The UK Top 40

It seems like I’m a grumpy bastard sometimes when I read my own blog posts, always moaning about something. I expect these next few related posts will fuel that fire as I take a look at something I haven’t checked out (probably) since I was 18 – the UK Top 40 Singles chart. Obviously music has changed a lot since then, and the way music is charted has changed even more. As every good music fan knows, the best music rarely hits the charts these days but I’m prepared to give it a chance. As much as I occasionally join in the yells of dissent when caterwauling about the state of chart music, I have first heard many bands and artists I love via those same charts, so maybe there’s someone out there now who could be my next favourite singer but I’ll never encounter them unless I listen. So, over most days in the month of November I’m going to post about a particular song that is in the UK Top 40 at the time of writing – 10.33am on the 19th October. Here is the current chart (so, so many with the pointless ‘feat.’ bonus!):

1: What Do You Mean – Justin Beiber (Aware of you, but never heard any of your stuff)

2: Locked Away – R City (never heard of you)

3: Hotline Bling – Drake (Aware of you, but never heard any of your stuff)

4: Runnin’ – Naughty Boy (never heard of you)

5: The Hills – The Weekend (never heard of you)

6: Wasn’t Expecting That – Jamie Lawson (never heard of you)

7: Writing’s On The Wall – Sam Smith (Aware of you, but never heard any of your stuff)

8: On My Mind – Elle Goulding (Aware of you, but never heard any of your stuff)

9: Do It Again – Pia Mia (Never heard of you)

10: Easy Love – Sigala (Never heard of you)

11: How Deep Is Your Love – Calvin Harris (Everything I’ve heard has been crap)

12: Alone No More – Philip George & Anton Powers

13: Can’t Feel My Face – The Weekend (Aware of you, but never heard any of your stuff)

14: Downtown – Mackelmore (Aware of you, but never heard any of your stuff)

15: Lay It All On Me – Rudimental (Aware of you, but never heard any of your stuff)

16: Kiss Me – Olly Murs (everything I’ve heard has been crap)

17: Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself – Jess Glynne – (never heard of you)

18: Marvin Gaye – Charlie Puth (Never heard of you)

19: Never Forget You – MNEK & Zara Larsson (never heard of you)

20: Love Me – The 1975 (never heard of you)

21: Peanut Butter Jelly – Galantis (never heard of you)

22: Shut Up And Dance – Walk The Moon (never heard of you)

23: Fight Song – Rachel Platten (never heard of you)

24: 679 – Fetty Wap (never heard of you)

25: Intoxicated – Martin Solveig (never heard of you)

26: Trap Queen – Fetty Wap (never heard of you)

27: Lean On – Major Lazer x DJ Snake (never heard of you)

28: Ain’t Nobody – Felix Jaehn (Never heard of you, but I think I’ve heard this and it is one of the worst covers I’ve ever heard)

29: Are You With Me – Lost Frequencies (Never heard of you)

30: Drag Me Down – One Direction (What I’ve heard has been crap)

31: Black Magic – Little Mix (Aware of you, but never heard any of your stuff)

32: Love Me Like You – Little Mix (Aware of you, but never heard any of your stuff)

33: Photograph – Ed Sheeran (What I’ve heard has been crap)

34: Let It Go – James Bay (Never heard of you)

35: Cheerleader – OMI (Never heard of you)

36: Firestone – Kygo (Never heard of you)

37: Want To Want Me – Jason Derulo (Aware of you, but never heard any of your stuff)

38: Good For You – Selena Gomez (Aware of you, but never heard any of your stuff)

39: Talk To Me – Nick Brewer (Never heard of you)

40: Around The World – Natalie La Rose (Never heard of you)

There’s the school of thought that most of us lose our love for new music around the time we hit the age of thirty. There seem to be a number of reasons for this – chart music hinges upon a sheep mentality, the need to fit in and do, see, hear the same as everyone else, it’s aimed primarily at children, and while many of us care about such things in our youth, by the time we hit thirty we no longer care, or have time to care about such things. Some of us have simply passed by having a passion for music, and are content to play the same five albums or simply have the radio on in the background regardless of what is playing. Most of us consider ourselves to be the hated word ‘settled’ – with a job and a family which take priority over things like music, art, learning. Some of us will simply become our parents and claim that music is crap nowadays, and that it was so much better when we were younger. The trap is to fall back on only listening to the music we loved in our day, with anything new being too scary, too noisy, too young, too not me etc. I’ve always been a believer that as long as there are people with something to say, with a melody to write, with passion screaming in their souls that can only be freed via a pen, a microphone, or some other instrument of noise, then there will always be great music. Like I say though, the Top 40 is rarely a place for such musicians – a few lucky will make it, sure, but the highest echelons of sales and popularity will always be reserved for the pretty, the bland, the copy, the flavour of the week. So, I don’t have high hopes for finding something I actually like, but I do have hope. As a bonus, and as a gauge for any psych-types out there who may wish to strike for a correlation between my personal taste and the current Top 40, here is a rough list of the 10 most important artists in my life:

Michael Jackson, The Bangles, Guns N Roses, Alice Cooper, Nirvana, Manic Street Preachers, Radiohead, The Gathering, Led Zeppelin, Metallica

Maybe I should have went for the Top 40 Rock chart…..

The hand of God, telling me to go watch QOTSA

Nightman Listens To – Madonna – Like A Virgin!

Greetings, glancers, and welcome back to another exciting entry in the Nightman Listens series. Today, we’ll be looking at one of the biggest albums of the 80s, and one which launched the career of one of the most influential women in music.

