Posted in Album Reviews

Siouxsie and the Banshees – The Scream (1978)

61t-5BWyYsL._AC_UY327_QL65_Siouxsie Sioux and Steven Severin met in 1975 and went on to form Siouxsie and the Banshees, debuting a year later at the 100 Club Punk Festival with Sid Vicious on drums. With Siouxsie handling vocal duties and Severin on bass, the duo would later add guitarist John McKay and Kenny Morris on drums. The band’s first release was the Steve Lillywhite produced single “Hong Kong Garden”. One of the landmark releases of the punk era peaked at #7 in the UK singles chart. A few months later in November of 1978, the band released their debut album, The Scream, also produced by Lillywhite.

First track “Pure” features a spare guitar with disembodied voices before one of the album’s finest songs “Jigsaw Feeling” ups the ante with a stunning mix of punk, metal, industrial and goth while Siouxsie sings of “My eyes are doing summersaults/staring at my shoe”. The staccato vocals of “Carcass” and hard guitar edge do little to hide the pop melody including handclaps. Ending side A, the band reaches back a decade earlier for inspiration in a powerful cover of The Beatles “Helter Skelter” climaxing with Siouxsie exclaiming, “you may be a lover but you ain’t no fucking dancer!” before a cymbal crash brings it all to an end.

The only track from here to appear on the Once Upon a Time:  The Singles compilation is “Mirage”. The accelerated track is driven by an acoustic guitar where Siouxsie’s “limbs are like palm trees/swaying in the breeze”. In stark contrast, “Metal Postcard (Mitageisen)” is cold and militant. Having originated in the London suburb of Bromley, “Suburban Relapse” revisits life outside the capital centre where the character suddenly snaps while doing the mundane chores, the music ups the tension throughout. The album closes with the ambitious “Switch” where Siouxsie sounds like Grace Slick and the music changes on virtually every verse over it’s nearly seven minutes.

The music that young Londoners created in the late 70s known as punk still reverberates throughout the music industry as new generations keep finding it. Siouxsie and the Banshee’s debut that was released just one year after the Sex Pistols is already moving the sound in new directions. Morris’ drumming is a highlight throughout, along with Severin they create a solid base for McKay’s guitar to shine. Siouxsie is a true icon who’s voice here already sounds developed. The Scream is a true classic album of the late 1970s.

10/10

Posted in Album Reviews

Bob Dylan – The Times They Are A-Changin’ (1964)

81MBKs-M7gL._AC_UY327_QL65_Like The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, this is another Bob Dylan album that sat on my shelf for years that I had not fully listened to until this year. Moving on from the colour of the Freewheelin’ album cover, The Times They Are A-Changin’ released in 1964 features just Dylan in a workman’s shirt bathed in green sepia. It’s back to business…

There are a number of gritty stories told, the first being “The Ballad of Hollis Brown” that paints a grim picture of a father killing his staving family. “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” is a sad recounting of an African American barmaid who was killed at the hands of William Zatzinger in a drunken rage. Billy went to jail but then lived until he was 69 years old. Carroll’s 9 children grew up without a mom. “With God On Our Side” goes through several conflicts with each warring nation thinking that they are in the right and that God is with them.

In the vein of the more things change, the more they stay the same. “North Country Blues” tells of struggling families in the American iron ore business losing their jobs as the work moves to cheaper South America. “Only a Pawn In Their Game” is a powerful track about the murder of Edgar Evers and how poor Caucasians are used as a pawn for white politicians to whip up anger at minorities.  Such was Dylan’s reach at that time that he sang this at the March on Washington before Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The title track is the one of the classic folk songs from the 60s and another Dylan track that seems like it was written a long time before that. “Come mothers and fathers throughout the land/And don’t criticize what you can’t understand”. A simple acoustic strummed song with important words and big ideas.

More so there than on the first two albums, it is a bit easier to see why the kids would later chasten Dylan for going electric. The power of Dylan with just his acoustic guitar singing dark stories happening in their own country while others their age danced around the clock. It is often a bleak outlook and by the end it’s a bit grim but it is as essential listening today as it was back then.

