Monthly Archives: November 2017

Rocks In The Attic #644: Ocean Colour Scene – ‘Moseley Shoals’ (1996)

RITA#644When you go and see a band that you haven’t seen since your youth, there’s a brief moment when you have to suspend disbelief. The group walking out on stage are twenty years older than when you last saw them. Hairlines may have receded slightly, waistlines may have expanded slightly. But in general, you can recognise them as older, wiser versions of the young men (or ladies) you knew from your teenage years.

When Ocean Colour Scene walked out on stage last week at Auckland’s Powerstation, I recognised guitarist Steve Craddock immediately. Still of slight build, his receding hairline further illuminating his light-bulb head was the only sign of aging. I recognised the drummer – Oscar Harrison – too. The bass player had changed into a completely different person though.

Where’s the singer, I thought, as one of the big, burly roadies walked up to the mic just as Craddock ripped into The Riverboat Song. “I see double, up ahead…” the man spat into the mic. He sounded enough like Simon Fowler, but it couldn’t be him. I’ve let my subscription to the Ocean Colour Scene monthly newsletter lapse a long time ago, but maybe Fowler died and they got this guy in from one of their tribute bands, like how INXS replaced Michael Hutchence.

He did sound like Simon Fowler though, this guy. He might look like a butcher, but he had exactly the same soulful voice I remembered from Moseley Shoals. I resisted the urge to get my phone out to check if he had the same face as the young man I remembered from twenty years ago.

By the time The Riverboat Song had finished, to a long, sustained round of applause, I was convinced it was actually him. I felt slightly ashamed for thinking any different, but I was just taken aback at how different he looked. In the ‘90s I remember him being a lithe, Jagger-esque frontman. But in the space of twenty years, as a friend pointed out, he had gone the way of Van Morrison.

RITA#644fA couple of songs in, Fowler announced he was gay – “I used to be quite camp when I was younger, I prefer to call myself gay now” – something you don’t usually hear at a gig. A brave move, I thought, considering the ignorant, numbskull mindset of your average Britpop fan. As might be expected, a drunken idiot behind me made a homophobic comment.

Perhaps Craddock looked the same because he’s been in regular employment, another friend suggested, with the implication that Fowler has spent the intervening years reminiscing about TFI Friday over a box of Jaffa Cakes. But Ocean Colour Scene haven’t been out of work – they’ve been releasing studio albums regularly since the ‘90s, averaging one every three years up to 2013’s Painting. Admittedly they haven’t bothered the charts since their Britpop heyday, so it’s hardly a surprise that they feel like returning heroes.

RITA#644gWhat a great show the band put on, once I was sure of who I was watching. Starting their set with The Riverboat Song? What a banger! And what balls! A lesser band would have saved it to their encore (in fact, I was hoping they would have played it a second time at the end of the show). Oasis and Blur may have been the kings of Britpop, but this single is as strong as anything those bands produced in their prime.

They played through most of Moseley Shoals – a record I have very fond memories of, from University – plus a handful of songs from third album Marchin’ Already. There wasn’t too much I didn’t recognise, so I’m guessing they had wisely avoided much of the material from those post-1990s records.

One of my favourite Britpop-era singles, the bonkers Hundred Mile High City, was wheeled out towards the end of their set, before they encored with The Day We Caught The Train. I used to love this band. I still do.

Hit: The Riverboat Song

Hidden Gem: 40 Past Midnight


Rocks In The Attic #643: The Commodores – ‘Nightshift’ (1985)

RITA#643I work in an office. My colleagues and I are all early starters, so we tend to arrive early and leave early. For some reason, the powers that be have decided that this isn’t good enough, and that we need to have some sort of physical presence in the pod between 4pm and 5pm, just in case somebody needs to ask us a question.

It’s such a pointless directive; the rest of the building seems to start leaving for the day around 4pm. To point out the preposterousness of the situation, one of my colleagues, tasked with putting a rota together to cover this timeframe, has labelled it ‘The Night Shift’.

“It’s like that ‘80s jam, Nightshift, by the Commodores” he laughed.

That same weekend, at the Auckland record fair, I came across the album in the racks. I just had to buy it. As far as Commodores records go, it falls into the post-Lionel Richie years, and so his incredible songwriting is clearly missing. Give me Machine Gun any day over this smooth shit.

I’ve added a themed ‘80s playlist to the Night Shift rota, just to help my colleagues get into the right frame of mind. Alongside the Commodore’s song is Lionel Richie’s All Night Long and Running With The Night, and Iron Maiden’s 2 Minutes To Midnight. It’s a work in progress.

I did my first stint on the night shift last week. Nobody asked me any questions. Listened to some great songs though.

