Tag Archives: rock

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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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.


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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Boss Blogs #1: Meet Me in the City Tonight

For many people, seeing Bruce Springsteen live, especially with the E Street Band, is akin to a religious experience. His epic three-hour plus live shows are the stuff of legend. The vast majority of artists have their carefully arranged 16-song set consisting of a smattering of tracks from their latest sub-par album, closing the show with a few hits from when they were more popular to send the crowd home happy. They play the same songs, in the same order, every night. Even their salutations are hollow. “Thank you (INSERT NAME OF LATEST STOP ON THE TOUR)! This has been the greatest night of our lives!”

Of course it has, pal.

Springsteen doesn’t just go through the motions. Every show, every note of every song, is shot through with energy, emotion and intensity. Virtually every night the set list is different. Sometimes there are minor tweaks, sometimes there a radical overhaul. He usually does something special, making it unique for those lucky enough to be in attendance. He might dust off a rare deep cut, a non-album track, a new arrangement of an old classic, or an unexpected cover. He has an extensive repertoire to draw from, and nothing is off-limits. After Prince died last year he played Purple Rain as a tribute, in London he played the Clash song Clampdown in homage to Joe Strummer, and in Australia he played the relatively obscure INXS track Don’t Change as a nod to Michael Hutchence. It wouldn’t be beyond the realms of possibility to witness him tackle a George Michael or Motorhead standard at some point. The first time he ever played in Wales on the Magic tour in 2008 he started the show with From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come), in reference to the size and stature of the country.

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I’m not as fanatical as some Springsteen aficionados. I’ve met people who have seen him live literally hundreds of times, making my six gigs in four countries over twenty years seem pretty fucking weak. Still, I do have some good stories. Like the time I was on a coach coming back from Rotterdam and French border police decided to take us in a room one-by-one and strip search us all. I’d never had that treatment before, so that was an experience. As was travelling all the way from Wales to Philadelphia for the reunion tour in 1999 only to arrive at the venue to find the show had been cancelled because of a hurricane. After being shut in the hotel bar for the night, we eventually got to see another show later in the week so the trip wasn’t completely wasted. Unlike me that night in the hotel bar. At the actual gig, my then-girlfriend went out for a cigarette halfway through the show and security wouldn’t let her back in, so she had to stand in a car park by herself in downtown Philly for two hours. No, I didn’t go out to find her. A man has to get his priorities right. Besides, I didn’t know what had happened until later. There were no mobiles in 1999.

Thinking about it, my Boss gigging history has been dogged by drama. I was also at the infamous Hyde Park gig in 2012, when the council pulled the plug in the middle of a historic duet with Paul McCartney. Hilariously, the Boss started the next gig in Dublin in the middle of Twist & Shout and had a fake policeman drag him from the stage at the end. The first time I ever saw The Boss live was as a starry-eyed 18-year old at Wembley Arena in 1992. By some fluke, my friend and I had great seats, just a few rows from the front. But probably my favourite ever Boss gig was at the San Siro, Milan in the summer of 2003. I’ve always thought the music spoke to me on some weirdly personal level, and that show seemed to prove it. I still worked in a factory in Wales at the time. I had a car, a steady girlfriend and a PlayStation. All the things that are supposed to make you content. But man, I was so fucking miserable. I was beginning to realize it’s a big world out there, and I was frustrated at only being allowed to experience a tiny part of it. My first book had just been released and, I knew big changes were coming in my life. He sang ‘Follow That Dream,’ a song he doesn’t do often, and it almost sent me over the edge. It certainly put things in perspective. I decided to roll the dice and risk everything to pursue a career in writing. Within a few months, I’d split up with my girlfriend, sold my car, laid my PlayStation to rest (which I still think is the biggest loss) and moved to Southampton to study journalism. Strange how things turn out. I look back on that San Siro gig as some kind of tipping point.

When Bruce & the E Street Band began this latest tour, they were playing The River album in it’s entirety from start to finish, then a handful of oldies at the end. Everyone knew it wouldn’t last. It was too rigid, too predictable. The handful of oldies at the end soon stretched to a dozen, then 15 or 16, and by the time he got to Europe the ‘whole album’ format had been discarded altogether in favour of a career-spanning mash-up. What’s even better is EVERY show is being recorded and released via his website. I used to collect live bootlegs. Over the years I amassed hundreds of them. I’ve always been aware that the studio albums, even taking into account the 4-CD retrospective set Tracks, only tell half the story. But they were expensive and the sound quality was hit or miss. Normally miss, to be fair. These new releases are absolutely flawless, and at $9.95 (MP3 format) for four hours of music, reasonably priced. There’s a bit of polishing and mixing going on, but if it enhances the sound quality I’m not against it like some purists are. Incidentally, if you want my opinion, I don’t think you can go far wrong by investing in the Washington National Park show.

