30 September 2013

30th September - Tom Waits' Rain Dogs

Artist – Album: Tom Waits – Rain Dogs
Released:  30th September 1985
Sounds Like: Off-centre dreams from New York City

Tom Waits is like olives - nobody likes him when they’re a kid, but pretty much everyone who’s reached a certain age is a fan. Or maybe he’s a bit more like a strong beer – you might have to force it down the first few dozen tries, but, man, is it worth it once you’ve learned to love him. Me, I first knowingly saw him in 1999’s pleasingly naff comedy Mystery Men, and the eccentric inventor that he played, a recluse that lives in a fun fair and creates non-violent gadget weapons, equipped me with a suitably weird image of the singer when I went on to sample his peculiar brand of rock-and-roll-meets-Ripley’s-Believe-It-or-Not.

Rain Dogs, along with its predecessor Swordfishtrombones, is the most decorated album of Waits’ hailed career, although even here it’s not hard to see why it’s an acquired taste. By this point he’d moved on from the lounge singer act of his earlier records to a wholly unique new sound, with the albums of his "Island trilogy" – of which this is the second – being made up of eclectic sketches of dark city life. The more recognisable genres include adult-orientated rock on ‘Downtown Train’ (ruined by Rod Stewart five years later), country on ‘Blind Love’ and tender balladry on ‘Time’, but most occupy a realm where conventional genres and instrumentation are thrown out of the window. ‘Jockey Full of Bourbon’ (chosen as the theme music to the brilliant British comedy Black Books a couple of decades down the line), ‘Big Black Mariah’ and ‘Cemetery Polka’ are three of the best oddities.

I like coffee (sometimes), champagne (sort of), caviar (yes, I’ve had caviar!) and strong cheeses, but, blergh, I balk at Marmite. I love Tom Waits. 

Albumaday... rating: 9/10

1.       Singapore – 2:46
2.       Clap Hands – 3:47
3.       Cemetery Polka – 1:51
4.       Jockey Full of Bourbon – 2:45
5.       Tango Till They’re Sore – 2:49
6.       Big Black Mariah – 2:44
7.       Diamonds & Gold – 2:31
8.       Hang Down Your Head – 2:32
9.       Time – 3:55
10.   Rain Dogs – 2:56
11.   Midtown – 1:00
12.   9th & Hennepin – 1:58
13.   Gun Street Girl – 4:37
14.   Union Square – 2:24
15.   Blind Love – 4:18
16.   Walking Spanish – 3:05
17.   Downtown Train – 3:53
18.   Bride of Rain Dog – 1:07
19.   Anywhere I Lay My Head – 2:48

Listen to ‘Cemetery Polka: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2iuuv_1TPYo

Also released on 30th September:
1982: Bruce Springsteen - Nebraska
Also released on 30th September:
1997: Bob Dylan – Time Out of Mind

29 September 2013

29th September - The Verve's Urban Hymns

Artist – Album: The Verve – Urban Hymns
Released:  29th September 1997
Sounds Like: 15 bitter-sweet symphonies

Sorry for the briefer blog posts this weekend; I’ve had a bit of jam-packed weekend. Yesterday I was at a ball (ha, a ball, me!), whilst today I travelled back from Nottingham (where, coincidentally, I met a sprightly octogenarian who has been serving in the navy since 1943, and then I got caught up in a huge anti-Conservative Party march down Manchester’s Oxford Road). All of this extra-curricular activity has left me a bit bushed so I’m afraid that this is the best we can do:

The Verve broke up in 1996, and so naturally they released one of the greatest British albums of all time in 1997. Whether it be tub-thumping anthems (‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’, ‘Lucky Man’ and ‘Velvet Morning’), introspective ballads (‘Sonnet’ and ‘One Day’) and psychedelic raves (‘Catching the Butterfly’) Urban Hymns forged exceptional songs with stunning alacrity.

They broke up again in 1999, but since then we’ve not had another masterpiece. Which is plain inconsistent.

That’ll do pig.

