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Trollheart's Album Review Thread (1 Viewer)

Trollheart

Offline: Depressed
Senior Member
I'm just going to keep all my album reviews here. I enjoy a pretty diverse taste in music, so expect to see just about anything here. Feel free to comment on or discuss any of the albums I post here, and if there's an album you'd like my opinion on, let me know and I'll see what I can do.

Note: As I'm running other threads in which I will be also posting album reviews, I'm going to include links for them here in the main index. Just be aware that if you click on an album by, say, Iron Maiden or Tom Waits you will be taken into that thread.

Disclaimer: all the reviews here, all the sentiments expressed and all the opinions advanced are my own personal ones, and may not tally with yours. These are subjective reviews, not objective, as music is rarely, if ever, objective. No insult or offence is intended to anyone whose music may receive a negative review here, but at all times, as always, I will endeavour to present every review respectfully and fairly.

I have a lot of albums to post, so I'll be keeping an index here, so anyone who wishes can search it and jump directly to the album they're interested in.

INDEX PART ONE

The Adventures - The Sea of Love
a-ha - Analogue

a-ha - Scoundrel Days
Alesana - A Place Where the Sun is Silent

Amon Duul II - Phallus Dei
Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe - Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe
Angel Witch - Angel Witch
Angel Witch - Frontal Assault

Asia - Aura

Asia - Rare
Axxis - Paradise in Flames
Balance of Power - Perfect Balance
The Beach Boys - Pet Sounds
The Beatles - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
The Beatles - Abbey Road
Big Country - No Place Like Home
The Black Atlantic - Darkling, I Listen
Blue Sky Riders - Finally Home
Bon Iver - Bon Iver
Bowie, David - Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)
Brainbox - Brainbox
Laura Branigan - Branigan
Break My Fucking Sky - Final Breath
Brown, Sam - Stop!
The Byrds - Fifth Dimension
Captain Beefheart - Safe as Milk
Captain Beefheart - Trout Mask Replica
Caravan - Caravan
Cash, Rosanne - The River and the Thread
Cave, Nick - The Good Son
Tracy Chapman - Tracy Chapman
China Crisis - Flaunt the Imperfection
Clannad - Lore
Cloven Hoof - Cloven Hoof
Cloven Hoof - Dominator
Cloven Hoof - A Sultan's Ransom
Cloven Hoof - Eye of the Sun

The Coronas - Closer To You
Decker, Jessie James - Gold
Del Amitri - Waking Hours
The Divine Comedy - Casanova
Dixie Chicks - Taking the Long Way
Dragonforce - Inhuman Rampage
Eagles - Desperado
Earle, Justin Townes - Nothing's Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now
Earle, Steve - Copperhead Road
Eden Shadow - Hail
Edison's Children - In the Last Waking Moments
Edwards, Kathleen - Voyageur
Electric Light Orchestra - Face the Music
Embrace - Out of Nothing
Evership - Evership
Fagen, Donald - The Nightfly
Fairport Convention - Liege and Lief
Family - Music in a Doll's House
Filkins, Sean - War and Peace and Other Short Stories
Genesis - From Genesis to Revelation
Giles, Giles and Fripp - The Cheerful Insanity of Giles, Giles and Fripp
Gray, David - White Ladder
Griffith, Nanci - Lone Star State of Mind
Groban, Josh - Closer
Hall, Daryl - Three Hearts In the Happy Ending Machine
Hawkwind - Onward
Hill, Faith - Cry
Holst, Gustav - The Planets Suite
Hughes, Gary - Once and Future King, Part 1
Hughes, Gary - Once and Future King, Part 2
Illusive Mind - Alternating Scenes
Iron Maiden - Iron Maiden
Iron Maiden - Killers
Iron Maiden - The Number of the Beast
It's a Beautiful Day - It's a Beautiful Day
Jarre, Jean Michel - Oxygene
Jethro Tull _ This Was
Journey - Escape
Journey - Arrival
King, Carole - Tapestry
King Crimson - In the Court of the Crimson King
Lane, Lana - Lady Macbeth
The Maccabees - Given to the Wild
Martin, Marilyn - This Is Serious
McKee, Maria - Maria McKee
Millenium - Ego
The Moody Blues - Days of Future Passed
The Moody Blues - In Search of the Lost Chord
The Moody Blues - On the Threshold of a Dream
The Moody Blues - To Our Children's Children's Children
Moore, Christy - Ordinary Man
Mostly Autumn - Storms Over Still Water
The Mothers of Invention - Freak Out!
The Mothers of Invention - We're Only in It for the Money
The Mothers of Invention - Uncle Meat
Muse - Black Holes and Revelations
Mystery - One Among the Living
The Nice - The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack
The Nice - Ars Longa, Vita Brevis
Night Ranger - Dawn Patrol
Nine Stones Close - One Eye On the Sunrise
Nolan, Clive with Wakeman, Oliver - The Hound of the Baskervilles
Pandora's Box - Original Sin -
Pink Floyd - The Dark Side of the Moon
Pink Floyd - The Endless River
Pink Floyd - The Piper at the Gates of Dawn
Pink Floyd - A Saucerful of Secrets
Pink Floyd - Ummagumma
Pistol Annies - Hell on Heels
Praying Mantis - Time Tells No Lies
Praying Mantis - Predator in Disguise

The Pretty Things - S.F. Sorrow
Procol Harum - Procol Harum
Procol Harum _ Shine on Brightly
Quatro, Suzi - Quatro
Rafferty, Gerry - Snakes and Ladders
Rainbow - Rising
Raven - Rock Until You Drop
Raven - All for One

Rea, Chris - Dancing Down the Stony Road
Redemption - This Mortal Coil
Renaissance - Renaissance
Ribeiro, Catherine - Catherine Ribeiro + 2 BIS
Savatage - The Wake of Magellan
The Script - Science and Faith
Seger, Bob - Like a Rock
Sexton, Charlie - Pictures for Pleasure
Shatner, William - Has Been
SKY - SKY 2
Soft Machine - The Soft Machine
Soft Machine - Volume Two
Spears, Britney - Britney Jean
Springsteen, Bruce - Nebraska
Stewart, Al - Time Passages
Stewart, Rod - Time
Supertramp - Supertramp
Supertramp - Some Things Never Change
The Ten Tenors - Here's to the Heroes
The The - Mind Bomb
Thin Lizzy - Thunder and Lightning
Thin Lizzy - Shades of a Blue Orphanage
Turner, Tina - Break Every Rule
The United States of America - The United States of America
The Vampires of Dartmoore - Dracula's Music Cabinet
Van der Graaf Generator - The Aerosol Grey Machine
Vangelis - L'Apocalypse des Animaux
Vangelis - Oceanic
Various Artists - "Cobra" OST
Various Artists - "Little Shop of Horrors" OST
Various Artists - "Top Gun" OST
The Velvet Underground and Nico - The Velvet Underground and Nico
Venom - Welcome to Hell
Venom - Black Metal
Venom - At War with Satan
Venom - Cast in Stone

Visage - Hearts and Knives
Waits, Tom - Closing Time
Waits, Tom - The Heart of Saturday Night
Waits, Tom - Nighthawks at the Diner
Waits, Tom - Small Change
Waits, Tom - Foreign Affairs
Waits, Tom - Blue Valentine
Waits, Tom - Heartattack and Vine
Waits, Tom with Crystal Gayle - One from the Heart OST
Waits, Tom - Swordfishtrombones
Waits, Tom - Rain Dogs
Waits, Tom - Frank's Wild Years
Waits, Tom - Night on Earth OST
Waits, Tom - Bone Machine
Waits, Tom - The Early Years, Volume 1
Waits, Tom - The Early Years, Volume 2
Waits, Tom - The Black Rider
Waits, Tom - Mule Variations
Wayne, Jeff - Musical Version of "The War of the Worlds"
When Bitter Spring Sleeps - Coven of the Wolves
Williams, Robbie - Take the Crown
Willowglass- The Dream Harbour
Wilson, Steven - Grace for Drowning
Winwood, Steve - Arc of a Diver
Yes - Union
Yes - Yes
Yoakam, Dwight - Buenos Noches from a Lonely Room
Young, Neil - Harvest
Zappa, Frank - Hot Rats
 
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Trollheart

Offline: Depressed
Senior Member
41WF7SD2DZL.jpg

The Planets suite, Op. 32 --- Gustav Holst --- 1926 (Decca)

Note: the disc I have of this symphony is of course not from the twenties, or anywhere near it; not least due to their being no compact discs at that time, barely vinyl! But I've gone for this date because it appears to be the first time the suite was committed to any sort of actual proper recording for the mass market, and the work itself actually dates back to about 1917.

This is the first time I have ever attempted to review a classical album. Some purists might say, and they may be right, that classical music stands outside the norm, beyond review; that it cannot be compared to anything that exists today and therefore it should not be subject to any sort of attempt at criticism. This may very well be true, but it won't stop me trying this from time to time. If I had pick out a favourite from my classical albums, this would be it, closely followed by Rachmaninov's "Piano Concerto No. 1". Many classical recordings, while truly brilliant, can I find suffer from some tedious passages, some boring bits where maybe an extended piece of chamber music wanders on for so many minutes you lose interest, or a horn concerto just won't shut up, and you begin to think about skipping forward.

That's probably why for most people, collections of classical music are the best thing to listen to, and why series like “The Great Composers” sell so well; people in general want to hear the classical music they like, and are familiar with - those tunes that have made their way into everyday life through the media of advertisements, film soundtracks or even those that have been sampled for pop songs (we all remember William Orbit's version of Samuel Barber's mournful “Adagio For Strings”, and even if we aren't familiar with that, we probably know the piece from its use in the movie Platoon) - and are reluctant, loath even, to listen to classical music they don't know.

But this is one of the rare classical albums where everything slots perfectly into place, even for a non-classical fan, if you're one of those. It's not overlong, it keeps the interest and it has a recurring theme running right through it. It is, in essence, a classical concept album, of which there are probably more than you would think, but this is possibly the most famous, or at least the most popular and well-known.

It deals, of course, with the planets in our solar system, but not in an astronomical way. The suite is more based on astrology, which was a subject Gustav Holst (1874-1934) was very much interested in. Although the opener ties in with the Roman mythology surrounding that planet, it seems that in astrology too, Mars is identified with war and combat. From what I read, Holst was none too enamoured of the perhaps unexpected fame his Planets suite gained, complaining that it overshadowed his other works, and to be fair, I know of none other of his material, though there is a large body of work left behind by him. But he will, for better or for worse, always be known and remembered for this suite of music.

Even if you're not in the slightest bit interested in classical music, you will almost certainly have heard the opening movement, “Mars, The Bringer Of War.” If you've watched a sci-fi movie wherein there is a space battle, if you've watched a war movie or any other sort of drama where powerful, ominous music swells into a cacophony of pulsating, thumping drums and strings, you've heard this. If you're a fan of Diamond Head, it's used in the intro to “Am I evil?”, and in fact many metal bands will have used it as introductory music as they come out on stage. It's also used when there is an important football match, rugby match or indeed any sport where the stakes are high and two well-matched opponents face off against each other. It is the epitome of power and tension, and as an opener there couldn't be a better one.

I'm not that familiar with all the instruments used in an orchestra, so I may get some wrong, guess at some, but I'll do my best. There's definitely a low organ sound as the piece gets moving, introducing the first movement which soon builds up with heavy percussion, strings and woodwinds until the whole thing is in danger of blowing out your speakers. For such a heavy piece, it starts deceptively low, so if you don't know it and are playing it for the first time, take my advice: don't turn up the speakers because you can't hear it at first. You will, as it goes on, believe me. A real fanfare of trumpets and horns brings the thing to a hammerpunch ending, almost, as the drums crash behind it and everything fades away for a moment, before violins and cellos rise again behind the organ and the drums finally thunder in to take the first movement to its almost apocalyptic conclusion (this is where you'll regret having turned up your amp so loud, and will rush to decrease the volume). “Mars,The Bringer Of War” certainly gives that flavour, the idea of an army marching to battle, the scent of blood in men's nostrils, the banners held aloft in the morning sun, or indeed a fleet of ships traversing the sea on the way to engage the enemy. Tanks rolling across muddy flats, helicopters zooming in over jungle fortresses - take your pick: “Mars, The Bringer Of War” anthropomorphises combat and leaves you in no doubt that the very God of War himself is in attendance.

As it punches to its end, the drums rolling out the cataclysmic ending, we slip into “Venus, The Bringer Of Peace”. The absolute antithesis to the previous track, this opens with soft viola and cello, sweetly humming organ and no percussion (or very little), flutes piccolos and oboes carrying the tune until a lovely laid back violin section drifts in, and indeed you may have heard this too, as it has been used in various films - or at least parts of it - usually in some sort of idyllic scene, which is exactly the image it conjures up. The horns get a little louder, the tiniest bit more forceful before the soft violin returns, accompanied by some beautiful brass and what sounds like a celesta.

The delicate notes of a harp pick their way through the melody as the piece reaches its halfway point, fading away almost as soon as they make their presence known, the violins now joined by cello and viola as the string section takes charge, and you can't help but relax in the luxuriant atmosphere created by this piece of music. The harp returns, the celesta chimes along and the violin as ever carries the tune. Some lovely little tinkling bells accompany the strings as the piece fades to its conclusion, taking in the shortest track of only seven on the album.

Upbeat, bright strings carry “Mercury, The Winged Messenger” in on indeed feather-light feet, the woodwinds coming up a little in the background, harp strings adding to the tune before solo piccolo (or maybe just a flute) takes the melody, then the strings come in very heavily as the piece gets louder and more insistent, before everything fades out back to the somewhat playful intro we heard, the kind of music that might remind the older among us of those Hanna-Barbera cartoons. There's a flurry of violins then, some xylophone and some bells before the track sort of fades out, like one of those will-o-the-wisps dancing over the marshes and disappearing into the fog.

Coming in very strongly then with powerful percussion and heavy violin and woodwind, certainly the most uptempo and powerful movement since “Mars”, “Jupiter, The Bringer Of Jollity” is another one you may have heard. In some ways it is similar to parts of Holst's countryman Elgar's “Enigma Variations”, particularly "Nimrod". There's a real sense of fiesta and joy about this piece, with its almost dancy rhythm (for the time), the sense of going around and around in a circle until heavy trumpets and trombones combine with solid drums to take the piece towards a more restrained, piccolo-led part and then into a stately, almost grave largo, harp and cello keeping counterpoint while the violins and brass carry the main tune.

