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Old 06-12-2011, 06:56 PM   #31 (permalink)
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These days ---- Bon Jovi --- 1995 (Mercury)


Without question one of, if not THE darkest Bon Jovi albums, “These days” was something of a surprise. Up to now we had had the likes of “Slippery when wet”, “New Jersey” and “Keep the faith”, and even if the latter had the odd “serious” song (“Dry county”, “Fear” and the title track), not to mention the extremely weird “If I was your mother”, we had up to this been used to Bon Jovi songs being, for want of a better word, happy. Songs like “Let it rock”, “Wild in the streets”, “Born to be my baby”, “99 in the shade”, “Blame it on the love of rock and roll” and so on, all carried with them a message of hope and fun --- good-time songs. Sure there were the ballads (what would a Bon Jovi album be without ballads?), but you expect them to be sad. But the other songs on the albums up to now had, in general, been what would be described as “up” songs. “These days” was the first time Bon Jovi not only wrote “down” songs, but a whole album full of them!

It begins in storming form, with the rocker “Hey God”, but even before the track starts you hear Jon say “We ready?” to which someone --- Richie I think --- replies “Just about!” and Jon sighs and says “Let's go.” It's not a joyous “Two-three-four!” or even an “All right fellas, let's do this thing!” It's more a fatalistic, shrugging comment more linked with doing something you really would rather not be doing, and whether that was a genuine reflection of how he, and the band, felt when cutting this album is unclear. However, it does point towards a very dour, dark attitude towards the subject matter, and that is borne out in what follows, for over an hour of music.

“Hey God” is a powerful, fast song, but it's in the lyric where we really see what it's all about, where the song is heading, what it's trying to say, and we can see too the direction the album is going to go. It's a plea to a god, perhaps not believed in, to right the wrongs of the world. “Hey God!” snarls Jon, “Tell me what the hell is goin' on? / It seems like all the good ****'s gone/ It keeps on getting hatder hangin' on/ Hey hey hey hey God/ There's nights you know I wanna scream/ These days you're even harder to believe/ I know how busy you must be/ But hey hey hey hey God/ Do you ever think about me?” The song goes on to detail evils of the world, with Richie's guitar whining like a devil from the pits of Hell, Jon growling out the lyric with all the venom and anger of someone who's lost someone dear. “Born into the ghetto, 1991/ Just a happy child playin'/ 'neath the summer sun/ Vacant lot's his playground/ By 12 he got a gun/ The odds are bet against him/ Junior don't make 21.”

It's a powerful start to the album, and continues in “Something for the pain”, where Jon mourns “I opened up my heart/ But all I did was bleed.” Things slow down then for the first ballad from the album, perhaps the first anti-ballad, “This ain't a love song.” It's played softly and quietly as you would expect a ballad to be, but the lyric is anything but a love song, in which Jon declares that “Only fools are know-it-alls”. It's a long way from “Never say goodbye” or even “I'l be there for you”. It's followed by the title track, which starts off balladic, with a gentle piano and guitar intro, but soon becomes clear as a searing indictment of society, more or less continuing the theme explored in “Hey God”. In some ways, I guess this album could be considered almost a concept album, given that the same basic themes resonate through all the songs, be they fast or slow --- alienation, injustice, the casual and accepted cruelty of the world and the nagging despair that it will never get any better. The opening lines declare Jon's perceived position in the world, just trying to keep his head down and get through life. “I was walking around/ Just a face in the crowd/ Tryin' to keep myself out of the rain.” It's a painful song to listen to lyrically, though the deceptively balladic opening does really work. It rocks along at a decent pace when it gets going, but the dark themes are there for all to see: “Even innocence has caught the midnight train”. No words of better days to come here!

It's clear from the title track that this is Bon Jovi “all grown up”. This is a mature album, with mature themes, and an adult's possibly fatalistic but certainly realistic view of the world. They may have been “Wild in the streets” in 1986, but ten years on and those streets are dark and lonely now, and less paved with gold than broken bottles, discarded burger cartons and cigarette packets. Realisation has set in as Jon sings “There ain't nobody left to take the blame.” He also realises that he is no different from anyone else trying to make it in this tough world ---- “Everybody's got their cross to bear these days” --- and in the end, it's only ourselves we can rely on, and in truth, only ourselves we have to blame for letting things get to the point they have: “There ain't nobody left but us these days.”

This leads up to the next ballad, or perhaps we should say anti-ballad, “Lie to me”, with its savagely ironic hook “If you don't love me/ lie to me/ Cos baby you're the one thing I believe.” Both ballads were big hits for Bon Jovi when released as singles, (though not in the US, for some reason: maybe people there didn't appreciate the gritty realism in the songs, preferring instead vacuous dance songs?) but those who no doubt danced, lurched and smooched to them probably let the actual meaning in the lyrics pass over their heads, as they are in no way love songs. The tempo jumps then, for a rather frenetic “Damned”, exploring the dilemma of being in love with one person who you can't have --- damned if you do, damned if you don't. “His ring is on your finger/ But my heart is in your hands.”
And that brings us to the darkest track on the album, bar none.

“As my guitar lies bleeding in my arms” is as full of despair as the title suggests, and if you weren't sure, the opening lines will leave you in no doubt: “Misery likes company/ I like the way that sounds.” Richie's axe moans, screams, cries and sounds like it's dying in his hands, while Jon declares “I can't write a love song/ The way I feel today/ I can't sing no song of hope/ I got nothing to say.” The song features some exquisite work by Mrs Sambora's favourite child, including a great solo, but even that can't lift the song out of the mire of despair and self-pity with which the lyric weighs it down.

In some ways, “As my guitar...” is the nadir of the album, being its darkest track, and the songs sort of (sort of) “cheer up” a little from there on in. It's almost like the darkest, deepest point of the tunnel has been reached, and now light can be seen glimmering, albeit faintly, in the distance. Indeed, the lyric of “As my guitar...” contains a real hint of a suicide attempt, or the intention at least, when he sings “I'd like to jump/ But I'm afraid to hit the ground.” Having come through, for the most part, the deep dark depression that led to here, the ensuing tracks contain more than a little hope, even if well disguised. They're not happy songs by any means, but they're just a little less dark. “(It's hard) letting you go” and “Hearts breaking even”, while still not love songs, are essentially songs of acceptance.

“It's hard...” starts off well, with David Bryan's almost church-organ intro, with Tico Torres's drums sounding like slow heartbeats, very echoey and muted. Some favourite Bon Jovi standards in the lyric here, like “The sky it shines a different kind of blue/ And the neighbour's dog/ He don't bark like he used to.” At times during the song, the music stops almost completely while Jon delivers the vocal, then comes back in a moment later, creating a very impressive musical canvas for the song.
It's “Hearts breaking even” though which recalls most the sort of ballads Bon Jovi are known for. It's like JBJ has realised that his love affair is over, and is now ready to recognise this, and perhaps move on. The track starts off with an almost upbeat drum/guitar intro and Jon's voice is somewhat lighter as he sings “Did I throw away the best part of my life?/ I cut you off/ Cut myself with the same damn knife.” He also uses his old favourite rhyming triplet: “I cried, I lied, Hell I almost died.” It's the song where he comes out of his stupor of self-pity and says “Go on, get on with your life/ And I'll get on with mine.” There's a realisation that there has been fault on both sides, and despite what he has told himself up to now, he is not the (only) wounded party. It's time to man up, and accept that he's made his own mess. It takes two to tango.

And so he goes searching for “Something to believe in”. It's a bleak, stripped-down track, a dramatic plea for there to be something there to hold onto. “So now I'll dust myelf off/ So now I'll suck my gut in,” he sings, and sounds like he believes it. “If I don't believe in Jesus/ How can I believe in hope?/ If I don't believe in Heaven/ How can I believe in love?” Recalling the dark bleakness of “These days”, he declares “In a world that gives you nothing/ We need something to believe in.”So from the railing at God in the opening track, JBJ has now turned back to him, and holds on, needing an anchor to keep him grounded against all the evils of the world.

In “If that's what it takes” there's the final gasps of hopeless desperation, as Jon swears to do whatever has to be done to retain his love. It's a more uptempo, almost triumphant track, as Jon goes to try to win his girl back, acknowledging the failures of the past, and the things he has done wrong, and ready to put them to one side in order to get one more chance at love.

