Monthly Archives: December 2012

Rocks In The Attic #195: Metallica – ‘Kill ‘Em All’ (1983)

RITA#195I love early Metallica, but not this album – their debut – so much. All the elements are there, but the songwriting isn’t as developed as on Ride The Lightning and the poor production of the album takes the power away from the band. Instead of an assault on the ears, everything sounds tinny and weak.

The cover art is fantastic, and it’s nice to see the band’s logo there from day one, but I bet James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich must hate the band photo on the back cover. Kirk Hammett looks exactly like he does today, just with softer skin – but Hetfield, Ulrich, and the now-deceased bass player Cliff Burton just look like spotty teenagers. Hetfield and Ulrich were both only 19 at the time of recording this album, with Hammett and Burton a more seasoned 21.

What an achievement to have spearheaded a new musical genre – thrash metal – at such an early age…

Hit: Seek & Destroy

Hidden Gem: (Anesthesia) – Pulling Teeth

Rocks In The Attic #194: Tracy Chapman – ‘Tracy Chapman’ (1988)

RITA#194For a very long time, the hit on this album was undoubtedly Fast Car, but given the more famous cover of Baby Can I Hold You by Boyzone, this latter song now seems to eclipse everything else on here.

I remember having a conversation in the early 2000s with a couple of lesbian friends who were heading out that night to go and see Joni Mitchell play live in concert. I suddenly smelt a rat. Knowing that Mitchell played live very irregularly, I pushed them for more information and eventually found out it was Tracy Chapman they were about to see. Even though she’s no Joni Mitchell, I’d still be happy to see Chapman play live, but what a faux pas to make! Hardly surprising coming from a pair of girls who were so culturally bereft – Tracy Chapman was probably wasted on them.

A friend once told me that you shouldn’t get emotional or nostalgic about music, as it ruins your ability to judge art in a level-headed manner. This album reminds me of a former girlfriend who introduced me to it and used to play it all the time. Despite the happy memories, I still think it’s a good album that’s stood the test of time very well.

Hit: Baby Can I Hold You

Hidden Gem: Behind The Wall

Rocks In The Attic #193: The Rolling Stones – ‘Voodoo Lounge’ (1994)

RITA#193As a late-career album (their 20th British studio album, and 22nd American studio album), this should be pretty bad. In fact, it’s relatively inoffensive.

Voodoo Lounge came out when I used to watch MTV religiously, so the lead single from the album, Love Is Strong, really makes me think of the great video where the band – now minus Bill Wyman – are slow-mo giants playing their instruments whilst walking through a cityscape. Looking back, the video just reminds me of The Goodies’ giant cats roving through a miniature London.

I’m not sure where the fashion for overly long albums started. I guess somewhere along the way somebody decided that more content on an album is better for the fans, or a bigger selling point perhaps. Voodoo Lounge clocks in at just over an hour, which is far too long for what is considered a single album.

I never got to see the Stones play live, and it looks increasingly unlikely given their age, and my location in the world, that I’ll get to see them. I really regret this, but I seem to remember ticket prices on this tour and the following Bridges To Babylon tour were astronomical. I should have paid to see them in Germany, supported by AC/DC no less, on the A Bigger Bang tour.

Despite it being unlikely to see them play in New Zealand, there is one thing that might make them come here. Keith Richards’ brain surgery (after falling out of a coconut tree in 2006) was performed in Auckland, so maybe he’ll come back to thank the doctors and surgeons who saved his life. Hopefully he’ll avoid climbing coconut trees in the future, as the band will cease to exist without him.

Perhaps it’s a good thing I never got to see them. I recently saw them on TV playing their 50th anniversary concerts and they sounded terrible. I think they can hit magic from time to time in the studio, but they don’t seem to be able to cut it live.