Hard to believe, but yeah
Hard to believe, but yeah

Madonna’s first album was a decent success and the follow-up was recorded and released a year later to great acclaim. With a number of high performing singles and a distinct sound, it is one of the archetypal 80s records, going on to encourage a bunch of imitators to follow Madonna’s musical approach, fashion sense, and provocative approach. Surrounding herself with some terrific writers, Madonna’s drive for success was spurred by the songs she was recording around this time. Looking at the track listing, I actually only recognise two of the names, though I’m sure I’ll know some of the others once I hear them – I’ve never actually sat down and listened to the whole thing. So let’s do this!

Material Girl: Aah, for someone my age there are any number of songs which instantly transport you back to the 80s. Big synthetic drum blasts and funky beats – as soon as that riff comes in, you’re already back there and when the vocals come in there’s no coming back. It’s all very cheesy, almost deliberately so, with Madonna both mocking and praising the materialistic lifestyle. The chorus is perfect, and the verses are pretty catchy too. Of course, we could do without all the squeaks and squawks, but it was the 80s. The production here is excellent, much higher quality. The song feels a little stretched, possibly for video purposes, but it never out stays its welcome.

Angel: Plinky plonky. Laughs. Hmm, I don’t recognise this one so far. Fairly catchy and sultry vocals. Vocals get more bizarre as the song goes on. Chorus is okay, not overly strong. There’s a nice synth break in the middle, another laugh which manages to not be as cheesy as you would think, so well done for that.

Like A Virgin: One of the most recognisable songs of the decade, and possibly Madonna’s signature song. Opening with honking synths it’s another which instantly grabs hold. Madonna sings in a high register, and both verse and chorus melodies are catchy. The lyrics fitted perfectly with Madonna’s image at the time, as an independent strong woman. Musically it crosses that line between pop and dance brilliantly – a song just as good to listen to in the bedroom, on the dance floor, on your Walkman.

Over And Over: Drums. Fast paced blaps. More synth. It’s another I don’t recognize. It’s good fun hearing all these 80s songs which you didn’t hear first time around, or forgot about as they all manage to pull back memories. I was only a toddler when this albums came out, but nevertheless, the music was replayed on TV and radio for years. Anyway, not many hooks on this one, the chorus is okay, but it’s definitely mid-album filler.

Love Don’t Live Here Anymore: Ah yes, I remember this one, and it is of course a cover. Given the synth treatment, it’s probably Madonna’s first ‘dark’ song with its desolate lyrics about loss. The vocals are fine at the high ranges, but things get a little strange for those lower notes. Nevertheless, the arrangement blending strings, synth, guitars, and booming drums gives that timeless 80s feel, and it sounds a little like something Roxette would have done. The song threatens to drag on a little bit, but Madonna brings it back by some fine yelping and howling for the final moments.

Dress You Up: Thumping drums. Disastrous synth. Nice melody. Hand clap sounds like cardboard boxes being dropped in a puddle. Silly lyrics about clothes/sex. I remember the chorus. The chorus is a little too short and whiney. Feels more like a one hit wonder than a genuine memorable Madonna track. It’s a little weak sounding with flat production, decent melodies. It’s a fun, silly inclusion that doesn’t really go anywhere.

Shoo Bee Doo: I don’t know this one. A piano led ballad with a lot of space for Madonna’s vocals. Now drums, slowly becoming more of a dance track. Some of this sounds a little familiar, but I can’t place my memories accurately so I may well have heard this in my youth, or it could simply be similar to other songs I’ve heard. Something about it is also reminding me of a Michael Jackson song, but I can’t quite determine which one. Oh dear Lord, Saxomophone. Vague, light, forgettable, overlong but aside from those points, nothing particularly poor about it.

Pretender: Weird fast noises. Synth drums and other strangeness. I don’t know this one. Attempts to be funky, but doesn’t quite work. Weird vocals, silly boo-hoo lyrics. Nothing catchy here, no matter how many times ‘He’s a pretender’ is shouted at me. Ooh, an interesting middle section. That almost went somewhere good, but didn’t quite manage it.

Stay: The final track, hmm this is a pretty short album. Then again I’m used to metal and prog albums lasting forever. More weird noises at the start. These last few tracks have been more reminiscent of stuff from the first album – middling dance pop songs with no real hooks. It’s an okay song, but not memorable in the slightest. No, not more speaking parts. When will we learn that talking during songs just DOESN’T work? EVER.

I think I was expecting that to be a bit more. Only the singles have any sort of impact, with the rest of the album being average fluff. Note – it turns out that  one of my favourite Madonna songs – Into The Groove – was added to a re-issues of this album, after being recorded for the Desperately Seeking Susan soundtrack. Ah well, we’ll have to skip that one. Hey, Crazy For You was also recorded around this time and wasn’t part of any studio album. This album would have been epic had those two tracks replaced a couple of the others! So, nothing overly brilliant here, but it’s easy to appreciate the impact and sales the album had. Next time we visit Madonna’s back catalogue, we’ll be going through True Blue which I know contains at least two of my favourite Madonna songs, and I’ll be keen to hear if there are any classics I’ve missed.

Let me know what you thought of this album in the comments – does it contain any of your favourites, or is it an aged relic of a time best forgotten?

