Thursday, 13 March 2014


Here’s the highlights of what’s been drowning out the sound of the rain (excuse the pun) for the last six weeks or so.

The Delgados – Universal Audio
Regrettably this was the last gasp from one of the most interesting and inventive bands to come out of Glasgow for many years. Their bass player left and they didn’t feel that they could carry on without him, which was a great shame. Their record label Chemikal Underground survives, and singer Emma Pollock continues to plough a pleasingly unpredictable solo furrow.

Deus – The Ideal Crash
Imaginative angular indie from Belgium. That appears an unlikely sentence but it’s true!

Black Sabbath – Paranoid
A groundbreaking album from 1970 that effectively made Black Sabbath, and spawned a legion of imitators. Possibly the album that invented heavy metal, you can’t argue with classics like War Pigs and the title track. However, it’s more multi-faceted than you may think. There’s stoned acoustica in the form of Planet Caravan, and there’s more than a hint of silliness in Fairies Wear Boots!

Diamond Head – The Best Of…..
Staying with heavy metal originating from the West Midlands, Diamond Head were not the most successful band that came up amongst the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, but they were one of the most influential: Metallica being amongst the bands that cite them as a major influence. Am I Evil from 1981 sounds every bit as well…… evil as I remember it being when I first heard it. A classic of the genre.

Dave Edmunds – The Many Sides Of…….
As a ‘best of’ this is pretty much unimpeachable. The classics just keep on coming! Sabre Dance, I Hear You Knocking, I Knew The Bride When She Used To Rock ‘n’ Roll, Girls Talk, Crawling From The Wreckage – what more could you possibly want????

Dinosaur Jr – Beyond
This is an album made post-reformation, but is none the worse for that. Sugar-coated fuzzy melodies with a sledgehammer punch as in days of yore.

The Divine Comedy – Bang Goes The Knighthood
Without wishing to mince my words, this is a great album. From the cover (showing Neil Hannon posing as a member of the ‘great and good’ caught enjoying a bath with his Labrador) to the lyrics of the songs Hannon’s sense of irony is all-pervasive. The Complete Banker in particular is a hoot:

 “Can anybody lend me twenty million quid? Why so glum? Was it something that I did?”

That particular song is as sharp an indictment of the post-crash banking industry as any I’ve heard, and the album as a whole is an (albeit humorous) indictment of our broken and increasingly unequal society.

Donovan – Sunshine Superman: The Best Of…..
This does precisely what it says on the tin. All of his best stuff is here, and it’s very good indeed for the most part. However, it is absolutely and utterly of its time.

Fat White Family – Wet Hot Beef (part 1) (download)
One of the great things about this track is that it’s pretty much impossible to pigeon-hole. It’s angry, energetic and vital, and that’s very good news indeed.

The Doors – In Concert
This is essentially a re-packaging of the 1970-released Absolutely Live album, with some additional tracks (mostly from the 1983 live album Alive She Cried) added. Most of the tracks were recorded in 1970, whilst the earliest comes from 1968. The album gives a rough approximation of what a late period Doors concert was like, and is pretty damn fine.

Doves – Kingdom Of Rust
This was Doves’ last album before their hiatus, but there was certainly no drop in quality. Jetstream, Winter Hill and the title track are particularly good. Jimi Goodwin has recently released a solo album and is touring as support to Elbow. However, he has been quick to confirm that there will be another Doves record, Hurray!

Dr. Feelgood – All Through The City (with Wilko 1974 – 1977)
This box set collects together everything that Dr. Feelgood recorded during Wilko Johnson’s tenure as their guitarist. All their albums are here together with single b-sides, live tracks and previously unreleased studio tracks. There’s also a DVD containing live TV appearances from the UK and Europe. To say that this is terrific doesn’t quite do it justice. Feelgood were a fantastic band and it was an absolute tragedy that they and Wilko weren’t able to patch up their differences in the late 1970s.

The now terminally ill Wilko Johnson is still gigging and his sets contain a fair sprinkling of Feelgood classics – so get along and see him while you can!

Dr. John The Night Tripper – Gris-gris
In 1968 the world got its first proper taste of Mac Rebennack’s swampy voodoo gumbo. It was pretty terrifying stuff too. That pervasive sense of ‘other-worldliness’ remains to this day. Probably best not listened to in the dark on your own.

Nick Drake – Made To Love Magic
This addition to Nick Drake’s canon was released in 2004. It contains some fascinating stuff too. There are alternative versions of Drake classics, unreleased tracks from the heyday of his career, and most interestingly five tracks recorded during 1974. These are some of the last recordings that he made. The coroner passed a questionable verdict of ‘death by suicide’, although those who knew him insist that he was conquering his depression and that he was killed by an accidental overdose of prescription anti-depressants. The tracks from 1974 are pretty upbeat. However, Black Eyed Dog from earlier in 1974 than the other tracks, is pretty bleak.

The Standard Lamps – Sell Everything You Own
This lot are a band from Brighton that I’ve seen supporting The Pretty Things and Wilko Johnson. I’ll grant you that their name is pretty awful, but that’s the only bad thing about them. Their songs are excellent and live they’re reminiscent of The Who circa Live At Leeds. Go see ‘em.

Black Sabbath – Master of Reality
The Sabs’ third album featured the classics Sweet Leaf and Children Of The Grave. Almost always overlooked however is After Forever, which features a fantastic descending riff and a melodic bass riff that Paul McCartney would have been proud of. This was one of a run of classic albums that started with their self-titled debut and ended with Sabotage. Their efforts from then until Ozzy was sacked were snowed under by a blizzard of cocaine and drowned in a flood of booze. Should you need further clarification regarding this, see Oasis’ Be Here Now.

Deep Purple – Perfect Strangers
This was Deep Purple mk II’s reunion album from 1984. Perfection may have been noticeable by its absence, but this was certainly a very good effort. Knocking At Your Back Door and the title track are both now deservedly viewed as classics. Some of the other tracks are perilously close to being filler however.

