Saturday, 30 January 2010

PARASITES - Punch Lines

As far as I can tell, about six people in the UK own this album. Hardly surprising, since the most common pressing of the CD is on Shredder Records and the only other thing I’ve ever seen on that label is another Parasites disc.

This follows the ‘Pair’ album, which saw the Parasites not so much of a band any more, but Dave Parasite (renaming himself Nikki) being pretty much a one man showcase flying under the Parasites name. [To confuse matters, 'Pair' didn't start out that way; in fact, the 'Pair' album isn't really an album in its own right; it is a CD reissue of the 'Pair of Sides' LP with Ronnie Parasite's contributions removed and subsequently replaced with unused Nikki Parasite tracks.]
Rather more jangly college-rock than flat-out punk, the end result was pleasing enough. It’s easy to imagine that fans of the earlier work by The Lemonheads and Replacements would have eaten this up. As far as ‘Pair’ is concerned, as enjoyable as it may be, it’s only ever the sprightly cover of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Both Sides Now’ which sticks in my head.

As for this follow up, ‘Punch Lines’ there’s something a little more focused. It’s still Nikki playing most of the instruments, but things have been turned up a notch. The college-rock meets punk sound is still the same, but the songs - at least in part - are more memorable. ‘Young And Stupid’ is the ultimate slacker anthem, with lyrics like ‘Got so bored I wrote a personal ad / It said go out with me, you’ll have the worst time you ever had’. ‘Crazy’ has a feel good factor which sums up the Parasites approach and ‘I’m Gonna Make You Love Me’ makes great use of a sing-along chorus.

On the negative side, the end of the album really drags, with ‘Roses’ offers little new to the album by this point and ‘Let Down’ becoming tedious due to instrumental padding. It’s decent enough proof that this style of music works best when things are kept under the three minute mark.

Overall, ‘Punch Lines’ is far from perfect, despite being better than ‘Pair’. Even so, three or four stand alone songs make it appealing enough to add to your ever-growing punk collections.

September 2007

Monday, 25 January 2010


I didn’t like Nickelback much before. ‘How You Remind Me’ is a half-decent rock radio single, but beyond that, I have little time for them. All the other Nickelback songs I’d heard previously seem to be a re-hash of that tune, with predictable songwriting and arrangements with all the charm of a metronome. ‘Dark Horse’, their sixth album, is the first one to be produced by Mutt Lange.

For the three of you who don’t know, Mutt Lange is a production legend. He’s worked with Def Leppard (‘Pyromania’, ‘Hysteria’), Bryan Adams (‘Waking Up The Neighbours’) and AC/DC (‘Highway To Hell’, ‘Back In Black’) and a whole bunch more. He has a trademark approach where he’ll beef up the sound and add lots of backing vocals (look no further than classic Def Leppard for the best examples); he’s even used that approach to some extent on Shania (ex-Mrs Mutt) Twain albums. I have a friend who has a theory: Mutt is a mad scientist. Bands knock on the door of his lab with their master tapes. He takes them and puts them into his special machine (the Mutt-o-tron™), shouts “Red light, yellow light, green light, GO!” and presto – everything comes out bigger, shinier and with extra Def Leppardy backing vocals.

And so it is with Nickelback’s ‘Dark Horse’. The album utilises all of Mutt Lange’s best tricks – so much so, I have trouble recognising a lot of this as being that band I often found dull. Thanks to Mutt Lange’s presence, their music has moved from tired sounding post-grunge, to more classic sounding hard rock. From the crunch of the opener it’s obvious the post-grunge boredom of previous Nickelback albums has no place here. Its edginess comes as a surprise, as the end result is not what you’re expecting from either Nickelback or Lange. A good attempt at an attention grabber, but sadly, Chad Kroeger is an appalling lyricist and here he peddles out a bunch of smut that would make even Mötley Crüe cringe. This opening song is called ‘Something In Your Mouth’. I’m not gonna go into details, but let’s just say Kroeger sings about strippers - and not in a fun way.

