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Old 10-13-2011, 12:40 PM   #371 (permalink)
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Now and zen --- Robert Plant --- 1988 (Es Peranza)

What's that you say? Sacrilege? How dare I feature an album in this section by one of the gods of rock and roll? Believe me, it hurts, but this is exactly how I felt after buying, and then listening, with sinking heart, to Robert Plant's fourth solo album. Oh dear, I thought: not a whole lotta love goin' on here (sorry)!

No, when I bought an album that featured the solo efforts of the frontman from Led Zeppelin, I expected a whole lot more. Okay, I wasn't naïve enough to think this would be a Zep album, and I knew that, like most solo artists branching out, Plant was likely to try out a few ideas that might not have worked within the confines of the supergroup. I was prepared to give him a chance. But with a pedigree like his, and such talent to draw upon --- plus the fact that he was certainly not recording this album because he needed money! --- I looked forward to a reasonably good album, even a great one. What I got, sadly, was one that is quite good now and zen (sorry again!), but most of the time fails to live up to the very high standards you would expect from someone of the calibre of Mister Plant.

It starts off well enough, with the mid-paced “Heaven knows”, with his old mate Jimmy Page on guitar, which really helps to make the song, but right away you can hear that this is a lot more based on keyboard and electronic music than dirty rock and roll. It seems very polished --- which is not a criticism, but it definitely lacks the immediacy of a “Led Zep IV” or “Houses of the holy”. I know, I know: it's not a Zep album, but who could fail to make such comparisons, if only peripherally? Anyway, as I say, “Heaven knows”, the opener, is a decent enough track and sets down the marker, which sadly is not maintained throughout the album.


Because then you get “Dance on my own”...


“Tall cool one” helps to rescue things, a little faster, a little rockier, but reminds me in a strange way of the Bangles? I'm sorry, what was that? Yeah, the Bangles!


I do like “The way I feel”


But there's something missing about “Helen of Troy”


and then you get “Billy's revenge”


“Why?” is pure Yazoo/dance/Bronskibeat. Come on, Rob!It's catchy, yes, but not what I'd expect on an album like this...


The utterly lovely “Ship of fools” stands out from the crowd...


… but then he ruins things by closing with “White, clean and neat”. Sigh!


Yes, okay, fair enough: the legend “Nice song, shame about the album” is a little unfair here, as there are a few good tracks, but hey, I'm not changing that graphic to add an “s” to the word “Song”! And four out of nine tracks may seem like a good ratio for an album, but when you're dealing with someone of the stature of Robert Plant, I think we have a right to expect a lot more. Also, this was his fourth solo album, so he could hardly claim to be “feeling his way” as a solo artist.

There is a tenth track, but it wasn't on the original vinyl release, which I have, so as I haven't heard it before I'm ignoring it. Perhaps it's good, perhaps it's bad, perhaps it would slightly change the ratio. I don't care. I was very disappointed with this album, and I didn't buy another Plant release, although he went on to record another five, up to last year. Mind you, I seem to remember Jimmy Page's solo not being that great either. Or was that the one he did with David Coverdale? So many icons, so many disappointments. It ain't supposed to be this way.
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Old 10-13-2011, 12:46 PM   #372 (permalink)
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Random Track of the Day
Thursday, October 13 2011
Ah yes, some more good old straightforward rock! It's Whitesnake today, from the album of the same name, “Slide it in”!

Slide it in --- Whitesnake --- from "Slide it in" on EMI


One thing I loved about the early Whitesnake albums (other than the music, of course!) was the cool graphics of snakes on the covers. Remember “Love hunter”? Whitesnake would never be accused of being poe-faced, pompous or overblown. Their music is unapologetically simple, direct and uncomplicated, with many the double entendre, and this is no exception. But hey, forget all that and just listen to the rock! Coverdale is most certainly a god of epic proportions!
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Old 10-13-2011, 12:49 PM   #373 (permalink)
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Today the worm remembers one of the catchiest songs of 1999, with one of the weirdest, seemingly incongruous videos ever. Fatboy Slim, aka Norman Cook, with his number one hit “Praise you”.
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Old 10-14-2011, 03:24 AM   #374 (permalink)
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Random Track of the Day
Friday, October 14 2011
Hooray! Finally, some Waits! The random-o-meter has picked out a great little track, the opener from his 1987 album “Frank's wild years”, which is called “Hang on St. Christopher”.

