The Gathering – Home

I reviewed this album when it was first released on a blog and went into detail about how to me the whole album seemed like a journey through life and death. There is an overall pervading mood which conjured images of travelling through the Underworld, mythical style and coming into contact with lost souls before resurfacing. Whether this was partly intentional or whether this was my imagination going to unrelated places I’m not sure but now that I’m reviewing all of their albums again for Amazon I thought I would ditch what I see between the lines and focus on what remains. Home was recorded during a difficult period for the band- personal tragedies and hardships were occurring and it had been a few years since they had recorded anything new. The music has taken on a more minimal approach, there are no long songs here, and it may be their most commercial record, although the usual dark moments, experimenting, and self deprecating lyrics are exhibited.`Shortest Day’ opens the album, a mid tempo song pushed along by a steady beat and backed by a swelling guitar riff. Anneke sings in her usual melodic style, she doesn’t show off her powerful vocals or sensitive qualities yet but it is a good opener which has become a live staple. The shrouded effects at the end open the following track.`In Between’ flows along with a stunted guitar riff and a mix of low to high pitched vocals. Once again the lyrics are good, the tune melodic, but neither are particularly outstanding. The chorus shows some nice tricks by Anneke and there is a typically interesting bridge and middle section before the strange and unnerving climax which goes back and forth like an ocean ever approaching closer.

`Alone’ was the main single from the album and the intro sounds (like a few other parts of the album) OK Computer influenced. Once the main riff kicks in there is a `Souvenirs’ era dark and foreboding feeling. The guitar again has a Eastern tone to it and the verses are pushed along by a computerized thump, sounding like an army of robots marching forwards or a huge factory hammer squashing downwards. There is a good, simple guitar solo and an interesting fake string section before an extended ending which moves from soft back to that robotic thumping.

`Waking Hour’ is the best track here, and possibly the band’s best ballad; possibly Anneke’s best performance also. There is the familiar robotic effect controlling the rhythm of the verse, the chorus gives Anneke a chance to push her vocals to the limits, but it is the quiet middle section which makes the song something truly special. Every time this is performed live the crowd is in silenced awe as she does her thing, and there is usual an adoring few seconds of applause before the rest of the song continues. Again it is the range of emotions, the heartbreaking tenderness of it all which will make you freeze and listen and rewind and repeat. Just when you thought the song would end it goes on for a mellow, emotional, conclusion. Boeijen’s piano also deserves special mention on this track.

`Fatigue’ is a strange, mostly uneventful, mostly experimental song. It is less than two minutes long, has a couple of whispery vocals, and features some machine like noises growing and fading.

`A Noise Severe’ is another fairly mellow, laidback song. There is good bass here, some background distorted notes from Rutten, and some very good vocals from Anneke- beautifully melodic verses, and then a soaring `ooh’ chorus. This song in part symbolizes the live DVD package- one was loud, one was soft; this features both styles in almost equal servings.

`Forgotten’ is the second piano led ballad on the album and is just as effecting and gorgeous as the first. This time the structure is more straightforward- consisting of verse and chorus, Anneke and Boeijen. Everything reeks of sadness and regret again, loss and lonliness and rather than being in anyway depressing (like many detractors would claim of Radiohead) it is fragile and affirming.

`Solace’ begins to the sound of money perhaps hinting at wealth not bringing happiness and making one lonelier? The sounds of money and a chugging guitar drive the song forward, the drums coming in to match the beat. The vocals are okay here, the melodies not as catchy as others meaning the song won’t be remembered as fondly as most. The best part (and one which is memorable) is the fading out and back in `ooh ah’ part before the main beat returns.

`Your Troubles Are Over’ lifts things up with a quicker pace, with clear `There There’ Radiohead beats. The story style lyrics work well, the rhythm sounds like we are being rushed towards the finish line, and Anneke has a pretty simple job until the louder sections begin. As the instruments build and the drums get more prominent the song moves into a higher gear and we can jump about. This should really be a live favourite due it’s growing, bouncing nature, but I don’t think it is played very often.

`Box’ is marked by organ playing giving the song a church like tone, served well by Anneke’s usual angelic vocals to give an almost ethereal quality. This one seems to be left behind when people talk about this album, true there is nothing too special but can still be seen as a good album track with some nice twisting guitar work and an unusual hissing drum climax.

`The Quiet One’ begins wonderfully with Anneke’s voice accompanied by some light guitars. At some point along the way the song loses its grip but luckily it isn’t too long. It is a decent instrumental with a handsome guitar part in the middle.

`Home’ closes the album, another ballad, another success. This in retrospective could be seen as Anneke coming to a realization that she was ready to move on- she has given everything to her bandmates, been a massive part in their success as a band and as people. It speaks in a maternal, protective way of raising and setting free (though never fully leaving) a child or a friend. It has some of the band’s most melodic work, excellent strings, and of course flawless vocals and guitars. As an album closer it brings the journey to an end, finally reaching the place where everyone wants to be. More than any other song perhaps there are OK Computer influences as I am always reminded of `The Tourist’ when I hear this. Which is the better song will depend on you.

`Forgotten Reprise’ is a longer version of the earlier song, hidden at the end of the album. The main difference is that the piano is replaced by a strange keyboard sound and the vocals are more whispery. The chorus is changed and it is really only eighty seconds long while the ending is stretched out for minutes, repeating keys and church bells.

Home signals the end of an era; one of the best vocalists ever deciding to leave on of the best bands of all time. Both sides relied on each other and both would move on to new recordings. There is an air of sadness when returning to this album and any number of hidden messages can be found in the lyrics and music. Putting all that aside it is another different album by The Gathering once again trying something new, one again succeeding. While some songs don’t always have the impact they perhaps should those moments are more than covered by a few glittering classics. The line up from this era would go on tour and produce two amazing DVDs before finally parting- these are essential and feature many tracks from this album. Non-metal fans should appreciate this album more, but as with all of their albums I would encourage everyone to give it a try.

The Gathering – Sleepy Buildings

Sleepy Buildings came as a between albums surprise for fans and remains the best present the band has given us. It ranks highly in my opinion with the best live albums ever –    it has all the trademarks of a classic live recording- passion, fan favorites, inspired performances, the odd mistake which add to the overall gig. This was a semi-acoustic show for fans at the Lux Theatre in 2003 with a couple of bonus songs from their British live shows. I was lucky enough to see them at Glastonbury and while that was a much livelier show the acoustic nature of this show means everything is more mellow, more laid back, and more personal. The small crowd gives a sense of intimacy and the songs chosen vary wildly from their respective original versions. Some of these new takes feel at times better than the way they are usually performed but naturally that is subjective. This is a must for fans and I would strongly encourage anyone remotely interested in the band or anyone who wants to try something new to invest in this; you won’t be disappointed.

`Locked Away’ opens the album softly just Anneke’s voice and some background acoustic guitar. Pianos and tambourine soon follow giving this a much different feel to what we are used to. This sets the tone for the whole show- everything is subtle and underplayed quite amazing considering how complex some of the originals are. The irony is that while those originals were so ambitious, it was equally ambitious trying to strip them down. And for anyone wondering, Anneke sounds even better live than on record.

`Saturnine’ is taken from `If Then Else’ a highly melodic and at times bitter song, here featuring some fantastic bass and stunning vocals. Here, like most of the album most of the instruments are close to being drowned out by the sheer power and emotion of Anneke’s singing. This is one of her best performances of the show but there is also some simple backing guitar which covers any blank spaces. Towards the end the non acoustic parts come through with some nice synthesizer and keyboard piano playing, but never once does it get heavy; it remains chilled, blissful.

`Amity’ comes again from `If The Else’, a simple piano led song with Anneke singing multi layered melodies. While the vocals are great and the song itself is good, lending a typically dark tone to proceedings, it doesn’t stand out as much as others here. The lyrics are nice and clear here though and the guitars have a nice ghostly effect.

`The Mirror Waters’ is taken from the V festival and is one of three songs taken from pre- Anneke days so it almost seems like a new song. I like the different take on the song, Anneke sings with her usual effervescence, and the backing music and organs are excellent. The lyrics actually stand out here, given a new reality via Anneke’s performance. The song builds through several loud and quiet parts before descending into a minute of typical Anneke `ooh ahhs’.

`Red Is A Slow Colour’ retains the threatening mood of the original but changes the drumming and loud guitars for some latter-day Gathering effect work and soft strumming. Again it gives Anneke another chance to shine, proving that she could sing anything and make it sound angelic. Once again there is an extended outro of `oohs’.

