Monthly Archives: August 2009

168. Neneh Cherry – “Homebrew”

I am partial to mixing together malt, yeast, hops and water in a plastic tub in the vain hope that via some magic of alchemy I will conjure some delectable nectar able to quench my thirst and tickle my taste-buds.

Neneh Cherry Homebrew Album coverNeneh Cherry name-checks said process in the title of this her second album. I’m not quite sure why, as there is nothing amateurish or low-fi to be heard on the disk in question.

Perhaps she’s alluding to a slightly domestic focus in terms of subject matter, or perhaps to the long gestation period of the album (3 years plus).

Irrespective, this is another highly competent effort. She still spits out rhymes and delivers soulful crooning. She also hooks up with some buddies (a rapper who it turns out is from Gang Starr and one M. Stipe from REM) who add some much needed diversity to the mix.

The sounds here aren’t always my cup of tea. While it less dated in it instrumentation relative to her debut, it’s all a bit too slick and Massive Attack-like for my liking. But when she gets it right (e.g. Money Love) I enjoy the flavours and slight buzz.

File under: Well-bodied ale, with pleasant aftertaste

167. Neneh Cherry – “Raw Like Sushi”

Here’s another CD from my wife’s dowry. And one that gets played more regularly than most.

Neneh Cherry Raw like Sushi Album coverI recall Neneh Cherry bursting onto the scene as a sassy stepchild of a jazz legend. She was one of the earliest female rappers, although her take on the genre was a bit left of centre, embracing elements of world music and displaying punkish tendencies.

Outside of the two singles of this album, I vividly recall her being tied to the train tracks (and singing) in The The‘s brilliant Slow Train to Dawn. Any opportunity to include said vid can’t be passed up… so here it is:

Returning to the album in question, this is a wonderful time capsule. Twenty years have passed since she sang about standing on street corner throwing poses (Buffalo Stance), the travails of immature males (Manchild) and various issues around motherhood. The sounds and chutzpah come across as a little corny now, but they felt fun and confronting way back when.

This aint a brilliant album. There are too many undernourished dishes on here, and that title is the sort of thing you expect some (early) high school “crew” to come up with. But I still enjoy the hits.

File under: Lily Allen if she was born of Swedish and Sierra Leonean parents and raised in NYC and then moved to London in the mid-1980s…

166. The Chemical Brothers – “Surrender”

Album Cover Chemical Brothers Borthers Bros SurrenderThe party continues in my office. The bass in pumping, the crowd are swinging their arms around like they just don’t care (whoever does care about their arms swinging around (other than in the presence of low ceiling fans)?) and the sniffer dogs are having a field day.

OK, that’s all wishful thinking (other than the dogs… and the bass).

Irrespective, I’ve been having fun. This is a pretty strong album. It features one of this insanely catchy songs you’ve probably danced to too many times (well, I have) – this one:

There are some very familiar voices on here, including a blast from my past New Order‘s Bernard Sumner doing that whole dry, talkie vocal thing that has worked well on so many tunes. And Hope Sandoval from Mazzy Star sounds as breathy and spacey as ever.

There’s also a vocoder riff on the opener that had me doing Kraftwerk impressions all day (“Musique non-stop, techno-pop”).

So the upshot, is the CBs showcase their roots, and their diversity (Noel Gallagher also gets a rockier workout) and deliver a solid collection. It doesn’t have the consistency of their debut, but it’s still a fiesta of fun.

File under: Buckle under to the beats

165. The Chemical Brothers – “Brothers Gonna Work It Out”

I’m torn on whether to designate this as a CB’s album or “various artists”.  It is a compilation of (mainly) other artists’ tracks, but the duo mix and augment these efforts to such a large extent that it becomes much bigger than merely a sum of the parts.

Album Cover The Chemical Brothers Brothers Gonna Work It OutThe album is a high tempo, raucous melding of old and new, from 70s funk, to the Chemical Bros’ own crunching electronic concoctions. 

