Category Archives: album

When Word Got Around About Cool Cymru

This week marks the 20th anniversary of the release of the Stereophonics debut album, Word Gets Around. I’ll skip the ‘I can’t believe it was so long ago!’ rhetoric and get right to why it was significant. 1997 was the peak of Cool Cymru, a spin-off from the Britpop-fuelled Cool Britannia movement, which deemed it a positive thing to be from Wales. This was new to me. Until then, for most people living in the valleys, our existence had been anything but cool. Frustrating, alienating and angst-ridden maybe, but never cool. Wales is a nice place to visit, but has been on an economic down-turn since Thatcher closed the coal mines in the 80s. Sadly, no money often equals no prospects, no hope, and no reason to believe that will change any time soon. Cue high crime rates, teenage pregnancies, and widespread alcohol and drug abuse.

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While Cool Britannia was typified by a new influx of guitar bands with suitably provocative one-word names (Blur, Oasis, Pulp, Suede, Elastica, Sleeper, Cast, Keane, Embrace, to name but, er, nine) Cool Cymru was always about more than music. Sure, it was spearheaded by the Stereophonics, The Manic Street Preachers, Catatonia and the Super Furry Animals, but it encapsulated so much more. Howard Marks was showing us that bad boys really can come good, in the sporting arena we had Joe Calzaghe, Ryan Giggs and Scott Gibbs, Ioan Gruffudd was on the Titanic, Twin Town was all the rage, and a national referendum voted ‘yes’ to devolution. The emphasis was very much on growth and change, the historic Cardiff Arms Park being demolished to make way for a plush new venue (the Millennium Stadium) symptomatic of this general shift in attitude. It was an exciting time, filled with optimism and grand expectations, and through it all was an overriding sense that anything was possible.

All this was manifested in the music, and Word Gets Around is a prime example. Not much time for naval-gazing on the Welsh music scene. We were too busy getting wasted and jumping around, high on the fact that if a bunch of beery blokes from a tiny village near Aberdare in the Cynon Valley called Cwmaman could make it, any of us could. The album kicks off with a quartet of fast-paced, fist-pumping, balls-out floor fillers laden with killer riffs and pop hooks. A Thousand Trees, Looks Like Chaplin, More Life in a Tramp’s Vest and Local Boy in the Photograph which, incidentally, were the band’s first four singles, breeze by in a combined total of about eleven minutes, before things are taken down a few notches for track (and single) five, Traffic. These songs are still regulars in the band’s live gigs today.

“Is anyone going anywhere?

Everyone’s got to be somewhere.”

The second half of the album, or side 2 if you are a vinyl worshipper, is where you’ll find all the deep cuts. Two of my all-time favourite ‘Phonics tracks, Same Size Feet and Too Many Sandwiches, reside there. Most of the songs on Word Gets Around are about small-town life, holding a magnifying glass against it and articulating the desire to escape that we all felt, or are based on actual events in and around Cwmaman. Weddings, funerals, suicides, sexual abuse, violent encounters and mundane acts like selling fruit in dying market stalls. Like most valley towns, Cwmaman is a place you don’t visit unless you have to, or you are very, very lost. The isolation can be both a blessing and a curse, and songs like Goldfish Bowl and Last of the Big Time Drinkers’ sum up this state of existence perfectly. Lyrically, the former is pretty self-explanatory, while the latter is about working a dead end job with your only release being a few pints in the local at the end of the week.

“I don’t live to work,

I work to live,

I live at the weekend.”

The album closes on the poignant ballad Billy Davey’s Daughter, about a young girl who drowns herself, which is another standard that has stood the test of time. It’s probably one of the strongest tracks on the record, and it wouldn’t have been a complete surprise to see it released as a single. But then again, five singles was enough. This isn’t Michael Jackson we’re talking about. While we’re on the topic, a few words must be said about the sheer quality of b-sides to be found on the singles that were released, most of which have been included on various re-issues. Carrot Cake & Wine is strong enough to grace virtually any album of the decade and Poppy Day isn’t far behind, while covers of The Last Resort (originally by The Eagles) and Who’ll Stop the Rain (Creedence Clearwater revival) not only pay homage to the ‘Phonics roots, but make decent additions to any collection.

