Album Reviews: August 2004

 

The Libertines – The Libertines (Rough Trade)

Still ringing in my ears, the news of Pete Doherty's failure to appear at his scheduled Barfly show, then coded messages and subsequently an impromtu gig in his flat (sounds cosy), but above all this, his expulsion from the band he calls his own, substance abuse and his adamant remark that come what may he will be appearing with The Libertines at their Reading Festival date(?). Is all this just a smoke screen, or just another in the long running story of the rock'n'roll band? Well, fact or fiction it's their latest and second album we are here to review, so without further ado.

N: Yes! I may have found that long prophesied - 'Difficult Second Album', as on first listen this just sounded a disjointed mess, but the 'press' that came along with the pre-release did describe "an album that gets better with every listen", but is this not just another way of trying to explain something that is just not very good. Well having listened to the album, several times, although it does improve on initial impressions, this could well be a document of troubled times more than anything. There are stand-out moments on the album, coming in the form of the cracking opening tune, 'Can't Stand Me Now', as well as the only track the 'pr' refers to (outside of the recent single and track I've just mentioned) that of fan-favourite 'What Became Of The Likely Lads', in the context of the rest of the album, it's easy to hear why.

T: The thing is, I think The Libertines are possibly about to suffer a dose of Stone Roses syndrome. I remember rushing out and buying “The Second Coming”, and thinking “Wow! What a great album”, and then reading the subsequent press; the album was mauled. Then hey presto, ten years later, everyone’s banging on about what a brilliant record it was after all. The problem was, their debut was just so outstanding, it didn’t matter WHAT they released next – it was always going to get a hammering. I feel this is exactly the same scenario we are facing now, with The Libertines, as in ten years’ time, I expect “Up the Bracket” to be included in countless “50 CDs You Must Own” lists that music magazines are so fond of right now.

N: You may well have hit the proverbial “nail on the head” in your comparison. I can in no way compare the two bands, but you may prove right that given the passing of time ears will warm to this, but the fact still remains (as I think you are trying to say) this is not a patch on their debut.

T: Whilst not as instant as its predecessor, is still an extremely enjoyable listen, and the intricacies of each track become more and more apparent with each play.

Let me attempt to quantify what I am saying here. Sandwiched between the wonderful recent single, “Can’t Stand Me Now”, and the stompalong anthem that is “What Became of the Likely Lads” there are several gems including “Tomblands”, which resembles “Sandinista” era Clash at their very best, the social commentary of the beautifully observed “Campaign of Hate” – complete with the amusing (and accurate) lyric “Poor kids dressing like they’re rich/ Rich kids dressing like they’re poor/ White kids talking like they’re black”, and the odd doo-wop diversion of the charming “What Katie Did”.

Apart from these nuggets, we have the more familiar “tuneful noise” that we are accustomed to from Doherty and co, such as the fantastically shouty “Narcissist”, the awesome but remarkably simple riff of “Last Post on the Bugle” or the impressive restraint of single contenders “Music When the Lights Go Out” and “The Man Who Would Be King”.

N: I can see what you’re trying to get across here and although ‘immediate’ cannot be considered in the vocabulary of this album, the lyrics used in the song to which you refer are alright, but I will conceed that in the song ‘The Man Who Would Be King’, it has it all, from a corking title, song and lryics that build in the imagination a sense of defiance. But how do you defend the ‘disjointed sound’ I heard?

T: The instrumentation on several tracks here (“Don’t Be Shy” and “Arbeit Nacht Frei” in particular) may sound shambolic and careless. Those of us who have ever been in a band, however, or classically trained, will be able to see instantly how deliberate those “sloppy” moments are – a bit like the much lauded Violent Femmes “jams” on several of their tracks – and realise the level of difficulty in pulling something like this off as effectively as The Libertines have.

N: Sorry but with that comment you have allowed any resemblance of credibility to pass right out of the window. So we’re all supposed to have been classically trained to observe this album correctly, or have picked up a guitar and have knocked out ‘White Riot’ in a reasonably fashioned manner. To listen to any record all you need is a pair of ears and just to show I’m in no way discriminating, I once sold an old Hi-Fi to a guy who was hard of hearing, it was the vibrations he observed the music from. Perhaps you may’ve observed this correctly, maybe ‘The Libertines’ were just trying to be too clever.

