dozen other Westlife ballads.

As an album that was supposed to surprise and change people's minds about Westlife, and appeal to other than just their fans, this album fails miserably on every count. That's not to say it's a bad album: it's well written (though not by them), well played and well sung, and you can't fault the production, but it comes across as just another stepping-stone on the path, another brick in the wall of bland, faceless pop music that Westlife not only purveyed, but came to typify in the nineties and early part of the twenty-first century. A decent album, but nothing new. If you are a Westlife fan, you bought this album and loved it. If you were not, you were unlikely to shell out on it. If you did, then you were, in all likelihood, disappointed.

TRACKLISTING

1. What about now
2. How to break a heart
3. Leaving
4. Shadows
5. Talk me down
6. Where we are
7. The difference
8. As love is my witness
9. Another world
10. No more heroes
11. Sound of a broken heart
12. Reach out
13. I'll see you again

Westlife's final proper album was released a year later, but the relationship between the band and Simon Cowell was beginning to reach breaking point. Originally their mentor and supporter (not surprising as he was getting very rich off the backs of these young guys --- oh where have I heard that before?), Cowell began devoting more time to his involvement in the reality search-for-a-star TV shows “American Idol” and “The X Factor”, and Westlife felt they ended up just being fit in around the edges, when he had time, being treated like some sort of side project: interesting, but not important, or at least, not as important as his other work.

This led to their eventual split with his label in 2011, after which things were more or less over for the band. They recorded one final album, with RCA, a greatest hits package and then in October announced they were calling it a day. Cue screaming, tearstained teenagers all over Ireland (and the world) as hysteria over the band's breakup reached insane levels, some fans even calling the date they split “The day the music died”, which I have to admit makes me grin ruefully; as if Westlife ever contributed anything specific or unique to music, and as if music would not continue without them. Oh dear.

At any rate, their farewell concert earlier this year sold out in five minutes, and although the split was initially described by the band as amicable, it emerged afterwards that there had been a lot of in-fighting and bad blood in the final years, which really is probably only natural: you spend ten years together with four or five other guys, you'll be lucky not to come to blows. Or harsh words at the very least. They declared they will never reform, but then, we've heard that before, so I wouldn't be too surprised were it to happen down the line. Suppose it depends on how well, or not, the solo career of each turns out to be.

Of all the boybands I've looked into so far in this series, I have to say that most of them ended up impressing me in one way or another, except Nsync, who I thought were just totally a corporate music/money machine. But Westlife just leave me totally cold. They seem to have made no attempt, over their fourteen years together, to develop or change their musical style, they seem to have been happy to sing cover version after cover version, and in the end the only real legacy they leave is a fistful of sugary, one-dimensional ballads that could really have been sung by any boyband. Far from being one of the most influential boybands in history, I found them to be dull, flat, lifeless and lacking in any spark whatever.

It's not like I expected anything else, but as already related some of the boybands have managed to surprise me over the course of this journey. As I walk up the gangplank and consider my, ahem, final destination, I look back at West Landing and wonder just how many impressionable teenage girls helped pay for the purchase of this island? Ah well, that's boybands for you. And what of the future of this crass music form? What of the new young guns, the successors to the throne of bland, formation dancing and close-harmony singing generic pop? Who are the girls screaming for now, with Westlife already forgotten and just a page in their scrapbook they probably don't even look at now?

We're off to find out.
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Old 09-26-2012, 04:03 AM   #1522 (permalink)
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It's not a long journey to my last port of call here in Boybandland, and by the time the sun is setting over the ocean we're pulling into the harbour, and I note, looking at the country from the rail of the ship, that much of it is made up of forbidding mountainous territory. More so than any of the other countries in BBL I have visited, this region seems to be almost split in half by the mighty mountain ranges. Referring to my information booklet, I note there are only two real cities of note in this rather smaller country, in one of which resides the new boyband called The Wanted, while south of their city, the imaginatively-named “Wantopolis”, their bitter rivals, One Direction, reside in the similarly originally named “The One City”. Tensions are rife between both I'm told, with attacks and sorties being carried out from one city to the other; casualties are common.

So this, then, is the so-called future of Boybands? Two pretenders to the throne, warring against each other and striking from their urban strongholds. Doesn't sound too promising to me, but it's too late for me to try to figure it out now, and I head for my hotel. Everything here is very futuristic, very state of the art: even the hotel concierge is a cyborg, and I don't take kindly to his tone. Her tone. Its tone. Whatever. This is not what I've come to expect, and it's going to take some getting used to. The room is sterile, functional, almost the sort of place you would expect a robot to go to for a break; certainly lacking warmth, but it has all the “mod cons” I would expect, or could ask for.


There are, of course, more boybands on the planet now than you could shake a stick at. The overpopularity of shows like the X Factor has given rise to more and more groups of guys who think they can sing --- some of whom actually can --- and therefore get together to form a boyband. JLS, Blue, Jonas Brothers... and it's spreading beyond the traditionally accepted territories of the UK, US and Europe. Boybands are big now in South Korea and Japan, with even Indonesia throwing their hat into the ring. The place, to coin a phrase, is lousy with them.

But I have no intention of researching, much less reviewing every boyband that has popped up in the last three or four years. Add to that the ones that have reformed, like Take That, Backstreet Boys and New Kids on the Block (the last two of which merged to form one big boyband going under the acronym NKOTBSB), and you could spend your life looking into these bands. I've no intention of doing that. And whereas at least the previous bands I have reviewed I had some little knowledge of, having grown up avoiding their music on the radio and TV, I know precisely nothing about the new crop, particularly the two I've selected. So it will be new territory for me.



One thing about being on a “futuristic world of tomorrowland” is that at least the transport is top-notch. Hover-taxis and zero-gravity buses flit through the leaden skies while sparkling monorails which seem to run on the power of self-satisfaction slip like metal slugs across the imposing city skyline as I arrive in the first of my destinations, I guess you would say my penultimate stop really, the city known as Wantopolis, the lack of originality in its name surely foreshadowing a similar mundanity about the music this band plays? Of course, I've never even heard one single song by The Wanted, know nothing at all about them, so it's to their city that I make my way in order to read up on them and listen to their music so that I can form a cohesive and informed opinion of them when I review their albums.

My heart sinks when I read that the Wanted have Irish members, though they're seen mostly as a British band. Of course, I shouldn't worry: that ship has long sailed, with Boyzone and Westlife already having put Ireland well on the boyband map (sigh), but it's depressing to find that boybands are alive and well in the emerald isle even today. Oh well. Other than that it's a familiar story, with the band being created after auditions of over 1,000 guys took place in 2009, and with three of the later lineup being picked from that audition, with two more added later on. The final lineup became

Max George
Nathan Sykes
Tom Parker
Jay McGuinness
Siva Kaneswaran

The last two were not part of the auditions, and were drafted in later, don't ask me from where. Work began on their debut album, and again familiar faces were to be seen: Steve Mac and Wayne Hector, who had worked with Westlife for most of their career, began writing and producing, and Robbie Williams' songwriting partner Guy Chambers was also involved. It does seem, though, that the boys in the Wanted were contributing to the songwriting from the start, helping out on about half of the songs on the album. Their first single went straight to number one, and after that a second single hit the number two slot. A few days later the debut, self-titled album was released. It went to number four.

