29 May 2007

The Wildhearts - P.H.U.Q.

EastWest, 1995

This was the first Wildies album I bought, back in 1995, in a small indie shop while on holiday in Wales. Naturally there was no CD player in the cottage, so I had to wait til I got home to get it listened. I’m pretty sure purchase of this album was preceded by liking the single ‘I Wanna Go Where the People Go’, as I was rather conservative back then and wouldn’t buy an album without a good reason (seriously. I waited until the release of ‘Lithium’ before getting Nevermind).

This was back when rock actually got on teen pop show Top of the Pops; indeed it was back when there was a Top of the Pops at all. Yes, back in this age, it would be no surprise to see The Almighty, Faith No More et al nestled between the stolid non-grooves of Britpop and whoever was the boy band du jour. In fact, I first heard Green Day on the show, but that probably tells you more about my ears distance from the ground than anything else. Otherwise, grunge was over, Britpop was in over here and Green Day and Offspring were the unit shifters in the States. There you go, Tom.

So, while I waited a week to actually listen to the thing, I spent a while looking at the packaging, which was pretty disturbing for an innocent kid like me. In fact, the whole thing seemed rather rude. There was the title (which then Radio 1 DJ Bruce Dickinson always mistakenly called ‘P.H.U.K.’ – still, he loved it. Pretty sure I heard ‘V Day’ on there), and the titles. I know I’m gonna seem like a real non-boy-of-the-world here, but I hadn’t got that many rock albums with swearing in their song titles. As a result, ‘Whoa Shit, You Got Through’ was pretty exciting and, even though I had no idea what it meant, ‘Cold Patootie Tango’ definitely sounded rude. It turns out I was right about that one. And that’s without going into the artwork that featured various grotesques of human faces and, my ‘favourite’, a drawing of a human lower body with a massive head and nose instead of genitalia. Yeah, that wasn’t disturbing at all.

What’s really weird is that, when I finally did get to listen to the album, I liked it far less than I ended up doing so; far less in fact than I do now. I knew it was good, and credible, and that I should like it but, for every anthemic ‘I Wanna Go Where the People Go’, there were more random bits of songs, or strange doom metal interludes. More on this stuff in a bit, but suffice it to say I wasn’t ready.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn this album reached number six in the UK charts, as the Wildhearts are one of those bands whose treatment at the hands of the majors really annoys me to this day. I remember they were actually part of the Sound City gig series that Radio 1 used to put on and, in-between songs, Ginger exhorted the crowd to buy the single and put them up there with the likes of Blur, Oasis and presumably Supergrass or something. And that’s what is really annoying about this album: it should have been absolutely massive; and I mean that about the Wildhearts even more than Kerbdog, because the former had such a knack for catchy, poppy choruses.

I’m not going to do a track by track rundown, because hopefully the Earth vs. The Wildhearts write-up gave you an idea of what the deal is with this band: heavy metal riffs played in a punk rock fashion with the catchiest pop imaginable sung over it. Not only was this approach pretty nearly perfected on this record, but the band branched out in other, slightly weird, directions. Speaking of weird directions, I suppose now would be the time to mention that the band originally wanted this to be a double album.

The Wildhearts were building quite the head of steam by this point (the single preceding the albums release charted at #16), but their label in its infinite wisdom demurred, suggesting this just be the single disc release. In hindsight it all worked out for the best, as the band got to work on the more far-out songs and released them in 1994 to the fan club as Fishing for Luckies (so we get two excellent albums rather than just the one). As I have the 1996 extended release of that record, I’m saving my look at it for after this is done. For those who hadn’t realised, I’m attempting something of a chronological album-based timeline for the band.

In terms of songs, I will mention the first one on the album, the aforementioned hit ‘I Wanna Go Where the People Go’. It seriously would not be hyperbole to suggest it’s a top ten calibre UK single of the nineties. It does everything right, from the teasing intro and massive kick-in to the swathes of glorious backing vocals, bang-on anthemic melodies, returns and sloppy guitar solos (sadly, Mick Ronson had died by this point). I mentioned in the last review that ‘TV Tan’ was the ‘Cigarettes and Alcohol’ of my imaginary parallel-universal meritocracy; this would be the ‘Wonderwall’, combined with the ‘Alright’ and probably also the ‘Parklife’. I’ll let songs like McAlmont & Butler’s ‘Yes’ (pre-Bridget Jones) and all Radiohead singles remain extant, because I’m nice like that.

I bang on about how certain band should have been big, but I can’t escape the feeling that, catchy pop songs notwithstanding, The Wildhearts were just too good to make it particularly big. And I don’t mean that in a bitter ‘you were too pure for this world’ kind of way, as I gently caress their still warm cadaver, but that this album evinces Ginger’s ostensibly inherent knack for turning off the mainstream.

Quite apart from the phallic faces of the packaging, or the fact that their big hit from the album features the line ‘I wanna be where the cunts like me are buried six feet underground’, there are the anomalous songs. Take ‘Baby Strange’, for instance. Yes, it’s catchy, if slightly misanthropic, but it lasts about a minute and ends pretty much halfway through a beat, at which point a real hit that never was, ‘Nita Nitro’ picks up the slack. How about the aforementioned ode to bad sex ‘Cold Patootie Tango’, which sounds like a direct cross between Metallica (down to the ‘Fight Fire with Fire’/’Battery’-style intro) and how Paradise Lost sounded at the time. Sure Pulp and Radiohead were intelligent bands operating at this time in the public glare, but they didn’t have doom metal songs on their albums.

Speaking of Paradise Lost, the majority of P.H.U.Q. employs the same producer that the Halifax gloomsters used on the same years very good Draconian Times, but to even better effect. I sometimes wonder about rock producers, as they are as subject to trend as their ‘electronic’ brethren. So I wonder what Simon Efemy is doing at the moment (as I have Colin Richardson, GGGarth and Andy Sneap in the past), because this is easily the best produced Wildhearts album thus far.

Changes in personnel had little discernable effect on the sound of this album, as Ginger wrote everything, but I shall mention those changes for the sake of completeness. Original members Ginger and Danny McCormack (bass player) remained from the last album, while drummer Stidi had been replaced by Ritch Battersby. The Other Guitarist role was traditionally filled by CJ, but he was turfed out, leaving the band as a trio until Mark Keds (who I originally thought was a woman - bottom right) filled the role for one single in the summer of 1995. The Kedsed-up roster was the Wildhearts I was particularly familiar with due to picking up an issue of Kerrap! magazine on the aforementioned holiday to Wales in the aforementioned summer of the aforementioned 1995. Before Keds, Canadian cult hero Devin Townsend had a cup of coffee with the band and, by the end of 1995, Jeff Streatfield was in place, where he would remain until the band split in late 1997/early ’98.

