Thursday, 31 January 2008

2008 Music Chart - January 2008

Ok it's the end of the month (already?!?) so here is the first Underwurld Music 2008 chart of the year. I will compile a list of the best and most listened to albums of 2008 and update it at the end of each month.

1. Do You Like Rock Music? by British Sea Power
2. This Gift by Sons & Daughters
3. In Rainbows by Radiohead

Sons & Daughters - This Gift Review (2008)

The new-wave post-punk sound is living on in Scotland as if late 80s Indie and early 90s Brit-pop never happened. The latest band to emerge from Glasgow are Sons & Daughters, formed from the ashes of Arab Strap, who released their energetic but mostly disjointed debut The Repulsion Box in the summer of 2005. Like many bands who have grafted their trade and cut their teeth on the live circuit, it captures the sound and the intensity but misses much of the furious energy and adrenaline of a performance. With the follow-up, This Gift, produced by ex-Suede guitarist Bernard Butler, the same approach has been taken - an album of three minute punchy pop-punk songs, led by the sparky vocals of front woman Adele Bethel, with guitarist Scott Paterson relegated to mainly backing vocals. With this combination, the band has progressed from their debut, while staying true to their sound.

The album kicks off with the wonderful first single Gilt Complex, a stark guitar riff leading in the bass before Bethel takes over and Paterson fills in the gaps. The effect is like Siouxsie & The Banshees kicking out Franz Ferdinand. Bethel has a perfect voice and delivery, a mix of stropy twenty-something and strutting siren. There are distinct similarities with Australia's Operator Please fused with bitter-sweet recollection: 'Gilt complex, poison pen, she's signing her name and she's forgetting her friends' and '...break her neck, and now she worries for the good of her wealth...useless effect and now she suffers, destroying herself...'. It is both refreshing and obvious to start an album about how soul-destroying fame and fortune can be (dubbed car-crash celebrity culture). The approach has become a cliché.

'Split Lips' is another cracking pop song, Bethel's vocals twisting between stabbing guitars. A tale of lost love. She mixes repeating lyrics with lyricless vocals and at just over two minutes it's gone in a flash of brilliance.

'The Nest' is probably the album highlight, a dark creepy tale with some delicious guitars. Bethel mixes fairy tale with horror movie, her voice oscillating with consummate ease. The song was inspired by Kathy Come Home by Ken Loach and does little to glamorise homelessness. 'Once she had a dream of the son she'll never have' is stunning.

After such a great start, This Gift starts to lose it's way. The main problem is a continuation of a style that manifests toward the end of Gilt Complex and The Nest - the lyricless vocal. This is blatantly evident at the start of 'Rebel With The Ghost', a kind of football terrace chant. Even with Bethel comes in, the backing vocals are hopelessly uninspired. The song is about the effects of depression and viewing yourself as invisible, a concept lost in the badly misjudged timing of the song's arrangement and production. The band are staying true to their punk-pop sound at the cost of serious subject matter. It is one of these songs that works live. The start of 'Chains' is even worse. Paterson's contribution, again, is desperately simplistic and more than a bit irritating as Bethel is on top form. The constant wailing vocals and jangling percussion drown out the guitars like a bad Coral b-side. Even though it's refreshing these days to find an album of songs that fade rather than just stop, it only compounds the frustration that we are in a dip.

Annoyingly this downward trend continues with the title track. Some brilliant guitars are ruined by a kind of duelling banjo vocals. Once this has passed, Bethel is back in engaging form and the song takes shape, emo-punk verses and a flowing no-nonsense chorus. You get the impression that the ooo-ing battle between Bethel and Paterson was originally designed to be a live favourite, a Freddy Mercury sing-back moment which doesn't quite work in the studio. Thankfully the third outing which closes the track is cut short.

'Darling', the band's second single taken from the Julie Christie film of the same name, is a revelation. Another complete well crafted song, the guitars blending perfectly with Bethel's punchy vocals, her voice lifting at the right moments. Paterson (and the rest of the band presumably) fill in to add depth and quality. 'Twisting in, twisting out the knife. Paying for your past strife. She'll make a darling cry...' are more bitter-sweet lyrics from another upbeat vocal. 'Flags' is another three minute wonder in the same mould as the title track, recalling a friend escaping from tragedy by boat: 'I'm thinking of you flat out cold beneath the starboard floor...'. It's tinged with darkness and Bethel shows the depth of her voice - light but powerful, the accent ever present. 'Iodine' is the second half of 'Flags', again suffering from an over-use of empty vocals but washed with delicate vibrant guitars. It sounds inspired by The Auteurs.

'The Bell' has an immediate sexy swagger, fast guitars and vocals punctured by slow melodic plodding. It creates an odd effect. 'House In My Head' follows the same formula, more punk than pop -Bethel screaming the chorus. Like before, the song's lyrics speak of inner conflict and alienation: 'Sometimes the conversation leads roads out to the south, past leaking roofs and dry, dry mouths. So this isolation, all too hard on me...it was somebody I knew threw away the key'. She even throws in an Emily Dickinson reference: 'funeral march in my brain'. Great stuff but the ending (and false ending) doesn't work.

The album closes with indifferent 'Goodbye Service' - the combination of vocals and lacklustre guitars brings the album to a close in less than climactic style. It feels like the end of a tiring journey or a furious gig has come to an end when with two minutes to go, thing slow to a crawl and a great guitar arrangement is drowned out by Bethel who has no more to say but goes on saying it anyway. It is an attempt to end the album in rousing style but is messy and uninspired.

If you are lucky enough to get the bonus track version of This Gift, you will get a wonderful version of Adamski's Killer, probably a live favourite. Bethel sings it completely straight and flat and it's a great cover. It is clear why it was never added as an album track.

This Gift is not quite the groundbreaking mainstream album Sons & Daughters wanted - but maybe that is the point. They still sound like an indie band making indie music, true to their sound and exciting live. Much of This Gift plays out like a live performance, shaped by slick production, and it is clear that Bernard Butler has had a major influence. The guitar sound is varied and strong, and when everything comes together the songs work. But some of the vocal sound suffers from a lack of ideas which is lazy and frustrating. Sons & Daughters has improved on the 2005 debut and the band now sound experienced, intelligent and well-travelled. Let's hope they continue to go further...
-- CS

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

NME Awards 2008

NME Awards 2008 - all the nominations

The NME awards for 2008 have been published - not all music but as you would except the awards are music oriented. Lots of Arctic Monkeys which is predictable despite being branded as 'dull' this week.

Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds - Abattoir Blues / The Lyre Of Orpheus Review (2004)

Nick Cave is a musical enigma, seen by many as a kind of bleak beat-poet with a preference for Gothic piano and deep subject matter. The fact is that Cave remains a constant source of intrigue and wonder - never reinventing so much as evolving. His last album 'Nocturama' sought to bring back his long faithful backing band, The Bad Seeds, and recapture the lost essence of youth and exuberance. The magnificent 'Babe, I'm On Fire' aside, what it proves is that the previous record 'No More Shall We Part' was heading in the right direction, in spite of critical assertions to the contrary claiming Cave has lost all of his dynamic post-punk past. It is simply the best album Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds have put their name to in a long time. And Abattoir Blues / The Lyre Of Orpheus is even better...

It would be easy to say that the two halves of Abattoir Blues / The Lyre Of Orpheus are very different. They are packaged together as a convenient marketing strategy for they have separate names and deliberately divorced track listings. Granted, 'Abattoir Blues' immediately plunges the listener into the hard rock chaos of 'Get Ready For Love', a dark menacing take on religious irony - 'Praise him till you've forgotten what you're praising him for'. Even when Cave sings 'The mighty wave their hankies from their high-windowed palace' and 'Calling every boy and girl, calling all around the world', it is done with such subterfuge and guile that he simply gets away with it when others would stumble and fall. With much of Cave's song writing, it is hard to tell if this is anti-establishment with Cave's voice so twisted with dark cynical edges. The overwhelming presence of the London Community Gospel Choir suggests otherwise. It is a wonderful paradox.

But 'Cannibal's Hymn' is a slow bluesy metaphor-centred dirge and familiar Cave territory. The bass and organ combine with such deft professionalism that it is easy to see why The Bad Seeds are such a musical force. This could live on either half of the album. Even the magnificent 'Hiding All Away', with more superb backing by Cave's female cohorts, is not overtly 'hard'. It is a wonderfully gritty blues piece that stalks the middle ground between full-on rock and whimsical ballad - all the while soaked with Gothic overtones and a deep brooding sense of foreboding. If it's one thing that Nick Cave does well, it is that he acts - he becomes a character within his songs. Coupled with some of the most inspired, weird and compelling lyrics, his songs become stories so quickly that you are dragged into 'his world' - 'You approached a high court judge. You thought he'd be on the level. He wrapped a rag around your face and beat you with his gavel' is simply great poetry. Cave goes on to discount any criticism by singing 'You searched through all my poets from Sappho through to Auden. I saw the book fall from your hands as you slowly died of boredom'. As the momentum builds, as it does with much of Cave's work, the song climaxes with the notion of impending war, complete with gospel choir is full flow. Truly inspired.

