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Old 06-29-2011, 06:12 PM   #51 (permalink)
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Loved your Marillion write up although I think fugazi is the least commercial album of the Fish era personally and the artwork represents the already fractious relationship of the band even this early on in their career.

The art represents a sort of Faustian payback for the success of the band which the band were not always comfortable (especially Fish). The state of emotional turmoil is still there but the financial trappings of success are transient; hence the wine glass instead of beer, the technological acroutements: the video player and T.V. The view from the window whilst seemingly full of monetary gains already sets in motion a picture of decay and the toy train meaning that there is a hopeless desire to hang onto innocence.

The notion of album art though is a lost art these days I think and album art was an integral part of the overall medium which seems to have been lost these days.
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Old 06-29-2011, 06:34 PM   #52 (permalink)
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Long road out of Eden --- The Eagles --- 2007 (Eagles Recording Company)


This being the first full studio album since 1979's “The long run”, which saw the Eagles break up --- ostensibly for good --- it was something of an event when announced. Discounting 1994's PR-driven “Hell freezes over”, which had after all only four new tracks on it, this was the first time anyone had heard from the legendary country rock band in 28 years, so it had better be good!

It is. Six years in the making, this was not a record that was rushed out to capitalise on the success of the aforementioned “Hell freezes over” and its associated tours. This was a proper album, a real renaissance and rebirth for the Eagles, coming smack up to date for the 21st century, and it has a lot to say. It's a double album, and unlike many similar efforts by other bands, that doesn't mean it's one disc of original material and the other made up of live recordings, unreleased tracks and remixes. In other words, this ain't “Hell freezes over again”. Oh no. This is the real deal.

It would be fallacy to say it's a perfect album; there are tracks on it I don't like, or more accurately, like less than others, but the good very much outweigh the bad, or at least the less good. The first disc kicks off with an unexpected treat, and in very low-key fashion. “No more walks in the woods” is truly an eco-ballad, using words from a poem by John Hollander to create an almost acapella song arranged for four voices, with a few guitar chords here and there. It really is a beautiful little piece, though very short (two minutes exactly), and certainly one of the standout tracks on the album. It's followed by a track that would be released as a single from the album, J.D. Souther's “How long”, which recalls the likes of “Take it easy” and “Already gone”, while “Busy being fabulous” is a swipe at career women who put their enjoyment above the needs of their family: ”You were just too busy being fabulous/ Too busy to think about us/ I don't know what you were thinking of/ Somehow you forgot about love.”

There are a total of seven ballads on the album, and “What do I do with my heart” is the first of these. It's typical Eagles, and could sit just as comfortably on any Don Henley or indeed Glenn Frey solo album. It's a nice ballad, but nothing special. It's not really till “Waiting in the weeds” comes along that we get anything really spectacular. It's again a ballad, but much longer than usual, almost eight minutes long, with a lovely piano outro and some great lyrics: ”I imagine sunlight in your hair/ You're at the county fair/ You're holding hands and laughing/ And now the ferris wheel is stopped/ You're swingin' at the top/ Suspended there with him / And he's the darling of the chic/ Flavour of the week is melting/ Down your pretty summer dress/ Baby, what a mess you're making!” Taken at face value it's a pretty creepy song, the tale of a guy who can't accept that his girl has moved on, and is, in effect, stalking her. Despite that, it's a great great song, and one of my favourites on the album. Some great guitar and piano work combine to make a truly lovely melody, with some excellent vocal harmonies at the end.

Following this is “No more cloudy days”, a Glenn Frey-penned tune and very much his sort of song: reminds me of “Part of me, part of you”. A sort of mid-paced ballad, with some really nice sax at the end, it complements the previous track very well. The guys try updating “Life in the fast lane” for the 2000's, but “Fast company” doesn't really work for me. I much prefer the two closers, “Do something”, which is a real call to action within a kind of ballad structure: ”There's no time for saving grace/ Don't just stand there/ Taking up space/” Perhaps some people might balk at such advice from a group of guys who have enough money to completely change the world, if they wanted, but the sentiment is nice I think, in a time when everyone seems to be doing their best to cover themselves and rip people off. Closer “You are not alone” is a gentle little guitar ballad, again with nice sentiments.

And so disc one comes to a close. Have we heard all the good songs? Have they kept the dross for disc two? Not a chance. Opening with the title track, disc two introduces us to Arabic chants, eastern rhythms set against the backdrop of a desert wind, and as it gets going, a powerful, politically-charged song protesting the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The opening lines set the mission statement: ”Moon shinin' down through the palms/ Shadows movin' on the sand/ Somebody whispering the 23rd psalm/ Dusty rifle in his tremblin' hands/ Somebody tryin' just to stay alive/ Got promises to keep/ Over the ocean in America/ Far away they're fast asleep.” The song reflects Henley's politics, which can be heard on his last album, “Inside job”, and it pulls no punches. It's a long song, over ten minutes, easily the longest on the album. There are plenty of digs at the Bush administration: ”We're ridin' to Utopia/ Road map says we'll be arrivin' soon.../ Captains of the old order clinging to the reins/ Assuring us these aches inside are only growin' pains.” The song presents the two wars from the perspective of a young soldier who has found himself thousands of miles from home, and not sure why? ”Back home I was so certain/ The path was always clear/ But now I have to wonder/ What am I doin' here?” The song features a truly epic guitar solo before it drops into what I guess would be the second movement.

Here, Henley sings of the “power corrupts” theme: ”We're on the road to Damascus/ The road to Mandalay/ Met the ghost of Caesar on the Appian Way/ He says it's hard to stop this bingein' / Once you get a taste/ But the road to empire/ Is a bloody stupid waste.” The song fades out on a dramatic outro, possibly symbolising the never-ending war on terror. This epic is followed by a truly beautiful instrumental called “I dreamed there was no war”, and then the paranoia-laden rocker “Somebody”, which really takes the tempo up a few gears.

