This album makes it pretty clear that Bill was not churning out a stream of brilliant songs that Jagger and Richards were suppressing to protect their own fragile egos. Having said that, the Stones album nearest in time to this — Undercover — is hardly a masterpiece. None of the songs here would fit well with the tone of that Stones album, but they might improve it for colour and entertainment value.
Bill has pretty much nothing to say, and says it using repetitive, squelchy synthesisers and flat, low-key vocals that at least don’t try to be actual singing. There are some decent tunes and the odd amusing phrase.
In ‘Rio De Janeiro’ we get ‘it’s the gateway to South America’, as if he’s lifted the words straight out of a holiday brochure (which he did — the song says so). ‘Nuclear Reactions’ is a bizarre yet somewhat entertaining litany of cosmology terminology, like he’s done cut-ups but from a physics textbook (‘…quasar, pulsar … neutron star… X-ray source’) (at least he says ‘nuclear’ correctly — ‘new-clear’ not ‘new-cu-lar’. I mean, how do you get that from ‘nuclear’?) while in ‘Come Back Suzanne’ he is either being appallingly sexist — entirely possible — or he’s lost his favourite cleaning lady, as he ‘sings’
‘Cause the kitchen needs cleaning and the dishes in the sink
The clothes need washing and the washer’s broken down…
and on it goes. Every review I have ever read of this album uses the word ‘bizarre’. And of course it all reaches its apotheosis with the chart hit (number 14 in the UK!) ‘(Si Si) Je Suis un Rock Star’. It is a story about picking up a Brazilian woman and trying to get to his villa in the south of France but BEA is on strike and maybe they could take a hovercraft. At one point he notes, ‘They’ll think I’m your dad / And you’re my daughter’. It’s worth a look on You-tube, if nothing else, and if the idea of an album of this plus nine other songs like it but not quite as good is attractive, then this is the album for you.
What is there to say about this album? Contemporary with the Stone Roses making one epochal album and disappearing into legal limbo for six years, the La’s made one epochal album and disappeared completely. Stories abound about front man Lee Mavers and his obsessions with perfection. Did he really insist that he wanted a mixing console with ‘genuine 1960s dust’ on it? I don’t know. Did the band record some of the tracks repeatedly, trying to create the sound Mavers heard in his head? Probably. Is ‘There She Goes’ a drug song? Yes. Is ‘Timeless Melody’ one of the most brilliant tracks ever recorded anywhere by anyone? Yes.
As I understand it it was assembled by Steve Lillywhite from the detritus of numerous recording sessions, none of which were definitive enough for the band. The record company stepped in and insisted that an album be put together, and it was.
The result is an album that is essential for any fan of tuneful guitar pop. There are at least half a dozen great little tunes, and only a couple that drag at all — even if the band apparently complained that they had played badly, possibly on purpose because they did not really want to work with Lillywhite, just so that it would not get released….what a mess it ought to be! I recall a quote — I think it was Eric Temple Bell — who in his book Men of Mathematics said something like, ‘It takes two to make a masterpiece; one to paint it and another to shoot the painter when it is done’. And similarly, a work of art is, Da Vinci apparently said, never finished, only abandoned. Mavers needed help abandoning this album, and quite possibly never wanted it released.
But he’d struck a deal with a record company, and eventually it found its way into the public consciousness. And this is one occasional when I am glad that the creator did not get the final say, because even if this record is not exactly what he wanted it to be, it’s a bloody good listen.
Tony Hancock was a very good comic actor. Galton and Simpson were even more elite in their own field of comedy writing. Time was to show that Hancock needed Galton and Simpson more than they needed him — they went on to even more world-famous successes, like Steptoe and Son (the seed of Sanford and Son in the US), whereas Hancock went on to do some good material, especially on his TV show, but the scripts were not as consistency funny or heartfelt and his career, it might be asserted, started to slip from the time they parted.
