Where does the time go? While I work up a few longer-form posts I thought the time was right to drop a quick summary of those aural delights I’ve been enjoying of late.
Larkin Poe – Deep Stays Down
Having only recently been turned on to Larkin Poe it was pretty damn decent of them to release a new album – Blood Harmony – so soon for me to enjoy. Gotta love how ‘Deep Stays Down’ builds up before unleashing, the whole album is a blast.
Luna Amară – Om
Luna Amară are a Romanian band – hailing from Cluj-Napoca. My wife picked up their album Nord for me when she had to pop over recently. There’s some really decent stuff on there and ‘Om’ is a favourite. He’s really giving it some on the chorus – Liber respiră, Fii tu fii om, Totul inspiră, Fii tu fii om / Breathe freely, be you – be human, everything inspires, be you – be human
Wolf Alice – Smile
I was late to the party with Wolf Alice’s 2021 album Blue Weekend. I bought it for my wife – as she wasn’t – but after hearing it each time I use her car (I don’t agree with her radio presets) I’ve really been enjoying it and, having drifted away after their first album, realise I’ve missed a lot.
Hum – Stars
Just because it’s great
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Mary Jane’s Last Dance (Live at the Fillmore, 1997)
It’s no secret around these parts that the 1994 thru 1999 / Wildflowers thru Echo is my favourite Tom Petty & Heartbreaker’s period – they were mining such a rich seam as borne out by recent re-releases and the newly released Live at the Fillmore, 1997 is just fucking amazing. They were never better than this – they were great before and carried on being brilliant live (as the equally wonderful Live Anthology proves) but this captures PEAK Petty and Heartbreakers and I’ve been gorging on this since it dropped.
Bruce Springsteen – Galveston Bay
As time goes on I enjoy The Ghost of Tom Joad more and more – not that I didn’t already. A song like ‘Galveston Bay’ is so ridiculously good, it feels like the simplest of songs but what Bruce gets across with a bare, simple guitar line and five minutes is immense. I was gifted this one on wax for my birthday a few weeks back and have been soaking up the gorgeous atmosphere these tracks evoke once again on a pretty regular basis.
I’ll admit that I wonder now – five years plus on – whether my Least to Most Springsteen list would look the same and where recent additions Western Stars and Letter To You would fit but with the exciting news that Bruce is prepping a box of five unreleased post-1988 albums I think I’ll wait before reevaluating as, based on what I’ve heard from those likely inclusions, there’s to be some real gold there.
Soccer Mommy – I’m On Fire
Keeping it Bruce… at some point recently my son heard ‘I’m On Fire’ in the car and wanted to hear the rest when we got in the house. Cueing up the track on Spotify meant that, following on from Springsteen’s own we got the covers – the first of which was from Soccer Mommy whose own Sometimes, Forever has been a massive spinner this year. ‘Im On Fire’ seems a popular cover choice for female artists – I wouldn’t want to suggest any reasons why – and Sophie Allison does a cracking take on it here.
In what feels like a fitting post to follow my take on Springsteen’s The Legendary 1979 No Nukes Concerts, I’ve been thinking about live albums of late.
A friend and I have been debating their merits – his ‘no-thanks’ take on them driven by the fact that ‘you don’t get the same vibe as actually being there.’
I can understand that. But – is that really their purpose? I’ve got a lot of time for live albums – there are a lot of artists that really deliver the goods in concert more than others and more than they do in concert. They’ll throw their all into a show and there are plenty of live albums out there where that’s evident as well as the fact that a song performed live is often a different beast to that which graced a studio album. Not only that but there are many bands out there that I’ll never get a chance to see or shows I could never have been at.
Here I can quickly point to two staples of this blog – Springsteen and Pearl Jam, both of whom are renowned for their live shows with both (Springsteen only more recently) performing a different set list every night. Foo Fighters, by contrast, played an identical set (including the rehearsed ‘banter’) night after night.
Whereas once upon a time the live album was once a staple, if contractually obligatory, of many a rock band’s discography we now find ourselves in an era of Nuggs (or whatever service they chose to use) means that almost every show from a tour and many archival individual shows are available to fill up our iPods. Does the traditional live album, then, still have value?