Of all the ballads on the album, I could have done without “I love to watch a woman dance”, which is pure country schtick, but followed by a true Henley number, another political song, “Business as usual”, which definitely recalls the title track of “Inside job”, before the album comes to a close with two nice little tracks, “Centre of the universe”, a vocal harmony triumph, and “It's your world now”, which sounds like a father handing over the reins to his son, driven on a mariachi/Mexican melody, reniniscent of some of the Eagles' early work. You can just imagine the guys relaxing in some cantina south of the Rio Grande, tequilas in hand, toasting their success and passing on their experience to the next generation. If this is to be their swan song, they couldn't have chosen a better track to bring down the curtain on an illustrious career, and we thank them for the music.

There were always going to be the sceptics, those who would scoff and say this was nothing more than a load of old guys getting together to make some money off their fans (after all, the Eagles have had no less than four greatest hits compilations --- but then, that's the record labels, not the band), but a listen to “Long road out of Eden” proves that these lads cared about this project, put a lot of work, energy, thought and heart into it. It's a record that should, if there's any justice in the world, stand the test of time like their greatest classic, “Hotel California”, and prove that the Eagles are far from dead. At the very least, it's great value for money: nineteen tracks, and every one an original.

After they had released the record, Don Henley told CNN this was probably the last Eagles album they would ever make. On the strength of what they've come up with here, I really hope that's not the case. It has been a long road out of Eden --- twenty-eight years long --- but to my mind, the Eagles have finally reached the Promised Land.

TRACKLISTING

1. No more walks in the wood
2. How long
3. Busy being fabulous
4. What do I do with my heart
5. Guilty of the crime
6. I don't want to hear anymore
7. Waiting in the weeds
8. No more cloudy days
9. Fast company
10. Do something
11. You are not alone
12. Long road out of Eden
13. I dreamed there was no war
14. Somebody
15. Frail grasp on the big picture
16. Last good time in town
17. I love to watch a woman dance
18. Business as usual
19. Centre of the universe
20. It's your world now



Suggested further listening: “Hotel California”, “Desperado”, “One of these nights”, “The long run” and Don Henley's “The end of the innocence” and “Inside job”.

(Note: footage from this album proved exceedingly hard to come by. It was either crappy cover versions (WHY do people think we care about them playing songs on their guitars??) or restricted or even blocked content at the request of the copyright holder, so apologies for a) the dearth of clips and b) the quality of some. Believe me, this is the best there is out there!)
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Old 06-30-2011, 09:57 AM   #53 (permalink)
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Thx Jack for the post and also for the clarification as to what the album art means. I must admit, though I often use Wiki to explore details of albums. meansing of songs, history etc, "The secret life of the album cover" was all done totally on the fly by me, and any and all conclusions reached therein, or any suppositions put forward (sounds painful!) are my own, and not to be taken as gospel by any means. It's just what I felt the album cover said to me.

Watch out for more of the same soon...
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Old 06-30-2011, 11:21 AM   #54 (permalink)
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I stand alone --- Agnetha Faltskog --- 1987 (WEA)


Agnetha who? Ok then, what if I said “that blonde one from ABBA”? Yeah, that's her: one half of the female pair in the Swedish supergroup. This was her third solo album, and it's not half bad. Produced by Peter Cetera of Chicago, who also duets with her on one track, it's got a nice crisp clean sound about it, without being clinically pristine and devoid of emotion.

It starts off well, with a mid-paced ballad, “The last time”, replete with digital piano and churning guitar. Perhaps strange to begin an album with a track so titled, but it sets the tone of the album, which seems to be more or less centred on the idea of breakups and betrayals, and is, I guess, in that way quite a dark album. No vacuous pop record then, but that's hardly what you'd expect anyway from someone who has spent the better part of her life making music that's cherished by millions the world over. “The last time” is really more a rock song than a ballad, quite gutsy and heavy, and Agnetha's soulful voice soars over the arrangement like an avenging angel.

Much more commercial, and less impressive, is the Gloria Estefanesque “Little white secrets”, which more or less comes and goes without leaving too much of a mark, and leads into the third single from the album, the aforementioned duet with Cetera. “I wasn't the one who said goodbye” has all the hallmarks of a Chicago song --- the only thing missing is production by David Foster! It's pretty much Peter Cetera sings with Agnetha Faltskog, rather than the other way round. Don't get me wrong: it's great to hear the man's voice on record again, but he does sort of take over the song. At least it's heavier and rockier than the previous track, though that's not hard.

Then we have a Bucks Fizz cover! Yes, you read that correctly. “Love in a world gone mad” was originally on an album by the blonde Eurovision winners who brought us such anthems as “Making your mind up” and “The land of make-believe”. Give me a break! This thing is so sugary I'm glad I'm not a diabetic! Pass!

And there we have the essential dichotomy of this album. Some tracks are good rockers or rock ballads, some are pop songs and some are just over-produced nonsense, so that it's hard to take it seriously as a whole. As if to underline the point, the next song, “Maybe it was magic”, is a fantastic, powerful ballad sung with power and passion by Agnetha, and if more of the songs were like this then this would be a knockout album. As it is, for every “Maybe it was magic” there's a “Little white lies” --- you're just starting to enjoy it when something slaps you upside the head and changes your thinking, so that it's hard to form a cohesive opinion of the overall product.

