Tag Archives: rock

Where’s my F***ing Sweatband?

I really like Dire Straits. You could say they are my guilty pleasure. I don’t think they are as respected or as widely known these days as they probably should be. Most of the people who do know them are left with that eighties caricature image of Mark Knopfler in the Money for Nothing video, wearing a jacket with shoulder pads and the sleeves rolled up, and a fucking neon headband. That’s more a representation of the eighties as a whole than the band.

The first DS record I ever bought was Brothers in Arms, which I sought out largely as a consequence of the copious amounts of TV advertising that went into promoting it. I mean, when it was £5.99 in Woolworths (which would probably amount to around £15 in ‘today’s money.’) you fucking knew about it. I only found out years later that most of the songs had been horribly edited down to fit on the vinyl.

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Released over 35 years ago, Brothers in Arms, their fourth and most successful studio album, was a bit of a double-edged sword for Dire Straits. It was their Born in the USA. Actually, a lot of parallels can be drawn between Dire Straits (essentially singer/songwriter/lead guitarist Mark Knopfler with some other blokes) and The Boss, not least that both have working class roots and traded off the same kind of ‘everyman’ image. Of the two, Knopfler is without the doubt the better guitarist. He has a distinctive style, as do many of the greats from Jimmy Page to Brian May, in this case developed through ‘picking’ at the strings with his fingertips rather than using a plectrum. You wouldn’t even have to know the song to know who was playing guitar on it. On the flipside, The Boss is by far the better showman and probably the more consistent (and prolific) songwriter.

Another common denominator is that in effect, the Born in the USA and Brothers in Arms juggernauts alienated huge swathes of the respective artists’ existing audiences and attracted the ‘pop crowd.’ In the eighties, much like today, the Pop Crowd brought money, but no loyalty. They weren’t going to stick around. You’d be lucky to keep them interested for two albums, after that they’ll be into Fergal Sharkey or the Blow Monkeys for six months. The vast majority of bands don’t even get that two albums worth of grace.

It’s not enough to have talent and great songs. To attract the Pop Crowd and plug into the mainstream you need something else, some X Factor. In the case of Dire Straits, Brothers in Arms arrived within the eye of a perfect storm. It was released just as ground-breaking new tech was emerging in the form of CDs and CGI graphics, and MTV was just taking off. It soon became one of the bestselling albums of the era.

Dire Straits ended up paying a price for that success. By the time grunge hit a few years later they were typecast as a bunch of try-hard dad rockers and became a virtual laughing stock. Grunge, well, mostly Nirvana who spearheaded the whole thing, had a seismic effect on rock and metal. It almost killed off hair metal on its own, like a nuclear blast. Overnight, bands like Poison, Ratt, Cinderella, Motley Crue, Warrant, and approximately seven million others, all became irrelevant and then turned into shocked-looking parodies of themselves as they were reduced to playing 250-capacity rock clubs again instead of 20,000-capacity arenas they’d been used to. Def Leppard tried to fit in by recording Slang, for fuck’s sake. It was ugly.

Most of the artists who were left retreated into themselves. To use Springsteen as a yardstick again, he fired the E Street Band and released the limp one-two punch of Human Touch and the only-marginally better Lucky Town on the same day, just to try to stay relevant, and in 1991 Dire Straits put out On Every Street, their last studio offering. It’s not a bad album, just a bit tired-sounding in places. At best it was comfy and warm, at worst vapid and unrewarding. It was the sound of Dire Straits desperately trying to tread that middle ground between being true to themselves and pleasing their new legion of fans. The result was a big long sigh. Afterwards, the band fell into live archive releases and odd compilation territory and Mark Knopfler went solo.

Bloated and overlong, On Every Street was made for the CD market and it may be no accident that my top two Dire Straits studio albums, 1980’s Making Movies and 1982’s Love Over Gold would both fit on a single CD with room to spare. Although for the most part typically restrained (only Industrial Disease, Expresso Love and Solid Rock attempt to lift the mood a bit), those albums are focused and precise, a lot of the music dark and brooding yet filled with restrained passion. The musicianship is exemplary. I must have played those albums thousands of times. Earlier albums 1978’s self-titled and the following year’s Communique both had their moments, there were just fewer of them. Probably my favourite DS track of all time is Telegraph Road. At over 14-minutes long, it’s a stroke of genius. It takes a lot to keep me interested in anything for that long. I’ve had shorter relationships. I prefer the version found on Alchemy Live. I love the narrative, and how the song builds from little more than an understated whimper to a furious scream. Those power chords.