It would seem his efforts are rewarded, as the next track is “Diamond ring”, and we can assume that Jon has got his girl and married her. The final track though puts this in doubt, but given that it is credited as an additional track, we can take solace perhaps from the belief that it is not meant, strictly speaking, to be part of the story, certainly not the end.
The true ending would appear to have been meant to be “All I need is everything”, Bon Jovi's “Sign o' the times”, another continuation of “Hey God” and “These days”, almost, in fact, bringing the story full circle.

. “Bitter wine” is tacked on at the end, and if it fits into the story at all, perhaps we can take it that this sour ballad, which details the break-up of a relationship, is either supposed to take place long after the wedding, perhaps years in the future (the lyric does mention “We met some years ago/ When we were still quite young”), but then, given the dark and often depressing nature of the album, perhaps this is how the affair ends, doomed, dead and drowned in bitter wine. It's an almost acoustic composition, quite country and western in its makeup.

I believe “These days” deserves to be applauded as a truly realistic look at the world in which we live, in a way most rock bands would not, especially one of Bon Jovi's stature and reputation, known mostly as a “soft-rock” “happy” band who seldom tackle real issues. It's a mature album, for mature listeners, and if you give it the time it deserves, I think you really will carry away a solid message from it.

What that message is, is up to you.

TRACKLISTING

1. Hey God
2. Something for the pain
3. This ain't a love song
4. These days
5. Lie to me
6. Damned
7. As my guitar lies bleeding in my arms
8. (It's hard) Letting you go
9. Hearts breaking even
10. Something to believe in
11. If that's what it takes
12. Diamond ring
13. All I want is everything
14. Bitter wine


Have a nice day ---- Bon Jovi --- 2005 (Island)


This is an album typifying Bon Jovi at the top of their game. It had been three years since their last opus, the rather excellent “Bounce”, and five since 2000's “Crush”, and both albums had succeeded in somewhat erasing the dark bleak memory of “These days”. This was the “happy” Bon Jovi we all knew and loved, and though (as detailed above) I loved “These days”, and definitely agree it was something they should have done, I'm not sure two more albums of look-how-bad-the-world-is would have cut it with the fans. Primarily, like most people, I listen to music to be entertained, to enjoy and to perhaps escape the real world for a short time. This is what Bon Jovi do best, and here they are on top form.

The sleeve is a simple “happy face” drawn in black ink on red, but with downturned eyebrows, which gives the smiling face more of a nasty grin aspect, almost certainly a play on the title. The album opens with the title track, and it's straight down to business, with a song rather reminiscent of “It's my life” from “Crush”, a real anthem, a let-me-live-my-life song, in which Bon Jovi manage to make the phrase “have a nice day” mean something, er, rather else.... ”When the world gets in my face/ I say 'Have a nice day'!” There are no deep messages in this track, it's the old rebel song that every teenager from the earliest days has sung: just leave me alone to do what I like!

You can hear from the beginning that this is not a band simply going through the motions, putting out an album because their contract demands it. These guys enjoy what they do, they believe in it, and they wouldn't want to be doing anything else. The pure enjoyment continues in “I want to be loved”, another life-affirming track. I'm gonna live/ I ain't gonna die/ Don't want the world to pass me by.” Oh yeah! And the good feeling goes on in “Welcome to wherever you are”, a song of being happy with what you've got, and almost a ballad, starting off with acoustic guitar before thumping into a mid-paced rocker --- “”If you feel alone and lost/ And need a friend/ Remember every new beginning/ Is some beginning's end” --- you just can't help but be uplifted by the lyric. The joy comes to bursting point for “Who says you can't go home?”, where Jon triumphantly declares “There's only one place that call me/ One of their own/ Just a hometown boy/ Born a rollin' stone.” It's a much faster, rockier track than the preceding, but no less powerful. Sort of Springsteen-sounding, now that I listen to it. Great song. Does contain the rather odd lyric ”I hijacked a rainbow/ And crashed into a pile of gold” --- thought that might have recalled the events of 9/11 too much? Guess they slipped that one by...

Just in case someone DID pick up on that though, they're quick to slot in one of those “America/Freedom reigns” songs, but it is a good one. “Bells of freedom” hits all the right places, but it is rather embarrassingly flag-waving. Before that though comes what I believe is the best track on the album, “Last man standing”. It's the really clever tale of the only band left who actually play their instruments, and the guitar hero who leads them. Set against the background of a fairground sideshow (”Enter at your own risk/ It might change the way you think”), the audience are regaled with the story of the man who has ”No dancers, ...no diamonds/ No this boy don't lip-synch!” A powerful and sly stab at those, shall we say, less REAL bands (who mentioned X-Factor? You can't sue ME: I didn't say it!), the barker tells the rapt audience “The songs were more than music/ They were pictures from the soul/ So keep your pseudo-punk, hip-hop, pop-rock junk/And your digital downloads !” Class!

I wouldn't be such a toadie as to claim that every track on this album is excellent: there are some reasonably low-par ones, but in my opinion more good than bad, and some truly brilliant. Another great one is “Last cigarette”, another fast rocker where JBJ compares love to the last cigarette --- “I will savour it/ Wrap it round my fingertips/ Gotta taste it on my lips/ Right or wrong.” Some really clever lyrical ideas on this album, for sure. My second favourite (and it's a close run thing!) is “Novocaine”, a slow rocker telling the story of what happens after or during a breakup. It includes a great tip of the hat to one of their biggest hit singles from the past: ”There's a different kind of meaning now/ To living on a prayer/ Some don't seem to notice/ And the rest don't seem to care.”

Surprisingly for a Bon Jovi album, there's no outstanding ballad here, no real love song. There are slow tracks (“Bells of freedom” and “I am”) but the closest the album comes to a proper ballad really is “Wildflower”, which personally doesn't work for me. Perhaps it's a brave move, given that the last two albums each had three or four --- even “These days” had four clear ballads on it --- but it seems to work, and helps to make this album stand out from the previous Bon Jovi releases. Of course, at times it seems a little overstretched, with more than one sub-standard track where perhaps a really punchy ballad along the lines of “All about lovin' you” or “Lie to me” might have fit better, but though this would not ever go down in history as the best --- or even one of the best --- Bon Jovi albums, it can hold its head high, waving the standard for the boys from Jersey. Hey man – have a nice day, y'hear?

TRACKLISTING

1. Have a nice day
2. I want to be loved
3. Welcome to wherever you are
4. Who says you can't go home
5. Last man standing
6. Bells of freedom
7. Wildflower
8. Last cigarette
9. I am
10. Complicated
11. Novocaine
12. Story of my life
13. Dirty little secret
14. Unbreakable
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Old 06-12-2011, 07:01 PM   #32 (permalink)
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The Circle --- Bon Jovi --- 2009 (Island)


After what some considered a disappointing album in 2007's “Lost horizon”, due to its perceived leanings towards the country side of rock, Bon Jovi's eleventh studio album was awaited with not only anticipation, but also a measure of trepidation by the fans. The fear that the band were moving away from the rock sound of old, that had characterised albums like “Slippery when wet”, “Keep the faith” and “Crush”, and on which they had built their reputation and their fanbase, was quite real. So when “The Circle” hit the record shelves in late 2009, it fell into a lot of nervous hands.

Fears were quickly proven groundless though, as the album opens with a hard rocker, a real anthem in the shape of “We weren't born to follow”, perhaps an admission by the band that they had tried something different, to shake things up, but an assurance also that they were back to what they do best. The song rocks along at a good pace, and does indeed seem a statement of intent: ”This one goes out to the sinner and the cynical/ This ain't about no apology.” The power doesn't let up as the band storm into “When we were beautiful”, a nostalgic look back to the past, when everything seemed so simple ”Before the world got small/ Before we knew it all.”. There's some great guitar work in the song, although for the most part Richie keeps his guitar relatively understated, keeping a watching brief.

It's rare that I choose the best track so early in an album, but when I heard “Work for the workingman” I knew they would have to try very hard indeed to top this. A true blue-collar paean in the mould of Springsteen and Earle, this tells the tale of an ordinary man who has lost his job, and how he feels about it. Pride, worth, self-respect all figure heavily in this extremely politically-charged song, as Jon asks ”Won't somebody help me/ Someone justify/ Why these strong hands/ Are on the unemployment line?” There are few, if any bands, who can proudly claim that the lyrics for one of their songs hang in the Oval Office, but so impressed was President Obama with the theme of the song, and so much did it resonate with his own beliefs and aims that he apparently had the lyrics framed and hung in his office in the White House. This is a song everyone can relate to, whether you're working, laid off, or just fearful of that happening. A true song for the ordinary man, indeed.