Who’s right, judge for yourself. I think it’s fairly apparent from our tussles that if you’re a fan you’re not going to be swayed (but be careful of what is described ‘blind faith’). An album such as this one may not win the band any new fans, that is until sometime down the road, when a new breed of wannabes, hear these sounds for the first time at the Uni disco and judge them to be the 10 comandments, or to be more precise ‘14’. 7/10

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Cathy Davey - Something Ilk (Regal)

Kicking off in good form with the title track of her debut EP, 'Come Over', this is indeed as is stated on the release that accompanied, as giving "a taste of the breath taking power of this album". As we found on this debut, this too was produced by Steve Hillier and gaurantees that the intensity found here continues, but as we move from format to format a greater breadth of experimentation is entered into and what was started on 'Come Over' and the follow-up single 'Clean And Neat', 'Something Ilk' finds an explosion of sounds and depth in Cathy's lyrical presentation.

We heard in our review of 'Come Over', our first encounter with this singer/songwriter, how influences from Kate Bush, PJ Harvey and Lisa Germano can be if not heard certainly feature, but it was not until I was given the opportunity to sit down and digest this album that a big reference to Sunday's vocalist * could be heard. Although Cathy rejects as "pofaced" the prospect of being "categorised" and apparently avoids listening to a great deal of music for a genuine fear of absorbing too much influence, however it has come about she certainly posses the best of the great female songwriter's traits, it must be something in that 'Y' comozone.

I think she sets out remarkably well possesing such an engaging voice as she does, but has not rested on these laurels and has created a debut album that is as absorbing as it is entertaining and has clearly enjoyed this process using a vast palette of techniques, old synths and pre-war mics available to her through producer Hillier. This all results in a debut that must be taken most seriously, whilst at the same time is an easy medicine to take. 9/10

Nick James

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The Finn Brothers - Everyone Is Here (Parlophone)

Former Split Enz and Crowded House front men Neil and Tim Finn set out on their first collaborative musical outing since 1995's 'Finn' and what a return to the foray, as the two brothers, with the help of a few well respected 'faces' in the industry, have produced a very strong album that shouts of their past and future involvement in the music. Like a knife through butter, here we proceed through the 45 minute, 12 track content with utter ease, the structure of the songs featured here shout of the highest caliber, maybe even that similar to the ultimate collaborative partnership, that of; Lennon & McCartney. The brothers recorded this album in Los Angeles with the same team behind much of the Crowded House material, that of Mitchell Froom on production and Bob Clearmountain mixing the final product, so understanding this it's easy to understand why this album sounds so familiar.

If anything it's this that may leave you feeling this is just too familiar a record to take seriously, but this pairing are doing here what they do best and that's putting together beautiful songwriting with a rich mix of instrumentation that just works. Some of the songs content maybe considered a little twee and I quote; "At the shopping mall, I'm surrounded by a parking lot...", a line that slips from the lips of Neil Finn as if he learnt this at birth on the song 'Homesick', but it's moments such as these that take me back to my earlier reference of Lennon and McCartney song structuring.

This album is a smooth and easy medicine to take from the very first moment you hit play and hear the sounds of the immensely 'Crowded House' strains of 'Won't Give In', to the closing lines of the not so familiar 'Gentle Hum', a song that lives up to its title and plays out to an easy refrain. But far before this, the album proceeds in good fashion hitting, 'Luckiest Man Alive' featuring strains familiar to the great Neil Young, where both vocal and musical presentation echo the artist. Another standout track comes in the form of 'All God's Children' and kicks ass with its raw guitar and questioning tongue-in-cheek lyrics. But it's songs such as this and the startling 'Part Of Me, Part Of You' that serve as a wake-up call as we proceed through typical Finn Brothers sleepy compositions, although once this song closes we realise that the album is almost over. A very good collection of songs, but if anything it might be said that the brothers Finn have played it a little too safe on this their comeback album, as all may be considered a little too familiar, but then again if it ain't bust don't fix it. 7/10

Nick James

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Hayseed Dixie – Let There Be Rockgrass (Cooking Vinyl)

Pick this up for the first time, and a quick glance at the photography on both the front and back cover will send instant warning signals pulsing through your brain: “Help! This looks horrible!”, and then you read the track listing. This does little to inspire confidence, being mainly rock songs from the late seventies and early eighties – and you find yourself wondering how exactly this ageing “rock covers” band ever got a record deal in the first place.

Then you put the CD on…

Laugh? I nearly had to buy myself a corset when I heard the likes of “Ace of Spades”, “Walk This Way” and the recent Darkness single “I Believe In a Thing Called Love” – all done in a (surely tongue in cheek!) country and western – or “Rockgrass” as they call it – style. Incidentally, the latter mentioned track sounds a whole lot better this way than it did by Hawkins and co.