Alchemy, recorded at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1983 on the Love Over Gold tour, is pretty much the perfect live album if you can overlook the weak opening. Once Upon a time in the West to open a show when you have ready-made firecrackers like Tunnel of Love in your repertoire? Really?

Dire Straits are the consummate live band. But more the kind of band you’d like to see in a smoky club, or at a push, a theatre. They were a bit lost in those stadiums. the bigger the venue, the bigger the entourage and when you have a touring band numbering in double figures, it all gets a bit dramatic. If you’re interested, and you should be, there are also a few excellent bootleg recordings floating around. Koln ’79 is recommended (notable because they play Sultans of Swing twice having fucked the first one up), as is On Location – Live in Wiesbaden 1981 and Live in Sydney 1985. Recorded on the Brothers in Arms tour, that one is worth seeking out if only to hear the band wowing audiences at their commercial peak. For a while there, nowhere was safe from the Knopfler shoulder pads and sweatband.

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If you enjoyed reading this, you might also enjoy my recent tribute to London Calling or one of my several Springsteen posts.  I’ve also written about my personal musical odyssey and various other related shit.


The Dangerous Summer – All That is Left of the Blue Sky EP (Review)

It’s been a difficult year for most of us. In fact, 2020 has been a total fucking washout. It’s been a time of change and upheaval, uncertainty and angst, and with their sweeping melodies and emotive lyrics The Dangerous Summer make the perfect soundtrack to it all.

Earlier this year, they left Hopeless Records when their contract expired and, despite being offered new terms, took the opportunity to turn officially ‘indie’. As lead singer and lyricist AJ Perdomo explains, “It got to a point where I was getting all of these calls and having these conversations and I just felt miserable. I hate talking about this sort of shit. This is what makes me fucking hate music. So out of anger I just said, ‘Let’s release this stuff ourselves. Screw all this shit’. Then we can go at our pace, release things whenever we want and do whatever the fuck we want. I just didn’t want to be owned any more.”

You can read my review of their last album for Hopeless, Mother Nature, here. The Dangerous Summer’s first independent release was the soaring single, Fuck them All, which sounds as if it might be a not-so-subtle message to the music industry as a whole. These lyrics speak for themselves.

Fuck them all
They want me like a light bulb
Blurred out with the sun
Swept under the rug again
Am I insane?
I think this is my moment
Yeah, nothing’s standing here in my way

Fuck them All kicks off this six-track EP in style before things are brought down a notch, a touch prematurely you could argue, for the piano-based slow-burner Come Down. Latest single I’m Alive follows, which sounds less like a departure and more like a cut from the aforementioned Mother Nature album. That’s not a criticism, by the way. As much as you have to admire any artist having the courage to branch out, try new things and develop their sound, all this has to be anchored in something tangible, solid and relatable. There has to be a thread of familiarity running through anybody’s body of work to tie it all together. Take Prince, for example. He would jump from hip-hop to dance to r n’ b to glam rock, often over the space of six tracks on the same album, but everything he did was still unmistakably Prince. That’s very much the case with TDS, who over the years have matured and fleshed out their signature sound while remaining true to their roots, flying their own flag and resisting the temptation to chase fashions or fads.

LA in a Cop Car keeps things ticking over in much the same vein, calling to mind classic Yellowcard or Something Corporate. TDS often get tagged with the pop-punk label, which isn’t a bad thing, but not entirely warranted. They may have the energy and vitality so prevalent in pop-punk, especially during it’s early-naughties climax, but for me that’s where the similarities end. This music is much more textured, and the lyrics have more of a soul-searching emo vibe. The EP is rounded off with Come Along, another epic-sounding chunk of polished power pop featuring Aaron Gillespie who now plays drums with TDS, having made his name with Paramore and Underoath.

In summary, All That is Left of the Blue Sky is bold and fearless, the sound of a band finding their feet after finally being set free. The songwriting and musicianship is, as always, immaculate, and the layered production adds a sheen. TDS are one of the artists eager to capitalize on an ever-evolving music industry and seem very well-placed to do so. They can only move forward from here and I can’t wait to see how it pans out.

You can listen to this modern masterpiece here.


