Genesis – ‘Trespass’: Round 97 – Steve’s choice

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Oh help…what have I done but unleash the prog-monster? Having been drawn the year 1970 I was on dan gerous ground as far as my collection is concerned. My immediate thoughts were to this album, and not Nick Drake (‘Bryter Later’) which would have been a safer bet.

Without sounding like Patrick Bateman (‘American Psycho’) I have a little penchant for Phil Collins. I think he gets too much bad press. In fact I would say that his mid-70s stint in Genesis is by far my favourite period of this band – releasing ‘Wind and Wuthering’ and ‘Trick of the Tail’, which for me are majestic. This album however does not feature Mr Collins since he joined shortly after this recording, which was their second album. Having released their first long-player – ‘From Genesis to Revelations’ – when the band was really an experiment under the spell of the svengali Jonathan King, they were sent off with creative freedom to the studio, and came up with this. So, here we have the band finding their sound.

Ok, so there’s a theme to the album (prog strike one). There’s lyrics about mystical lands (prog strike two). There’s only 6 songs on it (prog strike three). It’s prog….3 strikes…. but of a gentler kind, and it’s certainly not ‘Tales from Topographic Oceans’or ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ by the Wake-off. It’s Gabriel, coming out of his shell, finding his voice, and even some loud shouting on ‘The Knife’ which was a live favourite at the time. I won’t dwell on the aesthetics of this album, suffice to say I still quite like ‘Visions of Angels’. When I bought it (when I was 15 or 16) I was heavily into them. I also have ‘Foxtrot’ and ‘The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway’. The latter I still quite like, but unfortunately ‘Foxtrot’ grates a little with pompous keyboard from Tony Banks. On Trespass the sound is a little more creative, and feels its way into the light. Less in your face prog, more in the English folk tradition. Even Rob said he liked bits of it (praise indeed). The guitar is subtle and the fingerpicking is quite accomplished….and no Collins on drums….

But, in defence of Phil Collins….

When I watched a recent documentary ‘Together and Apart’ the only two people who came across as reasonable people were Gabriel and Collins. When the ‘Lamb’ tour went into their last gig with Gabriel, Collins said he just rolled a big joint and played what was the best gig of his life, lost in a trance, knowing but resigned to the fact that Pete was off. The creative forces at the centre of the band did not claw for attention in the documentary, more the other peripheral members. Gabriel had no animosity for the other band members. Collins neither, although you could argue that’s easy with his bank balance! But let us not forget Collins was once cool (ok that’s a bit Bateman-esque). He played on Eno’s ‘Here Come the Warm Jets’. He played on John Martyn’s ‘Grace and Danger’. So, attack him if you want, but remember he took risks on seminal albums. He took on a fractured and bitter set of band members, galvanised them and provided the creative force that took them to global superstardom. For that he should be credited. For Buster, You Can’t Hurry Love and Sussudio he should be damned forever….

Tom listened: Half way through Trespass, it dawned on me that the ghost of Mr Pollock was in the room, smiling down malevolently on our prog rock sufferings, whilst Genesis flitted at will from one key change to another, throwing in half a dozen shifts in time signature and some bizarrely grandiose lyrics for good measure.

It is strangely fascinating how isolated in time and place prog rock is – two bars of Trespass was enough to place it within two weeks and thirty miles of its source. What was it about the ears and minds of young people (men?) at the time that made them so predisposed to this type of music? I can think of no other genre that has led down such a well defined cul-de-sac as prog rock – modern day succedents (Dungen?, Midlake?, The Besnard Lakes?) only giving the slightest whiff of the prog of old.

As a teenage owner of Invisible Touch (although I am slightly embarrased to admit it – it was the Spitting Image videos that sold me on the idea…honest), and an adult owner and great admirer of Grace and Danger and Here Come The Warm Jets, I didn’t go into Trespass with my mind already made up…and there were little sections that sounded alright…but, as with most prog I have listened to over the years (mainly as a result of Graham being in record club), the whole sounded to me like much less than the sum of its parts!

Rob listened: It felt like we’d been waiting a lifetime for this band to make an appearance, and yet it still seemed too soon. To be fair, which is not a requirement, we spent a lot of the album’s running time talking about how much we disliked the idea of Genesis when none of us, apart from Steve, clearly an eloquent defender, knew the first thing about them. I disdain them based on the dismal reflections I picked up from the generations of musicians who followed on, attempting and failing to wipe the slate clean of this stuff. This evening was a chance to correct that and at lea

Nick listened: Proggy.

Teardrop Explodes – Kilimanjaro: Round 95 – Steve’s Selection

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Why on earth haven’t we played this album yet? This could be a question asked by the arch Drude himself, so full of ego (or ergot) he is, was, that the man seeks attention. Perhaps it is the cocky swagger of this debut of Mr Cope that sets a precedent of many more pretenders to come. All leather trousered and snake hips, snapping the minds of the youth. Yet, few have sounded quite like this album. Few sounded like it at the time. A post-punk psychedelic revival? XTC would later develop their own psychedelia through the Dukes of the Stratosphear, but nobody else had the gall surely? Here was a man astride a white piano on Top of the Pops LSD’d up to the eyeballs, appearing on the front cover of Smash Hits and sharing a house with a pre-Nirvana Courtney Love. Please God this is rock and roll! But enough of the image and the what for the music?

