Album Reviews: February 2005

 

David Bowie - David Live/Stage (EMI)

And so the train continues, as we see two of David Bowie's live albums re-released. Those albums in question are 1974's 'David Live', yep that's right - 1974 (I was in short trousers and looking forward to my morning milk!) and what an album, not just of superbly written music, but an awesome live performance captured to document this show recorded in 1974 at The Tower Theatre in Philadelphia. On this tour David performed his recently released 'Diamond Dogs' album and bears witness to the transition he made from 'Glam Rock' to 'Plastic Soul', in the form of this new sound best described as "the Philly Sound". You can almost picture David, sharp suit and practicing to become yet another fashion icon and hear him do what he's best at, producing music that will stand the test of time and inspire generations yet to come. To hear 'Changes' in yet another guise is somewhat of a revelation, and this is 1974, songs captured so perfectly this could almost be a studio album, it's so clipped, yet has a life that is unrecognisable. 9/10 Raw sounding, yet shined to perfection.

1978 up next and the synthesiser makes its futuristic appearance on David's tour of the U.S., Canada, Europe, Japan and Australia. Produced, as with that of 'David Live' by Tony Visconti, 'Stage' was recorded yet again in Philadelphia, but adding the show from Boston as well. You'd think that from the same artist, even given 4 years spanning their recording, one live album would be much the same as another, but how much more wrong could you be? This time the sound is fatter, the performance more assured, easy going and that's not to say that the artist has in these years become lazy and too affluent to care, this is just another of David's unique transformations. 9/10 Phat and like taking a space ship through the galaxies.

But how to pick from these two albums, now that's a difficult one. Buy both! But if you couldn't, then perhaps decide between a Bowie, learning, growing and escaping his glitter spangles and heals far too high for safety and the Bowie inventing a movement that would later see Steve Strange and Boy George create music in his shadow, yet still playing to a wild guitar. Any the wiser, uh? No, these albums are just brilliant, porn the cat, forgo that lunch-time 'Pot Noodle' (well they're dangerous anyway) and throw all caution to the wind and just buy both! They each have their time and place anyway.

Nick James

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Hem - Eveningland (EMI)

New signing for EMI Liberty, Hem are in fact no strangers to the UK music scene having previously released their debut, 'Rabbit Songs' through independant label Setanta in 2002 to rave reviews. Now essentially there is nothing wrong with this their latest, they're very good at what they do, it's just as an album I found my head wanting to hit the pillow, the music just drifted off somewhere into the back of the room and there it sat. Now this is good for those insomniacs out there wishing for a non-parmacutical route to aid their 'sweet dreams', but surely this should come with the same warning as on my bottle of antihistamines.

Beautiful in texture and with vocals offered by Sally Ellyson these are a delight to behold, so given time to appreciate this record, this is a surefire winner. Star tracks I found on this album were; track 4. 'Redwing', 8. 'An Easy One' and particularly outstanding was track 9. 'Strays'. But whilst there were going to be winners, I also found two that just sent me crazy, these were 'Cincinatti Traveller' and 'Dance With Me' and next time I'll try to avoid taking a nap half way through. 6/10

Nick James

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Various - Disco Heaven; Hed Kandi (69Degrees)

Disco is alive and kicking, yahoo!!!! Hed Kandi have grown from strength to strength over recent years and this latest double CD offering is a gem. The fifth in the Disco Heaven series it’s packed full of first-rate funky, disco house, you’ll be dancing around like John Travolta on ecstasy!!!

The first CD starts you off a little more gently than the second, as you would expect, with more laid back vocal tracks, with a heavy disco feel, sampling heavily from the old classics. The first track of mention is K&M feat. Joy – Pink is the Colour. Superbly individual vocals, just pure gorgeous! Then on to the recently successful Stonebridge, who look to be a dominating force in the funky house scene now and in the future, with Take Me Away featuring the vocals of Therese. This one is a real epic sounding, dance floor filler for any time of the evening.

