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Old 02-01-2012, 06:28 AM   #801 (permalink)
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Ah yes, the time has finally come. Almost a month into the new year and there are now sufficient new albums for 2012 to allow me to resume reviewing current releases. Truth to tell, there were albums available from January 1, but I didn't want to just grab the first one just because it was the only one, so I've been patiently buying albums over the last few weeks --- and of course will continue to do so --- and now have a decent enough stockpile that I can pick and choose from. The hope, naturally, is to get through them all, so that there are more 2012 albums reviewed by me during 2012 than could be said of the last year. I'll try to do one a week, but we'll see how that goes.

First up is an album that I simply had to buy, merely because of the huge joke in the title. The wit that came up with both the band name and the album title, which together gently poke fun at one of the largest bands on the planet, hopefully hints at some pretty good music to be heard. In addition, I believe the album was released on January 1, so it's a fitting way to start off our reviews of the no doubt many albums, good and bad, to be released this year.

How to dismantle a U2 --- The Atomic Bomb Audition --- 2012 (Self-released)


A four-piece (I think: more later), The Atomic Bomb Audition describe their music as “psychedelic soundtracks for films that don't exist”, which in itself is one hell of an interesting statement. Hailing from Oakland, California, this is in fact their third album, and has been released through their own website The Atomic Bomb Audition for free download, or as much or little as you're willing to pay, following the model set by Radiohead a few years back. It only has seven tracks, though the last one is ten minutes long, and opens on “Plainsong”, a hard but very melodic metal-type song, guitars to the forefront courtesy of Alee Karim, who also takes vocals, though keyboards come in fairly quickly. This is where things get a bit weird, bandwise. Keys are credited to “The Norman Conquest”, who I have to assume is a person, as the photo of them shows four guys, but what an odd name!

The vocals are growled in a very low, almost sotto voce snarl, so much so that it is completely impossible to hear what's being sung at first, then more vocals start up and you can kind of hear what they're singing, as the original ones drop back to the status of backing. Karim's guitar, whether intentional or not --- and one would have to assume, given the title and its U2 connections, the former --- has a very similar sound to that of the Edge. Given how almost indiscernible the vocals are, I am prepared to take this opener as an instrumental, and in that way it works quite well. Following song, “Time lapse”, goes so slow it makes original Sabbath seem breakneck! The vocals are low and growly again but audible this time, a definite nod to Nick Cave in Karim's singing. The drums from Brian Gleeson and bass from James Hoopes are so interminably slow that you wonder they're not caught in some sort of slow-motion trap, but Karim's guitar adds a nice slow melodic sound to what must be close to being death metal slowed to almost a stop.

If this was an old LP record, I have to wonder how slow the ABA would sound if the speed on the record player was switched down, as we used to do? It really doesn't sound like it could possibly get any slower. Unlike recently reviewed Antimatter though, the lack of speed on this track just annoys, giving you a sense of “get on with it!” and so basically ruining what at heart could have been a good song. “Three sevens” doesn't fall into that snare, being a much faster, uptempo song, with some weird little vocoder touches and I think a theremin --- one is certainly used on the album, but I'm not entirely certain what one sounds like, so I can't be sure. It's still all a little confused though: I really find the vocals hard to make out, and even the music on this one is all over the place. Good guitar work and nice synthery, but it's hard to sort it all out.

It all slows down then near the end, into a sort of chant, but by then it's too late as the song is over, and we're into “Laura's theme”, which is indeed a retreading of the old “Twin Peaks” song, albeit given a sort of death metal treatment. If you've watched the show or listened to the soundtrack (no for the former, yes for the latter in my case) you'll know the song: all brooding, melancholy and atmospheric, and indeed instrumental, which is where the ABA seem to shine best. When they really try, they can put together some decent music. This of course is not their own song, and is the first to really stand out, so it remains to be seen whether their own original material will fare as well.

