Monthly Archives: January 2013

Rocks In The Attic #203: Nirvana – ‘Bleach’ (1989)

RITA#202I remember wanting this album so much to be better than it actually is. That’s the curse when you start listening to music – your ability to critique isn’t fully established, so instead of just accepting that an album isn’t all that great, you just dig your heels in and listen to it more, as though you can potentially make it better just by the act of repetition.

Bleach is far from being as good as Nevermind, and it’s not even in the same league as In Utero, which I’ve always regarded as their best and most consistent album. Listening to Bleach now though, it seems to have aged very well. I remember listening to the album throughout the ‘90s was always a bit of a chore, something I had to do every once in a while to fulfil my duties as a Nirvana fan.

One aspect I could never get over at the time was how laid-back the drums were, by Dave Grohl’s predecessor Chad Channing. Again, in hindsight the drum parts don’t seem too bad. The technique and power of Dave Grohl from Nevermind is noticeably absent, but I feel pretty guilty that Chad Channing had been unfairly maligned simply for not being Dave Grohl.

Dave Grohl eh, I wonder what ever happened to him?

Hit: About A Girl

Hidden Gem: School

Rocks In The Attic #202: Weezer – ‘Weezer’ (1994)

RITA#202Last night I high-fived Rivers Cuomo.

After 18 years of being a fan of Weezer, I finally got to see them pay live last night. Of all the (contemporary) bands that I really liked in the early ‘90s, I think they’re one of the last ones – if not the last – that I’ve caught live. Everybody else I saw at the time, I think.

Weezer played a greatest hits set first, followed by an intermission (where their sound guy did a nice slide-show of some early band photos on the big screen), followed by a run through of this entire album, their debut, commonly known as The Blue Album.

This also marks the first time I’ve caught one of these nostalgia gigs where a band runs through one of their classic albums in its entirety. Or at least I think it’s the first time. I’ve seen plenty of bands on their first tours supporting their debut albums, so I may have seen something similar unintentionally in the past.

I got a lot of stick for liking this album when it came out – mainly from one friend at college who just couldn’t get his head around Buddy Holly – a poppy sing-along song if I’ve ever heard one; but I think their back catalogue validates clearly that they’re more than a one-hit wonder with flashy Spike Jonze MTV videos.

This album reminds me a lot of walking to college, through the winter of 1994, listening on my Discman. It’s funny how an album, conceived in California and recorded in New York City, can take on a whole other meaning in a grim Northern English town.

It’s one of those albums that I can listen to over and over and not get tired – a batch of tunes with great melodies, well produced (by The Cars’ Ric Ocasek). I’ve never been a big fan of their other albums – I bought Pinkerton when it came up (the follow-up to this), and I only listened to it once, naively disappointed that it wasn’t The Blue Album. Last night’s greatest hits performance really reminded me of how much I love their later single Hash Pipe though.

And it’s always good to high-five your heroes – especially in the usually impersonal environments of an arena gig.

Hit: Buddy Holly

Hidden Gem: The World Has Turned And Left Me Here

Rocks In The Attic #201: Led Zeppelin – ‘Remasters’ (1990)

RITA#201I remember finding this – the triple-LP edition – in the racks at King Bee Records in Chorlton. I didn’t need it; I already had all the Zeppelin albums on vinyl (I had made this my first priority when I started buying vinyl). So why would I fork out for this, two hours and thirteen minutes of music I already owned?

Looking at my record collection as a whole, this compilation probably means more to me than any other compilation out there. When I first started listening to rock music, this set – the double-CD edition – was one of the first things I pilfered from my Dad’s collection. I only knew the odd Zeppelin song at that point, so it was a lot to take in at first listen. The CD version is slightly longer too, as it adds Misty Mountain Hop and The Rain Song, which are both absent from the vinyl version.

I remember being challenged listening to this compilation – as both a listener of music, and also an aspiring musician – trying to find a way in to a very dense, rich set of songs that were completely new on me. Zeppelin songs are thankfully absent from being used (and overused) in television and film, so it’s not like I had a frame of reference from hearing the songs elsewhere.

The collection encompasses their entire career too, so there are various genres of music covered. Up to now I had only listened to rock, and rock alone; but here was Zeppelin playing heavy blues, soul, R&B, reggae, and all shades of rock in-between. As a guitarist listening to this for the first time, Jimmy Page’s catalogue of guitar riffs are a wonderful thing to discover.

It’s also pretty unique in that, yes it’s a compilation, but Zeppelin never released any singles; so what is it exactly a compilation of? In 1990, Jimmy Page got together with George Marino and remastered their entire back catalogue, releasing them over two boxed sets. The Remasters album is a scaled-down “sampler” of those two sets. With no list of hit singles to choose a tracklisting from, Remasters is simply a collection of the songs Jimmy Page regards as the bands most popular songs.

This album led me onto buying each of their studio albums, one by one. I already had Led Zeppelin II on vinyl (again, stolen from my Dad’s record collection), but that was the first one I bought on CD because I loved it so much. I think I then bought each of the studio albums in chronological order.

