Nightman’s Favourite Songs Of All Time: California Dreamin’ – The Mamas And The Papas

California Dreamin‘ is a song that, up until recently, I wouldn’t have considered one of my favourite songs. Not because I never liked it, just because I never much thought about it. Typically when I talk about my favourite songs, they are the ones that have somehow shaped my life or my musical taste or are by one of my all time favourite artists. In this instance none of those statements fit. So why is it featured in this series? Like some song posts to come in the future, it’s simply because the some is so fucking good I can’t ignore it. I’ve been listening to it more and more in the last year and pining for someone to start a new pop movement where the songs are as strong as this. The song has always been there in my life, not because I purposefully put it on or had an album with it but more simply because it was released a good eighteen years before I was born and was so popular that it continued to be played on radio stations and in movies and shows as I was growing up.

That seems like a good place to start – the song was released in 1965 and over the next couple of years became one of the seminal counter-culture hits. It’s one of those songs which makes me yearn for the USA – as many problems as it has always had, sometimes something comes along which makes you want to be a US citizen living and breathing and existing in the same world that the song talks about. It was a hit single in the States and made the Top 40 in The UK, before a re-release in the late 90s saw it finally crack the Top 10. It’s one of those songs which is predominantly 60s but yet endures in each new generation both in its original form and thanks to copious cover versions. While The Mamas And The Papas version is the best, cover versions include Sia, The Beach Boys, America, and Nancy Sinatra have all had a turn yet it was some dodgy German techno thing which garnered the song its first Number 1 placement.

At barely over 150 seconds long, the song is a perfect example of how to do a pop single with no fluff. Perhaps more important, it’s a perfect example of how to do harmonies – in my mind it’s one of the two best examples of this type of harmony ever written, the other being Help! The song even has a lazy pace and a fake-out psychedelic intro in its short running time. That intro strikes me, quite clearly, as the band having no idea how to start the song and getting to the main melody in a smooth way, so instead they just said ‘fuck it’ and cobbled together a few seconds of bizarre psych guitar before blasting straight in. Those melodies? Forget about it. A few seconds in and I’m hooked forever.

Lyrically, it’s the writer yearning for the warmth of California while in a colder part of the country. I’ve never been to California, but the song paints such an idyllic vision of the place that it make it sound like paradise – coupled with the hundreds of movies and shows I watched growing up set in California, hell even the name California has a mythic quality to someone from the dreary, grey, bomb-drenched shores of Ulster. Hearing this song as a kid made me think of long sunny evenings, beaches which stretched as far as they eye could see, and carefree living – feeling which still pervades now even with the cynical mind of a grown-up.

I’ve probably mentioned it countless times on this blog, but the three main elements for me in any song are melody, lyrics, and emotion. This song ticks all three boxes – while I don’t think the band here showcase amazing technical skills or vocals, the lyrics are evocative, the melodies like glue, and it’s all wrapped up in an authentic package. Get those three right, and all of the other important components of music should follow naturally. Get those three right, and even if the other components don’t work, I’ll probably still love your song. Check out my Nightman Scoring System(c) posts for more information on how I break down songs into twenty different components. For now though, click on one of the links throughout this post and enjoy some nostalgic, sun-drenched, melancholic pop.

Let us know in the comments what you think of California Dreamin’ and if there are any other Mamas And Papas songs you think I’d enjoy!

Nightman Listens To – Bryan Adams – Get Up

Greetings, Glancers! We’re here, we’ve finally made it. At the time of writing this is Bryan’s latest album and so you won’t be hearing my thoughts on him for a while after this post. Thank Jeebus you say… and yet, you keep coming back for more. Now, the album contains thirteen tracks but four of these are acoustic versions of other tracks on the album. That leaves a pretty pathetic nine songs – I’m not going to bother with the acoustic versions, unless someone tells me they are radically different. So, for potentially the last time, lets do this.

You Belong To Me‘: What is this country wank? Aside from the twang guitar riff the rest of the song is okay – it’s incredibly simple and feels exactly like the sort of song which took a shorter time to write than the song actually lasts. It’s brief, the vocals are fairly clean as opposed to his usual gravel style, and the drums, bass, and guitar do exactly what they need to do to complete the song. It’s quite hooky, but quite forgettable.

Go Down Rockin‘: This has a similar vibe to Place Your Hands by Reef. There are no risks here, it’s old fashioned rock, sounds like it could be on a car advert featuring some Coupe zipping along a beachfront. It has a hooky chorus too, the lyrics don’t have anything we need to discuss, and even at under three minutes there’s too much repetition – still, it’s fairly fun.

We Did It All‘: Has some unusual (for Bryan) chord changes and rhythms in the verse, the chorus being more traditional and stronger. I quite like the chorus, tending towards that old school soft rock ballad style. There are some swirling effects which feel disorienting, the piano merges nicely with the rhythm guitar tone, but the lead guitar lines in the chorus feel misjudged and could have taken the song to another level if reworked. It does peter out towards the end.

That’s Rock And Roll‘: This starts out like another relic from the 50s. Then I guess that’s the point once I hear the lyrics. This is way too tame to really be considered rock and roll, even those tracks from the fifty had a fiery energy, burning passion, while this is just a pop song with 50s rock guitars and rhythm. The lyrics get worse as the song goes on, to the point where he’s explaining how to write a simple song… there’s a reason we progressed. Fuck those claps too.