The opener ‘Ha Ha I’m Drowning’ has a horn section on it, which immediately jarred with me when I first heard it against a backdrop of punk. This combined however with the ghostly mellotron (I think it is a mellotron) and the crashing guitars, incredibly tight rhythmic drumming sends you immediately into an off-kilter bonkers go crazy dance across the floor. The horns and repeating lyrics (“You can watch rafferty turn into a serial”….”I just wander around”….”It’s just like Sleeping Gas. Oh so ethereal”) on ‘Sleeping Gas’ also lead you into what seems to be describing a drug induced nightmare. Is it a bad trip? He’s babbling, but trying to make sense of it all at the same time. Cope’s dalliances with hallucinogenic substances are well documented, and yet it is documented here so vividly and yet in a jolly distinctly English style. Perhaps the analogies with Syd Barrett are fair here, although there’s a distinctly post-punk feeling to this. It’s not the psychedelia of the 60s, nor the 80s. Cope interprets his descent himself, wobbling out of control. ‘Treason’ was the first single I think. I knew Cope’s nephew at University in Leeds and he told me the whole family had to buy a copy of the 45 when it came out. They viewed young Julian with some despair apparently. Later on in the album, on my favourite track (‘Bouncing Babies’) he sees his poisoned status in the family unit

“I was a poisoned child
I was fighting for my life
Clinging to something
Fighting for anything”

On ‘Brave Boys Keep Their Promises’ he notes

“Fighting with your relatives
You’ve got your mother and your father and your brothers to Your aunts and your uncles are all against you”

‘Poppies in the Field’ is perhaps one of the weaker tracks on the first side, but there’s an accomplished range of instrumentation, with sounds that can only be fitted into a psyche of the late 70s/early 80s. The album’s production, by Bill Drummond (later of KLF of course, who we have covered and talked about a lot) and Dave Balfe future-proofs the sound like Martin Hannett did with Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures (what we haven’t covered that album either…with arguably the best opener of any post-punk album?). Cope growls on the first track on the second side (‘Went Crazy’), more overtly talking about his evolving and declining mental state (“Je suis suicide, je suis pain. Jabber indecision here we go again, I’m going (insane?)”). Perhaps this fame thing is too much for him? Drummond is alleged to have pushed him a little too far in his creative approach (there were legends about sliding acid tabs down a ruler into his mouth). He’s also alleged to have manipulated the Teardops and Echo and the Bunneymen to play simultaneous gigs in Rekjayvik and New Zealand along an ancient ley-line (you couldn’t make this up?). The chronicling of chronic depression and loss of mind through drug induced mania is no celebration of youthful abandon on this album. Far from it, more a warning to the intrepid journeyman. Cope exiled himself in Barrett-like seclusion in Tamworth (where he lived as a pre-Teardrop), an image he has tried to shake off. He re-emerged later with odd solo excursions (‘World Shut Your Mouth’ and ‘Fried’ being two examples) and we are of course indebted to him for chronicling Krautrock, Japrock and standing stones (‘Krautrocksampler’, ‘Japrocksampler’ and ‘The Modern Antiquarian’). Cope the scholar, or literary agent of the mind is brought to the fore on the last 3 tracks on this album, pointing to more eclectic musical styles, and less reliance on verse-chorus-verse structure that would sell singles at the time. ‘Thief of Baghdad’ is story-like, prosaic, with eastern influences milking through the patchwork of a wandering and fractured mind. The last track opens like early Depeche Mode (maybe they got their influence from here?) but quickly descends from the tight pop structure to the more open and surreal. And there it is. The end. For two glorious years Julian Cope was pinup number 1, on Top of the Pops and yet helter skeltering uncontrollably into a drug psychosis. Hardly what the established Radio 1 vanguards of the youth in the 1980s would call an example to teenage children, drowning drowning, and so the track fades and we hear no more like it then, or will hear it like it since……down the rabbit hole we go. Utterly brilliant.

Tom listened: Now, The Teardrop Explodes I knew of…Reward I had actually heard…but I’m not sure I had even heard of Kilimanjaro the album before Steve pulled it out of his bag on the evening.

More fool me because it’s a great record. A tad homogenous perhaps (most of the songs sounded like a bit of a rehash of the aforementioned single to be honest) but when the single is THAT good what does it matter. Loved this from start to finish…in another, better, world, perhaps this would have fitted the theme even more closely!

Moulettes – Preternatural: Round 94 – Steve’s Selection

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I’m well aware that the DRC have issues with progressive rock, but musical allergic rashes aside I feel that this album offers a fresh take on the so-called genre. It would however also be wrong to merely categorise Moulettes as even folk-rock, let along progressive rock, since there is much more depth to this album. The sounds are complex, and yes although there is a theme running through of a celebration of the mysterious creatures that inhabit our earth (some mythical?) it is not, I promise you, a prog rock record. This is not Yes’ ‘Tales from Topographic Oceans’, although I am sure that there’s some influence in there somewhere (….). It is not Jethro Tull either, but again, there is probably some influence there too. The opening track ‘Behemoth’ is an aural cavalcade. Although not on horseback, the sound may be riding through the sea astride the mythical Behemoth itself. Gasping delightful vocal harmonies are interspersed with a riff that sounds like an electric guitar, but I believe is actually a cello (played by the talented Hannah Miller). As an opener it leaves no room for doubt, this is a rock record and it packs punch from start to finish. But as I say, not just rock though…

World music and the far-east simmer underneath under ‘Patterns’ and I hear Kate Bush in ‘Medusa’, breakbeats on ‘Parasite’ interspersed with power riffs that could be out of any folk-rock crossover of the 1970s, but given new life here on fully mature arrangements covering new ground for a modern audience of any persuasion. It’s that broader appeal that the Moulettes have managed to achieve on this album, perhaps more so than their other outings (this is their 4th studio album), without sacrificing their soon and deep folk/psychedleic/progressive rock roots.

