Thursday, 31 December 2009


Whilst browsing the internet, I stumbled upon a list of 'obscure albums' everyone should hear. At the top of that list,there was an album called 'Your New Favorite Band' by The Argument. No, me I guess their job was done (we'll gloss over the inclusion of The Big Dish and the far better known Danny Wilson in their list). They likened The Argument to Ben Folds Five, so that piqued my interest. Next stop: I had a look on Spotify to see if I could hear something from it. No such luck, obviously.
...What's that at the top of Spotify's list of bands with similar names? The Blackout Argument? No, never heard of them either. It seemed only natural therefore, that I'd hit the play button and see what they sound like.

It's heavy. Hailing from Germany, The Blackout Argument specialise in a similar brand of hardcore metal/punk as Ignite and Shift. More metal than punk, for sure, but spiky around the edges. 'Remedies' is their second full-length album.

'Tempest (Rescue Remedy)' is a thirty second intro and sets the tone for the album with its pounding bass drums, before leading into 'Broken Teeth (Agrimony)' where The Blackout Argument marry heavy guitar riffs with shouty hardcore vocals, lightening to a singing voice for the choruses. Very little new in that approach, but as always, it's whether they do it well or not that the real issue. 'Treasure Chest Confidential (Gorse)' is probably the closest the album gets to the punky hardcore (as opposed to metal) and may appeal to fans of The Sainte Catherines and recent Propagandhi - a definite highlight for me.

'Kidnap Yourself (Aspen)' is sludgy with the same sort of shouty vocals which dominate the album, more than reminicent of Glassjaw; again this utilises the more tuneful vocal for the chorus. I wish I could pinpoint whom that voice reminds me of - initially, I thought it was Jon Bunch from Sense Field, but it's not soft enough. 'Seven Tones of Grey (Pine)' has slightly punchier verses leaning towards Sick of It All's more metallic material, but it's the more emo/screamo chorus that makes them feel more modern at the time of writing. 'Dead But So Alive' starts with a heavy, but tuneful guitar riff, but once vocalist Raphael starts shouting (or more specially alternating the shouting with the cleaner chorus vocals) it becomes very similar to previous tracks.

For melody, 'Vampire Searching for Some Light (Larch)', is a standout and probably the album's best track, being more hardcore punk, recalling Strung Out and co, but there's still more in common with metal than punk throughout. While The Blackout Argument are great musicians, 'Remedies' isn't always the easiest album to listen to, as it's so dense. With lots of hardcore punk and metal, though, it's time that allows hooks to shine through, so I'll certainly return to it and give it more listens at some point in the future.

There are a bunch of free mp3s up here:

December 2009

Sunday, 20 December 2009


A few years ago, I picked up Bree Sharp’s debut album ‘A Cheap And Evil Girl’ on a whim. I’d not heard a note of it, but it was dirt cheap and allegedly both Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello had said they were fans, so I figured I ought to hear it. As it turned out, the album was good, alternative-rock singer-songwriter stuff. Bree’s voice may have been everyone's cup of tea, being rather edgy…almost exactly like Jepp (about whom you’ll find next to nothing on the net – if anybody can help, send us an email!), but generally it was a solid debut.

This, her sophomore effort, (minus the title for its Japanese release) kind of takes up the baton where ‘Cheap…’ left off. There’s very little difference in the tone and as before, there are obvious stand out cuts, some solid moments and a couple of absolute clunkers. Of songs I’d rather forget, the cover of Don Henley’s ‘Boys Of Summer’ is misjudged and doesn’t really suit Bree’s vocal style at all. A definite skipper… ‘Sleep Forever’ also grates a little, as the hooks aren’t that obvious and the drum pattern isn’t so inspiring. Since that closes the album, it’s easy enough to turn off the CD early!‘Lazy Afternoon’ is very chorus driven and the backing vocals prepare the listener for what you think is going to be a killer chorus and then somehow, it falls a little flat. It’s not unpleasant, but it feels like filler.

With the album's weak tracks out of the way, what of the rest? ‘Everything Feels Wrong’ has a big chorus though, so it follows ‘Lazy Afternoon’ very well. Like a fuzzy-rock Sheryl Crow, complete with between-verse ‘doo doo doo’ moments, this was very much meant for radio play. It’s the best track here, hands down. ‘Dirty Magazine’ is this album’s oddity. Musically, it’s at odds with the pop-rock style – it’s got a twangy rock ‘n’ roll edge, although it’s not at all rock ‘n’ roll. It has an old fashioned country twang too, but there’s no way you’d ever call it country…and the lyrics may hint at the edgier side of Bree’s debut, but somehow, it doesn’t quite work. ‘Morning In A Bar’ is gentler all round, more atmospheric and sounds like the album’s hangover cure – probably quite deliberately – although as penultimate track, it feels misplaced, as it’s more of a closing statement.

‘Galaxy Song’ – nursery rhyme la-la’s aside – represents the kind of thing Bree is best at. It’s mid paced, semi-acoustic and hints at KT Tunstall, although tougher sounding and recorded a few years before KT hit the big time. ‘The Last Of Me’ is also a high point – a song which takes typical post-break up themes and looks for strength, presents the listener with more semi-acoustic goodness. On the strength of this track alone, I’d like to know whether Bree has had much radio play in the US, aside from her debut’s ode to wanting David Duchovny. It’d be a shame if not, since she’s clearly written better, less throwaway songs.

Overall, ‘More B.S.’ is actually pretty decent. Maybe I only think of it as being not quite as good as the debut purely because ‘The Boys Of Summer’ makes me cringe. ...And there’s nothing quite as edgy here as ‘Gutter Mouth’ or ‘Cheap And Evil Girl’. But then, as much as I like it, Bree’s debut was never perfect.

November 2007

Sunday, 6 December 2009

SAXON - Saxon

In the late 1970s, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal created a musical storm. Fusing the heavy edges of the 70s rock giants with the energy of punk (although as a sub-genre it owed little else to punk), a new musical scene was born. You couldn't go a week without Sounds featuring someone NWOBHM related (okay, so I'm a bit young to know that first hand, but that's information I've gleaned from reliable sources). Obviously, Iron Maiden remain the best loved of all the bands associated with the scene (save for perhaps Def Leppard; though, due to the Americanisms of much of Leppard's material, Iron Maiden have remained the most true to the roots of the NWOBHM), but this debut by Saxon is a key album in the scene's breakthrough; it's regarded by many as the first album released by one of the big NWOBHM bands.

As I write this, Saxon's debut album is thirty years old...and one of the first things you notice are the rough edges. It was clearly recorded on a small budget and in a hurry. In fact, you could be left wondering what producer John Verity did at the sessions, since the whole thing sounds like a demo. Things are often a little muddy and occasionally Biff Byford's vocals feel a little lost.
That aside though, there are some decent songs here. The opener 'Rainbow Theme' is a short instrumental which leads into 'Frozen Rainbow' which reprises the theme at the end. Beginning with an open stringed bass riff (something bassist Steve 'Dobby' Dawson would make his trademark at live shows, leaving him with a free hand to point with - allegedly the main influence for Spinal Tap's Derek Smalls), the piece leads into the main guitar riff before settling into the song. It could be seen as an odd choice for an opener as it's an epic, slow piece, rather than a stomping track to get things underway. The high point here is the guitar solo -something which could be said for many of the tracks featured here. Biff's voice is fine, suiting the slow delivery, but as mentioned the low-key production values don't really bring out the best in his performance.

