Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Neil Young song of the day (5)

It was as if, after spending the entire ten years since "Rust Never Sleeps" wandering along diverse musical paths by turn moribund and bizarre, embracing everything from electronic music to rockabilly and all (disap)points in between, as if by a miracle all of Neil Young's stars fell into perfect alignment, because in 1989 he delivered "Freedom", a record that surprised everybody by being a Very Good Neil Young Album.

Of course, it was not free from strangeness -- the second song, "Crime In The City (Sixty To Zero, Pt 1)", strays rather too close to that necessary electrified boundary fence between (1) all music that doesn't sound like Dire Straits, and (2) Dire Straits; and when Neil Young decides it's time to put his own personal stamp on "On Broadway" it's hard to know whether to laugh or cry, although in the end what one gains is a clear mental image to go with the word "ham-fisted" -- but he seems to have regained both his sense of wistful lyricism and his ability to pull unfeasible noises out of an electric guitar.

You already know the quietly anthemic "Rockin' In The Free World" (it appears twice, not unnecessarily). You should now acquaint yourself with "Eldorado", yet another in Neil's series of Aztec / Inca fantasias/allegories, and a good one (and watch for one of those -- in this case fleeting -- unfeasible guitar noises, which comes from out of nowhere just before the end of the song).

There goes another veteran of the punk wars

RIP Poly Styrene.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Neil Young song of the day (4)

On the other hand, some Neil Young songs are just good wholesome fun. This is as close to punk rock as Neil ever got, I think: even "Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)", which famously name-checks Johnny Rotten, is more black sludge than punk (but in a good way). And so what if it was "only" 15 years after the event; and anyway it's not as if he wasn't listening).

"Piece Of Crap".

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Neil Young song of the day (3)

Neil's 2005 album, "Prairie Wind", harks back to acoustic country-folk outings like "Comes A Time". But you would probably be happier going back to "Comes A Time" itself, given that this time around the acoustic-guitar-driven ballads, though of a uniformly high quality, are interspersed with, uh, other types of songs. One comes across as some kind of a paranoid-conspiracy song. One is, let's not mince words, a hymn. In the traditional sense. One is an extended riff about Elvis, complete with Elvis-type voiceovers. (Surely one of the main problems with being "Neil Young" is that nobody is there to put their hand on your shoulder and say "Bad idea, Neil.")

Which leaves the title track, seven and a half minutes of fine acoustic-guitar playing, great brass lines, and a "chorus" (if that's what it is) sung in gospel style by a wall of female singers. Note the space between the verse lines, long even at the start of the song but even longer in the second half. Like, I'm going to take my own sweet time doing this. The theme, like that of much of the album, is one of looking back. (This, one assumes, has to do with a life-threatening medical condition Young suffered during the making of the record.) It appears that the song has not been YouTubed, so you can download it here (right click, save as, etc) for the time being. It is well worth listening to, but you really have to be in a position where there are no pressing demands on your time and you can afford to just allow it to wash over you. Like the best Neil Young songs, it will distort your sense of the passage of time.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Neil Young song of the day (2)

It would be wrong to call "Trans" Neil Young's most divisive album, because pretty much everybody agreed that it was awful. Including his record company. I hadn't listened to it until last week. I would like to be the one to tell you that it has improved with age, that it is not as bad as people have made out. But I really can't. What was he thinking? We can only guess. Young seems quick to wrong-foot any audience he has picked up. Maybe it was just one of those. Maybe it was a concept album that didn't work. ("La Noise", too, was musically something of a concept album. Maybe some people don't like it either.)

As you already know, it features prominent use of Vocoder, an instrument that came back into vogue a couple of years back. (Auto-tune will be the next decade's Vocoder. Or the decade after that.) But it isn't really as electronic as it was held out to be. You can hear elements of Kraftwerk, sure, and obviously Giorgio Moroder, and even something that sounds not unlike Jean Michel Jarre's "Oxygene". But there is also a touch of (ashamed to admit to recognising this one) Supertramp, and even some early Talking Heads. (If you listen closely there are also bits that sound like Neil Young.) There is also a song that, if it had been recorded a little bit differently, and been released at another time, on another album, would surely be regarded as one of Young's great songs: "Like An Inca".

But we are here to pay respect to "Transformer Man", the track on which the whole electronic vibe meshes with the kind of emotional soul-wrenching that Young does better than almost anybody else. He pulls more emotion out of (mostly) pure electronic sounds than anybody since, well, Kraftwerk I suppose. Or, more recently, Junior Boys (who -- coincidence alert (or is it?) -- are also Canadian). So: "Transformer Man". Feast, as you listen, upon the Rockies-in-the-fifties-meets-Tron cover art. Which perhaps serves also as the best clue to where the record was coming from, and where it was meant to go.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Neil Young song of the day

Astute readers will remember that a couple of years ago I almost got lost in a spiral vortex of Neil Young obsession, specifically 1970s Neil. Conventional wisdom (which is sometimes correct, just as cliches had some meaning before they became cliches) has it that "Live Rust" was the end of an era, and that from that point on Young lost his way, if not entirely then for the most part. (One listen to 2010's "La Noise" should be enough to disprove that notion.)

