Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Smashing Pumpkins - Adore

The Smashing Pumpkins fourth album Adore, released in 1998 is downright weird.  As well as the departure of drummer Jimmy Chamberlain, gone are the guitars that graced their previous three albums, replaced by acoustic folk and synth pop.  To Sheila, which opens the album features prettily picked acoustic guitar, and its a fine opener.  It's followed up br the synth-grind of Ava Adore, which is probably the closest thing to their previous work, featuring (some) electric guitar.  But Perfect which follows is pretty much a mixture of New Order and the Lightning Seeds, and it doesn't really suit Billy Corgan and co.  In fact there are a few tracks (Daphne Descends, Appels + Oranjes and) which are in this vein, and none of them are terrible, but it's not what you want from a 'grunge' band is it?

The album works better on the slow strummy folk like Once Upon A Time, Crestfallen and The Tale of Dusty and Pistol Pete) which are quality pop songs.  Not like anything Smashing Pumpkins produced before, but not bad.  Tear, which when played live featured a searing guitar line, is neutered here, the guitars buried in studio effects.  Shame.  The awfully-titled Pug is better, almost like Gary Numan thanks to huge banks of oppressive synths.  Towards the end, the eight minute For Martha displays some of the epic nature of previous albums.  Beginning as a piano ballad, it builds to a swirling guitar anthem and is one of the better tracks, but otherwise there are few real standout songs here.  The album is overlong at 16 tracks and 73 minutes, surely cutting it down to 10 tracks would have been better idea as the final three or four tracks (except For Martha) are not the most engaging.  A brave attempt to broaden their sound, it doesn't quite succeed however.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Album Review: Yo La Tengo - May I Sing With Me

Yo La Tengo released their fifth album, May I Sing With Me in 1992.  Opening track Detouring Americans With Guns starts out as a gentle strum before transforming into a grunted-up Velvet Underground style strum, with Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley resplendent on bored, alienated vocals.  Upside-Down is like Lou Reed fronting the Velvet Underground, roaring along, hitting the mark perfectly in two and a half minutes.  It's a great opening salvo, but after this all doesn't quite go to plan.  Mushroom Cloud of Hiss is the first of TWO nine minute tracks, and it proves to be an abrasive slog, like VU's I Heard Her Call My Name stretched out.

Swing For Life is one of a couple of downtempo, brooding tracks in the vein Sonic Youth's less intense material (a good thing).  Hubley delivers a perfectly pitched vocal on a reasonably sparse track, which allows Kaplan to spring forth with some fine guitar licks.  Five-Cornered Drone uses a similar guitar tone to great effect, this time with Kaplan taking vocal duties, while Some Kinda Fatigue is almost like Echo and the Bunnymen meets Husker Du!

The downcast, desolate Always Something is one of the the strongest tracks, helped by a fine backing vocal from bassist James McNew.  After this the album takes a turn, not necessarily for the better.  The barrelling 86-second Blowout is exactly that, and Out The Window huffs puffs without really hitting home, despite Hubley's fine drumming.  Sleeping Pills is nine minutes of experimental, keyboard drones before the album finishes with the understated, yet charming Satellite.

So an uneven, hit and miss album, which I think is the key to its charm.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Album Review: Slowdive - Pygmalion

Erstwhile shoegazers Slowdive released their 3rd album in 1995.  This was a huge departure.  They'd clearly heard Talk Talk's masterpieces, Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock.  Opener Rutti is definitely inspired by the aforementioned albums.  Ten minutes of ponderous build up and Neil Halstead's curiously plucked guitars comes off as mysterious and unyielding, yet gorgeously ambient, and must have been jarring for fans of their previous work.  The likes of Crazy For You and Trellisaze are more like mood-setting metronomic grooves than actual songs, yet they work quite well in the context of the album.

Bewitched folk is also well-represented here.  Miranda and J's Heaven, featuring Rachel Goswell on wordless vocals would have been an influence on torch singers like Beth Gibbons.  The brief interludes Cello and the folky Visions of La maintain the late night mood, before the loping, pretty drift of Blue Skied an' Clear, which is one of the few tracks here that could be classed as conventional.  The album finishes with the elegiac string piece All Of Us.

Slowdive produced an album, while clearly in debt to late period Talk Talk, is able to stand on its own as a fine, late night ambient work.