Themes From Great Cities

It might have come to your attention that I'm not a regular poster of love and understanding, which you will just have to get used to. I will however, have bursts of creativity where I move completely randomly from post to post with no rhyme or reason.

Some of the rips are my own, but many more are from other blogs on the interweb and I’m just sharing the wealth.

Should you have any Questions, Comments, Ideas, Re-up Requests or just general straight forward Requests post them in the relevant comments boxes and I’ll get back to you.


Self Destruction Blues

Now you should have guessed that this was coming…
Hanoi Rocks resolutely break no bounds on the band's third studio effort, Self Destruction Blues, but then again, anyone expecting that was in the wrong place; those expecting obvious nods to the likes of Ziggy-era Bowie, Mott the Hoople, and the like, though, would be in heaven. Michael Monroe's confident singing, if nowhere near as wonderfully unhinged as the Scandinavian hard rock monsters of the '90s, does the job with the right amount of implied strut and sleaze; if anything, the bizarrely sweet backing vocals on many songs seem to undercut what he's trying to do. Andy McCoy and Nasty Suicide do their expected riff-and-roll, Sam Yaffa doesn't disgrace himself on bass, and the end result is entertaining (if not mind-blowing) fun. The genre exercise of the title track works better than some might have thought, with Monroe blowing on his harmonica in prime Chicago electric blues style and getting a reasonable wail going (the production on the track intentionally sounds old, to boot). The best moments, though, come from the unexpected moments; check the low-key verses on "Café Avenue," with Monroe quietly purring tales of decadence and surviving on the streets, or the giddy pop nuttiness of "Desperados," one of the least threatening, but still fun, rough-guy songs ever. "Kill City" finds drummer Gyp Casino (who was replaced by Razzle after recording and prior to the album's release) pulling off a bit of introductory percussion that might not be out of place on a Santana record. However, the of-the-time synth line on "Whispers in the Dark" should be taken out and shot.


Tell Us The Truth

The first wave of British punk was overrun with smart kids from upper-class backgrounds playacting at being working-class yobs. (The Clash did this first, and did it better than practically anyone.) But Sham 69 was different; every bit as thick-headed and provincial as the band sounded, Sham 69 took a perversely populist pride in its lack of musical or intellectual sophistication. If there's a point where British punk began to evolve from smart, edgy bands like the Sex Pistols and the Adverts into beer-soaked Neanderthals such as the Exploited and the Anti-Nowhere League, Sham 69 marks the spot, and while its first album, Tell Us the Truth, is the band's strongest work, the album also shows that most of Sham 69's flaws were in plain sight from the start.
Side one of Tell Us the Truth was recorded live, and it's inarguably fascinating as an anthropological document, capturing the Cockney yob in his native environment, complete with football chants and a spontaneous chorus of "Knees Up, Mother Brown." Jimmy Pursey's communication with his audience is inarguably impressive, and some of the songs have a good head of straight-ahead energy (especially "Borstal Breakout"), but the sound is thin and the band seems to have a hard time getting into fifth gear. The studio side actually sounds more impressive; the performances are tighter, Dave Parsons' guitar benefits from a bit of double-tracking, and Pursey sings more than he hectors. But Pursey was already starting to sound a bit pompous, and time has not been the least bit kind to songs like "I'm a Man I'm a Boy" and "Hey Little Rich Boy," which for all their sincerity doesn’t say anything dozens of other bands haven't said better.
Tell Us the Truth sounds passionate, belligerent, and kinda dumb, but that's an improvement over Sham 69's later work, where the band sounds overblown, strident, and really, really dumb.


Ghost Dance

I've rebooted this post purely for the pleasure of re-engaging with one of my all time favourite 12" singles. I hope you can spare the time to enjoy as well.

Death Cult formed in April 1983 when Ian Astbury (formerly of Southern Death Cult) and Billy Duffy (formerly of Theatre of Hate) joined forces after meeting each other when Southern Death Cult supported Theatre of Hate on a number of dates during the latter's tour. By June 1983, the group had written 10 songs, four of which would be recorded for their debut EP. The first track, "Brothers Grimm", was originally written by Duffy and UK Decay vocalist Steve "Abbo" Abbott after both musicians had left their respective bands (and prior to Duffy joining Astbury to form Death Cult). Two of the songs delved into Astbury's respect and fascination with the Native American cultures previously explored during his tenure with Southern Death Cult. "Ghost Dance" was inspired by the Ghost Dance religious movement as well as the writings and teachings of spiritual leader Wovoka, whose name is mentioned in the lyrics ("Wovoka had a vision"...), while the lyrics to "Horse Nation" were taken nearly verbatim from the book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.
Astbury and Duffy's interest in the Vietnam War was also in evidence, both in the photograph that appeared on the picture sleeve, as well as the lyrical content of the final track, "Christians", which directly referenced the war and featured lyrics referring to the Chiêu Hồi program and the tiger stripe camouflage pattern worn by United States infantrymen. At the time, certain groups within the British post punk subculture developed a trendy fascination with the Vietnam War that spilled over into dress and music. 

