Friday, January 24, 2014

Album Review: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Nocturama

Nocturama, released in 2003 sees Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds slipping gently into their dotage.  For the most part, it’s a collection of pretty, ballady material.  Which is not to say these songs are bad.  It opens with Wonderful Life where Cave hesitantly broods “it’s a wonderful life... if you can find it”.  Always the caveat.  He Wants You, Right Out Of Your Hand and Still In Love are all very pretty but not hugely... exciting.  Bring It On is kind of a poppy, ‘rock’ song, very straightforward for Cave and co.  The harder, heavier side is restricted to two tracks, Dead Man In My Bed and the endless, almost fifteen minute Babe, I’m On Fire.  Neither is particularly interesting in my opinion.
Later in the album, Still In Love relies heavily on a fine Warren Ellis violin part, while There Is A Town, has a strong melody and a chorus of backing vocals.  It doesn’t sound particularly like a Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds song, more like a ‘dark’ song by anyone from Depeche Mode to the National but it IS rather enjoyable.  But it’s not an album that leaves a lasting impression.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Album Review: Pearl Jam - Lost Dogs

Pearl Jam released this double album of B-sides and unreleased tracks in 2003.  For a band whose recent albums had been delivering diminishing returns, it came as a breath of fresh air.  It’s split into a faster, heavier disc, and a slower one.  Many of the faster tracks have catchier, and indeed stronger melodies than much of the material on albums like Binaural and Riot Act.  Tracks like Sad, Down and Undone feature great guitar workouts, strong tunes and performances.  It’s a wonder they only surfaced here.  Perhaps they were afraid to put them on their albums?  Hold On and Yellow Ledbetter are slower, anthemic singalong tracks.

If anything, the slower disc has even more gems.  Fatal, Other Side and Hard To Imagine would have been standouts on any of their albums.  Eddie Vedder is on fine voice on the last of these, and equally manages a subdued, sensitive vocal on the brooding likes of Dead Man and Strangest Tribe.  Later, tracks like Sweet Lew and Dirty Frank show what could have happened if they had spent too much time with the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
The album finishes with hidden track 4/20/02, an abrasive strum recorded solo by Vedder, referencing the death of Alice In Chains singer Layne Staley: “so sing just like him, fuckers, it won’t offend him, just me, because he’s dead”.  This collection is way more essential than many of their ‘proper’ albums.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Album Review: Neil Young - Live at the Cellar Door

Review for

Album Review: The Lemonheads - Come On Feel The Lemonheads

Evan Dando and co were on a bit of a high after the success of their It’s A Shame About Ray album.  This follow up album, released in 1993, is a sprawling 15 track affair, far longer than the previous album.  At its best it’s full of rollicking, power-pop guitar tracks.  It opens with one of these, the ebullient The Great Big No, Dando’s perfectly drawled vocals over slightly rough guitar pop.  Interestingly the poppiest moment on the album, Into Your Arms, was actually written by The Hummingbirds.
Listening to this album now it feels very much like an early nineties timepiece.  It’s About Time is a glorious, sun-dappled strum, seemingly about Dando’s unconsummated relationship with Juliana Hatfield (who chimes in wonderfully on backing vocals).  Down About It has a great melody but it’s played at breakneck speed, almost too fast.  Seek out acoustic versions of this song which really allow it to breathe.
Speaking of songs breathing, Paid To Smile is a pretty mid-paced, vaguely country song.  They dial the country right up on Big Gay Heart, where Dando takes a tune and vocal right out of Nashville save for the gay-referencing lyrics which would never make it to the Grand Ole Opry.
Style, and it’s slowed-down cousin Rick James Style are two of the few mis-steps on the album, which is full of rocking melodies delivered in two minutes such as Rest Assured, Dawn Can’t Decide and You Can Take It With You.  Charming, slower tunes Being Around and Favourite T feature Dando’s heartfelt vocals with some admittedly cringe-y lyrics “if I was a booger, would you blow your nose?”.  Final track, the FIFTEEN minute The Jello Fund is a complete mess, with random studio noises battling with hard-rocking riffs.  It’s not really worth bothering with, the album would have been better without it.
The album deserves a relisten, at its best it’s as good as anything on its predecessor.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Album Review: Mogwai - Rave Tapes

