Friday, 15 January 2021

The Smiths ‎– Complete (Remastered) (2011)

 Style: Alternative Rock, Indie Rock
Format: Box Set
Label: Rhino Records, Warner Music UK

CD1: The Smiths

1-01.   Reel Around The Fountain
1-02.   You've Got Everything Now
1-03.   Miserable Lie
1-04.   Pretty Girls Make Graves
1-05.   The Hand That Rocks The Cradle
1-06.   This Charming Man
1-07.   Still Ill
1-08.   Hand In Glove
1-09.   What Difference Does It Make?
1-10.   I Don't Owe You Anything
1-11.   Suffer Little Children

CD2: Meat Is Murder

2-01.   The Headmaster Ritual
2-02.   Rusholme Ruffians
2-03.   I Want The One I Can't Have
2-04.   What She Said
2-05.   That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore
2-06.   Nowhere Fast
2-07.   Well I Wonder
2-08.   Barbarism Begins At Home
2-09.   Meat Is Murder

CD3: The Queen Is Dead

3-01.   The Queen Is Dead
3-02.   Frankly, Mr. Shankly
3-03.   I Know It's Over
3-04.   Never Had No One Ever
3-05.   Cemetry Gates
3-06.   Bigmouth Strikes Again
3-07.   The Boy With The Thorn In His Side
3-08.   Vicar In A Tutu
3-09.   There Is A Light That Never Goes Out
3-10.   Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others

CD4: Strangeways, Here We Come

4-01.   A Rush And A Push And The Land Is Ours
4-02.   I Started Something I Couldn't Finish
4-03.   Death Of A Disco Dancer
4-04.   Girlfriend In A Coma
4-05.   Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before
4-06.   Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me
4-07.   Unhappy Birthday
4-08.   Paint A Vulgar Picture
4-09.   Death At One's Elbow
4-10.   I Won't Share You

CD5: Rank

5-01.   The Queen Is Dead
5-02.   Panic
5-03.   Vicar In A Tutu
5-04.   Ask
5-05.   His Latest Flame / Rusholme Ruffians (Medley)
5-06.   The Boy With The Thorn In His Side
5-07.   Rubber Ring / What She Said
5-08.   Is It Really So Strange?
5-09.   Cemetry Gates
5-10.   London
5-11.   I Know It's Over
5-12.   The Draize Train
5-13.   Still Ill
5-14.   Bigmouth Strikes Again

CD6: Hatful Of Hollow

6-01.   William, It Was Really Nothing
6-02.   What Difference Does It Make?
6-03.   These Things Take Time
6-04.   This Charming Man
6-05.   How Soon Is Now?
6-06.   Handsome Devil
6-07.   Hand In Glove
6-08.   Still Ill
6-09.   Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now
6-10.   This Night Has Opened My Eyes
6-11.   You've Got Everything Now
6-12.   Accept Yourself
6-13.   Girl Afraid
6-14.   Back To The Old House
6-15.   Reel Around The Fountain
6-16.   Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want

CD7: The World Won't Listen

7-01.   Panic
7-02.   Ask
7-03.   London
7-04.   Bigmouth Strikes Again
7-05.   Shakespeare's Sister
7-06.   There Is A Light That Never Goes Out
7-07.   Shoplifters Of The World Unite
7-08.   The Boy With The Thorn In His Side
7-09.   Money Changes Everything
7-10.   Asleep
7-11.   Unloveable
7-12.   Half A Person
7-13.   Stretch Out And Wait
7-14.   That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore
7-15.   Oscillate Wildly
7-16.   You Just Haven't Earned It Yet, Baby
7-17.   Rubber Ring
7-18.   Golden Lights

CD8: Louder Than Bombs

8-01.   Is It Really So Strange?
8-02.   Sheila Take A Bow
8-03.   Shoplifters Of The World Unite
8-04.   Sweet And Tender Hooligan
8-05.   Half A Person
8-06.   London
8-07.   Panic
8-08.   Girl Afraid
8-09.   Shakespeare's Sister
8-10.   William, It Was Really Nothing
8-11.   You Just Haven't Earned It Yet, Baby
8-12.   Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now
8-13.   Ask
8-14.   Golden Lights
8-15.   Oscillate Wildly
8-16.   These Things Take Time
8-17.   Rubber Ring
8-18.   Back To The Old House
8-19.   Hand In Glove
8-20.   Stretch Out And Wait
8-21.   Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want
8-22.   This Night Has Opened My Eyes
8-23.   Unloveable
8-24.   Asleep

Project Manager – Gary Lancaster

There have been better bands than the Smiths, but there has never been a more perfect band, in the sense of having a distinct, deliberate, powerful aesthetic shaped by the tensions of collaboration, combined with the ability to articulate that aesthetic. This box of newly remastered editions of their albums-- four studio records, three compilations of the singles and one-offs that were their greater strength, one live obligation-- would cement their reputation for brilliance and perversity, if it needed cementing.

