Posted by: Nick Walters | July 12, 2015

The Fall: Sub-Lingual Tablet

Me with the new Fall album!

Taking the tablet

(This is a review of the CD version; there is a vinyl version which features different mixes of some of the tracks, which I haven’t yet heard).

This is, quite simply, a fantastic Fall album, up there with their very best. That’s all you really need to know, and all I really need to say. There is, simply, nothing better than a top album by the best band ever to exist. All hail the glory of The Fall! I’ll say more, though, otherwise this would be a very short review. Sub-Lingual Tablet is the 30-somethingth album by The Fall and the fifth from the current line-up, the longest serving in the band’s history (2007-now): Mark E. Smith (of course), Eleni Poulou (synths), Dave Greenway (guitar), Kieron Melling (bass) and Dave Spurr (drums). This year they are augmented by a second drummer, Daren Garratt. They are on fantastic live form, as their performance at Glastonbury demonstrates.

The title is typically Fall-esque and cleverer than at first meets the eye. A ‘sub-lingual tablet’ is a pill that you pop beneath the tongue, there to dissolve – but the phrase also has connotations with language and technology. Indeed, social media and its associated gadgets are a theme on this album, popping up in the lyrics and forming the subject matter of closing tracks Fibre Book Troll and Quit iPhone. These latter two titles are uncharacteristically unequivocal for Mark E. Smith, and unusually topical… for 2008. Get with it Mark, you wrote I’m Into C.B. at the height of the 1980s UK Citizens Band Radio boom, you’re getting slack in your old age! But then he also wrote Telephone Thing well over century after the invention of the telephone, so I’ll let him off.

The album cover shocked me when I first saw it. There have been some spectacularly bad Fall album covers, most notably Re-Mit, which is just plain ugly. At least that one looked like it took some effort – effort perhaps better spent elsewhere, but the cover of Sub-Lingual Tablet looked, at first, lazy. I didn’t believe that it was the actual cover, just a fan fake, and I hated it, but I have come to like it, even love it. Note the OCD-baiting way there is a gap between the text at the top and the image, but not at the bottom. The image appears to be lighting rig in a nightclub, which suggests a electronic/dance influences – and indeed, this record is far more ‘techno’ than anything since The Unutterable. The image and the stark lettering also have surveillance/ Orwellian overtones. Once loaded onto my ancient Nokia N8 (no iPhones here, Mr Smith!) the cover really stands out when browsing through my music library, and I wonder if it was deliberately designed that way, or is it just serendipity? The back cover, however, is truly, truly horrendous. The image of pills, admittedly, does fit with the album title, but those fonts! Glarg.

So, to the music. I liked the last two Fall albums, Ersatz G.B. (2011) and Re-Mit (2013), and they are still great albums, but they are completely blown out of the water by this. Sub-Lingual Tablet is certainly the best album this line-up have produced, just edging Your Future Our Clutter (2010) which seems a little staid in comparison, and trumping Imperial Wax Solvent (2008) by being a much better sequenced, more complete album experience. Sub-Lingual Tablet was produced by Mark E. Smith himself, which, history teaches us, can go one of two ways. Fortunately, this time, it’s gone the right way, and then some.

The album opens strongly with Venice With The Girls, a song based on this infamous insurance advert. ‘Me? I’m off to Venice with the girls! Well, why should I be a golf widow? Not when StaySure have it covered!’ Mark E. Smith does seem to find his inspiration in the most unlikely places! Rather interestingly, the lyrics are from the husband’s point of view, as he waits mournfully for his wife (and, presumably, daughters) to return. ‘He’s been waiting so long,’ sings Mark. Yes, sings! It’s his best vocal performance in ages. Musically, it’s fairly standard Fall-pop with a catchy riff and pounding drums. The production is interesting –  despite its crisp clarity, there’s a lot of murk and grime in there, giving the track a muddy sheen. This recalls the 1979 album Dragnet, which was remastered in 2004, only to reveal that the apparent murkiness and grit wasn’t due to previous poor remasters, but was in the actual music itself. Much of Sub-Lingual Tablet has a similar tone.