Don’t Even Try‘: Right, so the whole album is going for a fifties vibe. The album so far is just a vanity piece, something which feels like a collection of bonuses that he should have given away for free or kept as an extra disc on an honest new album. All musicians reach that point when they decide to just do a covers album or force the fans to hear the artist’s inspirations reinterpreted. Having said all that, I quite like this one, though it’s about 60 years late to the party.

Do What Ya Gotta Do‘: Honestly, these songs are almost direct rip-offs of songs you already know, it’s quite funny. This one has a bit of The Who in it too, I like the refrain, again it has its hooks, not enough, and it’s incredibly simple. This was the shortest yet, barely scarping past two minutes.

Thunderbolt‘: This one has a bit of experimentation, I guess. The riff and backing is quirky, the drums sound very distorted, but there’s almost nothing to distinguish the chorus and verse making the two or so minutes feel very repetitive and annoying.

Yesterday Was Just A Dream‘: Finally. This one feels like a genuine Adams song and not something he’s nicked from his favourite childhood records. It’s quite sweet, and I like the melodies all the way through. I’d happily listen to this song again, but the rest of the album has left a sour quality which may taint anything good.

Brand New Day‘: We finish with a song that sounds like it could be a single (no idea if it was or not) and another which feels like a genuine Adams song, though it does have the fifties beat. The vocals in the chorus and pre-chorus sound like they have some silly filter on. More unnecessary clapping in the middle.

Well, that was… something. A bad something. Compare anything here with something like Thought I’d Died And Gone To Heaven and…. well, there is no comparison. Fair enough he can do whatever he wants, as any artist should, but you have to ask yourself if anyone else is going to want it. It’s a bit of a crap ending if he doesn’t make another album. I’m sure he had fun making it and the songs aren’t really bad, they’re just retreads of stuff done better sixty years ago.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Get Up!

Nightman Listens To – Roxette – Joyride!

Greetings, Glancers! In 1990, the pressure was on Roxette to release a follow-up to their multi-million selling second album. Momentum was on their side with that previous album seeing a number of hit singles as well as the re-release of their biggest hit It Must Have Been Love being played around the world thanks to Pretty Woman. The band were at their creative and commercial peak and the new album would prove to be an even bigger success. Like I mentioned in my previous Roxette post, this album was on regular rotation during car trips. For some perspective, we would spend most holidays at a caravan park on a beach near to where my mother grew up and the car journey from my house to our destination was roughly 90 minutes. Sometimes at weekends I would come home for a day with my dad, before returning the following morning. So there was a lot of time listening to songs from this album, along with other favourites of my youth. I’m sure there are a few I’ve forgotten about here, but overall it’s an album I know well.

Joyride. A great intro to the album with one of their biggest singles. You’d be forgiven in thinking this was the lead in to a concept album what with the artwork and the spoken intro. It ain’t. Roxette have this habit of including multiple great hooks in certain songs – this one has a tonne – the whistling part, the pre-chorus ‘magic friends’, the chorus itself, certain guitar parts – each is addictive and will gnaw away at you. If you like some of the weirder stuff on this site you’ll be please to know I actually did one of my delightful remixes to this song years ago, but I never uploaded it. I must get around to that.

Hotblooded. This comes in heavy, a little cheesy but we can forgive that. Mostly. I’d mostly forgotten the verse but the chorus is another one with fangs. Lots of raunchy lyrics, a fast pace, a harmonica solo, guitar solo, it’s pretty simple but with a decent rock flavour. Good vocals from Marie.

Fading Like A Flower. This was always one of my favourites, but then you know how I love the ballads. This is a power ballad following the 80s template. We have a piano lead in, a lot of atmosphere and emotion, a surge into a crunching chorus. It’s actually heavier than I remember it, more emphasis on the power than the ballad with plenty of guitar to drive things. It also has a greater pace and shorter running time than I remember, but it’s still just as good and gives me nostalgic chills.

Knockin’ On Every Door. This starts with some dated drum sounds before pulling out a very funky verse – lots of riffs and weird sounds along with Per’s fast paced vocals. It’s not very exciting but the chorus is another decent one. Things get weirder in the second verse with stranger vocals and a few interesting musical choices. It could do with a little trimming.

Spending My Time. I feel the same about this one as I do about Fading Like A Flower. It’s another power ballad, but this time the focus is more on ballad than power. It opens with just Marie and an acoustic guitar, very lonesome and atmospheric – especially when the synth and twinkles come in. Then the chorus drops, terrific vocals, nostalgic synth, pure 80s stuff even though this was 1990/1991. Downer lyrics, defiant guitars, massive chorus. It’s perfect power pop.

I Remember You. This opens with some didgeridoo sound before stabilizing. Riffs, decent pace, rock infused pop. The chorus has that annoying Def Leppard feel. The verses aren’t that interesting and the chorus is merely okay, making this the weakest one so far. Still, there is enough here that it is still worth hearing.

Watercolours In The Rain. Another acoustic opening, reminds me a little of Led Zep’s Tangerine. It’s very soft and sweet. This one is unusual in that the chorus doesn’t live up to the verse. It feels like a song that strives for greatness but doesn’t quite reach it.

The Big L. I remember this one feeling heavy. There’s a little bit of guitar there and it’s quick, but it isn’t heavy. We have dual vocals and the melodies are fine throughout. It does have terrible hand claps though, you know I hate those. It’s catchy but it’s one I would have liked much more as a child. This one goes on a bit too long too.