In terms of overall quality, I’d call this the second best Wildhearts album, but that might be something of a misnomer seeing as the one superior record of theirs was largely written at the same time as this. Still, separate albums they are, so second fiddle this is. Not that such a status is damning in any way, though: that other album (next up on the chronology fest) is absolutely elite leaving plenty of room for quality below.

I consider this album superior to Earth vs. The Wildhearts for numerous reasons, not least the night and day difference in the quality of production. There is greater consistency of quality here, with the Wildies blueprint reaching something of a zenith (certainly on tracks like ‘I Wanna Go…’, ‘Caprice’ and ‘Just in Lust’), married to the newfound sense of variety that led to ‘Baby Strange’ and ‘Cold Patootie Tango’ and spilled over onto their next release.

As the band matured, though, the overt aggression receded accordingly. So while the desire to rock was ever present, it never spilled over into the kind of thrash-influenced mania that songs such as ‘Caffeine Bomb’ and ‘Suckerpunch’ had conditioned fans to expect. In its place was, among other noises, an arguably cynical seam of ballads.

Most cynical, though not to say it wasn’t good, was the psyche-Britpop of ‘In Lily’s Garden’, a song actually mentioned on the hype sticker on the front of the case, but never actually released as a single (good one, East/West!). I’ll readily admit to not liking it for years – I used to just skip it when the jangly chords sounded – but it has grown on me despite its ostensibly cynical genesis (i.e. ‘this’ll be a hit’). In fact, I’d rather it was released and they got their cynical breakthrough hit, as deserved success would be an end justifying such means.

The other ballad was far better, and less of an attempt to capture the zeitgeist, as it was essentially a mid-nineties update of a power ballad: ‘Jonesing for Jones’. As the title indicates, the lyric compared the junkie’s yearning for drugs with the rent heart of the lovelorn. Weirdly (coincidentally?) it is one of two consecutive songs with fade-in intros, along with the closest thing to a ‘Suckerpunch’, titled ‘Whoa Shit, You Got Through’. Though my description may turn some off wanting to hear ‘Jonesing for Jones’, I can assure you that it is a piece of quite exquisite quality, albeit with the sentimentality turned up to full (perhaps moreso for me, as I had my own 'jones' for a Jones back in '95). Nevertheless, it is emotive in the best sense of the word, and a definite highlight of the album.

Of course, some of the songs are not as successful as others. In addition to ‘In Lily’s Garden’, ‘Naivety Play’ is a very competent tune that never threatens greatness. Similar is ‘Be My Drug’, which is largely uneventful save for a presumably unintentional, though dead-on, impression of Therapy?’s Andy Cairns during the chorus.

As with too many albums, these songs fall in the second half, though they are thankfully book-ended by quality. Preceding them is another high point of the album, the excellent ‘Caprice’ (named well prior to the rise of the ‘celebrity’/’model’ of the same name) and energetic closer ‘Getting It’. The latter is followed by the mock-old fashioned sing-along, the untitled but sorta named ‘Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me’, while the former is one of many rhythm based songs on the album – surely something of an anomaly for melodic rock bands – along with ‘Nita Nitro’ and ‘V Day’. In fact, it is this marriage of melodic and rhythmic hooks that imbues the album with such clear songwriting strength.

I was hoping to go into greater detail on the lyrics and musical composition, but two thousand words is probably enough. Besides, I can save that for the next – and both more deserving and musically intriguing – album; the magnum opus, as far as I’m concerned…

26 May 2007

Real Football Factories: International

I didn’t watch the UK original series of this Danny Dyer vehicle, nor have I seen the film that inspired this whole shebang, The Football Factory. This might actually be less a review of the programme than of my current state of mind on deciding to watch this episode. My excuse is that Dyer was on Radio 4’s excellent Loose Ends today, and I trust what Loose Ends recommends. Apart from that time Jamie T was on.

Anyway, I have to admit to something of a ghoulish intrigue felt about the series as a whole; about the kind of thinking that goes on in the minds of football hooligans, about the group/mob mentality that overtakes these individuals come game time. And maybe the anodyne Dyer would poop his kecks. I caught the repeat of episode one tonight, which was based around the massive – and violent – rivalry between Istanbul teams Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe. One thing I did learn tonight was that Galatasaray (the European side of Istanbul) used to be the money club before it was mismanaged into massive debt, while Fenerbahçe, now filled with what Dyer termed ‘new money’, has resurged into pole position in the city.

The premise of the series sees Dyer travel to different countries, ingratiate himself with local hooligan ‘firms’ and film any violence that breaks out at matches. This episode saw him get temporarily ‘in’ with firms representing both sides in the run-up to a derby match between the two. Well, he was more in with Fenerbahçe’s Kill for You firm, as he watched the match in their area and wore one of their delightful white bomber jackets. Seriously, if any of the Galatasaray firm sees footage of this, he should never return to Turkey. Not that he ever would, as he mentioned his abject fear of filming this episode specifically: on account of the two Leeds fans stabbed here in the spring of 2000.

Not that I’m making light of the deaths, because I wouldn’t, but it seems like an odd fear to have. This is a man who feigns being ‘hard’ on the screen, for films and now documentary, actively seeking out what amounts to – if not the scum – certainly some scum of various major cities, and any violence that might surround them. Again, not making light, but people get stabbed everywhere in the world, and I sensed a very weird bit of insincerity in his over-sincerity as he stared right at the camera and gave a dramatic pause when he mentioned ‘the two Leeds fans… who got stabbed’. It was very weird indeed and, if I didn’t know better, I’d think Dyer was actively trying to stir up some tension in British viewers. You know, because documentaries about hooligans fighting each other need a bit of artificially-built drama.

The episode itself was watchable enough, though nobody, from Dyer to the opposing firms, came off at all sympathetic. The Galatasaray firm was painted as the ‘other’ in this binary; Dyer mentioned sensing an air of aggression from them (from hooligans? On the day of a derby? Perish the thought), and their interview was entirely predicated on how their clothing brand was big business, and made money for the club.

The Kill for You firm, meanwhile, was ‘our’ firm. A seated indoor interview with two of the alleged firm kingpins revealed such endearing details as the time one of them attended a derby with Galatasaray-supporting university friends, and how he threw lit flares directly at their heads. Lovely chap. Before the match, Dyer gets visibly drunk to numb his nerves (or poop), and there is some definite awkwardness as the Kill for You-attired Dyer feigns joy when ‘his’ team gains an early lead and eventually wins the match. He was ‘well out of his manor’, apparently.

Rather alarming was the fourth segment of the episode, devoted to smaller clubs’ firms. One club in particular (apologies, their name currently escapes me) made a habit of meeting its firm after each match, at the side of the pitch and accompanied by a Mafia-style firm head honcho. He had his arms round the players as they happily greeted the baying hordes. It was really rather interesting to see how in synch some clubs are with their respective firms.

