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Gig Review: Live, Melbourne 2015

Posted in Gig Reviews, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 22, 2015 by Traces of Waste

The preamble:

October 15th, 2006. That was the last time I saw the band called Live. That’s makes a total of 3323 days between that date and this show. It was also 18 years and 6 months, or, 6770 days since the first time I saw them as an 11 year old on the Secret Samadhi tour in 1997. I first became a fan of the band when I was about 6 years old when my older cousin left one of his CD’s at our place, that CD ended up being Mental Jewelry, Live’s debut album. I listened to it over and over and was already hooked before the release of Throwing Copper in 1994. So, it is probably fair to say that my love affair with this band is deep rooted and long lasting, and thus, my expectations were extremely high. The love affair has been rocky, like any relationship. In the mid-2000’s, original lead singer Ed Kowalczyk took over full creative control of the band. They no longer wrote ensemble music as a quartet, which was what brought them to the top in the first place. Instead, Ed now wrote everything, and it’s fair to say not only did the quality of music decline, but so did their popularity. Eventually, it became a messy situation which became a legal issue and it resulted in Ed leaving the band.

In some ways I thought that was for the best. Ed was one of the most amazing artists back in the 90s. But it became harder and harder to see what he was doing within the band. Now at least he makes his own solo music, while I don’t personally dig it, at least he is free to do as he pleases. So all I will say to that, is best of luck to him. Live, however, looked dead and buried until it was announced they were returning with a new lead singer, former Unified Theory front man, Chris Shinn. Prior to the announcement of his joining the band, I had never heard of Shinn before. I did some investigating and was really pleased with what I heard of his former band, plus solo projects Everything is Energy, and a self-titled album. But while that all sounded good, taking the reigns of one of the bands I have followed closely for almost my entire life was another story. I wasn’t skeptical, but I was cautious. Initial concert recordings in 2012 sounded different, as expected, but good. As time went by and Shinn became more ingrained within the band and gained confidence in his role the output was sounding better and better. This was completely uncharted territory for a band who were veterans and so set in their way. Suddenly they must have felt like they were starting from scratch again in a lot of ways and so you could see from following their progress that it was a work in progress. But the main point was, that it was working.

This culminated in the release of their first album with Shinn as lead singer in 2014, titled The Turn. I wrote a review about it here: https://tracesofwaste.wordpress.com/2014/10/26/live-the-turn-album-review/ – which incidentally was the last time I wrote in this blog. Damn uni getting intense and in the way. I must change that over the summer! I won’t say too much more about The Turn as I have already said it there. But for the most part, it blew me away. But now, how would all of this sound in person? When I am standing in front of the band for the first time in 9 years, would it have the same energy it seemed to have from YouTube videos? My expectations were set pretty high.

The show:

I was excited that the show was being held at The Forum, which in my opinion is the best venue in town. I arrived at the show with my friend about an hour before the doors were due to open. I picked up my tickets and a couple of backstage passes which were generously organised by a friend of mine connected with the band. I joined the line and saw familiar faces I haven’t seen in almost a decade. Some I remembered faces, but not names, others I’d kept in contact with, it was a bit of a spin out. The line was very short. Arriving an hour beforehand and we were only about 10th in line. There was a real nervous energy among those who had gathered.

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The Forum. Photo credit VSounds.

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Inside The Forum. Photo credit abc.net.au

Front row was secured as soon as we entered the venue. Amazingly, even though this was my 14th Live show, I’d never been front row before. The venue took a long time to fill up and when opening band, Chocolate Starfish began playing, it was barely a quarter full. Chocolate Starfish were OK. They had a lot of energy, the lead singer was pretty engaging with the crowd and the crowd responded well. It was quite generic Australian pub-rock type stuff, but it was good enough. I’ve seen much worse bands open for Live!

By the time Chocolate Starfish finished their set I turned around and the Forum had filled up nicely. Not a sell out, but full enough and enough people to make it challenging to make my way through the crowd for one last trip to the bar.

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The crowd at The Forum waiting for Live to take stage.

At bang on 9pm the lights dimmed and the familiar sounds which greet you when you press play on the first track of Throwing Copper filled the theatre. Live were opening with the track The Dam at Otter Creek, a song that was recorded in an old house during an intense thunderstorm. It is brooding and moody, ominous even. It builds slowly before exploding into frantic energy. What was experienced at The Forum was no different. Right from the beginning, the band sounded loud, raw and full of energy. It was a moment when goosebumps formed on arms even though the theatre was hot. The lights remained dim to match the mood of the song in its slower stages but as soon as the song exploded it was a case of “let there be light”. The band sounded tight. Real tight. Chad Gracey was pounding the living shit out of the skins, Pat Dahlheimer was grooving with his bass already, Chad Taylor was stomping and Chris Shinn was letting us know that he is the lead singer of Live. Shinn was on fire early on, his voice was solid, he looked confident, he controlled his stage presence like the professional he is. He played with vocal effects using natural techniques such as swaying the mic back and forth in front of his mouth and creating distance between him and the mic as his vocals faded into the music, as if he were being swallowed by Otter Creek itself. Shinn fell to his knees to finish the opening song, crawling on the floor, his face strained as he threw everything he had into the performance. There was no phoning it in, this was all passion. This was a guy who was determined to show a group of hardcore Australian fans, who were starved Live experiences, that he belonged.

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Chad Taylor (left) and Chris Shinn

(Apologies for the quality of the sound in these recordings. Unfortunately that is the trade off when you get front row is that you don’t quite capture the sound as well. Some videos are better than others though. Recommended watching in HD by pressing the little spoke wheel and changing to 720p or 1080p)

The band continued on by rolling out a few Throwing Copper fan favourites in Selling the Drama and All Over You, the latter of which produced the first crowd sing-a-long for the night. A great sign that the crowd were readily accepting this new incarnation of the band. The band then show cased some of their oldest material with back-to-back songs from their debut album – Operation Spirit and Pain Lies on the Riverside. As was the case with many of these old tracks, new life was breathed into what became almost tired, stale songs by the end of 2006. Now they had new energy, not just because of Shinn, but the break by the rest of the band and now playing gigs more sparingly I think allows them to attack these songs with more gusto. Pain Lies was especially a bright point with that trademark funky bass line from Dahlheimer shining bright.

(Again, sound quality isn’t perfect, but listen to that bass! And again, best to watch in HD).

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The pace was brought down a notch with a ballad from 1997’s Secret SamadhiTurn My Head. As much as Shinn sounds fantastic on the rockers, he really excels in some of the slower numbers, this was no exception. We got some real rockers next with one of the contenders for my favourite Live song, Iris and crowd favourite The Dolphin’s Cry. Iris was thundering, Gracey played drums like he had a grudge against them. Dolphin’s Cry is a strange one, it is such a quintessentially Kowalczyk song, yet vocally it is one of the best old tracks that Shinn has taken to. The song takes on a new life – it was always a harder edged pop song, now it is a straight up raw rock song.

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What I was really looking forward came next though – a new song! Siren’s Call, the opening track to The Turn was played next and it was like an absolute kick in the face. This was like a wall of sound, it was heavy, brooding, big chunky guitars, a deep grooving riff, thundering drums. This was something brand new to experience live, it grabbed you by the collar and demanded your attention. The crowd reaction was very positive. Lots of people knew it already and sang along, and the ones who didn’t seem to know it were looking like they were hit by a truck. The Turn has only been released in Australia about 2 weeks ago even though it was available overseas and online a year ago, so this would have been very new to many people but it went over very well. By the time it finished I felt like a sweaty mess just listening to it. This was Live.

The heavy songs continued after with another new track – 6310 Rodgerton Drive, one of my favourites off the new album and a very personal track to Shinn – and it showed. The vocal energy he puts into this song is fantastic, this is his story. It doesn’t hurt that the chorus is catchy as hell and that got people singing along. Another heavy song and crowd favourite featured at this time too, the crowning jewel of Secret Samadhi, Lakini’s Juice. Again, this was loud and raw. Taylor was stomping a hole in the stage floor and Shinn took a wander into the crowd during this track which caused the crowd to go to another level and the foundations of the Forum shook.