It's also telling that Ms. Faltskog doesn't write, or even have a hand in writing, any of the songs on this album. You would think that a talented songwriter like her would have wanted to be involved in the creative process, but no, every song is written for her. Personally I wonder if this is why the album falls down on so many fronts: some of the songs are good, a few great, but there are some very bad ones, and I wonder had she stretched her wings a bit and engaged in some songwriting, would we have had a better album?

For all that, the second side of the album is considerably better than the first. Kicking off with a nice little pop/rock tune, which was released as a single from the album, “Let it shine” is not half bad at all. “We got a way” is pure ABBA, circa the “Voulez Vous” period. Rocks out nicely, keeps the tempo up, nice keyboard solo. At this point, you begin to let your breath out, daring to think that maybe the album is beginning to come together,and you'd not be wrong. The title track is I guess what you might call a dark ballad, although the rhythm betrays it as more a pop song, and the horns give it a very latin feel. It's written for her by (you would have to say) co-star Cetera and his ex-Chicago compatriot Bruce Gaitsch, who apparently also co-wrote Madonna's hit “La isla bonita”. So he knows a bit about songwriting, then. You can also hear a little of that song in the beat and melody of this one.

The album closes on two songs penned by two true adepts of the art, Diane Warren and Albert Hammond, and of these two it's the final track, “If you need somebody tonight”, that stands out and is a fitting closer. A gorgeous little piano-driven ballad, with yearning and a hint of desperation, a sort of much slower and restrained “Take a chance on me”.

All in all, this is no classic album, but there are certainly tracks there which make it a very good one. My advice would be, listen to the opener, skip to “Maybe it was magic” and let it go from there. Mind you, she couldn't put a foot wrong in her native Sweden, where the album went to number one! Ah, those crazy Swedes!

TRACKLISTING

1. The last time
2. Little white secrets
3. I wasn't the one who said goodbye
4. Love in a world gone mad
5. Maybe it was magic
6. Let it shine
7. We got a way
8. I stand alone
9. Are you gonna throw it all away?
10. If you need somebody tonight
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Old 06-30-2011, 02:12 PM   #55 (permalink)
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Photo-finish --- Rory Gallagher --- 1978 (Chrysalis)


There have been many superlatives used to describe the late Rory Gallagher's playing, and attitude towards his music, but my favourite one is I believe also the most appropriate --- honest. There never was anything contrived or false about Rory's music. From the time he picked up a guitar at age nine to the moment he breathed his last on June 14 1995, all Rory ever wanted to do was play the blues. His huge catalogue of albums reflect this, and when he wasn't rockin' out Rory was pickin' out the blues, each of which he could do with consummate ease on his favourite 1961 Stratocaster. This album is one of my favourites by him, and every track is a gem.

Titled “Photo-finish”, the story goes, due to his just barely managing to record the album to the very deadline, it's full of hard rock standards that became synonymous with the great man, a few blusey ballads and some quite frankly unbelievable guitar work. Rory didn't go in for complicated album sleeves (no room for him in my “Secret life of an album cover” slot, then!), and most of his sleeves show a simple picture of him either playing the guitar, or surely about to. The exception is 1975's “Against the grain”, which shows his beloved Strat on the cover, with an inset of him. Simple, honest, no-frills, no pretensions: that was Rory.

But his music. Ah, that was something else!

Kicking off with “Shin kicker”, the album blasts off with a good rocker, a real biker's anthem: ”It's a shin kickin' mornin'/ Gotta kickstart the day/ Wind up my machine and I'll be on my way!” Like most of Rory's work it's a vehicle for his amazing guitar playing, backed up by his two stalwarts, Gerry McAvoy on bass and Ted McKenna on drums. Until now, Rory had also had a keyboard player, but he decided to dispense with Lou Martin for a harder, blues/rock edge, and it certainly worked. I liked “Deuce” and “Calling card”, and “Against the grain” was a great album, but they do lack a certain type of raw energy that's evident in abundance here. You can really tell the guys are enjoying themselves.

Rory's voice is in fine fettle as he powers on to “Brute force and ignorance”, another hard rocker written with tongue firmly in cheek. The opening guitar chords are enough to bring a smile to any Rory fan's lips. It's a lot slower than “Shin kicker”, but still strong and powerful, and like most Rory songs it develops into something of a guitar jam at the end. Then things kick into serious high gear for “Cruise on out”, with Ted playing the drums so fast you'd swear he must be an octopus! Let's put it this way: if you planned to headbang to this, check your neck is still attached afterwards! This is “Rosalita (come out tonight)” for the nearly-nineteen-eighties! I tells ya, if you can sit still for this track get yourself checked out, cos you ain't human!

Rory always had a great interest in spies and secret agents, and this comes through on the next track, the aptly named “Cloak and dagger”, a hard blues number, which sees Rory break out his harmonica. Sweet! There are two ballads on the album, the next track being the first. “Overnight bag” starts off with a guitar lick and then kicks into the tale of a wandering rocker leaving his latest lover: Packed my things in an overnight bag/ Toothbrush, a guitar: got no tail to drag/ Gonna leave on the next passin' breeze.” Ah, the freedom!
It should probably also be pointed out that Rory wrote every single song on this album himself, as he did on most of his repertoire, except where he covered old blues numbers. He also produced this album, as he does many of his others. A hands-on guy, indeed, very much in control of his own music.

Things don't stay mellow for long, as next up is “Shadow play”, another Rory standard, with a truly spectacular guitar solo, kicking everything back into high gear, before slowing down for a crunching blues number, “The Mississippi sheiks”, and then powering right back up to ten for “Last of the independents”, which I find very similar to “Cruise on out”, though that's no bad thing!Ted the octopus at it again! Everything comes to an end then in a glorious slow-burner ballad, “Fuel to the fire”.