It all breaks down then into another playful flute run with attendant viola before the trumpets and horns pull the movement towards its powerful, triumphant conclusion, a real fanfare that draws back in the stately march from earlier in the piece, more happy flutes and violins and then almost silence before the brass fanfares bring us back into the original rhythmic dance from near the beginning, which gets faster and faster, like someone spinning around until they get dizzy. A final fanfare and the drums break in heavily, leaving the trumpets to blare out the triumphant ending.

Holst's own favourite, such as that he had one, in the suite was reported to be “Saturn, The Bringer Of Old Age”. It opens on low, ominous organ and bells, like the very approach of advancing age itself, with solo violin and then cello, a celesta keeping the slow heartbeat rhythm going, lower, more bassy cello then slowly approaching violins giving way to walking trumpets and trombone, then the strings soaring in a quite beautiful but grave way. This is in fact the longest of the compositions, coming in at just over eight and a half minutes. There's a very ominous feel about this piece, much more even than in the first movement. There at least, in war, one has a chance to survive if they can, but who can stand against the rigours of old age?
[video=youtube;Isic2Z2e2xs]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Isic2Z2e2xs[/video]
Swirling, frenetic violins are drawn in by heavy timpani and bass drums, and a sense of panic pervades the piece, then it all drops back to a slow and stately walk by the violins and clarinets too, with a glockenspiel and harp taking the tune as it gets much softer, sweet violins adding in to the mood, before it all goes dark and bassy again as the music swells against tubular bells, pealing out like those of a church or in a graveyard, ending on gorgeous, rising strings which fade away, almost as if ascending to the very heavens themselves, the tolling bell giving one last peal before it too dies away.

“Uranus, The Magician” comes in on powerful horns and thundering drums, then stops as flutes and violins reminiscent of those in “Saturn” fly in, making the piece a little more whimsical, some glockenspiel and xylophone adding in to the percussive elements, before it all swells back up again in a powerful crescendo, riding along like a wave on the ocean, then crashing back down again and leaving the piccolos and flutes to carry things until heavy percussion and horns again come in, leading another heavy charge with a very militaristic theme. Definitely a sense of something going on, a sense of purpose. Brass plays a fairly strong part in this movement, as does the xylophone, if only heard in the background, but clearly, and adding a strong flavour to the piece.

It ends on a powerful explosion of brass woodwind and percussion, then in the fourth minute of its almost six goes quiet, with soft flutes and violin, until the horns again power in, along with the drums, one more time, making their point before the piece is left to finish on a fade out of celesta and flutes. And this takes us into the last movement, the closer, and the hardest of them all to review.

“Neptune, The Mystic” has been described as the closest to abstract painting that music can offer, and indeed it's very atmospheric, with no percussion, low trumpets and harp carrying the movement in an almost ethereal way, the very forerunner of ambient music, more than forty years before anyone would attempt such a thing. Spacey, eerie harp and celesta takes over mostly from the second minute of the piece, with some low violin coming in as it heads towards minute four, then the only vocal parts on the suite come in, a female choral vocal, otherworldly and ghostly, almost merging with the music. And these are human voices: synthesisers had not been even thought of, never mind invented, in Holst's time. From about the fifth minute then, of the total seven and a half, the movement begins fading down, borne on the lightest of touches on the harp, the violin and the slowly fading voices of the female chorus. Eventually, all we're left with is the celesta, swirling and tinkling its way to the end like some sort of early signal being sent into, or from, deepest space.

It's hard to write a footnote to something as seminal as this. There are albums I like, albums I love and albums I rate as being essential to listen to. But if you never listen to any classical albums in your life, you should really listen to this. As I say, unlike many others I've listened to, the interest never drops; it's not overlong, nor too short. Each piece meshes perfectly with the next and the one that preceded it, and each movement gives you a unique picture of each of the planets, astrologically speaking. Why is Earth not included, you ask? Apparently because, seen as it was as the “base” from which Holst was writing, in astrological terms it has no value, and so he did not write a movement for it. As for Pluto, well, that would not be discovered until four years after his death. Of course, this century it would be “decomissioned”, as it were, no longer recognised as a true planet.

So all those years ago, almost a century now in fact, Holst had it right with just the eight planets, seven if you exclude Earth, which he did. But seven, eight or nine, The Planets suite remains one of the most remarkable, cohesive, ambitious and enduring classical compositions ever attempted. Even now, as we pass the centenary of its birth, it's as popular as it has ever been.

TRACK LISTING

  1. Mars, The Bringer Of War
  2. Venus, The Bringer Of Peace
  3. Mercury, The Winged Messenger
  4. Jupiter, The Bringer Of Jollity
  5. Saturn, The Bringer Of Old Age
  6. Uranus, The Magician
  7. Neptune, The Mystic
 

Trollheart

Offline: Depressed
Senior Member
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Inhuman Rampage
--- Dragonforce --- 2006 (Roadrunner)
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Okay, out with it! Why do so many people - metal fans particularly - despise this band? I don't understand it. Is it their reliance on sword-and-sorcery style lyrics? The fact that they augment their guitar sound with electronics? Do they appeal too much to young metalheads, and are they then seen as not a “real” metal band, or even a real band?

Formed in 1999, Dragonforce began life as Dragonheart, but after finding out that another band existed with this name already - and a metal one, to boot - they changed their name to Dragonforce. They have had, to date, seven albums, with their eighth to be released at the end of this month. They have gone through some lineup changes, with the vocalist on this, their third album, no longer with them.


The album kicks off with one of their biggest hit singles, “Through The Fire And The Flames”, with quite frankly incredibly fast guitar shredding by founder member Herman Li ably matched by some prog-tastic keyboard work from Vadim Pruzhanov, thunderous and steam-locomotive-fast drumming from Dave Mackintosh in a dramatic, powerpunch track that rocks along, unstoppable and as powerful as a thundering avalanche sliding down a mountain, taking everything in its path. Vocalist ZP Theart's voice is strong and clear, not growly or raspy, and though this is very definitely power metal it verges very strongly on the side of thrash metal. Very melodic though: you never get the feeling Dragonforce are just being fast because they can't play, which has happened with other bands on occasion. Each one here seems to be an expert on, or at least fluent with, his chosen instrument.

They also seem to engage in longer songs that your average power metal band, with two of the tracks nearing the eight minute mark, and one crossing it. Indeed, “Through The Fire And The Flames” is a very respectable seven and a half minutes itself. There's no letup for “Revolution Deathsquad”, and you can start to hear those electronic effects which do indeed give the idea of video games being played, but they don't really detract from the music to my mind. They don't add to it either, but they don't ruin it, not for me. I like their fantasy themed lyrics, and yes, on occasion the electronic fiddly bits get a little distracting, but Dragonforce balance this out by playing some of the fastest and hardest metal I've heard for quite a long time. Okay, at times they give you the sense of kids playing around, but hell, if my kids could play like that (if I had kids) I would not be complaining!

The twin guitar attack of Li and his bandmate Sam Totman works really well, giving Dragonforce a very full sound, and the inevitable comparisons to the masters of the twin axe attack, Iron Maiden, but they temper this with some truly exceptional keyboard work from Pruzhanov. Probably the fastest track yet - and that's saying something! - “Storm The Burning Fields” continues the battleground imagery of the first two tracks, with some smoking solos from Herman Li backed by the incessant assault of Mackintosh's nuclear drumkit. Even against this powerful cacophony of carefully orchestrated sound, Theart's voice rises strongly like an avenging angel, never needing to strain, just naturally strong and vibrant, magnetic even.


This is the first song so far to feature a solo on the keys from Pruzhanov, and may I say it has been worth waiting for! More electronic game-style bleeps sort of begin to get a bit annoying, but I really do think you can forgive Dragonforce that little hiccup, since they play so well, so cohesively as a unit and so effectively. Just a little bit slower, less frenetic is “Operation Ground And Pound” - with a title like that you'd expect it to be a real... oh, it just sped up. Okay, then, another hammerfest on the drums, screaming guitars going twice the speed of sound, strong vocals. Still can't see anything wrong with this. Perhaps a little samey. I wonder if they'll tackle a ballad at any time on the album? Would be interesting to see that side of them.

For all that, this comes across as their most melodic and, dare I say it, commercial offering so far, even given that the opener was their big single. The vocal harmonies on this song are almost reminiscent of the AOR greats like Journey, Night Ranger and Asia, though with a lot more kick behind them of course. Oh, looking at the Wiki entry I see this was released as a single, but failed to chart! Well, there's no accounting for taste, is there? Seems “Through The Fire And The Flames” also only barely made it into the top forty, at least in the USA. There's no pause for breath as we charge headlong into “Body Breakdown”, with vocals this time taken by Lindsay Dawson, changing the dynamic somewhat, as his voice is a little rougher and more raw than Theart's. Still very effective vocal harmonies though, and even with the shredding toned down a little on this track, it's nevertheless heavy as hell.
[video=youtube;08cDtaYy_7U]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=08cDtaYy_7U&list=PL9D67ADDDFA67A6AE[/video]
A pretty amazing keyboard solo here, a break for a powerful vocal harmony and the drums slow for just a moment before they kick back into gear again, and we explode into “Cry For Eternity”, with a big, majestic keyboard intro, galloping drums and the twin guitar assault that takes the song over a minute in before Theart's vocals come in. There are definitely elements of Thin Lizzy in the guitar work and Queen in the vocals, hints of the likes of Fairyland and Epica in the lyrics and style, and yet Dragonforce are very much their own band. Couldn't see anyone accusing them of ripping off or copying anyone. Certainly not an album you could fall asleep listening to, this. Lots to keep you interested, great musicianship and somehow it never seems to deteriorate into technical wankery, almost as if the guys know how well they can play but are shrugging and saying, so what? There's not a sense of “look at me, how fast I can play”, more an idea of “listen to the music we make”. I'm listening. I'm liking.


Things continue to blast along on rocket rails for “The Flame Of Youth”, and you have to wonder if stagehands are standing by when Dragonforce play live, fire extinguishers at the ready! Those fingers must burn! A spacey, ethereal keyboard intro and piano opens “Trail Of Broken Hearts”, and it seems like this may be that hoped-for ballad. Yep, it is. Nice to hear the boys scale back the shredding for once to show that they can play “normal” guitar, and play it well. Even Dave Mackintosh has had his batteries removed and is just thumping the drums slowly and in a measured way, and it really works, with more great vocal harmonies. Possibly could have been a good choice for a single too; certainly one to get the old cigarette lighters out for! Wonder if they still allow that at gig now, with this obsession on health and safety, not to mention Homeland Security?

Lovely solo from Herman Li, great to hear something different on the album for a change, critics answered I think. Excellent piano from Pruzhanov, and fine interchange between Li and Totman make this song really something to remember, and quite brilliant as a closer to an album I have to say really hits the spot. I definitely don't get all the hate, but then, people will always find reasons, reasons they feel are valid, to tear something down. I personally would not be the biggest fan of Dragonforce, but I would never dream of putting them down. They play well, they write well, and they sell well.

And I think they represent power metal very well indeed. Now, when is that new album due again?

TRACK LISTING
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Through The Fire And The Flames[FONT=&Verdana]
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Revolution Deathsquad[FONT=&Verdana]
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Storming The Burning Fields[FONT=&Verdana]
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Operation Ground And Pound[FONT=&Verdana]
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Body Breakdown[FONT=&Verdana]
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Cry For Eternity[FONT=&Verdana]
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The Flame Of Youth[FONT=&Verdana]
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Trail Of Broken Hearts[FONT=&Verdana]

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Trollheart

Offline: Depressed
Senior Member
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Science And Faith
--- The Script --- 2010 (RCA)

The future of Irish rock? Or pop, take your pick; but is the label deserved? Are these guys as good as everyone seems to think they are? Or is it just more hype, built on the success of one or two hit singles? Is there an album worth listening to there, or is it all just surface gloss? The Script have been around since 2005 as an actual unit, though Danny O'Donoghue and Mark Sheeran have known each other since the late nineties. Recruiting Glen Power into the band, they released their debut, self-titled album in 2008 and have already had their music featured in videogames and popular (cough!) TV shows like Eastenders, The Vampire Diaries and Made in Chelsea, with Danny well known as one of the judges on the talent show The Voice.

Tragedy dogged their early years in the band, with the death of Mark's mother followed by the loss of Danny's father, but though these were trying times they helped the guys grow musically as well as emotionally, and Mark has stated that through all the darkness it was music that kept him going. Their music has been well-received, giving them a top twenty single before the debut album was even released, with their next one, “The Man Who Can't Be Moved” hitting the number two spot. Time spent recording in the US and Canada, as well as a slot supporting the giant U2, has prepared them well for the big time, and it seems that's where they're headed.

This is their second album, as successful this side of the pond as their debut, coming in at number one, but much better received in the US, where it hit the number three spot on release, the previous album only getting into the sixty-fourth slot. It looks to be the first time the Script have used a full orchestra on their recordings.

It opens on “You Won't Feel A Thing”, with some nice guitar work, slightly reminiscent of the work of the Edge, with some strong vocals from Danny O'Donoghue and some nice backing vocals too, good keyboard work from Andrew Frampton, though I think perhaps one of the guys also plays keys: hard to say, as the album credits all guitars and keyboards just to “The Script”. Anyway, it's a boppy, uptempo opening and slides into a much more downbeat track in “For The First Time”, with a slight hint of slow rap in it, acoustic guitar and piano carrying the song until the electric punches in and the backing vocals come back in again; seems these may be a signature of this band.

It's pretty much an everyman song, kind of in the vein of Springsteen or Earle lyrically, as Danny sings ”I lost my job/ But I didn't lose my pride”, and the downbeat theme has taken something of an upturn, almost like someone trying to see the good in a bad situation, keeping hope alive in what could be seen as desperation. This was the first single from the album, and hit the number one spot on release. Well, if I'm honest, this is good yes, but I don't see it as number one single material. But then, what do I know about the charts?

Another slightly downbeat track in “Nothing”, where Danny sings ”They say a few drinks/ Will help me to forget her” and then it kicks into a more uptempo song as the Script explore a position that just about everyone has been in at one time or another, wondering why they've been dumped. Some pretty fine drumming from Glen Power here, and a pretty emotional little song. I like this. The title track has a lot of Big Country in the guitar, a big punchy chorus, then things go a little more restrained for “If You Ever Come Back”, some nice vocal harmonies and chiming guitar with some touching lyrics: ”I'll leave the door on the latch/ If you ever come back/ There'll be a light in the porch/ And a key under the mat/ A smile on my face/ And the kettle on/ It'll be like you were never gone”. Have to praise that sort of realistic songwriting.

