Sunday, 6 December 2015

Vale Scott Weiland

Vocalist for the Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver Scott Weiland has passed away at age 48 from an alleged overdose.

Stone Temple Pilots were unfairly derided as third-rate grunge wannabes in the early part of their career, however they hit their straps with their third LP and kept up the pace for the next few until Scott was sacked for his unreliability. He formed Velvet Revolver with some ex members of Guns and Roses for two albums and then maintained a sporadic solo career, occasionally moonlighting in the vocalist seat with the reunited Doors on occasion.

While anyone who dies young is tragic, Scott's problems with substances were well documented and, like many others, I wondered why this hadn't happened earlier. That's not to be negative or morbid, however he spent a great many years dicing with his death via his addictions. While the news is still sad, there was always the feeling that it was a matter of when, rather than if...

Scott had a sonorous voice that didn't necessarily have a wide range, but he elevated those songs into the stratosphere. He sang exactly what was required of the music and never anything more, with equal parts sweetness and grit.

I'm grateful for those handful of albums he made with STP and it is a tragedy that he no longer with us. Vale Scott, you will be missed.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Recovery Revival This Weekend

RAGE on the ABC are having a celebration of all things 90s Indie rock this weekend with repeats of their now-classic Saturday Morning show Recovery.

The show ran from 1996 until sometime in 2000. Why would anyone in 2015 really care about this show?

At the height of the Indie rock boom in the mid-90s came this program on Saturday morning, live to air, commercial free, with live performances, interviews and stories of interest to the Triple J crowd of the time. It gave voice to a series of young people who had very little television experience and a public stage for many bands for whom we might not have been able to see live anywhere else.

Recovery was truly a unique animal. Sure there were crazy variety shows on TV at the time, like Hey Hey It's Saturday, but they were mainstream and had different intentions for their audience. Recovery was completely off the chain, a 3-hour blast of anarchic mayhem where anything that was possible would probably happen, however unlikely. Led by eyebrow-ringed, skate-show wearing host Dylan Lewis, this program was somehow held together with his patience and off-beat personality.



Lewis was also a lightning rod for some of the show's more memorable on-air mishaps. For example, Frenzal Rhomb were interviewed by him while they decided to take an electric razor to his head. Green Day came on for an interview completed off their faces and proceeded to spend most of their interview swearing live to air before kicking the house band off their instruments and launching into two verses of their most recent swear-along anthem "The Grouch".



Along with some memorable performances, it was a program of the sort that just doesn't occur on TV anymore. There's too much at stake for such risk taking these days.

Towards the end of its run the show's format changed, to a shorter show with fewer (and then, in the last few shows, none) live performances as the then Liberal government (with its anti-ABC bias) squeezed the broadcaster's budget.

Above all the show was just damn good fun. For those who think nothing good musically happened after the 80s, take a look at this special on Saturday night...

Vale Cynthis Robinson, Sly and the Family Stone

It would be remiss of any music blog NOT to mark the passing of Cynthia Robinson, co-vocalist and trumpet player in Sly and the Family Stone.



Sly and the Family Stone were one of the first (and only) truly integrated and egalitarian bands to ever exist. They integrated male and female members, people of different races, and made some of the most vibrant and joyous music ever, at the height of the Woodstock era when there the Vietnam War was sapping everybody's faith in humanity.



Cynthia was at the forefront of this, sharing lead vocals with Sly Stone on many of their tracks, such as "I Want To Take You Higher", "Dance to the Music" and "Sing a Simple Song". She was the one exhorting us all do dance or, if you didn't feel like then "All the squares go home!"

She was also a formidable instrumentalist. Her trumpet solo on "I Want to Take You Higher" is a thing of beauty.



After 1970 Sly Stone became heavily addicted to various substances and the music became quite dark at times, however Cynthia's contributions never diminished. After the band imploded in 1975 she went on to play for former Family Stone member Larry Graham's Graham Central Station and with George Clinton.

Her contribution is underrated and deserves more attention. Vale Cynthia, you will be missed.


Monday, 23 November 2015

How did I miss it?



More and more frequently these days, I'm discovering great music from bands who have just recently broken up, having been toiling away for years under the radar for diminishing returns.

It frustrates me because I've missed them when they were active, the first time around. Especially if they were a local band whom I could have seen playing at a venue close to here. 

But why am I missing out? You see it's one thing to be a Gen X or Gen Y kid who has just discovered Bob Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited" LP. It's totally another to discover a band last week whose nine year career came to an end 12 months ago. 

My hunch is that this is going to be an ongoing phenomenon for me as the years roll on. My theory as to why is this: 

As you read this right now, whether it is within a day of two of publication or 2 years down the track, at this very moment there is more music available to each of us in the world right now than there is available opportunities to listen to it. At the time of writing, Spotify and iTunes have libraries of 30 million-plus songs, and while they overlap they're not identical. They don't have copies of everything ever recorded (yet). 

There is no way anybody is ever going to be able to listen to all that music.  If you did ever listen to it just once, (factoring in the shortest of Guided by Voices tunes and the longest electric Miles Davis live jams to come up with an average song length of 4.5 minutes) it would take you 256.673 years before you started over at the beginning. 

Couple that with marketing - nobody can possibly be aware of every new release unless one is totally immersing themselves in release schedules and press releases. And even then...

With those statistics, it's almost inevitable I'll miss something along the way. It doesn't mean I'll stop searching for great new music. But it does explain why I will probably continue to have these "why didn't I discover this earlier" moments when it comes to finding new music. 

I just hope the creators of the music don't mind me turning up late to the party...

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Newcastle Music #5: v Spy v Spy - "One of a Kind"

Everyone knows and loves the Spies, but not everyone knows they basically formed when bassist Craig Bloxom and guitarist Mike Weiley met as students at Nelson Bay High School in the 1970s. They moved to Sydney, met drummer Cliff Grigg and the rest is history, really. They met and lived in the inner city abandoned buildings of pre-gentrified Sydney in the early 1980s when the band started out. They made a few reggae-fried EPs before signing with Midnight Oil's management and label Powderworks for the "Meet Us Inside" EP, from which this track is taken. After releasing their first LP "Harry's Reasons?" they moved onto WEA records and released 3 albums which are arguably their most famous works: "A.O. Mod. TV Vers", "Xenophobia (Why?)" and "Trash The Planet".

Craig Bloxom is now a commercial chef, but still reforms the band to go out on semi-regular tours. The band have a large following in South America, especially in Brazil.

This clip is filmed on the northside of Newcastle Harbour on Stockton Beach, at the wreck of the Sygna.

Newcastle Music #4: Muzzy Pep



Muzzy Pep were Maitland boys who have an esteemed place in Australian Music by being in the winners circle next to Grinspoon and Killing Heidi as winners of the original triple j Unearthed competition. This is one of their cleverly written bouncy pop songs with their usual intelligent lyrics.

After Muzzy broke up lead singer Errol went solo and released some great tunes under the name of Errol JM and guitarist Scott formed alt.Country band Great Dividing Range and then a proto-Guided By Voices pop band called Forever Since Breakfast

It was 20 years ago today...that the Beatles reunited

20 Years ago today The Beatles reunited for a mammoth TV retrospective called "The Beatles Anthology" with an accompanying 9LP/6CD Outtakes and rarities compilation to go with it.

To go along with it, they issued two singles, the first of which celebrates its 20th anniversary today. Entitled "Free As a Bird" it was reconstituted from a home cassette recorded demo by John Lennon. The other three assumed "John was away for the weekend" and finished it without him.

They enlisted the help of Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) frontman Jeff Lynne to produce the two singles. Longtime Beatles producer George Martin declined as his hearing was beginning to fail at that point. Lynne was a curious choice of producer. Suggested by George Harrison, as he'd produced his "Cloud Nine" LP and was a member of his group Travelling Wilburys, Jeff had no doubt fulfilled a dream of his by working with the Beatles.

You see, Jeff's work in ELO always took its cues from the Beatles' experiments with orchestral instruments: "Eleanor Rigby", "I Am The Walrus", "A Day In The Life" et al. ELO didn't necessarily succeed in sounding like The Beatles as Jeff may have envisaged. He did, however, succeed in making The Beatles sound like ELO.

You see, everything Jeff is credited as the producer on all sounds the bloody same as ELO. These two singles were no different. That doesn't make them bad. In fact they're quite listenable. It just doesn't make them as idiosyncratic as the rest of the Beatles' catalog. These sound more like footnotes or, more to the point, "afterthoughts" rather than worthy additions to the canon.