If nothing else, “Photo-finish” establishes Rory Gallagher as one of the premier blues guitarists of his generation, and the rock world is definitely lessened by his sudden passing. Rory always lived hard, but complications brought on by a necessary liver transplant in June 1995 brought to an end a career that, although it had blazed an unfogettable trail across the firmament of rock and roll, had so much more to give. In departing though he left this world with some truly exceptional music, and reminded us all why the humble guitar is such a force in rock. Rory didn't need synthesisers, programmed drums or batteries of mixing equipment to make his music: pure and simple, he let his Strat do the talking.

When I bought this it was again one of my infamous vinyl records, so although the CD version features two additional tracks, I've never heard them before, and for me the album has always ended on “Fuel to the fire”, so that's where I'm ending my review. Never fear though: the two extra tracks are included in the download below.

TRACKLISTING

1. Shin kicker
2. Brute force and ignorance
3. Cruise on out
4. Cloak and dagger
5. Overnight bag
6. Shadow play
7. The Mississippi sheiks
8. The last of the independents
9. Fuel to the fire
10. Early warning
11. Jukebox Annie



Suggested further listening: “Top priority”, “Jinx”, “Against the grain”, “Calling card”, “Blueprint”, “Defender” …. ah hell, just listen to everything the guy has ever done!
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Old 07-01-2011, 05:49 PM   #56 (permalink)
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Subsurface --- Threshold --- 2004 (InsideOut)


This album was my first introduction to UK progressive metal band Threshold, and it's a corker! So good in fact that I then went and acquired the rest of their catalogue, which is just as good. It's their seventh studio album, and their fifth to feature longtime vocalist Andrew “Mac” McDermott, their three previous albums having had different singers. It only has 9 tracks on it, but there isn't a bad one among them, and that's a rare thing indeed for any album.

These are serious, deep guys and you'll find no “rock all night” lyrics here, nor any (well, one) songs about girls. You can tell they're thinkers just by looking at the sleeve, where a TV set is reflected in the lake. On the screen is the word “REFLECT” and in the reflection is the word “CONCEPT” or possibly “CONCEIT”, not sure which, but either way it's an eye-catchng cover and a statement of intent made before you even hit PLAY. So, what about the music? Interesting album sleeves and concepts are all very good, but let's be honest, it's the music we want to know about, yes?

It gets going with a real rocker, “Mission profile”, laying down the marker from the start. Threshold tend to use politics a lot in their lyrics, and this is no exception, though the politics get much heavier and involved later. McDermot's voice is clear and distinctive, bursting with power and emotion as he sings ”We've got a system, you're going to use it/ We call it freedom and you are free to choose it/ If you're not against it you've got to be for it/ Neutral is dangerous and you cannot ignore it .” Never guys to sit on the fence, Threshold espouse getting involved, seeing what's going on and trying to do something about it. Karl Groom lets loose with guitar solos on this track, and gets involved in a battle with keyboard player Richard West. It's glorious to behold.

Interestingly, West wrote or co-wrote every song on this album. Talented guy! The politics come thick and fast, and if you're someone to whom the lyrics are important AND you hate politics, you may find it hard to like this album, as it is VERY political --- you thought Floyd's “The final cut” was loaded with political messages? That has nothing on “Subsurface”! But if you are the sort of person who loves good prog metal and well-thought out and executed songs, and aren't bothered about the political messages behind the lyrics, you'll enjoy this album. The music is never anything less than powerful, forceful and technically proficient, but always melodic, in fact, there are so many hooks on this album it's a wonder more singles weren't released from it. It IS heavy though, and the tempo hardly lets up at all right through the recording. If you're looking for something to relax to after a hard day, this ain't it!

“Ground control” features a truly wonderful guitar solo halfway through, and some extremely thought-provoking lyrics: ”And everything our fathers made/ And everything they fought to save/ Is trampled under this parade /And nothing's going to stop them now/ Their policy will know no bounds/ As soon as they control the ground.” There's a definitive, unambiguous sense of a faceless “they” upon whom Threshold lay the evils of the world, and in this way the theme is quite similar to Shadow Gallery's “Tyranny”, reviewed a few pages back. I love the line ”Under the flag of liberty you'll find corruption lurking/ It's our responsibility to keep the system working .”

Mass media is tackled in “Opium” next, as we're told [i]”They'll print it on the front page /To synthesise an outrage/ But all we find is a decoy once again/ Duplicity and trickery surround us /Till all believe there is no other way.” It's a slower song, though not in any way a ballad! Crunching, angry guitars, pounding drums courtesy of Johanne James, and bursts of piano all work to make this a truly epic song, with McDermott's growling vocal riding above it all. Thing speed up then for “Stop dead”, but it's the next track, the monumental “The art of reason” that becomes the albums's piece de resistance, with its lyric (I believe) firmly directed towards former President George W. Bush with lyrics like ”We thought you'd do your best for future generations/ But all you left was a mounting debt (i don't believe that it's right)/ We thought your peace could flow like water through the nations/ But you shut down the fountainhead (i don't believe that it's right)” It's a long song, and at over ten minutes easily the longest track on the album. It's absolutely epic. Great vocal harmonies against a really dramatic melody; you can almost hear the nations of the world crying out against the injustice.

The track starts off slow and grinding, but as the anger mounts it picks up speed, and the guitars really get going, with the drums pumping like steamhammers. There's also a killer chorus: ”It was there right before our eyes / We were blind not to realise /In the rush to be globalised we signed away our freedom/ We forgot how to criticise / We were scared to be demonised / As the truth was neutralised we lost the art of reason.” Telling stuff, indeed. But again, if you're not into the lyric, listen to this for the quality of the music, and you won't be disappointed.