Second track, Black Roof, is a weird one. Written and performed by Rob Barbato and Tim Presley, the ‘Dudes’ who worked with Mark E Smith on 2007’s Reformation! Post TLC, it’s a brief, barmy, Beefheartian blast that takes more than a few listens to get a handle on. it’s great to hear that The Fall can still put out such disconcerting music.

Then comes Dedication Not Medication, one of the album’s highlights. It’s like the mutant offspring off L.A. from 1985’s This Nation’s Saving Grace. A juddering bassline of satisfying sinisterosity underpins alarming synth contributions from Eleni and shuddering guitar shenanigans from Pete Greenway. After a minute or so it breaks into a startling cacophonic crescendo, which subsides back into the main riff, only for M.E.S. to shout ‘PIERCE BROSNAN! How dare you prescribe sad grief and bed-wet pills!’ One of the hilarious high points on what is an extremely entertaining album.

First One Today follows and the TNSG comparisons continue as this sounds like a B-side recorded around 1985, with shades of album track Barmy. Even Mark’s vocal sounds as if it was were recorded thirty years ago. A bouncy bass interlude gives the track a personality of its own. Four tracks in, and four wildly differing styles – and yet it all flows perfectly.

Another change of style next on Junger Cloth. This follows in the vein of Chino and Hittite Man from recent albums, but somehow manages to be more primal. The bassline is brilliant, and hard to describe; it’s vaguely African, and addictive in a specifically Fall way that mere words cannot convey. The lyrics seem to be about Mark deciphering a Satanic inscription on a parchment or cloth: ‘It encapsulates all that is foul in man and creature.’ Careful listening reveals a scratchy guitar riff in the left channel that recalls Can.

Stout Man follows, a cover of The Stooges’ Cock in my Pocket. There’s a story going round that M.E.S. challenged the band to learn this song – and  that this version is an early take from a CD which M.E.S. found on the floor of a tour bus, and he decided to use that rather than later, polished versions. A brief but illuminating insight into the way he works! The track is rough and ready and completely hilarious, Mark’s voice is right at the front of the mix, as he gnarls and gurgles his way through lyrics about a ‘a big fat man, pushin a little pram!’ The excellent guitar solo at the end is surprisingly trad for The Fall.

Then comes the album’s centrepiece, and not just one of the best Fall tracks of recent times, but ever. Ten minutes off utter, utter, utter joy: Auto Chip 2014-2016. Now, I had heard a nascent version of this on last year’s live album, and wondered how it would sustain over a whole ten minutes. I should not have worried – it fills its time beautifully and in fact whilst listening to it you wish it could go on longer, or forever! So what’s it like? Imagine Television’s Marquee Moon railroaded by Neu! and you’re halfway there. A monotonous, propellant bassline, a three-note guitar riff, and fantastic drumming, over which Mark E. Smith  declaims in his unique inimitable style. That could describe any Fall song – and is the key to the genius of this track. Always different, always the same, as John Peel once said.

The genius of Auto Chip is the way it builds and builds and builds, sometimes cutting back, and then returning at full force. Argh! Mere words aren’t enough! It is indescribably good. Lyrically, Mark seems to be mourning the plight of English musicians: ‘How bad are English musicians… suffering?’ At the end he growls ‘What else you get for Christmas boy? Well done!’ as if congratulating Greenway on his performance. And rightly so – his chiming guitar resonates back into Fall history to the Peel session version of New Puritan. Oh, this is The Fall all right, cock. At their very, very best.

Next, Pledge!, another long track (over six minutes), and one of their weirdest. Up there with Mollusc in Tyrol or Papal Visit in the WTF? stakes. Good – the Fall should be weird. A whole album like this would be hell, but in this context it works perfectly and adds another dimension to the album.  It starts with the fartiest synths this side of Rubberband Man by Yello, and chunders on in a sludgy morass of bass, atonal synths and churning, malformed guitar. Mark E. Smith is having a go at crowd-funding – ‘When you ask for creative money – pledge!’ At one point, he shouts, alarmingly and hilariously, ‘KIDNAP BONO PLEDGE!!!’