The video for "Free as a Bird" was beautifully animated, full of references to the Beatles folklore and history. After the song finishes proper, there's a strange little reprise that has some garbled message from John that has been warped to sound mysterious, and some ukulele playing in the style of George Formby, whom George Harrison was obsessed with at the time and onward in his later years.

As a single release it didn't set the charts alight, but it was perfect fodder for plugging the release of the "Anthology" which was responsible for repositioning the Beatles in the forefront of every music-lovers mind as the premier band of the Rock era, irrespective of how old you were.

Take a look at the video again below:

Friday, 20 November 2015

Newcastle Music #3: Heroes - "The Star And The Slaughter"



Contrary to popular belief, Cold Chisel were NOT on stage at the Star Hotel in 1979 the night the crowd rioted over the pub's closure. The band who were were called Heroes. Chisel memorialised the social upheaval surrounding the riot, as that resonated with their audience.

Heroes played that night for an emotional crowd for nearly 3 hours and when the band were starting their final encore, the police stormed the venue and tried to take the gear off the band, including the mic of the singer. The singer had his jaw promptly thumped in the scuffle and then it was on for young and old. A riot ensued with cars upturned and set on fire. 43 arrests were made and 12 injuries.

The sleevenotes to the Cold Chisel album "Chisel Gold" note that "The closing of the hotel on Wednesday, September 19, 1979 was the last straw for a generation which had seen massive unemployment, government cutbacks and little future in an age of economic rationalism. To take away rock & roll was good grounds for a stand-up fight which is what the police got when they arrived in force. Police cars were overturned and burnt, civilian cars were attacked and the Star riot – the largest public disturbance since the Springbok tours of the early Seventies – scared the shit out of the establishment."

Heroes issued this, their own memorial of the event on their first LP in 1980.

Newcastle Music #2: Hound - "Easy Way Out"



Hound, otherwise know as Vaseline Machine Gun, were a hard rock band formed in Newcastle in the early 90s.

These guys traded in Screaming Jets-styled riff-rock, with a vocalist that was a dead ringer for Bon Scott. Their 1994 EP was released under the moniker "Hound" presumably to avoid a lawsuit from the makers of Vasolene. Their 1996 album "Because He Can", named after a punchline to a lewd joke about dogs, sunk without a trace and the group were never heard of again.

Still not a bad listen however.

Newcastle Music #1: Tamam Shud - "Lady Sunshine"

Inspired by my Facebook challenge of posting seven songs in seven days, I have been looking at bands from Newcastle NSW. And why not? The Australian music scene is littered with brief flashes of brilliance with no lasting legacy. It's about time we created one...



Tamam Shud were a surf band originating out of various Newcastle R&B outfits, the most famous of which being the Sunsets, who had released a few singles through Festival Records in the mid-1960s.

These guys were apparently huge within the hippie/surf community along the East Coast in the late 60s (I wasn't born then so I'm only going on heresay)."Lady Sunshine" is taken from the soundtrack of a surf movie called "Evolution" by Paul Witzig. The band's follow up record was the first release on the newly formed Australian subsidiary of Warner Brothers records. Called "Goolutionites and the Real People" and released in 1970, it is now one of the holy grails of record collecting, with mint condition copies now worth the price of a small second hand car.

Probably the band's biggest claim to fame is their contribution to the soundtrack of the legendary surf movie "Morning of the Earth". The band split up not long after, only to reconvene again in 1995 for the LP "Permanent Culture" and in 2003 for the "Long Way To The Top" oldies package tour. 




Tuesday, 27 October 2015

100 LPs Shortlist #46: Dire Straits - "Brothers In Arms"




Before we start, let's have a quick show of hands.

Who has played this album to the point where you cannot stand to hear it ever again?

My my, there are a lot of you.

I will confess that I am one of those people who cringe whenever the opening organ phrase of "Walk of Life" appears on the radio, Such is the end product of exposure, self-imposed and external, to one of the most ubiquitous albums of the 1980s.

Now, with the benefit of 30 years of hindsight, the album has additional dimensions to its legacy as a classic album. What's more interesting than the contents of the album's grooves is how it was used as a marketing tool to bring about a paradigm shift in the music industry; how it can be seen as a symbol of the music industry's greed; and how its principle creator isn't a fan of it.

You see, "Brothers In Arms" was used by the music industry, specifically Dire Straits' parent record label Polygram (now Universal Music) to sell and market a new product known as the Compact Disc. Polygram's sub-company Philips, in league with tech giant Sony, had invested millions of dollars in developing a new product that would improve sound quality and create a more durable format than the existing vinyl and cassette formats.

The CD as a format was released in 1982. However, sales were still quite sluggish and so anticipating one of the biggest albums of 1985, "Brothers In Arms" was used as a carrot to lure the consumer into changing their listening habits towards the new technology. This was considered a high-stakes game. In previous years the industry had seen innovations such as consumer grade reel-to-reel tape, 8-track tape, quadraphonic vinyl and AM stereo radio die in the marketplace. With so much gambled on R&D for this new product, commercial failure wasn't an option, nor was a status tag of "novelty".

And so the original album (in Australia at least) was issued on vinyl in a standard, non-gatefold sleeve with a wraparound marketing brochure spruiking the merits of the new CD format. It wasn't going to change the fact that you've already laid out your hard-earned for a vinyl copy, but in the hope that maybe you just might buy something else on CD.

Like any new technology, on first release it was hideously expensive. CD players were twice the price, if not more, than a VHS video recorder and the discs themselves were exorbitant in cost. Single disc CDs in the 1980s were at least $10 more expensive than their vinyl counterparts, and for double albums, they could be as much as $30 dollars dearer (To wit: a copy of Bruce Springsteen's "The River" on vinyl in 1986 was around $16.99 whereby on double CD it was $48).

When vinyl sales dropped to the point necessitating the cessation of production in 1991, consumers were told the price of CDs would drop from the standard $28 dollars. By the end of the decade they were over $30. Despite this, people threw out vinyl and replaced everything on CDs that, in some cases, sounded worse than their old vinyl.

Clearly the marketing worked, but to the detriment of people who bought vinyl. "Brothers in Arms" had a track listing that was identical on CD and vinyl, but the devil was in the details. The CD states that the album is 54 minutes long. On vinyl, the album was almost 11 minutes shorter in length, with four out of the first five tracks considerably shorter than on CD (up to three minutes shorter for "Why Worry"). The argument was that vinyl had time space limitations, when in fact many albums of similar length sound perfectly fine on vinyl ("Dirt" by Alice in Chains being an example). It was a case of corporate dishonesty, less a case of outright lying than not quite telling the entire truth.

Since the sales of the CD version outstripped the vinyl sales, this was used as evidence to move an argument for the discontinuation of vinyl. It was also part of the ploy used in the 1980s for loading up CDs with bonus tracks not available on vinyl. Consumers swallowed it hook, line and sinker. Almost 25 years later, after file-sharing brought the music industry to its knees, vinyl is back on the shelves.

"Brothers in Arms" has been re-issued on vinyl in 2014 as a double LP with the full, unedited mix in the album as CD buyers have known it for the past 30 years. This no doubt aggrieves Mark Knopfler, who, in an BBC radio documentary in the late 1980s, thought the extended outros of the songs were too long and preferred them to be edited out. He also cited "One World" as a song he wouldn't release again if he had the choice.

Hindsight is always 20:20, isn't it? For what it's worth, after the first three songs, the rest of the record is incredibly slow going. Perfect for a very low noise audio format of CD, with all the languid quiet passages. It still features some of the best songs Knopfler has ever written, even if they are slightly too long in parts.

Take another listen below.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Cold Chisel - The Perfect Crime




Hot on the heels of a lavish vinyl reissue of their back catalog comes the promised new material from Australian Pub-Rock stalwarts Cold Chisel.

Arriving three years after their last "comeback" album "No Plans", "The Perfect Crime" could almost be a companion piece to the previous album. To the band's credit, they're still pushing the same musical stylings, with songs about the average Aussie bloke and the effects of the human condition on them, delivered with frenetic pace and sung in Barnesy's vodka-battered growl.