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The year before, the ‘Phonics had been the first band to sign to Richard Branson’s new V2 label which meant they had some money and industry clout behind them, ensuring the album reached number six on the UK charts and eventually went triple platinum. Later albums may have sold more (2001’s Just Enough Education to Perform remains their biggest seller to date), but Word Gets Around is the one that got under people’s skin, and is still a firm fan favourite. It featured the original, stripped-down line up of Kelly Jones, Richard Jones and Stuart Cable, who were so polished through years of playing together in workingmen’s clubs that they were as tight as the proverbial nun’s arse. And just as dirty. This is the sound of a band on the cusp, energetic, wide-eyed and hungry, before their next album Performance & Cocktails launched them into the stratosphere, and listening to Word Gets Around now two decades later still evokes the same feelings of defiant celebration.

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69 with Alice Cooper?

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It was Alice Cooper’s (who’s real name is Vincent, by the way) birthday recently. Hilariously, he turned 69. I didn’t do a blog about it then because, well, I had more important stuff to do. Now, though, I have a small gap he can fill. Ahem. To me he’s always been a bit of a parody, something that’s reflected in his image and OTT stage theatrics. It also comes across in his lyrics and song titles, some of which are cheesy, some derivative, some pervy, some borderline disturbing, and some just plain funny, whether intentionally or not.

I didn’t want to do just another tribute. I wanted to do something different and fun, which maybe hasn’t been done before. So here it is…

Top 10 Most Ridiculous Alice Cooper Song Titles Ever!

(and where you can find them)

10: Muscle of Love (Muscle of Love, 1973)

9: Earwigs to Eternity (Pretties for You, 1969)

8: Every Woman has a Name (Dragontown, 2001)

7: I’m the Coolest (Alice Cooper Goes to Hell, 1976)

6: You Look Good in Rags (Special Forces, 1981)

5: Mr. and Misdemeanor (Easy Action, 1970

4: I’ll Bite Your Face Off (Welcome 2 My Nightmare, 2011)

3: Take it Like a Woman (Brutal Planet, 2000)

2: I Never Wrote Those Songs (Lace & Whiskey, 1977)

1: Thrill my Gorilla (Constrictor, 1986)

Most Ridiculous Alice Cooper Album Title:

Zipper Catches Skin (1982)

What I Learned whilst Writing this Post:

1: Alice Cooper’s career didn’t end after 1989’s Trash, but probably should have.

2: He and Steve Carrel might actually be the same person.

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2016 – The Greatest Year in Music for Three Decades?

No, this isn’t satire. This is some serious shit. Don’t mock. I know it’s a massive two-fisted claim, but when you think about it, 1986 was an outstanding year in music. Most of us just didn’t appreciate it at the time. Through no fault of their own, half the people who read this post probably weren’t even alive thirty years ago, which is a thought that absolutely terrifies me.

Slippery When Wet by Bon Jovi, License to Ill by the Beastie Boys, The Queen is Dead by the Smiths, Invisible Touch by Genesis, Graceland by Paul Simon, A Kind of Magic by Queen, Master of Puppets by Metallica, So by Peter Gabriel, Liverpool by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Classics, one and all. Thirty-year old classics. Well, except that last one. Apart from Rage Hard Frankie’s long awaited follow-up to Welcome to the Pleasuredome was utter crap. But it was memorable crap.

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You might not think it, but look beneath the surface and you’ll see that three decades on, 2016 has been another stellar year in music for people of a certain persuasion. Not only did Blink 182 return revitalised and reinvigorated, but there were new albums from Bouncing Souls, Biffy Clyro, BabyMetal, Bayside, Bowling For Soup, and even a few bands that didn’t begin with ‘B,’ like Taking Back Sunday, Feeder, Good Charlotte, Yellowcard, Against Me! A Day to Remember, and the kings of modern punk rock (yes, I said it), Green Day. Still to come we have releases from Jimmy Eat World and Sum 41. Even the Ataris, who haven’t put out anything new since 2007, came to the party. Granted, October in the Railroad Earth is an EP made up of studio outtakes, so it’s neither a proper album nor new, but I’m including it here because I want to, and it’s fucking awesome.