I reckon there’s still a place for it. At least there is within my shelves – digital and physical. While it’s great to have a document of a specific concert – especially if you were there, say – it’s also great to have a live collection from a band at the peak of their power without, say, the mistake they made in the pre-chorus of a song that forced them to restart or a location-specific anecdote, as well as the mastering (not remixing, mind – I’m looking at you Van Halen) that an official release can give. Without having to pay a fortune for a pint of piss-poor beer, swim to the toilet or wonder if you need to duck out during the encore to get the last tube.
With all this preamble in mind I thought I’d take a butchers at some of those live albums that I would say are definitely worth giving a listen to, old and new.
Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band: Live 1975-85
Keeping it Boss for another moment… Bruce’s first official live album was a suitably hefty 5LP / 3 CD / 3 Cassette beast that covered Springsteen and the E Street Band’s journey from theatres to stadiums across 40 songs. Springsteen had developed a reputation as a live performer and this set delivers upon that and then some – it’s a great listen even close to forty years on, even hearing his earnest story-telling ahead of ‘The River’ as he works to instil a sense of intimacy to the stadium-sized crowd still works and while he could easily have created another similarly-sized instalment to cover the decades since I don’t think (save a few obvious titles) you could want anything more than what’s here. It remains an unimpeachably great snapshot of Bruce and the E Street Band’s powerful peak and sounds as vital now as it did then.
Nirvana – Live at Reading
Nirvana’s second visit to the Reading festival was the stuff of legend even aside from the actual show itself. This was 1992, mind, when the Kurt ‘n’ Courtney show was dominating press coverage – there were rumours that the band wouldn’t show. That the band were on the verge of breaking up, that Kurt’s heroin addiction was so bad he was close to death (both rumours sadly not that far from true)…
Playing to this, Kurt took to the stage in a wheelchair. Wheeled on and wearing a hospital gown and wig, sang a few lines of ‘The Rose’ and collapsed before getting to his feet and the band delivered one of their most intense and powerful sets to date. Yes, there’s no way to capture being at that show – I hold that for every dozen or so people I’ve met that claimed they were there only two are probably telling the truth – but, fuck me, this is one hell of an amazing live album. The band seem to be giving it everything as a middle finger to the rumours and the setlist is everything you’d want, covering nearly all of Nevermind, plenty from Bleach and a few new songs that would later grace In Utero and is the superior live Nirvana document to From The Muddy Banks of Wiskah.
Johnny Cash – At FolsomPrison
This one’s got to be a given, right? Johnny Cash’s first live album, a career reviving release that starts with the now famous ‘Hello, I’m Johnny Cash’ and finds the then relatively-clean Cash singing songs like ‘Folsom Prison Blues’, ‘Cocaine Blues’ and ’25 Minutes to Go’ to an audience of convicts in a prison canteen that Cash would later describe as “the most enthusiastic audience I ever played” – lapping up every line like ‘I can’t forgot the day I shot that bad bitch down’ like it was written for them. While At San Quentin recorded the following year would have ‘Boy Named Sue,’ this album combines Cash’s strongest points – grit, balladry, the spiritual and humour – into one setlist that while tailor-made for his audience and became the stuff of legend.
Mogwai – Special Moves
As a live band, Mogwai are one of the loudest out there. While they shy away from being branded as post-rock, their predominantly instrumental music takes its cues from a myriad of influences including bands like Loop, My Bloody Valentine and Slint – intricate pieces that build up layers and parts and not play with the quiet-loud-quiet- FUCKING INSANELY LOUD dynamic but own it. I’ve just finished Stuart Braithwaite’s fantastic memoir ‘Spaceships Over Glasgow’ which revealed – amongst other things – the level of nervousness with which he’d play gigs, hoping that the bands head-nodded signals would work when it comes to bringing in the different parts of each song, finding a sound-guy that could sufficiently mix them at the level of noise desired and joy they take in a set when it all clicks.
The New York shows captured on Special Moves – in terms of both setlist and the power of the performance – are as ideal an introduction to and one-hit slab of Mogwai you could ask for. It’s perfectly mixed – balancing all the elements of their music with a smattering of crowd noise to let you know they’re there and capturing the extremes of their sound (the pin-drop silence to absolute wall of sound in Mogwai Fear Satan, for example) perfectly.