Albumaday... rating: 9/10

1.       Bitter Sweet Symphony – 5:58
2.       Sonnet – 4:21
3.       The Rolling People – 7:01
4.       The Drugs Don’t Work – 5:05
5.       Catching the Butterfly – 6:26
6.       Neon Wilderness – 2:37
7.       Space and Time – 5:36
8.       Weeping Willow – 4:49
9.       Lucky Man – 4:53
10.   One Day – 5:03
11.   This Time – 3:50
12.   Velvet Morning – 4:57
13.   Come On – 15:15

Listen to ‘Sonnet’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r2vGa-yLiso

Also released on 29th September:
1977: Billy Joel – The Stranger
Also released on 29th September:
1998: Outkast – Aquemini

Also released on 29th September:
2003: Muse - Absolution

28th September - Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life

Artist – Album: Stevie Wonder – Songs in the Key of Life
Released:  28th September 1976
Sounds Like: Life, the Universe and Everything

Yet another double album! I'm beginning to think that the double whammy is uniformly a bad idea - Songs in the Key of Life was a little bit disappointing. I know in some circles this may be considered blasphemy, but hear me out: Some of the songs here are glorious, but over 17 songs Wonder struggles to keep his expansive creative side under control. A case in point is 'Isn't She Lovely' - a nice enough if a bit schmaltzy tune, but clocking in at 6 and a half minutes long and involving the sound of bathtime is just not necessary. Still the majority of it is exceptional, with 'As', 'Sir Duke' and 'Summer Soft' being the incredible highlights.

Albumaday... rating: 8/10
1.       Love’s in Need of Love Today – 7:06
2.       Have a Talk with God – 2:42
3.       Village Ghetto Land – 3:25
4.       Contusion – 3:46
5.       Sir Duke – 3:52
6.       I Wish – 4:12
7.       Knocks Me Off My Feet – 3:36
8.       Pastime Paradise – 3:27
9.       Summer Soft – 4:14
10.   Ordinary Pain – 6:16
11.   Isn’t She Lovely – 6:34
12.   Joy Inside My Tears – 6:30
13.   Black Man – 8:27
14.   Ngiculela – Es Una Historia – I Am Singing – 3:48
15.   If It’s Magic – 3:12
16.   As – 7:08
17.   Another Star – 8:08
Listen to ‘As’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KWhMyOs0pCQ

Also released on 28th September:
1987: The Smiths – Strangeways, Here We Come
Also released on 28th September:
1998: The Beta Band – The Three EPs

Also released on 28th September:
2004: Brian Wilson - SMiLE

27 September 2013

27th September - Interpol's Antics

Artist – Album: Interpol - Antics
Released:  27th September 2004
Sounds Like: Interpol (who else?)

Antics is a strange name for an album brought to you by everyone’s favourite New York murk-merchants. There’s little in the way of foolish, outrageous or amusing behaviour in this set – more straight-laced and pained – and, to be honest, it just wouldn’t feel right if there was.

So what’s changed from Turn on the Bright Lights? Comfortingly very little. Interpol continue to trade in punchy rhythms and almost comically bleak sounds, remaining both accessible and weird. Album opener ‘Next Exit’ at first seems strangely stately and un-Interpol-esque, but then if you remember that their debut had begun with the similar elegant ‘Untitled’ it becomes vaguely familiar. Everything is a little more loose and danceable, the production is clearer and the songs have been shorn of any unnecessary fluff, thus avoiding the first album’s slight dip towards the end, but this could still only be an Interpol record.

Lead singer Paul Banks has a brilliant characterful voice despite his gloomy limited range. On ‘Evil’ and ‘Public Pervert’ he possess the cool, detached fascination of an A-grade psycho, like a rock star Dexter, whilst ‘Slow Hands’ and ‘C’mere’ have the fragility of an old gentlemen struggling to retain his composure. These are backed by lyrics such as “can’t you see what you’ve done to my heart” and “the trouble is you’re in love with someone else” and make for a more personal record than Turn on the Bright Lights.

All in all Antics is an only slightly less good follow up to a fine first record, and cements Interpol stance as one of the best rock groups of the 21st Century. I can also confirm that despite now being four albums old, they’ve still never dreamed of getting up to any antics.

