Albums of my years – 1997

Well after five and a half months of not working I didn’t manage to make the dent in this project I’d hoped to. But here were are in 1997 with the lockdown having returned my hair to a length not unlike that of ’97 and with than two months until my self-imposed deadline I’d get a move on.

1997 is the year Billie Myers kissed the rain, the Backstreet Boys wanted to tell everybody they were back (alright!), R.Kelly emoted really heavily about Batman’s fictional home, Chumbawamba drank a whiskey drink, drank vodka drink, drank a lager drink, drank a cider drink and then sang the songs that remind them of the good times  which was fitting as Bran Van 3000 were also getting wankered over in LA all the while Celine Dion’s heart was going on and on.

Townes Van Zandt passed away on 1st January 1997 aged 52 after what could probably be described as a lifetime’s battle with alcoholism and heroin abuse. It was the year that Notorious B.I.G was shot dead with Puff Daddy (gotta wonder about someone who calls themselves that) and Faith Evans going on to seemingly be played on loop lamenting his loss over samples of The Police’s ‘Every Breath You Take’.  In May, Jef Buckley went for a swim, fully clothed, in Wolf River Harbour. He was last seen, by his roadie who stayed on shore, walking into the water singing the chorus of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’. After moving a radio and guitar away from the water, the roadie turned back to the water and realised Jeff had vanished. Search and rescue efforts that night were fruitless, Jeff Buckley’s body was discovered June 4th. He was 30 years old.

David Bowie celebrated his 50th birthday in January with a celebration at Madison Square Garden with guests including Frank Black, The Foo Fighters, Sonic Youth, Lou Reed, Placebo, Billy Corgan and Robet Smith, as you do. I’m thinking of doing something similar for my 40th though not sure if it’ll be in New York. The Spice Girls managed to re-break Toni Braxton’s heart and secure the top spot on the US charts with ‘Wannabe’ in 1997, ensuring ‘Girl Power’ wasn’t restricted to this side of the Atlantic where they continued to dump the musical equivalent of human sewage coated in sugar into the airwaves with increasingly vomit-inducing videos from which escape was impossible thanks to their label boss’ fingers being in so many pies. Of course, if that wasn’t bad enough, 1997 was the year Hanson MMMBoped their way to number one in 27 different countries. FFS.

I’ve heard it said by one of the monstrously eyebrowed and overego’d Gallagher brothers that along with being so powerful in it, they also killed Britpop ‘the second Noel got off the helicopter’ in the ‘D’You Know What I Mean’ (the lead single from their self-indulgent album Be Here Now… but no: Britpop was already dying from the harpoon that Radiohead shot into it with the May release of ‘Paranoid Android’.

It ushered in a new era, thankfully, that led further from the turgidity that Britpop was falling into – even Blur had moved into a meatier terrain in ’97 with their self-titled album and singles like ‘Song 2’ and ‘Beetlebum’ sounding like the work of a different band to that which put out ‘Girls and Boys’. But with ‘Karma Police’ and ‘Lucky’ released as singles from 1997’s absurdly great OK Computer which became 1997’s biggest selling album in the UK (despite Capitol records having thought it would be ‘career suicide’)  and the band’s powerful headline performance at a notoriously muddy Glastonbury Festival that year felt like it rightfully belonged to Thom Yorke and co.

So, yeah – Blur released their album Blur in 1997 and Oasis released Be Here Now. Neither of which feature high, or at all,  in my own lists but I know plenty of people dig them both – oddly enough the park behind my house was home to a ‘social distancing’ festival this past weekend (concert goers sit in pods two metres apart from other pods and food etc is bought to them) made up of cover bands one of which was playing a combination of ‘Britpop classics’ and I managed to catch a brace of songs from both albums as we walked past.

Surging the wave of ‘TFI Friday’ (golden days, eh?) power, Reef’s Glow hit the top of the charts here in the UK and ‘Place Your Hands’ still enjoys a good play from time to time. Meanwhile the flow of strong non UK music continued with the likes of the Chemical Brothers’ Dig Your Own Hole,  the Stereophonics’ Word Gets Around and Texas enjoying a real-deserved change of fortune after years of diminishing returns following their first single ‘I Don’t Want A Lover’ with the chart-topping  White On Blonde which was packed full of the good stuff. Oh and The Prodigy erupted into massive sales on the back of ‘Firestarter’ and ‘Breathe’ as The Fat Of The Land also hit the top spot en route to shifting ten million globally. Smack my bitch up indeed.

1997 was also the year Richard Ashcroft shrugged and stropped his way through some East End streets in ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ and Urban Hymns also topping the charts and giving birth to big singles like oh-so-cheerful ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’, ‘Lucky Man’ and ‘Sonnet’. Unfortunately for The Verve, ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ borrowed some strings from The Rolling Stones’ ‘The Last Time’ and the Stones’ former manager Allen Klein decided he wanted all the royalties… and thus began a series of disputes over the song’s royalties that wouldn’t wind down until Jagger and Richards signed over their publishing for the song in 2019. I guess if you’re going to life some strings from another song make sure it’s not a Rolling Stones one. Try something by Lennon / McCartney, they’re probably not litigious.

Speaking of The Rolling Stones, Mick and Keith took a break from running their corner shop to put together a new album: Bridges To Babylon. The album wasn’t really one to stand alongside their greatest but they were – and still are – at that point that as long as they don’t turn in an absolute howler they’ll still shift enough to keep em on the road, the tour behind the album would gross over $274 million. Probably more than enough to restock the shelves a few times:

Silverchair’s second and heavier album Freak Show continued to borrow heavily from their influences but did show a lot more originality and is still a pretty good listen today. Frontman Daniel Johns’ future wife Natalie Imbruglia was on her way to shifting 7 million copies of her debut album Left Of the Middle after ‘Torn’ dominated radio and MTV all over the shop. Continuing on the antipodean path, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds released the amazing The Boatman’s Call in 1997 – a stately and poignant album dripping in gorgeous tunes.

It was a great year for post-rock; both Godspeed You Black Emperor! and Mogwai released their genre-benchmark debut albums, the faultless F♯A♯∞ and Young Team respectively. Mogwai also dropped Ten Rapid, a collection of earlier cuts that is often held up as one of their finest works even if it was never released as an album proper. All three get regular spins in my house – it’s rare if a week goes by without one of them being played. The same of which could be said for Elliott Smith’s fantastic Either / Or also released in 1997. Smith’s third solo album is another that’s often held up as his finest – it’s the one that got him a larger audience when three of its songs were featured in the ‘Good Will Hunting’ soundtrack and received universal critical acclaim, with due course: it was his finest collection of songs to date.