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Live closed off the main portion of the set with a couple of numbers from Throwing CopperShit Towne, and arguably their second most famous song, I Alone. I’m not sure why, but Shit Towne didn’t quite do it for me. I’d say that was probably the weakest track of the night. Still good, but just didn’t quite capture something. I Alone was back to its raw mid-90s best. In the 00’s it became a pure pop song with the breakdown consisting of vocal sections of other songs and keyboard synth parts. The song strayed so far from what it was intended to be. Not tonight. This was balls to the wall rock. During the breakdown Taylor walked over to Shinn and stopped him from singing and motioned to the crowd in a sort of “dude, trust me, don’t worry, they got this” way. True enough, the crowd sang the breakdown and chorus with gusto while Taylor and Shinn watched on. After this song the band said their thanks and goodbyes and left the stage. The lights stayed dim, they hadn’t played their biggest hit, it was no surprise what was coming next. The crowd was loud with lots of foot stomping, clapping and chants for more. I was sweaty and definitely needed the bathroom but I wasn’t leaving.

Taylor came back alone and picked up his guitar and began to strum the opening chords to Lightning Crashes and the crowd roared with appreciation. To some people Live are known as “the Lightning Crashes band” or even “the band that sings about the placenta”. Everyone in the room was singing this. This was the song that no matter what level of Live fan you were, you knew this one. This was also most likely the make or break moment for a lot of people with accepting “the new guy” and I would say that going by the crowd reaction here showed that Shinn was well and truly accepted. They performed the song on Sunrise on Channel 7 a few days earlier and nerves must have gotten to Shinn as he messed up the lyrics on live TV. It’s understandable, but he must have been gutted, but he didn’t let it effect him here. He didn’t skip a beat. After Lightning Crashes came a real treat, one of my personal favourites which I hadn’t heard in person in concert since 1997, Heropsychodreamer. This was a real blast from the past, a hidden gem that they rarely played after 1997 beyond a very brief period in 2001. Dahlheimer’s bass was once again front and centre here, driving the song forward and dictating the pace. Such a great straight up rocker.

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The show came to an end with the band’s traditional closer – White, Discussion. The song about the end of the world which always divulges into an all out long frantic heavy jam session. Its distinctive slow groove and slow build has those familiar with Live ready to jump when the song explodes. No two versions of White, Discussion are ever quite the same and this one was pretty damn special. When all hell broke loose on stage Taylor was giving it his all trying to break through the stage floor. Shinn was wailing into the mic the iconic lines “look where all this talking got us, baby!” Gracey was a beast hammering away like a mad man and Dahlheimer was lost in his own world with the groove. There was no way you could watch this and think “its just not the same”. Different? Yes, but if you fell in love with Live for what they did in the 90s, this was the same spirit. Just as the song began to wind down, Gracey kicked it back into gear lifting the tempo again with the drums and they were off again for another few minutes rocking out. When it began to wind down a second time the band said their goodbyes and gave their thanks, all except Taylor. He took off his guitar and held it out over the crowd shouting something about wanting more. He planted his guitar head first into the stage floor and stomped his foot demanding the rest of the band come back out. The crowd were right behind him. He wouldn’t leave the stage. Eventually the other guys came back out and took up their instruments again. What followed was an impromptu band meeting where it seemed to be that they were discussing what they could do next and couldn’t quite agree on a closing song.

In the end what emerged out of the generic slow jamming was Dahlheimer playing the White, Discussion bass riff. This built and built and the band jammed out an extended finish to the song which once again ended with an explosion into an all out rock fest. When this finally died down for a third time, the extended song must have lasted close to 15 minutes all up. An epic end to such a great show. I was having withdrawals from the moment they left the stage.

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It’s hard to say the show was without fault though. Personally, I would have preferred to see more new tracks. Only two from The Turn was a bit disappointing when that album has so many great tracks that should have had exposure. Especially when the two tracks they did came across so well and were received well. I can understand why they didn’t – this is their reintroduction to the Australian market. They wanted to be familiar even though they were a little different. I guess selfishly I also would have preferred more obscure songs along the lines of Heropsychodreamer, but again, in this setting, I understand why they didn’t. Hopefully next time those two things change a bit. Also, at the same time, it’s the first Live gig for me in 9 years so I really can’t complain much. That’s very minor. The performance itself was hard to knock. The band really brought it and I’d go as far as to say that it was probably the second best performance I have seen from them after that 1997 show.

As the lights came back up and the crowd began to disperse, I made my way to the bathroom but listened out for chatter among the crowd on the way. Very positive comments, no remarks about it “not being the same”. I’d say the crowd, at least the vast majority, wholly accepted ShinnSome who I saw later posting on facebook weren’t even aware it was a different singer – I guess that’s a testament to the way he’s fit in. Those would most likely be much more casual fans. To me, I thought he was distinctly different but captured that same spirit from the 90s that was needed to be for the band to be themselves again after straying so far. What impressed me more than anything though was meeting Shinn after the show at a quick meet and greet. As humble as can be, introducing himself to everyone, very easy to talk to and greeted you with a huge smile. You could tell he was having a blast and wasn’t taking anything for granted. He had time for everyone who wanted to have a chat, get a photo or have something signed. I was kicking myself I didn’t get the Everything is Energy album in physical form shipped over for him to sign. Outside of The Turn, that’s my favourite he has been involved in – worth checking out! He really seemed like the kind of guy you could sit down and have a beer with easily. It was short but sweet, sharing a few laughs and jokes at my poor mate’s expense as he struggled to figure out how to operate an iPhone camera. Dahlheimer and Gracey also made appearances, they were seasoned veterans at this and let the people come to them. Was great to get the chance to thank them for finally coming back out and for not letting the band and music die.

All in all, I am suffering from withdrawals already. It was the best gig of 2015, which means it even knocks Morrissey off the perch for this year. I can’t wait until next time. Please excuse the photos below of the author who is a sweaty horrible mess in each one.

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Pat Dahlheimer

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Chad Gracey

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Chatting with Chris Shinn

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Chris Shinn

Oh Manchester, so much to answer for

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on February 22, 2014 by Traces of Waste

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I have neglected this blog like a red headed step-child for far too long. My excuse has been striving towards some semblance of a university degree; but now school’s out for the summer and I figured it was as good a time as any to restart things here.

So I thought about what I could write by way of some introductory/ground work posts, and I thought maybe some background on certain important artists which have shaped my musical life; who have been vitally important and who I admire most. So I thought I’d write a little about what these artists mean to me, my favourite songs and albums that they have done, and also any disappointments, or gigs I have attended. Anyone who knows me probably knows how painfully predictable I am and could guess that I would always start with Morrissey.

My love affair with Morrissey’s music dates back pretty much as far as I can remember. So long as I have had memories Morrissey’s music has pretty much always been a part of them. I was introduced to his music from a very young age when my Dad used to play his albums all the time. Dad tells me he first heard Suedehead on the radio (imagine that happening in 2014!) while he was painting our front fence and so he rushed out and buy more Morrissey music. It must have been 1987 or 1988; Morrissey had only just gone solo and Suedehead was his first solo single after The Smiths broke up in 1987. I would have only been about 3 or 4 years old. Some of my most fond memories were of cold winter nights over 1988, 89 or 90, when Dad would sit in the lounge room next to the stereo system and listen to Morrissey and Smiths records, and I would play with my toys in front of the heater. They feel like incredibly safe memories, happy family memories. Warm, loving, fun, and so I guess through association, Morrissey’s voice became that for me as well. Even now, his voice is a caress; especially anything from “The Queen is Dead”, “Strangeways here we come”, “Viva Hate” or “Bona Drag”, as they were the ones that Dad played most. Even now, anything from those albums has the ability to transport me back to those days and make me feel incredibly comforted and safe.

This is sort of ironic in since Morrissey’s music is almost universally considered drab, sad and depressing. I’ve never really felt that way about it; it’s always been so comforting. The sound of his voice has always made me feel that way; however, I also found the lyrics just as comforting once I was old enough to understand and appreciate them. Dad often reminds me that I used to sing “tickley me, tickley me, tickley me” during I started something I couldn’t finish, rather than “typical me, typical me, typical me”. So I am glad that once the subject matter of the songs became clear to me that it didn’t turn me off – “you mean that comforting Mancunian crooning is actually a moaning, sad diva??”. Well, he may be, but at least to me his lyrics always brought amazing joy. He has such wit in his lyrics – “And so I broke into the palace | with a sponge and a rusty spanner, | she said “I know you and you cannot sing” | I said “that’s nothing, you should hear me play piano”. “Nothing’s changed, I still love you, I still love you | only slightly less than I used to” . Although it shouldn’t come as a surprise really when you consider that for years before a Smiths song was written, Morrissey would lock himself away in his bedroom and read as much Oscar Wilde as possible; his humour is knee deep in Wilde. However, it’s undeniable that his lyrics can also be incredibly bleak too; but to me, that is uplifting. It’s comforting when someone can put your most awful feelings into words so much better than you ever could; he took the mundane in life and made it heroic. He said once that The Smiths only happened because he walked home in the rain once too often, and it really feels that way. His lyrics don’t bring me down like others say it does to them; they feel empowering. The problem with writing lyrics that do deal with heavy topics is that it is very easy to get them wrong, very easy to make them cheesy and lame; it is a testament to the genius of Morrissey’s writing that he is able to handle such topics with unmatched poetic grace. It feels wrong to quote a Gallegher, but Noel summed it up perfectly when he said of Morrissey, “Whatever you put down in a lyric to define your love or hate for someone..he’ll do it one better”.