Their craft and musicianship is undoubted here. Many have made reference to their live performances, but I have issue with bands that rely solely on the adage  ‘they sound much better live’. Performance has stand on its own two feet and maybe draw you to the live experience. The production and sound on Preternatural is outstanding, and stands alone without the need to rely on a live rendition – although I am sure they the live shows are very much something to behold. Given this though there is what I interpret to be a lament to the loss of talented singers (on ‘Bird of Paradise Pt 2’) – is this about the loss of craft through the X-factor generation (?) and the loss of wildlife through climate change (?). There’s plenty of depth lyrically to this album, within each of the songs, and credits would suggest some deep political motivations behind them.

The final track on the album (‘Silk’) is one of the standout tracks. Opening with ethereal vocals with drop liquid-like beats, and later samples of sci-fi films, and on the topic of the material itself. Being a scientist who works on natural fibres I can’t help but love the subject matter itself, but what I like most is the ending (on the vinyl version), with the run out groove endlessly repeating…..daring, and a nice touch.

So, if you don’t like prog (I do) don’t be put off. This album has more to give, and influences well beyond easy pigeonholing. Oh, and one day, I will see them live too….

Rob listened: This seemed to be our designated talker-overer for the evening (there’s always one) but even so, there was plenty to dig into in this sprawling, careening affair. For a start, we struggled to decide what it was. That’s helpful for Moulettes, I guess. As Steve has noted, we struggle sometimes to divest ourselves of certain genre prejudices. This thing was like quicksilver, flowing through the gaps between styles. And whilst I’m allergic to the more knowing, self-indulgent end of prog, I can’t deny an affection for a certain type of pastoral psyche-tinged folk, and ‘Preternatural’ seemed to sail more on that bearing. Still, there were sounds chucked in there that hit like nails down an eighties synthesized blackboard. I can’t claim to have fallen completely for Moulettes, but ‘Preternatural’ certainly made me want to listen more, rather than less.

Steve’s further comment: Stop talking over my records…..

Tom listened: I almost really liked this….but a couple of things put me off. I liked the singer’s voice and most of the instrumentation but, as Rob has said in his response, every so often Moulettes would throw in a jarring prog rock trope (is there any other kind?) and my teeth would be set on edge, a cold sweat would break out and a little piece of me would die…mainly because it all felt so unnecessary; a perfectly good tune (Silk being a case in point) spoilt, as far as I was concerned, by the band seemingly feeling the need get the prog rock box ticked on their Allmusic profile. A shame as victory was so nearly theirs!

Oh, and then there’s the album cover!

Johnny Dangerously – ‘You, Me and the Alarm Clock’: Round 93 – Steve’s choice

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Johnny Dangerously, not to be confused with the Michael Keaton film of the same name, was the once alter-ego of Johnny Bramwell of I Am Kloot fame. This record was released in 1989 at the peak of the ‘Madchester’ baggy era but bears no resemblance to the sounds of that time (Stone Roses for one). It’s straight singer-songwriter, troubadour guitarist eking out a living on the dirty streets of Manchester – which is where Mr Bramwell was probably at during this period. He still plays impromptu gigs in Oldham Street, one of the former epicentres of the Manchester music scene. It bares the skeleton structure of I Am Kloot’s later work, but stripped back it still sounds crisp and fresh today. Its a remarkably accomplished debut, signalling much promise to come.

This mini album (defined as such in various sources although it’s just 6 songs, plays at 45 rpm and only lasts a little over 16 minutes – our shortest album yet Rob?) featured in an article in the Guardian titled “The Greatest Albums You’ve Never Heard“. Although some of the entries in this article (Neutral Milk Hotel for goodness sakes…) should not be there, this absolutely deserves its place. It is a musical gem, a lost one for me as well, falling between the cracks in my life. I used to “own” this album. My ex-wife had it in her collection so I can thank her for introducing me to it. When we split the album went with her. Poignant enough then that the last track on here (‘Tearing it Down’) sings about the loss of possessions and someone.

“She left me a reminder, of a world she left behind her. An overcoat, a coffee cup, an old…(something indecipherable) book binder. I could catch her right away but I would never find her”

So I sadly lost the album. Years later I read the Guardian article and tried to find it again, to no avail. I went to see Johnny Bramwell at a gig in Bristol a few years ago, and he started taking requests. I shouted out ‘Pierfront Arcade’ (track two on the album) to which he replied that he’d forgotten how to play it. So, there we go, lost to the artist himself……

‘Junk Culture’, the opening track, starts haplessly amongst the trash and rubbish of life, evoking images of the back streets of England, the US, trying to make sense of it all

“Stumbling through small life Nowhere, England. Shaking hands with the big time life idiots. I was trying to pick up some ordinariness. From the shopping bag inspirational choir”

UK artists have often tried to make sense of the US on their albums. Prefab Sprout do it on Steve McQueen. As an artist just coming into the world, Johnny Dangerously seems more vulnerable than most to the enormity of gaining success over the pond

“Sweeping through middle town America. Stepping into fact-or-fiction trash TV world. I caught a glimpse of myself scraping and laughing. Shuffling about amongst the newspaper”

Lyrically this album has recurring themes of love, loss, regret, fear, hope and valediction to memories. The imagery of the opening track is simple yet efffective, getting you to view things in a way you know to be true, and yet perhaps you missed them. ‘Junk Culture’ evokes images of the old cathode ray tube TVs and how they used to shut down to a small spot on the screen…”And a million TV screens close their weary eyes”.

