“They are an immovable force in music... I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t likethem.” Jack White
Jack White may be many things but wrong about Led Zeppelin isn’t one of them.
Often imitated, never bettered. They burst out of the gate white-hot and tighter than a duck’s arse, delivering jaw-dropping rock with a capital ROCK and never really slowed down. Their last few albums may have suffered from the shadows of personal tragedies but even then they could bring it like few others. I can’t write anything about them or better than what has already been written.
But… as a result of prepping a room for redecoration I did come across a pile of old cd compilations that I must have made some ten years gone and – while they’ve travelled and been spun here and in Romania before picking up dust and scuffs that cause the dreaded skip just as you’re getting your head bang on – it was a real pleasant surprise to find my old self-compiled Led Zeppelin cd again.
I know… why would I want such a thing, it’s not like there are already several Led Zeppelin compilations on the market but we all know that those compilations are invariably altered based on Jimmy Page’s preference at the time, there’ll be a little too much focus applied to later tunes that don’t really stand shoulder to shoulder, suffer a little from CD bloat etc…. besides: this is my single-disc all killer, no filler blast of my favourite Led Zeppelin tunes (well, as they were back when I made it) that – I think – covers every aspect of what made them great, get in, hit em hard and get out compilation. It’s probably also the only Led Zeppelin compilation with no ‘Whole Lotta Love’ and without a trace of ‘Stairway to Heaven’. I know: denied.
One of the consequences of recent wrestles with the black dog and its sidekicks is the increase in my consumption of television series versus the usual devouring of books (I’ve finished just one so far this year). It’s worth caveating this statement with the additional statement that usually my hits from the box come in the one-off shape of films or documentaries* so given that such consumption usually minimal, an additional series factors in an increase of 100%. I haven’t become welded to the couch in a terminal ‘are you still watching?’ binge either.
While this blog hasn’t typically ventured into the realms of visual entertainment I thought it worth throwing these up on here as a) at least two are related to the usual programming, b) it might shake loose that blogging mojo and f) it’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to.
Lupin– Series 2
Of the two television series I watched in full last year, both were French and one was the first series of Lupin. Apparently this is the first of Netflix’ French series to hit the top ten in the US. It’s a ridiculously addictive mystery thriller with a great plot and style – with cuts between past, present and ‘how we got to this moment’ reveals – that’s made glorious by Omar Sy (who’s been worth tuning in for since the film Intouchables) as Assane Diop, a crafty conman-with-a-reason inspired by Arsène Lupin. Well worth getting into and its rapid-fire episodes make for addictive viewing. Just watch the French version with sub-titles though, the dubbed version is a pile of fecal matter as per.
I hope Tom Cruise has seen Amazon’s new series and wept a little – though I imagine there was probably some kind of buy-out required so he probably doesn’t give much of a scientologist’s damn – because this is exactly how readers wanted Jack Reacher portrayed. The question of casting the man-mountain that is Jack Reacher has long been a question and the Cruisester was never really the answer – aside from being on tip-toes in a school playground he was too inanely chatty. Alan Ritchson is not only a physical match but the first six/seven minutes pass before he says anything, after all: Reacher said nothing. Finding someone capable of both portraying Reacher’s imposing restraint and detailed break-downs can’t have been easy but Amazon seem to have got it spot-on here.
This first series is a near perfectly-faithful eight episode take on the first Reacher novel The Killing Floor and there’s not a fault to be found with it. They’ve created a series that’s huge fun, packed with more punch-ups than a Clint Eastwood with an orang utan movie while always feeling like a top-quality bit of tv in terms of production values and a great blues-heavy soundtrack. In fact, I watched it twice! Very keen to find out which novel they’re tackling next.
468 minutes. 7.8 hours of footage of The Beatles restored and trimmed (!) into a three-part series that’s been the talking point of many a blog and article since it dropped. It took me a while to get to and get through as the chances of my having opportunity to enjoy one episode uninterrupted are on the same level as getting that call from Pearl Jam to offer guitar support on their next tour. Let alone all three episodes.
So it took a while but I will say every little bit of that while it took was glorious. I know I’m merely adding to the last echoes of the conversation here but it was revelatory in so many ways…. John’s heroin addiction clearly riding heavy, almost has heavy as the ever presence of Yoko….. bloody hell, Ringo is a boring arse….. George took way more flack then I could…. Paul has always been self-important and patronising, then…. holy crap, he’s just fallen on the riff for ‘Get Back’…. ok, how many times to we need to hear about Jo Jo… but all of that building to the final performance which was wonderfully edited as Jim at Music Enthusiast has spoken about better than I could. Though I particularly loved the scenes with the increasingly despondent police officers as their attempts to bring events to a close are hampered in a way that both bordered on the farcical while highlighting just how far out of touch the stiffled establishment was with the counter-culture driven youth by the end of the 60’s.