Neil Young and Crazy Horse – Weld
Speaking of wall-of-sound…. Neil Young has got quite a few live albums out there – while Time Fades Away and Rust Never Sleeps were made up of entirely new songs and Live Rust felt like a bit of a cash-grab, Weld is the real deal for me and the more I explore Mr Young’s back catalogue the more I enjoy it. A live document of Young and Crazy Horse’s tour to promote Ragged Glory (my current favourite of Neil’s albums), it’s a ridiculously heavy document of the Horse in full gallop and blasting through some of Ragged Glory‘s highlights like ‘Fuckin’ Up’ and ‘Love To Burn’ along with storming takes on ‘Cinnamon Girl’, ‘Powderfinger’, the then-recent ‘Rockin’ In The Free World’ and a blazing cover of Dylan’s ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’.
Gary Clark Jr – Live
This is one of those examples where someone comes across so much better live than on record – to my ears at least and this is my blog, after all. I’d seen the praise heaped upon this enough to be curious and since picking it up it’s been a regular spinner. Having been compared to the mightiest of guitar slingers like Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan, Gary Clark Jr has both that glorious blues tone and dexterity to make his performances addictive listening while also flowing in a touch of soul and hip hop. On record the combo doesn’t really come across so well with his playing taking a back seat too often to slick production. There’s none of that on 2014’s Live – a mix of originals and covers shed of gimmickry and just highlighting how great and in-focus performance he – and his band – can deliver.
My Morning Jacket – Okonokos
The band captured following the peak of the mighty Z album deliver a brilliant set to a crowd at The Fillmore in San Francisco. While the recent compilation Live Vol. 1 adds newer songs to the mix and further cements how great a live draw the band are, Okonokos captures the band in all their intense power, it’s heavy on Z material with eight of its ten songs gracing the set and showcases the band’s musicianship and a rare ability to both jam out and deliver tight, focused performances.
Jeff Buckley – Live at Sin-é(Legacy Edition)
Jeff Buckley left us with just the one studio album before he took his fateful swim in 1997. His first release for Colombia, though, wasn’t Grace but the Live at Sin-é EP. The EP was just a four-song set was released to draw attention to the power of Buckley’s voice. The full set, released ten years later, instead gave us a captivating and wonderfully intimate (you can even hear the odd clink of coffee cups) performance of some twenty plus songs interspersed with monologues and jokes – we get works in progress of songs like ‘Grace’, ‘Last Goodbye’ and ‘Mojo Pin’ along with covers of Led Zeppelin, Dylan, Nina Simone, Van Morrison and, of course, his take on ‘Hallelujah’ all armed with just his voice and a guitar. For a small coffee house show, Buckley commits fully and for all the myth and mystery that’s build up over the years since his passing, it’s a beautiful document of pure talent and the enjoyment of music.
Bob Dylan – The Bootleg Series Vol.4: Live 1966, The “Royal Albert Hall” Concert
First – it wasn’t captured at The Royal Albert Hall, it was Manchester’s Free Trade Hall. It was mislabelled in the bootlegs that so pervaded before its official release. in 1998. It was so extensively bootlegged because it was both a brilliant show and, secondly, the “Judas!” concert.
All these years later it’s hard to conceive of the upset Dylan’s ‘going electric’ caused his folky faithful. Through his 1965-66 tour Dylan would perform a show of two halves: the first alone and the second with his backing band The Hawks for an electric set. Both the heckle and Dylan’s brilliant response – “I don’t believe you…. you’re a liar” – along with Dylan’s instruction to the band to “play fucking loud!” into ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ are captured here along with a fantastic performance of fifteen brilliant Dylan songs that are all worth the price of admission alone and captured with brilliant sound quality.
If you don’t trust my opinion on this, take it from Jimmy Page too – he found the bootleg to be the ultimate album and would buy a whenever he found one.
Some honourable mentions and few additional thoughts in place of a tenth for the list…. I’ve only recently begun listening to the Allman Brothers Band’s At Fillmore East but it’s a mighty fine thing…. The Clash’s Live at Shea Stadium is a great listen too but a little stiff in parts, capturing them opening for The Who – who’s Live AT Leeds is pretty decent too though I’m not that big a Who fan. Dire Straits deserved better representation than the too-short Alchemy and too-sterile On The Night while one of the best bands I’ve seen live, Pearl Jam have yet to drop a live album that really captures how arse quaking they can be live though Live On Two Legs tries and the same could be said for Pink Floyd – Pulse is another case of too much gloss and The Delicate Sound of Thunder features both an excess of gloss and an excess of songs from A Momentary Lapse of Reason.
