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

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




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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Tenacious Tears for Pink as she Fears the Lexicon Of Love

Round 2 – Group 10

1.) The Seeds Of Love: Tears For Fears
2.) The Lexicon Of Love:  ABC
3.) Tenacious D:  Tenacious D
4.) Funhouse:  Pink

This used to be a Funhouse

Funhouse, Pink’s 5th studio album showcases nicely what I mean when I bang on about ‘flow’. To be an ‘outstanding’ album, it can’t just be one good song after another (which this album mostly is). It’s more than that. It’s the flow of one song to the next. How do they mix with each-other, are they all the same kind of mood and style, does the opening grab you and the closing wrap things up? These are all factors that separate a ‘good’ album from a ‘great’ album.

Funhouse is an album that doesn’t gel for me, despite the palpable quality of each song in isolation. I’ve tried to put my finger on it, it’s not the pacing, although the album does slow down *a lot*. I think it’s more the similarity of the songs. It’s All Your Fault, I Don’t Believe You and Please Don’t Leave Me are all very nice songs which demonstrate Pinks’ outstanding vocal delivery and delicate song-writing touch. But they are hard to tell apart once the album has finished. Nothing here really leaves an impression on your mind.

It feels to me like the album is a three part beast: 1.) The great Pop/Rock attitude-inducing opener So What followed by half a dozen low-tempo ballads; 2.) The middle fun-filled pop canticles Bad Influence and Funhouse (which is super-catchy) and then; 3.) The final third which returns to mainly slow indistinguishable ballads again. Looks like Pink took the Fun outta the House with this effort.

Cock Pushups?

Tenacious D’s debut is like two teenagers doing rude skits and then trying to write rock songs around them. Whilst the songs don’t necessarily feel finished, this album is much higher quality than most people would give it credit for. Some of the passages of music are inspired and the lyrics are genuinely funny. The Lee song tickles me more every time I hear it.

Where it falls short in this group is the feeling of half-finishedness (may have made that word up). Many of the songs are a throwaway 2 mins, which makes sense because you probably couldn’t flesh them out much more without getting ridiculous, but still, it’s a factor as to why this album didn’t quite make the grade. Still, an entertaining listen and a bona fide ‘rock out’ experience in many ways, even if it’s a little bit Spinal Tap.
A mischievous part of me imagines a world where an X Factor contestant strolls into the open audition and performs ‘Fuck Her Gently‘.

The Look Of ABC

Which means The Lexicon Of Love sneaks second place here in what was a tough decision between this 1982 love/concept album and Tenacious D’s laugh-a-minute rock-fest. There’s lots of brightness on this album, whether it’s Martin Fry’s high vocals, the various interjection of glockenspiels or any of the many layers of pitched synth tracks.

Mixing up engaging and catchy pop into a concept album is something that isn’t done very often and I commend ABC for creating something very engaging. Combining brilliant pop-tunes like All Of My Heart, Poison Arrow and The Look Of Love with songs that are slightly darker in comparison, almost mocking the subjects inability to retain the object of their affections. Good solid album.

You better love loving and you better behave

Seeds Of Love is an audiophile’s dream and a wonderful album. It’s partially conceptual too, maybe not lyrically but definitely has persistent themes, both lyrical and musical. It’s the first Tears album that features Oletta Adams’ beautiful vocals. Vocals which are almost matched by how gorgeous Roland himself sounds on this record. The understated opener Woman In Chains starts at a crawl but eventually delivers an optimistic ‘So Free Her‘ chant by the conclusion. Whilst not immediately engaging like say, Pink’s opener on Funhouse,So What“, this nevertheless is a song that gets under your skin and properly moves you, remaining one of their highest quality creations.

Time to eat all your words & swallow your pride

After a couple of listens of each album in this group it was Seeds Of Love that emerged as a giant amongst this selection of strong albums. Musically creative and daring to be different. Different from contempory bands but also different from their previous two albums. Tears For Fears mix up Beatles pastiche on the title track with an 8 minute jazz powerhouse on Badmans Song while also traversing through Floyd-esque song durations and subtlety throughout.

