There’s no Great Escape for Alice In Chains thanks to the Perfect Symmetry of Elton and Keane

Round 2 – Group 23:

1.) Perfect Symmetry:  Keane
2.) Tumbleweed Connection:  Elton John
3.) The Great Escape:  Blur
4.) Unplugged:  Alice In Chain

Imperfect meritocracy

My heart sank when we pulled out this collection of albums. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some big names here, but these four albums all seemed to barely scrape through their respective round 1 groups. Now, I make a slight exception for Keane of course. Perfect Symmetry edged past Alkaline Trio’s Agony And Irony in group 123, in what was
an agonising decision, because I’m rather fond of that Alklaine album. On relfection, I thought that maybe I had made the wrong choice, Perfect Symmetry has some solid melodies on it but isn’t quite as charming as Keane’s first two efforts Hopes and Fears and Under The Iron Sea. That said, all the Keane albums that I own are solid affairs (and all went to number 1 I believe) so I wasn’t too concerned about that one.

The other three were definitely a bit dodgy by my recollection. Tumbleweed Connection struggled to escape from a group that featured the weird extreme socialist rock of Future Of The Left and Blur’s Great Escape was only a nose ahead of David Gray’s rather plodding White Ladder.

Alice In Chain’s Unplugged meanwhile, barely escaped from a group of Alice In Chains albums. I feel this one needs slightly more explanation. You see, when I started this ‘tournament’, I had a finite collection of albums, which I threw into loads of random groups. By the time I had got through them all I had naturally procured a ton of new music. My bright idea at the time was to tackle these ‘newer’ albums in alphabetical order, a decision I soon regretted after having to listen to 3 groups of Aermosmith albums in a row. That was 12 Aerosmith albums, one after another, for more than 2 months. I needed to change it up a bit so went back to random groupings. Hence, group 108 saw Unplugged scrape past Alice In Chains studio albums Dirt and ‘Alice In Chains’, in a group that wasn’t particularly enjoyable.

You Haven’t Told Me Anything I Don’t Already Know

Back to the present then, and Perfect Symmetry takes this group in rather a solid manner. Its anthems are its strength, opener Spiralling is superb. I always liked the thought provoking exclamation that “when we fall in love, we’re just falling in love with ourselves“.
Black Burning Heart and Again and Again are strong songs too but in between, the album meanders a bit, with the likes of Playing Along and Better Than This. Eventually this became a safe pair of hands for top spot.

Where To Now Sir Elton?

Tumbleweed Connection suprised me a little bit. This is way better than I remember. Elton’s musical class shines through, the piano playing, the guitars, the overall musicianship. It has a slightly whimsical feel this effort, both lyrically and musically, depicting a southern Americana soundscape. With songs of ranches, horses, guns and drinking saloons, it captures the feel of the west. Featuring a solid collection of ballads like Come Down In Time, My Father’s Gun and Where To Now St. Peter?, it’s a tight and brilliantly produced album. Easily second place.

Blur prove they can Entertain Me

Blur’s Great Escape is a few steps behind Tumbleweed. Solidly produced and yet quirky throughout, this album lyrically captures the social landscape of Nineties England perfectly. Stereotypes gets the ball rolling and with Top Man, Ernold Same, Charmless Man and Country House all delivered by Damon’s essex accent, this is quintessentially British pop. ‘BritPop’ if you will. I’m also quite impressed by The Universal and enjoy Entertain Me, with Yoku and Hiro being the perfect closer for this album. The Great Escape is creative, fun, bouncy and sardonic, and remains one of Blur’s better albums.

(MANDATORY CREDIT Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music/Getty Images) Blur group shot at photo studio in Tokyo, November 1994. (Photo by Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music/Getty Images)

 

Dirge Factory

Unplugged by Alice In Chains was released in 1996 and features acoustic versions of the bands biggest hits and lesser-known songs. After several listens I can appreciate their art and tolerate the majortiy of the songs but I’ve never been a fan, it’s all rather dull. Down In A Hole, Heaven Beside You and Angry Chair
remain the most engaging material but there’s some duff material in the shape of Rooster, Frogs, Sludge Factory and a few others.

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There’s no addiction to Iron Maiden and it’s the final frontier for Steve Winwood as he Chronicles the greatness of the Beatles

Round 2 – Group 22:

1.) Beatles 1:  The Beatles
2.) This Addiction:  Alkaline Trio
3.) Chronicles:  Steve Winwood
4.) The Final Frontier:  Iron Maiden

One love

The Beatles’1‘ album was released in 2000, on the 30th anniversary of the band’s break-up and features virtually every number-one single the band achieved in the United Kingdom and United States from 1962 to 1970. Working chronologically, it starts with those great early beat hits of Love Me Do, Can’t Buy Me Love, She Loves You, etc and eventually gets more progressive and groundbreaking as you work you way through the 27 tracks, taking in such musical works of art as Eleanor Rigby, Yesterday, Come Together, Let It Be, Paperback Writer, Help, Ticket To Ride, Hey Jude and the rest. It’s a truly great and comprehensive body of work and begs the question whether any album could ever come close to topping such a sumptuous assemblage.

Well, that remains to be seen. Yes, for sure this compilation easily wins this group but in my view, compilation albums are vulnerable in this competition, espeically against beautifully crafted albums that embue an holistic body of work. Remember that albums are not just a collection of songs, they are more than the sum of their parts. The ordering, the vibe, the themes, all help to catpult the experience. Some compilations though, like this one, are truly great in their own right and will prove difficult to beat. Round three will be interesting, no doubt!

Can’t Buy Me Success like this

Being the 2nd consecutive round two group where we’ve seen The Beatles, after Sgt. Pepper won the previous group, it’s been a wonderful experience over the last couple of months to revisit and spend a bit of time with the Fab Four. I think I’ve fallen back in love with the Beatles. It’s also interesting to note that there’s no crossover from Sgt. Pepper to this compilation, as nothing on Sgt. Pepper rose to the top of the charts. The material on this collection though is simply magical. Sure, some of the songs are starting to show their age a little bit, a few sound a little simplistic, especially against today’s polished productions, yet despite that, these songs are, on the whole, still incredibly well produced for the period. The mix is sometimes inconsistent, Can’t Buy Me Love sounds quiet and Help seems to start a split second too late(!). Containing those infectious early hits (From Me To You, I Want To Hold Your Hand, Love Me Do), the cracking rock riff on Paperback Writer, the supreme melodic excellence of Ticket To Ride, 8 Days a Week and Help, which all sound better than ever, this is a truly superb collection and the third Beatles album through to round 3 as group topper here.

To Go Boldly

Iron Maiden’s 15th studio album Final Frontier, with its Star Trek title and Eddie the space astronaut cover art, should be an epic space metal opera. While there are a few spacey references, “contact earth”, “land this thunderbird”, etc, much of the lyrical
themes seem more nautical, like an elongated return to Rime Of The Ancient Mariner or Ghost Of The Navigator. With an intro that seems to go on forever, longer than some albums I own infact, leaving you gasping, the album remains hard to get into. It has that same style of intensive metal as preceeding album Matter Of Life or Death, it’s just not as memorable. It’s almost laborious to listen to the full 70 odd minutes of this album, especially without anything truly dazzling on here.

