Colin Hamilton, Marcus and Jimmy Blackburn cast an appreciative eye over the month's latest releases.
Goto Indie Albums
Including Albums from Rocket from the crypt - Eric Matthews - Sparklehorse - Built to spill - Grant Hart - Red Red Meat - Morning Glories
Goto The Stone Roses at the Academy
Goto The Camden Crawl - in full
Goto the Beatles slagging
ERIC MATTHEWS - It's Heavy In Here - SubPop
Eric Matthews was half of the ephemeral if interesting Cardinal, who put a fascinating mini-lp on Dedicated a while ago (which is probably why you never heard about it). Now he's lost the Australian feller and put his classically trained talents into a solo record that sounds, well, like a sequel to his last in fact. The recent single 'Fanfare' opens the album and sets a standard that Matthews finds hard to match, with its authentically woozy Sixties feel and gorgeous trumpet parts, but the rest is no less worthy as it treads a fine line between MOR and some rather more avant garde experiments. Be warned though, this is by no means a 'Rock' record. Rather it comes from a world where the people who have created it can play music by following some dots written on paper. Real musicians then, but if you feel that any more Britpop will make you spew then try it. It's at least as clever as Blur think they are.
SPARKLEHORSE - Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot - Capitol
Sometimes I'm convinced that every 'underground' band in the United States believes that if they dabble in countrified rock they might one day end up in Nashville caressing a large pot of money and looking over a swimming pool shaped like a guitar. And so they all persist. But occasionally someone comes along with a shining exception to the rule of mediocrity, this time one Mark Linkous, trading as Sparklehorse. In fact Linkous is an A& R man for a well known multinational but , along with some friends he's put together as canny a collection of songs as I've heard this year. From the creepy and downbeat numbers like 'Heart of Darkness' and 'Sad and Beautiful World' through the pure pop of 'Rainmaker' and the wonderfully twisted 'Someday I Will Treat You Good', all the way to the thunderous 'Hammering the Cramps' Linkous shows himself a master at various idioms. As he should, just as his day job expects. If the idea of a missing link between The Cowboy Junkies and the Buzzcocks intrigues this could be your bag.
BUILT TO SPILL - Ultimate Alternative Wavers - Fire
Wow! What a truly horrific sleeve! A family portrait of sorts featuing some very unattractive members, and all on a revolting brown background, this one is guaranteed not to fly out of the stores. Worse, it is in fact a photo of Idaho's Built to Spill, at least as they existed a couple of years ago when this record was first released. Anyone who saw them scaring children as support to the Foo Fighters recently will be delighted to recognise many of the tunes on this worthwhile reissue, which certainly captures their 'rock trio with a cello only better' sound. Even though he looks like one of those unpopular teachers kids go to 'gigs' to forget about front man Doug Martsch is a tremendous guitarist in a Mascis/Malkmus vein. Standouts include the Velvets tribute 'Nowhere Nothin' Fuckup', the rambling 'Hazy' and 'Built to Spill' itself. It's remarkable how similar this 3 year old disc is to their current sound, but hell, if it ain't broke don't fix it, as they probably say in Idaho. Hilarious sleeve notes too.
GRANT HART - Ecce Homo - World Service
Which just about translates as Look Man if you garble yer latin. This is a first foray into the now obligatory unplugged format for ex Husker Du singer and drummer Hart, though in his case it wasn't pots o'cash that tempted him. Rather some of his band couldn't make it one night but the show had to go on. Hart's critical and commercial neglect is something of a mystery in view of the often remarkable back catalogue he's built up over the years, easily the match of his better known erstwhile colleague Bob Mould, and many great songs from his Du and solo days turn up here. However one man emoting with an acoustic guitar, and I mean emoting, does not show off some of the greatest punk pop classic of all time to the best advantage. Overwrought vocals and a single acoustic are not the best way to convey tunes like 'Girl Who Lives On Heaven Hill' and 'Pink Turns to Blue', though the wonderful '2541' remains intact. This is a curiosity, no more and no less.
RED RED MEAT - Bunny Gets Paid - SubPop
Somewhere in the minor leagues until now, this third album from Red Red Meat (top name!) sees them stepping up from also rans to serious contenders as they gleefully thrash their way through a selection of musical styles while showing scant respect to any of them. If their last record "Jimmywine Majestic' seemed too respectful to the memory of the Stones at their most debauched but neglected to add any songs to the sound, this album aims only to be as good as its antecedents, rather than a carbon copy. And it succeeds too. 'Chain Chain Chain' is the sound the mouldy old Black Crowes have always hoped for but never achieved, 'Carpet of Horses' is as downbeat as music can get before passing out, and all the better for it, while the fantastic 'Rosewood, Wax, Voltz and Glitter' comes on like the Stones when they were good playing 'Virginia Plain' from memory while the removal men are in. And that's just the first three tracks! Elsewhere instruments that look like furniture sound more than merely solid and there's just too much to discover in a hurry. Ask me again next year. This is a great record, no mistake.
