Some of you may be a little concerned following the last Album Reviews blog at the lengths I go to to select something to listen to each day. I'd like to offer some reassurance on that point.
In the long term, the unconventional selection method actually leads to a fairly conventional batch of music. When all is said and done, there are certain songs I return to time and again. I've looked at my most listened to records on i-tunes to get a feel for this effect. It's a crude and blunt method but I can't think of a better one. The list is below.
It's not actually the most listened to songs in the library because for reasons best known to themselves Apple reset the play count a few years ago and anything before that date was lost. (Thanks Apple - I bet I wasn't the only statto who wept tears of frustration that night!).
It's also not a list of my favourite songs. Some songs remain favourites because they are not allowed to become over familiar. And let's face it, these are songs that over the years I've felt best meet the needs of the daily commute.
Given that I've chosen to listen to all of these songs many times, I find some of the results surprising. There's no 80s synth pop there despite any album that is likened to that era being an immediate 'must listen' today. There are two Beat songs there, and not the two I would have expected. There's nothing from the 60s, and there's nothing from the big beasts of the last 50 years. And most of all I'm pleasantly surprised that 3 of the Top 8 were initially recommendations from friend ('Song For A Girl', 'Chequeless Reckless' and 'I Won't Change You'). Thanks Jason and Jenny for those.
I'll put these into a Pop In the Real World Most Played playlist for February. Members will, again, have early access to this by following this link to Spotify, https://open.spotify.com/playlist/024yQ489Ih6vtcCnt0UIxI?si=5IUhwCbNS4-3uGneBgG0DQ
The wonderful Bobalouis are not available on Spotify so I've included their track from Youtube below.
I've also made it a YouTube playlist, following feedback received from non Spotify users and that's https://music.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLwV-OogHy7Eh-BFplD0M5F_GrP9bC3_36
Unfortunately there weren't that many video clips, but the Teenage Fanclub track has some great views of the coast.
1 Song For A Girl - Chris Devotion and the Expectations. (91 plays)
2. Yesterday Has Gone - Marc Almond, My Life Story Orchestra and PJ Proby (71 plays)
3. Chequeless Reckless - Fontaines DC (64 plays)
4. Fade. - Black Star Riders. (55 plays)
5. From There To Hear - I Am Kloot (47 plays)
6. That Look You Give That Guy. - Eels. (46 plays)
7. Telefono - Phoenix. (46 plays)
8. I Won't Change You. - Artmagic (45 plays)
9. Slow Slippy. - Underworld. (45 plays)
10 Go Ahead - Bobalouis (43 plays)
11 Look At You - Patrick Watson (42 plays)
12. I'm In Love - Teenage Fanclub (42 plays)
13. (In The End) There's Only Love - Ewert and the Two Dragons (41 plays)
14. The Horse and Groom- Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbot (41 plays)
15. She May Call You Up Tonight - Iain Matthews (40 plays)
16. Fire Burn - The Beat (38 plays)
17. The Hungry Years - The Leisure Society (38 plays)
18. Steel Your Girl - Neon Neon (38 plays)
19. Something That I Said - The Ruts (38 plays)
20. Click Click - The Beat (37 plays)
21. Here I Come (There You Go) - Royal Republic (37 plays)
22 Breaking The Ice - Mojave Three (37 plays)
Don't forget that each week I include the taster tracks in the Pop In the Real World Taster Tracks Spotify playlist. This includes all the taster tracks for the previous four weeks. I hope that by listening to this you can form a view if I'm reflecting your thoughts or if we have very different tastes.
This playlist can be accessed athttps://open.spotify.com/playlist/7cSveL7NpVp1xgrKxPe4av?si=SkFlSnvySeuYFpgG0WJFmA or via the Spotify link on the Home Page. I'm still looking how to make the playlist more accessible to non Spotify users too. Watch this space.
It's the Pet Shop Boys' turn this week to provide the review headings.