Elsewhere, there are plenty of no nonsense rockers - 'Backs To The Wall' is based around a simple but effective guitar riff, coupled with 'don't let them get you' themed lyrics; 'Still Fit To Boogie' is simple, but not as good as the lyrics are a little embarrassing now. Of the rockers, 'Stallions of the Highway' fares best, with it's motorbike theme (which would recur throughout the band's work over the next few years). If it's complexity you're after, the album's rockers mightn't do much for you. For those of you whom want something to get your teeth into, the album features a couple more brooding, epic style songs to keep 'Rainbow Theme/Frozen Rainbow' in good company. 'Judgement Day' (hands down, the best track on the album) thunders from the speakers and captures the band at full power. There's a mid section where things get a bit gentle, but that's just a build up to a climax, with twin lead guitar harmonies. For best results, check out the live b-side version of this track from Saxon's 3CD Anthology. Closing the album, 'Militia Guard' is the first of Saxon's many war themed songs, and while the songwriting shows promise, it's still the twin guitars which prove the high point.

At just under half an hour, the original album and it's eight songs fly by, with no messing. For those who want more, the 2009 reissue features 14 bonus tracks - including demos, BBC Session tracks and part of the band's 1980 Donington Monsters of Rock appearance (the rest of which is featured on other Saxon 2009 reissues). It's great to have the live tracks, as in most cases they're superior to the studio versions. As for the demos, they're presented here in a form which is almost identical to the finished album cuts, just a little rougher. The best of the bunch is 'Big Teaser', which features a guitar riff which gives a nod to Status Quo, absent from the finished recording. The song is still one of the weaker offerings though. The real gem among the bonus tracks is the BBC Session, where the band premier 'Motorcyle Man' and '747 (Strangers In The Night)' - the latter being one of the band's greatest achievements.

Recommended for fans, though new listeners would be better picking up the superior 'Strong Arm Of The Law' or 'Wheels Of Steel' first - also both available with bonus tracks.

December 2009

BRENDAN BENSON - My Old, Familiar Friend

'My Old, Familiar Friend' feels like it comes long while after Brendan Benson's last solo release. After the release of 'The Alternative To Love', Benson recorded with Jack White as part of The Raconteurs. This, his fourth solo release (recorded in 2007, between the two Raconteurs albums), in places, treads very familiar ground. Benson chooses to bring little to no influence from his stints with the Raconteurs to the table, marking a very distinct difference between that band and his solo releases.

Those familiar with BB's previous solo outings will already have pre-conceived ideas about what 'My Old, Familiar Friend' will offer. For the most part, they'd be exactly right, as the album title suggests, much of this feels like a familiar friend even upon early listens. If anything though, Brendan's work is slicker and more confident than before. The quirky, disjointed feeling of parts of 'One Mississippi' have beenleft behind. The first couple of tracks could have been slotted in somewhere on Benson's earlier outings, but it's upon first hearing of 'Garbage Day' you'll realise that this album is something special. A retro tune, it could be seen as a power pop take on 60s soul,being led by punchy rhythms and fleshed out by strings. 'Gonowhere' is similarly polished, but far more in the singer songwriter mould.I hear Todd Rundgren influences, maybe a dash of Jeff Lynne, even a hint of Mike Viola (underrated genius).

'Misery' is absolutely classic power pop which could have been from the late 70s/early 80s golden period and challenged a band like Shoesfor greatness, while 'Feel Like Taking You Home' offers the album's first curve-ball. Nowhere as smooth as previous tracks, there are definite new wave influences at play, although with that 'newer' feel so much similar stuff has at the time of writing. Musically, I'd say this is a track where previous work with Jack White has left a slight influnce.

'Poised and Ready' could've fit in easily on any of BB's earlier albums - classic drum-led power pop with all the relevent key changes; imagine Jellyfish's noisier side meets a pre-county music Ben Kweller and you get the picture. The Jellyfish influences carry through even farther on 'Don't Wanna Talk' with it's marching on the spot feel and 'la la la' choruses. If I had to pick one song from the album to demonstrate what Brendan Benson does best, this would be the one. 'You Made a Fool Out of Me', is the closest the album gets to acoustic singer-songwriter, which again, while classic Benson, still reminds me of Mike Viola during his more reflective moments.
'Old Familiar Friend' may not quite match 'Lapalco' to be Brendan Benson's best solo album, but it's a definite contender for one of the best of 2009.

December 2009

Friday, 4 December 2009

BETTER THAN EZRA - How Does Your Garden Grow

Sitting rather comfortably alongside the Soul Asylum type bands, Better Than Ezra’s early albums are a solid mix of alternative rock and Americana stylings. ‘Deluxe’, particularly, may be a modern classic.

For ‘How Does Your Garden Grow?’ things don’t always feel as smooth. The band began to change direction on their third commercially available album, ‘Closer’, and by the time of this fourth release, for the most part, I’d say that the sound I most associate with Better Than Ezra isn’t really present. ‘Closer’ in many ways marked a definite shift, but for this album, the shift is more pronounced. The synths and electric pianos seem far more prominent and sometimes they seem to work, sometimes not. While some of the electric piano and keyboard led moments of ‘Closer’ had a smoothness (‘Get You In’ is lovely; ‘I Do’ is solid alternative pop-rock), moments which feel similar on this fourth outing are angrier, spikier and generally edgy. While some songs are obviously very good, it doesn’t have much in the way of user-friendliness. It may not even be the increased use of electronics; it may just be that for a good proportion of this album, the drums are way too loud. Maybe it’s because they’ve tried to follow up ‘Closer’ with something similar, to show how they’ve mostly moved on from the obvious Soul Asylum type sound, but the songwriting often lacks focus; that’s not to say it doesn’t have some notable moments – Better Than Ezra are, after all, a decent band.

On the opening track, ‘Je Ne M’en Souviens Pas’, the keyboards dominate so much of the arrangement. Combined with the vocals having a phased treatment and pretty much no guitar work, you could be forgiven that they’ve abandoned their past completely and gone synth-pop or electronica. It’s probably meant as a statement, but it’s a really poor choice of opening track and has little to make me want to listen to it more than once. They’ve attempted to be striking, but just about muddled through. ‘Live Again’is very drum led and clearly in the alternative rock bracket, but where guitars would normally be the focus, this song has nice electric piano flourishes. This could be a great song, but it’s not instantly obvious in the way that some of ‘Closer’ had been. ‘Under You’ is mellow and is much closer to old fashioned Ezra, but there’s something missing somehow. It’s not in the music; the music itself is as good as the band’s other pastel shaded moments. It seems to be lacking an obvious hook, which was something ‘Deluxe’ never really felt short of. It’s pleasant enough though. ‘At The Stars’ is definitely one of my favourite tracks; it sounds like a mix of older Ezra, with Our Lady Peace, but that may just be the drum pattern. Excellent.

‘Waxing Or Waning’ has a very relaxed feel, with brushes on the drums and twangy guitars. More Americana than much of the album, I wonder if anyone in the band is fond of the work of Howe Gelb? There’s a spaciousness which reminds me of him and his colleagues. He may well argue, of course. A mass of pre-programmed drums makes up the bulk of ‘Beautiful Mistake’ – a track which is nowhere near as focused or clever as it thinks it is. Largely forgettable at worst and casual indifference at best makes this track easily skippable. In total contrast, ‘Pull’ explores the band’s all-out alt-rock side, with big riffs and guitar solos. While their earlier work was only this rocky on occasion, personally, I’d much rather they went in this direction than the electronic one largely favoured on this album.

