Tuesday, August 31, 2021
Monday, August 30, 2021
German band sounding utterly nothing like a German band. Burkini Beach, the name presumably inspired by the incidents a while back when muslim women were asked to remove clothing at French seaside resorts, take a gently laidback route for their latest album Best Western.
It's all really rather lovely. Never really shifting into second gear, these songs are life in the slow lane. Languid, ironic obervations on various things, a wry, smart and charming record.
Sunday, August 29, 2021
Kate Bush is someone I've grown to love over the years. It wasn't an immediate thing. When she first appeared in 1978 and I was 13 she didn't appear to be conforming to the script of that particular musical moment. She was all dancing round fields in Pre-Raphaelite dresses just as New Wave and skinny ties were kicking in.Debbie Harry had more appeal.
Four years later and I was seventeen and The Dreaming came out she still seemed hardly essential. I remember watching her on The Old Grey Whistle Test being horribly patronised by its privately educated presenters Mark Ellen and David Hepworth about the fact that bird impressionist Percy Edwards and didgeridoo player Rolf Harris appeeared on the record. My attention was still elsewhere. Somehow she seemed liked older sibling fare.
In time I've learned to let all of this go and appreciate Kate for all the wonder and rich adventure she epitomises. Her records are magical imaginative journeys in the same ways as an Angela Carter novels are. There's no one quite like her regardless of the vast extent on her influence of others.
1978's The Kick Inside has a good claim to be the most progidious debut ever produced by a British artist. I'd give it top billing with Aztec Camera's High Land, Hard Rain, (essentially an expression of Roddy Frame's genius). The Kick Inside is not completely realised but is a brilliant statement of astonishing talent and genuine arrival.
'Ridicule is nothing to be scared of. Kate was never remotely scared of it. She was from the off a phenomenally brave artist. From those first preposterously over the top performances on Top of the Pops and that vaguely ludicrous but still astonishing promo for Wuthering Heights.
This was a most un English attempt to capture the majesty of perhaps the greatest un-English novel ever written. What's more it pretty much did so.
The Kick Inside seems less a coherent statement than a declaration of blazing, extraordinary talent. There were moments that early Kate lost me and I found her plainly over the top and theatrical. Babooshka would be first exhibit for the prosecution. But there's plenty of altogether wonderful stuff on these first few records.
So she's not a Punk but a nice Home Counties girl. But the Number One Punk John Lydon certainly understood and saluted her talent.The Kick Inside doesn't stay still for a moment.
It's mad as a box of frogs but it's certainly never dull. Recorded over the previous couple of years, it's the definition of prodigious. It has no restraint. Just look at the cover.
Strangely, the Kate album that's most feted, The Hounds of Love does little for me. I don't care for its sterile state of the Eighties art production and the singles have never really floated my boat.
I prefer the early albums, The Dreaming in particular, which was generally dismissed at the time and what came after that, particularly Aerial.
Anyhow, this is an utterly joyous debut, going resolutely against the grain. It's an act of quite remarkable vocal and imaginative acrobatics. Kate would make better albums but this one still stnds the test of time pretty effortlessly. National Treasure is a much overused term but here it's entirely apt.
Graham Coxon's latest project, he certainly keeps himself busy.You get the feeling that he and Damon are pretty much pleasing themselves nowadays and that's just as you'd want it. Superstate is the soundtrack to a graphic novel of short stories bearing the same name.
With concepts like this you shouldn't really be able to process the whole picture properly without the book it complements. That doesn't really matter here though it does picque my interest to track that down.. In the mean time though, Superstate works fine on its own.
As with Gorillaz Coxon uses this as an outlet to be more eclectic than he generally gets on hiis own records. Here you see him trying out his break down moves, getting funky along with more conventional fare. It's all a lot of fun.
At fifteen tracks this is probably too much to process at one sitting but I very much like what I hear. One of Britain's more enduring and consistently surprising talents.