`Sleepy Buildings’ was a new song written for this performance- a simple Anneke with piano song. It has quite a bouncy, upbeat feel to it and seems a little strange surrounded by these other songs. It isn’t exactly out-of-place, it just has an oddness about it. Still a good song though, maybe we’ll see it again some time in the future.

`Travel’ comes in with the full force of the band, an epic acoustic here which is just as good as the original. If anything this version has more melody, more sadness to it as it lacks the heavy guitars and experimental noise. It is rare to have an acoustic song this lengthy in a live performance but it works every second (perhaps cheating with some added electric guitars and keyboards). Anneke does some great shouting for the final part of the song, topping off a fine performance.

`Shrink’ never really sounds different in any performance of it that I’ve heard. An ultra heavy thrash version of it might be interesting. Here it is as fragile and beautiful as ever, Anneke belts out the vocals rather than the more hushed take on `Nighttime Birds’. This doesn’t take away from the haunting sensation that will inevitably creep up and down your spine upon hearing, and I like the way the climbing piano melody fits in with the riff in the next song’s introduction.

`In Motion Pt II’ here is among my favourite Gathering songs, and it may be Anneke’s best vocal display. Control, moving from gentle to brutal, from weakness to utter desperation, her range is unending and the number emotions she is able to convey are just as moving as the emotions themselves. I challenge anyone not to feel a shudder of admiration when they hear the chorus come in. The musicians give equally strong displays, with subtle keyboards to effective backing guitars; this is as perfect as music can be.

`Stonegarden’ is another re-worked early song, but this time I don’t feel it is as effective. It opens strongly enough with keyboards and Anneke’s first line. Perhaps the song simply works better with lower range male vocals, the verses don’t have too memorable melodies although the time shifts are good. As with every song here it is essential listening as I’m sure this will turn out to be someone’s favourite.

`My Electricity’ has never been one of my favourites in any incarnation though here it is as good as any take I’ve heard. It is in no way a bad song, it just doesn’t do much for me. This sees Anneke and Rene’s guitar without any external interference and of course it works. When you have such talented people, everything works.

`Eleanor’ is still one of the band’s most popular songs, the opening sounds usually accompanied by a giant roar from the crowd. This version is cut down as far as it is possible to go, with light guitars and piano. Anneke sings in a softer way giving the song a new feel and at times it sounds more vicious and sadistic with those creeping pianos. As usual I’m almost certainly reading too far into things but either way this incarnation is especially good. We don’t even miss the blast beats.

`Marooned’ in this gig is perfect; gorgeous vocals, almost unnoticeable guitars, computerized drums, and a very light backing organ sound. The lyrics are highlighted here and we can sense the desolation and despondency of the lonely narrator. The no-one’s home phone sound is put to good use and everything sounds complete as if it was written to always be played this way.

`Like Fountains’ closes the album- the final V song, and the final pre-Anneke song. It may also be the best song on the album. Most of the song it is simply Anneke singing over some sparse piano, and you can tell not a word was spoken in the crowd while this was being played. The multi verses build up to a Tori Amos style chorus, heartbreaking, melodic, soft, yet full of conviction. To finish an album as good as this on such a high is something special.

Anyone unsure of The Gathering’s genius should buy this. Knowing what they can do in the recording studio, and seeing it all being thrown out the window before picking up the pieces and creating something new and equally brilliant is a gift few if any other bands have achieved. The only tragedy is that this, and the band are largely unheard of. For those who already fans, and for those who have just clicked `add to basket’- your ears will rarely hear something as good. DVD please?

*Originally written in 2009

The Gathering – Nighttime Birds (Special Edition)

Nighttime Birds sounds like an extension of Mandylion, although with a much darker tone throughout- the guitars are more jagged and raw, the vocals are more stretched and angst ridden, while the vocals for the most part are more introspective and bleak. The album doesn’t contain as many `hits’ as its predecessor, the songs that are here don’t have as much experimentation of sounds and musical shifts but the album retains the epic feel. While not as impressive as the last album, this shows signs of growth and Anneke’s vocals
have certainly improved even though they were near perfect before. The production levels are higher and Anneke now has a clearer, more powerful performance. While Mandylion was mostly similarly paced rock songs with a few instrumentals, Nighttime Birds adds in more gloomy moments, a beautiful ballad of innocence, a much faster track, and a soft, downbeat, piano driven song. The
band were exploring new sounds on an individual track basis rather than throwing as many ideas as they could into each song like before. Each fan has their favourite album, each album differs from the next, and Nighttime Birds is no exception- the only similarity being that they all share great talent in all musical areas.

`On Most Surfaces’ opens in bombastic and familiar fashion. The first thing to notice is that the production has a more dense,
expansive feeling to it. Everything is more focused complimenting the complex arrangements. Sound effects blend with the usual massive riffs, the guitars sound angrier, and when Anneke first unleashes her vocals you know that this will be an album of concentrated rage. Anneke’s vocal range here is exceptional and her control in moving from the quiet parts to the screeching parts shows mastery of her art. The song contains a softer middle part which rather than sounding mellow, sounds like restrained threat. This soon fades back into the central verse which is complimented by good piano work from Boeijen. The lyrics are still nothing special concentrating on moods and emotions using wintery imagery.

`Confusion’ opens in a more somber, softer style, marked by an eerily toned guitar and Anneke’s reverb filled vocals. The single chorus line here is among the catchiest in the band’s history, each time it is heard is more emotional than before. The lyrics speak of paranoia, confusion, pressure, but they are fairly minimalist. Most of the song is filled by musical parts, the guitars again blending with techno sounds to great effect. The bass and drums here also stand out, but the best moment is the final time Anneke sings the chorus. The colliding riffs also help to lift this above a fairly standard rock song.

`The May Song’ begins with an organ played over a dance like drum loop. The guitar’s 3 note progression grows steadily along side some acoustic chords but as always Anneke’s voice takes central stage. The verse and chorus melodies here are not as interesting or as memorable as others and as such this song is one I don’t listen to much. It is more mellow than the first two songs, with only a few loud guitars in the chorus before another classic Rene solo begins.

`The Earth Is My Witness’ has that dark, ominous tone about it, slow doom pace and techno beats over quite low and demonic vocals from Anneke. These build to a booming chorus as Anneke soars high above us, the lyrics actually attempting speaking of man’s disregard of nature which may come back to destroy us with an equal passive care. The message is that if we don’t care, why should anyone else? This one is easily forgotten in the band’s discography but shouldn’t be overlooked as it contains some great moments. The final 30 seconds provide a nice, understated ending.

`New Moon, Different Day’ has an effects laden intro melding with some fine guitar playing. Again the overall album theme of nature shines through, Anneke giving the vocals a dreamy quality. The opening part is fairly dreary, shoe gazing stuff and it isn’t until just
before half way through that the song truly shines. The pace picks up, Anneke shows us her angelic tendencies, but this is all too brief. The narrator seems to put him/herself in the place of a God/force of nature/spirit passing over the land. Thankfully the middle section returns near the end to stop the song from being forgettable, the fast drums and guitars encouraging the crowd to headbang with glee.

`Third Chance’ is one of the quickest songs the band has ever recorded, the version here is very good but my favourite is the one on
Accessories. There Anneke sings in such a high key that you can’t believe she’ll ever make it through the song; of course, she does. This version is sung at a lower register but has all the energy, desperation, and pleading cries. The chorus here has more of a dance feel to it, at times the drums are almost disco. The guitars reign supreme here although there is an absence of fancy solo work. The soft break in the middle serves as a breather before the pace picks up again, the lyrics speaking of a final chance to avert disaster.

`Kevin’sTelescope’ opens in quite a loud fashion before unexpectedly turning into one of the most beautiful and touching songs the band has ever written. After the frantic nature of the previous song this is at the opposite end of the scale. Anneke belts out the tender lyrics about a child dreaming (possibly hinting at where the next album would take us), the themes are completely sincere, there is
some trippy effects work and experimentation of sounds which would be prevalent in future releases. It is the melodies here though that stand out, instantly memorable, and the ending merging into the next song is also very nice.

`Nighttime Birds’ as the title track features both the mellow and heavy parts of the album, mixing the traditional metal guitars with the effects of subsequent records. There is a strange middle part with eastern sounding noises which featured more prominently on Mandylion. Anneke sings well enough here, the song just doesn’t engage me as much as the rest of the album, and apart from that middle section it is underwhelming. I do like the jagged guitar parts from 4.30- 5.10, but the melodies seem to drone too much.