*The presence of National Geographic on Disney+ means these are kept in healthy supply
As the decade of poodle-rock moved into the decade of flannel and corduroy, the ‘last, best band of the eighties’* The Replacements dropped their final album – All Shook Down.
The Replacements had risen from basements and punk-rock roots to major label status on the back of Westerberg’s ever-evolving songwriting and diversity. While they never made good on their promise (a whole ‘nother story), the rising alt-rock scene that took its cues from the punk-rock scene of the eighties (read Husker Du, Black Flag and The Replacements) and the new dawn ushered in by the success of Nevermind and artists that held his band’s work up as influence, the expectation was there for Paul Westerberg’s solo career to deliver on the ground laid by his band.
You know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men, though. In a way you wouldn’t be wrong to suggest that Westerberg’s solo career route provided the near exact mirror to that of his band’s: going from major label hopeful to prolific indie label darling to basement recordings.
Seemingly torn between consistently playing to his strengths and trying to cover as many bases as possible and remaining true to his punk rock mindset led to oft-patchy albums. Then again, I don’t think he gave or gives a shit, his cynical approach to the music industry alway apparent. There’s a throwaway “is that good enough?” in the mix on Let It Be‘s ‘Answering Machine’ that’s telling of the approach – capture it and move on to the next rather than labour on it. However, for all that, his work is always worth tuning in for as he remains an excellent songwriter who seems to be able to pull of a catchy riff or aching melody at whim while throwing out lyrics with plenty a clever wordplay and knowing wink and I’ve tried to collect five such examples that cover the range.
Whether we’ll hear more from him at this point is anybody’s guess but I sure hope we do.
Waiting For Somebody
Westerberg’s first new solo music didn’t grace an album of his own name but instead featured heavily in Cameron Crowe’s ‘Singles’. Along with scoring the movie, Paul donated two songs for the soundtrack; ‘Dyslexic Heart (a then-unfinished country song he’d written for someone else) and ‘Waiting For Somebody’.
14 Songs, Westerberg’s first solo album arrived in 1993, a year later than the ‘Singles’ soundtrack. I’ve already covered that album here so let’s skip ahead some to 1996’s suitably titled Eventually. His second album suffers from born from two distinct sessions and producers. Sessions with Brendan O’Brien ended when time and songs ran out and the rest of the album was picked up later with Lou Giordano. I think it was for the best – O’ Brien has a style that layers Westerberg’s work to the point of it sounding tired and lacking the spark that comes when he’s playing looser and more off-the-cuff. That being said, ‘Love Untold’ is a pretty decent song.
Lookin’ Out Forever
Kicked out in just that loose, off-the-cuff style – apparently this one had different lyrics for some time before Josh Freese** walked into the session, counted it off and a new take and chorus made its way onto Westerberg’s third album, and last major label release, Suicaine Gratification.
Having kicked the major label circuit to the kerb (or did it kick him?), Westerberg hit something of a writing streak with three solo albums in his own name along with two credited to his alter-ego Grandpaboy released on Vagrant between 2002 and 2004.
Perhaps to escape the expectation associated with his name, Westerberg used the Grandpaboy albums to drop the stuff that felt more obviously ‘rock & roll’ and Richards indebted stuff that 14 Songs had delivered with ‘Knockin’ On Mine’ and ‘World Class Fad’. It meant that the two albums – Mono and Dead Man Shake – are some of his strongest and most consistent efforts to date.
Seemingly disinterested in releasing an album in a conventional sense, Westerberg retreated to his basement studio. In 2008 the self-recorded 49:00…. of your Time Life was uploaded to digital outlets that were willing to accept the 49 cents price point he insisted on though promptly disappeared as a likely result of the legal issues surrounding the samples of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Steppenwolf and The Kinks (to name a few) that featured in the single-track album. “Ten publishers came after us immediately ’cause I used all these snippets of songs that I recorded. It was either pay up or pull the thing.”
So he uploaded 5:05 – more of the free-wheeling, deliberately ragged and quickly recorded song that feels like part of his on-going kiss-off to the ‘music making machine’ – which, at 5 minutes and 5 seconds in length, fits in with the 43:55 of the longer piece to total 49 minutes of music on the nose.
I’ll leave you with an interview with the man himself that sums it all up really – the interviewer has no idea who she’s caught in the carpark, Westerberg is perfectly happy for this to be the case. He’s taking the piss a touch with the contents of his bag and yet there’s a certain bittersweet, knowing charm to the ‘yeah, that would be me.’
*per Musician magazine
**drummer extraordinaire who ‘s played with everyone from Sting to Guns ‘n’ Roses as well as The Replacements