I’m not sure I’ll be watching this programme too often, as I get the feeling this was the most dramatic (it was the last one filmed of a six week, nine country span) episode of the lot. Dyer certainly went on at length about how he’d never seen anything like it. I presume the rest of the series will just feature shots of him looking hard, asking firms about what they get up to, and acting nonchalant when they tell him. I would tell him to stick to his day job but, having never seen one of his films, I don’t even know if that would be wise. Actually, I might watch the Italy episode; they apparently don’t like the English.

24 May 2007

The Wildhearts – Earth vs. The Wildhearts (1993)

I always thought this came out in 1994, but that must apparently have been the reissue. The Wildies’ debut is inarguably the most esteemed of their records by the rock media and the readers of the rock media, as evinced here (below The Darkness? Don’t make me laugh. Or cry) and hyurr. I’m not so sure, to be honest. Actually, I am sure that it isn’t their best album, but what can you do. This is the same rock press that thought P.H.U.Q. was some kind of massive disappointment, something I get even less.

Anyway, this album is pretty damn good, even if it’s not their best, and the reissue with ‘Caffeine Bomb’ is by definition superior. If nothing else, though, it is a fascinating document of where ‘Britrock’ stood before the explosion of Britpop sent our rock landscape back about twenty years. See, while grunge was still massive in America (Soundgarden between Badmotorfinger and Superunknown, Pearl Jam on their second album, Cobain still alive), Britain was in a strange limbo in terms of rock music.

I don’t want to sound too much like John Harris here, primarily because I hate his writing (and his stupid hair), but dance music was all the rage over here (and that’s great, because it was Ardkore.mania, and that’s my favourite kind of dance), and rock was living in this post-eighties (so that means Def Leppard, Little Angels and Thunder selling well) no-mans land where new stuff wasn’t really happening. Even indie seemed to be eating its own tail, as the shadow cast on its cardigan wearing world by the magnificent My Bloody Valentine had plunged it all into an eternal night of the living wannabes. So something had to be done.

Fortunately, the above situation meant the next generation of rock (and I mean the legitimate next generation, not the Oasis/Cast/Shed Seven lot, because retro pub rock can’t fairly be described as the ‘next’ anything) was going to be an interesting melting pot of different eras and aesthetics of rock. While I am probably going to devote a bit of time to the likes of Therapy? or maybe even Manic Street Preachers in the future, I reckon the Wildies were the most interesting band of the time anyway.

See, they formed in 1989, and you can tell there is a very glammy side to them. While their MySpace mentions Kix as an influence, and they went on to cover a Dogs D’Amour song, the band was more influenced by the punkier side of things, in Guns N’ Roses. In fact, they were – and still are – influenced by punk rock itself in a major way. And, because the best thing involving guitars in the UK at this time was metal, they were also essentially a metal band, influenced by Metallica and sharing stages with Pantera in the early days. So, while their sound wasn’t that refined on this record, the ideas were there, it was a new sound and, most importantly, it’s a cracking set of songs.

‘Greetings from Shitsville’ is about as good an opening gambit as you could hope for. Introduced by a bouncy metal riff whose head stays bobbing on the surface for the duration of the song, there is a really anthemic chorus and punk energy all the way through. Ginger apparently never thought he was a particularly good singer, but I can’t imagine anyone else singing these songs, as he has a great melodic delivery that’s tempered by a growly hoarseness that really fits the riffs.

‘TV’ Tan might be the best song on here, and if it’s not, then it’s just a complete gem of a rock song anyway. More punky and energetic than the first song, the metal is toned down in favour of the pop, as the lyric describes the life of a slacker. The football chant chorus is awesome (3 Colours red would later seem to base their short-lived career on this), as is the breakdown/build-up sequence. I want to live in the parallel universe where this has the public awareness of a ‘Cigarettes and Alcohol’.

The pseudo-ballad intro of ‘Everlone’ gives way to a riff that reminds me of Poison’s ‘Let it Play’ which, coming from me, is a big old compliment. As listeners to The Wildhearts would get used to, the chorus is massive. I can’t believe I didn’t recognise this when I saw them; gutted. It’s not quite as good as the later Foo Fighters song of similar title but, as that’s in the running for best-four-minute-rock-song-ever, that’s no big diss. An acoustic breakdown to end the song gives listeners an indication as to the bands musical future, especially as it proggily takes a left turn into a completely new riff. Okay, it’s not that proggy, but it’s hardly what was expected of pop-rock bands of the time.

‘Shame on Me’ and ‘Loveshit’ are more of what we have become accustomed to from this album, between which owners of the reissue get ‘hit’ single ‘Caffeine Bomb’, whose success led to the reissue in the first place. Think of it as their ‘Paranoid’ (which Sabbath apparently weren’t going to include on the album. It was going to be called War Pigs, smart guy), just five times faster. Like I said in the gig review, this has to be the fastest thing they ever did, from start to finish, and it is also the song responsible for bringing the band to my fourteen-year-old attention. I don’t know if this is a testament to the song or indictment of current chart music (probably a bit of both) but, if the Kaiser Chiefs or even Arctic Monkeys released this under a different name, everybody would go crazy.

I’m scared of stepping off a cliff into a sea of inescapable hyperbole at this point. I’m scared ‘Miles Away Girl’ will send me plunging to uncritical depths, so just blooming listen to it.

Glowing evidence of just how stacked this album is comes with the second-side one-two punch of ‘My Baby is a Headfuck’ and ‘Suckerpunch’, songs so fast and furious that I wouldn’t be surprised if they kicked off the album as a whole.

The latter is especially good, as I went for years between first and next listen, and the line ‘she got me with a- sucker! Sucker! Oh you fucker’ stayed with me for the duration. Melody is largely dropped in favour of a jerky, aggressive rhythm for most of the song, but after the aforementioned and infamous line, we get the bouncy riff to end all bouncy riffs (at least until Strapping Young Lad’s ‘Detox’ a few years later), a riff to which I went bananas when I saw them. That’s not to say the former doesn’t have its own moments, as it transforms for a few seconds into ‘Day Tripper’ before the real song comes back in with ‘ba-ba-ooh’ backing vocals. The guitar solo (performed by no less a legend than Mick Ronson) and piano plonking are the icing on a completely insane cake.

Obviously the last three songs fail to maintain this standard, but they are endearing enough blasts of pop rock to round out the album. If I seem overly enthusiastic about the album, it’s because I have been focusing on the best songs. Just over half of this album is absolute gold, and the remaining five or six songs are pretty good. So while it’s not the classic that others would have you believe it’s a fine start that also blows away the competition. Seriously, this was two years before the first Supergrass album…

23 May 2007

The throughsilver Singles Premiership 2007!

