Nightman Listens To – David Bowie – Lodger

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Greetings, Glancers! We’re back in the weird and wacky and often infuriating musical world of Monsiour Bowie and his thirteenth album Lodger. I’ll be honest and say that it’s not one I really know anything about – I never hear anybody talking about it and I don’t recall seeing it in many Best Album lists. That will probably mean it turns out to be my favourite by him so far. Well then, I see no sense in ‘anging ’bout.

Fantastic Voyage. Drums. Guitar and piano. Familiar Bowie vocals and beat. A little woozy and gospel. Building. Big note. Sounds like the lyrics are just as vital today. A nice start.

African Night Flight. Noises. Worse noises. Bangs. Tribal space loops. Rapping. This is certainly different. Can’t help but smile at this one. I mean, it’s not good but it’s certainly hypnotic, ambitious, and draws you in. I think I wold like this more with multiple listens.

Move On. Guitar phased. Galloping. Deep vocals. So a lot of this is being inspired by Africa. Name dropping other places. Very loose. None of the songs have had a traditional structure or obvious hook yet, though each has been interesting in its own way and not off-putting. Shouty vocals now.

Yassassin. Jaunty guitars and organs. Reggae beat. Arabian string sounds. Arabian vocals. It’s interesting again, another one with a sound different to the songs before it. So far these are all songs that are difficult to capture on first listen – they seem dense and mysterious and will only reveal their secrets after a few more goes.

Red Sails. Low. Building drums. Faster. Asian vocals and noises. A little spacey. Crazy guitar. Crazy vocals. Like a bunch of space pirates on acid. It’s okay, it’s a little too close in pace and general style to his glam stuff, but different enough in sound to not put me off.

DJ. Drums. Disaster strings. Funky. Bass loopy, guitar disco. Lyrics sound like he is taking the piss out of DJs for self important. Goes on a bit too long.

Look Back In Anger. Fast. Boxing ring bells. Great drums. Guitar spikes. Good vocals. Another interesting one that does its own thing.

Boys Keep Swinging. Well, I know this one. Or more accurately, I know the Susanna Hoffs cover from her mostly crappy debut solo album. I haven’t heard the original before. That Hoffs album has notoriously bad production, this sounds better instantly. I can see why she chose to cover it, but it’s not amazing. Good bass. These last albums have all had fantastic musical work from the surrounding band. Solo. Sounds an awful lot like some of the solos on The Holy Bible so I assume the Manics borrowed this sound.

Repetition. Guitar chord. Bass weirdness. Falling through a dream. Dazed wandering through a crowded foreign city. Sounds like a song about beatings. The sound and song title suggesting madness and inevitability and no escape? It’s another weird one, but okay.

Red Money. More weirdness. Military beat, off kilter bass. Off kilter everything. This is slow and mesmerizing again, but along with the previous song feels like a slow down, or a peddle off the gas, both in terms of pace and quality. Still good though, but maybe a little too experimental for most.

I said this would probably be my favourite because I didn’t know anything about it, and honestly it’s pretty close. As I mention a few times above, I think the songs here demand multiple listens and unlike some of his other stuff I am more than willing to stick this one on again – it could be that the songs don’t work on a personal level after I hear them more and are more like cutesy tracks that only work once, but I expect them to grow on me more. There are no obvious hits here so I understand why this one is not rated as highly as others, but there are no weak songs here and each one is quite different.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Lodger. Were you around when it was first released? How do you rank it alongside Bowie’s other works?

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Disney Songs – Pinocchio

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If that image doesn’t conjure up heartwarming nostalgic feelings, then I don’t know what will. That’s right folks, today I listen to all of the songs from Disney’s second masterpiece Pinnochio – some of which have gone on to become seminal and iconic pieces of pop culture. I, and I assume most of you, will be familiar with these ones so I’m also including some of the songs which didn’t make the final cut. Enjoy!

When You Wish Upon A Star‘. No other song is so associated with Disney as this one. The song frequently appears in the greatest movie song ever lists and critics usually rank it as the best Disney Movie song. It is a lovely song, hopeful, dreamy, and with an instantly memorable melody. I can’t say I like certain parts of the arrangement and backing vocals – things which later versions have removed or updated, but the core of the song is timeless and magical.

Little Wooden Head‘. This is a twee, fun little number with Gepetto talking and singing over tinkling, bouncy music which sounds like it has been produced by a music box. Better backing vocals then emerge to fill up a nice enough jingle, but it’s forgettable compared with the songs around it.