The gruff riffs are heavy, not particularly melodic and some of it gets quite dull if I’m being honest. The Isle Of Avalon & The Man Who Would Be King being two tracks that seem lethargically devoid of interest. Don’t get me wrong, this is Maiden and Final Frontier is good in spurts. There’s definitely some cracking metal, coming in waves of sporadic 2/3 minute passages, especially during Coming Home, The Alchemist and The Talisman. These moments do not rescue it though, when I first listened to this album back in October 2013, I remarked that I was unconvinced by it and needed to listen to it at least 5 more times. Well, I’ve listened to it about a dozen times in the last month and I’m still not convinced. I’m a big Maiden fan but Final Frontier has
reached the limits of its musical universe in this group without coming close to anything else here.

Higher Love

Whenever I listen to Chronicles by Steve Winwood, it gives me a warm familiar, comfortable feeling. Winwood is a consummate professional and this album features some accomplished instrumentational and musical performances. I’ve been enjoying this collection of songs since I was a kid. I first heard Steve Winwood through his song While You See A Chance, which was on an old mixtape my brother lent me. It was such a good mixtape too, having Sting’s Englishman New York, some Clannad and to be honest I can’t remember what else now! It was too many years ago. I remember wanting to keep hold of it and was most disappointed when my brother asked for it back. I remember us arguing about it because not only did I not want to give it up, I could have sworn he told me I could have it, lol!

Beyond the comfort, there’s an overfamiliarity to Chronicles, I’ve listened to it maybe a hundred times, if not more! There’s no doubt that it’s dripping with class, check out the funky guitar riff bubbling under the surface of Wake Me Up On Judgement Day, the superb saxophone on Talking Back To The Night and alongside While You See A Chance, there’s three belters on here in Help Me Angel, Valerie and Higher Love, all expertly arranged.

Where this album falters slightly against the much tighter experience of This Addiction is in the more pedestrian moments. Vacant Chair’s 6 minute run time is bloated, I’ve never felt the need for its overly repetitive final third. Elsewhere, Arc Of A Diver is one of the songs that despite my admiration for it, feels a little dull with repeated listens, My Love’s Leavin‘ is a bit like that too. Also, the sound mix is a bit off, Valerie and While You See a Chance are much louder than Talking Back To The Night and Higher Love, that has always bugged me, especially as they usually fix this for compilations in the engineering process.

The American Scream

Onto This Addiction then, Alkaline Trio’s seventh studio album. This was released in the same year as Maiden’s Final Frontier and is one tight little album, assaulting you with its exciting and dynamic power chords, and some splendidly dark melodies.
This was another album that I wasn’t 100% convinced by when I first bought it back in September 2011, rather interestingly it finished ahead of another Maiden album (Best Of The B Sides) in Round 1, Group 143. Back then I recognised that it was another excellent delivery, yet not quite at the same level as the three previous Trio albums, Good Mourning, Crimson and Agony & Irony. Well, I think I like it even more now, ten years later!

Yes, Dine Dine My Darling remains the weakest track here and for some reason forces me to muse the prospect of a crossover of that reality cooking show Come Dine With Me and that old Cameron Diaz film The Last Supper, don’t ask me why. It doesn’t help the album fly out of the tracks after the solid title track but with Off The Map, Lead Poisoning, Eating Me Alive, Dead On The Floor and one or two other top songs, this is a very entertaining and purposeful album. I’ve even come to appreciate Dorothy too, which, in retrospect, sounds very Sadie like. Alkaline have always been a bit too edgy to go truly mainstream but they easily have the second best album on offer here.

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Lightning shoots down the Beach Boys while some Heroes get Lonely Hearts

Round 2 – Group 21:

1.) Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band:  The Beatles
2.) Jollification:  The Lightning Seeds
3.) Live At Knebworth 1980:  The Beach Boys
4.) The Papercut Chronicles:  Gym Class Heroes

It’s gonna rain on every roof

Jollification is an album that fits and starts. Just as it gets going it seemingly stops again. When I first purchased this in the 90’s, I remember being quite disappointed by how lacklustre it was. 25 years later and I’m still not convinced by it, although I can now appreciate it for what it is. Ian Brodie, the mastermind behind the band and writer of all the material, creates laid back, slickly produced pop/rock and throws in one or two gems.

The Fits: Punch & Judy and Open Goals struggle a bit to engage and Why Why Why (hehe) does Marvellous take so long to get going? Once it does though, it’s brilliant stuff, a bouncy, happy, singalong truimph.
The Starts: The excellent Change is a joy to listen to. Lucky You is very nice too and the Alison Moyet duet My Best Day ain’t half bad.

It was Fun Fun Fun for a while

Live at Knebworth 1980 is the only live recording featuring all the Beach Boys together. Brian Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Carl Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine and Bruce Johnston. A fun time is had by all here and of course we get treated to a few superb live vocals and harmonies. No one can argue that this isn’t a collection of great songs (California Girls, Help Me Rhonda, I Get Around, Barbara Ann, Fun Fun Fun, Surfin’ USA). These are clearly some of the strongest songs in this group, they’re just nowhere near being the definitive versions of said songs and if I’m being honest, the production gets a bit messy in places too. Good Vibrations is spoiled by the obligatory audience participation. Lady Lynda, which is a superb live rendition with some brilliant trademark Beach Boys harmonies, is made cumbersome by the impromptu ‘one more time’ encore (although I’m nitpicking slightly). It’s an enjoyable little live album, they sound like they’re having a great time, there’s sturdy performances from the band but those negative aspects are the reason this Beach Boys album is pipped by Jollification.

Paper thin

Papercut Chronicles is the second album by ‘live’ hip hop outfit Gym Class Heroes. There’s still a slight novelty factor to this band, even if they are slightly edgy and lyrically strong, in places. That jazz fusion backing to Travis McCoy’s rapping is musically ok, there’s just nothing here that allows it to compete with the other three albums.

The highlights are Make Out Club and that middle section of Everyday Forecast, Simple Living, Pilmatic and chart hit Cupid’s Chokehold, which is moderately entertaining, despite it coming nowhere near Supertramp’s Breakfast In America, on which the track is based. Tracks like Faces In The Hall and Papercuts (which is repeated) are fairly bland and I find the album largely ordinary in this group.

And of course, Henry the Horse, Dances the Waltz

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band creates a bold sound and is fairly experimental with its liberal use of Sitars, Clarinets, Vaudeville, Music Hall, all in the pursuit of Pop. Hell, it still sounds forward thinking by today’s standards. This is such a rich and diverse album, She’s Leaving Home is basically a classical piece, with vocals. When I’m 64 sounds like a song that could have existed for hundreds of years. The beat to Sgt. Pepper (reprise) still sounds contemporary!

Considering The Beatles had already laid the foundations for modern pop music prior to making this album, it’s almost criminal that they still had this in their locker! Musically, it’s rock solid. The fab four’s lyrical expressiveness is not confined to the just the trippy Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds. Lovely Rita and She’s Leaving Home both paint a vivid story through their words too. Final track A Day In The Life has a quiet genius about it. Every time I listen to this album, It’s Getting Better!

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Dua Lipa is Levitating While The Boy With No Name Deliveres a Sucker Punch to Sigrid and the Country.

Round 1 – Group 219:

Album Review: Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia (track by track) | A Bit Of Pop Music1.) Future Nostalgia:  Dua Lipa
2.) The Boy With No Name:  Travis
3.) The Country Collection:  Various
4.) Sucker Punch:  Sigrid

 

Charlie Rich Tea tries to Digest what I’m saying

Biscuits! They’re great, aren’t they? The wife says I’m a biscuit snob because I won’t eat the value packs. Hardly! Give me a Digestive or Rich Tea anyday over a Selfridges Lemon Biscuit or a Wolseley Salted Caramel Florentine. When it comes to Digestives though, it has to be McVities. Why am I suddenly waxing lyrical about biscuits I hear you ask? Well, this Country Collection featuring tracks by Kenny Rogers, Dottie West and Charlie Rich triggered a memory from my childhood. A memory involving McVities coupons….