After two such mammoth epics, Snazzy comes as something of a respite. A brief, poppy, jazzy, even funky number, it doesn’t outstay its welcome and is soon elbowed out of the way by another mammoth epic, Fibre Book Troll (aka Facebook Troll). There is an earlier version of this which is very good, if rather polite, but this version – wow. It’s utterly impolite, and rips its way out of the speakers. ‘I wanna fuckin’ Facebook troll!’ shrieks Mark, his voice sounding speeded up (in the technical rather than pharmaceutical sense). It all builds to an overpowering crescendo and ends with thirty seconds of ear-piercing whistling, which is hilarious on first listen, but becomes rather annoying on further exposure. But hey, this is The Fall, they aren’t here to make you feel comfortable – quite the opposite.

Quit iPhone ends the album, and musically it’s cut from the same cloth as Venice and Stout man, even sharing some of the same riffs. On first listen it seems out of place but it’s a good way to wrap up the album and is a great pop song in its own right, and a curmudgeonly rant against tablet-obsessed twats: ‘Why can’t you just leave it alone? Why can’t you just quit that iPhone?’  The song and the album ends with Mark E Smith crooning: ‘My eye muscle is bright as I stare the morn, and I see the citadel of Media City shining bright,’ and the track cuts out on an intake of breath, as did 2010’s Your Future Our Clutter.

And then you play it again, and again, and again, because it’s brilliant. I say once more, Sub-Lingual Tablet is a fantastic Fall album, up there with their very best. They, and their leader, show no sign of slowing down. The Fall remain a wonderful and frightening work in progress, an ever-growing (and growling) body of work unmatched in its creative drive, scope and vision. Pah, words! Just buy it, and listen to it, loudly! If you’re lucky, you’ll be in; if not, well, I pity thee.

All hail the glory of The Fall!

Posted by: Nick Walters | February 19, 2015

ALIEN 5 ALIVE!

Be gentle with me…

So Alien 5 is a goer.

I think we can rest assured that it’s in safe directorial hands. I thought Elysium weak plot-wise, but visually a treat, and District 9 is a masterpiece of modern SF (even though it does go very silly in its final act). Chappie looks like it will be everything the Robocop remake should have been. Blomkamp has an eye for SF, especially the tech, and – pleasingly – a relish for gore and grue, that fits perfectly with the Alien franchise. So he’s the perfect choice.

The big problem is the plot. If Sigourney Weaver isn’t involved, then the problem is solved – the story can be set anywhere in the Alien universe. It could even be an adaptation of one of the many comics – Labyrinth, for example, though that would be better suited to a TV series, and would probably be too grim for a mainstream audience (e.g. the scene where the xenomorphs  force the main character to mate with his limbless mother, so he strangles her to death.)

If Sigourney Weaver is involved, then there is a problem. Alien: Resurrection, and how to get past it.  There are probably more ways than these, but here goes:

  1. Pretend it didn’t happen, and carry on from the end of Aliens. Say 3 and Resurrection were both hypersleep dreams
  2. Carry on with Clone Ripley
  3. Carry on with a different Clone Ripley
  4. Have it so that at the end of 3 the real Ripley was teleported off Fiorina
  5. Have Sigourney play Ripley’s sister
  6. Have the real Ripley’s memories from up to the end of 3 downloaded into a new body
  7. Set it in a parallel universe

Although I would dearly love for Alien: Resurrection to have never happened, like it or not, it’s part of the continuity. Given that, I’d say 6 is the best, or least worst, idea. It’s no worse than the ‘clone Ripley’ idea and could probably be done, given the state of the tech in the Alienverse; we know they can make synthetic humans, so it’s not too much of a stretch to argue that they could download minds into them. That said, all these ideas are squarlely in the pretty terrible ‘it was all a dream’ category, but given the corner they have painted Ripley into, that can perhaps be tolerated if not forgiven.

Now, assuming that the problem is solved, what could the story of Alien 5 be? The story is over at the end of Aliens, all that needed to be said has been said. Although I enjoy Alien 3, it doesn’t add anything to the mythos, and the least said about Resurrection and the AvP films – and Prometheus – the better. So, is the story of the Alien done? Not if you look in the vast number of comics and games and other spin-offs – only a few of which I have read, and they range from simplistic shoot-em-ups to harrowing Grand Guignol masterpieces like Labyrinth. Blomkamp could do worse than look to these for his inspiration.