Okay. ‘Dark Horse’ may have more going for it musically, compared to Nickelback's previous offerings (thanks in no small part to Mutt), but excrutiating lyrics throughout spoil any chance of it ever being a decent record. During ‘Next Go Round’ Chad Kroeger sings (seemingly without irony) about doing it ‘until [he’s] good and sweaty until [he] can’t stand up’ and how he wants to be ridden ‘up and down the lawn’ (presumably like a tractor, since he name checks John Deere). Jesus Christ. During several other songs, Kroeger makes other lewd sexual references which spoil otherwise decent tunes.

‘Burn It To The Ground’ matches a hard driving riff with a huge chorus. The ‘hey’ vocal here is surely a sample (1000 Joe Elliotts?); overall, the end result is a winner. Sure, as expected, the lyrics are plain dumb, but at least this time Kroeger's not thinking with his nob. Hmmm, a song about partying and drinking, on an album full of crass songs about girls? I sense a midlife crisis.

Mutt Lange’s work is the best thing about this record. Since with some help Nickelback can now present a decent tune, maybe next time they’ll get someone clever in to help write the lyrics. I’m not sure Chad Kroeger can even spell shover chauver chauvinism.

Watch Chad talk about his house here! Could be better than the real thing.

January 2010

Saturday, 23 January 2010


Released on Mute Records in 2008, this second album by New York’s A Place To Bury Strangers is a twisted, almost torturous ride. There are moments where the listener is beaten into submission by a barrage of multi-layered guitars, driven by distortion. Somewhere among the noise, inspired equally by Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine, Oliver Ackermann’s vocals waver in an out like a man drowning in sound. On most of the album, his voice remains buried below the music, his lyrics barely audible - but that voice is necessary as a point of aural focus. The blanket-of-noise approach is a key feature in the band’s sound, featuring on a number of songs, at least in part. In short, A Place To Bury Strangers are rarely easy to listen to. The opening track, ‘There Is Nothing’ sets the tone for most of the album, with vocals buried under guitars, but its pace makes it somehow captivating.

While the sheets of feedback and distortion are cranked up to ear-bleeding levels during parts of ‘Deadbeat’ and ‘I Used To Live My Life In The Shadow of Your Heart’, ‘Ego Death’ manages to temper the feedback-drenched squalls of the band’s noisier side (slightly) with a dark eighties, electronic feel. At times, Oliver is still using his effects pedals to levels which could be considered extreme, but despite this, there are signs of obvious songcraft bubbling just below the surface. These signs of musical ability are even more evident during ‘Smile When You Smile’ which features some sharp bass work (courtesy of Jono Mofo) somewhere in amongst the density.

It’s not all challenging though. At the centre of ‘In Your Heart’ and ‘Everything Always Goes Wrong’ there’s a mechanical bleakness carrying a spirit of Joy Division. The title track shows similar mechanical coolness and ‘Keep Slipping Away’ is a near-perfect piece of goth-pop. It’s a marriage of ‘Pornography’ era Cure and the lighter parts of ‘Psychocandy’ by Jesus and Mary Chain, which is played with so much love, you’d be forgiven for thinking it could be an unearthed obscurity from 1983.

Being someone who doesn’t always see why My Bloody Valentine attract so much praise, generally speaking, A Place To Bury Strangers aren’t really going to be a band I love either. I can appreciate what they do, but naturally, I’m left wanting to hear more of their lighter side. I can imagine these guys being met with open arms by MBV fans (particularly given Kevin Shields’s long periods of inactivity), but for anyone else there’s little here of interest.

January 2010

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

THEM CROOKED VULTURES - Them Crooked Vultures

When I first heard that Joshua Homme was getting together with Dave Grohl and John Paul Jones to create a supergroup, I was quite excited. As a life-long fan of Led Zeppelin and as a keen follower of Grohl’s many projects, Them Crooked Vultures was almost certainly going to have some appeal.