The Wanted --- The Wanted --- 2010 (Geffen)

In a display both of raw, naked greed and of over-the-top promotion, the album was released in several different configurations, including one which you could buy with liner notes dedicated to each separate member: so if you wanted all the members' albums you could have shelled out for five albums. Never heard such utter rubbish in my life!

Oh.... kayyyy... There seems to be a SNAFU in progress here. Never one to spend even a cent on a boyband record if I could avoid it, I had a lot of trouble (mostly, I think, due to the sad demise of Demonoid) downloading a working torrent for these guys. In the end, after about seventeen attempts and mounting frustration, and a rising temptation to just write “Look, they're crap, ok?” I found one that would download. But when I look at the tracklisting it seems wrong. Now, after some digging, I see that just to confuse matters, the Wanted released their first album in 2010, self-titled, then their second the next year, and then this year they released an EP called --- wait for it --- “The Wanted”! This was for US/Canadian release and features material from both their first albums, in a move somewhat reminscent of Backstreet Boys' first, or second album, depending on where you live, “Backstreet's Back”.

And guess what I downloaded? The EP. Right, well as they only have the two albums to date, I'm going to be unable to review the first album --- what do you mean, shell out the dollar and buy it, you cheap...? I wouldn't waste the money. Really. I'd rather give it to charity. That's right, I said give it to charity!

So I'll review this EP, and advise you which tracks come from the original debut. How's that? Yeah? Well, tough.

The opening track, in fact one of the singles from their second album, “Glad you came”, does not, surprisingly start out as a boyband-sounding song at all; in fact, if anything it reminds me of Coldplay, at least at the start with the lone piano and the Chris Martin soundalike, but then it breaks into a boppy dancer with squealing synths and drum machines, brassy keys which sort of hit a kind of semi-celtic feel, then it returns to the Coldplayism for the outro. Weird. One of only two new tracks on the EP which don't appear on either album, “Chasing the sun” is a house/trance style dancer, with vocoders, thumping drumbeats, stabbing synth and plenty of “Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh!” in the lyric.

Nice cello to open what was in fact their first single, a number one for them, “All time low” which in fact opens their debut album, it's not bad till the drum machines kick in and then it becomes another dancer with more annoying altered voices and vocoders --- why can't people just sing in their own voices? It's beyond me. Well, at least this is more uptempo than all the four Westlife albums I've just reviewed! It's perhaps telling too that of the seven tracks on this EP, not one of them has a writing credit for the band, although they contributed to over half of the music on the debut.

The other new song is “Satellite”, and starts out with low synth so that you think it might be a ballad, but interestingly for a boyband, no, it's another uptempo bopper, one you can dance to. I don't like it, don't get me wrong, but it is strangely refreshing to hear an album that doesn't have ballad after ballad with the odd faster song thrown in almost as an afterthought. Next one up is again from the second album, another fast one, with new-wave/electronica dance synth and a very catchy beat; “Lightning” continues the almost disdain for the “old way” of doing things by cramming as many ballads as possible on an album: up to now, there hasn't even been one.

But no boyband can resist the lure of the ballad forever, and true to eventual form we get “Heart vacancy”, but at least it's not piano-led, with a nice acoustic guitar taking the melody before the drums and piano come in, and even then once the song gets going it's a reasonably uptempo ballad, not a tearjerker, not a cry-into-your-alcopops song, but with a lot of heart and a decent amount of energy, to be fair. And we finish on one more track from the second album, indeed the lead single from that album, “Gold forever”, another boppy dancer.

TRACKLISTING

1. Glad you came
2. Chasing the sun
3. All time low
4. Satellite
5. Lightning
6. Heart vacancy
7. Gold forever

As an introduction to the band, if not their actual debut, I'm impressed that at least the Wanted didn't cram their album with ballads, and that their music is a lot more high energy than the likes of Boyzone, Westlife et al. But that much apart, I don't see anything revolutionary or new about them. Not that I expected to, but you would wonder how much different they see themselves from the boybands of the nineties, or if they would even wish to be associated with them. Still, like it or not, they probably owe a large part of their appeal and popularity to these bands, who, like it or not, laid the groundwork for the blueprint of what is today's boyband.

The Wanted released their second album last year, however having had no success in the USA at this time they then went ahead and “sampled” the two albums in one, as explained above, in what became “The Wanted EP”, which we have just reviewed. There's not a whole lot else to tell really. They supported Justin Bieber and Britney Spears on their respective tours, and then headed into the studio to record their second album.

Battleground --- The Wanted --- 2011 (Island)


Already with a new label, The Wanted were a hot property, at least on this side of the Atlantic. A few tracks on this album, as already explained, were later included in their 2012 EP, and those that were we'll just refer to as we've already reviewed them. It opens with “Glad you came”, which as we mentioned was a big hit single for them, then goes on to “Lightning”, which again we've reviewed, before the first ballad makes its presence known in the shape of the unexpectedly titled “Warzone”. But is it indeed a ballad? As it goes on it gets more powerful and dramatic, and you get the feeling it's going to break out any minute into a drum-punching, keys-screaming dancer, though it sort of never does really.

“Invincible” is another high-energy bopper, with techno style synth and trancey drumloops, not much in it lyrically but it does move the feet, and it's worth mentioning that both it and the previous track have songwriting credits for some of the boys, whereas the following track, “The last to know” is devoid of their input, though really not that much lacking for, or gaining from, that absence. It's a sort of mid-tempo semi-ballad, and works quite well, with an almost U2 sound to the guitar. Sounding like the first proper ballad, “I'll be your strength” hovers on the edge of becoming an uptempo song courtesy of the rapid, but muted, drumbeat that keeps pace with the verses, breaking out a little in concert with some hard loud synth during the chorus, but yet failing to take over the song. It's another partially written by some of the bandmembers, but the next one is a Diane Warren special.

“Rocket” opens on an almost carnival keyboard sound and then breaks into a romping, pumping beat with attendant sparkly piano .... hell, Warren can't ever do wrong, can she? Whoever she writes for ends up getting a hit, and this has top ten written all over it. The fact that the label chose not to release it really shows a sense of shortsightedness, as this would definitely have been a hit. A nice acoustic guitar and low organ introduce “I want it all”, which is a song written by Siva Kaneswaran and who I can only assume is his brother, Daniel, and Guy Chambers, the involvement of the latter giving rise to the obvious Robbie comparisons, and yeah, it does sound like a Williams song, and in fact for my money this gentle half-ballad comes in as the standout on the album by a long way.

We're back then to the dance/techno boppers for “The weekend”, on which two of the guys collaborate, but really it's nothing special, and the last song they help write is “Lie to me”, which surprisingly again sounds like Robbie Williams, but this time there's no involvement for Chambers. Nice smooth semi-ballad with a very decent chorus, and then we close on the already-reviewed “Gold forever”.

