Category Archives: On Vinyl

466. Led Zeppelin – “Led Zeppelin IV”

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

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

427. Justin Townes Earle – “Harlem River Blues”

Some E action before we get to K…

We’re currently watched the new New Orleans based TV series from the ‘Wire’ gang – ‘Treme’ – and rejoicing in its musical focus.  A thrill from episode 4 was the sight of Justin Townes Earle and his facially hirsute pa Steve, playing the role of French Quarter buskers.

In a perfect world, every single person watching the show would have been going ‘there’s Justin’ in the fashion I was.  This young man should be a superstar of the first order.

This, his third album, continues his evolution into a fully fledged member of my country 1st class (i.e. alongside Lucinda, Gillian, Johnny Cash, Steve, Hank…).

While in the past I’ve lauded the ‘olde worlde’ skills of JTE, on this record he strides more confidently into the latter part of the 20th century.  There is much less bluegrass, replaced by warm, occasionally gospel-like tunes.

The title track is a ripper, with a surprisingly upbeat suicidal narrative. There’s a luscious lament to lost love in NZ (Christchurch Girl). And he plays to my love of railway-songs onWorkin’ for the MTA.

To sense the progress the Son-of-Steve has made, check him wandering confidently into R&B land (eventually, the song kicks in at about 1:30 min mark):

JTE’s on his way down under again in March 2011 (for the Golden Plains festival, but hopefully playing sideshows aplenty).  Go see him (I’ll be stalking him in NYC not long after).

File under: The third time’s a charm

417. Matt Johnson – “Burning Blue Soul”

I felt so very cool and ‘in’ when I purchased this slab of vinyl way back when.

Album cover CD Matt Johnson Burning Blue Soul The The reviewPerhaps my first ‘alternative’ album purchase was The The’s “Infected”. I spent many many hours playing and replaying said cassette, and said band’s debut, “Soul Mining”.

Of course, The The was at that stage just one somewhat surly man, Matt Johnson – the thinking fan’s ‘MJ’.

So, securing this ‘hard to find’ earlier solo release had me feeling like I’d snuck into some illusive, elite club.

Legend has it that Johnno recorded and tinkered with this opus after hours while teaboy in a studio. It is damn impressive in such a context, as it is a highly complex, multilayered soundscape built around innovative tape loops and effects.

Matt went on to develop these skills and techniques in his The The incarnation. The later works were much more listenable and enjoyable.

This collection is more daunting. Lyrically his embryonic status is still impressive and expressive. Musically the industrial/psychedlic adventuring is more jarring and overwhelming than need be.

There is so much promise and prescience in this record (with the benefit of hindsight), but it isn’t the obvious entry point for a newbie.

As it’s a long time to ‘T’ here’s MJ in his future:

File under: A testing taster

413. James – “Gold Mother”

Note to self – check vinyl collection more regularly.  Here’s one that should have been reviewed before Etta.

Another dalliance from my NME-reading years was this brief flirtation with the mop-haired British band James.

This record is the 1991 version of their third album, including their hugest song, the very stadium-friendly Sit Down:

That tune has always worked for me, although as a guilty pleasure, in that it is the aural equivalent of a rom-com.  It is manipulative and cheesy, but I involuntarily can’t avert my eyes/ears. The drums are over-amped (and over-echoed), while the chorus and sentiment shouldn’t be scrutinised too closely.

These guys are much more like Simple Minds or Flock of Seagulls (that’s a bad thing!) than the tastemakers at NME were willing to acknowledge.  Sit Down is the least pompous and over-produced track on here.  Much of the material says the band sounding even more U2-like in their pontificating and art-school posturing.

The only really joy of doing this review is discovering from the vid above that lead singer Tim Booth could be Mats Wilander’s doppelgänger… and hoping that whoever was blowing that plastic horn intermittently through the performance subsequently suffered some debilitating and drawn-out toxic reaction to said plastic.

File under: Bad parenting

408. Inspiral Carpets – “Life”

For a brief period in late 1989 and early 1990, I was a card-carrying member of the Madchester mob.

Egged on by NME and RRR’s “New, Used & Abused” programme, I faithfully acquired LPs, 12″s and even t-shirts from a raft of British bands fronted by moptopped types.

While my first love was definitely the Stone Roses lads, the work of The Inspiral Carpets left a greater impression than most of their other contemporaries.

I point the finger of blame at Clint Boon, the guy squelching away on the organ and lifting each track into a more vital and exciting place than they probably would be if solely reliant on the more typical guitars etc.

Having said that, lead singer Tom Hingley has a voice very well suited to this genre, and he plays off against said organ lines very well.