This is a recording from the radio show, which pre-dated and then ran alongside his earlier TV work. It is indeed by Galton and Simpson, and it has the more expansive cast of the radio show — with Bill Kerr, the Australian who did not make it onto the TV shows, Hattie Jacques, Kenneth Williams and Sid James. As I recall as Hancock went along he became more and more paranoid about his co-stars betting too much attention, and the cast was slimmed down until we have episodes like ‘The Radio Ham’ which are essentially Hancock in a room.
And what a cast! All of them were leads in their own shows at different times. It’s like a supergroup of radio comedy.
But I have to focus on ‘A Sunday Afternoon at Home’. Except I have mentioned it previously. But I’ll have a rant anyway…
In the US Bob the Builder is dubbed, when the original is in English! I do find this odd. We don’t get Bob saying ‘stone the crows it hot in here today’ in Australia. We get Neil Morrissey. It can’t be that people in the US can’t understand any kind of English that is not ‘American’ English, surely? Or are they troubled by things not their own? And then they cast Hugh Laurie as House in that show, House, and his accent was so good the producer apparently did not even know he was English — Hugh Laurie, a man who had been on TV for more than 10 years before House was made, who had had his own comedy shows on the BBC, co-starred in Black Adder and a bunch of other programs and been in a useful handful of movies. Does the rest of the world not even exist once you go south of Canada? I do not get it. Well, really I do; the USA is so big, so resplendent in its own vast panoply of creative talent, there’s no need to look outside, and what comes in from outside is a small fraction of the total market. It’s easy to be ignorant of the rest of the world when you are the dominant force. It’s actually not unreasonable that the bulk of the population sees the rest of the world as impinging only slightly; but actual TV executive have no such excuse. The raging ignorance of people inside the industry is weird. And even if they did not know Laurie was not a Yank, did they not even look him up? He’s not exactly invisible. Which brings me to Seinfeld. Let me outline what happens in ‘A Sunday Afternoon at Home’ as recorded on the record I am talking about: nothing. It is a show about nothing. Remind you of anything? Yes, except it was made in about 1960. More, you have four essentially self-centred, annoying characters entertaining themselves by being annoying to each other. Remind you of anything? Yes, and yet the people behind Seinfeld have said they knew nothing about Hancock. If they did know they’re lying and if they didn’t they’re insular and parochial.
Anyway, this is funny, both sides and even the copy on the back. It is witty, inventive, and performed with a keen ear for a laugh. It is peak radio Hancock, which is comedy of a high order. Uncle Bert and Auntie Edie would agree.
So far I have avoided covering the same artist twice, but I’m going to have to talk about Let it Bleed now, because I’ve got to talk about something.
This is probably my favourite Stones album. I’m not sure it’s their best, and I’ve grown kind of tired of ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’, but an album consisting of nothing but ‘Gimme Shelter’ and thirty minutes of white noise would still be better than most of what they’ve put out since Exile, so I’m not complaining. It’s got one of Keith’s best vocals in ‘You Got the Silver’, a classic example of a Stones track that nobody much knows because it was never a single. It’s got ‘Monkey Man’ which is kind of nonsense by is also just wall to wall Keith riff-o-rama, with a guitar that could slice up asphalt. It’s got ‘Country Honk’ which is a kind of hoe-down version of ‘Honky Tonk Woman’ and might be awful or might not be. The fiddle works beautifully, and indicates the almost magical sense of what would work that they seem to have had at the time. From Merry Clayton’s vocal on ‘Gimme Shelter’, with it’s famous crack in her voice that they were wise enough to keep (the desperation it conveys!) to their cover of Robert Johnson’s ‘Love in Vain’, their judgement (or Jimmy Miller’s judgement, I don’t know) is almost perfect. It’s funky, it’s dirty, it’s groovy, it’s fearsome (‘Midnight Rambler’ as well as ‘Gimme Shelter’), it’s tuneful, Jagger even writes some lyrics he seems to care about (here and there, anyway); I don’t know if it is their ‘best’ album, but it is the best edition of what the Stones could do. Famously, Brian was on his way out and Mick Taylor not yet come in, and this is the Stones album with Keith playing a lot of lead guitar. And he rips it apart. This is where to go to find out what he could do. Maybe that’s partly because it was near the beginning of his heroin odyssey rather than in the depths of it, I don’t know, but it is one awesome album.