'Messiah Ward' is another timeless ramble with Cave's relentlessly tearful voice interrupted by a start/stop chorus, some more great female backing and a great piece of piano to fade. At the end it doesn't feel like over five minutes. Slightly longer is the monumental 'There She Goes, My Beautiful World' which easily puts Spiritualized to shame. Musically, everything is in it's place as Cave belts out lines such as 'St. John of the cross did his best stuff imprisoned in a box' and goes on to name drop Marx, Gaugin, Larkin and Dylan Thomas. In spite of it's furious pace and momentum, and Cave sounding like a TV evangelist, this is a great love song, full of passion and energy. The line 'I look at you and you look at me and deep in our hearts know it, that you weren't much of a muse, but then I weren't much of a poet' is another slice of Cave brilliance. If there is a recurring sound in this album, it is that of a building energy and an underlying force to produce the momentum of the music and vocals.

If there is a true surprise on the album, it is 'Nature Boy'. It sounds like someone else using Nick Cave's voice - a ridiculously good slice of 70's pop, dangerously close to Cockney Rebel (the point, apparently). It is home to not only the most upbeat, sing-along chorus Cave has ever produced, but also the best line - 'I was walking around the flower shop like a leper coming down with some kind of nervous hysteria'. If this wasn't amazing enough, Cave goes on to sing 'when I saw you standing there, green eyes, black hair, up against the pink and purple wisteria'. This is better than Thom Yorke, Chris Martin and Eminem put together.

The title track of this first half is another dark (really?) love song. Always one to find the right words at the right time, Cave chooses to match the line 'I got the abattoir blues' with 'right down to my shoes'. Sometimes simplicity is the best approach. It is the most open and personal song on the album with Cave declaring 'I wanted to be your superman but I turned out such a jerk'. The influence of Warren Ellis on 'Let The Bells Ring' adds a much needed guitar loop to Cave's words, as he seems to strain as every word. It is another upbeat dirge (oxymoron?). As the song gains pace and the music gels, Cave also seems to find new energy. Abattoir Blues ends as it starts with another chaotic mass of instruments and gospel choir. 'Fable Of The Brown Ape' wouldn't sound out of place on Murder Ballads - an explosive, musically fascinating (minimalist one minute, everything the next!) tale of a farmer's battle with a snake. Unlike most songs on Murder Ballads, it is very short.

The Lyre Of Orpheus plays out like part of Dante's The Divine Comedy. Songs about Greek mythology are always best with a touch of artistic license - 'This lyre lark is for the birds, said Orpheus, it's enough to send you bats. Let's stay down here, Eurydice, dear and we'll have a bunch of screaming brats' is a great line. Not sure about the 'o mamma' stuff though...

Another huge surprise, simply due to the feel of the song, is 'Breathless'. At three minutes long, it is a revelation. Parts of it sounds like Cave has bought a collection of school recorders to the studio, handed them out under protests of 'I can't play this' and retorts of 'that doesn't matter, just play anything when I stop', and the rest is history. It adds that element of individuality that makes Nick Cave something special (of course, it may not have been his idea at all).

Continuing the positive feel is another great love song 'Babe, You Turn Me On'. It is light and easy (yes, really) with Cave and piano blending like the match made in heaven they are. He never shys away from the graphic - 'I put one hand on your round ripe heart and the other down your panties' is sung with no hint of sleaze or childlike sniggers. The line to close 'Like an idea, like an atom bomb' is accompanied by a ludicrous explosion noise, again proving Cave's limitless skill to make the ridiculous sound okay.

'Easy Money' is a brilliant piano driven attempt at anti-capitalism - 'Money, man, it's a bitch. The poor, they spoil it for the rich'. Cave again delivers a song so well crafted and intensely personal that it puts everyone else to shame - 'pour it down the open drain, pour it all through my veins' referring to Cave's past 'problems'. Proof that the drugs most certainly do not work. At times, the premise that a musician is singing about how straight forward and uncomplicated life is when it comes to massing a fortune, is hard to stomach. It is more of that delicious dark-humoured irony again.

Like with all great things, there comes a moment of weakness. Proving again that this is a mixed bag and not two defined albums in one, 'Supernatural' is a weak point. The chorus is bordering on annoying and the song appears to be a single concept - 'oh baby don't you go supernatural on me'. It becomes very simplified - 'You're my north, my south, my east. my west. You are the girl that I love best'. Cave is much much better than this. What is infectious though is the change of pace compared with the soft ballad-esque direction of the tracks surrounding it.

In marked contrast to the previous song 'Spell' is purely sublime. Cave continues to paint pictures in the mind with his words. The music is suitably subtle, drifting into interesting interludes between Cave's overly depressing vocals. It is a perfect example of how effortless he can make music work. Most would dismiss it as self-indulgence and gloom-mongering. As an extension of this, 'Carry Me' charts familiar waters but gets things gospel again. The interplay between Cave and his sirens is majestic.

If anything, the second half of the second half is not as strong as the rest but the final track 'O Children' more than makes up for it. With more great piano and Cave back in 'normal' commanding baritone, the song is just under seven minutes of perfection. This is one of those tracks that takes a few listens to work out - 'we have the answer to all your fears. It's short, it's simple, it's crystal clear. It's round about, it's somewhere here, lost amongst our winnings'. From here, it just gets better and better and better...

It is a rare thing to find a musician doing his own thing and doing it well. Cave delivers some of his best lyrics to date. The use of the female backing singers as contrast to his baritone is a work of sheer genius. Abattoir Blues / The Lyre Of Orpheus could have been two distinct albums but you could jumble the tracks up and reorder them into two albums and they would both sound great. So it is an enigma (like Cave himself) as to why there should be a separation between the two recordings. Everything about the seventeen songs is deliberate and necessary with very few exceptions. This is a musician (and his ever faithful Band) at the top of his (and it's) game.

-- The original review was first published on the Underwurld Music website in 2004
(c) Underwurld Music 2004-2008

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Stage Diving - the dangers!

BBC NEWS Entertainment Stage dive knocks out musician

Phil Sumner from UK band British Sea Power was knocked unconscious with a broken tooth when he staged dived off a 12 foot high PA system and the crowd didn't catch him. Very rock n roll...but very stupid. We wish Phil all the best for a quick recovery...

Friday, 25 January 2008

New Music Preview 25/01/08


The best of the new albums out in next couple of months has to be Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! by Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds. A new Nick Cave album is always a cause for celebration. Also out soon is The Bedlam In Goliath by Mars Volta, the mighty non-prog-rock behemoths. Three female solo artists: Duffy, Tina Dico and Laura Marling have new albums out. The Laura Marling album Songbox is a new version of Alas I Cannot Swim which features a gig ticket. The new album from Goldfrapp, Seventh Tree, looks like a very interesting departure from the minimalist electro-pop formula. Two more new releases complete the exciting line-up: Neptune by The Duke Spirit and This Gift by Sons & Daughters.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

R.E.M. News

R.E.M. are working towards a new album, titled Accelerate. It is the band's first studio album since the forgettable Around The Sun, which started well then faded away. Bertis Downs, the R.E.M. manager, has said the laid back reflection of the previous album has gone and this will be much faster rock. I fear another Monster but remain hopeful that Accelerate will be a great return for the Athens trio.

There is very little on the band's official website, http://www.remhq.com/ but there is a new site to promote the album: http://ninetynights.com/. It's kind of a weird video blog with some HD downloads.

Accelerate is released on March 31st in the UK and we expect the first single release in the weeks before. The official fan site http://www.murmurs.com/ (thanks to them for the new album cover, pieced together from the official site) has non-downloadable 30 second intro to new song Supernatural Superserious which is sounding great.

Here is the probable tracklisting:
  • Living Well's the Best Revenge
  • Man Sized Wreath
  • Supernatural Superserious
  • Hollow Man
  • Houston
  • Accelerate
  • Until the Day is Done
  • Mr. Richards
  • Sing for the Submarine
  • Horse to Water
  • I'm Gonna DJ
Meanwhile R.E.M. have been playing live, and have enjoyed a residency in Dublin, Ireland. They have previewed about 17 new songs live but only 11 (predictably) made it to the album. Some left over for b-sides I'm sure. Closer I'm Gonna DJ is a quirky number that has fans divided and a few that did work live: Staring Down The Barrel and On The Fly are nowhere to be seen. That's all I could get from the murmurs.com forums

The live tour website is http://www.remdublin.com/.

