Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Album Review: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - The Firstborn Is Dead

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' second album The Firstborn Is Dead, released into the pop wastelands of 1985, opens with the rain soaked epic Tupelo.  It's a lengthy, clanking diatribe, all thrilling stops and starts and Cave bawling lyrics about "the beast it cometh, cometh down" and "the sandman's murder".  It's hard for the rest of the album to maintain that level of intensity.  Elsewhere we get the dark blues of Say Goodbye To The Little Girl Tree and Knockin' on Joe, whoops and hollers on the romping Train Long-Suffering and the twisted call and response of Black Crow King.
Their version of Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash's Wanted Man ups the ante considerably, transforming the original with a powerful vocal by Cave as the band display a fine grasp of dynamics, opening with Blixa Bargeld's slide guitar, speeding up gradually as the song progresses.  They finish with the intensely moody blues of Blind Lemon Jefferson.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Album Review: A Pale Horse Named Death | Lay My Soul To Waste

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EP Review: Caught In The Wake Forever | Cadder Falls

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Album Review: The Haxan Cloak | Excavation

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Album Review: The Byrds - Byrds

The Byrds released what has turned out to be their final album in 1973.  It's a long way from their classic, 'jangly' material of the sixties.  This feels very much like an early seventies West Coast rock album from the opening track Full Circle.  Which of course, was what it was!  David Crosby had done much to invent this sort of thing as part of Crosby, Stills and Nash.
Gene Clark's Changing Heart is a pleasant country-rock strum in the vein of Wasn't Born To Follow.  It's the cover versions which sound the strangest here.  Instead of, as they once did, covering Bob Dylan, here they cover their peers.  Crosby's rendition of Joni Mitchell's For Free takes one getting used to, turning a sweet piano lament into a plodding rock ballad, kind of CSN-lite.  They also cover two Neil Young songs.  Cowgirl In The Sand is all countrified jauntiness, which, once you get used to how different from the original it is, is not bad really.  (See The Sky) About To Rain, sung by Clark features acoustic guitar and mandolin until a minute or two before it ends, a gorgeous Roger McGuinn jangly guitar part reminds us as to what is sorely missing from this album.  It is, tantalisingly, right at the end of the album, as if McGuinn and co thought: "oh s**t, we're The Byrds - THIS is what we do".
Crosby's Long Live The King is not a bit like what most people think of as The Byrds.  Yet it's very identifiably Crosby, while they cover his own solo song Laughing in a version which isn't very noticeably altered from the stoned strut of the original with McGuinn's guitar complementing it nicely.  But with most of the original tracks being fairly forgettable, it certainly feels like it was time they called it a day.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Album Review: Black Sabbath - Master of Reality

Black Sabbath's third album Master of Reality was released in 1971.  Due to an accident, guitarist Tony Iommi downtuned his guitar, giving the heavier tracks a darker feel than previous albums.  Sweet Leaf opens annoyingly with a looped cough before the driving, deliberate riff kicks in, pushing the song along till it speeds up for the flashy midsection.  It sounds like they had listened to Led Zeppelin II, which must have impressed them.
The driving riffs on this album are quite superb, After Forever and Children of the Grave are relatively brisk, yet still allow Ozzy Osbourne room to sing his doom-laden lyrics.  Many of the tracks have two or three separate parts within the one song, showing a fair degree of musical proficiency which they are not always credited for.
Apart from the very short acoustic interludes Embryo and Orchid, Solitude is a blissed-out slow track in a similar vein to Planet Caravan (from previous album Paranoid) with the merest of percussion, Iommi's gentle, electric strums and the odd bit of flute (it was the early seventies).  But two of the later tracks are the real 'meat' of this album.  Lord Of This World and Into The Void have dark, sludgy riffs which work really well as these two swaggering rockers lumber off into the night, rounding off an album that feels, if anything, a little short.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Lou Reed - Set the Twilight Reeling

After the sombre artistic highpoints of New York, Songs for Drella (with John Cale) and Magic and Loss, Lou Reed took 4 years to release follow-up Set the Twilight Reeling in 1996.  The album opens with ragged guitars and puerile lyrics ("you scream, I steam, we all want egg cream") on Egg Cream, a track which finishes with his trashiest climax since the noisier moments of The Blue Mask.
He's still able to release classy ballads such as NYC Man and Trade In, which have a breezy, carefree tone, though the latter finishes with some guitar muscle.  Elsewhere we get the pounding guitar strum of Finish Line (finishing with a particularly satisfying piano coda) and the old school soul of Hang On To Your Emotions.  Sex With Your Parents and Hookywooky are a little too throwaway to convince before the gnarled rock of The Proposition and Adventurer get things back on track.
Later, heavy guitar workout Riptide sees Lou Reed very consciously going for the Hendrix/guitar hero vibe and succeeding on an almost eight minute long guitar assault.  The title track is a classic Reed album closer, the acoustic soul ballad ambles along pleasantly before things speed up thrillingly for a final guitar workout.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Album Review: Alice In Chains

In 1995, Alice In Chains had replaced Mike Starr with Mike Inez on bass.  Their music, never the sunniest to begin with, had taken on a darker hue as signposted by the artwork.  Grind opens the album with Jerry Cantrell's 'grinding' guitar riff as Layne Staley sings "in the darkest hole you'd be well-advised not to plan my funeral before the body dies".  These guys make an ugly, ugly sound, and the grimness doesn't let up much across 12 songs.
Foreboding songs like Brush Away and Sludge Factory do little to dispel the gloom, while even the pretty guitar strum of Heaven Beside You sees Cantrell and Staley's decaying harmonies tell of "heaven beside you and hell within".  Shame In You sees a tiny speck of brightness creep into proceedings, though Staley is "concentrating on dying", over soaring guitars.
We finish with Over Now, a song not unlike Nirvana's quieter moments, with a pretty melody and Cantrell's fancy guitar work.  But it was to prove to be Staley's final album with the band.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Album Review: The Durutti Column - Vini Reilly

By 1989 Vini Reilly was really mixing it up, throwing in all manner of instrumentation along with his distinctive guitar playing.  His brand of guitar playing had featured on Morrissey's debut album, Viva Hate.  But titling The Durutti Column's album of that year after himself led more to confusion than anything else.

Still, the music contained within remained faithful to Reilly's 'sound'.  Although opening track Love No More features operatic warbling, the track's melody betrays a latent Morrissey influence.  Opera I & II, and William B also feature operatic singing over Reilly's guitar with the addition of gorgeous keyboards.

There are 13 tracks on the album proper (plus an additional 8 on the reissue), and with so many tracks not all of them will work.  The vaguely funky workout People's Pleasure Park.  The centrepiece is the nine minute long sprawling Finding the Sea, which may prove a barrier to some's enjoyment of the album.  The track, though enjoyable, avoids structure in favour of a multi-part kitchen sink approach, throwing in opera singing, keyboards, percussion, guitar, some of it conjuring up Ry Cooder of all people, before John Metcalfe's viola takes the track in a darker direction.

Acoustic guitars make an appearance here too on They Work Every Day and the highly successful Spanish guitar piece Homage to Catalonia.  Perhaps the most broody and atmospheric piece is saved for the shimmering mesh of guitar and keyboards on penultimate track Requiem Again.  There's still time for Vini Reilly's whispered vocals on final track My Country.

While not all of it works, what DOES makes this a very satisfying listen.