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Old 12-30-2014, 05:15 AM   #2641 (permalink)
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Okay then, Christmas is almost over so time to wrap up this carnival of the crazy. Here are the last batch.

Keepin' it hip-hop-ish, for now, here's MC Lars...

Gary the green-nosed reindeer (Mc Lars) from the album “A Santa Cause II”, 2006

I believe I looked at, or at least mentioned, “A Santa Cause”, the charity album compiled by mostly punk acts to benefit the Elizabeth Glaser Foundation, prevously, but this is from the second volume, released three years after that. On it we find Briks's friend, MC Lars, singing about Rudolph's half-brother who decides to kidnap his famous brother. We also get Osama bin Laden ... look, just listen to it, ok?

And now for some punk rock, why not?

“My first Xmas (as a woman)” (The Vandals) from the album “Oi! To the world: Christmas with The Vandals”, 1996

Pretty hilarious all right: “No more tucking it behind now that I've got my new vagina.”

Coincidence that this is from the same year? Maybe. I guess. After all, two different people suggested the two songs on two different days. Anyway I suppose it was always in the stars that this guy would feature in any collection of weird Christmas songs. It's in his name, after all. Weird I mean...

“The night Santa went crazy” (Weird Al Yankovish) from the album “Bad hair day”, 1996

Yeah it's funny, but I think the Weird One has just run out of steam by now. It's almost expected. Yawn.

Bit of a damp squib ending, but then, weird is as weird does (stop me if I'm being too technical...)
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Old 12-30-2014, 08:51 AM   #2642 (permalink)
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I thought this was a well thought out review. A lot of your points are things I have come to notice as well from listening to the album a few times more. I noticed a lot of what you mentioned upon my first time checking out the album. There's a good number of good, fresh ideas that this band tries out, sometimes pull off, but you do get a sense that the band maybe isn't sure what they want to be, but I think maybe this is somewhat deliberate, almost like it's the whole point, to not be one specific genre of music, but rather be a lot of them all in one.

I still regard it as one of my top ten albums of the year, and maybe I'd rate it lower now. But I agree this isn't a bad album, it's good in my own opinion and I can still listen to it plenty. But it does have its problems and hopefully on their next album, it won't sound as confused or lost, be much more focused. All that in mind. I do still think that Nothing More is one of the better bands to come around in the past five or more years. A fresher breath, but still needs some fine tuning.

Nice review Trollheart!
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Old 12-30-2014, 10:55 PM   #2643 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by Trollheart View Post
I'm not saying my mind is made up or anything, or that I'm already biased against them, but in a subconscious fashion I'm telling them they had better live up to the hype I've heard about them, because they have performed the equivalent of my cat pushing in my door and waking me at 4am from a lovely dream, and I am less than well-disposed towards them.
Thanks Troll. I needed that.


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on the surface of a gas covered planet going around a nuclear fireball 90 million miles away
and think this to be normal is obviously some indication of how skewed our perspective tends to be.”
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Old 12-31-2014, 06:29 AM   #2644 (permalink)
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Whenever I think of Christmas with Trollheart, I think Val Doonican.
Originally Posted by eraser.time206 View Post
If you can't deal with the fact that there are 6+ billion people in the world and none of them think exactly the same that's not my problem. Just deal with it yourself or make actual conversation. This isn't a court and I'm not some poet or prophet that needs everything I say to be analytically critiqued.
Metal Wars

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Old 12-31-2014, 09:55 AM   #2645 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by Unknown Soldier View Post
Whenever I think of Christmas with Trollheart, I think Val Doonican.
Why do you think I use this?
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Old 12-31-2014, 12:28 PM   #2646 (permalink)
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And so we've come to the end of yet another year, and it's with some surprise I anticipate heading into my fifth year writing this journal. Odd in itself when you consider I only joined Music Banter originally to do something which, unbeknownst to me at the time, contravened the rules: solicit views for a webpage I had made. However, once I saw the Members Journals section I was instantly attracted and interested, and though my first sojourn here ended less than amicably, I got over that and returned for another shot in 2011. Since then, apart from my absence this year, I've really never been away from the place.

It's always amazed me how popular my journals have become, to judge from views and comments. It's been great being able to share my ideas, thoughts, impressions and feelings with you all, and I hope to continue to do this for a long time yet. As each year passes, I try to expand on and make more individual my presence here, whether that means new sections to existing journals, taking the ones I have in new directions or indeed creating completely new journals, and it's been extremely gratifying to see others here do the same. When I joined, the Members Journals section was pretty dead. A few people had journals --- some very good ones --- but generally it was something of a backwater, unused by a very large percentage of the membership. Since then though, particularly since I began the Update thread, more and more people have discovered a need to share their love of music, or comic books, or movies, or whatever the hell they like, and the section is really buzzing now.