Give A Little Whistle‘. Another centerpiece for the movie and company, this merges old fashioned moral sentiment with a hopeful message – if you’re uncertain, give a little whistle and let conscience be your guide. Like many early Disney songs it’s little more than a brief jingle rather than a fully fledged song, but also like so many of them it’s unbearably catchy.

Hi Diddle Dee Dee‘. Honest John… well he was both honest and dishonest, and his lyrics here remain highly relevant today as every nobody clamours on top of each other to be a somebody – after all, it’s great to be a celebrity. The first Disney song by a bad guy, it’s unusually cheery and upbeat – but that is all part and parcel of the tempting nature of fame and the dark side – poor old Pinocchio wouldn’t be sucked in so badly if it wasn’t so seductive and innocent seeming on the surface.

I’ve Got No Strings On Me‘. I might like this song more if it wasn’t so effing high pitched. I think that may be biggest problem with the movie as a whole – it just hurts my ears. That being said, it’s another utterly timeless song with a few musical styles and interesting time changes, and even with all the ear-bleeding you’ll find yourself singing parts of it hours afterwards.

Hi Diddle Dee Dee Reprise’. Thief! Kidnap! Help!

When You Wish Upon A Star Reprise‘. So sad. So happy. Bittersweet? It’s the end, and a perfect on at that.

I’m A Happy Go Lucky Fellow‘. This one was written for Pinocchio but was left off and then included in Fun And Fancy Free. Honestly it suits the short rather than the movie it was originally intended for. It segues in nicely from the title track and of course it’s good to see Jiminy again. It’s a light and silly song – not much more than a piece of fluff, and not really very good with all those old trumpets and choral vocals I usually can’t stand.

Honest John‘. More of the same really, a self-explanatory song about the character with that horrible singing style I don’t like. It bounces up and down and moves quickly, but is broken up with the odd spoken part and sound effect which sound bizarre without any animation to go along with it – Hi Diddle Dee Dee clearly does the same job better.

As I Was Saying To The Duchess‘. A big swelling of strings, joined by brass for an epic opening. A summery string piece follows before the vocals begin. Funny lyrics sun in a funny voice. Brief.

Three Cheers For Anything‘. Wait wait wait. Is there where Pink Floyd got some of the lyrics for Another Brick In The Wall from? Wow, that’s a revelation or coincidence or something. It’s quite a light song, the music reminds me of Tom and Jerry, a nice drum section steadies the ship in the middle -nice, not necessary.

Monstro The Whale‘. Well, not exactly what I expected. This sounds like some camp 1960’s comedy. It also sounds like clothes shop muzak. It doesn’t make Monstro sound menacing or monstrous, but more like a cheeky wee scamp who’d steal your lunch money, then give you some change.

Turn On The Old Music Box‘. Sounds like Jiminy. A quaint, easy listening song with an old-fashioned feel and a desire to share even more old-fashioned stylings. There’s a catchy part in the middle, some swooning backing vocals… yeah, I could see this one appearing in the movie.

So, Pinocchio. Some more iconic songs, and a few interesting asides. Really, there are three songs here which you would want to bring along to the next world and share with the population. What, you’ve never had those fantasies? About being shot forward in space and time, or sent to another galaxy, and you can only bring limited music/movies/books/whatever with you? Yeah, based on that fantasy, there are only three songs which you could honestly take with you from this soundtrack, and only one of those is an absolute must. Say it ain’t so? Say it in the comments!

Gemma Hayes – The Roads Don’t Love You

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Gemma Hayes’s first album was a surprise hit, a success with critics and a select group of fans, but it never made the impact it deserved to on the British or American charts. Selling well in her home of Ireland, and doing okay in other territories it was a sign of a singer songwriter with a bright future. After relocating to LA, and it would appear mulling over what to do next for some time, she returned with this 3 years later. This album is a departure from some of the folk stylings of her first, but keeps the big melodies and hits. The album covers a variety of themes and moves from bleak to joyful in single bounds, but it retains her wonderful voice and much of her arm thrusting guitar work. While not as critically successful as her first album, this is equally good- less experimental but more fluid there are any number of fantastic songs here proving that she isn’t a one hit wonder.

‘Two Step’ opens the album in familiar territory with Gemma’s gorgeous, husky voice playing over soft folk guitars. The chorus bursts open in appealing style and we know that she still has a rock soul burning under her heavy heart as well as an ear for a memorable melody. Lyrically honest as always, she sings of (the central theme of the album) travel, of running away and returning, of the solitude of the road as well as the freedom. The brief middle part shows of her voice at it’s yearning best before returning to the chorus.