Also churning in one of his finest sets of songs for some time after getting pretty close to meeting Elvis, Bob Dylan’s Time Out of Mind was released to surprise and acclaim in 1997 and started something of a late-career revival in terms of both quality and interest. ‘Love Sick’, ‘Cold Iron Bounds’, ‘Tryin’ To Get To Heaven’…. re-teaming with produce Daniel Lanois (behind the great Oh Mercy) did wonders for ol’ Bob.

Elsewhere Built To Spill’s Perfect From Now On was just that; perfect. Recorded three times and a MASSIVE move forward into something more experimental and intricate, Perfect From Now On is one of the indie-rock genre’s benchmarks and another that I regularly grab from the rack as I’m heading to the car.

1997 was really a strong year for the whole indie-rock genre. Along with Elliott Smith and Built To Spill handing in career highlights, Pavement released the brilliant Brighten The Corners – and then followed it quickly with extra love in the form of the Shady Lane EP. I don’t think Pavement ever made a bad album and I’ve got a lot of time for Brighten The Corners especially ‘Date with IKEA’. Oh and Dinosaur Jr released what, to my mind, is the finest of their major label efforts and the one that pretty much sank without a trace. It took me ages to get a copy of this one when I was filling out my Dinosaur Jr collection some twelve years or more ago now. It didn’t shift anywhere near the numbers of Where You Been or Without A Sound – not that they’re exactly multi-million sellers either mind – but it’s still my favourite of the band from that era and last year’s expanded re-release was a wonderful thing. Ben Folds Five’s Whatever And Amen did the good stuff too with songs like ‘Brick’, ‘Smoke’, ‘Battle of Who Could Care Less’ and ‘Song For The Dumped’ standing out for me and many others.

U2 dropped Pop like a half-baked turd and then hit the ‘MAX POWER’ button with the promotion and tour involving muscle-suits and a giant mirrorball lemon which made it clear they either hadn’t seen or grasped the point of ‘This Is Spinal Tap’. Still, some two decades on and Pop, on reflection, isn’t all too bad – it could have done with a bit more gestation time and I’ve heard it said they were pushed to release before they were happy with it but songs like ‘If God Will Send His Angels’ and ‘Gone’ are still decent enough but ‘Discothèque’ remains a howler.

Faith No More wanted to get a head start on the accolades for their album and named it Album Of The Year – it’s their most straight-forward which helped it shift well and ‘Ashes to Ashes’ is a great tune. Ry Cooder and some of his mates from Cuba got together to form the Buena Vista Social Club in ’96 and in 1997 released the cracking Buena Vista Social Club album which sent critics and music writers into a bit of a state in their efforts to find accolades to heap on it. Less so for Aerosmith though as critics weren’t so kind to Nine Lives despite the fact that, in my book, it’s one of their finest late-career efforts. A good, gritty kick in the balls to the over-production of Get A Grip thanks to Kevin Shirley it’s home to some great tunes like ‘Taste of India’, ‘Full Circle’, ‘Pink’, ‘Ain’t That A Bitch’…. I caught em on the tour for Nine Lives, albeit a few years later thanks to injures and delays that would become a staple for the group for the rest of their career, and I still reckon this is the last album to capture them at full flight.

Way out on a different side of the musical wave and even further geographically, Bjork released her brilliant Homogenic in 1997, ‘Jóga’ is one of my absolute favourite songs. Portishead released their second, self-titled, album which, though great as it remains, didn’t quite have the impact of Dummy, even if – to me – it’s a more rewarding listen. Everclear’s So Much for the Afterglow arrived in 1997 as did Green Day’s Nimrod and ‘Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)’.

With the surprised – to him – success of his Foo Fighters’ first album behind him, Dave Grohl set about to make a ‘band’ album. However, the intense sessions – under producer Gil Norton – proved taxing on all members and Grohl’s redoing of drum tracks led to Will Goldsmith quitting the band. For his part, Grohl has since said “I wish that I would have handled things differently”. Goldsmith would be replaced by Taylor Hawkins who had said “yeah; me” when Grohl asked if he knew of any drummers who’d want the gig. The Colour and the Shape is probably their finest album and – depending on whether I’ve listened to Wasting Light that day – contains some of their best and most-loved songs. But… I’ve already written on this one pretty heavily and rules are rules.

So, not that there was much doubt what this could have been:

Radiohead – OK Computer

At some point in early 1997 I was sat in my room one evening watching TV – one of those big tube fuckers as this was pre-slimline LCD stuff – and as I’d have been upstairs on my own TV I’d have been stuck with the standard four channels so that means it must have been ‘Top of the Pops’ or similar I was watching rather than MTV2…. but I was watching but not watching, you know how, through what was the usual dross on these shows predominantly focused on the pop stuff and then they played the new singled from a band called Radiohead, ‘Paranoid Android’ and a bomb went off in my head.

OK Computer is an amazing album that’s been pretty much universally lauded since it was released in May 1997 – though, coincidentally, the Gallagher brothers were instant critics but then I’d take that as a compliment – and was a near-instant game changer. I didn’t pick the album up straight away – this was ’97 and at 16 years old I would’ve been spending what wages I had on other music or gobbling up the Aerosmith back catalogue as this was the year I got into them. No I do remember having the cash for a new CD at some point early in ’98 though as I remember going down to get hold of Pearl Jam’s Yield after reading positive reviews only when I took it to the counter they didn’t have it – so I picked up OK Computer instead and that bomb went off all over again.

I mean there’s been so much written about this album – when you consider the impact it had and how it exploded the band it would be impossible for there not to be. Plenty of pages have been dedicated to its origins (‘Lucky’ was recorded for The Help Album in 1995) and the recording processes (80% of it was recorded live according to Ed O’Brien) and that, after the introspective soul-searching focus of The Bends, Thom Yorke took a new tact with his lyric writing…. it would be fruitless to do so here and I wouldn’t be able to do so in a way that did the album justice.

For me this is one of those albums that had a massive impact on my musical tastes.. I know a lot of comparisons were made between this and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of The Moon and I get that – there’s a sense of cohesion to it that works so beautifully as a whole, there’s almost a feel of concept about it in that way and there’s sense of intricacy almost akin to ‘prog’ but the prominence of guitars pushes it firmly into the more accessible and ‘this deserves to be played loud and live’ arena, just as DSTOM did – even though the band were very keen to shrug that off. But for me I stand it alongside Pink Floyd’s magnum opus in that it has had such an impact on a certain generation’s music taste and certainly on mine. It was that defining album and is held up in the same light as DSOTM was twenty years or so previous. Not to mention that just as there’s a “oh Meddle / Animals / Wish You Were Here is so much better” debate there’s a “but they really came into their own with Kid A / The Bends” argument too… but just as you can’t tell me ‘Time’ takes a back seat to ‘Fearless’, there’s no argument for ‘Treefingers is better than ‘Let Down’ (and I do really really dig Kid A).

