Music life in lockdown week 39

This is a review of the albums that I have been listening to whilst working from home. Albums listened to for week 39 covers from 14-18 December.  The penultimate lockdown post before the final one for week 40.

Monday 14 December

Today was the first time in years that I had listened to these Bush CDs.  The band formed in1992 and found immediate success with their debut Sixteen Stone (1994) becoming one of the most commercially successful rock bands of the 1990s.

However, despite their popularity in the USA, they were less popular in their home country probably around the period that Britpop groups were dominating the UK charts and the appeal of grunge was on the decline.

Second album, Razorblade Suitcase (1996) was recorded by Steve Albini who only three years earlier recorded In Utreo for Nirvana.  A much rawer record than the debut album, it went straight to number 1 in America.  There were a lot of Nirvana comparisons with this album.

In 1997 the band came to Belfast playing at the Ulster Hall and I was at that one.  In fact, I wouldn’t get to see the band again until the Glastonbury Festival in 1999.

Looking back on the critical reception for this album, NME gave it 1 out of 10.  Ouch.  I quite liked this album.

The last two albums The Science of Things (1999) and Golden State (2001) were the last Bush albums I had bought.  The Science of Things tried to incorporate some the electronic elements into their rock sound probably influenced by the Deconstructed remix album from 1997.

Golden State was a decent enough album with the band trying to go back to the 1994 sound.  After this I had forgotten all about them as I was getting into other bands around the early 2000s.  Looked up their discography and found that they released four more albums between 2011 and 2020. 

Tuesday 15 December

No strangers to lockdown over the last nine months, local heroes Therapy? were my band of lockdown.  When you have songs like Going Nowhere and Isolation (Joy Division cover) you could see a tint of irony in here.

Having just completed reading Simon Young’s excellent So Much For the 30 Year Plan biography it made sense to revisit some of these albums as I had been listening to the likes of Nurse, Troublegum and Infernal Love quite a lot.

To be following a band 30 years into their career is something else.  I think I have remained loyal to the band throughout their career.  What this book showed me was how to appreciate what they have done.  Infernal Love was never going to scale the same heights as Troublegum but even looking back now I am starting to appreciate it a lot more than I did at the time.

Never Apologise, Never Explain (2004) saw the band return to a three piece after the departure of Martin McGarrick. and this album was reminiscent of the claustrophobic sound of their earlier material. 

Crooked Timber (2009) is a great album, and my copy is signed by the guys.  The album was produced by Gang of Four’s Andy Gill who sadly died last year.   A solid album and I reckon it is right up there with Troublegum.

The next three studio albums – A Brief Crack of Light (2012), Disquiet (2015) and Cleave (2018) showed no sign of the band easing up.  All three albums are brilliant and are a must for any fan to have in their collection.

As the pandemic was starting, I really thought I was going to miss out on the Greatest Hits album released in March last year.  Should have ordered at the time but left it too late and it sold out on the band’s website.  The album’s title Greatest Hits The Abbey Road Session caused an issue which arose by the studio over naming rights, so all re-pressings and digital copies got retitled Greatest Hits (2020 Versions).

When the shops reopened last summer, I paid a visit to my local HMV and to my delight they had the album with the original title, and I was so happy to get it.  This is a greatest hits with a difference in that the band play their successful top 40 singles updated for 2020 which included an appearance of James Dean Bradfield doing vocals on Die Laughing which was fantastic. 

The second part of the double CD release, entitled Official Bootleg 1990–2020, features 15 live songs (one to represent each studio album in the band’s discography) recorded between 1990 and 2018, compiled from the band’s personal archives and features songs that you rarely hear.

Wednesday 16 December

Midweek and time to get the last gang in town, The Clash out for another blast.  Throughout lockdown band have been a regular fixture in my playlists so I went for something a wee bit different today.

The Clash on Broadway box set compilation album comprises 64 tracks on three compact discs, spanning the period from their first single White Riot in 1977, through the Combat Rock album of 1982.  When I first bought this, I thought it was a live album from around that time that they were huge in the USA.

Over three CDs it is like an extended greatest hits album but this band have had some many compilation albums it brings me to the next one, The Clash Hits Back (2013) as a double CD and the album was done in the sequence to copy the set played by the band at the Brixton Fair Deal (now Academy), rounding off with some songs that failed to make the set that night.

This set was released simultaneously with an eleven-disc box set titled Sound System along with 5 Album Studio Set, which contains the band’s first five studio albums.   I didn’t bother buying it as I have all the albums apart from Cut the Crap.

There possibility can’t be any more material to be released or is there?

Thursday 17 December

As the week is ending, something unexpected happed on Twitter.  Richard Shaw’s 3albums series jumped right to 2020 which I don’t think was on the radar but considering the year it has been with no gigs, music being released was a great relief.

Overall, I only purchased 14 albums.  Throughout the year I have been listening to my vast collection so probably not taking the time to find new music to listen to.  The first seven albums here are:

Iron Maiden Legacy of the Beast Live in Mexico.  Recorded during the Legacy of the Beast world tour the now obligatory live album by the band is always going to happen ever since the legendary Live After Death album from 1985.  In no way this CD was going to replace the actual live experience of going to see the band but as 2020 was a complete right off gig wise this was as good as it was getting.