`Shrink’ is a brilliant closing song, a haunting piece of piano and vocal beauty. These moments would continue in future songs, but rarely are they bettered. The lyrics also work extremely well here, not just a collection of words inserted for the sake of it. There isn’t a trace of guitars until the second half of the song, and even then they are simply a few sustained notes. This is one of the great
moments when all the best talents of the band come together in perfect harmony to create an understated, anguish filled classic.

This special edition also contains some extra tracks and a second cd of demos, covers, and alternate versions. These had already appeared on the Accessories album which I’ll be reviewing at some point. The band by this stage have moved from strength
to strength although the album suffers from perhaps being too downbeat and slow in places. The expectation after Mandylion was high and with all genre defining albums the follow up almost never lives up. Some albums collapse under the success of their predecessor but Nighttime Birds succeeds in being a great album if not exceptional. As with any Gathering album praising or dismissing it comes
with your own mood at the time of listening. Sometimes you can’t bear to hear the song you had loved the day before, while a song you had forgotten about may surprise you with its brilliance at another time. It was clear that the band were not going to make a sequel, striving to create something truly new and unique with each release. While this would alienate some fans those that stayed with the band would go on to form an even closer bond.

The Gathering – Mandylion (Special Edition)

Having achieved a small measure of success with their first two albums, gloomy mixes of doom and softer death metal The Gathering sought a change in direction of sound. The Rutten brothers who had formed the group sought out little known Dutch vocalist Anneke Van Giersbergen and created the most exciting band to come out of Europe in the latter days of the 20th Century. Choosing a lighter rock sound, ditching the growling vocals, but keeping the guitars and progressive elements, Mandylion became a hit; a sprawling, influential epic which remains many fans’ favourite. Van Giersbegen’s trippy lyrics flow smoothly with Rutten’s musical landscapes but it is the new vocalist’s voice which would come to define the group. Each song is lifted by the power in her voice, indeed the songs would never have been possible or conceived of with any other normal singer. Although the album wouldn’t show off some of her softer tones, she wails wonderfully, soaring high and low and conveying any number of moods in just a few syllables. From this point on the band would grow and evolve with each new album proving as interesting as the one before; not the first album, but where it all truly began.

`Strange Machines’ opens the album with a classic distorted riff. When the drums and chimes kick in you know it will be a huge song, but when Anneke starts to sing you know you are listening to something special. The lyrics cover a wish to fly through time, stopping at famous moments and periods – nothing particularly exciting but key to the album as a whole. It is the musical progression which is central here, verse turning to chorus as you would expect, but with instrumental middle parts reminding the listener of Metallica, Radiohead, Dream Theater- any number of other bands but also sounding like nothing else. The song never tries to be simple – there is always room for another riff. This is not done though as a pretense, the band is clever enough to know when a song is complete and subtle enough to know when something does not fit. This is a live staple and a great opener.

`Eleanor’ opens in eerie style with brooding synths before a mosh-inducing series chords are hammered out. A firm live favourite which never fails to get the crowd jumping it features superb vocals (as expected) from Anneke. The bass riff compliments the guitars perfectly, Anneke’s lyrics of anger meeting the necessary metal quota. It is during the middle part where the blast beats, guitars, and chimes blend together to form an irresistible blend of thumping and appreciation. Between these two parts is a quieter middle section where the musical builds in atmospheric fashion cleverly fusing their metal roots with their progressive future. The closing words and cyclical nature fit well with the overall themes of time and loss.

`In Motion Pt 1′ opens with bell-like sounds against a moody synthesizer, alongside the big riff which soon comes in. Anneke bears her heart and soul here, sounding at once like a hundred mourners rending their hair from the skull and an unstoppable avenging Goddess. Everything builds to the repeated climax of the chorus, lyrics jerking the listener from any passive passerby status, music lifting the body from the shoes. A traditional enough solo marks the middle section, you won’t find any twiddly trash antics here; everything is done to create and maintain the mood, noticeable as the guitar continues through the midnight sounds of crickets before that chorus blasts forth again.

`Leaves’ is one of the band’s most famous songs as well as one of their most well constructed. Opening with beautiful guitars crossing over each other it is surprising when the almost off-key main riff blasts in. Anneke stretches herself here more than any other song, a million other singers would struggle and break attempting this. The chords roll along slowly reminding us of their Doom Metal beginnings, the lyrics speaking of loss, confusion, and disbelief. It is the middle part which really makes the song a classic though with one of, in my opinion, the best guitar solos of all time. It isn’t anything difficult it soars at its own pace merging perfectly with the other instruments and is as good as anything from any Pink Floyd album. Once this section ends, like a mirror the rest of the song continues returning to the first section and ending on the opening chords.

`Fear The Sea’ is probably the least memorable song on the album, although on listening again it is still one to appreciate if not adore. Anneke’s singing here is among her best as she is trying tricks with her voice that she doesn’t get to try in other songs. The song moves along at a fair pace and is fairly heavy. Of course it is not on one level, with a more calm middle section swirling around our ears and some of the best use of keyboards on the album. The chords here are similar to those which open `Leaves’ although played in a completely different way. This is an underrated song in the band’s back catalogue probably because it isn’t played live as much as others and lacks some of the spark of the other songs here.

`Mandylion’ is an eastern influenced instrumental interlude, sounding like something you may have heard in the court of the Pharaohs. Opening with unique and snakelike horns it twists through a mellow middle, the only vocals being some background, distant shouts, progressing through a brief synthesizer part before returning to a brass and percussion finish. It compliments the songs which bookend it well, being the softest of the three but no less impressive.

`Sand And Mercury’ opens quietly, almost like a Metallica instrumental of old with pianos and acoustic guitars complimenting each other. The inevitable crushing guitars come in heavier than on any other song on the album before returning to the softer intro. This continues without feeling repetitive before moving through various phases; chanting along with muted power chords, making way for a church organ to give a further epic feel; Then comes a sudden shift to a new sound, almost like a new song with sounds of rain, soft cymbals raining over light guitars. Anneke then starts to sing softly, dream like showing her varied depth as a vocalist as well as the band’s range of influences and ideas. This middle part could easily be a worthy song in any other band’s catalogue, but here it is all the more powerful due to the intro and particularly the heavy finish as the guitars climb back into the mix. Although I’m not the biggest fan of bands doing these sorts of songs, The Gathering mange to pull if off and the song is interesting throughout. At almost 10 minutes it may seem daunting to the uninitiated, but they have done longer songs and this seems like have the length.

`In Motion Pt 2′ opens with drums and violins dueling sadly before Anneke’s mournful vocals tear the listeners emotions asunder. The lyrics this time are filled with emotional and anguish, the guitars crunching in heavily but never spoiling the melodies. Again there is a lengthy instrumental interlude with ??? keyboards backing the lead guitars before one of ??? trademark Gilmouresque solos begins. This middle part is atmospheric – audience and band swooning and swaying together in a dreamlike state before the main melody comes back in spine tingling fashion, wrapping up the partner song and the album as a whole. The band performs many different version of this (and other) song, check out the one on Sleepy Buildings for perfection.

As well as being a neatly designed package this special edition of the album comes with handy notes and art about the recording. These are interesting for the bigger fan and offer some insight into the band’s inspiration. More useful though is the second CD- a collection of demo versions of the album tracks. These again are interesting but not really worth listening to more than a few times. Also included is the wavey instrumental `Solar Glider’ and a version of the later hit `Third Chance’, a passionate and fast paced rock song. Solar Glider opens with some early Floyd style flange, then breaks into a fast paced synth and guitar beat similar to `Adrenaline’ while the early version of `Third Chance’ sounds quite tribal and is sung with lyrics from `In Motion’ which don’t fit very well but give an idea of the finished melodies.

Without trying (though failing) to sound like an over zealous fanboy this is an album which should be in every music fan’s collection. Not only has it influenced any number of female fronted bands like no other, it is massive in scope and contains some of the best rock songs of the decade. In short it is the sound of an extremely talented band at their peak, enjoying every moment in the knowledge that whatever they touch will turn to gold. When this happens hopefully a wide audience and success should follow. Sadly the band remains largely unknown outside of Central Europe and South America – a crime considering the wealth of music they have created. When this collision of talent and timing comes together, no matter the genre every fan of music should get involved. It doesn’t happen often so we should take every chance we can to hear something special. Following albums would give many more moments of brilliance and the band would refuse to do the same thing twice. Each member would grow as a performer and writer and things would steadily get better.

 
Feel free to share your thoughts on the album and the band in the comments!
 