Again, like already-reviewed “Have a nice day”, this album has no true standout ballad. There are slow songs --- “Live before you die”, “Happy now” --- but no actual love song. Perhaps this is something of a new direction Bon Jovi are moving in? However, unlike the abovementioned album, “The Circle” does not seem to suffer from the lack of a hard ballad, with just about every song on this a good one. Songs like “Brokenpromiseland” and “Fast cars” continue the theme of the dispossessed trying to survive in an uncaring world that seems to have abandoned them to their fate, and unlike 1995's “These days”, this time Bon Jovi intend to do something to change the way things are. Perhaps it's foolish optimism, perhaps blind faith, but nevertheless it's good to see such an attitude.

“Bullet” revisits the themes explored on “All I want is everything” and “Hey God” from “These days”, as Jon asks ”What is the distance/ Between a bullet and a gun?/ God are you listening?/ Or have you just given up?” Unlike the two mentioned above though, it's a slower rocker, drenched in desperation and anger, with a sharp guitar solo adding to the fire of the song. “Thorn in my side” is NOT a cover of the old Eurythmics song, but Bon Jovi's own original composition, although it does in ways explore the same subject matter as Annie Lennox did in her song. It gets things fast-rockin' again, before the mood slows down for what amounts to the first of two ballads on the album.

“Live before you die” is, however, not a love song, but rather a message to grab life with both hands, seize the day in somewhat the same vein as “I want to be loved” from “Have a nice day”, as Jon sings ”When you're young you always think/ The sun is gonna shine/ There'll come a day you'll have to say/ Hello to goodbye” The song is carried on a nice piano melody, with some great ensemble playing, Jon in perfect voice. This would have made a great single, though it seems it wasn't released unfortunately. Another thing about this album is a return to the shorter, snappier songs of “Crush” and albums prior to that, after the somewhat longer ones on “Have a nice day” --- there's nothing over much more than five minutes long here, the longest being “When we were beautiful”, clocking in at 5:18.

“Brokenpromiseland” echoes the sentiments expressed in “Dry county” from “Keep the faith”, as Jon warns ”No-one's gettin' out of here alive”, while “Love's the only rule” revisits something of the melody of “Work for the workingman”, with a hook almost reminiscent of the Cars at their best, and a very uplifting beat and indeed theme --- ”Think about it/ Wouldn't that be cool?/ If love was the only rule?” You'll get no argument here! The idea behind “Fast cars” sounds to me similar to the title track from JBJ's solo album, “Destination anywhere” --- there's definite hope there, and the exuberance of youth, perhaps misplaced as Bon Jovi could no longer be called young! Hey, young at heart, let's say...

The album closes on two killer tracks, the first being “Happy now”, a sort of mid-paced ballad with a solid guitar hook, and a lyric pulled straight from a mid-life crisis:- Let me believe/ I'm buildin' a dream/ Can I be happy now?/ Can I let my breath out?” and later takes a page from “Who says you can't go home” as Jon sings I ain't throwin' stones/ Got sins in my bones/ Ain't everybody just tryin'/ To find their way home?”. Once more he warns “You better live now/ Cos no-one's gonna get out alive”, and this song leads to the closer, which in many ways is a continuation of the theme on this one, the second part, or the resolution if you will.

Another mid-paced ballad, “Learn to love” is a song that tells us we have to accept that what we have is as good as it's gonna get, and we should be at peace with that. As the song goes on, it gets somewhat faster, and a little more urgent. It's not a bad sentiment to close on: ”Leave it all on the table/ If you lose or you win/ You gotta learn to love/ The world you're livin' in.” That'll do for me.

TRACKLISTING

1. We weren't born to follow
2. When we were beautiful
3. Work for the workingman
4. Superman tonight
5. Bullet
6. Thorn in my side
7. Live before you die
8. Brokenpromiseland
9. Love's the only rule
10. Fast cars
11. Happy now
12. Learn to love



I set out, in the introduction to this three-album review, to show that far from being a spent force, Bon Jovi were, and are, still one of the most consistent rock bands out there, producing great albums year after year. To be perfectly honest, perhaps I'm not the best person to make that judgement, as I have seen no drop in quality over the years with the output of this band. From the first time I heard them I've loved the boys from Jersey and as time has gone on I have bought every album, and never seen any major change or deterioration in any of them. I dont know: I just don't see it when critics talk about the band “going through the motions”. For me, every album they've produced has been treated with the same care and respect, dedication and love for their craft and for their fans, and I have never been disappointed with any of their albums. However, I wanted to make a case for the continued longevity and excellence of Bon Jovi through the later years, and whether I've succeeded in that endeavour or not I don't know, but if you have any comments on the albums, on Bon Jovi in general, or indeed on any of the subjects on which I have so far written, let me know by posting.

For my part, I think that although “The Circle” is a much different animal to “Slippery when wet”, I love both albums and I understand that if a band is to evolve they need to move with the times and change as required. As I said at the opening of this piece, the fans who grew up on “You give love a bad name” and “Livin' on a prayer” have also matured, and perhaps they want more thoughtful, insightful songs, songs that make them think, that make them question the world in which they're living. Music speaks to us, entertains us yes, but it should also be a force for change and a means to an end, and if it makes us think of the right things then that can't be bad. One of the reasons I dislike what I loosely term as “dance” music is because in general I don't see any clear messages in it: to me, rock tells it like it is. May not always be pretty, may not always be what you want to hear, but if there's one thing you have to say about rock, it is that it's honest, and hopefully always will be.

So I'll look forward to the next Bon Jovi outing, and in the words of their fifth album, I for one will always “Keep the faith.”

Suggested further listening: "Keep the faith", "New Jersey", "Slippery when wet", "Crush", "Bounce"
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Old 06-13-2011, 03:50 PM   #33 (permalink)
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Lady Macbeth --- Lana Lane --- 2005 (Think Thank)

Lana Lane is the wife of prog-rock supremo Erik Norlander, and he both produces and plays on her albums, as he does here. “Lady Macbeth” is her seventh studio album, and is loosely based around the concept of the Shakespeare saga, told from the point of view of the infamous Lady Macbeth. I have to say that although this was the first time I had ever heard of Lana Lane, let alone heard her music, the album absolutely blew me away. Sadly, her other material has not impressed me much at all, but this album stands out on its own.

Kicking off with essentially the title track, although it's actually called “The dream that never ends”, the album starts with a deceptively slow and gentle intro, until it kicks into high gear and gets going, metamorphing into a prog rock monster, thundering along with Lana's clear, distinctive voice introducing us to the lead character --- ”Lady Macbeth/Marked by death.” As mentioned, Erik Norlander plays on the album, taking keyboard duty, and he does a fine job as ever. The following track is a little slower, a little lighter, perhaps trying to paint Lady Macbeth in a more sympathetic light than she is normally seen. “Someone to believe” is a decent song, but it's really overshadowed by “Our time now”, the first of three excellent ballads on the album, with great guitar solos and a lovely piano line, echoes of Pink Floyd in the vocal harmonies.

Everything slips back into high gear then for “Summon the Devil”, a powerful, sharp rocker, containing the Shakespeare chant for the three witches: ”Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble/ Fire burn and cauldron bubble/ By the pricking of my thumbs/ Something wicked this way comes!” Great grinding guitars give this track a real bite, and they carry the track with a Whitesnake-like riff, circa “Love hunter”. A nice little acoustic guitar then slows everything down as “No tomorrow” begins, with a nice kind of Rush vibe to it, but it soon bares its fangs and proves to be no ballad, though the song alternates between slow and gentle for the verses and harsh and faster for the chorus. Perhaps a half-ballad? The lyric betrays it though: “Your castle will burn in the sun/ My will will not be undone.” The song ends suddenly, almost unexpectedly, and leads into another slow intro which again turns out to be far from a ballad.

“Shine on golden sun” is a good track, some really nice acoustic guitar married with some tough electric, Lana's voice clear and vibrant as ever: she really has a powerful voice, recalling the likes of Heart's Ann Wilson. Other comparisons I could make would be Sabine Edelsbacher of Edenbridge, with whom she sang on Gary Hughes's “Once and future king”, reviewed here earlier. “The vision” is a five-minute-plus instrumental, showcasing the talents of the no less than three guitarists who play on the album, then we're into “Keeper of the flame”, another fast rocker in the vein of the opening track, before things slow down as the album draws to a close with two lovely ballads, the first being the bittersweet “We had the world”, on which Lana sings her heart out, and you really feel for her in her role as the tragic figure. The curtain comes down with the simple but hauntingly beautiful “Dunsinane walls”.

