Least to Most: Aerosmith, Part 2

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.

Nine Lives

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.

Aerosmith

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.

Least to Most: Aerosmith, Part 1

The Bad Boys of Boston, the Toxic Twins: Aerosmith. They’ve been around so long that JC was probably humming ‘Dream On’ from his lofty perch and yet are still packing in the crowds. Having kicked off from 1325 Commonwealth Avenue in 1970 their career has had a couple of dizzying peaks and some very seedy* lows. You can neatly slice their output into three decades and almost dismiss the rest, given that since 2000 we’ve had just two proper studio albums and there’s not that many acts out there that have had such success in each.

I’d been mulling over how I’d rank Aerosmith’s albums in my notebook of lists for sometime but John over at 2Loud2Old Music got straight in with both an album by album review series and his own ranking. So I thought it time to sit down and spit out my own Least to Most ranking of Aerosmith’s fifteen studio albums – a number that neatly divides into three – based on nothing scientific other than personal preference.

So let’s get started with the least favourite – and there’s no prizes for guessing that we start with….

Just Push Play

I mean it’s a fucking dog of an album from its cover to its contents. It came after yet another successful decade with plenty of great tunes and the band reaching the dizzying heights of chart-topping with that tosh from Armageddon but Just Push Play was a massive misfire from which they never really recovered. Forget hitting self-destruct with drugs, this time it was self-destruct with an album that relied on computer production, co-writes galore and a huge lack of genuine band interaction.

There were no demos left at the end of this record to be able to say ‘well there are the bones of a good album here’ because everything was plugged into ProTools and layered up like a wedding cake. There’s a song called ‘Trip-Hoppin’ for fuck sake. There’s not a single Tyler / Perry joint on here that isn’t also shared with other song-writers as Tyler, by all accounts, was so desperate for another monster hit that he wouldn’t work alone with Perry. Instead of the rawer power of Nine Lives we got over-glossed balladry and over-produced, gimmicky attempts at rockers that sounded like what it was: a group of blokes in their fifties trying to appeal to a dynamic that wasn’t interested in a group of blokes in their fifties. Instead of playing to their strengths they indulged in the wrong stuff. Thankfully ‘Jaded’ did the business in the charts enough to keep them going and playing the hits to large audiences but this really killed their momentum.

Music From Another Dimension

And, in two hits at the bottom of the list we’ve covered the only albums of original material the band have put out in this millennium. I was really rooting fro Music From Another Dimension when it came out – all the right ingredients were in place: the band were recording in the same room again, Jack Douglas was back on board. Hell, when it came out I really dug it…. for a while. Yet time and comparison to the rest of their catalogue doesn’t do it any favours.

There a lot more better songs on here than on Just Push Play yet there are also some utter howlers. I / you / we couldn’t expect the band to out an album this late into their career that sounded ‘like the old days’ and yet it seems they tried to do that. Only instead of going back to the 70s, say, they went for the kitchen-sink approach of Get A Grip only without the tunes or the edge. For every great riff attack like ‘Out Go The Lights’ there are two turds like ‘What Could Have Been Love’ or ‘Can’t Stop Lovin’ You’ – featuring Carrie Underwood for fuck sake! Why? Probably because Tyler was still thinking that this is how you make a hit.

Here Aerosmith managed to both play to their strengths and their weaknesses in an effort to cover every possible base. Unfortunately there are too many of the weaknesses and a little too much filler to make this the album it could have been – at least the sound is more organic and suited to Aerosmith than it had been in a while.

Rock In A Hard Place

Come back, Joe: all is forgiven. There’s no Joe Perry on Rock In A Hard Place, he’d left to return some video tapes. Brad Whitford also left during the recording of the album. Jimmy Crespo filled in on guitar. ‘Bolivian Ragamuffin’ and ‘Lightning Strike’ bring home the goods and ‘Jailbait’ has got to be one of those songs Perry heard and thought ‘why the fuck am I not on this?’ – it’s a real strong Aerosmith song. There’s not a lot more though.

