Tag Archives: Revolver

Rocks In The Attic #603: Alanis Morissette – ‘Jagged Little Pill’ (1995)

RITA#603On Boxing Day in 1995 I got the bus into Manchester, my Christmas money burning a hole in my pocket. I think I’ve managed to avoid Boxing Day crowds ever since, but you don’t think about these things when you’re a teenager.

It was cold on Market Street, super cold. Still, those with money to spend had braved the cold to be able to spend it. I couldn’t find anything worth buying in the big HMV – my record store of choice – and found myself at the Virgin Megastore down the street.

I bought two CDs that day – the Beatles’ Revolver and Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill. One album would be an evergreen in my record collection to this day, the other a passing trend. In fact, a few years later when I sold all of my CDs, and started buying records, I re-bought Revolver immediately. Jagged Little Pill was released back in the day on vinyl, but it would have only been a limited run, and I probably wouldn’t have been too bothered in tracking it down.

If anything, I felt a little betrayed by the album. It had been marketed to me as an alternative rock fan – the lead single You Oughta Know came with a dark music video featuring Red Hot Chili Peppers Flea and Dave Navarro, who played on the song. I was still interested in the Chili Peppers around this time, and the recently released One Hot Minute was a regular feature on my Discman, so their involvement added an air of respectability to Morissette. You Oughta Know might be a great, rocking song but it’s one that is completely under-representative of the rest of the album.

And herein lies the rub. The rest of the record is interesting enough, but after I heard Hand In My Pocket or Ironic about a hundred times on the radio, my enthusiasm for the record started to wane. The album spilled a staggering six singles into the pop charts, and so it became harder to enjoy as a complete body of work.

RITA#603aI was still excited twenty years later to hear about the vinyl re-issue by Newbury Comics (and in a lovely blue marble pressing). But what would I think about the album after all these years? Well, it brings back lots of great memories from around 1995 and 1996 – finishing Sixth Form, a great summer with friends, and leaving home to go to University – but that’s about it.

I’m much more cynical now. Songs such as Perfect, Your Learn, Head Over Feet and Wake Up are stereotypical ‘90s coffee-shop rock. The overplayed big singles are just as hard to listen to, seemingly crafted to appeal to casual music fans or AOR fans looking for something between Bryan Adams albums. It’s not surprising to hear that Morissette co-wrote the album with producer Glen Ballard – the man who co-wrote Man In The Mirror for Michael Jackson.

The cynic in me also feels justified when I found out – via Morrissey’s autobiography – about a meeting he had with Warner Records in the early ‘90s:

Seconds later, I am not in his office. I am politely ushered out. I ask key faces at Reprise what it was all about, and I am reliably informed how Warner need a massively successful ‘act’ who is ‘alternative’, and I was indeed being auditioned for the star part since I had thus far been the most successful ‘alternative’ artist in America.
‘Alternative to what?’ I foolishly ask.
I hear nothing more, but I note the immediate meteoric Warner rise of Alanis Morissette – the incongruous promotional manifesto enveloping her first album that shifts 27 million copies worldwide. Evidently Alanis had all that I lacked in order to gain a saturated global push.
‘Is THAT why I was interviewed? I later ask Howie Klein.
‘YES!’ he half-shouts, as if I ought to know everything.

The rolodex spat out the next card in the alphabet and in Morrissey’s place they reinvented Morissette, a Canadian singer with two forgettable dance-pop albums to her name.

I’ve recently been re-watching The Trip To Italy. It was nice to hear Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon also reappraise her landmark album.

Hit: Ironic

Hidden Gem: All I Really Want

Rocks In The Attic #592: George Gershwin – ‘Manhattan (O.S.T.)’ (1979)

RITA#592
I recently got to see Woody Allen’s Manhattan on the big screen – re-released and screened as part of the New Zealand International Film Festival’s Autumn Classics programme.

Of the two most famous films of his ‘70s output – 1977’s Annie Hall and 1979’s Manhattan (the Rubber Soul / Revolver of Allen’s filmography) – I’ve always preferred Manhattan. While Annie Hall is undoubtedly a fantastic film, overshadowing Star Wars at the 1978 Academy Awards by winning Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay (Allen & Marshall Brickman) and Best Actress (Diane Keaton), it’s accolades also bring a lot of weight with it.

Manhattan, on the other hand, didn’t win a sausage at the 1980 Academy Awards – despite nominations for Best Supporting Actress (Mariel Hemingway) and Best Original Screenplay (Allen & Brickman again). Where Annie Hall is the quintessential Woody Allen film, and the progenitor of the modern romantic-comedy, it also suffers from being the most obvious, the one chosen as a life template by dilettante faux-bohemian women due to the kooky allure of Diane Keaton’s character.