It’s one of the few albums I own across multiple formats and I even had to replace that original CD as it ended up bouncing about in numerous cars over the years. It was like a reinvention of ‘guitar rock’ just as those genres that had defined the start of the decade were starting to wane. There was a creeping in of technological dread and wariness in there, a bite and snarl of sarcasm and angst, shimmering melodies, odd time signatures and a band tighter than a duck’s arse playing a fuckload of great songs that just get better and reveal more with repeated listening over the years.

There’s a reason OK Computer is so well regarded and it’s the same reason it’s featured here as my choice for 1997: it’s just perfect.

Least to Most: Foo Fighters, Part 3

Foo Fighters

It’s surprising the amount of stick Dave Grohl got for moving forward and making new music. Or, as some saw it, daring to make new music after the death of Kurt Cobain. As the man himself has often pondered – did they just expect him to stop? Music was all he’d done up until that point and he was only 25, why should he stop? In October of 1994, six months following Cobain’s suicide, Grohl booked some time at Robert Lang Studios in Seattle – where Nirvana’s final, aborted studio sessions had taken place (which yielded the demo of what would become ‘You Know You’re Right‘) earlier that same year – and recorded a fifteen-track demo, playing every instrument (save one guitar solo) himself.

Not sure where his future lay Grohl considered looking for another band with a vacant drum stool. One such stool had recently been vacated by Stan Lynch and there’s a great video of Grohl going full Animal with the Heartbreakers on SNL – “it was the first time I’d looked forward to playing the drums since Nirvana had ended.” Ultimately, though (and even after a couple of shows sitting on the vacant Pearl Jam drum stool*), Grohl wanted to give his ‘Foo Fighters’ project his attention as the demo tape he’d circulated was now picking up major label interest. The name was applied to the demo tape as Grohl wanted some anonymity post-Nirvana and to suggest that a group was behind the music.

Released in July 1995, there’s something wonderfully charming and warm about Foo Fighters. It’s very much a product of its time – the guitars are very grunge-like and loaded with the same levels of fuzz associated with Grohl’s former outfit but the songs quickly jump into more melodic and lighter routes and there’s an overwhelming sense of lightness and, yes, goofiness that wouldn’t be present on any other Foo Fighters release (likely down to the fact that the largely nonsensical lyrics were written 20 minutes before recording). It’s loaded with hook, charm and warmth and positivity. Though I have to wonder if I’m the only Foo Fighters fan that doesn’t care for ‘Big Me’.

Highlights: ‘This Is A Call’, ‘I’ll Stick Around’, ‘Alone + Easy Target’, ‘Good Grief’,’Floaty’

Wasting Light

Fuck but I love this album. This is the one instance in which the Gimmick behind it paid off in spades. In an effort to recapture some of the rougher sound of earlier Foo Fighters releases, Grohl decided that Foo Fighters Album 7 would be stripped of all the production bells and whistles that had been draped over Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace and bought in Butch Vig and to record the entire album on analogue equipment in Dave’s garage.

At this point, though, it would be futile to expect such a process to result in a raw sounding record. It’s not like Dave Grohl has a small garage for that matter either. But, what makes Wasting Light such a late career highlight is that Vig captures a sense of purpose and drive in the band that had been lacking for at least three albums previous. It’s a big, anthemic rock record shorn of production sheen and filled with a sense of energy that comes from the fact that they recorded the entire album live and – with Pat Smear back in the ranks – a heavier, three-guitar strong attack.

From the off with ‘Bridges Burning’ powering into ‘Rope’ and ‘Dear Rosmery’ there’s no let up. Instead, when you’d expect it at track four, ‘White Limo’ has been described as “a blistering, paint-stripping thrash track” with Grohl’s vocals lost as he screams at what must be the top of his register. There’s no slowing down on Wasting Light. No ballads. ‘These Days’ looks like it’s gonna be that track until it turns into a thumping Foos classic that will no doubt rub shoulders with ‘Run’ and ‘Something From Nothing’ on the inevitable Greatest Hits 2. No, Wasting Light found a revitalised band firing with an energy and power few thought they had left in them and got me really paying attention to the band again and, depending on the day of the week, could just as easily sit right at the top of this list.

Highlights: ‘Bridges Burning’, ‘Rope’, ‘White Limo’, ‘These Days’,’Arlandria’, ‘Walk’.

The Colour and The Shape

Twenty years on (gulp), the moment when the practically-throwaway ‘Doll’ gets torn apart by the arrival of ‘Monkey Wrench’ and The Colour and The Shape shifts into gear remains shit-the-bed-amazing. So good that the band themselves would give the formula another go and top it with ‘T-Shirt’ giving way to ‘Run’ on this year’s Concrete & Gold. That being said, while ‘Run’ is a great song, it doesn’t match the sheer power and fire of ‘Monkey Wrench’ – an absolute stone-cold classic. And it’s not the only one on the album for is home to a tonne of em: ‘Monkey Wrench’, ‘My Hero‘, ‘Walking After You’, ‘Enough Space’ and, easily their best song, ‘Everlong‘.

The Colour and The Shape was the first Foo Fighters album recorded as a group (although Grohl would end up re-recording the drum parts himself leaving drummer William Goldsmith little choice but to leave the band. He’d be replaced by Taylor Hawkins before the tour behind the album began) and is the most cohesive and consistent set of songs they’ve put to tape, still. After an extensive tour behind Foo Fighters, the band were coming together with Grohl emerging more confident in his role as singer and band leader – if you go back to ‘Monkey Wrench’ when he hits his final “one more thing before I quit” you can here that confidence screaming through. On the downside his first marriage was ending in divorce. This meant that, in place of the nonsensical lyrics on the first album, much of Grohl’s domestic strife was poured into the lyrics – ‘Everlong’ in particular is a strange mix up as it was written against both the collapse of his marriage and the beginning of a new relationship.

What makes this album stand out for me is that in between the staggering strength of the obvious hits, the songs that are so often forgotten are really bloody good too. Take ‘Enough Space‘ – watching ‘Back and Forth’ it’s clear how important this song was as one of the first new ones Grohl wrote for the band, with a tempo inspired by the jumping up and down of European audiences to heavier tunes. Or ‘My Poor Brain’ or ‘Wind Up’ or the best Foo Fighters album closer to date – ‘A New Way Home.’ These are great tunes and on any other album would be stand-outs. When put on an album stacked with killer classics they’re almost forgotten but prove that The Colour and the Shape is an album full of strengths (and ‘See You’ which, frankly, you can forgive).