It’s a pity they (Jagger and Richards) then go and do petty things like calling ‘Love in Vain’ “trad., arr. Jager & Richard”, presumably so they don’t have to share royalties with Johnson’s heirs. But then, even that just adds to how in so many ways this album the quintessential, essential Stones.
Get hold of it and turn it up.
Back when the long-lamented independent record label Candle Records was still functioning, punting out great indy-pop by bands like Ruck Rover and the Lucksmiths, the work of The Small Knives found its way onto samplers and Candle’s 10th Anniversary DVD. Here I found The Small Knives, whose understated, tuneful guitar songs were beguiling if at times a little too understated.
Smoke and Ribbons is their second, and to my knowledge last, release. It and its predecessor, Rain on Tin do not differ greatly. They centre on the twin guitars of Phil Romeril and Leo Mullins, supported (on some songs) by a more full band sound.
The songs are tuneful, mostly. Some of them are, to be honest, rather too slow for my liking unless I am in a very relaxed, rather contemplative mood. More up-tempo numbers include ‘Hey!’, ‘Easter Everywhere’ (with distinctly religious overtones), ‘Turnaround’ and to an extent the nostalgic and evocative ‘Summer’; but these are hardly going to induce a rush of adrenaline to the head. They’re mid-tempo themselves, which is as fast as anything gets.
But many of the tunes are beautiful, the instrumentation varied but understated, the lyrics interesting and occasionally arresting. I find that I’m not often in the mood for these records, but when I am feeling like letting some songs wash over me on a quiet afternoon, then nothing else will do quite as well.
Also, the albums are available from Plastic Viking Helmet Records as physical albums and as downloads, and the downloads are pretty cheap compared to iTunes and similar (A$7.00 for the whole record, which is only about US$5.00 at the moment). PVH, run, I vaguely recall, by one the the guys from the Small Knives, is worth a look if you like guitar-y wordy-pop. They host releases from the likes of Rob Clarkson (who was in Ruck Rover for a while and whose Zone One and Shirts and Skins are both worth a listen), Richard Easton, and Anthony Atkinson; and The Guild League, the side-project band formed by Lucksmiths front man Tali White. These are ‘musts’ if you are a Luckys listener.
How good were the Sports? That’s rhetorical; they were brilliant. I completely believe that if they had been English they would have been huge in the late 70s, up there with Elvis Costello and other big new wave acts. Or maybe not, given how their experiences in America worked out (their single ‘Who Listens to the Radio’ made the charts there, but they failed to capitalise…). Anyway, while this album does not have that hit on it, nor ‘Don’t Throw Stones’ which was probably their second most famous song, it is a better album that Don’t Throw Stones, and a must for anyone who likes snappy guitar rock with odd (though not always heartfelt) lyrics and perfect tunes.
The Sports began in Melbourne in the later 70s, growing out of a bunch of Melbourne acts, meaning that every member was already a pub rock pro by the time they started. The initial line-up had Ed Bates on one guitar and Andrew Pendlebury on the other, but after the first album Bates left and Martin Armiger came in; thus formed the definitive version of the Sports. In total the band released four LPs (all excellent, but this one the best, I think) plus a couple of EPs and a belated live album (Missing Your Kissing) which is hard to find.
On the original LP the cover was die-cut, with sort of louvres in it, which always got damaged. That explains the off look of the CD cover, which is pretty ordinary.
