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Thread: Trollheart's Album Review Thread

  1. #41
    Quote Originally Posted by Trollheart View Post

    As for MB, again I don't want to do them down. They know their stuff, and by and large they're a friendly crowd, but a small percentage of them are arrogant beyond belief, and will say, and have actually said, the fact that you don't like the music I like proves how little you know about music. Not in those exact words but the sentiment is the same. I strove for years, literally, trying to convince one guy there in particular that I wasn't his enemy. He played (ahem) the guitar in a way that I personally thought might have been marginally better managed by my cats, but he thought he was a musician. Maybe he was; what do I know? I tried playing the synthesiser and wasn't very good at it. To each his own. But I tried to understand his approach to the music, both his own and the stuff he liked, and while occasionally, very occasionally, our tastes would coincide, mostly they were on vastly divergent paths. That was okay from my point of view: he wanted to be into Naked City or Captain Beefheart or Merzbow or whatever, more power to him and I didn't tell him his music sucked. But he did not reciprocate, and took every opportunity to put my music down, so yeah, he became my nemesis.

    Guy was arrogant to a fault, and really up himself, and that was bad enough until they made him a moderator! Then, things really got bad. But I wouldn't have stayed at the forum if I wasn't getting something out of it, and I found out about and got into some great music there, and apart from that, when I was going through some bad stuff they were all there for me. So I wouldn't just dismiss them, and you might want to reconsider hanging out there. If you do though, you will, eventually (and probably quite quickly if you go into the political section or the lounge) witness the drama I have spoken of, where members both old and new get subjected to what can often only be referred to as abuse, behaviour which can and does drive potential new members away. There's kind of no filter there; they behave as they wish to and expect everyone to understand and not take offence.

    And yes, I know I'm something of a minor legend there. This was borne out when I wanted to leave, a few years back (was absolutely determined to) and many of them convinced me not to. I know they miss me, but I just can't go back to that kind of daily drama, not for anything really. It's nice to know they still talk about me though.

    Thanks again for reading, and hopefully the albums will continue to be interesting. If there's something you'd like me to review, do let me know and if I can I will.

    TH
    I used to be a music snob when I was younger, but I wasn't pathologically narcissistic about it. It was a youth thing. Nowadays, I don't care what people listen to. If they love it, that's all that matters. I've known people who barely enjoy music.

    As I said, for the moment, I doubt I'll join there. I spend enough time on two forums as it is, and am having trouble finding the time to write. Political forum? Hell no. I'm sure I can hold my own, but that would mean getting caustic and I don't really see any advantage in that. What is a political forum doing on a music site anyway? That's like throwing a dead racoon into a flower garden.

    I always enjoy checking out music I've overlooked or dismissed. One never knows. Tastes change. Haven't had a chance to read everything you've posted, but I've been digging that Bon Iver track. Your writing is breezy and friendly. Not at all as smug as so much of it is today. Would I be too far off to guess that a portion of posters on MB are critics themselves? I forgot where I heard it or if I'm even quoting accurately but those who can't play get paid five dollars a word to rip other people's music to shreds.

    I may want to dig up and hose off some of my old fanzine reviews in the future, but I suppose it would be better if I was a little harder on myself about getting back to writing my script.

    In the meantime, keep 'em coming!

  2. #42
    Music Guru Trollheart's Avatar
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    Ego --- Millenium --- 2013 (Lynx Music)


    Now this one I do know. I’ve been playing this for the last few weeks, having originally mistaken it for the long-awaited fourth album from the American AOR band of the same name who impressed me so much with their album Hourglass in 2010.,I was initially confused by the proggy keyboards, atmospheric sounds and soft guitars, and then wondered why the vocalist sounded … different … Slowly the penny dropped. This was not the American Millenium, but despite spelling their name the same (incorrect) way, with one “n” instead of two, this was a totally different band.


    As it happens, I have two of their albums already downloaded but have never listened to either. On the basis of this, I’m going to have to rectify that very soon. Millenium (this Millenium) actually come from Poland - yes, the land of Riverside, Hipgnosis and Satellite , and have been in existence since just before the turn of the, um, millennium. Possibly where they got their name. Discounting live albums and EPs, they have released a total of eight albums in that time, of which this is the latest.


    The title track gets us underway, with some nice soft guitar and lush keys, and when it gets going I feel the melody has more than a touch of Aura-era Asia (there’s a thing to say!) about it. Powerful guitar from Piotr Płonka leads most of the tune in till at about the third minute vocalist and founder Łukasz Gall comes in, his voice strong and clear with a hint of an accent like you might expect. He’s joined a little while later by guest singer Karolina Leszko and then keyboardist Ryszard Kramarski who puts in a fine shift. This is one of three ten-minute songs on the album, the next one being nine, with only six tracks in total, but not a moment wasted on one. Every track here is pure twenty-four carat gold. Plonka engages in some Marillion style introspective guitar as the song begins to wind down to its conclusion, then rips off a fine searing solo which treads close to the footsteps of guitar god Dave Gilmour. With a final almost tragic vocal and simple piano line the song comes to a slightly abrupt end, my only quibble with this superb opener.


    “Born in 67” recalls the heady days of rock and roll as a picture is painted of a more or less idyllic world - “”He spent hours with his friends outside/ No mobiles and no web” - that is probably being viewed through the rose-tinted glasses of age. Lovely backing vocals from Leszko here and something that sounds like a banjo or mandolin, and some soulful trumpet work from guest musician Michał Bylica which really helps this song take off. There’s a real sense of loss and regret in this song, as of the passing of something that will never return. As Gall sings ”It’s so hard to find a friend/ In the ocean of despair” you can feel his frustration for the way things have gone.



    A great keyboard motif rides along the guitar line, with a superb little sax break from yet another guest, horn player Darek Rybka as the song heads towards its conclusion and into what I suppose I would call another standout, except that this is literally an album of six standouts. I really can’t find one track I don’t like, and while I like one or two more than the others, there’s nothing here that’s not immense. With a sort of country-style acoustic guitar the song turns a little harder fairly quickly, mostly on the keyboard work of Kramarski, including some beautifully minimalist piano, very Nick Cave at moments. A searing solo from Plonka takes the song, then we return to the kind of country feel before the song heads off again on a heavier line. Kramarski then leads with a stunning lush solo on the keys which brings us to the midpoint of the track, Karolina Leszko again lending her voice to the backing vocals before the tempo ramps completely up, and on first keys then guitar we get what I can only describe as a prog take on Southern Boogie. This is just incredible and unexpected and carries the tune almost to its end, where it finishes with a staccato rhythm which reminds me of Genesis’s “The Musical Box”, then fades out on an ultimately unsatisfying piano line and soft vocal.


    The ballad comes in the shape of “When I Fall”, and gives Leszko finally the chance to really show what she can do, as she partners Gall here in the chorus and complements him perfectly against the backdrop of Kramarski’s melancholy piano. Emotional and effective strings synth ramps the piece up and stirs the passion, then about halfway through Plonka winds up his guitar and ups the tempo of the song, though it falls back on a repeated fading vocal line very reminiscent of Floyd. Soft piano takes over again with the synth backing it with the strings sound, and we move into one of the standsouts among the standouts. “Lonely Man” has a driving beat but a dreamy innocence about the guitar, recalling everything from the Alan Parsons Project to the Beatles and early ELO. A lovely violin-like synth introduces the song which then gets going on acoustic guitar and some sleek percussion from Tomasz Paśko.