I’ve long had an idea for an opening scene of an Alien film, inspired – oddly enough – by the music of Tangerine Dream, specifically Rubycon (Part 2) – listen from 17:23.

Even before I’d seen, or even heard of, Alien, this piece of music haunted me. I was only about 7 or 8, and Rubycon was part of my Dad’s immense, eclectic record collection. It made me visualise a long, dark corridor, with alien creatures slowly creeping towards you. It’s a terrifying piece of music, and would work well as the soundtrack to a new Alien film. And over the years it has given birth to this in my mind:

A desolate urban landscape on a colony world. Night at the edge of the city. Derelict tower blocks either side of a wide street littered with debris and abandoned vehicles. The road leads out of the city into the grey desert. Above, the stars. A man shuffles along the road, thin, starving, wrapped in an old greatcoat. Something makes him look up. The stars are going out. More people emerge from the rubble and watch as something lands at the city limits. Something vast. An enormous cylinder of metal. As they watch the end of the cylinder opens to reveal a long corridor lit with alien blue light. There is a distant drumming as of running feet, and the humans watch in terror as hordes of aliens emerge from the ship. The creatures scour the colony killing all the humans… 

The idea is that another race is using the xenomorphs to cleanse the galaxy of humans, or something. Not particularly original, and, written down, it doesn’t seem all that – but if I chuck Rubycon on and close my eyes , this blossoms inside my mind like an enormous evil alien flower of horror and beauty.

So if you’re reading this, Mr Blomkamp, feel free. I suppose my point is, if there is a point, we all have our notions of what a new Alien film could be, and our expectations are very high. And so are our concerns considering the mess the franchise is currently in, plot-wise, since its dilution into the later films. There hasn’t been a great Alien film for almost thirty years – is it, now, too late for another? I return to my first point: we’re in the safest pair of hands possible.

Over to you, Mr Blomkamp.

Posted by: Nick Walters | December 10, 2014

Mutually Assured Domination

Lethbridge-Stewart. The fellow you’d want on your side in any fight.

Back in the summer I was offered something big. Something very big and very exciting. I was not able to tell anyone about it, however, until now.

So, this is it: I am writing the ‘season finale’ in the first series of a new set of Doctor Who spin-offs featuring the adventures of the young Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge Stewart, published by Candy Jar Books.

My first novel in ten years! (This was the last).

No, I can’t quite believe it either – it does, indeed, scarcely seem possible – but it’s real, as reported on Doctor Who News.

The first book, The Forgotten Son by series line editor Andy Frankham, is out in February 2015 (and I can say with all honesty it’s effin’ brilliant). Then, throughout the rest of the year, comes Lance Parkin’s Horror of Det-Sen and David A McIntee’s The Schizoid Earth, and finally, my very own Mutually Assured Domination.

It’s set in the late 60s Cold War era during an uneasy period when global power balances were shifting and the peace movement, preoccupied with the Vietnam War after the Tet offensive, had perhaps taken its eye off the nuclear ball. Certain ‘outside interests’ take advantage of this situation and soon the world is poised on the brink of nuclear armageddon. It’s up to Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart and uneasy ally journalist Harold Chorley to fight the forces of darkness and save the day. And, given the title Mutually Assured Domination, the seasoned Doctor Who aficionado can probably take an educated guess as to what exactly these ‘forces of darkness’ are. DANGER! TRESPASSERS WILL BE DESTROYED!

To quote myself from the press release:

“After the Doctor himself the Brigadier is the best-loved character in Doctor Who. I met Nick Courtney a number of times and he really is a splendid fellow. He brought a real humanity and vulnerability to the role without compromising the essential toughness of the character. Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart is the chap you’d want on your side in a fight – any fight – and it is a real privilege to be exploring what made him into the character we came to know and love.”

Not much else to say, really, other than: I am going to have a very busy Christmas and New Year!

Posted by: Nick Walters | October 30, 2014

Half Man Half Biscuit: Urge For Offal

I wasn’t at all impressed on first listen, but after a couple of spins, I love this now. It’s better than 90 Bisodol (Crimond), which I found somehow tiring; it seemed to have nothing new to offer. Urge for Offal, however, sounds fresher and more energetic. The music rocks harder, veering towards grunge in places. It’s a dense, complex stew, nourishing and rewarding. It lacks the usual trappings of a HMHB album i.e. no list song or spoken-word song (although The Unfortunate Gwatkin does sail close to that). Initial listens are disorientating, and sometimes the lyrics – all but drowned out by the roaring music in some places – are hard to make out. But eventually things become clearer, and the album grows in stature.

