ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN

ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN The Fountain (Ocean Rain)

Some critics (including yours truly) believe that 1984’s Ocean Rain was the Bunnymen’s absolute peak in music-making. Well, some folks are saying that the Bunnymen’s latest album – The Fountain – is the Bunnymen’s finest recording since Ocean Rain. Hurm. I’m not so sure about that though. Whereas Ocean Rain was the high point of Bunnymen’s pioneering epic sound, The Fountain is a much more poppier affair.

Detractors have derided the recent Bunnymen albums as a pastiche of their own deifining post-punk epoch, going as far as to say that on these albums, the Bunnyment sound like a parody of themselves! Well, I guess that’s the risk you take when trying to equal such ground-breaking albums as Heaven Up Here, Porcupine and of course, Ocean Rain. But really, to be fair, can’t we just take these albums at face value without having to hold them up to Bunnymen’s 80s ghost?

I mean, if The Fountain had been released by a new British band, the music press – whilst noting the debt to the Bunnymen – would be falling over themselves proclaiming such band as the “next big thing”. So why the double standard?

Personally, I think The Fountain is as strong as its predecessor Siberia (2005) and in my humble opinion, most resembles the eponymous 1987 album, which is probably the Bunnymen’s hookiest effort to date. Tracks like the opening single Think I Need It Too, Do You Know Who I Am?, Life of A Thousand Crimsha and the title track will appeal greatly to the fans of the modern post-punk revival and their proponents e.g. The Verve, The Shins, Big Pink, Coldplay, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and so on.

Echo & the Bunnymen perform in Singapore at the Esplanade Theatre on Monday, 8th February 2010 at 8pm. Tickets available from SISTIC.

Official Site

Myspace

WEEZER

WEEZER Raditude (DGC/Interscope)

The law of diminishing returns has been applying to Weezer’s albums since the lukewarm response to Maladroit (2002). Raditude, the band’s seventh album entered the Billboard Album Charts at 7th and it as been downhill from there (its #106 now). My own assessment is that the band has been trying too hard to replicate the freshness of popular albums like the Blue and Green albums as well as Pinkerton. Basically, the band has downplayed the pop-savvy hits of the past and has replaced this with attempts to be hip and cool by incorporating hip hop and rap elements into their music.

Maybe this accounts for the sheer number of producers involved in the making of Raditude – Dr Luke, Jacknife Lee, Polow Da Don, Butch Walker and Rivers Cuomo himself. The result? A mish-mash of uneven songs that are largely devoid of melodic ideas, heavy on production techniques and low on creative spark.

That said, I do like the verve and energy of opening single (If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To, with its infectious beat and sing-a-long chorus. Pity the rest of Raditude never quite touches these heights.

Official Site

TIMBRE ROCK AND ROOTS

Timbre music presents a two-day evening festival to be held on 26th and 27th March 2010 at the Marina Promenade, with an emphasis on rock and roots music.

Bands and artists performing at Rock & Roots include the Gypsy Kings, Buddy Guy, Jooks Holland and the Fray.

Passes are priced at $88 (for 1-day) and $148 (for 2-day) for 1st 2,000 1-day passes and 200 2-day passes sold.  After that, passes revert to standard pricing i.e. $108 (for 1-day) and $178 (for 2-day).

Passes are available online now from www.bytes.sg.

More information –

www.rockandroots.com.sg

www.timbre.com.sg

BON JOVI

BON JOVI The Circle (Island)

Still going strong after more than two decades, Bon Jovi returns with its latest album – The Circle – which debuted at pole position on the Billboard Album Charts. Quite an achievement. So how do they do it? The music itself is still in many ways Springsteen-lite and you wouldn’t think would appeal to the kids of today, who are either into R&B Hip-Hop, Post-Punk revival or Inane Pop.

On The Circle, Bon Jovi shake up their New Jersey rock ‘n’ roll, with a subtle nods to fellow 80s contemporaries like U2 and Metallica, not to mention the (risible) hair metal of that era. So its big choruses, fist-pumping anthems, power ballads and other predictable stuff.

Really, this is for the casual Top 40 listener, which I know is the majority of music-loving folk out there. Also includes a DVD to offer an incentive to purchase for the chronic downloading generation. I guess you could say I’m on the fence on this – I don’t hate it but I wouldn’t recommend it either.

