Nightman Listens To – Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Starr!

Beatles-Help-competition-770

Greetings, Glancers! I know they don’t get nearly as many views as my movie or TV posts, but I’m trying to keep up to date with my musical posts too, bringing you the worst the net has to offer in terms of my opinions on Bowie, Madonna, Jovi, The Stones, The Top 1000 Albums ever, yearly chart music et cetera etc. Many years ago I posted my Amazon Beatles album reviews and recently I’ve been posting updated versions of those along with my Nightman Scoring System (c) comments. In doing all of that I realized that I was missing out on the vast array of non-Beatles work that each of the four members created. Therefore, I’m going to start listening and reacting to all of those too. It’s a massive undertaking but I always planned on listening to them at some point so I may as well write about my experiences too.

It’s obvious that Paul McCartney has done the most out of each member – he has been extremely prolific since 1970, releasing with Wings, other bands, and on his own. Lennon died in 1980 and only managed a handful of albums, while Harrison released here and there up until his death. Ringo, I’ve honestly no idea. What I can say is that I haven’t listened to any of their non-Beatles albums all the way through. Actually, I have listened to Lennon’s experimental records with Yoko, and will not be doing so again for the purposes of this blog or otherwise, thank you very much. I know I’ve heard many of the individual songs by each artist post-The Beatles, but no albums. So I’m going to go through them in some sort of chronological order, I hope I get to listen to some great music for the first time, and I hope you’ll join me on the journey. Coming soon (probably not)!

Feel free to let me know in advance which solo/non-Beatles albums by John, Paul, Ringo, and George I should look forward to in the comments.

Nightman Listens To – Roxette – Have A Nice Day!

*Note. This, and at least three subsequent Roxette album posts were written before this week and the news that Marie had passed away after her long cancer battle. I typically write these posts many months before I actually post them (I have already listened to and written about Charm School by September this year – who knows when I’ll post it). It’s strange to think we won’t get another Roxette album now, but we still have a collection of songs to look back on and enjoy.

220px-Roxette_Have_a_nice_day

Greetings, Glancers! Between 1994’s Crash! Boom! Bang!  and 1999’s Have A Nice Day the music world had moved on. While the band had released a Greatest Hits, a Rarities compilation, and an album of Spanish covers of their own ballads, five years is a long time to go without new material. Did anyone still care about Roxette on the eve of the old millennium and were they still capable of making instant pop classics? With regards to the first question, the album charted well and still sold a couple of million copies, though it wasn’t as large a success as their previous albums. Looking at the 14 songs on the track list, I don’t recognise any of them although given that ‘Wish I Could Fly’ was apparently the most played song of 1999 I assume I have heard it and somehow blanked it from my memory. I assume the album will be all new to me, but possibly bring some surprise nostalgia.

Crush On You‘ opens with a different sound for the band. Not jarring, as we know Roxette like to play around with their sound a little. It’s a heavy percussive opening before descending into a cheesy dated rave sound before stabilizing a little in the verse. Per sing talks the vocals with Marie filling in for the chorus. That chorus is pretty simple, a nice counterpoint to the plain melody of the verse. It is designed to feel hectic, a rap quality to the verses and a lot of synth and drums bouncing around. Nice enough production – a lot of switching around and different sounds, each couple of lines has a slightly different accompaniment to keep things varied. Stripped down it would be quite simple and straight, but all together it’s an okay opener, should get the blood pumping.

Wish I Could Fly‘ doesn’t ring a bell for me at the moment. I was listening to the radio in 99 so if this was such a big hit I should remember it. The verse feels marginally familiar, but I think I’m searching for a memory where there isn’t one. The chorus sounds like a couple of other Roxette songs and is strong enough that I should remember it, so I’m confident that I haven’t heard this. I’m not sure why it was such a hit as it feels like a pastiche of other Roxette songs… maybe it’s exactly what fans wanted after five years, but it’s definitely a lesser version of what they’d already achieved.

You Can’t Put Your Arms Around What’s Already Gone‘ starts with DJ scrapes and crappy digitized beats. Per delivers the lead verse melody – it’s fine, lots of effects on his voice. It’s the backing stuff which is more interesting – the band clearly having fun messing in the studio but the unfortunate result is it sounds very dated. I have a feeling a lot of this is intentional, as if they were going for an already dated sound in 1999, but that sound isn’t one I’m keen on so it sounds very juvenile.

Waiting For The Rain‘ has a McCartney feel. The piano rhythm and the vocals feel very much like mid-career Beatles. The overall tone is very 60s to me, there’s a little bit of brass and flute stuff going on, and again the vocals have some effects over the top. It’s catchy enough, and each repetition builds a little something extra on, but it never gets better than okay.

Anyone‘ opens with a nice piece of piano, then a big string section gives me hope for an unknown ballad. This is much more what I prefer from Roxette – heart tugging melodies and vocals. Yes, it’s easily my favourite so far but you should know by now I love a good ballad. The verses stretch out, making me wonder if there is a chorus. The chorus, extended as it is, or split up as it is, doesn’t work as well as the verse and I’m happier once we get back to the verse. That return is short lived as we’re quickly back to the chorus. That’s a bit of a letdown as we were heading for one I’d quickly listen to again. As it is, it’s one I wouldn’t mind hearing again but not one I’d look for.

It Will Take A Long Long Time‘ is a rest from the over produced nature of everything we’ve had so far. A simple acoustic guitar intro and Marie’s vocals. Then some keys. Then the production comes with the chorus, but it’s not overbearing. Simple hopeful lyric. That’s a better chorus too – this one feels more even musically. The bridge and instrumental are as by the numbers as you can get and simply lead to another chorus before the end. Usually I say these ones are lazy and thrown together in a matter of hours, but it’s one of the better ones due to its simplicity. Nothing bad so far, just a range of middling songs.

7Twenty7‘ brings the production back with a digitized howl of noise, I guess signifying the 727 airplane. The song is another lackluster one built up by the wall of sound. I always say – can a song be stripped down to just a voice and a single instrument, and still be as powerful as the original, and this case I don’t see it. Very mundane melodies and aside from the odd Marie moment the vocals are plain. Of course, many songs are supposed to be that wall of sound and the stripped down theory shouldn’t apply, but this isn’t one of those. The song isn’t four minutes long but I’m bored long before that.

I Was So Lucky‘ seems a little more stripped down, maybe another ballad. Better melodies, better music. It’s still not reaching those top levels, but it’s better. The main feeling I get from the album is just that it’s plain, white music. I’m not sure the songs could be transformed to something better than what they are – what you hear is what you get and none of it is terrible or amazing. I still like this, but I can’t see it reverberating in my head after it’s done. Better than meh and in cases like this, quite good is the most positive I can be, but still waiting for one I’d really want to hear again.

Stars‘ opens like a terrible cheesy Europop rave up, one of those one-hit wonders from the late 90s which had the braindead bopping in droves. It ends up being better – the verse melodies and the kid choir stuff is good, but the backing beats and sounds are generic and weak and I dismiss them entirely within milliseconds of hearing them. It’s a bit annoying then when they finally get a better selection of hooks that they surround them with garbage.

