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Cat Stevens, now called Yusuf Islam after converting to Islam sometime in the late 70s. He was a British singer-songwriter in a time when Britain didn't really have a decent singer-songwriter (this album predates Elton John's good stuff by about eighteen months, for example). There are a couple of songs on this album that you might recognise from recent cover versions. Cat went onto record another four albums and his output has since been limited to "best ofs" and "collections" that usually surface every couple of years. At Christmas. Just do yourself a favour: don't get on a plane with him.
WHAT DOES HE SOUND LIKE?
Acoustic, thoughtful, introspective, intelligent, sparse, philosphical. He could be described as a British Bob Dylan at a stretch and his acoustic guitar has served him well, especially on this album.
*1. Where Do The Children Play?*
This track sets out the stall for the whole album. It starts quietly with an acoustic guitar before a twee, catchy keyboard melody comes in. Cat's vocals bounce between the whispered and shaky to deep and menacing, the latter especially evident when he manages to squeeze about 17 syllables out of the word "play". A lovely song overall that is heightenend by the arrival of some drums near the end.
*2. Hard Headed Woman*
More shaky verses and gut-wrenching choruses in this tale of triumph in the bra-burning liberation of the early 70's. It's the archetypal quite-loud-quiet aesthetic on the vocal front and when the drums kick in half way through you know you've got another immaculately performed track on your hands.
*3. Wild World*
So the Pet Shop Boys wrote and recorded a song called It's A Sin and Cat came out in the late 80's moaning that it melodically and rhythmically ripped off this track. Then, that little reggae shit stirrer recorded a version of this track and took it into the top 10. Who pocketed the royalties? Cat! What a great way to get people to record your material and thus earn money for nothing. This version's great, of course, but it sounds nothing like It's A Sin in my opinion.
*4. Sad Lisa*
This is a beautiful ballad with just Cat's voice and a piano. It's both endearing and powerful and perfectly embodies the less is more musical ethic that I believe in. Extra vocals, strings or a beat would have ruined it. Stirring.
*5. Miles From Nowhere*
More acousticness and gutsy warbling. This time with a bit of real feeling including drums and piano and echoey effects all over the place. It's best described as David Bowie meets Nina Simone with the production of Slade, but that's not as bad as it sounds. A great track breathing much need life into the album at the halfway mark.
*6. But I Might Die Tonight*
A sombre piano and thoughtful lyrics start this track. The drums come rolling in and the tempo is very typical of the 70s singer-songwriter style. Ghostly, echoed backing vocals soar away in the back and before you know it, at under two minutes long, the song's over!
*7. Longer Boats*
If the last two tracks had a bit of tempo-led life in them, this track slows things right down again. It's very folky with it's repeated, chanted chorus and really isn't cup of tea. Cat's voice goes quite low at one point and I'm so scared I press the skip button. A bit boring.
*8. Into White*
The acoustic intro sounds very similar to Stairway To Heaven. There are whispered vocals on this song and the slightest of beats can be heard in the background with a sole, weeping violin for company. Beautifully executed and another less is more triumph!
*9. On The Road To Find Out*
It's back to the shaky vocals for this track as Cat's voice stops and starts but ultimately builds up into a seventies MOR prototype. The verses are quiet and introspective and the chorus is generally speedier and more emotion-charged. You can tell by the intensity of the choruses and the controlled strummed aggression that this was a particularly issue-riddled time for Cat, something that comes out nicely in his music.
*10. Father And Son*
Like most people under 32 and a half, I only heard this song via Boyzone about ten years ago! Whereas the Irish nancys' version featured glittering production and a spangly video, this original is a sparse, pinned-back affair with plenty of emotion and that same lump in the throat last 30 seconds where everything is thrown at the song. A track with real emotion, rarely seen these days.
*11. Tea For The Tillerman*
With the exception of two tracks on this album, you just get the feeling that you really want just one track to be an all-out "rocker". Drums, guitars, the lot, but Cat Stevens wasn't about that, and this final track certainly won't change the pattern which is a shame because his voice, when emotive, would sound great fronting a couple of rocking riffs. However, more violins weep and the simple melody and lyrics err too close to folk for my liking.
Not likely to convert (get it?) many people to his style of music, and anyway, there's plenty of contemporary thoughtful strummers around now without digging up something from 30 years ago. Still, good stuff for those brave enough to give this a spin.
SO WHO'S PRINCE?
Prince, born Prince Rogers Nelson, in Minneapolis 46 years ago is a very talented singer/multi-instrumentalist (with the emphasis on "mentalist"). Between 1983 and 1993 he released one album every year until his record company took more control of his work and asked him to slow down his work-rate and spend more time on promotion.
He responded by changing his name to an unintelligible symbol, writing the word "slave" on his cheek and actively not promoting his work.
He returned this year with the apparently fine Musicology album.
WHAT DOES HE SOUND LIKE?
It depends what mood he's in. When he's soulful, it's somewhere between James Brown and Rick James. When he rocks out, you're lookng at the 80's answer to Jimi Hendrix and can argue that he influenced Lenny Kravitz. Generally, he'll try his hand at most popular styles and given his high work rate of the 80's coupled with it's near flawless quality, it would be sacrilege to try to label this influential and unique artist.
WHAT'S PARADE ALL ABOUT THEN?
Aside from music, Prince also fancied himself as something of a movie star. His first bash at the silver screen, in 1984, produced the egotistical and indulgent Purple Rain. It was panned by the critics, of course. Unperturbed, he had another crack in 1986 with Under The Cherry Moon. I've not seen that film, but filmed in "arty" black and white and with a seemingly unparalleled fascination with all things French, the signs aren't good. Parade is the soundtrack to this film.
Covering mild psychadelia, rip-roaring funk workouts and tender ballads, Parade is a very clever cross section of myriad styles that Prince likes to work with. I have listed the tracks below giving marks out of five, along with a Typical Bonkers Moment (TBM) - because he was madder than a bucket of bananas - for good measure:
**1. Christopher Tracy's Parade (2:11)**
Psychadelia City! Mad backwards drums and wayward trupmets are all over the joint on the intro to this song. Normality is restored by Prince's vocal arrival and the very catchy chorus of "everyone come behold/Christopher Tracy's parade". This form part of a segued trilogy at the beginning of the album and melds quite nicely into.....
TBM: The backwards drums at the beginning
**2. New Position (2:20)**
More backwards drums before a ticking clock and a steel drum resonates throughout. Prince, whilst on doleful form on the previous track, is more aggressive on this track and uses a technique where he sings the words in one key and the backing vocals in another. Brainy! "Let's go fishing in the river of life" is a bit of 6th form lyric, but what Prince is famous for is his dirty talk and "I'm gonna do ya like a good man should" is typical perviness from the purple one.
TBM: The two-note steel drum riff
**3. I Wonder U (1:40)**
I'm listening to this and reviewing at the same time and a track that lasts a little over 90 seconds is sooooo not helping. The film that Parade soundtracks is apparently very French in feel. A loose thread of Frogness permeates the album and this track is the evidence of that. "I....how you say?...I wonder you" whispers a very sexy-voiced female throughout this track. In fact Prince doesn't even appear on it. And so the trilogy ends.
TBM: The lack of Prince!
**4. Under the Cherry Moon (2:57)**
It was, by all accounts, a cack film but boy can he write a killer ballad. Beautiful piano and ticking percussion start off the track and his lyrics are so good - you won't find Prince in any of my worst lyrics pieces! "If I don't find my destiny soon/I'll die in your arms under the cherry moon". After a couple of minutes the song meanders away on a jazzy piano tip but every drop of this track is class.
TBM: Jazzy piano, I don't think he's done that before
**5. Girls and Boys (5:29)**
Hurray! A song over three minutes long! This is one of my favourite Prince tracks because, like all good music, it's ridiculously simple. He's joined on backing vocals by one of his many proteges, Sheila E and the incredibly sexy Wendy and Lisa. "Vous ete tres belle", they purr in the background (big hair, talking in French: bring it on, ladies!). Throughout the track a great three note sax riff farts away and, married to the simple beat and imaginative lyrics ("meet me somewhere after dawn"), makes for great listening.
TBM: A mini-rap near the end
**6. Life Can Be So Nice (3:13)**
This is the fastest track so far and begins with a catchy whistly looped riff and has Prince spouting a load of nonsensical reason why, indeed, life can be so nice. The symbols and hi-hats bash away in the background and it all comes to messy conclusion a little over three minutes later when the tempo slows down, some foghorn synth come in and that whistly riff from the intro distorts intself into a monotonous groan.
TBM: The lyric: "scrambled eggs? so boring!"
**7. Venus de Milo (1:55)**
Beautiful semi-classical piano starts this track and the very hint of breathy strings weep away in the background. You can barely hear the hushed percussion as the piano takes centre stage and then it dawns on you that this is going to be an instrumental.
TBM: The rarest of thing in Prince's armoury: an instrumental
**8. Mountains (3:57)**
The very dated dated drums actually sound great on this tune. For the first time listening to this album I want to get up and dance as a bass and Prince's falsetto verses kick off. Great synthy brass comes in on the soaring chorus. Dare I say it? The nearest this album gets to a proper song. Verse/bridge/chorus and a regular tempo with a little instrumental break in the middle. A nicely timed, refreshing change.
TBM: Goes a bit weird at the end with what sounds like the Hawaii 5-0 theme!
**9. Do U Lie? (2:44)**
If the Frenchie theme of the film hadn't become apparent to you, then Prince leaves his subtlety at home on this track. A teenage girl opens the track with spoken French before Prince comes in and sings over an accordion and percussion rhythm. Bizarre yet intriguing.
TBM: Prince sings in a fake Cockney accent for one line
**10. Kiss (3:37)**
"Ding-aling-aling-aling-aling. Uh" Hey everybody, it's Kiss! Everybody knows Kiss! Don't need experience to turn me o-on. This is what he does best: minimal instrumentation, a sexy little falsetto and upfront lyrics. I remember, though, the video featured him in a crop top and the female guitarist in a veil. Not a good look, but when the guitar is as funky and captivating as this, who cares. Look to James Brown as the source of this brilliant track - the guitar sound and the beat are straight out a Brown funk masterclass. Naturaly, released as a single. Stupendous.
TBM: Screaming the line: "ain't no particular sign I'm more compatible with"
**11. Anotherloverholenyohead (4:00)**
The last single to be released from this album it made a paltry number 36 in November 1986. The title is short for the chorus of: "you need another lover like you need a whole in your head" (sounds like a woman in my office!). It's another funk workout in the same vain as Mountains with a very similar beat and is a great track overall.
TBM: A backwards guitar intro
**12. Sometimes It Snows in April (6:58)**
And just when you think the album in lurching towards predictability with short songs, funk anthems, bonkers backwards instruments and women garbling away in French, Prince plays his trump card: a seven minute piano ballad. Admittedly the opening line: "Tracy died just after a long-fought civil war" kind of sets the tone and it's not one for fans of S-Club! But Prince's wobbly vocals on the verses and husky falsetto on the chorus are just brilliant. I hate ballads, but this one, I don't know, I just gets me right here (**points to heart**). Moving.
TBM: The ability to make a seven minute ballad go so quickly!