John Lennon – Lennon Legend
This compilation consists of singles together with the Lennon tracks from Double Fantasy. It also includes Working Class Hero which was the b-side of the 1975 UK single release of Imagine (it had previously been issued on John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band in 1970). My only gripe with this album is the sequencing. I would have preferred it to have been in chronological order, starting with Cold Turkey. This would have given more of an overview of his career. Instead it starts with Imagine, thus pandering to the supermarket crowd. Never mind. The accompanying DVD of promo films is worth having in its own right.

Dream Theater – Black Clouds And Silver Linings
Dream Theater have recently been accused of lacking soul. Nothing could be further from the truth. True they do aspire to (and often achieve) technical brilliance, but this is not at the expense of the quality or feel of the music. There is no competition to see how many notes can be fitted into a bar here. No sir.

Drive-by Truckers – The Big To-do
This is great stuff. Countrified rock with a huge side order of Stones influence. The lyrics are pleasingly dark too. The Fourth Night Of My Drinking, Birthday Boy, Drag The Lake Charlie, The Wig He Made Her Wear and This Fucking Job all strip away the veneer of modern life to expose the hell that sometimes lurks beneath.

Bob Dylan – In Concert, Brandeis University 1963
When this concert was recorded on 10th May 1963 Dylan was almost a year on from the release of his debut album, and was still six months away from releasing his second album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Dylan was possibly in a state of limbo at this point, and this seven song set reflects that, containing as it does only one future classic (Masters Of War). Also included is The Ballad Of Hollis Brown, which would be released on Dylan’s third album The Times They Are A-Changin’. The rest mostly consists of ‘talking blues’ songs, some of which would gain release, whilst some wouldn’t. This is an interesting snapshot nonetheless. The last recording of Dylan before he became a star.

Bob Dylan – Another Side Of Bob Dylan
This was the beginnings of Dylan’s escape from the yoke of being a folk / protest singer, containing as it did the ‘secular’ works All I Really Want To Do and (possibly the most overt message to his ‘folky’ fans) It Ain’t Me Babe.

Bob Dylan – Live 1975
This is the live document of Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue. This was a barely rehearsed company of roaming minstrels who occasionally played unannounced, performing old and new material. Dylan’s collaborators on this adventure included Joan Baez, Roger McGuinn and Mick Ronson, to name but three.

Bob Dylan – Live 1961 to 2000
This was a Japanese release which provides precisely what the title says it will. I guess this was a tie-in with Dylan’s ‘never-ending tour’ reaching Japan. Wade In The Water from Minneapolis in 1961 and Handsome Molly from the Gaslight in New York’s Greenwich Village in 1962 are worth the price of admission on their own.

Bob Dylan – Modern Times
This album pretty much set the template for the current stage of Dylan’s career – songs written on a template hewn from pre-rock ’n’ roll blues. Sounds simultaneously new and very old indeed.

Earl Brutus – Tonight You Are The Special One
Glam rock from the great mind of the late great Nick Sanderson, who among other things was probably the world’s grooviest train driver. The SAS And The Glam That Goes With It is a particular stand-out. The album also boasts one of the sickest sleeves of all time: two cars parked alongside each other, a tube leading from the exhaust pipe of each through the window of the other. Is that romantic or what?

Echo And The Bunnymen – Flowers
A Bunnymen album from about ten years ago which is every bit the equal of the material from their eighties heyday.

Pavement – Quarantine The Past
A compilation of their best bits which only goes to underline the extent to which they made lo-fi indie their own, and how sadly they’re missed today.

Eels – Wonderful, Glorious
For somebody who has had far more than his fair share of tragedy Eels’ leader Mark E Everett retains an incredible sense of humour. The live Eels experience not only features great music but very many laugh out loud moments. Eels’ music features humour, but of a particularly dark shade. This goes for the album artwork too. The sleeve of Wonderful, Glorious features a B17 bomber discharging its payload. ‘Nuff said.

Elbow – Build A Rocket Boys!
This album cemented Elbow’s status as stratospheric arena-slaying rock stars. It’s not their fault, but I’d rather be seeing them at Kings Cross Scala as I did ten years ago, rather than at the O2. One Day Like This and its accompanying album The Seldom Seen Kid started it. Still, one thing that they’ll hopefully never lose is their Northern sincerity and their way with a damn good tune. Lippy Kids is an acknowledgement of approaching middle age, but we shouldn’t be scared of our youth right? Right!

Brian Eno – Here Come The Warm Jets
This is Eno after he left Roxy Music and before he went all ambient and professorial on us. He still had a rock ‘n’ roll heart here, but those synth washes were just over the horizon.

The Electric Light Orchestra – Out Of The Blue
It’s difficult to believe that this was one of the biggest albums of 1977. Forget The Clash and the Pistols et al, what the kids wanted to hear was a West Midlands musician in his thirties living out his ‘Beatles circa Sergeant Pepper’ fantasies. To be fair, he didn’t make a bad job of it. It’s difficult to argue against Turn To Stone, Sweet Talkin’ Woman, Mr. Blue Sky and Wild West Heroes – and they were just the singles! Album tracks Across The Border, Jungle and Birmingham Blues were pretty good too. Now that Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 album Rumours has been ‘rehabilitated’, Out Of The Blue will be next. You mark my words.

The Everly Brothers – The Definitive Collection
From the beginning of their recording until the mid-sixties the Everly Brothers were pretty much unimpeachable. They were a huge influence on The Beatles who used their records to learn to harmonise. Then the influence of The Beatles on the music world pretty much torpedoed the Everlys’ career.

Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin IV
This is often cited not only as the best Led Zeppelin album, but also as the best rock album of all time. I’m not going to get into that particular argument but it is certainly a very good album. It has the same quality that made many of The Beatles’ albums great – an eclectic approach to material. Obviously any album that contains an epic like Stairway To Heaven is going to get noticed. The Zep IV armoury also features the hard rock one-two opening of Black Dog and Rock And Roll, the folk rock of The Battle Of Evermore and the acoustic hippy whimsy of Going To California. Not to mention the ‘most sampled drum track of all time’ on When The Levee Breaks. So, all in all pretty damn good really.

Jake Bugg – Shangri La
Ickle Jake Bugg’s latest. He’s entering his electric phase now. A very good if over-hyped album. Unfortunately in the age of information overload in which we live, hype is impossible to avoid.

Anna Calvi – Anna Calvi
Anna Calvi – One Breath 
I’ve been raving about these albums for some time, so I won’t go over the top here. Suffice to say that Anna Calvi is one of the most imaginative and inspirational artists that I’ve encountered for some time. One Breath is a worthy follow-up to her debut. Both records are sufficiently multi-faceted that I hear something I hadn’t noticed before every time I listen to them. Anna is a great live performer too. More power to her elbow.

Ian McNabb – Merseybeast 
Ian McNabb is probably the most undervalued and criminally ignored British songwriter living today. He is comparable to Neil Young in that every album he releases is different and when you see him live you never quite know what you’re going to get. I’ve seen him play solo electric, solo acoustic, as a duo with Danny Thompson and with a full electric band. Live he is never less than enthralling.

Ian recorded and toured this album with a backing band called The Afterlife. In many ways career-wise it went downhill for him from here, but that’s just business. The quality of his art has never suffered. Here the title track alludes to the fabled ‘cosmic scouse’ persona, Camaraderie is a simple but affecting love song as is You Stone My Soul. I’m A Genius is another love song which is far more self-effacing than the title suggests. There’s not a duff track on this album. You can buy it from McNabb’s website. Get it today!

Dio – Live At Donington 1983 and 1987 
I bought this album because I had seen Dio at Donington in 1983. At the time Dio showed a great deal of promise. Dio formed the band after he and drummer Vinnie Appice left Black Sabbath in 1982. They were joined by bassist Jimmy Bain who had served with Dio in Rainbow from 1976 to 1979 (and was also in Wild Horses with Brian Robertson in the early 1980s). They also recruited hotshot guitarist Vivian Campbell who had previously been in Sweet Savage.

The 1983 gig was Dio’s first in the UK, and I remember it as being pretty excellent. The recording does nothing to tarnish this memory. The set comprised four tracks from the new Dio album Holy Diver, which I was impressed with, having not heard it at that point. However the icing on the cake was Black Sabbath’s Children Of The Sea, Rainbow’s Stargazer, Sabbath’s Heaven And Hell and then Rainbow’s Man On The Silver Mountain including a snippet of Starstruck.

I wasn’t at the 1987 gig, and by that time I had become disenchanted with Dio anyway. I had heard (but thankfully not bought) Dio’s second album which was almost a carbon copy of the first! Holy Diver had obviously been used as a template and the only difference between it and the second album seemed to be the song titles!!! That’s not to say that the recording of the 1987 isn’t enjoyable, it is. However, I’m once again drawn to the covers from Ronnie James Dio’s former bands. Neon Knights (Black Sabbath) and Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll are worth the price of admission in their own right. 

The Faces – Ooh La La 
Ah…..The Faces. A legendarily great live band who could never quite capture their live brilliance in the studio. Their records always came over a little flat-sounding atmosphere wise. They were also a band whom Rod Stewart could never quite commit himself to right from the beginning, maintaining a parallel solo career from the word go.

This was the last proper Faces album. After this Ronnie Lane left in order to produce more pastoral sounding records and to tour with a big top (and also presumably to preserve his liver and his sanity). He was replaced by Tetsu Yamauchi on bass and The Faces became Rod Stewart & The Faces. They produced a live album before finally calling it a day in 1975. This album features the terrific Cindy Incidentally and the decidedly non-PC Silicone Grown. Oh my aching sides……

The Fall – 50,000 Fall Fans Can’t Be Wrong 
I wanna tell you a story. Back in the olden days I had various friends who attended universities and polytechnics (remember them?) in Manchester, and as a result for a bit over half a decade I went to Manchester pretty frequently. It seemed that on these visits whenever we went to see a band it would always turn out to be The Fall. I hated The Fall with a passion. As far as I could see they made horrible slabs of disjointed grey noise and their singer was a perpetually drunken boor who could barely speak coherently, let alone sing. There could surely be no doubt that they were the worst band on the planet. In 1987 after a gap of five years or so I saw them at Reading Festival. The addition of Brix Smith (I could only imagine that she had ingested some VERY STRONG chemical amusement before she married Mark E) did seem to have brought some small improvement, but they were still pretty crap. I have yet to see them again live.

As time went by, something very strange happened. I would occasionally hear Fall tracks by accident and think that they weren’t actually as bad as I remembered. Then a couple of times I’d heard tracks that I decided were, in retrospect, actually quite good. As can be imagined this turn of events disturbed me greatly. I was clearly losing my mind!!!! However, there was another possible explanation. My historical appraisal of The Fall could, perish the thought, have been wrong. This was clearly nonsense, but in order to test my theory I bought this album.

It’s a skimming stone representation of their career from 1978 to 2003 and it’s utterly brilliant. There are too many highlights to list but particular stand-outs are Rowche Rumble, Eat Y’self Fitter, Spoilt Victorian Child, Mr Pharmacist, the utterly excellent Hey! Luciani, and The Chiselers. Not only are the contents great but the sleeve is an amusing parody of Elvis Presley’s 500,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong compilation. One has to complement Mark E Smith’s modesty in sticking to a mere 50,000.

Being wrong in such a manner is a bitter-sweet experience. Bitter, as it shows that my musical taste is fallible. In my youth this would have been unthinkable! Sweet as there is now the whole of an established artist’s back catalogue to explore! I shall order my copy of Live At The Witch Trials pronto!  

