Fingers, Heart, Soul and Mind are all slaves to the American Heartbeat

Round 1 – Group 211

1.) American Heartbeat [ Vinyl ]:  Various
2.) Nine Track Mind:  Charlie Puth
3.) Fingers Of Gold [ Vinyl ]:  Juanillo de Alba
4.) Heart And Soul – A Valentines Collection:  Various

 

Heartbeaten

Heart And Soul – A Valentines Collection is a collection of mainly famous standards, and despite a good beginning with Phyliss Nellson’s Move Closer and Al Jarreau’s Let’s Stay Together its turns into a bit of a mixed bag with a melange of live & recorded songs and non-originals. The quality of recordings is heterogeneous, for instance the live version of Slow Hand by The Pointer Sisters is excellent whereas the performance of Let’s Get It On by Marvin Gaye is poor. Gerry & The Pacemakers manage to suck all the emotion from Unchained Melody whereas The Drifters’ Save The Last Dance For Me sounds great. There’s a couple of question marks on here too, like what is this version of Tracks Of My Tears? It certainly isn’t the original and why is Dianna Ross MIA on Baby Love? A sub-standard selection.

Finger picking good

Fingers Of Gold is an old Vinyl pressed in 1970 by flamenca guitar player Juanillo de Alba. His music is flamboyent and really quite beautiful and what a talent. Such technical mastery, imagine what this guy could do with an electric guitar and a rock band! I thought it’d be a yawn-fest but it’s quite pleasant actually, albeit you have set your expctations accordingly. This whole album is one man with one instrument. No singing, no ‘phat’ beats, no Rhythm & Blues and all 8 tracks tread a similar musical path. A sensationally gifted guitar player though and culturally enrichening if nothing else. Betters the messy Valentines collection but doesn’t quite match Nine Track Mind.

One Call Away from a cancelled record deal

American singer/songwriter Charlie Puth shows on his debut effort Nine Track Mind that he has a lovely tone to his voice and makes laid back soulfully glazed pop. Until I listened to this I hadn’t actually realised he was the guy behind Let’s Marvin Gaye & Get It On, which I originally thought was a thoroughly naff song with dubious lyrics and owning the album hasn’t dented that view much. Why does this bug me so much, ‘Let’s Marvin Gaye and Get It On, like they said in the song’. Who’s *they*? Surely the line should be like *he* said in the song, you know, ‘Marvin‘, the guy you’re namechecking in the title? Also who says things like “it’s time for Karma Sutra show & Tell” or “we’ve got this KingSize to ourself”? Who else were you expecting to be in your bed with you Charlie? Obviously me and the Puth live very different lives!

In places the album is insipid and underwhelming but occassionally it’s not bad, I’ve come to appreciate tracks like My Gospel, Losing My Mind and even Dangerously. The album is shaped by piano pop, he’s a bit like Daniel Powter on a Bad Day (fnarr). Actually I thought at first that he sounds incredibly similar to Panic At The Disco vocalist Brendon Urie, so similar in fact that I had to google it just to make sure it wasn’t the same person. Crawls over the line for another go in round two.

Hearts Are Burning On The Boulevard

American Heartbeat was the soundtrack of my youth, one of the first tapes I had on my little tape machine. This was before I got a stereo so I must have been about 9 years old. The tape machine had a dual purpose, it could play my music tapes, recorded from my Dad’s vinyl setup, or it could load my ZX Spectrum games, Jet Set Willy, Manic Miner, Space Invaders that sort of thing. What it couldn’t do was play music *and* load computer games at the same time, so when I did finally get my own stereo setup it was a game changer.

American Heartbeat is an AOR compilation from 1984 featuring some spectacular tracks. It’s wave after wave of melodic rock masterpieces. A compilation I’ve been listening to for over 30 years and quite possibly one of my most played tapes. I still have the tape but I no longer have a tape player! It’s not available on CD (I’ve been looking for years) and so it’s only recently that I’ve managed to give it a listen again now that I have my shiny new turntable and my Dad’s vinyl collection. My turntable records to digital WAV format so I’ve digitally recorded the whole vinyl (which itself is pretty worn out) and then I’ve pumped it through an MP3 converter so that I can play it in the car and wow!, what a great trip down memory lane this album is.

When I first listened as a small kid I didn’t know the track listing and didn’t realise there were songs from repeat bands. Toto’s three songs could be by three different bands for example (Rosanna, Africa, Hold The Line). Quarterflash’s Harden My Heart could be one of the best tarcks here and that’s saying something in company like this (More Than A Feeling by Boston, Don’t Fear The Reaper by Blue Oyster Cult, Carry On Wayward Son by Kansas and more!). These songs are so well crafted, this is true art. Representative of an age personified by radio friendly, singable melodic rock songs with enough rock attidude and electric guitars to swell the emotions of both casual and fanatic rock fans alike. This compilation is mixed to perfection too. Only many years later did I find out that most of these songs were edited versions. It was when I bought Boston’s self-titled debut album on CD that I realised they had stripped out a whole verse from the Amercian Heartbeat version of More Than A Feeling. Similarly, Journey’s Who’s Cryin Now and REO Speedwagon’s Keep On Loving You have also been shortened, the latter missing an entire guitar solo, but you know what? It doesn’t detract at all, these songs sound like they belong together and work their magic nonetheless. A true compilation materpiece.

 

 

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Whenever I Stop, Suddenly I See that The Damage Is Done to the usual Love Songs

Round 2 – Group 15:

1.) Eye To The Telescope:  KT Tunstall
2.) M6:  Mike & The Mechanics
3.) Foreigner:  Foreigner
4.) Love Songs:  Various

I Didn’t See This Coming
M6 is an organic album, lots of stripped back semi-acoustic rhythms, along with Rutherford’s accompanying electric guitars with his trademark musicanship. Packed with gorgeous vocals from Paul Young and Paul Carrack, Carrack especially sounds delicious on If Only and Asking For The Last Time.

