Music life in lockdown week 35

This is a review of the albums that I have been listening to whilst working from home. Albums listened to for week 35 covers from 16-20 November.

Monday 16 November

Starting of the new working week with three of my favourite albums from this year.  I was pleasantly surprised that Bruce Springsteen dropped a new album with the E Street Band.  After last years excellent Western Stars this album marked a return of the E Street Band for the first time since 2014’s High HopesLetter to You is Bruce addressing those questions of life as the album has been inspired following one of the deaths of his band mates from his previous band and of relationships with both his band and audience.  At the age of 71, you can tell that Bruce shows no signs of letting up.

Fourteen solo albums in and Bob Mould doesn’t look he is going to rest on his laurels.  Like Bruce, he turns out great albums.  Blue Hearts released in September this year is no exception and is hands down one of my favourite albums this year.  I will probably go as far as saying you are currently reading about which two albums are taking the top 2 slots for my top 10.

When Bob Mould is angry you can really tell on this album against the current backdrop of American politics.  Husker Du weren’t as vocal about the Regan era from the 80s but Bob doesn’t shy from his opinion on the now outgoing Trump.

Pearl Jam released their eleventh album after teasing it with cryptic clues over their social media platforms.  It came out a week after my birthday and with lockdown in full swing it took me a good part of the year to get Gigaton.  It was expensive first time I checked, nearly £18 for a single album.  Was trying to figure out why HMV priced it at that.  I mean Tool’s last album was nearly £80!  The price did come down reasonable, so I was glad to finally get it.

This album took a few listens to get into it and I have to say I do like it.  It feels like a more grown up grunge record and very experimental.  I would love to have experienced the new songs live.  Had a ticket for their London gig at Hyde Park in July but ended up getting a refund as it was cancelled due to COVID-19.

Tuesday 17 November

After listening to Bob Mould’s new solo album, today was all about his old band, Husker Du.  My first encounter with the band was with Sugar (Bob Mould’s band after the breakup).  Not knowing the history of them I found myself getting their back catalogue and loving it.

Many bands like Therapy? (they covered Diane on Infernal Love) and Foo Fighters (Bob Mould appeared on their album Wasting Light with vocals on Dear Rosemary) cite Husker Du as a massive influence and it is easy to see why.

In such a short space of time between 1983 and 1987 they had released 6 studio albums, 3 EPs and two live albums.  All very fast yet melodic all the same.

Zen Arcade (1984), New Day Rising (1985), Candy Apple Grey (1986) and Warehouse: Songs and Stories (1987) are all great albums.  The first Husker Du album I bought was The Living End (1994) which was live album.  This album got me into buying the other albums and there was that feeling of wishing you could have seen these guys live.  However, having seen Sugar once and Bob Mould solo loads of times I guess this was the closest I was ever going to get to hear Husker Du songs live.  Grant Hart was drummer of the band and he died in 2017.  There would be no chance of a reunion now.

Wednesday 18 November

Today it was all about Belfast punks, Stiff Little Fingers.  Formed in 1977 at the height of the Northern Ireland Troubles and the new punk scene, the band released Inflammable Material (1978) which taps into the grim reality of what life was like back then.  Alternative Ulster is often closed at gigs as the national anthem.   Second album, Nobody’s Heroes (1980) includes a cover of The Specials Doesn’t Make It Alright which shows the diversity of the band to do other songs other than punk.  I would think that Stiff Little Fingers were the Belfast version of The Clash.

Those two albums are the main ones I played from the box set which the albums came in their original sleeves.  I was too young to get into them at the time and I do remember seeing SLF on graffiti on walls and even in school.    It took me a long while to go and see them live and when I did, they have always put on a great show.

The last three years they have been headlining their own outdoor shows in Belfast curated by the band themselves who pick the support acts. 

Sometimes the support acts are value for money on their won to see them.  I done a review of this on my blog which you can read here.

No Going Back (2014) was released through Pledgemusic and lead track My Dark Places is a live favourite which sits in quite well with the older material.  Jack Burns touches on the issue of men’s mental health which is a very important issue.

The band have put out many live albums. Best Served Loud (2016) was recorded at Glasgow’s Barrowlands which is an amazing live venue.  If you ever get a chance to go to a gig in Glasgow, this is the place the experience live music.  It is almost like a second home for the band and the similarities between Belfast and Glasgow are not far between.

A good starting part to listen to them is to go for one of the best of compilations.  There are many out there, but I think Assume Nothing, Question Everything – The Very Best of Stiff Little Fingers (2012) features 42 tracks throughout their career with all the fan favourites.

Thursday 19 November

Back to the 1990s and another favourite band of mine from that time, Dinosaur Jr.

They formed in 1984 and after three albums on independent labels, the band earned a reputation as one of the formative influences on American alternative rock scene.  Start Choppin which was their biggest hit and it was after seeing the bands performance of Get Me on the BBC Late Show No Nirvana which showcased other alternative acts that lead to my purchase of Where You Been (1993) as my first album.  I guess the grunge revolution really did open the doors for these American bands I may not have heard of.  That programme alone was responsible for opening all those doors for me.  Check out the video below.

Follow up Without a Sound (1994) was a successful album.  Feel the Pain is a great track. After that I don’t know what happened but 1997’s Hand it Over completely bypassed me.  By 2007 nearly a decade after their last release, my interest in the band returned.  Beyond (2007), Farm (2009), I Bet on Sky (20120 and Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not (2016) are great albums.  Love the cover of Farm.  Sometimes I wonder if it was influenced by Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing comic for DC.

Some albums got the reissue treatment and I hope to get a few more but for now, I settled with Green Mind (1991) which was their fourth and first on a major label.  This should have been the first album for me but better late than never.  The 2019 editions contended extras with b sides and a live concert.  I wouldn’t get to see the band until 2016 when I saw them play both in Dublin and Manchester.  It was loud!

Friday 20 November

Ending the working week with Downpatrick’s finest band Ash.  Having covered the band on the blog previously it was time to look at the albums since Nu-Clear Sounds.  Their third album, Free All Angels (2001) was the one that turned things around for the band.  This is an absolute banger of an album and it is just as good as 1977.  Shining Light, Burn Baby Burn, Candy, Sometimes, There’s a Star and Walking Barefoot are all great singles.  The band know how to turn out singles.

This is highlighted on their first compilation album Intergalactic Sonic 7’s (2002) showcasing the singles and B-sides and rarities.  One if you are completist.  I have three best of albums by them!  The cover sleeve is in Manga style cartoon showing the bands love for both Star Wars and Transformers.

After the success of Free All Angels, album number five, Meltdown (2004) came out and was more of a hard rock album compared to the pop fusion punk of their previous releases.  Lead single Clones while not exactly about Star Wars but seeing the band are huge fans of the film, the track was use for a video game Star Wars: Republic Commando on the soundtrack.

By 2006 Charlotte Hatherley left the band and they reverted to a three piece and released Twilight of the Innocents (2007) which they said would be their last album.   It wasn’t that the band were splitting up that many had feared but more like trying to break the album-tour-album-tour cycle.

In 2009, the follow up to Twilight of the Innocents saw the release of singles only on a fortnight basis between 2009 and 2010.  The idea came about like the singles release only by The Wedding Present who released twelve 7” singles in 1992.  I didn’t subscribe to it at the time and was hoping that they would put the singles out as a collection which they did over two CDs A-Z Vol.1 and Vol.2 were released a year later.

I hope to get back to writing about Ash again as there is another chapter after this.

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