Hit: Love Is Strong

Hidden Gem: Brand New Car

Rocks In The Attic #192: Alexandre Desplat & Mark Mothersbaugh – ‘Moonrise Kingdom (O.S.T.)’ (2012)

RITA#192I made a rule when I started writing this blog that I was only going to write about 12” records – full albums, and not EPs or 12” singles. I’m breaking that rule by writing about this little oddity, because I love it.

Released as a limited edition 10” Record Store Day release on Black Friday (November 23rd) in 2012, this collects nineteen minutes of score from Wes Anderson’s latest film. With only certain soundtrack releases getting a vinyl release these days, I never expected to be able to walk into a store and buy a Wes Anderson soundtrack on vinyl. Even though this is only a 10”, it’s a happy addition to my collection.

I finally got around to watching Moonrise Kingdom the other day, and despite being a huge Wes Anderson fan, I was pretty disappointed. The film looked fantastic, and the music was just as good as it ever is in his films, but the character arcs didn’t really go anywhere and overall if just came off like a watered-down version of a Wes Anderson film, just like The Darjeeling Limited was five years ago.

These exclusive Record Store Day releases are really becoming something to look out for – and it’s great that there now seems to be two release dates each year.

Hit: The Heroic Weather-Conditions Of The Universe, Part 1: A Veiled Mist

Hidden Gem: The Heroic Weather-Conditions Of The Universe, Part 7: After The Storm

Rocks In The Attic #190: Supergrass – ‘In It For The Money’ (1997)

RITA#190I remember being at University when this album was released, and seeing the music video to Going Out. I hated it. It was everything that Britpop was in my eyes – twee, kitsch and horribly self-confident.

Then I heard Radiohead’s The Bends, and my tastes started to soften. Prior to this, I was stuck in a world of sleeveless denim jackets, guitar solos and ‘heavier than thou’ rock and metal. Listening to The Bends, I realised that there could be a lot of good material to be found in this genre – as long as I stayed away from the overtly-kitsch stuff.

This was all cemented when I bought a compilation CD called Danger Zone. This mainly consisted of heavier examples of Britpop, like Blur’s Song 2 and Supergrass’ Richard III. Aside from that Going Out video, the only thing I knew about Supergrass was that catchy Alright single from their first album, which was exactly everything I hated about Britpop – smiley, over-confident drivel.

When I heard Richard III, I changed my mind about the band instantly. I couldn’t believe that such a poppy band was capable of recorded a tune that rocked out more than the rock music I was listening to at the time. There’s a lovely bit in the song when the drums fall out after the chorus, and the guitar plays a two-chord motif. When the bass comes in as a counterpoint, it sounds as though the guitar is changing key, but it’s just a trick of the ears. This to me, was of greater musical interest than any British rock bands of the time like The Wildhearts and Terrorvision.

I’m not a huge fan of Supergrass’ first album. I’ll listen to it, and enjoy it when I do, but I think In It For The Money is a masterpiece (and a huge step forward from their debut). As a guitarist, it’s fantastic to come across such an album full of riffs and chord progressions you want to play. Richard III, Sun Hits The Sky, Tonight and Late In The Day all feature really nice guitar parts that are seem to be natural progression to ‘70s guitar-based rock. I owned the guitar tab book for it at one point, but must have sold it when I was losing ballast to emigrate to New Zealand.

It took me a long time to realise but it’s so important not to listen to what the music press says, especially when they’re pigeon-holing a band into a specific genre. For me, Supergrass are the personification of how dangerously misleading such labelling can be. I was only fortunate to see the band play live once, at Glastonbury in 2004 but I immensely enjoyed standing in the rain in the Pyramid field watching them race through their afternoon setlist.

Hit: Late In The Day

Hidden Gem: Tonight

Rocks In The Attic #189: The Pointer Sisters – ‘Break Out’ (1983)

RITA#189This album (credited to ‘Pointer Sisters’, without the definitive article) just makes me happy. It’s chock-full of hits – Jump, Automatic, Neutron Dance – and is just a very happy record, bringing the positive demeanour of 1970’s soul into the 1980s.