To compliment this, Morrissey had Johnny Marr, and they were The Smiths. They were, to me, the greatest song writing partnership in the history of music. They complimented each other, dare I say it, like a hand in glove. Marr is equally genius with his song writing as Morrissey is with his lyrics; he created the canvas for Morrissey to work on. Marr was never the sort of guitarist that would leave you with your jaw dropped wide open with blistering solos on stage; his strength lay in his ability to actually create a song. His jangly, upbeat, fun and quirky riffs to songs such as This Charming Man, Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others, The Boy With a Thorn in His Side, Ask, Panic, and Bigmouth Strikes Again (I could go on and on really), really seem like they should be the exact opposite of what Morrissey should be using for often such bleak lyrics; however the chemistry is undeniable. Marr adds the little bit of sugar that is needed when Morrissey is in danger of getting a little too bitter. I don’t know of another guitarist that can make me feel as much emotion with such simple arrangements; his guitar tells stories, the music alone without words is heartbreaking, or makes you smile, and when you add lyrical genius on top of that, you get The Smiths.

When The Smiths split up and Morrissey went solo it was a huge test for him – would he be able to survive without Marr’s backing? He absolutely did, but it wasn’t the same. However, unlike many people who either only like The Smiths and hate Morrissey’s solo stuff, or put his solo stuff far behind The Smiths; I think that enough of his solo worked reached Smiths-like heights for me to see them as level pegging. It’s true that his solo work is more hit and miss then The Smiths. In The Smiths basically every single song was wonderful, but The Smiths only lasted 5 years and a handful of albums. Morrissey as a solo artist is ongoing now for 25 years and so inevitably logic dictates there are more room for stinkers in there. Morrissey’s first solo album, Viva Hate, and the compilation album, Bona Drag, both written with Stephen Street, offer some of the best pop songs I’ve ever heard; utterly brilliant stuff. He lost his way a little with Kill Uncle, it was quirky, and perhaps a little too quirky, however the rockabilly stylings of Your Arsenal and the utterly delicate heartbreaking beauty of Vauxhall & I steer him back on the right path. After his 7 year record contract-less exile from the music industry between 1997-2004 he came back with what I think were 3 incredibly strong albums in You Are The Quarry, Ringleader of the Tormentors and Years of Refusal, all showing a new maturity in his voice and also a slightly more rock-based sound overall. His B-Sides dating back to The Smiths days up until the present are the envy of bands all over the world; if bands were able to write their best songs as strongly as the songs he deemed not good enough to be on proper albums or singles; the music industry would be a far better place. Just some of the songs that are unbelievably only B-sides include Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want, Rubber Ring, Asleep, Half a Person, Sweet and Tender Hooligan, My Dearest Love, The Never Played Symphonies and Nobody Loves Us.

I’ve been lucky enough to see Morrissey live 3 times, twice in Melbourne in 2002 and 2012, and once in Dublin in 2006. The first time I saw him in 2002 wasn’t ideal as it was part of an awful festival; but I was too young to get into his side show gig; so I had to go to Livid Festival to see him. The Show was fantastic with a early solo period influence on the set-list including songs like Alsatian Cousin, Little Man What Now?, Suedehead, Late Night Maudlin Street and Hairdresser on Fire. He was without a record contract at that time, but I was lucky enough to see early versions of songs which would make You Are The Quarry 2 years later in First of the Gang to Die, Irish Blood English Heart, I Like You, and The World is Full of Crashing Bores.
In 2006 I was living in Ireland at the time and traveled down from the north to Dublin specifically to see the show. It was absolutely amazing and I got mere feet from the stage and close enough for a handshake during his cover of Magazine’s A Song from Under the Floorboards. That gig had highlights such as Still Ill, Reader Meet Author, Trouble Loves Me, Life is a Pigsty and Girlfriend in a Coma. And in 2012 he was back in Melbourne (could probably do without another 10 year gap before another tour though!) for a fantastic show at Festival Hall including highlights I Know It’s Over, Speedway, Sweet and Tender Hooligan, Still Ill, November Spawned a Monster and How Soon Is Now?

To go along with the love of his music, he is one of very few artists that I find fascinating when he’s off stage also. He is extremely outspoken and never censors himself, which gets him into trouble a lot, and many of his views I flat out don’t agree with. He is about as hardcore a vegetarian as you can imagine, and I just love meat, so, what are you gonna do, really? But I do agree he has a point on game hunting; killing an animal for absolutely no reason other than for the sake of the kill is barbaric and pointless. But I don’t agree with his stance on treating someone who eats meat as a murderer. That is my main conflict of interest when he comes to him, I guess there is always a fly in the ointment. His flakiness of cancellations of shows is pretty poor also. Dad unfortunately was a victim of that while on his way to see him in 1991 for the Kill Uncle tour, but I’m glad Dad got to finally see him last year. But he must rack up more cancelled concerts than some artists have gigs that go ahead successfully. He hates the British Royal Family, I mean he hates them, and never misses an opportunity to stick the boot in; and while I agree with him for the most part, that they are utterly useless in 2013, sometimes it just gets a bit much and you think “OK Mozza, shut up now”.
But his interviews are often works of art in themselves, he’ll blatantly contradict previous claims he has made and lie purely for the sake of boredom on his part; as he says, being asked the same questions over and over again, sometimes you just want to give different answers, even if they aren’t true. He’s always on another level to whoever is interviewing him, always ready with ready-wit. I’ve probably gone through and read just about every print interview he’s done and video interview he’s done in my time of following him, some are absolutely hysterical; especially his rapport with recent friend and long time fan Russell Brand.

Morrissey recently released his long awaited Autobiography in October 2013; this had been in the making for many years and was published as a Penguin Classic on it’s first edition (which is proving to be a wise choice with it’s dominance in the best sellers charts in the UK and Europe). He has such a unique style of writing that you always knew when he eventually put his life onto paper, that it would be an incredible read, and, for the most part it is; but isn’t without criticism. The thing about Morrissey is that he has spent his life in the public eye, yet remained a complete mystery. He rarely gave anything away about himself, and anything he did give away, he would later contradict so as to cause more confusion; as he stated, it’s not really anyone else’s business. His Autobiography was hailed as the moment he would finally “set the record straight” on so many things, his sexuality probably being the top of the list; and in some ways that is answered. But for the most part, it seems like Morrissey has written an Autobiography that doesn’t really tell you anything about his life … which is just so typical Morrissey, a troll to the end. And to further his trolling, it was announced that Morrissey was going to record the Autobiography for an audio book, it was only just later revealed it was to be David Morrissey doing the recording, not Steven Patrick, himself.

The book does allow you to read between the lines and work out a few things; that he is bisexual (although I think he calls it human-sexual, or some bullshit); he talks about relationships with a couple of men and a couple of women and even drops the bomb shell that at one point he was on the verge of starting a family. But his book frustratingly doesn’t really tell you much else, which I can only imagine is completely intentional. He speaks endlessly and tirelessly about The Smiths court case, and he presents a really compelling and strong argument that he (and Johnny Marr) should have won that case against Mike Joyce (The Smiths drummer) in a pretty much open and shut manner. It’s hard to argue with his assessment of the case, and his bitterness and nastiness is at full mast against the judge, Joyce, the prosecution, Marr (for not aiding properly where he could) and many others … which is quite the spectacle in itself, and quite justified; but did it need to be 50 pages long? He is also utterly obsessed with chart positions, the amount of talk of what albums/song charted where and why it was the record company’s fault for it being 14 instead of 12 gets quite tiresome. He talks about how he came from a very poor background, then moans about how his album “only” reached number 2, you’d think if anyone got the number 2 album in the country that they would be overjoyed; OK a little miffed you didn’t get number 1, but still! But then again, that is just Morrissey, and somehow through its tiring ways, it is quite charming. Frustratingly, the last portion of the book is very choppy. He goes from writing at length about certain eras, to reducing the last decade to a series of paragraphs, not always in chronological order. He mentions a kidnapping attempt in Mexico after a concert where he literally had to jump out of a moving car on a dirt road. This incredible story gets about 1 page and you’re left going “I want to hear more about that, not 50 court room pages!