Somebody get them another cup of coffee

For all its charm and musical chops and despite containing not one bad song, there is still something about M6 that doesn’t quite levitate it to the echelons of great albums.
Maybe it’s the lack of an absolute belter like ‘All I Need Is A MIracle‘, ‘Silent Running‘, ‘Another Cup Of Coffee’ or ‘Living Years‘ or maybe it’s the lack of diversity. It was the follow up to Beggar On A Beach Of Gold which certainly felt a bit different from previous Mechanics album. For the record, I think M6 is a superior, albeit safer album than Beggar. What Will You Do?, Asking For The Last Time and Did You See Me Coming are all brilliant songs, could it have a longevity problem? Well it still sounds great after 20 yrs but I guess time will tell!

Tell Me What Your Telescope Says

Eye To The Telecope paints marvellous mental imagery inside the listeners brain. Take Silent Sea, the nautical themes of which enhance this songs ability to conjure images of a rainswept harbour. With this debut album, Tunstall proved out of the blocks, that she’s a serious musician.
All those hours busking with a loop pedal have certainly honed her craft and if you look through her telescope you’ll discover some wondeful compositions. Sure the minor hits
of Other Side Of The World and Suddenly I See along with critical acclaim greatly helped to bring attention to a wider audience (Eye To The Telecope was nominated for the 2005 Mercury Music Prize) but dig deeper and you’ll find a quite beautiful and rewarding album here beyond those pop friendly songs.

It’s more stripped back than M6, certainly no keyboards here but splashes of beautiful grand piano. The guitar-led tracks generating a mid tempo ‘folky’/’stompy’ style while the slow ones are atmoshperic and moody, highlighting Tunstall’s vocals which are reined in and delicate on Under The Weather and Through The Dark but full-bodied on Another Place To Fall. Black Horse & The Cherry Tree is simply wonderful, possibly my favourite track here. I’ll let my heart do all the talking and put Eye To The Telecope atop this group!

Feels Like The Worst Time

Foereigner’s self-titled debut is possibly the weakest of the Gramm/Jones era with the exception of Inside Information but it’s far from a weak album. For a seventies rock band they certainly use their fair share of synthesisers all over the place on this album. That electronic sound would grow stronger on later albums of course but here it is more sporadic. The hits are still absolute bangers, Long way From Home still rocks along nicely, Cold As Ice sounds as fantastic as ever and while Feels Like The First

Somebody needs to tell them that one of them brought a GUN to a photoshoot.

seems a bit more tired, the core of that song is still very strong aswell.

Outside of those three the style flip flops between ballads (Fool For You Anyway / Damage Is Done) and classical rhythm and blues (Headknocker / At War With The World). On the whole, the repertoire here maybe a bit narrow for some but you do get Starrider which comes across a bit hippy/psychedellic, and despite the second half being weaker than the first half, the album does end with a very interesting and experimental I Need You. Not a great album but one that laid the foundation for Foreigner to go on and produce some very strong albums afterwards.

Crushed

Love Songs, despite its length, is an excellent blend of real pop classics. It may have beaten Adele’s 25 to second place in group 201 but while giving Foreigner’s self-titled debut a run for its money, it eventually couldn’t live with the higher caliber of albums we are seeing in round 2 as so aptly demonstrated here.

Despite excellent songs like Crush by Jennifer Page, Something About The Way You Look Tonight by Elton John, Shania Twain’s You’re Still The One, Leanne Rimes How Do I Live and onto the superbness of You Do Something To Me by Paul Weller and classics Have I Told You Lately (Rod Stewart) and I’ll Stand By You (The Pretenders) it’s still a compilation let down by Boyzone sucking all emotion and feeling from No Matter What (is there a cover that they didn’t murder?) and the barely mediocre Even After All by Finlay Quaye which is a shame.

I did discover one thing though. High by The Lighthouse Family was a song that I used to slate when it came out, I thought the singer was tuneless and the song was pathetic, now 20 yrs later I find it a charming little song. Maybe I’m turning into an old fogey?

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No Revival from The Bends as Ed Sheeran Divides and Conquers

Round 1 – Group 210

1.) Divide:  Ed Sheeran
2.) The Bends:  Radiohead
3.) Revival:  Eminem
4.) The Last Dance:  Various

Tracks Of My Years

The Last Dance is a collection of gentle love songs and quite a lovely little collection is it too. Featuring tracks like the charming ‘Last Waltz‘ by Engelbert Humperdinck, ‘Just My Imagination‘ by The Temptations, pop ballads ‘Save The Best For Last‘ (Vennessa Williams), Three Time A Lady (Commodores) and a couple of nailed-on classics like Marvin Gaye’s I Heard It Through The Grapevine and Smokey Robinsons Tracks Of My Tears. It’s only really let down by Boyzone murdering Barry Gibb’sWords‘ and a rather uneccassary re-working of Wet Wet Wet’s Angel Eyes. Almost bettered Revival but not quite.

Tragic Bendings

2017’s Revival re-treads a lot of old ground but never surpasses any of Eminem’s previous six albums. I think it’s a bit messy in places, Arose for example is pretty poor tbh and tracks like Remind Me and Offended don’t really deliver. There is some good stuff of course, mainly in the first quarter in the shape of Believe, Chloraseptic & Untouchable which help the album make a decent start but then it descends into a
rock-sample-heavy array of pallid rap tracks.

River with Ed Sheeran feels like a missed opportunity. I was expecting Ed and Slim to do some rapping and riff off eachother, we all know Ed can rap pretty good, so why does he hold back? Later, Slim calls Donald Trump a Nazi on the political Like Home, wait, Slim is a liberal now? I don’t like to say that people have lost their edge but Marshall
seems on a downward keel, which is a shame. All that said though and Radiohead’s allegedly ‘classic’ 2nd album The Bends only Just pips Revival here thanks to a set of dreamlike & articulate tracks produced in a way that makes them seep directly into your conciousness. Much more coherent than Revival and lively than other Radiohead efforts Kid A and OK Computer, yet not an album that blows me away by any means, it nevertheless makes for an agreeable listen.