But do I detect a lot more of an Alt-Country feel to these new songs? Not an overwhelming one, mind you. Deviating too much from the tried-and-true Chisel formula would upset their constituency too much. Whether it's the more plodding basslines of Phil Small or the rolling snare drum groove that Charley Drayton may have borrowed from a Slim Dusty record or two, I don't know. But it's in there.

Chisel have always been a little bit country and a little bit rock 'n' roll, so it's not a criticism. But after Ryan Adams' turn at covering Taylor Swift he would make an absolute fist of these songs.

The lyrics from the pen of Don Walker again lack the wry humour and wit of their 80s prime. Though far from generic, the observational writing sounds phoned in. And while the band, all across their career, has slipped in an F-bomb occasionally in an album, these days it is getting gratuitous and tawdry. Granted on this album, it's tucked away on track 9 "Shoot The Moon". It was in the opening bars of the "No Plans" album. I just wonder why they they bother. Are they trying to relevant to a younger crowd? Are they trying to appear edgy as they continue to age? It just makes me want to tap Don on the shoulder and tell him that his energies would be better served by shaking his fist while barking at some young people to get off his lawn.

Mossy's guitar playing is on fire and his honey-soaked vocals don't make as much of a presence here as they deserve. On a few songs, Barnesy pulls back to reveal he still has the ability to sing with subtlety (a quality he lacked that ruined many of the pretty songs on "The Last Wave of Summer" in 1998). When he's let off the chain he sounds more the seagull-with-laryngitis we all know him to be.

While the band haven't necessarily tarnished their legacy with this album (they did that well enough on the deplorable title track to "No Plans"), what you have is a record that will please the faithful while not necessarily one to convert the haters.

Take a listen below and make up your own mind:

Monday, 12 October 2015

Review: "Straight Outta Compton"




The recent biopic of the rise of L.A. gangsta-rappers NWA had me thinking.

If art imitates life, what, then has happened to American society for a group like N.W.A and a song like "F*** Tha Police" to exist?

The film does little to answer the question, as I suspected it would. However it does a good job at least of depicting the symptoms of the problem: the underclass of working poor; the allure of crime as a way to escape the aforementioned underclass, police harassment, limited hope and limited opportunity.

So what does one do to get ahead in such an environment? Get a steady job that doesn't cover all your bills, join a criminal gang, or turn to music. Band member of NWA Easy-E in this case, chose both the latter two.

Easy-E is the only one depicted as having associations with crime on any level. If the rest of the group were involved at any point, it was certainly airbrushed out of this version of the story. There's been plenty of media around to discuss the inconsistencies with this account of the events, so I will not go over them here. But let's just say that the victors write history.  Album sales aside, N.W.A.'s legacy is assured, with or without this film.

N.W.A. started at a time whereby rap was a burgeoning style of music in the 1980s. It was party music, devoid of social commentary. Grandmaster Flash touched on it with his anti-drug single "White Lines (Don't Do It)" earlier in the decade, but LL Cool J and Run DMC weren't in the business of promoting causes. And certainly not the Beastie Boys! Public Enemy started to take a more socially conscious approach with the view to empowering and bettering the inner city urban dwellers, in a similar but ultimately more militant way that James Brown or Stevie Wonder had tried a decade earlier.

With that in mind, N.W.A. tried to create a style of "reality rap" not too dissimilar to South Central LA rapper Ice-T. Rapping about life in Compton meant talking about being harassed by police, hassled by street gangs and trying to find some kind of success in your future. And to do so in the most direct and confronting way.

If "reality rap" was the mission, then an ugly reality requires some ugly music. And it certainly is. Hearing N.W.A. for the first time is something that one tends to remember for a long time: it sure as hell is NOT "easy listening" and nor should it be. There is real danger in this music: it is a danger that is "lived in", first hand. There was a real scare that if you were to cross these guys on a bad day, it wouldn't end well  Then of course was the threat of your parents losing their shit at you for buying the music! Despite this, people of all races and creeds lapped it up, because it is sometimes better to be an observer of the action than to be a participant.

"Straight Outta Compton" reaffirms what we've known about the music industry for years: when confronted with ground-breaking music, record labels would rather play it safe and stick with what they know is going to sell: "When you think you've found the next Bon Jovi, call me" one executive remarks during the band's showcase gig. Another one for the Dick Rowe "Beat groups are on the way out, Mr Epstein" file.

That said, N.W.A. established the template for what we now know as Rap music. A lot of teenagers today seem to be unaware of the significance of N.W.A. and the need for this film, despite really wanting to see it. This film depicts a time whereby Rap wasn't mainstream. It wasn't accessible, and it certainly wasn't dangerous as this is. To be fair, if things were different, the members of N.W.A. could've make rap music a la Run DMC and do a fantastic job at it. However they chose to push it closer reality as they knew it, making pieces of art that are still as confronting and as relevant today, even if some of the in-fighting and diss tracks that were created during the ensuing years make them look cartoonish.

With the band having raging parties and getting letters from the FBI, it always makes me wonder if they knew the controversy that went down in Sydney in 1989 when Triple J started playing "F*** Tha Police" on air. That tale is a story for another time...

This is a film that is as forthright and as confronting as the bands music was. You wouldn't expect any less.

I'm back!



Ok well I'm back!

I never intended to leave, but then again, I never intended to fracture two bones in my left hand either. This made typing on a keyboard more of a chore than is necessary.

And now, back to writing about all things music. And to start getting on (virtual) paper the stuff in my head, such as that article on NWA I've been thinking about...

Monday, 3 August 2015

A Rallying Soundtrack

It's been interesting to watch the debate surrounding the nationalist rallies in Australia over the last few weeks. An organisation known as "Reclaim Australia" had rallies in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney on the 19th of July and they quickly turned violent. On one hand, Reclaim Australia are protesting as what they perceive is the "Islamisation of Australia" and then the anti-racism protesters on the other clashed with police making some ugly scenes.

It is not the place on this blog for debate about these issues. We take a strong anti-racism view but we will not comment on our opinion any further.

However, the interesting part of the story is the use of music by the Reclaim protesters. If you wanted to make a statement about something, do you really think the use of the song "Khe Sanh" by Cold Chisel is the best choice of song to use?

Considering Reclaim Australia are protesting against immigration, using a song about a Vietnam Vet who returns to South East Asia a number of times on a soul-searching mission, the song's use is even more ridiculous.

It is admirable that Jimmy Barnes has spoken up to express his disgust at the use of his music at these rallies. As have a number of other musicians, such as Shane Howard of Goanna, Midnight Oil, John Williamson and John Farnham.

In all the above examples, the use of the music as a rallying cry to support their viewpoint is almost uniformly incongruous. I thought I'd take a look at why this is the case.

"Khe Sanh" is obviously an ill fit, but it's funny as to why this song is almost a de facto national anthem in the first place. The piece is a narrative of a Vietnam Veteran who finds like increasingly difficult back in Sydney after returning from his time in the war. Not an uncommon scenario for many of those who fought in the conflict, but quite a foreign premise for most people who weren't there to grasp onto, especially 20- and 30- somethings who are alive in 2015. As the lyric deals, in a non-partisan way, with Asian cultures it seems like an odd choice for a rally such as this.

Shane Howard, the writer of the iconic "Solid Rock", a hit for his band Goanna in 1982, states this song is about:
"Working to find our common identity and shared destiny, in this remarkable Aboriginal cultural reality is a more powerful, peaceful and rewarding way forward."
. It's more of a plea for racial harmony and integration, and not exclusion.

John Farnham's "You're The Voice" was written by Chris Thompson (ex-Manfred Mann's Earth Band), Maggie Ryder, Andy Quinta and Procol Harem lyricist Keith Reid. It was written as an anti-war missive at the height of the cold war in the 1980s, to protest against the use of force to find a peaceful solution. Keith Reid states, (From Songfacts.com:)

"Chris called me and said, 'I've got something and I don't know what to do with it lyrically. It feels as though it should be slightly political, but I don't know. Have a listen.' And we sat down, he played me the tune, and I got the title idea, 'You're The Voice.' It's an anti-war song in a way, but it was more of a 'make your voice heard' kind of thing. Wake up to your own power."

"You're The Voice" is probably an easy one to misinterpret, but it's not an excuse in this case.

John Wiiliamson's "True Blue" is a typical one to go for if you want to push a purist racial agenda:

"Hey True Blue,
Don't Say You're Gone,
Say you've knocked off for a smoko,
And you'll be back later on..."