The original Death Cult EP was released only in 12" format, solely in the United Kingdom, France and Japan. The photograph that appeared on the front sleeve was taken by renowned Vietnam War photographer Tim Page. The group's logo and the lettering on the EP picture sleeve were done by bassist Jaime Stewart. In 1988, the group's label, Beggars Banquet (via its subsidiary label Situation Two), issued a compact disc edition, marked "SPECIAL LOW PRICE CD FEATURING THE COMPLETE RECORDINGS", in the UK only. This CD collected the original Death Cult EP along with the single "Gods Zoo". The material was allegedly remastered, but no evidence exists to support this.
In 1996, Beggars Banquet remastered and reissued the 1988 eponymous Death Cult CD. This new collection was released in the UK and US simultaneously (marking the first time Death Cult material was available in the US). The CD collection featured new artwork and was given the title Ghost Dance.
In addition to the material from the 1988 Death Cult CD, the 1996 release appended a four-track David Jensen BBC Radio 1 session engineered by Dale Griffin. One of these BBC session tracks, "A Flower in the Desert", was a rewritten version of "Flowers in the Forest", originally written and recorded by Astbury's earlier group Southern Death Cult. This track had previously been released as the B-side to the 1984 "Spiritwalker" single by The Cult. "Too Young" was later rewritten as "Rider in the Snow", appearing as such on The Cult debut album, Dreamtime. "With Love" was originally titled "The Waste of Love", and only changed to "With Love" when it was recorded during the BBC radio session. The song was later rewritten and recorded during the "Go West (Crazy Spinning Circles)" recording sessions on 22 June 1984, under the working title of "Ship of Fools". The track was then re-titled "Sea and Sky" and released as the B-side of The Cult single "Go West (Crazy Spinning Circles)".


If Electric Six never contributed anything further to pop music besides "Danger! High Voltage" (one of the most immediate crazed singles in years) the band would still have the distinction of being one of the most unique-sounding one-hit wonders from 16 years ago. Fire doesn't necessarily offer proof that this won't be Electric Six's ultimate fate, but it does suggest that they have more tricks up their sleeve than might be expected. It's true that "Danger! High Voltage" is easily the best song on Fire, an addictive mix of stylishness and silliness that sounds like some kind of bizarre love triangle between the Rapture, Tenacious D, and Andrew W.K., but several songs work nearly as well. "Dance Commander’s” big arena rock choruses, zooming keyboards, and yelped falsettos recall their big hit without merely copying it; "Improper Dancing" is surprisingly funky, with its brittle guitars and slick disco feel providing the perfect setting for the band's macho flippancy. "Gay Bar" is more on the garage/punk side of their sound, confusing war and violence with sex and dancing, with loads of adolescent sexual innuendo (but is there any other kind?), as is "Getting into the Jam," which is almost certainly not about discovering a classic mod-punk band. The power ballad "I'm the Bomb" might be the second-best song on Fire, awash in gurgling synths and shiny guitars as singer Dick Valentine shamelessly delivers lines like "Who elected you judge and jury in the body of a beautiful girl?" The rest of the album has an appealingly throwaway quality, spanning the new wave sendups "Synthesizer" and "Electric Demons in Love" as well as the campy arena rock of "Fashion and Vengeance" and "She's White." Though they're not on par with the band's best moments, they do hold up much better than might be anticipated, and prove that Electric Six's modus operandi of inflating rock clichés to grotesque proportions, adding a dash of tongue-in-cheek pomposity, and then laughing at the results can generate more than just a great single. Granted, that single is still the reason to own Fire, but fans of that song probably won't feel burned by the rest of the album.


Journeys To Glory

For those of you who were in nappies when Spandau Ballet stepped out in kilts, their first two LPs provided some intriguing pointers. Well-worn narratives about the 80’s aside Spandau acted as an index of pop currency, for better and (much, much) worse. This made them initially weirder than we could ever have dreamed. Both mod-lineage club kids and stage school opportunists, Kemp's crew were a self-made boy band who dressed as sci-fi Cossacks and knocked out sharp club-and-chart classics before becoming Partridge fodder a year or two later. That magpie eye for the latest schmutter was also at work in their music; you can hear them playing dress-up with the sounds of The Associates, Magazine and Kid Creole, without grasping (or perhaps caring) what made those acts tick. Spandau Ballet would never capture the authentic sleaze at the heart of Soft Cell or Visage; their admirably outlandish wardrobes didn't say anything, while Boy George's did; where Simple Minds' pose and pretension had a heroic purity, theirs was too 'text-book' tentative. Even as narcissistic hedonists they were outstripped by the more explicitly shameless Duran Duran. But they did have a keen sense of what pushed the buttons in their native club culture (sound as sensation, image as flash-bulb glimpse of self-reinvention) and that hammy song writing principle stayed slave to the rhythm, at first. Haters who were dragged along to see them play had to admit they were great. In another era, they would have been Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich or East 17; it just so happened that, their first two years together being the right ones, they were briefly, deceptively brilliant.