Hit: Nightshift

Hidden Gem: Slip Of The Tongue

Rocks In The Attic #642: Nirvana – ‘In Utero’ (1993)

RITA#642Last weekend I found a pair of perfectly good speakers on the side of the road. A handwritten sign – ‘FREE’ – was standing next to them. I did a quick u-turn and threw them in my car. New Zealand’s attitude to freecycling occasionally delivers gems like this. You could probably drive around all weekend and furnish your entire house with kerbside treasures that people are throwing away. The speakers are a lovely pair of Technics, standing 18” tall and my vinyl-collecting friend at work, who’s far more knowledgeable about hi-fi equipment, assures me they’re a very, very good find.

That’s if they still work, of course, because who in their right minds would throw away a perfectly good set of speakers? A quick trip to the local electronics store to get some speaker cable, and I can rest assured that not only do they work perfectly, but they also sound fucking awesome. It makes a world of difference to the set of (perfectly good for purpose) surround speakers I was running my turntable through previously.

Whenever I’m testing a new set-up – be it a new turntable, or a new amp, or a new set of speakers – the album I always turn to is Nirvana’s In Utero. My clear favourite of their three studio albums, it towers over their unripe debut, and their too-slick crossover follow-up. Steve Albini’s production sounds more like what I imagine the band’s natural sound to be, and it was the record I turned to when Kurt died as it was their final studio album.

The reason it’s so good to test hi-fi equipment is that it’s so dynamic, and so well recorded that it doesn’t sound like the product of pro-tools. After Albini’s initial production (foreshadowed by a great letter to the band), Geffen Records attempted to fix what they saw as an uncommercial record by employing Robert Ludwig to master it. Still unhappy, the master tapes were then given to REM producer Scott Litt, who remixed the singles alongside Andy Wallace (who had mixed Nevermind). With so many cooks in the kitchen, the album should sound conflicted, but to my ears it sounds perfect.

RITA#642aThe hi-fi recommendations in the inside cover of the CD booklet, something that you just don’t usually see in liner notes, have always made me chuckle. I suspect that rather than being a genuine instruction to listeners (unlikely), it’s an irreverent poke at the casual music fans the band were attracting (a more obscure jab than the lyrics to In Bloom).

RITA#642dAlthough I own a late ‘90s reissue of In Utero, I jumped at the chance to get the Steve Albini mix of the record, released to mark the album’s 20th anniversary. Running at 45rpm, and split across two discs, it’s a wonderful package. But while it’s very interesting to hear, I think I’ll always prefer the original version. Albini’s mix of the singles sound so much more in line with the rest of the album, and if anything the contrast shows how much the Scott Litt mix of those songs sounds like the range of dynamics you would hear on an REM single.

One thing I really liked around the 20th anniversary re-release was a memo that did the rounds on the internet, mocked up to look like a letter to record store owners, pleading with them to get behind the album’s reissue. I seem to remember some discussion at the time around whether it was genuine or not, but it’s clearly a joke – it’s dripping in cynicism, and reads like something that Kurt Cobain might have composed from beyond the grave.

I don’t usually pay much attention to the ‘thank you’ lists in liner notes, but there is one particular name on the In Utero sleeve that is deserving of a mention. The band listed Quentin Tarantino in this section – in 1993 a relatively cult director with only one film, Reservoir Dogs, to his name (and Pulp Fiction yet to be released). When the soundtrack to Pulp Fiction eventually saw the light of day in September 1994, Quentin repaid the favour and thanked the now-departed Cobain.

Hit: Heart Shaped Box

Hidden Gem: Radio Friendly Unit Shifter


Rocks In The Attic #641: Blondie – ‘The Hunter’ (1982)

RITA#641I really dig these late-era Blondie albums, particularly this one and its predecessor, Autoamerican. They don’t sound too much like classic-era Blondie – well, Debbie Harry’s vocals do – but in terms of instrumentation and songwriting, they’re much closer to the emerging trend of New Wave bands than their pop-punk past.

The highlight of this record – aside from the cover photo, where Debbie Harry is wearing the craziest wig this side of Tina Turner’s appearance in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome – is the inclusion of the ‘lost’ Bond theme, For Your Eyes Only, originally recorded for the 1981 film of the same name. As far as Blondie songs go, it isn’t the worst thing they’ve recorded, but like Alice Cooper’s version of The Man With The Golden Gun, it’s definitely not Bond-worthy. You can understand why they were turned down by the Bond producers. Blondie were then asked to record the Bill Conti composition that was ultimately recorded by Sheena Easton, but declined the offer. That, to me, sounds like a much more exciting prospect, but unfortunately I can only imagine what it would sound like.

This was the final Blondie record until 1999’s No Exit. You can hear the band coming to the end of their natural life-cycle on The Hunter. A Debbie Harry solo career was dawning, with her first record, KooKoo, appearing a year prior in 1981. But more than anything, the split of the group was caused by Chris Stein’s illness with the rare auto-immune disease, pemphigus – which he would ultimately overcome before their late-‘90s comeback.

