Nightman Listens To – Bon Jovi – 2020

Bon Jovi 2020 by Bon Jovi: Amazon.co.uk: CDs & Vinyl

Greetings, Glancers! This is it. We’re in the future (past… or present) and have caught up to Bon Jovi’s most recent release 2020. I’m listening to this for the first time in 2021, so hopefully I’ll actually post this before the band’s next album comes out. It’s been a journey. I’ll continue to give my thoughts on any new albums the guys do make, and I have the small matter of briefly going through the bands B-Sides and Rarities to come. Before then though, we have to talk about 2020. I don’t know a single thing about it beyond the unusual choice of having the artwork focus solely on Jon. Interesting to cut the rest of the band out. Interesting that he kind of looks like Iggy Pop having swallowed a fly in the middle of a news interview. For possibly the last time then, lets do this.

Limitless‘ doesn’t exactly blast out of the speakers, but it’s a clear single. We’re in firm classic Bon Jovi territory with ‘woo-oohs’, and grainy vocals. It lacks the punch of their 80s beasts or the subtlety of their best 90s work, and as such comes across as just another middle of the road BJ song. The production is glossy and lacks the vocal and musical issues of much of the album – though Jon’s voice here still sounds like it’s had too much tinkering. Lyrically, the song, and the album, is all about hanging on, dealing with and overcoming struggles both personal and global, but it’s less on the nose here.

Do What You Can’ is the first of several heavily patriotic songs on the album. Not necessarily patriotic in the ‘God Bless The USA (and her guns)’ sense, but more in the universal, humanist way. It’s a message of togetherness in the midst of the pandemic and the lyric ‘when you can’t do what you do, do what you can’ just about works. The other mentions of PPE, social distancing, and other Pandemic speak already sound dated and out of place in a bouncy pop song. It’s cheery and hopeful and fans will lap it up, but it’s too far into cheese territory to convert anyone else.

American Reckoning‘ deals with the many protests which have spread across the US in recent years – racial hatred, gun attacks, the abuse of power by those who are supposed to protect the innocent. It’s certainly touching and sweet, it would have been provocative if it came from an artist with more mass popularity than Bon Jovi have now, and the lyrics work well. But Jon’s voice is all over the place – at best he sounds like he’s singing while eating, and this warbling does lessen the impact and enjoyment of the song. The main guitar melody is very similar to that bit at the end of Every Breath You Take. 

Beautiful Drug‘ continues a decent run of easy, relaxed hits. The lyrics once again have the subtlety of a pig on a spit at a Vegan convention, but the ‘ooh ooh’ hooks should be enough to please the existing fans. It’s not quite a carbon copy of Limitless, but it feels like more of the same.

Story Of Love‘ is very sweet. Saccharine. It’s a song about family, love for sons and daughters, but it’s ooh so sickly. I’m sure he means it, but the Cliff Richard Mistletoe & Wine swaying and swooning rhythms, the strings and piano, they’re all too contrived to tug at the heartstrings. I’m sure the mums who were kids in the 80s when Jon was on their bedroom walls will be in floods of tears, but it tips over from genuine sentiment into cutesy bunnies and baby cuddles. The lyrics are actually poignant and well constructed.

Let It Rain’ is good old fashioned blue collar American defiance of the Springsteen/Jovi/bring it on we can do this style. It just lacks a bit of oomph to be considered one of their stronger anthems. Had this been written in the 80s, there would have been thicker guitars, a more prominent solo, and more focus swarming around the chorus, but melodically it’s one of the most memorable songs on the album.

Lower The Flag‘ is probably the emotional centrepiece of the album. While it’s far from the first song about gun violence in the US, it’s maybe one of the most significant to come from a band who probably have a large Conservative audience. That’s somewhat of a sweeping, problematic statement – many Democratic Party voters have firearms and many Conservatives would be in favour of greater gun controls, and Bon Jovi have a widespread fanbase across the nation and the world. But, a big 80s Rock band hitting their peak during the Reagan administration, a band who has never been obviously political but is very patriotic, it’s not a stretch to say a large whack of their US listeners lean Right. The song isn’t pushing a narrative or any opinion beyond ‘Jesus, there has been ANOTHER mass shooting, what the hell are we going to do about this?’. The lyrics are among Jon’s best, listing any number of towns which have been attacked, and pointing fingers at (essentially) everyone and the triviality of it, the routine of it; there’s a shooting, people die, others offer meaningless thoughts and prayers, some protest, the media makes it a talking point until the next shooting takes place and the cycle starts anew. Musically it does the job – somewhat sombre, not depressing or beating us over the head with sentiment. Good song, better lyric, though when nothing changed after Sandyhook, when all those wonderful children were killed, the US admitted it didn’t give a fuck and the rest of the world shook our heads in shame.

Blood In The Water’ is a suitably downbeat follow up, almost like that shame has seeped in and all that is left is a sorrowful man walking a hollow road. It feels like a song which could have fit on These Days, just that little touch of Cowboy, that sprinkling of class which dragged the band into a more mature period from their 80s Party days. The guitar and overall vibe is very Dry County, and I can only assume it was intentional but the intro synth and guitar and atmosphere is very similar to Dire Strait’s Brothers In Arms which, oh look, happens to be the name of the next track. Lyrically we’re on topic again with all of the media mass manipulation being equated to Satan. Sure, I get it, but at least we know one of those things exists, and is not some hoof-clad furry trident poker.

Brothers In Arms‘ has little or nothing in common with the aforementioned Dire Straits song – instead this is more like a shit-kicking rocker which they filled their early albums with, except with a slower pace and a more interesting collection of melodies. The chorus comes close to being a copy paste of Sleep When I’m Dead. It gets the band pumping again after a couple of darker songs – another likely fan-pleaser, but a solid, by the numbers song for the rest of us.

Unbroken‘ closes the album, another statement song, this time tackling the kids drafted into the military by choice or by ‘choice’. Another decade, another war in a foreign country, another generation of kids wiped out or jaded by its government’s ill-informed choices, another group led by a lie and uncovering truth and the aftermath of that truth. War, guys… war is not patriotic, war is not a thing to put on your CV, war is not a badge of honour, war is bodies, grief, horror, and stepping stone to a life of regret if you’re lucky enough to avoid an early grave. The song is a dedication to those kids, the ones who made it, the ones who did it, and while it does feel rousing and patriotic, and could be misread by any number of listeners, it’s still a poignant and thought-provoking way to close the album.

Bon Jovi have become a little more political (for lack of a better term) in their recent output, which could be nothing more than a by product of getting older and seeing the state of the world they’re passing on to the kids, or it could be a by product of the various cultural events which have struck the country and the world since 2001. This album is the most overt example, tackling global and localised hatred, US politics, the military, gun violence, climate change, the pandemic etc etc. Some of the early songs feel rushed and lack the lyrical nuance of the later tracks – it’s largely in the second half where we’re reminded the band has the ability to pen something meaningful which isn’t a silly love song. The album’s strength lies in those subtle moments, turning back the clock to a time when they could craft a slower, powerful song, while the more upbeat tracks are serviceable, probably work well in front of a crowd, but won’t be a substitute for their hits. Will this be the final Bon Jovi album? I think not, but for now we’re all caught up, beyond checking out their rarities. What did you think of 2020 – let us know in the comments!

Best Writing – Original – 1981

Official Nominations: Chariots Of Fire. Absence Of Malice. Arthur. Atlantic City. Reds.

Colin Welland, perhaps better known for his memorable performance in Kes, picked up the win this year for Chariots Of Fire. It would never be my pick and at times it feels like it’s evangelising (pick up Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running instead), but I understand it winning. Absence Of Malice gets a courtesy nomination, following its Performance-based noms, while Atlantic City and Reds were guaranteed nominees and are about equal in my estimation alongside Chariots Of Fire. That leaves my personal pick out of these five – the anarchic Arthur which feels like the naughty boy in the corner of class that everyone wants rid of, but can’t ignore because his uncle is President of the School Board. Or something.

My Winner: Arthur.

Arthur (1981) - Movie Review / Film Essay

My Nominations: Arthur. Raiders Of The Lost Ark. An American Werewolf In London. Body Heat. History Of The World Part 1. The Road Warrior. Time Bandits.

Arthur makes it over to my personal list, but it won’t be my winner, not when you have a selection of the most seminal genres movies ever lined up against it. Body Heat puts the sex into the rejuvenated Neo Noir genre and is smarter than it gets credit for, even if it is more fondly remembered for a couple of one-liners. Time Bandits is endlessly inventive and just as quotable as your favourite Python movie. Brooks isn’t at his sharpest in the segmented History Of The World Part 1, but that still means his sharper than most, while The Road Warrior allows most of its supporting cast of creeps and cars to do the talking rather than its protagonist. An American Werewolf perfected the blend of Horror and Comedy in 1982, and few films have come close to capturing its essence, failing to recognise that its success is in its script. My winner falls again to Raiders Of The Lost Ark, a film where every character gets their own satchel filled with snappy dialogue and whip-cracking retorts, all wrapped up in a globe-trotting pseudo history lesson.