Ed couldn’t make his fans Happier

Divide has more than a whiff of Eric Clapton about it. From Perfect (which sounds uncannily reminiscent of Wonderful Tonight) and elsewhere on the guitar style on How Would You Feel which could be right at home on Journeyman or Slow Hand.
Maybe Sheeran’s overwhelming style is too prodigiously MOR for some but the kids seem to lap this shit up don’t they? Beginning with the genuinely excellent Eraser, Divide remains an engaging album of high quality with some memorable tracks like Castle On The Hill, Shape Of You, Happier and New Man. Another decent effort from the English Bob Dylan.

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Mars is seeing Stars as Straits Sweep the Rug from Under Alanis

Round 2 – Group 14:

1.) Have A Nice Day:  Roxette
2.) Brothers In Arms:  Dire Straits
3.) Under Rug Swept:  Alanis Morissette
4.) Unorthodox Jukebox:  Bruno Mars

 

 

Competition toughens up!

Round two is only 14 groups old but has already seen some strong groupings such as:

but then group 14 came along with Dire Strait’s multi award winning, 30 million selling behemoth 5th album being pulled out of the hat alongside chart-topper albums Under Rug Swept & Unorthodox Jukebox with Roxette’s bittersweet 6th studio album to boot.

In fact this is probably the strongest group we’ve had so far since I started the ‘competition’. I’m trying to think of any groups that had more quality than this.
Ironically Roxette have been involved in a few corking groups already, they previously went head to head with Dire Straits as Crash Boom Bang beat On Every Street in Round 1 – Group 37  and Have A Nice Day bettered Iron Maiden’s Somewhere In Time back in Round 1 – Group 50.  Meanwhile Room Service knocked out Def Leppards’ Pyromania in Round 1 – Group 56 and Tourism out-did Dido and The Police in Round 1- Group 88 !

Actually, while we’re reminiscing,  let’s take a detour through some of the strongest groups so far:

Women are from Venus, Bruno is from Mars

On closer inspection, the radio friendly and highly sexualised Unorthodox Jukebox is a fairly disposable album that satiates quickly. It has many layers of quality, all the modern production techniques keep it sounding ‘cool’ while it delivers catchy pop melodies framed by Bruno’s soulful heart. Bruno Mars is a stunning talent and tracks like Natalie, Moonshine and Money Make Her Smile sound great despite the dubious lyrical content. But the satiation is an issue. The first several times I listened to Locked Out Of Heaven, I thought it was fantastic. Now? I’m so over it. Don’t want to listen to it at all. The same attrition issue is starting to affect Gorilla too. Some music is like chocolate, too much and you’ve had enough but this album is more like pavlova topped with caramel and chocolate sauce, you lose interest after only a few bites. In a group as strong as this, Bruno finds himself well behind the curve.

Roxette Anyone?

I still think of Roxette’s 1997 effort Have A Nice Day as one of their more modern albums but man, this record is now over 20 years old! At the time of release I put this up there with anything they ever created. It’s been a long while since I took it for a spin but listening back now I can see why I was so enamoured by it. Polished, punchy elctro-pop rock never sounded so good than on tracks like 7Twenty7 and Crush On You while the slow and mid-tempo ballads each hit their mark too.

No Colour In The Printer

That opener Crush On You is a wonderful start to the album and features some fantastic lyrics, encapsulating an undulating off-balance feeling when in the swirls of obsession. That Gessle’s first language isn’t English and he invented these lyrics is a testament to his poetic and intellectual capabilities.

As you move through the songs the album barely relents, whether it’s the superb melodramatic Anyone or the beautiful saxonphone on Lucky, almost every track is a treat for the ears. That hook in Salvation stays with you long after the album has finished “You crashed by the gate, captured my fate” followed up by the little heartfelt piano-rift.

That Particular Time

Roxette’s romantical lyrics are a shining contrast with Alanis’s more gritty autobiographical stories on Under Rug Swept. Much like how I felt when Have A Nice Day first appeared, I became bewitched with Under Rug Swept when it first landed. Beguiled by its easy quality I ranked it as good as Jagged Little Pill, while not quite the lightning in a bottle of that debut, it definitely lives with it in terms of quality and craftmanship. I’m a big fan of Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie too but we all know that that particular album strays here and there. Under Rug Swept is much tighter with basically no bloat and some pleasing heart-string-pulling piano-driven ballads like You Owe Me Nothing In Return and That Particular Time.

Folk and Grunge influences infect Alanis’s third stuio album throughout. Flinch is a Folk song masquarading as a Grunge song masquarading as a Ballad. Precious Illusions and 21 Things I Want In A Lover are par excellence and this still ranks as a cracking little album. I think I can tick off at least half of her list on that opener by the way. Granted, Alanis’s vocals can be shrill at times, (although she mostly sounds gorgeous here) and the end track Utopia is a bit kum-bi-ya. Truthfully, there’s barely anything between the top three albums here.

I Don’t Want My MTV Anymore
Back in Round 2 – Group 11 I remarked that Dire Straits had never made a bad record, actually I’d like to clarify that. Dire Straits didn’t make records, they made audio experiences and Brothers In Arms might well be the pinnacle of all the album experiences that they created.

It features the iconic Money For Nothing with a little help from Sting. “Money For Nuthin’ and your Chicks for Free” – that’s such a rock n’ roll lyric! It’s a track that clocks in at over 8 minutes, but then, when you’ve created a guitar riff as supreme as this, I guess you milk it for all it’s worth.