Hit: Island of Lost Souls

Hidden Gem: The Hunter

Rocks In The Attic #640: Otis Rush – ‘The Classic Recordings’ (1985)

RITA#640The great Chicago bluesman Otis Rush will forever be remembered as the man who wrote All Your Love, his eighth A-side, featured here as the first song on this compilation. The song later found a wider audience by introducing the world to Eric Clapton by way of John Mayall’s Blues Breakers record in 1966 – however it was Aerosmith’s cover, from 1991’s Pandora’s Box collection of outtakes and demos, which first turned me onto the song.

Otis Rush is also synonymous with Led Zeppelin. He was the first artist to record I Can’t Quit You Baby, written by Willie Dixon and later covered by Zeppelin on their eponymous 1969 debut record and featured twice on their BBC Sessions collection.

Rush was discovered by Dixon in 1956, and it is Dixon who is credited for getting Rush signed to a record contract (with Abco Records). Dixon plays bass across each of the eight singles (A- and B-sides) which make up this record, backing Rush on vocals and guitar (a young Ike Turner even pops up on guitar on the last two singles).

The quirk of Otis Rush is that he is left-handed, but plays right-handed strung guitars flipped upside down (with the low E string at the bottom). Now that’s the kind of left-handed guitar player us right-handers need to be friends with!

Hit: All Your Love

Hidden Gem: Sit Down Baby

Rocks In The Attic #639: John Carpenter & Alan Howarth – ‘Christine’ (1983)

RITA#639Christine wins the award for the worst John Carpenter film with the best John Carpenter score. Well, it’s not a bad film – it just isn’t anything special, especially when it follows the John Carpenter high-water mark of Escape From New York and The Thing.

Perhaps it’s the source material – choosing to adapt a slice of Stephen King Americana, rather than focusing on an original screenplay. King adaptations can be a hard thing to get right – he’s the master at writing characters, which doesn’t always translate very well to the screen. The old saying goes that a picture paints a thousand words; this doesn’t apply when the words are coming from Stephen King’s typewriter.

The film is a little confused as to who the lead protagonist is. First we start with the varsity jacket-wearing jock, Dennis (John Stockwell) who is – inexplicably – best friends with Arnie (Keith Gordon, typecast as the same hopeless character as he portrayed in 1978’s Jaws 2). The two, despite Dennis’ jock status, are relentlessly bullied by the tough kids at school – a bunch of reprobates (including the naive gum-chewing subject of Venkman’s ESP test in 1984’s Ghostbusters) led by Buddy (William Ostrander), who appears to have been kept back at school for about 25 years, and looks like he’s just escaped from the local prison.

RITA#639aOnce Arnie buys a beat-up old car, the titular Christine, we then experience the film through his eyes, as he uses Christine’s unexplained magical powers to hunt down and seek revenge on his tormentors. The film then abandons Arnie – positioning him as the antagonist, under the influence of his car – and switches back to the viewpoint of Dennis, who defeats Christine and saves the film’s only lead female (this film does not pass the Bechdel test), Leigh (Alexandra Paul, who would later play the virgin Connie Swails in 1987’s Dragnet, before finding fame on TV’s Baywatch), from the murderous car.

Where Escape From New York and The Thing were high on concept, but followed through spectacularly on their respective promises, Christine stalls as soon as the key is turned. Its saving grace, of course, is the soundtrack; a slow-burning synth score by Carpenter and his composing partner Alan Howarth.

Hit: The Rape

Hidden Gem: Moochie’s Death

Rocks In The Attic #638: Metallica – ‘Metallica’ (1991)

RITA#638The top-selling album of the past 25 years, or so the hype sticker says, this takes me back. When I was fourteen, this sounding like nothing else: heavy, thunderous, massive. Plenty of the bands I was into at the time were loud and heavy, but Metallica’s Black Album (as this record became to be known) just sounded huge.

Now, of course, it seems quite tame. Strip away the bombast and what you’re left with is a well recorded, well engineered and well produced heavy rock album. After four records of long-form songs that straddled the fence between thrash-metal and prog-metal, the band took a chance by employing Bob Rock in the producer’s chair.

Rock had engineered Bob Jovi’s Slippery When Wet (1986) and Aerosmith’s Permanent Vacation (1987), before winning acclaim for producing Mötley Crue’s Dr. Feelgood (1989). The big difference he brought to Metallica was in commercialising their sound, slowing them down in tempo, and shortening their songs. The Metallica of old would pack as many ideas as possible into one song, lasting anywhere between four and nine minutes, before running out of ideas. The Black Album’s songs are boiled down in their arrangements, to the extent that they become radio-friendly, almost…dare I say it…structured like pop songs.

As much as I loved it as a teenager, the record has definitely lost a lot of its appeal in the intervening years. Radio has done to this record as a metal album what it has done for Led Zeppelin II as a rock album: overplayed it to death. There’s no intrigue left. Hetfield, Hammett, Newsted and Ulrich used to be enigmatic (to a degree), but watching the band sit around with their analyst in Some Kind Of Monster (2004) showed that they’re very much real people, plagued by the kinds of insecurities and anxieties that stifle us all.

Hit: Enter Sandman

Hidden Gem: My Friend Of Misery