I had an on-off running top singles list at a message board last year, and I decided I might as well give the Premiership its own page this year. I have been slowly (very slowly) writing about the singles that I like - and only the sigles I like; I'm not trying to document everything that gets released - and I decided that once I get to a twenty, I can 'go live' with it, as it were. I like this style of ranking, probably more than the end of year deal, because it gives anyone interested a look at how the list evolves over time. Not that anyone other than me is that interested, but it's there anyway. What is really fun about this method is that, now we are up to the full complement of twenty, any more contenders will shove the existing number twenty into relegation. Oo er!

So there you have it. I'll permalink it on the sidebar and anyone thinking I'm missing out on any good singles should feel free to let me know; input is appreciated.

P.S. I am aware my title graphic has vanished; I'm trying to get it sorted now.

P.P.S. Sorted!

18 May 2007


Someone got paid for this tripe?

Chris Cornell - Carry On Initial Thoughts

This is not what you could really accuse of being a great album. What’s really sad is that I wasn’t expecting it to be particularly good either. A bit of history then:

I love Soundgarden. They really are one of my favourite bands of the decade that was the nineteen-nineties. Not only were they consistently great, but Cornell was a marvellous front-man. He was the best looking man in rock back in 1991 (at least I’m pretty sure he was – better looking than Vedder, Cobain and Patton at any rate), and he was oddly humble the whole time. I remember reading in Metal Hammer in 1996 his answer to ‘what would you do if Pamela Anderson propositioned you’; it was something to do with lawsuits and being happily married.

Anyway, the music. I have liked Soundgarden since I was about eleven years of age, and Cornell had this strange knack of improving with every release: Badmotorfinger was better than what had come before; Temple of the Dog better than that; Superunknown better still; Down on the Upside was the best Soundgarden release of them all, and don’t let anyone tell you different; his first solo album proper, Euphoria Morning, managed to improve even on that. Not only was there a steady increase in quality, but the style changed with it.

Soundgarden, like that first generation of grunge bands, liked to make noise in a fuzzed-out-Sabbath style. Of course, that generation can be pretty easily summed up by looking at the track-listing of the seminal Deep Six compilation from the mid-eighties. Their peers were the likes of Melvins, Green River, Malfunkshun and I’d argue even St. Vitus. Wino from the latter band wrote that he’d been ‘born too late’ what with the thrash metal being cool at that time, but he was definitely not alone in the Sabbath worship. Even the first Nirvana album is in thrall to this style of rock.

By the start of the nineties, what was once grunge (but I would argue no more, in the strict sense) was making it big. Former glam rock band Alice In Chains were building up steam, as were Pearl Jam, another band whose roots lay in glam (Mother Love Bone represent). Luckily, proper grunge bands were also making headway, in the form of Nirvana and Soundgarden (you also had Screaming Trees and Afghan Whigs, but neither band was ever really grunge).

So, with metal still just about being the toast of the rock town (Metallica and Megadeth releasing their biggest albums, Queensrÿche still being pretty damn massive), Soundgarden effectively incorporated metal riffing into the mix, complementing Cornell’s Plant-goes-hardcore vocals perfectly. Superunknown tempered the speed freakery with a fuller, bassier, mix and Down on the Upside was just insanely varied for the time.

With a lot of Soundgarden’s best songs being of the ballad variety (‘Room a Thousand Years Wide’, ‘The Day I Tried to Live’, Fell on Black Days’, ‘Zero Chance’), and written solely by Cornell, it stood to reason that the first album released under his name would be stripped of the riffery. Prior to its release in 1999, he said it would be a ‘singer’s record’, and it was clearly going to be influenced by his late friend Jeff Buckley. It was a beautiful piece of work, the delicately layered arrangements working perfectly as a backing to his pained, wonderfully recorded vocal.

I made the mistake of missing his date that year at Manchester Academy, and he ended up in a band with the former Rage Against The Machine instrumentalists, initially called Civilian, but later officially dubbed Audioslave. Here is where the disappointment began as, a few choice riffs and the gorgeous ‘Like a Stone’ aside, Cornell had released his first mediocre album. It certainly wasn’t bad, but the sheer fact it wasn’t that good was alarming enough.

Audioslave released two more albums – that I didn’t even hear – and split up after enjoying a deserved amount of commercial success (hey, I’m not going to grudge the quartet some dollars after the entertainment they have given me in the big picture). Cornell resurfaced with ‘You Know My Name’, a suitably camp Bond theme and again it wasn’t bad; wasn’t great.

Alarm bells sounded first when it turned out the latter song was going to be on his debut album (a camp fun single is one thing, but it might besmirch an otherwise serious ‘artist album’), and then when news broke that he was covering ‘Billie Jean’. To make matters worse, I heard a new song in HMV and was unmoved.

So it was with no small amount of trepidation that I downloaded Carry On, his new album, and we are now up to speed. I was definitely expecting something very Adult Orientated Rock in its sound, a tad bland perhaps, and my expectations proved right. Part of me would like to write it off as a bad album so I don’t have to bother with it anymore (and spare myself more potential heartache as I consider what could have been), but there are glimpses of the old Cornell to bring me back into the mix, batting my wings against the window pane like a moth catching sight of a lamp on a cold winter night.

Opener ‘No Such Thing’ offered both that relief of blandness (yay, I don’t have to bother any more!) and the empty feeling in ones gut that comes with a long-time favourite failing to bring the goods. It was no ‘Let me Drown’ as far as album starters go, that’s for sure. But then, something about ‘Poison Eye’ heartened me a tad. It wasn’t like he’d started massively rocking out or anything (that reminds me: ‘No Such Thing’ had a decent bit of guitar about it), but that was the point.

It seems that it is when Cornell tries to rock out these days that he makes the biggest missteps. It was true of ‘Mission’, by far the weakest song on Euphoria Morning and pretty much of Audioslave as a whole. What so filled me with chagrin was that, after an excellent album largely composed of ballads that suited his ageing voice, his attempts to rock were just awkward and unnecessary. So ‘Poison Eye’ was a small triumph in that it had his one-time trademark wicked little vocal melodies and that tightrope walk of self-deprecation and misanthropy (previously seen on the likes of ‘Burden in my Hand’ and ‘Follow My Way’).

For the most part, though, this is MOR (though let’s not get carried away, it’s no worse than The Killers or recent Flaming Lips): songs like ‘Disappearing Act’, ‘Ghosts’ and Finally Forever’ are neither here nor there. What’s worse is that, a couple of hours removed from my initial listen, I can’t even remember a lot of the tracks.

It is in the unlikeliest places that this album succeeds. I was terrified of hearing his take on ‘Billie Jean’, especially when his own songs sounded so bland, but this stripped down, slo-mo performance actually works. I was rather dreading the high notes of ‘the kid is not my son’, but Cornell carried it of with aplomb. Similar was the odd ‘She’ll Never Be Your Man’.