 
Review Originally Written in 2006
 
 

Alice Cooper- Hey Stoopid

Hey Stoopid

After all the mostly poor efforts of the 80s and coming off the success of Trash, Alice Cooper released their 2nd best album (and probably my favourite) with Hey Stoopid. It brought the best of 80’s metal and hard rock (owing much to G’n’R) and mixed it with Alice’s trademark style, lyrics, and imagery. We had his heaviest album so far (this remained true until Brutal Planet), filled with thrash style guitars, bluesy but not over the top solos, some of his most memorable ballads, and some of his greatest anthems. Alice had a long history of blasting out classics teen and outsider anthems, from I’m Eighteen to School’s Out but here we have my favourite with Wind Up Toy. The most famous song is undoubtedly Feed My Frankenstein, made popular by its appearance in Wayne’s World but it is bookended by even better songs. With plenty of backing and guest musicians and Alice’s lyrical if not musical creativity in high gear, Hey Stoopid is one of the most underrated rock/metal albums of the early nineties.

`Hey Stoopid’ opens the album with a typically 80s fist pumping and chanting intro before dismembering the cheese and breaking out some heavy riffs and chords. It’s as if Alice was replying to all the rubbish hair rock and metal of the previous decade (which he had some part in) and blasting through it with his authentic punk and rebellious roots. Perhaps he wanted to regain some of the respect he may have lost during the decade at the same time as answering his critics, perhaps he just wanted to follow other bands of the time and make a no-nonsense heavy record. The lyrics speak of rehabilitation and making your own decisions without the backing of the crowd. Hardly the most original of sentiments, and indeed Alice said the same before. Slash and Satriani help out with guitar duties while Ozzy provides some backing vocals. Alice would repay the favour soon after by singing on Use Your Illusion.

`Love’s A Loaded Gun’ is a pseudo-ballad, a slightly softer song mixed with a dirty, bluesy sound. The themes of prostitution, love, betrayal, and murder/suicide are typical for Alice as he weaves another grime filled story. I prefer the lyrics to the music on this one. The acoustic verses give way to a louder chorus, each backed with some screaming guitars and Alice sings with trademark irony and venom.

`Snakebite’ opens with the sound of a rattlesnake before bursting into one of the albums most evil and vicious souding riffs. The heavy guitars continue throughout and the chorus is very catchy. Alice creates another character and weaves the story of a tattooed lover who may be murderously possessive. Snakebite is one of those songs for turning up loud when you’re driving at night with the hot air blasting in your face, and it wouldn’t be an Alice Cooper album without some snake references.

`Burning Our Bed’ is another song which features Joe Satriani and is probably the best ballad on offer. It begins a linked trilogy of songs (with the next two obviously) and speaks of the pain and recovery from lost love. It is highly atmospheric thanks to Alice’s whispery vocals and the guitar effects. The verses are nicely acoustic and build up to another catchy chorus. I particularly like the emotional bridge and guitar solo which help to prove that Alice is one of the most underrated writers of love songs (as well as every other type).

`Dangerous Tonight’ has an extended, ominous intro merging with Burning Our Bed and features some of the album’s best guitar work. Really if you’re a fan of flashy guitars without the self indulgence then this is an album for you. The organ/keyboard intro overlapped with the menacing guitars is one of the best introductions of any Alice song. The lyrics are quite darkly erotic with an undercurrent of S and M. The imagery is not overly imaginative but all serves to create a tense atmosphere and the solo and chorus is full of head-banging opportunity. In fact the solo here is one of my all time favourites, not because it is particularly skilful or lightning fast but because, like Leaves by The Gathering, it fits the song so well.

`Might As Well Be On Mars’ also has a brooding, atmospheric intro leading in from the previous song and ending the trilogy. I love the way the piano and thunder start together before leading us into a dark and lonely tale of stalking, self-delusion, and invisibility. I like the verse riff although this is another song where the lyrics are better than the music, even though the music is pretty great too. Alice acts out the story with his vocals as always, straining with desperation and irony. The middle section with its string section and synth somehow becomes anthemic even though it is a song about being alone showcasing his skills as a songwriter, before descending with the obligatory solo and an extended ending where the character fades away back into the dark alley and despair from whence he came.

`Feed My Frankenstein’ is a song dually by Alice and British band Zodiac Mindwarp and is noticeable not only for appearing in Wayne’s World but for it’s sexual lyrics and messed up guitar solo by Steve Vai. Nikki Sixx provides bass here adding to the overall sleazy feeling, and Alice sings in his most ugly, dirty style. Yet again the chorus is a sing-along affair, something which was lacking for most of Alice’s 80s albums. It tool Poison from Trash to remind the group where their greatest strengths lay, in writing crowd pleasers which were smarter than those the average band would churn out.

`Hurricane Years’ is one of the lesser songs on the album but is still pretty good. There are no poor songs on display, it’s just that this and another couple pale in comparison with the rest and sound a little too 80s. I rate the chorus here highly and the overall tempo is fast with some good shredding from Vinnie Moore.

`Little By Little’ has a great introduction continuing the ominous tone, but is let down by a cheesy chorus filled with background cheers and a slow and fairly uninspiring verse. The whole song sounds grimy enough and the sexual lyrics work well speaking of the games lovers play, but it just isn’t as strong as other songs.

`Die For You’ is another excellent little ballad marked by a wonderful guitar riff and some sweet and touching lyrics. The piano over the verses keeps the song light but as is the way with this album, when the chorus starts you want to jump around the room like a mad man. The song again speaks of recovering from a break up and the sheer amount of physical and emotion destruction it can wreak upon you. Alice manages to turn these emotions into a powerful and almost celebratory anthem proving again that he has always been a songwriting force to be reckoned with.

`Dirty Dreams’ is the third less memorable song for me, the melodies aren’t as exciting as others and again the chorus seems a bit cheap. Again the sleaze meter is high showing that this incarnation of Alice was a rather dirty old man. Despite the Sex Pistols introduction it becomes just an average rocker.

`Wind Up Toy’ may well be my favourite Alice Cooper song ever, it is definitely my favourite (what I would class as) anthem ever, and it is one of the best endings to any album I can think of. With it’s scary sounding child’s toy introduction giving away to one of the great riffs, from Alice’s vocals from the point of view of a possibly sociopathic child (yet getting us to side with him), from the themes of madness, anger, loneliness, and a desire to be both free and included, to the excellent chorus and terrifying ending it is genius. The character of Steven re-appears (who all Alice fans will be familiar with), the lyrics are touching, child-like, and imaginative, the drums make you want to pucnh the air no matter how terrible a notion that is, and the guitars scream all over the place, but in all the right places. The ending to the song is one of my favourites, haunting, funny, brilliant- everything Alice should be remembered for.

So, if you enjoy hard rock and metal, or if you’re sick of all the current trend of indie nobodies and bland, unimaginative screamo bands then you should like this. Even if you are the sort who smirks at the slightest mention of Alice Cooper with an (un) knowing irony you should listen to this with an open mind- if you are a genuine music lover and not a fashionista you will find something you like here. It may not have the invention of early Alice, it may lack some of the smarts of his biggest albums, but it is full of energy, great ideas, and sublime tunes. Get it now.

As always, feel free to comment- agree, disagree, share any memories of the album which you may have.

Favourite 36 Guns n’ Roses Songs

guns_n_roses_wallpaper_skull

For anyone who reads this list I’m sure there will be a mixture of disgust, appreciation, and annoyance. Good, make your own list. I’ve tried to include a few tracks from every album and while Chinese Democracy is still fresh in my mind and hasn’t exactly stood the test of time yet, this is a fairly accurate current list. If I was doing it by importance, or how much I’ve adored the individual songs over my life then there wouldn’t be any CD or TSI tracks here, and additional ones from AFD and UYI. As always, feel free to comment, ridicule, and provide your own favourites.

Just a note on GNR – they were the first band I ever got into, and everything I’ve listened to since then has been because of the impact they had on my early life. They looked so fucking cool, they swore, they fought, they were smart, pissed off, and they could play the most raw, amazing music at break-neck, effortless speed – everything an 8 year old boy could want. Before then my music was limited to Michael Jackson devotion and whatever crap was in the charts, but suddenly I was on my way to a life of hard rock, grunge, metal, and eventually everything else good. Soon I was learning guitar, writing music, djing in metal bars, and having groupies praise me for simply breathing. So thanks GNR, especially for the songs below.

Mr Dizzy Reed

36. You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory (The Spaghetti Incident): A fine dedication to Johnny Thunders and one of few songs worth mentioning on the ill-fated The Spaghetti Incident. Like most of their covers, this is given the G’n’R crunch, and is notable for being one of the few tracks that Duff has lead vocals on. It’s a fairly tame song in comparison with the rest of the punk overhauls elsewhere but one of only a handful you’re likely to return to.

