The music world was saddened on August 7th of 2019 when it was learned that Silver Jews and Purple Mountains founder David Berman had passed away aged 52. Berman had enjoyed success with the Silver Jews but over the years had not played much music. When his mother died in 2014, he was inspired to get back to playing music and after a few false starts he hooked up with Jeremy Earl and Jarvis Taveniere of the band Woods to help play and produce the album that would come out in mid-July, also titled Purple Mountains.
While there is overarching sadness throughout the album, it is mixed with clever/funny lyrics. Upbeat opener, “That’s Just the Way That I Feel” features the line “when I try to drown my thoughts in gin, I find my worst idea know how to swim.” “Darkness and Cold” is both touching, sad and funny as Berman speculates on what it would be like when his ex-partner starts dating someone else. Later Berman ruminates on a similar theme when he sings that “I see lots of normal men yearning to obtain her, I’m a loser, she’s a gainer” on the excellent “She’s Making Friends, I’m Turning Stranger”.
While I’m not going to be one to complain about how hard men have it, there is a serious problem of men losing friends over the years and becoming more isolated. With a great guitar line and excellent drumming, on “All My Happiness Is Gone”, Berman sings that “lately I tend to make strangers wherever I go, some of them were once people I was happy to know. “Nights That Won’t Happen” is a look at all the lost dreams due to a separation or death. While the sadness is palpable throughout, Purple Mountains is a special record that most people should be able to relate to in one way or another.
When looking for a Rolling Stones greatest hits compilation, there are no shortage of choices as the band seems to release one every few years. When the GRRR! compilation came out in 2012, it was easy to scoff at the name, the gorilla picture on the cover and that it was yet another compilation release from the legendary band. However, looking back at the track listing, picking up one of the many deluxe versions was probably the one to get. With those being harder to come by these days, we had to go back and look at what else is available. We picked up the recently released, and terribly named, Honk compilation for hits after 1971. For the years preceding that, we also purchased the music collection staple and the band’s bestselling album, Hot Rocks 1964-71.
The first disc starts off with a few older tracks including “Time Is On My Side”. With a stop at the first major Mick Jagger/Keith Richards classic, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”, the disc really gets going with 1965’s “Get Off Of My Cloud”. When we reviewed the boxset for Suede’s self-titled debut, we noted the track “Sleeping Pills” about housewives killing time and disappearing into their own minds. Possible inspiration may have come from “Mother’s Little Helper” with Jagger pleading – “doctor please, some more of these” as Mom’s just try to make it through the day.
With the technicolour 60s in full bloom, the nihilist anthem “Paint It Black” is a staggering look into the abyss. “I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes/I have to turn my head until my darkness grows”. A track like “Under My Thumb” would not get made today due to the overtly sexist lyrics of keeping a girl in her place. Having said that, it’s hard to resist Bill Wyman’s fuzz bass line and Brian Jones’ marimba that I’m sure was a standout in dance clubs throughout the 60s. The anthemic singalong ballad, “Ruby Tuesday” follows before the effervescent “Let’s Spend the Night Together” closes out the first disc.
With respect to “…Satisfaction”, the guitar riff of 1968’s “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” is right up there. The violence strewn “Street Fighting Man” still packs a punch. Nicky Hopkins’ piano and Jones’ sitar in the chorus adds a frenzy before both drop away in the verse to let Richards and drummer Charlie Watts hold a steady groove. “Sympathy for The Devil” keeps all its menace intact before the disc focuses on the Let It Bleed tracks including opener “Gimme Shelter” that sounds like a bomb going off while ushering out the sixties.
Where the album slips slightly is by including the nearly nine-minute live version of “Midnight Rambler” from the Get Yer Ya Ya’s album that came out a year earlier. It might make more sense on the album as the first track on side four but on CD it takes away from some of the momentum that has been in full force for nearly an hour. The choir that opens “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” is heavenly before the album closes with rock radio staples “Brown Sugar” and “Wild Horses”.
Of all the Stones compilations, Hot Rocks remains a firm favourite that has never gone out of fashion. The run of songs from middle of disc 1 to middle of disc 2 is extraordinary. The only nitpicking would be to swap out a couple of tracks and include “She’s A Rainbow” which seems to grow in stature every passing year. Even with a few minor quibbles, it’s hard to go wrong with the best rock music ever created.
Since we started following her career with the release of “Video Games”, Lana Del Rey has had her fair share of detractors. What people can’t say is that this artist is not putting in the work, Norman Fucking Rockwell! Is her sixth(!) studio album since 2010. Released over a year ago, the first sounds most listeners heard from Rockwell was the nearly ten-minute single “Venice Bitch”. It narrowly missed our top ten favourite tracks of 2018, the long song never drags and includes the lyrical earworm “bang bang kiss kiss”. Released at the same time, “Mariners Apartment Complex” is one of the best here, commenting on helping a friend in their time of need with Del Rey relating “you lose your way, just take my hand”.
Many tracks here reference California including one named for the state that references Lennon/Ono that your personal war is over if you want it to be. “Fuck I Love You” was the last track written for the album that says California is just a state of mind, your problems don’t leave you just because you’ve moved. “The Next Best American Record” sounds the most like classic Del Rey and recalls the aforementioned “Video Games” in her lyrical inflections. “The Greatest” is a track that Amy Winehouse could have sung. A classic sounding song with modern lyrics – “I’m wasted… the culture is lit and I had a ball”
Master producer Jack Antonoff co-produces many of the tracks with her but it’s Lana Del Rey that’s the master as she carries many songs with minimal accompaniment, some with just a spare piano and her voice. A few tracks in the middle could easily have been sung by any decent pop singer but songs like “Hope Is a Dangerous Thing for a Woman Like Me to Have – but I Have It” could only be done by Del Rey. Featuring several of her best songs, this may be her strongest set of music to date.