The Beatles – The White Album

The White Album

The White Album sees the Fab Four at their most experimental, their angriest, and some would say their best. A true epic, the band enters further into uncharted territory with sounds unheard, ideas expounded never before, lyrical flourishes and weirdness all put to glorious sound and noise. Unfortunately for an album with so many songs and with so many ideas (not to mention the band chasing the dragon around on some plain just above the rest of our heads) it has many flaws. Some things don’t come off well, there is a lot of nonsense, some duff songs, and plenty of filler. Most fans who don’t see this as their best album agree that if this had been cut down it could have been much better. The good stuff that we do have ranges from classic Harrison ballads to McCartney blues romps and Lennon’s drug fuelled madness. There are plenty of fun moments, plenty of offbeat treats, but the days of the happy mop haired lads is long gone. From here on we are left with more coarse and hard edged guitar tracks as the group began to implode.

`Back In the USSR’ opens the album in a fairly rocking fashion with some ye olde fast piano playing slpiced with the modern sounds of a jet plane. McCartney sings in a clearly more gruff way hinting at the maturity, experimentation, and arguments within the band at the
time. Ringo was absent so the rest of the band took up his duties, not that this is noticeable. The lyrics speak of the excitement and relief of flying back home to be with all the ladies and is a clear homage to The Beach Boys. The Californian interlude is quite authentic.

`Dear Prudence’ fades in gently offering an opposite to what the first song displayed. Lennon’s tribute to Mia Farrow’s sister who joined them India only to stay in her room and meditate most of the time. It builds to a jamming climax accompanied by some nice guitar
before coming down to an acoustic fade out.

`Glass Onion’ returns to the heavier feel while referencing many old Beatles hits. The lyrics are deliberately messy and confusing, full of potential mystery and ideas. Mostly it is Lennon having a laugh at obsessive fans and critics obsessing over every lyric, and a challenge for them to decipher.

`Ob La Di Ob La Da’ is a McCartney ditty, a nonsense but nonetheless catchy pop song. It sounds like the band are having fun, contrary to what was actually happening, but also highlights the experimenting mode they were in when they first came up with it.

`Wild Honey Pie’ is an experimental piece with strange guitars, voices and other noises. Basically it is the group stoned, banging together whatever was close to hand and still managing to make a song out of it.

`The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill’ features a line from Yoko but is more notable for Lennon’s excellent sarcastic lyrics. He sings of a rich American who they knew for a while who happened to go hunting and kill a tiger. Lennon saw him as an upper class mummy’s boy taking an all expenses paid trip to India for some enlightenment that he could then relate to his equally rich friends. The chorus is catchy enough, the song ends in ironic applause and whistling. With a more interesting verse melody it could have been great.

`While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ is Harrison’s famous downbeat sounding song about Eastern philosophy, yin yang, everything relating to everything and everyone. It features Clapton on guitar and is usually included in most lists of greatest guitar songs ever. The organs, effects, and Harrison’s vocals combine to create a trippy mood although it was probably intended to sound other worldy.

`Happiness Is a Warm Gun’ is a constantly evolving song with time and tone shifts as well as each part sounding musically distinct. Each part is linked by the gun imagery, and it inspired countless imitators from Halo Of Flies to Bohemian Rhapsody to Paranoid Android. Many of the ideas on the album don’t come off as well as they should have but on this song everything fits.

`Martha My Dear’ is McCartney’s music hall tribute, evoking images of old couple swirling about to gentle piano led songs. The lyrics oppose the feel of the song with thinly veiled insults to past lovers. Many dispute the song’s reference point- McCartney’s dog, his muse, his ex. As with most things it is a mixture of each influence.

`I’m So Tired’ was recorded at 3am, written about Lennon’s insomnia, and has a clear drowsy feel. There is emotional fatigue, the lyrics are angry, and the chorus livens things up.

`Blackbird’ is one of the better songs on the album, harkening back to simpler, more pop times. It is a typical McCartney song, singing of yearning, freedom, with some racial issues thrown in to satisfy the revolutionaries.

`Piggies’ is an interesting Harrison song featuring harpsichord and strings to give a baroque feel- a time noted for wealth and extravagance. This mirrors the lyrics as Harrison sings Orwell style of the rich people as piggies, rolling around in their opulence. Ironic yes given their own wealth, but at this time the group were rejecting all ideas of materialism. Charles Manson felt this was a large influence on his Helter Skelter plan, leading to the deaths of those he felt needed `a damn good
whacking’.

`Rocky Raccoon’ is a folk style McCartney song with Dylan leanings. There is a Cowboy movie style piano and acoustic guitar played over some storybook lyrics. It rounds off the `animal trilogy’.

`Don’t Pass Me By’ is Ringo’s first solo composition. He does his best with the vocals, though the lyrics are as bad as expected and the song has the same rolling down a hill in a shopping trolley rhythm. The strings offer a different feel from the other album tracks but it’s mostly forgettable.

`Why Don’t We Do It in the Road’ sees McCartney at his most metal, shrieking the lyrics in an attempt to match the sounds of Daltrey and Townsend. The lyrics simply speak of him seeing two monkeys at it, inspiring the primal, animal instincts in all of us.

`I Will’ is a rather simple, soft love song from McCartney to Linda. The lyrics call back to the early days when music was more important than the words. The song is catchy enough but lacks anything truly memorable.

`Julia’ closes the first side, Lennon’s only solo Beatles song. Unfortunately it is mostly tuneless as the lyrics are good and he sings and plays well. With a stronger melody this could have been a much better song.

`Birthday’ opens the second side in heavy style, blasting out with one of the most famous guitar riffs. It builds and changes with chugging chords, distorted notes, and swirling effects laden piano. It was a clear attempt to return to a more simple rock’n’roll and blues style and leads nicely into the next song.

`Yer Blues’ continues the heavier, dirtier feel with an almost Zeppelin-esque song. It showcases Lennon’s personal demons, depression, and suicidal thoughts. It’s a song which it is hard not to jump around to, filled with good drum parts and intertwining guitar solos. Performing this song for the Stones Rock n Roll Circus renewed Lennon’s love for playing live after years in the wilderness.