Albumaday... rating: 7/10

1.       Next Exit – 3:20
2.       Evil – 3:35
3.       Narc – 4:07
4.       Take You on a Cruise – 4:54
5.       Slow Hands – 3:04
6.       Not Even Jail – 5:46
7.       Public Pervert – 4:40
8.       C’mere – 3:11
9.       Length of Love – 4:06
10.   A Time to Be So Small – 4:50

Listen to ‘C’mere: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vaDw4CAcXVE  

26 September 2013

26th September - The Beatles' Abbey Road

Artist – Album: The Beatles – Abbey Road
Released:  26th September 1969
Sounds Like: The end of the road 

By Abbey Road, The Beatles knew it had to end. They may have only been together for eight years by that point, but their maturity from rhythm & blues and skiffle obsessed moptoppers to ever more experimental master craftsmen had left them with irreconcilable views on the direction their music should take. If John Lennon had once said that the Beatles were bigger than Jesus, then John, Paul, George & Ringo had collectively grown too big for the Beatles. Fortunately, rather than the messy divorce which so many great bands finally part with – and that very nearly happened with the earlier Get Back recording sessions – the group decided to have one last swansong before they parted ways. Abbey Road was their last hurrah.

The album showed the different directions that each of them were heading – John, with ‘Come Together’ and ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’, was making the same spikey, hard-edged blues with which he’d score a 1970 hit in ‘Instant Karma’; Paul contributed “granny music” with the likes of ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ and ‘Oh! Darling’, but the medley which makes up the majority of the second half of the album is mostly McCartney and is simply wonderful; George gave notice of just how far he’d come on as a song writer, and it’s hard to argue that ‘Something’ and ‘Here Comes the Sun’ aren’t in the top tier of all time Beatles songs; and, Ringo, well… ‘Octopus’s Garden’ is a great stupid song.

They might all have been writing their songs separately, but on Abbey Road they also made concerted efforts to Come Together one last time. ‘Because’, written by Lennon, features stunning three part harmonies from each of John, Paul and George and is the last genre-bending effort they released, whilst the final singalong chorus of “Boy, you gotta carry that weight Carry that weight a long time” featured chanting from all of the Fab Four. Those lyrics were written with the knowledge that each of them would always carry the weight of being a Beatle. It’s just special.

Albumaday... rating: 10/10

1.       Come Together – 4:20
2.       Something – 3:03
3.       Maxwell’s Silver Hammer – 3:27
4.       Oh! Darling – 3:26
5.       Octopus’s Garden – 2:51
6.       I Want You (She’s So Heavy) – 7:47
7.       Here Comes the Sun – 3:05
8.       Because – 2:45
9.       You Never Give Me Your Money – 4:02
10.   Sun King – 2:26
11.   Mean Mr. Mustard – 1:06
12.   Polythene Pam – 1:12
13.   She Came In Through the Bathroom Window – 1:57
14.   Golden Slumbers – 1:31
15.   Carry That Weight – 1:36
16.   The End – 2:05
17.   Her Majesty – 0:23

Listen to ‘Medley:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2pM3PVzDUCY

Also released on 26th September:
1994: R.E.M - Monster
Also released on 26th September:
1994: Massive Attack - Protection

25 September 2013

25th September - Gary Numan's The Pleasure Principle

Artist – Album: Gary Numan – The Pleasure Principle
Released:  25th September 1979
Sounds Like: [Vince holds up a cassette tape] This is the best of the sixties. [holds up another cassette] And this is the best of the seventies. [lifts a huge stack of cassettes] And this is Gary Numan.

Gary Numan enjoyed himself in the early Noughties, as groups as diverse as Sugababes and Basement Jaxx had hits sampling his tunes (the stonking smash ‘Where’s Your Head At’ was a masterful rip of ‘M.E.’), he guest appeared on Fear Factory’s cover of ‘Cars’ and glam-indie comedian Noel Fielding frequently extolled his virtues on The Mighty Boosh. It was the most popular he’d been for twenty years, when – first as the leader of the Tubeway Army and then as a solo artist – he had scored three consecutive UK no. 1 albums. The Pleasure Principle was the best of the lot, and it’s hardly surprising that it re-entered the public’s consciousness in the 21st century: his technology obsession and glacial cool was made for this future where the geeks have inherited the world.