After an epic track like that you'd think the boys would take a breather, but nothing doing. “Pressure” is another fast rocker, keeping up the, ah, pressure, and it's not until the following track that we get the first ballad on the album, the sublime “Flags and footprints”. Taking a break from the politics for once, this is a pure love song, albeit a tragic one: ”But I believed in what you said / I trusted in your summer/ Now the leaves are turning red /And soon they'll all be coming down/ How can I go on/ If hope is what keeps me alive/ And I'm so uncertain?” In true Threshold fashion, it starts off heavy, with snarling guitar and pounding drums, but soon settles into a nice piano-driven melody, backed by lighter guitar. And no doubt you're asking yourself what the title means? Well, according to the lyric [i]”Maybe my research was sound / But maybe I just fooled around/ All flags and footprints but nothing further down /To find you, to find you.” Yeah, I don't know what it means either. Beautiful song though.

“Static” gets things moving one last time before the closing track and the second ballad on the album brings down the curtain on a wonderful record. “The destruction of words”, which is just sublime (yeah, I know I've used that word before, but really, nothing else fits. So sue me!), with excellent harmonies and a great melody, but since its central theme is the absence of words, it's best just to listen to it rather than talk about it.

“Subsurface” may seem like Threshold at their best, but if you know them, you will know that they have other albums just as good. That's the great part, I always find, in discovering new artistes. There's nothing more annoying than coming across a brilliant album, only to find the band didn't make another one or haven't yet. Thankfully, Threshold's current discography holds a total of eight studio albums, and there's a new one in the works for later this year. I for one can't wait!

TRACKLISTING

1. Mission profile
2. Ground control
3. Opium
4. Sop dead
5. The art of reason
6. Pressure
7. Flags and footprints
8. Static
9. The destruction of words



Suggested further listening: “Clone”, “Psychedelicatessen”, “Dead reckoning”, “Critical mass”, “Extinct instinct”, “Wounded land” and “Hypothetical”
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Old 07-02-2011, 03:17 PM   #57 (permalink)
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Believe --- Pendragon --- 2005 (Toff)


I had always heard of Pendragon, of course --- you can't be into prog rock and not know of them --- but I hadn't really any idea what their music was like until I spun this album. Just because a band is prog doesn't necessarily mean I'm going to enjoy them: I'm still trying to get into IQ and have given up largely on Spock's Beard. But from the very beginning Pendragon hit all the right spots, and after this album it was not long before I delved further into their catalogue.

I'm reliably informed that “Believe” marked something of a shift away from their root sound, possibly in the same way “Season's end” became a turning point for Marillion after the departure of Fish, and listening to their back catalogue I can see the differences, but the fundamental similarities remain: good songs, excellent musicianship, interesting themes. I guess you'd say this is Pendragon for the 21st century.

It all starts off very proggy, with swirling keyboards and flutes behind a female voice singing some sort of chant, possibly in German, with vocoders and other doo-dads going in the background, then a voice (which definitely sounds German!) says “And now, everybody to the dance floor!” And that's the first track, and the title track; I guess you could say the intro. It's followed by “No place for the innocent”, which gets a nice groove going from the beginning, guitar-led and with some very political lyrics: ”Do you believe in the president/ The bible, the Constitution?/ Do you believe in innocence/ Do you believe in throught control?/ Do you believe in Wonderland?/ Or there might just be no Al Qaeda at all!” Things keep up nicely with “The wisdom of Solomon”, with something of a reprise of the chant from the opening track, and again the guitars of singer and frontman Nick Barrett taking centre stage. There's a beautiful little solo to open the song before it gets going, truly magical.

It is, however, the epic “The Wishing Well” that forms the centrepiece of the album. Split into four parts, it totals just over 21 minutes, in true prog style, starting off with “For your journey”, a keyboard-driven prayer for the survival of humanity as we take our first steps out into the stars, leaving our planet behind. It's an extremely well-constructed piece, containing mostly a spoken vocal, with choral backing; almost lyrical poetry, very moving, very dramatic. ”Never let those eyes twinkle out. /Just always walk in the light./ Carry the crazy, the wild, the exciteable, the child./ And when you fall to your knees, and your eyes are full of tears. /It's time to make things new. / Listen to your heart, I beg you, please.”

The second part is called “Sou' by sou'west”, and is much more guitar led, faster in an almost waltzy way. Some nice acoustic guitar in here, too. The speed increases then for part 3, “We talked”, its melody sort of linking back to “The wisdom of Solomon” from earlier, with drummer Fudge Smith (yeah, that's his name: Fudge. Don't ask me.) really getting into it and carrying the beat as the song gets boppier and more frenetic, till it crashes to a halt and the final part, “Two roads” ends the composition rather powerfully, with references to Robert Frost's famous quote “Two roads..., and I took the one less travelled”.

I'll admit it: I have no idea what the song is about. I get the first part, but how it links with the others I really don't know, but then I don't think it's always necessary to know what a song is about to enjoy it. There does seem to be a central theme, spoken of in “We talked”, which is question everything, believe nothing. Sounds like a strapline for the X-Files... There's no denying though the power of this music, and even if its meaning is beyond me, I still love it. The differences, the changes, the lyrics, all just excellent.

“Learning curve” has a sort of Pink Floyd vibe to it, sort of mid-paced. I guess Nick is talking about life when he says this, but in some ways perhaps he's saying this about the album: ”It's about faith./It's about time and space./ It's about everything in your life you must face./ It's about life. It's about love./ It's about death. It's about all you can feel,/ And all that's unseen.” Great guitar solo at the end. The album closes on a perfect little ballad, the power and emotion in “The edge of the world” always moves me to tears, I'm not ashamed to say. Listen to the guitar outro (as such) and tell me it doesn't have an effect on you! It's the end of the journey, full circle as Nick sings ”As I stand on the edge of the world/ I look into your eyes/ And I realise/ That this was never meant to end/ And I can now call you my friend.”