Thing with such a short album is though, they only have three more tracks with which to try and impress me, and “Ra'ad: traced upon the sky” opens with a very eastern melody --- surely that's the theremin again? --- going into a slow, crunchy guitar sound with some nice echoey effects, and just when I thought it was going to be an instrumental some muttering voices appear in the mix, like a crowd mumbling some sort of stream of consciousness: again, it's hard to make out what's being said, though I do believe that's intentional, and to fit the mood and theme of the track, which seems a bit mysterious and enigmatic. I hear Karim now singing the title, but that's about it. Perhaps this could be defined as electronic, melancholic doom or death or black metal? Very strange, that's for sure.

There's a guest vocal on “All is full of love”, another slow, doomy song very reminiscent I think of Sabbath, or maybe some other doom metal bands I don't know --- I'm not that familiar with/interested in the genre --- and the change really works wonders. A lady called Agnes Szelag finally brings some cohesion to proceedings, her voice soaring and clear, sounding inexplicably a little like Debbie Harry, would you believe? This is a decent song, with the band all pulling together to produce a recognisable melody, although that's not really fair. The other songs have their charm, it's just that sometimes they seem a little disjointed, as if no-one is sure what they're supposed to be doing. I'm sure that's not the case, but that's how it comes across to me. This is probably the best I've heard from these guys yet.

Oh, excuse me: I misread the running times. Final track, “Echoes”, is not ten minutes long. It's eighteen! And a few seconds. As a matter of fact, I think it may be the “Echoes”, a cover of the classic from Pink Floyd's “Meddle”, which should surely be interesting if nothing else. Yes, it is. It is, however, a little disappointing for me. Having failed yet to fully form an opinion of this band, I had hoped to have the chance to experience a long track of their own composition to try to break the deadlock. And though I do love this song, and to be fair they do an okay job with it, it's not their own material and so makes it a little difficult to judge the album. One good thing though: it does make me now want to go and relisten to the original...

I have to say, the vocals are very muddy and off, though in fairness the instrumentation is pretty much there: nothing like the original of course, but then that's often the point. It does, however, show again that, like with “Laura's theme”, the Atomic Bomb Audition can play when they want to, and make very good music. It's sadly only really evident though when they do covers, or when they bring in guest vocalists, as in “All is full of love”, prior to this. I guess that leads inescapably to the conclusion, sad though it may be, that it's really the vocals (or almost lack of them) that let this band down, and while Alee Karim does play guitar well, to my ears at any rate he does not sing well. Maybe this is common within this genre (whatever this genre is), but I expect to be able to hear a singer, and I don't get his style at all.

Not a very auspicious start then to my reviews of 2012 albums. I desperately wanted to like this album, mostly for the seemingly different idea to it, and the guys' bravery in self-releasing and offering their music on the net, but it seems the joke, which originally inspired me to check out this band, has worn thin and certainly does not sustain itself through a very confusing, conflicting and at times very frustrating album. I would not be in any particular hurry to hear any more music from this foursome, I'm afraid.

And now, the most obvious comment and the least funny joke of 2012 so far: I have to sadly report that The Atomic Bomb has failed its audition. It's a no, from me. Oh well. That's two disappointments in quick succession for me, with my recent review of Bon Iver's self-titled, though that was not as big a letdown as the fall I had set myself up for here. Still, “How to dismantle a U2” is not bad music, and it may suit or appeal to someone who has more experience with this genre, or who knows the band. It just isn't for me.

TRACKLISTING

1. Plainsong
2. Time lapse
3. Three sevens
4. Laura's theme
5. Ra'ad: traced upon the sky
6. All is full of love
7. Echoes
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Old 02-01-2012, 06:05 PM   #802 (permalink)
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Old 02-01-2012, 06:09 PM   #803 (permalink)
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Getting closer to the end of this trip through the alphabet. Today we move on to R, so here's Rainbow. So it's not that terribly original: whaddya want from the worm?

Today's Daily Earworm has been brought to you by the letter R, with Rainbow and “Since you been gone”.
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Old 02-01-2012, 07:00 PM   #804 (permalink)
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Self preserved while the bodies float up --- Oceansize --- 2010 (Superball)

Since the dawn of time (well, for decades anyway) there have been weird and obscure album titles. This however has to be one of the weirdest. Fourth and final album from prog rockers Oceansize, it gained wide acclaim both for their efforts to step out from behind long, convoluted prog songs as evidenced on their previous albums, particularly “Frames” and “Effloresce” and for exhibiting a heavier side to their music. Is it, though, a fitting end to their legacy, a sign-off that hits all the right notes?

