It was always going to be tough to follow-up ‘It’s a Shame About Ray‘, but The Lemonheads didn’t do a bad job here.
On a pure good song count this albums runs ‘Ray’ close. The problem is that there are a pile of not-quite-right tracks that get in the way and pad this thing out so that it feels a little like Evan Dando looked a few years later when he got off the nose -candy and went all late-era Brando (maybe Evan Brando).
The front row line up of gentle indie-pop gems are Rest Assured, It’s About Time, Into Your Arms and Being Around. The sound is a bit brighter and cleaner than on the previous release, the guitar work more country, and Dando’s collaborations with Aussie Tom Morgan just as strong. To keep up the Antipodean flavour, Into Your Arms is actually a cover of a Hummingbirds tune (but livened up considerably).
Backing up those first-graders are some decent fall-backs in the freak out Style, the silly Big Gay Heart, Down About it and You Can Take It With You.
If they’d just left it at that this album would be neck and neck with its predecessor. Unfortunately, the fat friends spoil the party somewhat. I am still happy for it Being Around:
File under: Feels flabby but fine
Here’s an 18-year-old album that I’ve actually listened to a lot in the past few months.
The CD’s never gathered much dust since Dando and co created a wave of indie-slacker-pop back around 1992-3. However, the recent ‘playing the album in entirety’ show in Melbourne got me listening to it with newfound intent.
And I was happy. Still am. This is album has never tried to be anything more than what it is – a slightly sloppy collection of folky power-pop built around some neat little riffs, some decent rhythms and some deceptively tight vocals.
Of course, this almost qualifies as an Aussie release, given that many of the strongest songs on the album came from the pen of Tom Morgan (of Smudge fame). His approach gels perfectly with Dando’s, with both favouring the cascading vocal as pop hook.
The albums lacks a big single (my version doesn’t have the Mrs Robinson cover), yet each and every track is memorable. From the baby stroller anthem Rocking Stroll to the infectious Rudderless, the portentious My Drug Buddy to the effusive Alison’s Starting to Happen, it’s a soundtrack to a sunny slacker lifestyle:
As I was typing this review, Australia just kicked their 3rd goal in the Asian Cup semi… I reckon Dando was equally chuffed when he recorded this album. Or he should have been.
File under: Everybody loves Raymond
This is a rare album in my collection in that whenever I hear a track off it at random I really can’t work out who it is.
There is very little to connect this debut release to the subsequent breakthrough works from Evan Dando and associates.
Back in the day, the Lemos where yet another hardcore-ish punk band, trying to channel some of that Hüsker Dü energy.
They don’t hit any such heights however. They are a little closer to the Descendents in that the tracks scream along at rapid pace (and for short periods – most tracks run less than 90 seconds). The songwriting has occasional moments where it steps beyond the simple.
As suits the genre, the sillier tracks have gre atersticking power (e.g. Rabbit and the charmingly Sid Vicious-does-My-Way-like version of a ‘classic’ I’ve heard far too often during my reviews, namely Amazing Grace).
What is missing here is any real hint of the softly slacker Dando voice. He shares vocal duties from track to track, but it’s a struggle to pick which ones are his. He doesn’t even take lead on the best track on the album:
So don’t pick up this album expecting to hear jangle-pop – it’s just low-rent punk.
File under: But there’s not much to like about them
Now that’s what I’m talking about!
It has taken four albums, but I’m finally hearing the Zep I expected. Here are the big riffs, the killer tracks that I’ve always associated with these big-haired, snake-hipped gentlemen.
It’s so very hard to argue with an album that opens with Black Dog with its near perfect call and response between lead guitar and vocals, and power-drumming to get anyone bashing the chopsticks on the table.
The fact that Rock & Roll follows immediately justifies the fact we own this album on both CD and LP. The album understandably tapers off for a little from there on.
