Music Review http://culturecatch.com/music en The Fine Art Of The Unnecessary http://culturecatch.com/node/3979 <span>The Fine Art Of The Unnecessary</span> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/user/460" lang="" about="/user/460" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Robert Cochrane</a></span> <span>October 6, 2020 - 17:23</span> <div class="field field--name-field-topics field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Topics</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/music" hreflang="en">Music Review</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Tags</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/580" hreflang="en">folk rock</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><div class="video-embed-field-provider-youtube video-embed-field-responsive-video form-group"><iframe width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/B_H5XuIb5WM?autoplay=0&amp;start=0&amp;rel=0"></iframe> </div> <p><strong>Yusuf/Cat Stevens: <em>TEA FOR THE TILLERMAN 2</em> (Cat-O-Log Records Records)</strong></p> <p>When Cat Stevens burst onto the pop scene in 1966, he was that rare thing for the time, an overnight success. His debut single "I Love My Dog" cracked the UK Top 30. The handsome, fresh faced boy from London was a ready-made star. Long before his Deram Records label-mate David Bowie sniffed success, or his Decca Records contemporary Marc Bolan wore a hint of glitter or effeminacy, Cat Stevens was what they wanted to be. A proper pop star. Born Steven Demetre Georgiou on 21st July 1948 in London to a Swiss mother, and a Greek Cypriot father, he was brought up above the family restaurant in the city's Soho district. In 1965 he began performing in coffee bars as Steve Adams, eventually opting for the name Cat Stevens on account of a girlfriend remarking that he had eyes like a cat, and that his Greek name would be too much for the public to either remember or say. </p> <p>Discovered by Mike Hurst of The Springfields, Stevens had a bold and dynamic, heavily orchestrated sound, and a slew of hits followed in the form of "I'm Gonna Get Me A Gun," "A Bad Night," and "Matthew &amp; Son." However, when his second album, the modestly titled <em>New Master</em> tanked, despite containing the astonishingly mature "The First Cut Is The Deepest," and as the later singles began to fop and flounder, he became dissatisfied with his direction, and blamed what he saw as Hurst's lush production values. He confesses to making unrealistic demands for orchestrations, and being difficult, as means to alienating Hurst, and being dropped by the label. The ploy worked. Having toured with artists as diverse as Jimi Hendrix and Englebert Humperdinck, Stevens was a young artist in search of greater success, but when he was diagnosed with TB and a collapsed lung, the pressures of instant success had taken a heavy toll on the teenager, and hospitalised for six months, a period during which he almost died. He took to meditation, yoga, and introspection, and became a vegetarian. The year he spent convalescing and writing songs would provide him with a raft of material that would sail him through the 1970s, and pave the way to international acclaim and stardom.</p> <p>He hired a new agent -- Barry Krost -- who secured him a deal with A&amp;M in the US and with island Records in the UK, and one that more importantly allowed him to work on and release whatever he liked. With former Yardbird Paul Samwell-Smith on production duties he began constructing what would become <em>Mona Bone Jakon </em>emphasising his new introspective stance that perfectly suited the vibe of the new decade. The album's odd title was his affectionate pet name for his penis. That mattered little. The record was a critical hit, and a modest commercial success. However, the haunting first single, the madrigal-like "Lady D'Arbanville" struck No 8 in the UK charts. An unusual song about a lost love for the American actress and model Patti D'Arbanville, but one in which her loss is dealt with as a transposed elegy to her death. A brave song, and one that resonates still with is chill of sorrow. However it was with the release of <em>Tea For The Tillerman </em>that saw Stevens literally become a stratospheric success. Within two years he would release a quartet of albums that set the benchmark for quality and confessional introspection, the final being <em>Catch Bull At Four</em>. All featured his highly distinctive artwork, iconic and illustrative, proof that his one year course at Hammersmith School of Art hadn't gone to waste.</p> <p>More albums and huge success followed, but by 1977 his career was on the skids once more, a near mirroring of his '60s dilemma. Stevens was feeling the pressure of, and dissatisfaction with,the rock and roll lifestyle he had embraced with tremendous vigour. Again he withdrew. This time auctioning off his guitars, he converted to Islam under the moniker of Yusuf Islam, and little was heard of him. He relinquished music completely. Sometimes aspects of religious conversion can mirror the symptoms of a breakdown, the extreme changes in personality and appearance, and the desire to be as far removed from one's old reality as possible. Over the years he courted controversy with comments that are on record over the fatwa issued to Sir Salman Rushdie for his novel <em>The Satanic Verses</em>, and again his rather humourless and devout persona was at odds with who he had once had been. It has been suggested that "Bilal X," the born again, former pop star character in the book is based on Stevens. His denials at being misquoted are hard to take seriously when reports and video evidence is viewed. </p> <p>The common problem with the newly devout of any faith is they've had their cake aplenty, and then resolutely condemn others for partaking in what they once so patently enjoyed. There was no reason for him to entirely abandon his former song-craft, it was not a requirement of his new faith, but was more a reflection of his inner conflict with his past. Gradually as Yusuf Islam, and then Yusuf, and finally Yusuf/Cat Stevens, he crept back into a lesser limelight. Even with Rick Rubin on production duties on <em>Tell Em I'm Gone</em> from 2014 couldn't hide that the voice wasn't what it once was. The albums have sold respectfully, and better than many who've hit the comeback trail, but the glory days were way back then, and the lost years have taken their toll. And then we arrive at thorny issue of birthdays. Are they a milestone or millstone? In truth they are both and Stevens has in his wisdom decided to entirely re-record his calling card album <em>Tea For The Tillerman</em> to mark its fiftieth year. His recordings were amongst the myriad of master tapes engulfed by the Universal Studios fire of 2008 which means have any existing demos or outtakes  have been incinerated, and the barrel was thoroughly scraped for the fortieth anniversary double cd. It is an act of rewriting his personal history. It could have been neatly re-issued in an emphera laden limited edition, and that would have been celebration enough.</p> <p>There are simple reasons why old albums don't get re-recorded, the artist is either too busy with new songs, can't be bothered, or has expired. It is also a profoundly bad and perilous idea. A strange and glaringly apparent absence is evident when this album is approached. There is no name on the cover, only the title beckons with an additional '<em>2</em>' to delineate it from the original. An implicit arrogance is at play with this conceit. At least three generations wouldn't know what <em>Tea For The Tillerman</em> was or is, such is the ephemeral nature of pop memory, or they might assume it is the name of a new band. Had Stevens not gone through such a drastic identity transfiguration this wouldn't be necessary when approaching an aspect of his past. Cat Stevens/Yusuf is printed on the cd, but call me old fashioned, surely it should be gifted the common courtesy of a full frontal acknowledgement. The artwork has been redrawn. The Tillerman has a space helmet and the world is a deeper, darker shade of blue in the background. A Proustian acknowledgement that things are not as they once were and as the music begins we are gifted the familiarity of a strange contempt in action. If it ain't broke it does not require the art of repair. The whole enterprise brings to mind the old lady who took it upon herself to restore a peeling ancient fresco in her local church, and in the process created a Christ that resembled a baboon. Stevens has regrouped some of his original players for the enterprise, another aspect in the remembrance of things that have passed.</p> <p> </p> <div class="video-embed-field-provider-youtube video-embed-field-responsive-video form-group"><iframe width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/nBCJhNiKhFE?autoplay=0&amp;start=0&amp;rel=0"></iframe> </div> <p>And thus we begin. "Where Do The Children Play" is nice enough, but the flatness of delivery, a failing of his voice with age that did't need revealing is cringeworthy and painful to hear when pitch and tone is required. With "Hard Headed Woman" he has updated the lyric to represent his happiness with his wife, but again the voice sounds weary and strained, and the dynamic backing doesn't carry the proceedings. There is a Tom Waits-like jauntiness to "Wild World" with a semi-calypso fairground motif. A conversational cover version, sufficiently different to the original to be included as a new song in its own right, a rare moment of joy in an otherwise turgid exercise. "Sad Lisa" is one of the most beautiful songs he ever wrote. Melancholy and riven with empathy it is a masterpiece in its original airing. The version that emerges sounds like an old geezer warbling in the bath, and the sorrow is for the damaged beauty of the original, and not the unhappy girl portrayed there-in.</p> <p>"Miles From Nowhere" begins an almost carbon copy, but the pitch isn't there, it becomes a turgid rock wank-out, a song of utter defeat trying to claim back old ground, and faintly embarrassing to behold. "But I Might Die Tonight" has a spirited air, but becomes plodding and lack lustre in its delivery despite an inspired arrangement. Again the vocals falter and grate and the overall impression is lumbering and limpid. With "Longer Boats" things sound faintly acceptable at the outcome, but again a sense of weariness sneaks into the artificial stridency he attempts to vocally achieve and a risible jam and latent rap is laughable and doesn't work unless he wanted to make an absolute mess like a grand-dad trying to be hip, but farcically floundering. It simple saunters off at the conclusion, lost and unresolved.</p> <p>"Into White" is another of his plaintive masterpieces, and one of the few that that works in these new clothes. It sounds like a hymn to encroaching death, instead of hope, and is a hard song to ruin. "On The Road To Find Out" has a bluesy vibe and clunks along ok in way a bar room blues fashion and pretty much works, like Canned Heat on a mellow turn, and one of the tracks that stands out as it suits where his voice currently resides. "Father And Son" always had an overwrought quality, and seemed to be trying too hard -- a song riddled with self-conscious introspection and earnestness, and on this outing sounds horribly middle of the road. As things close with the achingly brief "Tea For The Tillerman" there is also is an impression of what the actual point of the lamentable process has been?</p> <p>It seems to me that this record is the folly of a rich man with too much time on his hands. A train wreck enterprise, and one best to have been dismissed as a passing thought rather than being gifted actuality. Yusuf should have left the cool Cat that he was in 1970 well alone. There is a gap between that person and the man who made this abortive travesty, and he has nose-dived into the canyon that now divides them both. Stevens/Islam has become his own tribute act, and a rather poor one. He should have used the time spent here to record new material that would suit the voice that he now possess. Take a trip back in time and love the genius implicit in the original. If a cat has nine lives on this airing the tenth one awaits. A fascinating folly and one worth exploring if you care to, but for all the wrong reasons. It doesn't reward the listener and has simply saddened this one. We can learn from the mistakes of others so let <em>Tea For The Tillerman 2</em> be proof that the past really is a foreign country, and remembering it is better than trying to recreate an aspect that was near-perfect anyway. It is a sad affair, like an old man asking his younger self "Who was I?" because, like most of us, with time flying by, he isn't altogether sure.</p> </div> <section> <h2>Add new comment</h2> <drupal-render-placeholder callback="comment.lazy_builders:renderForm" arguments="0=node&amp;1=3979&amp;2=comment_node_story&amp;3=comment_node_story" token="pZsn-as0nVwpz3TXe3vE1XdHAoNWLE4MoUYitR2xe6U"></drupal-render-placeholder> </section> Tue, 06 Oct 2020 21:23:20 +0000 Robert Cochrane 3979 at http://culturecatch.com The World Turned Upside Down http://culturecatch.com/node/3977 <span>The World Turned Upside Down</span> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/user/6959" lang="" about="/user/6959" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Tony Alterman</a></span> <span>September 17, 2020 - 09:29</span> <div class="field field--name-field-topics field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Topics</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/music" hreflang="en">Music Review</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Tags</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/780" hreflang="en">classic rock</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><div class="video-embed-field-provider-youtube video-embed-field-responsive-video form-group"><iframe width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/nxjvo4BRf-Y?autoplay=0&amp;start=0&amp;rel=0"></iframe> </div> <p>The popular music we grow up with is the music that matters most. It defines us in a way that books and artworks rarely do. As times change, and the music with them, we tend to feel that the music of our own time had some special ingredient, some quality that is lacking in what came after. We can admire and even love the music of later generations (and of earlier as well) but it just doesn't simmer in our souls in the same way. </p> <p>Nothing is quite so fine an occasion to return to the sounds of our youth, and revel in what we had, as an anniversary. Round-number years are great opportunities for them, and there hasn't been a rounder year than 2020 since 2000, so why not go for broke? It is, after all, the golden anniversary of the year 1970, and that feels like an extraordinary opportunity to relive the sounds of times gone by. Break out the beer, and make it a Heineken or St. Pauli Girl, because this was long before supermarkets lined shelves with local craft beers. Get some chips, put on the headphones and load up that old turntable with some seriously scratched vinyl. It's going to be a terrific trip down memory lane.</p> <p>Wait -- who said "Terrifically awful!"? Are there hecklers in the audience? Or could it be those very Baby Boomers who, according to my eloquent preamble above, were the 1970 adolescents who should now be in high celebratory mode? Is it possible they do not look back with sentimental affection at this key musical decade of their youth?