Tuesday, 22 May 2012

News Views and Music Issue 145 (Top Five): Six More Random Recent Purchases

I’ve been doing quite well for purchases recently so, in lieu of any other burning things to talk about, I thought I’d treat you to a few more mini-reviews about the AAA linked ‘second tier’ albums that have joined in with my collection recently...

Ian Anderson “Thick As A Brick 2” (2012)

We don’t often cover Jethro Tull on these pages (I discovered them a little too late for adding to this site, although that said their best known albums are – unusually – their best ones and don’t need me to talk them up) but I adore the first ‘Thick As A Brick’ which is 42 minutes (and one long song) of corruption, inspiration and madness. When we left that album in 1972 Gerald Bostock is a confused 10 year old, the winner of a poetry competition he’s excluded from for using profanity in his language and finds himself condemned by the adult world despite playing by their own rules. Part autobiography, part fiction, part good old fashioned send-up, it’s an amazing achievement that fans of most of the bands on this site will enjoy. Like many fans I’ve wondered for years what might have happened to master Bostock when he finally did reach the adult and world and master Anderson, chief singer flautist and one-legged maniac, has not disappointed. We don’t get just one answer on this album – we get lots, as the album flowers out into several parallel universes where Gerald becomes a soldier from Wooton Bassett, a scholar, a banker, a shop-keeper and a tramp (with shades of the other classic Tull album ‘Aqualung’!) It’s a shame that the album isn’t sequenced like the first one (being broken into bits rather than being one long rant is a shame) and the lack of other Tull personnel (including the absence of Martin Barre for the first time since 1968) is unfortunate, but for the most part Anderson manages to make an album that’s a convincing portrait of both what might have happened to one of rock’s most beloved characters and an album that works well on it’s own level, damning so-called progress in the past 40 years in a manner very in keeping with the original. There are a few too many instrumentals, it’s true, and the spoken word passages pall after a time but the lyrics we have are spot-on and the similarities to the record (it fades up in the same way side two of the original did and ends in exactly the same way) make it well worth your time. The packaging is also tremendous: where the original spoofed petty village life (with a replica of a newspaper that went on for pages!), this version comes with a mock-up local website with the exactly the same mix of plausible but stupid stories, band in jokes and album references. Those who don’t know the original might not ‘get’ this album, but if you love the original as much as I do then this is a must-have – certainly it’s the best thing from the ‘Tull’ camp since before they went electronic/heavy metal in the 1980s. Track to download: the banker-bashing ‘Banker Bets, Banker Wins’ and the two ‘What-ifs, Maybes and Might Have Beens’.

Henry McCullough “Poor Man’s Moon” (2009)

Don’t worry if you don’t recognise the name – chances are few of you will know it even if you own some of the album she plays on. But guitarist Henry McCullough was for an all too brief time a member of Wings, playing on the singles ‘My Love’ and ‘Live and Let Die’, the album ‘Red Rose Speedway’ and the TV show ‘James Paul McCartney’ (which still hasn’t had a proper release yet!) He left before ‘band On The Run’, refusing to go to Lagos to record the album (with good reason as it turned out, what with the muggings, monsoon weather and Macca’s collapse from a lung complaint) and to most people disappeared. Henry’s always been around though, playing small gigs (mainly in America) and releasing albums for low budget record labels (again mainly in America). His latest, ‘Poor Man’s Moon’, is the first of his many solo records to fall into my hands and its delightful, much slower and much bluesier than you’d expect for such a rocky guitarist (for both Wings and oe Cocker’s Grease Band) and Henry’s lived-in vocals suit his new acoustic compositions very well indeed. If I had a complaint its that the songs all sound so similar you’d be hard pressed to tell where one ends and another begins if you weren’t paying attention closely, but that can also be a good thing, with this album conjuring up a mood of laid-back weariness and thoughts about approaching old age and death. Henry’s always been a forgotten talent despite appearing in one of the 70s’ best-selling bands and – although not as essential a purchase as most of Denny Laine’s albums – all Wings collectors should own at least one of these records. Tracks to download (not that you can download them, but never mind): Opener ‘Too Late To Worry’ and ‘Big Old River’.