MORNING GLORIES - Fully Loaded - Radar
I don't know what anyone expecting Oasis in their Xmas stocking would make of this, but from this rather more commercial take on the pointless if enervating grind of the likes of Killdozer I can imagine the most likely reaction to be fear. Morning Glories are a New York based threesome quite definitely here to rock most seriously, and on songs like 'Elizabeth' (scary), 'Friendly Song' (it isn't especially) and 'Fluorescence' (also scary), they seem to offer something for those times when you can't decide between the greasy longhair sound of (say) Monster Magnet or the sensitive maleness of (say) Buffalo Tom. Quite a decent record, though I can't imagine their name will evoke anything but confusion in the average listener.
Rocket From The Crypt - The State Of Art Is On Fire/Sympathy For The Record Industry
More of the joy which is Rocket from the Crypt, a band which have been making a gritty intelligent noise in the style of The Dead Kennedy's for a fair while now. Despite great critical acclaim Rocket From The Crypt have yet to see much chart action. This release is one side 33 rpm and one side 45 rpm which makes it difficult to define which charts this release will fail to reach. The 33 rpm side starts with Light Me, a fast and funky romp featuring a blistering bass line and the line I'm gonna douse myself in gasoline and light myself on fire. A+ In Arson Class has a hard core edge and is about burning down a house and the grade the American education system presented to singer Hip Farfisa for this destructive act. We must assume that he only doused the house this time. Rid Or Ride has the advantage of a sing along chorus and puts down it's subject for his inability to hold a candle. When your life revolves around fire like Rocket To The Crypt's does this is one of the strongest insults that they can hand out. The side's final song, Human Torch, returns to the burning person theme. The 45 rpm side abandons the topic of fire for both of it's songs. Ratsize covers the habits of rats which include chasing meices, eating their faeces and scratching their faces, apparently. Human Spine is the most accessible song on the record. Rest assured, you won't be hearing it on Virgin Radio but it's an enjoyable track with enough edge and twists to make it a good listen. Rocket To The Crypt have made a fine record even if the lyrics are rather tongue in cheek. If you enjoy your music fast and loud, then this is a record for you.
The Camden Crawl - Nov 95
Great idea, five Camden venues (total capacity around 1500 pop crazed punters) pool resources and offer admission to each three band bill for a mere fiver. So that's a choice of fifteen acts from the ancient and venerable (Wedding Present, Camden Town monuments Gallon Drunk- the original habitues of the now passe Good Mixer, once the only place with a late licence in NW1) through the essentially uncompromising (Donkey, Bob Tilton) to the seriously young and commercial (Bis, Kenickie among others). Plenty of other interesting stuff along the way like the mighty Blumfeld and the well tipped Quickspace Supersport make this look like an unmissable evening out.Unfortunately the problems begin soon after catching the first act Penthouse at the Dublin Castle. Their sub Jesus Lizard rantings are entertaining enough for people who used to be in the late unlamented Hinnies, but Kenickie at the tiny Laurel Tree looks like a bigger draw. And it is, to the extent that as many are queueing on the stairs as make it into the venue. Bypassing Tunbridge Wells contribution to indie culture Joey Fat at the Castlehaven Community Centre (aka the Scout Hut) it's on to catch Dundee's mildly fancied Spare Snare at the Monarch. Talk about a charisma free zone! Their album 'Live at Home' (recorded, yes, you've guessed it...) is liked by many, but they are so grindingly amateurish it seems almost inconceivable that a band that sounds like the youth club punk combo I played in aged 17 should have apparently toured the USA a couple of times. The songs aren't bad, the performance is lacking.