That's the great thing: from being a section which featured most people just writing about music it has expanded to include so many diverse and interesting journals, from Mondo's one on drugs to The Batlord's epic saga and from arguments about Star Trek and Doctor Who to members showcasing their own music. Now it truly is all-inclusive, and there is literally no limit to what people can, and do, write about. Some will tell you this is mostly down to me, but that's really doing an injustice to those who put the hard slog in here every week to bring you their journals. Sure, I may have kicked the place up the arse a little, fanned the flames and got people interested, but all of that would have been for nothing if authors had not written, if ideas had not coalesced into journals and those journals been maintained and enlarged, until we have the thriving sub-community we have today.

So thank you all, for your hard work and for following me (those of you who were not already writing before I showed up: let's not get the idea I invented this section or anything!) into this bright and interesting land where one man or woman's favourite album is another's most hated, and where something one person thinks of as a cult film can be a real snooze-fest to another, where lively debate often breaks out but where, mostly, we're talking about people writing in the solitude of their homes, apartments, offices, small holes in the ground or up trees, putting down their thoughts for the enjoyment, perusal, entertainment and perhaps criticism of others. They can call me the Godfather of Journals all they like (as long as I pay them) but you guys and girls are the true lifeblood of the Members Journal Section, a little place we like to think of as Journaltown. So thanks for that, and long may it continue.

As for me, well this year I've made something less of a splash than I had intended, what with my three-month break and then Metal Month II; a lot of things I had intended to premier this year have had to be held back, and hopefully will come to fruition in the coming year. But it has been the year of the establishment of an annual month here devoted to metal, and believe me, if you thought Metal Month II was good, well, just hold on to your hats is all I can say! There's so much planned for 2015, some of which may actually happen, that it looks like being yet another busy year for Trollheart, which is just how I like it.

With the start of my journey through “1001 albums you must hear before you die”, the soon-to-be-initiated “Trollheart Rates Your Music”, the conclusion (finally) of my NWOBHM special, complete discographies of Tom Waits, Marillion and Genesis (shut up Frownland, you too Batty!) , to say nothing of the preparations for Metal Month III and new sections like “Kingmaker” and “Roses among the thorns”, the return of old sections and the expansion of others, there should hopefully be something for everyone here at the Playlist of Life.

And if not, well I have six other journals you can read!

So finally let me just say, thanks again for all the views as we approach the magical two hundred thousand mark; thanks for reading, for commenting, for disagreeing with me if you felt you had to and for mocking me when you felt you wanted to. Whether you're a regular reader or just drop by the odd time, I hope you continue to find something of interest here, and keep coming back.

A very Happy New Year to you all, and I'll see you on the other side!
Blian Nua mhath agaibh, agus beannacht!
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Old 12-31-2014, 01:39 PM   #2647 (permalink)
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Looking forward to see what you do in your journal next year, happy new years man!
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Old 01-03-2015, 07:52 PM   #2648 (permalink)
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Welcome to 2015, and Happy New Year. We've lots of great things planned for this year, some of which will take place in this very journal, though admittedly a lot of them outside it. I hope to prevent these new journals and other developments from taking away from my work here, but it may get just a little less busy around here, due to the volume of work I have set myself. Be that as it may, welcome back and as I mentioned at the end of last year, as well as some new series starting up I will be reviving and even expanding some old ones, one of which I intend to start off with here.

I've always been a big fan of The Alan Parsons Project, ever since I heard “Eye in the sky” and “Old and wise”, and in general their albums have never disappointed. However, Eric Woolfson was a big part of the APP and with his split with Parsons in 1990, “Gaudi” proved to be the final album from the Project as Alan went it alone. Eric's passing in 2005 meant there would never be a reconciliation or any more albums featuring the co-founder of the band, and though Alan's first and second albums were what I would call triumphs, this, his third, leaves much to be desired.