‘Particle’ matches pre-programmed drum loops with live drumming to good effect. Again, it’s the keyboard driven sounds here which carry the tune rather than the band’s previous Americana influenced styles. It’s hard not to think of Canada’s Our Lady Peace, although the vocals aren’t that striking. There’s a nice use of a mellotron sound during the last couple of minutes which more than fleshes out the arrangement, but still, at over six minutes, it feels slightly drawn out. Generally this succeeds in doing something ‘Beautiful Mistake’ failed spectacularly with. ‘Like It Like That’ somehow reminds me more of Third Eye Blind. It mixes slight samba rhythms, power pop chords and a repetitive hook that, while not brilliant, manages to stick in your head. The only thing here which doesn’t feel quite natural is the high pitched synth. After a handful of plays, it’s clear that this is one of the album’s high points.

Another of the album’s standouts is ‘How Wonderful You Are’. Again, while I’d struggle to recognise this being the same band who gave us the brilliant ‘Deluxe’, it’s kind of brilliant in its own right. Jangly guitars, a pure pop chorus and a nod to Lou Reed’s ‘Walk On The Wild Side’ make this recommended listening. Near the end of the album, ‘Everything In 2’s’ finally offers the listener something unmistakable. The soulful vocals, mid-paced arrangement, build up to the chorus and semi-acoustic stylings are very much in keeping with the old classic Better Than Ezra, so they’ve not completely abandoned the feel which drew me to them initially.

There’s very much an ‘experiement-not-quite-realised’ feeling about this album and on the whole, while ‘How Does Your Garden Grow’ is solid enough, it never quite hits the spot enough to match BTE’s earlier work. As good as some of it may be (‘Live Again’, ‘Everything In 2’s’ and ‘How Wonderful You Are’ particularly), its hard to imagine it being anyone’s favourite album by these guys.

November 2007

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

THE NETWORK - Money Money 2020

These guys can be seen scattered across the internet, but it seems every time you find something, it’s often the same snippets of information and speculation. Take five people, put them in disguise and throw in a bunch of new wave tunes with pop-punk edges and it’s widely believed that you have a collaboration between Green Day and Devo. The first half of this theory is certainly correct: Fink sounds like Billie Joe Armstrong and close ups of his eyes blow away any doubt. The same goes for their drummer, The Snoo, who is unmistakably Tre Cool. Of most interest, though, is bassist/vocalist Van Gogh (Mike Dirnt). He handles a majority of the vocals on this release, with a delivery rooted in the new wave.

As for the second guitarist and keyboard player, it remains unclear who they might be. One thing’s almost certain – despite what you may have heard, they’re not members of Devo, even though Devo are an obvious influence on these songs. Although there’s still no concrete proof, I’d hazard more than a guess they’re old friends and Green Day touring band members Jason White (Billie Joe’s band mate in Pinhead Gunpowder) and Jason Freese. It’s also certain that this release exists as an outlet for Mike Dirnt’s vocal and songwriting talents as well as giving White and Freese greater creative roles.

Enough of the speculation and hype – what about the songs? There’s plenty here to enjoy. ‘Reto’ is spiky pop-punk in delivery, but the guitars are turned town giving it more of a new wave feel. The lyrics are biting, about someone who uses internet technology for exciting teenagers with cyber-sex; this may or may not be a true story (again, check your Green Day ‘American Idiot’ CD single – it’s engineered by someone called Reto – yet another clue?). ‘Right Hand-A-Rama’ also explores the smuttier side of The Network’s little world, being a song about buying porn and beer to pass the time. It’s rather more obvious who is involved on this song, with Billie Joe taking lead vocals.

Again, ‘Roshambo’ is more obviously a Green Day number, but treated vocals give this a fuzzy sound and the music between verses gives it a very mechanical feel, which seems to be a recurring approach. ‘Love and Money’ exploits the new wave side of things completely, being nearly all droning keys, coupled with a quite spiteful sounding vocal delivery. ‘Supermodel Robots’ was one of the earliest tracks available from this album, available at one point as a free download before the album was released, so I’m told. It’s obvious why. The vocals are unmistakably Billie Joe’s; less of an attempt has been made to disguise the Green Day input here, and this track was a favourite of mine from pretty much the fist time I heard the album (I have to say, though, most of the other songs took repeated listens before they took hold). One of the weaker offerings, ‘Spastic Society’ perversely offers one of the strongest musical arrangements, but is let down somewhat by seemingly stream-of-consciousness words on the verses, coupled with a fairly obvious ‘society is screwed’ chorus.

Another album high point, ‘Joe Robot’ nods towards Devo’s ‘Whip It’ musically. It has lyrical concerns with changing technology asking whether these changes are helping us or hindering human progression. It’s almost certainly deliberate that one of the songs here most influenced by Devo has a lyrical concern that’s almost the anti-Devo. Also balancing out the fun and smutty offerings, ‘Spike’ is a piece based around telephone calls by a teenage heroin addict desperate to get money to get a fix. Like Devo, concerns of human wrongs are strong within The Network. Closing the original twelve track version of the album, ‘X-Ray Hamburger’ is slow and brooding, showing obvious homage to Tubeway Army.

The UK issue of this album features two bonus tracks, ‘Hammer Of The Gods’ and a quirky cover of The Misfits’ ‘Teenagers From Mars’. Neither of these add anything special to the overall feel or quality of the release, but from a fans perspective, it’s good to have them if you can track them down. As for the actual album itself, after a quick buzz, it seemed to go largely un-noticed here in the UK and full price copies of it sat gathering dust in the racks at HMV. If only Green Day would stop pretending they had nothing to do with it and start shouting about it a bit more, so many other people would have discovered this great album.

August 2007

VARIOUS ARTISTS - Shake It Up!: American Power Pop II (1978-80)

There’s a whole world of power pop out there. For every band which made the big time, there are dozens of also-rans. Some of the first wave of power pop’s finest unsung heroes can be found on Rhino’s power pop anthologies. The first volume, ‘Come Out And Play’ features stuff from 1975-78, and as such, features some of the more famous names – Cheap Trick, Chris Bell, Flamin’ Groovies, The Real Kids etc. This second volume catches the tail end of that wave, featuring an almost equal number of gems, even if some of the names aren’t quite as famous.

Kicking off this second anthology, The Cryers’ ‘Shake It Up (Ain’t It Time)’ is sugary, but all familiar with a strong hook. It has a solid arrangement with chiming guitars and handclaps. It’s all very much in the same mould as The Rubinoos and The Romantics. I know next to nothing about Shoes, but their track is excellent, with the guitars a bit more to the fore. ‘Tell That Girl To Shut Up’ by Holly & The Italians will probably be familiar to most people reading this, as it was covered by Transvision Vamp in the late 80s. This original version is almost identical to that rather more familiar cover. It would have been nice to hear something different by these guys – although with the album having had a CD reissue, it remains one of the easier things from this compilation to obtain.