Take Swords and Knives which is lyrically poetic and musically nuanced. “It starts with Needles and Pins and ends with Swords and Knives”. Then there’s Standing On The Corner Of The Third World which provides a musically relaxing experience filled with a thought-provoking narrative panoramic. The rockier Year Of The Knife wakes you up again just before a beautifully refined ‘Famous Last Words‘ draws the album to a conclusive crescendo. The production and mix has been polished to the point of frictionlessness (I might have invented that word) making this magnificent creation by Roland and the team an easy group topper.

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The Fat Tongue Bleeds in the Fire Within

I think she’s about to perform the Birdy Song

Round 2 – Group 9:

1.) Fire Within: Birdy
2.) Bleed American: Jimmy Eat World
3.) Slip Of The Tongue: Whitesnake
4.) Fat Of The Land: Prodigy

Slip Up

By the mid 90’s I was Whitesnake’s biggest fan. I remember buying the metal trilogy boxset containing Slide It In, 1987 and Slip Of The Tongue and keenly creating
a mixtape of all the best tracks for my car stereo. That wasn’t my first intro to Whitesnake though. I was already accustomed to their more bluesy work via a copy of their greatest hits up till 1982-ish. Some Whitesnake fans love bluesy Whitesnake and shun ‘hair metal’ Whitesnake. Me, I can appreciate both. There’s no way I’m shunning tracks like Still Of The Night and Is This Love.

I’m so tired of trying, I always end up crying

Anyhow, back to Slip Of The Tongue and with Vanderberg carrying a hand injury it was left to virtuoso guitarist Steve Vai to come along and spunk his ‘overplaying’ style all over Coverdale’s balladry goodness. Does it detract from the underlying bluesy nature of the songs? Hell yes it does. It’s way too screetchy and treads all over the record. There’s

Someone should tell them that this much hair lacquer in one place is a big fire risk.

still some melodic goodness on here though and some hair metal toons.
Meanwhile over in Prodigy’s Fat Of The Land you’ve got an album that still sounds edgy and dangerous. Those pumping electronica beats and high tech sampling rendering an engaging experience. Back in ’97 when this came out I would never have put this above any Whitesnake album. I remember when Firestarter was number 1 on TOTP and being somewhat shocked by the video, which probably looks tame now. I was no fan of dance music, at least not until my Brother in law handed me a compilation tape with some Future Sound Of London on it. Future Sound Of London was weird, very weird but it gave me a new appreciation of electronica and dance. It went against every fabric of my rock n’ roll sensibilities but I couldn’t deny the enjoyment I got from it, even if it was never going to compete with Pink Floyd. I realised early on in life that you must embrace music. Do not get stuck in genres, styles, stereotypes. Forget all that bullshit and just give it a try.

Ran out of Diesel Power

There really is nothing between ‘Slip‘ and ‘Fat‘. Both solid and engaging from start to finish, both featuring more than a couple of good tracks. Slip has the reworked Fool For Your Loving, Wings Of The Storm, Slip Of The Tongue and that ballad of life

Fortunately they sound better than they look

Sailing Ships while Fat has the powerful beat of Smack My Bitch Up, chill out anthem Narayan and Breathe (baby!). Not that it matters as they are both going out but I’m edging it to Whitesnake, call me a retro metal sucker if you want but out of the two, that’s the one that I’ve been humming and singing the most round the house during this listening session.

Salt, sweat, sugar on the asphalt.

Bleed American is the agile fourth studio album from Jimmy Eat World. An inspired and inventive rock album that put the band in the mainstream by selling over a million units and easily finishing ahead of Whitesnake and Prodigy in this group. This is the kind of album that shows a band delivering their vision for rock n roll without compromise. Musically it’s bravely layered with accessible pop hooks while retaining some serious rock oomph. Lyrically delivering a mix of autobiographical storytelling with positive introspection along with the occasional piece of obligatory heartbreak (Your House). There’s not a bad song here from acute opener Bleed American through to gentle ballad My Sundown. A strong album which I had pegged as the group winner early on, and yet after the 5th, 6th, 7th listen of the group a Fire started to burn within me…..