</p> <p>Of course, it was a tough year, in many ways. There was the War in Vietnam, which expanded that year to Cambodia. There were the notorious shootings of students at Kent State (by the National Guard) and Jackson State (by the local police). A cyclone in what is now Bangladesh killed half a million people over 10 days, roughly the death toll of the first six months of the COVID-19 epidemic. (George Harrison's Concert for Bangladesh the following year was in part a response to the cyclone's devastation, though the toll in the war of liberation that followed was much greater.) There was a near-disaster with a space shuttle, and a real disaster when some Weathermen playing with explosives blew themselves up in a Greenwich Village townhouse. </p> <p>All of this was disturbing, but it is probably not what makes the Woodstock Generation grimace at a year in music whose spiritual beginning might be the Altamont concert disaster on December 6, 1969, presaging the following year's banquet of blood and gore. Then what's eating us about the big 7-0?</p> <p><b>The Year the Music Died?</b></p> <p>First of all, 1970 will be remembered as the year the greatest rock band in history officially broke up -- a sour enough note to put a damper on any celebrations, though it wasn't official until the last day of the year, when Paul McCartney filed suit. (Be on the lookout for apocalyptic echoes this New Year's Eve.) But the sense had been growing throughout the year that they were done. Moreover, it was the year that both Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin died, and their rather ignominious deaths turned a warped mirror on a youth culture that defined itself by its musical heroes. And other heroes did little to compensate. Cream had already gone to pieces; so had the Animals. Brian Jones, original leader of the Rolling Stones, drowned in a swimming pool in July 1969. In 1970, Diana Ross left the Supremes, Garfunkel left Simon, Dave Clark and the Five went separate ways and the Turtles crawled off in different directions. Bob Dylan, after a string of albums in the sixties that established him as an American songwriting genius, was in the midst of a creative funk that wouldn't end until 1975 with <i>Blood on the Tracks</i>. Even Led Zeppelin, having left the starting gate in a fury with two earth-shaking albums, released what remains their least impressive effort.</p> <div class="video-embed-field-provider-youtube video-embed-field-responsive-video form-group"><iframe width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/5eHkjPCGXKQ?autoplay=0&amp;start=0&amp;rel=0"></iframe> </div> <p>But perhaps the worst of it was that what had seemed, oddly enough, like an organic whole fragmented into many directions, none of which obviously had the creative spirit and musical quality that characterized what had gone before. That entity we called "Sixties music" was probably an illusion, or at best a Cartesian product of post-British Invasion rock, California psychedelia, Motown, Macon and the New York folk scene. Nevertheless, the impression set in that we were leaving behind contrapuntal harmonies and old Fender tube amps and poignant acoustic guitar chords in alternate tunings, and into the breach rushed a battalion of noisemakers (Grand Funk, the James Gang, Black Sabbath, Wishbone Ash...) who then fought it out with a new brand of nasal folk rockers who had never played an actual folk song (James Taylor, Neil Young, Van Morrison) and some key-tickling commercial songwriters (Elton John, Carole King) for a place on the charts. </p> <p>As for the pop charts, in December 1969 the Jackson Five released their debut album, followed in short order by two more; this was not taken lightly by rock audiences used to the more serious soul music of the Supremes, the Four Tops, the Temptations, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Martha and the Vandellas, and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. Flanked by the Archies, the Partridge Family, the Osmonds, the Cowsills and the fading but still active 1910 Fruitgum Company, the Jacksons' onslaught seemed to herald the victory of bubblegum pop and the spiritual death of AM radio. This was a big deal. It was on AM that we first heard the Beatles, the Stones and the Who, as well as most of the psychedelic bands from Haight-Ashbury and Laurel Canyon. It was where "Sounds of Silence", "Incense and Peppermints", "We Ain't Got Nothin' Yet" and "Windy" became known to millions of kids. That's what we were giving over to "ABC-123" and other jingles. It was downright depressing.</p> <div class="video-embed-field-provider-youtube video-embed-field-responsive-video form-group"><iframe width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/eAyqMJam1D0?autoplay=0&amp;start=0&amp;rel=0"></iframe> </div> <p>The whole thing amounted to not just a change in musical taste, but the end of a generation's most characteristic form of expression, which had merged great songwriting with new musical sounds and, not incidentally, aspirations of universal love and peace. The harmonies were for world harmony; the songs were all "folk" songs. The Summer of Love... Woodstock... "All we are saying / Is give peace a chance" - that's the world that was going away, yet the "bomber jet planes" had not turned into swallowtails, in spite of Joni Mitchell's anthem.</p> <p>Not to flog a lifeless turntable, but yet another trauma was that the experimental spirit once exemplified by Hendrix or <i>Sgt. Pepper</i> showed signs of being channeled through the classical avant-garde and free jazz, with bands apparently competing to create the least hummable, danceable, or indeed listenable tracks under the banner of "progressive rock". Even where Stockhausen, Cage and Berio didn't rule, snippets or entire songs based on earlier classical pieces found their way onto album after album. And 1970 would have a good claim to being the coming-out of this trend: a host of brash new artists started (and sometimes ended) their careers with some wild entry into this melee, while more established ones got busy setting up prog obelisks like Pink Floyd's <i>Atom Heart Mother</i> for future imitators to gawk at. (This is all a bit ironic since it has been fairly well documented that the same classical avant-garde was already an important influence on the Beatles in <i>Sgt. Pepper</i>, but this is not about making sense, it's about how things felt at the time.)</p> <div class="video-embed-field-provider-youtube video-embed-field-responsive-video form-group"><iframe width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/tSbScjc0cIk?autoplay=0&amp;start=0&amp;rel=0"></iframe> </div> <p>Bad enough for a year in music? Well, don't relax yet: 1970 was also the year that saw release of an album by psychotic mass murderer Charles Manson (who had originally recorded several of the songs at the Beach Boys' studio), and one by the questionably talented political irritant Screaming Lord Sutch. (If the album is of any interest it is only because the Lord had a truly royal list of backing musicians -- Jimmy Page, who also co-wrote half the songs, John Bonham, Jeff Beck, Nicky Hopkins and Noel Redding, among others.) "Coming down fast" does seem like a good phrase to capture what was going on with rock and roll in 1970.</p> <p><b>But I was so much older then...</b></p> <p>That this somber assessment is one-sided, and perhaps hopelessly scratched, can be seen from a quick look at what did <i>not</i> go awry in that tumultuous year, at least as far as music is concerned. Let's begin again with the Beatles, who did not, after all, fall off the face of the earth. After some earlier efforts of an experimental temper, each of them released their first rock solo albums in 1970. Among these were <i>McCartney</i> and George's <i>All Things Must Pass</i>, which would remain among the most admired post-Beatles recordings. Simon and Garfunkel, who had set themselves a high bar on 1968's <i>Bookends</i>, jumped right over it with their last studio album, <i>Bridge Over Troubled Water</i>, which included the ultimate New York down-and-out saga, "The Boxer". While Dylan may have been in a slump, Joni Mitchell was in anything but. If her first two albums set the strings of one's soul to an alternate tuning, <i>Ladies of the Canyon</i> was not only packed with great songs but began her widely hailed move towards expressionistic keyboard-driven songwriting. Most critics find the source of that in 1971's <i>Blue</i>, but it started with <i>Ladies</i>, which I still think is the better album. Received wisdom also be damned as regards Traffic's <i>John Barleycorn Must Die</i>, an album panned by some, including the inimitable Robert Christgau. This was the album that made Traffic a fixture of 1970's college dorms, and the following year their <i>Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys</i> put the mortar between the bricks, so to speak.</p> <div class="video-embed-field-provider-youtube video-embed-field-responsive-video form-group"><iframe width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/4v8YQ6sU6I4?autoplay=0&amp;start=0&amp;rel=0"></iframe> </div> <p>That's <i>beginning</i> to sound like a decent enough year; and then there is <i>Layla</i>, probably the pre-eminent post-cream recording with Eric Clapton. And <i>Abraxas</i>, the album that made Santana a household name. Astonishingly, the Grateful Dead may have released their <i>two</i> best studio albums that year, <i>American Beauty</i> and <i>Workingman's Dead</i>. While Elton John would be moving on to greater popularity and perhaps greater feats of songwriting, in 1970 he not only made two very fine albums that brought him international recognition (<i>Elton John</i> and <i>Tumbleweed Connection</i>, the latter still among my favorites of his) but also performed the famous radio concert that would be released the following year as <i>11-17-70</i>. CSN, as Crosby Stills &amp; Nash are affectionately known, added an ampersand and a "Y" to create <i>Déja Vu</i> with Neil Young -- an album so deeply burned into the musical soul of a generation that one merely has to think of the name and it starts up like a jukebox: "<i>Ca-a-a-rry O-on, Lo-ove is coming</i>...." Not much less significant is The Band's <i>Stage Fright</i>, the last of a breathtaking trilogy of albums that Greil Marcus has characterized (in <i>Mystery Train</i>) as a sort of triptych of the American experience.</p> <p>In the R&amp;B department, or <i>soul music</i> as it was called at the time, it was a year of new beginnings: first albums as solo artists by Diana Ross, Curtis Mayfield and Buddy Miles, and the first Parliament and Funkadelic albums all hit the market. The Five Stairsteps and the Chairmen of the Board had their biggest hits that year. Of course, the big news was Miles Davis' <i>Bitches Brew</i>, which belongs neither more nor less in a discussion of rock music than Soft Machine's <i>Third</i> and other heavily jazz-inflected prog-rock albums. (The following year John McLaughlin would sweep away the boundaries with his first Mahavishnu Orchestra album, <i>The Inner Mounting Flame</i>.) This is a lot to take in, and as you will see in what follows, there was much more than that. </p> <div class="video-embed-field-provider-youtube video-embed-field-responsive-video form-group"><iframe width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/BzsmciMNAGU?autoplay=0&amp;start=0&amp;rel=0"></iframe> </div> <p>Suddenly, 1970 is starting to sound less like the crucifixion of rock and more like a second coming -- a carefully chosen metaphor, as it was also the year of <i>Jesus Christ Superstar</i>. I'm sure we didn't understand then what it all amounted to. In the next part of this series I intend to do a survey of what was really going on that year, if only to disabuse my own generation of the notion that our once rich heritage was suddenly shredded by amateurs with an ax and a fuzzbox, or a synthesizer and a handful of patch cords.</p> <p><em>Mr. Alterman is a writer, musician and native Brooklynite who has taught philosophy around New York City, performs as a singer-songwriter, and writes about local cultural issues on his blog <a href="http://parrotslamppost.blogspot.com/" moz-do-not-send="true" target="_blank">The Parrot's Lamppost</a>.</em></p> </div> <ul class="links inline list-inline"><li class="comment-add"><a href="/node/3977#comment-form" title="Share your thoughts and opinions." hreflang="en">Add new comment</a></li></ul><section> <a id="comment-2177"></a> <article data-comment-user-id="0" class="js-comment"> <mark class="hidden" data-comment-timestamp="1600704241"></mark> <div> <h3><a href="/comment/2177#comment-2177" class="permalink" rel="bookmark" hreflang="en">1970</a></h3> <div class="field field--name-comment-body field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item"><p>I think it would be interesting to read if Mr. Alterman distinguishes between those records which could be considered something of a continuation of the 1960s (I'm thinking perhaps Workingman's Dead and American Beauty) and those that more clearly prefigured the coming decade, such as Layla and John Barleycorn. I'd love to hear his thoughts on this distinction, which i hope we can all agree on, even if our particular candidates differ. Thanks for a great article!</p> </div> <drupal-render-placeholder callback="comment.lazy_builders:renderLinks" arguments="0=2177&amp;1=default&amp;2=en&amp;3=" token="89_TyQa6UMqNEPG2lfQQRrrfVlApAuZeeZSzZYsPRu4"></drupal-render-placeholder> </div> <footer> <article typeof="schema:Person" about="/user/0"> <div class="field field--name-user-picture field--type-image field--label-hidden field--item"> <a href="/user/0"><img src="/sites/default/files/styles/extra_small/public/default_images/avatar.png?itok=RF-fAyOX" width="50" height="50" alt="Generic Profile Avatar Image" typeof="foaf:Image" class="img-responsive" /> </a> </div> </article> <p>Submitted by <span lang="" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Eric Alterman</span> on September 18, 2020 - 16:55</p> </footer> </article> <a id="comment-2180"></a> <article data-comment-user-id="0" class="js-comment"> <mark class="hidden" data-comment-timestamp="1600719640"></mark> <div> <h3><a href="/comment/2180#comment-2180" class="permalink" rel="bookmark" hreflang="en">1970 Revisited</a></h3> <div class="field field--name-comment-body field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item"><p>Regarding the other Mr. Alterman's provocative suggestion, a few things:<br /> 1. There are three more parts coming - the next two will say a little about what was continuing, ending, moving forward, etc.<br /> 2. When I think of 60s rock the first thing I think of is great contrapuntal harmonies - Beatles, Beach Boys, Association, Four Tops, Mamas and Papas, Tommy James and the Shondells, etc. For me, that was all but dead soon after 1970, and in that respect, everything was new.<br /> 3. However, it is far from cut and dried, as the example of the two Grateful Dead albums demonstrate: certainly they have something continuing, as the Dead's origins were in a country and bluegrass; but they are also a break from the psychedelia the Dead had been doing on Anthem, Aoxomoxoa and Live/Dead, and they were very much in sync with the acoustic turn that happened in the new decade (see the next post in this series).<br /> 4. The best claim to new was heavy metal, which was not my cup of tea in most cases. Jazzrock and prog sort of hit their stride; they could be called new, since there was a lot more to come than what had gone before; but early rock and urban blues and both had jazz elements, and as jazz styles and rock more or less changed in tandem. (A bit on this in the 3rd part, but it could really be a separate article.)