The theme of nostalgia is very strong here too. ‘Pierfront Arcade’ highlights the true fragility of memories, and our inability to leave places without never returning, perhaps only in our minds

“Love is built in pieces, made right here in Fragile Town. You said once you were weaving, oh, but who is fragile now?….I said once I was leaving but I came back before too long”

‘Black and Blue’ is a tragic love song, recognising what ultimately you will lose in order to gain the heart of one you desire (“Lights are shining all round this world. You want them all but what you want is this girl….So give up the chance to be true. And all wind up like we knew we’d do. Bruised black and blue”). ‘This Town and Mary’ remembers a girl who came into his life, and to a ‘town’ unknown. Perhaps this town and Mary do not exist at all but I have sneaking suspicion that this references the same ‘Mary’ that featured in a short film I once saw. The subject matter of the film was a bright eccentric girl that was ‘on the scene’ in Manchester in the early 80s, but left suddenly for no reason, right before the ‘Madchester-Hacienda’ music explosion. The film featured one Vinni Reilly (of Durrutti Column, who we haven’t covered yet) remembering her as being quite fragile and full of contradictions. People said she wouldn’t have coped with the scene as it evolved, so perhaps she was best to go. I couldn’t find a link to the film, but would love to make the connection. The song however suggests ‘Mary’ is all of us (“Mary came from our town and was kicking at the ground. She was lost, she was found, she was me, she was you. And all the lies you tell sound true. You say you don’t til you do”). Mythologising people in your life, placing your own personna over them….

There’s not much to say about the musical ability on the record, because it is just him and the guitar. Anyone who has been to see him live will know that he can fill a room with that simple formula. The vocal is very rich, regional and distinctive. The guitar itself accomplished and not readily accessible in terms of chord sequences and tunings. In some ways he bears resemblance to John Martyn (again we haven’t covered him…), some would say Go-Betweens are in there (I think that was you Tom?). Nobody bought the album when it came out, and Johnny Bramwell never released another under this name. So, there it is, gone but not forgotten. It deserves a higher place in the past, and perhaps even in the present, but then again it seems all that more beautiful as a hidden lost gem amongst the newspapers and dirty alleyways of Oldham Street in Manchester….find it if you can.

Rob listened: I listened indeed, but ‘You, Me and the Alarm Clock’ was gone before I’d managed to get a grip of it, like the old newspapers it invokes, it was swept away by the buffeting breezy conversation and, at the point where we might start to settle down and listen properly, it finished. Thanks the Steve for an impassioned write-up that leads us back into the record and reminds us that sometimes when we talk about the things we’re hearing, we do so at the expense of listening.

Fortunately ‘You, Me and the Alarm Clock’ is not quite as unfindable as Steve might have implied. Youtube seems to have most of it, revealing grounded, heartfelt, melancholy melodies and swirling words. Bramwell’s distinctive voice binds the two together.

I never really got fully on board with I Am Kloot. I bought their first album when it came out, I think just because I’d seen their name knocking about. I liked it a lot and can still get carried away on the beautifully woozy opening track ‘To You’ despite not having heard it for more than 10 years. Although the gap from this Johnny Dangerously record and ‘Natural History’ is even longer, the connection is direct and immediate, and sufficiently energising to send me back there properly.

Tom listened: Blocking out the Exeter University chit chat is something I have become increasingly adept at over the years (surprisingly, much of it is not all that relevant to me!) and, as a result, I was rewarded with a little gem of a listen. The fact that I was reminded, time and again, of The Go-Betweens at their most acoustic certainly helped to entice me as they are one of my all time faves but, to be honest, this album would easily have held up on its own merits without the help of its Antipodean counterparts. Just a shame it didn’t stick around a bit longer!

Nick listened: Sounded like he owned a bobble hat.

Stereolab -Emperor Tomato Ketchup: Round 92 – Steve’s Selection

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I was especially p*ssed off on 24th June when the EU referendum result was announced. There, I’ve said it. So the result for Brexit has influenced my choice this week. I wanted an antidote to this result. To celebrate all that is European. For me Europe represents a big melting pot of culture that crosses borders, breaks down barriers and this album does this in spades. Lætitia Sadier, Stereolab’s French born (UK living) lead singer mostly sings in her native tongue, in a style that sounds indifferent (yeah, f*ck you Farage), hypnotic and although my language skills are a little rustique these days – je comprends en peu. I originally wrote ‘je comprends en petit peux’ which roughly translates ‘I understand in small can’, which was odd because the first track of this album is an out-and-out tribute to Can! Shifting in tempo and all soggily and beautifully ‘beepy’, with a Hammond organ overlaid, the opening track ‘Metronomic Underground’ sets the tone for this album’s wonderful blend of europop, electronica and Krautrock. Most of the tracks on this album sound like they could carry on improvising into the night, just like Can were fond of doing during their legendary sessions.