So far every band has been wearing skate shoes. But Scarfo are a blend of Vans and DM's footwear wise, and their combination of the Jam and Fugazi is a similar US/UK blend. I rather like them. Always effective live they earn bonus points for having a drummer clad in a 'London Fire Brigade' T shirt as seen in Londons Burning. By now the crush for some of the venues is ridiculous so I miss Nub and the famously intense Bob Tilton entirely. You'd be intense too if you had to live in Mansfield. Unfortunately I do get to see the appalling Bis at the Scout Hut. These ghastly cuties (2 boys, a girl and the rest on backing machines) are jolly, bouncy, predictable pop-lite and are thus guaranteed chart success as soon as some undeserving major snaps them up. The kids love them, but I know the spawn of the devil when I hears it. About as good as Haircut 100 sound these days. I had to flee after two songs to Dingwalls to catch Hamburg's finest Blumfeld , who are as wonderful as ever. One of the few bands playing tonight comfortable with their own sound, their dessicated take on Sonic Youth and Pavement is as cool as the weather and as enigmatic as you could possibly want. The man at the front pogoing while telling the assembled throng that he is enjoying the effects of an Ecstasy tablet adds to the jollity.
The choice now is restricted to the least popular acts which rules out Quickspace and Gallon Drunk, so it's back to the scout hut for the extraordinary Donkey , an Anglo-Dutch conglomeration in the great tradition of unlistenable scratchers like Big Flame. Donkey are hardly commercial, which is irrelevant I guess, but they are innovative, especially their amazing guitarist who does this trick with a cowbell and a screwdriver...I think you had to be there actually. Anyway the hardcore who can take it are treated to a brutal display of demanding and politicised punk/funk/jazz, with shouting. Splendid.
So the next stop is the Wedding Present unriot as a couple of hundred freezing twenty somethings wait outside Dingwalls for the opportunity to buy alcohol. It is of course all very polite, and as the evening ends we all head off with our complimentary Cds featuring each band ( best tracks Bob Tilton and Blumfeld) and a few complaints about the organisation. Not from me though. Fifteen bands some good, some awful and a free disc for a fiver is a damn good deal and if simple maths made overcrowding inevitable then the Weddoes fans can open their ears to some new shambling pop instead of the usual suspects. A good if flawed night out. Can't wait for the next one.
The Stone Roses at the Brixton Academy - 9th Dec 95
Remarkable! For most of the crowd it's their first opportunity to see the Roses, those lost sons of baggy, in some five years and all around people are glancing at each other with looks of sheer disbelief. Yes, it really is true. Ian Brown is actually singing in tune. To be honest, Brown is in fact bellowing, rather like a bull that's got something of a taste for Sixties pop, but, as it's well known that anyone who's seen his band twice will consider at least one of the performances among the worst they've ever seen, this is serious progress. And once the main hurdle of the talentless vocalist is overcome then the rest is a shoe-in. John Squire's guitar playing is never less than remarkable, endless fluid lines that show up the dullards who've since followed in his footsteps as the mediocrities they are, bassist Mani draws a big reggae influenced sound without ever stooping to predictability and new drummer Robbie Maddix hits the drums like he hates them, far more taut in style than the departed Reni.
So the bands in shape, and now all that's needed for a memorable evening is a large roomful of people out of their heads on drugs, and as this is an all-nighter with the Roses appearing near 1 am that's taken for granted. Opening with those old favourites 'I Wanna Be Adored' and that youth club combo perennial 'She Bangs The Drums' the audience wills the band to be as out there as them, with some success, and, with a keyboard player adding accurate backing vocals, Brown cruises, simply using the expedient of hardly singing at all on some tracks, especially those off 'The Second Coming'. So 'Good Times' retains its rollercoaster tempo changes, and 'Daybreak' reatins its characteristic crapness, but like the theory that says it's the presence of the tracks with Ringo singing that makes the rest of Beatle albums sound wonderful, that's the price you gotta pay.
And most of this set is that of a band at the peak of their powers. Bizarrely the finest songs are the ones lifted from a six year old record ( tho' 'Love Spreads' and 'Breaking Into Heaven' are well up to scratch) but then, as they hardly played at all six years ago, it really is like seeing a new band. After all, when they took out their address books prior to this tour they still had Noel Gallagher listed under 'guitar technicians'. Only time will show if the Roses missed their chance entirely as new bands under their influence have come up to steal their thunder, but for once the incredible version of 'I Am The Resurrection' lived up to everything good that's ever been said about them. And I for one am off to get a tattoo saying 'I saw Ian Brown sing in tune'...me and four thousand others. Whatever next? A Beatles reunion?
The Beatles - Hype or just hypeColin Hamilton sorts out the wheat from the chaff and asks if it was all worth it
At the end of last month The Beatles released an album of new material. Apparently, there is enough unreleased material for six albums. So what's going on? The Beatles stopped recording years ago now there's some new material. Where does it come from? Why did they wait until now before releasing it? Are Linda McCartney's vegetarian sausages not selling well. Is Paul McCartney really down to his last £100 million?