The Duke Spirit - live on BBC 6 Music

The Duke Spirit played a live set in the BBC 6 music Hub today and sounded on great form. As part of the George Lamb show, the band opened with a raw stomping rendition of Step And The Walk - the new single. After recalling their recent expedition to the backwaters of the U.S. to make their new album, and some banter about biscuits and Chuck Norris, we heard a shorter low-key song. It was a very short set but sounded great.

Eels - Blinking Lights And Other Revelations Review (2005)

Mark Everett has always overcome the depression of life through his music. In the dim and distant past, Eels were a band. Now it is a showcase for the Everett family troubles with stories of death, sadness, suicidal thoughts and bleak optimism. Ever since the band's debut Beautiful Freak, a stunning collection of edgy melancholy songs about society and fitting in (or not), Eels have been a band worthy of attention. The follow-up 'difficult' second album 'Electro-Shock Blues' sees Everett in the depths of grief and coping for the death of his family. And now Everett (or E as he likes and dislikes to be known) is ready to finally unveil his ultimate masterwork, thirty three tracks of just about everything...

The best of the first half is the more 'complete' songs, that is those over three minutes. The distorted vocals and country rock guitars of 'From Which I Came/A Magic World' is short and sweet. 'The Trouble With Dreams' is trademark Eels, with Everett's voice effortlessly switching from one mode to the other while the tinkling piano and fuzzy organ keyboards play out in the background. Lyrically this is familiar despairing territory - 'this is the life that I must lead now, crossing fingers and wiping brow...'. The organ solo is incredibly cool. The imagery an epic sound of 'In The Yard, Behind The Church' is reminiscent of Mercury Rev with E's gravelly delivery sending it somewhere new. The vocal free chorus is a work of beauty. Definitely one of the man's happier, more reflective, moments. Even better is the following song 'Railroad Man'. Everett sings 'the times that I live in are not made for a railroad man' with such heart stopping ease.

The second half is a collection of two minute vignettes. Starting with 'The Other Side', an intense and deeply absorbing outlet for some bottled anger. Everett uses the oldest trick in the book with the opening line 'it's a beautiful day. The sky is black as ink' - a man of contradictions often sings about them like he's ready to piss on anyones fire. 'Mother Mary' sees E gigging with The Bad Seeds, the insane keyboards are fantastic. In contrast, 'Going Fetal' is a perfect slice of upbeat pop which would be an instant hit if it wasn't do disturbing. The bizarre musical arrangement of brass, space aged keyboards, shouting, car horns and fake crows noises add to the mayhem. This flicks over to 'Understanding Salesman' which again couldn't be more different - a soft beautiful bleak look inside a mind: 'daddy don't let me down this time. I'm all alone inside my mind' is right from the heart.

Elsewhere there are three instrumentals in the first half: opener 'Theme From Blinking Lights' (with some pleasant wordless vocals and great guitars), 'Marie Floating Over The Backyard' (delicate piano and choral/string arrangement) and 'Theme For A Pretty Girl That Makes You Believe God Exists' (soft guitars). They are all interesting interludes, the first sets the scene and mood. Two songs directly approach the subject of suicide: 'Suicide Life' (predictably) and 'Checkout Blues'. The former is more rehabilitation than promise - 'I'm so tired of living the suicide life. that ain't no reason to live...'. The latter is a song about the
cloud which hangs permanently over his family: 'is the curse stronger than me?', Everett asks, 'or am i stronger than the curse?'.

The second half of the album continues a similar path with the three minute songs (mainly) stealing the show. 'Old Shit/New Shit' combines Everett's depressed vocals ('the psychic pain of living in this world is overwhelming me') with an amazing instrumental arrangement. It is ghostly and magical. 'Hey Man (Now You're Really Living)' threatens to take things too far in the 'Yes I am happy, really' department. The lyrics are great, mixing the good with the bad, building you up then knocking you down - but the whole experience leaves you empty and hollow. One exception to the rule is the slow plodding ballad 'I'm Going To Stop Pretending That
I Didn't Break Your Heart'. It is wonderfully arranged but horribly limited and never builds to a solid ending. 'To Lick Your Boots' on the other hand brings in a great turn from Peter Buck. It even sounds like an early REM album track with a beautiful vocal and guitar melody. On 'If You See Natalie', E delivers one of his best vocal (and musical) performances but the song feels like a fragment. This leads into the artificial drum beat love song of 'Sweet Li'l Thing'. This seems far removed from the depressed / angry / jaded Everett from Souljacker and parts of Shootenanny! He actually sounds stable and free from cynical distractions. It is a simple wonderful love song.

The piano, which plays such a great part on this album, is never better than on 'Ugly Love'. Everett opens his soul once more to declare ''my kind of love is an ugly love, but it's real and it lasts a long long time'. Time for another slice of kitsch pie with the rock n roll piano and brass section of 'Losing Streak'. The underused string arrangement of penultimate track 'The Stars Shine In The Sky Tonight' is almost eclipsed by more great piano. Again, there are a handful of delicate instrumentals here and more hit than miss. The minute and a half 'God's Silence' is easily the best whereas the stylophonic 'Last Days Of My Bitter Heart' is the strangest.

Album closer 'Things The Grandchildren Should Know' is another brilliant vocal arrangement. E lets us into his head one last time with stories of agoraphobia, sociopathic tendencies, paternal contradiction ('I'm turning out just like my father, i swore i never would') and an ending that sounds like it will be the last pen Mark Everett puts to paper. He finishes up reversing the cliche of 'if i had to do it all again'. Instead of the usual 'i wouldn't change a thing', we get 'well, it's something I'd like to do'. Sublime.

Blinking Lights And Other Revelations is an album which should have been released nearly a decade ago. It is a huge family album of inner secrets, dark depression and hope. Given all that has come before it, the stories and the characters seem hopelessly diluted and it's like listening to an old war hero who is running out of new tales to tell. But Everett understands his work and he understands it very well - the sadness is thick and when he gets upbeat, it is with a touch of irony and a pinch of sarcastic charm. And the ideas flow nearly as freely as the hapless sense that maybe the world is not such a bad place after all. If these stories help to purge the Everett family curse and keep this man in the world which beats him down at every opportunity, then long may they continue...

-- This review was first published on the Underwurld Music website in May 2005
(c) Underwurld Music 2005-2008

Eels release new compilation albums

One of my favourite bands has released two new 'compilation' albums: Meet The Eels, Essential Eels (The hits) and Eels, Useless Trinkets (B-sides etc). I cannot possibly condone anyone buying the Essential Eels as you should own their albums anyway! A great place to start is Beautiful Freak - although this doesn't show the band at their best, it is the most accessible album. Get the magnificent Blinking Lights And Other Revelations then work back from Shootenanny! and Souljacker.

Also Mark Everett (E) has written a book all about his family called Things The Grandchildren Should Know.

The official band website is http://www.eelstheband.com/

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Nine Inch Nails - With Teeth Review (2005)

Ten years ago, Nine Inch Nails were regarded in the same way as Slipknot - a name on the many hooded tops of spotty thirteen year old fans, out to shock their parents and the establishment. On it's release in 1994, the second album from Nine Inch Nails 'The Downward Spiral' was largely dismissed as nonsense. The reality was that Trent Reznor had compiled a masterpiece which combined abstract attacks on religion, society and himself with a raw dynamic unsettling edge. The album took Nine Inch Nails out of the eighties and defined a unique benchmark for industrial punk-metal.

Over the past eleven years, the legacy of this album has always hung over Reznor's head. 'Broken' is an interesting E.P. 1999's 'The Fragile' should have been development rather than reinvention, an album polished clean of all malice and anger and broken into pieces with some effective instrumental moments. Too many remix albums ('Further Down The Spiral' and 'Fixed' to name but two - the latter remains the worse thing Reznor has put his name to) and some good singles ('Closer To God' is the best CD single in the Nails back catalogue) have kept the interest of fans, but there is not enough. Thankfully, Reznor is great live and pulls together a committed and accomplished 'band' to bolster his efforts. That said, deep down, the rock world needs a new Nine Inch Nails album. And they need it to be good.