Sadier’s vocal throughout this album is flat, but intentionally so, as it adds metronomy in itself. Repeating phrases, for example “Les pierres, les abres, les murs racontent…” (‘the stones, the tress, the walls tell’) on ‘Cybele’s Reverie’ evokes Sartre (pseud’s corner for me) and his hopelessness in amongst inanimate objects in his existential nightmare ‘Nausea’. There are nods in the direction of the punk band X-ray Spex (‘Germ Free Adolescents’ is lined up for DRC) and the saxophone on ‘Percolator’. The lyrics to ‘Les Yper-Sound’ seems especially prescient given Brexit in all its narrative for pitching camps against each other

“You go in that team
I go on this team
Divide everything
A flag or a number

Make ’em opposites
So there’s a reason
Stigmatization
Okay, now we can fight”

‘Spark Plug’ explores the ills of society and its ability to heal (‘There is no sense in being interested in an ill person. Or unwell a society if one cannot believe their readiness and the capacity for proper recovery’). I’m feeling better already about societé! The album is, despite the flat vocals, very uplifting. It makes you feel like part of a happening, an underground avant garde show, like you are in the experience, pushing the boundaries.

The title track ‘Emporer Tomato Ketchup’ resumes the metronomic, and Can-like beats of the opener. Here the tempo is quicker though, and the interchanging vocal melodies of Sadier are accompanied by Mary Hansen (who sadly died in London in 2002 in a bike accident), making a delightful and blistering Krautrock belter of a tune. All forlorn and introspective, a weep for ‘the sought after union bought us together’ on ‘Monstre Sacre’ takes an altogether different tone. These are the highs and lows of life in full, born out in glorious euro-technicolour.

I can’t help but feel that this “proud to be British” bullsh*t would not have come to the fore if we were more honest about our influences, perhaps more open to other European cultures and the way they have shaped us as a nation. On ‘Motoroller Scalatron’ Sadier sings “What’s society built on? It’s built on, built on bluff. Built on bluff, built on trust”. Come on people. Feeling British means nothing. Feeling part of society has far more to tie us together. Or does it? Is it more simple and perhaps therefore fragile than that? Sadier appears to question this.

Looking back, Sadier reflects “Discovery of fire, America. The invention of the wheel, steel work and democracy. Philosophy, the Soviets and other events in history of humanity. Happened at a certain given moment in time” over strings and a variety of retro electronic jiggery-pokery. There’s no going back on history, only forwards. Again, flatly sung, matter of fact, but backed with glorious electronica. The final track ‘Anonymous Collective’ focusses on the unseen things that hold us together….”You and me are molded by things. Well beyond our acknowledgment”. Maybe that’s it. Don’t focus on the differences (f*ck you again Farage), let’s hold together and to the things that bind us, the things unseen. To Europe! Vive les similarities.

Tom listened: A while ago now Rob mentioned that he was keen to do a podcast/radio type thing and one of the features he was hoping to instigate (Rob is an ideas man!) would be a slot where we would listen to an album by an artist we had previously overlooked, generally the bigger the artist, the better (big in terms of influence as opposed to sales, I suppose). When he mooted this to me I drew a blank. Which, in retrospect, was ludicrous! There were hundreds of missing pieces in my musical jigsaw puzzle but I just couldn’t come up with any when put on the spot.

Well, Record Club has been the equivalent of a rummage down the back of the sofa and, as a result, many gaps have been plugged. The Stereolab piece now being in place, my listening life feels a little more complete. Of course, I have heard them many times on the radio over the years and Emperor Tomato Ketchup sounded more-or-less as I expected it would…but better; the grooves particularly towards the end of the record really locking me in. The closest thing to them in my record collection is Pram, another mid nineties indie outfit, but listening to this made me realise that it was the right band that won the accolades – on the basis of this album Stereolab simply had the better tunes and grooves!

 

Patti Smith – Horses: Round 91 – Steve’s Choice

PattiSmithHorses“Jesus died for somebody’s sins….but not mine”. The opening line for my ‘pick’ for this meeting smacked me in the face as a 16 year old record collector and indoctrinated Christian. I wa
s exploring punk at this time, and aside from the Damned, Buzzcocks and the comedic elements of the genre I was also looking at what had gone before, the roots of the culture and musical forms. I was signposted by narrative, mainly from the pages of the NME, to where the links were – Iggy Pop, Television, Richard Hell. Of course Patti Smith was cited in these narratives, and she is often called the queen of Punk, the punk poetess. On this album you hear much more than simply a poetry set to furious guitars and drums – although there is plenty of that too.

Patti Smith was born in 1946, and so was a “child of the 60s”, starting out life as a poet and “hung out” with Robert Mapplethorpe – the artist who was to photograph her so evocatively for this album’s cover. I now read that she was also bought up in a religious home, eventually rejecting organised religion in favour of her own ways during her teens. Such was the strength of this rejection that it led to the writing of the opening line – this is even more poignant for me now knowing that fact.

The album is so defiant to me in many ways, from the androgyny of the cover to the way she spits and snarls through the opening track ‘Gloria’. The album returns to the same guitar sequence on the opening track in ‘Land’ – a three part movement of dream like sequences blending horror and majestic images of “horses, horses, horses….”. In this section of the album she has her own vocal overlaid on her own voice, as though she is speaking against herself even – it evokes the tossing and turning of a nightmare, and yet mixed with incredible images of horses in the water. PJ Harvey has been often compared to Smith, and I invite you to listen to ‘Horses in my Dreams’ on Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea (definitely on my list to bring along) as her own (I feel) interpretation of ‘Land’.