Zen Arcade

A quick re-post as it is two years now since Grant Hart passed away. This is difficult for me to understand or imagine as I’m only a year away from the age Grant was when he passed and there is still so much to do…

Grant Hart, drummer and singer of the seminal alternative rock band Hüsker Dü, has died at 56 after being diagnosed with cancer. The news was confirmed by his bandmate Bob Mould in a lengthy Facebook post. 
"The tragic news of Grant's passing was not unexpected to me," Mould wrote. "My deepest condolences and thoughts go to Grant's family, friends, and fans around the world. Grant Hart was a gifted visual artist, a wonderful story teller, and a frighteningly talented musician. Everyone touched by his spirit will always remember." 
"We made amazing music together," Mould continued in his tribute to Hart. "We (almost) always agreed on how to present our collective work to the world. When we fought about the details, it was because we both cared. The band was our life. It was an amazing decade ... Godspeed, Grant. I miss you. Be with the angels."

In many ways, it's impossible to overestimate the impact of Hüsker Dü's Zen Arcade on the American rock underground in the '80s. It's the record that exploded the limits of hardcore and what it could achieve. Hüsker Dü broke all of the rules with Zen Arcade. First and foremost, it's a sprawling concept album, even if the concept isn't immediately clear or comprehensible. More important are the individual songs. Both Bob Mould and Grant Hart abandoned the strict "fast, hard, loud" rules of hardcore punk with their songs for Zen Arcade. Without turning down the volume, Hüsker Dü try everything -- pop songs, tape experiments, acoustic songs, pianos, noisy psychedelia. Hüsker Dü willed themselves to make such a sprawling record -- as the liner notes state, the album was recorded and mixed within 85 hours and consists almost entirely of first takes. That reckless, ridiculously single-minded approach does result in some weak moments -- the sound is thin and the instrumentals drag on a bit too long -- but it's also the key to the success of Zen Arcade. Hüsker Dü sound phenomenally strong and possessed, as if they could do anything. The sonic experimentation is bolstered by Mould and Hart's increased sense of song craft. Neither writer is afraid to let his pop influences show on Zen Arcade, which gives the songs -- from the unrestrained rage of "Something I Learned Today" and the bitter, acoustic "Never Talking to You Again" to the eerie "Pink Turns to Blue" and anthemic "Turn On the News" -- their weight. It's music that is informed by hardcore punk and indie rock ideals without being limited by them.


Relax Tribe (Don’t Do It)

Prohibition is good for business. When it was first released, in October 1983, Frankie Goes to Hollywood's debut single just about troubled the top 40. Enter irate Radio 1 DJ Mike Read who, objecting to its saucy artwork and lyrics refused to play the track during the chart rundown. The BBC then banned the song from radio and TV (the original video was all decadent nightclub scenes and allusions to "water sports"). “Relax” duly climbed to No 1, staying there for five weeks.
This Liverpool five-piece scored one of the most controversial Number 1s of all time, on their way to becoming only the second act to top the chart with their first three singles. Based in Liverpool, Frankie Goes to Hollywood formed in 1980. Comprising of ex-Big in Japan bassist, vocalist Holly Johnson, second vocalist Paul Rutherford, guitarist Nasher Nash, bassist Mark O'Toole, and drummer Peter Gill. Originally, the group was called Hollycaust, but they changed their name to Frankie Goes to Hollywood (taken from an old headline about Frank Sinatra's acting career) by the end of the year. When they appeared on the British television program The Tube with a rough version of the video for "Relax" the appearance attracted attention from several record labels as well as record producer Trevor Horn. Horn contacted the band and signed them to his label, ZTT. Frankie's first single, the Horn-produced "Relax"/"Ferry Cross the Mersey," was released in October 1983. A driving dance number, "Relax" featured sexually suggestive lyrics that would soon lead to great controversy.
Around the time of the release of "Relax," Frankie's promotional director, Paul Morley, a former music journalist, orchestrated a massive, intricate marketing campaign that soon paid off in spades. Morley designed T-shirts that read "Relax" and "Frankie Says...," which eventually appeared across the country. The group began playing up their stylish, campy homosexual imagery, especially in the first video for "Relax." The video was banned by British TV and a new version was shot. Similarly, Radio 1 banned the single and the rest of the BBC radio and television networks quickly banned the record as well. Consequently, "Relax" shot to number one in January of 1984 and soon sold over a million copies. Frankie's second single, the political "Two Tribes," was released in June of 1984. The single, which was also produced by Trevor Horn, entered the charts at number one; it went gold in seven days. "Two Tribes" stayed at number one for nine weeks and eventually sold over a million copies. While “Two Tribes” was on the top of the charts, "Relax" went back up the charts, peaking at number two.