Salvation‘ keeps the improved melodies running, with a wispy organ sound accompanying Marie. It’s all going well until that dreadful 90s drum sound comes in. That sound alone is almost bad enough to ruin the whole song for me. There’s a religious bent to the lyrics which the instrumental choices mirror, with angelic voices filling in, and we get another good chorus. This is easily one of the best songs – I don’t think the bridge does anything – but the verse and chorus do nothing wrong aside from the drum sound. Take that away and I’d gladly listen to this again.

Pay The Price‘ seems to go for a more traditional rock sound. It still has a lot of studio shenanigans going on instead of going for a pure live sound, but this is Roxette we’re talking about. It’s jumpy and fun, feels like a nice Summer song – something you’d have in the background of a 90s movie beach scene. Harmless fun and I don’t have any complaints – just not the most memorable. That’s maybe the best two songs in a row – can we keep the trend going?

Cooper‘ is the name of my cat. He’s named after Alice and Dale, not this song. His middle name is Michael Jackson, according to my kids. I don’t know who this Cooper is they are referring to, seems to be a lady. Per’s vocals are good here, maybe because of the good melodies, interesting lyrics, and tone suggesting something sinister. It’s a ballad, but has something akin to Little Susie. Cooper was sleeping as I started to play this song, but he’s now sitting up and staring at me so I have to console him and let him know it’s not about him.

Staring At The Ground‘ opens with more interesting drum sounds then some more summery guitar. It’s another light and fun song, inconsequential, but one which really tries to slap a smile on your chin. It even has harmonica. It’s almost like a 3 minute chorus.

Beautiful Things‘ opens with strings – always good. Good breathy vocals, sad tone. I’m good with the melodies, drum sound isn’t great but not too distracting, and the chorus works nicely as a counterpoint. Good transitions between the two tones and parts, blends well. The bridge isn’t the best, but that’s par for the course on this album. Yeah, good song, good ending to the album.

It’s a shame the start of the album isn’t as fun as the end. There are four or five good songs worth mentioning in that run in which are better than everything else. I wouldn’t say there are any bad songs but there is too much that is middling and either never hits top gear or is brought down by over-produced fluff. Albums which sound over-produced to me usually suggest a void of ideas or lack of creativity, or alternatively show an artist excited about a new box of toys but with not a clue how to use it to make a good time. Many albums throw a lot of these tricks into the mix and it pays off, because it either compliments the song’s purest form or elevates that song to something even more special. When it doesn’t work, it’s either vapid noise or highlights how uninteresting the music actually is. There isn’t a true standout song for me here, but those few towards the end warrant another listen – I’m not sure whether I’d include them on a personal Roxette compilation, but maybe after another few listens.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of Have A Nice Day!

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Beautiful Things. Salvation. Pay The Price.

Nightman Listens To: The Beach Boys – Surfin’ USA!

Surfin'USACover.jpg

Greetings, Glancers! It’s time to grab a board and hit some gnarly waves, bruh! Cowabunga! Other words! Surfin’ USA was released in 1963, the first of a ridiculous three albums released by the band that year. That’s one thing you notice about the early 60s – these bands had a ridiculous schedule of writing, recording, touring, and most of the biggest bands released each year, sometimes multiple times. Compare that to now, where the biggest to the smaller acts tend to release one album every three years. The good thing about Surfin’ USA is that I recognise the title track – it’s a classic – and I’m looking forwards to more sunny pop. The bad news is that no fewer than five of the twelve tracks are instrumental. In my limited knowledge of the band, it’s their vocal harmonies and melodies which set them apart – none of the instrumentals on the debut sparked me. Maybe they’re good. Time to find out.

Surfin’ USA: Is there any more iconic opening selection of notes in 60s pop than that? Before you even hear the vocals there’s something summery about that guitar tone. Then the vocals, with those harmonies and melodies join in and it’s game over. The lyrics are silly yet perfectly evocative of those idyllic ideas of beaches, sun, freedom, and fun. There’s a great organ solo, a decent guitar solo, and some handy drum moments too. As perfect a slice of pop rock as you’ll ever hear.

Farmer’s Daughter: I don’t believe I know this one. It’s immediately one I’ll want to hear again. I don’t know if the vocals on this one will annoy me over time, but at the moment its newness is a blessing to my ears. It gets straight to the point and doesn’t even reach the two minute mark – back when pop didn’t outstay it’s welcome. There are a few gulps and missed marks in the vocals. Melodies and harmonies good again, not as strong as the first track, but much better than today’s chart muck.

Miserlou: This is of course ‘The Pulp Fiction’ instrumental. This is a less ominous version than the one you know, but retains its Eastern roots more clearly. Honestly I’ve never been a fan of this piece of music – mostly the yells which come in the second half, and now I can’t hear any version of it without hearing that utterly horrific Black Eyed Peas massacre.

Stoked: A Beach Boys original instrumental piece now, as if to say ‘look, we can do it just as good as those guys’ coming right after an existing popular instrumental. It even has it’s own annoying yells. The problem with these types of instrumentals is that I’m always waiting for vocals to come and so they feel like they’re missing something. It’s okay, a decent main riff but basically a twist on one you’ve heard countless times.

Lonely Sea: Wait, is this Radiohead? Well, those long held notes are wonderful. I keep expecting the note to change, but he holds it in a hypnotic way. The doleful harmonies give a sweet and sullen undercurrent. Just when a pseudo-speaking part threatens to ruin things, we return to falsetto and fade out. That was nice.

Shut Down: This sounds like another car song. It’s also sounds like Johnny B Goode. Seems like a middle of the road album track rather than a highlight, but it’s still catchy. Again, at under two minutes it’s not going to annoy anyone.

Noble Surfer: This opens the second half of the album and isn’t much of a departure from the previous track. Funny deeper harmonies here. Interesting keyboard sound in the middle. The chorus is a bit silly – still, under two minutes.

Honky Tonk: It is what is says. I feel like I could be listening to The Stones with this. The guitar tone is changed just enough to bridge the gap between Blues and Beach Boys. Absolutely identical to any Blues song you could write yourself.

Lana: Begins with honky tonk piano, again the band showing how they can do their own versions of things, without actually covering. Very high falsetto now, bordering on off-putting or ridicule. Not much else goes on here.

Surf Jam: Now it’s their own instrumental. This one feels like a definite surfer rock instrumental – if you told someone to write a surfer rock instrumental, this is what would come out the other end 9 times out of 10. Some great guitar on show, not sure about the shouting. As far as short instrumentals go, it’s very good.

Lets Go Trippin‘: I assume this isn’t about drugs. No, it’s another instrumental and not all that different from the previous track – feels more pop oriented while the previous song was more furious.

Finders Keepers: Finally, more vocals. It’s not quite as Summery as I was hoping for, the lyrics are funny enough. The most interesting thing is the timing shift – we get a fast paced verse and chorus section, then it slows down for a brief bridge, before charging up again to the chorus. The song sways smoothly between these different sections giving something different than the norm.

After a fantastic start, the song quickly falls away. The reliance on instrumentals hurts it for me, as I’ve stated again and again, instrumentals almost never excite me unless they’re exceptional. A couple of songs I didn’t know about before which I’ll definitely listen to again, and the rest are middling. No bad songs, but too many fall into the meh category for me, a shame after starting so well.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Surfin’ USA!

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Surfin’ USA. Farmer’s Daughter. Lonely Sea.