Hang on St. Christopher --- Tom Waits --- from "Frank's wild years" on Island


Carried on a sort of brass/horns melody, with cool bass and with Waits singing as if he's got a bullhorn to his lips, “Hang on St. Christopher” is weird, but by no means the weirdest track on this album. It's a great opener though, and details the flight of Frank from his burning house towards his new life, detailed first in the song “Frank's wild years” on a previous album, 1983's “Swordfishtrombones”. In order to truly get the lyrical idea behind “St. Christopher”, it's probably helpful to also listen to the aforementioned “Frank's wild years”, which sets the scene.

So here for the first time is a double Random track of the day, so you can listen to “Frank's wild years” and make some sort of sense of the actual track featured above.
Frank's wild years --- Tom Waits --- from "Swordfishtrombones" on Island

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Old 10-14-2011, 10:52 AM   #375 (permalink)
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No, nothing to do with Bruce Dickinson and the boys --- well, not this time. This is a new section wherein I'm going to examine and review the debut albums of bands and artistes. Could be a band or artiste who has gone on to greater things, could be one that failed utterly, could be one who never had a second album. In the case of the former, I'll be comparing how this album stacks up against their later work, and how, if at all, their debut presaged greatness --- or not! --- to come in the future.

We're starting off with this one, the self-titled debut from multi-platinum artiste Dire Straits.

Dire Straits --- Dire Straits --- 1978 (Vertigo)



Like so many other debut albums, this is self-titled and so perhaps shows a little lack of originality, but then again if you're an unknown band you probably want people to first and foremost know and remember your name, so sticking your band or own name on the title is not that bad a marketing ploy: hey, Peter Gabriel did it for four of his albums! Course, he was by then already established as an artiste in his own right, so that was more down to his own personal quirkiness than a desire to imprint his name forever on the consciousness of music lovers.

Still, it could be worse. Although they only exist in a novel I half-wrote, one band called their debut album “The comeback album: volume II”, which is about as full of dichotomies and confusion as you can get! So titling your album the same as your band is not, on the face of it, a bad idea. People are more likely to remember “Dire Straits by Dire Straits” (if only for the simple reason that they then only have to deal with one phrase) than they are to remember, say, “Morning sun by Dire Straits.”

But no matter what you call your album, it makes no difference at all if the music is not up to scratch. Now, we all know that Dire Straits went on to be huge, but what was their first effort like? Were there hints of the greatness to come, or was it, like Billy Joel's “Cold spring harbour”, a miracle that they even got to record a second? Let's look, as the Americans say, under the hood.

It starts off with “Down to the waterline”, introduced on moody synth before that what-would-become-iconic guitar sound cuts in, and the song gets rocking at a nice lick. Once you hear Mark Knopfler's voice, you know you're listening to something a little bit special. His laconic, almost offhand way of singing has become his trademark, so that you can hear his influence on any record he has a hand in, even if he doesn't take the vocals. His distinctive guitar style is also evident here, backed by his brother David, and sterling bass work from John Illsley, with Pick Withers completing the rhythm section behind the drumstool.

The cool, smooth guitar sound that has characterised so much of the Dire Straits music through the years continues on “Water of love”, with slight reggae overtones, its pace a little slower than the opener, and then “Setting me up” kicks up the level higher, with a sort of fifties-style mixed with elements of Bluegrass bopping along with some fine picked guitar, until “Six blade knife” slows everything down again, returning to the pace of “Water of love” and allowing Knopfler to really shine on the guitar.

“Southbound again” has a certain rockabilly feel to it, tapping up the tempo again a little, some great rhythm guitar work from Mark's younger brother David, really infectious beat. Then we're into the obvious standout, their big hit which took them to the commercial bigtime, it's of course the excellent “Sultans of swing”. Surely no more need be said about such a classic track? Definite clues as to how big this band was about to get in future years.

More little reggae influences on “In the gallery”, which personally I find a little overlong at six-minutes-plus: just seems to wander on and on without any real direction. Much better is “Wild West End”, with its banjo-like opening, its lazy, swaying, almost minstrel-like melody and its gentle rhythm. A definite runner-up for top track, as far as I'm concerned. The album closes on “Lions”, which I find to be something of a superfluous track: I would have been happy for it to end up on “Wild West End”.

As a debut, this album is not perfect, but then, few ever are. There are tracks that don't completely work, there are overlong tracks and tracks that might have been better omitted. But what does work is the incredible voice and guitar work of Mark Knopfler, and anyone could see from this album that he at least was going to be a star. Let's be brutally honest here: he dragged the rest of the band along on his coat-tails to fame. Mark Knopfler was Dire Straits, in even more of a way than Freddie Mercury was Queen, or Phil Lynnot was Thin Lizzy, and the band could not have existed without him.