A Dark Enchantment

Secession was a Scottish synthpop band that was active between 1983 and 1987. The original incarnation comprised Peter Thomson (guitar, keyboards, synthesizer and vocals), Jack Ross (guitar, synthesizer and vocals), Jim Ross (bass guitar) and Carole L. Branston (keyboards and vocals). The band used a small pre-programmed drum machine. After a session of leavers and joiners, the now trio of Thompson, Branston and new boy Alistair MacLeod were signed by Beggars Banquet. The trio recorded "Fire Island" in Edinburgh; it was later remixed by the production team associated with Freeez and John Rocca. Before its release, MacLeod left the band and was replaced by Charlie D. Kelly. The final incarnation of the band consisting of Thomson, Branston, Kelly with J.L. Seenan are associated with almost the entire Secession release catalogue. A Dark Enchantment was given only a limited UK release by indie label Siren, with the CD having the cake and eating it; bonus tracks. 

Let’s pretend that we are back in a world with no Wikipedia, no Internet at all. How do you find out information about the bands you love? Well one way was to look at the sleeve. Really, really look at it. After all that was pretty much all you had. Unfortunately this sleeve doesn't give anything away. The inner sleeve declares 'Songs About Love and Death'. The band mysteriously use initials instead of first names, although there are some band photos so you know that one of the band was female. We’d grown up with record sleeves that were so well designed that it sometimes you just knew that it didn't matter what the record was like. Think 23 Envelope, Peter Saville and Factory, think The Smiths on Rough Trade, or 4AD. However this is a record with so many ideas between the grooves that it can never settle on just one thing.  It wants to be a happy sparkly kind of record but at the same time it wants to be a dark brooding angry record. The inescapable comparison, which I thought the very first time I listened to it, is with New Order. But that is a good thing. Listen to Love Lies Bleeding and you'll hear a band that deserved to play for clubs full of spannered ravers. Love Lies Bleeding is them at their happy dancefloor friendly best. And then they follow it up with something like Sneakyville, apparently inspired by the Manson killings and sounding something like Depeche Mode all deep voices and brooding synth lines. The whole record is somewhat off-kilter. It flirts with so many styles, masters some and fails to get others right. The lyrics are, for the most part impenetrable. I can never seem to get on top of the music, or perhaps I mean under the skin of it. Just when you think you have Secession down, they slip out of your grasp and lead you on to somewhere else.


The Nephilim

Having built a considerable and passionate fanbase, the Nephilim approached their second album with confidence and a clutch of stunning new songs. The resulting, semi-self-titled release blows away the first by a mile (the art design alone, depicting an ancient, worn book with strange symbols, is a winner), being an elegantly produced and played monster of dark, powerful rock. Even if McCoy's cries and husked whispers don't appeal to all, once the listener gets past that to the music, the band simply goes off, incorporating their various influences (especially a good dollop of pre-Dark Side of the Moon Pink Floyd (think songs like "One of These Days")) to create a massive blast of a record. Buchanan again produces with a careful ear for maximum impact, whether it be the roaring rage of "Chord of Souls" or the minimal guitar and slight keyboard wash of "Celebrate"; McCoy's vocal on the latter is especially fine as a careful, calm brood that matches the music. Perhaps most surprising about the album is that it yielded an honest-to-goodness U.K. Top 40 hit with "Moonchild," which is very much in the vein of earlier songs like "Preacher Man" but with just enough of a catchier chorus and softer guitar part in the verse to make a wider mark. Though the first part of the album is quite fine, including such longtime fan favourites as "The Watchman" and "Phobia," after "Moonchild" the record simply doesn't let up, building to a fantastic three-song conclusion. "Celebrate" is followed by "Love Under Will," a windswept, gloomily romantic number with a lovely combination of the band's regular push and extra keyboards for effect. "Last Exit for the Lost" wraps everything up on an astonishing high; starting off softly with just bass, synths, one guitar, and McCoy, it then gently speeds up more and more, pumping up the volume and finally turning into a momentous, unstoppable tidal wave of electric energy.