Talking of epic, Soulshaker Feat. Lorraine Brown and Hypnotic, Erotic Games is another classic in the making. It has great lyrics but also the track is more than your average disco track. Just to demonstrate the quality of the collection here, we have another modern classic in the form of 100% featuring Jennifer John and Just can’t wait (Saturday). If you haven’t heard this one recently then you must be living in an igloo in the North West territories! (That’s Canada by the way.)

And then to finish off the first CD they go with a remake of ‘You got the love’. This time by Solitaire but a great floor filler in anyone’s book!

The second CD is more of the same but with less of a vocal presence although they have vocal elements the focus is more driven and track oriented. In fact I wanted to highlight a few of the best tracks to mention but they were all so good I marked them all!!! Well, here is the shortlist!

Inaya Day – Hold your head Up, pure diva-esque vocals and funky house track with background bongo’s and everything. Then the Brand New Heavies with Surrender which is just class, these guys have been doing it for so long it’s like they can’t do wrong!
Then we move on to the real heavy weight favourites that are likely to around forever, that is Michael Gray – The Weekend and Soul Central Feat. Kathy Brown – String of life (Stronger on my Own).

Don’t expect hard, driving dance music here, this is quality funky house but it’s of the super fun variety. It’s not demanding to be taken super seriously, its disco, it’s supposed to be about atmosphere and attitude not intellectual credentials. It’s the pure essence of escapist fun in dance music, it’s about getting dressed in your sharpest threads and strutting about with your mates at a party or at a club or anywhere. It’s accessible too!

Hed Kandi is now on the radio too. Check out JAZZFM on 102.2/Smooth fm 100.4/digital channel 917 or online at www.Jazzfm.com

Also look out for these forthcoming releases – This February Hed Kandi’s Spring Sampler, in March the Stereo Sushi:Teriyaki collection and also in March the Twisted Disco collection. 9/10

Don’t miss out! The ‘Disco Heaven Party is at Pacha, London on the 26th February 2005, 10pm-6am: click here

Nic Caesar

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Jimmy Chamberlin Complex - Life Begins Again (Sanctuary)

Playing to the frantic pace that see's his career chasing off into the distance following the release of this, Jimmy Chamberlin's first solo outing, the title aptly describes what certainly is a rebirth. Following the part he played; that was at the back of the stage creating the firm backdrop to The Smashing Pumpkins and Zwan, Jimmy, reinvigorated sought to create something that was entirely his own and with the help of a few friends formed his 'Complex' and so it is written began working on the eleven titles that would later morph into this complex dream, "through 10 long days in the summer of 2004".

Both his former bands; The Smashing Pumpkins and Zwan where the infant children of Billy Corgan and whereas both flames to these bands flickered and with a breath extinguished in 2000 and 2003 respectively, the hunger still burned furiously inside Jimmy's self and to feed this hunger, he created what we now hear as the 'Jimmy Chamberlin Complex'. This band it has to be said is something of a revelation to the uninitiated, but where an understanding is had of what he has previously been, this complex creation is the perfect compliment to these, with a cinematic air to the titles found. Some of the content is your not-so regular rock-out, with a lyric to follow and a guitar-drum-bass to crash along to, but others like 'Cranes Of Prey' are full of dark strains of agonising ecstasy. But don't get complacent, as in a moment these will change to what I might only describe as a free-form jazz café of experimentation, take the tune 'Owed To Darryl', whoever Darryl is he/she has some explaining to do.

As you might expect, a work of this nature cannot be created by one man alone and although I'm sure the seed itself is indeed Jimmy's, he, as I previously noted gathered a host of 'friends' to assist in its crafting. Of those who have assembled here are Rob Dickinson, the dark force behind UK band Catherine Wheel, contributing vocals on the tracks 'Life Begins Again' and 'Love Is Real'. Jimmy's older brother, Paul offers additional drums to the atmospheric 'Loki Cat', which also see's the return of Billy Corgan drafted in to spin his vocal presentation, to this most dreamy of selections here.