As you would expect from such an accomplished musician, Knopflers’ guitar dominates and drives just about every track, with the exception of the gorgeous sounding Your Latest Trick where that saxonphone takes over. It could be argued that this is the true centrepiece of the album.

Why Worry

Brothers In Arms is an album that feels grounded by Blues and Jazz and Knoplfer makes even the most atmospheric guitar piece sound like it has a pop hook, such as on the beautiful end track Brothers In Arms. Ride Across The River still mesmerises after all these years and Walk Of Life still works as a radio friendly single. On the first few listens I’d found it hard to believe that this album could be bettered and was the defacto victor in this group until I gave Have A Nice Day & Under Rug Swept half a dozen listens side by side along with it. Each one of these brilliant albums jostled for position and temporarily (in my mind) occupied the top spot but after weeks of mental grappling I’ve decided that Have A Nice Day sneaks first, Brothers In Arms sneaks second and Under Rug Swept gets knocked out (boo).

 

 

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UFO come Unravelled by A Wonderful Life and Will has too much Power on the 8 Mile

Round 2 – Group 13:

Colin Vearncombe

1.) Wonderful Life:  Black
2.) Willpower:  Will.I.Am
3.) 8 Mile:  Eminem & Co.
4.) Covenent:  UFO

Don’t Rise Again

Coming in the later years of their career (although somehow, still over 18 years ago), Covenant is a more ‘mature’ UFO record and by ‘mature’ I really mean ‘bland’.
A record with all the right ingredients and personnel but all the wrong songs I’m afraid. So disappointing considering it was a follow up to Walk On Water which kicks ass!
It’s hard work picking out a good track here amongst this bundle of insipid, ordinary rock music. Sure, Unravelled is ok, yet sounds like a reject from previous effort Walk On Water.The rest just sound like rejects. Rise Again and Serenade are about passable. Mogg tries his best to inject something into these limp melodies and Schenker sounds like he could be doodling that lead guitar over *any* generic rock album. Yes, it’s a bit disjointed and I’m suprised the record company allowed this one through the out door. How this beat Elemental and The Masterplan way back in group 19 I’ve no idea, I must have been smoking something strong that day.

Run Rabbit Run

As somebody pointed out the other day, 8 Mile is technically a musical isn’t it? Its first half is a showcase of Eminem’s, 50 Cent’s, Obie Trice’s and D12’s raw hip hop talent.
Opener Lose Yourself is a pop/rap anthem, commercial to the point of being liked by people who don’t just normally dislike Hip Hop but who also normally dislike Eminem. You can’t deny its brilliance with its non rap chorus that you can sing along to and uplifting vibe “You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow, cause opportunity comes once in a lifetime”.

The album immediately slips into classic hip hop territory straight after with Love Me, a 3 way between Shady, Obie and Fiddy, then the brilliant origin song 8 Mile with the
rythmic, rumbling train sounds filling in for the beat. Adrenaline Rush and Places To Go are great with Rap Game making a strong case for second best track here (after Lose Yourself of course).

The second half of 8 Mile unfortunately dips in quality a bit too much to sustain it as a challenge in this group. Nas, Rakim and Young Zee all take turns to underdeliver. Macy Gray doesn’t seemt to belong here and even Jay Z’s effort is a bit sub-par. Eminem ends the compilation with the quality of Rabbit Run but this can’t save it from being beaten by the clinical production of Willpower.

Scream & Shout, get that cheese out!

Given its cheesy nature, it probably won’t win me any street credibility to place Willpower above 8 Mile but that’s ok because I don’t have any credidibility anyway, ‘street’ or otherwise. Look, it’s a fun album ok? Hello and This Is Love are a powerful dance pop duo to open the album with and Freshy is actually ok if you give it a chance.
There are some dips in quality like the slightly annoying child vocal on Ghetto Ghetto and just-about-passable Gettin’ Dumb but there’s also plenty of musical ideas and some strong collaborations, Britney Spears, Justin Bieber, Nicole Scherzinger to name a few. Scream & Shout, Fall Down, Far Away From Home and Reach For The Stars are all strong electro-pop numbers with Will.I.Am’s funky rap spin sprinkled over them. I’m giving second place to Willpower.

No Need To Run and Hide

When these four albums were randomly drawn out, my mind wasn’t immediately drawn to Wonderful Life being a contender to win the group and yet here we are. Sure, this was a very even matched set of four albums, possibly the closest round two group so far actually but Wonderful Life, a no. 3 album in the UK Album chart back in 1987 clearly defeats the rest of this group. There’s no disputing that I need any more listens before I make up my mind either because I listened to this album over and over whilst trying to record it digitally from my original 1987 vinyl and learned a lot about music editing in the process. This process strengthened my view of Vinyls’ superiority over CD, at least for albums pressed in the 80’s.

Final Vinyl

Excuse a small digression if you will but I think this is a very important point that needs to be made. Are Vinyls better than CD? It’s an emphatic yes, at least for this album.
If you listen to the CD and Vinyl rip side by side there is a *clear* difference. The Vinyl rip sounds more dynamic, more alive – it’s way more compelling. It’s clearer too and thanks to a little software program I wrote, it’s been amplified digitally which gives it more presence when listening to it in the car (a noisy non-sterile environment – the stuff of an audiophiles nightmare).

The same difference goes to a bunch or other Vinyls I’ve ripped lately, Rainbow’s Straight Between The Eyes and Blackfoot’s Marauder. Both are clearly miles better than their CD counterpart. Now, this may actually have more to do with the CD being a poor quality reproduction than the Vinyl being generally better. With modern music, CDs can sound incredible. I genuinely believe that most of the 1980’s albums that I replaced on CD sound dreadful compared to the vinyl, with a few exceptions where I bought the ‘remastered’ CD. These typically sound great actually, like my remastered version of Pink Floyd’s The Wall.