I have to admit, I'm not that familiar with “The Scottish Play” (Oh, that would be Macbeth, would it?) so I can't really comment on how well or otherwise Lana tells the story, or how the songs reflect that, but even putting the whole concept aside --- something I wasn't even aware of when I first heard the album --- it's still a great listen, and to date, for me, the creative peak for Lana Lane.

TRACKLISTING

1. The dream that never ends
2. Someone to believe
3. Our time now
4. Summon the Devil
5. No tomorrow
6. Shine on golden sun
7. The vision
8. Keeper of the flame
9. We had the world
10. Dunsinane walls
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Old 06-13-2011, 06:09 PM   #34 (permalink)
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The sea of love --- The Adventures --- 1988 (Elektra)

A little-known Irish rock band, the second album from the Adventures is a joy to listen to. A seven-piece band from Belfast, they recorded a total of four albums, of which I have only heard this one and its follow-up, “Trading secrets with the moon”, which is also an excellent album. It's a criminal shame these guys never made it, as in ways their sound is quite reminscent of the Waterboys, and I would have thought that maybe they might have latched on to the success of the Scottish superstars, particularly around the “Fisherman's blues” era, which would have tied in with the release of this album. However it was not to be, and although they have reformed to play the odd gig here and there, with their last release being in 1993 it seems unlikely we will ever hear from them again on album.

Which makes listening to this album even more important. It's a real example of how a band can put together an almost flawless record, gain critical acclaim and yet not crack the big time. As our American cousins say, go figure.

The very first thing you hear when the laser hits the CD is a drawn-in breath, which is very real, not having been edited out of the production and therefore giving the feeling of a band who really care about and enjoy their music. The next thing you hear is the powerful voice of Terry Sharpe singing “Oh I'm drowning in the sea of love!” before drums, guitar and keys crash together to get the title track underway. Backing vocals by Eileen Gribben meld with Terry's, while her brother Pat crashes out the power chords. It's a song of holding on, with a powerful beat and a great melody. Would have been a perfect single, you would think, and it was. But it never got into even the top 40! I blame the X-Factor. Yeah, I know it wasn't around in 1988, but hell, I blame the X-Factor for the decline of modern music, so I ain't going to let a little fact like that stand in the way!

Following on from “The sea of love” is the song that ended up being their only top 20 single, the wonderful “Broken land”. Opening with a tinkly little piano line from keyboardist Jonathan Whitehead, it's not long before the rest of the band crash in, Paul Crowder's drums in particular making their presence felt in no uncertain terms as they drive the song along. ”When did the boy become a man?” sings Terry, ”And lose his right to love?/ So much confusion to this plan/ These times are not changing.” “Broken land” is more Celtic-sounding than the opener, having something like oileann pipes on it, and was in fact my introduction to the music of this band.

“You don't have to cry anymore” has another acapella introduction, like “The sea of love”, but is a heavier track, while the standout track (after the first two) is “The trip to Bountiful (When the rain comes down)”, which seems to be based on the film of the same name, concerning an old woman who travels, against her family's wishes, back to her hometown in Bountiful, Texas. I haven't seen the film, but the song is immense, chock-full of emotion and a very catchy bassline from Tony Ayre, who sadly died just before Christmas 2009. It starts off with Eileen singing like a Siren, “Come home”, before the bassline takes command of the track, joined by Crowder's drums, a slowburner that soon gets underway with the piano and Gerry “Spud” Murphy on guitar joining in. There's also a sort of reprise within the song, an instrumental passage that contains a fine piano run and takes the track to its conclusion, amidst choral vocals to the end.

There's no denying the power and majesty of this album, but like many others it kind of peaks after the abovementioned. The rest of the tracks are great, but they're not the classics-that-should-have-been that form what I guess I would term the first part of the album. Surprisingly, with the title it has, the album has no actual ballads, certainly nothing that would be recognised as such. “Broken land” is slow enough to be a ballad, but I wouldn't class it as such. Most of the other tracks are either too fast or have the wrong lyrics for a ballad. Some albums would suffer from such a deficiency, but that isn't the case with this opus. Every song is catchy, commercial, well-written and flawlessly played. Why they never made it is beyond me.Terry Sharpe's voice is clear, warm and rolls over the ears like a gentle river, “Spud” Murphy is a great guitarist, able to rip loose with a powerful solo or keep things ticking over in the way great axemen can without effort. The keyboards talents of Jonathan Whitehead are all over the album --- in many ways he characterises the sound of the band. With support from the other four member of the band, it's truly a mystery why they never broke the market, and why more people didn't get into their sound.

I guess in the end, the Adventure was not to be.

TRACKLISTING

1. Drowning in the sea of love
2. Broken land
3. You don't have to cry anymore
4. The trip to Bountiful (When the rain comes down)
5. Heaven knows which way
6. Hold me now
7. The sound of summer
8. When your heart was young
9. One step from Heaven



Suggested further listening: "Trading secrets with the moon"
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Old 06-14-2011, 05:28 PM   #35 (permalink)
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Like a rock --- Bob Seger --- 1986 (Capitol)


Bob Seger is one of that rare breed of true American songwriters, in the mould of Springsteen, Cash and Nelson, he writes songs of ordinary people in ordinary situations, and he writes with an honesty and openness that is often lacking in music. “Like a rock” is his thirteenth studio album, but far from being unlucky, I personally rate it as one of his best, if not the best he has produced. I love albums like “Stranger in town”, “Night moves” and “The distance”, but there always seems to be one or two “filler” tracks on his albums, songs that let down the overall excellence of the recording. I've always wanted Seger to record the perfect album, and I think here in 1986 he finally did. Nothing, in my opinion, he released prior to, or indeed after, “Like a rock”, has equalled, much less exceeded the greatness of this record.

Orginally to have been titled “American storm”, it's this that kicks the album off in fine fashion, a bouncy, rockin' flag-waver, paying tribute to the spirit of his country. ”It's like a full force gale/ An American storm/ You're buried far beneath a mountain of cold/ And you never get warm.” Seger's omnipresent backing band, the Silver Bullet Band, are on fine form as ever, and it's the rock'n'roll piano of Craig Frost in particular, backed by the thundering drums of Russ Kunkel that really drive the track. It's a powerful opener, and sets the mission statement of the album from the off. It's followed by the much slower and bluesy title track, reminscences of youth in a theme partially explored on the title track to 1980's “Against the wind”, but expanding on it here. Bob recalls "Standing arrow-straight.../ Chargin' from the gate.../ Carryin' the weight.” Great guitars from Dawayne Bailey, with superb slide guitar from Rick Vito. Essentially acoustic, the track goes electric for the chorus and then back for the verses. Bob's voice as ever is raspy, rough, gruff and powerful, elucidating each line perfectly and with excellent timing.

Then we're into “Miami”, things speeding up again for the tale of those who came to Florida's coast to make their fortune or start a new life. Where the previous track was mostly acoustic, this is very definitely electric, with great keyboards from Bill Payne, backing vocals by two ex-Eagles, Timothy B. Schmidt and Don Henley, as well as a full horn section. Bob relates what would have been the first look these new settlers had of Miami: "Oh it must have seeemed/ Something like a dream/ Shining through the night/ All those city lights” It's a great rocker, with powerful drumbeats driving the song along and a truly great saxaphone outro. It leads into the second ballad on the album, the bitter tale of love turned bad in “The Ring”. Again going for a mostly acoustic feel for this track, as he often does for his ballads, Seger weaves the story of a woman who marries but finds there is after all no pot of gold at the end of her rainbow. ”And sometimes in the wee hours/When the traffic dies down/ She'll hear the sound of some bird on the wing/ And she'll look out the window, look at his picture/ But not at the ring.” Rick Vito, this time joined by Fred Tackett, do a great job on the acoustic guitars, while Gary Mallaber takes drumming duties. The tinkling piano lines give the song a nice country feel.

Things get VERY electronic then for “Tightrope” --- it's almost like a totally different album now. Heavy, almost organ-like keyboards drive this track, with backing vocals by the Weather Girls, among others. This is one of only two songs on the album (apart from the closing CCR cover) not written by Seger alone. On this he collaborates with keyboard player Craig Frost, who also wrote the next track with him, “The Aftermath”, a rocker that lopes along at a great lick, keeping things in high gear as “Tightrope” comes to an abrupt end and the next track takes over almost seamlessly.