It’s also a much funnier album than 90 Bisodol (albeit not without its dark corners, of which more later).  The aforementioned Unfortunate Gwatkin climaxes (sorry) with a chant of ‘Cresta! What the fuck were we drinking?’ At first I only found this mildly amusing, and cryptic. But when I realised that it was a comment on the lack of a comma in the 1970s Cresta ads – ‘Cresta: it’s frothy man’ – I got it. THIS is why Nigel Blackwell is a genius, and this is why his stuff needs more than a cursory listen. It’s like a cryptic crossword of trivia set to music. Or like he’s setting us homework. But fun homework. I’m discovering more on each listen – it’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Westward Ho! (Massive Letdown) is a great opener – it rocks, in a very Fall-esque manner, and tells a tale of romantic abandonment and simmering ire. Love the line about Frank Ifield jumping on a windmill – God knows what it means, though. Enlightenment will come, either from the HMHB Lyrics Project in which like-minded HMHB pedants pick over the bones of every song, or the HMHB website itself, which helpfully explains all the references.

This One’s For Now is the first of many songs here to evoke earlier HMHB tunes. This recalls Fun Day in the Park from the last album – and knowingly sees the return of the boil on the back of the cab driver’s neck from that song.  Of course, all their songs sound the same, we know that, he knows that, we know he knows that, he knows we know that etc, we’re caught in what Doctor Who might call ‘a chronic hysteresis of self-referential wry recursion.’  Best line is the obvious yet hilarious ‘you’re so beige you probably think this song is about someone else.’ I also love the bit about working in DFS and not getting paid for five years.

Baguette Dilemma for the Booker Prize Guy is simply stunning. It staggers and swaggers and almost falls over itself in a rush of OTT riffs and an overwhelming barrage of bizarre imagery. Nigel uses his ‘angry’ voice which is always ace. ‘I’ve got a dead leg from kicking myself!’ he growls. The song appears to be about a writer ghoosk choosing between saving some civic dignitaries from drowning or buying his lunch, but the words are quite hard to make out in places, so the Lyrics Project will definitely come in handy here. I quite like the reference to the ‘lace of your mother’s mantilla’ and ‘Eat in or take away – your choice – what do you say?!’

My Outstretched Arms is perhaps the darkest song on the album, telling the story of a suicide over unrequited love. The music recalls the similarly dark Excavating Rita from the last album. I actually find this one genuinely moving – its lack of cynicism is refreshing. ‘My outstretched arms at quarter to three / As I lay prostrate on the floor.’

The Bane of Constance recalls, thematically, Them’s The Vagaries; it seems to be about a bloke (Vince) whose head is full of rubbish and trivia who is the ‘bane’ of his partner (Constance). The confusing lyrics (which, again, I can’t quite make out yet) merely represent the contents of said mind. The climax with its frantic drumming and chant of ‘Midge Ure looks like a milk thief!’ is one of the highlights of the album.

Theme Tune to Something or Other is a bit throwaway, but they do this sort of thing so well. It also makes for a nice break in the album.

False Grit is one of those songs that leaves no impression on first listen but worms its way into your mind. It appears to be about the false impression of the north of England fostered by ‘grim oop North’ TV cop shows (however good) like Happy Valley and Scott and Bailey. The latter is explicitly referenced: ‘Get the Haynes (not the car manual – but director Toby!) and call Suranne Jones.’ Musically it recalls Mate of the Bloke from Achtung Bono.

Old Age Killed My Teenage Bride is a rather twisted, yet somehow moving tale of long-lasting love. Again the music rumbles and roars. Lyrics again genius: ‘abseil for no-one.’ There is a continuity error though: the titular bride seems to die twice, once at age 100 and again at age 101!

Urge for Offal is a straightforward reminiscence about being in a HM band (though why they’re called that I dunno) set to mellow strummed guitars. The lyrics about spraying the band name on lorries appears to have inspired fans to do the same –likely to be the only promotion this album receives!