Family – In Their Own Time 
This another double CD that serves as a fairly detailed career overview. I bought this last year prior to Family playing their first gigs in forty years, having realised that although I had most of their albums on vinyl I had none on CD.

Family were / are a band that it’s impossible to classify. A bit of jazz here, some prog there, some folk, and wow! That bit was heavy wasn’t it?!! Their inventiveness was part of their undoing in some ways, as they were sufficiently disparate to not achieve the sales of say, Genesis. Their split in 1973 was an unmitigated tragedy. I’ve always had a feeling that they would have eventually achieved greatness. They’ve just played again, so hopefully they’ll stick around for a bit longer.

Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes 
Wonderfully delicate ethereal American folk rock. White Winter Hymnal in particular is a classic in waiting.

Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
In many ways more of the same, but in no way as boring as that description suggests. As the title suggests, a darker feel permeates.

Manic Street Preachers – Rewind The Film 
Strange as it seems, this is the Manics’ acoustic album. An unlikely concept but one that works beautifully. Indeed, opening track This Sullen Welsh Heart even qualifies as what my dearly beloved classifies as ‘Sunday morning music’. In order to achieve this mood the Manics have recruited collaborators such as Lucy Rose, Cate Le Bon and Richard Hawley who occupy a more sedate musical strata than that normally inhabited by Blackwood’s finest. However, things do get quite er…. manic at times, but do remain acoustic throughout. A bit of a gem all told.

Fleetwood Mac – Rumours (3xCD reissue) 
So Rumours has had the deluxe reissue treatment. When this was issued in 1977 it was largely viewed as music by people who were ‘past it’ for people who were ‘past it’. It was most definitely NOT COOL.

However, such considerations now seem somewhat redundant, and we can admit that this always was a really good album. It doesn’t seem of its time. If anything it has achieved a classic timelessness. So what extra goodies do we get? B-side Silver Springs is added to the original album, and there’s a live disc together with a disc of out-takes. I must confess that as a rule I can take or leave out-take discs. Largely tracks remain unreleased for a reason. Here there are interesting early takes of many of the tracks from Rumours, together with a couple of unreleased demos. As I say, interesting, but not essential.

The live disc however is terrific, as the Mac are on fire. The set list consists mainly of tracks from Rumours, with a few from the preceding Fleetwood Mac album. Nothing from earlier on. A pity, as they did a great version of Oh Well on 1980s Live album. Still, that’s a minor quibble. If you have Rumours, this issue is still worth getting for the live disc. 

Beck – Odelay 
In the mid-1990s Beck was seen as something of a wunderkind. Indeed his genre-hopping output had the likes of Beth Orton describing him as a genius. So was he worth the fuss? Listening to this almost twenty years after its release the answer has to be a resounding ‘yes’! Singles Devil’s Haircut and The New Pollution sound like they could have been recorded yesterday, and if Where It’s At and High 5 (Rock The Catskills) don’t make you want to shake yer ass then I suggest you dial 999 quickly, as you may have expired.

Fleetwood Mac – The Dance 
Yep – more Fleetwood Mac. I really must be getting old. This album was the record of a reunion of the Rumours line-up, presumably to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of that album’s release. It gives a live overview of their career from 1975 onwards, and includes a new song (Bleed To Love Her) to prove that there is live in the old beast yet. All in all it’s pretty good, if a little polite. They did go on to release a new album in 2003, though sadly without Christine McVie.

Florence and the Machine – Between Two Lungs 
I’m afraid I remain a bit unconvinced by Florence Welch. Her cover of You Got The Love gets pushed a little too much for my liking. The music is OK but the lyrics are at best disappointing. Kiss With A Fist in particular annoys me in that it belittles an issue with which we seem to have a problem in this country. “A kiss with a fist is better than none at all”? I doubt it. Maybe Florence should pay a visit to a women’s refuge and see what they think about that statement there. It’s all a bit ‘luvvy’ and ‘stage school’. Could do better.

The Flying Burrito Brothers – The Gilded Palace Of Sin 
If there was any justice in the world, either The Byrds (circa Sweetheart Of The Rodeo) or The Flying Burritos would have gained the riches that later went to The Eagles. The common link between The Byrds and the Burritos was Gram Parsons, who was arguably the father of country rock. Unfortunately his wish to emulate Keith Richards hobbled his artistic endeavours, as he missed sessions and gigs in order to get high. This was a great pity as he probably bordered on musical genius. His solo albums GP and Grievous Angel came close to garnering the credit he deserved, but sadly 1974’s Grievous Angel was a posthumous release following his death in 1973 from a heroin overdose.

The Gilded Palace Of Sin is a fine album with no filler and plenty of stand-outs, which include Christine’s Tune, Do Right Woman and Hoy Burrito #1. Hippie Boy is a pertinent social comment of the time.

Focus – Focus X 
This is Focus’s album from 2012, and it is a worthy addition to their catalogue, if at times it is reminiscent of past works. The band today consists of original members Thijs van Leer and Pierre van der Linden, together with guitarist Menno Gootjes and bassist Bobby Jacobs (who is van Leer’s son-in-law). This could have been recorded by Focus at any time from 1972 onwards. It is a great listen but don’t expect any ground-breaking new ideas. Thijs van Leer’s time-honoured habit of producing unusual or amusing titles continues unabated: Amok In Kindergarten, All Hens On Deck, Talk Of The Clown etc. Good luck to ‘em. More power to their collective elbows.

Foo Fighters – The Colour And The Shape 
This is the Foos’ second album, from 1997. At this point it began to dawn on the music world that This Is A Call maybe wasn’t a fluke, and Dave Grohl stepping out from behind the wreckage of Nirvana’s drum kit wasn’t such a preposterous idea after all. This contains Monkey Wrench and Everlong. Not bad for a drummer eh?