U2

U2 The Unforgettable Fire Deluxe Edition (Interscope)

1984. The year Orwell warned us all about, proved to be an excellent year for rock music.

Amazing albums like the debut Smiths album, Psychedelic Furs’ Mirror Moves, Born in the USA from the Boss, Madness’ Keep Moving, REM’s Reckoning, Ultravox’s Lament, The Pretenders’ Learning to Crawl, Ocean Rain by Echo & the Bunnymen, Bruce Cockburn’s Stealing Fire and of course, the Unforgettable Fire.

A year before, U2 broke big time with third album, War, which hit #1 in the UK and #12 in the USA. War was a strident anthemic rock album, easily identifiable for its huge drum sound, a signature motif of producer Steve Lillywhite. However, with the next album, U2 elected to change course somewhat and enlisted the aid of avant garde producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. The result – the experimentally accessible Unforgettable Fire.

I remember how shocked I was when I first put needle to the vinyl and out came A Sort of Homecoming with its unusual drum patterns and soundscapes, as Bono sung lustily on top. Magic! A memorable moment. The rest of The Unforgettable Fire sustains this edge as U2, Eno and Lanois pushed the envelope and more or less set the stage for the world conquest to come in the shape and form of The Joshua Tree, three years later.

25 years later, the remastering of this classic stands up pretty well, together with a 2nd disc of b-sides, live tracks and remixes and a 3rd disc (DVD) of videos and documentaries. Add to that a glossy book and prints and what you have is a Deluxe Edition that lives up to the name.

I would say that this is highly recommended but I can’t imagine anyone who is remotely interested in modern rock music who isn’t into U2 and wouldn’t already be interested in picking at least the single-disc version of the album. I guess this Deluxe Edition is for longtime fans like yours truly but its an acquisition that is certainly worth the expense.

Official Site

FLORENCE + THE MACHINE

FLORENCE + THE MACHINE Lungs (Universal)

Electro-alt-R&B. Something like that. Kinda like Yazoo, y’know the duo of Alf Moyet and Vince Clarke in the 80s, if anyone of you can remember that far back. Dynamic, muscular and forthright – Florence Welch and friends present “in-your-face” pop music that challenges perceptions both lyrically and musically.

Howl is a prime example as the song threatens to overwhelm with over the top strings and screaming vocals as Florence sings – “If you could only see the beast you’ve made of me/I held it in but now it seems you’ve set it running free/The saints can’t help me now, the ropes have been unbound/I hunt for you with bloody feet across the hallowed ground”.

The violent imagery is carried on into Kiss with a Fist, a rockabilly number where Florence recalls Chrissie (Pretenders) Hynde with lines like “A kick in the teeth is good for some/A kiss with a fist is better than none”. Good stuff.

The rest of Lungs is just as intriguing as Florence + the Machine brings diverse musical and lyrical ideas to the table with a firm foundation in 80s post-punk, which is perfectly fine in my book. An emerging artist to watch…

Florence + the Machine is performing live in Singapore (supported by the xx) on Sunday, 7th February 2009 at the Esplanade Theatre at 8pm. Tickets available at SISTIC.

Official Site

MySpace

DARYL HALL JOHN OATES

DARYL HALL JOHN OATES Do What You Want Be What You Are (RCA/Legacy)

If anyone deserves the deluxe retrospective multi-disc box set treatment, it’s got to be Daryl Hall and John Oates, don’t you think?

What makes Hall & Oates so special? How about being one of few acts to have been able to effectively blur the lines behind pop, rock and soul? And if you’re into numbers, how about SIX #1 hits on the Billboard charts and THIRTY-FOUR charting singles in the Billboard Top 100, all told? Not enough? Then what about SEVEN RIAA platinum albums and SIX RIAA gold albums?! Basically, the most successful pop duo in history.

For me, its all about the sheer eclecticism of the music and those amazing tunes, as always! And cool, cool vibes.