The French love their language and have laws to protect it. The Toubon Law, from 1994, mandates its use not just in official government comms (which you’d kind of expect) but also in the likes of adverts – most of which seem stuck in the 1989/1990 vibe anyway – and other commercial communication.
This extends to radio, with an oft-rebelled against rule that 40% of the songs that are played must be performed in the French language. I guess the thinking is that if ‘the kids’ only hear Americans singing about California they’ll forget their own language. Now this isn’t always a bad thing as there’s plenty of good French music out there lately – see my last post for an example – but it also means that if, like I did and – signal permitting still do – listen to, say, RTL2 for any protracted period you’re likely to hear too much ‘chansons’ music.
So where am I going with this…. well, the French love a bit of Placebo as Belgian-born Brian Molko speaks the language fluently. It also means they can play Placebo’s ‘Protège-moi’ as part of the aforementioned quota while also playing a contemporary international band. Hearing this version of ‘Protect Me From What I Want’ along with cuts from their latest, Never Let Me Go, has given me the impetus to run up a few of that band’s best and revisit since shaming them some time back in a ‘Then and Now‘ post.
Placebo formed in London in 1994. They’re currently made up of just the two members – singer / guitarist Brian Molko and bassist / guitarist Stefan Olsdal and missing a drummer. It wasn’t always this way: their longest-serving drummer, with whom they recorded their better albums, left in 2007.
From Placebo’s self-titled debut 1996 album.
You Don’t Care About Us
Without You I’m Nothing, Placebo’s second album remains their crowning glory if you ask me. It’s damn-near faultless and remains on regular rotation nearly 25 years on.
Without You I’m Nothing feat. David Bowie
Their second album is so good I’m throwing in another cut, the title track, albeit with a version that differs from the album version as David Bowie approached them to collaborate after the thing was recorded and released. /p>
Skipping a couple of albums – Black Market Music and Sleeping With Ghosts – where they went off the boil a bit to 2006 and the title track from their last album with drummer Steve Hewitt in which they seemed to have rediscovered some drive and consistency. While not their strongest it was their best in eight years.
Try Better Next Time
Getting in the DeLorean for an even bigger jump this time to 2022 with a song title seemingly taken from my response to the albums they’ve dropped in the last sixteen years… Never Let Me Go oddly feels closer to Meds than anything between. It would seem that the six years they’ve had between albums has allowed them to rediscover a spark that was missing for quite a while now, the songs are leaner and pack more wallop and there’s not a lyric as disastrous as ‘my computer thinks I’m gay, I threw that threw that piece of junk away, on the Champs-Elysées’ to be found anywhere, thankfully.
Johnny and Mary
Yes I’m throwing in a cover. Back in the days when singles were something other than an individual stream, Placebo would add either a couple of cracking b-sides or covers. While their take of ‘Running Up That Hill’ gets the most plays we’ve probably all heard enough versions of that one lately so I’ve gone for their cover of Robert Palmer’s classic that accompanied ‘Taste in Men’, the lead single from their third album.
Time keeps on slipping, slipping slipping… between posts and while I debate moving another Springsteen series from notebook to keyboard it felt an opportune moment to deposit a selection of those songs that I’ve been enjoying of late.
Built to Spill – Spiderweb
While gaps between Built To Spill albums seem to get longer each time around, When the Wind Forgets Your Name – due in September – is one I’m really looking forward to, Doug Martsch’s guitar playing continues to delight.
Big Thief – Not
Dragon Warm Mountain I Believe In You is easily one of this year’s finest but 2020’s Two Hands still rewards on repeated listens.
The Cure – Doing the Unstuck
Another instance of an anniversary reissue reminding you of the unstoppable march of time… The Cure’s unimpeachable Wish turns 30 this year. Not only does this mean I’ll be able to add the vinyl to my collection without forking out the ridiculous asking price for an original copy but it also means I’ve been joyfully spinning the CD in the car this last week.
Pink Floyd – Dogs (2018 Remix)
After seemingly setting aside their bickering (at least about this subject), the much-touted remix of Animals is almost upon us. How much it adds to an already exceptional album is gonna be one for debate by other people but I’m loving the new cover art.