Once Upon A Time In The West; Dawnrazor

Losing the saxophone player from earlier EPs and taking advantage of better budgets and studios, the Nephilim on their first full album established themselves as serious contenders in the Goth world. It certainly didn't hurt having signed to Beggars Banquet, home of such acts as Bauhaus and the Cult, though the more obvious source of the Nephilim's sound at this point was The Sisters of Mercy, various attempts to deny it aside. Like Eldritch's crew, the Nephilim five some weren't aiming just for the clad-in-black audience, but at being a great group in general; while that goal wasn't quite achieved on Dawnrazor, the band came very close. With sympathetic and evocative production throughout by Bill Buchanan, the album strongly showcases another chief element of the Nephilim's sound: Ennio Morricone. The at-the-time totally outrageous fusion of smoky, cinematic spaghetti western guitars with the doom-wracked ominous flavour of the music in general, not to mention McCoy's growled invocations of pagan ceremonies and mystic energy, provoked a lot of merriment from outside observers. The Nephilim stuck to their guns, though, and by wisely never cracking a smile on this album, they avoided the cheap ironic way out. Songs here which would become classics in the band's repertoire included the fiery "Preacher Man," which sounds like what would happen if Sergio Leone filmed a Stephen King story; the quick, dark gallop of "Power" (originally a separate single, then added to the album on later pressings); and the slow, powerful build of the title track, featuring McCoy practically calling the demons down on his head. For all of the undeniable musicianship and storming fury of the songs, sometimes things just get a little too goofy for words, as revealed in a classic, unintentionally hilarious lyric by McCoy from "Vet for the Insane": "The flowers in the kitchen...WEEP for you!."

A grating buzz-saw guitar riff echoes over the windswept landscape as five shadowy figures emerge out of the dust clouds and walk slowly but purposefully towards the camera. Their grimy duster coats flap in the wind as they arrange themselves in a line and coldly regard the young boy staring up at them from the corpse littered farm. Frank's icy blue eyes stare down at the child as he considers whether to blow him away.

You can do a lot worse than base your band's image on one of the most enduring portraits from movie history. Henry Fonda's famous villainous turn in Sergio Leone's masterpiece 'Once Upon A Time In The West' shocked audiences across the world on its release in 1968. Goth act Fields Of The Nephilim took note of the strong imagery and duly adopted the dusters and cowboy hats for their live shows. Replace the dust with copious amounts of dry ice and the guns for musical instruments and you have a fair idea of how the band announced their presence on stage from venue to venue. 'The Nephs' were indeed an electric live act during their peak. This album, their debut, attempted to capture their energy and vitality in a studio setting. Sadly, the overall package proved to be a rather diluted representation of their latent power.
Not content to merely base their image and stage show on the aforementioned film this album opens with a piece of music lifted straight from Ennio Morricone's soundtrack. 'Harmonica Man' sets the scene admirably with its haunting abrasive guitar and slow crescendo but unfortunately the anticipation engendered by this classic opening falls somewhat flat as the band launch into 'Slow Kill'. The song itself is a decent slice of mid-tempo Goth rock which proved to be a real belter in a live setting but the lacklustre production on here renders it murky and soft around the edges. Throughout the album the overdriven guitar sounds are far too indistinct and lost in the mix which sadly pulls the teeth from a lot of the performances. The classic 'Dust', with its memorable bass line and stomping rhythm, is similarly reduced to a leaden imitation of its stage cousin. Front-man Carl McCoy's voice cuts through the gloom on a number of the tracks but even the potential of his deep guttural rumble is largely wasted.
This isn't a bad album at all. The Nephs ear for a good pounding melody and the partly successful application of a suitably dark and atmospheric soundscape go some way to making this a convincing debut. Maybe the neutering of their ground shaking live sound was a conscious attempt to make things more palatable to the masses but in any case this was largely a missed opportunity.


Live At Folsom Prison

Folsom Prison looms large in Johnny Cash's legacy, providing the setting for perhaps his definitive song and the location for his definitive album, At Folsom Prison. The ideal blend of mythmaking and gritty reality, At Folsom Prison is the moment when Cash turned into the towering Man in Black, a haunted troubadour singing songs of crime, conflicted conscience, and jail. Surely, this dark outlaw stance wasn't a contrivance but it was an exaggeration, with Cash creating this image by tailoring his set list to his audience of prisoners, filling up the set with tales of murder and imprisonment; a bid for common ground with the convicts, but also a sly way to suggest that maybe Cash really did shoot a man in Reno just to watch him die. Given the cloud of death that hangs over the songs on At Folsom Prison, there's a temptation to think of it as a gothic, gloomy affair or perhaps a repository of rage, but what's striking about Cash's performance is that he never romanticizes either the crime or the criminals: if anything, he underplays the seriousness with his matter-of-fact ballad delivery or how he throws out wry jokes. Cash is relating to the prisoners and he's entertaining them too, singing "Cocaine Blues" like a bastard on the run, turning a death sentence into literal gallows humour on "25 Minutes to Go," playing "I Got Stripes" as if it were a badge of pride. Never before had his music seemed as vigorous as it does here, nor had he tied together his humour, gravity, and spirituality in one record. In every sense, it was a breakthrough, but more than that, At Folsom Prison is the quintessential Johnny Cash album, the place where his legend burns bright and eternal.