Even so, it misses the point. Sure "True Blue" may lament the loss of a certain way of things but JW is not an exclusionist. He is certainly not xenophobic line in this song anyway. He argues that politicians shouldn't "sell us out like sponge cake". He also puts it that there is a place for everybody and every culture.

It's hard to push an agenda conclusively using someone elses music as a backdrop if said agenda is not in the spirit of the musician's original intention. Doing even a cursory amount of research into the people who create the music we love will fill in any blanks one may have on the topic. This is why so many televangelists look ridiculous when they attack popular music. This is why politicians who use pop music get their song choices out of line, raising the ire of the songwriters.

What other misguided soundtracks exist that we haven't thought of?

Until next time...

Friday, 26 June 2015

Vale Ornette Coleman



Pioneering Jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman has died, ages 85. He leaves behind a legacy as a boundary-pushing artist with an ever restless muse. He was a composer who, similar to Miles Davis or John Coltrane, never stood still for very long, in a creative sense.



His 1959 LP, possibly somewhat arrogant in title at the time, "The Shape of Jazz To Come" changed the rules for what Jazz could sound like. It was very divisive among critics at the time, but it turns out the title was rather prophetic. Then, in 1960, he broke the rule book of Jazz wide open with a collective improvisation piece for double quartet entitled "Free Jazz". "Free Jazz" is an album that does what it says on the tin: it is a free improv piece spread out across two sides of an LP (37 minutes in total).



For a man who was hailed as such an innovator, he was also derided in some circles by those who really should know better. It would appear if you were to push the boundaries of jazz to its ultimate limit (i.e having as fewer rules as possible) then that negates the value of any future work, according to some. And that couldn't be further from the truth.

Ornette's music removed the emphasis on rhythm and melody and gave equal weight to both, thus de-emphasising them. It's a hard concept to get one's head around, but it creates music that is both fascinating and challenging. Thankfully Jazz is a style that can both support and tolerate such a musical innovation, when several other styles would collapse in a fit of noise.

Thankfully, all the albums are there to appreciate and it's worth taking the time to appreciate the man's works once more. Vale Ornette.


Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Bargain Bin Review #6: Todd Rundgren - "2nd Wind"

We're back after a long absence!



"2nd Wind" is the 13th studio album from maverick rock musician Todd Rundgren and yet again it finds him following his muse and not kowtowing to the interests of his record company.

Todd is a virtuoso who has been know to record and produce entire LPs on his own in his own studio. He occasionally performs and records with his live band Utopia in addition to making solo albums.

This album is different inasmuch as "2nd Wind" is a record that Todd Rundgren recorded live in front of an audience. Performed in  a similar fashion to Joe Jackson's 1986 LP "Big World", where the audience were instructed to remain absolutely silent until the music was finished. From the perspective of an audience member, it must be an odd way to experience a show. And a strange way to perform for the band considering that most of the energy in a live performance comes from both audience and band feeding off each others's vibe.

Despite Warner Brothers' insistence that there was no "single-worthy" material on this album, there are plenty of songs that are eminently singable, even though they don't necessarily stand up well against the man's best work. The opening "Change Myself" contains a soaring melody but with a classic self-deprecating Todd lyric in the chorus: "How can I change the world of I can't change myself? Try again tomorrow."

Tracks four through to six inclusive are recorded excerpts from a stage version of the Joe Orton play "Up Against It", which explains the faux-Broadway nature of the music and the shprectstimme vocals.

"Public Servant" and "Love Science" have a cheeky playfulness about them, not to mention some of the slinkiest grooves he's ever written. "If I have to be alone" and "Who's Sorry Now" are the pick of an overly ballad-heavy record. Honourary mention goes to "Kindness" as a gorgeous slow song too.

But the real issue is the horribly dated late 80s production, with thin Electro-drums and awful dated synth strings and pianos. The core of the songs are strong but they are tarted up with a finish to make them sound plastic. Despite this fact, the videos for the album were expensive animated ventures made on the then-new "Video Toaster" graphics processors for the Commodore Amiga computer. According to Electronic Musician magazine (via Wikipedia): "Todd Rundgren's stunning video for his song "Change Myself" required no less than ten Toaster systems running in parallel for a period of five weeks."



In the end, the album bombed. Neither of the two singles from the LP attracted sufficient airplay ("Public Servant" was a bad choice for a single anyway) and The New York Times panned the stage show. Still, if you can find a copy of the album, there's still some great tunes here, if only for their good ideas and not their overlong arrangements.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

My Personal Spotify Song Analysis

Ok, I've been using this Spotify thing since it began its service in Australia in 2012.

Every month, I make a playlist that collects a song, or maybe two, by an artist from every album I've listened to during that period. It may even include songs that I occasionally hear in my head - my earworms, or they may be songs I've heard in passing, for example at someone's house, in a movie or over a shop PA, whatever and wherever, but only for the month of the playlist.

And once a song is added to the playlist for the month, it's my own little rule that they cannot be added again until the next year. This way we build a library of songs across a year with no repeats at all.

These are the playlists I share with you, dear reader, every month in these pages. They can include up to 300+ songs on them, and all of them unique.

In light of the fact that a song can only be added to a playlist once in any calendar year, I thought it would be interesting to look at the songs that have been added across the 2 and a half years of Spotify's existence to see which songs keep reappearing every year. This list would give anyone with a passing interest an idea what songs I consider to be classics. Well-worn standards that stand the test of time. As a discerning listener and one who takes music choices seriously, I would have thought you could take a list like this as a indication of quality, a list of songs that warrant repeated listening. Almost a list of songs to take to a desert island...

...well sort of. It's not quite the list I was expecting. And while there are many songs here that I would consider "Desert Island Discs", it's not an exhaustive list of said songs. It is NOT a list of how much I have played these songs, but rather how often I have returned to them and have had them important enough to be added to the playlist to take with me wherever I go.

The list does actually contain quite a few surprises. The criteria I looked at was if, in a list of over 7000 titles, how many appeared on the list three times (one for each year from 2012 to 2014 inclusive). I have no idea why "Dare Me" by the Pointer Sisters appears on this list three times. Or how anything by Motley Crue has ended up on here once in every year, let alone the same track three times. And why, out of all the Aerosmith tracks I adore, did the title track of a fairly mediocre album become the most selected song from them on here?

Take a look at the list below and have a listen to the Spotify playlist below. Let me know if you think these are the most worthy songs you've ever heard. What songs would you include by a band if not the ones listed here?

Enjoy!

Aerosmith Get a Grip
Audioslave Cochise
America Sister Golden Hair
Anthrax Time
Bad Books You Wouldn't Have To Ask
Bernard Fanning Songbird
Billy Bragg Between The Wars
Blind Melon No Rain
Blondie Atomic
Bruce Springsteen Lucky Town
Cast Alright
Cats and Jammers Spitball
Cheap Trick Mighty Wings
Cosmic Rough Riders Justify The Rain
Cowboy Junkies Sweet Jane
D.R.I. Marriage
Dan Reed Brave New World
Donovan Sunshine Superman
Eddie Floyd Knock On Wood
Extreme Stop The World
Faces Ooh La la
Icehouse Walls
Focus Anonymous
Fountains of Wayne Stacy's Mom
Gary Clitter (aka HeeBeeGeeBees) Gary Clitter is Back
Genesis Turn It On Again
Guns 'n Roses Estranged
Holly and the Italians Tell That Girl To Shut Up
Icehouse Street Café
Iggy Pop I'm Bored
Joni Mitchell Come In From The Cold
Judas Priest The Green Manalishi
Liam Lynch United States of Whatever
Little River Band Help Is On Its Way
Models I Hear Motion
Models Local and/or General
Motley Crue Don't Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)
Muse Supermassive Black Hole
Paul McCartney Coming Up
Paul Simon 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover
Pete Townshend Face The Face
Pharrell Williams Happy
Powderfinger Turtle's Head
Powderfinger Up and Down and Back Again
Queen Scandal
Ramones Sheena Is A Punk Rocker
Redgum The Drover's Dog
Relient K Chapstick, Chapped Lips and Things Like Chemistry
Santana Well All Right
Screaming Trees Nearly Lost You
Small Faces Tin Soldier
Spiderbait Sam Gribbles
SpizzEnergi Soldier Soldier
Split Enz Nobody Takes Me Seriously
Squeeze Pulling Mussels From The Shell
Starship Sara
Steve Vai I Would Love To
Temple Of The Dog Hunger Strike
Ten Years After Positive Vibration
The Angels Mr Damage
The Byrds Welcome Back Home
The Damned Neat Neat Neat
The Gaslight Anthem Here Comes My Man
The Go-Gos Our Lips Are Sealed
The Hummingbirds Two Weeks With A Good Man In Niagara Falls
The Killers Mr Brightside
The Lemonheads Into Your Arms
The Lovin' Spoonful Summer In The City
The Master's Apprentices Rio De Camero
The Pointer Sisters Dare Me
The Promises Baby It's You
The Records Starry Eyes
The Rolling Stones Little T&A
The Roots The Seed 2.0
The Rubinoos I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend
The Runaways Cherry Bomb
The Saboteurs (aka The Raconteurs) Steady As She Goes
The Saints Just Like Fire Would
The Saints This Perfect Day
The Sports Don't Throw Stones
The The Infected
The Who Love Reign O'er Me
Todd Rundgren I Saw The Light
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers American Girl
Toto Africa
Warhorse St Louis
Warren Zevon Tenderness On The Block




Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Frank Turner Live!



Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls,
9th April 2015, the Small Ballroom, Newcastle NSW Australia

It's not often I get out to gigs these days, but when I do, I make them count.

And so it was with some excitement that I approached this Frank Turner show in my old home town, but I misunderstood how much appeal he had in this city. and indeed this country. Sure he's been written about in these here pages, and indeed in the pages of various local music periodicals, but that doesn't always amount to a following. I assumed there'd only be about 20 people at this gig, but how wrong I was.

The Small Ballroom is a venue with an apposite name. Although whether it was a ballroom or not is a point of conjecture, it's bloody small, holding 350 people at the most. There's at least 200+ here tonight, which made things just comfortable enough.

Frank Turner both on stage and off, is a personable chap. He was out the front having a cigarette with fans before his set, and then he joined his support act Jon Snodgrass for a couple of songs from their duet album "Buddies". However he really shined on stage with his band the Sleeping Souls.

Even in the tiny venue and cramped stage, all 5 guys on stage played like it was their last ever gig on Earth. They threw everything they had at the songs and the energy was almost tangible. This didn't send the crowd into a moshpit frenzy however, but it did put the crowd into a lively mood. Everything they played was tight and rampaging. When playing my personal favourite "Try This At Home", which already is a fast song, was played so fast that even I felt breathless after singing along to it.

The sense of fun in the crowd was warm and genuine. The great thing about Frank's music is that the melodic, sing-along nature of it fosters a sense of uplift and community amongst those in the audience. And that's exactly what Frank likes at his shows - the crowd to be singing along in full voice and to make friends, both of which happened from where I was standing.

The real charm of Frank's work is to be literate and melodic all at once, but to turn those songs and experiences into pieces that can be enjoyed by large groups of people. He infuses his work with enough empathy that, even though we may not know exactly who Frank is singing about, the experience he sings about is often common to us all, even with the names changed.

A case in point is the track "Long Live The Queen", a song detailing the last few times Frank saw his good friend Lex, who was dying of cancer. As a communal sing-along, no-one in the crowd knew who Lex was, but we understand the significance of the story and can feel the pain of the writer. We all sang along with the lyrics knowing it could happen to someone we know. or already has. It is a true mark of Frank's artistry that he can take a personal story and turn it into a song that people on the other side of the world can sing their hearts out to with respect and reverence to the people depicted in the story, despite having never met them.

I walked out of the show a bigger fan than I already was to start with and that is a mark of quality of the performance. It was of such a high standard that I can't wait until he comes back next year (He says he's always in the country around Easter). I just hope that next year he brings his good mate Jay, aka Beans on Toast to the party.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Bargain Bin Review #5: KISS - "Music From 'The Elder'"

KISS - Music From The Elder

Firstly a bit of disclosure. I didn't buy this in a bargain bin. I bought it second hand on vinyl. However, as the initial sales of this album were poor on first release, I imagine copies of this would have languished in bargain bins for a long time in the early 1980s.

At the end of the day, you either love or you hate Kiss. Even those who are in the former camp are divided over their 1981 concept album "Music From 'The Elder'". Paul Stanley himself even introduces a song on 1996's "MTV Unplugged" as "from an album that some people can't ever hear enough of and for some people, it's always too much". And in the context of the band's career trajectory, it really wouldn't matter when this album was released, the outcome would probably still have been the same.

In short, this was the wrong idea for the wrong band at the wrong time. The band were confused by their direction. Their record label thought they were a risk and the critics loved to sink the boot into them. The idea was to pull off a grand concept that would make the critics love them, sell loads of records for the company and and inflate KISS' collective egos even further by becoming "serious" musicians.

By 1981 the band's audience had changed from teenagers and young adults to kids and their parents, after the hit singles "I Was Made For Loving You" and "Shandii". They had sold their image by commercially branding every product that could be invented at that point (they still do, but it is now even more ridiculous). They had flooded the record buying market with product. They had released two albums a year between 1974 and 1977 inclusive and then in 1978 released 4 solo albums on the same day, 5 months after releasing a double LP best of album. Then, 7 months after the solo records comes "Dynasty". By the time of the softer sounding LP "Unmasked" in 1980, the pre-teens were well and truly lapping it up and the older fans were switching off, having grown up and moved on, having been over-saturated by the band's omnipresence, or just not wanting to attend gigs standing next to little kids and their parents.

"Unmasked" highlighted the problem. It was beloved by kids as young as 4 and it was bland and inoffensive enough to not outrage parents. The members of KISS may well have been aware of this trend and started to plot their next move. They were always slagged off by critics, but they were being written off as kiddies entertainers now. They needed to be serious artists once again.

They decided to enlist the services of Bob Ezrin once again, who had helmed production on one of the most successful records to date, "Destroyer". He was riding high with a massive selling concept record he'd produced for Pink Floyd called "The Wall". Gene Simmons had come up with this film script idea and Bob was keen to make an album of songs based around the central concept of the script.

It was supposed to be fantasy-styled good vs evil plot with Tolkien-esque overtones. The film had no chance of being made (despite a fair performance of their previous film "KISS Meets The Phantom Of The Park") but a concept album seemed like a good idea at the time. And why not? Peers of their like Rush and Yes were turning out obscurely premised and yet successful albums, what was there to lose?

Well, everything, as it turns out. Lead guitarist Ace Frehley went missing for most of the sessions and ended up either leaving, or was fired depending on whose autobiography you believe. The record company pulled funding from the album, preventing it from becoming a double album, and the fans deserted them in droves when the album was released. Even Gene's hair disappeared, cutting most of it off for the ensuing tour (he looked more ridiculous in person than the action figurine bearing his likeness)

What we're left with is an album that is supposed to hang together around a concept, but tells no story and has no narrative. That's no big deal when you consider The Who's "Who's Next" album was supposed to be an album of songs from the abandoned "Lifehouse" project, but it doesn't depend on the listener having any context. "The Elder" is supposed to revolve around a story that no-one is ever told, either in the music or in the sleeve notes, and it leaves the listener with the impression that there supposed to be some other media element of object to accompany this for it to make sense, hence the "Music from..." in the title.

To make matters worse, the original release (excluding the altogether different Japanese release) has the songs sequenced in such a way that even if you wanted to piece together the rather weedy plot, you'd send yourself demented attempting it.

Narrative of concept aside for a moment, there is some surprisingly strong music here. Opening the original vinyl LP "The Oath" possesses some of the heaviest riffs on a KISS album to date, as does the album closer "I". The former sounds like a lyric that has some bearing to the plot, while the latter could be woven into the story but mostly spends its lyrics having a go at Ace and his drink'n'drugs lifestyle. Elsewhere on the album there are some widescreen cinematic excursions in the form of "The Odyssey", "Just A Boy" and "Under The Rose". Some melodramatic introspection in "A World Without Heroes", good old Ace Frehley rock in the form of "Dark Light" and the surging instrumental "Escape From The Island", and their strangely-odd and yet oddly compelling Lou Reed co-write "Mr Blackwell", who appears to be the villain of this misguided saga.