Rickie Lee Jones – We Belong Together
It’s just an addictive classic. That piano, her voice, the vibe… I could soak in it on repeat all day long.
The Shipping News – Axons and Dendtrites
Flies The Fields is a brilliant album – from the wave of post-rock that was still in thrall to Slint rather than Godspeed! – but this, the album opener, remains a firm favourite that I’ve been replaying a lot recently after catching its use on screen in something that now escapes me.
Billy Joel – New York State of Mind
Speaking of ‘that piano’ and catching things in use on the screen… someone recommended The Boys to me and I ended up bingeing my way through the lot and, for those unfamiliar, Billy Joel features heavily – though not this song. This song ended up in my head after my son was spinning his The Muppet Show 2 album recently which features Floyd’s cover. From there it was a ‘now let’s hear the original’ – easily one of Joel’s finest (of which he has many).
Aaaand we’re back in the saddle having sorted the wheat from the chaff and lobbed out the sloppier entries of Aerosmith’s fifteen-strong studio album run. So, without further ado…
Done With Mirrors
In an ideal world, this would have been Aerosmith’s comeback album. Hell, it’s what it was meant to be. Freshly reunited and tight after some solid touring, the songs here deliver enough of the riff-and-raunch blues rock vibe to cut through the murk of Rock in a Hard Place and without the added songwriters and synthesisers that would permeate their comeback album proper in a couple of years.
The only missing ingredient was a group of killer songs. The album kicks off by repurposing the Joe Perry Project ‘Let The Music Do The Talking’ with Tyler’s licks and proceeds to rollick through a series of lukewarm tunes. While tracks like ‘My First Your Face’ and ‘The Reason A Dog’ stand out and Ted Templeman does a good job capturing the band, there’s still a lack of focus here but at least it gave them enough of a jolt of life to get them to their next album as sobriety and rebirth beckoned.
Get A Grip
By 1993 Aerosmith had conquered their addictions and the charts and become monstrously successful. Now in their forties, Get A Grip would push them to even dizzier heights as it went on to become their biggest seller and give birth to seven singles with the likes of ‘Crazy’, ‘Cryin” and ‘Living On The Edge’ becoming mainstays on MTV. There’s a lot to enjoy on Get A Grip but that’s just it: there’s a lot. Released as grunge and alt-rock were in their ascendency, Get A Grip suffers from CD bloat and being too obvious a stab at commercial success (yes, it did pay off).
You could point a finger at John Kalodner who heard a slimmer version of the album and decided it didn’t contain enough hits and sent them back to Desmond Child for another ballad or two, but it’s not like anybody really said ‘nah, you’re alright mate.’ This, then, is the album where the band were all too apparent in mining the formula that had delivered them to their new heights. While the album sounds great at times, it’s a pretty shallow affair compared to their best.
I slip Nine Lives here ahead of Get A Grip because I go back to it most. Perhaps because it’s the first of their albums I bought on release but mainly because, while it’s certainly every bit as calculated, the rawer sound captured by Kevin Shirley suits their raunchier take on blues rock more than the sheen that Bruce Fairbairn swathed its predecessor in.
Nine Lives nearly broke the band, again. Troubles were abounding with an over-controlling manager that was spreading distrust amongst his charges and drummer Joey Kramer suffered a nervous breakdown. Tyler was enthused by Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill and wanted to record with Glen Ballard – who shares writing credits on three of the eventual album’s songs -but Colombia didn’t dig the directions. With Kramer recovered the band re-recorded from scratch with Kevin Shirley (record labels seem to have had a lot of patience back then) and Nine Lives was delivered in 1997.
There may not be a single song without an outside co-write and a few that are clearly A&R men’s tick boxes but there’s more diversity to the sound, more of a willingness to try different sounds and Shirley’s sanding off of the sheen gives the album a nicer, more appropriate town that was both appropriate to the era and the band’s sound. Other songs cut during this period like ‘What Kind of Love Are You On?’ suggested more this edge would follow…
Unfortunately shortly after the album’s release Dianne Warren gave the band a song called ‘I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing’ (which would be stapled to later, re-released versions of the album) and give them their first number one, something that Tyler would be trying to chase forevermore.