As a second album this is not too bad. There's a lot more heart and power in it than most of the boyband albums I've listened to up to this point, and based on the quality of the songwriting here I wouldn't be surprised to find that the Wanted remain, er, wanted for a good few years yet. Will they have the longevity of Westlife, Take That or New Kids on the Block? Time will tell...

TRACKLISTING

1. Glad you came
2. Lightning
3. Warzone
4. Invincible
5. Last to know
6. I'll be your strength
7. Rocket
8. I want it all
9. The weekend
10. Lie to me
11. Gold forever

That leaves me with just one last trip to make, and in the morning I'll be heading “dahn sath”, to where One Direction hold court, and to try to figure out what, if anything, differentiates these new lights of the boyband wave from their peers, both contemporary and past. Are they as good, or bad, as The Wanted, or have they something different going on? We've seen here that these guys have taken a slightly different approach to the usual and accepted boyband idea, tweaking it slightly to involve much fewer ballads and much more uptempo, danceable songs, but how far can that change go? Is there any room for originality and new ideas in the world of the boyband, or do they all slavishly follow a preset formula, like dodgem cars that can't deviate from their programmed paths? Are all boybands doomed to repeat the same cycle, never breaking free and asserting their musical individuality, if they have any?

Hold that thought.
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Old 09-26-2012, 12:17 PM   #1523 (permalink)
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An...interesting genre you are pursuing there partner, I'll give you that, lol!

I've never been a fan of boy band pop despite it being a major hallmark of the years I grew up in. In retrospect, I'll give N'Sync a nod of appreciation for blending what their contemporaries were doing with 80's New Jack Swing influences (props to New Edition ), but on the whole I'm fairly meh about the "genre" (if you want to call it that).

What's next up in the pipe good sir?
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Old 09-26-2012, 12:55 PM   #1524 (permalink)
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Thanks Ant!
Can't stand boybands myself, but I decided to do an in-depth expose of them so that I could at least argue coherently and with proper points if anyone challenged me. Also, I like to try to keep an open mind, and realise that for most of my life, musically, this has not been what I've been doing. I think to be honest listening to Westlife, Nsync, BSB et al was actually harder than surviving through a seven-track album by thrash metal band Sauron (see further back a little: the Meat Grinder) --- but I'm glad I did it. Feels like I've achieved something, and now when I say I hate boybands I can list a lot of references and talk knowledgeably about albums like "Celebrity" and "World of our own," god help me!

What's next? Well, it'll be a while: something like that takes a lot out of me and also takes a long time to put together --- I started that section back last year! But I'm thinking maybe of looking at reggae. That or black metal. Or jazz. Haven't decided. Might be none of those three, but I'm leaning towards reggae, which I've never liked but know virtually nothing about.

After all that close-harmony singing and sugary ballads though, I'm ready for another shot at the Meat Grinder!
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Old 09-26-2012, 05:12 PM   #1525 (permalink)
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Another legend leaves us...

Andy Williams (1927-2012)
Maybe it's just me getting older, but every month there seems to be another music star passing on. This month we bid a fond farewell to Andy Williams, best known for his signature tune "Moon river". Like him or hate him, the guy worked right up into his eighties, not one to sit back and live off his millions.

A true star, a gentleman and one of the old guard, he'll certainly be missed.

Andy died Tuesday from bladder cancer, which he had battled for a year.
May he rest in peace.
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Old 09-27-2012, 05:11 AM   #1526 (permalink)
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In recent years, say the last ten, there's been one thing that's been almost always inextricably linked with the rise of any new boyband, and it's that damn show. If the X Factor has taught us one thing, it's that everyone wants to be a star and many think they are stars, while if Cowell and Co.
think you are a star, they'll make you one, whether you're that good or not. Okay, that's strictly three things, but you know what I mean. Without the X Factor it's safe to say that many of today's boybands might not exist, or at least be as popular and successful as they are.

And as I look out the window of the magna-train that glides over the carbon-fibre rails like a slim steel ghost, the state-of-the-art descendant of the humble hovercraft and the monorail, watching The One City slide closer in my view, I read that the final boyband on my list, well, weren't even supposed to be a boyband! Auditioning for the X, each was rejected for the solo section in the “boys” category, and ready to go home until one of the judges suggested they enter as a band and try again. With no knowledge even of each other, and no experience singing together, the lads formed as One Direction and though they didn't win, they came third, which is pretty remarkable considering the short amount of time they had to get to know each other and try to gell together.

Their failure to win the contest didn't bother the big S, and he signed them to his label, thus creating yet another cash cow. One Direction promptly became the biggest boyband in the country, their debut album selling over three million units and being certified platinum in most territories. They are currently preparing for the release of their second album.



So what is different about this band? Well, as related above, it's not the usual story where thousands of hopefuls try out for an audition and are picked --- well, it is, but with a twist. Nor is it the other familiar tale of schoolchums or longtime friends getting together to form a group: none of the guys in One Direction seem to have known any of the others before arriving at the X Factor studios for their individual solo auditions. It's also interesting to see that the bandmembers from the start have participated in the writing of some of the songs, like fellow “new” boyband The Wanted. The main bulk, however, are written by established composers like Steve Mac and Wayne Hector, whom we've met helming other boyband albums, and the odd guest like Kelly Clarkson. Many of the other boybands we've looked at have had to wait their turn before being allowed to write, but the new breed seem determined to have a measure of control over their music that the older, more established boybands never did.

Their lineup is as follows:
Niall Horan
Zayn Malik
Liam Payne
Harry Styles
Louis Tomlinson

What else is different? Well, rather surprised to read that some of the guys actually appreciate rock music: Horan is into Bon Jovi and The Eagles, while Tomlinson cites Robbie Williams and Ed Sheeran as influences. Styles namechecks Coldplay and Kings of Leon. All right, so they're not exactly affirming their interest in thrash metal, but it's a start! They even pay their dues, with Niall Horan being a big fan of swing music and citing the Rat Pack as favourites of his. So you know, maybe they're not that bad?

Up all night --- One Direction --- 2011 (Columbia)


Well, the album opens with “Summer nights” from “Grease” --- oh, hold on, no. It's their first and number one single, “What makes you beautiful”. But the main riff is totally ripped from the John Travolta/Olivia Newton-John song --- still, the fact that I can actually use the word “riff” in a review of a boyband album is at least encouraging, and this at least is partially guitar-based, though there are of course the usual banks of synths and the handclap drumbeats. It's fun I guess, but I wouldn't have seen it as a number one. Still, I'm a crusty old rocker, what do I know about what the kids want these days?

Again showing a stunning lack of originality, it's the first four tracks that were released as singles (perhaps the running order of the album was arranged that way), and the second one then is “Gotta be you”, and it has a nice strings backing, becoming a slow/mid-paced half-ballad with a nice backbeat and not half as annoying as it could be I guess. “One thing”, the third single, has a nice opening guitar riff too, almost indie-rock in its way with a very catchy chorus. It seems that Niall Horan becomes the first boyband member that I know anyway who can play an instrument, as he's a keen guitarist, but whether or not he plays on the album I don't know. Still, nice to see at least one member who has more than the one string to his bow.