And it does. But only really to fans of Joshua Homme and particularly his band Queens of The Stone Age. Aside from an occasional obvious backing vocal from Dave Grohl and an occasional musical flourish (but seldom more) from Jones, a lot of Them Crooked Vultures’ material feels indistinguishable from Homme’s main band.

If viewed as the work of a supergroup, most of the album is unremarkable. Homme is clearly de facto band leader and most of the music takes his usual punchy but sludgy approach. Fine if you like Queens of the Stone Age, but of little interest to other people. ‘No One Loves Me & Neither Do I’ has a fantastic riff, but fails to back it up with a memorable hook. Lead single ‘New Fang’ has a decent drum groove, with stops on the what sounds like it ought to be a pre-chorus, but again there’s nothing too memorable about it. ‘Elephants’ is rather cumbersome and drags on far too long at nearly seven minutes (a common criticism of at least half of Homme’s work), despite a decent intro riff.

‘Scumbag Blues’, a Cream style power trio workout, is one of the only times that the potential behind Them Crooked Vultures can be seen. It’s also the first time Jones’s keyboard work makes an obvious appearance. Here, he occasionally breaks into some very welcome ‘Trampled Underfoot’ styled clavinet work. Although ‘Bandoliers’ features an old-style mellotron, it’s all but buried below the drums. Such a pity that Jones’s distinctive keyboard work (a la ‘No Quarter’, ‘Trampled Underfoot’ and ‘Your Time Is Gonna Come’) doesn’t have much place in Them Crooked Vultures. It could be argued that Jones’s keyboard is the key to ‘Interlude With Ludes’, but he’s not playing much of anything resembling a tune and the whole thing is a mess.

Since Jones would be a hero to both Homme and Grohl, it seems odd that his contributions to Them Crooked Vultures would be so underwhelming. He’s credited as playing bass, keyboards, keytar, piano, slide guitar and mandolin, but most of these get lost under Josh Homme's trademark bluster. Aside from occasional keyboards, most of his clearly audible work is restricted to the bass. While his bass playing is solid, there are a number of Homme’s chums who could have filled the bass player’s spot as easily.

Some of the material here sounds solid, but little of it makes any lasting impact. Some good riffs for sure, but a repetitive sound and lack of hooks makes ‘Them Crooked Vultures’ a wasted opportunity, considering the musicians involved. Some of this material would’ve made a decent Queens of The Stone Age album, but if viewed as more than that, it’s one of the biggest musical disappointments of 2009.

January 2010

Friday, 15 January 2010

MANOWAR - The Triumph of Steel

A few years ago, around 2004, I found a website which claimed to be ‘the future of heavy metal’. In the twenty-first century, the very notion of calling metal ‘heavy’ metal was at complete odds with any kind of ‘future’. They also had a logo which dripped blood. After laughing, I realised that these guys weren’t being ironic. They were still partying like it was 1982 and incapable of forward thinking. They probably loved this album by Manowar. They were probably even naive enough to take it completely seriously. I mean, as tight as they are musically, there’s no way Manowar aren’t playing their audience, with their tongues firmly in-cheek.

Their sixth studio album ‘The Triumph of Steel’ was released in 1992, in the middle of a very exciting time for alternative rock and metal. With that, they were outsiders – even more so than usual. With Soundgarden and Pearl Jam appearing regularly in Kerrang!, it was hardly likely Joey DeMaio and his gang were ever likely to be cover stars, with their battle songs and grimacing rock faces.