I can understand why some may rank this higher but for me, Aerosmith’s debut isn’t as good as it could be and I don’t revisit it anywhere near as much as anything below this point. The songs are good and the all the calling points that would fuel their later success are already in place from the get-go but it’s still very much the sound of a first album: there are some stumbles, the songs aren’t as tight as they would become, the recording is flat, the sound is muddled and Tyler’s affected vocals don’t sit right.
But, for all that, it’s still an enjoyable blast of Aerosmith at the starter’s gun. ‘Dream On’ and ‘Mama Kin’ are early masterpieces that are still in sets today for a reason, Perry and Whitford’s guitar interplay already established and the power in their sound that would push them to be one of America’s biggest rock acts of the decade are laid on the line for all to see and they’d never sound this young and fresh again. It’s just a big shame they couldn’t get recording that sound right just yet.
Draw The Line
1977: Aerosmith are riding high and few are higher than its members at this point. So let’s get the fuck outta Dodge and put them up in an old convent – away from distractions – to record their new album. What could go wrong? It’s not like they’re gonna bring their toys or their drug dealers will follow, right? Right?
Joe Perry and Steven Tyler wrote just three songs together. They no-longer “gave a fuck” to quote Perry directly. The band – minus Perry – and producer Jack Douglas put together songs like ‘The Hand That Feeds’ and ‘Kings And Queen’ with Perry adding rhythm guitar to the latter and not playing at all on the former. There were songs that came in complete – like Perry’s ‘Bright Light Fright’ and songs that Tyler would take months to write lyrics to long after the band had left the confines of their convent.
And yet, Draw The Line still has more killer than filler and works more often than it doesn’t. Jack Douglas was by now a dab hand at recording the band as they needed to sound and songs as great as the title track, ‘Kings and Queens’ and ‘I Wanna Know Why’ are beyond strong enough to make up for ‘The Hand That Feeds’ and if closing with a cover of ‘Milk Cow Blues’ could be seen as odd choice by a band lacking original material, Perry’s playing on it and his own ‘Bright Light Flash’ (a tribute to the rising punk scene) more than hit the mark.
While they were starting to run out of gas, for Draw The Line – in contrast to Night In The Ruts just two years later – they were only just off their peak and the album still proved they had enough in them to let it rip when it mattered.
Lo and behold I’m still here. As the kick in the dangly bits of Monday slips into Tuesday afternoon I thought it as suitable a time as any to put together a few of those things I’ve been listening to, a veritable smorgasbord of aural delights as big as… well.. what feels like the right length for a blog post, really.
Pixies – There’s A Moon On
New Pixies? It’s a pretty safe bet that anything they release will end up being welcomed by my lugholes.
Idlewild – Love Steals Us from Loneliness
Idlewild were a great band – I say were; I think they got back together but I’ve not heard anything of their more recent material – and so I was pretty chuffed to find their fourth album Warnings / Promises had received a vinyl release and it’s had a good few spins since picking up on sale a few weeks back.
Melody’s Echo Chamber – Where the Water Clears the Illusion
So Tame Impala gets a lot of play in Hill House as my wife is a big fan. There’s a lot of connections between the dude (Kevin Parker) and Melody Prochet who is Melody’s Echo Chamber that I don’t really know too much but it’s no surprise there’s a similar vibe to the music too. Anyway, this came up on the radio a while back as an intro and I’m really digging all the different elements – there’s some hints of shoegaze, space-rock and dream pop in there – in here and brew they create.
Kurt Vile – Wages of Sin
Speaking of things getting a good few spins; Kurt Vile’s new album (watch my moves) is yet another welcome addition – he just gets better with each passing album and they’re all such a great vibe to get lost in and if you add that vibe it to a Springsteen classic…
Soccer Mommy – Shotgun
I feel like I should have heard Soccer Mommy – the musical endeavour of Sophie Allison – before now. Probably because if you spin to the bottom of the Snail Mail listing (or whatever you call it) on Spotify Soccer Mommy is listed down there next to Lucy Dacus… instead it was having heard this one on the radio and then hitting up the streaming service to hear more.
Rage Against The Machine – Freedom
There’s been a real nostalgia drive in my house of late – harking back to that last great decade of music. Rage have featured heavily. They made three fucking intense and great albums and signed out (albeit with a covers album as number four) and this… well it doesn’t need any words.