Bouncing Souls – Vol II (review)

One of the few bright spots in this shittest of years is provided by Bouncing Souls, who never disappoint. They may be mellowing slightly as the New Jersey punks advance in years, but the spark is still there. Volume II comes hot on the heels of last year’s stonking Crucial Moments EP, rather than coming hot on the heels of Volume I. In fact, there is no Volume I. There’s a 20th Anniversary Series of EPs which ran to four volumes, but that’s a different thing entirely.

So what do we ave ‘ere, then?

Ten re-imagined and re-recorded classics and one new track, that’s what.

On some level, it does resemble the greatest hits compilation the BS catalogue is lacking in that some of their best songs like Ghosts on the Boardwalk, Kids and Heroes, Simple Man and Hopeless Romantic are included, alongside some deeper cuts like Highway Kings and Say Anything. But as I alluded to before, they may be here, just not as you know them. It seems to be in-vogue now for artists to go back and revisit their back catalogue. While not strictly a fan of the approach, I’m not against it either. Mike Peters of the Alarm does it to great effect.

I think one reason why it’s become so popular, apart from becoming an ideal way to resolve various contract disputes, is the rate at which technology is developing. When some of these tracks were originally recorded they sounded like they’d been bashed out in someone’s garage, which was kinda the point. But now, we have orchestras, drum machines (not as horrible it sounds) and the kind of polished production values that would make Def Leppard jealous making this largely minimalistic set essential listening.

As guitarist Pete Steinkopf said in a recent interview, “We initially wanted to recreate some of the stripped-down vibe of the acoustic sets, but if anything, these versions are much more involved than the original versions. The first day we got to the studio Will said something like ‘we’re not gonna just make an acoustic record, right guys?’ We were like ‘hell no’ and then we were off to the races.”

I must admit, I was a bit wary of hearing the new version of Gone. It’s one of my favourite songs of all time, and I didn’t want my memories tainted by some jazzed-up abomination. Happily, my fears were unfounded. Sure, Gone is the driving riff to be replaced with understated acoustics reminiscent in places, bizarrely enough, of mid-period Cure. Quite a few of these tracks have that feeling, harking back to a much simpler time. Another example is the only new song here, World on Fire, which was released as a single earlier this year and sees the band exploring their lighter, janglier side.

While this may not be a definitive work, or even properly representative of BS as a band, it rounds out their body of work nicely and adds another dimension to some great tunes. If I have one criticism, it’s that they could’ve gone bigger. Volume II only features eleven tracks from a repertoire of hundreds and has a running time of around 36 minutes. But the BS ethos has always been ‘less is more,’ and I guess this paves the way nicely for Volume I.

Volume II is out now on Pure Noise records.


The Alarm – Stream (Hurricane of Change) (review)

The Alarm were bothering the charts long before the triumphant one-two combination of Equals and Sigma. Between 1987 and 1989 they released a trio of seminal albums beginning with Eye of the Hurricane and ending with Change, with the live mini-album Electric Folklore sandwiched in between. The late eighties were turbulent times, not just for the band, who despite arguably being at their commercial and creative peak were beginning to be torn apart by internal politics and squabbling, but also in a wider social context. This was the aftermath of the Miner’s strikes, and when the Berlin Wall fell shortly afterwards it catapulted Europe and the rest of the world into a period of seismic change. While all this was going on, lead singer Mike Peters travelled extensively through his homeland of Wales in a bid to rediscover his roots. During that period of intense retrospection he wrote extensively, many of the lyrics eventually being incorporated into the songs which appeared on the original albums while others fell by the wayside and still others remained unfinished or in some cases even unwritten.

Though it was their third official release (fourth if you count the debut EP) the original Eye of the Hurricane was the first Alarm record I ever bought, and I soon busied myself filling out my collection. The fact that I ended up with some of that collection on vinyl, some on cassette, and some on CD was perhaps indicative of the uncertainty of the times. The thing that resonated with me most wasn’t the anthemic, fist-pumping choruses or impassioned musicianship, though those things definitely played a part, but more the lyrics. In a landscape consisting mostly of Bon Jovi and Guns N Roses clones, it was refreshing to hear someone singing about the place where I was from, and about the things that mattered to me, especially at that stage in my life. I was 13 or 14, and things are especially confusing then. You begin to ask questions and seek meaning, and it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that the Alarm’s music helped me find answers to some of those questions.

