Category Archives: J

489. Michael Jackson – “Thriller”

So, I make my much-delayed returned to the blogosphere with the biggest-selling album of ALL-TIME. I  received this CD from MJ’s biggest/oldest fan, Andy, who couldn’t stand that the J reviews were King of Pop-less (and given it was Andy’s 39th birthday last week, this might be seen as a belated pressie).

a album cover michael jackson thirller Thriller25 CD ReviewI have to admit until now (despite Andy’s obsession with it) while I’d heard almost all the tracks as singles, I am not sure I’d ever heard the album in its entirety.

This is a strange beast of an album. Two of the four MJ-penned tracks are out-and-out disco-funk classics – Beat It and Wanna Be Starting Something. This is prodigious stuff that justifies the hype:

The title track is a bit overblown and too drawn out, however. The Girl is Mine is creepier than any zombies or Vincent Price cameos (mainly for Sir Paul’s presence and the lame showtuney interplay).

Of the remainder Billie Jean delights and, to a lesser extent, PYT with its superslick production and a solid bassline.  The rest I find quite forgettable and the album is oddly disjointed. 

However, this 25th anniversary addition does sound fresh (the benefits of remastering?). No doubt the beeps and squeals and beats sounded even ‘newer’ way back when Andy was only 10. The five superfluous bonus remixes highlight the lack of need for any update by lesser lights like w.iLl.i@.M

I’m happy to have this in my collection and did some fancy moonwalking to it last night, but I doubt I’m in the top 50 percent of ‘likers’ among the 100m+ owners thereof.

File under: Some thrills, some spills

450. Various Artists – “Juno” (Soundtrack)

Ooops, missed another J.

Soundtracks have been consistent under-performers thus far in my reviews. Admittedly many of them have been cast records from musicals (not a big love of mine), and/or retro compilations trying to capture the sound of some era.

This here 2007 release does have one cast performance, several throwback tracks from Buddy Holly, Mott the Hoople and Velvet Underground, and a couple of indie stars covering slightly incongrous classics. But what it manages to create is a perfect companion piece to a film I thoroughly enjoyed.

I presume everyone reading this has seen the teen-pregrancy flick in question.  If you haven’t, head straight to your local vid pirate pronto, confident this will delight even more than Spike’s battle for respect while her belly expanded on the first season of Degrassi Junior High.

The film was all sassy outsiderness and non-Gothic emo-ness, and the song choices reflect this perfectly. Belle & Sebastian fit in perfectly for the sensitive male angle, but it is Kimya Dawson who steals the show in the way that Ellen Page did.

Dawson’s songwriting and delivery are pretty much how you’d think Juno might sound as a singer – all fastpaced, incongruous, hilarious. We picked several tunes from this album for our post-wedding ceremony (and certainly aren’t Robinson Crusoe on that front).

Seeing the stars sing this track still makes me smile:

File under: How soundtracks should be compiled.

429. Various Artists – “The Jungle Book” (soundtrack)

The discussion of children’s records reminded me I’d missed a J LP.

When flicking through record racks in second-hand stores, I find it very, very hard to resist old vinyl gems like this.

The 1968 Disney film is a very fond memory from my childhood, particularly because of the antics of that big bear Baloo:

That dance with the tree is probably something that wouldn’t get past the prudish studio types these days.

This album, which only has nine tracks pulled straight from the film (dialogue and all), showcases the audacity of this film. It is filled with swinging bebop explorations, skatting, Gilbert & Sullivan-esque nonsense and class commentary, some lovely orchestration and one of the funniest Beatles impersonations you’ll ever hear (as hippie vultures no less).

It is a reminder that Pixar didn’t invent animation that adults could delight in, and that such films can be made without any use of Elton John or Randy Newman.

In the end it all gets down to the sheer brilliance of that big bear, however’… and one ranga I’d definitely vote for:

File under: Forget about your worries and your strife

424. Junior Senior – “D-D-Don’t Don’t Stop the Beat”

As promised, the letter J has been bookended by a pair of Danish pop duos.