Amazingly 'With Teeth' starts exactly where 'The Fragile' finished. Opener 'All The Love In The World' is a stark stuttering drum-machine led 'ballad' with Renzor's guttural vocals and a wonderful piano section three minutes in. When his vocals return, he is stronger and more confident as the song builds into a predictable but reassuringly good climax. It is a great opening track. More delicate piano fades into 'You Know Who You Are?', a frantic torrent of drums and vocals. It brings back the unfocused chaos of the band's early days with Reznor adding to the chorus and demanding that we 'take a good look coz I'm full of shit'. Musically, the song perfectly blends static ridden distorted electronics and processed guitars. The song settles down, brings in the piano again and then comes back even louder, throwing everything at the speakers. Even this early on, it feels like step backwards - nothing challenging and nothing new. Into 'The Collector' and this album really does start to sound like Nine Inch Nails - a loose riff for Reznor to shout over. The chorus 'I'm trying to fit it all inside. I'm trying to open my mouth wide' is a about as commercial as the album gets. The piano at the end plays out like a horror movie.

The second album highlight is 'The Hand That Feeds', a complete guitar driven slice of anti-authority which is almost faultless. The subtle melody provides the momentum and energy through the hard exterior. Lyrically, Reznor never usually gets complicated and specific but the lines 'What if this whole crusade's a charade and behind it all there's a price to be paid. For the blood on which we dine, justified in the name of the holy and the divine' is simple social and political commentary, direct and focused. 'Love Is Not Enough' is darker but equally venomous counter liberalism - the same buzz saw guitars and labouring drums holding together under Reznor's piercing voice. The opening lines 'The more that we take. The paler we get. I can't remember what it is we try to forget' is from the depths of Reznor's much publicised drug ridden past. It is also the antithesis of a classic love song.

'Every Day Is Exactly The Same' is another superbly crafted and produced example of the Nine Inch Nails formula. Like 'All The Love In The World', it sounds like a reworked and much improved reject from The Fragile. One of the best bits of the album is when the music softens, the piano builds and Reznor breaths his way through the third verse into 'I wish this could have been any other way but I just don't know. I don't know what else I can do'. The multi layered vocals at the end are magnificent. The title track (only the second in Nine Inch Nails history)
is a real surprise. The familiar sound is warped and twisted into something alien, particularly the simple Mark E Smith chorus. Three minutes in and everything stops. Just over a minute of delicate instrumental is shattered when the chorus comes crashing back in. Perplexing, as some of the most magical Nails moments have come from the times when Reznor lets the music do the talking. None here though. Not this time.

The second attempt to break the formulaic sound is the vocal arrangement that forms the core of 'Only'. Reznor is almost whimsical as he muses 'Well you might say I'm loosing focus. Kinda drifting into the abstract in terms of how I see myself'. This could be a lost track from the Pretty Hate Machine archives. The synths sound horribly dated but strangely comforting against the bouncing guitars and persistent drums. Reznor quickly puts his heart on his sleeve, throwing up one liners and declaring that he is 'Less concerned about fitting into the world' and 'I'm alone but then again I always was'. Not so much an autobiography, more a blatant attempt at attention seeking that he does so well. The chorus is another simple one - 'There is only me. There is no fucking you' over and again for effect. This is Reznor purging his soul of his inward selfish past.

'Getting Smaller', like 'You Know What You Are?' is punchy power punk, with driving bass and more rampant intensity. The ending is exquisitely controlled as Reznor declares 'my world is getting smaller everyday...'. In contrast, the mixture of soft falsetto and normal angst of Sunspots' has some of the weirdest instrumentation on the album - like a techno dust storm. Reznor is in graphic mood with 'Peel off our skin we're gonna burn what we were to the ground. Fuck in the fire and we'll spread the ashes around'. The fuzzy static of 'The Line Begins To Blur' is probably the worst track on the album. It starts like a Garbage cover and develops into a Downward Spiral off cut. It really plumbs the depths with 'As I lay here. The fabric starts to tear. It's far beyond repair. And I don't really care'. If it wasn't for what has come before, it would be faintly embarrassing.

Not content with predictability, 'Beside You In Time' throws us another curve ball. The soft Beatles-esque psychedelia and hypnotic beats combine with Reznor's quiet repetitive vocals to create something which sounds completely unlike anything he has produced before. It is only when the music builds that we are reminded of what it is we are listening to. The ultimate paradox that is Trent Reznor. As if this is not enough of an ending, the album glides into closer 'Right Where It Belongs'. In an attempt to capture the poignancy and beauty of the song which indirectly brought the genius to the world ('Hurt') and provided Johnny Cash with a parting gift, we get the best song writing saved for last. Unlike 'The Great Below', this is not just a pale imitation but a progressive move forward. With lines such as 'What if all the world's inside of your heart are just creations of your own', 'See the animal in it's cage that you built. Are you sure what side you're on' and 'What if you could look right through the cracks. Would you find yourself, find yourself afraid to see?', few could argue. A great song which would benefit from a simpler musical accompaniment, even to strip away the muddy electronics and let Reznor's voice and worlds make the song work.

What is baffling about this however, is that the UK version of 'With Teeth' includes two bonus tracks, the second of which is a different version of 'Right Where It Belongs' (labeled simply V.2). And this is exactly what is required. A stunningly beautiful arrangement. But given that we have already listened to the 'trailer', it feels diluted. Listening to the album for the first time, skip the album version and the b-side quality 'Home', and go straight to this. It is the real end of the album, reminding us of the cold dark world. Stunning.

The most impressive thing about 'With Teeth' is the sheer power of Trent Reznor's vocals - unlike some parts of The Fragile, he really sounds energized and focused, purposeful in his delivery. Musically, the album is only lacking some breathtaking instrumentals, but the tapestry of guitars, drums and piano provide enough depth to Reznor's unique voice. With Dave Grohl on drums and Jordie White on bass, this is impressive stuff. Alan Moulder provides great production as always, but it is always the rejuvenated spirit and determination of Reznor which runs though the spine of the album like a bolt of lightening. He knows how to manipulate a trademark sound, easily dismissed as formulaic, but realised as consistent and familiar, eleven years on. He has come through a life of self-inflicted predictable excess and made some great music along the way, but now 'With Teeth' shows that Nine Inch Nails are back. Trent Reznor is as strong and as relevant as ever.

-- This review was first published on the Underwurld Music website
(c) 2008 Underwurld Music

Monday, 21 January 2008

++ THE DUKE SPIRIT ++

++ THE DUKE SPIRIT ++

Another great band about to release their second full length album Neptune next month. The song Step And The Walk is playing now to promote the album.

Sons And Daughters

Sons And Daughters are quickly becoming my new favourite band. Their new single Darling is amazing and the debut album This Gift is out in a week. The band are currently touring in the UK plus some other European dates in January and February before heading off to the US in March.

Friday, 18 January 2008

Radiohead - 'In Rainbows' Review

Radiohead were once the biggest band on the planet. This is not such a big claim as every band has it's time and place which is more than just a Andy Warhol 15 minutes of fame. When you follow such a great album as The Bends with the brilliant OK Computer, people stand up and take notice. From there, Radiohead became disillusioned with the way music is made and for reasons known only to the band, they veered off in a new strange direction full of minimalist beats, spooky vocals, a distinct absence of big guitars and not much in the way of melody. This was the new Radiohead - Kid A and Amnesiac, both half a great album. Hail To The Thief in 2003 tried to get back on track but ended up stuck between two sounds and styles.

So, for fans of the older Radiohead it was difficult to accept this new sound. Only the wonderful I Might Be Wrong (Live) showed that the band could still cut it live and the songs took on a new energy. For most, Hail To The Thief was the last chance and a chance wasted. At the end of 2007, Radiohead had cut all ties with major record labels and were doing things on their own. They released In Rainbows for download only for a price of your choosing. A radical idea and a great publicity stunt - they would give their album away (for free) to raise the profile of the band and the album. It seems to have worked. But is an album the band were prepared to give away actually any good? Or is it more of the same experimental so-called groundbreaking new-wave challenging music that Radiohead are now synonymous with?

In Rainbows starts with the spiky beats of 15 Step and Thom Yorke asking 'How come I end up where I started?'. It is clear that we are in Kid A territory and not to expect the straight forward rock punches of Paranoid Android or the subtle melodic delivery of High And Dry. The slightly odd childlike cheering is a neat touch and the song plods along driven by Yorke's now mumbling drawl. 'Bodysnatchers' is much more robust, guitar led and organic. It's more despair and alienation from Yorke: 'I have no idea what I am talking about. I am trapped in this body and can't get out' but much more energised and driven. There are clear lines and boundaries here and not just a muddy mess of electronic beats and wails. 'It is the 21st century. It can follow you like a dog. It brought me to my knees' is hardly uplifting but sums up the situation. The last thirty seconds is the best Radiohead have sounded for years.

'Nude' opens with strings and a backing track that sounds as if it is being played backwards. This is a dreamy song about lust and temptation summed up in the lines: 'So don't get any big ideas. They're not going to happen. You'll go to hell for what your dirty mind is thinking'. The choral arrangement in the last minute is exquisite and it's clear that there may be more to this album as you dig deeper into the complexity of the music. 'Weird Fishes/Arpeggi' uses vast oceans as a metaphor for escape and the effect of the different vocal tracks and keyboards is astonishing.