The one track actually WRITTEN by Hayseed Dixie is worth a mention too – the charmingly titled “I’m Keeping Your Poop” is one of those “I can’t believe he’s just said that” kind of moments throughout, and if you don’t crack a smile at least once during this album, remind me not to book you as a comedian for my next birthday party. Hilarious stuff. 8/10

Tone E

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Abdominal & DJ Fase – Flowtation Device (PIAS)

As a record label PIAS usually release some very respectable material but this one blows hot and cold all the way through. I think my overall feeling is that DJ Fase should lose the abominable ‘Abdominal’ bloke and do his own thing. The production on this album is superb and some of the tracks are musically first class soulful, funky hip-hop and beyond.

Lyrically I don’t have a problem with Abdominal, for me the problem is his style. He is more a hardcore street rapper, creating freaky off the wall stuff. That’s all good on the street if you’re flexing to the ladies. Take it to the studio and its works in small doses but not on every single track.

Some of the tracks work great both lyrically and musically, ‘Slow and Deliberate’ is a good all rounder. ‘Fly Antics’ and ‘Elizabeth’ are by far the best blends of rap and beats and gel to create one cohesive experience. Too often on the track the music is wicked and as soon as the rhymes come in, you wish you could turn them down, way down! Like an annoying radio DJ that talks all over the best bits of a track!!!

Typical examples of this are ‘The Best’, ‘Flowtation Device’ and ‘Vinyl Frontier’. These are all seriously good tracks with original and creative production. Personally I would like to see DJ Fase doing an instrumental album aimed more at the dance market or hooking up with a vocalist that compliments the genius of the music rather than hijacking it.

Overall a 50/50 split, some good, some bad! 5/10 (10/10 for DJ Fase though)

Nic Caesar

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The Martinis – Smitten (Cooking Vinyl)

Any of you who wondered, as I did, whatever happened to the legendary Pixies guitarist Joey Santiago, will be delighted and excited to learn that, aside from the recent reunion tour of the Boston giants, he is one half of The Martinis.

It came as quite a surprise to me though that musically the album is more akin to Kim Deal’s Breeders than Black Francis’ Pixies. Actually it’s more like The Breeders meet Belly and it’s probably more uptempo and optimistic than you would expect. There are few, if any, downbeat or dark sounding moments here.

One thing that IS unmistakeable though is Santiago’s inimitable fretboard style on tracks such as the splendid “Wishful Thinking” (no, not the China Crisis song) in particular and on the album’s standout track, “Invisible”.

So, overall, an accomplished long awaited album that hits the right notes most of the time and is well worth a listen or two. I doubt if The Martinis will ever reach the heights that The Pixies did, but then again, I doubt if they ever intended to. 7/10

Tone E

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Charlotte Hatherley – Grey Will Fade (Double Dragon)

Well, you already know my thoughts on “Kim Wilde”, the opening track on Charlotte Hatherley’s debut solo album, being as it is a thunderous slice of pop music that urinated from a great height on just about any other single that’s been released this year.

“Rescue Plan” is a little more downbeat, yet quite mesmerisingly beautiful in its own way, and “Paragon” is a glorious stomp through four minutes of pure seventies style adrenaline that sounds not one jot like Avril Lavigne, despite what my daft friend Paul says…

Next up is the latest single, “Summer”, and you can see what I have to say about that track in this very edition of AD (in the Singles section Doofus)

Anyway, the lovely Charlotte then goes on to prove that she is also more than capable of doing seductive and harmonious semi-ballads on the quite wonderful “Down” which is, aside from the opening track, the highlight of the whole kit and caboodle for me.

“Stop” is certainly the most unusual track on “Grey Will Fade” and therein lies its appeal. Fantastic riff, unorthodox melody and another contender for “pick of the bunch”.

“Where I’m Calling From” sounds like an early Bowie track and you just can’t fault the girl for her obvious influences. “Why You Wanna” is another catchy pop tune and that’s followed by the most lighthearted moment – an ode to a disastrous one night stand with a Spaniard that resulted, allegedly, in our Charlotte being left a small amount of money on the bedside table for “services rendered” and the theft of her beautiful guitar!

Closing off, fans of Ash may already know the album’s title track, having previously been released as a B-side. So of course, you’ll already be aware that it’s a top tune.