 

Chart Music Through The Years – 1957

sdg.jpg
The Olden Days

As you should no doubt now be aware, my current form did not exist in 1957. That should not suggest that I am ignorant of what was going on in music then, or of the wider world in general. Most of what I know is surface and via the largely fictional works of others and it’s not a period I’m overly invested or interested in. Looking at the 10 offerings below, I’ll be upfront and say I recognise most of the performers more than the actual songs. There are a few songs that I know by name, and of course one which everybody knows. I imagine I’ll recognise a few more once I listen.

What else was befalling man in 1957? Well, close to home the IRA was up to their usual shenanigans and Harold Macmillan became Prime Minister. Elsewhere, Eisenhower began his second reign as US President, The Cat In The Hat was published, The Treaty Of Rome was signed, The Sky At Night was first broadcast, heavy rain causes the death of almost 1000 people in Japan, The Civil Rights Movement continued to gain movement and opposing suppression, and Laika went to space. In Music, Elvis bought Graceland, Doris Day’ Que Sera Sera won an Oscar, The Cavern Club opened in Liverpool, and a couple of lads named John Lennon and Paul McCartney met for the first time. Rock and Roll continued to gain traction, with the likes of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Chuck Berry all having major hits. By all accounts, a good time to be a kid just getting into music it would seem.

  1. Paul Anka: Diana

A very traditional rock ballad intro is bolstered by some languid horn work before Anka’s distinctive vocals drop. Lyrically it seems to be a self-written defense of Paul’s MILF relationship. Anka does these little excited gasps throughout the verses and I like how the notes increase in pitch and urgency as the chorus approaches – I think we all know what that means, especially when you throw in lyrics like ‘hold me close and squeeze me tight’. Spoiler Alert – he’s not talking about hugs. There’s an unexpected little breakdown in the middle where the pace picks up in intensity, giving a sprinkle of depth. I don’t believe I’ve heard this before, in terms of comparison it’s not the most adventurous by today’s standards but it’s light years ahead in terms of melody, emotion, and integrity.

2. Elvis Presley: All Shook Up

This is the one we all know, right? I’ve no idea when or how I heard my first Elvis song given that he was dead before I was born, but his biggest hits (like this) seem to have a knack for finding you and staying with you. It begins innocently enough with gentle guitars but when the vocals start you know you’re in trouble – it’s easy to see how so many young ladies fell for him. It’s very simple – that piano riff from the blues was already thoroughly recycled by this point but is one of the foundations of early rock. It’s shorter than I remember, likely more to do with squeezing as many hits onto a record or the radio as possible, but that helps it to become one of those songs you want to hit play on as soon as it ends.

3. Tab Hunter: Young Love

A quiet piece of guitar eases us in before an overly pleasant voice takes things to a heady saccharine level. It’s very sweet – too sweet for me and ironically as he sings of ‘deep emotion’ I fail to find any trace of such in the vocals. It’s too plain and stale and smooth. It’s harmless and innocent on the surface, but it sounds far too childlike and insipid given the eras which have past since.

4. Pat Boone: Loveletters In The Stand

Most songs which begin with whistling don’t go down well with me. It reeks of country, even with the staccato piano and additional of horns. The vocals are again far too smooth and sleepy for me – you may as well be rapping. Badly. I don’t get any sense of feeling from vocals like this. I’m sure there is emotion, but it is so filtered and watered down that it doesn’t reach me. I understand why it was a hit at the time, but it’s not for me.

5. Guy Mitchell: Singing The Blues

More whistling and this time with added ‘bum de dum’ vocal nonsense. It has a sense of fun at least and the vocals are more interesting. The vocal mix however reminds me of Gary Glitter, which is never a good thing. A fun and bouncy mid-range quality song.

6. Lonnie Donnegan: Gamblin’ Man

Boy howdy, it’s always amazing to me when I actually hear people in reality speak and sing with this accent. It doesn’t seem real. Props for going solo in the intro. It seems funny to me rather than anything else, but then it picks up pace and turns into something else. It’s better but it’s also funnier. Then by the end both the drummer and vocalist are going buck nuts – the fury and fun of the performance are enough to carry it through and we even get a very muddy, lost in the mix guitar solo. Good stuff, even if it does have both feet dipped in Country (even if it’s more jazz and skiffle based) – see this is the sort of Country style music I can enjoy – pissed off their faces and absolutely wrecking everything in sight.

7. Harry Belafonte: Island In The Sun

A lesser known (for me) Belafonte song. See, Belafonte has a similar smooth quality to his vocals as others on the list, but his emotion does come through more. It’s not 100 percent clear, but at least I can feel it. Maybe it’s the inflections, maybe it’s because lyrically it’s not some bullshit simplistic love sentiment. The imagery is potent and genuine too, only someone who cares and understands could write like that.

8. Johnnie Ray: Yes Tonight Josephine

There seems to have been a lot of these vocal tick songs in the 50s – this one opening with ‘yip yip bapiddy boo’ or some balls. Main vocals are fine, backing vocals outside of the ‘yip yip’ stuff are not great. The arrangement is too repetitive and simple and the melodies don’t go out of their way to say anything interesting – the main melody repeats without much variance and it’s not overly strong in the first place. Not bad, just forgettable beyond the ‘yip yip’.

9. Pat Boone: Don’t Forbid Me

Senor Boone returns once more, and this time it’s personal. It’s more smooth, easy listening junk. Like most of the other songs here, it’s straight down the middle, takes a basic an idea and runs with it – that’s not necessarily a criticism but I lose interest quickly if the melody or vocals are plain. This is preferable to his last one. It does have a slight middle section where it looks like the song might shift gears, but it’s momentary.

10. Frankie Vaughn: The Garden Of Eden

A mixture of ballad and soft rock blues rhythms. There’s a horn bombast to close the chorus. Vaughn seems playful on some notes and words, holding the note for longer than he needs to or adding a little waver. I assume this would have caused some controversy at the time due to the lyrics, at least in the US. The drummer has some fun towards the end. This would be mostly boring if not for the little excesses by the drummer, singer, and trumpet guys.

We learn once again that regardless of the year or era, we have some good songs and plenty of crap ones too. We also learn that, no matter what the song, someone on Youtube is going to comment that it’s their favourite, or was their parent’s favourite, or bemoan how the music after ‘their decade’ ended has been crap. Without exception. There are three songs here I’d choose to listen to again, with maybe another couple I wouldn’t be annoyed by – the rest I would dismiss. As we’re still in the 1950s and my knowledge is limited, my alternative list of songs isn’t the most exciting. Not all were strictly written in ’57 either.

  1. Elvis – Jailhouse Rock

2. Jerry Lee Lewis – Great Balls Of Fire

3. Danny And The Juniors – At The Hop

4. That’ll Be The Day – The Crickets

5. Peggy Sue – Buddy Holly

6. When I Fall In Love – Nat King Cole

7. Wake Up Little Susie – The Everly Brothers

8. Tutti Frutti – Little Richard

9. Rock N Roll Music – Chuck Berry

10. Come Fly With Me – Van Heusen/Cahn

Let us know in the comments if you have any favourites above or elsewhere from 1957!

The Nightman Scoring System © Reviews – Help

Remember the Nightman Scoring System ©? My system for reviewing music as fairly as possible, an attempt to remove as much inherent bias as possible? That system where I break up an album into twenty evenly weighted categories so that when you score each one out of five, trying to base the score as much on fact as on opinion, you get a fair total out of 100? It’s the best scoring system in the world and you should use it. So should I in fact, hence this post. Anyway, if you want to read the rules about the system click this link and it will reveal all. There’s one for movies too, at this link. Check them both out – I say with absolutely no hyperbole that it will unquestionably change your life, make you an astonishingly brilliant human being, and also get you the ladies (regardless of your gender or orientation).

