Saturday, September 23, 2017

Pop Culture Documentaries # 4 George Harrison: Living in the Material World

George Harrison is no longer Living in the Material World and hasn't been for getting on to sixteen years now. He's the subject of a very long documentary by that name from Martin Scorsese, released in 2011 and made with the co-operation of Harrison's close family and friends. It's almost three and half hours long but Harrison is well worthy of lengthy scrutiny as he's a figure that represents a particular set of values and attitudes that's quite unique in the history of Rock & Roll.

Initially 'the quiet one' in The Beatles and the lead guitarist responsible for neat, indispensable but hardly genius embellishments to their records and live performances, he began to come out and establish a greater role for himself from the moment that he, Lennon and their partners first tried LSD together and began to explore the inner self for greater and more lasting meaning than the Beatles fame bubble had allowed them.

The film documents his life pretty much chronologically, pausing at all the landmark moments you'd expect if you have anything more than a passing familiarity with this particular story. Harrison goes from being a slightly surly traveller in the early days of Beatlemania, the member of the band who clearly enjoyed it all least of all, to a sage, thoughtful seeker, albeit one who wore some of the worst clothes, haircuts and moustaches of the entire seventies.

Living in the Material World honours Harrison and you can't help but feel that he would have appreciated it, because it pays its respects to his intelligence, his humour, his inner toughness to everything the world had to throw at him and the questions he asked of himself and everyone else throughout his life. It's no surprise really, given that Scorsese has been a similar quester for deeper truth and meaning throughout his own creative life. It's only natural that he's drawn to Harrison.

Everybody is there to comment that you'd expect: brothers, Beatles, Astrid and Klaus, George Martin, Clapton, Patti and Olivia, Pythons, Jackie Stewart and Dhani and there's a reverence love and humour for the man from each and every one of them. The film doesn't skirt around the moments when he's less than saintly, he's sometimes tetchy and irritable but constantly seeking peace. The film is decorated and commented on by Harrison's exceptional music both with and after The Beatles and is a resonant document, entertainment first and foremost but also posing the deepest imaginable questions about this life that we're living and the moment that's waiting for us all when we come to leave it all behind.

Songs About People # 472 Marcel Duchamp

The man who challenged the idea of the author.

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 245 Yeah Yeah Yeahs

The best thing this band has ever done. Utterly timeless.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 477 The Young Rascals

Song of the Day # 1,343 Tricky

A few years ago at an All Tomorrow's Parties festival I caught Tricky, playing in a small upstairs bar venue, a decade and a half on from Maxinquaye, the debut album that made him a star and still largely defines him for most people, along with his work with Massive Attack. He was a wired and confrontational performer who ended the gig as I remember offstage, crawling all over the audience. Definitely a man who follows his own path.

A few years further on and his new album ununiform is just out, and though I imagine it won't get an enormous public profile, it should do, as it's an excellent record, utterly faithful to the man's special legacy. Brooding, paranoid and dark just as you'd expect but Art in the best sense possible in that it shines a light and explores mercilessly a certain aspect of the human condition

There are any number of collaborations with guest vocalists, including Martina Topley-Bird who made such an impression on Maxinquaye. In some respects this record recalls that one, though that's always an easy option to turn to when reviewing Tricky, But there's the same lush orchestration, a surprising, reinvented cover, (Hole's Doll Parts, here entitled simply Doll). and the same dark dance heartbeat at the core of everything. Recorded in Berlin, Tricky's new base and reflecting the internationalism of the man, Jamaica and Roma, and here Russian Gangster Rap. He's still writing soundtracks for films you don't need to see to experience.

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Beatles at Plymouth Hoe

Songs About People # 471 Joseph Cornell

And another from The Clientele in gratitude for the hour I'm spending with their splendid new record. This comes from their 2000 album Suburban Light and honours the American Surrealist artist, (though he wasn't altogether happy with the label), and film-maker Joseph Cornell.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 478 Bob Seger

Song of the Day # 1,342 The Clientele

Shifting the day for new album releases from early in the week to Fridays has been a nice move. It's almost the weekend after all, a moment and a feeling that everybody treasures. As we transition towards Autumn from where I'm writing there are a number of good records to enjoy on the morning of the 22nd which I hope to get round to over the coming weeks.

