Archive for the ‘Record Reviews’ Category

Playing Back 30 Years

Monday, September 25th, 2017

If you ignore the release of the Caroline No single under the name of Brian Wilson, the first solo Brian record was released30 years ago, namely the Let’s Go To Heaven In My Car single. That means that for more than half his musical career, Brian has been predominantly a solo artist with only the occasional work done with his old band. In that respect, a compilation is overdue. Given the quality of his often under-estimated solo work, it is a also rather good.

One can always quibble over the song selection (one song from Lucky Old Sun would be my main one) , but Playback does provide a fair selection of the last 30 years, including his greatest solo triumph, the completion of SMiLE. But aside from the two SMiLE tracks and the cover of Colors Of The Wind, the compilation does showcase 15 Brian Wilson compositions from the solo years.

Serious fans will know the 16 previously released tracks and will know from this blog my praise for songs such as Midnight’s Another Day, The Like In I Love You Melt Away and Lay Down Burden.  Serious fans will probably even know one of the “new” tracks, Some Sweet Day, a highlight from the 90s Paley sessions, finally seeing legitimate release and good sound quality. The one really new track is Run James Run, which hearkens back to the classic early Beach Boys sound with some wonderful harmonies, and continues to remind us that we almost certainly haven’t heard the last great Brian Wilson song.

An Odd Smile

Monday, September 18th, 2017

Today is the 50th anniversary of the release of Smiley Smile – more than 16 months after Pet Sounds, which would be seen as productive these days, but was an eternity in the mid 60s. And a lot has happened since I posted on the 50th anniversary of Pet Sounds in May last year.

Ah..Smiley Smile, the album released during the “Summer Of Love” in 1967 that befuddled a generation, changed the commercial and critical perception of the Beach Boys, and now survives as a minor cult classic. What can one say about this unusual album which sounds nothing like the Beach Boys, or any other group, released before or since. “Barbershop on acid” may be one description, but one really has to hear this record to believe it.
Smiley Smile shares a similar name, and at least five songs with the abandoned SMiLE album that you can read about here. Indeed much of the music was probably conceived at some stage during the SMiLE sessions, but aside from Good Vibrations and parts of Heroes And Villains, was completely re-recorded in Brian’s home studio.

There is a “stoned” feel that permeates much of the album, but there is also a wide variety of styles. The slick production of Good Vibrations also doesn’t sit well with the homespun feel of much of the remaining material. Quality is also a mixed bag…Little Pad and With Me Tonight have strong tunes beneath the goofiness, the alternative Wind Chimes is spooky but fascinating, but the bizarre approach to Wonderful doesn’t work when contrasted with the SMiLE versions.

As David Leaf noted, the progression from Surfin’ Safari to Pet Sounds was stopped with this album which seemed to go in a direction that no-one predicted or understood. This album must take some of the blame for the loss of critical and commercial appeal that blighted the Beach Boys in the late 60s and early 70s, and prevented the strong albums that followed this one becoming succesful in their own time. It also seems bizarre that the band approved this release when seeming to resist the groundbreaking, but surely more conventional album that SMiLE surely would have been had it been released in 1967.

Even so, an album with Good Vibrations,Heroes And Villains and some great harmonies and a sense humor is still better than average. Smiley Smile will befuddle you, but over time, you may well learn to love much of it.

Would It Be The Same Country If You Could Change Your Mind

Thursday, August 17th, 2017

They’ve been gone too long, but they are back just at the right time. Lucky Soul’s last album was all of seven years ago, and we thought we may have lost them forever.  There has been a lot of personal and political water under the bridge in those seven years, a lot of it painful, and Lucky Soul’s response has been to take it to the dancefloor -just like in the uncertain 1970s where the disco was the escape from the turbulent reality.

Change gonna come, but it stays the same and I’m still waiting

Ali Howard sings this line on the brilliant disco stomper, Locked Out -she could be singing about the personal or the political, but she’s letting her tears out on the dancefloor, and this is where Lucky Soul’s new album resonates. (Hurts Like A) Bee Sting, seemingly the centerpiece of the album seems to be a response to Brexit in the catchphrase that headlines this post, but can also be a response to any sudden jolt to one’s reality. Stonewashed slows the pace down with a classic Lucky Soul ballad, while No Ti Amo is pop perfection.

Hard Lines -the new album released last week after the seven year hiatus -may not solve the world’s problems, but it resonates musically and lyrically in these times. Let’s just hope it’s not another seven years before the next one.

The Beginning Of A New Era

Friday, July 7th, 2017

1967 Sunshine Tomorrow.jpgThose who have been following this blog over the past years will know that I am a big fan of the “transcendental era”, the period between the non-release of SMiLE and the Surf’s Up album -the period in which Brian was still a significant creative force but other band members also took up the creative baton and got more involved in the music-making.

The recently released double CD compilation Sunshine Tomorrow is an inviting in-depth look at the start of this era -the surprisingly creative late 1967 period when the Beach Boys seem to make up for the non-release of SMiLE by releasing not one, but two albums in the latter part of 1967. In addition, there was the planned but unreleased “live” Lei’d In Hawaii.

Of course, there wasn’t a clean break with SMiLE - most of the Smiley Smile songs originated from SMiLE, and bits and pieces of SMiLE drifted onto released records over the next four years. But there is a definite move towards simplicity, going back to musical basics and finding joy in nature and simple things.