The Autobiography is absolutely wonderfully written, his way with words is on another level and there are moments, where, as you would expect, it’s almost laugh out loud funny. He just gives you little snippets of things that happen, little musings of his meetings with different people, or he’ll suddenly go off on a 6 page review of Lost In Space, and you can’t help but get swept along with it. You find that his style of writing is so enchanting that, just like his songs, he makes the mundane seem heroic and enticing. The first part of the book dealing with his childhood and adolescents is captivating, even though very little actually happens. He talks about his family in a way that you begin to see these people as characters, and when he talks about how his Grandmother (“Nannie”) moves house and puts the cat in a brown paper shopping bag to bring on the bus to the new house, you somehow find yourself chuckling and going “oh that is SO Nannie!” even though you have only known her for a handful of pages. He speaks of being a surprisingly gifted junior athlete, although never good enough to impress his Father who coldly tells him “you didn’t win” when he ran fourth in a race; he follows that up with “Perhaps I didn’t win, but it didn’t help anyone to point it out, and life decomposes in a bucket”.  It’s sad, but he has a way of making you smile at it. He talks of the brutal school system he was brought up in (which spawned many-a song), the beatings that were handed out, and his character assassination of these teachers who are probably long dead by now, he mentions his raft of unsavory jobs he attempted to keep with humourus disdain, of fights with bullies and his doctor who prescribes him antidepressant medication  which the doctor assures him is helpful because he himself takes it; Morrissey returns to the clinic soon after to find the doctor has died, and he’s hardly surprised.
All in all, the book probably was exactly what I was expecting, it gave us glimpses of his life, but in the most Morrisseyesque way possible, a captivating read.

It’s hard to really put into words exactly what his music means to me, it’s deeply person, it’s uplifting, its comforting and soothing, its funny and intelligent. It’s bare bones, it feels as if he’s read your diary and then gone off to make songs that you were on the verge of writing yourself.
He is a true original, a one of a kind, there will never be anyone else like him, and he doesn’t fit into any kind of mold where you can say “Oh Morrissey is like…..” there just isn’t really any comparison. You can argue that Lady Gaga (who presents herself as original) is just an updated version of Madonna, who herself is an updated version of Grace Jones (is she the original?); whereas Morrissey is an original of the species. There are definitely others who have attempted to fit his profile, but really, who was he modelling himself after? The closest you can come to is some kind of amalgamation of Oscar Wilde and James Dean, neither of who were musical artists outside of their showers; so it leaves to stand he is just simply, Morrissey.

Top 20 Smiths tracks and their stand out lyric:

* There is a light that never goes out (“And if a double-decker bus crashes into us, to die by your side, is such a heavenly way to die | and if a ten tonne truck kills the both of us, to die by your side, well the pleasure and privileged is mine”)

* I Know It’s Over (“Oh Mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head, and as I climb into an empty bed, oh well, enough said”)

* Still Ill (“England is mine and it owes me a living, | ask me why and I’ll spit in your eye”)

* Rubber Ring (“Don’t forget the songs that made you cry, and the songs that saved your life | yes you’re older now, and you’re a clever swine, but they were the only ones who ever stood by you”)

* The Boy with a thorn in his side (“The boy with a thorn in his side, behind the hatred there lies a murderous desire for love”)

* The Queen is Dead (“And so I broke into the palace | with a sponge and a rusty spanner, | she said “I know you and you cannot sing” | I said “that’s nothing, you should hear me play piano”)

* This Charming Man (“Why pamper life’s complexities when the leather runs smooth on the passenger seat?”)

* Bigmouth Strikes Again (“And now I know how Joan of Arc felt | as the flames rose to her Roman nose and her Walkman started to melt”)

* Asleep (“There is another world, there is a better world, well there must be”)

* Half a Person (“And if you have 5 seconds to spare, then I’ll tell you the story of my life”)

* Hand in Glove (“Hand in glove, the sun shines out of our behinds, no it’s not like any other love, this one is different because it’s us”)

* Nowhere Fast (“And when I’m lying in my bed, I think about life and I think about death, and neither one particularly appeals to me”)

* How Soon Is Now? (“There’s a club if you’d like to go, you could meet somebody who really likes you | so you go and you stand on your own, and you leave on your own, and you go home and you cry and you want to die”)

* Sweet and Tender Hooligan (“Poor woman, strangled in her very own bed as she read, but that’s OK, because she was old and she would have died anyway”)

* Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before (“I smelt the last 10 seconds of life and crashed down on the crossbar, and the pain was enough to make a shy, bald Buddhist reflect and plan a mass murder”)

* Cemetery Gates (“So we go inside and we gravely read the stones, all those people, all those lives, where are they now? | With loves, and hates, and passions just like mine, they were born and then they lived and then they died”)

* You just haven’t earned it yet, baby (“If you’re wondering why all the love that you longed for eludes you, and people are rude and cruel to you | I’ll tell you why, you just haven’t earned it yet, baby”)

* Ask (“So if there’s something you’d like to try, ask me I won’t say no, how could I? | Spending warm summer days indoors, writing frightening verse, to a bucked tooth girl in Luxembourg”)

* Paint a Vulgar Picture (“Best of! Most of! Satiate the need, slip them into different sleeve, buy both and feel deceived | climber, new entry, re-entry | world tour, media whore, please the press in Belgium, this was your life, and when it fails to recoup, well maybe, you just haven’t earned it yet, baby”)

* Headmaster Ritual (“Belligerent ghouls run Manchester schools, spineless bastards all … Sir leads the troops, jealous of youth, same old jokes since 1902 | he does the military two-step down the nape of my neck”)

Top 20 Morrissey solo tracks and their stand out lyric:

* Speedway (“You won’t sleep, until the earth that wants me, finally has me … you’ve done it now | you won’t rest until the hearse that becomes me, finally takes me… you’ve done it now | and you won’t smile until my loving mouth, is shut good and proper, forever”)

* The Last of the Famous International Playboys (“I never wanted to kill, I am not naturally evil, such things I do, just to make myself more attractive to you, have I failed?”)

* Seasick, Yet Still Docked (“I am a poor, freezingly cold soul, so far from where I intended to go, scavenging through life’s very constant lulls, so far from where I’m determined to go”)

* November Spawned a Monster (“Sleep on and dream of love, because it’s the closest you will get to love”)

* Everyday is like Sunday (“Trudging slowly over wet sand, back to the bench where you clothes were stolen”)

* Piccadilly Palare (“It may all end tomorrow, or it could go on forever, in which case I’m doomed”)

* Late Night, Maudlin Street (“Love at first sight, sound trite, but it’s true you know  | I could list the details of everything you ever wore, or said, or how you stood on the day as we spent the last night on Maudlin Street”)

* Jack the Ripper (“Oh you look so tired, mouth slack and wide, ill-housed and ill-advised, you face is as mean as your life has been, so, crash into my arms, I want you, you don’t agree, but you don’t refuse, I know you”)

* Now my Heart is Full (“And everyone I love in the house, will recline on an analyst’s couch quite soon, your father cracks a joke and in the usual way empties the room | tell all of my friends, I don’t have too many, just some rain coated lover’s puny brother”)

* Interesting Drug (“On a government scheme designed to kill your dream, oh mum, oh dad, once poor, always poor”)

* Nobody Loves Us (“All in all, imagine this – nobody loves us, dab-hands at trouble with four days of stubble, we are | never loosen the grip on our hand, call us home, kiss our cheeks, nobody loves us, so we tend to please ourselves”)

* Lifeguard Sleeping, Girl Drowning (“It was only a test, but she swam too far against the tide, she deserves all she gets | the sky became marked with stars, as an outstretched arm slowly disappears | please don’t worry, there’ll be no fuss, she was, nobody’s nothing”)

* Come back to Camden (“Drinking tea with the taste of the Thames, sullenly on a chair on the pavement, here’s you’ll find my thoughts and I”)

* Lucky Lisp (“When you gift unfurls, when your talent becomes apparent | I will roar from the stalls, I will gurgle from the circle”)

* Something is squeezing my skull (“I know by now you think I should have straightened myself out, thank you, drop dead”)