Beatles-Help-competition-770

We’ve reached my favourite Beatles album now – click here to check out my original review or read on for the scores.

Sales: 5 (Another smash hit)

Chart: 5 (Another smash hit)

Critical: 5 (Another smash hit)

Originality: 4 (The band experiment on certain songs with string arrangements, newer styles of writing, recording, and genre setting them up nicely for what would come next)

Influence: 5 (Most of the songs here have been covered by several artists, and the style of merging rock and pop so fluidly was latched onto by record companies and artists around the world)

Musical Ability: 4 (The band again sound like they are having fun, Harrison is becoming a terrific lead guitarist and being allowed to roam free, and their growth as a cohesive unit is noticeable)

Lyrics: 4 (Once again the band take standard lyrics and ideas and add new twists to old cliches showing a great amount of intelligence. There are some moments which foreshadow the poetic turns which later songs would take, but which the band were not quite ready to release)

Melody: 5 (Some of the greatest, most famous pop songs in history, thanks largely to the melodies. Memorable choruses, verses, riffs, harmonies all come together for perfection)

Emotion: 4 (The overall tone is a light, happy one, but there are the more downbeat moments such as Yesterday which are some of the first moments where the group truly convey emotion in a meaningful way)

Resilience: 5 ( 50 years on, and an eternity ahead of it)

Vocals: 4 (Some of the strongest vocal displays, great harmonies, even Ringo doesn’t sound half-bad)

Coherence: 4 (The album holds together well, sounding like a whole, possibly because of the relation to the film, but mostly this is tied together by some clear themes and styles)

Mood: 4 (Again the mood switches quickly, but never abruptly, from sugary pop to bitter introspection, and all are crystal clear)

Production: 5 (Sterling work to create a sound which still sounds fresh today)

Effort: 5 (Again, touring, writing, filming were all going on at the same time, so to create such a timeless album is highly impressive)

Relationship: 5 (This time the album feels timeless down to the sheer joy of the songs. It’s difficult not to relate to such infectious melodies)

Genre Relation: 5 (This is effectively the archetypal pop album which pretty much everything since has sprung from)

Authenticity: 5 (When they sound happy it’s genuine, when they sound low you believe them, when they play you know that they enjoy doing it, both for the love of the craft and for pleasing the fans)

Personal: 5 (Possibly my favourite Beatles album, though as with most things there are times when this is changeable)

Miscellaneous: 5 (Once again, touring recording, writing, and making a movie all at the same time in a breathtaking feat of artistic achievement)

Total: 93/100

Take The Nightman Scoring System© Challenge and let me know how you score the album!

Nightman Listens To – Bon Jovi – Lost Highway!

lost

Greetings, Glancers! Here we are, the first Bon Jovi album that I legit haven’t heard a single song from. Before I listen, I take a quick glance at the song’s Wiki page to get a little flavour for what’s in store. It was released in 2007 – by that point I was long gone from University and well into long term employment, so frivolous acts like Bon Jovi had fallen by the wayside for me. If they weren’t one of my favourite bands, or if they weren’t some new exciting act that I had just discovered, then I wasn’t going to listen to them much. It’s sad how it goes, but go it does. Wiki claims the album is heavily influenced by the Nashville sound, which is another way of saying ‘Yo Nightman, you’re going to absolutely despise this’. There may be collaborations with other artists, the album was a success on Country music charts…. arrgh… let’s just get it out of the way.

Lost Highway: Starts okay, typical Jovi sound. Slight banjo jangling. Oh Lord, here comes the slide guitar. I cannot abide slide guitar. Laughably trite and generic lyrics. Very middle of the road, soft stuff, appeasing the denim wearing, wandering patriot that the US inexplicably loves. The video, incidentally, is horrendous. The bridge doesn’t help, some terrible pronunciation. There’s a certain type of listener who swallows this stuff as if it’s scripture. I’m not that person. No edge, no emotion, just empty notes and not adventurous from a band capable of much better. Middling stuff then.

Summertime: I like songs about Summer. When they work, they’re very evocative. They make me happy, not something you’ll often hear me say. In fairness this one does come close to evoking those thoughts. It’s not quite strong enough and some silly decisions in the arrangement don’t help. The main chord chugging and the central riffs do fine – it’s nothing special, but for a band in their third decade it’s fine.

You Wanna Make A Memory: Different intro than what they usually go for. Vocals and a slight beat. Is that some female backing vocals. I was expecting this one to explode like they often do, but it keeps to a more restrained ballad form. Some slight violins, some piano. Gets marginally louder for the second chorus. I do like how it builds. The main vocal melodies are good and it quickly establishes itself as another traditional second tier Bon Jovi ballad – not up their with Always or Bed Of Roses, but still good.

Whole Lotta Leavin: Thankfully the album hasn’t been too country yet, at least not in the way I was dreading. There’s the quite intro followed by explosion I was talking about. Lyrics once again about that yearning for leaving, for adventure, for love. It’s a gentle foot-tapper to be sure, but by the numbers. More middling fare which should keep the band’s most ardent fans happy, but won’t recruit any listeners to the cause or excite someone like me.

We Got It Going On: Wait, wait, wait. Is this a cover band’s version of Enter Sandman. That’s hilarious. It’s a honky tonk rip off of Enter Sandman mixed with Have A Nice Day or It’s My Life. Like those songs, this has a stomp to it and a catchy chorus meaning you can both sing and dance to it. We get an unfortunate spoken part in the middle, followed by voice box solo. It’s pretty funny, but still middling stuff.

Any Other Day: This opens with a summery vibe too, and a nice guitar tone. Songs like this have a tendency to grab me immediately, so I get disappointed if the rest falls away. The lead riff, well it’s not really a riff, but it’s very nice and suits the verse melodies perfectly. It’s all smooth and likable. A late career goldie for me – the chorus doesn’t go overboard with the anthem but acts as a more joyous extension of the verse. A very nice surprise.

Seat Next To You: The opening riff here is almost the same as the one I mentioned in the previous song, though decidedly more slow and peaceful. More female backing vocals. The Country stuff is there, but thankfully it’s more in the background and doesn’t leave me with a bad taste. So far this is a much stronger ballad, reaching close to those upper tiers. Verses and choruses again – not obnoxious, not amazing, but emotive and mature. Two very good songs in a row – can we continue this trend?

Everybody’s Broken: Well, it begins promisingly enough. I don’t know why they went for that drum sound though. Gentle but good melodies. Decent lyrics. A better drum sound joins in. Decent chorus. The song has a carefree sway. The chugga-chugga-chug guitars in the second verse don’t quite work, but I see what they’re going for. Mutterings of keyboards towards the end. It’s not as good as the previous two songs, but better than the ones before those.

Till We Ain’t Strangers Anymore: This is veering close to the whining strings I can’t stand in Country music. For a few seconds at least. Feels like another decent ballad, not up there with the best, but not far behind. Going in on the full duet in the second verse. It’s LeAnn Rimes. She adds something different, she’s always had a (kind of) distinct voice, and while she’s Country the whole thing doesn’t go as far down that terrible road as I feared.

