Rated as: Album
Album Status: Genre Classic
Specific Genre: Hard Rock, Rock Opera
Main Genre: Rock
Undertones: Progressive Rock, Symphonic Rock
1.1 I Am the Sea 1.2 The Real Me 1.3 Quadrophenia 1.4 Cut My Hair 1.5 The Punk and the Godfather 1.6 I’m One 1.7 The Dirty Jobs 1.8 Helpless Dancer 1.9 Is It in My Head? 1.10 I’ve Had Enough
2.1 5:15 2.2 Sea and Sand 2.3 Drowned 2.4 Bell Boy2.5 Doctor Jimmy 2.6 The Rock 2.7 Love, Reign o’ver Me
Can you see the real me?
Where Tommy (1969) staked its claim as progressive rock by fusing the posture of hard rock with the aesthetics of an all-frills, no-shame broadway show extravaganza, Quadrophenia decidedly takes its cues from Richard Wagner – in posture and attitude, I mean, less in musical terms. A Ring of the Nibelung with a cockney setting, this is Rock Opera with capitals. Everything about it is enormous: the riffs, the vocal arcs, how it shifts between ethereal, foggy gentleness and hard-driving rock&roll with in a song (“Punk and the Godfather”, “I’m One”), the way the motifs and choruses built up and intertwine within a song and across the double-LP. And Wagner does loom large musically on Entwistle’s valkyrian, otherworldly French horn motif dominating the album (it shows up throughout, but check out “Helpless Dancer” for quick reference).
Re-using the overture/”underture” idea from Tommy with recurring motifs, it is difficult to single out songs as highlights – what I’m left with after going through the first two sides is just an overall sense of high-quality music (again, a ‘classical’ reception mode transported through a number of pure hard rock riffs). I remain slightly suspicious of how they beef up the songs with big horn sections and the symphonic keyboard element (pretty new stuff for this context back then) – the Who’s unique strength lay in both mass and volatility, and while this is a massive album, its tide-like, imperative pull is dampened somewhat the longer it runs, as evermore mass comes at the cost of sustainable excitement. Yet this is possibly the Who’s “largest” realized project, and as such: a sure classic in the field of high-concept hard rock.
Rated as: Album
Album Status: for Fans
Specific Genre: Pop, Pop Rock
Main Genre: Pop
Undertones: Rock&Roll, Baroque Pop, Country Pop, Vaudeville Pop, Traditional Pop, Orchestral Pop, Folk Pop
Label: RCA Victor
1 Take 54 2 Remember (Christmas) 3 Joy 4 Turn on Your Radio 5 You’re Breakin‘ My Heart 6 Spaceman 7 The Lottery Song 8 At My Front Door 9 Ambush 10 I’d Rather Be Dead 11 The Most Beautiful World in the World
Bonus Tracks: 12 What’s Your Sign? 13 Take 54 14 Campo de Encino 15 Daybreak
Now this time through, we want everybody to listen to the punchline
Nilsson had hit it big time with the predecessor Schmilsson (1971), but as the B-movie theme of this son-of-album suggests, that success in hindsight might be something like the real life equivalent of The Dude actually getting his rug back. On Son of Schmilsson, Nilsson still straddles the thin line of parody vs. rip-off successfully for the most part, though the sleep-walking confidence is replaced with the lumbering gait of a very lucky drunkard. Evenly divided into earnest, sentimental crooner-anthems of traditional pop or vaudevillian ditties on the on hand and, on the other hand, straight rock&roll parodies, self-referential and thoroughly camp in nature, this album is a showcase of executing (in both senses) genre-stereotypes. Suspicion arises this might work better rated as straight comedy, not music.
While the actual fluff like the wannabe-Crosby-christmas of „Remember“ or the Beach Boys/calypso sent-up of “The Most Beautiful World in the World” makes me chuckle faintly, his stab at wistful country pop ballads, “Joy”, is possibly one of his funniest songs, especially when the cowboy runs out of ways to explain the cycle of relationships: “Things went good, things went bad. Good. Bad. Good, bad. Guuh, baaahhh, guh-bah…”. And „Turn on Your Radio“ or „The Lottery Song“ prove again just how closely Nilsson listened to Lennon/McCartney’s folk pop songcraft of „Blackbird“ or „I Will“ – nowhere near that quality though. These musically competent statements are nothing new to Nilsson and nothing he hadn’t done better before.