Fire (Within) Starter

Birdy’s Fire Within has some truly lovely songs on it. The vocals are emotional and delectable in equal measure. Admittedly it’s an album that takes a little bit of effort at times, what with all the slow tempo piano/vocal ballads. But I find songs like Strange Birds and No Angel compelling and beautiful. Sure, Birdy doesn’t have the vocal power of Christina Aguilera but it’s not the vocals that need to be powerful, it’s the songs. As I said, it took a good 6 or 7 listens before I was sure, but in the end, with songs like Light Me Up, Words As Weapons and the gorgeous Home, Fire Within (eventually) rose to the top of this group.

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Jimmy Page doesn’t even need to show up to see off the competition !

Round 1 – Group 206

1.) Hip Young Guitar Slinger: Jimmy Page/Various
2.) Feelin’ Good: Various
3.) A Head Full Of Dreams: Coldplay
4.) Blue-Sky Research: Taproot

Instead of aiming for the Sky, Taproot are left feeling Blue

Blue-Sky Research, Taproot’s third studio album is definitely a step up from the other two I’ve previously listened to (Gift & Welcome) although it couldn’t have got much worse could it? This one is still a bit too shouty and angsty. Someone needs to tell the singer that you don’t need to be angry to make good quality hard rock. An album lacking in any substantial quality but a few decent

Another gentle, relaxed ballad from Taproot

efforts do exist here with She, Violent Seas and the Tool-like Calling. I’m also giving them Kudos for title Forever Endeavor, damn that’s clever. Overall it’s not too bad and not too good at the same time.

A Headful Of Feelin’ Good

Despite the strong middle section featuring the excellent Hymn For The Weekend and Adventure Of A Lifetime, Coldplay’s seventh studio album A Headful Of Dreams
is all a bit wishy washy throughout. Another unconvincing album I’m afraid. Not that there

Coldplay are always Monkeying around aren’t they?

is anything particularly wrong with it, Up&Up is interesting and the Tove Lo collaboration Fun is ok. It’s just all the glue in between, it doesn’t garner enough vibrancy to hold your attention. Coldplay are bettered by the vast collection of gems on the Feelin’ Good compilation. Classics such as That’s The Way by KC & The Sunshine BandEverybody’s Talkin by Harry Nilson, I’m Into Something Good by Hermans Hermits, Loco In Acapulco by The Four Tops, Lovely Day by Bill WithersI Can See Clearly Now by Jimmy Cliff and more ! A compilation that really lives up to its name and retains a decent feel-good vibe throughout. It would be criminal to place Coldplay’s lacklustre album ahead of these songs.

Sling your hooks

Hip Young Guitar Slinger would have you believe that Jimmy Page played on all of these tracks as a session man but that is not the case…….
Being a session guitarist throughout the sixties Page played on many a track, yet Page himself wasn’t always aware whether his cut made the record, or even whether he even laid down a track in the first place. Other sources also contradict the claim that Page played on some of the tracks on Hip Young Guitar Slinger. While he played on a few of the The Kinks’ records, he apparently didn’t play on Bald Headed Woman (featured here), he also wasn’t present on The Lancashire’s “We’ll Sing In The Sunshine” although he definitely did play on Was She Tall (both songs on disk 1 here).

One thing is for certain though, Jimmy Page played with some of *the* breakthrough British blues acts of the 60’s and featured on some very famous songs, such as John Mayall’s BluebreakersI’m Your Witchdoctor“, Wayne Gibson and the Dynamic Sound’sSee You Later, Alligator” and The First Gear’sThe ‘In’ Crowd“.

In the end though, it doesn’t really matter if Page was present on all of these songs, because this is a delightful two disk collection of early-mid sixties British blues. A collection that really highlights how the rock n’ roll revolution exploded into Britain and introduced the world to some breathtaking new sounds and artists. The second half of disk 2 goes very bluesy with John Mayall & the Heartbreakers, Eric Clapton and the All Stars before finishing with Cyril Davies and The All Stars’Not Fade Away” – an early rock classic. I wasn’t expecting to love this album as much as I do and it has further
educated and enhanced my love of early rock music.

