Monthly Archives: July 2010

382. Ben Harper and The Innocent Criminals – “Live from Mars”

You can’t say I’m not an open-minded man/glutton for punishment, as we own multiple Ben Harper CDs.

This double live set was a gift for my wife that she may or may not have greatly appreciated.

As you may be able to see from the cover, Harper performs to large crowds of people with their hands constantly raised in sheer joy (or something like that).  All credit to him, he never once asks them to do so on this disc (thus lifting the albumn above several Michael Franti live recordings I’ve heard, and every Franti show I’ve ever seen).

My main gripe with the earlier album was the rather low-key, mundane pacing etc.  Harper has heard my complaints, and for the first disc here rocks it out all electric style.  This is the better side of his personalities, as he channels a bit of Zep (quite explicitly on a Whole Lotta Love cover, and almost as blatantly on Woman in You).  Other tracks could easily fit into a Black Crowes set.

His guitar work is worth hearing, his vocals less cloying. He handles covers pretty impressively, although he, like most, can’t out Marvin Marvin Gaye on Sexual Healing.

The acoustic set sits quite well alongside the electric brethren, as I’ve sort of worked myself into the whole Harper schtick by then.

File under: Neither intergalactic nor planetary

381. Ben Harper – “The Will to Live”

I’ve never got the global (or is it really just Australia’s?) fascination with Ben Harper.

His music has always just struck me as very middle of the road, bog standard acoustic blues.  It doesn’t jump out and grab, nor is it groundbreaking in any way.

Before I incur the wrath of many of his disciples, I will dispel a few of the tirades.

Yes, I have heard he’s a god live, but this album isn’t live. And yes, I’ve had the opportunity to see him, but chose to avoid the swirling masses in Byron.

No, I didn’t buy the CD in the first place – my wife did.

Yes, I probably am some soulless heathen comparable to Hitler.

My problem rests on the lack of oomph here.  It is all a little too slick and laid back.  His voice is too high (even for a self-confessed twee-pop and soul fan) especially for the genre. The songs are infinitely predictable and just plain unmemorable.

In the end I prefer the work of his North Melbourne Football club lookalike Daniel Wells.

And so as to ensure I am condemned to eternal damnation by the Harperphiles, if I want some falsetto action I’ll head for Mr. Trent D’Arby:

File under: I’m losing it

380. Ed Harcourt – “The Beautiful Lie”

Here’s the third of the post-debut albums from Ed Harcourt that have gathered a lot of dust on my shelf since their purchase and my initial cursory.

It has been worth persisting with these revisits, however, as this disc reveals itself to be the best of the trio.

The histrionics of the past couple have been toned down, and Harcourt settles into a more consistent groove.  Sure, the groove still feels a little like a rut. And a maudlin one at that, but there is more light amongst the shade.

Harcourt seems to have accepted his lot on this CD.  No longer is he chasing the big single. Meanwhile, he is more sympathetic to the listener in delivering more consistent, almost jazz-pop, piano-heavy tunes.

Just to contradict all that, here’s the most single-worthy tune on the album… and not being played on the old goanna:

I’ve resigned myself to not finding another CD that I love from Mr. Harcourt, but I could see the possibility of playing this album again some dark, rainy afternoon.

File under: Unlikely to warrant flame-retardant pants

379. Ed Harcourt – “Strangers”

I feel I’m repeating myself, but here’s another Harcourt album I’ve given too few listens in the pass (curse you Copy Control!).

If there’s such a thing as a difficult third album, this would certainly qualify.

Ed seems a little unsure of his direction musically.  The album jumps around a lot, while staying in a relatively melancholy neck of the woods.

I’d prefer to hear more of his piano-based crooning, as I find his guitar-driven tunes far less distinctive.  His voice doesn’t seem to handle the interplay with (electric) strings quite as well, and he battles with tempo on occasion.

Just as jarring is the extent to which his songwriting has faltered.  There are weak choruses (e.g. Loneliness) and pretty cliched content (Born in the ’70s – which is admittedly still pretty well-executed):

I don’t hate this album.  There are still glimpses of Harcourt’s brilliance.  He  holds a tune with the best of them, and at times the music soars, but I do get a bit scared by his Spandau Ballet-ish moments.

File under: Remember kids, beware of…

378. Hard-Ons – “Dateless Dudes Club”

I thought I’d break up the Harcourt sequence with something very different.

Now, I’m a little unsure whether this qualifies as an album.  There appears to be some disagreement out there in the inter-Tubes.  With only eight tracks and a playing time of 24 minutes or so, I suspect doesn’t quite qualify, but, hey, I’ve been listening to it, so you should hear about it.

This is another of my missus’ diverse contributions to the collection, and I presume reflects some misspent teenagerdom.

Indeed, misspent youth is the raison d’être of this still-rocking Sydney lads.

The album is a rapid-paced, pop-punk of the very fun, very approachable kind.  This collection does include any of their more ribald tunes (unfortunately), but it captures a sound and vibe that meets a certain need.

Alas, that need ain’t sitting at my desk, but so be it.  Loud, with low-priced beer, shouted conversation and a bit of sweaty hair twirling (back when I had the tresses) would be much more appropriate.

What I like about this is the power guitar, pop sensibility, and the unconstrained joy.