* My Dearest Love (“Take me to the place I’ve been dreaming of, where the grotesquely lonely, meet the grotesquely lonely, and they whisper, just very softly ‘please be my dearest love'”)

* Maladjusted (“When the gulf between all the things I need, and the things I receive, is an ancient ocean wide, wild, lost, uncrossed”)

* I’m OK by myself (“Then came an arm around my shoulder, well surely the hand holds a revolver | it’s been so all of my life, why change now? ‘It hasn’t’, now this might disturb you but, I find I’m OK by myself”)

* Reader Meet Author (“You don’t know a thing about their lives, books don’t save them, books aren’t Stanley knives | and if a fight broke out here tonight, you’d be the first away, because you’re that type”)

* Trouble Loves Me (“Trouble loves me, trouble needs me, which is two things more than you do, or would attempt to”)

“I think admiring me, shall we say, is quite a task. Because if you say you like Morrissey, you then have to explain why.”
– Morrissey

Top 10 albums of 2013

Posted in Album Reviews, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 5, 2014 by Traces of Waste

Much like the toy in your Christmas bonbon, this blog has gone painfully unloved for too long. I figure that since it is a new year I would make it a resolution to actually make an effort updating this waste of space. I feel horribly out of practice with my writing and so this is just a big slab or ramblings which I hope to hone over the next year and develop my writing a little more through using this blog again. So with 2013 in the history books I figured it might be a good time to look back on my favourite albums of the year.

10. Arctic Monkeys – AM (September)

 

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For a long time I considered the Arctic Monkeys the ugly little brother of Franz Ferdinand and Kaiser Chiefs; nipping at their heels and always showing promise but never quite delivering. I’m not sure whether things have changed or if I was wrong all along because AM really took me by surprise. I must go back and listen to their older stuff again and see if my view on that has changed; but for now, to me at least, this is the Arctic Monkeys finally delivering on said promises. I feel like the band has matured; no longer just writing catchy tunes that stick with you for a week and then run their course (I’m looking at you, “I bet that you look good on the dance floor”, 2005); but instead this feels like a coming of age album from maturing artists. It is dirty rock, sleazy and somewhat dark; the songs feel like they pace themselves and aren’t trying to just be the catchiest single of the week, but have a little more depth to them and Alex Turner delivers a confident vocal performance; and it’s hard not to find that Sheffield accent charming. It feels as if the Arctic Monkeys are shaking off their youthful naivety and really ventured into another place entirely. Josh Homme (Queens of the Stoneage and Them Crooked Vultures) features on a couple of tracks and his influence is definitely felt throughout the album as inspiration. “Arabella” is the stand out track to me; killer bass and guitar with brilliant lyrical turn of phrase – “It’s an exploration she’s made of outer space, and her lips are like the galaxy’s edge, and her kiss the colour of a constellation falling into place.” No. 1 Party Anthem is almost this new era Arctic Monkey’s take on their first hit “I bet that you look good on the dance floor”, but where that track and much of their older work is made for nights out on the dance floor, this album is made for nights in being bitter at those who are spending nights out on the dance floor. It is made for after parties in seedy hotel rooms rather than charming nightclub antics. Opening track “Do I wanna know you?” has a touch of Black Sabbath’s Iron Man to it with the way is plods along; tempting the listener to foot stomp with it. It’s not all doom and gloom though, both “Snap out of it” and “Knee Socks” have that disco-rock feel with more of an up-tempo beat that is just infectious. All in all, while this is by far the best Arctic Monkeys album I have heard, it feels like it isn’t yet their peak; it’s a new era for the band and I’m really excited about where they can go next. It is their 5th studio album and the band are only in their late 20’s, the best is yet to come!

 

9. Motörhead – Aftershock (October)

 

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After 38 years as a band there are no real surprises with Motörhead, they know who they are and what they do; but at the same time they are as tight as a duck’s arse. They know their music, their style and each other so well that they just do it effortlessly at this point. While Mikkey Dee and Phil Campbell are in their mid 50s, Lemmy is now 68 but showing absolutely no signs of slowing down. He’ll still come to your town and punch you in the face and sleep with your wife and you’ll shut up and like it. Still by far the loudest band I have ever heard live for a 3 piece; they are like the school bully – they have you cowering in the corner with your hands over your head while they pummel you. Aftershock is no exception; while it is “just another Motörhead  album”, it also feels like it has stuck with me a little more than the last few. It feels like it is a real back to basics album, as snarling and nasty as you like with absolutely no backwards step by the band. It captures Lemmy’s love of 50’s rock and rockabilly like a lot of their old stuff does. That may sound silly, but when it comes down to it, Motörhead aren’t strictly a metal or thrash metal band, they’re a rock’n’roll band and songs like “Do you believe?” and “Coup de grace” demonstrate that perfectly; just dirty foot stomping rock’n’roll in it’s purest form (albeit with the volume turned up to 11). Lemmy’s relentless thundering bass is still in just as fine form as it was with “Ace of Spades” on bass driven tracks like “Going to Mexico” and “Queen of the damned”, while “Silence when you speak to me” scratches that itch for a mix with metal. “Dust and glass” is about as close to a ballad as you’ll get from Motörhead and is quite touching in it’s own little way as a slower track. “Lost woman blues” is, well, a pretty great blues track. In the end, there really is nothing new you can write about a Motörhead album at this stage, you either love them or you hate them, but this was such a great album to just put on, turn up loud have your face melted off by this group of wily veterans.

 

8. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Push the sky away (February)

 

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The last 3 albums which Nick Cave was involved with (2008’s Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!, and 2 Grinderman albums) have all been pretty hard rock albums for the most part; so it didn’t come as much of a surprise that we were due for a more laid back affair. I’ll admit at first I was a little underwhelmed by Push the sky away; the album is definitely a grower. Inspired by Nick Cave googling things he was curious about and using wikipedia especially; it shows how song writing is definitely changing. Once upon a time there was the old image of the song writer who carries his notepad around everywhere he goes and when he sees or hears something interesting it gets jotted down for later use. Now, Cave has joined the digital age, and like the rest of us, he is sitting on his fat skinny arse googling shit and then noting down things he finds interesting. But true to his genius this hasn’t made Cave’s writing on Push the sky away any less incredible. Mermaids was the first song to really grab me; the opening line showing Cave’s crude and sick humour is still ever present: “She was a catch, we were a match, I was the match that would fire up her snatch”. The chorus of Mermaids is catchy and feels like it could take you away on a dream in it’s delicacy, delivering a beautiful melody. Jubilee Street is a 6 and a half minute builder; from what I can tell,  it tells the story of a prostitute who had her brothel or livelihood taken away from her and who then begins to blackmail the protagonist of the song who is both in love with her and hates her for what she is doing. The song builds and builds; starting with a repetitive guitar riff that makes the song feel as if it is going nowhere, it is trapped, mirroring the situation of the protagonist. Yet when we get to the final stanza of the song where the protagonist is now “transforming, vibrating and glowing”, that is exactly what the music does. You feel it break free. The image it gives me; completely unrelated to the subject matter, is of someone trapped underground, trying to dig their way out, and as the final stanza begins it’s like they finally see some daylight through the dirt; and so they keep digging and digging and finally they’re out and standing basking in the sun with arms stretched wide open; it’s a powerful song for sure. The Higgs Boson Blues is an example of a song that you really can imagine coming straight from wikipedia with Cave looking up the Higgs Boson (or ‘God particle’) and being totally fascinated by it; which isn’t surprising since it is pretty damn incredible. We no who U R  is classic Cave, it seems to comment on the fact that now days there is nowhere to run and hide, everything is online, all of our information is readily available, there is no more anonymity as Cave sings “We know who you are, we know where you live, and there is no need to forgive”. But of course with what sounds like a children’s choir singing backing vocals on that line gives it a much creepier and more sinister feel. The spelling of the title itself in text-speak is another nod to the digital age in the song, it is very “un-Nick Cave”, being the poet that he is, but at the same time like the great Stephen Fry says, the language we speak now would also be considered butchering the way we speak by those who came before us. We real cool is just eerie, only consisting of menacing bass, strings and keys and Cave’s threatening vocals. While this album doesn’t soar to the heights of 2004’s Abattoir Blues/Lyre of Orpheus, it grows on you to have some incredible depth and earn its place among the many of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds‘ fantastic albums.

