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Feeder – Tallulah (review)

My introduction to Feeder came on 31st December 1999 at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, at an event headlined by the Manic Street Preachers. Coming at the height of both the Britpop and Cool Cymru movements, it was billed as Manic Millennium and at the time was the biggest indoor music event ever. It was also Y2K, the night the world was supposed to end. It didn’t. In fact, nothing happened. But we didn’t know that at the time, and the tension-edged excitement and we really did party like it was 1999. There were several other bands on the bill that night; Shack, Super Furry Animals, as well as a spoken-word slot from Nicky Wire’s poet brother Patrick Jones, but even though they played a severely truncated set, Feeder stole the show for me. The energy they emitted during Insomnia and the raw emotion of High were definite highlights. I was hooked. Most of the material came from then-current album Yesterday Went Too Soon, but they didn’t really make it big until a couple of years later when Buck Rogers became a massive hit and exposed them to a whole new fanbase. Then came the usual array of ups and downs experienced by most bands who stick around for twenty-plus years, before their current resurgence saw them claim their rightful spot near the top of the rock tree, and near the top of the charts.

So, here we are.

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Always prolific, Tallulah is Feeder’s tenth album proper, not including compilations, EPs and Arrow, the album of new material released as part of 2017’s ‘Best Of’ collection. Their longevity is impressive, despite never being on a major label and benefiting from the associated financial clout. First single Fear of Flying, written through the eyes of a female rock star waiting for the bubble to burst, could almost be autobiographical. As you might expect, Fear of Flying is one of the standout tracks on what is undoubtedly a very strong album. Elsewhere, the lyrics touch on such themes as living in the social media age, nostalgia, growing old and the constant pursuit of happiness. In interviews, songwriter, guitarist and frontman Grant Nicholas has said opener and second single Youth deals, in part, with mental health and the 2002 suicide of former drummer Jon Lee which reduced the trio to a duo, something he is still coming to terms with. These sentiments might seem slightly at odds with the jangly, upbeat tempo, but the weighty lyrics tell the story. Elsewhere, as with the title track, Kite, and especially Guillotine, things are a bit more introspective and subdued. Truth be told, Feeder are at their best when treading the middle ground, as they do on Blue Sky Blue (which was reputedly written for Liam Gallacher because let’s be honest, he needs the help) and the radio-friendly Shapes and Sounds. The weirdest and downright heaviest track (and, conversely, the longest) here is the crunching Kyoto, which sounds as if the band are trying to recapture their Swim/Polythene period.

Like most albums, there are a few tracks on Tallulah which pass by without saying or doing much, but to offset this there are several hidden gems. Rodeo calls to mind earlier single Idaho, and the utterly brilliant Windmills could grace any Feeder album. For the traditionalists, all the usual influences are there (Smashing Pumpkins, Pixies, Husker Du) and in that sense Feeder stay loyal to their roots and the spiky indie guitar sound that made them famous. However, some tracks are more Foo Fighters or Tom Petty, and there is very a progressive feel to many of the tracks. All in all, this is a great collection, and a definite contender for album of the year, even if it the title makes it sound like a homage to a Thai ladyboy.

Tallulah is available now, and is an absolute bargain at £5 for the digital download.

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The Dangerous Summer – Mother Nature (review)

It amazes me that The Dangerous Summer, named after the book by Ernest Hemingway, are still one of the current alt-rock scene’s best kept secrets. For those unfamiliar with the Maryland trio, a good approximation would be to take one part Jimmy Eat World, one part mid-era U2, one part Lifehouse and add a pinch of Maroon 5 or Savage Garden. The result is a sleek, tight unit producing tuneful, agreeable rock spearheaded by vocalist, songwriter and bassist AJ Perdomo, lone survivor from the original line-up. If it’s dense, multi-layered soundscapes with soaring melodies and wistful lyrics you’re after, look no further.

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Mother Nature, The Dangerous Summer’s sixth album if you include the 2011 acoustic re-working of their debut Reach for the Sun (and I definitely do) was released via Hopeless Records with little fanfare back on June 19th. It follows last year’s patchy self-titled album, their first release after a near-five year hiatus during which they surely must have thought about throwing in the towel. This band has experienced more tumultuous drama and difficulties than most.