    It’s another long song - ten minutes and change - but again not a moment of it is wasted or unnecessary. The overall melody is heartbreakingly lovely, and interestingly almost every line begins with the two words that make up the title. Karolina Leszko is back again to add soft angelic backing vocals, and some pastoral flute-like synth gives the song a gentle early Genesis feeling. Rybka adds another sumptuous sax solo that just wrenches the emotion from you and completes the song, and in the seventh minute, following that solo, Laszko takes over the lead vocal, switching with Gall as the song grows in power and intensity. Some thick organ from Kramarski is joined by a sweet solo from Plonka and again my only problem with the song is that it ends, after building to a real crescendo, too abruptly. A common failing, it would appear, with this band, or at least this album.


    The closer is another ten-minute track, and does not disappoint as “Goodbye My Earth” sees us out in fine style. With a big guitar opening that reminds me very much of Immortal?-era Arena, then dark synth backs Gall as he sings about the end of things, bookending the album as it began with a newborn trying to come to terms with his life, a real life cycle. Karolina Laszko gives a final, terrific performance on the chorus here, backed only by Plonka’s acoustic guitar, then the song gets more passionate in the last five minutes as both Gall and Laskzo join together, with Kramarski adding in some very Supertramp-like Fender Rhodes in a boogie style. The vocal is then run through a vocoder for some reason, the voice I assume to be Gall’s, while Kramarski riffs off another fine solo on the keys before Plonka goes all rock on the guitar, screeching out a solo that would please the most ardent metalhead. Maybe.


    Everything finally comes down with Kramarski’s strings-like synth and hard guitar from Plonka and it all fades down until only the lonely piano line is left, slowly drifting away like the last vestiges of a soul leaving the body.


    TRACK LISTING

    1. Ego
    2. Born in ‘67
    3. Dark Secrets
    4. When I Fall
    5. Lonely Man
    6. Goodbye My Earth


    Poland is fast becoming - or has already become - the centre for new, dynamic progressive rock and it looks like remaining that way. It has been perhaps an unlikely quarter to expect prog rock to come from, as there is no real history there but bands like Riverside, Satellite and others have made it one of the freshest places for prog, virtually a breeding ground there. Like Scandinavia birthed, or rebirthed the black metal revival, prog rock is now having its second coming in Poland.


    There is, as I have said, very little I can find fault with on this album. There are no bad tracks. None. If I have to pick holes it would be with Millenium’s annoying tendency to set you up for a really good ending to a song and then just stop, as they do three or four times here. But that’s a small complaint and everything up to that disappointing ending on this album has been next to perfect. Everyone knows their place and their function. Most of the band members play only the one instrument - or in Gall’s case, sing - and don’t burden themselves, as many of their contemporaries do, with trying to fulfill several roles at once. Concentrate on what you’re good at: it’s a maxim that certainly works for Millenium, and here they’ve crafted, in my view, close to the perfect progressive rock album.

    Come away, human child to the waters and the wild
    With a faery hand in hand.
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand. - WB Yeats "The Stolen Child"

    I drink to forget, but I never forget to drink.

    "If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
    He'd be gunned down cold by the CIA" - The The, "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)" - Mind Bomb, 1989


    The most destructive force on the planet is not nukes or global warming...it is the human ego. - Ralph Rotten

  3. #43
    Music Guru Trollheart's Avatar
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    With the fourteenth Asia album released only days ago --- technically the fourth under the new/old lineup, but minus Steve Howe --- and considering how disappointed and dismayed I was by the previous outing, 2012’s godawful XXX, I thought it might be time to revisit what I consider one of Asia’s best albums, the seventh in an almost unbroken line that stretches back to their debut in 1982 and the last truly great album to feature vocalist, singer and songwriter John Payne. To my mind, Asia struggled with their next release, got it together with 2008’s Phoenix, did okay with the followup but then blew it with XXX. What the current one will be like I have yet to hear, but this reminds me of a time when Asia were a band you could always rely on to turn out consistently brilliant albums. The end, perhaps, of an era, did we but know it?

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    Aura --- Asia --- 2000 (Recognition)


    You can say what you like, and laugh all you want, but I really feel Asia began to lose their way when they abandoned the idea of titling albums with words that began and ended with “a”. From their self-titled debut in 1981 we’ve had Alpha, Astra, Aria, Arena and then this one, after which they called the next album Silent Nation, and since then they’ve really disposed of the idea, although 2010’s Omega does kind of retain echoes of the old days, both in title and quality. Now it’s probably, almost certainly coincidence, but it’s hard to argue against the fact that the first seven albums (I don’t count Then and Now, as it’s half a live album, nor Rare, which is all instrumental) showed the band at their height, and even with a lineup change halfway when Payne took over for 1992’s Aqua, a kind of comeback album as prior to that the band had not released any material since 1985 -- again, I don’t count 1990’s Then and Now --- the quality remained, indeed improved as the albums mounted up.


    It’s hard for me to pick out a favourite Asia album. Many of them suffer from the odd weak track (I find Astra in particular to fall into this category) but almost all have powerful, strong ones to keep them interesting. Probably my alltime favourite would be Alpha, their second album, followed perhaps by Aqua, but this is certainly high in the rankings. I won’t say it’s a return to form for the band as the previous album, Arena was pretty damn special too. That album featured what I believe is the first, and to date only, example of Asia starting with an instrumental that then leads into the title track. But I’ll probably review that later at some point.


    Aura is the first, and only, Asia album to credit only Geoff Downes and John Payne as the actual band, with everyone else who plays on it shown as “additional musicians”. But then, there are so many of these: Pat Thrall, Guthrie Govan, Michael Sturgis, Ian Crichton, Elliot Randall, Chris Slade, even Steve Howe, though I assume that’s because he played on older tracks that were used? I can’t confirm that though. He had surely not rejoined the band at this point, though he would later. Some of the above musicians would indeed join the main band and feature on 2004’s Silent Nation, on which there would be, again, a host of other “additional players”.


    The artwork, any Asia fan will be able to tell you, is by Roger Dean, who had created the art for the covers of the previous albums since the debut, but who would not be involved in the somewhat lacklustre and very un-Asia cover for Silent Nation. Perhaps realising how deeply he was tied in to the band, or perhaps because Payne had been replaced by original singer John Wetton by then, Dean would return to create the artwork for all further albums from Omega onwards.


    A drum roll takes us into a sprightly keyboard line as “Awake” opens the album, Payne singing about his hopes for humanity if only we can put aside our prejudices and hatred. The song is apparently based on a poem but I don’t know it so can’t comment. It’s very upbeat though, with restrained guitar and some fine vocal harmonies, a chorus that consists of only one word but Payne puts a universe of emotion into those two syllables. Some nice piano work from Downes, who handles all keyboard duties. There are tons of guest guitarists but no way is he allowing anyone to steal his thunder! And who can blame him? The man’s a keyboard genius and Asia would certainly not be the same without him. This, among other songs on the album, really showcases though how strong a singer John Payne is, and how, over a short period from 1992 to 2004, he really made Asia his, no mean feat when you consider he was trying to almost erase the memory of the original vocalist. And more or less succeeded. Even now, he tours with his own band, John Payne’s Asia, and they do great business.


    A superb turn from David Grant’s Gospel Choir, taking the song into the realms of the spiritual and leading into “Wherever You Are”, on which Payne and Downes are assisted by 10CC alumni Graham Gouldman and Andrew Gold. It’s a nice mid-paced song, though it’s a little pedestrian after the explosive opener. It has a nice tinkly keyboard line and some pizzicato strings synthwork with a decent rhythm, a fine solo from Payne and some crashing guitar from him near the end. Asia seldom if ever cover another artist’s song but this is what they do next, with a version of 10cc’s “Ready to Go Home”, a striding, emotional desire to see one’s homeland, starting out on a low, whistly keyboard line with an impassioned vocal from Payne and some great backing vocals too.