Stuck Up A Hornbeam is the best song on the album and is fast becoming one of my fave HMHB songs ever. The joyous rage against misery – the angry voice makes another appearance. Musically, it’s trad R and B and could almost pass for an amped-up Status Quo –  again, they do this sort of thing really well. Though it’s extremely dark – about someone contemplating suicide from within the boughs of a tree – it’s also bloody funny. Live at the Apollo and DIY come under attack. ‘I’ve got a Mynah bird – it does nothing but moan’ – think about it! And the lines about meditation – ‘beats sitting round doing nothing, I suppose.’ Genius, genius, genius. I love this to bits.

No songs lambasting middle class ghoosks on this album – UNTIL! Adam Boyle Has Cast Lad Rock Aside. Like the title track, an area of calm on what is a very loud album. Some neat lines about discovering tweed and growing a beard and getting into music for which you’re ‘not geared.’

The Unfortunate Gwatkin is the National Shite Day, Ascending the Stiperstones etc of the album, only more concise. It appears to be about a chap called Gwatkin, a verger, being beaten up by various miscreants including a chap called Bridgedale who uses a hiking sock of that name on his fist. Gwatkin ends up in an institution and pleads to the narrator ‘help me.’ Quite disturbing, especially the line ‘Gwatkin as is does not represent Gwatkin as was.’ Of course, it’s all about the climactic chant of ‘Cresta! What the fuck were we drinking?’ about which I have already written.

Mileage Chart is very strange. Musically it sounds like a bit like New Order, and is a big departure from the full-on sound of the album, as were the title track and Adam Boyle, but in a different way. On first acquaintance it seems to be an ode of love to a mileage chart in a roadway atlas, whose ‘brutal numerals’ so ‘appal’ the narrator that it prevents him from leaving his comfort zone of ‘lower nowhere.’ Nigel Blackwell’s dislike of touring, and his love of staying at home (he once said you can’t beat your own bed and bog) is well-known, so Mileage Chart is his way of saying that he will never play the game and try to compete in that other chart, the pop chart.

Like Kate Bush, Nigel Blackwell remains totally true to his art, and will never, ever compromise. Like Kate Bush, HMHB’s live shows are well worth seeing, thought not as financially challenging; and somewhat more frequent, if largely restricted, as Mileage Chart affirms, to certain geographical areas. And like Kate Bush, the continued presence of Half Man Half Biscuit in the world is a wonderful thing.

Posted by: Nick Walters | September 4, 2014

Feathered Frenzy

I’m on a roll…

My story Feathered Frenzy has  been chosen for publication in Teeming Terrors, a new anthology from Knightwatch Press.

The idea behind this anthology is a simple one: HORDES OF CRITTERS! Think James Herbert’s The Rats or Hitchcock’s The Birds. Actually, that second one was the starting point for Feathered Frenzy, which tells the story of a war between seagulls and pigeons: ‘whoever wins, we get shat on.’  It’s like World War Z filtered through a Wyndham-esque disaster story.

Teeming Terrors will be released – when you least suspect it!

Posted by: Nick Walters | September 4, 2014

Blood Slobber of the Scrunge Worms

My short story Blood Slobber of the Scrunge Worms has been chosen for inclusion in Killer Bees from Outer Space, a new anthology from Knightwatch Press. 

The thinking behind the anthology is to have fun with the cliches and ideas found in B Movies. My story is a homage to the golden eras of B Movies, the 1950s, and also to the all-but-bygone age of the video rental shop, source of much of my movie viewing during the 1980s – with an added dose of satire about the modern propensity for remakes/re-imaginings, told through the story of three relationships. Oh and yes the titular Scrunge Worms put in an appearance!

Killer Bees from Outer Space lands in early 2015.

 

Posted by: Nick Walters | August 12, 2014

Lana Del Rey: Ultraviolence

Oh. Well, FUCK YOU!

This will be my last album review on this blog. And it won’t even be a proper review. Sorry, Lana!

Why am I stopping? I’m not in a strop, this is not a flounce, or a cry for attention; it’s a calculated decision. There are two reasons: a) writing them has become a chore, and b) I need to invest my time in other things.