There is no long-winded tale of discovery here.  I was just one of the many people who succumbed to being bombarded by the power tracks from this highly contagious bundle of disco-targetted fluff.

There is so much to love about this CD.  The cover perfectly captures the content, which is all neon and bubbly, and inducing of much arm-waving and other silly gestures.

Sitting around at home today reading through academic articles has not been the ideal setting for this collection of tracks.  This is a Saturday night album (or whatever evening it is that the kids do their thang these days).

It is helium-like in its upbeat-ness. The songs have that breathy, rushed jolliness that so few bands manage (think B-52s), over a great set of rhythms.

The two lads obviously have very short attention spans, as they jump from one floor filler to another, chanting choruses that anyone/everyone will yell along to (while ignoring that glam poppers like Sherbet and Bay City Rollers were onto this schtick in the mid-70s).

Somehow, the duo do find time within the 32-or-so minutes to manage to produce a hilarious Dylan meets Beach Boys meets Oasis hybrid on Shake Me Baby.

In the end everyone bought this album for Move Your Feet and it was worth every cent:

File under: Move your feet to your local music retailer

423. Jungle Brothers – “VIP”

Way back before Al Gore invented the internet and digital music, I owned two fantastic albums from the Jungle Brothers on a medium known as the cassette (a.k.a. tape).

These were the first full-lengthers in the JBs’ long career – ‘Straight Out the Jungle’ and ‘Done By the Forces of Nature’. Both were an innovative mix of hip-hop and house music, coupled with a ‘black and proud’ Africanistic thing. They were a distinctive companion pieces to the works of De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest.

This here CD was released more than a decade later, and hits none of the cassettes’ heights.  The JBs’ earlier experiments with the house and dance genres are expanded, as they hook up with a Propellerhead.  This means loads more simplistic chanting than warranted, a higher level of repetition, and very little quality rhyming.

That is not to say this is a tough listen.  It’s all very light and breezy, and you’d have a better than 50:50 chance of getting folks dancing with the majority of the tracks.  The jazz crossover on Get Down is closest to their classic material:

And here’s one of their old gems (as a reminder to myself to go shopping for those two albums on CD):

File under: What does the V stand for? And the I?…

422. Juluka – “Ya Vuka Inkunzi”

This is the second album I have reviewed from South African stalwart Johnny Clegg.

While Savuka were Clegg’s band through much of the late 80s and early 90s, this 1997 release saw him reform an old act one last time. Being super hip and groovy, we own the South African CD with the Zulu name, rather than rest-of-world version called ‘Crocodile Love’.

I find this incarnation of Clegg much more exciting and innovative than in his Savuka guise.  The music is much more danceable and less overtly poppy and disposable.

I find it more listenable on the tracks where he and Sipho Mchunu sing in Zulu than the English language material.  The latter are a little too ambitiously poetic for my liking, especially as said poetry tends to be very tie-dyed (think Grateful Dead meets Lion King vibe). This  pushes Clegg dangerously close to Sting territory.

This CD would work as a nice companion piece to Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’ album, especially Journey’s End which features a startlingly similar accordian opening.

I couldn’t find a decent video of any tune on the album, so here’s Clegg and Co with a famous bloke (and an awful jacket):

File under: Don’t judge a man by his jacket

421. Janis Joplin – “Pearl”

It has been an icon-heavy week around this blog, and here’s a true musical original.

Album cover CD Janis Joplin Pearl reviewI was introduced to this classic by my lovely spouse, and I am eternally grateful.

Of course, I’d heard Mercedes Benz and Me and Booby McGee before, but never in their natural setting. Appearing alongside eight other bluesy rock gems, they make a hell of a lot more sense.

This album (posthumously released after Joplin ODed during the recording) showcases an artist in her prime belting out some of the most powerful songs you’re ever likely to hear.