My Winner: Raiders Of The Lost Ark.

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Nightman’s Updated Favourite Films Of 1988!

Greetings, Glancers! We continue my new series of posts which will detail my favourite films of every year since 1950. Why 1950? Why 10? Why anything? Check out my original post here. As with most of these lists the numbering doesn’t really matter much, though in most cases the Number 1 will be my clear favourite. As I know there are plenty of Stats Nerds out there, I’ll add in some bonus crap at the bottom but the main purpose of these posts is to keep things short. So!

10: They Live (US)

It’s the one John Carpenter movie which I feel gets more hype than it deserves. It’s still my tenth favourite film of the year, but it would be lower down my list of favourite Carpenter films, which says a lot for the quality of his work and my love for it. While still prescient today, and while stoutly anti-Reagan and anti-Republican, it’s one of those films whose message can be, and has been, twisted by individuals and organizations of any persuasion. Or you can simply view it as Rowdy Roddy Piper and Keith David knocking several shades of shite out of each other while keeping a shaded eye on Alien shenanigans.

9: Hellraiser 2 (US/UK)

It’s not as immediately arresting as the first movie, but it builds upon the mysterious world we only glimpsed in part 1, and remains one of the most visually inventive horror movies of the decade which pushed the boundary for what devilish delights could be realised on screen. It follows more or less directly from the first movie, with Kirsty committed to a psychiatric hospital and begging that the doctor’s destroy all evidence of what happened to prevent the Cenobites (and anyone else) from returning. Unfortunately, she happens to have been committed to the one hospital in the world, and be in the care of the one doctor in the world, who has awareness of The Lament Configuration and wants to experience its delights and torments for himself.

It’s best to not think about the plot too much and just follow it like you’re in the grip of a particularly vivid and violent nightmare. It’s great to see the old gang back together from Part 1, and it’s interesting just how much the film has in common with Dream Warriors. It’s another bizarre and bloody descent into Barker’ peculiar brand of Hell, but sadly the last film in the neverending Hellraiser series that’s worth watching.

8: Bloodsport (US)

One of JCVD’s breakout hits, and one of those movies I slipped into the basket when we were picking up VHSs to rent back in the day. Contentiously based on the real life events of Frank Dux it follows Van Damme (as Dux), a soldier with a Martial Arts background who goes AWOL so that he can join an underground, illegal Martial Arts tournament. He makes friends with a Yank, becomes entangled with a reporter, is followed by Forest Whitaker, and invites the rage of Bolo Yeung. The highlights are of course the fights – your typical 80s Western Martial Arts one to one fodder, but spiced up by the talent on display.

7: Akira (Japan)

Arguably still the greatest Japanese animated movie ever, and undoubtedly one of the most influential animated films of all time, Akira remains a jaw-dropping and mind-boggling experience. While bloody, violent, stylized, confusing, and sometimes overly kinetic, Akira is a film everyone should experience at least once. The plot isn’t easy to condense into a couple of lines, but it involves feuding biker gangs in the aftermath of World War 3, set in Neo-Tokyo after the original Tokyo was wiped out. When one of the gang members is arrested by shady Government types, his friends attempt to rescue him but uncover a world of extra-sensory science experiments which could not only claim their friend’s life, but also end all life on the planet as we know it. A hallucinatory trip, with pounding music and visuals speeding by like a bullet, Akira still feels like one of a kind four decades later.

6: Twins (US)

Putting the world’s biggest action star alongside one of America’s funniest men may have sounded strange at the time, but the charm of both stars feeding an endearing relationship, wrapped up inside a silly yet heart-warming story, mean that Twins is an easy, enjoyable watch for any generation. Arnie shows fine comedic chops while Devito brings the pizazz, the two starring as twins separated at birth – Arnie ‘getting all the good genes’ – the strength, the looks, the height, and intelligence, along with an exotic wealthy upbringing, while Devito got everything else. Arnie sets out to find his long lost street crook brother, and so kicks off a cross-country journey for their mutual past while outrunning a bunch of hapless criminals. It’s a lot of fun.

5: Young Guns (US)

The Western has never really been the young man’s genre. Sure, kids back in the early days of Cinema would have loved the sweeping vistas and tales of macho manliness, but once you hit adolescence you become jaded and horny and look for other forms of entertainment. Stagnant for at least a decade, the Western had fallen out of favour with general audience too, outside of the odd Clint Eastwood update – enter the Brat Pack with their Revisionist take on the Billy The Kid legend. Suddenly, Cowboys were cool again – young, human, but with a modern outlook of happy go lucky cynicism as exemplified by a spirited Emilio Estevez and his pals – Charlie Sheen, Kiefer Sutherland, Lou Diamond Phillips etc. It was the movie which got me into Westerns after avoiding them as boring old man fare, and it’s still one of a limited number of Westerns I return to over and over.

4: Heathers (US)

Another wonderful vehicle for Christian Slater and Winona Ryder, Heathers is one of the greatest anti-hero teen movies. While Ryder would go grom strength to strength, Slater’s stardom would burn out somewhat, although he has made various credible returns in recent years. Heathers remains some of their finest work, starring as a jaded, murderous young couple sick of the popular kids, sick of the grind, sick of life. At once a satire of popularity, cliques, and anti-heroes, Heathers is a delightful slice of non-PC cynicism, featuring performances from familiar faces such as Glenn Shadix, Penelope Milford, and Shannon Doherty.

3: Willow (US)

It’s always been a mystery why Willow has not remained as popular as it once was. Now we’re getting a Disney Plus reboot, so perhaps that will breathe some life back into a wonderful, almost Star Wars adjacent universe. Written by George Lucas and with some game-changing visuals for the time, Willow follows Warwick Davis as an aspiring Sorcerer who takes guardianship of a baby. Not just any baby, but a baby who’s life is in danger by the ruthless Warlord Queen Bavmorda due to a prophecy which states that the child will bring her rein to and end.

2: Die Hard (US)

Covered in my Favourite Films Of The 80s post

1: Beetlejuice. (US)

Covered in my Favourite Films Of The 80s post

Let us know in the comments what your favourite films of 1988 are!

Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Marbles (Part 4)!

Greetings, Glancers! We begin our coverage of Side 2 of the Marbles extravaganza with another piece of the Marbles Suite. The third part of this suite is maybe the most commercially viable track of the four, felling both self-contained and having some nifty melodies, while leading perfectly into The Damage. It has a creepy drip-drip piano intro like some introspective window-watching scene from a BBC Detective show. It’s a section I could happily have had more of, but it leads into a more pop-oriented ballad 2nd half. The second half I could also have had more of. Without Biffo’s explanation of H’s childhood marbles terrorism act, I wouldn’t have known what to make of the lyrics. I don’t think I even made the connection between the lyrics and marbles until I heard the actual explanation, which seems stupid now. They form a neat little story which is evocative for any of us naughty little boys who got up to bad stuff when we were young and ran home to hide hoping that neighbours wouldn’t find out and come calling.

Marbles (album) - Wikipedia

The Damage, is pure Matt Bellamy. I brought this up towards the end of my Part 3 post, but it’s true. The jaunty piano bopping, the buzzing distorted guitars of the intro, even some of the vocal tics are all very similar Muse songs of a particular era. It’s a fun, fuzzy, pop rock song with amusing vocals. It’s very catchy and I’d call it another example of Marillion making a song which could have been a hit had it been recorded by a different, possibly younger/newer band. It doesn’t too dissimilar to what many of the big rock bands of the time were putting out. I think it could have been shaved by thirty seconds to hit that sweet sub four minute radio friendly unit shifter timeframe – there’s one or two chorus re-runs too many – but before it run out of steam it’s a fun, inoffensive song. This entire section of the album feels very hit heavy – a run of songs which could have been popular singles in another space and time, and this is the most off-kilter of the bunch thanks to the vocal antics, even if it does tail off in that regard before the end.

We have some callbacks to previous songs and themes in the opening lyrics – ‘I’m scared of opening the can/I’m scared of changing who I am’, which suggests both this inescapable internal battle but also a more deliberate placing because he’s done the deed, failed in his bid to defeat temptation. The song itself has its own internal repetition – howling ‘the damage’ over and over like a man banging his head off the wall in regret for the things he’s done. The parts about wanting what’s under the counter (which, now that I typed it also seems like a filthy euphemism) I can only read in relation to the repetitions of ‘natural woman’ in that the narrator seems to be looking for something real, the reality which other people are not allowed to see. What this all means in a wider sense, I don’t know. The desperate nature of the vocal delivery and the semi-crazed rhythms and tones of the song lead me down the path of thinking the song is some frantic cry for a new relationship having realised what has been lost – that could be with a new person or (less likely) with the old flame. But it’s all futile guesswork until Paul tells us what it’s actually about.