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Rick Astley’s Never Give Up attitude pushes Cliff into the Shadows while Gaga is the Ultimate Woman

p03w7qf2Round 1 – Group 205:

1.) 50: Rick Astley
2.) Joanne: Lady Gaga
3.) Reunited: Cliff Richard and The Shadows
4.) Ultimate Woman: Various

Bette Midler

That Bette Midler, she’s good ain’t she? What’s that? She’s not featured on any of these four albums? Then why do I keep being reminded of her? It’s probably because this Ultimate Woman compilation features the song ‘Wind Beneath My Wings‘, made famous by Midler when performed on the soundtrack to Beaches of course.

Bette Midler - omnipresent in this group

Bette Midler – omnipresent in this group

Only this version on Ultimate Woman is by Gladys Knight and the Pips, recorded a few years previous to Midlers’ in 1983. The strength of the song is undeniable but I think Midler’s version is so superior nobody can touch it, not even Gladys Knight and the Pips.

Right, now’ve we’ve got that out of the way let’s talk about how much Lady Gaga sounds like Bette Midler! Honestly, it can’t just be me that hears striking similarities between the singers at times. On opener Diamond Heart and again on title track Joanne it’s like someone’s mixing the voices of both singers into one.

The Old Ones

Ok can I stop talking about Bette Midler now? Yes? Good. Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth (or the ‘Fifties’ as some people call it) Cliff Richard teamed up with an instrumental backing band called The Shadows and you cannot understate the commercial success that came their way. Cliff is the third highest selling artist in UK chart history behind The Beatles and Elvis. Forty years after Cliff and the Shadows last produced a studio album they came out with Reunited, a celebration and re-recording of their best and most loved hits from the late 50’s and early 60’s.

Reunited_(Cliff_Richard_&_The_Shadows_album)_coverIt’s a nice little album too. Cliff’s voice sounds as silky as ever and the band are tighter than the proverbial duck’s backside. Hank’s little guitar runs might sound simplistic today given the evolution of rock music over the last 60 yrs but yet they still do a tremendous job holding together the constituent parts of each song. When he does let rip it’s perhaps timid but still manages to convey Rock n Roll attitude. Move It, one of my favourite songs here *still* sounds a little rebellious. It must have been practically brain-bending back in 1958.

Every performer on this record shows consummate professionalism and it includes pretty much of the classic well loved songs that first made Cliff & The Shadows a household name. The Young Ones, Summer Holiday, Living Doll, Lucky Lips, C’mon Everybody and more. The golden age of rock n roll beat groups may be long gone but this album still manages to capture the spirit and enjoyment of the era in a very polished package. Albeit a package that can’t quite penetrate the top two here.

Fifties to Fifty

From Cliff & The Shadows who were big in the Fifties to an artist who is now in his fifties. You know, my 10 year old self would probably find it difficult to believe that one day he would listen to an entire Rick Astley album and yet here I am… First impressions first and there is an almost unforgivable amount of religious context contained on this album.
It’s all ‘Angels’ here, ‘Praying’ over there, ‘Saints’ marching in over here and ‘Faith is for the faithful’ everywhere else all culminating with a conversation between the Devil and God on ‘God Says‘ where God manages to convert the Devil over to the good
side (yes, really).

But I’m gonna forgive Astley for his curt religiousness because the quality of the music is excellent. The vocals are rich, full-bodied and full of emotion and the songs are strong, fairly contemporary in places and wonderfully sing-along as prophesied by magnificent opener Keep Singing. Seriously, where did this come from? Penned by Astley himself it has a wonderful soulful pop hook sitting on top of a slightly darker verse structure.

Got Angels on his side

Musicianship throughout is top notch. Whether it’s the piano playing, rhythm or bass

Tell that Gaga that she needs more religious songs if she wants a number 1 album like me

Tell that Gaga that she needs more religious songs if she wants a number 1 album like me

guitar or even the percussion, this album sounds superb. The style of the album is contemporary gospel pop perpetrated by plenty of 80’s flair and the lyrics appear auto-biographically introspective, largely dealing with redemption. Of what I’m not too sure. Does Rick think he wasted his talent somehow?

