Thursday, 26 February 2015

Funkadelic - "First Ya Gotta Shake The Gate" Review

So what do you expect from your favourite iconoclastic band, when they reform after decades to produce a comeback album?

Do you expect them to pick up where they left off, and produce an album that sounds exactly like they did decades ago?

Or, do you expect them to embrace technology and produce something thoroughly contemporary and modern to reflect the sound and the era they now find themselves in?

Or, do you approach it with no pre-conceptions at all from the outset and take the new music as you find it?

Any fan of any band in the situation that Funkadelic find themselves in right now is going to find the third option extremely difficult. We're always going to carry baggage of expectation to the party. We all want a record to be something to be proudly displayed next to their classic works. But is it fair to expect a new album made 33 years after the group's last one to sound like the one they finished with?

If you think it is fair they should sound like something released decades ago, you really haven't considered the nature of the ever-wandering musical troubadour that is George Clinton.

Throughout the entire dual careers of Parliament and Funkadelic, and then his solo career, his sound hasn't been static - it has always changed with the times. Therefore it would be reasonable to expect that the new record would sound quite contemporary, right?

Well, in truth, what you get when you commit to the mammoth 33-track 3-hour plus triple album from Funkadelic is a little of both.

On first listen it is a confused mess of vintage and modern sounds, fused with the characteristic strangeness that marked the classic Funkadelic sound. It borrows heavily on modern hip-hop, with many of the tracks on the first disc sounding like offcuts from a lost Snoop Dog or Dr Dre album. That may not be a bad thing for some - there is nothing inherently wrong with hip-hop in this writer's view. However they seem to take the very worst aspects of hip-hop and ride them into town - leaden grooves that don't swing, reducing women to mere sex objects, horribly pointless usage of the dreaded Autotune function, and a gratuitous overuse of both the n-word and the f-word.

The irony is that Funkadelic heavily influenced Snoop and Dre, and yet Clinton seems to find it a wise thing to compete with them at their level.

There is still a bit of the old school P-Funk groove here, as on "Radio Friendly", but in this instance it appears to use the sound as a way of dismissing its validity; as if to highlight that that the preceding B-Boy/Gangsta style is somehow more artistically legitimate.

It's been mooted that the album has 33 tracks to represent every one of the 33 years that has passed since the release of "The Electric Spanking of War Babies" in 1981. It could also be inspired by the monumental multi-disc studio sets by Prince, such as "Emancipation". Either way, it is like most multi-disc albums and needs an editor. One third of the tracks fall into the 7-minute- plus category, and while P-Funk at their best could hold attention for long stretches in years gone by, most of the long form jams meander in one spot and never develop. The stilted groove the opener "Baby Likes Fonkin' It Up" would be more effective at half its 9:37 length. "Roller Rink" finds a smooth groove but never actually develops or progresses anywhere in the 12 minutes it lasts for. There really isn't any way to justify the inclusion of an irredeemable track like "F****d Up", whose lyrics amount to little more than a repeating of the title for the entirely of its 7:43 running time. "The Mathematics of Love" mines a more gospel-soul feel for an over-long 12-minutes length while churning out some occasionally questionable mathematical metaphors for sex.

George Clinton, throughout his solo career, has always changed his sound in an attempt to remain contemporary. A canny move, favoured by jazz legends like Miles Davis and John Coltrane, it is a clever way to shore up your audience with younger, hipper people as older fans drift off. In some cases he's been successful (see: "If Anybody Gets Funked Up") The difference is that where Miles and Coltrane were ahead of the curve and gaining new fans as they went, "First Ya Gotta Shake The Gate" in parts sounds like a conscious effort not to appease long time Funkadelic fans but to capture a segment of the lucrative hip-hop audience, They're no longer setting the trends, as they were in the 1970s, but rather pandering to existing ones. There is a lot of music to digest here, but like an album such as "Stadium Arcadium" by Red Hot Chili Peppers, itself an overlong multi-disc set, it works for the iPod generation where playlists can be made instantly or an occasional random track played at will. By dropping some tracks and re-sequencing whats left, you can make your own perfect album.