The Last Night: There hasn’t been that one bombastic, arena rock song on the album yet. This one doesn’t feel like it’s going to get there either, based on the opening. It has a middling pace, a soft rock approach. The verses are catchy enough without getting the claws in, with the chorus following in the same vein. It’s another which will please a certain section of the fans but will leave listeners like me asking for something stronger. It’s fine, a step down from the last few.

One Step Closer: Is this going to be the straight Country song I dreaded? No, the verse wises up. Another ballad then, and more soft rock. It’s getting a little samey now – that happens when you get beyond six albums and don’t really change your sound much from the core. Fans will be happy, there’s nothing much wrong with the song, just at this point it sounds too much like everything else. The chorus is nice enough, and I like some of the additional guitar parts which linger in the background.

I Love This Town: Is this the Country song? It starts badly enough, with hand clap type nonsense. And yet… and yet there’s something fun about it. The band sound like they’re having fun and that materializes through the waves into my veins and that feeling becomes infectious. This sounds like about a hundred different songs – everything from Bon Jovi’s own past masters to, most obviously, Dance The Night Away by The Mavericks. What was very close to being an awful closing track instead becomes a crowd-pleasing mini-anthem of its own. I imagine the band employs this one when playing live, singing about whatever town they’re playing in to the delight of the crowd. It’s strange but it somehow works by virtue of being a lot of fun.

A lackluster, if not poor first half gives way to a much improved second – there are definitely a number of songs I’ll be listening to again and would gladly put on my Bon Jovi playlist. I don’t think any of them will crack the band’s best ten or twenty songs, but they’re not far away. A better album than I was expecting by all accounts, one which thankfully didn’t live up to its Country promises and while it lacks that one great single there are enough good songs to keep loyal fans amused.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Lost Highway!

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Any Other Day. Seat Next To You.

Nightman Listens To – Madonna – American Life!

220px-AmericanLife2003.png

Greeting, Glancers! We head back to my middle year of University – 2003. It seemed like every album was an attack on funny wee George Bush and with such a torrid time we should really have had a new wave of powerful, excellent rock music. We never got that – just an endless success of rubbish ‘The’ bands, and the dying grunts of nu-metal and pop-punk. Bush always seemed to me to be a permanently bewildered moron with the face of teddy bear who just lost his bowl of porridge, but the people get who they vote for.

Wikipedia tells me this was a concept album, so without reading any further I assume that Madonna also got in on the act, especially with a name like that. I’m certain I’ve heard the title track, though I can’t for the life of me think of what it’s like now – and I’ve probably heard a few of the others. I know all too well the evil of Die Another Day – otherwise known as the worst thing ever – so I’m just going to skip on by it if that’s okay with you. Much of this will be new to me, so hold my hand as I dive in.

American Life: No, I don’t think ever heard this. Very electronic, not Ray Of Light style, but much more barren. It’s not bad, so far. Plaintive lyrics. Some obvious auto-tune on the vocals in places, but elsewhere they’re good. I quite like the melodies, and as a whole it’s a pleasing song, but – aw what the hell is this. She goes off on one near the end, has a rap section which sounds exactly as you’d expect from a white person who’s never rapped before. I can only guess that she’s being satirical here with her lyrics during the rap, but it becomes doubly ironic because you know she indulges in half of the stuff she’s being critical of and poking fun at. It’s like, oh I don’t know, like if a hair metal band tried to make fun of a cheesy pop song, I’d be shouting YOU ARE THE EXACT SAME.

Hollywood: So, she’s continuing that satirical tone here, this time poking fun at people wanting to be famous? I get she’s mainly targeting those without talent or those who think it is the single most important thing that anyone can achieve, but yeah… it still doesn’t work when you were one of the exact people. I’m not saying Madonna’s not talented, hell I’ve shown I love enough of her songs to prove otherwise, but there’s absolutely no ignoring the fact that she exploited herself for fame just as much as anyone else and was ruthless in her pursuit of it, possibly preventing people more deserving than her of getting there. Lets give her the benefit of the doubt though and say she’s mocking her younger self and rejecting all of the stuff she used to love, in the hope that today’s youngsters will do the same. The song is okay, a bit weak, a bit repetitive… it’s moderately catchy fluff and absolutely doesn’t need to pass the three minute mark.

I’m So Stupid: A more promising start, with broken up guitars and stuttering mystical vocals. This has a bit more love and imagination chucked at it – all those quirks with stretching notes and messing with time are different from what other mainstream artists were trying now or are attempting now. Is it more interesting, than good? I like it anyway, doesn’t go down the simple dance music route.

Love Profusion: It’s another video where Madonna walks towards the camera. This time it was directed by Luc Besson. This song is pretty cool, no messing around with the melody and the production doesn’t try to upset the rhythm or become master. Everything compliments everything else. It isn’t much more than verse and chorus melody slapped together, but it doesn’t need to be as both main parts are strong and everything else bolsters matters.

Nobody Knows Me: Phat funky beatz. I’d rather we had normal vocals, but there you go. I was hoping for an explosive verse after that intro, but it’s too tame. It’s very singular – one level. The melody and rhythm simply repeats over and over, lyrics are okay, but the repetition is annoying. The background beats and music is ever-changing, but if the main melody stays the same then the impact of everything else is lost. I usually don’t mind when a melody is repeated, as long as everything else builds upwards towards some sort of climax, but this doesn’t really go anywhere and feels like an excuse to experiment aimlessly. As an experiment, it’s not bad. As a song, it’s not great.

Nothing Fails: More stuttering guitars. This is much more to my preferences. When the melody is strong and honest, it doesn’t really matter what else you craft around it. Well, it does, but the core is still good. Depending on what else you add it can become a masterpieces, or merely an okay song. This is pretty good and I’m happy to see that even when she makes an experimental album or something with such heavy production that she still falls back on something sweet and simple. This is another example of the surrounding studio trickery complimenting the main stuff rather than taking over. The refrain section is a nice surprise, with the backing vocals and strings coming in like a choir and reminding of Like A Prayer. 

Intervention: Another guitar intro, followed by another interesting melody, so another potential favourite. Yes, this is quite lovely. Melodies have that touch of tragedy, the surrounding instrumentation isn’t overwhelming, rarely moving from sparse and instead relying on backing vocals and harmonies to fill up the space. That’s two very good songs I wasn’t aware of in a row – cool.

X-Static Process: With a name like that, I can only assume the worst. But no, it opens in a similar vein to the last three – guitars, soft vocals. One minute in and it hasn’t changed at all. Finally a backing vocal comes in and the two pieces interact or argue like a confused mind. The backing track hasn’t really changed at all. There’s a little bit of new stuff just after halfway. It’s another good one, ladies and gents. I don’t like it as much as the last two, because this one really doesn’t want to add any frills, but still another positive surprise.

Mother And Father: Back to a more electronic intro. Strange vocals. Like the fifth song to mention Jesus. Melody is repetitive, but this time it’s annoying. Thankfully this one changes things up by not having just the one melody – the others are better than the main ‘there was a time’ one. A strange song with some highs and some lows – I’d drop the rap parts and the deeper vocal pieces, but credit again for trying something different even if it doesn’t work for me. Even with the dodgy parts, I can see me listening to this again due to the good parts.

