Like a lot of stories of recordings over the years, Spoon’s latest album Lucifer On The Sofa was largely recorded before being interrupted by various lockdowns. While other artists turned inward during this time, the virus didn’t seem to have a discernable effect on proceedings with the band producing a dynamic rock record. Co-written with Jack Antonoff several years ago, “Wild” has a propulsive energy while first single “The Hardest Cut” rides a great bass groove and a dirty guitar riff.
“On the Radio” has singer Britt Daniels looking back to listening to the radio as a little kid and singing, “it ain’t tragic/it’s like magic/I think I was born to it”. The energetic album largely produced by Mark Rankin starts to slow down towards the end with a few mid tempo tracks including “Astral Jacket” whose drums add a bit of thunder and the skyward looking “Satellite”. With two new members in tow for the recording of the 10 tracks on Lucifer On the Sofa, Spoon have released an early contender for rock record of the year.
Recorded in 1969 but not seeing a full release until 2009, Simon and Garfunkel’s Live 1969 captures the duo just before the release of their last album, Bridge Over Troubled Water. About a third of the tracks were also included on the Live 1967 release including another spellbinding take on “For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her” that later appeared on their Greatest Hits collection that also included the live version of “Kathy’s Song” but cuts out the raucous audience before launching into the track.
Unlike the 1967 Live release that captures just one night, 1969 takes in several locations and includes a crack band of hired hands to augment the duo but never overshadow. The band is most heard during the smash hit “Mrs. Robinson” and Hal Blaine’s subtle drumming adds an extra layer to “The Boxer”. “Scarborough Fair/Canticle” is a track that lets Garfunkel shine with Simon adding the minimalist of acoustic guitar and additional vocals.
The centrepiece of the album is, “Bridge Over Troubled Water”. Garfunkel introduces the yet to be released track over a piano introduction to no crowd applause whatsoever. What follows is a stunning rendition of one of the most popular tracks of the early 1970s. The version manages to make the arm hairs stand on end over 50 years later. After the last note sounds, the crowd recognizes that they’ve just heard a song that will be in their lives forever and proceeds to give a thunderous ovation.
The album also includes earlier hits such as “I Am a Rock” and #1 hit “The Sound of Silence”. Both are fine renditions but the 1967 version gets the nod for being the fresher sounding. Even though it’s just two years later, the duo sound wearier on a tour that proves to be one of their last as Simon & Garfunkel for 20+ years. Capturing the band about to release their next classic album, Live 1969 is a must have sound document for those wanting to catch some of the last moments of this classic folk rock duo at the tail end of the 60s.
For a lot of people, it’s not unusual to do some soul searching when reaching a milestone age like 30 as Mitski Miyawaki did in 2020. That plus a pandemic can certainly make one ponder about their future. It is interesting to hear a successful artist have those same thoughts as well but several songs on Mitski’s latest release, Laurel Hell, do just that. First single “Working For The Knife” tells of writing while no one is paying attention, but one keeps writing anyway. “I used to think I’d be done by twenty/Now at twenty-nine, the road ahead appears the same/though maybe at thirty, I’ll see a way to change”.
Like on past albums, Mitski’s songs are short, most lasting less than 3.5 minutes. Many of the tracks here use synths and electronics to create the beds of music such as the classy, “Heat Lightning” and 80s influenced “There’s Nothing Left For You”. “Stay Soft” adds a danceable beat and asks a lover to “open your heart like the gates of hell”
The penultimate track, “I Guess” is an emotional song that ruminates on a relationship that’s ending and having to reinvent one’s self. Reinvention and wondering what comes next are themes that run through Laurel Hell. It’s an album that many will find inspiring as they struggle to try and figure out all the same things that Mitski wonders about as well.
Just under a year after releasing John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, John Lennon’s Imagine arrived. The sophomore album has several hard hitting songs but is not as stark as it’s predecessor. “Gimme Me Some Truth”, also the name of a recent greatest hits compilation, starts with no introduction and speaks about the liars on all sides of the political and media spectrum. “I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier” has a jam feel to it with similar lyrics repeated throughout. At nearly six minutes long, “How Do you Sleep” is an edgy track that digs into former bandmate Paul McCartney while mentioning Sgt Pepper, “Yesterday”, and the Paul is dead rumours. It’s hard to notice the music when for 50 years most have only focused on the lyrics.
Produced along with Phil Spector and Yoko Ono, it’s not all savage critiques and offers some beautiful moments. “Oh My Love” co-written with Ono, is a lovely piano lead track that offers a clean sound with no strings added as Lennon sings, “oh my love, for the first time in my life/my eyes are wide open”. “How” sees Lennon question which direction to go before the sunny pop of “Oh Yoko!” ends the album on a bright note.
The two most well known songs arrive on the first half of the album. “Jealous Guy” started as a track originally written during The Beatles album before being left off then repurposed with new lyrics. The chorus of “I didn’t mean to hurt you/I’m sorry that I made you cry” is still devastating and the apologies likely don’t make up for the regret. Just one track in, the title track is the album’s highlight. One of the most well known songs throughout the world, “Imagine” mixes spirituality without religion, no country borders, a dash of communism, and a lot of love. The song is one of those that seems to have been around forever and is one of the most powerful in the rock and roll canon. Both the Imagine song and album are among John Lennon’s greatest achievements.
The history of Pink Floyd is a vast one that regularly gets repackaged and reissued along with astronomical prices. Considering their legacy, their mostly Syd Barrett written debut from 1967, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn is an interesting starting point. Known for their deeply psychedelic shows at the UFO club in London, Pink Floyd were a main attraction on the exploding UK music scene.
The first four tracks on the debut are astonishing. The spacey, experimental “Astronomy Domine” starts with what sounds like distorted astronaut reports with computer blips that add a tension. The song is earthbound with it’s guitar riffing and steady drumming of Nick Mason. “Lucifer Sam” has 60s spy noir thriller feel with lyrics about Barrett’s Siamese cat. Mostly sung by keyboardist Richard Wright, “Matilda Mother” has a more hazy, cloudy feel to it that is repeated on “Flaming”.
The album is broken up by the nearly 10 minute instrumental track, “Intersteller Overdrive”. Credited to the band, the unsettling track adds a swirling effect that switches the sound from side to side. The last four tracks are Barrett written 60s pop songs including “Chapter 24” that sounds similar to The Beatles’ experimental tracks – a childlike playfulness mixed with Chinese philosophy. One of Barrett’s most popular songs closes out the set with “Bike”. The stomping track with carnival organ speaks of Barrett trying to impress a girl that fits into his world. The track would later be chosen to close out the band’s best of album, Echoes.
The Piper at the Gates of Dawn is quite the ride for those whose Pink Floyd knowledge is mostly confined to the Roger Waters dominated Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall. It’s a whole other world of mostly Syd Barrett’s making, that is technicolour and full of (unsettling) wonder. Sadly this would be the only full album that Barrett would make with the group before the dark side effects of psychedelic drugs took over. He would soon be replaced by the sympathetic David Gilmour. Piper is widely regarded as a psych rock masterpiece and one certainly worth a deeper dive beyond the band’s mid-late 70s output.