After a few months off following the last US leg, the River tour found it’s way to Australia last month. Because, bizarrely, it’s summer there. And winds up next week in New Zealand. I’m envious of all you Australasians who were lucky enough to get tickets but I’m not that put out. I’ll just get the MP3s.

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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 


BABYMETAL – Metal Resistance (album review)

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To steal a phrase from Roger Shackelford of Tainted Reality, ‘Is it weird to like BABYMETAL?*’

The answer is ‘Yeah. Probably.’

For the uninitiated, BABYMETAL are a manufactured J-Pop/thrash metal crossover act group comprising of a trio of teenagers in tutu’s and a backing band wearing corpse make-up and white flowing gowns. At first glance, it’s hard to take them seriously. I never liked Japanese music before. Or Chinese. Or Korean. It’s mostly horrible and you have no idea what they are singing about. But, God forgive me, I do like BABYMETAL. I just can’t put my finger on why.

Let’s not beat around the bush. They are weird with a capital W. They have a whole invented mythological back story about a Fox God sending them out into the universe to save heavy metal, and on their last tour they pretended to crucify the singer Su-Metal live on stage while the other two girls Moa-Metal and Yui-Metal danced around inanely. The theatrical element borrows heavily from the likes of Alice Cooper and Kiss, and it certainly adds something extra to their live performances. They’ve been huge in Asia since forming in 2010 and since then have slowly began to make their mark internationally, especially on the summer festival circuit. The video for Give me Chocolate has racked up over 46 million views on YouTube (only about half of which are mine) and last week they played a sold-out SSE Wembley Arena in London to kick off their 2016 tour in support of album number two. Metal Resistance was released on 1st April which they dubbed, ahem, Fox Day. And no, it wasn’t an April Fool.

Metal Resistance kicks off with the anthemic title track, whch has been a staple in their live set for a while now, before launching into Karate, the first single. Karate is typical BABYMETAL, pop sensibilities laid over a crunching guitar riff. That’s followed by Awadama Fever, which I think is about bubblegum gum. No, really. Don’t let that fool you, though. As with the first album, these songs have depth and creativity, seamlessly veering from speed metal to something akin to raggae or dubstep in the blink of an eye. The contrast, and the overall effect, is mesmerizing. Whoever writes these songs is truly gifted. As are the backing musicians, the Kami band. Listening to the album you would perhaps think the sound is a result of studio overdubs and fancy knob twiddling. But that’s not the case.

Look…

See? How tight is the Kami band? They have to be one of the most technically proficient outfits around today. And did you see that circle pit go off? Dear me. Anyway, back to the album, and another early highlight is Meta Toro, which sounds suspiciously like a nursery rhyme with marching drums and death metal growls. I told you it was weird. The track GJ features some frankly awesome fretwork and yet another killer chorus while Sis Anger is obviously a nod to Metallica. At least somebody liked St Anger. The pace relents toward the end for the lighters-aloft ballads No Rain, No Rainbow and The One, but sandwiched between them is something called Tales of the Destinies, possibly the most experimental track on the album, which sounds a bit like Dragonforce on crack. In his review for Classic Rock magazine, Stephen Dalton said, “Sometimes overwhelming, always exhilarating and occasionally jaw-dropping, Metal Resistance could well be the greatest album ever made.”

And he wasn’t even kidding. At least, I don’t think he was.

At the end of the day, I think if you try to explain to someone what BABYMETAL is, they would probably think you’ve lost your mind. But somehow it all fits together, and it works surprisingly well. The musicianship, the image, the choreography, the songs, the message, even the contribution of the Fox God. The whole operation is a finely tuned machine founded on raw talent, and this ‘difficult’ second album at least proves that the success of the debut wasn’t a one-off. If anything, Metal Resistance features an even stronger set of songs, with more depth and clarity. Undoubtedly another step on the road to world domination. Bow down, all ye unbelievers. Resistance is futile.

*Just so you know, BABYMETAL is stylised in BLOCK CAPITAL LETTERS. I don’t just get really excitable when I say their name. Although, I kinda do.


Mick Wall – UNCENSORED (Part 2)

Apart from being a bona fide rock star, being a rock journalist is possibly one of the coolest jobs imaginable. Mick Wall, ex-Kerrang! writer and founding editor of Classic Rock, is one of the best in the business. And his stories never disappoint.

Part 2:

The biggest rock magazine in the world, dropping bollocks, Axl Rose and and THAT Guns n’ Roses track…

PARENTAL ADVISORY: CONTROVERSIAL VIEWS AND NAUGHTY WORDS THROUGHOUT.

How did Kerrang! come about?

“When I was writing at Sounds it covered the whole spectrum of music. Pop, rock, punk. We did a pullout once and called it Kerrang! Just for a laugh. Little did we know that a few years later it would become a magazine in it’s own right. Whenever anyone rang the office you might go through to any of the Sounds team. We all had our little genres. If the call was for our part of the office guys – me, Geoff Barton and Pete Makowski, when we answered the phone we would go ‘Kerrang!’”