And don't forget, if you've landed on this page by accident you can receive the members' newsletter, usually around 4-5 times a month simply by signing up to be a member. You can sign up on the Home Page.
Love Comes Quickly
Harry : Dead Famous People
I don't know if our DNA influences the music we like, but if it is, my DNA leads directly to music such as this. It feels immediately comfortable. The simplicity of this jangle guitar indie pop is a throwback to the era sadly known as the lost 80s. Remember when Peel would break off from playing the unlistenable, experimental bursts of noise to play something sweet and bound for the charts? This is that sound.
Dead Famous People were originally around 20 years ago. They're back in the present now and have brought their sound with them. There are so many classic pop touches on this album - the timeless, perfect melodies, the chord sequence in 'Safe and Sound' and the accordion that creeps into 'The Great Unknown' for three. These touches aren't made a big fuss of, they simply work and work simply.
Don't come to this record just looking for sugar sweetness. This record has bite too, shown by the opening lines to the opening song.
"I waited, I waited for you to come home.
And later, and later I tried to self harm."
But that's not all. As the song progresses it becomes clear that the reason the boyfriend hasn't come home is that he's been in an accident while driving, because he was paying attention to other girls rather than to the road. A teen opera in fewer than three glorious minutes.
It's hard to think of modern equivalents to Dead Famous People because this indie sound wasn't massive commercially and has faded away. That's a crying shame but it may be eased a little by this album.
Taster Track : Looking At Girls
Home and Dry
Hear, hear! Sometimes you need the scabrous, grounded contempt and rage of 2021's legitimate electro punks to say what needs to be said.
I'm late to the party with Sleaford Mods, and I wouldn't want to listen to it every day, but boy oh boy it's refeshing in moderation.
Many reviews distinguish between the effect of the music and the vocals. Let's start with the music which is not what I expected. It's electro rhythms and hooks. They may be repetitive, but you'll wake up with them playing in your brain ensuring that you can't forget the group and their messages just because they're not streaming or playing on YouTube in front of you. It's not sparse exactly, but neither is it cluttered or over done.
The vocals are made to be listened to in much the same way as John /Cooper Clark's were. (Parental Warning : It's not one to play in front of the children.) I don't think I've heard as much profanity on a single album before, but it gives an air of authenticity and conviction to the proceedings. 'Mork and Mindy' sounds like the single it is, but the language is scarcely toned down for all that. There's humour here but it's dark, so dark, despairing and angry. It's a supercharged version of the Jam's early attitudes in regard to the middle class but you can't see singer Jason Williamson ever becoming the much loved elder statesman of rock in the same way as Paul Weller has managed. That's not a criticism of Paul Weller by the way, just an acknowledgement of Sleaford Mods uncompromising commitment to their cause.
Ultimately this sets out to be a disruptive record and it succeeds with that aim. It skewers complacency. You hear it in the details too. 'Short Cummings' contains an extra 'Short' in the chorus and it catches me out each time. There's nothing safe here. If it weren't for the fact that it would make a nonsense of the word to call every track a highlight , I would do. 'Short Cummings' and 'Mork and Mindy' are the singles but I've opted for 'Elocution' amongst many others that could serve as the taster track.
Taster Track : Elocution
Alles In Allem : Einsturzende Neubauten
How I stumbled across this I can't truly remember. (It may have been a Rough Trade recommendation in their weekly newsletter.) I'm not even sure how to pronounce their name. One thing I am sure of though is that this is an unsettling album from a band renowned for their harsh experimental music incorporating - and according to those who know the band better than I, it's their most accessible album yet!
And actually, as I said when reviewing Cabaret Voltaire a few weeks back, 'unsettling' can be good. Here it takes the sense of unbearable suspense. It's the feeling of a child, hiding behind a curtain, hearing adult footsteps approaching or the sound of the world Chitty Chitty Bang Bang's child-catcher operates within. In plain words, you don't know what is coming next and it may be nasty.