Foo Fighters – In Your Honour 
However, not everything the Foos have done is brilliant. This is a good album, but not a great one. It features an electric disc and an acoustic disc. It’s good, but I have a feeling that it might just be a little (whisper it) too long…..

Robert Plant and the Strange Sensation – Mighty Rearranger 
Robert Plant has had a varied career post Led Zeppelin. With each album you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get. Angular eighties stuff? Check. Country rock? Check. Covers? Check. Apart from his reunion with Jimmy Page the one thing that he’s avoided like the plague is straight-ahead hard rock. This album is no exception. There are acoustic instruments, unusual percussion, and electric instruments too. This an amalgam of western and eastern influences. It’s similar to some of Zeppelin’s acoustic material, whilst simultaneously making a point of being very different indeed. In many ways Plant is the true keeper of the Zeppelin flame, as he remains true to their ethos of ‘ever onward’. My only real criticism of this album is the totally pointless remix of Shine It All Around at the end of the album. Why bother?

The Kinks – Live At Kelvin Hall 
In the 1960s little thought had been given to how a rock band should be recorded in concert. Capitol had recorded The Beatles’ Hollywood Bowl concerts in 1964 and 1965 but shelved them indefinitely (they were later released in 1977 after being ‘cleaned up’ by George Martin) because they sounded so goddamn awful.

This was recorded and released in 1967 and is enjoyable as a historical document more than anything else. The sound is awful and the band are almost drowned out by screaming on occasion. For the most part the band stick to their early material. Till The End Of The Day, A Well Respected Man and Dandy just about survive the screaming, and Ray Davies manages to instigate a sing-along on Sunny Afternoon. However, this album is probably best seen as a charming curio.

Garbage – Not Your Kind Of People 
Garbage’s album from 2012 picks up where their previous album, Beautiful Garbage left off. Indeed, they have never strayed too far from the template set by their self-titled debut in 1995, but what a great template that was. Garbage maintain a menacing air of cold malevolence throughout. The track I Hate Love just about sums it up.

The Gaslight Anthem – The ’59 Sound 
Aha – the band who would be Broooce. To be fair, they rock harder than Bruce and have an occasional hint of metal that he doesn’t have, but this is good old-fashioned 50s and 60s based blue collar rock ‘n’ roll with soul. There are occasional mentions of a girl called Mary. You get the drift. They ooze authenticity, but effectively you’ve heard it all before.

REM – Green 
This was REM’s first album for a major label (six albums into their career) and found them in experimental mood, dropping hints of what may follow on future albums, and also nods to what they had done in the past. Turn You Inside Out for example is not a million miles from Finest Worksong. Orange Crush revisits Vietnam (which in 1988 was still very much an ignored conflict in the States), Stand is pure pop, whilst You Are The Everything presages Automatic For The People four years hence. World Leader Pretend meanwhile was one of Michael Stipe’s most overtly political statements thus far. A transitional record then, but a very fresh and adventurous one too.

Rolling Stones – Exile On Main Street 
I’m going to stick my neck out and say that, notwithstanding this being a double album (well, in vinyl terms anyway), this is the Rolling Stones’ greatest album. Why I hear you ask?

Well, it’s not laden with hits for a start. Tumbling Dice was the only single released in the UK, although Happy was released in the US and was a very minor hit. Exile is probably the most complete Stones album. The songs were largely worked up when they were living in tax exile in the south of France. The work took place at Keith Richard’s rented Villa Nellcote in Villefranche-sur-Mer. The songs sound as if they were born in an atmosphere of decadence with a hint of evil. Evil quite possibly lurked in the fabric of Villa Nellcote as it had been a Gestapo headquarters during World War Two. There was decadence present in spades as Keith was deep into his heroin addiction at the time, and visits from his buddy Gram Parsons certainly didn’t help matters. The Stones still had Mick Taylor on board at this point, although he was gone by the end of 1974 due to his own burgeoning heroin problem.

Despite the lack of famous tracks there is no filler. Exile is a very lean album. There’s an element of the Rottweiler in there. Rocks Off is probably one of the greatest opening tracks of all time, and the pace doesn’t let up until Souls Survivor four vinyl sides later.

On I Just want To See His Face Jagger tells us:
“I don’t want to walk or talk about Jesus,
I just want to see his face”.

No icon is too big for the Stones’ wrecking ball. However, the feel of the album is best represented by the following from Rocks Off:

“Well the sunshine bores the daylights out of me,
Flush in, flush out and fight and fuck and feed”

The Rolling Stones would never sound so mad, bad or downright dangerous again.

P J Harvey – Let England Shake 
Britain has effectively been on a war footing since 2001, with a lengthy military involvement in Iraq and an ongoing (and seemingly never-ending) involvement in Afghanistan. Yet despite that it’s a situation that has been virtually ignored by songwriters. Polly Harvey put an end to that with this album released in 2010. In an interview she said that there were war correspondents, war poets, war photographers and war artists, but what about war songwriters? Could she do that job?

Well, she has proven that yes she very much can. She paints with a broad brush, covering conflicts as diverse as Gallipoli, the Spanish Civil War, and the 21st Century Middle East. However, there runs a common theme throughout, men fight and die and ultimately there is very little point to their perceived (at least by some) sacrifice. Everything is brought down to very simple fact:

“So our young men hid
With guns, in the dirt
And in the dark places.”

Not much in the way of glory there then if anybody was expecting any. Sonically the songs are frequently propelled by auto harp, but the arrangements largely appear secondary to the lyrics, and are very much there to serve the song. There is no hint of showboating by anyone. The message is the medium. Often a trance like mantra is produced, especially during The Words That Maketh Murder. Let England Shake is a towering piece of work. If it’s not album of the Century so far, then I’ve no idea what is.

