Music Reviews

NICK LOWE: 80s album period re-issued

NICK THE KNIFE/THE ABOMINABLE SHOWMAN/…AND HIS COWBOY OUTFIT/THE ROSE OF ENGLAND/PINKER & PROUDER THAN PREVIOUS/PARTY OF ONE
YEP ROC
Nick Lowe’s 80s albums re-released.
8/10, 7/10, 8/10, 8/10, 9/10, 9/10

Yep Roc re-release Nick Lowe’s albums from 1982’s Nick the Knife to 1990’s Party Of One. It’s a period for Lowe that bridges the gap between his ground breaking work of the 70s (which included harnessing the energy of punk as Stiff’s in-house producer) to his later, much acclaimed, mature work. It’s a period often overlooked, which is a shame because beneath some of the slick 80’s production, there are real gems, including: Stick it Where the Sun Don’t Shine, Indoor Fireworks, Crying In My Sleep, Who Was That Man, and the heart wrenching classic, The Rose of England. These records remind us that Lowe is a consummate songwriter and the quiet genius of English rock.

This review first appeared in Louder Than War magazine, issue 11 August-September 2017

 

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Music Reviews

The Fall: New Facts Emerge album review

THE FALLNew-Facts-Emerge-Cover
NEW FACTS EMERGE
Cherry Red
Thirty-Second Studio Release for The Fall
9/10

On the opening track of New Facts Emerge, there is the sound of an aging man uttering guttural, incoherent noises, whilst banging percussion. The man is Mark E. Smith, who has been The Fall since 1976, hiring and firing band members and releasing records with more veracity than Dylan Thomas knocked back pints. Smith clearly still has something to say, though at times what he’s saying is lost in angry, incoherent, surreal vocals.

The music, as on Fol De Rol and the title track, is often traditional rock, with a driving, energetic razor-sharp beat. There is a touch of Indie on Brillo de Facto and O! ZZTRRK Man. There is rockabilly on Groundsboy, with Smith sounding like an Elvis from hell, and the rock ‘n’ roller Second House Now, with Smith mimicking a drunken, crooning Jerry Lee. Gibbus Gibson is much lighter, almost jaunty, with Smith sounding youthful and coherent. Couples vs Jobless Mid 30’s is the albums epic. It has a psychedelic opening, with crazy southern-gothic noises like a Texas chainsaw massacre house. Then it segues into industrial noise. There are vocals about torture, and some demonic chanting in the background, before it moves into a rock out ending. Is this what it’s like being in the head of Mark E. Smith? The songs, though tight, often sound improvised. There are hints of PIL, though Lydon is too self-aware of his own image, whilst Smith has no boundaries between his stage persona and his own reality. He is a high priest performing an exorcism on himself, spewing forth his inner demons to infect a pristine, antiseptic, virtual world. A man well before his time, channelling a groove that he’s made his own; a sullen prophet who brooks no dissent; a cranky old man railing at a ridiculous world. Often a loner can, over time, become so self-absorbed that outside influences become irrelevant and there is nobody to put a check on them as they slide into egomania. What saves Smith is that he’s so damn listenable to. Genius or piss-taker? Probably partly both. So, a genius piss taker who’s been ranting in the wilderness since 1976. One day the world will listen, and Smith won’t give a fuck.

The last song is called Nine Out Of Ten, now that’s what I call prophecy.

This review first appeared in Louder Than War magazine, issue 11 August-September 2017

Music Reviews

Banditos: Visionland – album review

Banditos BS253_Cover_1800_0

Visionland (Bloodshot)

CD/Vinyl/DL

Released 23 June, 2017

8/10

Nashville rockers sophomore album hits the highs.

They look like they’ve just fallen out of some highway hugging bar that’s dripping with decay and menace and sound like the misbegotten bastard child of Janis Joplin and The Flamin’ Groovies. Banditos are a six piece Birmingham/Nashville based band who released their critically acclaimed eponymous debut album in 2015. They have a sound that effortlessly straddles the years between 60s and the present to create music that is both modern and timeless. Opener Fine Fine Day is a great bar room rocker, like Dr Feelgood played by the Velvets, that gets the toe-a-tapping and the head-a-nodding. Strange Heart is a beautiful song with a 60s West Coat psychedelic tinge, think of the Doors and 13th Floor elevators, with singer Mary Beth Richardson channelling Janis Joplin in all her raw beauty.

The vocals are shared on the album between Richardson, Corey Parsons and Steve Pierce and, in a larger sense, this sounds like a real band with all group members stepping up to the plate.