Being a child of the ‘80s, I recognise Neutron Dance from Beverly Hills Cop (it’s the energetic song that opens the film, as Eddie Murphy is hanging off the back of the truck full of stolen cigarettes), but Jump is still played regularly on the radio (despite its ‘revival’ by Girls Aloud and that version appearing in Love Actually). It’s the song Automatic that is the highlight of the album for me though. I knew the song before it appeared in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, but like most of the songs on that soundtrack, the song now reminds me so much of the video game that I find it hard to disassociate the two.

The Pointer Sisters recently played in New Zealand (around the same time that Bonnie Pointer, one of the original members of the band, had been arrested in LA for possession of crack cocaine). Only one of the original four sisters was present, which kind of speaks for itself. I didn’t go and see them, as I truly believed I would have been disappointed – these revival tours can be really damaging to the memory and nostalgia you can have for a band. My love for Blondie has barely survived seeing the band play live twice in the last decade, and I wouldn’t want the same thing to happen here.

Hit: Jump

Hidden Gem: Nightline

Rocks In The Attic #188: The Beatles – ‘Rubber Soul’ (1965)

RITA#188I love Rubber Soul. Not as much as Revolver, but as a contemporary album to rival the likes of Dylan, it’s a fine piece of work. There seems to be a lot of love for Rubber Soul in the USA, although I’m usually unsure whether it’s the standard British version or the American version of the album that attracts such attention.

I’ve never heard the American version of the album – I’ve heard all the songs obviously – but when I look at the tracklisting online, it just seems odd. There’s no Drive My Car, no Nowhere Man, no If I Needed Someone, and no What Goes On (although that last omission is probably for the better). In their place, and tacked onto the beginning of each side, are two songs from Help!I’ve Just Seen A Face and It’s Only Love. Apparently this was to make it sound more like a folk-rock album, to appeal to the American tastes like Dylan and The Byrds.

Although the songs on Rubber Soul are light years ahead of Help!, they also sound light years away from the genius of Revolver. The Rubber Soul sessions are notable for the band starting to include straightforward riff-based rock in their songwriting. Day Tripper (recorded during the Rubber Soul sessions but released as a double-A-side single alongside We Can Work It Out) and Drive My Car may sound like pastiches of the Motown sound, but their influence on guitar-based rock music is underrated. This is a full year before Hendrix burst onto the London music scene, but Lennon, McCartney and Harrison seem to effortlessly create this blueprint while paying homage to the type of music they were listening to at the time.

Hit: Drive My Car

Hidden Gem: I’m Looking Through You

Rocks In The Attic #187: Aerosmith – ‘Music From Another Dimension!’ (2012)

RITA#187Aerosmith used to be a rock band, back in the day. They were a bad-ass rock band in the ‘70s, and nearly lost it all before coming back to rule again in the late-‘80s.

The peak of that second stab at popularity was 1989’s Pump. Pump is a great album. It’s starting to sound a little dated now, but at the time it was as fresh and cutting-edge as anything recorded by bands in their 20s and 30s. But the last song on Pump can be blamed for the current state of Aerosmith.

What It Takes is a slow acoustic number, a broken-hearts song done in the style of a bar-room Country & Western song. In fact, it’s a pastiche of a Country & Western song. Steven Tyler even sings the lyrics in a mock-country style (think Mick Jagger’s vocals on Dead Flowers from Sticky Fingers). But despite all this, it’s still a very good song.

Prior to this, Aerosmith songs had fallen into two camps – straightforward rockers, or slower blues-based mid-tempo songs (with the odd power ballad starting to rear its ugly head from 1987’s Permanent Vacation onwards). But What It Takes changes all that. From their next album, 1993’s Get A Grip, the band thinks it’s reasonably acceptable to litter their material with country songs.

Wait a minute guys, What It Takes was a good song, but it was a pastiche, remember? You were parodying the hillbilly nature of that style of music. This wasn’t meant to be a new direction!