Crespo and, later, Rick Duffay may have tried to inject some new momentum into the band but with addiction sucking the life and creativity out of Tyler, Rock In A Hard Place feels like a plaster over a gaping wound rather than an attempt at real damage control – management pushing for another album and to keep the thing rolling as long as they could rather than taking a much-needed pause. If Night In The Ruts was sounding like the beginning of the end, Rock In A Hard Place sounds like the batteries have run dry.

There are a few pleasant surprises and what remained of the band could sting bring the power but the overall feeling is of a rudderless ship. They even put bloody Stone Henge on the cover to give Spinal Tap plenty of ammo.

Night In The Ruts

And here we go – a band running out of steam. More appropriate this is a band falling apart. Night In The Ruts was started early in 1979 with Jack Douglas and a full band. It was finished late in 1979 with Gary Lyons. In between was a lot of conflict, a lot of stalling and a whole fucking lot of drugs.

With basic tracks laid down Tyler couldn’t come up with lyrics. For months. During which time Perry discovered he owed $80,000 in room service bills (that’s a lot peanuts and cable porn, Joe) and was encouraged to cut a solo album to pay it off. The band’s management, desperate to get another hit as Draw The Line hadn’t cut the sales figures they wanted – and to get the band back on the road – and their pockets lined fuller, decided Jack Douglas couldn’t control the band and fired him. It was true; he couldn’t. But then nobody could. Substance abuse had control. This was the blow-up point for Aerosmith and by the time the album came out Perry wasn’t in the band anymore and Brad Whitford was sauntering slowly toward the exit.

But for all that – Night In The Ruts has it’s fair share of good cuts. ‘Cheese Cake’, ‘Bone to Bone (Coney Island White Fish Boy)’ have all the right moves and ‘No Surprize’ is an outright Aerosmith classic. Unfortunately – and telling of Tyler’s issue with lyrics – three of the album’s nine tracks are covers, though both ‘Reefer Head Woman’ and ‘Remember (Walking in the Sand)’ are both worth tuning in for. Night In The Ruts may be Aerosmith’s worst of their first decade but the good stuff here is still really good, giving it the riffs even as it all falls down around them.

Honkin’ On Bobo

The start of ‘the naughties’** were a weird time for Aerosmith. After serendipity lead them to the sweet spot in each of the previous three, it was eluding them in this decade. With the taste of disappointment from Just Push Play lingering even after judicious application of topical cream attempts to get back into the studio for a new Aerosmith album were failing.

Instead we got another compilation with ‘new’ songs – one of which was so bad and obviously cloying attempt at a hit the rest of the band refused to be in the video for it – and soundtrack contributions. There was talk of an album made up of previously discarded tracks (I’ve got a feeling some of them ended up on Music From Another Dimension), Tyler wouldn’t write alone with Perry. Perry didn’t want to be tied to writing with Steven’s ever-present co-writer Marti Frederikson who, like Tyler, wanted to make more attempts at pop hits. Somehow the idea of a ‘blues’ covers album was floated and jumped on. Tyler wouldn’t have to worry about writing lyrics and a sense of letting off steam can be heard in the finished result.

Jack Douglas was back on board and the sound here is a welcome step away from the polish of Just Push Play. It was never going to be a blues album proper – Aerosmith always leaned to blues rock vs pure blues so no Blue and Lonesome revelations here, just Aerosmith giving it some juice to eleven covers and one pretty tepid original. The band are tighter than a duck’s arse and while there are no big surprises on the track listing, they’ve come up trumps here.

Why doesn’t it sit higher? It’s a covers album, essentially. The sole original track doesn’t quite hit the sweet spot and sounds a little contrived in the company of those that it’s clearly aping and the album feels a little overdone still in the way that they seem to have become stuck in. A blues album should’ve been the opportunity to loosen up a little, feel free to roughen up the sound and production a little and get raw, but they didn’t subscribe to that notion.