Thirty years later, Peters has revisited that period and put all the material in a modern context, recently commenting:

I have always thought of these three albums as an Alarm trilogy. A lot happened to the band and the world, during the writing and recording sessions from 1987-1990. As one decade bled into another, the themes of response and resolve to contend with uncertain times are running through the core of each and every album. Played together, these songs tell their own story and, with the tumultuous times Europe and the USA can expect to face in the coming months and years, are still as relevant today as when they were first written.”

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The original tracks have been re-recorded or even re-imagined, those unfinished or unwritten songs have finally been laid down, and the whole thing adapted into a sprawling double album called Hurricane of Change tied together with segments of poetry and spoken-word narratives. Mike Peters has adopted a similar approach in recent years with re-recordings of earlier Alarm albums Declaration and Strength which, though critically and commercially well received, split much of the fanbase with some appreciating the new interpretations and others maintaining that the original recordings should be left as they are. My stance has always been firmly in the former camp. I enjoy hearing different versions of my favourite songs. Always have. Remixes, remasters, covers, demos, acoustic or live versions, bring them on. Music, like life, is always progressing and evolving whether we like it or not. If your favourite flavour ice cream is strawberry, it doesn’t mean you can’t also enjoy the occasional scoop of mint choc chip as well. Besides, the hardcore traditionalists will always have the original recordings by the original line-up. It’s not like anyone is forcing them to surrender their record collection at gunpoint.

This is an ambitious project, told in chronological order with the emotive autobiographical spoken-word parts delivered by Peters, with a supporting cast of members including his wife Jules, and other members of the band, all adding depth and a theatrical quality that was missing from the originals. Most of the re-imagined songs, slower-paced and piano-heavy, bear little relation to the original versions. Rain in the Summertime and Rescue Me, two of the band’s biggest hits, are virtually unrecognisable. Of the new songs, for me Ghosts of Rebecca and The Ballad of Randolph Turpin stand out both lyrically and sonically dealing, as they do, with folk heroes and uprisings, and really do sound at home in this setting. The first disc (dubbed Downstream) presents the Eye of the Hurricane album, where the new songs serve as missing pieces. The second disc (Upstream) is comprised of tracks originally found on the Change album, including Where a Town Once Stood which I tactfully re-purposed as the title of one of my stories recently, as well as a few b-sides recorded around the same time and another new song, A New Day. The whole package makes a worthy addition to any Alarm fan’s collection, serving to put the original albums in context and take the songs down a different, lyrically-focused route where there is more of an impetus on mood, atmosphere, and storytelling rather than eighties radio-friendly pomp.

Watch the official trailer for Hurricane of Change HERE.

Peters describes the recording process thus:

“By looking at the lyrics afresh, I have now been able to fully realise what I was grasping for as a songwriter and lyricist in 1987-1989. Back then, my confidence had been blunted by a difficult creative process, and I had always privately felt that there was a lot more left to be discovered within the original body of music. With these new recordings, I have been able to realise a torrent of new possibilities and emotions and, in turn, draw them out of the very same songs. By recording Hurricane of Change in this new way, I feel that I have been able to liberate my original lyrical vision and re-present the music in a way that I believe, is just as relevant, if not more vital than ever before.”

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Go HERE for merchandise, tickets, and Alarm/Mike Peters recordings.

 


Brothers in Arms at 35

“Carefully crafted instead of raucous, pretty rather than booming, and occasionally affecting, the record is beautifully produced, with Mark Knopfler’s terrific guitar work catching the best light.”

Rolling Stone

F

Brothers in Arms, the fifth studio album by English rock royalty Dire Straits was released 35 years ago this week, which probably makes it older than most of the people reading this. If you do remember it, you are no doubt feeling old as fuck right now.

You’re welcome.

Brothers in Arms was an instant phenomena, hitting number one in 12 countries (though weirdly, it didn’t even crack the top 100 in France) and holding the top slot in the UK for an incredible 14 consecutive weeks, where it became the first album to ever be certified 10 x platinum. It also became the first CD to sell over a million copies, and is still the eighth best-selling album in British chart history. Even considering how the music industry has evolved, you just don’t get numbers like that these days. The album not only represented the pinnacle of the band’s career, but is now recognized as one of the defining albums of the era.