What made it such a huge success?

“It was the eighties, and record companies had never been richer. But in the UK, nothing was more unfashionable than rock and metal. It wasn’t on telly, or the radio, except in special slots. The record companies had these massive budgets and no one to spend it on except us. If, for example, Aerosmith or Van Halen were doing a UK tour, a few weeks before they’d be in New York or LA and we’d get flown out to review the show to drum up some publicity for the UK leg. We’d go off on the road with bands for weeks on end. When they finally came to the UK there would be a guest list, and then a Kerrang! guest list. We’d take the whole office. We’d have special parties and dinners, for a brief period it became this outrageous little club. The publishers had no aspirations for the magazine. They still saw the money going through Sounds, Record Mirror and Music week.”

Were you under any pressure from the publishers to deliver?

“Not at all. We were basically left to our own devices. When you work on a launch you have lots of meetings about content and covers. We didn’t have any of that, because nobody really cared that much! We’d stick the Texas Chainsaw Massacre on the cover. It just got bigger and bigger and bigger. We were speeding some of the time, drunk a lot of the time, and stoned all the time. We’d do coke whenever any passing rock band stopped by and dumped a load of the stuff on the table.”

What has been your biggest faux pas?

“There’s been a few! I interviewed Phil Lynott just a few weeks before he died. I don’t know what the fuck possessed me but I asked him if he regretted not making it in America. He looked at me as if I was the biggest twat in the world and said, ‘Oh yea. But then I always regretted that I never fucked Kate Bush as well, so there ya go!’”

Why do you think tour revenues are now outstripping album sales?

“The business has evolved so much now. We can all get on our smartphones and YouTube whoever you want playing live anywhere. You can get it in a second. But what you can’t get is that authentic, once-in-a-lifetime moment that live gigs often provide. If you can have a ‘I was there!” moment that you can’t experience via the Internet, It’s something that you will take away and keep forever.”

What’s Axl Rose’s problem?

“So many things people accuse him of being – controlling, alienating, they are all symptoms. That man needs help, and I mean it in the most heartfelt way. I chatted to him a lot when I was writing books about him and he talks about being bi-polar and suffering from Asperger’s syndrome, which is on the autistic spectrum. One of the characteristics is you don’t understand social interaction and you get a lot of anxiety. To a normal person, if someone tells you you are due of stage at nine and it’s already ten o’clock, they would think, “Fuck, that’s bad, I’d better get a move on.” But an autistic person might just shout, ‘fuck off and leave me alone!’”

Why did he call you out in the song Get in the Ring?

“I knew Axl for a long time, before he was famous, and during. We were close. I still have gold discs that he gave me, and his brother Stuart used to sleep on my couch. The whole thing stemmed from a fight Vince Neil and Izzy Stradlin had over a woman. I interviewed him, at his request, and he was in a rage about that incident. I transcribed the interview for Kerrang! I rang him up and ran it past him because it looked very heavy on the page, he agreed to it, and the story ended up on the cover. The next thing I know I got a call from his publicist saying he didn’t believe he said those things and that he wanted my tapes. I was a bit of an arsehole by that time, too. I was 31 and my head was buried up my own arse from years of globe hopping with magazines and at the time I was truly fucking offended. What the fuck? There were stories I could have written about Guns n’ Roses but never did because they were so heinous.”

Did you have any prior warning?

Yes, before the Use Your Illusion albums came out a mutual friend tipped me off. I already knew the track well. It was a Duff McKagan song called, ‘Why Do You Look At Me When You Hate Me.’ Axl hijacked it.”

What did you think when you first heard it?

“By the time the song came out I’d left Kerrang! and moved into management. I had found what I truly believed to be the next Def Leppard called Cat People. We were talking to EMI and Capitol in America about a major deal. Then Nevermind came out and suddenly being the manager of the new Def Leppard was the worst fucking thing I could be in the world. Talk about backing the wrong horse! So when Use Your Illusion came out and somebody played me the track I just pissed myself laughing. It was brilliant. But then it escalated and haunted me for a long time. People still ask me about it to this day. Lawyers were coming up to me and asking me to sue. I was like, ‘No, fuck it. Life’s too short.’”

How do you feel about the episode now?

“I’m over it. So he did the song, so what? He wasn’t the first artist to do that, that dubious honour went to Gary Numan. I’d given his first big album an almighty hiding in Sounds so in the title track of his next album, Replicas, there’s the scathing line, ‘So I turned to the crowd and I said, ‘do you know Mister Wall?’ and the crowd all turned away.’

“That fucking showed me.”

Read Mick Wall: UNCENSORED (Part 1)

Mick Wall’s latest book, Foo Fighters: Learning to Fly, is out now on Orion.

Visit his website


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