*I’m not going to go into it but convincing your under-age girlfriend’s parents to give you legal guardianship so you can take her on tour, get her addicted to drugs, pregnant and into an abortion clinic is pretty fucking seedy, Steven.

**I fucking hate that phrase too

If you’ll just come with me you’ll see the beauty of Tuesday afternoon spins

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:

All that I wanted to say, words only got in the way… Five from My Morning Jacket

I’ve been writing on this blog in varying stages of regularity for a hair over ten years now and, having kicked off with reference to one of my favourite bands, it feels the time is right for me to stitch together a handful of My Morning Jacket’s songs that I enjoy a whole fucking lot.

Like so many others, My Morning Jacket came into my aural sockets via one of those cds attached with funky gloop to the front of a music magazine. From first hearing ‘One Big Holiday’ I was hooked. While It Still Moves got the thumbs up from me it was Z that blew me away and still ranks as one of my all-time favourites.

Hailing from Louisville, Kentucky the band got going in 1998. A couple of strong, promising albums The Tennessee Fire and At Dawn on indie-label Darla were followed by lineup changes and signing to major distribution with ATO for break-through It Still Moves and have been mining a rich seam of guitar-driven excellence that bridges indie-rock/folk, alt.country and full tilt jam outs that veer gloriously toward psychadelia since all pinned down by Jim James’ voice. While it’s fair to say there’s been the odd dip post-Z as they continued to try driving their sound down different avenues, their albums are always worth tuning in and contain plenty of cracking moments as they keep exploring and they’re a brilliant live act as the constant presence of their two official live albums – Okonokos and Live Vol.1 – on my turntable will gladly demonstrate.

While The Waterfall marked their last effort for some years – indeed, it looked like the end of the band was on the cards for some time – a reinvigorated My Morning Jacket emerged in 2021 with a self-titled effort that saw them playing at their finest again.

It’s near-impossible to condense their work into five tunes, so let’s leave at being a case of ‘here are five My Morning Jacket songs’:

The Way That He Sings (2001)

One Big Holiday (2003)

Anytime (2005)

Touch Me I’m Going To Scream Pt.2 (2008)

Complex (2021)

Hey hey, rise up: Friday’s spins

As I seem to be slipping back into the habit of posting more frequently, it feels like a fitting time to drop one of those ‘this is what I’ve been listening to’ posts that have peppered this blog previously as we head giddily into the weekend.

Pink Floyd – Hey Hey, Rise Up

Is this cheating? It only came out today but I’ve listened to it a good half dozen or so times already and it grows on me more each time. The first new Pink Floyd song in 28 years (songs from The Endless River were re-heated leftovers after all) is real grower – a gentle very-Floyd strum accompanying a powerful vocal from Ukrainian singer Andriy Khlyvnyuk giving way after a minute or so to a suitably screaming solo from David Gilmour that seems to be more an anguished scream of a protest song and keeps reaching those glorious notes so associated with the guitarist and Floyd. I’ve got a feeling that this song – a reaction to extraordinary times with added fuel as a result of Gilmour’s personal connection – is likely a one-off though.

The War On Drugs – I Don’t Wanna Wait

It took me until this year to fall head over heels with The War On Drugs’ I Don’t Live Here Anymore because Atlantic Records are one of those major labels who seem to enjoy taking the piss with prices. The album was going for close to £40 on my preferred format and the fact that I could usually pick up a double on a lesser money grabbing label for half that meant I didn’t add it to my collection until I picked up the CD for under a fiver this year. It’s a brilliant album that’s been in the car pretty solidly over the last month or three. ‘I Don’t Wanna Wait’ is both a highlight and representative of the album as a whole – it builds from a deceptively simple very-80s beat before expanding into a much more involved, seemingly boundless song that’s dripping in that sun-kissed AOR vibe circa ’87 (think Tunnel of Love) underpinned by a guitars whose tone and fluidity leave me feeling sticky and satisfied.