35. Cornshucker (Lies):  Ok, this didn’t see an official release, but if you’re a fan you owe it to yourself to hear it at least once, if only to hear the original line-up sounding like they used to, and enjoying it. An incredibly juvenile song, about anal sex, the whole band get in on the act -singing, shouting, so it sounds more like an orgy than a song.

34. Ain’t It Fun (TSI): A seering cover of a little known punk classic, Axl and Hanoi Rocks guest Michael Monroe compete in whispers and growls and conspire to make a self-fulfilling prophecy concerning the near-future of the band.

33. So Fine (Use Your Illusion II): Another Duff tribute to Johnny Thunders, this is as gentle as GNR would ever get, even if they still manage to rock in the chorus. A largely piano-led track, it sounds like an early crossover of Civil War and Knockin On Heaven’s Door taking ideas and cues from both tracks to create a strong standalone.

32. Shadow Of Your Love (Lies): Another unreleased one, Shadow is another breathless early track, filled with fury and that exciting exhuberence which marked the band apart from others on the scene at the time. Axl’s yelp is on full form, the chugging power chords and thunderous drums compete for prime place, and there is a nice bluesy, tipsy solo.

Steven Adler

31. Since I Don’t Have You (TSI): Just to top off the weirdness of TSI the first song off the album is a cover of a gentle 50s soother and the video stars Gary Oldman chasing the band around a swimming pool. Imagine Dirty Dancing starring Guns n Roses and you won’t be too far away from understanding the song. It has a charm, but I remember when I first heard it I thought the band were buggered. Turns out they were. Still good though.

30.  Dead Horse (Use Your Illusion I): I’ll probably say this a lot on this list, but a number of songs get easily lost under the sheer mass of the UYI albums. Dead Horse is one of those, but it warrants a re-visit thanks to a sneering attitude similar to 80s GNR and it doesn’t suffer from the overblown nature of many other tracks spread over the double disc. Great intro, rockin’ verse and chorus, good stuff.

29. Locomotive (UYI): Probably the forgotten epic of the two UYI albums, this is a hard-rockin, bluesy rambler with a few thousand too many lyrics, and one which does fittingly feel like being both on, and pummelled by a Locomotive. The song builds and repeats itself over the course of over 6 minutes before stumbling brilliantly into one of the most perfect breakdowns you’ll ever hear; the bass and drums fall away to the sound of Axl’s dying wail, and all are replaced by a wonderfully dark piano and lead guitar led piece. Axl comes back in with a single mournful line while the rest of the band eventually re-group and jam for the remaining couple of minutes.

Gilby

28. Prostitute (Chinese Democracy):  Chinese Democracy is definitely a strong one; a misunderstood work of myriad genres and ideas, and unquestionably weaker than the band’s high points. Nevertheless, it’s still Guns N Roses (of a sort) and is a powerful album at times. A love song entitled Prostitute ends the album, and while Axl’s new vocals sound bizarre if listening as a standalone, if listening to the album as a whole you should be well used by now. With dancey drums, a groovy string section, and the albums soaring guitars, this is a great track. A self-mocking lyric (which Axl is so good yet) and a merging of crushing volume and tenderness, as well as a beautiful final 90 seconds mean this is a stong end to the album.

27. This I Love (CD): While many of the heavier songs on CD don’t hit the mark, most of the quieter songs do. This tear-jerker would be cheesy if Axl didn’t sound so earnest and broken. It’s another hair-ripping song of love slipping away, set to Axl’s lonely piano piece, more subtle strings and woodwind than you would expect from the band, and broke up by a bruising guitar section. This I love indeed.

26. Mr Brownstone (Appetite For Destruction): Probably the first song on the list that the more casual fan will recognise, this effortlessly cool depiction of addiction and excess is both brutal and engaging. The problem with music this good is that it’s so easy (sorry (sorry)) to ignore the words/message (if there is one).  Like much of AFD this is iconic stuff – the opening moments and the main riff are the stuff of rock legend, Axl struts through the verses and shrieks the choruses like a man possessed, while the rhythm guys keep everything in check.

Matt

25. My Michelle (AFD): One of the lesser known tracks from AFD this is another sordid tale of the wrong side of the tracks, with down-and-out characters sctratching and biting their way to the top, or if not the top, their next easy ride or hit. More lyrical brilliance from Rose is mirrored by huge 80s guitars and drums. It’s a groovy cousin to Mr Brownstone.

24. Nice Boys (Lies): A belter, this one is played at a billion miles an hour, with all the hunger and frenzy of a murderer on the run. The lyrics are the usual early Guns stuff, not that you’ll make them out anyway, it highlights the band’s punk roots whilst showcasing their ability to make a dying genre insteresting again.

23. Reckless Life (Lies): Like its partner above, this is a live stormer with an Iron Maiden intro, Aerosmith swagger, and carefree, reckless attitude, all thrusted into our stomachs like a spear from a Rhino. It’s fast, the melodies are saved for the chorus, and Axl is at his blistering best.

22. Knockin On Heaven’s Door (UYI): A wonderful cover of a dreary Dylan classic, this is more touching than any other version, though we could do without the reggae live version please. For a while, GNR were masters of overturning songs and making their covers the definitive version – here the blending of somber verses, triumphant choruses, and big guitars stand proud.

21. Back Off Bitch (UYI): This is one of those songs which is rarely played live, or remembered, but it really could have been a single. Sure, there is the usual misogynist edge, but show me a GNR song which doesn’t have something distasteful, even in their singles. It’s short enough to have been a hit, it’s punchy, has a singalong chorus, although I’m sure there would need to be an unfortunate radio edit. It sounds like a missing track from AFD, and the song was around for a few years before it was released. A quick search on youtube will turn up some early versions from around ’87-88.

Izzy

20. Madagascar (CD): Long before Chinese Democracy was ever released (and it still feels strange saying it has been) this was the song everyone was talking about. For fans of their more epic stylings, this was supposed to be the follow-up to their biggest and best songs, a new Kashmir, a new November Rain. While it doesn’t hit those heights, it is still a strong song. I only wish it had been recorded when Axl’s voice was at it’s peak, as I’m not sure it suits his new vocals. It starts off with great promise, with those somber trumpets sounding potent and sorrowful. Indeed, I think that introduction is the best moment in the song. Axl adds a great tormented strain to his vocals here, but it sounds a little too rough rather than natural. We weave through the verses and choruses before hitting a breakdown filled with samples and soundbites at 3 minutes, including a reminder of Civil War. This section has some good moments too, and it’s an interesting addition to their catalogue, and here it sounds most like Kashmir with an oriental style string backing and wirey guitars. I think after this section there should have been something new, something to take the song into a different direction for a couple of minutes, but instead we just get the chorus and end. It’s a good song, but after it was built up so much I feel it is missing something to make it truly great.

19. Get In The Ring (UYI): A critic’s favourite this. Axl’s ego goes into overdrive as he imagines, Uwe Boll style, kicking the crap out of all of the enemies of the band inside a wrestling ring – critics, reviewers, haters in general, all those opposed. I have a nostalgic fondness for this one, as it was always good fun to snicker along to it whenit was played in the car with my parents. Sometimes they would turn it off and spark and arguement. It was the first song I heard which contained so much swearing, and even now it takes some beating. Sure it’s puerile and juvenile, but the band did have a point – being a target for all manner of criticism, much of it unwarranted. Luckily, the song is filled with strong melodies and kick-ass music, so you can lookpast all the mother-fuckers and bitchy little asses. There is a strong, bluesy introduction before the song quickens and gets into it’s stride, and similarly the outro is memorable. A solid all round rock monster.

18. Double Talkin Jive (USI)

17. Civil War (UYI)

16. Live And Let Die (UYI)

15. Street Of Dreams (CD)

14. Welcome To The Jungle (AFD)

13. You Could Be Mine (UYI)

12. Catcher In The Rye (CD)

11. Sweet Child O Mine (AFD)

Slash

10. Better (CD):

9. Estranged (UYI):

8. Nightrain (AFD):

7. Don’t Cry (UYI):

6. Paradise City (AFD):

Axl Rose

5. Coma (UYI):

4. Rocket Queen (AFD):

3. Patience (Lies):

2. November Rain (UYI):

1. Think About You (AFD):

GNR

Feel free to ridicule or praise my list, offer some comments, and share your top ten.