Overall, Ms Hatherley deserves a pat on the back for writing and recording a great album that, whilst not a classic, is an excellent first attempt that is currently being played a LOT on my car stereo. 9/10

Tone E

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Colour Of Fire - Pearl Necklace (Riverman Music)

In the ‘COF’ it has been said that “you have potentially the perfect indie band”. In answer to this I suppose it depends what you term an ‘indie band’, I would be far happier to term this group a fine rock product, but as their debut album “Pearl Necklace’ opens up, if anyhing this band seem to be torn in their producing of rock songs that do indeed contain all the necessary elements one minute, whilst at the next the group seem happy producing touching ballads.

Certainly the over whelming content of this album is one that features hard edged rock tunes and I have seen many references made of this band that refer to this side of their nature, but never one that shouts loud and clear, to me anyway, that of Mansun, and that maybe where the indie reference comes from. Overall this album does feature some alright tunes, but ultimatly I just found this somewhat tiresome, I’m not 14 anymore and this is maybe where their audience lies. 6/10

Nick James

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Bad News - Bad News (EMI)

It seems quite apt that this review follows on from the last, taking rock to where it should be following the heady days of the Seventies. With Queen possibily at the epicentre of the “the four horseman of the rockapocalypse’s”world, clearly bands like Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath and Motorhead were running hot on their heals.

In 1983 the BBC’s ‘Comic Strip’ observed the comedy that could be made out of the rock genre, an idea which was closely followed by Rob Reiner’s Spinal Tap, whilst in the meantime acted out by many a profesional rock band. This album has ultimatly a huge audience, as long as you realise that it’s the kind of album that may well sit alone and forgotten on the shelf for some years, before in a drunken haze, deciding that you’ll redicover what in my case was my mis-spent youth.

22 tracks, featuring both dreadfully crap songs and studio banter, owning both LP’s, I can assuredly say that this record is more amusing than the previously mentioned ‘Spinal Tap’, and never once takes it anymore seriously than a wet weekend in Margate. This is classic stuff and I’m glad has been given a second wind by EMI. 9/10

Nick James

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Killing Joke - For Beginners... (EMI)

As the title suggests this album is an introduction to the band that formed out of post punk diversity in 1978 and is content with serving up a content of tracks that not one made it near the top 75. It is both uplifting and depresingly embarasing, that this album of albums is so good and yet a reminder that so much now comes nowhere near the quality of this product.

With 16 tracks, the content spans the seven years between 1980 and 1986, a time during which the band released 6 albums and inspired the group that would later become industrial pioneers, ‘Godflesh’, as well as writing the song ‘The Wait’ that will be no doubt familiar to Metallica fans. I like the fact that this album has not just become a ‘greatest hits’, something that could so easily have been done with the band’s back catalogue. Instead this concentrates on those tunes that could so easily have been forgotten and has been lovingly compiled to create an informative and entertaining document that may well serve to inspire a new wave of wannabies, with ingredients of this quality you won’t even need to visit Sainsbury’s. 9/10

Nick James

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Lowfive - Emergency Disaster Kit (Music For Nations)

Coming all the way from Califonia, Lowfive are apparently on a mission to get the UK rockin’. With a weighty quality to their sound, the band are walking a tightrope between Everclear and well Everclear, so basically although good I can’t hear anything that sets them apart from my earlier mentioned heavy weights. Ringing in my ears is the comment of my colleague when reviewing the single ‘Too Much Of Nothing’, that was “Well they're not going to win any prizes for originality...”, perhaps a little cruel, but isn’t that what I’ve just said? So overall, better than most, but not exactly fresh. 6/10

Nick James

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Alex Lloyd - Distant Light (EMI)

Talking of originality, Alex Lloyd would appear to have swallowed an REM pill and is making music that Stipe and Buck put aside for later and then another that is understandably Crowded House.

An artist not unfamilair to the music scene, Alex, a Sydneysider, releases what is his 3rd album and previous references aside is a lazy slice of road rock. An album that is easy to approach and one that will certainly hold more appeal to the father’s of a young audience, than the members of the mosh pit themselves. Described as Austrailia’s best kept secret, this album is the product of a lifestyle Alex found forced upon him by relentless touring and promotion, following the release of his last album ‘Watching Angels Mend’. Containing songs that speak loudly of this experience, songs such as; “Far Away”, “1000 Miles” and the words in songs such as “Beautiful”, a lament of long distance love. A well written, if not slightly mushy album. 7/10

Nick James

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