Soul Deep. It’s a rip off of (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction but it’s still good. Marie yelps and howls, the drums are solid, and it’s upbeat. Not much else to say.

(Do You Get) Excited? A synth one which feels more in tune with the direction 90s pop was going. The synth also feels like any number of John Carpenter movies. It suddenly bursts into life for the second verse with a loud guitar riff, but the song doesn’t continue in that vein – the verses are still plain. The chorus is good but not as strong as the big ones here.

Church of Your Heart. This one is interesting – it’s another which tries to be a power ballad but just lacks that certain something. I think this one is too upbeat, for some reason I always treat power ballads as ones which come from a place of pain or sadness. This is just happy and though it has the same trademarks as those ballads it doesn’t strike the same chord with me. I still like it, just isn’t essential.

Small Talk. This is a weird song. It’s all drums and synth bass and strange spoken parts and little acoustic jingles. The chorus is okay. It feels very similar to Hotblooded but a less sexy version. A strange mixture, yet it mostly works.

Physical Fascination. Another weird one, or at least a weird intro. Lots of strange 80s sounds and funk stuff. It’s a bit all over the place but I do remember there were a bunch of songs like this – throw in as many instruments and sounds as possible and see if a song pops out the other end. A song usually does, but it’s almost always crap.

Things Will Never Be The Same Again. Ah yes, I always loved this one. I’m sure you can guess why. Somber intro. Sudden big synth and guitars. Atmosphere. Downbeat. You got it, it’s another power ballad. The verse melodies here aren’t as good as others but the pre-chorus and chorus are both great. It’s not as good as I remember, certainly not as good as the biggies, but still one of the better ones here.

Perfect Day. The closing song is another good one. Good verse, good chorus. This one doesn’t rely on silly sounds and production balls – just melody, vocals, idea. The album ends on a strong note.

It didn’t long before my brother started chopping songs from albums to make his own mix tapes fro car journeys, so quite a few of these didn’t make the grade. I also made my mix tapes and the only two songs I remember taking from this album were Fading Like A Flower and Spending My Time. My opinions haven’t really changed – those are the two clear best songs here, with three or four close behind. The rest of the album I can take or leave – there’s really only one crappy one and the rest are average album fare. What about you? Do you have any specific memories of this album or any of its songs? Let us know in the comments!

Nightman Listens To – David Bowie – Let’s Dance!

Greetings, Glancers! Ugh, I’ve been dreading this one. Not for any understandable reason you know, but I’ve still been dreading it. Like when you went to a school disco when you were a kid and you got all concerned and sweaty even though you’d be seeing the same friends and classmates you’d seen a few hours earlier? I don’t know. Maybe it’s the title of the album that’s had me wary, along with the fact that we’re now well into the 80s – the decade when good musicians forget how to make good music. I’ve never liked the Let’s Dance song either, and I’ve been concerned the rest of the album will be similar. China Girl sounds familiar, but other than that I don’t recognise any of the songs listed. We’ve been hear many times before, but let’s dance once more.

Modern Love: Well, it starts with guitar at least, so that’s good. Uh oh, repetitive and crappy drums. Talking with accent. Garth Marenghi. Better singing, and I like the minor stuff. Neat melodies. There was this terrible pop song a few years ago which had a very similar beat and rhythm to this and now that I’m hearing this it’s clear the pop song ripped this off. It was this overplayed twee mess with… were there two singers? Thankfully I’ve put it mostly out of my memory, but did it have someone singing ‘infatuation’ over and over? Something like that. The guitar is mostly gone now, leaving jagged piano and prodding brass. It’s very poppy, but it’s good.

China Girl: Okay yes, obviously I know this one. I quite liked the main riff but the song doesn’t really lift off for me until Bowie belts out the vocals after the halfway point. It feels like a curious one-off pop single till that point – I like it, though not a favourite.

Let’s Dance: Ugh, I never liked this one. It just sounded too 80s cheese, mixed with a faux 50s rock swagger and disco sound. It’s not a bad song or anything and I like the parts of the song outside the main ‘Let’s Dance’ vocal and riff. I find it quite overplayed too.

Without You: So, this is a new one on me yet it feels familiar. I like these unassuming songs which don’t try to show off or be some big hit yet quietly do a better job. Like the previous two songs there is a prominent repeating riff, and as this is new for me it doesn’t feel annoying or overplayed. The vocals are gentle, the song is short, and it has an unexpected finish.

Ricochet: Clapping and jungle beats – two of my least favourite things. A stuttering beat and near spoken vocals. It’s certainly doing its best to not endear itself to me. Smokey jazz horns play over dissonant sounds and soundbites. It’s a bit of an experimental mess. I know what he’s going for here, but it’s nowhere near interesting enough for me to be anything more than a one time curio.

Criminal World: Another new one for me, but wait, isn’t this just China Girl again? That riff is very similar. It’s lucky the verse is slow otherwise it would have been nearly identical. There’s some deep bass funking along, the vocals are quiet. The chorus speeds up and brings the melody. Rinse and repeat, though I liked this one.

Cat People: Ah yes. I saw the remake when I was in my early teens and liked it okay if it has boobs and blood when you’re that age, it automatically gets a thumbs up. It starts with simple cymbal snaps, then a growing synth purrs its way into view. Bowie does his best deep voice – it’s all very slow and somber, like a proto-industrial piece. The build up is slow, then there’s an explosion of vocals and sound to take us into the second phase of the song – basically a heavier take on the first with added energy and drums. It’s great. We follow this with a funky instrumental section before the vocals return – this is one of Bowie’s better vocals for me. We end on a nice synthetic guitar solo and choir rendition of the chorus.

