Twenty years on, Placebo suddenly sound very dated. Their brand of edgy, off-kilter rock was pioneered by the likes of Manic Street Preachers (on The Holy Bible), Radiohead and from lesser-knowns like Dark Star. At the time, Placebo seemed like the future. They were dangerous. They had a chap with a lady’s haircut wearing eyeliner. They were just three, making the noise of four or five.
But in the shadow of a band like Muse – a band who did this topsy-turvy future rock arguably better, and was more successful – Placebo sound a little redundant. They almost sound a little like a nostalgia act. Remember the ‘90s? We used to watch Friends and TFI Friday, laugh at the Spice Girls and drink lots of snakebite? Placebo was a core element of all that.
On one hand there was Britpop – Oasis and their imitators (Ocean Colour Scene, Embrace, Space, Cast, ad infinitum), and then on the other hand there was bands like Placebo; bands which promised that the bland indie bogeys just might not win the war. Looking around in the good year 2015, aside from a few successful indie revivalists (Kaiser Chiefs, Coldplay, Elbow) and crossover acts (Kasabian, Franz Ferdinand) I’m claiming a win for the heavier end of the wedge.
A great mid-‘80s compilation of everybody’s favourite saxophonist (?!?!?) Ray Charles, I bought this after What’d I Say got stuck in my head once. I picked up the 7” of What’d I Say, but I needed more. And this gave me everything I needed – his band-stomping singles throughout the 1950s. Rock n’ roll in everything but name, before rock n’ roll even existed.
I’d always loved Mess Around ever since I’d seen John Candy come across it on a late-night radio station in Planes, Trains & Automobiles. It’s a great scene, with Candy playing air piano, air saxophone and generally having a great old time while Steve Martin slept in the seat next to him.
Some of these singles have aged a little better than others. I’ve Got A Woman sounds like it was written yesterday; helped along by Kanye West’s recent “re-imagining” of the song with Jamie Foxx. On the other hand, a song like It Should’ve Been Me sounds like it’s stuck in the 1950s; the sound of a musical artist filling the need for material, maybe just doing what’s asked of him, while still trying to find his true voice.
That voice was well and truly in place by the time That’s Enough came around in 1959. Just six years after he exploded onto the R&B charts with Mess Around, Ray sounds masterful.
But What’d I Say? Man, I could listen to that electric piano intro on a loop for the rest of my life and I’d never get bored of it.
Of the Floyd’s run of albums primarily driven by Roger Waters’ songwriting (Atom Heart Mother all the way up to The Wall), this was the one I discovered last. It’s one of my favourites though, alongside Meddle and Obscured By Clouds. I struggle with anything prior to this. I have Ummagumma, but I seldom listen to it, and the Syd Barrett albums don’t really float my boat either.
Everything about Atom Heart Mother is awesome, from the cover to the wicked Atom Heart MotherSuite that takes up the whole of the first slide, to the collection of random hippy-inflected songs on side two.
That first side is where it’s at though. It’s killer. It’s ominous. It sounds so wrong yet so right at the same time. The orchestra must have wondered what on earth this long haired hippy was telling them to play. I once heard the band play it live on the radio – presumably from one of the only times it was played live. My father-in-law turned it off in disgust, saying “This isn’t Pink Floyd!”
What is Pink Floyd though? For the vast majority of casual listeners, Pink Floyd equals Dark Side Of The Moon. But as we all know, that isn’t true at all.
The thrift stores / charity shops in New Zealand aren’t great. We call them op shops here, short for ‘opportunity’. I’m not really sure why. I guess it’s like jandals (flip-flops) and trundlers (trolleys) – they just decided on their own name when they started up over here.
I check the op shops every now and again, but aside from a face-full of Nana Mouskouri (and what a face!), I tend to leave empty-handed with dirty hands and a smell of dead people in my nostrils. Fingering Nana Mouskouri seldom has its rewards. I might find an album like this for a dollar; and of course the name of the producer on the back (the Beatles’ George Martin) means that a dollar will be well-spent.
If you look at George Martin’s post-Beatles’ career in the ‘70s, there seems to be a lot of material along the lines of America – safe AOR, possibly more suited to Martin’s age at the time. All accomplished musicians but hardly anything to rock the boat. He probably deserved something a little stressful after revolutionising recording techniques with the fab four. This was like his retirement. It was either this or cruising.
