Music life in lockdown week 26

This is a review of the albums that I have been listening to whilst working from home. Albums listened to for week 25 covers from 14-19 September. All albums feature on @RichardS7370 #3albums2005.

Monday 14 September

Starting off the new working week all dedicate to the year 2005. By the end of the week I will be picking my top 3 albums from that year. So throughout the week we will go through the contenders. Some albums have featured before, others getting played for first time in ages.

The contenders on Monday were – Calla, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Mould, Arcade Fire, Audioslave and Death Cab for Cutie.

First up was Calla who to be honest I cannot for the life of me remember how or why I picked this album, Collisons. Described as post-rock and I was listening to some of that at the time but this album just passes me by. One of those ones you buy and then think what was buying that for?

Bruce Springsteen is no stranger to the blog, in fact Devils & Dust featured back in week 25 if you want to catch up on the review here.

Being a fan of both Sugar and Husker Du, there is always a place for Bob Mould. By Bob’s sixth solo album he was returning to his rock roots after trying his band on electronic music.

Body of Song contained much of the electronic influence of its predecessor Modulate, but Mould’s trademark guitar work, which had been buried in the former album’s mix, was brought back to the forefront which was a welcome return to form.

Audioslave’s second album Out of Exile is a favourite of mine. I like this one better than their debut as the band finally find their feet. When you have the 3 former members of Rage Against The Machine and Chris Cornell from Soundgarden on vocals, you were always going to get the comparisons with their previous bands.

Even in concert, they deliberately choose not to play songs from the previous bands but choose cover versions as way of finding their feet. Notably cover versions I have heard seeing them live included The White Stripes 7 Nation Army and The Clash’s White Riot. Weirdly enough the last time I saw the band at the Oxegen festival in County Kildare, they did play Killing In The Name much to the delight of the crowd but I fond it a bit odd seeing Chris Cornell trying to rap like Zach de la Rocha.

I think may have caused a bit of controversy when compiling this list by including Arcade Fire’s debut album, Funeral on the playlist. I really thought it was released in 2005 as it seemed to have topped most polls that year. When I went onto Google to research the albums, the UK release date was given as 2005. It was released in the USA and Canada in 2004. Oh well that eliminated that from the contenders for #3albums05.

Rounding off the day was Death Cab for Cutie. Plans received generally positive reviews and picks up where 2003’s Transatlanticism left off. The album produced three singles and was nominated for Grammy in 2006.

Tuesday 15 September

Today’s contenders were Elbow, The Cribs, Foo Fighters, Depeche Mode, Feeder and Idlewild.

Elbow were considered of the favourites for the poll but after listening to Leaders of the Free World I was nearly scrambling for the off switch. Maybe it was just me or maybe after not listening to them for so long I kind of forgot what they sounded like. This was their third album and I have most of their catalogue but don’t think I will be revisiting soon. Change my mind!

Next up was NME favourites, The Cribs whose second album The New Fellas was came in at 11th place in their albums of the year. It’s a good album but not in my top 10. The same magazine even declared the song Hey Scenesters! was named one of the “Greatest Indie Anthems Ever”.

High praise indeed. I might revisit this band at some point to give them another go.

Idlewild featured here on two separate lockdown playlists. Today, their fourth album Warnings/Promises gets a chance to be a contender. This album is a departure from the sound of their earlier material, blending contemporary folk influences with melodic rock. There isn’t anything that’s instantly catchy like previous singles When I Argue I See Shapes or You Held the World in Your Arms. I think this would be best described as their last best album.

Pushing the Senses was Feeder’s fifth album and was quite similar to Comfort in Sound. Many critics saw the band becoming like Coldplay or Keane but I don’t think they are. It did really well in the end of year polls and even Grant Nicholas was annoyed about the Coldplay comparisons. Just because you add a bit of piano doesn’t turn a band into Coldplay. While the album is not a real rocker like previous albums I still think this is a good album.

Depeche Mode’s Playing The Angel was their eleventh album and a favourite of mine after Violator. The album is a classic blend of synth-pop beats, heavy guitar riffs and dark lyrics. Probably not an album for putting on during a party but its a great album and a definite for my top 3. We will see how the rest of the week goes.

I have been a fan of Foo Fighters from the very start and In Your Honor for album number five, saw the band releasing a double album of heavy rock songs on one disc and mellower acoustic songs on the second disc. A decision by Dave Grohl to do a diverse blend of songs. The album featured some high profile guest stars such as John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin), Norah Jones, and Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age). It’s a good album and doing the acoustic stuff shows the band can strip it back while still being able to rock.

Wednesday 16 September

Midweek on the countdown to picking 3 albums for 2005. Today’s contenders included Kaiser Chiefs, The National, Nine Inch Nails, Nine Black Alps, Maximo Park and Nada Surf.

Kaiser Chief’s debut album Employment took its inspirations from the Britpop and new wave movements, 1970s-era punk rock and Beach Boys-esque West Coast music. At the time I really liked this and seeing them in the Limelight was my Oasis moment, ie getting to see a band play a small venue before they get huge. After this the band did get huge.

Another debut album from that year came from Maximo Park who released A Certain Trigger. Also another band that you picked up after reading about them in NME. They headlined the NME new bands tour and Arctic Monkeys were on the same bill. After they finished their set lots of people left. I have never been to a gig seeing people leave before the headliners come on. Bizzare!

Still on the theme of debut albums, Nine Black Alps debut Everything Is was an album that took you back to the grunge era. You could tell that the band were definitely fans of Nirvana. A really good album and I enjoyed it.

I was late getting into The National. The first album I heard was Boxer and naturally you go backwards to find their earlier works and I came across Alligator which was their third album. This is a great album and it features the song Mr November which the band designed and sold a t-shirt featuring Obama’s image above the words “Mr. November” referencing the closing track of the album and the month of the U.S. presidential election.

Nada Surf formed back in the 1990s and have released nine albums. The Weight is a Gift was their fourth album and I picked this one up at one of their shows in Belfast a few years ago. I like their style and the Coldplay comparisons are a bit unfair. These guys do rock live.

Leaving the heavyweights until the end with Nine Inch Nails and their fourth album, With Teeth. At this stage the album was pushing for being a strong contender for the top 3. Dave Grohl even pops up this album along with future band member Atticus Ross. Three singles were released from the album – The Hand That Feeds, Only and Every Day Is Exactly The Same. This was another candidate for the top 3. Still got two more days to go through.

Thursday 17 September

Six more albums to go through today and its a real mixed bag with Paramore, Sons and Daughters, System of a Down, Queens of the Stone Age, Sleater Kinney and The Subways.

So a bit of pop punk with Paramore and their debut album All We Know Is Falling to start the day. Not an album that was going to set the world on fire but I gave it a go and it wasn’t that bad.

Scottish band Sons and Daughters second album The Repulsion Box got a listen for the first time in ages. I can’t remember what lead to the purchase of this album. Most likely a recommendation from NME at the time.

Another band picked up from NME was The Subways. The cover mounted CDs were good ways to pick up new bands to like. Their debut album Young for Eternity was really good featuring the singles 1am, Oh Yeah and Rock and Roll Queen.

I first came across Sleater Kinney back in 2000 with their fifh album All Hands on the Bad One. Don’t know what happened but kind of forgot all about them until their reunion in 2014 with the release of The Center Won’t Hold and I got to see the band play at Dublin’s Vicar Street so needed to get a few more of their albums to get up to speed! The Woods was album no.7 and a really good record. Will it be enough to squeeze into the top 3?