<br /> 5. So, it's complicated. Traffic had released three albums and several hit singles before 1970; are they part of the new, or continuation of the old? I think you could say that a kind of sound among prog and college-oriented groups matured in the early 70s, so after a few years it was recognizably different from 60's rock.</p> </div> <drupal-render-placeholder callback="comment.lazy_builders:renderLinks" arguments="0=2180&amp;1=default&amp;2=en&amp;3=" token="6-nY9L2P1YDoZJDBF3TzXyx8bIsO4K2Z1bth1kVucQI"></drupal-render-placeholder> </div> <footer> <article typeof="schema:Person" about="/user/0"> <div class="field field--name-user-picture field--type-image field--label-hidden field--item"> <a href="/user/0"><img src="/sites/default/files/styles/extra_small/public/default_images/avatar.png?itok=RF-fAyOX" width="50" height="50" alt="Generic Profile Avatar Image" typeof="foaf:Image" class="img-responsive" /> </a> </div> </article> <p>Submitted by <span lang="" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Me</span> on September 21, 2020 - 14:39</p> </footer> </article> <h2>Add new comment</h2> <drupal-render-placeholder callback="comment.lazy_builders:renderForm" arguments="0=node&amp;1=3977&amp;2=comment_node_story&amp;3=comment_node_story" token="JC5B8WE4omF-dmmPXbGsEz3M3H85rlzvz-7ALrBPrYc"></drupal-render-placeholder> </section> Thu, 17 Sep 2020 13:29:49 +0000 Tony Alterman 3977 at http://culturecatch.com What A Concept! (4) http://culturecatch.com/node/3975 <span>What A Concept! (4)</span> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/users/ian-alterman" lang="" about="/users/ian-alterman" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Ian Alterman</a></span> <span>September 8, 2020 - 10:45</span> <div class="field field--name-field-topics field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Topics</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/music" hreflang="en">Music Review</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Tags</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/887" hreflang="en">concept album</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><div class="video-embed-field-provider-youtube video-embed-field-responsive-video form-group"><iframe width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/2y-p2l0mDJY?autoplay=0&amp;start=0&amp;rel=0"></iframe> </div> <p>In Part 1 of this series (<a href="http://culturecatch.com/node/3968">see hyperlink</a>), I provided the "narrative" concept albums. In <a href="http://culturecatch.com/node/3973">Parts 2</a> and 3, I provided the "thematic" concept albums from A-R. Now we're on to our final grouping -- thematic concept albums alphabetically by group, from "S" through "Y. " It was great -- if exhausting -- fun to do this, and I hope everyone liked it, and maybe even leaned some stuff.</p> <p><strong><i>S.F. Sorrow</i> (Pretty Things). </strong></p> <p>Another concept album that straddles the line between narrative and thematic. The tragic and bizarre tale of the title character, who begins life as a fairly normal, imaginative child, but finds increasing difficulties getting ahead in life as society throws up obstacles, some of which are seriously demoralizing. He then goes on a quasi-spiritual quest with a strange shaman. In the end, he feels angry and disappointed, believing the world and its people are not to be trusted, and he goes into a depression that defines the remainder of his life. Some critics compared the story arc and overall concept to Pink Floyd's <i>The Wall</i>.</p> <div class="video-embed-field-provider-youtube video-embed-field-responsive-video form-group"><iframe width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/jNY_wLukVW0?autoplay=0&amp;start=0&amp;rel=0"></iframe> </div> <p><strong><i>OK Computer</i> (Radiohead). </strong></p> <p>Radiohead's third album was by far their most successful, both commercially and critically. It is a fearsome warning about the rapid advance of technology and the de-humanizing of society.</p> <p><strong><i>Clockwork Angels</i> (Rush). </strong></p> <p>It seems odd that Rush had only this one concept album in its very extensive oeuvre. It takes place in a quasi-Medieval dystopian "steampunk" world lit only by fire, and based on steam, clockworks and alchemy. It touches on love, politics, entertainment and spirituality.</p> <div class="video-embed-field-provider-youtube video-embed-field-responsive-video form-group"><iframe width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/uc6f_2nPSX8?autoplay=0&amp;start=0&amp;rel=0"></iframe> </div> <p><strong><i>Kilroy Was Here</i> (Styx). </strong></p> <p>A criminally overlooked rock opera about a future fascist theocracy in which music is outlawed, told from the perspective of a former rock star. The band made a film of the story, which accompanied their stage show.</p> <p><strong><i>Crime of the Century</i> (Supertramp). </strong></p> <p>Among my top three favorite thematic concept albums -- though the band claims it is not a concept album at all. It (loosely) tells the story of Rudy, a shy and retiring child who is dealing with increasing mental illness, which eventually comes to define his life. "Hide in Your Shell" is among my favorite rock songs of all time.</p> <div class="video-embed-field-provider-youtube video-embed-field-responsive-video form-group"><iframe width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/9SwCVJJwDY8?autoplay=0&amp;start=0&amp;rel=0"></iframe> </div> <p><strong><i>Six Wives of Henry VIII</i> (Rick Wakeman). </strong></p> <p>The former Yes keyboardist's first solo album is a brilliant "classical rock" album that sets Henry's famous six wives to instrumental musical forms. Highly regarded, and deservedly so.</p> <p><strong><i>The Myths &amp; Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table</i> (Rick Wakeman). </strong></p> <p>Here is a section of the synopsis of this album from my previous article on Culture Catch: "If prog is about the…incorporation of Western, Eastern and/or "world music" influences; use of non-standard  chord progressions; use of odd and/or shifting time signatures; use of non-standard instrumentation; an "orchestral" approach to arrangement; extended compositions, often including extended instrumental passages; virtuoso musicianship, often including extended solos; lyrics that tend toward the esoteric or fantastical and/or include numerous literary references; and the use of keyboards and the recording studio itself to create effects, textures, and atmospheres), then this album is almost without question the <i>perfect</i> blending of concept, fantastical lyrics, orchestra, chorus, rock band, and almost every other element of prog noted above. It also happens to be an exceptionally brilliant and exciting album as fresh on the one-hundredth listen as it was on the first."</p> <div class="video-embed-field-provider-youtube video-embed-field-responsive-video form-group"><iframe width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/_rwNe2QXwrU?autoplay=0&amp;start=0&amp;rel=0"></iframe> </div> <p><strong><i>Tales from Topographic Oceans</i> (Yes)</strong>.</p> <p>Singer John Anderson's paean to certain Hindu principles obtained from several texts and mentors. The album was not well-received by either critics or listeners, and even the band members were split on its success. (Among other things, It led to keyboardist Rick Wakeman leaving the band.) Later re-assessments were somewhat kinder, with many critics and fans noting that much of the music was wonderful, even if the concept and execution were less than cohesive.</p> <p>So there we have it -- a list of every (?) narrative concept album, and a goodly number of the thematic concept albums, from a wide variety of rock genres. With a couple of exceptions, I listened to every single album on this list. And it really was a thrill, particularly those albums I had never heard -- and in some cases, never even heard <i>of</i>.</p> <p>I also promised a (hopelessly subjective) list of my favorites on these lists.  Note that this list does not reflect what I believe are the <i>greatest</i> on each list, only the ones I love most:</p> <div class="video-embed-field-provider-youtube video-embed-field-responsive-video form-group"><iframe width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/dYXKv3IiTc4?autoplay=0&amp;start=0&amp;rel=0"></iframe> </div> <p><strong>Narrative:</strong></p> <p>1.  <i>Brave</i> (Marillion)</p> <p>2.  <i>Metropolis Pt. 2 - Scenes from a Memory</i> (Dream Theater)</p> <p>3.  <i>The Lamb Lies Down in Broadway</i> (Genesis)</p> <p>4.  <i>Thick As A Brick</i> (Jethro Tull)</p> <p>5.  <i>The Wall</i> (Pink Floyd)</p> <p>6.  <i>Subterranea</i> (IQ)</p> <p>7.  <i>Operation: Mindcrime</i> (Queensryche)</p> <div class="video-embed-field-provider-youtube video-embed-field-responsive-video form-group"><iframe width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/fGL1_cYFN50?autoplay=0&amp;start=0&amp;rel=0"></iframe> </div> <p><strong>Thematic:</strong></p> <p>1.  <i>Sgt. Pepper</i> (Beatles)</p> <p>2.  <i>Hope</i> (Klaatu)</p> <p>3.  <i>Crime of the Century</i> (Supertramp)</p> <p>4.  <i>Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy</i> (Elton John)</p> <p>5.  <i>Myths &amp; Legends of King Arthur (</i>Rick Wakeman)</p> <p>6.  <i>Days of Future Passed</i> (Moody Blues)</p> <p>7.  <i>Down to Earth</i> (Nektar)</p> <p>8.  <i>Animals</i> (Pink Floyd)</p> <p>9.  <i>Interview</i> (Gentle Giant)</p> <p>10.  <i>Dark Side of the Moon</i> (Pink Floyd)</p> </div> <section> <h2>Add new comment</h2> <drupal-render-placeholder callback="comment.lazy_builders:renderForm" arguments="0=node&amp;1=3975&amp;2=comment_node_story&amp;3=comment_node_story" token="svpGv5cBh0XbNBPXhfJdzAAdx-ie3b-0tG-2uh2hWvs"></drupal-render-placeholder> </section> Tue, 08 Sep 2020 14:45:00 +0000 Ian Alterman 3975 at http://culturecatch.com Night Falls & Lullabies http://culturecatch.com/node/3969 <span>Night Falls &amp; Lullabies </span> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/users/dusty-wright" lang="" about="/users/dusty-wright" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Dusty Wright</a></span> <span>September 7, 2020 - 10:00</span> <div class="field field--name-field-topics field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Topics</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/music" hreflang="en">Music Review</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Tags</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/139" hreflang="en">singer-songwriter</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><article class="embedded-entity align-center"><img src="/sites/default/files/styles/width_1200/public/2020/2020-09/cecilie-anna-new-bird.jpg?itok=R3oxUkgj" width="1200" height="1200" alt="Thumbnail" title="cecilie-anna-new-bird.jpg" typeof="foaf:Image" class="img-responsive" /></article><p><strong>CECILIE ANNA: <em>New Bird</em> (Fame)</strong></p> <p>Some of the best albums startle you with their simplistic arrangements, letting the vocals and piano and/or guitar pull you along. Think early Joni Mitchell, Elton John, Cat Stevens, This Mortal Coil, Anthony &amp; The Johnson. Less is more, less allows the poetry of the lyrics and the tone of the vocals and instruments guide you on your musical journey. Add Norwegian siren Cecilie Anna's latest long player to the storied singer-songwriter circle. You may have read a recent review on this site of her outstanding album <a href="http://culturecatch.com/node/3963"><em>I'm Here</em></a> from a few years ago, but this album may be even better. </p> <p>This is music best experienced late at night or on rainy, gray winter days. There is melancholic beauty in each note that is tethered by her delicate yet dynamic piano and keyboard playing. Her mournful vocals suggest an unfussy clarity of divine origin. Moreover, the album opens with a church organ playing a lulling melody and then the reverential vocals of Cecilie drop in a half-minute later:</p> <p>"When the night falls and I</p> <p>Lay my head to rest</p> <p>And the sky turns so weak</p> <p>And falls into the night</p> <p>I have done all I can to follow you</p> <p>'Cause from your heart</p> <p>A light shines on me"</p> <p>We, as listeners, understand immediately that we've been invited to the temple of her soul.</p> <p><iframe seamless="" src="https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=3030008121/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/tracklist=false/artwork=small/track=2257798323/transparent=true/" style="border: 0; width: 100%; height: 120px;">New Bird by Cecilie Anna</iframe></p> <p>On the title track "New Bird," one of the album's more uptempo confessional ballads, Cecilie shares her personal quest with us. Her piano augmented by her lyrical flute playing and clear vocals. This is an artist laying bare her feelings for her lover.</p> <p>"Lay your head upon my shoulder</p> <p>Lay your thoughts upon my day</p> <p>Lay your hand upon my beating heart</p> <p>I'll see you through the night</p> <p>I'll see you through the morning light"</p> <p>Our very own CC writer and UK poet extraordinaire Robert Cochrane along with Welshman Steve Hywyn Jones (Brodyr-Y-Ffin) supplied the evocatively simple, but brilliant ballad "Stranger Canyons;" lyrics by Rob, music by Steve. Just vocals and piano emoting:</p> <p>"Consider what the years have done</p> <p>Laughter still, but sorrows found</p> <p>Follows us where tears can run</p> <p>Over and over </p> <p>Through</p> <p>Stranger canyons, stranger canyons"</p> <p>Her voice seems to find solace in the truth of the lyrics; each note gaining strength by recognizing the ravages of time on one's life. The resignation that time marches on.</p> <p><iframe seamless="" src="https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/track=3263490532/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/tracklist=false/artwork=small/transparent=true/" style="border: 0; width: 100%; height: 120px;">Winter Turns to Spring by Cecilie Anna</iframe></p> <p>And on the very next song, "Winter Turns to Spring," she finds hope in the dawning of a new day, a new season of hope. Hope springs eternal when love is at stake, when love is a worthy reward, even one may have to wait for it across "borders" or years. </p> <p>"I'll never leave you</p> <p>‘Cause you never left me</p> <p>Across these borders</p> <p>Through heart and time</p> <p>I'm still here</p> <p>'Cause you never left me</p> <p>I know I'll see you</p> <p>As winter turns to spring"</p> <p>Produced by Gisle Ostrem and Cecilie with a religious reverence throughout, <em>New Bird</em> nourishes the spirit with each listen. And it is a rare and beautiful bird, indeed.