Shake It: Umm… Prince? This is very 80s and the lyrics seem like the sort of silly stuff you got back then. It’s not quite New Wave pop, but it has that vibe, tone, and sound and feels like it could have been recorded by any number of 80s groups. That’s not always a bad thing – it’s fun and it would probably be catchy after a couple of listens, but on this first hearing it doesn’t have enough to pull me in.

A mixed bag then – some good ones, some I knew, some new ones. There aren’t any songs I didn’t like, title track notwithstanding as I knew it already, but there are a couple which I didn’t care for. Mostly on the positive side then – maybe a couple I’d choose to listen to again and which would potentially be added to my playlist, but nothing immediately jumped out at me and landed on the playlist. What are your thoughts on Lets Dance? Is this the best of Bowie’s 80s offerings, or does he get better through the decade while his peers suffered? Let us know in the comments!

You Love Us

Generic Ratings: 1: Crap. 2: Okay. 3: Good. 4: Great

Ostensibly where it all began, the song where the band truly announced itself to the world, looking every inch like a band nobody wanted and instead claiming to be the band everyone needed, the band to save the world or implode trying. Hated by other artists, feeding off the finger-pointing and setting themselves clearly apart from every other act in the world, they unleashed this torrent of seductive, caressing hatred, mocking fans, mocking themselves, and looking like they were having the most fun in the world, living the rock and roll dream while admonishing it for the nightmare it truly was. It’s a fast paced, chugging rock behemoth that didn’t sound like anything on the airwaves, Bradfield’s sneering vocals and lightning fast guitars, Edwards and Wire’s luscious stares and snarling wit, and Moore’s marching band percussive attack, it’s one of the classic statements in all of rock music. Looking at it as a song on its own merits, it is fairly simple stuff with a plain verse chorus attack, but there is such joy in the melody, in the unashamedly big chorus, and such brilliance in the final, Paradise City style instrumental blow out, that it can’t be avoided, or disliked.

The first link below is the album version – in my opinion the best version. There have been multiple versions of the song, each one with slight notable variances, so try all the links below and find your favourite. There was also a ‘new’ version a few years back but I can’t find a good link to it.

You Love Us: 4/Great

Video

Heavenly version

Stars N Stripes Mix

Misheard Lyrics:

  1. Our voices are furry
  2. Realize and won’t be bought
  3. Honestly we can never be loved
  4. Throw some mess into your face
  5. Your lessons drill in heaven instead
  6. Parliament you flick like C4 (?)
  7. Your life a cycle holocaust/you love a psycho holocaust

Actual Lyrics:

  1. Our voices are 4Real
  2. We realised and won’t be mourned
  3. Understand we can never belong
  4. Throw some acid onto your face
  5. Your lessons drill inherited sin
  6. Parliament’s a fake life saver
  7. Your life is like a holocaust

 

Nightman Listens To – David Bowie – Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)

BOW

Greetings, Glancers! We return to David Bowie and another album I know little about. Last time around I knew very little about Lodger which ended up being one of my favourite Bowie albums so far, so hopefully we’ll get more goodness today. As always, share your thoughts in the comments and make any suggestions for what else you think I should listen to.

It’s No Game (No.1)‘. Clicks. Hisses. Doors. Spray pain can being shaken? Music. Japanese. Shrieking Bowie. The music nicely fits the anguished vocals. Chorus (?) finds a little more stability. Some nifty guitar parts. That old glam beat comes in around half way but the general noise drowns out its power to annoy. I think I’d prefer it if the Japanese vocals were a bit more angry too. Nice guitar and shouting end.

Up The Hill Backwards‘. Chords, and twinkles. You gotta have faith. Sudden change and shift to a steady beat, organ backed, and plain talky singing with some gospel harmonies. Dirty guitar part. This is pleasant and poppy, mainly notable for the slight shifts in pace and the intrusive distorted guitar hisses. Final minute or so is instrumental.

Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)‘. Opens in a hasty manner with another jagged riff, some mouth trumpets, and thudding drums. The verses are at a gallop, there is a lot off industrial type noise in the background, beeps, crashes, dissonance. The guitars are formless at times, deliberately playing off key. I’m still not a massive fan of Bowie’s vocals, I suspect that will always be a thing, and you know that I don’t like the whole singing in English accents thing. More wacky guitar parts by Mister Fripp I believe – he seems to have been given free rein to do whatever he pleases, and the results are fantastic.

Ashes To Ashes‘. I know this one, and have always been intrigued by its oddness. Outside of the strange noises, there is a staccato type beat and funky bass. See, here I like Bowie’s singing in the verses, but not so much in other places. I like the call backs to previous songs. This was always one of my favourites before I’d ever heard a single Bowie album, and that hasn’t changed.

Fashion‘. My ow prejudice never allowed me to truly appreciate this – I think fashion is pointless, dangerous, and ultimately worthless – so of course a song with a name like that was going to piss me off, and it was made worse by apparently being a dance-oriented song. I always had an inkling that the whole thing was ironic, satirical, but I could never be arsed to find out either way. Listening now the song’s sentiments are obvious and the angular, gouging guitar lines are great. There’s a little bit of Pink Floyd in there too, which is always welcome, but the song as a whole doesn’t pull me in.