Charlie Rich | Nostalgia Central

Charlie Rich

You see, before there were apps, online coupons, even text messages for competition entry, before all that, you had to use snail mail, the ole postal service for everything, including loyalty reward schemes such as one run by McVities once upon a time. The drill was this, you collected coupons from packets of biscuits and posted them to McVities, in exchange for music tapes. Essentially, the 1980’s version of streaming was a slower process than it is today and involved more waiting, physical media and something you could keep and call your own. There were four genres of tape collections in total, and two tapes per genre. Fortunately, my household ate a lot of biscuits, so eventually we had enough coupons for every tape, there was Pop Hits (Vols 1 & 2), Rock Classics (Vols 1 & 2), Love Songs (Vol 1 & 2) and ‘Country Favourites‘ (Vols 1 & 2).

Still On The Line

Glen Travis Campbell (1936-2017)

Glen Campbell

The thing is, this was a bona-fide collection of the real deal of Country acts of yesteryear. The inclusion of Johnny Cash’s Ring Of Fire, Glen Campell’s Wichita Lineman and Charlie Rich’s The Most Beautiful Girl In The World on this Country Collection triggered a memory of my old McVities tapes because those three songs were also on my McVitiesCountry Favourites‘. I really did love listening to those old country songs too, a bit different to the pop charts of the 80’s of course but my younger self was spellbound by songs such as Wichita Lineman (who knew what that even meant?), Jolene (Please don’t steal my man!) and Ode To Billie Jo, great stuff.

The 5 Best Covers of Patsy Cline's "Crazy" - Paste

Patsy Cline

Now, let’s get back in the room with this Country Collection infront of us. It’s not quite as spellbinding as those McVities tapes. Why? Well, firstly, the aforementioned Ring Of Fire and Wichita Lineman are not the studio originals, but instead live versions, sacrilege!. Glen Camplbell sounds great as ever of course and Ring Of Fire is adequately performed too so the live versions are by no means a disaster, but it’s not the same. Secondly, while this compilation does have some quality stuff like ‘Me And Bobby McGee‘ (Kenny Rogers), ‘D.I.V.O.R.C.E‘ (Dottie West), Crazy (Loretta Lynn), Don’t Make My Brown Eyes Blue (Jolene Parsons), Behind Closed Doors (Charlie Rich) and Patsy Cline’s excellent Walking After Midnight, it also has some rather ‘audiographically challenged’ songs that stretch way back into time and are starting to sound their age, like Hank William’s Hey Good Lookin’, Carl Perkins’ This Ole House and Blueberry Hill by Gene Autry, which sounds older than the Great War. Overall this compilation is a pleasant distraction but could have been much better.

On The Park That Is Central

Travis always make a beautiful sound don’t they? Their ringing guitar sound, like bells and Healy’s soft, melodic vocals fuse beautifully. The Boy With No Name is a grower and neck and neck with Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia for first place here. This is the bands fifth studio effort. I always thought The Man Who was their first album but turns out it was their second (and break-through). This one doesn’t have a Driftwood or a Why Does It Always Rain On Me but that doesn’t stop it from having a consistently agreeable quality, that’s layers deep. Closer, My Eyes and New Amsterdam are all Travis (band) - Wikipediaquite soothing and lovely, while the band’s origin of Britpop sensibilities are retained on Eyes Wide Open and Selfish Jean. I was also interested to see that Under The Moonlight features a certain KT Tunstall. One of my favourite Folk/Rock singer/songwriters and elsewhere the excellent Big Chair makes me wonder whether this is a reference to the Tears For Fears’ album Songs From The Big Chair? All in all, a tidy little album that pushes Dua close but needed to be Closer.

I’m Feeling So Electric, Dance My Arse Off

If you knew me, you’d know that I like futuristic stuff. Spaceships, aliens, robots and the like. I also like nostalgia, halcyon care-free days of yesteryear where TV was gold, pop charts were great and the summers were endless. So, Future Nostalgia is a concept I can get on board with. It does live up to the concept too with some swaggering classic dance/pop with a modern spin. It sounds gorgeous with some high quality production and works as a sing-along album, great for family trips in the car. You need to turn it off before track 10 though (Good In Bed). Why? Well, track 10 is where the quality, so high up till that point, falls off a cliff and the unecessarily inappropriate swearing rears its ugly head. For music clearly marketed for teenage girls, it’s a bit of a shame to hear lyrics like ‘Damn, we know how to F*CK’. Not cool. For responsible parents, this is a nightmare scenario, a great pop album which ends with a song about f*cking. Can we not keep it more subtle or altrenatively offer a [clean] version please Dua?

Ok moaning over, for those of us who are more mature (stop sniggering), this is a brilliant Dua Lipa gets trippy in 'Hallucinate' from The Mill and Titmouse | Reel 360 - We are Advertainmentcontemporary pop/dance album that delivers it all. Modern production, disco beats, catchy songs, a sprinkle of funkyness, even a bit of Michael Hutchence for the keenly eared listeners among you. It’s the second track, Don’t Start Now, which launches you into a stream of dazzling dance pop, as the album continuously delivers some scintilatingly good tracks, taking in the brilliant Physical, Levitating and Hallucinate along the way. It’s hard to fault this album but I can’t get past that I think Good In Bed let’s the side down, its maddening, chanting chorus is frustratingly un-tuneful and out of place and the sudden exclamation of an explicit spoken sentence near the end of the song makes it wholly unsuitable for kids. Final track Boys Will Be Boys doesn’t really recover things either with its overtly feministic lyrical content (no, I don’t need it ‘Mansplained’ thanks Dua), but aside from those final two tracks the album is near pop-perfection.

Sigrid Killed My Vibe

Newcomer Sigrid definitely has potential but she could learn a lot from Dua Lipa. Where Dua Lipa diversifies her sound, mixes it up a bit vocally and musically, Sigrid tends to stick to the same key and pitch for almost every song. You could say that Sigrid be too rigid. My expectations were high after hearing Strangers but some of this album is rather plain and enervated. Also, there’s a couple of occassions where Sigrid drops a couple of I've always felt older than I am' - Sigrid talks fame, Greta Thunberg, and why she has a curiously Irish accent - Independent.ief-bombs but as she sounds like such a little girl, it’s like being sweared at by a
12 yr old, you can’t take it seriously. Sucker Punch, Mine Right Now, Sight Of You and the beautiful Dynamite are the best stuff here, alongside single Strangers of course. But take Dynamite, musically it’s rather lovely with Sigrid softening her vocals to
good effect but it could have done with more fleshed out lyrics and ends up being a tad repetitive. Other parts of the album don’t quite hit home, Basic lives up to its name and how ever much I want to like Don’t Kill My Vibe, it just doesn’t quite deliver.
Sigrid has a bundle of unrealised potential and could smash it out of the park next time but I find Sucker Punch a little underwhelming.