Review for

Album Review: The Jesus and Mary Chain - The Sound of Speed

The Sound of Speed was released in 1993 and is a second helping of Jesus and Mary Chain B-sides, or non-album tracks, following on from Barbed Wire Kisses.  So just what we all need then.  It opens with Snakedriver, a bit like a slowed-down Ramones meets the Ronettes but then explodes into life with Reverence.  It sounds kind of quaint now but it attracted considerable controversy over Jim Reid’s lyrics: “I wanna die just like Jesus Christ, I wanna die on a bed of spikes” etc.  What’s overlooked is that this noisy, abrasive single reached the upper reaches of the singles chart.  It takes a vaguely hip-hop beat and overlays it with sheets of William Reid’s guitar, with a neat reference to the Stooges’ I Wanna Be Your Dog.  Equally noisy is Lowlife, which is excellently described by its title.
Elseswhere, they display their sunnier, almost hippy side with the lazy strums of Why’d You Want Me and Don’t Come Down.  These tracks work, but an attempt at an acoustic version of Teenage Lust is less successful, neutering the original.  They turn cover versions of Guitarman, Tower of Song and Little Red Rooster into their own standard issue black holes, the gloopy version of the latter is almost unrecognisable from the original.  They take a different tack with My Girl, turning in a hopelessly bored, acoustic cover.
Something I Can’t Have showcases their exuberant side, bursting from the speakers with Jim Reid making lyrics like “you’re in my house, you’re in my face, you made me hate the human race” sound triumphant over ringing guitars.  Sometimes, which follows, is similarly upbeat.  Later, Shimmer is more subdued, with shades of the Velvet Underground thrown in, while Penetration is a pretty awful experiment with keyboards and a dance-beat.
It’s the sound of the band branching out and trying new things (relative to their older output) so it’s pretty hit and miss, but it’s quite fun to listen to.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Album Review: The Cure - Boys Don't Cry

Boys Don’t Cry was a sort of reworked version of The Cure’s debut album Three Imaginary Boys, and was released in early 1980.  It takes many of the better tracks from the debut and adds their first three excellent singles from 1979.  The packaging, like the music within, is quite rough and ready, with charmingly cheap looking artwork.
Unlike the material that followed, this album bristles with nervous, jerky energy.  Opening with the title track, which is possibly THE quintessential Cure song, and needs little description here.  10.15 Saturday Night oscillates between gentle, barely there guitar strumming and heavier guitar stabs, leading into Robert Smith’s searing guitar solo.  It’s probably best to avoid discussion of the emo-inventing “drip, drip, drip...” lyrics which don’t really stand up to scrutiny.  Jumping Someone Else’s Train and later Fire In Cairo are bouncy tracks with great melodies which rattle by pleasingly.
Debut single Killing An Arab, HEAVILY influenced by Camus has a vaguely Middle Eastern guitar riff and a hefty dose of attitude.  Later on the album, slower tracks such as Another Day and Three Imaginary Boys are moodier, wallowing tracks signposting the band’s direction on subsequent albums.  It’s an essential document of The Cure’s very early days.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Album Review: Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds - No More Shall We Part

Cave, Cave fatal Cave.  It took Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds four years to follow up The Boatman's Call, an unusually lengthy spell without an album for them.  2001's No More Shall We Part is one of their most ornate albums, and also, at 67 minutes, a long one.
As I Sat Sadly By Her Side sets the tone for the album, Cave warbling in a register that doesn't quite suit him over tinkling piano, guitar and strings.  This is followed up by a run of three of the albums stronger tracks.  And No More Shall We Part consists mainly of piano and a slightly over-wrought vocal.  Yet it's all the better for it, and towards the end, Warren Ellis' understated violin and the McGarrigle sisters join in on backing vocals.
The aforementioned pairing have a rather more prominent role on Hallelujah, the song hinges on a looping Ellis violin part that everything else weaves in and out of.  This is followed up by one of the downright loveliest songs in the band's catalogue.  Love Letter has a bed of sighing violin and gentle piano, all for Cave to sing of... well, love.
The album couldn't continue like this, and thankfully it doesn't.  Well, not really.  Many of the songs could soundtrack a sort of Bronté, Yorkshire moors style brand of doomed romance.  Sweetheart Come and the dramatic piano ballad The Sorrowful Wife are two of the better offerings here.  However the album feels, well, a bit long.  By the time we reach Darker With The Day, Cave's lyric about "taking a final walk" feel somehow apt.  Though a very pretty album, it's a long way from the teeth-baring of even Let Love In, let alone their earlier work.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Most-read articles in 2013

Here are the 10 most-read articles on Sacred Cowpats in 2013:

10 Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds:
Thanks to those who stuck with this as I have hobbled through Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' back catalogue.  A joint entry at number 10 for covers album Kicking Against the Pricks and for 1992's Henry's Dream.
9 J Mascis + The Fog - More Light:
Mascis goes solo on this 2000 effort.
8 Mark Kozelek & Jimmy Lavalle - Perils From The Sea:
Kozelek's most unusual release of his career to date, and undoubtedly a triumph.
7 Bob Mould - Body of Song:
Late period Mould from 2005.
6 Top albums of 2013:
You liked this.  Or it so it seems.
5 The Mission - The Brightest Light:
Hussey and co miraculously still around.
4 The Savings and Loan - Today I Need Light:
Scottish band, not too many of those on this blog usually...
3 Sparklehorse - Dreamt For Light Years In The Belly of A Mountain
Final album from Linkous.
2 Small Town Boredom - Notes From The Infirmary
And another (defunct) Scottish band.
1 Mark Eitzel - Glory
Fans only release and I take it everyone who bought it read this!