Saturday, August 28, 2021
A couple of days ago, the day after Charlie Watts died, a large storm in the musical teacup, I went into my new local, The Telegraph just behind Newcastle Central Station. 'Who died yesterday?' I asked the young barmaids as I went across to the jukebox as is my wont. 'The old woman in Gogglebox?' came the reply. It put everything into perspective.
For those of us who live in musical worlds events like this are a priority. Something important. For those who loved the band it's a moment to sift through their memories, going back decades and reflect on their lives. For those musical lovers who can't stand The Stones, and there are more of those than you might think, it is an ordeal as their social media feeds are flooded with their songs and videos. For the world itself it is a mere drop in the ocean. It keeps spinning regardless.
Fast forward in my world to Friday. Early afternoon. I am just about finished for the week and pop into the record shop across the road from me to have a quick browse on the way to the supermarket. I see Travis's The Man Who at the front of one of the racks. It's an album I listened to on countless occasions when It came out in 1999, but on CD like pretty much everyone else. I'm buying it.
The shop is empty apart from me and a shop assistant. I take it to him and ask him not to tell anyone. We proceed to have a conversation about guilty pleasures, Brutpop, and how it has not stood the time well and records from the time that have endured better, The Auteurs and Trip Hop in both our cases, Space and Grebo in his. We agree on the general worthlessness of Oasis twenty five years on and how Parklife though great at the time seems rather jingoistic and misplaced now. He assures me that my secret is safe with him. An altogether classic record shop conversation. There are very few things that I love more.
But now I'm back home and I'm listening to The Man Who and I don't feel guilty at all. It's an album I loved at the time and still love. Travis were not at the time and are still not the most credible band in the world but if they have a legacy it is probably mainly down to this record. A quiet modest thing, their second album choc full of songs that were sizeable hits and made them briefly one of the biggest bands in Britain.
Travis had formed in Glasgow, pretty much ten years before they put this out and still tour and release records. They're a four piece Rock band of the traditional kind. Their lead singer and main songwriter Fran Healy is a small unassuming type, the kind of fellow you would walk passed in the street without giving a second glance. The others seem equally unremarkable. Bassist Dougie Payne was married to actress Kelly McDonald and they had two children together though sadly they separated in 2017. Lead guitarist Andy Dunlop is an unflashy, workmanlike player. Drummer Neil Primose had a bad swimming accident in 2003 but thankfully made a full recovery. And that's probably all the biographical information you need.
They're an unpretentious meat and potatoes operation. They were probably rather surprised to find themselves so feted in 1999. They called their next record The Invisible Band after all. Their songs follow conventional structures and are vaguely melancholic often but never slip over the line to maudlin self pity. They might be described as wet. There were rather a lot of slightly wet, slightly glum bands that emerged after Brit Pop, Sterophonics, Coldplay Geneva. None of them ever really seemed to deserve to hit Oasis, Blur, Radiohead or Verve status. They seemed to be marking time while waiting around for the next big thing, Coldplay strangely, perhaps the wettest of the whole bunch turned out to be that.
I've had the songs from The Man Who going round my head since I bought it. That's pretty much the definition of a successful album. Perhaps the song I go for least is the one that broke the record big, Why Does It Always Rain On Me? I prefer and think there's greater staying power elsewhere, on Driftwood, Writing To Reach You, and Turn which come across almost as manifestos. But nothing really lets the side down. It's a highly consistent album.
Perhaps what I liked about Travis is their humility. Dougie Payne has described the record as the hangover of Brit Pop. The gentleness and tenderness of the record came as a relief frankly after all the full on hubris and brashness of those years. It's a warm, sincere, yearning record and that's hardly a bad thing. I'm glad I finally own it on vinyl and will play it regularly regardless of what this says about my credibility.
Thompson locks horns with Dave Swarbrick and leaves Fairport. He also has time for a mention of the string arrangement of Nick Drake's River Man, 'In my view, the best in popular music, better than Eleanor Rigby, Kashmir or any other contender.'
Friday, August 27, 2021
Thursday, August 26, 2021
Post Sandy and Ashley Hutchings Fairport become a working and gigging Folk Rock band with the emphasis increasingly on the former.