The final single, “More than this”, opens on a lovely little acoustic guitar line, and I do have to admit that although the synths are bound to punch in at any time now, it's still nice to hear so much guitar on a boyband album. There's a certain sense of George Michael about this, though whoever is taking the main vocal sounds very female! It's a decent song though, with a lack of the bravado often associated with boyband songs, even the ballads. There's something fragile, almost empathic about it. The tempo goes right back up then for the title track, as you might expect, as it's a total party song, revelling in the joys of youth and freedom, and no doubt became an anthem for teenagers.

Nice bubbly keyboards carry the song, with the guitar pushed firmly into the background this time, and a very infectious and quite likeable chorus. Harmless really, and the sort of song you could see yourself awkwardly dancing around to even at my age, never mind the fact that I have no chance whatsoever of staying up all night, at least not without sleeping all through the next day! Ah, to be young again. And also a robot. What? Oh, nothing, nothing. Where was I? Oh yes. “I wish” has again a nice little guitar line, deep drums and a pleasant melody. Where One Direction (hah! OD!) seem to score though is with their hooky choruses, which really are extremely catchy, and this is no exception.

Kelly Clarkson contributes to “Tell me a lie”, which is okay but generally throwaway pop, then “Taken”, the first song on which the guys write, is not bad, bit of “****-you” in the lyric, and some nice solid synthwork, while there's a bright piano opening to “I want”, the only song on the album written by just the one person, this person being McFly's Tom Fletcher, injecting a little rockish sound into One Direction's music. Hey you know it's not too bad. Nice bit of guitar too, not quite a solo but hey, in a boyband album I'll take what I can get! The boys are then back to help writing the next two tracks, the first being “Everything about you”, a boppy dancer which is probably my least favourite on the album, pretty generic and could be any boyband really.

Much better is “Same mistakes”, with a sort of quiet marching beat that somehow puts me in mind of ABBA's “Super trouper” (don't ask me why) but has a really catchy melody and comes over as a sort of half-ballad, with some nice guitar and keys. “Save you tonight” is boppy, catchy, okay but nothing special stands out about it, and the album then closes on “Stole my heart”, which I have to admit I expected to be a slow ballad but it's more in trance territory than anything else, and yes, I hate it. Terrible way to end the album, in my opinion.

TRACKLISTING

1. What makes you beautiful
2. Gotta be you
3. One thing
4. More than this
5. Up all night
6. I wish
7. Tell me a lie
8. Taken
9. I want
10. Everything about you
11. Same mistakes
12. Save you tonight
13. Stole my heart

And that's One Direction. I'll admit, their music has a little more heart than most of the boybands I've listened to over the course of this series, and they bring the guitar a little more into the music, but you're never going to make me a fan. If that's how the new boybands are going then good luck to them I guess, but it really is generally a case of more of the same. Which seems to be what the record-buying public, at least the younger ones, want, something Cowell, Walsh and their ilk know all too well, and have grown fat on the proceeds of that knowledge.



With a grateful sigh, I push the OFF switch on my laptop and as the smiling faces of One Direction disappear on the screen, the sounds of close-harmony singing and chirping voices, stabby keyboards and handclaps are ringing in my ears. It's been a long journey, I reflect as I pack up my gear and head back to the hotel, where I'll check out tomorrow and begin the voyage home. It was almost a year ago now that I first set off on my journey into the shadowy and sugary world of boybands, not knowing what to expect. Well, untrue: I had a pretty good idea what to expect, but up to then I couldn't lay claim (or admit) to having listened to one boyband album all the way through, and the only songs I knew were either from the charts or via the X Factor, American Idol or such shows as I may have been forced to endure.

Now, I realise I have a better understanding of what it is that makes a boyband, what drives them, what keeps them alive and how rigidly controlled, in the main, they are. A boyband is not like a “real” band, where they might decide to go in a totally different direction, try something new. In a real band, there's not really anyone other than the bandmembers that can gainsay that idea, even if it doesn't work out and the albums don't sell. But in a boyband they're pretty much told what to sing, what to write, what to promote, and are rarely if ever allowed to deviate from that pattern. This makes of course for a very sterile, samey and safe music form. Which is just how the parents, the producers and I guess the fans like it.

Do the bands like it? Who knows? Would Kian Egan have preferred to do a cover of “All along the watchtower”? Would Justin Timberlake have been tempted to try his hand at reggae, or Ronan Keating stick his toe in the murky waters of heavy metal? Perhaps, but the chances their “mentor” would allow such a thing are virtually nil. Nothing must derail the boyband machine, and nothing must come between the profit margins. It's all about money, and image, and style, with music a pretty distant fourth or fifth, as I can attest to from having listened to the music of Nysync, Backstreet Boys, Westlife and Boyzone, among others.

But all that aside, have I actually learned anything in my travels through Boybandland? Well, there was a time when I would hear a song I liked, but realising it was a boyband singing I would pretend --- even to myself --- I didn't like it. The genre or the band was dictating what I liked or didn't like, instead of the music itself. Such stupid prejudices are now a thing of the past for me, and if I like a song now, whatever the genre, I'll listen to it. Indeed, as a result of this journey there will be a few Westlife or Take That songs that will be making their way onto one or more of my playlists. I won't be joining their fanclub any time soon, but I have gained a slighly better appreciation for some of the music purveyed by these bands, and maybe I won't be so quick to jeer and criticise. Maybe.

The music, in general though, is not to my taste, nor will it ever be. I prefer my music to say something, to have a message I can understand, other than “Hey girl”, or “Dance with me”. I like serious music that speaks to me, and yes I can like pop music too, but it's not something I tend to listen to of choice. There is of course room for all opinions, as there should be, and for all types of music, no matter whether you like it or not. There are so many genres I don't enjoy, or just don't have the time for, but I would never call them terrible just because I don't like them. That's what starting this section was all about: meeting the music I don't like head on, diving into it and learning about it, and seeing if I could after all get something from it, something I never understood or realised about it before. Above all, the idea was to gain enough information on and experience with the genre that I would either realise I liked it or could tolerate it at least, or would have enough “verbal ammunition” to hold my own in a debate on the genre. I would, in short, know what I was talking about.

And I think that's worked here. I now know a lot more about boyband music than I ever did, or perhaps ever wanted to, but I have a new appreciation for it even if I don't like it. I've given it a fair chance, have explored and listened to some of the bigger names in its field, and formed an opinion that is no longer just based on ignorance and prejudice, and rejecting a whole genre out of hand, but is now founded on solid information and experience.

So, what have I learned? Well, these, to me, appear to be the important “Dos” and “Don'ts” if you want to be in a successful boyband:

DO be attractive, pretty, handsome, boyish. It doesn't matter how talented you may be, if you're ugly you will be OUT at the first opportunity.