    It kicks up in intensity shortly, but remains a slow song, almost a prayer in a way as Payne sings ”Lord shine a light for me/ I’m waiting to be born.” Powerful, stirring organ from Downes paints a sepulchral backdrop as Payne sings in almost, but not quite, a gospel style, and the choir from the opener return for a fine performance. A wonderful guitar solo from Guthrie Govan, who would go on to become a permanent member of the short-lived band which would only record one more album before being pushed aside in favour of the original lineup in 2008.


    The tempo rises then a little for “The Last Time”, with a bouncy synth melody leading us in and a busy bassline from Payne, while Steve Howe handles the guitars. As I say, I don’t know whether this is because he recorded original sections of this song, as in, it’s an older Asia song, but I doubt he would return only to perform on one track. There’s a very typical Asia vocal harmony on this, recalling the best from Alpha and Aqua, and you can certainly hear the influence of the original guitarist and founder on the track. A very stirring bridge as Payne sings [i]”All these fields/ That once were green/ Have turned to smoke and steel/ The sun will fall, and the last moon rise/ Don't turn this tide away.”


    A dramatic synth line then with bubbling keyboards in the background and a rising guitar as “Forgive Me” nods back in the direction of previous album Arena, with a jaunty line in the melody which belies the lyrical theme, which seems to be another of Asia’s many eco-related ones but may also have something to do with TV evangelists as the line ”I am direct salvation/
    Just send in your donation/ I can promise that you'll be saved”
    would seem to indicate. Great beat in the song and again a fine, fine performance from Payne. One of my favourites on the album is up next, as “Kings of the Day” opens strongly with a rhythm that’s hard not to nod your head or tap your feet to. Some nice sparse fretwork from Govan again, and Payne sings like a man possessed as Downes lays down the soundscape against which his bandmate bares his soul.


    If any track on Aura can be described as funky, Govan’s guitar here makes this the closest they come, but the strong keyboard presence from Geoff Downes keeps things decidedly progressive rock oriented. It’s not really even AOR, which is a label that befits some other Asia albums: this is pure prog rock. Super little guitar solo halfway through, again quite funky and jazzy, while the final two minutes or so of the song are taken by an extended instrumental that displays both Payne and Downes at their best. There are a few words thrown in, but basically it’s enough of an instrumental to me to qualify for the label.


    “On the Coldest Day in Hell” opens on gentle acoustic guitar and breathing synth with a reflective idea in the lyric as Payne asks ”Do you remember years ago? /All our hopes would ebb and flow/ We thought we'd find a promised land /Our footprints in the sand.” It’s probably the closest to a ballad on the album, which, given Asia’s propensity for two or three on an album, is surprising. Payne’s voice is soulful as a fallen angel here and Michael Sturgis does really well on the percussion here, holding it back and making it very tasteful. Great synthwork from Downes complements a lovely acoustic guitar solo from Govan and a sublime vocal from Payne to end the song as it starts to fade out, but then ends on a dramatic keyboard passage.


    This takes us into the longest song on the album by far, almost nine minutes of “Free”, which is certainly also the rockiest, kicking the tempo right up and bringing back memories of tracks like “The Heat Goes On” and “Rock and Roll Dreams”. Downes goes crazy on the keys here, squealing and twiddling all over the place, with Steve Howe back on guitar, joined by Pat Thrall and Ian Crichton, and with Payne himself that makes four axemen: you can really hear it in the guitar attack! Despite being the longest and hardest rocking track, “Free” is far from my favourite on the album, in fact it comes in close to the one I like least. But there’s no denying the energy and passion in it. I’m not quite sure why it needs to be as long as it is though: I think a five or six-minute version would have worked just as well.


    There are of course several guitar solos in the song, including one on what sounds like Spanish guitar, but Payne throws down a really nice bass line in about the fourth minute too as the thing builds back up to a crescendo and heads into the sixth. I’m glad however to report that, although as I say, “Free” is not my most liked track here, Aura does not suffer from the “midpoint syndrome” that so many albums do. It’s consistently good all the way through, and despite the oddly pop nature of the next track, “You’re the Stranger” is still a very good and very much Asia track, with whining synth and interesting percussion from Luis Jardim. Great vocal harmonies too; the song is mid-paced and somewhat restrained after the finger-blurring fretwork and speed of “Free”, but in ways it’s just what’s needed, as the chance to catch your breath after that monster is definitely welcome.


    Elliot Randall this time joins Guthrie Govan on the guitar, and rips off a fine solo as the song powers along, more ecology themes in it as Payne asks ”Where the eagle used to fly/ They carve their concrete in the sky /Tearing at our mother's skin /Taking all her blood within /Remember how it used to be?” A powerful guitar then punches in as “The Longest Night” almost winds up the album with a strong, stirring vocal and ominous keyboard, the tempo slowing down but this is no ballad. Based on the Wilfred Owen poem, the song decries the futility of war, as Asia have done down their career with songs like “Too Late” and “Countdown to Extinction”, as well as “The Day Before the War” and others. It’s a powerful indictment, Payne giving it all he has on his final outing on the album. The closer is a typical Asia instrumental, and also the title track. It’s a fast upbeat piece with as you would expect plenty of input from Downes on the piano and keys, and flourishes from Payne on the guitar. More great percussion from Sturgis and a sort of choral vocal with the synth complements a really nice organ sound. One last solo from Payne and we’re out of here.


    TRACK LISTING


    1. Awake
    2. Wherever You Are
    3. Ready to Go Home
    4. The Last Time
    5. Forgive Me
    6. Kings of the Day
    7. On the Coldest Day in Hell
    8. Free
    9. You’re the Stranger
    10. The Longest Night
    11. Aura


    Note: there are three bonus tracks on my CD, but as per my usual MO I won’t be talking about them. In addition to detracting from the purity of the album itself I find it takes long enough to write these reviews and I always have one eye on how many more tracks are left, so including bonus tracks just makes more work for me. For the record, of the three, the best is probably “Under the Gun”, though the other two aren’t bad. As is often the case with additional material though, the quality of none of the three is quite up to the overall level of the album itself, another reason why a) they’re bonus tracks and b) why I don’t review them.


    Despite what I said above, for a while I used to approach a new Asia album with the smallest amount of trepidation. Every one had been great, I would think, up to this. Surely this one will be the one that breaks that pattern? And when you’re paying full price for a CD as I used to, that’s something of a gamble to take. But I always felt in my heart confident that Asia would deliver, and they always did. I suppose it’s ironic that the first time they failed to was with a digital download, so that although XXX fell far below the standard I had come to expect from this band, it only cost me a dollar or so to find that out. Still, it was a huge disappointment, sort of like the first - and so far, only - time Marillion let me down, or when I suffered through Abacab by Genesis. You just don’t want your favourite bands to turn out bad albums, even if you get them for free. It’s part pride I guess and part a feeling of being cheated, even if it’s not out of money. There’s also the fear that this is the tip of the iceberg, the point at which the artist’s material will begin to nosedive in quality and that the next album or albums you get from them you can expect them all to be as poor as this one, or worse.


    I haven’t, as I say, listened to Gravitas, the latest offering from the new/old/new Asia yet, but my expectations have been battered down after the last one, so I’m not really expecting all that much. I may be overstating the case, but I feel that after this album the shine began to rub off a band which had existed for nearly twenty years at that point, and though they achieved something which is rare enough in music, a second rebirth with the album Phoenix and the reassembling of the original 1982 lineup sixteen years after they released their debut on the world --- an album which still contains their only hit singles ---the only way from here was down.