The album opens with a moody spoken-word piece entitled, imaginatively enough, Prologue. I’m not adverse to these kinds of openings. They certainly help set the mood. But the timing is important. Anything over ninety seconds or so is pushing it. Luckily, Prologue just about fits the criteria and soon bursts into the first track proper, Blind Ambition, a fine mid-tempo anthem that sets the tone for the rest of the album. It’s quickly followed by Bring me Back to Life, another understated slow-burner, which gives way to Way Down, the first track of the album which could conceivably be granted ‘classic’ status. Perdomo’s raspy vocals have never sounded so fresh and emotive. The next two tracks, Virginia and the near-six minute Starting Over/Slow Down are decent filler but offer nothing new. However, after the mid-album mini-slump, the pace picks up for the single Where were you when the Sky opened Up and the pop-infused Is it Real. The rest of the album is a slightly uneven affair. While certainly not mere filler, Violent Red and the title track again tread some familiar territory, while Better Light is a mood piece that sounds more like an unfinished afterthought. This minor indiscretion is soon forgotten when closer Consequence of Living kicks in, which has to be one of the strongest tracks in the band’s repertoire.

While not as immediate as some of their peers or indeed, some of their own earlier material, on repeated listens, Mother Nature proves beyond reasonable doubt that The Dangerous Summer remain a band of enormous scope and power as well as limitless potential, bursting at the seams with the kind of visceral, raw emotion that is so sadly lacking in most contemporary music. Their power and intensity are both impressive and contagious. Perhaps an argument could be made for the band attempting to push the boat out a little more and getting a little more experimental on future releases but if that didn’t happen, I wouldn’t complain. If something isn’t broke, why try to fix it?

 


Boss Blogs #2: I’m 27 Years Burnin’ Down the Road

Anyone who knows me will tell you how much of a Springsteen fanatic I am. This is a guy who dragged his then-girlfriend all the way from south Wales to Philadelphia for a gig on the E Street Band reunion tour that ended up being cancelled because of a hurricane. Anyway, the first time I ever saw him live in concert was a few years before that, at Wembley Arena on July 10th 1992 – 27 years ago this week. By the way, I also have a weird fascination with the number 27, and I absolutely love it when things come together like this. Sometimes, life could almost be scripted.

I was eighteen at the time, and a friend and I decided to travel up to London by coach to catch one of the dates on the Boss’s four (or maybe it was five) night stand on the Human Touch/Lucky Town tour. You know the one, it was when he fired most of the E Street Band and hired a bunch of session musicians to play their parts. Bruce has always been a bit funny like that. He was and is very wary of people sticking labels on his music and is always trying new things, or at least trying old things new ways. After a brief spell in the very early seventies pretending to be the next Bob Dylan at the behest of his record company, he spent the next decade or so playing straight-up rock shows. Hundreds of them. Maybe even thousands. After the mammoth Born in the USA run, he was burned out. He decided he’d gone as far as he could in that direction and brought in a horn section for his next tour in support of tunnel of Love in 1988, which was full of bombast and theatrics. His next tour would be stripped down to solo acoustic (Ghost of Tom Joad, 1996/97), and in between those two extreme states of being we had… this.

A lot of people didn’t like the Human Touch/Lucky Town albums when they first came out. Personally, I loved them. I loved Human Touch, with its slick production and pure pop hooks slightly more than the more rootsy and raw Lucky Town. But weirdly, over time that situation has been reversed and it’s now the latter which is remembered with more fondness. With a couple of patchy albums to promote and no E Street Band, I suspected it was going to be a slightly surreal evening in London.

And so it proved.

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Not to take anything away from the band, who were about as polished and tight as you could hope for. The thing that struck me most was how charismatic the Boss was in the flesh. The moment he strutted onto the stage, greeted the crowd, and counted down into Better Days, he was captivating. For the first few songs I simply stood there with my mouth hanging open. I was in awe. The stripped down version of dancing in the Dark segueing into Darkness on the Edge of Town which appeared a couple of songs in still stands as one of my all-time greatest in-concert moments. All this was helped by the fact that without even trying, my friend and I had somehow managed to blag a couple of amazing seats. Centre stage, about half a dozen rows back with a completely unobstructed view. I would remember those seats over a decade later when my seat at the San Siro in Milan turned out to be on the wrong side of a massive concrete pillar.