The basic theme of the album seems to be one of a journey: a journey through space, through time, through faith and belief, and ultimately through love and back to where you started from. It's one hell of a journey Pendragon take us on with this album, and I'm pretty sure that if you're not already a fan of theirs, one listen to this album and you, too, will believe.

TRACKLISTING

1. Believe
2. No place for the innocent
3. The wisdom of Solomon
4. The Wishing Well
I) For your journey
ii) Sou' by sou'west
iii) We talked
iv) Two roads
5. Learning curve
6. The edge of the world



Suggested further listening: “Kowtow”, “Not of this world”, “The round table”, “Pure”, “The Masquerade overture”. “The jewel” and “The window of life”
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Old 07-02-2011, 04:42 PM   #58 (permalink)
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Fact and fiction --- Twelfth Night --- 1982 (Twelfth Night)


Twelfth Night were old-school progressive rock, which is to say, they made their records about obscure subjects and didn't court airplay, nor seem too bothered when it didn't court them. Despite (or perhaps because of) that, they made some truly stunning albums in their too-short career. Not many, it's sadly true, and as far as studio albums go this was their first. It should have led to a glittering string of successes alongside the likes of Marillion, IQ and Pallas, but it doesn't seem to have worked out for them, which is a real pity.

First track, “We are sane” is a savagely satirical attack on society, starting with of all things a choirboy-like aria which then turns into a series of spoken snippets, like extracts from studies ”If the thought processes of an individual/ Can be permanently limited to the point of strict conformity/ To an outside source of thought/ The said individual need no longer/ Be considered as such/ The enforcement of order becomes possible/ For anyone with enough power/ To control what is projected”. In the background someone can be heard saying ”Would you file this please Harry?” The song gets faster and a robotic voice declares "Technician we want you to build a component/ For each of our workers, to be with them always/ At all times watch closely so we can keep track of/ Their actions, their interests, their morals, their time out/ Some musak to maim them some fear to contain them/ Policy will judge them brute forces degrade them./ Practical behaviour, the cleanser the saviour /A private vocation has no sense of nation/ The maintenance of power can be fulfilling /Just as long as all the slaves are willing.” Andy Revell goes a bit mad with the guitar here, fitting the title of the song, while Geoff Mann sing and declaims like Waters on “The Wall” at his most fanatical.

“Human being” is a great little song too, very Marillion-like in its structure, another warning of dehumanisation, with great keyboards from Clive Mitten, a cool little bass solo from him too, and impressive drums from Brian DeVoil. Another great guitar solo as Revell's fingers fly up and down the fretboard . It's so sad that a voice like Geoff Mann's was taken from us. Although he cut ties with Twelfth Night in 1983 to pursue a career in the church, and recorded some spiritual albums, he was diagnosed with cancer and died in 1993. A tragic loss. Twelfth night carried on with Andy Revell as singer, though I have not yet heard any albums with him singing.

“This city” is a dark ballad, conjuring up images of windblown streets with houses looking out over them with broken windows like sightless eyes. It's pretty keyboard driven, and Mitten does great work here, though in fairness it's very hard to get away from the possessing and imposing voice of Mann, who strides each song like a colossus. We get a chance to hear Twelfth Night without him though on the next track, “World without end”, which is a very short instrumental carried again on keys, almost church-like in its execution, but very effective.

The title track is a boppy, uptempo number with again dark and satirical messages: ”If you listen carefully/ You can hear the bacon fly!” It's another keyboard-led song, with a fine line in bass, a relatively simple drumbeat all that's needed to keep it on track. The keyboard hook is very commercial, and if it wasn't for the deep lyric this could have been a hit single. Ah, the usual problem. Oh well, ”If the unthinkable should happen/ And you hear the siren's call/ Well you can always find some shelter/ Behind a door, against a wall.” Indeed. And don't forget to lie down so the nuclear blast goes OVER you, childen...

“The poet sniffs a flower” is a great little instrumental, which starts slowly, with a lovely little acoustic guitar (I believe it may be classical guitar?) melody with keyboard backing and then the drums pump in slowly, but halfway through it speeds up and gallops to the end in a very “Duke” way. The drums pick up and Andy Revell drops his acoustic and picks up his electric guitar to take the song to its ending.

And so we come to the opus on the album, the almost twelve-minute-long “Creepshow”. It's a multi-layered piece, featuring a slow, acoustic opening and seems to centre on the idea of a sanitaium being used as a sideshow, as Mann welcomes visitors. ”Welcome, welcome, first today to see the Creepshow/ Come see the exhibits/ But do not touch/ They cannot bear touch in the Creepshow.” It's a disquieting lyric, accompanied by suitably spooky music and truly inspired singing by Mann, which just teeters at the edge of insanity. The guy's range was truly scary!

It's a very unsettling song, and you can feel yourself, despite your fear, being dragged into the creepshow, tagging along with all the other watchers, observing with horror but also terrified interest the freaks and experiments housed here. Eventually we come to ”The nerve centre of the whole affair/ As you will see, it is a mirror/ To some it is the mirror of dreams/ Where every passion, desire and action/ Flit through the still spaces behind its surface/ Tantalising yet distant/ Of these, many stand before it until death.” The song ends with a dire warning: ”If you come again/ You'd better bring your ball and chain/ Another embittered attraction/ Of the Creepshow!” Brrr! Gives me chills, it does! Ending on a guitar solo worthy of “Comfortably numb”, this is one monster (literally) of a track!

