Saturday, October 27, 2007

wished you hadn't blown my mind and killed my surprise

Fresh on the back of two of the years catchiest singles, comes "The Trick To Life", the debut album from three-piece "odd-pop" band the Hoosiers.

The album opens with monster single "Worried About Ray" which spent ten weeks in the top 10 in the summer. I wasn't sure about this single at the time, and until I saw them live I had to be convinced about the band at all.

What that gig, and indeed this album prove is that there is much, much more to the Hoosiers than meets the eye.

To some degree, they have a bit of a problem. The two singles (especially the love-it-or-hate-it "Goodbye Mr A") will no doubt largely determine whether people buy this record or not. However, ignoring the two singles the album provides a breadth of sound which is somewhat unexpected.

I'm not for one minute suggesting you give the album a spin if you hate the singles, but if you think they are OK, you may well be pleasantly surprised. "Cops and Robbers" is fun (even though it clearly borrows a baseline from the Cure's "Lovecats") and the gentle "Run Rabbit Run" demonstrates the band produce more than formulaic guitar pop.

I really like it. It's a mixture of catchy potential singles and some nice reflective and crafted material (the excellent "A Sadness Runs Through Him" is a highlight). If you're into anything from XTC and the Cure through to ELO and the Feeling, you might well find something here for you.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Foo Fighters - Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace.

It's quite surprising to think that the Foo's have had a career spanning over 10 years, and they don't look like slowing down anytime soon.
Most people are familiar with at least a handful of their songs, even though they might not even be able to name the band. Showing a cheek and humour in their videos has certainly helped them get lots of rotation, not just on the rock channels either. And of course, having a prominent frontman such as Dave Grohl rising from the ashes of Nirvana and constantly being touted as 'The nicest guy in the music business' can't have harmed the band either.

About to embark on a UK arena tour that sold out quicker than....well, it sold out damn quick anyway. Proof indeed that they have many more fans out there than one would first assume, but what about this new album? Is it any good?
In a word, yes.

Running at just over 50 minutes with it's 12 songs, I really wish other artists and bands would take a leaf out of The Foo's book when putting their respective albums out. What listeners and fans want (unless it's just me?!) is a nice collection of good songs, without the inclusion of the still ever present 'track skippers' and fillers that pad the running times out to stupid lengths. In my opinion, anything between 40 and 50 minutes is just about right, give or take. And let's not forget the old saying "Less is more". Who gives a shit if CDs can hold 80 odd minutes of music. And don't even get me started on double albums!
Anyway, back to the review:

There's a good mixture on here. Pounding tracks with screaming vocals in a typical Foo stylee such as "The Pretender", "Erase/Replace", the slow building "Let It Die", the fabulously titled "Cheer Up, Boys (Your make up is running)" and "But, Honestly".
We also get treated to some wonderful quieter moments with the likes of "Come Alive"; which begins as a gentle ballad and grows into a noisy, guitar driven anthemic tune. More of their gentle side is shown on tracks like "Stranger Things Have Happened"; which is driven along by a ticking metronome and has some really nice acoustic guitar thrown in, "Statues"; which is piano driven loveliness and then the album closer "Home". Piano....voice....strings....emotion....perfection. Just wonderful.
Add to the above a couple of typical Foo's sounding songs "Summers End", which is borderline MOR and "Long Road To Ruin"; sounding more and more like a likely single release, and the bizarrely included instrumental track "Ballad Of The Beaconsfield Miners", which sounds like some kind of acoustic guitar duel and you get a nicely compact, tight sounding, well produced album. In fact, I think the production on this album is particularly good and nicely refreshing, considering most 'rock' album producers and engineers tend to still think the best results are accomplished by turning all the knobs up to 11.

Conclusion : A great, great album.
For anybody who's relatively new to Foo Fighters, this would serve as an excellent album to introduce them to a very talented band. I'm not quite sure where I would place it amongst their previous releases. Certainly, it seems to be a little more ambitious and adventurous than anything else of theirs I've heard and I'd like to hope that they continue along this path.

Have a listen to some examples:

Let It Die
Come Alive

Currently filed in my 'frequently played/pick me up' folder.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

these are the days it never rains but it pours

So, you probably know the score. It's Radio 1's 40th birthday and to celebrate they have asked 40 contemporary artists to cover a record from each of the years from 1967 to the present day.

The station has been playing them for a couple of weeks now, and having heard a few I thought this might be an interesting collection.

Put very simply; it isn't. Most of the covers are average at best, many quite faithful and few that add anything whatsoever to the original record. Indeed, some of them (even by artists I like) are such poor efforts that I can hardly bear to hear them. I don't mean to be rude to Mike Skinner, but I have to say that my recent performance of "Your Song" by Elton John (at a company "Stars In Their Eyes" function) was streets (pun intended) better than his.

There are some decent efforts here, although few and far between. Kylie gives the disco touch to Roxy Music's "Love Is The Drug" (in stark contrast to KT Tunstall's mediocre stab at "Let's Stick Together) and the Foo Fighters' do a grand rock job of "Band On The Run". Of the older singles, the Feeling do a suitably kitsch job of Carly Simon's "You're So Vain", McFly do a surprisingly energetic "A Town Called Malice" and the Pigeon Detective's indie guitar version of Huey Lewis' "Power of Love" is also pretty good.

The newer CD (1987 onwards) is even worse. Other than the two Madonna covers - Groove Armada's interesting take on Crazy For You" and Natasha Bedingfield's competent "Ray Of Light", there's not much here at all. Oh, other than Girls Aloud's suitably poptastic "Teenage Dirtbag", of course.