Being a positive person, I won’t accuse the song of being anti-gay women (definitely one reading, as Cornell mentions all the roles the titular woman can fill, but ‘she’ll never be your man’. Hmm), so we are left with a bizarrely good Cornell-goes-Prince workout. Luckily, Chris doesn’t try to out-sex the tiny genius, but there is a definite reminder of ‘I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man’ or ‘If I Was Your Girlfriend’.

We get some lyrically ‘nasty Cornell’ on the likes of ‘Poison Eye’ and ‘Killing Birds’, and the vocals range from good to occasionally great. I just wish he’d go back to writing songs that suit his voice. While it would definitely be great if he would go back to working with Eleven, or sonically stripped further down, I suppose the lure of the FM rock dollar is too great. Perhaps most worryingly, the familiarity presented by ‘You Know My Name’ was actually a massive positive, which rather sums up this album: on its own it’s OK. As a follow-up to Euphoria Morning it’s a disaster. The small mercy here is that it is just good enough not to turn me off the man. Which is pretty sad, all things considered.

Download: 'No Such Thing'
Download: 'Poison Eye'

17 May 2007

Pig Destroyer – Phantom Limb Initial Thoughts

I have decided that I am going to post initial thoughts and reactions on this album as I listen to it for the first time in a stream-of-consciousness kind of way. These thoughts are so initial that the album is not in shops yet. I haven’t even burned the mp3s to disc yet. This is a straight up reaction to playing the brutality on my crummy computer. I apologise in advance for what is probably going to turn out rambling and insane, but I thought it might be a nice experiment in the Initial Thoughts genre, and it’s fun to experiment once in a while. What follows is a document of my instinctual, unedited, reactions only given thinking time of however long it takes for a thought to get from my little brain to my keyboard. Erk.

* * *

This is really technical, but absolutely horrible at the same time. and I mean that literally, as in it invokes a feeling of horror on a listener, rather than any strictly qualitative statement. There are bits of definite old school Slayer breaks, but with such a feeling of malicious intent.

Is a song called ‘Though Crime Spree’? Whatever it’s called, it’s probably the most impressive track yet. Well, it’s only track four, but it’s insane. Great drop-off to just the drums hammering out a beating on your brain, the guitars crunch back into action, and there is actually some melodic riffing going on. For a bit of context, their take on melodic riffing is pretty much on the level of the heaviest Pantera: I don’t see anything in the way of a ballad coming from these lads; ever. The riffs are great, and the blast-beats are insanely visceral. We’ve just had some inordinately high-pitched vocals, too. This is on the fifty-second ‘Cemetery Road’. The only word to describe this is that it shreds.

Onto ‘Lesser Animal’ now, and the switch from song to song is so instant and breathless, so devoid of anything resembling recuperative periods, that it reminds me directly of Converge’s Jane Doe. OK, a disturbo-sample about a man getting his face burned off, and that is our breathing space.

This album is so heavy that it is not a reincarnation of the shock-horror gore death metal of the late eighties, but a modern day equivalent; just as heavy today as that stuff was then. I can’t wait to get this on the Death Deck. The title track has a great mosh section, but even then it’s not that slow, and it has some Dillinger-style shredding over the ‘slow’ riff, and then the thrashy shredding comes right back to bite your face off.

While this music does sound very modern, there arte definite nods to the past, to death metal in particular, even while the strained-throat vocals recall the most boisterous of hardcore. Another great mosh section halfway into ‘Loathsome’. Great percussion, too, it has to be said – cymbal frenzy. No sooner do I write that, than a wonderful drum rhythm kicks in. the vocals have switched to that Kiss It Goodbye-influenced ‘very angry man trying his hardest to stay reasonable’ that is so much more satisfying than when you just get the angry in your mug. It provides a bit of relativism to make the angst that bit more intense.

All the tricks are being employed here, too. ‘Heathen Temple’ starts with a nice bit of feedback before exploding into what might be the fastest song yet. Things have slowed a tad, and this song actually reminds me a bit of late nineties Today Is The Day, and not just because it has ‘temple’ in the title; there is a great touch of ‘humongous insect’ vocal, and a gnarly, bassy riff. This might be the best song on the album thus far. This band gets through riffs like the world’s about to end, this most recent reminding me of 1986 Megadeth. Despite all this, though, they get away with it; it never actually sounds retro. This is probably because anything this heavy is automatically state of the art in metal circles.

The main reason I can’t wait to get this on the Death Deck, aside from playing it as loudly as possible, is to see exactly where it resides on the heaviness scale. Heavier than Dillinger Escape Plan’s Under the Running Board EP? Heavier than Jane Doe? Time will tell. Yeah, I think whomever wrote these titles hit a few typos. ‘Fopurth Degree Burns’ (sic)? I don’t think so. Great song though. There is a real At The Gates style urgency to the melodicism in a track like ‘Alexandria’. If this write-up is full of hyperbole, good. I’m not pretending to have any kind of critical distance here; it’s all about the visceral reactions being documented as and when they happen. Great chuggy mosh section about two thirds into the song too.

There is a definite sense of self awareness going on with Pig Destroyer, too, as they’ve called the current song ‘Girl in the Slayer Jacket’. I’d love to know what the vocalist is banging on about, because this one is particularly discordant and angry. Right, thirteen tracks in and I’m hoping there is not too much more to come. Not because it’s anything less than brilliant, but because this kind of album just has to have a ceiling of thirty minutes.

This riff on ‘Waist Deep in Ash’ really reminds me of the unstoppable marching that was the melody on Slayer’ ‘Seasons in the Abyss’, just with so many cuts into furious blast-beat that it’s taken onto a whole new level. The vocals remind me, again, of Tim Singer from Kiss It Goodbye and Deadguy. That is definitely a good thing. Onto ‘The Machete Twins’ now, and there is a definite throwback to the nineties on the serpentine lead guitar parts, slinking along the fret-boards all diabolus in musica like.

Right, the album proper is finished, and now playing is the seven and a half minute unlabeled track, in fine Coalesce swansong style. This should give me a minute to sit back and get a touch of distance on the album. It wasn’t amazingly hyper-modern, but one wonders where traditionally-arranged heavy music really has left to go. The band does well in melding the old school thrash and death influences with a metallic hardcore (dare I say Noisecore?) delivery, and it meshes well together, like an incredible heavy take on the Mastodon formula.