Taken as a whole, it paints a messy picture of some of the worst aspects of modern pop while looking back to some past glories, all framed in a classic P-Funk context. It might break new ground for P-Funk, but next to recent releases by other artists, it doesn't sound all that groundbreaking at all.

As per usual, don't just take my word for it, take a listen yourself below. There is a strong language warning for most of the album, however. Headphones are recommended.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

The Curious Phenomenon of the EP

With physical audio formats seemingly disappearing and then reappearing again these days, it can be confusing to work out what exactly is the product an artist is really trying to sell.

It's pretty easy to work out what an album is, or a single, but an EP (extended play) is a format that is ambiguous at best. especially when you introduce the Mini-LP into the mix.

In the earliest part of the 20th century, up until 1948, the single was the dominant format. Two sided 10-inch diameter shellac records, playing at 78 rpm, with one song on each side. At that speed, it confined the playing time to little over 4 minutes per side. Longer pieces, such as classical music needed to be split across multiple records, and as such they would be bundled into large books that resembled a photo album, and they would be called an "album". In the early 1950s these were superceded by a 7-inch 45rpm single.

In 1948 the Long Playing record emerged. 12 inches in diametre, playing at 33rpm and allowing for an average of 20 minutes per side. In America the RIAA stipulated that the maximum amount of material on an LP was 35 minutes (it was revised and expanded later on). It took a while but it soon became the dominant recorded music format.

However, as the LP was considered an artisan product, a luxury item with the price tag to match, record labels came up with cheaper alternatives to shore up their revenue base. They introduced the 10-inch LP, a mini-LP usually carrying 8 songs (4 a side) and a maximum playing time of around 13-15 minutes a side. By the 1960s these were all but obsolete, but during the 1950s these were hugely popular, with Frank Sinatra being one of the most popular selling artists with albums like "Songs for Young Lovers".

With the rock and roll boom, it was originally thought that teenagers only bought singles and not albums, but despite Elvis and the Beatles selling large amounts of albums, they were still expensive, so in Britain they came up with a mid-range product that would be a little more collectable and valuable than the single, but not as expensive as the LP. The Extended Play, or EP for short, was a four song 7-inch record that featured similar style packaging to the LP but at a fraction of the cost. They were given unique titles, similar to albums.

The EP was the same size and speed as the single and compressed the grooves on each side to allow for up to 7.5 minutes a side playing time These were massive selling items in the 1960s but fell out of favour with major labels in the 1970s. Independent labels and punk bands took to the EP in the 1970s and beyond, but the majors confused the issue by starting to release 12-inch equivalents of an EP in the late 1970s and 1980s. These usually contained 5 tracks and ran at around 20 minutes.

Major labels also introduced a new format in the 1980s, the 12-inch "Mini-LP" which was longer than an EP but shorter than an LP, but that also confused the classification of certain albums. For example, Alice In Chains compiled two EPs together in one package on two discs as "Jar of Flies/Sap". "Sap" had 5 tracks (4 listed on the sleeve and label) and ran at less that 20 minutes, while "Jar of Flies" has 7 tracks at lasts for almost 30 minutes. Is one an EP and the other a mini-LP? "Jar of Flies" topped the Billboard Album Chart. Is it regarded as a short LP?

Elvis Presley's first LP had 12 tracks and lasted 25 minutes while Pink Floyd's "Animals" has 5 tracks and has a 40+ minute duration. Is one a mini-LP?

Not exactly. The British Recording Industry classifies the EP as "any record with more than four distinct tracks or with a playing time of more than 25 minutes is classified as an album for sales-chart purposes. If priced as a single, they will not qualify for the main album chart..." as described by the Official Chart Company.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) defines an EP as "3-5 songs OR under 30 minutes, whereas a single is allowed to contain up to 4 songs."

In this modern age of downloads, the EP still exists in the form of a short release of just 4-5 songs lasting less than 20 minutes, and it still a common release format for young artists who don't yet want to create a longer form piece, and to attract all the scrutiny and analysis that goes with it.

This probably doesn't simplify the matter, however it is not a simple matter to begin with. In my own mind, if the release has 4-6 distinct tracks, lasts around 20-25 minutes and as a unit it has a title unto itself, it is an EP. A single has a lead track that gives the unit its name plus a number of b-sides or bonus songs (sometimes up to 4 or 5, not counting remixes). A mini-LP has 6-7 tracks and lasts up to 30 minutes. An Album has a duration of over 30 minutes and, unless they are long songs, 8 songs or more.