As I played this in my office on Friday, anyone walking past might have expected to see a full-blown fiesta going on.

Partying is what this album is all about, and if you’re feeling a little lazy it will certainly substitute for a DJ very adequately.  The set is well-constructed, with sufficient lulls where you could you spark up a conversation with a likely lad(y), and then the required return of rhythms to drown the rejection.

The song selections are a testament to the duo’s key influences and contemporaries, including Meat Beat Manifesto, Renegade Soundwave and Love Corporation.  

Worth noting is the thematic nature within parts of the “set”, such as the interplanetary lyrics sampled around the Mars Needs Women sample.  It all adds to the fun.

File: Sibling success

164. The Chemical Brothers – “Exit Planet Dust”

After what seems like an eternity of rootsy albums, it is a huge relief to enter the electronic arena.

The Chemical Brothers Exit Planet Dust album coverAnd  I feel like I’ve walked into the MCG of beats-driven music. 

This debut release (under this moniker) from this UK duo is a stellar example of this genre.  This was the breakthrough album for British Bigbeat, preceding the subsequent efforts from Fatboy Slim, Prodigy and others. 

As you’ve probably picked up on, I don’t spend too much time with doofy stuff.  But, donning the catchcry of all Philistines, I know what I like. 

Perhaps as a nod to the acoustic leanings acknowledged above, I do like a rhythm that could have been generated by a human whacking something.  And much of the time the CBs chose such pounding, built around sampled snares and rimrolls. 

Sure, there’s loads of beeps and squelchs, but the organic/inorganic ratio is bigger on the left hand side.  Likewise, there is a recognition that riffs of some description matter.

The result here is a seamlessly constructed set of pieces that retain their hypnotic element.  The vocals are sparse but effective, especially Beth Orton’s. 

This is fine feat in musicianship and inventiveness. And a welcome relief.

File under: Hello Planet Must

163. Ray Charles – “Genius Loves Company”

Oh dear.  Another CD that I had nothing to with purchasing.  It seems my wife doesn’t stray far from the “C” box in the music store.

Album Cover Ray Charles Genius Loves Company Comapny

And after 162 reviews, I’ve found an album that genuinely pisses me off.  Several CDs have disappointed me with substandard songs, poor recording quality, or just shattered memories.  Others have bored me.  This one actually makes me angry.

Here we find supposed legend Ray hooking up with a succession of collaborators to duet on alleged classics from the much vaunted American Songbook

Artists such as Johnny Cash have sought out challenging tunes and off-kilter alliances. Charles has simply grabbed the ‘usual suspects’ (Norah Jones, Elton John, Michael McDonald, Willie Nelson). 

The result is nauseating.  One muzak reworking after another.  Every cliche gets thrown into the mix. This is the album I’ve most wanted to ‘skip track’ through.

There is so little to like on here.  His number with B.B.King is almost palatable. 

But, this is pretty much everything that is wrong with adult-oriented, self-reverential, industry-grandising corporate music.  There is no soul, no heart, no sincerity to all this.  Take it away please.

Scarily (but not surprisingly) this last-ever release from Charles picked up a wheelbarrow load of Grammys – a sad indictment of all I lambasted in the preceding paragraph.

File under: Worse than Joanie Loves Chachi

162. Various Artists – “Clippings”

After a couple of weeks of delving into mainly CDs that my wife purchased, I’ve sought refuge in a compilation from nearby in the alphabet.

Clippings Album Cover Candle Records compilationThis is the second Candle Records compendium I’ve reviewed, and the first they released on CD.

It’s from the label’s early days, when the core troops didn’t extend far beyond The Simpletons, The Lucksmiths and The Mabels.

Surprisingly, the latter are the pick of this trio on this release, with several of their better songs making an appearance (Cyclone, Dream Team). The other two bands deliver pretty inconsequential tracks of close to b-side quality (other than Art of Cooking for Two). Queensland combo Weave also offer up some value.

