Music life in lockdown week 24

This is a review of the albums that I have been listening to whilst working from home. Albums listened to for week 23 covers from 31 August to 4 September.

Monday 31 August

Today was dedicated to the Manic Street Preachers. I was late getting into them. My interest in the band started around their third album, The Holy Bible and Everything Must Go was the first Manics album I bought and then of course you end up getting their very short back catalogue and picked up Generation Terrorists and Gold Against The Soul.

The band formed in 1986 and were influenced by the likes of The Clash and Public Enemy. On Generation Terrorists (1992) they proclaimed it would be the “greatest rock album ever”, as well as hoping to sell “sixteen million copies” around the world, after which they would split up. Which of course they never did, and it’s follow up Gold Against The Soul (1993) was a more polished record than their debut. Strangely enough this album is described as their least favourite but after a couple of listens to it I do quite like it. Generation Terrorists in comparison feels like more bloated album for a debut which clocked in at 18 tracks.

But it is the third album, The Holy Bible (1994) that everything changes. At the time the album was written and recorded, lyricist and rhythm guitarist Richey Edwards was struggling with severe depression, alcohol abuse, self-harm and anorexia nervosa, and its contents are considered by many sources to reflect his mental state. The albums themes relating to politics and human suffering. The Holy Bible was the band’s last album released before Edwards’ disappearance on 1 February 1995.

A very bleak and not easy listening experience compared to the first two albums. At the time of its release grunge was in decline and Britpop was starting to dominate so it wasn’t exactly an album to play at parties considering the lyric content.

Everything Must Go (1996) was their fourth album and first record released by the band following the disappearance of lyricist and rhythm guitarist Richey Edwards.

Released at the height of Britpop in the mid-1990s, the album was a commercial and critical success, it reached its peak in the UK on separate occasions, debuting and peaking at number 2 in the UK Albums Chart and earned the band accolades in the 1997 Brit Awards.

It was quite ironic that this album was more successful since Richey Edwards disappearance. The lyrical focus of the album is also shifted, due in part to Edwards’ departure. Instead of introspective and autobiographical tracks Nicky Wire’s predilection for historical and political themes dominates. Five songs on the album feature Edwards’ lyrics so his absence does makes its presence on the album. This was my second copy of the album as this was the 20th anniversary edition which included a live album recorded at Manchester Nynex Arena in 1997.

One of the my most recent purchases during the summer was James Dean Bradfield’s second solo album, Even In Exile (2020) which was a concept album based on the life and death of the Chilean activist, singer and poet Víctor Jara, with lyrics by poet and playwright Patrick Jones who is Nicky Wire’s brother. It was one of my favourite albums released this year.

Tuesday 1 September

Listening to a collection of live REM albums today and two of them had an Irish favour to it as they were recorded in Dublin.

R.E.M. Live (2007) was recorded at the Point Theatre, Dublin, on February 26 and 27, 2005, the closing nights of the winter European leg of the Around the World Tour in support of their thirteenth studio album Around the Sun. I got to see the band make their Belfast debut on February 25 the day before the Dublin shows.

Another live album from Dublin, Live At The Olympia (2009) was recorded during the band’s five-night residency at the Olympia Theatre, Dublin, between June 30 and July 5, 2007. I missed this one due to being in Greece over that period for a friends wedding. That would have been some gig to go to as it wasn’t a greatest hits live set more like road testing new songs and playing older songs that don’t often get played live. Just shows the strength of band that can delve into their back catalogue and play songs that haven’t been heard from their earlier shows.

One of my favourite REM live albums is the Unplugged 1991 2001 sessions (2014), released initially on vinyl for Record Store Day which I managed to get a copy of and then it was later made available on compact disc and digitally. Both MTV recordings show that the acoustic set up really suits the band. This album is right up there in the MTV Unplugged series with Nirvana, Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam.

Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth Part Garbage 1982-2011 (2011) coincided with the bands announcement that they were disbanding on 21 September 2011. This is the first compilation album that features both their early work on independent record label I.R.S. in addition to their 10 studio releases through Warner Bros. Having already got two previous best of albums I am always a sucker for another one seeing this issue had three previously unreleased songs. I am a bit of a completist.

Wednesday 2 September

Today it was the turn of the Scottish REM, Idlewild. I previously covered them here back in July and judging by two comments on Facebook from Brian who said it all went downhill after that and not to bother with the other albums and Barry asked if I was going to play the other albums. I said I would and here they are.

Scottish Fiction Best of 1997-2007 was released following Idlewild’s split from Parlophone/EMI, and, as a result, only features two songs from 2007’s Make Another World, which was released through Sequel Records. It is a a good introduction to the band featuring many of their well known songs.

Post Electric Blues (2009), Everything Ever Written (2015) and last years Interview Music are ok albums, not really brilliant like their earlier stuff so I can see where Brian is coming from in his comments. I gave the albums a go but they just didn’t grab my attention so Scottish Fiction got played again and it reminded me of why I got into the band in the first place. The band were due to play Belfast this autumn but sadly Covid-19 took care of that.

Thursday 3 September

Time to visit some American heavyweights with two of my favourite bands – Alice in Chains (AIC) and Helmet.

AIC have been covered her previously so this is the first outing for the Alice In Chains Mark 2 with new vocalist William DuVall.

Guitarist Jerry Cantrell, bassist Mike Inez, and drummer Sean Kinney reunited to perform a concert in Seattle for victims of the tsunami disaster that struck South Asia. It was the band’s first live performance since 1996 which started the ball rolling for them to get back together.