System of a Down released two albums in 2005, today we have Mezmerize which is quite a short album by them. It only clocks just over 36 minutes of music. My first reaction to a band releasing two albums in one year lead me to think back when I purchased Use Your Illusion 1 and 2 by Guns ‘N’Roses back in 1990.

Mezmerize and Hypnotize (left that until Friday to play) both debuted at number 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart, making the band one of the few to achieve this with two albums in the same year. Hypnotize would be the bands last album before going on a four-year hiatus in 2006, and the band didn’t release new music for more than a decade, until late 2020 when they unexpectedly released two new songs which I haven’t had a chance to hear yet.

I am a big fan of Queens of The Stone Age and Lullabies to Parlayze was the bands fourth album which was released around the time of my birthday. This was the first album they done after Nick Oliveri was fired from the band. Mark Lanegan and Josh Homme being the only members from the previous album Songs for the Deaf to play on this one along with new members Joey Castillo on drums (Dave Grohl wasn’t available) and guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen. Live favourite Little Sister and Burn the Witch feature on this album. This should be a contender for the top 3 unless another album is going to sneak in. We shall see.

Friday 18 September

The week is coming to an end and the last batch of contenders are ready to roll. System of a Down, The White Stripes, And You Will Know Us By Trail of Dead, Teenage Fanclub, Thrice and Weezer.

System of a Down get their second and last album, Hypnotize played today. I think it was a good idea splitting the albums down over the two days. Looking back I don’t rate either of these two albums as good as their first two.

I suspect The White Stripes are white hot favourites (pun intended) with Get Behind Me Satan. While I liked the album it wasn’t going to be in my top 3. Now two albums are certs, it is a question of who is going to get third place.

Weezer’s fifth album was a real return to form boosted by the hit single Beverly Hills. It’s a decent album but not as good as their first two albums. Thrice on the other hand went a bit experimental with their fourth album Vheissu. Parts of it recalled the post-hardcore stylings of At the Drive-In, with Radiohead-esque atmospheric transition and some mid tempo arrangements with the loud/quiet dynamic of Thursday and Deftones.

Teenage Fanclub have been seasoned regulars during lockdown and that is testament to what a great band they are. So good even Kurt Cobain loved them back at the start. Man-Made was their eighth album. A really good album but not quite good enough to clinch the last spot available for #3albums05.

That honour was going to And You Will Know Us By Trail of Dead (Trail of Dead in shorter form after this) who released their forth album Worlds Apart. Just thinking I had been listening to Trail of Dead previously on 4 September but looking back at that post, I forgot all about Worlds Apart in that review, so this is the delayed verdict on the album that made me pick it for my top 3 of 2005.

Worlds Apart is an album that just grabs your attention immediately. From the quiet piano riff, to chants, drums and screams, this album feels like you have been in the ring in a heavy weight fight. A worthy selection for #3albums50.

The verdict – well I was wrong about The White Stripes. They came in at no.15. The album that won was Sufijan Stevens with Illionis. Thirteen of the albums that I had in my contenders did make it into the top 50. My picks – Nine Inch Nails and Depeche Mode tied at no.33. My last pick Trail of Dead was bubbling under. Damn! Could have went for Queens of the Stone Age in the end but picking your favourite is not about the popularity of the album or artist it is more about what that album means to you and for me I thought it was a decent shout.

Next blog for week 27 will be back to normal with selected bands and maybe just one best of year.

#7albums10s Twitter poll

Last week we had two very important polls – the US Presidential race and Richard Shaw’s #7albums10s.

There was no postal votes and recounts, although it took a lot longer to find out out who won and it was by Sunday evening, that David Bowie’s final album before he died, Blackstar came out on top with 398 points and a clear winner.

I must admit Bowie has definitely been one of those artists that I never really warmed to growing up. Too young to appreciate the Ziggy Stardust era, vaguely remember him a bit more during the 80s, particularly doing a duet with Mick Jagger and also his side project, Tin Machine. Maybe this is a chance to try something a bit different. There were loads of albums that caught my eye on the overall list so definitely keen to branch out a bit more and give somebody else a chance.

For the seven albums that I picked, only five of them polled. The albums that didn’t make it onto the list were Queens of the Stone Age Like Clockwork and Wolf Alice My Love is Cool.

So for the last two weeks I have been listening to my top 10 for each year of the 2010s. Taking in quite a lot – 100 albums and having to pick 7 of them for the poll. Quite a hard task considering what I was listening to.

Of all the albums listened to quite a few on my list made it into the poll. The five albums that made it for me are in bold. Final placings in Richard’s poll are in italics.

2010

Arcade Fire – The Suburbs (2), The National – High Violet (3)

2011

PJ Harvey – Let England Shake (7), Foo Fighters – Wasting Light (38), The Black Keys – El Camino (44), Arctic Monkeys – Suck it and See (58), The Decemberists – The Kings Is Dead (69)

2012

Bob Mould – Silver Age (66), Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball (144), Mark Lanegan Band – Blues Funeral (165)

2013

The National – Trouble Will Find Me (22), Primal Scream – More Light (177)

2014

The War on Drugs – Lost In The Dream (6), Manic Street Preachers – Futurology (95)

2015

No album polled

2016

Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool (8), Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression (55)

2017

Ride – Weather Diaries (25), The National – Sleep Well Beast (73), The Jesus and Mary Chain – Damage and Joy (95)

2018

Alice in Chains – Rainer Fog (177)

2019

Bruce Springsteen – Western Stars (38)

None of the albums I listened to the 2015 made it in the poll. Was a bit surprised as I thought maybe Faith No More’s comeback album, Sol Invictus would have been up there. I was definitely biased for the local bands – ASIWYA had 3 albums, Therapy? and Ash both had 2 albums each, Jetplane Landing and The Wood Burning Savages had 1 album each. A pretty good decade of albums for Northern Irish acts.

Below is a list of the contenders from 2010 to 2019.

Mixtape

Who remembers doing a mixtape? Those of us of a certain ahem, age will probably fondly remember putting together music on a tape either from a collection of our favourite songs, tracks from the radio (yeah we are good at doing home taping back then!) or maybe you put together a collection of tracks if you were attempting to win over a girl or boy of your dreams.

I made quite a few of these which were really like your best of tapes. When it got to the more digital age, I did download songs and burn it to CD. This was another way of doing it.

But for the 21st century how do you do a mix tape? Well the answer to that is Spotify. For a long while I have resisted using Spotify or any of the streaming platforms. Personally I prefer to go and buy my music whether it is online or at a music shop. But I have been using Spotify more lately not so much for wanting access to my favourite bands new album but it is a good tool for searching for songs or albums for Twitter polls.

Which brings me to Twitter and currently I follow 7RockLists which is run by Connor in Australia. I have been taking part on these online polls as they are good fun and it gives you something to do in midst of lockdown. I miss going to gigs but interacting with other music fans who have the same musical tastes as yourself is great.

Connor runs a website where you can pick you favourite artists, songs and albums.

Recently he invited me to put together a mixtape and I rose to the challenge. Connor invited me to submit a best of album of my favourite songs from 2004 with two bonus tracks. I went online and done a bit of research looking for rock songs from that year. Must admit it was a bit hard as 2004 wasn’t quite a vintage year music wise for me but there are some songs from that year that I liked.

