Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Records/CDs revisted - The Pleasure Principle by Gary Numan

What's weird about listening to The Pleasure Principle now is how many other songs by other artists that it reminds me of  - the reason being that it has been sampled so much for records that have gone on to become famous in their own right - "Where's your Head At?" by Basement Jaxx for example. The sad thing for me is that the samples have now become so synonymous with the songs that they have been used in that you almost expect that song to start playing rather than the Numan track. I say a shame because The Pleasure Principle is for me one of Numan's finest moments and it is still a great listen 25 years after it's release.

For me this album also brings a great sense of nostalgia. I bought this on vinyl as a teenager (I was 13 or 14) and I listened to it a lot. You could say that it was the precursor to my love of Bowie. Not much of a leap of imagination there - it is obvious when you view those early Gary Numan videos that Bowie had a massive influence on him - especially on his look and stage style. But the sound that Numan creates whether or not it is Bowie/Kraaftwerk influenced is clearly all his own. It is almost too easy to forget that those sounds that we have all become so familiar with had never really been heard before when Numan emerged in 1978. They were new and exciting, and unlike anything else in the charts at the time - a natural progression perhaps from Roxy Music, Brian Eno etc.   And as is the way with most innovative artists the music press gave hime short shrift - he was labelled as boring and robotic. It is only now that Numan is beginning to get any acknowledgement for his contribution to changing the face of music.

My personal favourites on the album are Complex, Metal and Cars and I love the cover art too. If I have one beef - it is that they always add extra tracks to the CD versions of albums that have previously been released on vinyl. I suppose it is added value - but i like to hear the album exactly as it was - unadulterated - nothing added, nothing taken away.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Recors/CDs revisited - Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros - Global A Go-Go

This is the first album reviewed (so far) that I didn't own on vinyl first. I came to Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros late - only really discovering them after Joe Strummer died - I had had a bit of a hiatus from discovering much new music for a few years for some reason. I was gutted to have discovered them posthumously as it meant that I would never have the opportunity of seeing them live, and I had already missed out on seeing The Clash.

Global A Go-Go is by far and away my favourite Mescaleros album. It kicks off with the brilliant and very catchy Johnny Appleseed, and then morphs into the funky Cool 'n' Out where jaunty dance rhythms jostle along with rock guitar - and somehow the whole thing works. Cool 'n' Out is followed by the title track which has a world feel to the music as well as the lyrics and has a deceptively simple melody running through it which I love and always find myself humming hours later. The next track Bhindi Bhagee is probably my favourite on the album - it is has the kind of African influenced guitar riff that reminds me of bands like King Sunny Ade and his African Beats and Taxi Pata Pata that I listened to a lot in the 1980s. As well as being incredibly catchy and making you want to get up and dance, this song has great lyrics - someone in the street asks Joe where buy that great British delicacy mushy peas, but Joe is stumped - he can tell him where to get all kinds of food from all over the world - but not mushy peas. Then he tells the stranger that he is in a band - and the stranger asks him what kind of band it is:

"It's um, um, well, it's kinda like

You know, it's got a bit of, um, you know."
Ragga, Bhangra, two-step Tanga
Mini-cab radio, music on the go
Um, surfbeat, backbeat, frontbeat, backseat
There's a bunch of players and they're really letting go
We got, Brit pop, hip hop, rockabilly, Lindy hop
Gaelic heavy metal fans fighting in the road
Ah, Sunday boozers for chewing gum users
They got a crazy D.J. and she's really letting go..."

There are some more mellow tracks on the album as well - like Gamma Ray, Mondo Bongo, and Bummed Out City. The album ends on a long and rather haunting version of the Irish patriotic folk song Minstrel Boy. This is an album that really shows Strummer's eclectic and wide ranging world music influences and (especially lyrically) his love affair with America and American culture. Joe Strummer is a talent sorely missed - and if you don't know the Mescaleros please look them up - it's well worth the effort. You can read a 2001 review of the album from Rolling Stone here.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Records (CDs) Re-visited 2 - Geffery Morgan by UB40

There was a time in the far distant past when UB40 were a pretty cool band. They got themselves off the 1980's dole queue by writing about it in songs. They were a mixed race band (still rare back then!). They were a reggae band with a white singer whose dad had been big in the folk scene. They wanted to change the world and we believed in them.

I was a massive UB40 fan in the early to mid 1980s. My friend Clare and I hitchhiked down to London to see them play at Wembley Arena - they were great. They had none of the pomp that many bands went in for at the time. They played on a bare stage - I don't even remember a backdrop, although there may have been one. It was all about the music. Their sound was big and they were a big band. They filled the stage and had everyone up on their feet dancing. That was The Rat in Me Kitchen tour - Rat in Me Kitchen was the last UB40 album I bought - they were starting to get a bit silly.

Geffery Morgan was one of my favourite UB40 albums and it was one I bought brand new.  It was their fifth album and was released in 1984. It has some great tracks - including Riddle Me, As always You Were Wrong Again and If It Happens Again - which was apparently written in response to Margaret Thatcher's election victory in 1983. There are some other great tracks in there too and I love the way some of the tracks seem to morph into one another. UB40 are one of those bands whose early albums (along with bands like The Specials, The Beat and The Fun Boy Three) really epitomise the dire political state of the country at the time.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Records (CDs) Re-visited 2 - Remain in Light by the Talking Heads

I bought this album on vinyl when I was around 15 I think. It was released in 1980, so I guess I bought it the next year. I remember that I bought it from Rumbelows in Thetford, which was largely an electrical appliance shop that, for some reason, also sold albums. I played this album incessantly after I bought it, but for some reason didn't purchase another Talking Heads album until a few years later - and that was Stop Making Sense.

Remain in Light has remained my favourite Talking Heads album, and is one of those few albums that has a fresh sound even now, over 30 years since its release. It is clear listening to it that The Talking Heads have had a strong influence on many bands that came after them.  I remember how groundbreaking their sound was back in the 1980s. I am not knocking the 1980s - I own a great many albums from that era - but usually you can tell immediately they start which era they are from. They have that particular 1980s sound/flavour - mostly I think it is to do with the way synth is used, but it probably also has a lot to do with the way that they are produced. Remain in Light, for some reason, just does not have that immediately recognisable 1980s flavour. It has a full sound but everything about it - the vocals, the guitars, and everything else marks it out as different. It even has some rap and some spoken poetry! It is also one of the very few albums in my collection where I don't skip tracks - and those are few and far between these days!

As to favourite tracks I am hard pushed to choose a favourite - but if I had to I would go for The Great Curve (which has great backing vocals) closely followed by Once in a Lifetime.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Records (CDs) Re-visited 1 - Synchronicity by The Police

I have a sizeable CD collection and realise that  there are a quite a few of them that rarely get played, so I have decided that I am going to try and listen to one album per day and post about it .

Today's CD is Synchronicity by The Police. I actually wanted to listen to Outlandos D'amour but to my horror discovered that I don't have it on CD. This was the next best thing. There are some cracking tracks on here - although there are also a few that have been so overplayed that it is hard to listen to them any more - Every Breath You Take for example - a track that for some bizarre reason has become known as a love song and is a popular choice at weddings. I say bizarre because it is one of the most stalkerish songs I know.

My personal favourites on the album are Synchronicity (all three versions), walking in Your Footsteps and King of Pain (Sting always was melodramatic). The album was released in 1983 and was their final recording. I bought this album on vinyl when I lived in the commune - probably around 1985, so not when it first came out. Worth listening to for the Synchronicity tracks alone.