You could say 2016 has been something of a pop punk renaissance, a fact further underlined by imminent new offerings from Billy Tallent, Tonight Alive, Set it Off, and the Starting Line. I think this speaks volumes about the state of the world we live in right now. People are fucked off and miserable. We want the happy back. Break out the fart jokes and beer, all is forgiven! ADTR, Blink and All Time Low even toured the US together in what is probably the greatest live bill I’ve never seen. Thanks for that. A slightly more unsettling alternative is that pop punk now qualifies as retro, and is benefiting from that warm, fuzzy nostalgia buzz that people yearn for when they hit their late-thirties. It’ll be popping up in Classic Rock mag next.

I realise all this might not mean much to some of you. But to get to the point, pretty much ALL my favourite bands of the past fifteen years or so are releasing new albums at roughly the same time. And not only that, but most of them are good! This is a truly unprecedented event of near-cataclysmic significance well worthy of a blog post. Like an inter-planetary alignment over Stonehenge or something. Now, if someone could get Funeral for a Friend to reform and knock out a new album by the end of the year, we’ll be golden. Ta.


Blink 182 – California (review)

They’re back! The Blink 182 love-in is one of the most hotly anticipated reunion stories of the decade. When founder member Tom DeLonge left to go chasing spaceships or whatever, a lot of people, me included, thought it was all over. As if growing up wasn’t enough to deal with. But then in walked Matt Skiba to breathe new life into what had become a stagnating franchise. By all accounts, recording the last album, Neighbourhoods (2011), their first in eight years, was a fraught exercise. And it showed. The music was derivative, disjointed and, for the most part, bang average. If this was the sound of a band maturing, it was painful to ear. Then came Skiba, who had been fronting emo punks Alkaline Trio to great effect since 1998. Released worldwide on 1st July 2016, a full 21 years after their indie label debut, California gave Blink 182 their first US number one album in fifteen years, and their first UK number one album EVER. They also deserve some extra kudos for kicking Drake off the top spot.

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Predictably, after all this time the teen angst has morphed into mid-life angst, but angst is angst however you dress it up. Lyrically, Blink are just as witty as they ever were and now they can incorporate Gen Y frustration and general hopelessness into their music as well as the odd broken heart. Gone are the dick jokes and dog semen references (mostly), and in are the odes to misplaced youth and shattered dreams. This is never more evident than on opening track Cynical (clue’s in the title) which starts off in a pretty subdued manner before launching into a frantic sing-a-along reminiscent of the Take off Your Pants and Jacket days. Cynical bleeds effortlessly into lead single Bored to Death, which appears to be another depressing evaluation of adult life featuring the telling refrain, “It’s a long way back from seventeen, the whispers turn into a scream.”

She’s out of Her Mind, No Future and The Only thing that Matters are lightweight, up-tempo stand-outs while Los Angeles, Left Alone and San Diego wouldn’t sound out of place on either of the last two albums. Not that that’s a bad thing. Not entirely, anyway. The grown-up sensibilities fall completely by the wayside for Kings of the Weekend, Rabbit Hole, and in particular, Brohemian Rhapsody, a 30-second full-frontal assault built around the line, “There’s something about you I can’t quite put my finger in.” Snort.

In many ways this album is a homage to punk past. Most of the tracks will have you waxing lyrical about those heady days of the early noughties when Blink, Good Charlotte, and Fallout Boy ruled the world. But other aspects (No Future, for example, is a title lifted from God Save the Queen by the Sex Pistols) reach even further back in time. Listen carefully and you might recognise elements borrowed from the Misfits, the Ramones, NOFX, Bad Religion, Pennywise, MXPX and more. It has the hooks, humour and choruses of every classic Blink album, but here they delivered with a fresh twist. Matt Skiba shows he isn’t just hear to make up the numbers. His vocals compliment those of Mark Hoppus perfectly, his guitar work is solid if unspectacular, and he even had a hand in writing almost half the songs. California contains an impressive 16 tracks (17 if you include the bonus Hey, I’m Sorry) but with a total running time of under 43 minutes, the band have clearly steered back toward the three-minute formula that made them so popular, and away from the bloated stadium rock epics they were in danger of resorting to. All in all, this is a great album. I’m going to finish by nicking a line from Home is Such a Lonely Place which sums it all up pretty well:

“Tomorrow’s frightening. But not today.”

Check out my other recent album reviews: Foo Fighters – Saint Cecilia EP and BabyMetal – Metal Resistance 


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