You can find my selection here on Spotify. Please have a visit and listen. You can comment on the thread if you liked it and vote for mine in the poll.

The selection of songs I picked from 2004 were mostly American and British bands plus one Swedish band.

This was really good fun putting together. I know I don’t give Spotify enough credit but it is good for doing this as it saves hours on end trying to go through your record collection to pick a greatest hits tape and it is so easy to drag the songs and in no time you have created your own album.

Have a listen and I hope you enjoy it.

Music life in lockdown week 25

This is a review of the albums that I have been listening to whilst working from home. Albums listened to for week 25 covers from 7 to 11 September.

Just noticed the typo in the last entry where I mistakenly put down week 23 for week 24. I am definitely losing track of time with this pandemic. However we are back on track here with week 25. Hard to believe it.

Monday 7 September

Kicking off the new working week was Glasgow’s finest Teenage Fanclub. I have been a fan of the band since seeing them support Nirvana when they came in Belfast in 1992. At the time I was really getting into grunge. Teenage Fanclub while not grunge definitely fitted the scene at the time.

Their sound is reminiscent of Californian bands like the Beach Boys and the Byrds, and their seventies counterparts Big Star.  A Catholic Education (1990), released in 1990, is largely atypical of their later sound, with the possible exception of Everything Flows which is my favourite song.

Bandwagonesque (1991) released on Creation Records in the UK and Geffen in the US, brought the band a measure of commercial success.  Bandwagonesque was more deliberately constructed, the hooks became stronger, the guitar riffs were brought under control, and the harmony vocals took shape.

It topped Spin magazine’s 1991 end-of-year poll for best album, beating Nirvana’s Nevermind, their Creation stablemates My Bloody Valentine’s album Loveless, and R.E.M.’s Out of Time. Quite an achievement. Even Kurt Cobain had it down as one of his all time favourites.

 Thirteen (1993) was a nod to Big Star. At the time the band were listening to them quite a lot but this record was their most difficult one to make and didn’t get get the success as Bandwagonesque. However, that would all change with the release of Grand Prix (1995).

It was both a critical and commercial success in the UK, becoming their first top ten album. Around this time Liam Gallagher of labelmates Oasis called the band “the second best band in the world” — second only to Oasis. The other way round I think, Teenage Fanclub are better!

Songs from Northern Britain (1997) followed Grand Prix and built on the former’s success. It became their highest charting release in the UK and contained their biggest hit single to date, Ain’t That Enough. They were on tour with Radiohead that year who had just released Ok Computer and the band supported them when they came to the RDS at Dublin.

The band have described the album title as “a joking reference to Britpop, and everybody who thought we were part of that scene”. Norman Blake expanded on the title in 2016, commenting, “We just thought it sounded funny. No one calls Scotland “Northern Britain,” although technically it is. The album is just perfect and a fantastic follow up to Grand Prix. Even author Nick Hornby namechecks the album in his book 31 Songs as one of his all time favourite albums. Can’t argue with that.

So if you wanted to introduce somebody to Teenage Fanclub where do you start? Maybe a gentle introduction is Four Thousand Seven Hundred And Sixty-Six Seconds – A Short Cut To Teenage Fanclub (2003). The title refers to the album’s total length, just 34 seconds short of the maximum running time possible on a single CD: as a consequence the track “My Uptight Life” was edited from its original version in order to fit on to the album. This best of album comprises fourteen singles, four album tracks, and three new songs written for the album.

Tuesday 8 September

I had got back into listening to a bit of Rush lately and today it was all about Rush in the 1980s. A friend of mine introduced me to the band around 1990-91 and I borrowed some of his albums mostly from the 70s and a few from the 80s and I was hooked.

For today’s run the focus was all on their music output from the 1980s. The band were very creative that decade releasing seven albums. I have some of them on vinyl but the ones that I played today are on CD and they were Permanent Waves (1980) which had just been reissued as a 40th anniversary edition, Moving Pictures (1981), Signals (1982) Hold Your Fire (1987), Presto (1989) along with standard live album release A Show of Hands (1989).

With the 80s the band would experiment in new sounds. The single from the album, The Spirit of Radio featured the band’s early experiments with a reggae style in its closing section, which was explored further on the band’s next three albums. They also used  synthesizers as well which added another dimension to their sound. The instrumental YYZ from Moving Pictures was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.  This is an amazing piece of work.

On Signals the band continues to incorporate the synthesizer into their songs with less emphasis on guitar-oriented riffs which had been the focus of their sound in the 1970s. This is not bad thing for a rock band like Rush as after Moving Pictures, Signals is one of my favourite Rush albums.

The last two albums from the decade, Hold Your Fire had the band moving to using computers for song writing and production but the last studio album from that decade, Presto saw the band return to a more guitar-driven sound from what is known to many as Rush’s “synthesizer period” of the last four releases.

The live album A Show of Hands was released in between Hold Your Fire and Presto with recordings of the 1988 Hold Your Fire tour. A Rush live album is right up with Iron Maiden live albums, releasing eleven of them during their career.

Neil Peart passed away at the start of the year and the band had already retired so the chance of ever seeing them again was never going to happen. I was really glad I got to see them in 2011 when they done the Time Machine tour came to Dublin which incredibly was the bands first and only Irish show. They played Moving Pictures in it’s entirety for the first time.

Wednesday 9 September

Back to the 90s and today it was the turn for a very underrated band from that era, Buffalo Tom. The band emerged from the same US underground scene as Dinosaur Jr and Pixies at the tail end of the 1980s and I got into them when they released Big Red Letter Day (1993) which was their fourth album and one of my favourite albums from that year featuring songs like Sodajerk, Treehouse and I’m Allowed.

Fifth album Sleepy Eyed (1995) and Three Easy Pieces (2007) were the last albums I bought by the band and like many things sometimes you forget about bands and move onto something.

However my interest in the band picked up again around 2012 when I went to Head Records for Record Store Day. I had picked up quite a few albums that day and I came across a bargain at the corner. It was a Buffalo Tom album, Besides: A Collection of B-Sides and Rarities from 2002 (not pictured here) which included a cover of The Jam’s Going Underground that I had not heard before.

I think it was only £2 so I bought that as well and what a bargain. It reignited by interest in the band and I went about trying to find out what they had done since 2007.

Skins (2011) was the first release since Three Easy Pieces after a period of four years and it was really great to hear new material. It wouldn’t be until 2018 that they were recording a new album, Quiet and Peace which I purchased through a Pledge campaign. They were also the one band I never got to see during the 1990s. They did visit Belfast once but I had never heard of them at the time, so I took a chance to go over to England to see them when they played in Birmingham.

One album that I was late getting was Let Me Come Over (1992) which reached its 25th anniversary in 2017. There was a couple of Record Store Day releases around that time and I picked up Big Red Letter Day for the first time on vinyl. I also bought the 25th anniversary edition of Let Me Come Over both on CD and vinyl. It is a great album and I often wonder how I didn’t hear of it first before Big Red Letter Day.

The second part of Let Me Cover Over is a bonus recording of a storming set recorded live at London’s ULU before the album came out.