And the pace doesn't slow for the next offering, in fact if anything it gets faster! “Sometimes”, a real boogie rocker, takes things to a new level, perhaps the most frenetic song on the whole album, with some truly great piano playing as Frost channels Jerry Lee Lewis! You would think after that they'd be ready to slow down, but no, “It's you”, though a lot slower than “Sometimes”, still ticks along at a good pace, though far less manic than the previous track and nowhere near as heavy as “Tightrope”. It's close to a ballad, but the beat belies that for me. The closer IS a ballad, and as per usual with Bob Seger, it's a belter.

“Somewhere tonight” is the tale of a thousand break-ups, people leaving, people falling out of love, and the unbearable sadness of it all. As Bob sings ”There's a cold wind blowin' from the north/ And the summer birds are leavin' / As the sun slips ever further south/ The lakes will soon be freezin'. / And the ice will claim the empty shore/ Where the ones in love went walkin'/ And the hard blues skies will shiver/ As the winter clouds come stalkin'/ And unless you find someone to hold/ Unless someone starts caring/ Unless you find the warmth you need/ Unless someone starts sharing/ When the long dark nights come closin' in/ And the winter winds comes howlin'/ You don't know if you'll make it/ Without someone you can count on.” --- well, you just want to take your loved one in your arms and be happy they're there. Vito and Fred are once again a perfect pair on acoustic guitars, with Frost on lonely piano. Seger albums usually end on a great ballad, and this is among his greatest.

For me, that's where the album ended, as I bought the vinyl LP when it came out in '86, but apparently the CD version comes with a cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival's standard “Fortunate son”. It's a great song, performed live, but for me it sort of ruins the end of the album, as I had, as I said above, always listened to “Somewhere tonight” as the closer, and for me that track ends the album as it should be ended.

Although Seger has released three more albums since “Like a rock”, with a fourth scheduled for release this year, I personally believe this is the one on which he got everything right (I discount the inclusion of “Fortunate son”, as I believe that's down to the label, not the artist, as it wasn't on the original vinyl release), and it stands as the quintessential Bob Seger album. Maybe he'll surpass it this year, but he's going to have to work damn hard to do so!

TRACKLISTING

1. American storm
2. Like a rock
3. Miami
4. The Ring
5. Tightrope
6. The aftermath
7. Sometimes
8. It's you
9. Somewhere tonight
10. Fortunate son (live) --- CD only


Suggested further listening: "Night moves", "Stranger in town", "Against the wind", "The distance"
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Old 06-15-2011, 06:30 PM   #36 (permalink)
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Original sin --- Pandora's Box --- 1989 (Virgin)

When I first picked up this CD, purely out of curiosity due to the cover, I caught the words “Written and produced by Jim Steinman” --- that was all I needed to know. Being a big Meat Loaf fan, I was aware (as I'm sure my readers are) that Steinman was the creative force behind the big man's phenomenal successes like “Bat out of Hell” and “Dead ringer”, and had released his own solo album prior to this, under his own name. This, however, is a project, and though Steinman writes most of the songs, plays the keyboards and produces the album, he does not take vocal duties. The project goes under the name of “Pandora's Box”, and this was their only album. Amazingly, it was a total flop, but then, I'm sure you have tons of albums in your collection that were less than successful when released --- doesn't mean they're bad albums. Maybe some people just don't know a good thing when they see it.

I would hazard that, had this been released as a Meat Loaf album, with the man singing on it, it would have been a lot more successful. Perhaps even had it been heralded as “Jim Steinman” it might have garnered more interest, but to the average record-buyer, before the inception and global dominance of itunes, this was just another mildly interesting rock record sitting on the shelf, and unless you picked it up and examined it with more than a cursory glance, you missed seeing that Steinman's name was attached to it. I really think the marketing (or lack of it) sabotaged this album's chances of breaking commercially.

All that aside, it's a fantastic record, a real gem. Combining the best of Meat Loaf (without him of course) and Jim Steinman, and recruiting people like Ellen Foley, Roy Bittan and King Crimson's Tony Levin, it's a powerful and dramatic rock opera, complete with choirs, a full orchestra and even monologues and soliloquies, not to mention some amazing songs.

It starts with a spoken intro, twenty seconds long, spoken by Ellen Foley, known from her work with Meat Loaf, then kicks right into the title track, a storming rocker with vocals by at least three girls: Ellen, Laura Theodore and Gina Taylor. The lyric puts a twist on the term “original sin”, changing it from the Adam and Eve connotation to the idea of something that hasn't been tried before: ”I've been looking for an original sin/ One with a twist and a bit of a spin/ And since I've done all the old ones/ Till they've all been done in/ Now I'm just looking/ Then I'm gone with the wind/ Endlessly searching for an original sin.” The song features a great “arena moment”, when the music stops for a moment as clapping hands keep the rhythm and all the voices chant the chorus. A great start.

Next up we hear the famous 20th Century Fox theme (you know the one, from all those films you've watched), and we're into a cover of the old Doors classic, updated to reflect a male instead of a female character. It's a very funky number, almost disco in parts, Ellen Foley again taking vocal duties as she sings ”He's the king of cool/ He's the devil who waits/ Since his mind left school/ He never hesitates.” Featuring some great piano work from Roy Bittan from Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, and a great horn section, it bops along with great verve, with a line from Wilson Pickett's “In the midnight hour” thrown in, and ending with the famous keyboard riff from “Light my fire”. Sweet!

One of the best tracks is also one of the best ballads on the album, Gina Taylor taking over for “Safe sex”, with its clever lyric ”Baby there's no such thing/ Baby it just ain't true/ And there's no such thing as safe sex/ When it comes to loving you.” It's driven on a piano and guitar melody, heavy thumping drums helping the song along, but it's Gina's powerful and tortured voice that really makes the track. There's real raw emotion in her voice as she cries ”There's always the danger of losing control/ And of breaking my heart / And exposing my soul/ There's just no protection from the look in your eyes/ Or the touch of your hand when I break down and cry.”

Much of Steinman's work has ended up recycled and reissued on later albums, often those recorded by Meat Loaf: “Surf's up” originally appeared on Steinman's first solo album and was later on “Bad attitude”, and “Lost boys and golden girls”, from the same solo album was later the closer on Meat Loaf's follow-up to “Bat out of Hell”, “Back into Hell: Bat out of Hell II”. Here, the song “Good girls go to Heaven (Bad girls go everywhere)” also resurfaced on that album, but I prefer the original, having heard it first here. It's a real rocker very much in the style you'd expect from a Meat Loaf album, which is probably why it was included in “Back into Hell”. Steinman's lyrics are always slyly sarcastic, and the title tells it all. Elaine Caswell takes over to sing this one, and does a really good impersonation of Bonnie Tyler too!

Ever heard Verdi's “Requiem” for guitar and keyboards? You will if you listen to this disc! Steinman calls it “Requiem Metal”, and it leads into a track which, although it isn't a song, is still one of the best and most innovative on the album. Steinman himself voices the monologue to “I've been dreaming up a storm lately”, with the sounds of wind behind him as he takes the role of a serial killer who believes he sees reflections of his future victims in his mirrors at home, and then has to go out and find the person and kill them if they don't measure up to the reflection. Which of course they never do. ”I've been dreaming of mirrors/ Millions of mirrors/ An endless army of mirrors/ Out of control/ Reflecting people to death.” He goes on to explain to his newest potential victim ”They create a reflection and then/ I have to go out and find the real thing/ That matches it./ And almost always, when I put the real thing in front of the mirrors/ It is not nearly as beautiful as the reflection that came first/ And at that point I have to destroy the real thing." You can hear the unhinged menace in his voice when he snarls ”They decide themselves what they want to reflect/ They won't obey me!” Sends shivers down yer spine!

The track that follows you will probably know, as it was hijacked by Celine Dion and became a big hit for her, proving my theory that had this album been properly marketed it could have done so much better. “It's all coming back to me now” is the second ballad on the album, and sold with power and emotion by Elaine Caswell. If you aren't a fan of La Dion, then you may have come across it on Meat Loaf's “Bat out of Hell III: The Monster is loose”. It leads into the instrumental “The opening of the box”, which features the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, and runs into another spoken monologue, this time voiced by Ellen Foley, with absolutely incredible rhythm as she reads out “The Want Ad”, a caustic rebuff to all the people who have answered her personal ad. There is great echo reverb on the track too, giving it an extra dimension. It has a great little black humourous ending too, and then she stays on vocals for the dancy “My little red book”, written by songsmith Burt Bacharach, then we're into the final slow song, if not actually a ballad.