Manhattan is the Woody Allen fan’s Woody Allen film. It’s shot in 2.35:1 widescreen black-and-white, which avoids the risk of any low-brow audience seeing it, and it’s also a much more low-key affair. The nature of the relationship between Woody Allen and Diane Keaton’s characters might be the narrative focus of Annie Hall, but in Manhattan this is merely a peripheral matter. Instead, the later film deals more with the threat of being alone in a city full of people. As a result, while the one-liners in Annie Hall may be funnier, the jokes in Manhattan have more weight.

While Annie Hall may serve as the template formula for the rom-coms of today’s cinema, it’s the overbearing melancholia of Manhattan that inspired perhaps the greatest film in the modern-day genre, Rob Reiner’s When Harry Met Sally (1989).

Hit: Rhapsody In Blue

Hidden Gem: Mine

Rocks In The Attic #515: Thin Lizzy – ‘Jailbreak’ (1976)

RITA#515I’ve been blasting Lizzy a lot recently. Their Wild One compilation, the CD that turned me onto them, is a favourite on my iPod. There’s nothing like a quick blast of Jailbreak to decompress on my drive home from work.

I saw the fantastic film Sing Street recently. Directed by John Carney, formerly of Irish band the Frames, it’s set in Dublin like his awesome 2007 film Once. That earlier film had a lovely moment when the film’s protagonists try to enlist the services of a couple of Grafton Street buskers to back him on a recording of his songs. They immediately ask him if they’ll be recording ‘any Lizzy’; the subtext implying that the city’s struggling musicians haven’t moved on from the successes of its black rocker son.

Everybody’s heard The Boys Are Back In Town. Advertisers love it, and it commonly adorns film soundtracks. The title-track Jailbreak is something else though. Its white-hot, guttural guitar riff is too vulgar to be a mainstream hit. It shouldn’t work; it’s too simple. Brian Downey’s drums turn it into something else though. In the hands of a lesser drummer, it would be a dirge, but Downey’s syncopation – man, those opening high-hats! – breathes life into the arrangement.

Jailbreak is the sixth studio album by the band, and proved to be the one that broke them in the U.S.; and with good reason. It’s the perfect mix of melodic heavy rock and Phil Lynnot’s soulful, romantic lyrics. The twin-guitar of American Scott Gorham and Scot Brian Robertson also feels much more natural here than it does on earlier albums. If anything, the guitars feel fat where on the last couple of Lizzy records, they lacked that ballsy sound.

This might be the most successful Lizzy album, their biggest seller, but I prefer its follow-up Johnny The Fox, released just seven months later. They’re both so good though – the Rubber Soul / Revolver of the band.

Hit: The Boys Are Back In Town

Hidden Gem: Running Back

Rocks In The Attic #495: Neil Young – ‘Harvest’ (1972)

RITA#495If ever I could pick a perfect album, this is one of the ones I would pick. Yes, it might not be to everybody’s taste, but in terms of a record that has a consistent level of quality songwriting from start to finish, it’s up there with the likes of Revolver, Dark Side Of The Moon and Led Zeppelin IV.

I shouldn’t like it either. It’s got both feet firmly steeped in the country tradition, and I’m somewhat allergic to that most inbred of musical genres. It was recorded in Nashville too, so it’s the real deal. Young went down there and recorded the album with a pick-up band, writing out the charts for them using the Nashville number system they would have been very familiar with.

Of all the 33⅓ books I’ve read, the one on Harvest, by Sam Inglis has been my favourite so far. It’s one of the earliest ones in the series – the third one to be published – and is well recommended if you wish to know more about the recording of the record. Some of those 33⅓ books can be a bit hit and miss, but that one seems to stand out from that early bunch of titles.

I probably need a new copy of this record. I picked up a second-hand copy a few years ago that has definitely seen better days. The cover looks like it’s been under somebody’s pillow for 12 months, and there’s a fair bit of surface noise on the actual disc. Either that or Neil Young employed somebody to fry some eggs in the studio as they were recording.

Hit: Heart Of Gold

Hidden Gem: The Needle And The Damage Done

Rocks In The Attic #384: The Beatles – ‘Mono Masters’ (2009)

RITA#384So the plan was to buy the Beatles In Mono vinyl box set, and then sell the stereo box set that I bought a couple of years ago. That was the plan. But then I got it home – from supporting my local independent record store, I like to add – and plonked it down on my shelves next to the stereo set. I couldn’t split these two up, could I? Not when they’re both so…different.

The differences – both minor and major – are a wonderful thing between these two sets. I do agree that mono is king, especially here when the Beatles contributed to the mono mixes, and left the ‘after the fact’ stereo mixes to the studio engineers. It’s just such an oddity how some of the changes can be so noticeable. For a band known for their high quality control, it’s amazing that the stereo mixes were handled so poorly. People applaud George Martin and the Beatles for being so innovative and forward-thinking. Here, they were largely disregarding an audio format that would go on to dominate the music industry by the end of the decade.