From the Smiths' first single, "Hand in Glove", in the spring of 1983, to their breakup barely four years later, everything about them seemed like a considered and ingenious decision: their name's undertones of both facelesness and creativity, the way each of their records began with a different sort of guitar tone, the tinted monochrome photos on their sleeves, their proudly ashamed fascination with their home town of Manchester, the three-song EPs they released every few months as bulletins of their evolution, their shoplifting excursions through the used-singles bins of British popular music. (One of the small pleasures of working backward through pop history from the Smiths is stumbling across Sandie Shaw's "Heaven Knows I'm Missing Him Now" or Reparata and the Delrons' "Shoes", for instance, and thinking ohhh, now I get it.)

The most obvious source of their genius was their singer, lyricist, and spokesman, Morrissey, a career eccentric who idolized Oscar Wilde and took a similar delight in pissing off anyone who had preconceived notions about masculinity. (Or, for that matter, men's singing voices, or what lyrics could and couldn't say, or whether or not it was a good idea to sing lines twice in a row if he was particularly proud of them.) His singing, then as now, was wildly affected and wildly virtuosic, bursting with growls and whoops and sly over-enunciations. And his lyrics and delivery were very, very deeply steeped in the history of gay culture, not least that in that they mimed something like being closeted: Morrissey's claims to celibacy, and early Smiths' lyrical revulsion about sex in general, are kind of hilarious in the light of, say, shirtless Joe Dallessandro appearing on the cover of their first album.

But the Smiths weren't Morrissey-plus-some-musicians, despite what he'd later try to suggest. They had a magnificent rhythm section in bassist Andy Rourke and drummer Mike Joyce, who were unflashy, tough, and supple. And they had guitarist and writer Johnny Marr, who was responsible for at least half of the Smiths' glory. It's hard to neatly describe what was so great about Marr, because he didn't have a particular gimmick or a signature sound; there are virtually no audible guitar solos on Smiths records. Instead, he worked up a different sound and technique for nearly every song in the band's discography--the breadth of his inventiveness is a good part of what's important about him.

It's safe to say that nobody else, before or since, has opened a significant rock album by hammering the bejesus out of the capoed, open-tuned chord that begins "The Headmaster Ritual"-- Marr has called his riff what Joni Mitchell "would have done had she been an MC5 fan." There also aren't a lot of new wave classics with guitar lines inspired by Ghanaian highlife (and a rhythm section that's basically just playing "You Can't Hurry Love"), but then there's "This Charming Man" to prove the rest of the world wrong. To have come up with the tone and riffs of "What Difference Does It Make?" or "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now" or "London" would be a coup for any guitarist; to have come up with all of them is astonishing.

Released in early 1984 after a couple of singles (and rapturous British press) had built up a buzz around the band, The Smiths is a terrific record, and also a slightly frustrating one: It's not quite the Smiths as we know them. (If they'd all perished in a terrible double-decker bus plunge immediately after its release, it'd certainly still be some kind of cult item, but we'd think of them as a much grimmer band, much more rooted in the smoky, post-punk worldview.) Starting a debut album with a slow, six-minute song that hints at working out memories of child abuse through painful sex ("Reel Around the Fountain") was a particularly audacious move, undercut by overdubbed lounge-act keyboards played by Paul Carrack (the guy who'd sung Squeeze's "Tempted"). Most of Morrissey's lyrics on The Smiths, in fact, allude to awful doings involving adults and children-- its closing track, "Suffer Little Children", is explicitly about the Moors murders.

Musically, they weren't entirely on track yet: Mike Joyce's drums have that big, early-MTV boom, Morrissey's showing off his voice's capabilities even when he doesn't have much of a melody to apply them to, and the bizarre punk rock speed-up of "Miserable Lie" doesn't particularly suit them. But their aesthetic was already wholly formed-- the album's murk, sexual frankness, and situational ambiguity were a reaction against the British pop landscape of its time. The Smiths were already a singles band, too, and the album goes from "quite good" to "remarkable" halfway through, when Marr breaks into the delicious opening riff of "This Charming Man" and Morrissey finally gets laid.