</p> </div> <section> <h2>Add new comment</h2> <drupal-render-placeholder callback="comment.lazy_builders:renderForm" arguments="0=node&amp;1=3969&amp;2=comment_node_story&amp;3=comment_node_story" token="fjFRu3C5xENqHWajKJEpk8PU3HkxhPCaa0QIn5un1_Y"></drupal-render-placeholder> </section> Mon, 07 Sep 2020 14:00:00 +0000 Dusty Wright 3969 at http://culturecatch.com What A Concept! (3) http://culturecatch.com/node/3974 <span>What A Concept! (3)</span> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/users/ian-alterman" lang="" about="/users/ian-alterman" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Ian Alterman</a></span> <span>August 31, 2020 - 20:07</span> <div class="field field--name-field-topics field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Topics</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/music" hreflang="en">Music Review</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Tags</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/887" hreflang="en">concept album</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><div class="video-embed-field-provider-youtube video-embed-field-responsive-video form-group"><iframe width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/lc7dmu4G8oc?autoplay=0&amp;start=0&amp;rel=0"></iframe> </div> <p>In <a href="http://culturecatch.com/node/3968" target="_blank">Part 1</a> of this series (see hyperlink), I provided the "narrative" concept albums. In <a href="http://culturecatch.com/node/3968" target="_blank">Part 2</a>, I provided the "thematic" concept albums from A-J. Now we're on to "K" through "P," and it is appropriate that we should start with The Kinks' superb paean to the "British Way" -- as much a must-hear album as <i>Sgt. Pepper</i> or <i>Pet Sounds</i>.</p> <p><strong><i>The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society</i> (The Kinks)</strong>.</p> <p>The Kinks were the masters of British slice-of-life and internal history stories. Only early Bowie (who was contemporaneous), and XTC (who were influenced by The Kinks) could come close. But Ray Davies is the undisputed king of this genre. This wistful paean to a lost way of British life is nothing short of breath-taking. Every song is a concise "memory," brilliantly conceived and executed. This is a truly unique album in rock and a must-listen for anyone who has never heard it.</p> <p><strong><i>Hope</i> (Klaatu). </strong></p> <p>Klaatu came onto the scene in 1976 with many people asking "Is this the Beatles reunited?" -- such was the writing, arrangement, production, and especially vocals and harmonies they created. Although they clearly were <i>not</i> the Beatles, the band fed the rumor (deliberately?) by refusing to release any information about themselves or the recordings. It came out years later that they were three Canadian musicians and a producer/engineer. Their debut single, "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft," was as Beatle-esque as anything could possibly be, and also revealed their penchant for space-themed songs. (The song was covered by, of all groups, The Carpenters, whose version is actually very good.) Their debut album was a mish-mash of songs influenced by the Beatles, Beach Boys, Pink Floyd, ELO and others. And their ability to channel those influences into something brilliant and listenable was truly extraordinary. Their second, concept album straddles the line between narrative and thematic: it is narrative in the sense that it is a "story"; however, while there are characters, it lacks the "personal" story aspect of narrative concepts. The story is about a planet that has been destroyed both from within (as a result of some sort of fascism) and without (as a result of interstellar war). The sole survivor of the planet is the lighthouse keeper, who uses a massive laser to warn approaching spaceships of the dangerous amount of debris circling the planet. Using rock band, orchestra, and some truly jaw-dropping studio effects, they create the kind of concept album that The Beatles might well have created had they remained together.</p> <div class="video-embed-field-provider-youtube video-embed-field-responsive-video form-group"><iframe width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/FUlIOM3glDI?autoplay=0&amp;start=0&amp;rel=0"></iframe> </div> <p><strong><i>Misplaced Childhood</i> (Marillion). </strong></p> <p>Marillion has had two lives: the first was with its original founder and songwriter, Fish, with whom they wrote four albums (and helped create the neo-prog subgenre); the second is with its newer songwriter, Steve Hogarth (h), with whom they wrote their ultra-brilliant narrative concept album, <i>Brave</i>. <i>Misplaced Childhood</i> was the band's third album with Fish, and arguably their best. Conceived during a 10-hour LSD trip, this autobiographical account of Fish's childhood is about as genuine and intense as this theme can be written. As an aside, "Heart of Lothian" is one of my favorite prog-rock songs of all time.</p> <p><strong><i>Deloused in the Crematorium</i> (Mars Volta). </strong></p> <p>Uber-progressive rock trio Mars Volta burst onto the scene in 2003 with this uber-radical concept album based on a short story by its founders, about a man who goes into a coma after overdosing on morphine and rat poison. (It was based on the actual death of a friend of one of the group's founders. And in a case of extremely horrific irony, one of the other founders died of a heroin overdose just one month prior to the album's release.) Even for progressive rock aficionados, the "music" and arrangements on this album were very extremely heady stuff when they appeared.</p> <p><strong><i>Dirty Computer</i> (Janelle Monae).</strong></p> <p>Not quite rock, not quite hip-hop, not quite rap, this unique -- and daring -- entry is nevertheless brilliantly well-crafted and infectiously listenable. Prince produced the single ("Make Me Feel"), and also worked on the concepts and music for the album just prior to his death. (His "touch" is definitely present.) The theme, according to Monae, is "an homage to women and the spectrum of sexual identities." Per Wiki: "The album's 14 tracks can be grouped into three loose categories: Reckoning, Celebration and Reclamation. The first deals with Monáe's recognition of how she is viewed by society, the middle explores her acceptance of 'the cards she has been dealt,' and the closing tracks deal with her reclamation and redefinition of American identity. Overall, the album is Monáe's attempt to 'step into a more authentic self.'" The final track, "Americans," is incredibly apropos of the recent protests over the murder of George Floyd.</p> <div class="video-embed-field-provider-youtube video-embed-field-responsive-video form-group"><iframe width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/POZNheF-KdY?autoplay=0&amp;start=0&amp;rel=0"></iframe> </div> <p>Before we continue, as noted in my <a href="http://culturecatch.com/node/3968" target="_blank">synopsis</a> of Nektar's <i>Journey To the Center of the Eye</i>,  some artists actually "specialize" in thematic concept albums, some for whom their entire oeuvres are comprised of them. In the next section, in addition to some remaining one-offs (and two-offs), we will take on these groups, including The Moody Blues, Nektar, Alan Parsons and Pink Floyd.</p> <p><strong><i>Days of Future Passed</i> (Moody Blues). </strong></p> <p>Simply the recounting in music of a day in the life of an Everyman, this 1967 release was among the albums that would lead to the formal christening of "progressive rock." It was also the second of three albums (the first was The Who's <i>Quadrophenia</i>, see above) for which a special recording studio was built specifically to record it (Deram Records' Panoramic Sound Studio).</p> <p><strong><i>In Search of the lost Chord</i> (Moody Blues).  </strong></p> <p>With an umbrella theme of "quest and discovery," this album touches on spirituality, philosophy, music and several other topics.</p> <p><strong><i>On the Threshold of a Dream</i> (Moody Blues).  </strong></p> <p>Widely considered their best album, this 1969 release is essentially a psychedelic journey through inner space. (Sorry, but I've wanted to write that sentence for some time. And it <i>is</i> perfectly descriptive of the album.)</p> <div class="video-embed-field-provider-youtube video-embed-field-responsive-video form-group"><iframe width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/1IIC3YBY3DI?autoplay=0&amp;start=0&amp;rel=0"></iframe> </div> <p><strong><i>To Our Children's Children's Children</i> (Moody Blues).  </strong></p> <p>A meditation on children, child experiences, growing up, and getting old.</p> <p><strong><i>A Question of Balance</i> (Moody Blues). </strong></p> <p>The "balance" here is of manifold opposites: day and night, life and death, happiness and sadness, love and hate, war and peace, truth and lies.</p> <p><strong><i>Remember the Future</i> (Nektar). </strong></p> <p>See my comments about Nektar in the narrative section. This was their first thematic concept album, released in 1973.  It is a loose indictment of what we are doing to the world. It tells of Bluebird, a mentor/teacher, giving advice to a young boy. As an aside, the members of Nektar were fervent environmentalists. Their narrative album dealt partly with nuclear war. This album deals with overall concerns about our planet. And <i>Recycled </i>(see below) also deals with environmental themes.</p> <p><strong><i>Down to Earth</i> (Nektar). </strong></p> <p>Even a bunch of serious environmentalists have to have some fun at some point. More "straight' rock than progressive psychedelia and musical experimentation, this wonderful paean to circuses is simply brilliant, and great fun, and has their "catchiest" and most uplifting songs.</p> <div class="video-embed-field-provider-youtube video-embed-field-responsive-video form-group"><iframe width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/4If_vFZdFTk?autoplay=0&amp;start=0&amp;rel=0"></iframe> </div> <p><strong><i>Recycled</i> (Nektar). </strong></p> <p>Okay, enough fun. Back to environmental concern. But this time with a slightly lighter tone. Using a combination of the "straight" rock used on <i>Down to Earth</i> and some elements of progressive rock, this may be Nektar's best album overall. From my synopsis of the album in my "Absolutely Essential Progressive Rock Listening Guide" here on Culture Catch: "With <i>Recycled,</i> the band finally mastered a crucial element: the use of keyboards and the recording studio to create textures and atmospheres that truly enveloped the music. With ecology and the environment as their theme, Nektar delivered a masterwork of beauty, poignancy, and complexity, centered around guitarist-songwriter Roye Albrighton's unique and compelling guitar style."</p> <p><strong><i>Downward Spiral</i> (Nine Inch Nails). </strong></p> <p>Just bordering on narrative concept, this unexpected concept album from industrial/metal rock band Nine Inch Nails deals with a man who finds himself in a "downward spiral" as a result of the society he lives in and the cards he was dealt, and ends with his death by suicide.</p> <div class="video-embed-field-provider-youtube video-embed-field-responsive-video form-group"><iframe width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/ZyJzylk8d_M?autoplay=0&amp;start=0&amp;rel=0"></iframe> </div> <p><strong><i>Mothership Connection</i> (Parliament). </strong></p> <p>George Clinton "codifies" the infamous mythology of P-Funk. Not your mother's concept album, but a real hoot.</p> <p><strong><i>Tales of Mystery and Imagination</i> (Alan Parsons)</strong>.</p> <p>This clever album uses music and lyrics to relate some of Edgar Allan Poe's greatest and best-loved stories.</p> <p><strong><i>I Robot </i>(Alan Parsons).  </strong></p> <p>Loosely based on Isaac Asimov's stories under the same title, Parsons was forced to modify the album when Asimov's estate informed him that the title had been optioned by a film/TV company. The upshot is that he had to remove the comma between "I" and "Robot," and had to make the stories somewhat more generic. Even given this, it went on to become his second biggest-selling album.</p> <p><strong><i>Pyramid</i> (Alan Parsons). </strong></p> <p>A meditation on Ancient Egypt, centered around the Pyramids of Giza.</p> <div class="video-embed-field-provider-youtube video-embed-field-responsive-video form-group"><iframe width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/QYwTaAl0ZOg?autoplay=0&amp;start=0&amp;rel=0"></iframe> </div> <p><strong><i>Eve</i> (Alan Parsons). </strong></p> <p>I have not heard this album yet. According to Wiki, "The album's focus is on the strengths and characteristics of women, and the problems they face in the world of men."</p> <p><strong><i>Dark Side of the Moon</i> (Pink Floyd</strong>).</p> <p>As with <i>Sgt. Pepper</i>, there is little that has not been said about this album. It has been deconstructed so many times, in so many ways, that If someone does not know about it -- or even have heard most or all of it -- then that someone must be living under a rather large rock. Still, as noted in the introduction to this article, it deals with "the depression and/or madness that can follow as a result of various elements and aspects of human experience and society." And for those who want to try it, if you are going to listen to it as the "alternative soundtrack" to <i>The Wizard of Oz</i>, you need to start the album immediately after the MGM lion's third roar. (Don't forget to turn the sound off on whatever device is playing the film.) And while my attempt at this worked pretty well, and while it does not quite work as a true "soundtrack," there <i>are</i> several moments when the coincidence of lyrics and/or music with the film are truly stunning.</p> <div class="video-embed-field-provider-youtube video-embed-field-responsive-video form-group"><iframe width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/fGL1_cYFN50?autoplay=0&amp;start=0&amp;rel=0"></iframe> </div> <p><strong><i>Animals </i>(Pink Floyd). </strong></p> <p>Loosely based on Orwell's <i>Animal Farm</i>, the "Dogs" are society's predators, the "Pigs" are the greedy capitalists, and the "Sheep" are the mindless, obedient members of society who allow the behavior of the other two. This vicious screed is among the band's best works.</p> <p><strong><i>The Final Cut</i> (Pink Floyd). </strong></p> <p>This follow-up to <i>The Wall</i> was originally intended to be the third disc of that album, but the record company had no stomach for underwriting a 3-album set, and discord between Roger Waters and David Gilmour delayed the recording anyway. If <i>The Wall</i> was a quasi-autobiography of Waters' life, then <i>The Final Cut</i> is an even more personal account of what he views as Britain's betrayal of its armed services, including his father's service in WWII, by engaging in the Falklands War.</p> </div> <section> <h2>Add new comment</h2> <drupal-render-placeholder callback="comment.lazy_builders:renderForm" arguments="0=node&amp;1=3974&amp;2=comment_node_story&amp;3=comment_node_story" token="seQi4aBfoLHA358Bf5Hb1xXINM1grMxX65rfUjJF4YQ"></drupal-render-placeholder> </section> Tue, 01 Sep 2020 00:07:28 +0000 Ian Alterman 3974 at http://culturecatch.com What A Concept! (2) http://culturecatch.com/node/3973 <span>What A Concept! (2)</span> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/users/ian-alterman" lang="" about="/users/ian-alterman" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Ian Alterman</a></span> <span>August 24, 2020 - 11:38</span> <div class="field field--name-field-topics field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Topics</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/music" hreflang="en">Music Review</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Tags</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/887" hreflang="en">concept album</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><div class="video-embed-field-provider-youtube video-embed-field-responsive-video form-group"><iframe width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/2OFB6K3UNTQ?autoplay=0&amp;start=0&amp;rel=0"></iframe> </div> <p>In <a href="http://culturecatch.com/node/3968">Part 1 of this series</a> (see hyperlink), I provided the "narrative" concept albums. So now let's take a look at some of the best and most fun thematic concept albums. Even at its current length, this is not an exhaustive list, so please forgive me if I left something out. (I am happy to addend this list, if suggested.) This list is alphabetical by artist, and is broken into three parts.