Maligned by critics and fans alike, it was the poorest selling record in the KISS catalog for many years and a hard album to find. It was also one of the last to be reissued in the 1997 reissue program and now the standard release follows the original mix issued in Japan, resequenced in the original order as the band and Bob Ezrin intended it to be. At the end of the day it still doesn't make any bloody sense as a narrative, but musically there is a lot of great music here to make it work listening to. For those who don't like KISS, at least there is something to be gained from the one KISS album that doesn't sound all that much like KISS.

Take a listen to the album below and see for yourself. Enjoy.



Saturday, 14 March 2015

Underrated Live Albums #4: Redgum - "Caught In The Act"



Where the hell are Redgum these days when we need them?

In an age where politicians in this country are either embarrassing, uninspiring or just batshit-boring, we need Redgum more than ever. We need a band not afraid to poke fun at the party political, satirise the policies and lampoon the people who stride the corridors of power and who are supposed to lead the nation through its struggles.

Some would argue that we can take our pollies to task quite nicely on our own, thanks to the Twittersphere (ever seen the #auspol thread lately?). But when Redgum started out there were very few Australian acts who dared to be so outspoken on sensitive issues, call the government out in direct terms and to write songs that sing of the plight of the downtrodden and the forgotten.

Redgum's one and only live album was released in 1983, recorded in front of a rambunctious crowd at the Rose, Shamrock and Thistle Hotel in Rozelle in Sydney. The band are alive, playing their hearts out and give the crowd everything they have. Their songs are pointed and forthright, the monologues are at turns sardonic and funny, and the live recording is superbly recorded.

The problem however, is that after many years after its release, it can be a little bit difficult to work out what they are talking about. You see, Redgum's problem was that not only did they sing about topics that are still a problem today, they spoke about issues affecting the people of the time. This instantly dates the album and it makes it somewhat harder to relate to years down the track. In fact, the first statement on the record ties it inextricably to 1983 before a note of music has even been played. John Schumann starts out by greeting the crowd and says

Ladies and Gentleman, we haven't seen you since the March the 5th result...

Now, when I purchased my own second hand vinyl copy of this album in 2005, I hadn't heard the record since the mid-1980s. I couldn't remember what the hell happened on March the 5th that year, let alone what was the major news story of the day. Upon further reflection, the "March the 5th result" was when the then current federal Liberal government led by Malcolm Fraser lost the election by a landslide to the Labor party, led by Mr Charisma himself, Bob Hawke. Mr Hawke himself would come in for his own piece of satire a few years after this one, so really the Liberal party are mostly the targets of the barbs on this one.

Two of the songs on this album stretch out over 9 minutes and are padded out with some humourous and amusing shaggy dog stories. Each song here is preceded with a short explanatory note from the band for listeners to get an idea what the song is about, as all good folk groups do. Topics include the horrors of war ("I Was Only 19"), the selling out of our country's natural resources out from underneath us ("Lear Jets Over Kulgera", "Nuclear Cop"), the upper class "born to rule" mentality certain sectors of the community have ("Beaumont Rag), apathy ("It Doesn't Matter To Me"), corporate greed ("Caught In The Act"), rampant consumerism ("Fabulon"), poverty ("Brown Rice and Kerosene", "Where Ya Gonna Run To") and even some optimism for a brighter future ("The Long Run").

There is plenty of great music here and plenty of topical songs that are still relevant to the political debate today, especially a song like "Nuclear Cop" or "It Doesn't Matter To Me". It is a lot of fun for a topical album. There's plenty of laughs and plenty of tears along the way too. If nothing else, the gentle listener will get a better understanding of Australian geography and it would be wise to keep a detailed map handy to work out where places like Beaumont, Nareen, Kingoonya, Puckapunyal, Cairns, Canungra, Kulgera, Pine Gap, Hawker, Pimba, Wyalla, The Diamantina River and many others.

It is also worth noting that the version of "I Was Only 19 (A Walk In The Light Green)" is NOT the #1 hit single studio version, but rather a live version from the same concert. The single version is available on a number of compilation albums, the best of which is "The Essential Redgum".

The CD version of the album contains all 15 tracks but the original vinyl version which is still common and fairly cheap, but it had a strange format. Using the CD track list as a reference point, the original LP had tracks 1-5 on side one, track 6 as the A-side of a "bonus" 7-inch single, tracks 7-8 on the b-side of the single and tracks 9-15 on the second side of the LP. For the sake of continuity, that is the sequence that the album should be played in. However, on the second-hand market, the LP is easy to come by but it is usually without the bonus single. The orphaned "Caught In The Act" single with "Stewie" and "Lear Jets Over Kulgera" on the b-side is also fairly common if your LP doesn't have a copy, but any and all prospective buyers should be aware that you really need to have both.

Or, you could just listen to it here on Spotify below. Enjoy!

Pharrell and Thicke Vs Marvin Gaye

By now you've probably heard the news about Robin Thicke's huge 2013 single "Blurred Lines" being the subject of a copyright lawsuit.

Thicke and his co-writer Pharrell Williams have lost the court case and are now required to hand US$7.3 Million to the family-run estate of Marvin Gaye, for ripping off Marvin's 70s hit "Got to Give It Up".

This case, in my view establishes a dangerous precedent. This wasn't a clean-cut case of outright stealing, as in, say the George Harrison "My Sweet Lord" case. This one was decided by a grand jury from the sheet music to one of the songs and a recording of the other. Without the aid of a blind listening test of the two recordings, that would have made things difficult. From that aspect alone, the jury's decision was a curious one.

I've taken a listen to both songs back to back. In my view, "Blurred Lines" is awfully derivative of the Marvin Gaye track, but while it cops the feel and part of the percussion style, it hardly steels any of the major aspects of the original. Besides, if you could copyright a rhythm and successfully defend it in a court of law, Bo Diddley would be a billionaire.

My question is, how can a piece that was clearly inspired by the original be pinged for plagiarism? This means that pretty soon Prince and/or Cameo should be suing Mark Ronson for "Uptown Funk".

According to this piece in the LA Weekly, the jury probably took a dislike to Robin Thicke which, in their estimation, is not a difficult thing to do. His defense seems to be that "although I received a writing credit, I didn't actually contribute to the writing of the song." Well, Mr Thicke, your name is on the official ASCAP document stating you as the writer, therefore you probably received royalties therefore you are also implicated in this. Suck it up, pal.

I always thought "Blurred Lines" was a horrible song anyway. However, all that aside, this could set up a precedent for a whole host of frivolous and ambiguous copyright lawsuits, based purely on one song bearing a passing similarity to another. Maybe Nirvana will actually get sued for borrowing the rhythm guitar pattern (not the chord sequence) from "More Than A Feeling" by Boston in their song "Smells Like Teen Spirit"...

If nothing else, this particular verdict will probably be appealed for years to come, so I doubt this is the end of it.

Take a listen to this mashup of the Marvin Gaye and Robin Thicke tunes here:

Robin Thicke feat Marvin Gaye - Got to give up the blurred lines # DJJW from DJJW on Vimeo.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Finland's Punk Entry into Eurovision 2015



Putting aside the ridiculous admission of an Australian entry into Eurovision 2015 for just a moment, Finland have just chosen the act to represent them in multi-national song contest in 2015.

Now, normally this wouldn't get so much of an airing, except for the fact that the band is quite exceptional. They are the first punk rock band to represent anything at Eurovision in its entire 60 year year history for a start. But the real talking point is that the band is made up of middle aged men who have Down's Syndrome and/or Autism.

Singer Kari Aalto told a Finnish broadcaster : “Every person with a disability ought to be braver. He or she should themselves say what they want and do not want.”

And I couldn't agree more.

Far from being a gimmick, here is a band that are doing things their own way and are making a good fist of it. They're not letting anything in their way. This is a bold move on the part of the band. They ain't ABBA, but I hope they go a long way.

Of course, Finnish fans are divided, with many commenters on the Eurovision blog Wiwibloggs have written them off as a gimmick. Indeed, the initial review of the band's track by the Wiwibloggs site was "This is not music. This is noise with an interesting back story".

Now come on Wiwibloggs. Really? Since when has Eurovision been about music? If anything, in recent years Eurovision has been more about the dresses of the female singers and the schlock and awe of some of the entrants, especially some of the more sexually ambiguous ones - Romania, I'm looking at you.

Seriously though, this should be a feel-good story for all of us. PKN are choosing to ignore the obstacles and doing things their way. I wish them every success in Vienna in May.