The Mysterines – Hung Up

I’ve mentioned this group before and have been digging every song they’ve released thus far as they were on of those bands oft-played on 6Music during my commute. I’ve been spinning and loving their debut Reeling this week after I was able to make it to my usual dealer to collect my pre-order and I’m looking forward to where they take it next.

Loop – Heaven’s End

I have to wonder if the guy that owns my usual record shop has one of those ‘I will now sell five copies of “The Three EPs” by The Beta Band’ moments before I visit because when I stopped by to pick-up The Mysterines’ record he was playing an album to which both my wife and I both said “who is this?… it’s good!” As a result Loop’s debut Heaven’s End from 1987 is nestled in my collection and has been played quite a bit since. Think raw, Detroit-punk imbued trance-rock with hypnotic, discordant guitars and you’re on the way. I thought it was early Mudhoney at first but there’s elements of shoegaze in the mix with these drone-like soundscapes. I read a review that referred to this as “sound(ing) like the soundtrack to a missing hallucination scene from Easy Rider.”

Monty Python – I Bet You They Won’t Play This Song on the Radio

My son has been discovering and generally enjoying Monty Python of late. Given that he’s only 8 there’s plenty that gets skipped or simply not shown but he was so loving ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ that the ’45 was added to the collection. This one was on the flip side and has probably been played more as it seems to hit the same mass enjoyment buttons shared by 8 and 41 year olds.

Dire Straits – News

I went to a record fair last weekend and all I got was this lousy t-shirt the only record I walked away with was Dire Strait’s Communique. A nice, clean and well-kept copy for a fiver hits about right for me. I think Communique gets a bit of a bad rap – it was a bit of a rush job after their first album took off and doesn’t have a hook akin to ‘Sultans of Swing’ and isn’t a patch on Making Movies but in ‘Once Upon A Time In The West’, ‘News’, ‘Where Do You Think You’re Going?’ ‘Angel of Mercy’ and ‘Portobello Belle’ does has have five cracking Dire Straits song and it’s more laid-back, subdued style is perfect for a certain vibe.

Tracks: Don’t Stand So Close to Me ’86

It’s been a while since I dusted off this format to highlight / ramble about a specific track but this one has been cause for much enthusiastic discussion between my wife and I since we discovered it a couple of months back so here we go.

The Police are oft-played in my ears and yet pretty under-represented in my collection save a copy of ’92’s ‘Best Of’ cd and a cassette of Synchronicity that I can no longer find. Well, that was true until I found a very clean copy of Every Breath You Take: The Singles at Electric Palace Records* back in January.

It’s a cracking compilation – as I’ve said before it’s got eleven perfectly crafted songs and ‘Roxanne’. The Police had a knack for creating these precise, glorious tunes and rhythms that got better as they went. Every album may have had a bit of filler but when the gold was as gloriously shiny as ‘King of Pain’ or ‘Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic’** then you could forgive a ‘Mother’ or two per album.

After the tour for Synchronicity the band parted ways for a bit. Solo albums were recorded all round and Sting continued his climb up his own rear pipe with The Dream of the Blue Turtles and by the time they were meant to head back into the studio on the back of some Amnesty International concerts the tension between the band was into toxic levels. To make it worse, Stewart Copeland broke his collarbone the day before they were due to record so jamming was off the table – not that it mattered: writing new songs for The Police was the last thing on Sting’s mind.