    Silent Nation did not overly impress me, Phoenix was admittedly excellent and Omega a decent followup though nothing terribly special, while quite possibly the death knell for Asia was sounded two years ago with the album that marked, ironically, their thirtieth anniversary. John Wetton, far from revitalising Asia (which didn’t need revitalising anyway and was doing quite well under John Payne, thank you very much) seems almost intent on destroying his legacy, taking apart a decade of great music and leaving us with only the older albums to enjoy. That said, Gravitas could be their best album yet, though I think I see a pig flying …which reminds me...hmm.


    If the latest album is to be Asia’s last gasp, and if it’s anything like XXX, maybe it’s better they give it up as a bad job now, before we’re subjected to a string of substandard albums. Personally, I’d rather they made Gravitas their finale and left us with superb albums like this one to remember, and try to block out the awful memory of XXX.
    Come away, human child to the waters and the wild
    With a faery hand in hand.
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand. - WB Yeats "The Stolen Child"

    I drink to forget, but I never forget to drink.

    "If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
    He'd be gunned down cold by the CIA" - The The, "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)" - Mind Bomb, 1989


    The most destructive force on the planet is not nukes or global warming...it is the human ego. - Ralph Rotten

  4. #44
    Music Guru Trollheart's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KenTR View Post
    I used to be a music snob when I was younger, but I wasn't pathologically narcissistic about it. It was a youth thing. Nowadays, I don't care what people listen to. If they love it, that's all that matters. I've known people who barely enjoy music.

    As I said, for the moment, I doubt I'll join there. I spend enough time on two forums as it is, and am having trouble finding the time to write. Political forum? Hell no. I'm sure I can hold my own, but that would mean getting caustic and I don't really see any advantage in that. What is a political forum doing on a music site anyway? That's like throwing a dead racoon into a flower garden.

    I always enjoy checking out music I've overlooked or dismissed. One never knows. Tastes change. Haven't had a chance to read everything you've posted, but I've been digging that Bon Iver track. Your writing is breezy and friendly. Not at all as smug as so much of it is today. Would I be too far off to guess that a portion of posters on MB are critics themselves? I forgot where I heard it or if I'm even quoting accurately but those who can't play get paid five dollars a word to rip other people's music to shreds.

    I may want to dig up and hose off some of my old fanzine reviews in the future, but I suppose it would be better if I was a little harder on myself about getting back to writing my script.

    In the meantime, keep 'em coming!
    Hah! I assure you, it's pure coincidence that the very next album I reviewed was Millenium's Ego! I laughed when I saw what you wrote about the guys on MB. No, to my knowledge, none of them are critics, if by that you mean they get paid. The only one who is, ironically, is a guy called Anteater and he is one of the nicest and most tolerant people you could come across. He's also a fantastic writer, at least about music. I hope to get him to join here at some point.

    Thanks for the compliments on my writing. I always tried to write in a way that shows that I know what I'm talking about (hence a LOT of research before I do the review, usually through Wiki and RYM) but inject a note of humour too, and ensure I never preach to people, even when it's a subject, like Genesis, Marillion or Waits, on which I have almost encyclopedic knowledge. Nobody wants to be talked down to, and I try to make my reviews as engaging as possible. I'm glad you're enjoying them, and may find some new music to try out through them, which is part of the whole reason I used to write, not that anyone ever took any notice. The only two who did, to my recollection, were that Anteater guy, who told me I got him into the music of Chris Rea, and another guy who got totally into Prince, but had never heard his music before I reviewed Purple Rain, so that's always gratifying.

    Thanks again; I'd love to see some of your reviews, and good luck with your screenplay.
    Come away, human child to the waters and the wild
    With a faery hand in hand.
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand. - WB Yeats "The Stolen Child"

    I drink to forget, but I never forget to drink.

    "If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
    He'd be gunned down cold by the CIA" - The The, "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)" - Mind Bomb, 1989


    The most destructive force on the planet is not nukes or global warming...it is the human ego. - Ralph Rotten

  5. #45
    Music Guru Trollheart's Avatar
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    Sometimes stars are born, sometimes made, but mostly you only discover them when they burst onto the scene. Occasionally, an artiste you've been following makes it big, and you can grin and say “told you so!” - a friend of mine was well into Michael Bolton years before he made the big time. But it's rare that you get advance warning that a new star is due to shine, and that you had better look out for them.

    But such is how the nascent career of one Charlie Sexton was foreshadowed, and with good reason. Part of Bob Dylan's band from 1999 to 2002, and having toured with the Rolling Stones, learned guitar from some of the greats in the field, especially Joe Ely and the late Stevie Ray Vaughan, Sexton was marked for greatness. He was a pretty phenomenal guitar player, could sing like a pro from an early age, and had cut his teeth and paid his dues where it mattered, on the road. He would have big names to recommend his work and to call upon if needed, and associations with such heavyweights could only add clout to his stab for the big time.

    But amazingly, that big break never arrived. Which is not to say that Sexton did not make it as a musician. In fact, he has had a fairly stellar career, working with even more giant talents like Ron Wood, Jimmy Barnes, Don Henley, Keith Richards, Clapton and Bowie, and has produced albums for the likes of Lucinda Williams, Double Trouble (Stevie Ray's band), Edie Brickell and Shawn Colvin. He has been hailed as a major talent, and is in great demand as a session musician, even playing the guitar on Justin Timberlake's version of “Hallelujah”.

    But despite all that, the glittering solo career and superstardom that was foretold in his stars has not come to pass, and it's even odder when you consider his debut album, his first proper introduction to the world as a solo artiste.

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    Pictures for Pleasure --- Charlie Sexton --- 1985 (MCA)

    Even from the photo on the sleeve you could guess this guy was going to make it big. Hell, you'd have put your house on it! The broody, James Dean-esque teenager staring out of the picture, his hair in a quiff, his eyes dark and mysterious, rather a lot of heavy makeup on his face and a leather jacket pulled casually around his shoulders would perhaps put you in mind of one of those X-Factor/American Idol wannabe “stars” who think they're a rocker. But you can't ignore or deny the image: this is a guy with the face record companies and producers kill for, the sort of face that can sell records on its own.

    The difference here is that Sexton can rock, and does on his debut album. Pictures for Pleasure. He has the kind of voice Cowell would kill for, and the sort of stage presence only gained through years on the road with bands who are the masters of their craft. And he's not just a pretty face either: he plays guitar, bass, piano and keyboards, sings and indeed writes or has a hand in writing some of the songs on the album. The full package, indeed.

    So where did it all go wrong? Why was this album not a huge, chart-topping smash that launched Charlie Sexton on the road to superstar nirvana? I really can't answer that. The first single from the album is excellent, so much so that it pushed me to buy the album, and that's damn good too. Yet his next album seems to have sold very badly, and he only released two more solo albums after that, in total four, six and ten years between the last. Obviously, as detailed above he was very busy, either playing with other bands or producing albums, and he probably hadn't time to record much of his own solo work, but after the single I heard nothing more from him, and I had so much expected to.

    The album opens with “Impressed”, a good hard rocker in the vein of John Cougar Mellencamp, and you can already hear the talent of this guy, not only on vocals but on guitar too. It's a good opener, with a great hook, and would have made a good single, but it's the next track that was the single, and deservedly so. “Beat's So Lonely” is a fantastic slice of fast power-rock, melodic to the max, with a great lyrical theme about how it's lonely at the top and how things look different from there. Charlie cuts loose with his first proper guitar solo here, and it's a doozy!