‘Strangers on a Train’ is probably the most well-known song here, but the album takes off with disciplined energy right from the start. The band races through a bunch of three minute pop-rock songs as if they’ve got to get the riffs and tunes out before their arms explode. ‘Murmurs’, ‘Go’ and ‘Suddenly’ border on the frenetic. ‘Oh Mama No’ veers into territory similar to the Who’s ‘I’m A Boy’ (‘Everybody knows/Even when I keep my pants on/I’m gonna get arrested some day…No, mama, no, don’t make me wear that dress tonight’), while ‘The Lost and the Lonely’ makes the best use of a theremin in popular music since the Beach Boys. It is an ode to the late night lonely hearts requests radio announcer — ‘there’s a letter from a mother of three, she wants to hear Gene Pitney, she’s got to hear Gene Pitney’. I love the hint of suburban, housebound desperation wrapped up in just that one little lyric — it’s like poetry in how much it packs in . ‘I Tried to Love Her’ (‘but she’s a lunatic’) adds a little more humour. The overall vibe is one of inner city relationships between grown-ups who kind of know each other lie but can take it. So there’s irony, there’s cleverness, there’s a little feeling, but it is anything but confessional.
I can’t list my favourites. The only track I ever even consider skipping is ‘It Hurts’.
This is my number one album when I want to be picked up and forced to enjoy the beat. A tight, professional band playing great, unpretentious tunes with consummate skill, never hanging around long enough top get boring, never indulging themselves. It’s commercial guitar pop/rock at it’s best.
Pete Townshend himself once (in his autobiography, I think) declared Quadrophenia the last great Who album. Since (apart from the semirandom B-sides and rarities collection Odds & Sods) The Who By Numbers was the very next Who album, that clearly makes it less than great. Well, I guess if you like your Who to be bombastic stadium rock (like Quad and Who’s Next) then that is true. No, that’s not fair; it’s true anyway. This is not a great album. But it is an interesting and oddly beguiling one.
Townshend is responsible for nine of the ten tracks, Entwistle for ‘Success Story’ which, despite some rather ‘first world problems’ whining about the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle (‘Away for the weekend/We gotta play some one night stands/Six for the tax man and one for the band’ and ‘Back in the studio to make our latest number 1/Take 276, you know is used to be fun’) ends up as one of the more affirmatory tracks on the disc.
Townshend veers all over the place. Self-flagellation and paranoia (‘However Much I Booze’, ‘How Many Friends’, ‘In a Hand or a Face’, ‘Dreaming From the Waist’), tuneful dirty jokes (‘Squeezebox’) and middle aged ennui (though Townshend was only 30 at the time, he’d already done his nostalgia trip on Quad, so in the accelerated world of the jaded pop star was embarking on his mid-life crisis) (‘Imagine a Man’ and to some extent ‘Slip Kid’).
Despite the weird mix of teenagerish angst and mid-life crisis in the lyrics, the sense of someone who knows they should be on top of the world but has not become who they wanted to be, the album works for me and I think it is because of the music. ‘Slip Kid’ is a part of the Lifehouse jigsaw puzzle that never came together, and is as good as most of Who’s Next and decidedly less pompous than some of it. ‘Dreaming From the Waist’ ends with an Entwistle bass solo that shows why his playing was and is so highly regarded. Acoustic guitars, crunchy electric guitars, lead bass, that Entwistle sound on ‘Success Story’ that sounds like a truck, piano-y ballads, it’s all here, and the tunes are top-notch, so the album has a nice varied texture. We get the ukulele-driven ‘Blue, Red and Grey’ which is a tiny masterpiece that could be about enjoying the little things but might be someone reflecting on life before the jump off a bridge. Daltrey was at his peak; having stretched himself in unexpected ways on his solo albums, be brought that lightness of touch to songs like ‘Imagine a Man’, whose vocal sound follows on from Daltrey more than from any Who album.
The cover — I vaguely recall an interview with Entwistle where he said that the cover for Quadrophenia, with its booklet of B&W pictures, text, clever reflections in the scooter’s mirrors and so on, has cost something like £30,000 (I wonder what a house cost in 1973), whereas By Numbers cost about 30 quid. Along with Shilo by Neil Diamond, I am guessing it is the most scribbled-on album cover in history.
