Monthly Archives: January 2016

Rocks In The Attic #458: Garbage – ‘Garbage’ (1995)

RITA#458Like most men (and probably most women) who saw Garbage on their first tour, promoting this debut album, I fell in love with Shirley Manson; totally unconditionally, head-over-heels in love. If she had clicked her fingers, I would have followed, asking questions. All despite reading that she once squatted over the kitchen table in her boyfriend’s apartment and took a dump in his bowl of cornflakes. She had caught him cheating apparently.

I’m always a little suspicious when rock bands enlist a hot lady to sing. Sex does sell, but so does talent and the other three quarters of Garbage already had that in spades. Drummer Butch Vig (the super-producer of Nevermind, Siamese Dream), guitarist Steve Marker (sound engineer on L7’s Bricks Are Heavy) and bassist Duke Erikson (guitarist with Spooner and Fire Town, both alongside Vig) started a new project in 1994 and decided on a female vocalist to distance themselves from the all-male bands they had prior experience with. The female angst thing was popular around the mid-‘90s, with Alanis Morissette and Meredith Brooks ploughing the same field, so Manson’s vocals fit right in.

I remember hearing Queer first, and thinking it sounded very different to everything else at the time. It was still rock, but with a dark, electronic pop edge. In fact, it sounds a lot like today’s stripper pop (as Dave Grohl calls it) but in 1995 it ticked enough boxes for my ears.

I saw them play at the Apollo in Manchester, supported by Bis, in March ‘96. I remember seeing the roadies set up the stage for the headliners, and noticing the sheer amount of technology in Marker and Erikson’s flight racks. The LEDs from the various amps, processors and effects units was dizzying, and created a great backdrop.

Right from their opening number – Queer, no less – Manson owned the stage. As the band played through the opening bars, she walked out wearing knee-high leather boots, a corset and a pink feather boa. Boom. Like a thunderbolt.

I even liked their follow-up album, Version 2.0, but by the time I saw them again, at Glastonbury in 2005, I had moved on. As such, I quickly forgot about the band. Times change, and all that.

Twenty years on, the debut has been re-released in a beautiful 45rpm double pink vinyl package. It sounds great, and has definitely taken me back to those post-grunge days. I still love Queer, but it’s I’m Only Happy When It Rains which really impresses me. I’d go so far as saying that it’s one of my favourite songs from that entire decade. That’s a huge call, considering the amount of great music that the ‘90s gave us, but there’s something about the song’s ‘pour your misery down’ refrain that just speaks to me.

Postscript: Sex might very well sell, but without any discernible talent, it’s about as useful as a chocolate fireguard. In the mid-2000s, Shirley Manson appeared as an antagonist in The Sarah Connor Chonic…, The Sarah Cronner Chon…, The Sarah Connorcles…ah fuck it, that lame Terminator TV series that swiftly got cancelled. Manson might ooze talent and sex appeal on stage, but she most definitely cannot act, and her unconventional looks (upside-down eyes, pale skin and bright ginger hair), which looked great on stage, just made her look odd among the stereotypically beautiful people on TV. The show was bad enough before she appeared, but she just seemed to be the final nail in the coffin.

Hit: I’m Only Happy When It Rains

Hidden Gem: Supervixen

Rocks In The Attic #457: Marvin Hamlisch – ‘The Spy Who Loved Me (O.S.T.)’ (1977)

RITA#457.jpg“But James, I need you…”

“So does England!”

Cue disco music.

It’s a shame that one of the most iconic moments in Bond history is blighted with this turgid, pandering-to-the-times, piece of artificial bullshit titled Bond ’77. You think it couldn’t get any worse, but then halfway through Bond ’77 – and really, calling the song that just irks of self-importance as though everybody was waiting for the theme tune to be updated – we get a horn part. It’s not a horn part in the style of John Barry (who must be vomiting in the cinema aisle at this very moment); it’s a horn part in the style of K.C. & The Sunshine Band. Only worse.

Then old James’ parachute opens and it’s alright. Hamlisch’s delicate piano introduction kicks in and we get one of the better theme songs in the series, courtesy of Carly Simon. The rest of the soundtrack isn’t that bad actually. It’s always been one of my favourite Bond films, and would probably be my firm favourite if Barry was in the composer’s chair.