I hope that I have constucted a good enough argument to encourage all those who are, if nothing else intrigued by this new incarnation that has risen from the ashes of 'The Smashing Pumpkins', to invest heart and soul into Jimmy Chamberlin and help him to understand this 'complex' that he has. Brilliant, you will find none more creative, wild and at times 'out of tune', than 'Life Begins Again', this has shot into my all time top ten, it really is that good! 10/10

Nick James

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Various - Meridian 1970 (Heavenly)

If we are going to start experiencing what has been dubbed 'Meridian 1970', then it's probably best we understand the reason for its conception. Jon Savage, this albums compiler explains...

"This record began as one evening's free-association with four of my peers, retracing the music that we actually liked as real-time mid-teenagers in the late sixties/early seventies."

So from that I'm sure we can all assume that this is one of those 'mix-tapes' favoured by us all who grew up during the golden age of the 'C30, C60, C90, GO' era of our past and in response to this my comment would read something like... "Why...?" As I say we've all entered into this sharing of musical tastes with friends, ignoring the "Taping kills music" comments on the insides of the sleeves from which we are compiling. As I'm sure is the aim of this album, all a compilation is likely to do is, in what must be a high percentage of the time, educate it's listeners and rather than 'kill music', send friends scuttling off down to the record store to pick from the shelves choice cuts that will give even greater insight.

So of this album all I can really say is that "it's not mine" and although featuring some of the music I already own, it will probably have the effect of doing exactly what it should've set out to do and that was to send me out to research further the sounds of Nick Drake ('cos I've lost the album I had), Jefferson Airplane ('cos I met Jefferson Airhead in the early 90's and was always intrigued to learn exactly why they borrowed their name?), and The Move ('cos I loved ELO and recently bought the same model of guitar that Jeff Lynne once played. Oh and met up with Roy Wood some years ago and was impressed by the man).

So whether it has done exactly what it set out to achieve, I may weave some of another persons personality into my own and create another even more complex slant on 20th Century taste. Don't for a moment consider you'll find any of the tunes made familiar by those artists featured, as these have been picked with a fair amount of care and ethnic recipe, I would assume, but one closing thought and that is 'Loudon Wainwright III', where else would this come from? 7/10

Nick James

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Benjamin Zephaniah – Naked (One Little Indian)

The more educated punter – or at least those of us who actually make an effort to keep up with what’s going on in the world – will know Benjamin’s name as the Brummie poet who refused an OBE from the 2004 New Year Honours list.

You can see why the accolade was attempted to be bestowed upon the wordsmith in the first place though – just look at the remarkably profound lyrics to the album’s title track and marvel at the clever double meanings that are evident throughout. For example: “Dis is me naked, revolting before you”. There are countless gems like this littered through the course of the album.

Don’t expect the reggae style we are accustomed to with Zephaniah’s work though – this latest long player has more in common with his Underworld buddy Carl Hyde’s kind of music than it does to his Jamaican roots, albeit a far more chilled out version…much like a very stoned, very relaxed Maxi Jazz.

Zephaniah possesses a seductively addictive voice and you sometimes forget that he’s talking rather than singing these songs, such is the tremendous appeal of the compositions herein.

I can’t do this review without mentioning some of the supreme talent that has lent a hand on “Naked”, so let me just offer up Rick Smith (the “other” half of Underworld), Mike Cahen (Elkie Brooks), Aref Durvesh (Sting, Jeff Beck, Nitin Sawhney and Roger Waters) and…wait for it…Howard Jones! Yes, the very same spiky haired wizard of High Wycombe who brought us the synth pop of “What Is Love?”, “New Song” and “Look Mama” back in his eighties heyday.
Anyway, all these artists (and more besides) blend perfectly with Benjamin’s politically astute and sharp witted lyrical observations, and the album becomes ever more pleasing to the ear each time you play it.