Using this criteria, I don't consider "For The Working Class Man" by Jimmy Barnes as an album, but rather a double 12-inch EP. It is billed on the sleeve as a having 5 new tracks and a "bonus disc" of seven remixes. Both discs total 45 minutes and is a single CD. It charted at #1 on the Australian album chart in spite of this.

Do you have a favourite EP? Tell us below in the comments.

Punk Night at the Duck's Nuts: The Sequel

And everyone loves a sequel, right?

Well, maybe not in the case of Police Academy XI. However, in this case we'll make an exception.

After my previous post about Attila The Stockbroker and his adventures in Newcastle at a "testicular themed pub" as chronicled in "Punk Night At The Duck's Nuts", he has been in touch with us here at the Sound and The Fury HQ and he has supplied us with a follow-up story about Newcastle, where he returned to play a gig in the city in 2011.

I mentioned in the previous post about seeing an Attila show advertised in Newcastle that I thought about attending...and ultimately didn't. It turns out that this story describes what happened at that very gig...

NEWCASTLE – THE REPLAY, by Attila The Stockbroker.
It’s a Saturday night in Newcastle, New South Wales, eleven years later.

News has filtered through to me that The Duck’s Nuts has apparently changed its name to The Silk Bar.

But far worse news is that the mural of the duck on a surfboard with his testicles hanging out has apparently been painted over.

Robina says, with a twinkle in her eye, ‘Thank God it’s gone!’

I think ‘I’ve brought you on an epic, romantic journey to a town on the other side of the world to show you a mural of a duck on a surfboard with his testicles hanging out - and it’s been painted over. Surely you could be more appreciative of my efforts and sympathetic to my anguish!’

But I don’t actually say that.

I’m playing at the Cambridge Hotel: an enormous venue in a run down area three miles from the city centre.

According to the board outside (the only visible publicity anywhere) there are four bands on the bill.

Actually, there are three bands and a poet.

My friends the Go Set are headlining, then me, then the Sydney Girls’ Choir then the Havelocks.

At the appointed hour for the first band the paying audience is zero.

Even the twenty elderly alcoholics from the Duck’s Nuts would be welcome in this cavernous void.

The Havelocks don’t have locks. (They may well have some on their guitar cases and I’m sure they do on their front doors, but they don’t have any on their heads).

They take to the stage to a combined audience of myself, Robina, and two members of the Sydney Girls’ Choir.

The Havelocks appear to be in their early thirties and sound to me a bit like Crosby, Stills and Nash.

Their friendly singer tells me he is originally from Staines in the UK. I want to ask him why anybody, even someone from Staines, especially someone who presumably loves music,
would emigrate to Newcastle, New South Wales, but I don’t. I think it would seem insensitive.

The Havelocks finish their set. By this time the paying audience has risen to five.

As the next band take the stage I can see a pattern developing. The Havelocks don’t have locks: The Sydney Girls’ Choir aren’t from Sydney, aren’t girls and aren’t a choir. They are four blokes from Woolongong in their early twenties and are an excellent kick-ass rock n roll band in a Kings of Leon meet Dr Feelgood kind of way.

The first thing the singer says is that he is pleased to see so many people there because they played in Newcastle last week and nobody turned up at all. I admire his dedication to the cause.

I join the three-strong moshpit. I have a lovely time. Then it’s my turn.

By this time the audience has soared to about twenty including three Attila fans, one of whom is from Canada. I don’t think either of the other two are from Newcastle.

The void in front of me is aching. It’s monumental. It’s like being at a Crystal Palace home game.

Needless to say, I start with ‘Punk Night at the Duck’s Nuts’ and the sound of surreal irony echoes across the tiled savannah.

One twentieth of the audience suddenly shouts at me. What he shouts is ‘Yabba Yabba’.

I am confused by this at first but soon realize that this is his way of conveying the fact that he is unfamiliar with the concept of the unaccompanied spoken word as a form of live entertainment.

I berate him, gently. He shuts up.