This is not an album that was going to set the world on fire. Few debuts are. But it was also not an album that made you think you would never hear of this band again. It set down certain markers, on tracks like “Wild West End”, “Down to the waterline” and “Water of love”, to say nothing of “Sultans of swing”, and definitely made you sit up and take notice. Sure, it suffers from sub-standard track, but what debut album does not?

“Dire Straits” was, if nothing more, a first salvo across the bows of the music world. The warning shots had been fired, and nothing could be done to prevent the barrage that was due to attack the charts over the next twenty years or so. Followup “Communique”, released the next year, would be successful but hardly set the charts alight. That would have to wait until 1982, when their fourth album, “Love over gold”, would produce the number two hit single “Private investigations”, as well as hosting the fourteen-minute track “Telegraph Road”, leading to the album having a total of FIVE tracks!

In between this and “Communique” Dire Straits recorded “Making movies”, which yielded two songs which became very popular, if not chartworthy, in “Tunnel of love” and “Romeo and Juliet”. Of course, after 1985's “Brothers in arms” they could do no wrong.

It's always interesting to look back at how a great band started off their career, and I don't think the debut album here shows too many dissimilarities from any of the others. Of course, as they progressed, and technology became more advanced, usage of this resulted in Dire Straits' sound becoming more polished and professional, but it's nice to see that in the beginning, they were doing it the hard way, the tried and trusted way, the traditional way.

Sultans of swing, indeed.

TRACKLISTING

1. Down to the waterline
2. Water of love
3. Setting me up
4. Six blade knife
5. Southbound again
6. Sultans of swing
7. In the gallery
8. Wild West End
9. Lions

Suggested further listening: "Communique”, “Making movies”, “Love over gold”, “Brothers in arms”, “Alchemy” (double live)
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Old 10-14-2011, 10:55 AM   #376 (permalink)
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Another one from 1999, as chance would have it, the worm loved the album “The man who” by Travis, and this is one of the best tracks on it, the single “Turn”.
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Old 10-15-2011, 11:01 AM   #377 (permalink)
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The worm likes to read science-fiction, and in a large percentage of the sf books he reads, the Earth is destroyed in one way or another. Often it's through neglect, war, wastage of resources, alien invasion or some sort of virus or pathogen. It's seldom, however, destroyed due to a misunderstanding. But this is the story behind German singer Nena's 1983 one-hit-wonder “99 red balloons”, where the radar signature of a bunch of balloons let go into the air is mistaken for an enemy strike, and the missiles are launched.

Sad, yes; humourous in a dark way, definitely. But the basis for a really good catchy song, and here it is.
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Old 10-15-2011, 11:22 AM   #378 (permalink)
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It's a Saturday evening in Dublin, it's miserable and raining (of course!), so what better than a few nice instrumentals to soften the mood? Yeah, it's time for “Words get in the way” again...

Start off with a real classic, so much so it even has “classic” in the title! It's Mason Williams, with “Classical gas”.


The king of the multi-instrumental work, Vangelis, with one of my favourite pieces from him, this is “To the unknown man”.


And from an album I reviewed a little while back, this is Matt Stevens, from “Ghost”, with a great little track entitled “Lake man”.
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Old 10-15-2011, 11:31 AM   #379 (permalink)
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Random Track of the Day
Saturday, October 15 2011
Time to go all easy-listening for the weekend, with a nice little track from the inimitable Carpenters. Not one of their ballads, more a sort of poppy bopper, from 1977, and “All you get from love is a love song.” Nice.

All you get from love is a love song --- The Carpenters --- from "Passage" on A&M


Smooth, cool, jazzy, with great sax and Karen Carpenter's flawless vocals. What more could you ask for? They don't write 'em like this any more!
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Old 10-16-2011, 01:56 PM   #380 (permalink)
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Random Track of the Day
Sunday, October 16 2011
Well, it's my own fault for trying to broaden my musical horizons, and stepping places I should avoid! With the inaugural “Stranger in a strange land” imminent, in which I flail wildly around in the scary world of Boybands, I've had to download many boyband albums, and they of course have become, at least temporarily, part of my music collection, so that the random-o-meter, in its capricious (and some might say, evil) way, has lighted on one of them! God-damn it!

Can't lose what you never had --- Westlife --- from "Westlife" on BMG


As fate would have it, it's one of my most hated boybands that has been picked out, Westlife. From their 1999 debut self-titled, it's a track called “Can't lose what you never had” (does that include talent, boys?)
Man, I need a shower...
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