The first appearance of Jaws, the launch of a white Lotus Esprit off a jetty into the ocean, a super hot Bond Girl (the future Mrs. Ringo Starr), the fight sequences in Egypt and on Stromberg’s Atlantis; this film has everything. In fact, it’s the film where Roger Moore really hits his stride and becomes his own Bond. If Live And Let Die was a transitional film, and The Man With The Golden Gun was a film where his performance was too close to Connery’s, The Spy Who Loved Me finds Moore raising his eyebrows and filling the screen with his natural, smarmy charm.

And it would be sacrilege to discuss The Spy Who Loved Me without mentioning Alan Partridge’s take on the film.

Hit: Nobody Does It Better – Carly Simon

Hidden Gem: Ride To Atlantis

Rocks In The Attic #456: Meat Loaf – ‘Bat Out Of Hell’ (1977)

RITA#456It’s not that I dislike Meat Loaf, but he’s just a poor man’s cottage pie, isn’t he?

This record always reminds me of mock-headbanging to the title song on the stereo in our sixth form common room. Due to my appearance at the time – denim jacket, long hair, slacker attitude – I had been trying at length to convince my fantastic English teacher, Mr. Summers, that I was something more than a stereotypical rocker. Then one afternoon he walked past our common room, and in the split-second that he glanced through the doorway, he saw me headbanging enthusiastically to Meat Loaf. I never lived that one down. Moral of the story: never headbang to make somebody laugh; to those not in on the joke, you look like a moron.

This album must prompt acts of hilarity. I have another memory of being sat in the passenger seat of my pal Stotty’s car, and watching him gleefully clap along to the clap-along section at the end of You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night). He wasn’t doing it with any ounce of seriousness; he was doing it to make me laugh by pointing out the fact that some people somewhere in the world would have earnestly done this very thing that the record asks the listener to do.

This is a behemoth of a record, having sold over forty three million copies worldwide. Forty three million! When you think about it, it’s difficult to comprehend that many of anything let alone 12” records, (5”) compact discs or (4”x 2.5”) cassettes. It’s hard to imagine them making that many copies, let alone all the people around the world who bought (or stole) them. Apparently it still sells around 200,000 copies every year. That’s nostalgia for you…

Hit: Bat Out Of Hell

Hidden Gem: All Revved Up With No Place To Go

Rocks In The Attic #455: The Rolling Stones – ‘Undercover’ (1983)

RITA#455The Rolling Stones’ website claims that Undercover opens ‘with the epic Undercover Of The Night, every bit as political and experimental in sound and lyrics as Sympathy For The Devil’. This just proves that if the critics aren’t saying it, then make up your own plaudits. I’m on the fence myself. I know that it isn’t in the same league as Sympathy For The Devil – that’s a given – but I’m on the fence as to whether it’s any good or not.

On the one hand you have a band, now in their collective forties, trying their damndest to sound contemporary in the wake of the rise of the MTV generation. On the other hand you have a song that just…isn’t very good. The hook isn’t in a guitar riff, a melody line, or a catchy chorus; it’s in the production of the song. And who’s that down to? Mick? Maybe. Keith? Surely not. This has to be down to producer Chris Kimsey – the band’s former recording engineer, and the first outside producer that they had worked with since they parted ways with Jimmy Miller a decade earlier.

The album is also notable for being the starting point for Mick and Keith’s animosity that would see them bickering throughout the rest of the 1980s. No wonder they fell out. The record doesn’t sound like the Rolling Stones of old – and blues purist Richards evidently took a dislike to their fancy new sound. Maybe the Stones had to do this to stay alive though. Perhaps if Jagger hadn’t pushed the band into reinventing themselves, they might have split around this time.

Some might say that splitting up at this point would have been a good thing – they definitely didn’t record any more timeless rockers after this (the thirty-five year old Start Me Up from 1981’s predecessor Tattoo You was probably their last truly great song), but the jury’s still out. I’m not ignorant of the fact that they’ve very much in the pattern of retreading old ground by this record –  album closer It Must Be Hell might be a good song, one of the strongest on the album, but it’s just a mixture of Start Me Up and Honky Tonk Women.

I have to admit I’ve liked some of their more recent material though – Love Is Strong and You Got Me Rocking from 1994’s Voodoo Lounge was a particularly strong return to form, and they’re still providing a lot of joy to people by touring around the world every five or six years.

Is it enough though? Thirty five years is a long time…

Hit: Undercover Of The Night

Hidden Gem: It Must Be Hell

Can You Hear Me Major Tom?