A lot, if not indeed all, of the songs on this album seem to deal with love, and what's more, love lost, and “Long Gone And Moved On” is another example, as Danny sings ”I'm getting used to saying/ Me instead of us”. Another good pop/rock song with a very catchy chorus and some fine guitar work from Mark Sheehan, then “Dead Man Walking” is a good uptempo break-up song, but I think perhaps in some ways that's the Achilles' heel of this album: it seems every song has to do with love affairs, and broken ones at that. If that's a concept then okay, and the sleeve does feature two hands grasping one another, which could be taken to symbolise two lovers: it certainly looks to be a male and a female hand. But it's not made clear enough to make that assumption, and if that's not the case then I think some different subjects would have fleshed out the album more.
[video=youtube;yls-egcnt2k]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yls-egcnt2k[/video]
Surprisingly, then, “This=Love” seems to concentrate more on the reasons why we do the things we do, that it makes all the sacrifices we make worthwhile. This song doesn't seem to centre on any one single affair, any couple, any particular heartbreak, instead encompassing the entire world, for which courage and ambition you have to applaud the guys. This reminds me of a slightly toned-down Aslan, it's that good. Might indeed be the standout. I could probably live without the rap right at the end, but even that's not enough to ruin the song for me. It's followed by some lovely piano work on “Walk Away”, the song that most betrays the Script's love of rhythm and blues, but it does return to the recurring theme of broken love affairs that's so prevalent throughout the album it's almost saturation coverage. It also sounds a little too boyband-like for me, and I'd class it as the album's weakest track, personally.

I have to say, I haven't heard much to indicate there's an orchestra on this album, but perhaps the closer will change that. Well, “Exit Wounds” opens on acoustic guitar and piano, a pretty desperate vocal from Danny, yearning and urgent, with electric guitar breaking in but no sign of any strings that I can hear. Great lyrical imagery though: ”Can anyone help me/ With these exit wounds? / I don't know how much more love/ This heart can lose/ And I'm dying from/ These exit wounds.” Excellent songwriting, without question. And a very good and powerful closer.

I am impressed by this album, there's no doubt. It's a good rock/pop record, with some truly exceptional songwriting, and I can see why The Script have been tipped for the top, why they're doing so well. Absolutely the album you would play to get you through a difficult breakup, a real mixture of comfort and pain, and certainly speaks to just about every one of us, for who has never been in love, whether it was requited or not? I just would have preferred a slightly more varied lyrical theme in some of the songs, but for what they are, these songs are pretty damn near perfect.

Buy this album, and even if you don't listen to it, keep it handy for that next big breakup that could be looming on the horizon. Could save your sanity.

TRACK LISTING

You Won't Feel A Thing
For The First Time
Nothing
Science And Faith
If You Ever Come Back
Long Gone And Moved On
Dead Man Walking
This=Love
Walk Away
Exit Wounds

 

Trollheart

Offline: Depressed
Senior Member
[FONT=&Verdana]Del_Amitri_-_Waking_Hours_Album_Cover.jpg

Waking Hours --- Del Amitri --- 1989 (A&M)
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Surprisingly, this Scottish band had six albums released before they split up in 2002, and most of those did reasonably well in the UK, less well in the States, where they hardly bothered the charts there. I had expected a lot on the basis of the single, but once the album got going I knew that it was quite likely that particular song was going to be the highlight of a rather disappointing album. It wasn't, not quite, but there's an awful lot of filler on “Waking hours”, and it doesn't encourage you to check out any of their further material. Maybe that's my loss, but after listening to this I knew that I had heard about as much of Del Amitri as I wanted to.

By all accounts, if you ask the band members what the name means, “expect violence”. They have long tired of explaining that it apparently means nothing, was just made up, and though several ideas of what it could mean exist, they say they are all wrong. As for the album, it opens well with “Kiss This Thing Goodbye”, good jangly guitar and harmonica, the latter from guest Julian Dawson. Del Amitri employed three guitarists, one of whom was the lead singer and founder, Justin Currie. Great sounds of what must be a banjo in there too, though it's not credited. A very happy, uptempo song which starts what is generally a pretty bleak album in terms of lyrical themes.


Del Amitri used some traditional instrumentation like accordion and harmonica, and surely banjo (?) as well as more classical ones like violin and cello to create a different sound that had something of the Hooters in it, but was individual enough to always be seen as their sound. Currie is a good singer, in addition to his other talents, and the songwriting itself is of quite high quality. There's more a sense of soul to “Opposite View”, more rock than fusion; good guitar work from Iain Harvie and Mick Slaven with some warbling organ from Andy Alston on another generally uptempo song, then “Move Away Jimmy Blue” is a slower, more restrained song, though not quite a ballad with again Alston's heavy organ work helping to characterise the melody. It's a song of warning, as the lead character is warned ”Move away Jimmy Blue/ Before your small small town/ Turns around and swallows you” and contains a really nice guitar solo, though who is responsible I can't tell you.
<span id="docs-internal-guid-b5a0b47f-7fff-bee2-4b55-48de17bffe55">[video=youtube;ZuIfPhOodx4]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZuIfPhOodx4&amp;list=PLEvr99j7ruPwlR8eZ9DKA_2A mmeU2z-Re[/video]
Low keyboard intro to “Stone Cold Sober” with a nice bass line and some solid drumming, a sort of mid-paced song with a nice line in lyrics: ”Stone cold sober/ Looking for bottles of love.” I personally find this song quite reminiscent of Australian band Icehouse, then “You're Gone” is another uptempo rocker with a downbeat theme that hardly needs to be explained. Nice bit of slide guitar from - well, take your pick of three guitarists! - and very lively drumming from Paul Tyagi. Great bit of violin work from Robert Cairns, too. “When I Want You” is as close to indie pop that Del Amitri come, very boppy and happy with some jangly guitar and a catchy if simple chorus.


Things start to get a lot better as the album approaches its end. “This Side Of The Morning” is definitely one of the standouts, with its simple guitar line joined by cello and accordion to paint the bleak image of a man lying awake and mulling over the decisions in his life, and perhaps regretting them. A great line in the song is ”Trying to decide what you want/ Is like trying to divide ice from snow.” The celtic fusion feel is definitely back for this song, with Currie's vocal almost at once passionate and uncaring, quite a feat to pull off. “Empty” is another bleak song with a harsh message: ”At least a house when it's empty stays clean.”

The album finishes strongly on “Hatful Of Rain”, a boppy, uptempo song driven on sharp guitar, more indie pop/rock, and then the closer is the very reason I bought this album originally, the highly politically-aware “Nothing Ever Happens”, riding on an acoustic guitar melody with a lyric that rails against the injustices in society, and the way we all turn our heads: ”They'll burn down the synagogues at six o'clock/ And we'll all go along like before” as well as the huge disparity in wealth and priorities ”While American businessmen snap up Van Goghs/ For the price of a hospital wing.” Great accordion and harmonica adds to the sense of the surreal in this track, with a truly soulful little violin solo halfway through, added to by mandolin for that extra touch.


It's a great song, a great closer and was Del Amitri's most successful single, but it brings to an end an album that, while not bad at all, fails to live up mostly to the promise of this remarkable song. There are a few that are as good as it, perhaps one better, but sadly there are all too many that fail to measure up, leaving the album lacking in many respects.

[FONT=&Verdana]TRACK LISTING
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Kiss This Thing Goodbye[FONT=&Verdana]
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Opposite View[FONT=&Verdana]
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Move Away Jimmy Blue[FONT=&Verdana]
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Stone Cold Sober[FONT=&Verdana]
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You're Gone[FONT=&Verdana]
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When I Want You[FONT=&Verdana]
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This Side Of The Morning[FONT=&Verdana]
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Empty[FONT=&Verdana]
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Hatful Of Rain[FONT=&Verdana]
[/FONT]
Nothing Ever Happens[FONT=&Verdana]

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Trollheart

Offline: Depressed
Senior Member
Snakesandladders.jpg

Snakes and Ladders --- Gerry Rafferty --- 1980 (United Artists)

Following the phenomenal success of his first two albums, the first of which had yielded the now-classic “Baker Street”, and the second giving him another top ten single, this was supposed to capitalise on the popularity of Night Owl and City to City, but didn't do as well as its predecessors. For all that though, it's a great album. Gerry would in fact have no more chart success after Night Owl, and would forever be identified with “Baker Street”, leading many to conclude he was a “one-hit wonder”, which is not miles from the truth, but he released some sterling albums in his time, even if they passed the mainstream charts by.


It opens in celtic style, with the excellent “The Royal Mile”, one of Gerry's many songs that reminisce about people and places, often from his own life. It bops along nicely, with jangly guitar, whistle from Richard Harvey and organ from Pete Wingfield, and is a nice uptempo start to the album. Guitar drives the next track, “I Was a Boy Scout”, more in the rock vein with some cool slide guitar from Bryn Haworth and horns from two legends, Raphael Ravenscroft and Mel Collins. There's a very annoying American accent voicing the intro to “Welcome to Hollywood”, but it soon fades away and the song rides along on a sort of Mexican influenced melody, with horns and gentle percussion, nice piano and restrained guitar, Gerry presumably singing about his experiences in Tinseltown. There's a great sense of fiesta about this, with a soaraway guitar solo from, I think, Jerry Donahue. That annoying American (or someone parodying an American accent) is back for the fadeout, which is a little off-putting: why do people always say (as the voice does here) “You're gonna love it!”? How do they know? You might hate it, whatever it is...
<span id="docs-internal-guid-c339f86b-7fff-8490-9812-451fda77c1ad">[video=youtube;uOmNS2wyRDA]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uOmNS2wyRDA[/video]
Good, down and honest rock and roll for “Wastin' Away”, elements of “Get It Right Next Time” in the song, with some great piano runs, then the shortest track at just over two minutes is “Look at the Moon”, driven on acoustic piano and synthesiser strings and giving us the first ballad on the album, with an almost filmic score feel, and no sooner has it got going than it's over and we're into the standout on the album, and a song that, although not released as a single, nevertheless went on to become one of Gerry's most famous songs. “Bring It All Home” has a real blues/jazz rhythm, with fine performances from the two sax players and real blues piano from Billy Livsey. There's a real feeling of enjoyment and fun about this track, with a great instrumental jam at the end, and it's not surprising it caught on as it did.


Another ballad then in “The Garden of England”, slow, measured and stately, with some nice strings and keyboards, a melody and arrangement not a million miles removed from ELO, then there's more of an Alan Parsons Project feel to “Johnny's Song”, as the tempo kicks up again with some powerful guitar that really rocks along. “Didn't I” is a nice boogie blues number with some more fine guitar and a kind of campfire feeling about it, while “Syncopatin' Sandy” is driven on jazz piano but again betrays a certain sense of the APP in its melody.

Not surprisingly with a title like “Cafe Le Cabotin”, there's a French flavour to this song, with some rocking guitar and what sounds like accordion, a nice boppy tune. I wouldn't call it one of the strongest on the album, but it's not that bad. Kind of unremarkable, although it has a nice instrumental ending. The album finishes on “Don't Close the Door”, one final ballad to send us on our way, this one with a very country feel, what sounds like steel pedal and slide guitar, honky-tonk piano and some cool miramba-like percussion.


It's hard to see, with albums of this quality, why Gerry Rafferty more or less faded from the public eye. Perhaps it was that old curse, the “big hit single syndrome”; people expected him to better or equal “Baker Street”, and he never did. For all that, he released a total of nine albums during his career, right up to 2000 when his last album, Another World was released. In 2009 he did put together an odd sort of compilation of older work, with some new material and apparently some hymns and carols (!) on it, but his last major studio release was the aforementioned Another World.

Gerry was dogged by alcoholism which overshadowed the last decade of his life, and during 2009 he seems to have spent time moving from place to place, having “incidents” along the way, meeting his new wife and being happy for a time before finally succumbing to multi-organ failure brought on by his alcohol dependence. A sad end, and a great loss, but I prefer to remember him by the music he left us, and I'm sure this is how he would want to be remembered.

TRACK LISTING

The Royal Mile
I Was a Boy Scout
Welcome to Hollywood
Wastin' Away
Look at the Moon
Bring It All Home
The Garden of England
Johnny's Song
Didn't I
Syncopatin' Sandy
Cafe Le Cabotin
Don't Close the Door

 

Trollheart

Offline: Depressed
Senior Member
I'm not, and never have been, much of a fan of Tina Turner, and I couldn't tell you what possessed me to buy this album, but I was very glad I did in the end, as it's truly excellent. Given that it's her sixth album it's perhaps not that surprising, since Tina had had at this point over ten years to have perfected her sound. However, she only really came back into the limelight and to prominence as a solo artist in 1984, having left Ike in the mid-seventies and struck out on her own with very little success. Private Dancer was the album that thrust her firmly back into the spotlight, and into the charts, and during the latter half of the eighties she was one of the hottest properties in music, and could do no wrong.
Tina_Turner_Break_Every_Rule.jpg
Break every rule --- Tina Turner --- 1986 (Capitol)

After the phenomenal success of the previous album, and the virtual rebirth of Tina Turner as a saleable commodity, this album was really seen as the “second album syndrome”, the one which would prove once and for all whether Private Dancer was a fluke, an aberration, a fad, or whether Tina was really back to stay. Like expensive wine discovered in an old cellar and consumed with gusto, was this album going to be the hangover that would have everyone wondering what the hell they had been drinking, and with the clear light of day and the cold reality of sobriety, consign Break Every Rule to the trash-heap of music history?

The album proved more than a match for its millions-selling predecessor, and also showed that Tina could call in some big guns when required, with people like Bowie, Adams and Knopfler all contributing, whether playing on, writing or producing the album. It's a storming statement that the Queen was back. But it very definitely is, to borrow an old footballing cliché, a game of two halves. It opens, it has to be said, rather disappointingly with the stolid, flat “Typical Male”, a sub-disco/dance number that was, unaccountably, the first single from the album, which makes me wonder even more why I bought the album, as I certainly don't rate this. There's nothing special about it; anyone could have written it and anyone could sing it, and yet her name was so big at this point that it went to number two. Well, I would say it is number two, but there you go... :)

Luckily enough it soon settles down, and “What You Get Is What You See” is far rockier fare, rather odd in a way, as it, and the next three, are all written by the same team that penned the godawful opener, Terry Britten and one half of Gallagher and Lyle, Graham Lyle. The guitar sound on this is classic Mark Knopfler, and though the album notes don't say so, he has to be playing geetar on this! It's just his sound, through and through, and he is on the album somewhere. It's a good boppy rocker, and soon banishes the memories of “Typical Male”, with a sort of “Twisting By the Pool”/”Walk of Life” melody and rhythm, then we're into “Two People”, a ballad with more than a touch of “What's Love Got To Do With It” from the previous album about it. Decent song though, with some very nice keyboards from either Billy Livsey or Nick Glennie-Smith, not sure which. The song also retains influences of Champaign's “How 'Bout Us”, and is light and breezy, not quite throwaway, but a bit of a letdown after the powerful track that preceded it. Not much in the way of guitar here, very synthy.