I have mentioned a couple of times about how the fast, energetic-to-the-point-of-overload type of music seems to have fallen out of fashion this decade, replaced both in rock and electronic music with the likes of sunnO)))/Khanate/new Earth on the one hand, and the critically unstoppable leviathan that is dubstep on the other. While that is all well and good, and I’m all for change, I was missing the music that just shreds and leaves you confused and motionless. We had Trap Them a few months ago with an irrepressible slab of speed noise, and now the mighty Pig destroyer have returned for the first time since 2004’s excellent Terrifyer with something that might actually be better.

Only time will tell, but if this remains no more than a tasty portion of fast fury I will be satisfied. I do think, though, that the months and years will to come will be very kind indeed to the album called Phantom Limb. And the music has just now finished.

I Guess This is Why that Song Wasn't Called 'From Atlanta to Paris'...

Sorry to bring the non-content, but I found this amusing. I don't know how known it is on this here internet (I suspect rather well known, as I was just group-emailed it), but it's the first time I have seen this, and it is amusing. The picture, grabbed by me, is part of a Google Maps directions search from Atlanta (Georgia) to Paris (France). Something tells me convenience is not the highest priority to Google's directions-givers.

15 May 2007

The WiLDHEARTS – Initial Thoughts

After being mightily impressed with the gig the other week, and the ensuing Wildies mini-obsession, I thought it might be an idea to treat myself to their new album. It is apparently good. So I got it, in Digipak format; the last album of theirs I had bought was released in 1997, so there was a little trepidation.

Of course, their performance of ‘Rooting for the Bad Guy’ was definitely heartening, and I was sufficiently cheeky to download their single ‘The Sweetest Song’ as something of a second opinion. The chorus of that one recalled Blink 182’s ‘All the Small Things’ but, despite that, I enjoyed the tune. I will go as far as to admit that the Blink 182 portion of which I was reminded was a pretty good bit, being as it was wordless vocal harmony. You see which bit I mean.

The initial listen to this eponymous album wasn’t overly positive. It certainly sounded to me like a good album, one that certainly didn’t bring shame onto The Wildhearts’ enviable oeuvre. There was just something about it that didn’t feel right. Dare I suggest it didn’t sound like The Wildhearts?

Whereas traditionally the reductionist rock media had always described the band as ‘pop metal’, the actual music was never that simple. Though the melodies and harmonies were unmistakeably pop (and we’re talking full on Beach Boys territory here, albeit filtered through the Ramones and Cheap Trick), and the guitars were more often than not metallic in their bludgeon riffola, the missing aesthetic link gluing the otherwise incongruous elements into a satisfying whole was punk rock.

Listening to such early gems as ‘Suckerpunch’, ‘Greetings from Shitsville’ and ‘Caffeine Bomb’ suggests little more than a band brought up on punk rock, recording in the early nineties metal tradition. Debut full length album Earth vs. The Wildhearts brought the pop, in the form of ‘T.V. Tan’ and ‘Miles Away Girl’. The melding of the pop and metal (with punk!) was then near-perfected on the under-rated 1995 album P.H.U.Q., which bore their trademark single ‘I Wanna Go Where the People Go’.

Back to the new album. The poppy melodies are back out in full force, which is a massive contrast to the literal noise-rock of 1997s Endless Nameless (we’re talking Xinlisupreme goes indie-strial). Present and correct, too, are the heavy metal riffs. The difference is the punk attitude seemed toned down on an album that recalled directly the cleaner sounds of Cheap Trick, Queen and even (a much better version of) Fountains Of Wayne.

Not that this was a bad thing per se, but it seemed as though the combination of iPod-friendly mixing, modern technology and various intangibles (a desire for mainstream success still? Forced sobriety straitjacketing Wildies mastermind Ginger? Who knows) had stripped the soul of the band somewhat, leaving in its place an eerily professional sheen to proceedings where once there was a trademark ramshackle spark of genius. The very first listen was a slightly tainted victory, then.

Another listen today has proven heartening indeed. It would now seem that the songs, poppy though they are, require time to which to acclimatise, for those hooks to really sink in to the cerebral cortex. Juicy! And I shouldn’t be surprised by such news: it took me a long time to appreciate Endless Nameless or Fishing for Luckies to the full (a few months) and it is only now that I can fully understand the nuance and depth of fifteenth-birthday-present P.H.U.Q. (another time, possibly later in what might reasonably be dubbed ‘Wildhearts Month’).

The main trick with an album such as this is to get to know the songs; after all, a catchy song is only of value when it is familiar enough to actually be catchy. The familiarity also aids getting into the longer songs (one of which, the opener bravely enough, is nine minutes), which recall the pop-metal-punk-prog of their magnum Fishing for Luckies set. That said, ‘Rooting for the Bad Guy’ is still a monstrous epic, ‘The Sweetest Song’ is still a catchy pop gem that unfortunately recalls Blink 182, and the compressed style of vocal harmonies still has an air of a much-better Fountains Of Wayne about it; perhaps knowing this is after all half the battle.

Fortunately, the trend suggests my positive affect for this album will grow with repeated listens and greater exposure. Most importantly, the soul of the band – Ginger’s wit and personality – does shine through from time to time, whether it’s in the ‘I wanted Tweety Pie crucified / I wanted Thunderbirds Kentucky Fried…’ opening chorus, the random tech-prog moments or the fact that he named the best song on the album ‘The Revolution Will Be Televised’ (and I don’t think there has been a political song this catchy since ‘Today’s Empires, Tomorrow’s Ashes’ by Propagandhi). Is it their best album? Only time will tell, but I lean toward ‘no’. It is, however, a quality rock album when so few bands in the spotlight are any good at all.

Postscript: As of the 17th May, this album is really, really good. Proper review in a bit.

11 May 2007

Live Review: The WiLDHEARTS, 2nd May 2007

Leeds Rio’s. Support: Sign, G.U. Medicine

Without too much in the way of exposition I will just say that this was the best gig I have been to in a long time. That fact is made more impressive by the context in which it is written: I have been going to quite a few gigs of late (some of which are still in the writing process, like Blood Brothers, Propagandhi and the mighty Josh T. Pearson).

Not only was this a hell of a gig, but it was my most eagerly awaited in a long, long time. It was certainly on an eager anticipation par with Fugazi in 2002 and Tool in 2001, and largely due to their being one of my favourite bands growing up. They originally split in late 1997, and I kind of ignored their reformation earlier this decade because it all seemed a bit weird to me; I wasn’t a fan of what seemed to be empty nostalgia or whatever it was.

Anyway, Probot pulled me back into the rock mix, age has led to something of a late nineties revival in my listening (not to mention the stagnation of guitar music recently, but that’s for another day), and South Shields’s finest have returned once more, with a new album but, more importantly, a tour. Given my recent reminiscy-month for Kerbdog, I got to thinking that, not only were the Wildhearts the most under-rated British rock band of the decade, but quite probably also the best. Go on: who was better?

