Tag Archives: Blondie

Rocks In The Attic #610: Muse – ‘Origin Of Symmetry’ (2001)

RITA#610.jpgThis is it. This is the one. Out of all of the albums I got behind during my twenties, this is the one that resonated with me the most. It still strikes a nerve today, sixteen years later.

I seem to remember the very late ‘90s being a desolate wasteland in terms of guitar rock. The homemade ethic of Grunge had drifted into stadium-filling Alternative Rock, but the punk vibe was still very much there. It was almost a crime to be proficient at playing the guitar. That’s just not cool, man.

The turn of the century gave us the Strokes and the White Stripes, both bands making guitars cool again. But for all their posturing, both of these American imports still took a simplistic approach to guitar playing; Jack White from garage rock, blues and folk, and the Strokes’ Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr. from the New York City New Wave of Television, Talking Heads and Blondie.

Something far more interesting was happening in England. I had heard tales of a Devon band featuring a hot-shot guitarist with dazzling effects pedals. By the time I finally heard their first record, Showbiz, in 1999, I was an instant fan but I wasn’t bowled over. Sunburn was an awesome song, but there was a fair bit of mediocre filler throughout the record.

Fast foward a year or so, and a friend passed me an advance promo single for Plug In Baby. I played it that night during my DJ set at 38 Bar, and instantly fell in love. I hadn’t heard such an off-kilter guitar riff since Randy Rhoads’ Crazy Train. This Bellamy kid definitely wasn’t hiding behind those pedals.

The next day, I drove (for no particular reason) over to Hadfield, the Royston Vasey of The League Of Gentleman. I played the song over and over in the car, and just couldn’t get over how good it was. It felt like it had been written for my tastes in mind.

Thankfully the rest of the album was much stronger than its predecessor. New Breed and Bliss were both riff-heavy, and there was even a heavy cover of Nina Simone’s Feeling Good introduced with a lovely bit of Wurlitzer piano. The record does get a little tired towards the end – a good 15 minutes could have been shaved off to make a truly awesome 35 minute record – but it was still a damn sight stronger than Showbiz.

I saw the band tour this record at 2001’s V Festival in Staffordshire. They headlined the second stage, and I managed to get up close to the front. After the set, I turned round to walk back to my tent and realised how many thousands of people had also been watching. This little band I had followed for a couple of years had grown beyond my expectations. I wouldn’t seem them again until 2010, touring album number five.

Hit: Plug In Baby

Hidden Gem: Hyper Music

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Rocks In The Attic #556: Blondie – ‘Plastic Letters’ (1978)

rita556Plastic Letters is album number two for Blondie, and starts to see them move towards more of a pop sound after their grittier debut. Their choice of covering Randy & The Rainbow’s 1963 hit Denis points to the direction which the band was going in from this point forward. I can’t help but think that early fans of the band in and around New York City would have felt a little disappointed in this gradual shift in direction.

It would be the equivalent in the UK of the Pistols or the Clash recording a cover by Gerry & The Pacemakers for their second album. Now, while I could imagine Johnny Rotten and company doing something like this, it would be too much like selling out for Strummer’s band. Some punk bands remained true to their original manifesto, while others like Blondie made a shortcut straight past post-Punk and New Wave, seemingly straight into the pop mainstream.

Isn’t this just what successful bands do though? The Beatles very quickly turned their backs on their rock and roll roots, opting to magpie the best parts of Motown, folk and R&B to produce their own “original” pop sound (one gets the impression that the rock and roll covers on the first couple of Beatles albums would have sounded old-hat at the time, whereas looking back they appear to come from the same era). Perhaps Debbie Harry and Chris Stein always had their eyes on the pop charts when they put Blondie together. Maybe when they were writing their early two-minute punk songs, they were really writing two-minute pop songs.

Alongside Denis, the album’s other big hit (I’m Always Touched By Your) Presence, Dear features the couplet Stay awake at night and count your R.E.M.s / When you’re talking with your super friends. While Michael Stipe claims to have chosen the name of his band at random from a dictionary, could he have subconsciously heard these lyrics on the radio?

Hit: Denis

Hidden Gem: Bermuda Triangle Blues (Flight 45)

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