So what we have is a somewhat depressed mishmash of an album, lit by flashes of unexpected humour and instrumentation, and still interesting because the four people at the middle of it all were so brilliant together despite themselves. But I rather suspect it is also one for the fans rather than the casual listener…
If you’ve tasted The Who and found them bombastic and blokish, this album might be interesting. If you don’t like the more confessional, self-medicating style of song writing, it is definitely not for you. If you like The Who but have skipped this one because it has on it none of their more famous tracks, give it a go.
This is turning into ‘an album a month’ but at least that means I’ll never run out of material…
I’m going to be a bit unfair with this one, not because I don’t like the album, I do, but because I’m going to talk about someone other than the artist.
Well, first, the album. It can sound a bit same-y on initial listens, and if you don’t like listening to a woman who’s really pissed off and disappointed, both by her latest failure of a man and her own failure to see through him sooner, then lyrically it won’t work for you either.
But you’re the idiot who keeps believing in luck
When you just can’t get it through your head that
No one else gives a fuck
(‘It’s Not Safe’)
And right at the start the album greets us with:
You fucked it up
You should’ve quit
Had changed a bit
Not to mention (now this is kind of funny):
So row, row, row your boat
Gently down the stream
I hope you drown and never come back
(Choice in the Matter)
So she’s not happy and she’s not going to pretend otherwise.
My favourite tracks are probably ‘You’re With Stupid’, ‘That’s Just What You Are’, ‘Frankenstein’ (with it’s lurching yet groovy beat and keen [as in sharp] lyrics) and ‘It’s Not Safe’. These all come in the second half of the album; the first half is solid but less differentiated, though ‘Choice in the Matter’ is pretty tuneful.
Now the unfair bit. While the songs are all written or co-written by Mann, anyone who’s fond of Squeeze and those octave-apart vocals by Tifford and Dilbrook has a pleasant surprise waiting for them on this album. While it has contributions from guitar pop figures of the time (mid 90s — Juliana Hatfield, Michael Penn), Tilbrook and Difford are represented, either by Glenn’s guitar or their characteristic backing vocals, on five of the tracks, plus Glenn gets the little hidden squib at the end. ‘Frankenstein’ is virtually a Mann/Difford duet, where we get to hear Chris’s voice paired with one other than Tilbrook’s. So for a Squeeze fan that’s kind of fun. The tuneful mid-tempo guitar pop with smart lyrics may well work for many a Squeeze fan. I’d note that Mann has a co-write on Tilbrook’s The Incomplete Glenn Tilbrook solo record from a few years later, at around the same time she released the more highly acclaimed Bachelor No. 2 or, the Last Remains of the Dodo.
Like the Squeeze albums of the 90s, there are too many songs here that are unremarkable. It picks up with the wistful, yet biting, ‘Amateur’, though. Vocal hooks abound, understated but subtly funky percussion helps a few tracks along. It’s very listenable.
Note: While some bits of some songs from here appear in the movie Magnolia, they don’t show up on the sountrack, which is in fact one of Mann’s more well-known recordings and shares tracks with Bachelor No. 2.
The Lucksmiths were a tuneful guitar-pop trio (and briefly, at the end, a four piece) based in Melbourne. Crucially for me, they played a lot of gigs in Ballarat at the beginning of their career. Indeed, their first two lengthy recordings — First Tape and Boondoggle — both namecheck Ballarat institutions of the early 90s — the Bridge Mall Inn, a live music venue that attracted a lot of good acts — and 3BBB, Ballarat community radio, one of the first broadcasters to pick up and play them. I have vague memories of them playing the refectory at Ballarat University College (then University of Ballarat and now winner of the ‘tertiary institution with the worst acronym’ award, Federation University), although this might be an example of remembering things that never happened. I know the Dead Salesmen (or the duo, singer and guitar player) played there.
From the beginning they showed a knack for beguiling tunes and lyrics that reflected the everyday concerns of folks living in the inner suburbs on less-than-munificent incomes. Shared houses, the weather, relationships, the pub. The Lucksmiths never put their hearts on their sleeves and wailed. They reflected ironically, and not without puns.