Prince May 1980
Dirty Mind Apr 1981
1999 May 1983
Purple Rain (OST) Jul 1984
1999 Sep 1984
Around The World In A Day May 1985
Parade Apr 1986
Sign 'O' The Times Apr 1987
Lovesexy May 1988
Batman (OST) Jul 1989
Graffiti Bridge Sep 1990
Gett Off Aug 1991
Diamonds And Pearls Oct 1991
Symbol Oct 1992
Hits 1 Sep 1993
Hits 2 Sep 1993
The B-Sides Sep 1993
Come Aug 1994
The Black Album Dec 1994
The Gold Experience Oct 1995
Chaos And Disorder Jul 1996
Emancipation Nov 1996
Rainbow Children Jul 1999
The Very Best Of Aug 2001
Musicology Mar 2004
Not a great place to start for those who are new to Prince and want to find out more. Get one of the "Hits" collections first and work backwards from Symbol to Purple Rain and you'll be well catered for. Still, for those who do know him, this album is cracking stuff and full of surprises from the outset.
You can get it for £6.97 on Amazon and £4.99 everytime HMV have a sale.
One thing about Prince, you never know what he's going to do next.
Thanks for reading!
At the tail end of 1986 three white boys from Staten Island, New York hooked up with the now-legendary producer Rick Rubin and recorded the first ever rap album by a white act: Licensed To Ill. It's mixture of big beats, rock samples and very clever lyrical interplay between the three band members (MCA, Mike D and Ad-Rock) ensured a winning, unique combination that would sell millions of records worldwide. The singles, released in 1987, from that album (Fight For Your Right To Party, No Sleep Til Brooklyn and She's Crafty) were catchy, heavy on the wit and guitar and made stealing VW badges from suburban Golfs the chav pastime of that year. In short, the Beastie Boys were about fun, rowdiness and parent-baiting.
Subsequent albums would see them going more experiemental, incorporating jazz, instrumentals and weird samples into their sound. This move never really caught on with their original "b-boy" audience and, as such, subsequent albums sold fewer and fewer until 1998's Hello Nasty signalled a small change in their thinking. The singles "Intergalactic" and "Body Movin" were typically "old school" but other tracks on the album were still quite experimental and noodly.
If only they could recapture the spirit of 1987 in a whole album.....
....well, they have!
It's taken a stolen election and 9/11 to do it but the Beastie Boys seem to have recaptured that old spirit on this new album - released last autumn, my favourite season - and it's to their credit that three men approaching 40 years old can still look and sound so fresh.
To The 5 Boroughs features all the old trademarks of 1980s hip hop. There's scratching, crazy but soulful samples and the typical Beasties vocal interplay. First track and single, Ch Check It Out sets the scene for the album with it's old school beats and rhyming. The Boys are quite clearly enjoying themselves as one of the lines in the opening verse ends in a whispered giggle as the words peter out. It made me smile to see a bit of humour re-injected into rap.
The following tracks such as Right Right Now Now follow in the same vein but there's also a message in the lyrics that lacked the Beasties of the late 80s:
"I applied for a loan it asked for race
So I wrote down "human" inside the space"
I think this line perfectly highlights the mixture of maturity and the appreciation of their past on this album. Each song is perfectly performed and very simple in execution. There are a couple of duff tracks. For example I don't think An Open Letter To NYC (the longest here at 4 minutes) works particularly well as a reappraisal of life after 9/11.
Crawlspace is a great track showing that Beastie Boys do not have to shout to be heard. Each member of the band whispers a verse each and it's this track that stands out as the best on the album and the best thing they've done since Hey Ladies back in '89. 3 The Hard Way takes an old LL Cool J Lyric from '85 and attaches it to some fine beats and bass and delivers the third classic track on album. And so it continues pretty much thoughout the next eleven tracks. This album is refreshing and a real blast of fresh air in the face in the current sea of millionaire rappers and bling.
Overall, they've taken maturity and dignity and mixed it together with their musical styles of the 80s to create an album that's not afraid to say something new and different whilst being unmistakably the work on The Beastie Boys.
1. Ch-Check It Out
2. Right Right Now Now
3. 3 The Hard Way
4. Time To Build
5. Rhyme The Rhyme Well
6. Triple Trouble
7. Hey Fuck You
8. Oh Word?
9. That's It That's All
10. All Life Styles
12. An Open Letter To NYC
14. The Brouhaha
15. We Got The
Fans of quickfire rap will be pleased. The Boys manage to fit fifteen tracks into around 41 minutes of CD running time meaning that very few songs on here actually outsstay their welcome. The downside, of course, is that the truly great songs like the lurching Shazam! and the laidback aforementioned Crawlspace and jerking All Lifestyles are over too quickly and leave the listener gagging for more. Is this a good thing? Well yes and no, there's certainly no excess fat on this ablum and the quality is high but an extra minute and verse on some of the better tracks wouldn't go amiss.
The packaging intrigued me. There was a sticker on the front saying that the CD is copyright controlled and could not be copied. This disappointed me because I was looking forward to listening to it on my MP3 player. I needn't have worried, a prompt comes upp asking you to install software to your machine in order to listen to it: YOU DO NOT HAVE TO DO THIS! I clicked "cancel" and proceeded to burn it my MP3 player normally.
WHO ARE SPANDAU BALLET?
Good question. They were a five band made up of Tony Hadley (vocals, suits), Gary Kemp (bass, suits), Martin Kemp (guitar, suits), John Keeble (drums, suits) and Steve Norman (sax, floppy hair, suits). Between 1980 and 1986 they pretty much ruled the roost as far as smooth British pop was concerned. Their cool musical style, sharp suits and mixture of epic ballads and funky uptempo tracks set the female teenage population to frantic levels of knicker-wetting throughout the mid-80s.
WHAT'S PARADE ALL ABOUT THEN?
1984 saw an epic battle of pop wits between the "big five": Duran Duran, Wham, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Culture Club and Spandau Ballet. Guess who came last? Yep, the Spands! This was their follow-up to their number one album True, from 1983, and their fourth overall. They'd already really peaked with that album and Parade, rush-released to avert public memory loss, was quite frankly shit or bust.
There's only eight of the buggers, so it shouldn't take me long to talk you through this album. Let's go:
**1. Only When You Leave**
Smooth as a Herne Bay pebble. A George Benso-type guitar floats throughout the track and Tony Hadley barely moves out of second gear. It's a tight five minutes of pop and one featuring the obligatory Steve Norman sax solo. It's uptempo, but you hardly notice the drums because because their so far down in the mix. This track was Spandau Ballet's comeback single and reached number 3 in the summer of 1984.
**2. Highly Strung**
"This is the song of Little Jo/she's just a girl I used to know", coos Tony on the opening (and closing) line line of this track. The big star here is the raunchy guitar solos. Remember the time when guitars were described as raunchy and were often used in the case of artists who didn't normally "do" guitar solos? This is a great track and reached all of number 14 when released in August 1984.
**3. I'll Fly For You**
I hate slow song with a passion. Love songs should be banned. Occasionally, however, one slips through the net, jumps in a taxi, knocks on my door and say "Oi 'Orrigan! Listen to me and eat your words!". Prince's Sometimes It Snows In April is one and this is another. Again is jazzy, a little tapped beat stays resident throughout until the whole thing stops and Hadley goes: "and when you sing to me, the shoo-be-doos you sing so well" just like the bit in True when exactly the same things happens and he goes: "and now I've come back again". In fact I'll Fly For You is Parade's True. Does that make sense? Released as a single in October 1984 and scraped into the top ten.
**4. Nature Of The Beast**
Uh-oh, we're back to the cheesy wimp-pop territory occupied on their early singles like Lifeline and Instinction*. Wafer thin backing vocals and dreamy sax nestle nicely among the uptempo rhythms as the vocals of: "this is the nay-cher-her" resound in the background. NOt great and therefore not released as a single album for obvious reasons.
**5. Revenge For Love**
"You give me sweet revenge for love", goes the chorus which I thought was the verse, actually, but there you go....anyway, it's another uptempo number with see-through instrumentation-by-numbers but not overtly offensive.
**6. Always In The Back Of My Mind**
This song should have been released as a single because:
a) it's very catchy
b) it's like nothing they've done before
c) it doesn't feature a sax solo
Only joking. It's just like the rest of the tracks except the sax solo is much longer! But for the year this was made in and if you take into consideration the mood of the era, Spandau Ballet were only doing what countless others were doing at the time and that was finding and image and winning formula and sticking to it. They did that very well.
**7. With The Pride**
A good song overshadowed by the fact that, at about five and a half minutes in length, its two minutes too long. Tony sings "just leave me with pride" in a male Sade kind of way and it becomes increasingly apparent on this album that there's noting here to really test him. Until.....
**8. Round And Round**
Hurray! What a great song. A fairgroundy sort of organ married to a mid-paced chugger of a beat, this was released in December 1984 when everyone was going for the Christmas number one spot: Wham!, Paul Young, Kool And The Gang, Alvin Stardust (!), Gary Glitter (!!!!!!), Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Culture Club. With the exception of the shiny brothers (Glitter and Stardust - geddit?) all the other appeared on the one single they hadn't reckoned with: Band Aid's Do They Know It's Christmas! Doh! Needless to say this reached number 18 behind Bananrama.
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?
One final hurrah in 1986 with the Through The Barricades album and then.......disintegraton. Gary Kemp, the songwriter, threw his dummy out of the pram and retained the copyright to all the band's hits that he had wrote. He went on to "star" alongside Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner in the bodyguard as Houston's assistant after also appearing in the film, The Krays, with his brother in 1990. British TV viewers would have spotted him in 2001 playing Jamie Holt in the occasional BBC series Murder In Mind.
Martin Kemp of course went on to play Steve Owen for four years in Eastenders. Since then only Serious And Organised, an ITV series, has been of any real note.
Tony Hadley, of course, did rather well in Reborn In The USA , a show that for the first time in my life made me sympathise with Americans.
The other two, I've heard, are resident Burger Flippers Of Note in a reputable fast food joint. Mwah hah ha!
SPANDAU BALLET DISCOGRAPHY
To Cut A Long Story Short Nov 1980
The Freeze Jan 1981
Musclebound / Glow Apr 1981
Chant No. 1 (I Don't Need This Pressure On) Jul 1981
Paint Me Down Nov 1981
Instinction Apr 1982
Lifeline Oct 1982
Communication Feb 1983
True Apr 1983
Gold Aug 1983
Only When You Leave Jun 1984
I'll Fly For You Aug 1984
Highly Strung Oct 1984
Round And Round Dec 1984
Fight For Ourselves Jul 1986
Through The Barricades Nov 1986
How Many Lies Feb 1987
Journey To Glory Mar 1981
Diamond Mar 1982
True Mar 1983
Parade Jul 1984
The Singles Collection Nov 1985
Through The Barricades Nov 1986
Heart Like A Sky Sep 1989
Gold - The Best Of Sep 2000
Look at that: four albums in three years. That's a sight you don't often see!
Well, it was shit or bust for this album and I think it speaks volumes that they only achieved one more top ten single after I'll Fly For You. But I believe they were always a singles band, so I'd advise The Singles Collection from 1985 as a great starting point, or if you really have to have that patronising song about Northern Ireland (Through The Barricades), get The Best Of from 2000.
*is Instinction a real word?
WHO'S THIS THEN?
Sade Adu was/is an Anglo-Nigerian singer and owner of a silken voice. The album is a Marmite case: you either love it or hate it. Much maligned as "cocktail bar" music, she recorded Diamond Life in late 1983 ready for assault on the burgeoning "yuppie" scene of the 80's. Needless to say the Filofax and brick-like "mobile" phone brigade bought it in their droves. So did the soul boys and girls up and down the country as a soundtrack for a little bit of white-towelling socked late night loving! Go Darren and Tracey!