“It just won't quit” is sung by Elaine Caswell, in her final action on the album, and was also covered by Meat Loaf on “Bat out of Hell II”. It recalls elements from the title track, and rocks along nicely. The penultimate track is a truly exceptional piano solo by Steven Margoshes which encompasses the title track, the above and also “It's all coming back to me now” and goes under the title of “Pray Lewd” (Prelude, geddit?) before things come to an explosive end with “The future ain't what it used to be”, again also covered by Meat Loaf on “The Monster is loose”. It's a storming piece, and well worthy of being the closer to the album. Gina Taylor takes vocal duties for the last time, and a great job she does with the track. Great lyric as always: ”Say a prayer for the fallen angels/ Stem the tide of the rising water/ Toll a bell for the brokenhearted/ Burn a torch for your sons and daughters.” My only small gripe is that instead of leaving it ending on a very effective piano melody, there's a sort of reprise with a kind of gospel-choir chanting to the end. I personally think it doesn't work, and would have preferred the track, and album, to have ended on the piano outro. You'll know what I mean when you hear it, and you can make up your own minds.

“Original sin” really is the classic that never was, and it's such a pity. Few people will ever get to hear and enjoy this album, and probably a large percentage of those will hear it by accident. Perhaps reading this review will help add to that number, and if so, then I'll be happy.

TRACKLISTING

1. The Invocation
2. Original sin (The natives are restless tonight)
3. Twentieth Century Fox
4. Safe sex
5. Good girls go to Heaven (Bad girls go everywhere)
6. Requiem metal
7. I've been dreaming up a storm lately
8. It's all coming back to me now
9. The opening of the box
10. The want ad
11. My little red book
12. It just won't quit
13. Pray lewd
14. The future ain't what it used to be



Suggested further listening: "Bad for good", "Bat out of Hell" by Meatloaf, also "Bat out of Hell II" and Bat out of Hell 3", and "Bad attitude"
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Old 06-16-2011, 01:27 PM   #37 (permalink)
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Casanova --- The Divine Comedy --- 1996 (Setanta)


The biggest problem with the Divine Comedy is categorising their music. It's pretty hard, well nigh impossible, due to the many different influences and styles used on the albums, and “Casanova” is no exception. Everything from barqoue classical to Britpop is there, and you would think with such a varied amount of styles and songs it would all get horribly messed-up, but the genius of the Divine Comedy is that it doesn't: somehow, it all fits and a song about a ballet dancer played by a chamber orchestra can sit comfortably beside a song about going on a bus played in a pop style.

Kicking off with “Something for the weekend”, it's a nice slice of pop, jogging along at a decent lick, with some of the most absurd lyrics you will have ever heard --- unless you've listened to other DC albums! ”Get it through your sweet head/ There's nothing in the woodshed/ Except maybe some wood.” The song actually starts off with a Kenneth Williams-like voice saying “Hello” as girls giggle in the background. This is the sort of thing you will come to expect of The Divine Comedy, which is essentially created, driven and given life by singer/songwriter/musician/all-rounder Neil Hannon. His distincitive voice is strong, cultured, upper-class-sounding, and definitely not the sort of thing you would expect to hear on a “popular music” record! The songs are generally short, snappy, and about as different to each other as is possible, with “Becoming more like Alfie” a case in point. The songs on the album are all loosely linked by a general theme of sex (hence the title), but really, no two songs are alike.

“Middle class heroes” again begins with a cultured voice speaking, this time saying “Hello, what have we here? A young lady? How may I be of service this dark and wintry night?” Turns out to be a fortune teller, who goes on to tell the girl what she can expect in her future life. ”I see oriental paperglobes hanging like decomposing cocoons/ While exotic candles overload/ The musty air with their stale perfumes.” The song is carried on a slow, almost jazzy beat, trumpets, trombones and tubas painting a sad and bitter tale of the realities of life for the “middle class heroes”.

Hannon tends to see love as it is, and his sarcastic and acerbic comments on the “happy ever after” envisaged by starry-eyed couples shines through on each of his albums. This is not to say he does not believe in love, but he does have harsh words for those who think it's all hearts and flowers. You get the impression in his songs of a lot of knockbacks, failed romances and lessons learned. It's quite refreshing, and for perhaps his most acid “lovesong” you should check out “If...” on his “A short album about love”. But back to this album, and on to the next track, “In and out in Paris and London”, a sort of grungy rock arrangement, with Hannon's mellifluous voice almost incongruous against this melody. The song is an unashamedly brazen report of romantic conquests, as is “Charge”, this time against the backdrop of a tango beat, likening the sexual act to a battle --- ”Cannon to the left, cannon to the right/ They'll go bang-bang-bang/ All night!”

“Songs of love” you may find naggingly familiar, so I'll put you out of your misery and tell you that it's the theme tune for “Father Ted”, which Neil re-arranged specially for that show. It's a great little tune in its own right, almost entirely on acoustic guitar, with some great lyrics: ”Their prey gather in herds/ Of stiff knee-length skirts/ And white ankle socks./ But while they search for a mate/ My type hibernate/ In bedrooms above/ Composing our songs of love” You'll hear the “Father Ted” theme right there in the instrumental section near the end. Then, after a fairly innocent and heartfelt ballad, it's back to satire and sniping attacks with “The frog princess”.

It starts off with a riff from the “Marseilleise”, the French national anthem, then becomes a nice little ballad, but with a hidden message, as the princess in the tale declares ”You don't really love me/ But I don't really mind/ Cos I don't love anybody/ That stuff is just a waste of time/ Your place or mine?” But the best line is reserved for near the end, when Neil sings ”I met a girl/ She was a frog princess/And yes, I do regret it now/ But how was I to know that just one kiss/ Would turn my frog into a cow?” and then, with some glee”And now I'm rid of her/ I must confess/ To thinking of what might have been/ And I can visualise my frog princess/ Beneath a shining guillotine!” complete with the sound of a guilloine blade falling down!

This really serves to illustrate Neil Hannon's peculiar talent for poking fun --- often savage fun --- at love and its foibles, and that his characters are almost always flawed, in one way or another, whether the prodigal Alfie, the stuck-up and self-absorbed frog princess, or the heartbreaker in “In and out”. More philandering occurs in “A woman of the world”, with its carefree whistling intro and jaunty melody, its 40s/50s chorus ”She's a fake/ Yeah, but she's a real fake/ On the make/ Making up for lost time/ Just you wait/ Hey give the girl a break/ And a fistful of dollar bills will see to that!”

One of the most powerful tracks on the album comes next, and Neil really has saved the best for last. “Through a long and sleepless night” is a searing, heart-pounding, almost terrifying journey through one man's psychosis (*), with an almost breathless vocal describing a descent into madness and isolation, possibly to link in with the final track. ”It's four o'clock and all's not well/ In my private circle of Hell/ I contemplate my navel hair/ And slowly slide into despair.” His acerbic humour again comes through even here as he sings ”You deserve to be horsewhipped/ But I've no horse/ That joke's so sh1t/ And whips would only make it worse/ Don't tempt the lonely and perverse!” You can hear the rage and frustration in Neil's voice as he spits out the lyric, and the music tries to keep up with him. An acoustic passage about two-thirds of the way through has him sing ”Bored with normality?/ Why not go mad?/ It's easy to do if you try.” The song picks up again then for its thundering conclusion as Neil slides into madness and perhaps close to death.

Before the closer we have a really weird track, called “Theme from Casanova”. Introduced like a radio programme that has just ended, credits are read and the instrumental plays out as “one extra item”. In of itself, that could have been a good enough closer, but eager to outdo himself, Neil hits us with a parting shot, the amazingly powerful and emotional “The dogs and the horses”, which looks at a man on his deathbed (the same man from “Through a long and sleepless night”?) and notes that as he dies, all the dogs and horses he has had, who have passed on before him, gather round to say goodbye. ”Sing a happy song”, he advises, ”For spring does not last long/ A flower blooms and then it's gone.”

It starts off very very gently, with piano and acoustic guitar, and Neil singing very quietly, but when he gets to the chorus the orchestra kicks in and the song simply soars to new heights, and becomes a real powerhouse. ”So the only thing to feel sad about is/ All the dogs and the horses you'll have to outlive/ They'll be with you when you say goodbye.” The orchestration on the track is immensely moving, and when the track finally ends on a last “Good... bye...” you really feel like you've been through the wringer.