The spell Springsteen was weaving was all ruined shortly after when he launched into an extended version of 57 Channels and Nothin’ On. I mean, the 2:57 album version is bad enough. He may have had good intentions when he wrote that song but man, it’s a stinker. It’s one of life’s great mysteries why some A&R clown at Columbia Records saw fit to release it as a single. In fact, I came to realize years later that Springsteen chose this particular night to play all my least-favourite songs. Right after 57 Channels came The River, which always struck me as a overlong and sombre (sacrilege, I know) and a bit later came Cover Me, possibly THE worst track on Born in the USA. Predictably, the set was littered with unremarkable deep cuts from the two new albums: Man’s Job, Roll of the Dice, With Every Wish, Leap of Faith, Local Hero, Real World. All these came at the expense of some bona fide classics that were dropped from the set-list. There was no Tenth Avenue Freeze Out, no Rosalita, not a single track from Nebraska, and not even a Badlands. He did, however, play Living Proof, in my opinion one of the most underrated songs in his extensive repertoire. Granted, it’s another one from Lucky Town, but not one he pulls out often. Certainly not often enough. Brilliant Disguise and Souls of the Departed also stood out. However, the absolute highlight for me was an epic version of Light of Day, complete with audience call and response. This was a track he’d given to Joan Jett for the movie of the same name five or six years earlier, and I didn’t even know he’d written it until that night. Jobbing session musos or not, by this point he had that band (along with every member of the 12,500-strong crowd) dangling on a piece of string.

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After that came the obligatory gut-busting, crowd-pleasing, booty-shaking, six-track, 40-minute extended encore starting with a breathless one-two of Glory Days and Bobby Jean and culminating in an electrified Born to Run (he’d performed it acoustically on the previous tour)and poignant show-closer My Beautiful Reward. In its entirety the show ran for over three hours, pretty standard for Springsteen. It was exhausting just watching him. The man himself was drenched in sweat, and I was so close I’m pretty sure some of it landed on me at one point. Or maybe my fading memory has embellished that little detail. It’s been 27 years, after all.

For full set list see here.

Boss Blogs #1: Meet me in the City Tonight.

 


Allister – 20 Years and Counting (review)

Allister are one of the great forgotten pop punk bands. They had all the tools – cool image, solid musicianship, a great attitude, killer tunes, witty lyrics, tattoos – yet somehow got lost in the shuffle. Don’t get me wrong, they achieved modest commercial success, especially with their Last Stop Suburbia album in 2002, and cemented their place in pop punk folklore long ago (lest we forget they were one of the first bands signed to legendary label Drive-Thru records, also home to Senses Fail, Something Corporate, Newfound Glory, Halifax and Finch, to name just a few) but the big time always eluded them. In most places, anyway. Allister, and in particular bassist and singer Scott Murphy who for a long time sustained a solo career (I think he still does), was absolutely huge in Japan. No doubt a talented individual, Murphy’s charisma and boundless enthusiasm is admirable. I met him at a gig in London a few years back, and he was awesome.

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This album comes through necessity more than anything. They haven’t released anything since 2012 and wanted to mark what is essentially their 25th anniversary as a band, and 20 years since the release of their debut album which, incidentally, was recorded on a purported production budget of $700 and featured a cover of the Fraggle Rock theme. Kudos. Someone somewhere suggested a ‘greatest hits’ style compilation, but that proved problematic as it turned out Allister didn’t actually own the recording licenses for any of the tracks on their first few releases but owned the rights to the songs themselves. Hence, the solution was to re-record, and in some cases, ‘re-imagine’ them, and pad the thing out with a few new tracks. The pick of these is probably the high-octane Peremptory Challenge, ran a close second by the slightly more restrained opener Stay with Me.

As for the re-recorded tracks, most have been updated only in the sense that they’ve lost a lot of that energetic immediacy so prevalent in pop punk circles. The guitars are choppier, the bass section slightly higher in the mix, and most tracks have been brought down an octave or two in an effort, you feel, to ingratiate them with a mainstream audience who are rapidly forgetting what drums and guitars sound like, let alone pop punk. Some, like Moper and Flypaper benefit from this treatment, but others like Scratch and A Study in Economics seem to lose a little something. Or maybe I’m just too attached to the original versions and resistant to change. Dunno. Regardless, even at 50% capacity Scratch is approximately 50% better than 90% of other songs.

One of the biggest missteps is a wholly unnecessary remake of the ska-infused Stuck Powered On from the 2012 album Life Behind Machines. In my humble opinion it was one of the band’s weakest tracks anyway, and the 2019 version adds nothing to the original. Meh. All things considered, 20 Years and Counting is a somewhat patchy affair, but has enough quality to carry it through. Beyond the new material seasoned fans are unlikely to be overly impressed, but if this release exposes Allister to a new generation, it will have done its job.

To promote the release the band have made a cool new video for Somewhere Down on Fullerton, which you can catch HERE.