Equally as good, The Rubinoos’ ‘I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend’ has plenty of harmony vocals, handclaps and a monster chorus. It ticks all the boxes and manages to be as infectious as most power pop should be when done this well. Pretty much unknown in the UK, people in the US will undoubted be familiar with this band and especially this song. The same goes for The Romantics, who’s ‘What I Like About You’ is a staple of some radio stations. Off Broadway USA is a band I’ll admit to knowing absolutely nothing about. If the track here is anything to go by, it’s solid stuff, with more than a nod towards early Joe Jackson. Best of the bunch, though, is ‘You Got It (Release It)’ by Pearl Harbour and the Explosions. Worthy successors to the Cheap Trick throne, it’s a mystery how these guys got ignored. This is power pop gold. Slightly poppier than some of the other bands featured here, this band show a lot of potential. I know this came from their vinyl only EP release from ’78, but I hear there’s other stuff out there. Definitely worth checking out.
‘I Thought You Wanted To Know’ by Chris Stamey & The Db’s, as you’d expect from a band with Mitch Easter connections, show wear their Big Star influences proudly and this track (alongside the Pearl Harbour) makes this CD a worthy addition to the power pop fans’ collection.
There’s stuff here that isn’t earth shattering too. ‘The First One’ by ex-Blondie man Gary Valentine shows Flamin’ Groovies influences (it’s when going through the many power pop compilations out there, it becomes obvious that they were seminal band), going for an older sound. Both tracks by The Beat [aka Paul Collins' Beat - not to be confused with the ska-pop band The (English) Beat] offer two songs which are above average, and even then, ‘Work A Day World’ might be better than I’ve given it credit for if I’m in the right mood.

As always with compilations, it’s not all good. ‘I Like Girls’ by The Know (written by the aforementioned Gary Valentine) is appalling. Thin sentiment, thrown together arrangement, bad lyrics. This is the epitome of really bad ‘good time’ music. There’s not even enough depth to embarrass the listener with a bunch of stuff about fast cars, which would usually be the thing. The track by Prix is pretty bad too. There’s not a lot wrong with the music, but the singer’s voice is rather irritating, with an odd whine. Also in the forgettable category are both tracks by Tulsa based 20/20; one of their songs sounds like a really bad version of The Flamin’ Groovies, while the other nods towards The Cars but without any of that great band’s charm or song craft.
Both this CD and ‘American Power Pop Vol 1’ are now out of print. They’re not so easy to find now, but their more than worth trying to track down.

1. Shake It Up (Ain't It Time) - Cryers
2. I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend - The Rubinoos
3. (I Thought) You Wanted to Know - Chris Stamey & The dB's
4. First One - Gary Valentine
5. Love You Tonight - Prix
6. Giving It All – 20/20
7. Tell It to Carrie - The Romantics
8. Tomorrow Night - Shoes
9. Yellow Pills - 20/20
10. Walking Out on Love - The (Paul Collins) Beat
11. Too Late - Shoes
12. Work-A-Day World - The (Paul Collins) Beat
13. Waiting for the Night - The Pop
14. You Got It (Release It) - Pearl Harbour & the Explosions
15. Stay in Time – Off Broadway
16. What I Like About You - The Romantics
17. Zero Hour - The Plimsouls
18. I Like Girls – The Know
19. Tell That Girl to Shut Up - Holly & the Italians

August 2007

Sunday, 22 November 2009

BIJOU PHILLIPS - I'd Rather Eat Glass

The daughter of John Phillips of the Mamas and Papas (about whom plenty could be said, given some past revelations, but now isn't the time) Bijou Phillips is actress. At other times, she’s a model. When neither of these, she’s been a wild child and your average Google search would suggest she’s someone who’s keen on taking her clothes off. Lesser known facts about Bijou include her abilities as singer-songwriter, which so far have yielded just this one album. ‘I’d Rather Eat Glass’, produced by ex-Talking Heads man Jerry Harrison, is a mixed bag. As the title suggests, it’s quite spiky around the edges, though essentially most of it fits neatly into the rock-pop mould. …And yeah, I’m pretty sure you’re thinking a model/actresses album is some kind of vanity project, but don’t dismiss this, as Bijou has a really strong voice and more than enough talent to make this work.

The opening track ‘Hawaii’ instantly grabs your attention. The guitar riff is a little off centre and in a tuning which seems a step away from the norm. Sadly, I’m not a musician, so I can’t elaborate on that, but it’s a great way to get things started. The alternative pop-rock seems in keeping with a large chunk of the album’s material, but just when you think you know where it’s going, it breaks into an odd calypso-ish break.The guitars are turned up for ‘I Own You’, which is very chorus driven. You’ve heard this all so many times before, but somehow it still retains its charm. Similarly as rocky, but delivered with a quirky vocal, ‘I Never Shot The President’ starts with attitude and then refuses to let go. ‘Little Dipper’ is a stand-out ballad, with a piano led arrangement and probably one of the most heartfelt vocal deliveries this album has to offer, telling a tale of childhood visits to the protagonist’s mother’s house. It stands out, in part, due to a contrast with the spiteful edge present on most of these songs. ‘I Am A Mountain’ seems at first to be in a similar style to ‘I Own You’, but then during the between-verse breaks, the guitars are quite thrashy.

‘When I Hated Him (Don’t Tell Me)’ was the lead single and it’s not difficult to see why. Its radio-friendly angst fit the late 90s model of strong female singers, after Alanis Morissette’s ‘Jagged Little Pill’ took over the world and seemingly opened doors for dozens of people to bare their souls. At first listen, this may feel a little drawn out at over six minutes, but it’s a slow burner and the addition of gospel style backing vocals for the last couple of choruses is a nice touch. ‘Breakfast’ provides good closure, being acoustic based, allows the listener to wind down a little after some of the sharper edged stuff.

I’ve had this in my personal collection for a while now, having bought it purely on the strength of a couple of really positive reviews, without hearing a note. In short, I still can’t recommend it highly enough and most of the people I’ve played it to feel the same way. If you’re out there and those Natalie Imbruglia albums are just that little bit too sugary for you, you know where to look next. This could be a genuinely overlooked gem from the tail end of the last century.

September 2007 (some tweaking in Nov '09)

Friday, 20 November 2009

MARILLION - Somewhere Else

It's only fair, before we begin, that I tell you how much I love this band. It may be unfashionable, but I’m not one of those people who hold them up as some sort of middle-aged-but-still-trying-to-be-cool joke. I genuinely think they’re great. As a rule, their greatness far outweighs their faults. Even when, in the past, they’ve released albums I’ve not been so keen on, there have always been moments which truly stand out.

‘Somewhere Else’ really breaks the mould. The bad bits are bad. The average bits are average and, to be honest, the good bits are, just so…average. For a band who’ve often given it their all and been a band still capable of surprise some twenty-five years into their career, this album represents a band on auto-pilot; a band who, at best, sound somewhat pale when compared to their previous two outings (the epic and dark ‘Marbles’ and the surprisingly contemporary sounding ‘Anoraknophobia’). ‘Somewhere Else’ sounds like songs fashioned from bits of leftovers with some bleak lyrics, mismatched with some poor attempts at chorus writing.

The opening track, ‘The Other Half’ promises so much, with its big sound working from a rather Beatles-y loop. It’s a slow-burning opening track which leads the listener into thinking this will be an atmospheric journey, kind of like a familiar friend but with a new slant. It’s after this that things go awry, when the first single, ‘See It Like A Baby’ emerges from the speakers. The verses are full of unimaginative clich├ęs about trying things for the first time, which become almost unbearable when Steve Hogarth utters the line ‘taste it like you’ve never tasted it before’; a line which no matter how many times I hear it, I expect him to be endorsing Cadbury’s Flake. No thanks. Things aren’t saved from despair when the chorus presents itself as ‘See it like a baby (x4)’. Is this really the work of a man who has been a songwriter for some three decades or maybe more? Is it the work of a man who has written things of a poetic nature in the past? I have trouble believing it myself.