The deep bass keyboards take centre stage in 'All In Need', drowning out the vocals. This, on the surface, is a straight forward love song wrapped up in more metaphor: 'I am a moth who just wants to share your light. I'm just an insect trying to get out of the night' and 'I'm in the middle of your picture. Lying in the reeds '. The song lifts at the end in a mass of vocals, xylophone, organ and crashing cymbals. 'Faust Arp' is probably the most difficult song on the album with fast paced vocals, disjointed guitars and layered strings. At just over two minutes it does its job then is gone and forgotten. 'Reckoner' is, in many ways, a perfect Radiohead song - the opening guitars and drums are familiar and safe, as is Yorke's soprano drifting across the landscape. It is the unofficial title track: 'Because we separate like ripples on a blank shore' is underpinned by 'in rainbows'. It's a poignant high point.

The first line of 'House Of Cards' might be a Texas tribute. That aside, this is another song about relationships. It drifts along with a gorgeous guitar piece and sweeping strings. There is a lot about 'Denial' which suggests some bitterness in the past. 'Jigsaw Falling Into Place' is another song that songs like it has always been a Radiohead song. A great opening into choral vocals and some real structure as Yorke starts. The vocals are thrown at you at pace giving just enough time to take them in. It plays like a therapy session: 'Come on and let it out'. The lines 'I never really got there. I just pretended that I had. What's the point of instruments. Words are a sawed off shotgun' are fascinating - a dredge into the past perhaps showing the lack of contentment in the band?

Album closer 'Videotape' starts with the lines: 'When I'm at the pearly gates. This will be on my videotape'. The song is an elegant suicide note: 'This is my way of saying goodbye.Because I can't do it face to face. I'm talking to you after it's too late.From my videotape'. Again it is simple piano and Yorke's vocals. The song ends with the wonderful 'No matter what happens now. You shouldn't be afraid. Because I know today has been the most perfect day I've ever seen'. Hardly a big finish but beautifully constructed.

It is hard to review a new album without referring back to the benchmark set by previous releases, particularly if that benchmark is so high. Radiohead have a lot to live up to and even though this new musical direction does not produce songs as distinctive as those on The Bends or OK Computer, they are making some amazing and complex music. Lyrically it has never been so intriguing, saying enough but giving nothing away. Thom Yorke is more disciplined in his vocals, only descending into incoherent wailing when it requires. The entire album feels like a lot of work and effort to make something the band wanted to make, not what people wanted them to make.

In Rainbows is the best Radiohead album since The Bends, and given what has come between this isn't saying much. The big problem is the lack of solid defined memorable songs. If you take all the good stuff from the last three albums, you would have a better album than this so at least the consistency is back - quality over quantity. But it is so hard to love Radiohead now. You can only admire what they are doing: free music (if you choose), free gigs (if you can get there) and lack of industry ties has to be admired. The cynics can easily say 'if they are giving it away for free then it must be crap'. It leaves you disillusioned, undecided but strangely hopeful for the future.

-- CS

British Sea Power - 'Do You Like Rock Music' Review

In 2005, British Sea Power's Open Season was a much deserved album of the year, dispelling the cliche of not being a difficult second album and improving massively on the band's 2003 debut. It is an album full of wonder and intrigue, great songs and songwriting, and packed with great music. Three years later we all expect British Sea Power to build upon their semi-cult status and become a more arty Coldplay. We had a taster of this in the recent Krakenhaus EP which features two tracks from Do You Like Rock Music? It showcases a new vibrant huge-production sound that washes through the new album. But does it distract from the wonder and intelligence of the music?

The album starts with a short introduction in the form of 'All In It', a rousing repeating stomping chorus mixed with chamber music. It sets a fascinating precedent leading into the massive 'Lights Out For Darker Skies', straight out of the blocks with big guitars, drums and strings. Front man Yan sounds more like Gruff from Super Furry Animals backed by Doves. After nearly four minutes, the song takes a delicate turn breaking the relentless sound. It quickly rising again, the guitars building once more into a spectacular finale.

'No Lucifer' starts lighter but soon brings back the thumping drums and football terrace chant vocals. The song sees bassist Hamilton on lead vocals playing Chris Martin, musing about 'the future' and fending off the evils of the world, while the rest of the band sing 'easy' in the background. Second single 'Waving Flags' could be confused for being an satirical ironic look at Eastern European immigration policy but (according to the band) is a genuine song of acceptance and welcoming. With lyrics such as 'And you, you will be here for a while. And it’s all a joke' and 'Of legal drinking age, on minimum wage. Well, welcome in' it's easy to make the mistake. It seems to be more about drinking: 'Beer is not death. Beer is not life. It just tastes good. Especially tonight'. This misunderstanding has much to do with the delivery which is soaked in cynicism and less than sincere. Back to the music and it's another stadium filler - more great drums and huge choral arrangement.

'Canvey Island' seems to start in the middle and talks of dispatching a 'wild swan' but quickly recalls the tragic events of 1953. It brings the modern day risks of rising waters into 2008. Again this is big production when it could benefit from a more subtle approach. The end is a multi layered mess of kitchen sink proportions. Into 'Down On The Ground', which has the best opening of any track on the album, shows real progression especially in Yan's vocals. The production here is more dreamy than stomping - things just glide along and blend rather than jolt and judder... Until about a minute and a half to go when the drums crash in and the song tries to end but fails horribly and sounds like someone forgot to turn off the tapes. At least this shows the band are not afraid to take risks and break from the formula even if it does create some uneasy listening. 'A Trip Out' is reminiscent of The Jam if they had stayed together for a few more years. What seems to be a celebration of 'seeing the world' becomes a song about the fear of 'going out'.

The opening of 'The Great Skua' has all the feeling of the boy who cried wolf, given all that has come before. You expect the big sound to knock you backwards at any time and break the tranquility but all that emerges are delicate guitars and a choir of cymbals. It becomes a musical vocal-free interlude that only rises in the last 30 seconds.

The album version of 'Atom', the band's first single from Krakenhaus, starts in similar style with an extended opening from the single version. Then it's business as usual. It would be easy at this stage to compare British Sea Power to Arcade Fire as the band sound like 20 people all singing and playing three instruments at the same time. The effect is exhilarating and overwhelming. An album highlight. The last minute of the song is another step overboard at the band attempt to mimic a scream of air raid warning sirens. Following on is 'No Need To Cry' which has all the feel of a big ballad from the start and that is exactly what you get. The impression is that the band have run out of steam and ideas, as the end draws near, but this is a beautifully arranged song; a welcome departure from the complexity of what has come before.

'Open The Door' is in danger of sounding like The Coral - pleasant enough but doesn't really fit. A short guitar solo threatens to bring back the big sound but there is more of the same. It has the sound of a personal song about loss and responsibility. Yan repeats 'Are you gonna live or die?'. Thankfully 'We Close Our Eyes' isn't a cover of the 80's Go West classic but instead the big album closer. The first couple of minutes would put the ambiance of Aphex Twin to shame until the church organ emerges (more Arcade Fire?). Then it goes away again, back to spooky electronics and weird samples. It's all a bit too strange. The last three minutes continues a reprise from opener 'All In It'. No quite the big finish.

British Sea Power have proved that the songs are still with them and Do You Like Rock Music? is a great follow-up to Open Season. At times the production and arrangement, typically involving a cast of thousands, does assault the senses far too much, but it's ambitious stuff. For those who like their music light and simple, this can be a daunting experience but for those who are looking for the antidote to the Arctic Monkey impersonators, you can't go far wrong with the majestic depth of British Sea Power.
-- CS

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Radiohead surprise gig in London

BBC - 6 Music - In Rainbows, in full

At the risk of turning this into the Radiohead or 6music blog, another story from the BBC 6music news website about the 'surprise' gig by Radiohead - who simply cannot resist yet another publicity stunt. The gig, which was originally booked for the Rough Trade East store, will be for around 200 people on a first come, first served basis for free - and no press, media etc. Yeah right.

The gig was moved to the 93 Feet East club down the road and fashionably late. The band played the whole of In Rainbows plus a few extras, probably to lift the mood at the end.

The gig 'review' from Lucy O'Doherty is both praising and sycophantic to the point of nausea - we have to remember that this still isn't a very good album. The music may be weird and interesting and 'breaking the mould' but a lot of it is washed with Thom Yorke's now infamous whiny vocals.

