Round 2 – Group 18:
Onto Group 18 which, in the end I struggled to get through because while all four albums are musically sound and well-crafted, I think this was a group of mid-tier efforts lacking a truly sparkling great album. I don’t dislike any of these efforts but it is probably the weakest of round two groups thus far.
Not that Vital
Vitalogy, Pearl Jam’s third studio effort, released in 1994 is a bit all over the place. Part ballads, part grunge rock and a big dose of experimentation. Musically accomplished, sonically solid, yet considering Pearl Jam were one of the biggest selling grunge
bands of all time, some of this material is actually rather sedate and calming and not at all grunge-like. Try listening to Immortality and Tremor Christ to see what I mean. I’ve nothing against that btw, I just find it interesting how perception and reality are so often divided.
I do dig the more guitar heavy track Not For You with its angsty repeat of ‘this is not for you’ line and of course Betterman is a nice track, rather introspective.
Whipping and Spin The Black Circle are by no means bad, just a little less melodic whereas Bugs is borderline unlistenable and the album could really do without the final track Sexymophandlemama. A competent record but a bit of a mixed bag.
All The Best Freaks Are From The 80’s
B-Sides themselves is Fish-era Marillion’s final ever record. A collection of Marillion B-Sides from the era of Vinyl. A term now anachronistic to today’s Millennial streamers.
I wonder if they knew this was to be Fish’s farewell when choosing the live version of Margerat as the final track? The irony of Fish declaring ‘we will definitely return’ as the final parting statement of this final Fish-led album. Obviously Marillion did return, minus Fish of course and went on to success with new vocalist Steve Hogarth.
Market Square Heroes
This compliation demonstrates how brilliant Marillion were in that glory 80’s period with some admirable efforts on here that never made it to a finished album.
Let’s talk about Grendel first. A hard-core fan favourite, this 17 minute Gruffalo tribute track must have been a hard sell back in the day of vinyl. Does this song even fit on one side of a record? I can see the appeal of this track, those 17 minutes race by thanks to some inventive song structuring which flows several different pieces into a whole. Rothery’s guitar, as always is the key. The dreamlike soaring solo and the calming slow single string riffs that are his trademark, glue the constituent pieces together into an epic musical journey making it eminently listenable.
Early tracks Market Square Heroes and Charting The Single are more pop-oriented, with the latter demonstrating Fish’s clever lyrical abilities. Tux On is probably my favourite song here, a building, well-polished rock ballad. Elsewhere Lady Nina, Cinderalla Search and Freaks are all half-decent songs, yet never reaching the heights of more famous Marillion fare like Kayleigh and Sugar Mice. A solid if unspectacular effort that betters Vitalogy but is clearly inferior to both Big Ones and Demon Days.
The Stylish and cerebral Demon Days may be too hip for me. It’s an album that casually drops words like ‘ephemeral’ and ‘castrophany’, and this makes the album appear on the surface, arty and slightly pretencious. After an ordinary start through Last Living Souls, Kids With Guns (nice bass line though) and O Green World the album finds it groove with Dirty Harry and the quality begins an ascent up the mountain, culminating in the hypnotic story-telling fable Fire Coming Out Of The Monkeys Head, over the top of a yet another of the albums quality beats.
It’s actually quite hard to pin a genre on this album. There’s rap, funk, pop and even a bit of chill-out electronica, not to mention the occassional and subtle use of string orchestration. On top of that there’s a swirl of musical ideas, Alban’s vocals complement the style of the album beautifully, sounding laid back and nonchalant. Dirty Harry, the albums third single featuring the San Fernandez Youth Chorus manages to
be laid back and absorbing at the same time but it’s Feel Good Inc that remains probably the best known track from the album, retaining a compelling pop hook supplemented by some high quality hip-hop by American group De La Soul. This is still one top tune.
I find Demon Days an engrossing album and produced to perfection. It has a few passages of nihility but 80% of the record is top-notch, pushing Aerosmith close for the group and finishing a comfortable second place.
Tapping into Aerosmith’s rich vein of form between 1987 – 1994, Big Ones collates hits from the band’s three consecutive multi-platinum albums, Permanent Vacation (1987), Pump (1989), and Get a Grip (1993). After an unsophicated start with Walk On Water, a song that feels a bit like a sonically induced assault, delivering a headache inducing, caustic, pumping rock chorus with an undercurrent of catchy verses, Big Ones soons settles into that big commercial rock sound that Aerosmith eventually crafted for themselves.
The tunes here are solid with some real belters like Rag Doll, Dude (Looks Like A Lady) and Eat The Rich. The Aerosmith package is dominated by Perry and Tyler, the two powerhouse talents and major songwriters. I find that Joe Perry, while perfectly competent on the six stringer, doesn’t have the flair of a Van Halen, Schenker or Gilmour. There’s plenty of decent enough solos but Perry’s most effective sounds seem to stem instead from powerful chord combinations and well-timed inteventions of heavy rhythms and riffs. Aerosmith create a wall of sound so thick you could bash your head on it.
Across the album, Aerosmith expertly weave in plenty of boisterous brass, heaving harmonica and high-spirited moraccas. Wow, does Steve Tyler have a great voice right? Powerful enough to blow your speakers out and more range than an ICBM.
I can atest to the greatness of his vocals having personally witnessed his singing at an Aerosmith gig about 10 years ago in the London Millenium Dome, the guy barely needs a microphone and amp to be heard!
Big Ones is a compilation that straps you in and projects you through a decent collection of their mainstream songs, which also includes hits like Angel, Love In An Elevator, Janie’s Got A Gun and more. With 16 songs and at 78 minutes long, the songs keep coming and the quality keeps going up with each song, this is arguably Aerosmith’s true golden period.