DO be single. To quote the manager of the B Sharps, “Girls are going to want to sleep with you, and we want them to think they can!”

DON'T worry if you can't play an instrument: this will NOT be required, may even be frowned upon.

DO endorse everything you can. Your time in the spotlight is likely to be short, even less so than a professional footballer's, so amass as much of a fortune as you can, and try to have a cartoon TV series made about you, so you can keep earning even after you stop singing and touring.

DON'T expect to write your own material. A slew of songwriters will be drafted in to write the hits you will sing.

DON'T worry if you can't sing, but are at least good to look at. You may be able to hide at the back and just mime.

DON'T make the mistake of thinking you're a serious musician. You're not: you're a singer in a boyband, a corporate tool of the label and/or your producer.

Tomorrow, my ship leaves here to begin the long voyage back to civilisation, and I won't be sorry to be leaving. It's been a gruelling year, but I think a necessary and in ways rewarding one. I've learned a lot, had my eyes opened in many ways, and can now count myself something of a minor authority on boybands. Also, it should not ever be necessary for me to have to do this again!

With that thought in mind, I bid you farewell from the shores of Boybandland. Where will my travels take me next? Even I don't know that yet, but it can't be anywhere as scary as the trip I have just completed.

Now, who's for some death metal?

Here endeth the lesson. Go forth, ye who can sing (and ye who cannot) and Audition, for Great Things can happen, and Fame can be yours. All you must do is Impress the Judges...
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Old 09-29-2012, 12:41 PM   #1527 (permalink)
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Yes, after all that boyband nonsense I'm just about in the mood for some skullcrushing, heartpounding, headshaking metal! So let's see what the old randomiser brings up for us on our old friend Encyclopaedia Mettalum, your one-stop source for the best in heavy metal, shall we? Er, guys? Sorry to bring it up at this time, but that last cheque, y'know, bounced? What? Well there are plenty more metal sites out there ... good enough, in the post Monday, yeah? That's what I like to hear.

Oh, sorry about that: little business misunderstanding to clear up. Now where was I? Oh yeah, the next random band for the Meat Grinder. Well, it hasn't gone that swimmingly, I must report. See, attempting something like this has its own attendant problems. If the band isn't that well known, I'm unlikely to have or be able to get any of their music. Now, some bands I could probably buy albums of, yes, but assuming it's a band I have a fairly good idea I'm not going to like, that's just not going to happen. I'm not going to spend money just to hear a band I will probably listen to once, and never again. So in general what I look for is downloads, torrents, YouTubes and the like. Often this can be a fruitless search, and if I can't find anything, or enough, on the band to review them, then I sadly have to move on. Case in point below. Well, two cases in point, as it happens.

First I got a band called Obskurum, from Chicago, who, true to their name, are damn obscure! So much so in fact that I could find nothing about them online to play: no downloads, no torrents, no albums to purchase, not even a bloody YouTube! Well, okay, one video, but it's only just over two minutes long, and you can't base a whole review around one track, now can you? They are also apparently broken up, but reformed as Bloodoath. Yeah. Nothing on them either. So reluctantly I “spun the wheel” again, this time coming up with Fighing Warriors, a power metal band from Italy. Ah, I thought! Much more like it!

Sadly, same thing. The genericity of their bandname led me to many fighting videos, not to mention one about Hammerfall, but nothing of theirs could be found online. So once again I was forced to spin. Third time lucky, eh?

Look, just what the hell is it with these black metal bands? First we had Sauron (what an ordeal that was!) then I could have been listening to Obskurum, who are/were another band in that vein, now I'm looking at a band whose name surely puts them in the category of symphonic power metal? Luciferi Excelsi. Sure. Sounds tuneful. Another black metal band (Venom, you have much to answer for!) and even described as “anti-Christian”! This'll be fun IF I can find anything about them. Yeah, they're also split up, and they come from Austria.

Okay, well, not much but enough to do some sort of a review. I've got about half an album on YouTube, so let's dive in --- oh wait, where's me goat's mask and that cup of virgin's blood I poured before “Ice Road Truckers”? Whaddya mean, she wasn't a virgin? You did? Oh. So I went to all that trouble for nothing... ah, who will know? Keep shtum, yeah?

Okay, I'm ready. Hail Santa! I mean, well, you know what I mean...

There's no getting away from the fact that these guys are, or were, black metal purveyors. I mean, with a name like that, what else could they be? You know of course what it means: even with my very limited knowledge of latin, that has to be “Praise Satan”, or Lucifer to be exact. Or maybe “glory to Lucifer”? Either way, it's a safe bet they're not going to mass, unless it's a black one! Whether they were truly into Satanism or not I don't know: they could be tongue-in-cheek like Venom, or just using it as a prop like Sabbath, and as it would appear they sang (if sang is the proper word, we'll see) in their native langauge and it's likely to sound gutteral, I don't expect to learn anything from the lyrics of their songs. I am intrigued though to note one of the Yts mentions a “piano instrumental” of one of their songs, which is something I'd equate about as much with black metal as harps or accordions, but we shall see, we shall see. Oh wait, that's from their other band. Oh well, no pianos for me, it would seem.


Band name: Luciferi Excelsi
Nationality: Austrian (Upper Austria)
Subgenre: Black metal (again!)
Born: 1999
Died: 2010
Status: Broken up but reformed mostly in another band as Integritlie
Albums: Heiliger krieg (2002)
Live albums: None
Collections/Anthologies/Boxsets: None
Lineup: Bertie (Real/full name unknown) (Guitar)
Tom ( Real/full name unknown) (Vocals, bass)F
Fuxi ( Real/full name unknown) Drums
Bernie W (Real/full name Bernhard Wiedlroither) (Guitars) F
Bernie M (Real/full name Bernhard Maurer) (Guitars)

(Note: Bernie M only played with the band from 2009 until their breakup in 2010, and although Bernie W was a founder member, it seems he left in 2001, returning in 2003, inexplicably therefore missing their one and only album, on which he was replaced by Bertie. He (Bernie M) then stayed on until 2010, sharing for one year, it would seem (2009-2010) the guitar duties with Bernie W. Clear?)

Well, they look a fine bunch of fellows, don't they? Any of them someone you'd be proud to see your daughter bring home. Perhaps with that in mind, it would seem obvious that the members of Luciferi Excelsi were never particularly big on sharing personal information, for the most part going by their first names.

Now, as we've noted above, it would seem that the last Bernie, he who appends “W” to his name, was only with them for the last two years of their existence, 2009-2010, so prior to that they had other members, and just to make things even more confusing, there was also a Berti, who played guitar on what seems to have been the most of their recordings, from 2001-2009 (presumably replaced by Bernie W). They seem to only have had the one album released prior to breaking up, that being 2002's “Heiliger krieg”, which is the one we'll be concentrating on, even though I could only find about half of it on the You of Tubes.