The time machine --- Alan Parsons --- 1999 (Miramar)

Perhaps significant that this album marked the coming to an end of a decade and a millennium, and taken as a body of work, the thirteenth Parsons album, this for me heralds his lowest point. Up to then, the only album I could point to and say I really didn't like was 1977's “I robot”, and even that has more decent tracks than bad. This, however, has maybe two. It's a total departure in direction musically, with a lot more electronic/trancey elements in the overall progressive rock we have been used to down the years --- and which continued through his first two solo albums, “Try anything once” and “On air” --- and though it maintains the by-now signature instrumentals and the various vocalists, there's something ... not quite right about it. It's almost like Parsons is not really listening to what's being played, not really that bothered, distracted. If I didn't know it wasn't the case, I would have said it was a “contractual obligations” album, one that he didn't really want to make, but the roots of this concept apparently go back to 1977, when he and Woolfson considered the theme of time travel for “I robot”, discarding it in the end.

So it's twenty-two years later, and with Woolfson (at the time) out of the way and doing his own solo thing, you would have thought this was Parsons's chance to really go for it, and create the album he had wanted to, back then at the tail-end of the seventies when they were just getting up a head of steam and getting noticed, and perhaps could not afford to take such risks. But what do we get? A triumphant vindication of the original idea? Some superb songs, some okay ones, a suite or concerto as Parsons gleefully validates his vision?

Um, no. We get a very weak album with almost half of it instrumentals, some guest singers like Beverley Craven, Maire Brennan and Tony Hadley of all people, and nothing of the flair and panache of the last two albums, or indeed any of the previous ones under the name of the Project. I can pick out one favourite, which almost saves the album for me, as the ever-reliable Colin Blunstone lulls us in “Ignorance is bliss”
Spoiler for Ignorance is bliss:

and then Maire Brennan does a lovely turn on “Call of the wild”, which oddly enough sounds like Mike Oldfield interpreting “She moves through the fair”
Spoiler for Call of the wild:

and really, the other ballad is the only other decent track, featuring Beverley Craven on “The very last time”, but the problem is it sounds so much more like one of her own songs than one of Alan's.
Spoiler for The very last time:

Even the usually dependable instrumentals are not up to much, like “Rubber universe”
Spoiler for Rubber universe:

“Far ago and long away”
Spoiler for Far ago and long away:

or the title track, which opens the album
Spoiler for The time machine part 1:

and the less said about “Call up”
Spoiler for Call up:

and “Press rewind”
Spoiler for Press rewind:

the better.
Tony Hadley tries to restore some class to the album with “Out of the blue”
Spoiler for Out of the blue:

but it just isn't happening. This is dead in the water, and I was hugely disappointed with it when I first heard it. That was the first time I could ever, or had ever to say that about an Alan Parsons album. I had worried, when he went solo, if he would be up to it, but basically all he did was drop the name and keep the band, minus of course Eric Woolfson, and I loved both his first two albums. After this, he has only released one other, 2004's “A valid path”, but this has scarred me so with his music that I'm not sure I'm ready to be hurt again, to trust again and take the chance that this was just a temporary blip.

I'm not coming out of the shelter just yet. Not till I know it's safe...
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Old 01-09-2015, 04:39 AM   #2649 (permalink)
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Note: In compiling this index it has come to my attention that I already reviewed this album, and indeed for the same slot! But both are done now so take your pick. It is interesting to see how I approached each review differently... What? It is...

The development of bands has constantly amazed me. How one can start as one thing and metamorphose over time into something totally different, for good or ill. This makes it all the more important to go back and check out these bands' often-struggling and stumbling first efforts, to see how they began and if they maintained that same music style throughout their career, or if they changed radically into another animal altogether. And so we set sail for the first time in a long while (well, since Metal Month II anyway, but a long time before that) on another of our

If you mention the word Supertramp to most people they'll think of “Breakfast in America”, “Take the long way home”, "The Logical Song" or “Dreamer”, or perhaps, if they're a little younger, “It's raining again.” All good decent hits from a band who straddled the often precarious divide between progressive rock/pop and outright commercial AOR/MOR from the seventies to the eighties with a great deal of success. Their albums sold well, some of them going gold or platinum, and when founder member Roger Hodgson jumped ship in 1982 to pursue a solo career, the direction shifted and Supertramp became less of a “happy” band and more a “serious” one, leading to a period that has not, to be fair, been characterised with their best work.

Supertramp --- Supertramp --- 1970 (A&M)

But if you think albums like “Brother where you bound”, “Free as a bird” and “Slow motion” depart pretty radically from the established Supertramp sound, look how they began. Back in 1970 the band were just getting started, and their lineup had not by any means solidified. They were so nervous that superstition ruled the recording of their debut album, the boys believing that there was some secret knowledge of music to be gained by recording in the small hours, and with both Hodgson and Rick Davies, who were later to become the driving force and creative partnership behind the band's rise to fame, both reluctant to write lyrics, leaving it to Richard Palmer. Palmer apparently hated doing this, which is odd when you consider he later found fame with King Crimson and wrote the lyrics for three of their albums, but at the time he seems to have given the impression of having been pushed into it, or doing it because nobody else wanted to or could.

