Thursday, 10 April 2014

Remake/Remodel #7: C is For Cookie

What do you do, when you cover a song that is so indelibly stamped into the brains of about 3 generations of people, to make your version idiosyncratically yours?

Mess it up completely.

Seriously. If you're going to cover anything from Sesame Street, you know you're going to offend people if you don't do it justice. So when a thrash-punk band gets hold of it, you know it'll only end up one way - completely opposite to the way it is supposed to sound.

We all know and love the original. Everyone loves Cookie Monster. Gen X-ers and their parents heard this song for years and now GenY kids know it. It needs no introduction.

So when Boston hardcore punks released their cover, it was always going to be gloriously stupid. Short, fast and loud is the order of the day. But even though it clocks in at under 2 minutes, their version, in my view, is about 40 seconds too long. The joke gets old quickly. Yeah ok, it's funny the first couple of run throughs, but by the end you get a bit over it.

VERDICT: There's a certain amount of merit in recasting a song in such an outrageous way, and Slapshot do indeed deserve credit for that. It's a fun version. They just labour the point. The original is still unimpeachable. You can't help but smile your way through both versions.



Remake/Remodel #6: Charlie Hunter Trio does Nirvana

In what appears to be a perfect fit for a segment titled "Remake/Remodel", today we look at Nirvana's "Come As You Are".

Much has been written of Nirvana's sound, how they intended to sound like the Pixies, emulating the soft quiet of their verses mixed with shrieking loudness in the choruses of their songs. It has even been mooted that "Smells Like Teen Spirit" has a guitar riff that is a knockoff of "More Than A Feeling" by Boston. That is a statement that is not without credibility.

But Kurt Cobain had a habit of recycling and regurgitating. The riff to "Smells..." does have the same rhythm pattern as "More Than A Feeling", but the chords are different. It was different enough to avoid trouble, but "Come As You Are" was not so lucky.

The riff for this song was the subject of a lawsuit from British alternative band Killing Joke, who claimed that the riff to "Come as you Are" was a slowed down version of the riff in their song "Eighties". To my ears, Killing Joke appear to have a winning case.

It has also been speculated that this was one of the reasons that Kurt was so depressed before he died. He loved Killing Joke and didn't intend to rip them off. But we'll never know for sure. What we do know is that Killing Joke dropped the lawsuit in the wake of Kurt's death.

Musically it is a slow burner of a track, with the dark, heavily processed run of notes in the verse, with the heavy guitars making an appearance in the bridge section "Oh I swear that I don't have a gun...", giving a bit of light among the shade.

In the wake of Kurt's passing in 1994, there were a huge wave of tributes and covers. One of the more interesting ones, in my view, was a cover of "Come As You Are" by the Charlie Hunter Trio. Charlie Hunter is a jazz guitarist and this track was my first introduction to his work.

Charlie Hunter is amazing from the point of view that he plays a hybrid guitar with 3 bass strings and 5 guitar strings, enabling him to play lead guitar and bass lines all at once. It is truly remarkable what he does. In the intro to his version, he plays "Come As You Are" in the bass line, and "Smells Like Teen Spirit" in the guitar line - all at once. I don't know how he does it, but it blows my mind.

VERDICT: I don't really have a favourite of the two. The original is great as it is. Charlie Hunter does a version that takes the bare bones of the original and takes it to a new place entirely. It does amazing things that I never though could be possible and is makes my head spin every time I hear it.

What do you think? Drop us a line in the comments below.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

A Reflection on Grunge, 20 Years On

I tweeted on the weekend:

Kurt Cobain has been dead for 20 years now. And it is with some trepidation that I remember his passing. It is a contentious one that has confused, upset and infuriated people for years.

Kurt, and by extension, Nirvana, were not particularly innovative. Nor were they the most talented band in the world, nor were they the flag-bearers of any particular cause, mission, concept or idea.

