Sunday, February 25, 2007

Public Image Ltd - Metal Box

Decade - 1970's

Public Image Ltd - Metal Box (1979)

Public Image Ltd is an English post-punk band formed in 1978. The band has ever-changing members but was formed by John Lydon of the Sex Pistols and Keith Levene of the Clash.

Metal Box was released in 1979 and seemed to have been created amidst copious drug use, constantly changing drummers and general disorganisation. That's normally a recipe for disaster, but in this case the mix worked out fine, and Public Image Ltd released what is considered one of their best albums.

And I agree. It's a very good album. I'm not really a fan of post-punk but this is dark and introverted and strangely seductive. It's not an "easy" listen but it's not so difficult you won't enjoy it on a first listen. The bass lines and overall mood are compelling and unbelievably, I even like the two instrumentals. Great lyrics too, and great vocals from Lydon.

Score - 8.9/10

Genre - post-punk

Best Tracks - Graveyard, Swan Lake, Albatross

Recommended - Yes

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Bonnie Prince Billy - I See A Darkness

Decade - 1990's

Bonnie Prince Billy - I see a Darkness (1999)

I totally believe Will Oldham (BPB's real name) when he tells me he can see a darkness. He takes a full 37 minutes to tell me this in great detail, after all.

This is one heck of a depressing album. I'm all for depressing music (heck, I love Joy Division's Closer), but this almost takes the cake. Musically it's just so sparse, his voice so broken and sad and the the lyrics! This is what I'm going to hand anyone who dares tell me Radiohead are depressing.

In all seriousness, this is a very good album. It takes many repeated listenings (I got up to number 5), and it's not for those who need uplifting music, catchy hooks or straight up melody. Despite the bleak lyrics, I did keep going back to them again and again. It's a very moody, haunting, night time album that is not going to be one you listen to a LOT, but when you do and the mood is right, you are rewarded. The songs grow slowly on you, and his voice is just perfect for it. He sounds like a real person with real pain, not someone acting out what emotion should sound like.

A nice surprise and find.

Score - 8.8/10

Genre - Alt country/folk

Best Tracks - I see a Darkness, A Minor Place

Recommended - yes

The Killers - Hot Fuss

Decade - 2000's

The Killers - Hot Fuss (2004)

To be honest I'm not sure The Killers have an original bone in their body. All bands are derivative to an extent but it's possible to hear at least 20 different bands in Hot Fuss, all vying for attention. The influences of bands like Joy Division, New Order, The Cure, The Smiths, The Pixies and so on are clear. Too clear, because it's obvious The Killers can't hold a candle to their predecessors. The Killers' post-punkish new wave poppy mix is smart, radio friendly and mainstream. But that is all it is.

Lyrically they are under-developed and occasionally border on cringe-worthy. That doesn't bother everyone of course, but it makes it difficult to take the album seriously after the first listen. It doesn't grow, you just get bored. After a while, boredom turns into annoyance.

Hot Fuss is a solid album by a solid but uninspiring band. There's nothing amazing here, nothing really great, nothing new, and nothing that is going to make a real impact in years to come. It is occasionally enjoyable, flashy and slickly produced pop rock with no real substance.

It's still way better than The White Stripes though!

Score - 6.8/10

Genre - Alt rock, pop rock

Best tracks - All of equal quality...interpret that anyway you want.

Recommended - Mostly.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Battle of the Decades #4

Unfortunately I couldn't find the 1990's representative this week (Shack, HMS Fable)

2000's - Kings of Leon - Aha Shake HeartBreak - Don't bother 3/10

1980's - De La Soul - 3 Feet High & Rising - Solid R&B 7.5/10

1970's - Michael Jackson - Off The Wall - Great disco/R&B - 7.5/10

1960's - Scott Walker - Scott 4 - Try it, you never know 6/10

1950's - Ray Charles - Genius of Ray Charles - 8.7/10

WINNER - Ray Charles - Genius of Ray Charles - 1950's

Coming Up:

The Killers - Hot Fuss
Bonnie Prince Billy - I See a Darkness
Soul II Soul - Club Classics
Public Image Ltd - Metal Box
Fairport Convention - Liege and Lief
Ella Fitzgerald - Sings the Gershwin Songbook

Ray Charles - The Genius of Ray Charles

Decade - 1950's

Ray Charles - The Genius of Ray Charles (1959)

Well surprisingly, I really really liked this. Everybody's heard of Ray Charles but for me he's the kind of person I'd heard OF but never listened to at all. It's a pity, because he has a GREAT voice and this album showcases it well. He has soul coming out of his pores!