Bowie 1
I heard a rumour from Ground Control, oh no, don’t say it’s true…

The world has lost some of its magic. Absolutely heartbreaking. It’s been almost a week now but I’ve been so upset about Bowie leaving us, that I’ve only just managed to start putting everything into context. Let’s start at the beginning…

When I was 9 my parents took me on a weekend trip down to London. Manchester might only be a train ride away from the capital at the other end of the country, but to me it felt like the other end of the world. London is so different to the rest of the country; it never feels like you’re in England. Down there you’re just as much a foreigner as all the other tourists.

One highlight of the trip was a visit to an attraction called Rock Circus. An extension of Madame Tussauds, this was essentially where they put all the rock n’ roll waxworks. Elvis, next to Michael Jackson, next to Buddy Holly, next to the Rolling Stones. You get the idea. It doesn’t exist anymore. I guess they decided that London had its share of celebrity waxworks at Tussauds.

At the end of the exhibit, we were ushered into a small viewing room. Everybody sat down – maybe twenty of us – and the lights dimmed. The familiar orchestral tune-up of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band started, the curtains opened, and there they were, the Beatles themselves. Well, obviously it wasn’t them; it was their waxworks, dressed in the fluorescent military garb from the front of the Peppers album cover. And just like that iconic image, they were flanked by endless rows of cut-outs of the Beatles’ heroes.

They roared through that opening track as much as you can expect a bunch of mannequins to. Their jaws opened and shut in time with the vocals, and to this 9-year old it looked pretty damn good. They probably segued into With A Little Help From My Friends – I can’t remember – but they finished and everybody clapped and cheered.

The curtain closed, and a minute later, a quiet acoustic guitar faded in. I now know it’s a C major going to an E minor, and back; but I wouldn’t have known that then. Then the curtains opened again, the scene has changed to a starfield in outer space and there’s some oddball – a waxwork again obviously – slowly spinning around in a spacesuit, with a bung eye and crazy snaggleteeth.

‘Ground Control to Major Tom…” he sang.

Ladies and gentleman, my introduction to Mr. David Bowie.

Bowie 2
I next ran into Bowie a couple of years later. At secondary school we had to go out into the big, bad world to do some work experience. I landed a job at a small engineering firm called B.J.Engineering. BJ engineering? Isn’t that what pimps do? It was the kind of place where they send the student to the local hardware store for a long stand, or to the sweet shop for a bag of clitoris drops. Thankfully, I didn’t suffer any such pranks; but for two weeks I had to answer the phone, saying “Good morning, B.J.Engineering, can I help you?” There’s nothing like starting at the very bottom.

On my first day, the foreman of the place went to the bookies on his lunch-break, and returned excitedly with a music cassette. It was a new album – Changesbowie – that had just come out that day. At home time, he offered me a lift to save me from the bus-ride, and the new cassette went straight onto the car stereo. I recalled the first song on the compilation – Space Oddity – from the London trip and the foreman’s enthusiasm for this weird looking singer planted a seed.

I then caught a great drama on the BBC in 1993 – The Buddha Of Suburbia – and noticed that the music for the series was performed by David Bowie. This guy is fucking everywhere, I thought, and he’s still relevant.

Bowie 4I started off with The Singles Collection when it was released in 1993, and I’ve been working my way through all of the individual studio albums ever since. I first got into the glam-rock Bowie (The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, Aladdin Sane), then I turned backwards to the singer-songwriter Bowie (Space Oddity, The Man Who Sold The World, Hunky Dory), then forward in time again to the strung-out on cocaine Bowie (Station To Station), onto the Berlin Bowie (Low, “Heroes”, Lodger), then to his early ‘80s pop reinvention (Let’s Dance).

These days I tend to jump all over the place. A little bit of Stone Love here, a little bit of Speed Of Life there, followed with that hypnotic bass line from Let’s Dance. Lately, I’ve been listening a lot to Seu Jorge’s studio sessions from The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. For the uninitiated, this is a great collection of Bowie covers by Brazilian musician Seu Jorge, played on a Spanish acoustic and sung in Portuguese. They’re wonderful interpretations – abstract yet ambient; even Bowie himself was a fan. “Had Seu Jorge not recorded my songs acoustically in Portuguese I would never have heard this new level of beauty which he has imbued them with,” he is quoted as saying.

