Hard to believe it’s been 11 years since the first s/t album from The Good, The Bad & The Queen. The Damon Albarn lead group includes Paul Simonon (The Clash), Simon Tong (The Verve) and the expert drumming of Tony Allen. With the cloud of Brexit hanging over England, Albarn sings what at times sounds like a stream of consciousness lyrics over a bed of improvised music. “Nineteen Seventeen” has no chorus and the lyrics of “The Great Fire” have a free association feel. The title track is an anxious yet very wordy statement on England and its current politics.
Unlike most modern albums, the second half is more memorable. “Drifters & Trawlers” is an anthem for weary workers the world over and “The Truce of Twilight” features rough and ready gang singing in the chorus. Great bassline and horns, this sounds like a mature ska band banging out a classic tune. Albarn is at his best when softly and wistfully looking back on times that may or may never have ever existed. “Ribbons” is one of his most beautiful songs in ages and closer “The Poison Tree” says goodbye with a dreamy organ lulling you to sleep.
Produced by Tony Visconti, there is a dark and creepy aspect to the album. Like a fairground closing down but you can still hear music playing from somewhere. On Merrie Land; The Good, The Bad & The Queen chases down England’s ghosts that haunt the alleyways and cobblestone corners. Not all of it works but there are moments that will haunt the listener’s mind long after the stereo has turned off but magically still plays.
Even though I already had most of the classic 60s and 70s Bob Dylan discs, I couldn’t shake the “need” to own The Complete Album Collection Volume 1 from 2013. I could not continue to ignore all the fawning reviews so about a year ago I plunked down the money for the entire Dylan box of 47 discs. And this week marks my review journey into Dylan that will now take several years to complete.
First up is the s/t album from 1962. Debuts for many classic artists in the 60s were mostly covers and this is no exception. The two songs most likely recognized by rock fans that appear here would be “House of the Risin’ Sun” later made famous by The Animals in 1964 and “Man of Constant Sorrow” popularized by early 2000s movie Oh Brother, Where Art Thou. The upbeat “Freight Train Blues” features some nice harmonica playing and “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down” is a folky love song.
Dylan does a very good job of displaying conviction and emotion when singing “Fixin’ to Die’” written by Bukka White. At just 20 years old when he recorded it, Dylan pulls off the hard-hitting track about a dying man leaving his crying children behind. “In My Time of Dyin’” is a dirty blues track that reportedly Dylan had never sung out loud until this recording. Bob Dylan features two Dylan originals. The first is a semi-autobiographical track “Talkin’ New York” about arriving in the great city and rising through the folk ranks. Possibly the only track from this album that would make it onto a Greatest Hits is his first notable original in “Song To Woody”. A touching lyric in honour of his hero, Dylan gives a nod to the past while looking toward the future.
When reviewing albums like this from major artists, it is hard to separate the work from the legend. Because of this I often think in terms of if the artist had just released this one album and a label re-released it today, what would I think of it. In Dylan’s case, it would certainly be a lost classic. Even though the debut is soon eclipsed by his other work, it still a thrilling ride through the mind of a talented and exuberant young artist. It is easy to see why he quickly rose through the folk scene and then kept moving far beyond it.
Comeback kid indeed. Sharon Van Etten is back with her first full length album since 2014’s Are We There. In talking with Uncut magazine, Van Etten noted that influences for this release include Portishead, Nick Cave, and Suicide. This shows through in tracks such as “Memorial Day” and “Hands”. Introspective lyrics with rough, dark and moody electronics. The former being more atmospheric and the latter being more distorted.
While the electronics add texture to a few of the tracks, it’s the more conventional songs that are the most memorable. First single “Comeback Kid” is propulsive and a standout song from 2018. “Seventeen” is a celebration of NYC and how its changes over the years. “Stay” closes out the album with tender lyrics about Van Etten’s one-year old son. While the electronics can at times sound too stark and rob Van Etten’s voice of some it’s warmth, her personality continues to shine throughout.
On a recent trip to Mexico, I wanted to listen to just one or two albums during the time spent away from home. One of the main ones was Prince and the Revolution’s mega selling Purple Rain in the two-disc anniversary edition from 2017. While sitting on the resort’s balcony every morning and looking up at the palm trees, Prince seemed like the perfect choice as the area reminded me of popular 80s TV show Miami Vice. Originally released in 1984, Prince’s sixth album and first with The Revolution is the third highest selling soundtrack of all time, has sold 25 million albums around the world and is on the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry list. It is one of the most popular albums of all time both critically and commercially.