</p> <p><strong><i>Pet Sounds</i> (Beach Boys). </strong></p> <p>This album may or may not have been the very first concept album in either category. As noted above, even as a "thematic" concept album, it uses that term a little loosely. Composer Brian Wilson admits that <i>Pet Sounds</i> was inspired by the Beatles' <i>Rubber Soul</i>, and in particular by John Lennon's song "In My Life." (Wilson was quoted as saying he would like to be able to write one song as good as that before he died) "In My Life" was the first Beatles song that expressed "introspection" and self-assessment; these would end up being the themes of <i>Pet Sounds</i>. The lyrics on the album are sometimes a tad immature, but successfully serve to get the theme across. The songs run the gamut from very good to masterpiece, with elements such as sudden changes in tempo, unusual chord progressions (especially for what became known as California rock), and complex orchestrations. However, there are three things that make <i>Pet Sounds</i> particularly important and influential. First, although George Harrison beat him to it by using a sitar on "Norwegian Wood," <i>Pet Sounds</i> was the first album to feature multiple non-standard rock instruments, beyond saxes. For example, it was Wilson's -- and rock's -- first use of the Theremin (predating "Good Vibrations" by several months). It also included such disparate things as French horn, accordion, ukulele, bass harmonica, banjo, glockenspiel, and bicycle horn. [N.D. Maybe <i>Pet Sounds</i> was an influence on P.D.Q. Bach?] It also used lots of percussion other than a simple trap set. Second, the production values on the album broke ground in several ways. For example, Wilson said that he was attempting to mimic Phil Spector's famous "wall of sound" technique; yet Wilson pulled it off much more successfully than Spector himself, by avoiding the "bombast" that became associated with Spector's work. Wilson also used what was then state-of-the-art recording equipment in ways that had never been attempted, something that would directly and heavily influence <i>Sgt. Pepper</i>. Third, in this last regard, Paul McCartney notes that <i>Pet Sounds</i> "inspired" <i>Sgt. Pepper</i>. (McCartney also cited "God Only Knows" as one of the greatest songs ever written.) And although the Beatles had already begun playing with sonics and studio techniques on <i>Revolver</i> (which was released just three months after <i>Pet Sounds</i>, and was thus contemporaneous with it), the band saw <i>Pet Sounds</i> as a "musical and production challenge." Little did anyone realize just how much further the Beatles would push the envelope.</p> <p><strong><i>Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band</i> (The Beatles). </strong></p> <p>Seriously, what can be said about this album that has not already been said? As noted above, it was "inspired" by <i>Pet Sounds</i>, both musically and sonically. Yet who could have imagined the degree to which it would outpace its own inspiration? The story is well-known. Having given up touring a year earlier, and wanting to put the madness of Beatlemania completely behind them, Paul McCartney came up with the idea of writing an album as if the Beatles were an entirely different band, using a pseudonym. And contrary to much of what has been written, there was no pushback from John or the others; they all supported the idea. The reason I know this is that I had a wonderful conversation about <i>Sgt. Pepper</i> with George Martin at an Audio Engineering Society convention in the mid-00s. All of what I am about to relate here comes from that conversation. <i>Sgt. Pepper</i> had three primary influences. The first was <i>Pet Sounds</i>. The lads began by realizing that the songs on <i>Sgt. Pepper</i> had to be something even well beyond some of those on <i>Revolver</i>, and the production had to be beyond state-of-the-art. With regard to the writing, the second major influence was (and I hope you're sitting down) some of the "wilder" music being produced at the time, including Frank Zappa, and the avant-garde music that was inspiring Zappa and others. Both McCartney and Lennon were apparently familiar with, and listening to, such composers as Edgard Varese, Arnold Schoenberg, and even Karlheinz Stockhausen. (McCartney apparently really likes Stockhausen.) The third major influence on <i>Sgt. Pepper</i> was (hold on to your hats) Les Paul. His influence was large enough that Martin said to me, quite straight-forwardly, that "without Les Paul, <i>Sgt. Pepper</i> would not have been made." (As an aside, Martin told me that the boys absolutely revered Les. When John and Paul began playing skiffle, three of the first songs they learned were "How High the Moon," "World Is Waiting for the Sunrise," and "Vaya Con Dios.") When it came to <i>Sgt. Pepper</i>, Martin said that he actually spoke with Les occasionally (not necessarily specifically about the album) and once in a while Les would make suggestions for recording ideas (since Les had developed the eight-track system by then; it was also used on <i>Pet Sounds</i>). Some of the ideas that were taken from Les' records or from Les himself included backward looping, playing with variable speed (e.g., recording a part at 33 rpm, and playing it back at 45 rpm, or vice versa), and, most importantly, "slaving" two eight-track decks together to create the first quasi-16-track recording, allowing them to "bounce" more tracks without loss of signal: on certain songs (particularly "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite," "Good Morning," and "A Day in the Life"), there are actually 24 tracks bounced down to 8-cum-16. But, of course, as much as <i>Sgt. Pepper</i> advanced music and production, its greatest impact would be socio-cultural. A good argument can be (and has been) made that here is no album that has had nearly as broad and extensive an impact on the world as <i>Sgt. Pepper</i>.</p> <div class="video-embed-field-provider-youtube video-embed-field-responsive-video form-group"><iframe width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/PuGScu_MmSA?autoplay=0&amp;start=0&amp;rel=0"></iframe> </div> <p><strong><i>School's Out</i> (Alice Cooper). </strong></p> <p>A lamentation on lost youth (after high school graduation), most people missed that this was, in fact, a wonderfully conceived thematic concept album. Almost certainly his best, with every song a little gem.</p> <p><strong><i>Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence</i> (Dream Theater). </strong></p> <p>Following up on their amazing and very well-received narrative concept album (see Part 1), Dream Theater wrote a thematic concept album. The five "shorter" songs each relate a different type of personal struggle, including alcoholism, loss of faith, self-isolation, and the sanctity of life and death. The sixth song, separated into six parts, deals with mental illness, including bipolar disorder, PTSD, schizophrenia, autism, post-partum depression, and dissociative personality disorder. The first song -- "The Glass Prison" -- begins a suite of five songs spread over five albums ("The Twelve-Step Suite") which relate drummer Mike Portnoy's personal struggle with alcohol; the songs encapsulate the 12 steps of the A.A. program. Needless to say, given its themes, this can be a very difficult album to listen to, though it is lyrically and musically quite excellent.</p> <p><strong><i>Octavarium</i> (Dream Theater). </strong></p> <p>Probably the most clever thematic concept album of them all. This was the band's eighth studio album, coming after its fifth live album. There are eight white keys and five black keys in a keyboard "octave" (in the key of C), which is the musical distance between one key and the same key above or below it. The album is comprised of eight songs, each in a different key, and each segueing seamlessly into the next using sound effects or other studio tricks. The first seven songs are in the keys representing the seven "white" keys; the title song, which ends the album, is in the same key as the opening song, except that it has five parts, each of which is in one of the "accidental" keys (the "black" keys); these, too, segue into each other seamlessly. This album also contains the third in drummer Mike Portnoy's "Twelve-Step Suite."</p> <div class="video-embed-field-provider-youtube video-embed-field-responsive-video form-group"><iframe width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/WB3rQ8cQQxc?autoplay=0&amp;start=0&amp;rel=0"></iframe> </div> <p><strong><i>Obsolete</i> (Fear Factory). </strong></p> <p>Like Radiohead's <i>OK Computer </i>(See Part 3, coming soon), this industrial rock theme album is a fearsome warning about the rapid advance of technology and the de-humanization of society.</p> <p><strong><i>Duke</i> (Genesis). </strong></p> <p>There is a great deal of debate among Genesis fans whether this was actually a thematic concept album. I'm on the fence, but leaning toward the affirmative. Written mostly by Phil Collins during his very ugly and painful divorce, the songs all seem to speak to aspects of his psyche as he lost his wife. This album has always been the most difficult for me to listen to, given that I broke up with my live-in girlfriend of 2+ years just a few months prior to the album's release.</p> <p><strong><i>Three Friends</i> (Gentle Giant). </strong></p> <p>Gentle Giant came out of the starting gate as a full-blown uber-progressive rock band. Initially comprised of six multi-instrumentalist/vocalists (three of whom were brothers) whose lyrics and music expressed a very deliberate and wicked sense of humor, the band went through a couple of personnel changes early on. The first of their three thematic concept albums is the simple story of three friends whose lives take them in very different directions. However, in the end, none of them is satisfied with their lives. Do they meet up in the future? The album is left ambiguous on that score.</p> <div class="video-embed-field-provider-youtube video-embed-field-responsive-video form-group"><iframe width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/f8H7wxdZM_M?autoplay=0&amp;start=0&amp;rel=0"></iframe> </div> <p><strong><i>The Power and the Glory</i> (Gentle Giant). </strong></p> <p>The tale of a man who proves the adage that "power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely." Wanting to do good in a political position, our anti-hero allows the power to go to his head, and becomes the very person he loathes, becoming a ruthless despot.</p> <p><strong><i>Interview</i> (Gentle Giant). </strong></p> <p>Taking the (loose) form of a (inane) radio interview by a potential manager, this album is an anti-paean to the music industry in general. The title song stands alongside Pink Floyd's "Have A Cigar," Queen's "Death on Two Legs" and XTC's "Funk Pop a Roll" as among the most vicious indictments of music management ever put to music.</p> <p><strong><i>American  Idiot</i> (Green Day). </strong></p> <p>There is some argument over whether this is a narrative or thematic concept album. My understanding is that it did not become a true "narrative" concept until it was re-written for the band's brilliant and successful Broadway show. I am certainly willing to hear otherwise, and place it in the "narrative" category, if that's where it belongs. In any case, this "punk 'rock opera'" tells the story of "Jesus of Suburbia," a lower-middle-class suburban American teen who is unsatisfied with his life and moves to the city. His "coming of age" story is heavily influenced by his concern about the times he is living in (the GWB era), and his fear of the future. Based loosely on both <i>Tommy</i> and <i>Quadrophenia</i>, as well as <i>West Side Story</i> and <i>Jesus Christ Superstar</i>, the album was critically well-received, and went to #1 in ten countries.</p> <div class="video-embed-field-provider-youtube video-embed-field-responsive-video form-group"><iframe width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Q8JsBM613Fw?autoplay=0&amp;start=0&amp;rel=0"></iframe> </div> <p><strong><i>Seventh Son of a Seventh Son</i> (Iron Maiden). </strong></p> <p>One of rock's most beloved heavy metal bands gives us a meditation on good and evil, heaven and hell, and the balance of the universe.</p> <p> </p> <div class="video-embed-field-provider-youtube video-embed-field-responsive-video form-group"><iframe width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/TYgokXvaLRk?autoplay=0&amp;start=0&amp;rel=0"></iframe> </div> <p><strong><i>Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy (</i>Elton John).</strong></p> <p>Many people didn't catch the thematic nature of this album. Using a <i>Sgt. Pepper</i>-ish idea -- i.e., that Elton John and Bernie Taupin are "different artists" than the ones we know (the psychedelic <i>Pepper</i>-like cover art -- years after that era was gone -- is an obvious give-away) -- the real theme here is a brilliant  autobiographical sketch of their career together. Some of the songs (e.g., the title song, "Bitter Fingers," "Meal Ticket," "Writing") are specifically about them as a writing duo. In my opinion, this really <i>is</i> Elton's "<i>Sgt. Pepper</i>"; unlike <i>Don't Shoot Me</i>, <i>Goodbye Yellow Brick Road</i> and other previous albums, <i>Capt. Fantastic</i> is not focused on hit-writing (although it is ironically difficult for Elton to write songs that don't become hits; even "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" was an "accidental" hit), but on something more serious and mature. Songs like "Tower of Babel," "We All Fall in Love Sometimes," and especially "Tell Me When the Whistle Blows" are in a different class of songwriting than most of what he and Bernie were writing previously. And because the songs were not hits (with the exception of "Someone…"), it is Elton's most continually listenable album, since the songs remain "fresh." As a former semi-professional EJ song stylist, I have a huge sentimental attachment to this album.</p> </div> <section> <h2>Add new comment</h2> <drupal-render-placeholder callback="comment.lazy_builders:renderForm" arguments="0=node&amp;1=3973&amp;2=comment_node_story&amp;3=comment_node_story" token="p01gjFBjZyvHIGzeq4gpk_58Ec5XuS_CTDhj5uup9QQ"></drupal-render-placeholder> </section> Mon, 24 Aug 2020 15:38:35 +0000 Ian Alterman 3973 at http://culturecatch.com An Invisible Hallmark of Quality http://culturecatch.com/node/3972 <span>An Invisible Hallmark of Quality</span> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/user/460" lang="" about="/user/460" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Robert Cochrane</a></span> <span>August 22, 2020 - 10:59</span> <div class="field field--name-field-topics field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Topics</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/music" hreflang="en">Music Review</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Tags</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/886" hreflang="en">arranger</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><div class="video-embed-field-provider-youtube video-embed-field-responsive-video form-group"><iframe width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/YWvm9F44fio?autoplay=0&amp;start=0&amp;rel=0"></iframe> </div> <p>Del Newman isn't exactly a household name, though he resides quietly, but resolutely, in the music collections of millions. A ghost at the feast of sound, he was a craftsman, a background genius, and a man responsible for realising the best in the work of others. An aural jeweller, a setter of songs with an ear for the finest elements residing in an idea, his work spans three decades of output. Some of the best selling records of the Seventies and Eighties bear his fingerprints. He should be placed in the same category as George Martin, and with time, and now sadly in his absence, he eventually will be.