I only realised when I began typing this exact paragraph that I’d been listening to the ‘promo version’ of Don’t Hurt Yourself. There’s the album version of the song which seems to be two minutes longer, so I’m going to go listen to that now…. well, that was interesting. I was going to begin my bit about this song by saying how it’s a good single, but also fairly cheesy and that the frankly awful accompanying video only increases the cheese levels. The album version drastically decreases the cheese factor, adding a lovely extended intro and what seems to be a very different vocal and audio mix – possibly with different takes too. Now, I’ve only listened to the album version once and as such it sounds… wrong, compared with the promo version. That’s an interesting phenomenon which probably has a name, and it’s one I’ve experienced plenty of times as someone who has listened to a hell of a lot of music. Back when I was getting into certain bands in the early ages of Napster et al, I would download a song by a particular artist and assume it was the ‘right version’, only to learn (sometimes years) after that what I had downloaded was an alternate take, a demo, or a remix. My most fun personal example of this is when I accidentally hit the record button on my (recorded) cassette of Michael Jackson’s Bad. It was near the start of Just Good Friends that I hit Record, shouted ‘oh no’, and went abut my day. This meant that every time I played the cassette (which was at least twice a day through most of the 80s and early 90s), I would hear the recording clicks and me shouting ‘oh no’ before the song resumed, and any time I heard the true song on the radio or on a friend’s copy, the song didn’t sound right without my shouting.

So now I’m doubting which version of Don’t Hurt Yourself is the right one. At this point I’m more excited about this ‘new’ one, so I’ll talk about it. What a lovely intro – a touch of Country, Folky, Neil Young in the acoustic guitars before the slightly heavier central verse stuff comes in. Something about the rhythm made me think of Richard Ashcroft’s Song For The Lovers, even though there’s little other comparison to be made there. In another era this may have been an atypical power ballad, but on Marbles in 2004 it’s less on the nose, more subtle, and has more textures. Backing vocals and near choir moments, slide-guitar esque screeches reminiscent of what Slash did on Estranged, and the underbelly of funky bass and keyboards all create a much richer sound than what you would usually see in a heartfelt cry for self-forgiveness and stability.

Similar to the internal struggles of other lyrics on the album, Don’t Hurt Yourself is caught between the past and the future, between holding on and letting go, and the overall message is encapsulated in the opening line. All things must pass, from possessions to people, dreams and desires, memories and moments. It’s a hopeful message, but with it comes the inevitable bittersweet tinge of loss – not of sudden monumental loss, but of transitional everyday loss to the constant march of time. The music echoes the lyrical sentiment, never completely committing is bouncy pop, with one foot in soft maudlin melancholy. It seems to be H’s song to himself as much as a song for the audience to ponder over.

As I click on my usual Youtube version of You’re Gone, I cringe as I realise it is also a ‘promo version’. Four minutes, three seconds. Let me just see if there is an alternative album version. Great – 6 minutes, 26 seconds. I really should do more research for these things.

I didn’t find the album version as many differences from the single version as I did with Don’t Hurt Yourself. The single is more streamlined and feels like it has more pace – the album version having longer instrumental portions between verse and chorus. There’s an additional bridge section which bulks out the running time, and unsurprisingly doesn’t feel right after being so used to the promo. In all honesty, it’s somewhat of a subdued bridge and I don’t think it does enough to build up to the release of the return chorus. At this point in time I prefer the single to the album version, aside from a few nice vocal additions in the last minute or so. It’s another nice enough song no matter which version you punt for, it slots neatly within the context of the album and works equally well as a standalone, but I don’t think it’s one of my favourite singles till now.

We’re on familiar ground lyrically – more memories, more loss, more love passed by. More dichotomies – night and day, you and I, gone, here, with the space between either clashing like a thunderstorm breaking from the northern sky’, or exhausted ‘like nightfall followed dawn without a day in between’. I don’t have a lot to say about the lyrics, just as I found my opinions lacking on the music – a few poetic lilts to well worn themes, but nothing which demanded my attention.

Between You And Me (@BYAMPOD) | Twitter

On to this week’s BYAMPOD, and while the guys are not in Poland to see Marillion, Sanja has an ulcer – two wrongs make a right! The guys admit they have less to say about side 2 of Marbles so we’re on the final lap before moving on to whatever the next album is. Hopefully everyone who did make it Poland had a great time. I was here, in the rain. We skip over Marbles iii and go right into The Damage, which Paul, Sanja, and the superfriends call themselves. Sort of. Apparently the song owes a debt to Karma Police – one of the most famous Radiohead songs, but not one I was ever the hugest fan of. Paul remarks on how unhinged the song sounds, which matches the theme, but Paul doesn’t think it’s the best example of H’s voice. I felt that it was a more obvious display of him putting on an act, rather than the assumed mumbling that was brought up on the last episode. Sure, he’s not a Rrrrrock vocalist, but he does the job of conveying that desperation. The polished production doesn’t necessarily fit with the punk ethos the song is aiming for. It’s the first time Paul was disappointed while listening to the album… I suppose they just wanted to throw in a silly fun rock song and maybe it works better outside of the context of the album.

Paul reads the song as the drunken, lecherous aftermath of Genie, while Sanja thinks it’s more desperate and needy than, well, horny and dirtbaggy. The loss of control is there, I suppose I read it more as desperation born out of regret and mistakes and damage, rather than the booze of the moment. Paul later retracts his statement about being a letch (H that is, not Paul…), but instead of someone being vulnerable. Then we learn about what FUAC actually means, as I assumed from Paul’s BYAMPOD tweet that it was the acronym for a Marillion album we haven’t got to yet. And who knows, maybe it is.

Don’t Hurt Yourself – Pete and Rothers switch instruments, which I didn’t notice at all. Though why would I. I wrote a lot about it, though most of that was down to the different versions. Paul doesn’t like it. Dull, tedious, uninspired rock. I preferred it to The Damaged and You’re Gone, but I like a middle of the road ballad here and there. I can see how this, being single bait, doesn’t fit with the flow and vibe of the album – maybe if it had been a standalone single released a year after Marbles and in no other way affiliated, Paul would have liked it. There’s always a pull to write something immediately enjoyable and which is going to promote the album to a wider user base, while figuring out how to make it as artistic as everything else. Sanja likes it more and they have a discussion about the lyrics – is H talking to himself or to others – which is something I remarked on. H himself says of the song that it was born out of his own pain and hearing how others are struggling too, and wrote it as a cathartic expression of finding his route out of pain.

Paul loves You’re Gone, which I felt was more bland than Don’t Hurt Yourself. I suppose there’s more of a Prog base to it, but I had little to say about the music. The context of Rothers building the song makes it more interesting, but I don’t think my opinion of it will change because of this. It’s fine – nothing bad, certainly more positive than not, but didn’t strike much of a chord with me. Then the guys do their own bit about the different versions – Sanja is as sloppy as me then, except I worked it out before it was too late. ‘Not fit to fart up his chimney’, is the phrase we expected to hear. Paul has a greater love for the lyrics than I did – again, I liked the lyrics, but didn’t find that personal attachment which raises the stakes for me. ‘Pessimistic Ghost’ sounds like an Ultra Rare Top Trumps card. Paul goes deep on the potential metaphor reading ‘early hours’ as ‘affair’. I can…seeeeee… that but I didn’t get that feeling. Could be, that’s the fun of guesswork and metaphors. I worked with a guy once who claimed metaphors didn’t exist… like, they weren’t real or something. Whenever he heard someone explaining the metaphor of a movie or song, he would get incredibly worked up and frustrated. I don’t think he was arguing that everything should be taken literally or that people were lying when using metaphors, but he would grumble and say that music and movies were nothing more than sounds and stories and contained nothing extra beneath the surface. I think he went on to work in a Bank or something.

Go listen to the latest BYAMPOD episode, send the team an email, follow them on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, and possibly up a chimney, and as always, leave any comments below!

Nightman Listens To – Stevie Ray Vaughan – The Sky Is Crying (Top 1000 Albums Series)!

Greetings, Glancers! It feels like an age since I’ve listened to one of Colin Larkin’s Top 1000 albums of all time. I’ve posted a few of my reactions recently, but most of those were written one or two years ago – the series had been somewhat left behind as I picked up on Marillion and closed out some of series. It feels good to get back into this, and it feels doubly good to be listening to an artist I’m already sort of familiar with. You see, being a guitarist in my younger days and hanging around with likeminded guitar fans, certain instrumental maestros would always come up in conversation – the Satriani and Vai speed merchants, to the more blues oriented guys like Vaughan. These were the people we looked up to and wanted to emulate. I don’t think (at the time) I’d ever heard a complete album by most of these people, Vaughan included, but instead knew various solos or individual tracks. So today, for the first time I’ll be listening to an entire album by SRV – The Sky Is Crying.

What Do I Know About SRV? As mentioned, a guitar hero who mainly stayed within the Blues sphere, and who died at an early age in a Helicopter crash. Another person we are left to wonder what they could have achieved and released had they not died so young.