Most if not all of them appear to have gone on to form another band called Integritlie, which at the moment seems to be still going. I must say though, although I have little hard information about them, for a supposedly tough black metal satantic band, the pictures of each individual member don't give you that impression: in every shot they're smiling, and look, well, normal! Weird or what? So perhaps the black metal tag is undertaken without too much seriousness, though again as I say since their music is sung in Austrian (or German maybe) it seems unlikely we will ever know. Speaking of the music though, let's give it a listen.

Heiliger Krieg --- Luciferi Excelsi --- 2002 (Black Empire)

Right, well I'm going to take a stab at this (no pun intended!) --- most of us know “heil” is hail in German, so assume the same in Austrian (I'm guessing this is sung in Austrian, though I could be wrong: I know little enough of each language to recognise the nuances between them, if indeed there are any) and “krieg” is war, so “heiliger”? Hailing? Hailing war? Glorifying war? Something about praising war anyway.

This album is their only one, as it happens. There was another one due to be released but it never saw the light of day, then Luciferi Excelsi (gonna call them LE for handiness' sake) broke up, so this is the only recorded output from them, other than a demo. Like the previous Sauron album, this is only a short one, with eight tracks in total. I've been able to find five of these on YouTube, so although I won't be able to review the whole album, we'll be able to make a decent go of it.

It starts off with “Antropophagie”, and I have to admit I don't know if that's an English or German (or Austrian) word, but it's a slow skullcruncher, with yet again those horrible death vocals, though this time they're more a nasty scream, like someone with a sore throat cursing at you. Can't make out the lyric, so I'm not sure if it's in English, but I don't think so. Guitar-driven, and the guitar seems pretty good, thundering drums as Tom, the singer, goes a bit mad in the meantime. Sort of very heavy Sabbath or Venom sound to the music, such as it is. I actually think this could be relatively enjoyable without the screeching --- sorry, singing --- of Tom, but there it is. This goes on for over five minutes, so excuse me if I do other things while LE amuse themselves.

Oh well, here's a quite decent guitar solo in almost an Iron Maiden vein, and yeah, when Tom shuts his yap you can enjoy the music and appreciate it a bit more. It's neither Bernie though who plays the guitar here, but another person with no real name, simply known as Bertie. He can certainly play, and there's no Venom-like attempts at being able to hit notes and play chords that are beyond them. Heavy, but not overly so, and without the singing it's not too bad. Okay, next up is “Insanity of death”. Being an English title I have to assume the lyric is sung in English, but again Tom's vocals make this really hard to confirm. Starts off with a great hard guitar, some pretty frenetic drumming and then it takes off at lightspeed, slowing back down again to allow poor old Tom to come back in with a few screams, picking up speed again on the back of Bertie's powerful guitar and then falling back into a slow cruncher rhythm.

Finishes abruptly and leads into the title track, on which it's vaguely unsettling to hear the words “Heil! Heil! Heil!” being shouted, then a steamhammer drumbeat takes over, with doomy guitar and Tom's growling and screeching making it impossible to hear any lyrics, even if I could understand them, which I wouldn't be able to, as they're obviously in Austrian or German. Seems to have a lot of powerful energy though, I'll give it that, and there are certain Iommi influences in Bertie's guitar work, with a damn fine solo near the end. That takes us to “The last wolf”, which I assume is sung in English, though sorry to keep harping on it, but Tom's vocal makes it impossible to differentiate what language he's, er, singing in. Again, great guitar work though: it's a real pity these guys didn't hook up with someone who sung a little more, uh, coherently, as I think they could have been pretty good, but the death vocals make it almost impossible (for me anyway) to see anything in the band or enjoy the music much at all.

Sort of a boogie beat behind this one, you can actually sway and tap your feet to it to an extent! It's followed by “Gottes vergeltung”, but I couldn't find that anywhere so can't make any comment on it. The last track, in fact, that I have from them is “Gotterdammerung”, but I kind of doubt we're going to hear any Wagnerian opera here! I do shudder though, as it's the longest track on their album, clocking in just a few seconds short of eight minutes. Yeah, I said eight. Oh dear. Okay then, let's listen. It opens with a marching drumbeat and a rather interesting guitar line, but Tom is growling and spitting all over it so I've no idea what's going on.

About two minutes in, it goes into a sort of almost progressive melody against which Tom intones something, possibly telling a story, then it all fires back up again and takes off like a rocket. It goes along like that and then fades down to a single guitar line for the last minute, which is at least unexpected: oh wait, no it doesn't. Tom's not about to be left behind, and he and the drummer explode back into the song again for the last few seconds. Really, how he doesn't damage his throat is beyond me. Must keep a big pack of Strepsils in his pocket at all times.

There are two more tracks on the album, but I don't have any way of finding them, and to be honest, having heard what I have, I'm in no hurry to. I don't mean to insult those who enjoy this sort of metal --- nothing I say is likely to matter to you anyway --- but it's never going to be for me. The music I could get into, certainly, but those vocals just kill it for me, and not in an “X Factor” way either! I just hate vocals I can't understand, not due to language but delivery, and “death vocals” or “death grunts” or “unclean vocals”, or call them what you will, will never impress me and will always drive me away from any band who utilises them, no matter how great their music may be (Haggard come to mind).

TRACKLISTING

1. Antropophagie
2. Insanity of death
3. Heiliger krieg
4. The last wolf
5. Gottes vergeltung
6. Gotterdammerung
7. Pesthauch
8. Der erloser



So that's Luciferi Excelsi, the second random pick from the Meat Grinder. And it certainly has been a grind, so far. Hopefully next time around I'll get something a bit more, shall we say, palatable? Death and black metal are huge of course, and I could end up getting something similar, but then, that's the fun of the Meat Grinder! Fun?? Yeah, well, you only have yourself to blame. Bloody hell! After listening to that I'm almost ready to listen to another boyband album! Almost...
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Old 10-01-2012, 02:27 PM   #1528 (permalink)
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Trollheart, as much as you hate the bands that you are reviewing on The Meat Grinder, these have by far been my favorite reviews from you. As much as it pains you, keep it up, they are absolutely hilarious.
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Old 10-01-2012, 05:22 PM   #1529 (permalink)
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For a long time now I've been a fan of Nick Cave, and having watched the movie “The assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert Ford” --- good movie, by the way --- and listening to his haunting soundtrack to it, I naturally jumped on this the moment it was released. Now, reading a little more about the score to a movie I've not seen this time, I'm not quite regretting it, but what is coming across rather clearly from what I've read is that this is not likely to be the sort of bleak, droning, plaintive instrumental music I've come to expect from Australia's Duke of Darkness. In fact, it seems most if not all of it is other than instrumental, and Cave and Bad Seeds collaborator Warren Ellis have chosen a number of cover versions of songs which, though they don't necessarily come from the period in which the movie is set --- the thirties --- reflect for them a sense of that time.

And they've had a country bluegrass legend sing them. Or some of them. Or tried to get him to sing. Seems it wasn't such an easy thing, by all accounts. Nevertheless, as is kind of expected when you push play on a Cave recording, it's bound to be an adventure of discovery, shock, perhaps unease, but never boredom.