Not least the return of The Clientele, that most English, and appropriately Autumnal of bands after a seven yeas absence. Their new album Music in the Age of Miracles finds them getting back together after years of domestic responsibilities and frankly it's as if they've never been away. The clock ticks slowly in Clientele songs, they chart the emotions of being immersed in particularly English landscapes, the spirit of Beatles, Zombies and early Floyd breath again to beautiful crafted, dream immersed melodies. There's a strange, contented longing going on here. The right record for this time of year.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Songs About People # 470 Amanda Lear

Appropriately glacial disco tribute to Salvador Dali muse, gender mystery, actress, singer and artist Amanda Lear.

Pop Culture Documentaries # 3 Mick Rock : SHOT! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock

How do you make a documentary where a rock photographer, albeit one of the truly great ones, is the centre of attention? This is the dilemma only partially answered by SHOT!, a film about and largely narrated by Mick Rock the man responsible for almost all of the iconic photographs you'll remember of Syd Barrett, David Bowie, Lou Reed and Iggy Pop and The Stooges in the early seventies.

These, above all others, are the pictures that made Rock's reputation even though he's taken any number of fine ones since. The film is at its best when exploring his personal and working relationship with Bowie and Reed, represented by recorded discussions with them both and their thoughts on fame stardom and artistic endeavour. Rock talks about his Cambridge education and how his fascination with the French Symbolist poets, particularly Rimbaud, prepared him for his adventures in the rock world. After all Bowie, Reed and Pop are similar imaginative figures for the late twentieth century.

Where its grip lessens is when it tackles the problem of what to do when Rock's fabulous images are not filling the screen and it needs to document his own personal narrative. His dive into New York decadence at the end of the seventies, his cocaine addiction, his brushes with death and heart attacks, his fall from grace and his eventual rehabilitation in the noughties when he comes to work with everybody worth working with from Daft Punk, LCD Soundsystem and back again with Iggy Pop. There are only so many shots you need of Rock doing yoga in his hotel room, lying on a hospital stretcher with a respirator over his face or sitting in a chair staring back at you in his omnipresent shades. Ultimately, his photos tells the story best of all. As Rock himself says, 'You can almost smell this stuff. But you can't really describe it...' Tellingly as that is exactly what the film that has preceded this has tried, mostly in vain to do. The film is dedicated fittingly to Bowie and Reed who both passed shortly before its release. Rock's friends, but also his heroes.

Sparks - Newcastle Boiler Shop 19/09/17

You can't see them all. This gig took place a couple of nights ago in my hometown and was apparently something of a classic!

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 479 The Allman Brothers Band

Song of the Day # 1,341 Gun Outfit

American band who favour cool interlocking guitar adventuring with a song that goes ahead of their new album, Out of Range, coming up in November.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Songs About People # 469 Robert Ford

'He only did it 'cos of fame...'

In the excellent 2007 film The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, the Ford character is portrayed as a figure of shame, never the person he would like to be, motivated by a burning desire to be somebody and ultimately only able to be so by killing his hero, an act he regrets for the rest of his life. In the song bearing his name, (at least in the brackets of its title) Bernie Taupin, Elton John's lyricist describes a similar sense of shame about the failure of his first marriage to Maxine Feibelman, (also the subject of Tiny Dancer). This comes from John's 1975 album Rock of the Westies. 

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 480 Elvis Presley

Song of the Day # 1,340 The Electric Chairs

Later Wayne or Jayne County & the.... but at the point of this release, (it's from their 1978 debut album), just the Electric Chairs. Like  a Sweet Soul Music for the New York Punk scene.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Songs About People # 468 Antonin Artaud

'The young man has a gun to the head of God..'

Bauhaus prostrate themselves before Theatre of Cruelty guy, proto-Goth Jim Morrison fave. Gets rather odd lyrically towards the close.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 481 Michael Jackson

Song(s) of the Day # 1,339 Surfing Magazines

The Surfing Magazines are playing in a small but excellent Newcastle pub near to me this coming Sunday. If I have the energy, I'll go down and see them because on the basis of their fine, eponymous debut album, released a couple of weeks back, they should be well worth the effort.