What they were, however, were the right band at the right time. Music in 1991 was boring. If you lived outside of any capital city in Australia there was very little alternative media to amuse you. Triple J, the lone bastion of alternative music and culture, was only starting to go national, but most regional centres didn't have it yet. There was no internet as such. You had to make do with what the radio commercial stations fed you.

What was the prevailing musical fashion of the day in rock music in Australia?

Hair metal.

Motley Crue. Guns n' Roses. Skid Row. Aerosmith. Metallica. Poison. Warrant. Bon Jovi. RATT. WASP.

The music, the imagery, the costumes, the gimmickery, the wankery, the cookie-cutter feel to it all. It was stale by then. I was bored. Many, many other young people like myself were feeling the same.

Nirvana's "Nevermind" album, was issued with little fanfare in September 1991 around the same time as Metallica's self titled "Black" album and Guns 'n Roses' colossal ego-trip "Use Your Illusion". The industry wasn't expecting much from it: maybe it might sell gold (500,000 copies in the US). By January 1992, it had taken Michael Jackson's "Dangerous" off the top of the US Billboard album chart and the lead single "Smells Like Teen Spirit" hit number 1 on the Australian Singles chart, and stayed there for a number of weeks. Nobody saw it coming.

What was the net result of this? Michael Jackson struggled to have a number 1 album ever again. RATT, Motley Crue, Skid Row, WASP, Poison, Warrant and other hair-sprayed confections were blown out of the water. Independent music was given greater exposure, and a lot of people heard a lot of great music they would never have heard otherwise. Guns 'n Roses and Metallica survived it all. But G'nR failed to deliver a timely follow up and were quickly forgotten. Metallica did change their image and were pilloried for it. Bon Jovi changed their sound to be more commercial radio friendly and survived. Rock became alternative, and the alternative scene is still defining music trends to this day.

They'd changed the world without really trying.

The down side? Kurt Cobain himself really struggled to be the one everybody wanted a piece of. He struggled to reconcile this age-old facade that mega-selling bands have no artistic credibility. He couldn't reconcile the need to starve for your art with working to live. His depression got worse. The tortured artist became even more so. The illicit drugs messed up his mind until...

...that fateful day.

Kurt didn't need to go to the lengths he did. He had the world at his fingertips, the ear of music fans everywhere. The record company would have given him carte blanche to do whatever the hell he wanted to. I've always said he could put out an album full of elephant farts and still have a million selling album: such is the amazing cache that the Nirvana/Cobain name carries. Everything he committed to vinyl is pure and honest - it was real, never contrived. He should never have worried about his artistic integrity: only when you become a parody of your former self on record do you need to worry about that. And there was no sense that that was on the horizon.

Kurt was a hero to people because he gave of himself - probably a little too much. Millions of people knew he was the real deal, and his honesty - in his lyrics and his songs - spoke volumes to people who were fed up of the manufactured idols on MTV; the useless politicians, and the self-indulgent wankers in hair metal bands singing about unattainable (for us, at least) women and other shit that has no relevance to us.

The problem was, he never wanted to be an idol. He was not a spokesperson for a generation of disaffected teenagers, and he knew it. He felt like a fraud. The public wanted him to be something he wasn't prepared to be. He was an average bloke in a rock band. The public knew that, but they wanted more.

No-one knows what goes through the minds of someone in such a low depressive state like that. It feels odd to celebrate someone who ended their life in the way they did. But that doesn't take away the value of the contribution they made to music during their lifetime.

I'm glad Nirvana and "Nevermind" changed the world. We're almost due for another one...

Sunday, 6 April 2014

March 2014 Mixtape

image source: The Meaning of Larf

On this rainy Sydney Sunday afternoon, here for your wet weather enjoyment is 200+ amazing songs that constitute the March 2014 Sound and the Fury Spotify playlist.