`Mother Nature’s Son’ is a better McCartney ballad inspired as with most of the other songs here by his time with the Maharishi,
except here it pays off well musically. The lyrics are suitably ideal, the melodies gentle and hard to shake.

`Everybody’s Got Something To hide…’ is Lennon’s view of his relationship with Yoko and all the negative feelings towards it. They felt they were in love while everyone else was paranoid and edgy. The song is quite heavy with a loud riff at the end of the chorus. Some have also claimed that it is more about Lennon’s heroin addiction.

`Sexy Sadie’ has the famous piano part which sounds like Karma Police but it’s almost insignificant. It is an average Lennon song with some nice, angry lyrics, some strange effects on the vocals and an up and down rhythm.

`Helter Skelter’ was McCartney’s main attempt to make the heaviest, dirtiest, most rock song out there in a time when The Who and other English R’nB bands were taking noise levels moonwards. To an extent it works, the drums are great, the guitar is pretty loud and riff laden, and McCartney sings at his loudest. The Helter Skelter motion of the song is notable, everything swirls and comes around upon itself. This song was one of the major influences on Manson’s already destructive mind as he believed the lyrics contained veiled messages and calls to war. The song fades in and out a few times at the end to good effect, and proves that McCartney was more than a ballad writer.

`Long Long Long’ is a soft Harrison ballad with good drum and piano parts. The deliberately bad production is annoying though and makes it too difficult to listen to.

`Revolution 1′ may be the most famous, most popular song on the album. It is a traditional Beatles song, filled with melody and ideology, with a few guitar effects and plenty of instruments clanging together brilliantly. The version here differs quite a bit from the single most people know, but all the hallmarks of a great song lie in both.

`Honey Pie’ is another unusual song from McCartney showing his seeming obsession with older styles of music around this time. There is a clear WWII vibe and I can’t help hear it now without thinking of Allo Allo or Wish Me Luck. The lyrics speak of a young English woman who makes it big in Hollywood only for her old lover back home to call her to return.

`Savoy Truffle’ is a good song to listen to while raiding the fridge. It is quite jazzy, with lots of brass and guitars, lots of timing shifts and is one of the more upbeat songs on the album.

`Cry Baby Cry’ is based on a nursery rhyme from Lennon’s youth, features the Harmonium again but isn’t a very exciting or interesting song. The lyrics are fine but the music isn’t particularly inspired. It segues into an unreleased song at the end which really should have been included instead, but can be found on bootlegs.

`Revolution 9′ is probably the most experimental piece the band ever produced, a collage of sounds, words, clips, effects all smashed together to create something monstrous. It still sounds awesome today, but is pretty difficult to listen to more than once. It is like falling into a sewer and being swept naked at a million miles an hour through various viaducts of time, surrounded by sights you don’t want to see, like Terry Wogan playing golf with Jimmy Tarbuck’s leg instead of a nine. Understandably it still splits fans; it’s great.

`Good Night’ is a rather sumptuous ending, almost like a Disney composition. Ringo does very well here, the strings are beautiful and the backing singers give it all a good night lullaby feel. It is deliberately lovely, cheesy, but looking past all that it is a pretty good song, and a great ending.

The White Album was the final great departure for the band. Break ups and bust ups followed and everyone agreed they should go back to their roots to try to hold on to their success. At times it is boring, at times it is brilliant but on previous albums the brilliance overshadowed everything else. Here there are simply too many songs and many tracks either don’t work at all or don’t live up to the expectation. This is still the favourite of many fans, largely because it tries so much, covers so much, is brave and unlike anything else. Full marks for trying, full marks for breaking new ground, but mostly (for The Beatles) average songs.

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?

Joni Mitchell- Ladies Of The Canyon

Ladies Of The Canyon

Joni’s third album is a massive leap forwards in terms of quality, melodically stronger, musically more adventurous, thematically there is a wider range, and it is also lyrically sharper. Blue may be the more critically acclaimed and overshadows much of her other work, but this is equally flawless and indeed contains more famous songs. Her first big hit Big Yellow Taxi is here, as well as one of the defining songs of the Sixties `Woodstock’. With this album Joni became the spokesperson for a generation and every song both sounds eternally rooted in the days they were written, and as fresh and relevant today. Ladies conveys the freedom and ideals of the Hippy movement, but is also full of the darker introspection which would fill her next album. At turns joyous and bleak, and never less than mesmerizing Ladies Of The Canyon is an album which stands high above the singer-songwriter offerings of today and is one which every music lover should hear.

`Morning Morgantown’ opens the album in storybook style with Joni telling us about an idyllic morning in a small town, who she sees and everything that happens. With pleasant melodies, soft guitar accompanied by soothing piano in the chorus it is an elegant opener which has more in common with her previous album.

`For Free’ is my favourite song on the album and the first which is primarily dominated by the piano. Casting many shadows with its atmosphere it speaks of the dark side of fame, causing loss of self, selfishness, guilt. Self-deprecating, ironic, and supremely descriptive the lyrics are among Joni’s best. Avoiding a standard verse chorus convention the song grows in depth as it continues, with subtle strings added in the second half, and the piano melodies varying with each line to avoid repetition. The only part I’m not overly fond of is the horn ending hinting at her growing jazz influences which would become more prevalent after Blue.