I can go on and on about how great the Divine Comedy is, but there's no way I'll ever have the words or the skill to do them justice. You simply have to take the plunge and listen to the recordings to properly appreciate the breadth of this man's genius, and “Casanova” is not a bad jumping-off point. It was mine, and I've listened to all his output since, and not looked back once.

(*) = Of course, that's what I THINK it's about, but Hannon's lyrics are so obscure and ambiguous at times that it's virtually impossible to say for certain what he means in any of his songs.

TRACKLISTING

1. Something for the weekend
2. Becoming more like Alfie
3. Middle-class heroes
4. In and out in Paris and London
5. Charge
6. Songs of love
7. The frog princess
8. A woman of the world
9. Through a long and sleepless night
10. Theme from Casanova
11. The dogs and the horses



Suggested further listening: "Promenade", "Liberation", "A short album about love", "Fin de siecle"
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Old 06-17-2011, 11:33 AM   #38 (permalink)
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I know The Adventures music they were from Northern Ireland and they ended up being based in London it seems, so very much part of the new wave / new romantic scene. My favourite song by them is Feel The Raindrops from 1985.
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Old 06-24-2011, 11:56 AM   #39 (permalink)
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Small change --- Tom Waits --- 1976 (Asylum)

Waits is one of those rare performers who totally polarises opinion: you either love him to death, or you hate him and think he's overrated. There is no middle ground. It's a rare person who will say “I could listen to a few Waits tracks, but I don't like most of his music”. Similarly, his fans love everything he does, and again it's rare you'll hear someone who likes his music say “Oh yeah, but that album was AWFUL!” Which is weird in a way, as fans of most artistes will have their reservations about certain of their heroes' works; there will be albums they like and ones they don't often listen to, but even when Waits puts out sub-standard (for him) material, it's generally recognised as still being streets ahead of anything else.

“Small change” is mostly regarded as the zenith of his “early period”, up to the mid-to-late seventies. After this, Waits' music changed, and became (if possible) weirder and more off-the-wall. That said, this should in no way be seen as a “typical” Waits album, (if indeed such a thing exists!) as virtually every time he released something he went in a new direction, and still does. But as an introduction to the man and his works, it's not a bad place to start.

Heavily influenced by jazz and blues, and often with only one instrument (piano, sax, bass) backing his gravelly voice, it's a melancholy ride with occasional smirks, both at himself and at America, and deals rather intensively with the subject of alcoholism, a condition Waits was certainly familiar with. No two tracks are the same, but every one has something to say.

Kicking off with “Tom Traubert's blues”, a short piano and string passage introduce the song before Waits' eating-gravel-for-breakfast-voice makes its mark on the song. It's loosely based around the old Australian traditional song “Waltzing Matilda”, and tells the tale of a man staggering from place to place, a bottle in his hand, sorrow and pain in his heart. ”I'm an innocent victim/ Of a blinded alley/ And I'm tired of all these strangers here/ No-one speaks English/ And everything's broken.” It's actually a beautiful ballad, and was as you may know covered reasonably competently by Rod Stewart (where annoying Djs persisted in calling it “Waltzing Matilda”!), and like a lot of Waits songs, it hasn't really got a clear verse-chorus-verse structure, although the [/i]”Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda/ You'll go waltzting Matilda with me”[/i] sort of forms the chorus, as such.
The song, like most of Waits' work, features some amazing lyrics: ”And it's a battered old suitcase/ To a hotel someplace/ And a wound that will never heal” that really pull you into the song, and into the mindset of the main character. In many ways, “Small change” itself is a mini-opera, a drama set to music, a million stories in the naked city, and we listen as the various characters weave in and out of the songs (often with a bottle or glass in hand), telling their tales of woe, and stagger off into the dirty, garbage-strewn night.

“Step right up” is a complete departure next, carried on upright bass, minimal percussion and sax, as Waits takes the part of a street barker, hawking his wares to anyone he can pull in. ”Step right up, step right up/ Everyone's a winner/ Bargains galore!” The frankly ludicrous claims made by him for “the product” --- ”It forges your signature/ Entertains visiting relatives/ Turns a sandwich into a banquet/ Walks your dog/ Helps you quit smoking...” --- are clearly his swipe at the way these often crappy products are talked up by their sellers, culminating in the ultimate ”It finds you a job/ It IS a job!” and at the end he warns ”You got it buddy:/ The large print giveth/ And the small print taketh away!”

Then it's on to another ballad, and another character enters the play, as the “Jitterbug boy” tells of his adventures: ”Cos I've slept with the lion/ And Marilyn Monroe/ Had breakfast in the eye/ Of a hurricane.” The song, like the vast majority on this album, is mostly carried on a simple piano melody, and like most of Waits' material, it's his incredibly distinctive voice that shapes the song. It's of course very American-based in the lyric: ”Got drunk with Louis Armstrong/ What's that old song?/ I taught Micky Mantle everything he knows.” When I first heard this I had no idea who Micky Mantle was! Didn't stop my enjoyment of the song though.

Things stay slow then for a piano and string driven ballad, one of Waits' finest, “I wish I was in New Orleans”. Waits tends to often use a lot of popular (at the time) culture references and even nursery rhymes in his lyrics, as here he sings ”I can hear a band begin/ 'When the saints go marchin' in'/ By the whiskers on my chin.” He also tends to namecheck places, streets, establishments in his songs, as here: ”All along down Burgundy” and ”Then Claiborne Avenue/ Me and you”.

His ballads are occasionally satircal, and once in a while downright funny, as in the case of the next track up, the hilariously titled “The piano has been drinking (not me)”, in which he does bad piano as only a great pianist can, hitting wrong notes just at the right time, creating a dischord and dissonance that is entirely crafted and intended. Though the skewed piano playing is funny, the real laughs are in the lyric. Check the opening lines: ”The piano has been drinking/ My necktie is asleep/ And the combo went back to New York/ The jukebox has to take a leak/ The carpet needs a haircut/ And the spotlight looks like a prison break/ And the telephone's out of cigarettes/ Balcony is on the make.” Genius!

And still the mood stays slow, but returning to the real world, there is no humour, intended or otherwise, in “Invitation to the blues”. Again carried on a lone piano melody, it's the tale of broken-down people and wounded hearts: ”You wonder if she might be single/ She's alone and likes to mingle/ Gotta be patient, try to pick up a clue.” Good sax in here too, adding a real jazz-haunt vibe to the song. Like most of the songs on “Small change”, the lyric in this is primarily concerned with the damage alcohol abuse does, and the shattered wrecks it makes of people's lives. There's no glamourising of drinking here, as he said himself in an interview, “There ain't nothin' funny about a drunk [...] I was really starting to believe that there was something amusing and wonderfully American about being a drunk. I ended up telling myself to cut that **** out." (courtesy Wikipedia, from Smellin' Like a Brewery, Lookin' Like a Tramp by David McGee).

The next track is another maverick, with absolutely nothing but Waits' voice behind percussion, as he describes the goings-on at a strip club, in “Pasties and a g-string”, where men come to ”Get a little somethin'/ That you can't get at home.” It's quite an amzing song, never heard anything like it. It's followed by “Bad liver and a broken heart”, which uses the basic melody of “As time goes by” from Casablanca, and is again a slow song if not an actual ballad, and again concerned with alcoholism: ”Got a bad liver and a broken heart/ I drunk me a river since you tore me apart/ I don't have a drinkin' problem/ 'cept when I can't get a drink.” It's a real story of a guy who knows he's sinking fast, but since his heart is broken he doesn't really care. Another carried on a single piano melody, with some great lyrics: ”No the moon ain't romantic/ It's intimidating as hell/ And some guy's trying to sell me a watch/ So I'll meet you at the bottom of a bottle/ Of bargain scotch”. Not to mention ”Hey what's your story?/ Well I don't even care!/ Cos I got my own double-cross to bear.” Like I said before, genius...

Another stripped-down track follows, with just an upright bass and sax for company, “The one that got away” is a real finger-clicker, despite the lack of instrumentation, or even proper melody. It's a story, prose told to a semi-musical background. It's almost a slow rap. Before there ever was rap. Then we're into the title track, another of the same and carried almost entirely on tenor sax, with Waits relating the aftermath of the gunning-down of small-time criminal Small Change who ”Got rained on with his own 38”, and you can just picture him lighting up another cigarette as he leans against a lampost in the half-light, collar pulled up against the chill, as he remarks without surprise ”No-one's gone over to close his eyes.” It's just accepted as one of those things that happen here, every day, and people ignore it, go on with their lives. ”His headstone's a gumball machine/ No more chewing-gum or baseball cards/ Or overcoats or dreams.” The only mourner at his street funeral is the sax player,and hey, it's his job. Nothin' personal.