Made up of members of Wave Pictures and Slow Club , they take their name from a Go Betweens song but sound little like them except for an occasional Forster tremble in the lead singer's delivery. They have a certain amount of Link Wray to their sound, a bit of that Bo Diddley beat, and I'm also minded of Crazy Horse sometimes in terms of the way their guitars speak to each other. At times they genuinely rock like you're in the company of early Stones, Yardbirds or Manfreds. They also have occasional, surprising sax and country-ish female backing vocals to fill out the mix.

Mostly, they're leftfield lo-fi indie, literary types with good record collections, wending their way to middle age and domesticity. Doing what they do for themselves and the small but loyal following who listen to BBC 6 Music and make a point of coming out on a Sunday night to experience and support this kind of thing before work beckons on Monday evening. Splendid! I'll report back.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Songs Heard on the Radio # 224 Little Richard

Sublime! I Don't Know What You Got, But It's Got Me... (Part 1) worthy of inclusion for its title alone, . A 1965 single, as good as anything I've ever posted on here. Hendrix is playing in his band and it seems as good a way as any of marking the anniversary of his passing this day in 1970.

Songs About People # 467 Wild Bill Hickok

From one of those fifties American Wild West compilations that you kind of want to own. By Tex Johnson & his Six Shooters!

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 482 Jackson Browne

Song of the Day # 1,338 Colter Wall

Real old school Country in the vein of  Waylon and Kris, released earlier on this year.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Covers # 88 The Bonzo Dog Band

For no valid reason apart from silliness. An outtake from The Doughnut in Granny's Greenhouse.

Songs About People # 466 Dorothy Parker

Pince pays tribute to one of the great American wits on Jay Leno in 2001.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 483 Fleetwood Mac

Song(s) of the Day # 1,337 Offa Rex

Two tracks from the Offa Rex album, released earlier this year. An offshoot project from The Decemberists, they deal in frighteningly authentic replications of early seventies British Folk music. so with a 'hey nonny no' and no further ado...

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Songs About People # 465 Angie Dickinson

Funky thing for sixties and seventies screen and TV siren now astonishingly in her mid-eighties.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 484 Arthur Alexander

'Absolutely gorgeous early soul, its gently swinging rhythm set up by drumming as tough as it is syncopated, and capped with a vocal that makes of a lover's kiss-off something like the end of the world.'

Song(s) of the Day # 1,336 The Lemon Twigs

Much acclaimed 4AD recording artistes from Long Island, New York, absolutely nail that Beach Boys / Todd Rundgren early seventies thing with a couple of songs off their forthcoming EP out next week. You might have mixed feelings about anybody wanting to do this in 2017 but you can't knock the sheer verve and ability to do so!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Swimming Tapes - Soft Sea Blue

London band Swimming Tapes doing very much what they've done before on new four track EP Soft Sea Blue. Previous recipients of a Song(s) of the Day slot on here in March of this year for their previous four track EP, this release doesn't push the envelope out but nor does it intend to. It's highly more-ish!

Shimmering guitars, honeyed, indistinct vocals, the sound of an endless summer. Like impressionist painters back at their palate, the Swimming Tapes seem intent on creating a body of work where everything is essentially the same but also different. I'm not complaining!

Bob Mould on Grant Hart

'It was the Fall of 1978. I was attending Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. One block from my dormitory was a tiny store called Cheapo Records. There was a PA system set up near the front door blaring punk rock. I went inside and ended up hanging out with the only person in the shop. His name was Grant Hart.
The next nine years of my life was spent side-by-side with Grant. We made amazing music together. We (almost) always agreed on how to present our collective work to the world. When we fought about the details, it was because we both cared. The band was our life. It was an amazing decade.
We stopped working together in January 1988. We went on to solo careers, fronting our own bands, finding different ways to tell our individual stories. We stayed in contact over the next 29 years — sometimes peaceful, sometimes difficult, sometimes through go-betweens. For better or worse, that’s how it was, and occasionally that’s what it is when two people care deeply about everything they built together.
The tragic news of Grant’s passing was not unexpected to me. My deepest condolences and thoughts to Grant’s family, friends, and fans around the world.
Grant Hart was a gifted visual artist, a wonderful story teller, and a frighteningly talented musician. Everyone touched by his spirit will always remember.
Godspeed, Grant. I miss you. Be with the angels.'