Right, there's only one thing for it...I need to listen to In Rainbows again to see what all the fuss is about.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Sound of 2008: The Top 10

BBC NEWS Entertainment Sound of 2008: The Top 10

The BBC have published their top ten list of those artists who will 'make it big' in 2008, according to experts (well, critics and broadcasters).

Some interesting people on the list including Glasvegas and Duffy but many of the bands only have their live pedigree to justify a place in the top ten. Two bands I will be checking out over the next few months are The Ting Tings and Joe Lean And The Jing Jang Jong. Foals sound like another one to miss as does Vampire Weekend. Personally I would put Sons & Daughters, another great Scottish band, in the list.

My problem with this sort of thing is the culture of building up artists (and in some cases, knocking them down) before they have any way of showing it and putting a lot of weight on young shoulders. In these times, we should be looking for the antithesis of X-Factor - ironically the people behind this show have now started supporting the 'winners' and keeping the press from getting too excited. But it gives these new artists the exposure they need to get notice, hopefully constructively.

Monday, 14 January 2008

R.E.M. 'Best Of' Review

Putting together a good 'Best Of' compilation is a difficult task. On one hand you have to include the 'hits' from your back catalogue, in this case constrained between the years 1988 and 2003. This ensures a true representation of the band's achievements. The other goal is a commercial one. You have to ensure that fans will buy it. If it is just a collection of album tracks, only fringe buyers will chance a purchase, whereas the fans will already have all tracks on the past albums. The bottom line is that record companies want to make money. And when they've made money, they want to make more money. And a 'greatest hits', 'best of' or 'definitive collection' is a good way of giving the band more exposure and making more money.

There are three buyers here: opportunists, 'fringe' fans and 'true' fans. Opportunists are those who have never heard of the band, but have heard a few tracks and don't want to wade through massive oceans of CDs to find what they want. It is more convenient to buy the 'best of'. And these are the kind of people you want - they will be getting a record that kick starts their fandom and turns them into a fan. There will be those in the grey area who own a few albums but that just complicates things. There will inevitably be some fans who have some albums but they are likely to be 'Automatic For The People' and/or 'Out Of Time'. They may not be interested in the rest of the back catalogue but like a few tracks from some of the albums represented. We will call these 'fringe' fans. The 'true' fans will have every record R.E.M. have ever made. These are the hardest to convince as they are duplicating what they already own. Sure, some obsessed fans will buy it anyway because it is an R.E.M. record and they have them all, including all the Japanese and US imports, singles and albums. We won't worry too much about them...

What R.E.M. have done (and we will claim this is a product of the band and not the record executives, as it is impossible not to see the band's input here) is to release a compilation of well known 'hits' from 1988 to 2003 coupled with an optional extra package of b-sides and rarities. So, the album is released in two forms: a single eighteen track compilation of mainly album tracks and a two disc set including the single disc and an additional fifteen track 'rarities and b-sides' disc (for a higher price). People interested in purchasing a best of compilation, because they have none or few of the original albums, will only be interested in the first version. The rarities and b-sides will be of no interest to them. They will want to hear 'Losing My Religion' and 'Everybody Hurts' on the same album, and that's it. So what is the second version for? Fans, of course - to get them to buy the special version for the rarities, most of which they may already have.

R.E.M. have seven albums worth of tracks to choose from. The albums released since 1988 are 'Green', 'Out Of Time', 'Automatic For The People', 'Monster', 'New Adventures In Hi-Fi', 'Up' and 'Reveal'. Already, putting together twenty or so tracks from this is an unfathomable undertaking. For a start, there are half a dozen candidates from 'Automatic For The People' alone, not to mention about the same from 'Out Of Time'. Commercially these two albums lifted R.E.M. from having a cult following into the mainstream. And this is were the problems begin. Most 'fringe' fans will have the two albums mentioned. The albums are simply the most likely bought based on statistics. So why bother including a lot of tracks from these albums? If the whole point of a 'best of' is to get 'fringe' fans to buy, they won't want an album full of tracks from the albums they already own.

The Review

The first comment is a simple one. The existence of two versions of this album is shameful. If the band want 'true' fans to buy an album that contains album tracks they already own on the original albums, the least they can do is release a compromise album (i.e. the second version with the extras) at a normal price. This way, everyone buys the same version at a good price. If you want to be bothered with the extras, then fine, otherwise you stick to the hits. Also, if the first version was the only one available, the existence of 'The Great Beyond', 'Bad Day', 'Animal' and 'All The Right Friends' would do little to convince 'true' fans (and most 'fringe' fans) to buy it. Only 'Animal' is (currently) unreleased.

As a review, it wouldn't make much sense to focus on the two versions separately. Given that there are seven albums, countless singles, a handful of soundtrack songs, guest spots and live tracks to choose from, the review will deal with each album in turn and comment on the extras from each album's release period (i.e. b-sides from the album's singles and live album tracks). Anything not covered will be discussed afterwards.

The inclusion of the non-album tracks 'The Great Beyond', 'Bad Day', 'Animal' and 'All The Right Friends' is an interesting discussion point. 'The Great Beyond' is definitely in. It is the best non-album track and it was a good single. 'Bad Day' is a good addition but its inclusion undermines the concept of 'best of' as it is a newcomer. It does, however, sound as relevant today as it was when it was dropped from the 'Life's Rich Pageant' sessions nearly two decades ago, in whatever form it was in then. Whatever, the band have brought it right up to date. Yes, it echoes the opening of 'It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)' but we can forgive that. It is a great nod back to the old days. 'Animal' sounds like an omission from 'Monster' and 'All The Right Friends' is a weak track from the 'Vanilla Sky' soundtrack and another new addition.

There are two album tracks from Green: 'Orange Crush' and 'Stand'. 'Pop Song '89' has been added in the form of the acoustic b-side to the original single and similar in vocal arrangement to the version performed in the MTV unplugged set. 'Turn You Inside-Out' is the live version taken from the glorious Tourfilm with the band at their best and Stipe using a megaphone on the chorus. And that's it. This is an album that kick started R.E.M. into the mainstream and only two studio tracks have been included. The exclusion of 'World Leader Pretend' is the noticeable one. The acoustic 'Pop Song '89' is fairly weak and folksy and fails to capture the urgency of the original. The live 'Turn You Inside Out' is, however, spectacular. Stipe's use of the megaphone is comparable to Mills' backing vocals, which are both spot on. Bill Berry and Peter Buck (and Mills on bass) thrash out the rest in incomparable style. This is the first official audio lift from this movie.

'Out Of Time' is the biggest shock. Two tracks! The album version of 'Losing My Religion' and a live rendition of the brilliant 'Country Feedback' (this is the most recent live recording, brought right up to date with a new introduction to start). Stipe introduces it as his favourite song - a running joke as his favourite seems to change from one set to the next, and who can blame him with such a wonderful back catalogue to choose from. Also, Peter Buck provides us with the guitar solo of his, and the band's, life. There is no 'Shiny Happy People', which is no surprise but the singles 'Radio Song' and 'Near Wild Heaven' are huge holes. 'Half A World Away' and 'Me In Honey' are also massive non-singles which would probably have been made into singles if the album was released today.

'Automatic For The People', as mentioned before, is a huge problem. Despite this, seven tracks from the album, and the era, have been included. The studio versions of 'Man On The Moon', 'The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite', 'Everybody Hurts' and 'Nightswimming' come as no surprise. The live version of 'Drive' that became a favourite in gigs is a great choice. It is so different from the original and has a certain charming swagger to it, like it's been tilted on its side.

'Chance (Dub)' is not a great track or particularly memorable (that's why it is a b-side). It's inclusion is baffling. Also, the version of 'Star Me Kitten' with William Burroughs (from the X-files inspired by soundtrack) is bizarre in the extreme. To be brutally frank, it's horrible and highlights the hidden expletive from the original in a blatantly harsh way. It's hardly noticeable on the original due to Stipe's soft vocals and some great production. There is an argument to say that the original should be on the 'best of'...

Two tracks not represented are 'Try Not To Breathe' and 'Find The River'. They MUST be on any R.E.M. best of. No arguments. The latter was a popular single among fans which can be a rare thing these days. It is easy to see that 'Chance (Dub)' and 'Star Me Kitten' cannot be directly replaced due to the nature of the two disc format but 'Animal' and 'All The Right Friends' certainly can.

'Monster' is arguably the worst ever R.E.M. album. This may explain why only one track - 'What's The Frequency, Kenneth?' has been included. It is a great track and another punchy single. Out of the rest, you could have 'Bang And Blame' and 'Crush With Eyeliner'. 'Strange Currencies' is a rework of 'Everybody Hurts' but is still a high point on the otherwise weak album. 'Let Me In' has a place in the hearts of Nirvana fans as it is reportedly about the death of Kurt Cobain. It is also a beautifully dark track, something that is a real rarity in R.E.M. land. Even 'true' fans would have little argument with the exclusion of many of these tracks.