I’d love to know the subject of his derision in Pieces, an attack on the music industry perhaps, maybe a higher idealistic attack on globalism or just a grudge against a typical Simon Cowell esque music mogul? There’s no love songs here. Well, except on the album closer Let It Be Tonight which is a crawling ballad asking for forgiveness but overall ‘50‘ is a bouncy, breezy and impressive showcase of solid soul/pop which I’m edging above Joanne.

Come To Mama

Onto Gaga’s 4th studio album Joanne and it appears that she’s given up copying Madonna and moved onto copying Prince (Hey Girl), Lana Del Rey (Sinner’s Prayer) and seems to be channelling The Killers circa Sam’s Town with Angel Down. There’s also a bit of Bette Midler in here wouldn’t you say? And before you castigate me for saying that the fabulous Gaga sounds like everyone else under the sun I’d just like to say one thing……Million Reasons really sounds quite Pink-like doesn’t it? *ducks*


I can almost see her Diamond Heart….

Joanne is stripped down and more organic than her previous three albums but don’t worry, there is still plenty of electro-dance-pop here. Gaga’s vocals are utterly gorgeous though, positively crisper than a Gary Lineker endorsement. It’s definitely the most inventive album in this group with some brilliant passages of music but I’m feeling it lacks ’rounded’ killer pop tunes, not unfinished per se but a certain lack of completeness. How does it stack up stack up to her repertoire you ask? Well, it’s not necessarily a dip in quality but maybe her weakest album thus far by a small margin (maybe she can’t get any better?).

She’s not flawless but she has a Diamond Heart.

John Wayne and Diamond Heart highlight the lack of completeness that I’m talking about – both have passages that sound utterly brilliant (Diamond Heart is catchy af) but the bits in between are a little frustrating. Like those types of songs where you can’t
wait for the chorus. Perfect Illusion is a superb pop track, probably the highlight here along with the stripped down Joanne. Dancin’ In Circles is pretty funky and Angel Down is very nice too (Rick Astley would like this one) but again, could this have been more ’rounded’?

On the flipside there’s a few tracks that I’m not 100% convinced with. A-Yo, Grigio Girls

Nina Simone's voice may have had a limited range, but its unique power and melancholy made for a legendary effect when paired with her genre-crossing piano

Nina Simone’s voice may have had a limited range, but its unique power and melancholy made for a legendary effect when paired with her genre-crossing piano

and yes even Come To Mama. They ain’t bad tracks by any stretch of the imagination but they helped me make up my mind that Rick Astley’s more cohesive ‘50‘ is a slightly better album.

Not so Ultimate

Ultimate Woman is a free compilation CD I picked up from a magazine once upon a time and features prominent female vocalists from years gone by. It’s a (fairly short) compilation which is front-to-back full of classy vocal performances of popular well-known songs featuring Free
by Deniece Williams, Aretha Franklin doing Walk On By, When Will I See You Again by The Three Degrees, Total Eclipse Of The Heart by
Bonnie Tyler, Hero (Wind Beneath My Winds) by Gladys Knight & The Pips, Everything Must Change by Nina Simone and ending with
Billie Holiday’s The Man I Love.

500x500The vocal performances are pretty much all world class and the songs are timeless. The microphone can barely contain Bonnie Tyler’s raw power. Never mind ‘total eclipse of the heart‘, it’s more like total eclipse of my eardrums. Nice compilation but more suited to background music at a hotel breakfast bar, I prefer the other 3 albums.