The fact that I jump to ‘Land’ reveals that I do think there are some bum tracks on this album – ‘Free Money’ being one. Other listeners did not like the reggae pastiche of ‘Redondo Beach’ but in this track lies another link to the punk fraternity and its roots. Reggae was blossoming in the mid-70s, both in the UK and US, and raised the spirit of revolution that the hippy movement brought along with it, but this time in anger. Punk is often held up as a reaction to the past, and the pomp of the 60s and 70s, rather than a natural progression of the anger and frustration with the world that was borne out of that period. Blondie, and Debbie Harry particuarly, have a foot in the 1960s optimism – Harry was a member of the hippie 60s psychedelic band Willow the Wisp. Patti Smith, like Debbie Harry also has a 60s connection. She fraternised with the beat generation poets, and started life in spoken word. On Horses she brings that poetry into song, and gives it an urgency. It’s like “you weren’t listening then, but you’d better now”. We also asked during the night if she was more a contemporary of Bruce Springsteen – well he co-wrote ‘Because the Night’ on her next album Easter, so I suppose he was. He however developed frustration of the lack of progress in the 60s into songs about the plight of the working man. Channeling his ire against the US through a different blue-collar background. No less angry, but cut from the same cloth. Patti Smith was all art-house and poetry. Of its time the poetry stands alone on this album compared to its contemporaries. Nobody was doing this cut up poetry set to angry guitars, and this is why it lays the path towards punk.

In terms of shared influences between Blondie and Smith, Redondo Beach is what Debbie Harry possibly stole from her on a night out in CBGBs (I am speculating here) and recreated in a more popular form in the 1980s to sell records. Both artists also display femininity in their music, but in different ways. Smith is more gutsy and there’s no sheen or gloss to it, and yet there’s beauty to behold. “Elegie” – the final track – is just a heartbreaking tale of loss of love “I just don’t know what to do tonight. My head is aching as I drink and breathe. Memory falls like cream in my bones, moving on my own”. It’s a stunning, choking and realistic end to a failed relationship and Smith lays it out bare on the bones. It almost leaves you a little hollow and yet changed. A bit like a failed relationship really.

When I first heard this record the opening line was really a set of gateposts for me. I listened to it but was quite fearful of its consequences and couldn’t go through ‘the gate’ to other songs. Later on I have been much more prepared to explore. I love the way music can empower and change the way we view the world. It would be wrong of me to say that opening line was the deal breaker for me in terms of my religious belief, that would come much later, but it certainly marked out an alternative school of thought. I did not need those “rules and regulations”, or at least I could question them and to me that embodies what this album represents: empowerment. “Except for one who seizes possibilities, one who seizes possibilities.”

Rob listened: I’ve avoided ‘Horses’ until now, no longer because i’m fearful of it, but, well, because I used to be and, just because. I heard a documentary about it earlier int he year and realised it wasn’t quite the challenging art-noise I had perhaps expected (not sure why) and hearing it front to back tonight, especially in the context of Steve’s experience, it sounded great.  If there’s a better opening line in rock history, I’ve not heard it, and the rest of the record that followed managed to maintain that aggression, that defiance and that sense of striking out alone. Absolutely deserves it’s place.

Tom listened: Rob hit the nail on the head when he talks about defiance – everything about this record screams it, from photo to lyrics to vocal delivery. It’s not surprising that Steve was scared of it at first; it’s an intimidating listen and its unrelentingly abrasive nature has ensured that my copy has mainly gathered dust over the course of the quarter of a century I have owned it. In fact, Horses was earmarked for our Guilty Displeasures round (and, strangely, I was on the verge of throwing this into our conversation on the night just before Steve revealed it). It is a perfect example of what I was getting at in that theme – on the face of it, Horses ticks all my boxes but there’s something about it that I find hard to embrace…maybe it’s the coldness at its core, maybe it’s to do with Smith’s vocals; I don’t know but I go back to it every so often, expecting it to click (I do admire it even if I find it hard to like) but my reaction has always been (and is still) to turn and run!

The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses: Round 90 – Steve’s Selection

Stoneroses

My choice for the album that cemented my music tastes before “I left home” was easy. It had to be The Stone Roses’ first, and some would argue their only album. If any record defines a moment in my life it was this one. Manchester was a kind of mythical place for me. I was born there, my dad worked there and one half of my family was from there. But there was nothing to draw me other than that. Growing up in a village outside Crewe didn’t really define me by my birthplace, and then along came The Stone Roses. I suppose many people, north-south-east-west of the country would pretend to be “Mancunian” because of this album, but that’s because it made you want to belong, to something great. After this came out I definitely wanted to go back. It would be nearly 10 years before that happened, but that’s another story….