It becomes obvious in one listen that this was obviously presented as a two sided record (y'know, back in the day). "Side A" features the Ray Charles Band with arrangements by Quincy Jones (and classics like It Had To Be You) whilst "Side B" is ballad driven (with MORE classics like Come Rain or Come Shine) with arrangements by Ralph Burns and a string orchestra. Both sides are very good, but other than It Had To Be You I prefer the more laid back songs of Side B.

I'm definitely keeping this one.

Score - 8.7/10

Genre - Soul, R&B

Best Tracks - It Had To Be You, Come Rain or Come Shine, Am I Blue

Recommended - Yes

Scott Walker - Scott 4

Decade - 1960's

Scott Walker - Scott 4

Let me just say, I was looking forward to this! I'd never heard Scott Walker before but knew a lot of people who liked him and raved about it, so I was hoping to really like it.

But....I just don't get it!

The major problem for me is that the real centerpiece of the album is Scott's voice. It's a deep, baritone voice with lots of vibrato. He sounds like a crooner. Actually he sounds like one of those people you've never heard of who sing the boring songs at Carols by Candlelight! And that's the issue - I can't stand the voice. He's obviously a talented singer, but I get nothing out of it and find those kinds of voices emotionless.

The music itself does nothing for me either. Some of it has nice, lush orchestration but I can't get past the voice to find a melody or hook.

The only thing I did like and will admit, is that he's a great lyricist. And this is not just a bunch of schmaltzy love songs either, he sings about war and the neo-stalinist regime.

"with eyes that ring like chimes
His anti-worlds go spinning through his head
He burns them in his dreams
for half awake they may as well be dead "
(The Old Man's Back Again)

I almost wish I could hear someone else sing these lyrics.

I'll give the other albums a go, but I sincerely doubt I'm ever going to be a Scott Walker fan.

Score - 6/10 (and that's all for the lyrics)

Genre - Pop/Rock/Country mixture

Best Tracks - Hero of the War, The Old Man's Back Again.

Recommended - Try for yourself

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Michael Jackson - Off the Wall

Decade - 1970's

Michael Jackson - Off The Wall (1979)

Listening to this album, it becomes clear how much of a shame it is that Michael Jackson is now infamous for his nose jobs, child related scandals and for being downright weird. This album was the first he took actual control over, and he was 21 years old at its release. The album was produced by Quincy Jones and features lyrics/music by Jackson, Paul Mcartney, and Stevie Wonder. No wonder it has sold 20 million copies!

I didn't mind this at all. Most of the songs are fairly well known and there is no filler. They aren't all originals as mentioned, but Michael wrote Don't Stop til you Get Enough which is really the best song on the album anyway. The Paul Mcartney penned "Girlfriend" is probably the worst!

It's not brilliant, but it's solid. I couldn't stop myself drifting off though....maybe I'm just not a Jackson fan.

Score - 7.5/10

Genre - Disco/Funk/Soul

Best Tracks - Don't Stop Till You Get Enough, Rock with You, She's out of my Life

Recommend - Yes

Sunday, February 11, 2007

De La Soul - 3 Feet High & Rising

Decade - 1980's

De La Soul - 3 Feet High & Rising (1989)

De La Soul are quirky hip-hop group from New York and this was their critically acclaimed and commercially successful debut.

My THIRD hip-hop album, believe it or not. This was worlds apart from NWA's gangsta rap, and in a good way (unlike Jungle Brothers). It's pretty hard not to like it, it's fully of off beat lyrics, quirky samples, jokes and pretty catchy hooks. The interludes are pretty good, and the whole album just kind of resonates with this happy happy joy joy feeling.