Mick Jagger “The Best Of” (2011)

A lot of fans won’t even know that Mick has released solo records away from the Stones, given how poorly most of them have sold over the years. Few will know that he’s released enough tracks to make up a 34 track album. And only the very smallest part of those would ever think that all of these songs deserve to get re-released on a two CD album. That said, considering the bad press Mick’s solo work has got over the years (causing a rift between him and Mick that still festers to this day, given some of the comments in Keef’s book ‘Life’) this set isn’t half bad. I only own two of Mick’s solo albums properly and whilst I can’t say I’ve played his first album ‘She’s The Boss’ all that much I do have a soft spot for third album ‘Goddess In The Doorway’. Mick’s sudden dalliance with disco and funk caught most fans on the hop in the late 70s and although the best of his work with the Stones has aged well (‘Miss You’) the first two solo Mick albums in a similar style aren’t anything like as good. The best songs from this set nearly all come from ‘Goddess’(‘Hide Away’ ‘Brand New Set Of Rules’) but the best song of all is a wonderful yearning ballad ‘Angel In My Heart’ from ‘Wandering Spirit’. Actually no, check that, because I’ve just been playing ‘Rules’ again and it’s even better than I first thought. It’s also clearly the first draft for one of my favourite Stones songs ‘Laugh, I Nearly Died’, with Mick regretting his recent mistakes and trying to put things right (it single-handedly manages to be the best Stones-related track of the past 30 odd years!) For that moment alone it’s worth buying this set, although 34 tracks are a good 20 too many. Tracks to download: ‘Angel In My Heart’ ‘Brand New Set Of Rules’.

Rolling Stones “Some Girls” (deluxe re-issue) (2011)

Another year, another Stones re-issue. We’ve already reviewed ‘Some Girls’ on these pages (it’s on News and Views no 30 if you want to go have a read) and it’s one of the last great Stones albums, recorded during the height of punk which really spurs the Stones on to get out of their lethargy and have fun with their music. Since writing that review I now have a copy of the live DVD ‘Some Girls Live In Texas’ and it’s a complete revelation: the songs that sounded great if a little stiff on record are majestic, with Charlie Watts driving everything at such a tempo that the Stones have never sounded younger or sparkier, even in the 1960s. Unfortunately they sound even more old and middle-aged on the outtakes here than ever before (the cover of ‘Tallahassee Lassie may well be the worst Stones recording I’ve ever heard. Yes, it’s even worse than anything on ‘Emotional Rescue!’) Most of these ‘new’ songs are aimless jams, the sort of doodle they released on ‘Tattoo You’ because they couldn’t think of anything better. Compared to the excellent re-release of ‘Exile On main Street’ in 2010 (an OK album that sounded great thanks to three or four of the best unreleased Stones tracks in their canon, easily up to the standard of the record if not a little higher) this was a disappointment. That said, ‘Claudine’ is an old rocker that sounds good in the Stones’ hands and ‘Do You Think I Really Care?’ is a good starting point for a song that never happened, with a distinctive Stones riff and some great guitar-play interplay (the lyrics would have had to be changed for a ‘proper’ take though). Let’s hope the next deluxe re-issue is back to standard (and when are the band going to release some of the outtakes for their late 60s LPs?!)  Tracks to download: ‘Claudine’ ‘Do You Think I Really Care?’

The Kinks “Deluxe Re-issues” (Kinks Kontroversy-Face To Face-Something Else) (1965-67/2012)