    This is also one of the songs he helps write, with producer Keith Forsey, and it's a real slice of Americana. Charlie's often relaxed, southern Texas drawl puts me in mind of the late Stevie Ray: the man's influence has certainly rubbed off! “Restless” is another track on which Charlie co-writes, this time it's a more electronica/funk type with lots of fiddly keyboard and some very bright piano, still retaining the rock shell the album is built upon.

    Perhaps surprisingly, given his pedigree, Sexton eschews the idea of calling in famous names to play on his album, possibly afraid that such “guests” might misrepresent his music to the masses, or maybe he just wanted to make it on his own, after years of playing in the shadow of titans, standing, as it were, on the shoulders of giants. The only recognisable name on his crewlist is that of guitarist and producer extraordinaire, Richie Zito.



    A strange choice for a cover version next, the 1933 semi-classic “Hold Me”, which Charlie gives the full eighties rock treatment, updating the old love song for 1985. Another great little solo in this song, and some truly exceptional playing from Charlie, and the song is instantly his. It seems everything this boy puts his hand to, no matter how obscure or old, or seemingly inappropriate, turns to pure rock gold.

    The title track is next, and again Sexton has a hand in its penning. “Pictures for Pleasure” is a boppy, keyboard-led slice of eighties AOR, with a certain Cars vibe about it, probably the most laid-back track on the album so far, although nowhere near a ballad. It should also be remembered that at the time of this album's release, Charlie Sexton was a mere slip of a lad at only sixteen. Displaying a maturity way beyond his tender years, he then launches into “Tell Me”, one of two tracks solely written by him. A real hard rocker, it combines the best of his keys work with heavy, snarly guitar, conjuring up visions of Survivor after a particularly hard day at the studio meeting up with Ric Ocasek and heading off for a drinking session with John Parr. Another super solo marks this track out as special, and it's on to his second attempt at writing a song on his own.

    “Attractions” is a far different beast to its predecessor, with somewhat confused melody and a darker, more ominous vocal with nevertheless great backing vocals, and more guitar-driven than the previous “Tell Me”. I find the singing a little muddy on this track - I would say possibly due to production, but then Keith Forsey is acknowledged as a great producer, so I'd have to say it's down to Charlie's singing style, at least on this track. I have to admit, I'm not as fond of this as the previous, in fact, this goes down as my least favourite track so far.

    “You Don't Belong Here” gets things back on track after the somewhat unexpected “curve ball” (don't you just hate those American phrases?) thrown by “Attractions”, with another good rocker with tons of hooks and some great guitar work from Charlie. Sort of mid-paced, it's not as frenetic as the likes of “Restless” or “Impressed”, but it holds its own, with a strange sort of Pretenders/Bryan Adams guitar riff running through it. Closer “Space” is written by those stalwarts of the rock song, Holly Knight and Mike Chapman, and it shows.

    The song reeks of commerciality, but I really feel it does not suit either Sexton's voice or his style, and as such it seems incongruous here. Perhaps the decision to take this song was a bad move: virtually everything up to that had been good, but as a closer this just feels like it was written for someone like Go West or Eurythmics. Just doesn't sit well here, and finishes the album in the wrong vein for me.

    Having heard “Beat's So Lonely”, I bought this album fully expecting it to be loaded with filler, and was more than surprised to find it really is a good listen. Having read about Charlie Sexton in the musical press of the day, I totally expected this album to be the springboard to launch him to worldwide fame and success. I'm amazed that it didn't happen, and though Pictures for Pleasure is not a classic album, and does suffer from some deficiencies, remembering that it's the debut effort from a guy sixteen years old, this is good stuff! As mentioned, Charlie did experience a lot of success, with other bands and other avenues, and he'll always make a living as a session muso. He's in demand, and will most likely continue to be, and certainly he'll never starve.

    But superstardom, it would appear, for reasons that remain unclear to me, seems to have eluded him. On the strength of this album, it's one of the mysteries of the rock universe, and one that I fear will not be solved any time soon, if ever. Steve Lukather, Danny Kortchmar, Mike Landau, are all names we know well. They're accomplished and famous session musicians (Lukather not so much now, having joined Toto and made a name for himself), and do well, but would we go to see any of them if they were in concert? Charlie Sexton deserved to become a household name, but sadly, and unaccountably, the likely response you'll get when mentioning his name now, outside of musical circles, is “Charlie who?”

    TRACK LISTING
    Impressed
    Beat's So Lonely
    Restless
    Hold Me
    Pictures for Pleasure
    Tell Me
    Attractions
    You Don't Belong Here
    Space

    Come away, human child to the waters and the wild
    With a faery hand in hand.
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand. - WB Yeats "The Stolen Child"

    I drink to forget, but I never forget to drink.

    "If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
    He'd be gunned down cold by the CIA" - The The, "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)" - Mind Bomb, 1989


    The most destructive force on the planet is not nukes or global warming...it is the human ego. - Ralph Rotten

  6. #46
    Music Guru Trollheart's Avatar
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    Trying to fly the flag for my own country, and having already reviewed The Coronas I thought it might be time to check out some more of the best in Irish music. Not rock by any means - but then, while Ireland has its share of rock stars we’re known more for our traditional and folk music than anything, so this is an essential album indeed, by one of Ireland's favourite and best-loved sons, the inimitable Christy Moore.

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    Ordinary Man --- Christy Moore --- 1985 (Walker)

    Christy has long been acknowledged as one of the best ever songwriters and musicians the Irish folk scene has ever produced, and his output ranges from out-and-out traditional, folk and some blues influences to rockier material and some gorgeous ballads, including the superlative Jimmy McCarthy song, “Ride On”. Some of his songs are satirical, some sharply so. His song “Lisdoonvarna”, written about the Irish music festival that takes place there annually, is just good fun, as is “Don't Forget Your Shovel”, but he can write some very cutting stuff too. This album opens with “Sweet Music Roll On”, a lovely little trad-type ballad on acoustic guitar with oileann pipes backing. “Delirium Tremens” is a hilarious but very serious little ditty, ostensibly about the “D.T's”, the withdrawal symptoms from alcohol addition, but features many references to Irish poloticians, religion and other Irish figures too. Most of the lyric will probably be incomprehensible to anyone not Irish, but it's a great little song, carried on acoustic guitar and bodhran.

    Christy tends to sing a lot of his material almost sotto voce, in a manner somewhat similar to John Martyn: he seldom raises his voice and you often have to strain to hear him, but his singing is the better for this. The standout track on the album breaks this habit, as Christy snarls out the title track, a sharp indictment of the plight of the workingman. You can hear the vitriol in his voice as he laments the oft-told story of the little guy being stepped on by Big Business, where phrases like “rationalistation, “not viable” and “downsizing” all mean one thing to the ordinary Joe: redundancy. When he snaps ”The owner says he's sad/ To see things have gone so bad/ But the captains of industry/ Won't let him loose/ He still drives a car/ Smokes a big cigar/ He still takes his family on a cruise!” you can get a sense of his anger at the hypocrisy of a boss who spreads his hands and shrugs “what can I do?” It's a mid-paced ballad, with great guitar and some nice steel pedal guitar too, tom-toms keeping the percussion beat.