What Do I Know About The Sky Is Crying? The name sounds familiar, leading me to believe I was probably aware of it once upon a time but have since forgotten anything about it. Looking at the tracklist, most of the songs seem to be covers, which isn’t unusual for guitar heroes – especially of the Blues variety.

Boot Hill: I’ve mentioned it elsewhere on the blog – while I enjoy Blues music, increasing as I get older it has to be in small bursts because it feels so limited in scope. I worry that, even with Vaughan’s performances, this album could wear out its welcome for me long before it’s over. This song is perfectly fine, but it’s like any other slower Blues track you’ve ever heard. I enjoy it more as a standalone listen rather than as the opening track to a Blues album. I suspect I’ll be repeating that sentiment through this post.

The Sky Is Crying: It’s a slower 12 Bar Blues song. I need to focus on SRV instead and not get so hung up on the limitations of the genre. SRV goes off on an absolute melter which takes up the bulk of the song, playing string bends which have no business being in the song but forcing them to work. His tone is so crisp with just the slightest hint of scratchiness to compliment the pain of the lyrics.

Empty Arms: A more up-tempo song, feels more jazzy, though we can immediately dismiss the lyrics – you already know what you’re going to get before any of these songs begin – various variations of ‘baby gonna be gone/baby done me wrong/ain’t got nowhere to run’ etc. Lets just focus on Stevie. A chaotic middle is the highlight, blistering between the ragged lead riff and frenetic, confident licks which dance the length of the fret board while playing with the allotted time signatures.

Little Wing: A cover of the Hendrix classic, and the song I’m most familiar with. This is both a more stripped back version and expanded at the same time. Stripped back in terms of arrangement and its focus on Blues compared with the more psychedelic and visionary aspects of the original. The introduction of harmonics in the intro here as very nice, going some way to evoke similar moods to the original. It’s also a fully instrumental cover meaning some of the emotion is lost, but it does fully free Stevie to interpret the vocals through his guitar, leading to some interesting translations. It’s not a disservice to either to say that Vaughan tops Jimi’s performance here.

Wham: Thankfully that little interlude from traditional Blues continues with this supersonic rendition. There’s barely a breath’s escape between notes here, a marvellous display of Vaughan’s talents – not merely a display of pacing and technique under strain, but of interpretation, consistency, and nuance. It really comes into its own after the 40 second mark, then doesn’t let go. A ridiculous cover every guitar lover should slap their ears around.

May I Have A Talk With You: This has a scratchy Hendrix intro, but soon devolves into another dirty Blues crawl. The licks are somewhat more traditional here, aside from their lead ins and the way they tail off – those are infused with little SRV flourishes. The lead solo is comparable – it’s firmly based in traditional roots but the little flourishes, from bends to slides, give it a harder modern oomph.

Close To You: Kicking off almost like Helter Skelter, this again becomes your traditional Blues standard shuffle. The verses have less input from Stevie and feel lackluster and repetitive – even the transitions between verses are riffs you’ve heard a hundred times. We have to wait for the solo for some life to be breathed into the song, but the solo is brief and the song ends quickly after, giving the whole thing a filler vibe.

Chitlins Con Carne: A jazz instrumental leading us away from the Blues standards once more, this has the slightest hint of Santana in tone and rhythm. As the focus is on Stevie, it’s a more interesting piece, and the change of framework away from Blues allows him to be more creative.

So Excited: A Vaughan original, this is a another neater blending of traditional Blues and Vaughan’s creativity, bringing only the barest Blues underpinning so that Vaughan can fire off a collection of tasty licks. It’s not going to change anyone’s world, but it showcases his control and style.

Life By The Drop: The most interesting song closes the album – it’s a more pop-oriented Blues number, but twisted by the acoustic approach. For the first time the vocal melodies are worth mentioning – it’s unfortunately missing any sort of solo which would have been neat to hear using the different guitar and sonic timbre.

What Did I Learn: I suppose this was a case of remembering rather than learning – just how tasty some of SRV’s interpretations could be having not listened to him in many years. I remembered how I can only take so much traditional Blues in one sitting, no matter how skilled and experimental the playing, but I also learned that the album wasn’t entirely Blues based.

Does It Deserve Its Place In The Top 1000: I’m veering towards not – I don’t know how many guitar hero albums are on this list – ones more focused on the guitarist than the band. If you have to include one, is this the best? What about the Vais, Malmsteens, Satrianis of the world? Buckethead releases about a hundred albums every year, some of those are bound to be good. What about the earlier and later Blues masters? Was this really influential enough as an album over and above others of the same ilk? No discredit to Vaughan, but these are the questions you need to ask if you’re including an album on a Best Ever List. For me, the virtuoso is always going to be lacking in the songwriting department, and no amount of technical skill and influence is enough to warrant a place on my list, without a solid basis in songwriting, and likely without a band to transform the works into songs and the songs into an album.

Let us know in the comments what you think of The Sky Is Falling!

Chart Music Through The Years – 1983

Way Back Wednesday: The Top Music of January 22, 1983 : The Retro Network

Greetings, Glancers! It’s 1983, the year I officially dropped onto the planet, forever changing Humankind’s progression through the nether-galaxy. It was a time when the 80s (as we know them today) were really getting into full swing. Both the Internet and the first Mobile Phone officially appeared (weird, I know, and not at all a coincidence of me deciding to land), President Reagan was shaping US Politics and his Dictator-In-Chief Nancy was waving a magic morality wand across the nation to hilarious non-effect. MASH came to an end, informally ending the 70s, Michael Jackson introduced us to the moonwalk, Margaret Thatcher maintained her chokehold on Britain, Return Of The Jedi premiered, the NES went on sale in Japan, KISS washed their faces, a bunch of terrorists escaped from prison in Northern Ireland, and the Delorean ceased production.

In terms of Music, Michael Jackson premiered the video for Thriller and the album of the same name dominated the charts, Karen Carpenter and Dennis Wilson died, Kirk Hammett replaced Dave Mustaine in Metallica, the Eurythmics told us about Sweet Dreams, Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet pranced about, Madonna and Cyndi Lauper released their debuts, metal bands across the globe were either starting out or hitting their peaks, and Yentl and Flashdance were stinking up the big screen.

But what on Earth was in the UK Top Ten in October of 1983? Well I’m glad you didn’t ask, because we’re about to find out!

1. Culture Club: Karma Chameleon

We all know this one, right? It’s one of the most famous and pervading pop hits of the 1980s, successful enough to land Boy George a spot on The A Team for some reason. It’s pure 80s pop nonsense, and all the better for it.

2. Tracey Ullman: They Don’t Know

I think I remember Tracey Ullman being a singer, but I have no idea what this is. Hmm, it sounds Christmasy. Then it turns into some 80s version of a 50s style song, with sweet and innocent words and voices and melodies. The video is a bit of nonsense, with some expected comedy from Ullman, and I don’t see why this ever would have reached so high on any chart. Oh wait, I do, because people are idiots. It’s a very simple, straightforward pop song, nothing to it. Then Paul McCartney shows up. No idea.

3. Siouxsie And The Banshees: Dear Prudence

Uhh, speaking of McCartney, here’s Siouxsie and Co doing their thang on a Beatles song. It’s a straight enough cover of a song I’m not a huge fan of, with a little more punk, a little more 80s, and Siouxsie’s pronounced vocals instead. The original is a little bland and repetitive and this doesn’t do anything to change that.

4. David Bowie: Modern Love

Have I heard this already in my Bowie album listen through? Probably, but from the name I can’t remember. Hitting play…. ah yes, I do remember this one. I remember liking it. It still sounds like that other Noughties song I can’t name. This is good.

5. Howard Jones: New Song

I don’t know who this is or what this is, lets check it out. Already with the disaster 80s sounds. And your typical male 80s vocals. Everything that was wrong about the 80s right here. At least there’s an audible melody, so it has that in its favour over and above today’s efforts. It’s light and innocent and has a sense of fun – it’s not about sex in other words, so again it has that in its favour versus today’s stuff. Actually a nice keyboard solo in the middle.

6. PIL: This Is Not A Love Song

I must admit I was never the biggest fan of PIL. I should clarify; I never had that much interest in PIL. Yes yes, Johnny Rotten and all that, but any time a friend stuck on one of their albums I became bored quickly. I admit I was expecting The Sex Pistols V2.0, and instead I caught a bug-riddled, floppy disk version of Talking Heads. I imagine their sound was interesting back in the day, but judging in decades later it sounds horribly dated. Rotten was never the greatest vocalist in the world, but he sounds suitably demented, if somewhat robotic here. It’s not a love song, and beyond a catchy three note riff and some bouncy bass, it has zero melodic quality. Decent cynical punk lyrics of course, but it very quickly wears out its welcome with repetitive rhythms, no building, layering, tension, and a devout avoidance of melody. I get the point, but I’m past the point of caring.