The album was released over a decade into the band’s career, so surely by then, their testosterone driven, Thor-hammered schtick should’ve worn a little thin? They’ve thought of that; in a move far braver than most weaklings would even consider, the album opens with a 28 minute epic ‘Achilles, Agony and Ecstasy In Eight Parts’. It takes their fascination with mythology and gods to whole new levels of pompousness. Over the course of nearly half an hour, Manowar churn out lyrics inspired by Homer’s ‘Iliad’. The best bits are coupled with monster-sized guitar riffs, but there’s a lot of padding – bits which sound like horrible musical theatre (think Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of “Sparticus”, but even worse) and surely the four-and-a-half minute drum solo could’ve been edited out? This might’ve made a really solid ten-minuter.

‘Metal Warriors’ begins with the claim that ‘Every one of us has heard the call / Brothers of True Metal, proud and standing tall’. I’m still laughing inside, whenever I think about it. Musically though, it pays homage to everything that’s decent about old-school metal, so that’s enough to make it stand up.
‘Ride The Dragon’ ploughs ahead, 80s metal style, with double bass drumming (courtesy of Kenny Earl “Rhino" Edwards...not to be confused with Status Quo man, Rhino Edwards) and some flat-out hysterical lyrics: ‘Demon's blood and dragon fire, falling on my wings / Racing to the battle in the sky / Ancient gods are calling me, I hear them when they sing / Of all the heroes who wait for me to die / Beneath the cloak of magic, I'll meet them in the air / I am invisible, I move without a sound / They look but cannot find me, they think that I'm not there / With a spell I send them crashing to the ground'... Death to false metal, indeed!

Both ‘The Demon’s Whip’ and ‘Cherokee Horse of the Spirits’ are stomping, slower numbers – the former, rather worryingly, seems to have been recorded without any bass (maybe Joey DeMaio was off having an Ægirian sized piss) but on the plus side, features a belting guitar solo. By this point, though, things are in danger of falling a little flat, with most of the material feeling like an afterthought to fill the second half of the disc.

Most of you will be approaching this album knowingly. Despite a reasonable amount of musical prowess, Manowar remain big, brash and dumb. But then, since Manowar once featured Ross “The Boss” Friedman of Detroit garage punks The Dictators, they’re almost certainly having good-natured fun at the expense of eighties style metal.

Just don’t tell those guys at that website.

January 2010

Thursday, 14 January 2010

CHARLIE HUNTER - Gentlemen, I Neglected To Inform You You Will Not Be Getting Paid

During 2009, I began to develop a liking of jazz, particularly the classic late 50s/early 60s stuff from the Blue Note label. Occasionally I’ll branch out, but generally, so far, that’s the stuff that’s repeatedly held my interest. Recently, I discovered Charlie Hunter. He’s amazing - easily one of the best musicians on the current circuit. Although predominently a jazz player, his music also takes in elements of both rock and blues. He plays a custom made instrument including guitar and bass strings which allows him to play both bass and guitar parts simultaneously.

Throughout most of ‘Gentlemen, I Neglected To Inform You, You Will Not Be Getting Paid’ (which is something like his twelfth release, not counting collaborations), there’s a groove which leans towards jazz-funk, even though that label could only be applied to a couple of the tracks here. On a basic level, the mellow spaciousness of his playing is reminiscent of Grant Green; much of the work here carries the spirit of the old days of Blue Note.

The album starts gently with 'You Look Good In Orange', featuring staccato playing from Hunter, which at first seems to take a while to fall into place, but sounds more fluid on subsequent plays. The horn section of Curtis Fowlkes, Alan Ferber and Eric Biondo are used sparingly. A similar approach is evident on ‘Antoine’, though this time around, the horn section is given a freer reign. Although they mostly work with a rhythmic approach, they wander into semi-aggressive soloing midway.

The slow groove of ‘Drop A Dime’ is one of the moments where Hunter’s playing style gets bluesy. Despite his unique approach, it never appears showy for the sake of it; here, the whole band are laid back, constantly drawing in their listening audience and it’s by this midway point, ‘Gentlemen...’ starts to really find its feet.