This 4CD set contains 74 tracks, all those hits, choice album cuts, live and unreleased recordings to round this up nicely. Although, Hall & Oates hit their purple patch in the 80s, they cut their teeth in the 70s, covering a wide range of genres. The 1st disc brings us up to 1977’s No Goodbye, the duo’s first compilation. Highlights include the epic ballad Waterwheel (off Whole Oats), She’s Gone (off Afternoon Luncheonette), Is It A Star? (off the Todd Rundgren-produced War Babies) and It’s Uncanny (off the aforementioned No Goodbyes). Not to mentioned early singles from pre-duo era in the 60s, which basically derived from a love of Philly Soul and the Temptations.

The 2nd and 3rd discs basically contain my personal Hall & Oates playlist as tracks from wondrous albums like the eponymous “Silver Album” (with the guys in full glam mode), X-Static, Voices, Private Eyes, H2O and Big Bam Boom turn out magnificient song after magnificient song. This is where I go misty-eyed, sing-a-long and simply groove to Sara Smile, Wait For Me, The Woman Comes and Goes, How Does It Feel To Be Back, Kiss on my List, You Make My Dreams, Everytime You Go Away, Head Above Water, Did It In A Minute, I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do), One On One, Go Solo, Say It Isn’t So, Out of Touch, Method of Modern Love and Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid. Whew! What an incredible rush!

The last disc loses steam somewhat and a little focus with the duo’s commercial success beginning to ebb at the end of the 80s. Still tracks like Everything Your Heart Desires and Change of Season are worthy additions to the canon. The set closes with two previously unreleased songs, a 2007 live version of the “title” track (a true statement of intent, if there ever was one) and a re-recording of Dreamer, a song Hall wrote in 1972. Both songs indicate the light has not dimmed despite advancing years.

What more can I say? Every PoP visitor must own this essential collection – yes, you deserve some Hall & Oates in your lives! Whether you’re a rock scholar or a casual listener, there’s enough of everything in the art & craft of Hall & Oates that you will become besotted with – I guarantee it! Enough of the hard sell, go and get it and to Daryl and John if you’re reading this, thanks for the wonderful music!

Official Site

METAL XMAS

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VARIOUS ARTISTS We Wish You A Metal XMas and a Headbanging New Year (Armoury)

Not quite sure about this one. Like, how do you do a metal version of Silent Night? How about speed metal style with growling, even? I mean, its got to be heard to be believed. Sure, we get some big names for the price of admission viz Alice Cooper, Lemmy, Dave Grohl, Tony Iommi but ultimately this CD is all about novelty value. It’s a good disc to put on at Christmas parties to amuse your guests but other than that…?

That said, I do like the kick ass Run Rudolph Run from Lemmy, Billy Gibbons and Dave Grohl, probably cos its rock ‘n’ roll and not remotely metal at all. Maybe we should do a S-ROCK Christmas album next year…

Caveat Emptor!

CLOSEAPART

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CLOSEAPART Hologram EP (Self-released)

I hate to say this about a S-ROCK band but whilst the five songs on this EP seems to possess a promising blend of cool vibes and structures, I’m afraid the songs themselves don’t quite pass muster. I just get the nagging feeling that the whole exercise is an just that – an exercise.

Sure, tracks like the power balladic The Ghost in You and the mid-tempo dynamic Medicine have the 90s Britpop veneer that propelled the likes of Oasis and Ocean Colour Scene to superstardom. Not to mention that the opening A Whisper in the Wire and the throbbing Red Eye, delivers enough faux U2-Radiohead-Coldplay impact to please most casual modern rock listeners.

In other words, it’s pretty well put together and should appeal to fans of the abovementioned bands. Still, I cannot escape the annoying feeling that there should be more. I don’t deny the hard work and craft that went into these songs but where’s the spark? I mean, its a little a bit too much by the numbers and dare I say, too derivative for my tastes.

That all said, there’s just about enough going on in Hologram EP to justify investigation especially if you want that modern alternative rock vibe ala The Killers and the like.

MySpace

WOLFMOTHER

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WOLFMOTHER Cosmic Egg (Universal)

“Rock n roll is here to stay/It will never die”

Okay, I’m gonna make this short and to the point. It’s hard to be less than impressed by Wolfmother’s new album (their sophomore effort) being as it is, nothing more than a fascimile of all the Led Zep and Sabbath albums they’v e been listening to. I mean its well and good to be influenced by your heroes but surely this is too derivative for comfort? And isn’t 10,000 Feet a piss-poor attempt at mimicking Kashmir? C’mon!