The title track Visionland concerns the building of a theme park of the same name in the 90s near the home town of a couple of the band members. It offered hope of employment and better days but closed after only 5 years. The song uses this as a metaphor for our times of lost dreams with a country-psychedelia soundtrack. Thick and Thin and Fun All Night have a Flamin’ Groovies honky-tonk blues groove. Healin’ Slow is a sultry country-blues song that drips with desire and Southern heat. Whilst many of the songs are infused with a Stones sensibility, Lonely Boy is a wonderful Beatles Merseybeat era pop tune. When It Rains is a superbly crafted rock/pop number that, back in the day when people still bought this type of record, would have been a top ten smash. Still and Quiet is soulful psychedelia which has an epic feel that had me in mind of a James Bond song. It’s all wrapped up with the country-rock of DDT with possibly the coolest banjo playing, courtesy of Steve Pierce, that I’ve ever heard.

Banditos may not bring anything new to the rock table but, with a hint of gumbo about it, this is rock food for the soul and a ten-course meal that will want you coming back for more.

Banditos is on Facebook and Twitter.

This review first appeared on Louder Than War.

 

Music Reviews

Saint Etienne: Home Counties album review

SAINT ETIENNE61Jc1iyNZLL._SX355_
HOME COUNTIES
HEAVENLY RECORDINGS
Home counties concept album
7/10

The Home Counties have always been viewed with a mix of ridicule and sepia-tinged nostalgia; a vision of England that never was. Saint Etienne, themselves residents, take on the stereotypes with a concept album of sorts, reminiscent of The Kinks Village Green. It’s a train trip around the satellites of London. It opens, perfectly, with a Radio 4 announcer and we’re off, calling at Something New about a teenage girl creeping in past midnight, Whyteleafe which imagines a David Jones who never became David Bowie in a boring office job, the wonderful Train Drivers In Eyeliner and the epic Sweet Arcadia which is a lament for the lost dream of the Essex Plotland settlers. Saint Etienne have always had a clean sound, creating ambience and dance rhythms for a train journey well worth jumping on board for.

This review first appeared in Louder Than War magazine, issue 10, June/July 2017

Music Reviews

GORILLAZ: HUMANZ ALBUM REVIEW

GORILLAZgorillaz-humanz
HUMANZ
PARLOPHONE
Virtual band return in cartoon times
8/10

The world’s most successful virtual band return with their first album in six years. What prompted Gorillaz to return after all these years – according to mentor Damon Albarn – was the election of a cartoon President. Reality and unreality, truth and untruth are mixed up on Humanz, as in the world we now inhabit. As usual with a Gorillaz album there is a mix of rap, hip-hop, dub and soul, with stellar guests.

It opens with Ascension, an apocalyptic rap through the darkness of a world where the sky is falling. We then embark on a journey of twenty songs: partying whilst Rome burns, with dark reflection, and hope. It’s a schizophrenic symphony blaring out across a world gone insane. It’s that weird feeling we got waking up to President Trump and thinking shit, that must have been some party we were at.

Highlights include the dub heavy Saturnz Barz, the industrial Momentz, beating out a rhythm to the tune of the work clock, the beautiful post-party feel of Busted & Blue, and the distractions of pleasure on Carnival. There is a psychotic, edgy undercurrent to the songs, representing the seismic shifts of recent times. Hallelujah Money is the most overtly anti-Trump song, with its preacher like vocals extolling isolationism. The album ends with a glimmer of hope on We Got The Power; a call to love each other. Will we be human, or humanz? The choice is yours.

This review appeared in Louder Than War magazine, issue 10 June/July 2017

Music Reviews

Sarah Shook & The Disarmers: Sidelong – album review

Sarah Shook & The Disarmers a3879543519_10.jpg

Sidelong (Bloodshot Records)

CD/Vinyl/DL

Out 28th April, 2017

09/10

Sarah Shook & The Disarmers first release for Bloodshot Records blows the competition out the water.

The problem with genres is stereotyping and those bandwagon jumpers who think they know how to play punk, heavy metal, goth or what have you, and end up turning people off, rather than on. If you’ve never given Country a chance because of that very fact, then you are missing out big time. Especially when it comes to Sarah Shook and the Disarmers who take Country, give it a good kicking and then stand it back on its feet and buy it a whiskey. If you’re expecting yee-haws then you’re gonna get fuck y’alls.

Country music was always the music of the downtrodden; a curious mixture of upbeat rhythms, laments for broken loves, the poetry of despair, finding redemption in alcohol or God (most likely both) and a fuck you if you don’t like it attitude. Sarah Shook and the Disarmers are clearly steeped in their love of country but they don’t treat it with reverence: they live it and breathe it. These are songs for a community of lost souls, misfits, giving praise to misery and one finger to loneliness. When Shook sings about drinking whiskey in the morning to drown her sorrows, she sounds the real deal.