The reason there’s still a debate around vinyl versus CD (or vinyl versus digital these days) is because nobody is ever comparing the same thing. If you compare a well pressed vinyl for the 1980’s against the ADD (Analogue to Digital conversion) CD version, the vinyl is superior. If you compare a nineties CD against a nineties vinyl the difference is much less clear. At the end of the day, all I know is that there’s some albums (like ‘Bad‘ by Michael Jackson) that I’ve bought on tape cassette, then vinyl, then CD and *then* remastered CD and that probably makes me a mug and the record company very happy but they eventually got it right with the remastered version even if I do begrudge forking out money for something I already own 3 times.

BitterSweetest Smile

Back in ’round 2, group 13′ land, we have a solid, well crafted Wonderful Life album which kicks off with the title track, a moody pop synth anthem with uplifting lyrics over minor keys and depressing overtones. The one thing I’ve noticed listening back to this album is the superb range of Colin Veancombe’s vocals. He makes great use both the high falsetto and baritone range. The mid tempo songs like Everything’s Coming Up Roses and I’m Not Afraid are the strongest stuff here but this album is tight. It carries heavy jazz influences but also busts out some nice clarinette and makes good use of brass instrumentation. When I was a kid I always thought Sweetest Smile a bit boring but now I find it a compelling and emotional end to the album. Maybe this isn’t a classic
album but the quality shines out and it’s a joy to spin. It might struggle in round three but for now, Black take top spot.

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Stayin’ Alive At Tamara’s

V Festival 2015 at Weston Park – Day 1 – Performances – George Ezra
Featuring: George Ezra
Where: Stafford, United Kingdom
When: 22 Aug 2015
Credit: WENN.com

Round 1 – Group 209

1.) Staying At Tamara’s:  George Ezra

2.) Timeless:  Bee Gees
3.) Original Gold:  The Beach Boys
4.) Essential 70’s Collection:  Various

This group is quite the vocal contrast with The Beach Boys and The Bee Gees famously high falsetto vocal harmonies pitted against the sonorous baritone of George Ezra. Infact you could say this group has lots of highs and lows (fnarr).

Not so essential 70’s

Most of the musical lows appear on this 70s compilation ‘Essential 70’s Collection‘ which is eclectic even by my standards but not terrible. The Bottle by Gill Scott-Heron is infuriatingly tedious, Funkadelic, who managed to squeeze two tracks on here, One Nation Under A Groove and (Not Just) Knee Deep provide the funky (yet enjoyable) cheese and here and there are bonafide classics like Carly Simon’s Your So Vain and Desmond Dekker’s You Can Get It If You Really Want It. Gloria Gaynor’s vocals on Never Can Say Goodbye are supreme it must be said but the live version of I Will Survive is hardly definitive. Plainly last in this group.

I Wish They All Could Be California

The Beach Boys, wow these guys love their Surfing amirite? Surfin Safari, Surfer Moon, Surfin’ USA, Catch A Wave and numerous others that mention surfing (it’s not a fad, man). Truth be told there’s some fantastic stuff on Original Gold, Good Vibrations still sounds unique after 50 yrs, California Girls is as infectious as ever, Fun Fun Fun, I Get Around, Barabara Ann, Rock And Roll Music, Tears In The Morning, wowzers! These are all familiar classics for a reason. Those gorgeous harmonies, contagious verses & choruses and beautiful melodies. And slap me if California Dreaming isn’t the most Beach Boys-esque song ever written by someone other than the Beach Boys. The 80’s cover version here is utterly superb too.

Wouldn’t It be Nice If None Of Their Classic Songs Were Missing?

Now, this compilation is mammoth, with 41 tracks on it and this is where is falls short in

How many more songs shall we do about Surfing guys? Oh I don’t know, maybe another, like, 12?

this group. The lesser known Beach Boys stuff can be more of an ‘acquired’ taste. Stuff like Cotton Fields, The Little Girl I Once Knew and Add Some Music To Your Day. Some of it bordering on crooner stylee, yet I almost can’t find a bad thing to say about this compilation (I even kinda like Ten Little Indians). However, I said ‘almost’. It’s absolutely criminal that they ommitted ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice‘ so it gets down-marked for that.

You Should Be Dancing

Timeless is the latest in a long line of Bee Gees compilations and features a wonderful collection of songs. The disc runs in reverse chronological order starting with You Win Again which is so good it makes me feel like I’m winning everytime I hear it. After meandering through such luminary classics as More Than A Woman (makes me think of classic 80’s flick Short Circuit for some reason), Tragedy (covered by Steps which *was* a Tragedy), Too Much Heaven (emminently hummable), Night Fever, Stayin’ Alive (“Ah, Ah, Ah, Ah”), How Deep Is Your Love and You Should Be Dancing we

Steady, Ladies

then start to get to the earlier sound of the Bee Gees, some of which sounds like a tribute to Beatles like Lonely Days and especially New York Mining Distaster 1941 which sounds like a faux-Lennon-Scouse accent.

The influences go forwards as well as backwards as you hear the likes of Gary Barlow and James Blunt in some of these songs. I Started A Joke is Blunt all over and sounds as if it could have inspired his first two albums (probably recorded before he was born too). They might be known for the Disco affililiation with 70’s film Saturday Night Fever and while Stayin’ Alive has a ‘dicso’ beats per minute of 104, most of the Bee Gees material is more middle of the road in a classical seventies songwriter vein.  If you listen carefully you can hear strings in Stayin’ Alive, not very disco-like right? It’s the little fills throughout every song they produced that helps rise the material above other artists. A little 4 note flourish of funky wunk guitar, some orchestral Strings to colour the mid-to-end-section of a song (like Words) and some inspired Glockenspiel on Massachussetts. Truly a great band.