Are we so starved of “genuine” commercial hard rock now that critics welcome with open arms any half-baked, two-bit hard rock band? I mean, if this had come out in the 70s, Wolfmother would not have made a dent on a rock scene that included such dynamic bands as Deep Purple, Free, Budgie, KISS and of course Led Zeppellin and Black Sabbath.

But seriously folks, whilst Cosmic Egg isn’t a bad album per se – tracks like Far Away and Violence of the Sun do possess certain redeeming features – its just not “original” or “distinctive” enough in my book to merit any high praise.

OUR LADY PEACE

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OUR LADY PEACE Burn Burn (Coalition Entertainment)

Quickly, the truth: when was the last time Canadian alt-rock outfit, Our Lady Peace, made you pick up a CD? Unless you’re an avid follower (and discounting the two compilation albums in the meantime), the answer is likely to be four years ago in 2005, when they released their last studio album, Healthy In Paranoid Times. It’s pretty much an open secret that the recording process of that album wasn’t all too smooth. Under pressure from their label, Sony Music,  for radio-friendly singles, the band came close to breaking up several times during that process. No surprise, then, that OLP left the label soon afterwards.

Which makes Burn Burn, their latest release, the band’s first record ever since leaving Sony Music as well as their first self-produced record. So has the change of scenery done the band any good? That depends on who you ask. Early on in the recording process lead singer and producer Raine Maida hinted at a back to basics sort of record, which of course got their fans all excited for the sort of vivid rawness OLP hasn’t displayed since 2002’s Gravity. It’s a tad more complicated than that though.

The record opens on the ridiculously named, but rather good All You Did Was Save My Life. Having stopped trying to be Bono like he did on the last record, Maida’s earnestness comes through here to gel perfectly with the punchy guitar riffs and anthemic bounce of the rhythm section. It’s a rather promising lead-in that will remind you of Snow Patrol’s edgier work. After that, however, it all goes disappointingly downhill. Dreamland is a mid-tempo effort that sounds closer to Gravity than it does to Naveed, and features some enjoyable guitar textures in the chorus, but is held back by lazy melodies that never manage to break out of the obvious and into the memorable.

The record’s most obvious problem starts manifesting about three tracks in. For a record that was produced by the lead singer, it’s baffling then that the vocal track is almost lost in the mix of the raw, vintage-OLP sounding Monkey Brains. Maida only truly comes to the forefront during the acoustic break, which really should have been the entire track anyway. Perhaps a proper producer might have catalysed the song towards that direction? Never mind that. The End Is Where We Begin is markedly U2ish with its swelling organ intro and delayed guitar riffs, but suffers from a conspicuous lack of hooks. The record picks up on the drums-driven Refuge, which, oddly enough, reminds me of Electrico’s Love In New Wave. Unfortunately instead of building up to a big finish, the record dissipates into MOR blandness, with Signs of Life in particular sounding like a stripped down cleaner version of—beware, here’s the foul N-Word coming– Nickelback.

It’s a real pity that Burn Burn never really lives up to its promise, because this could have been OLP’s chance for a big comeback. After all, there’s never been a better time for their sprawling brand of arena rock than now. Unfortunately, the record’s production suffers from the lack of a proper producer.  Even more importantly, without an outsider to bounce ideas off and drive the band forward, Burn Burn just sounds like a lazily indulgent effort.  It tries to combine both the aggressive bang of vintage OLP with the radio-friendliness of Gravity, but instead, falls flat into a puddle of alt-rock clichés instead. Underwhelming.

(Samuel C Wee)

Official site

Myspace

DON FELDER

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HEAVEN AND HELL: MY LIFE IN THE EAGLES (1974-2001) by Don Felder with Wendy Holden (Wiley)

“Bands, those funny little plans that never work quite right” from Holes by Mercury Rev.