The Beatles – Rubber Soul 
This was the point at which The Beatles started to go ‘a bit weird’ as my mother would say. They largely stopped singing about wanting to hold girls’ hands or having a hard day’s night. They grew their hair a bit longer and put wonky photographs of themselves on album covers. Rumour also has it that Bob Dylan may have introduced them to exotic woodbines.

Rubber Soul was the beginning of the rest of the Beatles’ career. They had good songs by George Harrison. There was a sitar. There was a song that told a barely disguised tale of a one night stand (Norwegian Wood). There was a song about people and places (In My Life). There was a distorted bass. It was all happening!!! Apart from Run For Your Life, which even John Lennon hated.   

Gorillaz – Plastic Beach 
Or as Friends would call it: The One Where They Absolutely And Utterly Got It Right. When Damon Albarn got involved in the first Gorillaz album I can remember wondering why he was wasting his time and didn’t get on with recording the next Blur album. OK, so I’m a bit of a Luddite. I enjoyed the first two Gorrilaz albums but this is a whole other world! Maybe they had just refined the recipe or maybe with all the collaborators they had (Snoop Dogg, Mos Def, Bobby Womack, De La Soul, Gruff Rhys, Yukimi Nagano from Little Dragon, Mark E Smith, Lou Reed; and Mick Jones and Paul Simonon in the touring band!!! Yowzah!!!) the whole really was more than the sum of its parts. This is a wonderfully, beautifully complete piece of work. Every home should have one.

Kate Bush – Hounds Of Love 
With her first two albums EMI had very much marketed Kate Bush as a pop star. However as an increasingly big-selling artist she was granted increasing artistic freedom. She took two years to record The Dreaming, which didn’t do as well as the previous three albums. No matter. She took three years to record this one, and it was massive. Not only that, but it was a terrific artistic achievement too.

Of the tracks on side one only Mother Stands For Comfort wasn’t released as a single. The tracks that were released as singles were hits incidentally. Side two consisted of a song cycle collectively entitled The Ninth Wave. This was prog rock! It wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a Pink Floyd album!! So Kate proved that you can indeed have your cake and eat it: singles chart success and rock credibility. A fabulous effort.

The Go-Betweens – Bright Yellow Bright Orange 
1980s indie classicists rekindle their old magic with this 2003 release.

Midlake – The Courage Of Others 
This ended up being Tim Smith’s swan song with the band. It’s one he can be proud of though. Some elements are a bit harsher than one might expect.

Generation X – Perfect Hits 1975-1981 
Harks back to when Billy Idol was a punk. Well, a sort-of punk. Still, you can’t really argue with the music. Dancing With Myself, Your Generation, Ready Steady Go and King Rocker are classics of sorts. However, much of Generation X’s material referenced the golden ages of the 1960s (Ready Steady Go’s reference to Kathy McGowan) and the 1950s even (King Rocker). Seemingly they didn’t subscribe to punk’s 1977 as ‘year zero’ ethos!

Mumford and Sons – Sigh No More 
The Mumfords divide opinion somewhat. They do appear to be hated in some quarters. Maybe it’s something to do with Marcus Mumford’s shit-eating grin and his marriage to Carey Mulligan. He certainly does seem to perpetually look very pleased indeed with himself.

Who can blame him really? This is a great album. Little Lion Man makes me want to get my own guitar out! I deeply regret that I haven’t seen them live and that they are now apparently on indefinite hiatus. Bugger.

Goldfrapp – Tales Of Us 
After her disappointing 1970s disco-tinged last effort, Alison Goldfrapp returns with something more acoustic and (dare I say it?) song based. This album features songs that each have their own identity, albeit with a unifying feel. Much better Alison. Well done.

Midlake – The Trials Of Van Occupanther 
In which Midlake go all mid – late 1970s soft rock, and very well they do it too. At times it does sound as if it could have been recorded in California in 1977, but that was probably the intention wasn’t it?

Midlake – Antiphon 
Midlake prove that they can carry on very well after the amputation of Tim Smith thank you very much. I saw them at Brighton St. George’s Church last month and they were excellent. The dawn of a new era for them methinks.

Glasvegas – Glasvegas 
This was a great debut, but sometimes James Allan hobbles himself by trying to be just that little bit too intense. When he acts the tough man from the hard family in Stabbed it sounds uncomfortable rather than threatening.

However, Flowers And Football Tops and Geraldine are superb. Daddy’s Gone is especially moving, and who can argue with a song with a title like Polmont On My Mind?

The Kinks – Picture Book 
This is a 6xCD box set covering The Kinks’ entire career and it is fabulous. The Kinks were largely ignored in the UK after 1970, which as a music-loving nation we should be ashamed of. I saw them live at a two-thirds full Leicester De Montfort Hall in 1984, and I must admit that I felt a bit sorry for them. There were a load of mods skulking around at the back, who surged forward to pogo wildly to David Watts (which had been covered by The Jam) and went back to their skulking as soon as the song had finished. The band didn’t seem to mind though, they were excellent! They encored with I Gotta Move, which was the b-side of All Day And All Of The Night in 1964. I saw them again at Glastonbury in 1993, by which time I didn’t realise they were still going (they eventually split in 1996). All I really remember about this particular performance is that they were accompanied by ballerinas for much of their set. Very strange.

So what’s in the box? Everything that you would expect really, plus a lot more. There are early demos by The Boll-Weevils, all the 1960s hits, there are album tracks, Dave Davies solo tracks like Lincoln County. There’s quite a bit of unreleased stuff. However, it’s once we get past 1970 that it gets really interesting from my viewpoint, because there’s loads of great stuff that I just haven’t heard before, so it’s a bit of an education. Also, there’s a couple of tracks that I remember from their initial release (Celluloid Heroes and Father Christmas) which are even better than I remember. Father Christmas is possibly the best Christmas song I have heard. It came out in 1977 and gave the punks a run for their money.

If your knowledge of The Kinks more or less grinds to a halt with 1970’s Lola, then you need this box.