7. George Benson: In Your Eyes

Isn’t this the same guy as number 5? I don’t think I recognise the name, but maybe I’ll recognise the song. Parts of the chorus sound vaguely familiar, as if I heard this in a movie I saw in the 80s. I’d love to make a joke about being a budget rate Lionel Ritchie, but his voice is too smooth. The song is another meh 80s love song – probably a nice one for a certain type of lady of a certain point in time, but even if you were to gloss this up or muddy it down or re-arrange however you liked, the core of the song would still be uneventful and shrugsome.

8. UB40: Red Red Wine

I’m going to go ahead and skip right over this one and not bother linking it. Because I am petty. But also because I can’t stand UB40 and I have a completely rational hatred for them. Also, this song is utter shite.

9. New Order: Blue Monday

The biggie. I get how seminal it is, how culturally significant, how influential, and how it was born out of Joy Division. But I’ve never liked it, and most of the music inspired by it either pissed me off or bored me. It’s not my thing, but I appreciate the fact that it exists and how nifty the beats are.

10. David Essex: Tahiti

Off the top of my head, I don’t know what this is, but given the amount of Essex that was floating around my domain in the 80s, I assume I’ll know it when I hit play. No, I don’t remember ever hearing this, but what a weird song. It has male vocals, then a woman joins in later, and the bulk of the song has this swaying, twee shuffle sound. It has a terrible spoken piece, but it has nice harmonies and ‘island chanting’, yet it begins like a quasi-hymnal mixed with Christmas Cliff Richard song. Why it’s over five minutes long is anyone’s guess – you could still have the weird intro, the crux of the song, and the spoken part and still be three minutes. Bizarre.

Nightman Listens To Ghostmane – Anti-Icon (2020 Series)!

Greetings, Glancers! I truly have not the slightest idea what this is. I checked my 2020 albums list to see what I had to listen to next, I saw the name, I clicked ‘Create post’, and I started typing this sentence. Based on the name, I’m guessing either Metal or Rap. As part of my intro, I typically Google the album name to pull up the artwork, and sometimes that tells me something about the artist, such as the genre, where they’re from, some snippet of information which sheds some light on a previously unheard of band or person. Lets see what we find with this one….Googles…sees American singer… paint and piercings… so… Metal?

Ghostemane: ANTI-ICON Album Review | Pitchfork

Bloody arms grabbing one of those old styley torture masks. Self-flagellation? Ripping the head off some Slipknot dude? Random violent image for shock purposes. Is the helmet a symbol of the icon we are meant to be anti about? Lets just get into it, and lets hope it’s good. Oh look, the songs are very short. Yes, the songs are short. In many ways it’s an unusual album, the brevity of each each track being part of that strangeness. There’s a fair amount of diversity, yet it all feels very samey; there are the Nu Metal inspired songs, the Industrial ones, the Rap oriented ones. Some songs have clean vocals, some have growls, and some have that irritating yapping which made Nu-Metal so detestable. The variety feels shoehorned in rather than substantial, and yet it’s not a yawnsome experience. The sub three minute nature of the majority of the songs means no particular annoying factor gains too much focus, yet they feel so rushed together and free from real creativity or emotion lead to a giant shrug of the shoulders for most of the run time. It’s like hearing some local rock band being hyped up as the saviour or your Country’s next big thing, but when you watch them live you spend most of the time thinking you’ve seen it all before and ignoring what talent they may genuinely have.

Showmanship and Production are two of the major positives – the dude wants to be the next Manson or Ghost or whatever, and seems to have the charisma and social media know how to entrap a new breed of listener, and the Production is top rate, mixing a lot of the digital cut up quirks we’ve already seen many Metal artists showcase in this 2020 series so far, with guitars crunching and stuttering into a distant chaotic fog, and vocals buffering in and out of sequence with a viral intensity. Plenty of songs achieve an atmospheric atmosphere – the opener being a booming, suitably ominous intro like a descent into some cavernous industrial underworld. Still, I can’t help but shake the feeling that there is absolutely nothing new here. From the Fred Durst whining raps which sound like the poor man is curling out a particularly raw turd to the blatant Disturbed and NIN rip-offs, to the nods to such weak adolescent bedroom door slam anthems of Linkin Park, there isn’t a trace of feeling; the whole album feels like a publicity stunt. The only glimmer of honesty comes with album closer Falling Down, Something In The Way – esque conclusion and the album’s only real moment of calm, which neatly ties in with the throbbing beats of the opening track. Elsewhere, Vagabond is a great highlight reel for the album, packing in everything you need to hear in under two minutes.

Ghostmane is a talented enough performer, assuming he’s the sole vocalist and plays some guitar, and isn’t afraid to mix up the pacing with an instrumental track or introducing some mumblecore elements to his raps. The raps, the vocals are decent enough when we’re not resorting to the aforementioned Durst mewling. The lyrics are fine for this type of thing, but if you want to get the point across that you’re suffering, you’re in pain, that life is shit, there are more poetic ways to do it than screaming ‘I don’t love you anymore’. In fairness, the topics here run the usual gauntlet from suicide to being angry about the state of society and fame, to drugs, and back to suicide – all the sorts of things an edgy young audience will be enticed by, and maybe he doesn’t need to be particularly incisive with his pen – just enough of a rebellious slogan that someone pissed off at the world can be sucked in by. Of course I don’t know anything about the dude or his band, and I’m sure the stuff he’s talking about is coming from the heart. As a Metal fan, that’s something I can appreciate, but the message is more powerful when it’s delivered in a more personal way. I’m still waiting for that killer 2020 Metal album. Outside of a couple of interesting moments and meshing of styles, this album did nothing for me. It’s loud, the guy has good presence, and the Production is excellent – I’m sure it’s the sort of thing which will inspire angry young things to get into Metal, though it may be too abrasive for the masses.

Album Score

Sales: 1. There’s no offiicial Wiki entry for the album, and that’s usuallymy go to for a lot of this sort of information. Best I can tell is that the album sold in very low numbers – less than 5-10 thousand copies. It’s an Indie release, which you could take into account, but I struggle to justify giving even a 2 here. 

Chart: 2. This is barely any better. But it did seem to momentarily hit Top 40. For a Metal album, that’s not too bad, and for an independent artist that’s the exposure you need. Still, it hardly set the charts alight Worldwide or anywhere in particular. 

Critical: 4. Generally well received by the Metal and Rock reviewers, and mainly positive from everyone else. A solid 4. 

Originality: 3. 2-4 is the range here, depending on your own bias and knowledge of music. I’d say this is closer to a 2 than a 4, but while most of what is on display has been done both better and a lot worse before, I suppose it’s a modern spin on those. 

Influence: 2. I fail to see how much impact this particular album will have given it’s limited ales and accessibility. Someone will hear it and maybe be influenced, but will that lead to anything worthwhile. I think the influence will come from the artist’s body of work rather than this single product. 

Musical Ability: 3. Nothing amazing, nothing exciting, but nothing it’s easy to point to as poor. 

Lyrics: 3. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say it’s all personal to him, but for the most part the lyrics didn’t connect with me or were hitting the nose too readily. 

Melody: 2. Little to latch on to, but some chanty shouty moments the kids will enjoy. 

Emotion: 3. I didn’t feel much but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt once more. This is a low 3.

Lastibility: 2: I can’t see me ever listening to this again, and with the rate the guy seems to be pumping out material, whatever fans he picks up will likely focus on the new thing more than the old. I could be wrong, but I don’t see this still being talked about in a few years. 

Vocals: 3. The Durst stuff is bad enough to warrant a 2, but on the whole I think a 3 is deserved. 

Coherence: 3. I could be tempted to go 4, because even with the jumping between genres, there’s still a sense of anger and of grim industrial sounds. But I don’t think it flows particularly well and the jumping from genre to genre feels sporadic.

Mood: 4. I’ll give a 4 to mood as the atmospheric aspects are notable. Metal relies on mood and atmosphere heavily, more than many other genres. 

Production: 4. All good, especially for an Indie release.

Effort: 3. Shorter songs – doesn’t always mean less effort – but many of these songs are under three minutes and aren’t too dissimilar.

Relationship: 2. As much as a Metal fan as I am, this felt like a step away from my preferences. I’m not a Nu Metal fan, Industrial doesn’t do much for me, and people trying to look all spooky with tattoos and piercings and white eyes just makes me giggle at the childishness of it all. If there’s no substance beyond the shock value, then it feels more like a fashion statement or like an admission that you don’t really have anything valuable to say. Not to judge an artist on their looks or anything. The music didn’t speak to me on any personal level, beyond a few atmospheric moments. 

Genre Relation: 3. As someone who doesn’t have his finger on the pulse of this brand of Social Media Metal, I don’t have much to compare this with. Lets go with the average 3.

Authenticity: 2. I freely admit to being wrong here, but I just didn’t feel it. Whatever genuine authenticity there may be, I lacked the ability to pick up on it. Therefore, I blame the album. 