WHAT'S THE TRACKLISTING?
1. Smooth Operator
2. Your Love Is King
3. Hang On To Your Love
4. When Am I Gonna Make A Living
5. Frankie's First Affair
6. Cherry Pie
8. I Will Be Your Friend
9. Why Can't We Live Together
ARE THE SONGS ANY GOOD?
On the whole - yes. Here come the track descriptions:
1. Smooth Operator (4:18)
You'll know whether the album is for you before 10 seconds have elapsed. A pretty bossa nova rhythm played out on the handrums as a seductive bass coaxes the meandering saxophone in starts the track/album and it's all very nice. If you like music that kicks up the batty or stors an emotion in some way, then look away now! Sade's voices comes in as the perfect foil for the nonchalant beats and sax. "No need to ask" she whispers, "he's a smooth operator". A song about "playas" (hip hop terminology for a person with more than one partner) before they were invented. This is very jazzy in an accessible and good way. Relased as a single.
2. Your Love Is King (3:43)
The track that thrust Sade into the limelight. A real fairytale story, this, because it was her first single and it went into the top ten in the summer of 1984. Back in the 80's, overnight sensations were virtually unheard of, and those that did appear out of nowhere generally disappeared pretty sharpish too. A great love song with more dreamy sax and chilled hand thumped percussion. "I'm coming up" she cries after chorus. Whatever can she mean? Released as a single.
3. Hang On To Your Love (6:01)
Until now, all modern jazz elements have been used: the cool vocals, the metronomic basslines and the sax. Now the understated picked jazz guitar surfaces on this track. It's at this point a third of the way through Diamond Life, that you realise that Sade is not going to exert herself vocally, there's going to be no lung-busting here. If you're looking for 80s soul's answer to Courtney Love or Jocelyn Brown - forget it. The vocals are creamy, smooth and whispered. This song displays a nice line in slinky piano grooviness about four minutes in. Which is nice.
4. When Am I Gonna Make A Living (3:32)
This is my favourite track because it's the nearest Sade gets to funking out. A lovely bass and piano riff ploughs through the intro before a hi-hat joins in the jazzy furore. Almost an anti-Yuppie anthem, "I hunger for a life I can't afford" she sings over an enthusiastic sax. MY, how the Yuppies must have spluttered into their Delboy-endorsed Pina Colada's over that one! Released as a single.
5. Frankie's First Affair (4:38)
Similar in pace to Your Love Is King, but lacking it's class. To be honest once you've heard the bass, sax, tinkling piano and bongos on Diamond Life, you've really heard all it's got to offer, I'm afraid. A brave attempt at consistent songwriting but very much of it's time and therefore fails to stand up to scrutiny in 2004. Totally forgettable and the weakest track here.
6. Cherry Pie (6:20)
"Sweet as cherry pie", Sade sings over this by-now familiar rhythm. It's the nearest we get to a bit of emotion from that husky and hushed voice and if the producer had just turned the beat and "wah-wah" guitar down a bit, and let the vocals surface, it could have been a more intriguing track. As it is her cocktail bar backing band are the real stars on this track. At 6:20, it's too long too!
7. Sally (5:22)
The first sign of a bit of adventure on album's that's now two-thirds of the way through. The beat - when it appears - is staccatoed and unpredictable and most of the time it's just Sade, a bass and a meandering piano with a side order of very subtle percussion. This beatless approach would work well on a shorter track, but at an ill-advised 5:22, it's pillows at the ready! (Hence the title of my review).
8. I Will Be Your Friend (4:44)
Virtually the twin sister of Smooth Operator but the only difference being the difference in lyrics. Same pace, sam mood, instruments, sax intro, everything! The lyrics, as on the rest of the album, are not very inspiring. "I will be your friend until the end of time". Perhaps it's telling that Diamond Life was recorded 20 years ago, because the lyircs on this track and the album as a whole wouldn't really hold up these days.
9. Why Can't We Live Together? (5:30)
Subtle, echoed bongos and a schmoove bass start this track up and after 60 seconds of this five and a half minute epic, the only newcomer is a punchy Hammond organ riff. As we apporach the two minute mark I'm beginning to think this track has accidentally made it onto the album and is really an instrumental track made by one those hotel lobby entertainment duos usually called something like Fahrenheit or Reflections. But no! "Tell me why, tell me why" Sade cries in the most empassioned vocals yet seen on Diamond Life. The song is unintentionally moody and no drums really kick in at all and the track relies on the bongos and it's anti-war message. Quite good, actually.
Diamond Life has a smooth and classy sheen wiped across it. All the tracks are similar in tempo, feel, atmosphere and vocals and instrumentation. That's the idea, though. Look at her other albums and even her greatest hits collection (her style never changed over 18 years of recording). And that was the point. Diamond Life was never meant to change the world, just to evoke a feeling. Chillout before chillout was invented? OK, so perhaps the album can't be classed as chillout but it's still quiet, sulky, mellow, relaxing and subliminally uplifting all the same. And isn't that what chillout's all about? But whisper it - despite my assertion that this is a love it or hate it album I do find that if I'm not in the mood for it, Diamond Life is a BIT BORING!
OTHER SADE RELEASES
Includes the Glamma Kid cover Sweetest Taboo
Stronger Than Pride (1988)
With a very fine song called Paradise
Love Deluxe (1992)
More of the same but with a 90s slant.
Best Of Sade (1994)
The only greatest hits album where all the songs sound the same?
Lover's Rock (2000)
Her comeback album.
Lover's Live (2002)
Her comeback album. Live.
LIKE THIS TRY THESE (OR VICE VERSA)
Artist: Bebel GIlberto
Album: Tanto Tempo
Why: Diamond Life in Portuguese
Artist: Swing Out Sister
Album: It's Better To Travel
Why: For Blue Mood and After Hours. Both could have appeared on Diamond Life.
Artist: Amy Winehouse
Why: A British sensation with Sade-like jazz sensibilities.
Artist: Anita Baker
Why: Smooth Sade-esque soul without the jazzy overtones.
Thanks for reading.
WHO WERE THE CLASH?
The Sex Pistols invented punk. The Clash developed it, rode it and then killed it. And thank goodness they did, otherwise we'd still all be walking around with safety pins on our jackets, green mohicans and gobbing at everyone over 25.
They were made up of MIck Jones, Joe Strummer, Paul Simonon and Topper Headon. Mick and Joe shared the vocals duties on most Clash tracks, but it's Joe who sings on their better known tracks: Bankrobber, London Calling. However, Mick does sing on their only number one (the reissued Levi's ad song Should I Stay Or Should I Go?). Paul sung a bit and played bass and Topper Headon was the drummer.
WHAT'S LONDON CALLING ALL ABOUT THEN?
It's a 25 year old album and touted as their best album and possibly the best album ever. Originally released on double vinyl in 1979, it was re-released on CD in 1990. There will be a deluxe 25th anniversary edition coming out very soon that features another 21 tracks plus a "making of" DVD.
London Calling features a wide range of styles from 50's rockabilly and rock n roll to reggae, ska and 60s soul. The fact that there's only one real punk song on the album credits the Clash with trying a variety of styles in a time (late 70s) when that kind of thing was frowned upon. This album opened the door for ska-revivalists like the Specials, Madness and even Bad Manners to do their thing.
The album features 19 tracks on one CD (two records if you bought the original and 2 CDs and a DVD if you buy the 25th anniversary edition). It's variety of influences and styles are thrilling.
**1. London Calling (3:23)**
Bang bang bang go the guitars and drums and teasing bass before Joe Strummer's drunken husky voice kicks in: "London calling to the faraway towns, now war is declared let battle come down". Well, that call to arms opening line pretty much sets up the whole album let alone this track. A terrific uptempo song that, 25 years later, hasn't dated one jot. Even the churning guitar solo near the end is class. Absolutely brilliant. Altogether now: "I live by the riveeeeeer!"
**2. Brand New Cadillac (2:10)**
Joe's on the vocals again and this song is very reminiscent of late 50's rock n roll. All the symbolism is there: "baby, baby", cadillacs and his yearning "she ain't coming back to me" admission. A sad, but uptempo, rock n roll song in the traditional sense.
**3. Jimmy Jazz (3:57)**
Another Joe Strummer song (he alternated vocal duties with Mick Jones on occasion). This is slower in tempo and has a more "fun" feel to it. A lovely, lazy strummed intro and smooth jazzy saxophone are at odds with the usual Clash template of raucous guitars and madhatter drums. One of their most underrated tracks, this.
**4. Hateful (2:46)**
The intro to this song sounds like a mad Friday night in an Irish pub somewhere in Kilburn. It has a definite Celtic/Irish feel and is a return to the uptempo zone of earlier tracks. "Anything I want, he gives it to me/Anything I want, he gives it but not for free" goes the catchy chorus and Joe's really on top of his game on this fine song. A success!
**5. Rudie Can't Fail (3:31)**
So we've had had rock, 50's rock and roll, summery jazz, Irish music and now it's time for a songs that mixes skiffle and ska. No really. Another uptempo track with Mick and Joe sharing the vocals, this song is very much of its time (the late 70's and early 80's saw a host of white British bands leading the ska revival) but is none the worse for that. This is a Clash feelgood song, if you will.
**6.Spanish Bombs (3:21)**
"Spanish bombs in Andalucia", sings Mick in his plaintive tones on the opening line of this uptempo song. The intro sounds a lot like Bruce Springsteen's Born To Run as does some of the chords of the guitar bits in the middle, but the lyrics, the sentiment and the execution of the cut are the Clash's own. Top tune.
**7. The Right Profile (3:57)**
Joe's back with his yearning, tonsil-bothering singing style. The intro sounds like a 60's style pop record. Then once the horns come in, it could be a cover of a particularly excitable Motown track. "Everybody say: what's he like?" Joe cries on the outro to the track before a bluster of trumpets and sax see the song out. Not the best track on the album, but better than most songs I know, so that's a bonus!
**8. Lost In The Supermarket (3:50)**
Mick sings this track of suburban frustration over a beat and bass that are frenetic but never raucous. In fact the whole feel is deceptively chilled. It's a great jangly effort and one of the ten essential Clash songs. It features a mad hi-hat and a lovely pre-indie melody with the opening line of: "I wasn't born, so much as I fell out nobody seemed to notice me". Morrissey may have been taking notes.....
**9. Clampdown (3:52)**
The title suggests mad guitars and controlled vocal rage, and that's exactly what you get! Mick's back on vocals duties for this uptempo track of rocking perfection. Every member of the Clash is aware of their task on this track and it's a joy to listen to.
**10. The Guns Of Brixton (3:13)**
Remember Beats International's "Dub Be Good To Me"? This is where they got the bassline. It's another reggae track and with the crazed echoey, reverbed guitars in the background remains the evil, sinister cousin of the Specials' Ghost Town. It's a fantastic track commentating on the racial relationships of late 70s London. "When they kick at your front door, how you gonna come? With your hands upon your head or on the trigger of your gun?" Sadly, these lines - and the track in full - are still relevant today.
**11. Wrong 'Em Boyo (3:13)**
I don't like this track. It sounds like a cross between a Madness bside, the theme tune to Bottom and a speeded up version of the Beatles' Ob-la-di Ob-la-da! Joe's vocals are spot on as usual and they music is exceptionally well-played, it's just that it's quite annoying! The weakest track here.
