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!

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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

Posted in Album Reviews

Suede – Suede 25th Anniversary Box (2018)

41UGF-IRwgL._AA327_QL65_In early 2018, Suede released the 25th Silver Anniversary edition of their classic debut s/t album.  Here it appears remastered with three additional discs of music + a DVD.  At the time Suede released their debut album in early 1993, it was the fastest selling debut in UK music history.  Famously appearing on the cover of Melody Maker magazine before releasing their first single, the build-up/hype through 1992 was palpable through the UK press.  There are many examples through history of the music press building the hype of a mediocre band just to tear them down again. This was not the case here.  A clutch of brilliant singles and a near flawless album saw Suede release great music through the mid-90s.

Led by songwriting duo Brett Anderson and Bernard Butler, Suede mixed the glamour of Bowie, the melancholy of every day life of The Smiths, and a punk-like energy.  Second single “Animal Nitrate” bristles with sexual violence with Anderson shouting “what does it take to turn you on?” as the track reaches its emotional apex before the handclaps appear to add a spark.  “Metal Mickey” reached #17 on the charts and was the band’s introduction to many teenagers.  The glam stomp lays the groundwork from where Anderson whoops and hollers through the verses and chorus.  “So Young” is a strong opening track mixing the anthemic with melancholy, featuring a piano interlude much to Butler’s chagrin but one that really adds to the track.

The melodrama is ratcheted up on “Sleeping Pills” inspired by housewives abusing valium with Anderson pleading, “don’t take those sleeping pills, it’s only time they kill”.  “Pantomime Horse” and “The Next Life” both feature Anderson’s dramatic vocal phrasing.  “Moving” and first single “The Drowners” spare no energy with the latter featuring a slowed down chorus.  Where the debut falters is on lesser tracks “Breakdown” and “Animal Lover”.  Those tracks aside, this is one of the best UK indie rock debuts ever and helped usher in the Britpop movement that would dominate British music over the next few years. (9/10)

Disc two features B-sides released during this time period.  “My Insatiable One” is one of the best tracks the band has ever done.  A classic pop rock melody makes it one of the most enduring songs in the Suede cannon. “To The Birds” is close to classic status as well.  Butler’s guitar with Simon Gilbert’s drumming cranks up the tension before Anderson sings of a possible suicide.  These two tracks should have appeared on the debut.  “Where the Pigs Fly”, “He’s Dead” and the lovely “High Rising” are all fine tracks before the excellent cover of The Pretenders’ “Brass In Pocket” appears to close out the disc. (8/10)

Enjoyment of disc three will depend on your love of “The Drowners” which appears three different times through the twenty tracks.   Featuring demos, monitor mixes and a BBC appearance; disc three is a bit of a mixed bag.  The songs are excellent but the versions are mostly similar versions to what appeared on official releases but with cheaper recording equipment.  The Mark Goodier BBC 1 sessions featured on this set catch the young band performing several tracks that would appear on the debut a year later. (7/10)

Disc four is a 1992 live concert from Sheffield’s historic venue, The Leadmill.  The audio is mostly terrible but energetic and amusingly captures snippets of the audience chatting.  Unless you were there, not much reason to listen to this more than once.  (5/10)  Along with TV appearances, the DVD features an hour-long interview with Anderson/Butler that offers insight into the recording of the tracks including B-sides.  Much contradictions of Anderson appears as Butler seems to have the better memory but great moments abound and it’s terrific seeing the two together, looking healthy and happy after hard living through the 90s. (7/10)

After reading about this boxset, I originally put my money down on the 2CD + 1DVD set that was released in 2011.  Unfortunately, that set arrived with a cracked case so had to be shipped back.  The music therein was amazing so I instead ordered this version when my refund appeared.  The 2011 version should be fine for most, especially at half the price, but if you have the money and are a fan of this era of Suede, this set is worth the extra expense.

Box Set – 8/10