Remasters served as a way in to each studio album; there were always a couple of songs at least on every album that I knew from Remasters. When I listen to the album now, it just washes over me because I know it so well – it’s part of my musical DNA. Sometimes it gets so bad that I have to really think hard about which song I’m listening to. I find that happens a lot when you know a compilation album so well. Without the flow that the songs were intended for on their original studio album, they take on a structure of their own.

Hit: Stairway To Heaven

Hidden Gem: Achilles Last Stand

Rocks In The Attic #200: Radiohead – ‘The Bends’ (1995)

RITA#200The 200th post in this blog celebrates an album that is probably more important to the development of my musical tastes than any other album in my collection.

In the early ‘90s, when I discovered music for myself – and discovered bands like Aerosmith and AC/DC (that I couldn’t care less if other people liked or not) – I was very much into rock music. I naively thought all other genres of music were a waste of time. I either liked contemporary rock, or classic rock, with a touch of metal and grunge thrown in for good measure.

I then went to University, joined the Rock Society club and found other like-minded people. The rest of the time, I would be drinking in pubs with my classmates, usually dressed in an AC/DC or Led Zeppelin t-shirt, with my shoulder-length long hair; and my classmates would be dressed like normal people. Ugh, who wants to be normal people?

Around this time, and from the time I started listening to music, Indie and Britpop were my enemy. This is partly the fault of the hype surrounding Oasis, and partly the fault of those normal people all around me, like the red-headed chick a year above me in college who just couldn’t fathom that I wasn’t going to the big Oasis gig at Maine Road later that night. Britpop was a club that I didn’t want to join, full of bands like Pulp, who sang about twee nonsense whilst mincing around a stage littered with kitsch charity-shop junk. “Jarvis is really a fantastic social commentator,” I would be told. That’s strange, I thought, he looks like a collector of chintz, singing mediocre songs, backed by a band of average musicians.

(I guess that’s the point I still agree with today. If you listen to rock music, you tend to listen to a better pedigree of musician. The lines have blurred completely, because rock music is now so mainstream, and has been for the past decade, but when I think back to the 1990’s, the Indie or Britpop bands were full of musicians who just couldn’t really play. Noel Gallagher may have started off as a decent songwriter – although it pains me to say it – but his skills on the guitar are very basic. Listen to him solo and he plays the same pentatonic scale every single time. Compare him to somebody like Slash, and there’s just no contest. You may think it’s an unfair comparison, but players like Slash aren’t that uncommon in rock music.)

Anyway, I digress. So, there I am at University, in my second year I think, and it’s getting a little tired listening to rock music all the time. It’s not like I had run out of rock bands to listen to, but there was definitely nothing decent that was coming out by contemporary bands. Bright young rock hopes like The Wildhearts had lost their way and gone all industrial, and Terrorvision had gone completely mainstream, singing about Tequila on Top Of The Pops every week. Then one day I was in the Scream pub in Huddersfield, and somebody put Just by Radiohead on the jukebox.

My whole outlook on music changed instantly. Here was an Indie or a Britpop band, playing something that was just as musically interesting as anything that I had heard in rock music – either in contemporary rock music or in classic rock. I rushed out and bought the album straight away.

Just was clearly the best song on the album, accompanied by a great music video, but there was some other really good stuff on there too. I very quickly bought Pablo Honey (average, but with a couple of highlights) and OK Computer (overrated, but with a couple of highlights), but The Bends remained my favourite (and still does to this day).

The rest of my years at University were spent digesting everything I could by Radiohead. I even remember buying one of those cheaply produced interview discs with the band, just because my appetite for anything related to them was so strong.

Their lasting effect on my musical tastes is impossible to quantify. I made a huge left turn from my existing staid music collection, and turned almost wholeheartedly into Indie and Britpop. I started listening to some bad examples of the genre (Cast, Space, Bis, etc), but found plenty of modern classics there too (The Las, Blur, Supergrass, etc). This eye-opening led to a decision that I’m still in two minds about today. In the summer of 1999, I decided against seeing Aerosmith headline a day of rock bands at Wembley Stadium, in favour of travelling to my first of many Glastontonbury festivals.

I guess it was just bad timing, but I still partly regret not seeing Aerosmith that weekend. One of my friends went to that gig, and when he told me about the setlist they played, full of ‘70s classics they had avoided playing in the three times I had seen them up to that point, I immediately started kicking myself. But then when I think back to Glastonbury 1999, and all the bands I saw not only that year, but every year I went back up to and including 2007, it’s not really a fair comparison.

If I had seen Aerosmith at Wembley Stadium in 1999, I would have seen my favourite ever band, supported by the likes of Lenny Kravitz (who I was lucky enough to catch that same weekend at Glastonbury) and The Black Crowes (who I still haven’t managed to see live). By deciding to go to the Glastonbury festival that year, and over the next six Glastonburys I went to, I managed to see David Bowie, Radiohead, R.E.M., Manic Street Preachers, Suzanne Vega, The White Stripes, Super Furry Animals, Oasis, The Who, Paul McCartney, Muse, Doves, Coldplay, Air, The Chemical Brothers, The Bluetones, Fatboy Slim, Kings Of Leon, Moby, The Killers, Blondie, Amy Winehouse, and a whole lot more.