Teenage Wildlife‘. Bending in. Isn’t that the ‘Heroes’ riff? I’m hoping this is an anthem I’m not aware of but will love. Bowie vocals, affected with an operatic twang. I don’t like the piano – reverting too much to glam. The guitar is immense though. I know I get stick for saying things like this, but I feel like many Bowie songs would be better if he had handed over vocal duties to someone else. It is an anthem of a sort, just not the sort I was looking for. Hey, I still like it, particularly the middle part around 4 minutes. It has no business going beyond the six minute mark.

Scream Like A Baby‘. This starts out as something more akin to my tastes – a growling distortion, sudden mystery, a sense of threat, and here the vocals have more impact. It all falls apart in the chorus, but those verses are great, the riff working perfectly with the anger of the lyrics and vocals.

Kingdom Come‘. This seems to be following a similar rhythm to the previous song, though is immediately more upbeat – good vocals, good backing vocals, feels like a hit. Feels a little Motown. I see this was actually a cover – I had no idea. It loses a little impact towards the end, but otherwise I like it.

Because You’re Young’. Hold on. Hold on, what is this? This is more like it. That’s possibly my favourite Bowie intro yet, followed by a pretty good riff and ‘scary’ noises. This almost feels like Alice Cooper. Don’t mess it up. Uh oh, a sudden pause and wavering vocals. None of the rest of the song lives up to the start, which is a great shame, but as a whole it all balances out.

It’s No Game (No.2)‘. A steady bass and beat, regular guitar interruptions, nicer low range vocals, and a cool choir chorus. Great lyrics. He still seems angry. Camel shit. A sudden pause. Over? No, noises. Now it’s over.

Another one goes down. We’re into the 80s now, a decade where almost all of the successful artists of the previous decade(s) either fell apart or began releasing monumental amounts of crap. I know Bowie had some hits in the decade, but I don’t know much about his album input so I guess I’ll find out. This one.. I’d say it was middling for me, closer to the top than the bottom – some highlights but few standouts. There isn’t any filler and I can’t say I didn’t not enjoy a single song either – middling in other words. Let me know in the comments what you think of Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) and where it ranks in your list of Bowie records!

Nightman Listens To – Bon Jovi – Bounce

Greetings, Glancers. Like my Bryan Adams posts, we’re at the point now where I had stopped listening to new music by Bon Jovi. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard some of this album, and I’m almost certain I heard the title track upon release, but as I type this I can’t recall what it sounded like. Looking at the rest of the albums there isn’t a single song that I recognize. According to Wikipedia, the album was heavily influence by 9/11 – unsurprising. I’m hoping then that there are some insightful and emotional songs here which I will enjoy, but given that we are entering unknown territory I’m not holding out hope.

Just an additional note: In these previous Nightman Listens posts I’ve literally been listening to songs for the first type and typing my thoughts as they play. From now I’m going to try to listen to the songs twice – first to get my initial thoughts, and then the second time for the nuances and to allow the song a chance to grow on me before ripping it apart.

Undivided‘ has an unexpected start, lots of chugging distorted chords. Near spoken verse. Lyrics seem to hint at 9/11. Decent chorus. Repeat. Decent middle eight/chorus. Decent solo. Decent softer ending. Decent all round then.

Everyday‘ starts with beats and a bit of the old mouth robot. More heavy metal chords. Decent verse again. Decent bridge. Chorus doesn’t really work, thought it was building up to something better. Seems like an okay single but doesn’t get me pumped like their bigger hits – not quite as good as the first song.

The Distance‘ opens with a screechy riff and fast drums before giving way to a more mid paced intro then settling into a calmed verse. This feels like a traditional old school Bon Jovi power ballad. I hear some strings. Moves into a pretty good chorus. It’s odd how the guitars have a much more metal tone on this album – they’re really crunching – but the songs are soft at their core. Still, this is probably the best song of the three so far.

Joey‘ has a soothing piano intro. It’s not quite Baywatch, but close. It’s another storytelling lyric with near spoken vocals. More strings. Unfortunate it’s very plain – verse, bridge, chorus are almost indistinct. The piano part is the best part.

Misunderstood’ starts in typical soft rock Jovi style – you’ll have heard them play this style many times before. The verse doesn’t do a lot for me in the first instance, the pre-chorus is nothing out of the ordinary, but then the chorus comes in and raises the rest of the song – the next verse etc feels better based on the strength of the chorus. I like the ‘I-I-I-I-I’ hook a lot, but the vocals sound strained – it feels like he managed to hit it once in isolation and they just shouted ‘cut, let’s use that one throughout’. The solo is generic, there’s some phasing effect on it, but nothing new.

‘All About Lovin’ You’ gets me worried that it’s the band going country again, but this moves away into soft ballad territory. There’s a weird choice of guitar tone for the lead in the intro – usually the sort of tone reserved for some blistering solo. The lyrics you’ve heard a hundred times before, all about pages of life and faded memories. There are some plain strings in the background, I don’t like the drum effects in the verse, it’s inoffensive stuff that loved up couples can sway to, but the chorus rips shamelessly from Never Say Goodbye – same chord progression, melodies, even the strings. On its own this is fine, but they’ve done the same much better before.