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Whatever The Arctic Monkey’s Say we’ve still got Time for Rod as Snow Patrol are Fallen By The Wayside

Round 2 – Group 20

1.) Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not:  Arctic Monkeys
2.) Time:  Rod Stewart
3.) By The Way:  Red Hot Chili Peppers
4.) Fallen Empires:  Snow Patrol

Gotta Find My Way To The Light, Heavy, Middleweight

The Chili Peppers have always been cool. Rod Stewart? Not so much. Even in Rod’s Small Faces days, prior to the cringy and yet admittedly pleasant and catchy Do You Think I’m Sexy? phase. Don’t get me wrong. Rod has lived a rock n roll life unparrelled by most, his entertaining autobiography is testament to that. Trashing hotels, sleeping with supermodels and much more beyond. In the end, this group turned into a straight 2nd place shoot-out between The Chili Pepper’s 2002 effort By The Way and Rod’s 2013 release Time.

By The Way, the Pepper’s 8th studio effort is a grower, as an old friend said to me at its time of release. Something that bugs me is the seeminly patchy audio. The production on I Could Die For You gets messy, like they’ve ‘overcooked’ it. I used to think this was a dodgy mp3 copy I had but nope, it’s present on my pristeen CD version too. If you listen carefully you can hear the production strain from the get go on opening track By The Way. Slightly annoying but it’s just A Minor Thing yo.

At almost 70 minutes long it certainly doesn’t skimp on material and while there are some splendid moments, it’s length eventually works against it, especially when it lines up tracks like Throw Away Your Your Television and Calbron side by side. Whilst not containing any filler, the album just seems to be underwhelming in places, next to the killer parts of the album. Best passage in my mind is tracks 3-7: This Is The Place, Dosed, Don’t Forget Me, The Zephyr Song and Can’t Stop.

Listen Son You Got To Find A Sense Of Perspective

Despite Rod’s prehistoric origins, Time is actually the newest album in this group. An album that went to number 1 no less and once you’ve spun it a few times you start to see why. Sure, I’m not gonna argue that the first two tracks She Makes Me Happy & Can’t Stop Me Now are not a bit cheesy and I won’t deny that later tracks Sexual Religion and Make Love To Me Tonight aren’t a little bit cringey. Yet, Time is such a joyful album with Rod’s contentment in later life shining through like a beacon.

Let’s face it, I could listen to Rod’s voice all day but when you combine that vocal gift with some lustrous melodies you have a winning formula. There’s a few stand-out moments but Live The Life is possibly the album’s highlight, an excellent life-lesson letter to his son with a beautiful melody. Instrumentally, the musicans are all top draw and a nice mix of instruments too with guitars, drums, violins, saxonphone, harmonicas, even a bit of Maggie May style mandolin creeps in. All beautifully produced by Rod himself no less. Old man music for an old man this may be but it’s a collection of songs that endure and an album that takes 2nd place here above By The Way.

You’re From New York City, I’m From Rotherham

Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not is Arctic Monkey’s debut smash album. It is an album that carries you along with it. The personality of frontman Alex Turner shines through as he literally describes a very believable and unnervingly familiar picture of northern nightlife with tales of bouncers, taxi’s and encouters with the police(!). I love that way that he and the rest of the band attack these songs. These are rapid lyrics, conversational, tangled, almost rap-like and they are especially sardonic, delivered with an imprudent drollness throughout.

READING, ENGLAND- AUGUST 26: Jamie Cook of The Arctic Monkeys performs on stage on the second day of The Carling Weekend Reading Festival on August 26, 2006 in Reading, England. (Photo by Jo Hale/Getty Images)

It’s an incredibly well crafted album with a rock ‘n’ roll spirit and style that harks back to beat groups and RnB. A sound that’s meshed with some angsty power guitar. Some of the lead melody guitar passages seemingly ramble around the centre of the song and yet somehow always return to the main thread beautifully. This is such an enjoyable and amusing album, which feels like a night out with the boys. Truly a modern classic.

Every Eye Trained On A Different Star

Fallen Empires is so frustrating an experience. Gary Lightbody and his cohorts are consumate musicians but this album stops and starts. It teases you at first with a glimpse of what could be with third track in, The Weight Of Love. A building, mid-tempo storytelling rocker that makes you sit up and listen. A good tune but much like the album, it doesn’t seem to be able to captilise on its promises. Towards the end, the album finishes with a mini flurry of excellence too, in the shape of Those Distant Bells and probably the album’s best track ‘The Symphony‘, a rousing, sweeping rock anthem. Unfortunately the rest, slower paced stuff just doesn’t cut it. Bland tracks like The President and The Garden Rules quickly diminishing any hopes that this could be as good as their previous two efforts. The final short instrumental is ok but feels at best, out of place if not altogether unecessary.

So, Fallen Empires is rather wishy-washy in comparison to the other three albums here. It’s an album that’s disappoints you in the same way that your previous straight ‘A’ student son might disappoint you when he suddenly comes home with a C minus. Because, while it’s an ‘ok’ listen, you know that Lightbody can do better. If truth be told, it’s a little bit of a chore to listen to the whole album and can I just add that I thought stupid ‘hidden’ or elongated nonsense at the end of albums was a thing consigned to the New Millenium bin? Yet here, Snow Patrol seem to think that I want to listen to four minutes of bird tweeting at the end of the album. Well, no. I don’t. It’s not welcome and is the final nail in the coffin for this album, this empire has truly fallen.

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It’s More Than A Feeling for Roxette and all Concrete but No Gold for Suzanne Vega

Round 1 – Group 218:

1.) Don’t Bore Us Get To The Chorus:  Roxette
2.) Boston [ Vinyl ]:  Boston
3.) Suzanne Vega:  Suzanne Vega
4.) Concrete & Gold:  Foo Fighters

It Must Have Been Love

It was out of the blue when, around this time last year, I heard the sad news that Marie Fredriksson had died, at the age of 61, following a long battle with a brain tumour. When musicians have played such an important part of your life, especially the formative years, as Roxette did for me, the news that they are no longer with us can be incredibly saddening and shocking. A reminder of our mortal essence in this world. Roxette are probably one of a select few bands that I absolutely adored but never managed to see live. Their records are the only remaining medium in which you can hear Marie’s powerful vocals deliver these fabulous songs.

What a Joyride

Don’t Bore Us Get To The Chorus, despite being a slightly cheesy but fun piece of wordplay for a record title, is also Roxette’s first proper Greatest Hits record. Uh-oh it’s that term again “Greatest Hits”. I’ve already had a few rants about so-called “Greatest Hits” albums. How they are usually a cash-in from the record company with little or no input from the artists themselves. Usually with a track list that doesn’t blend particularly well or is absent of some fan favourites. Then there’s the devious tactic of putting one new song on the greatest hits, forcing fans to buy a £15 album just for one new song. It’s unethical I tell you!

By the mid-Nineties I was as big a Roxette fan as anyone. With Look Sharp, Joyride,

L-R: Marie Fredriksson and Per Gessle of Roxette perform on stage at the Smash Hits Poll Winners Party, Docklands Arena, London, 11th November 1990. (Photo by Phil Dent/Redferns

Tourism and Crash Boom Bang in my collection and being some of my most spinned CDs at the time (especially Tourism which is possibly the closest CD I own that can lay claim to be quite worn out). In 1995 Roxette produced this “Greatest Hits” collection. Featuring not one ‘new’ song but four (plus Almost Unreal from that terrible Mario Bros movie). I still didn’t buy it though. It was hard to justify spending my cash on an album that I already own 70% of! Fast forward ten years and I eventually succumbed. Now here we are, listening to it on my CD player ! The first thing of note on this collection is that despite starting with two ‘new’ songs, it then goes chronological. I think it would have been better to begin with The Look (their first US number 1) and go all in on the chronological route.