The band themselves came out of nowhere, and history about them would only be filled in retrospectively. Such was their impact on the scene with this album. Well actually there was no scene before they came. They laid the road out before them, and defined a scene with just this one record. Originally a “goth band”, inspired by the melodic 60s overtones of Primal Scream’s “Velocity Girl” they ambushed us all with a new sound, having released a few poor selling singles prior to this (such as So Young). Remarkably, they only had a very local Manchester following at this point as well. Then came this album was released in May 1989. I was 16 years old…

People often compare them to the Byrds, but I think their music, on this album, transcends even the definition of 60s inspired indie pop. There’s much more to them than that. From the opening bass line of “I Wanna Be Adored” gives you anticipation, a feeling that something great is about to happen….and then the power chords of Jon Squire’s guitar sailing majestically across and trickling down with beautiful finger picking. There’s rock influence, but it’s not too overpowering (unlike the second album), and there’s even the brooding goth in there. Much underrated (I feel) is Reni’s drumming. There’s deeply complex rhythms in there that no other band at the time was attempting, changes in pace and subtlety. The merging of tribal dancing and rock is beautifully displayed on ‘Waterfall’ and ‘She Bangs the Drums’. Throughout the album it’s just one majestic track after another, but they were not afraid to slow it down and make introspection the theme of the day (‘Shoot You Down’ is sublime). The lyrical conent is also sufficiently vague to make you want to know more. Who, what, where? Drawing you in piece by piece. Pulling you to them, their places. In that way they deviate hugely from other bands who would definitely follow in their steps (Oasis springs to mind here), and those of their contemporaries. But that was it. This one album. The strange thing is that it barely sold at the time, and actually there was very little knowledge of it outside of a localised scene (or so I thought at the time). But it changed everything. People instantly dressed differently. They grew their hair longer and wore baggy jeans. There was an attitude that this album brought then enabled confidence in my youth and allowed me to be part of a real scene, a movement. It was a time when I could truly say “this is my time, happening now”. This movement danced in harmony with the rave scene, shared the apparel and boosted Manchester into something that could compete with London and knock it off its pedestal. The North was better and everyone wanted to come there and be a part of it.

When I thought of what to bring along for this meeting there was no doubt. When I looked for it however I couldn’t find it. Disaster! I had bought an original copy back in ’89. I even remember the day when I purchased it in Crewe. I started dreaming that I had seen it in my collection. After a bit of social media posting and some frantic accusations around the house (sorry to my wife for this) my brother admitted that he had it. It caused so much fuss in the house. But then it would. It is that special to me. Despite it being special to me I didn’t listen to it for nearly 20 years, and only very recently bought it again on CD. In some ways I couldn’t listen to it because it was so “of its time” for me. Now I feel I can go back to that time. Back to the summer of ’89 and pretend I am a ‘manc’, swagger around the living room and dance like a monkey to it when it gets played at a wedding disco. I guess there is a whole generation of us that feel this way. It was a very definitive signpost in my life, pointing me towards my hometown, drawing me back to my roots. When I listen to it now it makes me want to go back again “where the streets are cold and lonely, and the cars they burn below me”. My eyes are filling right now…

Rob listened: In the context of a Devon Record Club evening, ‘The Stone Roses’ turned out to be something of a curate’s egg. It’s a ‘grail’ record, one that all five of those in attendance own, and that’s surprisingly rare. It’s also a record that we all agreed had made a big impact on us when we first heard it. It’s clearly a landmark of one sort or another. So why then, did we also have to admit that in 89 previous evenings of discussing the intimate nooks and crannies of each of our lives with music, this band and this record have barely been mentioned, if ever at all?

We concluded that ‘The Stone Roses’ is a total one-off. The band were never able to come anywhere near repeating its mercurial success and, as such, it stands alone now, captured in aspic more than 25 years since the echoing opening of ‘I Wanna Be Adored’ first seeped into the public consciousness. Nor was it able to have any genuine lasting impact on the music that followed it. It may have been a singular achievement, but it was not one that other musicians were able to build upon any more than the band themselves. If you disagree, feel free to list the significant artists whose music was unmistakeably influenced by The Stone Roses in the comments so we can tell you you’re wrong.

And so, unique, unrepeatable, alone, it stands forgotten, I would argue.I confess that at the time, although I lived closer to the epicentre than did Steve, and was in and out of Manchester throughout, The Roses never really and truly caught a grip of me. Already several years under the sway of The Fall, Joy Division, PiL and The Smiths, The Stone Roses seemed exquisite at times, but largely unsubstantial. I wish I’d gone to some of the gigs with my mates, but even back then, I wasn’t that bothered about this lot, and the years have only served to confirm that. I suppose the thing I love most about The Stone Roses is the devotion they inspire in those who were and remain completely smitten by them. It’s a heartening reminder of the way music can light a fire at the centre of your life.

Graham listened: I still adore this album and listen to it regularly. Often while cooking, which I’m sure the band had in mind when recording. It, and they, are unique, they got it so right, just the once. The reunion should be a source for joy, but leaves me feeling the memories might have been best left alone.

 

Aztec Camera – ‘High Land Hard Rain’: Round 89 – Steve’s choice

highlandhardrain

I was slightly nervous about introducing this album. Not only was it my first time at Devon Record Club but I had to admit that this was “my favourite album of all time”. I’ve received mixed press about my liking for this album, mostly coming at the end of a long night with a friend back home for some after-hours drinking. I have a certain reverance for it that only “allows me” to play it all the way through, which possibly shows an unhealthy love for it. Please bear with my foibles if you will and hear my case.