</p> <div class="video-embed-field-provider-youtube video-embed-field-responsive-video form-group"><iframe width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/yHox1frzKXs?autoplay=0&amp;start=0&amp;rel=0"></iframe> </div> <p>If you own <em>Anticipation</em> by Carly Simon, or <em>Mona Bone Jakon</em>, <em>Tea For The Tillerman</em> and <em>Teaser And The Firecat</em> by Cat Stevens. If you've danced badly to "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?" by Rod Stewart, or possess a copy of <em>Deceptive Bends</em> by 10cc or been mesmerized by "Live &amp; Let Die" Paul McCartney &amp; Wings' Bond theme, it is Del Newman conducting George Martin's arrangement; you know his work. Should you listen to Art Garfunkel's <em>Breakaway</em> or <em>Fate For Breakfast</em> or <em>Lefty</em> LPs or Elton John's singles "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" or "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me" then you've been in the presence of Del Newman. He did arrangements for George Harrison, a pleasure he had no wish to repeat, and for Harry Nilsson on <i>A Little Touch of Schilmsso</i><em>n In The Night</em> whose creator he described as mad and someone whose brain was out to lunch most of the time.</p> <div class="video-embed-field-provider-youtube video-embed-field-responsive-video form-group"><iframe width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/0OEWBq_jzuA?autoplay=0&amp;start=0&amp;rel=0"></iframe> </div> <p>Newman was responsible for the strings on "American Tune" by Paul Simon from <em>There Goes Rhyming Simon</em> and for producing Randy Vanwarmer's "Just When I Needed You Most" a song his determination saw become a single, despite record label reluctance, and subsequently a huge hit. He later worked on four albums by Squeeze. Amongst the others he assisted were Diana Ross, Scott Walker on <em>Stretch</em> to which he contributed his composition "Someone Who Cared," Leo Sayer, Cliff Richard, John Cale, and Johnny Mathis. He produced Brian Protheroe's timeless polaroid gem of dissolute bedsit London bohemia <em>Pinball</em>, but in the early Eighties gave up on his music career and became a mature student at Exeter University again, and afterwards concentrated on teaching.</p> <p>Born Derrick Martin Morrow in London on 5th October 1930, the son of an Irish nurse and a Doctor of West African heritage, whose father had been a village chief. Adopted at a few months old by the Newman family who recognised and encouraged his interest in music, from the age of eight he had lessons in cello and piano, and was sent to a grammar school. After National Service he studied music at Exeter University and went on to Trinity College of Music. Amongst those who taught him were the composer Elizabeth Lutyens and the conductor Antal Dorati. Newman made his vinyl debut in 1967 with <em>Flower Garden</em> as the Del Newman Sound, a mix of his own compositions and hits of the day like "I'm Your Puppet" and "If You Go To San Francisco," and he featured as the guitarist on Gordon Giltrap's debut album the following year. He produced a few other albums of easy listening material that fared well in Italy, but from the early '70s he was in constant demand as an arranger, conductor and occasional record producer. He even did the arrangements for Uri Geller's thankfully lone foray into vinyl in 1974. He also added his graceful magic to albums by Charles Aznavour, Peter Frampton, Family, and Francoise Hardy.</p> <div class="video-embed-field-provider-youtube video-embed-field-responsive-video form-group"><iframe width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KKRST_GlhYM?autoplay=0&amp;start=0&amp;rel=0"></iframe> </div> <p>Del Newman was a remarkable and unique figure. His fingerprints are all over the music of the '70s and '80s, but he is mostly reduced to a foot-note as arranger and you have to listen to figure which tracks he had a hand in. His tremendous lightness of touch perhaps explains why he isn't as valued as he deserves to be, since he wasn't one to lay claim to any sense of personal greatness. In 2010 he wrote <em>A Touch From God: It's Only Rock &amp; Roll</em> an entertaining take on his life in music that would have benefited from someone to prompt him to give greater detail and insights, but that really wasn't his style. He'd been there and done it and that was it. A man of mixed heritage working a time of extreme intolerance makes him all the more relevant and remarkable and a stalwart groundbreaker by virtue of simply existing, and then there's his unquestionable gifts. Many will continue to listen and appreciate his work without even realising that they are. A compliment, albeit an invisible one, unless you read the small print.</p> <p>Del Newman died 10th August 2020 in Carmarthen, Wales. His daughter is the singer Delphi Newman.</p> </div> <section> <h2>Add new comment</h2> <drupal-render-placeholder callback="comment.lazy_builders:renderForm" arguments="0=node&amp;1=3972&amp;2=comment_node_story&amp;3=comment_node_story" token="p0SObQ_PjTHnNFLIGArAt1WR-bRdn8tbWhG9QV2Vw1w"></drupal-render-placeholder> </section> Sat, 22 Aug 2020 14:59:31 +0000 Robert Cochrane 3972 at http://culturecatch.com All The King's Horses & A Train, Too http://culturecatch.com/node/3966 <span>All The King&#039;s Horses &amp; A Train, Too</span> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/users/dusty-wright" lang="" about="/users/dusty-wright" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Dusty Wright</a></span> <span>August 14, 2020 - 10:00</span> <div class="field field--name-field-topics field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Topics</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/music" hreflang="en">Music Review</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Tags</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/145" hreflang="en">alternative rock</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><article class="embedded-entity"><img src="/sites/default/files/styles/width_1200/public/2020/2020-08/harvey-gold-its-messy.jpg?itok=InMDpg_1" width="1200" height="1190" alt="Thumbnail" title="harvey-gold-its-messy.jpg" typeof="foaf:Image" class="img-responsive" /></article><p><a href="https://harveygold.bandcamp.com" target="_blank"><strong>HARVEY GOLD: <em>It's Messy Volume 1</em> (Smog Veil)</strong></a></p> <p>To truly appreciate this album, one should have a music conversation with Mr. Gold. I had many with him as a teenager back in the '70s. It was from that very deep well that I have been drawing water since I first met him at our local record store at Summit Mall. He was my musical mentor in many ways. A voice of knowledge on all things that crept around the fringe of rock music. And while he appreciated the mainstream rock of the day, he was clearly responsible for getting me into, and suggesting I buy vinyl by, Captain Beefheart, Gong, Eno, Roxy Music, Caravan, Matching Mole, Kevin Ayers, John Cale, Hatfield &amp; The North, Robert Wyatt, and so much more.</p> <p>From his ground breaking band Tin Huey to his resplendent solo material, as well as his recent musical excursions in Half Cleveland, Harvey in the Hall, <a href="https://golemsoftheredplanet.bandcamp.com" target="_blank">Golems of the Red Planet</a> (surf ensemble with cello tackling John Zorn's Masada catalog!), Huey's Swing Club, the HiFis and Fancy Legs<b>, </b>Mr. G remains the grease in the Rube Goldberg machinery in all of them. During Devo's ascent and national breakout debut album, he was a member of the Akron-based band Tin Huey featuring future Waitress leader Chris Butler ("I Know What Boys Like") and future Tom Waits horn/reeds man Ralph Carney. They went on to record the criminally neglected <i><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contents_Dislodged_During_Shipment" title="Contents Dislodged During Shipment">Contents Dislodged During Shipment</a></i> for Warner Brothers in 1979. Their shows around town were always a revelation; a cornucopia of new wave, dada, and experimental rock delivered with an energy unrivaled by most of the other NE Ohio bands at the time. </p> <div class="video-embed-field-provider-youtube video-embed-field-responsive-video form-group"><iframe width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/TiB0qY9P6GM?autoplay=0&amp;start=0&amp;rel=0"></iframe> </div> <p>But I digress... this is Harvey as only Harvey should be heard -- all of his influences in one concise package. Wearing his eccentric tastes as a badge of honor that only time bestows upon a seasoned music veteran. This is "geezer" rock in only that it takes a lifetime to be this informed of the challenges on this mortal coil. Yes, life is "messy" and the sooner one accepts it, well, the better a persons will be able to survive. From Dada rock to Americana, new wave to zany, and one downtempo VU-like reading of a Beatles song -- all of these song weave in and around Harvey's clever arrangements, lyrics, and expert musicianship.</p> <p>The album opens up with the "molten" rocker meets prog syncopations of "Your Side of the Room" featuring members from his band <a href="https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCyaTJRlnsmc1LC95JpyocEg/videos" target="_blank">Half Cleveland</a> -- Harvey on vocals, guitars and keyboards, Chris Butler on vocals and lead guitars, Taylor McIntosh on sax, keys and vocals, Mike Wilkinson on bass, and Bob Ethington on drums.</p> <div class="video-embed-field-provider-youtube video-embed-field-responsive-video form-group"><iframe width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/bCqR9q74J6c?autoplay=0&amp;start=0&amp;rel=0"></iframe> </div> <p>That same lineup unleashes on the third track "Silly Idea" -- my pick as the single. It has a wonderful "Pinball Wizard" strummed guitar line that knocks you sideways as the song builds and builds to its tension released conclusion and a final vocal "wow" and audible gasp from Harvey. Pure Harvey prime Huey.</p> <p>"Allegheny Lode" is a most excellent acoustic-driven foot stompin' Americana track featuring ex-Byrd Chris Hillman on mandolin and Black Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach on bottleneck as well as Deborah Smith Cahan (ChiPig) on bass and Bob Ethington on drums. Most Americana bands would be hard pressed to write such a catchy train song. If Levon Helm were still with us, I bet Harvey would have enlisted him! One of my favorite tracks on the album.</p> <div class="video-embed-field-provider-youtube video-embed-field-responsive-video form-group"><iframe width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/oF7ql4247cA?autoplay=0&amp;start=0&amp;rel=0"></iframe> </div> <p>"Eidola (inadvertently for Ralph)" is pure dadaist, Harvey solo new wave action that is an homage to fallen comrade Ralph Carney and features a keyboard line and plenty of space that might have been occupied by his friend and madcap sax/reed-man had he had a chance to add his tracks. Sadly he passed away before he could. No doubt Ralph was playing along in Heaven when Harvey recorded it. As Harvey explains:</p> <blockquote> <p>"<em>Eidola</em><b> </b>is Greek for a specter or phantom. The ghosts of all my people that I am collecting with greater frequency. In sequence, Ralph wrote that he wanted to do an album with me. Maybe a week or so later I wrote and recorded the front end of 'Eidola' and sent it to him, not with any intention other than he and I would send our latest to each other to giggle over or be wowed by, or polite about! He wrote back 'I LOVE IT!' Maybe a week or so later... suffice it to say that back and forth constituted our last conversation. I added a very quick 'ghost' of a couple of tenors snaking through and, as I finished it up, I knew in my heart I would always associate it with Ralph, hence the title."</p> </blockquote> <div class="video-embed-field-provider-youtube video-embed-field-responsive-video form-group"><iframe width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/f2a04K4eI54?autoplay=0&amp;start=0&amp;rel=0"></iframe> </div> <p>"The Fence" is a mid-tempo rumination on growing older and losing the loved ones around us. But at its core, it's a protest song. According to Harvey, this past year's stresss has aged all of us. "The song is about the dissonance between a gloriously happy personal life, and the socio-political chaos (read Trump and his ass hat brigade) on the 'other side' of the fence." Proceeds go to the Southern Poverty Law Center. It once again features Half Cleveland for assistance and a features a wonderful lead guitar from Chris Butler and horn orchestra from Mr. Carney.</p> <blockquote> <p>"Every year it grows us older</p> <p>The last one more than most</p> <p>It's become a hard, hard world</p> <p>And I breathe so many ghosts..."</p> <p>But with you here in my life</p> <p>A disturbing contradiction </p> <p>Cuz what I feel is light</p> <p>As I'm thrashing 'bout in darkness"</p> </blockquote> <p>The simple, languid downbeat vocals, piano and drum cover of The Beatles' "I've Just Seen a Face" is haunting and sad, like it fell out of a David Lynch film. You will be hard pressed to forget it any time soon.</p> <div class="video-embed-field-provider-youtube video-embed-field-responsive-video form-group"><iframe width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/02xVfqs_QfM?autoplay=0&amp;start=0&amp;rel=0"></iframe> </div> <p>"Song for Joanne" is pure smile time a la Spike Jones meets Kevin Ayers as Harvey laments on this silly piano and vocal ballad about an infected eye, breakfast foods past and present, egg salad, and the resignation of growing old(er):</p> <blockquote> <p>"And a hard boiled egg pressed against my eye."</p> </blockquote> <p>"In a Very Good Place" is another acoustic guitar-forward ballad that would be right at home on a John Cale solo record. It features his Harvey in the Hall bandmates Deborah Smith Cahan on bass and Bob Ethington on drums. And speaking of Mr. Cale. Check out Harvey's reading of this John Cale chestnut "I Keep A Close Watch" from 1978. It was released as a vinyl on the Akron label Clone Records in glorious mono! (Sorry, Harvey, couldn't resist sharing this magical track.)</p> <div class="video-embed-field-provider-youtube video-embed-field-responsive-video form-group"><iframe width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/HCMLlX_OqQA?autoplay=0&amp;start=0&amp;rel=0"></iframe> </div> <p>Harvey claims this could be his final solo album. (Doubtful.) Well, if it is, what a corker of an album. He has managed to pack all of his musical tastes and tones onto one 12-track tasty platter. What the listener gets are four tunes from Harvey in the Hall and four new songs recorded with Half Cleveland at Sta-Level Studios in Akron. Plus, one tune, "Lemon Beazley," with Tin Huey brothers -- Michael Aylward and Stuart Austin with David Stephenson, aka Mr. Ray Violet. He also recorded two new songs and a looping piece in his own Casa De Oro home studio (where much of the Harvey in the Hall tunes were recorded by Bruce Hensal). Tracks were added, and songs were remixed and/or remastered at Sta-Level.