It opens on “Part cardiac”, which starts off like someone tuning an electric guitar, and becomes a heavy cruncher, with almost shouted vocals from Mike Vennart, which I have to say are quite hard to make out behind his wall of guitar sound and the thundering drums. My first impression is that this is not prog rock, or even prog metal, as I generally know it. The song's more than halfway through and all I've been able to make out so far is in-your-face guitar, like a much slower Motorhead, and someone yelling in the background, but I have no idea what Vennart is singing, if singing is the word. Part cardiac? Could give you one, or him, the way he's forcing that voice!

“Superimposer” goes for an all-out drum assault, but this time you can at least hear Vennart sing, and the guitars, though still heavy, are a little more restrained, not so violent and all-pervasive. There's a suggestion of good backing vocals there, but again they're kind of subsumed in either the bad production or the oversaturation of guitars, and it's really hard to hear them clearly. As the song nears its end the guitars scale back a little and you can hear the singing, and it is good, but it ends on a fairly confused mess of noise, which so far is not I have to say endearing this band to me! However, the next track makes the last two sound like ballads, as “Build us a rocket then” kicks up the gear into tenth, and, well, rockets off into the farthest reaches of space. The vocals are, to be fair, clearer here, but the guitar just tends to overshadow anything, and even though there are keyboards, courtesy of both Steve Hodson and Gambler, it's very hard to hear if they make any sort of impression, as Vennart's guitars never really give way, hogging the whole song.

There's an almost amusing point, just near the end of the song, when a small piece of introspective guitar is attempted, but immediately blasted out of the way by what I would have to term eff-star-star-key-you guitar. Things finally settle a little for “Oscar acceptance speech”, the longest track on the album at just under nine minutes, with nice slightly discordant piano and just the barest percussion from Mark Heron, Vennart's guitar kept on a tight leash for the first time. His vocal, as well, can be made out much more clearly here, and is not at all bad. Helen Tonge guests with some really nice violin near the end, and it's a much slower, more restrained track altogether. I much prefer this side of Oceansize, but can it last?

Well, for now, yes it can it would seem. “Ransoms” is another laidback ballad, with muted guitar and a chance for the keyboardists to shine, while Vennart restricts himself to a really nice lazy little solo, throwing some feedback on it for good measure as the song ends, then “A penny's weight” seems to be in Beatles/Beach Boys territory, with a dreamy little melody and some great vocal harmonies, nice bright keys and piano. “Silent/Transparent” is the second-longest track, just over eight and a half minutes, and again it's relaxed, uptempo but without the heaviness or grunge of the first three tracks.

It would appear then that Oceansize were a strange band, one who could morph from heavy death metal fugues and skullcrushing guitar attacks to light, poppy, almost pastoral melodies at the drop of a plectrum. Versatile, certainly, and it's quite clear that on “Self preserved while the bodies float up” you get to experience both sides of the band. Vennart shows on this track that he knows how to rein in the guitar when he has to, and the fine piano playing of Hodson really shines on this song. But it's Vennart's gentle (yeah, I said gentle. I know!) vocal on “Silent/Transparent” that really transforms the Oceansize sound, and your appreciation --- or lack of same --- of their final album. It's really quite remarkable, and shows a band who were not content to stay in the same genre or style for long.

Even a sustained guitar attack to close the song is handled tastefully and with restraint, and contibutes to and improves the song, rather than just bludgeoning it, and the listener, into submission, as has previously been the case. I started out wanting to like this album, decided after three tracks I was beginning to hate it, and now feel the love washing over me. Just proves you can't make up your mind halfway! Then, as if to sort of contradict that thought, “It's my tail and I'll chase it if I want to” comes kicking in the door with heavy guitar and surrender-or-die-well-die-anyway drums, a heavy heavy beat and definitely no lilting piano. The vocal, like the song, is delivered at a mile-a-minute, and you'd wonder how Vennart and backing vocalist Simon Neil can keep up that sort of pace? But even though it's heavy, there's a great melody about it and you can hear everything: it's not just a wall of sound or indeed noise, like “Part cardiac”, “Superimposer” or “Build us a rocket then”.