‘Another For The Darkness’ begins with tender acoustics and sorrow filled vocals to bitter lyrics. The glorious chorus is only bettered when she plays it live, and with lines like ‘I don’t understand better than most’ she is again baring herself but saying she isn’t the pinnacle some may take her for. A love song, a song about the bad parts of fame she has experienced it is complex but easily absorbed thanks to the delivery and melody.

‘Happy Sad’ is one of the first singles from the album, an up-tempo track with commercial stylings, but it doesn’t really show off her vocals and lacks the edge of Let A Good Thing Go and Hanging On from her first album. Lyrically she shows again her bleeding heart poet side, but there is always hope and sunshine. Typically a love song about her ‘sadder boy’ being the only one who can bring her out of her malaise, it is pretty good but there are other tracks which could have made better singles.

‘Easy On The Eye’ is an utterly gorgeous acoustic ballad, sung in the style Gemma does best- as if it is just you and her in the room and is played for both of you alone. It is her barefaced tribute to the one she loves, emotionally charged and with simple, gentle lyrics which appear highly personal. When played live the crowd doesn’t make a sound- always the sign of utmost respect and adoration.

‘Keep Me Here’ begins in top form with a brilliantly performed dark verse, but the chorus doesn’t fit for me as well as I thought it would. Nice clanging guitars as always and quite lyrically downbeat, singing of the separation we can feel when we are together and there is an air of despair throughout, although this is shot through with acceptance- she is trying to convince the other party that it will never work.

‘Undercover’ is the other main single from the album and I much prefer it to Happy Sad. Everything is so melancholy and honest, the verses sets the tone while the chorus is melodically beautiful and emotional. I often imagine this is heavier than it actually is, maybe I’m used to her rocking more when she plays it live. Either way, either style it remains a great song, I like the siren style backing vocals in the chorus, but mostly it’s the yearning, tearful vocals which stand out.

‘Nothing Can’ is a song I often forget about, I’m not certain why as it is very good. The traveling theme continues and the piano/xylophone melody is effective at creating an energetic mood. Gemma is intelligent enough to recognize that while running away may be a solution for a while, the grass is rarely greener on the other side. She sounds as if she is making a stand here, showing her strength, and being decisive. Some of her chorus vocals are heartbreaking as she blends gentle and husky styles, making this one I should listen to more.

‘Helen’ slows things down greatly, with pianos and strings and her guitar laid to rest. The lyrics look to the past, begin quite placidly, but end on a note of sorrow. Most of the vocals are whispered and it is almost too sweet, but she opts for a pretty anti-melodic lead- this means it is sometimes difficult to remember this song.

‘Something In My Way’ along with EOTE is my favourite song on the album. Everything about this is Gemma perfection- soaring chorus vocals, a gentle, shoulder surfing verse, sublime melodies, rocking guitars and heart felt lyrics. This should have been a single, and it really deserves to be huge especially when compared to most of the other female led dross in the charts. This rolls along at a high tempo, has typically brutal and dark lyrics- like I’ve mentioned before this really becomes timeless when she performs it live.

‘Horses’ has a memorable chorus, but something about the rest of the song doesn’t work for me. I don’t think there is anything special here, especially when it is surrounded by truly great songs. This is pleasant enough, but doesn’t stand out.

‘Tomorrow’ closes the album in hopeful tones with the refrain ‘I’ll be here tomorrow’- great news for the fans as, sweet jeebus, Gemma Hayes is great. It is a fairly simple song, similar to Horses with soft melodies. It is a gentle ending which leaves us wanting more.

‘Pull Me In’ is a short hidden track, showing Gemma’s penchant for experimentation and noise. A simple lyric backed up with distortion and percussion it isn’t anything too remarkable, but still a curiosity.

The album isn’t exactly one of two halves, although I prefer the first songs rather than the last few, with Something In My Way preventing the last part from being overly dreary. You could argue that conceptually the first part is about running away, and second about facing things and deciding to return, but most of that is irrelevant. We have another collection of beautiful songs which for the most part will stay in your mind for a long time- I’ll say it again, catch her live and experience some of these songs for yourself.

The Gathering – Afterwords

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Coming hot on the heels of their exceptional 10th album, Afterwords is a bonus album featuring reworked cuts from Disclosure and a small number of new tracks. Fans hoping for more of the same after Disclosure are likely to be disappointed, so I’ll make it clear from the outset that the majority of this album are experimental, simplified versions of some former tracks, focusing perhaps on a particular single motif or idea, and giving it an electronic, ambient overhaul – most of these tracks are unrecognizable when compared with their counterparts. I’d say that this is one for the die-hard fans, while more casual fans may be left frustrated.