‘Thankyou Whoever You Are’ sounds like something Marillion binned at the demo stage on previous attempts and then dragged out in desperation to pull this album up to ten songs. Musically, it’s more than competent, but sounds very much like a composite of previously released Marillion songs. I kind of hoped that lyrically, something would save this from being mediocre, but again, witness the chorus: ‘Thankyou whoever you are (x4)’. I could point out that thank you is two words but that’d be pedantic.
Before the album was released, the song ‘Most Toys’ was touted as a groundbreaking number in the Marillion cannon. It was supposedly the fastest, heaviest thing the band had ever recorded with [quote] Ian Mosely finally getting to drum like he’s in System Of A Down. In reality, that’s not true. It’s slightly tougher sounding than a lots of the band’s previous outings, but certainly not that much faster – not really any faster than, say, ‘Hooks In You’ or ‘Separated Out’, and as for the System Of A Down drumming comparison…that’s laughable. The chorus again is a one-liner; I wish they’d not tried writing choruses at all, to be honest. The title track, musically, is one of the albums strongest offerings – sprawling and atmospheric, but the lyrics add little to the over all result and the main hook, again, features too much repetition of one line. ‘A Voice From The Past’ and ‘Last Century For Man’ have a similar feel, but are ultimately forgettable and while ‘No Such Thing’, at first, seems to be on the right track atmospherically, it’s ultimately spoilt by a trippy vocal effect (used by Black Sabbath to far greater effect some thirty-seven years previously on ‘Planet Caravan’) and some spiteful lyrics, including ‘no such thing as a faithful wife’. Thanks for that. That’s lovely.

‘The Wound’ is the album’s other upbeat moment (aside from ‘Most Toys’ which should be swept under the carpet) and here, I’m pleased to say, it’s an improvement. Sure, compared to some of Marillion’s previous great moments it’s average, but compared to most of ‘Somewhere Else’, it’s a step forward. Steve Hogarth is in fine voice, the tune has a rock edge which feels natural, rather than forced, as it does on ‘Most Toys’. It’s the closest ‘Somewhere Else’ comes to representing how good a band Marillion can be. The rock bits are balanced by an atmospheric mid-section which reminds me of late-90s ‘dotcom’ era Marillion. By this point though (track 8 on a ten track CD), it’s really not enough to save face, particularly after ‘See It Like A Baby’ and ‘Most Toys’. Closing the album is ‘Faith’. As a song in an almost finished form, this has been kicking around for some time. It’s a gentle acoustic-based affair, somewhat reminiscent of The Beatles’ ‘Blackbird’. Its simple arrangement is one of its strengths. Maybe that’s why I preferred the earlier performances without the brass section. Even though this is one of the rare moments of ‘Somewhere Else’ I enjoyed, it’s hard not to feel just a little let down when a ten song outing, which took years to make, features something most of us were familiar with from what now feels like so long ago.

To be honest, ‘Somewhere Else’ is by far the worst album in the Marillion catalogue to date and even as a huge fan, I can’t bring myself to recommend it to anyone. I’d go as far as to say that although this isn’t the first time Marillion have left me disappointed, it’s the first time they’ve let me down to such a degree that I’m actually embarrassed by at least half of this album. Since even the live shows to support it were really dull, I find myself wondering if this is a temporary creative blip, or whether ‘music’s best kept secret’ has finally burned out.

September 2007

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

GREGG ALEXANDER - Intoxifornication

It’s probably fair to say that if you heard Gregg Alexander or were aware of his work in the early 90s, you almost certainly discovered him by accident. This seems a pity as this, his second solo album, is a decent record. Not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but like Prince (who seems an obvious influence on bits of the album), sometimes it’s the flaws which make it more interesting.

Alongside a handful of tunes featured in different form on ‘Michigan Rain’ (Gregg’s incredibly rare debut), this sophomore album features some new material. Pop-rock drum loops mixed with rock guitars provided the basis for the smut-driven ‘Smokin’ In Bed’ and ‘Electric Girlfriend’, both of which very much set the tone for this album. The title track, as you’d expect, follows suit, but benefits from a punchy guitar riff and a verse with a call and response vocal (it’s amazing what you can do with a ‘hey hey’ if you’re gifted enough), but it’s the pre-chorus which is the real star. Gregg was always meant to be on the radio – and once you hear this, you get the feeling that he presented this track (and indeed the rest of this album) with nothing but arrogant self-belief.

‘I Wanna Seduce You’ is slightly different, in that the slightly alternative leanings present all but vanish; this track is pure 80s chorus-driven goodness. It reminds me of a Def Leppard cast off except it’s better than that. ‘Save Me From Myself’ (one of the songs originally from ‘Michigan Rain’) provides a decent counterpoint to a lot of the more up-beat tunes and has a vocal delivered with anguish. Even though it’s never going to be a classic album, I’d say the only time the album really misses the mark is on the uncredited bonus track (listed on the Japanese pressing as ‘Wear Your Love Beside You’). I’m not sure what happened here, but Gregg’s voice sounds lethargic and the music sounds like it came from a tape which was slightly warped. I suppose it was an uncredited track for good reason.

After the release of the album Gregg co-wrote most of the songs on ‘Arrive All Over You’ the debut album by Danielle Brisebois (who’d provided backing vocals on ‘Intoxifornication’). As you may expect, her album continued where Gregg’s ended with a similar style of power pop, rock and tongue in cheek smut. Unsurprisingly, her album was greeted with similar indifference by the public at large. [At the time of writing, Danielle’s second album remains recorded but unreleased].

I’d owned ‘Intoxifornication’ for a couple of years and was convinced that only a few people in the UK would ever hear Gregg Alexander and then at the tail-end of the 1990s, something unbelievable happened. Out of nowhere, a band named New Radicals appeared. Their single ‘You Get What You Give’ was a monster hit. The vocals felt very familiar, but no, it couldn’t be…could it? Gregg Alexander fronting a hit band? Danielle Brisebois appearing on the album too?! Their time had finally come.

After a fairly short time in the spotlight, Gregg and Danielle retreated once again, but those with a keen eye and ear can spot Gregg writing songs for Ronan Keating, Rod Stewart, Enrique Iglasias and Danielle writing with Natasha Bedingfield, among others.
Good luck with tracking down any of Gregg or Danielle’s albums mentioned here; they’re worth it.

April 2008

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

TANYA DONELLY - Lovesongs For Underdogs

Best known as frontwoman for Belly and sometime member of Throwing Muses, this first solo outing by Tanya Donelly is everything you'd expect. Issued on 4AD recfords in 1997, 'Lovesongs For Underdogs' was generally well recieved. Though not a great deprture from previous work with Belly, it could be said it's a little softer around the edges and possibly Donelly's most accesible work - that said, I can't recall ever hearing any songs from the album on radio in the UK and as often the case with 4AD releases, it would never become a multi-million seller.

Of all the Donelly-related releases, this is probably the one I return to most. While most people love Belly's 'Star', I often found it a little empty in places and just too wistful (always preferring 'King', the ballsier sophomore album). I'd say that this solo debut, sound-wise falls somewhere between the two Belly releases, as it has a decent amount of light and shade. 'Bum' wouldn't sound out of place on that second Belly album; neither would the hard, guitar driven 'Lantern', which despite being one of the rockiest things 'LFU' has to offer, still manages to make Donelly's voice sound fragile.