It’s nice to see that they expanded this record into a triple, rather than reduce the running time due to some of the later singles not receiving a mono mix. In place of those later singles, we get some tracks mixed in mono intended for a Yellow Submarine EP that never saw the light of day. As welcome as this is, it does change things slightly – in the past I always say the two Past Masters discs as representative of each half of their career. Past Masters Vol. 2 begins with Day Tripper, recorded during the Rubber Soul sessions just as the Beatles were starting to wholeheartedly reflect outside influences, in this case the Motown sound. On Mono Masters, Day Tripper turns up halfway through the third side.

With the Beatles In Mono box set, I now own the core catalogue three times over (I already owned them all prior to the stereo remasters). Do I need three copies of the White Album? Three copies of Revolver and Rubber Soul? Three copies of Sgt. Pepper’s? Damn right I do!

Hit: She Loves You

Hidden Gem: Hey Bulldog

Rocks In The Attic #332: The Beatles – ‘Yellow Submarine (O.S.T.)’ (1969)

RITA#332Strangely it took Apple records a long seven months after the Yellow Submarine film was in cinemas to release this soundtrack accompaniment.  That wouldn’t happen these days. In fact these days, the soundtrack albums typically beat the films to the marketplace in most cases. I guess Apple records was a relatively new to this sort of thing, so they can be forgiven. Still, it’s not a great album, is it?

The 1999 rerelease album (the Yellow Submarine Songtrack) is a far better collection of songs – being made up of the actual Beatles songs – both old and new – which appear in the film. The first side of the original soundtrack is bookended by Yellow Submarine (from Revolver) and the All You Need Is Love single from 1967. The excellent Hey Bulldog and the forgettable All Together Now were recorded especially for the soundtrack, while Only A Northern Song was a leftover from Sgt. Pepper’s and the delicious feedback of It’s All Too Much was from a session not too long after.

The second side of the album is taken up with excerpts of George Martin’s orchestral score for the film. This is probably the main reason why the album seems to sit uncomfortably in the Beatles’ official studio canon – for half of its running time, the Beatles don’t even appear.

Yet, despite the soundtrack album’s misgivings, the film itself is strangely enjoyable. The animation is great, and there are plenty of in-jokes and references for adult audiences. It’s almost a precursor to the type of film that Pixar would make a couple of decades later.  It’s probably a good film because the Beatles themselves didn’t have very much to do with it (aside from their very short appearance at the end of the film, in all their sideburned glory), because let’s face it, the quality of their films went quickly downhill after A Hard Day’s Night.

Hit: Yellow Submarine

Hidden Gem: Hey Bulldog

Rocks In The Attic #310: Stone Temple Pilots – ‘Core’ (1992)

RITA#310I’ve been lucky with finding coloured vinyl copies of STP’s back catalogue. I love coloured vinyl and I love Stone Temple Pilots so it’s nice to have their first three albums on yellow, purple and blue marble vinyl respectively.

Core was the first STP album I bought – in the Boxing Day sale in 1994 if I remember correctly. I also bought the Beatle’s Revolver and Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill on the same day. Well, two out of three ain’t bad. Those were the days too when I would buy CDs and be able to listen to them almost instantly on the bus ride home on my Discman. I bought the CDs from the original Virgin Megastore on Market Street – the cool building with the cash from the tills going round the building in pneumatic pipes. Core would have found its way into my Discman by the time I had marched back up Market Street to get the 24 or 181 home.

Of the first three STP albums, Core is clearly the best although Purple and Tiny Music… both have their strong points. Core just sounds more cohesive, like they had toured the shit out of these songs before Brendan O’Brien put them down on record. It’s also the heaviest album of the three, with fewer departures into other genres than its successors. While those musical variations characterise the second and third album, it’s the straightforward and no-nonsense approach that sums up the sound on Core.

My first exposure to the band was seeing them perform Plush on some MTV awards – probably in 1993. I immediately disliked them because Weiland came from the Eddie Vedder school of grunty singing. It wasn’t until I heard Vasoline – the second single off their second album – that I started to change my mind. They’re constantly looked at as opportunists, riding the tailcoats of grunge with little in the way of originality but when you take the grunge lens off them they probably have a lot more in common with classic American rock of the 1970s.

Guitarist Dean DeLeo and brother Robert DeLeo on bass are true heroes of mine, and one of their greatest accomplishments is managing to lay down so much great material while dealing with the challenge of Scott Weiland. I’m very lucky to have been able to finally see the band play in the New Zealand in 2011 – before the latest spat in 2013 saw the band fire Weiland and record with another singer.

They played Crackerman – my favourite STP song – only a few songs into that set at the Vector Arena and I could have walked out there and then, a very happy man.

Hit: Plush

Hidden Gem: Crackerman