 

7. Pearl Jam – Lightning Bolt (October)

 

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I absolutely never thought I’d be including a Pear Jam album on any kind of ‘best of’ list; I can’t deny that Ten was a brilliant album, but after that I can’t really call myself even a fan of Pearl Jam. Besides the odd song here and there, I just never really got into them, but at the same time never really disliked them. They, like Nirvana, always felt like they were the sort of band I probably should like, but never really did. Then I happened to hear the track Getaway from this new album and it had me hooked straight away. I’m sure huge Pearl Jam fans will probably tell me that this album isn’t as good as the old stuff, or that it is mediocre by their standards and ranks somewhere in the middle, but for whatever reason I went and listened to the rest of the album and I really enjoyed it from start to finish. Unlike earlier with The Arctic Monkeys, where I just didn’t really pay much attention to anything they did after their first album, besides the odd listen here and there; Pearl Jam I always gave somewhat of a chance when a new album came out, because, as I say, they are the sort of band I normally would like. So I’m quite confident in saying it isn’t that I have been missing out on anything they have done in recent years, it’s just that this album has grabbed me for some reason. It is a lot more pop-rock than what I usually like, it’s clean, slick, a little over produced and pretty commercial; it goes against pretty much everything I like in rock music. Getaway was the first track to grab me, and is the album opener; first thing I noticed is that Eddie Vedder’s vocals are really quite good. That bleating sheep sound which can really get on your nerves is really toned quite down here; still present, but much more subtle. His voice is strong on the opening track and it is a catchy mid-tempo song which builds into a bit of a rock-out climax where Vedder sings about the importance of individuality.  The album is more anthem rock than what brought them to the dance with Ten back in 1991; and that’s a good thing because it shows they have grown and aren’t trying to constantly recreate that same sound over and over. Sleeping by myself was previously a Vedder solo song which has been reworked into something appropriate for the whole band; it’s slower paced mostly acoustic number featuring a little ukulele; totally charming and very catchy, again with Vedder’s voice sounding really strong. Pendulum is a strange track; not out of place in the overall catalog of Pearl Jam, as it would fit quite well somewhere in that 96-02 period of theirs; but out of place on this album at least, but that’s not a bad thing. It sounds like Pearl Jam covering a song written by a collaboration between Radiohead and Muse – a song about not knowing where to go, the up’s and down’s of depression or bipolar disorder perhaps. It definitely goes against the commercial pop-rockery of the rest of the album but really helps to break it up when it becomes a bit too much, with a slightly otherworldly sound. Infallible is catchy as an STD; but one you might actually want to get, kinda, – it is almost the bridge between Getaway and Pendulum; it wants to be both; slightly different and against the grain of the album, but at the same time have that radio friendly sensibility. Let the records play is Pearl Jam’s stab at a rockabilly track; it doesn’t quite work but I like that they tried something different. The music to it is actually quite good with that rockabilly guitar but the vocals and lyrics don’t quite work; an instrumental version here would sound much better. Sirens is the song that most people seem to be talking about, a Floyd/Who-esque type power ballad, but I think it’s probably the weakest song on the album; it feels like it doesn’t quite go anywhere. Mind Your Manners is one of the most aggressive punk-like tracks the band has attempted in years; it would fit in with 2006’s World Wide Suicide or Comatose. All in all, this is the most I have enjoyed a Pearl Jam album in a very long time, the good songs outweigh the bad and I find myself listening to them over and over, really pleasantly surprised with this one.

 

6. Janelle Monáe – The Electric Lady (September)

 

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Time to inject a little bit of vibrant energy into the list with Janelle Monáe’s second album. It had a lot of work to do to live up to the brilliance of 2010’s ArchAndroid, and unfortunately it doesn’t quite meet those lofty standards; however, it is a damn good album. It isn’t quite as varied and eclectic as ArchAndroid was but it certainly does genre-hop. Monáe continues the Metropolis concept series (partly based on the 1927 movie of the same name). It is a prequel of sorts to ArchAndroid, still following the story of Cindi Mayweather – an android who falls in love with a human, which is highly forbidden by The Great Divide, who are a secret society which controls Metropolis. So really what it boils down to is that Monáe is a complete nerd; and that’s what makes her so awesome! She is hip-hop and RnB for those who don’t normally find themselves enjoying hip-hop and RnB. Her lyrics continue to shine on this album, probably even better than her previous album and EP. Monáe is like Gaga in many ways, only she isn’t as overtly in your face with the message of “be who you want to be”. Gaga holds rallies and is the poster girl for the LGBT, whereas Monáe prefers to let her music subtly do the talking. She is a unique individual, there is no doubt about that, and she is a champion for nerds, misfits and outcasts. The album itself features a cast of cameos, the best of which is definitely Prince on the track Givin’ em what they love; where he lends both his voice and a blistering guitar solo. His voice blends perfectly with Monáe’s and together they just bring such a funky sound which explodes with a big bombastic finish. The album’s first single, Q.U.E.E.N is one of her most radio friendly, and is instantly catchy. It has a thick chunky bassline and catchy chorus in which she explores vogue culture, femininity, identity and loving yourself; the song has a fantastic segue into soul jazz with Erykah’s cameo, and ends with a jackhammer-speed rap by Monáe. Dorothy Danridge Eyes evokes smooth late 70s lounge-jazz-funk which you instantly don’t feel cool enough to be listening to; while Sally Ride features Monáe’s most impressive vocals on the album , almost enough to rival ArchAndroid’s BaBopByeYa. The stand out track to me is Dance Apocalyptic; full of energy, it flirts with a 60s doo-wop sound such as The Supremes. It is playground chanting and ukulele and is utterly infectious; personally it would be up there for me as one of the track’s of the year. Ghetto Woman is a masterful tribute to Monáe’s Mother; a track with a massive message and again, is a real ear worm; if Stevie Wonder was a woman in 2013 he would have probably written this track. I absolutely can’t wait to see her live some time and to hear more from her in the future, she is a dead set genius.

 

5. Moistboyz – V (November)

 

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In a number of songs during the course of the Moistboyz career, we are reminded that the Moistboyz will never retire; and true to their word, we now have the fifth album. Dickie Moist (Guy Hellar) and Mickey Moist (Mickey Melchiondo, aka Dean Ween) have changed things up a little on this latest album. This is the first Moistboyz album to be made as the priority musical project for Melchiondo; all the other albums have been made alongside his commitments to Ween, but now, with Ween disbanded, a lot more time and energy was able to be devoted to the new Moistboyz album. This is the most varied album they have done to date; while it still does contain the key Moistboyz ingredients of fast paced angry metal/punk; this time we get a little southern rock, some alternative balladry, some stoner rock and a touch of country. Hellar is not exactly known as the world’s greatest singer, but his vocals have improved on this album and the variance in the styles of music has allowed him to explore his range and melody a little more; all the while keeping his southern sneer. Either way, his voice fits in perfectly with the music that is being created; it is very much stream of consciousness/speaking your mind stuff – often verging on stereotypical far right red neck views, but with tongue planted far enough in cheek to find the humour in it. Melchiondo is really still the master here though; the man is a musical jack of all trades/master of all trades; besides being a world class guitarist, he lends his talents to bass, drums and production again for this album. The Moistboyz are a little less angry on this album than on previous records; the lead single Paperboy is just straight up hilarious; especially when combined with it’s amazing video clip which takes off the 1984 video game of the same name. It tells the story of a deadbeat paperboy who works for very little pay, wastes it all on drugs, and the horrible people on his paper round; simple but brilliant with the most drug inspired guitar solo from Melchiondo in years. Medusa is probably the most vintage Moistboyz track on the album, it is straight up in your face rock. The beginning of the music video sums up the Moistboyz/Medusa when it shows a sign on the studio door which reads “Recording session in process! Fuck off!” Chickendick is the band at their juvenile best, the track sounds like something Primus, or Ween themselves would make; an upbeat country number where you can just tell the immense fun Melchiondo is having on backing vocals where he gets to yell out “Chickendick!” Another southern rock/country inspired track, albeit at a slower pace, is Down on the farm; which features some really impressive southern guitar work and Hellar really finding some nice melody in his voice. My time to shine is a mostly acoustic alt ballad, which is actually quite a touching track and really unlike anything the band has done before and shows the song writing maturity the band has found now that it has had room to breathe out from under the Ween shadow. Crisis and vices is another track which really shows how the band has grown; it has some real music depth to it, a genuinely interesting song rooted in the stoner-rock genre. It sounds at times like it could be a Queens of the Stoneage track, which isn’t surprising given that Melchiondo has played guitar with QOTSA in the past. They won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but they just hit a spot for me somewhere between giving me a chuckle and giving me something to rock out to; what I love about the Moistboyz is that you can tell they are just doing whatever makes them happy, much like Ween really. They have absolutely no desire whatsoever for commercial success, they’re just a couple of guys who love making music and still do it the old school way, recording in a studio at home. Moistboyz are definitely here again and they never retire.