Ms. Joplin has an astoundingly engaging and expressive voice. She bends notes and bursts with emotion. The production quality is great, leaving enough space for the vocals to roam free, but with some sensational playing.  The organ work on My Baby, for example, is a real treat.

It is such a shame that Joplin joined the Forever 27 club (i.e. famous musos who died at 27 – the club also includes Robert Johnson) and left no more tunes, but she certainly went out with a huge bang:

File under: Sweet Mother of Pearl

420. Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings – “Naturally”

The woman whose wild, wagging hips shimmied Syl down my gig of the year list was Ms. Sharon Jones and her regal Dap-gang.

Shazza has wowed my repeatedly in the live arena with her sass and soul.  Shows from this 50-ish lady and her well-dressed band are truly a thing of beauty.

I defy all but the spinally-damaged to not find themselves bewitched and bouncing along to every tune these guys ever play.

This album is a glorious exercise in timelessness revivalism.  Without prior knowledgem I would place it’s provenance as being mid-1960s (rather than 2006).  Each tracks sounds like an immediate classic (yet only once is a cover).

SJ bemoans the meaness of her man, his dragginess, his failure to commit, and her desire to let him down for being too good (!).  Meanwhile, the tightest band since the Funk Soul Brothers makes it all sound sexy and sultry:

I’ve listened to this album all day long (as I have numerous times since purchase) and I haven’t tired of it yet. I aspire to be a NBL who TCB…

File under: She’s taking care of business

419. Syl Johnson – “The Complete Syl Johnson On Hi Records”

On Valentines Night 2009 I tagged along to a gig by a man I’d embarrassingly never heard of.

All I knew was that he was some soul/funk demi-god. 72-year Syl Johnson was an astounding bundle of energy, playing tracks I’d never clicked were in his back catalogue and raising the bar for the physical state I’d like to be in late 2043. The gig was good enough to crack my top 5 for the year.

The next day I jumped online and purchased this double-disc set. It’s actually four entire albums from 1973-79 plus a raft of bonus tracks.  At 44 tunes in total, that’s great value.

This is a great mix of soul (a la Al Green), with occasionals forays into Brown-ish Funk.

Johnson’s voice has that ability to sound like he’s on the edge of tears, coupled with the roughness necessary to get down and dirty and growl out a command.

The musicianship is superb, especially the horns, and the arrangements are such that many standards become his own.

Now Syl didn’t look quite this good in 2010, but he sounded almost this fresh:

And while I’m bombarding you with vids, here’s the best cover ever of Syl’s cover (it was originally an Al Green track):

File under: Don’t be a dill, embrace Syl

418. Robert Johnson – “King of the Delta Blues Singers”

The music world is light on for creation myths.

album cover CD Review  Robert Johnson -king-of-the-delta-blues-singersThe purported meeting between Robert Johnson and a talent-trading Satan is one that has always tickled my fancy. The notion that other-worldly skills might be bestowed upon a musician via a Faustian pact is appealing.

The tale has been twisted by various artists (and in multiple media since).  I suspect my first encounter with was through the Muppet Show:

And then the Karate Kid took a swing at chasing down the legend:

Even the cheeky Tenacious D dudes got into it:

But ultimately, one must turns one’s attention to the gentleman who triggered all this.  This collection of Robert Johnson tracks is a glorious journey back to a time when guitars, harmonicas and amplified sound could well have got one thinking about the netherworld (without the Led Zep histrionics).

Johnson is rightfully lauded as a father of modern music and this CD showcases his many skills.  His voice is both strong and pained.  His guitar-work is mesmerising and complex.  His lyrics are amusing at times, and the songs are much more complete than a lot of the seemingly ad-libbed work of his contemporaries.

This is a record of true genius.  If RJ did indeed make a pact with Beelzebub to tap into this talent then it was well worth it:

File under: Wearing a crown of horns?