It has a few problems - it's still too long despite the number of short songs. I listened three times and every single time my mind drifted off 2/3rds in. It doesn't help that the best songs are mostly at the beginning (though a few goodies further down).

While I prefer this album to NWA's, and appreciated the fact that De La Soul could tackle the same ghetto issues without sounding like insanely sexist, violent thugs, NWA were still more compelling rappers. A trade off I guess.

Score - 7.5/10

Genre - Hip-Hop

Best Tracks - The Magic Number, Me, Myself and I

Recommended - Yes

Kings of Leon - Aha Shake Heartbreak

Decade - 1990's

Kings of Leon - Aha Shake Heartbreak

Kings of Leon are a rock group from Tennessee, and this is their second album.

How this got through on the list (and how they got TWO entries as well!) is beyond me. This is just cliched rock not even done well. Imagine some straight up rock, throw in a bit of sexy southern sounds, a lead singer who grates on you after one song and there you go, you have Kings of Leon.

Aha Shake Hearbreak was recieved quite well by the critics. I can only imagine they had either listened to something worse beforehand or they had cottonball in their ears.

It's not awful, it's not anywhere near good, and I really could have lived without hearing it.

(It's still a bit better than The White Stripes though!)

Score - 3/10

Genre - Rock

Best Tracks - ummmm

Recommended? No.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Battle of the Decades #3

2000's - M.I.A - Arular - Not really good enough to be included in this list. 5/10

1990's - Basement Jaxx - Remedy - Good dance album 7/10

1980's - Janet Jackson - Rhythem Nation 1814 - Solid pop/R&B 7.5/10

1970's - The Damned - Machine Gun Etiquette - Good punk - 7/10

1960's - The Stooges - The Stooges - Solid rock album - 7.9/10

1950's - Miles Davis - Kind of Blue - Still not my thing - 6/10

WINNER - The Stooges - The Stooges - 1960's

Coming Up:

Ray Charles - Genius of...
Scott Walker - Scott 4
Michael Jackson - Off the Wall
De La Soul - 3 Feet High and Rising
Kings of Leon - Aha Shake Heartbreak

Miles Davis - Kind of Blue

Decade - 1950's

Miles Davis - Kind of Blue (1959)

Whenever you do these kinds of lists - you always end up having to review someone hugely respected with fans who would want to hunt you down if you disrespect them or fail to see how wonderful they are. Imagine for example, if I gave The Beatles' Revolver 1/10 (that is NOT going to happen, but y'know). There's always the temptation to give in and give a good score just to appease everyone and maintain your credibility and "good taste".

This is one of those albums. It's a classic Jazz album by one of the best Jazz musicians, so I might have gotten away with dissing Dave Brubeck but Miles Davis?!? Uh Oh.

So I was preparing to find ways to say "yeah, meh" whilst still being a little tactful. I'd already dutifully listened about 3 times and still I felt nothing...

And then..........

Well still nothing! This wasn't leading up to some epiphany where I suddenly realise what great music it is! On the other hand, I didn't hate it and it doesn't deserve the elevator music label I bestowed on poor Dave, so that's something.

I just DON'T get this kind of Jazz. I don't NEED melodies, but I apparently DO need movement in a song and this kind of meandering just doesn't float my boat. I liked this better than Time Out, by quite a lot. I liked the mood better, and it's not uninteresting or boring. It just doesn't sustain my interest for attentive listening and I'm just not a background music type. It also doesn't effect me emotionally, and THAT is my benchmark.

So honestly? He may be wonderful, or this may be a wonderful album, but not every great album is for every person.

Score - 6/10

Genre - Jazz

Best Songs - No idea

Recommended - If you like Jazz

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Stooges - The Stooges

Decade - 1960's

The Stooges - The Stooges

The Stooges were an American rock band formed in the late 60's and fronted by Iggy Pop. This was their debut album and it was not a critical or popular success. I'm not really sure why because plenty of much worse albums seemed to been popular at the time!