The only standout track, and this is an opinion that is going to sound hopelessly biased, is the 1981 effort. Others have heard this and been impressed, I would say, and the feedback it got on it's Radio One play was also more positive than many of the other songs. It sounds like a car crash, but Keane's amazingly faithful take on Queen and Bowie's "Under Pressure" still gives me goosebumps a few days on.

So, save your £12 and download the individual songs of artists you like or songs you like. Whilst I doubt even these will do much for you, I wouldn't expect anything else to jump out and grab you. Shame, really.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Darren Hayes - Live at The Lowry, Manchester.

It has to be said, I'm not a fan of Darren Hayes or Savage Garden, his previous guise. When I say I'm not a fan, what I mean is that I've never been 'taken' enough to pursue his music anymore than an occasional single. Let's face it, who doesn't know the likes of "Truly, Madly, Deeply" or "To The Moon And Back". Or perhaps even "Insatiable" from his solo outings.
With this in mind, I was fairly sceptical at watching him live in concert. Over the years I've seen many a band and artist play live, but none where I've known so little about them.
Over the last few weeks I've been sampling his latest release, "This Delicate Thing We've Made" and in all honesty, it's not been screaming anything out to me. In fact, on the first few listens, even though I liked a few key tracks, as an overall album, I felt it was an over-produced, over-long, patchy collective. Slowly it began to grow on me, but I still felt that the material should have been cut down to just 1 disc and not a double. Oh well. Plenty of reviews have been favourable, so I persisted.
Two things were interesting for this gig:
The first is that he has the stage Stage Manager who's worked with the likes of Madonna, George Michael and Kylie so lavish stage sets and jigger pokery is to be expected.
Secondly, the venue is entirely seated. Is this to be a quiet, reserved affair or will people get up and enjoy the show properly? The last time I can remember going to a seated gig was James Brown. Yep, James Brown. The Godfather of Soul. The King of Funk. Mr Funky Bastard*. And what happened? Almost everybody stayed seated. People were being told to sit down by the people behind them who couldn't see properly.

The venue itself had no atmosphere. Considering it's more of a Theatre style venue, it oozed far too much 'class' to be dragged down to typical gig going level. Inside were fold-down seats, typical of any Theatre and ushers. Ushers!!! More about the ushers later.

The show began, almost prematurely because the 'house lights' were still up. I get the feeling staging music concerts here isn't their forte. A shame really, because with the lights down and the synths and samples building up in volume, it would have been a great way to start proceedings.

On stage, the band were kinda cramped in a corner, while Darren introduced himself to the audience a-top a bridge. The huge back-drop set danced between futuristic images and random objects, all looking quite stunning. His two backing singers stood to the left of the stage and were soon joined by Darren, just in time for some funky choreography. One things was for sure, this wasn't just gonna be an artist performing his songs live. This was gonna be wrapped up in some facny packaging
And it was.

Sat back on top of the bridge, we were told the story of how he came to write his latest album. A sudden interest and fascination with time travel and the whole 'If we could go back in time' theme. With this little story, and I can only speak for myself here, he put the whole thing into perspective for me. I think it's safe for me to say that without this little interlude, I wouldn't have enjoyed the gig as much.

Throughout the show, we were graced with impressive stuff. Lighting and laser shows to compliment the music and pace. Imagery on the huge back-drop to accompany his words. Not to mention some snazzy set pieces that would change into other things throughout. Unfortunately, one such piece suffered a minor malfunction during the show. The middle piece of the backdrop detached, got twisted around and then stripped of all it's coverings. Initially, we saw a mass of rigging and lights, but with some jiggery pokery from the stage hands (and probably a hammer!) the rigging started to move, eventually becoming a swan like creature (in an origami style). This was a particularly poignant moment, as a few songs before, he'd been singing a song accompanied by laser images of origami pieces on the back-drop.

By the end of the concert, I felt like I'd witnessed the show as he would have wanted me to. Not just as an artist singing his songs live, but as an artist telling his little story.
Of course there was the occasional Savage Garden track thrown in for good measure, but he didn't seem to enjoy singing those songs as much. If anything, I found them to be a little disruptive to this story he was telling us.

Despite the fact that neither the tickets or the venue had signs stating 'No Photography/Cameras', they obviously didn't like them being used. Whether this was at the request of the artist or the venue's policy, it's difficult to say, but I saw several ushers asking people to stop taking photos. The usher by our seats was a vulture! Parading up and down the aisle, watching, waiting to be able to tell somebody. Crap policy (especially as it wasn't stated anywhere), crap ushers and just general crap! In my opinion, the ushers only served a purpose of killing the atmosphere with the audience.
His voice was great. He really has got a very, very good voice and anybody who says he hasn't should continue to enjoy watching X Factor for their talent. I thought the sound mixing was awful for the first song. It got better 2 or 3 songs in and thankfully most of the show sounded excellent. Although I'd liked it to have been a little louder, but perhaps that's the result of too many gigs for me already!

The audience got up off their seats. There was lots of hand waving, dancing around, shouting, whistling and singing. I don't think there was one person in there who didn't get sucked into the show. Except maybe the vulture usher. And perhaps the Stage Manager, when he realised they had a 'swan malfunction'.

Great show. Great voice. Great time.
The thing that struck me the most was how ambitious the show was. Personally, I think the venue was too small, although an arena may be too big. That said though, hats off to Darren and his crew for pulling it all off, eventually.

* I am not implying James Brown to be a Bastard, either in the correct sense or the put-down sense. It was merely a figure of speech.