Front man Bill Janovitz even appeared with Pearl Jam on one of their American shows playing Taillights Fade with the band. Eddie Vedder also done a cover of it on one of this own solo shows and Bill joined in too. I am glad they came back. Sometimes it is nice to be reminded of the bands that didn’t quiet hit the big time but you welcome them back like a long lost friend. Quiet and Peace was a great album and I loved it. I hope it won’t take too long before they do the follow up.

Thursday 10 September

A day late but this time 25 years ago, the Help album was released charity album to raise funds for the War Child charity, which provided aid to war-stricken areas, such as Bosnia and Herzegovina. All the songs were recorded in a single day. The album features British and Irish artists including Paul McCartney, Paul Weller, Radiohead, Oasis, Blur and the Manic Street Preachers.

 Help was recorded on Monday, 4 September 1995, mixed on Tuesday the fifth, and was in shops on Saturday the ninth. The original version release did not include any tracklist attached to the sleeve notes; the tracklisting was instead printed as a full page ad in the NME. There is not one dud track on this album and it is fantastic from start to finish.

There were other great compilation albums released in the 1990s and the next three are personal favourites. With grunge taking off it wouldn’t have been long before somebody decided to do a film on the era.

Singles is the original soundtrack album to the 1992 film Singles, primarily focused on the ascendant Seattle grunge scene of the early 1990s. It also features contributions from Minneapolis’ Paul Westerberg (his first solo material after the breakup of The Replacements), Chicago’s The Smashing Pumpkins, and past Seattle artists Jimi Hendrix and The Lovemongers (Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart, the latter of whom was the wife of the film’s director Cameron Crowe at the time). This album got me into other bands Alice in Chains, Mudhoney and Screaming Trees who feature on this soundtrack. The film may not have been great but that was besides the point as the music on the soundtrack was what makes this a great album.

Another movie soundtrack Judgment Night came out a year later in 1993.

Again a terrible movie but what a collaboration for this line up. Every song on the soundtrack was a collaboration between hip-hop artists and rock artists. The album spawned four singles, Fallin’ by Teenage Fanclub and De La Soul, Another Body Murdered by Faith No More and Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E., Just Another Victim by Helmet and House of Pain, and Judgment Night by Biohazard and Onyx. This is a fantastic album and it definitely takes the genre of hip-hop and rock to a new level.

Overall my all time favourite compilation album from the 1990s is No Alternative from 1993 which was an album released to benefit AIDS relief. The album features original tracks and cover versions from bands who went on to define the alternative rock scene of the 1990s.

It was released with two different versions of album art: the standard version depicting a boy (without the Nirvana song listed on the back and liner notes), and the alternate version depicting a girl (some with and some without the Nirvana song listed on the back and liner notes). My copy of it includes the hidden Nirvana track.

A fantastic talent of who’s who of the alternative scene at the time included Matthew Sweet, Buffalo Tom, Soul Asylum, Urge Overkill, American Music Club, Goo Goo Dolls, Pavement, Smashing Pumpkins, Bob Mould, Sarah McLachlan, Soundgarden, The Verlaines, Uncle Tupelo, Patti Smith, The Breeders and Beastie Boys as well as the uncredited Nirvana track. This album is a solid 10 out of ten, all killer and no filler.

Friday 11 September

When you think of the significance of today’s date, the anniversary of the terror attacks in America this day in 2001 it was probably no coincidence that I picked Bruce Springsteen for today’s playlist. Had played most of his earlier stuff during lockdown so today I picked six albums by Bruce that all touch on the American dream and there is no better artist to write about it than Bruce.

The Ghost of Tom Joad (1995) was Bruce’s second acoustic album, the first one being Nebraska. The album is mainly backed by acoustic guitar work and the lyrics on most tracks are a somber reflection of life in the mid-1990s in America and Mexico.

 The character of Tom Joad entered the American consciousness in John Steinbeck’s 1939 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Grapes of Wrath, set against the economic hardships of the Great Depression. The film version starring Henry Fonda, which in turn inspired folk singer Woody Guthrie to pen The Ballad of Tom Joad. Bruce is no stranger to the works for Woody Guthrie and has even covered This Land Is Your Land. The tour that followed this album was a more stripped down smaller tour playing small venues. Bruce came to Belfast for the first time in 1996 when the tour stopped by here playing at the King’s Hall. A truly memorable gig.

The follow up to The Ghost of Tom Joad was The Rising (2002) but I opted for the next acoustic album, Devils & Dust (2005) as it had got an airing earlier during lockdown. Bruce was very open about that many of the songs from Devils & Dust dated back a decade.

He had written the song All the Way Home for Southside Johnny to use in his album Better Days which was released in 1991. The songs Long Time Comin and The Hitter were written and performed during Bruce’s solo Ghost of Tom Joad Tour in 1996. Devils & Dust is also known to have been written previously, and was featured in soundchecks during The Rising Tour beginning in the summer of 2003 and the following year during the Vote for Change Tour in late 2004.

Wrecking Ball (2012) featured tracks that featured Clarence Clemons, who died in June 2011. Clemons performs the saxophone solos on Land of Hope and Dreams and backing saxophone rhythms on the title track. An absolute legend and a sad loss. His nephew Jake would then join the E Street band for saxophone duties.

Wrecking Ball was described as Bruce’s angriest yet tackling subject matter such as economic justice, financial crisis and disasters like Hurricane Katrina. The album is a fantastic collection of songs that blend different styles from the muscular hootenanny folk-rock of his Seeger Sessions album, with touches of noble gospel, poignant jazz trumpet and feisty Irish rebel music. The Wrecking Ball tour came to Ireland where Bruce played at five venues throughout the country making another trip to Belfast the King’s Hall grounds only this time outside.

High Hopes (2014) featured his regular backing band, the E Street band as well as Tom Morello (Rage Against The Machine) on guitar. Tom would also join tour. Contributions from deceased E Street Band members Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici are also included on the album.

This is the first Bruce album composed entirely of covers, outtakes and reimagined versions of songs from past albums and tours. High Hopes was originally recorded in 1995 and released on the Blood Brothers (EP). According to Springsteen, Morello suggested they perform the song during the Wrecking Ball Tour, which ultimately led to it being re-recorded. American Skin (41 Shots) was originally written in 2000 in response to the death of Amadou Diall.  

During the Wrecking Ball Tour, Bruce started to perform the song again as a tribute to Trayvon Martin. The Ghost of Tom Joad has been performed many times, often featuring Morello on guitar and trading vocals with Springsteen. The track had been covered by Morello’s former band, Rage Against the Machine.

Morello also inspired the performances of two covers that ended up being recorded. Just Like Fire Would is a cover of Australian punk rock band The Saints’ 1986 single, while “Dream Baby Dream” is a cover of the protopunk band Suicide’s 1979 single.

I never got round to getting the Tracks boxset at the time, opting to buy the cheaper 18 tracks CD version which was released as 18 Tracks in 1999.

The single album was intended to capture more casual fans, and thus was oriented towards the shorter, more pop-oriented selections from Bruce Springsteen’s vault. The main boxset of Tracks released the year earlier had four discs of 66 songs. I will definitely be hunting this one out to add to my collection as it has passed me by all these years.

Last word on Bruce goes to his last release before the new album Letter to You came out – Western Stars (2019) is a different kind of album one that he has never done before.

The album was influenced by “Southern California pop music” of the 1970s, including artists such as Glen Campbell and Burt Bacharach. It is a very country orientated album and country music is not normally something that I’d listen to but Bruce really works his magic on this one. I wasn’t sure if I would have liked it but it is really brilliant.