‘SIBALD’ opens the album, a fine ambient track which could have made the same impact at 1 or even two minutes shorter. There isn’t much to say about it – it’s a peaceful, ethereal piece with some fine trumpet work and melodic pieces.

‘Echoes Keep Growing’ opens well with whispered, distorted string based sounds before familiar vocals from I Can See Four Miles come in. Again, there isn’t any need for this to be almost 7 minutes, when much of the introduction could have been condensed, and when a bulk of the song is basic repetition. After the halfway mark, the song takes on a heavier sound, with heavily distorted guitar sounds taking control, but again this swirls, builds, and repeats until the end.

‘Areas’ is the first new, non-experimental track, a cool little track which will grow on you with subsequent listens. With the repetitive cricket-like (the insect, not the sport) sounds, flickering guitars, and simple melodies and lyrics, it’s a pleasant listen which doesn’t tax the listener. This isn’t a track which sounds much like other Gathering songs, so it probably fits well here. Being a cover of an early 80s synth song by New Musik, it works well alongside the other more experimental tracks.

‘Afterwords’ is easily the best song on offer, with wonderful, clean vocals from original Gathering singer Bart Smits. Sounding like a lost Depeche Mode track, this one has a great, dark tone to it, searing verse melodies, and a fine chorus once it erupts. Again, it may not be one which will capture you upon first listen, but it didn’t take long before it grew on me. It’s another song which doesn’t sound like what we expect from The Gathering, but as any Gathering fan knows – you shouldn’t expect anything from the band except brilliance.

‘Tuning In, Fading Out’ is a reworking of Missing Seasons, taking one of the more prominent lyrics from that song, and repeating them through a new electronic landscape. It’s a decent enough track, but difficult to recommend it as something you’ll wish to listen to frequently, though it is one of the stronger edits on offer here.

‘Gemini III’ – is another piece to the Gemini puzzle, using a lot of the same ideas, melodies, and lyrics from part 1 and 2. This one is a stripped down piece, with some chugging guitars added, and less of a focus on backing noise to let the vocals soar. Incidentally, someone on YouTube has added all 3 parts together for an interesting 14 minute listen. Another decent track, but again not essential if you already have Disclosure, more of a nice cult addition.

‘Afterlights’ is a short 2 minute track, a keyboard and organ led instrumental piece which is fine by itself, but works as introduction for the next track.

‘Sleep Paralysis’ is a distorted, vibrating remake of Paralyzed. It starts well enough, with a steady beat and angelic backing vocals. This basic idea gets stretched out over the next few minutes, but rather than acting as a distinct piece, it will have you wanting to put on the original instead. There is quite a racket caused by the end of the song, depending on my mood I take this as annoying, or pretty damn groovy. Again, only one for the hardcore fans.

‘Barenfels’ is a remake of the brilliant Heroes For Ghosts, but greatly condenses the many ideas, sounds, and emotions from that song into a more simplified, yet still epic piece. At over 8 minutes, it’s shorter than the original, and has a number of notable changes – the addition of spoken pieces, the stripping away of most of the music, vocals, and melodies of the original, and switches around the structure quite a bit – for example, the glorious opening trumpet piece from Heroes For Ghosts comes at the halfway point here. From that point, the song collapses into an unusual mixture of repeated riffs and rumbling drums, with some varied vocals thrown in to make something unique. A shorter length may have made this one a bit stronger as I’m less inclined to listen to an 8 minute track when there is so much repetition.

Like most of The Gathering’s Eps or bonus type albums, this one isn’t as essential as the ‘main’ albums. Areas and Afterwords are strong tracks, but the other songs range from one-off curios to average. Each one has some good moments, but the experimental nature means that most fans will be put off and will prefer to listen to something more mainstream, for lack of a better term. The band wanted to create a distinct atmosphere with this collection, and they succeed, but as a collection of songs that the listener will wish to listen to on repeat, it doesn’t work.

