Posted in Album Reviews

Piroshka – Brickbat (2019)

A few months ago, if someone had said that an album on the state of the world from former Brit Poppers was going to be one of the best releases of the year thus far, I would have been skeptical at best… but here we are.  From the ashes of the Lush reunion comes the new project from Miki Berenyi.  Joining forces with her partner KJ McKillop, Elastica’s Justin Welch and Modern English’s Mick Conroy, the band released first single “Everlastingly Yours” last November and the debut album followed in February.  Berenyi’s voice is as distinctive as ever and while there are clearly shoegaze elements on this release, it is not rooted in nostalgia.

In the 90s, the emotional lyrics were about drinking and relationships but here Piroshka come out firing with political lyrics that claim “I take what’s yours and I’m not going to stop” and declare that “nobody here ever escapes with no blood on their hands”.  One of the best songs here, “Hated By The Powers That Be”, turns the simple “I am love” lyric into “and you should feel as proud as me because we are love and we’re hated by the powers that be”.

 “Village of The Damned” about school yard shootings is somehow breezy in the weight of its subject matter and in “Everlastingly Yours” features a nice bit of Welch working the hi-hat.  The ballads “Blameless” and “Heartbeats” are the two that most sound like Lush at their quieter moments.  Brickbat is a timely release that has its full eyes and hearts on the here and now.

8.5/10

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Posted in Album Reviews

Pet Shop Boys – Introspective/Further Listening 1988-89 (2018)

In the mid-80s, Pet Shop Boys’ sophisticated blend of electronics and classic songwriting was leading to smash hits around the globe.  Following up their UK #2 album Actually, they released Introspective in October of 1988.  With radio playing the shorter single versions, the album flips the script by having the longer dance versions on the album including a medley of hit single “Always On My Mind” and a previously released B-sides in extended form.  Even with the unusual track listing, Introspective is the second biggest seller of PSB’s career.

The band’s first singles collection, Discography, is one of my all-time favourites but the tracks from Introspective rank as some of my least favourites. Presented here in extended form allows them to breathe a bit more.  “Domino Dancing”, their last top 20 hit in the US is the most improved by this approach.  The Latino horns mix with an extended percussion section before a piano appears to make the listener’s hips sway. “Left To My Own Devices” adds extra lyrics not included the single version but still contains the classic line “In the back of my head I heard distant feet/Che Guevara and Debussy to a disco beat”.  The music fades out at 5:35 to feature a terrific piano beat.

Initially given to Patsy Kensit’s band, Eighth Wonder, the PSB version of “I’m Not Scared” is what they do extremely well; dramatic lyrics with a (harder) electronic beat.   “Always on My Mind/In My House” is more minimal and gives less focus on the strings than the single version. The second half amps up the house elements and repeats “always” throughout before the first track reappears in full glory.  “It’s Alright” starts out with a bit of gospel before the frivolous lyrics of wishing music to save the world comes through.

The best versions of these songs appear on the album so the Further Listening disc here is not as strong as the first disc.  The demo version of “Domino Dancing” floats by (in a good way) and two versions of its Spanish/Western influenced B-side “Don Juan” appear. The jaunty chorus of “What Keeps Man Alive” sounds plucked from a West End musical whereas “I Get Excited (You Get Excited Too)” and “One of The Crowd” (with its lyrics about fishing) are made for the dancefloor.  The disc ends with the beautiful and touching ballad “Your Funny Uncle” about the funeral of a friend who sadly passed away from Aids.  Such as it is with this period of Pet Shop Boys, even the lesser tracks are worthy and there are several diamonds scattered here.

Introspective – 9/10

Further Listening – 7.5/10

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The Good, The Bad & The Queen – Merrie Land (2018)

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.

7.5/10

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Bob Dylan – Bob Dylan (1962)

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.

8/10

Posted in Album Reviews

Sharon Van Etten – Remind Me Tomorrow (2019)

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.

7.5/10