And then everything turns around again, and “Pine” is brought in on simple acoustic guitar and keyboards, with Vennart back at his laidback best, a mini-anthem with some gorgeous cello from Semay Wu, and the album closes on “Superimposter” (add the “t”), which is nothing like it's “t”-less cousin from the beginning of the album. It's a mid-paced blues effort with more downbeat vocals from Vennart and an acoustic guitar that strides along the melody, some feedback guitar that again fleshes out the song rather than stripping the flesh from it, and on balance a really nice closer.

So for an album that started out like someone trying to kick their way out of my head, this album has performed, like the Incredible Hulk, a startling metamorphosis, becoming a collection of decent, listenable, well-written songs that you can hear, appreciate and enjoy. “Self preserved...” received a huge number of plaudits on its release, and while I can't quite agree with their almost unanimously gushing praise for this swansong for Oceansize, I can say that by the time it's over I'm relieved that it didn't all continue as it began.

Whether it's a great album or not is something I'm not that sure I can decide right now. What is not in dispute though is that it shows two very different sides of a very accomplished and versatile band, who certainly seemed to know how to straddle boundaries without actually falling over into either completely.

TRACKLISTING

1. Part cardiac
2. Superimposer
3. Build us a rocket then...
4. Oscar acceptance speech
5. Ransoms
6. A penny's weight
7. Silent/Transparent
8. It's my tail and I'll chase it if I want to
9. Pine
10. Superimposter
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Old 02-02-2012, 07:17 PM   #805 (permalink)
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Old 02-02-2012, 07:20 PM   #806 (permalink)
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Friday has rolled around once again, and the worm is getting close to the end of this alphabetic marathon --- and he doesn't even have any legs!

Today's Daily Earworm has been brought to you by the letter S, with Spandau Ballet, and “True”
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Old 02-03-2012, 09:38 AM   #807 (permalink)
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Undiscovered soul --- Richie Sambora --- 1998 (Mercury)


Almost as much a driving force behind megastars Bon Jovi as the man whose name the band bears, Richie Sambora writes most of their music in concert with frontman Jon Bon Jovi, and also plays guitar, but he has released two solo albums of his own, both of which are quite excellent and stand as separate works in their own right, away from the massive output of his parent band. I could have reviewed them both, but although I love “Stranger in this town”, it does have one or two weaker tracks on it, while I feel this one has few if any. With all the work Bon Jovi do, what with recording, writing, touring, TV slots and so on, it's a wonder Richie ever got the chance to put out a solo album, but as I say, this is his second.

It starts with a good rocker, “Made in America”, where Sambora recalls his own youth and how he got into music. It's a nice mid-paced song, with acoustic becoming electric guitar, Hammond organ from Billy Preston swelling in the background, but of course as he's a guitarist the song is dominated by Sambora's guitar sound, but not to the detriment of the other instruments. Good solid drumming too from Kenny Aronoff, and a very decent opener with a simple message. The song also proves, if it needed to be proved, that Richie Sambora can sing very well indeed.

“Hard times come easy” has a very Springsteen feel to it, with whistling keys from Robbie Buchanan and a song about overcoming adversity through love. Nothing new here, but Sambora isn't trying to reinvent the wheel, just stay separate enough from his Bon Jovi roots to allow him to stretch outside that limit, but still keep fans of the band interested enough to buy his albums. It's a very upbeat track, with a real message of hope: ”There's gonna be thunder/ Gonna be rain/ Gonna be those times/ We both get caught up in the pain/ Realisation sinkin' in/ Way to make it/ Learn to take it on the chin.” No time, as Queen once immortally sang, for losers. Some great solo work here from the Bon Jovi man, but again he doesn't showboat, just gets on with the job in hand. Sounds like Billy Preston there on background vocals too.