So: a) It’s becoming a chore. A new album will come out, such as this one, and, even before I’ve heard it, even before I’ve bought it, I’ll start to think ‘bugger, I have to review this now.’ I’ll read the other reviews that come out at the time of the release, and phrases from them will seep into my brain before I have even heard a note. I may even begin composing the review in my mind, even before I have heard a note! And so I will get the album, listen to it, and always be aware that I have to write the review. There will be a persistent niggle at the back of my mind each time I put the album on. And it gets worse as time goes on – it takes me a while to get into an album, and it can be weeks, or even months, by the time I eventually manage to chuck some words together for this blog, by which time, who cares? So the whole process of reviewing music is beginning to get in the way, big time, of my actual enjoyment of the music.

Now to: b). Time! I have a ton of other writing I should be getting on with, so time spent on these reviews could be better spent on those. It may not seem like a lot of time, penning the odd music review or two every month, but I have a day job so my writing time is limited to evenings, weekends, and holidays. And then there’s the mental headspace that not worrying about writing these reviews will create.

And I should really be using this blog to promote my writing, rather than churning out these reviews that nobody, least of all me, gives the tinest toss about.

So this is my last ever review on this blog. And I can’t even be bothered to write it. (If you really want to know, read some of the other reviews out there on the Interweb).

Sorry again, Lana! You know I love you.

Posted by: Nick Walters | July 24, 2014

Coldplay: Ghost Stories


Coldplay’s last album, Mylo Xyloto, was such an exuberant, ecstatic dayglo monster that it seemed inevitable that the only way onward was to go in the opposite direction, to go ‘back to basics’ – which, on Ghost Stories, they have. It is not, however, a return to the style of Parachutes, though it does share that album’s sense of intimacy. Ghost Stories is such a radical departure from the Coldplay we’re used to that it has been widely misunderstood, and criticised for being something that it’s not. It’s not a ‘classic break-up album’ like Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks or The Jazz Butcher’s Condition Blue. What it is, is Coldplay’s dreampop album. Compare it to Cranes’ Particles And Waves and the similarities are striking: the electronic beats, the glitchy drums, the sense of stillness and space. It doesn’t quite go far enough in that direction for my liking – there’s nothing really wildly experimental or even original here; Coldpay play things safe musically and lyrically – but it is a beautifully crafted album, put together with much thought and skill. And the title actually means something this time: the songs are all about actions of the past haunting the present.

It opens with the sound of angels crooning leading into Always In My Head, which sets the agenda perfectly. A woozy, dreamy stroll with Martin mumbling away about lost love, sounding not at all bothered. Then comes Magic, which is, admit it, a classic Coldplay single. Clever, catchy, lovely, it’s up there with their best. Then comes Ink, which compares the pain of love to the pain of inking the body, over a simple, even cheesy melody. True Love comes next, one of the best songs here. It shares a smilar sound to Ink, and at first sounds superficial and bland. But the lyric:  ‘Tell me that you love me and if you don’t , Lie to me’  makes the song’s bland  title quite dark, if you think about it. There’s a brilliant, brief, guitar solo towards the end that makes you realise how little guitar work there is on Ghost Stories, but it’s not a really problem as this is not a guitar rock album – as I have already said, it’s dreampop.

And next up is the culmination of this: Midnight, the album’s standout track, and the biggest departure from the usual Coldplay sound, though anyone who has listened to (say) Brian Eno will realise how unoriginal this track is. That said, it is a thing of ethereal beauty, and the nearest to the sound of Particles and Waves it ever gets. The way it builds to its twinkling climax is spellbinging. Next up is Another’s Arms, where Martin moans about missing watching TV with his bird. Naff lyrics do not ruin a lovely song. A word now about Chris Martin’s voice – he’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but  he is in absolutely stunning form here, his voice soars and swoops and croons, sometimes wordlessly, reminding me sometimes of Sigur Ros (as does the album cover, come to think of it). Ghost Stories represents Martin’s finest vocal performance to date.

