Rocks In The Attic #682: Fleetwood Mac – ‘Alternate Mirage’ (1982)

RITA#682It’s Record Store Day tomorrow. Independent record stores around the world get to increase their coffers as thousands of casual music fans race in for an extremely limited picture-disc of Dire Straits’ Money For Nothing in the shape of Mark Knopfler’s sweaty headband.

Among the many reasons to visit participating stores on RSD – giveaways, food and drink, in-house performances by local bands – are the exclusive releases themselves. These range from the unbelievably awesome (such as the rare Foo Fighters’ Laundry Room EP from a few years ago, featuring demos from their great first record) to the unbelievably gimmicky (such as last year’s reissue of Nilsson Schmilsson, pressed on split yellow / white vinyl – yours for only $80).

I’ve learnt over the last 10 years or so to steer away from the gimmicky cash-in releases (I had my eyes on that Nilsson Schmilsson record last year, as I didn’t have the album in my collection at the time, but found a nice second-hand copy in the wild just a few weeks later for $2). These days, I look at the list, spot one or two releases and look for them online. Yes, it defeats the purpose of the day – getting people in-store – but it’s not really a day for diehard record collectors, who prop up these shops the other 51 weekends of the year.

Some of my favourite releases over the last couple of years have been the alternate Fleetwood Mac records. Lifted from the material previously available on the Super Deluxe box sets, these exclusive RSD releases present demos and alternate takes for each album, with the songs presented in the same running order.

Record Store Day in 2016 gave us The Alternate Tusk, 2017 gave us this, Alternate Mirage (strangely without the definite article), and this year the release is The Alternate Tango In The Night. I’m really looking forward to hearing alternate takes of what is probably their polished, over-produced album.

With Lindsey Buckingham (reportedly) fired from the band, and replaced by Crowded House’s Neil Finn, and the Heartbreakers’ Mike Campbell, the alternate Fleetwood Mac will be touring the world later this year.

Hit: Gypsy

Hidden Gem: Can’t Go Back

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Rocks In The Attic #681: Daft Punk – ‘Alive 1997’ (2001)

RITA#681Live albums by EDM artists don’t make a great deal of sense, but this release really works.

Originally released as a fan-club only download in 2001, the album presents an uninterrupted (except when you flip the record over, obviously) 45-minute set from the Daftendirekt tour in support of their Homework debut, complete with whoops and cheers from the attendant punters.

Recorded, bizarrely, in Birmingham of all places, the tour dates throw up a couple of surprises for what became a globally successful duo. The tour started in Manchester, at the Academy – a venue I know like the back of my hand – and took in such glorious locations as Hanley, Leeds and Nottingham. It’s difficult to imagine Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo in any of these places, where presumably they frequented pubs and kebab shops to fuel them on their tour.

In fact, I probably prefer this album to Homework itself, which I have always felt a bit dry and a bit too Detroit. In fact, this set is so good, my 4-year old just said “Daddy, this music is making my bottom dance!”

Hit: Da Funk

Hidden Gem: Daftendirekt

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Rocks In The Attic #680: Lorde – ‘Melodrama’ (2017)

RITA#680Last Friday, after almost a year since it first saw the light of day in June 2017, Lorde’s sophomore album Melodrama was finally released on vinyl. Lorde decided to mark the occasion by putting her foot in her mouth and getting into a little hot water on Twitter. She claimed her faux pas was entirely accidental. Hmm…really? It was an extremely specific mistake to make…

Anyway, I’m not sure why it’s taken so long for the LP to be released. You’d think that her record label (Lava Records – a subsidiary of Universal Music) would want to capitalise on Lorde’s global success, particularly as her star started to shine even brighter, with the album going on to become Grammy nominated.