With 2020 being the year it has been and soon coming to a close it is great to be able to look forward to his new album, Letter to You which is a welcome relief for this bleak year.

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.

#3albums03 Twitter poll

After last weekends poll, I was quite pleased that my three choices polled pretty well on the #3albums93 with my favourite album, Copper Blue by Sugar taking second place.

This weeks Twitter poll hosted by Richard Shaw takes us back to 2003 and after reviewing last weeks results it was down to doing some research. How many albums did I have from that year and who was going to be favourite?

At time of research I picked out about 39 albums from 2003 and forgot about four of them. Seemed to have missed Kings of Leon which I have. Other absentees included The Blood Brothers, The Movielife and Kinesis – all released albums that year that I have and totally forgot about.

One album that I didn’t have was Joe Strummer’s Streetcore which I just purchased this weekend. So that brought the 39 albums up to 44.

Usual favourites of mine released albums in 2003 – Radiohead, Muse, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Metallica , Therapy?, Placebo and Jane’s Addiction to name put a few. Snow Patrol would final hit the big time with Final Straw which was my first listen to that in years. I had kind of gone after they released the follow up, Eyes Open.

Between NME and Kerrang both magazines were championing new bands and I usually like to dip in and try something new. From NME it was Hot Hot Heat, Jet, Stellstarr*, The Shins, Kings of Leon and The Strokes. While Kerrang were going for new bands like Hell is For Heroes, Thrice, Thursday, AFI and The Distillers.

There was quite a good variety there. Some albums I really liked and some I didn’t which you will see from the top 44 later on the page.

I think from offset I had an idea who was going to be in the top 3. Radiohead definitely with Hail To The Thief which is a great album. Absolution by Muse was another of my favourite albums that year. So who was going to claim third spot?

It was going to be between The White Stripes and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. Both released really great albums so I ended up going for Black Rebel Motorcycle Club who polled at 34th place and resulted in only having two of my choices in the top 10 – Radiohead came second and Muse were ninth . The White Stripes Elephant was the winner for that year.

After listening to all the contenders last week the most disappointing albums ended up being the ones by Elbow and The Dandy Warhols, closely followed by Hot Hot Heat. Overall I really enjoyed revisiting 2003 and the albums that I listened to. Below is my top 44, not quite a top 50 but close enough. My top 44 includes in italics the positions all the albums finished in Richard’s poll.

My top 44 for 2003

1RadioheadHail to the Thief (2)
2MuseAbsolution (9)
3Black Rebel Motorcycle ClubTake Them On, On Your Own (34)
4Jetplane LandingOnce Like A Spark
5Rage Against The MachineLive at the Grand Olympic Auditorium
6Jane’s AddictionStrays
7PlaceboSleeping With Ghosts (50)
8The AtarisSo Long, Astoria
9Therapy?High Anxiety
10Snow PatrolFinal Straw (50)
11The White StripesElephant (1)
12MetallicaSt. Anger
13Pretty Girls Make GravesThe New Romance
14Brand NewDeja Entendu
15Cave InAntenna
16A Perfect CircleThirteeth Step
17Biffy ClyroThe Vertigo of Bliss
18Hell Is For HeroesThe Neon Handshake
19Clutch Live at the Googolplex
20The DistillersCoral Fang
21American Hi-FiThe Art of Losing
22The ShinsChutes Too Narrow (8)
23ZwanMary Star of the Sea
24Stellastarr*Stellastarr*
25Super Furry AnimalsPhantom Power (14)
26ThriceThe Artist In The Ambulance
27ThursdayWar All The Time
28Funeral For a FriendCasually Dressed and Deep in Conversation
29TurnForward
30Joe StrummerStreetcore (20)
31Kings of LeonYouth and Young Manhood (4)
32The Blood BrothersBurn Piano Island, Burn
33KinesisHandshakes for Bullets
34The MovielifeFourty Hour Train Back to Penn
35JetGet Born
36The Cooper Temple ClauseKick Up The Fire and Let The Flames Break Loose
37The Postal ServiceGive Up (23)
38The RaveonettesChain Gang of Love
39AFISing for Sorrow
40The StokesRoom On Fire (10)
41The ThrillsSo Much For The City (38)
42Hot Hot HeatMake Up The Breakdown
43ElbowCast of Thousands (16)
44The Dandy Warhols Welcome To The Monkey House

Well, that was fun! Next poll is going to be the best albums from the 2010’s so have two weeks to get the research done and start going through the collection again.

#3albums92 Twitter poll

One of the joys of listening to music during lockdown is taking part in the weekly Twitter poll hosted by Richard Shaw. All last week I have been listening to about 28 albums from my collection from 1992. At least four of them were not going to count – Alice In Chains Sap was an EP, Nirvana’s Incesticide is a collection of b sides and unreleased songs following the breakthrough success of Nevermind from the previous year, the Singles CD was a movie soundtrack and my naughty inclusion was adding Mother Love Bone which was a compilation album of their earlier 1990 release. Still a great album to listen to but if I’m honest none of those albums going to be anywhere near my top 3 which was at the start of the week more or less decided before listening .

But would there be a surprise? At the end of the week there would be and it surprised me as for a long time the top 3 that I was going for – Sugar, Rage Against The Machine and Faith No More have always been mainstays in any top 10 poll but during the week Alice In Chains took the third spot. Dirt is a great album and I love Angel Dust as well but it managed to sneak in.

The favourite to win was always going to be REM’s Automatic For The People. It was never going to be my choice. My favourite REM album is the follow up to that, Monster. So, Copper Blue by Sugar came second in the poll, with Rage Against The Machine 5th and my late entry of Alice In Chains got 15th. Faith No More shared joint 10th place with The Cure so on hindsight I could have had three albums in the top 10 but no, I made the right choice. Those three albums that I picked have always been favourites and albums that I have time after time going back to listen to during lockdown.

Biggest surprise for me from Richard’s list was that both albums released by Bruce Springsteen didn’t poll at all. To be fair they weren’t the Boss’s best in my opinion.

Which leaves what to do with the rest of my list. I think I will do my own list of what was the best for me in 1992. In brackets I will list the albums that placed on Richard’s poll in italics. It has been an absolute blast listening to these albums again and really appreciating the diverse range of musical tastes from that year.

My 1992

  1. Sugar – Copper Blue (2)
  2. Rage Against The Machine – S/T (5)
  3. Alice In Chains – Dirt (15)
  4. Faith No More – Angel Dust (10)
  5. Sonic Youth – Dirty (18)
  6. The Lemonheads – It’s a Shame About Ray (4)
  7. Helmet – Meantime
  8. Therapy? – Nurse (*)
  9. Buffalo Tom – Let Me Come Over (26)
  10. Various – Singles OST
  11. Megadeth – Countdown to Extinction (*)
  12. Nirvana – Incesticide
  13. Mother Love Bone – S/T
  14. Screaming Trees – Sweet Oblivion (*)
  15. Alice in Chains – Sap
  16. Mudhoney – Piece of Cake
  17. REM – Automatic For The People (1)
  18. Warrior Soul – Salutations From The Ghetto Nation
  19. L7 – Bricks Are Heavy
  20. Soul Asylum – Grave Dancers Union
  21. Manic Street Preachers – Generation Terrorists (8)
  22. King’s X – S/T
  23. Bruce Springsteen – Human Touch
  24. Bruce Springsteen – Lucky Town
  25. AC/DC – Live
  26. The Offspring – Iginition
  27. Gun – Gallus
  28. Extreme – 3 Sides To Every Story

Bubbling under on the poll (*) included Screaming Trees, Megadeth and Therapy?

