The Queen is Dead — The Smiths — W.A.C.#4

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The Queen Is Dead

My thoughts

Right. If I don’t do this now, my entire review will be a rant:

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Here I describe what I’m going to call the “Melody Pit”. Above is a photo of my keyboard; on the left is highlighted a minor third. The problem is every Smiths melody not only utilises it, they barely stray from it. If YOU would like to write a Smiths melody, take a look at the keyboard on the right. Stay on the dark blue circle as much as possible, hop down every once in a while but generally stay in the top three notes. Basically hop up the minor third then back down via a passing note as highlighted. Here you are aiming to sound like a melancholic ambulance.

I have to joke a little and that’s just because every Smiths melody seems exactly the same to me. Ok! Now to the album.

It’s widely regarded as the Magnum Opus of the Smiths and for good reason. For an 80’s album it is not dated at all. The titular first track The Queen is Dead could well be written now and features a great upbeat drum with some beautiful chord sequences. I really like this track and it’s sort of an exploration into what was an aging punk scene – rallying the anarchy side and reiterating Morrissey’s fairly well publicised anti-royalist views.

The bouncier Frankly Mr. Shankly, I’m afraid is the victim of the Smiths melody point stated above but its a solid enough piece critiquing those obsessed in the music industry, specifically this is a shot at the head of Rough Trade, who the Smiths were signed up with at the time. With the end of this track we head into the territory of the breakup song I Know It’s Over and I have to confess to just getting a little absorbed here. I made a point to listening to the message and song as a whole, then returning to just listening to the backing and I have to say, once you mentally extract the lead singers wailing, the instrumentation is pretty damn wonderful. I don’t hate Morrissey here and he certainly enhances the track but for me the whole body can get tiresome.

No, sorry; I was wrong. Never Had No One Ever, the fourth track is a problem. It is exactly the same vibe as the previous track but less good in every respect. I have actually enjoyed the album to this point and more than I thought I would, not being a Smiths fan. This track, however is too much of a durge for me — too samey with my mind picturing a Monty Python style “get on with it”.

Cemetry Gates thankfully picks up to a more upbeat feel with well paced guitar and its message is pretty solid about misappropriation of other people’s quotes. I mean, you can’t accuse the lyrics of being vapid and they are clearly being written by someone who has lots of good ideas. This is more the type I can get into, which is a shame because we return to the melody pit in Bigmouth Strikes Again. To be honest this is just run of the mill stuff and there isn’t much to say here.

The Boy With The Thorn In His Side was a bit of a flop for me. I think this is because that opening sounded so different again before dropping me down into the same stuff that I have already described. I feel so pulled in two directions with this album it falls into repetitiveness that I knew it would a lot … but not every time… and then… Yes! Vicar In A Tutu is different! It’s lighter and sillier (though still mocking because there has to be some angst with Morrissey) but I really quite enjoyed this song and backing is great…(Melody pit).

The final two tracks are pretty solidly written and a lot more signature Smiths and if you are into that, they won’t disappoint. There Is A Light That Never Goes Out is pretty nice, talking about love (and how the chap would be happy to die in a car crash with his partner) but it is so representative with its nice synth strings and pleasing backing, I can’t fault too much. (Melody Pit). Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others is a lot more varied in that its a lot more in terms of variety. The music is richer, the melody pit is climbed slightly and consequently the lyrics are pretty bizarre to be honest. The title of the track is about as deep as the song goes and that’s the shame: there is no perfect track on the album as nothing ticks every box… hmm

Is this album for you?

Smiths fans already know they like the Smiths but if you aren’t one of these people I have to say with some genuinely solid writing, this album may be the one that gets you to explore some of the best of the group (and showcase the Melody Pit). There are glaring faults for me and I am never going to love the band. I’m not sure if Morrissey is cynical because of lost loves or if he lost loves and is also cynical. One thing’s for sure: if he feels he has a good lot anywhere in life, he’s forgotten to tell us.

Scores

  • Writing: 7/10 (Some great, some vapid)
  • Performance: 8.5/10
  • Style: 7.5/10 (It was really going to be lower but I can’t deny a lot of talent)
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Hypocrisy Is The Greatest Luxury — The Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy — W.A.C.#4

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Hypocrisy is the Greatest Luxury

My thoughts

Ah, back when I started this break I had to review this album in the wake of the British election and it was just politics everywhere – fun to chat about but looking at constant political under currents certainly had something about it that put me on the back foot. Generally, there seems to be something about the left wing protest theme that seems somewhat timeless; like Bragg, arguing against Thatcher’s Britain, you also see the same themes cropping up against a right wing government.