Here's a sample of what you can expect:

  • Brilliant Australian music tunes from: The Bamboos, The Beards, The Angels, Bored Nothing, Chase The Sun, a brilliant rarity from Cold Chisel, Easybeats, Flash In The Pan and heaps more.
  • Jazz and Funk from Billy Cobham, Osibisa, The Lafayaette Afro Rock Band, Polar Bear and more
  • Classics from The Yardbirds, ZZ Top, Status Quo, The HeeBeeGeeBees, The Jam, Jefferson Airplane and heaps more.
  • New Music from Eagulls, Evil Blizzard, Real Estate, War On Drugs and heaps more
As per usual, play on shuffle, get your favourite food out, crank the volume and ENJOY!!!

Friday, 4 April 2014

The Musical History of Adelaide Part 3

Here is the final in our series of amazing talent from Adelaide, South Australia.

Kaleidoscope are NOT the same band as the US psychedelic band of the 1960s. These guys play a kind of noisy, catchy post-grunge with a small degree of feminist leanings in the lyrics. Bassist Kylie Cowling and her partner Craig Lewis have been instrumental in nurturing many bands in the Adelaide area with showcase events like "Show Us Your Riffs" and producing music for other artists in their own studio.

The Superjesus
The Superjesus formed in 1994. They took their name in homage to the many bands who have "Super" and "Jesus" in their name (i.e. Supertramp, Superchunk, Supergrass, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Jesus Lizard, Jesus Jones et al). They had a sound that was equal parts Smashing Pumpkins-esque gutteral rumble and sweet songbird pop, thanks to the layers of overdriven guitars throughout their music, with Sarah McLeod's sweet vocals floating over the top. Their lineup was destabilised after founding member Chris Tennant left in 1999, but then Tim Henwood joined and the band went from strength to strength. But then he left and the band laboured on for a final album as a three piece before calling it a day in 2004.

The Testeagles were a band that fused hip-hop, rap, techno and metal into a furious blend. Known for their fiery live performances, they have been plagued with issues with record labels, resulting in most of the music not actually reaching the general public. Their only LP, "Non Comprehendus", issued in 2000, summed up their sound in the most intense, speaker-damaging fashion, riding the wave of Nu-Metal that was current at the time (and they did it better than most of the better known exponents of that style), but were dropped by their label not long after it was issued. They laboured for the next few years, picking up many shows on the Festival circuit and called it a day in 2008.

Groove Terminator
Groove Terminator is a hip-hop DJ and producer who achieved notoriety in the late 1990s-early 2000s with infectious party jams like "Here Comes Another One". He has also mixed a few Ministry of Sound compilations and is still a highly sought after performer on the club circuit.

The Mark Of Cain
The Mark Of Cain formed in 1984 by two brothers, both ex-Army members, John and Kim Scott. It took the band four years to get their first releases out, on Sydney indie label Phantom, and their popularity was at its peak between 1995 and 2002. Their sound is extremely heavy and aggressive, inspired by combat, with songs like "Battlesick" and "Ill At Ease". They are a ferocious live band, and can count among their fans such rock music heavyweights as Black Flag singer Henry Rollins.

The Audreys
The Audreys are a rootsy folk band formed in 2004. Usually consisting of two core members, lead singer Taasha Coates and guitarist Tristan Goodall, the band is often augmented with a number of session musicians and live players for tours. Their albums are highly rated by critics and they have a solid live following.

The Mad Turks from Istanbul
The Mad Turks from Istanbul started as a power-pop band featuring a young Charles Jenkins (now of Charles Jenkins and the Zhivagos) on vocals. They were signed to Greasy Pop records in 1987. After the release of their first record, Cafe Istanbul in 1988, they relocated to Melbourne and renamed themselves The Mad Turks. After the failure of their second album, "Toast" in 1990, the band split up and regrouped in 1992 under the name Icecream Hands, and went on to be far more successful, with the ARIA nominated album "Sweeter Than The Radio" in 1999.