Then comes Oceans, the album’s other key track. A sonar blip replaces a drumbeat and guitars gently strum and the whole thing ends in two minutes of ambient drone and surging sea sounds. Beautiful! I wish the album could have moved more in this direction, but hey. This is Coldplay, they are trad, not rad. Sky full of Stars comes next, a re-tread of Every Tearbrop is a A Waterfall and, although more uptempo than the rest of the album, it does not seem as out of place as others have said. In fact its sense of dislocated, majestic yearning fits right in, and those stars in that sky reference back to Midnight.  Final track O is seven minutes long, but isn’t really: it’s a sweet piano piece called Fly On, a big gap, then a reprise of the opening fanfare, so leave the CD (remember them?) playing because it brings the album full circle in a satisfying and beautiful way. Overall, then, Ghost Stories represents a new direction for Coldplay and an artistic peak for Chris Martin.  It will convert no-one (in fact perhaps the opposite) but somehow I don’t think that matters one bit.

Posted by: Nick Walters | July 5, 2014

Boris Blank / Malia: Convergence

Yello’s last album was the smooth and sensual Touch Yello in 2009, and since then both Dieter Meier and Boris Blank have embarked on solo projects.  Meier’s album Out of Chaos is, shall we say, the more artistically adventurous. He adopts a startling singing style totally at odds with the deep bassy croon beloved by Yello fans. A brave choice and, to these ears anyway, an off-putting one.

Boris Blank’s solo album is less adventurous but will sound more familiar to Yello fans. Although a joint solo album with Malawian singer Malia, Convergence sounds like a continuation of Touch Yello, albeit with one vocalist and no instrumentals, which gives the project a coherence and identity of its own.

It may be less adventurous but it is no less artistically valid. Blank’s skills in the studio are renowned, and he creates a warm, cinematic, smooth palette of sound with what music geeks would probably call ‘a deep and intricately layered sonic floor’ or something. Malia’s voice is excellently suited to this style and she brings a playful, warm personality to the proceedings especially on the funky I Feel It Like You and the cover of Fever.

I have previously blogged about wacky Yello song titles and there is some of that here Celestial Echo, Magnetic Lies, Touching Ghosts and, most wonderfully, Embraceable Moon.

This is the coolest, smoothest, most sophisticated album since the invention of Babycham. When listened to it, I close my eyes, and am instantly transported to a bar on a beach on a warm summer night, dressed in a tux, propping up the bar and gazing into the eyes of a sexy lady. I am Swiss Toni and Don Turbulento and Random Tox. Nice.

Posted by: Nick Walters | June 17, 2014

James: La Petite Mort

The stunning cover of the new James album is a pretty accurate indication of its contents.

This, James’s second full album since their reunion, is among their very best. The days of Sit Down and Laid are long, long gone, but James’ fire certainly has not gone out. Indeed it burns brighter here than on any of their albums since, arguably, Whiplash. This is a joyous, life-affirming, uplifting album with dark undertones; its theme seems to be ‘in the midst of life we are in death, et cetera.’ Lead single Moving On was written in response to singer Tim Booth’s mother’s passing, and it is truly wonderful and affecting, as is the astonishing video. This bereavement underpins the whole album from its title to its macabre skull/carnival imagery. It  is, however, not a maudlin record – quite the opposite: second track Curse Curse is a bona fide rave anthem and Gone Baby Gone is a fine piece of pop gibberish, totally meaningless fun fluff which contrasts with the record’s weightier themes. Talking of which, Interrogation is the album’s stand-out, a stunning piece of music over which Tim Booth rails and wails against injustice. Now in his mid fifties, Booth sounds just exactly as he ever did, or perhaps even better – and the band are at the top of their game. Larry Gott’s keening, melodious guitar and Andy Diagram’s trumpet flourishes are instantly familiar and reassuring, but it is Mark Hunter’s keyboards that dominate the album and indeed is the first thing you hear on the seven-minute opening track Walk Like You.  However, three consecutive songs on ‘Side 2′ are dominated by Hunter’s piano melodies which does make them seem a little samey on first listen. The production doesn’t help here, not giving these three tracks space enough to breathe, but this is a minor criticism as overall the music has a warm, involving sound. The album ends with the extremely moving All I’m Saying which is one of the best closing tracks to any James album. At ten songs La Petite Mort doesn’t overstay its welcome and leaves you wanting more. James fans should love this, and it’s a fine starting point for the curious. Strange that an album about death and bereavement is proving to be the album of the summer, but there it is!

Older Posts »

Categories

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 44 other followers