Monday, 7 December 2020

XTC ‎– English Settlement (1982)

Style: New Wave, Pop Rock 
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Geffen Records, Virgin

A1.   Runaways
A2.   Ball And Chain
A3.   Senses Working Overtime
A4.   Jason And The Argonauts
B1.   No Thugs In Our House
B2.   Yacht Dance
B3.   All Of A Sudden (It's Too Late)
C1.   Melt The Guns
C2.   Leisure
C3.   It's Nearly Africa
C4.   Knuckle Down
D1.   Fly On The Wall
D2.   Down In The Cockpit
D3.   English Roundabout
D4.   Snowman

Producer – XTC
Producer, Engineer – Hugh Padgham

Andy Partridge says (in Chris Twomey’s Chalkhills and Children) that this album is “a big friendly giant of a record.”

I say it’s the embodiment of the Peter Brown album title, Things May Come, Things May Go, but the Art School Dance Goes on Forever. Peter Brown (of Cream lyrics, The Battered Ornaments, Piblokto!, and solo fame) cut that record for the Harvest label in 1970, when record covers suddenly became Ummagumma weird, music was full throttle all over the place and rock bands did whatever they so desired.

And I loved all that progressive rock stuff for the next few years.

But then Yes released Tormato with a tomato smashed against its cover and Jon Anderson lyrics that everyone, unfortunately, could understand. Sure, Don’t Kill the Whale. That’s a novel idea. ELP recorded Love Beach, which, in a parallel universe, an equally evil and ugly Medusa is a parallel universe prog head, who took one glance at the silly cover and turned to stone. Phil Collins and Genesis recorded ABACAB which had reduced their wonderfully clever “Supper’s Ready” to a song called “Another Record.” There were four differently colored covers, so true fans shelled out cash for the complete set. Clever commercial blokes. Oh my! And, I honestly felt ashamed to buy Jethro Tull’s Broadsword and the Beast” because Aqualung had been so hip, and this record was residue one-legged flute playing silly.

I loved the punk stuff: “God Save the Queen,” “Safe European Home,” The Jam’s “Down in the Tube Station at Midnight.” I saw Elvis Costello during his This Year’s Model tour with Mink Deville in support. The guy next to me wore a tie and danced all night in the aisle. It was a great concert.

But we prog guys were left, sadly, without an odd time signature and the Tarkus monster threat to call our own. Of course, Wire’s Pink Flag was a life preserver, as was The Cure’s Faith.

And then, like light from the first page of The Bible, there was this English imported double disc masterwork by an already well-loved XTC. This one, right from the first glance at the absolutely lovely textured cover with Celtic memories and Brit Uffington prehistoric beauty, was a passionate purchase. Odd: big record companies once cared about artistic stuff, rather than pushing product.

The songs come without rhyme or reason. But they are all great. A double barrel beginning blast from Colin Molding hits the bullseye. Both “Runaways” and “Ball and Chain” rock and pop with sophisticated studio weirdness.  And then “Senses Working Overtime” is Andy Partridge perfection. “Jason and the Argonauts” and “No Thugs in Our House” rock with a new sense of dimension. “Yacht Dance” is oddly acoustic. Then “All of a Sudden (It’s Too Late)” simply explodes in pop-rock slow dance vibration.

XTC are often compared to The Beatles. Well, Andy and Company don’t sound like The Fab Four, but they do, especially on this record, play rock, and in some sort of mystical way, elevate that backbeat pop street music into the realm of art. You know, there is no such thing as an original idea, but some artists are at least able to re-arrange the jigsaw pieces in a new configuration. The Beatles did that. XTC does that, too.

In all fairness, Skylarking may be a better record because it is confined to a single disc that traces the daily rise and fall of forty minutes of acoustic, rock, and sometimes psych conceptual unity. And “Dear God” was one hell of a song.

But this one, like The White Album, is just a wonderful collection of tunes. Of course, perhaps, like The Kinks’ album Misfits, this record is a unified concept (which Raymond Douglas was prone to write in the ’70s), simply due to the fact that all the songs are linked by their misfit indifference to any other song. Sir Ray Davies created a concept album about not having a concept. Perhaps, that irony is at play here. Ray Davies is brilliant, as is Andy Partridge.

And I’ve read that both are also rather difficult geezers with whom to make an album.

The second album delivers more idiosyncratic brilliance. “Melt the Guns” is both great and obvious. That’s a tough truce. “Leisure” and “It’s Nearly Africa” are acoustic tunes and equally profound. And just an idea: these songs were never meant for the concert stage. Talk about foreshadowing! “Knuckle Down” is just way too clever pop music. The same can be said of “Fly on the Wall.”

But in all fairness (again), “Down in the Cockpit” and “English Roundabout” may well over extend the double rock record welcome. But they are decent tunes. And I’m sure they are somebody’s favorite songs.