Die Another Day: Nope

Easy Ride: Ooh, a lovely intro with all the heart-tugging strings I love. The verse has potential, it’s not something which grabs me immediately but I think it could grow on me. More strings – always helps. We’re finishing with another good one. It’s another brave move for such a famous artist – another sign that she does whatever the fuck she wants, and when she pulls it off the results can often be fantastic. Like I say, this is probably going to a grower for me – I can sense its potential rather than it hitting me with obvious and immediate quality.

An average to less than average start followed up by some gems. There are quite a lot of songs here that I hadn’t heard before which will now be on my playlist, and that’s why I’m here – to grow that personal memory bank of songs to love over and over and leave discussion of artistic merit until I’m more familiar with them. I’m not sure what I expected from the album, but I didn’t have high hopes. Those fears were mostly pushed firmly back under the bed and I’m left with an album which doesn’t have any huge missteps (aside from Die Another Day obviously) and a collection of songs which never drop below average. The weaker ones have merits and while the stronger ones don’t yet reach the heights of my personal favourites, perhaps they will after more listens. I know this should give me confidence going into her next album, but I’m always cautious about these things, always waiting for things to go badly wrong. Hang around for my next Madonna post, and find out with me. For now, leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Easy Ride. X-Static Process. Intervention. Love Profusion. Nothing Fails.

Nightman Listens To: The Rolling Stones – The Rolling Stones

ro

This could be a slog. Similar to my Beach Boys post, I’m going to go through all of the studio albums – no compilations or live albums etc. That still leaves 30 albums, of which I’ve already heard… less than 10? Like I mentioned in my announcement post, I started going through Rolling Stones albums many years ago but found them too samey and with not enough standout tracks. Listening to them alongside The Beatles I found myself going back to The Beatles more and more and eventually giving up on The Stones. Maybe I didn’t give them a fair chance. From a blues rock perspective, they paled in comparison to Zeppelin, and from a songwriting stance The Beatles were just more enjoyable in every way. Still, you gots to listen to these things to know, so I may as well go back to the start.

This debut album came out in 1964 and like most of the other bands at the time consisted of a bunch of covers. It took The Stones longer to get the most out of their songwriting partnership, so many of their early albums had lots of covers, and that’s going to be part of the slog for me. I’m more interested in the original compositions once they come along.

Route 66: You won’t enamour yourself to me by having hand claps in your first song. Standard US Blues rock, played by a British white guy who at this point had probably never been to any of the places mentioned. It’s played with a youthful intensity and energy, but without much edge. Jagger’s vocals have a persona of their own, if not completely unique.

I Just Want To Make Love To You: The Etta James version takes some beating, so instead The Rolling Stones go for a breakneck pace. Musically it is very scaled back and simple. Those handclaps are back though they are mostly drowned out by the frenzy. Good harmonica and Jagger gives it all in a manic vocal performance, all in all a furious cover.

Honest I Do: A much slower song in standard blues timing and with simple blues riffs, punctuated by slightly more unusual jangling pieces. When you think of the Blues, it’s something like this that you think of. It’s mostly boring, all told.

Mona: Craig Mclachlan anyone? I suppose the echoing guitar was innovative at the time. As with most of these songs, there are so many covers of each one that it’s not the easiest job to find a favourite or one which sticks out. There’s no need for this one to be three and a half minutes long since it is so repetitive and would likely be served better shaving 30 or 60 seconds off.

Now I’ve Got A Witness: This speeds things up again. Standard blues scales and rhythm again, piano led this time, but the band are still giving their all. I think there’s something too laconic about most of the Stones songs which have always kept me from being a full blown fan. That and probably growing up in the 80s and 90s with rock music which felt much more vibrant and full blown and complex meant that I didn’t have as much affinity for the more stripped back stuff.

Little By Little: A harmonica intro leads to more standard blues stuff. It’s still played with energy but there’s only so many times you can hear the same riffs and scales before you get bored. The solo is good, the handclaps aren’t… I would have loved this at the time but all these decades on music has progressed so much for this to sound almost redundant. Using The Beatles comparison again, their songs from the same time just had that bit more creativity and something special. None of these songs are bad by any stretch, just even though they are new (ish) to me they feel like I’ve heard them a hundred times.

I’m A King Bee: Back to the slow Blues again. There’s a simple recipe – set your blues rhythm, select any random noun or subject, and write barely hidden simple euphemisms about love and sex and you’re done. It was fine in the 20s, 30s etc, but once we reach the 60s  with white guys adding their touches it doesn’t work as well. The repetition makes it feel more like mind-numbing dance music than soulful rock. That’s a huge part of the problem I always had with ACDC too.

Carol: And now we’re back to the faster blues. No difference in playing style or rhythm or anything really here. Still good as a standalone, or if you’re into that sort of thing, but an album full of it gets boring quickly.

Tell Me: Now this instantly feels different, and lo and behold when I check it turns out this is the first Jagger/Richards composition on the album. It doesn’t feel connected to The Blues in anyway and in more like a soft rock ballad or simple love song. It’s not quite the same style as what other British Invasion bands were writing – it has its own quality and is easily my favourite song on the album. I can’t say how much I actually like it, it’s probably made better by the fact that it’s so different from every other song so far. It’s sweet and simple and has a great chorus.

Can I Get A Witness: This song is almost always fun, this version is no different. As a standalone it will work great but surrounded by all the other similar songs it’s too much.

You Can Make It If You Try: The slower songs don’t even work as well as what I mentioned for the previous track. At least the faster ones have that effervescence, these ones sound too tired even if Jagger is spicing up the vocals.

Walking The Dog: More of a strutting rhythm. More annoying hand claps. Again.. pick your noun or subject and away you go. Even in 64 it sounds cliched, though I imagine the band brought this style to a much larger audience.

Pretty much what I remembered and what I was expecting – typical blues songs played well, but with not enough of a voice to make them stand out from any other version. The one original piece is good, the covers themselves are good, but there’s only so many of them I can take. I don’t have much to add – it’s not lackluster, it just seems that way, and there’s probably only one song I’d pick to listen to again. When I have my pick of cover artists and the originals, there’s nothing here to make me pick a Stones version over anything else.

Let us know in the comments what you think of The Rolling Stones!

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Tell Me

Nightman Listens To – Samson – Head On! (Iron Maiden Solo Output Series)

51-jFsC-keL._SY355_

Greetings, glancers! As I warned you previously, it’s time to listen to some more of the Iron Maiden side-output. So where is the Iron Maiden connection you ask? Keep reading and you’ll learn. Samson were another NWOBHM band emerging in the late 70s and featured at various times both Clive Burr on drums and Bruce Dickinson on vocals. Dickinson joined as their first album (Survivors) was released, but played no part on it. We’ll skip that one. Head On was their second album, released in 1980, features Bruce on vocals and an early version of The Ides Of March which would appear in a different format on Maiden’s second album. It’s all very confusing, as is much of metal. How about I shut up and listen before the executioner on the album cover fulfills his wish and fists me?

Hard Times‘. I listened to the first track of Survivors first – As imagined the production isn’t stellar, but gives a very raw, garage feel. The bass was very prominent, has a very rusty feel (I mean that as a positive), and was overall a fine punk influence track. This has a similar production, possibly a little thinner, and Dickinson has a weird and unnecessary effect on his vocals. He sounds young here, but not unrecognizable. The song itself is fun, a clear enjoyable riff, but the whole thing is let down by very tinny drums which sound more like someone tapping a pen on a table in places. The drumming itself is fine, the guitar solo is serviceable following a descending rhythm, and it feels fairly commercial. I’m guessing it’s named after the Bronson/Hill movie based on the lyrical content.