In the middle of my performance The Go Set arrive. They’ve been doing another gig at a birthday party round the corner. I finish with a flourish to the sound of nineteen pairs of hands clapping in a wind tunnel and ask my friends how their gig went. Shithouse, I am informed. There were 200 people there. When the Go Set started playing most of the guests went outside and began dancing to techno. The rest sat in front of them eating and chatting.

Given this, I wonder why they were booked to do the gig in the first place. The people who booked them have promised to turn up here. I hope they will, so I can ask them. But they don’t.

The Go Set play I join them on fiddle and it must be said that the twenty-five people in the audience have a lovely time and are most receptive.

Afterwards, someone apologises for the turnout and says we would have had a better crowd if we had played somewhere else. I agree. They mean somewhere else in Newcastle. I don’t.

The next day as we head out of town we drive past what used to be the Duck’s Nuts and is now the Silk Bar.

The mural of a duck on a surfboard with his testicles hanging out has indeed gone. In his stead there is a grubby silver banner draped on the wall with ‘The Silk Bar’ written on it. The place is now a shabby backpackers’ hostel and poking out of an upstairs window there is something which looks worryingly like the Antipodean equivalent of Joseph Porter’s Sleeping Bag.

Then I notice that one of the pub signs still says ‘The Duck’s Nuts Hotel’. My heart sings.

I ask Robina to take a photo. The angle is wrong, she says. It won’t come out. My heart sinks.

We drive away. Back in Melbourne I recount this tale to my musician friend Rory. ‘John’ he says, earnestly, ‘Newcastle is the rectum of the Australian music scene’.

‘Rory, my old mate’ I say ‘I think you may be right.’

Reprinted with permission from Attila The Stockbroker, with thanks.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Punk Night at the Duck's Nuts

image source: Punky Gibbon

John Blaine is a performer who goes by the rather unusual name of Attila The Stockbroker.

He is a British punk poet, taking his inspiration from the strident political stance of UK punk rockers The Clash. He has made a career from his potent topical ranting for 35 years on the 8th September this year.

He is a frequent visitor to Australia it would seem. I'd only heard of him through the Canonical List of Weird Band Names, a piece of essential reading for those with a twisted sense of humour.

A few years ago, on one of my infrequent visits back to my hometown of Newcastle in New South Wales, I saw a poster advertising a local gig of his, on his 30th Anniversary tour. Intrigued, I thought that if someone or some thing could exist and survive for 30 years on the back of such a ridiculous name, I need to do some research and find out all about it.

Upon further investigation, I found Attila's work to be highly engaging and thought provoking. I began to regret missing that gig in Newcastle.

Attila actually wrote a monologue about my home town, inspired by his first visit there to play a gig at the University, supporting Sydney band The Whitlams (His description of them in this piece is hilarious). The piece is called "Punk Night at the Duck's Nuts". It's a story about a place in a foreign land in strange environs, that just happened to have a pub on a street corner so named for a body part on a male duck.

image source: The Herald

The Duck's Nuts Hotel on the corner of Hunter Street and Steel Street, was known as the Family Hotel for many years before under going a name change to the now famous moniker in the year 2000. As recently as 2013 it has been renamed again to The Silk Hotel. When it was known as The Family, I saw many a lively gig there. It was always a great gig venue, with the tiny front bar packed out regularly. It had a great vibe and the music was usually great.

Although, after I'd left town and the venue changed names, gigs weren't all that flash, according to our man Mr Stockbroker. This tale of a sordid Wednesday night listening to a covers band in this now dodgy little pub is a fascinating and dead-on representation of a city that was all but devastated by the relocation of its main industry - steelmaking - to other parts of the country. This piece (I think) dates back to around the year 2000-1 which was roughly when the BHP Steelworks had shut down and the unemployment rate rocketed. The town was quickly becoming a shadow of its former self when Attila made these observations. Newcastle has slowly regenerated into a more gentrified and welcoming place, but it is lacking the rogue charm it had in years gone by.

Here below is a reading of "Punk Night At The Ducks Nuts", a requiem of sorts for Novacastrians,(i.e. Newcastle people) like myself, everywhere by Attila The Stockbroker.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

100 LPs Shortlist #45: Big Brother and the Holding Company - "Cheap Thrills"

It's a rare album whose legend exists as much for the music as it does for its album cover. The second album by San Francisco's psych-rock legends Big Brother and the Holding Company features an iconic cover that is so rich in detail and so fascinating to look at that it almost eclipses the music.