Check out any review for a new Foo Fighters album and it will be this one that it gets judged against and with reason. The Colour and The Shape built the template of every song and direction the Foo Fighters would make yet remains their benchmark in terms of quality and consistency.

Highlights: All of it.

*Despite all the MTV (and Courtney fuelled) Nirvana vs Pearl Jam schtick the animosity between members really wasn’t there. Grohl sat in for two shows in Australia pre Jack-Irons and it’s been suggested that, having heard and recognised Grohl’s direction, they told him he’d be better doing it alone rather than playing for someone else. Eddie Vedder would actually premier two of the album’s songs on his radio show in 1995 as well as playing alongside Grohl in Mike Watt’s backing band – whose tour Vedder’s band Hovercraft were on along with Foo Fighters.

Least to Most: Foo Fighters, Part 1

This year Dave Grohl and his bunch of merry men released their ninth studio album and have embarked on another stadium slaughtering world tour. It seems somewhat strange – having been listening in attentively for most of the ride – for the Foo Fighters to have reached such a scale when the band’s beginnings were so decidedly quieter and personal.

A lot changed in the years between Dave Grohl recording the entirety of the first album across a one-week period in 1994 and topping the charts with Conrcete and Gold as a six-piece member band and with a total of nine studio albums to their name I’ve been listening back through the back catalogue and decided, once again, to try to share my thoughts on each

My previous undertaking of a Least to Most was almost too much of an undertaking. To keep the fun and momentum, I’m not going to be exploring every album in a separate post for one thing though will be looking at them ‘One by One’ but in three hits of three.

It’s worth noting that, as with that initial series; it’s just that, personal favourites – I don’t lay claim to my judgement of one album’s quality to being universal or true. It’s supposed to be fun after all. Though it may well correlate with just such features’ listings, this isn’t a ‘worst to best’ just a ‘least to most’ favourite and, again, I listen to these albums pretty regularly so I wouldn’t call any of them ‘bad’ or they wouldn’t be sat on my shelves.

So, let’s get on with it and get going from the Least end…

One By One

Relax, something had to start this off and I know that this album most definitely has it’s champions. Hey, I can understand it; there are some cracking songs on One By One – there’s just not enough of them and, overall, the album doesn’t gel cohesively. It suffers from both its troubled birth and the band themselves having seemingly stepped away from it.

Coming off the back of the successful There Is Nothing Left To Lose, the band started working up songs and demos before taking a break in 2001 to play some European festivals. I happened to catch em at V2001. Unfortunately, after that show Taylor Hawkins suffered a heroin overdose, landing in a coma for two days.

Once back underway, sessions on the album grew stale, the heavy use of ProTools and rough mixes left band members feeling unsatisfied and, amidst risig tensions, the “million-dollar demos” were abandoned and the Foo Fighters went on pause as Grohl headed out on tour as drummer for Queens of the Stone Age. One massive fight during rehearsals for Coachella and a blistering ‘make or break’ show at the same festival later, the band got back together to take another stab at some of those songs already recorded and get down some of Grohl’s newer compositions including ‘Low’ and ‘Times Like These’.

When One By One dropped – heralded by the spectacular ‘All My Life’ which remains one of the band’s strongest songs – it was initially well received. But time hasn’t been kind to this one and it’s not aged well. It’s a frustrating listen with a good few songs but bogged down overall by several that don’t really cut it after repeated listens. I very rarely listen to this one and when I did so recently I couldn’t remember most of the song titles or melodies beyond the keepers – ‘All My Life’, ‘Low‘, ‘Have it All’ and ‘Times Like These.’ Oddly enough these happen to be the first four songs on the album and, beyond that, I very rarely venture.

Some great moments on One By One but the band’s heaviest album is also it’s hardest listen. As Grohl himself has said ” “four of the songs were good, and the other seven I’ve never played again in my life. We rushed into it, and we rushed out of it”

Highlights: ‘All My Life’, ‘Low’, ‘Have it All,’ ‘Times Like These.’

Sonic Highways

It pains me to put this one so low on the list as it’s one I’ve listened to a lot – chiefly because my almost-four-year-old requested ‘Something From Nothing’ so often- but, while it’s less of a challenge to listen to than One By One the truth is that Sonic Highways is not a great Foo Fighters album.

This is peak-concept Foos and it suffers as a result, almost coming across as not a real Foo Fighters album but as a soundtrack to their documentary series of the same name. Each ‘episode’ would see Grohl adding lyrics to songs based on conversations and ‘nuggets’ from that city. As such the references to Muddy Waters in ‘Something From Nothing’ seem forced and even Grohl’s tribute to his DC punk roots ‘Feast and the Famine’ is glossed and buffed into sonic tameness by Butch Vig. The other problem with the concept is that it forced guest stars onto every track whether or not they were needed – even Cheap Trick’s Rick Neilson questions whether they need a fourth guitar on ‘Something From Nothing’ – as though the songs must be forced through a strict criteria in order to make it to the album rather than happening organically because it was part of the Project to have guests on every song.

Some of the songs and details are good, though, don’t get me wrong. The feedback squall and solo at the end of ‘Something From Nothing’, Gary Clark Jr’s solo on an otherwise turd of a song ‘What Did I Do? /God As My Witness’, Joe Walsh’s chilled guitar licks in ‘Outside’ and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s blasts on ‘In The Clear’ all give a good hit of enjoyment and ‘Subterranean’ is a great one.

The problem is that songs like ‘I Am A River’ and ‘ don’t hold up to repeated listens or justify their length and ‘Congregation’ still holds its place as my least-favourite Foo Fighters song ever. The album, to my ears, sounds like good songs left half-baked, their gestation and development into something better sacrificed in the name of Concept as borne out by the release of the Saint Cecilia at the end of 2015 – four songs recorded without concept or Vig’s production buffing it all out that managed to kick the arse of everything on Sonic Highways.

Highlights: ‘Something from Nothing’, ‘In The Clear’, ‘Outside’, ‘Subterranean’.

In Your Honor

Aside from the whole *Honour thing…. In Your Honor was the start of what I’ve come to regard as the Foo Fighers ‘gimmick’ phase. After touring One by One – a tour which saw them become a genuinely thrilling live act – Grohl was unsure where to take his Foos next and, after the gruelling sessions for that album, didn’t fancy rushing into a new album straight away. Thinking of looking for film score work he picked up his guitar and set about writing acoustic songs, managing to amass a whole album’s worth. But, this being Dave Grohl, he couldn’t just have an acoustic record, he’s a man who has ” to have loud rock music in my life somewhere” so decided it was time for a double album. One CD of “really heavy rock shit” and another of “really beautiful, acoustic-based, lower dynamic stuff.” Uh-oh, sounds like a Concept….