‘Hook Me Up’ makes me think of drugs. Bon Jovi has never been a drug band, right? It certainly begins heavier than most BJ songs, the same crunching chord over and over with some strange effects in the background. A simple progression comes in, this breaks off into an atmospheric piano and bass section which is nice, though I could do without the scratchy, whispery stuff in the background. The verses are sharp, fast, I like how the central chords fade back in to add a dynamic layer – it’s nothing revolutionary for the band, but it keeps things fresh. The solo reminds me a little of Duran Duran’s Ordinary World riff, the rest of the song and the chorus has quite a lot of hiss and its melodically familiar territory, though the sudden finish is appreciated and caught me off guard.

‘Right Side Of Wrong’ has an almost great intro – I have a thing for piano and string intros anyway, so I’m hooked at the outset. Lyrically we’re in Springsteen territory again, the verse is fairly plain with just the piano, Jon, and some light acoustic guitars low in the mix. Unfortunately the rest of the song doesn’t live up to the opening 10 seconds. In fact, it’s one of the more boring songs the band has written – it’s very plain and unadventurous and like elsewhere on the album it just makes me wish I was listening to a better BJ song. This one borrows very heavily from Bed Of Roses, but it comes nowhere close to reaching the standards of that classic – disappointing.

‘Love Me Back To Life’ feels like a potential single from the get go. There’s a brief crunch chord intro, giving way to simple rock chords, strings, and voicebox – all BJ trademarks. The verses are commercially brief, the pre-chorus sets things up nicely, and the chorus is pleasingly melodic – another you can see crowds singing to. It’s nothing extraordinary, but a decent stab at a soft rock single by a band deep into their career. The solo is accompanied well by the strings, and it’s followed by a softer section where Jon attempts another forceful high note, this time it mostly works if sounding a little strained.

‘You Had Me From Hello’ kicks off in classic acoustic ballad territory – if you’re a regular glancer then you’ll know I enjoy simple acoustics and vocals, so this is promising for me. I could do without the organ. Good vocals, and simple, endearing lyrics and melodies which come across as meaningful and honest. Everything flows well, verse into pre-chorus, and on into chorus. It’s all understated and the volume is never raised beyond gentle. I would drop the organ/keys and change up the shitty drums. Not for the first time the harmonies help things immensely. There’s a slight change for the middle, I don’t know if the song really needs it, the volume gets marginally louder and gives the rest of the band thirty seconds to do their thing before returning to form. A welcome surprise, and maybe my favourite on the album.

‘Bounce’ is another song that’s clearly a single candidate – I’m assuming it was a single given it’s also the title track, but I don’t believe I’ve heard it before. Again the trademark BJ sound rips out of the stereo, stadium guitar tone, voicebox and commercial melodies. At least this time the band sound urgent – there’s a lot of ‘You Give Love A Bad Name’ here, and it sounds as if they are attempting another ‘It’s My Life’ as a lot of the tricks used there are front and centre here. This song doesn’t come close to reaching those heights, but it’s still a perfectly good radio friendly rock song. Special points, I guess, for the ‘I don’t give a fu-fu-fu-fu’ pre-chorus which is sure to be a live favourite.

‘Open All Night’ closes the album. I typically want my rock albums to end in buoyant, energetic fashion, but this is one of the softer ballads on Bounce. It’s nice enough drivel, the verses are pleasant but uneventful, while the chorus has some neat hooks. It’s not one of their best ballads, closer to the bottom than the top but it will obviously have plenty of fans singing its praises – just doesn’t move me.

Overall I mostly enjoyed the album – as mentioned I knew very little about it and while it’s heavy on the ballads, there are a few decent rock songs I wouldn’t mind hearing again, and one or two others which hit the mark. No bad songs, but quite a few plain songs which feel too often like overly safe remixes of former glories. Some bands continue to churn out the same sort of song, the key is to make people want to listen to the new stuff rather than hear the new stuff and wish they were listening to the old. Let us know in the comments what you think of Bounce!

Unplugged – Guns ‘N’ Roses

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Greetings, Glancers! Remember MTV Unplugged? It was this show where bands, singers, performers played a mostly acoustic show in front of a small live audience. It was great. There are a tonne of bands, singers, and performers who never appeared though and today we’re going to talk about one of them. For more on the idea behind this post, click here!

This is my first choice of band I’d love to have seen perform an Unplugged show. You may think G’n’R would not suit such a setting and yes, you’re probably right. However, other heavy rock and metal bands managed it successfully so there’s no excuse for Axl and Co in their prime to not have done the same. I love the idea of such a balls to the wall, rock band of wonderful excess to tone it down and allow their talent, songwriting and performance skills speak for themselves with little or no frills, little or no production, and little or no filter or space between them and the crowd. Below is a dream setlist for a Guns ‘n’ Roses Unplugged show.

Track 1: Civil War (7-8 minutes)

Most sets, especially rock sets start out with a balls to the wall, fast paced song to get the excitement levels up to a million. This is MTV Unplugged though, so that approach my not work. G’n’R are known for starting out with something like Nightrain, accompanied by some spoken shtick like ‘from Hollywood – Guns And Roses!’. I think we still get that spoken intro, maybe a little more subdued so that leads nicely into Civil War. I feel like this would work brilliantly as a dark, acoustic song – check out the link above for a Slash and Myles version, though the whistles are crap. The band could play a little with the structure, changing up those spoken parts into something unique. Obviously the rest of the band would need to pitch in, so plenty of room for experimentation.