I’m still trying to track down the early and later albums from the mammoth six-album deluxe Kinks re-issue series, but I have at least managed to track down half of them. Frankly, I’m disappointed. Pye had already released pretty darn special single CD sets of all the 60s Kinks albums with a mouth-watering selection ofg a few choice bonus tracks at a decent price. These two CD sets are mainly made up of the same bonus tracks again (but added to a second disc), a few alternate mixes and a handful of BBC sessions which are either out already on ‘The Kinks At The BBC’ 2CD set or are due out on the mammoth Kinks BBC set in August. All that just leaves a handful of new tracks: ‘Kontroversy’ has a second version of ‘Mr Reporter’ with Ray on lead (not Dave), a looser take on ‘Never Met A Girl Like You Before’ (nice but a shame the ending is missing!) and the piece-de-resistance, a cracking alternate take of ‘I’m Not Like Everybody Else’. ‘Face To Face’ includes the fascinating first attempt at ‘Dead End Street’ as featured on the ‘Kinks Music Box’ set (Ray hated the recording and prayed that producer Shel Talmy, on what would turn out to be his last session with The Kinks would let him re-record it with the stern austere tone he wanted; as chance would have it the producer dislocated his shoulder putting his coat on to go him and didn’t turn up to the next session, leaving Ray to do what he wanted), plus a slower jazzier and even more laidback ‘You’re Looking Fine’ and an equally jazzy first go at ‘Little Miss Queen Of Darkness’ (with Pete Quaife on bass, not John Dalton as per the album). For me the weakest album of the three is the much-lauded but directionless ‘Something Else’ – however this set is easily the best of the three with a long list of new recordings to savour. ‘Sand On My Shoes’ is a sweet first go at ‘Tin Soldier Man’ (there’s also a backing track for the song), an early version of ‘Afternoon Tea’ sounds even more like a Noel Coward vignette than a Kinks song, ‘Mr Pleasant’ is sunnier and funnier, although Ray’s vocal is clearly a guide vocal rather than a proper take, an alternate mix of ‘Lazy Old Sun’ sounds even more warped and psychedelic than the finished one and BBC sessions for ‘Autumn Almanac’ and especially Dav Davies’ wonderful ‘Susannah’s Still Alive’ make for entertaining glimpses at how these songs must have sounded live in the day. A few interesting and a couple of essential additions to the Kinks Kanon then, but really these few extras aren’t worth forking out £15-£18 for if you already own these albums and considering what we know Ray Davies has sitting in his studio attic a real disappointment for long-term Kinks Kollectors. Tracks to download: from the original albums ‘Milk Cow Blues’ ‘Fancy’ and ‘Love Me Til The Sunshines’ respectively, plus the outtakes of ‘I’m Not Like Everybody Else’ and ‘Dead End Street’.

Harry Nilsson “The Point” (1972)

Yes, I know Harry Nilsson isn’t an AAA member, but there is logic to my reasoning. When The Monkees split in 1970 Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz were at a loose end. Deciding they wanted to get back to theatre, they travelled to England and met up with their old Monkees writing partner who had just come up with a weird musical and needed a pair of names for the stage show who could act and sing. Not many people know about this show – it didn’t last very long and sadly there’s no recordings of Davy and Micky singing the songs. But we do have Harry’s album of his songs and fascinating they are too. The plot concerns a world of cxreatures where everyone is born with a ‘point’ on their heads. All except poor Davy who doesn’t (the joke being that because he doesn’t look like the others he is ‘pointless’). Micky played the baddy, who picks on poor Davy before seeing the error of his ways. Typically mad and as zany as everything its creator ever made, this is clearly his crowning glory (and I say that as someone whose sat through the complete Nilsson box set, albeit only once) and deserves to be better known, even if it would have been better to hear Micky and Davy singing (I’ve never been a big fan of Nilsson’s voice, though I do enjoy his writing). I actually used this album a lot in my ‘Monkees and Postmodernism’ dissertation and I’ve been dying to hear the songs to go with the plot and the snippets I know from Youtube. The songs are inter-spliced with lots of talking, which doesn’t make for the easiest album to listen to but does help explain the plot! The songs thsemlves are a pretty good bunch, even though my MP3 always seems to give me the deliberately annoying jingle ‘Buy My Album’ every time I put it on random (it’s one of those songs guaranteed to stick in your head for years!) Not for every Monkees fan, but interesting to me at least! Tracks to download: ‘Lifeline’ and ‘Down To The Valley’

And that’s all for another week. Join us next time for the long-awaited results of our lyric competition – remember there’s still time to enter. Just have a read of News and Views Issue 140, work out which AAA bands you think sang each of these lines from songs and send in your answers to pattin82@yahoo.co.uk!

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