Covers # 87 Weezer

And to close this little mini-feature, a song both band were at one point mooted to cover for the Shrek Forever soundtrack with Vampire Weekend refusing to capitalise on Weezer's initial inability to do it due to a bus accident. They eventually got there.

Songs About People # 464 The Beach Boys

Weezer, perhaps a band that perhaps supplied an early blueprint, with that geeky, blissed-out attitude,  for what became Vampire Weekend, are back. A new album, Pacific Daydream,  is out on October 27th and this is a nice taster, nailing the feel of the band they sing about and their particular charm.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 485 Paul Revere & the Raiders

Song(s) of the Day # 1,335 Rostam

Rostam Batmanglij has left the nest of Vampire Weekend where it was generally felt he was the driving musical director. His first album Half-Light, is released today. It will inevitably remind you of Vampire Weekend, (not quite out of that nest). It's an intimate and somewhat more personal statement than Ezra Koenig allowed Weekend to be, sounds slightly demo-ish to me but has a definite cosy, chamber pop charm, (occasionally breaking out into bold, baroque flourishes reminiscent of Modern Vampires), like the first light of morning creeping through your curtains or the opening credits of a new Wes Anderson film.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Grant Hart 1951-2017

The premature loss of Grant Hart today is rather sad on every level. A definite pioneer who perhaps never quite got his due, either as a songwriter, drummer or personality for one of the finest noise bands the world ever produced and who contributed much more besides.. Here are just five of the wonderful songs he wrote and sang for Husker Du.Merely the tip of an iceberg!

1, Flexible Flyer

2. Pink Turns to Blue

3. Green Eyes

4. She Floated Away

5. Charity, Chastity Hope & Prudence

Songs About People # 463 Sylvie Vartan

And another from the Part Company record named for something of a French sixties icon.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 486 Freddie King

Song(s) of the Day # 1,334 Part Company

With Robert Forster off on his publicity tour for Grant & I, reviewed on here a week or so, it seems fitting to post a few songs from a band with a Go Betweens connection. French duo Part Company take their name from one of Forster's finest songs, the closing track of the first side of Spring Hill Fair.

Their debut, Seasons, (released earlier this year), is light, airy, melodic and diverting, as fresh as the Alpine air where it was recorded in the band's home recording studio. Reminiscent of Vampire Weekend more than anything else, of whom Forster is a stated fan. Ten, crafted, floating chamber pop songs. It's a lesson in what focused, driven ambition can achieve in this day and age.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Songs About People # 462 Fatty Arbuckle

Also Roscoe. Silent Star who met an unfortunate early death, probably partly due to the sexual scandal ten years previously that brought about his initial fall from grace.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 487 The Clovers

Pixx Interview

And as an add on. An interesting interview with the same woman.

Song(s) of the Day # 1,333 Pixx

'To put a name on it. Would be to nail the age of anxiety...'

Hannah Rodgers, AKA Pixx's debut album The Age of Anxiety which came out a couple of months back on 4AD, is a lesson in melodic electronic brevity, an excellent and brave first step that finds exactly the right balance between experiment, innovation and poppy immediacy.

Borrowing its name from W.H.Auden's Post-War book length poem talking about the difficulty of maintaining basic humanity in a world that appears to have rejected rationality, it's an attempt to tackle similarly weighty issues, which appear equally pertinent in 2017 given what's going on, all the while coating the messages in appetising electro melodies.

The record is an engaging and diverse listen. It seems apt that it's on 4AD, there are vague echoes of the labels trademark eighties sound, but it's very much a here and now and album at the same time. Slightly different from much of the stuff I post on here but definitely a bold and noteworthy statement.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 489 The Stylistics

Song of the Day # 1,331 The Levellers

It's unusual that I post a song on here that I don't actually particularly like but there's reason for it here. The tag line on the top of the blog is particularly resonant today. I've spend a couple of days reading a set of diaries I wrote about a time of my life in Dortmund, Germany in 1993, with as compressed, intense personal experience as any I'll ever have. This is for a very special girl who I knew there. And whatever you think about the band there's certainly nothing wrong with the sentiment behind the song.