The title cut and ‘High Pockets and a Fanny Pack’ are the standouts - although they're less jazzy and more in keeping with Hunter's previous album, 2008's 'Baboon Strength' (which contained very little jazz). ‘High Pockets’ sees the band playing funky soul, reminiscent of Sharon Jones and the Dapkings (of which drummer Eric Kelb is a member). It’s here that trombone player Alan Ferber turns in his strongest work. On the title cut, the band eschew their jazz roots and create funky rhythms that evoke the best moments of classic blues, in particular, the feel of BB King and Albert King. Great stuff.

As a footnote here, I should mention that Charlie Hunter was also the guitarist with Les Claypool’s band The Holy Mackerel. I’ve been a Primus fan for years, but for some reason never got around to buying that album. Maybe if I had, I’d have been aware of Charlie’s work earlier – but then again, since back then I didn't listen to any jazz, maybe I was only meant to discover him now. I have plenty of catching up to do...

January 2010

Saturday, 9 January 2010

THE TRUTH - Believe

This 5 track EP from Florida based band The Truth was self-produced and sounds like it was put together on a budget of $3.75. The production is extremely flat; the guitars are way too loud and the drums sound hollow and lifeless. Maybe bringing in an outside producer might've helped, guys...

Add to this a screaming, gobshite vocalist who’s about as tuneful as fingernails on a blackboard and you’ve got The Truth. As a band, they definitely aren’t shy in showing their influences – they are desperate to be Queensrÿche and so far, they’ve made a worse job of it than Fates Warning and let’s face it, Fates Warning were always a bit shite. They say imitation is the best form of flattery, but if I were Queensrÿche, I’d go to Florida and give this lot a good kicking.

Those of you who feel I’m being a little unfair as ‘the band have put this together themselves’ should keep schtum and check out the self-financed CD ‘Dogs’ by Bone Machine and see how well melodic rock can be done without the aid of a label and only a small budget.
Avoid The Truth at all costs. By thinking they could have a career with this old toss, they’re living a lie.

Originally written for Fastlane magazine, Summer 1995.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

M. WARD - Hold Time

M Ward has been putting out albums since 1999, but only really grabbed my attention last year with his collaboration with Zooey Deschanel, the gorgeous and timeless 'She & Him, Volume One'. 'Hold Time' is his sixth solo album and from the outset it feels like long-time fans are going to get exactly what they're expecting. The album contains 14 folk-pop nuggets,which are rough around the edges with their home-recorded feel.

Opener, 'For Beginners' offers sparse acoustic work and doesn't really get things moving too quickly, though repeated listens would suggest it's very traditional Ward, with it's 60s influnced shuffle. Zooey Deschanel makes a very welcome appearence on backing vocals for 'Never Had Nobody Like You', giving extra depth and warmth. It's farther on, though, where the album gets really interesting with a mid-paced cover of Buddy Holly's 'Rave On', which feels like something from the She & Him Sessions. The title track focuses on droning sounds and a troubled vocal. Whilst very Mercury Rev, it also recalls a darkness present underneath the mid-late 60s work of Brian Wilson (an influence also clearly present in the very upbeat 'To Save Me', featuring guest vocals by Jason Lytle of Grandaddy).

The acoustic pop of 'Jailbird' and demo sounding acoustic folk of 'One Hundred Years' are both classic Ward; while the old country chick-a-boom of 'Fisher of Men' and a duet with Lucinda Williams on a cover of Don Gibson's 'Oh Lonesome Me' suits the overall mood of the record perfectly. In fact, during early plays of the album, despite not being entirely consistent, it feels like there's no real filler here and it's fragile feel has charm. It may not feel as good as 1996's 'Post War', but given time, that could change. If you're a fan of M Ward's previous work, you'll probably own this by now. As for everyone else, if you like Giant Sand and other country and folk stuff with lo-fi qualities, you may want to give this a go. It's hard to imagine M Ward is ever going to break through to mainstream superstardom, but his place as a cult folk/country/pop hero, alongside the likes of Conor Oberst seems unshakable.

January 2010