There’s no suggestion that the slow nature of Ezra’s album sends anyone to sleep

The dark horse and surpise winner of this group though is Staying At Tamara’s, George Ezra’s second album, reaching number 1 in the UK in March 2018. Ezra is a singer songwriter clearly inspired by folk and blues with a mature vocal delivery and this album is most enjoyable. It has a slow relaxed pace, features strong musicanship and a very nice collection of songs that compliment each other very well. I guess it’s a little different to mainstream pop too but George does what so many talented artists do, he draws on the traditional and puts a contempory spin over it. The echo call and response of Don’t Matter Now with that horn seems old fashioned but is pulled into 2018 by its contempory beat and modern pop verse.

Shotgun and especially Paradise are two very strong pop songs and Saviour featuring First Aid Kit is another highlight but it’s the fact that the album never wavers, there’s some beautiful songs elsewhere like All My Love, Hold My Girl and Only A Human (although points lost for unneccesarry swearing). An all round quality offering which I’m putting top, just ahead of The Bee Gees.

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Robbie Didn’t Start The Fire and The Truth is not so beautiful for Sheryl Crow

Round 1 – Group 208

1.) Piano Man: The Very Best Of Billy Joel:  Billy Joel
2.) Greatest Hits:  Robbie Williams
3.) Truth Is A Beautiful Thing:  London Grammar
4.) Be Myself:  Sheryl Crow

 

Be Someone Else

Sheryl Crow’s latest effort and 10th studio album Be Myself is a mixed bag, gets a bit messy in places and is firmly my least favourite Crow album. Sheryl’s a revered singer songwriter with an impeccable vocal quality and easy breezy rock n roll hippie attitude but legacy can’t save you when you throw new music at the world. The first half of the album is rather laboured until Roller Skate, which isn’t fantastic but the first half-decent track here. I still like the sentiment better than the song tho (Put your phone away, let’s roller skate). Then we hit slow ballad Love Will Save The Day which is rather beautiful actually with following track Strangers Again also hittng a good vibe. Then it gets messy again with Rest Of Me and evetually ends with the unconvincing Woo Woo. Disappointing.

Let Him Entertain You

I was a stout hater of Robbie Williams when he first hit the pop charts. A rejected ‘fat dancer’ from a boy band who needed to cover George Michael’s Freedom to get into the charts. Robbie was well known not just for being completely unable to get near the vicinity of any notes he was trying to hit, but also for struggling to spell any of them aswell.

Now ‘hate’ is a strong word I know but it’s always exasperated me how record companies want to control the creative output and personnel of the musicians in their employ. Especially given that the 90’s was bereft with boy bands and girls bands of questionable musical talent. That said, despite not being a Take That fan, how could I possibly ignore that a certain Gary Barlow had written some fantastic pop tunes like Million Love Songs and Back For Good?

Therefore when Gary Barlow released his debut album around the same time as Robbie launched his solo career I was firmly on the side of Mr Barlow, even if Barlow’s first album Open Road turned out a bit dull. Meanwhile, at my day job in the video store, the usually infurtiating promo video kept playing this song called South Of The Border. I didn’t know who it was by, having not recognised Robbie’s voice (did he ever sing in Take That?). This song was played and played and grew on me and grew on me to the point where I had to discover who was responsible for this fairly decent pop track.

No Regrets

Despite my youthful ignorance, I manage to be led by my musical heart not my musical head and Robbie won me over. By the time he had released Old Before I Die (a sort of reverse of The Who’s My Generation), soppy balad Angels and then the in-your-face, cock-on-your-sleeve, ego-in-your-eyeballs of Let Me Entertain You I was swimming in admiration for this new legend who had captured the imagination and support of an entire generation of pop lovers (and an awful lot of students at the time, much like myself).

Robbie then miraculously managed to carve out hit after hit after hit, a string of cracking pop tunes with plenty of musicality, melody, expressive lyrics and of course delivered with a swagger by Robbie’samour propre‘. I always thought Guy Chambers was single handedly responsible for all of Rob’s early hits but credit where credit is due, Rob had some input. After reading his 2017 auto-biography it sounds like Guy Chambers was only responsible for about 80% of each song! Yes, yes that’s a bit cruel and it’s a bit tongue in cheek because if truth be told, this is an excellent collection of sing-a-long pop belters, a worthwhile contribution to the history of pop and I am thoroughly a fan.

Rooting For Them

London Grammar are like a slightly classier version of Everything But The Girl with a little bit of All About Eve thrown in. I was even going to compare them to Clannad but then I realised that *nobody* sounds like Clannad (even Clannad sometimes). The vocals are lush and beautiful and backed up by some solid musicanship. Truth Is A Beautiful Thing is quite an empty album as if surrounded by a dark, ethereal void and an intrigue that never lets up.

What I didn’t know was that this, their second album was a number 1 album in 2017. This, a Number 1 album? I wasn’t expecting that. I guess Number 1 albums ain’t what they used to be. The first half of the album gets occassionally resplendent (Wild Eyed, Hell To The Liars) but the second half is somewhat dull (Bones Of Ribbon). and despite the gorgeous closing title track Truth Is A Beautiful Thing there’s certainly not enough quality material here to raise it above Robbie and Billy.

We love you Billy, Just The Way You Are

I remember as a kid watching this pop video of a greasy upstart trying to woo a glamorous lady with a belter of a pop tune sang in an almost Frankie Valli pastiche. That video was Uptown Girl. Fast forward about ten years, I remember hearing River Of Dreams on the radio with its tribal rythms and hushed chorus, it sounded like a different person altogether. Yet both of these wonderful songs came from Piano Man Billy Joel.

Joel’s voice has such character and emotion, his music is immersive, it surrounds you, engulfs you. You find yourself in the mind of the narrator of these honest and sensitive lyrics. He knows when to emphasise, when to be gentle. Turns out Billy Joel has a cracking range actually.