9/10

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Soccer Mommy – Color Theory (2020)

81Fk9ywt6QL._AC_UY327_QL65_On Sophia Allison’s Wikipedia page for her last album under the Soccer Mommy moniker, Clean, there is a lengthy list of year end lists that it appeared on. Two years later, Allison has released the follow-up Color Theory. Several tracks document her Mom’s battle with cancer including the heartbreaking last track “gray” and the seven minute “yellow is the color of her eyes”. The latter is the longest track here and has Allison declare that “loving you isn’t enough”.  The track expresses emotions through metaphors with drums that suddenly open up to become expansive.

Several of the songs have an emo tinge and are not lyrically much different than several of the emo rappers that are currently popular. The electric/acoustic guitars of “circle the drain” sounds like it could have been released at any time in the last 30 years where Allison sings that she feels low sometimes even when everything is fine. “night swimming” sees Allison trying to figure out a relationship with a distant partner. Opener “bloodstream” is that moment childhood gives way to adulthood and you don’t recognize the person staring back at you in the mirror. Produced by Gabe Wax, there is a slickness to the Soccer Mommy recording that could be a younger version of Kacey Musgraves who loves indie pop rock and also explores the many emotions of being a young adult.

8/10

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David Bowie – The Man Who Sold the World (1970)

81iq05C37SL._AC_UY327_QL65_Almost exactly a year after the David Bowie (Space Oddity) album, David Bowie’s The Man Who Sold the World appeared in November of 1970. Whereas the year before, Bowie was on a more dreamy hippie trip, this new release had a distinctly harder edge with many tracks sounding like the advent of heavy metal. Tony Visconti was back to produce and this time had plenty of input from guitarist Mick Ronson.

First track, “The Width of a Circle” sets the tone early with a heavy Ronson guitar lick along with the dexterous drumming of Mick Woodmansey. Double tracked vocals on the vocals are effective on “All the Madmen” about Bowie’s half brother Terry who at that time had been hospitalized for mental illness. “After All” features a melancholy circus organ that sounds like a waltz for the dead.

No singles were released from the album and most fans under the age of 50 would know the title track better from Nirvana’s version that appeared on 1994’s MTV Unplugged in New York. The famous guitar riff leads into Bowie’s treated vocals and a moog synthesizer adds an ethereal quality to the whole affair. Using a Jimmy Page guitar line given years before, “The Superman” closes out the album.

This is certainly a departure from the previous year as much of The Man Who Sold the World sounds like a hard rock band that Bowie was fronting. Besides the Nirvana cover, the most famous item is the photo of Bowie posing in a dress that was eventually adopted as the final album cover. Still, there is a way forward here where glam gets introduced to the sound and Ziggy Stardust is eventually born.

6.5/10

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LCD Soundsystem – American Dream (2017)

91SKW4Y2jYL._AC_UY327_QL65_In 2011 LCD Soundsystem announced that their last show would be at Madison Square Garden set for that Spring. But a few years later,  flickers of lights started to come back on and in 2016 James Murphy reunited the band to headline Coachella. A new album was also announced for that year but it would take until September of 2017 before that saw the light of day.

I purchased the album not too long after release but had a hard time with it. Off and on for the next 2+ years I would keep trying to get into it before finally putting through the review process this year. First single “call the police” was sublime from the get go. An anthemic call to arms where Murphy exclaims, “we’re death from above!” As a contrast, the album starts on a slower note with the emotional “oh baby” and is bookended by the David Bowie tribute “black screen” where Murphy sings of their relationship over a light, echoing drumbeat.

A strong New York funk by way The Talking Heads influence runs through tracks like “other voices” and ‘I used to” The Daft Punk like “tonite” won a Grammy for best dance recording in 2018. “how do you sleep” about former DFA partner Tim Goldsworthy holds the emotional weight of the album. The 9 minute opus is punctuated by a devastating synth stab that appears a third of the way in.

At the end of 2017, the comeback album was awarded album of the year honours in both Mojo and Uncut magazine. While Murphy creates many stellar moments and a few career highlights (“call the police” and “black screen”), it’s the angular funk of several tracks with guitar squalls that make for a more challenging listen. It’s been quite the journey with this album, glad it’s finally done!

7.5/10