Musically it's inventive and clever. German works well as a rhythmic language on tracks such as 'Alles In Allem'. ' Mobliertes Lied' is made almost conventional by the presence of a creeping bass line and strings. The experimental noises sit lightly on top of this and, for the first time in a long while stereo is used to excellent effect. 'Taschen' achieves something similar but with a more threatening beat. 'Ten Grand Goldie' comes across like a more stressed 'Waiting For Godot'. There's a Nick Cave connection in a shared band member, and Nick Cave comes through as an influence in 'Grazer Damm'. 'Seven Screws' is perhaps the most melodic track, almost qualifying as a conventional song. And 'Wedding' has a propulsive beat that emerges slowly to create an unexpected happy feel.
Just don't expect it to be any couple's first dance!
Taster Track : Seven Screws
Powys 1999 : Stats
Does anyone remember the Snap song 'Rhythm Is A Dancer' from 1992? They could have been singing about this album.
These are songs of a clean, crisp construction that cut through the overcomplicated muddle of a lot of new music with their bright, synthetic delivery. The wordplay of songs such as 'Out of Body' ensures that this is music that works as well for the head as it does for the feet.
Try saying this line from 'Naturalise Me' out loud "Set me free. Naturalise me" That gives you a feel for the power of rhythm throughout this album.
Other highlights include 'On the Tip of My Tongue', 'Old Flames' and 'Kiss Me Like It's Over'. All in all this is a record to bear in mind to soundtrack house parties when they return.
Taster Track : Naturalise Me
Better Way : Casper Clausen
In some ways this is the gentler brother of Einsturzende Neubauten. The similarity comes from its various and frequent twists and turns and continuous swerves towards the unexpected.
Casper Clausen is a member of Efterklang, a Danish band who provided the gorgeous, sweeping, aching melodies of 'Altid Sammen', my favourite album of 2019. Unfortunately, they also produced the Danish opera 'Leaves - The Colour of Falling' which I could not pursue to the end. This album falls between the two, leaning towards the richer, layered sound of 'Altid Sammen'.
Take 'Used To Think' which shifts shape over the course of its 8 minutes 39 seconds from quite generic fast paced dance music to a Tamla Motown middle section, to a keening ballad before returning to a dance beat outro. First time around it's hard to follow. Second time around it revels in, and reveals all its strengths. It works at a more detailed level too. On 'Dark Hearts the downbeat refrain of "Never gonna fix it." is broken by a random girlish giggle. 'Snow White' is eerie and insistent, calling to mind Coleridge's Tale of the Ancient Mariner. (It's turning into quite a literary blog this week. Where's Lee Child when you need a fast-paced, incident packed read?) 'Falling Apart Like You' is an attractive mishmash of off kilter, slowed down pop.
This is a record that succeeds in creating its own musical world and space. It's absorbing and it stays with you.
Taster Track : Used To Think
Live Drugs : The War On Drugs
I suspect that a number of bands will be seeking to off-set a year that allowed few gigs with a live album that reminds the fans what they can do. Before we get carried away then let's think about what you might want from a live album.
First, you want familiar songs performed with a twist. They can be cover versions if you like. Secondly you want good crowd noise and atmosphere. Hushed respect is for the solo living room experience. Thirdly a bit of rapport between the front man and the crowd adds a nice touch. Something going a little awry doesn't go amiss either, providing it's acknowledged and not down to a lack of trying. You want an authentic live feel, not too polished, but not too muddy either to cloud what you're hearing. And, absolutely, you want to be introduced to the band and supporting musicians. That's only polite. And, finally, in the real world and at my age, more often than not you'd quite like a seat!