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Maiden got Soul while Incubus run Out Of Time

Round 1 – Group 204:Iron-Maiden-Tour-630x420

1.) The Book Of Souls:  Iron Maiden

2.) Out Of Time:  R.E.M.
3.) Sunday Girl:  Various
4.) Make Yourself:  Incubus

Almost Out Of Time

There I was, laying in a hospital bed, mid-nineties, listening to Monster by R.E.M. on my portable cassette player. I had spent most of the previous Saturday vomiting and was badly ill, so ill in fact that my Mum called a doctor and the doctor called
an ambulance suspecting that I might have meningitis. That was two days prior. I was feeling a bit better now and fortunately I was not struck down with anything worse than a nasty throat ulcer.

ce305971df3a900b45213bfdcc752785So there I was, lying in the ward with my Sony walkman and 2 or 3 cassette tapes for company. The thing was, I had just involuntarily ‘passed some gas’ and it smelt bad. Real bad. I had created a kind of gaseous cloud which was now hovering just to the side of my bed. It was so thick you could almost see it. Just then the porter came in and started fluffing my pillows, checking on my meds, that sort of thing. I was laying still, earphones in, concentrating on the Monster album which was still pretty new at the time.
It’s a curious kind of album, a bit hit and miss really and doesn’t come within a galaxy-sized ballpark of measuring up to their raison d’être: Automatic For The People.

The porter then smiles at me, all the while inside my head I’m screaming “GET AWAY FROM THE GASEOUS CLOUD YOU FOOL”. On the outside though, I was a picture of calm. Either that or the drugs being forcibly squeezed through a drip in my hand were
working wonders. Suddenly he stopped. He looked at me. This was it, I braced for the embarrassment to rush over me as he sniffs the air or makes a contorted face or otherwise acknowledges the terrible effluvium.

But no! He stopped and asked me what I was listening to. I wanted him to go away.
I have this irrational fear of strangers smelling my insides. It somehow devalues my soul.
By now he’s literally sniffing up molecules that were 2 minutes previous being pushed from my alimentary canal. I see a small quiver in his eye, he looks a little uneasy.

R.E.M ” I relay, keeping the conversation as short and sweet as possible.
Hoping that the lack of a keen response might save him, me, us from this terrible heinous and odorous fate. His smile shifts slightly to one side of his mouth and he murmurs back to me: “And their best album ever, is of course……..”.
Automatic For The People” I autonomously complete in my own mind.
Out Of Time” he finishes. He walks away. I never saw him again but I carried that exchange with me. For the next 20 years I constantly wondered, could ‘Out Of Time‘ really be better than Automatic For The People (AFTP)?

Shiny Happy (Automatic For The) People

Well here we are – I’ve finally given Out Of Time a proper listen. Every time Stripe sings3738531 Shiny Happy People I think about that Hospital Porter, how he inhaled my stench and how he didn’t even blink. What a pro! For the most part, Out Of Time delivers a crystal clear pop/rock experience. Stripes excellent vocals and distinct modulation enriching a bouncy, substantially high-range, semi-accoustic melodic offering with trademark R.E.M circular chord runs.

Featuring a trio of brilliant songs Shiny Happy People, Texarkana and Losing My Religion which for me is the standout song. A track about a person’s inability to keep up with the object of their affection. Built upon that inventive mandolin riff, giving it a fairly unique sound in the pop/rock world. Shiny Happy People twinkles an upbeat and contagious blithe melody while Texakarna, a song I was previously unfamiliar with,
has those optimistic sounding verses “Forty thousand reasons for living” / “Forty Thousands Stars In The Evening”.

You can hear the bands evolution towards an orchestral sound starting to emerge on this album into what would eventually become the baseline sound for AFTP. This is a really nice sounding album in spite of a few slowdowns. Half The World Away is a bit lifeless and Endgame is a bit boring if I’m being honest, but overall pretty good, finishing an easy second in this group.

Iron Maiden have never Souled out

There was a five year gap between Book Of Souls and Maiden’s previous effort The Final Frontier which seems impossible because it’s like they’ve never been away. There had been rumours that previous effort Final Frontier was going to be their last studio album and yet here come Maiden again with their sixteenth studio album, a double album no less. The boys are not running out of material anytime soon it seems.