Wednesday, August 25, 2021
An album I appreciate a great deal more than when I bought it when it came out and first listened to it in 1991. Some records are like that. Pet Sounds, Astral Weeks, Forever Changes, Blue Lines this one. I liked it, it had the two great opening statement singles Only Love Can Break Your Heart and Nothing Can Stop Us but it also had a lot more. I didn't really understand the love and thought that had been put into it at the time. It was built to last.
Bob Stanley, certainly the mastermind behind the band was a music journalist originally and perhaps is the great example of one who made the transition from that role into making truly wonderful and significant music. Neil Tennant and Chrissie Hynde are the others that come to mind. Greater journalsts like Lester Bangs and Nick Kent never managed to do this. Though Stanley is, it needs to be said, a pretty great music journalist too.
Stanley in many ways is essentially a nostalgist. Foxbase Alpha is full of sepia tinted nostalgia for an English childhood of the Sixties and Seventies. The album is superbly presented. An Indie girl in artfully tilted cap, t-shirt and skirt carrying a banner bearing the album title on the cover. An inner sleeve with pictures of heroes set up to resemble the stickers you used to buy in childhood days in those lost decades. Hendrix, Dirk Bogarde, Arthurly (sic), Tuesday Weld, Peter Noone, Audrey Hepburn, Micky Dolenz, Francoise Hardy, Billy Fury, Brian and Dennis Wilson.
The attention to detail is meticulous and quite wonderful. The painstaking made to look easy. Almost in the same way as Morrissey had in the previous date, they itemise an alternative canon and deine themselves. Saint Etienne of course never had the staggering impact that The Smiths did when they appeared. I doubt that they are many people's favourite band, though of course I'm sure they are for some.
But they and many of the British bands who started up at around about the same time heralded a better time. It was just after the Poll Tax Riots, Margaret Thatcher was on her way and it was time for something better.
So The Stone Roses, Teenage Fanclub, Massive Attack, Ride, My Bloody Valentine, Suede,The Auteurs, Blur, Primal Scream, Rave and Acid House in no particular order. And Saint Etienne who somehow seem more significant figures on this landscape than they might have done at the time. Eventually it all led to Brit Pop, Things Are Going to Get Better and Tony Blair and New Labour.
It all proved to be something of another false dawn. But looking back and listening to Foxbase Alpha it does seem to indicate a wonderful if illusory optimism that the Sixties were possible again. It also make London seem like a quite wonderful idea.
Really, although Pet Sounds and Forever Changes are clearly totems for the band along with the equally important Sixtiesand Seventies singles and cinema and TV, there are two albums that came out just before, (both in 1989) that seem like the main departure points for Foxbase Alpha. De La Soul's Three Feet High and Rising and The Stone Roses. It's difficult to imagine this without them.
That's not to take anything away from this record. It's best heard on your record player and without headphones I'd say. Some of the production sounds a bit tinny and synthetic at this remove. On the record player it sounds fully realised, like the dreams in Stanley's head.
This starts with the band name and opening track This is Radio Saint Etienne. Saint Etienne were a French football team who briefly but magically punched above their weight in the Mid-Seventies orchestrated by the great puppeteer Michel Platini. Platini in time, like Tony Blair would come to disappoint but was wonderful, mercurial, transformative player during his career.
Foxbase Alpha, like Three Feet High and Rising and The Stone Roses accentuates the positive. It's a pick and mix of Pop, Dance and magical childhood soundbites just made for the times but also as I said built to endure. Sarah Cracknell, who came onboard after Only Love Can Break Your Heart is the ideal frontwoman for their enterprise, the missing link, the last piece of the jigsaw. Cool and unattainable like their Sixties female icons.
This is their essential album along with a greatest hits. After this I'd say they became primarily a singles band though it should be pointed out that there is nothing, absolutely nothing wrong with that. Foxbase Alpha still has a glimmering allure thirty years on. Who'd have thought it. Saint Etienne. Dark horses.