Archive for the ‘Record Reviews’ Category

The Beach Boys Christmas Surprise

Monday, December 18th, 2017

Exactly 3 months after the belated Smiley Smile, the Beach Boys released another album just a week before Christmas. It wasn’t a seasonal album but a collection of all-new songs that saw the band move from psychedelia and complexity to simplicity and basic R&B. It was also released just a few days before I was born, so as Wild Honey celebrates its 50th birthday, it will be last Beach Boys album featured in my 50 anniversary posts that is older than me.

After the trauma of the scrapping of SMiLE and the critical and public befuddlement at the “odd” Smiley Smile, the Beach Boys clearly needed to take another direction. However, coming so soon after Smiley Smile, this new album direction was released to a public that, in the USA, at least, was already indifferent to the Beach Boys.

The new direction took the “back to basics” element of Smiley Smile and added the boogie-woogie feel that Brian and his family had grown up. The result is a spirited, up-tempo album that still hinted at the melodic genius of Brian. It was also an album for Brian to “cool out” to, in Carl’s words, after the traumas of 1967, although as with all the albums in the immediate wake of the SMiLE sessions, there is still a connection to the material from those sessions in Mama Says, a fragment of Vegatables abandoned for Smiley Smile. Brian is, from a composers point of view, still very involved, although How She Boogalooed It is the first original non-instrumental track put out by the band not written by Brian.

Individual track highlights include Aren’t You Glad which hints at Bacharach, the beautiful, soulful Let The Wind Blow and Darlin’ which is a retread of the earlier tune Thinking About You Baby but features a fantastic Carl vocal and great production.

The rest of the songs all fit in well to the overall mood of the album, but the fact the harmonies, production and tunes are not all top-drawer prevents this album from being right at the top of the Beach Boys pile. Having said that, this is still a vastly underrated album that gives many other much more vaunted works of 1967 a good run for their money in the quality stakes, and this year’s release of Sunshine Tomorrow and the rich body of the band’s work at this time has helped with the critical re-appraisal of the record.

Indeed, the fact that 1968 releases from the Stones, Dylan and the Beatles reflected a “back to basics” ethos may indicate that Wild Honey was ahead of its time. While there were probably many other factors in these 1968 releases going in that direction, it is hard to believe that Wild Honey had absolutely no influence on this direction, even given the Beach Boys’ diminished “hipness” as that stage. Once again, the band put out a work ahead of its time, and for all times.

Roll Up, Roll Up

Monday, November 27th, 2017

TheBeatlesMagicalMysteryTouralbumcover.jpg Last week, my income tax website reminded me that it was the 50th anniversary of the release of the Magical Mystery Tour. They seemed to have jumped the gun a bit, as the American LP was released 50 years ago today, on 27 November 1967, and the UK Double EP 11 days later. But as the only American “reconfiguration” that is now part of official Beatles canon, it is an anniversary worth celebrating.

The American album includes the remainder of the Beatles official 1967 output not on Sgt. Pepper including the six songs from the Magical Mystery Tour soundtrack and five A and B sides from the three singles that year (I Am The Walrus from the soundtrack served as the B side of Hello Goodbye). And while it is definitely a lesser of Sgt. Pepper in terms of broader cultural impact, there are definitely some arguments that it is at least a musical equal. Few will argue the merits of Strawberry Fields Forever, Penny Lane and I Am The Walrus, but even the “filler” such as Baby You’re A Rich Man and Blue Jay Way can be re-assessed as the some of most underrated Beatles songs.

50 Years Again

Saturday, November 18th, 2017


Buffalo Springfield are a legendary group -not just for the musicians that came out of the group, but also for their music itself. This is best exemplified by their second album which celebrates is 50th today. While it is a cohesive musical statement, the individual members were already going in their own directions. Niel Young rocks out on Mr Soul, while Expecting To Fly and Broken Arrow are orchestral early Young classics- Broken Arrow’s disillusionment still resonating 50 years later. Stephen Stills contributions are more conventional rock, with Bluebird and Rock And Roll Woman regarded as classics, while Richard Furay contributes his first songs – Sad Memory is a beautiful ballad while A Child’s Claim To Fame is another beacon on the road to county rock. This may not be everyone’s first answer to classic records of 1967, but it makes most best albums lists,   and 50 years later, warrants repeat listens.

Changing 50 Years On

Thursday, November 2nd, 2017

Image result for forever changes Since 1967 predates the internet, let alone Facebook, the exact release date of Forever Changes seems to have been lost in the sands of time. But evidence seems to point to early November 1967, so this does seem an appropriate time to celebrate 50 years of one of the best records ever released. Love’s masterpiece may not have burned up the charts, but in 2017 the record that focused on the flipside of the hippie dream seems more poignant than ever.

Indeed, at a time that many of the 1967 hippies may well have voted for greater division, the sense of paranoia and doom exhibited on tracks like The Red Telephone and A House Is Not A Motel seem a bit more relevant than many sentiments on Sergeant Pepper or wearing flowers in your hair. Not to mention the utter brilliance of Alone Again Or, Maybe The People Would Be The Times Or Between Clark And Hilldale and You Set The Scene. \

There was a lot of great music in 1967, much of which remains fresh in 2017. But Forever Changes may well the album that resonates most fifty years on.

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.