Lawless (Motion Picture Soundtrack) --- Nick Cave and Warren Ellis --- 2012 (Sony Masterworks)


Is it, I wonder, a mistake to try to review a score to a movie I've never seen, and know little if anything about? Is this a case of lack of research, preparation? Ah but then, when can you ever truly prepare yourself for a new outing from Nick Cave? No matter what you think you may be about to hear, he almost always turns the tables on you, like some dark magician playing macabre sleight of hand, and twisting your head around before you even notice your neck is broken. So really, will it really matter that I know nothing about this movie beyond its strapline and a very vague and general description?

Well it certainly opens on a bluegrass song, with banjo and fiddle taking in “Fire and brimstone”, Link Wray's song featuring the Screaming Trees' Mark Lanegan on vocals. Cave, it appears, does not sing on some of the tracks here, as according to himself, “the last thing I wanted was to listen to my ****ing voice the whole time we were working on it!” It's an edgy, uptempo track to kick off, with a great sense of foreboding and doom, and not a million miles removed from the sort of thing you might expect Cave to record himself. Still well in Cave territory while gingerly stepping over to Waits country, “Burnin' hell” is a powerful jamboree with tons of energy, a little confused at times but great fun, with Cave at his most manic and clearly enjoying himself.

In a total change then, both of tempo and style, “Sure 'nuff yes I do” is given an acapella treatment by bluegrass star Ralph Stanley, though whether Captain Beefheart would have approved I can't say. It's a welcome respite from the mania of the first two tracks and slows things down nicely. The beautiful voice of Emmylou Harris is very welcome in the (not surprisingly) country flavoured “Fire in the blood”, but sadly it's only just over a minute long, then the next classic to get the Cave treatment is Velvet Underground's “White light/white heat”, with more fiddles and thumping drums, and Lanegan reprising his vocal role, then Emmylou is back for “Cosmonaut”, and this time we get the pleasure of her company for a much more reasonable time, as the song lasts almost four minutes. Driven on a banjo/mandolin melody, it's uptempo but kind of mid-paced too, and Emmylou certainly makes the song. I tell ya, for someone sixty-five years old this year, she's still got the pipes! Lovely mandolin solo too, would assume maybe from Warren Ellis, then we're into a kind of reprise of “Fire in the blood”, with this time Townes Van Zandt's “Snake Song” added in.

This features all four of the main singers, minus Lanegan, starting off in acapella style with Stanley, slow quiet organ coming up slowly behind him as he sings, then acoustic guitar as Emmylou comes in, later some lovely electric guitar from Nick and those powerful organ chords from Warren Ellis, and with some beautiful evocative piano typical of Cave songs, “So you'll aim towards the sky” is a gorgeous little ballad, a cover of the Grandaddy song, featuring more of Emmylou's undeniable prowess and charisma, with a real saloon feel to it, almost as if she were singing on stage in some disreputable drinkin' hole in the old west. There's a really bleak feel to it too, almost a feeling of being lost and in despair, and Emmylou's pained, forlorn vocal really underlines this.

In many ways, sadly, that's it. The album is then mostly filled up by unused takes, mainly versions of the songs on which Ralph Stanley refused to, or could not, sing, and they're covered by the other vocalists. It's interesting, a way of not wasting those takes, but given the fact that up to now there have only been eight tracks, (admittedly great ones), and the album contains fourteen ... well, I just feel a little shortchanged somehow. Which is not to say that Emmylou's almost acapella version of “Fire in the sky” is not brilliant and moving, but really, at only just over a minute, did we need a third version? It is interesting though to hear Stanley actually sing over music once, and his version of the opener, “Fire and brimstone”, is certainly a lot more laidback and laconic than the version that began the album. I think I prefer the first one though.

Mark Lanegan's version of “Sure 'nuff yes I do” is probably closer to Beefheart's original than the one attempted by Stanley, certainly has a lot more energy and enthusiasm and is, well, more fun, with Ellis's fiddle back on top form, then Mister Bluegrass is back to do an acoustic version of the Velvet song again, which I personally think adds nothing to it, but there's one more original song to go before we close, with keening violin from Warren Ellis and atmospheric keys, and “End crawl” is a gentle, somewhat ambient instrumental that would I think have closed this album quite well, but it's followed by a Willie Nelson song, “Midnight run”, with the man himself on vocals.

Having not seen the movie, I have to say that although this album is not bad, it would not convince me to go see “Lawless”. As a soundtrack it's certainly interesting, though generally speaking not really in the sort of arena I usually tend to frequent. As a Cave-driven project it's different and surprising, as I guess I should really expect, but quite removed from the sort of thing I'm used to hearing from him. It wouldn't be anywhere close to a favourite album of mine, and whether or not I'll even listen to it again is in doubt, but you have to give Cave and Ellis marks both for originality and for pinning down music that really does evoke the Prohibition era of America.

TRACKLISTING

1. Fire and brimstone
2. Burnin' Hell
3. Fire in the blood
4. White light/white heat
5. Sure 'nuff yes I do
6. Cosmonaut
7. Fire in the blood/Snake song
8. So you'll aim towards the sky
9. Fire in the blood
10. Fire and brimstone
11. Sure 'nuff yes I do
12. White light/white heat
13. End crawl
14. Midnight run
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Old 10-03-2012, 03:27 PM   #1530 (permalink)
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Although a member of one of the most successful and influential progressive rock bands of the last century, Tony Banks is something of a quiet enigma, certainly compared to his bandmates. Phil Collins, we know, had a very high-profile solo career, and for a while Peter Gabriel was in the charts and doing well. Even now, he's highly regarded and respected as a musician. Mike Rutherford, too, made a name for himself outside of Genesis with his solo project, Mike and the Mechanics. But Tony? Despite being an accomplished keyboard maestro, an excellent songwriter and not a bad singer either, and having been in Genesis from the very beginning, he's the one about whom you tend to hear very little, whether inside of or outside of the band. Of course, Genesis are no longer together, but even when they were, Tony would always shy from the spotlight, preferring to noodle away in relative obscurity, unleashing amazing keyboard solos like the one in “One for the vine”, the heavy organ sound that underpins “The knife”, and even in more recent times, the thematic “Duke's travels”, but still little is generally known about his solo work.

Unlike some of his contemporaries in Genesis, including ex-bandmember Anthony Phillips, whose latest solo/collaborative album we featured recently, Tony has not put out a slew of albums. In fact, between 1979 and this year he's only had eight in total, and two of them were soundtracks to movies. Two were also released under projects, 1989's “Bankstatement” and 1995's “Strictly Inc.”, leaving him with basically five actual solo albums, two of which are suites for orchestra, the latest released this year.