How on earth did I ever find an album that was so far outside of my "time"? As a 90s teenager I found an out-of-print book chronicling the artwork of the album cover from the birth of rock and roll up until the late 1970s called "The Face of Rock and Roll" by Bruce Pollock and John Wagman. It was an LP album sized full colour illustrated book with a stack of fascinating looking album covers that one day I'd hoped to own or at least listen to the contents of.

All these years later I still haven't listened to them all. I haven't even found half of them to purchase yet. But I did find "Cheap Thrills". And it is an album for the ages.

After discovering Janis Joplin some 20-odd years after she'd died, via the "Pearl" LP, it was only natural that sooner or later I'd bump into Big Brother and the Holding Company. And of course, Janis' vocals in this record are the stuff of legend. They solidified her status as the most powerful vocalist of her generation.

Not bad for a record that ended up completely differently to the way it was supposed to be.

After releasing a very tame sounding LP on a tiny independent Jazz label Mainstream, after the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 major label A&R men started swarming around San Francisco looking for hip new bands. Columbia/CBS scored Big Brother, and they were quickly tasked with the job of making an album.

The original plan was supposed to be to release a compilation of tracks recorded during two nights of concerts at the Grande Ballroom in Detroit, but the producer wasn't too fond of the sound of the tapes. They then tried working in the studio, but that didn't work out either. This was one of the most anticipated releases of 1968 and the media, the fans and the label were getting impatient so they released a mix of the best bits of the two - some studio, some live. From the seven tracks on the original LP, four were live, two were studio tracks and the remaining one was a studio track with a rowdy invited audience.

Columbia's then CEO Clive Davis wasn't overly happy with the album, but felt vindicated in his signing when the album hit the top of the US Billboard album charts, He especially singled out the cover of George Gershwin's "Summertime" as being a great way to get the "kids" interested in Gershwin's music again. Clive played it for Richard Rogers (one half of Rogers and Hammerstein) and he hated it. Go figure.

The long version of "Ball And Chain" is probably the one track that turned Janis into an immortal. If she never recorded another thing after this album, she would be forever regarded as one of the best. This live version is one of the most chilling and powerful performances on record. She gives 110% in this and every note comes from the core of her broken soul. Her pain is real on this: this is the most honest performance I've ever heard. I've seen it reduce people to tears, such is its power.

It could be debated how long Janis' voice would have lasted if she had lived. She sang above and beyond her physical capabilities every night, leaving no-one watching in any doubt that she had given everything of herself on stage that night. But how long would she last doing that?

One of the greatest albums of any era, and not just of its time. Great music is ageless and timeless and this album proves it - it sounds great almost 50 years after being recorded.

Take a listen below:

Vale Sam Andrew and Lesley Gore

In quick succession we have lost a couple of great musicians from the 1960s.

Sam Andrew, one time Janis Joplin sideman and founding member of San Francisco psychedelic pioneers Big Brother and the Holding Company has died at age 71 of complications following surgery for a heart attack.

He was one of the two guitarists in Big Brother and he was one of the main songwriters in the band, he left in 1969 when Janis left to start her own band. Once Janis' Kozmik Blues Band morphed into the Full Tilt Boogie band, Sam decamped back to Big Brother. The Big Brother imploded in 1972 and he continued to perform sporadically until a few months before his heart attach in late 2014.

His unique guitar style and contribution to rock music will be remembered, and he will be missed. Vale Sam.

Also today, 60s pop singer Lesley Gore passed on from Lung Cancer.

She was discovered at age 16 by none other than Quincy Jones, signed to Mercury records and then proceeded to make some of the more memorable singles in the early 1960s, such as "It's My Party", "Sunshine, Lollypops and Rainbows" and the early feminist anthem "You Don't Own Me".

Later in her career she wrote songs for other people and contributed songs to films such as "Fame", as well as making many television appearances.

Vale Lesley.