Yes – Yes 
I was prompted to listen to this album by the sad news of the recent passing of original Yes guitarist Peter Banks. This was Yes’ debut album and is often overlooked. A pity really because it contains some fine music. Beyond And Before is a great opener, and Harold Land is a very moving anti-war song, probably influenced by the poetry of World War One. Also included is one of the more imaginative Beatles covers that I’ve heard in Every Little Thing.
In many ways this album is very much of its time (it was released in 1969) but that’s not a bad thing. It has a feeling of experimentation, adventure and optimism, and maybe a touch of naivety. Listening to the album today is like travelling back to a time when people really did believe that music could make the world a better place.

The Good, The Bad and the Queen – The Good, The Bad and the Queen 
Another example of Damon Albarn’s sickening habit of making imaginative and exciting music, the talented bastard. For this adventure from 2007 (God, is it that long ago?) he is joined by Paul Simonon on bass, Simon Tong on guitar and Tony Allen on drums.

In many ways the album is a rumination on 21st Century life. The Northern Whale recalls the somewhat unexpected (and unprecedented) visit of a terminally lost whale. Kingdom Of Doom urges us to “Drink all day coz the country is at war”, acknowledging a truth that is largely ignored, the UK has been on a war footing since 9/11. Herculean highlights the easy availability of drugs, in Three Changes’ “stroppy little island of mixed up people”.

Throughout the musical arrangements are kept spare – all sinew and muscle – no fat. In a way, that applies to the album as a whole. It has a windswept feel, it’s a bit bleak. This is certainly not a feel-good listen, but it’s repeatedly a rewarding one.

The Strypes – Shepherds Bush Empire – 13th February 2014
I must confess, I had my doubts about The Strypes. From what I’d seen and heard they were attempting to slavishly replicate a time around 1964/65 when the early Rolling Stones, The Animals and Them were in the ascendancy with their snotty white boy take on rhythm and blooze. This I did not understand. Surely the modus operandi for teenagers is to be as loud and obnoxious as possible, convincing their elders that civilisation is coming to an end. Teenagers producing music that their parents and indeed, grandparents would know and love is simply not the done thing. Surely The Strypes should be making some horrible discordant noise that would cause David Cameron to flee No. 10 and hide in a flooded field somewhere (well, there are plenty to choose from).

Thankfully The Strypes completely blow my reservations away within thirty seconds of taking the stage. They are not recreating a bygone age. They are taking the aforementioned R’n’B, grabbing it by the throat, giving it a good seeing to and propelling it forward as if fuelled by a monumental amphetamine rush. Sonically they sound like a collision between Dr. Feelgood and the Ramones garnished with a hint of Motorhead. These boys (boys! Guitarist Josh McClorey is the oldest at 20) are already fully formed rock stars. They play the crowd as confidently as they play their music. The first three songs flash by without a pause for breath. The audience need a rest more than the band do! This is by far the most energised take on what used to be called R’n’B since the appearance of Dr. Feelgood in the mid 1970s.

The band are sufficiently tight that if it wasn’t for their youth, you would honestly believe they had been playing for forty years. They are as tight as Ronnie Kray’s thumbscrew. Even when they swap instruments for Got Love If You Want It / I’m The Face the standard of musicianship doesn’t drop below unimpeachable. My only reservation is the number of covers in their set. However, some more killer original material will sort that out. The Strypes are not young pretenders. They are a planet-slaying behemoth waiting to strike. Make your peace with them while you can.
                                                                                                                      Mark Kelly   

Anna Calvi – Hove All Saints Church – 11th February 2014

Anna Calvi is preceded in this truly beautiful venue by Woman’s Hour and their ethereal electronica. Their performance is pretty much faultless. However, their music lacks fire, or indeed a spark of any kind. The lyrics are minimal, mostly consisting of one line repeated ad infinitum. Also, like many bands today, a great deal of what is heard come from a laptop. Having said that, this is still very much a live performance, in contrast to other bands I’ve seen (hi Chvrches) who are bordering on karaoke.

Thankfully Woman’s Hour are quickly forgotten as Anna takes the stage. She’s dressed in red and has her hair down. She looks much looser and more relaxed than when I’ve seen her before.

Anna starts off with Suzanne & I which instantly makes me think how extraordinarily her vocals are. Especially so as they are a relatively recent addition to her sonic armoury – she only began singing in her twenties. However, it’s as a guitarist that she truly astonishes. Her guitar technique is fascinating to watch: whether it be the vicious bottleneck during Cry, the wonderfully fluid showcase that is Rider To The Sea, the pealing bell arpeggios of Piece By Piece, the controlled feedback that ends Carry Me Over, or Anna dragging her mic stand down the neck of her guitar at the close of Love Of My Life.

However, the key to an Anna Calvi performance is the band’s (and Anna Calvi is very much a band) heightened sense of dynamics and their depth of feeling. Sing To Me is tender, I’ll Be Your Man absolutely blazes whilst Love Of My Life is the closest they get to conventionally rocking out. There is very little that is conventional about Anna or the band though. In terms of both composition and performance this is imaginative music with a capital ‘I’. Mally Harpaz playing the frame of her marimba with a violin bow is just one example of this.

The set unsurprisingly focusses on the current album One Breath. With Anna Calvi it is always best to expect the unexpected though. At one point the band leave her to perform a solo cover of Bruce Springsteen’s Fire, which she very much makes her own.

The band return and the main set finishes with Desire and Love Won’t Be Leaving. Encores of Bleed Into Me, Blackout and Jezebel follow. An hour and a half has gone very quickly! Anna Calvi is becoming one of those artists who make great records, but are even better live. Go see her!

                                                                                                               Mark Kelly
Wilko Johnson – Guildford G Live – 6th February 2014
View: balcony

In January 2013 Wilko Johnson announced that he had terminal pancreatic cancer and that he had been told he only had ten months to live. He arranged a farewell tour and quipped that it would be “a bit embarrassing” if he was still around “this time next year”.

