Monthly Archives: September 2014

Rocks In The Attic #344: The Rolling Stones – ‘Let It Bleed’ (1969)

RITA#344Rape…murder…it’s just a shot away. Nice lyrics there. This is a pretty bleak album, and those backing lyrics really set the scene. This was the first album to feature ex-Bluesbreaker Mick Taylor on guitar, and the last album to feature Brian Jones, who only plays on two songs.  By the time the album was released, Jones had been fired from the band he put together.

Of the ‘Big Four’ Stones albums, this is the one I got around to last. I inherited Sticky Fingers and Exile On Main St. from my Dad, both on vinyl, but he only had Let It Bleed on CD, so I left it. I then went back to the beginning and listened to the rest chronologically, meaning that I got to Beggar’s Banquet first, and this – it’s follow up – last.

It’s probably the one I listen to the most though. The sense of doom and gloom that seems to be hidden in the grooves – along with the music – is a big attraction – like the ending of The Empire Strikes Back, or the second half of Nabakov’s Lolita. It’s a downer, but it’s beautiful.

You can say what you want about the Stones – that they’re a devastatingly average rock ‘n roll band who have ridden on a wave of mediocrity for the last 50 years –  and you’d be more or less right; but you can’t take those four albums away from them. I’d say they’re all perfect, but it’s the imperfections that make them what they are.

Hit: Gimme Shelter

Hidden Gem: Live With Me

Rocks In The Attic #343: The Police – ‘Regatta de Blanc’ (1979)

RITA#343Good old white reggae, as the album title tries to tell us. I love the Police, but as much as I love the first album, it’s this album where they’re untouchable – one step closer to being the biggest band in the world. There’s an air of effortlessness about it all. For most bands, a song like Regatta de Blanc would be a demo recording, just a scrap of an idea – mostly instrumental with some indication of where the lyrics might go. In the Police’s hands, it’s turned into a fully realised song; one that would go on to win them a Grammy, no less.

There’s a great edition of Rock Goes To College, showing the band touring their first album in the UK. Their set is notable for including the first live performance of Message In A Bottle, before anybody in the audience had heard it – a standout, if not just for the fact that it’s my favourite Police song. Bloody hard to play on the guitar, impossible to sing in Sting’s vocal range, I love its final image of a solitary castaway – alone, but with a hundred billion other castaways.

Unfortunately there are hints of things to come on Regatta de Blanc too. Bring On The Night sounds like Sting making his first tentative steps towards his coffee-shop world music future. There’s traces of it on The Bed’s Too Big Without You too – middle-class poetry, all red wine and dinner parties. If I strain my ears, I can almost hear the yuppy conversations over some third-world cuisine.

On a lighter note, I’ve just done a frantic, white reggae dance to closing song No Time This Time for my one-year old. She thought it was the funniest thing in the world.

Hit: Message In A Bottle

Hidden Gem: Regatta de Blanc

Rocks In The Attic #342: Kiss – ‘Crazy Nights’ (1987)

RITA#342The song Crazy, Crazy Nights reminds me of two things – Mark & Lard’s afternoon show on BBC1 Radio (“Stop…. carry on!”), and the embarrassing fact that I used to like this kind of rock music, without any trace of irony.

As far as Kiss goes, this record falls into mid-period, make-up-free Kiss. Ace Frehley and Peter Criss are long gone at this point, replaced by Bruce Kulick on guitar and Eric Carr on drums. I remember reading once how Kulick was shot in L.A., outside the Rainbow, by a couple of stray bullets. As serious as it sounds, it’s almost in the Spinal Tap school of music anecdotes.

This album is terrible. It sounds nothing like the Kiss of the 1970s; instead it sounds like every other rock record released around this time. It’s music for the West Coast American summer, for strip clubs and Don Simpson / Jerry Bruckheimer movies; dumb music for dumb Americans.

Hit: Crazy, Crazy Nights

Hidden Gem: No, No, No

Rocks In The Attic #341: Manic Street Preachers – ‘Everything Must Go’ (1996)

RITA#341I’ve been listening to the Manics a lot recently. I tend to listen to Pandora at work, the online radio station where you can tailor-make your own channel. The Manic Street Preachers channel throws up some good stuff, and some great related artists. I find most of the time though, it just shows how fantastic the Manics used to be, and how fantastically average they are now. This album signals the end of them being a relevant force in music, and it was all downhill from here.

I was in my first year at University when this was released in 1996. I wasn’t a Manics fan at the time, so the band sort of passed me by until I discovered the first three albums a year or so later (all off the back of hearing Faster from The Holy Bible – the highlight song from their greatest album). But I remember hearing A Design For Life a lot during my first freshers term, and seeing them perform it on things like TFI Friday.

I eventually got around to hearing the album, and it’s a solid album, nothing bad about it, but a huge step down from The Holy Bible. You can see why all the Britpop kids went for it at the time – all big choruses and a stadium rock, wall of sound production. In fact, as a first album by a new band (which to a lot of people, it would have been), it’s great. Maybe that’s what they should have done – in a Joy Division / New Order kind of way – rather than continuing as their established name, despite the loss of an integral member of the band.

Richey Edwards? Fantastic lyricist, terrible guitarist. Left his car near a known suicide spot on the eve of an American tour to support The Holy Bible (shades of Ian Curtis there). I love The Holy Bible so much – for me it’s been my favourite album released during my lifetime. I love everything about it – everything that’s dark and depressing about it, and the very real fact that maybe something had to happen to the tortured soul of Richey Edwards for it to be made. All true art is suffering, and the lyrics of The Holy Bible paint a picture of somebody having a hard time coping with the realities of life.

The beauty of The Holy Bible is why the big dumb pop sound on Everything Must Go annoys me so much. With The Holy Bible, the Manics were an edgy post-punk rock band (via Guns ‘N Roses and Metallica). With Everything Must Go, they turned towards the anthemic, everyman qualities of Springsteen, with a sound perfect for the hordes of pissed-up mad-fer-it lads, bored with Oasis and too ignorant to understand anything beyond the lyrical complexities of ‘I know a girl called Elsa / She’s into Alka Seltzer’.

Terrible. The beginning of the end. What a waste of a once-great band.

Hit: A Design For Life

Hidden Gem: Small Black Flowers That Grow In The Sky