Bargain Bin Review #4: JD McPherson - "Signs and Signifiers"

This one seems to be an odd album to be in a bargain bin, as it doesn't feel like it's been available for all that long. However, when you consider it was recorded and first issued independently in 2010, and reissued by Universal Music in 2012, then yeah, it has been a while.

I don't imagine an album with such an authentic retro sound would have found much of an audience in 2012. It is a faithful reproduction of the kind of sound that was created in small studios in places like Chicago and Memphis for labels like Sun and Chess during the 1950s. Heavy on the rockabilly feel, recorded on analog reel-to-reel tape with roof suspended microphones, with double bass and analog tremolo effects on the guitars, this album sounds simultaneously out of step with modern music and yet so fresh.

Former Art student JD McPherson has created a record that is so enticingly great that it is irresistible. The problem is that this album was so off the radar that it wouldn't have scored much radio play. But since when is that important when the music is this good?

"Signs and Signifiers" possesses a sound that would make Brian Setzer and the Stray Cats green with envy. JD McPherson nails the retro feel of the songs perfectly while the Stray Cats are still looking for the hammer. The title track sounds like a lost Bo Diddley number, while the lead single "North Side Gal" has a sound that is reminiscent of the sides Ike Turner made for Sun in the early 1950s (under the moniker of Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats).

A rare album is this that is recorded all analog and yet sounds warm and inviting in the digital sharpness of compact disc. It deserved to find a wider audience, considering that this is music for people who think that "they don't make music like they used to".

Take a listen for yourself below. Enjoy.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Underrated Live Albums #3: Pacifier/Shihad - "Live"

Shihad are one of the most successful New Zealand-originated bands, whose success was derailed in America due to a name change and an unfortunate series of world events...

The name "Shihad" is a distortion of the word "Jihad", as used in the 1984 film Dune. However the band members couldn't work out how to spell the word and they ended up with Shihad.

Four albums into their career and they were a multi-platinum success in Australia, but when it came time to break in America with album number five, an unfortunate thing happened...

Two planes hit the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York City on September the 11th 2001. These actions were deemed to be part of a holy war by Islamic terrorists known as a Jihad, and and such the name Shihad could not continue to be used in the USA, for obvious reasons.

They changed their name after a successful single from their previous album "The General Electric" known as "Pacifier". It was the favourite song of vocalist Jon Toogood's mother.

In 2004 the band decided to change it back as they wisely decided that Pacifier was a crap name. However, under that moniker, they released a career-spanning live document that stands as one of the greatest live records ever made.

With a fat, gritty sound, an unceasing ensemble energy and a supercharged crowd, the album is the musical equivalent of a proton energy pill.

The song selection hammers home the point that the band were actually quite solid songwriters, something the production on their studios albums does its best to mask. The consistently strong song selection suggests that their best songs were not always singles but also tucked away as deep cuts on albums and EPs.

The only real let down is that Jon Toogood's stage banter is awkward and suggests he's quite fond of using a certain four letter expletive. Despite this, the music is uniformly solid and pounding. The one slow point on the album is towards the end of side two (of the limited vinyl edition) where "The Brightest Star" slows proceedings to a crawl, before launching into a brutal version of "My Mind's Sedate". Their most successful song "Home Again" closes off the album on a high point. The audience sings along at every point and always fills in the words at the band's insistence, especially in "Run" and "Comfort Me".

This is one hell of an album and well worth the listen as an introduction for those that are unfamiliar to the band. This could almost be a greatest hits album considering it cherry-picks the highlights of the band's first ten years...

Take a listen again below.

Underrated Live Albums #2: Slade - "Slade Alive"

Slade are probably best described as a "band of (and for) the people". Hated by critics, loved by the average Joe record buyer, they wore their working class, northern British roots loudly and proudly on their gawdy glittery sleeves.

Lumped in with the Glitter/Glam Rock movement with Bowie, Marc Bolan and T.Rex and (heaven forbid) Gary Glitter, Slade looked and sounded like none of them (big hats and awful sparkly outfits notwithstanding). Their sound was loud guitars and boot-stomping heavy beats with basic songs (deliberately mis-spelt) delivered in a voice that would strip the paint from an old Holden.

The description above is probably reads like a disaster - a mess of noise and charmless male bravado. And it would be, if it wasn't just so bloody endearing. And fun.

