Monthly Archives: January 2011

462. Led Zeppelin – “Led Zeppelin II”

Even I know enough Led Zep mythology to know that they considered themselves an ‘album band’, taking it to the extreme of refusing to release singles from their masterpieces.

Album cover Led_Zeppelin_II two Heartbreaker 2 CD reviewIt is a little surprising how patchy I’ve found the albums thus far, however. The long-players are just as reliant on a couple of standout tracks as the mere mortals I encounter here on a regular basis.

The biggies here are the opening Whole Lotta Love – built around a delightful, growling riff, and showcasing Plant’s best blues wailing; and the idiosyncratic Heartbreaker.

Those two tracks are enough to make me think a 1970s me would have been pretty chuffed when I insert this 8-track cartridge into the player in my Scooby-Doo styled van.  The band had certainly made a substantial leap in acumen and achievement since their debut.

They really start to push the psychedelic envelope with aural effects.  Unfortunately, they continue to wander further into the pompous and ponderous world of hobgoblins lyrically (Ramble On is the main offender here).  When they stick to the bluesier domain they are on much sturdier and less embarrassing turf.

Of course, they could also try some jazz showtune styling:

File under: Beware the hobbit references

461. Ben Lee – “Grandpaw Would”

I’m currently on a worktrip to Thailand.  Looking ahead at the CDs on my agenda, I can see 3 more Led Zeps plus 3 from Ben Lee, so I’ve made the executive decision to alternate them (lest I got over Zepped)…It also means I’ll have reviewed 5 debut albums in a row!

Ben Lee is a character who divides the Aussie music fan community, as he’s always been unusually brash, and no one really looks a prodigy.

Lee was still only 16 when this debut hit the shelves, bursting with 21 tracks of (mainly) acoustic artistry and smarty-pants teenage angst.

Little Benny had already won some hearts with his Dando-tribute Wish I Was Him (which unfortunately isn’t on this album – you’ll have to seek out a Noise Addict EP):

That track exemplifies both the attraction and frustrations with this collection.  Lee has a good pop ear, and patches together some cute sets of lyrics. He was mightily confident, strumming his guitar at increasingly high-speed and belting out odes to various girls, bands and actresses (chronicling and presaging the weird celeb-infused life he was entering).

The frustration is the lack of editing. There are too few actual gems on here, and a lot that would benefit from some polish, taking them beyond a nice couplet or two. He struggled to find a means of overcoming his weak voice (J.Richman should have been a guide)

Perhaps his youthful exuberance and rush should have been tempered. He also should have been encouraged to embrace the fuller-band sound on more tracks.  The single Pop Queen hinted at what he could have achieved here:

File under: Can your Grandpa do this?

 

460. Led Zeppelin – “Led Zeppelin”

I somehow missed out on a Led Zep phase in my youth.

Nevertheless, the band has always had some presence, if nothing else because of the repeated cover versions of their ubiquitous Stairway to Heaven on ABC show The Money or the Gun.

It took my always-surprising life partner to bring the first four Zep long-players into my life (including a CD and LP version of one of the them!).

This debut isn’t one she’s played me much however.  It’s a bit of a strange beast.  It kicks as a pretty standard blues-rock outing, with probably only Robert Plant’s overwrought vocals the distinguishing characteristic.  Sure Jimmy Page’s riffs are nifty (especially on Dazed and Confused), but with my modern(-ish) ears they seem pretty clichéd and old-hat.

The lyrical content is rather crude and a little bit silly, although there are some refreshing moments when Plant gets a bit more spontaneous and scatty on the epic final track How Many More Times.

As the album progresses there is more hints of the extent to which this band would get louder, more adventurous and preposterous  on future releases. Dazed and Confused, Communication Breakdown and the aforementioned closer get a very nice groove going.

It’s all a little histrionic for my liking, but then a Doors cover band make it sound even more so (I’m gonna pester you with the Money or the Gun clips over the four reviews):

File under: Oh the Huge Manatee

459. Le Tigre – “Le Tigre”

In a perfect world this band might be some tribute to Canadian hair-rock giants Glass Tiger (maybe by some Québécois?).