Instead either the label or the band decided to use the time to create a new album made up of re-worked versions of their hits. But even this wasn’t simple, of course. Copeland wanted to use one drum loop programming setup, Sting insisted on using something different. Personally I’d wonder why the choice wouldn’t be left to the drummer but you get the impression that, at this point, the band would argue over how to open a door at this point in their relationship. Regardless of reason, Sting’s request sent the engineer down an alley he couldn’t find his way out of for a few days and Copeland ended up using his chosen method after days of delay and would later claim the argument was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

‘Don’t Stand So Close To Me’ was the only song they managed to rework during these sessions as the band fell apart at the seams quickly thereafter. It would be released as a single and on a compilation of their hits, Every Breath You Take: The Singles, as ‘Don’t Stand So Close To Me ’86’. I’m guessing there were some moans that the compilation didn’t feature the original as it was deleted in ’95 and replaced with Every Breath You Take: The Classics with the ’86 version swapped out for the original. Nor does it appear on streaming services.

So why am I highlighting this? Because I think that was a mistake. The Police only got better as they developed and this new arrangement is the superior, to me. The moodier take, while at times very clearly a mid-80s song, is much more suited to the subject matter than the original from six years prior (although that version’s intro is spot-on as an album opener too) and Sting sings with an appropriately mature tone vs the bouncier, faux-reggae tint he applied earlier. Given how little of a shit he probably gave about The Police at the time this performance is brilliant. Even with the more mature vibe they remained the masters of the chorus and here the shift in rhythm and sheen of the ‘don’t stand so’ is positively euphoric in its arrival. Again, while it’s clearly a mid-80s song, it’s the best kind of mid-80s song and hits all the right spots.

When I spun this for the fist time I was a little jarred as the original is so embedded in my mind – especially having heard it on the radio so often since it was released – but I was hooked and with each listen became more convinced it was the better of the two.

From here it was curtains for ‘Gordon and the Boys’. They wouldn’t even share a room for the cover photo of the single or its music video – another of Godley & Creme’s classics (of which surely a piece here is deserved) which itself used a different version of the ’86 take and appropriated footage from the video for the original – and The Police were done for twenty years. Solo careers took over, Sting’s being the most successful as he gradually climbed down from his ego trip (if never entirely), before a brief reunion and final tour across 2007-2008 to mark their 30th anniversary.

*It’s billed as ‘Kent’s smallest record shop’ and manages to fit a very healthy choice of records, books etc in a store that feels smaller than my garden shed. This is not a paid promotion but if you’re ever in the area it’s worth a punt if they’re open.

**I think this song is home to the greatest ‘gear change’ in music

Ten of ten for ten

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.

Self-compiled: Led Zeppelin

“They are an immovable force in music... I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t like them.” 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.

Man without ties don’t dress for dinner… Five from Paul Westerberg

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’.

Love Untold

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.

High Time

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.

5:05

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

Should auld acquaintance be forgot…

Despite another morning of waiting for the ice to dissolve from its windscreen before blasting the Ferrari’s mighty engine off of my drive and into the school-run and commute, the steady bead of afternoon sunlight in my eyes and the calling of the blogging urge has pulled me from my hibernation.

Where have I been? Fucking nowhere there’s a pandemic on and the rules change as much as that cockwomble-in-charge’s excuses do, triple-jabbed or not.

What have I been doing? The break wasn’t intended it just happened, maybe I’d lost my mojo, maybe I just needed to switch off a little. I’ve been reading a lot (potentially to be detailed later but Franzen’s latest was as excellent as expected, The Passenger is an amazing ‘lost’ novel rediscovered and Anna Karenina is proving the Russian beauty I wish I’d read sooner), using the festive break to watch films old (unlikely to be detailed later so Bad Boys 2 was as awful as I thought it would be, Face-Off has not aged well at all while Beverly Hills Cop is still a time-capsule joy) and new (Don’t Look Up suffers from split-personality only one half of which is very good, the other shite) of an evening instead of falling asleep in a cattle-truked daze. Oh, and watching Get Back*.

Of course, I’ve also been consuming music across as many formats and mediums as I can including catching up with some 2021’s finest. As Aphoristic Album Reviews points out in his fine summary of the year: putting together a list of a best albums during the year in question always feels a bit weird. What if your favourite artist surprise released a new album on Christmas Day? There’s also the fact that I don’t always get to absorb ‘new’ albums until that end of year break. Anywho, with that in mind and keeping it short and sweet, here are my five favourites of 2021.