**12. Death Or Glory (3:57)**
The bassy intro sounds like the beginning of Australia by the Manic Street Preachers. Which, bearing in mind this album is 25 years old is a compliment to the Clash. A guitars rock agreeably and Joe comes in and sings his lungs out: "death or glory becomes just another story". This songs attains God-like status for the immortal line:
I believe in this and it's been tested by research
That he who fucks nuns will later join the church
**13. Koka Kola (1:49)**
A song rallying against the advertising policies of multi-nationals. It starts with a "ding" of an elevator and the opening line: "in the gleaming corridor of the 51st floor/the money can be made if you really want some more". By looking at the lyrics sheet on the ablum, this song features the most words but is the shortest on the album. Strange
**14. The Card Cheat (3:40)**
Pianos! This sounds like a Meatloaf song, only 1000 times better - it's got that rock-opera feel to it. Apparently all the parts were recorded twice and this gives it that epic edge. Mick Jones sings this one and for anybody who knows their track, Bankrobber, the way the words are sung is very similar. Great stuff and an underrated tune.
**15. Lover's Rock (4:05)**
Not the radio-friendly brand of reggae but a song about drug smuggling. A piercing guitar motif resonates throughout and MIck and Joe sounds almost sugar-sweet on this song. It speeds up a bit towards the end as the title is repeatedly sung until it fades out.
**16. Four Horsemen (2:57)**
The most punk-rock like song on the album so far. For a band who were at the pinnacle of punk only two years earlier, its a testament to their development that all that remains of those days is just this one track out of 19. But even this hasn't realy got that punk attitude: no sneer or heav heavy chords, just a bit of shouting and some firey bass with a few squaelin guitars. Joe's goes bonkers at the end, mind you!
**17. I'm Not Down (3:07)**
A real positive anthem, this. "I've beat up, I've been thrown out, but I'm not down", sings Mick over some brilliant guitar riffs and Animal-from-the-Muppets drumming. In fact, take away the vocals and this could be a quality Who track, its that good.
**18. Revolution Rock (5:37)**
Reggae again! Boy do the Clash do reggae fantastically! This is akin to 70's dub reggae with echoey rhythms and deep bass with some ska brass. Joe's pisshead slur works brilliantly with this track and must have fitted right in the the pork pie hat brigade of the late 70s. A superb track.
**19. Train In Vain (3:11)**
The beat fades in on this song and the three note riff sounds like a 60's soul song. Mick sings this one and really camps it up on the quivery Elvis type vocals and overexaggeration of the words. "You can stand by me or not at all"< he instructs. This is too funky to be a Clash song!
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?
A triple album entitled Sandinista was released to mixed critical reaction. Then in 1982 they released Should I Stay Or Should I Go? which nine years later would make number one on the strength of a Levi's Jeans advert. Mick Jones left soon after to form the hip-hop influenced Big Audio Dynamite and score a couple of hits in 1986, most notably with E=MC2.
In 2002, Joe Strummer died of a heart attack but not before his second album of world music was released with his new backing band The Mescaleroes.
Clash Apr 1977
Give 'Em Enough Rope Nov 1978
London Calling Dec 1979
Sandinista Dec 1980
Combat Rock May 1982
Cut The Crap Nov 1985
The Story Of The Clash - Volume 1 Apr 1988
From Here To Eternity Oct 1999
The Essential Clash Mar 2003
For a wider view of Clash's music, I suggest the best of called The Story Of The Clash because it's got Bankrobber and Should I Stay Or Should I Go on it as well as the best tracks from London Calling. Result!
Is it the best album ever? Who knows. A truly great album to me is one that you dislike instantly, but after repeated plays it winds it way into your psyche and you end up loving it. London Calling, for me, is one such album.
War, from 1983, was U2's third album following October and Boy from 1980 and 1981 respectively. It was also their first number one. At the time, they hadn't really had any big chart hits in the UK and were also concentrating on breaking themselves in America. The U2 of 1983 are a very different proposition to the corporate-friendly, iPod monkeys of 2005. This album is rawly produced and performed with political lyrics ranging from topics as diverse as the Bloody Sunday attrocity to the plight of third world political prisoners.
Here I am reviewing the vinyl version of the album. War is the U2 album that features the close-up of the scab-lipped boy with his hands bhind his head in mock surrender. It is a gatefold album of 10 tracks, nicely packaged with the lyrics to only the tracks on the A-side of the album.
SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY kicks the album off with it's incendiary drum beat that I've never heard the like of before or since. After the first two bars you can feel that something special os going to happen with this track and the album as a whole. There's such a raw feel to the album that I love very much. The producer has barely touched this music and just allowed the music to flow naturally. The result is a genuinely bombastic track that has Bono insisting "it's true we are immune/when fact is fiction and TV's reality" 15 years before reality television took over the world. SECONDS is up next and the polar opposite to SUNDAY.... An acoustic guitar strums happily before a repetitive bass part comes in at the same time as Bono's youthful vocals announced that "it takes a second to say goodbye, say goodboye, oh oh oh". This is a midtempo song of clarity and simplicity.
LIKE A SONG is more of the same with some beautiful piano and some extraordinary vocals. It's midtempo again and after the opening bl;uster of the first track, it's good to have a small groove to settle into with the advent of SECONDS and this track. And then comes U2's first ever top ten hit: NEW YEARS DAY. Released in Jan 1983 it made number ten on the back of it's fantastic two main features, namely the epic rumbling bassline that puntuates the track throughout and The Edge's trademark tuning fork guitar. Bono's on form, too, on this uptempo stomper that was a real blast of fresh air to the charts back in 1983.
The second single release from this album was TWO HEARTS BEAT AS ONE, a more restrained affair. Bono's voice is thoughtful and piercing for the duration of the cut and this song only reach number 18 in the charts. The chorus is a rousing call to arms and the songs retains that status of epic that later became the norm for U2's material.
Side two starts with two startlingly different tracks: REFUGEE and DROWNING MAN. The former pounds away amid tribal drums and a boisterous, shouty chorus of "uh oh she's a refugee" and remains high on both tempo and maintenance for the three minutes of its existence. The former is perhaps U2's most gorgeous song before they started rattling out slow tracks like The Sweetest Thing, Stuck In A Moment and Stay (Faraway So Close). It's very simple in execution and Bono's pleading vocals make a fine departure and contrast to REFUGEE's chaotic substance.
RED LIGHT is probably the low point on the album but that's no bad thing. An album with as much quality as War has got often needs a lesser standard track to give you the impression that the band are human after all. Certainly, on any other album they've done, this would have settled in nicely, but with such tough oppostion abound, the weaknesses in the lyrics and melody of this track are all too glaring. "40" and SURRENDER end the album with the latter's wipsy, ethereal vocals making a nice change from the organic raw sound of previous tracks, but it's "40" with it's two and half minutes of gorgeous percussion and choirlike guitars that steals the show for me. "I will sing, sing a new song", sings Bono on the conclusion to an absolutely brilliant album.
You won't hear U2 ever make another album like this. Since 1991's Achtung Baby, they seem to have hit the button marked "overproduction" and their music, whilst still fantastic (Vertigo rocks for example) lacks the raw charm of their early stuff and plumps, instead, for the current in vogue corporate sheen that permeates a lot of today's music. If you've only come to know U2 through Beautiful Day and Vertigo, this album will be a bit of a shock to you, but if you fancy a bit of crate-digging and want to see the world's biggest band in a different light, give this a spin.
After War, the band released the 8 track live album Under A Blood Red Sky, recorded at the Red Rocks venue in the USA. It featured 40, SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY and NEW YEARS DAY on the tracklisting and gave America, and the rest of the world, a taste of U2's intentions for the next twenty years: world domination!
Thanks for reading.
WHO'S THIS THEN?
It's My Bloody Valentine. They were an experimental band from the late 80's and early 90's indie "shoegazing" scene who were very much more of a studio band than a live band. Fronted by the elusive and enigmatic Kevin Shields, they released two great albums of note: 1988's Isn't Anything and this album, Loveless, from 1991.
WHAT DO THEY SOUND LIKE?
Noisy, but in a controlled and deliberate way. What other "noisy" is there, I hear you ask. Well, try anarchic, uncontrollable, unplanned and shambolically tuneless. And this is none those. Two years and £60,000 in the making, Loveless is a delicately produced album full of deft, technically whimsical tricks and turns. It features feedback (the art of playing your guitar into your amp and producing a squealing noise not unlike a detuned radio) as an instrument. That sound is then lovingly manipulated into a more listenable form and used with the ethereal vocals (don't even bother trying to decipher the words) and multiple guitar layers.
**1. Only Shallow**
NOthing shallow about this opener. Lovely, confident drums and bass aligned to female (Bilinda Butcher) ethereal, wispy vocals. But, as with most of the tracks on this album, it's the guitars that steal the show. They're dominant and experimental and it quite clearly took Kevin Shields absolutely ages to perfect their sound.
A short track (about 2:30) and one with ghostly vocals and underproduced backing instruments. Without the benefit of a lyrics sheet, there's no teling what Bilinda's on about as she battles against the guitar onslaught. Lovely, in a terrifying sort of way.
Not much to report about this 56 second piece. Some synthy strings weep in over guitar that's so distorted it sounds like a distant calling of a whale. No lyrics, no beats, just mood music really.
**4. To Here Knows When**
A very distant percussion sound can be heard underneath Bilinda's nonsensical oohs and aahs. There's more whale noises coming from the mixing desk as Shields' voice makes an appearance on this track. Essentially noise married to beautiful, whimsical vocals. Strange and lush.
**5. When You Sleep**
Possibly the first sight of a song as we would know it. Beats, guitars, bass, vocals and almost a chorus. Trouble is the emphasis is on the clever guitar production and the vocals (intentionally?) are so low down in the mix that it's impossible to hear what's going on. However, this is no singalong album and for that purpose this is a great pre-Britpop indie track. The tune is fantastic and how they managed to make a guitar sound like a piccolo is beyond me.
**6. I Only Said**
This is my favourite tune on the album. More etheral, what's-she-on-about lyrics and the whale noises are back. But the whole thing seems to fit together seemlessly and, date I say, the manipulated, bendy guitars are actauly quite catchy. And "catchy" is not something you usually assocaite with My Bloody Valentine.
**7. Come In Alone**
The trouble with album, if I were to be picky, is that most of the songs are of the same tempo. It's mid-tempo stuff, with tinny but muffled drums throughout. And this track is no exception. Bilinda, the vocalist, goes "indie" on this track, singing in a dull, droll, monotone fashion as though her 1991 credibility depended on it.
Real grungey guitars and Kevin's vocals start this track off as a ticking acoustic guitar shuffles away in the background before the drums pound in. Except they don't. And that's what My Bloody Valentine do best: they leave out the ingredient that you most expect them to put in, or what a song is most in need of. Clever and infuriating, and nothing that thumping great drums and less murky production wouldn't take care of.
**9. Blown A WIsh**
Similar to I Only Said in layered guitar parts and polite drums. What, in the background sounds like groaning suicidal monks, turns out to be looped guitars that is the trademark of this album.
**10. What You Want**
If you're familiar with early Jesus And Mary Chain, this is for you. Uptempo beats, feedback, tinny drums and more feedback. Possibly the best track on the album purely because it breaks away from the MBV mould of midtempo chuggers. This has attitude, a fast beat, insistent guitars and vocals that you still can't understand. Hurray"
Soon is how I came to hear about My Bloody Valentine because it was released as a single back in 1990. It's certainly typical of the album as a whole, although the drums are less muffled in production. Great track to finish off an album that I do return to occasionally if I'm in in the mood.