Check out the song that PKN are performing in the contest below, entitled "Aina Mun Pitää”



The last time Finland won the contest was the only time they ever won the contest, and that was in 2006, with a performance by horror-metal band Lordi. Lordi were a band who make Kiss look like a church choir. Their performance of their winning song "Hard Rock Hallelujah" is a sight to behold and it shook up the contest in a big way. Take a look below:



Until next time. Cheers.

Bootsy's Rubber Band: "Psychoticbumpschool"



Further to the recent P-Funk post, I thought I'd post a video of one of the many classic tracks that are associated with the massive conglomerate that was the George Clinton empire, otherwise known as the "Parliafunkamadelicment Thang".

The reason I call P-Funk an "empire" or, more specifically, a "conglomerate", is because the actual structure of the band became very convoluted due to a number of legal problems and contractual issues that plagued the band. For example, in the 1960s, the band that George Clinton started as the Parliaments, became just Parliament by 1969. They made one flop album called "Osmium" for the Invictus label, before George wanted to leave and join another label. Invictus prohibited them doing so, so they changed the name of the band to Funkadelic and started making records for Westbound.

The legal wrangling ended in 1974 and George reclaimed the name, so he started making records with the same Funkadelic personnel, under the name of Parliament for Casablanca records, with a softer, more radio friendly sound than the harder-rocking psychedelic sound of Funkadelic. The same band recorded under both names with rotating memberships and with a different sound on both albums. As a touring entity, the band were billed as Parliament-Funkadelic and colloquially known as P-Funk.

By the mid 1970s, the band's membership swelled to as many was 20 players, with some members (including guitar whiz Eddie Hazel and even George himself) so deep into drug addiction that a rotating cast of members was needed in order to have a functioning performing unit. By now, many of the members of the band were renegades of the band of the great funk master himself, James Brown.

Amongst all the madness, George bankrolled a number of solo albums for various members of the band and released on Warner Brothers. Eddie Hazel released "Games, Dames and Other Thangs" in 1977, Fred Wesley and the Horny Horns made "A Blow for Me, A Toot for You" in 1977, keyboardist Bernie Worrell made solo records in the late 1970s and bassist Bootsy Collins made a start in 1976, and probably had the most successful solo career out of all the P-Funk offshoots.

The track supplied below is a killer live version of a track that was rather tame in its studio incarnation. "Psychoticbumpschool" featured on the first Bootsy's Rubber band LP "Stretchin' Out In A Rubber Band" from 1976. This live version was recorded in Houston, Texas in 1976 and sees the band stretching out the jam to a full 10 minutes of booty-shaking fun. This has the classic P-Funk groove but it is revved up and driven to the point of maximum intensity.

For the train-spotters, this is the same recording that features as the final track on "Back In The Day: The Best of Bootsy Collins" but the album version is edited down to only 6 minutes.

Enjoy!

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Funkadelic - "First Ya Gotta Shake The Gate" Review

So what do you expect from your favourite iconoclastic band, when they reform after decades to produce a comeback album?

Do you expect them to pick up where they left off, and produce an album that sounds exactly like they did decades ago?

Or, do you expect them to embrace technology and produce something thoroughly contemporary and modern to reflect the sound and the era they now find themselves in?

Or, do you approach it with no pre-conceptions at all from the outset and take the new music as you find it?

Any fan of any band in the situation that Funkadelic find themselves in right now is going to find the third option extremely difficult. We're always going to carry baggage of expectation to the party. We all want a record to be something to be proudly displayed next to their classic works. But is it fair to expect a new album made 33 years after the group's last one to sound like the one they finished with?

If you think it is fair they should sound like something released decades ago, you really haven't considered the nature of the ever-wandering musical troubadour that is George Clinton.

Throughout the entire dual careers of Parliament and Funkadelic, and then his solo career, his sound hasn't been static - it has always changed with the times. Therefore it would be reasonable to expect that the new record would sound quite contemporary, right?

Well, in truth, what you get when you commit to the mammoth 33-track 3-hour plus triple album from Funkadelic is a little of both.

On first listen it is a confused mess of vintage and modern sounds, fused with the characteristic strangeness that marked the classic Funkadelic sound. It borrows heavily on modern hip-hop, with many of the tracks on the first disc sounding like offcuts from a lost Snoop Dog or Dr Dre album. That may not be a bad thing for some - there is nothing inherently wrong with hip-hop in this writer's view. However they seem to take the very worst aspects of hip-hop and ride them into town - leaden grooves that don't swing, reducing women to mere sex objects, horribly pointless usage of the dreaded Autotune function, and a gratuitous overuse of both the n-word and the f-word.

The irony is that Funkadelic heavily influenced Snoop and Dre, and yet Clinton seems to find it a wise thing to compete with them at their level.

There is still a bit of the old school P-Funk groove here, as on "Radio Friendly", but in this instance it appears to use the sound as a way of dismissing its validity; as if to highlight that that the preceding B-Boy/Gangsta style is somehow more artistically legitimate.

It's been mooted that the album has 33 tracks to represent every one of the 33 years that has passed since the release of "The Electric Spanking of War Babies" in 1981. It could also be inspired by the monumental multi-disc studio sets by Prince, such as "Emancipation". Either way, it is like most multi-disc albums and needs an editor. One third of the tracks fall into the 7-minute- plus category, and while P-Funk at their best could hold attention for long stretches in years gone by, most of the long form jams meander in one spot and never develop. The stilted groove the opener "Baby Likes Fonkin' It Up" would be more effective at half its 9:37 length. "Roller Rink" finds a smooth groove but never actually develops or progresses anywhere in the 12 minutes it lasts for. There really isn't any way to justify the inclusion of an irredeemable track like "F****d Up", whose lyrics amount to little more than a repeating of the title for the entirely of its 7:43 running time. "The Mathematics of Love" mines a more gospel-soul feel for an over-long 12-minutes length while churning out some occasionally questionable mathematical metaphors for sex.

George Clinton, throughout his solo career, has always changed his sound in an attempt to remain contemporary. A canny move, favoured by jazz legends like Miles Davis and John Coltrane, it is a clever way to shore up your audience with younger, hipper people as older fans drift off. In some cases he's been successful (see: "If Anybody Gets Funked Up") The difference is that where Miles and Coltrane were ahead of the curve and gaining new fans as they went, "First Ya Gotta Shake The Gate" in parts sounds like a conscious effort not to appease long time Funkadelic fans but to capture a segment of the lucrative hip-hop audience, They're no longer setting the trends, as they were in the 1970s, but rather pandering to existing ones. There is a lot of music to digest here, but like an album such as "Stadium Arcadium" by Red Hot Chili Peppers, itself an overlong multi-disc set, it works for the iPod generation where playlists can be made instantly or an occasional random track played at will. By dropping some tracks and re-sequencing whats left, you can make your own perfect album.

Taken as a whole, it paints a messy picture of some of the worst aspects of modern pop while looking back to some past glories, all framed in a classic P-Funk context. It might break new ground for P-Funk, but next to recent releases by other artists, it doesn't sound all that groundbreaking at all.

As per usual, don't just take my word for it, take a listen yourself below. There is a strong language warning for most of the album, however. Headphones are recommended.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

The Curious Phenomenon of the EP



With physical audio formats seemingly disappearing and then reappearing again these days, it can be confusing to work out what exactly is the product an artist is really trying to sell.

It's pretty easy to work out what an album is, or a single, but an EP (extended play) is a format that is ambiguous at best. especially when you introduce the Mini-LP into the mix.

In the earliest part of the 20th century, up until 1948, the single was the dominant format. Two sided 10-inch diameter shellac records, playing at 78 rpm, with one song on each side. At that speed, it confined the playing time to little over 4 minutes per side. Longer pieces, such as classical music needed to be split across multiple records, and as such they would be bundled into large books that resembled a photo album, and they would be called an "album". In the early 1950s these were superceded by a 7-inch 45rpm single.



In 1948 the Long Playing record emerged. 12 inches in diametre, playing at 33rpm and allowing for an average of 20 minutes per side. In America the RIAA stipulated that the maximum amount of material on an LP was 35 minutes (it was revised and expanded later on). It took a while but it soon became the dominant recorded music format.

However, as the LP was considered an artisan product, a luxury item with the price tag to match, record labels came up with cheaper alternatives to shore up their revenue base. They introduced the 10-inch LP, a mini-LP usually carrying 8 songs (4 a side) and a maximum playing time of around 13-15 minutes a side. By the 1960s these were all but obsolete, but during the 1950s these were hugely popular, with Frank Sinatra being one of the most popular selling artists with albums like "Songs for Young Lovers".