Next week it is the turn of 2003. I better start my research now. It is great fun to join in, search for the hashtag #3albums03 for next weeks poll.

National Album Day – The 80s

Today is National Album Day and it is all devoted to the 1980s.

I was thinking about what my listening tastes were like during my early teens compared to now and looking back I didn’t buy a lot of records as it felt more like a treat at Christmas or birthdays to get albums.

My mum and dad bought me a record player for my 10th birthday. It was a second hand one but I was all bizzed at having my own record player as I was starting to take an interest in music, mainly what I was listening to either on Top of the Pops or Radio 1.

At a very young age my tastes were not quite sophisticated. Mainly drawing inspiration from what was on Top of the Pops but I remember liking Madness, The Police, The Specials, Adam and The Ants, Bad Manners, Ultravox, Depeche Mode and even Shakin’ Stevens! Well this was 1980-81. Sadly any of the 7″ singles that I have from this era I no longer have. Madness 7 came out in 1981 and I do remember that being one of the first albums I bought.

By 1982 I enjoyed hit singles from the likes of Haircut 100, Kraftwerk, Eddy Grant, Musical Youth, Captain Sensible, Fun Boy Three as well as Madness. The last Madness album I ever owned was The Rise and Fall which I got for Christmas that year.

I first heard U2’s New Years Day in 1983. Reason I remember this is because I was in the hospital for an operation at the time and I seem to remember that song very well. Again the year would introduce me to more new artists like New Order, Toto, Orange Juice and Men at Work to name but a few.

I can’t even remember what singles I owned from that year but it wasn’t many. The first U2 albums I owned both came from 1983 – War (which included the single New Years Day) and Under a Blood Red Sky which was a live album. This would begin my interest in the band.

1984 – George Orwell once wrote about that but when I hit my teens it definitely wasn’t his nightmarish prediction of the future. I was enjoying music by Nik Kershaw, Thompson Twins, Ultravox, ZZ Top, Nena and even liked Ray Parker Juniors Ghostbusters song! One of my favourite songs that year was Boys of Summer by Don Henly.

Most of my class mates at the time were listening to Big Country, Simple Minds, Duran Duran, The Cult and U2. For my 13th birthday my mum bought me a load of records. I made a list and gave it to her and she went down to Makin’ Tracks which was one of the many record shops in Belfast. So celebrating my 13th birthday I got the following albums:

ZZ TopEliminator, Daryl Hall and John OatesGreatest Hits Rock n’ Soul Part 1, U2October, Nik Kershaw The Riddle and UltravoxThe Collection.

1985 and I was listening to basically anything that I liked at the time. U2 were still my favourite band and they released The Unforgettable Fire. One of my favourite songs that year was Paul Hardcastle’s 19 which around that time sparked my interest in the Vietnam war which had ended 10 years previously.

Other favourites included A-ha, Tears for Fears, Marillion, Talking Heads, Bruce Springsteen and Bryan Adams. Yip, that one comes out now but back then I loved Reckless as an album but by 1990 my interest in Bryan Adams music went out window. I bought Born In The USA after seeing a documentary on Bruce Springsteen on BBC2. This was the year he played his legendary show at Slane Castle but I was too young to go to such an event.

Bruce Springsteen was becoming a new favourite of mine and I bought one of his earlier albums The River as well as the career spanning live album box set covering from 1975-85 which was one of my favourite live albums.

1986 strangely enough wasn’t a big year for me music wise. At the time I was taking an interest in computer games and when I was 15 one of my friends was listening to metal – Megadeth, Slayer, Iron Maiden, Metallica, WASP to name but a few but at 15 I didn’t dare even brining metal into the house.

I don’t think my mum would have approved. So the likes of Europe’s The Final Countdown and Bon Jovi’s Living on a Prayer were about as metal as it got for me. Maybe that was the start of the interest in the genre but it would be another couple of years yet for me to embrace it. So 1986 was just playing it safe with the likes of Berlin who had the hit Take My Breath Away from the Top Gun movie, A-ha, Level 42, The Bangles and Cutting Crew.

For my 16th birthday U2’s The Joshua Tree was released and quite possibly for the first time I was excited for a forthcoming release. I remember going into town to buy it and coming home and playing it to death on my record player. The old second hand record player was on it’s last legs and wouldn’t be replaced until 1989.

Radio 2 done a poll for the best album of the 1980s and it was The Joshua Tree that came out on top. There are quite a few albums on the list now that I liked but being a big U2 fan I probably would have voted for this too.

What I didn’t know when I got to school on Monday that tickets for their concert in Belfast later that summer also went on sale. I missed out on that and on my final year of school after finishing my O’ Levels I didn’t get to see the biggest band play Belfast! It would be a good few more years yet before I got to see them live.

By 1988, U2 still remained my favourite band. Rattle and Hum was the last U2 album I bought on vinyl. I was eventually moving from vinyl to CD. At this stage I was also starting to get interested in listening to metal and what a year it was for the genre.

One by Metallica was the first song of theirs that I liked and I bought …And Justice for All that year. At the same time I started to like Iron Maiden who released the epic Seventh Son of a Seventh Son and Queensryche’s masterpiece Operation Mindcrime. Living Colour’s Vivid was another favourite of mine that year.

The final year of the decade and metal is firmly coming up on top. Albums by AerosmithPump, Faith No MoreThe Real Thing, The CultSonic Temple were all favourites of mine that year. As well as listening to metal I also started to listen to Simple Minds when they released Belfast Child from their forthcoming album Street Fighting Years. They would be the first band I got to see live.

By the end of the year I would have no idea what to expect of the 1990s. On New Years Eve I stayed up late to record and listen to U2’s final night of the Lovetown tour from The Point Depot in Dublin. The 1990s would change my listening habits and I would end up revisiting the 1980s to listen to the bands that I didn’t hear first time like REM, Pixies, Husker Du, etc.

Music life in lockdown week 23

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 24-28 August.

Monday 24 August – Alice in Chains

New working week which is devoted to Seattle and the grunge revolution. August 21 past was the 30th anniversary of Alice in Chains debut album Facelift (1990) and what better way to start the week. If truth be told, I wouldn’t get into the band until the release of their second album Dirt (1992). The lead track from the album, Would? featured on the Singles movie soundtrack which was a great album that didn’t have any Nirvana on it. Nirvana opened the floodgates for me in discovering all these new American bands.

Between 1992 and 1994 they released two EPS – Sap and Jar of Flies which explored a more acoustic side of the band instead of turning the volume up to 11. Both EPs are brilliant and songs from these records also feature on the MTV Unplugged album from 1996 which featured a new song Killer is Me.

The MTV Unplugged was Alice in Chains’ first concert in two and a half years, and contains live, acoustic versions of the band’s biggest hits and lesser-known songs. This album is one of my favourites of the MTV Unplugged series a close second to Nirvana’s set with Pearl Jam in third place. I literally get goosebumps listening to this.