The album was released in April 1983 on Rough Trade (more later) and was the debut for the band, introducing the prodigious talent of Roddy Frame. He, it is said, wrote most of the album at the tender age of 15, and was 20 when it was released. The sheer talent displayed on this album is staggering for someone of that age. His guitar takes in 12 string, Spanish flamenco, and fast and furious strumming we so love to hear from this early 1980s independent music (don’t we?). He could have only started that journey early. Yet, underneath this talent is a tenderness, vulnerability and an insight into things unknown – possibly a love overseas (“I brought you some Francs from my traveling chest”) and an unbridled display of confidence in his ability (“You’ll spare me the thanks ’til you know I’m the best”) – the two opening lines of the second track on the first side (yes, it’s an LP not a CD, made to play in sides Nick). There’s bags of cleverness in here as well, with some lines turning in on themselves, such as “The cards are on the table now and every other cliché somehow fits me like a glove. You know that I’d be loathe to call it love” on “The Bugle Sounds Again”. A song to which I can readily shed a tear.

What I also love about this album is that it seems to get better and better as it goes through, reaching a final crescendo on “Back on Board”, only for it to come crashing down on “Down the Dip” (“I put all the love and beauty in the spirit of the night, and I’m holding my ticket tight. Stupidity and suffering are on that ticket, too and I’m going down the dip with you.”). The highs, the lows, the love the loss – all there in it’s beauty, glory and desperation. There’s also an eagerness about it, to get his word out there, to be heard. I love that about a debut album, and this one displays it more than any other I have listened to – and I have listened to this one a lot.

I only own this one album by Aztec Camera. It was too good for me to continue their journey with them. Before they were on Rough Trade they were signed to Postcard Records – perhaps the hippest label in town, run by the maverick Alan Horne. His philosophy was that the independents were going to take on the majors and produce better music than them – they succeeded but well after Alan’s time. In some ways Aztec Camera seemed too impatient for this pace of change, and this album almost reflects that, wanting to bring it forward. They of course went on to much greater commercial success, but on a major label. This album therefore sounds more well-crafted and honed than its contemporaries. Perhaps they could just play their instruments better than the jangled and angular indie pop around them. The album therefore stands as a white pillar in this era, demanding attention. Only a year later would The Smiths (their label-mates) smash onto the scene, and the rest would be history. When they came to a sad demise, with the departure of another guitar giant (Mr Marr) the only replacement that was contemplated, was Roddy Frame (apparently). I’m not surprised really, nor am I that he probably declined. He knew a gem when he saw it and wouldn’t want it ruined.

So, there you go. My debut write-up. I had to get it out there.

Rob listened: Welcome aboard Steve! And thanks for bringing this along as your opening gambit. It’s a bold move to declare that your first choice is also your favourite of all time (all downhill from here). In fact I’m struggling to recall whether any record we’ve heard in our 80-odd meetings has been introduced as a personal pinnacle. The others will, I’m sure, correct me. It’s what we do.

There was much general talk of first impressions while ‘High Land, Hard Rain’ played, both the way they are formed and the way they may change. After I found my way to The Smiths in 1986, Aztec Camera were one of the possible next steps. In fact several of my fellow musical explorers did go off in that direction, stopping to pick up Lloyd Cole and Prefab Sprout on the way. As it happens, I’d already lowered my rope ladder to allow The Fall, PiL and Joy Division to clamber aboard, and so my ship sailed in a different direction and please can I stop this metaphor now please?

Rough edges, voids, absences, disruptions are the way I find my way into the vast majority of the music I love. We talked a lot about how particularly  Aztec Camera and Prefab Sprout don’t have those, or at least don’t appear to at first, second or third listening. And so first time around, I found nothing to get to grips with, and since then I have always bounced off their polished surfaces and away towards something else.

I don’t dig virtuosity either, although I can marvel at it. It’s never enough to sell me on a particular artist or song. I totally get that what Roddy Frame was doing here was utterly remarkable for someone his age at this particular period in music. But that’s that. I’ve remarked upon it. Now I’m moving on.

I’ve listened to ‘High Land, Hard Rain’ a number of times since last week, admittedly distractedly, and the melodies and rhythms are are growing on me. I’ve found myself humming them in quiet moments and looking forward to hearing them again. But no click as yet. As I said to much unwarranted amusement on the night, I think that there’s a period in your live when you are forming indellible impressions about music (or anything else you are passionate about) when, to adapt a phrase from Billy Bragg, your cement is wet. And once it’s set, there’s no shifting it. I get Aztec Camera, I admire what they’re doing, I find it nice to listen to and I understand why this could be an all-time favourite, but not for me. My loss.

Tom listened: There are obvious parallels to be drawn between Aztec Camera and Prefab Sprout and, having spent some time unlocking the majesty of Steve McQueen, I can completely empathise with the difficulty Rob has in seeing past the smoothness of High Land Hard Rain but, concurrently, can recognise that this album could easily pull off the same trick as Prefab’s second album, sneak up on me discreetly and politely and then ‘Hey Presto!’ what do you know ,it’s gone and wheedled its way into my top 10 of all time list (if I had such a thing). Steve McQueen would certainly be in there! That said, I found this even more discombobulating on first listen; tricky key changes and meandering songs that offered much less structure than, say, Bonnie or When Loves Breaks Down or Appetite or…basically the entire first side of SM. But I’d bet that with repeated listens all that seemed awkward at first would melt away and reveal finely crafted tunes that give more and more with each new listen. I would certainly pick this up if I ever came across it in a second hand record store…

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