Even more impressive is the ballad “Fallen from Graceland”, with its low-key acoustic guitar while the electric whines in the background, lovely bit of fretless bass from Pino Palladino, and then Sambora's voice is soft and wistful as he sings ”There's nowhere left to hide/ When you're tangled up inside.” After the exuberance and optimism of the first two tracks, the somewhat fatalism of this one takes you a little by surprise. There's no solution, no advice, just a statement of fact: ”When you're too proud to crawl/ Keeps your back against the wall/ You wanna die, but you live/ With nothing left to give.” Nice keyboard lines holding the melody too, very relaxing.

To his credit, Sambora does not rope in any help from his bandmates, unlike on his debut, other than to co-write three songs with keyboardist David Bryan, of which this is one. He could very easily have involved Jon or even Tico or Alec, (Tico Torres and David Bryan both guested on “Stranger in this town”, though Jon was never involved in any way) but chose to sail this ship alone, and it certainly seems to have worked for him. After the melancholy soul-searching of “Fallen from Graceland”, Richie grins and unleashes the powerfully fun “If God was a woman” upon us, knowing exactly how to bring the mood back up. In a fast blues tune, he asks ”If God was a woman/ Would you be impressed/ If she showed up in high heels/ And a pretty red dress?” Great harmonica helps infuse even more fun into this smart, sassy little song. Not sure the religious Right would approve, though!

It's another co-written with his Bon Jovi bandmate, and right through the album Sambora collaborates with one or the other songwriters, which is perhaps something of a disappointment, showing that he either can't, or isn't comfortable writing a song on his own. I suppose he feels most at home in a songwriting partnership, which is fine: play to your strengths. “All that really matters” is another ballad, piano driven, very simple melody, and you would have to wonder, considering the passion with which it's sung, if this isn't dedicated to his then-wife, Heather Locklear. Sadly, the two parted company in 2006, but around this time he would only have been married to her for four years, so their marital problems would not have been surfacing yet.

Great song, with a lovely restrained little solo from Richie and some fine keyboards, a sharp, Brian May-esque guitar part also there, then he really lets loose for “You're not alone”, a powerful, guitar-driven slow rocker whose lyrical theme is certainly that of a ballad, but delivered with force and energy. I know arranger normally refers to the musical arrangement, but if it were to mean the order which the tracks are arranged on the album, Sambora as arranger has done an outstanding job here. With five ballads in total, he's spaced them evenly across the album, not grouping them either near the beginning nor at the end, the latter of which many artistes prefer. I like the way he's done this: it's like, hard rock track, softer rock track, ballad, and it rounds out the album very well.

As an example of that, “In it for love” is another ballad, played on acoustic guitar with minimal percussion thanks to Paulhino da Costa, perhaps the closest Sambora comes to a Bon Jovi-like track on the album, while still remaining his own distinctive product. But you could hear this being played at a Bon Jovi concert, certainly. None of the singles released from the album charted particularly well, but somehow I don't think Richie is short of a bob or two, so I doubt that mattered much to him. This definitely comes across as much more a personal project, something intimate and important to him, rather than an attempt to cash in on his superstar status and the Bon Jovi fanbase. Though I'm sure that helped in its own way.

“Chained” is a faster, harder rock tune, but still with a sense of restraint about it, and it's clear Richie can rock out much harder than this, so is he consciously holding back, trying to make this less of an obvious tie back to his parent band? Or is he just experimenting, seeing what his limits are? Whichever, it's a worthy effort, and just about every track stands on its own, though there are standouts, one of which is coming up next. Opening on a scaled guitar intro almost like that old favourite, “Classical gas”, the moody and introspective “Harlem rain” is indeed one of the best tracks, perhaps the best track on the album. Its simplicity and honesty, as Sambora sings of a guy down on his luck and how he has nothing left to look forward to, is touching and painfully real. ”There's a tattoo of his sweetheart/ Painted on his arm/ He talks a painful tragedy/ How he lost his lucky charm/ His memory is clouded/ From the thunder in his veins/ He's vanishing, vanishing, gone/ In the Harlem rain.” Some mounrful violin accompanies the guitar, a keyboard melody washing them along like flotsam in the gutters as the rain lashes the grey streets. I would put this as perhaps Richie Sambora's best turn on the guitar, his best performance on the album. It's restrained, sad, soulful, tragic and immensely hard-hitting, all in one, and really it's his world-weary voice that carries the tune, despite his excellent and technically flawless guitar work.