`Conversation’ is a more light hearted and upbeat song, even though it deals with unrequited love. The lyrics speak of a woman trying to `free’ a man from what she believes is a one sided, futile relationship. Essentially she is acting as the other woman but you can’t help but side with her with melodies and passion like this. This also features possibly the best vocal vibrato in any song ever with Joni using her voice like an additional instrument more so than anything else she has done. Like `For Free’ it has an unusual expansive ending which adds greater depth and variation, again showing her own growth and experimentation.

`Ladies Of The Canyon’ follows Joni’s usual story telling format, introducing us to a number of characters and providing us with their routines and quirks. The unusual tuning which marks the album stands out here mixed with her finger picking and harmonious `do di dos’. This seems like a sequel to `Morning Morgantown’ and as the title track it contains most of the characteristics of the album as a whole.

`Willy’ is an unashamed song of devotion, without a hint of irony and remains utterly charming and powerful today. Joni’s vocal melodies mixed with those of the piano is one of the most wonderful things to happen in musical history, never more beautiful than here as it builds up to `there are still more reasons why I love him’. As with the rest of the album there is the background hint of darkness due in part to the tone of the piano and a few lyrical flourishes. It is one of the best underrated love songs ever.

`The Arrangement’ brings any hints of darkness from previous songs to the forefront. The soft, unsure, unsteady opening revealing the uncertainties and regrets of the narrator. Speaking of loss, it is quite a quick song but leaves a lasting impression with the fade out vocals of `it could have been more’. For some reason the double notes played frequently throughout the song remind me of the rainy intro to A Link To The Past.

`Rainy Night House’ continues the dark themes, with soft background strings adding to the ominous piano. The almost overlong piano intro is perfect, evoking feelings of gazing out from a window into a rainy night. There are many wonderful vocal moments (`the upstairs choir’) and again everything blends together seamlessly. Again there is a sense of loss and regret, speaking of a past which can never be regained. Again there is an unusual ending, dissect it any way you like.

`The Priest’ brings back Joni’s guitar skills with a tale of freedom, searching, religion, and ever so small hints of a drug infused trip. The rhythm here is interesting, thumping ever onwards giving a sense of an eternal journey. Again it reminds me of other works, in this case the movie version of Stephen King’s The Stand.

`Blue Boy’ is another atmospheric piano led song with Joni’s vocals deliberately almost breaking in parts to give a sense of fragility. As always the lyrics are open for interpretation with suggestions of love of sadness yet yearning for recovery, loss, war, mourning.

`Big Yellow Taxi’ is the song you will probably have heard in some form even if you haven’t heard this album or any other Joni song. I like the way Joni’s voice sounds completely different on this song than any other on the album- she sounds more like a child. The immortal melody is pop brilliance, the lyrics all the more important today, the sound completely joyous and filled with a love for life.

`Woodstock’ is Joni’s song for a generation, speaking not only of the famous festival which she never attended but watched on TV, but of the movement as a whole. Almost every lyric here has been used as the title of another song/movie/biography/documentary about the times, from `We are stardust’ to `Child of God’. Haunting at times, Woodstock is one of the most memorable songs on the album.

`The Circle Game’ closes the album in a suitably cyclical way, sounding at times like Morning Morgantown but having its own wonderful tune. Singing of the life of one man, from birth to death, signifying life as a whole it may be the best song on the record. Everything is perfection; vocals, instruments, lyrics. While some may smirk at the sentiment everything is played straight. Rarely can a song capture a feeling, thought, or idea so well as here.

Overall Ladies Of The Canyon is a must have. Not only is it historically important and endlessly influential, it has some of the best writing and best music ever recorded. This would go on to be the bench mark for all folk music, for all female vocalists, and for all singer songwriters. Blue would follow this, an equally special album and perhaps even better due to the step forward in experimentation and the wider variety of music and influences she would display.

If you enjoyed this review, please check the music section for other Joni reviews!

Agua De Annique- Air

After explaining that she left The Gathering so that she could both concentrate more on her family life and explore more of her own musical ideas, Anneke Van Giersbergen’s first album had a lot to live up to. Since leaving it seems she has been busier than ever, with 3 albums released to The Gathering’s one, and various guests spots and joint albums. I never thought that The Gathering would be a constraint on any member’s ideas but then I’m speaking as an outsider, and at some time or another an artist needs freedom to do exactly what they want to do. Which brings us to Air, Anneke’s first album with new band Agua De Annique. If you’re a Gathering fan you find anything particularly new or shocking here- it could almost be a Gathering album, only lacking the spacey guitar work and more complex songs of that band. Anneke is on fine form (she always is) and the album has the same quiet, at times gloomy, and understated feel that recent Gathering songs have had. The rest of the band all do their jobs without anyone standing out so it is clear this is Anneke’s show. She wrote most of the music and lyrics, she plays guitars on a few songs, and her voice soars and softens in all the right places as we know it does. There are a few classic songs, a couple which I feel could have been left off the album, but mostly it is a good first album. Given the pressure and expectation she was probably feeling from fans and from within it is a triumph and a sign of hopefully greater things to come.

`Beautiful One’ starts the album with trippy bleeps and a swirling guitar riff before Anneke begins to sing. Essentially a love song, but can also be read as a song to her new born, the lyrics are full of sadness and regret the emotion from which powerfully comes through in the chorus vocals. The verses I have found slightly repetitive due mostly to the guitar riff and the fact that the song appears both here and on the follow up in acoustic form. The bridge spices things up a bit with different guitar work and typical Anneke vocal acrobatics before the chorus crashes in again. A good opener, but personally I don’t listen to it that often anymore.
`Witnesses’ is a song dealing with the intrusion of religion into our lives, especially if we don’t want it, supposedly based on a real life experience. There is a swirling, building quality to the song with instruments, sounds, and vocals all growing towards the `chorus’. It is quite fast and rock driven compared to other songs on the album. I like the little guitar part before `you save the world from me’. The song doesn’t particularly show off her skills as a singer, but definitely showcases her growing talents as a lyricist and diversity as a song writer.