Gemma Hayes – Night On My Side

*Originally written in 2005 (or something)

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Gemma Hayes crept into the charts with a series of folksy rock songs, garnering the attention of fans and critics. It wasn’t until her first album was released to acclaim that people started to take note. Nominated for the Mercury Prize (not really much of an honour anymore to be honest) it was a fusion of rock, pop, and folk, with husky Irish vocals, anguished and honest lyrics, gentle melodies, and some interesting arrangements. The chart success in Mainland Britain wasn’t huge, but she became a bigger name in her home land, and a series of tours and festivals spread her name to wider shores. Night On My Side wipes the floor with most singer songwriters which have come out of this decade- those one hit wonders, those one trick ponies who won’t go away- there is a touching quality to her tender moments, and an unchained rage in the heavier songs. Everything is on show here, a dangerous thing for any artist to portray as it can lead very quickly to obsessive fans who feel they know her intimately from the words and emotions on display here. Gemma would leave the madness of, oddly enough, LA while she mulled over her next move. While she has continued to produce great work, this remains her most respected.

‘Day One’ opens the album in a fairly bleak fashion with the raspy vocals, soft guitars, and harsh ideas. It is a folk style song, with a country and Irish twist. The highlight here is the lyrics, covering violent images with dedication and love, but it is over very quickly. It is a decent opener, setting the listener up for what is to come, but I feel she had better non album tracks from this time such as Gotta Low which could have been added.

‘Hanging Around’ opens with distorted riffs and opening refrain from Gemma before exploding into big verse and chorus melodies ensuring that this would be a live favourite for years to come. On the surface a simple love song, the lyrics show greater depth on closer examination as she opens her heart to none and all. Above all though, it is a jump around song with some unexpected guitars from a small blond girl from Tipperary. This one proves that she can rock- when I saw her at Glastonbury a loud guy in the audience kept shouting ‘You Rock!’ at her, and asking her questions- she always answers, another nice feature of her live performances. After a chat between the two of them he made his way to the stage and gave her a shot of whiskey which she gratefully downed to huge cheers before continuing with the set.

‘Back Of My Hand’ starts with almost harpsichord sounding guitars and lyrics of desperation. Gemma’s voice here sounds like she is singing just to one person, just to you- one of the many reasons she has a fairly rabid fan base. This is another tale of lost love where she sings of the pain it can cause, but also that she knows of the strength to move on. The emotions move from the aforementioned desperation, to bitterness, to going on with head held high, mirroring the feelings of a real break up.

‘Over And Over’ slows the pace a bit, an affectionate love song with Eastern strings and deliberately sandwiched between two grief stricken and angry songs. This one deals with almost losing the person you love but preventing it just in time, all played to dreamy guitars and gentle tunes.

‘Let A Good Thing Go’ is probably Gemma’s best known song and a fan favourite. With its instantly recognizable introduction, sad and drawled vocals, big melodies, and excitable guitars it is as much a sing along at live performances as Hanging On. Again we get insight into Gemma’s thoughts and feelings, and her experiences with life and love through her words which never shy away from truth. While other songs on the album speak of people leaving her and the pain it causes, this one talks about the stark realization that she has ended something herself and now regrets it. Regardless of the gloomy subject matter, the audience never fails to bounce around to this one.

‘Ran For Miles’ knocks you offside by opening with gentle notes and beats which would typically make you think of lazy summer nights, then cracks you over the head with the emotional vocal delivery and lyrical content. You can almost hear the tears welling up with each line of the verse, and the tender climbing notes of the chorus never fail to leave you with a lump in your throat. It isn’t until the end that she belts out the final few lines, unleashing all the pent up emotion and you don’t know whether to smile or cry.

‘What A Day’ shows Gemma’s more experimental side with strange noises, chords fading in and out, and a distorted drum loop. Again the lyrics are packed with honesty, but simple, and the melody is soft. I don’t think this one is particularly memorable and something like Evening Sun would have suited the album better, but it’s still an okay song for the middle of the album.

‘Tear In My Side’ brings back the heavy guitars and is probably the loudest song on the album- not that we’re talking growling territory, just distortion and punching the strings rather than stroking them. The song simply repeats the refrain over and over with growing instrumentation and emotion. There are a few breaks in this growth where the background noise fades leaving the second refrain to repeat in a softer manner. This too grows louder before returning to the original refrain with even more feeling and sound. This is another great song which people tend to forget from the album.

‘I Wanna Stay’ is a beautiful track with an ever so minor country sprinkle (good as I can’t stand country music) on top. It is a quiet love song which for another time paints a picture of those lazy summer nights, just you and the one you love challenging the sun to never set. Simple lyrics which show devotion to one and nothing else, soft music, and airy melodies which will float through your mind all day. The song also features a hidden acoustic track at the end, just guitar and the sound of children playing.