Things stay more or less light with the disco-like “Till the Right Man Comes Along”, and really up to this point I'm sure I was shaking my head and wondering what the hell I had been thinking, buying this pile of cr--- but wait. Once we get beyond the Britten/Lyle machine things start to get a whole lot better, I definitely remember that. The whole timbre, style and most importantly quality of the album changes. Which is not to say the guys can't write a good tune - they did, after all, pen “What You Get Is What You See” - but the majority of what they contribute here to what would have been basically the first side of the album is very weak and generic, and had it not been for Tina pulling in the writing power of people like Bryan Adams and Mark Knopfler, this album could have been a real turkey.
[video=youtube;RSeZhHWeiHo]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RSeZhHWeiHo[/video]
Their last contribution, thank god, is “Afterglow”, another dancy, bass-ridden throwaway, with a nice bit of funky guitar it has to be said, and a certain sense of Judie Tzuke circa Ritmo (whaddya mean, who? Philistines!) and then we're into the real songs. It's almost like two different albums in one. The powerful, dramatic, almost ominous “Girls”, penned by the Thin White Duke himself, shows what Tina can do when given proper material to work with. Haunting keyboard strains keep up a counterpoint behind her as the song picks up a little speed, and the intensity builds as she sings of basically how hard it is to be a woman, but without any cliché (would you expect less of Bowie?). The song powers up to a strong, passionate climax (sorry; well, it does!), with Phil Collins firmly ensconced on the drumseat, and all of a sudden you're in a totally different land, almost having to check the album cover to make sure you're still listening to the same one!

And it just gets better from there on. With the mark of Bowie's class firmly imprinted on it, what could have been a second-rate failure becomes a true winner, a donkey suddenly becomes a thoroughbred, an ugly duckling turns into... well, you get what I'm trying to say. The album improves, is basically the thing, so much so that it really is amazing. Bryan Adams' “Back Where You Started” delivers another well-needed kick up this album's backside and also sets fire to it for good measure. With opening organ chords then crashing guitar you know this album has finally arrived.

Okay, so in fairness, it sounds like a Bryan Adams song: you can hear him singing it in your head, and she almost imitates his scratchy croak, but man is it a powerful song! The sense of relief I remember washing over me, starting with “Girls” and continuing to the end of the album almost without pause, is again a fantastic feeling. To think I believed I had wasted my money! Just proves you need to stick in there right to the end, just to make sure. The man is on piano, guitar and backing vox, and his old mate Jim Vallance (who of course wrote the song with him) is on percussion, with Tommy Mandel going crazy on the keys, and it's a revitalisation of the album: we're well on our way!

The title track just keeps the new quality of this album going, with a great uptempo rocker featuring some superb keyboard work from Rupert Hine, who also helps out on producing and co-writes this song. It's just infectiously catchy, if that's not an oxymoron: this sort of hook could land a Great White shark, I kid you not! You try sitting still when you listen to it, and the production is totally faultless. Perfect backing vocals just add to the layers of quality on this track, and it's Mark Knopfler who steps in next to add his writing expertise to the album, and though in fairness “Overnight Sensation” is something of the weakest of the “side 2” tracks - basically a Dire Straits song - it's still miles better than the bulk of side one.

But the album ends powerfully and strongly, on two perfect ballads. The first, penned by Irish star Paul Brady, “Paradise Is Here”, is a lovely mid-paced, almost uptempo ballad with some gorgeous sax from the great Branford Marsalis, and then the album finishes strongly and dramatically, on “I'll Be Thunder”, a real power ballad co-written again by Rupert Hine, with almost Steinmanesque phrasing, allowing Tina to really show off her powerful vocal chords, with strong, insightful piano, lovely guitar which is at once laid back and then fierce, and an emotive string section fleshing the song out to give it its full potential, and finishing the album with a dramatic flair and a real touch of class.

It's totally amazing, as I say, how different the two sides of this album are, and if I listened to it again, for purposes other than review, I'd elect more than likely to only listen to the second side, as the first is mostly just better forgotten. I got Foreign Affair after this, and recall it not being a patch on Break Every Rule, so maybe I came in at just the right place, for me, within Tina Turner's discography. I doubt I'll listen to another of her albums again, but this was a hell of a surprise, and a very pleasant one, though I had to persevere to get to the good stuff.

Just shows you though: persistence pays off.

[FONT=&Verdana]TRACK LISTING
[/FONT]

Typical Male[FONT=&Verdana]
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What You Get Is What You See[FONT=&Verdana]
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Two People[FONT=&Verdana]
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Till the Right Man Comes Along[FONT=&Verdana]
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Afterglow[FONT=&Verdana]
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Girls[FONT=&Verdana]
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Back Where You Started[FONT=&Verdana]
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Break Every Rule[FONT=&Verdana]
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Overnight Sensation[FONT=&Verdana]
[/FONT]
Paradise is Here[FONT=&Verdana]
[/FONT]
I'll Be Thunder[FONT=&Verdana]

[/FONT]
 

Trollheart

Offline: Depressed
Senior Member
Daryl_Hall_THITHEM.jpg

Three Hearts In the Happy Ending Machine
--- Daryl Hall --- 1986 (RCA)



I always admire a solo artiste who takes charge of their project, though of course conversely that can work against them, if they take on too much and aren't equal to the task. This is by no means a brilliant album, and I don't say that simply because I'm not a huge fan of Hall and Oates: this has its moments, but overall it is a little too much filler for my tastes. It was an album I took a chance on, and in fairness, there are enough decent tracks there that I never felt my money was wasted, but on the basis of this, Daryl Hall's second solo album, I never felt compelled to search any further, either forward or backward through his catalogue.

But there's no denying that on this album he gave his all, not only writing or co-writing every track and singing on the album (obviously), but he also plays guitar, keyboards, mandolin (!) and even attempts drum programming, not to mention producing the album, with assistance from some other luminaries like Dave Stewart. I always found Hall to be the “face” of the Hall and Oates duo; not surprising really, as he sang lead vocals and was essentially the frontman of the band, if a duo can have a frontman. John Oates always seemed more the workhorse, toiling away industriously at his guitar and adding those indispensable backing vocals. Definitely integral to the band, but you couldn't really see him without his “white soul boy”.

So perhaps Daryl Hall had less to prove than his bandmate, as he would not be “stepping out from the shadow” of anyone, being as it were the dominant force in Hall and Oates. However, this was not his first solo album; his debut, released six years previously, had been dogged by the label's refusal to release it as it was not seen as commercial enough, leading to a three-year delay, after which the album sold okay but did not hit any real chart positions and largely passed unnoticed. There was greater fanfare for the release of this, which RCA no doubt would prefer people to think was his first effort. As many people, including me at first, certainly did.

Right away there's a shock, a total change from the smooth soul/pop of “I Can't Go For That” or “Maneater”, with a heavy rock AOR song surely more suited to John Parr than Daryl Hall? “Dreamtime” is a great little track, and indeed gave Daryl his first, and only, hit single, getting to number five. Of course, great an achievement as that is, it has to be accepted that much of those sales would have been thanks to Hall and Oates fans; whether they liked what they heard after purchasing the single is debatable, but once the record was paid for it wasn't going back, and the sales pushed it up the charts.

There's a great utilisation of a string section in the song, which seems something of an anachronism, as it should not fit an upbeat, rocking tune like this, but somehow it works. Hall's voice is instantly recognisable of course, and there's nothing wrong with his pipes, even if you do sort of expect the lush tones of Oates to come chiming in on the chorus. Great guitar work from Dave Stewart helps give this opener a harder edge than we would have expected from this master of soul and smooth, and sets the album up nicely. Unfortunately, that quality is not maintained throughout, and takes something of a dive with the more soul/disco-infused “Only a Vision”. Much more in the way of drum machines, no searing guitar from Stewart, a far more restrained track, and not anywhere near as enjoyable.


This continues into “I Wasn't Born Yesterday” which, despite an interesting sax intro, quickly runs out of ideas and ends up repeating the title far too many times for me. Nice digital piano, decent synth sounds, but definitely lacking something. The first ballad comes in the very Cars-like “Someone Like You”, complete with chirping keyboards and Hall even sounding a little like Ocasek, but it's a nice little song, and certainly re-establishes the high bar set by the opening track. Some really nice blues style guitar from ex-Pretender Robbie McIntosh, and this is a song into which Daryl can really get his soul teeth, if you'll excuse the somewhat mixed metaphor; quite similar to his work with John Oates, and you could in fact see the two of them singing this later onstage together.
[video=youtube;s-CJzeup-FM]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s-CJzeup-FM[/video]
Great guitar outro, very impressive, but again sadly it doesn't last. This album is almost like panning for gold: occasionally you'll come across real nuggets in the dirty water, but most of the time it's just hard work for little reward. “Next Step” is another example of the latter, a more upbeat, rocking track but ultimately empty. Sort of not really sure what it's trying to be, as it veers between rock soul and disco, gets confused and ends in a bit of a muddle. Perhaps it's the influence of hip-hop DJ supremo Arthur Baker that makes this sound more like something New Order or Afrika Bambaata would be comfortable singing, but it just jars too much, at least for me.

Then we hit gold! “For You” is a powerful, insightful love song that isn't a ballad. Driven on fine strong guitar, almost Johnny Marr-like in places, and lush keyboards with reverb and echo effects, then an almost Genesis bridge, circa Invisible Touch into a hooky chorus that just grabs at you and stays in your head. I'm probably being harsher on this album than I should be: it's only really the first few tracks (bar the opener) that fall flat in a row, after that you're basically looking at every second track being good, which is okay but still frustrating: you love track four, for instance, then track five is not great, you like track six, track seven's a yawn, and so on. So you sort of feel like you're constantly building up your hopes only to have them dashed, then realised, then dashed, all of which is more than a little unsettling.

This pattern continues unabated. “Foolish Pride” is another “meh” track, and I would be happy, or at least prepared, to say that it's on the ones penned by Hall alone that the album falls down, but whereas this is often the case, the last two good tracks on the album are his own solo efforts, and they're quite excellent. You can't even say that it's when he reverts back to more “Hall-and-Oatesish” songs that the formula breaks down, because although that's essentially what happens with this track, he managed quite successfully to meld the two styles on “Someone Like You”. This, however, sounds way too close to “I Can't Go For That”, just sped up a little, and I feel it's a very weak track.


It's followed though, by another nugget, in fact one of the standouts, the beautiful ballad “Right as Rain”, with the legendary Joni Mitchell providing backing vocals. It's soft, slow, relaxed, almost a lullaby with sparkling, tinkling keys and a beautiful little miramba-like percussion line, Daryl exercising those soul pipes as only he can. Some chiming guitar, very Police-like, adds to rather than destroys the gentle balance created here, and even when the proper drums crash in it's at exactly the right moment, and sounds expected rather than sudden or invasive.

The peaceful, almost hushed atmosphere is then blown apart by “Let It Out”, which I could definitely have done without. Elements of the Clash in here, maybe more Big Audio Dynamite really, and a healthy dose of John Cougar Mellencamp, but even with that pedigree it manages to be a very average track, and we go panning again. Luckily though, we do find some more gold, before we have to pack up and go home.

The closer is another ballad, and vies with “Right as Rain” as the standout, though I still plump for “For you” personally. “What's Gonna Happen To Us” is another solo Hall number, and the weak tracks on this album notwithstanding, if there was any doubt about his songwriting ability, this removes them for all time. With gentle percussion reminiscent of Peter Gabriel, some soft guitar and an echoey double-tracked vocal from Hall, it's a plea for sanity as the world hurtles towards its destruction. Sure, the subject has been tackled before - and better - but there's something very personal and passionate about Daryl Hall's take on the theme.


The instrumentation is kept very low-key and minimalist right through the song, Hall's yearning vocal carrying the sort of emotion few singers can adequately convey, a sort of African chant coming in on about the third minute and keeping pace with the music, the guitar adding a few licks, a few keyboard runs, but essentially maintaining the same melody throughout the song. It's an interesting end to the album, both downbeat and powerful, emotional and relevant even today.

Like I said, this is not a great album. But it's not a terrible album. It's got enough good tracks to keep you listening, just a shame that it's let down so consistently by songs that really don't deserve to be on it. If Hall had perhaps written some other songs of the calibre of “For You” or “Right as Rain”, or perhaps included some that didn't make the cut and left some of the weaker ones here off the album, I could be hailing this as a great effort from an already established vocal and lyrical talent, stepping out on his own.

As it is, it's not quite the happy ending I had hoped for, but it's not a horror story either.

TRACK LISTING

Dreamtime
Only a Vision
Wasn't Born Yesterday
Someone Like You
Next Step
For You
Foolish Pride
Right As Rain
Let It Out
What's Gonna Happen to Us
 

Trollheart

Offline: Depressed
Senior Member
TheCoronasCloserToYou.jpg
Closer To You
--- The Coronas --- 2011 (3u)

Although virtually unknown outside their native Ireland, the Coronas are big news here and just waiting to make the giant leap to international stardom. They've twice been nominated for the Meteor Awards, winning one for their last album. They've supported the likes of Paul McCartney and fellow Irish rockers The Script, and have twice appeared at one of Ireland's biggest outdoor music festivals, Oxegen. This is their third of so far five albums.

“What You Think You Know” opens the album well, with jangly guitar and squealing electric, and the song bops along nicely with a sense of Aslan mixed with INXS. Things continue to rock along for “Mark My Words”, where The Coronas really start to come into their own, with a very commercial song that would I think have had great potential as a single. Great hook here, and the song really hangs together well, some fine guitar from Danny O'Reilly, who also handles the lead vocals, and is helped out on the guitar by Dave McPhilips. Lovely little, somewhat unexpected, restrained piano ending, and then we're into the title track.

A lowdown funky stride, this smoulders along on Graham Cox's exquisite bass line before Conor Egan's staccato drums ramp everything up, then drop back and allow the bass to take over again, keyboards from O'Reilly peppering the song with little flashes of colour, some harder guitar coming in from McPhilips, the song taking on quite a Big Country feel, especially in the vocal lines of Danny O'Reilly. It ends quite abruptly though, and then “Dreaming Again” is a big, expansive half-ballad, with more than a touch of Irish traditional music in it, and a chorus that just demands a sea of waving arms, people swaying side to side in ecstasy. Definitely an infectious song.