Behind the facade, the carefully prepared press releases and the guarded interviews is the truth. Or at least one man’s version of the truth. The Eagles’ Greatest Hits (1971-1975) is the best-selling album of all time. Growing up in the 70s, the Eagles were definitely one of the most popular bands around. In school concerts, you’d always hear some fledging band covering the Eagles, be it Best of My Love, Lyin’ Eyes or (of course) Hotel California.

As far as I was concerned, Don Henley and Glenn Frey were the Eagles, they were the lead singers and principal songwriters and basically fronted the band. The others were perceived as mere sidesmen and supporting players. But more often than not, there is more than meets the eye when it comes to tricky things like credit.

Guitarist Don Felder joined the Eagles in 1974, his first album being One of These Nights and was responsible for the music of Hotel California (the Eagles’ biggest hit, bar none). In 2001, Felder was sacked by the Eagles (i.e. Henley/Frey) and this book is an attempt to set the record straight as far as Felder is concerned. Felder sued Henley & Frey and the suit was ultimately settled out of court.

Considering the great pains Henley and Frey have taken to conceal the behind-the-scenes conflicts of the Eagles, this book must have been a nightmare. Felder – whilst always acknowledging the musical talents of the pair – is unflinching when it comes to describing their personality flaws and the duo come off as control freaks, selfish and unsympathetic. Felder, to his credit, never attempts to hide his own shortcomings in the whole affair and is frank about his own problems as a husband and father.

Heaven and Hell is an easy enough read, its simple prose is sometimes burdened with melodrama but Felder and contributor Holden keeps the narrative basic, the focus being on what Felder was going through – in good times and bad. It’s instructional to note that indeed, Felder’s experience was indeed like heaven (when he was playing the music) and hell (when he had to deal with the band politics).

Bottom line for me was that it shows as usual that bands are made of human beings and when power, money and drugs come into the picture, there are bound to be interpersonal difficulties. Even so-called enlightened bands like U2, REM and Blur (whom share their songwriting and recording royalties equally) don’t always have a smooth ride and the inevitable conflicts would arise.

I found Heaven and Hell, immensely enjoyable – a candid and fairly intimate look into Felder’s life in the Eagles (as the cover promises). I would recommend it to all 70s rock fans and anyone who enjoys a solid rock bio.

SOUNDTRACK OF MY LIFE

Starting a new feature where I highlight some music that made an impression on my life. Music that soundtracked my existence, you might say.

In the 90s, alternative rock got a shot in the arm from the success of Nirvana, whose melodic crunch was labelled (crassly) as grunge. However, it would probably be more accurate to say that Nirvana were closer to being a powerpop band than a metal band with influences that included, amongst others, the Beatles and Neil Young.

Post-grunge, the alternative rock scene threw up many great like-minded great bands who were deft at combining catchy tunes with muscular guitar rock. Even as I revisit this heady music for a new project band, I am discovering how special that rock epoch truly was and I hope that this new feature will inspire you to check out these fine bands and their essential albums.

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TEENAGE FANCLUB Grand Prix (Creation, 1995)

No doubt in my mind that Grand Prix was the creative peak of the Fannies where their tremendous potential finally became reality. Melodies, harmonies, chiming & crunching guitars were the order of the day. Almost perfect. Highlights – Don’t Look Back (the opening guitar lines still gives me chills), Neil Jung (geddit? Possibly the one of the best Shakey tributes out there), Tears (thrilling blue-eyed soul) and Discolite (Gerard Love really has a way with tunes).

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DINOSAUR JR Where You Been (Sire, 1993)

Talk about tributes to Neil Young! With the hype surrounding “grunge” in the early 90s, how J Mascis and Dinosaur Jr remained fairly below the radar is beyond me. Where You Been was Dinosaur Jr’s 5th album and probably among their most commerically successful albums. Highlights – Start Choppin’ (when the guitar solo begins to soar halfway through – heaven!), What Else Is New? (probably the closest Dinosaur Jr gets to a pure pop song, with the fretwork kicking ass!), Not the Same (an epic ballad no less, where the spectre of Neil Young looms largest) and Out There (the anthemic opener).

Well, that’s just the first instalment.

…still there’s more…

THE MARS VOLTA

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THE MARS VOLTA Octahedron (Mercury)

It’s no mean feat to be a progressive rock band in the modern rock scene and still be hip and cool but that’s exactly what The Mars Volta have managed to achieve. Combining classic prog influences, jazz fusion and Latin music inflections into a popular confection that has won favour with fans and critics, the band even have a Grammy award to their name.