Bands I’ve Seen Live- D

Dragonforce: Definitely a love ’em or hate ’em band, Dragonforce nevertheless know how to put on a great live show. Low on set paraphenalia, it’s all about how they translate their studio work onto the stage, and if it’s even possible. Having seen them twice I can answer that with a resounding yes- all that fancy, twiddly guitar wanking that makes teens explode in delight, fury, and jealousy in their bedrooms, they recreate flawlessly on stage. As musicians they can’t be faulted technically, and while the nonsense lyrics about fighting dragons with your brothers while the fire burns are suitably singalong enough to make you forget the silliness of what you’re actually saying. Between songs (first time round) there was a high level of banter between the band, joking, swearing, all the expected entertaining metal stuff. Second time round they were only a support band and it was their new singer’s first show- less joking, a few vocal issues, and a shorter, less impressive show. Still good, but clearly most people have tired of the fact that they aren’t trying anything new.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dragonforce

The Doves: This English band never quite hit the heights that some of their peers reached, at home or State-side. I was a fan of their first two records and quite happy to watch them in early evening Glastonbury. A good set heightened by the atmosphere and some over enthusiastic fans made this a memorable moment, even better as we danced in the light rain to Catch The Sun as the day’s last light faded.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Doves

The Darkness: I saw these guys just before they hit the big time. They were already a bit of a joke and a cliche, but there was something oddly refreshing about them. Plus they good play and put a strong melody against some interesting lyrics. The best moment was their high speed version of Street Spirit, completely changing the song into something which no-one thought it could be against the scorching backdrop of a South England morning.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Darkness_(band)

Def Leppard: I grew up in the 80s, I watched MTV, I was a rock/grunge/metal kid. Def Leppard were on my radar and I liked the singles from Hysteria and Pyromania but even at that young age I knew that there was something different between them and Guns and Roses, between them and Nirvana- in other words between the bands that I really loved. Something smelly. Something cheesy. So yeah, as time went on I realised that they weren’t really very good. I saw them because Alice Cooper was semi-supporting them. A lot of the tracks I didn’t know and felt very samey and had that cheesy feeling I remembered. Plus there were a lot of drunk women who seemed to absolutely adore them but chatted amongst themselves during Alice Cooper. And that, my invisible friends, is a crime punishable only by having a litre of iced coke thrown at them from 2 rows behind and kicked down the stairs. Their husbands on the other hand played with their phones throughout both. That punishment is death.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Def_Leppard

Pure Air- Agua De Annique

Pure Air

Pure Air is an album of covers and re-workings and I like to call it a gift to the fans. Not many other artists would release an album like this, and hardly any of those would put much effort or love into it. This however is full of both, and indeed exceeds her first album. If her upcoming new album is as good as this we’ll be in for something special. My gripes here are small- there are some re-workings of songs I didn’t like too much- I would have preferred versions of Ice Water and Sunken Soldiers Ball instead of say Witnesses and Day After Yesterday. Some have complained about the male vocals on a few songs and I admit that I felt the same way at first. I have since come round and now quite enjoy each new guest singer. Again, and this is totally personal, I would have preferred an Alanis song like Unforgiven or Wake Up which I think Anneke would be excellent at, and although I like her version of Power Of Love here I can’t help but wonder what her version of Jennifer’s Rush’s Power Of Love would be like. Majestic, I presume. All that aside this is a beautiful album, packed with emotion, brilliant songs, wonderful cameos, and more greatness from Anneke.

`Blower’s Daughter’ opens the album- a cover of the already perfect Damien Rice song. Anneke sings the song well, but it isn’t as good as the original. She sings with emotion, I just don’t think anyone could equal Rice’s. Perhaps it would have been better if she had done it in a more fragile voice, still good, just not as good as I thought it would be when I first saw the track list.

`Beautiful One’ is an acoustic version of the first song from Anneke’s first album. The music is softer, less complex, and less intrusive allowing more space for Anneke’s voice to shine. Her vocals are strong here, but I have the same feelings here as I have about the original in that it becomes repetitive. I believe this version is better though.

`Wild Flowers’ is a cover of a Dutch song by FRANK BOEiJEN This is what the album is all about- simplicity, subtlety, Anneke and a guitar, and when it works it is breathtaking. Wild Flowers follows this, a beautiful song using lonely, fragile flowers as a metaphor for whatever you like. It is highly melodic and suits Anneke’s voice perfectly, sung with a fleeting sadness, a gentle melancholy.

`Day After Yesterday’ slows things down, another acoustic version of a previous album track. The main problem here is that both versions are quite similar so an acoustic version doesn’t really add anything. A toned down Sunken Soldiers Ball would have been more different and exciting.

`Come Wander With Me’ is also similar to the first album version, but it was already a much better song than Day After Yesterday. Anneke again sings it beautifully and it is a joy to hear a slightly different take on it.

`Valley Of The Queens’ is a cover of Aeryon and is another strong song. It’s arrangement does manage to evoke feelings of a time long past. The flutes here serve the song brilliantly and along with the background strings it strives for a mystical tone which it doesn’t quite manage. That doesn’t matter though as it remains a great song, and quite different from the original.

`To Catch A Thief’ is my favourite song here, a duet with John Wetton from Wishbone Ash/ Uriah Heap. There are so many varying melodies in the song, excellent lyrics, and Wetton’s gruff vocals act as a good counterpoint to Anneke’s. I would like to hear her sing this with someone else, but I don’t have a problem with Wetton as some do. The lyrics speak of a broken relationship, of the swaying back and forth. I’ve always felt that this song has some sort of post modern Western feel, like Cowboys in the future or something.

`Ironic’ may be my least favourite song on the album, not that there is anything wrong with it, I just prefer the original and think Anneke could have sung it with more power. Like I said earlier Ironic is not one of my favourite Alanis songs and I would have liked Head Over Feet. The song is quite sparse with Anneke’s voice (accompanied by a male singer) drowning out a very soft guitar- even without her singing anywhere near her best.

`What’s The Reason’ is another cover, a gentle, melodic love song dealing with confused thoughts. Anneke only comes into the song in the second verse, the first part sung well by Niels Geusebroek. The following harmonies are made to sound like the couple have been doing duets for years, and the backing guitar follows the voices beautifully.

`Yalin’ is almost identical here to the original, another strange choice when she could have picked another song and drastically changed it. I suppose that was never the point of the album, but this almost sounds like a copy and paste rather than a re-recording. Still a good song though.

`Somewhere’ is a song by Within Temptation, starting with the fragile, heartbreaking vocals by Sharon Den Adel. Already an excellent, Anneke joins in giving a more powerful, emotional blast. The song sounds like it should be on the credits of a film, possibly one about lost love. In fact, I can’t help thinking that this song should be used for a missing kids campaign. As silly as that sounds it is sure to stay with the viewer/listener. With its tender nature and ghost like vocals it is a song that you are unlikely to forget. Sharon is probably the best suited singer I’ve heard with Anneke so far, recorded and live.

`Witnesses’ is a much softer, cut down, and haunting version of the original but it may be the weakest song on the album. It doesn’t particularly offer anything exciting, but it does leave a strange feeling with you after it ends- perhaps it would have had more power if it had been a hidden track at the end.

`The Power Of Love’ shows one of Anneke’s greatest strengths- her ability to turn songs that I never liked before into ones I love. I still don’t like the original version, but I now have a greater appreciation of the lyrics and emotion behind them which Anneke brings to the forefront. This is quite a soft and quiet take on the song, mostly led by the vocals with the guitar barely noticeable in the background giving a atmosphere similar to Tori’s Me And A Gun but without the horrific themes.

Overall this is the classic `solo’ or non-Gathering album her fans hoped she would make. It showcases all of her best qualities and features some inspired collaborations. There are many classic moments here, and when they come they are exquisite. For me the album could have been even greater if it had a few different song choices, but as I’ve said before the songs I don’t like here may be someone else’s favourites and are probably Anneke’s. And who am I to argue with genius?

Favourite 31 Led Zeppelin Songs

LZ

Much has been said about the greatest rock band of all time, and every magazine and music blog worth 50p have given their list of favourite/best/most influential Led Zep songs. My list highlights my personal favourite 30 songs- the songs that carry the most weight for me and while some of them may not be considered the best or most influential, they all kick ass.