</p> <p><a href="https://open.spotify.com/album/0Uh7hq0rycrw9e3wX3sYXs?si=3V8gB4aKS96hfjbX4EJrPQ"><em>It's Messy, Vol.1</em> </a>is available on download/streaming platforms now with a CD release scheduled for September 18th, 2020.</p> </div> <section> <h2>Add new comment</h2> <drupal-render-placeholder callback="comment.lazy_builders:renderForm" arguments="0=node&amp;1=3966&amp;2=comment_node_story&amp;3=comment_node_story" token="GIaYoba7d3s1EUSGlpfZnLAj6HlWtqs4EHLGNvLcAng"></drupal-render-placeholder> </section> Fri, 14 Aug 2020 14:00:00 +0000 Dusty Wright 3966 at http://culturecatch.com What A Concept! (1) http://culturecatch.com/node/3968 <span>What A Concept! (1)</span> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/users/ian-alterman" lang="" about="/users/ian-alterman" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Ian Alterman</a></span> <span>August 13, 2020 - 10:00</span> <div class="field field--name-field-topics field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Topics</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/music" hreflang="en">Music Review</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Tags</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/779" hreflang="en">essay</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><div class="video-embed-field-provider-youtube video-embed-field-responsive-video form-group"><iframe width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/WrMkm9LYQk4?autoplay=0&amp;start=0&amp;rel=0"></iframe> </div> <p>The term "concept album" is thrown around pretty loosely when people talk about rock music. However, not every "concept" album is in fact such a thing. At least, not as that term is, or should be, accurately defined.</p> <p>In that regard, there are two very different types of "concept" album: one is narrative, the other is thematic. There are far fewer of the former than there are of the latter. For example, two of the earliest and most prominent albums cited as "concepts" were The Beach Boys' <i>Pet Sounds</i> and The Beatles' <i>Sgt. Pepper</i>. Yet neither is a "true" (narrative) concept album. They are both "thematic" in nature. The "theme" of <i>Pet Sounds</i> is (to be simplistic) personal angst, including love and introspection. The "theme" of <i>Sgt. Pepper</i> (such as it is) is that we are meant to suspend disbelief and accept that the songs were created by a fictional band; a secondary "theme" might be psychedelia.</p> <p>The third most famous album cited as a "concept" album is Pink Floyd's <i>Dark Side of the Moon</i>. Yet here, again, we have a thematic, as opposed to narrative, concept: the depression and/or madness that can follow as a result of various elements and aspects of human experience and society.</p> <p>The first true narrative concept album -- a story told linearly through the lyrics -- was The Who's <i>Tommy </i>( 1969). (The Who is the only group to have two narrative concept albums, with 1973's <i>Quadrophenia</i>.) The second narrative concept album was Jethro Tull's <i>Thick As a Brick </i>(1972).</p> <p>So now that we have a clearer working definition, and can separate the two types of concept albums, let's look at all of the narrative concept albums (those of which I am aware), and some of those in the thematic category. I will provide the narrative concept albums in the order in which they were released chronologically, and the thematic concept albums alphabetically by group. At the end I will provide a "favorites" list with the understanding that, as Mark, Steve, my older brother and I have noted <i>ad nauseam</i>, such lists are hopelessly subjective (or, as they say in French, <i>chacun a son gout</i>).</p> <p><strong>The Narratives</strong></p> <p><strong><i>Tommy </i>(The Who). </strong></p> <p>Released in May of 1969, The Who's first rock opera was a truly ground-breaking achievement, not just musically and lyrically (and in some ways even sonically), but by "making it safe" for other groups to consider creating narrative albums. The story of a young boy who sees his father murdered by his mother's lover, and ends up deaf, dumb and blind due to the psychological trauma (including some quite deliberate brainwashing), belongs among the masterpieces of rock, and is the progenitor of all other narrative rock albums. <i>Tommy </i>was also one of the first double albums (two discs) ever released.</p> <p><strong><i>Journey to the Center of the Eye</i> (Nektar).</strong></p> <p>There are some artists  -- including The Moody Blues, Nektar, Alan Parsons and Pink Floyd -- who specialized in concept albums, either narrative or thematic, and each of them have several. And while it took Pink Floyd until their seventh album to get to <i>Dark Side of the Moon</i>, Nektar (who were heavily influenced by Pink Floyd) came out of the starting gate with one. Their debut album tells the story of an astronaut on his way to Saturn when he is picked up by aliens who bring him to their world and give him knowledge beyond what humankind has learned -- about self-preservation, civility, peace, etc. Nektar would join Pink Floyd (and, in another subgenre, the Grateful Dead) in becoming the progenitors of concert light shows and theatrical extravaganzas.</p> <div class="video-embed-field-provider-youtube video-embed-field-responsive-video form-group"><iframe width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/X15PsqN0DHc?autoplay=0&amp;start=0&amp;rel=0"></iframe> </div> <p><strong><i>Thick As a Brick</i> (Jethro Tull). </strong></p> <p>Released in  March of 1972, the first broadly-known progressive rock narrative concept album was also ground-breaking, by combining several different styles of music ("straight" rock, progressive rock, folk and medieval), as well as using shifting time signatures. Written largely by Tull's flautist/raconteur/jokester leader Ian Anderson, the album tells the tale of a young man who is thrown out of school for writing a pornographic poem. The conceit, of course, is that the album itself is the poem. And although Tull had been writing increasingly progressive music since 1968, <i>Thick As a Brick</i> cemented their standing among the leaders of progressive rock.</p> <p><strong><i>Quadrophenia</i> (The Who). </strong></p> <p>In October of 1973, The Who released their second rock opera -- another double album -- which, while not as ground-breaking as <i>Tommy</i>, was every bit as good, and was actually more commercially successful than its predecessor. It was also the first album ever to be recorded at a studio built specifically to record it. (This would only happen twice more in rock: Deram Records' Panoramic Sound Studio, which was built for the Moody Blues to initially record <i>Days of Future Passed</i>, and Strawberry Studios, bought and completely rebuilt by Peter Tattersall and Eric Stewart to initially record  10CC's eponymous debut album.) The story of <i>Quadrophenia </i>follows the troubled youth of a "mod" named Jimmy, who likes drugs, fights and romance, and for whom nothing seems to go right. The album's closing track -- "Love Reign O'er Me" -- is among the band's greatest songs, and a sad and ambiguous, but brilliant coda to the story.</p> <p><strong><i>Journey to the Center of the Earth</i> (Rick Wakeman). </strong></p> <p>Most people know the Jules Verne story about a German professor who finds an Icelandic runic key/map showing a path down to the center of the earth. Most of us have probably seen one or another of the seven films and two miniseries made about the story, the most famous of which is the 1959 film with James Mason, Pat Boone and Arlene Dahl (this is well worth seeing it if you have not done so). Wakeman essentially wrote a narrated soundtrack for the story, and it is truly extraordinary. Using a full orchestra, full choir, live narrator and full rock band, including himself on keyboards, the recording was done during two live concerts at the Royal Festival Hall in London in January 1974, and released in May of that year. The album went to #2 in the U.K. and #3 in the U.S. Wakeman got the idea for <i>Journey</i> when he participated as keyboardist during concert performances of The Who's <i>Tommy</i> in London with the London Symphony Orchestra.</p> <div class="video-embed-field-provider-youtube video-embed-field-responsive-video form-group"><iframe width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/PBNClKqpb_Q?autoplay=0&amp;start=0&amp;rel=0"></iframe> </div> <p><strong><i>The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway</i> (Genesis).</strong></p> <p>Having already firmly established themselves as one of the major forces in progressive rock with <i>Foxtrot</i> (1972) and <i>Selling England By the Pound</i> (1973), in November 1974 Genesis released what would become their tour-de-force, a double-disc narrative album telling the story of Rael, a Puerto Rican youth in NYC "on a journey of self-discovery." Based loosely on the Christian allegory <i>The Pilgrim's Progress</i>, Rael's story is told through a series of both "normal" and quite surreal encounters he has with various characters in a variety of situations. These encounters, and the story as a whole, are left just ambiguous enough to offer several interpretations; discovering and discussing these has been a serious pastime for many Genesis fans. (And yes, I have my own.) Although the album was not initially successful (though it was well-received by critics), it has gone on to become not simply Genesis' most beloved and influential album, but one of the most important and respected albums in all of progressive rock.</p> <p><strong><i>Joe's Garage</i> (Frank Zappa).</strong></p> <p>A three-part "rock opera," this story tells the tale of Joe, an L.A. teen who forms a garage rock band, and the experiences he has with women, religion and sex. The album "explores themes of individualism, free will, censorship, the music industry and human sexuality, while criticizing government and religion, and satirizing Catholicism and Scientology." As an aside, Zappa is another artist for whom many of his albums could be viewed as thematic concepts, even when he did not intend them to be.</p> <p><strong><i>The Wall </i>(Pink Floyd). </strong></p> <p>1979 gave us what is probably the most widely known narrative concept album of all time. After its release, it found life as a rock show that took arena concerts to their limit; a feature film directed by Alan Parker; a filmed concert; and several books deconstructing virtually every aspect of its creation and themes. A semi-autobiographical rock opera, it tells the story of Pink, a successful and popular rock star who has become seriously depressed, and has built both figurative and literal "walls" around himself -- his isolation a form of psychological protection. His story is told in "flashback" fashion, from birth to adult catharsis. Even setting aside the story, the musical arrangements, and the musicianship, the album's production gave us sonics and atmospheres that are occasionally unique and often positively breath-taking.</p> <div class="video-embed-field-provider-youtube video-embed-field-responsive-video form-group"><iframe width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/JwOMXfkh1c8?autoplay=0&amp;start=0&amp;rel=0"></iframe> </div> <p><strong><i>Zen Arcade</i> (Hüsker Dü). </strong></p> <p>It took five years before we would see another narrative concept album, and it came from a very unlikely place. In July 1984, hardcore punk rockers Hüsker Dü released their second album, an ambitious double album with a narrative concept. Essentially, it is a punk version of <i>Quadrophenia</i>, replacing a British "mod" with an American punk, but telling much the same story, though with a "twist" toward the end. It would take another 12 years before we would get another concept album from this genre, Marilyn Manson's <i>Antichrist Superstar</i>.</p> <p><strong><i>Radio K.A.O.S.</i> (Roger Waters). </strong></p> <p>In May 1987, former Pink Floyd founder Roger Water put out his second solo album, arguably the strangest of the narrative concept albums. Billy is a physically and mentally disabled young man from Wales. He also has trouble communicating normally, and is socially awkward. But Billy is actually a genius, and even has a superpower: he can hear all radio wave frequencies in his head: AM/FM, police band, corporate, military, etc. His brother Benny is arrested for dropping a brick from a bridge onto a road, killing a driver, but not before secreting a stolen cordless phone in Billy's wheelchair. Learning to make  the phone receive and send the many frequencies he hears, Billy reaches out and attempts to befriend a DJ at Radio K.A.O.S. in L.A.. When the DJ fails to take Billy seriously, and mocks him, Billy uses his powers to manipulate a military satellite to convince the world that he has launched a massive nuclear strike on major cities. This causes <i>real</i> chaos, until everyone realizes it was a hoax. Taking a little bit from the film <i>WarGames</i>, but also anticipating the concept behind films like <i>Lawnmower Man</i> and <i>Transcendence</i>, Waters delivers a weird but quite listenable story of a "personal dystopia."</p> <p><strong><i>Operation: Mindcrime</i> (Queensryche). </strong></p> <p>In 1988, we got the first of three narrative concept albums by progressive metal bands. Set in a modern dystopia, it tells the story of Nikki, a heroin addict who hates society and becomes involved with a group of political assassins, who manipulate him via his addiction and by brainwashing. When he finally realizes what he is doing and attempts to leave the group, it goes very badly, and he eventually succumbs to insanity. This album is particularly beloved among progressive rock aficionados, even with <i>Thick As a Brick</i> and <i>The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway</i> preceding it.</p> <div class="video-embed-field-provider-youtube video-embed-field-responsive-video form-group"><iframe width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/R9s_8E39YX8?autoplay=0&amp;start=0&amp;rel=0"></iframe> </div> <p><strong><i>Brave</i> (Marillion). </strong></p> <p>Tied for my personal favorite narrative concept album is this 1994 gem from Marillion, one of three groups who are credited with bringing progressive rock back from the (almost) dead in 1983, by helping found the neo-prog subgenre. It is based on the true story of a young woman found standing on the Severn Bridge, who did not know who she was or where she came from, and who refused to speak to authorities at all. The album provides a fictitious back story that is simply stunning in both its composition and execution. And even with all the pain and angst explored in other narrative concept albums, this remains the saddest story of them all -- and all the more brilliant for that.</p> <p><strong><i>Antichrist Superstar</i> (Marilyn Manson). </strong></p> <p>Almost unquestionably the most difficult to listen to of all the concept albums -- both lyrically and musically -- Marilyn Manson's 1996 rock opera is nevertheless a brilliant work. The story of a popular rock star who becomes a powerful political demagogue, the themes include dystopian society, fascism, nihilism, and the complete rejection of morality of any type.