Storm Clouds

After the first album with the Invisible Girls, Pauline Murray released a 10” single “Searching For Heaven” and then the record label went bust. Having absconded from her home turf of Newcastle, Murray and her boyfriend Robert Blamire (Bass – Penetration) moved to Toxteth, Liverpool and the riots started a week later. Murray and Balmire started working on some demos that they could pedal around the slightly more receptive records labels, nothing came of them. Halfway through singing a song, Murray decided that was enough and she walked out of the studio. Murray didn't want to do this anymore; she couldn’t face the next phase of looking for a deal and turned her back on it all. Almost three years later the couple had moved back to Newcastle and went to see Chrysalis music publishers, who they had been signed with as songwriters during the Invisible Girls period. Murray committed to working on another set of songs and in that session worked on the Big Star track “Holocaust”. Released as a single in 1984 on their own record label, Polestar, it promptly disappeared without a trace. Feeling ever more confident writing, Murray and Balmire moved forward and managed to release some recordings under the monikers of Pauline Murray And The Saint or Pauline Murray And The Storm. This was the mid to late 80’s, no one was interested. Finally putting a band together to finish recording and release the Storm Clouds album in 1989. Now before you jump ahead and start franticly clicking the download link be warned, this is a pop album. Albeit it is a Pauline Murray pop album and that in itself should count for something, believe me, it doesn’t. This is a hard to find album because of its origins in the world of small indie labels, so for the mad daft collectors out there, click away!


Empty Sea

Although now based out of Berlin, it was arguably Los Angeles that shaped the sound of Laura Carbone’s second record, Empty Sea. Not only was the album recorded in California, much of it was also written there. The album title Empty Sea comes from the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, “The True Bride” in which a kidnapped princess must empty a lake with a spoon full of holes. Carbone's latest spotlights the acclaimed singer's knack for creating dark, emotionally charged music that is at times reminiscent of Mazzy Star at its most ethereal but which packs an emotional punch that is all its own. "Grace" marches and charges in all the right ways, rising to an emotional climax that a lesser artist would have allowed to become a wash of noise. Carbone instead leaves strong definition between her voices and the wall of distorted guitars and crashing bass. The impact is immeasurable, potent. Elsewhere on the record there's a danger that lurks: post-punk never sounded as charged or bold as "Cellophane Skin", Goth never as disturbing as "Nightride" and noise never as noisy as "Crisis". Comparisons to My Bloody Valentine, Sonic Youth and Patti Smith seem inevitable but each seems incapable of fully capturing the urgency and originality of what Carbone offers on Empty Sea, a highly expressive and deeply moving listening experience that speaks to the frustrations of the now and of all time.


Time To Select

Kim Wilde's second album didn't score any hits on the level of the debut's "Kids in America," although the dramatic "Cambodia" was a sort of cult favourite in some circles. That said, it's a far better album than the patchy debut; the songs, again by her brother Rikki Wilde with occasional collaborations by father Marty Wilde, don't have the bubble-gum tinge that coloured much of 1981's Kim Wilde. The arrangements are more synth-oriented, at times approaching the dark atmospherics of Japan or Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. The occasionally melodramatic lyrics cover topics like police brutality and paranoia (unsurprisingly, new insights aren't much in evidence) and even the love songs, like the delicate "View from a Bridge," aren't exactly happy. The overall vibe of this album is so chilly that the one basically upbeat song, "Can You Come Over," sounds really out of place, but overall, it works. Wilde sings with a clinical detachment here that suits her voice quite well; whenever Wilde tries to emote musically, the results sound forced and melodramatic, but her icy edge on this album is surprisingly appealing.



1988's Isn't Anything was good enough to inspire an entire scene of My Bloody Valentine sound-alikes, but Loveless' greatness proved that the band was inimitable. After two painstaking years in the studio and nearly bankrupting their label Creation in the process, the group emerged with their masterpiece, which fulfilled all of the promise of their previous albums. If Isn't Anything was the Valentines' sonic blueprint, then Loveless saw those plans fleshed out, in the most literal sense: "Loomer," "What You Want," and "To Here Knows When’s” arrangements are so lush, they're practically tangible. With its voluptuous yet ethereal melodies and arrangements, Loveless intimates sensuality and sexuality instead of stating them explicitly; Kevin Shields and Bilinda Butcher's vocals meld perfectly with the trippy sonics around them, suggesting druggy sex or sexy drugs. From the commanding "Only Shallow" and "Come in Alone" to breathy reflections like "Sometimes" and "Blown a Wish," the album balances complexity and immediately memorable pop melodies with remarkable self-assurance, given its difficult creation. But Loveless doesn't just perfect the group's approach, it also hints at their continuing growth: "Soon" fuses the Valentines' roaring guitars with a dance-inspired beat, while the symphonic interlude "Touched" suggests an updated take on Fripp and Eno's pioneering guitar/electronics experiments. These glimpses into the band's evolution make Shields' difficulty in delivering a follow-up to Loveless even more frustrating, but completely understandable; the album's perfection sounded shoegazing's death-knell and raised expectations for the next My Bloody Valentine album to unreasonably high levels. Though Shields' collaborations with Yo La Tengo, Primal Scream, J Mascis, and others were often rewarding, they were no match for Loveless. However, as My Bloody Valentine fans (and, apparently, Shields himself) will attest, nothing is.