I was pleasantly surprised that the much overrated (and belittled) Stairway to Heaven doesn’t sound anywhere near as pompous in its natural setting. In fact it seems relatively subdued (of course mentioning said song justifies one more cover clip – this time some girly indie-pop):
The album keeps it kicking along with the surprisingly funky Misty Mountain Hop, and then mellows out in the folky Going to California.
Having worked through our personal Zeppelin odyssey, I must declare this the pick of the bunch… and acknowledge Mr. Leonard Teale’s rightful ownership of the best Stairway rendition:
File under: The hep zep
This album caused quite a storm (oh, maybe that was a subtle play on the album title) in a teacup when it was released back in 1998.
Little Benny decided to declare it the greatest Australian album of all time, and trumpeted himself as the saviour of our local scene. Not surprisingly, that pissed a few folks off, with even the quiet public servant of Oz-Rock Bernard Fanning getting his back up.
I have no qualm with a bit of hubris… when it is justified (or completely ironic). The problem here is that this album was far from the work of genius Lee was claiming.
Instead it is an unadventurous, uninspired collection of over-produced, over-thought compositions. Ben has lost all of his youthful enthusiasm and naivety, replacing it with some prematurely dull lectures on how we can all live a better, fulfilling life.
Sure, a couple of tracks are listenable in a chilled out, Beck-on-a-dull-day sort of way. Cigarettes Will Kill You, Nighttime, and Nothing Much Happens are the more competent efforts.
In the end this feels like a conversation with a pseudo-worldy 3rd year university student just back from a miiiiiiiind-blowing trek through Asia who wants to lecture you on the way the world works.
In lieu of a Lee clip I was gonna play the Klinger track about him, but I can’t find a vid (or even the audio) anywhere. Here’s the track it was a b-side too:
File under: A load of hot air a storm does not make
I like to believe that my reviews are highly scrupulous, and that I am not easily intimidated.
But, when one is 9 hours from home by plane, and one’s beloved warns from said home (via a blog comment no less) that you must give an album a “brilliant review”, one does feel a little compromised.
Of course, I think all my reviews border on brilliance, but not all albums I review do.
I can say I was surprised and intrigued in listening through this third Zep opus. The band have revealed themselves to be much less rocky and much more exploratory than I first thought. While the album isn’t quite as hit heavy as the previous two, it is much more consistent in sound and quality.
The album has a killer opener in Immigrant Song, with a Robert Plant’s banshee howl one of the best welcome vocals ever:
The following Friends has some signature swirling guitar work, and Celebration Day sounds like the boys have been invited along to some party with Janis Joplin.
There is a welcome absence of much hobgoblin action on here (I’m not sure the vikings above count), but a welcome repeat of the blues tribute schtick with the excellent closer Hats Off to (Roy) Harper which frontporch blues of the highest order (with requisite tincan vocals).
I agree with her indoors that this is the best of the LZ albums thus far, and it is a grower too.
File under: Third time’s no harm
As John Hughes demonstrated in his classic teen flicks, those couple of years from a 16 to 18 years of age can be truly formative and transformative for all.
Benny Lee’s second album (recorded around his 18th birthday) is a case in point. The leap from his debut is substantial.
He sticks to the acoustic strumming while chronicling of his mix of adolescent ‘dramas’, and encounters with celebrities (he does appear to have had a Ferris Bueller-like ability to wangle his way into the centre of everything).
The cockiness of the debut is now much more justified as he has developed a passable voice and a diversity of styles that showcases his strong songwriting.
Now there are at least six or seven highly memorable tracks, with catchy melodies and neat takes on relatively clichéd topics (e.g. End of the World).
His ‘love/lust’ songs are wonderfully John-Hughes-ish, in their rosiness and plotlines:
In some ways, Lee was a good decade ahead of his time, with highly self-obsessed takes on his role as a songwriter (New Song, Career Choice, End of an Era). It’s like he’s tweeting (or maybe blogging) on CD!
This is my go-to Lee album and a worthy solo-driving album, especially the 18 track version I own (I think it’s the Aussie version).
File under: Worth your recognition
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.
It 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
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?
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