 On March 10, 2006, they performed at VH1’s Decades Rock Live concert, honouring fellow Seattle musicians Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart.  Comes with the Fall vocalist William DuVall made his first public performance with the band during that show singing AIC’s Rooster . He joined the band as lead singer during the band’s reunion concerts. One of the shows I got to see was when they came to Dublin to support Metallica.

On the reunion Cantrell stated, “We want to celebrate what we did and the memory of our friend. We have played with some [singers] who can actually bring it and add their own thing to it without being a Layne clone. We’re not interested in stepping on [Staley’s] rich legacy. It’s a tough thing to go through. Do you take the Led Zeppelin approach and never play again, because the guy was that important? That’s the approach we’ve taken for a lot of years. Or, do you give it a shot, try something? We’re willing to take a chance on it. It’s completely a reunion because the three of us who’re left are back together. But it’s not about separating and forgetting — it’s about remembering and moving on.”

This lead to the creation of the first post-Layne album, Black Gives Way to Blue (2009) which was their first record since Layne’s death in 2002. William DuVall is not Layne’s replacement. He brings another dimension into the band and the harmonisation during songs with Jerry shows that they really compliment each other.

The second post-Layne album, The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here (2013) is also excellent and features the usual AIC trademark style of sludgy guitars, haunting melodies and dark lyrics. I managed to get to see them on tour for this one when they came to Glasgow. There was no way I was going to miss a chance to see them again.

The most recent album, Rainer Fog (2018) is another favourite of mine. Since the band reformed I have really enjoyed all the albums they have put out. The title track, Rainier Fog is a fitting tribute to the Seattle music scene that launched bands such as, SoundgardenMother Love Bone, Mudhoney, Screaming Trees and Nirvana as well as themselves.

When the European tour came round for this album, they played Belfast for the first time since 1993 when the band took to the Ulster Hall. I was at that gig and it was great to see them back on home turf again. Two different shows. It was great to see Layne live back then but now I got a chance to see the band with DuVall and he puts on a great show. He never tries to imitate Layne but knows how to carry a tune. It was one of the best gigs that year.

Helmet were not grunge but were around the same time as the grunge explosion and also around that time many American bands were becoming part of the alt-rock nation. Three albums feature here – Meantime (1992), Betty (1994) and Aftertaste (1997).

Meantime featured three singles –  Unsung, Give It and In the Meantime gave the band international  recognition. Much to my regret I never got to see Helmet when they came to Dublin in 1994 which was when Betty came out. The album features their biggest hit, Milquetoast, which also appeared in alternate form on The Crow soundtrack as Milktoast. But I finally got to see them when they done a 20th anniversary tour for Meantime in 2012. Betty also got the 20th anniversary treatment as well but I never got to any of those shows.

Aftertaste is considered not as good as the previous two albums and the band are unfairly credited for being the influence of nu-metal which was starting to come through at that stage. That’s probably not a good sign but Helmet are a hell of a lot better than Limp Bizkit!

Meeting Page Hamilton after the gig who took the time to talk to fans, sign tickets and pose for selfies.

The last time I got to see the band was in 2019 when they done the 30th anniversary tour of 30 European cities, playing 30 songs from their catalogue with no support and no encores. The show at the Button Factory in Dublin’s Temple Bar area was brilliant and I got to meet Page Hamilton afterwards and he spoke fondly of his brothers, Therapy? which was great to here.

That would be the bucket list tour for me if those two got together. Damn Covid! I miss gigs.

Friday 4 September

Finishing off the working week with some albums by Texas’ finest …And You Will Know Us By Trail of Dead or Trail of Dead for short. The band formed in 1994 and were influenced by the likes of Fugazi, Melvins, Sonic Youth, Rush and Led Zeppelin to name but a few.

I discovered the band in 1999 with the release of Madonna. Not a tribute to the pop star from the 80s – Madonna but the cover of the album featured a Hindu goddess painting by guitarist Conrad Keely called Portrait of Kali. A fantastic album and the band were amazing live.

Prior to the release of Source Tags & Codes (2002) I got to see the band twice in 2001 – headlining an NME show at London’s legendary music venue, The Astoria which is sadly no longer with us. An insane set supported by Rocket From The Crypt and the then unknown The Strokes who were opening band of the night. The place descended into scenes of chaos as the band chucked their equipment into the crowd and you would have been lucky that night to walk out with their drum kit! Same chaos didn’t happen when they came to Belfast eight months later.

Source Tags & Codes was a favourite album of mine. It is the kind of record that takes you on a journey and when it finishes you just want to put it back on again. I don’t know what happened in the prior between 2005 and 2011 as they released four other albums, none of which I have. Can easily go on Spotify and listen to them if I want but will probably end up buying them at some point.

So fast forward to 2012 and Lost Songs which was an album inspired by real world events such as war, tyranny and apathy. The single Up To Infinity was dedicated to the Russian feminist act Pussy Riot. I missed out on album number 19 from 2014, IX and for a while I had forgotten all about the band. It wasn’t a case of losing interest in the band as other things were happening all around me so it was pretty hard to keep up to date of what bands are doing. But this year I found out they were releasing a new album, X: the Godless Void and Other Stories. This came out in January and probably one of the first albums I bought this year. Considering the year it has been with the pandemic this album was great to listen to and bring a bit of light into what was increasingly becoming a very darkened world.

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