It's not brilliant, but it's solid. None of the songs are filler (which considering the length, should be expected), though the very strange prog-rock tune "We Will Fall" made me wonder if I'd suddenly put on Pink Floyd accidently. It starts off really strong with 1969 (about being bored and having nothing to fight for) and I wanna Be Your Dog which I'm sure has some strange sexual point, but the last few tracks can make your mind wander a little. Most people will have heard "No Fun" before and it's also a great track. Though quite a short album, it just doesn't have any tracks that blow your mind and so it doesn't really rise above "good", though there are moments in each song that certainly do. As a whole, it's a great listen but it's not a classic.

Score - 7.9/10

Genre - Rock

Best Tracks - 1969, I wanna be your dog, No Fun

Recommended - Yes

The Damned - Machine Gun Etiquette

Decade - 1970's

The Damned - Machine Gun Etiquette

The Damned are a punk and gothic rock band formed in the late 70's and this is their third album.
The Damned's first gig was as support for the Sex Pistols and they were the first out of that crop of English punk bands to release a single and tour the US. Their line up appears to have changed about a million times and their last release was 2001.

I'm not a huge punk fan but this is a pretty solid album. Some of the lyrics are so infantile though that it lets down the actual music (See the Anti-pope which made me roll my eyeballs so much I got a headache). Musically I thought most of the tracks were pretty strong, especially
Plan 9, Channel 7 which is a great song and offers some of the album's better lyrics (though weirdly, is based on a 50's horror actress). Melody Lee is also excellent. The album certainly doesn't lack for some great hooks, but it felt a bit too long for me. It also seems over-produced sometimes for a punk album.

Score - 7/10

Genre - Punk, punk rock

Best Tracks - Melody Lee, Plan 9 Channel 7, Looking at You

Recommended - Yes

Janet Jackson - Rythym Nation 1814

Decade - 1980's

Janet Jackson - Rythym Nation 1814

This came out while I was in my last years of primary school so I remember most of the tracks quite well. In fact I even remember the "cool kids" doing a dance to Black Cat for our talent show! So it's rather strange to listen to this as an adult.

This was Janet's fourth studio album and was a huge hit, spawning 7 hits over a few years. Rhythym Nation's mission statement is pretty much summed up in the first of many interludes - "Interlude - Pledge" - "We are a nation with no geographic boundaries, bound together through our beliefs, we are like-minded individuals, sharing a common vision, pushing toward a world rid of color-lines."

It may be 'just' a pop album but you have to give it props for having an enormous amount of hit singles, a social conscience, and no filler. It's a reasonably well thought out concept album for its time and is filled with a bunch of catchy, strong R&B pop tunes that sound a little dated now but are still funky and fun.

Score - 7.5/10

Genre - R&B, pop

Best Tracks - Rythym Nation, Escapade, Black Cat, Alright

Recommended? Sure

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Basement Jaxx - Remedy

Decade - 1990's

Basement Jaxx - Remedy (1999)

Basement Jaxx are an influential House/Dance Music duo hailing from England who became popular in the 90's. Everyone will have heard "Red Alert" which is a classic dance track and radio hit.

I'm not a huge dance music fan - mostly because it seems kind of pointless listening to it while not being able to I do prefer dance beats to hip-hop beats though, so I was optimistic on first listen to a degree.

All in all, it wasn't too bad. It's definitely not a soulless, repetitive dance drone, and the hooks are pretty catchy. There is a dark, funky edge to most of the songs, and they seamlessly incorporate other genres into the music like ska, disco, funk, hip-hop, rock and pop.

My only quibble is the interludes - totally pointless and too many!

Score - 7/10

Genre - Dance, House

Best Tracks - Red Alert, Bingo Bango, Always Be There

Recommended - Yes

M.I.A - Arular

Decade - 2000's

M.I.A - Arular (2005)

M.I.A is a stage name for Mathangi "Maya" Arulpragasam, an English/Sri Lankan singer, rapper and artist. "Arular", released in 2005 is a mixture of hip-hop beats, grime, ragga, electronica and Baile Funk (Brazillian funk). That's quite a blend, and the album is certainly different. And so is M.I.A herself, considering her upbringing includes a father who is a tamil guerrilla that helped popularise suicide bombing as a weapon for terrorism.