'New Adventures In Hi-Fi' is another shock to the system with only 'E-bow The Letter' and 'Electrolite' - two popular singles - included. It is a fantastic and underrated album that is a real life after the lows of 'Monster' and showed a real return to form (and captures a lot of what the band tried to do on the previous outing). The omission of 'Leave' is made up for only by the addition of the 'The Life Less Ordinary' soundtrack version. It is very different but the essence is captured in Stipe's amazing vocals, but that wonderful sharp guitar hook is missing. But 'Undertow', 'Bittersweet Me', 'Be Mine' and 'Low Desert' are nowhere to be seen and don't even get a mention on the extras disc. The omission of the sublime 'Be Mine' must be a mistake. 'How The West Was Won And Where It Got Us' was another single (maybe US only) and a cracking track from a good and varied album.

From 'Up', the most obvious absentee is 'Why Not Smile' so it's adequate that the 'Oxford American Version' is on the extra disc. This is a b-side to 'Daysleeper' so it's not that rare. Again, it is basically the same as the album version because it is vocally lead and has a simple musical arrangement. The album tracks on the 'best of' are 'At My Most Beautiful' and 'Daysleeper'. There is no 'Walk Unafraid' or 'Suspicion'. This is an odd-ball album and a real mixed bag so the tracks are harder to choose and the choice is subjective. Maybe two album tracks, plus an extra, is a good compromise.

'Reveal', another weaker album, starts with 'All The Way To Reno', an overrated track and a strange choice for a single, and 'Imitation Of Life', which is much much better. There are two demos from Reveal - 'The Lifting' and 'Beat A Drum'. The latter is better but fails to capture the momentous second half of the original, focusing instead on simple piano and vocals. Both are basic stripped down (or non stripped-up) renditions.

The third extra is '2JN', another b-side from the fantastic 'Imitation Of Life'. It is an instrumental that does nothing to enhance the second disc. And most 'true' fans are going to already own this (the single has the DVD of the track which is one of the best R.E.M. videos ever). This is nowhere near close to a fair compromise because 'I'll Take The Rain' is not included. If it wasn't for this track, the last three tracks would flatten the album and send it veering off into Monster territory.

Of the non-album track extras, Fretless is a great dark moment from the 'Until The End Of The World' soundtrack and also a b-side to 'Losing My Religion'. It is a welcome extra. 'It's A Free World Baby' (from Coneheads) is another laboured affair and can also be found as a b-side on 'Drive' (from Automatic For The People), and like 'Fretless', it is not difficult to find. Stipe is singing in totally the wrong key and the rest of the band have very little to do. 'Revolution' is also included (again, from another 'inspired by' soundtrack - this time from the dire 'Batman & Robin'). It sounds like an 'old' track but was penned in 1994 and again, is far from being one of the bands best tracks.

The penultimate track on the extras disc is a live version of 'The One I Love' recorded in 2001. It kind of works with the plucky acoustic backing and Stipe's reflective controlled vocals. It used to be a track where he could really let go. Not any more. This is also outside of the 1988-2003 time frame in terms of a studio version despite being recorded very recently. There are probably hundreds of live recordings from the last ten years that could be included. The solution is to compile a live album...

The Verdict (and proposed Alternative album tracks)

'The Best of R.E.M. (In Time 1988-2003)' is a disappointing album. 'Reveal' was released in 2001 and the band haven't released an album since. So, to throw 'Bad Day' and 'Animal' in to justify the 2003 time frame is a strange choice. 'Bad Day' is a good track (and the video is extremely well thought out and relevant in today's climate) but 'Animal' is a b-side at most. 'All The Right Friends' also could be replaced which would give an eighteen track disc one that looks something like this:

1. Man On The Moon
2. The Great Beyond
3. Bad Day
4. What's The Frequency, Kenneth?
5. Losing My Religion
6. E-Bow The Letter
7. Orange Crush
8. Imitation Of Life
9. Daysleeper
10. Near Wild Heaven
11. The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite
12. Stand
13. Beat A Drum
14. Everybody Hurts
15. World Leader Pretend
16. At My Most Beautiful
17. Be Mine
18. Nightsimming

That gives an extra track from 'Green' ('World Leader Pretend'), an extra track from 'New Adventures In Hi-Fi' ('Be Mine') and adds the wonderful 'Near Wild Heaven' from 'Out Of Time'. It also throws away 'Animal' and 'All The Right Friends'. Neither one is as good as the tracks that replace them. The other two casualties are 'All The Way To Reno' (from 'Reveal') and Electrolite (from 'New Adventures In Hi-Fi'). The former is directly replaced by a track from the same album - 'Beat A Drum', leaving Reveal with two tracks: 'Imitation Of Life' and 'Beat A Drum'.

As for the rarities and b-sides, that becomes more difficult. The following shows the strength of each track on the second disc.

1. Pop Song ' 89 (acoustic) IN (or replace with the original from 'Green')
2. Turn You Inside-Out (Live) IN
3. Fretless IN
4. Chance (Dub) OUT
5. It's a Free World Baby OUT
6. Drive (Live) IN
7. Star Me Kitten OUT
8. Revolution OUT
9. Leave (Version) IN
10. Why Not Smile (Version) IN
11. The Lifting (Demo) OUT
12. Beat A Drum (Demo) OUT
13. 2JN OUT
14. The One I Love (Live) OUT
15. Country Feedback (Live) IN (or replace with original from 'Out Of Time')

This leaves us with only seven tracks for the extras disc, leaving enough space to add a few more gems, instead of filling the extras disc with nonsense. This could have very easily been added to the main disc as a single version two disc set. Out of the seven tracks, the live versions of 'Country Feedback' and 'Turn You Inside-Out' are essential and not currently officially available in audio form.

Other candidates for the extras disc is 'Love Is All Around'. This manifested itself as a b-side to 'Radio Song' as a live version (for Rockline in April 1991) or as a studio version for the 'How The West Was Won And Where It Got Us' single and 'I Shot Andy Warhol' soundtrack. Also on the same disc is 'Sponge' from the Vic Chesnut tribute album.

From the 'E-bow The Letter' collectors edition single is the cover of Richard Thompson's 'Wall Of Death'. The 'Bittersweet Me' single also has 'Wichita Lineman'. Speaking of cover versions, R.E.M teamed up with Billy Bragg for 'Tom's Diner' which is an interesting version. The collectors edition of 'Drive' has a glorious version of 'First We Take Manhattan' by Leonard Cohen, taken from his tribute album.

An R.E.M. fan wouldn't be an R.E.M. fan if they couldn't put together their own compilation. And to make things practical, the Underwurld 'best of' will consist of the same number of tracks across both discs of the 'special' version - the intention being that it would be released as a single two disc version and not two versions. It will take tracks primarily from the seven studio albums plus a few extras and no live tracks. The reason being if live tracks can be included then that means anything from the back catalogue as long it's live. Unfortunately this means the exclusion of the brilliant live funky-swagger version of 'Drive' which was preferable to the version recorded on 'Automatic For The People' and also the new 'Country Feedback'. But we will come back to that later. Capturing R.E.M. in 'live' mode is a valuable part of this process, despite the lack of any official 'live' albums.

The Underwurld R.E.M. 1988-2003 Best Of...

Pop Song '89
Stand
World Leader Pretend
Orange Crush
Turn You Inside Out
Radio Song
Losing My Religion
Near Wild Heaven
Half A World Away
Country Feedback
Me In Honey
Drive
Try Not To Breathe
The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite
Everybody Hurts
Man On The Moon
Nightswimming
Find The River
What's The Frequency, Kenneth?
Strange Currencies
Bang And Blame
Let Me In
Undertow
E-Bow The Letter
Leave
Bittersweet Me
Be Mine
Low Desert
Electrolite
At My Most Beautiful
Walk Unafraid
Why Not Smile
Daysleeper
The Lifting
Beat A Drum
Imitation Of Life
I'll Take The Rain

extras

The Great Beyond
Fretless
Drive (Live Version - because it's sooooo good)

This is a basic, no frills collection of songs from a varied and high quality back catalogue by a band who, at their best (which is often), are very hard to beat. Yes there is a lot of music here but R.E.M. made a lot of music in sixteen great years. You can't really win with a 'best of' because true fans already have the songs, so let us all remember what they are. A Celebration of great music.

-- This review was first published on the Underwurld Music website in Nov 2003
(c) 2003-2008 Underwurld Music

Into The Wild - Eddie Vedder

Into The Wild -Music For The Motion Picture : Eddie Vedder : Review : Rolling Stone

The soundtrack, featuring new material by Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, has won a Golden Globe. Congrats to the great man...