After all the weirdness, horror and unease of “Creepshow”, the album ends in a much gentler fashion, with a gorgeous little song of hope, entitled simply “Love song”. Revell accompanies Mann on acoustic guitar, and you can hear the beginnings of the singer's religious conversion in the lyric: ”If you feel that your hoping heart/ Has led you into pain/ Take a tip from the Carpenter/ Forgive and love again.” After all the convoluted lyrics, themes and concepts throughtout the album it's quite amazing, refreshing and clever that Twelfth Night close “Fact and fiction” with the simplest of sentiments: as Bill and Ted once said, be excellent to each other. Can't argue with that.

If you're a prog fan and have not yet heard Twelfth Night, take my advice and download it below, and lose yourself in a band who should have lasted far longer.

TRACKLISTING

1. We are sane
I) Te dium
ii) We are sane
iii) Dictator's excuse-me
2. Human being
3. This city
4. World without end
5. Fact and fiction
6. The poet sniffs a flower
7. Creepshow
8. Love song



Suggested further listening: “Live at 'The Target'”, “Live and let live”
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Old 07-03-2011, 01:09 PM   #59 (permalink)
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Water sign --- Chris Rea --- 1983 (Magnet)

The first time I heard this album was when a workmate brought a copy in on cassette tape (insert humourous reference to my old age and technology now deemed ancient here!), which is actually quite apt, as when the album was offered to Magnet they were so disinterested that they wouldn't cough up for the recording fee so that it could be made professionally, and instead Rea had to offer them the demo he made, which was overdubbed a little here and there. Ironically, it sold very well and of course in the fullness of time Chris Rea became a huge property, selling out large venues and earning platinum status for many of his albums.

You can actually hear the rawness on the album, and yes, in a lot of places it does sound like a demo, but to be honest that doesn't take away from it at all. In fact, it kind of endears you to the album. At a time when so many artistes were overdubbing to death, tripling vocals and using all sort of electronic wizardry to make what were often mediocre songs into hits, Rea's honest and earnest approach came as something of a breath of fresh air.

The quality of his songwriting, and the power of his voice is evident from the very beginning, when you hear opener “Nothing's happening by the sea”, a slow, lazy ballad, with sounds of waves and surf and seagulls conjuring up nothing less than an ideal relaxing day, looking out over the horizon and watching the waves come and go. Recalls echoes of Otis Redding's classic “Dock of the bay”. It's Rea's deep, soulful and passionate voice that really carries the album though: every song, you feel like he's singing just for you. The opening lines of “Nothing's happening...” set the scene, to a lovely, unhurried guitar track, laid over a deep, bassy keyboard harmony: ”Salty river falls asleep in the bay/ Always gets there, never early, never late.” There's also a really nice harmonica solo in the song, adding to the almost acoustic feel of the song and making you feel even more like closing your eyes and just letting yourself get lost in the melody. If you ever feel under pressure and need to tell yourself to relax, this is the song to do it to.

“Deep water” raises the tempo considerably, very much driven by the rhythm section: great bass line. Cool saxaphone solo too! Then we're into “Candles”, a very fragile, gentle beginning, which develops into a powerful little song, concerned with freedom and oppression, and on which we first hear Chris on the guitar. It's followed by “Love's strange ways”, a nice little ballad which again suits Rea's deep, rich voice, and “Texas” is another ballad. Curiously, the same title would appear on his album “The road to Hell”, but a totally different song.

Things get a bit funky then for “Let it loose”, the drum machines giving this song a touch of the discos, though it's still a great little song, with some nice guitar and some serious synth. It leads into “I can hear your heart beat”, which became one of Chris Rea's first major hit singles; with its boppy, danceable beat it became a favourite with clubbers, giving Rea a foot into a world he had perhaps not ventured into prior to this. Next up is “Midnight blue”, a slow song but not a ballad, --- about a guy buying a suit, would you believe? ---with some great slide guitar. “Hey you” is just a throwaway piece of fun, almost calypso in its rhythm, but the album ends on “Out of the darkness”, which is perhaps one of the better tracks on the album, boppy with a great bassline and nice keys, great sax too, certainly closes the album in style.

It's a vindication of Chris Rea's talent that an album recorded on so low a budget and with such lack of interest from a record label could still produce hit singles and provide him a springboard to a long and successful career. After “The road to Hell” in 1989 Chris Rea parted company with his record label, Magnet. Considering how dismissive they had been of him about this album, I'm surprised he stayed with them that long. I bet someone's sorry they hadn't faith in him.

TRACKLISTING

1. Nothng's happening by the sea
2. Deep water
3. Candles
4. Love's strange ways
5. Texas
6. Let it loose
7. I can hear your heart beat
8. Midnight blue
9. Hey you
10. Out of the darkness



Suggested further listening: “Wired to the moon”, “On the beach”, “The road to Hell” (but not “The road to Hell part 2”!), “Deltics”, “Dancing with strangers”, “King of the beach”, “Dancing down the stony road”
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Old 07-03-2011, 05:49 PM   #60 (permalink)
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Note: in an effort to fly the flag for my little country, and to prove that Ireland has more to offer than just U2 and (shudder!) Westlife and Jedward (!), I'll be featuring sporadically a selection of Irish rock albums that you may not know about, or have heard. These will be indicated by the below graphic. I've already featured albums by Rory Gallagher and the Adventures, but Irish rock has so much more to show you! Stay tuned....


Feel no shame --- Aslan --- 1988 (EMI)

Ah, the great could-have-beens of Irish rock! Aslan were formed back in the mid-1980s and were quickly snapped up by major record label EMI for this, their debut album, after their first single became a radio smash hit in 1986. The album, “Feel no shame”, subsequently legged it to number one in Ireland and did extremely well in the UK, but the sudden success was too much for the band, who split, only to reform later on.