Spending My Time With Roxette

There’s plenty of big hits here, Joyride, It Must Have Been Love, How Do You Do, Listen To Your Heart, Spending My Time, etc and listening back now, you can see why they did so well. Sure, they are saccharine and sweet but they are also superb pop tunes with enough rock n roll energy and passion to levitate the music to a level not surpassed by many other acts of the 90’s. The single remix versions are good, albeit not massively different from the album versions. Joyride in particular needed to be truncated from the opening sound FX from the album of the same name while Crash Boom Bang and Vulnerable are much shorter than their album counterparts. One question though, where the hell is the superb Queen of Rain? If anything needed a remixed single version it was that, to remove the live concert sounds that blend into the opening few notes on Tourism.

Are the five new songs as good as the hits? Well, they are certainly good songs, not sure they were all “hits” though, at least not in the UK. Which raises the question of whether they actually belong here. I remember Almost Unreal doing rather well in the charts (top ten in fact) but the other four? Nah. Ok, a quick check of Wikipedia tells me that June Afternoon was the only one of those other four to chart in the UK at a measly 52nd position. I don’t think anything else is missing though, perhaps they could have sneaked on Fingertips 93, Chances and possibly Neverending Love from their first album in place of those newer ‘hits’ but overall you can’t grumble too much at this superb collection of their finest work circa 1989-1995. Plus, at about 70 minutes long, it is value for money in that sense.

Knight Moves

Suzanne Vega’s debut effort is an album to get lost inside. Her descriptive and expressive lyrical imagery convey rich personal storytelling in all sorts of guises. From the modern neighbourhood observations of “Marlene On The Wall” to the medieval allegory of The Queen And The Soldier. Featuring stripped back arrangements, yet some excellent acoustic guitar playing both in the melody and rhythm sections but also with little flicks and flurries of notes, adding texture here and there. This is a delightful little album with some memorable tracks such as the two aforementioned alongside Undertow, Straight Lines and Small Blue Thing. Unlucky to come third but Vega’s debut came up against two belting albums in this group.

Just Another Band Out Of Boston

Having a vinyl in this group was just the opportunity that I needed to pay a visit to my local Hi-Fi dealer to enquire about a new phono pre-amp. I ended up purchasing a Cambridge Audio Alva Solo to boost and clean the signal coming from my turntable.
What a great decision that turned out to be! The soundstage is now enhanced, breathing new life into this Boston vinyl. You know when What Hi-Fi review an amp or a turntable and write some utter nonsensical bullshit about how the amp gives a “tighter control
over the sound, producing a more dynamic feel” ? Well, that’s what this new pre-amp does! Seriously ! It’s hard to describe the enhancement in sound but there’s definitely a tangible change. There’s more detail coming through the speakers, and this record
doesn’t sound as strained as it previously did, especially on Peace Of Mind, where the vocals were getting a bit shrieky at the top end. Not any more, now they sound richer and less ephemeral.

A new pre-amp can’t do anything about imperfections on the record though, if anything, now they are laid more bare than before. There’s a very slight imperfection on Peace Of Mind, just in the space before that sumptuous guitar solo from Scholtz. It doesn’t ruin the experience, it’s more of an annoyance as the sound is clipped slightly just before the first note of the solo. Elsewhere, the keyboard/organ interlude between Foreplay and Long Time has a periodic clipping lasting for about 5 or 6 rotations, just as the sound goes low.

Side two is fairly pristeen though and that’s probably because, let’s face it, as great as this debut record is, side one is far superior to side two, so it’s probably had less wear over the years. More Than A Feeling is a tough opener to follow but with Peace Of Mind and Long Time, the quality remains seriously high. Side two kicks off with Rock N’ Roll Band, an exceedingly catchy rock tune and while Smokin’, Hitch A Ride, Something About You and schmaltzy Let Me Take You Home Tonight are all a pleasant listen,
the quality of the material remains a bit lop-sided. Still a high class album though and easily good enough to proceed.

Not Happy Ever After

That leaves Foo Fighters recent 2017 effort Concrete and Gold trailing in fourth place. High quality production and musicianship no doubt and solid material too but not particularly memorable. The good stuff includes Run, La Dee Da and Arrows and to be honest there’s nothing bad on this record, it’s a fairly typical Foo Fighters album, it gets a bit shouty at times, it’s mainly hard rock with splashes of light acoustic spaces every three tracks or so. It’s the sort of album that you can enjoy while you’re driving down the motorway. Unfortunately, it’s an effort that melts away when matched up against Roxett’s Greatest Hits and the debut albums of both Boston and Suzanne Vega.

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Death On The Road to Spring with no Recovery for Moloko

Round 2 – Group 19:

1.) The Colour Of Spring:  Talk Talk
2.) Death On The Road:  Iron Maiden
3.) Recovery:  Eminem
4.) Things To Make And Do:  Moloko

Another World

The Colour Of Spring is an art rock masterpiece which embodies the spirit of absolute dedication to craft. Displaying an immense attention to detail and percussionary masterclass, the album has a truly organic, animal-like essence. The zoic April 5th begins like the mating call of an insect as it shuffles through the undergrowth. An efficacious cornucopia of abundantly different sounds are amalgamated together, some of them barely 4 notes out of the whole album, all tightly coalesced around a collection of eight excellent songs, which flow superbly.

Talk Talk are masters at the absence of sound, which can have just as big an impact than sound itself, they know when not to play. Take the patient silences that perforate Chameleon Day, as if waiting on a response. An effect also evident within the guitar solo on Living In Another World, there’s an animal-like harmonica piece almost four times longer than the fleeting guitar extract that follows it, yet that guitar solo has so much power in the context of the song, making it one of the more memorable passages of the entire album.

Distintive and unusual instruments help colour the whole album, such as use of the Soprano Saxophone and Harp. Music legend Steve Winwood prominently displays his Organ skills on the superb Living In Another World, I Don’t Believe In You and Happiness Is Easy. Dramatic key changes give the songs a sweeping immersion culminating in the operatic swell of Time It’s Time which rounds off a sumptuous musical experience.

Death On The Hallowed Road

Iron Maiden’s Death On The Road, recorded in Dortmund 2003, balances their Dance Of Death material with classic Maiden album tracks, notably tracks of an epic nature such as Fear Of The Dark, Lord Of The Flies, Brave New World and the obligatory Hallowed Be Thy Name. When you consider that most of the Death material is also full-on epic in scale and length then what you have here is a 90 minute bonanza of prog-Maiden-metal punctuated only by the snappier Wrathchild, Can I Play With Madness and an utterly masterful version of The Trooper.

The band sound amazing, this is a top of the tree live musical tour de force by six talented musicians excelling at what they do best, sweeping, melodic, guitar heavy, razor sharp metal. Everybody is on top of their game and some of the guitar passages here, played live, are far superior to many lesser bands studio efforts. The Death material in particular sounds positively gorgeous, especially Dance Of Death, No More Lies and the intense Pachendale complete with intro poem by Bruce, adding a chilling realism to the already chaotic, atmospheric fidelity of the song.

The Cold Wind Blows Em Away

Recovery is an intense Eminem album, especially compared to the albums that preceeded it. It’s a definite move away from the goofy skit-led humour and vulgarity of the previous albums, although he’s clearly still having fun on tracks like On Fire, W.T.P and the ‘Untitled‘ final track. Overall though, it is clinical, competent and brings a new seriousness to his delivery.