Here on this best of collection we have a singer songwriter of real quality with a plethora of radio friendly hits, what struck me most listening to this wonderful collection was not just the constant revelation of ‘oh I know this song’ it was more a case of ‘Wow, Billy Joel did this one as well?’. Just The Way You Are, An Innocent Man, New York State Of Mind, She’s Got A Way and the utterly brilliant We Didn’t Start The Fire. This is a fine collection of music bustling with creativity and originality and easy group winner.

 

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From Traumatic Genesis to Wonderful Wonderful Sexual Revolution

Genesis Live

Round 1 – Group 207

1.) Collection:  Genesis
2.) Wonderful Wonderful:  The Killers
3.) Les Greatest Hits:  Army Of Lovers
4.) Beautiful Trauma:  Pink

 

 

Traumatic

Pink’s latest effort Beautiful Trauma has far too many four letter words for my liking. No I’m not talking about the sheer amount of unneccessary swearing on this record, I’m talking about words like ‘Dull’, ‘Drab’ and ‘Dire’ which unfortunately sum up this album. I’m a big fan of Pink, who has created some sensationally good albums in the past, but Beautiful Trauma feels short on ideas,

Yes, the album is even worse than this coat.

retreads old ground (badly) and leaves me feeling ‘meh’. Even the Eminem collab Revenge which had the potential to be great, just feels rushed. Secrets, What About Us and (at a stretch) Where We Go are all dim highlights among a sea of lustreless mediocracy.

Turn It On Again

Collection is not a real Genesis album but rather a Daily Mail promo disk, half of which contains tracks from Genesis’s ‘Live Over Europe 2007’ album with the other half featuring ‘new studio mixes’ and ‘single edits’. Despite this Frankensteinish makeup, this collection of tracks works quite brilliantly, featuring mainly Collin’s led radio friendly hits like Abacab, Turn It On Again and Invisible Touch.

The Cinema Show wasn’t that great. Only 5 people showed up

The purist Genesis fans haven’t been forgotten though as there’s also some serious prog rock here in the shape of Gabriel fronted The Cinema Show and a fantastic live rendition of Home By The Sea. Cracking stuff, easy group winner.

Killer’s are in a Rut

The Killer’s latest effort Wonderful Wonderful easily dispatches Army Of Lovers: Les Greatest Hits to take second qualifying spot although it definitely isn’t a Wonderful Wonderful album. The Killer’s obviously have great talent when creating a sonically pleasing sound but this album tries to be U2’s Unforgettable Fire so much I can barely listen to the opener without involuntarily singing ‘A Sort Of Homecoming‘ in my head. Now, The Killer’s have got away with uncanny similarities with U2 before, on albums such as Sam’s Town, but they got away with it because said album was bloody marvellous! This however treads a dangerous line of langour, drawn out by songs that sound great but aren’t actually that special.

The Man is easily the best song here, a contemporary and commerial rock/pop effort that struts and swaggers. Another highlight is The Calling with that gorgeous bass hook. The

Hi this is Brandon, is that the studio? I’m dialling in my performance.

rest of the album melds into a solid delivery of pleasing hi-fidelity structures and occassionally captivating (the chorus from of Tyson Vs. Douglas) and occasionally clunky (most of Rut). It’s an album that has, admittedly, grown on me over the weeks I’ve listened to it. It may have scope to deliver further enjoyment but I can’t shake the feeling of slight disappoinment with this album.

From Wonderful Wonderful to Weird and Wonderful

The disappointment of Wonderful Wonderful is not quite strong enough to levitate Les Greatest Hits into that second qualifying position. Army Of Lovers: Les Greatest Hits is wall to wall trashy Euro-Pop with occassionally sprinkling of  humanistic poetry.

I feel this album cover gives you an accurate idea of what their music is like.

The Army Of Lovers’s MO of overtly sexual liberal themes and messages atop a branch of electro-pop, sometimes reminiscent of classic Pet Shop Boys helps to create a fun, inclusive musical experience. A bit different, a bit weird and a bit cosmopolitan. During the years they were active in the charts (1991-1995), Army Of Lovers managed to manufacture a collection of largely entertaining pop songs like Supernatural, Ride The Bullet, Obsession and their breakthrough hit Crucified. However the one song I love the most from this collection is the ridiculously overblown, carnival anthem to celebarate sex in all its forms: Sexual Revolution. It’s epic ! But sadly not quite enough to lift this album above The Killers.

 

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Blunt causes Some Kind Of Trouble for Goldfinger while Roger is not Amused by Eminem’s coarse comedy

Round 2 – Group 12

1.) Some Kind Of Trouble:  James Blunt
2.) Curtain Call: The Hits:  Eminem
3.) Hang-Ups:  Goldfinger
4.) Amused To Death:  Roger Waters

Pidgeon-holed into some poppy rotation

Covering Slim’s breakthrough albums, 2005’s Curtain Call is the rapper’s first compilation album. Ha, the irony of mocking pop acts whilst becoming one himself. Sure, some of these tracks pushed pop into a new edgy direction but remain pop nonetheless. There are some big hitters here, Stan, Cleaning Out My Closet, Real Slim Shady plus some of his chart collaborations like Guilty Conscience (with Dr. Dre) and the club beat rap of Shake That with Nate Dogg (don’t forget the ‘double g’).
On the whole I find his studio albums much more captivating than this compilation but there’s still enough quality here to just about see off Goldfinger and secure second place in this group.

What does God want?

Amused To Death has those dark passages similar to The Wall but doesn’t use them anywhere near as effectively as that Floyd classic. This album is too busy, too sample-heavy which slows down the action much too frequently.
Is it fair to call this album a poorer rehash of The Wall?

In places the album does get pretty good, especially the tracks with soaring guitar solos like What God Whats Part 3 but despite its powerful (albeit, slightly confusing) messages, it doesn’t retain the same level of engagement throughout that The Wall seems to somehow command.