Three of Prince’s most recognizable songs are here. Chills still go up the spine with the declaration at the beginning of album opener, “Let’s Go Crazy”. Young kids throughout the world were introduced to slinky, sexy, club R+B in “When Doves Cry”. Somehow one of the funkiest, grooviest tracks of the 80s has no bass but just percussion, synths, guitar and Prince. These two #1 songs are the sound of mid 80s rock and put Prince at the forefront of music along with Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, and Michael Jackson.
The third #1 from the album is the title track that clocks in at nearly nine minutes long. The showstopping ballad is double the length of it’s four-minute single version but never feels overlong or heavy even though it is packed with emotions and a lengthy guitar solo. The violins sound faintly like “Nothing Compares 2U”, another Prince track that would be a smash for Sinead O’Connor in 1990.
The fourth single, “I Would Die 4 U” is a mid-tempo, minimal jam that sounds like a not too distant cousin to Madonna’s “Dress You Up” released that same year. Fifth single(!), “Take Me With U” is the poppiest track on the album. A duet between Prince and Apolonia with added background vocals from Jill Jones makes this a full and rich vocal performance on top of a breezy melody. “Computer Blue” is a slinky Minneapolis funk rocker and the much talked about “Darling Nikki” is the famous raunchy masturbation track… cutting out the lyrics, the verses are musically minimal with a great Prince vocal. Purple Rain is a classic album that is worth all it’s praise and sales numbers.
The extra tracks on the second disc contain several highlights. The repetitiveness of the eleven minute synth funk work out “Dance Electric” is hypnotic. The second half of “Our Destiney/Roadhouse Garden” sees the beat get turned up and morphs into the excellent “Roadhouse” side where Prince takes over the vocals. Clocking in at under three minutes, “Velvet Kitty Cat” sounds like a demo made on a cheap casio keyboard but is one of the most immediate tracks here before moving on to one the more developed and lyrically interesting “Katrina’s Paper Dolls”.
The disc ends with the instrumental piano feature “Father’s Song” that sounds similar to ambient tracks that Moby would make in the 90s. In a family household, not sure how many spins “Wonderful Ass” and especially the ten minute “We Can F***” will get. Typically, we’re fine with two-disc version of deluxe editions to save a bit of dosh but with this one there is regret in not going with the not much more expensive expanded deluxe with a third disc of single versions + b-sides and live DVD.
The 1968 concept album was The Kinks’ sixth and a total flop upon release. Ray Davies crafted these tunes around a loose theme of an English dream world that didn’t exist. Harkening back to a simpler time as the leader of the band was going through a rocky first marriage and the band was banned from touring the US. It was also the last to feature the original line up of Ray & Dave Davies, Pete Quaife, and Mick Avory. In 2018, the 50th anniversary of the album was a perfect time to re-release in various formats. The version reviewed here is the two-disc edition while a whopping eleven-disc super deluxe set is available for those needing a deeper dive with deeper pocketbooks.
“Village Green” was written for the previous album Something Else but held back. The track looks to a time of the village green with the simple people and “the church, the clock, the steeple”. The title track sings of being the preservation society of little shops, china cups, strawberry jam, draught beer and the smartly named – “custard pie appreciation consortium”.
Character sketches abound in “Do You Remember Walter?”, the rebellious “Johnny Thunder”, and village prostitute on the calypso styled “Monica”. Two highlights both feature lyrics about photos in “Picture Book” and the nostalgic “People Take Pictures of Each Other”. Immediately catchy “Starstruck” with its vocal harmonies was the first track pulled in the US as a single but did not chart. Varying the style throughout the album, “Wicked Annabella” is decidedly darker in tone than other tracks with a dirty guitar while cartoonish “Phenomenal Cat” is pure psychedelic whimsey.
Similar to other re-releases of The Village Green Preservation Society, this two disc version offers both the stereo and mono versions of the album. Preferences will be left to the individual but to these ears the stereo versions work better for the more cinematic efforts such as the title track while the mono versions hit a bit harder on the up-tempo rockers. At the end of the both discs a wealth of extras which could easily have been collected on an album at the time and not seen a dip in quality.
1968 single “Days” is one of the best tracks The Kinks released while “She’s Got Everything” is a rough and ready blast of 60s garage rock. The “Preservation Mix” of the title track with different lyrics is more uplifting and celebratory of the village life than it’s original. “Picture Book/People Take Pictures of Each Other” also in “Preservation Mix” foresees a significant portion of blur’s mid 90s output where a piano lead gives way to music hall horns. “Village Green Overture” sounds like a blast from an England that actually did exist earlier that century. With this new release, the Village Green finally sold over 100,000 copies. In the midst of Britpop, it was finally deemed that classic that it is but it was worth the wait. This album needs to be in every rock and roll collection and is one of the true wonders of the late 60s.