Radiohead almost lost me with OK Computer, but they definitely lost me after that. At one point, I remember seeing them play a live gig on TV, I think to promote Kid-A. At one point during the set, Jonny Greenwood took off his guitar and walked over to a bank of portable TVs. He crouched down and started flicking through channels as part of the performance. That’s it, I thought, they’ve turned into something else.

I liked Radiohead as a guitar band, when they used to write songs on guitars. I’d even be brave enough to say The Bends is the best album of the 1990s.

Hit: Street Spirit (Fade Out)

Hidden Gem: Bullet Proof…I Wish I Was

Rocks In The Attic #199: Various Artists – ‘Beverly Hills Cop (O.S.T.)’ (1984)

RITA#199They don’t make comedies like this anymore – and they don’t make soundtracks like this anymore either (which I’m sure is quite a good thing to some people). They really got good at putting pop music soundtracks together in the ‘80s. Looking back, you can sort of see how much a gamble it was to put an orchestral score on the Star Wars films, if the trend of the times was to use a pop music soundtrack. Still, I’d like to have heard Harold Faltermeyer have a stab at a Luke S theme.

As far as ‘80s soundtracks go, this isn’t the best of the bunch – there’s still quite a lot of filler on here – but there’s a fair few decent songs too. Ex-Eagle Glenn Frey’s The Heat Is On is the big single, followed by Axel F by Harold Faltermeyer; but there’s also Neutron Dance by the Pointer Sisters and a couple of decent songs by Pattie LaBelle – New Attitude and Stir It Up.

The soundtrack is good at evoking that ‘80s West Coast vacuum that Axel Foley discovers in the film, and it also reminds you of a genuinely enjoyable comedy back in the days when Eddie Murphy was still funny.

Hit: The Heat Is On – Glenn Frey

Hidden Gem: Stir It Up – Patti LaBelle

Rocks In The Attic #198: AC/DC – ‘Let There Be Rock’ (1977)

RITA#198This album is such a quantum leap from Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, but it still doesn’t sound like the AC/DC of today. The production is more confident than the band’s previous two albums, but the overall sound comes across as noisy rather than channelled, as though the engineer and the producers made a few bad choices on the day of the recording, in terms of setting up the mics in the studio for the amps.

When I started listening to AC/DC in the early ‘90s they were terribly unfashionable. Just like Iron Maiden and Def Leppard, they were seen as relics of the ‘70s and ‘80s – something that just wasn’t relevant any more, to anybody. I couldn’t believe when I found a friend at college who liked the band too. I truly thought I was alone in liking them.

Then slowly, they started to become less of a laughing stock, and more of a valid influence on people. When I started DJing in the late ‘90s, I would slip the odd ‘DC track into my set, mainly to blank stares. Then something happened in popular culture – I’m not exactly sure what – but they suddenly became a very cool band to listen to. Each week, I started getting requests to play some of their stuff – and not specific songs either, just a “’Ere mate, you got any ‘DC?”, as though anything I could have played by the band would have sufficed.

Now, thanks to films like Iron Man featuring Back In Black (and its sequel featuring an entire set of ‘DC songs), the band seems to be everywhere. Now I just need to wait for that Aerosmith revival to happen…

Hit: Whole Lotta Rosie

Hidden Gem: Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be

Rocks In The Attic #197: R.E.M. – ‘Automatic For The People’ (1992)

RITA#197This was one of the first CDs I ever bought. In fact, it might have been only the second or third such purchase. As soon as I started listening to music obsessively, I joined one of those music mail-order clubs, where you choose a stack of CDs for a really low price, and then they try and send you the latest new release every month. Automatic For The People was in that first stack of CDs I bought from them. I thought then, as I do now, that it’s a perfect album. There’s nothing about it that I dislike, and it’s remained a firm favourite ever since.

R.E.M. fans will have you believe that their earlier albums are where it’s at, but for me, everything they ever did in their formative years leads to this album, and everything they did afterwards was just a steady downhill decline. If somebody was foolish enough to say that Murmur or Reckoning was a better album than this, I’d just laugh in their stupid face. There’s a horrible trend for musos to instantly dislike an album as soon as it’s crossed over into the mainstream and achieved a certain level of acclaim. I’m probably guilty of having done this from time to time. To dismiss this album in that fashion though would be a real mistake for anybody to make.

I’ve listened to this album on a couple of road trips, and it seems to attain something different when you listen to it while travelling. I’m not exactly sure what it is, but I think the mood of the album seems to make more sense. R.E.M. are a very American band – they deal in Americana – sometimes to the detriment to their reputation outside their native country, to people who might not necessarily always ‘get’ them; but I think the universal themes of the album – loss, regret and longing – seem to connect better somehow on the road.

Hit: Everybody Hurts

Hidden Gem: Drive