‘Lucky One’ opens with mermaid/siren haunting vocals with Gemma insisting that someone is the lucky one. There are soft picked guitars with sudden distorted blasts and noise which increases through the song until it peaks with a blast off. Gemma continues her refrain as the wall of sound swells before fading off to Gemma’s light whispers.

‘My God’ is mostly glorious. The sad thing is that this is never played live. The lyrics are strong, story like, touching, the guitars wavering in the background while the vocals are packed with emotion and pleading.

‘Night On My Side’ closes the album in familiar style with laid back guitars and vocals, a few grains of country, and yearning lyrics. The melody creeps into your unsuspecting memory because everything is delivered in such a gentle, unassuming fashion. The hidden track ‘Pieces Of Glasses’ comes in after this, one of the softest songs on the album where Gemma admits a series of faults in typically tragic style.

Night On My Side is a brilliant debut, showcasing a growing talent. She already had much experience playing the bars in Dublin and releasing 2 EPs before this came out so her performances her are assured and confident. It is in the lyrics where her candor and strength truly lie here, slightly ironic given that she displays and lack of confidence in the subject matter. In an age of dreary middle of the road songwriters, Hayes is a breath of wonderfully fresh air, a unique voice who isn’t afraid to do things her own way rather than pandering to any chart style. If you’re looking for a new female voice with strong lyrics and memorable tunes, look no further.

Nightman Listens To – Madonna – Ray Of Light!

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Greetings, Glancers! I’ll get this out of the way at the outset – I love Ray Of Light. I listened to it quite a lot when it was first released and even though I have slagged Madonna after and before it was released, it still holds up as a great record. Or I think it does – I haven’t listened to it in years. It’s the first Madonna album I can remember being released; I was 15 at the time and hadn’t paid much attention to anything Madonna related beforehand other than her singles and videos. Now that I was a teenager I was actually earning and spending my own money on things and of course was more knowledgeable about music. Until roughly this age most of the albums I owned were either metal, hard rock, or Michael Jackson. I remember a lot of people in school talked about Ray Of Light – people who were exclusively into shitty dance music, rock kids, chart kids, etc. Madonna essentially kept herself relevant by tapping into a variety of sounds and styles and by above all releasing a bunch of great songs. Moving on…

Drowned World/Substitute For Love‘  is a fairly creepy sounding name and the song starts in a fairly creepy way – wind sounds, laser electronic sounds, some bloke speaking, until Madonna’s plaintive vocal flows in. When the beat comes in it all makes sense – the beat and overall sound is chilled, we get plenty of additional beats and backwards sounds. I can’t say it sounds dated now, there’s something old about it though. It did feel revolutionary at the time but I loved most and still do is how dynamic it is – instruments drop in and out, the song dissolves into momentary tangents, and at the core is a brilliant Madonna performance.

Swim‘ opens with some guitar. That’s another point which I always remember about the album – people see it as this big dance record, but it’s filled with guitar too and one of my friends who was just learning guitar at the moment always listened to this album specifically for the guitar parts. This is a pretty good album track, a funky mixture of riffs and warbling dance parts. Again the production is terrific, music building and withdrawing, and there’s always something new and dynamic happening to distract from an otherwise simple structure. 

Ray Of Light‘ is the biggie, and it was a hit for years. This one does sound very 90s now and yet still has a modern flavour. I think that’s because today’s commercial pop and dance is so technically bland. This has energy, it flickers and bounces on many levels while today’s chart stuff feels flat and hollow – no depth to the structure or production. The music video is pure Trainspotting jittery nonsense though – good at the time but severely dated now.

Candy Perfume Girl‘ starts with electronic humming, then guitar, then wet beats, then assorted sounds and vocals. It’s very much your standard album track and has the same drum sounds and backing noise that appeared in hundreds of songs around the time. There’s still plenty to discover here, but it’s easily the weak link so far.

Skin‘ gets us back on track. It begins suddenly, yet is slow and smooth. The way the backing noises descend into a chaotic swamp of whispers and noise, and then how the fast beat suddenly comes in – this is very much my sort of dance music. I love the central vocal melody, again there is a tonne of atmosphere and smart production, and again the song never wants retain the same sound, varying and morphing as it goes. Great for night driving. Great for anything really.

Nothing Really Matters‘ is an atmospheric ballad. I almost dread to think what a song like this would have sounded like had she recorded it in an earlier era. The New Jack or 80s pop versions of this likely would have been a disaster. Don’t get me wrong, the drum beats for most of the song are too generic and weak, but everything is perfect – love the chorus, love the little piano and string moments. Yeah, just a pity about the beats.