I had meant to go listening crazy for the band as the gig loomed. However, my temporal awareness is about on par with a punch-drunk Siamese fighting fish, so the gig rocked up all too soon for me to prepare. Like the last twelve years hadn’t been preparation enough. That said I was a tad concerned that, two days earlier, they had released a new album. The dreaded new album. How many old favourites were they going to play?

Before all that, though, there were support bands. Being super-cool and jaded, we decided nuts to the openers, and we might as well roll up for the ‘extra special guests’, whomsoever they might happen to be. And you never know when a band is going to come on nowadays.

This was the first time I attended a gig at the new Leeds Rio’s. the Bradford original had hosted a ton of my favourite gigs (from Neurosis to Iron Monkey), so there was a storied history to live up to. I have to admit, the new venue is a ton better than the Braddy one. Not only is it actually in my city, but the dance floor is longer than it is wide (sure, that’s taken for granted by many gig-goers, but they obviously haven’t been to Bradford Rio’s. It was an insane semi circle facing the stage, surrounded by pillars. Not a place to get drunk in). It also used to be a camp night club, so it’s in weirdly good condition for what is now a rock venue. Time will see to that.

Much like the Propagandhi gig (to be posted at some point before the world explodes), this was an event at which there were numerous people from one’s past, the kind of people you had no idea still lived near you. I love the fact that I have aged better than everybody I knew back in the day.

The first band we saw turned out to be Sign, from Iceland. When the androgynous vocalist (a refreshing sight in this age of rocks re-laddening) said their name, I thought he was just boasting about being signed, in much the same way that James Hetfield did in that famous Metallica footage from 1983. You know, when he holds their first twelve inch above his head and declares its release on Megaforce Records. Anyway, he wasn’t saying they were signed, but Sign.

Musically I was quite intrigued as to how they’d turn out, seeing as most of the band looked like roadies. It was like being a time warp, and rather a pleasant one. Sure enough, the music began in a very chugging, old school manner. The riffs sounded almost pre Guns N’ Roses in that the music lacked that punky bite. That was until the vocals kicked in; it was almost the moment when most in attendance decided they either loved or hated the band.

See, the vocals were high pitched and unapologetic. They were powerful without distorting in that cool Chris Cornell/JohnGarcia way. No, they were trad as fuck, recalling directly the pretty faced young singer of Skid Row, Sebastian Bach. That first song, with me still reeling from the vocal revelation was excellent. The set went on, I got used to their sound, but it was engaging throughout. If all goes well, I envisage this band filling venues far bigger than Rio’s in the next few years; certainly if Bam Margera ever catches wind of them. The set concluded with ‘a song we should all know’. And sure enough, I recognised it instantly. It seems my earlier comparison to Skid Row was not without merit, as they reached crescendo with that bands anthem ‘Youth Gone Wild’. I question the wisdom of covering such a well known song, but it certainly cooks live.

I have no idea what G.U. Medicine sounded like, as I missed them. Then again, they apparently hail from Barnsley, so I wonder whether ‘missed’ is actually an appropriate term.

And so we reach the main event. I had actually wanted to see the band in 1995 (at the now long defunct Town and Country Club as I recall), but was actually too scared to do so. I forget where I got this information, but their gigs were alleged to be very violent and I was a skinny fourteen year old with no gig experience. Suffice it to say the impending set was a long time coming.

And they kicked of with a dreaded New Song! Well, it wasn’t that new but, for the purposes of this event, anything released after their original split in the nineties counts as something I don’t know, ergo bad news. And it was ‘Vanilla Radio’. I knew this one through downloading their live album The Wildhearts Strike Back, and it’s a good song so I’ll have to buy The Wildhearts Must Be Destroyed at some point in the near future. I figure that, for the next time I see them, the promotion of songs-I-don’t-know to songs-I-know would be a wise step.

Thankfully the second song was old favourite ‘Caffeine Bomb’, which is very old (I have liked it since 1994) and very favoured indeed. It is one of the fastest songs they did (although I reckon the fastest would have to be ‘Moodswings and Roundabouts’, which didn’t get an airing), and perfect to get everyone into the gig as it mixes nostalgia with insane amounts of energy. It also represented the first of numerous trips into the pit. These trips are characterised by a complete lack of recollection as the moment is all that counts here. I remember very little about my very favourite sets historically.

I didn’t leave the pit when ‘caffeine Bomb’ finished because it was time for another old gem ‘T.V. Tan’. I reckon it’s pertinent to point out now that I was mainly hankering for songs from my fave two Wildies albums P.H.U.Q. (1995) and Fishing for Luckies (1996). So the count thus far: no songs played, because ‘T.V. Tan’ is off their accepted best album (but that’s incorrect) Earth vs. the Wildhearts.

‘Someone Who Won’t Let Me Go’ and ‘The Revolution Will Be Televised’ were next up and they kinda passed me by, though I enjoyed them for what they were. The latter is off the new album and impressed. I sound like a right old fart at this stage, but I was really happy when ‘Suckerpunch’ came on; I really was expecting to be familiar with most of the set but what can you do. ‘Suckerpunch’ is another high-octane tune, with a great and infectious rhythm to the verses. I don’t know what Ginger’s singing during these, so I bounced around the pit making up noises to fit the music. Fun was had indeed. The count: Still none.

‘Nexus Icon’ was another comeback-era song, and one that I can see myself liking a lot more in due course. Big deal anyway, because the next song was ‘Sick of Drugs’! This was on the redux Fishing for Luckies album (yeah, long story). ‘Sick of Drugs’ is an awesome blast of heavy pop-punk, and it was actually a bigger hit than I remember, reaching number fourteen in our singles charts. Awesome.

Next was song-I-know-but-not-that-well ‘Everlone’ and new stuff ‘Top of the World’ (a top thirty hit – I suck) and b-side ‘O.C.D.’. Hey, at least I’ll know all this stuff next time round. If there is a next time… Another post-comeback single ‘Stormy in the North, Karma in the South’ (top twenty!) came and went before, thankfully, ‘My Baby Is a Headfuck’ provided sanctuary. So, with the end of set proper, the wish list song count stands at a measly one. Hmph.

Obligatory encore hate. There is a glorious fake sing-along at the end of P.H.U.Q. known as ‘Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me’. It’s really catchy stuff, and I often catch myself singing it around the house. I think it’s tradition to do so before a Wildhearts encore, but I couldn’t bring myself to; this was partly because I hate encores and partly because the rest of the audience couldn’t get it together enough to reach any semblance of unison. Only the second song off the new album, ‘Rooting for the Bad Guy’ was first encore song, and it’s a bloody epic. It felt like one of those great, weirdly proggy, Fishing for Luckies tunes and is nine minutes long. I can’t wait to get that on the Death Deck.