This is an absolutely staggering album. 10/10

Tone E

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The Kingsbury Manx – Afternoon Owls (Cooking Vinyl)

Starting with “Half Man”, a tune that wouldn’t sound out of place on Love’s much lauded classic “Forever Changes”, The Kingsbury Manx have gone one better with their fourth release than they did with its predecessor “Aztec Discipline”.
Indeed, some of the tracks here are achingly heartfelt, such as the utterly gorgeous “Over the Waves” or the sublime “We’re On the Way”.

The band obviously have scant regard for today’s music scene, preferring to concentrate on the more whimsical values of the bands of the sixties such as Simon and Garfunkel, the aforementioned Arthur Lee outfit and contemporary “Britpop” geniuses The Kinks.

Footnote to self: “Send post dated email to remind me that this is a CD that demands to be played a LOT during the lazy summer days of 2005. A perfect soundtrack to any sunny sojourns to Stratford-Upon-Avon I may choose to make this year! 9/10

Tone E

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Peter Walker – Landed (Cooking Vinyl)

You’d be hard pressed to find a better opening track than Walker’s “I’m Through” this year, and really, the album rarely falters from thereon.

A brief scan of the CD sleeve and press release reveals that Wilco’s Kay Bennett, REM’s sometime drummer Joey Waronker and Beck bassist Justin Meldal-Johnson have all lent a hand in the creation of this superbly crafted debut album.

While there are several tracks here that could have been the Eels at their best, the painstakingly obvious influence is the great Neil Young – a notion which is confirmed by the accompanying blurb; “Please” and “I Came Around” are unmistakably all things Crazy Horse and hey, if you’re going to choose ANY band as a template for your own musical aspirations, there surely are few better choices.

Each song is packed with a warm, emotional depth that is all too often lacking in today’s current musical climate and Peter has released eleven tracks of sheer beauty in “Landed” that would put a smile on your face whatever your mood.

A near masterpiece. 9/10

Tone E

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Whole Sky Monitor – Just Let Me Talk To Her (Firebomb Radio Records)

When the album kicks in with “Unrequited”, you know instantly that you’re in for a fascinating ride.

Frontman John Parkes has one of those voices you see – one that seems strangely out of key and off kilter, yet still sounds somehow quite splendid and is perfect for the music that goes with it…much like Ian Curtis or Shaun Ryder did at the height of their infamy.

There’s also the intriguing business of the musical arrangements behind the vocals; performed with just two guitars, a bass guitar and a drum kit, you often get the feeling that you have a full brass section playing, such is the sense of uplift created by an album that is otherwise dark and sinister. For me, this is something of an impressive feat, as it is somewhat akin to the Mighty Mighty Bosstones being pelted with horse manure by Stephen Malkmus whilst a social worker scratches their gleaming new sports cars with a penknife.

Hmmm…that’s possibly the strangest description of a band’s music I’ve ever made, but just listen to it and tell me you don’t agree!

A fine debut from a band with extremely bright prospects. 8/10

Tone E

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The*Ga*Ga*s - Tonight The Midway Shines (Sanctuary)

Which the searing pain of your first tooth being pulled, this group power into the opening moments of this album with their latest single 'Sex' and crack the cranium of the wailing child beneath the agonising screams. This band, hailed by rock's benchmark 'Kerrang' as "Rock with intelligence and heart, soul and libido." certainly know their stuff, I guess having spent far too many hours in sweat filled bedrooms studying the art of what 'rock' really means.

Possesing the spirit of Whitesnake, AC/DC and the more authentic side of Heavy Metal, The Ga*Ga*s sound well placed in both teenage bedrooms and the cabin of 'Mondeo Man's' world. After one of the leanest periods in which rock has lost it's way, favouring cross-over acts, this four piece both look, sound and no doubt smell like the real thing.

So if your craving your next fixx, then suckle on the necks of these willing participants, the Ga*Ga*s are if nothing else the saviours of what I grew up to know as 'rock music'. 8/10

Nick James

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