The album is consistently brilliant, from the instrumental opener ‘Airlane’ to the stilted, clinical new wave of ‘Observer’. The two charting singles are probably the pinnacles of his achievement, and both also display his aptitude for constructing varying moods from his simple formula of rocky synths with guitar-like effects: whereas ‘Complex’ is a chilled out piece similar to that of Boards of Canada, ‘Cars’ is an adrenaline fuelled behemoth that betrays the influence he had on the likes of Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson.

There was a fascinating burst of skewed creativity in the post-punk era, and many of the artists from then – from the Talking Heads to XTC, the B-52’s to the Fall – have had a lasting influence on the music that has followed. Gary Numan deserves his place in this pantheon. …And he’s also got a pilot’s license! Imagine that!

Albumaday... rating: 8/10

1.       Airlane – 3:18
2.       Metal – 3:32
3.       Complex – 3:12
4.       Films – 4:09
5.       M.E. – 5:37
6.       Tracks – 2:51
7.       Observer – 2:53
8.       Conversation – 7:36
9.       Cars – 3:58
10.   Engineers – 4:01

Listen to ‘M.E.:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wea8ZQ0II4g

Also released on 25th September:
1988: They Might Be Giants - Lincoln
Also released on 25th September:
2001: Ryan Adams - Gold

24 September 2013

24th September - Nirvana's Nevermind

Artist – Album: Nirvana - Nevermind
Released:  24th September 1991
Sounds Like: ¡Viva la grunge revolución!

Pop history is full of examples of people misunderstanding classic albums. Great records such as Exile on Main Street and The Ramones’ self-titled debut met with ambivalent, if not downright hostile, responses, whilst the likes of Big Star, The Velvet Underground and Nick Drake couldn’t sell a copy of their wares for love nor money. Weezer’s Pinkerton, now hailed as one of the best albums of the Nineties, was treated with unparalleled scorn: hilariously, it was voted by Rolling Stone readers as the third worst album of the year in 1996, but just six short years later was voted by those same readers as the sixteenth best OF ALL TIME.

On the other hand there’s Nevermind, only the second album by the modestly well-respected Seattle trio Nirvana, which once released enjoyed almost unanimous adoration from all quarters. It might have had only limited exposure and far too few initial pressings, but those that got their hands on to it loved it and word spread like wildfire. In the melee to review it critics couldn’t praise the album enough (aside from the inevitable clueless review from Rolling Stone), and it topped the influential end of year The Village Voice Pazz & Jop critics' poll, with lead single ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ also clinching the singles #1 spot. Few records in history have had the impact of this one.

It’s certainly no surprise that it did so well, being a landmark album released just when music needed it (much like Never Mind the Bollocks 14 years previous). The four singles – ‘…Teen Spirit’, ‘Come as You Are’,Lithium’ and ‘In Bloom’ – rank amongst the best releases in rock, and the fact that they are all included in the first five songs is a triumph of sequencing that U2 would be proud of. The album tracks aren’t bad either, with the heavy, heavy guitars of ‘Territorial Pissings’, ‘Breed’ and ‘Stay Away’ well balanced by the Violent Femmes-esque ‘Polly’ and ‘Lounge Act’.

Never mind that they admittedly ripped a lot of their sound from others; Pixies and Mudhoney for starters. Never mind that they themselves inspired a lot of piss-poor imitators, or that the cult of Cobain is still a packed out church and is no doubt exactly what the man himself would’ve hated. Never mind even the way too long silence between the sombre ‘Something in the Way’ and the bonus thrash of ‘Endless Nameless.’ Nevermind is still an exceptional album.