Released nine months after The Smiths, Hatful of Hollow, a thrown-together collection of radio sessions predating the studio album and tracks from singles, could've been a lesser companion piece to it. Instead, it's a masterpiece, a snapshot of a band moving too quickly to get a bead on. It's a much happier album than The Smiths-- the sequencing turns Hatful's miscellany into something like a narrative about pickups and breakups and relationships, and ending with the combination of "Reel Around the Fountain" and "Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want" pulls off the neat trick of casting both of them as hopeful songs. The BBC session tracks have an offhanded spark and swing unmatched in the Smiths' catalog; the recent singles Hatful collects have a sense of delight that made the band whole. ("Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now" may be the most lighthearted song ever written about suffocating despair.) How wonderful were they at that moment? Both "How Soon Is Now?" and "Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want" had just seen release for the first time as the B-sides to "William, It Was Really Nothing".

Meat Is Murder-- which followed Hatful by a mere three months-- is better recorded than The Smiths, although it's more a bunch of songs that didn't fit on singles than a coherent album. When it's good, it's great: "The Headmaster Ritual", especially, is full of chills-down-the-spine moments from Morrissey (the wordless, yodeling chorus that rhymes with "I want to go home/ I don't want to stay," the second verse's thrilling deviations from the first). "That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore" is a legitimately uncanny slow one that builds up to a bullseye triple-entendre-- "it was dark as I drove the point home"-- then recedes, surges back up, and fades away again. Still, Morrissey's often painfully out of tune on Meat's lesser songs, and a lot of tracks here stretch out at considerable length. That works remarkably well for "Barbarism Begins at Home", seven minutes of tense funk, but flops for the title track's tedious, eye-rollingly earnest animal-rights manifesto.

1986's The Queen Is Dead is the one studio album where the Smiths are operating at top capacity all the way through: they're aggressive, funny, rueful, tuneful, inventive, cryptic, tender, murderously furious at everything from Dear Old Blighty to their own miserablist selves, and let's underscore that "funny" again. Morrissey's refusing to take anything entirely seriously, particularly matters of life and death (you can practically hear him waggle his eyebrow as he tells Her Majesty "you should hear me play pi-anner")-- he's got his wrist taped to his forehead, but he's giggling about it. He's singing magnificently (those falsetto gasps in "The Boy with the Thorn in His Side" are unbeatable), Marr's redefining "guitar hero" to have absolutely nothing to do with machismo (he effectively invents reggaebilly on "Frankly, Mr. Shankly"), and the band's at ease with its capacity to speak for every sullen, curious, baffled teenager. Morrissey and Marr's production sounds remarkably undated, too-- the marvelous line in "Bigmouth Strikes Again" about Joan of Arc's Walkman is now an anachronism twice over, but otherwise the album could pass for a really great product of 2011.

Even after The Queen Is Dead, the Smiths kept cranking out those three-song EPs, so two competing anthologies of their creative overflow appeared in early 1987. The World Won't Listen came out in the U.K. five weeks before Louder Than Bombs appeared in the U.S. They've got 12 songs in common, some in slightly different versions; of the five other songs on World, three are reprised from The Queen Is Dead and one from Meat Is Murder, and the last is an instrumental. The World Won't Listen starts very strongly-- its first half is singles and might-as-well-have-been-singles-- and then dissolves into a mess of slow, maudlin songs, interrupted by the chirruping of "You Just Haven't Earned It Yet, Baby".

Louder Than Bombs augments the 12 core tracks with the not-yet-on-album-in-America songs from Hatful of Hollow, along with the material from the "Sheila Take a Bow" single. It's much better sequenced than World, arranged into four six-song suites on the original double LP: hard-headed rockers about being a socially maladjusted freak (plus "Half a Person", a soft-skinned lament about the same thing); warped pop songs about frustrated desire (plus "Panic", a rewrite of T. Rex's "Metal Guru" about the same thing); guitar showcases about being trapped inside one's own thoughts (plus "Ask", a singalong about how hot sex could free you, yes you, from that trap); and a progressively more relaxed series of meditations about how even hot sex may still not make you want to live.

The Smiths broke up a few months after they recorded 1987's Strangeways, Here We Come, so it's tempting to hear it as a premonition of the band's doom, as opposed to the album with "dead" in its title, the album with "murder" in its title, or the album about murdered children. Even more than that, though, it's the Smiths' album about desperately trying not to repeat themselves: Their final single couldn't have had a cleverer title than "Stop Me if You Think You've Heard This One Before". Morrissey's shifting into his now-familiar lyrical mode of deliberate self-parody ("Death at One's Elbow" is effectively a camped-up burlesque of "That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore"); Marr's doing his best to avoid the tingling Rickenbacker picking that was the closest thing he had to a default sound. That's generally a good idea here-- the autoharp he plays on the group's leavetaking, "I Won't Share You", is thrilling-- although the orchestral whomp on a few songs is overdoing it. And the fact that they're devoting so much energy to a song about being annoyed by the record business suggests that they might have been about to pass their sell-by date anyway.