`Yalin’ is a slower, softer song where we hear Anneke’s control over her voice, from delicate and soothing yet full of varying emotion. Lyrically she seems to be singing about the loss of a friend and only realizing their importance when it was too late.

`Day After Yesterday’ is for me the partner to Beautiful One in that I enjoyed it for the first few listens but gradually became less enamoured with it. The song is piano led and has a clear sense of solitude, evoking feelings of wandering around an empty airport or being trapped alone in a house while it rains outside. Cliched feelings from me yes, but that’s the most simple way I can put it. It is another good song and I can’t find anything wrong with it, I must prefer Anneke when she’s more up-tempo. The melodies aren’t as memorable as some and it has a rather somber ending.

`My Girl’ starts with a more upbeat sounding intro reminding me for reasons I have yet to understand of JJ72. The verses are interesting with staggered vocals and music. It is a song I usually forget about but when I hear it again I love every second of it. I like the harmonies towards the end, the guitar work is interesting, Anneke seems to sing with a reverb effect adding to the overall tone of coldness and detachment.

`Take Care Of Me’ begins with soft, somber strummed chords before Anneke’s voice joins in to echo the downbeat nature of this love song. For a song about love and helplessness with quite joyful and bright lyrics it has a dark tone of despair throughout with all those minor chords. It is a very short song, reminiscent perhaps of something by Nick Cave or The Smiths.

`Ice Water’ is where the album really kicks into gear with a soft introspective intro, before bursting into chorus and growing from there. The violins add greatly to the tone of the song, the best moment of the song and perhaps the album being Anneke’s final two `Burning Away’ lines. Her vocals are never stronger than here on the album, the growing instrumentation makes it a highly emotion song, and I particularly like the two guitar parts before those final lines. It is these powerful moments which confirm that she is without any doubt the greatest singer of her generation.

`You Are Nice’ is the heaviest, fastest, most rocky, most fun, and probably most silly song on the album. Basically an outburst of lust that a thousand fans will wish was directed at them. The riff is slinky, Anneke sings alongside it in her most seductive tones before breaking into pure erotic screams.

`Trail Of Grief’ calms things down with another piano/percussion led song, beginning softly before the crushing centre part with Radiohead style guitars, heavy beats, and typical Anneke notes. It is another strong song only let down by lacking a truly memorable melody.

`Come Wander With Me’ certainly makes up for any missing melody, a cover of a beautiful song Anneke makes this the definitive version. Her voice is wonderful, the guitar is haunting and simple. It is one of the best songs on the album, and one to play to any friends to prove Anneke’s greatness.

`Sunken Soldier’s Ball’ is my favourite song on the album combining Anneke’s powerful vocals with her softer side, wonderful melodies, nice guitars, personal lyrics full of imagery. It is the one song that will stay with you after the album is over. Anneke’s vocals over the chorus are heart-breaking reminding us again of those moments where she has us in the palm of her hand (see middle part of Waking Hour on The Gathering’s Home for possibly the best example). I wish she had included this song on Pure Air as I’m sure an acoustic version of this would be heavenly goodness.

`Lost And Found’ again showcases above all the vocals, but I love the piano interlude between first and second verse. Still the tone of loneliness pervades all, except here it is a group feeling, a feeling of security shared amongst the lonely ones. It is a surprise when the guest vocals kick in, they offer a different, sweeter, almost childlike quality. This song reminds me of the song Home from the last album, and ends with a bluesy, Lenny Kravitz riff which should be played loud.

`Asleep’ closes the album, a lullaby to her son, a goodnight song to her fans which reminds me again of a couple of Radiohead songs. With it’s flutes and gentle guitars and vocals it is rather lovely. It is a warm song to fill us with security and a sense of belonging, that after all the despair and confusion of previous songs things can actually be pretty good sometimes.

As I said at the start this is a good album which misses out on being great (for me) by having a few songs which can get repetitive or (too strong a word) boring after a while. Of course this is subjective and the songs I don’t like as much may be someone else’s favourites. It is a consistent album in tone and feeling, something which few artists are able to accomplish and overall proves that Anneke may have left The Gathering but that she hasn’t left us.

Agua De Annique
 
If you enjoyed this review don’t forget to check out my review of the follow up album- Pure Air in the Music Reviews section!

Lykke Li: Youth Novels

Sweden has produced it’s fair share of musicians known world wide, across a wide array of genres. Metal fans will know that In Flames, Candlemass, and Opeth are among the genre’s most respected acts; Recently, The Hives became a famous international rock/pop band, preceeded by the likes of The Cardigans and Roxette. Many popular bands then, with a wide variety of sounds, and that’s without even mentioning Abba. If anything can describe Lykke Li’s debut, it is diversity- of sounds, of genres, of emotions. This does not work for the better at times, and although as the singer admits herself, that her life is a mish mash of moving and changing, the listener may wish she would stick to one genre and work at it- because all these pieces, this time, do not make a whole. Experimentation is wonderful, but perhaps Lykke should experiment with different sounds over the course of different albums, not squeeze it all into one.