I'd love to say that the album really reflects this, in bland, emotionless songs that give every indication of having been written under duress and protest, but nothing could be further from the truth. Palmer must indeed be a very good songwriter, because even though he didn't want to, he wrote some pretty stunning songs. Yes, the album suffers from a lack of direction and an almost blind wandering around as Supertramp search for their own musical voice, but though this album has been largely forgotten in the wake of titanic successes like “Breakfast in America” and “Crime of the century”, there are some absolute lost gems on it. That's not to say every song is good, and some of them are just downright woeful, but in general the good seem to outweigh the bad.

The album is I think unique in that not only does it open and close with the same song, but though one is merely a snippet of the other, neither are labelled anything like “intro”, “reprise” or even “Part 1”. Both are simply titled “Surely”, and this is how the album introduces Supertramp to a world who, on balance and for another four years, would not care. But it's a delicate and touching opening, as Roger sings the closing lines of the song with nothing more than acoustic guitar and piano, and the whole thing lasts just over thirty seconds before we head into “It's a long road”, which has more of a Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac feel about it, with trumpeting organ from Davies and a steady guitar riff running through it. There's an extended boogie riff which really showcases Hodgson's skill on the bass as well as the drumming talents of Robert Millar, who would not last beyond this album. It also shows the deftness with which Rick Davies handles the keyboard, switching from piano to organ and then electric piano and back.

It's a nice uptempo number and gets things going nicely, then everything slows down at the end with a sort of bluesy riff almost reminiscent of later “School”, with some fine harmonica --- which would become a staple of their music --- from Davies. The whole thing then draws to a close on a rising organ line and then stops abruptly, which does not prepare us for the laidback lushness of “Aubade/ And I am not like other birds of prey”, with its soft harmonica and keyboard opening, almost ethereal, before it's joined by a jaunty, folky acoustic guitar with whooshing drums and a low-key vocal from Hodgson. This reminds me of early Genesis, though they would only have been getting going at this time also. There's touches of early Neil Young in the guitar too, though this then changes into a slower, almost Floydian style as Hodgson's voice gets more earnest and stronger. This is a song I often forget about when playing this album, and it really does deserve some attention.

A nice restrained line in flute comes in, and Hodgson's voice almost sounds like it's echoing, as the flute makes a sort of bird-call, the guitar keeping up its happy tone until percussion hits in powerfully for the bridge, but it ends also quite abruptly. It leads into one of those standouts I spoke of, carried in on a single organ line while Hodgson's vocal is at first very low and distant as “Words unspoken” begins. A lovely guitar passage then slides in before with the cutting in of the drums the vocal coalesces and becomes stronger. The lyric is very poetic and quite hippyish I guess --- ”How all good men try/ Look around and wonder why/ Can they shape this world to please me?” --- but the song really comes into its own on Hodgson's mellifluous and soaring vocal on the chorus. It's all again very low-key and restrained, almost completely acoustic, and very gentle. I do find myself wondering however if Richard Palmer, chafing under the pressure of being the only lyricist, is sending his bandmates a bitter message when he writes ”Follow, and while you watch in wonder/ I'll pull my world asunder/ And show you who I am.”

Although there are uptempo songs here, the one thing that cannot be denied about this debut is that it is very introspective, very brooding, a sense of hopelessness and despair running through it, which I must admit does not say much of a band's aspirations. Just listen to some of the lyrical content: ”Sweet things come and go/ Give me shame I'll give you woe/ To live for love isn't easy” (“Words Unspoken”), ”Oh, a life alone without a home/ Makes a man ask why he travels on/ When hope is gone” (“It's a long road”), ”Many the empty hopes his lips caress/ Sorry to say his days are spent in vain/ Chasing a dream of doom of nights in pain” (“Nothing to show”) ”Only if I lied could I love you/ Nothing of our lives could we share” (“Surely”) But there's a certain indefinable magic here too, as if we're being invited into a secret world and allowed to see things through the eyes of Supertramp, the way only they can perceive things others would either miss or misinterpret.