Personal: 2. Unsurprisingly, not a high score from me. While it was critically reviewed well, for me it missed out on the emotion, melody, and smarts to keep my interest, while also neither charting nor selling well. 

Miscellaneous: 3. There are some creepy creepy music videos set in spooky spooky tunnels. That’s enough to warrant a 3. 

Total: 54/100 Possibly the lowest scoring album so far, but there are a few with similar scores in the 2020 series. But what do I know? Let us know your thoughts in Anti-Icon in the comments!

Nightman Listens To – Bob Dylan – Blood On The Tracks (Top 1000 Albums Series)!

Greetings, Glancers! Here we are, my first ever Bob Dylan album (note – I originally wrote this at the start of 2020, only getting around to posting it now – after hearing Dylan’s most recent album). He’s made about fifty of them, right? When I was in my early twenties, I recognised Dylan as one of those untouchable sacred artists I had to listen to, but the few songs I’d heard performed by him I didn’t like. That voice, I couldn’t get past it. This frustrated me on a number of levels – songs he had written but which were performed or covered by other artists I did like, and I knew he was a clever and insightful lyricist. I’ve always viewed lyrics as potentially equally important as music within the construction of a song – I can’t enjoy a song without lyrics or with bad lyrics, just like I can enjoy a song with great lyrics but crap music. I know I’m in the minority on this, but it probably goes back to me being a big reader – someone who enjoys the use of semantics, language, fiction, poetry, and as a songwriter myself I put genuine effort into my lyrics. Not like these posts I write which are spur of the moment thoughts, I did try to make my lyrics personal, not cookie-cutter. I can’t say they were good, but I did try.

So with my background, Dylan is an artist I should have heard a lot more from by now. Whatever final push or attraction which draws people of my generation and later to him, I have lacked. Other music fans I’m friendly with came to him in their early twenties and were converted, while I nodded my head, muttered something profound, and got back to downing another shot. I knew I would come to him eventually, but it’s with a certain amount of trepidation given how I feel about his vocals and how my Bowie journey has gone so far, considering I was anticipating I would like Bowie’s more than I have. That’s enough of an intro for now.

What Do I Know About Bob Dylan: I think it’s covered in my intro.

What Do I Know About Blood On The Tracks: It’s one of about four or five Dylan albums which always appears on lists like these. Is this the one where he went Electric? I don’t know. I don’t recognise any of the ten tracks.

Tangled Up In Blue: This starts out pleasantly enough, there’s certainly a touch of folk about it but the music brings a sense of stepping out, moving on. The vocals aren’t good – it’s not just the fact that I don’t like his voice, I also don’t like the faux Blues, faux spoken approach, as well as the hackneyed ‘every word must end on a down note’ – you know, the modulation of his voice decreases with every single line. So on top of me not liking his voice or his vocal approach, he’s simply not a good singer on top of it all. But I think I simply have to acknowledge that and move on. I’m only picking up whispers of the lyrics as I try to listen and type at the same time – there’s certainly a lot of words to wade through so I’ll have to listen again or follow the words along. I quite liked the song though – it has a swift pace even if it is overlong – I know I would like it a lot more with a singer I liked, or you know, a singer who can sing.

A Simple Twist Of Fate: Opens with a gorgeous set of chords, all very promising. The vocals drop and I try my hardest to imagine someone else singing. Those sudden high, loud notes almost work perfectly, like a disjointed emotional outburst. The middle feels more chaotic, I rarely enjoy harmonica but I can tolerate it. I can dig this, but again would prefer another vocalist.

You’re A Big Girl Now: This opens beautifully again, neat and sombre piano to accompany the guitars and it fills me with emotive 80s vibes. It doesn’t sound 80s in the slightest, that’s just my feelings. It also reminds me of Wild Horses. I like his vocals here more, his howls are great when they land but there’s a few times when they don’t. This one is very good.

Idiot Wind: This has no need of an intro and we get straight to it. The organ doesn’t add much, the rest of the music feels stilted and mere background noise for the vocals. The vocals are very shouty, and they’re the most painful example so far of that downwards intonation which pisses me off. Dire Straits do this too and it annoys me, but not as much. He sounds angry at least, and the lyrics mirror the venom. His pronunciation of “idiot” quickly grates. Man, it just keeps going too. Oh God, here comes the harmonica.

You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go: We start with harmonica. I think Harmonicas sound uniquely American. This one is short, vocals are bad as we already know, and it feels little more than an off the cuff ramble.

Meet Me In The Morning: Almost a more laidback, summery feeling. His vocals are better here, not so shat out of the nose, not so ‘look at me I’m a Blues guy’. Of course, it still very much follows Blues rhythms and formulae. Repetitive riffs and lyrics. Still, it’s not so bad.

Lily, Rosemary, And The Jack Of Hearts: Oh God, it’s almost 9 minutes long is my first thought. My second is, fuck, not more Harmonica, followed by, ‘what if it’s 9 minutes of Harmonica. It’s certainly bouncy even if the mix is pretty crap. Rhythmically it all reminds me of one of the songs I absolutely can’t stand – that Paul Simon shitmess You Can Call Me Al, man I hate that song. Well, we’re three minutes in and there has been absolutely no variance in the music so far so lets see if we can pick up some of the lyrics. Big Jim. Mexico. It’s all storytelling, not the sort of lyrical approach I usually enjoy. It’s talking about people I will never care about, fictional or otherwise. So we’re not going to even get an instrumental break? Some slight variance? I suppose that’s unique in a way. But there’s a very good reason why songs aren’t written or performed in this way – because it’s stupid. It’s very much an Eastern or Ancient approach to songwriting and storytelling – but when the story and music are about as far from interesting as your balls are from Pamela Anderson, it means the song is aural torment. Well, that was horrific.

If You See Me, Say Hello: I don’t want to say it’s like Zeppelin, but the intro does sort of remind of something like Zep’s Tangerine or That’s The Way. That’s another way of saying it’s a sweet acoustic piece, but not quite top tier. The vocals are better too – he’s mostly singing without accouterments. He does fall back on bad habits when going for the bigger notes. The melodies don’t tug at my heartstrings enough, which is a shame as the lyrics are more straightforwards and universal.

Shelter From The Storm: This opens like a thousand folk songs, which I don’t mind as I generally like some folk every now and then. For me, folk music always succeeds or fails based on the strength and purity of the vocals. You see where I’m going with this. Early folk can very easily fall into the trap of being musically bland, which is exactly what happens this one. It’s the same handful of chords over and over with no variance while Dylan attempts to sing. The YT comments on this song are amusing, the diehards jumping on anyone suggesting Dylan isn’t a good singer. I mean, if so many people are saying he isn’t a great singer…. maybe he isn’t? I don’t buy most of the defensive arguments his fans present here, most which try to subtly move away from the physical act of making sound come from your throat. I’m sure his lyrics are good, if not great, but his vocals and approach aren’t giving me enough reason to care.

Buckets Of Rain: A stronger acoustic intro. Then the awful voice starts once more. Literally any other singer who has experience love and loss in their time could make this better. I don’t doubt the emotion behind it, it simply doesn’t come across in his voice for me and I can’t get past how nasal and lazy it sounds. Again it’s all quite simplistic musically, and melodically it’s ultimately too plain to enjoy. Now I do enjoy simplicity and plain melodies, but for those to work there has to be something else interesting to fall back on – the vocals for example, and the song usually needs to be short to cover up the shortcomings from the lack of complexity. This ticks the short box, and the lyrics are certainly a notch up from mot of the junk you hear – with a good singer I’d be much more keen.

What Did I Learn: Nothing much that I didn’t know before – I don’t like his voice and the style he adopts. Whatever emotion is in his thoughts, and whatever feeling is in the lyrics, gets clouded out by the toxic cloud of his vocals. I didn’t know much about the actual music before, but truth be told this was all fairly bland and uninspiring.

Does It Deserve Its Place In The Top 1000: Honestly, Dylan is an artist that always gives me hope – not because I think he’s amazing, but because he has had so much critical and commercial success while being a crap vocalist that I hope for all the other not so amazing singers out there who have a unique voice or perspective or who are exceptional melody or lyric or songwriters might achieve something. If he can do it, why can’t all of the other ‘okay’ singers? The issue I have with this as an album – it’s just too much Dylan in one sitting. When I already dislike a vocalists style and voice, at least if it’s one song I can relax knowing that it’s only one song, but when there’s another 10 coming down the line then I grow more agitated, pissed off, and eventually disinterested. I don’t know what is so different about this album than his others that it deserves a place on the list above his other work and I can’t see clearly who this would have influenced directly, given that there were already a raft of singer songwriters of the era doing it better (at least to my preferences). Obviously he has influenced hundreds of successful artists – but I don’t get that from this album. So if you love it, that’s wonderful for you, but it’s nowhere near strong enough to make it on to my Top 1000 list.