The remarkable thing about this album is that there is a remarkable lack of pretense. The audience love the experience and make the vibe of the show (and this recording) almost tangible.

Slade Alive! was a record that was recorded live to tape without any studio altering. It was done live a purpose built studio in front of 300 fan club members and was a fortune changer much like "Alive!" was for Kiss. Slade's previous few albums flopped and the live album gave them a big hit that they were desperately looking for. The band were already a big live draw, so it was a canny move to capture that on record.

Again, artistry and technique are not matters of contention here. Songwriting prowess is not a feature here. Most of the seven songs are covers, along with two originals never recorded in studio form, but they are done with the same big voiced, stomping feel that drove audiences wild back then. Noddy Holder's vocals are ear splitting but yet it sounds compelling. His charm in conversing with the audience between songs just highlights how much fun the whole experience is.

Slade's fortunes soured in the late 70s as the gimmick wore off. They picked up again in the 80s and tailed off again post 1985 until they split up in the 1990s. This album has been cited as an influence by countless bands, but in recent years this album seems to have gone out of favour with writers and collators of "best of" lists.

The album is not available on Spotify, but it is available as a playlist in YouTube. Take a listen to it again below.

Bargain Bin Review #3: Pre.Shrunk - "Bestseller"

Naming your album something like "Album of the Year" doesn't guarantee that it really live up to its title.  (And in your case Faith No More, it wasn't).

Ditto Pre.Shrunk, whose second LP "Bestseller" all but sank like a stone.

One thing that is common with bargain bins in record shops around the country is that independently produced Australian music is over-represented in them. It's a shame considering how great much of it is. 

Pre.Shrunk were, at the turn of the millennium, a big draw on the live scene and Triple J mainstays. On early singles like "Gamer" and "Frogga Boogaga" they took the two bass, drums and no guitar formula to new and exciting places.

This second album failed to find its target audience for two reasons, in my view. 

1. The record label was having distribution problems and the band subsequently split from the label around 2003.
2. This album actually lacked the hyper-manic energy and sense of gonzo fun that the previous records had.

There's nothing wrong with what is here, save for the disturbing eyeball artwork on the cover, but rather that it is quite tame in comparison. It lacks personality. It makes some interesting explorations into electronica, and at times the band finds some soulful grooves, but overall it comes up lacking.

Take a listen below and make up your own mind.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Underrated Live Albums #1: Crowded House - "Farewell to the World"

On November 24th 1996, a very special event happened on the steps of the Sydney Opera house. Crowded House played their first show in almost 12 months. It was also to be their last show. Forever.

It was also the one show that I attended that I actually did not get to witness. But that is a story for another time...

Crowded House was started by Neil Finn after his previous band, Split Enz, imploded in the wake of their leader Tim Finn leaving the band. Neil, a New Zealand born musician, carried on the Enz for a while before limping to its final conclusion in 1985. Neil then recruited two Melbourne based musicians Nick (brother of Hunters and Collectors vocalist Mark) Seymour on bass and drummer Paul Hester and moved to LA to score a record deal. Starting with the band's stellar 1986 debut, the band released four consistently great albums that all sold well in Australia but sold in ever decreasing quantities in the US. Sales started slow in the UK and Europe but they ended up being one of the most cherished pop bands of the 90s there.

The band were known for their alternately upbeat and moody, introspective music and zany humour on stage. However, the wheels started to fall off the band in 1994 when Paul Hester left the band, citing homesickness (we now know he was battling severe depression at the time, a battle which fatally ended by his own hand in 2005, sadly). The band finished the tour without him and the tried to record a new album, but for some reason the project was aborted after only a handful of tracks were finished.

The band announced they were splitting in May 1996 and then set aside the date of Saturday November 23, 1996 to play a very special final shown on the steps of the Sydney Opera House. It was to be a free concert with donations taken from the crowd to support the Royal Cord Blood Bank at the Sydney Children's Hospital. However on the day of the event, it rained and the event was postponed until the next day. (The band still played for the few thousand people that flew in for the event from around the country and even from overseas that couldn't stay for the postponed show).