A very celtic flute opens “Maybe I'm a beggar”, joined by a soft acoustic guitar, then it all stops and a barely audible vocal rises from the depths, this being one of the few songs on which Palmer adds his voice to Hodgson's. It is the latter we hear much more clearly though as he quite frankly takes over the song once he comes in. Some more lovely bass and ticking percussion, and it would seem that Palmer may be a great lyricist but he is no singer. Almost doing a Roger Waters on parts of “The Wall” here, he is barely heard, sort of screeching torturously in the background. Then for I think the first time a hard electric guitar punches in and the song takes on a whole new shape, sort of echoes of Carlos Santana here as Hodgson racks off quite a rocky solo, which comes almost as a shock, given the gentle, mostly acoustic nature of the album up to this point. Palmer screeches in the background I think but is largely unmarked, as Hodgson's guitar blows all before it away. I'm really not sure why they bothered asking Palmer to sing, as he adds nothing to at least this song, and almost in fact detracts from it.

The next shortest track after the opener is “Home again”, just over a minute, a soft electric guitar and a clear vocal from Hodgson with a certain air of Country to it before we move into “Nothing to show”, where the tempo ramps up almost startlingly, the electric guitar screeching out of the gate and the percussion sounding like Millar means business, as Davies's organ grinds away menacingly. This is the first song where Davies joins Hodgson, and the partnership is already looking better. Hodgson still holds court but his keyboard-playing bandmate is not just a passenger and you can really hear his contributions. There's also some fine work from him on the ivories, foreshadowing some of his work on “Fool's overture” seven years later. A jazzy kind of jam then ensues for the next two minutes, and we end as we began, with an abrupt piano chord ushering in superb flute and another standout on the album.

A breezy, gentle piano drives “Shadow song” with a soulful vocal from Hodgson, and you can hear here the beginnings of songs like “Lord is it mine” or “C'est le bon” in Davies's masterful piano work. The flute does its work too, again this is Hodgson playing the instrument, as he tells ” A story of a foolish man/ Who was playing with some twisted plans”, his voice rising like that of an angel in a manner for which he would become renowned in later years. The early Genesis comparisons are impossible to ignore here, but since, as I said, both bands were recording what would essentially be their debut albums (I always consider “Trespass” the first real Genesis album) I can only think it was coincidence, unless they happened to associate together, which I have not heard to be the case.

Although it's the penultimate track, for me this is where the album loses its way a little. A twelve-minute boogie/psychedelic-inspired track following all this pastoral, acoustic material is more than a little jarring, and I know it stretched my patience the first time I heard it. Which is not to say that “Try again” is not a good song, but it's way too long. Some lovely organ work from Davies again and a fine vocal from Hodgson, though here again Palmer decides to add his voice to proceedings, and while it's slightly better and more effective this time, I still don't see the need for it. There's a certain feel of The Alan Parsons Project in the tempo and rhythm here in places, and I think a balaika is utilised, which gives a very strange, eerie flavour to the song. An extended organ solo takes up over four minutes of the song and does seem to be that old bugbear of progressive rock, pointless noodling just to show off. There's no way this song needs to be this long.

About halfway through it kicks into a kind of boogie blues as Hodgson breaks out the electric guitar, and it does pump some life into the tune, but even this runs for another two minutes, whereupon the organ comes back in, which takes us to the eighth minute before Hodgson brings things back under control as he comes back in with the vocal. Even then, though, it literally stops for a second and then picks up again and this time we get frankly ridiculous messing about with experimental noises, a confused jam that goes nowhere and further extends a song that has no business being twelve minutes long. Thankfully, they did eventually learn their lesson, although you can hear a little of this farting around in the midsection of “Fool's overture”.

Happily the album ends very well, with the full version of “Surely”, which begins almost the same as it did in the opener, except for one extra verse. Then, when you think it's stopped, it fades back in on Davies's muscular organ before Hodgson adds the final flourish with an emotional guitar solo, joining with Davies's keys to bring the thing to a trumpeting and triumphant close.


1. Surely
2. It's a long road
3. Aubade/And I am not like other birds of prey
4. Words unspoken
5. Maybe I'm a beggar
6. Home again
7. Nothing to show
8. Shadow song
9. Try again
10. Surely

On one hand, it's not hard to see why this didn't exactly set the charts alight or have radio DJs reaching for the turntable in ecstasy. It's a very restrained, almost muted album in many ways, and does pretty much everything it can to stay hidden and out of the way, almost as if it doesn't want to be noticed. And yet there are some truly magnificent moments of utter beauty on this neglected debut, moments when the true talent and almost magnetic personalities of Roger Hodgson and Rick Davies shine through, and though it would be a seer indeed who would have predicted these guys would go on to be so successful and conquer both sides of the Atlantic, when you listen to the first Supertramp album now you can hear flashes of brilliance, hints of the glory that was to come and you can begin to see images, snapshots of what they could be, what they could, and would, rise to.