But in line with an album containing actual burps, ironic audienc-cheering and someone gurgling liquids and spitting them out as a rhythmic device, almost all the other songs are genre exercises and could be titled „Son of Country Pop“, „Son of Baroque Pop“, „Son of Rock&Roll #2“ or „Son of McCartney“ and so on. If Zappa is Ween’s direct antecedent, Nilsson is their silly uncle. The genre exercises are the interesting aspect of the record, though for different reasons. As mentioned, „Joy“ just is a terrific send-up – a caricature, but highly listenable. After the gorgeously gentle „Turn on Your Radio“, the rocking revenge boogie „You’re Breaking My Heart“ features lines like „You’re breaking my heart / you tear it apart – so fuck you“. This is 1972, show me something like this on, say, Exile on Main St. and I’ll show you Lennon’s coked up drinking buddy. Then show me something like this on a record targeting unsuspecting Burt Bacharach-fans and I’ll show you a bewildered Nilsson: ‘You didn’t get the Schmilsson-message the first time? Well, fuck you.’
The beatlesque „Ambush“ is an inconspicuous piece of baroque pop rock grandeur – really one of Nilsson’s quasi-highlights, with the project idea being: What if “Hey Jude” didn’t quite work, wouldn’t that be fun? Nilsson makes a point of purposely dulling down the song, taking way too obviously long with his endless crowd-cheering („Alright… alright… alright…… alright…“). Still, give it a quasi-spin! „I’d Rather Be Dead“ is silly filler vaudeville pop, „The Most Beautiful World in the World“ is just a general fuck-you to album closers, utilising a deranged calypso pop hook violated by Mary Poppins – Nilsson concludes this quasi-concept album about being a quasi-slave to pop culture (productively and receptively) with another musical nod to cheap sequels: „See you next album!“.
So indeed, there’s a lot of pop competence and a lot of bitter meta-jokes on this album. I didn’t even mention the albums’ best song, the bouncy and indirectly media-critical pop rock of „Spaceman“, since it simply is not the focus of interest: More than half of the album is Nilsson gleefully goofing off, unwilling to care for quality if it doesn’t just happen.
Rated as: Album
Album Status: Genre Recommendation
Specific Genre: Cool Jazz
Main Genre: Jazz
Undertones: Third Stream
1 Vendome 2 Pyramid 3 It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got that Swing) 4 Django 5 How High the Moon 6 Romaine
Cool, but not loungy, progressive, but not sonically avantgardistic
There are no fundamentally weak releases in the Modern Jazz Quartet’s catalogue, but which albums would you recommend as their absolute top picks? That’s no trifling matter. Discounting their live albums, Pyramid is a slight contender among their studio work, with its focus on sophisticated vibraphone-and-piano duels that draw their power from subtlety bordering on inconspicuousness. The Modern Jazz Quartet had entered their phase as elderly statesmen, and alongside their (in my view) epochal Third Stream Music, they were ready to further test out the possibilities to turn their jazz quartet format into a chamber music style that could have potentially broken loose from either jazz or classical – yet without strings or clarinet, they end up on the slightly conventional side of cool, sneaky swing once more.
As such, this is a terrific jazz release: cool, but not loungy, progressive, but not sonically avantgardistic, minimalistic, but not sparse. It works just as well as background music as it does for an intense listening. Given the fact they barely seem to touch their instruments, these guys put down one mean swing.
Rated as: Album
Album Status: of No Interest
Specific Genre: Electroclash, Electro-Punk
Main Genre: Electronic, Electronic Dance Music, Punk
Undertones: Techno, Dance-Punk, Industrial
1 Intro 2 Sick Like Me 3 All Systems Go! 4 Untitled 5 Diving in Whiskey 6 Rumpelkammer 7 A Mess 8 A Very Loud Lullaby 9 Der Grottenolm 10 3 Minutes Happiness 11 An Army of Watt 12 Patridiot 13 Blitzkrieg Pop
Honestly? It depends, you see.
Wobbling electro-thumps with fast-paced, violent shuffle beats between punk and techno, cackling aggressive sound effects, screamed vocals – okay, this supposedly comes from those dark underground caves with stroboscopic red lights and angrily painted faces, but translated into a very harmless mid-sized dance club environment. Why does this sound so much tamer than what 1980s industrial had to offer, while desperately doubling up on everything that seems so neat and dangerous when the older, cooler kids with their very scary skull-tattoos and their rattling teeth do it?