That said, it is clear that most people will see this as a pop/dance album. The problem here is that there is no stand out dance track a la Robyn, which will blast through clubs this summer. On top of that, the melodies in her more pop sounding tracks are not memorable enough to dent the UK charts. The best songs here are the more tender moments, where the honesty shown in every song is pushed to the forefront. These songs have sparse and soft melodies, plenty of pianos, strings, and unintrusive beats. Lykke’s voice on these songs is another strong point, carrying the emotion wonderfully. At times though she can let her voice become too child-like, edging awfully near to ‘i’m so helpless and weak and rich, please save me’ territory. On the more upbeat songs, another annoying vocal trait can be found- the clipping of ‘t’ sounds at the end of words as if she is trying to sound like Lily Allen/Kooks/Libertines/any other desperately irratating ‘act’. Luckily, this does not appear often.

The album starts out promisingly enough, with a swirling growing melody with ‘Melodies And Desires’, which almost sounds like it could burst into an epic. For better or worse though, this is restrained, and the song fades out. The lyrics in the opening track can be echoed throughout the rest of the album. A sadness, a wish to feel part of something or someone, being in or out of control, love, dance, music, along with the ever so subtle hint of irony. ‘Dance, Dance, Dance’ has as good a chance as any to be her big hit, her voice acting as the lead instrument for the first half of the song, singing about a love of dance which gives freedom. I’m Good, I’m Gone sees Lykke Li doing her best sexy/sultry routine, with good results and a catchy enough chorus. Little Bit is a touching song, sung with yearning, although again with other tracks the repetition of lyrics can become annoying. Hanging High sounds at times Oriental and Caribbean, while Compalint Department sounds like it should be played on a catwalk. Times Flies and Everybody But Me are other tender higlight, while This Trumpet In My Head may be her best, and most understated track. Dusky vocals, harsh and witty lyrics, and with a definite Good, The Bad, And The Ugly feel to it.

So after all the hype of yet another myspace artist, we are left with an album which will no doubt do well in the charts this year, but for the same reasons why other acts do so mysteriosly well in the charts- Lykke Li has the sort of sound that Top 40 listeners will love- it’s harmless, doesn’t say a lot, and will be forgotten quickly. However, unlike the countless other talentless indie guitar bands, pop laydees, R’n’B nobodies, and Brit-School dumb wanabees, Lykke Li has potential. She has made this album herself, she has a good range of tastes, strong sense of humour, and hopefully in years to come we will see her talent mature. Unquestionably, there is something good here. Whether she is happy to pander to Radio Uno listeners, or wishes to progress as a genuinely forceful artist remains to be seen. Let’s hope she chooses the latter; the world needs more intelligent pop.

Youth Novels

Michael Jackson- August 29, 1958 – June 25, 2009

Michael Jackson

What else can be said about Michael Jackson? King Of Pop, hero to millions, the greatest entertainer who ever lived – his moves, his music, his voice, and his words will live on forever. Feel free to share your memories and thoughts of Michael in the comments section below.

Rest In Peace.

‘Heal The World’

The Beatles- Magical Mystery Tour

Magical Mystery Tour

This is the album that Yellow Submarine should have been, or at least it could have been this good with a few more songs and less instrumental guff. The UK version was only a 6 track EP while th US added a few B-Sides to make it into a full record. McCartney wanted to make a film based on a trip the band took in a bus, but this never transpired. It would have been better to have mixed together old live footage of songs, new studio footage, and the general madness and fun and games that the band got up to in the early days. The result would have been pure self indulgence, and instead the actual result was more like an experimental art film, an unscripted hour of skits and sketches involving magicians. Luckily most of the music is good.

`Magical Mystery Tour’ opens the album both literally and conceptually with McCartney inviting one and all to join him for a fun filled trip. The music is light and energetic enough, mirroring Sgt Pepper’s reprise. It also has a bit of a Help! Vibe to it, and is upbeat and up-tempo. The song is full of brass, a few samples, and fairly formulaic lyrics. The speed changes quite a few times to keep things interesting and experimental.

`The Fool on the Hill’ is a gentle McCartney song which is unduly forgotten by many. The lyrics are interesting and the flute-like instruments add something new. The song’s meaning is open for interpretation and in today’s world of fools it is easy to attach faces to it.

`Flying’ is a nice enough, mellow instrumental song features a melody played on mellatron and mirrored by chanting vocals. It is better than most of Martin’s instrumental parts on Submarine, but it isn’t one you are likely to listen to over and over. Usually it is listened to together with Blue Jay Way almost as a single track.

`Blue Jay Way’ continues from Flying with trippy, effects laden vocals and spacey lyrics. It isn’t a favourite of mine and can be skipped along with Flying. Like many of the songs on Submarine it sounds better in the context of the film rather than on its own.

`Your Mother Should Know’ is another McCartney song with nice melody. It’s catchy enough, but fairly lightweight and for me it seems to be lacking something. I think it is stretched out too long and should have either been shorter or featured an extended ending with growing instrumentation.

`I Am the Walrus’ is a fairly heavy song in comparison to the rest of the tracks on this album and features nonsensical Wonderland-esque lyrics about nothing which turn out to be some of Lennon’s most inspired words. To turn nonsensical jargon into standard lexicon and phrases people around the world know and use takes skill, and the way they fit the rhythm of the music is special. The song has never been a favourite of mine as the melodies aren’t too great, but you can’t help but admire it.

`Hello Goodbye’ finds McCartney in usual gentle melodic form, a nice song with backing violins which has an almost Christmas feel. It is his song about life in its most basic terms featuring a yin-yang philosophy. It is an underrated song on a largely underrated album. The coda has a `hippies singing round the campfire feel’ which in this case isn’t bad.