Lyrically it's quite a compelling album, almost as I said earlier poetic in style, and that's surely a tribute to the man who did not want to write the lyrics, but yet did a great job on them, proving I guess that no matter what you do, you can't keep a good wordsmith down. But the undoubted stars are Hodgson and Davies, and soon they would take control of the band and shape it into the powerhouse that would go on to sell millions of albums and provide us with anthems and hit singles, and forever cement their place in music history. It's interesting to note that this is the first, and only, Supertramp album not to use what would become one of their trademark sounds, the saxophone, and you can see points in the album where the songs would definitely have benefitted from one.

Oddly enough, after the lukewarm reception their brand of “hippy blues” received --- let's be honest: it crashed and burned, didn't it? --- Supertramp, though minus Palmer and Millar, went on to record a second album that was, if anything , less attractive than their debut. It would be four more years before the dynamic duo would finally sort themselves out, get over their fear of writing lyrics (they would pen “Indelibly stamped” between them, but it was again a flop and suffered from some pretty pedestrian songs) hire musicians who would share their vision and create a record that would go gold for them and give them a hit single. After that, it would be pretty much plain sailing for the Supertramp ship.

But this tentative, quiet and almost apologetic whisper of an album, which would develop into an exuberant and confident and joyous shout over the next ten years or more, is where it all started, and though it was somewhat at odds with the kind of music they would eventually become famous for, it deserves recognition as the album that set that mighty vessel afloat and on course for a glittering career in music.
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Old 01-15-2015, 05:41 AM   #2650 (permalink)
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Seems 2015 is set to be the year of the discography review, and who am I to buck the trend? Probably wouldn't seem right if I didn't jump aboard this particular bandwagon, much less try to take over driving it! Therefore, let me now bid you welcome to

Insofar as I can, I'm going to try to do these reviews sequentially, which is to say, I don't intend writing, or at least posting, anything in between each discography. Or to put it another way, I'll be reviewing all the albums one after another with no other entries envisioned until the discography is completed. My intention is to probably focus on the studio output only, as it's generally not only difficult but often counterproductive to review live albums, most of the tracks having more than likely being discussed during the reviews of the studio recordings they come from, though I may occasionally break that rule. Any albums which have been already reviewed will be linked to, as there's no point in my repeating myself.

As already mentioned, briefly, I'll be looking into the careers and reviewing all the albums of three of my favourite artistes, two being of course Genesis and their modern-day counterpart Marillion (shut up Frownland!) but first, a man whose music I would never have envisioned myself liking, or even listening to, and for which I am indebted to my younger brother, who got me into his music.

Thomas Alan “Tom” Waits is a native of California. He was born there and he still lives there, though of course his musical career and life have taken him far and wide over nearly forty-five years. I'm not going to write a bio of him: if you've never heard him the chances are you've heard his songs sung by someone else, but if you really want to read about him, here :Tom Waits - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Without ever a single hit to his name, and though his albums are revered in many circles they are hardly what you'd call massive sellers, Waits has charted a course through music which has seen him earn the admiration of everyone from Springsteen to Crystal Gayle and The Eagles to Rod Stewart. Many people have had hit singles with his music, and it's been featured on both the big and small screen. Having recently celebrated his sixty-sixth birthday, he's still going strong and released an album in 2013, which surely is not the last we'll hear from him. His style is varied: he uses elements of blues, folk, jazz, vaudeville, island music, soul and rock, as well as other, less recognised music forms, and the number of instruments he employs is hard to determine, as he tends to often make his own, like banging chair legs on the floor or hitting pots and pans together.

But though he has wandered happily through such areas as experimental, jazz and folk music, Waits's music career began in a much more sedate manner, as his debut album, a quiet, understated affair that even then hinted at greatness to come, shows us. And this, of course, is where we begin our descent into the often madcap, exilhirating, sometimes frightening and frequently baffling, but always wonderful world of Tom Waits.

Closing time --- 1973 (Asylum)

With characteristic laconic wit, Waits chooses words associated with endings for his beginning, and indeed there is also there the connotations linked with the pub and the tavern, which would become his shelter and his keeper for several years as he spiralled into an ever-worsening descent into alcoholism and abuse. There is nothing of the experimental work that would colour his later material here, but then, he was only twenty-four, and had yet to discover all the darkness the world had to offer. Even so, this doesn't read as an album written by a wide-eyed optimist or someone with their head in the clouds. As we'll see, Waits's feet were always firmly planted on the ground, if perhaps too often swinging from a barstool.