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?
Well, nothing really. A third album was planned and shelved. Then, out of the blue, Kevin Shields turned up in Hollywood and can be credited with much of the soundtrack to the Bill Murray vehicle, Lost In Translation. This work earned Shields rave reviews and even an Oscar nomination. Now something of a noisenik du jour in LA, he's being lined up to provide similar feedback-drenched soundscapes for future productions.
LIKE THIS? TRY THESE (OR VICE VERSA)
Artist: Jesus And Mary Chain
Why: Feedback City with a hint of the Beach Boys melody
CD: Best Of
Why: Maire's ethereal vocals predate this album by 10 years
Artist: Spacemen 3
CD: Drugs To Make Music To Take Drugs To
Why: Long haired shoegazers first album nestles nicely with Loveless
CD: Twisterella EP
Why: Tuneful take on guitar experimentation
IN A NUTSHELL
Imagine Maire Brennan of Clannad singing over some early Jesus And Mary Chain feedback-laden indie.
This is chillout music for those with a worried mind. By turns busy, repetitive, insistent, noisy, annoying and beautiful, it's an album for those who like a challenge.
WHAT'S THIS THEN?
It's the culmination of the nine Street Vibes compilations released between 1994 and 2003. Effectively the SV series tried to encapsulate all that was good about black music at the time, be it rap, soul (RnB), reggae or dance. Some of the music has dated, and some has remained as pristine as the day it was released. Some, however, defies belief that it can even be called "Street"......
Disc 1 (The Soul/Rap Side)
1. Mis-Teeq - Can't Get It Back
A nice, light buzzy start to the album as the trio from North London ease their way through a cool vocal workout. This mix included here still sounds fresh and it's great that a British act kicks things off.
2. Justin Timberlake - Like I Love You
Oh dear. Michael Jackson falsetto, faux-Spanish guitar and whispered nothings abound as JT talks us through his first solo outing. It's midtempo in pace with breezy rap in the middle. Not bad.
3. Wayne Wonder - No Letting Go
The first bit of reggae on the album, and quite a disppointment considering they had about 360 tracks to choose from when compiling this album. Not bad, but we need an Usher......
4. Usher - Pop Ya Collar
Hurrah! I thought Usher was all washed up and certain to be one a hit wonder after U Make Me Wanna hit the top of the charts. But he came back a couple of years later with this storming soul cut and the rest is history. Not as good as U Remind Me, though.
5. Destiny's Child - Bootylicious
With an intro sounding like it was nicked from Eye Of The Tiger, this is a fantastic follow up to their Independent Woman single of early 2000. Driving funk and mad guitars rule as the girls (literally) sing their arses off.
6. B2K - Girlfriend (Pied Piper remix)
Little bit of a dance version of this old favourite. If I'm right, B2K are the P.Diddy affiliates. The sing appears here in UK Garage/2-Step form. Great remix of an average tune.
7. Big Brovaz - Favourite Things
Take one imaginary rap collective and one song from The Sound Of Music. What do you get? Don't ask......
8. Craig David - 7 Days
The "took her for a drink on Monday"song for the uninitiated. Still sounds good although a little bit naive and corny. Good for a singalong, though hardly "street".
9. Jennifer Lopez - Play
Maracas and flamenco guitar are all over the place here as J-Lo pre-empts Timberlake's little bit of nonsense from earlier. Not a bad track, but I'd like to see J-Lo given some meaty material to tackle. She'd sink without a trace.
10. Ms. Dynamite - It Takes More
A lovely lilting song from 2002's Estelle. A nice line in nasal singing followed by some beefy rapping and all tied up in a bow marked "bastard". Wouldn't like to be the bloke on the receiving end of this little ditty.
11. Liberty X - Just A Little
12. Will Smith - Gettin' Jiggy Wit It
Nicking the funky guitar from Sister Sledge's He's The Greatest Dancer, Will virtually phones in his contribution to the album. It sees him going through the motions over a great pop hook. He's done a lot better than this though.
13. Mary Mary - Shackles (Praise You)
A daily staple of Capital FM and Heart here in London, this track from 2000 is a gospel-dipped slice of praise to God. The beat is awesome and the chorus is ridiculously simple. Great stuff, even now.
14. TLC - No Scrubs
This was TLC's last great single before Lisa Lopez died in that plane crash in 2002. The funkiest of beats with a real street attitude laid down by the girls. An uplifting chorus and brilliant vocals ensure we have a true, genuine classic in our midst.
15. Outkast - Ms. Jackson
Before Roses and Hey Ya! came this track from 2001. It's about Andre's ex-girlfriend (soul singer Erykah Badu) and is a plea to her mother for her forgiveness over the breakdown on their relationship. The rap is watertight and the chorus is instant and memorable. Great stuff with a fab video.
16. Santana - Maria Maria
Violins aren't "street". And neither are 60 year olds with pencil moustaches enjoying an Indian summer.
17. Blu Cantrell - Hit 'Em Up Style (Oops!)
Oops indeed. A pre-Breathe Blu Cantrell goes through the motions on this track too. Not great and a plethora of famous rappers can't save this stinking RnB reject.
18. Lisa Maffia - All Over
The fourth British act so far. Lisa Maffia (real name) was the girl who sung the vocal hook on the So Solid Crew's 21 Seconds. Here she makes her solo debut but it's ruined somewhat by a male shouting her name in the background. Otherwise, a catchy tune from another great British hope.
19. Alicia Keys - Fallin'
Talk about leaving the best two to last. This is the girl who's permanently stuck at her piano giving it some on her debut single. Beautifully executed 70's style soul and a real diamond in the rough. Soaring vocals, lovely instrumentation, all round perfection.
20. Macy Gray - I Try
Her gruff voice was a breath of fresh air to a soul scene in 1999 otherwise plagued by hot pants and overproduction. Fabulous song with a rousing chorus. Apparently Macy didn't speak her first word until she was 11, hence the gravelly voice. Yeah, right.
Disc: 2 (The Dance Side)
1. DJ Pied Piper & The Masters Of Ceremonies - Do You Really Like It?
This song was huge in the summer of 2000. "Do you really like? We're lovin' it, lovin it lovin' it", it went. Fantastically frenetic and upbeat, it had a great rap in the middle and cartooon-sized members of the band. Catchy, summery and wicked.
2. So Solid Crew - 21 Seconds
The London rap/vocal collective's debut single featuring Lisa Maffia. The idea was that each one of the 20-plus collective get 21 seconds on the mic to do their thing. As it turned out, a few bleeps some half-arsed rapping and a fine turn by Maffia later, it went to number one. Some of the band went to jail or reality TV and the UK Garage scene they helped create felll apart, but not before.....
3. DJ Luck & MC Neat - A Little Bit Of Luck
....this fab UK Garage track had a go at the spotlight. This was huge at the beginning of 2000 and I remember this and a host of other UK Garage tracks being on the radio constantly at the time. Lots of ad-libbed rapping and some singing in the background. Brill.
4. Artful Dodger & Romina Johnson - Movin' Too Fast
Oooh. Great track from the guys who discovered Craig David. Yeah, thanks for that. Again, uptempo but a brilliant xylophone-like melody and top drawer vocals from Romina.
5. Jaimeson - True
Real, soulful house music seemed to die a death in this country until Jaimeson came along. This a top hi energy/house track with some amazing sexy vocals from an artist called Blu.
6. Lonyo (Comme Ci Comme Ca) - Summer Of Love
The worst track on here. Has insipid novelty written all over it.
7. The B15 Project feat. Crissy D & Lady G - Girls Like Us
Brilliant ragga-style chatting over a cool UK Garage beat. The chorus is very catchy and Crissy and Lady sound like characters in a Guy Ritchie movie. Very strong song.
8. Doolally - Straight From The Heart
I remember when this first came out on whgite label in about '95. This is a remixed version of a house classic and deserve its position on this album. Sticks out like a sore thumb though. As does....
9. Elvis vs JXL - A Little Less Conversation
....what's this doing here?
10. Rui Da Silva feat. Cassandra - Touch Me
The acceptable side of Euro-dance/trance music. That kind of holiday vibe with weak yet uplifting vocals and a synth riff that sounds like giants farting in a round. Great, cheesy stuff.
11. Milky - Just The Way You Are
Do-do-doob. Another cheese-fest. Very catchy, simple melodic dance pop from the superbly named Milky. Again the vocals are wafer thin, but the track still sounds good three years on. Nice.
12. Jamiroquai - Deeper Underground
This track heralds a receding of pace on the album. Taken from the soundtrack of 1998's Godzilla film, it still sounds great with it's exceptionally heavy funk bass and JK's stuttered vocals. Brill.
13. Wu-Tang Clan - Gravel Pit
I love the Wu-Tang Clan and this track, whilst not their best is certainly welcome here. It's a rarity in their cannon: an uptempo track and it samples Cameo's 80's monster, Back And Forth. Some smooth female lyrics and harsh rappping round the track off.
14. Britney Spears - Boys (Co-ed remix feat Pharrell Williams of N.E.R.D.)
Britney Spears. Jeeeeeez.
15. Bomfunk Mc's - Freestyler
Straight out of Finland here come the Bomfunk MCs. Even five years on this is a surprisingly great track, full of energy and exciting stop-start rhythms. Still fab.
16. O-Town - Liquid Dreams
RnB boy band? No thanks.
17. Pras - Blue Angels
The underapppreciated member of the Fugees weighs in with this early solo effort. This was the guy who did Ghetto Superstar, a track much more welcome that this routine slice of pop-rap.
18. Pink - Get The Party Started
Fancy putting a song about getting a party started at the end of disc two! This is Pink in all her aggressive pop-glory. A fine uplifting track that suits me fine.
Street Vibes? What? Music that the kids in ghettos and inner cities throughout the UK and beyond are listening to? Tunes that are so happening and hot that they're fashionable for a millisecond before the next "grime"-influenced fad comes along. With Justin Timberlake, Liberty X , Will Smith and Jennifer Lopez appearing here I hardly think this is the hottest collection of soul, rap and dance. However, for 30-somethings like me who still (genuinely) love rap and soul and need a catch-all compilation of the past five years, it's a half decent primer. In places, when it really matters, this is top stuff. Elsewhere, the watered down pop element lets it down quite drastically.
Thanks for reading.
WHO WERE WHAM?
Lasting a mere three and a half years between November 1982 and June 1986, they were a duo consisting of Andrew Ridgeley and someone called George Michael. Ably assisted by Pepsi and Shirley on backing vocals, David Austin (keyboards) and Deon Estus (bass) they scored ten top ten hits during their tenure as the kings of pop in the mid-80's. Pepsi and Shirley went onto have minor success in 1987 with Heartache, Deon Estus turned up on a soul compilation called Heart And Soul in 1988 and in the same year Andrew Ridgeley scored his only chart entry with Shake (it reached number 57). George Michael, meanwhile, last year celebrated his 27th solo top forty hit with Flawless.
WHAT DID THEY SING?