Unsurprisingly a lot of the album's lyrics are political in nature, particularly "Sunshowers" which according to M.I.A is about " about how in the news the world is being divided into good and evil with this axis of evil and terrorism". Other songs tackle drug trafficking, asian prostitution, and of course, her terrorist father. Freedom Skit's lyrics are quite controversial:

Freedom fightin' dad
Bombed his pad
Called him a terror
Put him on wanted ads.

Daddy's M.I.A.
Missing in action
Gone to start
A revolution
Freedom fighter got injection
He no act
He got no reaction.

M.I.A's dad was hardly a freedom fighter unless that's now a nice euphemism for "murderer", so it's difficult to say if she really believes this is the truth or not. Some channels have refused to play one of her videos which mentions the Palestine Liberation Organization.

I hated this A LOT on first listen but it grew on me a little by the third listen. When I google'd it after my listens I was surprised at the amount of critical acclaim it has received (even winning the Mercury Prize in Britain). It's an interesting album, but it's far too similar in tone throughout to the point of getting a headache by the end of it, and M.I.A's Gwen Stefani like affectations in her singing started to bug me to the point of distraction.

I won't be keeping it.

Score - 5/10

Genre - Electronica, Hip-hop, Grime, Reggae....take your pick.

Best Tracks - Sunshowers

Recommended? Give it a try if you don't mind electronica blended with a million different genres.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Battle of the Decades #2

Unfortunately I couldn't find the album from the 1950's - Marty Robbins' Gunfighter Ballads and Trial Songs. If anyone knows where I can get it, let me know.

2000's - Beck - Guero - Some good tracks, check it out. 7/10

1990's - Red Hot Chili Peppers - Californication - Solid album, some great tracks, classic Chili Peppers - 7.5/10

1980's - Jungle Brothers - Done by the Forces of Nature - Blah. I'll stick to gangsta rap! 4/10

1970's - Gary Numan - The Pleasure Principle - AVOID - unless you're an 80's robot - 3/10

1960's - Alexander Skip Spence - Oar - Check it out, you never know with this one - 6.5/10

WINNER - The Red Hot Chili Peppers - Californication - 1990's

Coming up -

MIA (UK) – Arular
Jackson, Janet – Rhythm Nation 1814
Damned – Machine Gun Etiquette
Stooges – Stooges
Davis, Miles – Kind of Blue

Alexander "Skip" Spence - Oar

Decade - 1960's

Alexander Skip Spence - Oar (1969)

Well, this is certainly a strange one.

This album is hard to get a grip on. Stylistically, it's all over the place, swinging from country tones to blues to folk to psychedelic rock without skipping a beat. That's never a bad thing in theory, but in the case of this album it feels as if it's a result of confusion rather than a decision to explore different styles of music. The lyrics are mostly non-sensical, sometimes banal, sometimes fascinating and the vocal stylings sound like someone about to crack. And I thought this BEFORE I read about Skip Spence.

Alexander "Skip" Spence was the drummer for Jefferson Airplane which he left to become the guitarist for Moby-Grape. Spence suffered from schizophrenia, and was committed for 6 months after he got high on LSD and attacked his bandmate's door at a hotel. On his release, he produced this album - his one and only solo work. He recorded the entire album himself and plays every instrument. The result is clearly the work of someone not entirely stable - many of the songs sound like ramblings, yet others are quite tight lyrically.

I can see the appeal and why it has a cult following - it's the sound of unadultered suffering, confusion and pride all rolled into one. It DOES sound naked, the vocals are disturbing and some of the songs are striking. But it's so uneven that without the fascinating story of its maker creating an aura around it, it is really just an average album of its time that has not aged well.

Score - 6.5/10

Genre - Folk/Psychedelic Rock

Best Tracks - War in Peace, Grey/Afro

Recommend? Check it out, you never know