With the rock and roll boom, it was originally thought that teenagers only bought singles and not albums, but despite Elvis and the Beatles selling large amounts of albums, they were still expensive, so in Britain they came up with a mid-range product that would be a little more collectable and valuable than the single, but not as expensive as the LP. The Extended Play, or EP for short, was a four song 7-inch record that featured similar style packaging to the LP but at a fraction of the cost. They were given unique titles, similar to albums.



The EP was the same size and speed as the single and compressed the grooves on each side to allow for up to 7.5 minutes a side playing time These were massive selling items in the 1960s but fell out of favour with major labels in the 1970s. Independent labels and punk bands took to the EP in the 1970s and beyond, but the majors confused the issue by starting to release 12-inch equivalents of an EP in the late 1970s and 1980s. These usually contained 5 tracks and ran at around 20 minutes.

Major labels also introduced a new format in the 1980s, the 12-inch "Mini-LP" which was longer than an EP but shorter than an LP, but that also confused the classification of certain albums. For example, Alice In Chains compiled two EPs together in one package on two discs as "Jar of Flies/Sap". "Sap" had 5 tracks (4 listed on the sleeve and label) and ran at less that 20 minutes, while "Jar of Flies" has 7 tracks at lasts for almost 30 minutes. Is one an EP and the other a mini-LP? "Jar of Flies" topped the Billboard Album Chart. Is it regarded as a short LP?

Elvis Presley's first LP had 12 tracks and lasted 25 minutes while Pink Floyd's "Animals" has 5 tracks and has a 40+ minute duration. Is one a mini-LP?

Not exactly. The British Recording Industry classifies the EP as "any record with more than four distinct tracks or with a playing time of more than 25 minutes is classified as an album for sales-chart purposes. If priced as a single, they will not qualify for the main album chart..." as described by the Official Chart Company.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) defines an EP as "3-5 songs OR under 30 minutes, whereas a single is allowed to contain up to 4 songs."

In this modern age of downloads, the EP still exists in the form of a short release of just 4-5 songs lasting less than 20 minutes, and it still a common release format for young artists who don't yet want to create a longer form piece, and to attract all the scrutiny and analysis that goes with it.

This probably doesn't simplify the matter, however it is not a simple matter to begin with. In my own mind, if the release has 4-6 distinct tracks, lasts around 20-25 minutes and as a unit it has a title unto itself, it is an EP. A single has a lead track that gives the unit its name plus a number of b-sides or bonus songs (sometimes up to 4 or 5, not counting remixes). A mini-LP has 6-7 tracks and lasts up to 30 minutes. An Album has a duration of over 30 minutes and, unless they are long songs, 8 songs or more.



Using this criteria, I don't consider "For The Working Class Man" by Jimmy Barnes as an album, but rather a double 12-inch EP. It is billed on the sleeve as a having 5 new tracks and a "bonus disc" of seven remixes. Both discs total 45 minutes and is a single CD. It charted at #1 on the Australian album chart in spite of this.

Do you have a favourite EP? Tell us below in the comments.

Punk Night at the Duck's Nuts: The Sequel

And everyone loves a sequel, right?

Well, maybe not in the case of Police Academy XI. However, in this case we'll make an exception.

After my previous post about Attila The Stockbroker and his adventures in Newcastle at a "testicular themed pub" as chronicled in "Punk Night At The Duck's Nuts", he has been in touch with us here at the Sound and The Fury HQ and he has supplied us with a follow-up story about Newcastle, where he returned to play a gig in the city in 2011.

I mentioned in the previous post about seeing an Attila show advertised in Newcastle that I thought about attending...and ultimately didn't. It turns out that this story describes what happened at that very gig...

NEWCASTLE – THE REPLAY, by Attila The Stockbroker.
It’s a Saturday night in Newcastle, New South Wales, eleven years later.

News has filtered through to me that The Duck’s Nuts has apparently changed its name to The Silk Bar.

But far worse news is that the mural of the duck on a surfboard with his testicles hanging out has apparently been painted over.

Robina says, with a twinkle in her eye, ‘Thank God it’s gone!’

I think ‘I’ve brought you on an epic, romantic journey to a town on the other side of the world to show you a mural of a duck on a surfboard with his testicles hanging out - and it’s been painted over. Surely you could be more appreciative of my efforts and sympathetic to my anguish!’

But I don’t actually say that.

I’m playing at the Cambridge Hotel: an enormous venue in a run down area three miles from the city centre.

According to the board outside (the only visible publicity anywhere) there are four bands on the bill.

Actually, there are three bands and a poet.

My friends the Go Set are headlining, then me, then the Sydney Girls’ Choir then the Havelocks.

At the appointed hour for the first band the paying audience is zero.

Even the twenty elderly alcoholics from the Duck’s Nuts would be welcome in this cavernous void.

The Havelocks don’t have locks. (They may well have some on their guitar cases and I’m sure they do on their front doors, but they don’t have any on their heads).

They take to the stage to a combined audience of myself, Robina, and two members of the Sydney Girls’ Choir.

The Havelocks appear to be in their early thirties and sound to me a bit like Crosby, Stills and Nash.

Their friendly singer tells me he is originally from Staines in the UK. I want to ask him why anybody, even someone from Staines, especially someone who presumably loves music,
would emigrate to Newcastle, New South Wales, but I don’t. I think it would seem insensitive.

The Havelocks finish their set. By this time the paying audience has risen to five.

As the next band take the stage I can see a pattern developing. The Havelocks don’t have locks: The Sydney Girls’ Choir aren’t from Sydney, aren’t girls and aren’t a choir. They are four blokes from Woolongong in their early twenties and are an excellent kick-ass rock n roll band in a Kings of Leon meet Dr Feelgood kind of way.

The first thing the singer says is that he is pleased to see so many people there because they played in Newcastle last week and nobody turned up at all. I admire his dedication to the cause.

I join the three-strong moshpit. I have a lovely time. Then it’s my turn.

By this time the audience has soared to about twenty including three Attila fans, one of whom is from Canada. I don’t think either of the other two are from Newcastle.

The void in front of me is aching. It’s monumental. It’s like being at a Crystal Palace home game.

Needless to say, I start with ‘Punk Night at the Duck’s Nuts’ and the sound of surreal irony echoes across the tiled savannah.

One twentieth of the audience suddenly shouts at me. What he shouts is ‘Yabba Yabba’.

I am confused by this at first but soon realize that this is his way of conveying the fact that he is unfamiliar with the concept of the unaccompanied spoken word as a form of live entertainment.

I berate him, gently. He shuts up.

In the middle of my performance The Go Set arrive. They’ve been doing another gig at a birthday party round the corner. I finish with a flourish to the sound of nineteen pairs of hands clapping in a wind tunnel and ask my friends how their gig went. Shithouse, I am informed. There were 200 people there. When the Go Set started playing most of the guests went outside and began dancing to techno. The rest sat in front of them eating and chatting.

Given this, I wonder why they were booked to do the gig in the first place. The people who booked them have promised to turn up here. I hope they will, so I can ask them. But they don’t.

The Go Set play I join them on fiddle and it must be said that the twenty-five people in the audience have a lovely time and are most receptive.

Afterwards, someone apologises for the turnout and says we would have had a better crowd if we had played somewhere else. I agree. They mean somewhere else in Newcastle. I don’t.

The next day as we head out of town we drive past what used to be the Duck’s Nuts and is now the Silk Bar.

The mural of a duck on a surfboard with his testicles hanging out has indeed gone. In his stead there is a grubby silver banner draped on the wall with ‘The Silk Bar’ written on it. The place is now a shabby backpackers’ hostel and poking out of an upstairs window there is something which looks worryingly like the Antipodean equivalent of Joseph Porter’s Sleeping Bag.

Then I notice that one of the pub signs still says ‘The Duck’s Nuts Hotel’. My heart sings.

I ask Robina to take a photo. The angle is wrong, she says. It won’t come out. My heart sinks.

We drive away. Back in Melbourne I recount this tale to my musician friend Rory. ‘John’ he says, earnestly, ‘Newcastle is the rectum of the Australian music scene’.

‘Rory, my old mate’ I say ‘I think you may be right.’
11/4/2011

Reprinted with permission from Attila The Stockbroker, with thanks.