Finally, “Snowman” is apocalyptic. It’s a great rock song because it sings to the universe, yet it never escapes from the simple question: “What I want to know, man/Why oh why/Does she treat me like a snowman?” It collapses weird pop profundity into the compression of an equally weird teenaged heart.

That may well be the essence of rock ‘n’ roll.

So, sure, this is “a big friendly giant of a record.” Andy Partridge is an oddball genius. And Colin Moulding is not that far behind. This record rescued my lifeboat desire for progressive rock; and although it’s not exactly full-blown ELP, Genesis, and Yes prog, it is still definitive proof that, indeed, Things may come, things may go, but the art school dance (thankfully, and always) goes on forever.
Bill Golembeski  / Soundblab

John Foxx ‎– Metamatic (1980)

Style: Synth-pop, New Wave, Electro
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Metal Beat, Virgin

1-01.   Plaza
1-02.   He's A Liquid
1-03.   Underpass
1-04.   Metal Beat
1-05.   No-one Driving
1-06.   A New Kind Of Man
1-07.   Blurred Girl
1-08.   030
1-09.   Tidal Wave
1-10.   Touch And Go
2-01.   Film One
2-02.   This City
2-03.   To Be With You
2-04.   Cinemascope
2-05.   Burning Car
2-06.   Glimmer
2-07.   Mr No
2-08.   Young Love
2-09.   20th Century
2-10.   My Face
2-11.   Like A Miracle (Alternative Version)
2-12.   A New Kind Of Man (Alternative Version)
2-13.   He's A Liquid (Alternative Version)

Bass – Jake Durant
Remastered By – Dallas Simpson
Synthesizer – John Barker
Synthesizer, Drum Programming – John Foxx
Producer, Written-By – John Fox

The beginnings of John Foxx’ musical career are well-documented. A former member of the group Tiger Lily that would eventually morph into Ultravox (Ultravox!), John has been often cited as an influence on mainstream synth music for almost forty years. Clearly a major inspiration on the vocal style of Gary Numan and with obvious parallels made to Kraftwerk (which synth act doesn’t?), his debut album has been re-packaged at a three disc, forty-nine track compilation almost forty years after its original release in 1980.

Make no mistake, Metamatic sounds dated and very much so in places but, given the advancing technology in its genre it is hardly surprising. What it does show is a distinct ear for sound, experimenting and ultimately writing songs which had the ability to be commercial successes. European hitchhiking in his late teens clearly left its mark as several tracks referenced automobiles and transport – Underpass, No-One Driving and Burning Car – and cultural references from France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Yugoslavia combined in his attempt to create a parallel future.

At the time, Metamatic was astonishing. It fused the previously underground sound of electronic music from the likes of Cabaret Voltaire, pre-fame Human League and The Normal with chart potential via almost minimalist tracks which resulted from six-track recordings creating a sparse almost dystopian end product.

The album’s first single, Underpass is style commonly regarded as one of the most iconic of the synthesizer movement. Robotic vocals and memorable electro strapline it also contains a sound not dissimilar to one used by Ultravox on their 1981 hit All Stood Still, not the first time that each other’s music had been ‘plagiarised’ with He’s A Liquid and Touch And Go previously being performed by John at Ultravox shows and the latter being adapted for Mr X on the Vienna album.

Opening with Plaza, the track contains sweeping synth sounds and light percussive accompaniment (a characteristic of the album) making it simple but addictive at the same time. It creates an almost empty, echoing atmosphere filled with suspense and eerie proportion. Underpass is grandiose in the extreme, a gripping bassline and single-word chorus of anthemic status, the track appears on many compilations of the era as a benchmark track. For the teenagers of the early 80s it still holds special memories and significant importance in their musical upbringing.

Metal Beat holds an amount of irony as it feels anything but metallic, fluid in its feel it gurgles and reverbs with several interesting effects before giving way to No-One Driving, possibly the albums finest moment which is has a pure, classic sounding pop buzz. Its perfect pop formula fused with enough originality to make it an especially memorable moment. The album closes with Touch And Go, an almost punkeqsue affair maybe akin to Cabaret Voltaire or A Certain Ratio in some respects – a funky, electro track which allows for blips and beeps to make it a catchy finale.

The bonus discs, maybe for Foxx purists, contain several b-sides, edits and alternative versions as well as non-album single Burning Car, whilst disc 3 concentrates on unreleased instrumentals from the Metamatic period which were ‘lost’, named and compiled to sound intentionally or not, like a movie soundtrack. Some of it is crude but does hold a certain affectionate charm and interest to be able to stand by itself as a worthy Foxx collection.