Surprisingly they only had 11 hits of which nine appear on this Best Of released in 1997. The two omissions are Bad Boys and an ill-advised megamix called Club Fantastic that was released at Christmas in 1983 after Club Tropicana in a bid to squeeze the last throbbing signs of life out of the Fantastic album. The hits were:
Young Guns (Go For It)
Club Fantastic Megamix
Wake Me Up Before You Go Go
Everything She Wants*
I'm Your Man
The Edge Of Heaven
*double A-side. After Christmas, in January 1985, radio stations started playing Everything She Wants, hence doubling sales - how cheeky is that? They recorded just two albums, Fantastic from 1983 and 1984's Make It Big before George Michael began to concentrate on his solo career after his second number one (1986's A Different Corner). They started at the top (Young Guns (Go For It) number 3 in 1982) and finished there as well (Edge Of Heaven, number 1, 1986)
ARE THE SONGS ANY GOOD?
Of course they are! This is the 80's we're talking about here. Sure, they were cheesy and none too taxing on the brain, but they were fun. And "fun" is an element sorely missing in today's music industry. Below is my track by track description with ratings:
1. If You Were There
The actual title of this album is "If You Were There: The Best Of Wham!" hence the inclusion of this album track from 1984's Make It Big. It starts of sounding a lot like The Style Council with a bit of jazzy guitar and a snazzy (for 1984!) beat. Then George whispers "come on baby" before the track descends in a good way into a Motown-by-numbers kind of thing. Not at all bad and a nice antidote to the over-exposed singles that follow.
Highest Chart Position: n/a
2. I'm Your Man
I'm Your Man was their penultimate release before they split up. It's a real thumper in the bass and banging drums sense and could only be a product the 80s. "Call me good, call me bad, call me anything you want to baby" George sings on the opening line. It's not a classic, but if you're out for a song with a good old singalong chorus after about 8 pints, this is the one. Sadly, what little credibility this song ever had was quashed two years ago when Shane Ritchie recorded a version.
Raleased: Nov 1985
Highest Chart Position: 1
3. Everything She Wants
As discussed, the product of clever marketing that is now all too apparent in today's scene. Originally the b-side to Last Christmas, this moody but surprisingly funky tune about a relationship at a crossroads was played to death after Christmas 1984 (and still is by the evil Heart FM here in the south east). "My God!", George shrieks in quite a camp way that should have been a dead giveaway for later episodes of his life, "I don't even think that I love you!" I'll always remember this song because I had chickenpox and had taped this off the radio, played it to death whilst off school and always wondered at the fantastically grown up lyric:
and now you tell me that you're having my baby
I'll tell you that I'm happy if you want me to
but one step further and my back will break
if my best isn't good enough then how can it be good enough for two?
Overall, a great track that's dated a bit because of its shimmery percussion and VERY eighties bass.
Released: Jan 1985
Highest Chart Position: 2
4. Club Tropicana
Ah, the second record I ever bought. The b-side was fab too. Anyway, a weird intro of car wheels on a gravel road pulling up to the door of some forgotten club in the middle of, like, the Costa Rican jungle (because there's bird and insect noises abound) and as the car gets closer the music gets louder until the frenetically funky bassline and drums all kick in together and George sings of "smiling faces" and "strangers taking you by the hand". Sounds like my local working men's club at 10:50pm. Great throwaway brass riffs dominate the track. The video featured an uber-tanned George on a lilo in the middle of a pool, sipping some evil cocktail from a tinted glass WITH AN UMBRELLA. Serious solo artist, my a**e.
Released: July 1983
Highest Chart Position: 3
5. Wake Me Up Before You Go Go
This was their first number one and the first track to be released from the imminent Make It Big album. Everyone knows this track: the "jitterbug" intro with the fingerclicking, the swinging fifties style organ and the cheesy, twee chorus that rhymes "go-go" with "yo-yo". The b-side, like the flip to I'm Your Man was an instrumental, the tightwads! How do I know? I bought them both. Time has not been kind to this track and in the two New Years Eves since its release I've danced to it, complete with finger-clicking, almost every time.
Released: May 1984
Highest Chart Position: 1
6. Like A Baby
Their second album, Make It Big, featured a measly eight tracks. Six are included here, this one too. The intro to this track goes on for ages before George comes in with whispered vocals and the whole thing wouldn't sound out of place on Sade album. Not bad, just average.
Highest Chart Position: n/a
Another number and another track from Make It Big. A long organ intro (almost identical to George's Faith three year later) starts the song. It soon kicks into a fabulous 60's pastiche and could have been sung by someone like The Shangri-Las back in the day. You don't hear this track much these and it's true that absence makes the heart grow fonder because I love it.
Released: September 1984
Highest Chart Position: 1
8. Edge Of Heaven
Sniff. Their last ever single. Another superb singalong chorus that features no decipherable words except:
na na na na na na
yeah yeah yeah
na na na na na na
yeah yeah yeah yea-eh-yeah
Good eh? It's an uptempo track as most of Wham's ouput was and is noted for one amazing fact: it's their only song here to feature a guitar solo. How ironic that Andrew Ridgeley was finally given something to do on their last ever release.
Released: Jun 1986
Highest Chart Position: 1
9. Wham Rap
It was three and a half years after the release of this single that I learnt all the words. It was summer 1986, I was the archetypal Kevin The Teenager and was on a "sightseeing" holiday in Switzerland. The local market had one English language cassette: the soundtrack to a dire John Travolta film called Perfect and this track was on it. So I sat in the car in the car park of the hotel and played this one track over and over again. It is for this reason that I absolutely love it. "Hey everybody take alook at me/I've got street credibility". In between George's apalling rap came a fantastic falsetto chorus urging the masses not to waste time watching television or lookng for a job but to "get-get-get-on down, a-get-get-get-on down". A song that's so bad, it's good.
Released: Feb 1983
Highest Chart Position: 8
10. Young Guns (Go For It)
Their debut, and like Wham! Rap and the shamefully omitted Bad Boys, this features all manner of natty brass riffs and clever singing and is another Yoof Anthem. I remember their first appearance on Top Of The Pops with the tight leather jackets and the way they acted out the line:
well tell this jerk to take a hike
there's something 'bout this boy I don't like
we got plans to make we got things to buy
I'm not wasting time on some creepy guy
hey shut up Shirl that's a friend of mine
just watch your mouth babe you're out of line
when the single George started mocking the engaged Ridgeley and Shirley. Fantastically naff, but you can't take the great tune away from this track.
Released: November 1982
Highest Chart Position: 3
11. Last Christmas
Apart from A Fairytale on New York by The Pogues and Lennon's Happy Xmas and possibly that Slade song, this is probably the only other half-credible Christmas song left. We all know it, the video was suitably naff with George pouting across a room of a log cabin at his ex everyone ends up throwing snowballs. One question: why was this song released to challenge Band Aid?
Released: December 1984
Highest Chart Position: 2
12. Where Did Your Heart Go
This is a song that was bandied around the airwaves (but never released) in 1987 as an advert for a rival - and superior - Wham! compilation called The Final (see below). It's similiar in tempo and feel to Everything She Wants and features an almost jazzy vocal from George. A gentle crescendo the title accentuates chorus. A rare thing on this album: a serious song!
Highest Chart Position: n/a
13. Everything She Wants (1997 Mix)
14. I'm Your Man (1996 Mix)
The downside, of course, to trying to compile a workshy artist is the lack of truly great material available. With only 11 singles released and some bsides as instrumentals, you're always gong to struggle to find tracks to fill up a hungry 80 minute capacity CD. I can understand why the compilers have chosen to add remixes in but I would suggest you seek out The Final instead.
There's only one other Wham! singles compilation that I'm aware of. It's called The Final and here's it's tracklisting:
1. Wham Rap
2. Young Guns (Go For It)
3. Bad Boys
4. Club Tropicana
5. Wake Me Up Before You Go Go
6. Careless Whisper
8. Last Christmas
9. Everything She Wants
10. I'm Your Man
11. Different Corner
13. Where Did Your Heart Go
14. Edge Of Heaven
It features not only Bad Boys but also George's two solo number ones: Careless Whisper and A Different Corner.
Cheesier than bathful of Wotsits, fantastic fun! Get The Final instead, though, it's got more singles (and tracks) on it.
TDK have a long and respectable tradition in the production of blank media. In the 80's I'd tape the top 40 rundown on Radio One with crazy old Bruno Brookes using one of their many blank audio tape products. Around the same time I'd tape my favourite programmes (Gary Shandling, The Tube and Grange Hill) using a TDK blank video cassette.
And now, as we undergo burn and rip mania, I've started using their products for my MP3 collections too. Loyal? Well, yes. When the day comes that TDK let me down, I'm off to find a new brand. But in the meantime, if it ain't broke......
WHAT IS A CD-R?
CD-R stands for compact disc recordable as opposed to rewritable (that's a CD-RW). The difference between the two formats is that you can use a CD-RW over and over again, but a CD-R only once. CD-R, whilst capable of storing data other than music are best used for burning audio onto and it is this format that is used widely in the copying and burning of MP3s onto listenable CDs.
WHAT DOES A CD-R NEED TO BE ABLE TO WORK?
1. A computer.
2. A rewritable drive, not just your bog standard CD-ROM drive.
3. Burning software. This is usually available free from the net at places like download.com and enables you to put your MP3s in the right order ready for burning.
WHAT DOES THE 650 MEAN IN THE PRODUCT TITLE?
There are two types of CD-R size. A 650 and a 700. These numbers correspond to the number of megabytes of space available. As a general rule, for music burners, a 650 will hold 74 minutes of music whilst a 700 will hold 80 minutes of music. In this instance, it's the lesser of the options but what six minutes (or one and a half songs) between friends?
SO WHAT MAKES THE CD-R 650 FROM TDK SO SPECIAL?
For me, it's the only product that I've 100% "burn-success" with in the five years I've been burning my own compilations. I've tried Verbatim and Maxell and they have always had slight problems in skipping, missing out the first few seconds of a track or black "ghost" tracks altogether. No such problems with TDK so far and as I've mentioned earlier, there's no point in changing a winning formula. Having said that, they do not produce my favourite brand of CD-RW but that's another story.
WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE?
I've read a lot lately that MP3s aren't as good in quality as CDs. Whilst this is true, I would suggest that if you burn your MP3s onto TDK's CD-R at a slow speed and create your MP3s at a high quality rate such as 192kbps then the difference in quality is barely noticeable. This never truer than on this particular CD-R.
HMV or VIrgin Megastores generally. (It's always surprised me that high street CD retailers actually sell the very product that could potentially put them out of business!). Failing that I've seen them in Woolies and even our local newsagents on one occasion.
I've seen them for as little as £4.99 for a 5-pack or up to £7.99 for the same quantity.
If I've had no problems with this particular brand of CD-R so I'd be a fool not to recommend them to the Ciao community. They're easy to use, relatively cheap (£1 to £1.30 per CD in a 5-pack)
TDK Recording Media Europe SA
Z.I Bommelsheuer, L-4902
Jazz. It's divided the world since the beginning of the 20th Century. Like Marmite, you either love it or hate it, indeed I heard that Miles Davis' Kind Of Blue album was the jazz album that non-jazz fans would like. I'm a non-jazz fan and didn't like it. But! This album from North London's Amy Winehouse could just help create a third opinion on jazz: "I don't mind it".
SO WHO IS SHE?
She's a 20 year old singer from North London with impeccable timing. Her emergence has coincided with the current glut of "lounge"-style Brit-crooners such as Katie Melua, Michael Buble and Jamie Cullum. There's one difference, her style is from the streets.
WHAT DOES SHE SOUND LIKE?