Sunday, 13 January 2008

MySpace.com 13/01/08

MySpace.com - Ben Mark More singer-songwriter acoustic guitar pop driven by a fine voice and some interesting songs.

MySpace.com - Marjan Debaene Fine acoustic guitar pop from one of Belgium's top singers (or so it says on the MySpace page).

MySpace.com - Stornoway More great music from Oxford, UK and a band who are not afraid to stop taking themselves too seriously once in a while.

MySpace.com - Sci-Fi SKANE At the forefront of the Swedish electronic music movement. It's like they never left the 80s.

MySpace.com - Paul Madden Jangly dreamy guitar pop from New York - and big Ron Paul supporter.

MySpace.com - Kat Flint Talented neo-folk musician and Gingergreen collaborator.

MySpace.com - Black Kids Shouty Jacksonville indie kids try to do Arcade Fire...Results are mixed but interesting.

MySpace.com - Opened Paradise Greek Goths (yes really!) - this takes me back to my Sisters Of Mercy days. Great guitars and vocals like Lambchop having a really bad day.

MySpace.com - if wen Acoustic pleasantries - no idea if the singer is named 'if wen' or that is a pseudonym. It's folky with lots of melody.

MySpace.com - Project Lumino Plinky plonky electro-pop from a one woman band (Holly Sellors) in Burgess Hill, UK. Main influence seems to be Lemon Jelly which is no bad thing. Promising sound...

MySpace.com - ULTERIOR Old school goth-metal from London with layers of feedback. Nice...

MySpace.com - Patch William Another Jeff Buckley sound-a-like but interesting enough to be blogged.

MySpace.com - Motown Massacre More dark indie from Newcastle, UK.

MySpace.com - MOOLI Duo from Kent, UK - Clea Llewellyn and Ben Copland. Kinda cool and soothing mix of synths, strings and breathy vocals.

MySpace.com - Glasvegas Dumb name but great sound - for fans of the JAMC, Raveonettes and BRMC (!!).

MySpace.com - Simon Scardanelli A bit Jeff Buckley, a passionate singer and guitarist from Solihull, UK.

MySpace.com - The Sun The Sea If Radiohead were from Portland, Oregon... Only 1 EP so far so not much to go on but sounds moody enough for me :)

MySpace.com - Cherry Lee Mewis A soulful, bluesy vocalist and guitarist from North Wales.

MySpace.com - Claire Tchaikowski Like Zero 7 in their darker moments - lovely vocals and deep electronica.

Glastonbury Festival 2008

The Glastonbury Festival has been in the news recently. Michael Eavis has revealed that there will be a radical departure from the normal indie band makeup of the headlines for the 2008 event. Confirmed by daughter and co-organiser Emily, this year will see a prominent 'black' artist taking to the stage, probably for the Saturday night and a major surprise in the line-up for Sunday afternoon. But is Glastonbury trying too hard to do too much when it should be remembering the spirit of the festival? Soon enough we may see a complete split in the event with the traditionalists divorcing themselves completely from the soulless comercialism of a truely great music festival. I have only been twice and I found the whole thing overwhelming, exhausting and utterly fantastic. Yes there are too many people, to many kids, too much drink and drugs, too much mud (of course), but it is still one of the best music events in the world. So watch out indie kids and new-age hippies...the times they are a-changing.

Liverpool 08

Liverpool 08 is the official website of Liverpool European Capital Of Culture 2008. This weekend saw a musical feast of concerts and an experimental musical featuring Ringo Starr, Echo & The Bunnymen, Pete Wiley, Shack and The Wombats. The event has divided critics but silenced many of the predictable jokes and highly outdated cliches about the transformed city. The big question I have is: Where is Paul McCartney??? I know it's not a Beatles reunion but the band defined the sound of the city for many decades...

Monday, 7 January 2008

Albums of 2007...and not...

I have taken the top 50 albums of 2007 from the Amazon.co.uk website and created 3 lists - 1 good, 1 bad and 1...er...indifferent. I don't own all of them and I haven't heard every track of every album so some of this is subjective. Here goes:

The Good...
  • Yours Truly, Angry Mob - Kaiser Chiefs
  • Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace - Foo Fighters
  • The Reminder - Feist
  • Neon Bible - Arcade Fire
  • Lady's Bridge - Richard Hawley
  • Icky Thump - The White Stripes
  • Sound Of Silver - LCD Soundsystem
  • We Can Create - Maps
  • Under The Backlight - Rilo Kiley
  • Puzzle - Biffy Clyro
  • We Are The Night - Chemical Brothers
  • Tales Don't Tell Themselves - Funeral For A Friend
  • Boys And Girls In America - The Hold Steady
  • Year Zero - Nine Inch Nails
  • Make Another World - Idlewild
  • Let's Get Out Of This Country - Camera Obscura

The Bad...

  • Back To Black - Amy Winehouse
  • Life In Cartoon Motion - Mika
  • Version - Mark Ronson
  • Because Of The Times - Kings Of Leon
  • Graduation - Kanye West
  • Favourite Worst Nightmare - Arctic Monkeys

Of the rest, I've only been drawn to Made Of Bricks by Kate Nash but avoided getting the whole album. The tracks Pumpkin Soup, Mouthwash and Foundations show her true potential. Comparisons with Lily Allen are unfair and a one dimensional way of looking at things as Nash isn't as pop-focused as Ms. Allen. The latest offerings from Foo Fighters and Feist are well below their best.

The albums I will be looking at from the Amazon.co.uk top 50 are:

  • White Chalk - PJ Harvey
  • Beyond The Neighbourhood - Athlete
  • Wincing The Night Away - Shins
  • Overpowered - Roisin Murphy

A whole bag of albums by artists all trying to be the next Arctic Monkeys (Twang, Reverend & The Makers, Pigeon Detectives, Klaxons et al) as well as old favourites Bloc Party and Maximo Park are all following a new music trend that I find dull and tiresome.

Here's to 2008!

Saturday, 5 January 2008

Radiohead - In Rainbows

In a so called revolutionary move to take on the music industry machine, Radiohead released their latest album In Rainbows for download only (mp3) on a special website. The only twist was the price tag - pay what you like, so punters could pay nothing for the album. I must admit that my payment was based purely on the quality of the last three Radiohead albums which have failed to impress. So I viewed this as a preview and I hope to do a full review of the album soon. Unfortunately the band have set a high benchmark with The Bends and OK Computer - commercial yes, but brilliant music.

On the first few listens In Rainbows doesn't come close to matching the earlier albums, giving a much more free form flowing album but never moving away from this stream of consciousness approach. The effect is striking, particularly when Thom Yorke gets into gear, but you are always dragged back the glorious music they used to make with melody and structure.

Radiohead have not revealed how much profit the 'download' experiment made them, and Thom Yorke has famously said that he paid nothing for his own album - a wonderful publicity stunt. Word is that they have done 'ok' from the enterprise. I have just read that Trent Reznor has tried a similar marketing tactic for the new Saul Williams album, which Reznor produced. This is from the BBC 6music news website:
He says his download experiment has had mixed results. The Nine Inch Nails frontman produced the new album by rapper Saul Williams, The Inevitable Rise And Liberation Of Niggy Tardust. And Reznor says that given the option, one in five people paid $5 for a high quality MP3 download - the rest paid nothing. The total number of downloads was 154,449. "Perhaps by revealing of all our data -- our 'dirty laundry' -- we can contribute to a better solution," said Reznor in an online posting.
The album In Rainbows has now been released as a 'proper' album and is set to be one of the biggest sellers of the year. So the experiment seems to have worked.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Playlist 02/01/08

The albums on the Underwurld Music playlist:

The Neon Bible - Arcade Fire
Fur And Gold - Bat For Lashes
Krankenhaus? EP - British Sea Power
Thirst For Romance - Cherry Ghost
No World For Tomorrow - Coheed And Cambria
Here Are The Roses - Dragons
Boys And Girls In America - The Hold Steady
Awkward Annie - Kate Rusby
Sound Of Silver - LCD Soundsystem
We Can Create - Maps
Riot! - Paramore
Under The Backlight - Rilo Kiley
In Rainbows - Radiohead
Rodrigo y Gabriela - Rodrigo y Gabriela
Hvarf-Heim - Sigur Ros
The Serpent - Still Remains
Icky Thump - The White Stripes

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

New Year! New Blog!

Welcome to 2008! I have decided to convert the Underwurld Music website into a blog so I can post reviews and articles more easily and dynamically in line with today's dynamic fast-paced lifestyle (yeh right). This is just a waffley intro to fill out the first post but I am currently working on a few new posts including a round up of the latest music capturing my interest and a few new reviews of last years releases.