What handicaps In Your Honor, though, is that Concept. That it has to be twenty songs long rather than it being that long because Grohl had written that many belters. That it needs to have ten really heavy fucking songs of wall-to-wall riffs AND ten songs that are as gentle as a kitten’s fart. And to keep them as far apart from each other as possible too. As such while at least half of the ‘heavy’ songs are top drawer, the rest just sort of repeat the notions and many of the songs on the ‘soft’ disc wouldn’t be released were it not a case of needing enough of them to fill a double album and the sheer distance between the two make it hard to link the sides of the same album to each other.

But.. as with all misguided double album’s there’s one gleaming, top notch, single-disc album in here waiting to be heard once shorn of its excess. The opening two on the ‘rock’ disc – ‘In Your Honor‘ and ‘No Way Back’ are as strong and relentless as a viagra’d up trouser snake and break only to let in the album’s lead single (and Foo classic) ‘Best of You’* and ‘DOA’ is equally as catchy while ‘Resolve’ is a 70’s Rock tinged earworm.

Despite the sensation that the band aren’t quite settled in feeling out their gentler side, the ‘Soft’ half has some of the album’s more interesting moments. Opener ‘Still’ is bathed in backround ambience and sneaky piano, ‘Over and Out’ has some great tom-tom work from Taylor Hawkins (though his lead-vocal début ‘Cold Day In The Sun’ veers far too close to AOR Slush), ‘Miracle’ – with piano from John Paul Jones – is a definite keeper as is ‘Friend of a Friend‘, a hold-over written by Grohl while in Nirvana and undoubtedly about his bandmantes and ‘Razor’ features some great guitar interplay between Grohl and his BFF Josh Homme to bring it to a close.

While some of the first disc gets tiresome and some of the “really beautiful” second disc is more “really coffee shop background” – take half of one and half of the other and you’ve got a great album here. Keep them restrained by the Concept and they’re dragged down.

Highlights: ‘In Your Honor’, ‘No Way Back’, ‘Best of You’, ‘DOA’, ‘Resolve’. ‘Still’, ‘Miracle’, ‘Friend of a Friend’, ‘Over and Out’, ‘Razor’.

*Why is Dave Grohl so popular on Amazon? He’s always giving the best the best the best the best reviews.

First Impressions: Concrete and Gold – Foo Fighters

This bloke from the Foo Fighters looks a bit like the drummer from that band Nirvana, doesn’t he?

Despite the PR, expecting the Foo Fighters to break new ground in 2017, some two decades plus into a career that has seen the band grow from a one-man project to stadium-filling rock heavyweights, would be optimistic to say the least. Since In Your Honour Dave Grohl, however, seems determined to try so we fans have been offered our Foo in separate acoustic and electric discs, a ‘serious musicians’ flavour, with ‘raw analogue’ toppings* and with added documentary options on the side. It’s still been Foo, though, no matter how much Mr Grohl has tried to spice it up. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind, but, after There Is Nothing Left To Lose, there’s nothing that really sets aside, say, ‘The Pretender’, ‘All My Life’ or even ‘Rope’ as having been on different albums no matter the supposed narrative rules that rock’s smiliest ambassador has sought to apply to them.

Take Sonic Highways as an example – despite the concept and execution, there was nothing, really, to show in terms of sound or execution that differentiated its nine songs from any of the bands other mediocre cuts**. It’s as though there’s no concept or production technique that could change the established loud-quiet-loud-louder and colossal thump of the Foo Fighters at this stage of their career.

I found the concept behind Sonic Highways increasingly odd given how much time and effort the band had put into building their own studio (Studio 606 West) and HQ less than a decade before and seemingly abandoned after two albums – Wasting Light was recorded in Grohl’s garage. In fact, when Grohl declared that he already knew how the next Foo Fighters album would be recorded and that it was something so exciting that no band had ever done before…. I groaned a little inside. Why couldn’t they just get in their studio – or any studio – and apply themselves to the songs not to achieving some wacky concept?

Thanks to PJ Harvey, it seems, I’ve got my wish. Turns out that Dave Grohl’s ‘big idea’ for Foo Fighters Album 9 was to set up a studio on stage at the Hollywood Bowl and record it live in front of a 20,000 strong crowd. Shame, then, that discovering that PJ Harvey’s The Hope Six Demolition Project had been recorded in the same manner (albeit a far more English approach via an art installation in Somerset House) took the shine off the idea for him.

Instead Dave did what he describes as the most unexpected thing for his band to do and took the Foo Fighters into a big studio – EastWest Studios – and hired a producer to oversee their next album, gimmick-free. Well, I say that… this wouldn’t be a Foo Fighters album in the 21st Century if there wasn’t some form of ‘gimmick’ involved, would it? This time it’s the involvement of producer Greg Kurstin. Picked by Grohl for his work with his own band The Bird and the Bee, Kurstin is perhaps better known for his work with acts like Kelly Clarkson, Sia, Lily Allen, Ellie Goulding, Pink and that moaning banshee’s god-awful radio-melter ‘Hello’. Given the combination of a pop and rock heavyweight’s, the ‘gimmick’ of Concrete and Gold is that it’s being pitched as sounding like “Motörhead’s version of Sgt. Pepper.”

So…. does it? Of course it fucking doesn’t. Don’t be daft. But….. it takes a very very good stab at doing so and feels pretty much unlike anything else Dave and his merry men have done before. Yes, the sound is unmistakeably Foo but this time around the band are stretching out in ways they haven’t before and deliver plenty of unexpected and, frankly, great twists to deliver an album that offers  psychedelic, prog-metal, abstract, heavy and, yes, Beatles-esque shades against a Foo Fighters sound that is, for the first time in a long time, suitably balanced and mixed by a producer.

Kicking off with a short throwaway ripped apart by a heavy rocker will inevitably draw comparisons to The Colour and the Shape but ‘T-Shirt’, for all it’s brevity, is a superior song to ‘Doll’ and pushes Concrete and Gold‘s confidence and palette front and centre and – even after maybe a hundred listens at my son’s request – ‘Run’ is an out and out fucking BEAST that ranks as one of the Foos’ best:

‘Make It Right’ offers more than the straight-ahead rocker it initially suggests itself to be, there’s a funk of a groove behind it, unexpected chord changes and a surprising slab of background harmonies that when combined bring, to my mind that is, Aerosmith’s Draw The Line*** album. Initially I’d been slightly less impressed by ‘The Sky Is A Neighbourhood’ when catching the videos of its live reveals but the album version, along with many of the tracks here, shows that – despite their straight ahead live mode – on Concrete and Gold the Foos have actually become a studio band with plenty of unusual-for-Foo song structures and production choices that blend so well. Take the strings that slip so unobtrusively into ‘The Sky…’ as to change a song type they’ve churned out many a time before into something that genuinely lifts skywards.