Counting in the song, and indeed marking the moment when, to all intents and purposes, his recording career began, its “One, two, three, four” as a song The Eagles would filch for their “On the border” album, a situation of Waits would later growl “The Eagles ain't Country. There's no shit on their boots!” kicks the album off. A slow, lazy piano which would become something of Waits's trademark sound takes “Ol' 55” in, and it is very Country in feel and shape. You can see why Frey amd Henley wanted it. But even as this could be seen as an ode to the car, (I'm not sure which one but I'm sure Big3 or some American will enlighten me) it is in fact used merely as a metaphor for escape, perhaps unwilling escape. When Waits sings ”Just a-wishin' I had stayed a little longer” you get the feeling he would rather have been back with his lover than riding away in his car, but there's a feeling of inevitablity about it, a sense that all things come to an end, and when that happens, it's good to have a means of escape, perhaps even a getaway car.

It's a low-key, downbeat opening to the album, and it doesn't get much more upbeat really for much of it. Even at that, it's a bitterly lovely song as he growls ”The sun's comin' up/ I'm ridin' with lady Luck/ Freeways cars and trucks.” There are some nice touches on the guitar but mostly it's very much a piano driven song, though I think that may be a celeste or a harmonium on the chorus; certainly both are used on the album. Another slow, bitter ballad then in “I hope that I don't fall in love with you”, this time an acoustic guitar song, as Waits fears falling for a woman he has met, knowing the pitfalls of romance. ”Had a beer and now I hear/ You callin' out for me” he drawls as " I wonder if I should offer you a chair?” It's the first example of a song that Waits would use to twist and warp the idea of a ballad, making love a dirty word and something to be avoided. In the end though, he capitulates as he sighs ”I think that I just/ Fell in love with you.” The song also contains the title of the album, although it does finish with a song so titled, an instrumental.

The first time the album takes an upswing it kicks off on the slow, lazy bass of Bill Plummer, then the piano evokes a kind of drunken stagger as lonely trumpet from Delbert Bennett keeps its lonely vigil. “Virginia Avenue” is one of a number of songs which would reference local areas and places Waits knew of, frequented or visited, enshrining them forever in his music. Fun fact: this song also appears on “The Early Years Vol 1” where it is slightly different. Where he sings ”What's a poor boy to do?” the original line is ”What's a poor sailor to do?” Thought you'd like to know. I'll remind you when we get to that album's review. Interesting look forward to the future too when he sings ”Blues I leave behind me/ Catchin' up on me.”

His first song not to include the title in the lyric, “Old shoes (and picture postcards)” is also one of a selection of titles which would have footnotes in parentheses. A jaunty but yet slow acoustic guitar ballad with a lot of folk in it, it relates the decision to leave someone after what would appear to have been a long relationship. He sings ”So long, farewell/ The road calls me dear/ And your tears cannot bind me anymore.” One of the strengths of this album is that none of the songs are too long. Most come in around the three-minute mark, with one or two edging over four and one almost five, but that's the longest. It's just enough time to appreciate the song, let it sink in before it vanishes like an echo in your brain. Waits was, and is, a master of the art of using brevity. You'll find no ten-minute compositions in his music.

I've mentioned in the series “The Word according to Waits” that another feature of his songs is that they usually concern or are built around characters, characters who are inevitably flawed. The man who leaves his clingy lover in the above song, the guy who walks along Virginia Avenue looking for a bar and of course the fellow who hops into his “Ol' 55” and hightails it out of town. These characters and personages make his songs more real somehow, and for me at any rate have enabled them to speak to me; not that I know anything about being drunk and wandering the streets at 3am (!), but the very flaws of his characters, their shortcomings is in my view what makes them real, and relatable, and that much more powerful for being pathetic. We can identify with them. We know them, or someone like them. Perhaps we are, or were, them. But we see through their eyes and hear through their ears, and the world we see is a different one than our own eyes show us. It's a damp, squalid, dark, threatening and unforgiving one, where every shadow could contain an attacker, or someone wanting to rob us of our bottle, and every friend must be searched for a knife, just in case. The milk of human kindness has soured for these people, if it was ever fresh, and as we journey on with them through Waits's albums we will get to know the world they inhabit.

