Saturday, 12 February 2011

Welcome back

New single by The Strokes ahead of new album Angles. I've listened to 10 seconds of it and already love it. For me they are still one of the best band's on the planet.

What were you thinking?

This week's blog might not excite and delight you as much as my usual dazzling array of tantalising tunes. My pre-Mancunian derby nerves has brought out the negative in me so I'm choosing five tracks I loathe by artists I love. I could of course make this easy and choose middling bands who I can take or leave, or dip into the catalogue or once great bands on the slide (yes I mean you Rivers Cuomo). Each track is by an artist released at the peak of their powers which contrasts sharply with the rest of their brilliance.

Bugger I may have set myself a very tough task. Time to get myself a brew and put the thinking cap on.

All Around the World by Oasis
It seems prescient to choose the famous Citeh fans as my first victims. Oasis were the band that made me want to learn guitar. Thankfully they also ensured that all their songs were simple enough for a clumsy teenager to learn and for that I will always be grateful to Noel. My sister and I collected everything they ever released (including imports) and I have spent many a duel with keyboard warriors defending their output. That most certainly extends to Be Here Now which was the victim of absurd revisionism when lazy journalists went from hailing it a masterpiece (which is isn't) to a catastrophe (which again, it isn't) inside of about a year. The album was made at their commercial peak and featured some truly brilliant tracks - Don't Go Away, D'yer Know What I mean? and the Girl in the Dirty Shirt. This abomination though is lazy Beatles parody at its worst - and not even good Beatles (more of that later). Everything about it sounds tired and laboured and one can only presume Noel dusted it off to finish the album asap so he could go and snort some more of his fortune.

Yellow Submarine by The Beatles
The track that killed the dream of the perfect album. If Revolver was a steak it would be lean, moist, juicy, succulent, with one unpleasant knot of fat so frustratingly placed that it threatens to ruin the whole gastronomic experience. Yellow Submarine is that fat. It isn't the worst song ever performed by the band - Hey Jude on repeat is my musical room 101 - but it is undoubtedly the most bewildering insert to an LP tracklisting I have ever known. Maybe Lennon, McCartney and Harrison didn't want to leave themselves with nowhere to go? Maybe Lennon wanted to see what he could get away given the manic adulation they received? Surely anyone else proposing a drug addled, children's nursery rhyme sung by the drummer would be told to forget it?  I have no idea, but what I do know is this song is wretched.

Whatz Ya Phone Number? - Tupac Shakur
'Does a bear shit in the woods and wipe his ass with a rabbit?' This track has long threatened to cross the line into 'so bad it's good' territory. I wouldn't suggest for a moment that All Eyez On Me is one of the great albums but it was made by Tupac at his commercial peak; Cali love, I aint mad atcha, Heartz of Men, Life Goes On, and All Bout U are superb singles. The problem with the album - like many of the era - is how hideously bloated it is which allows room for this slice of dire, dire music. The track literally consists of Tupac 'sexy talking' on the phone for five minutes. For a man capable of poetry in his more reflective moments the lyrics are sub-viz and in many ways reflect all that is wrong with misogynistic, production line, commercial rap music.

You were Always on my Mind by Ryan Adams
It would be very hypocritical of me to save the golden boy from criticism so here it is - a Ryan Adams cover which is completely unnecessary and achieves the ignominy of bringing a brilliant album to a close on whimper. The intro is promising, building the expectation that this is going to be great and it just... well isn't. Don't get me wrong, this is a superb song. Elvis brings gravitas in the way that only he could, Pet Shop Boys gave their own unique twist and I even have a soft spot for the Willie Nelson version; so why did Adams decide to tag on his own lukewarm effort? I have no idea and given the amount of chemicals in his blood stream at the time I suspect he couldn't offer an explanation either.

Isn't She Lovely by Stevie Wonder
Praise be that my Dad has no idea about this blog else I suspect I would be in for a dose of his version of  the 'hairdryer treatment.' Wonder was a God in my house growing up and rightly so - Innervisions is a contender for my favourite album of all time. However this song does my head in. The sentiment is commendable, the tune is jaunty and enjoyable and it features Stevie's harmonica skills which can never be a bad thing. So why do I loathe it? It goes on, and on, and on, and on, ad infitum. It marks the moment in Songs in the Key of Life where 'less is more' is decisively thrown out the window. Sadly too much of side two is overblown and borderline over-indulgent. Do I need to hear the baby being born? No. Do I need to listen to bath time whilst the same relentlessly upbeat melody drones on? Definitely not. If you try and slog through the entire song your love of Wonder diminishes to such an extent that you would gladly shove that harmonica down his gullet if it would just make him please, please, stop!

