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.

Music life in lockdown week 19

This is a review of the albums that I have been listening to whilst working from home. Albums listened to for week 19 cover from 27-31 July.

Wow, week 19 and still working from home. Some lockdown restrictions have been easing but I am not back at the office. Think it might be a good while yet. But the longer this goes on I may have to change the title of the blog. I am open to suggestions on whether I change it or keep it.

Anyway, on to the music….

Monday 27 July – Nine Inch Nails

Nine Inch Nails (NIN) released Pretty Hate Machine in 1989. I wasn’t aware of them at the time until I heard the bands performance at Woodstock ’94 when John Peel announced on the radio that “you had rewarded yourself by staying up late for one of the best performances of the weekend”. Can’t go wrong with John Peel recommedation.

After that I was interested in the band and the first NIN album I bought was The Downward Spiral (1994) which was a really dark album recorded in the house that Sharon Tate was murdered in by the Charles Mansion gang. Not a very easy listen and neither was Pretty Hate Machine which I bought afterwards. The companion album Further Down The Spiral (1995) and not pictured was a remix album. I don’t normally like remixes but this album was pretty good.

With Teeth (2005) was a welcome return to NIN for me. Somehow I managed to miss their last album, 1999’s The Fragile. I was probably intrigued with Dave Grohl’s involvement in the album as he plays drums on at least 7 of the tracks.

Year Zero (2007) was an album with a difference. A concept album on a futuristic USA and was totally difference to the previous album.

Hesitation Marks (2013) was the bands first in five years and it was released at the time of their latest European tour which called at Belfast for the Belsonic festival. It is very unusual going to a gig and you aren’t aware of what the new songs were like. The only one I knew was Copy of A which was released as free download. The gig itself was amazing and one of the best I have been to.

And All That Could Have Been (2002) was the bands only live album recorded during the Fragility v2.0 US tour in 2000 and it is really good. Quite up there with my radio broadcast tape from 1994 so it was good to have a live CD which really does capture the live performance of the band. I last got to see them two years ago in Madrid, Spain as part of the Mad Cool Festival. Only time I had to leave half way through their set as I needed to get back to my B&B, grab some sleep and then head to airport to get home!

Tuesday 28 July – James

Where do you start with James? I guess for me not at the beginning as I was quite late getting into them. I didn’t really appreciate them until the release of the Best of (1998) that I realised that I knew quite a lot of their songs like Sit Down, Laid, Come Home, She’s a Star as they always played them at indie and student union discos.

Well there was probably never going to be a good time to get into them so I guess this was my starting point. The release of Millionaires (1999) was their eighth album and my second. I got to experience the band for the first time that year and they were amazing live. Playing at the Olympia Theatre in Dublin, some eagle eye spotted Bono and The Edge in the the VIP box in the venue.

Other albums played included Whiplash (1997) and Laid (1993) which is my favourite James album. Pleased To Meet You (2001) quickly followed Millionaires and the live album, Getting Away with it…Live (2002) captured the band on the tour that would result in the band breaking up afterwards. It was such a shame to see an end of the band and I was thankfully for the few times I had seen them live.

But there was a comeback which I had missed back in 2008. Girl At the End of the World (2016) was their 14th album and it almost knocked Adele’s 21 off the top spot. Peaking at midweek and settling for no.2. Not bad for a band many would consider past their prime.

Wednesday 29 July – Pixies/Frank Black

Today I decided to go for the most recent Pixies albums and some of Frank Black’s solo career. Depends on what way you look it at you either like the comeback albums or you don’t. I guess most Pixies fans prefer the older material but as I was late to the party and have enjoyed them since hearing Doolittle and Bossanova (both my favourite albums) I can say that I have enjoyed all three post reunion albums – Indy Cindy (2014) was their first album since 1991’s Trompe le Monde and also first without Kim Deal who returned to The Breeders.