Over a decade later, 'Pretty Deep' remains a brilliant chorus driven piece of alternative pop-rock, which honestly should have reached a much larger audience. While I can't say I ever heard it on UK radio, it featured prominently in an early episode of 'Dawson's Creek', so there's a chance it was more successful in the US (don't be looking for it on the DVD release, though; for contractual reasons, it's been replaced with something forgettable). 'Swoon', as the title suggests, revisits a dreamier sound explored on Belly's 'Star', and it's here that Donelly is in top, very recognisable vocal form. Something rhythmic in 'Clipped' recalls work with Throwing Muses, though a friendly chorus soon sweeps away any darker feelings. 'Both 'Acrobat' and 'Manna' lean heavily towards acoustic arrangements, providing a decent counterpoint to some of the edgier material here.

'Lovesongs For Underdogs' remains probably Tanya Donelly's masterpiece for me, both in terms of accessibility and variety.Should be fairly easy to find as you read this, even if it's not on catalogue everywhere.

May 2008

MIRAH - Advisory Committee

For the uninitiated, Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn (not to be confused with Mirah, a Danish pop star), is an American singer songwriter. Typically, she uses sparse arrangements and electronic loops. ‘Advisory Committee’ is probably one of her best known releases, though still, at the time of writing this, she’s still very much a cult artist. Most of her work to date has been issued on the K Records label, based in Olympia, WA. Typically of that label, most of Mirah’s work has a lo-fi feel with a DIY ethic.

This album offers fourteen songs in total and feels very much like an album, as opposed to a collection of songs. ‘Cold Cold Water’ was released as a single, though listening might leave you wondering why. There is no obvious hook here, though musically it follows a tried and tested quiet verse, loud chorus formula. Though unlike others who’ve popularised this technique, there aren’t guitars upfront – there are strings, voice and pounding drums. The arrangement seems unstable, almost feeling like its swaying about. A bold move for both opening cut and single and promises a great deal for the album as a whole. ‘Monument’ is gentle folk-pop and it’s here that you’ll probably realise you’ll either love or hate Mirah’s vocal style. There’s an innocence at play, it seems, but thankfully she never adopts that faux little girl squawk that Joanna Newsom seems to think is somehow endearing.

‘After You Left’ is fuzzy. Droning but gentle, there’s something here which makes Mirah sound distant; the track itself sounds like a work in progress that somehow made the finished album. ‘Light The Match’ is largely based around the accordion. Never my favourite instrument, this isn’t so easy to listen to, but balanced against the strings here, this song has very much an Eastern European feel. It doesn’t feel as personal as some stuff here, but maybe that’s the accordion forcing me not to listen quite as closely as I might. ‘Special Death’ features prominent xylophone sounds in the intro, when combined with the light vocal and guitar instrumentation feels quite spooky; it doesn’t quite live up to initial promise, truth told, but the use of strings in the backing arrangement is effective, as it’s so sparse. Not so sure about the Christmassy bells. It’s on stuff like this where Mirah begins to feel like the anti-Feist, offering a sometimes similar gentility, but not always beauty.

‘Recommendation’ is a short track based around a programmed drum loop, very mechanical with a nod towards the early 80s new wave. Lyrically, it seems to concern parting, but the song is over almost as soon as has begun, leaving the listener wanting more. Strangely, for something which doesn’t feel like a focal point, its one of the album’s stand outs. ‘Body Below’, in contrast, is four minutes worth of fuzz guitar and feedback drone, coupled with hushed vocals. Pavement and Sonic Youth may be obvious comparisons (especially the latter), but this experimental approach works well for Mirah here. ‘Mt. St. Helens’ begins with a gentle, almost lullaby vocal. After this, as a listener, it’s expected that the arrangement will pick up a little. It does, in a fashion, as Mirah hammers on her acoustic guitar, which seems to be in a muddy tuning. As always here, I’m left with the feeling that it’s not the music that’s important, but at that point, electronic loops play backwards and are at complete odds with the once hushed voice and acoustic sounds. ‘The Sun’ employs a similar guitar tuning and in this case, it doesn’t seem to work. There might be a nice twee tune in here somewhere, but the off-centre vocal and guitar work obscure the melodies. The end part of the song is electric indie-rock and works better, but it’s not memorable in the way a few of these songs are. ‘The Garden’ employs a similar clunkiness to the end of ‘Recommendation’, but with little else to focus your attention on, this is far to stark for music in the usual enjoyable sense; but yet, it’s not out-there enough to be considered even slightly avant-garde.

‘Advisory Committee’ is not an album I can recommend to everyone, hovering as it does somewhere between twee and discordant. Like some of the works by The Magnetic Fields, though, this could be rewarding to the patient.

November 2007

BAND OF HORSES - Cease To Begin

I’ve just discovered this by accident, after looking on Amazon to see what fans of The Posies had also purchased. I’m a bit of a sucker for power pop and am always on the lookout for something new. First impressions suggest that Band Of Horses mightn’t be the Posies/Jellyfish/Brendan Benson inspired outfit I was looking to stumble upon. Those first impressions leave me feeling a little under-whelmed, as this is, perhaps, just a little too jangle-indie for my requirements.

‘Is There A Ghost’ starts well, mind, since the guitar work has a spaciousness that you might attribute to the likes of Mercury Rev and their penchant for the trippy. Sadly, despite that, once the vocal kicks in, it becomes apparent from early on, the song is lyrically empty and somewhat repetitive. Initial promise soon turns to slight disappointment. ‘The General Specific’ fares better as it comes with bar-room acoustics, piano and handclaps, reminding me somewhat of the more pastel sides of the much under-rated Blind Melon. There’s no obvious hook, but it feels pleasant and given the right setting may well be better than I’ve given it credit for. ‘Marry Song’ has a great, slow-burning arrangement with some retro-sounding keyboards which are the kind favoured by Shawn Smith; there’s an old-fashioned, yet current, feel about this which is clearly the band’s greatest strength – though the vocals are a little country and it takes a while before your ears adjust to the fusion of the styles. If this were on a Wilco album, people would probably hail it as songwriting genius.
‘Cigarettes, Wedding Bands’ showcases a noisier side of Band Of Horses. There are touches of The Posies (but rather more their indie-noise tendencies rather than their Jellyfish one) and the noisier end of Teenage Fanclub. Musically, it’s decent enough with the volume cranked, but those looking for interesting time signatures won’t find them here. ‘Window Blues’ is probably the strongest track, which revisits the slightly country sound and Wilco influence. It’s one of the few occasions where I hear a real heart and passion in the band’s sound and certainly one of the only times the album really hits the spot for me. If I were to recommend a track from the album as a first listen, this would be the one. ‘No One’s Gonna Love You’ is also very strong, but highlights how over the past couple of years, alternative music has become diluted. The tunes and melodies are easily accessible in a Coldplay style and it’s easy to imagine radio play. A few years ago, there’s no way these guys would be part of the Sub Pop stable.

I have a feeling that Band Of Horses might become quite popular if they haven’t already, but aside from occasionally reminding me of a few bands I have a passing liking of, there’s not much to keep me coming back for more. With that, I’m off again to continue my search for some good old fashioned power pop.

November 2007
*Since writing, Band Of Horses have appeared on ‘Later…With Jools Holland’ and could be rather more well known.