Nothing here is particularly long, with the average song length being in the three to four minute mark, with only one or two going over that, and even then only by a few seconds. “Blind Will Lead the Blind” is one of the longer songs, just a second shy of the four minutes, and has an interesting percussion line, almost tribal in its way, the song itself relatively restrained but with Danny on song, as it were, guitars carrying the main melody, while the lead single from the album opens on a piano line quickly joined by boppy keyboards as “Addicted To Progress” gets going. You can see how this was selected as the first single, as it's very catchy and very airplay-friendly. Big, friendly guitars vie with the funky piano melody for supremacy, and above it all rises without any effort the voice of Danny, the heartbeat of The Coronas.
[video=youtube;rvKZ4igv1wU]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rvKZ4igv1wU[/video]

That heartbeat is thumping proudly as the acoustic-led “My God” slips in, Danny's voice taking command of the song while the twin guitars jangle along, electric joining acoustic as the song progresses. Lovely little bit of mandolin weaves through the melody, though I'm unsure as to who's playing it as they don't seem to be credited. More acoustic guitar on “Dreaming Again Part 2 (Wait For You)”, but it's soon pushed out by electric in a mid-paced slow rocker with anthemic ambitions. It's essentially the same basic melody as “Dreaming Again”, but sufficiently changed as to sound like a completely separate song.

“Write To Me” is probably the closest we get to a ballad, but it's a swinging, swaying one with a big acoustic chorus and some dour keyboards setting the tone; nice little song indeed. Danny manages to inject a real note of desperation into the vocal, and things stay relatively slow for “Different Ending”, with some really deep, introspective keyboard and piano work from Danny O'Reilly, slick little guitar brushstrokes added by Dave McPhilips, and steady, measured drumming from Conor Egan, Graham Cox adding the bass line to the rhythm section. The song gets a little more mid-paced as it goes along, and becomes a little different to your average ballad, great vocals also from Danny, the tension in the song increasing until it fades out on light piano, then we're into the closer, “Make It Happen”.

With a really smooth bluesy guitar opening, the song suddenly comes to life as the electric guitar is wound up and blasts out, then everything falls back as Danny comes in with the vocal, and the music comes back in strength in a sort of striding boogie rhythm. That doesn't last though, and it's back to the arrangement that opened the song, with some really effective and emotive guitar and keys, the song fading out on an instrumental ending, there having been very little really in the way of vocals on the track at all.

It's easy to see why The Coronas are so popular here, because apart from their obvious musical ability and the great vocals of Danny O'Reilly, the one thing that shines through about this band is their workmanlike approach to their music, as well as their honesty. You really get the feeling this is not an album written to get hit singles. If that happens then fine, but it's not the point of the thing, and nothing has been contrived or manufactured to be a hit. It's music for those who love and appreciate music, and taken in that vein, this is one hell of an album.

TRACK LISTING

What You Think You Know
Mark My Words
Closer To You
Dreaming Again
Blind Will Lead the Blind
My God
Addicted To Progress
Dreaming Again Part 2 (Wait For You)
Write To Me
Different Ending
Make It Happen

 

Trollheart

Offline: Depressed
Senior Member
Embrace_Out_Of_Nothing_Cover.jpg
Out of Nothing
--- Embrace --- 2004 (Independente)

I bought this album on the strength of the one song I had heard from them, which is in fact the opener to this, Embrace's fourth album: I was that impressed by the song! Apparently, a lot of other people were too, as the album shot right to number one in the UK, so chances were there was going to be some damn fine music here. If anything even approached the quality of the one song I had heard up to then, this would not be money wasted. But before we get into that, who the hell are these guys?

Embrace are an English rock band who have been around since 1990, though they only achieved success - and huge success: a number one album with their debut! - eight years later. They were literally formed at the bottom of a garden by two brothers, Danny and Richard McNamara. Adding a bass player and a drummer, they decided to use the name Embrace for their band, despite there already being a band of that name, based in the USA. Securing permission from that band to also use the name, Embrace released their first album, The Good Will Out in 1998 and it went directly to number one, a massive feat for an as-yet-unknown band at that time.

As is often the case though, they were initially unable to repeat this feat, and though their next two albums all hit the top ten, neither made it to the very top and they were dropped by their label. Signed to a new label they released their fourth album, Out of Nothing, which raced right up to the top spot, emulating the success of The Good Will Out, almost six years later.

As I mentioned, “Ashes” is the opener, and made such an impression on me when I heard it on the TV that I rushed out to buy the album. It's a perfect combination of pop and rock, with busy guitars, sparkling keys and a great vocal line from Danny McNamara, with a wonderful hook and great melody. It's got just the right mix of pathos and determination in the lyric, and I always regard it as a real “cheer up” song. Guitarist Richard McNamara certainly knows his way around a fretboard, and you can see why this album was so well-received. My only concern with the song is its sudden piano lead-out, which I think jars just a little.

[video=youtube;PdspIsvQmNg]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PdspIsvQmNg&amp;list=PLoGMNwUUggXFnsuLYc7re1xl 48NWSysXh[/video]

“Gravity” is co-written by Chris Martin, with whom the guys had become friendly when supporting Coldplay, and as a result it is very Coldplay in its sound. A ballad, it's a lovely song with a nice line in piano from Mickey Dale and an impassioned vocal, some great guitar work from Richard, and it was in fact their comeback single after two successful but not chart-busting albums and a lack of interest from Hut, their previous label. “Someday” has an almost acoustic opening, with some squealing guitar, a laconic vocal and a bare piano line, then it gets going with heavy drumming from Mike Heaton and some fairly Big Country-style sharp guitar from Richard. The song has a real anthemic quality in its chorus, with some great backing vocals. There's a quite unexpected burst of guitar right at the end, which certainly shows that Richard can rock out with the best of them.

More restrained then is “Looking As You Are”, which kind of reminds me of a more animated Travis, some very passionate guitar and some solid piano , and “Wish 'Em All Away” is a hard ballad, with a lot of power and honesty in its execution, while “Keeping” is also quite balladic in its structure, given added power by the inclusion of the London Session Orchestra, and there seems not to have been a fast uptempo song since “Ashes”, which is not a criticism, just an observation. No bad tracks so far. Atmospheric opening thanks to Dale's keyboards to “Spell It Out”, then Richard's guitar chimes out and Mike's drums take the song up a notch, and it becomes a mid-paced rocker, with some very distinctive guitar riffs throughout, more lovely orchestral arrangements lifting it to new heights, then a beautiful piano intro from Mickey Dale takes us into “A Glorious Day”, a love anthem if ever there was one, powerful backing vocals with bright piano mostly leading the melody.

Some guitar histrionics over a piano intro opens “Near Life”, with a dour, almost Chris Martinesque vocal from Danny, his brother's wild guitar making this the closest thing to hard rock on the album, but I'm not a fan of this style of singing, almost what I'd call slurred, in a way, or what comes across as uninterested, even though I know Danny is certainly full of passion for all his music. The album then ends on the title track, more lovely piano from Mickey Dale in a closing ballad that's certainly worthy of the quality on this album. Halfway through though it really jumps into life, and the guitar, not so much solo, as passage, that ends it has to really be heard for it to be appreciated how good a guitarist Richard McNamara is.

It's easy to see why Coldplay wanted them as support on their tour, as Embrace's sound is very similar to Chris Martin's band. So if you hate Coldplay are you going to hate these guys? I don't know; it's not a problem I have as I like Coldplay, but until reading about Embrace on Wiki I was unaware of the connection between the two, and maybe that knowledge has coloured my perception of their sound. All I know is this is a band who definitely deserve to be given a chance. Listen to the album and make up your own mind. I personally don't love it, but I do like it a lot, and it gets regular airplay on my media player of choice.

TRACK LISTING

Ashes
Gravity
Someday
Looking as You Are
Wish 'em All Away
Keeping
Spell It Out
A Glorious Day
Near Life
Out Of Nothing

 

Trollheart

Offline: Depressed
Senior Member
Marilyn_Martin_This_is_Serious_1988_Album_Cover.jpeg

This Is Serious
--- Marilyn Martin --- 1988 (Atlantic)


Those few of you who even remember the name will probably recall the hit Marilyn had with Phil Collins, on the single “Separate Lives”, and in truth though she was thought to be destined for big things, this, her second album, was her last, as the label dropped her on the back of poor sales. It's not a bad album though, and it certainly has its moments, but to be honest it was never going to set the world on fire. Even the inclusion of a song co-written by Madonna was unable to interest the record-buying public in this album, and in my own case I must admit I really bought it only out of curiosity, having heard her on the abovementioned duet with Collins.

It's that Madonna-penned song that opens the album, and perhaps that's a bad move, as it's very dance-oriented, quite throwaway and not at all representative of the quality this album often shines through with. But first impressions last, and anyone hearing “Possessive Love” is likely to have thought here we go, another disco diva who thinks she's a star. It's the sort of song any female singer you care to mention could make work, as in it hasn't got too much about it, and I'm actually quite surprised to find that Madge was involved, and it's really pretty sub-par. But things don't stay that way for long, and the title track, which is next, ups the ante a little, giving more of a glimpse into the sort of music this woman could make.

It's still poppy and dancy, but puts me more in mind of the likes of the late Laura Branigan with a more, well, serious track, some very good guitar throughout the song, though who plays what seems to be a closely guarded secret. Marilyn's voice here is more ragged, raunchy and you can hear her love for rhythm and blues coming through, very sultry and with a lot more swagger. My old friends Terry Britten and Graham Lyle, who so damned the first half of the recently-reviewed Break Every Rule for Tina Turner, are back to pen another weak song for Marilyn, and again “Best Is Yet To Come” is almost worth skipping, though at least the title does hint at the truth. Very dancy, very bland, very Britten/Lyle.


Thankfully, that all changes with the introduction of “Quiet Desperation”, the first of two ballads on the album. With a gentle, rippling keyboard melody carrying the tune, this is where Martin shines as she takes it down several notches, cutting back on the raunch and allowing her own naturally smoky sensuality to bleed through, imbuing this song with all the heart and passion she can muster, almost emulating the power and passion of Sam Brown. Lovely emotional little guitar solo and some measured drumming move the track along as it reaches its halfway point, but they never attempt to take it over, and the simple keyboard line drives the song into the instrumental ending, which takes up almost two of the five minutes and change the track runs for.


After that tour-de-force, Martin kicks out the stays and rocks out hard for “Lay Me Down”, perhaps one of the rockiest tracks on the album, and certainly one of the standouts. With a hard guitar and organ opening, it's suffused by pure joy and wild abandon as Marilyn plays the rock chick to perfection, letting her wild side out, her voice rising to meet the highest registers in the song, with some great soul-style backing vocals and a ripping guitar solo. “Love Takes No Prisoners” scales back the rock a little, with a dance beat but still some decent guitar, a real air of Prince about it, circa Sign o' the Times, then it's kind of a Huey Lewis mix of pop and AOR for “Try Me”, very catchy with some stabbing keyboard chords and a busy bass line.
[video=youtube;gTG5g1LDgEo]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gTG5g1LDgEo[/video]
Much of the blame for Martin's lack of success must surely lie with Atlantic, who decided to showcase her talent by releasing two singles from the album, choosing the boring soundalike opener and following it up with “Love Takes No Prisoners”, thereby giving perhaps people the wrong impression of this artiste, while ignoring better tracks like “Lay Me Down” and “Homeless”. I don't consider either single to be properly representative of Marilyn Martin, and I really believe they missed an important point, and a chance maybe for her to break big. As it is, we continue on with the boppy “The Wait Is Over”, again quite dancy and with a drumbeat that slightly echoes Phil Collins' cover of The Supremes' “You Can't Hurry Love”, but with some pretty impressive guitar which largely goes unnoticed, and uncredited.

The second ballad comes in the form of “Homeless”, where again Marilyn reduces everything to basics, with a quiet digital piano melody almost like someone walking, short, booming percussion and a passionate and aching vocal as she relates the tale of homeless people better than, I believe, “Another Day In Paradise” ever managed. With the instrumentation so sparse and measured, it's left to her to carry the song, which she does in a voice almost cracking with emotion, some very nice backing vocals and then a beautiful little burst of Spanish guitar, and the album closes very well on an AOR tune which again recalls the best of Branigan, as “Pretender” brings down the curtain.


Dropped by her label, disappointed with her lack of success after her one big shot with Collins on the number one single “Separate Lives”, Marilyn Martin went back to her original career as a backup singer, a position from which she had been “discovered” by head of Atlantic Records, Doug Morris, who thought he saw something in her that should be encouraged. Sadly, her attempt to break into the big time faltered after two albums, and she eventually got out of the music business entirely.

Nevertheless, though this may not be by any means a perfect album, it's a short glimpse into something that could have been big, a talent that could, perhaps, had it been handled and managed better, have blossomed into something quite remarkable. This could, indeed, have been serious. But it wasn't to be, and after dabbling in the music world for a few years, Marilyn decided her future lay elsewhere.

TRACK LISTING

Possessive Love
This Is Serious
Best Is Yet To Come
Quiet Desperation
Lay Me Down
Love Takes No Prisoners
Try Me
The Wait Is Over
Homeless
Pretender

 

Trollheart

Offline: Depressed
Senior Member
Big_Country_-_No_Place_Like_Home.jpg

No Place Like Home
--- Big Country --- 1991 (Vertigo)

Although I'm a reasonable fan of this band, I have to admit to owning only one other of their albums, and this is Through a Big Country, and since I rarely if ever review greatest hits packages - mostly for the simple reason that, crammed as they are with hits and singles, most people will more than likely know most of the tracks - that leaves me with just this album to concentrate on, if I want to talk about Big Country. Which I do. I'm quite aware there are better known albums from them - the likes of Steeltown, The Seer or even The Crossing that would be better material for a review, but I don't have any of those so I'm going with what I've got.

I couldn't even tell you why I bought this album. It was probably just a bargain, and I picked it up in one of the buying frenzies I used to indulge in: go to the record stores (ask yer da; think itunes but without... actually, no. Just ask yer da), look around, see if there was anything decent going cheap. I did that all the time in the eighties, when mostly the only way you could hear music was by buying it, and second-hand albums were always a good way to check out something you had perhaps not enough faith in to shell out the full price for. I knew Big Country's hits, of course, like most people, but would a full album be worth investing in? So perhaps this was bought as a test of that principle. Or maybe I just liked the cover, or it was cheap, or both. Whatever the reason, it was the only one of their albums, bar the greatest hits, that I ever bought, and I've never even listened to it up till now.

Of course, there's extra poignancy since the untimely death of lead singer, guitarist and frontman Stuart Adamson in 2001, an event that shook Big Country to its foundations and led to the band no longer touring until they reunited in 2010, after a brief reappearance in 2007 to put out a greatest hits/tribute album, and are now back on the road. But Adamson, the voice and heart of Big Country, will and can never be forgotten. I haven't heard any music from them post Adamson, but you would have to wonder how they could recreate that unique sound he imbued the band with, and whether Big Country without Stuart Adamson could be like Queen without Freddie Mercury?