Rated as: Album
Album Status: of Zeitgeist Interest
Specific Genre: Indie Pop
Main Genre: Pop
Undertones: Indie Folk, Indie Rock, Folk Rock
1 Dirty Paws 2 King and Lionheart 3 Numb Bears 4 Sloom 5 Little Talks 6 From Finner7 Six Weeks 8 Love Love Love 9 Your Bones 10 Lakehouse 11 Yellow Light
[Bonus Tracks: 11 Yellow Light 12 Sinking Man]
The son was an okay guy
How many ways are there to make a twee sort of indie folk pop epic and larger than life after Arcade Fire and Mumford & Sons? In a style where cymbal clashes, the constant excited punctations of “HEY!”-choirs and the mandatory sudden shifts in dynamic from soothingly picked acoustic guitar / accordion / glockenspiel to thunderous brass sections have become stereotypes within half a decade, the debut of this band unadvantageously plays as if they had been veterans at this game for years, shipping in another one of those sure things to please the fandom. Aside from trivial melodies, they display musical skill, clever instrumentation, impressive performances – it’s all on point and we all should wish they don’t get stuck in the corner of epic indie folksters that self-imploded some short time right before or after the release date of this.
Rated as: Album
Album Status: Backdoor Classic
Specific Genre: Alternative Rock, Jazz-Rock
Main Genre: Rock
Undertones: Blues Rock
1 Dawna 2 Buena 3 I’m Free Now 4 All Wrong 5 Candy 6 A Head with Wings 7 In Spite of Me 8 Thursday 9 Cure for Pain 10 Mary Won’t You Call My Name? 11 Let’s Take a Trip Together 12 Sheila 13 Miles Davis‘ Funeral
I think it’s time for me to finally introduce you to the Buena Buena Buena Buena: Good good good!
If you missed Morphine, you missed out on a cultural branch and attitude connecting the defiantly subdued rebellion of the 1950s’ cool jazz with the brawling counterculture grandeur of rock. A fully developed band from the start, Morphine had cut out the curious niche of “low rock” with the mature jazz stylings of their debut Good, yet with their sophomore strike Cure for Pain they created an instant classic. The ingredients are the same, but compared to its subdued predecessor, Cure for Pain is a behemoth of groove and sweeping melancholia based in a jaded sort of bluesy jazz-rock with a beatnik’s cloudy fantasy of a rock cellar. Simply put, Morphine tried to make music for cool grown-ups with cool grown-up ailments like hotel bar seduction and cognac affliction, amidst a scene of anxious grunge kids, and they succeeded. This couldn’t have worked at the time other than going for a niche audience right away.
Morphine’s sound was and is unique. The potential of each element is caught at its most exciting in these tracks: With a surprisingly sharp and punchy tone, the compositions treat Sandman’s bass as a lead instrument as well as the bedrock of their groove (I’m not quite sure how), the two-string bass constantly shaking things up with its earthquake boom and its slinky underground slide. Jerome Deupree is one of the funkiest, most loosely swinging drummers in rock music (let’s not forget the equally great Billy Conway featured on some numbers here) and Dana Colley’s saxophone work is staggering – at will freewheeling (“Head with Wings”, or the upbeat roadtrip favourite “Mary”), confrontational (the aggressive stomp of “Thursday”) or ominously foggy (“Miles Davis’ Funeral”, or the trippy and hypnotizing come-down of “Let’s Take a Trip Together”). Sandman’s voice, much like his bass, has two strings and many frets: the beat sexy low-life or the gravelly soothing crooner, and he slides up and down the full emotional register of this potentially restrictive set-up.
Making the most out of a fixed set of possibilities, it is one of the few albums where practically each of the songs has been my favourite in a certain phase of my life, with „Cure for Pain“ being an ultimate anthem of anyone who’s remotely familiar with obsession. What makes this work is the mastery of a simple recipe with diversity in attitude, mood and emotivity: A record that can be equally depressing as it can be soothing, that is as hedonistic as it is mature – like a very peaty Lagavulin. It took me a few listens (even after already having been converted to the band), but once you get hooked, there’s no turning back.