The appeal of these Candle collections was the always the chance to check out a few up-and-comers. Here the pickings turn out to a little slim. There is one amusing ditty (Scoops) from Falcon 500 about splitting the arse of your pants at school. But most of the tracks are too insubstantial and underproduced.

One highlight is two more tracks from the criminally under-recorded side project from two of the Luckas, Bowl-a-rama, including the final tune that features Marky Monnone exploring areas of the musical scales not typically sought out.

It is great to sing along to, confident that you’re doing no worse job than him. And when you have a voice like mine, that’s important (as evidence, here’s a completely indulgent and excruciating clip of me butchering a country classic):

File under: Trim but not terrific

161. Tracy Chapman – “Let it Rain”

So, we get to the fourth of Chapman’s works on the shelf. And I must say she’s won me over.

Tracy Chapman Album Cover Let It RainThis album continues the progression noted on the previous release. Catchier, wittier and more vibrant songs are delivered.

Chapman isn’t what I imagined – i.e. she aint a miserable, angry protest singer stuck in a rut of campus gigs, and Indigo Girls tours.  At least, I presume she isn’t. 

I’m not sure quite where she sits in the bigger world of singer-songwriters.  She shows her that she is versatile, and not scared of the personal.

There is a weirdly dated, yet relevant, song on here also. Hard Wired tells a somewhat fantastical tale of computers wired to brain and peoples’ lives being exposed and open for all to see.  As a veteran of the blogosphere, this intersection of Joni Mitchell-style commentary and Orwellian-futurism, just sounds ludicrous… or does it?

The point of this here blog was to force me to listen to works and artists in my collection who may have been neglected.  Tracy was one of those artists and I have gained considerable respect for her capabilities. Not sure I’d rush out and buy more but I’m happy with our stash.

File under: A welcome shower

160. Tracy Chapman – “Telling Stories”

I seem to have excellent taste.  Not only did I marry the beautiful owner of many of the CDs I’ve reviewed in recent weeks, but I also bought her this particular Chapman release.  

Album Cover Tracy Chapman Telling StoriesIt may have been because I’d read some glowing review of the album in some credible music rag.  Alternatively (and more likely), I bought in a pang of guilt so as to distract from a much larger purchase of CDs from JB HiFi.

Irrespective, this is the pick of the Chapman catalogue thus far (yes, there is one more to go). This is her most diverse and upbeat effort, and therefore her most listenable.

I have no insights into Tracy’s personal affairs, but she just seems happier on this one.  Not annoying “lollipops and rainbows” happy, but rather she is not moping around as much telling tales of abuse and injustice.  She pens several lyrics that are sardonic and clever rather than merely plaintive and heartfelt.

Musically it’s a more upbeat and varied listen, with shifts in rhythm and wider use of instruments. 

This one’s a keeper (like the wife).  (Yes this is a test to see whether she reads my reviews all the way through:) ).

File under: A story worth hearing

159. Tracy Chapman – “New Beginning”

There was a long time between drinks in my wife’s purchases of Chapman releases.

Album Cover Tracy Chapman New BeginningThis is Chapman’s fourth album and has reportedly sold upwards of 3.8m copies.

That figure alarms and astounds me.  There is nothing particularly special or distinctive about this release.  The songs meander along at the intersection between acoustic blues and folk, with little to distinguish between each.

The production is again super slick and clean, doing little to make the songs feel warm.  This is a real shame, as Chapman’s voice still has that “heart ready to break” element front and centre.

The songs here are all far to similar.  She also has a strong tendency to just go on and on and on with very repetitive choruses (e.g. the never-ending Cold Feet).  Almost all tracks here are well past the five minute mark.  Given the sparseness and monotony of much of the accompanying instrumentation that makes for a very, very dull listen.

File under: Please don’t start again