Then he ramps it up to ten for “Who I am”, perhaps the hardest, heaviest rocker on the album, almost at times approaching heavy metal territory as he cries ”Who I used to be/ Ain't who I am/ If you walked inside my shoes/ Maybe you would understand.” A powerful track with a truly epic guitar solo, where we really see what Sambora can do on the guitar, and then it all cuts back for the ending with an expressive and intricate little guitar piece that takes the track to its end in a very low-key fashion. In ways, the album as a whole can almost be seen as a concept, the journey of one man --- be it autobiographical or not --- from his youth playing around and not caring about much, through his life and loves, to his career, all the time trying to find the answer to the question asked in, and titled by, this track. The closer, too, deals with part of the story, if you choose to see the album, or parts of it, as linked and telling a story, but before that we have the other contender for top track, and the last penned by him with David Bryan, the power ballad “Downside of love”.

Starting off with screeching guitar, wailing organ and heavy drums, it's an affirmation that everyone goes through tough times, but that love triumphs in the end. Old story, yes, but no less true. Very blues style guitar from Sambora, and some great technical expertise on a really good song, fine backing vocals. A song with a great hook, “Downside of love” would have been a worthy closer, but there's one more track to go before we finish, and it's the title. Opening on chugging guitar, joined by keyboards and percussion, it's bringing the story of the album --- if it exists, anywhere else than in my mind --- full circle, with the tale of someone leaving home and trying to make it on their own in the world.

The trepidation of taking that first huge step are shown in the lyric ”She was standing at the station/ Smalltown suitcase in her hand/ There were dreams she found inside her/ That no-one cared to understand.” but the determination to cut the ties and get out of a bad situation wins through: ”She's scared to go/ But still she says goodbye.” The song gets going as a mid-paced rocker with balladic elements, and it's interesting that, similar to “Fallen from Graceland”, Sambora doesn't offer any solutions, no resolution to the drama of life playing out every day on the streets, as he shrugs ”When you walk that road/ You walk alone/ Just an undiscovered soul/ In the great unknown.” Not happy sentiments to be sure, but sobering and very honest and realistic.

It's a great ending to a great album, and as I said before, it's heartening to see Richie Sambora resist the urge to draw on the talent available to him in Bon Jovi, determined to make this album on his own. As an album by the Bon Jovi guitarist it's a triumph, as a solo album by a supremely talented guitarist and singer, it's a revelation and a vindication that Richie Sambora is more than the sum of his parts, and is more than able to exist on his own merits outside the confines of the band that gave him his real shot at fame.

He's a star. But then, you knew that already.

TRACKLISTING

1. Made in America
2. Hard times come easy
3. Fallen from Graceland
4. If God was a woman
5. All that really matters
6. You're not alone
7. In it for love
8. Chained
9. Harlem rain
10. Who I am
11. Downside of love
12. Undiscovered soul

Recommended further listening: “Stranger in this town”
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Old 02-03-2012, 06:04 PM   #808 (permalink)
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Old 02-03-2012, 06:10 PM   #809 (permalink)
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Time for T, as they say! The nightmare begins to wind down. Never doing this again....

Today's Daily Earworm was brought to you by the letter T, with Ten Sharp and “You”.
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Old 02-04-2012, 02:33 AM   #810 (permalink)
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The march from the Marriage of Figaro is alright but I think Mozart did better ones. And from that opera the overture is very famous and the finale to the work is a nice dramatic interweaving of voices and tempi.

I've always like On The Wings of Love by Jeffrey Osborne, it was a hit in Britain at the time. Stay With Me Tonight is good too, though a dance track and not a romantic ballad.

With All About Eve I've liked their famous track for a while, and more recently I discovered Lady Moonlight. Those are the 2 that made a big impression on me. Apparently the performance of Martha's Harbour was messed up on Top of the Pops as she couldn't hear the music, but they had her on the next week to do it properly. Don't think I've heard their last two albums.
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