    Most of the album is simple acoustic guitar with minimal percussion, some banjo and the odd keyboard flourish, the oileann pipes adding some colour as well as harmonica and maybe fiddles, hard to say and I have no instrumentation listing. But it's very, very Irish and very, very Christy. “The Reel In the Flickering Light” opens on mournful keys and banjo or mandolin, features some lovely piano too, then Christy's guitar takes over and he returns to the normal way of singing for him, which is almost that of a man practicing alone in a room. This is part of Christy's charm: there are no airs or graces about the man. He plays on stage as he would at home alone, or on his records, and he's as honest and unassuming a man as you're ever likely to meet.

    Another ballad then in “The Diamandtina Drover”, and there's another instrument to add in: the accordion. Not normally one of my favourites, but it works very well here. “Blantyre Explosion” opens with sounds of rain and thunder, and settles into another laid back ballad about a mining disaster in Scotland. “Hard Cases” is another little jaunty tune, in something the style of “Delirium Tremens” but a little slower, and a lot of accordion, while “Continental Ceili” (pronounced “kay-lee”) recalls his satirical “Don't Forget Your Shovel”, another jaunty, pleasant little ditty just celebrating the Irish traditional way of life (a ceili is an Irish dance with traditional music), and “St. Brendan's Voyage” recalls the journey of the Irish Saint Brendan the Navigator with a typical Christy Moore slant as he asks [i]”Is it right or left/ For Gibraltar?/ What tack do I take/ For Mizzenhead/ I'd love to settle down/ Near Bantry Harbour/ Saint Brendan to his albatross/ He said.” Great stuff!

    The album was supposed to have included a song written by Christy commemorating the forty-eight young people killed in one of Ireland's worst accidents, the fire at the Stardust nightclub in 1981, but legal complications prevented him from adding it, and so instead, where “They Never Came Home” should have been, we have “Another Song is Born”, which itself alludes to why songs are written, a direct attack at the powers that stopped him releasing “They Never Came Home”, which was sharply critical of the Irish government for their treatment of the disaster and its aftermath, as well as the Butterleys, the owners of the nightclub, who themselves had strong ties to the party in power, Fianna Fail.

    The album closes on the lovely “Quiet Desperation”, featuring ex-Clannad member and solo artist Enya on backing vocals and keyboards. It's another lonely ballad, fragile and beautiful, perfectly crafted and delivered with gorgeous mandolin accompaniment from Donal Lunny, and it brings down the curtain on a fine album by a national Irish treasure.

    TRACK LISTING

    Sweet Music Roll On
    Delirium Tremens
    Ordinary Man
    Matty
    The Reel in the Flickering Light
    The Diamondtina Drover
    Blantrye Explosion
    Hard Cases
    Continental Ceili
    St. Brendan's Voyage
    Another Song is Born
    Quiet Desperation

    I would never actually consider myself a fan of Christy Moore’s music - I’ve heard little enough of it - but you’ll search hard to find any Irishman or woman who has a bad word to say about him, and this has nothing really to do with his music, though millions all over the world do enjoy it. It’s more about the man. Christy (he’s almost never referred to as Moore, as most artists tend to get tagged by reviewers by their surname, another indication of both the high esteem in which he’s held here, and the friendliness towards him as just one of the guys) is the type of man who can play a sell-out gig and then meet you in the pub afterwards for a stout. He’s not to be seen being ushered from the stage by mirror-shaded goons holding back the crowds, refusing to sign autographs and shading his eyes from the flash of cameras as he’s bundled into a limo where three bimbos await his company.

    He’s much more likely to go out among the crowd and shake your hand after the concert, talk to you and listen to your views, laugh with you, curse the government and bewail the state of the world while perhaps indulging in a good old Irish singsong in the local. Mind you, I’m not saying this is his routine after every gig - probably happens less often than I would wish. But he’s one of the few famous artists you can look at and think, yeah, I could go for a pint with him, and he wouldn’t pretend not to know me. He’s just like me, another working slob. Sure, he plies his trade with a guitar while I work down the supermarket, but at heart he knows we’re just the same, ordinary men trying to do our best in an uncaring world.

    It may very well be the secret of his success, and if so, sure wouldn’t we all do well to learn from and follow his example? Ride on, Christy, ride on.
    Come away, human child to the waters and the wild
    With a faery hand in hand.
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand. - WB Yeats "The Stolen Child"

    I drink to forget, but I never forget to drink.

    "If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
    He'd be gunned down cold by the CIA" - The The, "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)" - Mind Bomb, 1989


    The most destructive force on the planet is not nukes or global warming...it is the human ego. - Ralph Rotten

  7. #47
    Quote Originally Posted by Trollheart View Post
    I have no idea what that means.
    Antiochus IV Epiphanes persecuted the Maccabees in the Bible. The rebellion of the Maccabees is the story of Hanukkah.

  8. #48
    Music Guru Trollheart's Avatar
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    Tapestry
    --- Carole King --- 1971 (Ode)

    One of the mega-albums of the early seventies, a huge hit and a massive success for fledgling singer/songwriter Carole King, Tapestry was in fact her second album, which makes it all the more remarkable that there were five hit singles from it, four of which reached number one! Since its release, to date, Tapestry has sold over 25 million copies. Not bad for a second effort!

    Carole King did of course go on to write songs for huge artistes, and others had hits with her songs, like Aretha Franklin, who made “(You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman” something of a signature tune for herself, and of course James Taylor, who scored a massive hit and enduring success with “You've Got a Friend”. But this is Carole's album: she writes or co-writes every track, and what she doesn't write on her own she contributes the music to, as in two tracks where the lyric is supplied by Toni Stern. On three others she shares songwriting duties with ex-husband Gerry Goffin.

    The album opens with “I Feel the Earth Move”, a pacy, upbeat song about love, which has been covered by many artistes down the years, the most recent I recall being Martika. The style of the album from the off is quite laid-back, almost jazzy, folky in places, but it's by no means an album of ballads. “So Far Away” is one though, a wistful, almost pleading song asking why people don't stay together. It's a simple piano-driven song, with King's voice as simple and yet as distinctive as that of the late Karen Carpenter, singing as if she's been doing this all her life.

    “It's Too Late” is one of the standout tracks on the album, a disarmingly boppy song whose subject matter is far from fun, the bitter realisation that a breakup is unavoidable, as Carole sings ”Stayed in bed all mornin' just to pass the time/ There's somethin' wrong here, there can be no denyin'/ One of is changin', or maybe we just stopped tryin'”. It's carried on bouncy piano with some nice acoustic guitar, and was one of the many hits from the album. It's also one of the few Carole did not write, lyric duty falling to the aforementioned Toni Stern, music by Carole.

    A great fusion of pop and folk modes, Tapestry was in fact the biggest-selling album by a solo artiste until Michael Jackson came along with Thriller, and smashed all records. Not bad though: that was 1982, so she kept the top spot for eleven years. The album features some names which were to go on to be rather huge, including Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Russ Kunkel and a young Danny Kortchmar. Another piano ballad, with country flavour and a touch of gospel, “Home Again” keeps the quality high with some lovely piano from Carole, and a simple melody and theme.

    “Beautiful” is a much more uptempo, happy song, with a “smile and the world smiles with you” idea, with an almost carnival ending, while “Way Over Yonder” fuses blues and gospel perfectly in a touching little ballad that's almost a hymn in disguise, with some supersmooth sax work. There's just nothing that can, or needs, to be said about the next track. A huge, massive hit for James Taylor, as well as others, I think everyone knows “You've Got a Friend.” It's followed by “Where You Lead”, a sort of mid-paced rocker with some great keyboards and a soul chorus line. It's the second track on the album written by Toni Stern, though interestingly there's a line in it which very closely mirrors one in “You've Got a Friend”... The song would be seen nowadays as sounding like the words of a submissive, subservient woman, with lines like ”Where you lead I will follow” and ”If you wanna live in New York City/ Honey you know I will”, but come on, this was 1971!