I couldn’t easily find a clip from this album (and didn’t feel like continuing to search for the vids with the band’s name), so here’s a track of theirs I’ve always liked:

File under: You don’t have to be desperate

377. Ed Harcourt – “From Every Sphere”

I am a surprisingly lazy music listener.  Despite owning four Ed Harcourt albums, I only play his debut with any regularity.

This follow-up has been very much the red-headed stepchild in comparison.  That perhaps reflects the ridiculous decision to install copy protection on the CD, meaning I’ve never managed to get it onto my iPod (which also explains the one-day delay in this review).

Giving it a thorough run-through I’m a little torn.  I want to like Ed and his crooning, but it all fails to really grab me here.  The tunes wash over me but leave no notable residue.

It’s far from awful.  His voice is still a pleasure, and the energy levels are upbeat enough to keep my attention.  I just want to hear something that hangs around in my head like the tracks on his debut.

The strongest tracks on here – Watching The Sun Come Up and All Of Your Days Will Be Blessed – justify throwing it in the CD player, but I suspect I’ll find myself back in debut land pretty soon.

File under: Not quite the belle of the ball

376. Ed Harcourt – “Here Be Monsters”

As debut albums go, this is one of the standouts in my collection.

Ed Harcourt sashayed into my life one night at a jazz club in Melbourne around late 2001, hair a-floppy, suit all scruffy.  Looking like some cross between Hugh Grant and Dylan Moran he sat at a piano and belted out a great set of plaintive tunes.

This album showcases much of that material and has been getting a lot of airplay around my way ever since.

Harcourt isn’t much like much else in my collection.  The piano is backed by a wide range of instruments and at times approaches the world of Tom Waits, but he is less discordant.  His voice can tremble and soar like Elliot Smith and Jeff Buckley, but he is less downbeat than the former, and less precious than the latter.

Strangely he is more like female singer-songwriters such as Tori Amos in his content and approach.

But that’s enough comparisons.  The big deal is that he lays down classic track after classic track. Hanging with the Wrong Crowd, Apple of my Eye, Beneath the Heart of Darkness and Shanghai are all beautifully constructed and executed.  Strangely, he made few clips for them (this one has a very scary feline):

File under: Here be gold

375. Happyland – “Welcome to…”

It’s a chilly morning here in Melbourne.  I am trying to finish a referee’s report on an academic article, yet I’m being sucked into a perversely perky private party on my stereo.

This side-project by then-coupled Spiderbait and Regurgitator members is pretty much exactly what you’d expect if you brought those two bands together (we’ll see more from both bands on here in a couple of years time).

It’s trashy guitars, big cheesy sequencer riffs, choruses that stick and vocals that could come straight of some manga comic about a pop band in the 23rd century.

Well, at least that’s the go for the two big singles Don’t you know who I am? and Hello!, plus the theme track and the opener Chicken?

The remainder is more indulgent electronica which, while not jarring, and reasonably coherent within the album context, is nothing that I’ll be rushing to revisit.

Having only listened to fellow BrisVegans The Grates a couple of weeks ago, it has been fun to revisit a genuine precursor to said band.  Even the costume habits look a little familiar:

File under: Welcome to singles-land

374. Darren Hanlon – “Pointing Rayguns at Pagans”

This album has provoked me to provide you with some back history on my Hanlonisation process.

I first encountered him as the most outgoing and down-to-earth member of The Simpletons, and delighted in his first excursion to the mic on their tune Danielle.

I then recall seeing him step out for a short solo set one night at the Empress Hotel, entertaining us with a collection of shambolic but endearing tracks. The rest is history (his subsequent JJJ fame from his first EP on, global domination etc).

This CD is a collection of his non-album work, mainly single B-sides and tracks from the various Candle Records compilations. Unfortunately, as far as my memory can recall, it only features one of the elusive tracks he played at that Empress gig – banjo-heavy Pinball Millionaire.

I already owned most of the tracks on here, and in an iTunes world having them together on a CD carries less premium than it once did (a couple were only on 7″, so there is a digital gain).  The collection is a nice patchwork of his varying dalliances. The cover of Fischer-Z’s Perfect Day is a delight:

As usual there are lots of little vignettes about life’s key moments here, whether it be birthdays, Xmas, trips to funparks, travel or video party sleepovers. They gel reasonably well, but this is a little too much of a hodge podge to really delight. And I still want to hear When the Girls Get Here and the song about the drummer from that debut show.

File under: For completists and Fischer-Z fans

373. Darren Hanlon – “Fingertips and Mountaintops”

As I was saying, Dazza Hanlon has been one a clear trajectory away from guitar-strumming to much more complex musical compositions.

I am not the most sophisticated music listener, nor a particularly patient man.  As such, I have grown a little disheartened with my relationship with the Hanlon oeuvre.

I have found his songs harder to get into.  So, spending some time with this album has been a welcome opportunity to see if I’ve been too harsh.

First, I should say that Daz can still nail a lyrical composition like few others. The tale of bumping into (literally) a movie star on Elbows is a praiseworthy feat of storytelling and metaphor:

Couch Surfing is a welcome throwback to his earlier songwriting.  The combo of Don’t Bogart my Heart and Happiness is a Chemical are well-constructed expositions on love.  The latter has a fun video where Dazza reveals Glee-like dance prowess:

The epic Manila NSW sees Hanlon opening up a whole new possible career in the world of musical theatre. The rest of the album leaves me very cold unfortunately, with none of those tracks sticking in my memory at all.  But half a great album is better than a whole average one.

File under: Tickling fancy, but unable to maintain peaks