‘La Dee Da’ falls into the same category for me – I wasn’t impressed by it’s live rendering but, away from the bludgeoning and sonic flattening of radio too, on Concrete and Gold I ‘get it’. If it’s Fab Four you’re after, there’s one of em on ‘Sunday Rain’ – as Taylor Hawkins is too busy singing this spacey (seriously, check out his ‘Range Rover Bitch‘) rocker, Sir Paul McCartney plonked down the drums. Sequentially it’s a good fit because, to my ears, the preceding ‘Happy Ever After’ makes me think of ‘Blackbird’ or one of Macca’s early solo melodies.

‘Dirty Water’ is an early favourite for me; it brings forth sounds of both early Foo Fighters, a playful lightness and airy feel (and, again, some real Beatles tinges) but is bolstered by something sharper and more focused that comes from both a more practised song craft and production that, despite its length, it remains on track and charm. In that respect it serves as a strong summary of the album as a whole.

Concrete and Gold doesn’t quite achieve the premise of its PR but show me an album that does. It does, however, stand apart in the Foo Fighters cannon and is the sound of the band playing to those highs and strengths its achieved during its ascent to stadium rock act while also stretching out enough sonically to both refresh its sound and offer a welcome hand to those fans like me that had begun to wonder if Dave Grohl had anything interesting left up his sleeves. Turns out he does.

I hadn’t pre-ordered this one but I’m already on my third listen of Concrete and Gold and haven’t skipped a track left. For all his efforts to make a ‘concept’ of an album, Dave Grohl has, when he wasn’t even trying to, created a fucking belter of a Foo Fighters album that works not just track-by-track but as an album in itself. Well worth a listen or three.

 

*I’ll put this out there: Wasting Light is the best Foo Fighters album to date.

**Concept over substance unfortunately applies to the album and I wouldn’t slip any of its tracks onto a ‘Best of’ comp.

***Underrated.

….it was a very good year

… to quote Mr Sinatra.

So, after a period of hint dropping, it was confirmed that, in a rare move, Radiohead would be revisiting their past and would mark the 20th anniversary of the game-changing OK Computer.

My copy of OKNotOK 1997 2017 as it’s called (3 LPs featuring three unreleased tracks and eight B-sides, all newly remastered) has been secured in its indies-only blue variant with my new-favourite shop and I’m sure that I’ll be talking more about OK Computer when I’ve dropped needle upon it.

However, the fact that it’s now 20 years since 1997 has seen a few of those nostalgic lists appear on various sites (Spin published a pretty solid 79 Best Alternative Rock Songs of 1997 list) and it got me to thinking that, from an alt-rock point of view at least, 1997 was a very strong year for releases. Let’s take a butchers…

Yes, kicking off with the fact that if ’97 saw Britpop killed by Oasis’ abhorrently indulgent and tuneless Be Here Now, then Radiohead’s OK Computer nailed down the coffin. I remember catching the video for ‘Paranoid Android’ on MTV2 and being blown away.

Foo Fighters would release their second (first as a band) album The Colour And The Shape, an album which is still held up as their best by so many* and contains some of their biggest tunes like ‘My Hero’, ‘Monkey Wrench’, ‘Walking After You,’ and, of course that barely-known song ‘Everlong’.

The ‘Everlong’ video was directed by Michel Gondry who also directed the video for Björk’s ‘Joga‘, which features on her album Homogenic which also came out in 1997. Built To Spill used their major label debut to mark a massive stylistic shift and dropped the sublime Perfect From Now On, Portishead released their self-titled album and, while Hand It Over isn’t the best Dinosaur Jr album (it would be the last issued under that name for some time), it features some belters in ‘Nothing’s Goin’ On‘ and ‘I’m Insane’ guaranteeing it gets pretty regular plays from me.

A chap called Elliott Smith released his third album, the beautiful and much-loved Either/Or containing some of the best songs he’d ever produce in his all too-short life.

The post-rock cannon got two very important débuts in 1997. Godspeed You! Black Emperor released their F♯ A♯ ∞ and would go on to become, to me at least, the most important band in the genre. Meanwhile, five blokes from Glasgow in a band called Mogwai released Mogwai Young Team on their way to also becoming a hugely important band in the genre.

Ben Fold Five’s Whatever & Ever, Amen, home to ‘Brick’, ‘Song For The Dumped’ and ‘Battle of Who Could Care Less’ was also released in ’97 and Pavement released Brighten The Corners.

Back into the less ‘alt’ side of things, that fella born Robert Zimmerman made a quick recovery from a life-threatening heart infection despite thinking he’d “be seeing Elvis soon” and dropped, seven years after his previous studio album, the hugely impressive return to form that was Time Out of Mind.

1997 was also the year that I started to get into Aerosmith  released a stonker of an album, even if it would turn out to be their last strong effort to date, in Nine Lives. Look at the evidence: Get A Grip in 1993 was a monster in sales terms but not that much critically speaking and not one I listen to too often. Nine Lives, however, is a powerhouse record of raw sounding rock with some real earthy tones and – for the genre – some pretty eclectic sound and instrumentation. There’s still not one song I’d skip, though I wouldn’t necessarily hold up ‘Hole In My Soul’ as exemplary the rest of the album – ‘Taste of India’, ‘Full Circle’, ‘Ain’t That A Bitch’, the Joe Perry showcase ‘Falling Off’, ‘Somethings Gotta Give…’ ‘Fallen Angels’ – is a classic. Even before they changed the artwork and it shifted like hotcakes thanks to the addition of that asteroid movie song.

There’s also… Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ The Boatman’s Call and, I’m sure, plenty I’m omitting that a look through over such lists will make me go “oh, of course…” but with a lot of strong albums released and the fact that I was earning a regular pay cheque  (weekend work at a supermarket) at this point to fund my growing habit, there’s an awful lot of music in my collection from 1997 that still gets a lot of play.

*I could do a Foo Fighters Least to Most…. The Colour and the Shape battles it out with Wasting Light in my mind for their best to date. Both represent their most consistent and one will have the edge over the other depending on the day.

In another perfect life….

Holy crap balls.

As the caption says “SURPRISE! Run. Our new song. Video directed by Dave Grohl. Turn it up”

Foo Fighters dropped a new song (their first new music since 2015) this lunch time – whether it’s from an upcoming album hasn’t been confirmed but after another new song was played live recently and given that the band have a very heavy touring itinerary lined up with a few festival dates in the mix it would be a very safe bet.