As a guitar player it’s the guitarists I tend to categorise Bowie by; and what a choice! Who do I want to listen to today? Mick Ronson? Earl Slick? Carlos Alomar? Robert Fripp? Nile Rodgers? Stevie Ray Vaughan? Absolutely incredible – what a roll-call! Bowie and Rodgers were in the crowd when Stevie Ray Vaughan played at the Montreau Jazz Festival in 1982, and despite seeing Vaughan booed off stage by the festival’s purist attendees, they still went backstage and offered him the gig playing on the Let’s Dance album.

My friend Vini and I would joke endlessly about Bowie’s music video for Be My Wife. His demeanour and actions in that video prompted many a drunken impression back in the day. That’s definitely the strung-out on cocaine Bowie right there. It’s like he’s doing an impression of himself. It would only be a better impression if Phil Cornwell from Stella Street was doing it.

Bowie 5
In January 2011, the 7” of Be My Wife even made an appearance at my wedding. My wife and I also put a nice CD together of all of our favourite songs to give away to people as a memento, and we included Wild Is The Wind on there as it’s a song that we both love so much. It’s nice that Bowie was part of that day.

The first person I thought of when I heard about Bowie’s death was Adam Buxton – from comedy duo Adam & Joe. Their enthusiasm for anything Bowie-related is legendary (they even did a nice little song about Bowie’s appearance in Labyrinth) and Buxton is such a super-fan, even taking Bowie as his specialist subject on Celebrity Mastermind, that my first thoughts were that Adam & Joe would never get to interview him.

(As a sidenote, it’s probably Adam & Joe’s fault that I love Ashes To Ashes so much. I had almost written the song off – I’ve never been fond of nursery rhyme style lyrics – but their love of the song opened up its world of magic to me. There is a lot going on in that song, both musically and lyrically, that it never gets old.)

Bowie 7Mark Twain once said ‘When a man loves cats, I am his friend and comrade, without further introduction.” I feel the same way about Bowie – it’s just one of my natural instincts. If you love Bowie, then I automatically like you. How can any self-respecting muso not dig what he does? He subverted and crossed so many genres, he is his own genre. When I listened to rock, I listened to Bowie. When I listened to metal, I listened to Bowie. When I listened to punk, I listened to Bowie. When I listened to electronica, I listened to Bowie. When I listened to soul, I listened to Bowie. When I listened to jazz, I listened to Bowie. When I listened to blues, I listened to Bowie. Whenever I take a break from listening to music, I still listen to Bowie! I have a great Bowie t-shirt that says everything you need to know: “There’s old wave. There’s new. And there’s David Bowie…”

The surname has always been a subject of debate. Born David Robert Jones in Brixton in 1947, he changed his name to David Bowie to avoid confusion with the Monkees’ Davy Jones. The surname comes from the Bowie knife – that’s why it’s Bow-ie to rhyme with snowy, not Bow-ie to rhyme with Maui. Let’s try to get it right from now on.

There are so many moments that endlessly go around in my head. Like the story about celebrities being afraid to perform on TV with Bowie after Bing Crosby and Marc Bolan both met their end after duetting with him. Or the time that Bowie introduced the famous famine clip at Live Aid. Or the time Bowie serenaded Ricky Gervais on Extras: “Pathetic little fat man…”

Bowie 3
I once found myself in the Auckland Wintergardens, standing on the very same spot that Bowie had stood, being reprimanded back in 1983’s Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence. We should never forget that he was a great actor – and could have filled the screen with great performances had he not concentrated on music.

Back in my days playing Delta 7, I used to do a cover of Ziggy Stardust during our acoustic set. It was probably my favourite Bowie song back then. Around the same time, I was lucky enough to see Bowie headline on the Sunday night at Glastonbury. His band started playing the opening bars of Wild Is The Wind, and after a few minutes, Bowie sauntered out in a palatial, quilted gold coat that looked like it had been sewn with the pubic hair of angels.

Bowie 8
Surely he wouldn’t play Ziggy Stardust, I thought; he’s just here to play the hits. But my friend Vini was adamant: “He’ll play it!”

Bowie thundered on through the set – all the songs you’d expect – but still no Ziggy Stardust. I had resigned myself that he wasn’t going to play it, but first song into the encore, there it was, that crashing G chord. Usually, I leave the festival in a funk as I don’t want to go back to the real world, but that year I left a very happy man.

Bowie 6

My only photograph of Bowie from that evening.