    Another hit next, already a big success for the Shirelles in the sixties, again everyone knows “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” and yes, Carole King wrote it, along with Gerry Goffin. Her own version is a much slower, laid-back and piano-led version than the bubblegum pop of the original release, and so much better for taking its time, with excellent and powerful backing vocals from James Taylor and Joni Mitchell. Another collaboration with Goffin, “Smackwater Jack” was also a hit, although of the singles taken from the album, this is one I have never heard prior or since, but it's a bluesy bopper, with a great piano line and striding guitars. Without question the most fun track on the album.

    The title track is a nice little ballad played on piano and guitar, almost the testament of a much older woman, with an interesting little parable within its lyric, and the album closes on another by-now famous song, that one that made Aretha so famous, “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” ending this incredible debut on a high, with a powerful, anthemic love song with gospel overtones.

    Carole King is one of those people who a lot of music fans will not know, or even know of, but the chances are that her music has touched almost everyone, whether it's through TV or film soundtracks, hits for other artistes, or her own music. Like the title of the album says, it's all part of the one wonderful interwoven tapestry. Now approaching seventy years of age, Carole is still busily recording, and doesn't look likely to slow down for some time. And it all began here, with a classic, iconic and timeless offering from a woman who has had more impact upon the music scene over her forty-year career than just about anyone else I can think of.

    TRACK LISTING

    I Feel the Earth Move
    So Far Away
    It's Too Late
    Home Again
    Beautiful
    Way Over Yonder
    You've Got a Friend
    Where You Lead
    Will You Love Me Tomorrow?
    Smackwater Jack
    Tapestry
    (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman

    Come away, human child to the waters and the wild
    With a faery hand in hand.
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand. - WB Yeats "The Stolen Child"

    I drink to forget, but I never forget to drink.

    "If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
    He'd be gunned down cold by the CIA" - The The, "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)" - Mind Bomb, 1989


    The most destructive force on the planet is not nukes or global warming...it is the human ego. - Ralph Rotten

  9. #49
    Music Guru Trollheart's Avatar
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    A Place Where the Sun is Silent
    --- Alesana --- 2011 (Epitaph)

    I know nothing of this band, and the thing that drew me to their latest album was, believe it or not, a combination of the title and the sleeve. I mean, how more seventies prog rock can you get? Although I have to wonder at the title: I mean, when does the sun ever make noise? The sun is always silent. Anyway, on we go...

    As it happens, this band are not a progressive rock band, though they are a rock band. Lucky for me: in searching for new albums to download I came across one called Songs of the Ungrateful Living by an outfit called Everlast. Sounds metal, yeah? Sounds prog, maybe? Wrong: it's a hip-hop group. Now I have nothing against rap, or hip-hop, or grime, but it's not my bag, so there's an example of being led by your heart (or in this case, your eyes) and not listening to your head. I could have downloaded the album and then been really disappointed. So I checked out Alesana before I clicked the button, listened to some samples, and what I heard made me happy enough to get the album, which I will now review for the first time here.

    But first, a little about the band behind the album.
    The first, and most striking thing about Alesana is that they have three vocalists and three guitarists. Interesting. One of the vocalists, Dennis Lee, is credited as “unclean vocals”, and as I've heard some samples where those bloody “death growls” I hate so much come in, I have to assume that's what's meant by that description. The full current lineup is as follows:-

    Shawn Mike --- “clean” vocals, rhythm guitar, piano
    Patrick “Peezee” Thompson --- lead guitar
    Alex Torres --- lead guitar
    Shane Crump --- bass guitar, backing vocals
    Dennis Lee --- “unclean” vocals
    Jeremy Bryan --- drums

    Perhaps I'm the only person who doesn't know about these guys, and you'll all be shaking your heads, clucking your tongues and saying to each other in knowing tones, “Where has this guy been?” but so be it if that's the case: this is the first I have ever heard of Alesana, so I'm going to come at them from that perspective.

    This is their fourth album, their debut having been released in 2006, although they had an EP the previous year which apparently got them noticed. They seem to create concept, or at least themed albums, each time. Their first was based on Greek mythology, their second on the fairytales of the Brothers Grimm, and their third loosely based around the work of Edgar Allan Poe. This time, their focus is on Dante's Inferno. So not your usual “rock all night” fare then!

    So, to the album then. It certainly opens very prog-rock, even folkish, with lilting piano and soft vocal on opener “The Dark Wood of Error”, and you could almost think you were listening to the likes of Mostly Autumn, perhaps touches of Kamelot in the spoken (Italian? Latin?) lines that accompany the music, almost like narration, but then second track “A Forbidden Dance” kicks in, and ups the ante with a powerful rocker, and you can right away get the impact of those three guitars. I would of course, as those who know my musical tastes will not be surprised to hear, be happier not to hear the “unclean” vocals of Dennis Lee screaming all over the place. I've never seen the point in them personally, and if anything they seem totally at odds with the music and the other vocals in the song, not quite ruining it for me, but I'd be definitely happier without them. Still, they're not as bad as others I've briefly suffered through.

    The rest of the song is great though: excellent hooks, great melody, and the “clean” vocals of lead singer Shawn Mike certainly have a lot to recommend them. “Hand in Hand With the Damned” is another rocker, carried of course on sharp and powerful guitars, with solid drumming, and it quickly becomes apparent how tight this band is, switching from mad triple electric guitar attack to lovely, understated acoustic at the drop of a plectrum, never missing a beat. Hard to believe they've only been together for seven years.

    It's not surprising that they're garnering a hell of a following though, on the basis of the music presented here (and I haven't heard anything from their previous three albums), as “Beyond the Sacred Glass” slips in almost unnoticed from the previous track, riding on a moody, atmospheric keyboard intro before the guitars kick in. It's the longest song on the album, at just over six minutes, quickly metamorphosing into another fast headbanger, with shades of Iron Maiden in there in some of the guitar work. It's the first track where I hear the “clean” and “unclean” vocals mesh and start to actually complement each other, and to be fair when that happens it works quite well.

    And then suddenly everything slows down as electric yields to acoustic guitar, and a lovely piano melody takes over, overlaid with some really fine soloing which, while not shredding or anything close, is just as effective, if not more so. Almost Santana in its style, I feel. The tempo picks up again and the song gets rocking again to the end. Probably could have lived without the sudden, jarring abrupt ending to so sublime a track, though.



    Like many concepts, it's a little hard to follow the story if you haven't read the source material, and let's be honest, not too many of us will have struggled through Inferno. I tried, but found it a little dry and replete with too many references to Italian society and politics, but I have a basic idea, like most people, of the work. Nonetheless, it's a little hard then to marry up the songs to the story, but “Circle VII: Sins of the Lion” does at least mention the seventh of the nine circles of Hell, and is suitably bombastic and operatic in its execution to give you a good idea of travelling through Satan's kingdom.

    “Vestige”, on the other hand, returns to the style of the opener, with simple piano and clean vocals, and there's little doubt that there are female backing vocals in there somewhere, but I can't find a credit for the unknown songstress anywhere, not even on the band's own website (which is sorely in need of an update - the discography doesn't even contain this album!), while “Lullaby of the Crucified” kicks up the speed again after the brief interlude, with an interesting choppy guitar part in the middle, spoken, almost tannoy-like vocals echoing in the background while the guitars get more insistent and louder, until they punch out of the song and take over again.