After finally getting to grips with the ‘new’ record, it’s clear why her current U.S. tour is reported to be a failure. The songs – aside from the brilliant Green Light – just aren’t there. Current writing partner Jack Antonoff looks to be an interesting proposition, a good fit to Lorde’s brand of witchy, bohemian electronica; but the absence of Joel Little on the songwriting credits is telling. Even more telling is that his sole writing contribution is on Green Light, the album’s stand-out song.

So, why did I like Lorde’s debut, Pure Heroine, so much? Was it Lorde herself, or was it Joel Little’s input – both as a songwriter and producer – that hooked me in?

Maybe only album number three will tell. At Lorde’s work-rate, we can expect that to be released in 2021 – and probably released on vinyl sometime in 2022.

Hit: Green Light

Hidden Gem: Liability

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Rocks In The Attic #679: John Lennon & Yoko Ono – ‘Milk And Honey’ (1984)

RITA#679One of the saddest things about losing John Lennon is that his return to recording was starting to produce some really interesting music, first with 1980’s Double Fantasy, and then this, the posthumously released follow-up, Milk And Honey, from 1984.

Lennon’s post-Beatles albums from the ‘70s sometimes make for a hard listen. Awash with the reverb of Phil Spector, they’re often angry, yet balanced with some overly sentimental singles. Finding a musical companion in Yoko Ono seems to have rejuvenated his output, waking him up from an arguably misdirected post-Beatles decade. Ono might not be a writing partner like McCartney was, but the relationship seems to have energised his writing and awakened his competitive spirit.

It’s difficult to imagine what his next studio record would have sounded like. This release was cobbled together from sessions following Double Fantasy, so it makes for a great companion piece to that record. Who knows – a year or two later, Lennon might have tired from the post-punk leanings of that record, and gone in a different direction. His decision to record a version of I’m Losing You backed by Cheap Trick (available on the John Lennon Anthology box-set) perhaps indicates that the 1980s would have been a rockier, band-oriented decade.

Hit: Nobody Told Me

Hidden Gem: I Don’t Wanna Face It

Rocks In The Attic #678: Pink Floyd – ‘A Momentary Lapse Of Season’ (1987)

RITA#678Floyd should have called it a day after Roger Waters left.

In fact, I dislike The Final Cut so much, they should have ended it after The Wall as far as I’m concerned. What was left after his departure was an empty shell of a band, driven by David Gilmour’s amateurish mundane lyrics – assisted by red wine and cocaine – and a vain attempt to recreate the musical feel of Shine On You Crazy Diamond.

Is this actually Pink Floyd, because it really sounds like Tears For Fears popped into the studio to write and record the instrumental Terminal Frost?

That said, Lapse is still the most listenable – and least offensively boring – of the three post-Waters studio albums. The production and sound effects hark back to the glory days of classic Floyd, and the cover art, by returning Floyd alumni Storm Thorgerson, is a great image of an endless row of hospital beds on the English coast.

But the most telling part of the record’s packaging is the band photo found inside the inner gatefold. With keyboardist Richard Wright officially out of the band due to legal reasons, and only credited in the liner notes for his contributions to the recording, David Bailey’s photograph of the 1987 version of Pink Floyd features just the pairing of guitarist David Gilmour and drummer Nick Mason.

It marks the first time since 1971’s Meddle that a photo of the band has appeared in the artwork for any of their albums. But where the warts-and-all shot of Meddle presents the band as edgy students, Lapse now shows them as smug yuppy businessmen.

Hit: Learning To Fly

Hidden Gem: Signs Of Life

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Rocks In The Attic #677: Billy Joel – ‘The Stranger’ (1977)

RITA#677There are some records that you hear so much about, they become part of the furniture. The front cover becomes so familiar, it becomes part of the wallpaper of life. You see it all the time, but you’ve never heard it. The part of your brain that reasons why it’s so ubiquitous is usually extinguished by some other factor – a dislike of the artist in question, or the fans of the artist in question.

Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was one of those records for me. When I first heard it about five years ago, it hit me like a sledgehammer. Hit after hit after hit. That’s the reason it used to sit in the record collection of my friend’s parents. “Yellow vinyl, that is!” they used to proclaim as though that might have swayed me. It didn’t. So I just remained ignorant to it for the next twenty years or so.

Billy Joel’s commercial break-through, The Stranger, is another one. His fifth studio album, it plays like a Greatest Hits record. Strangely, it stalled at #2 on the US Billboard – despite staying there for six consecutive weeks in late 1977. None of the singles did particularly well either. They all sound like number ones, but the closest to the top spot was Just The Way You Are, which peaked at #3.

Having just seen Ben Folds in concert (on his Paper Aeroplane tour), it’s lovely to listen to the piano break in Scenes From An Italian Restaurant, and hear in one ten second blast where Folds got much of his playing style from.

Maybe the reason I wrote Billy Joel off was Uptown Girl – his enduring ‘80s hit from An Innocent Man. I love Uptown Girl – it might have been overplayed to death when I was growing up, but there’s a good reason why. The melodies are so catchy, it’s one of those songs I find myself singing out of the blue without hearing it – particularly the backing vocals that kick the song off, and accompany the instrumental break later in the song.

Okay everybody, on three. One…two…three… “ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh…

Hit: Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)

Hidden Gem: The Stranger

Rocks In The Attic #676: Dick Hyman – ‘The Purple Rose Of Cairo’ (1985)

RITA#676There’s a strange part of my brain that immediately dislikes any Woody Allen film from the 70’s, 80’s or 90’s in which he doesn’t appear as an actor, yet if he appears in one of his films post-2000 then I’m instantly disappointed. Maybe it’s easier to look beyond his supposed wrongdoings back in his youth, and the glimpse of him on screen post-allegations and post-Soon Yi relationship is just too jarring?

The Purple Rose Of Cairo is a rarity in that it’s one of only two of his 1980 films in which he doesn’t star or feature in a prominent role (1988’s Another Woman being the other). It’s probably a good casting decision – usually there’s a fantastical element of his work where his character ends up with somebody far more beautiful, desirable – or in the case of Manhattan, somebody far younger – than him. The audience is usually expected to suspend their disbelief that somebody like that could fall for somebody like him – a nebbish loser who looks like he’s crawled out of a Robert Crumb drawing.

But The Purple Rose Of Cairo is something else. It’s a fantasy film – but along the traditional lines of the genre – rather than a dating / relationship fantasy. Mia Farrow plays Cecilia, a downtrodden waitress in the midst of the Great Depression who finds solace in the escapism of the silver screen. After watching one film – The Purple Rose Of Cairo­ – numerous times at the local cinema, its lead actor, the charming Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels) breaks the fourth wall and recognises her from being sat in the audience so regularly. He emerges from the screen and enters the real world, where the pair go on an adventure involving an odd love-triangle between Cecilia, Tom and actor Gil Sheppard (Jeff Daniels again) who portrayed Tom in the fictional film.

RITA#676aIt’s a nice little film which affords Allen the opportunity to play around with the conventions of cinema, and while the main plotline is compelling enough, it’s the small sub-plot featuring the abandoned actors stuck on screen in the fictional film, conversing with the cinema owner, that I find the most enjoyable.

Jeff Daniels plays the enthusiastic all-American hero well – a part which the audience would have had difficulty swallowing if Allen had cast himself – and Mia Farrow plays to her strengths as the innocent pulled along for the ride.

The music, as per the Allen trademark, is period rag-time jazz, ably composed and conducted by Dick Hyman (‘period’ and ‘rag-time’ – what an unfortunate pair of labels!). The tunes are so well executed that they easily stand up to the one piece of contemporary music on the soundtrack – Irving Berlin’s Cheek To Cheek, sung by Fred Astaire, from the 1935 film Top Hat, which we leave Cecilia watching at the conclusion of the film.

Hit: Cheek To Cheek (Main Title) – Fred Astaire

Hidden Gem: Hollywood Fun