In summary, Metamatic is a must for all electro connoisseurs. It stakes its claim as an early landmark in the genre and whilst it has since been overtaken in sound by continuing leaps in technology (of which Foxx is still at the forefront), it will remain a reference point for many a year to come.
Paul Scott-Bates / Louder Than War

EABS ‎– Discipline Of Sun Ra (2020)

Style: Free Jazz, Contemporary Jazz
Format: CD, Vinyl, FLAC
Label: Astigmatic Records

1.   Brainville
2.   Interstellar Low Ways
3.   The Lady With The Golden Stockings (The Golden Lady)
4.   Discipline 27
5.   Neo-Project #2
6.   Trying To Put The Blame On Me
7.   UFO

Trumpet – Jakub Kurek
Percussion, Effects – Spisek Jednego
Bass Guitar, Synthesizer – Paweł “Wuja HZG” Stachowiak
Drums, Percussion, Beats – Marcin “Cancer G” Rak
Grand Piano, Electric Pianoo], Synth – Marek “Latarnik” Pędziwiatr
Soprano Saxophone, Alto Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone – Olaf “Książę Saxonii” Węgier
Mixed By – EABS
Mixed By, Mastered By – Kwazar

Cult Polish jazz group EABS have produced this tribute to the great Sun Ra, reimagining seven of his compositions across this deeply spiritual and funky LP.

The creative process of the album revolved around two Sun Ra’s ideas - deconstruction and discipline. “He sent members of the Arkestra out to research individual players in Henderson group in the order to get the feeling right when playing their parts. Sun Ra told them they weren’t copying those pieces, they were re-creating them, and with the proper information they could know the spirit behind the original.”

That’s how Herman Sonny Blount treated the music of the swing legend, Fletcher Henderson. EABS approached the composition of Sun Ra in exactly the same way. An equally important element with recording was a regime associated with the discipline and precision that the pianist from Saturn fought for, using a series of exercises-compositions entitled ‘Discipline’ previously used by Arkestra.

Sun Ra was aiming to record timeless music that could still be alive in 1000 years, and with no hesitation, he managed to do it. The music from distant planets is infinite. “By infinity, Mr.Ra means creating jazz of the future, but also covering the past”

Tom Waits ‎– Heartattack And Vine (1980)

Style: Blues Rock
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Asylum Records, Elektra

A1.   Heartattack And Vine
A2.   In Shades
A3.   Saving All My Love For You
A4.   Downtown
A5.   Jersey Girl
B1.   'Til The Money Runs Out
B2.   On The Nickel
B3.   Mr. Siegal
B4.   Ruby's Arms

Organ – Ronnie Barron
Drums – "Big John" Thomassie
Tenor Saxophone, Baritone Saxophone – Plas Johnson
Bass – Greg Cohen, Larry Taylor, Jim Hughart
Piano – Ronnie Barron, Michael Lang
Electric Guitar – Roland Bautista
Keyboard Gloc, Chimes, Percussion – Victor Feldman
Twelve-String Guitar, Electric Guitar – Roland Bautista
Vocals, Piano, Electric Guitar, Written-By – Tom Waits
Producer, Engineer – Bones Howe

On Heartattack and Vine, the patron saint of America’s hobo hipsters returns to the sentimental ballad style he abandoned for jazzier, less song-oriented turf after The Heart of Saturday Night. Though Tom Waits’ new album sports its share of slinky blues vamps, it’s the tear-jerkers that really matter. Lyrically, “Jersey Girl” conjures up Bruce Springsteen’s world, then adds an arrangement that echoes the Drifters’ “Spanish Harlem.” But the tune’s eager romanticism becomes warped in the caldron of what’s left of Waits’ voice. In the six years since The Heart of Saturday Night, the artist’s vocals have deteriorated from gruff drawls into hoarse and sometimes ghastly gargles that make the very effort of drawing breath seem a life-and-death proposition.

“Saving All My Love for You,” “Ruby’s Arms” and “On the Nickel” boast the same morbid pathos as “Jersey Girl.” With their wistful folk-pop melodies and Fifties film-score orchestrations, they suggest the pop-song equivalents of hand-tinted antique post cards. Or at least that’s what the singer’s down-and-out delivery turns them into. Of course, Tom Waits’ derelict-poet-saint, gazing up from the gutter to find a rainbow, is an assumed character. Yet it’s only partly an act. For almost a decade, Waits has submerged his own personality and played this role so completely that he’s now a willing surrogate for all the low-life dreamers who don’t have his gift of gab.

But in a time when hipness is often equated with selfishness, Waits’ woozy, far-out optimism has never seemed fresher. While he can be faulted on many counts — the godawful condition of his voice, his perverse love for dime-store kitsch imagery — the purity of his intentions is never in question: Tom Waits finds more beauty in the gutter than most people would find in the Garden of Eden. If his lack of objectivity has kept him from developing into a major artist, Waits’ indivisibility from his self-created persona makes him a unique and lovable minor talent.
Stephen Holden / Rolling Stone