Of course it isn’t.  Instead it is the debut from the first ladies of the electrotrash riot grrl genre.

This had the potential to be a painful, overly indulgent exercise in nostalgia for some Blondie-esque New Wave reversion.

Thankfully this trio is to clever and talented to fall for such gimmickry.  Instead they manage to tap into the energy and excitement of the era, while still constructing an album that bears up to repeated lessons.

The upbeat, tinny, multi-vocalled tracks have a punky vitality mixed with dance-floor friendliness (there’re hints of the non-rappy stuff from the Beastie Boys).

More distinct is the combination of unashamedly arty topics (e.g. What’s Yr Take On Cassavetes, Slideshow At Free University), and also hardcore feminist homages. The name-checking on Hot Topic makes up for that gender-studies course you forgot to take.

I’m impressed by this album to the extent that it could have been very grating in its knowing tweeness (think Architecture in Helsinki), but they managed to pull it off. Sort of like Glass Tiger…

File under: Earned their stripes

458. LCD Soundsystem – “LCD Soundsystem”

You’ve probably picked up that I only make very occasional
excursions into dance-floor targeted acts.

James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem was hard to ignore with this debut.

The Daft Punk is Playing… single was (and still is) delightfully infectious, as well as being the perfect party invitation:

That song and this whole double album showcase a playful and daring
approach to a raft of different musical styles. Murphy is clearly a
complete music geek. Losing My Edge manages to
namecheck more seminal acts and epochs than should be possible in 7
minutes.

I love Murphy’s laconic, nasal chatter-as-vocal and the
smattering of garage rock elements amongst the stomping blips and
beats.

He is not afraid to explore a more melancholy side, with downbeat tracks that out-Eel The Eels , such as Never As Tired As When I’m Waking Up.

This mix and mash of styles and sounds is both unique and worthy of Murphy’s claim to a Movement.

File under: Languid Crafty Display

457. Pete Lawler – “King Rooster”

Some of you may remember Pete Lawler as the usually grumpy, often intimidating bass player in Aussie folk-rock legends Weddings Parties Anything.

When Pete split from WPA, King Rooster was one of the various monikers he adopted (he was also Dr Pump in the Crazy Baldheads).

In this incarnation he was still a little rootsy, but much more in a swampy-boogie blues vein.

This feels like a solo side project, constrained by a very tight budget, but lovingly shaped with the help of some friends. Unfortunately, the sound is often a little murkier than even the genre justifies, and thus the album seems laboured and underdone.

Lawler sings on here, channelling a cool demeanour, somewhere between Richard Clapton and Tim Rogers. The energy is infectious.

I love that the album is so parochially Melbourne, with Footscray, Mordialloc and Brunswick St all prominent (along with a certain retailer on Ikea Blues).

If the TV show Gruen Transfer are ever looking for a new theme tune, they could do a lot worse than the wigged out Ad Man.

Sadly, I never saw Pete play this album, but I often delighted in his take on Xmas cheer (from his WPA days):

File under: I feel like chicken tonight

456. Bettye Lavette – “The Scene of the Crime”

Despite my delight in her previous release I was criminally slow in picking up this 2007 effort (I bought it as a present for my missus a couple of months ago).

I’d missed that this was, in effect, a collaborative album.  Lavette is backed, and produced, by fellow reviewees Drive-By Truckers.

The hook-up works a treat, as the band provide a wonderfully soulful backing groove, while Lavette continues her interpretation of the tunes of others (this time it’s Willie Nelson, Elton John, John Hiatt, and  Don Henley amongst others).

The theme here is world-weary, down-and-out laments saved from melancholia by  Lavette’s feisty, pull-myself-up-ness.

Her voice is truly stunning and enveloping.  She interprets a song better than almost anyone I can think of.  I find myself both actively barracking for her survival, while a little intimidated by her power.

I am particularly struck by the Nelson number Somebody Pick Up My Pieces, and the ‘sitting at the bar in full wise old head-mode’ that is the John-Taupin tune Talking Old Soldiers:

The one song penned specifically for the album, Before the Money Came (The Battle of Bettye LaVette), is also a classic edition to the small ‘tales of the music biz’ sub-genre.

File under: It should be a crime not to own this