For his guest appearance on the single Money for Nothing, Sting recycled the vocal harmony from The Police’s hit Don’t Stand so Close to Me. Despite containing what is often referred to as homophobic lyrics (based primarily around the use of the wrd ‘faggot’) the song became the band’s signature tune and biggest ever hit, reaching the top 40 in 15 countries, even France. Money for Nothing was one of five singles released from the album in the UK, along with the title track, So Far Away, Your Latest Trick, and the disco-enthused Walk of Life, which peaked at number two and became the band’s fourth gold single. While the singles were strong, and carried Brothers in Arms a long way, it has to be said that the rest of the album is filler at best. Only the melancholy Why Worry is worth repeated listens. It’s a mystery to me that with so many great songs in their arsenal, Dire Straits chose to start most of the gigs on that tour with Ride Across the River, a nondescript mid-tempo plodder buried on side two. This suggests that far from being a truly classic album, Brothers in Arms was more a happy coincidence, benefiting enormously from a convergence of outside factors like the emergence of MTV, the arrival of the compact disc, and the implementation of CGI technology. In my opinion, previous albums Making Movies (1980) and Love Over Gold (1982) outstrip Brothers in Arms both in terms of songwriting and musicianship, if not commercial success.

Many of the songs on Brothers in Arms had to be edited to enable them to fit on vinyl, which can only comfortably accommodate 23-minutes or so per side before the sound quality is severely compromised. Hence the total running time of the original vinyl version is 47:21, while the full length of the album as heard on CD, cassette and later double-vinyl versions, was a much more indulgent 55:07. When I heard the album again on MP3 years later, it was like discovering a whole new set of songs.

However, despite the album’s epic achievements which will forever guarantee it a place in rock history, there was a considerable downside.

Not only was its runaway success impossible to replicate, but it transformed Dire Straits into a different beast. No longer were they considered the rootsy, innovative, blues-based outfit that gave us Sultans of Swing, Lady Writer and Private Investigations. Despite being suddenly elevated to Springsteen and Madonna-esque heights of megastardom, after ’85, the very name Dire Straits became a by-word for boring, middle-of-the-road dad rock, epitomized by Mark Knopfler himself. Never really what you would call a looker, the reluctant frontman was nudging forty by then, and trying desperately to keep abreast of the fast-moving MTV generation by literally rolling up his sleeves and sporting a wacky neon headband. Cringe. Still, it was the eighties, and the whole decade was one big fashion crime.

There were also other, less obvious difficulties during the recording process which suggest that all was not well within the camp even before mainstream success came knocking. According to a later interview with producer Neil Dorfsman, the performance of drummer Terry Williams was deemed unsuitable, and his parts later re-recorded by a session musician though Williams retains a credit on the album liner notes and played on the resulting world tour. Interestingly, the recording process was carried out against a backdrop of conflict in a wider context with many of the lyrics influenced by the Falklands War. The emotive title itself came from something Knopfler’s father said about Russian and Argentinian soldiers having similar ideologies and hence being, “brothers in arms.”

Yeah, Dire Straits were never the same after Brothers in Arms. Apart from the customary slew of compilations, they didn’t release anything of note until 1991’s sub-par On Every Street, which proved to be the final nail in the coffin. That particular opus is now only talked about in hushed tones.

Maybe they were never really cut out for superstardom.

B


Green Day – Father of All (review)

Or Father of all Motherfuckers, to use its full, needlessly sweary title. This review, like the album itself, is going to be short. With its ten tracks amounting to a total of less than 26 minutes running time, in my view it barely qualifies as an album. And that’s not the only mildly confusing thing about this release. The truth is, after the swaggering pomp of Revolution Radio (2016) and the epic God’s Favourite Band compilation (2017), I expected more. With Father of All, Green Day appear to be going backwards, or at best treading water while they channel the spirit of nineties-era Prince. There are some decent tunes here, the best among them probably being the singles Oh Yeah, and Meet me on the Roof and there’s an impressive array of musical styles on show ranging from glam all the way over to motown.

Possibly the closest things to classic-era GD are I was a Teenage Teenager and Sugar Youth, and Junkies on a High also deserves a mention if only for the poignant lyrics which hint at much-loved rockers not with us anymore. But sadly, most of the other cuts fall flat, the most cringeworthy being Stab You in the Heart which is a blatant rip-off of Hippy Hippy Shake. For me, the whole thing lacks depth and substance. It’s no Dookie, or even an American Idiot. In an interview with the Sun newspaper to promote the album, Billy Joe Armstrong explains, “This record represents the time we are in now. It’s got the shortest attention span and there’s a lot of chaos.”