A couple of years later in another band, we used to rehearse on the top floor of an old mill in Manchester (Sankey’s Soap for those who remember). We used to be able to hear the Bowie tribute band in the room below our doing note-perfect renditions of songs like Five Years. I never actually saw the band, but the music was so spot-on, I’m glad I never did. It would have spoiled the illusion.

One of my favourite punch-the-air Bowie moments in recent years was attending the New Zealand premiere of The Cove in Auckland, with director Louie Psihoyos in attendance. I challenge anybody to find a more apt use of a song than Heroes on the end credits of that film.

Bowie 9In light of Bowie’s death, Psihoyos posted the following message on Facebook: “David Bowie could have charged us tens of thousands of dollars to license “Heroes” for The Cove – we didn’t have that kind of money – but one could dream. Pop songs by superstars like him can license for 6-7 figures. He made his publishers take the absolute minimum they would take and we were charged nearly nothing for that song. Rest in peace Mr Bowie, you are my hero.”

Last week, when the news broke about Bowie on Monday night, comedian Jimmy Carr was playing a stand-up show in Auckland. The news broke during the intermission. Now this is tricky ground – an offensive joke from Jimmy Carr is as sure as death and taxes (pun very much intended), but he treated the situation gracefully: “Looking on the plus side we’re all a little cooler now as the coolest man on Earth just died.”

I’m going to give the last word to a member of a vinyl group I’m a member of on Facebook, Bernado El Masiosare. It’s a popular sentiment we’ve heard before, but in this case it seems very appropriate:

Whenever you’re sad, just remember this world is 4.5 billion years old and you were so lucky to live at the same time as David Bowie.

 

Bowie 10

The last photograph of David Bowie, having fun promoting Blackstar on his 69th birthday.

Rocks In The Attic #454: Talking Heads – ‘Talking Heads: 77’ (1977)

RITA#454Hands down my favourite Talking Heads record, this debut might not have Brian Eno’s production (he was installed from More Songs About Buildings And Food onwards), or the chart-storming later singles such as Once In A Lifetime or Road To Nowhere, but it has a certain charm that is impossible not to love.

You know something is immediately different with this record – with this band, in fact – when just a few lines into opening song Uh-Oh, Love Comes To Town, they break into a steel drum solo. Steel drums? Hang on, isn’t this a new wave band, a product of New York’s punk movement? To provide some context, their first gig was opening for the Ramones at CBGBs. That bass line in Uh-Oh, Love Comes To Town doesn’t suit a post-punk / new wave band either. It’s a little too close to disco.

If nothing else, this band defies convention. More Velvet Underground style art-rock than any of their CBGB peers (except maybe Television), Talking Heads would carve a niche between the underground and the mainstream throughout the 1980s. The direction that the band would take seemed to get more and more serious as the band progressed – perhaps as a product of that self-obsessed, greedy decade that the ‘80s became – however this record is easily their most fun offering.

Hit: Psycho Killer

Hidden Gem: Uh-Oh, Love Comes To Town

Rocks In The Attic #453: Genesis – ‘Genesis Live’ (1973)

RITA#453I’m rather partial to a bit of Watcher Of The Skies – presented here in its live glory as the first song on this ‘inbetween’ record to fill the gap between Foxtrot and Selling England By The Pound. That’s not to say I’m a huge Genesis fan. I’m not. There’s just a bit too much in the way of keyboards on the earlier Peter Gabriel material, and I’m afraid to say that the Phil Collins years speak more to me, as disposable as they are.

I recently watched a documentary about the band (Genesis: Together And Apart), and not being a huge fan, two things really struck me. Firstly, how integral Tony Banks was (is?) to Genesis (the band was effectively built around him, not Peter Gabriel as I naively thought); and secondly, perhaps due to that very fact, how much of an absolute arsehole Tony Banks was (is?). Some people just shouldn’t let themselves be filmed. He single-handedly presents the band in a negative light, which I wouldn’t have any idea of if I hadn’t seen the documentary.

I now put Tony Banks in the same middle section of the Venn diagram (‘talented vs. complete arse’) as Don Henley from the Eagles. In the Eagles’ documentary History Of The Eagles, Henley’s recollection of the reasons why he fired guitarist Don Felder simply disgusted me. There are some people who are just so uptight, so against the spirit of rock ‘n roll, that you wonder how anybody in their right minds ever wanted to be in a band with them.

Hit: Watcher Of The Skies

Hidden Gem: The Return Of The Giant Hogweed