Recovery is also the start I think of some of Em’s elevated wordplay, his lyrically abilities seem to improve with age and this is the first album that I noticed some really clever lyrical gambolling. “Girl you got a hot butt, like a lit cigarette“, “I’m so sick ambulances are pulling me over“, “I stick my dick in a circle but I’m not fucking around“, etc.

As I said, there’s some serious retrospection here about his adult struggles with drink and drugs alongside remberance of his childhood friend Proof who was killed in a nightclub incident (Going Through Changes, You’re Never Over). This album also marks the beginnings of Eminem’s style of melding chorus with verse, which I think only sometimes works out. It definitely does work on Love The Way You Lie featuring Rihanna, a killer track. I think the strongest track here is opener Cold Wind Blows with Em letting loose with some tremendously rhythmic rapping and clever lyrics, coloured, as is often the case, by a mix of autobiograhical references and the odd superhero citation.

The album has its weaknesses though, it starts fairly strong up until mid-way through before revealing some more ordinary affairs like Almost Famous, You’re Never Over
and No Love. That and the relentless seriousness makes it more difficult to sustain over lighter efforts like Marshall Mathers, Relapse and Kamizaze all of which are superior to Recovery.

The Time Is Not Now

Moloko’s Things To Make And Do is an unusual and unique album, making Colour Of Spring look like a commercial sell-out by comparison! It’s borderline strange at times (Dumb Inc., Indigo, If You Have A Cross To Bear You May As Well Use It As A Crutch), not just in the weird lyrical imagery but also in the sounds themselves. There’s lots of random horn sounds, flickers of Jazz piano and Jazz percussion arrangements all infused with modern electronica and strafed by classical orchestral snippets.

Things To Make And Do was always the wildcard in this group and when I’d finished up listening to all four albums back to back several times it was clear that while the album holds a certain curiosity, it’s totally outclassed in this group. Tracks like Absent Minded Friends and Remain The Same are aberrant and grinding while It’s Nothing unfortunately lives up to its name. Kudos remains for the superb The Time Is Now, an excellent dance/pop/guitar/electronica effort and the jewel of this rather atypical album.

 

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Pearl Jam are B’Sides Themselves after seeing a Demon with Big Ones!

Round 2 – Group 18:

1.) Big Ones:  Aerosmith
2.) Demon Days:  Gorillaz
3.) B’Sides Themselves:  Marillion
4.) Vitalogy:  Pearl Jam

Onto Group 18 which, in the end I struggled to get through because while all four albums are musically sound and well-crafted, I think this was a group of mid-tier efforts lacking a truly sparkling great album. I don’t dislike any of these efforts but it is probably the weakest of round two groups thus far.

Not that Vital

Vitalogy, Pearl Jam’s third studio effort, released in 1994 is a bit all over the place. Part ballads, part grunge rock and a big dose of experimentation. Musically accomplished, sonically solid, yet considering Pearl Jam were one of the biggest selling grunge
bands of all time, some of this material is actually rather sedate and calming and not at all grunge-like. Try listening to Immortality and Tremor Christ to see what I mean. I’ve nothing against that btw, I just find it interesting how perception and reality are so often divided.

I do dig the more guitar heavy track Not For You with its angsty repeat of ‘this is not for you’ line and of course Betterman is a nice track, rather introspective. Whipping and Spin The Black Circle are by no means bad, just a little less melodic whereas Bugs is borderline unlistenable and the album could really do without the final track Sexymophandlemama. A competent record but a bit of a mixed bag.

All The Best Freaks Are From The 80’s

B-Sides themselves is Fish-era Marillion’s final ever record. A collection of Marillion B-Sides from the era of Vinyl. A term now anachronistic to today’s Millennial streamers.
I wonder if they knew this was to be Fish’s farewell when choosing the live version of Margerat as the final track? The irony of Fish declaring ‘we will definitely return’ as the final parting statement of this final Fish-led album. Obviously Marillion did return, minus Fish of course and went on to success with new vocalist Steve Hogarth.

Market Square Heroes

This compliation demonstrates how brilliant Marillion were in that glory 80’s period with some admirable efforts on here that never made it to a finished album.
Let’s talk about Grendel first. A hard-core fan favourite, this 17 minute Gruffalo tribute track must have been a hard sell back in the day of vinyl. Does this song even fit on one side of a record? I can see the appeal of this track, those 17 minutes race by thanks to some inventive song structuring which flows several different pieces into a whole. Rothery’s guitar, as always is the key. The dreamlike soaring solo and the calming slow single string riffs that are his trademark, glue the constituent pieces together into an epic musical journey, making it eminently listenable.

Early tracks Market Square Heroes and Charting The Single are more pop-oriented, with the latter demonstrating Fish’s clever lyrical abilities. Tux On is probably my favourite song here, a building, well-polished rock ballad. Elsewhere Lady Nina, Cinderalla Search and Freaks are all half-decent songs, yet never reaching the heights of more famous Marillion fare like Kayleigh and Sugar Mice. A solid if unspectacular effort that betters Vitalogy but is clearly inferior to both Big Ones and Demon Days.

It’s Dare

The Stylish and cerebral Demon Days may be too hip for me. It’s an album that casually drops words like ‘ephemeral’ and ‘castrophany’, and this makes the album appear on the surface, arty and slightly pretencious. After an ordinary start through Last Living Souls, Kids With Guns (nice bass line though) and O Green World the album finds it groove with Dirty Harry and the quality begins an ascent up the mountain, culminating in the hypnotic story-telling fable Fire Coming Out Of The Monkeys Head, over the top of a yet another of the albums quality beats.

It’s actually quite hard to pin a genre on this album. There’s rap, funk, pop and even a bit of chill-out electronica, not to mention the occassional and subtle use of string orchestration. On top of that there’s a swirl of musical ideas, Alban’s vocals complement the style of the album beautifully, sounding laid back and nonchalant. Dirty Harry, the albums third single featuring the San Fernandez Youth Chorus manages to
be laid back and absorbing at the same time but it’s Feel Good Inc that remains probably the best known track from the album, retaining a compelling pop hook supplemented by some high quality hip-hop by American group De La Soul. This is still one top tune.

I find Demon Days an engrossing album and produced to perfection. It has a few passages of nihility but 80% of the record is top-notch, pushing Aerosmith close for the group and finishing a comfortable second place.

Going Down!

Tapping into Aerosmith’s rich vein of form between 1987 – 1994, Big Ones collates hits from the band’s three consecutive multi-platinum albums, Permanent Vacation (1987), Pump (1989), and Get a Grip (1993). After an unsophicated start with Walk On Water, a song that feels a bit like a sonically induced assault, delivering a headache inducing, caustic, pumping rock chorus with an undercurrent of catchy verses, Big Ones soons settles into that big commercial rock sound that Aerosmith eventually crafted for themselves.

The tunes here are solid, with some real belters like Rag Doll, Dude (Looks Like A Lady) and Eat The Rich. The Aerosmith package is dominated by Perry and Tyler, the two powerhouse talents and major songwriters. I find that Joe Perry, while perfectly competent on the six stringer, doesn’t have the flair of a Van Halen, Schenker or Gilmour. There’s plenty of decent enough solos but Perry’s most effective sounds seem to stem instead from powerful chord combinations and well-timed inteventions of heavy rhythms and riffs. Aerosmith create a wall of sound so thick you could bash your head on it.