Sky Fits Heaven‘ continues the atmosphere, bringing a more organ based ethereal sound. Again, I somehow don’t mind the fact that this is a dance track – let is be said I love dance music when it’s done right – it just so rarely is. This combination of William Orbit and Madonna though was just one of those moments when the stars are aligned. I’m not overly fond of the middle section here, at least not until it smooths out, but the rest is great, the beats are much better, the distorted guitar noise is fantastic, and I enjoy the little melodic callbacks to Till Death Do Us Part. 

Shanti/Ashtangi‘ goes a little weird. This is definitely Madonna’s Revolver album – the most obvious example of her music becoming art and transcending, so it’s quite apt she throws in this Eastern based mess, just like The Beatles did. It’s fine but does come off as self-indulgent. I think the best part of the song is how people I knew would make up their own English translations for the lyrics. This was before all your internets and googles, kids!

Frozen‘ was always my favourite  song from the album. I love atmospheric music – something a little chilling and emotional, and this hits all of those notes. It’s still fantastic now, and the video’s great too. It’s easily one of Madonna’s best vocals, easily contains some of her best melodies. I love the strings – goes without saying – I love the little instrumental pieces which return us to the verse either any time there is a pause or from the chorus. Mysterious, haunting, and unquestionably beautiful.

The Power Of Good-Bye‘ is another classic. It’s definitely a 90s track with those beats, but it’s a marvel. For me this one is all about the melodies, as pop music almost always is, and here verse and chorus are exceptional. It’s actually one of the more simple songs on the album, but it’s still dressed up in electronica and strings – it doesn’t need anything additional and it doesn’t need any part taken out – perfect the way it is. An interesting titbit (so much better than tidbit) – part of the verse melody is identical to a part of the Family Ness theme tune.

To Have And Not To Hold‘ comes in cold – moody, dark, with growling beats. I feel that in a previous era she would have gone the Spanish route for this one. I do prefer the chorus to the verse and as a whole the song doesn’t get me as much as others on the album. Still good, but in the bottom half for me.

Little Star‘ is Madonna’s dedication to her new born bambino. I think. It opens as if it is going to be some super fast dance track but once the vocals start it’s all very slow and tender, even though the backing beats are moving quickly. It is mostly plain and the melodies don’t do much for me even if the sentiment is moving. I feel like this one should have been a more traditional ballad with a changed melody, but what do I know. I do know this one is too long, even if some of the string pieces near the end are lovely.

Mer Girl‘ closes the album, beginning like a phone off the hook – a tantalizing, unfinished conversation. An ending both slow and sudden. There is a lot of silence in this song but still there is a lot going on musically. Lyrically, this is basically a short story, melodically it isn’t very interesting. It’s an experimental end – fine, but I prefer albums to close with a bang.

Even though there are some songs that feel like standard album tracks and don’t do much for me, the highs on the album are such sky-scraping highs that they reach far beyond any parts you may not be so keen on. Add to that fact that those highs far outweigh the lows (and that the lows are still fine) and we have probably Madonna’s best album. It’s this and Like A Prayer that we’ll still be talking about in a hundred years. Well, I will – you’ll all be gone. This is one of the best albums of the 90s, and it’s basically the last thing Madonna did that I liked. Having said that I have heard very little, if any, of her last few albums so my next few posts will be interesting for me. I still hold out hope that someone who can make an album as brilliant as this can still make a few good songs per album, so I expect to hear a few more favourites before we reach the end of our journey.

Ray Of Light – were you around when it was released? Where do you rank it beside Madonna’s other albums? Let us know in the comments!

 

The Gathering – Disclosure

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Seasoned fans of The Gathering will know that the band is all about change; they started out with a death and doom metal sound, merging male and female vocals, and on their third album brought in singer Anneke Van Giersbergen to approach a cleaner metal sound. For the next decade, their albums moved between a variety of genres, eventually ‘settling’ into their own created genre of Trip rock. Disclosure is the 2nd album with latest vocalist Silje Wergerland, and seeks to reach the more complex, expansive heights of previous albums, compared to the rather simple The West Pole.

‘Paper Waves’ opens the album and settles the listener in to the latest Gathering sound quickly. With jangling guitars and echoing drums, it is the most straightforward rock song on the album, but with a unique sound thanks to a great production. With swirling vocals merging with those jangling guitars, we get a fierce wall of sound which pulls you in and refuses to let go. Silje’s voice is at the forefront, a more ghostly, slight, dreamy sound than the sheer angelic power of Anneke. The song doesn’t simply rely on the same tricks, but offers enough refreshing moments throughout, from the sudden, powerful guitar riffs and piano additions, and packs in at least 4 strong melodies.