Mogwai – As The Love Continues

Mogwai came out swinging in February with As The Love Continues. After the restrictions of 2020 (especially tougher in Scotland than here) gave them an opportunity to work distraction-free on their album, they produced one of their finest ever some 24 years after their debut and a very early and easy contender for AOTY. It bristles with great tunes, a warmth and thrust that they’ve not exhibited in a decade. A big hit with critics and fans alike it actually hit the top of the album charts here (surely that’s the first post-rock album to do so?),it felt too good to be true at the start of 2021 and, tens of plays later, still feels too good to be true at the start of 2022.

Snail Mail – Valentine

I was already hooked on this album on Spotify but after finding the vinyl under the tree this year I’ve fallen ever deeper under its spell (more reason to leave those lists until the year has passed). ‘Sold’ to me as a midway point between Hole and Lucy Dacus, Snail Mail’s second album is a glorious slab of 90’s inspired, emotionally fuelled alt-rock with real range and power.

Dinosaur Jr – Sweep It Into Space

The reunited Dinosaur Jr ‘classic’ lineup have now put out more albums than the three of their original run and one more than the various iterations of the band put out during its major label run. What’s surprising is that they’re still bitingly keen and putting out solid and inspired albums that always have plenty of great tunes on them and a lot of J Mascis’ always dazzling guitar solos. The addition of Kurt Vile as co-producer and occasional rhythm and acoustic guitar player has yielded one of their most sonically interesting and just plain-fucking-great-to-listen-to albums thus far and has been a regular spinner since it dropped in April.

Lucy Dacus – Home Video

I loved Lucy Dacus’ 2018 Historian. Why, then, it took so long for me to pick up Home Video is beyond me.. perhaps it was too much to listen to and too little time but, when my local announced a re-stock I made sure one of them had my name on and I’m glad I did: Home Video is just brilliant: Dacus goes from strength to strength here with an album richer in sound and more personal in lyrics – a compelling mix of alt-rockers and gut-wrench ballads.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor – God’s Pee AT STATE’S END

Two post-rock giants releasing great albums in the same year? Yup. Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress and Luciferian Towers were ok but didn’t move me in the way that ‘old’ GY!BE and even ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend Ascend did… yet AT STATE’S END is a powerful return to that earlier form. Reintroducing found recordings and, like Don’t Bend… delivers two monumental slabs of post-rock with the band’s glorious build-ups from scratchy, static transmissions to crescendos that make your soul go ‘oh fuck YES! interspersed with a couple of drone tracks as if to cleanse the palate.

If this were a Top 10 it would also have included The War On Drugs’ I Don’t Live Here Anymore (a brilliant album that’s way too over-priced on vinyl to have been added to my collection and made the Top 5), Explosions In The Sky’s Big Bend (three post-rock albums in the Top 5 would be pushing it though), The Weather Station’s Ignorance and My Morning Jacket’s self-titled album while Ben Howard would’ve taken an honourable mention for his Collections From The Whiteout.

My favourite ‘Old Stuff Revisited’ release of 2021 is a tie between Tom Petty’s Finding Wildflowers and the re-cast Angel Dream (Songs and Music from the Motion Picture ‘She’s the One’) – that Rick Rubin helmed era of tunes from ’94 thru to 99’s Echo was a rich seam for Petty and these archival releases and new versions are like visiting a golden era and finding it even better than you remembered.

That was 2021… 2022 already has some promising releases on the horizon. I’m eagerly anticipating new albums from The Mysterines, Big Thief, Eddie Vedder (of course), Placebo (for the first time in a while) as well as ‘it could still happens’ like Springsteen’s Tracks 2 to name a few.

*Finding a way to summarise my thoughts on Get Back is likely to take a while