The highlight of the collection is the new stereo mix of Wild Honey - an album that sounds more impressive as time passes by. The outtakes suggest that there was indeed a rich post-SMiLE creative vein from Brian and the others. The bonus is Lei’d In Hawaii - pretty much as close to what may have been released in 1967 and notable as a final live performance of the original five as a stand-alone band. Hearing the stripped down version of some of the greatest and most complicated songs from the band is a treat.

Overall, this is a fantastic treat and a reminder that 1967 was actually a pretty impressive year for Brian and Beach Boys-it may have taken 50 years for us to realise, but maybe they did hit that home run after all.

A Poignant Adios

Friday, June 16th, 2017

GlenCampbellAdios.jpg Glen Campbell’s slow decline due to Alzheimer’s is in many ways as sad as those pop and rock stars who check out too early. At least fans have been able to say goodbye to him in person during his farewell concerts, and there have been a number of farewell records. Adios, released last Friday, is a fitting final goodbye – recorded after the final concerts, and including songs that Campbell had always loved and never recorded.

Fittingly, one-third of the album included songs written by the masterful Jimmy Webb -all from Webb’s 1993 Suspending Disbelief album. There is a fairly fun cover of Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice ,It’s All Right, and heavyweights Vince Gill and Willie Nelson lend a hand. Overall, it’s a professional and poignant testament to Campbell’s talent and legacy.

Getting Out Of London

Sunday, June 4th, 2017

Home Counties With album and compilation titles like So Tough, Good Humor and You Need A Mess Of Help To Stand Alone, it’s not hard to see where Saint Etienne’s musical allegiance lies -even if sometimes they may seem more focused on the dancefloor than our beloved Brian Wilson.

They have also focused a lot on their beloved London, but for their latest record, they move just a little bit further afield to the Home Counties, the mix of rural areas and dormitory towns around the English capital, which also the title of their new album. As with much of Saint Etienne’s music, there is an element of nostalgia, but possibly for a past that never was.

As with much of their music, this is classic pop for the dancefloor. They have gifted us with 19 tracks and basically a double-album’s worth of music, but the immediate highlights for me include Whyteleafe and the atmospheric Sweet Arcadia. After more madness in London last night, What Kind Of World seems particularly poignant, asking “what kind of world is it we’re living in” and suggesting “let’s find another planet.” That may be a bit tricky, but for now Home Counties is a good substitute to escape to.

Yes They’re Back. No Ti Amo

Sunday, May 28th, 2017

Image result for lucky soul no ti amo This blog has had a lot of love for Lucky Soul and seven years has been too long to wait for new music from them. But they are back, and you can read what has happened to them, and how they are responding to the very different world of 2017 (and pre-order their new album).  Meanwhile, they have released their first single, the reflective disco stormer No Ti Amo to remind us why we missed them so much. Like their best songs, you can dance to it at the party, bop along to it in the car and reflect on it at home.

The Revolution We Need

Monday, May 22nd, 2017

Image result for a kind revolution Paul Weller’s record-making career now spans 40 years, and while there is a fair musical distance from 1977s In The City to Weller’s latest record, most of his work is connected by power, melodicism and also a desire to progress and not be constrained by the previous record..this is the person who broke up his band at the height of their success to “progress” his music.

Weller’s albums in the since 2008 have received quite a bit of acclaim for being willing to experiment and move beyond the “mod” rock boundaries. Weller has also been known to be quite political, especially in his Style Council, but his new revolution of his latest record moves the revolution from the political to the personal -to the radical idea that one may have to change oneself.

So his latest record, with a title reflecting that the world could do with a lot more kindness, sets out this new world mood as well his ongoing musical progression. It’s a bit more gospel-ly, a bit more melodic, even a little more hearkening back to the Style Council, but it is also testament to Weller’s ongoing drive for quality, meaning and good music. There are 10 solid tracks, with the picks being Long Long Road, The Cranes Are Back and The Impossible Idea which all move the album to an almost transcendental level with a mixture of hope and self-reflection.

Sounds Of Christmas 2016

Friday, December 23rd, 2016

In WinterProduct Details

I have two recommendations to add to your seasonal album collection in what has been a good year for Christmas music. First of all, Kacey Musgraves, who should be known to Brian Wilson fans for Guess You Had To Be There from Brian’s latest album, has released her first holiday album, A Very Kacey Christmas which promises a Christmas classic. There are some sassy versions of Christmas chestnuts, but the real meat is the originals, especially Christmas Makes Me Cry, which takes the season to a deep, emptional level.

Katie Melua may have less direct Brian Wilson connections, but her well-crafted pop may well already have a few fans on this page. Her Christmas album, In Winter, takes her to her Georgian roots with the Gori Women’s Choir and it is a lovely combination, with some truly transcendental moments, particularly on the more traditional songs such as the Ukrainian carol The Little Sparrow and Nunc Dimitis.

Toppermost Of The Poppermost

Sunday, October 9th, 2016

Tomorrow marks the 50th anniversary of the Beach Boys most significant single release- Good Vibrations, the only song released by the group that topped both the UK and USA charts, and marked the high point of the group’s commercial success. Musically, it was a bridge between Pet Sounds high production values and the modular approach that Brian would follow in attempting to put together SMiLE. We all know that story didn’t end well (at least for another 37 years), but for one shining moment, the Beach Boys were toppermost of the poppermost, with a song that was both ere-defining and timeless.