To be fair, "Paint a Vulgar Picture" is both funny and painfully accurate about the fate of the Smiths' music after the Morrissey/Marr team split. Rank, released after Morrissey had launched his solo career, is useful as the Smiths' only full-on live album, and as a document of the brief era when Craig Gannon was their second guitarist (the Queen Is Dead tour, basically). It's also a contractually obligated piece of barrel-scraping, and the onstage Smiths were not what they'd once been-- they would play only six more complete gigs after the one recorded here. They're still pretty on-point, and it's fun to hear them swing through a verse of Elvis Presley's "(Marie's the Name) His Latest Flame" as an introduction to "Rusholme Ruffians", but it's uncharacteristically inessential.

And then there was nothing left to do but reissue! Repackage! Remaster! Complete follows the Best... sets, Singles, The Very Best of the Smiths, The Sound of the Smiths, and a few other cash-ins (even this set has an ultra-limited and exceedingly pricey deluxe version). The new mastering job, by Frank Arkwright working with Marr, actually is really good: loud but not bomb-level loud, clear, and airy. (Hatful of Hollow, in particular, is dramatically improved from its previous incarnations.) On the other hand, "Complete" is a profoundly inaccurate description of this set. Including both The World Won't Listen and Louder Than Bombs exceeds completeness; omitting the band's non-album tracks means the loss of some decent-to-terrific live B-sides, a bit of later-period filler, and the magnificent "Jeane". Well, they never claimed not to be perverse.
Douglas Wolk / Pitchfork

Tony Allen, Hugh Masekela ‎– Rejoice (2020)

Style: Afrobeat, Swing
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: World Circuit, BMG

1.   Robbers Thugs & Muggers (O'Galajani)
2.   Agbada Bougou
3.   Coconut Jam
4.   Never (Lagos Never Gonna Be The Same)
5.   Slow Bones
6.   Jabulani (Rejoice, Here Comes Tony)
7.   Obama Shuffle Strut Blues
8.   We've Landed

Bass – Mutale Chashi, Tom Herbert
Drums, Percussion – Tony Allen
Flugelhorn – Hugh Masekela
Keyboards – Elliot Galvin, Joe Armon-Jones 
Percussion – Lekan Babalola
Tenor Saxophone – Steve Williamson 
Vibraphone – Lewis Wright
Vocals – Hugh Masekela, Tony Allen 
Written-By – Hugh Masekela, Tony Allen
Producer – Hugh Masekela, Nick Gold, Tony Allen

Rejoice, the vibrant new album by Nigerian drummer Tony Allen and the late South African flugelhornist and trumpeter Hugh Masekela, has had a long road to its release. The sessions began in 2010 in London, but because of conflicting schedules, the two musicians never got around to resuming work on the project. The unfinished recordings remained in an archive until 2019, a year after Masekela's death. Then Allen and producer Nick Gold revisited the tapes and added the finishing touches Allen and Masekela had discussed—keyboard, percussion, and vocal overdubs. The final product is something Masekela no doubt would have approved, a spacious, uncluttered sound centered on drums, flugelhorn, and bass, with a saxophone on three tracks, understated keyboards, and chanted vocals by Masekela and Allen. The long-delayed release indeed is an occasion for rejoicing, while also for regret that the two master musicians only collaborated once, and never will again.

Tony Oladipo Allen, born in Lagos, Nigeria in 1940, made his reputation as the drummer in Fela Anikulapo Kuti's Africa 70 band. Allen had listened to a lot of American jazz and was particularly attracted to two drummers, Art Blakey and Max Roach. Allen noticed that few Nigerian drummers made much use of their high hats, the combination of two cymbals and a foot pedal mounted on a stand. Roach's innovative use of the high hat, as well as the dexterous way he used his hands and feet, made a vivid impression on Allen, as did Blakey's mastery of polyrhythms and what Roach called Blakey's "maintaining independence with all four limbs." Drawing on the influences of drummers, Allen developed a fluid, kinetic style that only became more powerful after he left Fela in 1980. (The title of his 2002 album, Eager Hands and Restless Feet, references the four-limbed approach he developed from listening to his heroes Blakey and Roach.)