 

 

 

4. The National – Trouble Will Find Me (May)

 

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I’m sensing a bit of a trend this year; as with the Arctic Monkeys and Pearl Jam;The National never previously really did much for me. That’s not to say I hadn’t given them a shot; I’ve listened to a lot of their previous work before but I just didn’t find it something I wanted to listen to much. In fact, I’ve had that happen quite a bit recently – only about a year ago I heard a song from The Decemberists which I fell in love with, and this was after absolutely hating Colin Meloy’s voice for years, but suddenly I just found myself loving their entire back catalog and would probably put them in my top 10 bands of all time now. So I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise to me anymore that a band I had previously written off in The National should suddenly grab me so much. As with most of those other bands too it all started with one song, and that song for this album is probably my song of the year – Pink Rabbits. This song just kills me, I love it so much; it is piano-lead, and beautifully so in such a somber way and the lyrics are divine (as are most on this album, really). “You didn’t see me, I was falling apart, I was a white girl in a crowd of white girls in the park/You didn’t see me, I was falling apart, I was television version of a person with a broken heart” – just gorgeous. The little nod to Morrissey’s “Bona Drag” album always scores points as well; but I have listened to this song over and over and over this year with absolutely no signs of slowing down. I need my girl is probably a close second, this song just has the most beautifully delicate guitar work which grabs you from the moment the song begins. What I am glad for with this album is that the drums have been pushed back in the mix. I know that is sacrilege to some hardcore National fans, but for tracks like I need my girl, I just don’t think it would work as well with the usual sound-defining drums the band is known for. But it’s the lyrics on this album I am just besotted with. The National’s lyrics are at their best when they near the “burnt tongue” technique used by author Amy Hempel and popularised by Chuck Palahniuk. What that means is twisting words in an awkward, unexpected, or otherwise wrong direction in a way that forces the reader or listener to pay attention and catch up. Some examples from Hempel: “I moved through the days like a severed head that finishes a sentence”, or “In my neighborhood there is a fellow who was a chemistry teacher until an explosion took his face and left what was left behind.” From The National this would translate into songs such as Demons: “Get the sudden sinking feeling, of a man about to fly”, or Humiliation: “I was teething on roses, I was in guns and noses”. Perhaps one of my favourite lyrics; a very Morrisseyesque lyric, also comes from Humiliation: “All the L.A women, fall asleep while swimmin; I got paid to fish em out, then one day I lost the job.”  A couple of the songs are a little generic though and remind me a little of what I remember the previous albums to be like; particularly the track Sea of love.  However, as with some of the previous bands, I really should go back and re-listen to their back catalog because I could be dead wrong about those albums too.

 

3. The DC3 – May Contain Traces of Nut (February)

 

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The man formerly known as TISM’s Humphrey B. Flaubert – Damian Cowell, once described the DC3’s sound prior to this album as the sound of “an Oakleigh Districts footy mum throwing a stubbie at a Clayton player in the Under 16s Grand Final” If that is how the man himself describes the DC3 prior to this, it will be almost impossible to review this album in any way which would be accurate according to Cowell. The DC3 funded this album entirely through a kickstarter with help from their fan base. They raised enough money to be able to really improve on the recording process compared with their previous 2 albums. The kickstarter itself had some wonderful incentives to get fans to donate; not just the usual “donate $10 and receive a copy of the album when it is released”, but some of the higher end donations saw offers for the DC3 to personally come around and mow your lawn or cook you a dinner (however, they specified it would be a set menu of their choosing). The end result really does show, as the production quality on this album is top notch and they could afford to branch out a little and hire an actual drummer and some female backing singers. As far back as the early TISM albums, Cowell has always had the ability to make me laugh like no other person in music has; his wit is genius and this album is no different. What is different about this album is that Cowell has cleverly used humour to mask some real gripes he has about the music industry and life in general; yes he is a grumpy old man, and now you’re going to hear all about it. While their previous album, The Future Sound of Nostalgia, contained ridiculous tracks like Jesus Penis; this album tends to be a little more “serious”. Case in point, the track Stop, while it is pretty much about shutting the fuck up, it is presented in quite a beautiful way, all things considered With lyrics such as: “Whatever happened to subtlety, the complex beauty of things unsaid/ Whatever happened to thinking before you say the first thing that comes in your head/Of course I’m not talking about a lifetime Trappist vow, Just pause for some elegant resonant silence right now”; which all leads to the point that if we just shut the fuck up sometimes, that one day someone will say something, and it’ll mean something. But what really was a winning move on this album was the female backing vocalists who sing on a number of tracks. Sometimes even providing the choruses such as on Stop. It provides a fantastic way to let the listener hear some people who are trained singers. Which is a little unfair to Cowell; it isn’t that he can’t sing or has a bad voice, but it does afford him the perfect foil for his grumpy old half spoken-half sung whinges. The female backing vocalists appear again on Market Forces, where they allow Cowell to rant away while they sing the anthems of market forces in choruses, such as: “Come with us, empowering the oppressed with instant communication, and bringing down governments with freedom of information, we’re smashing the boundaries of darkness and subjugation”. Indistinguishable is the lead single from the album and is a hilarious stab at the current generation of indie hipster bands where “indie” is actually short for “indistinguishable”. It contains more really sharp writing: “Me and my free thinkin’ friends deep in Melbourne’s Paris end, composing rebellion’s libretto over an astringent ristretto/Me and my free thinkin’ friends, see us in the izakaya den/we watch you queue as we push through, cos we eschew what’s on the menu”. One of the cleverest songs I have heard in recent times is A Gathering, in which Cowell describes a party which is confined solely to the inside of his own head: “My demons are at the window lobbing cans, guilt is fussing round with a brush and pan, ambition is in the bathroom washing her hands, anxiety is spewing up in the pot plants, obsession is manning the turntable decks, indecision keeps making song requests, there’s a conga line of my failed conquests, playing drinkin’ games with my self respect” all concluding with the fact that he may indeed contain traces of nut. My favourite line comes towards the end of the song: “There goes my id sculling vodka martinis, there goes my conscience confiscating his car keys, there goes my future in fancy dress, it’s a sickle and a skull mask, let me guess” – genius. There is plenty of typical DC3 humour laced throughout the album, such as If only I was A, which documents all the things Cowell could get done if only he were a-sexual. But the album also contains some genuinely positive songs such as Something Good, which really has no jokes or twists to it at all; it’s purely a song about wishing good things to happen to people. The DC3 really nailed it with this album, catchy as hell, the music is superb and the writing is phenomenal.

 

 

2. Johnny Marr – The Messenger (February)

 