Across the album, Aerosmith expertly weave in plenty of boisterous brass, heaving harmonica and high-spirited moraccas. Wow, does Steve Tyler have a great voice right? Powerful enough to blow your speakers out and more range than an ICBM. I can atest to the greatness of his vocals having personally witnessed his singing at an Aerosmith gig about 10 years ago in the London Millenium Dome, the guy barely needs a microphone and amp to be heard!

Big Ones is a compilation that straps you in and projects you through a decent collection of their mainstream songs, which also includes hits like Angel, Love In An Elevator, Janie’s Got A Gun and more. With 16 songs and at 78 minutes long, the songs keep coming and the quality keeps going up with each song, this is arguably Aerosmith’s true golden period.

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Bond leaves the competition shaken and stirred.

Shirley Bassey

Round 1 – Group 217:

1.) Best Of Bond…James Bond:  Various
2.) Kamikazi:  Eminem
3.) In The Lonely Hour:  Sam Smith
4.) The Music Of Nashville – Season 1, Vol. 2:  Various

The name’s Bond, Best Of Bond…

Last Christmas I suggested to my 11 yr old that we watch an old James Bond movie. She’s heard of him but never watched any of the movies and I figured they are all pretty watchable for kids, despite the dubious and rampart sexism of course! Anyhow, as a big 007 fan myself, I naturally have them all on DVD. When looking through the titles, trying to decide which one to watch, the child started insisting we watch the first one (Dr. No.) because she wanted to watch them all, in order. I guess she’s got a bit of OCD like her Dad and likes to be orderly about her entertainment.

I figured, it’s the first one and sure it’s a bit old now, but it still pretty watchable right? So we sat down and watched it and you know what? She loved it! She loved Sean Connery and found all the beautiful girls, bad guys, guns and gadgets as enjoyable as I did. That started a trend of us watching James Bond every other Sunday afternoon this year. As I speak we’ve just got to Timothy Dalton’s first outing The Living Daylights and the child is still as intrigued as she was at the start.

Matt Munroe

All of which leads me into the winning album here, the Best Of Bond, featuring every Bond song up until and including Quantum Of Solace. Watching all the old Bond films reminded me just how good the accompanying songs were, which prompted me to look for this compilation CD. At about £16 on Amazon this looked like an absolute steal and it delivers in spades. I was worried that licensing disagreements, music company greed or plain old copyright laws might leave gaps in such a compilation, especially one spanning some 45 yrs but no, they are all here and the production quality is superb.

Starting with the classic James Bond instrumental theme and then moving chronologically through every Bond film, this is a great 77 minutes of entertainment and with the likes of Shirley Bassey, Tina Turner, Paul McCartney and Louise Armstrong involved, there’s more class here than a secondary school during term time. The classics sound gorgeous, Shirley Bassey’s Goldfinger is powerful yet, exquisitely delivered. Bassey, of course also gives us the iconic Diamonds Are Forever and lesser known Moonraker, both of which still sound amazing.

What’s interesting is how the musical style changes with the times. One of the reason Bond, a Cold War spy from the era of the Nuclear Arms race, remained relevant, is because the stories changed in-line with modern ideals and expectations. The same can be applied to the soundtrack from each film. The early Bond films of the 60’s had songs that were more ‘crooner’, with a sprinkle of Jazz and Swing but as we move into the 70’s, a Rock influence appeared with McCartney’s rumbustious Live And Let Die alongside Carly Simon’s more melodic affair Nobody Does It Better.

Then into the 80’s we see Pop and Electronica come into the arena with Sheena Easton’s For Your Eyes Only, Duran Duran’s A View To A Kill and A-Ha’s The Living Daylights. By the time we arrive at 2002’s Die Another Day, pop icon Madonna’s effort has all the trappings of New Millenium Pop/Dance, a million miles away from Matt Monroe’s From Russia With Love. Yet, at every step, the essence of what makes the series and the character of Bond so suave and sophisticated is retained within each of these songs. Usually by preserving some semblance of orchestral arrangement, John Barry himself had a hand in every song up until 1987 and manages to weave a familiar theme and atmosphere into each distinctive effort.

I remember when Daniel Craig took over as Bond, thinking that the songs had lost something. Chris Cornell’s You Know My Name seemed pretty tuneless at the time with Jack White & Alicia Keys effort Another Way To Die almost bypassing me completely. They certainly didn’t linger long in the memory, however, I’ve given this compilation plenty of listens and even those last two are pretty solid, sure, nothing as iconic as Shirley Bassey but still up to the requisite standard. There’s something about Bond that brings out the best in a song writer and performer, a trend that’s continued with Adele and Sam Smith and while Sam Smith isn’t on this compilation, he’s somehow managed to put in an appearance elsewhere in this group. I honestly don’t think there is a bad track on this compilation, this is a fabulous collection and a celebration of how Bond manages to raise the bar every time, Nobody Does It Better indeed.

True Revival

I found Eminem’s last album a bit disappointing. So did a lot of people apparently and Em didn’t take the critiscism so well, he was so riled up that it prompted him to release another album almost straight away to answer some of his critics. Kamikaze is that album and it’s certainly a welcome return to form. Revival had way too many ‘splice’ tracks with samples, where Em was trying to fit other people’s song choruses into his own raps. We obviously know that he’s usually pretty good at this but on Revival it just didn’t seem to work out so well.

He can literally rhyme ‘rhyme’ with ‘chime’.

Kamikaze takes a different direction to his previous effort, it’s more pure rapping and hardly any collabs. It’s also very good and features some mesmorisingly fast rap and inventive sonics, the opening verse to Not Unlike for instance, which is an hypnotic shower of words. Em has trimmed the fat too, Revival was about an hour long and bloated at that. Kamikaze has no bloat, it’s stripped to its essence and says nothing more than it needs to. Em has also dropped all the political crap, something else that was a big turn off from Revival, instead we’ve got a song about him praising his own abilities (Greatest), the chaotic omni-directional title track, an autobiographical reminiscence of the end of D12 and Venom, from the film of the same name which is not bad for a sell-out track (sarcasm!).

La La La Lonely

Sam Smith’s debut In The Lonely Hour is an excellent collection of emotional pop tunes, showcasing Smith’s beautiful vocal talent. It has plenty going for it material-wise too. Opener Money On My Mind is a cracking pop tune, making use of Smith’s
high range and creating an interesting vocal riff. The album is laced with quality elsewhere with gospel-esque Stay With Me and ballads like I’m Not The Only One and Life Support. Naughty Boy’s La La La injects a bit of tempo near to end but this album is very ballad heavy and a little bit on the slow side, which may be why it’s not quite made it through this group. That said, it’s probably the strongest album we’ve lost in round 1 since U2’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind back in group 197, five years ago.

“Sue Ellen, you’re a drunk, a tramp and an unfit mother!”

In case you’ve missed it, Nashville is a glossy soap-opera about a bunch of country singers who constantly fall in and out of love with each other and have distant relatives that constantly appear out of nowhere that they’ve never mentioned before. That’s probably what it’s about, I don’t know as I don’t watch it. The wife loves it though!

Basically it’s Dallas but every 15 minutes somebody does some Country karaoke.

The music however is pretty good, extremely solid. The cast and production crew obviously spent a lot of time on the music and the quality of it shines through. This compilation from season 1 features prominent actors from the show, demonstrating that they’ve definitely got some singing chops to go with their acting skills and despicable good looks. An awful lot of these songs sound very familiar, I can’t tell whether that’s because they are covers, knock-offs or because they have to re-use them across different epsiodes, meaning I’m over-exposed already. Ho Hey (Lennon Stella / Masiy Stella) really had me scratching my head because I was convinced it was an old song.