Rated as: Box Set
Album Status: Definite, Complete Recordings
Specific Genre: Folk Rock, Psychedelic Rock, Roots Rock, Country Rock
Main Genre: Rock, Psychedelia
Flow, River, Flow
Oh dear, it’s that rare beast: a practically perfect box set! How about that. This handily sized box collects the remastered bonus track–reissues of all Byrds albums put out by Columbia/Legacy. These reissues usually featured more than half a dozen bonus tracks each. The box thus contains, quoting AMG’s John Bush, „over 90-percent of their career, basically everything they released, all 12 albums (aside from their 1973 reunion album recorded for Asylum)“.
This isn’t entirely accurate, as it’s only 11 albums – but 13 CDs. Bonus-CD 7 is comprised of early Gram Parsons‘ International Submarine Band tracks and alternate tracks from Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Add another bonus CD called Unissued (CD 11) which collects excellent bonus material from their original (Untitled) album. This includes unreleased studio tracks that didn’t make the album, the studio version of the album’s live „Lover of the Bayou“, an additional interesting Little Feat cover marking the band’s way into the swampy and southern areas of roots rock. Notably, Little Feat’s debut album wasn’t even published yet when the Byrds covered them on their album. This is really all you might want from a box set like this, the missing reunion album notwithstanding.
With boxes, I personally prefer if the original albums are left alone on a CD and the bonus material comes on separate CDs. But since this collects remastered reissues that already had bonus tracks on them, that wasn’t an option. Well, so be it. I especially enjoy that the liner notes are not just dedicated to the nostalgia of some prominent fan or an attempt at further mythologizing: Every track is listed with essential information, recording date, previous releases, writing credits, et cetera. While each of the album tracks get a short informative paragraph providing context, the information is a bit scarce concerning the alternate takes of the bonus CDs. A little more historiography would have been nice there: I mean, why are there alternate Sweetheart of the Rodeo-takes with Gram Parsons on lead vocals that had been overdubbed with vocals by Roger McGuinn for the published album? Why is there zero context provided about the previously unissed studio and live takes on bonus CD 11 (titled Unissued)? I know you can read all about these things elsewhere, but these boxes are the decentralized mini-archives to collect such lore.
The box comes in a minimalistic and nice (very affordable) package, sports vinyl replicas and fits in your shelf next to other CDs. Even if you’re not an absolute fan, this is the box to get – they are an extremely important band going through several interesting phases which make for a nice journey here: from sand-bleached, mellow pop folksters to psychedelic Westcoast rokoko to Creedence Clearwater Revival-inspired roots & desert rockers. All phases have stellar highlights. So: here it is, the quintessential psych-folk-roots-rock band represented in a near perfect setting, at least for box set standards.
Rated as: Album / Live
Album Status: Genre Recommendation
Specific Genre: ECM Style Jazz, Minimal Jazz
Main Genre: Jazz
Undertones: Avant-Garde Jazz, Post-Minimalism, Modern Classical
Label: Ronin Rhythm Records
1 Intro 2 Mon Bijou 3 MM
Echolocation for emotion
Did you ever hear someone enjoy the space around them? You can now. Recorded in the vast hollow interior of the box girder bridge Monbijou in Berne (CH), Sha’s solo debut – just him on bass clarinet, some sax work – lures you into a literal acoustic and social off-space.
The interior of a box girder has no uses. It has no function other than to create an exterior, supporting the structure of the bridge, carrying its traffic. The dimly, if at all lit 300-plus meter corridor of the Monbijou bridge is not a space open to the public, it isn’t even a room by the social meaning of that word. It is cold, it is dark and about the only noise in there is the faint booming of the motorized traffic washing over it. Sha’s decision to record there, gives away some clues what this kind of solo performance has to deliver in even a more familiar setting.
There are no co-musicians to react to here, there is no audience to the proceedings: Who lives under a bridge? In a way, the cavern echoes and the sound of the motor vehicles replace a band and audience on this record, or at least that musical sense of community achieved through exploring solitude. The structure of the piece, with long stretches of improvisation, gives Sha the option to incorporate the outer-world noises into the composition – that is, to use the bridge and its space as a partner for interplay. This becomes acutely evident almost seven minutes into the centre piece, where Sha floats on an ebbing drone, momentarily lost in an eastern-influenced melody – and a rumbling thunder (by a truck or some deep-sea leviathan) crashes loudly into a pause, perfectly timed, causing Sha to spiral into the first of two frantic parts, built around the beat of tone-hole slaps. This coincidence and its sound couldn’t be replicated in any planned way, and the effect is stunning.