And what a voice she has. Part pure, part ragged. Part punk sneer and part haunting vibrato. If an angel and a demon had an illegitimate daughter it would sing like Sarah Shook. And with a backing band that are deceptively free and easy, making complex rhythms simple, they’re a match made in heaven and hell.

Album opener, Keep The Home Fires Burning, is a song about longing, waiting for her lover to return. The Nail is about a failing relationship, with the great hook of ‘who will be the nail in the coffin’. Heal Me is so fucking good it almost hurts. A song about the despair of everyday hardship, where only whisky can cure ills. An outlaw song rejoicing in badness. Sidelong is a song about those lonely dating bars, that moment leading up to taking a chance, but will it just be another loser? No Name pays homage to the outlaws of the old Wild West. Dwight Yoakam is a haunting, bitter song about losing your lover to someone else. When she sings words about her lover like this they drip with bitterness and stick you right in the gut: “He likes to make love when he’s smoking. And he doesn’t walk around like he’s broken. And he sings just like Dwight Yoakam.” Misery Without Company invokes the optimistic belief that tomorrow will be better, but for tonight there’s just a bottle to empty. Solitary Confinement is a rockabilly lonesome blues song. Nothing Feels Right But Doing Wrong is an ode to the devil and booze. Fuck Up is just a great song that could have spilled over into self-pity but just stands as a way it is song. Make It Up To Momma is humorous and self-effacing. A song about a down and dirty guy who’s killed and wasted everything he ever had in life, but he’s gonna make it up to his mum by getting a momma heart tattoo! Road That Leads To You ends the album off in style with Shook singing about travelling the road the way that she does, with only one thing on her mind.

Too often, when a country’s history and sociology is examined, its music is ignored. To understand America, you have to understand Country and its roots in the pioneer, individualistic spirit. It’s a music where the only redemption is in the next world; in this world redemption can only be found in whisky and brief love affairs.

Sarah Shook and the Disarmers are the best thing to emerge from country music in the last ten years and Sidelong is the best album released, in any genre, so far this year.

Bloodshot Records confirm that the band are already working on the next album, planned for release in 2018. I, for one, can’t wait.

 

Sarah Shook & The Disarmers are on Facebook and Twitter.

This review first appeared on Louder Than War

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Music Reviews

Mark Lanegan Band: Gargoyle – album review

Mark Lanegan Bandcover_1475834590922831-350x350

Gargoyle (Heavenly Recordings)

CD/Vinyl/DL

Out 28th April, 2017

08/10

Mark Lanegan has rock pedigree oozing out of his pores, having been a founder member of grunge pioneers Screaming Trees and a member of Queens of the Stone Age, his albums are critically acclaimed, yet he remains something of an outsider when it comes to the music buying public. Maybe the outsider tag suits him. He looks the epitome of a rock outlaw; his face grizzled, his stanch cock-sure rebelliousness and his voice sounding like the world weariness of a down at heel grizzly bear. But to those who have discovered him he is a special talent.

This new 10 ten track record features guest appearances from long-time collaborators Josh Homme, Greg Dulli and Duke Garwood. Grotesque is underground Americana with a dark rock vibe that feeds on and into early 80s post-punk and goth. It is the work of not just a polished songwriter, but one who can create a mood effortlessly.

It opens with Deaths Head Tattoo; an electro rhythm overlaid with guitars and that vibrant, deep voice bringing to life a plethora of characters drifting in and out of focus.

Nocturne is full of dark rhythms and scratching, ominous guitars. This is music for a night time drive thru an urban sprawl to the moon drenched badlands. A dark love song to a missing woman, though there are hints of violence in a messy parting, a car wreck of a romance. There is a feeling of everything falling apart as midnight comes around. A long night of longing, building up to a yearning chorus.

Beehive lightens the mood with a great guitar riff that feels like a mix of 60s pop and 90s trance. Sister has a calliope feel of wild woods and dust bowls. There are undertones of threat and a feeling of angst and fatalism.

Emperor is a great song that channels Iggy Pop and races along with a jaunty rhythm reminiscent of the Passenger. The pace softens somewhat with Goodbye to Beauty, a haunting paean to everything good. It reminds me of the late, great Jeffrey Lee Pierce.

First Day of Winter is a poetic elegy for the passing seasons and a looking ahead to a long winter. There is rain against the windows that chills his veins now that winter has begun. It is a beautiful song about age and the cycle of the seasons.

It’s an album that rewards the more you listen to it. If you haven’t experienced the Mark Lanegan Band yet, then Grotesque is as good a place to start as anywhere.

This review first appeared on Louder Than War

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Mark Lanegan Band is on Facebook and Twitter.