Albumaday... rating: 10/10

1.       Smells Like Teen Spirit – 5:01
2.       In Bloom – 4:14
3.       Come as You Are – 3:39
4.       Breed – 3:03
5.       Lithium – 4:17
6.       Polly – 2:57
7.       Territorial Pissings – 2:22
8.       Drain You – 3:43
9.       Lounge Act – 2:36
10.   Stay Away – 3:32
11.   On a Plain 3:16
12.   Something in the Way – 20:39

Listen to ‘Drain You’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rkqjx6Gsh0U

Also released on 24th September:
1971: T-Rex – Electric Warrior
Also released on 24th September:
1991: A Tribe Called Quest – The Low End Theory

Also released on 24th September:
1996: Weezer - Pinkerton

23 September 2013

23rd September - Outkast's Speakerboxxx/The Love Below

Artist – Album: Outkast – Speakerboxxx/The Love Below
Released:  23rd September 2003
Sounds Like: Blog #266 – If you’re having blog problems I feel bad for you son; I’ve got 99 blogs to go and then I’m done.”

I’ve gone a little bit creative on today’s post. Below I’ve prepared a Venn Diagram to show the common factors that lead to a band releasing the dreaded double album:

Sitting right slap bang in that darker blue middle bit is Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, their follow up to the near-perfect Stankonia. At times on the record, André 3000 and Big Boi appear to be prospectors who have struck upon a powerful rich seam of creativity, from which they have ecstatically drilled and tapped; the lucky buggers blissfully oblivious to the drenching their clothes and hair are receiving from the excess quality-spray. Elsewhere though their heads appear to have swollen to planetary proportions, and they just had to release a similarly bloated record to show that to all their hip hop contemporaries they are considerably better than yow.

Of the 40 (40!) tracks on display here, 10 say could be cut-and-pasted into a contender for one of the all time greatest albums (for my money: ‘Ghetto Musick’, ‘Unhappy’, ‘Bowtie’, ‘The Way You Move’, ‘The Rooster’, ‘Flip Flop Rock’, ‘Spread’ ‘Prototype’, ‘Hey Ya!’ and ‘Roses’). Unfortunately, any album that lasts two and half hours long reeks of self-indulgence, and there are times in The Love Below set (let’s settle any arguments once and for all, this is by far the worst of the two) when it seems like André 3000 is just making it up as he goes along, safe in the knowledge that the listener will not have made it beyond the exceptional hits.

Albumaday... rating: 7/10


1.       Intro – 1:29
2.       Ghetto Musick – 3:56
3.       Unhappy – 3:19
4.       Bowtie – 3:56
5.       The Way You Move – 3:54
6.       The Rooster – 3:57
7.       Bust – 3:08
8.       War – 2:43
9.       Church – 3:27
10.   Bamboo – 2:09
11.   Tomb of the Boom – 4:46
12.   E-Mac – 0:24
13.   Knowing – 3:32
14.   Flip Flop Rock – 4:35
15.   Interlude – 1:15
16.   Reset – 4:35
17.   D-Boi – 0:40
18.   Last Call – 3:57
19.   Bowtie – 0:34

The Love Below

1.       The Love Below – 1:27
2.       Love Hater – 2:49
3.       God – 2:20
4.       Happy Valentine’s Day – 2:53
5.       Spread – 3:51
6.       Where Are My Panties? – 1:54
7.       Prototype – 5:26
8.       She Lives in My Lap – 4:27
9.       Hey Ya! – 3:55
10.   Roses – 6:09
11.   Good Day, Good Sir – 1:24
12.   Behold a Lady – 4:37
13.   Pink & Blue – 5:04
14.   Love in War – 3:25
15.   She’s Alive – 4:06
16.   Dracula’s Wedding – 2:32
17.   My Favorite Things – 5:14
18.   Take Off Your Cool – 2:38
19.   Vibrate – 6:38
20.   A Life in the Day of Benjamin André (Incomplete) – 5:11

Listen to ‘Bowtie’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gvF03ISh3W8
Also released on 23rd September:
1991: Pixies – Trompe le Monde
Also released on 23rd September:
2003: Rufus Wainwright – Want One

Also released on 23rd September:
2008: Jenny Lewis – Acid Tongue