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Christmas, Leeks and Sheep

I'm afraid the White Stripes obituary has sapped my typing strength so I'm not offering a lengthy album review but highly recommend the new Decemberists album. They have made the wise move of getting the wonderful Gillian Welch on board and her vocal compliments Meloy perfectly to create a country sound which reminds me of Heartbreaker (unsurprisingly given the Welch connection) and Cassadega. There is possibly a hint of REM too - if not in the style of music but Meloy's vocal does have a touch of Stipe in places.

Enjoy the tasters below and track down this album!

Friday, 4 February 2011

Like London buses and Noah's ark.

Wednesday was a rough day. Two important parts of my life came to a whimpering, and regretfully expected conclusion. Gary Neville - Mr Manchester United - retired with immediate effect. It frightens me to my core that just Scholes and Giggs remain from the glorious core of my football heroes as a youth. On a musical level Wednesday saw the official announcement of the end of the White Stripes. It has been pretty obvious as Jack White dedicates more time to The Dead Weather and The Raconteurs that his collaboration with hugely under-rated percussionist Meg would be put to bed. I admit to finding it a little odd that White decided to announce a split rather than simply leave The White Stripes option on the back burner for a possible future renaissance. It would appear though that he has become fed up with Stripes related questions when promoting his current projects and perhaps wanted to offer fans some closure. It is arguable that the Stripes persona had worn tired as recent albums though impressive have lacked the sparkle that Raconteurs and Dead Weather have offered. White's songwriting partnership with Benson in particular offers a truly exciting combination of talents that has already given two quite magnificent albums for a so-called 'side-project.' The cynic in me might also suggest that the 'unreleased material' he pledged to release as a thank you to fans will now generate much more publicity and consequent sales as a result. I tend not to think of Jack White as especially financially motivated - the extra cash gained from a Bond theme and Coke commercial will surely ensure he has enough to fulfill his penchant for fancy dress and red trousers for the foreseeable future (atleast until the Stripes reform for Glastonbury 2025 anyway.) If he really falls on hard times he can go back to teaching musical instruments to cartoon characters.

So as is my laboured tradition I present my five must have White Stripes tracks. They really are one of my favourite bands of all time; as long term followers will know from previous blogs eulogising over their Glastonbury set of 2005. Thankfully everything White does seems to appeal to me so I can enjoy his future output hopefully without pining too much for the red and white days of old. I will steer clear of songs I have previously featured in the blog which may explain some of the choices!

Best Led Zep style wig out
Jack has always managed to sneak at least one blatant homage to the more indulgent moments of 1970s rock. It seems that as the Stripes career these moments have become a resident feature of each album. Noteworthy moments include Hello Operator from Der Stijl and Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn from Icky Thump. It is easy to pick out the crowning glory though. Page and Plant themselves would've been proud of the immense seven minute plus opus from Elephant. If you can listen to this without accompanying it with closed eyes, absurd lunges and air guitar soloing I have no time for you.

My, my, what a sweet heart you have!
In a world of ego driven, pompous showman playing the hardman Jack White is a bit of a no mark. Back in the day there was that scuffle with the frontman of some wretched Strokes wannabe band who's name escapes me but on the whole he has either failed to or shown no interest in being a rock star in the stereotypical sense. In fact, in the same way as a wig out per album is a given, so is an utterly charming, simple ode which exposes the sweet natured boy from Detroit. Fell in love with a girl is a tempting choice, as are I want to the Boy to warm your mother's heart and I'm Lonely (but I aint that lonely yet). However although a tad predictable perhaps, I can't look past this gem which the Moldy Peaches have spent their entire career trying to recreate.

An added bonus here is an awesome US school choir giving it a go; awesome not for the sound as much as one stand-out mullet - see if you can spot it!

The Bat Shit mental award
There really is never a dull moment with Jack White. He managed to pull out of the bag some of the most unhinged and ridiculous songs which somehow managed to work. I could make a case for Little Acorns and Little Ghost amongst others for this choice but ever since I first heard this song it has stood out as brilliant yet utterly crackers. The video is also absolutely glorious too.

Music as Art
I've never been a great lover of music videos. I think it stems from not having grown up with satellite tvGondry has proved fruitful from their early years and it would not be understated to consider the French director as one of the driving forces behind the band's success. My personal favourite is Dead Leaves on the Dirty Ground. What I love about the video is how a simple idea of homecoming to a trashed house is expanded into something so much more.

Masters of Interpretation
Many artists consider covers to be old hat and unimaginative. In many cases this is the case - brilliant covers are few and far between and two often today a switch of gender on a vocal is considered revolutionary. One thing the White Stripes could never be accused of is taking the easy option with their covers and in many ways they have set the benchmark. The two standouts are well known and in a break from tradition I'm going to link to both of them. In both instances White's vocal drives to the heart of the emotion of the song and fully interprets the original sentiment with remarkable ease.

Fantastic band who'll be sadly missed, maybe Meg can finally fulfill her dream of becoming a chef?

I'd love to know your favourite White Stripes moments so please leave a comment.