Spurred on by the recent appearance in Mojo of a list of the 50 best Neil Young songs, as chosen by musicians and industry types, and which included a surprising number of post-1979 tracks, I thought it might be a bit of masochistic fun to have a listen to the many and varied Neil Young albums released since then, to see if there are gems in the rough (and perhaps to discover if it is not actually the rough).

So, over the next little while, time and enthusiasm permitting, I hope to make you the benificiaries of my hard work by throwing in your direction the things that happen to catch my ear. I have a couple filed away already, and there are still a truckload of albums to listen to.

Today, we have "Natural Beauty", from "Harvest Moon", which is one of Young's front-porch pastoral records, hailed as a "return to form" (beware those words) but with its share of songs that don't quite cut it. This one stands out for me, by reminding me of Gillian Welch's "I Dream A Highway", one of the Greatest Songs Of All Time. The similarity is one of tone, and in the way that it takes you on a long, slow journey, where you are surprised to find, after it has ended, that 10 minutes have passed.

Where has the embed code gone from YouTube clips? Curse you, Internet.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Song of the day

"Blitzkrieg Bop", by The Ramones.

Punk rock barrage? Not a bit of it. This is pure pop.

Happy Easter. May all your bunnies be made of Haigh's chocolate.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Department of Nobody Tells Me Anything

What? Charles Shaar Murray has discovered the internet and I didn't know about it?

(I wonder how long he will keep it up.)

Along with Paul Morley and Ian Penman, CSM's writings for the NME in the early eighties turned me into the hairy brute I am today.

I'm optimistically adding a link over there on the right.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Song of the day (3)

"All I Want", by LCD Soundsystem.

Last weekend I was lucky enough to catch, by chance, the last three songs of the last LCD Soundsystem concert, which was streamed, in a somewhat professional manner suggesting DVD release in the near future, on Pitchfork. This song, fittingly, was one of those last three songs.

LCD had a fascinating career arc, going from total non-"band" in the early '00s to being, by the end, one of the few bands of the endlessly fragmented internet era to genuinely matter. Murphy is either an incredibly astute businessman or a very lucky guy. (If nothing else, he knows, in a way that few people know, how to build a song. Maybe that knowledge was all it took.) There are very few people, in music as in so-called "elite" sports, who can recognise that they are as good as they are ever going to get, and who have the guts to act on that recognition by calling it quits. So he gets points for that, too.

I loved their run of early singles. I loved the second and third albums. There are many songs of theirs that make me cry. This is one of them. I have no idea why: it's a collection of (astutely and cleverly) borrowed ideas, coupled with lyrics in the nature of "All I want is your pity / All I want is your bitter tears" (but then, I have never responded on an emotional level to lyrics in songs). But something about it gets me every time.

There are also, of course, LCD Soundsystem songs that make me smile, often for their sheer audacity. "He can't get away with that. He got away with that." Now he's going to get away with disbanding the greatest group of its era, before any of the rest of us were ready. And he will probably get away with whatever he does next, too. Bastard.

Song of the day (2)

"Saga Of The Ageing Orphan", by Thin Lizzy. (NOT "Saga Of Ageing Orphans", as the YouTube says. Also, this is a different version from what appears on the album, but I think I quite like it.)

This one is dedicated, well, I could just as easily dedicate it to myself, I suppose, but this time it is dedicated to my cousin Gay, whose mother, my Auntie Margaret, died last week. I wrote at some length a while ago about Uncle Ray, and I don't really have anything more to add to that, except to say that this really is the end of an era, as there is now nobody left of that generation on my mother's side of the family. I guess it falls upon us cousins, now, to be the ones that the next generation looks up to. (Not that I have any answers to anything. Maybe the others do.)

(We will, though, choose to ignore the word "ageing" in the song's title. Does Not Mean Us.)

Song of the day (1)

"Deeper Understanding", by Kate Bush.

It's not every day that you get to say "Here's a new Kate Bush song." And I suppose you can't quite say it here, as what this really is is New Kate Bush For Old. Her forthcoming album is a reworking of old material, but what is particularly exciting for this listener is that the two albums that she is revisiting, "The Sensual World" and "The Red Shoes", both appeared at a time when I was not a Kate Watcher. In case you were wondering, I have been a Kate Watcher three times: first, as a not-quite-teenager, completely mesmerised by "Wuthering Heights" and "The Man With The Child In His Eyes"; then during the tail end of the post-punk era, when she gave us her two most necessary albums, "The Dreaming" and, a little later, "Hounds Of Love"; and, prompted (as so often) by Marcello Carlin (best of luck with the book, fella), with her reappearance, after so many years, with "Aerial".

So, for all intents and purposes, these are (for me) new Kate Bush songs, and if this one is any indication I don't feel I am missing anything by not having the comparison points of the old versions. It's just plain good.

(Listen, particularly, around the four-minute mark, with Mick Karn's timeless bass playing, the swirling electric piano, is that an auto-tuned harmonica?, and Kate's voice getting a bit feral on us. She is, I think this record makes clear, a little bit mad, and a little bit genius. (And the latter is not a word we toss around lightly in these parts.))

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Laughing Clowns times two

Found a link to these high-quality live Clowns tunes on the Prince Melon website. This is living.

"Everything That Flies":

"Come One, Come All":

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

YouTube of the day

"Safety Net", by The Shop Assistants.

This song is as strong a blast of fresh air today as it was 25 years ago.

I actually saw someone wearing one of those Boy George caps the other day. I guess everything comes back.