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: If You See Her Say Hello. A Simple Twist Of Fate. You’re A Big Girl Now.

Tell me why I’m wrong in the comments!

Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Marbles (Part 3)!

Greetings, Glancers! Since my last Marbles specific post, the world has gone a bit mad (pun intended). It hasn’t been great for the last few years, between Recessions, Pandemics, Trumps, and Neighbours being cancelled, but then Putin entered the chat. If reading this distracts you from the shit for a few minutes, then I may go down as one of history’s greatest heroes. Since my last post, Paul and Sanja have done a couple of episodes of the lead up to Marbles and have reviewed the new Marillion album. I listened to the first and last 10 minutes of that review (I didn’t want any spoilers), was intrigued by the positive feedback, and disgusted by Sanja’s toxic gas emissions. Some things we don’t forget.

Marbles (album) - Wikipedia

Fantastic Place continues the trend of smooth and relaxed music, being another laid-pack and atmospheric song with another spirited solo. I love Rothery’s central solo here not because it’s technically difficult but because it breaks and enhances the build up of tension which grows from the song’s glacial opening. I enjoy songs which have this stacking quality anyway – starting slow or soft and gradually adding further textures to subtly shift the sound through the gears until it a bombastic climax without you even noticing that it’s happening. Fantastic Place is a prime example of how to do this well – strings and synth, light percussive elements drifting the song outwards even as the melodies remain familiar, then backing vocals, additional drums, a twisting of the volume knobs – these elements continue to grow until the solo breaks the tension and shuffles us into the final couple of minutes. It’s another very strong song, another piece of excellent production.

Lyrically, we’re firmly in escapism territory, one of H’s consistent fall-backs. Even if you took away the repeated key lyric ‘take me to the fantastic place/keep the rest of my life away’, this yearning for freedom and escape is glaring. The more interesting question is to ask why he wants this escape – I’m not sure the lyrics show the writer in the most positive light. The opening verse suggests the end of a relationship, with the honest admission of wanting to own your lover and that ownership being one of the prime reasons why letting go is so difficult. Yet the second verse feels like finger-pointing – you screwed me down, you took my money, you forced me into drinking; it isn’t the sweet song of freedom yearning which the music may suggest.

By the end of the song, we’ve pivoted somewhat to the writer asking for (presumably) the person they’re breaking with to come to this fantastic place with them, because it’s a place where they can be completely open and honest, a place where understanding is natural and where struggles can be made transparent. The fact that the fantastic place is framed as an imaginary world casts a bleak and frustrating drape over the argument, the writer almost suggesting it’s impossible to get there, but the listener (perhaps naively) shouting that all you have to do is talk!

There’s nothing like a 6 plus minute song leading into an 18 minuter! Ocean Cloud would be the centrepiece of any album – it just so happens that Marbles is a beast of an album with multiple epics. What could be an exhausting experience and only one step of the overall Odyssey, is instead a wonderful jaunt into everything which makes Prog so exciting for people who enjoy Prog. Lets be honest – as Prog fans, do we not expect songs to stride confidently beyond 10 minutes? We certainly don’t want two or three 30 minute songs in a row, or 30 two minute songs. Both have their place in music of course, but Prog fans expect their artists to be adventurous, to be technically proficient, to take risks, and to push envelopes – to be confident and not shy away from writing and performing what 20th Century popular music has trained us to be afraid of.

You could spend an entire post, or podcast episode, on this song alone; at least then you could structure a valid response to the song rather than my on the fly waffling. I’ll get the stuff I don’t like about the song out of the way first, because there isn’t much. I don’t think the songs needs to be as long as it is – the section with the sound clips of the guy talking does nothing for me, and more than anything takes me out of the song. I understand why it’s there, and after Googling the lyrics and the history of the song, it makes sense. But I’d scrap it. It’s not self-indulgent, but I think cutting it would not do much damage to the song. Most of the backing instrumental, soundscaping is suitably airy, it’s honestly only the specific soundclip pieces I would remove – less than a minute in total. Or even just edit the talking out and keep the music.

That’s the only negative comment I can muster. I do prefer the opening minutes of the song to much of the second half – but the second half is excellent too, not because we have recurring motifs and melodies from those opening minutes but because the music takes on a darker, more threatening slant with guitars and drums which reminded me of the Kid A – Hail To The Thief era Radiohead. The roughly 10 – 13 minute section is some of the best stuff on the whole album.

Which leads nicely into the good stuff, of which there is an abundance; that solitary sole voice intro, which feels simultaneously like an ending, and the cautiously comforting words of a campfire bandit inviting you to gather around the warmth to here the sorry story of his life; the eerie and forlorn mixture of guitar and gull reminding me again of Rooster by Alice In Chains; the layering of keys and synth bloops; the unexpected switching from minor to major and the fluid move back; the leisurely pace laden with confidence which proudly screams ‘we’re doing this at our own speed and you’re gonna fucking love it’; the string and cello sounds around the 13 minute mark; the little peaks which foreshadow greater peaks; the placement of tasteful and varied solos; the guitars starting at 5.12 for which there is no earthly or logical reason why they should be so devastating, but they are. The magical power of music. There’s more to it, but you get the idea. It’s, and we all know it’s an overused and essentially meaningless term in the grand scheme of things, but it’s a masterpiece.

What’s it all about (Alfie)? I know what the top layer of the song is about, having Googled the lyrics and learning of Don Allum’s escapades across the Atlantic Ocean. Real life blokes going off into the unknown for some symbolically heavy journey seems to be a recurring them for Marillion. Have they done a song about Scott heading to Antarctica or some guy climbing Everest? Or me, tackling their entire Discography for needles Blog purposes? It’s all very interesting, but it’s the subtext I’m more curious about.

We can read much of the song as being purely about Allum, but it seems clear that while H admires/envies the guy, he’s also comparing. We know at this point H dreams of escape, and what could be more freeing than sitting in a yacht in the middle of the ocean, alone for months? The first verses examine this internal struggle of being pulled back to the sea even though he knows how dangerous it is, but we can read this as temptation on H’s behalf by almost literal Sirens. But to have a mistress he’s allowed?

As detailed as the lyrics are, I don’t have much more to say about them. They read like a story, a series of memories with that ever present pull of the sea underneath. I was sure that I was mishearing ‘cream puff’ and that I would ridicule myself when I read the correct lyrics. But no, he does sing ‘cream puff’, which may be the only instance I’ve heard of that phrase being used in song. There’s a bit about getting one over on the bullies, there’s a call-back to The Invisible Man – always entertaining when an artist’s song mentions another one of their own songs, the lyrics neatly play with various water based metaphors to draw comparisons with emotions, people, sexual urges, and from start to finish there’s a tonal interplay between the lyrics and music where each changes to suit the needs of the other – it feels like an uncommon amount of effort was put into making the song feel like a coherent whole where no individual aspect was left untethered from any other. A song doesn’t get to be a masterpiece without this level of attention.

Between You And Me (@BYAMPOD) | Twitter

Now that we’re all caught up, and I’ll inevitably fall behind again, lets hear what Paul and Sanja make of it all. As you may have read on the socials, Sanja unfortunately contracted Covid again, and the trip to Poland to see Marillion was cancelled. If you want to know why… well you’ll just have to Patreon it up, won’t you. I recently got a pay rise, so I’m sure I can chuck them a quid. Then again, milk now costs 14 pounds a litre or something, so everything is on the rise. I’m not poor, but it’s another thing to have to go online and register for and Paypal for, and…. look, the depths of my can’t-be-arsed-ness know no bounds. But all that extra bonus material – BYAMPOD, Digi, and other – is very tempting for someone who has been reading Digi since the early 90s.

The guys start with a bit about alternate track-listing – something which has always interested me but is sadly less important these days with Shuffling and hoverboards and whatever other futuristic nonsense the kids have these days. I must have been listening in the wrong order too. What is the right order? Who knows. In any case, Fantastic Place was the initial standout for Paul. We hear a snippet from the band about the song pushing the band out of their comfort zone and how Rothers was pushed to create a more emotional based solo – I mentioned the solo as a highlights, so it must have worked. It feels like a traditional Marillion song, but apparently it was a difficult one to get right. We hear about the different click tracks and audio engineering the band deals with when playing live – this is always interesting, but I think it’s par for the course in most established bands – and how many notes, and words, and beats, and songs the band have to remember while playing live. Some bands struggle with this the longer they exist and the more songs they write, so recalling the less frequently performed songs can be tricky. That’s what rehearsing’s for, plus it’s your job so at least try to be competent at it.

There is a bit of mumbling, which I felt was a deliberate approach similar to the lisping I mentioned in another post. People may have been pissed off because it’s not so obvious to the point that it feels like it could have been a mistake rather than a choice. Whatever the truth, it didn’t annoy me. Not like the lisping did. It’s rare for mistakes to get through to the final product without the band and the producer being aware of it – as listeners, we are not the experts no matter how technically proficient we may be. Another producer or musician will pick up on things that your average listener may miss or misunderstand, but most instances these ‘mistakes’ are aesthetic preferences or purposefully left it.