Northshore – For What It’s Worth EP

Northshore are a new five-piece from North East England. One would imagine, somewhere on the coast. Their genre is difficult to pin down, but on this evidence generally leans toward melodic rock, a place where a traditional meaty twin-guitar and proper drum sound is tempered by some well-aimed pop sensibilities and held together with some classic hooks, big choruses and soaring vocals. Think Amber Pacific on steroids.

This is Northshore’s second EP, following 2017’s well-received Alternative Futures. Since that release they’ve been busy touring with everyone from Safeguard to Mallory Knox, which is what every self-respecting rock band should be doing, now more than ever. They are doing it the hard way, and for that alone they deserve all the plaudits they get. The accompanying press release says the entire EP was recorded in the singer’s flat, not that you’d realize as the whole thing is immaculately-produced and covered in a slick, professional sheen.

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Released on 15th February and available for pre-order now, For What It’s Worth is a strong 6-track affair kicking off with the sublime Be Heard, a catchy song with crushing riff and a deep social message about mental health. Dependence, which seems to me to be more about love than bad habits, chugs along nicely but unremarkably, until the midway point when a rhythm guitar and cymbal breakdown gives it a whole new dimension. That’s a hallmark of a band maturing, as are the lyrics which don’t simply focus on lightweight party anthems but tackle a range of real-world problems from depression to relationship break-ups and the struggle to find one’s identity in an ever-shifting climate. The second single from the EP, Shedding Skin, a duet with YouTube sensation Christina Rotondo, is a decent tune but just doesn’t work for me. It treads some familiar ground but the main problem is that all-too often, the guest vocalist performs in an almost identical range to regular singer Ben Vickers. The two voices aim to complement each other rather than contrast, which probably would have been both more conventional and effective. Track three, which is the title track, lead single, and centrepiece of the EP, keep up the pace (check out the accompanying video here), before everything slows down a tad for Summer. In the beginning, anyway. The EP’s longest track clocking in at 5.28 is held back for last. Conspiracy is a definite slow-burner, but on repeated listens proves to be one of the highlights. All in all, this is another step in the right direction from a young band making all the right noises.

If you’re looking to discover some new rock, you could do a lot worse than give Northshore a shot. They deserve it.

Thanks to Helen Marvell @ Haulix for the preview.

 


The Alarm – Equals (review)

I’ve been a fan of Welsh rockers the Alarm since I first discovered music in the eighties. Back then, their passion, integrity and sheer intensity spoke to me, and it still does. I’m happy to report that though the intervening thirty years or so have brought ups and downs, for me as well as the band, we are all still here. That’s something to raise a glass to. This might be the first official Alarm album of new material since 2010’s Direct Action. I say ‘might’ because it’s difficult to keep track as Mike Peters (sole survivor of the original incarnation of the Alarm and driving creative force) is one of the most prolific figures in rock. In the past few years there have been countless reissues, soundtracks, live albums and re-recordings of earlier material, as well as the recent Blood Red/Vinyl Black project, mostly put out through his own 21st Century Recordings label, all of which muddy the waters somewhat. You do get the feeling, however, that most of the aforementioned has been leading up to the release of Equals, which has more in common, both lyrically and thematically, with Direct Action than anything that has come between the two releases.

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When I started writing this review, I told myself that it should be more about the music than the man. God knows, there have been more than enough column inches written about Mike Peters’ (and latterly his wife Jules’) health issues. But it quickly became apparent that this was going to be easier said than done, as over the years the music and the struggle have become inexorably linked. Thriving in the face of adversity is a big component of the bigger picture, and in my opinion to not understand and acknowledge the back-story detracts slightly from the power of the music. To quote the Classic Rock review of Equals, “The fact that this album exists at all is a testament to the endurance of the indomitable human spirit in the wake of tragedy and woe.”

The tone is set from the restrained yet subtly defiant opening chords of the first track Two Rivers, an uplifting synth-led rocker with a lyrical focus on redemption and reinvention, and continues into standout track Beautiful, another hard-edged anthem with a soft centre. The next track sees Mike Peters rekindle his bromance with Cult guitarist Billy Duffy, who does a serviceable job adding some depth and potency to Coming Backwards, before the pace drops slightly for Transatlantic. The scathing, socio-political commentary of Crowd Trouble follows before we are hit by Peace Now, a kissing cousin to Neil Young’s Rocking in the Free World, which The Alarm covered in 1991 for their Raw album. A nice touch is the repurposing of Pink Floyd’s famous “Just another brick in the wall” lyric, along with the “No guitars in the war machine” refrain. The next highlight for me is another stirring anti-war Cenotaph, which surely ranks among the best Alarm songs ever written. Like Peace Now, this track was debuted a couple of years ago on the well-received Spirit of ’86 tour, itself a continuation of the Year of Strength, where it slotted in seamlessly alongside an expansive repertoire of 80’s classics. The album closes out with Hell Fire (on CD and download only) and Tomorrow which, from a slightly whimsical opening, builds to a soaring crescendo of a climax. A fitting way to finish.