Take It Like A Man‘ starts with some distant whistling, what sounds like someone chucking a milk bottle, then the crunching guitars come in nicely. The intro is at odds with the eventual verse – it has an early Di’anno era Maiden feel actually, a rough edge, a joyful intensity, and a sense of fun and ambition. Dickinson sounds pretty different here, the drums are excellent, if again a little under-produced, and the guitars are good. Bruce does let out a trademark screech at one point. Good song.

Vice Versa‘ opens with cascading drums before shifting into some bizarre slow tempo, otherwordly verse. It’s interesting, and I like it, and as it progresses the effects give way and a more traditional vocal and sound emerges. The drums here are hilarious, going off on their own Keith Moon or Mastodon style, using it as a lead instrument rather than providing a beat and fill. There’s a lot of phasing on the guitars, Bruce singing ‘vice versa’ actually sounds more like ‘bite faster’ or ‘fight bison’. We get a groovy instrumental section in the middle followed by a very abrupt stop and return to the verse. PS: I know what this reminded me of – One Track Lover from Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place. 

Manwatcher‘ opens with another dirty riff, Bruce’s vocals following its melody. There isn’t a chorus so it feels a little repetitive, at least so far. Samson loves those sudden pauses. It’s moving off into a new section now which bears little resemblance to the first part aside from the obvious. Again the drums are maybe the best part, good guitar solo, but its still let down by the production – listening through Youtube certainly isn’t helping. Bruce doesn’t sound like himself here – less force, less volume.

Too Close To Rock‘ gets straight to the point, big riff and hanging backing chords, the riff feeling a little Zeppelin-esque and having little changes each time. Bruce really sounds like Bruce here, though the drum sound is again a let down. The song suddenly shifts around the minute mark for what I suppose is a chorus, but feels like a random charging increase of pace. There is another verse and chorus, followed by an electric, energetic instrumental/solo section. I like how without warning these shifts are – no pre chorus or change of beat, just straight in almost as if there was something edited out. It’s refreshingly short, and closes on a trademark Brucie ‘WAOOW!’

Thunderburst’ reminds me in its opening moments of Alice In Chains – acoustic, mysterious, ominous. Then the thunderburst comes in, crushing guitars, tumbling drums. As Maiden fans will surely note, this is an early version of The Ides Of March and in all honesty it isn’t much different.

Hammerhead‘ starts with a little drum snap before another cool riff. This does suffer from those silly group vocals shouts that I always hate but the melodies, especially in the chorus are reminiscent of some 80s Maiden tracks – just commercial enough to widen the listening net. The drums are good again, but you know by now the production lets things down. There seems to be some sort of breaking glass noises in the background too. There is a sort of middle 8th or change in the middle where a lot of the distortion is withdrawn – it changes things up just a little before the obligatory solo. It’s another good New Wave metal song that I had no idea about previously, not too sure about the fade out ending though.

Hunted‘ sees the band almost breaking out into a bit of funk. There’s a prominent bass line and some Di’Anno style verse vocals. Nice reverb on the guitar gives the song an air of mystery, the backing guitar lines have a nice crunch to them. The chorus is a bit of a let down, musically and lyrically, but we can forgive it as the song as a whole is short. Interesting ending too.

Take Me To Your Leader‘ has a weirdo intro, effects and flange, but it’s only for a few seconds before the speed pounces on you. This one sounds much more like the Bruce we know, lots of screams and yelps, and the pace is relentless. You know the score by now – drums, playing – great, production – not so great. Nifty bass again here, and the lyrics are amusing. This one seems like it had a bit more thought in the construction, it’s more dynamic, and it has another interesting ending. The band had ideas, weren’t merely playing hard and fast.

Walking Out On You‘ opens with a plodding single bass note, like someone flicking an elastic band. Then a lot of weird stuff happens – noises, distorted choir vocals, creaks, alien guitars – I wasn’t expecting anything like this, so props to them. This goes on for about a minute before a more traditional song structure emerges. It’s heavy, slow, then the volume withdraws and we get a more subtle verse – still lots of effects on the vocals and guitar, and the drums are still doing their own thing. The whole quiet verse, loud chorus thing had mostly been perfected by Zep, but it’s nice to see an actual metal band giving it a go. Nice instrumental section in the middle with guitar parts I quite enjoyed, the beat remaining steady throughout. The final minute goes a bit crazy, with Christmas bells, spoken parts, kids, all sorts of weird effects and oddities.

Angel With A Machine Gun‘ gets this back to basics – simple riff, Brucey vocals, tight playing, fact pace, standard British metal lyrics. As seems to be the case with the band, they add the occasional little twist – a brief drum interlude or twist on the existing guitar riff. Otherwise, this is straightforward stuff, nothing startling, but plenty of energy and fun.

Kingsway Jam‘ is apparently a bonus track. It’s near 10 minutes long too  – will it be instrumental? We get stuck in straight away – a fade in to chaos, drums blasting and distant guitars twiddling. Bruce unleashes one so we’re not in instrumental territory. This feels like a live track from the production, the vocals are noticeably less polished on this one, but I could attribute that to them simply arsing about in the studio with this one. Guitar and drums are good as always. This ostensibly follows a verse and chorus format, just that there are longer jams between each, at least until the 4.30 mark where the pace slows and Bruce starts talking hilariously. He’s laughing as he does it, adding to the banter. This settles into a more routine steady slow jam, along with some fairly funny lyrics, and more instrumental pieces. It’s your standard bonus track jam in other words.

Overall I would say this was a pleasant surprise. I enjoyed it a lot more than Bruce’s first solo effort, and I think I was relieved that it didn’t succumb to many of the tropes and ‘mistakes’ of early 80s metal. There’s a lot of ideas, if not full blown ambition on display, and there is that unmistakable quirky sense of fun which comes from the band being British – there are a lot of tongues in cheeks, but the band prove they can play with the best of them. It’s a shame the production isn’t the best – the overall sound has a lot of hissing and the drums lose the impact which they no doubt would have had with a fuller sound. Nevertheless, this is one I’ll listen to again and one I’d recommend to any fellow metal heads who enjoy this era or are looking into the past.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Head On and if you have any special memories of the band or the time!

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Take It Like A Man. Take Me To Your Leader. Hammerhead.

 

Nightman Listens To – Roxette – Crash! Boom! Bang!

Greetings, Glancers! We’re back with another selection of choice pop rock cuts from one of Sweden’s finest exports, Roxette. Fans of the band who happen to be following this series may have noticed that I’ve skipped Tourism. Why? Well, it’s basically a live album, although it does have a few new songs never before heard on any of their studio albums. Maybe I’ll cover those at some point, maybe not. What I am doing is listening to their fifth album, one which I know I’ve heard many times but which I can only honestly recall four songs from, at least by looking at the track listing. The album came out in 1995, so by that point I was mostly past caring about them but wouldn’t moan too much if my brother was in control of the car stereo. It’s another long album – fifteen songs topping an hour – so this could take a while. Enjoy!