Oddly, the artwork for the album cover was by Phil Hartman, at the time a little-known artist who would end up on Saturday Night Live and on the early seasons of the Simpsons as Troy McClure. Hartman was eventually murdered by his wife in the middle of the night in 1998.
Gun-control might make America the country very dangerous, but America the band are very safe. It’s almost impossible to believe that George Martin produced them, given how similar every song sounds production-wise. They’re well recorded of course, but there’s just no production. I think I bought this record on the same day as I bought Seals & Croft’s Greatest Hits, a collection of similarly radio-friendly hits and Chicago’s X album. They were probably from the same person’s collection. It’s nice that I was able to keep them together.
I used to be a big fan of Muse. Right from the first album too – essentially ever since I read in the NME about a guitarist with crazy effects pedals in an up and coming band from Devon. Then I heard Sunburn in a club somewhere and I was hooked. Muse to me sound like the natural progression of Radiohead if they had gone in that direction after The Bends rather than the avant garde bullshit they swapped their guitars for.
I was lucky enough to see Muse touring this album; a mid-afternoon set on the Other Stage at Glastonbury in 2000. I would see them touring the second album too, and then I stupidly overlooked their headlining slot at Glastonbury touring the third album (but that’s another story altogether).
The Radiohead comparisons are inevitable, with this debut record being produced by John Leckie, producer of The Bends. Showbiz – the title song – draws the most comparisons with Radiohead, borrowing the ominous slow-burn they perfected across The Bends and OK Computer. I remember being stood at festivals when Muse first came out and listening to people trying to pigeon-hole them. “They’re just Radiohead in different clothes.” “Nah, they’re Queen for the 21st century.” Whatever. It’s a shame that when bands come out, they just have to be put into a box. People can’t just accept that a band exists on its own merits. But then once a band is accepted, that band is then used as a comparison for newer bands. “Royal Blood? They’re just Muse mixed with the Black Keys, aren’t they?” Ad infinitum.
The great thing about Muse when they started out is that they were a solid package right from the get-go. If you look at that Glastonbury set from 2000, Matt Bellamy has all the vocal histrionics down pat. This wasn’t something he developed over time (like Chris Martin’s woeful hopping on one leg holding his ribcage with one arm). It was also nice to see Bellamy dive into the drum kit, hanging onto bass player Christopher Wolstenholme’s back, at the end of the set too. It was things like this that made me sit up and realise that rock and roll was coming back, after a few years anxiously waiting for Britpop to go through its final death rattles.
The old ball and chain regularly buys records from the local charity shop for art projects. She’s been making record dividers recently for a guy who commissioned her to make some for his collection. Usually she brings home the type of naff you’d expect – Nana Mouskouri, Max Bygraves, and country and western compilations “as seen on TV’. The other day I caught her about to use / destroy this record.
I’ve seen the film before, only once or twice and quite a while ago, but I couldn’t let a perfectly good soundtrack go to waste. I’ve since listened to it, and it’s a great little upbeat, synth-driven score. David Hentschel, as well as being a producer for Trident Studios, was a sought-after session synth player throughout the ‘70s, most notably playing on Elton John’s Rocket Man and also the synth-heavy Funeral For A Friend from the awesome Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album.
Production-wise, the soundtrack doesn’t sound too far away from something like the score to Withnail & I, another gem of the British film industry released around the same time. I must try and watch Educating Rita again – remind myself that assonance means getting the rhyme wrong.
Hit: Educating Rita
Hidden Gem: Franks Theme Pt. 1 (A Dead, Good Poet)
Apparently it’s illegal to send this band’s records through the post…
The Big Four? Metallica? Yes. Slayer? Yes. Megadeth? Yes. Anthrax? Hmm. For some reason, these guys never got to my ears when I used to listen to metal.
It does amuse me how these four bands have been grouped together in their own little club. Isn’t thrash supposed to be full of ‘stick it to the man’ f**k you attitude, with an innate desire to avoid the mainstream? Well, Metallica’s transcendence into a household name is another story, but doesn’t branding them altogether into a nice little package sort of negate their collective manifesto?
But as always, record companies will do whatever they can to make money, and if putting a bunch of bands together to sell some tickets / live DVDs, then so be it.