This, however, remains one of their most important and powerful releases, featuring no less than four hit singles in Ireland, and it firmly established them as a major new band and a very hot property. You only have to listen to it to hear the quality that was there from the beginning. It grabs you by the throat right from the start with the pounding rocker “Loving me lately”, which chugs along on the guitars of Joe Jewell and Billy McGuinness, with the drumming of Alan Downey (any relation to Brian from Thin Lizzy? To be honest, I don't know...) carrying the track along at a great lick. It's a song laden with angst, but angry angst, if you can imagine that. Pretty simple lyric, but it works very well, especially as an opener.

“Pretty thing”, one of the tracks selected as a single, and which got to number 14 in Ireland, is a whole different proposal. Sung with wracked emotion by frontman Christy Dignam, it's a lament on the woes of the world, carried on a guitar and keyboard melody, which starts off slowly for about ten seconds, before Downey's drums kick things into gear, and the song gets going. Jewell's jangling guitar would come to be as recognised by Aslan's fans as the distinctive sound of the Edge in U2. In essence, the lyric is again simple, though deeper, if that makes sense: ”Oh why, can you tell me why/ Is all this sorrow and suffering/ Still going on? / All they ever wanted was a chance to live/ Sometimes I wonder how can we still forgive?”

One of the standout tracks on the album, and the single that brought them to EMI's attention, and eventually their stable, “This is” is another deep song, slower, just as dark, and just as brilliant. ”These are the hands of a tired man/ This is the old man's shroud/ These are the eyes of a blood-crazed tiger/ Staring at the maddening crowd.” Aslan were from the very start all about speaking out on the wrongs in the world, trying to open people's eyes through music. The fact that this single was so successful on radio as a mere demo, and led to a record deal for the boys, speaks volumes about its quality, and the fact that it's still played on Irish radio a measure of the esteem Aslan are held in.

“Been so long” is a slow grinder, with a sort of reggae beat, while “Hungry” gets rockin' again, before “Heat of the cell” steps things up yet another gear, rocketing off with a hugely catchy hook and some great vocal harmonies/ ”In the heat of the cell/ Sits a shell of a man/ In the shifting sand grows an ageing tree/ In the dark of the day/ There's a madman born /There's a voice in the room/ And he's speaking to me.” The next track, “Please don't stop” was selected for a single, but I would have taken “Heat of the cell” anyday, The former is poppy in its way, fast and boppy and quite commercial, but as I said, the hooks in “Heat of the cell” should have made it a good contender for a single. Still, "Please don't stop" reached no. 7 in Ireland, so I guess EMI knew what they were doing. “Please don't stop” is a great little track, featuring again chugging drums from Downey and some great harmonica work from Billy McGuinness --- how often do you say that? Good chorus too, real stadium stuff: ”Climb to the top and shout out loud! /You're never stepping nowhere /With your head stuck in the clouds /Climb to the top and shout out loud!/ 'Cos you're never stepping nowhere, /Till you're stepping out of the crowd.”

Thing slow right down then for “Down on me”, a very honest depiction of life in Northern Ireland during what would have been what we knew as “The Troubles”, when protestant fought catholic and the IRA battled both the UVF and the RUC, as well as the British Army for control of the Six Counties. ”Freedom is a precious thing/ In this world today/ We don't know how lucky we really are/ If there's something to be said/ There is nothing you can say /So don't look down on me.” It's all driven on a guitar melody, growing more and more angry and frustrated as the song progresses, with Dignam's impassioned vocal calling out like a voice in the bomb-blasted wilderness. [i]”If you think your life's a waste of time/
If you think your time's a waste of life /Come over to this land/ Take a look around. / This is a tragic situation/ And a massive demonstration on how to die/ So please don't cry, please don't cry/ Because they're falling all around me/ And I wish I was not here/ Broken bodies they surround me /And I wish that I was not here.”

There's time to shift up through the gears once more before we close proceedings, with a fast and defiant love song, Jewell's guitar again setting the scene, with some truly excellent riffs from the young guitarist as "Sands of time" powers along. The closer is also the title song, and it's worth waiting for. Seems to be the plea of someone separated from their lover due to misbehaviour --- you could guess at abuse --- as Dignam sings like a very tired man who has reached the end of his rope ”Is it love or is it hate?/ When can I come home? / Why can't I feel no shame?” It's driven on McGuinness' magical harmonica and guitar, with a great drumbeat, almost like a train coming down the track. The harmonica gives the track a great blues feel, and it really is the perfect closer to what is after all quite close to being a perfect debut album. Who says we Irish can't rock?

The cover of the album shows a man holding a baby in his arms, and I could be wrong, but the child looks to be similar to the “boy” seen on U2's early albums, “War” and “Boy”, and who became their “mascot” early in their career. I believe this is meant to be a homage to U2, the boys tipping their collective hats to the most famous and successful Irish band in history. It's also possible that the child is wearing headphones, though I can't be sure.

Note: again, there is an extra track on the CD, but I first heard this album on vinyl, and that ended on “Feel no shame”, so although “Book of life” is included in the download below, I haven't included it in the review. This is my usual position. Hope it doesn't bug anyone, but I prefer not to review a track I'm hearing for the first time.

TRACKLISTING

1. Loving me lately
2. Pretty thing
3. This is
4. Been so long
5. The hunger
6. The heat of the cell
7. Please don't stop
8. Down on me
9. Sands of time
10. Feel no shame



Suggested further listening: “Goodbye Charlie Moonhead”, “Live in Dublin”
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