Well, luckily for us he is still around and on astonishingly good form! He takes the stage with his band consisting of Norman Watt-Roy on bass and Dylan Howe on drums, and immediately rips into Dr Feelgood’s All Through The City, skittering across the stage as if it’s 1975.

It’s often forgotten that Wilko composed the bulk of Dr Feelgood’s material on their first three albums and we get nine of those gems tonight. Roxette, Back In The Night and She Does It Right predictably tear the place apart. Particularly poignant is Paradise, which name-checks Wilko’s late wife Irene. The line “I love two girls I ain’t ashamed” in the original is replaced by “My tears are falling, I ain’t ashamed”.

Although there is a band touring as Dr Feelgood, it contains no original members, so seeing Wilko is probably the closest one can get to the ‘genuine’ Dr Feelgood experience. It’s not all about Dr Feelgood though. We get a smattering of blues standards together with a truly astonishing Norman Watt-Roy bass solo, featuring Wilko with his hands on his hips darting jokey ‘I’m the star’ looks at Norman.

After about an hour an hour Wilko leaves the stage very briefly before returning for an encore of Chuck Berry’s Bye Bye Johnny. As always, seeing Wilko play live is a life-affirming experience. See him while you can.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Jake Bugg – Brighton Centre – 22nd October 2013

Having lived with his album for a year or so I was intrigued about how Jake Bugg’s mix of acoustic troubadour and 21st Century echo of Johnny Cash’s boom-chicka-boom approach would translate live. It’s striking that Jake has attracted possibly the most mixed audience that I’ve seen: from people old enough to be his parents and grandparents to children. There’s quite a bit of pre-pubescent screaming. The beer boys are out in force too, notwithstanding it being a Tuesday.

Jake has chosen a stripped-back format consisting of just himself and a bassist and drummer. Truthfully that’s all that’s required as the performance is far more powerful than on record. The vocals are particularly impressive with Jake uncompromisingly sticking it to the X Factor and Brit School crew. I don’t know what Simon Cowell would say.

New album “Shangri La” isn’t released until 18th November, but Jake plays a hefty chunk of it nonetheless. Storm Passes Away is pretty damn country and includes the somewhat telling line: “They keep telling me that I’m older than I’m supposed to be”. For newie Messed Up Kids Jake dons a Telecaster. This may be unexpected by some (they clearly haven’t listened to What Doesn’t Kill You) but it works well. During The Ballad Of Mr Jones, Jake (now with a Stratocaster) plays a short but accomplished blues solo, as if he’s been doing just that for the past forty or fifty years.

The electric guitars are left behind however for a solo acoustic rendition of Country Song and Pine Trees (from the new album). Country Song in particular is beautifully delicate. The beer boys, stripped to the waist, don’t get it. They look confused. They want Lightning Bolt.

The rhythm section return as do the electric guitars. Taste It in particular is pretty scorching. Mr Bugg looks like a man embarking on a serious love affair with the electric guitar. This is by no means a bad thing.

After set closer What Doesn’t Kill You Jake returns with a solo acoustic Broken, followed by a full band cover of Neil Young’s My My Hey Hey / Hey Hey My My (reversing the order of the original). The Bugg Band very much give Crazy Horse a run for their money. Then the beer boys get what they want with Lightning Bolt.

Seemingly it’s now not the done thing to play new material in advance of an album’s release, so perhaps Jake is brave to play half a dozen new songs, but when they’re of such good quality, why wait? What was on display tonight was a multi-faceted talent with a capital ‘T’. Jake Bugg is only just beginning to spread his wings. It’s going to be one helluva flight!

                                                                                                                                    Mark Kelly           

Deep Purple – Chalk Farm Roundhouse – 17th October 2013
Having not seen Deep Purple for twenty-six years, I was a little apprehensive about how ‘new boys’ Steve Morse on guitar (a member of the band since 1994) and Don Airey on keyboards (a member since 2002) would live up to the legends created by their respective forbears Ritchie Blackmore and Jon Lord. Opening song Apres Vous soon saw off any worries that I might have had, with Morse and Airey exchanging solos in time-honoured fashion.

Indeed, it appears that little has really changed since their 1970s heyday. The collective musicianship of the band remains astonishingly good. Steve Morse particularly is on fire, which begs the question: Ritchie who??? The set list is pleasingly eclectic, with relatively obscure early Mark II album tracks Into The Fire and Hard Lovin’ Man; single Vincent Price and Above And Beyond (touchingly dedicated to “our beloved Jon Lord”) amongst others representing the new album Now What?!, together with a smattering of the classics.

During Strange Kind Of Woman Ian Gillan duets with the guitar as in days of yore. We get Lazy, Space Truckin’ (considerably shorter than the Made In Japan version) and Ian Paice’s showcase The Mule. During this he uses sticks fitted with LED lights. Technology eh? One of the striking things about this gig is the sheer enjoyment the band get from playing. It’s a joy to behold! They have nothing left to prove anymore, they’re just up there having a blow! It’s inevitable that any Purple line-up will be compared to the classic mark II line-up, but the current band doesn’t just equal the classic line-up, they give it a run for its money!

Set closer Smoke On The Water suggests that the fun may be coming to an end, but thankfully that’s not the case. The band soon return for a wholly unexpected cover of Green Onions. Next up we have Hush from their 1968 debut, and following a bass solo from Roger Glover, Black Night (featuring an excerpt from ZZ Top’s La Grange) brings proceedings to a close.

Tonight the Roundhouse has been treated to a masterclass in hard rock. Purple show that as well as sturm und drang there is also room for subtlety, dynamics, and last but not least, humour. I certainly won’t be leaving it twenty-six years till I see them again. Neither should you.

                                                                                                             Mark Kelly