But back to the album. Tying in with the title of the album, “We're Not In Kansas” opens on a jingly guitar and strong percussion, that classic Big Country guitar sound not as prevalent as you might expect, but Stuart's distinctive voice unmistakable. It's a kind of mid-paced song to get us underway, a lot of punch but more restrained that the sort of thing we've come to expect from this band. Very much a Delta blues opening to “Republican Party Reptile”, also kind of mid-paced but with more energy maybe than the opener, and some really good individual fretwork from Bruce Watson as well as from Adamson. Little touches of gospel too and a sharp, angry vocal as you would probably expect on a hard political satire song like this.
[video=youtube;M2vduLlsG3g]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M2vduLlsG3g&amp;list=PL45AD3DED7DB0F84A[/video]
Big keyboard and flowing guitar intro then to “Dynamite Lady”, heavy organ carrying the melody against Adamson's wounded vocal, the song becoming a swaying, swinging ballad, but I have to admit I haven't heard too much to get excited about yet. Still, we're only into track three of twelve. There are no hits or even well-known songs (to me, anyway) on this album, so there's nowhere to hide really: I'm hearing everything for the first time, and on its own merits. Things get a lot better with the uptempo rocker “Keep On Dreaming”, more like the sort of thing I'm used to hearing from these guys, then the country/bluegrass tinged “Beautiful People” rides along on Bruce Watson's happy mandolin and some great piano from Richie Close. Just infectiously upbeat, and though driven on mostly the same idea all the way through you don't really mind, it's so good.


There's nothing happy though about the next track, with a serious message and a lot of bitter anger in “The Hostage Speaks”, a powerful indictment of war and conflict, seen through the eyes of the innocent and the powerless, played somewhat in the vein of “Just a Shadow” or “Wonderland”, then we're back to hard rockin' for “Beat the Devil”, with twin guitars punching out the rhythm, and then a slower but no less powerful track in “Leap of faith”. Everything changes in style though for “You Me and the Truth”, where Big Country go all soul, with solid organ and riffling guitars (yeah, it's another word I made up: wanna make something of it?) ;) which actually works surprisingly well, would probably have made a good single.

Things stay soul-influenced for “Comes a Time”, while “Ships” has a real air of Marc Cohn or Bruce Hornsby about it, especially in the piano. A soulful ballad that really slows things down and allows you to catch your breath, it's actually the first time I've heard Big Country play a slow song. Even on their greatest hits the slower songs were not what I would class as ballads, but this definitely is, and Adamson puts in a superb vocal performance, passion and emotion creaking in his voice as he sings ”Where were you/ When my ship went down?/ Where were you/ When I ran aground?” The song exists on Close's gorgeous and plaintive piano melody, and sails along (sorry) on the fragile yet strong and bitter vocal of Adamson as he looks for answers. Standout of the album, no question.


It closes then on “Into the Fire”, almost Dire Straits in its makeup, with some joyful organ and a triumphant vocal by Stuart, the guitars more restrained but still there, proving I guess that Big Country don't survive or depend only on the big wide expansive guitar sound on which their name was made, and on which their reputation persisted throughout their heyday.

The first Big Country album I've listened to all the way though that isn't a collection, I can't honestly say I'm overly impressed, but I'm not disappointed either. No Place Like Home has certainly got its moments, perhaps not enough of them, but it's a good rock album and contains a few surprises along the way. I didn't regret listening to it, and if you take the time I doubt you will either.

TRACK LISTING

We're Not In Kansas
Republican Party Reptile
Dynamite Lady
Keep On Dreaming
Beautiful People
The Hostage Speaks
Beat the Devil
Leap of Faith
You Me and the Truth
Comes a Time
Ships
Into the Fire

 

Trollheart

Offline: Depressed
Senior Member
This album, released in 2014, marks the forty-fifth anniversary of Hawkwind. That's right: the band which gave us Lemmy and set up more trips than a whole fleet of trains and buses during festival season is fast approaching their half-century, an amazing milestone for any band, much more so for a band who are so, well, how can I put this? Weird.

It's fair to say Hawkwind are not to everyone's tastes. I've never been high (unless you count my few trips in a jet airliner) in my life, though I'm reliably informed that to really appreciate this band you need to be stoned. I do remember going to see them in 1984 and being almost choked by the aroma of cannabis cigarettes, so much so that I remember very little of the gig - possibly high on second-hand smoke? Nevertheless, despite being what most Hawkwind fans would deem a square, or whatever epithet they choose to hang around the necks of those who “don't, sorry”, I have enjoyed Hawkwind albums. Levitation was a great record, as was Masters of the Universe (okay, so it's a collection: what about it?) and even the eminently weird Church of Hawkwind had me nodding appreciatively, when I wasn't shaking my head in incomprehension.

As I mentioned, this is their twenty-fourth studio album, taking purely into account those only: this says nothing of the many compilations, live albums, retrospectives etc that have hit the shelves over the last thirty-odd years. Lemmy, of course, is long gone, but founder member Dave Brock, the brains and heart of Hawkwind, is still here, going as strong as ever, and though he has a good twenty years on him, Richard Chadwick is the next most permanent member, having occupied the drumseat since 1988. Most of the rest of the band have only been with Hawkwind since the first decade of this century, although keyboardist Tim Blake has been with them on and off for short stints in the seventies and the first years of the second (or is it third? I always get confused...) millennium.
Onward_Hawkwind.jpg

Onward
--- Hawkwind --- 2012 (Plastic Head)

It doesn't matter if you've heard every Hawkwind album since their debut in 1970 (which I haven't, far from it), it's always going to be hard to predict what you're going to come across on a new outing from them, whether it's space rock, acid rock, prog-rock, psychedelic metal, proto-metal-space-fusion-jazz-ambient-futurist-rock, or insert genre plus as many sub-genres as you wish in this space. Hawkwind are a band that have continually defied categorisation over the decades, and while one album could be fairly close to what most of us would consider “normal” rock, another could go way out on some space-opera acid-fuelled tangent which bore no resemblance to the previous album. One thing you are always guaranteed though is that it will be different, and interesting.

This one, a double album, no less, starts off with humming synth, doomy pealing bells before guitar blasts in and “Seasons” opens the album, Dave Brock's voice as powerful now as it was in 1970, the usual crazy space-rock effects Hawkwind aficionados have come to expect fizzing everywhere, but the guitar hard and heavy. The vocals and backing vocals are strongly reminiscent of Floyd, and of course the two bands were around at about the same time, though they went off on somewhat different tracks. There is a lot of similarity between the two though. This is a little heavier than I would expect Hawkwind to be, but it's very welcome, and only the first of eighteen new tracks, so a treat in store?

Well, things stay heavy for “The Hills Have Ears”, with an almost punk-rock sound about both the hard guitar and the singing, though the fizzling, sweeping synth in the background keeps this track firmly grounded in prog/psych land, everything in fact quickly fading down after a punchy beginning to allow the synth to take centre stage as weird little space-rock runs, odd sounds and effects all too familiar to those who have followed this band down through the years take over. Then the guitar kicks back in and the music is rocking again; “Mind Cut” is a slow, acoustic guitar extravagaza with electric in the background and Brock's almost sixties-style psychedelia vocal bringing us right back to the summer of love, almost like smashing out of a black hole into a totally new universe.

Just over a minute long, “System Check” is one of those intermezzos used so often by Hawkwind, with NASA-style reports and messages over spacey synth, then “Death Trap” goes back to the rocky sort of song I've heard from them before, like the title track to Levitation, one of the few of their albums I've heard, a real cars-racing-down-the-highway song with some good vocal effects and some hammering guitar before we head into “Southern Cross”, with some bongo-style drums and rising keyboards, like some sort of bastard son of Vangelis and Santana, entirely instrumental and really laid back in fact, another string to Hawkwind's mighty bow.

Back to hard straight ahead rocking with an almost eighties New Romantic twist for “The Prophecy”, banks of keyboards providing the soundscape while guitar lays down its own groove upon this, and Brock sings like some lost poet or visionary trying to find his place in the new world. There's another short interlude in “Electric Tears”, which starts on xylophone-like chimes then pulls in strings and guitar, all in less than a minute. Impressive. Well, for any other band, that is: this is just standard for Hawkwind, though no less to be praised, just expected. The squealing guitar continues, taking us into “The Drive By”, with some fine drum work from longtime member Richard Chadwick, bright, breezy synth from Blake in another instrumental to close the first disc. Certain elements of Harold Faltermeyer or the Art of Noise on the synthwork here, though of course Hawkwind were doing this before those guys were even in long pants!

Disc two starts off on the heavy, gothic “Computer Cowards”, which a vocal from Dave Brock that's hard to make out, almost subsumed within the music, as if he's drowning in it. Great bass line from the enigmatically-named Mr. Dibs drives the song, Brock evincing almost guttural vocals, but sort of muttered: strange mix. Some great guitar work though, very little in the way of keyboards on this, ending on what sounds just like one of those old gas kettles boiling - anyone remember them? If you're as old as me you will - then it's synthery ho! As we head into “Howling Moon”, another atmospheric instrumental, with Brock's guitar almost acting as a metronome, until with the odd sound of howling wolves we're taken into another straight rocker, “Right To Decide” riding on the guitar line which is simple but effective, swirling keys and Brock's voice routed through some sort of vocoder or modulator to make it sound echoey, the song tripping (ahem!) along at a great pace with a really nice guitar solo adding to the many hooks in this song.
[video=youtube;8GEbNHLpq_s]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8GEbNHLpq_s[/video]
“Aero Space Age” is surely a typical Hawkwind song title, and this track is almost a continuation of “Right To Decide”, but based more along the piano and keyboard lines of Tim Blake this time. They even namecheck with a cheeky grin their biggest - possibly only - commercial hit, “Silver Machine”, with the lyric ”The silver machine is worth/ More than you're worth”: possibly a dig at those who only know them for that single? Very spacey song, great synth work, and yes, in places it is reminiscent of the song itself. The longest track on the album comes in slowly, something of a slowburner then again emulating the great Carlos as “The Flowering of the Rose” rides along on boppy organ, screaming skittering guitar and swirling synth (yeah, I know that's a lot of alliteration...)

Is it going to be another instrumental? Well, we're about four minutes into its eight-minute-plus length now, and so far no vocals, just a real workout on the keys and guitar, steady rhythm section holding everything together in a fine uptempo progressive rock piece. Yeah, it's an eight-minute powerful, energetic instrumental all right, and it leads into another track whose title is just so Hawkwind. “Trans Air Trucking” starts off with a lot of mixed sounds - phone message, growling, machinery - then powers into a Vangelis-like fast synth run, then a quick, thirty-second insert on heavy, ominous synth with spacey effects takes us into the penultimate track, a slow, heavy, Floyd-like piece called “Green Finned Demon”, some really inspired fretwork from Brock and a Watersesque vocal.

In typical Hawkwind fashion, the closer is not titled. At all. In fact, in some reviews of this album they only show seventeen tracks, not eighteen, but the one that finishes this two disc set is like something out of Sonic Attack, with a big busy guitar sound, whooshing synth and Brock's vocal not sung but spoken, like poetry, as he pilots his own personal starship across his own personal and unique galaxy, heading for who knows where? It's a real lookback to the Hawkwind of old, whereas much of this album is almost normal, as such; this is much more weird, spacey, out-there and probably will provide those among you who indulge with more than a few trips.

There's no question Hawkwind are legend, and have already long ago stamped their mark on music history, but even so, you can sometimes expect legends to sit back and watch the money roll in, having done their bit. Not so this band, who are still putting out amazing albums like this at the tender age of almost forty-five, and on the strength of this offering, I would venture to say that not only is there life in the old dog yet, but there's bite and energy and vigour too, and it may be a very long time indeed before this particular dog has had its day!


TRACK LISTING

Disc One
Seasons
The Hills Have Ears
Mind Cut
System Check
Death Trap
Southern Cross
The Prophecy
Electric Tears
Drive By


Disc Two
Computer Cowards
Howling Moon
Right To Decide
Aerospace Age
The Flowering of the Rose
Trans Air Trucking
Deep Vents
Green Finned Demon
(No title)

 

Trollheart

Offline: Depressed
Senior Member
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Maria McKee
--- Maria McKee --- 1989 (Geffen)

Sometimes you just buy an album on spec, you know? On instinct, or on recommendation. I think this was the latter, with a bit of the other two thrown in: I feel that I read about this in my publication of choice as a twenty-something, Kerrang!, and they had praised it highly. This was prior to her hit with “Show Me Heaven”, which would the following year propel her to international stardom, but forever paint her as a one-hit wonder, this despite being already known for her helming of the rock band Lone Justice and having written Fergal Sharkey's chart-topping hit, “A Good Heart”.

But this album was pretty much ignored, reaching a measly 120 on the US Billboard chart, and failing to chart any singles released. Is that because it's a crappy record? Quite the reverse: as a solo debut this is nothing short of stunning, but in an era obsessed with quick-fire, repeating formulas for success, thoughtful, insightful music like this becomes criminally overlooked, and it wasn't until “Show Me Heaven” made it that people would stop saying “Maria who?”

The album opens on hard acoustic guitar in a sort of folky/rock bopper, and certainly one of the longer song titles I've come across. “I've Forgotten What It Was In You (That Put The Need In Me)” is filled out by breezy organ and piano, but it's the soulful, aching voice of McKee herself that takes charge and demands attention, like a cross between a country songstress and a rock chick, retaining the best of both. It's a powerful, bitter, almost wistfully angry song that really gets things going well, and some well-placed fiddle from Steve Wickham really adds to the country sound, then the mood slows down for “To Miss Someone”, with a sort of James Taylor feel to it, a downbeat song of realisation as Maria confides ”I'm petrified of running/ Out of things to do” and admits ”Guess I'm not so independent after all.”

Lovely piano lines here, backed by solid organ and some gentle guitar, and you really get a feeling for Maria's songwriting when you see how she speaks to the everyman (and woman) in songs like “Am I the Only One (Who's Ever Felt This Way)?” - you can really identify with her lost loves and her failures, see that she's not some big star writing about other people's experiences, but a human being who has been hurt, loved and lost, and who often feels as confused, betrayed and dismayed as you and I do. This is a big, open country mid-pacer, with great fiddle, mandolin and guitar driving the song, in an upbeat melody, though the subject is certainly not happy.