So this is the debut album for the Disposable Heroes, released in 1992 and its messages still hold true; the only thing that dates this album is its musical style. Admittedly this is hip hop you would more expect to hear in the late 80’s but it’s nonetheless catchy stuff and heavily lyric based.

The opener Satanic Reverses, of course, takes its name from Salman Rushdie’s novel “The Satanic Verses”. It’s not an attack, but more a statement on religious intolerance. It’s the way the album is themed, with a view to looking at the problems with organisations in society; it makes for interesting listening.

Fine And Dandy follows with an intriguing message:

We learn to like to be the heroes
We learn to lie to the brand name Negroes
We learn to laugh to avoid being angry
We learn to kill and learn to go hungry
We learn not to feel, for protection
And we learn to flaunt when we get an erection

So in a nutshell, has hip hop gone from a form of expression reacting against the mainstream, to joining it? A deep area of personal representation can be branded, sold and warped and all of a sudden the art form becomes a parody of its history. I don’t feel qualified to comment fully, but it is interesting that perhaps listening to repeated messages about material possessions does not represent the origins of the genre. This is also tied together with the featuring of Amos N’ Andy, portrayed by two white actors in a black minstrel style. I’ll just let the comparisons be drawn for yourself and apologise to my GCSE English teachers for not actually comparing the work.

As you progress through the album you realise that it’s full of word play and clever English devices. It’s poetic and will throw out a good simile, which aid the tracks messages. They’re perhaps slightly overdone, leaving you listening to messages that go for the surface snap of approval rather than too much depth, but in a 5 minute lyrical message, you hardly expect Tolstoy.

During the course of writing this review, it became quite apparent that if I went track by track, I’d be writing a commentary; this should be a compliment! There is a lot of material in here and it’s not up to me to preach its messages or arrogantly tell you I can explain them for you, however much I might side with them. Television, The Drug of the Nation is seemingly the most lauded of the tracks and really does cast the spotlight on modern day attitudes with the media even though its message may seem a little dated. I say this but it’s truly a great fun listen for anyone remotely critical of the media, even those who aren’t.

The styles in this album are fairly flexible too, and I don’t think I got that across. Hell, holy crap, just listen to Music And Politics; it’s self critical, insightful and set a fantastic jazz backing, which just lulled me into a pleasant thought-space that has one sitting there, drifting and lost in the poetry. My god I’m a ponse…

Is this album for you?

I feel a little uneasy when I write this section if I don’t think I’ve got my thoughts fully across. This album is razor sharp with wit and really indulgent with style. If you don’t like political music, this may just be about enough to change your mind because you get so much entertainment and discussion from it! The general music bumbler wouldn’t get on with it, but it’s a good album that can take you if you like anything that’s slightly off-beat. It’s actually incredibly good for those on the fringes of rap or political pieces.

Scores

  • Writing: 8.5/10
  • Performance: 7/10
  • Style: 8.5/10

 

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Ghost People — Martyn — W.A.C.#4

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Ghost People

My thoughts

Knowing the distaste some people have for electronic dance music, I was rather pleased that Ghost People classes as dubstep. I make this statement because the name of the genre alone tends to gather the group of purists eagerly in and blasts the non-fans a country mile away. By this I mean, you might be grimacing reading my review of techno, but you’ve fled for dubstep.

We’ve moved on a bit since my Benga review in Week 2; Martyn’s sound is more ambient and by-the-numbers than Diary of an Afro Warrior, which seemed like it would be able to persuade a crowd to do anything it wanted. Certainly, it’s less visceral, less deep but it’s more broad, mixing a heck of a lot of techno sounds in there.

Viper, the first main track, opts for its heavy bass line and by rights I should be telling you it’s a set up for what’s to come, I say that a lot… but it isn’t. What starts here dissolves into a completely different sound on the next track, Masks, and it feels you’ve hopped a time-warp back a few years… “ah… there’s the dubstep…” subtle at first but soon it’s painting the track.