TOMMY TUTONE - Tommy Tutone

Originally formed as Tommy and the Tu-tones, but later settling on the shortened Tommy Tutone name, in the US, these guys are probably hailed as one of the great one hit wonders, their anthemic ‘8675309/Jenny’ remaining a popular chorus driven radio favourite.

In the UK, however, it’s likely the name Tommy Tutone will fail to even ignite a faint spark of memory. Power pop connoisseurs among you will probably be familiar with the aforementioned song, (as featured on their sophomore release, ‘Tutone 2’) and maybe even the first couple of albums.

This self-titled debut (originally issued in 1980) on the whole seems to have aged quite well. Unlike some of the bigger power pop bands, like Flamin’ Groovies and Pezband, TT didn’t opt so much for the retro sound and 60s harmonies, appearing at the time to be more in line with their new-wave contemporaries, so that might be why it feels such a surprise to hear something which still has spark.

The lead track and single, ‘Angel Say No’ marries early Cars style rhythm guitar work with a nod to Phil Spector in the drum depot, a catchy enough chorus replete with typical power pop harmonies. At the time it was only a minor hit in the US. You can only wonder why, as it sounds pretty good these days (equal to, or if not better, than a lot of the stuff on the Rhino power pop comps, reviewed elsewhere on this site). Was it a lack of marketing that meant this slipped through the cracks, or was it a saturated market? After all, on the surface, Tutone offer very little that many other bands of a similar ilk were pumping out at the turn of the decade. ‘Cheap Date’ on the other hand, is far less obvious. The time signatures aren’t quite where they seem to be, the finger-clicks and other overdubs add nothing and leaves everything to the chorus, which features vocals which seem a little out. The cod-reggae leanings were very popular with post-punk and new wave bands at this time, but clearly they’re not something which feels natural here.

‘Girl In The Backseat’ is pretty solid. While not living up to the promise of ‘Angel Say No’, still offers a quirkiness reminding me somehow of mid 70s Rick Derringer. While not quite first rate power pop, it has some pleasing guitar work and an unashamed over-egging in the backing vocal department, which proves, while they never had enough courage to go full-on pomp in an Earth Quake style, they were never quite as post-punk as bands like The Real Kids. ‘The Blame’ is a winner. Following on from the slightly poppier feel of ‘Angel Say No’, it’s Tommy Tutone at their best. Here, the balance between catchy song writing, simple musicianship and final arrangement is near perfect.‘Rachel’ is solid also – in the old teen tradition, songs about girls seem to score highly! A similar mix of vocals to the other good stuff here, it’s something these guys should have concentrated on and the handclap overdubs just set things off nicely. ‘Dancing Girl’ is similarly as solid. The guitar sound in the closing part reminds me of Andy Summers on The Police debut, ‘Outlandos D’Amour’ a little.

‘Fat Chance’ dates the album a little, as they attempt the slightly more retro sounding power pop, but the 80s keys and production values make this feel a little fake. Whatever the Flamin’ Groovies special ingredient for making albums sound really 60s was, it’s missing here. Not that they’re musically that similar, but I’m reminded of doo-wop homage ‘In Your Letter’ by REO Speedwagon; it’s probably their ‘well meaning and fun’ ideal which just puts me off.
There’s nothing here as memorable in the long term as ‘8675309/Jenny’ but mostly it’s a solid listen. It’s currently available on CD with ‘Tutone 2’ as a 2-on-1 CD. It might be time to check them out.

October 2007

COYOTE SHIVERS - Coyote Shivers

Canadian-born Francis Coyote Shivers is one of those people whose career never seemed to get off the ground in the traditional sense. In the UK, at least, he’s only really known for playing Berko in the film ‘Empire Records’ and even then, most of his scenes only seem to be in the longer cut of the film. He is, however, of most importance to the final scene, performing the not-quite-anthemic ‘Sugarhigh’ on the record store roof.

What, then, can we say about his self-titled album? Trashy. But is it trashy in a glitzy and cool way like Beat Angels and other post-glam acts, or just plain trash? The hard truth is, well, it’d like to be the former but often ends up falling short. ‘Guilty’ has a rock ‘n’ roll heart which could appeal to fans of Gilby Clarke (ex-Guns n’ Roses) and ‘Happiness Is A Warm Bong’is cool, with a nod toward early Replacements and the previously mentioned ‘Sugarhigh’, so it could be argued the Coyote’s influences are present and correct.

Sadly, the song writing is often lacklustre and the attitude on show doesn’t quite cover up the weaknesses. Of the twelve songs, half of them would have been binned by Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson at the demo stage. ‘If’ kind of reminds me of The Stooges, but Shivers doesn’t quite have the charm of Iggy Pop to make it truly work. Pure adrenalin makes ‘Bisexual Girl’ stand out, provided you can get past the lyrics, which hover somewhere between a joke and vulgar.

Despite a couple of stand out tracks, this is one of those albums which comes with little to recommend it, especially when so many others out there do this kind of thing so much better. Why, then, do I play this some days and almost connect with its disposable non-sentiments?

Worth it for ‘Sugarhigh’, but generally, you’re better off with Coyote’s ‘1/2 A Rock ‘n’ Roll Record’ EP, which boasts the genuinely great ‘Plus One’, and mercifully, the show’s over in less than half the time.

September 2007

Monday, 16 November 2009

VARIOUS ARTISTS - Come Out & Play: American Power Pop I (1975-77)

I kid you not when I tell you this selection of pure gold nuggets and curiosities from the USA’s first wave of post 60s power pop makes for pretty much essential listening. Taking their cues from The Byrds and Big Star, a whole suave of bands paid homage to their heroes and opened new musical avenues in the process.

Kicking off with (now) well known ‘Shake Some Action’ by Flamin’ Groovies, you might know what to expect. There are plenty of 60s influences here and while possibly one of the best known tracks to be included as part of this collection, it’s not the best by any means. That said, it’s still good and very representative of this bands mid-late 70s stuff. ‘Wayside’ by Artful Dodger has a more contemporary 70s feel and much less garage sound. If you don’t know these guys and like Cheap Trick, I have a feeling they’re worthy of investigating. Sadly, to the best of my knowledge (and at the time of writing this) their three albums are out of print and have never been issued on CD, so that’s about all I can say about them. I’d really love to hear more, so if anyone can shed any light, that’d be great.

I was never a great fan of Billy Squier, but have often thought I should check out his old band Piper, purely on the strength of their song here. ‘Can’t Wait’ is great pop, but as you might expect, has rockier guitars than some of the other bands here. It took me quite a while to appreciate how good this track is, as I’ve never been especially fond of Squier’s vocals, but its quirky musical arrangement has a complexity which makes it stand out more than some. That’s all relative though; don’t expect kitchen sink complexity of a Todd Rundgren standard. This CD offers two cuts by The Nerves, fronted by future Plimsouls man Peter Case. The first, ‘Hanging On The Telephone’ will be familiar to all, having been covered by Blondie who made the song a hit, despite not changing its arrangement in the slightest. The almost punky energy still makes this two minute song as vital as it was back in the late 70s. The second Nerves track, ‘When You Find Out’, is pure straight-up 60s R&B. Wearing influences clearly on their sleeves, this honest tribute to The Zombies and The Yarbirds is equally essential listening.