So Get A Grip, aside from the straightforward rockers, is jammed pack full of Country & Western tinged songs – Crazy, Cryin’ and Amazing. It’s heavy Country & Western, but Country & Western all the same. The rest of Get A Grip isn’t too bad, but these three songs, all released as singles, stink up the rest of the album.

The formula then gets repeated through 1997’s okay Nine Lives and 2001’s dreadful Just Push Play. I was momentarily excited by a back-to-basics blues album, in 2004’s Honkin’ On Bobo, but despite a nice collection of blues covers, even this album reeked of Country & Western. They may be classic blues songs, but the instrumentation and arrangement still sounds miles away from the 1970s glory years.

Then we come to Music From Another Dimension! – “the band’s first studio album of all new songs in 11 years!”. They needn’t have bothered. For about twenty years now, they’ve stopped being relevant. The whole Country & Western theme has reached its absolute nadir in the song Can’t Stop Lovin’ You – a duet with Carrie Underwood who, believe it or not, is a Country singer.

Not long ago, I watched a really bad Kevin Costner film. I know that’s quite a vague term, given the number of really bad Kevin Costner films, but this one was particularly bad. Good ol’ Kevin played a good ol’ boy in the American South, who ends up, for reasons too implausible to repeat here, having the casting vote in the American presidential election. The two nominees – played by Dennis Hopper and Kelsey Grammer – make their way to Kevin’s hometown, to woo him with his favourite things in life. In one vignette, Kevin gets to go driving with his favourite racecar driver. Kevin plays in a Country & Western band, so the other nominee invites him to a party where, guess what, his band are on stage all ready to start playing. Kevin steps up and rips into the usual 21st century Country & Western drivel – all broken-hearts and melancholic euphoria, like Coldplay covering a Willie Nelson song. It’s the worst song you’ve ever heard in your life, and more than enough to make you question whether Dance With Wolves was really any good, or just a lucky strike by an actor who has dealt in various shades of mediocrity ever since.

The song he sings really is the low point of a very poor film. If you arranged all of the songs you’ve ever heard in your life from good to bad, this one would be at the bottom end. Surely nothing could be worse than this, right? Then you listen to Aerosmith and Carrie Underwood singing Can’t Stop Lovin’ You – and suddenly, in comparison, you have fond nostalgic memories of that Kevin Costner song.

There’s not a great deal of good things to say about this album – the cover art is terrible (they’ve somehow managed to top Just Push Play in true awfulness) and there’s very little in the way of decent material. Out Go The Lights is built around a nice funky riff, in the style of Last Child, but the rest is just embarrassing.

At least contemporary Rolling Stones albums still sound like the Rolling Stones. Aerosmith sound like a completely different band. Steven Tyler falls back on that horrible scat-style of singing, which just sounds infantile. Other lyrics are just rewritten nursery rhymes, with the odd word changed to try to sound inventive. It all comes across as a band that have run out of ideas (and run out of steam).

Except Joey Kramer. His drumming on the first side of the album is spot-on, and proof that he really is an underrated rock drummer. I guess that’s what happens when you hang around with band members who now trade in Country & Western (and mediocrity).

Hit: Legendary Child

Hidden Gem: Out Go The Lights

Rocks In The Attic #186: Status Quo – ‘Rockin’ All Over The World’ (1977)

RITA#186I’ve grown up all my life thinking Rockin’ All Over The World was a Status Quo song! I regard myself as being a pretty big Creedence fan but I’m shocked to hear it was written and originally released by John Fogerty. Well, you learn something new every day.

I can understand why people don’t like Quo. They really are a one-trick band. At one time I was besotted with the song Caroline, which I still think is very cleverly written from a musical standpoint – but they seem to fall back on up-tempo 12-bar blues far too easily. The only refreshing parts of their music are when they stray from this formula – and unfortunately that isn’t often enough.

This is album number ten, so the formula is well established by this point.

Hit: Rockin’ All Over The World

Hidden Gem: Hard Time