Paul and Sanja mention the theme of escape again, which is plainly obvious from the lyrics. Sanja says the song takes a stark shift from a closed off place to an Eden of freedom and confidence. Sanja wants one of the lyrics printed on a t-shirt, which reminds me of my ‘I know I believe in nothing but it is my nothing’ t-shirt which I bought recently and which has already garnered some interesting looks from passers-by on a Sunday morning. Paul and Sanja both initially thought the song was about adultery, but that it later becomes a more realistic depiction of a relationship being hindered by real life. There’s the yearning for a relationship to work, but perhaps the admittance that it never will. It feels like Paul has a similar sad view of the song as I have – it never felt like a happy song, a song saying ‘we had our problems, but now we’re good’. It’s a song saying ‘We’ve had our problems, they haven’t gone away, I wish they would because look at how amazing we could be – but these problems can’t be solved’. Sanja was reading a more positive future, which may be the truth, but it struck me as a hopeless admission.

On to Ocean Cloud and Paul starts out by saying how cinematic and narratively powerful it is. The way the song feels like the ebbing and flowing of weather is something which struck me on later listens, but it’s absolutely there. It’s surprising to learn that some people didn’t like Ocean Cloud at the time – I would have thought this would have been right up your traditional Marillion fan’s alley, unless those fans were looking for something for guitar heavy? All of these future songs they mention I haven’t heard yet. It definitely feels coherent, even though there are distinct parts. I can’t say I’ve had many water-based dreams – probably for the best as I don’t want to wake up with moist garments and sheets. Being away from people is great -whether that be on a beach, in the desert, in the oceans, or like me just in the house, inside my head, or walking at night like a weirdo.

We hear about Don’s journey and H’s fondness of these stories – both the escapism and romanticism of such adventures. Wait a minute…. H… H Rider Haggard…. now it all makes sense. Paul and Sanja both love the lyrics, their poetry, their evocative nature. I was never picked last for any sport in School, mostly because I was faster than everyone, and because there were a handful of people who were entirely inept, but I was among the last picks. Unless we’re talking gymnastics, for which I was always sought out by the PE teacher as the person to demonstrate a move (which I’d never done before), yet over the course of my 7 years at this School he never bothered to learn my name. H’s quote about stronger, fitter men is interesting. I can understand that even if I’ve never felt it myself – I think I’m comfortable with my own abilities and lack thereof, and have never been competitive about anything or felt threatened in such a way. I’m great!

With that shameless crap out of the way, we can wrap up for another week. I need to get writing about Side 2 because at this point (even though I’ve listened many times) my only note is ‘The Damage is pure Muse complete with Matt Bellamy vocals’. Come back next week for more on that bombshell. As always, go listen to BYAMPOD and give the guys likes, reviews, and all the other algorithm volumetric shenanigans!

Nightman Listens To – Pantera – Vulgar Display Of Power (Top 500 Metal Albums Series)!

Greetings, Glancers! We return to the Top 500 Metal Albums series with an album I was familiar with in my youth but which I haven’t really listened too since. To me, when you mention the Big Four (which typically meant of Thrash Metal, but is really extended to cover all 80s American Metal), I always add Pantera in there. Get Anthrax out because seriously, it’s Anthrax. Out of all of the 80s metal bands, Pantera was one of the few who entered the 80s unscathed and even better than they had been in the 80s. In the face of Grunge’s authenticity and lack of bullshit, most 80s metal bands faded away. Pantera simply evolved and became their true selves.

You see, when Pantera started out, they were just as wanky as Poison and Winger and all of those other bell-ends. Towards the end of the 80s they brought in a new vocalist in Phil Anselmo who was known for a harsher and more aggressive style and they eventually moved towards a new sound more akin to the heavier end of the Spectrum. In 1992 they perfected this new sound, something along the lines of Groove Metal – fast, yet rhythmic, aggressive yet funky, and weighed down by timeless riffs courtesy of Dimebag Darrell, all sprinkled with a distinct Southern Sludge tone. Vulgar Display Of Power was the album which finally cemented the band as one of the pioneers of the genre as a whole and it contains some of their most famous songs. I don’t think there’s any question of this one being included in any Top 500 Metal albums list. It’s been a while since I’ve listened though, so lets give it a blast.

Mouth For War‘ is trademark Pantera. It has a tone all of their own and that bruising combination of drums and riffs which shouldn’t make sense but somehow whirlwind around to create a whole. Then Alsemo’s vocals rip up the stereo. There’s no glam nonsense here, just punishment. It of course collapses into a supercharge for the final moments as the thrash comes out – music to break stuff, and each other, too.

A New Level‘ is one I’d mostly forgot about, but it’s funny how it all comes back. Memories of one of the older teens walking around with a ghetto blaster while me and my metal and grunge mates tried to slide into their group without being noticed (while also being noticed). It has a truly blinding solo and more riffing and chugging which shouldn’t come off in a coherent way, but does.

Walk‘ is probably the most famous Pantera song. In the metal club I used to go to on Saturday nights, this was played every week. Even in the rock club I sometimes went to this would be the one Pantera song you would hear. Of course when I was DJing I played it too. Talk about simple but effective roots. This is basically a single note riff with a string bend. Or hammer on/pull-off depending on how you play it. As simple as it is, it’s hard to give it that flavour that Dimebag does. No metal classic is complete without a face-shredding solo, and Dimebag obliges in his unique way.

Fucking Hostile‘ is another famous one. You don’t get to be a Metal fan without hearing this one. It’s pure Thrash. It’s already four inches deep in your neck in the first second. There is no intro or chance to breath, just an explosion and you’re away. It never lets up and is played at three hundred miles and hour from start to finish.

This Love‘ is the one I always called ‘Run To You’. Because seriously, those opening notes and tone sound exactly like the intro to Bryan Adams’s song. It’s almost a ballad for the opening moments, but then the chorus flattens you. It uses a little of the quiet/loud dynamic which Nirvana had popularized, but to even more extreme levels. It flies all over the place with old school headbanging breakdowns to give you a breather and overlapping riffs and arpeggios till you don’t know if you’re coming or going.

Rise‘ is punishment for having a marginally slower song last time. It again explodes out without warning or any semblance of an introduction. The lack of intro is the intro and the riffs slow once the verse hits. It’s another collection of parts which shouldn’t fit but somehow do. The lyrics would be more powerful if it weren’t for Anselmo’s seemingly dubious politics/tongue in cheek outbursts over the years, but the sentiment remains solid and caustic – RISE.

No Good‘ is maybe the mid album step down. It’s still good, it just becomes forgettable in the middle of everything else. Great drums and bass throughout and particularly towards the end.

Live In A Hole‘ opens with another one note riff, though that does become something else after about fifteen seconds. It then uses voice-box for comedy effect before launching off into another series of riffs and vocals. The one note riff makes up most of the chorus once it returns. The solo is one of the most interesting the band has recorded – not because of what it is but because of how it works and what surrounds it – the beat ever quickening, then following away, then entering a dissonant stretch of industrial waste before picking up and returning to the chorus.

Regular People‘ does have a riff or two which seem like they were borrowed from And Justice For All. It feels like another which gets buried under the weight of the more famous songs – it’s good enough on its own but rarely gets a chance to stand out. Another typical Dimebag solo – very fast, lots of divebombs and riffs that go four steps up, one step down each time.

By Demons Be Driven‘ opens with a different sort of riff than what we’ve seen so far on the album. It doesn’t feel very Dimebag, but that is quickly replaced by one which is 100% pure Dimebag. The chorus ends with a sequence which I always used to replace with ‘Breakin The Law’. I still do. The solo is almost one huge screech – it’s easy to see people being put off by this, but then such people shouldn’t be listening in the first place.

Hollow‘ also known as Fade To Black Part 2 is the band on rare introspective form. It’s a ballad for adolescent males who don’t know how to emote. To me it always simply felt like a chilled out ending, albeit one with an edge and a crushing conclusion.

My wife isn’t a metal fan, at all. But for some reason she likes Pantera. There’s something seductive in those low-down riffs – the predatory way they growl and repeat and the fact that they are funky, like it or not. This album has some of their best riffs and is one of the quintessential Metal albums. If you don’t have at least three songs from this album on your playlist, you’re not a Metal fan. Like a lot of metal albums there are songs which get drowned out by the good stuff or by the more obvious stuff – here those songs tend to be good but do suffer a little during an album run through. On one-off listens they don’t lose any power, but in a single sitting a few aren’t as potent. To remain potent in a metal album either the songs have to be short enough that we fly through them, or each has to be completely unique. Nevertheless, this is undoubtedly one of the genre’s greatest albums and Pantera were one of the few shining lights to start in the 80s but find their feet in the 90s with albums like this.

Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Mouth For War. Walk. Fucking Hostile. Hollow.