Join The Dots B-Sides & Rarities 1978-2001

Wisely, the Cure decided to start fresh upon signing with their new label in 2004 by cleaning house, remastering the old albums, and bringing their fans Join the Dots: B-Sides & Rarities, 1978-2001. Not only is it the ultimate companion to the official releases, but it is, in a way, the new-super-deluxe-updated version of that cassette release of Staring at the Sea. Every B-side is included, in order, with cleaned-up sound, liner notes, and explanations by the man who made it all happen. All tracks, from "10.15 Saturday Night" (the B-side to the debut single "Killing an Arab") to covers of "Hello, I Love You," "Purple Haze," and "World in My Eyes," to entries from the Bloodflowers singles, are an indication that while the Cure made both strong albums and singles, they were not afraid to experiment along the way, and more importantly, they didn't let pride keep them from not making them available to those who were willing to look for them. Their growth as a band can be fully tracked in the songs here. The wild development on disc one (which includes the B-sides from the Staring at the Sea cassette, the B-sides from the Boys Don't Cry re-release from 1986, and the Japanese Whispers B-sides, as well as the extremely rare "Lament" [flexi-disc version]) is easily their strongest and most diverse era, with Smith growing artistically and musically in leaps and bounds from track to track. The rampant growth eventually gives way to the dark and heavy pop of the B-sides of Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Disintegration, and Mixed Up on disc two. While the songs are strong on this second disc, they manage to have less of the wild, experimental abandon that disc one has. The Cure began to find a real niche by this point and by disc three, the dream pop of the late '80s had developed into the stadium-sized gloom and doom that characterized 1992's Wish, their critical and commercial peak. Eventually the band's output would become more sporadic, and the level of consistency would be more of a trademark of the band than the experimentalism of old. Disc four, which covers the time from Wild Mood Swings to Bloodflowers, is the "weakest" of the collection, but there are still great moments to be found, with many remixes that give the original tracks a new interpretation. There are those who would argue that the band grew, and others would argue that it fell apart, yet there is no denying that the majority of work on Join the Dots is extraordinarily strong. It admittedly may be a bit too much for someone who isn't quite a big devotee of the band, but it's a veritable godsend for those who've been waiting for this for years. No jumbled, out-of-order track listings, no glaring omissions (it's safe to say that the reissues of the albums will take care of any extra tracks, mixes, and miscellanea lying around) -- it's exactly what a rarities/B-sides collection should be. Join the Dots: B-Sides & Rarities, 1978-2001 is proof that, while the band may falter from time to time (as most do) the Cure have, unlike most, really been paying attention to their fans' needs over the years.


Banshees; Live In London 1982

A quick recap; Siouxsie And The Banshees were awesome live during the early 80’s period with Steve Severin, Budgie and John McGeoch (plus the additional assistance of Robert Smith). The Hammersmith Odeon in west London has been the scene of many great gigs by hundreds of great bands over the years. This show from 28th December ‘82 was the first of two sold out nights for the Banshees in London on their ‘A Kiss In The Dreamhouse’ UK tour with Robert Smith filling in on guitar following the departure of John McGeoch earlier in the year. The atmosphere is electric as the band kicked off with Fireworks then taking their time to introduce the audience to their new tracks from the Dreamhouse album. Night Shift wakes the crowd up and launches them in a hedonistic race towards salvation with Slowdive, Painted Bird, Arabian Knights and Overground before the Banshees launch into Halloween and Voodoo Dolly to close the set. But it’s not over, the band come back out for all the people who chose not to go home for Christmas…