I’m a few repeated listens down the line already and I’m really enjoying this one. Better than anything on Sonic Highways. It’s ambitious, catchy as the flu and bloody good. The video is a blast too.

 

Currently Spinning

It’s not just books. I’m consuming a lot of music lately. Specifically I’m playing the arse out of the new albums from Built to Spill and Last Days of April (of which more to come).

 

I’m stuck on this song:

 

Still blasting the My Morning Jacket album from the car:

 

And, because my son still rocks out to this album:

Back in 2014

I’m always late with these things. It’s probably for two reasons – well three…. I see too many people giving their “Top Albums of the Year” lists when, really, who cares?…. I think the timing of too many of those lists means great albums released as the year draws to a close don’t get that little bit more exposure by inclusion and albums released in the early stages tend to be forgotten come December. Thirdly… well, life keeps me busy.

However…

I listened to a lot in 2014 and plenty of new music within that lot. Pretty sure it was a good growth year for my vinyl collection too as I tried, for the most part, to stick with vinyl when it came to buying new music.

There were a couple of instances where I’m glad I didn’t shell out for the black circle though…

Two big names released new albums this year and, despite initial expectations, I was left a little disappointed by both. I’ve mumbled enough on the let down of Springsteen’s High Hopes here. It still holds, I’ve not gone back and listened to it and discovered any hidden layers since. That it made Number 2 on Rolling Stones’ albums of the year list baffles me. Then again they gave U2 the Number 1 slot and I don’t think I’ve heard anything that bad that wasn’t coming from an adjoining cubicle in a public toilet.

The second disappointment was more of a shocker, though. It was a shock to hear that, after twenty years, Pink Floyd would be dropping an album. It was a bit of a surprise that it was to be ambient / song-free and I was even more surprised that my excitement didn’t continue after I’d heard it. Granted, I first heard The Endless River through headphones on Spotify (having been put off by the hefty price tag associated with vinyl pre-orders) and when I picked up the CD it did reveal more. It’s not a bad album but it’s not a great album, which their legacy deserves. It’s an album divided into four distinct parts and I think it’s fair to say I like 2/4 of it, love 1/4 and outright loath the other 1/4 – the first half is a decent lead in, the third quarter is abysmal and the final stretch from Talkin’ Hawkin’ is spot on.  While Louder Than Words is a nice nod to and send off for Rick Wright, I still think High Hopes was the perfect way to say farewell to Floyd.

That’s the negative out of the way.

photo 1There was a lot of new music I loved in 2014. Mogwai got things going with the early release (and then forgotten about come those Best of lists) of Rave Tapes. A lot of spins on the record player and a lot of plays in the car – while not as adventurous or different in sound as the press would suggest, it marked a good step forward in their sound and did find them incorporating additional elements into the mix. Though am I alone as a Mogwai fan in not really enjoying it when they sing?

Speaking of which… Thee Silver Mt Zion’s Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything was another stand out. I tend to view Silver Mt releases with mixed emotions; as much as I enjoy them I’d still rather Godspeed was the main going concern. Still, Fuck Off Get Free… is a solid addition to a very strong canon and sees Menuck really developing as a lyricist.

Sharon Van Etten’s Are We There found its way into my collection in October after reading positive review after positive review. It justifies those reviews. Loved it. Lot of pain and emotional fall out in the lyrics but such delivery and luscious song writing.

I was given Ryan Adams‘ self-titled new album this year too. I wasn’t hugely taken with his ‘comeback’ album Ashes & Fire (don’t get me wrong; it’s good, but…) but this one is a different kettle of fish altogether. Sounding much more vibrant, confident and sure of himself than perhaps ever, really. More direct and accessible than previous albums, hugely enjoyable and listen-able from start to finish.

I spoke of the Foo Fighters’ Sonic Highways – it’s still getting a lot of rotation (again, probably fuelled by the fact that my son enjoys it so much too) and more appreciation with each listen. Still can’t get over the cumbersome nature of Congregation as a lyric.

Also warranting a few rotations was the latest J Mascis solo trundle – Tied to a Star. While not as much as a revelation as his first ‘alone with an acoustic’ album Several Shades of Why, Tied to a Star is very enjoyable, adding a bit more of a backing band to flesh out the sound along with the odd burning guitar solo though never quite realising the highs of either the former album or his Dinosaur Jr work, of which I hope there’s more to come this year.

A couple of EPs – both the third in a series – bookended the year for me: Pixies EP3 (which also allows me to count Indie Cindy as one of this year’s most played) and EP3 from SQÜRL. Though vastly different in sound of course, both are cracking ends to a trilogy and contain some of each bands best work. Though the SQÜRL EP gets the win if only for the presentation and picture disc.

At the tail end of 2013 I started getting in the War on Drugs. Their new album Lost In The Dream made its way to the top of a lot of end of year / critics choice lists and it thoroughly deserved to. I loved it. It threw me at first – I thought there was something wrong with my record player thanks to the sound. It’s a beauty. It does recall a lot of those 80’s rock landmarks like Springsteen, Petty and the whole Den Henley  Boys of Summer vibe (all of which get a tick from me) but they’re hinted at, alluded to rather than worn brazenly on a denim-clad sleeve, it’s very much a contemporary sound. One which is so easy to get lost in as you travel through the album – despite being great to spin on a Sunday afternoon, it’s very much an album for listening to on the move. Hazy, dream-like sounds danced all over by some sublime guitar lines.

photo 3In terms of Re-Issues… I only really got into two. Some Pixies magic (again) with the end-of-year release (so will ludicrously miss being included on all those lists when it deserves to sit atop them) of Doolittle 25 meant a triple album of greatness, with the original album remastered, demos, b-sides and Peel sessions all making a compelling release. The second was Led Zeppelin’s IV reissue – hugely superior sound quality and a second slab of vinyl containing alternate takes and mixes adding to an already faultless album.

Most Played?

Bu6ErPKIEAAJp0PThe record that probably got the most spins this year? It’s a very tasty album indeed. It’s the Mondo Tees reissue of the Jurassic Park soundtrack. I love this for so many reasons. I was (very) lucky enough to be given this for my first Fathers Day by my wife after I’d hum this to get our son to sleep. I was also very (very) lucky enough to get one of the very rare Dilophosaurus version. Also, John Williams created another beautiful soundtrack for JP back in 1993 all summed up beautifully in Welcome to Jurassic Park:

I’m still playing catch-up with some of 2014’s releases – I’ve only just picked up Karen O’s Crush Songs and have yet to drop needle on it’s lovely blue vinyl, nor did I get around to hearing new albums from Jenny Lewis, Ben Frost, Spoon or even the terrifying good (based on the little I have heard) Swans albums dropped in 2014. What can I say; I’m a busy guy and who really cares what I think of them?