`Strawberry Fields Forever’ is a drug fuelled, superbly crafted, psychedelic masterpiece. Again showing how the band were always at least one step ahead of everyone else, at least when they were at their best. Lennon’s lyrics are existential, trippy, psychological, and full of imagery. Written after various controversies, in the middle of much drug taking and failing relationships it speaks of nostalgia for youth, for simpler times, and for home.

`Penny Lane’ is the best song here, classic Beatles with that British, mundane every day Sgt Pepper feel. The melodies are memorable, the lyrics are among the best the band would write, and it is extremely well built. The experimentation is kept to a minimum yet marked by superb trumpet work.

`Baby you’re A Rich Man’ is a combination of two Lennon/McCartney previously unreleased songs and features a clavioline part which makes the whole thing sound quite bizarre when coupled with the lyrics. It’s a bit repetitive and doesn’t add much to the album.

`All You Need Is Love’ closes the album, not the first time the song has appeared on a Beatles album. John’s song of united love, everyone knows it and most will like it.

Magical Mystery Tour is among the band’s most underrated work, a mix of classics and forgettable stuff. The good stuff outweighs the bad though and the album as a whole is pretty good. People compare this with Yellow Submarine due to the trippy nature of most of the songs and the fact that both albums and films feature some sort of journey and adventure. This is the stronger of the two, while YS could have been made better by including some of the other tracks that were unreleased at the time. They may not have fit in with the album, but like Baby You’re A Rich Man here, they could have been reworked to fit. You probably won’t return to this album much but when you do you are sure to be treated to some welcome surprises.

The Beatles- Yellow Submarine

Yellow Submarine

Yellow Submarine is the strangest entry in The Beatles catalogue, primarily a soundtrack the record is a mix of unreleased songs, previously released songs, and instrumentals composed by George Martin. The first half is Beatles, the second half is Martin. If the best of this, and the best of the other unreleased songs recorded around the same time had been put together we could have been left with a good album. What we do have is a mess of ideas and unresolved bits. The band didn’t have the greatest amount of involvement with the project and it was released very soon after The White Album. With a bit more time and involvement it could have been better.

`Yellow Submarine’ is a song that all fans will already be familiar with, Ringo’s catchy little nonsense number made even more silly due to visions of the film and its psychedelic sights.

`Only a Northern Song’ is Harrison’s attack on one of the companies which made money from his songs, and also shows his growing annoyance at being in the band, his belief that Paul and John made more money from his own songs than he did, and wishing to branch out on his own. All the anger and bitterness doesn’t translate too well and although the lyrics are ok the music is uninspiring and forgettable.

`All Together Now’ is McCartney’s attempt at a partner to Yellow Submarine- another light, fun, sing-along song which sounded like a children’s rhyme. Unfortunately it sounds more like a child speaking in tongues whilst in bed with chicken-pox. The tune itself is ok but it is repetitive and mostly boring showing a lack of interest or inspiration from the band.

`Hey Bulldog’ begins with a cool piano riff which is then matched by the guitar, but the rest of the song doesn’t keep up with the intro. The lyrics are fine and there is plenty going on, it is fairly heavy in parts for a Beatles song but it doesn’t have any noticeable melodies apart from that riff. Paul’s barking is all fine and well, I only wish there was more style to the verse and chorus.

`It’s All Too Much’ is a much stronger effort from Harrison with a hypnotic, swirling vibe and nice guitar work. It is highly experimental with bits of notes fading in and out, instruments joining and leaving inexplicably all held together with a nice verse melody. It is perhaps too long at over 6 minutes and becomes a bit grating towards the end. If it had been kept shorter the ideas would have shone through more clearly. As it is, it has a You Know My Name feel.

`All You Need Is Love’ is probably the strongest song on the album and remains one of the group’s most famous, but it isn’t one of my favourites. It also appears in slightly different version on Magical Mystery Tour and Love and is one of Lennon’s most clear messages- a firm belief in love conquering all. Naïve and fluffy yes, but also well meaning. It has a typically memorable melody and chorus, and the ending is a nice mix of various voices and memories. I think that for me after a while the song becomes too dreary and the trumpets over the chorus are quite tiresome.

`Pepperland’ is the best of the instrumental pieces, but that isn’t saying much. Most, if not all of the second half can be skipped as it is barely more than a barrage of noises which thankfully at times sounds rather ominous and foreboding. Here the strings are quite gentle and it almost sounds like the soundtrack to a romantic movie from the 50s.

`Sea Of Time’ begins with that distinct Eastern feel and following with a few nice and simple violin parts before ending with the Pepperland theme.

`Sea of Holes’ has a dizzying quality suggesting falling into a deep, dark, unknown place. There are interesting production techniques and effects but it’s mostly tuneless.

`Sea of Monsters’ sounds more like a Tom and Jerry episode than anything else- it fits well with the movie, but isn’t very good to listen to by itself, aside from the Bach interlude and the charging outro.

`March of the Meanies’ sounds quite threatening and as if it should be from a Sci-Fi epic.

`Pepperland Laid Waste’ also sounds quite foreboding but is mostly without anything of interest. Again it is fine for the film, but not something to listen to on its own merits.

`Yellow Submarine in Pepperland’ closes the album in almost regal fashion replaying the title track in a dainty way and adding a few other emotive parts. It’s a nice enough ending which highlights the strength of the main song’s melody.

Overall this is simply an ok album which could have been better. Yes it is the worst in the Beatles back catalogue but shows that the band were still capable of having fun. The first half contains some essential stuff but the second part is mostly pointless unless you’re a huge fan. Of course I am sure there are plenty of people out there who readily enjoy the second part, which does have some good moments, but it isn’t for me.