It's sometimes a criticism to say that a singer sounds like another singer, but a compliment when a singer can sound like a host of others. Firstly her nasal delivery is akin to Nelly Furtado. That's not something she'll be proud of, but it's the obvious comparison. When she's being twee and sweet, it's Erykah Badu and, more commonly, Billie Holiday. She grumbles on the low notes and that's when she can sound a bit llike Nina Simone. She uses hip hop beats allied to traditional jazz instruments on about half of the tracks on Frank. Whilst this is not a new approach, her voice guarantees that next 13 tracks are an interesting ride.
WHAT DOES SHE SING ABOUT?
Got an hour? Generally relationships. There's a track on the album about packing your stuff into boxes after the break-up of a live-in relationship. Another is an anti-mutton-dressed-as-lamb anthem that women over 30 will not like. Some are just straight love songs.
WHAT'S FRANK LIKE?
I've separated out the tracks below and marked the songs out of five and also given a "jazzy" content mark in case you're not a fan of jazz and start having panic attacks.
1. Intro/Stronger Than Me (3:54)
Not a good start to the album, or so I thought. A mild Cleo Laine "skoo-be-do"-type acapella scat kicks the album off and I was very tempted to press eject right there and then. But 20 seconds in a half hearted hip hop beat revved up and I was made to eat my words. Her vocals, coupled with a great trombone backing are both in your face and lazy. And one point her vocals actually pout and you barely understand her words. Released as a single.
2. You Sent Me Flying (6:50)
This song has a two and a half minute piano, tambourine and vocal intro and can drag a bit. However, Amy's not the sort to rhyme "love" with "above" or "fine" with "mine" and this intro certainly flies by with such great couplets like "although he's nothing in the scheme of my years/it just serves to bludgeon my futile tears". When the beat does start, the similarity to the Young Disciples' 1991 tune Apparently Nothing is astounding and for those of you who are familiar with that tune, you'll agree that's no bad thing. The last two minutes of the track is lent to a bossa nova style rhythm that, although not given credit on the back sleeve, is listed as a separate track with its own lyric sheet. It's called Cherry and serves merely as an afterthought.
3. Know You Know (3:03)
Carrying on the bossa nova theme is this mellow track reminiscent of Matt Bianco's Half A Minute. Amy's vocals soar for the first time and her nasal, soulful delivery reminds me for the first time of a street-smart, sexed-up Nelly Furtado. Just rimshot percussion and cute Hammond organ see this track all the way through. It's uptempo and possibly the jazziest thing so far on the album.
4. F**k Me Pumps (3:20)
The best song on Frank so far. Although simple in its execution and a somewhat annoying nursery rhyme delivery, this is where Winehouse gets really "urban". "You did too much E/met somebody/and spent the night getting caned".
The knives are out on this one, a tirade against ageing women trying to look the part in a young environment. Winehouse sings: "don't be mad at me/cos you're pushing 30/and your old tricks no longer work". Those three lines scare the hell out of me and make me glad I'm married and am partly content to stay in and watch the box on a Saturday night! Her nasal whine is rather forced at the end of this track and as she sings the last line in conjunction with the fading guitar, I'm reminded very much of Chandler's ex-girlfriend Janice, in Friends. That should be a bad thing, but it's not.
5. I Heard Love Is Blind (2:10)
A strummed acoustic guitar and jazz trumpet conjoin Ms Winehouse on the intro to this short track. Her voice is starting to come through the theatrics and the image and on this cut especially she's sounding scarily like Billie Holiday. Never going to be released as single!
6. Moody's Mood For Love (4:10)
Upon first hearing this, it sounds like Amy singing this in a scat-style over a double bass whilst someone throws empty lemonade bottles down a lift shaft. The perussion is weird, far out and works superbly. This can't be the same woman that just sung on I Heard Love Is Blind because the range and tone of the vocals lose their inhibitions and she almost sounds like Lauryn Hill. A bizarre but accessible track.
7. (There Is) No Greater Love (2:08)
It's back to Billie Holiday territory for this short track. Her hushed, elongated vocals measure up impressively with the merest of percussion and dreamy sax on this track that wouldn't sound out of place in 1948. If this is jazz, I can handle this.
8. In My Bed (5:17)
WAKE UP! A hip hop beat (nicked, I think, from Nas' last album: God's Son) blasts this track into life and immediately reclaims Amy's street credentials. A thumping bass pounds it's way through the cut and that most jazzy of things, the saxophone, even makes an appearance around the four minute mark. Just after that, Amy's going all Cleo Laine again before letting the sax and Nas-beat see the track out. Her lyrics are back to their best on this track and when she mournfully sings "yours is a familiar face/but that don't make your place safe in my bed" you know it's time to keep score and it's 15-love to the women. Released as a single.
9. Take The Box
Slow, moody number that reminds me a lot of Dee C Lee's See The Day or even the intro to Try A Little Tenderness. From what I can gather this sad piano-led track with gorgeous cooing backing vocals and classic 70's soul chord changes is about moving out of your partner's place after a fight. The track starts in ominous style lyrically with "your neighbours were screaming/I don't have a key for downstairs" and then later: "the Moschino bra you bought me last Christmas/(put it in the box, put it in the box)" has real sense of repossession about it. Despite it lazy tempo and obvious sad theme, a really uplifting track. Released as a single.
10. October Song (3:24)
The beat to this track is old school hip hop versus Soul II Soul and that is not a bad thing. Really cool drumming, a twittering jazz guitar sings away in the background and Amy's voice goes from Billie Holiday doing Marilyn Monroe sing Happy Birthday to a high pitched Alicia Keys. Her favoured doobedoo-style improvisation sees the track home and not a bad track at that.
11. What Is It About Men? (3:29)
This is very similar to Lauryn Hill in style. Mary J Blige-style beats and a Two-Toney, ska-ish trombone dominate throughout as Amy asks the question a 1000 women ask every Friday night at closing time. "Understand once he was a family man/so surely I'd never go through it first hand" Oh yeah, Amy, you little minx, something you're not telling us? This song is possibly the funkiest thing on the album and a direction I hope she chooses to take more in the future. It's all very well being jazzy, but sometimes all you need is funkiness.
12. Help Yourself (5:01)
What this album doesn't have is verses and bridges and choruses. There's no real structure to the songs and that in itself can be seen a hat-tip to the old days of jazz and the freedom the genre brought to its makers and fans. This track with it comical beats and hushed organ is about the most regimented on the album. There are build ups to the quiet, understated chorus and something akin to verses in between. Near the end the sax strolls in again, but you tend to grow to love it really.
13. Amy Amy Amy / Outro (13:16)
I'm sorry, have we just walked onto the set of The Jungle Book? The beat sounds like a slowed-down Bare Necessities complete with jokey double bass. Hoever, the insistent Amy Amy Amy refrain of the vocals and Amy's change of vocal style - again - prove any doubters wrong about this sharp, sassy and sussed new talent. There's also a hidden track at the end of the album (hence the 13:16 length) which I haven't reviewed because if it's not worth crediting it's worth listening to.
A triumph. The best album I've heard for ages from a British female (that includes you Katie Melua and Dido). It's mixture of musical styles, hip hop, soul, jazz, reggae, street-imagery and a powerful and humorous take on the pro-woman stance make this an album just about worth having. This is jazz for non-jazz fans.
GET "FRANK" IF YOU LIKE THESE
Artist: Nelly Furtado
Album: Whoa Nelly!
Why: The whinging vocals
Artist: Lauryn Hill
Album: The Miseducation Of...
Why: The streetness of her demeanour
Artist: Angie Stone
Album: Black Diamond
Why: Source of the mellower grooves found on Frank
Album: Let No One Live Rent-Free In Your Head
Why: Identical vocal style to Amy but with drum n bass attachments
Artist: Ms Dynamite
Album: A Little Deeper
Why: The original 21st century savvy, sassy lady
Artist: Billie Holiday
Album: Definitive Collection
Year: 1991 (songs from 1946-1954)
Why: The absolute blueprint of all black music from the last 60 years
Artist: Erykah Badu
Why: Frank is essentially Baduizm for the 21st century
WHO'S THIS THEN?
It's Morrissey, king of no-mates, bedsitter-dwellling students of the 1980s. He started off life in the band The Smiths in 1983. When they split in 1987, he went solo the following year before sodding off to live in LA in 1997 amid accusations of racism (he was draped in a Union Jack at a concert singing a song called The National Front Disco). He returned last year with the acclaimed album You Are The Quarry.
WHAT'S HE SOUND LIKE?
His monotone baritone voice can be rather appealing and he has a wicked way with a wry lyric. His detractors will call him depressing, boring or talentless. Now in his mid-40s he probably has just a couple more albums left until self-parody sets in.
WHAT'S THIS ALBUM ABOUT?
It's a kind of a "best of" released in 1997 when his record company dropped him and thus squeezed the last drop of money they could from him. I got this for Xmas and know that the missus paid £2.99 for it in HMV! (She thought that was hilarious, naturally ).
It collates solo singles and album tracks from 1988 to 1995. I've rated the songs out of five and added a TBM (Typical Bloody Morrissey) rating to highlight how mad, depressing or just plain bonkers his lyrics are.
1 Suedehead (1988)
His first solo single after the Smiths split in 1987. This was released in 1988 and rocketed into the top ten (a harder thing to do in those days). It' a real thumping strummer of a track with ever so gentle fuzzy guitar and plonking piano pounding away in the background. If you took the vocals aways, you'd have the entire musical output of Keane in one track!
TBM: "You had to sneak into my room just to read my diary"
2. Sunny (1995)
Some very Oasis-like strumming opens the track before some 60's Britpop-style drumming (ie simple and hi-tempo) comes in. It's not his greatest track by a long shot, but there's just enough interesting lyrics and arrangements here to keep you interested. Morrissey's not really known for his harder edged music but the outro starts to rock quite nicely until an ill-advised producer brings things to an early end.
TBM: "WIth your jean belt wrapped around your arm, oh my heart goes out to you"
3. Boxers (1995)
This track has a lovely, catchy hook just before the chorus and it's a shame that a lot of people will never hear this because of their aversion to Morrissey. This mid-tempo stomper is a nice surprise and addition to this album and sems to represent mid-period Morrissey quite nicely.
TBM: "Your weary wife is walking away"
4. Tomorrow (1992)
You'd think that by the bombast of the intro with its clanging guitars and clashing cymbals you might have accidentally walked into a Guns N Roses b-side, but no, it's stil Mozza. After the first verse and chorus are out of the way, Tomorrow settles down into a great jangly affair that reminds me a lot of the early Smiths' music. It's not immediately catchy, but the best songs never are, are they?
TBM: "Would you put your arms around me? I won't tell anybody"
5. Interlude (1994)
This track is a duet between Morrissey and Siouxsie Sioux from Siouxsie And The Banshees. It's a gentle, piano and cello-led ballad with dramatic pauses and stop-start imagination. Almost a French torch song, Morrissey sounds more at home singing this type of tune than Siouxsie does. Great stuff and there's nothing else like this on the album which is a shame.
TBM: "What seems like an interlude now could be the beginning of love"
6. Everyday Is Like Sunday (1988)
The best Morrissey solo track until Irish Blood English Heart was released last year. It's big, bold and has a catchy chorus with chiming guitars and lovely bass and strings that build and build up to the ecstatic choruses.
TBM: "Trudging slowly over wet sand back to the bench where your clothes were stolen"
7. That's Entertainment (1991)
A bizarre addition to the album, this. It's a straightforward cover of the old Jam (Paul Weller) tune from 1980. Some of the observant lines of the original are missed out as Morrissey slows down the tempo of the original to suit his pleading voice. Although it's a bizarre track to include it works really well although it doesn't add a great deal to the original.