Biffy Clyro A Celebration of Endings was one of the albums I bought before lockdown.  I didn’t really enjoy their last album so I kind of bought this album just for the sake of having.  The album didn’t leap out at me on first couple of plays but after a few listens I thought it was a decent enough effort.

Fontaines DC released their second album A Heroes Death, a mere 18 months after their debut Dogrel.  Having seen the band live in 2019 I wasn’t really expecting a follow up so soon.  They were due to play Belfast last summer, but the pandemic put that one on hold.

As far as second albums go this is an excellent follow up and moves away from the post punk sound of their debut.  Here’s hoping we can get to see this band live again whenever the gigs start happening again.

Fake Names was a record I had been wanting to get all year and never go round it until recently.  The self-titled debut record punk rock supergroup includes Brian Baker (Minor Threat, Dag Nasty, Bad Religion), Michael Hampton (S.O.A., Embrace, One Last Wish), Dennis Lyxzén (Refused, International Noise Conspiracy, INVSN), and Johnny Temple (Girls Against Boys, Soulside)

This is a brilliant album and it only clocks 28 minutes, but it is probably the best 28 minutes of listening you will get and then you play it again.  In fact, I think I lost count of how many times I played it!

Rounded off the day with some solo albums from some legends of alt-rock scene – Greg Dulli, Mark Lanegan and Bob Mould.

Greg Dulli worked on some solo material after the release of The Afghan Whigs In Spades album.  It would become a solo project when he realised that many of his band mates were not available so he went off and done his own album writing, arranging and playing the bulk of the instruments with some guest musicians on the album.  It was a different album and one that I was not expecting.  Think my expectations were around his previous works on The Gutter Twins and The Twilight Singers.

Mark Lanegan needs no introduction.  He has been a regular feature throughout the year and Straight Songs of Sorrow was on my list to get for a long while and never got round to it.  I bought this album along with Fake Names early in December.  The album was inspired by writing his memoir Sing Backwards and Weep which I have yet to read.  I really liked this album but was it going to be enough to get into the top 3?

Front runner for a place in the top 3 was always going to be Bob MouldBlue Hearts was possibly the angriest album he has ever written.  Not shying away to make commentary of what is happening in his country now, Bob Mould admits that when he was in Husker Du they didn’t quite make any records about the Regan era.  If previous album Sunshine Rock showed signs of Bob Mould softening, Blue Hearts was a firm reminder of the fury that remains. 

Friday 18 December

Time for the remaining contenders to step forward.   Therapy’s 2020 versions got sneaked it as it wasn’t technical a best of album more of a reworking of older songs for 2020.  That sounds like cheating, but I don’t care, this album was one of my favourites of the year and it got another outing today.

Following James Dean Bradfield’s appearance on the Therapy? album I was quite pleased to hear that he had done a solo album, Even in Exile.

This was his second solo studio album and 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. (Nicky Wire’s brother).

Throwing Muses released their first album in seven years with Sun Racket which came out in September.  I thought I would like them as Tanya Donelly from Belly had previously provided backing vocals for them.  I really liked this album and will be checking out some of their other albums.

…And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead released their new album X: The Godless Void and Other Stories in January.  This was one of the first albums I purchased at the start of the year and they would be one band that I would listen to a lot during lockdown. Would love to see them live again.

Biggest surprise of the year for me was AC/DC putting out a new album, Power Up also sometimes shortened to PWR/UP and stylised as PWRϟUP.  To be honest after seeing them in Dublin back in 2015 I didn’t think they would ever be active again after lead singer Brian Johnston started to having hearing loss and was then replaced by Axl Rose.

There were a few teasers out on social media so there was a bit of a buzz about the new album.  I thought while it has been a terrible year a new AC/DC can’t be a bad thing.  They do what they do best and if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.  It was a decent album from a band that I thought had been finished.

Bruce Springsteen returned with the E Street Band for the first time since 2014.  After the success of Western Stars in 2019, Bruce was back with an excellent album that dealt about mortality and aging.  Bruce is 71 now and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.  The album is not that morbid as it does tackle those issues that we all face regret, aging and dying.  If there was ever an album, we needed during a pandemic I think it is this one because it all about the important things in life and makes you sit up and take notice.

Gigaton by Pearl Jam came out the week after my birthday and right during lockdown.  The was a flurry of activity online with cryptic clues going out over the social media platforms and the release of the first single, Dance of the Clairvoyants and quickly followed by Superblood Wolfmoon as tasters for the new album.

My first reaction was wow, this sounds different.  The band have evolved so much from when I started listening to them back in the 1990s, I wasn’t dismissive of the new material just needed to listen to it and hopefully it would grow on me.

 By the time I got the album I was starting to enjoy it and would have been looking forward to seeing the in London last summer.  Sadly, the pandemic took care of touring plans and even though they have rescheduled for this year, I doubt it very much if any big shows will go ahead.

That’s week 39 wrapped up.  Next post will be the milestone week 40.

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