OK so I don’t do TikTok or much social media in general but there’s this dude on there who I got send a link to – Jacob Givens. Honestly if I could hug him I would, he feels like a kindred spirit and it was seeing some of his videos that kicked off the nostalgia push so I’ll share one here as he’s also on youtube:
Apparently it’s my ‘WordPress Anniversary’ today. Well, at least with this blog. I say this only to make those of you who have failed to send gifts my way feel guilty.
To mark this most important of events I thought I’d be achingly original and put together a list – Ten great Track Tens.
Ten. In the seventies some couldn’t keep it up that long whereas by the nineties’ era of CD bloat some went on much longer. Some use it as a ‘leave them wanting more’ final track while for others it’s the point at which they’re in the midst of their second wind. For many, though, it’s just filler.
Anywho, without further prattle, ceremony here’s a sweep of some pretty solid tracks that also happen to be the tenth tune on an album – while a little bit of a sausage-fest* – also serves to cover most of what this blog has in the last ten.
Pearl Jam – Present Tense
Bob Dylan – The Man In Me
Bruce Springsteen – Darkness On The Edge of Town
Noir Desir – Lost
Snail Mail – Mia
Tom Petty – Alright For Now
Pink Floyd – Lost for Words
Weezer – Only In Dreams
The Replacements – Skyway
Mogwai – Mogwai Fear Satan
*only down to the lack of stand out tracks that happened to sit between the ninth and eleventh ones.
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
Yesterday was too much of a growler punch for anything and as my brain returns from being fried I thought it time to look back at those tunes that have been making me either shake my money maker or offer a knowing nod of approval toward the radio in the car this last week and some.
October Drift – Airborne Panic Attack
Maybe it’s because I don’t want to be that guy of a certain age surrounded by post-rock albums and denouncing the music of today or maybe it’s desperation to break out of Spotify’s ever decreasing circles of recommended ‘new’ music… but I love hearing genuinely new music on the radio that ticks all my boxes and try very hard not to think of how the performer is probably half my age.
This has lots of things I like and nothing I don’t.
The Black Crowes – Thorn In My Side
That little yellow dude over at 1357 gave me all the nudge I need to slip The Crowes’ Southern Harmony and Musical Companion into the cd slot in the car last week and it hasn’t left. The guitar tone on this keeps making me go back for more. Whether I need an intermittently correct calendar for the next 50 years remains to be confirmed.
Yasmin Williams – Swift Breeze
We’re into that time of year that means avoiding Mariah Carey and Chris Rea by listening to those Best of 2021 picks (mine will undoubtedly find me sitting surrounded by and picking out post-rock albums as it’s been a good year for the genre) and I keep seeing Yasmin Williams’ Urban Driftwood pop up, phenomenal player and a great album.
Sonny Landreth – Native of the Motherland
Speaking of great players… this one popped as a recommendation and while I prefer his instrumentals like this one, I was glad to discover Sonny’s work.
Coach Party – FLAG (Feel Like A Girl)
Another one from a promising new talent that falls into the ‘making me move my head in a way that rivals Elaine’s little kicks on the drive home’ category that’s been getting a whole lotta spins.
Bruce Springsteen – Prove It All Night (The Legendary 1979 No Nukes Concerts)
Jim over at Music Enthusiast gave me the heads up this one was coming as I was asleep at the switch on this Springsteen drop. It’s every bit as good as the idea of a power-drive run through Springsteen and the E Street Band’s set circa ’79 should be.
Over the last year or so I’ve been delving into Crowded House. Prior to this I’d really only had a familiarity with some of those hits that seemed to be regular radio plays and couldn’t say I’d ever listened to a Crowded House album, let alone own any. That’s since changed and they’ve become one of those bands I’ll often turn to on long drives or just fancy something, frankly, gorgeously charming to listen to.
I’ve yet to really take in the now three albums they’ve made since they decided to regroup in 2006, instead I’ve been thoroughly enjoying their first four album run. I won’t try and give a review of their albums or career as Aphoristic Album Reviews has already done an outstanding job of that – and it was just those round ups that prompted me to delve deeper at last so will merely politely suggest those looking for more can find a perfect round up there.
Instead these are five of my favourite Crowded House songs which, I’ve noticed, neatly represent one from each of their original albums, in order of date rather than preference, along with one of my absolute favourite songs of late which comes from Afterglow – a collection of outtakes and b-sides – and was left off their first album.