 

Something From Nothing

How did this happen? When?

A few weeks back I caught a list from Spin magazine: all 147 Foo Fighters songs, ranked.

147? Granted this includes b-sides, covers etc. But it’s still 147 songs that have been released by Mr Grohl and his band of merry men.

I agree with the list for the most part. It’s unlikely they’ll ever better Everlong. But what surprised me and begs the opening questions is – how and when?

Granted; next year will mark the 20th anniversary of the first Foo Fighters album (yes, yes; that was all Dave) but somehow they’ve gone from being ‘that guy from Nirvana’s new thing’ to a bonafide, long-lasting band with a very very strong back catalogue chock full of songs that are precisely written and virtually all guaranteed a place on whatever alternative / rock radio stations still exist (I think it’s usually a daily occurrence to hear a Foo’s song on Xfm).

They’re like the Matt Damon of rock in this way – quietly and calmly going from ‘that Good Will Hunting guy’ to an actor with an extremely credible filmography and calmly churning out strong, consistent and enjoyabe (though not ‘set the world alight’) performances.

So, just as I’m quite happy about the announcement of a new Damon-starring Bourne film, I was quite happy to hear about the new Foo Fighters album when it starting being discussed…. how “nobody has ever done anything like this” etc etc.

foo17tvf-3-webGrohl has talked about going the Radiohead / experimental route (I do wish he would) but it was something a bit more straightforward – the Foos put together a bunch of solid, guitar crunching riffs and went on a tour of those 8 (budget / logistics restricted) cities in the US that have a documentary-worthy / personally relevant music scene / history for a week at a time, talk to the leading lights of that scene, write the lyrics based on the experience, have a few guests from each week guest on that track, record it in a famous local studio and have HBO film it, put the whole thing out as a very engrossing docu-press kit type thing.

Well, I say “straightforward”… that is quite a big task. The whole recording in multiple settings has been done before, usually when a bands on a long tour and keen to get another album out (REM’s New Adventures in Hi-Fi possibly the best) but the rest… probably not. And, to be honest, because there’s probably not all that much point to it, really.

I’m sure, from the little I’ve been able to see, until a Blu-ray version drops (probably / hopefully in time for Christmas), and read of, the Sonic Highways series is a great 8-part gem. How could it not be; Dave Grohl rocking up in Washington DC, Seattle, Austin etc and talking to local musicians / icons about music then strapping instruments on at the end?

However, how much this lends to the album itself remains negligible. Each of the eight tracks on Sonic Highways has a guest. Each of those guests could just as easily have not swung by. It’s virtually impossible, for instance, to pluck out Rick Nielsen’s baritone guitar from the mix on “Something From Nothing” or what’s specifically ‘Joe Walsh’ of that Eagles’ contribution to “Outside”. Though Gary Clark Jr does tear the arse off of the otherwise plodding, Skynrd-esque “What Did I Do?/God As My Witness”.

The other element that stops me listening to “In The Clear” and perhaps saying “oh you can totally hear the New Orleans scene in that” is that a) as a now three-guitar strong band, it would take a lot to really have an obvious impact and b) I’m English and have no bloody idea what any influence of the New Orleans scene might sound like.photo (1)

The kinda-pointless approach does mean, however, that while it doesn’t add to the album in an overly noticeable way, it also means you don’t need to know about the depth of, say, Washington’s music scene, to enjoy the album as it remains a thoroughly enjoyable slab of Foo Fighters guitar blast.

Opener “Something From Nothing” is my son, Elliott’s, favourite sound at the moment. He’s 11 months old. When this song comes on it gets his full attention and when the drums kick in so does his rocking out dance. This makes me a little bias of course. It’s a solid album opener, a little different for the band in it’s slow-to-build style and has the strange addition of a 70’s porn-style breakdown. It’s lyrics “fuck it all I came from nothing” are a fitting nod to the nature of the Foos, perhaps, and Chris Shifflett’s guitar solo is a little too late and short but this is a solid track that will get lodged in your head.

It’s followed by “Feast and the Famine” – a strangely heavy / punk-rock song to staple Martin Luther King Jr assination references too but it’s got the stop/start, fast/faster Foos dynamics that they’ve got down tight all over it. At 3:49 it’s the shortest thing on Sonic Highways.

Further on the album “Congregation” is a belter of a track (a sister track to Wheels perhaps) but, lyrically, no matter how many times I hear it I can’t really get down to the use of the word as being anywhere near as anthemic as they’re going for – it’s far too lumpy as a word.

“What Did I Do?/God As My Witness” is, sadly, a turd. Well, almost. It tries to do too many things and leans far too close to Lynyrd Skynrd BUT it is – as mentioned – saved by the guest spot. Gary Clark Jr tears through his lead part on this and pulls the song through the muck it dropped itself in. I also love the story of his recording:

…he walked into the studio and didn’t even bring a guitar. He just took one from Pat Smear – Pat hadn’t even played it yet and it still had a tag on it – and does three takes and that’s it. Pat said, “Just fuckin’ keep it.”

Elsewhere; “Outside” – obviousness of guest or not – is a dark, brooding beast that I enjoy everytime. Ben Gibbard’s presence on “Subterranean” is a nice addition but the song is strong in its own right and “I Am A River” is another slow burning build up.

The only real disappointment from me with Sonic Highways is that – again, as a UK resident – I didn’t get to specify the cover on my LP. I got… and I had to actually look it up as I haven’t a clue of this city’s landmark… Austin. Though, given this is the city of the Gary Clark Jr solo I suppose I couldn’t mind despite – obviously – hoping for the Seattle cover.

So, I’m off to find what I can hear of Gary Clark Jr….

Quick list: Top Five Second Albums

Following the Top Five Debut text, I recently texted  two of my most music loving, list-compiling friends another simple message: “All time top five second albums?”

Only the one cross-over across the lists (Nevermind popping up on two of the three). Here, however, are mine (in no particular order, that’d be too hard):

Pixies – Doolittle

Bob Dylan – The Freewheelin’

In all likelihood still my favourite Dylan album.

Nirvana – Nevermind

Yes, I know; this is such a commercial choice… blah blah. Commercial, sell-out, whatever – the importance of this cannot be denied.

My Bloody Valentine – Loveless

Foo Fighters – The Colour and The Shape

I still don’t think they’ve bettered this. Yes this makes my list a bit Grohl-heavy but what can you do?

 

The second album is important. A debut album tends to be more of a compilation of songs that the artist has been living / gigging / tinkering with for years prior to a deal. A second finds them more established, a bit more at home with the idea of recording and who they are and building on those foundations laid by the debut. I think….