After four critically acclaimed albums, The Mars Volta have released Octahedron – their latest LP – which the band have described as an “acoustic” album. Get your jaw off the ground, The Mars Volta’s concept of “acoustic” does not accord with conventional wisdom and thank goodness for that.

What it does mean is that Octahedron is slightly more straightforward rock than The Mars Volta followers may be used to. Thus, whilst certain amount of experimentalism may have put on the back burner (and time signatures remain fairly constant), Octahedron still commands your attention for its bold and muscular songwriting, inventive arrangements and lively performances.

Top that off with memorable tunes (!) in tracks like Since We Been Wrong, Halo of Nembutals and Cotopaxi, Octahedron will appeal to all rock fans (of any era). Especially when there are numerous nods to the acid rock of the 60s – certainly the spirit of Hendrix and the power of Cream – and its various revivals/incarnations in the decades since in this truly striking album.

Official site

Myspace

TRASHED ON FICTION

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TRASHED ON FICTION Words Trails Maps (ESCHE)

Trashed on Fiction sound old. That’s not meant as a derogatory description of any sorts, more a matter of fact sort of thing. On their new record, Words Trails Maps, the four-piece Brooklyn outfit play roots rock in the grand tradition of Creedance Clearwater Revival, Them and Crazy Horse. This means lots of massive sounding guitar riffs, crashing drums that sound magnificently gleeful, and a studio ethic that takes the lo-fi aesthetic of the indie scene and turns it into a manifesto of intent to bring the listener back to the days when rock and roll was fresh and vibrant instead of the tricked-out cliché it is today. The aforementioned studio ethic is a double-edged sword of sorts: at certain moments it sounds energetic, live and infectiously immediate, while at others it sounds home-made and beat-up, as if it was recorded in a music store, a kitchen, the back of a van, and two bathrooms. Oh hey, waddya know, it was!

Moving on past the sound, though, the songs are surprisingly good. Without much studio trickery to lift up the songs, Trashed on Fiction have only the palette of rock and roll’s three primary colors (drums, bass and guitar) to paint from, and they don’t disappoint. The record opens with the aptly-named January, with a tom boom and guitar explosion leading into a rollicking riff that threatens to blow open the puny mp3 file holding it together. Matador, too, is reasonably good, with a punchy middle section that is enjoyable headbangable. All high octane stuff that still manages to infuse typical indie melody into the mix. So far, so good.  By the third track, though, the band’s lo-fi home made sound is getting rather grating, which is a pity because Safety Net is a lovely number with washes of rootsy melody exemplified in the song’s nostalgic refrain, “darling, did I love you?”

Fourth track, Killing Grounds, is a relatively quiet and down-tempo country-drenched number that gets particularly mesmerizing towards the end, where the crashing cymbals and lyrical guitars intertwine to shush a throbbing bass to sleep. Seventh track Beggar sees stabs of fuzzed out guitar punctuate the air menacingly before revving up into a melodic march highlighted by humming keyboards that slowly builds up to a beautiful climax. Beatification takes an unexpected detour into bossa nova, almost sounding like a looser and rootsier version of Radiohead before firing into more familiar territory with Unfit/Unzip, a number that brings to mind early Kings of Leon. The album closes with the noise-stretching, experimental and epic sounding number One A Side, a whirlwind of distortion and howling winds that quiets down after four minutes to reveal acoustic guitars and shuffled drums at the eye of the storm.

Gutsy and vibrant, Words Trails Maps is a record that will demand your attention almost as much as it rewards it. It’s a record that captures both the heat of the sex as well as the post-coital embrace afterwards, a record that is as lived-in as it sounds. Invest a few hours into repeated listenings; you won’t be disappointed.

(Samuel C Wee)

Check out Trashed on Fiction’s Myspace page.

PoP ESSENTIALS

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Pete Townshend had himself a little dilemma – how to follow the world’s first rock opera, the highly feted Tommy?