Head Carrier (2016) marked the first full appearance of bassist Paz Lenchantin after replacing previous bassist Kim Deal, who left the band in 2013. By now the band are no longer basking in past glories in doing tours that feature the hits. Last year’s Beneath the Eyrie was their third full post reunion album and of all three released I definitely like this one best. When they came to Belfast last year I jumped at the chance to see them play here for the first time since 1990. The gig sold out in minutes so I was relieved to get a ticket. 39 songs were played that night. They played the hits but they played nearly all of the new album too which had just come out.

Charles Thompson IV to give him his real name is Frank Black. After the breakup of the Pixies in late 1992 and early 1993, he then adopted the stage name “Frank Black” (inverting his old persona “Black Francis”) and released the Frank Black in 1993. Frank Black was characterised by a focus on UFOs and science fiction. At this stage, The X Files was on TV and its creator Chris Carter produced a spin off show called Millennium whose main character was called Frank Black. The album was similar in style, both musically and lyrically, to the Pixies’ albums Bossanova and Trompe le Monde.

By 1997 he created his new band Frank Black and the Catholics. Pistolero (1992) was their second album and Dog in the Sand (2001) was the last solo album I bought and also the first time I got to see him live. Bearing in mind that this was three years prior to the reunion of 2004 I never thought I would get to see them live. Had to settle for seeing them support Red Hot Chili Peppers and a festival appearance at T in the Park.

Thursday 30 July – REM

Back for another look at REM. They featured here way back in week 3, that feels so long ago now. That day I was listening to REM from when I got into them. Today I would take a look back at their early stuff before they released their major label debut Green in 1989.

Very much a college rock band back in the 1980’s I had never heard of any of their albums growing up but as I got older I was meeting friends who were into them and that opened the door for another “new” band to discover. REM first visited these shores way back in 1985 when they supported U2. Imagine that!

First two albums from the 1980s – Murmur (1983) and Reckoning (1984) highlights REM at their very best for their first couple of albums.

Document (1987) was R.E.M.’s first album to be co-produced both by the band and Scott Litt; a collaboration that continued through GreenOut of TimeAutomatic for the PeopleMonster, and New Adventures in Hi-Fi.

I have both the original CD release and reissue of the album. Also included here was a live album from the deluxe edition – recorded live in Utrecht, Netherlands, 1987.

Also played were two compilation, the first one The Best of REM (1991), shortly after the success of the band’s seventh studio album, Out of Time, released by Warner Bros. The Best of R.E.M., however, was released by the band’s previous record label, I.R.S. Records, and only includes tracks from their first five albums from 1982 to 1987.

R.E.M. Singles Collected is a compilation album from released in Europe by I.R.S. Records in 1994. The album includes the A-side and B-sides of singles spanning from their debut LP Murmur in 1983, right through to Document in 1987. A nice collection of their early works.

Friday 31 July – Idlewild

I first witnessed Idlewild supporting Placebo in the Ulster Hall. Hope is Important (1998) was their debut album and I was blown away by both it and their support slot that night. It is not very often I’m rushing down town to get a new album immediately. In this case the day after the Placebo gig I got a copy of it. Captain also released that year was more of a mini-album.

After that I was hooked and have been into the band since, seeing them live so many times and they are just so good live. The follow up, 2000’s 100 Broken Windows however see’s the band take a more melodic step to their sound. This was the beginning of a change in the band’s sound which by the next album, The Remote Part (2002) was their most commercially successful album to date.

More changes would come for album number 4, Warnings/Promises (2005) which definitely shows a split in the fan base.

I thought it more or less carried on where The Remote Part left off but the latter is a better album and my favourite.

Make Another World (2007) was album no.5 and it was noted for its return to Idlewild’s heavier roots, while continuing to maintain a strong sense of melody as displayed on more recent albums. Q described the album as “the sound of a band re-energised. It also felt like a brand new band coming together with so much personnel coming and going.