Anti-establishment. Anti-war. Anti-Religion(?) Anti-capitalism(?) What’s with all the monkey noises? Amused To Death remains a brave prog-rock melting pot of angst, depicting Roger’s far reaching opinions on the above themes. An album that you can occasionally listen to and enjoy but nowhere near a classic and easily bettered by the other three albums here.

Blunt instrument

These are the words of Captain Blunt

Blunt went slightly more upbeat with his 3rd album Some Kind Of Trouble. Blunt summised that the best way to follow those first two superb albums (Back To Bedlam & All The Lost Souls) is to take a slightly different approach and that pays off hansomly here.
The record sounds gorgeous instrumentally and features some clinically good stuff such as Heart Of Gold, These Are The Words and the superb Best Laid Plans.

Elsewhere tracks like So Far Gone, I’ll Be Your Man and Stay The Night dramatically lower the intensity compared against anything on those first two albums. This is way more cheery. A cracking little album, easily taking top spot in this group.

Ska’d for life

Goldfinger’s time in the sun during that American Pie era comedy was well deserved on the evidence of second studio album Hang-Ups (which remains the only Goldfinger album I’ve actually ever listened to).

Totally not on drugs!

It’s a bit of a spunky little album with plenty of punk angst and a couple of ‘fuck-you!’s. But also crucially, it contains some well delivered rock songs and memorable highlights like 20c Goodbye and Carlita. Including plenty of brass segments, layered throughout and between the guitar rock, makes this possibly my most favourite Ska punk album (although that’s not much praise, as I usually find Ska punk to be pathetically devoid of any genuine musicality). This though, is a good little album which was only just bettered by Slim’s big hitting greatest hits compilation.

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Audioslave are Exiled by Knoplfers’ Communique while Aerosmith run out of Lives under Stan’s Barrage.

One shall stand, one shall fall, (all shall rock)

Round 2 – Group 11

1.) Stan Bush & Barrage:  Stan Bush & Barrage
2.) Communique: Dire Straits
3.) Out Of Exile:  Audioslave
4.) Nine Lives:  Aerosmith

Out Of Lives

Nine Lives is the twelfth studio album by rockers Aerosmith and contains that classic big Aerosmith sound with plenty of brass and chunky guitar rhythms.
Take 2nd track Falling in Love (is hard on the knees) which is an atypical Aerosmith track, bulky guitar rock sound, big vocals and cheeky lyrics. Much of the album is in this vein but to a slightly lesser quality. The few stand-outs are maddening drug song Crash, the musical nod to Beatles on Wizard Of Oz inspired The Farm and the Pete Townsend influenced Falling Off. Not a bad album by any stretch but it does feel cluttered and could do with a bit more polish.

Where d’you think you’re going?

Dire Straits never made a bad record did they? Their second studio release and follow up to their succesfull self-titled debut is Communique, possibly their most laid back album. Even more so than On Every Street, as that swansong album at least has rockers Heavy Fuel and The Bug. You could argue that this is possibly their weakest effort (or rather ‘least good’ – Dire Straits never made a bad record, remember?) and yet it’s still a comforting listen. The quality of the guitar sound shines through as always and many of the songs here are themed around Knopflers’ previous life as a journalist.
I’d say the best song here is between Lady Writer and opener Once Upon The Time In The West. After 40 odd years this remains an easy listening album, a bit like a a comfortable old pair of slippers, nothing to write home about or rather nothing to ‘communicate’ home about but soothing and eminently listenable.

Rockers In Disguise

When I was a 7 year old boy, a cartoon came along that made all other cartoons redundant. That cartoon was Transformers, featuring these magnificent giant transforming robots.
The robots were cool and what they transformed into was even cooler, big trucks, fast cars, jet planes and even guns! This cartoon series was literally a little boys wet dream.
Then came the animated motion picture. I remember going to the cinema full of wonder and anticipation and I still recall to this day, the scene where Optimus Prime jumps out of the Autobots’ spaceship, proceeds to transform into a truck, mow down several Decepticons and then have an epic battle wth Megatron (“one shall stand, one shall

Heart says yes, Head says no

fall”) all while the soundtrack is pumping out this melodic rock masterclass called ‘The Touch‘. At that moment in the song, when the instruments pause and it’s just the synth and Stan singing “You Got The Touch, You Got The Poweeeerrrrrrr….. YEH !”, I swear, the needle broke through the top of the awesome scale.

You Got The Touch

A few years later my Dad tracked down the vinyl that contains this wondrous song ‘The Touch‘ and as it turned out, ‘Stan Bush & Barrage‘ isn’t a one track album thankfully.
The guitar shredding is sensational, bordering on virtuoso. Apparently Stan played lead himself but never seemed to repeat the feat on any subsequent albums (preferring rhythm guitar). He must have been channelling some serious zen on Temptation and Primitive Lover – two awesome tracks.

Maybe the quality dips a little on middle track Heart Vs Head (which I think they tried to release as a single) and even then it’s not a bad song, it just suffers from extended repetition near the end of the track. Whilst the album is mainly melodic rock there’s a few diverse moments such as Stan’s beautifully dirty bass hook on Gates Of Paradise and the soulful end track What Is Love. A brilliant album.

Your Time Has Come

Out Of Exile’s powerful lumbering chunky rock beat and Chris Cornells’ muscular vocals are an arresting combination and I thought this album might just defeat Communique. Yet, while there’s some super rock tracks here, Be Yourself, Drown Me Slowly, Man Or Animal, #1 Zero, it’s also an album that follows an invariant path of Led Zeppelin-esqu rock and while it occasionally layers in some sporadically experimental guitar whining and delivers foot-tapping hard rock quality, it isn’t quite as easy on the ears as Communique. It’s also worthy of note that Dire Straits’ ‘least best’ album manages to pip Audioslaves’ best ever effort and that possibly speaks volumes.

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