How does 'Live Drugs' measure up? Well, we're off to a dodgy listening start because I'm not over familiar with their songs so these are likely to be the versions that stick with me rather than their studio counterparts. They do sound as if they are extended versions but they don't sound overblown. They're good songs and I'm enjoying them - 'Strangest Things', 'An Ocean Inbetween the Waves' and 'Thinking of a Place' particularly. From what I know of the band they're not quite alternative and not quite classic rock but this is an immersive experience that's working well. I'm a little surprised that there's a touch of the Bruce Springsteen or Bob Segers coming across in tracks such as 'Thinking of a Place'. There's a cover version too of Warren Zevon's 'Accidentally Like A Martyr' but, in truth, it's the weakest track here.
There's a good, appreciative crowd noise that goes well beyond polite applause. The band seem to be truly engaged with their playing which means they're not paying a lot of attention to the crowd. In terms of rapport we have a quick 'Hello' at the start but we're halfway through before we get a "Thank you Dominic". There's what sounds like weird, planned semi laughter on 'Buenos Aries Beach'. It may be part of the studio version too. I don't know.
The sound is crystal clear and balanced. Show me the place to stand to have that experience in real life! There are no false starts, pauses to repair broken strings or individual missed cues that I can detect. They score 10/10 for band introductions on 'Eyes To the Wind' and the crowd more than play their part with these.
It's a solid, deserved 7/10 for me and it also acts as a good introduction to the band and their music.
Taster Track : Eyes To The Wind
Synchronised : FM
This is the time of year that I dig into the sounds of the past and revisit stadium rock. Usually this is because my fondness for Year End charts draws me to Classic Rock magazine. I suppose there's an element of the guilty pleasure in this. I know that I will ultimately regret my dalliance. It will be as unsatisfying as having a main meal of crisps and dolly mixtures. But it will also be another peek at the long dormant fantasy of all boys who reached their mid teens in the mid 70s to be the ultimate Rock God. (Quick aside - I once read that up until the age of 11 boys want to play football for England. After that they want to become rock stars because it looks like less hard work.)
FM encapsulate everything there is to like or dislike about this kind of music. It almost defies analysis. Records such as this are generic. It's not, perhaps, about the music but about tapping into the code. Once you've cracked it you can make music in the image of what has gone before. You're part of an elite club. There seems to be a camaraderie within the band but a distancing from the audience. We're watching and listening agog but not participating. You're not really in a position to singalong, other than to yowl an approximation of an epic guitar sole.
It's also all about power. There's no room for shrinking violets in this kind of music, just supreme confidence at all levels. The riffs hammer away, the solos extend, the vocals shriek and drums are hit by the hammers of Thor. They could engage more with the audience if they allowed a bit of progression, something new or by providing singalong choruses. They don't.
There are some good points. 'Best of Times' is an 80's style power ballad that is done well.. (Power ballad? Isn't that as likely as soft concrete?). 'Walk Through The Fire' forgets what it's meant to be and slips in a nicely melodic chorus. The lead singer howls impressively, but the backing vocalists also have strong voices that harmonise nicely on tracks such as 'Angels Cried'.
It is what it is. It's about heroes and the desperate need to be seen as one. They're also the descendents of Spinal Tap, but be warned - turning it up to 11 is not a joke here!
Taster Track : Walk Through The Fire
What Have I Done To Deserve This?
Visions of Ultraflex : Ultraflex
Working out, sweat, lust. They're all there in the titles 'Get Fit', 'Work Out Tonight', Olympic Sweat', 'Full of Lust'. I've no problem with any of that. It's just that the music is so dull, the kind of backing track that features on overlong corporate videos. There's a back story to this album about being commissioned to compose music for a festival loosely linked to the Olympics but that feels contrived to me. (I note also that there is a chain of gyms called Ultraflex. It's probably a coincidence. Probably.)
The vocals, well they seem to be weak, limp attempts to provoke and scandalise but I'm not sure anyone will be that interested. It's all a little underwhelming, anonymous and stale like school changing rooms after hours.
You need supreme confidence to name your debut album 'Visions of Ultraflex'. You need added chutzpah to accompany it with music this bland, bored and boring.
Taster Track : Olympic Sweat