She teams up with the famous Robbie Robertson for one of the standouts, the lovely, slow, gentle “Nobody's Child”, which rides mostly on the mournful organ sound laid down by Bruce Brody, with a great little guitar solo in the middle and of course Maria's wistful, almost tearful voice rising above it all. “Panic Beach”, up next, is an angrier song, lyrically very in Springsteen territory, on acoustic guitar and piano. This song is a real vehicle for the versatility of Maria McKee's vocals, and she reaches some notes that quite surprise you, as Brody's organ drones along in the background, adding a sense of gravitas and weight to the song. The sense of desperation, trying to survive, comes through strongly as she describes her landlord in lines like ”If a tear comes to his eye/ He may let a month go by/ Before he takes my key” and ”I'll do my time/ Then say goodbye/ To Panic Beach.”

Rocking out to the full then, another long title, “Can't Pull the Wool Down (Over the Little Lamb's Eyes)” kicks the tempo right back up as the mistakes referred to, and cried over in the first few tracks are thrown aside and a fierce determination not to be fooled again takes their place. Another great organ performance by Brody and some powerful backing vocals, and Maria screaming her anger and frustration and promise to open her eyes in future makes this song, yeah, another standout. There are a few, believe me.
<span id="docs-internal-guid-0466a094-7fff-702a-0612-e8ceae610da5">[video=youtube;LdJOpb6dJlY]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LdJOpb6dJlY[/video]
It's good to see that McKee writes, or co-writes every track on the album, bar the closer, and can she write a good song! We go all gospel for “More Love Than a Heart Can Hold”, with Brody excelling himself on the ivories, and a vocal chorus to wring tears from a stone, Maria singing like a diva possessed who has seen the light, her voice seeming to reach to the very heavens themselves, climbing on the strength of her love and devotion, then her anger returns for “This Property Is Condemned”. Carried on sharp acoustic and electric guitar backed up by Hammond organ, it's nevertheless a stripped-down sound which again allows Maria to shine on vocals, her rage and frustration reaching dangerous levels, her band knowing just when to back her and when to fall back and leave her to fly solo.

“Breathe” is a dark, moody grinder of a love song, if you can imagine such a thing. Slow, heartbeat drumming and rising keyboards with a few pin-sharp flourishes on the guitar shape this song, flute and mandolin coming in to add their own touches, with some really nice double-tracked backing vocals helping maintain the atmosphere and mood of the song. We close on what I consider to be the standout, not just because it's a simple piano ballad, but because it approaches the whole idea of love and dating in a somewhat unique way.

Featuring Maria herself on the piano, “Has He Got a Friend For Me?” is the only song on the album she does not have a hand in writing, penned as it is for her by Richard Thompson. It's the painfully simple question of a girl who is not pretty or socially active, and wants to know if her more glamorous friend has someone she can date. Something in the vein of Janis Ian's “At Seventeen”, it's quite heartbreaking as she breathes ”If he knows someone who's graceful and wise /Doesn't mind a girl who is clumsy and shy/ I don't mind going with someone that I've never seen...” A beautiful yet painful end to a wonderful album.

I personally hated it when Maria hit fame with “Show Me Heaven”, as rather than then reissuing her album and getting it more notice, the label ignored it completely and she ended up basically living on that as her only claim to fame. She obviously hated it, as she refused for years to play the song live, and who could blame her? But if you like well-written, well-thought-out and, well, real music, you could do a lot worse than take a listen to this album. Just don't hold that single against her, okay?

TRACK LISTING

I've Forgotten What It Was In You (That Put the Need In Me)
To Miss Someone
Am I the Only One (Who's Ever Felt This Way)?
Nobody's Child
Panic Beach
Can't Pull the Wool Down (Over the Little Lamb's Eyes)
More Love Than a Heart Can Hold
This Property Is Condemned
Breathe
Has He Got a Friend For Me?

 

Trollheart

Offline: Depressed
Senior Member
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This Mortal Coil
--- Redemption --- 2011 (InsideOut)

I just love the story behind this album. Horrible news, to be told you have cancer and that you can expect to only live another five years maximum, but how swings the pendulum from despair to delight when that diagnosis is revisited and you're told you're free of the biggest bane on human existence in the last few hundred years? Such was the story of keyboard player and guitarist Nick Van Dyk, and the relief he (and, presumably, his bandmates) felt, this brush with approaching death only to be given a second chance, led to the title of the album, and its composition.

Now, according to the man himself as he states on the Redemption website, the album is not about him and his struggle with the news of his cancer, and his eventual release from its grasp, and I can respect that. As he says “I didn't want to write a concept album about me”. Of course. But that notwithstanding, there's no avoiding the heavy focus on the human condition and the mortality of people in this album, and there's equally surely no doubt that Van Dyk's experiences coloured many, if not all, of the songs here, as he wrote all the lyrics himself, alone. Surely something of his dread and fear and eventual resurgence of hope and finally delight must have seeped into the lines as he wrote these words?

The album cover is phenomenal, and could be interpreted a few ways, but I’ll leave that up to you to decide. This is progressive metal band Redemption's fifth studio album, and following the practice - whether intended or accidental I don't know - of releasing a new album every two years, it comes on the heels of 2009's Snowfall On Judgement Day. It also comes packaged as a special edition, which contains covers of songs that are, in the words of the band themselves, “A Collection Of Songs Originally Recorded By Other Artists That One Would Not Expect Would Be Performed By A Progressive Metal Band.” My copy features these, but as I usually don't include extra, additional, bonus or special tracks in my reviews, I'll just tip a nod to them at the end.

As it is, the album opens hard and heavy, as you would expect from these guys, with “Path of the Whirlwind” both metal and progressive enough to have you thinking in terms of bands like Shadow Gallery and Kamelot, some really great proggy keyboard runs from the man who has been reprieved, and Nick Van Dyk leaves us in no doubt as to how happy and relieved he is to be free of cancer, and how he intends to use his second chance to the fullest of his ability. Great guitar solo from Bernie Versailles, and Ray Alder's vocals are as ever gruff and raw, while never dipping into growl or “unclean” territory. This guy can sing! The opener is a fast, riff-laden monster, and gets us well back into the swing after being the requisite two years without a new Redemption album. Come to think of it, the band name is sounding quite prophetic now, isn't it?

Although just under five and a half minutes long, “Path of the Whirlwind” concerns itself more with instrumentation, allowing keys and guitar as well as of course the solid rhythm section to take centre stage, with Alder's vocals, while always indispensable, a little more to the background of the song. “Blink of an Eye” then is a galloping rocker, almost more in the vein of power than progressive metal, guitars leading the song in as Alder's vocal takes over and we hear the first real inferences to Van Dyk's recent illness: ”I can't believe my ears/ I can't believe my eyes/ The silence disappears/ It's my time to die.” Some great keyboard solos from, it would appear, Greg Hosharian, who is credited with them, and the thing powers along on a big, heavy, epic groove, then the tempo kicks up even higher for “No tickets to the Funeral”, with a seriously heavy guitar opening and a certain sense of frustrated regret tinged with determination that the person dying be remembered well by his friends, and by the world. Don't we all want the same?

Great guitar work in this, and it's really a showcase for Versailles as he twists and wrings every last trick out of his instrument, Chris Quirarte's drums pounding after him like the pursuit of demons from Hell, and speaking of Hell, “Dreams From the Pit” is a nine-minute cruncher, Hosharian's keys merging with those of Van Dyk as the guitar winds up again and takes us into a hard-hitting metal opus, Alder's the voice of a tortured soul trying to understand the visions that assail him. Of course, Redemption are known for long tracks - “Something Wicked This Way Comes”, from their eponymous debut, runs for over twenty-four minutes, and the title track to “The Fullness of Time” clocks in at over twenty-one - so nine minutes is not that long, for them, but “Dreams From the Pit” is only beaten out by the closer as the longest track.
[video=youtube;gO2AWRABlWs]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gO2AWRABlWs&amp;list=PLmRlvxlJ-cbg_3v7KS8Bq03F9F1F0V9Uy[/video]
There's a nice piece of piano halfway in, joined by some expressive, strummed guitar as the song slows down, the drumbeat now measured and steady as a human heartbeat, then it sparks back into life with a soaraway guitar solo that lasts over a minute, then Alder roars ”I've been judged/ And I've been found wanting/ And I'm worthless!” as the song powers towards its conclusion on the back of increasingly heavy drums and chugging guitar, ending abruptly. An atmospheric, progrock style keyboard intro invites us, it would seem, into Hell, as “Noonday Devil” gets underway, and it's not long before Versailles is grinding his guitar through the song, with flourishes from Nick Van Dyk on the piano, a more stripped-down vocal from Ray Alder and the song ends on a hopeful note as he growls ” I won't be given up for dead!/ I'll focus on the road ahead.”

Expansive synth opening then to “Let It Rain”, which I think may be as close as this album gets to a ballad, even a power metal one. Seeming very much to focus on Van Dyk's diagnosis, it's a nice, restrained (for Redemption, that is) slow ode to hope, as Alder sings ”Can the lessons learned/ Unburden the struggle/ For one fortunate enough/ To have the chance/ Fortunate enough to start again?” Very moving, and some very effective keyboard backing, and the sense of hope continues as the song nears its end, with the lines I'm seeing what I can only hope/ Is light ahead/ I'm standing with an / Ever-growing faith/ That now is not my time.” Lovely piano solo with some fine deep choral vocals, and I'd put this as the standout on the album so far.

Despite a heavy guitar opening, “Focus” seems to slide into its own smooth balladic groove, and while not as much a ballad as the foregoing, it's still pretty low-key for these guys, and showcases some really good keyboard work, as well as a strong and determined vocal from Alder. The song also features some more fine piano work, Van Dyk's fingers flying across the keys like those of a man with a new reason to be happy, which of course he is. More powerful guitar work, but the song really rides on the keyboards, and I do find this track very Shadow Gallery, especially their latest album.

Another slow, atmospheric opening to “Perfect”, with some really impressive vocal harmonies in a mid-paced rocker examining how the constant search for perfection can lead us to miss the important things in life. Although not written as such, that I know, this album can be seen to be divided in two parts. The first seven songs all mostly deal with the approach of, understanding and to some extent acceptance of death, while the last four seem to be more in the vein of rejoicing in triumph over death, if only temporarily (for we all die). It's almost like a journey, from denial to acceptance to deliverance. In fact, it could almost be in three parts, with the tracks “Focus” and “Perfect” creating the midsection, that point where it would seem peace is being made, affairs being tied up before the great news breaks.

I know this is not how the album is written, but it could certainly be interpreted in this way, and if so, then “Begin Again” surely starts the cycle of renewed hope, though in fairness the lyric doesn't quite bear that out. It's a powerful song though, driven on Versailles' burning guitar and Alder passionate and strong as he sings that ”All we can do/ Is try to become whole again”. Great keyswork and a really progressive passage as the song reaches its climax, ending abruptly and ushering in what is definitely a song of hope and defiance. “Stronger Than Death” is just what it implies, a heart and a will to go on, a refusal to give in, as Alder sings ”I won't pay the ferryman/ I won't be taken to the other side.” A rock cruncher in the best Dio tradition, it rattles along on hard guitar and swelling organ with Alder's vocal determined and unbowed.

The closer is, as mentioned already, the longest track, over ten minutes of the epic “Departure of the Pale Horse”, opening on solid, swooshing keyboards and jingly guitar with a real message both of hope and surprise as Alder sings ”I'm half surprised that I'm still standing/ I've returned to the road/ That I was on/ Before this happened/ The Pale Horse skulks away/ Its rider empty-handed.” Could there be better words of vindication? However there is a real sense of humility and mortality too in the lyric, as he declares ”It's not about some act of courage/ I only did what I was forced to do.” A real progressive metal masterpiece, it's been well-worth waiting for and caps a really superb album that has more personal experience in it that anything I've heard in a long time.

I have to say, despite his claims that the album is not about him and his ordeal, it's been a privilege to have accompanied Nick Van Dyk and Redemption on this painful and difficult journey through a personal Hell, and to have emerged out the other side stronger and wiser. They can rightly be proud of this album, and I would say that it should stand as one of their best to date, which is not to denigrate any of their previous outings, but this has the ring of something real, something terrifying, something fragile and human about it, and, though almost an interloper in their private world, I thank Redemption for having afforded me the opportunity to walk this dark road with them, and emerge with profound relief into the sunlight.

Footnote: As I mentioned, there is a second disc of covers, but I don't usually review these. I won't be changing this policy here, and as a result I didn't even listen to the extra tracks - at least, not for the review. I may later, but right now I don't really have an extra thirty-five-odd minutes to spare. So for now, for those who want to know, a quick rundown of what those cover versions are:
“Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” --- a ten minute version of the Elton John classic
“Jane”, by Jefferson Starship
“Hold the Line” by Toto
“Edge of the Blade” from Journey's Frontiers album
“Love To Love” --- seven minute version of the UFO song
and
“Precious Things” --- over seven minutes of the Tori Amos song.


TRACK LISTING
Path of the Whirlwind
Blink of an Eye
No Tickets For the Funeral
Dreams From the Pit
Noonday Devil
Let It Rain
Focus
Perfect
Begin Again
Stronger Than Death
Departure of the Pale Horse

 

Trollheart

Offline: Depressed
Senior Member
Originally, when I heard tracks off this via playlists I was less than impressed, but then, when you consider the album follows pretty strictly an established and well-known storyline, hearing selections from it out of context can be a little unsettling, and you only get the real experience by listening to the album all the way through. Then you realise what an amazing job the artiste has done with a story that many would possibly consider tired and hackneyed, at least at this point. Hard to breathe new life into one of the old Sherlock Holmes mysteries - in fact, perhaps the most famous of them all - but I think a very good job has been done here. Plus, you get two keyboard wizards for the price of one: can't say fairer than that!
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The Hound of the Baskervilles
--- Clive Nolan and Oliver Wakeman --- 2002 (Verglas)
The problem, of course, remains as with all concept albums. Often obscure, weird, hard to follow plotlines; sometimes it's hard to even trace the actual concept, even if you get the general idea. One sure way to make sure that the listener can follow the storyline though is to base your album around an already-established idea: a novel, a play, an opera. This is exactly what Clive Nolan and Oliver Wakeman did with this album, basing it entirely on the work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's greatest fictional hero, and the greatest of Sherlock Holmes's cases. Interspersing the music with spoken narrative, which can come at the opening to, in the middle of or at the end of the musical passages, the story of “The Hound of the Baskervilles” is condensed into just over an hour of music and narration, and it works brilliantly.

(Note: if you have not yet read, or seen any of the many films of, this story, and intend to sample it at some point, be aware that this album contains not only spoilers, but the whole resolution of the mystery. This is then reflected in my review, so if you don't want your enjoyment spoiled then avoid reading. You have been warned!)