Save The Cheerleader, Save The World Of Country Music

This a wonderful little album to listen to though, quite beautiful really and would have stood a chance of going through in a weaker group. Hypnotising by Hayden Panettiere, backed by solid engineering production is good enough to be a top ten pop hit. You Ain’t Dolly by Chris Carmack & Claire Bowen has a real charm about it and is one of my favourites but honestly the majority of the stripped down numbers like Looking For A Place To Shine (Clare Bowen) and Stronger Than Me (Connie Britton) are all pretty good. This was a most enjoyable group of albums !

 

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A Flicker Of Sparks is the Perfect Contradiction to Motorhead and their brethren.

Round 1 – Group 216:

1.) Perfect Contradiction:  Paloma Faith
2.) III:  The Lumineers
3.) Legends Of Rock (News Of The World):  Various
4.) Flicker:  Niall Horan

This is more like it! A much improved group from that last miserable effort, the luck of the draw eh? Any one of these four albums would have breezed through the previous group ahead of those two dubious albums by Dido and Christine and the Queens. Yet, here we are, another difficult choice to make but this time it’s which decent album to lose, rather than which terrible album to keep!

Redneck Rocking

First impression of this Lumineers album? It’s a bit weird, are all their albums like this? Also, it’s called III which implies it might have a couple of prequels. Nope, I just looked it up and it doesn’t, it’s just their third album. It also contains three ‘chapters’ apparently, so that’s a nice little tie-in as well I suppose. It says here that III got to number 2 on the American Billboard Chart so it must have sold pretty well.

Personally, I’d never heard of The Lumineers until I saw them on the Brits, doing what I thought was a pleasant, if fairly run of the mill pop number. This album is nothing like that, so it’s possible I’m remembering a different band! Well there *is* usually quite a bit of drinking during the Brits, amiright? Gotta keep up with tradition and all that.

This III album is quite sombre and melancholy, totally emphasising the piano and semi-acoustic guitar as the instrumentation of choice. Indeed, it does feel a bit different with hardly any bass guitar, tightly controlled use of percussion and a dash of violin here and there. The majority of the piano is played at a high register which makes it sound quite dark. It’s certainly an engaging atmosphere, coming across a bit like The Killers and/or Springsteen in places. Maybe even a little bit of a Jeff Buckley vibe on a couple of tracks, like My Cell for example. I can easily imagine these songs being played around a campfire. Gloria & Jimmy Sparks are excellent and despite it being some kind of weird redneck soap opera, III is a most engaging listen and only a whisker behind Perfect Contradiction.

Feelin’ Way Too Damn Good about this compilation.

Legends (New Of The World) is yet another giveaway disk. You may have guessed by

Carlos Santana

now that I have stacks of these, not sure why they keep getting pulled out the iTunes randomiser but I still have about 20 left to get through. This rock compilation looks pretty solid on paper, with Boston’s More Than A Feeling, Motorhead’s Ace Of Spades, Alice Cooper’s Poison, Santana’s Black Magic Woman and errrr, Buck Rogers by Feeder??

When I think about it, Feeder is a rather ominous name for a band dontcha think? Feeder, Feeder. Just what are they feeding and what are they feeding it? Such a moniker conjures images of a man eating plant, possibly named Audrey 2. Or maybe it’s a reference to a creepy 10 yr old vampire called Kirsten? We just don’t know.

Grant Nicholas of Feeder during Feeder in Concert at Carling Academy – April 1, 2005 at Carling Academy, Brixton in London, Great Britain. (Photo by SAV/FilmMagic)

Leaving the name of the band aside for a moment, let’s have a look at the name of their song here. Don’t you think it’s a bit suspicious when somebody names a song after an icon of pop culture and yet never reference it in the actual song? Take this Buck Rogers song. I’m pretty sure ‘ole Buck was a futuristic spaceman with an overly attached butler droid thingy but I don’t ever recall Buck driving a Jaguar with a CD Player or indeed, drinking cider from a lemon. Do Lemons even grow in space? Excuse me while I DM the ISS to find out.

I believe Prefab Sprout made the same mistake with their album Steve McQueen, a cynical marketing ploy if ever there was one. 10 million ppl bought the album because they thought Steve McQueen was singing on it (probably, I haven’t actually verified that).

Onto the compilation though, which like a thousand compilations before it, and probably a thousand yet to be made, contains More Than A Feeling by Boston. This really is more than a great song and will still be a great song even when the Sun has exhausted its fuel. In summary, yes, there’s a few spurious choices here (I’m not even going to get started on the inclusion of Nickleback’s Feelin’ Way Too Damn Good) but this remains a fun, if lightweight collection.

Another Direction

One Direction are (or were) like the Bay City Rollers of the ‘Teenies’. Yes I said ‘Teenies’, that’s what we’re calling 2010 – 2019 right? If One Direction proved one thing, it’s that with the right talent and creativity, a highly skilled group of….. marketing execs, can make literally any 5 random blokes pop icons, regardless of any genuine musical factors, and this, ladies and gentlemen is a true achievement for mankind.

Ok, I’ll stop. How did I even get this album? The wife gave it to me for Christmas as a ‘stocking filler’. “You’ll like it” she said. Well, proving that I will literally listen to anything sent my way, I’ve spun Flicker a good dozen times and you know what? It ain’t half bad at all. It’s a laid back, gentle MOR album mostly. There’s a few lovely vocal tracks (Flicker and Fire Away) and it begins with a strong opener in the shape of On The Loose, Horan obviously recognising the importance of a strong musical unveiling.

Slow Hands is good too, sounds contemporary with its catchy chorus. But hang on, uh-oh, Niall must be taking lessons from Captain Blunt on how to short sell your fans, why is there only 35 minutes of material here? Actually, the brevity is rather telling when you combine it with the lesser quality spread across the album. Don’t get me wrong, there’s no disasters here but if your album is less than 45 minutes and it isn’t wall-to-wall killer, it kinda says to me that you’re struggling for output. To be fair though, on the whole this is a professionally produced effort and musically it’s good too. Niall Horan comes across as an excellent musician with a lot of potential to push on from this.

The duet with Maren Morris (Seeing Blind) is worth mentioning too, that’s nice. However, some of the album, while sounding superficially pleasant at first, can get borderline tedious with repeat listens, This Town/Too Much To Ask being a couple of examples. Flicker then, brings up the rear but bettered my expectations.

I Just Can Rely On Her

Perfect Contradiction is musically rock-solid and yet it all hinges on Palomas excellent vocal delivery. When Paloma won group 198 with Do You Want The Truth Or Something Beautiful, it suprised me, because despite her superb voice, the type of music she does isn’t the sort that normally attracts me too readily. Was that a one-off though? Looks like the answer is no. Just why do so many of these tracks sound familiar to me? Is it because I’ve sub-conciously consumed them via background radio over the years or is it because they just sound ‘right’?

There’s more than a few excellent tracks on here, Ready For The Good Life, Other Woman, Mouth To Mouth, The Bigger You Love (The Harder You Fall) and talking of big, just how ‘big’ do these songs sound? Quite the contrast against The Lumineer’s more stripped down affair.

Perfect Contradiction makes it sound like you’re in a small venue with an oversized jazz/pop ensemble blowing instruments through the amp all the way up to 11. That’s before you put Palomas’ sensationally powerful and technical vocal delivery into the mix. Yep, Perfect Contradition is a fun album, albeit with a largely romatically & emotionally charged subtext, another quality effort from Paloma Faith.

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