Track 2: Pretty Tied Up (12-13 minutes)

The thing about MTV Unplugged is that it gave the artists an opportunity to mess with songs in a different format and perhaps play songs that were not normally part of their setlist. We’d need a faster song after that intro, so why not go with something a little left field? I’m not the biggest fan of Pretty Tied Up but I think it’s ripe for some innovative tinkering. The link above gives an idea of the direction the song could take – it’s not the best cover but you get the idea.

Track 3: Mr Brownstone (17 minutes)

I think after two maybe not so well known songs they’d need to pull a more mainstream song out of the hat. You can switch Track 3 or 4 around if you wish, but I think the important thing at this point is keeping some continuity of classics going for a spell. The link above has an early live acoustic performance – I’m not too happy about the tambourine – there’s a place for it, but it’s used too much in that video. The song has a loose, jam quality anyway so it feels suited to a smaller unplugged setting.

Track 4: Welcome To The Jungle (22 minutes)

Yes, keep the momentum going with the classics. The link has an acoustic instrumental only version which gives a good idea of how the song could still retain its raw power even without the distortion. I like the idea of the piano filling in some of the guitar parts, so Axl could get down on those.

Track 5: You’re Crazy (26 Minutes)

This one was already pretty unplugged anyway if you pick the Lies version. There’s isn’t much they really need to add to this one, the crowd would fill in the blanks.

Track 6: You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory (30 minutes)

Well, we’d better get Spaghetti out of the way. A few songs from that album would work here but this feels ready made and has the added bonus of giving Axl a vocal break, something we know he enjoys. It’s a short one too, and a bit of a novelty, so true fans would be happy to hear it.

Track 7: So Fine (34 minutes)

Axl’s still taking a breather, so we’ll have another ready made slow-number that isn’t too far away from being acoustic in its original form. The song does pick up pace in places so that would lead nicely into another more up-tempo selection of songs. This is another curious choice which would be nifty so hear for most fans.

Track 8: Live And Let Die (38 minutes)

We’re over half an hour in and there’s still a bunch of big boys we haven’t heard from yet. I couldn’t find a decent clip to link to, so you’ll have to use your imagination on this one. Axl’s back, it’s a fast song, will get the crowd pumping again, which will lead nicely into our next pick.

Track 9: You Could Be Mine (44 minutes)

Another fast one with plenty of room to play around, but I think for this one they should just go all in on the guitars and play a stripped down version as close to the original as possible. Alternatively they could go completely in the opposite direction with something like in the link above.

Track 10: This I Love (49 minutes)

Chinese Democracy up now – don’t think I forgot about it. We’re already running tight to our time rule so we may have to cut back on the longer songs. This could be an Axl and Slash duet, the piano, vocals, and guitar mingling together for an atmospheric centerpiece.

Track 11: Patience/Don’t Cry (54 minutes)

Cheating a little here, but when the band play their mammoth live show they usually switch between Patience and Don’t Cry. I love them both and while the former is essentially an acoustic song already, the former could be stripped back without losing any of its impact. Both songs could have some piano added acting as an effective bridge between track 10 and 12. There’s an early live acoustic performance of Don’t Cry complete with terrible crowd noise in the link above.

Track 12: November Rain (62 minutes)

So, this would maybe be the most interesting song to translate into an unplugged setting. Technically you could bring out a backing choir and bunch of violin players etc. Alternatively, have them in place from the start contributing to other songs. Much of the strength of the song rests on Slash’s integral guitar parts which bridge the different sections of the song together, but you can still have those without full ear-splitting electric. Unplugged doesn’t necessarily mean 100% acoustic. This would be a chance for the pure core of the song to shine through. The link above contains an early, shorter acoustic version by the band and is quite different from what we eventually got.

Track 13: Street Of Dreams (67 minutes)

We keep the piano led sentimentality going with a song which is a highlight of Chinese Democracy even if Axl does try to mess it up with some weird vocals. It’s a crowd-pleaser, even for those who haven’t heard it, and you can get a bit of a singalong going in the big moments.

Track 14: Sweet Child Of Mine (73 minutes)

It had to be in there somewhere. If you want, swap this out for Rocket Queen or a personal favourite. While Nirvana played hardly any of their big hits for Unplugged, most bands tend to cover their most famous songs and for G’n’R they don’t come any bigger than this. Ideally it should be nearer the centre of the gig, but what are you gonna do? Various artists have covered this song in acoustic over the years, but I think the writers could knock those out of the park with their own take – Myles and Slash are in the link above again.

Track 15: I Used To Love Her (76 minutes)

Another acoustic original to wind things down before the inevitable big finish. The band wouldn’t need many additional flourishes to make this work – it’s good to go from the first whisper and gives the rest of the band a chance to add their own backing vocals. It’s a funny song and would work well in an intimate environment.

Track 16: Paradise City (83 minutes)

I was toying with not actually including this – how do you ever make an unplugged version of something that is basically six minutes of head-banging and lewd guitar fingering? As balls to the wall as the outro to this song is, maybe a wacky dueling banjo type ending would be entertaining too? Really anything they did with this song would probably work, followed by a ‘Good! Fucking! Night! Yeah!’ If that doesn’t work for you, close it with Rocket Queen. The link above is an acoustic instrumental version.

What about you? Which songs would you love to see in a an Unplugged G’n’R show? There wasn’t time for Coma or Estranged. I couldn’t fit my own personal favourite Think About You in either. Cornshucker would turn a few heads. There are plenty of tracks from Chinese Democracy which I think would work well – namely Catcher In The Rye –  but I tried to keep to my 70-90 minute time frame as much as possible. Let us know in the comments what your ideal setlist would be, and what other artists you would love to see perform in this style!