Although it's the brainchild of Clive Nolan, who prog rock fans will know from his work with, among others, Arena and Pendragon, and the son of keyboard supremo Rick Wakeman, the album features a host of guest stars, including John Jowitt, Karl Groom, Arjen Lucassen and Bob Catley to name but a few. The narration is undertaken by the sonorous tones of one Robert Powell, who may be remembered for his stunning performance of Jesus in the miniseries Jesus of Nazareth, or if you're not that way inclined, you may recall him from his role as Dave alongside Jasper Carrott in The Detectives. The various characters are all voiced by separate people, giving the project a much wider and more inclusive feel, and you really do feel like you're stepping into the pages of Doyle's classic book.

All that's very well and good, I hear you say, but this is a music composition. What's the music like? Well, what would you expect from two such stars of the keys? Wakeman and Nolan have already successfully translated Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky to a musical interpretation, so this should be just as good, although I admit I have not heard the previous outing: it seems hard to get, and again, Carroll is not the easiest to get into, especially his “nonsense poems”. Holmes though is a subject I have had much more experience with, chiefly through reading the stories for my sister. This one remains one of her favourites, and I’ve had to read it several times (in addition to watching some movie interpretations of the story), so I can follow the plotline easier, though even if you haven't it is set out in simple steps for you to follow.

Opening on eerie synth with the plaintive wailing of a great hound, it's Robert Powell's voice we first hear, intoning the prologue to the novel, recounting the warning about traversing the moors when it's dark, then big orchestral keyboard powers in with a dramatic overture, buzzing keys from both Wakeman and Nolan as, well, “Overture” gets going. Unlike many such introductory instrumentals though, this one is long, almost six minutes, and serves to lay the backdrop to the album. As you might expect on an album helmed by two keyboard players it's heavily keys-oriented, some of the playing giving the impression that there's an orchestra there, but I've found no evidence to support this theory, so must assume that the guys are just really versatile on their keyboards, which of course they are.

Powerful drumming from Tony Fernandez helps create the dark, oppressive air required for such a story, the keys getting into almost a “sabre dance” moment as the overture comes to the end, then harpsichord takes us directly into the introduction of the first chapter of the book, as Dr. Mortimer comes to talk to Sherlock Holmes regarding the death of Sir Henry Baskerville. Mortimer is played by Ashley Holt, who has worked with Clive Nolan before, and a very dramatic voice he has. The music swells behind him as the terrible tale is told, heavy keyboards and thumping drums, somewhat lightened by some flute from Ewa Alberling. Mortimer relates the tale of the appearance of the infamous and legendary Hound of the Baskervilles. I won't go deeply into the story, as it would take too long, but as the tale progresses the music gets suitably more frenzied and intense.

As Mortimer's story ends and Holmes agrees to travel to meet Sir Henry Baskerville, the keys fall back to harpsichord and Powell's narration returns as we move into “Three Broken Threads” with arpeggiated keyboards and violin, the latter from Jo Greenland, the tune quickly turning into a bouncy, keyboard-led chase theme with very proggy keys and galloping drums, some nice descending chord structures meshing with some choral vocals, then a faster, Genesisesque passage sliding into more Yes-style keys and some hard guitar from Threshold's Karl Groom bouncing off the edges. “Shadows of Fate”, which follows next, is a breezy, laidback piece on piano whose narration recalls Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds, until Groom and Arjen Lucassen's guitars punch in, laying down an ominous, dangerous theme as Magnum's Bob Catley, as Sir Henry Baskerville, looks out the windows of the train and considers the plight of Seldon, the convict whom they have been told is loose on the moors. A marching, dramatic beat propels this song, Lucassen in particular putting in a great performance on the guitar, as you would of course expect. A nice relaxed synth and choral vocal passage provides some relief a little more than halfway through, then the guitars crank up again and Lucassen rips off a fine solo as Groom backs him.

A walking organ melody opens “At Home In the Mire” as Holmes and Watson meet Stapleton, the naturalist, voiced by Paul Allison, who tells them about his favourite place, the moors, and the mire where one misstep can result in disaster. The music moves into a fast, keyboard melody until what is generally the “Baskervilles theme”, the progression that opened the album and formed the backbone of the “Overture” returns, then the fast keyswork resumes, with guitar again from Karl Groom. The “Baskerville theme” is now incorporated and built into the main melody, and follows it as it runs along, carrying the song, with trumpeting keys from Nolan until Powell returns to advise that a long low moan has echoed across the moor - the Hound!
[video=youtube;usAo_OsryUY]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=usAo_OsryUY[/video]
Interestingly, Nolan and Wakeman seem to have chosen not to assign actual voices to the two main characters, this possibly being because the Sherlock Holmes stories are all written from the journal of Dr. Watson, and though Holmes speaks it is usually in the voice of Watson, so seeing Robert Powell as the narrator, and therefore essentially Watson, there is no real need to hear Holmes's actual voice. “Run For Your Life” is in fact the first ballad on the album, sung by Tracy Hitchings as Beryl, whom Stapleton introduces as his sister, and who warns Sir Henry Baskerville to return to London at once. The song actually swings between soft ballad and more uptempo racer, and I must say Hitchings certainly sounds like Kate Bush to me! Groom's guitar reinforces the sense of desperation and urgency in Beryl's request, really more a demand, then a plea, as she tries to convince the heir to the Baskerville estate to leave this place.

Sir Henry, of course, is completely bewitched by the woman's beauty, leading to the first real ballad, as he sings “Picture of a Lady”. Catley does his usual fine job, backed by Nolan on the piano, with more lovely flute from Ewa Alberling, some soft arpeggios on the keys from Wakeman and choral vocals, a little acoustic guitar, but it's Jo Greenland's mournful violin - perhaps mirroring the use of the great detective's instrument of choice when he wanted to think a problem through - that opens “The Argument”, with three vocals, the first from Allison as Stapleton arguing with his “sister” Beryl, then Hitchings as the lady in question, and joined by Catley as Sir Henry. Great orchestral keyboards form the framework of the piece, with deep, rolling drums and heavy organ carrying it along, growing in intensity as the argument gets more heated. The vocal harmonies on this are quite excellent, each character crossing over the next, each vocalist complementing the other.

Powell's narration, missing for the last two tracks, comes back to fill in the story as the short track “Second Light” tells of the butler at Baskerville Hall looking out into the night as if trying to see something on the moor, and in fact answered by a light which echoes back from the dark wilderness. It's a short keyboard piece, but carried on the sumptuous tones of Powell as he advances the plot, and introduces Seldon, the criminal who has been said to have been loose on the moors. Some whining guitar from Karl Groom adds to the tension of the piece, then church organ and measured booming drums bring in “Seldon”, introducing Ian Moon Gould as the eponymous convict, the song racking up in tempo, carried on trundling drums and heavy keyboards with some sharp slices of guitar from Arjen Lucassen, a pretty cool solo from him that carries the first minute into the second, joined then by Groom as they mesh together to take the guitar passage into the third minute, Seldon growling out his defiance, his refusal to be captured and returned to prison.

Nice bit of acoustic guitar from Groom then, backed by low keys from Nolan until Wakeman comes in on the organ and rips off some serious arpeggios and solos, and as we move into “Death On the Moor”, Holmes is discovered to be in fact on the moor himself, watching without having told Watson that he was even there. A pomp-rock, uptempo keyboard melody carries this tune, as the two friends are reunited in curious circumstances, but there is little time for explanations, as a deadly cry cuts through the night air, and the pair rush to find someone lying dead on the ground. Checking his clothing, they deduce that it is their charge, Sir Henry Baskerville, obviously murdered by the dread Hound.

As the song reaches its climax though, they find that they are mistaken. This is not the heir to the Baskerville manor, but Seldon, the criminal, who had been given some of Sir Henry's old clothes by the butler. Relieved, they go to see Laura Lyons, in whose direction they have been pointed by the butler, grateful that he is not to be fired. This leads to the second ballad, “By Your Side”, another piano extravaganza with the part of Laura Lyons sung by Michelle Young. The mystery of Sir Charles Baskerville's death is beginning to become clearer, as this previously unknown mistress of the old lord is brought into view, and Powell as Watson narrates the plan to confront the Hound, now known to be controlled by Stapleton, the naturalist with a jealous and violent temper.

And so we move into “Waiting”, a breathy, moody synth piece which gives a final spotlight to Bob Catley as Sir Henry, then Groom's heavy guitar blasts in, kicking the sense of ominous dread and anticipation up several notches, Allison as Stapleton also coming in and Hitchings adding her voice as his sister, who has, if I remember correctly, turned out to be his wife. Guitar really drives the mood of this piece, as Groom and Lucassen set the scene with overlapping vocals creating a backdrop of tension and wariness as the hour draws closer when all will be revealed.

Resolution comes with “Chasing the Hound”, tribal drums and celtic rhythms with flute and whistle as the album, and the story, draws to a close, the sense of excitement and the adrenaline almost palpable as the Hound is slain, Stapleton escapes but is presumed dead as he has disappeared into the unforgiving mire, and Sir Henry takes his place as master of Baskerville Hall. Rumbling bass from John Jowitt helps draw the scene as Holmes and Watson confront the Hound, shooting it dead and return to Stapleton's house to find the naturalist gone.

With a final flurry on the keys from both Nolan and Wakeman, trundling drums and guitars going off all over the place, the album powers to its emphatic conclusion, bringing to an end one of the finest and best-constructed concept albums I have heard in quite a long while. Each vocalist does his or her job to perfection, both acting and singing, and when they join together in ensemble pieces they are just amazing. The musicians are unbeatable, painting the canvas upon which this masterpiece is painted, and Powell as the narrator binds everything together, keeping the listener up to date on what is happening in the story, for those who have not read the novel.

A fine job, a fine album, a fine cast and I look forward to future collaborations between Clive Nolan and Oliver Wakeman.

TRACK LISTING
Overture
The Curse of the Baskervilles
Three Broken Threads
Shadows of Fate
At Home In the Mire
Run For Your Life
Picture of a Lady
The Argument
Second Light
Seldon
Death On the Moor
By Your Side
Waiting
Chasing the Hound

 

Trollheart

Offline: Depressed
Senior Member
White_Ladder.jpg

White Ladder
--- David Gray --- 1998 (iht)

The first time I heard David Gray I thought “Jesus that guy sounds like Dylan!” And he does. But look deeper than the superficial soundalike and you'll find a thoughtful songwriter, a really good singer and a man who really cares about his music. Although this is by far his best known and most successful album, it's his fourth, and he's had five since. A friend of Dave Matthews (he of the band) it was he who released David's album on his own label in the US, leading to interest in it on the other side of the water, and the sudden fame and success for a man who had struggled to gain recognition for five years.

With every song written or co-written by Gray bar the closing cover version, he not only sings but plays guitar, piano, synth and organ. Although not initially a successful single, opener “Please Forgive Me” became one of his best known and popular songs, with its quietly rolling percussion and sparse piano opening, as bass joins in and then full strings on synth, but it's Gray's distinctive, very Dylan-like voice that carries the track, and which would become a regular sound on the radio during the latter half of the nineties. Near the end of the song, it all fades down to just the solitary piano supporting Gray's vocal, then the synth swells as the ticking drumbeat comes in, handclaps and then the bass, followed finally by the guitar as the song fades out on an instrumental ending.

A great start, and for a long time the only song I knew by Gray, but it's followed by another which was a bigger hit for him, “Babylon” carried on a jaunty guitar line and chigga-chigga-chigga (sorry, there's just no other way to describe them) drums, almost nonchalant bass humming away. It's almost electric folk/rock, laid back but with a quiet energy all its own and a really nice signature guitar line running through it. The acoustic “My Oh My” is the first of three tracks (apart from the cover) on which he collaborates with his drummer, Craig McClune, and it's another nice little relaxing song, not totally acoustic in fairness: started off that way but then synth and organ joined in, and there's a really nice vibe going on it now.

Gray's songs all seem to be based in that most simple, and most complex of themes, human relationships, and “We're Not Right” is another example of this, with a downbeat vocal and a real CSNY feel, with what sound like female backing vocals, though I can't find any credit for them. This is another co-writing venture, this time including producer Iestyn Polson as well, but “Nightblindness” is one of Gray's own, a dour, fragile acoustic dirge with some lovely introspective guitar, and some whistling organ from McClune, then the mood lightens just slightly with “Silver Lining”, tinged with blues and gospel flashes, and some aching violin, before the title track again reunites Gray with Polson and McClune, for the last time. It's a more uptempo song, driven on a discrete little bassline and percussion that sounds like hands clapping, but I must say for the title track it's pretty weak, and not up to the standard of some that have gone before, and more that are to come.
[video=youtube;VsDMjet0fyo]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VsDMjet0fyo&amp;list=PLQGX2r3T1iMtsewsns3UkHMy 43FU3hgxB[/video]
Seems Gray flourishes best when he writes alone, as “This Year's Love”, another big hit single, is the album's single ballad, sung in an almost angry, sullen way against a backdrop of soulful piano joined by some beautiful mellotron from Tim Bradshaw. This song, if no other, demonstrates Gray's talent for crafting an almost perfect song out of the simplest ideas, and it hits you right in the heart. Another classic by him is “Sail Away”, the last song on the album written by him, with a jaunty, upbeat acoustic sound and a message of escape from the pressures in life. Some lovely strings on synthesiser from Craig McClune add to the majesty of the piece, and it would have been a great closer, but for some odd reason Gray chose to end with a cover version of Soft Cell's “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye”.

That would be bad enough on its own, but the version he includes here is over nine minutes long. I'm not sure that's a good idea for someone who was trying to push his own music, but then, the album sold over seven million units despite this, so I guess people weren't that bothered. Still, I would much rather have had one of his own originals instead. It's a decent version of the song, but I never liked the original, so that doesn't really say all that much.

But as a way of introducing David Gray to the world stage, White Ladder certainly does its job. Hard to believe the guy had to finance this album himself, and that if it hadn't been for his mate Dave Matthews it might never have seen the light of release. I haven't heard any of his material since this, apart from one or two tracks from A New Day at Midnight, which I thought were okay, but they didn't push me to buy the new album at the time. Nevertheless, if he never sold another album, this cemented his reputation for all time in music, and you'll go a long way to find anyone who hasn't heard at least one or two tracks off this album. Not bad, for a struggling singer/songwriter who had no idea of the influence his music would have on the world.

TRACK LISTING

Please Forgive Ne
Babylon
My Oh My
We're Not Right
Nightblindness
White Ladder
This Year's Love
Sail Away
Say Hello, Wave Goodbye

 
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