Hilltop Hoods
Hilltop Hoods are a hip-hop collective from the Adelaide suburb of Eden Hills. They formed in 1991 and comprise of MC Suffa, MC Pressure and DJ Debris. They are now one of the most well known, if not THE most well known, Australian rappers, but they haven't had it easy. It took years for Australians to warm to the sound of Australians rapping in their own accent, with most people only accepting rap music performed by Americans (the nation who actually invented the form). Despite this, in 2006 their album "A Hard Road" was one of the best selling locally produced albums that year. Their last three album releases have shot to the top of the local album charts and they have a voracious live following.

This marks the end of our musical trip to Adelaide. We hope you have enjoyed it.

Next stop, we head west to Perth. See you then.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

The Musical History of Adelaide Part 2

Welcome to Part Two of our stay in Adelaide during our Rock Around Australia trip.

Paul Kelly
It is beyond difficult to sum up the career and music of Paul Kelly in a short paragraph. However, Adelaide's bard du jour has been making uniquely Australian music for 35 years and he shows no signs of slowing down. He sings in a unique local drawl and his lyrics are fuse Dylan's wit and wordiness with, at times Tom Wait's world-weariness. As Molly Meldrum used to say, "Do yourself a favour" and check out some of his back catalog. Start here:

Cold Chisel
Cold Chisel started life under the name of Orange, and started gigging in Adelaide in 1973 before finally settling (if you could call it that) in Sydney in 1977. Fronted by Scottish-born singer Jimmy Barnes, their sound was shaped by Soul music and the blues, but it developed a tougher, more ragged edge from being in competition nightly on stage with bands like AC/DC and The Angels. The band went on to become one of the biggest selling bands in Australia, selling over 6 million records to a population of 23 million people.

Redgum was started by four students of Adelaide's Flinders University in 1975. They have a strong satirical bent to their songs, which generally have a strict folk flavour. The subject matter of their songs often tackles corrupt politicians, unemployment, foreign ownership of Australian assets, consumerism and more. Their biggest hit was the story of two Vietnam Vets (a subject kept very much under the rug at the time) called "I Was Only 19" in 1983. Their second biggest hit is linked below, the playful skewering of youth tourism to Indonesia (as it seemed everybody was doing in 1984), "I've Been To Bali Too". They split in 1986.

Exploding White Mice
Exploding White Mice take their cues from the hard driving punk sound of The Saints and Radio Birdman. They started their career on influential Adelaide indie label Greasy Pop belting out fast three chord originals and covers of 60s instrumental and garage pop hits. They may not be household names in Australia but they made a healthy income from touring in Europe. They called it a day in the mid-1990s.

Swoop made a name for themselves by taking the groovy retro funk of Sly and the Family Stone and Parliament/Funkadelic into the grunge era. They worked the groove hard and added some rap for good effect. The band issued the independent debut LP "Thriller" in 1993 before signing with a major label in 1994 to release their heavily funkified sophmore LP "The Woxo Principle". By this time, the rap influence was watered down somewhat, and there were some more sunshine pop and psychedelic influences contained within. The band issued another single in 1997 "Teenage Funkazoid" but since then very little has been heard of them...

Monday, 31 March 2014

The Musical History of Adelaide Part 1

Welcome to a new series where we will take a trip around Australia looking at the notable bands that came from the major Australian cities and regions.

First stop is Adelaide.

Adelaide is the capital city of South Australia. It was originally established in 1836 as a city for free European settlers in the old colony. It is located on the River Torrens. It contains a population of 1.23 million people, which is a whopping 77% of the population of South Australia.

Adelaide was known for being quite a progressive town in its early days, giving religion and culture space to exist unhindered. As such, Adelaide is colloquially known as the "City of Churches", owing to the fact there are churches of pretty much every flavour you can think of having a presence there. It is also quite a cultural hub, with many music festivals happening either annually or biennially, including the Adelaide Fringe Festival and the WOMADelaide world music festival, among others.