You already know what you’re going to get with an Alarm/Mike Peters release, so there’s a small element of preaching to the converted here. Peters found his niche decades ago. He knows what the people who buy his music want and, apart from adding the occasional dance beat or funky bass line, is unlikely to break any new ground at this point in his career. But why should he? If it isn’t broken, don’t try to fix it. Impassioned and poignant, Equals stands as one of the best albums of his career to date, and it’s out now.


Senses Fail – If There is Light (review)

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It’s weird how some bands stick with you and accompany you on your journey through life. Like a faithful dog that never dies, they’ll be at your side through thick and thin, good times and bad. Senses Fail are one of my ‘go-to’ bands. They are inspirational, and give me strength to continue when I don’t really feel like it. It’s not as if they try to be that way. When bands try too hard, it always comes across as lazy and contrived. But SF are real and they mean every word, even if those words aren’t always nice to hear. I know how lame that sounds,  but don’t just take my word for it. They aren’t the most technically gifted group of musicians in the world, but their passion, belief and enthusiasm for what they do is captivating.

How did all this start? Sometime in 2006 I was browsing Pure Volume for new music and came across the track Buried a Lie, from their debut album Let it Enfold You. This was when SF were riding the emo wave, though they were always more melodic hardcore than emo. Or post-hardcore, if you believe the record label. Some people call them screamo, others call them a punk band. Who knows what they are? Their music doesn’t really fit in any convenient category or sub-category, which is one of the reasons I love them so much. Another reason is the name. In Hinduism it is believed that being alive is a kind of hell, and the only way to reach Nirvana is to have no attachments to the physical world. No love, no job, no material possessions. You go out into the wilderness and meditate until you achieve the ultimate level of separation. As lead singer James ‘Buddy’ Nielsen explains, “If you want to reach the highest level of being and see God, you have to have all your senses fail.”

So even though on the face of it, ‘Senses Fail’ sounds like a massive negative (death?), it’s actually a metaphor for enlightenment or a higher state of consciousness.

Despite the labels they often get tagged with, SF aren’t always a blood and thunder kind of band. They release a lot of acoustic stuff which reveals their softer side, as evidenced by last year’s excellent In Your Absence EP. However, our first taste of seventh full-length If there is Light brings the thunder in spades. First single Double Cross, unleashed last November, is as bone-crushingly brutal as they come. It was soon followed by Gold Jacket, Green Jacket, and if this song was any more melodic they might have had a chart hit on their hands. Nielsen, who wrote that and every other track on the album, says the song is meant to give a voice to, “The millions of people struggling every day to follow their dreams and passions.” And it does. The third single release, New Jersey Makes, the World Takes, gave us more of the same and amped up the excitement levels to an all-time high.

As all three singles are sequenced in the first four tracks, you’d be forgiven for thinking some bright spark at the record label was doing some front-loading. But the sequencing works extremely well as Double Cross is the perfect opening track. Other stand-out’s for me are Is it Gonna be the Year and Stay what you Are, both infectious slices of vintage emo-tinged pop punk. The amazing thing is, they sound as fresh and vibrant as they would have had they been released back in 2004. The epic title track, which closes the album, also deserves a mention. Over the past few albums SF have built a reputation for making the closing track something to remember and they continue the tradition here. Like a microcosm of the album as a whole, If There is a Light is reflective, powerful, and moving. Anyone who has experienced profound loss and come out the other side will be able to relate to the subject matter, typified by the lyric, “I guess the best thing I can do with my time is love every minute of life.”

With producer Beau Burchell twiddling the knobs, SF vowed that their experimental phase was over and they were going back to their roots with this album, and it seems like they’ve kept their promise. It certainly has more in common with Still Searching than last full-length effort Pull the Thorns from your Heart (2015) which became their lowest-charting album to date. In the years between those releases they suffered several line-up changes and delivered the odd patchy piece of work. But here they are again, back from the dead and in top form. Front to back, this could be their best and most consistent album yet. Check it out immediately.

You might also like:

Foo Fighters – Saint Cecilia (review)

Blink 182 – California (review)

BABYMETAL – Metal Resistance (review)

2016 – The Greatest Year in Music for Three Decades?

When Word Got Around about Cool Cymru


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