Long Live The New Flesh

Determined that an American breakthrough was now within their grasp, Flesh for Lulu gambled the farm on Long Live the New Flesh. In the short term it was a smart move and placed the band right on the verge of stardom, but in the long term it was, in retrospect, suicide. Fed up with the British press' sniping Stones' comparisons, the group severed their strongest roots, leaving their U.K. fanbois to wither away to nothingness. This drastic pruning was deemed necessary for the Lulu’s to take hold and flourish in the U.S. In an altered reality kind of way, New Flesh and its predecessor, Big Fun City, correspond virtually track for track, with the rockers frontloaded and the softer numbers mainly in the second half. But the title tells the whole story, and indeed launched very new Lulu’s upon the world. Gone were the masses of R&B riffs and punky rhythms that fired their last album; in came a new arena sound. The pop/rock melodies still remained, but were now fleshed out (so to speak) with synths, female backing vocalists, big rock guitar, and a Gary Glitter stomping beat. A quick comparison of "Siamese Twist" and Big Fun's "Vaguely Human" illustrates the point. The latter's a punk-fuelled R&B pop/rocker; the former's a punk-fuelled R&B pop/rocker laden with a thumping beat, searing lead guitar, and braying brass. Of course, the British found the new Lulu’s bloated to obesity, but this was what America wanted, and the band were happy to dish it up. Even the wonderful "Postcards From Paradise" (the "Baby Hurricane" of New Flesh), is as chubby as a cherub, beefed up by the repetitive, pounding bass drum, and blend of Big Fun’s previous boisterousness. The U.S., of course, loved it. But even while toning done their punkier sound and R&B riffs, at least the band remained diverse. Going down Big Fun's genre checklist, New Flesh also includes country & western hybrids, a bit of blues, a nod to U2 ("Sleeping Dogs"), and a closing experimental track. Oddly enough, the latter actually returns the Lulu’s to their own post-punk roots, albeit in an extremely twisted way. So what Big Fun City was for the Brits -- a classic pop/rock album in an indie mould – Long Live The New Flesh was for Americans -- a classic pop/rock album in an arena mould. Pick your poison, both records are excellent, although few but the most die-hard fans will find them both equally appealing.


Modern Apprentice

Setting out their noisy stall with 2002’s Chat And Business debut album, these London art-school punks sparked a refreshing sense of hope when all around seemed nu-sports-wangst metal obsessed. Here were four skinny awkward geeks, the new wave of no-wave, busting intense chops with angular post-punk riffing. It was anyone’s guess where they would go next, if they didn’t burn themselves out or implode. With this follow-up they appear to have lost some of the edgy bile of the first album and replaced it with a more accessible sonic landscape, yet still manages to seethe and surge with fire and vitriol. Since that debut there have been line-up changes within, as the ‘Colts now operate as a two girl/two boy line-up. Produced by Alex Newport (of At The Drive-In fame) their sound teeters on the verge of collapse, retaining a raw live buzz that is laden with hooks.

Tracy Bellaries, provides surging bass as a driving ‘lead’ instrument – much in the same way that Peter Hook’s bass playing rose above mere rhythm section backing. Lead vocalist Paul Resende shows a marked fondness of Mark E. Smith vocal stylings, Dominic Young drums like a man possessed by a spirit of the wired, clipped economy of New Order‘s Stephen Morris and through Claire Ingram’s Riot Grrl vocals and lead guitar duties, they have a ‘Kim’ (Deal or Gordon) indie chick goddess in waiting. They are quite a musical prospect. The ‘Colts come busting out the stable with opener Wanna Be That Way, the glorious bastard offspring of indie cool and (s)punked-up swagger set to the sounds of prime era Sonic Youth, or The Stooges electro-surging for uncertain modern times. Like the much-underrated Experimental Pop Band, these are the new cool kids of grind core deathrock, with a solid gold indie record collection. Not one of these twelve tunes outstays its welcome, and though they may not be chin-strokingly deep, they are fevered thrusts of urgent exclamation. There’s the sleazy electro disco of Modern Feeling complete with sneering Riot Grrl vocal back-up, the frantic blast of dumb shouty I’m With Stupid while Automatic blasts along on a killer Stoogeified stop-start head-banging riff. Veering away from the bloody-nosed guitar rifferamas they hit the spot in different ways, as on the experimental electro throb of ‘Motorway, to sound more than convincing. Even when the tempo drops as on How’s the World Gonna Take You Now they still brood along magnificently in a manner that suggests life beyond The Fall/Sonic Youth comparisons that they are lumbered with now. The only criticism to this undoubted blast-furnace classic, is that the homage to their obvious heroes can become a bit predictable, making it feel like a transitional album between the effluents of their influences and striding out fully-formed in their own definitive sound. All too often the downfall is Paul Resende’s Mark E. Smith yelping which can muddy a blazing tune with “hackneyed-uh, impropriety-uh” (as M.E. Smith wouldn’t say).


Exorcise This Wasteland

Single Gun Theory were an Australian electronic dance music band formed in 1986. Founding mainstay members were Jacqui Hunt on lead vocals; Kath Power on vocal melodies and synthesiser; and Peter Rivett-Carnac on guitar, synthesiser and sampling. They were brought to the attention of Nettwerk Records by fellow Aussie Tom Ellard of Severed Heads. Single Gun Theory shared Ellard's love of the found soundbyte, but musically, they were an entirely different story. Their synth-heavy sound is generally pleasant, more like Book of Love, but occasionally a Dissidenten-like Eastern twist was thrown in. Occasionally things get a bit intense, as on the title track, but mostly it's innocuous electro-pop music. It sounds a bit dated now, but it was certainly ahead of its time when it was released.