Since The Beatles officially disbanded in 1970 there have been countless releases available to continue extracting money from their fans. We've had live albums, greatest hits, interviews, box sets of all the albums, box sets of all the singles there was even a box set of all the compact disc EP's. There have also been various collections sold under such titles as Beatles Ballads, Love Songs or Rarities. All the proper albums have been re-released on CD at full price. The record companies claim that the albums have to be re-mastered before they can be put out on CD. This is of course a huge expense and validates the high price that they charge. Suspicions lead most to believe that record companies charge as much as they think they'll get away with.
Parlophone were not happy just re-releasing tracks in different formats though. They had plans to really make some real money. In the late seventies and early eighties thirteen Beatles' 7" E.P.s were released one by one. In 1981 they were released together in a box set. Realising that most fans who might consider buying the collection of EP's would probably own them individually already Parlophone added a fourteenth unreleased EP to the set. The She's A Woman E.P. was only available to those who purchased the entire collection.
April 1973 saw the simultaneous release of the two double albums 1962-1966 and 1967-1970. They became known as the Red and Blue albums. In 1993 they were re-released on CD. Did Parlophone consider putting them out at mid price? Not a bit of it. Despite the fact that they could have put either double album on to a single CD, they were put out as double CDs. They'll probably claim that this was for sentimental reasons but the fact that Joe Public is more likely to pay £20.00 plus for a double CD than a single CD cannot have slipped their notice. A healthy extra profit for those involved in the selling and the stench of exploitation for those buying.
And so to 1995, a year after the inconsistent Live at the BBC sold millions, The Beatles are media giants. Currently they seem to be on every TV station. There's been extended official biographies outlining their history, unofficial programmes questioning their finances, appearances on Top Of The Pops and The Chart Show. Sky have even been showing their movies. Even in their hey day, The Beatles didn't feature as prominently in the visual media. The press have also gone Beatle mad. They've been on the front of Q and every quality newspaper supplement. Mojo had a choice of three different covers on the November issue featuring The Beatles at different times in their career. Despite all the hype though, no one has had much new to say. There was the odd exclusive but most were filled with rehashed interviews, uninspired features and various celebrities informing us how much The Beatles had changed their lives.
The reason that no had much new to say was that no one could review the new album. No copies were made available to the press until after it's release. EMI will probably claim that this was to heighten the pre-release excitement or to avoid any bootleg copies being made available before the official release date. A cynic though, might argue that no review copies were available because EMI expected Anthology 1 to get completely panned by the press. This would lead to lower sales and a consequent loss of profit. A great deal of time, effort and careful organisation ensured that the album was on sale before anyone could print a review saying how bad it is. This would guarantee a few million copies would be sold on the back of the hype that had been generated.
Almost all new albums are released on a Monday in Britain and on a Tuesday in America. EMI synchronised the English and American release dates for the Tuesday. Doubtless this involves a lot of extra expense and for what. The most logical reason would be to avoid someone in Britain buying and reviewing the album on the Monday and having their critical appraisal in the American newspapers by Tuesday morning, thus potentially damaging a huge market.
The hype did not stop on the Tuesday. Record shops opened at midnight on Tuesday morning specially to sell the album. People queued for several hours to ensure that they were lucky enough to get one of the two hundred copies which were being generously sold at 1971 prices. This was of course another hype exercise. Footage of Beatlemania 2 was shown on all the breakfast news programmes and by the end of the day hundreds of thousands of albums had been sold. By the time the critics received their albums it didn't matter what they said. Enough copies had been sold to ensure that it was a commercial success.
All the reviews of Anthology 1 have, at best, been non committal but most have been scathing. It would appear that the barrel is being well and truly scraped. Anthology 1 is a collection of less than impressive versions of songs which potential purchasers already own and tracks that have a sound quality which is so poor that they may as well have been recorded in the bath. There does not seem to have been any quality control at all. It's highest point is the single Free As A Bird and even this isn't particularly high. It was sweet justice when the album failed to reach the number one spot during the week of it's release even if it was Robson and Jerome which stopped them. This week Oasis, the band being sold as The New Beatles, outsold Anthology 1 with an album that has been out for two months.
The Free As A Bird single was released this week so that it can compete for the Christmas number one spot. It will fail though. I have no doubt that, come Christmas day, Robson and Jerome will be sitting at the top of the pile. This will complete their case for being bigger than The Beatles.
Anthology 1 is an insult to fans of The Beatles. If you must hear it I suggest that you borrow it from a friend. If you must own it wait a fortnight and then go to your second hand shop, this will be it's natural habitat. There will be plenty of copies down there and hey, you've waited twenty five years for some new material what's another two weeks?
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