Posted in Album Reviews

Prince and the Revolution- Purple Rain Deluxe (2017)

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.

Purple Rain – 10/10

Extra Disc – 8/10

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Posted in Album Reviews

The Kinks – Are The Village Green Preservation Society (2018)

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.

10/10!

Posted in Album Reviews

The 1975 – A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships (2018)

When reviewing previous albums by Manchester band, The 1975 over the last few years it is common to hear reviewers say with some surprise, “it’s actually pretty good”.  Lead singer Matty Healy always seems to be trying a bit too hard with his tales of promiscuous sex and drugs.  Effortlessly cool this is not.  However, several singles released through 2018 that all appear on A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships were quite a bit more than “pretty good”.

After a sub two-minute introduction, the band is off and running with “Give Yourself A Try” and its squiggly guitar.  “TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME” is the kind of daft relationship pop song that Sugar Ray used to do so well in the 90s before the glitchy “How to Draw/Petrichor”.  Pitchfork song of the year “Love If We Made It” comes in like a bomb with Healy declaring “we’re f**king in a car, shooting heroin…”.  Heroin makes another appearance on single “It’s Not Living If It’s Without You”, that is easily masked by one of the breeziest melodies on the album.

Radiohead comparisons abound on the Siri/computer voiced “The Man Who Married a Robot/Love Theme” and the guitar line on ballad “Surrounded by Heads and Bodies” is airlifted straight off OK Computer.  The pacing on the second half of an Inquiry can get murky with several just OK ballads appearing in quick succession.  Lopping off three lesser tracks would have made for a leaner album but the four absolute smash singles is enough compensation for the extra run time.

8/10

Posted in Album Reviews

The Beatles – The Beatles (2018)

41rn1vclevl._aa327_ql65_Following up last year’s ecstatically received Sgt Pepper remix, The Beatles camp released their s/t 1968 double White Album also in remix form from Giles Martin. In mid-November the Celebration Rock podcast debated what tracks they would include if they cut The White Album down to just a single disc and neither host was happy with their choices. The sprawling double album has many hits, several misses and a few redundant tracks but without them all, somehow it doesn’t hang together as well.

On the new remix, tracks that in the past were easier to skip (to these ears) now have a new groove. “Glass Onion” has always been one of my least favourite later day Beatles tracks but here the background atmospherics are brought out to the forefront to add to the madness. “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill” greatly benefits from a more exhilarating chorus.  “Wild Honey Pie” on the other hand is still completely unlistenable.

On the second side, “Yer Blues” has John Lennon really going for it in the vocal but “Cry Baby Cry” all the way on side four is the better of the two. The latter appears before the cut and paste “Revolution 9” that could have been cut out altogether. Ignoring the hits spread across the album (“Back In the USSR”, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”), the underlining memory of The White Album is that it’s challenging but going back and hearing it, many of the tracks are just terrific. Paul McCartney’s “I Will” is a pleasant pop song before Lennon’s “Julia” that is utterly beautiful.

Two of Lennon’s best album tracks appear here with “Dear Prudence” and the drowsy “I’m So Tired”. Non-singles “Birthday” is familiar to anyone who’s ever heard FM radio in their lives and vocal shredder “Helter Skelter” is a big part of late 60s dark crime wave. Everyone will have their random favourites with this writer’s being the jaunty Ringo Starr lead “Don’t Pass Me By” and the “Good Night” album closer that saw The Smashing Pumpkins Melon Collie years in the future.

On the three disc edition, the third disc is devoted to the famous Esher demos recorded at George Harrison’s home. A generous 27 tracks in acoustic form. The version of “Back In the USSR” with the double tracked vocals is superb, great musicians just banging around. “Mother Nature’s Son” sounds great and “Honey Pie” finds a new home as a campfire singalong. A few Harrison tracks appear such as the organ accompanied “Circles”, the angry “Not Guilty”, and “Sour Milk Sea”. Two Abby Road tracks also pop up in demo form – “Mean Mr. Mustard” and “Polythene Pam”. Not really a disc to listen to all in one sitting but fascinating to jump around and discover different tracks.  The six disc super deluxe edition offers a deeper dive into the valley of the White Album.

The White Album – 10/10
Esher Demos – 8/10

Posted in Album Reviews

Robyn – Honey (2018)

518cre-ga9l._aa327_ql65_Honey marks the full length recording return of Robyn, the first since 2010’s compilation Body Talk. Title song “Honey” appeared in the final season of HBO’s Girls.  Like first official single, “Missing U”, this is perfect futuristic pop music.  Robyn has said that she spent more time on “Missing U” than any other tracks she’s ever recorded and it shows.  The lyrics are heartfelt and the music sparkles with electricity

“Baby Forgive Me” begs for forgiveness while riding a slinky bass groove while “Because It’s In the Music” sounds like a lost Daft Punk track.  Album closer “Ever Again” is mid-tempo 80s R+B before it turns into a synth rave.  The best tracks are front loaded, towards the end “Beack2K20” is more of a interlude than song but continues for long five minutes and the house-y “Between the Lines” is less than essential.  At nine tracks Honey is more often than not very good and at its best is peerless.

8/10