The last studio album by the band with Layne Staley was their self-titled third album (1996) which featured a very sad looking three-legged dog on the cover. Sometimes referred to as the Dog Album or Tripod. The album was not as successful as Dirt but contained some great songs like Grind, Heaven Beside You and Again.

Sadly Layne passed away on 5 April 2002, exactly 8 years since Kurt Cobain died.

The retrospective album Nothing Safe (1999) is a best of/greatest hits album which would be a sampler for the Music Bank boxset. Nothing Safe contains songs from previous albums FaceliftSapDirtJar of FliesAlice in Chains and Unplugged, as well as the previously unreleased track Get Born Again, recorded between September and October 1998. It is a great collection and good introduction to the band.

Tuesday 25 August – Pearl Jam

Pearl Jam have been no strangers to the lockdown tunes and I have really enjoyed revisiting their albums over the last couple of months. Rather than a repeat listening I have opted for some personal favourite from the band in the form of the official bootlegs that the band release.

Two bootlegs featured here are from my first two Pearl Jam concerts. It took me so long to actually get to see these guys. August 18 2009 I managed to get tickets from their fan club for a show in London where they played at the O2 Arena. Normally I am sceptical of big arenas but this show was amazing. It felt so intimate even if people were situated in the higher up seats were standing up. A great show and really worth the wait to finally see them.

With the release of Backspacer (2009), a European tour took place in June and July 2010, where the band performed in Northern Ireland for the first time at the Odyssey Arena in Belfast. Previous Irish visits over the years were at Dublin and Cork but it was impossible to get tickets back then. I may be biased to say that this is my favourite Pearl Jam gig. I have seen them loads of times since including some Eddie Vedder solo shows but playing in my home city kind of ticks all the boxes. So good was this show that a wedding party had come along to the gig and Eddie called them out and played Among the Waves for them as their first dance – class!

Lost Dogs (2003) is a compilation of a difference as it mainly features b-side material along with previous and unreleased material. One of the songs on the album includes the hidden track 4/20/02 at the end of disc two, a tribute to Alice in Chains frontman Layne Staley. Eddie had wrote that song whilst the band were recording Riot Act.

Pearl Jam Twenty (also known as PJ20) was a  documentary directed by Cameron Crowe about the band.  Crowe completed filming in April 2011, after using 12,000 hours of footage of the band for the documentary. A really great documentary on 20 years of Pearl Jam. I got to see the film at QFT in Belfast. The documentary charts the history of the band, from the demise of Mother Love Bone, their battle against Ticketmaster and the tragedy of the Roskilde Festival in 2000. You can feel the sadness there after Andy Wood dies and also how the band were feeling after the tragedy at Roskilde.

The soundtrack is a companion piece to the film with select live tracks over the years with demos and home recordings. A nice celebration of the band who are still going strong to this day.

Wednesday 26 August – Soundgarden

Like Pearl Jam, Soundgarden have featured quite a lot during lockdown as well a Chris Cornell’s solo stuff. Again instead of revisiting albums previously listened to here, I went for a live album and two best of albums.

The first best of Telephantasm (2010)  followed with the band’s reunion earlier that year. The career-spanning retrospective album includes an unreleased track, Black Rain, taken from the Badmotorfinger recording sessions. The album includes select cuts from their albums including Birth Ritual from the Singles soundtrack. This album is a good introduction to the band.

If you want to take it further, Echo of Miles: Scattered Tracks Across the Path is a 3-CD compilation album from 2014. The album is a collection of rarities, live tracks, and unreleased material spanning the group’s history. It includes previously released songs, such as Live to Rise, Black Rain, and others, as well as a newly recorded rendition of a song from the band’s pre-Matt Cameron 1985 demo, The Storm, now simply titled Storm. The 3- CD set is split as originals, covers and oddities and is a nice collection.

Live From the Artists Den was recorded at the final show of the King Animal tour in 2013 at The Wiltern in Los Angeles. A posthumous release since lead vocalist and guitarist Chris Cornell’s tragic and untimely passing in 2017. I got to see the band when they came to Dublin for this tour and it will be a record I will definitely keep returning to as it was a brilliant live album.

Thursday 27 August – Mudhoney

The original’s from the Seattle scene. Again it was thanks to the Singles soundtrack that was my introduction to them with the track Overblown. I picked out their early works here and hope to have a listen to their most recent output later.

Mudhoney (1989) was their first LP after several singles and an EP Superfuzz Bigmuff. I was listening to the 2008 deluxe edition which expands on the original. Piece of Cake (1992), My Brother The Cow (1995) and Tomorrow Hit Today (1998) were their all released when the band were on a major label.

Mudhoney’s sound is pure grunge which kind of sets them apart from their peers.  They are overlooked by many who would probably know Nirvana more than Mudhoney but the band are a major influence on the early Seattle scene.

Here Comes Sickness (2000) is a collection of recordings that the band have done for BBC including session tracks recorded for John Peel (1989), the Evening Session (1995) and the rest of the album was recorded live for the John Peel show from the 1995 Reading festival.   Also quite fitting to listen to this today on what would have been the Reading Festival weekend which I expand more about on the next day featuring Nirvana.  I got to see Mudhoney earlier that year supporting Soundgarden in Dublin.

Friday 28 August – Nirvana

Closing the week of all things Seattle with Nirvana, the band who started it all for me.  This was a gamechanger and was really just a case of right album at the right time. I look back fondly of that era and feel lucky enough to have seen them live.

Nirvana have been here before on lockdown tunes so without repeating myself again I went for the last two collections of the band – With the Lights Out (2004) contains three CDs and one DVD of previously rare or unreleased material, including B-sides, demos, and rehearsal and live recordings.

This collection was due to have been released in 2001 to mark the band’s 10th anniversary but it never happed due to the legal battle between Cobain’s widow Courtney Love and Dave Grohl and Kris Novoselic.  But it finally seen light of day three years later.

It included a 60-page booklet which contains liner notes by Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth and journalist Neil Strauss, as well as photographs and a chronological catalogue of the band’s recording history, including studio sessions, television and radio appearances, live performances and home demo recordings sessions.

 A very nice collection and definitely one for completists.  If you want the shorter version then you go for the 2002’s best of album Nirvana which included the previously unreleased You Know Your Right.  The demo of the song was included in the boxset.

Quite fitting that I picked Nirvana to end the week on the Reading Festival weekend which of course was cancelled this year due to the pandemic. Nirvana played here first in 1991 when they were lower down the bill headlined by Iggy Pop. A year later, the success of Nevermind brings the band to a headline slot.

Live at Reading (2009) features the band’s headlining performance at the Reading Festival on August 30, 1992. It had been bootlegged for years and I have a copy of the performance that I taped off the radio.  A 25 song strong set just sounds brilliant and you wish you had been over there for that.  Thankfully I got to see them in Belfast a few months beforehand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Music life in lockdown week 22

This is a review of the albums that I have been listening to whilst working from home. Albums listened to for week 22 covers from 17-21 August.

Monday 17 August

Kicking off the new working week I had a look back at some of the local scene. Not Snow Patrol now but some bands here that are great but didn’t quite get the same success that they did. But when I look at these albums, its not about them being chart toppers and playing the big arenas, sometimes small is quite nice. Now on to the bands.