We continue in this vibe with Distortions, another techno based track that to be honest is just easy listening – it’s one of those late night club numbers that keep people on the dance floor in a nice tempered way. Yes it doesn’t change much but, as I said in previous reviews, you have to exam when a track is to be used and it fully serves its purpose. Popgun on the other end really takes the deeper side, with a pulsing dubstep bass that achieves more of the same. I’d almost partner the two tracks together just to see how club music really moves into the visceral moving sound that keeps people there for hours.

The titular track has a lovely little vibe that just continues a flowing trend and herein lies our takeaway. This is functional club music and its good stuff too. If you’re here to find the musical devices that show a level of astonishing insight, you will be out of luck. If you are here for functional, precise and well produced music, this is the place for you. But… how do I win you over by saying its unastonishing and functional? We’ll get back to that…

Bauplan is a winner to me, with it’s strong, defined bass and really very pretty mix of sounds. Probably one of the tracks to recommend this album. It doesn’t have a whacking great drop or an overly surprising sound at this stage but it just works. That’s it, it keeps working.

The final track, We Are You In The Future does pull out a few more stops and actually gets things moving a bit more. I know it’s the closer but it earns the place well. If you’re going to listen to one track and are a fan of this sound, this the track for you. It’s darker, more pulsing and just an all round real club number. These are tracks to mix in to enrich your library and any DJ will have bags to work with in this set.

So there’s the conclusion, this is dance music that you can really do anything with, its a collection of tracks you can mix or that stand well in their own right.

Is this album for you?

Honestly, if this electronic dance music isn’t your thing, this album is not here to convert you but it really is a well made, sharp and great album to listen to. I would definitely say give it a listen if you are into anything similar in sound. This will be a good one to stick in your library.

Scores

  • Writing: 8.5/10
  • Performance: 6.5/10 (a bit of variety lacking)
  • Style: 8/10

 

 

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Another shock Hiatus

Well i had a few things on and then I went on holiday – let’s finish “week” 4 and pick up for the old pace with week 5. Martyn follows…

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Love — The Cult — W.A.C.#4

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Love

My thoughts

The Cult’s second studio album straddles the unclear line between rock and metal. It’s a little late to be early metal and so probably fits in the “goth metal” category. Whatever it is, Love has a definitive 80’s sound.

You could be fooled into thinking that you were listening to Duran Duran in the opening bars of Nirvana, the opening track. One thing you notice straight away is that the music is quite a lot more about the instrumentation than the vocal lines. It’s a tried and tested sound, 4/4 rhythms, regular drum beats with fills and steady guitar lines, all somewhat crowding around the quite faded vocal line.

Although more recently I’ve tried to avoid giving more attention to the beginning of the album than the end, Big Neon Glitter, the second track, really conjures images of early U2, it’s quite fascinating in that it doesn’t feel like plagiarism, more this is the sound of the times, even the slightly fluid, off centre vocals that echo into the distance, another 80’s-ism.

As the album proceeds, the vocal sound seems to settle a little bit, in fact, I had to look twice at my player as the lead singer sounds very much like Freddie Mercury both in melody line and vocal timbre; just listen to the opening “come on now” and held notes in the titular track, Love. On saying this, the overall style is much less distorted guitar sound, it’s an interesting change, see Brother Wolf; Sister Moon. This is a slow ballad, almost a Pink Floyd sound.

Ok, ok I know… I have endless compared The Cult to other artists or groups but its interesting to me. Quite often, you can look back to an artist and hear all these different sounds as though the group is imitating other sounds, not so here! It is all natural, all slightly metally and all The Cult, with solid writing and performance all the way.

Rain is one of the better known tracks. It’s a nice heavy rock number from beginning to end with your typical straightforward but just generally solid lyrics:

Hot sticky scenes, you know what I mean
Like a desert sun that burns my skin
I’ve been waiting for her for so long
Open the sky and let her come down

Here comes the rain
Here comes the rain
Here she comes again
Here comes the rain

Phoenix is the most typical metal sound yet with its discordant opening, heavy bass, over driven guitar, pulsating percussion and of course, the lyrics: “I’m on fire”. Actually, for me, something about it hits a pleasing note, a sort of middle of the road classic metal sound, I can just sit back and enjoy it.