And finally, the very last song of the night was their best, their flagship single, and easily one of the ten best British singles of the nineties: ‘I Wanna Go Where the People Go’. I can’t honestly say I was surprised because I expected it to either start or end the set. Anyway, it was magnificent. All I really recall about it is rocking out massively, completely knackering myself out in the pit but swearing to stick with it on account of it was the end of the set, and the distinct lack of backing vocals. That and it was unbelievably enjoyable. And, all told, the wish list song count was two; one from each album. Better than nothing, I suppose.

The band themselves were on fine form. Ginger was obviously the centre of attention, and was a great frontman. While he dissed sobriety (I don’t agree with him, but he is pretty drugular so I can’t stay mad), he also brought the comedy, largely directed at W.A.S.P., who played Rio’s shortly before tonight. The new bassist Scott Sorry was a source of confusion for me, as he kinda looked like original bass player Danny McCormack and kinda didn’t. Trivia fans: he was in Amen, which was a pretty under-rated punk rock band that got accused of being nu-metal.

I was hoping to see them a few times on this tour, as they played Sheffield and Manchester on the nights after this, but the ticket prices proved a substantial stumbling block. It gives me time to swot up on the tunes I didn’t know for the next tour; I’ll start with buying the new album. Ginger was rather gutted when I raised my hand as one of the punters who hadn’t already bought it, but what can I say? I got the Melt-Banana album that week instead.

I stole the setlist from here. I never remember the things myself.

08 May 2007

Björk: Initial Thoughts on Volta

The new Neurosis album, Given to the Rising, was supposed to be out today. I had held off any downloading of it especially; I hadn't even listened to the song the band themselves put on My Space (I'm still uncomfortable with a band like Neurosis being on a site like that). Virgin didn't have it; HMV didn't have it; Crash was bloody closed. A trip to Jumbo revealed that, while it was due to be out today, the album had only been 'sold through' last week. No idea what that means, but the upshot is apparently me waiting until the twenty-first for it. So near, yet so far.

More reliable on the punctual release front than Neurot Recordings (for the album is their first to be officially self-released. Well done) is One Little Indian. The album in question? Well, it's a little late for me to attempt any mystery as it's up there in the header. That's right, today (technically yesterday) saw the release of another album I had abstained from downloading, Ms. Guðmundsdóttir's newie, Volta. Personally I consider it her first proper new album in six years - since the magnificent Vespertine - as I wasn't all that enamoured with vocals-only Medulla nor the random soundtrackage of Music from Drawing Restraint 9. Excitement then.

There was also rather a bit of hype. Rather Mike Patton-on-Peeping Tom, Björk mentioned that this was her big, brash pop record and that she was wheeling loads of guests into the studio. Like a good version of Madonna then. And hopefully a good version of Peeping Tom at that. Well, it's not that it was bad per se, just rather disappointing, given the half-decade wait and facetious comparisons by Patton to Fred Durst and Sisqo. Oh, what could have been... Anyway, this album was going to boast such names as Timbaland, Lightning Bolt Drummer and Antony T. Johnson. Or something. And it turns out that my boy Mark Bell was doing some production. He occasionally releases albums as LFO and consistently rules the school. He also put me in mind of Q-Tip guesting on a Beastie Boys record. That's one for the thinking cap wearers among you.

So I ended up getting the limited edition, specially packaged version and maybe I shouldn't have. For a start it cost way more, and I have no 5.1 surround system on which to play the DVD audio. The packaging itself is extremely pretty, something of a modern day Babooshka doll, what with card cases containing gradually smaller ones (each with great photos of the lady herself with blue face and body literally ablaze), until we get to the card-contained discs. Weirdly, the front of the case seems to open up, but is sealed with a sticker of the cover graphic. I didn't want to break the seal, so ended up opening the thing from the top. God knows if that was what I was meant to do. Anyway, the CD is now stored elsewhere, so the case is back in the cellophane, like that last Tomahawk album.

I was very impressed with the music itself. There were a few tears before bedtime on a message board I frequent because some people were disappointed with it upon hearing a download. Not wanting content spoilers, I didn't read too attentively. Maybe they expected something different, which is weird as - like I mentioned above - this was always going to be a day-glo pop album, and therefore polar opposite of the lush likes of Homogenic or Vespertine.

The first song was, I think, a Timbaland one, and established the mood very well. Can't remember too much about it, but these are initial thoughts so it's all good. It reminded me, as the album generally did, of her Debut, from the ostensible simplicity of the mix to the gleeful ebullience of the vocal. I was pretty much happy with the way things were unfolding, in a not-blown-away kind of way, until 'Dull Flame of Desire' found its way onto the Death Deck. Man alive was Antony ever impressive on this tune. I didn't mind I Am a Bird Now and was irritated by his presence on the disappointing second CocoRosie album , so I wasn't sure what to expect. Bizarrely, his early entrance into the mix (initially a surprise to hear a male voice by this point on the album) reminded me of Burton C. Bell. Anybody who knows who he is without summoning the Great Gazoogle or Wikipedia leave a comment and get kudos. Anyway, the duet was so sweet and wonderful that I would have been happy it it never ended; it was even better than the Björk/Yorke duet 'I've Seen it All'. Nice one.

The quality continued for another couple of songs until the very beginning of the second half, coincidentally enough. Not that 'Vertebrae by Vertebrae' is a particularly bad song, just that it was neither here nor there - the kind of thing one might hope would get quality controlled off the album. Things thankfully took a turn for the better to close the record, but the first half definitely seems superior to the second. I never thought I'd be so happy for Antony to return for the last song, but there you go. Possibly the most interesting song on the album is also in the 'weak' half: 'Declare Independence' is a pretty screamy noisefest that really pleasantly surprised me. I had comparisons in my mind when it was on, but I've unfortunately forgotten them now. Maybe it'll come back to me. There was a strange moment when it reminded me of a fuzzed-out 'Sugar is Sweeter', but maybe that was an aberration. Good single, though, even if it was just a poor mans 'Poison'.

And one of the songs reminded me of The Knife, which is definitely a good thing. Again, unsure (I knew I should have finished this last night...). Maybe it was the first track, actually. It had a boss, weirdo, chorus either way. A bit 'We Share Our Mother's Health', perhaps. Anyway, I'm happy with the album, as it was what I expected; no more, no less. It also makes for a quicker fifty-five minutes than Vespertine did. This will be due to the album, while reaching nowhere near the 2001 albums peaks, not dropping off to the extent that one does near the end. Or maybe it's just because Vespertine is so emotionally powerful, and Volta intentionally frothy for the most part.

Postscript: There, I think I've caught all the typos. That's what happens when you write straight to Blogger without the safety net of Word. Also this is an illuminating and enjoyable read. It's a 'special' on the album, complete with diagram of how the packaging opens up. I remain sceptical on that front.
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