The passage of time has not harmed the aural power of this album, and I’ve relished the revisit… but looking at this video-clip I do question what I was thinking when I thought these guys had some sort of sartorial smarts:

Perhaps they were taking fashion tips from the great Emo Phillips:

File under: Life with a pudding bowl haircut

403. Hüsker Dü – “New Day Rising”

Where would the world of røck and röll müsic be without the trusty umlaut? Much heavy and death metal might never have happened.

Of course, the doubly umlauted lads of Hüsker Dü were not long-haired, lycraed up pose rockers, but they did reportedly add the umlauts in honour of the mark’s musical heritage.

Like many who arrived late on the scene, I fell for the Dü-esters because of that Don’t Want to Know if You Are Lonely track, which isn’t here. The vibe is, however, with buzz-heavy guitars, a cracking pace, and often-competing vocals.

I gave this album a couple of listens on a Friday afternoon, and it works perfectly as a energy-boosting, caffeine like jolt to the system.  This is such a chronicle of how powerful, and at the same time melodic, various indie bands of the mid-t0late 80s could be (think REM, The Replacements, Dinosaur Jr).

Punk plus melody = these guys.  Check out the title track (plus a later career goodie) – this is a band I wish I’d seen live (Bob Mould didn’t cut it 15+ years later):

File under: Not a bad moon in sight

402. The Housemartins – “London 0 Hull 4″

While in Europe last week, I purchased a rather natty cardigan from a certain Swedish multinational retailer with an acronym name resembling the moniker of this here act.

I blame this band and this album cover for my occasional forays into cardie-wearing. Paul Heaton makes it look so cool and sensible.

This debut has that sort of effect. Listening to this record, one would think that Northern Soul was always the most natural and obvious choice for delivering biting critiques of late ’80s Thatcherite Britain and its rising individualism and materialism.

I love the perverted pop sensibilities of these guys. They slyly compose’ catchy basslines (something Norman Cook took to the extreme in later guises), and seemingly innocuous lyrics and choruses, that at closer listening are biting and subversive. Of course, sometimes they make the message pretty clear:

Not surprisingly, this album doesn’t quite have the firepower of the greatest hits package, but if you see a copy anywhere grab it and listen hard. And seek out the vinyl version with the five extra tracks that aren’t even on the remastered re-release – it’s more soul covers, and that Caravan of Love curiosity:

File under: A hull of a time

402. Hothouse Flowers – “People”

I’d forgotten about the vinyl Hs, so here come three old acquisitions of mine.

This debut release used to get loads of airtime in my teenage bedroom.  It taught me cool words like “sirocco”, while the look of lead singer may well have partially inspired my  undergraduate long hair.

This album has a sound that is quite rare in my collection.  I don’t own any U2 (since the cassette purge), nor any Van Morrison: i.e. this has a slightly overwrought, celtic-tinged rock sound, with gospel overtones.

Liam (aforementioned fashion icon and leadsinger), has an emotion-packed voice that carries even the more cliched tracks on here, while the mainly acoustic strumming, key-tinkling and bohdran tapping stays the right side of sea-shanty-land.

I sense that perhaps that this Don’t Go track, so evocative of that late ’80s neo-hippy vibe, might be what Jack Johnson sounds like to the young and impressionable of today, but it still gets me all misty eyed and vocalising:

My affection for this act was just a flash in the pan (I own no more of their catalogue), but I saw the band belt a few of the tracks out live in 2006 (appropriately in Byron Bay), and it all still worked for me… and I’m not sorry:

File under: Power to ya

367. Various Artists – “Dirty Dancing” (Soundtrack)

And thus I take the greatest risk at marital disharmony of my reviews so far.

This record is a definite favourite of my wife Catherine, and one I make many unnecessarily snide comments about.

So, I’ve been overly cautious and given this album many more listens of the past couple of days than it deserves.

Sure, I don’t like the associated film and all it represents, but perhaps the tunes sound good when released from the visual prison of Swayze’s snake-hips and Grey’s whininess.  Alas, that is not the case.

This collection is a testament to all that is wrong about mid-’80s Hollywood’s interactions with the music scene.  All too often pompous, over-produced no name bands (and desperate lead singers going solo) were trotted in to pump out grandiose facsimiles of genuine genres.  That’s what goes on here.

The Blow Monkeys commit fraud, pretending to be early ’60s crooners, not British pomp-popsters.  The lead singer of Surrender (a third-rate Foreigner) cribs Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer.

And I’d prefer to not to acknowledge the contributions of Carmen, E., and Medley & Warnes who have left their mark irrevocably on the world of Karaoke.

The actual highlights on here are the genuine late ’50s and early ’60s from the Ronettes, Bruce Channel and Mickey & Sylvia. The lowpoint of not just this album, but surely my entire collection is The Swayze Incident/War-Crime:

File under: I need a shower