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In that context, the album makes a bit more sense but you can’t help feeling a bit sorry for Green Day. There can be no denying they are in a weird place right now. In a concerted effort to avoid being pigeonholed, in their storied career they’ve gone from snot-nosed punk upstarts to angry political activists to pop rock icons brandishing saccharine sweet sing-alongs. I’m not sure where Father of All fits into this. It’s not exactly a new direction, but it’s surprising enough to have you scratching your head on the first listen. Both Kerrang! And The Telegraph gave it four out of five stars, while the Independent gave it a measly two, saying, “The onslaught of frenzied energy comes at the expense of innovation.”

It’s difficult to argue with that verdict. While Green Day deserve credit for always doing what they want, rather than taking the easy route and doing what was expected of them, it’s unlikely that their 13th album will be the one that defines them or even stands out amongst their now considerable body of work. If you’re on the hunt for new music you’d be better off checking out the recent releases by Bouncing Souls or Dangerous Summer.  All that said, Father of All does get better on repeated listens and GD might still prove me wrong.

It wouldn’t be the first time.


Bouncing Souls – Crucial Moments EP (review)

2019 was a good year for music. Who would have thunk it? In one calendar year we were blessed with new releases from The Dangerous Summer, Feeder, Bruce Springsteen, Stereophonics, The Who, Coldplay and Senses Fail, to name but a few.

I’m a massive Bouncing Souls fan, and have been for fifteen years or so, ever since I stumbled across Gone, still one of my favourite songs, on a punk site. Earlier this year, BS (ironic for such a non-BS band) dropped their first new material in three years and I didn’t even fucking know about it. Living in China has its downside. Still, I would’ve thought one of the newsletters I am subscribed to would’ve said something. Not even BS’ own newsletter said anything. Or maybe it did and I missed it. That’s a possibility. Sigh. Life, eh?

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Anyway, the six-track EP Crucial Moments, the long-awaited follow-up (kinda) to their 2016 album Simplicity released to mark the New Jersey punks’ 30th anniversary was issued on Rise Records back in March 2019. I finally found out about it about six months later, got excited as fuck, and immediately head over to Amazon where, in my enthused state, paid a quid more than I had to for it because I accidentally downloaded the title track twice. Motherfucker.

So was Crucial Moments worth the inconvenience, the wait, and the extra quid?

In a word, abso-fucking-lutely.

The aforementioned title track kicks things off, and is a pretty fair representation of the place the band is at this point in their career. More introspective, tuneful and melodic than most things pre-Hopeless Romantic, yet still filled with simmering energy and an ominous undertow you feel could erupt into some serious hardcore thrashings at any (crucial?) moment. Watch the nostalgic yet still rocking video HERE. And erupt it does on the second track, 1989, so fast and furious it harks back to the rampaging, take-no-prisoners BS of the early-nineties. 4th Avenue Sunrise also falls into this bracket. Oh, to be young again. But like most of us, BS have chilled out a bit since then, as infectious sing-along Favourite Everything illustrates perfectly. The hard-edged blue-collar rocker Here’s to Us would sit pretty well on any recent BS album, but for me the highlight of this EP is the closer, Home. It’s slightly more mellow and emotive than the bulk of this EP but it’s with this kind of positive, life-affirming, fist-pumping, rabble-rousing anthem that, for me, BS truly excel.

This might be an unpopular opinion, but personally I like the approach to music the newly-matured BS take now. I love the occasional 1.5-minute hardcore speed ride as much as the next ageing punk, but a whole album full is usually too much for my delicate sensibilities. BC are at their sublime best when mixing it up, going through the gears from moshpit to bar stool and back again in the blink of an eye, and they do it very well on Crucial Moments. My only criticism is a predictable one; while not opposed to EPs per se, I just wish this was longer. As it stands, Crucial Moments is a welcome stop-gap between albums, and ready to take its rightful place amongst the best releases BS have ever put out. It’s a minor gripe, and I am very conscious of looking a gift horse in the mouth, but I just wish there was more substance here. Half an album’s worth in three years? Come on, lads. Call me greedy, but I sincerely hope more material emerges from these recording sessions, and that we don’t have to wait too long to hear it. Oh, and when it comes out, someone please give a nudge.

Ta.

Crucial Moments is out now.


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.


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?

 


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.

 


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