    There's no doubting the musical talent of these guys, even though from the picture on their home page you'd take them all for members of the college chess club. Guitarists Patrick Thompson and Alex Torres certainly know how to ply their trade, and while Shawn Mike adds in rhythm guitar along with lead vocals, he's really proficient on the piano, letting those fingers glide across the ivories and adding a real sense of the classical to Alesana's music. Most of it is basic fast rock though ,but that's no bad thing. There's definitely more than a hint of Maiden in the guitar attack, which again is a compliment and not a criticism.

    A nice little laid-back, semi-jazzy part is unexpected but welcome in “Labyrinth”, which runs without pause or change into “The Fiend”, where Dennis Lee comes across very well as the Dark One, growling and roaring like a man possessed. To be honest, his “low” unclean vocals are much better and more effective I think than his “high”, screaming, throat-searing yells and roars. The former I could listen to more easily, whereas the latter really, to me, just seems to be screaming for the sake of making noise. Hey, I said I hated death vocals, didn't I?

    There's another supersmooth segue directly into “Welcome to the Vanity Faire”, and if I have a criticism - or indeed, just an observation - about this album it's that there is, so far, no clear-cut ballad. No, every album does not have to have one, but considering the style of music Alesana are producing, and the largely untapped talent of Shawn Mike on the piano, I feel a nice slow song would be good to hear, as everything so far has been, generally, loud and fast, though certainly not without melody and not without a great deal of thought obviously having gone into both lyrics and music. It would just be nice to rest for a while, put our feet up on our way through Hell and take a breather.

    Well, “The Wanderer” comes close, a nice piano-led slower piece, with some very nice female backing vocals, but it's only a minute and a half long: I would have liked this to have been expanded on, to see what Alesana can do when they try something a little less, shall we say, hectic? Manic, even. “A Gilded Masquerade” starts off promisingly, but soon kicks into the usual fast rock song. A good song, nothing wrong with it, but like I say, a proper ballad would have been nice. If nothing else though, the album is great value for money, with the closer, “And Now For the Final Illusion” clocking in as track number sixteen, with only two of those being a minute or shorter.

    It's a good and effective closer, with a feeling of epilogue about it. Great mass vocals, with pretty much the same melody running through from beginning to end, very sparse lyric - apart from the opening muttered monologue, I only hear the one phrase - then a very nice piano piece with what sounds like the title of the album murmured over it to the end.

    I don't really know what it is that makes Alesana stand out from the pack: perhaps it's the unusual effect of having three guitarists, maybe the classical piano or the progressive rock flavoured themes. It could even be the “unclean” vocals of Dennis Lee, which to be fair do add a huge amount of energy to songs that are never dull, slow or boring, but do get something of a kick from his manic screams and growls. Whatever it is, it seems certain these guys are going to be around for a long time, so my advice is check them out, but make sure you have a guide. Unlike AC/DC wrote many years ago, Hell is a bad place to be.

    TRACK LISTING

    The Dark Wood of Error
    A Forbidden Dance
    Hand in Hand With the Damned
    Beyond the Sacred Glass
    The Temptress
    Circle VII: Sins of the Lion
    Vestige
    Lullaby of the Crucified
    BeforeHim All Shall Scatter
    Labyrinth
    The Fiend
    Welcome to the Vanity Faire
    The Wanderer
    A Gilded Masquerade
    The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Marionettes
    And Now For the Final Illusion

    Come away, human child to the waters and the wild
    With a faery hand in hand.
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand. - WB Yeats "The Stolen Child"

    I drink to forget, but I never forget to drink.

    "If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
    He'd be gunned down cold by the CIA" - The The, "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)" - Mind Bomb, 1989


    The most destructive force on the planet is not nukes or global warming...it is the human ego. - Ralph Rotten

  10. #50
    Music Guru Trollheart's Avatar
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    Analogue
    --- a-ha --- 2005 (Universal)

    When most people think of a-ha, they inevitably hear “Take On Me” in their heads, but there's a lot more to this band than that one hit single, or the others they had around the late eighties. Although there's no way they could ever be called a rock band, a-ha for me transcend the usual formula of pop bands: their material is their own, they're not controlled by any mega-star producer, and they explore interesting themes in their songs. Okay, they're not going to set any rocker's world alight, but I consider myself primarily a rocker (albeit an old one!) and I really love this band.


    As far as music is concerned, mostly Norway seems to be associated with death/doom/black metal bands, all Viking and brooding stares, guttural growls and screeching guitars. Against this backdrop came a-ha, bursting onto the charts in 1985 and looking like escapees from a conventional of male models. They could have been just another flash in the pan, with the mega-success of “Take On Me” and follow ups “The Sun Always Shines On TV”, “Cry Wolf” and “Manhattan Skyline”, but when all the chart hits are done and the trendy kids have forgotten them and moved on to the next flavour of the month, a-ha have stood fast and weathered the test of time, producing nine fine albums over a career spanning almost 25 years, and though they are now no more, having disbanded in 2010, their music lives on.

    Analogue is their eighth studio album, and in my opinion, one of their best. It contains both fast-paced boppy poppers as well as thoughtful tracks and of course ballads. Of the former, “Don't Do Me Any Favours” rattles along on the flowing keyboards of “Mags” - Magne Furuholmen - which have created the distinct soundprint of the band since the first arpeggios of “Take On Me” smashed the charts wide open, while the guitarwork of “Pal” - Paul Waaktar-Savoy - may not be as overwhelming as you would expect in, say, a Gary Moore or Bryan Adams album, nevertheless hold the melodies together perfectly. And of course what need be said about the clear, unmistakable voice of Morten Harkett, still sounding like a boy of eighteen even after all these years?

    “Halfway Through the Tour”, clocking in at almost seven and a half minutes, is a monster track that becomes more or less the denouement of the album, starting off as a fast, chugging, bopper and then slowing down near the end and becoming almost an instrumental waltz as it fades out. Great stuff! Other notable tracks include the rather poignant “Birthright”, the bittersweet “A Fine Blue Line”, which showcases Morten's soulful and sweet voice as he croons “We read each other's book/Gave each other look/Like we couldn't trust ourselves/And we knew it/ So tell me where you've been/ And I'll show you where you're going/ You can shout, you can scream your way through it.. “


    Another fine ballad follows in “Keeper of the Flame”, with Mags's beautiful piano lines forming a musical canvas on which Morten paints the most delicate vocal lines, while “Over the Treetops” is a song that just makes you want to dance. No bad thing, I would say! The closer is an oddity. “The Summers of Our Youth” is a beautiful, heartbreaking ballad, a fitting ending to the album, but for only the second time in his career in a-ha, Morten hands over vocal duties to Pal, and a very fine job he does on it, too, joined in the choruses by the mainman.

    Analogue is not going to make anyone rush out and buy the album, or become an instant a-ha fan, I would expect, but it's well worth a listen if you have dismissed one of Norway's biggest and most successful musical exports as “that band who had that hit”....

    TRACK LISTING

    Celice
    Don't Do Me Any Favours
    Cosy Prisons
    Analogue (All I Want)
    Birthright
    Holy Ground
    Over the Treetops
    Halfway Through the Tour
    A Fine Blue Line
    Keeper of the Flame
    Make It Soon
    White Dwarf
    The Summers of Our Youth

    Come away, human child to the waters and the wild
    With a faery hand in hand.
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand. - WB Yeats "The Stolen Child"

    I drink to forget, but I never forget to drink.

    "If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
    He'd be gunned down cold by the CIA" - The The, "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)" - Mind Bomb, 1989


    The most destructive force on the planet is not nukes or global warming...it is the human ego. - Ralph Rotten

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