31. Hey Hey What Can I Do (Unreleased): Unfortunately for Zep fans there aren’t too many ‘rare’ songs, or at least ones which weren’t a result of jamming, merging, or covering. The band never released any British singles and those songs released in the US had B-sides of other album tracks so a trove of rarities was sadly never built up. When you look at the number of unreleased Beatles tracks and the high quality of some of those, it makes you wish that Zep had a few more hidden gems up their sleeves. Hey Hey is the only track worth mentioning. It could have made an appearance on any of the first 6 albums as it has that slow folk burning with the twist of a rock stomp. Classic bluesy lyrics are soothed by Plant, the song structure is as basic as the band would ever get with chorus following verse as surely as a bad 80s solo album would follow the break up of a great 70s band. Strong melodies, easy playing and some interesting backing vocals make this a highlight.

30. In My Time Of Dying (Physical Graffiti): The biggest of the big Zep songs at over 11 minutes. It isn’t as immediately catchy or memorable as Stairway, Kashmir, or Achilles, but once the main riff kicks in you know that you’re onto a winner. As Zeppelin were known to do, they took a blues standard which was in itself an old religious song, and turned it inside out. Featuring eerie, distant Plant vocals and Page’s supreme slide guitar, the song has a fairly dark tone turning the themes of religion and mortality into something much more grim. The song chops and changes throughout the entire length with some excellent jamming moments, Bonham blasts as powerfully as possible, while Page changes his sounds and guitars as often as possible without become jarring. The structure, while complex, is much more free than the other epics given the feeling that much of this was just improvised on the spot. Of course, the comic ending adds to the improvised nature with the band chatting and coughing rather than ending with a fading chord.

29. Dyer Maker (Houses Of The Holy): An oft-maligned song from an oft-unfairly maligned album, D’yer Maker features exquisite performances from Bonham and Page, while Plant leans between comically emotional to full-blown classic shrieks. A reggae/calypso style song which may have seemed unusual to some of the more die-hard fans, it was yet another sign that the band could take any style and give it the Zep taste. As usual the melodies are wonderful and there are countless moments that you will be whistling hours after hearing. And no, it’s not pronounced Dire Maker.

28. Fool In The Rain (In Through The Out Door): A similar song in many respects to the one above in that it isn’t a typical Zeppelin sounding song and is an attempt to turn a certain style into their own. It has a samba feel and even goes as far as having a carnival like breakdown halfway through with manic drumming and whistles. The band doesn’t get much credit more when they moved out of their many comfort zones, yet this is both a fun and interesting song which nevertheless highlights the extreme talents of all involved as well as their genuine love for listening to and making music.

27. Tea For One (Presence): This is one of the band’s last epics, reaching over 9 minutes and passing through a few differing stages. Opening rather jubilantly it quickly descends into a sombre blues piece at a funeral march pace. Similar in structure, style, and sound to Since I’ve Been Loving You it shows how the band had matured emotionally and explores many of the feelings they had early in their career to see what had changed. Primarily a song about loneliness and homesickness the lyrics cover the pain of an empty room, of time standing still, and of having no-one you love near. It’s a feeling even those of us who haven’t been on long tours or trips away from family or friends are aware of, and it’s one of the great Zep tracks to listen to on the road, though for a different reason to all the other ones.

26. Down By The Seaside (PG): Another unusual song by the band, and probably another unusual one for me to include on my best of list. I love those moments when a band does something that no-one expects and it totally pays off; This is one of those moments. The tremolo effect on the guitar does give that Blackpool/Scarborough/Summer holiday seaside feel, sounding at once like it is being played underwater and like a wurlitzer. This being Zeppelin, it’s not enough being different- they have to add additional twists and so we get a lively, ice cream eating main course split by a heavier, sudden middle section which seems to come from nowhere.

25. Dazed And Confused (I): The original epic saw a young, ambitious band deciding that they were going to break a few boundaries and take things up or down a notch depending on how you look at it. This is as raw and raucous as they come with vicious lyrics about love and cheating, sex and violence, all set to the sound of an apocalypse. Just listen to the way Jones and Page’s collapsing, wailing riffs merges with Bonham’s falling down drum pieces- a perfect blend. Then we get the call and repeat between vocals and guitar and the infamous bowing, demonic sounds followed by a massive breakdown jam where the band unleash some of the most manic playing ever recorded. I wish I’d been around to witness certain reactions of this when it was first released- this band of long-haired youngsters creating an unspeakable noise with abandon whilst looking and sounding posessed- brilliance.

Jones
Jones

24. Dancing Days (HOTH): Yet another unusual song from the group, this time seemingly featuring their less than enthusiastic but wholly successful take on Disco. It’s more accurate though that this was a take on Indian style songs given what the group have said and through the guitar effects employed. A kick ass riff leads the way although it isn’t one of their most famous. There is a simple structure which helps the melodies be all the more memorable and instant. It’s played at a fairly fast tempo too which is always good.

23. Black Dog (IV): The opener for their seminal 4th album is full of innuendo and powerful playing- Page gives one of best riffs, Bonzo bashes the skins to pieces, and Plant screams to the heavens. Featuring arguably the most famous breakdown in rock history it is understandably a classic of the genre and highlights the band at their most sexual, at their heaviest.

22. Whole Lotta Love (II): The opener then for their second album was a breakthrough of monumental size. Page had found the riff he’d been searching for while Plant had perfected his steaming vocals to give true prowess to the sexually provocative lyrics. Naturally Jones and Bonham let rip on the bones and bass, never highlighted more accurately than when the song was played live. The instrumental/orgasm section on record sounds fine but becomes like a frenzy, a mantra, a tribal chant when played live as each performer blasts away and everyone comes together in harmony for the final moments- ooh-er.

21. Night Flight (PG): A standout from Physical Graffiti but not one that you’ll find on many favorites lists. The lyrics concern a man trying to evade those seeking to enlist him into the military, but it’s the music which keeps this ticking over in your mind. The band sound like they are enjoying themselves and contrasting with the lyrics it sounds like a rare completely happy Zeppelin song. From it’s swirly opening with Bonham’s growing drum pieces the song gets more rawk as it moves along, and once again the band nail down the sound of the song title as the backing effects do sound like a plane taking off.

20. Over The Hills And Far Away (HOTH): From one rare happy song to another, this gentle folk number is sublime in its simplicity yet complex in it’s endearing hidden charms. A soft intro thanks to wonderful stuff from Page and Plant soon gives way to a surprisingly bombastic period. Any time Bonzo comes in with a crash, no matter how soft the song, it becomes a stomping rock piece. This is excellent guitar parts and playing throughout and some of the best melodies from the album.

19. Babe I’m Gonna Leave You (I): Of the many songs which Zeppelin turned around and made their own, this is one of best. It is a shining example of a perfectly serviceable song being ripped to shreds and becoming a unique Zeppelin hit. Thanks to the skills of each member of the group and the way each person brings their own talents to the studio it seems like this is the original and that everything that went before was a lie. It is dark, angry, and heavily blues ridden like much of the first album and it has the light and shade, soft and heavy phasing which the band used to such great effect. Like many tracks on the list this is a good one to blast out of your car stereo when passing anyone playing techno or Beyonce- just be sure to give them a good old-fashioned Plant squeal as you go.

18. The Lemon Song (II): A song about sex which sounds like sex. A seductive, sleazy riff clambers all over lyrics about trying to break up with someone whose lovin is too damn good. Zeppelin were known for their sexual antics, a lot of which may have overblown, a lot more which probably remains unspoken, but songs like this only further the legend. It’s a hard rocking blues standard with a lot of tempo changes and blazing solos thrown in to heighten the pleasure. The musicians teeter on the brink of ecstatic collapse while Plant is furious in the throes of orgasmic shrieking. Lovely.

Bonham
Bonham

17. What Is And What Should Never Be (II): This is another example of the light and shade dynamic which the band perfected, with quiet verses contrasted with explosive choruses. Both stages are wonderfully realised, but this being Zeppelin, a few extra are inserted- manic blues breakdowns, otherworldly vocal effects, and Bonzo going off on one.

16. The Rain Song (HOTH): Zeppelin rarely created evocative sounds which conjured up specific imagery to match the tone of the song, but Rain Song is prime example of just that. It don’t know if it’s the drip dripping guitar sounds or the overall dreary nature of the vocals which has the biggest influence, but we do get the sense of sitting and staring at the rain when we listen. Throw in some JPJ string noises, a lack of Bonzo, and some excellent smaller guitar parts and the song is one of their best, yet unusual epics. The drums do eventually come in and the song does eventually pick up pace and volume as the dark clouds pass directly overhead, and it is at this point that the song transcends it’s seemingly laid back nature in a bombastic fashion.