Hailing from Portadown, Joyrider only released one album, Be Special (1996) and I saw the band support Therapy? at the Ulster Hall in 1995 as well as supporting Lush in 1996. It was a really great album but didn’t quite set the charts alight. Their one and only hit was a cover of the Jane Wiedlin song, Rush Hour which earned the band a prime time spot on Top of the Pops.

Also from Portadown were In Case of Fire who formed in 2005. They won the MTV2 Spanking New competition back in 2008 and were tipped as a band to watch. Their debut album, Align The Planets (2009) got good reviews. A really good band live, they unfortunately never got to the follow up album going and sadly disbanded in 2012. I had seen them a few times especially on support slots.

Belfast’s La Faro formed in 2004 and best described as old school post hardcore sounds. What’s not to like. This band proudly wore their influences on their sleeves and they were amazing live.

They released two albums – their self titled album La Faro (2010) and Easy Meat (2011) with the single Tupenny Nudger being rewarded the title of Best Northern Irish song of the past five years in AU magazine from 2008 beating both Snow Patrol and Ash.

Moving up the coast to Portstewart were Axis Of. This three piece have released two albums and the one played here was The Mid Brae Inn (2015). I have seen these guys a few times supporting the likes of Therapy? and are very good live.

Hailing from Derry, Fighting With Wire were the best band to come out of there since The Undertones! I loved this band and had seen them live quite a few times. Even saw them support Helmet in London which was amazing. Cahir from Fighting With Wire was also in Jetplane Landing another favourite of mine.

The band is influenced by American bands like Nirvana, At The Drive In, Weezer and Fugazi. They released their debut album, Man Vs. Monster (2008) to positive reviews. Live they really turn the amps up to 12 and are amazing live.

Their second album, Colonel Blood didn’t come out until 2012 after two years of delay as Atlantic Records failed to release their album. You can imagine the frustration of a band not being able to get a record out for the fans to hear. By 2013 the band split, Cahir returned briefly to Jetplane Landing and has more recently joined New Pagans who I am looking forward to hearing.

Tuesday 18 August

After a day listening to local bands that were heavily influenced by the American alt-rock scene, it was no surprise that I would be listening to some great alt-rock today with Rollins Band, Jane’s Addiction, The Lemonheads and Sonic Youth, four bands that I got into during the 1990s.

Rollins Band, led by former Black Flag singer Henry Rollins formed in 1987. I discovered the band in 1994 with the album, Weight which featured Liar, a huge hit on MTV. The band have been categorized under the alternative metal, hard rock, funk metal and post-hardcore genres.  They were part of the early ’90s LA alternative metal scene, alongside ToolJane’s AddictionRage Against the Machine and Green Jellÿ.

Jane’s Addiction’s second album Ritual de lo habitual (1990) is a brilliant album and it is one of the many American albums I bought during that time which can all be traced by to Nirvana. They have broken up a few times but have managed to put out a couple of albums during that time – Strays (2003) that was the first time I got to see the band at the Reading Festival and The Great Escape Artist (2011).

The Lemonheads are another band I got into during the grunge revolution. Whilst not grunge, their breakthrough hit wasn’t even one of their own songs but a cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s Mrs Robinson which was on their album It’s A Shame About Ray (1992) which was the first album by them that I bought. With a big back catalogue, I have opted for Laughing All the Way to the Cleaners: Best of Lemonheads (2011) which covers 47 songs throughout their career with tracks from the late 80s right into the present. I never got to see the band until much later including Evan Dando solo shows. Sadly the last time I saw the band in 2019 here in Belfast they were truly awful. I was so disappointed.

A band that are no strangers to the lockdown playlist is Sonic Youth. Previously covered back in week 15 with their major label input. Daydream Nation (1988) is considered one of their best albums. This was the album that brought them critical acclaim and earned them a major label deal. Kurt Cobain had this in his top 50 records of all time and all I can say is that thanks to Nirvana I started listening to Sonic Youth.

Wednesday 19 August

Blur get a second outing today.  Previously covered in week 7 with Oasis vs Blur it seemed that Blur came out on top as I went off Oasis.  Of the five albums picked today, their fifth album from 1997 got another spin today.  It remains my favourite Blur album.  The follow up 13 (1999) which featured the last output from Graham Coxon was a really great album and very different to their previous releases.  Tender, Coffee & TV and No Distance Left to Run were the standout tracks on it.  After Coxon’s departure, I passed on Think Tank (2003) but picked up The Magic Whip (2015) more out of curiosity.  This album reunited the band back to their original line up.

Two compilation albums featured here as well.  Parklive (2012) was their third live album which was recorded at Hyde Park, London as part of the companion concert to the Olympics that had been hosted in the city.  Not to be confused with the other live album at the same venue, All the People: Blur Live at Hyde Park which was their reunion shows from 2009.

It’s a great album that draws mostly from their first album,  Modern Life is Rubbish up to Think Tank Parklife features Phil Daniels on vocals.

The second compilation Midlife: A Beginner’s Guide to Blur (2009) is their second retrospective replacing 2000’s Blur: The Best Of which coincided with the 2009 reunion. This album included three songs from Think Tank.  The album is like a time capsule documenting world events that happened during Blur’s career.

Thursday 20 August

Today I didn’t really plan anything to listen to as it was my mum’s 10th anniversary and I spent a bit of time reflecting on her life.  I didn’t get my musical influence from either of my parents.  I knew my dad liked Elvis but he had no records while I was growing up.  I remember my dad getting me a record player for my 11th birthday and it was second hand but it was a big deal for me and I was excited about that.

My mum liked music but not the same stuff that I was listening to.  While she didn’t have any influence on what I listened to growing up she did buy me records especially on my 13th birthday when I gave her a list of what albums I wanted.  She was pretty cool to be going into a record shop to get them for me.

So for today and in her memory I dug out some Bruce Springsteen to listen to.  No pictures to document what I was listening to by Bruce but growing up The Boss was never off my record player and I think mum might have had a soft spot for him.  Thought it was quite appropriate on the day it was.  Rest in peace mum, love you and thank you for the music that you gave me growing up.

Friday 21 August

One of the things that I have enjoyed most during the pandemic is connecting with other music fans on Twitter.  We have no gigs to go to but there has been some much joy out there with listening parties and lists.  Yes I love doing lists.  It is fun trying to pick albums, songs, bands etc on the various platforms on Twitter.

Anyway, I follow Richard Shaw on Twitter and I hope he doesn’t mind the plug as he does this really brilliant top 50 albums for each year each week and it is quite a challenge.

1999 was the year to pick your favourite albums today and I managed to pick three albums from 1998 – Catatonia’s International Velvet and Embrace’s The Good Will Out.  I was corrected of course in a very good natured way.  We all make mistakes, right?  I don’t know why I thought those albums were from 1999. 

Anyway, that left 4 albums that were released that year – Feeder Yesterday Went Too Soon, Foo Fighters There’s Nothing Left to Loose, Chris Cornell Euphoria Mourning and Therapy? Suicide Pact- You First.

Looking back on all those albums, including the 1998 ones these are albums that I really enjoyed at the time.  Two of mine got into the top 50 – Foo Fighters and Chris Cornell.  A good year for both artists.  Chris had just gone solo after Soundgarden split up and his debut album is brilliant.  Nothing Left to Lose is a banger of an album by Foo Fighters.  You can view the list here which had The Flaming Lips coming out on top.  There were quite a few albums on that list that I also had but trying to narrow it down to a small list is quite difficult at times.