‘Meltdown’ starts with some funky, heavy drums, beats, and with dual male and female vocals. The first epic of the album, at over 9 minutes it bounces from the heavy dance style of the start, through a metal influenced middle, and on to a haunting, quiet close. With strong lyrics, accompanied by ethereal melodies, the opening half of the song, a massive attack of sounds, is a joy to behold. A sudden shift over the halfway point, takes the song in a completely different direction. The second half is the post-meltdown remorse, a soulful, sullen, prayer, a trumpet and soft vocal led which departs unending into the distance. Some may feel the song is a little stretched, but I find the more I listen to it, the more I want to listen again.

‘Paralyzed’ fades into view, a nice transition from the end of Meltdown. A haunting, slow paced track where the melodies wrap around each other, the lyrics a series of questions and thoughts covering a difficult, violent, relationship. An introspective, unsettling depiction of the mind of an abuse victim, it features a number of beautiful moments, and whose outro serves as a brilliant transition into the album’s best track.

‘Heroes For Ghosts’ is the second epic of the album, at nearly 11 minutes. Every second fortunately is perfection, with the band delivering one of their finest songs. With a mournful, brass led introduction, sounding like a military funeral salute, followed by a wonderful, Gilmour-esque guitar piece, the opening moments are awe-inspiring. More beautiful vocals follow, with the peak being a heartbreaking chorus. The spirit-like, floating music continues to chill and shatter our emotions until the song picks up pace before the halfway point. We move into an instrumental section, drum and trumpet led with pace and volume gradually increasing, given the sensation of a physical, or mental escape. More vocals collapse into the song, and a new range of brilliant melodies – the ending a mixture of anger, joy, relief, fear, and ecstasy.

‘Gemini I’ is another slow paced, moody track. Shimmering guitars, vocals shrouded in reverb and mist, it is an extension of the feelings of escape from a bad relationship – if the album can be seen as a concept album, then this is another glimpse of the main character being free, but looking back unable to fully escape. More than that, it features more gorgeous melodies, a forceful chorus compared to the bitter, soft verses, and exquisite vocals.

‘Missing Seasons’ is a short, piano driven song, a breather between the larger, at times exhausting tracks. Keeping the slow pace, and haunting melodies, it is a simple song, but one with melodies of extraordinary beauty. With one of the band’s most catchy choruses, it’s easy for this one to get lost among the larger tracks, but you’ll be missing out on one of the best.

‘I Can See Four Miles’ is the third and final epic, clocking in at over 9 minutes. Arguably the album’s most experimental track it features various distinct parts, with the opening featuring a gradual build of drums, bass riffs, and seemingly random guitar pieces. The song finds a loose structure once the vocals begin, but the emphasis is on ‘loose’. An off-kilter track for most of the opening, with organs, swirling backing vocals, and drums vanishing and re-materializing without warning, it is a chaotic melding of parts which all somehow fit together. About a third of the way through, the song shifts in focus, with sound bites, clashing guitar chimes, repeated pianos, and tribal drums with an Eastern tinge. The song continues to expand throughout the final 6 instrumental minutes with dramatic strings, and fantastic beats to create a euphoric climax.

‘Gemini II’ closes the album in an effective manner. Little more than a reworking of Gemini I, it continues the idea of being unable to escape your own memories and thoughts. Taking some of the central melodies of the first part, this one strips back the music even further, leaving Silje’s voice at the forefront. The vocals are not only more prominent, but louder, and more direct, as if making a final statement.

The Gathering’s 10th album is one which may take time to grow on the average listener, but once it clicks with you, you’ll recognise it as a fantastic album, one of the band’s best. In my ranking I’d say it’s their best since How To Measure A Planet, and indeed shares some similarities with that epic. It is a largely mellow, emotive rock album which will please long term fans, and will would resonate with a wider audience to fans of groups like Pink Floyd. While not a huge leap in terms of experimentation, it is instead a vast improvement over the last album in every department, taking the band back into that pantheon of artists who only seem to make quality with each release. While The West Pole was a transitional album due to a massive line-up change, and had a simple, middle of the road rock approach, Disclosure is an album which brims with confidence and which has allowed Silje to take control. From sprawling epics to moody rockers, Disclosure is a study of the band’s refusal to be placed in a box, and which should rank in any self-respecting music critics list of the best of the year.

Let us know in the comments what you though of Disclosure.