The nearest capital city is Melbourne, 654 kilometres to the south east, with which is shares a fierce rivalry on the football (Aussie Rules, thank you very much!) field.

Adelaide also has a reputation for being a working class city, with many manufacturing industries based there, starting with boat building in the early 1900s and, until recently, automobile manufacturing.

Adelaide was a hive of activity during the mass migration period of the late 1950s and 1960s courtesy of the 10 Pound migration scheme. Like many other areas of Australia, "10 Pound Poms" moved in with their young families for a new life, and with plenty of opportunities for work. Many of the children of these families came of age right at the time The Beatles exploded onto the music scene, and the in-thing to do was to form a band. Being a cultural hub of sorts, there were plenty of places to play gigs in Adelaide, if you were any good.

From the 1960s onward, Adelaide has given us many great musicians and artists. On the serious side, Percy Grainger was born here (the writer of "English Country Garden" among many many other tunes), plus also Australian Idol winner Guy Sebastian, and children's entertainer Patsy Biscoe come from here.

Over the next few posts we'll take a look at some of the memorable acts that have formed in Adelaide.

The Twilights
The Twilights were a band made up of British Immigrants living in the working class satellite town of Elizabeth. The were formed in early 1965 and had a number of big hits until their breakup in 1969. The band is notable for the first public appearances of Glenn Shorrock, who went on to front Axiom and the Little River Band, as well as Terry Britten, who has been a songwriter-for-hire for the likes of Michael Jackson, Tina Turner and Cliff Richard. "Needle In A Haystack" was their only number 1 hit, released in 1966.

Zoot started out in Adelaide as a beat group playing Mod covers, but were persuaded to change their image radically with the marketing campaign "Think Pink - Think Zoot". Their early singles watered down their tough mod stance but they then upped the ante when they discarded the pink and introduced a new guitarist, a young Rick Springfield. Rick was responsible for turning up the amps and radically re-working existing tunes, like "Eleanor Rigby" by the Beatles (see below). The band also featured a future Little River Band member Beeb Birtles and future solo pop star Darryl Cotton.

Masters Apprentices
The Master's Apprentices started as a tough R&B group in the mold of Them or The Rolling Stones. They started life as an instrumental band in the mold of the Shadows in the early 1960s, but after the Beatles hit big, every instrumental band went scurrying for a singer. The Mustangs found Jim Keays and turned into a heavy blues band called Master's Apprentices. They had a genius guitarist in the form of Mick Bower, who had composed all their early hits, and right when the band were hitting their stride, he had a nervous breakdown before a gig in Tasmania and he quit the band. They struggled through a number of lineup changes before settling on Doug Ford as a guitarist. The had a second lease on life and produced some of the most enduring Australian classics before calling it a day in 1972. Jim Keays had a moderately successful solo career. Doug Ford disappeared to England somewhere and bassist Glenn Wheatley went on to manage the career of Little River Band, and later Moving Pictures and John Farnham.

The Angels

The Angels started life in Adelaide as the Moonshine Jug and String Band, before going electric as "The Keystone Angels" and then just The Angels in 1976. They feature the mad Irishman Doc Neeson on vocals, whose stage performances are a sight to behold. (Rumour has it that Doc once offered to manage the career of the aforementioned band Zoot). Wildly successful in Australia, they have attempted to succeed in America but have struggled due to management and label pressures and, of course, their name. They had to change it to "Angel City" to avoid being confused with a 60s girl group The Angels (who'd had a hit with "My Boyfriend's Back" circa 1960) and a glam metal band of the period called Angel. They tried again in 1989 as "The Angels From Angel City" but they weren't altogether successful then either. Still, the track "Marsellaise" still gets played on rock radio in the US and Pearl Jam, Guns and Roses and Nirvana have all cited the band as an influence.