‘The Summer Sun’ by the almost legendary Chris Stamey is also very strong. It’s another sixties inspired song (as with most of this wave of power pop), with a strong chorus and vocal melodies. The over all arrangement doesn’t veer at all from very familiar territory. For a better example of what this man can do, check out ‘(I Thought) You Wanted To Know’ from ‘Shake It Up: American Power Pop Volume II’ [reviewed elsewhere on this site]. Cheap Trick, like the Flamin’ Groovies, will require no introduction. ‘Southern Girls’ is from their ‘In Color’ album; a classic of the power pop genre – maybe even a bona-fide classic in its own right.
I must be missing something here. I’ve read in a few places before that The Scruffs’ album ‘Wanna Meet The Scruffs’ is a classic. Based on the track here, The Scruffs leave me feeling somewhat underwhelmed. Musically, it sounds fine – a little Big Star, a little Pezband, but vocally it grates. The singer’s voice is strong, but has a slightly odd croony tone, like the vocalist from Prix, but not quite that bad. This is one of the few tracks here which I find myself skipping regularly, alongside The Names, who don’t do much for me for pretty much the same reasons.

Upon its single release, ‘Christi Girl’ by The Flashcubes supposedly wasn’t bought by many people. Some sources have claimed that it could be found in bargain bins in many of New York’s record stores. The song itself isn’t that bad. It has more than a nod to Gary Puckett rather than Big Star, which makes me think that had anyone actually heard it at the time, it may have reached a slightly broader audience than some power pop releases. Having missed out on success the first time around, The Flashcubes re-united in 1993 and recorded new material. You can read more about them at their official website.

After a twee intro, ‘All Kindsa Girls’ by The Real Kids is a cult classic. Showing the energy of the Flamin’ Groovies but less of an obvious sixties influence, this song has a proto-punk energy and as with The Nerves, should appeal to those who never quite understood the classic Ramones raw dumbness. As for this compilations title cut, performed by The Paley Brothers, one can assume they were either deathly serious or going for full sugar-overload with a knowing wink. There are handclaps, Phil Spector inspired glockenspiels, and a general infectiousness that’s as annoying as it is entertaining. It’s like hearing ‘Sugar Sugar’ by The Archies given a dusting down by mid seventies pop genius. I love it. I hate it. I love it.

Closing this compilation is the haunting ‘I Am The Cosmos’ by Big Star man Chris Bell. There’s a definite uneasiness to parts of this recording. While not obviously bleak like some of the songs from Big Star’s ‘Third’ (recorded after Bell’s departure, interestingly), and despite ringing guitars and a full band arrangement, there’s something in this song that’s a little unsettling It sounds like a man with the world on his shoulders, not quite beautiful, never ugly, always fragile. Not a fist-in-face cry for help, but it comes as no surprise that after leaving Big Star in Alex Chilton’s hands 1972, Bell attempted suicide a few times. He would eventually die in a car accident in 1978. ‘I Am The Cosmos’ is up there with the best of the Big Star stuff and can be easily found elsewhere on the ‘Big Star Story’ compilation CD.

This CD, issued by Rhino in 1993 is now out of print. You owe it to yourselves to try and track one down.

August 2007

MINUTEMEN - Buzz Or Howl Under The Influence Of Heat

You probably know already that Minutemen are legendary among indie-rock and hardcore circles. You’ll probably also know that both Mike Watt and George Hurley went on to form fIREHOSE after the Minutemen’s premature demise. Funny how, like so many other bands from this time and scene, their influence and legend is far greater than the actual sales of their recorded output might suggest.

The band’s early EPs were low budget, noisy affairs. The first full length LP, 'The Punch Line' showcased fifteen songs in approximately eighteen minutes and while the hooks were not always instant, the tightness between the hard, funky bass parts and sharp drum rhythms showed a band who meant business; a band who's technical ability was almost unmatched by their peers. The second full-length, ‘What Makes A Man Start Fires?’ showed a slightly more song-based band, and while the tracks were still short and edgy, some of the melodies have a more conventional approach.

1983’s ‘Buzz Or Howl Under The Influence Of Heat’ follows a similar path. The band have moved on, yet this time around the differences are slight. Some garage rock roots are retained and obviously, the band's funk edges are ineviatable. ‘The Product’ features aggressive guitar work from D. Boon against aggressive drumming by George Hurley. While the sound levels are much clearer than some of the earlier EP recordings, this is still pretty raw, though songwise, not quite matching the band's earlier no-frills approach (equalled only by Wire, particularly on their 'Pink Flag debut). The vocals are primal and almost undecipherable without a lyric sheet. As to why an out of tune jazz trumpet was chosen to flesh out the mix is probably best only known to the band.

‘I Felt Like A Gringo’ is Minutemen at their tightest. D Boon’s guitar playing has a funk that’s only matched in spirit by the earliest Red Hot Chili Peppers performances, perfectly complimented by a quirky time signature and flawless bass playing from Watt. The only down side: in proper Minutemen tradition, it’s over in about a minute and a half. Still, it shows the power of a very intense three-piece outfit. The more garage aspects of their sound are captured on the live recording ‘Cut’, which is centred round D. Boon’s angry guitar sound.
‘Little Man With A Gun In His Hand’ is again tight, but lacking the full-on funk, preferring to focus on the bands jangly rock side, in a similar vein to their contemporaries Husker Du. The upfront bass sound, though, pushes aside any doubt that this is Minutemen. The band’s really tight funk sound returns on ‘Self-Referenced’, where Hurley proves what a superb drummer he can be, with excellent hi-hat and snare work. Mike Watt’s bass is, once again frighteningly good and it’s this style with which he would become hugely influential. Again, like ‘Gringo’, it’s fantastic but all over far too soon.

‘Dream Told By Moto’ is slower, but showcases the potential in this power-trio format. Hearing stuff like this (alongside ‘Self-Referenced’ and ‘Gringo’) it seems like such a shame Minutemen get lumped with the punk tag. Of course, their roots may have been in hardcore, but even this early on in their career, so many other influences are thrown into their sound, ‘Buzz Or Howl’ is really only punk due to its DIY spirit. Even as an eight track EP, ‘Buzz Or Howl’ still contains filler material: ‘Dream Are Free, Motherfucker!’ is just the sound of a band tuning up, with a nod to free jazz, complete with squonks of feedback and ‘The Toe Jam’ feels like a directionless afterthought, albeit brief.

While ‘Buzz Or Howl’ is an interesting snapshot of a band honing their skills, it’s perhaps not the best place for people who are new to Minutemen. For those people, time spent with the following year’s sprawling ‘Double Nickels On The Dime’ may be more beneficial.

‘Buzz Or Howl Under The Influence Of Heat’ is currently available as part of the Minutemen compilation ‘Post Mersh Vol. 2’ which also contains the ‘Project Mersh’ LP.

August 2007

“Let’s get real gone...”

Hello. This is Real Gone.

I've been writing on and off since the mid-nineties. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that I was the only person who would ever give me the complete freedom to write exactly what I wanted, exactly the way I wanted to write it. ...And so, Real Gone was created.

Well, not quite that simply; the initial idea, back in August '07 was to have a fully working, proper brilliant website. That never quite happened. I've been sitting on some of these reviews since then, wondering whether they'll see the light of day. Someone said to me '...why not just get a blog?'; I decided against that initially, since half the world had their stuff on a blog and I was insistent I wanted a 'proper website' with lots of stuff going on...but since that never happened and a lot of time has passed, the Real Gone blog has been created.

If you like it, drop us a line. If you really like it, send us a quid, a couple of dollars, whatever, it'll buy me a Guinness.