Hugh Masekela was born in 1939 in Witbank, a South African township near Johannesburg that was a coal mining settlement. (The exploitation of black miners inspired one of his best-known compositions, "Stimela" [Coal Train].) Seeing the 1950 Kirk Douglas film Young Man with a Horn when he was 13 made him want to play trumpet; while still in his teens he joined the bebop ensemble the Jazz Epistles and, with them, recorded the first jazz album by a South African band. In 1960, however, he left South Africa after the apartheid regime massacred black protestors in the Sharpeville township. (Masekela spent the next 30 years in exile, returning to South Africa after the white supremacist government fell.) While living in New York City in the '60s, he studied at the Manhattan School of Music during the day. He spent his evenings in jazz venues, where he got to hear some of the music's leading and most innovative exponents: Miles, Coltrane, Monk, Mingus, and Tony Allen's hero, Max Roach.

His 1960s albums, The Americanization of Ooga Booga and The Emancipation of Hugh Masekela, introduced listeners to his township jazz style and his political militancy—the latter featured a cover photo of Masekela dressed like Abraham Lincoln and had songs about the Vietnam war and South African migrant miners. He scored a number one pop hit in 1968 with the infectious instrumental, "Grazin' in the Grass" and performed that year at the Monterey Pop Festival. Over the next decades, he would continue to work in various pop contexts, including R&B, funk, rock, and disco. He sometimes watered down his playing to fit those formats, but he never cut his ties to jazz. On his 1972 double-album Home Is Where the Music Is, regarded as one of his best, Masekela left pop behind to present a new sound that fused South African melodies and rhythms and the soulful, exploratory African American jazz of the era.

In 1973, Masekela spent a month in Nigeria, where he met and hung out with Fela; a decade later he had a hit with the Fela's song, "Lady". At that time, he and Allen first discussed collaborating, while they also were trying to raise money for Allen's former boss, who was imprisoned in Lagos by the Nigerian military government he had excoriated in song and his public statements.

The critic Ron Wynn has described Masekela's playing as a "charismatic blend of striking upper-register lines, half-valve effects, and repetitive figures and phrases, with some note bending, slurs, and tonal colors." When Masekela sang, his rough, semi-shouted vocals contrasted appealingly with his horn, whether he was playing flugelhorn, trumpet, or cornet.

On Rejoice, Masekela's flugelhorn melodies dovetail with Allen's energetic, flowing rhythms. Although the finished recordings include contributions from younger musicians—keyboardist Joe Armon-Jones, vibist Lewis Wright, bassists Mutale Chashi and Tom Herbert, and saxophonist Steve Williamson—the heart of the record is the chemistry between Allen and Masekela. It is a beautiful thing to hear. The recording process began with Allen laying down patterns on drums, and then Masekela created melodies from what Allen recorded. The other musicians' parts were added to the foundation Allen and Masekela built. Their playing is tasteful and unobtrusive—Williamson's comping and soloing on "Agbada Bougou" and "Slow Bones"; Wright's vibes on "Jabulani"; Amon-Jones' keys on "Slow Bones". But Rejoice probably would've worked just as well as an album of duets. And with drums and horn upfront in the mix, it often sounds like one.

Allen and Masekela pay homage to their friend Fela on one of the album's best tracks, "Never", an Afrobeat-jazz hybrid with Masekela singing mournful lyrics in a style reminiscent of the late Nigerian— "Lagos never going to be the same without Fela…Never!" Over the loping, relaxed groove of "Jabulani (Rejoice, Here Comes Tony)", Masekela chants a praise-song in Zulu for his colleague— "Be happy, here is Tony / Playing the drums / He is hitting them hard / He is cooking!" "Obama Shuffle Blues"—Masekela came up with this and all the other song titles—is a funky showcase for Allen's snare drum work and Masekela's punchy, blues-tinged horn, dancing with and around the beats.
Kudos to Nick Gold for the outstanding production on Rejoice. It's so crisp and full of presence that you, the listener, will feel like you're in the same room with the musicians, standing, more likely dancing (you won't want to sit while this is on) somewhere between Allen's kit and Masekela at the mic, blowing sweet and hot.

If you need something to get your socially isolated ass off the couch and up and shaking, Rejoice is the album. Even if you have to dance alone, some polyrhythmic pleasure during a pandemic is no little thing. With its deep grooves and virtuosic playing, the pairing of Allen and Masekela—overdue and sadly not to be repeated— Rejoice is a posthumous reminder of what Hugh Masekela at his best could deliver and of the now 80-year-old Allen's amazing vitality.
George Stefano / pop MATTERS