“A Good Kind of Nervous” is in my opinion a transitional work. Over their years together, they broadened their instrumental pallet and cut down on the wordplay, the songs becoming subtler, melodic as well as tuneful, and the lyrics less flippant.
This album is the last of the early albums. It has songs about being fascinated by crimes and murder mysteries, and ditties of under two minutes. The next album, Why That Doesn’t Surprise Me is lusher and more spacious and, while hardly a sudden break from the past, in retrospect is clearly the first ‘later’ Luckys album.
Which is not to say “A Good Kind of Nervous” is trivial or lightweight. Some tracks are just larks — if there is a more tuneful couple of minutes than ‘Under the Rotunda’ I’ve yet to hear it (‘…and I didn’t mean to yell it’s/just that I’m a little jealous/’cos you can do the Rubik’s cube and I can’t/I relied on blind faith and dumb luck/but eventually the stickers were unstuck.’), and ‘Up’ (‘I know this is ridiculous/I’m an idiotic Icarus’) was clearly copied by Disney… well, probably not, but they should have used it in the movie. ‘Columns o’ Steam’ is simply a little joy, especially if you’ve ever ridden Puffing Billy. ‘Wyoming’, though slight, nicely evokes the view of empty spaces seen fr0m a bus. ‘Caravanna’ and ‘Guess How Much I Love You’ strike a note of gentle ennui, something of a trademark of the group.
It’s not heavy. It doesn’t make me weep or punch a wall. It makes me smile a bit, and whistle now and then, and maybe feel a little sympathy for a couple of the protagonists. ANd fight to avoid singing along with a couple of tracks.
And then I go about my business, feeling just a little bit better.
What can I say about You Am I? This album came out at their mid-90s commercial peak, when the sky was the limit and they were in the middle of a run of three number 1 records.
It got a lot a press at the time, but somehow even then their success was too good to be true. Can you be idiosyncratic, lyrically dense and vulnerable and be successful if you are not the Smiths? I’m not sure. Even back then the writing was on the wall; they went number 1 but they also debuted there and watched their records fall out of the charts pretty quickly. Their fans bought them up, but there was no long tail. They never had a real hit single, nothing in the top 10. Singer songwriter guitar player Tim Rogers was too honest and too diffident at the same time, and interviewers never seemed to ‘get’ him. They just did not look like the next Midnight Oil or INXS. They looked more like the next Go-Betweens — destined for a coterie following, and critics’ darlings.
I was reasonably youthful then. I had my copy of Hi Fi Way. I’d seen them live. I bought the album even after hearing the rather too jangly single version of Mr Milk on the radio. I kept going to see them live, I’m even in the audience of their live album (and that is a cracker, I might say).
This record won a bunch of awards, called ARIAs, that apparently ended up in Tim’s toilet. It’s a sixties pop record, a suburban concept record about meeting girls and getting stuck where you are. It contains possibly Tim’s best ever lyric — and there are a lot to choose from — in ‘If We Can’t Get it Together’, a song that should have been the first single in my humble and probably wrong opinion. About getting married: “We might as well do it next week, cos we’ve met everybody that we’re ever gonna meet.”
It’s got a lot of good tracks on it, and in my opinion no really weak ones. It’s an Australian masterpiece, no doubt. Since this album they made the equally marvellous #4 Record and then turned from a beat group into a rock group, which at the time I didn’t like and am still ambivalent about, though I do like their self titled album of a couple of years ago, and more all the time.
Hourly, Daily bombed in the UK, where it was seen as a pale echo of dying Britpop; but taken on its own, twenty years after its release (not that it was really of its time anyway), it stands out as an example of sharp guitar rock/pop writing, with snappy hooks both musical and lyrical, and underneath it a connection to a place — the suburbs, wherever they are — and a way of life that might not be what you wanted but it was what you had, and it’s limits had to be overcome but at least it gave you a place in the world.
If you’ve never given it a spin, you could do a lot worse.