The album closes on another ballad, the tale of a guy working in a store after closing time, sweeping the floors and dreaming of seeing his girl after work. We'll all be familiar with the sentiments behind “I can't wait to get off work”, and it's another piano-driven song, perhaps finishing the album on a low-key note, but with a certain amount of hope, as the character here has at least found gainful employment, has his girl and some money in his pocket.

TRACKLISTING

1. Tom Traubert's blues (Nine sheets to the wind in Copenhagen)
2. Step right up
3. Jitterbug boy (Sharing a kerbstone with Check E. Weiss, Robert Marchese, Paul Body, and the Mug and Artie)
4. I wish I was in New Orleans (In the Ninth Ward)
5. The piano has been drinking (not me) (An evening with Pete King)
6. Invitation to the blues
7. Pasties and a g-string (At the Two O'Clock Club)
8. Bad liver and a broken heart (In Lowell)
9. The one that got away
10. Small change (Got rained on with his own .38)
11. I can't wait to get off work (And see my baby on Mongomery Avenue)


Suggested further listening: "Frank's wild years", "Rain dogs" "Swordfishtrombones", "Heart attack and Vine", "Mule variations", "Foreign affair"
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Last edited by Trollheart; 11-04-2011 at 09:16 AM.
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Old 06-24-2011, 06:32 PM   #40 (permalink)
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Default Introducing ... (drum roll) "Spinning the Wheel"!


FIRST SPIN

Right, I've been going on for weeks now about how I'm going to introduce this section where I choose a random album and review it, be it good, bad or indifferent. So here it finally is. Over the next god-knows-how-long I'll be occasionally spinning a random number generator and linking that back to my album database, picking out the album it refers to and, no matter whether I love it, hate it, feel neutral about it or even haven't heard it yet, I'll do my level best to do a balanced review of it. I should mention right off the bat that, should I come across as cutting, mean, or even unknowledgeable about certain albums/bands/artistes I review here, I accept I may not know enough about them, but I'll be reviewing purely on what I hear, how it makes me feel, and what I personally get, or don't get, from the album. Comments, criticisms, debate and death threats are as always welcome. Well, maybe not death threats. Set me straight, it you feel strongly that I've disparaged one of your favourite albums or artistes, but understand that no slight is in any way intended.

This feature will run as and when I have time, so there could be days/weeks/months between reviews, unlike my normal reviews, which I will try to keep more regular. Also, I will be introducing new sections to my journal, which may end up pushing back “Spinning the Wheel” even further.

Remember, it's all a matter of chance, all a roll of the dice. No-one knows what will come up, least of all me.

Every good boy deserves favour ---- The Moody Blues --- 1971 (Threshold)


Okay, so here we are at the first “spin of the wheel”, and like my usual luck, it's let me down. Oh well, so the story goes: you pays your money and you takes your chances. A random album I said, and a random album it is. And I guess in some ways it worked out, as this is by no means an album I would have chosen to have featured, given the choice. But I laid down the rules, and must live by them. Hey, this could end up being interesting: can I manage to review an album I don't care too much about as professionally as I do when reviewing my favourite albums? Let's see...

So, the Moody Blues. Well, they've always been something of an enigma to me. I know they're well known and respected. I know they have their place in the history of music, and millions of fans, lots of hit singles, and to be fair, I do like their “Very best of” album, which is why I made the point of acquiring the rest of their catalogue. To date, that seems to have been a mistake. I should have stayed with the greatest hits package, and been none the wiser. About eighty percent of what I've listened to so far has been, to me, boring, slow, and leaves me cold.

That said, let's get on with the album. Released in 1971, it's the sixth Moody Blues album, and was very well received at the time, hitting the number one spot. The title of course refers to the mnemonic taught to anyone trying to learn music, to help them remember the progression of notes on the treble-clef: E-G-B-D-F. The sleeve is very striking, with an old man offering a child the world on a string: very deep.

The opening track doesn't help to change my opinion of the Moodies. It's a very weird instrumental, with only a few words --- desolation, creation, communication --- more or less shouted rather than sung during the track, and it's apparently supposed to represent the birth of music, from the dawn of creation up until now. It doesn't work for me: I find “The Procession” annoying and a little off-putting, but it's followed by one of their songs I do know, from the VBO: “The story in your eyes”, which is a fast-rockin', upbeat number with a rather dour message: ”But I'm frightened for your children/ That the life we've been living is in vain/ And the sunshine we've been waiting for/ Will turn to rain.” There's no doubting the talent of the Moody Blues: Justin Hayward is a phenomenal singer, and a great songwriter. And guitarist. Mike Pinder lends the compositions a weird otherworldy feel with his flurries on the mellotron, his tinkling on the harpsichord and other keyboards, and Graeme Edge keeps everything ticking over behind the drumstool. It just doesn't always work for me.

“Our guessing game” arrives and departs without leaving any real impression on me. It has a sort of medieval feel to it, sort of acoustic, but to me sounds a little confused, not sure what sort of song it wants to be, and the vocal harmonies are all over the place. Hayward does not sound on song here: his voice seems to warble and tremble. “Emily's song”, written by bassist John Lodge for his newborn daughter, is Beatles-ish, pleasant if a little sugary, with an interesting little lyric: ”And in the morning of my life/ And the evening of my day/ I will try to understand/ What you say.” I hear echoes of Fleetwood Mac in it, though of course the Moodies were first, so I should really say I hear echoes of this in in particular “Book of love” from “Mirage”.

“After you came” starts off like “Question” from “A question of balance”. It's a reasonably fast-paced rocker, and at least here Hayward gets to stretch his considerable vocal abilities. There's more guitar too. As I listen to it, the melody continues to follow that of “Question”, from the previous album: perhaps they had that song on their mind when they wrote this? The next one up is another pastoral-sounding song, with a suitably “hippy-like” title. “One more time to live” is another great showcase for Justin Hayward's vocals, and indeed the soaring organ (oo-eer!) of Mike Pinder. There's repetition of the “desolation/creation/etc” refrain from the opener here, some nice acoustic guitar helping to take along a song which is pretty upbeat and hopeful in its subject matter. Nice lyric too: ”One more tree will fall; how strong the growing vine/Turn the earth to sand and still permit no crime/ How one thought will live provide the others die/ For I have riches more than these “

“Nice to be here” comes in on a flute and drum base, again very pastoral, very Haight-Asbury, Hayward's vocal much more restrained on this track, one of only two on the album exclusively written by Ray Thomas, the flautist (not surprising then that the flute plays such a central role in the song!), and this then takes us into the second Justin Hayward-penned track, “You can never go home”. It's telling that the only other track on the album written just by him was the big hit off this album, the aforementioned “Story in your eyes”, and here again he displays his singular talent for writing great songs. It's a much different song to “The story in your eyes”, but still stands out from the rest. His vocal is very understated on it, but he makes up for it with his guitar playing! Nice backing vocals too, properly arranged and orchestrated this time.

The album closes on the only track written by Mike Pinder, and indeed the longest on the disc, at nearly six and a half minutes. It's not surprisingly introduced on a piano melody and carried on keyboard and organ, and it's in fact a very good song, and a decent closer. “My song” is a mission statement: ”Love can change the world/ Love can change your life/ Do what makes you happy/ Do what you know is right / And love with all your might/ Before it's too late”. Not exactly original lines, no, but words to live by, in any time. After about two minutes in, the song virtually stops, and there's silence for a few long seconds before a VERY good and dramatic instrumental passage --- very cinematic. It's a pity the rest of the album isn't like this, as it's just at the end that I finally get into the album, through this track. But by now it's too late. It's a great way to close what is, in my opinion, a rather mediocre album, and to be honest I can't see how it went to number one in the UK when released, but then I guess the Moodies were much more popular back then. If I had just heard this and “The story in your eyes”, I would have thought this album is much better than it is, but to be honest, the bad/mediocre tracks on it outweigh the good, and in the end I don't see myself listening to this again any time soon.

Except maybe to sneak a listen to “My song” one or two more times...

TRACKLISTING

1. The procession
2. The story in your eyes
3. Our guessing game
4. Emily's song
5. After you came
6. One more time to live
7. Nice to be here
8. You can never go home
9. My song
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