15. Communication Breakdown (I): Zeppelin, the original punk band. This ferocious JYD bark proved that the band could throw out a 3 minute hit if they so desired. It’s amongst the most simple song they band ever wrote, one of their fastest too, but every second has a potency that many punk bands sick of the excess of the Seventies failed to match. It is a primal showcase for each member, promoting Bonzo’s power, Plant’s insane range, Jones’s technical perfection, and Page’s wild flair. It’s a good one to play to naysayers not convinced of Zep’s metal or punk cred.

14. Ten Years Gone (PG): A contemplative epic for this huge double album is one of my standout moments. Page is King, weaving together many solemn guitar parts in the introduction which get expanded upon throughout the duration of the song and which Plant strangles every ounce of pain from with his anguished vocals. Naturally Bonzo and Jones are there to keep things thumping and grounded respectively when they threaten to get too sombre or chaotic. Few people outside of the Zep main fan base know this one- a great pity.

13. No Quarter (HOTH): Jones is permanently the unsung hero of Zeppelin, but No Quarter is largely his song, and Houses Of The Holy is in many respects his album. When played live, Jones would often turn the song into a plus 20 minute piece by splicing in classical piano pieces and improvising on the spot. It’s one of the most downbeat, moody Zeppelin songs and showcases their restraint as they refrain from unleashing the usual noise levels they would on most other longer tracks. There are a few parts where (led by Bonzo) the song threatens to explode, but everything is constantly being reigned in. With strange scales and timing employed throughout it is another breakthrough for popular music and opened a lot of doors for a lot of bands.

12. How Many More Times (I): The original jam session-cum-album track, this shows the bands prowess as musicians, but more importantly, just how in tune they were with each other- knowing what each person was going to do next and taking your next step in anticipation. It’s something which usually takes a group years to accomplish, but Zeppelin simply got it straight away, or at least it comes across as such on record. As the final song from the first album you’d hope that it would leave a lasting impression- it does thanks to its free form carelessness, super playing, and surprise surprise, epic riff.

Opening with that smooth riff on bass while Page makes seemingly demonic guitar disasters in the background, Plant yelps from a distance, and Bonzo taps away to get warmed up it all seems very jazz bar. The song quickly explodes as Page unleashes his guitar all over the riff while Plant explores his blues history by tapping into any number of past hits for the lyrics. After a frantic solo, the song slows, Page bows, and Plant becomes the hunter. This all grows with more and more overlapping of guitar sounds and tumbling drums and bass. The Rosie section grooves along and everything begins to build up once again as we head back towards the main part of the song with a few extra riffs thrown in for good measure. The song races along once more to the conclusion, which ends in a flurry of confidence and bragging and noise.

Plant
Plant

11. Livin Lovin Woman (II): This oft overlooked rocker from II is just a good time all round. It tells the infamous story of a notorious groupie the band encountered on their travels and has some hilarious lyrics befitting the tale. This one was never played live as for some reason Page never liked it, but it always seemed to me that it would have been a live favourite. Starting immediately after Heartbreaker ends on the album, this keeps up the pace of the record with its speedy verses and strong riffs. The song is just full of fun and energy, and has one of Page’s most interesting solos- wavey, almost seeming to go nowhere, it is a wacky piece. It’s a fast, basic piece, but one which I have a special fondness for.

10. Heartbreaker (II): This is one of the most well-known tracks from the second album and remains a staple of rock radio. Huge riff? Check. Bombastic bass and drums? Check. Epic solo? Double check. Heartbreaker is one of the most pure, fantastic, unadulterated, guitar songs in history. It’s another song which all players aspire to playing, although those solos will take devil’s fingers to mimic. The solo begins as an unaccompanied piece at a billion miles an hour before the drums crash in and the solo takes on a less crazy form. The lyrics are typically gritty, lifted from many blues standards and the swagger of the bulk of the song lend an eternal cool.

9. That’s The Way (III). An utterly gorgeous song brightened by hippy sentiment, darkened by the twist on innocence within and the tragic acceptance of things being unchangeable. Plant barely sings throughout the verses, gently reciting the words instead lending a placid ambivalence to proceedings, while Bonzo is completely absent. Page’s lead riffs is airy and folksy enough to catch the ear but also leave space for the flourishes to be all the more powerful. The coda is interesting, complete with tambourine and Jones’s mandolin, floating off over the horizon in a sweet dew of loveliness. The BBC Sessions recording adds a slightly more Country twist as Page slides about the fretboard, while Plant adds comedic pronunciations to certain words.

8. Going To California (IV). Another wistful, largely gentle folk love song from a band mostly famous for destroying eardrums rather than settling nerves. This apparent dedication to Joni Mitchell is another flawless example of how a heavy rock band can make a softer song. Again, the acoustic guitar and mandolin duelling over Page and Jones serves the song well. Not only acting as a hippy statement it also stands as Plant’s description of his feelings moving from a quiet life in England to the craziness of excess, groupies, stardom, war etc in the US. Free from choruses, the song has a loose feel with the words and music rambling along in an endless journey.

7. Tangerine (III). The third mostly soft, mostly acoustic track in my top 10 is Tangerine. I did one of those awful ‘Which blah blah blah are you?’ surveys years ago – Which Led Zep song are you? Apparently I am Tangerine. With more misheard lyrics than you can shake a choirboy at, Tangerine is 3 minutes of genius. A false start, a count in, and then a basic verse/chorus structure followed by a swirling, double-tracked ending is pretty much the whole song, but that would be discounting the wonderful steel pedal guitar, the touching lyrics, the prominent bass, and the weird guitar solo. It’s simple, but with a wealth of feeling and depth of emotion, it is a song which will win over romantics for the rest of time.

6. Kashmir (PG): Possibly the most covered/sampled song the band ever wrote, it is an epic which never fails to stir a crowd into a frenzy of dnacing, moshing, and appreciation when played live. That stomping, scaling riff, balanced to perfection by Bonzo and Jones is eternal -creepy, stormy, evocative, and gives Plant all the freedom he needs to stretch his cords. Plant is at turns, crisp, growling, whining, the strings lend a richness and Eastern otherness, while the lyrics are typically mystical.

Page

5. Thank You (II): Plant’s loving, gorgeous dedication to his wife is one of the all time great underated love songs. The lyrics are at once heartfelt and unashamedly embarassing – everything a dedication of love should be. It was Plant’s first solo writing credit, Page fills in with backing vocals, an endearing progression, and sublime solo, Bonzo slaps away, while Jones gets to show off his great organ work. I love the false ending and swirling return.

4. Since I’ve Been Loving You (III): An absolutely brutal blues metal track with some of the greatest guitar ever recorded, including an extraordinary intro (accompanied by thunderously lazy drums, vacant organ, and an occassional Plant scqwuak) and one of the all time great solos. The entire song is basically 7 minutes of Page wankery, but it’s so powerfully and atmospheric, and it suits the steamy lyrics and Plant’s anguished delivery so well. The high point of an originally ill received third album, this is perfection at its most perfect.

3. Stairway To Heaven (IV): The greatest song ever written isn’t my favourite by the band, but that leading sentiment is one which I struggle to deny. Inspired and inspirational, epic and creative in every sense, beautiful, loud, gentle, with writing and playing so stunning that you wonder how four blokes from England ever created it. I don’t want to gush about it too much, as much better people than me have been doing it since the first time it was played, but it is simply put, one of the greatest achievements in music.

2. Achilles Last Stand (P): The most epic song by a band known for their epic songs, this is one that is largely forgotten and rarely spoken of, unsurprising when you have Kashmir, Since I’ve Been Loving You, and Stairway in your team. Achilles Last Stand is completely overblown in every way, absurdly mystical, and filled with ridiculous musical and lyrical moments – and it’s all the better for it. With massive over-dubbing, multi-layered tracks it is the essence of excess, but taken to such extreme precision that it becomes a frighteningly well-crafted beast with incredible depth – how many plus 10 minute songs can you listen to on repeat and never get tired of? Everyone is on top form, but it’s largely Plant’s stage, breathtaking at every turn. Oh, and that dual drumming and riffage pretty much single handedly created metal as we know it today.

1. All My Love (ITTOD): Most would consider this as one of the worst Led Zep songs, the band jumping the shark, the band at their most cheesy, the band signalling that they were about to depart, but you must remember that those people are idiots. This tearful dedication to Plant’s dead son is haunting, horrible, tragic, and I suspect that most dislike it because of that synth. I’m not sure the song would have worked without the synth, but I’d love to hear a clean piano version, or a plain acoustic version – come on, Tori, get on it. It’s easy to recognize its faults, but with some wonderful lyrics, a painfully touching chorus, and that bizarre synth solo all add up to make this my favourite Led Zep song.

As always, feel free to comment on my list and offer your own favourites.

Gettin The Led Out