Another thing Waits would often do is build his songs around nursery rhymes, or incorporate parts of them in the lyric, as here, when “Midnight lullaby” begins with the words ”Sing a song of sixpence/ A pocket full of rye”. Acoustic piano is attended by trumpet as the song moves along on a nice, swaying sort of rhythm, and Waits muses ”When you are dreaming/ You see for miles and miles.” The song ends with a piano rendition of “Hush little baby”, another nod to the world of children's stories and rhymes, appropriate as this appears to concern him talking to his child.

I don't want to rag on him on his first outing, but for me this is where the album's quality begins to dip slightly. I do like “Martha”, but I feel the piano is a little harsh here, though the cello from Jesse Ehrlich in the chorus certainly saves the song. Still, I regard it as one of the weaker tracks on the album, despite the reflective nature of the song as a guy telephones his old lover out of the blue to recall the old times. It also ends badly, I feel. “Rosie” then is another piano-driven track, though the piano is much softer and gentler this time. The melody is a little reminiscent of “Virginia Avenue” and returns to the Country feel of “ol' 55” with some fine pedal steel from Peter Klimes, and the subject matter is somewhat similar, then what I would call a lower grade trio of songs comes to a shuddering end with “Lonely”.

Possibly, in my estimation, one of Waits's worst early songs, it's again driven by piano, but the vocal this time I find very harsh, and the lyric mostly consists of the title. It just seems like something that, were there other tracks considered for and dropped from the album, should have joined them. I really don't like this song, and it's seldom I would skip any Waits song but I often do jump over this one. Luckily the album then rallies strongly, as if eager to throw off the somewhat cloying influence of the last three tracks, as “Ice cream man” is only the second upbeat track, where Waits first reveals his wicked sense of humour. Sexual innuendo follows sexual innuendo as he smirks ”Got a big stick momma/ That'll blow your mind” and goes on to assure the lady ”When you're tired and you're hungry/ And you want something cool/ Got something better than a swimmin' pool!” There's a boppy, jazzy, almost big band rhythm driven by some fine basswork and soaring guitar. He even starts and ends the song with the sound of an ice cream van's chimes! Oh Waits, you devil!

And we're back on track. “Little trip to Heaven (on the wings of your love)” is a fine laidback ballad with smooth trumpet and flowing piano, its melody recalling in part “Midnight lullaby”, Bennet really excelling here on the brass. “Grapefruit moon” is the final vocal track, piano again taking centre stage with some very prominent bass, some of the runs on the piano again nodding back to “Virginia Avenue”, and indeed presaging the later “On the nickel”, and Ehrlich returns to add some lovely cello. Waits echoes the thoughts of us all on certain songs when he sings ”Every time I hear that melody/ Something breaks inside” before a beautiful duet between piano and cello sets the seal on a sumptuous almost-closer. We end then on the title track, and only instrumental, the only words being a muttered “This is for posterity” from Waits at the beginning. The tune is taken by a lazy, almost reflective piano and some lovely harmonica, taking us out in fine style and bringing the album to a soft and relaxing close.


1. Ol' 55
2. I hope that I don't fall in love with you
3. Virginia Avenue
4. Old shoes (and picture postcards)
5. Midnight lullaby
6. Martha
7. Rosie
8. Lonely
9. Ice cream man
10. Little trip to heaven (on the wings of your love)
11. Grapefruit moon
12. Closing time

Some debut albums set the charts on fire, some receive critical acclaim, and some just vanish like ripples in a pond. But still waters run deep, and though this initial effort from Tom Waits did not exactly make headline news across the world and introduce a star, he had made his mark quietly and almost unobtrusively, and while the world may not have been watching and listening, the music fraternity was. As mentioned, The Eagles, making their name at this time, were impressed enough by the new songwriter to cover one of his songs, and later Bette Midler herself would cover “Martha”, while Meat Loaf would put a rendition of the same song on his 1995 album.

As time went on, Waits became the go-to guy, the musician's musician, and his refusal to go with the flow, his willingness, even eagerness to buck trends --- he once said “I slept through the sixties” --- would mark him as both a maverick and a stone cold music genius, as well as often one of the only honest musicians left in a world of synthpop, X-Factor and sell-outs. His trademark gravelly voice was as yet still to develop, and would only really come into its own on his third album, “Small change”, when he would really come to the attention of everyone. Taken as an album in its own right, this is a pleasant, if often bitter, country/folk outing, with some extremely clever at time lyrics. But beyond that, it was setting down a marker, a new singer/songwriter honing his considerable talent and placing his bet down on the table, a bet that would pretty much always reap him large and profitable dividends, at least musically if not always financially.

“Closing time” made one simple but undeniable statement: Tom Waits had arrived.
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018
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