Sunday the 24th was a glorious sunny day and Circular Quay was abuzz with energy, far more than it normally was. The opening band that went on stage around 4pm was Brisbane favourites Powderfinger. Followed by fellow Brisbanites Custard, then local heroes You Am I, and then around 7:30pm, the band themselves played what was probably the greatest show of their careers.

Crowded House treated the crowd on that balmy evening to a broad selection of their back catalog, and held the audience in the palm of their hand from go to woe, The DVD and the album cut the between song banter to a minimum, but the chemistry between crowd and band crackles with energy. The crowd's physical acrobatics early on cause Neil to give a safety warning to the otherwise well behaved crowd. He responds to the crowd's chants for some water mid-song. (In "Into Temptation", he changes the opening lyric to "You've opened up your door, I think they need some water...").

The band are clearly having fun on this stage, and during the five song encore, Neil is clearly moved. He doesn't want to leave that stage. During the final song "Don't Dream It's Over", it's pretty clear he doesn't want it to end. He deliberately draws out the ending and there are visible tears from both the audience and the band when it finally ends and they take their bows.

This is a live album that is a document of a special concert that will not be repeated. It was a once in a lifetime show witnessed by over 120,000 people (although some estimates say that the crowd stretching around the Quay towards The Rocks was more like 300,000). Sure the band have reformed and will probably farewell the world again at some stage, but this was a truly special event. This was the event where a lot of people around the world who'd became disinterested in the band's declining fortunes after the "Together Alone" LP, realised just how special a band they were ceasing to be. This writer included. This made it all the more bittersweet.

The CD release does the right thing and includes every song they played that night. Anything else would have ruined the experience. This album wasn't issued shortly after the show. It was only issued on the 10th anniversary of the gig in 2006. Either way, it is a spectacular document of a special night. It is a live album that deserves to be in the Parthenon of great live albums.

Take a listen this most beautiful live album below. Enjoy

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

The So-Called "Great" Live Albums

I've personally had a love/hate relationship with the idea of the live album.

The live albums that critics love to cite as "essential" are ones that I tend to think are overrated. As much as I am a Kiss fan, "Kiss Alive!" was to me poorly recorded to the point of stripping the excitement from the music. I found "Frampton Comes Alive" was overblown and bland. "Live at Leeds" just doesn't truly capture the raw energy of the Who (although the reissue with the full concert on double cd in 1996 the true awesomeness of the concert is finally confirmed).

I intend to showcase some live albums on the blog this year that have escaped the radar of the music writers and compilers of "best of" lists.

Starting with....

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Bargain Bin Review #2: Morrissey - "Greatest Hits"

It's not often you see Morrissey albums in bargain bins. But then again, not every Morrissey album could be seen as a throwaway product.

In the grand scheme of things, copious amounts of compilation albums are not uncommon for an artist as prolific as Morrissey. As with his career in the Smiths, he has made many non-album singles and b-sides that are so string that when collated on an LP together, create an album almost (if not more so) as strong as a regular studio release (take "Bona Drag" for example).

But this 2008 compilation album is curious from the perspective that it ignores a great deal of the artist's career, only touching briefly on high spots from the 80s and 90s. It spends most of its capital on singles from his (then) most recent two albums "Ringleader of the Tormentors" and "You Are The Quarry". It takes four songs each from both these albums, three classic singles from the late 1980s, one from the 1990s ("The More You Ignore Me..." from "Vauxhall and I"), one live track from his 2005 live album and two new songs, that turned up later on his follow up LP "Years of Refusal".

As a summary of the consistently great quality of Morrissey's solo output, this is hopelessly slanted in favour of more recent work. It mostly ignores the 1990s and shines a light deliberately and unfairly on his recent work, not quite airbrushing out the older history but possibly to make the elder material look inferior against his latest music.

As a package, the lack of sleeve notes are frustrating and I expect there to be more detail within the cover to learn about the contents, especially as I'm not as familiar with every last record Morrissey has ever made. The photography on the front cover booklet makes Morrissey look almost sanctimonious, and the beefcake shot of his naked butt on the inside back cover with the scrawled pun (based on his 1992 album) "Your arse an' all" is just a little too much to bear (no pun intended).

As an album there is plenty of great music here and it makes a great listen from end to end. However, if you are looking for a thorough and balanced career retrospective this ain't it.

Take a listen for yourself below.