Monbijou consists of several distinct vignettes, composed throughout the years and woven into a 30-minute suite. They are part of the same drift. Their coherence is partly due to the monumental setting, of course, but stems mostly from the spacious but clearly articulated sound Sha developed for the performance in the bridge.
This sound keeps the technical gadgetry to a minimum. Sha does use loops, but they mostly consist of a slight drone that only seems to emphasize the faint wave-crashing of the traffic above. A similar effect of tidal movement – ever moving, never changing – is created through the alternation of long, diligently structured phases of circular breathing with pensive, melodic parts, stretching out into the cavities of the bass clarinet and the surrounding tunnel.
While the former compositional elements can become almost hectic and flickering with their hypnotic arpeggios, sharp clicks and percussive slap tongue technique (especially spectacular in the third act of the ‘suite’), the latter create the emotional foundation of the album: whenever the soothing, meditative drone ebbs away, the invisible world above the bridge responds from a distance. While the very idea of a solo performance might evoke images of an internal monologue, Monbijou reaches outwards and is essentially a work about the hidden space around us, as defined by the sounds we make. Echolocation for emotion, if you will, beaming through a 300-meter instrument and its inhabitant.
PS. This text is basically the online „liner notes“ Sha uses on bandcamp etc. I conceived that text as a review from the beginning, even though it has a sort of PR-function, I guess. It’s just a really excellent live album, check it out.
Rated as: Archival / Live Album
Album Status: Obsolete
Specific Genre: Psychedelic Rock
Main Genre: Rock
Undertones: Blues Rock, Hard Rock
1 Intro / God Save the Queen 2 Message to Love 3 Voodoo Child (Slight Return) 4 Lover Man 5 Machine Gun 6 Dolly Dagger 7 Red House 8 In From the Storm 9 New Rising Sun
… and the man with the guitar!
Note: this review and rating refers exclusively to the extended yet incomplete Live Isle of Wight ’70 1991 re-issue.
This is not a bad or boring entry in the never-ending stream of live-Hendrix releases. It’s just that there are so many live releases, and so many issues, re-issues and re-re-issues of so many concerts that there are bound to be better performances captured elsewhere, statistically speaking. As some of Hendrix’ live works are pretty frustrating though, this specific version of the Isle of Wight concert still holds up as one of the comparably decent live albums. There are numerous versions of this with wildly differing content, so watch out for the specific tracklist of prospective acquisitions. This CD is a heavily edited and shortened version, obviously going for the approach to deliver the less erratic versions of the set, and even go as far as to edit „Machine Gun“ from 22 down to 12 minutes. This is neither the original six-track LP version Isle of Wight released in 1971, nor the complete concert Blue Wild Angel, released 2002/2004: It falls in between the two, as it is longer and more satisfyingly representative than the short 1971-version, but it’s not the whole ordeal, skipping historically (if not musically) interesting bits like the „Sgt. Pepper“-opening.
This is a typical release of the CD-era: doubling the run-time of the Vinyl-release, aiming for an actual “concert” experience, while containing the unfocused concert with Hendrix disgruntled by technical problems and unwilling to play his „old numbers“. Hendrix often complained about similar things on stage, sometimes more, sometimes less jokingly. Here, you can really tell that the stoned rock festival environment held him back from delivering the kind of music he was interested in, and he hates it. Weirdly, this might be my favourite constellation of his co-musicians – in theory: Billy Cox on bass is simply groovier than the (otherwise excellent) Noël Redding, and while Buddy Miles contributes to my favourite Hendrix-live album, the Band of Gypsys (1970), as much as Cox and Hendrix, Mitch Mitchell’s nervous hyper-jazz-hard-rock percussion will always be the perfect counterpart to Hendrix’ more experimental musings. But the two don’t mix and no one here lives up to their potential.
Anyhow, this particular issue is strictly not a recommended buy anymore. If you’re not enough of a Hendrix-fan to want the complete Blue Wild Angel, this edited version won’t add anything to your experience.