Sunday, 27 April 2008

Talk About The Passion


For a short time back in the late 1980s, I would probably have described R.E.M. as my favourite band. But my relationship with them started to sour as far back as “Automatic for the People”, and I have to admit that I’ve not even bothered to listen to their last release “Around the Sun”, as the two that preceded it were so limp and lifeless.
So you’ll understand why I approached this album with some trepidation, despite being promised that the band are back on form. The first thing that I noticed about “Accelerate” is that it’s only 34 minutes in length, possibly the shortest album they’ve recorded (but I wasn’t anal enough to dig out all the others just to check). To me, this is a good sign, as I often get bored with bands who feel they have to use the full capacity of a CD just because it’s there. The overall feel of the album is loud and fast, but thankfully it sounds nothing like the sludgy mess of 1994’s “Monster”, their previous attempt at a “rock” album. Many of the tracks sound more like beefed-up versions of material from their IRS heyday; the Byrds-like guitar sound is back, the lyrics are more cryptic than they have been in recent years, and Stipe’s vocal delivery is so urgent that you need to refer to the lyric sheet to catch everything he says.
While there is no doubt that this album is a product of the 21st century, it could still sit comfortably between “Fables of the Reconstruction” and “Lifes Rich Pageant” (my favourite R.E.M. album, despite the missing apostrophe in its title). The band are obviously aware of this sense of nostalgia; the two more folky numbers, “Houston” and “Until The Day Is Done”, are both reminiscent of “Swan Swan H”, and the lyrics of “Sing For The Submarine” make a sly reference to “Feeling Gravity’s Pull”.
“Accelerate” is not without its faults. Closing track “I’m Gonna DJ” comes across as a little cheesy, with Stipe telling us of his plans to “DJ at the end of the world” and how heaven has a “kickin’ playlist”. My grievance with this song is a very personal one, as I’ve always found that songs about DJs make me cringe, probably because I worked as a DJ for many years. Other listeners may see “I’m Gonna DJ” as a follow-up to “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It” and a fun way to end the album.
So, overall this is not quite a classic R.E.M. album, but it’s closer than I would have dared to hope for. For any former fans who have been avoiding R.E.M. for the past 10 years, this could be a good time to re-acquaint yourself with the band.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Welcome, and the five best albums you’ve never heard

Hello and welcome to anyone who has accidentally stumbled across my initial attempt at a blog. I’ve just started this page because over a couple of drinks after work last week, a colleague persuaded me that I should start to publish my thoughts on music. The plan is to include reviews of some of my latest purchases, plus a few recommendations of releases from the long-distant past that you may not otherwise have heard of. I’m not sure how often it will be updated, but to begin with I thought I would dig out an old article that I wrote a few years ago for a departmental magazine at work. This magazine usually featured news of who was leaving, having a baby etc alongside a few adverts for rooms to let, so I’m not sure what the regular readers made of my musical recommendations. I never found out if any of my colleagues went out and bought one of the albums after reading the article, so I suspect it might mean more to readers of this blog:

Whenever I see one of those “All-time top 100 albums” polls, the kind favoured by Channel 4 or Q Magazine, where the Beatles and Radiohead always come out on top, I think it’s a great shame that the people voting don’t show a bit more imagination. While most of the albums that appear in these lists also feature in my all-encompassing record collection, there are far more interesting releases that never get a look-in. So in a special one-off, here are the five albums you would all own if only you knew they existed.


Cult underground hero and cat-lover David Michael Tibet has been making music for nearly 25 years. Aided and abetted by Nurse With Wound’s Steve Stapleton, his career has steadily progressed from near-unlistenable industrial soundscapes (I would advise readers to approach his early ‘80s work with caution) to the most delicate of acoustic folk. On this, one of his most moving releases, Tibet ponders such tricky subjects as lost love and what happens to his cats when they die.


As always, Bob Pollard tries to cram as many songs into 40 minutes as possible. Several of the tracks clock in at under a minute but these guitar-driven American pop tunes are so catchy they have you reaching for the repeat button. However, it’s Pollard’s eccentric lyrics that make GBV one of the leaders in their field – sample lines: “I’ve lost all my money to a 300 pound ghost”; “A necklace of 50 eyes is yours to keep”. Those of you familiar with my campaign against bad grammar will realise just how good this album must be when I say I’m prepared to overlook the fact that two of the songs contain a split infinitive.


Wire’s debut “Pink Flag” often turns up in lists of essential albums but their second album offers a much more varied listen, as they start to move away from the 100mph punk thrash and experiment with more atmospheric pieces. Just like the Guided By Voices album, ‘Chairs Missing’ features a host of very short songs, each one with a totally different sound from the preceding one and inventive/meaningless (depending on your mood!) lyrics. This is a very British record though, and was a big influence on the Britpop scene of the mid-90s. However, Blur and Elastica never turned out anything this creative.


Prolapse are not easy to categorise. The Fall and Sonic Youth are obvious reference points but the dual vocal attack sets them apart from their contemporaries. A woman with a vaguely posh-sounding voice tells us about claustrophobia and the contents of her bedroom floor, while a drunken Scotsman rants incoherently over the top of her. The album comes with two lyric sheets, one for each of the singers, and Scottish Mick’s words are printed phonetically, just like in the books of Irvine Welsh.


Perhaps the most mainstream album in this list, but how many people actually own it? Worth owning for the opening track “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us” alone (possibly THE greatest single of the 1970s?), the Mael brothers’ blend of glam rock, synth pop and operatic vocals is years ahead of its time. As with the other albums on my list, a good album is turned into a great one by the imaginative lyrics. The humour displayed on each of the tracks makes it obvious why Morrissey is a fan. A true classic, marred only by the fact that Ron Mael looks like Hitler.