Now, before we talk about this brand new 90 odd minutes of proper, no-nonsense, men-are-men boys-are-boys heavy metal, I want to ask you a serious question for a moment. Have you ever noticed that whenever there is a poll of ‘the greatest guitarists
of all time’, Maidens triple assault of Murray, Gers and Smith are never mentioned? It’s like they don’t exist! You know the kind of lists I’m talking about right?
The ones that are always chock-full of your Jimmy Hendrix’s, Jimmy Page’s, Eddie Van Halen’s and Dave Gilmour’s. Just why is this? I myself would be guilty of barely mentioning Smith, Gers or Murray on any personal top 10 guitarists list despite the technical prowess on display not just on Book Of Souls but on any of Maiden’s previous studio or live albums.

From Here To Eternity1469828046_iron-maiden

Why does this occur to me now you may ask? Well, it’s because some of the guitar playing on Book Of Souls is not just technically sumptuous, it’s daring, it’s undaunted and it’s downright awesome! These guys are true masters and yeh I have no more idea which one of them is playing at any particular time than you do. But who cares, it’s awesome!

The album starts at a blistering pace with superb opener If Eternity Should Fail and single Speed Of Light. This opening duo coming across like the sonics from a futuristic western, hell this could be the soundtrack to Westworld. You don’t notice the length of this album at all and it is inspired throughout. It’s all hard-core metal no doubt but the styles do vary. The Red and The Black with the elongated chords and build up, manic rocker Death Or Glory, slower centrepiece Book Of Souls
and then the superb solos on Tears Of A Clown and The Great Unknown. Layer upon layer of intricate structures amassing into full blown Metal compositions and there isn’t a single bad track on here and then when you factor in Bruce’s piano-laden epic end-piece Empire Of The Clouds, an 18 minute musical tome depicting the
disastrous airship R101 journey in 1930, you’ve got yet another Maiden classic.
Book Of Souls walks this group!

Make Yourself Scarce

Make Yourself, the third studio album from American rockers Incubus only sporadically gets engaging I’m afraid. The Warmth begins with some interesting whale-like sonics and becomes a half-decent incubussong but what’s with the scratching all over
this album? This is a collection of songs that loosely couples the grunge of early 90’s with nu-metal-like punk from the early millennium. For example you can hear a large Alice In Chains influence on Stella whereas I Miss You could be Blink-182 and don’t tell me that Nowhere Fast is trying not to emulate Nirvana.

For a heavy rock band the irony is that their best tracks are the ones where they are reigning in the power like on Drive and if they were aiming for a Groove Amada/Ozric Tentacles/Linkin Park mashup on weird interval track Battlestar Scralachtica then they definitetly delivered.

I can’t not mention the lyrics though which are decidedly dodgy in many places. “Pardon me”? Is this song about farting in a hospital bed perchance? And what the hell is that whole “don’t get f*cked or your a*se will be blue and grey” passage all about? (note: I might have paraphrased that slightly).
In conclusion, Make Yourself is enjoyable in some places but mediocre elsewhere and ultimately ends up ‘pissing against the wind’ (their words, not mine).

Sunday Funday

Sunday Girl is a compilation album featuring stuff from the 60’s to the 90’s. The theme seems to be songs about girls which,
maxresdefaultlet’s be honest, is probably the theme of 99% of all songs ever. This does has some beautiful material on it from start to finish, featuring some delightful choices like the beautiful Etta James A Sunday Kind Of LoveWalk Away Renee by the Four Tops and the brilliant classic Motown pop of My Girl by The Temptations. Man I never get tired of the perfection of the vocals and harmonies on that song.

This compilation has introduced me to a few littelkie-brooks-pearls-a-singer-am-recordsle gems too that I was previously unaware of. The flamenco styled Lady d’Arbanville by Cat Stevens, She Said by The Longpigs and With a Girl Like You by The Troggs. Elsewhere there is
Come On Eileen (Dexys Midnight Runners), Pearls a Singer (Elkie Brooks), Goodnight Girl by Wet Wet Wet and who would of thought
I’d quite like the Lulu track She Will Break Your Heart?
The only place this compilation goes awry is the terrible Clare SweeneyBlondie tribute/cover song at the end. Was this a mistake? A nice collection but not quite up to the standard of Out Of Time.

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