A sort of fondness hits for songs like Hollow Man, just the sort of semi-creepy idea to metal lyrics. Yeah you can see the goth side here for goth metal. I think just for it’s slightly bizarre take, I’d call it a second pick.

The album closes out with Revolution, She Sells Sanctuary and Black Angel. Revolution I can sort of take and leave as it’s a little uninspired for my taste, but you can tell they are into She Sells Sanctuary. There’s energy and pace and just a fun sound; once again you can tell that The Cult are kind of still finding what works for them fully, as artists often do in the early stages. Black Angel closes us out on a slow ballad, which is not how I would have chosen to end the album but it’s solid enough. As usual for a finale, the instrumentation swells to an echo-y climax with the mildly sinister lyrics.

It’s a long way to go
With the reaper at your side
It’s a long way to go
A black angel at your side

Overall I enjoyed this album and it sits in the middle of my comfort zone, things will make it onto my regular listening and I’d be happy to listen to more, but I guess at no point was I astonished.

Is this album for you?

With the comments of metal, U2, Duran Duran – this should sort of give you a flavour. Shake it all up, add 80’s style and some grittier lyrics and you have more or less the sound. It’s welcoming, though!

Scores

  • Writing: 8/10
  • Performance: 8/10
  • Style: 7.5/10

Solid enough

 

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Hiatus over

Hi all

Just wanted to say, thanks for bearing with me through a couple of days off. New reviews are schedules to release later today and we should be back on the Wednesday timetable. The Cult and Martyn are the next ones to anticipate!

Alex

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Pure Comedy — Father John Misty — W.A.C.#4

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Pure Comedy

My thoughts

So a really recent one as the time of writing, it’s not yet two months old. Pure Comedy is the third studio album of Josh Tillman, aka Father John Misty. The titular track takes a broad look at our emergence in the world as a child, and indeed its parallel of human emergence as a species; it’s also a knock at religion in its way. Musically it’s a nice ballad with a solid semi orchestral backing. FJM’s voice is pretty strong too and he sings with passion. I really like it but I have to hesitate and hope that this album isn’t just “nihilism because people are people”; the sort of false-depth you sometimes see.

I really like the consistent solid chord progressions and the songs are indeed catchy. This is well expressed in Things It Would Have Been Helpful To Know Before The Revolution, I just love this track musically and lyrically it’s alright, it’s the idea that a revolution got rid of the bad but brought other problems. It’s nice enough – in fact all of FJM’s tracks are good listening. It fits in to “work music”, “background music”, “personal listening” and stylistically, it’s very much a man and his microphone!

Unfortunately for me, it’s all a bit samey! I mean I quite like the slow paced ballad focusing on people in general but it kind of feels a bit one note – perhaps that’s just his thing. Leaving LA sort of hits a point that I was feeling

Another white guy in 2017
Who takes himself so goddamn seriously.”
She’s not far off, the strange thing is
That’s pretty much what I thought when I started this

Yeah – so some self awareness there but you can’t say “well I’m aware, so it’s fine”. I’m not saying there’s not a place for this music of course, it’s just lots of songs whose purpose is just to be deep. Musically it’s gentle and lovely but lyrically, just a little problematic.

One of the stronger tracks for me is Two Wildly Different Perspectives, which is completely aimed at American politics talking about how both sides are problematic.

One side says
“Man, take what’s yours!”
The other says
“Live on no more than you can afford.”

And between each line is a little pause to let the words resonate, or at least that’s the gimmick.

The final track In Twenty Years or So is very much the closer to the opener, both with ideas of “clinging to a rock hurtling through space”. This one has a lot of seventh chords so very much pushes that there is more to say. Musically it’s quite rich and actually does a fairly good job (finally!) of just letting the instruments play and it’s a great sound with some actually varied musical ideas!

Overall this album is full of parts that are really good but somewhat detract from each other. The lyrics tug you one way, the music another and when it’s allowed to do its own thing, it works best. Any of these songs works as a great single but as an album it’s a little tedious for me.

Is this album for you?

I may have been a little critical; a lot of it works and there is a lot of solid stuff for me but it’s syrup syndrome… I can like some but not spoonful after spoonful. Try it for that easy going indie sound and maybe get a little lost in it. You’ll know fairly quickly if it works for you or not.

Scores

  • Writing: 5.5/10 (too samey)
  • Performance: 8/10
  • Style: 7.5/10

 

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