TBM: "Open the window and breathe in petrol"
8. Hold Onto Your Friends (1994)
A nice jangly intro leads this song off as Morrissey mourns his way through the first verse. The drums come in at just the right time and the overall feel is that of the Pretenders' 2000 Miles with its melody. Despite this mighty comparison, the track never really goes anywhere, save for a couple of blistering build-ups to the choruses and a lovely guitar solo near the end. Not his best.
TBM: "Don't feel so ashamed to have friends"
9. My Love Life (1991)
More acoustic jangliness starts this mid tempo track off. It's possibly the nearest this album has to the spirit of the Smiths with its deft chord changes and repeatedly sung title. This song seems to go on forever but somehow manages to not outstay its welcome as Morrissey wibbles and croons and adlibs to the end.
TBM: "I know you love one person so why don't you love two, love?"
10. Interesting Drug (1989)
This is fabulous. Recorded and released in 1989 at the start of the dance-drug culture it's a real snipe at that scene. Where the Smiths' Panic had a go at dance music, this track attacks the culture. It's beautifully jangly and the bass is almost taking the piss out of the heavy bass used in most dance tracks of that time. The "la-la-la-la-la" lead up to the chorus is simple, melodic and brilliant. Great stuff.
TBM: "They're saving their own skins by ruining other people's lives"
11. Our Frank (1991)
Coming on like a cross between Madness (bass and piano) and Buddy Holly (uh-ho a-ho-ho), this track is one of the less heard in Morrissey's catalogue. This is a shame, because the uplifting bridge of "give us a drink and make it quick" before the chorus reeally tops this great song. A hidden gem.
TBM: "You're frankly vulgar in a red pullover"
12. Piccadilly Palare (1990)
More Madness-style music hall creativity allied to some cutting lyrics about central Manchester and the people that dwell there. The piano is tinny and effective and the uptempo beat suits the style of the rest of the instrumentation. In typical Morrissey style, it's over all too quickly and fades out at about two and a half minutes.
TBM: "We plied an interesting trade where we threw all life's instructions away".
13. Ouija Board Ouija Board (1989)
Who said Morrissey was depressing? In keeping with the theme of the track, the song starts off with ghostly, ethereal vocals. It then perks up quite nicely into a great mid tempo Morrissey stormer. "The table is rocking, the glass is moving" he sings wryly throughout.
TBM: "Ouija board would you help me because I still feel lonely"
14. You're The One For Me Fatty (1992)
Knowing Morrissey this is song is either about: a) being so ugly and having to settle for someone in his life who is clinically obese, or b) a war-cry to all overweight people to stand up and be proud. The lyrics don't really give much away, but the music is absolutely top drawer, being as it is, an uptempo thumper in the style of The Smiths' This Charming Man. Great stuff.
TBM: "You're the one I really really love and I will stay"
15. We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful (1992)
He's right. My old school mate won the lottery in 1997. He's a bastard. Great song, though.
TBM: "We hate it when our friends become successful and if they're Northern, that makes it even worse"
16. The Last Of The Famous Intrenational Playboys (1989)
This is just great. A real piss-take of the glamour criminals like the Krays and Dave Courtney who've made their fortune (whilst either imprisoned or free) out of books of their memoirs. It's a slower-paced track and the nagging guitar just adds to the sarcasm of this track. Brill.
TBM: "Reggie Kraaaaaay - do you know my name?"
17. Pregnant For The Last Time (1991)
Quirky, offbeat jungle rhythms and skiffle guitars start us off here. Mozza's vocals are distant and echoed here and it sounds a lot like I Started Something I Couldn't Finish by the Smiths. Almost 50's rockabilly in execution this is a good, creative idea gone very bad.
TBM: "Chips with cream for the last time the People's Friend for the last time"
As a chronicler of inner-angst, self loathing and loneliness, there are few better than Stephen Patrick Morrissey. However, there are a couple of glaring omissions from this set, but overall if you're new to Morrissey or liked the singles that he released last year, I'd recommend this album as a start.
Thanks for reading
I usually write my computing peripheral reviews in a "non-teccie" way. I hope this isn't too patronising for experienced computer users, and not too full of jargon for novices. I'm somewhere in between!
It's a fine, fine laser printer from those nice people at Epson. As far as I'm aware, there are three main types of printer: dot matrix (I had one at home in 1986), bubble/ink jet (most common in bundled deals for home PCs at PC World) and laserjets - the most powerful and accurate and smudgefree printers around. This is the latter.
WHAT DOES IT DO?
It connects to your PC and allows you print stuff . Hence the name.
WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE?
It's not going to win any beauty awards (more like a printer equivalent of a knobbly knees competition, actually), but who buys a printer for its looks? No one with sense. It's your bog-standard light grey, square lump of technology that does exactly what it says on the tin: ie print.
AND HOW DID I COME ACROSS THIS?
At work. We had some serious network probs back in May 2004 and decided a huge clear out was essential. This went from the huge server right down to keyboard and mice, printers included. We use this as network printer and to date has been extremely reliable, considering it's being used in an accounts department and sees a high volume of statements, letter and invoices running through it.
SO WHAT DOES THE MANUFACTURER SAY?
"The Epson AcuLaser C8600 is the perfect professional printing solution for users who require exceptional quality colour and mono output on a range of media formats from C5 up to A3W in size. The heart of the AcuLaser C8600 is its powerful printer controller. A high performance 400 MHz processor and a uniquely designed Epson AcuLaser Color ASIC combine to ensure maximum throughput by the rapid processing of even the most complex and demanding color print jobs. The new Epson AcuLaser C8600 is able to achieve superb print quality by utilizing a combination of Epson's exclusive AcuLaser Color Laser Technologies. A wide range of media formats is supported, including plain paper, glossy media and card up to 250 gsm thick, while input capacity is expandable up to 1, 400 sheets via two optional 500 sheet cassettes, and double sided printing is available via an optional duplex unit. The AcuLaser C8600PS version fully supports Adobe PostScript 3, making it the ideal solution for graphic arts users requiring the best results on paper up to A3W with crop marks".
I'd generally agree with that. From opening to the box and installing it, our IT guy commented that this seemed like a good solid network printer. Powerful and reliable, he said, and so it has proved to be 8 months on.
WHAT CAN IT HANDLE?
It's a colour printer and therefore the paper output differs widely between colour and black 'n' white printing jobs. The official spec is 8ppm (pages per minute) for colours and 35 for b&w. Overall this is accurate, but the black and white output can reach over 40 when the printer gets into a rhythm of, say, printing a large batch of invoices. (We know, we've timed and counted it. Life! Where are you?).
It's compatible with both Mac and PC and the connectivity status is wire only, although our IT man swears a wireless version is either on the market or due soon.
For boffins: the maximum resolution when printing in b&w is 600 dpi x 600 dpi and the very same for colour. Don't know what this means, hope it's good.
Some printers I've used in the paast couldn't handle certain types of print jobs, but this machine can handle envelopes, transparencies, labels, plain paper, glossy paper. It can also handle cards and recycled paper, although I can't confirm this.
HOW LONG DOES A CARTRIDGE LAST THEN?
The spec says that each cartridge (they consist of black, magenta and yellow), should last for around 5,500 to 6,000 pages worth of printing. However, having had this for 8 months, I am certain I've raised that many invoices alone and we still hasven't had to change the cartridges. So, durability is good.
CAN I USE IT WITH MY CRAPPY OLD WINDOWS 3.1?
No. But, if you're still living in 1993, then you won't need this printer will you? Those of us in the 21st Century will be delighted to note that the following systems are compatible with the printer:
Apple MacOS 8.1
Microsoft Windows 95/98
Microsoft Windows 2000 / NT4.0
Microsoft Windows Millennium Edition
Microsoft Windows XP
Expect to pay around £220 for this printer.
We've found this to be very useful printer, sturdy, reliable and actually delivers more than it's specification. Which is rare.
WHO'S THIS THEN?
Why, it's Bob Marley: without a doubt the man who single-handedly brought reggae to the attention of the planet. He recorded some 700 tracks and 40 albums between 1965 and 1981. Albums, such as 1984's perfect Legend, are still being issued, and "lost tapes" were still being rescued as recently as 2001. He died in 1981. He's one of the few artists whose voice leaves me awestruck.
1. Coming In From The Cold
This is classic mid-70s reggae. Quite bassy and rootsy with a gorgeous mix of baritone male and soprano female backing vocals allied to Marley insistent voice. Some great drumming from Bunny Wailer ensure professionalism remains throughout. "Would you let the system get on top of and everything?" Bob asks whilst simultaneously setting out his stall for the rest of the album.
2. Real Situation
This starts with some lovely, twee whistling and Hammond organ. "It seems like total destruction is the only the solution", sing the Wailers in the background as Bob pleas against the "ruination" of his homeland. Forget the music, even me - and avid reggae fan - acknowledges that one 70's reggae backing track sounds like another, it's the vocals and the sentiment that grab you here. Great stuff.
3. Bad Card
A busier track, this, with nagging reggae rhythms as Bob sounds pretty down about something or other. Crime probably. There are natty little harmonies and melodies all over the place if you listen carefully enough and a great line in early reggae pastiche when he sings - in a serious manner - "in a rub-a-dub style".
4. We And Dem
I love this title, it's so Jamaican. We and dem! It's a slow burning track and by that I mean really mellow and it takes it's time to really appeal to you. It sounds like fellow 70s afficianados The Ethiopians in it's driving murkiness. The productions is certainly unsheened and Bob's vocals are quite low in the mix giving it the impression of being recorded in a shed. Which is nice.
Sounds like it should be the title a heavy early 90s dance track, but it's a cool breeze in an otherwise politically intense album. Has some very muso Steely Dan-like guitar bits throughout and some affecting, period Afro chants. The backing track sounds like reggae-by-numbers and as such is rather laboured throughout. So, apt title then.
6. Zion Train
18 minutes in and already we're on the sixth track. I have to say this album is a reviewers dream, with an average track length of three minutes and the whole ten tracks only weighing in at 36 mins. "Zion train is coming our way", pipes Bob over a history lesson fr the rastafari out there. A brill track ruined by Thomas The Tank Engine-esque peeps after every mention of the Zion train.
7. Pimper's Paradise
A smooth track stuck in the middle of side two that really should have been given pride of place on side one (yup, I'm listening to this album on vinyl). The forthright backing vocals are back in all their soprano majesty on this tune and Bob - after tackling pollution and oppression on previous Uprising tracks - gives us his thoughts on prostitution. And guess what? He doesn't approve.
8. Could You Be Loved
Hurray! One we all know! This track is very different to the version that ends up on Legend. Whilst it has the insistent bass and same lyrics, there's something different about the vocals and the added instrumentation here. Nonetheless, it's the song we all know (and love?) and as such brightens this album up no end.
9. Forever Loving Jah
I expected to find a track so lovely to be about religion. But sentiments aside, this is a great tune, sandwiched as it is between two of Marley's finest compositions. And it holds up well in intimidating company.
10. Redemption Song
The other track from this album to feature on Legend album. It's the acoustic one that haprs on about songs of freedom. Totally un-reggae in its musical composition and therefore a welcome breath of fresh air and arguably the greatest ever non-reggae song made by a reggae artist, if that nakes sense.
Not for everyone really, but then reggae never really is, is it? Newcomers should start with Legend, pick their favourite tracks from there and go and buy the subsequent albums. Which is exactly what I did and am currently having great fun discovering Bob Marley's lesser known music.