</p> <p><strong><i>Subterranea</i> (IQ). </strong></p> <p>Released in late 1997 by one of the other two bands that helped create the neo-prog subgenre, this narrative concept album tells of a man who is held captive in a condition of sensory deprivation for most of his life. He escapes or is freed, but does not know who he is, why he was held captive, or why he is now free. And since he knows nothing about the "outside" world, that world is one of intense sensory overload. As he tries to negotiate it, he meets and falls in love with a woman, who is subsequently taken from him by forces unknown. He then realizes he is being followed. He catches and kills the person following him, but not before that person gives him the name of the Experimenter, the one who kept him captive all those years. He all but loses his sanity at this point, but manages to keep it together enough to do some investigating. He discovers that he was not the only subject, as he notices a strange tattoo on his arm and sees it on others. The subjects band together to find and kill the Experimenter, but he is one step ahead, and lures them into a building, setting it on fire to cover all evidence of the experiment. Our "hero" survives, and kills the Experimenter. But he also realizes that his isolated life was much simpler than life in the outside world, and he voluntarily returns to it.</p> <div class="video-embed-field-provider-youtube video-embed-field-responsive-video form-group"><iframe width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/JRbHMSrK-bw?autoplay=0&amp;start=0&amp;rel=0"></iframe> </div> <p><strong><i>Metropolis Pt. 2 -- Scenes from a Memory</i> (Dream Theater). </strong></p> <p>Tied with Marillion's <i>Brave</i> for my favorite narrative concept album, this 1999 album is the second progressive metal narrative concept album. This complex murder mystery involving a love triangle, a psychiatrist (who may not be what he seems), and hypnotherapy is positively brilliant in every way. The story is told in libretto form, the music and arrangements range from the merely great to the utterly breath-taking, and the musicianship is as virtuosic as you are likely to hear. This was the album that made me appreciate the possibilities of progressive metal, a genre I previously had very little love or patience for. And it turned me into a diehard Dream Theater fan.</p> <p><strong><i>Snow</i>  (Spock's Beard). </strong></p> <p>This August 2002 release from neo-prog band Spock's Beard is a mix of <em>bildungsroman</em> and messiah/savior story. It tells of Snow, a young albino man with extraordinary spiritual and psychic gifts. Initially shunned by classmates and others, he becomes highly introverted until he leaves home at 17 for the "big city." There, he acquaints himself with the "wretched refuse" (pimps, prostitutes, addicts, homeless, et al. -- all that is missing from the Jesus story are tax collectors), whom he befriends and tries to help. All is going well until the adulation feeds his ego, and then unrequited love (he is meanly rejected by a woman) all but destroys him, and pulls him off his path. However, he is redeemed at the end when all those he helped come back to help <i>him</i>. The story uses elements from <i>Tommy</i>, the film <i>Powder</i>, and the New Testament, and is told in the manner of a Christian allegory (Spock's Beard founder Neal Morse is a minister). As an aside, Mr. Morse left Spock's Beard to create the first true Christian progressive rock band, and all of  their albums are thematic concept albums.</p> <div class="video-embed-field-provider-youtube video-embed-field-responsive-video form-group"><iframe width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/RRKJiM9Njr8?autoplay=0&amp;start=0&amp;rel=0"></iframe> </div> <p><strong><i>The Black Parade</i> (My Chemical Romance). </strong></p> <p>It is perhaps not surprising that the most recent and last (?) non-"progressive rock" narrative concept album comes from one of rock's most recent subgenre's. Alt-rock/emo band My Chemical Romance released this, their third, album in 2006. It tells the story of "The Patient," a man dying of cancer, and is told in three stages: his death, his afterlife (in the form of a parade), and his reflections on his former life. And while it is not exactly uplifting (it is "emo," after all), his reflections at the end do include many positive aspects.</p> <p><strong><i>The Hazards of Love</i> (Decemberists). </strong></p> <p>This 2009 love story starts with interspecies sex but also includes the murder of three children by their father, abduction, rape, ghosts and a double suicide. All the ingredients you would expect in a love story. Seriously, though, this is actually a well-told tale of love and tragedy and well worth listening to.</p> <p><strong><i>The Astonishing</i> (Dream Theater). </strong></p> <p>What do you get when you take elements of <em>Romeo and Juliet</em> (star-crossed lovers from warring families) and <i>Jesus Christ Superstar</i> (a savior who is betrayed by "family"), and put them in a <i>Game of Thrones</i>-style atmosphere 200 years in the future? You get this 2016 album, the second narrative concept album from prog-metal band Dream Theater. The story is about a dystopian kingdom in which the ruler has eliminated real music, and only allows the NOMACs (Noise Machines) to provide "music." However, in the outlying, impoverished part of the kingdom, there is a man named Gabriel who still has the ability to make music and sing. Gabriel's brother is the leader of the resistance. The ruler considers Gabriel and his musical abilities a threat, particularly when combined with his brother's strong militia, and vows to destroy him. It only gets worse when Gabriel and the ruler's daughter fall in love. Not as successful overall as DT's first narrative concept album, this rock opera nevertheless has one of the best stories of all, and is executed in perfect rock musical fashion.</p> </div> <section> <h2>Add new comment</h2> <drupal-render-placeholder callback="comment.lazy_builders:renderForm" arguments="0=node&amp;1=3968&amp;2=comment_node_story&amp;3=comment_node_story" token="TSGjsYirXqMOgnvak9E5eFeT_JCrYe2p9a2fT8sqvhs"></drupal-render-placeholder> </section> Thu, 13 Aug 2020 14:00:00 +0000 Ian Alterman 3968 at http://culturecatch.com A Measurement of Distance http://culturecatch.com/node/3965 <span>A Measurement of Distance</span> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/user/460" lang="" about="/user/460" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Robert Cochrane</a></span> <span>August 11, 2020 - 12:02</span> <div class="field field--name-field-topics field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Topics</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/music" hreflang="en">Music Review</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Tags</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/139" hreflang="en">singer-songwriter</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><div class="video-embed-field-provider-youtube video-embed-field-responsive-video form-group"><iframe width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/umMH4TnRqyk?autoplay=0&amp;start=0&amp;rel=0"></iframe> </div> <p><strong>JOHN HOWARD: <em>To The Left Of The Moon's Reflection </em>(JH Records)</strong></p> <p>Exile and absence are closely connected to the creative muse, a resonance confirmed by John Howard's latest opus. Minted in Spain, but as English as cricket, warm ale and saucy, seaside postcards, it is a gift and pleasure to behold. Within it various musical ghosts are raised to languidly stroll in the hot Spanish afternoons, all rather pale and out of context in their new found surroundings. A sense of exile has as much to do with one's state of mind, as it has with that of physical geography, and absence can be as up close and personal as it can be distant via the reveries of guilt and memory. All these aspects play their part. It is a delightful collection of songs that reflect a concise and reflective nature at home with his gifts. Unhurried and lacking in the drive to court success, and all the better as it details a natural and effortless confidence. A statement of fact as opposed to a wish to impress. It does though both in charm and artistry, but without ever being showy. A perfectly sensual cup of tea, but one that will win over coffee drinkers, and those who prefer something a little stronger to warm and kiss their parted lips.</p> <p>"And Another Day" has Kevin Ayers-like strummed languidness. Leisurely and almost louche it is the perfect opener as a hymn to a new twenty four hours.</p> <blockquote> <p>"And another day begins</p> <p> It's become so habitual</p> <p> As I stare at the sky</p> <p> Not a cloud passing by all the might haves.</p> <p> Along the lane a car disappears</p> <p> Leaving dust in the air..."</p> </blockquote> <p>There is a poet in the heart of Howard's reflective lyricism, but his muse never overburdens his use of words.</p> <div class="video-embed-field-provider-youtube video-embed-field-responsive-video form-group"><iframe width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/jo9xIbVAeeU?autoplay=0&amp;start=0&amp;rel=0"></iframe> </div> <p>"Echoes Of Pauline" contains a perfect atonement with the passing of time, and a different view of youthfulness arrogance and self-obsession. An apology through the years and a late-ruing of admission and regret.</p> <blockquote> <p>"It's the frequency of thoughts</p> <p> Of the friendship I once caught</p> <p> Like a moonglow shining on a young horizon</p> <p> Maybe you will hear this song</p> <p> And feel that we can still belong to memories."</p> </blockquote> <p>With "I'm Over You" there's the stride and verve of early Cat Stevens in his early Deram Records days. The song distills the the desire to move on whilst pretty much standing still by running amok, but makes the listener feel that singer might just be extolling his recovery a little too ardently. Some people never leave our souls completely even if we no longer love them and have to write a song aa a form exorcism.</p> <blockquote> <p>"The rain fell down the window</p> <p> Like a desolate month of tears</p> <p> Washing away all the days  </p> <p> You said that you'd be here."</p> </blockquote> <p>In "My Patient Heart" a cascade of British vignettes cascade and fall away into an admission of Spanish settings. Church bells and flowers and wistful reflections that suggest Dream Academy and "Life In A Northern Town."</p> <div class="video-embed-field-provider-youtube video-embed-field-responsive-video form-group"><iframe width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Gj5qc8VcO7U?autoplay=0&amp;start=0&amp;rel=0"></iframe> </div> <p>Possessed by a McCartney style gusto 'Outlines' is a neat take on just how much we rely upon others to bring the colours into our lives</p> <blockquote> <p>"When you colour me in</p> <p> And create the substance</p> <p> In the spaces between the outlines</p> <p> Lowry-esque figure on a winter landscape</p> <p> Anticipating beauty beneath you moving hand"</p> </blockquote> <p>"Chime" brings a Brian Wilson good vibe to things. Part choral progression and part swooping melody it is a sweet meander with a certain cynicism at its deceptive heart.</p> <blockquote> <p>"Well the winds do chime</p> <p> And the feet do climb</p> <p> As we leave behind</p> <p> All the bad times....</p> <p> And the bells do chime</p> <p> And the sun does shine</p> <p> As we read the signs</p> <p> That will guide us"</p> </blockquote> <div class="video-embed-field-provider-youtube video-embed-field-responsive-video form-group"><iframe width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Hij4nR9CQEo?autoplay=0&amp;start=0&amp;rel=0"></iframe> </div> <p>A sense of pilgrimage, resigned and seeking a sensibility of need and its reward and satisfaction which leads neatly into "Injuries Sustained In Surviving" and a slightly folk-imbued kookiness. A series of rather English sentiments it has a vibe of Dylan misaligned to the lyrical content. It also suggest Simon and Garfunkel at their travelogue, observational best.</p> <blockquote> <p>"Crazy situations in the middle of the station</p> <p> I can't even remember my name</p> <p> Someone's got my ticket</p> <p> See a beach ball and want to kick it</p> <p> 'Cause I'm flying against the slipstream</p> <p> On this godforsaken ride"</p> </blockquote> <p>"Centuries" explores the pastoral folk element usually explored by Bill Fay.</p> <div class="video-embed-field-provider-youtube video-embed-field-responsive-video form-group"><iframe width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/YclAnsGncdA?autoplay=0&amp;start=0&amp;rel=0"></iframe> </div> <blockquote> <p>"Beneath a hill stands a tree</p> <p> It's been there for centuries</p> <p> in the winter it becomes a web against the sky</p> <p> In the summer it protects from burning light</p> <p> we sat against the tree when we were lovers</p> <p> and when the city called</p> <p> It stood and watched us leave"</p> </blockquote> <p>A perfect revelation of a refined awareness of time and its passing in baroque setting.  A psalm-like elegance resides in its unadorned mastery. It carries beautifully in its concision. Exquisite.</p> <p>"Illusions Of Happiness" is pure John Howard. Jaunty, accomplished, and strangely beguiling, but with an inherent classicism and refinement. Even when singing of cicadas in song he sounds perfectly English and one thinks of thrushes, nightingales and blackbirds.</p> <blockquote> <p>"The blue of the ocean</p> <p> The boats in the harbour</p> <p> The shouts of the fishermen leaving at dawn</p> <p> I stand for a second remembering something</p> <p> It flickers for a moment like a forgotten song"</p> </blockquote> <div class="video-embed-field-provider-youtube video-embed-field-responsive-video form-group"><iframe width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/FUdYgmSvlMo?autoplay=0&amp;start=0&amp;rel=0"></iframe> </div> <p>There is an almost chorister conceit to the pure and confident "Water" and a vocal that defies both age and time, perfectly underscored with a neat percussive undertow. Free of studio tricks and compensations, as indeed is the entire affair, it has a the spirit of Clifford T Ward at its centre as it pipes forward. The perfect closer, laced with melancholia, but a happy assured sadness, the kind that caresses and cures the heart and the head. A zen-like contemplation, both scenic and secular, and a prayer of sorts.</p> <blockquote> <p>"A vast sky of constellation</p> <p> Is my roof of dreams tonight</p> <p> Lying listening to the sounds</p> <p> From far off hills</p> <p> In the middle of the lake</p> <p> Lies something still"</p> </blockquote> <p><em>To The Left Of The Moon's Reflection</em> is a perfect gem of considered achievements. It is also the first album by John Howard to be distributed in America ( but his seventeenth collection) where he was only previously available as a prohibitively pricey import. A perfect calling card from, and a means of introduction to, an exceptionally English talent, deftly left on a silver tray, like in older days that we know were far from better, though they had a certain elegance. May he continue in his backward glances towards the country he once called home. His reflections bring reward to those that listen. </p> <p>The fondness of absence and the grace of longing, quietly perfected.</p> </div> <section> <h2>Add new comment</h2> <drupal-render-placeholder callback="comment.lazy_builders:renderForm" arguments="0=node&amp;1=3965&amp;2=comment_node_story&amp;3=comment_node_story" token="OvLfZoeRW71sJpuv3w00R2Fto7_NhAbBUQ4AJgw6zik"></drupal-render-placeholder> </section> Tue, 11 Aug 2020 16:02:15 +0000 Robert Cochrane 3965 at http://culturecatch.com