The Gathering – Disclosure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nightman Listens To – Roxette – Look Sharp!

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Greetings, Glancers! Today we’re back to Sweden and glossy pop rock hits. Roxette’s second album was a massive hit around the world thanks to a string of new singles which saw them becoming late 80s superstars. Look Sharp! is an album that I would have been very familiar with in my younger days – I’m sure it would have been played in the car journeys from my house to our summer caravan park many times, though looking at the tracklist there are quite a few I don’t recognize. Some of the ones I do remember I can still sing word for word even though I haven’t heard them in years, and there may be some I have forgotten completely. Hopefully these will bring back memories and feelings of those car journeys – the sun beating in the window as we weaved between the mountains and the sea, school days behind us, and long summer days of football, friends, and fun ahead, romping on the beach, playing in the park, and gobbling sweets by the dozen. It’s exactly what Roxette were going for when they recorded the album.

‘The Look’ is a great way to start the album – maybe the album’s biggest hit and with a famous guitar riff. I’m not sure about the drums – a bit weak, but the lyrics are pure 80s nonsense which is pretty funny. Per sings the lead on the verses with Marie taking secondary duties once the chorus. Infectious melodies all the way through, from the whispering verses, the call and repeat chorus, and the ‘na na na na’ bits.

‘Dressed For Success’ is just fun all around. It grabs you from the first moment with Marie’s ‘yeah yeah yeah’, accompanied by cheery verses and a massive chorus. The best part is the bridge, because what is a great pop song without a connection between verse and chorus? This one is very good, with all the ‘what you gonna tell your mumma’ and ‘uh oh oh’ stuff and bouncy melodies. This one will put a smile on your face.

‘Sleeping Single’ is one I didn’t remember from the name alone. It starts with thumb clicks and tinkling stuff, before the 80s drums and horn stuff comes along and makes me think of Police Academy. The verses have only the slightest remembrances for me, but I do remember the chorus. It’s fine – I can’t say anything bad about it because it again sounds so fun and cheesy – it probably doesn’t need to be so long though.

‘Paint’ is another I don’t remember. It starts out pretty disastrously, with bad drums and 80s sounds. You can always rely on Roxette to pull it back with good melodies. I don’t remember the verse at all and the chorus makes me think of Madonna, so I can’t say I have any memory of this at all. It’s fine, chorus is okay, when Marie blasts it out halfway through it’s pretty good, but it’s the weakest song so far.

‘Dance Away’ actually start out like something by The Music, for about eight seconds. Then it goes all Eurythmics. Good vocals by Marie but everything else feels like a weaker version of The Look. Even the chorus isn’t that great, a couple of good moments.

‘Cry’ starts out softly, with piano and smooth sounds, leading into plain verses. I assumed I would remember this but I don’t aside from the ‘why should I cry’ line. There’s honestly not a lot to this song, even the melodies don’t hit the spot. I know it’s meant to be a lot more, but it’s a bit of a none event.

Chances‘ raises the energy levels again with heavy use of snyth and beats to create a throbbing rhythm. Better verse melodies and a much better chorus than the last few songs. It’s still not great, but has an atmosphere, a nifty guitar solo, and is catchy like their better songs.

Dangerous‘ opens with some chugging guitars and weird noises. Obviously I remember this, but I must have blocked out the weirdness from my memories. The verses are a little vague in my memory, but I remember the chorus clearly. It’s cute and infectious, strange when you consider the lyrics and subject matter. Like all of Roxette’s finest songs, this is all about the melody.

‘Half A Woman, Half A Shadow’ is one that doesn’t sound familiar at all. Opening vocals – nope, guitar and drums – nope, doesn’t ring a bell. Verse…. I don’t think I remember this but there is something… could be just because it sounds like something else. It feels a little bit like Lonely Nights by Bryan Adams. The chorus isn’t too hot. Disaster end.

‘View From A Hill’ is pure 80s dirt. This could be from Beverly Hills Cop or anything. I kind of remember the chorus, nothing else though. This is another middling effort, easily forgotten and aside from a couple of hooks there isn’t anything here to recommend. Lots of weird moments where the other musicians appear to lose their minds.

‘I Could Never Give You Up’ is a bonus song, but it sounds familiar. Again, I could be confusing it with something else. It’s better than the last couple, good Spanish guitar in the middle, better melodies.

‘Shadow Of A Doubt’ starts like an 80s action movie soundtrack. I love the verse vocals – they sound more urgent than most of the other songs. The melodies are fine, not too much difference between the verse and chorus. We get some sort of sax solo in lieu of a six string. I like the belting out by Marie at the end.

‘Listen To Your Heart’ closes the album – easily my favourite song here. This is one of the few Roxette songs that I’ve listened to sporadically over the years – it’s good enough that it’s never too far away. Atmospheric piano opening like the best power ballads. Steamy verses with superb melodies before the booming, immortal chorus. That’s it really, aside from saying I like the little twiddly synth ending.

I’m surprised I didn’t remember more of this album. My brother was a fan of making his mix tapes, so maybe he only took his favourites from Look Sharp! and the others got lost by the wayside. It’s worth listening to the whole thing, but it’s probably best to just cut out your favourites for future reference. Next time I listen to Roxette it will be an album I know I’m more familiar with – JoyRide. Let us know in the comments what your memories and thoughts of Look Sharp! are and share the music that you used to listen to on long car journeys of yore.