Harley’s And Indians: I won’t go as far as saying it’s experimental, but it does have a different sound than what we’re used to from the band. If anything it sounds like some of Bon Jovi’s more cowboy inspired hits. The central guitar riff is fairly fat, on the heavy sit of country rock, yet the melodies are pure Roxette. Per takes lead on the vocals with Marie only chiming in slightly in places. There are some dubious insensitive lyrics in there but I’m not sure if they are there for satirical or comedy value. The chorus repeats a few times more than is necessary, we have a suitable harmonica ending, and it doesn’t outstay its welcome.

Crash! Boom! Bang!: I knew I’d heard this one before, but couldn’t for the life of me remember what it sounded like until I hit play today. Here’s a weird one – whenever I get a big sudden swoosh of nostalgia when listening to Roxette, it always, always takes me back to me getting dressed in the changing rooms of my local swimming pool. WTF’s that about? Anyway, this came flooding back, and I remember singing this one quite a bit – you know me and my ballads. It’s not quite a top tier ballad by their own standards, but it’s still good. It has a dark tone throughout, lyrically and musically, I appreciate the string interlude in the middle, Marie blasts the vocals with a yearning quality, and there’s a slight hint of mystery and reticence.

Fireworks: This was a single but I don’t have any memory of it, despite the funky intro. Actually, the chorus sounds vaguely familiar but that could be just because it’s similar to something else. Per takes the lead again in the verses, not quite rapping his way along, while the chorus sees Marie taking over and the song adopting a style closer to pop. There’s a dreamy, slow, section in the middle where the band sing ‘they’re coming to get you now’…. who? Fireworks?

Run To You: This is one I remembered just from the name, even if my memory of exactly how it sounded has been clouded by time. It’s a soft rock pop song with some mid-nineties production stuff going on. The melodies are strong enough to cut through anything which could date it, we have plenty of strings again though here they seem unnecessary. Minor key verses, happy choruses… it’s a simple, sweet song.

Sleeping In My Car: Here’s another weird one for you – I can remember the first time I heard this one. it was in the car again, it was played on the radio, and we were driving around the roundabout near our local shopping centre (mall). This is obviously the big single from the album. I think we knew the song was coming up and we were anticipating (me less so) how the band would sound, if they still had the goods, or if they had lost it. I think all of us were fairly impressed. It had abandoned the 80s sound of their previous hits and was now completely 90s, but it was still clearly Roxette. The guitars and melodies were front and centre, and it had a chorus which instantly hooked you. It’s still good now, far from amazing, but good.

Vulnerable: This is the last song from my initial look down the tracklist that I remembered. I do remember thinking this one was more suited to a boyband, which was usually a way teenage me used to say a song was crap. I know I still kind of liked it anyway. It is very nineties hearing it now, but as always I like the strings. Would Marie have been a better choice for the main vocal here? It’s fine, it’s too simpering and whimpering for my liking, even as a ballad, but it’s not terrible.

The First Girl On The Moon: I just had a giggle to myself because the intro to this almost, almost sounds like The Everlasting by the Manic Street Preachers. This one was a surprise because I have no memory of it but actually enjoyed it. It’s a slow one, starts off acoustic, a quaint story, Marie leading the vocals. Some piano comes in for the pre-chorus, actually there isn’t really a chorus so to speak. Just to further the weird Manics comparison, there’s an ‘ooh aah’ vocal piece in the middle. It’s barely three minutes long so feels like one you could play plenty of times and not get bored. Great production on this one.

Place Your Love: This starts off acoustic too, but with Per on main vocals. For the chorus we get the harmonies that made the band famous, though it’s not the best chorus. Was this influenced by Oasis? It feels like it was, however unlikely that sounds. The whole building of tambourine and organ feels like Oasis. It’s simple too. The chorus improves as the song progresses, with wider harmonies and increased backing instrumentation.

I Love The Sound Of Crashing Guitars: You know a band has jumped the shark when they begin writing songs about their own instruments or dinosaurs or something. We can forgive Roxette for such matters… they’ve always been kind of quirky like that. The lyrics are mostly nonsense, the music isn’t anything special, but the melodies and production keep things from being too embarrassing.

What’s She Like: It’s another I don’t remember, even though it seems like one I should – it’s typically the emotive power ballads that stick in my mind – for whatever reason those seemed to capture my imagination as a kid. This is in the style of Things Will Never Be The Same or It Must Have Been Love, but doesn’t quite reach the peaks of fist pumping or teeth gnashing or cheese as those. Melodically and tonally it’s very similar, it starts out quietly and builds gradually. The only thing which feels out of place is the middle eight which takes the song out of minor key territory almost seeming like a different song entirely.

Do You Wanna Go The Whole Way: Always. As a great man once said, there’s no sense in going off half-cocked. Unfortunately this one isn’t overly inspired, though it does start out in a promising manner with lots of strings. The lead riff is kind of catchy and interesting, the lyrics are unintentionally funny – to me at least, but melodically it’s a little too plain to stand out. There’s a slower, trippy section in the middle which tries to changes things up, but I think it hurts the song and isn’t needed.

Lies: This is a weird one, starting off with a fat, fast riff, losing pace with a dull verse, then merging into a garage tinged pre-chorus, before a cheesy pop chorus. It feels like a bunch of ideas for different songs slapped together to make a whole when they didn’t know what else to do, but it’s not terrible.

I’m Sorry: This one feels like a holdover from the 80s, with leading synths and melodies not dissimilar to other hits. I generally don’t like percussion led songs, unless the percussion is something extraordinary – this one doesn’t have much in the way of instrumentation in the verses, and the choruses are even a bit light. The melodies aren’t strong enough to save it, but again it’s brevity means I can’t complain too much.

Love Is All: A long one. Matron. Roxette aren’t known for their long songs, so I’m not sure what this will be like. It begins in classic epic style, with a slow, quiet, drawn out instrumental intro. Marie’s vocals come in, very angelic, repeating a soft hymnal. My immediate sense, even if it isn’t a true comparison, is of a psychedelic Beatles song. The lead vocal melody is simple but sweet, so it doesn’t get annoying even though it’s repeated. Repetition is the name of the game here, with the same few melodies growing and building and being modified slightly – Per takes over vocals at one point for example, while the backing instruments change frequently. It’s a mantra without enough significant variation to stop it becoming monotonous. There’s a change close to the three minute mark as we get some organ and guitar before the mantra continues. It seems like the song is going to fade out after four minutes, but then it soars back in again in Hey Jude style for a celebratory two minute coda – it seems like this was custom built for a set closer.

Go To Sleep: A ballad to finish. It avoids being cheesy and it doesn’t have the big chorus that you would expect. I wouldn’t go so far as saying the last two songs are experimental, but you ca tell that the band were playing with new sounds and techniques. This is another sweet and plaintive song which reminds me of quite a few mid nineties ballads – the ones which avoided going fully for the heartstrings but were content to meander in dreamlike sorrow or joy.

I think a couple of songs could have been trimmed from this – there are quite a few in the middle and second half which, while not bad, end up being to the detriment of the album as a whole. It’s a long listen in a single sitting so it would’t be long before you are drawn to pulling out your favourites and focusing on those instead. The album ends strongly, with two good songs – keep those, the singles, and a few others and you’d have a good album. It’s fine as it is but doesn’t have enough great songs to truly recommend it as a package. Regardless, if you’re a Roxette fan there is a surplus of material here to get your teeth into.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of this one!