Tommy had turned The Who into one of the world’s most popular bands and Townshend was not willing to sit on past achievements. Out of that ambition came Lifehouse. What Lifehouse was supposed to be no one (not even Townshend, I’d wager) was exactly certain. Like Tommy it was a rock opera except that it was intended to be an interactive experience of some sort involving an album and a film, or something like that.

Like Brian Wilson’s Smile, the weight of expectation proved too much for Townshend and Lifehouse was shelved. However, unlike the Beach Boys, who had to settle for the vastly inferior Smiley Smile, what rose from the ashes of Lifehouse was an album that has proven to be one of the most enduring (and endearing) classic rock albums of all time.

On the cover of Who’s Next, the band appears to have pissed on the construct and artifice that was Lifehouse but in reality, from the jaws of near-disaster, the band pulled out a masterpiece. Made up of only nine songs, Who’s Next entrenched The Who’s reputation as the ultimate anthemic rock band as the album’s bookend tracks establish.

Both Baba O’Riley and Won’t Be Fooled Again open with a synthesized loop of notes before Townshend’s trademark power chords shear away at any arty pretence to reveal a beating rock heart. Not much to say about these iconic tracks – they have transcended the genre itself and listening to them will cause a stirring in the spirit to raise clenched fists into the sky.

But Who’s Next is more, of course. Bargain moves from tranquility to explosion and back, Love Ain’t For Keeping is a country-folk blues gem, My Wife is John Entwistle’s turn in the spotlight (with its brassy horns the obvious highlight), The Song is Over and Getting In Tune are entwined with concepts of the ultimate song/chord, being expressed in a slow rock approach that would be beaten to death in subsequent decades by inferior bands. Going Mobile is a breezy, folk-rock ditty that belies its sci-fi conceits whilst Behind Blue Eyes is a heavy examination of the nature of the villain (who may just be Townshend himself), with one of the finest melodies ever written by Townshend.

The sound on Who’s Next is muscular and punchy with each member of the band more than pulling their own weight – Daltrey comes into his own with his vocal delivery while the wildest rhythm section of Entwistle and Keith Moon continue to defy the basic laws of time and space – to support the artistic genius of Townshend.

There’s no doubt that Who Next’s was the apex of the Who’s recorded output and with Quadrophenia on, it was a slow but steady decline. Decades later, music observers still debate over what might have been (if Lifehouse had not been shelved). For me these hypothetical exercises are just that, when we have the timeless music of Who’s Next to savour.

NEIL YOUNG

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NEIL YOUNG Fork in the Road (Reprise)

Not entirely sure what to make of this latest offering from the legendary singer-songwriter. Fork in the Road is apparently a concept album about Young’s attempts together with biodiesel pioneer Johnathan Goodwin to develop a commercially viable electric power system for automobiles.  The prototype Lincvolt vehicle, Young’s own 1959 Lincoln Continental, is now completely finished, and a documentary is planned about the car’s first cross-country gasoline-free road trip to Washington, DC. for automobiles.

All well and good but what kind of album does all this make for. Better than you’d think. Without even bothering with the lyrics and themes, Fork in the Road is filled with good old fashioned rock n roll Neil Young stlye. Which is fine by me. I love the music’s pure and primal quality – it sounds like Young and band in a rehearsal jamming away. And I mean that in the best possible way.

Young’s backing band features all the usual suspects – Ben Keith, Rick Rosas, Chad Cromwell and the missus, Pegi Young. And this provides the comfortable bedrock from which Young springboards his own musical journeys. To be honest, I find the lyrics a little forced at times although in songs like the lone acoustic number Light A Cradle – “Instead of cursing the darkness/Light a candle for where we’re goin'” – rather inspirational for these depressed times.

The rest of Fork in the Road is suitably ragged with songs that pay tribute to Goodwin (“Johnny Magic”), songs about aging (“The Road”), songs chronicling Young’s trip (“When Worlds Collide”) and the current economic crisis (“Cough Up the Bucks”). It ain’t perfect but it’s still Neil Young and if you’re a fan, then you’ll know what to expect. If you’re not a fan, I’ll suggest you check out his 70s albums first and then work your way slowly to Fork in the Road.

Check out Neil Young’s Myspace page and a video of The Road below.

Neil Young – Fork In The Road