A curious feeling --- Tony Banks --- 1979 (Charisma)


But though I've not heard everything he's written or played solo, and though “Bankstatement” was, for me, very hit and miss, with some great tracks and some real letdowns, his debut album, “A curious feeling”, hit all the right spots. Released without fanfare, without a picture of him on the sleeve, and with little or no media attention, it nevertheless quietly climbed into the top twenty album charts and remained there for over a month. It's a concept album, apparently (though I never knew it) based on the novel “Flowers for Algernon”, which I've never read and so can't confirm or deny it follows the storyline. What it does have, however, is no bad tracks and some really stunning ones. At a time when Mike Rutherford had yet to release any solo material, nor indeed Phil Collins, and while Peter Gabriel was just getting to grips with his second solo album, with Genesis about to hit the big time again with “Duke” the following year, “A curious feeling” is a gem of an album, showing effortless, natural talent without any big hubbub or ego.

But then, that's Anthony George “Tony” Banks for you.

It opens with a piano instrumental, as perhaps you might expect, but if you think this is going to be largely an album of piano and keyboard instrumentals and themes, you're off centre there. Originally intended to be the intro to Genesis's “Undertow” from the “And then there were three” album, it's a powerful yet laidback tune with synths backing up the piano, really to be honest sounding more like something off “Duke” to me, especially “Heathaze”. It only lasts two and three quarter minutes, but serves as a delicious little entree to this feast of an album, followed by “Lucky me”, an uptempo pop-sounding song which really looks forward, if unintentionally, to Genesis's later material on “Invisible touch”, and the first vocal track with the late Kim Beacon taking the mike, as he does for the entire album, Tony content to hide behind the keyboard, where he's always been most comfortable.

“Lucky me” displays many Genesis moments, but this will not be typical of the album, as it strikes out on its own, heading it its own direction. The voice of String Driven Thing's Beacon fits the material like a glove, and his vocal is clear, strong and passionate without ever taking over from the music, which is the lynchpin around which the album turns. Toiling quietly in the background, Tony paints a lavish soundscape with his keyboards, also taking guitar and bass duties, and some percussion, though most of this is delegated to Genesis on-the-road drummer Chester Thompson. “The lie” is a very Duke-sounding piece, uptempo and boppy with a great piano melody racing it along, heavy synths keeping the background as the guitars chop it up and snarl away in quite a rocky tune. It falls into a sort of slow semi-reggae beat halfway in, with choral voices coming in to join the melody, and Kim sounding almost Colin Blunstone. Then Tony takes us back to 1974 with a keyboard line right out of “The Lamb”, before it all ramps back up again to head towards its boppy end. Not, I have to admit, one of my favourite tracks on the album, but then, that only shows how good the ones I rate are!

“After the lie” is a much slower, moodier piece, with Beacon's voice low and almost echoing, Banks' piano taking centre stage, then supplemented by Alan Parsons-style marching keyboards and drums, as the vocal gets stronger and more insistent. There are some lovely little Banks moments in this song: piano runs, keyboard arpeggios, little glissandos, lovely stuff. A deep, humming choral synth keeps pace as the song heads into its third minute, then some spacey synth and light piano as everything slows down even further in almost Vangelis style, Beacon's vocal coming back in as the tempo begins to increase with the song moving into its denouement with some superb trumpeting keys from Tony taking the tune home in an almost brassy way.

The title track comes in on a shout and a big, happy keyboard sound, and is an uptempo, poppy song which could have made quite a decent single, had it been released. Beacon is on fine form here, singing his heart out, with Tony trying out all sorts of little tricks on the synth and making it sound like a whole band. It's a very uplifting song, and it leads into only the second instrumental on the album, but one of my favourite tracks. “Forever morning” kind of revisits the theme of “From the undertow”, with a heavy piano opening, then sliding into soft synth and arpeggiated keys, with a nice midsection where it goes all pastoral for a minute or two, nice soft piano passage with attendant bright keyboards, then a big finish as it crescendoes up to the climax of the piece, first running off a sort of false ending before coming back with the triumphant finish.

Opening as a much slower, moodier song, “You” begins on jangly, expressive guitar with minimal synth backing and some nice vocal harmonies, percussion coming in almost unnoticed around the second minute before it kicks into life as it moves into the third, with a big crazy keyboard run again harking back to the best of “The Lamb”, flowing arpeggios and smooth synth runs everywhere as Banks takes over the melody, then it slows down in very Genesis fashion with a sonorous, deep booming choral synth, taking off again with trumpeting keyboard flourishes before it all fades down on light synth and piano to the end.

One of my very favorites, in fact I think I would put it as the standout, is up next, and “Somebody else's dream” comes in on a thumping, rolling drumbeat and squealy synth before a nice little piano line breaks in, and Beacon's vocal can be described as one of the very best on this album. It's a sombre, moody, tense piece with a lot of drama and urgency about it, with the intensity building as the song goes on, dropping back in the middle as the melody takes a little breather, a nice gentle piano line soon giving way to more urgent and heavy synthwork, and Beacon comes back for his final vocal lines in the song. The longest on the album at just under eight minutes, the last two minutes are totally instrumental as Banks really lets himself go on the keys in an almost operatic display of energy and drama.

A nice relaxing instrumental then, just the ticket after all that high-powered, intense playing, and a real respite in a lush little interlude; well, not really as it's over six minutes long, but it does bridge the gap between the energetic and dramatic “Somebody else's dream” and the final two tracks, and is the final instrumental on the album. Some rather nice soft guitar on it too, though it's soon supplanted by deep organ and warbly keys, with the piano coming back in to calm things down. Lovely little flutey sounds on the keys add to the sense of tranquility on the piece, but like a storm bubbling under, just held in check, the heavier keyboards and throaty synths are just waiting to be unleashed again, so that the track rises and falls like the tide, with crests and troughs, and is a thoroughly enjoyable ride, and a real testament to the undoubted and yet almost taken for granted prowess of Genesis's quiet keysman.

A mid-tempo ballad helps to close off and bookend the album, as “For a while” breezes along nicely with some bright guitar and some carefree keys, and another fine vocal performance from Kim Beacon, though by comparison it's a short song, just over three minutes, then the coda, or epilogue is a dark but moving little piano piece called “In the dark”, with some effective flute and whistle sounds on the keys, but otherwise just the piano and Beacon's vocal, with some soft synth joining in with a sort of half-reprise of the theme from “Forever morning”. A nice gentle and yet appropriate way to finish the album.

It's a pity this isn't better known; despite spending time in the top twenty I doubt many non-Genesis fans could point to it as a solo Genesis album, and yet although it was his debut it comes across to me as completely accomplished and professional, balanced and thoughtful, definitely more a project created by someone who loves music than a crass attempt to cash in on the Genesis name, or make a big splash in the charts. Not saying Gabriel or Collins had that in mind either --- well, probably Collins --- but it's nice to see that this album, rather like Mike Rutherford's later efforts before forming his band, concentrates more on making the sort of music the artist prefers than what will sell.

An undiscovered gem, without doubt. Go unearth it now.

TRACKLISTING

1. From the undertow
2. Lucky me
3. The lie
4. After the lie
5. A curious feeling
6. Forever morning
7. You
8. Somebody else's dream
9. The waters of Lethe
10. For a while
11. In the dark
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