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Johnny Fuckin‘ Marr is back; not much more needs to be said really! After The Smiths split in 1987, Johnny seemed to drift aimlessly from band to band; finding himself in The The, Electronic, Modest Mouse, The Cribs and Johnny Marr + The Healers among others. It was sad to see a guy with so much musical talent for song writing drift so far from what he did best. With The Smiths he wrote some of the greatest indie pop songs of all time with some of the most memorable, jangly, delicate and gorgeous guitar work ever created by a human being. Johnny’s strength wasn’t really in playing guitar, it was in song writing; once written, others could recreate his work, but they couldn’t come close to writing a song like he could. Unfortunately for over 20 years, neither could Johnny Marr. He seemed so desperate to distance himself from his natural style, almost in some kind of effort to prove he could do other stuff; like an actor not wanting to be type cast. When he was writing for other people there was nothing magical about it, he was a session musician for hire basically; although I did really enjoy his stint with Modest Mouse, but then again I liked Modest Mouse before Johnny joined, too. Even his true first solo album with The Healers was depressingly dull, it carried no trademark Marr stamp on it. I like to think that The Messenger is what The Smiths would sound like if they were still going in 2013. Johnny is finally back writing in that frame of mind and I can only hope that somewhere Morrissey sat listening to this album and thought “I should get this guy to play guitar for me…”. The great thing is though, that Johnny doesn’t need Morrissey, his vocals have improved ten fold from his days with The Healers, and his live renditions of Smiths tracks are fantastic. Lead single Upstarts is an anthem for youth, where Johnny’s guitar is as jangly as ever; a really upbeat, energetic track. Much of the album is about early life in Manchester, mostly before The Smiths; but it’s not hard to imagine the upstarts in this track being those 4 Mancunian lads who went on to change music history. New Town Velocity again feels like it could easily be about the beginnings of The Smiths as Johnny sings: “Left home a mystery, leave school for poetry, say goodbye to them and me, mission velocity”. The intro to this track is just fucking fantastic; as a long time Smiths fan who has gotten their fill of the vocal and lyrical side of The Smiths with Morrissey’s solo work; this is the first time in over 20 years we have had our fill of the musical side of The Smiths. New Town Velocity’s guitar intro could easily be something on The Queen is Dead; the first acoustic 30 seconds before the delicate electric licks are layered over the top are sublime. European Me is a slight disappointment, only because it was the track I was most looking forward to; it’s early live recordings and studio clips promised one of Johnny’s greatest riffs ever, let alone just in his solo career; and it is there, however, it is frustratingly buried quite deep in the mix and thus the song feels like such a missed opportunity. Generate! Generate! and The Crack Up are total ear worms that will play in your head for days after hearing them; both very upbeat – The Crack Up in particular feels like an amalgamation of different eras of British music, somehow a mixture of The Beatles, The Smiths and Oasis all at once. Generate! Generate! is just pure catchy indie pop-rock at it’s finest. I want the heartbeat is a fast paced rocker with Johnny showing off a little touch of falsetto when he sings the chorus. What blows my mind as I listen to that track is that somehow this is the same guy who sang on the plodding, boring, bereft of energy album that was Boomslang, with The Healers. It is so utterly different. A slightly odd move for me was consigning one of the best songs to a B-Side (but then again, that never stopped The Smiths). The it switch is easily good enough to be part of the album with a riff that gets stuck in your head for days; it is so simple, there is nothing complex about the song at all, yet that is the beauty of it; Johnny takes the simple and makes it sound incredible; much like Morrissey took the mundane and made it heroic with his words…if only they could form a band or something. I couldn’t be much more impressed with this album and am so glad that Johnny Marr finally “came home”, so to speak.

 

 

1. Franz Ferdinand – Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Actions (August)

 

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Franz Ferdinand fired up the old “Franz Ferdinand catchy as fuck song making machine” and produced another album of tracks that burrow their way into your head and take up residence there for years. It isn’t any great departure from what they have done in the past, but it is a little more reminiscent of their first album than others. It is disco-rock, it is a funkier playful new wave, it’s early Talking Heads meets Sparks meets The Strokes. To me it feels like this album is their first album with with a further decade of experience to hone their style. Front man Alex Kapranos’ charming wit is in fine form right from the first track, Right Action, where he sings “sometimes I wish you were here, weather permitting”Right Action is a fine lead single for the album, but probably is the weakest track; it’s opening line is superb though: “come home, practically all is nearly forgiven”, which sounds like something one might find on a tongue in cheek post card to a run away. Evil Eye is a real contender for me for song of the year; from the first time you hear it you feel like you’ve heard it a million times yet it is still sounding fresh. It draws inspiration from The Telltale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe, and the accompanying video is done in D-grade horror film style and is hilariously lame. Bullet is a fast paced uptempo rocker that is one of the catchiest tracks this band has ever produced; and they know it. Which is saying something; the lyrics themselves hint that the band knows this: “I’ll never get your bullet out of my head now, baby”. The band experiment a little with the tracks too; The Universe Expanded features a brilliant extended intro in which the guitars have been reversed and play backwards which cleverly fits a song about a relationship being explored in reverse where Kapranos sings about taking the dog back to the RSPCA, posing before photographs are taken and laughing before jokes are told. Brief Encounters is a brilliant quirky little songs about swinging couples: “We are brief encounters, we all lose our keys, we all choose our partners, we all choose our keys, car keys, choose your keys”. The song reminds me of something the late period Beatles would write along with Sparks. The guitar-synth riff from glam rocker Love Illumination will get your foot tapping from the opening seconds; it just hooks you and once again feels instantly recognisable while remaining fresh. Franz Ferdinand have perfected the art of never having to make a song or album a grower; but at the same time remaining incredibly hard to get sick of the songs. Usually it is one or the other with this type of music, but they are in a league of their own here; I can’t skip a track on this album. The closing track Goodbye Lovers and Friends has the protagonist singing from beyond the grave reminding his funeral attendees not to make him into something in death which he wasn’t in life: “Don’t get inventory, don’t fake your memory, don’t give me virtues that I never had, don’t get sychophantal, we never were sentimental, I know that I took more than I ever gave”. The final lines of the album, “but this really is the end” is hopefully not a foreshadowing of future things for Franz Ferdinand. I believe that if the well were to run dry with this format then it would by now with their 4th album. Instead, we have probably their finest work to date in my opinion, and so here’s hoping to many more.

 

 

 

 

2013 was again an awesome year for music; unfortunately I didn’t see anywhere near as many live shows as I would have liked to or have done in previous years – being on a student budget doesn’t allow for that.

A few albums stiff to miss and a few that I thought may have made it but failed to live up to expectations. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard released 2 albums in 2013; the better of the two being Eyes Like The Sky, which is an awesome concept album which works as a spaghetti western audio-book. The band provide the music and a story is narrated by Broderick Smith (The Dingoes) which progresses with each track.
Regurgitator released Dirty Pop Fantasy which was quite hit and miss, the highlights being some of the best stuff I think they have done, but the lows being some of the most forgettable; I think this makes sense considering the fractured nature of the band with Quan living in Hong Kong and the rest of the band in Australia; that makes the writing and even the recording process pretty difficult to find fluidity. Simon Berkelman from Philadelphia Grand Jury released his first solo album under the name Feelings which may have made the list had I had more time to listen to it. The Philly Jays are a great band who have only just recently reformed; when they split a few years back and Berkelman released a few tracks as Feelings, I really wasn’t impressed. However, after seeing the reformed Philly Jay’s about a month ago in which they played some of the new Feelings songs, I thought they sounded quite good and so I checked the new album out and it’s actually a really pleasant surprise. Nothing like the original few tracks released under that name. Lorde seems to be the name on everyone’s lips this year; the girl who knocked Miley Cyrus off the top of the charts. I thought the single she did it with, Royals, was a really impressive track, unfortunately upon listening to the rest of her album it seemed like every song was pretty much the same. Not that they were bad, just no variation. Still, an impressive debut from the 17yr old Kiwi girl who offered the charts something just a little bit different. Lady Gaga’s third album was a big disappointment to me. I admit, I’m a Gaga fan, I think she is extremely talented (although often I think the talent is a bit misused), and her live show is still one of the most spectacular things I’ve seen; but this was the album I was hoping was just a little …different; but it felt like it was the poor outtakes from the previous albums. Besides a couple of songs, nothing really stuck with me as it did with the previous releases; I feel that while this was the album I hoped was a little different, her next album needs to be a little bit different in order for her to stay sounding fresh. Pixies released a new EP which I thought was mixed; 2 good songs, 2 not so good. What Goes Boom I absolutely love, just a fun rocker. Likewise, Colin Meloy released a new EP, which is the next installment in his “Colin Meloy sings…” series. After having covered Morrissey, Sam Cooke and Shirley Collins, this time he was tackling The Kinks; and I think it is his best EP yet, however I much prefer him with The Decemberists. 

2014 should be another awesome year for music, I’m hoping for it to be a year packed with some personal favourites and big returns. Live are putting the finishing touches on their new album as we speak which is due out sometime between March and June this year. I’m psyched about this, it is their first album with new singer Chris Shinn, their first album since the abysmal Songs From Black Mountain (2006); but more importantly, the first time the entire band has collaborated on songs on an album since 1999’s The Distance To Here; due to the departure of former lead singer Ed Kowalczyk who controlled all writing for the band from 2000 on-wards.  Morrissey is also rumored to be going into the studio soon to record the follow-up to 2009’s Years Of Refusal; And The Bombay Royale are currently recording their second album which should be out in the coming months also. Also hoping for a bigger year of gig-going once again; Bluesfest is not far away and if it is anything like the last 2 that I have been to then it should be a week of insane performances.

So, over 2014 I will be more disciplined with trying to get my thoughts down as releases and gigs actually happen; and hopefully also develop my writing a little more rather than just throwing rambling unstructured words at a page which it has been thus far. I figure the more I get writing again, the more I’ll continue to develop some kind of style which hopefully would be somewhat interesting to read. Until then, enjoy music!